The ResilientDad blog has moved!

It’s taken me some time to figure out the move but I think things are fully operational now at MakeResilient.com. This is important to me as this means a commitment to continuing the blog on a higher level for me. I am focusing on creating new content for living a resilient lifestyle amidst the changes we are facing in this new industrial revolution or the automation revolution as some have dubbed it. I’ve set up a sort of editorial calendar to keep me ahead of blog topics and what needs to be drafted or researched. Lots to learn, but if there is anything I like about this path, it is the continuous learning process.

New posts have already been added to the new site over at MakeResilient.com. If you liked the material here in ResilientDad, I’m working hard to making them better over at MakeResilient. Thank you!watson

DIY active home security for $15

Here’s how I put together an active burglar deterrent in my home for $15. These work at night and help make my home less attractive as a target. Unlike having alarms blaring when someone breaks in, this leads burglars look for another home to consider even before an incident occurs.

I’ve been meaning to write about the steps I take to make my home less of a target. With my wife and my kids, I cannot take risks (actually nobody does). I read a few home invasion incidents on Nextdoor.com and realized that my neighborhood is normal. By normal, I mean it is not a fancy neighborhood, it is not a high crime neighborhood, it is one that is just like everyone else’s. That means that those home invasions that happened there can happen to mine as well.

BECOME LESS OF A TARGET

If a criminal wanders into my street looking for an opportunity, the homes will all look about the same. One home might have nicer cars or windows. Another might have a dog or a good fence. For me, my home looks like someone is up and working all night. Do not come here, somebody is awake.
By this, I mean the garage has lights and a loud radio turned on at night til the early morning. In the quiet of the night, my neighbor does not hear it. From the sidewalk you might faintly hear the music. From the driveway, you will hear it and you can definitely see some light. All signs of human activity.
Here’s what you will need:
  • appliance timer
  • FM radio
  • lamp
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The appliance timer is available on Amazon or Home Depot. This one is an indoor timer and is manually set for hours of the day you want stuff turned on. There are fancier ones, but this is my choice for my budget.
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Used radio-part of my DIY home security setup. The sticker is still on it, cost me $5
I went to my local Goodwill store and got myself this radio for $5. Set it to your preferred radio station so you at least like the music if you hear it at night.
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A decent lamp. This one is something most homes already have. Pick your least favorite lamp or get one at the same Goodwill store. My $15 budget is an approximation, it will vary on how you execute the overall idea.
Now the key is to find a location in your home from which you can set this up for best effect. It should be audible and visible from the main approach to your house-or at least the main approach that burglars may take. You might put this so it is heard or seen from a dark area on your property. In my case this was the garage-most of the burglary attempts in my area were from the garage or back door. This takes care of the front of the house.
For the rest of the house, I will be putting another one of these for the same effect in the backyard. Maybe on my wife’s next trip to the thrift store we’ll get another radio. Right now I supplement the garage “activity” with a light turned on elsewhere in the home, in a spot visible from the outside. Also, our backyard and front lawn both have lights turned on all night.

From what I have read, most robberies occur early in the morning or in the middle of the day when the home is empty (like when parents go pick up their kids from school). You can set the timer how you see fit and this should help make your home less of a target by appearing to have people still up and about at those times.

Note: this is also super helpful when we leave for days and the home still looks occupied at night.

Thanks for reading, I hope you find this useful. My goal is to help make resilient families. If you have any suggestions or feedback post them below. You can also check our Facebook group for daily updates and tips all focused on how to makeresilient families.

