Dates with Dad

As I reviewed my yearly goals this past December and January I realized that one area that really needs improvement (and hence a new goal for 2012) is the one-on-one attention I give to the individual members of my family.  I have had high hopes of getting into the habit of doing “Fathers interviews”, at least periodically with the kids; and in having a semi-regular “date night” with Natalie.  I also want to go on periodic dates with each of the kids so that they have special one-on-one time with each parent.   I did go on several dates with both Natalie and the kids in 2011 but there was no regularity to “date night” and I would like to pick up the slack in 2012.

So I created a rough calendar of “dates with dad” and presented it to the family during FHE a few weeks ago.  We determined that it would be reasonable for each kid to go on a date with mom or dad once eight times a year (or once per quarter with each parent).  The goal for a TyandNat date night is ten times per year (monthly never seems to work).  We set our first round of dates at that meeting and executed them this weekend.  The goal moving forward will be to have a date planned at all times.  The hope is that by having something on the calendar this will become a more regular occurrence. So we started this weekend.  I will give brief details to illustrate how I am the king of blown dates.

On Friday I took Eli to the opening of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 3D.  I am not a huge fan of the Star Wars movies, and Episode one is probably the weakest of the lot, but Eli does like Star Wars, and I have to admit that the Star Wars movies are an important part of our American culture.  So, we scheduled the date for as close to opening as we could.  Nat responsibly shot down going to the midnight screening and I presented some campus workshops in the afternoon, so the earliest we could get there was 7:00.  To make an evening of it we left around 5:30 so Eli could eat at his favorite restaurant.  Conveniently, the Happy Meal included a star wars toy (a top of some sort), so Eli was really excited.  We then went and bought junk food and went early to the movie (6:20ish).  We arrived to see a line of about 50 or so other hard corers and were thrilled to get special Star Wars 3-D glasses as well as two miniature star wars toy characters. There were even two “real life” star wars characters there to greet us in the lobby.  One storm trooper gave Eli his autographed trading card, which made his night.  It was fun watching the movie with Eli, but the 3D effects were not nearly as cool as I had expected (more like Toy Story 3 than Avatar) and we were both pretty tired.  After the pod race about midway through the movie Eli suggested we go home and go to bed.  I was happy to oblige.

On Saturday I gave in to years of requests and took Natalie country dancing at Mike’s Dance barn in Nashville (Indiana)… or at least that was the plan.  We had a sitter come over and were on the road by 7:00 arriving to an empty parking lot at 7:30.  There was supposed to be instruction fro 6-8 and then a live band from 8-10.  Instead it was just us and the parking lot.  Too bad, I had even bought a new “country” shirt for the occasion.  Rather than hanging our heads in defeat we made some calls and learned that “The Players Pub” in B-town often has dancing so we headed there.  Well, there were four people dancing but neither of us wanted to step on the toes of 80 year-olds so we just sat back, didn’t order anything, and chatted while we listed to a really good blues band.  It wasn’t what we planned for but we still had a great time.  On the way home we bought a treat at the grocery store and then went home and watched the BYU/Pepperdine basketball game.

So, not everything went as planned this weekend.  The good news?  We scheduled and went on dates, thereby growing closer as a family.  Tonight we will schedule the next round, yee-haw!

 

 

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“If only coach had put me in… than things would be different.”

Uncle Rico was living too much in 1982.  True, he may have been a football star had he been given the opportunity (after all he can probably throw a football over that mountain), but the truth is that he didn’t get that opportunity and he didn’t become a star.  Why do I care?  Because I have found that I am increasingly living my life through my children, which in some small way includes doing things I always wanted to do (like going to Disneyworld and Chuck-E-Cheese).  I never wanted to be one of those t-ball dads that went crazy on the refs, or the beauty queen mom that insisted her daughter do all the pageants, indeed I abhor parents that go to that extreme.  However, I am now finding that the avoidance of projecting my own lost moments onto my children is easier said than done.

