5 Things You Can Do Today to Begin Losing Weight

Six months ago, my wife and I were on the way home from a nice night out.  We’d had a good evening and the subject of style and personal care came up.  As we talked, she asked a question that would prove to be life-changing:

Do you even care?

After we got home, the question lingered.  If I was honest, I had stopped caring.  I no longer made sure my shirts looked good on me, rarely ironed them, wore jeans that were too tight around my awkwardly large middle.  If I was truthful with myself, my self-confidence was also buried under there, too, and I acted like nothing regarding my style, let alone my weight, mattered.  In the 17 years since our wedding day, I had gone from 130 pounds to 230 pounds on a small frame.

Her question probably saved my life, because it started me on a journey.

The journey began with me spending that night determining a style of clothing and “look” that I wanted to dress in, and then finding clothes at the thrift shop sales over Labor Day weekend that actually fit.  Admitting I needed large shirts, pants sized 36, and other painful realities wasn’t easy.  But suddenly I felt better about myself because I looked better.

And, because I finally liked how I looked in the mirror with my clothes on, I could be honest and say I really hated how I looked with them off.  Sure, most people may not have noticed, since all my extra weight was carried right in my front, and I didn’t look “fat.”  But I was obese.  My BMI was nearly 40, and a healthy weight for someone of my height was far less than what I weighed.  My family has a history of high blood pressure, sugar diabetes, and a host of other weight-related issues that hit in their 40’s, and I was headed that same direction.

13307412_10153690113726608_8211026383849589971_nSo, it was time to not only look good, but feel good and be healthy.  In the last six months, I’ve lost 75 pounds.  I now weigh around 145 pounds, and I’m still shooting for weighing what I did on my wedding day.  At 46 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life, and I feel excited about my future because I have finally care.

As I’ve shared my story, I’ve had people ask what my secret is.  How have I done it?  How does a guy who hated P.E. in school find the motivation and determination to lose what amounts to the weight of a small child?  It’s not easy, and you can’t just take a magic pill to make it happen.

Here are 5 Things You Can Do Today To Begin Losing Weight.

1. START CARING.  If you don’t care, you’ll never make the decision to change.  This is true in every aspect of your life: work, family, marriage, health.  Ask yourself that hard question: Do you even care?  If the answer is no, ask yourself why.  Have you accepted that the way things are are the way they must always be?  Have situations in your marriage or family or job caused you resign yourself to the status quo?

When I realized that I had stopped caring, I realized an even more fundamental truth: I actually did care.  I did care about what my wife thought of my appearance.  I did care about being alive to see my grandkids.  I did care about dressing with attention to my clothes and style.  I did care about being healthy.  That was the jumpstart I needed and began my continuing journey.

2. CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN NOW.  I didn’t gain an extra 100 pounds over night.  That came about over 17 years of marriage, kids, vacations, holidays, and jobs where I sat down 80% of the time.  The first step to losing weight was to change what I could change today.  For me, that meant admitting I was extremely overweight and going through my closet.  My clothes looked badly on me, so wearing them made me feel badly about myself.  And when I felt badly about myself, I would not have the motivation to change anything.

I cleaned out all the clothes that, truthfully, hadn’t fit in years.  I went to the thrift stores and replaced them with clothes that were right-sized (embarrassing as it may have been to admit), and went to a few helpful websites that helped me clearly identify the look and style I was going to emulate.  I liked what I saw in the mirror for the first time in years.  I felt confident when I went to work, because people saw me differently.  As I gained confidence, it gave me the courage to take the next step.

3.  MAKE ONE DRASTIC CHANGE.  I also knew I had to make a big change that would shake me up.  I didn’t give up chocolate or pasta or become a salad-eating disciple of vegetarianism.  I wasn’t ready to give up Diet Coke at that point, either.  But I needed a shock to my system that would signal the “new” me, the new direction I was determined to take for myself.  So I grew a beard.

