The Perspective of My Messy Kitchen

At just after 2 am Pacific time last Wednesday morning I pulled our van into our driveway, arriving home with my youngest three kids (ages 11, 5 and 2) after a week-long vacation at Grandma’s house in Florida. Nearly 17 hours before, we had hugged her goodbye and made our way diagonally across the U.S., taking a variety of planes, trains and automobiles to get back to our home in the state of Washington. We were all exhausted from traveling, yet my kids were still excited to go hug Mommy, who was already sleeping. They ran in ahead of me as I brought in a couple of bags, dropped them on the floor inside the front door, and followed them upstairs. The first thing I noticed once I got upstairs was the clean floor of my girls’ room, which had been totally messy with clothes, shoes, toys, and plastic bins when we left a week earlier. My wife had cleaned it all up while we had been gone, so it was a pleasant surprise to find upon our return. It was a job that had taken her a considerable amount of time to complete and I made sure to thank her for doing it before I went to sleep that night.

At about 5 am my five year old woke me up, complaining of a headache and hunger. Obviously the three hour time change and long day of travel was catching up to her. I brought her to the kitchen to get her some yogurt and a glass of milk. I wasn’t prepared for the mess that was revealed when I turned on the lights in the kitchen. Every surface of the counter was covered with what appeared to be week-old wrappers and boxes from several restaurants, dirty dishes, mail, textbooks, half-filled soda cans and mostly empty cups. I slowly shook my head in disbelief, got my daughter her food. After two bites she was full and I put away her yogurt and milk in the fridge and turned out the lights. The messy kitchen could be dealt with later after I had more sleep.

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My Messy Kitchen.

Thankfully, my younger two kids slept in until about 10 am that day, so I was feeling reasonably well-rested and appreciated the warm sunshine as we began our first day back home. The girls marveled at their now-clean room and I made sure to remind them that it was because of the hard work of their mother that it was so nice for them. They wasted little time in bringing some dolls and stuffed animals into their room to play on the expanse of clean carpet. While they entertained themselves upstairs I snuck away to the kitchen to assess the mess in the light of day. It was just as bad as I had remembered from the middle of the night. Only, this time I started to feel really angry at my wife and two teenage daughters. It felt like a literal and figurative F-you to see a full load of clean dishes in the dishwasher, dirty dishes piled up in the sink and on the countertops, and the rest of the mess all over the place. Even the dining room table, which had been completely cleaned (by me!) after our Easter dinner the day before we left, was full of all kinds of stuff that didn’t belong there. I debated taking my little girls to a nearby favorite cafe to eat because of the mess. I really wanted to teach my wife and older kids a lesson about respect and responsibility. I felt this almost righteous indignation because I had worked really hard to make sure that the house was tidy before we left so that there would be no excuse for it to be messy upon my return. I really wanted to just leave the mess for them to clean up. I didn’t deserve this extra work. This was literally their mess to clean up.

As I was starting to really get myself worked up over this my two year old wandered into the kitchen to ask me to make her some pancakes for breakfast. Pretty please with sugar on top, Daddy? Of course, even though there was not even one spot on the counters clean enough to to fit a mixing bowl, much less a griddle, I told her that I would be happy to do that once I cleaned up a little bit. Without being asked, she cheerfully started to empty the dishwasher. If my little one could help clean, I figured that I really had to figure out a way to get over myself and get a better attitude about this mess, but, oh boy, I was struggling. I decided some upbeat Christian music might help change my angry spirit, so I plugged my iPhone into some speakers and started cleaning alongside my little girl. It took a few songs until I really started to realize that cleaning up someone else’s mess wasn’t really the end of the world. Sure, it was irritating and disappointing. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to come home to a cleaner kitchen. But, as I began to clean, I started to gain a different perspective from my messy kitchen.

For one thing, while we were having a great time at Grandma’s pool and at the beach, my wife was busy working at her job to provide financially for our family and my teenage daughters were busy with school, homework and water polo practice. Because of my wife’s faithfulness in working hard at all times, even while I am on vacation, I am able to be a Stay At Home Dad. I am able to take these kinds of trips with my kids. Sure, it was a working vacation for me because my SAHD duties didn’t end just because I wasn’t at home, but it was still a vacation all the same. Also, it dawned on me that this was an opportunity for me to really practice what I preach, or, at least blog about. Just a few weeks ago I wrote What’s In Your Garden?, a blog post about cultivating kindness and gratitude in all of my relationships by focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. After all, since my wife had done a great job of cleaning up the girls’ room and my girls had taken care of their school responsibilities, cleaning up the kitchen shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? Even if my attitude hadn’t fully caught up with that positivity, I was sure that it would at some point. Then, my phone rang, cutting off the uplifting music and my mojo along with it.

