Thursday, February 26, 2015

The fun we have as parents

There are many things I have learned since becoming a father. One of the big things is that your list of everyday activities changes quite a bit. If you had asked me ten years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would one day be the amazing french-braider of hair that I am today. I never would have guessed that I would absolutely love dancing on my knees with little girls decked out in princess dresses. I also never would have imagined that I would often look at the clock and be surprised to see it's 10pm and wonder why I'm still awake because it's so "late".
I love all those things, but the real excitement for me has been the playing in general. When it comes down to it, I'm just a big kid. My wife has often found me sitting at the kitchen table coloring a picture torn out of a coloring book long after my girls had moved onto some other activity. She doesn't even have to ask me why I'm still coloring anymore because she knows I won't stop until I finish my picture.

This week was a special week in our house because our older daughter turned six on Tuesday. Yes, a birthday is a fun and exciting event....but that is over in a day. The REAL excitement is that she got a bunch more Legos as one of her gifts. My Lego castle building experience had previously been stifled due to a minimal amount of Legos. That is no longer an issue. I probably shouldn't admit it, but my wife has also found me finishing a Lego castle long after the girls have already gone to bed on more than one occasion. Seriously though, why would anyone stop building until they completely ran out of pieces?

Tonight was a first for the wife and I in regards to evening activities. Our six year old had a 100th day of kindergarten celebration at school recently where they had all their activities revolve around 100. One of those activities was to see how many times you could write your name in 100 seconds. Because our daughter is so impressed with our writing abilities, she thought we should have a little writing challenge to see which of us could write our own name the most times in 100 seconds. We promptly forgot about it, but were later reminded as we were tucking our daughter into bed.

Not wanting to disappoint our daughter, my wife and I found ourselves having a name writing challenge after the girls fell asleep. (Another one of those things I wouldn't have guessed I would be doing later in life.) On the first round, I wrote my name 59 times compared to my wife writing hers 43 times. Her first response (and she's probably going to throw something at me when she reads this) was, "but YOU'RE used to writing your name". To which I said, "as opposed to you never writing YOUR own name??" I did admit to her that Jesse is easier to write than Sarah. (Jesse is all "single swype" letters versus Sarah being a lot of "double action" letters.)

Since my wife is so competitive, I offered to trade names for a second chance. This time I wrote "Sarah" 56 times to her writing "Jesse" 50 times. She did improve while I got worse, but I still won. I only mention this because she beats me at everything else and I wanted my own chance to shine. On that note, I should probably sign off for now. If I don't hurry, she might get her own blog posted before I get mine posted and it would be awesome to win twice in one night! Until next time....

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The blogging battle begins

Writing is becoming a popular activity in our house. After starting my own blog last summer, my wife has now started one of her own (you can see it at Sarah Simplified), and my daughter has been writing "books" ever since starting kindergarten this year. Blogging is obviously huge and you could easily find numerous blogs about any possible subject you could dream up. I am constantly finding out that more and more of my friends have blogs as well. I am not ashamed to say that if I can do it, anybody can. Since it appears that nearly everybody has their own blog these days, I will try and focus just on our household for this post. I am notably the least competitive of the three writers in our house, so I am just glad I have a 40 post head start on the "competition".

Competition from my wife
My wife is going to prove to be a major force to reckon with. She has the unfair advantage of having taught high school English in the past. She also seems to have more silly stories and ideas to share. It probably doesn't help that I'm the one who is more likely to say or do something her writing material. It's not like I want to tell the world about my own silliness.

I think the real competition with my wife is going to be deciding who gets to use the material generated by our daughters. Those of you who have read a few of my posts know that the majority of my content is generated by things my daughters say and do. My wife has the unfair advantage of having a few extra hours with the girls each day. I'm curious to see if she delays telling me anything cute or silly that they did or said until after she has had a chance to post them to her blog first.

Competition from my daughter
My older daughter (pictured above) is always making "books". She is in kindergarten now and learning to read and write. This has created an outstanding desire to read and write as much as she possibly can. Since she's used to picture books, she will color pictures first, then write the accompanying text, and then staple all the pages together to make a book. I am very impressed with her ability to tell a story and even more impressed with how fast her reading and writing abilities are developing. She must get it from her mom.

She has some other advantages over me as well. She doesn't seem to have a problem coming up with fun and silly ideas. Her realization, understanding and explanations of life events (filtered by a 6 year olds' mind) never fall short of being a very interesting tale. It doesn't hurt that her spelling and grammatical abilities are nearly equal to mine. (At least I have spell check.) Mostly, she has the unfair advantage of her childlike innocence and complete lack of fear in terms of embarrassment or perceived failure.

