5 Deadly Family Adventure Mistakes

Being part of a family means that you have lots and lots of wonderful opportunities to mess up and fail. Here are five adventure killing mistakes that our family makes regularly and has to guard against.

1. Impatience. It patience is a virtue then impatience is a corrosive that gradually eats away at family joy. Being able to wait, to go slower, to explain better, and to listen more is the difference between a family that gets along and likes each other and a family that quickly breaks into hostile camps. Being married means living with someone who thinks and does things differently than you. Raising children means that you will spend at least eighteen years per child teaching them how to learn things that you can already do. The key ingredient to being able to work with your spouse and train your children is developing the skill to go slowly and avoid anger.

2. Having an Expectation of Perfection. If you belong to a family you belong to a group that has the ability to constantly surprise you with the creative and varied ways that they will be able to make mistakes and mess things up. Children often learn best through failure, and have a wonderful capability to fail spectacularly at times. Dishes get broken, belongings are lost or destroyed, rules are ignored, and an endless variety of things can go wrong. Expecting anything else is a guaranteed way to permanently raise your stress level. Nobody can get it right all the time, or even most of the time, including you. Children (and adults) often learn best through failure. Reject perfection and embrace failure and not only will you be happier, but over time you will get a lot less mistakes and a lot more success.

3. Anger. If impatience is a corrosive then uncontrolled anger is nothing less than pure poison to family relationships and adventure. Let’s start with reality: You will be angry with people in your family. In fact, you should be angry from time to time. Righteous anger can be a powerful and useful tool that can help you guide your kids from wrong to right. What is destructive is the uncontrolled, lose your temper, lash out anger that injures and ultimately kills relationships. The more you succumb to that kind of anger the less effective and powerful your righteous, guiding anger will be. I have found that responsive anger is almost always the deadly kind. Unless someone is in physical danger an instant angry response to bad behavior and actions is almost never needed. You’re the parent and the one in charge, you have the power to stop the problem and then decide on an appropriate response at the right time, after your anger has cooled down.

4. Failure to Plan. Spur of the moment adventures are fun, but not as a steady diet. As we have noted before time slows for nothing. Time will go by faster than you expect. Your kids will be grown and gone before you know it. The mythical tomorrow when you will have all your cool adventures may never come. If you want to do the things you want to do you have to plan to do them. Nothing more is needed, but nothing less will work.

5. Selfishness. Every great adventure has a hero. The heroes in the best stories are those that sacrifice themselves for others. There is no such thing as a selfish hero. If you are leading your family into great adventure then you are the hero, and heroes put others before themselves. If you place yourself and your needs at the center of your family eventually all that will have left of your family will be…yourself. If you place your spouse and your children and their needs before your own you will gain a life that is full of other people who will all love and care for you. In giving of yourself you will gain everything.

When you are impatient, expect perfection, are unreasonably angry, fail to plan, and act selfishly make sure you acknowledge it as a mistake. Name it and identify it for what it is: a mess up. Be humble enough and hero enough to ask forgiveness. Every family deals with these mistakes, but great families name them for what they are, forgive when they happen, and work together to make them happen less in the future.

Bears and Lessons Learned

A little while ago I had a meeting at a restaurant in a town a little over an hour from where I live. I carried my portfolio into the meeting, thinking I may need a paper and pen at some point. As we sat down at the table I tucked the portfolio beside the chair next to me.

A word about that portfolio. It was my daily task list, idea notebook, working tablet, and pretty much all of the most important tools that I use all day, every day for work.

Can you see what’s coming?

The meeting was great, and I drove home. Later that evening I reached for my portfolio and realized that I had left it beside the chair at the restaurant! A panicked call to the restaurant followed, and a manager said they had my portfolio in the office and it would be there whenever I wanted to pick it up.

Sweet relief (it wasn’t gone forever!) was followed with frustration and irritation. What an idiot! How could I have left that there? This was going to result in an entire afternoon shot in recovering it, not to mention the expense of the gas to drive way up there and back, all because I was too dumb to keep track of my things!

A messed up afternoon…

I discovered my forgetfulness Friday evening. Our weekend was packed with errands, commitments and more work that we had time to do. Saturday was out, and Sunday afternoon was the only option to recover my essential tools before the work week started again. I thought despairingly about all of the to dos that really needed addressed Sunday afternoon that were going to remain undone.

No matter how we did it the afternoon was going to be shot. I didn’t want to have to ride up and back by myself, so in an attempt to sweeten the deal I told the kids that in exchange for riding up the interstate we would come home on the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, stopping and hiking on the way if we saw an interesting place.

The trip up was uneventful, the binder was recovered, and we started down the Skyline Drive. We stopped at the first several overlooks. It had rained the last few days, but that day was full of brilliant, post rain sunshine. Everything was intense springtime green. Wildflowers were blooming and it was not quite chilly, but not warm enough for short sleeves either.

