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?

Daddy Cookies: Snitching Sisters

Last Saturday morning my two and a half year old daughter woke up and came downstairs to find me in the kitchen, where I had just emptied the dishwasher and was enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before everyone else would wake up. She climbed up into my lap and happily announced that she wanted to make cookies with me. But, not just any cookies, Daddy Cookies. As a rookie SAHD back in 2001 I realized that I really enjoyed making cookies with the help of my kids. I stumbled upon a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookie recipe booklet for oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies that were an instant hit with both my kids and me. I’ve tweaked the recipe ever so slightly (extra vanilla is yummy!) and added the secret ingredient, The Mixing Dance. My kids named them Daddy Cookies because it was much shorter and easier to say than the official full name. At any rate, I eagerly agreed and we started to gather the necessary ingredients and the mixer.

After she pushed a chair to the counter by the mixer we began to add our ingredients, starting with the two eggs fresh from our backyard chickens. My daughter is learning to crack eggs and does a pretty nice job for someone so little. (In a related note, her tiny fingers are excellent for picking out tiny pieces of shell.) Just after we added the sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, butter, salt, vanilla and peanut butter and mixed them all up, my five year old arrived downstairs and asked if she could help. My loving two year old excitedly told her big sister that she could help us before I even had a chance to respond. I was really enjoying the fact that she was willing to share this baking experience with her sister and wasn’t feeling threatened by her sister’s presence. I suppose it’s what she’s always been used to, being the sixth of six kids in our family. Well, after we added the next two ingredients, the flour and oatmeal, my girls realized that they needed to snitch some dough. I don’t mind it but I do ask that they use spoons and that they wait until the mixer is turned off. (I know, I’m so mean.) I’ve been snitching raw cookie dough my whole life and have never gotten sick so please spare me any comments about that. I will admit that eating dough is one of my favorite parts of making cookies. All that was left was to add the chocolate chips and we would be set to scoop and bake the cookies. Except there was one small problem.

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My helpers

The can of chocolate chips wasn’t in the cupboard where it was supposed to be. With two teenage daughters and an 11 year old son in the house, I figured that there was one of three places it could be. Since my son was already gone hiking with my wife, I figured that we would check his room first. So, I told my girls that whoever found the can of chocolate chips first would get the first snitch with chocolate chips. My five year old declined, of course. My two year old, however, literally jumped at the chance to go into her brother’s room without him there (usually a no-no). As my two year old started to climb down from her chair by the counter, my five year old decided that it would be fun, after all, to get the chocolate chips and because she would be able to run faster than her little sister. As they ran through the living room I could hear their shrieks: delight from my five year old and dismay from my two year old. It grew quiet as they went upstairs into his room. I was already mentally preparing myself to not overreact or come across as harsh when the inevitable screams would resume in a few moments when one of them would have won the battle for the can of chocolate chips.

So, you can imagine how my heart delighted when those screams never happened and instead I heard giggling. I turned my head just in time to see my two little girls both carrying the jar of chocolate chips. I wish I could have captured a picture of them as they were both beaming broadly and were practically hugging each other and the can at the same time. It was so stinkin’ cute! My five year old told me that she didn’t want her sister to feel sad so she suggested that they both hold the cookies so they could both get the reward. Choking back tears of gratitude for such a kind and generous daughter, I knelt down in front of both of them and wrapped the two of them in a great big Daddy Hug. I told my five year old how proud I was of her for making such a kind and compassionate choice with her sister. They brought the chocolate chips to the counter and each put a scoop of chips in the steel bowl and we finished the final mixing as we danced one more time. As I spooned the dough balls on the baking sheet I noticed that my girls were both grinning and trying to “sneak” additional snitches from the bowl of dough. I feigned a growl as they both giggled some more and we all laughed. While my kids continue to get older I love knowing that they all have very fond memories of Daddy Cookies. 

Can You Help Me, Sir?

