Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

One of the gifts that is often overlooked that we need to thank God for is memory.

I have long been one to emphasize experience over things in vacations or other events.  If given a choice between two options such as going to a concert or buying some new clothes, I will always choose the concert.  Things that are truly needs, obviously come first, but if both the items above are wants, the experience wins every time.  A big part of this for me is that I can revisit the joy of the experience time and again, view it from different angles and perspectives and even get new insights thanks to the gift of memory.

Nowhere is memory more valuable than in our families.  As a blended family this can be a double edged sword as some memories of the “before time” can cause friction and tension where before they used to cause joy and pleasure.  For example, old traditions, some no longer practical, others perhaps “lost” because of an agreement with your spouse to compromise and just do something new, can cause issues especially if they are brought up by the children.  Suddenly the old dynamics of the earlier days, of sides, come up.  It might be a place that was regularly visited that has value to some but has little pull to the other “side” or to an activity undertaken as specific milestones in life that were fun for some but that seem stupid and silly to the other “side”.  How we look at memories can determine how this proceeds in a blended family.  Just as with any gift, it is not always only a good thing.  A new toy may be sheer joy and pleasure for the kids but a major irritant to one parent who cannot stand the noise or the mess it makes.  Similarly, if we choose to keep bringing up these old memories and lamenting over what once was and then starting to frame the new family as the barrier that exists in making it happen again, we are only headed for bad things.  Instead, I find that celebrating those memories for what they were, experiences at a place in time in a certain family configuration and just enjoying them in quiet times is what is best about them.  I do think this only works if you are making new memories, which comes back full circle to my focus on experiences over things.  I would imagine a life in which you stopped making new memories as a blended family and only lamented those things you used to do before you blended could very easily lead to heartache and sadness.

My own personal memory sink right now has to do with Marcia.  I wrote several months back about her decision to move out.  Since then contact with her has really been non-existent.  I reach out to her with an e-mail or text when I feel compelled to let her know something, to parent from afar if I really analyze what it is, and this results in at best a token acknowledgement such as “OK” but more often is just greeted with radio silence.  My decision, and only time will tell if it is “right”, is to let her live her life as an adult and not force myself into it, though as a parent there is some pain in a child just tuning you out of their life as if they flipped a switch.  It’s as if Marcia walked out of the house right after Thanksgiving, and much like we do when we leave the house every morning for work, looked over at the switch labeled “Dad” and flipped it to Off and then closed the door and drove away.  I have no idea if there was more to it than that (for my sanity I do think at times I have to believe there was) but in the end that’s what it feels like, an afterthought in her life on the way on to the cool things of the rest of the day.  So when I get to those points I choose to unpack a memory or two.  Perhaps it is something simple like a conversation we had, even are argument we had in her last couple years in the house, and see the good in it and her struggle to define herself in a world that she was railing against, or perhaps it was those older memories when I was her hero and we were doing something fun and exciting.  This is the gift of a memory.  It can change our perspective.  Depending on your mind though, it can be a danger.  I do not struggle with it often, and it is so rare that it is very easy for me to walk away from that cliff edge of resentment of why things are not the same, but I know of others who have this torment sometimes on a weekly basis.  These are the people who struggle to heal and move on and make the best of their blended family instead of focusing on them as the cause of why.  By the grace of God this is not a problem for me, but if it is for you, I cannot stress how crucial it is to get yourself some help or you will be heading down the trail to tension and strife that may lead you to another divorce.  When you unpack those one sided memories do not let them begin to rub you the wrong way and create judgements and barriers that can be difficult to erase.

Moving back to the true gift of memories.  The road continues on and the kids keep getting older.  Sure the big experiences build some great memories, but just as every gift from our loving Father, it is more important to appreciate the little facets of it.  Those memories that exist in the everyday, that spring forth just from the minimal effort involved in letting life unfold.  I believe I am more appreciative of it because of what has happened with Marcia leaving and those things that no longer happen.  It makes little difference if those things are negative or positive, what matters is that it has brought more to the forefront that we are closer to more of this than less, this nearness of getting to the point of the never more.

Shortly we will no longer have the sounds of a group of girls standing around the island in the kitchen and being loud and probably laughing at something I find utterly stupid.  The boys at the computer debating the best way to do something in their game at hand or talking about a video will be a thing of the past.  The house will not be quiet in the morning for about twenty minutes after I wake up and then start to echo with thumps and thwaps of footsteps or drawers or doors being moved as they all wake up and begin getting ready for school, it will just remain quiet.  We get a taste of “empty nest” on our weekends and for now my wife and I mainly view it as wonderful, but the prudent analyzer in me understands that part of this joy comes with knowing that it will end in a few days and they’ll start coming back, however one day they will head out and we’ll have no idea when they will be back and I know that will be less joyful.  This is when we need to look to the gift.

Memory will allow us to look back on all these trivial happenings, some that occurred more frequently than others, and recall.  We’ll recall them playing on the floor with the pets, being upset about some slight or other of the day, or the prayers we prayed for them each and every day.  The thousands of prayers lifted up to help them find their way.  When they all move away the home will not be empty.  There was a poem in the late 60’s by Bob Benson titled “Laughter in the Walls” and it fits well in what I’ve been talking about especially towards the end, when he says, “Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories”.  He goes on to list his particular memories, general enough for everyone to find something, as a commercial poet would be wont to do, but I will replace them with our own memories.  Our Creator gave us this wonderful gift, and I pray that all of us find the best ways to use it, rather than the hurtful ways it can be turned towards.  The goal for me is always good.  Thank you Father for this wonderful gift and for the wisdom to use it wisely.  To be able to say thanks for the memories and to enjoy the laughter in the walls.