It was my oldest daughter, calling to talk about some other stuff. I wasn’t really in a mood to talk at that moment and I was, sadly, a little short with her, as I let my frustration with the situation in my kitchen affect my conversation with her. As I was talking with her and flipping pancakes my teenage daughters arrived home from school (it was an early-release day) and came in the kitchen to say hi, as they hadn’t seen me since we had gotten back home. Instead of returning their greetings, I shot a very sarcastic “Thanks for the mess, girls!” at them. So much for that attitude of gratitude. Epic dad fail. That, obviously, set a negative tone for the next few minutes, until I realized what a complete tool I was being. I asked their forgiveness (both my girls at home and my oldest who was still on speakerphone) and shared with them my feelings of frustration and that I was really trying to have a good attitude about it all. They graciously forgave me and I finished serving pancakes to my little girls while the older ones made themselves some lunch. After the kids all finished eating and cleared out of the kitchen, I finally had a chance to eat my own pancakes, enjoying the sudden peace and quiet. It was then that I fully released the burden of being angry about the messy kitchen. It’s just stupid stuff. What really matters to me is relationship with my family, not if my kitchen is perfectly clean.

It took quite a bit more effort on my part to get the kitchen cleaned up. I think I ran the dishwasher three times in the first 24 hours I was back and did a load of hand-wash items as well. I also took moment to consider the fact that we’re fortunate enough to live in such a beautiful home with plenty of food and dishes to get messy in the first place. And we even have a functioning dishwasher to help. It’s really all about perspective. It’s been almost a week since I came home to that messy kitchen. I realize now that it was an opportunity to really teach my family a lesson. Only, the lesson was one of grace, not one of punishment. And it was not just their lesson, but mine as well.

EDIT: Please note that I’m sharing this to encourage others to examine what’s really important in life. In no way was I trying to embarrass my wife or daughters for not cleaning up the dishes. It’s only a temporary mess that was cleaned up within a couple of hours. Much more meaningful to me are the lasting relationships in my life with my wife and daughters.

What’s In Your Garden?

It’s raining again today where I live, which isn’t surprising given that I live in Washington state, which is part of a region known for its amount of rainy days each year. But, this post isn’t about rain as much as it is about what the rain produces: green grass. As I was sitting alone one recent morning enjoying a cup of coffee before my kids woke up, I realized that the rain was responsible for turning everything varying shades of green, even through the winter here. During the long dry summers the lush grass goes dormant and turns brown if not watered. My neighbors, however, have a sprinkler system that waters their yard every evening at 10:27 pm. Rain or shine. The lesson, though, isn’t that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (even if it’s true in this example), but, rather, that the grass is always greener where you water it!

All too often in life it’s easy for me to forget to express my appreciation to the people in my life who love me. As a husband and father I try my best to use my words and actions to encourage my wife and kids, and I know that is music to my ears when they do the same to me. I can’t help being an incurable romantic, so I love it when my Facebook newsfeed contains posts by friends who are publicly expressing their appreciation for their spouses, children, parents or friends. I’ve especially enjoyed reading posts from a husband or wife that is bragging about something that his or her spouse did, said or accomplished. It’s such a simple act that has profound meaning. Genuine kindness and appreciation are the showers that bring life and health to relationships.

Just last week my kids helped me to prepare a small section of soil next to our driveway that we use each year to grow sugar snap peas.

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Rows of Sugar Snap Peas sprouting

We carefully removed the weeds and then planted the rows of seeds. In about 10 weeks we’re going to be enjoying some delicious sugar snap peas because you reap what you sow! The same is true in relationships. If I’m on the lookout for opportunities to tell my wife and kids how thankful I am for them or how much I appreciate something that they did, that’s going to not only strengthen our relationship but also help me to focus on the good in them. As a bonus, it will likely be encouraging them at the same time. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. I have a friend who posts three things for which she is thankful every Tuesday, calling it GratiTuesday. I love that attitude of gratitude that she intentionally writes about each week. I want to be a husband, father and friend that is known for cultivating kindness and gratitude in his garden of life.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the opposite of the attitude of gratitude is also true. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” probably happened because the people involved didn’t take the time to notice or appreciate what they had right in front of them all along.

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What’s in your garden?