“Why did that crying lady talk to you, Daddy?”

Oh, the precious innocence of childhood. My five year old was sincere in her question after I had been approached in the parking lot after completing our purchases at Petsmart.

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(Photo found via Google search)

As my son (age 11), two daughters (5 and 2) and I neared our van a woman rushed up to me and through well-rehearsed gasps, sobs and tears, explained that she had just been released from jail and was desperately trying to get back home to Everett (a city north of Seattle, about an hour from where I was in Tacoma), but her car needed gas and she didn’t have any money. “Could you please help me out? That man over there (she gestured at someone) gave me $5. The police gave me a quarter (she opened her palm to show me the shiny coin). But I don’t want to get arrested for panhandling and go back to jail. Please, sir, anything would help.”

Thanks to my son’s maturity and good sense, my little kids had gotten into their car seats while this charade played out in the parking lot beside my van. I told the woman (truthfully) that I didn’t have any cash on me and before I could say anything more she walked off in the direction of some other people in the parking lot.

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Brazenly approaching her next target.

My kids have observed me helping out some of the plethora of people who panhandle in our area. They’re frequently standing at a busy intersection at the exit from that very shopping area (there’s also a Target, Hobby Lobby and a dozen other stores there) and at the end of exit ramps. On more than one occasion we have brought hot food and coffee to them. We’ve prepared bag lunches and had them in the van to give out during our excursions. Last year my oldest daughter wrote a song describing some memories she had of us helping homeless people and I blogged about it (read it here). Some might say I’m a sucker for trying to help those who appear to be in a rough spot. I’m guilty of giving a dollar or two to people at times because I choose to believe that people can actually be good and that it’s okay to try to be kind to others. I try to model compassion and kindness for others so my children will grow up with similar values and a willingness to help out others.

“But, Daddy, why didn’t you help her? Why didn’t you give her any money?” My sweet girl just wanted to help that woman. Unfortunately, I had to gently tell her the harsh reality that not all people are honest or trustworthy. In this particular case, this very same woman had approached me as I had returned to my car after shopping at Target with my 14 year old daughter and our exchange student. She told me the exact same story, only this most recent time had been more polished with emotion and tears and that shiny quarter. That previous time I had chosen to give her a couple of bucks (I told you I’m a sucker sometimes), even though red flags were there. I remember that I told her “God bless you”, wished her well and shook her hand. She seemed to be sincerely grateful and warmly returned my hand shake while I gave her the small amount of cash. I remember saying a quick prayer for her as I climbed into my van. After that exchange my 14 year old daughter and I talked about the issue of panhandlers and how there were multiple reports of people scamming and earning crazy amounts of money by playing off preying on the generosity, goodwill and kindness of strangers. Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me. I thought about confronting this scam artist and getting all up in her business. Maybe I would have if I hadn’t been in a time pinch to get my van from the repair shop before it closed in 20 minutes. It’s probably better that I just left it alone. I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to her or been the epiphany that turned her life around. I likely would’ve come off as just another sanctimonious white guy. In reality, I wasn’t really angry. Rather, I was filled with sadness for this woman who was essentially stealing from others. I don’t understand the mindset that one must have to choose this type of behavior, but, ultimately, I feel sorry for her. Still, the next time someone asks me for some help I’ll think about it. I’m less likely to reach into my pocket for any cash because of these kinds of experiences although I’m still willing to look for a meaningful way to help others. I wish there was some sort of happy ending to this story, a way that I could neatly wrap it in a bow that makes us all feel better. But that’s not the reality of this situation. Instead, I’m left with a heavy heart that I had to explain to my five year old that not all people tell the truth and that they are willing to lie to others to get some money. But, I’m glad that she could begin to learn that lesson in a safe environment with me to help her process it.

As we pulled away from our parking spot I noticed the woman walking across the parking lot toward her next Target. Literally and figuratively.

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.

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!

Dad on Strike?