The greatest challenge that the Lord gives us at times is when He asks us to exercise patience.  For me it has been one of the items I still wrestle with.  I have been blessed with intelligence, logic and related attributes that tend to make me a high achiever and a quick thinker.  While most would say those things are good, I offer an illustration with food.  Many people would say that chocolate is wonderful and so is lobster, however, at least for me, the idea of eating chocolate covered lobster is not all that appealing; but chocolate covered raisins or lobster encrusted steak?  Mmm mmm good!  It is all about the right combination at the right time.

Similarly my Type A personality does not go well many times without patience.  It can be overbearing, arrogant or rude.  As I have gained wisdom and God has helped me reflect on situations I have been amazed at those teachable moments to show that those attributes of me, sprinkled with a little patience for flavor, turn mac and cheese into a five star meal.  At work, I still struggle as the drive to get things done many times overpowers me taking out the patience shaker, but over the years I have worked very hard to use it at home and feel I have more success there.

What I have discovered to my amazement is that doing so usually allows for more harmony in the household.  Once of the main reasons is that by being patient even when I may not be feeling that way inside offers me the chance to see differing perspectives and understand what other emotions may be at play, and so I would like to present you a few examples of recent events, but my method requires a little explanation.

Anyone that knows me understands that one of my passions is Disney.  As a child I loved the magic and wonder and as an adult I add to that the appreciation of a business built for the most part on family and fostering togetherness and improving relationships.  One of the coolest ways that I feel Disney does this is through their animation groups, especially Pixar, which is one of my favorite studios.  Just like some of us will buy any music put out by our favorite artist without listening to it, I know that whatever Pixar comes out with will have me in the theater on opening weekend with my candy and my excitement, raring to go.  So it is with the next production, Inside Out.  For those who are unfamiliar with the film, it basically explores the life of a teenage girl by letting us be inside her brain with her emotions.  But as is so often the case with Pixar, they take what is a brilliant concept on its own and add in some twists that take brilliant to genius.  You see, with the new trailer released today, I was able to see that not only are they going to help us see the emotions of the girl, but also of her parents, and I imagine those around her.  What God has taught me through patience, Pixar is going to be placing on screen as we listen to Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger and Sadness.  It is in this mode that I play out the rest of my story, which covers basically the last 12 hours of my life.

Last night, Marcia came home after a band concert.  Now to set the stage, my wife and I believe that the only reason Marcia is in band this year is because she wants to be with a friend of hers.  She used to love band but last year she did not participate and so it was with surprise that we greeted her announcement months ago that she was going to be in again this year.  In any event, her apathy has made me feel the same way towards her events and so during marching season I had not braved the cold and rain.  Nothing but the hand of God pushed me to decide to make the effort to attend her first regular indoor concert of the year now that marching has transitioned to the regular concert band season that will encompass the rest of the year.  I texted her a few times before and after and saw her when she got home.  She looked rather dejected when she came in.

Me: You look upset.  What’s wrong?

Marcia: Mom did not show up…. AGAIN!

Marcia Sadness: Why does she do this to me?  Why am I never a priority in her life?

Me Sadness: Why does she do this to them?  Why does she not make the effort to participate?

Me Anger: Because she is a selfish little b—h.  One day she’ll see how resentful the kids are and then it will be too late.  Serves her right.

Me Disgust: How can someone be so selfish?  Is sickens me to think I was married to someone like that.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Marcia: It’s OK.  I’m used to it.

Me Sadness: If only Nan would understand how much pain she causes.

Me Anger: If only God would help Nan understand how much pain she causes.  He could smite the Egyptians, why can’t he wipe Nan of the face of the earth and remove the pain?

Me Sadness:  Because that would cause Marcia more pain.  I need to make sure I keep Anger in check.  It will not help Marcia if I get angry about Nan.

Marcia Sadness: What did I do to deserve this?

At this point Marcia just went upstairs and got ready for bed and school the next day.  My wife and I decided it was best to just leave her be as nothing we could say at that point would really make it any better, it would just prolong her sadness of what was a regular occurrence from Nan.  The issue here was that it was almost worse because now Nan’s mom has moved here so her grandparent who could also have attended now that she does not live several states away also was not present.  Now it is possible Nan did not make her aware of the event, but Nan’s mom has always been selfish as long as I have known her, so not sure the cause, and in the end, to Marcia, it does not matter.  Her perspective is that her mom and others do not care.  Again, I thank God for giving me the push to show up even though with other logistics with other kids we had that night it meant driving back and forth to the high school three times in about 90 minutes.  I think it was important in that moment for her to understand that I did care what she did and had I not attended no amount of explaining the difficulties would have helped.  In my perspective and other adults seeing what was going on that night it might have been a sufficient excuse.  In Marcia’s perspective it would have been the same type of crap she hears from Nan all the time about why she is unable to make it to events.  This was just worse because it was one of the few times Nan had actually said she would be there.  Normally her mode is to make the excuses well before hand and politely decline because of her busy life.  I cannot even begin to guess what Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger were doing inside Marcia for the rest of the evening, and even my narration above may be way off base, but I hope it allows you to see how things wrestle inside us.  Without patience I would have flown off the handle about Nan, but with it I understood it was not in either of our control and getting Marcia more upset would have just hurt more.

