Saturday, December 26, 2015

Let's Celebrate She's Turning 8!!!

My oldest kid just celebrated another birthday on Christmas Eve. I really have no idea how 8 years went by so fast.  Somewhere along the way I lost 3 years. I keep trying to tell her about life as if she is still 5 years old until she reminds me, "Dad I already know that." It's at that point I  come face to face with the fact that my 8 year does know that the Aborigines live in Australia. I'm certain that I didn't learn this fact until I was in college. I think part of me just secretly wants her to stay 5 years old because I'm not ready for her to launch head first into the "real world." No matter what, with each passing birthday, I realize that the inevitable is little girl is finding her place in the world. We recently threw her a fashion show theme party. I was impressed that she actually designed and baked her own cake. My wife went all out like normal and gave our kid the party of the decade. 
I say this every year but she's outdone herself with the parties that she's thrown this year. This is one of the things I love the most about her and her family. They celebrate EVERYTHING! I can't remember having parties to celebrate birthdays as a kid, but  my girls will be the exact opposites. I think it is absolutely essential to celebrate with your kids especially on the day that they were born. I am convinced that spending your time and your money (it doesn't have to be a lot) to show your kids just how happy you are that they were born means the world to them. The images of my daughters' smiling faces during their birthday celebrations are burned into my brains forever. The cool part is that after the party they mainly talk about the games or something a friend said and not how many gifts they received. So, if you're like I used to be-kind of nonchalant about birthday parties...get over it! As matter of fact, leave this page right now and go order your kid a cake for their next birthday. Go buy them like 20 balloons, a big tiara, or a baseball cap.  Just let them know that they are a big deal to you! When they're young all they care about is their superhero mom or dad. Slow down so that you can relish in that. Don't miss these moments because you can never get back those Dad Days back that have passed, but you can get the party started today!  So, do you think planning a kid party is hard? Me too!!! Don't worry, I've asked my wife and resident party planner to give you her top 5 party tips to get you started.

Birthday Party Starters
by: Danah Artis

1. Pick a theme- This can be as easy as checking out their toy box or remembering their favorite video game or activity. Once you figure this out the rest is a piece of cake.

2. Choose your location-You can always start with your house, but keep your options and your eyes open for venues that won't break the bank. We once threw our youngest a Tinkerbell themed party at our neighborhood park. The only cost for the venue was decorations and clean up. Thankfully, it had the feel of a picnic and guest felt more inclined to help clean up. Afterwards, we went home to a clean house!

3. Don't forget the cake-There's nothing worst than a great party with terrible cake! If you're like most hubbies, you're just not into baking. If you decide to get a cake from Walmart or a local bakery, most of them will allow you to sample the product before you order. So, take your kid with you on cake tasting around town. Make sure you find out how early you have to place the order.

4. Invitations- Once you get your kiddo's party all mapped's time to put it on paper. If you want people to show up, a party invitation is a MUST! Mailed invites just give your party that official feel. People are more likely to make the event a priority if you take the time to mail them an invite. Not to mention, if you include the theme on it, they can begin to feel the fun factor. You can even hire someone to quickly design an invitation, so that all you have to do is print it.

5. Have fun-Remember the whole point of a good party is fun. Fortunately it doesn't take much to think up or simply Google some fun party games. Because children are hardwired for fun you only need to have about 3 party activities in order to have party success.

Photobooth fun with the family

Friday, October 2, 2015

Top 5 Things I've Learned from My Kids

I vaguely remember being taught play chess when I was younger by my stepfather. I was semi-interested in learning but I preferred the simplicity of checkers. Over the years, my hopes of being the next chess legends were pretty much shot. I couldn't tell the difference between a pawn and a knight if it cost me my life. That all changed the other day. After attending one lesson with a local chess group, my kids are now the resident experts.
 In just a two week span they've given me plenty of refresher training on how to play the game. It has made for some fun family game nights. For the first time in forever I've touched chess pieces more than the buttons on my Playstation controller. I can't wait to get home in the evening to see who's up for a round or two.This game is quickly becoming a favorite in our house because it forces us to block everything and everyone for  a few moments so that we can focus our minds on one common goal. Whether we win or lose the game is irrelevant. At the end of the day our whole family wins because we spent some quality time doing something together that we all enjoyed. As we sit there playing chess, I've thought a lot about other life lessons that I've learned from my kids.

Top 5 Lessons Learned

1. Don't Hold Grudges-Earlier tonight my wife and I helped our daughters work through a disagreement. There were tears and hurt feelings between both of them. Within the hour we overheard them talking and laughing just before they fell asleep. It was as if they never had an issue. I wonder at what point in life we adults forgot how to let go of offenses.

