Tag Archive | "family"

Family Time on a Dime

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Family Time on a Dime


First, let me define drawing closer to someone.  By drawing closer I am specifically referring to spending quality time.  Time that will encourage communication, increase love, build understanding and result in laughter.

As parents, we sometimes feel pressured to spend a lot of money creating memories or experiences for our children. Yet, it seems that often the most memorable may at the surface appear to be the most mundane or ordinary.

In this post, I will provide a framework for creating memories and drawing closer to your children. At the end, I’ll give a few specific ideas for activities, but that is not the focus. The focus is on the method.

Step 1: Let the decision be your child’s

By handing over the reigns to the kids, it shows that this is not yet another power struggle or mom mandated activity.  It also ensures that you are spending time with your kids how they want to spend time.  Which you will probably find is not exactly how you would have liked to spend that time.  Try to discourage options like watching television, or playing Nintendo games.  These activities are fun and have a place but they do not meet the requirements of encouraging communication or building understanding.

Step 2: Be fully engaged

Children are not stupid, they know when you are distracted or just taking a back seat.  Be sure that you are enjoying the moment (even the mess) and try not to watch the clock or anticipate the end.

Step 3: Invite conversation

Most kids, it seems, are hesitant to just jump into conversation, but I have found with my kids that they are more than willing to talk with the slightest encouragement (this is more problematic usually for dads than moms).  So ask open ended questions.  This is important because as parents we tend to lead, even without intending to.  Our children want us to be happy and want to please us.  If we ask leading questions, they are using all their brainpower to come up with the answer that they think we want to hear.  Wouldn’t you rather know and understand how your child’s brain works and what thoughts they come up with on their own?

Step 4: Show Gratitude

Verbally and physically express your love and appreciation to your children for the time that they have spent with you.  Hugs, kisses and laughter are not over rated and can quickly turn around a bad attitude or a stressful day.

Step 5: Teach Responsibility

Be sure to include your children in the clean up process, however big or little the task.  Yes, I understand that cleanup (whatever the mess may be) would be accomplished quicker, better and more efficiently if done by you.  However, we would be missing out on the opportunity to further teach and guide our children toward becoming responsible adults.

A few activity ideas

Below are a few free or low cost activities that may be beneficial for you and your family. Please add to this list as it is only intended to spur your own ideas.

  • Read books
  • Ride bikes
  • Bake a treat
  • Create some art
  • Build a play dough village
  • Visit a retirement home
  • Camp out in the back yard
  • Rake a neighbor’s leaves
  • Build a fort out of boxes

What have you found to be successful with your children?

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How many chances do you get to dance in the rain?

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How many chances do you get to dance in the rain?

Dancing in the Rain

Today I danced in the rain.

In fact, it’s still coming down outside my open window as I’m typing this note.

My wife and daughter went outside to puddle jump and beckoned me to follow. I don’t like getting wet much. As a missionary in Mexico City, I was subjected to torrential downfalls daily for several months each year. I figure I’ve had my fill of being soaked head to toe.

Once I lost sight of my girls (they headed to a park around the corner), the same thought kept playing over and over again in my head, “Didn’t you quit your busy job to spend time with your family this summer? So why are you still sitting on the couch?”

With that, I headed out the front door and found my daughter who was giddy at the sight of me.

We headed to the park where we played hide and sneak – I love my children’s adaptation of common phrases. The rain was light, never so heavy that you couldn’t keep your head up for fear of water soaking your eyes.

As we reached the front yard of my in-laws’ house, I told my wife that we needed to take some pictures for the Gypsy Summer photo album we are making. The only problem was that we couldn’t find an umbrella to cover my Canon Rebel T2i (thanks again Mom for the awesome Christmas present!).

I ran inside, grabbed a bath towel and held it with one hand over my head and camera. I then proceeded to follow my wife and daughter around the yard as they played.

They are bathing now, washing a fun afternoon of grass and mud off.

When I started this summer as a door-to-door salesman, I had pretty much one goal in mind – make lots of money. After six weeks, I realized that I didn’t like the hours I had to keep. Although it was only for a few months, I wanted needed more time with my family.

The experience taught me many lessons but the greatest is definitely this – how many chances do you get to dance in the rain?

I plan to take as many opportunities as I can. What about you?

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Why I took time off from blogging and why I’m back again

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Why I took time off from blogging and why I’m back again

I think that I owe you an explanation.

I haven’t posted anything since February. I had actually decided to quit completely. My family and I have had several whirlwind months that haven’t left me with much time.