I firmly believe that if we each spent a small fraction of the time that we usually use to complain about people and instead used that to water own yards or gardens, then we would see some beautiful grass, plants and flowers right in front of us. I know that I can complain about things to my kids or wife, but that only comes off as nagging or pestering and ultimately hurts our relationship. The reality is that if I’m looking for ways to be hurt or things to complain about, I can find them (or manufacture them) pretty easily. Yet, all that does is feed the negativity and create distance and hurt and separation in the relationship because I’m filling myself with contempt for my loved ones. On the other hand, when I choose to focus on the good and to communicate my love and appreciation, our bond is strengthened. I’m finding that looking for the good in my wife and kids is important when I’m not feeling in a particularly appreciative mood. I want my kids to see and feel what it’s like for their dad to love and appreciate both them and their mother, no matter the circumstances. My attitude of gratitude isn’t dependent upon receiving thanks and appreciation from others. It’s a choice that I get to make daily. Sometimes even minute by minute. In the end, though, I choose to be loving and kind instead of critical and ungrateful.

This notion of choosing an attitude of gratitude is actually based in scientific research by people much smarter and more educated than I am. I recently came across some articles from famous psychologists Gottman and Gottman that really confirmed what I had already been feeling and inspired me to be more intentional in looking for the good in my wife and kids (and others, of course). What follows is an excerpt from their findings.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Please do yourself a favor and take the ten or fifteen minutes needed to read the articles which describe their findings in greater depth. (Links to the articles are here: Business Insider article, Masters of Love-Atlantic article)

Perhaps your reaction will be like mine, both convicted encouraged and inspired by what you read there. I hope that your loved ones will appreciate the changes that they see in you and that you will notice how much better they also look once you’ve consistently been showering them with your kindness and generosity. After all, we reap what we sow. So, what’s in your garden?

Chabee Diaper Bag Review

I never thought I’d be writing a product review for a diaper bag. As a parent for over 20 years and as a Stay At Home Dad over the last 15 years I’ve used an wide variety of diaper bags and backpacks to get the job done for schlepping around diapers, wipes, spare outfits, snacks, toys, kleenex, Cheerios and an assortment of other necessary items when out and about with my kids. I was never really very particular about the style of the bag. Anyone that knows me understands that I can rock a purple or pink bag just as comfortably as a blue or brown one. I just need the bag to hold everything that I need and to be comfortable to wear. And easy to clean. And durable. When my five year old was born my wife thought it would be nice to get me a more manly diaper bag since most of the previous ones had been what would be considered more girly, for lack of a better term. She found one that had been created by dads and looked manly. Only problem was that one of the shoulder strap buckles (made of plastic) broke a week or so into my use of it. For the next few months that diaper bag worked pretty well, but it irritated me that I could only use one shoulder strap instead of being able to wear it like a backpack. I actually replaced it with a backpack a short while later. When my two year old was born I didn’t even bother with an actual diaper bag. I grabbed my favorite Jansport canvas backpack from the closet and filled it with the essentials. I suppose that’s what having my sixth kid meant. Forget the formality of it all and just go with my old reliable backpack.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m telling you all of this when the title indicated that this is a product review. Well, almost a year ago some guy I had never met in person but who was, like me, a member of a Facebook group for SAHDs, asked us dads for feedback regarding a diaper bag he was in the process of making. This guy, Jesse, seemed nice enough, so I responded and told him much of the same stuff that I shared in the paragraph above. I figured that was it. Well, a couple of months ago, he contacted me out of the blue to thank me for the help and encouragement from earlier in the year and to ask for my address so that he could send me a diaper bag to review. Two days after I responded with my information a box was delivered to my front door. My kids excitedly helped me open it up and were slightly disappointed to discover that it was “only a diaper bag”. I examined it for a few minutes before setting it aside to finish making dinner. The next day I decided to start using it so that I could get a good feel for how it would perform over the course of a few weeks. Well, that was about six weeks ago now and here’s what I found.

First, this bag is made of waxed canvas. Unlike the cheap plastic of many bags or even regular canvas like many backpacks, this bag feels different.

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Pouches designed to hold smart phones and tablets

Jesse told me over the phone that he’s passionate about honesty in his life and in his company. He said that there’s only one company in the U.S. that makes such high-quality waxed canvas and that’s the one he uses, even though it’s a little pricey. He didn’t want to get it from overseas where it’s the product of unethical labor practices, even if it would be cheaper. The quality of the material is obvious from the very first touch. It took a trip to the Tacoma Children’s Museum two weeks ago for me to realize how important the quality of the material is. You see, it was pouring rain (I live in the PNW after all) and once my girls and I got inside the museum I looked down to see how soaked the diaper bag would be only to discover that the water had beaded up on the outside of the bag. I gently shook the bag and the water fell off like when a duck ruffles its feathers. I was so relieved that the cloth diapers and clothes inside the bag were still nice and dry.

