Staying Engaged

A while back a longtime friend was telling me about his work-life balance. He explained how he appreciated coming home to his children, entering his home genuinely engaged and mindful of their shared time. He was thinking out loud that his appreciation of family time would be different if he was a stay-at-home Dad, if he was around his kids all day long. Well that got me thinking on my experience.

Of course at-home parents have a different appreciation for the time with their kids. On one hand you get to see more of the subtle changes in your children; you witness more of the small things that make the big differences. And on the other hand, you have to fill eight to eleven hours with activities for people who have an attention span of twenty seconds. This usually means repetition, like re-reading the same stories, playing the same games. And this can get tough as you fight with boredom and try not to disconnect. In the work world this is referred to as “burnout”. Sometimes it can be remedied with a change in work duties, sometimes with a well-deserved vacation. Sometimes, though, it is the sign that it is time for a change. Well these solutions don’t fit so well for the parent/family dynamic though. Even if your spouse takes the kids on an afternoon adventure, it’s not the same thing cause there’s probably laundry to do, somewhere, and toys lying around, everywhere.

Dad gets bored with bathtime

Dad gets bored with bath time

So what to do? I admit that I like routine, but you have to change it up. Sometimes this means breaking routine, going out and doing something at a time of day when you would normally be at home. Sometimes this means imposing your will on your children. For example, I can listen to the Trolls movie soundtrack twice in one day. Any more and I get irritable. So despite protests and tears and gnashing of teeth, it gets shut off. I learned this the hard way when Sweetie fixated on the same four songs off of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. Four of fourteen. So impose away, that’s parenting – hey, I didn’t get to play my music in the car until junior high.

Another great thing to tap into is your creativity (okay, this option is a bit more feel-good too). I like creative activities. When the girls don’t want to play on their own while I change bed sheets, we build a big fort for them. When coloring gets boring we decorate cards for friends and family. It’s essentially the same activity, but the different medium makes it new and fresh. Because here’s the kicker; kids disconnect too. And nothing is more dangerous than a bored child.

Oh yeah, that's B

Oh yeah, that’s butt paste

I have found that if I don’t give the girls something to do, they will find something to do. This usually involves non-toys around the house that I don’t want them to play with (see above). Note to would-be parents: kids are active and require stimulation. Their little hands and brains need to “be doing” constantly. If your kids are like mine, then boredom is the cause for most problems. Again, there a way to prevent things from getting stale and stay engaged. Our experience is activity: we have enrolled the girls in a variety of activities to keep them active and to keep our shared experience fresh. From music-play classes to art at the park district, zoo camps to piano lessons, we have sought out a bunch of activities outside the house.

In reality, boredom is part of everyone’s lives. It happens. I don’t have a D3 guide to staying engaged while at-home with your children all the time. In fact, if any of you have suggestions for activities, please share in the comments section. The best way that I have found for staying engaged is to stay active with varied, creative activities, inside and outside the house. And while it wears me out, it is the most fun way to roll this at-home adventure.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all out there! Snow shoveling, winter break, tree decorating, gift buying and wrapping; it’s all been leading up to today.

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Our family has much to be grateful for this season; good health, financial stability, employment, family, and yes, you, our readership. I was just telling Brother Mechanic that it is good to be a member of our family right now. So we send out well-wishes to you and yours for a safe and happy holiday, whatever holiday you celebrate. We hope you enjoy the loving support of family and the warm embrace of time spent together. Merry Christmas.

First Day of Winter Break!

Today was of first official day of Winter Break 2016! At 30º and sunny it was a great day in Chicago. After sleeping in a bit, some breakfast and some cartoons, it was time to venture out.

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The girls and I started out with a “quick” trip to Jewel (named such for how much we were purchasing, NOT how long the walk took). After stretching the walk from five minutes to fifteen we headed back to the apartment for some snow fun.

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Besides being a warm, clean, safe and affordable place to stay during our remodeling project, our temporary-home two-flat sits on a deeper lot than we have at home. This gives the girls a larger backyard to run around in – great for days like today when they need to air out a bit. And the yard is surrounded by a locked fence, so no worries about the girls getting into the alley or the street.