For the last month and a half, I’ve been working as a door-to-door salesman marketing Vivint home security and automation systems. I greatly enjoyed my time with Vivint.

However, the hours are long (six days a week) and I wasn’t able to spend much time with my family. I will be starting MBA school in the Fall, which also means working long hours for the next two years.

Therefore, my wife and I decided that our summer would be better spent as a family. I quit knocking about a week ago and we have left St. Louis (we had relocated to Missouri just for the purpose of knocking).

The days ahead

With the rest of our summer, we intend to spend time as a family by visiting family around the country. About 98% of the stuff we own is in storage in Wisconsin where I’ll be going to school. The rest is in our minivan, which we’ll be driving cross country three times this summer.

I will be doing some freelance work and we’ll be otherwise living off of savings. This rare opportunity has also freed me up to begin blogging again, which I’m excited to do!

St. Louis Arch Park

My family beginning our adventures at the St. Louis Arch

Our gypsy summer

As I described our summer plans to my older sister, she compared us to a band of gypsies. That may be somewhat accurate.

With only days under our belts as gypsies, I am already learning several lessons.

  1. Minimalism is hard
    We had already placed most of our belongings in storage before moving to St. Louis. But with the decision to roam the open road in just our van, we had to ruthlessly decide what to take with us. I’m down to just two ties! If you don’t know me well, then you can’t possibly understand the implications of that statement. Picking which two was a ten minute decision and I had to consult other people.
  2. The joy is in the journey
    Had I continued to sell, I was on track to make approximately $50k in just four months of work. We had all kinds of plans of what we’d do with that money. But I walked away from it because there was no joy in the journey. That much money in the bank would certainly provide financial security but I was going to miss having any time with my three children before starting MBA school. So we’ve decided to just enjoy the journey for now.
  3. I can’t be a gypsy forever
    I want to make sure that I clarify how I feel about work. I believe in working hard. I believe in providing for my family. I do not believe in living off of welfare. We are fortunate enough to have enough money in the bank and some other opportunities to be able to take two months off. But then it’s back to the grindstone.

Finding a holy cause

In a small way, I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis for a bit.

Not one of those go out and buy fancy cars and get a new wife crises, but rather just being unsure about things. There have been a number of events over the last year or so, that have left me somewhat apathetic.

And that just won’t do.

During one of our sales trainings, the trainer talked about having a holy cause – something that fills you with so much passion that it will drive you through the rough days.

I realized that I don’t have a holy cause. At least I didn’t for sales.

So I’m taking this time to evaluate who I am, determine what I want out of life and find my holy cause.

Have you ever had a gypsy summer and if so, what did you discover?

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Why do we pay celebrities yet foreclose on our homes?

For some reason, we’ve decided to celebrate the insane. I’m sitting here thinking about our financial situation and what we can do to get ahead while Lady Gaga is playing on the radio.

Lay GagaThe thought occurred to me, “Not only do we pay someone like Lady Gaga millions of dollars but we celebrate her.”

Why does this bother me? Because although she’s certainly talented, she stands for so many immoral beliefs and attitudes.

Performers like her represent everything that is wrong in society. And yet good men and women are struggling to make ends meet while we pay as a nation for moral antagonists to fly around on private jets.

Jealousy? Maybe.

Recognizing the moral degradation of this society? More likely.

It’s similar to the same debate over teachers’ salaries. We pay the individuals responsible for creating the next generation of producers next to nothing and herald athletes, who rape and smoke illegal drugs, as our heroes.

What a stupid country we live in.

How did we get this way?

I think the adult film industry definitely bears a lot of responsibility. In addition to being fodder, pornography skews perceptions about the true nature of relationships, physical appearance and families.

Believing that “good” relationships are based on physical fulfillment pushes us to focus on self-gratification, pleasure and “free” lifestyles rather than developing relationships of love, trust and respect. I think the former traits are the message behind Gaga’s Born this way.

Our self-perceptions are altered to the point where we find nothing but fault in ourselves. We see not skinny enough. We see average. We see incompetent. So we turn to those we believe to imbue all of the right traits.

With the breakdown of the family, we fill the resulting gap in our lives with other things offering pseudo-happiness. We look to celebrities to see how we are supposed to look, live and be.

You may say, “Well, I don’t have anything to do with adult films.” The problem is that other industries push the envelope as a result. Advertisements featuring sex and how we should look and enjoy life are more aggresive due to pornography’s influence.