Let’s now move on to the next morning.  After being punished from driving privileges, Marcia has also been told that it is too expensive to pay for gas for her to drive to school every day so at least until her job hours pick up and she can begin pitching in once in a while they will only drive over when logistics require.  This effects Jan and Cindy as they also attend the high school and as freshman have enjoyed a rare event in the life journey of a teen; not having to ride the bus for most of the school year in their first year in high school.  Now that is being taken away and reactions abound.  This being the first few weeks of the change, everyone is still working on the system and with the business of last night I had not done my portion with all of the players to explain that today was to be a bus day, which means getting out of the house about 15 minutes earlier than a car day.

I had been downstairs, as is normal, for about ten minutes when Marcia came down.  It was about 25 minutes before they would leave.

Marcia:  Does Jan know we are taking the bus?

Me: I have no idea.  Go wake her up and let her know.

Me Fear: I had not told anyone they were taking the bus.  Something will go wrong.

Me Joy: Yippee!!!  It has only taken a week and Marcia gets that when there is nothing happening they take the bus and she is actually taking responsibility rather than being a defiant teenager and pushing back.  How wonderful!

Me Anger:  I bet Jan has no idea and it will be another crappy morning arguing about taking the bus.

We went about our morning routines and I got up to the kitchen about 5 minutes before departure time.  Marcia was present, Cindy had come down still sick so she was going to miss another day and Jan was nowhere to be found.

Me: Where is Jan?  Did you wake her up?

Marcia: Yeah, I did.  No idea.

Wife: Was she aware they were taking the bus?  You were supposed to be telling them.

Me Anger: I know that and I already beat myself up about that downstairs, thank you very much!  I know we agreed that I would be telling them, but rubbing it in does not help any!  Grumble grumble grumble.

Me Fear:  See, I knew she’d not come down.  Now I will have all that teenage drama.

Me Anger:  I had told Marcia to make sure Jan got up as she is terrible at waking up when not planned.  I bet she just rolled over and went back to sleep.  Why didn’t Marcia make sure she got up?  Why didn’t I make sure they were all aware last night?

Me:  Yes, I know.  With all the running around I did not get to see most of them last night.

Me Anger:  They are in high school.  Why can’t they assume the bus is the way to go.  Because they are selfish teenagers, that’s why!  Grr!

Me Sadness:  You were a teenager once.  Why are you so hard on them?  Meany!

I had to finish up some things on the computer downstairs so I went back down and in the meantime the bus came and went.  I walk upstairs to find Jan just running into the kitchen as we both hear the bus leaving the neighborhood in front of the house.

Jan:  I had no idea we were taking the bus today!  Now what do I do?  Not go to school?

Me: (Deep breath) No.  I will drive you over this morning.

Jan Anger: Why!? WHY!?  NO ONE TOLD ME!!!!  My life sucks!  Why can’t we drive?  This is stupid!

Me Anger: See!!  I knew this would happen!

Me Sadness: Yes you did, just try to get her to understand.

Me:  Give me a couple minutes to finish up and I will be ready to go.  You guys will be taking the bus normally so you need to figure that out.

Jan: I can’t get up that early! At dad’s I can’t get up that early and it is later than this!  I don’t understand (fade to Charlie Brown teacher warble as I tune out the tirade)

Me (calmly):  You’ll figure it out.

Jan: I’m too tired getting up this early!

Me: Then go to bed earlier.

Jan: I went to bed at 9!

Me: OK, then I guess your body is telling you it needs to be earlier.

Jan: I can’t go to bed earlier, I barely got my homework done!

Me: You’ll figure it out.

Jan Anger: This is stupid!  I don’t get it!  (Ongoing)

Me Sadness: Oh the joys of teenagers……

So now we circle back to patience.

