We had gorgeous weather last weekend so I decided to take the girls camping… in our back yard.  We are surrounded by woods, so it actually feels like camping.  Besides, as long as there is a fire, marshmallows, and stars they don’t mind if their campground doubles as our back yard.  Plus, it’s nice to be within walking distance of a clean bathroom.

Olivia was so excited.  We built a big fire and sat around it until 10:30 – way past her bedtime.  In the later hours, she was delirious from sleepiness – which led to some interesting conversations.  She gave me a crash course on astrology (did you know there are bunny and alligator constellations?) and then the conversation turned to my initials, JKB.  To her recollection, this stood for Jason “Kick It” Barr.  I think that was a compliment.  She talked for hours.  I mean hours

Eventually the night wore on, the fire died down, and it was time to go to bed.  Sleeping in a tent is probably my least favorite part about camping.  It’s one of those things that seems to get worse as I get older (kind of like Saturday Night Live).  If you’ve never done it, let me describe what sleeping in a tent is like.  First of all, you can never find a level spot so there is this odd sensation of sliding all night.  Then there is the noise.  Nature is very noisy.  Being a light sleeper, I had to use earplugs.  Everything smells like a campfire – which is nice while roasting S’mores, but kind of a bummer when you’re trying to sleep.  Finally – and worst of all – there is the condition of the air.  It was 55 degrees and the humidity was about 80%.  Inside the tent the humidity was closer to 100%.  This causes cold sweats all night long.  Normally, all of these things are just part of camping, but it is very difficult when you have to experience all of these things 30 yards away from your king size bed.

Oh and there was one other thing I experienced… a tiny little head resting on my stomach as my daughter soundly slept.  Hopefully my one night of discomfort will result in a lifetime memory for her.  That’s a trade I’ll take any day.

I’ll be in California next week, so there will be no post.  Enjoy your Memorial Day!

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We got to take the boat out and spend some time on the lake over the weekend.  Since Sara is a dermatology PA, we have to apply copious amounts of sunscreen for anything that involves the slightest chance of exposure to UV rays.  It was sunny and 87 degrees, so this weekend qualified.

I’ve never really given much thought to my application of sunscreen until I awoke Sunday morning.  Putting on sunscreen is just one of those things you do without a whole lot of conscious effort – like tying your shoes, brushing your teeth, or listening to your wife talk about the weird, festering rash she saw today while eating dinner. 

On Sunday morning, however, I tried to recall my sunscreen application because I was sunburned in a rather odd fashion.  Apparently I was quite disinterested when I put on my sunscreen and took no effort to evenly spread it on my body.  I had red and white stripes around my neck and chest that looked like I was wearing war paint.  The back of my left arm must not have gotten any sunscreen because it was beet red.  Match that with the white on the front of my upper arms and the somewhat more brown hue of the farmer tan on my forearm and my left arm looked like Neapolitan ice cream.  My legs remained a nice pasty white except for a bright red patch on top of my left thigh.  Perhaps oddest of all was my stomach.  I must have spread the sunscreen on pretty thoroughly there because my stomach was still all white; however, the inside of my belly button was burned.  I’ve never gotten the inside of my belly button burned before.  Do I normally put sunscreen inside my belly button?  I don’t recall ever doing that, but this is the first time it has burned, so I must.

While thinking about my cartoonish sunburn, I realized the importance of application.  Knowledge, intentions, and tools are great, but if there is a breakdown in application, they are worthless.  I had the right tool (sunscreen), knowledge (if I put on sunscreen, I won’t get burned), and intentions, but I failed when it came to application.  As a result, I have an odd, stinging pain in my belly button. 

I encourage you to pay attention to application this week.  Intentions are great… if you follow through on them, but even the most modest of actions will have a more profound impact than the greatest of intentions with no action.

I spent most of the day Saturday volunteering for a charity called A Soldier’s Child.  This is a wonderful charity that provides birthday gifts for the children of fallen soldiers.  Check out one of their videos here Video or go to their website at http://asoldierschild.org/.