So you are affected.

This is my declaration against the stupid.

I’m done celebrating the sub-par, the immoral and the unacceptable. I’m done settling for what’s good or okay while sacrificing the better or best.

The likes of Lady Gaga add nothing to my life. I’m all for being entertained. But I won’t use my dollars to propagate what is ultimately filth.

Can I count you in?

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Hypnobirthing: Why we did it and why you might consider it too

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Hypnobirthing: Why we did it and why you might consider it too

This post is going to be a little different than what I usually post on Rabbit Funds. Though, I hope that it will still be useful for my readers. My wife and I recently had our third child – Xander (yes, I am a dork and had a website for him up within hours of his birth). Unlike our two girls that were birthed using traditional methods and epidurals, we chose to take an all-natural alternative with Xander (pictured yawning below).

Several of my friends have asked why we would choose to be unmedicated. I hope to answer that question with this post.

Baby Xander

First, hypnobirthing is a philosophy

More than just focusing on pain management, hypnobirthing focuses on the overall experience and health of mom and baby. It’s about creating an experience that produces bonding, good health and joy. Further, the medical establishment treats birthing as a medical emergency. However, moms have been having babies for a long time without the aid of modern medicine. The body knows how to birth. Hypnobirthing is about returning to a natural, normal and healthy way to birth without often unnecessary medical intervention.

To better explain, I’ll break some of the advantages down by the stages of pregnancy.

Benefits during pregnancy

First, hypnobirthing teaches that the baby inside of you is not just a fetus or embryo, but rather a living human being. He or she is already a baby who needs nurturing. For my wife, this meant a change in thinking. She spent time bonding with the baby in her womb. For example, hypnobirthing includes affirmation scripts and exercises that focus on connecting with the unborn child.

By creating a bond with the child in the womb, new mothers will find having an immediate bond with a newborn child much easier. Obviously, a lot of women are able to create this bond without a hypnobirthing course. But other women need some help.

Further, hypnobirthing trains you to go into a deep level of relaxation. Every night, mother and father spend time practicing the relaxation techniques. Mothers who are uncomfortable or already experiencing pain from the pregnancy or early contractions, will find that being relaxed every night will aide in sleeping better, feeling better and coping with pregnancy ups and downs.

Benefits during labor and delivery

Hypnobirthing is primarily designed to address pain management during labor and delivery. First, let me talk briefly about epidurals. Why not use medical intervention? Largely because it’s not needed if you have a normal, healthy pregnancy. Consider mammals for a moment. Animals do not scream and thrash and threaten during labor, yet why do humans? The uterus has one function – carry and deliver babies. None of the other organs scream out in pain while performing their natural, intended “jobs”. So the uterus shouldn’t either.

Unfortunately, the medical establishment has decided that it knows better than our bodies. If you believe in God, then would not He have designed the most optimal method for bringing life into this world? If you are an atheist, would not millions of years of evolution created the most optimal method for bringing life into this world? Either way, a mother’s body knows what to do. However, her body is not given the opportunity to do its job because women are told what to do by doctors and nurses. Although well meaning, they offer bad advice.

During labor, women can go into a state of deep relaxation where they are able to feel the pressure of contractions and progress towards delivery, but not the pain. YouTube has countless videos of women doing just that. They can do it because they’ve been taught to listen to their bodies and stop treating the event like a medical emergency.

My wife was able to experience contractions while dilated to 8 and 9 cm without the pain. She was calm and relaxed.

The other consideration with epidurals is the risk involved. My wife has scoliosis, which makes effective epidurals difficult and risky. Also, there can be adverse effects on the baby. Studies have shown that epidurals can lead to respiratory problems for the baby. My wife had an epidural with our first two children, who were immediately sent to the NICU with respiratory problems. This child was born unmedicated and experienced no problems. Chance? Possibly. Worth the risk? In our opinion, no.

Also, we were able to say no to an IV or heplock and my wife was only hooked up to the monitoring equipment for the mandatory 20 minutes. After that, she had complete mobility and freedom to shift and move as she wanted. When it came time to deliver the baby, my wife wasn’t put into the human equivalent of stirrups and forced to push (which is very counter-productive for a lot of women). She was able to find a comfortable position and deliver the baby the way her body knew how to.

Benefits after birth

Once baby is born, nurses and doctors again usually step in and create an unnatural experience that can harm the baby and mother’s bonding time. Rather than immediately wrapping the baby up, mom and baby should experience direct skin to skin contact. Further, nurses are trained to put anti-biotic goop on the child’s eyes making it impossible for the newborn to see mom.

