Sunday, March 1, 2015


If the above quote is true, we all need more play in our lives. Especially adults. Even more especially, parents. Very little that comes our way that is expected. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

An Alliterary Summer Haiku

Backyard shade, sunshine
Bees buzzing, flowers blooming
Barefoot in soft grass

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pen and Prayet

 "For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers"
     - Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Daily Tasks

Confession: Summer and I have a love-hate relationship. I love it, but I hate the battles with the kids some days.

It's the first day of no school for me and the kids together.

So I laid down the ground rules.

1. 10 minutes of instrument practice (which they're supposed to do anyway).

2. 2 pages in the workbook they're supposed to do for school this summer (they had a similar workbook to do last summer from their aunt).

3. 1-2 chores (again, things they normally do).

They do these things and they can earn a little screen time (unless they've lost it for other reasons--which they already have). When they're all done then we can go do something--like a bike ride, a trip to the beach, playing in the park with friends, etc. Ultimately those three tasks can be done in thirty minute's time.

However, we already started the day with a meltdown over those ground rules. "You're ruining summer." "It's supposed to be all about play." "I'm too tired to do those things (my oldest son was at a sleepover last night--how I hate the fallout from those!)."

Well, this is it, kids. There may be circumstances were I budge on those rules, but it won't be often. I don't care if your friends don't have to do a single chore this summer. This is how we roll. I'm all about having fun this summer, but you've got to do your jobs.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lasagna & Olympics

The good folks at Red Gold sent me a promo pack with their signature canned tomato products, a box of lasagna noodles, and a nice spatula along with recipes for "All-in-One Lasagna." I'm always up for a meal  idea that I don't have to think about, so it was helpful to have a night where I didn't much have to think about making a meal. I just had to add in some Mozzarella (which we always have on hand) and ricotta cheese (which we usually would just use cottage cheese, but I went ahead and picked up a carton of ricotta on my last shopping trip).

I just used the basic recipe--often when I've made lasagna in the past I add in vegetables since my wife is vegetarian, but then the kids don't eat it very well (no matter how hard I try to disguise the veggies). The basic lasagna--just the noodles, tomato mixture, and cheeses--was easy to make. I did it the night before; the noodles didn't require precooking or anything. Since we had a big pan of lasagna waiting in the fridge for us, and since the 2014 Winter Olympics were beginning, we decided to invite friends over for the night.

A co-worker from school who has children my sons' ages came over (her husband was busy with an audit, unfortunately). It went over fairly well. The kids all ate it (well, my youngest kind of had to be fed it, but that's how he is). It would have been easy to make it with some tasty add-ins (meat, veggies, etc.), but the basic one was quite tasty. I appreciate the recipes that Red Gold sent which are on their website and how it's easy to play with the recipe to change things up. I hadn't tried crushed tomatoes before, but they worked really nicely mixed in with some diced tomatoes--I'll keep that idea in mind with future meals. A nice salad and brownies accompanied the meal.

Then we watched some of the Winter Olympics. I don't normally watch much sports on television. The Olympics is my one indulgence. It's one of the few times our television is on several nights a week. This year the kids are old enough to start enjoying it, too. They both have worked with countries and their flags in school, so they're enjoying picking out the countries as identified by their flags.

Food and Olympics. Good times. Thanks, Red Gold.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Gratitude Game: A Solution to the Grumbles

This was originally posted on my other blog, like the previous post was. But I thought it would go well on this one as well since it deals with parenting, so forgive me for posting it in two places.

So yesterday I wrote a response to some of the complaining and grumbling I had seen around facebook due to a second cancelled day of school on the heels of Christmas break. It gathered a few comments and reactions (oddly, none were directly on the blog, but all on my facebook link to it).

Admittedly, my children had been getting at each others' throats for a few days.  My wife connected it to when they found the old Super Nintendo, lugged it upstairs from its box in the basement, connected it to the television, and started playing. One controller was broken, so they could only play one player at a time. The non-playing brother would sit close by and offer "helpful" suggestions during play. Which inevitably led to sore feelings and inappropriate comments toward one another.

I pointed out that it didn't matter if they were playing video games or not. They were getting to the point of verbal combat with one another over the simplest thing, electronic or not.

