Posted in Children, Creativity, Relationships, Technology

Is media (cell phones, tablets, laptops, gaming) robbing you and your family of valuable time?

Surfing the Web
A Sketch I Drew of My Daughter.

If you’re a parent, perhaps you’ve struggled over the same issue.  Media and its domination over our attention during non-work time in our lives seems to grow daily.  You go out to a restaurant and find groups of twenty somethings all sitting around a table, physically present, but their minds are engaged in the firmware held in their hands, mentally distant!

Our son is fascinated with Minecraft, and our daughters enjoy keeping up with the latest music videos, Dr. Who, and other electronically facilitated entertainment.  I am enamored with social media (in all its forms), but my wife appreciates a living, breathing, conversant subject to interact with.  She, and many others complain about what our society (this generation) is coming to; worries about the quality of relationships, and ability to exercise human kindness and respect in this instant gratification “push button” world.

During my recent convalescence from ankle surgery, I had a lot of time to observe our family dynamics and watch the rhythms of our lives with some mental objectivity and decided to make a pie chart of the activities of each person in our household.  I came up with several categories of activities and set a value to each one to determine how big of a piece of the pie each one made up.

In spite of the fact that our family sits together to consume most meals, and we don’t have kids watching movies in moving vehicles, the “family” piece of pie still falls short when compared with academics, media, peers & play, life skills (chores), sleep/hygiene.  Family time means different things to different people.  Reading aloud, playing table games, taking a walk, camping, fishing, bike riding…these are all great family activities that don’t require a screen, keyboard or mouse!

So this week, in order to “set the example” I chose to do less time in social media and more time reading books that have been on my list.  I finished reading the following books:

* Crowdsourcing by Daren Brabham, where I learned his definition of crowdsourcing as “an online, distributed model that leverages the collective intelligence of online communities for specific purposes set forth by a crowdsourcing organization, corporation, government, or volunteer.”  Not to be confused with crowd funding and other crowd models of resource aggregation.  Its a quick read I highly recommend if you are interested in future methods of ways to handle global issues & problem solving.

* A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House, an author who does an incredible job of character development by painting a beautiful world with words.  I associate a talent of his literary skill with the movie motion picture effect of “slow motion.”  His introduction to specific moments make your mind play out the words on your mind’s screen just as if the video had been playing in slow motion!  I’m simply going to have to add the rest of his works to my reading list.

The observations I made about my own media/online habits helped me decide to start a reading journal.  This allows me to record the book title and author, as well as key takeaways, recommended books, and other ideas found in the pages of these authors.  It will also hold me accountable to choosing quality over quantity.  When I log onto my social media accounts, I find it easy to get sucked into a time warp where there’s lots of individual bursts of entertainment, insights, newsy bits…but, the book I really want to read won’t read itself.  The value of 100 tweets read doesn’t stack up to a work of studious effort of a passionate author about a particular topic or discovery.  So, while I still engage online, I also consider the value of my time and adjust appropriately to improve the quality of what I’m acquiring in my grey matter.

Last week I told my children (then tweeted), “We are all architects! #Architects of our wakeful time. How you use it determines what gets built! What art though building?”  So, I put this question to myself every day now.  It really helps me weigh the value of my options and make the best choice to achieve my goals.  Due to different choices I am making, I was also able to draw the picture illustration in this post!

Tomorrow, as a family, we will have a discussion about “family time” and how to ensure that appropriate time is invested in the face-to-face, non-electronically facilitated engagement & entertainment….a steady diet of learning about each other, supporting each other, preparing for our tomorrows by dreaming out loud today.

Thanks for reading and I do hope you contribute your comments and thoughts on this post.  Is media (cell phones, tablets, laptops, gaming) robbing you and your family of valuable time?

Posted in Creativity

What Do You Do For Relaxation?

Suburban GardenThis is a short post about some of the activities I do to help me relax and feel connected to the parts of me that aren’t complicated by logistics, obligations, and “have to’s.”  These are things that while producing output for others (and myself) give back to me in some way….on a meditative and soul-replenishing level.

I generally have two cycles….a spring and a winter cycle.  The winter cycle comes around when the temperatures dip down and there’s a chill in the air.  Decorations throughout the neighborhood indicate that candy and scary movies will pepper conversation.  As the temps forewarn of snows to come, the itch and urge to pull out all of the craft supplies blooms in me until I start noticing patterns and colors in great detail.  Before I know it, I’m looking at my faithful illustrated library of blankets and quilts, potholders and wreaths, canvases and rugs.

