A 31 Day Writing Challenge for August

Nothing like starting behind. Looking for more creativity, and a break from the norm, I am attempting this #31DayChallenge for August. My goal is to get one out each day (ok, two today because of reasons). Here are the things that I will be covering in the month to come. Fingers crossed, I complete this and do not miss any more days. As always, you can feel free to like, share, or subscribe.  I want to know what you think about these things.  If you are doing this challenge with me, make sure that you let me know.

  1. Five ways to win your heart
  2. Something you feel strongly about
  3. A book you love, and why
  4. Your favorite time of day
  5. Things you never got to say
  6. A song that fits right now
  7. Five pet peeves
  8. Your favorite recipe and why
  9. Education
  10. The opportunity that go away
  11. Family
  12. Five things that draw you to a person
  13. Your favorite attribute
  14. An item that gives you confidence
  15. The awkward moment when…
  16. What if…
  17. It makes you anxious
  18. Your biggest plot twist
  19. Five ‘I wish I had” items
  20. One of your fears
  21. A glimpse at one future day
  22. The hobby you wish you had
  23. Something that you miss
  24. Five words that make you laugh
  25. A current worry
  26. Five words that describe your life
  27. A quote you try to live by
  28. Somewhere you would like to live
  29. Five weird things you like
  30. Favorite cookie
  31. Most reoccurring setting in your dreams

Sometimes the algorithms work for good reasons

After posting my blog about travelling (nod to the UK, here in the US we say traveling), I knew that the algorithms would being working.  In that time my searches have been interlaced with sprinkles about traveling. Weekend rates for a rental car, discounted airfare to Ireland, sign up for a Disney Cruise, and more. All of these and more are the algorithms at work. For some, this is frustrating, and I understand that. I mean, really, what does a trip to see the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, have to do with nonlinear optimization in r? Not that there is anything wrong with a big ball of twine. You do you Kansas, I think it’s cool.

This morning, while quietly shifting through the deluge of emails that one’s receives, I came across this quote while researching a question for work: “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”, the algorithms are working.  With a lighting flash my memory zoomed past the blog post that I wrote yesterday. It focused purely on the source of this quote.

In what seems like forever ago, while in high school, I did a fair measure of extra reading. By choice of random selection in the library, I read through “Tremendous Trifles” by G.K. Chesterton. It is within this tome that sketch called “The Riddle of the Ivy” resides, and quotes from it ring true to this day.  Instantly, the quote took me to this sketch, and then deeper into my more favored quote from the piece: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land”. I sat back and reveled in the memory of the quote, of the time, and looked at the application for it in my own life today.

Is that how the algorithms are to work?

Most likely not. My guess is that while the algorithms are running, they should be driving me to the aforementioned ads for purchase. They should not taking me back nearly 20 years. To a time when I was planning for the future that I am now living. Is it the bane of society and advancement that such things are lost? The things that drive us deep into the annals of our minds to remind us of what we once wanted to do seem to be more and more silent. Perhaps we have laid waste to the algorithmic master, our own minds, in favor of those on the internet.

If that is the case, the algorithms may show me the ways to do what I hope. To travel with my children. To experience this country as a foreign land, for the second and third times. Seeing what we see, not what others go to see.  All in an effort to…

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Travelling: Becoming a Storyteller

Travelling. Once a great mainstay, and a measure of a person, seems to come and go with the ages. Every few months a map makes its cycle around my little sphere of social media.  You all know the one, with the states where people have visited highlighted. It is funny for me to see some of the reactions, comments, excuses and proclamations that accompany these maps. Perhaps it is because, well, to be frank, my map was completed nearly a decade ago.

Travelling provides a chance to see life in ways no others have.

Ibn Battuta once said “Travelling. It makes you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. I have done my best to become quite the storyteller. I flex my lexicon to paint the beauty of a sunrise over the Atlantic. The sweeping colors pouring into view over an expansive, white capped, sea. I pull on the heartstrings as I capture the stillness of a single tear fall from the cheek of a parent in a waiting room. I bring the undeniable smile when expressing the joy of being smothered in the kisses of my children. All of this in an effort to give you an opportunity to travel. To close your eyes, sit in the stillness, and picture the scene I have laid before you.