 

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Inside of the bag

Another nice aspect of this bag is the design. As I used it more and more I noticed that it wasn’t too big and bulky yet it still comfortably held 3-4 cloth diapers, wipes, wet bag, spare clothes, snacks and such. There are small pouches on the inside as well as ones on the outside that fit my iPhone. Jesse mentioned that during the course of his bag design (he went through five prototypes) he made sure to include spaces for smart phones. Yet, because the bag is made from canvas it’s flexible, which I appreciated greatly on that trip to the museum because, unlike my backpack, this bag fit easily in the locked cubby storage unit. There are small details that I noted about the bag that set it apart from others I’ve used. The buckles and snaps are brass, not cheap plastic.

 

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Changing mat (banana for scale)

There’s even a changing mat that’s attached on the back on the outside. I didn’t realize how convenient this would be until last week, when I had to make an impromptu diaper changing station at the Washington State History Museum. The bathroom had no changing table yet my two year old fit on it with room to spare, which is no small feat given that I’m 6’8″ and my kids are all tall.

 

The final thing I want to highlight about this bag is that it comes from the passion and experience of a real, live person. Jesse and his family recently relocated to northwest Wisconsin, just about an hour from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He’s been a SAHD since his oldest daughter was born four years ago and he and his wife now have three kids. He started Chabee Outfitters on his own and has worked hard to get to this point.

Chabee is a mash up of the words “change” and “be”. The name was formed to encompass the beautiful Gandhi quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” While many attach this quote to grand changes in the world, we at Chabee are obsessed with how it applies to the intimate details of life. Our greatest goal is to create a company we would want to do business with. We carry this concept in our name because we want to carry it with us in all our business relationships and decisions. -from ChabeeOutfitters website

I appreciated talking to him on the phone for about 30 minutes because it was good to hear him describe all the joys and frustrations that he has experienced in designing and making this bag. Interestingly enough, it’s made in Tacoma, Washington (such a small world because I live nearby) with all American-made materials.  As is the case with many things in life, you often get what you pay for. The same is true with this diaper bag. Because of Jesse’s attention to detail and desire to deliver a high-quality diaper bag this bag is currently listed at $225. But, if you’re looking for a bag with a 100% lifetime guarantee that will be durable enough to be used for multiple kids and then as a pretty nice messenger-type bag after that, this might be the bag you’re looking for. If I could go back 20 years to when my eldest child was born (and if we had the money then!), I would’ve gotten this bag in a heartbeat. As a special promotion for readers of my blog, Jesse has graciously agreed to a 15% discount if you enter the coupon code “BCD” at checkout. The website is www.chabeeoutfitters.com. Find them on Facebook here.

Disclosure: I was given the diaper bag (pictured) to review. I received no other compensation. The words and opinions above are mine.

Whatyadoing, Dad?

Whatyadoing, Dad?

It was a simple and polite question from my 14 year old daughter that both broke the silence of the room and announced her arrival. My youngest daughters had been asleep for a while already and the older kids were in their rooms and I had the sofa, a laptop, and a quiet house at the same time, which meant that I might, finally, get to write a blog post that had been stirring around in my brain and my heart for a few weeks. Yet, here was my daughter, sitting on the sofa next to me, asking me what I was doing. IMG_3066So, I told her that I was (finally) going to write this blog post that would explain my disgust with the conservative governors, U.S. Presidential candidates and the House of Representatives about their response to Syrian refugees. I would neatly correlate that to how so many of them (conservatives) were the same people who responded with #AllLivesMatter whenever they saw #BlackLivesMatter, yet, here they were not acting like ALL lives mattered when given the opportunity to help out those in need. There was a definite NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) tenor to their nationalistic responses and calls for tighter border controls in the face of such an “imminent terrorist threat”. I had all sorts of links saved from articles that I’ve read over the last month or so. I was so ready for this blog.

I was really on a roll as I shared my thoughts with my daughter. This blog post was going to be really amazing if her reaction was any indication. She actually seemed interested in what I was saying and a pretty lively discussion ensued.

