Archive for the ‘children’ Category

I’ve grown my hair out multiple times for donation. It takes some time, as hair grows about 1/2 an inch a month, and the donated hair must be in a ponytail. However, I know that it benefits others, it doesn’t cost me much, and it’s more a matter of biding my time. This is sort of “passive helping” towards others.

The three main hair donation channels I’m aware of are:

Each channel has different requirements and primarily serves a different group of people. Therefore, if you’ll be willing to consider your hair out to donate, check the three and see which one is the best fit for you.

Even if you’re used to short hair, it’s doable. It does require some “grin and bear it” moments as you get used to the longer hair. For instance, I tend to wear a military “high and tight” when I’m not growing my hair out due to my days at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. So if you’ve never donated before, please consider doing so. It takes multiple hair donations to make a single wig.

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King of TokyoI grew up loving kaiju movies, especially any centered around Godzilla. This includes movies like King Kong. The best types of those movies are when two or more of those enormous creatures battle each other. This concept has spawned many movies and games, whether we’re talking board games or video games. Richard Garfield‘s (the inventor of Magic:  the Gathering) game, King of Tokyo, is another game in the genre, but one that is nicely done and easy to play.

# of Players: 2-6

Ages: 8+

Game Duration: 30 min

King of Tokyo won three Golden Geek awards in 2012: Best Children’s Game, Best Family Game and Best Party Game. The rules are easy to learn and can be explained in about 5-10 minutes. Game play is quick and rotates very quickly between players, so even with five players, no one is left out of the action for long (unless his or her monster is killed). We played it with a group including an 8 year-old, a couple of teenagers, and a couple of adults. All of us had fun, all of us could quickly determine a course of action during our turn, and there was a lot of back-and-forth until the end. All in all, it was a great game that works for adults as well as children.

So other than monsters battling each other, what’s the game about? Like most Japanese kaiju movies, everyone’s headed to Tokyo. And everyone is going to lay waste to Tokyo. This is tracked by your victory points. Get 20 victory points and you win the game. You can also win the game by being the last monster standing. Then, unopposed, you wreak havoc on the hapless city. Win and you’re the King of Tokyo.

The main mechanic revolves around dice. Get three of a kind with respect to the numbers and you earn that number of victory points. More than three? Each additional one adds another victory point. Get a heart? If you’re not in Tokyo at the time, you heal a wound, up to your max health of 10. Get a lightning bolt and capture an energy cube. And if you roll a clawed hand, you make an attack. If you’re outside of Tokyo, you attack the monster(s) in Tokyo. If you’re in Tokyo, you attack everyone outside of it. However, getting matches on roll is hard. Anyone who has played Yahtzee! knows this. Therefore, King of Tokyo works like Triple Yahtzee! in that you get three rolls. You can pull dice out not to re-roll and you can put dice back in. Whatever you have at the end of your three rolls determines what you can do.

If no one is in Tokyo and you roll an attack, you enter Tokyo. Why would you want to do this when you can’t heal? Entering Tokyo automatically earns you 1 victory point. If you can stay in Tokyo until your next turn, you get 2 victory points. Why, then, would you leave Tokyo? While in Tokyo, you can’t heal, at least not from the dice. Therefore, if you get attacked and sustain some damage, you always have the option of leaving Tokyo, provided you’ve not been reduced to zero health and thus killed. Therefore, there’s strategy around getting in and staying in or getting out of Tokyo. Stay in too long and the monsters around you will rip you apart. That happened to one of our players. He took a chance and if he could have survived to his next turn, he likely would have won.

So what’s the energy for? The energy allows you to purchase cards and the cards have different effects, some of which require energy. For instance, the card that won the game for me was Herbivore. It gave me a victory point each round I didn’t attack. By concentrating on matching dice to earn victory points and avoid attacking, I was able to stay out of Tokyo in the later stages of our game. Yet I racked up victory points and maintained the ability to heal any attacks coming from a Tokyo based monster. The cards add significantly to the game because they change strategies greatly and immediately. For instance, the player that took a chance and stayed in had a card that gave him a victory point every time he attacked. Therefore, if he could have survived and pulled off an attack from Tokyo, he would have won the game.