A new thought on travelling for me.

But, those silly maps, the ones that cause me to chuckle have sparked an idea. What if, I were to complete the map with my children before they become adults? Would they enjoy travelling? I am sure that they would. More so, they would enjoy the stories that I would tell about some of my favorite places, while we are there. They may be inspired when we stop in a field and lay there on the grass. To look up at the clouds in the sky in wonder. To explain to them that this is but a starting place, and it is about the journey.

So, the days, and years, ahead I will be overjoyed to expand my stories as we travel. However, I feel that the real excitement will be in watching the new generation of storytellers. Watching them take in all that they can from our travelling journeys. Listening as they become speechless, and begin painting pictures with their words.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Reminders are good, sometimes.

Reminders.  Thanks to social media the annals of our minds are perplexed less and less with remembering things. Dates, phone numbers, even people. We are constantly given little pings. Things that remind us of what we should consider important.  I pride myself on having a half-way decent memory.  This is, of course, affected by how tired I am. However it is still a formidable memory that I can coax out of my gray matter from time to time.

I do not need a reminder to see the very first moment that I saw my beloved bride. As she walked into the store with a black polo, light blue jeans, dark green shoes. Her eyes did little to hide how tired she was, but also held such a captivating beauty that they still leave me breathless.  Nor do I need one to remember the feeling I had when the doors opened of the church, and I saw those breathtaking eyes as she came to meet me on our wedding day. Much like the exact moment that each of our children were born, these things are forever on playback. But those are big things, right?

Today, I had different kind of those reminders.

One of the reminders that I had today was about a post exactly a year ago.  Normally, I pass over those reminders, unless it is a big day.  But, this one gave me pause.  Here is the quote:

“This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers. There are men who can’t be bought. The fireborn are at home in a fire. The stars make no noise, you can’t hinder the wind from blowing. Time is a great teacher. Who can live without hope?” -Excerpt from “The People Yes” by Carl Sandburg.

A year ago these words resonated with me. There was a weight to them. So, where do I stand with this quote a year later?

I realize that though this was from a year ago, it could have been from a lifetime ago. I have watched as my children have grown a year older. This does not sound like much to some of you, I know. But, as a dad, this is a year that has passed. I have watched my family also grow by one. The privilege has been mine to have seen countless firsts, and the first of the countless. Meanwhile, the burden has also been mine to have also seen many, many lasts.

Reminders show us who we were.

Looking back over the last 36 years of my life I see something.  I see the roller-coaster of my life bringing my form out of chaos.

Looking at some of the lowest lows. The winding track getting lost in the deep, dark mire. Covered in clouds of tears, pain and anguish. When I could almost get lost in the pain, I see how much higher I have climbed since those times. I am forced to realize that I have made it through what many could not. The track, for all of its quixotic winds, dips, and loops, has made me stronger. As the time has passed, I have grown.  Not just in age, but in experience. Likewise, not just in sorrow, but in glory as well.

Reminders are good, sometimes. For without them, I would not see the anvil I have been becoming.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

The Little Moment: A tale of realization as a dad.

My life, as of late, has been measured by the moment. To some this may be a dad thing, in this case it is amazing. This weekend I took some time and headed to a park with Zoey and David. I have been working with the  City Dads Group and finally was able to get a chapter started here in Richmond, VA. While this has added to the never-ending list of things that I am working on, it is extremely important. I have benefitted through my current journey from countless other dads. This has empowered me to do something to help others. I have watched a community building itself out of awesomeness.  City Dads is a community of fathers that work hard to redefine fatherhood in the 21st century. I am so happy to be bringing this to Richmond, leading the charge, but that is a story for later.