I’ve never had facial hair, so this was a visual sign that I was making a big change.  It helped give definition to my chubby face, and when I started seeing what looked like a chin, I began to get even more motivated.  The drastic change I’m suggesting here doesn’t have to be food-related.  So often when we begin to think of losing weight, we think of all the stuff we will lose.  I chose to make a big change and gained something.  This was motivational because the “new” me already dressed different, and now I was beginning to look different.

4.  FORGET LOSING WEIGHT.  If you decide to lose weight and make it about losing weight, you’ll never lose weight.  Wow, that sounds redundant, right?  The trouble with diets or a focus on weight loss is that it’s about losing something.  Yes, I wanted to lose the giant inner tube around my gut, but if I did that, I’d lose ice cream.  I’d lose Diet Coke (a huge loss for me, as I would drink several each day).  I’d lose cookies and French Fries.

My incredibly intelligent wife (remember, she asked the all-important question that started this whole thing) gave me a great bit of insight: “Just be healthy.”  That simple mindset was so freeing!  So as I started losing weight, I stopped thinking about losing weight and started thinking about being healthy.  I didn’t begin reading fitness blogs or working out each day, I didn’t start eating kale and tofu.  I just asked myself, “Is this a healthy choice?”  If the answer was no, then I tried not to do it.

5.  DRINK WATER.  This is probably one of the most important things I’ve done along the way.  I’m a huge fan of Diet Coke and during busy times at work, I could drink three or four 16 oz. bottles each day.  Every time I went out to eat, I’d get a DC and make sure I got every free refill I could.  It was my “go to” drink.  Asking myself the question “Is this healthy” about drinking that much Diet Coke inevitably led to the answer, “No”  A healthy replacement wasn’t going to be a different kind of soda, so I had to decide to drink water instead.

Beyond the health concerns of diet soda (which were not motivational to me at all), there are many obvious good reasons why drinking water is always a good idea.  I started carrying a tumbler full of water with me everywhere I went, refilling it as often as it was emptied.  It was the first thing I did when I got up, and it was the last thing I did before I went to bed (I keep a tumbler full of water on the nightstand all night long).  Now, drinking water is as much a part of the “new” me as eating healthy, having a beard, and dressing better.

You’ll notice that not one of these five steps involves a diet or exercise plan.  Dieting and exercise won’t do anything if you don’t start with these steps.  Cutting out sugar and carbs and walking 10,000 steps every day won’t matter if you still haven’t decided to care.  These five steps are what started my journey–which eventually did include a change in my diet, lots more exercise, and a few other steps–but we’ll get to those at a later date.  Start here, and eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be!

If it worked for me, maybe it will work for you–or at least give you an idea of where to start!


ME Time

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 18 years of marriage, parenting, working, etc., it’s how much I value my personal time.  When you don’t make time for yourself, you quickly lose yourself.  I know from experience.  Is carving out an hour or two a week easy?  Not always.  But is it necessary?  Yes!  There’s a reason so many SAHMs get jealous of their husband’s lunches out, meetings, and even time alone in the car.  Sometimes a mom’s (or SAHD’s) time spent in the car is listening to the Disney Junior Soundtrack.

The reason I decided to go back to work 5 years ago, was because I needed some alone time.  I know that seems like a strange reason to work outside of the home, but with 4 kids, a desire to find out who I am, and desperate love of adventure, this seemed like the most logical decision for me and my family.  I needed to be away from my family, just for a few hours a week.  Without the distractions of a sink full of dishes or kids tugging on my clothes, I could figure out what I really wanted and who I was created to be.  So many people lose sight of this went they get caught up in their work or families or even in themselves.  In the last 5 years, I’ve come up with 3 ways to help you reclaim your ME time.