Dealing with tantrums

I have been teaching my son how to control his frustrations for some time. It has been an issue for us and it has mellowed down quite significantly over the years. Still, it needs some work. I understand how hard it can be for his teachers in class when he bursts out on occasion-we’ve had to pull our hair out as well. Here are some example scenarios:

My son falls of some cliff for the 4th time in the video game he is playing. He’ll throw down the controller and burst out yelling “I am never going to get this!” and runs out to the bedroom to wail. After about 8 mins, he comes back pacified. I ask him if he is done, he says “yes” with a pouty face. And we have a short talk about how we will not buy a new controller if he breaks it when he has his tantrums. Previously, something like this meant a 30minute floor session making dust angels.
Another example is when he is putting on his seat belt. Sometimes he has a hard time getting his seat belt on. Lately it has worsened when he is wearing a thick jacket, or when we have junk laying in the car seat that bury the latch he has to get to. He will struggle and will resort to pulling it repeatedly-then with one last strained pull and a grunt as long as he can push for-he tries one last time. If it still does not click in, he will burst out screaming “dad I can’t get in in,it’s just so hard”. (This is partly my fault, as I will hurry him to buckle up because we are late for his school. I get stressed and I pass this onto him. I have since worked on this and am still, but he also has to deal with it as a separate issue.)
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Photo credits: Typical tantrum by SKXE (Flickr)
I know these are menial things, but these are examples of small things that can happen to us on any random day. Small things like these can ruin the mood for an entire weekend. It also makes us upset and sometimes we end up yelling even more. None of these are great for enriching our family experience. Here are some steps we’ve been making to deal with the issue.

FIXING IT

I am building myself a mental/emotional buffer

The buffer is made of non-emotional, monotonous and stoic response. When he freaks out about a game, I respond with a very dry and boring “okay let’s just stop playing the game if you cannot have patience to learn it”. This sometimes works, and I am adjusting it based on the situation. Maybe this is not a great example, but the point is for me to not reciprocate the tension he puts out. I respond calm and intentionally empty of feelings, with a mental hint of a consequence to his actions.

I interrupt it

I interrupt it before he peaks the tantrum. As he frantically tries to buckle his seatbelt for the nth time, he will start to speak in a tensed up voice. It will sound like “dad, i…just…can’t…find this…”and before he can even finish the sentence-which also is the peak of his patience after which he will burst into tantrum once the sentence is finished-I will calmly interrupt his sentence. I will blurt out “Oh I think I know how to help you fix that”. This response is not as dry, and  has a smile in the words I use. It breaks his pace and buys us time to talk him down and try it slower. In this situation I am interrupting his build-up, then redirecting his energy downward so that we can give him the support to do it himself.

 

Simulating the frustrating scenario

I’m contemplating on an exercise we can do to more proactively deal with this character trait. I will set up a situation where he will face a task designed to get frustrated. I will inform him that the exercise is for me and him, and should help both of us with the tantrums and frustrations. We would then go and do the exercise and repeat it until he really does get frustrated and learns to detach from it emotionally. When he does, we can either end the exercise or I can help him solve the problem. Depending on the exercise, this will also teach him the value of practicing a new skill and being humble. After the exercise is done, we will talk about what he went thru and learned, much like how we have mini-talks about lessons from small things. He loves to learn, and these talks work well for him.

Building our buffer

On our end we have to accommodate some of his traits. He will be distracted with some thing so we have to remind him until he has learned how to prioritize certain tasks (i.e. first thing to do when you get in the car is to buckle up). We also add extra time so we have a buffer against stress. If he still does get distracted, or if we miss reminding him, then we have time to redo it and we do not immediately get stressed out.

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Credit: Shakko (Wikipedia)

Reacting is not effective

After doing the reactive thing for some time, I realize it is extremely not efficient. By reactive, I mean reacting to his tantrum by out-tantruming him sort of. Not only do we both end up upset, but the situation escalates. I hate myself when this happens-I feel I should be more in control of myself and at least not reciprocate. For this, the more stoic response worked out better in the long run (by this I mean that same session). I reciprocate with a non-emotional response and we de-escalate the drama. If he escalates the yelling, I continue to respond non-emotionally but remind him that there are consequences he will face (i.e. we are not going to X store as we planned to, or no this or that when we get home).