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Between older cousins and older siblings, both girls have gear for the snow. And we are not afraid to spend on warm clothes, so the boots and mittens are overkill (REI, Sorel, North Face, Columbia, etc). Besides being safe from the cold, it is more fun playing in the snow when you’re warm.

img_1873The weather forecast calls for more snow over the Christmas weekend, and frankly, we are okay with that. We laid the foundation for a snow fort, and the girls are all about “helping” with the shoveling (anyone who has tried to shovel with a child understands).

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After an hour in the snow it was time to head inside to eat and nap. The girls played well together, which is always a relief. Yesterday was an early dismissal from school, which meant a long afternoon. It was not a good preview of two weeks spent together. But today’s master plan worked, and two worn out girls with full tummies laid down for long winters’ naps, allowing me to knock out some insulating projects and some laundry. BTW, can you dig the “chalet” look of the kitchen? Yeah, remodeling that is on the post-move-out-to-do list.

For some of you winter break started today. Others, like CPS, will wrap tomorrow. Regardless of your holiday schedule, I hope you have plans both grand and small and you can enjoy your time together. Our winter break adventures are just starting!

WINTERFEST 2016

Need a little help getting into the holiday spirit? The weather here in Chicago is not cooperating, so thankfully there’s the St. Viator WINTERFEST this weekend.  Check out this flier for a complete list of all the happenings. I know Wife and I are in the market for a real wreath, and we’ll see if Sweetie and Cricket want to decorate some cookies. I bet we all get after some hot chocolate (regardless of the weather).

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If you haven’t filled your weekend with plans consider coming up to the northside and enjoying some holiday spirit. ‘Tis the season!

Happy Halloween!

Well, the parties are over, the candy bowl is empty, the plastic pumpkins are full of treats and the girls are passed out. I call this a successful Halloween for our crew.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Despite being out of our neighborhood, Wife and I found a bunch of stuff to do this Halloween. So we already started laying the plans out for next year – not too shabby. The girls seemed to enjoy it all: parties with friends (see above) and bonfires and pumpkins and trick-or-treating – oh boy! So I hope you and yours also had a safe and fun Halloween, time for me to sort and hide the candy.

Halloween Costume Angst

I enjoy Halloween. Like a lot. But it wasn’t always so. You see, growing up as a slightly nerdy kid with glasses didn’t afford too many costume options. Make-up didn’t work if the characters didn’t wear glasses – sorry vampires, sorry Freddy Kreuger. And of course, masks didn’t work – no werewolves here, bye-bye Jason. Maybe I could’ve gone ’70’s accountant, but I wasn’t that creative back then. But these days things are looking up.

A little better...

Better…

There is, of course, the age problem. I was already grown when Harry Potter and company came on the scene. I haven’t read the books and have only seen a few of the movies. So until the girls start reading and get into the stories, this one is a stretch. But there’s some good news that does have a connection to my childhood.

Yeah-who you gonna call?

Yeah-who you gonna call?

I guess the only stretch here is that I look nothing like Chris Hemsworth. We all know that he does not have a “Dad-bod”, and his jawline is pretty great. I like to think I’m a good-looking fella, but I’m no Chris Hemsworth. So my best bet – inspiration from a local mobile phone store.

Eh, not bad.

I can hear that-ha!

So no contest with last year’s costume, but it worked for the St. Viator Halloween Party. I scored a yellow t-shirt at the local Sears and away we went. I’ll be sure to put up a pic of the girls tomorrow. Again, their costumes are not as intense as last year, but they love ’em anyway. Now we just need something to hand out. Hey – hope you’re ready!

 

St. Viator Haunted House 2016

The “monster” fundraiser is almost ready for visitors! That’s right, the annual haunted house at Sweetie’s school opens this weekend. If you’re into haunted houses, or maybe want to go to one that is not as scary as the big ones, come on up to the near northwest side of the city. With a “PG” rating, the St. Viator’s Haunted House is worth a visit. Check out the details:

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Hope your prep for Halloween is going well!