Future competition...or not
The littlest of the family has not yet shown a great interest in writing. I don't know what her problem is....she has already been in preschool for an entire semester. So far, she pretty much just colors and writes her name. She does enjoy writing greeting cards to friends. That process typically involves her coloring a bunch of pictures and then writing the recipient's name on the envelope. (Writing the name involves her copying a name that we write on a separate piece of paper as an example.)

I see the desire to write is building up inside of her already though. Maybe I should try and encourage the artistic coloring side so that I don't have to compete with her next year already. Besides, it never hurts to have an extra person in the family who can do the illustrations.

On that note, have a great week! Let me know if you have your own blog already. I have been having fun reading through the blogs of friends that I have somehow stumbled upon. It doesn't surprise me that so many write...or that they are all fun to read. I am curious how I never knew about them before. Maybe my eyes have been opened now that I started writing my own blog?? My goal this week is to push my sister over the edge and get her to start writing her own blog. She has always had a desire to write and a blog is an easy place to start. Besides, if I can do it, anyone can. Until next time....

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The next generation of fixers

"Daddy fix it!" is a phrase that you will hear around our house more often than I care to admit. If you want some background on that, feel free to check out my earlier blog post titled "Broken." On one hand, it's sad that things seem to be breaking around here all the time. On the other hand though, I am proud that my daughters have already learned the value of repairing something despite the "throw it away and buy new" society we live in.
I grew up in a house with a Dad who was very adept at fixing things. In my eyes, there wasn't anything that he couldn't do. I "helped" with all kinds of projects ranging from changing the oil on the van to remodeling in the house. I know that's where I got my basic understanding of doing things for myself...and this was long before the rise of do-it-yourselfers and YouTube instructional videos. Although I appreciate the value of a YouTube video (and have utilized them numerous times), I prefer the side by side learning from someone who's actually done it before.

Between my years on job sites and the years I spent managing an Ace Hardware, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge for fixing just about anything. I say "just about" because I still lean heavily on my mechanic friends and tech friends for those types of issues. I like to say that I know enough about each of them to get myself in trouble. I know my limitations, but my two little girls do not. They think Daddy can fix anything...which sounds like a challenge to me.

Learn to break stuff first
I like to say that I choose to learn things the hard way because it reinforces the learning that much more. As a kid in school, my area of expertise was windows. There are only a handful of windows at my old grade school that I haven't put a soccer ball, softball, or football through. After the second or third window, they started having me "help" with the repairs. At first it was just watching the work being done in an effort to show me how much effort has to go into fixing my accidental breakage. It then turned into going with my dad to actually buy the replacement glass and then install it. Once again, I pretty much just watched, but it killed my whole afternoon. It taught me to appreciate the effort that goes into fixing something and, more importantly, that very few things can't be fixed.

My girls have been learning the same way as their old man. I find myself setting the same rules my folks did like "no playing catch in the house." My favorite story comes from my daughter throwing a ball in the living room and hitting a figurine on a shelf. It was a Willow Tree figurine of a bride and groom dancing. Picking up the figurine, I notice that the groom no longer has a head. We searched high and low and could not find the guy's head. Then, twenty minutes later as my wife was finishing her cup of coffee, she finds the head in the bottom of her coffee mug. It bounced just right and landed in her coffee. That is just one of many examples of my girls helping me have something to fix. The problem is that a little multi-purpose adhesive made fixing it look too easy. Now when something breaks, it's less of a concern about the breakage and more of an admiration that dad can fix "anything".

You can't fix everything
My girls and I spend a lot of time coloring. I don't know what is so fun about it other than the fact that it's something all of us can do and we're spending time together. Inevitably, one of the girls will accidentally tear the piece of paper they are coloring. Although I admire their desire to fix it, using a dozen pieces of tape to mend it not only makes it nearly impossible to color anymore, it also costs more in tape than the coloring book page is worth.

This is where I will admit that the mentality of our throw away society is almost out of our hands. My impression of how we got here will fill another entire post, so for now, I'll just say the cost of repairing something today almost makes it prohibitively least to the point that it's not worth it even if you don't want to waste something.

There are also those things that just can't be fixed. My girls (as I've mentioned a hundred times in my posts) say the cutest things. I recall my daughters and I looking out the living room window at the two Maple trees in our front yard blowing in the wind. As we were watching the wind blow the tree around, a piece of deadwood fell out of the tree and lodged in the ground. Without missing a beat, my youngest looked at me and said, "Daddy fix it?" I am pretty handy, but grafting a dead piece of wood back into a tree and getting it to grow is a little out of my league. I do have extensive skills in the tree trimming arena though that could minimize the number of dead branches in the tree to begin with.