I am by no means an expert parent. I have a lot of bugs that need to be fixed, and these are my ways of working thru some of them. These work for us because of how we are and what our individual characteristics are. Every parent has to adapt their ways to how the whole family is. Every parent has to adapt to their kids. That is why kids never come with an instruction manual-there’s just too many factors that affect it. One key thing though, is to be observant of how we react to each other and base the solutions on that. In my case I feel I am the one who adapts easiest, so I adapt to my family and I try to coach them to find better ways to deal with issues. It is partly a burden, but also a gift.

I hope this has helped you think of some ways to deal with the tantrums. Keep in mind, you need to make the decision on how to deal with it before it actually happens. Always try to de-escalate it first. The goal is always to improve our lives for the long term and sometimes we need to take small steps to get there.

Finding a house fit for resilience

My family and I have been planning on buying a house and hope to do so in the next few months. There are a lot of things to consider in buying a house,these are some of the more unconventional considerations I have. These may rage against what your broker will say, but then again, these are unconventional ideas for unconventional times.

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I do not get too hung up on the school district.

My wife hates this, but I do not believe the public school system will be as prominent in the future. The flaws in the school system has been made more obvious with the surge of entrepreneurship-and people are realizing that school only teaches kids to be wage slaves. There is a massive growth in alternative schooling and public schools are being shut down all over the country.
If your home value is tied to the local school district, then your value goes down when they do. BUT your taxes will probably remain the same.

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The city should have a good local, robust economy

We are not looking at distant cities, but just those around us. We scouted some ideal locations a few weeks back-however after checking out the city info, it turns out they have a couple of large universities in the area. This is not an issue by itself, but this may mean the local economy is tied to the college (probably is). My issue there is the future of the university as a thriving institution. Fore more info, Google “student loan bubble”.
A few other considerations are:
  • is the area dependent on manufacturing jobs which might be automated? 
  • Are there large retail areas which are showing signs of decay? 
  • Are there signs of rezoning for apartment construction?
  • How much land is still undeveloped?
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The city should not have regulations about homesteading

A few cities in my area-including my current one-have restrictions to owning livestock in the backyard. If we are not purchasing a large lot, if we are staying in the suburbs, I at least need to be free to have some type of livestock. As an example, it turns out that most cities we looked at only allow 2 chickens.
This ties to my plans for gardening also. I plan to have a good sized, producing garden in my yard. I do not want any restrictions on rain catchment or water storage or where I can install a trellis. These things don’t sound important-until you realize that you cannot build them.

No HOAs

I do not want to be burdened by my neighbor’s preferences. I do not want to fund their authority to dictate to others or to myself. Do not talk to me about property values-I plan to address those from a higher vantage point that does not need the HOA as an excuse to exist.
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Distance is not as big an issue

Travel distance is still an issue but it may notbe as big. With the predicted arrival of autonomous cars, it will be easier to commute a 20 mile distance to the office. Plus the fact that telecommuting will be a more common part of most jobs in the future. The 20 mile commute may even be a very pleasing experience, where one gets to escape from the humdrum tasks and focus on personal leisure-like writing or reading. You will of course still need to consider the time to commute, as that would be time away from the family. But, with robocars and telecommuting you have a lot of options compared to how things used  to be.
So there you go, a short list of things I consider when we look for a house. These may sound contrary to most advice from real estate professionals-this is just my list. You will need to do some research on the concerns above. You can read more of it here but I really suggest doing your own research as new information comes up on these issues on almost a daily basis.
Do the research, form your opinions and discuss it with your family. What are your goals for the home in the next 5 years? In the next 10? To me, a few of the items above are critical so I need to be prepared to talk about it with my family.
Do you have other suggestions? Please help a guy out in finding that home he can really set roots in.

Family safety tips for long distance traveling

The holidays are upon us, and like most families, we embark on a long drive to visit our loved ones. In our case the travel is from Texas to Kansas, approx 450 miles. We’ve gotten better at getting organized for these trips (we typically have a few every year). As we learn more about these trips, they get easier and more comfortable. I actually look forward to these nowadays. Here are some things we did on a recent Thanksgiving trip. I hope you find some of these ideas useful.