  1. Schedule your ME time.  I talked a couple of weeks ago about how important keeping to a schedule is.  Put some ME time into that schedule.  Seriously.  Even if you have to schedule in a mall sesh and hire a babysitter. Do it and stick to it. This should be as important as your work schedule, grocery shopping, or doctor appointments. Make your schedule and stick to it.
  2. Find something you love and do it often. I have several loves. I love to work out.  I don’t compromise my workouts.  I love to spend time outside.  If I have a free hour during the day and it’s nice out, I spend it outside on my patio. I love pedicures. I try to save $20 out of my budget each month (only $5/week, so it’s a no-brainer) for pedicures.  But you better believe that it gets scheduled!  What do you love?  Even if you have to start small, figure it out, do it, and do it often.
  3. Give back to someone else.  Ok, you’ve found yourself, you take care of yourself, now it’s your turn to help someone else. If you have friends or family members that are struggling to figure out what they need, offer to help.  If you can watch your sister’s kids so she can take herself out to to a movie, do it.  If you see that your best friend is too busy at work, invite her over for dinner. Once you figure out what you love and you make it a priority, help someone else find their time and passion, too.


“Last Days” Shines Brilliant Light

Christian art?  Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story.  If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.

— Madeline L’Engle,
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

This past weekend we had the honor of hosting the Seattle premiere of the new film Last Days in the Desert, a fictional account of the last few days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his 40 days of fasting and praying and ultimately facing temptation by the devil.

With very little dialogue, the movie beautifully portrays the struggle of sons to fulfill their destinies while in desperate need of direction and affirmation from their fathers.  It’s a spare, quiet, deeply thoughtful film that does a better job portraying the “fully man” side of Christ than anything else I’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve been a Christian.

And yet, it’s probably not what anyone would consider a “Christian” film.  There are no bold declarations of faith.  The Bible is not quoted.  Nobody gets saved.  There are no tie-in Bible studies available at the local Christian bookstore, and no Christian singers provide a theme song at the end of the movie.  In fact, it appears that the filmmakers are aspiring to do everything they can to avoid the label of “Christian,” even when the subject matter is the very center of the Christian faith.


I believe the reason for that is summed up in a beautiful quote from Madeline L’Engle in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.  L’Engle was a prolific writer, most famous today as the author of A Wrinkle in Time:

“If I understand the gospel, it tells us that we are to take the Good News to all four corners of the world, not limiting the giving of light to people who have already seen the light.  If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer.  We draw people to Christ not by loudly disagreeing with what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Last Days in the Desert shows an incredibly beautifully light.  Filmed using only natural light by Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki in the Anza- Borrego Desert State Park in California, the movie is an intimate study of Jesus’ last moments before exiting the desert and moving into the last three years of his life–the most impactful years of his life.

Yeshua, as he is called in the film (a brilliant idea by writer-director Rodrigo Garcia) is alone at the beginning of the movie.  The only sounds are his footsteps, the wind blowing through the crevices and canyons, and the occasional laugh as he sits, thinking, wondering, and praying.  Dirty skin, yellowed teeth, and a weary countenance–this is not the Jesus of modern Bible movies or mini-series.  As played with quiet brilliance by Ewan McGregor, this Jesus looks like a guy one would meet in the wilderness after 40 days of wandering.  While McGregor may be a bit too old to play the part, I’ve only seen one better version of Jesus in a film (Ralph Fiennes in the Welsh-Russian animated film The Miracle Maker).  It’s a phenomenal performance.


It’s not until he encounters a family at the edge of the desert–quiet son who wants to leave, rough-hewn father who wants to stay, and mother who is dying of an unspoken illness–that Yeshua begins having earnest conversation, and it’s here that the heart of the movie is revealed.  It’s not a movie about Jesus as conquering Savior, but Jesus as the son of man, who has the choice to embrace his future or walk away from it.  Some may question this interpretation, but Jesus himself, in his last moments in the Garden, showed that he was struggling with the destiny his father had planned for him. (“Take this cup from me,” is not what someone says when they fully agree with the plan.  Yes, he submits his will to his Father’s, but it’s his choice.  That’s what makes it even more amazing.)