By the third overlook I was forgetting my frustration and beginning to enjoy the day. The kids were pressed against the windows, enjoying the view.

Worth the Trip....

Worth the Trip….

A bear!

All of a sudden Caleb starting yelling from the back seat, “A bear, Dad, I saw a bear! I saw a bear over the hill!” By the time he yelled we were already past. Around the bend was a narrow overlook and I executed a twenty seven point turn in our big van, and drove back to the place he had seen it. There was a small parking lot and I quickly parked. A few hikers were sitting at the trailhead, but they didn’t seem to be watching anything. Caleb had no doubts though, and quickly ran to the edge of the woods and pointed down the hill. Sure enough, almost one hundred yards down the hill a small black bear was shuffling along, turning over logs looking for a meal and enjoying the day! How Caleb spotted him through the trees passing by at forty miles an hour is beyond me.

More bears!

After watching the bear for a while we resumed our trip. In the next twenty miles we spotted three more bears from the van. Four bears in one day!

Bears on the Trail!

Bears on the Trail!

 

We arrived at Dark Hollow Falls, the hiking spot we had selected, later in the evening just as everyone else was leaving. Less than a quarter mile from the parking lot we had the trail to ourselves. As we turned the final corner of the trail to reach the overlook for the falls we spotted a mother bear and cub about thirty yards off the side of the trail. They were moving slowly away from us, up the hill, but easily visible. We watched quietly until they were out of sight, then rounded the corner and were greeted by the full beauty of the falls.

We returned to the van pleasantly tired from our hike, buzzing with excitement about bears, and with our heads full of memories of white foaming water spilling over gray rocks covered with green moss and wildflowers.

We arrived at the last overlook before we exited just as the sun dipped behind the western ridges across the valley.

Lessons Learned

As we descended the mountain and drove home in the gathering darkness I reflected on what I had learned from my “inconvenient” day.

There is always an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. My forgotten portfolio gave us an opportunity to drive and hike in a place where we would not have been, using time we would not have used, that ultimately gave us an opportunity to see and share things as a family that we will never forget. How many times do I forget to look for the opportunity behind the problem? How many negatives have I failed to try to turn into a positive?

To see something neat you have to be looking. I still have no idea how Caleb spotted that bear, but I know he wouldn’t have seen it if he hadn’t been paying attention and looking hard for something to see. Caleb didn’t know there was a chance of seeing a bear, he was just looking for something to see. I wonder what I miss because I’m not looking? I wonder what I would find if I spent more time time looking for something to see?

Worth the Hike!

Worth the Hike!

The view from the road may be nice, but the best view is always the one that takes the most effort. Out of all the bears we saw the last two were the most exciting. There was no pavement under our feet, no glass between us. We got to see them because we had hiked down the mountain to where they were, and we had been quiet enough not to scare them away (no small feat with eight people, at least 4 of which are pretty dedicated noise makers), and we (meaning my wife) was observant enough to spot them. The most spectacular scenery (that wasn’t furry) that we saw all day was the waterfall, but it took steep climbing and hiking to see. The best things always take extra effort. How hard am I willing to work? What else could I see, do, and achieve if I got off the road and did some climbing?

How about your family? As a family do you work on turning negatives to positives, or do you stay stuck on the negative? Is everyone in your family working hard at looking for something to see? Does your family typically commit to the work that’s needed to get to the best places?

Do you like your answers to those questions? If not, what can you do today find better answers?

 

Sunset

Sunset

Lessons Learned From a Little Girl

My oldest daughter had a birthday recently. It has been almost a decade and a half since I became a parent. In almost a decade and a half you should be able to learn something, so after her birthday I sat down to reflect on what I have learned since I picked up the title of “Dad.” Here are some of the things that came to mind:

Both Ends

Oldest and Youngest

I feel like I know a lot less about being a parent now that I did then. When my daughter was born it seemed kind of easy. I figured that my wife and I both had great parents, so we had good examples to follow. I had trained a few horses and dogs, so raising a child seemed like a pretty straight forward deal.

Fourteen years and six kids later I have a much, much different opinion. In fact, the longer I am a parent the less I seem to know. I know a lot more now about what I don’t know. Worse, I have a much better idea about what I should know that I don’t. I hope I wasn’t overly prideful or self assured fourteen years ago (but I probably was), but I am definitely much more humble and aware of my parental failures now.

All those people back in 2000 who gleefully told me that “Boy, your life is going to change, it will never be the same!” were right, but not in the way they thought. When people informed me that my life was going to change when the baby came it was almost always said in a tone that implied my life was going to get a whole lot worse.

Well, my life did change, but it got unbelievably, incredibly, and wonderfully better. In hindsight it was more like what happened when I was married. My life sure changed, but I have less than zero interest in being single again. My life changed when I first held my brand new baby girl, but in that very instant I realized that I never wanted my life to be the way it was before she was born. I’m sure something must have gotten worse, but so many other things were and are so much better that I haven’t had time to regret or be concerned about what got worse.