Vehicle prep

Days before the trip itself, I slowly purge the vehicle of any clutter. On the day of our trip, when we are loading, the vehicle is ready and you basically start with a clean slate. The trunk is empty, the glove compartment and the console between the 2 frontseats is empty. This gives me a psychological boost and a countdown to the day of the trip. It also helps me to visualize what is needed in the car.
Check the vehicle for any maintenance needed. Depending on vehicle upkeep you may need to do more. In my case, I needed to air the tires. Others to check for are wiper fluids, oil and coolant. The vehicle we used for this trip was a lease so it was pretty well maintained.
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Fill up the gas tank ahead. I filled up the tank on Wed night, since we were leaving early AM on Thursday. This saves me from having to gas up at 5am and have to worry about how safe the gas station might be. It also makes our trip more fluid when we leave. Small disruptions during the first 2 hours of the trip really slow us down as it prevents us from building momentum.

Family stuff for the trip

We planned days earlier on what we were bringing. We had agreed on easy to cook meals so that we save prep time at our destination. This meant we allocated a big cooler for all frozen food we were taking with us. We had a separate cooler for our meals during the trip-this is super helpful if your kids have specific diets like ours do. This cooler does not go in the trunk, but is kept within reach of the passenger seat.
We pack enough supplies so we are self sustained during our trip and while we are at our relatives’ place.
We rely quite a bit on ipads and phones to keep our kiddos busy on the road. Having phone chargers and a way to charge multiple devices are important. We have an inverter in our vehicle-which allows us to charge usb, 110 volt items, 12 volt devices (like GPS). We also saved some videos onto our devices, in case internet is slow or unavailable.
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Inflight entertainment
We load the vehicle while it is in the garage with the garage door closed. We do not want to show passers by in the street that we were leaving on a big trip. We woke up early for any last minute preps and loaded up. Kids woke up last and were the last to get loaded in the car-this lets them sleep thru the first few hours of the trip.

Weather check

This goes without saying-check road conditions before the trip. Usually we drive thru one or two thunderstorms every time we go thru Oklahoma. Our return trip would be rainy. We get dressed for this so when we take bathroom breaks we are ready.

Home security

Before we left the house obviously we double check that all doors are locked and no appliance is left on that is not needed. For security, we leave the porch lights on. I also set up lights and a radio so that they turn on at night so as to simulate activity in the house. I use an appliance timer I got from home depot and to this I plugged in lights for a bedroom-so that it is seen from the front yard and street. I also plugged in a radio so that it can be heard throughout the house and when you approach the front door. From the backyard, one can see light within the house from the bedroom.
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If you have a paid home security service, that works too. However I like the idea of making my house seem occupied with or without a security service. Also, I have heard some rather disappointing stories about how these systems work. They are more passive than active basically. I consider my lights+radio on timers more of an active deterrent.
Update:There is also a product called FakeTV which makes your home seem occupied with somebody watching TV. I have not personally tried this but folks have said great things about it.

Bathroom breaks and stopping for gas

During the trip, all doors are always locked and windows are closed. Particularly when we stop for gas or food, doors are always locked. If I leave the car for gas, I ask my wife to stay alert and keep the doors locked (our vehicle automatically unlocks when the driver leaves the car so she has to manually lock it).
I cannot emphasize this enough. I have seen way too many car jacks because the victims
We are careful when we stop for bathroom breaks. There are way too many truck stops on our route and we sometimes end up in undesirable areas. In general, these stops have risks to them because it is very easy for a child to be lost/abducted and taken away. There are too many strangers just passing by and there are vehicles leaving the area every second.
When my wife goes to the bathroom she makes sure to have her phone and her pepper spray with her. I take note how long she is gone. When I take a break I have my phone and ccw with me. Since having my pistol with me on these trips, I feel way better equipped to protect my family in case something bad happens. I highly advise being armed when traveling. We are working to get my wife her ccw permit also, but for now at least I am prepared and provide this extra layer of safety for the family.
Since we travel with kids, I try to have an empty bottle of water ready for those super emergency bathroom breaks for my son. Sometimes we do not make it to a rest stop. This allows us to just stay in the car while being pulled over somewhere (safe and away from the highway please).
When we stop for gas, I try to pick a spot that is favorable to my safety. No dark areas, away from other vehicles and preferably a spot that lets me get a good view of my surroundings. This does not mean isolated areas, just something that allows a good vantage point. Sometimes this means avoiding the middle pumps at the station and trying to be on the outer side. I do not stare at the pump while filling up, but I am aware of what’s going on around us.