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Suspected Terrorist in Planned Parenthood shooting

We talked about the awful and tragic events in Colorado with the Planned Parenthood shooting and how, once again, the conservative Presidential candidates had trouble showing compassion for the situation and the people involved. We talked about America’s obsession with guns and the Second Amendment and how neither of us could imagine that the Founding Fathers could have possibly envisioned protecting the rights of average citizens to have high capacity automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons so that they could engage in terrorism against one another. Then our conversation came back to the Syrian refugees and the notion that ISIS or DAESCH (or whatever they’re called now) would be sneaking operatives into the United States among the refugees.

IMG_3065I mentioned that we should be far more afraid of angry white men going on shooting rampages in public places (schools, malls, hospitals/clinics) than terrorists. I also mentioned, again, how disappointed and disgusted I was at the number of people that I know personally who call themselves Christians yet are unwilling to extend a helping hand to these foreigners in their greatest times of need because they might be terrorists. I may or may not have gone on a small rant about the hypocrisy involved in that line of thinking.

 

As the conversation paused for a moment I noticed that we had been talking for about 45 minutes at that point. Then my daughter said something that was completely unexpected yet filled me with such immense joy. I’ll have to paraphrase it as I don’t recall her exact words.

Dad, I want to do something to help the refugees. I read that there’s an organization that is helping out kids and families that are fleeing Syria. I want to donate to them. Could you please take some of the money out of my savings account and do that?

Yes. So much YES! Here’s my 14 year old daughter, who had saved her hard-earned babysitting and allowance money, asking me to donate to help out others. As a parent, this is how I hope all of my kids will respond to the plight of others: compassion, love and action.

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Terrified child refugee

As we finished our conversation I realized that my long-winded blog post was going to have a much different ending than I had imagined in my brain 45 minutes earlier. So, here’s my new ending. Would you consider joining my amazing daughter by making a donation to help the Syrian refugees? If that doesn’t do it for you, then how about making a donation to a charity that helps veterans or homeless people right here in the United States? Please, just make sure that you actually do something. Make a difference.

Here’s a link to donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency efforts.

The Days After Earth Day: 10 ways your family can be more eco-friendly all year long

April 22nd was Earth Day, the one day each year that we pause to really think about how we could take better care of our beloved third rock from the sun. Maybe your kids had a little “Earth Day” program or lesson at school. Maybe they sang “Happy Earth Day” and colored a nice picture. Or even took a pledge to be better conservationists. But when the calendar turns to April 23 and beyond, what will we really do to make a difference that lasts beyond one day? Well, if we all made a few simple changes it could have a profound global impact. Here are ten easy ways that my family celebrates Earth Day…every day of the year!

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It’s okay to leave the lights on if this is your house

10-Turn off the lights. When you leave a room turn off the light(s). Yeah, if you’re a parent, you probably feel like you’re constantly following your kids around and turning off the lights after them. I’m mean enough to make my kids (once old enough) to go back and turn off the lights themselves. It builds a good habit for later in life. Also, if there’s enough natural light then maybe use that instead of the overhead lights. Or just use one lamp instead of a larger fixture. Small changes will add up quickly.

9-Programmable thermostat. For just a few dollars you (Yes, you! I’ve done it myself a few times and it’s easy.) can install a thermostat that you can program to automatically set back to a lower temperature when you leave the house or go to sleep and then raise it when you return or wake up. Not only is it good for the environment, but it’s also good for your wallet. If you’re really into it like I am, you can even keep it a couple of degrees lower during the day and wear a sweater or sweatshirt.

8-Compost food scraps. Toss those peels and other discarded food scraps in an outdoor composter instead of the trash or sink disposal. You can do the same thing for leaves in the fall if your city doesn’t collect them. After a little while you’ll have some excellent organic fertilizer to spread in your garden.

7-Use re-useable containers for left-overs. Of course it’s obvious to do that at home. But why not take them to a restaurant? Even though it makes our teenagers cringe from embarrassment, we’ve used them when going out to eat as a family, as our little ones often don’t finish their meals.

6-Reusable bags. Because I often forget the bags at home (hey, at least I remembered my kids!), I actually keep a stash of reusable grocery bags in my van. My wife recently got six mesh bags for produce items that would usually be placed in plastic bags. They’re washable and easy to use. Our kids each have their own lunch bags for school lunches so that we’re not going through hundreds of paper bags each year.

5-Cloth diapers.