That whole bit about being worried and dreading each new stage is ridiculous. The parenting advice I received as a soon to be dad and as a new dad was usually divided by gender. Men were usually the ones who would tell me that my life was about to change. Women have their own unique advice.

Before the baby was born women would share their very worst childbirth story with my wife. Why anyone would think it would be helpful to terrify a first time mother with stories of childbirth gone wrong, or childbirth gone much more painful than usual, or even stories of childbirth with normal childbirth pain is beyond me, but even perfect strangers would be motivated to approach my wife in public and share these stories. After the baby was born women would almost always do one of two things. If the baby was asleep or awake and not crying they would say how cute she was and then solemnly assure us that we had better enjoy things now, because whenever she reached the next stage things would get really awful. If the baby was crying or fussy they would nod sympathetically and then solemnly tell us that this was nothing, things would get much worse at the next stage. This advice has not been limited to just my daughter’s baby years, but has continued through every stage of my daughter’s development. Now we constantly hear grave warnings about how terrible teenagers are.

The reality has been far different in my experience. Every new age and every new stage has been better than the last. Having a baby was cute and fun. Watching her walk and talk was so much fun I missed all of the supposed problems of the toddler stage. I was thrilled when she learned to read and proud when we took the training wheels off of her bike. I got choked up at her tenth birthday party. That whole teenager thing? Watching a little girl turn into a beautiful young lady is too precious for words. Were there any tough times in all those stages? Plenty, but it’s funny how I don’t remember the details anymore.

People told me that time would fly. I believed them and held on as tight as I could and you know what? Time did fly, faster than seems possible and I can’t believe how fast it went. I never ignored this warning. I always took it seriously. I tried to hold on to time as tight as I could and enjoy every moment, and yet, here I am with a fourteen year old daughter and all I can do is utter the exact same phrase every parent who has ever lived must have said: “I can’t possibly have a fourteen year old daughter! What happened to my little girl? I can’t believe how fast it has gone!” The only thing I have gained is this thought: Time will go past faster than I think and there’s nothing I can do about that. The crucial thing is to figure out what I am going to do during that fast disappearing time.

Being a parent has taught me more about God and relying on God than anything else ever has. I don’t know that I really understood faith, or trusting God, or what it was like to be forced to my knees in prayer because there was nothing else to do until I became a parent. Reading and discussing God’s Word with my children helped me to understand God in ways I had never understood before. Watching their faith mature helped me grow in mine. Answering their questions about God led me to find answers to many of my questions. Being a parent has given me a front row seat on miracles and blessings that happen every day, making God seem more real and more present that I ever noticed before.

Nothing has made me appreciate and love my wife more than watching her be a mom. I may not be able to remember the details of all of things that went wrong and what has been difficult over the last fourteen years, but I can definitely remember the vivid details of all of the things my wife has done, and continues to do every day, that allow me and my children to have that kind of selective memory. The sheer magnitude of the physical work, the complexity of the teaching, training, and instruction, and the depth of love required to do what my wife has done and keeps doing is breathtaking. She accomplishes tasks, deals with crisis, and adjusts to changing circumstances with a skill and excellence that would put a battlefield commander to shame. I see this played out on a daily and hourly basis, and the thought that this person who can do all of these things chose to marry me never fails to send a thrill through me, and makes me think I better get going and do something worthy of that love.

Nothing has caused me more fear and terror, made me as sick with dread, caused me to lose sleep and worry all night as parenting.

Nothing has given me so much intense joy, profound happiness, and given me a better reason to wake up in the morning than parenting.

I wonder how much more I will learn in the next fourteen years? I wonder how much more I will realize I don’t know?

How to Create Daily Routines

Having a good routine is important, but what are the actual nuts and bolts of putting a routine together?

We are far from experts on this matter, but here are some thoughts and strategies that have been helpful for us. Consider this a guideline and a starting place that you can adapt to your unique family situation.

We try to focus on two different kinds of routines. The first is the day to day stuff that sets up the rhythm of our lives, gives structure to our day, and provides the space and framework for us to work as a family. The second kind of routine is the kind that automates the daily stuff that we need to do every day. In this article we will focus on the day to day routine.

Build a Good Foundation

Having a daily routine gives order and structure to your day. It provides a framework for your daily activities. If you develop and practice a daily routine it gives kids (and parents) a sense of comfort and place. Finally, a good daily routine creates a foundation for establishing and building family traditions.

Everyone develops some kind of routine. No matter how crazy your life and schedule is you will fall into some pattern of living. The critical question is: Will you will think about and plan that pattern so that it works to your advantage, or will you just fall into a default survival mode that enables you to get through each day?

Making a Plan...

Making a Plan…

Step by Step

The first step to establishing a good daily family routine is to identify what parts of your day you are most in control of. For most people that will be the morning and evening. There may be other parts of your day that you control, but usually those times will be related to work or school, and may not involve your entire family.