There was a moment while we were walking on the trail that struck me.

moment of joy

The recent rain brought forth a bouquet of fresh aromas under the canopy of the trees. The deep, earthen soil mulling with sweet pine being baked in the humid spring heat brought memories of my childhood forward. I watched as their little bodies would lean and run around the winding path. The joy and excitement of each and every step reverberated through the deep woods.  The rapid scraping sound of little shoes running across fine gravel echoed with a cacophonous tumult, pushed further with the sound of laughter.

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Taking this time with my kids means the world to me. It is my honor and duty to raise them up to be better than myself. It was in this moment, far from the sounds of suburban life, that the juxtaposition of the quote struck me.  As I glanced through the trees, over the standing water, and watched the blur of my son and daughter, I smiled. This moment was the embodiment of the quote from Goethe. My children were simultaneously showing their roots and wings. It was beautiful, and inspiring.

This is not a mark of completion, but a trail marker on the way. It is a sign that I am doing something right, that amidst the trials and failures, there is something beginning to grow.

 

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Sleep, where we are going we don’t need sleep…

For far too long we have been off the radar. We have been working hard at creating a new format for our vlogs, and those should be starting again soon. Kati has been doing an awesome job juggling all that there is to do taking care of a house full of children.  I have been working towards launching a dad’s group here in Richmond, more preparation on a book that I am writing, projects, and more projects. Sleep has long since been a common thing for either of us.

Averaging, still, three hours of interrupted sleep has been my thing so long that I think I am going to make business cards that state it. At current, it is not due to the (almost) eight month old Jacob, or the potty-training three year old David, or even the amazing and full of life five year old Zoey. Life. It is the time of year where projects are the thing to do. Also, scraping every moment of family time that we can. Sure, there is the awesomeness of the days lasting longer.  That SO helps when you tell your kids that it is time to go to sleep.  David, in particular, has gotten great about pointing out that the sun is still up.  This means that it is not bed time, right?

“Every mountain top is within reach is you just keep climbing”. Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond

But, there is a ray of hope. There is a glimmer of light cresting over the pinnacle of this phase of life. We can see the cairn that we have been building in this place, as we face the light. The work that we have done, the nights that we have spent working, are coming to an end. Soon, we will be at the peak, facing a new dawn, and a slope that we can coast down.

There is more to come. Hopefully it is all awesomeness. There will, undoubtedly, be many more summits ahead of us. But, and this may be the lack of sleep speaking, I think that we can take them on. Thanks for hanging in there with us.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Putting Fear in the Fearless: Tales of Failure as a Father

Yesterday, my world stopped, and a fear arose. I am still shaking off the ghost of what happened. Sleep has not gone well.

This weekend was a long and busy one. On the list of activities was getting together with my Dad, stepmom, and family.  We wanted to hang out, and have the kiddos go swimming at the hotel. So, we packed up and headed to the other side of town. The overcast, rain-laden clouds hung heavily in the sky, however, this did not affect the interior of our minivan as we traversed through the city. The littles knew we were on our way to see Grandpa and Grandma.  Their conversation was peppered with comments about pizza and even the word “pool.” As for Kati and I, our conversation was more softened about the busy times we have found ourselves in.

We arrived. Like a heard of animals we descended upon the hotel’s atrium. There, family and pizza boxes awaited. The boys took over a table to snack, juggle children, and play cribbage. Some of the children wandered over asking what we were playing. Smiles flippantly appeared upon all of the dad’s faces, it was about time to pass this game on to the next generation. Such a stoic torch, one that has been passed throughout our family for longer than many of us know.

After some pizza, and cribbage, the locals were getting restless. It was also at that time that some of the other children needed to go home for naps.  So, the gaggle was reduced to our three and one of my nieces.  My brother stayed to hang out with us, and to see if his daughter wanted to swim. So, a quick change into swimsuits was had. There is something amazing about the sound of little feat running down long halls. The heavy padded carpet making a thud, thud, thud that reverberates as the base, below the trill of their voices. The anticipation and excitement crescendos with each and every spoken word. I am thankful that it was mid-afternoon. This lessened my fear that anyone could be sleeping. We opened the door to the small indoor pool and all worked to contain the excitement of the children.