Over the course of the film, Yeshua talks with each member of the family and attempts to help them chart a course.  He helps the son open up and talk about what he desires, the future he wants that will lead him away from his father.  Yeshua and the father talk about what it means to parent a son, to want something for him, and know that you don’t really understand each other.  These moments are spread apart with brilliant quiet breaks interspersed where nobody speaks, there is very little movement, and the viewer is left to sit and think, even as the film continues.

In perhaps the most bold experiment in the film, Yeshua has many conversations with the devil, which is appropriate considering the subject matter.  Even better, he is played by McGregor as well, dressed nearly the same as Yeshua–but cleaner, decked out in jewelry, and with more of the boyish grin that the actor is so well-known for.   Their conversations are brilliant in part because they show the devil at his best–or worst, as the case may be–and it’s not the cartoonish epitome of evil most Christians are familiar with.  The devil is well-spoken, engaging, and charismatic.  His goal throughout the film doesn’t seem to be to truly dissuade Yeshua from the destiny his father has planned for him, but to get him to think more deeply about it.  The devil’s best temptations never come as a result of us choosing directly to go the wrong way, but come about because we get so busy thinking about the what if’s we face–and the more we think, the more we can reason away what is right or good with what is convenient, expedient, or easier.  It was the what if that led Eve to listen to the serpent’s words, after all, and it’s the what if that makes the devil’s temptations so effective.

These conversations with the devil imply that Yeshua’s full humanity is still foremost at this point in the story–which may be what more conservative Christian viewers find troubling.  The devil has a better sense of eternity and even seems to be more empowered than Yeshua, who appears to still be discovering what his next steps are.  I love this idea, personally, because the 40 days in the desert take place after God speaks “This is my beloved Son” after the baptism by John.  The father gives this grand announcement about his son, and then leaves him alone, without food or water, in the desert to be confronted by his greatest fears and worries.  In this state of weakened confusion, Yeshua’s conversations with the devil are understandable, and the devil is not above teasing the son about the father.  The devil, in fact, is one of the most engaging characters in the film–but then, so is the devil in real life.  A scary and frightening boogeyman is less likely to wreak havoc in one’s thoughts and emotions than a charming and clever person with wit, wisdom, and just a hint of sarcasm.


Ultimately, though, Last Days in the Desert is not about the devil.  Garcia wisely chooses to limit his screen time and focus more on the relationship between Yeshua and the sad family he encounters.  Their interactions are quiet, sometimes odd, and frequently melancholy.  There is a great sadness to the film as well, as we can feel the inner struggle of four people who desperately want to understand their destinies and place in the world–yet have no way to truly express the depths of their feelings or actions.  Even when the story takes a sudden turn, leaving death and sorrow, the movie doesn’t give easy answers. Yeshua doesn’t save someone who he probably could have.  He begins to heal the sick, but is stopped before his prayer can be answered.  And ultimately, he leaves the story as he began it: alone–but with a difference.  The last spoken line in the movie belongs to the devil, who says to Yeshua, “I’ll be there at the end.  Just give me a signal, and I’ll get you down.”  Yeshua looks at him and turns away with a resolve not evident earlier, clearly ready to embrace his place in the world and fulfill his father’s destiny.

There is beauty in silence, in being quiet, and in a world where “Christian” art proclaims as loudly as possible that “God is not dead” (and I agree, He is not, but I don’t need a hashtag to argue the fact), a movie like Last Days in the Desert will struggle to find its place. In a world that values the piety of a film (where the message matters) more than the quality of the filmmaking, the acting, or the depth of the story, it will not be easily embraced.  It is not easily labeled, which means it will struggle to find its place.  Much like the characters in the film, it wants to know its place in the world, the destiny laid before it.