Morning and evening routines are especially powerful. A good morning routine sets the tone and feel of the day, provides a time to get everyone rallied around the same goals and mission, and can equip everyone for a successful day. A good evening routine provides a time to reflect on the success or failure of the day, prepare for the next day, and build a smooth transition to bedtime (a critical point for both children and parents!).

The second step is to sit down with a pen and paper and jot down the things that HAVE to happen in your morning and evening routine. Things like waking up, eating, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc. Then write down the things you WANT to have happen during your routine. These could be things like reading aloud, talking about the day, taking a walk, etc. Finally, clearly mark out how much time you have for your routines. Does everyone have to leave the house quickly in the morning? Do you have older children that can stay up later and give you more time in the evenings?

Once you have your needs, wants, and time constraints written down the third step is to take your paper and plan out the routine, fitting the activities that you need and want to accomplish into the available time. Start with what has to be done, and then add in your wants, beginning with the most important and working your way down. You will probably have more things to do than you have time. Strive for simplicity. The less you try to do and the simpler your plan the greater your chance for success.

The fourth and final step is to start practicing your routine and make it a habit for your family. There are two ways to do this.

All In

The first is to pick a day, announce the start, and begin practicing the whole routine. If you choose this method be aware of two things: 1. you need to stick to your new routine and practice it for at least a week to two weeks before you adjust anything. 2. be aware of the messy middle. At the beginning it will be fresh and new and everyone will join in. A few days in the temptation to revert back to old habits and patterns will be overwhelming; you have arrived at the messy middle! Fight through it. The battle will be won or lost here. If you stick with it your new schedule will get easier and easier as the new routine becomes the new habit.

We have used this first method, and it has some advantages. If you’re deep in survival mode and headed quickly to a crisis point (our normal method of operation!) then snapping into a new routine will immediately address the crisis and provide a new focus. The downside is that it takes work and serious discipline to keep focused long enough to survive the messy middle. If you don’t have to deal with an immediate crisis the second method is a little easier.

Little by Little

In the second method you slowly build your routine piece by piece, habit by habit. Pick the easiest and most logical place to start and commit all of your attention and focus into turning that one part of your new routine into an unbreakable habit. As soon as the new routine becomes, well, routine, move on to the next one. This method takes longer, but it is almost always the more certain and successful path. The key is to make each change as small and easily accomplished as possible, and then keep focusing on it until it becomes the new normal.

Start Building

Take a look at your day to day life and decide if you need to create some new habits and build some new routines. Pick the method that works best for your family, sketch out a plan, get started, and commit to keeping at it until it becomes….routine!

Travel Adventures: “The UPS Adventure”

Not that long ago we completed a marathon trip for work – 10 days on the road in a van and piled in a hotel room.

Among other things I learned that you raise kids with a sense of humor at your own risk, and that you should never forget that they are paying attention to what you are teaching.

 

One Box Too Many...

One Box Too Many…

Not a Good Start

Our trip started as a circus. Essential supplies that we needed for the trip ran into a shipping problem and UPS tracking said they would be delivered the evening of the day we were leaving. That was a major problem because it was essential that we leave in the morning. Several calls to UPS and reciting the tracking number resulted in a promise to hold the delivery at the local processing facility that was happily right on our intended travel route. Problem solved!

Not really.

The van was packed, all the kids had been to the  bathroom, the house was closed down, and we were off, driving about thirty minutes to the UPS processing facility. Upon arrival we were informed the facility was only open to customers starting at 2:00 pm (it was now around 11:00 am).

My shameless begging resulted in an exception being granted and I was allowed inside to get my package at 11:00.

One package was rolled out for delivery. This was cause for some concern, as the shipment had two packages, both essential. The little shipping sticker said 1 of 2. The helpful UPS lady explained that the each package had its own tracking number. Since I had only used one tracking number in my conversations with UPS they had only held one package. The other package was on the truck scheduled for an evening delivery to our house.

This did not strike me as extremely reasonable. If I called and asked for one package of a “1 of 2″ shipment to be held for pick up would it not seem logical that I would want the other one? When the “2 of 2″ package was put on the truck wouldn’t someone look for the “1 of 2″ box and perhaps conclude that they were supposed to be together?  I considered offering a discount on our critical reasoning course for UPS employees.

Back we go!

Despite my concern about UPS logic they proved themselves noteworthy in customer service and problem solving, and the lady offered to call the driver to see where he and the “2 of 2″ box were currently located. The phone call was made and the driver reported that he was right across from our neighborhood.

That would be the place that we had left over an hour ago so that we could pick up the package that we thought we had put on hold that was actually instead put on the truck.

The driver graciously offered to arrange a rendezvous with us if we would like to return to our neighborhood and meet him. We turned around and drove back to the parking lot of a local warehouse and business, within 400 yards of where we had started an hour ago. We met the UPS driver in the parking lot beside the shipping bays for the warehouse and received package “2 of 2″.

