Snow Day

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We don’t get too many snow days here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, but when we do, they are AWESOME! My kids have both pretty much been raised in the South, so snow is definitely a novelty to them. The fact that we have THE BEST sledding hill in the neighborhood is a plus. (You just have to make sure you bail before you hit the lake!) Snow days for my kids are simple – sleep in, more media time than usual, read some good books, and hit the snow for a day of fun before it melts tomorrow. It got me thinking about the value of a mental and emotional “snow day” for me too. And I needed it.

As an adult – a parent, a husband, and a leader in my organization – I feel like I have a lot going on. I’m certainly not the busiest man in the world and I try very hard not to project to anyone that I am too busy for them. But the reality is, I get mentally and emotionally tired sometimes; then I come home and we run around all weekend with family and kid activities. And then on Monday, we’re back at it. Sometimes us adults need a snow day too!

I woke up this morning thinking about what am I going to do with my snow day? Here’s what I came up with…

Rest. I laid in bed a few extra minutes and just rested my mind. I tried to control my breathing and think of nothing. It was calming and opened me up to the possibility of the day.

Read. I have a few books I’ve wanted to get started and I know today will be a great day to do that. Usually once I get started on a book, I make the time during the week to continue it and I almost always feel better about reading in the evening than I do watching tv.

Write. I don’t know why it is so hard for me to make time to write in the midst of the regular week. I know I enjoy it. I know that it makes me feel good. I know that it helps me work out my thoughts and feelings better than just stewing on them. Yet I still don’t make it a priority. I think that part of me feels like I need to be unhurried and clear minded to write well and I don’t have too many of those moments in the week so I just don’t do it. This morning, when I knew I would have some time and nothing really rushing me, it was one of the first things that popped into my head.

Organize. I have a few places at home that I’ve been meaning to organize and clean up but always feel daunted by the task. Today I’m going to tackle at least one of them and I know I’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish.

Play Games. The whole family will be at home all day and I’m sure we’ll get on each other’s nerves a bit. What we will most likely do to relieve that is play board games. It is a trick to get the kids to hang out with us and each other, but it usually works and nearly always leads to laughing, talking, and sharing in ways we don’t during the regular week.

Think. Today I will have time to just sit and reflect. Drink a casual cup of coffee and think about stuff. Think about my family. Think about my friends. Think about work. And dwell on how much I have to be thankful for in this life. And dream about what else I can accomplish.

As I refill my coffee for the third time and tap out these words I pause and reflect…

What stops me from doing this stuff during a regular day? Yeah I’m busy. Yeah the family is busy. Yeah I have a lot of responsibilities. But how much time do each of these things really take? My phone told me I averaged almost 3 hours of screen time per day last week. Of that, over 8 hours of it was on social media. I’m pretty sure I could have cut that in half to rest, read, write, organize, play, or think.

It’s really all about priorities, isn’t it? I have placed more value on scrolling through social media than I have on those six things above that make me a better person in some small way. It’s an indictment on my own depth as a person that I value “liking” a funny video someone posted or checking out the latest outdoor gear on Instagram over feeding my own soul. So for my snow day, I’m going to take advantage of this time to unplug and recharge. I’ll check back tonight to see how many of you “liked” this post! 🙂

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Facebook Photo Free

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Yesterday on my morning run I got to thinking about this past weekend’s activities and realized in horror that I had a FACEBOOK PHOTO FREE WEEKEND!

Once I calmed down my breathing and regained my composure, I started to reflect: Why do I care if we did anything this weekend that was worthy of posting to Facebook? How shallow am I that I was thinking about all of the cool things I saw my friends post from their weekend and didn’t have anything to share? Does every weekend have to be Facebook worthy?

You see, this past weekend revolved around the list above which we wrote on our chalkboard wall in the kitchen – not much exciting stuff there. The kids are going back to school soon so we’re getting in organizing and prep mode which is pretty much what we did this weekend. That isn’t to say that we didn’t have some great family time. We did our back to school shopping together (challenging), went for a drive in the country (fun for me), ate all of our meals together (always entertaining), Jo and I went to the Farmer’s Market in Davidson together (daddy/daughter time), and we got almost everything on our list done with minimal meltdowns (victory!).

So what is my problem? Why the Facebook Photo envy? Why the sense of failure? This morning I had a little longer run planned, so I had some more time to reflect on my Facebook Photo Free weekend. And here is the conclusion I’ve come to…I need to break myself of the prevailing belief that if something doesn’t get posted to Facebook it either didn’t happen or isn’t important. I have slipped into believing that I have to somehow show others all of the great things I’m doing or they aren’t important. While I do see the value in sharing some of the paramount moments of our lives with friends and family that we don’t get to see often enough, I must remember that posting those pictures doesn’t validate the experience. The experience itself and the impact it has on our lives validates the experience.