By being patient I was able to see things from Jan’s perspective and not blow my stack, as this was a similar conversation to what has occurred every time the bus has come up.  As an adult I see no reason that the public provided transportation is not fine.  I can understand the “earlier” portion but I also struggle with the fact that it is 15 minutes, at most, earlier and if they are tired they have the whole bus ride to veg out.  Jan as a teenager does not see the problem with driving.  This is where her and Marcia have different perspectives, and Marcia’s has been provided to her by the fact that she has gone out and gotten a job and has paid for a few tanks of gas for the car she uses and has let us know how crazy it is.  Jan has not had the benefit of this reality yet.  She is still blissfully unaware that there is not a magic money plant out back, leprechauns do not arrive at my door just before they all wake up to let me grab all the money and more that I need for the day, or that I do not crap twenties out my butt like some variation of a human ATM.  She still exists in that nirvana of early teenhood where the world works and she does not need, or care, to know why.  Only when the world does not work (i.e. she is asked to ride the bus when there is a perfectly good car just parked out front calling to her) does she even attempt to understand how the big machine operates, but even then it is through teen colored glasses and hearing aids.  I say gas costs a lot.  She hears we are cheapskates.  I say everyone has to ride the bus.  She hears that we had to walk to school uphill both ways, with nuclear radiation and while carrying baby goats to market.  Not having the patience and willingness to understand the other perspective and empathize with the emotions those cause is truly the root of most disagreements.  I work hard to make sure that I keep that in mind even as Anger is pound on the control buttons in my head to get me to do something irrational.  To be a good parent, I think that is what God tried to teach us by giving us instruction to be slow to anger.  Once that short little fat guy (watch the Inside Out trailer) has a firm hold on the joystick, it is hard to break free of his control.  We face this with all our emotions and that is always the struggle.  What is happening in Marcia’s or Jan’s or my wife’s control center?  Sadly, unlike the movie or my attempt at some levity in this post, we do not get to know unless those people speak to us and tell us.  And for some reason we are all usually really bad at sharing that information in a constructive way.  That’s why the concept Pixar has is so brilliant and why I have been looking forward to this movie for years when I heard about the concept four years ago.  The new trailer is awesome.  The teenage girl has a tirade that starts out with the parents trying to be OK and ends with a punishment, but it is the emotions that play out that are so fascinating.  As a parent I could totally get the dad’s emotions and what they were doing and I still get the teenage perspective and what she was doing.  The battle between the emotions is awesome.  Can you tell I’m excited about this movie!?  I can’t wait until June!  Anyway, sorry.  I’m calm again.  Back to my post.  To operate better in our relationships it is important to have this perspective, I just wish we could find a way to see into each other’s brains and hear all the dialogue exposed in the movie, but we do not.  So we need to find other ways, mainly by patiently listening and then by patiently thinking before we act.  With our human frailty that is not always possible, but God demands of us to try.  I will just keep trying to do that knowing that my perspective is just that.  Mine.  Not my wife’s, not my kids.  I will continue to pray that they are understand that as well and that we work out of love for each other to get to a resolution for all life’s little episodes and we continue to encourage Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear to play nice.

Many Christians, my wife included, view the book for Ecclesiastes from a less than joyful viewpoint.  It has been said that it is depressing and it is hard, but as I have learned more about the Bible over the years I have never really had this viewpoint.  The book was written by Solomon, whom the Bible tells us is a great man of wisdom.  I think we can all agree that we avoid, or skim over something written by a great man of wisdom with peril.  Every day we make choices, but I’d like to point out something counterintuitive to those of you who feel this book of the Bible has little to offer in the way of encouragement by pointing out a little nugget buried in there that can make all the difference in the world in your marriage, if applied.

Before we get to the nugget, let’s first set the stage.  Our lives are full of challenges and difficulties at times.  No one escapes these for their entire life.  We may go for years coasting along in bliss and contentment only to have something smack of off our pedestal.  Suddenly our perfect life is not so perfect anymore.  It is at these times when we struggle most and our values, our faith, if we have it, is tested.  As we assist in counseling people who are going through or have gone through divorce we see the all too common result in our culture of these times. The choice is to leave, to break up the family because it will be better.  Is that really the right choice?

Have you ever felt your spouse was not there, spending their time working or buried in hobbies that take them out of the home and away from you?  Maybe they focus on friends and not your family.  Perhaps there has been hardship:  financial, medical or spiritual.  These storms of life bring with them sadness and test our resolve.  It has become too common that the decision reached is to throw in the towel and walk away.

This is where the book of Ecclesiates applies to our trials in marriage.  The NIV translation lists verse 9:9 as “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.”  At first blush, and through the lens of this being a depressing book, it reads pretty harshly, though as a piece of wisdom it holds all the hope needed to understand that God has provided us this life and expects us to enjoy it, even through the trials.  Certainly this is a choice we make, but if we take our hardships and things that drive us mad and look for creative ways to find some fun way to deal with them, suddenly our wife and our marriage are a source of power and not a drain.  If we look at what is viewed as a more literal translation of the Bible, the NASB, this verse reads: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun ; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Suddenly the moroseness and depressing language is not really there, is it?  This translation removes the burden of digging for the real point Solomon was making and makes it front and center.  God intends you to enjoy life with your wife no matter what occurs.  It is our reward for all the difficulties.  So you, as always, have a choice.  Do you throw it away when it gets hard, feeling that your marriage or your wife are the source of your misery, or do you follow the instruction of one of the wisest men who ever lived and cling to your wife and labor with her while enjoying things together, even through the bad times?  If you change your perspective, not only can a book of the Bible that gets a bad rap as just a lament of misery suddenly offer some of the best hope in your life, but you can turn around your whole view on life and make your family a bastion against the storms and weather them together, rather than apart.

How well do you know me?

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Communication, Fun, Random

Last week I came across a Facebook posting on a friend’s page that talked about the changes in the world, specifically around communication, more specifically the cell phone and what the world was like for those of us over the age of 40.  It referred to things like not knowing who was calling until you picked up the phone, about actually having to be home to get an important phone call and about how we had to actually write on letter with paper and pen, then package it up in an envelope, walk to a mailbox and wait several days for the recipient to get it versus the nearly instantaneous possibilities of e-mail.

In addition, I read a daily devotional that had to do with things people send you in e-mail and those two things together formulated into some of the thoughts that led to this post.