Go out and fix something
If you're not already a do-it-yourselfer, give it a try next time something breaks. You may find it rewarding. If you are already a DIY guru, help someone else learn how to do it themselves. My youngest daughter (pictured in the photo above) prompted this post. The drawer in that table she's crawling under has been slipping out of the glide rails recently making it hard for the girls to open and close the drawer. The thing that really blew me away wasn't the fact that she was taking a look at the problem, but rather the diagnosis she made. She got under the table, looked at the situation, and (correctly) explained something to the effect of "the little tires are falling off the road because it's too fat." When I got under the table to take a look, I saw that glide tracks (the road) were set too wide (fat) and the glide wheels (little tires) kept popping out of the track. I guess I have another generation of fixers in my family. Until next time....

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The perfect solution

Do you need a mobile messaging device that won't fail you? Are you sick of constantly having to upgrade the software on your current device? Is your current mobile device draining the battery as fast as you can charge it? If you answered "yes" to any of these, I have got a deal for you! The pocket Etch-A-Sketch has what you need. No charging batteries. No firmware or software updates. No wi-fi access needed. All this can be yours for roughly the amount of change in the cup holder of your car.

Ask questions and listen. I briefly touched on this point in my last post and I wanted to expand on it due to its (hopefully obvious) importance. Too many people these days seem to think that customer service is asking the customer what they want and then putting it in their hands. Your goal in asking them questions is to determine their need, not to find the item they are searching for. You are the expert with the knowledge to meet their needs. Ask questions to determine their real need. Ask enough questions to develop a proper solution to meet this current need and, if possible, one that will scale to meet their future needs.

The customer is always right...sort of. I have never been fond of that phrase because I rarely see it used in the right manner. The customer is always right because they chose to buy from you and you want to keep them as a customer. They chose to walk into your store or give you a call to ask for help. They have other options for fulfilling their needs. If you want to keep them as a customer, you will do what you can to make sure they are "always right". Always right does not mean they always know what they need, or that they always have their facts straight. It's your job to help the customer see what right is.

Don't sell your customer what they ask for. Sell them a proper solution for their needs. My Etch-A-Sketch example above would be a good example from the IT industry. Everyone seems to want 100% up-time for a low price. The Etch-A-Sketch offers that. It's cheap, doesn't require a power source and it's even an extremely durable and mobile device. That may be all they asked for, but it isn't what they need. I realize it's a ridiculous example, but it proves a point. Dig deeper and get more answers so you don't undersell the customer and risk them being dissatisfied after the sale. Sell a solution rather than fill a request.

Disclaimer: I would highly encourage you not to sell an Etch-A-Sketch to a business, even as an add-on item, due to it's extremely low level of productivity. I'm not talking about how it takes 5 minutes to write your name on it. I'm referring to the fact that after I took the above photo, I found myself doodling with it for 10 minutes for no apparent reason. It's oddly addictive after spending all day on a computer and it's 10 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. Until next time....

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Valentine Evolution

I will be the first to admit that I have never been real keen on the concept of Valentine’s Day in the past, but I now must admit that it has begun to grow on me. The title of this blog post accurately describes my changing view of the holiday in both the sense of my general perception of Valentine’s Day and the fact that I am now one of those people who feels the need to write a Valentine-related blog post.

The “early” years

Back when I was just beginning to explore the world of girlfriends and dating, I was one of those guys who made fun of Valentine’s Day. I’m sure you’ve heard similar comments to those I would make: “It’s a Hallmark holiday designed to sell greeting cards.” “It’s a conspiracy by the florists to boost the sale of flowers.” “I don’t need to be required to tell someone I love them one day a year when I love them all year long.” I think you get the idea.

In reality, I loved being “forced” to do something special for my special someone. Looking back at my immature years, I think my comments were part of an elaborate defense mechanism designed as a fail-safe in case my “romantic gestures” weren’t all that spectacular. I would then have the option to blame it on the fact that I was just going through the motions for a holiday I didn’t believe in and THAT’s why it wasn’t spectacular.

Moving on to married life

Meeting my wife and getting married put a slightly different spin on Valentine’s Day. Something about knowing that she was going to be my Valentine for the rest of my life put it all in a different light. Sure, I’ll still occasionally make a comment about how I don’t need a holiday to tell her that I love her, but it’s still only a half-hearted excuse….in case I don’t come up with something spectacular. Although I really do try and make an effort to tell her (and show her) how much I love her on a daily basis, I have that inner desire to make a little extra effort on Valentine’s Day. (I’m pretty sure that I’ve been failing miserably for years.)