When our family spends the weekend camping in the mountains, it isn’t the cute pic of my kids hugging by the fire that makes it worthwhile, it is the fact that our 9 year old learned how to build and start a fire that is important. When my wife and I get to go away for the weekend or catch an infrequent date night, it isn’t the picture of us in front of the swanky restaurant looking all nice that makes the evening, it is the quiet in our conversation where we just look at each other and smile that reminds us what 14+ years of love has been like. When we get together with friends or family and enjoy days of great food, fun, and fellowship, it isn’t the posed shot we finally convince the kids to stand still for that makes memories, it is the first backflip off the top of the pontoon that stands out. And when I travel the globe and go for a morning run, it isn’t the selfie in front of some iconic spot that makes me love my job, it is the fact that the run is an important part of doing my job well that matters.

The fact of the matter is that our Facebook Photo Free Weekend was pretty awesome. We got the kids talking about what they would like about living in the country, we experienced the complete opposites that are Jack (2 minutes to pick out school shoes) and Josie (20 minutes to pick out school shoes). We got some great new books at the library and bought some local meat, bread, and veggies at the Farmers Market – both of which gave us interesting conversation over dinner. Jessi and I had a unhurried chat over coffee on the front porch one morning and both participated in some yard work (me begrudgingly). We had pool time and quiet time and family time throughout. It didn’t need a photo to sum it up and just one wouldn’t have captured all of the moments that made it great.

Make no mistake, you’ll continue to see photos of my highlights on Facebook because I’m still vain enough to think that people care about what I do and my mom likes to see pictures of her grandkids. But when you see those pics from now on, keep in mind that they’re just glimpses of life. Theres a whole lot more, good and bad, going on and that is what is really important.

Reflections on 2014

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As the year comes to a close, I feel obliged to reflect a bit on 2014. I’ve linked some of my favorite blog posts throughout this summary to illustrate my thinking throughout the year. And since no post would be complete without an accompanying picture, I’ve selected one with each of my 3 favorite people from the end of the year – my beautiful wife and I headed out to her company’s Christmas party, my daughter Josie (5) and I at a Gardner-Webb University basketball game, and my son Jack (8) and I at Thanksmas (what our family calls the exchanging of gifts at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas) after we finished assembling his rocket and were heading out to launch it. I love all three of these pics with the most important people in my life.

So on to some reflection on the year…my college English Education teacher taught me once that when you are critiquing a student’s work you should start by telling them something they did well, then be critical of the things you want them to improve, and then finish with a positive comment about the overall work. She called it the “Sandwich Method.” I think it would be appropriate to apply the Sandwich Method to my year.

2014 was a breakthrough year for me in the understanding and practice of mindfulness and awareness. I would not say I’ve perfected the discipline, but as the year went on I became more and more consistent with spending time just being quiet, meditating and reflecting, and observing my thinking. This mindfulness allowed me to feel calmer and at peace more often and had a great impact on my relationships – strengthening many, clarifying a need to eliminate others, and opening doors to new ones. My accountability partner in this endeavor has been Dr. Jason Pittser and to him I am greatly indebted for his reminders to stick with it.

Professionally, 2014 was the year of breaking waves. My first full year with a new company, I finally started to see some of the work that I had put in come to fruition in the form of contracts. I am excited to see this trend continue in 2015 as we have many positive relationships developing that could lead to more fantastic projects for our team. I traveled to some new places for work in 2014 – Sacramento, Kansas City, and London among others and I look forward to some more new cities next year.

Our family had a year of maturity and development as well. Our first big family vacation (2 weeks to the West Coast) was a fun and exciting learning experience for all of us. The real result, however, was a renewed desire to explore in Jessi and I along with a realization that we could do this exploring with our kids. We had some great trips with friends this year as well. We closed 2014 with a nearly 2 week trek to the Midwest to see family and friends for the holidays that found us sleeping in 5 different states in 11 days and re-connecting with some of the most important people in our lives. We have big plans for 2015, so I am excited to continue our family adventures.

2014 left some areas for improvement for me as well. 2013 was the year of running for me as I completed 2 half marathons and my first marathon through a very regimented training plan. I wouldn’t say I ‘fell off the wagon’ in 2014, but I didn’t work as hard as the year before. My weight, body image, and overall feeling of being healthy suffered from my lack of commitment in 2014. I realized that I need goals to work towards, so 2015 will again find me choosing some races to train for so that I can stay on track with my running.