When I was a kid, the way I learned about my friends was really focused on the spoken word.  If I wanted to know their favorite color, I’d ask them.  If I wanted to know what sports they liked or what they thought of that TV show last night, I’d ask them.  Sometimes I’d get information through others, commonly known as gossip, but I would not know the validity of it, though truth be told I guess even if they told me directly they could be lying.

Move to today and think about how people learn about each other.  If you are looking for someone to develop a romantic relationship with, chances are pretty high that you will use a dating site like eHarmony or Christian Mingle.  Fewer and fewer people are meeting at bars, or at school or just outside in the world.  Why is that?  I think a big part of it has to do with learning about someone before you meet them.  The dating sites give you pictures, words, sometimes audio and video.  Sure just as when I was a kid, this can be fabricated, but you then have the deeper side of the equation, that fueled by Google.

In seconds, you can Google someone and learn a lot about them.  There may be public records of course, but many times you find articles, lists, files and who knows what else.  We once were tipped off by an anonymous call to Google a candidate and found an article indicating he was just that past weekend arrested for drunk driving.  Water cooler talk used to be the lightning fast way for rumors or gossip to circulate, now things are available in the blink of an eye, sometimes even placed on the internet by the individual themselves.  This creates a dilemma of sorts.  Shakespeare I believe said “All the world’s a stage”, and at no time in human history has that been so literal as today.  We are all the actors in our life and unlike just a few decades past when I would choose what I would tell my friends or others, that control is being taken away a piece at a time.  What implications will this have for us as a species?  We could write an entire book about it, but if you are just bored one afternoon ponder that thought and see what a fascinating and possibly scary journey you go on.

So people can find out about me, you, or anyone else with a few clicks of a keyboard and a few minutes of time.  Employers are more and more doing this before they even interview a candidate.  Some professions require and some would just rather not deal with any controversy.  In my case I have an innocuous story I wrote about my honeymoon with my ex back in the early 90s that still floats around on the internet and is one of the first things you see when you Google me.  For me it’s just an interesting bit of trivia, but what if it has been an article I wrote about a controversial topic or a post on someone’s wall that placed me in a bad light like Paula Deen’s recent comments?  This article is still there for all to see over 20 years later and I have no reason to assume it will not still be there 100 years from now long after I’m gone.  That embarrassing or poor thought out moment is now not just a point in time, but something with an infinite life to follow you around forever.

Turning away from the general interest in strangers, what can these new technologies help us learn about those we are close to?  In my line of work I worry a lot about computer viruses.  For years, when family and friends would send me links or those e-mails to pass along to 10 people and change the course of history I would delete them.  Too much risk, but then I read that daily devotional that changed my perspective by showing me a new way to look at these annoyances.

You see, those links and forwarded notes and pictures have a different purpose.  They provide me a priceless glimpse into what those who know me and who I want to know and love better think is important.  It’s just another version of the premise that Facebook claims is its formula for success.  If a movie that a critic loved carries some weight, a movie a friend who shares our same sense of humor carries even more.  That link my dad sends me or that joke my brother send me or that cute video my friend shot over give me that same thing I got from the lunch room or playground talk decades ago; a window into what that person finds interesting and makes them tick, but the benefit this process has is that I do not have to know the right question to ask, or think of that topic today.  They already broached the subject and told me they find dancing ferrets or the president’s latest decision or my cousin’s newest tattoo fascinating or disturbing or worrisome.  These missives I was deleting for fear of getting infected are really gems that help me get more connected (yes, I know that rhymed).

In an era when people we do not even know can find out more about us in ten seconds than my friends might know about me three decades ago in a year, we should focus on the positive value of these new occurrences.  Sure the dangers still exist and we should not just start clicking on everything we are sent, but it is just as bad to do the polar opposite and just delete everything without a glance.  Even that link you choose to avoid because you are pretty sure it leads to an infected file can give you that all important glimpse into the heart of a loved one by the explanation they sent along saying, “This made me laugh”.   Take the opportunity to connect and learn that these messages provide.

We just finished up the “unofficial start of summer” as media likes to call the Memorial Day weekend here in the States.  I always have to smirk when we get here.  It’s unofficial yet all anyone does is talk about it constantly, so doesn’t that make it official in a de facto way?  “Pay no attention to  that unofficial start of summer behind the curtain” is what I always seems to think.  Maybe I just like the Wizard of Oz too much is all.

Regardless of whether we are officially or unofficially here, one thing I believe we can agree on is that most of us will take some sort of trip, albeit vacation, in the next several months before school begins again.  Summer vacation still carries some sort of aura around it, like when the Brady’s piled into their station wagon and headed off to King’s Island.  Our group recently made our first foray as a blended family into a road trip so I was going to share what we learned in the hopes others can benefit from those who have come before.  Pay heed Grasshopper.  The life you save may be your own.

We took a short trip over Memorial Day to the big city of Chicago and decided to take advantage of the CityPass, which my wife and I utilized when I took her there a little over a year ago.  Basically you pre-purchase admission to attractions, mainly museums, for a discounted price.  Most of the kids generally are OK with museums, but as we learned on this trip, too much of a good thing is a cliché for a reason.