And I understand that this is why some parents hate an unexpected day off from school. Especially on the heels of sixteen previous days. Especially when we've been in the midst of this "polar vortex" with -50 degree F windchill.

Thankfully (that word is about to come into play) I remembered all the writing I've done and all the conversations from friends about the importance of gratitude in one's life. So yesterday, on our drive to the YMCA for a little swimming (and to get out of the house) after a morning that wasn't completely pleasant around the house at times I made up a little game. It went like this:

"Okay, boys, we're going to play a little game (groans emerge from the back seat). Each of us is going to think up something that completes the sentence "I'm grateful for...or I'm thankful for..." (more groans). I'll start and then I'll count to five and then Anders has to share something before I finish counting. After he shares then it's on to Nils who has to share something before I count to five. Then it's back to me and we keep going. But if anyone doesn't think up something before I count to five, they're out. I'll give you a few seconds to think up at least two things your thankful for before I start."

By this time the moans had diminished and they were beginning to take it seriously. So I started. And the gratitude kept going around.

Some were serious: I'm grateful for a warm house; I'm thankful that the gas tank is full so I don't have to pump gas in this cold; I'm thankful for our Y membership right now; I'm grateful for the food we have to eat.

Some were more frivolous: I'm thankful for root beer; I'm grateful for candy; I'm thankful for Legos; I'm grateful for that I won Milles Bornes (the card game).

I had to mail a package at the post office on the way, so I had to pause the game then. We had already done nearly a dozen shares each. Now part of our bedtime routine is sharing something we're thankful for each day and then praying. Some days they have trouble coming up with something. But this format made it possible for them to keep going.

So I offer up a solution for those days of grumbling, fighting, and complaining: the gratitude game.

It can't hurt to give it a try. You might just be grateful you did.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Trying Not to Complain About Another Day with my Kids

Confession: There have been times the past few days when I've yelled at my children.

We've been home for two days with no school because of the sub-zero temperatures and dangerous windchill that has hit our area. This is on top of Christmas break, so we're looking at nearly 2 1/2 weeks at home with the kids. Yesterday's windchill dipped to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. It's cold here. We've been trapped inside. We all need to move a little more.

I could participate in the trend I see on facebook: complaining about having to be around my kids these two extra days because we're all going stir-crazy. Yes, I'm tired of their complaining--especially when asked to do a chore. Yes, I'm tired of their arguing with each other--especially when one is playing a video game and the other is trying to be "helpful" (yesterday they were each allowed 15 minutes of video game time and even then it resulted in tears). Yes, I'm tired of being inside, too, feeling like there's nothing to do even though there is plenty.

But complaining only breeds contempt. And while my children aren't on facebook right now, they will be someday. What kind of message would that send to them? Yes, kids, we brought you into this world and love you dearly, but I can't stand spending time with you...

Do they hear my grumbling or do they see my gratitude?

Gratitude? Of course. At least I can strive to have more gratitude than grumbling in my life...

Gratitude that I am able to be home with them on these cold days and not struggling to find child care to shuffle them off to. Gratitude that they had some time helping their mom bake cookies and getting to learn some kitchen skills. Gratitude that we had a little extra time together. 

Yes, we may get cabin fever and get a little stir-crazy, but how about using that extra energy toward some creative things to do together (and I fully admit that I don't always do this--that sometimes it's easier to do my own distraction and let the boys do theirs)? We did some cold experiments yesterday (along with half the facebook population in the Midwest). We threw boiling water in the air to see what happened (it was cool, but not as impressive as we thought it might be). We put a plate of dish-soap bubbles outside. We tried blowing bubbles to see them freeze (most popped before they froze). We had friends who froze a t-shirt and broke it in half and who played ice-bowling. It's too cold to be outside for long, but it's perfectly fine for short periods of time.

How about teaching children a new skill in the kitchen? Or having them help with a project that requires tools? Or simply doing some household chores together? Our boys enjoyed simply pulling off the blue trim tape after a painting project.

So many people are on pinterest, that I'm sure there's plenty of great things to try with children there (I haven't opened up that time-distraction--I've got enough as it is!). My boys have filled up several pages in the sketch books they received in their stockings at Christmas. My youngest is creating things with duct tape.