A Small Packing Problem

All was good except for one minor little detail. The “2 of 2″ equipment container was apparently designed specifically to not fit into the rear of a Ford E350 van that is packed for a 10 day road trip for eight people. Fitting it in required a complete unloading and reloading of the van in the parking lot, under the view of the prominent security cameras and within site of the large “No Trespassing” sign.

As I feverishly unloaded, reloaded, partially unloaded, rearranged, unloaded, and reloaded pretty much the entire contents of the van I was imagining the conversation in the security office:

“What’s going on Fred?”

“Don’t know George. Dude pulled up in silver van, got something from the UPS guy and then apparently decided to unload all of his possessions into the parking lot.”

“What’s he doing now?”

“Beats me. He’s put everything in and taken it out about three times now.”

“Where did all these kids all over the place come from?”

“From inside the van.”

“Wow! How many are there?”

“Not sure, they keep moving to fast and going in and out of the van.”

“Think he’s dangerous, do we need to go talk to him?”

“Well he looks kind of wild eyed and desperate, but after loading and unloading the van that many times and moving all that stuff he’s probably too tired and worn out to be any kind of threat.”

“OK, well keep an eye on him. We can’t have him blocking that many parking spaces with all that stuff for too long. Man! What is that piercing noise I hear? It’s driving me crazy!”

“Yeah, it is pretty loud. It’s coming from the van, I think it’s a baby crying. Been going on every since they got here…”

Finally everything was jammed inside and we left without being cited for trespassing, loitering, rioting, noise pollution, or for generally cluttering up the place.

The final packing solution meant that the kids in the back seat had to crawl over all of the seats to get there, which is exciting for kids, but doesn’t do wonders for the upholstery.

Finally Ready to Roll

After tying the baby in the car seat for almost two hours, thereby completely exhausting her patience and good will, we had advanced precisely 5 minutes closer to our eight hours away destination.

I was getting ready for a lengthy commentary on this set of facts and my precise feelings about UPS shipments, bulky packing containers, the cargo capacity of E350 vans, car seats, and babies who didn’t like traveling, when one of my oldest kids gave me a grin and said, “What a great trip! You always say that you need a problem to be resolved to a have a good adventure and we managed to get a great problem at the very beginning! We’re already starting with an adventure!”

Indeed.

Build Some Routine in Your Life

Really smart, put together, “elite” families think ahead, plan well, and set up systems and habits that help them accomplish their day to day tasks.

We are not a smart, put together, “elite” family. We tend to push on and endure the growing chaos until things reach a crisis point and either my wife or myself goes to the other and declares (typically with some panic and passion) that it is absolutely certain that massive disaster and possibly a trip to a padded room are right around the corner unless something is done to fix the situation.

The Learn by Crisis Method

To date we have more or less stumbled from crisis point to crisis point in this fashion. Along our stumbling way we have learned a few things that might be worth sharing. The most important thing we have learned is that creating, implementing, and sticking with a routine is absolutely essential to both sanity and creating a life of adventure.

This may seem odd, because we live a life where our routine is constantly disrupted by both internal and external forces, but perhaps for this very reason we have discovered how valuable routine is.

The “Free Time Trap”

For most of my life I thought that the way to adventure and an interesting life lay in rejecting routine of any kind. The ultimate goal was to create “free time”, unrestricted and unassigned hours that could then be employed in doing whatever cool and nifty stuff that I felt like doing. What I quickly discovered was that I had an unlimited capacity to destroy this free time. Either the free time never actually happened because I needed to use it to beat back chores or other duties that had reached a crisis point, or when it did happen I had a depressing talent for frittering it away sitting around doing nothing while wishing that I had gotten my act in gear earlier and done the necessary planning to go camping or hiking or fishing or something.

It took me longer that it should have, but eventually it slowly began to dawn on me that the more of a routine I developed and practiced that would address and handle the day to day stuff, and the more I made a routine out of accomplishing the bigger important stuff, the more time I would have to do the big important stuff I wanted to do and the more likely I would be to use the time I had in doing things instead of thinking about doing things.

Necessity is the Mother of…Routine

Ultimately, instead of learning this lesson by being smart I had to learn this lesson by necessity and disaster. With six kids in the house the only way we can maintain any semblance of order and accomplish anything is through creating and enforcing some daily routines.

Need some routine around here....

Need some routine around here….

Here are three things we have learned about the importance of creating routines, those daily processes that we go through every day to handle the mundane, day to day stuff, and that we use to tackle the bigger, and more important projects.

1. Routine makes the day to day stuff automatic. There are certain things that have to be done every day and every week to just keep things going and life on track. Dinner needs to be made, dishes washed, laundry done, floors swept, etc. If you don’t create a repeatable process to address these realities they will only get worked on when they reach crisis level. Takeout food will become routine, the dishes will only be washed when the sink overflows, laundry happens when the dressers and closets are empty, and the floor only gets swept when the carpet starts creating topsoil. Creating a routine that addresses these daily and weekly needs means that they are accomplished somewhat automatically, and that frees up time and energy to do the more important stuff.