I also had poor sleep habits and gave in to television too much in 2014. Early in the year we dropped our cable to the very basic plan and I had intentions to spend more evenings reading and less in front of the tv. That was good for awhile, but when college football and basketball rolled around I gave in and added the sports channels back on to the cable. The result was too many late nights watching games which cost me both precious sleep and valuable reading time. I love basketball, and I love watching college basketball, so I don’t want to give that up, but I’m going to try to be more disciplined about a consistent, and earlier bedtime in 2015. I know my body will feel better and it will make that running commitment easier as well.

2014 was a pretty good year. I’ve enjoyed blogging here about the various ups and downs of the year. I look forward to continuing to work out my thoughts in writing in 2015 as I have realized how powerful and valuable the working out of the words can be for me. The coming year is sure to have its good times and bad, but I know that if I continue to focus on being in the moment, aware of the people and things around me, mindful of my own thinking and open to the world, the health of my soul will continue to improve. When our souls are healthy, our bodies and relationships follow. Here’s to a healthful and mindful 2015.

Kid Pictures

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I don’t think there are many adults alive who would argue that we could all use a dose of childhood on a regular basis. Kids care about each other, adults are selfish; kids are honest, adults hide the truth; kids stay in the moment, adults worry about the past and future while they often ignore the moment; kids have genuine emotions of both joy and sadness, adults try to hide all of their emotions, or at best, control who sees them.

This past Thanksgiving Weekend, I became aware of another thing we adults need to learn from kids in the attempt to take some “Kid Pictures.” Like many families around the country, we got together with the entire clan for several days and as our kids and their cousins don’t get together more than a couple of times a year, we wanted to mark the occasion with a Facebook worthy picture, suitable for framing. Needless to say, the kids had a different idea, and I think we need to learn something from them when it comes to pictures (whether they are actual pictures, or the emotional pictures that we snap when we’re together).

We had bought the requisite matching outfits – striped shirts for the boys, cute flowered print shirts for the girls, all in matching orange and blue (for Auburn or Florida, depending on who you ask). It was a beautiful fall day at my brother’s Florida home and we placed the wicker sofa in just the right spot on the lawn for the ideal picture. Should be simple to then get an 8, 7, 5, and 4 year old to sit together for 30 seconds to take a picture, right? Nope, didn’t feel authentic to the kids. So they did what they wanted to do – piled on top of each other in a laughing, screaming mosh pit with the oldest cousin on the bottom and everyone sitting on top. Luckily, we snapped the above shots anyway and captured what life is really like for these 4 when they get together for family gatherings – it is just having fun being together. No pretenses, no false selfs involved, no talking behind each others’ backs. They just play together when they want to play together, get away from each other when they’re tired of each other; they laugh, they argue, they cry, they share; all along they are developing real relationships.

We adults ought to stop trying so hard to make every picture – literally and figuratively – a presentation of the self we want the world to see too. We ought to be ok with spending time together and spending time alone near each other. We ought to stop trying to accomplish our agendas when we get together and start just being together developing real relationships. Life is messy, we don’t always agree and we don’t always get along – even with family. That is ok, it is what makes life interesting and fun. But we need to recognize it and appreciate it, not hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I dearly love my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew. I don’t agree with my parents or brother on everything and that is fine with me. We have interesting conversations with divergent points of view and I appreciate those. I don’t live my day to day life the same way as my brother and his family and our family dynamics are different. That is ok, and it makes our time together interesting for parents and kids alike because they get to interact with a different way of doing things. Everything in life doesn’t have to be neat and organized, scheduled and set. We certainly don’t all have to have the same methods to get to the outcomes we’re seeking. So let’s continue to celebrate the fact that we can just get together, pile on top of each other with laughing, screaming, and crying…and enjoy living in each moment. Oh, and let’s make sure we take some pictures of it that way so we can show each other how similar we actually are in our dysfunction.

Family Time

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I have a handful of friends who are fortunate enough to have their parents or spouse’s parents living close enough that their kids get to see Grandma and Grandpa on a regular basis and they are there for the emergency school pick up or a spur of the moment Saturday night dinner out. I am envious of those friends and often remind them to be thankful for their parents’ proximity, even when it comes with the occasional meddling or parental advice that seems annoying.

My parents are 6 hours away from our home in Charlotte and my wife’s parents are 16 hours away, so the luxury of unplanned, unexpected, or spur of the moment family time is not a part of our lives. Being this far away from immediate family is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Before World War II, if a young man left his small Southern Illinois town to get his medical degree (as my Great Grandpa “Doc” Parmenter did), he’d hurry back to his hometown or a small town near there when he was done with school to practice. He often married a girl from the same area and they raised their children in the shadow of all kinds of family that would get together on a regular basis and help each other out as needed. It was the generally accepted way of life all over the country. When the next generation of young men went off to war in the early 1940’s, they returned with some different attitudes. Suddenly, farm boys from Kansas who had been globetrotting around Europe for 3 years decide to move their young families to California and live a different lifestyle; and young men from New York City came home and headed South to places like my hometown of Charlotte where the climate was more like where they’d been fighting in Southern France. All of a sudden, families started to spread out, and the dynamics of the extended family changed.