I hopped in the pool.  Like children looking at a puppy both Zoey and David circled around the pool, they wanted to jump in. They listened. Many of the methods that I have learned, and those that were added by family swim lessons at the Y took hold. I watched as they both sat down, feet dangling in the warm water.  My children don’t fear the water.  Heck, they do not really fear anything. They know that they are strong, I know that they are resourceful, and my fear is that they are fearless.

When it comes to water, I have a long history. I have been on swim teams since I was a teenager.  Though not the fastest, there was a passion. This passion still exists today. I would rather be in a pool swimming endless laps over a short sprint on a track, any day. I took scuba diving for credit in college… because I wanted to. Since then I have used my certification speeding time floating in the endless abyss. As a result, I have learned not to completely fear, but to respect the water. Most of all, I have learned that things can happen in a second that can change your life, or even end it.

Much like looking to the stars and running barefoot in the grass, I have been working with my kids on learning how to swim. Teaching them that some fear is good, and a ton of respect is better. We have taken family swim lessons, and have plans for more. My comfortable relationship with water is something that I want to pass on. For both its power and its beauty are mesmerizing.

I pointed to Zoey. She stood, hands exactly wringing themselves. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and with a high-pitched, gleeful scream, she jumped to me. We laughed, and giggled. I moved her back to the side to hold on. As she was climbing out, I pointed to David.  He stood, and I could not see any fear, just the contained excitement shivering through his little body.  I counted, using my fingers, to three, and he leaped into my arms with a scream of joy.  For what seems like forever, this rotation continued.

Eventually we ended up in the shallows. 3 feet deep, stairs with a rail. I looked and there was the rest of the family. My niece was playing in the shallows, showing me how tall she was. My dad and brother were playing a game, while Kati and my step-mom were chatting (Jacob in tow). Meanwhile, my two wanted rides.  So, I started with Zoey. David sat down on the steps, holding onto the rail, as we had practiced. With a whoosh I was off with Zoey. As I made it to the middle of the deep end, I turned to look… and my heart stopped.

David had decided to stand up, his foot slipped, as did his hand. He was in water over his head. His arms began to flail, he tried to call out for help. My son was drowning.

 

fear has come

 

Fear gripped me like a vice, and my heart stopped.

In a flash I jerked towards him, arm stretched. I needed to get to my boy. Zoey was on my back, arms around my neck. As I made this move she tightened. My scream for help, for anyone on the side to help my boy, it was cut off as her little arms held on for dear life.

He just kept flailing, and bobbing, struggling to float, trying to breath. I tried to lunge towards him again. Fear riddled me as I tried to reach my drowning son. One arm outstretched, with every tendon and fiber reaching for him in vain. I tried to scream again. My chest pounding against my daughters little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I reached up to pull Zoey’s arms off my throat as a blur came from the right of the pool.

In the wake of it all, by pure chance, my brother happened to look at me. He saw the look of horror and fear on my face. Following my gaze, he saw David. He leapt to action, and leapt into the pool.  He pulled David up and held him close as I finally reached them.

In that moment, all were on their feet. My brother placed David on the side of the pool, he sat there coughing and crying as we flocked to him. I have never been so happy to see a coughing little boy in my whole life. I reached out for him as tears filled my eyes.

My heart began to beat, slowly. But the fear remained.

I hugged him, looked in his eyes, asking over and over again if he was ok.

“Oh-tay daddy” he replied, over and over again.

Finally, after a few minutes, many tears, and some towels, we continued our play, though a bit more restrained than before.

Now we watch and make sure that there are no signs of Dry Drowning. This is something that all parents should be aware of, and never experience. It will add a whole new level of fear regarding the pool for your kids. Long and short of Dry Drowning is where some water enters the lungs. It causes some swelling that limits the oxygen exchange, and has the same result (and effects) of drowning. It can happen with a delay up to 24 hours before the person shows any signs that it is going on. Though rare, it happens. We, as parents, should know about it, and fear it. This is especially relevant as summer is near. The time of pool parties, and swimsuits eagerly is ahead of us.