Navigating safely

Over the years me and my wife have learned to work together as driver-navigator. It is nothing complicated, but she knows to use her phone and check for traffic ahead. She knows to look for alternate routes as well. This took some practice but we learned it during one long trip and has since proved beneficial. Our dedicated gps does not adjust for traffic, but her phone app can show us real time traffic conditions. When she drives, we trade jobs and she gets these info on demand from me.
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No traffic in Dallas at 2:19am
This also helps us to pick locations of restaurants if we are getting food. We can pick ones that are along the way and not have to take long detours. She can also confirm weather on our route ahead. For example, we saw it was supposed to rain by lunch time in OK, so we set a goal to get past certain cities before the rain came. Passing thru cities, the highways get slower and denser, so having that behind us before rains started would make for less stress.

Last bits of advice

With relatively small planning, these long trips have become quite relaxing for us. It gives me and my wife time to just sit and talk while the kids are sleeping and strapped in. Sometimes we drive a route that offers better views than the interstate-if we are making good on time or if we are early. Initially these long drives were quite stressful, there was always some big thing we had not prepped for. We kept mental and written notes of previous issues and future trips have become easier. The main thing for us is to be self sufficient during the trip. This means food, water, gas, portable bathrooms even, and inflight entertainment. If we have these and if we set them up for comfortable access then half the battle has been won. If there are external factors that are unlikely-we can pick a different route, or we can stop somewhere.
Take some time to plan the trip and think things through. Make a list of both big picture things and small details. The biggest improvement on this trip of ours was that I had a ccw and we felt safer knowing that I was armed. The best changes that made the most noticeable improvements were the food preps and entertainment.
I hope these ideas prove useful for you. If you have other suggestions please add them in the comments. I am constantly learning and I am always open to ideas.

Robocars are a real thing – in full by 2021

I posted about Uber and its autonomous cars here. This quick post is about Michigan opening up it’s state laws governing robocars. Basically, autonomous vehicles with no backup human drivers can now drive on public roads.

The state is host to around 75% of the companies leading this technology. To stay ahead of the surging autonomous vehicle curve, they have issued their own laws regarding robocars to incentivize these companies to stay.

It is of particular note how Ford says they plan to roll these out in full by 2021.

Here is the full article:

https://www.wired.com/2016/12/michigan-just-embraced-driverless-future/

miav

2016 End of year family resilience review

With the year coming to a close, and with things slowing down for the holidays, now is a good time to reflect back and review what goals you achieved this year. Every day is a chance to step towards the lifestyle that you want, and me and my family listed goals at the beginning of 2016. I am preparing a summary for my family so I can show our progress. Seeing numbers and results quantifies the efforts and sacrifices we have made. It also reminded us of the mistakes we told ourselves we were going to fix-and how we fixed them. I wanted to share some of our goals and which ones we can check off our list.