For example, a couple weeks ago a group of adult men in my church decided to hold their own Pinewood derby the morning the Boy Scout derby was to be held.  I have great memories of participating in the derby as a child, but my foremost memory was probably that my car never won a race.  As a child it was disappointing to see the car that my father had worked so hard on 🙂 do so poorly.   Now, as a father I want my son to be able to create a car that actually wins a race or two (or the whole thing).  Since my boy is not yet in Boy Scouts I seized this opportunity to design a car to race in the adult race.   We bought some kits, did a lot of online research about what makes fast cars, and brainstormed car ideas together.  I then proceeded in doing 99% of the work in creating a car that I thought was pretty cool.   I finished the DeLorean and got about half-way through the Viper in time for the competition.  When the morning arrived I was pretty excited to show off my cars, and a little excited to have my kids race them.

While I feel like I did a pretty good job I was a little embarrassed as neither car won a single race.  In fact, the only other cars that either of them beat were each other.  So my two cars finished in 10th and 11th place out of 11 cars.  Fortunately, I prepped the kids fairly well in not getting their hopes up, and they took the losses in stride.   I could tell my son was a little frustrated in the performance of his car–he fully expected it to win, after all, his dad made it, right?  I did what I could to soften the blow (i.e. feed him junk food) and talked up the next race he would be able to enter.  He was a good sport about it all.

Now, here is the reason I decided to write this entry… At the conclusion of the event they did awards.  We knew we had not won but stayed to cheer on our friends.  After giving a first, second, and third place it was announced that the “best of show” went to E-man.  He was so surprised and thrilled that I thought he would burst.  The look of pure glee that took over his face and body made me feel happier than I have in a very long time.  It was simply one of those special moments that rarely come around.    I wish I had had the camera ready–a smile like that needs to be recorded.

So, am I living life through my son?  Perhaps.  Maybe I am becoming that t-ball dad I always despised after all.  I hate to do it, but it has become unavoidable.  I never anticipated loving my children as much as I do, and when they are happy, I’m happy.

The Great Pumpkin Launch

Every year Bloomington has a small festival that follows Halloween, designed to dispose of all of those extra pumpkins lying around.  This year we attended the pumpkin launch and had a lot of fun.  The event centers on throwing pumpkins very far (like 907 feet), but there are a lot of other cool things going on as well.  Eli liked the pumpkin seed spitting contest and Sharon liked being able to make her own scarecrow.  Here’s a video of the event showing some of the highlights.

Spencer almost…

Spencer is so content with life. He’s realized that there are things that he could do–like move–if he was so inclined, but he truly is our Polynesian baby. He takes life as it comes to him, but he won’t rush out for any new adventure. Here are a few recent videos of things he has considered doing (almost crawling, almost rolling over, almost laughing). Enjoy.



Best sports movies of all time

Today I noticed that the student newspaper weekend edition was running a story on the “25 best sports movies of all-time.” I love these kinds of movies so I grabbed a paper and looked at their rankings. It was decent, about what you would expect from an undergraduate. I wondered how this would different from a more “mature” viewer so I googled “best sports movies” and read a bunch of the rankings put out by various magazines and other publications. They were all pretty consistent, but I realized that I hadn’t seen many of the movies that were highly rated, and really hated others near the top of the list. The only sensible thing to do? Create my own list, which is definitely superior to all others.

Before I unveil my list I should notes some of my biases and limitations. First I should note that I don’t watch R-rated movies, so about half of those that make others lists will not appear on mine. I think this makes only a negligible impact on the integrity of my ratings because if the movie is rated R, it probably is not a movie that will inspire me to be better… which is the first bias I should mention. I love “based on a true story” movies because I want to believe that people can be more than they appear. These feel-good movies often inspire me to work hard and set my sights on great goals. Other biases include my love of watching football and basketball and hate of watching most other sports (especially baseball). I’m also a Hoosier, so I have a soft spot for those stories that take place here at home. I guess everyone has some sort of bias, so I don’t apologize for mine, I simply recognize that the my list is superior to yours partly because of the reasons I just mentioned. Without further ado, here’s the list.

25. Space Jam

24. Rocky III (the one with Mr. T.)

23. Rebound

22. The Natural

21. Bend it like Beckham

20. Annapolis

19. Breaking Away

18. Finding Forrester

17. Rocky

16. Invictus

15. The Karate Kid

14. Fever PItch

13. Rudy

12. The Rookie

11. Chariots of Fire

10. The Rocket

9. Forever Strong

8. A League of their Own

7. Field of Dreams

6. Cinderella Man

5. Hoosiers

4. Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius

3. Miracle

2. The Blind Side

1. Remember the Titans

Honorable mentions include: Glory Road, Eight Men Out, Magic vs. Bird, Brian’s Song, and Prefontaine.