In general the kids approached museums the way kids do, meaning they skimmed by most everything until they got to the one or two things in the building that held their fancy.  The first couple days they were OK, though it was a struggle to get to the end of the day in most cases without some losing interest and wanting out.  By the last day it was obvious we had burned them out on museums and there was not a whole lot of enthusiasm.  We made it through, but by the skin of our teeth.

We also had planned dinners out since the museums close around 5 PM and that leaves the evening for something else.   The thought was to introduce my wife’s kids to Chicago cuisine and have myself and my kids who had at least somewhat grown up a bit with it to just to get to enjoy it again.  The first night we tried stuffed pizza, a Chicago tradition.  Now let me digress here to explain what this is, as the common misconception is that it is deep dish pizza, which is available everywhere.  It is not.  Not even close.  Deep dish is a gigantic crust with some topping on it.  The depth of the pizza is really all related to the crust being five miles thick.  If you like crust, that’s great.  My contention is if you like that much crust, just toast up a loaf of Italian bread and save yourself $20, but I know many people seem to love deep dish for some reason and therefore it’s popularity.  I, and many other people who seem to congregate in Chicago I guess, believe pizza is about what sits on the crust, not the crust itself.  Now don’t get me wrong, crust is important, even essential to an excellent pizza.  Corn crust I do not enjoy.  Variations of wheat are my piece de resistance.  A buttery wheat crust is the bomb.  Stuffed pizza is two thin crusts separated by about two inches of topping.  For someone like me who loves pizza for what is on it and gives it flavor rather than just eating bread, it is heaven on a plate.  As you might guess, I was excited.  My kids we kind of excited.  I write that off to the fact that they have not had decades of stuffed pizza, just a few years, but maybe it is something else.  J  I had introduced my wife to stuffed pizza on our earlier trip so my anticipation was on what her kids would think.  I mean who cannot love something so filled with cheesy, meaty goodness that it makes your head explode?  Sadly, they did not even try it, instead opting for the thin crust cheese option that was safer.  In hindsight the fact that I just took this in stride was a good thing.   The evening was great and everyone had dinner and a good time with the friends we were with.

We deviated from the dinner plans the next night however as we could see the first day that it was just too much.  We just went home to our friends house, which was our abode for our stay there, and relaxed for the evening.  Again, worked out well and we decided on the spur of the moment before we headed home to have dinner at the place we had planned to go the night before and it worked well.  It got everyone on the road with balloon animals and funny memories.

So what do I have to share as words of wisdom from our excursion?  The biggest thing is to realize that just because you think it will be cool, does not mean your kids will.  I still struggle with this even though I learned it before, and re-learn it every time we take a trip. My wife and I thought the museums and going up to the Skydeck in the Sears Tower (I refuse to use Arnold’s brother’s name to refer to the building) were going to be fun.  The kids would have preferred some variety and not to be so high off the ground in some cases.  The enjoyed themselves, but they would have enjoyed themselves more if we had done some different things.  While kids like mac and cheese for days on end, museums do not appear to follow that same rule.  Lesson #1.

Lesson #2.  While kids seem to have boundless energy when you do not want them too, they peter out before you might on vacation.  It is hard to understand as an adult that there is a limit to their energy and walking around all day takes its toll even on the Energizer Bunnies they at times seem to be when you want them to stop for dinner at home or go to bed at night.  Luckily my wife and I quickly remembered that lesson and adjusted the plan on the fly, removing dinner from day #2.  If not, I am pretty certain we would have had some royal meltdowns.  This is an important lesson to get because I see it played out all the time in its violent glory in our next destination, Disney World.  Parents who have spent the GDP of Switzerland to get into the park for a day or two are insistent that they will get their money’s worth and so run their four year olds for 15 hours.  They need to do every ride, every show and get every characters autograph.   The price is usually a huge fight in the park with parents yelling something about being ungrateful and how they never will go on vacation again, a threat everyone knows they will not follow through on, and that just adds to the frustration and absurdity.  What was supposed to be a fun time has now been transformed into a mess and parents and kids head out of the park usually walking very fast, being dragged by the arm, crying and sniffling.  And that’s just the Dads.  The kids are stomping their feet and promising to be better so they can come back tomorrow all while they are fighting falling asleep where they stand.  The key is to understand the limits and most important, be OK with not getting everything you had in your minute-by-minute itinerary done.  Too many family vacations are ruined because we did not make it to the Biggest Ball of Twine by 6 PM because Junior took 15 extra minutes in the bathroom at the rest stop.  It will be there for next time, and if you don’t get there it was just a big ball of string anyway.  Kind of like the reaction we got from most of the kids with The Bean.  “That’s not very big”.  “What is that thing?”  “Why did we walk here to see that?”  The reality rarely lives up to the hype, especially on vacation.

Lesson #3.  This one I put into play because I had learned it through the school of hard knocks and it a corollary to the previous lesson.  I did not talk to everyone before the trip about all we were going to do and how cool it was going to be.  You want to set yourself up for the biggest gob smacking failure on Earth?  Do this with your kids before you go anywhere.  When you get the reactions of disinterest, boredom and the like you will get angry and frustrated and we enter the same vortex as we did in Lesson #2.  Spare your family and yourself the headaches.  Everyone will have the reaction they have to what you do, and THAT’S OK!  You cannot control another person’s emotions or reactions, so don’t try by pre-loading them before you even get in the car.