It’s not an easy film.  It requires thought and conversation and time to ponder.  I hope, as an artist who happens to be a Christian, that its destiny will be to inspire other artists to engage in the middle space between belief and disbelief.  I hope that its lack of easy answers will cause others to pause and wonder and engage in their own conversations about God, Jesus, temptation, relationships, family.  Last Days in the Desert is a story that, as L’Engle hoped for her own writing, “show[s] them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”


3 Rules Every Family Should Live By

Since my eldest was born 17 years ago, my wife and I have realized there are many things people say children should learn, many things parents should focus on to ensure their kids turn out great, to have a happy family.  We’ve tried a few of them.  Some of them have worked, but many of them have been real stinkers.

We’ve done our best.  We’ve had some highs, and we’ve had some lows.  We don’t focus a lot on grades, we don’t sign up for a lot of extracurricular activities.  We may have yelled more than we meant to, and I’m pretty sure we’ve frustrated our kids’ teachers more than once with those middle of the school year vacations.

Yet, in spite of our mistakes, I’m told quite often, “You have great kids,” or “Your family always seems to have so much fun.”  I like that.  I love it when someone compliments my children and says nice things about them.  It means a lot to me when someone notices the smiles on our faces.  As a parent, we know all the ways our kids screw up, so when someone stops and says something nice, it makes me stop.  When they compliment our family, it makes me pause and wonder–maybe we’re doing something right?

Recently, I think I discovered what my wife and I are doing right. In our flawed but fun way of doing things, I think we’ve hit on the right formula for having a great family, and some pretty good kids.  Here are our family’s three rules.  I’m hopeful these will work for you, too.

Rule #1: Create memories.  Wherever you can.  Whenever you can.

Whether it’s a National Park, a trip to Disneyland, or just dressing up like pirates for free donuts–memories are a lasting gift we can give our kids that will outlast us.  Do we go to Disneyland a lot?  Yep.  Have we worn out vehicles by driving on long road trips to National Parks across the West?  You bet.  You can save a lot of money, have a great plan for retirement, and have nicer things.  But I’d really rather have the memories, because these will stick with me–and them–for the rest of our lives.  Because of these memory-making adventures, we’ve created an incredible familial bond.  The bonus?  We actually like being together.

Rule #2: Serve others.  Individually. Collectively.

As a pastor, my kids are stuck at church.  A lot.  This could either be a cause of resentment, or it could be a way to help my kids discover ways they can make a difference in the life of someone else.  When we serve others, we get the focus off ourselves and start thinking about others.  All three of my oldest kids serve in some capacity at our church.  My oldest kids have acted in various Vacation Bible Camps, lead worship, run media, and lead small groups of elementary age kids.  My youngest daughter serves every week leading 2 year olds.  There’s nothing better than seeing them leading kids younger than themselves, and finding ways to use their talents for the good of someone else.  And to be honest, my favorite moments in ministry have been those days when we all get to do it together.

Rule #3: Show honor.  At home.  At school.  Everywhere.

We are all inherently selfish people, and we all naturally think of ourselves first.  When we focus on honoring others first, in our words and actions, we remember that “It’s not all about me.”  We use an honor chart to keep track of whether we are acting honorably or not (even the parents), and it really helps us put others first.  If I can teach my kids to live and act and speak honorably to others, then I will have done something good for the world.

There you have it.  Our three family rules.  If you do #2 and #3 right, go out and celebrate, which leads you back to #1.  Repeat as often as possible.

5 Easy Ways to Turn Habits Into Routines

In Part 2 of Making the Most of Your Time, we’re talking about the importance of routines.  I’m not naturally self-driven.  I’m a procrastinater.  I’d rather do all my housework in one day then spread it out over a series of days.  The consequence of doing that, though, is that I could end up never getting a true day off.  As a working mom with 4 kids, 3 pets, and one husband, I need consistent habits that keep our family running.  I need routine.  And my days off actually need to be days off.

Here are the 5 daily habits–routines–that keep our family organized, keep me motivated, and ensure I have time to relax.

1.  Make the bed. The first thing I do after the kids get off to school in the morning and before I get ready for the day is make my bed.  It’s such a simple chore, but it sets the tone for the day.  By making your bed, you’ve started a daily decluttering process.  In fact studies show that when you make your bed in the morning you make better decisions during the day. Making your bed is such a small task, but it’s a task that has been completed and by the end of the day, you will have completed even more small tasks that lead to bigger tasks.