Worst sports movies include: Hardball, Invincible, and Seabiscuit.

Movies that need to be made include: A decent Michael Jordan movie, an Eli Herring movie, and the Glenn Cunningham story

At some point I would love to revisit this list, explain why I ranked the way I did, and give other awesome tid-bits about each movie… but this is good for now.  Do you agree with the list?  What would you add or take away?  Have you seen “The Rocket” yet?  (It’s a great hockey movie that no one has seen).  Does chess count?  I included Bobby Jones but didn’t include Bobby Fischer and I’m feeling a little guilty.

Good to great: the hedgehog concept

I’ve been re-reading Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  It’s a business classic, written in 2001, that explains with substantial research the characteristics that move good fortune 500 companies (those beating the market) to great ones (those beating the market by at least 3 times over a sustained 15 year period).  I almost consider the book a “must read” for everyone, even those with no interest in business, investments and the like, because it is essentially a book about how to be extraordinary.  The principles principles described therein certainly apply to individuals in both their professional and personal lives.  I want to write about two of the principles described (the Hedgehog concept, and momentum and the flywheel) because I think they are particularly applicable to becoming great at whatever it is you want to become great at.

The hedgehog concept.  One of the most striking findings of the 11 companies that qualified as “good to great” was that they became great by focusing on doing one thing really well.  Collins likens this to the hedgehog, who when attacked by a cunning fox, simply curls into a ball with it’s spiky quills facing out.  The fox (representative of good companies, ideas, and people) can never get to the hedgehog because it does this one thing really well.  When I read this chapter (chapter five, I believe) my thoughts went to Warren Buffet whose investment mantra is invest in the things you understand–there is no need to diversify if you invest in the right companies.  This philosophy served him well as he rose to become the richest man in the world by doing one thing well–investing in companies he understood.  Collins, outlines three conditions of the hedgehog concept: being deeply passionate, understanding what you can (and can’t) be the best in the word at, and understanding what drives your economic engine. You can see and hear him discuss this concept at: http://www.jimcollins.com/media_topics/hedgehog-concept.html (Note: I found that the videos didn’t work on firefox but worked fine on IE).

First, you must be deeply passionate about something to truly become great.  For business managers this means that they need to find something that gets their employees excited, that motivation should come from being part of something really great, not because of extrinsic rewards.  For individuals the goal is to align the activities that consume most of your time (like jobs, being a parent, etc) with those things that you are most excited about.  This is why I became a teacher.  It is “what I think about when I have nothing else to think about.”  I will often awake in the middle of the night, or stop part-way through a jog to note down ideas that come to me for things to do in the classroom.  I love working with students as they develop as teachers and as  individuals.  I am also passionate about my family… I realize this is may be somewhat contrary to the hedgehog principle (having two loves), but I find that the principles outlined work equally well applied to your personal (home) life.

Second, you have to have an understanding of what you can be the best in the world at.  You don’t have to be the best yet, or even have a goal for becoming the best, you simply need to understand what you have the potential to become the best at.  This idea makes a lot of sense to me.  Everyone can become the best in the world at something, but coming to understand what that thing is can be be a long and arduous journey.  I have been fortunate in my doctoral studies to be able to do research on an aspect of teaching I care deeply about: reflection.  As I have read and studied the role of reflection in practice I have have been able to find my niche: collaborative reflection.  This is something that I know I can understand and promote better than anyone else alive, which is why it became the subject of my dissertation.  If you want to know more about my ideas on reflection you can read some of the papers I’ve written about it, found at: www.tylerchristensen.com.

Finally, you must be able to make a living or be sustained in dedicating so much of yourself to your hedgehog concept.  For companies this means being able to articulate how what drives their economic engine, or what creates profit, is essential in building the company.  As individuals the question might be tweaked to “how might others assess your impact on them?”  This can be tricky… hopefully you can make a decent living in doing something you are passionate about and are the best in the world at.  Certainly teachers are not paid very well, however, I believe that this principle is more than bottom line finance.  I think it’s more about having the resources you need to be able to do what you love and not have to worry excessively about finances.  For me as a teacher that means I need to be savvy with my investments so that I won’t have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet.

