The Art of Manliness

Essay, The Charlotte News

The house has been clutter free for two and half weeks! No, I did not ship the boys off to boarding school. I just happened to listen to a podcast (Number 214 from the Art of Manliness) with author Caroline Webb who wrote the book How to have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform your working life. It was a fascinating interview that touched on a lot of great ideas and changed the way I run the house and how I approach each day. Here is what I learned.

The rule of three. Not three strikes and you’re out. Rather, pick three things, yes, just three, that you want to get done in a given day and focus on those things above all others.  There is a good chance you’ll be so productive you’ll be able to do more than three things, so you should. The key is to not be too ambitious. For example, if you’re going to tackle cleaning the oven then don’t also put down washing the windows. On a given day I may have the following: clean bathrooms, sweep/mop floors, write

I always try to get some writing done during the day and by putting it on the list I am sure to at least get in thirty minutes to an hour.

Set your intentions. Think about what you are ultimately trying to achieve, and, for lack of a better term, write a mission statement. This seems like a rather odd thing to do for us stay-at-home types, but amazingly it makes a difference. It does not have to be anything fancyjust what you want to focus on an ongoing basis. I wrote mine in about five minutes and posted it on a note card by my desk.

Keep the house uncluttered and clean, be a writer. Model how a Christian man should act by living for Jesus, acting in his image and being selfless. Along with Erin work to provide for our family and bring a united front for the welfare of the household.

Plan for the fires. Not the kind were you get to roast s’mores but the ones that always seem to pop up when you have children. You do this by taking a moment to troubleshoot at the start of the day. For example, when one child has an epic meltdown as we are trying to leave for school I am simply going to go sit in the car and say serenity now, serenity now, over and over while sipping my coffee.

Do something physical. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Run, walk, hike bike, burpees, jumping jacks or yoga. Something to get your heart rate up.

Positively prime your mind. Think of positive outcomes more than negative ones and your mind will start associating more positive thoughts with the things you need to do. For me, that means to tell myself that there is enough time in the day, which is something I have always struggled with. Since I’ve put this plan into action, however, I have been working very hard to ignore the parrot of negativity squawking on my shoulder and have been telling myself I do have enough time. Time for at least ten minutes of exercise, time for the run I have planned and time to get everything done on my list. Its taken a bit of effort but it is certainly paying off.

There is no foolproof plan to making life run perfectly smooth and perfect isn’t fun anyway. But this is the best I have found thus far and the best part is that it is straightforward and simple. Having to stick to only three tasks a day helps me focus and not get too overly ambitious. I have found that I am far calmer because the house is not cluttered and the laundry is all put-away, and I am able to finish my list each day. I have found that I have extra time to get more things done than I had planned. I feel more accomplished at the end of each day.

Erin also feels calmer and I like to think the boys do as well. They certainly are not beating on each other as much as they were before I started this. But that could just be a coincidence.

Grand ambitions & wayward dreams

Essay, The Charlotte News

This may not happen to all stay-at-home-parents, but for me, by the time August rolls around my goose is cooked. I have run out of ideas and the energy to get the kids out of the house for an adventure. The boys seem to think that bickering and fighting is a great way to pass the waning days of summer while I stare at the calendar like a kid waiting for his birthday, fantasizing about all that I am going to get done and be able to do once the boys are in school. I know this will be the case because during those long last weeks the days are never ending, just like when I was a kid in school staring out the window of a stuffy classroom.

Before the school year started I made a list of goals, like put the laundry away right away, keep up with the clutter that materializes on every flat surface, have dinner prepped before the boys get home, go paddle boarding, exercise every day. I saw myself doing yoga in a clutter-free house, because the kids were out of it all day and I had all the time in the world.

We are now three weeks into the school year, and my grand ambitions are mostly wayward dreams–even though I’ve been writing out a list of daily tasks each morning and I tell myself I am going to stay focused and get these things done. I do fairly well until high noon and then, due to what is clearly a time paradox which disrupts the space-time continuum, time speeds up and I turn around to see that I need to meet the kids at the bus stop soon. My list is only half finished. I just don’t know where I went wrong. But it is such a nice day outside maybe I’ll go out and lie in the hammock for a bit. I need to take some time for myself anyway. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself; now, where did I hide those bonbons?