Bonus Lesson.  I’ll give you this one free of charge.  We did not really use it on this trip as it did not really fit since many of the participants were new to the location.  For many family trips it is an annual or at least repetitive visit and mainly to places like amusement parks.  In my case we had trips to Disney or Six Flags and what kept the peace was letting each kids pick the one thing they absolutely wanted to do that day and making sure it was included in the itinerary.  You can now see why it is important to have knowledge of the destination; kind of hard to practice this process when you have no idea what to choose.  This makes each child feel heard and to know that at some point in the day their ride or activity will be executed.  Obviously sometimes this is not always possible and we even are concerned for our Disney trip because with six kids and long lines, it might be a stretch, so we may need to exercise some creativity here, but we also hope that multiple kids will be interested in the same thing and maybe we only end up with four items.  Since I started using this strategy it did wonders for all the bickering about what to do next and also just kept the tone a lot more upbeat.  You still get questions about when such and such and activity will come up but those are easily dealt with openly and honestly.

So I hope some of that helps remove some stress from what seems to be a problem for a lot of families over the summer months.  Vacation is supposed to be a time to recharge.  We’ve all heard the phrase when people get back that “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.”  I used to be that way too, but knowing that we do not have to do everything, that we need to understand everyone does not have the same interests and by trying to do something with variety, either multiple destinations or a destination with a lot of choices, like an amusement park, and just staying calm and not losing our cool, everyone can have a much better time.

So what will we change on our next visit to Chicago?  We talked about fixing the variety issue which was the big problem on this trip.  Now we’ve done the museums, so if we do them again, we could pick one.  We also will come at a time of year when other activities are going on.  Chicago is blessed to have a lot of cool things on the lakefront like the Air & Water Show and Taste of Chicago to name a few and also a lot of items in the surrounding suburbs and even into Wisconsin.  So that’s the plan for next time and we think it will improve what was a good time which is what every family vacation should be about.

As moving day(s) approaches

Posted: May 10, 2012 in Blending, Fun

I came across this from Nancy P of Dallas.  As we get ready to move after we come back from the honeymoon I thought you might find this advice helpful.  After moving three times in seven years, I thought it was a really good plan.

DAYS 1-5: We are lovingly admiring and discussing each of our material possessions while discarding what we no longer use. We’ll have a garage sale and make trips to Goodwill to donate unused items. I’ll wash, dry and organize objects to be sold or donated. We have plenty of boxes, bubble wrap, Sharpie pens and packing tape. Boxes are organized in categories based on their contents. We write a detailed list of the items in the right-hand corner of the top of the box and carefully seal it with packing tape.

DAYS 6-10: It is not realistic to cull through all of our belongings in 30 days. We’ll cull and reflect when we unpack. We’ll also have a lot more time when we unpack to plan a garage sale or make trips to Goodwill. A detailed list of contents of each box is not needed, so all boxes are now labeled only with a general category in the upper right hand corner. I’m segregating my son’s possessions so he can go through them himself. Things are starting to look a little messy around here. I need a GPS to locate that cup of tea I keep misplacing!

DAYS 11-15: It is increasingly unproductive to sort and categorize items before boxing them. So with the miracle of bubble wrap, we’ve taken a new approach: We can simply dump the contents of an entire drawer in bubble wrap, stuff the bubble wrap in a box, and label the box with the location of the drawer, like ‘Master Bathroom: far left cabinet, third drawer down.’ We’re able to safely pack in bubble wrap the entire contents of drawers and closets in no time at all. We’ll just sort and categorize the contents of these boxes when we unpack.

DAYS 16-20: Bubble wrap is overrated. You can only fit about ½ as much stuff in a box when you use it. And it takes forever to cut the size you need. Plus – you pack items between the bubble wrap layers, and many of these things will fall out from the layers and break as you unpack, so what’s the point? I’m trying to be more pragmatic. After all, these are only material possessions. As Bertrand Russell so eloquently stated ‘It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.’ And as I so freely and nobly state ‘Do we really need two full sets of martini glasses, anyway?’

DAYS 21-25: Rather than box up and move things of value that we don’t want, we will simply leave them behind for the new proprietors. I doubt the new owners will mind that we leave them items with inherent use and value – like that 30 pound Folgers coffee tin full of nuts and bolts in the garage. The value of the nuts and bolts aside, the tin itself is an antique. And we haven’t even opened those tubs of frozen yogurt in the freezer, which would make a thoughtful housewarming surprise. We’ve also learned that we don’t need to tape every box, because they are just being stacked on top of each other, so we only need to tape the top one.

DAYS 26-30: The realtor stopped by and declared that we can’t leave anything behind for the new owners. ‘It all has to go,’ she said with that little smug look that I have grown to dislike. So all the rest of this stuff is going out on the curb, and whoever wants to pick it up can have it. And if my kid wants his things…well…he’ll just have to come get them, or they will also be out there with the rest of our clutter. How did we accumulate all of this worthless stuff? What could we possibly have wanted with 73 packets of soy sauce? The realtor also found my misplaced cup of tea somewhere in the front hall. I did not appreciate the face she made; very unprofessional, if you ask me. And by the way, you do need to tape up each and every box –but I’ll spare you the details – and before I tape up my next box, I’m just throwing the Sharpies in there with them. Because at this point what am I going to write in corner of the box, ‘Lots of other crap’? I’m overwhelmed…I really need to take a break…Damn it, I packed the martini glasses!”