Even though the rules are simple, the situations and the cards can mean some significant strategic thinking, which clearly happened in the game we played. Even my eight year-old was caught up in considering when to stay in and when to leave Tokyo. If I hadn’t have pulled enough victory points to get to twenty my final round, she followed me and could almost potentially get to twenty herself. Therefore, it’s a great game for all ages. The mechanics work well and they keep the game moving. When playing with children, adults can still have a lot of fun. There’s not a ton of pieces so you don’t spend an hour on setup like with some boardgames. You can get set up and going in five minutes, teach the rules in another five, and play a full game in half an hour. It’s the perfect game for a family game night or for a game party. We’ll be playing more of King of Tokyoespecially after adding the expansion, which I’ll cover in a later review.

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algunos de mis moldes de siliconaA hand-crafted gift has always meant more to me than a store bought one. I love that the other person took the time to make something for me. In today’s day and age, it’s easy to jump on to Amazon and order something in just a few minutes. You don’t even have to brave Black Friday or the mall during Christmas time. Don’t get me wrong. If someone takes the time to get me a gift, I appreciate it. However, it always hit me harder when I know someone made a gift rather than bought one.

Last Christmas we went with this approach towards family and friends. For most of the folks we know, the only things they suffer from are “First World Problems.” The last thing most of them need or want is more stuff. So we made sweet treats and we made soap.

The treats everyone understands. Chocolate covered pretzels, cookies, cake, etc., are usually a hit during the holiday season. We made a lot of what we wanted to give out and then split them up and “wrapped” them to give to our loved ones and friends.

Soap is where folks usually raise an eyebrow. Soap is wonderful. If you have a microwave, it’s easy to melt the glycerin soap. Then it’s a matter of adding color and scent and pouring into the appropriate molds. It’s not a hard activity, but it does take some time. You can get some wonderful results. I was experimenting last week and came up with some choices that I think I will use for our gifts this year. For instance, a wonderful combination of eucalyptus and peppermint/spearmint makes a nice “wake me up” soap bar for those who shower in the morning. A spicy apple fragrance is great for washing hands. You lift the bar closer to your face as you soap up and it makes that routine activity a pleasant diversion in your day.

The other nice thing about making crafts to give away for Christmas is you can find something in your budget and skill set. For instance, one year the children wanted to make a birdhouse for their grandmother who collects them. I’m not much of a painter and I don’t have wood working tools. However, the local craft store had some easy to apply pastel acrylic paints and a pre-built birdhouse. The children picked out wooden shapes like hearts and the like that they wanted to glue to the birdhouse. For that year, it was a nice gift. We could have spent more to decorate. I’ve seen decorative birdhouses that have around $200 in decorations attached. And I’ve simple simple ones with just a splash of color and the hand prints of the children on them.

As you consider the holidays this year, think about what you might be able to do yourself. It doesn’t have to be stuff. It could be a well-cooked meal. It could be  small, intimate party. The key is to focus on the relationships and building on them. Sure, a big screen TV or a new washer is nice, but they are just things.

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super hero high fiveI’ve worked my way through Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. One of the things he recommends when a client achieves a major accomplishment is to offer encouragement and praise. He warns against generic statements because they lose their effectiveness quickly. For instance, how motivating is this?

Great job! You’re awesome!

The first time and two it’ll probably provide a boost. However, if that’s all your coach every says, eventually you’ll begin to doubt the sincerity of said coach. This also holds true when we’re interacting with co-workers, subordinates, and family, especially children. His recommendation is the G.U.E.S.S. approach:

  • Genuine: You mean it.
  • Unequivocal: It’s all praise. There’s no back-handed insult in what you say. There’s also no sarcasm.
  • Energizing: You should match the enthusiasm and energy of the person you’re praising.
  • Specific: Your praise should focus on something they did well or something important that they accomplished.
  • Substantiative: You are saying something important about the person.

Consider the following two examples which I could have given my daughter at her recent karate belt test:

That was pretty good, girl. It’s about time you knocked another belt off.


You did an awesome job! Your focus during the belt test meant you did a magnificent job on your forms. Plus, your karate yells were clear and well-timed. This shows how hard you prepared!