The spring cycle begins very nearly at the end of the winter cycle when the seed catalogs come pouring into the mailbox.  The sun begins a deliberate thinning of the snow blankets, melting icicles tap out a tempo to accompany the early Robins, and the scent of moist soil hits your nostrils.  This time of spring sets my imagination going on where to plant this year’s crops, what new vegetables and fruits I will attempt planting and how I want the yard color palette to look from different approaches to our home.

This year, just like the weather, my rhythm is all mixed up.  But its okay, because its helping me get through this ankle surgery.


On the left I have a small row of mixed lettuce growing in front of a row of green beans, and behind it are cucumbers.  I can go out and look at them every day and never get tired of what I see.  The lettuce has been growing and picked from since April without bolting and turning bitter.  Tomorrow we will pick from this short row for the 6th time!  The picture on the right is one of eight ever bearing strawberry plants that have just now started sending out runners.  These runners grow inches every day, and if you don’t get out and help their growth direction you can end up with strawberry plants where you don’t want them.  This is just a small sampler of this years produce.  I have jalapeno, banana, and Anaheim peppers; eggplant; peas; onions; tomatoes; basil; beets; radishes; and much more to plant before the growing season is over.

Ed's First Quilt ProjectWhile the yard is overflowing with edible landscaping, inside I have finally completed a project that took me years to complete.  I finished piecing together a small quilt top (suitable for an infant’s car seat) years ago and finally decided to try my hand at tying a quilt.  Its the easiest/fastest way at putting together a quilt.  You tape the backing to the floor, place your quilt batting on top of that and finally, place your quilt top on top of that.  Once you’ve safety pinned the sandwich together, you can begin tying through all three layers.  I finished this project because I wanted to prove to myself I was capable of piecing together and finishing a quilt project.

The two skills I lacked were the tying of the quilt and the binding process.  Thanks to a couple of books from the library, and YouTube, I was able to gain adequate instruction and practice on scraps to achieve a finished project.  It’s not perfect, but I wasn’t seeking perfection–just completion.  The binding job I am most proud of because I made the binding, attached the binding on the front side by machine, and hand stitched the back all the way around with mitered corners. This quilt is my first and has given me the confidence to begin my next project which is a King Sized quilt for our bed.

Below are a couple of pictures to show you the beginnings.  The larger quilt block will have sashing bordering it in a color that will have continuity throughout the quilt.  I hope to start on twin sized quilts for my twin daughters to last them through their college years.  These activities are things that I enjoy because not only does it keep my hands busy, but results in a worthwhile keepsake that leaves a mark behind and keeps older traditions and skills alive.  I hate to think that someday any of these activities will become novelties only due to mass production and automation.   There are still quite a few people who enjoy quilting and gardening, and I hope it continues on into our future.

King Beginnings

So, in addition to the above, I enjoy learning more about what interests our children, anticipating things to come as they plan their future, wondering what my wife will choose to do when homeschooling the kids is no longer a daily part of her life’s routine,  reading and creative writing, cooking, wood working, social media and a myriad of other things.  There’s never enough time in a day for me to attend to all of the projects and activities that I’d like to get around to.

Your turn!  What captivates your mind & time?


Posted in Education

How to Recoup Bookshelf Space

Okay, call me a throwback for suggesting that people still like hardbound books and magazines.  I am one of those who will always treasure the look, feel, smell and tactile experience of page turning.  No matter how technologically advanced we get, I’ll always prefer the portability of a nicely bound window into another persons view of the world without worrying about my ability to read due to dying batteries, a virus, or electronic dependencies. Consuming Shelf Space

So, if you’re like me and my family, bookshelf space is a valuable and limited commodity.  Since we recently moved, I have found several boxes of year’s worth of magazine subscriptions to some of my all-time favorites like Handyman, Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News, GRIT, and others.  However, as you can see from the picture I’ve included, just one season alone can consume a good deal of bookshelf real estate!  So, I’ll share with you a simple, yet practical solution to save what you treasure about your magazines and allow you to reclaim some of that shelf space!