Cloth diaper baby

Cloth diaper baby

My oldest turned 20 a short time ago. So, that means that we’ve been cloth diapering our six kids for over two decades. With our first four we used the old cloth, safety pins and vinyl wraps. The modern cloth diapers are pretty slick and don’t involve pins. For the record, I never once pricked my kids with a pin while changing thousands of diapers as a Stay At Home Dad these last 14 years. Too bad the same cannot be said for my fingers.

4-Recycle. I know it’s obvious, but just do it. We even take it to the next level by bringing items not collected on the curb to the local recycling center. That also includes plastic shopping bags (see #6 above) which can often be dropped off at grocery stores. It’s worth the tiny bit of extra effort to keep these items out of the landfill. On a recent three-day road trip my 13 year old was looking for a place to recycle an empty box. Finding none, she asked if we could bring it home to recycle it. It’s second nature if you start early with your kids. Bonus: my 10 year old suggests using the empty plastic shopping bags as a trash can liner.

3-Pick up litter/trash. As a parent, I recognize that my kids are always watching to make sure that my actions match up with my words. With that in mind, I routinely pick up trash that is lying around when we’re out in public. It’s especially rewarding when my kids see me doing it and then excitedly copy my actions. Tip: carry a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you. Update: I was telling my 10 year old son about this blog and he told me that on our recent trip he picked up an empty water bottle from the ground at a park and put it in our trash/recycling bag to bring home. I didn’t see it happen but it makes me proud to know that my kids are following the example of my wife and me in picking up trash.

2-Buy local. Grow local.

Eating sugar snap peas right off the plant. Yummy!

Eating sugar snap peas right off the plant. Yummy!

Even though it sometimes might cost a little bit more, I like to buy items made or grown locally. We’ve purchased a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from a local farm for each of the last 13 years. Visiting the CSA farm creates an opportunity for our children to see where some of our food comes from so they can begin to learn that it doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store or in our  fridge.

In fact, we also have a modest garden of sugar snap peas, strawberries, beets, herbs, tomatoes and lettuce/chard/spinach (not sure which of those last three will actually grow). The kids help me to build the garden boxes, prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed as needed, and then harvest the crop. I love it when they walk out to the garden and help themselves, knowing that they (literally) had a hand in growing that food.

1-Reuse. Repurpose. And reuse some more.

My baby painted that cardboard M as part of a Mother's Day gift.

My baby painted that cardboard M as part of a Mother’s Day gift.

We reuse things over and over. I used to think it was weird to save old moving boxes and packing paper. Guess what? The kids love to make forts and tunnels with the boxes and both the cardboard and packing paper work great for painting and other art projects. Then the painted paper can be repurposed as wrapping paper for friends or relatives. Our kids get new clothes when needed, but there’s certainly no shame in admitting that some of the outfits my 20 year old wore as a child have made it all the way to kid number six. It’s pretty impressive in my mind that some of the stuff lasted that long. My wife also is a queen thrift store shopper with a keen eye for high-end brand-name clothing for dirt cheap prices. Why pay the crazy amounts for a brand new outfit that your kid may or may not like or wear when you can save money by reusing? Sheets, t-shirts, towels and other fabrics can be washed and repurposed as rags or wipes. We haven’t had paper towels in three years. We made reusable wipes for our baby that work just as well as disposable ones. We bring water bottles on road trips instead of buying plastic ones. And then we often refill them at rest stops and gas stations along the way. Starbucks and other coffee shops often have reusable cups that both save the environment and your pocketbook.

Bonus-Backyard chickens. IMG_2590We’ve kept a flock of backyard chickens for about six years now and I love it for many reasons. The quality and freshness of the eggs is amazing and store bought eggs pale in comparison in color, taste and health benefit. The chickens are good for the environment because they will eat a lot of our food scraps that would either be trashed or composted and repurpose it into wonderful eggs.IMG_3297 They also naturally eat pests, aerate and fertilize our lawn, and further our children’s understanding of where our food comes from. Keeping chickens is far less work than I had feared and quite a rewarding experience with my children.

With the exception of the backyard chickens, the rest of the ideas listed above are pretty easy to incorporate into your daily routine if you make it a priority and a habit. If you have young kids make sure to explain what you’re doing and ask them to help keep you (the parents) accountable. Not only will they learn the new behaviors but they’ll be watching you extra close and will love to playfully remind you to shape up. Let me know if your family does any of these ideas or if you have additional ideas of your own.

To My Wife: Thank You

A short time ago, for no particular reason, it occurred to me how fortunate I am to be nearing the end of my 14th year as a Stay At Home Dad.And it’s all because I’m married to one pretty incredible woman.