2. Dance/Splash in the Rain-It's important to not allow life to keep you from having fun on a regular basis. When it rains my kids love to put on their rainboots and head for the biggest mud puddle they can find. I've learned to proudly put mine on (yes I own a pair) and join them. It's really hard to take yourself  seriously when you're jumping and splashing with your neighbors looking on. When the sun isn't shining (figuratively and literally) learn to be intentional about finding the fun in the rain. It will make you and everyone around you smile.

3. Live Each Day Like It's Your Last- Kids are willing to cram in 100 different activities in one day if you'd allow them to. We could've spent the day skating, riding bikes, going to the movies and then dinner yet they'll still want to do more. They don't seem to understand the concept of "pacing yourself" by spreading the fun out over time. This can be tiring for parents but living for the moment has it's place.  I try to fit in at least a couple of activities where I connect with the kids each day that I'm physically able. 

4. Laugh More-Our girls recently got a knock-knock joke book and have become the queens of comedy. It's amazing how many times of day they laugh. Paying bills and fixing people's problems should never take the place of having a few good laughs each day.

5. Childlike Faith- I appreciate the way kids always believe that things will work out. I'm not sure at what point human beings get introduced to doubt, but I'm glad to have kids that are full of faith in my house for now. Their faith is a constant reminder of how mine should be towards God.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Labor of Love

"Dad... I wish this day would never come to an end." They're just a few words but their impact spoke volumes to me the other day. They came as my oldest daughter and I were enjoying a few moments around the house together during Labor Day. Earlier that day, she, her sister, and I hung out for a few hours at the Children's Museum. It was like Christmas morning as they ran from one interactive display to the next. Each display was like opening a new gift.
 My wife had taken them previously, but they were eager to share the experience with me. I'm definitely glad that they had the bright idea on my day off. Somewhere between the oversized chair and the giant bubble maker, I connected with my inner child, forgetting all of the adult sized things on my mind. We returned home to frisbee playing, a little garage cleaning, an ice cream truck break, and a family game of UNO. Overall, it was pretty much a perfect day. Which brings me back to my daughter's comment. From my perspective, it was just a normal day that I took the kids to the museum to give my wife and "homeschool hottie" a break. My daughters saw it as so much more. From their perspective, the guy in their life who they love more than anything, is stopping everything to just do what we want to do. I cannot stress enough how much just doing something as simple as going to a museum or throwing a frisbee around means to our kids. The fact that mom or dad is willing to put down their devices to fully engage them in activity that THEY enjoy means more to them than all of the money in the world. I'm not able to prove it (yet), but I think that my daughters have a bit more confidence when they look up and see me taking time off from work to attend their plays or games. As parents we have to remind ourselves that what is small to us is huge to our kids and what is huge to us is quite often small to our kids. From the time our children are born we only have 936 weeks before they're 18 and moving out of the house. This is why the Dad Days are so important...make them count!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lazy Days of Summer

The fourth of July is over and now we begin the long stretch of summer vacation with no holidays celebrations until Labor Day weekend. So as a dad how exactly do you keep things interesting during the lazy days of summer? Well, there are a lot of things that you and the family can do together and you don't have to break the bank to do it! Here are my top 8 suggestions for beating the Lazy Days of Summer:

1. Re-Discover the Library-My Kindle Fire is one of my favorite electronic devices. Being able to have a number of books and magazines on one device is simply amazing. However, there is still something that I admire about the mystique of traditional books. This is why my wife and I regularly take our kids to the library. Most libraries have activities for kids throughout the summer. Our girls have been attending a library sponsored LEGO workshop which is focusing on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math). The best part is that there is no cost for this workshop.

2. Scream for Ice Cream-It doesn't matter how crazy life gets there's just something about ice cream that makes everything instantly better. So, why not give use comfort food to connect with your kids during the long hot summer. Growing up, I spent many Sunday afternoons going to get ice cream. Naturally, as a father I've instilled this tradition in my family...well kind of.  As it turns out my wife and oldest daughter couldn't care less about it.
As for my oldest, she and I have had many ice cream dates. Recently, we've discovered a mom and pop shaved ice joint that the four of us all agree on. The owner (Big D) puts ice cream on the bottom, shaved ice on top of that and then sweetened condensed milk with marshmallow fluff as the topper! Genius! The four of us now have a new Sunday afternoon hangout.