Take those stacks off the shelf and bring a few with you the next time you have to go to the dentist office or the emergency room with a sick child.  Make sure you also bring along an empty folder with pockets.  Your task is simple, as you go through each magazine, tear out the pages that have articles or pictures that you know you’ll use or refer to later.  Here are a few examples of pages I’ve torn out and saved from several of mine:

  • Cute pictures that you may use to make homemade cards, embellish pages of a scrapbook, or craft projects for the kids
  • Recipes that you want to try
  • Pages with instructions, parts lists, supply sources and pictures/diagrams to help you build projects for your home

In the process of performing this task for myself I’ve discovered that for many of my magazines, 80 percent or more of the pages are filled with advertising or articles that I don’t wish to keep.  I chose the articles that I know will be of benefit and relevant to how I spend my time.  Buy a couple of binders to hold those reference articles, how-to instructions, pictures, and recipes.  You’ll quickly increase shelf space, eliminate years of accumulation that you won’t have to store and move anymore, and have what’s important to you at your fingertips.

Posted in Uncategorized

Garden Treasures ~ Don’t leave it all behind!

Tips on how to take some of your hard-earned garden beauties with you to your new home location.  I’m moving from almost 5 acres in a small town of 1100 people to a suburb of Omaha with a population of close to 23,000 people on less than a quarter of an acre lot!  Urban/Suburban gardening is my future…edible landscaping, square foot gardening, making use of vertical space…this is what I’m in for!

Tomatoes grown from Seed
A little patience a viola!

As an avid gardener, I cannot see walking away from four years of sweat equity for someone else to enjoy without me taking a least some of it with me.  I’ve done it before, many times and I’m about to do it again.  That’s right!  I’m going to transfer several types of shrubs, woody florals, and fruit.

Because I’m not going to stay in this present location, but want a salsa garden at my new home towards the end of June., I have purchased 3 varieties of tomatoes (Better Boy, Brandywine, and a Russian heirloom) and Jalapeno & Bell Peppers.  These have been transplanted once to the next size larger pots until we close on our new home and move in!

Three years ago my daughter and I rescued some beautiful irises that were inappropriately planted under the shade of a Black Walnut tree!  First off, juglone is a toxic chemical released from the roots of a Black Walnut tree and few things grow successfully under them.  They didn’t bloom , they didn’t produce additional rhizomes, and looked quite miserable.  We dug them up and planted them in newly created beds in full sun.  Since transplanting them, each rhizome has multiplied at least four times.  The beds are full and have bloomed beautifully the last two years.  I’m going to cut the green tops off of several rhizomes and dig up at least 1o to bring along with me to our new home.

There’s also a barely surviving mass of lilac twigs someone planted too close to several other trees which have never bloomed.  I’ll dig up quite a bit of root mass, transplant into a pot this weekend…and in three weeks, they’ll be planted in full sun in our new yard and we’ll see blooms about two years from now.  The Forsythia is another woody floral that grows easily from cuttings…just cut five inch cuttings off of your current branches, shove them in a pot of Miracle Grow potting soil, keep watered well, and you’ll find they’ll be rooted in a few short weeks.  You can also start these in a jar of water just like you can with Pussy Willows.

I’m also taking about 15 – 20 Red Raspberry canes with me.  This process is similar, I’ll dig up plenty of the root system around the new growth at the edges of the patch of raspberries after cutting the canes back to about 10 inches.  I’ll have to make sure the moisture in the soil mass remains consistent through the coming 90 degree days without being too soggy.

Some of the other plants I intend to transplant are herbs:  Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Tarragon, and Lavender.  I also have a patch of Horseradish and Rhubarb I’ll take starts from and bring to my new garden as well.

In spite of my limited ground space at my new home, I will evaluate the existing landscape and make conscious choices to change the specimens currently in residence to a more fruitful/productive form of vegetation.  There’s a group of ferns growing on the South side of the new house…they’re quite healthy and have spread into the yard.  I plan to dig up a couple of patches of these and plant them into decorative urn-style pots to display on the front porch.  It will class up the curb appeal and help me create more garden space!

Just one last note before I close.  If you haven’t tried growing your own garden plants from seed–you really should try.  Its far more cost effective, fun and your kids and neighbors will get to explore the journey from some barely visible seeds to amazing and delicious beauties.  Herbs germinate easily and as long as you’re careful with your watering and light exposure, you’ll have a beautiful herb garden to compliment your culinary creations all year long.

Enjoy!  Please share your green thumb therapy…go ahead, tell us what exciting inner-city or suburbia gardening projects you’re working on.