2.  Do small, daily household chores. I work nearly every day, so the hardest thing for me to do is keep my house clean, but I do it. And I don’t spend a lot of time doing it.  I do have one day a week, typically Saturday mornings, where I spend a little more time deep cleaning. But for the most part, all of my cleaning can be done in about 30 minutes.  It just has to be done the right way. If you don’t know how to get started, I would highly recommend Flylady. She has great tips on where to begin, what to accomplish, and the tools you need. I have adapted her style over the years to meet my needs.  But what’s most important is that you start somewhere and keep that house clean.

3.  Exercise. I’ve realized over the years that exercise isn’t just good for the body, but it’s good for the mind.  Exercise helps you with stress, gives you more energy, and when you feel good inside, you feel good outside.  Sometimes finding time for exercise can be tricky, but if you start small, over time, you will build a habit that will make exercise a priority.  I used to exercise to look good.  I now realize that exercise helps me have better days.  5 years ago I was only exercising one day per week. Now I try to exercise every day of the week.  The trick is to use a variety of workouts that you enjoy.  I do something different depending on what day of the week it is.  By doing this you won’t get bored.  The bonus is that your body also won’t get bored and you’ll see more health benefits. Find the time, then make the time. Start small. And when you’re ready add a day or two in and in no time you will have turned exercise into a routine.

4.  Reboot your kitchen before bed. Why is this so important?  Because more than likely, this is the first room you will visit in the morning.  You’ll wake up and get your coffee or energy drinks, make breakfast or lunches for the kiddos. The kitchen is the first room you see in the morning and when you enter a clean kitchen, chances are you will want to keep it clean, which will set the tone for the rest of your house that day. I have found this to be one of the easiest and most beneficial habits that is now routine for me.

5. Wash your face before bed. Believe it or not, I used to never wash my face before bed because I was always too tired.  Now I make it part of my coming home from work routine.  I work in retail and sometimes don’t get home until close to 11:00 pm so you can understand why I sometimes want to just throw on pjs and climb into my nicely made bed.  About 2 years ago, I started washing my face when I put on my pajamas, before I binge watch TV, before I get too tired. By washing your face you are not only washing off makeup, but environmental toxins that have landed on your face throughout the day.  Plus your skin naturally repairs itself at night.  If you haven’t given it a fresh palette, it won’t be able to properly heal from he day.  Find a way to make face washing part of your bedtime habits and before you know it, it will be routine.

What routines work for you and your family?  Let us know!  We’d love to hear from you!

3 Things Every Kid Needs


There are three things every kid needs.

I’ll assume you know the obvious ones.  (Clothes, food, a place to sleep, the occasional bath.)  But if we want our kids to grow up to be more than just clean and groomed, there are less obvious things they need–the things they need to help them grow up to be nice, genuine, and responsible people.  Those are the ones we as parents need to spend more time focusing on.  Here are three things I think every kid needs:

Kids Need a Job to Do.  Nothing will instill a work ethic better in your child than earning money.  Allowances are not a good idea.  You don’t get paid just for existing, and neither should a child.  Just getting something because you were born creates an attitude of entitlement: “I deserve this.”  Sorry, Junior, but that’s not the way the world works, and an allowance gives your kids a false expectation of what things will be like when they grow up.  So, once you feel your kids are ready to have some pocket change, have them earn it.  Whatever the age, there is an appropriate job for them to do in your family.  Washing clothes, doing dishes, feeding pets, making beds, dusting.  Menial jobs are great for kids, not because they are your servants (even though they may say this while cleaning up dog poop in the backyard), but because it helps them realize there is value in any kind of work.  Make chore lists, have them keep track of the tasks they have completed.  At the end of the week, pay them for their work.  And if they don’t work, don’t pay them.  If they didn’t complete everything you asked them to do, don’t give them their full agreed upon amount.  If they complain, remind them that if you don’t do your job each week, you don’t get paid, either.  It’s a great way to prepare them for future employment (and their future employers will thank you).  It also helps them grow as responsible, contributing members of your family.  Really surprise them by paying them for unexpected things: a piece of artwork, climbing a tree to pick cherries, or beating you at your family’s favorite board game.  This helps them learn that they can also get paid for things they enjoy, things that are fun, or artistic–great lessons before they choose a career.