Where these three principles intersect is your hedgehog concept.  I’ve identified mine: collaborative reflection.  It would be worth your time to consider what your hedgehog concept is.  I believe that everyone should be the best in the world at something in order to truly contribute to society.  That contribution might come by being exceptional mother who provides exceptionally for her children (like my wife), or by being a great friend, teacher, income tax lawyer, etc.  Whatever you choose, choose to be the best.

The flywheel.  This chapter really got me thinking about what it takes to be great personally and professionally.  While I have a lot to say about this, unfortunately I don’t have the time today and will have to write about it later…

Note: I am also including this review in my personal finance website www.richonanyincome.com.  If you are interested in reading other book reviews you might want to check the site out.

Two slices

On Friday we had a party at church.  The idea was that everyone bring their favorite pizza and you’d visit with all the other families and eat a lot of pizza.  Great idea and there were lots of people and pizza that ended up coming to the party.  I had one small problem with this party.  Pizza.  Pizza, is one of the things that has helped me pack on pounds over the last few years. While I am grateful (because it tastes sooooo good), I think I’ve been too big for too long.

Natalie and I have both been working hard this summer to lose some weight.  For her the goal has been to take off those last few pounds of baby weight, for me it’s the extra 60 or so that I’ve been lugging around for the last few years.  We’ve both lost about 15 lbs. so far, so Natalie is close to her goal and looking great, and I’m about half-way to wear I would like to be by the end of the year.

Which brings me back to pizza.  I really like pizza.  I think that for the most part I eat pretty well (Natalie does a great job of preparing healthy meals, and I don’t cook all that often).  Between marathon training and Ultimate frisbee I exercise much more than the average Joe.  My big hang up is that I eat more than I should and I occasionally go nuts on unhealthy foods.  One of the reasons we’ve been able to take the weight off this summer is because we do our weekly “weigh in” on Saturday evening, after dinner.  Taking our official count at that time has discouraged weekend binging and encouraged weekend activeness.  Pretty brilliant if you ask me.

Anyhow, back to the party.  I had two slices of pizza at the party.  That might seem like a lot to you, but it actually felt like a turning point for me.  You see, I don’t think I’ve ever turned down pizza publicly before.  At home I can limit myself because I’m held accountable to Natta and the kids, but at a party it’s much easier to slip.  I told Eli before the party that I would only have two slices and that he’d need to check-up on me.  It wasn’t easy but I did it… even when someone came in after my two slices with an Aver’s “Cream and Crimson.”  Again, no big deal to you, but a good step in the right direction for me.

4th of July with the TyandNats

I like the 4th of July.  I wish I could say that it is one of my favorite holidays because I am a true patriot and I love my country, but the truth is, I just like to play and we have a lot of fun traditions for the 4th.  (Note:  I still do love my country, appreciate all those who are serving in the military, and try to teach my children about our history and privilege).  I was not a huge 4th of July guy until I met Natalie and the Barlow family.  They do it up right: huge bar-be-que, fireworks, candy canon, etc.  We’ve started small since we are not usually around extended family for the holiday, but we have started some traditions of our own.  Here’s what we did this year…

We started the day off with our church’s bishopric breakfast.  I am a clerk for the ward so I don’t know how I get roped into this each year, but I am one of the ones who gets there early to set up, do the cooking, etc.  So I was up early to get things going.  The family arrived around 8:30 and we ate and the kids sang a song about the flag and the scouts posted the colors.  We visited with friends until 9:30 and then hurried across town for the parade.

The parade. The Bloomington fourth of July parade is an interesting one.  It is like most local parades… lots of people throwing candy, lots of high school bands and cheerleaders, lots of government and military types driving by in big cars and trucks.  There aren’t a lot of the “floats” I grew accustomed to seeing in my childhood.  Instead, in Bloomington those themed entries have been replaced by really random groups of sometimes scary people (i.e. anime, roller derby girls, Miss Gay IU, the circus, and the God of Pointless behavior).  The kids, of course, don’t care about the scary people because they are still bringing them candy.  They love the parade because it provides as much candy as what they collect at Halloween.  In fact, many of the passer-bys now simply dump candy into the kids bags just like at Halloween.  The only difference is that instead of just saying “trick-or-treat” the parade entrants usually are the ones doing tricks, and they come to us instead of us having to walk to them.  Natalie found us a great spot this year that was near the beginning, had good parking for a quick get-away, and wasn’t too crowded.