Married with kids

As parenthood started to take more of a front seat to our husband-wife relationship, Valentine’s Day really started to take a nose dive. (Having kids for 6 of the 8 years we’ve been married is partially the reason I said I’ve been “failing miserably” lately.) My wife and I actually went out on a real date last night for the first time in a LONG time. We tried to figure it out, but we’ve only had smartphones with calendars for two years and we couldn’t find a date night in that time….if that tells you anything. We’ve had a few nights out without the kids in tow, but it was always as part of a work party or some other event that included other groups of people. It was never just the two of us. (We both agreed that our midnight trip to the ER a couple of months ago didn’t count because there was a doctor and a nurse present….and Sarah was completely out of it.)

Valentine’s with kids aware

Now that our kids are in school (kindergarten and preschool), they are becoming aware of the Valentine’s Day rituals. There was a lot of card making going on in our house this week. The older of the two even made a comment as my wife and I were leaving on our date: “Mommy and Daddy are going out to eat….and kiss.” On one hand, I am excited that my six year old is so bright and understood the concept of a “date” in real world grown up terms. On the other hand, I’m a little scared that my six year old understood the concept of a date in real world grown up terms. I shouldn’t have been surprised as she has already mentioned liking boys at school because they are “handsome”….rather than because they color really well or because they can jump really high…the things I would think would be important to her in kindergarten.

My girls’ excitement of Valentine’s Day does have other advantages. They are now requiring a cake to help celebrate the occasion. (You can cross-reference their love of cake with my “Happy New Year’s” blog post.) I never put up a big fight on the cake issue – because I share their love of cake. Another advantage is that they love countdown calendars. Having something to look forward to keeps them occupied and excited, so it’s a win for my wife and I as well.

My future Valentine's Days

I am excited to have three valentines going forward. My wife and I can hopefully continue our own special date night…and maybe sneak a few extras in throughout the rest of the year. My two little valentines will now have yet another day to look forward to on the calendar and hopefully not relate it to a romantic holiday for at least another decade or more. Well, I’m off to let the Valentine’s festivities begin! Until next time….

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My wife in a word....or 365

My wife and I were sitting at the breakfast table this morning discussing our prestigious writing careers. (I write this rambling nonsense and she is kinda, sorta thinking about starting a blog.) I was showing her how I generate ideas by asking our girls to come up with ideas for me. Within a few minutes we had generated 10-12 ideas that she could run with to get her own blog up and running. Then she stumped me with, "What one word would you use to describe me?" Oh boy. This could lead to a very good or very bad weekend depending on my answer. (Those of you who know her, know that she's not a vindictive grudge holder.) Anyway, here it goes: My wife in a word....or series of phrases...

She has an amazing Volunteer attitude
People say that you choose to marry someone like your mom. I never really believed that until a few years ago. It didn't really help that I am the one who does the majority of the sewing and hair braiding in our house. The more I thought about it though, I realized that (whether she admits it or not) she has some mad cooking skills - just like my mom. More importantly, she has the same problem saying no to people that my mom had. In other words, she decides to just flat-out volunteer for everything.

She's always ready to help others. (Sorry if some of this is repeat of my previous gushings about my wife, but that's how much it means to me.) She is always on the run with being a mom. I would list details, but I think blog posts are supposed to be shorter than a I'll let you fill in the blanks with everything a mom does on even an average day. She has a full-time job at the local high school that has her identifying at risk students, tutoring, and now "volunteering" to create a summer reading program (after creating a grant request). She is also active with her personal business. The most amazing thing about her doing so much for others is that she doesn't forget about herself. She doesn't get enough time for herself as she should, but she knows the importance of taking care of herself too. I'm pretty sure that's just because she wants to be healthy enough to take care of everyone else though.

She has an outgoing personality
My wife was blessed with the gift of gab...then again, that might just be a woman thing?? Believe it or not, I am not an extroverted person. I would rather be alone and have quiet time than go mingle with large groups of people. (I have learned to pretend to be extroverted due to my history in the Marine Corps and multiple management and customer service jobs over the years.) Although it seems like a natural thing for my wife to be so outgoing, particularly with public speaking, it was actually a personal challenge that she faced and overcame years ago.

It may be part of her volunteer attitude kicking in to help her be so outgoing. When she sees something that needs to be done, she acts. She mingles, talks, coordinates and organizes her way to mission accomplishment. Being outgoing helps tremendously and helps ensure you don't have to do everything by yourself.