3. Around the House-Spending time connecting with your kids and family is great but doing something for yourself is just as important. One of the things that relaxes me is taking a day or two to just live in my house. Like most guys, I work hard during the week and spend 40 plus hours away from the crib. Some weekends all I want to do is LIVE in the house that I pay mortgage on. Knocking out some home improvement projects or playing video games for a couple of hours recharges my batteries like nothing else.

4. Walk it Out-With the summer months come extra daylight. Taking a walk at sunset with my fan club (AKA: Family) has given me a chance to check in with them in a way that nothing else can. Just a few minutes of exploring a park, beach, or my own neighborhood with these guys is time well spent.

5. Vacation Bible School-We're always looking for additional ways to instill Godly values into our daughters. This year my wife and I enrolled our kids in VBS at two different churches. It was a good chance for them to connect with some of their friends and meet some new ones. It also gave my wife a bit of a break from the demands of being a state at home mom. More importantly, they were able to hear more about following Jesus in a fun way.

6. Let's Play Ball-As a dad there's nothing quite like the fulfillment of teaching your kid about sports. Teaching them to dribble a basketball or play ping pong is a huge way to connect with them. Scientific research also shows that it helps develop motor skills as well as boost their self-confidence. As a dad of daughters I'm amazed at how much my girls want to play sports at the 6 and 7 year old mark.

7. Check Out a Game-We try to make it to at least one farm team baseball game each year. Our kids look forward to riding the light rail to the ball park. We couldn't care less about who they're playing or what each player's RBI is for the season. Just being in the ball park (preferably early in the season) doing the wave and watching our kids sing, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is truly priceless.

8. Do Nothing- Contrary to popular belief it is ok for us dads to simply do nothing sometimes. As the title of this post indicates there should be something about summer that involves relaxation. Summer gives us hard working dads a chance to fully enjoy the lives we work so hard to create for our families. This includes sitting around with absolutely no game plan for a few hours a week. As I always say, even Superman stopped by the Fortress of Solitude from time to time.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cow Appreciation Day

I am really big on companies that promote family values and create opportunities to connect with loved ones. Chik-Fil-A is at the top of the fast food chain. That's why I am extremely excited about tomorrow which is their annual Cow-Appreciation Day. This is a chance for you and the kids to have an "udderly" (I couldn't resist) good time by making cow outfits together and feasting on that goodness known as the Chik-Fil-A sandwich. If you're not crafty, you can do like I did and bribe your kids to make one for you. My daughter's has been crafted for several days now. If you need more costume ideas the company has more ideas on their site.
Her Shirt
My Shirt

Once your design has been created, you can go down to your local Chik-Fil-A and they will reward you with a free sandwich. It's that simple. It's like they're paying you to spend time doing what you like to do anyway-connecting with your kids and eating more "Chkin."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fathers, Fun, and the Fourth

Next week this time most of us dads will be gearing up for a weekend of intense grilling as the 4th of July approaches. The smoky smell of ribs and burgers will soon be pouring out of backyards all across the country. It's the one time a year that most of the ladies can look forward to some consecutive days of not cooking. I've already got my grilling gameplan in place. In addition to working the "barbie,"  I look forward to getting our girls in on the Independence Day fun. Each year they look forward to making a patriotic themed dish or two with mom and dad.
My all time favorite is our Patriotic Dessert Pizza (dad-friendly recipe listed below). Last year, we helped them make Independence Day cupcakes to hand out to our neighbors. I think more icing got in their hair than on the cupcakes. We thought about charging money, but we went with the "freedom" theme and just gave them away for nothing. The girls really enjoyed screaming, "Free Cupcakes," at every car that drove by.
Several neighbors stopped by our table for a free treat with a few of them insisting on donating anyway. The whole point of all this is to find a way to engage your kids even at young ages with family holidays and get togethers. It is easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to doing life. Over the years, I've learned how much my kids need to have ownership as members of our family. Many times as a parent we're so focused on perfect well-behaved kids that never make  a mess. Some of the things that frustrate me as a parent are cries for help from kids who just want to do something constructive with me. My wife and I had to look past the vanilla frosting that will take hours to clean up (from their hair and the countertops) in order to focus on the bonding time we're creating. As someone reminded me the other day, "When it comes to kids, the days are long, but the years are quick." So, to all my dads out there, make sure you look for intentional ways to connect with your kids by making some good memories as often as you can. Happy Independence Day!