So last night I’m getting ready to take the kids off to the ex’s as I prepare to head out of town to my best friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.  As I’m backing out of the driveway I’m going through the mental checklist.  Lawn mowed.  Check.  Kid’s off to ex and explained that they will not see me tomorrow after they get off the bus but before mom picks them up.  Check.  EZPass in the car. Check.   Dog…  oh crap, THE DOG!!!

In a panic, I realize that I had completely forgotten about what to do with the dog while I am out of town.   Now to make myself not appear like a total doofus here, I do have a few things on my mind.  I’m getting married in about three weeks and I’ve been working on getting a couple bunk beds ordered from different stores this week as well as doing my job, preparing for the honeymoon by calling some vendors out where we are going and a myriad of other things.  Look.  I’m really sorry I forgot about the dog.  I’m only human.

Normally my ex takes him as she feels a sense of obligation to step in since we have the dog mainly because of her.  This weekend however, the kids have told me they are going to be at a hotel because she is redoing her kitchen.   She doesn’t have money to pay for her taxes, but she’s redoing her kitchen?   Stop.  Focus man, focus.  You need to figure out what to do with the dog.  I call her, and sure enough after I explain how I was not even sure I told her I would be out of town this weekend, she tells me that they will not be home so she can’t watch the dog.  That option has now vaporized for certain, if there was any possibility of it being real anyway.

My fiancée calls her normal person who watches her pets and children.  She works night shift so we may not hear from her for a while.  I contact the vet.  No we do not board.  Here is the number of a pet sitter we know maybe she can help.  Call her.  Leave message.   Started looking up boarding places that might not require an extensive pre-evaluation that I now do not have time for.  Thank goodness the dog is current on shots and other things.  Left some messages.  Pet sitter calls back.  She is booked.  Another option into the vapor.  Called my friend and talked to him about the possibility of the dog thwarting all our plans.  He suggests the vet.  Already done.  He suggests kennels.  I explain the evaluation process.  He goes on about how they normally just segregate them for an hour.  I explain I have done that before but, I guess in an attempt to appear more upscale, everywhere in my state requires background checks, gun permits, and DNA analysis before they will take your dog.  Sometimes they even need to take a paternity test to make sure that your dog has not fathered some cross breed with a cat or something.  If dog kennels ran Homeland Security we’d have no terrorist problems, I promise.

I talked to my parents.  I know they were trying to be helpful.  They suggested dropping him at my soon-to-be-in-laws.  I informed them they were two hours away.  I also mentioned that they do not have a dog.  They have a cat.  Who has not met my dog.  In fact my dog has not met any cats.  Probably a bad idea to have the first meeting of a new species be in a rush when heading out of town.  It works for drunk businessmen in Vegas, but probably not a good call for this situation.  There are other things I did not mention to my parents, such as not imposing on people who have plenty of other items going on, like their business and such.  We talked about the same things I talked to my friend about.   My parents do not have pets mind you, so the questions are a little weird.  Don’t they have places you can take dogs, like hotels?  Yes, kennels.  Called a few, all closed, have to wait until morning.  What about the doctor thing?   The vet?  Yes tried them.  Can you ask a neighbor?  Sadly, I am about as close to my neighbors as the rest of us.  I stand next to them with my child at the bus stop and say good morning.  I do know their names which puts me ahead of 90% of the population, but I’m still not comfortable enough with them to go knock on their door at 9 PM and ask them to watch my dog for the weekend.  My mom tells me that this is why she does not have pets.  I explain that is good, but not helpful right now.

At this point, I’m seriously contemplating taking the dog with us and sleeping with him in the car in the hotel parking lot.  That way I can avoid him taking a dump in the car.  And the probable citation or arrest for animal cruelty.  Not very helpful to drive across states to attend an event and find myself in jail for something.  If I was a Kardashian maybe that would work as a new publicity stunt, but I actually have to hold down a real job.  My friend thinks I’m nuts.  At this point I agree.

In the morning, I still have the same set of options.  No pet sitter.  No kennel.  No possibility of my homeless dog in a car.  I start calling kennels as they open and pleading my case, explaining that my normal option fell through and now I am having to find a place on short notice.  If you recall from earlier posts, I strive not to lie.  Ever.  It was tough finding a way to spin this one as I’m walking that borderline of lying by omission here.  With my friends I was brutally honest.  Yes, I’m a moron who has been planning to go out of town for over a month and just happened to overlook the dog situation.  With a business that I’m trying to take a dog they don’t know from a person they don’t know, I feel showing myself as a disorganized idiot who also shows now as a borderline degenerate pet owner does not play into my favor to find our puppy a temporary home for three nights.  So I tow the line of my ethics and working in doggie-kennel/border patrol/Homeland Security/cavity-searches-for-mouthing-off land and leave off the details.

I get one to possibly be interested.  Another is going to have to call the owner.  At this time my fiancée calls back.  Her friend will do it.  She’ll be here in an hour.  The weekend should be saved.   Unless I suddenly forget how to drive a car.  Hey anything’s possible.  After all I did forget I had a dog.