Posted in Relationships

Thought Soup

Icon-type silhouette of an airplane. (Mainly t...
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It’s been a whirlwind week!  Since Sunday I have flown to Washington D.C. on business, landed back in Omaha and within 30 minutes received a warning citation from the police for failure to signal and a malfunctioning tail light; purchased and installed a new built-in dishwasher; worked late (past supper time) two nights; and just this evening started to drive away from the gas pump to hear a noise and realize I hadn’t replaced the nozzle!  When you meet yourself coming and going you know its time to take a break!!  Slow down a little and breathe–smell the coffee and count your blessings!

The week hasn’t been all bad though.  I enjoyed the company of a traveling mate on the Washington D.C. to Atlanta leg of my trip who recommended the book “Shadows and Streetlights” and “Warriors Rage”  I’m greatly impressed at times by some traveling companions.  You never know what you’re going to learn if you take a chance and share yourself with others.  Many times you’ll find that people just want to be left alone.  But if you stop and think about it, most flights are three hours or less (especially if you have connecting flights)…what is it going to hurt you to reach out and shake a hand and introduce yourself?  After 9/11, I became aware that I was mentally on auto-pilot regarding my commuting behaviors.  Now, if alone, I listen to news, or books on CD…if surrounded by others, I at least try to get to know a person’s name and where they’re from.

On the Atlanta to Omaha leg of my journey, I met a wonderful Radiologist named Rick with a local practice in Omaha.  A great family man with three teenage children.  We talked about every topic possible in our two hour journey.  By opening up to others, you find out you are not alone…that like others, the parenting years are a flourish of activity and logistics.

I am three fourths of the way through Stephen King‘s “Dreamcatcher” and am just enthralled by how creatively vivid his mind is.  Each time I finish a reading session, it takes a while for me to accept reality.  His writing talent pulls you in, challenges you to figure out, question, and begin making assessments about where the story is taking you.  His character development acquaints you in such a tangible way that you feel you know these people.  Why is it that we don’t live life with the same anxious intrigue and anticipation the way we “exist” when reading a good book or watching a long-awaited movie?  Is it possible we allow ourselves too much “auto-pilot” mental time?  I think that as adults we lose our wonder and excitement about living because of what value we assign to the “stuff and work of life.”

When I stopped my vehicle this evening after hearing the nozzle yank out of my fuel tank and land on the ground, I put the car in park.  I was anxious that my carelessness wasn’t going to create a fire/explosion.  I picked up the nozzle, placed it back in the pump, screwed my gas cap back on and made a “phew” gesture with my hand at my forehead just in case I was being observed, and then got back in my car.  Thinking aloud I said, “Ed, it surely is time for a vacation!”  I need to refuel my emotional/mental stores and spend some much needed time with my family–turn off “auto-pilot” and be present in the now….appreciating and soaking up the living life has to offer.

If you are reading this post, I hope all is well in your world!  I am grateful for time…without it, we would never have the chance to recover from mistakes, heal our wounds, or achieve our dreams.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Posted in Education, Relationships, Writing

Public Libraries ~ A Trove of Bargains

Steacie Science and Engineering Library at Yor...
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If you’re a parent, student, or looking to increase your own collection of books, you may find your next treasure at your local public library.

In addition to adding new publications upon request, many public libraries operate their own book store.  Sump Memorial Library in Papillion, Nebraska have a small book store with donated and older editions of books that have been taken off the shelf to make room for new titles.

Great Bargains at your local public library!
Great Deals at Sump Memorial Library in Papillion Nebraska

My wife takes our children to a weekly writing and reading group hosted at Sump.  While the children are attending their classes, she takes time to browse the latest additions in the book store.  Today, she brought home two complete sets of encyclopedias.  1) Encyclopedia of World Geography (24 Vol set), published by Marshall Cavendish Corporation in 1994, the 2008 edition sells for $714;  2)  Encyclopedia of the Nations (5 Vol set) published by Thomson Gale in 2007 sells at Amazon new for $663; as well as The History of Art for Young People (5th Edition), which sold new for $104.

She bought all 30 hardbound publications for an awesome $7.50…that’s right–I said seven dollars and fifty cents~with no shipping, and no waiting!  The best thing is, the History of Art is still “History” no matter how long after publishing the book–the information is still relevant–there’s only been more history added after the ink dried.  You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to supplement what the public school system uses to teach your children.  These books make great family activity distractions when there’s nothing to watch on television.  The articles and pictures are great fodder for creative writing projects and the best part–you’re not breaking the bank!

Your public libraries are a great resource if you are looking for ways to bring activity options to your family.  For some families, the library is their only access to computers, after-school activities for children, and a place to take practice ACT or SAT exams.  I challenge everyone to reach out and support their local libraries.