Over the past week, however, I was reminded of the importance and value of finding that family time, regardless of miles. My in-laws made the long drive to spend the week with us last week and help my wife out while I was gone on a business trip. The kids got off the bus for a few days to a waiting Granny and learned plenty of new things (good and bad I’m sure) about their maternal grandparents. Most importantly, they were reminded that there are other adults who care very deeply for them and want to encourage them to grow mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, strong. This weekend, we packed up the car and met my parents in the mountains of North Alabama (picture above) for a few days of relaxation and time together. Along with my mom’s never ending supply of songs, my kids saw yet another peek into what makes them who they are and felt the love and caring of their paternal grandparents who gave them all the attention they wanted. It was also a good chance for me to talk out thoughts and ideas with the only two people who have been a constant presence in my life.

I am so grateful for both my parents and my wife’s parents for the sacrifice of time and money that they make to spend time with us. We haven’t chosen to live in the same town as either of them or even close enough for regular visits, but it is important enough to both of them to have family time that they are willing to carve out time and resources to make it happen. Who knows what extended family life will look like as our kids grow up, but I have learned from the example of my kids’ grandparents that I need to set as a priority time with my children when they are adults and their kids when that time comes. Family time isn’t always neat and tidy, but it is an important connection to who we are and an informative look at the people who have shaped us. If you are fortunate enough to have your parents or in-laws close by, you should tell them thank you. If you’re like us, you should do your part to make family time a priority.

Alone and Together

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I mostly run alone for a lot of reasons – some time to be quiet and reflect, the ability to be distraction free and observe the world around me, the chance to run as fast or slow as I want depending on how I feel that day, and the focus it creates for me on being my best regardless of what is going on around me.

Partially because I run alone, I also enjoy races. I don’t run races every month, let alone every weekend, but I try to make them a regular part of my running life. Being Together with other runners reminds me that I’m not insane – that others value testing their bodies this way. I enjoy running in races because the conversation and camaraderie with other runners on the course is fun and engaging; it inspires me to keep going sometimes or speed up sometimes. Running in a race is so different than my daily running alone, that I get a lot of enjoyment from it and make it a priority.

Life is the same way. I have to do a lot of things alone and I choose to spend other time alone. A lot of my work, whether it be from my home office or on the road traveling to be with a client, involves being alone. I used to dread this, felt like I always needed people around me. Now, I enjoy it, even savor it, because I recognize the value of being alone. Being alone and quiet in life has become something I prioritize and work to make a part of my life, for much the same reason that I run alone. 

Most importantly, being alone in my daily life creates a greater appreciation for times I get to be together with my family and friends. The picture above is from our family visit to the US National Whitewater Center’s Green River Revival for St. Patrick’s Day and it was great to be completely focused on that time together, enjoy the conversations with my kids, and share in some pure fun. I’ve had some great opportunities recently to see friends that I don’t see very often and those times together have made me more appreciative and thoughtful of them when I’m alone.

I look forward to my alone time this week and I’m also looking forward to some upcoming “Together Times” with my family and friends. BOTH are valuable parts of a healthy life and must be protected and prioritized.

 

Family Time

Thanksgiving is a time for family for many of us, including me. It is a nice change of pace from the everyday to have a few days of laying around, eating at weird times, kids pretty much running the show, and spending time with family. Family time reminds me that I didn’t come into this world by myself and I shouldn’t try to go through it by myself. While my friends are valuable to me, there still is no replacement for family and the way they understand you because in so many ways they are like you.

In the same way, holidays give me the opportunity to spend some running ‘family time.’ My wife and I usually run alone, getting our workouts in when the other is able to be at home with the kids or wherever the day will allow. We don’t get to run together very often, and I think we’re both ok with that because it is a time of quiet, peace, and reflection for each of us. Holidays allow us the opportunity to run together, however, and this morning we shared an easy run on a nice peaceful trail near Gainesville, FL. It was nice just to share that time together that didn’t require a lot of conversation or effort – we could just listen to the sound of our feet on the ground and our breaths syncing up as we jogged along the path and enjoy one another’s presence. While my friends and family are both important to me, my wife is my best friend and the most precious thing in my life and it is awesome to be able to spend this ‘family time’ together.

I love to travel and explore/run in new places encountering new people, but I’m reminded today that it doesn’t compare to holiday family time or a quiet run with my wife. Thanks be to God.

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