Category Archives: Home

Children’s TV

A complicated subject: should children even watch TV? If so, how often?

And what to watch?

My children are the center of my universe, and I think carefully about everything that goes into their tummies, brains, and gigantic little souls. That sounds really clichéd, and kinda overwrought, but wait until you have children. Wow.

So I can make a few recommendations, with the caveat that all of these shows are available (or not) on multiple platforms (even free on YouTube, sometimes), so seek and find at your discretion:

  • Peppa Pig: lovely, sweet, and hilarious. Just the best. Most of the characters voicings are superb. I am a particular fan of Captain Dog.
  • Sesame Street: hard to find in its multi-decade entirety, but one of the best entertainment-type things that ever happened to America. Some folks think of Elmo as the devil, but Elmo brought us one of the very best Sesame Street characters: Mr. Noodle! Slapstick will never die…
  • Octonauts: a family favorite. It was like Star Trek TOS crossed with Jacques Cousteau, with Sesame Street as a best friend. It ended too soon, but it was a wonderful, educational romp through the undersea world, with extra attention paid to teamwork and, for some reason, to the many types of squid.
  • Franklin: the little turtle who learned something important about growing up just about every week. The series got better as the seasons progressed.
  • Tumble Leaf: Amazon Prime has been good to us, not least because of this odd, quirky, charming little show.

The Garden, Summer 2013: Finis

I don’t know anybody who has had good luck with their tomatoes this year. We’ve had too much rain and too little sun. I’ve purchased some good (but expensive) heirloom tomatoes at the Athens Farmer’s Market, but even those skilled and friendly farmers have had a tough time this year. All the rain encourages various “wilts” and other nasty diseases.

And it turns out that rabbits like tomato seedlings, though not as much as they seem to like sunflower seedlings.

It’s all been very disappointing.

But I’m going to set out some cruciferous vegetables in the raised beds this fall, some broccoli and cabbage and maybe a few Brussels sprouts stalks because Jonah will get a kick out of how weird they look. I’ll have to read up on winter gardening, having never done that sort of thing before. And I do wonder if all this daily rain is going to continue into the cold season.

I’ve never seen so much rain in the summertime. But I guess we were told this is how it would be…

Memorial Day in Farmington

Several things are growing around here.

We had a wonderful Memorial Day together, playing in Jonah’s little kiddie pool, tending the garden and taking long walks. We didn’t hang a flag or say anything solemn about those who served our country, but we did spend our first day together as a family without sickness and study and stress and work since Jonah was born, just laughing and playing and feeling lucky to be alive. Heck, we even cooked up some hamburgers for lunch.

I figure there’s a lot of American soldiers who would have smiled to see us smile so much…


baby sunflower


Happy Memorial Day


the sky above the Farmington community center


Laura Lee


September, 2012

After eleven years teaching art at Clarke Middle School, my wife is currently finishing her first year at Cedar Shoals High School. She has the summer off to spend with Jonah, and to try to catch up with all the things that get set aside when you’re a working mom. Like sleep, for instance.

Last August was quite a transition, with Jonah going to day care for the first time, me attending classes for the first time after two semesters of online studying, and Laura Lee working at a new school teaching older kids. There were some tough days there for a bit.

By early fall we were in a groove, of sorts. I was driving Jonah to daycare every morning, then going to class, then heading to a cafe to study for a few hours, then rushing across town to see my boy for a few minutes, then driving back across town to work the evening shift at the restaurant. Once a week I’d keep Jonah at home for a half day, just to hang out, just to be around part of my family for a few extra hours.

I learned a lot last fall, hanging out with Jonah and rushing around town. The most important thing I learned is that I had gone back to school just in time. I felt with a crushing certainty that I didn’t want to spend too many more years working evenings while my wife and child were at home without me. So I was pretty emotional a good bit of the time, overwhelmed with all the newness, and with sleep deprivation slowly catching up to me.

But no matter how sad or lonely or frazzled or exhausted or uncertain I got, I knew that Jonah was in good hands while his momma was around. Every day after work she’d pick him up and text me a picture of them hanging out in the car for a few minutes before driving home:IMG_0144

Or out for a walk down our country road a bit later:


She kept me going with those photos, and with her love.