                                                 Patriotic Pizza (Dessert) Recipe

Apprx 42 Strawberry Halves
20-40 Fresh Blueberries
Sugar Cookie Mix
1 Can of Vanilla Frosting

1. Mix up the sugar cookie batter according to the directions on the box.
2. Let your kid(s) shape the cookie mix into a rectangle on a cookie sheet or baking tin.
3. Place in the oven and bake according to directions on box.
4.  Remove cookie from oven and let it cool to room temperature.
5. Let your kid(s) open the vanilla frosting and spread evenly across room temperature sugar cookie.
6. Cut the strawberries in half (approx 42 halfs)
7. Arrange strawberry halves in rows leaving a 1 inch row of  frosting between rows of berries leaving room for the stars area in the top left of sugar cookie.
8. Add blueberries to create the star area in the top left of sugar cookie.
9. Take pictures of you and your kid(s) creation
10. Enjoy your dessert.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Top Father's Day Gifts 2015

For Father's Day 2015 most of us fathers can't get stoked about getting another "#1 Dad" tie. Today's dad has far too many interests that don't include neckwear. So, if you're trying to find a last minute gift that dad will get excited about -here are the top 6 for this season. The best part is that most of these will only set you back a few hundred bucks. The good thing is they are readily available and most likely on sale at your local Best Buy or Home Depot.

Top Father's Day Gifts

1. FitBit "Smart Watch" technology is showing up everywhere these days. Dad can monitor his heart rate, listen to music, check his time, and even respond to a few text messages. Not only are they functional, but they also look a manly kind of way course. FitBits are the "gateway technology" into Smart Watches and have a relatively inexpensive price tag ($79-$129 USD).

2. Power Tools Whether dad is handy or not every man needs to have a reliable drill that can tackle any project that might walk on to his "honey do" list.

3. Go Pro HD  Video cameras have gotten a lot smaller over the past few years. No camera has capitalized on this trend more than the Go Pro. The Hero 4 is the latest in a line of little rugged cameras that capture some amazing shots by land, sea, and air.

4. Quadcopter I don't care what anyone says, there is something about a radio controlled vehicle that will turn a grown man into an ecstatic 9 year old. Not only are these fun to fly in and of themselves, but  if dad is fortunate enough to have a Go Pro the skies the limit!

5. Weber Grill Nothing makes dad get excited about cooking quite like a new grill. Listen up ladies, the secret to getting him to cook more meals is as simple as hooking him up with a nice propane grill.

6. Gift Cards Unlike ladies, we dads are perfectly ok with getting a "thoughtless" gift card. Any card that has to do with Buffalo Wild Wings, Bass Pro Shop, Best Buy, or Home Depot are ALWAYS a good idea. To a guy this shows that you truly did put a lot of thought into it. So, what are you waiting for? You are already late with getting him something-go out and hook the guy up!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

An Ounce of Prevention...

Photo Courtesy:
Benjamin Franklin once said that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." He was basically saying it is better to prevent something bad from happening than to have to deal with it after the fact. Over the past few weeks I've thought about this saying in regards to the recent murder conviction of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez is the epitome of a life wasted. This guy had all type of success stories on the football field but just couldn't seem to get his personal life together. I understand that at the age of 16 his father passed away leaving him devastated. Having lost my mother and adopted father, I can definitely relate to the pain. That time in a kid's life is crucial and hard to manage without parental involvement. I am puzzled as to where the "surrogate" fathers, coaches, and  mentors were during the years immediately following the death of Aaron's dad. Were there any in his life? Did they speak up and try to keep him out of the streets? Or were they afraid to say anything because they didn't want to "rock the boat" and jeopardize their connection with this great football standout. I just find it hard to believe that throughout high school, college, and the NFL, that no one tried to intervene in this guy's life. This is the exact reason why I am such a proponent of mentoring, foster care, and adoption. There are so many young men and women that are trying to cope with everyday issues in a world that seems to have completely lost its moral compass. When our media forces us to listen to the intricate details of why a father and former Olympian wants to change his gender-we desperately need "real" dads to stand up and be a voice for what's right. Each of us can make a true difference in a child's life by spending a few minutes with them a week. As I've mentioned before there are so many ways to get involved in your community. Here are few more organizations that you could work with to prevent more stories like Hernandez's from happening:

Man Up Opportunities

Big Brothers and Big Sisters


National Fatherhood Initiative

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paternal Order of Pancakes

Breakfast for me generally consist of a packet of oatmeal and a banana before I start off my workday. The prep time is quick, plus it is free from any food guilt associated with some of the other breakfast options out there. But once the weekend kicks in it's time to pass the pancakes! 