This amazing organization was founded by a very enthusiastic and passionate individual, Daryl Mackin.  Daryl decided to start the nonprofit as he was getting ready to have a birthday party for his own child.  As he was going through the preparations, his thoughts turned to his neighbor – a child who lost his father while serving our country.  This child, Christian, is the boy in the photo at the top of their website.  He was at his father’s memorial when the soldier in the photo presented the folded flag.  Typically, this goes to the spouse.  When the soldier presented the flag, Christian stepped forward.  The soldier looked at the mother and she nodded that it was ok.  When the soldier handed the flag to Christian, this photo was taken.  The photo went on to win an Associated Press award.

Daryl has spent a lot of time with the children of fallen soldiers.  Based on his experience, the majority of them just want to know that their mother or father’s sacrifice is recognized.  They don’t want to hear this from the government or the military; they want to hear it from you and me.  The charity event that we hosted aims to do just that.

I got to spend some time with Daryl during our volunteer event.  By the way, we put $6,000 worth of birthday gifts through a single Wal-Mart register on a Saturday morning!  You don’t have to spend much time with Daryl to know that he is passionate about his mission and has truly listened to his calling in life.  In a world filled with people who have such an overwhelming sense of entitlement, it is comforting to find someone so selfless.  Daryl is a great example for all of us.  He saw a need and put something in motion to fill that need. 

Don’t know of need that you can fill?  Just look a little harder.  Don’t know where to start?  Take the first step however small it may be.  Daryl’s first birthday gift recipient got a present wrapped in duct tape that they couldn’t even open because the tape was too strong.  He now has hundreds of children adopted into his charity and he makes a real difference in the lives of those children.  Don’t have the initiative to start something on your own?  Volunteer for something that is already established.

Saturday was a beautiful spring day and I spent eight hours indoors organizing this event.  At the end of the day, Daryl thanked me for sacrificing my Saturday.  I’ll admit, I didn’t want to spend the whole day inside, but then the absurdity of this comment struck me.  One of my Saturdays is miniscule relative to the sacrifice that the parents of these children made.

 

My birthday is on December 8th.  There are exactly 17 days between that day and Christmas (this would explain all of the Santa Claus and reindeer wrapping paper on my birthday gifts).  As a child, I remember those two and a half weeks between my birthday and Christmas seemed like an eternity.  That is no longer the case.  It now seems that weeks and even months go by in a flash.  I’m now 37 years-old and I’m pretty sure I was 25 just a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve always heard that time seems to speed up as you get older.  I wonder if it seems to be speeding up for everyone regardless of their age.  In other words, does one year for 37 year-old in 2012 seem to by faster than it did for a man of the same age in 1952?

My thought is that as we try to cram more and more into our lives, the time just seems to fly by more rapidly.  This rapid passage of time puts us into panic mode and we try to cram even more in because we feel we’re running out of time.  This, of course, only compounds the problem.

I think the solution to this problem is to allow some open slots in your schedule to allow life to happen.  Experts on time management call these open blocks of time “margin”.  You are probably most familiar with the term margin as it applies to your word processing software.  Who hasn’t written a Christmas letter intended to be one page in length and ended up with a few lines on page two?  What’s the first thing you do when this happens?  You reduce the margins.  Instead of 1 inch at the top and bottom, you take it down to ¾ of an inch.  When that doesn’t work, you take it down to ½ inch.

This makes sense to us because we have all this stuff we want to get on one page and the margins don’t seem important – they’re just empty spaces.  But here’s the problem: the margins don’t seem important to us because we’re focused on what we’re trying to get on the page; however, margins are very important to the reader because they give the page form.  Just imagine reading a magazine, book, or newspaper with no empty space.  If all you saw were words from left to right and top to bottom, you would conclude that the page was too busy and wouldn’t even attempt to read it.