With hypnobirthing, the baby is delivered directly to mom’s bare chest for bonding time. Our little guy was able to feed within the first few minutes of life because he wasn’t obstructed by anything. Babies who are drowsy from an epidural are less likely able to feed right after birth. An hour after birth and on his way to the nursery for his first bath, we still had the nurse apply the ointment to his eyes. The object is not to avoid beneficial medical treatment, but to say no to unnecessary treatment and to create an experience that we want – not the experience that nurses are trained to provide.

Wanting to clearly communicate our desires, we created a Birth Preference Sheet that we took to the hospital and gave to the nursing staff. We talked about our preferences during each stage Admittance, Labor, After Birth and Care of Child. For example, we asked that our baby not be given a bottle, formula or a pacifier without our consent. We asked that baby spend as much time in the room with mom as possible. Giving them a document made it quick and easy for everyone to be on the same page, no pun intended.

Is a special course really necessary?

You don’t need to take a hypnobirthing course to do much of what I mentioned above. I have spoken with women who experienced a relaxed, hypnotic like birthing experience without having been instructed on how to achieve one. But that’s kind of the point. A woman’s body knows what to do. The hypnobirthing course teaches women to listen to their body and not just do what a nurse tells you to do – no matter how well intending the nurse may be.

For my wife and I, the course was invaluable. Possibly more so for me. As men, we tend to be clueless when it comes to birthing, and lots of other things for that matter. A course can be a great way for us guys to learn how to help and support our wives. We chose to have private hypnobirth instruction, which allowed us to better tailor the course to our specific needs. For example, I am very uncomfortable watching birthing videos. So each time one was presented during the class, I was able to leave the room, go get a drink, answer some emails, etc. We weren’t pushed to do any specific thing or behave in a certain way.

Would we do hypnobirthing again?

Hard to say to be honest. I think so. We would certainly make some changes, such as having a doula or mid-wife to better help stay relaxed. Overall, this pregnancy and post-delivery experience have been hands down better than the first two. We had a happy, healthy baby boy and that’s all that matters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. So throw in your two cents in the comments section below. Thanks.

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Spend $300 on a Christmas tree and its trimmings? Hell yeah!

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Spend $300 on a Christmas tree and its trimmings? Hell yeah!

Typically, I write about how to save money or avoid the temptation to indulge. I, at times, have chastened friends for their unnecessary expenditures. Today, I want to express quite the opposite.

Christmas Tree

Close-up of our Christmas tree

My wife and I just put up our Christmas tree. I believe that we broke some universal law by putting it up before Thanksgiving. But we just couldn’t wait. Christmas trees seem to carry with them all of the good and warm feelings that Christmas invokes and we were feeling rather merry (maybe it was all that egg nog).

Much to my wife’s chagrin, we own a fake tree rather than a live one. We purchased it several years ago at Target for around $50. Since then, we have been adding ornaments and embellishments. Anyone that has owned a cheap, fake tree knows that they don’t look to great just out of the box. There are random, barren spots. To make the tree look good, you kind of have to put a lot on it.

Last year, we decided to invest in our tree by buying quite a few new decorations. I estimate that we’ve probably spent all-together around $300 on our Christmas tree. That price tag may seem a bit at odds with my normal “save wherever you can” approach. However, I think it’s important, almost essential really.

First, you need something to splurge on

I have a friend who is working on getting out of debt. We occasionally talk about what he and his wife are doing to pay down the debt. One of the comments that he has made to me several times is that they need to splurge every now and then. Otherwise, they feel suffocated by the debt.

The way I see it is if you are going to splurge on something, then why not let it be on family traditions. Tree trimmings can be used year after year. We make putting up the tree and Christmas decorations a day long event involving music, food and fun.

Second, Christmas is one of the most memorable events as a child

I still remember all of the ornaments that we would hung each year as a child. I remember the box they were stored in. And I remember when I was finally old enough to start putting the tree together myself. Our three year old was ever so anxious to help setup our tree. Both of our kids talk all day about Christmas and snow.

The holiday season, for me at least, is about creating memories – not so much the gifts. I want my kids to know that they grew up in a home where we celebrated this joyous season.

Third, don’t be a Scrooge-ly miser

I get that Scrooge was a wealthy man and had money to spare. You may feel that you don’t have extra cash. My recommendation is plan and save for it, just like anything else. Also, consider diverting some of the gift money to a tree fund, which benefits the whole family.