We haven't really had much screen time (mainly because they've lost some of it from bad attitudes; if we hadn't been coming off a two week break, we maybe would have considered a movie marathon, but we'd already watch several movies at night in the past few weeks), but we've played plenty of board and card games. And of course, there's plenty of reading adventures! Sometimes we take a break and all read together (last year we read through The Hobbit during one evening a week).

Maybe a good project together is to make a collage of things you are thankful for. Gratitude might just be a better way to spend a day rather than grumbling.

With that said, we're about to try and get the car started so we can go to the YMCA. My youngest will complain about the temperature of the water in the swimming pool (the child has zero body fat which is to his detriment for swimming time). But I'm grateful we have a car we can travel with, I'm grateful that we have a few months of Y membership, I'm grateful we can exercise together, and I'm grateful the gas tank is full enough that I don't have to stop and fill it in the cold.

Hopefully I can pass some of that gratitude on to my sons. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

More Favorite Stories

I shared in the summer about some books on CD that we discovered that helped long drives go well, and I said I'd share some others we find in the future. So here I am again.

I discovered a book called Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. If you saw the movie Millions, he's the guy who wrote it (well, first he wrote the book, then the movie came along). On a whim, I checked the CDs out from the library. We loved it. We ended up checking out all the books on CD by Frank Cottrell Boyce that our library system carried: Cosmic and The Unforgettable Coat. While not necessarily for younger listeners, we enjoyed them--probably because each was read by a voice actor with a superb British accent.

The boys have also been enjoying The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. Again, not necessarily for younger listeners, it involves two orphaned girls who have been through several bad foster situations only to find themselves placed with a grandmother whom their father said was dead. She claims they are descendents of the Brothers Grimm and that their family has been recording and protecting fairy-tale history for years. The stories involve your classic fairy tale characters who are now living in a secluded village in New York state where the Grimm family has vowed to maintain order and protect the outside world from magic and mischief.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Easing Back into Routines

We're using this week before school starts to get prepared. Not that we haven't in some sense all summer. The boys have been practicing their math skills as well as writing and reading.

But in the summer, the bedtime schedule goes out the window. 10pm is probably the typical bedtime most of the summer. Sometimes later.

But that doesn't fly during the school year. We aim for around 8:30. Maybe a little later for our oldest--a 4th grader now.

So tonight we're kicking of the earlier bedtime. The youngest has been in bed for an hour. Still awake.

This is to be expected.

The kicker comes tomorrow when we wake them up early. And keep doing that all week. No more sleeping in (which they can't since both my wife and myself are working this week--the boys have to be up to leave with one of us).

I expect there'll be some battles. But I'm hoping it'll pay off once school starts in a week.

Here's hoping at least.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Birthday Sleepover

Our oldest son turns 9 tomorrow. In the past we've let them invite one friend for each year of age. Last year he invited 8 friends over. This year, since he's getting bigger, we gave the option of having a sleepover. We mutually decided that two friends was a good start for the first non-family sleepover.

We did it simple and low-key, but I think everyone had fun (except for the friend who was homesick and went home before anyone was asleep, but he knew coming into the party that he would have a hard time staying away from home--and he had fun except for bed-time).

Personally, I think a lot of birthday parties have gotten out of control. It's great to celebrate and have fun, but we're not going to spend a few hundred dollars on a party. And we find that we don't need to in order for the boys to feel celebrated on their birthdays. They mainly want to hang out with friends anyway (okay, maybe open some presents, too).

So we did a grilled supper outside. The birthday "cake" was a frozen fruit bar.

It has become a tradition, I guess, that we make an obstacle course in the yard. Since this one is a summer birthday, we incorporate the swimming pool and water guns. By the end, it's just a water fight with very wet kids.

After drying off, they gave their gifts, played a few games on the Wii together, and then watched the old Disney Swiss Family Robinson movie while munching on popcorn.

They were pretty tired after that, so the got a fair amount of sleep. We told them the rule of the house was not to wake anyone else up--if you're the first one up and don't want to try and get back to sleep, you're welcome to go downstairs and have a bite to eat (fruit and cereal was on the table) and play. Once everyone was up, we did the real breakfast.

It also turned out that it was the Kid's Workshop day at Home Depot, so we headed there and did their building project.

Simple. Fun. Enjoyable. And the 9-year old had a good time.