Fear be damned, today is another day.

But, as I said, I cannot shake the ghost. As a result, I fight to get sleep. While I lay there, exhausted, I see those moments over and over. Almost as soon as I close my eyes, I am taken back. I watch it playing from a birds eye view. I consequently rip myself apart. How did I let myself get so far away? It does not seem like it was that far. It is because of this that I will fight to be a better dad. But, since I know myself well enough, I will also never cease chastising myself for not getting there sooner.

Most of all, I will never cease being thankful for my brother jumping in. My brother is a hero. Seconds matter, and in those seconds, he jumped in.  Nicholas, if you read this, know that I love you, and that I owe you. I will never thank you enough for jumping in to help my little boy. You said it was no big deal because I would have done the same, and I agree with you. But it is a big deal, to me. Thank you Nicholas, a thousand times, thank you.

Later that day, when I was talking to David about what had happened, and that I was scared, I could see that he was too. When I told him that I loved him, he looked at me. His beautiful eyes filled with love and he replied,

“I love pizza”.

Finally, all was right with the world.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Watercolors: Testing Affiliate Links for Amazon

It is that time of year, fun arts and crafts with the kiddos! Recently we have been letting the kids experiment with watercolors, and it has been awesome. Melissa and Doug have been staples in our home ever since Zoey was a year old. The quality of the products that they produce is outstanding.  After all, they have been able to stand up to the overzealous play that my kids are known for.

Here is something that we have been using with Zoey and David as of late… and they love it. It seems weird to be posting about watercolors. Seriously, you can get these things for a dime a dozen. However, there is just something about these watercolors that make them stand out above all others. The fact that both our 5 year old (still not used to that) and our 3 year old love painting with them should say a lot. I think that more is said by the fact that these watercolor sets put up with our 5 and 3 year old.

Watercolor Painting

This link for the Melissa & Dough Paint With Water Activity Books Set: Farm, Ocean, and Safari are the ones that the kids are digging the most. The link is an affiliate link.  This means that if you purchase the item using the link, that Amazon will take a portion of your payment and send it to us to help us continue to grow this channel. Though this sounds like a rave review for these watercolors, it is not a paid endorsement. It is merely a chance for us to test our Amazon affiliate links. It is also a chance to share something awesome that we use with our kids.

More than watercolors.

Care to share some of the awesomeness that you have found to do with your kids? What awesome crafts have you found for your kids to do?

This started as a chance for me to test an affiliate link, and turned into a post…. #bloggerproblems

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Parenting has turned me into a Machiavellian Masochist.

As dawn broke over the cool spring morning the sound of my alarm resounded with its sharp, trill, beeping. I looked at the clock.  Why? Because, it is what we all do. We set alarms for a specific time. When they go off we still look at the clock, mostly in disbelief that this moment has arrived. As I prepared for the day, reflecting on the night before, as well as the weeks that have passed, this deep realization came to me.  Parenting has turned me into a Machiavellian Masochist. I had not even had my first cup of coffee yet.

Right out to the gate, you should know better by now that I am looking at rather obscure meanings for those words. As a story teller, I also find it better not to merely define these words. To proof the statement based on definition alone ruins the ride. But, those are heavy words. Machiavellian Masochist. What in the world was my brain trying to tell me this morning?

For the last couple of weeks I have been going non-stop.  Perhaps there is the part of me that compensates for what I see as a failure.  Getting sick… for me (not for others) that is a failure. Being sick for three months, we are near the pinnacle of epic here. Regardless, I have been busy.  Tackling projects like making a bed for my daughter birthday (how do we have a five year old already?), preparing the garden, editing vlogs, and working on a book (yep, it is happening) have kept me going at a breakneck pace. According to my Fitbit, and a little math, I am averaging less than four hours of sleep a night. And I am feeling it. Every day.