Now, apply that thought process to your schedule.  If you feel you must remove every empty slot just to cram more in, you’ll end up with a completely covered page that has no space to add anything else.  The bad part about that is that every day presents us with opportunities that may be better than things we already have in our schedules, but if we don’t have any open slots for them, we’ll never pursue them.

Now I have to confess – my wife and I both have full time jobs, we have two young kids, we are involved at our church, and I am on the board of a non-profit.  That doesn’t leave whole lot of margin, but I’m trying.  Hey, acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step!

We held birthday parties for our girls this past weekend.  Olivia has been going on about getting a Nintendo DS for about six months now.  We finally bit the bullet and got her one.  The nice thing about it is she’ll never need a babysitter again.  We can just let her sit with her DS and leave out a bowl of water and food and she’ll be good to go.  The downside is that it can become a black hole sucking in all of her time that she could better spend doing homework, playing outside, or helping around the house.

We already have a love/hate relationship with the DS, but it is a situation that we created, so we’ll just have to deal with it.  We love it when we need Olivia to be occupied, but we hate it when it steals her attention from the things that we deem to be more important (like dinner with her family). 

It is this duality of love/hate that got me thinking about how she perceives the issue.  She’s only six years old, so it is difficult for her to realize that some things are only appropriate for certain occasions.  Mommy and daddy bought the DS for her, so right off the bat we were endorsing it.  We were delighted to see how happy she was when she got it, so we reinforced the concept that we want her to be happy and have it.  We let her play it for a couple of hours while we did housework, so we again sent the message that the DS is a good thing.

The problem comes when we let her know she needs to put it away for a while to eat dinner… or play with her sister… or go to bed.  Then we have to get her to realize that the thing that we once condoned is now to be left untouched.  That can be a confusing message for a six-year-old.

Where do you go overboard?  We get paid to do our jobs… the harder (and often, more) we work, the better we can provide for our families, but we have to remember when it is appropriate to work and when it is appropriate to spend time with our family.  We need to unwind at the end of a long day, but two or three hours of television every night may be more of an addiction than a stress buster.  We want to look nice, thinking that doing so will win the approval of others, but if we spend inordinate amounts of money on clothes and spend half the morning getting ready, we’re probably overdoing it. We take pride in our homes, but if we sacrifice spending time with our children for the sake of eradicating every weed in our yard, we’re missing the boat (that’s a tough one for me).

If you don’t think you’re going overboard, I recommend the following activity.  You should already track your expenses.  If not, keep track of every dollar you spend for a month – you’ll be amazed.  Now, do the same thing with your time.  Make out a schedule and write down what you do every minute for a week.  At the end of the week, total up the time for various categories (work, commute, family, working out, watching TV, etc.).  Note:  watching television in the same room as you family does not count as family time. 

The first thing you will realize is that you actually have more time than you thought.  The next thing you will likely see is that a lot of your time is spent on things that aren’t important.  Is it any wonder why so many people are dissatisfied with their lives?  We want to find significance, but we spend our time doing the insignificant.

I challenge you to carve out one hour of significance a day.  That’s only four percent of your day.  Spend it doing something that will take you toward some important goal (being a better parent/spouse/friend, helping serve those in need, or mentoring someone).  If done consistently, that four percent of your day will revitalize the other ninety-six percent.

I ran in my church’s 5K last weekend and had a decent time (23:26).  That was good enough to win my age group… I’m not sure how many people were in my age group, but I know there were at least three because a friend of mine won 3rd

I started running with regularity four years ago.  During the first two years, my times improved in each race.  I thought this running thing was easy – you just keep running and you get faster.  I was essentially following the Forrest Gump training regimen.  My times kept getting better until this very same race two years ago, when I ran a 21:52… and I haven’t broken 23 minutes since.

I was a little frustrated last year when my time took a u-turn and I got slower.  What’s this?  I didn’t get faster!  How can this be?  So even though I wasn’t anywhere near my personal best, at least I didn’t get slower this year and for some reason I was content with that.  Is that what I’ve come to – damage control?  Am I resigning to look back on my past as my glory years and be content with getting older and slower?