Yes, the second response is longer, but that’s not what makes it better. I gave very specific examples of what she did well. I tied it back to her as a person. My language matched her passion at the end of her belt test. Finally, there wasn’t a put down hidden in the praise. Those qualities are what the praise better and more likely to encourage and inspire.

You don’t have to follow the G.U.E.S.S. model perfectly when you give your praise. However, at least try to make it specific and tie it to the individual in question. Generic praise becomes ineffective quickly. If we are going to take the time to praise, let us do so in a way that energizes and motivates the person we are praising.

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Quit NowMy wife and I were discussing the children last night and their activities. Among that discussion was music lessons. One of the things we told our children is that they will learn to play a musical instrument starting no later than their 12th birthday. We’re not expecting any of them to become a virtuoso, but we do want them to experience what it’s like, to learn how to read music, and gain some appreciation for what musicians go through. My wife and I both grew up playing flute, and we know that it has been beneficial for us. We wanted to pass on those benefits to our children.

Our oldest two boys have taken up instruments. The oldest plays guitar. His younger brother, the iconoclast, chose the ocarina. My oldest loves playing. He willingly practices every day, usually multiple sessions every day. He’s fully embracing some of the lessons from Talent Is Overrated. My younger son, however, doesn’t enjoy structured playing all that much. Both boys have instructors. We told them that if they picked an instrument we were familiar with (flute and french horn for both of us, and trumpet as well for me) we could tutor them or we could find an instructor, if they preferred that. If they picked an instrument we weren’t familiar with, we’d have to find a tutor. We did happen to find an ocarina tutor, but unlike in Taiwan, there’s a limited amount that he can do without building a curriculum from scratch. As a result, my younger son’s tutor also introduced him to the recorder.

My younger son has done his part for 18 months. He has learned an instrument (actually, two), can read music, and has demonstrated a willingness to practice a piece until he can play it to the expected level. He has performed on both recorder and ocarina at a recital and did a fine job. He has shown the ability to play as a soloist and with accompaniment. He has done everything we’ve asked and expected. As a result, last night my wife and I decided to give him the option of stopping music lessons. It’s not something he’s passionate about. We’ve accomplished the objectives set forth with asking him to learn an instrument. Now it’s a question of whether or not it’s something he wants to continue to do.

In other words, from a parenting perspective, we decided it was time to quit. He won’t be graded on it for school this year (we homeschool) and we won’t insist he practice and continue to attend lessons. Now it’s his turn to determine whether or not to quit. I know that since he’s had the time to learn the ocarina and has gotten some skill with it, he will always play it from time-to-time. I’m like that with flute. However, I don’t want him taking lessons anymore if he doesn’t want to. I’d rather he pour the time and energy into something he’s passionate about.

In life, especially as we pursue our goals, we have to know when to quit. Maybe something is a worthwhile goal, but there is a bigger goal it’s taking us away from. If that’s the situation, and we have to choose, it’s likely time to quit the former and pursue the latter with the resources we get back. We don’t want to quit too early. We want to reap the benefits of pursuing a goal or endeavor. However, we can’t make decisions based solely on what we’ve already spent. That time, that energy, those resources, are already sunk cost. They are in the past. If the goal isn’t worth pursuing anymore or if the endeavor isn’t worth what we’re continuing to put into it, then it’s time to quit. Too often I’ve seen people continue down a particular road because of the miles they’ve already traveled. Whether or not they realize it, they’ve let the past imprison them in the present with further incarceration ordered for the future.

Every so often take time to assess where you are and what you’re doing. Look at each goal, each area of interest and effort, and each endeavor carefully. Judge your involvement and where you want to go and be in the future. If something doesn’t fit anymore, don’t be afraid to call it quits. Realize the impact, don’t do it too easily, but have the courage to make the change. And then pour the freed up resources into other areas of your life.

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Last year’s garden yielded a modest crop of green peppers, one monster zucchini, a few cucumbers, a couple of tomatoes, and a barely edible watermelon. We did a raised garden and despite warnings against doing so, I planted everything too closely together. Nothing had room except for the green peppers, which got started after everything else had died off. We had a lot of green leaves, just no vegetables. However, the one barely edible watermelon got our little girl hooked. Fast forward to this year.