But I am not doing these things for me. Sure, there is the creative and cathartic experience of taking wood, shaping it, putting it together, and seeing your creation come to fruition. This cannot be denied. But, that is not (purely) how I work. Since my daughter was born (HOW DO WE HAVE A FIVE YEAR OLD ALREADY?) I have pushed myself. I have pushed to be the dad that she deserves and needs, not the one that I was prepared to be.

A  Machiavellian Masochist Tackles All The Things.

Zoey's Bed

This bed, it was for her, for her birthday. I knew that it would be something that I could do for her. Something that would bring immense joy.  Seeing that joy would bring happiness to me, satisfaction in the work that I had done. And it did.

The garden. This is for my family. It is to help provide as well as to teach my kids how to grow their own food. After all, who does not like a little dirt and sunshine once in a while?  I know that as this year passes by that there will be a ton of teaching moments for my kids. Some will stick, others will not.

The vlog, and the book. These projects fall in the same vein. They are both for legacy. They are for people to see now, and for my children to have long after I am gone.

All of these things point to the kind of masochist that fatherhood has turned me into.  I enjoy doing all these things. Again, cathartic, joy, and legacy. But, they are exhausting. They are breaking me down, bit by bit. I can feel it most mornings, and think of more to do long into the night. Because of the joy that I feel.

This, my dear readers, is also what makes it so Machiavellian.

I know that these things are wearing me out. Heck, I am writing about it as we speak. Meanwhile, I think of more and more things that I can take on to achieve the same results. Therein lies the cunning that exists for me. As well as the duplicity. I mean, who would do such things to themselves? When given freedom, cannot one not take a break, rest, kick back and enjoy life a little?

I know that I am doing this to myself, to bring joy to others, to have joy because of their happiness, at the expense of myself. However I discount my own knowledge of this, refusing to accept it, because I know that one would not do something like this to themselves.

Parenting has turned me into a Machiavellian Masochist. Something tells me, I am not alone in this.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Space: An adventure through little eyes.

The other night, we did something awesome.  We took our kids, to space!

For some time we have been all too aware of our children’s love for all things space. I can say that the rekindling of our childhood, for Kati and I, has not helped the matter. We have long felt that we would always embrace our children’s desires to learn.  Space, the final frontier. The wonder filled awesomeness that captures the hearts and minds of so many children.  Those that are lucky, this wonderment carries on into their adulthood.

My kids are in love with space. My three year old son can name all NINE (that’s right… #plutosnotforgotten) planets, in order. You can catch both David and Zoey outside, at night, just looking up at the stars. If the moon is out, it lights the smiles on their faces as they point and shout “MOON!” much to the chagrin of our neighbors.

So, the other night, we wanted to take our kids to space.

We rearranged the living room, brought out the projector that I use for Dungeons and Dragons, and set up for awesomeness. I searched for hours for something that was worthy of my kids. Something that would bring the similes and shouts long into the night. You might be surprised to find all the things related to space that exist out there. But, I wanted an adventure. I wanted my kids to experience space, the thing that the love so dear.

Secretly, my goal is to prepare them both for a trip to a planetarium.  I want to ensure that we do not get asked to leave within the first few minutes of the show starting. For me, there is nothing sweeter then the excited shouts of my kids with things that they love. It shows their desire to learn. Others, you know, adults, may not be as fond of it. After all, in an enclosed space (like a planetarium) their voices would surely echo.

But as I was saying, we rearranged the room. We prepared to launch our children into space, on the largest screen we could manage.

I settled on the first episode of Cosmos.

Cosmos: Space, it's whats for dinner.

I went with the Neil deGrasse Tyson reboot, purely for the visualizations for my kids. Trust me, as they grow older, there will be time for the original.  One cannot simply look at space and not think of Carl Sagan. For the next 90 minutes, they were glued. There were shouts of joy, and questions being asked. Both David and Zoey were fighting sleep by the end. They were sad to go to bed. However, there is something awesome about hearing your kids, in there room, singing the planet song. Even though they should be sleeping.

I cannot wait to surprise them with this again.

Ladies and gentlemen.  I took my kids to space… and it was awesome.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.