The TyandNat party. We decided to throw a small party this year so after the parade we hurried home to finish preparations.  After cleaning the house, watching the coney island hot dog eating contest, and preparing the food we started moving everything outside.  We borrowed a big canopy for shade and set it up with a few card tables and lawn chairs.  Natalie made English Trifle and firework cupcakes to go with our fried chicken and pigs-in-a-blanket.  All who came to the party brought side dishes. The party started at 3:30 but things didn’t really get rolling until about an hour later when we started eating.  After some good grub (but no grill) we had a water balloon throwing contest, with the target being a pirate ship drawn in chalk on our fence.  The distance you had to throw from the fence was dictated by age (one pace for each year).  From thirty two paces back I didn’t even hit the fence, but my five-year-old Eli was able to hit it dead on.  Good work buddy!  After that, the real men who had gathered had a watermelon eating contest.   The goal was to eat as many slices as possible in a single minute.  It was close but I squeaked out a final slice (my fifth) in the last five seconds to take the win.  I think the separation started happening at about 45 seconds, so maybe next time we’ll go 90 seconds instead of 60.  After the watermelon we did fireworks.  It was still broad daylight but we didn’t want to wait for the dark because many of us would have kids in bed by then.  We did mostly small fountains, tanks, hens, etc.  Nothing too fancy, but we did have a lot and the kids enjoyed watching them.  We had so much, in fact, that after a while I got tired of lighting them and simply packed up the remaining third and hid them while the kids weren’t looking so they wouldn’t know we stopped short.  After the fireworks things started winding down and by 7:30 everyone had left.   That gave us about an hour and a half of hard-core picking up and cleaning.  We made good time and the house was spotless by 9:00.

Fireworks.  We told our kids that this year we would let them stay up to watch the big fireworks.  I don’t think they knew what we were talking about since we’ve never done this before, so Eli was happily surprised to watch a big show (Sharon slept through it).  Rather than driving across town for the city fireworks we decided to walk around the block to watch the show put on by the large Christian church on the corner.  We stayed in our neighborhood, setting up lawn chairs on the grass about a block up the street.  Eli thought the fireworks were amazing, Sharon slept peacefully, and Spencer didn’t seem at all phases by the loud noises and bright lights.  We had a great time.  Walking home wasn’t as enjoyable… Sharon may not be heavy, but carrying a sleeping three-year-old will wear anyone out after about ten minutes.   We got in around 11:00 and no one had a hard time falling asleep.

Happy Spencer

Spencer is now five months old.  He is a little tank, weighing nearly 25 lbs and now fitting into 12-18 month clothes (anything under a year is too tight).  He is a drool expert (but no teeth yet) and spends most of his time looking around for someone to smile at.  He likes to sit (he can support himself) and stand (while holding fingers) but doesn’t show any interest rolling over or any other form of lateral movement–the most we get out of him is some serious arm flapping.  He really is our little “Tongan” baby–he is content to let life come to him and sees no need to rush things or get upset–he is very “chill.”

Prior to Spencer we always wondered about those parents who “love having babies,” that is, those who most enjoyed the period when their children were 0-6 months.  We never understood this because for us this period meant lack of sleep, changing diapers, and trying to figure out why the baby wasn’t happy.  Not true with Spencer–he is always happy.  In fact, he doesn’t even complain… ever!  The closest he gets to complaining is he will either make a noise (like a “hey you”), flap his arms, or raise his eyebrows if he needs something (i.e. diaper change, food, sleep).  He is the most pleasant baby I have ever encountered–and he’s ours.  I’d love to give Spencer all the credit, but I also think and hope that Natalie and I have learned a thing or two about raising children and that he might actually have less (than our other two children) to complain about.  Also, Sharon and Eli are amazing with Spencer, doting on him and giving him all the extra face time he needs.

I still believe Spencer is a special child.  His humility and patience is exceptional and he is a very effective communicator, even without using words.  He has a special ability to make others feel happy and he truly lights up any room he is in.  I am continually amazed, appreciative and overwhelmed at the amazing children that have been sent to us.  Each of them is incredibly unique and adds a special piece to the TyandNat puzzle.  We look forward to great things from each of them.

Spencer at 5 months