Home Renovation: An Introduction (and update)

I mentioned in an earlier post that Wife and I decided to renovate our house. We have lived happily in our Historic Chicago Bungalow for the past eight years. We had done a bit of maintenance and light remodeling, but last year we started feeling constrained by our home. While its three bedrooms fit our family well, there was no room for guests. The kitchen was an awkwardly laid out, contractor-grade rehab that was completed to sell the house (just before we purchased). And the one bathroom, also awkward and freshly “redone”, made for interesting family parties. Especially with rookie and newly potty-trained children around. One main level of living space was no longer cutting it.

We had some ideas for renovations, but no real plans. The attic was unfinished but the pitch of the roof made the space challenging. The basement is unfinished and concerns about water and musty odors delayed any action. We looked around in the area at houses that had the additional space we were looking for, but we didn’t find any that felt right. Wife and I have been ruined by our stout little brick house – it is definitely our home. But we needed to make some changes.

Chicago loves its Historic Bungalows, so there are many resources here for preserving, renovating, improving and enjoying your bungalow. We had attended a Historic Chicago Bungalow Association expo some years back, and there we saw an architectural presentation showing how creatively our house could be tweaked without losing its bungalow feel. We saw plans for additions with lots of daylight and interesting architectural details that stayed true to the character of the houses. So we started saving.

The process started last year, but this feels like a better time to start writing about it. First, we are done with the planning stages, so nobody can weigh-in on any of the design items. Second, the construction is underway and the site is secure, so it’s not easy to steal the appliances anymore. Third, I finally made the time to start writing about it. There are plenty of details to share, but here are the essentials: 80% of the ground floor is getting re-worked and a second-floor addition is going up. We are going from three bedrooms to four, and one bathroom to three. Thankfully there was room for an actual master bedroom and bath – woo-hoo! Here’s the general picture of the end result:

Our "new" old house

Our “new” old house

So everything in dark grey was existing. The details in light grey are the new. I know the notes make the picture busy, but you get the point. And as I mentioned, the work is moving along, so updates should come frequently. The view from the sidewalk remains the same until you are right in front of the house, so it doesn’t look like someone just dropped a shoebox on top of our house. Pretty exciting and scary stuff.

And so where are we? We are renting an apartment on the Southside from our family. Specifically the McKinley Park neighborhood. So maybe we’ll see you over at that playground if you’re in the area. Funny, but I thought about a post entitled, “Our Year in Exile”, but that seemed a bit dramatic. And are you truly living in exile if you have chosen it? Well, we’re three months into the nine month project, so this story will definitely be continued.

Oh So Yummy

There is still a lot going on in our lives, and so much to write about. I feel myself getting more “behind” everyday. I put that in air quotes because as long as the girls are good, everything else is just fine. But I do feel bad leaving you, my readership, without something to browse.

Now is not the time to delve into all of the home improvement adventures, vacation stories and successful recipes. Now is the time to leave you with a fun little story about the Cricket’s first trip to Starbucks. Wife and I were filling the hour while Sweetie was in her piano class (10,000 hours, remember?). 1-hour drive for a 10 AM class on a Sunday morning? Yeah, we needed caffeine. So the Cricket got her first taste of Starbucks’ hot chocolate.

Tummy happy now!

Tummy happy now!

She responded with things such as, “Oh, so yummy.” And, “Tummy happy now (while pointing at her stomach).” Oh, there where plenty of “MMMMMMs” (yes, in all capitals) as well. She did lose interest halfway through the kids’ sized cup, which meant Sweetie got some chocolate too. Even in a kid-sized cup, the chocolate in hot chocolate contains trace caffeine and sugar. So yeah, interesting afternoon for everyone.

Fun for everyone!

Fun for everyone!

With Fall upon us there will probably be a lot more hot chocolate. As for the rest, I’ll write more when I can. Maybe I should utilize this coffee thing for a little more late-night writing. Oh, so yummy.

Today’s To-Do List

Here is part of today’s To-Do list, in paragraph form for added effect:

Edge and mow backyard and sweep up; throw out project garbage; empty house recycling; change all bed linens; change towels; do laundry (times 5); start organizing clothes for pending trip; walk rental dog (times 3); make and serve all of days’ meals; go to Post Office to mail package; pick up Sweetie at school; bath two daughters;

Stop.

Because you get the point.

Some days you have to add “blow bubbles” to the list. Yes, today was one of those days. And yes, it was the most productive twenty minutes of my day.

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