Two crazy twenty year olds got hitched one day in 1993.

Two crazy twenty year olds got hitched one day in 1993.

Without her love and support over the 22+ years of our marriage and 14 years of my SAHD career I wouldn’t be the man, husband and father I am today. Together, years ago, we chose that it made the most sense for me to quit my teaching job and for her to finish her advanced degree and post-graduate training while I cared for our children. I’ve often thought about the sacrifices that I’ve made over the years to be a SAHD. Specifically, the fact that I sacrificed my teaching career when “retired”at age 29, after only six years in the profession. It didn’t really occur to me that my wife also has made many sacrifices over the years as well. So, this is a big THANK YOU to her.

While I’ve been at home changing diapers and feeding hungry mouths and playing games and going on adventures and folding laundry and shuttling kids to and from school and practices and everything else that I do all day you are also working. Only, you don’t get to be with your family 24/7 like me. And that’s a sacrifice for you. I try to document the countless special moments and show you pictures or have the kids recreate them for you. But it’s not the same as witnessing it live and in person. Yet, you don’t complain about it. You continue to wake up and go to work, even when you’d rather stay home under the warm covers and snuggle with one of the kids who crawled in with you. You’re showing our kids what it means to work hard and excel at what you do. You’re showing our children – particularly our daughters – that women can support their families financially and that they don’t need to rely on men for that. Thank you for being a role model for our son and daughters.

I often take for granted the daily opportunities to be present with our children as they discover the world around them. Thank you for encouraging me to take them on so many trips, not only locally, but also to other parts of the United States and even abroad. Without both your financial support and emotional encouragement, we wouldn’t have been to places like Alaska, Hawaii, Florida and Europe. They’ve seen firsthand that our world is so much bigger than whatever community we are living in.

For the last 14 years our children have observed what happens when a couple dares to throw tradition aside and do something crazy like having the dad stay home while the mom goes off to school or work. I don’t think it can be said often enough how proud I am of you for sticking it out and successfully completing your advanced degree and three more years of training. I know that you missed lots of time with the kids. We all missed you as well. But, now, looking back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. The past has shaped us into the family we are today. Our children can all see the value in pursuing your goals through education and keeping at it even when the going gets tough. And to think that our family kept on expanding while all of this education/training was happening. You, my love, are one amazing woman!

Speaking of an expanding family, thank you for being so ridiculously good looking. There’s no other explanation for the fact that we have six children that are so beautiful. And smart. And persistent. And witty. And vocal. And opinionated. And compassionate. And loving. Even though none of them have your hair color they remind me of you in so many other good ways.

wuvFinally, thank you for putting up with loving me for these 22+ years. I know that I sometimes do things that drive you crazy. I snore. I fart. (You used to think that was funny. Now? Notsomuch.) I buy too much at Costco. I don’t always use the cloth wipes. Sometimes I bury stuff in the fridge and forget about it and it goes bad. The van is messy. I could go on, but that’s not the point. Despite all my perfect imperfections (thanks, John Legend) I am still madly and deeply and totally loving you. Thanks (I think) in advance for offering to push me in a wheelchair once my arthritic knee finally gives out. I look forward to growing old with you. Hopefully I can keep up. Seriously, though, thank you for loving me despite my shortcomings. I thank God for you every day. Thank you for being you. You are loved.

I Beat My Kids…and they like it!

RELAX. I’m talking about beating my kids at board games. H-O-R-S-E. Cards. Footraces. Arm wrestling.

Still smiling even after a massive defeat

Still smiling even after a massive defeat

While I was playing my son, C, (age 10) tonight in a couple of games of Carcassonne,I asked him if he wanted me to take it easy on him. He looked at me kind of funny, with a weird expression on his face, not understanding what I was asking. So I rephrased it, “Do you want me to play nice so that you’ll have a better chance to win?”. His response? “NO! I don’t need you to go easy on me. I can win on my own.” Bingo! I couldn’t have said it better myself. We played two games tonight. I won them both. He has yet to beat me in this particular game and we’ve been playing it for quite a while now. He doesn’t complain. In fact, it drives him to get better. The margin of victory was a lot less in the second game. His strategy improved along with his score.