She is energetic and driven
The fact that my wife gets up early (almost) every morning to get her workout in is the first obvious sign of her energy. She is always telling me she has more energy when she gets to work out in the morning, I know that's true, but I still prefer the sleep in method. In the end, it appears that her method works better because I know she gets a whole lot more done in a day than I do.

A phrase that we use at work is "driven to succeed". My wife embodies that concept on a daily basis. Everything she does is geared to improving herself (learning & healthy) and helping others (family, friends, & students).

She's still a lady
Even after all the activities she finds herself knee deep in daily, she still knows how to be a lady. I don't imagine it's easy to transition from being the hard-working mom with multiple jobs to a loving, beautiful wife on the turn of a dime, but she does it. Just to clarify (she's a clarifier), she is still the best belcher in our house. I find it impressive that she can be the beautiful woman she is while still knowing how to cut loose from time to time.

Lady + Outgoing + Volunteering + Energetic = LOVE
I'm sure a few of you figured this out by the second or third paragraph, but the one word I would use to describe my wife is "LOVE". She shows her love for me everyday in a multitude of different ways. (Food is often high on the list for me.) She shows her love to our daughters non-stop. Children can be difficult at times, but having me as a husband has to help in some way. (Because I'm a big kid and she had practice being a "mom" before the girls were born....not because I'm all that great a helper.) I could go on and on about her love for family and friends, but once again, I'm trying really hard not to write a book here.

I think you get the general idea. My wife is full of love and I love my wife for it. As I have said many times before (not necessarily in my blog), if I could have special ordered a wife with all the "bells & whistles" that I could think of, I wouldn't have even known to order half of the bells and whistles this model came with. :)  Until next time.....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Small Town, Big Heart

I had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of a local chamber of commerce where my company is a member. It is a chamber that I have been involved with for a number of years with my previous and current employers. This particular chamber (or town for that matter) is often overlooked by many. I have seen the eye rolls and heard the snickers when I mentioned this particular chamber membership in the past due to the size of the town. Having a population close to 4000 people, it is seen by some as not much of a big deal. I would beg to differ.
The little town I am referring to is Sleepy Eye, MN, located in south central Minnesota. It has a fun history as it has actually been around long enough to have a real history. (I'll let you do the research on that.) I had even heard of Sleepy Eye back when I was a kid down in Texas watching Little House on the Prairie. Sleepy Eye was the "big town" the Ingalls family would go to on occasion from their little hometown of Walnut Grove. (For the record, Walnut Grove is still here as well and puts on a Little House re-enactment each summer.) The history of the town and the "fame" of being mentioned a few times on a tv show is not what makes this little town so great. It's the people that do that.

The small town life is a lot like a family. You know (or at least recognize) just about everyone you see. You know the good, the bad and the ugly about everything and everyone. Some may find that a bit uncomfortable, but in the end, it's rather comforting. You all know each other's strengths and weaknesses. You know who to go to for help with a particular issue and who could use your help with their issues. Like a family, you will have the occasional dispute or disagreement, but in the end you stick together and help each other out.

This point really stood out to me tonight during the awards ceremony when the Sleepy Eye volunteer fire department was recognized for their volunteer activities to help the community. Volunteering comes in many forms, but few compare to the volunteers that literally put their life on the line to fight the fire that is trying to destroy your home or business. They are there giving aid at the scene of an accident or during a natural disaster. They are the people you probably don't notice during a time of need....unless you live in a small town and know them on a first name basis. I particularly enjoyed (and appreciated) the mention of the employers who accommodate their valuable employees who are members of such a noble volunteer group.

It doesn't stop there. During my years of working in this community, I have seen numerous neighborly acts that I had previously thought extinct. I've seen everything from offering a ride to someone who got caught out in the rain to a bunch of farmers joining together to plow the neighbor's fields because they had a situation that prevented them from being able to do it themselves. Small town families look out for each other and take care of each other. There is a lot of value in that.

Hailing from the great state of Texas (the friendship state), I have experienced both extremes of "being neighborly" or friendly. I have lived in neighborhoods where you can live next door to someone for years and never learn their name. I have also lived out in the country where your neighbor a mile away is hurt because you haven't stopped by to say hello and introduce yourself. A small town rarely has that problem. You get to know everyone pretty quickly and you are almost "forced" into the family right away. It may be unnerving for some, but for those of us who love people, it's a great feeling knowing you have a new neighbor ....whether they live next door or a few miles away.

I've rambled on enough for tonight. Think about this tomorrow when you're out and about in town, How many people do you recognize? How many people do you at least offer a smile or a hello? Even better, how many people can you name on sight? I bet you'll be surprised by how many people you see on a daily basis, but have no clue who they really are. Until next time....