Let me end withe the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs (I Cry the Day I Take the Tree Down by Michael McLean):

I thought I’d seen all the lights and sung all the songs
I thought the holiday lasted a bit too long
I never shed any tears when Christmas was through
Until I celebrated one with you

And now I cry the day that I take the tree down
I want the season to last all year round
And I’m surrounded by these memories
It’s almost like you’re here with me

For more of my musings on families, careers and financial planning, follow Rabbit Funds on Twitter. Also, let me know in the comments section what holiday traditions you splurge on.

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HOW TO: 4 Tips on teaching your kids to be more grateful

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HOW TO: 4 Tips on teaching your kids to be more grateful

With Thanksgiving coming up at the end of this month, I naturally begin to think more and more about gratitude and the role it plays in my family. We have striven to teach our kids to appreciate what they have and be generous with others.

Thanksgiving Turkey

I’m constantly amazed at the similarities and differences between our girls. The oldest is better about saying “please” and the youngest is better about saying “thank you.”

I want to share a few things that we have learned that will hopefully help you teach your kids to be more grateful.

Lead by example

The number one way kids learn from you is by observing how you act, not by listening to what you say. That’s why I love the lyrics to the country song Watching you by Rodney Atkins. If you want grateful children, then you must first have a healthy attitude of gratitude yourself. To quote another country song (now you know what I listen to), “Be a best friend, tell the truth, and overuse I love you.” I think this country world would be a significantly better place if we all were to overuse phrases like “Thank you” and “I love you.” And isn’t that what we are really saying when we are generous with others? We are saying “thank you” to whatever Creator you believe in for what we have and “I love you” to the person you are giving to. Let your children observe those habits in you first and foremost.

When giving, involve your children

My kids have too many toys. So every month or two, my wife goes through the toy box and dejunks. We then donate the toys either to neighbors of less means or to our local second hand store. What we have learned is that we need to involve our kids in this process for several reasons.

  • They don’t wonder where their toys have gone if they saw them given away.
  • We let them do the giving to neighbors. This is especially important if our girls play with the neighbors. We have given away our girls’ toys without them knowing and that later created confusion when they saw the neighbors playing with the toys. But more importantly, it gives our kids the opportunity to help their peers and see the joy that giving brings to the lives of their peers.
  • When donating to an organization where our kids will not have the opportunity to see the people who benefit from the donations, we always make sure to tell them, “We need to give this toy to another little girl who doesn’t have any toys. She’s your friend. Can you help her?” By phrasing it as a question, we allow our children to make the decision to give.

By now, you are probably wondering why I’m talking so much about giving in a post about gratitude. I believe that giving and gratitude are almost synonymous. Why would I give if I weren’t grateful and how could I be grateful if I didn’t give? Consider Ebenezer Scrooge for a moment. Once transformed, he expressed his gratitude to the spirits by giving “in word and deed” every day for the rest of his days. In fact, the name Ebenezer is biblical and means gratitude.

Reward gratitude with additional privileges and responsibilities

As I put my girls down for bed Halloween night this year, my three year old said to me, “Thank you daddy for taking us trick-or-treating.” That simple statement immediately warmed my heart. She demonstrated responsibility, maturity and gratitude in that moment. As a result, she has earned additional trust and willingness on my part to extend privileges and responsibilities to her. I am more willing to indulge her in certain areas such as getting to go trick-or-treating. Notice that I said “getting to go.” Participating in holiday festivities, especially ones that involve large amounts of sugar, are privileges, not rights. So as our kids show gratitude for the privileges afforded them, we reward them with additional privileges. It’s a cyclical process that, once rolling, can be a very powerful teacher and motivator.

Last, do not over-indulge your children

One of the biggest mistakes that I see parents making, for several reasons, is over-indulgence. How do you expect your kids to appreciate anything when they get everything? Let them learn to enjoy and appreciate what they have. In fact, what we do each year after Christmas is sort through all of the presents our girls received and put most of them away in our closet. We let them play with a few toys for either weeks or months, have them donate those toys and then we pull down several new items from the stash. This way, our girls have the opportunity to receive new toys throughout the year for good behavior and the opportunity to continuously donate toys to others. Similar to what I said before, toys are a privilege that is earned not a right. All too often, rights go unappreciated whereas privileges earned are cherished.

Ultimately, our children have to choose to be grateful. But we have the opportunity to give them habits and experiences that greatly encourage an attitude of gratitude.

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