Kids Need Something to Celebrate.  One of the joys of the many random holidays we have throughout the year is that kids love them.  They love St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and all the rest.  What has happened, though, thanks to Pinterest, is that every parent believes they have to do some kind of huge extravagant thing every holiday.  When we were kids, our moms didn’t have the internet to teach them that their kids’ birthdays or school holidays had to be super creative examples of awesomeness.  They used an article out of Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens and kind of winged it.  Were our birthdays pretty and perfectly themed?  No.  Party stores didn’t exist, and you couldn’t fill an entire house with matching plates, cups, hats, games, and the rest.  We still had a great time, we still had fun.  Because kids don’t care how much it cost or how much time you spent being creative.  That’s your thing.  That’s your attempt to prove something to the other Pinterest parents and the last birthday party your child went to.  To misquote Cindi Lauper: “Kids just want to have fun.”  The Valentines from the grocery store are perfect acceptable.  The Betty Crocker cake is fine.  Adding green food coloring to the milk on St. Patrick’s Day is a great start to the morning.  Celebrating doesn’t need to be expensive.  Don’t try to be Pinterest perfect.  Just doing something fun every once in awhile.  Celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree, Mother’s Day with flowers or homemade cards.  So don’t break the bank, don’t sweat it, but celebrate the dumb holidays, even in small ways.  It’s always “National ________ Day.”  Get the free ice cream on National Ice Cream Cone Day.  Eat Hot Dogs on National Hot Dog Day.  Go to a National Park during National Park Week.  Celebrate May the Fourth with Star Wars or the first game of whatever your family’s favorite sport is.  Create reasons to celebrate or have a party for no reason.  What your kids will appreciate and remember is that you did something to break the routine and give them a reason to celebrate!

Kids Need to Say Thank You.  Gratitude is defined as a “feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.”  But when was the last time you actually saw someone show gratitude?  Sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November, but how often do we pause to say thank you to those around us?  Not often, which teaches kids to think that they deserve everything.  Kids already think that, because society, television, the internet all work together to create an attitude of entitlement.  Kids think they deserve that stuff you bought them, that vacation you took them on, and maybe that’s because that’s your attitude, too.  But we don’t.  Nothing we have or get to do is something that is due us.  We are blessed to have any good thing in our lives.  Teaching your kids to say thank you, for presents, for dinner, for help, for anything helps them learn to be grateful.  I like to stop and say thank you to my children’s teachers, just for putting up with them.  At a restaurant, my kids have to look the server in the eye and say thank you when their food is delivered.  When another member of the family helps them with something, they have to stop, pause, and say thanks.  It’s good to even make lists once in awhile of all the things you are grateful for–that attitude of gratitude starts with you, after all.  When you think of all that you have to be thankful for, you’ll be more likely to say thank you–and your kids will see that in you, too.  When I say thank you, I’m making a point: what I am receiving is undeserved, I understand I don’t deserve it, and I am grateful for what I have been given.

Kids need jobs.  They need fun.  And they need to say thanks.  Help them with these three things, and not only will they grow up well-groomed and well-fed, they’ll be genuinely nice people.  And that’s something the world needs.

Next week, I’ll share three things every parent needs.

5 Ways to Make Every Minute of Your Day Count

Preparation is everything.  In fact, I save time, money, and excuses by being as prepared as possible every day.