The nuances and memories of life

The Charlotte News

I reached into my pocket as we stood in the security line at the Orlando airport. My hand closing around my Swiss Army knife as a wave of regret and sadness washed over me. That morning, at the hotel, after using the knife, I had forgotten to put it back into the checked baggage. This was the knife that had been given to me by my friend’s mother shortly after he had been killed in a car accident. It is just an object, I told myself; losing the knife doesn’t degrade his memory.

I’m a sentimental person and there was a time when losing something like the knife would have devastated me. It was not until after my father passed away and we moved back to Vermont that the grip of material possessions began to lessen. I want to show the kids that material objects are not what keep the memory strong. To this end, I now try to only hold on to the things that I can use or I try to turn non-useful items into something useable. Not long ago I had the copper printing plate from my grandfather’s business cards and his money clip turned into a belt buckle. But completely giving something away can be hard. It took me a month to muster the resolve to give away two of my dad’s polo shirts that I had not worn in over a year. I am sure there are other things tucked here and there that should probably be given away or tossed out, but I cannot think of any off the top of my head. Which brings up the point. What good is that cherished object if it is sitting in a box in the basement and you only remember you have it when you come across it while looking for something else? If you didn’t know it was there for the past year, then chances are you’re not going to miss it next year.

I have a lot of mementoes of my dad. My most cherished are his fountain pens. I love to use them and know that his hand once held the same pen. But what brings me the most joy, and at times sadness, are not the mementos themselves but rather the nuances and memories of life. How I write some of my letters the same way he did or my movement up the stairs, reflected in the window, that are his movements. When I listen to Jazz or am sitting by the fire reading a book on a Saturday morning and I can see my parents doing the same in their living room and feel myself there. Turning down NPR when I pick up the kids at school so that it is not so loud that people outside the car can hear the broadcast triggers the memory of all the times Dad would pull up to the curb when I was in high school with NPR that loud, and how embarrassed I was. These are the things that I hold onto with all my might. All the mementoes could vanish and though I would be sad and I would miss using them, the memories are not going to disappear with them.

Twenty years on I don’t need a knife to remind me of my friend. When a song comes on the radio, he is there. When I see his favorite color, I remember him. This is what I want the boys to learn. That a memento may seem like the most important thing in the world but losing it is not the end of the world. You still have the memory.  Dwelling on the loss of the object is what clouds the memory and causes it to fade—
not the actual loss of the memento itself.











Slow Down and build a fort

Essay, The Charlotte News

This month I was going to write about the lack of civility and manners in our society and how we as parents need to step up our game when it comes to teaching our kids what is proper and what is not. Then, the kids had a snow day, and by the time I sat down to write my article, tackling such a serious topic was just not appealing.



Snowbank snow fort

The boys were outside just after six in the morning and really only came in for short spurts the rest of the day. Their first order of business was to task me with building a fort in the snowbank left by the plow. Now, when it comes to projects like these I tend to go a bit Tim Taylor and they usually end up taking me twice as long as I thought they would. This snow fort was no exception. Why, I thought, should I make a fort that you have to crawl on your belly through when I can use some of that old plywood we have as a roof? I laid the boards on top of the snowbank and began to dig. Unfortunately, I got a bit over zealous and dug too much snow out, causing the plywood to be unstable. Not wanting to let down the boys or admit defeat, I scrounged around for more scrap wood and moved onto plan B, then to plan C, then to plan D. I eventually remembered some long poles I had lying near the scrap pile so I kicked around in the snow until I found them. A little sawing here and there and we had a winner with plan E. The boys then spent the rest of the day playing in what is arguably the best snow fort I’ve ever built.


The “Snow Hut”

Thanks to the internet you can spend a lot of time looking at all the different kinds of forts people build to get ideas for your own. Then you can go out and build one for yourself. That is what the boys and I did. It was a good reason to get outside and get some exercise in what has previously been a nearly snowless winter.  It is a nice escape from the stress of life and when it’s done you always have a place to get away to. Building our fort has developed a new type of creativity in the boys. They now notice their surroundings in a different way and are always on the lookout for a good fort locations. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment, even if as the adult, I’m doing a majority of the work.

The whole time I was building the fort in the snow bank I was thinking how lucky I was to get to do this. I would have been perfectly happy sitting by the fire reading or writing my article on civility.  Once again it’s a lesson learned from our boys. Slow down and seize the moment. For soon the snow will melt, the boys will move on and I’ll be left with only my memories. But I certainly won’t have the regret of the time I didn’t build them a snow fort after the biggest snow storm in two years.