Since I started running, I had a goal of running a sub-20 minute 5K.  With each passing year, the probability of me doing so diminishes.  As I age, I’m starting to accept that there are some things that I may never accomplish.  That’s hard for me to admit.  Maybe with age I’m getting wiser… or more lethargic.

I know this isn’t very motivating so far.  What I’m basically saying is give up on your dreams because you might not be able achieve them… well, not exactly.  Instead, what I want to say is rather than give up on your goals, you need to have the right ones.  When we’re young, we’re invincible and can do anything (or at least that’s what we think).  Add a healthy dose of realty in the form of kids, taxes, bills, a career, and aching joints and we start to realize a few limitations.  Sometimes those limitations are just mental barriers that we have to break through, but at other times they are wakeup calls reminding us to train our focus on the right thing.  If you try to do everything, you probably won’t achieve anything.

Could I run a sub-20 minute 5K?  Probably, but that would require several more hours of training per week, which would take away from time at home, limit my availability for helping with homework,  interfere with responsibilities outside the home, and leave me even more exhausted each night than I already am.  Would it be worth it?  I guess I’ll never find out because I’m not willing to sacrifice the important stuff just so I can run a little faster.

As the South recovers from the second-deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in U.S. history, I want to take some time to reflect on what’s really important.  While we didn’t have any damage, the tornadoes were all around us and many people suffered great loss.  Times like this help put things in their proper perspective.

I stayed at work late Wednesday to take a final for my MBA (the last final of my MBA… EVER!).  I got home around 9:30 and while the storms were all over the news, we hadn’t had so much as a drop of rain.  Tall trees surround our house and our girls’ bedrooms are on the second story, so bad storms always make us a little nervous. 

I’m usually the one on storm patrol.  I watch the radar, keep an eye on all the warnings, and make the decision to move to the basement if the weather warrants doing so.  Since I knew I wouldn’t be home until late, I told Sara to make sure she watched the news and to get the girls in the basement if she needed to.  After I got home, I ended up staying up past 12:30 – watching the weather updates until I was satisfied that the threat had passed.

The next day, I went down to the basement and saw Sara’s preparation.  We’ve had lots of tornado warnings, but this one had her particularly nervous, so she prepped the basement accordingly.  There was a mattress, a couple of bicycle helmets for the kids, and some supplies.  Included in the supplies were a gallon of water, a bowl for the dog to drink out of, Pop Tarts, candles, and a flashlight.  Next to this bag of survival gear (who could live without Pop Tarts?) were family picture albums, keepsakes, and another bag filled with shoes and clothes. 

Our basement is sort of a catchall for various junk that includes lots of old clothes waiting to go to Goodwill.  At first, I thought this bag was clothing waiting to be donated.  I’m no fashion expert, but I’ve seen enough What Not To Wear to know that these were not old clothes.  In fact, they were very nice clothes.  It turns out that as Sara moved through the priority of list of things she wanted to keep in case a tornado demolished our house, the top three were survival supplies, family photos, and her “prettiest” shoes and clothes.  I don’t even know if they were in that order, but that was the top three. 

I did’t see a first aid kit, any medicine, a telephone, a radio, diapers, or any of that frivolous stuff, but I did see several pairs of shoes that would be absolutely useless if our house was destroyed.  One of my wife’s favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz.  I guess she thought that if a tornado took us away, she could click the heels of her pretty shoes together and repeat, “There’s no place like home.”

I know this story is a little flippant in the wake of a true tragedy, but humor is an important ingredient to recovery.  For the record, Sara is not so shallow that she esteems her clothes as prized possessions; she just isn’t the best at making quick decisions under pressure.  I, on the other hand, am a decent decision-maker, but she has to dress me.  It’s those complimentary aspects – the incorporation of each other’s strengths and flaws – that makes us complete.  Yeah, that’s a little sappy, but I had to add something to keep her from getting too mad at me for writing about the shoes.