A lot of words have been strung together by people trying to talk about love. But I have never seen or heard anything that speaks of love more powerfully than the look in my son’s eyes when he’s happy and in the company of someone he loves. And he sure does love his momma.

She’s been everything to me since the day I met her. She’s an amazing woman, and she’s got more class and smarts and drive and fortitude than most people I ever met. And she’s beautiful, which is nice.

But it’s the light in her eyes that makes me feel like the luckiest man I ever knew. I don’t owe her everything: there’s been a couple of other people who are incredibly important to me, who helped me off my knees back when I was too young and too naive to realize that I was even on my knees. But Laura Lee latched onto me pretty damn tight, right from the start, and she’s never let me go, no matter how bad things got, no matter how lost I sometimes felt, no matter how confused we sometimes were about where we were going. She’s the light of my life in a world where there’s entirely too much darkness.

And now, here’s this little dude, walking his funny walk and smiling his sweet smile, with all the love in the world just spilling out of him like it’s no big deal. It’s me and her all mixed up together in him, shining like the sun.


I have worked in the restaurant business for much of my adult life. I’ve done pretty well professionally, both as an owner and as a manager, and I am proud of the part I’ve played in the community and in people’s lives. But it’s a hard business, and a stressful one, with endless crises and never-ending staff turnover. A few years back, I began to realize that I didn’t want to pursue another ownership stake in a restaurant, that I was burning out. I was tired of working tirelessly to help make everybody’s family time fun, relaxing and delicious while my family was at home alone, without me. So I decided to go to tech school.

I was enrolled at Athens Tech for the entirety of 2012, getting all of my general education courses and a few introductory core courses out of the way. My original intent was to pursue an associate’s degree in computer networking. But the computer science department at Athens Tech is not robust: they no longer offer computer programming, and the only networking they teach is Microsoft. Last fall, at the urging of friends in the IT industry, I began to consider transferring to Gwinnett Tech so as to study either Cisco or Unix networking. At the same time, I found myself really enjoying my Intro to Programming Design class, a prerequisite for both networking and programming degrees. So I stood at a crossroads: if I was going to transfer to Gwinnett Tech anyway, I could choose to study any of several flavors of network engineering, or programming, or even information security. After a thorough review of class schedules and prerequisite requirements and potential salaries, I chose programming. I’m glad I did.

It’s not easy, mind you, though I’m not sure how hard it really is. I have no perspective on these things. I sorta stumbled into this stuff after years away from school. But I really enjoy it. It’s like scratching an itch I never quite knew I had. I especially enjoy the actual programming. And I’ve done well, so far. This spring I completed C++ I, Java I and SQL, all with A’s. This summer I’m taking Web Development I (basically HTML, XHTML & HTML5) and Systems Analysis & Design. Then in the fall I’ll take C++ II, Java II and Financial Accounting I.

Summer semester is shorter than spring and fall, and I’ve been warned that it will be intense, but it can’t be much more intense than this recent spring semester or I’m going to end up in the hospital. A full-time job, a full class-load and a baby boy can wear you down. It’s the lack of sleep that does it, really. You keep pushing forward even as you start to come unraveled.

But I’m excited. This summer should be fun. I love what I’m learning, I’m on the Dean’s List, and I get to play outside with my wife and son whenever I’m not studying or working. Life is good.

I’m a lucky man.


trees in our backyard

The Garden, Phase 2 (cont.)


expanded garden

Wednesday I devoted to finishing the garden and working on some technical stuff before summer semester starts. Once school is back in session I’ll have little time for anything but work, sleep and study. Though our garden is not big, it is important to us. And we’ll continue to expand it over the next few seasons.

I planted oregano, thyme, chives and flat leaf parsley next to the basil, along with a bunch of heirloom Sunspot Sunflowers that grow to about 1.5 feet, the perfect size for Jonah and not so tall that they block out the sun on the tomatoes. Then I repaired and extended the irrigation system.

Tuesday in Spring, With Jonah


Jonah playing in the shade

This week is my only real break between school semesters, so Jonah stayed home Tuesday to help me in the garden. We haven’t hung out much since late last fall. School and work almost overwhelmed me this winter. So Tuesday was wonderful.