This year we planted a garden of the same size (10′ x 30′), but there are only 4 tomato bushes and one set of watermelon vines. The tomatoes have one 10′ x 10′ section and the watermelon has the other 10′ x 20′ lay of the land. This has worked out well as we’ve gotten quite a few tomatoes in our first round… probably in the neighborhood of about 10 pounds. Round two is growing as we speak. With respect to the watermelon we already harvested one and it was perfect, as you can probably guess by the picture. There are 5 more growing, one almost ready to harvest. Needless to say, we’ve done a lot better this year.

My daughter is the one most interested in the garden and it’s an area she’s been able to help out. Initially, the two older boys and her helped weed the garden until our crops really took hold, but the boys haven’t done a whole lot since. We have them landscaping the rest of the yard. *grin* She has been actively involved helping to water the garden, a perfect chore for her. The boys feel involved since they did a lot of the hard work establishing the garden: getting the raised beds set up, helping plant the garden, and then weeding it a couple of times. Fertilizing and harvesting is something my wife and I have been handling, and as a result, it’s something we all share in.

Because everyone has pitched in, it really has felt like a family garden. The kids were proud to be able to deliver some tomatoes to their grandmother last week from our garden. It’s been a positive experience, and when compared with last year, it has been a learning experience, too. I know when my boys grow older they are going to remember about packing the plants too closely together. They’ll have learned from our earlier mistake.

If you have children and have never considered gardening with them, it’s something to look into. Even if you’re an apartment, container gardens are an option, and that’s how we got started a few years ago. In fact, we still have some things growing in containers. For instance, our strawberries are in hangers on our front porch. We have rosemary in a small pot that could sit on a shelf in the kitchen or on the dining room table. We’ll probably do a few more containers as the summer months fade so we will have fresh veggies and herbs in the winter. Once you eat a good crop out of your own garden, it’s hard to go back to grocery store bought vegetables unless there is no other option.

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In so many ways, practical skills are not being passed on to the next generation. I’m thinking of skills like sewing, cooking, home repair, automobile maintenance, etc. When I consider these skills, I was taught a bit of cooking and the very, very basics of how to sew something onto a military uniform, but not these others. There are many, many more than the list I’ve given here, but it gives you an idea of what I’m thinking about.

I want to make sure my children have a wide range of practical skills before they go out on their own. As a result, in early May I decided that the two oldest, our boys, would start doing practical skills projects each month. I’m intentionally allowing that definition to remain broad. The idea is that by the 15th of the month they’ll get the books they need for the next set of practical skills they want to learn. I’ve chosen my boys because they are both teens. While we’ve been working on practical skills all along, it wasn’t with deliberate focus and intent. That’s the big difference. So they know they have to learn this practical skill and then, one month later, demonstrate it. We’ll do one a month, meaning by the end of a year they’ll have put their time into 12 sets of practical skills.

Son #1 – Origami

My younger son decided he wanted to work on origami. I know this stretches the definition of a practical skill, but I felt it was all right. The key is to get them actively learning about something they want to work on requiring hands on effort. Origami has applications outside of just folding paper. Origami promotes nimble fingers, making music play, working in miniature, and the like easier. This was his “text” for the month:

Since there were 200 models in it, we agreed that a satisfactory demonstration would be to have 50 complete. It was hard, but he pulled it off:

Son #2 – Land Navigation

My oldest decided he wanted to learn more about land navigation. He has probably taken an interest in this area because we’ve been geocaching this year. We looked at several books, but he decided on an old standby:

For his project, he wanted to demonstrate several techniques to find the North heading. These are primitive techniques using tools you likely have or can scrounge in a survival situation. This won’t get you a perfect North direction, but what it will do is give you some consistency in your heading so you aren’t walking around in circles. The first technique just uses something that can cast a shadow and an analog watch:

The second technique uses a trio of relatively straight sticks, one of around 3 feet in height. First, you see the shadow being cast and mark it:

Then you wait 10-15 minutes, see how the shadow has moved, and then effectively connect the dots. This gives you an approximation of North:

I think the first month went well. For the second month son #1 has gone with drawing dragons. He draws and sketches a lot, so this will be good for him. Son #2 has stayed with the survival manual and will be making tools from what you can find around you. Les Stroud would be proud.

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