I prep everything from laundry to dishes to dinner.  Everyone has their own way to prepare for what is coming their way, but I believe one of the best ways is a list.  The old-fashioned note pad and pencil kind of lists.  Tangible, where I can stick it on the fridge or leave it out on the desk so I don’t forget it.  Apps on the phone are good, but once you close it, you can forget what you made the list for in the first place. In nearly 18 years of marriage and managing the lives of two working parents and four kids–including two teenagers–lists of every kind have kept us organized, on budget, on time–and sane.  Here are the top 5 ways to prepare your lists and make every minute of your day count.

images-21.  MAKE LISTS.  What do you need to do?  Write it down.  I have a calendar. I have a menu planner.  I have a shopping list.  I have a budget tracker. I have a honey-do list (don’t freak out, hubby and I share this list). I actually keep a notepad in my desk for potential vacation dates.  (You have to have something to look forward to, right?)  By making lists, you know exactly what you need, when you need it, and it helps with mommy-brain.  It cuts down on your excuses and makes you feel more productive. (Chore lists help with the kids, too!)  The trick to so many lists is to THROW IT OUT as soon as you are done with it.  Clutter is a nightmare and if you don’t need it, out it goes. If you need help finding or planning lists, Pinterest is a great resource.

2.  PLAN YOUR MENU. Menu planning can save you money, time, and those annoying “What’s for dinners” as soon as the kids get home from school. Plan your menus based on seasonal selections.  We eat a ton of salad in the summer because almost every single vegetable is in season and it’s inexpensive. But be careful to just plan out a week in advance.  Sometimes schedules change and if you plan too far in advance, you may have just thrown away some good money at the grocery store not to mention the planning that went in to your menu for 4th of July weekend. Just to get an idea of how our week looks, we eat at home 6 nights per week.  One night is a dine-out night. And we always have at least one night a week for leftovers.  Not my kids’ favorite, but it needs to be done.

3.  SHOP FROM YOUR GROCERY LIST. I plan all of our family meals, all the way down to snacks, for the week and shop from my list. Believe it or not, I can feed our family of six on an average $100 per week of groceries. And it’s because I shop from a list. Shopping from lists also helps cut down on those “Oh crap, I forgot lettuce at the store and tonight is chicken caesar salad night,” which also result in spontaneous purchases. Believe me, I’m the queen of spontaneity, so I know it happens. You just need to stay diligent and use your shopping lists. Keep a tally on your calculator (I use the one on my phone) and be honest. Use coupons or check grocery websites for sales. If you plan your menu based on what’s on sale and in season, you will save loads of money. Then use that extra money for a splurge. I try to get in one splurge a week. It’s a challenge and sometimes not fun, but once you start figuring out how to shop and save, it gets to be more fun than challenging.

4.  USE A CALENDAR.  This isn’t a new concept for most people, but I tried to get away without using one for about a year after I went back to work.  It didn’t work very well for me. Now I use a couple of different calendars.  I keep a family calendar right next to my desk.  It is 100% just for keeping schedules straight.  I write down my work schedule, my daughter’s work schedule, family appointments, and anything I need to remember on a daily basis. I only update my desk calendar a month in advance, so it is the most current and up-to-date.  I also keep a calendar on my iPhone.  This calendar links my schedule, my husband’s schedule, kids’ schedules, and anything else that I need to  remember from the near and far future.

5.  MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT. More important than lists is time (it’s a big thing with our family). This is a tough one for me because I am a procrastinater at heart. I love to meander.  And the more I have to do, the longer the meandering becomes.  So, how do you snap out of it and just do it?  GET OUT THAT LIST OF STUFF TO DO–AND DO IT!  I save my luxury time for when I’m done with my to-do’s. Don’t wait to do your 3 loads of laundry until you’re 30 minutes away from picking your kids up at school. Don’t wait until the rain clouds come in to get your run in.  Do it now.  Don’t wait. Then relax and bask in the fact that your do to’s are done.

If you have any tips or ideas that work great for you, share them!  I love to hear how other mommies (and daddies) are making their time work for them.