Since I was a kid I've look forward to the laid back feel of a unhurried full calorie breakfast while watching Saturday morning cartoons (I owe that to my country upbringing). My grandmother always reminded me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. "Eat something, even if it's just toast, "she'd say, "or you'll be tired by 10am!" So, naturally, it's a mandate in my house that after waking up we all end up around the breakfast nook with a bunch of culinary options. This is a very important tradition for me. My wife can tell you how much effort I put into rocking the sausage, eggs, and pancakes on the griddle. If her family is around you might even find me cooking up some of THEIR favorite-- Scrapple (yuck). My oldest daughter has even gotten into the act by making her own "secret ingredient" blend of pancakes. Not only are the meals top notch, but the conversations are amazing as well. As we are passing the eggs we are also getting a chance to check in with one another to catch up on all the happenings from the previous week. Just this past Saturday, my wife had a business commitment which left the girls and I having a daddy daughter breakfast date. I learned about what their classmates were up to. They also rolled out their plans for how I was going to spend the rest of the weekend. This flair for planning my weekend is a "gift" that was handed down genetically by their mother. While those days of early morning soccer matches are beginning to become more frequent, I'm glad for the times where we get to slow down to truly connect and hear what's going on with one another. These Dad Days go by really quick, but I'm learning to savor every moment-one pancake breakfast at a time. 

Man Up Moment

If you're like me, the art of connecting through conversation doesn't always come naturally for me-especially with my kids. So here are a few questions that I ask when trying to get the dialogue going:

1. What do you look forward to most about growing up?
2. What has been the best day of your life so far? Why?
3. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
4. What do you think you would love most about this job?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

For the Love of Snow

This morning I woke up to a snow covered landscaped for the third time in the past week. This latest winter storm has left behind about 7 inches of snow on the ground. So, quite naturally, those appointments I had scheduled at the office today have been preempted by snowball fights, snow angels, snowman manufacturing. YAAYYY!! I really think snowstorms are one of God's ways of making sure everybody slows downs to spend some quality time with their family (unless you're a snow plow operator).  Our family does a pretty good job of spending time together but there's something special about those snow day memories. The kids are super excited of course to see the white stuff falling again.

 You'd think they would be focused on any activity involving playing outside in the winter wonderland-right???? So the other day I tried to make a snow fort for the first time. Things were going well, until I looked around and there were no longer any kids helping me. They had moved on to other activities. I kept trying to get them back into the snow fort business but to no avail. There I was "in the zone" with 6 mounds of snow and frozen fingers-ALONE. I thought this would be a good time to teach the kids a lesson on the importance of "following through" and completing something. I decided against the lecture and just went with it. I loaded them up on the boogie board and pulled them along in the freshly fallen snow for our version of Winter X-games. This created way more giggles than my boring snow fort could have. When I came home a few days later, they, along with the wife turned the half finished snow fort into works of abstract winter art by using paint (Thanks babe!). 

Olaf giving up nice warm hugs in our front yard
So, I guess my lesson on follow through didn't fall on deaf ears. Maybe or maybe not. All that matters is that we all took a few minutes to do something to make some lasting memories. The fact that the girls and I made a pretty good version of Olaf the snowman is pretty cool too! 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King's Legacy In A Ferguson Era

Today we celebrate the birthday as well as the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man that worked until his last breath to fight for justice for ALL of humanity. He once said that "Injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere." The greatest part of his legacy in my opinion is that he didn't just give a lot of good speeches, but he was also a man of action. He basically "walked the walk." I often wonder what he would say about today's instances of injustice...namely the recent cases of police brutality and the subsequent protests. Dr. King would've undoubtedly spoken out for non-violence. Would he have been extremely upset-YES. But instead of encouraging more violence it is almost certain that he would have called for peaceful protests. Look no further than his "I Have a Dream Speech." The following excerpt from that speech serves as a prophetic and moral voice for reason in light of recent violent protests:

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August, 1963

I only hope that those considering violence as a means of protest today would turn their frustrations into something productive as Dr. King did. Where would we be if everyone that broke a window or threw something at the police would've made up in their minds to mentor a young man who would be considered "at risk?' What if instead of burning down stores, these young folks all decided to find a way to become a lawyer? Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a perfect man, but he was a great orator, activist, husband, and a father who lived everyday with the hope of making this world a better place. He didn't just dream about it, but he also rolled up his sleeves and did something about it. I personally believe that he achieved his goal. It might not look like it when you read the news headlines today, but many people, including myself, are better off because he fulfilled his calling. I personally admire his determination to fight for what is right by not stooping to hateful means. His methods were strategically peaceful which eventually brought about the actual changing of laws. He pointed us all towards the Love of God as the only source of hope and true unity. There is much more work to be done but it can only be done when men of all backgrounds are united through unconditional love and true service. Dr. King's vision for a United America all depends on the choices you and I make in our individual lives each day.