Not that we got any gardening done. But the spring weather was perfect. Jonah lurched all over our acre of land, collecting sticks and babbling. I did my best to keep him away from the road and out of the fire ant hills. I followed him around all day, sprinkling Amdro judiciously and talking to him about the things we saw.


a happy lunch

Sometimes I forget how nice it is to have a small piece of land miles outside of town. But I think it’s part of why Jonah is such a happy boy. He loves being outside, and we live in the country, so it works out well.

A word about photographing Jonah: he almost never stops moving, so any photos I post will tend to have blurry bits. I don’t mind. I would never ask him to be still or to pose for a photo. Posed photos are usually so awkward, what with fake smiles and insincere eyes. I love how Jonah utterly lacks self-consciousness. With time, perhaps, he’ll become more self-reflexive and less spontaneous, but I hope not too much. And I certainly don’t want to be the reason it happens to him. Joy bubbles out of him all day, every day. It would break my heart to think that I had helped tamp that down.


My wife and I have been together for a number of years, but we held off on reproducing until we felt good and ready.

And so: Jonah McRay Johnson was born in the early morning hours of April 5, 2012.

Jonah is something else. He’s mostly a happy little man, though he isn’t a stranger to the usual childish protestations and remonstrances.

We adore him.

Here are a few snapshots from along his timeline so far:


5 months old


I put an empty box on his head, which he found hilarious.


1st trip to the toy store.


Eating bananas with his new teeth. Good times.


Little man loves his momma.


Checking out the horses on one of our many walks down the country road where we live.


Just waking up from a nap.


Always in motion…

The Garden – Phase 2 (ctd.)

This time, I decided to mix my own growing medium. It’s far cheaper than buying ready-mixed bags of container soil, and of course it’s a great opportunity for obsessive types to get all creative with their choices and mix-ratios of the various available ingredients. I’m not obsessive, exactly, so I took the advice of the good folks at Cofer’s Home and Garden and mixed 16 cubic feet of soil conditioner (partly-composted pine bark, I think), 2 cubic feet of mushroom compost, 2 cubic feet of cow manure, 1 cubic feet of worm castings and 4 lbs. of Tomato-tone organic fertilizer. It’s a nice mix, I think, but the proof is in the tomatoes. That’ll take a few months.

In the meantime, here’s a shot of Jonah looking out our back door a few months ago:


He loves being outside, but that was a cold, rainy day, so he was stuck inside and rather sad about it.

The Garden – Phase 2

We’ve been gardening here for several years now, with varying degrees of success. The Phase 1 garden consisted of two 8′ X 4′ raised beds built with 1″ X 10″ pressure-treated boards, filled with potting soil amended with Plant-tone organic fertilizer. We surrounded the whole affair with wire fencing to keep out the deer and rabbits.

That worked great for a few years, but then we decided to introduce nematodes into the soil to control the cutworms that were eating our heirloom tomato plants. Turns out, heirloom tomato plants don’t like nematodes, not at all. Then the pressure-treated boards rotted away, leaving us with raised mounds of dirt instead of raised beds. Plus, it was really hard to keep the grass and weeds under control in that tight space between the fencing and the beds.

So this year I moved the garden to a new spot, and we invested in some ready-made cedar raised bed kits. I had a few hours to spare between semesters, so I spent an afternoon putting the whole thing in place. I reused the irrigation system we bought from Lee Valley a few years back (good company, btw).

new raised beds

irrigation system

new raised beds

new raised beds

So we’ve got four heirloom tomato plants in the near field, and three hybrids plus a basil plant in the far field. I’ll be adding another square bed onto the side in a few days; we’ll plant some wildflowers and herbs in there. It’s not as big a garden as I’d like, but it’s a start. As any gardener knows, establishing a new garden is expensive, so that’s reason enough to wait till next year to expand it. Plus I’ve got two challenging classes this summer semester, and we’re a family perpetually out of time & energy these days, so I didn’t want to overwhelm us.

But it comes down to this: I want my son to grow up with a well-tended garden in his back yard. Eating fresh vegetables straight from the garden was one of the most mind-blowing things I ever did as a child, and I want Jonah to know that feeling, too. Dear old Papa Johnson would approve.