2. Routine creates a process and framework for accomplishment. Once the recurring chores and tasks of daily living are addressed by routine it’s time to focus energy on accomplishing the bigger and more important things in life. Past all of the urgency there are important things that need to be done that have more lasting value. Children need to be trained to be successful adults, gardens need planned and planted, important projects need to be completed, and adventures need to be dreamed up and planned. Creating a routine to address bigger projects means developing a habit of regularly talking about, planning for, and working on the important things in life.

3. Routines establishes an order that makes adventures more noticeable. Adventures are adventures precisely because they are unordinary and outside the regular routine. You have to have a regular routine, so that when an adventure comes you can notice it for what it is! Here’s an example from our life.

Not so long ago going out to eat was extremely unusual for us. It might happen 5-6 times a year. It was outside the routine, so when we did go it was a big deal, an adventure!

Recently our work has meant that we travel a lot, and we eat at restaurants so often it’s, well, routine. It’s no longer an adventure, and sometimes we are all pretty happy to be back home and have real food.

It’s the contrast with routine that makes adventures adventures, and the bigger the contrast, the more intense the adventure. The more you create a solid routine, the more interesting things will be when you deliberately (or accidentally) do something different.

Build Some Routines

Work on creating and sticking with some routines. They will make the day to day stuff automatic, create a process and framework for accomplishment, and will help make your adventures in life more noticeable!

Adventures Worth Sharing: The Importance of a Dad

A few weeks ago I wrote about how your family is the most important team you belong to and the only one where you are irreplaceable.  The following videos illustrate this point beautifully.  What other team, group, or organization that you belong to now, have been a part of, or ever will be a part of, will react this way to your return after a long absence?  Think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Your Family Needs to Plant a Garden This Spring

Spring has finally arrived. Everything is getting green, leaves are getting ready to open on the trees, and the grass is looking like it is going to need mowed pretty soon.

All of this makes our family think of the garden. We have been planning all winter, some seeds are bought, some plants are started, and it’s about time to get our hands dirty and get something in the ground.

Life Lessons

There are few things that offer the training opportunities for kids that a garden does. A garden takes planning and goal setting. It takes hard work and requires some sweat, and a garden has to be worked on over time. In the end a garden will provide rewards based on the work invested. Fail to plan when and how to plant the right things at the right time and you won’t get to reap the harvest. The amount that your garden will produce will be directly related to the amount of planting, weeding, and watering that has been invested. Stop halfway through the process and in an amazingly short amount of time a garden will revert back to a field of weeds. Plan well, work hard, and stick with it and you will literally be able to see, touch, and taste the results. Kids that master and understand those lessons will be pretty well prepared for life.

Kaitlyn Garden

Here are five reasons why your family should think about starting a gardening adventure this spring:

 

1. Being Outside. You need to be outside more. Your family needs to be outside more. A garden is outside and working on a garden means you have to be outside. It’s pretty much unavoidable. Having a garden means you will be outside working on it. That means more fresh air for you and your family.

2. Hard Work. Having a garden means work. It requires sweat and occasionally some blood. You should expect some blisters. The kids won’t get them, but you will probably have some sore muscles. What’s great about all of this work is that all it will yield results that are real and apparent and visible. The garden will go from a patch of dirt and after some blisters on your hands the soil will be turned and planted. The weeds will be coming up and crowding out the good plants and then after some sweat and work the weeds will be gone and your plants will be safe again. The harvest will be in the garden still on the plants and then after some aching muscles it will be in your kitchen and on your table.

3. Connecting to the World. Admit it. You and your family are probably too isolated from the real world. You spend too much time in the air conditioning and not enough time outside sweating. You worry too much about filtered air and mold and don’t get enough dirt on you. When was the last time you even noticed the weather unless it was extreme? A garden will connect you and your family to the world again. You will feel the sun and the wind and the rain. You and your kids will get muddy and dusty and dirty. With plants in the ground the weather will have meaning again. You will pay attention to early spring frosts, anxiously watch the skies for rain, and rejoice in a soaking shower. You will notice things about your land that you didn’t notice before. How that corner is shaded more than you thought, how that side holds too much water and needs to drain better, and how the soil in that area has too much clay and rocks. You will be connected to the world again.

4. Teamwork. You can do a garden all by yourself, but where’s the adventure in that? A garden should be a whole family project. Everyone has a job and everyone can play a role. The littlest ones can water and help harvest, the oldest children can manage a whole section by themselves, and almost everyone can participate in battling weeds. Make sure everyone has a chance to take part in the planning phase and has a say on what is planted. Watch carefully and see who is gifted in what areas. Who cares about the details and how things look and wants to plant all the flowers? Who focuses on the very practical and wants to try that mulching strategy to combat weeds? Who is really interested in trying new recipes with what you have harvested? Who is really interested in why things grow and how it all works?