I’ve been a parent now for nearly twenty years, but I’ve been a competitive game-player for as long as I can remember. I can recall long games of Monopoly with my older brother that maybe got a little bit over the top competitive. One in particular, in which I had him basically beaten, so he said he “died” and flipped the game board over and huffed away. I’m especially fond of that win. While my parents didn’t really play a lot of board games with us I have a lot of very fond memories of playing games with both sets of grandparents. My dad’s parents taught us how to play Sheepshead (although they called it the German name). I routinely lost but as time went on I learned the game and became a decent player. Same for my other set of grandparents who taught me all sorts of card, dice and board games: cribbage, backgammon, chess, checkers, king’s corners, sollitare, burn, acey-deucy and pinochle. I grew to cherish the times that we would spend playing those games, often for hours at a time. Never once do I remember them letting me win. If they did, they did a great job of hiding it. What I do remember, though, is learning to win and lose with grace and humility. There was no dancing and hooting and hollering. Maybe a tiny hooray but nothing extraordinary. Of course, whenever I would beat my grandpa in a game head-to-head I got a certain sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had beaten someone who I considered a really good player.

With our oldest child, I remember when she was maybe four years old, letting her beat me in a foot race across the front yard. The next day her best friend was at our house and my daughter challenged her to a race, boasting about how she had beaten me every single time the day before. Her friend roasted her every single time because my daughter was so slow. I realized that maybe letting her win all the time wasn’t the best idea. It would be okay for her to learn that she wouldn’t always win and that losing might just fuel her to do better the next time. Right now, my fifth child is almost five years old. She likes to play card games like UNO and Spot-It and even Dutch Blitz (with some help). In some of those games where speed is an important factor, I take it easy on her to level the playing field a bit. After all, no kid wants to lose all the time. That’s not fun and would just turn her off to games completely. Yet, at the same time, I don’t go so easy on her that she wins every time. She’s learning how to win and how to lose.

Proud winner of his first game of Monopoly

Proud winner of his first-ever game of Monopoly

Three years ago I took my son, C, then age 7, on a week-long cruise to Alaska. Since we were “at sea” the entire first day of the trip we spent some time in the game room, where I taught him how to play Monopoly.I warned him that it was a game that would eventually bankrupt one of us, and it would likely be him since he was just learning the game. As it turned out, he had lucky dice like I did when I was a kid (see board-flipping story above) and won his debut Monopoly game. When I asked him tonight if he remembered that game, he beamed, proudly recalling a lot of details, including the fact that he ended up with $4400 to my ZERO!

My older kids, three girls that are all teenagers (for another week until one becomes 20, yikes!) all enjoy playing various games with me, despite my competitive nature. I have not taken it easy on any of them when we’ve played H-O-R-S-E or “Around the World” in the backyard. Or bocce ball. Or Dutch Blitz (a fast-paced card game). Or board games like Ticket to Ride or even Disney Trivia Pursuit. I’m scary good at the Princess movie questions. Don’t judge. In fact, a few years ago, my oldest and I had a running competition in which we played Dutch Blitz for money, a penny a point. Talk about a way to motivate my daughter for pennies. It was so much fun. I think I might have made $5 off her that summer. But, the point is, she didn’t suffer emotional trauma because I beat her (and maybe taunted her, but, in my defense, she was a teenager at the time) and took her money. It was a valuable, if not cheap, lesson in not running your mouth about how good you are in a game if you can’t back it up. To this day we still joke about that competition.

IMG_6038Last summer we managed to clean up our Rec Room enough to actually use the air hockey table. The kids had fun playing it together and my son made the mistake of challenging me to play against him. I told him I wouldn’t take it easy on him, that I would play to win. If memory serves me correctly, it took him 18 games (over several days) to finally beat his old man. But when he finally broke through, the excited hooting and hollering were music to my ears. He knew that he had earned that hard-fought victory on his own accord. We all had so much fun playing king-of-the-table tournaments. I think the longest streak was five wins in a row for one person. We also figured out that it was pretty fun to put all five air hockey pucks on the table at the same time and play.

I’m currently the household king of Trivia Crack and am proud of my trivial knowledge. I love nothing more than to accept the game challenges from my kids, only to crush them swiftly in one or two rounds. Except for that one game last week in which my 13 year old beat me. I ran into some questions about TV shows and movies that I’ve never seen and, obviously, don’t know. After she beat me she told my 15 year old about it. “You beat Dad?! No way! Prove it!” Sure enough, she had the proof on her device. Let’s just say that the games between us have been decidedly one-sided since that blemish on my record.

My ten year old just came near the computer and saw what I’m writing about and smiled. He told me, “It’s okay to go easy on your kids until they’re about six or seven. Once they’re that old you have to go hard on them!” Bring it…and let the games begin!