I was recently contacted by a representative of the Steve Harvey Show to see if I would be interested in appearing on his show.

Hi there! My name is Michelle and I work at Steve Harvey show. We are doing a segment called “Dad on Strike”. We are looking for stay at home Dads who feel that their family is taking them for granted and they want to go on strike! Do you know anyone who would be interested in coming on the show for this? Please feel free to contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx  for more info. Thanks, Michelle

Huh? I thought Steve Harvey was a comedian and host of Family Feud. I didn’t even know that there was a Steve Harvey Show! So, I looked online and found a little more info about this topic. Below is a screen capture from his website.

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Steve Harvey

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Aha! That’s the hook. They’re looking for Stay At Home Dads who don’t feel appreciated who would be willing to go on strike and then talk about it on national television. My experience as a SAHD for 14 years has taught me many things, chief among them is the fact that a career as an at-home parent (dad or mom) is vastly under-appreciated by both our families and society in general. I think know that feeling needed and appreciated is a real need for all people, regardless of their chosen profession. images-3I also know that many people think that it’s enough to just do your job without anyone telling you “good job” or “thank you”. While it’s true that doing a good job is a reward in and of itself, knowing that others appreciate you for what you’re doing is important. I know that when I was teaching (my career before being a SAHD) I often heard from my students, their parents, other teachers or my supervising principal that I was doing a good job; that my students spoke very highly of me as their teacher. As a SAHD I rarely ever get that type of positive feedback about my “job performance”. In fact, the feedback that I often get from my kids is along the lines of whining or complaining. “Dad, I want you to get me this Barbie doll? PLEAAAASE?!” “Dad, why can’t I watch a movie? NOW!” “Why do we have to eat this for dinner? Can’t we just order pizza?” If you’re a parent you know what it sounds like. And you know that you never hear your kids say, “Thanks, Dad, for making me eat veggies so I don’t get backed up” or “Thanks, Dad, for loving me even when I was being a total turd.” or “I appreciate you, Dad.” Okay, maybe that last one a little bit on Father’s Day… You get the point, though.

So, yeah, getting that invite from the Steve Harvey Show to go on strike and then talk about it on national television…um, NO THANKS! What’s not to love about an offer to damage both my career and marriage in one fell swoop? To loosely quote former President George Bush, “Not gonna do it. It wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.” The reality is that I wouldn’t go and rag on my family for not showing me enough appreciation. Could they show me more? Sure. But could I show them more appreciation as well? You bet! I’m trying to be the husband and father that my family needs me to be because it’s the right thing for my family. I don’t do it for any awards or recognition. A simple show of genuine appreciation such a kind word or hug is enough. I’m trying to teach my children how to be thankful for others and to remember to show them appreciation every day. I’m convicted and reminded that I need to be better in this area, particularly in modeling this attitude of appreciation toward my own wife and kids. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to recognize the positives when I’m in the middle of the daily grind of raising a large family. Always operating in the mindset of what needs to be done next. images-1Yet, I know that I’m certainly motivated by simple acts of gratitude and genuine appreciation. There have been a handful of times over the last few years as my children have grown up and matured that they’ve told me how thankful they are that I’m their father. Those precious conversations are the fuel for my daddying-soul. They encourage me to keep on doing my daddying to the best of my ability.

So, this SAHD is not going on strike. No job slowdown, either. I’m not looking for more drama or politics in my workplace (I tried to leave that behind when I “retired” from teaching in 2002, at age 29). If the Steve Harvey Show or any other media would like to interview some pretty awesome dads I’d be more than happy to not only be interviewed but also to hook them up with some of the hundreds of amazing dads, both SAHDs and non-SAHDs, who are doing a great job changing the face of modern fatherhood.

I would like to challenge you, my readers, to take a moment each day to tell at least one person how much you appreciate him or her. Let me know if it makes a difference to the other person…or you!

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Dalai Lama

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