5. Rewards. We all work for rewards. At the end of the day you will get out of a garden what you have invested in skill, time, and hard work. The more skill you build, the more time you invest, and the harder you work the better the harvest will be. Eating sweet strawberries off the vine, looking at rows of canned beans that you put up yourselves, eating a salad that is made entirely of ingredients that you grew in your yard, picking ripe red tomatoes, all of these things come with an almost indescribable sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Get Planting!

Convinced yet? You need to get outside.  You and your family needs to sweat and work, and raise a few blisters. All of you need to get dirty and messy and muddy. You have a team to build, a job to do, and harvest that needs to be prepared. You need to plant a garden this year.

Last Minute Adventures

There is a time for planning, for thinking, and for preparing. And then there are times that call for immediate action. Often the best kinds of adventures are the kind that happens on the spur of the moment, on an instant decision, or on the choice to take advantage of a surprise circumstance.

Seizing the advantage and having such adventures does take a little preparation, but the preparation is mostly mental. You have to be on the lookout for opportunities, and be willing to grab them when they come along, even if you have to trade some short term inconvenience.

The “Last Snow”

Where we live we are beginning to think that the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has returned and implemented her never ending winter policy. We had several “last snows” through March.

Each time it snowed in March it was a wet, messy kind of snow. On one of those snows I was sitting inside, thinking how nice it was not to have to go outside and mess around in it. Staying warm and dry inside sounded like a great plan, and I calculated that the sun would melt off the driveway before it was necessary for me to shovel it. Then the phone rang.

Friends of ours wanted to know if we would be interested in meeting at a local park to get one more evening of sled riding in during this “last snow.” My wife and I considered the implications. Dinner would need to be changed, the evening chores would not be done, dishes would remain dirty and the house would not be straightened up before bed. All of the snow clothes that had hopefully been put away after the last snowstorm would need to be unpacked. Wet clothes would be strewn across the garage after the sled riding. The sleds would need to be drug out from under the house and the van would need to be packed. The driveway would need to be shoveled to get the van out. Goodbye nice quiet evening inside, hello confusion, chaos and mess.

Of course I said yes.

Snow Soldiers

Goodbye Quiet Evening

Then I decided to double down. If we were going to be out in the cold wouldn’t it be neat if we could serve some hot chocolate? The chaos doubled. Everyone had to hurry to get ready in half the time so we could swing by the store to get hot chocolate and disposable cups. I sent kids running to the pantry to find a large pot to heat water in and sent another to fill some water jugs.

I tore through the garage looking for camp stove number one. No success. I looked in the attic for camp stove number two. Fail. Finally, I settled on camp stove number three, the one that takes three people to move, and recruited the boys to help me carry it to the van and sent someone else to dig a gas cylinder out of the shed.

An hour later there was no quiet evening of warm and quiet. Instead, there was a mess of flying snowballs, lost mittens, soaked feet, inches of snow tracked into the van, spilled hot chocolate, shouts, laughter, and general “last snow” chaos.

Hello Mess

A proper dinner wasn’t served. The house looked like a snow filled tornado had ripped through it. The garage smelled like damp clothes and sweaty boots for a week. All the snow stuff would need to be dried and repacked. The kids went to bed late and some of them woke up grumpy the next morning.

A nice quiet evening was irretrievably lost.

It was replaced with a memory that will long outlive all the quiet evening remembrances.

Years from now I’m pretty certain every one of use will remember the “last snow” hot chocolate and generic ginger snaps, sled riding in the park with dear friends. I doubt any of us will trade stories about the quiet evenings at home.

Snow Ash

Your Turn

So here’s a challenge for you. What spur of the moment adventure could you have this evening? I mean today! What could you do tonight that your family would never expect that you would all be talking about a year from now?

Want to go bigger? What could you do this weekend? How could you surprise everyone, embrace some chaos and make something happen? How about making it a longer weekend? Any chance you can get Friday or Monday off from work?

Sure, it will be a bit of a pain. It might cost some money. You will definitely not get some things done that you “need” to get done. On the other hand I bet that a year from now you won’t remember any of those important things that need to get done, whether they get done or not. I bet twenty years from now the kids will still be telling stories about the time Dad and Mom surprised everyone with that last minute awesome something that you pulled off.

Go for it.

Three Things You Need to Know About Work

We live in an interesting time that is often filled with contradictions.  Take, for example, our cultural and social attitude and relationship with work.

Keep Your Job 

A sense of unease, uncertainty, and worry permeates the world of work at a macro level.  Those who are about to enter the workforce fear that they won’t be able to get a job, many who are out of work face that exact reality, and those who are working fear that they may lose their job.  Nobody feels very certain or secure, and those who have work hear the message that they should be relieved to be working at all, no matter what they do.

Get a Better Job

While at the macro level it seems like you should hold on to your job no matter what, at the micro level there is a strong message of contradiction.  This message says, at a personal level, that this is a time of amazing opportunity and nobody should settle for work that does less than pay exceptionally well and fulfills you at a deep and soul satisfying level.

Do Neither!

The practical result of these two messages is often paralysis.

Young people seeking to get in the work force are pessimistic about their chances of getting a job, but are unwilling to settle for anything less than an occupation that does meaningful “world changing” work that is so exciting it propels them out of bed in the morning.

Older workers, who have a job, are often scared to seek new opportunities, feeling like they must be thankful to have any work.  At the same time they are dissatisfied, sure that there must be a better, more satisfying work than what they are doing.

What Everyone Should Know About Work

Personally, I have been blessed to be able to do work that is satisfying and interesting and I think makes a difference in the world.  However, I have also needed to do work that is dull, seemingly pointless, and unsatisfying.

Professionally, I have worked with hundreds and perhaps thousands of young people who are working to prepare themselves for meaningful work and who are learning to navigate the professional world.  I have also worked with more than a few older workers who are making that big career adjustment and are looking for new work that is more deeply satisfying.

Based on those experiences here are three things I wish everyone, especially young people, knew about work:

JLB Caleb Ditch Digging

What are You Working for? 

1. The end matters more than the means.  Assuming that the job you are doing is neither illegal or immoral then what you are working for is always far more important than what kind of work you are doing, no matter how difficult, dangerous, or dull that work may be.

It is far more important for young workers to be doing anything, no matter how different from what they picture, than to be doing nothing.  Any job offers opportunities for mastery (see below), and builds experience, contacts, and confidence that will lead to the next and better job.

Older workers, specifically older workers with families, should never forget that the most important outcome of their work is provision.  Work that enables you to provide food for your family, a safe place for them to live, and the necessary resources to learn is by definition honorable and important work.

Four Generations Sawing 2

Be Brave Enough to Change

2. Never be afraid to change jobs or careers if the risk is right.  In a slow economy and an uncertain world the first reaction is typically to hold on to what you have.  This attitude can prevent younger workers from essential advancement and keep older workers from fully using the gifts and skills they have been given.

How do you know if the risk is right?  Here are some key questions: Does this new position help me move closer to where I want to ultimately go?  (If you don’t know where you are going, read this.)  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Will that worst thing merely cause hardship for me and my family that we can recover from, or will it endanger me or my family?

A few years ago at a crucial point in my career I was agonizing over a decision and was paralyzed and afraid to move forward with a change.  My wife finally bluntly forced the point: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?  The job doesn’t work out and we lose the house and have to live with Mom and Dad for a while?  Big deal, I don’t care about money anyway, I like Mom’s cooking, and it would only be temporary until you found something else and started again.  What are you worried about?”

All of those outcomes were far worse than anything I had imagined, but her point was that even at its very worst failure would only mean hardship, some embarrassment, and some inconvenience.  We wouldn’t be homeless and endangered.  With the risk revealed to be manageable (and the security of having the support of my wife) I was able to move forward and found better work and more success than I had ever experienced before.

Become an Expert

3. Seek to gain mastery in some area with every job you ever hold.  This is perhaps the most important attitude to maximizing your work experience and working towards meaningful, fulfilling, and rewarding work.

Here’s the cold, hard truth: Very, very, very few (if any) people spend their entire working life doing something they love every day.  You will need to work at a job that is less than exciting, fulfilling, and wonderful.  Even when you find exciting, fulfilling, and wonderful work, you will need to do certain tasks and jobs in that work that are less than exciting, fulfilling, and wonderful.  In those times, committing to seeking mastery in some aspect of what you are doing makes all the difference.

Seeking mastery means that in every job, every task, every experience you have that you commit to look for one aspect, one skill, one process that you can master that will help you achieve your bigger goals in life.  Working a manual labor job?  Commit to mastering the discipline of arriving on time, mustering your energy to work at 100% all day, and stay until the work is finished.  You may not dig ditches the rest of your life, but the discipline and commitment learned on that job will pay dividends for a lifetime.

Caleb-Karianne Lawn Mower

Working at a fast food restaurant?  Commit to mastering the nuances of outstanding customer service, doing everything with a smile, always being polite, practicing that the customer is always right, striving to make sure your customers have a great experience and leave a little happier than when they came in, and being quick and efficient in delivering the service they are expecting and more.  You will move on from asking “Do you want fries with that?” and you will find there isn’t an industry or company on the planet who doesn’t want employees who can deliver great service and a great experience to their clients and customers.

Photo by J. Reed

Photo by J. Reed

Buckle Down and Get it Done!

Sure it is a tough market out there.  Yes, you will need to do work that feels like, well, work.  No, you won’t likely leave home and find your dream job, or even know what your dream job is by the time you are thirty or even older.  Don’t be surprised, that is the way life works.  Besides, every great adventure has hardships and times of trial, otherwise it wouldn’t be an adventure.

Focus on the end and the bigger goal.  Don’t be afraid to change and do something different if the risk factor is right. Commit to mastering something in every experience.  Live the adventure!