Reduce debt

-credit no. 1 – auto parts store
-credit no.2 – bank credit card
-credit no.3 – bank credit card
One of our big goals was to reduce debt. I went thru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at our local church and learned a ton. With adjustments to our current budget, and with the debt snowball plan, we have made a good dent on our debt. We paid off credit no.2 and 3 above and are working on the rest of them. We knocked out others not listed above. We made the above list in early 2016 and it turned out other debts were easier to close-so those got paid off too. We also paid off our Jeep-which is one of the biggest debts we had. There’s still a few, but it is empowering to know we paid off a few debts last year.
We are still adjusting our budget as we go, and we are still learning discipline so we stay within budget and can know way ahead if there is a big purchase we should plan for. Listing things down really helps. Having them in a notebook somewhere rarely helps, because we never really see that note again. What I’ve done that has worked, is to gather any actionable items I add to the notebook into a spreadsheet. Google sheets work well for this, as I can review and update it wherever I am. The items on the sheet become a schedule on a calendar or a purchase adjustment we will be preparing for.

Reduce clutter for home relocation

-eliminate junk
organize
We still have a bunch of the junk. We are slowly selling them online though, and my wife has made some money off of them. We’ve also done a bit on organizing, and our seasonal clothes are currently organized in the garage. I would say these both move as ongoing items in 2017.

Dad

CCW permit-get my ccw permit
PDC-finalize design and submit for review
Microgreens work flow-establish a routine for the business
CCW
I got my ccw early last summer and have endeavored to carry every day since. It has been a learning experience, one that I hope to write about at some point and share my thoughts and mistakes about. This has been a goal for quite some time, and I am glad I have finally checked it off my list
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PDC
As for the PDC (permaculture design course), I have been sitting on a design which is about 60% done. I have not made much progress on it, but I will be revisiting this for 2017.
Microgreens work flow
I worked hard on this and did establish a good workflow. I had a schedule all week. Some days and times are set for cold calling restaurants. I had days set for planting, harvesting, maintenance and some days for research. In the end however the urban farm selling microgreens was not profitable for me. I could hardly find restaurants willing to pay for the premium local produce. I ran out of steam around October and a few days ago in December I officially closed the operation.
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Mom

Take real estate classes
Mom has been making progress on this. We made adjustments to our schedule so I can get home sooner and her locking herself in a room away from any distractions to study. The schedule has been a struggle, but we both agreed we will work towards this goal. She has completed her classes and passed the trial exams. She is now studying for the actual test.

Kiddos

set their own routine and run through it
in the morning, to wash up and get dressed
at night, brush and clean up
Learn to focus

My son and I are still working on this. We’ve set alarms on our phones with a separate ringtone so he knows it is pertaining to his tasks. We have an alarm for breakfast,getting dressed and getting in the car to go to school. We have a few distractions (a lot) but we are making progress.

Summer goals

Fishing-learn to fish or start to learn to fish
Camping-go on at least 1 trip with family
Backyard pool – kids longing for pool fun
Beach trip-see the dang beach!
Fix girl’s room-organize a room for E’s stuff
Gardening-grow 3 select veggies we usually eat
Fishing– we went on a couple of fishing trips South of Dallas. We did not have much luck but we had a pleasant experience. My hope is we can do this more often and find some spots closer to home. I did not push the family to go fishing. I tried to make it as casual as we could, if at some point we got bored from waiting, we went on another adventure along the way. I think this is useful so that the fishing trip is tied to a positive experience that day. Maybe we did not catch any fish, but the family bonded and did some other cool things together.
We plan to keep working on this in 2017. I really want to learn to fish and supplement our diets thru this pastime.
Camping-we went on our first camping trip this year. We’ve been  wanting to go for sometime but had to wait til our kids were old enough. It really helped that we had other friends with their kids who wanted to do this. In the end we and about 5 other families went on a group camping trip and had a great time. We shared gear and that helped with the cost. One of the main hindrances was the cost of certain gear, but I had been slowly purchasing most of it even before we moved from NYC.
Recently, we scored a ton of camping gear in a garage sale. We should be able to camp more comfortably in the spring with a heater and our own cooking gear.
Backyard pool
Yup this was easy
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Beach trip-since moving to TX we have not seen the beach. In the summer of this year, we finally went to the coast and spent Independence day together at the beach. It was one of our best Independence day weekends ever and hopefully we can make this a part of our yearly tradition.
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We did fix my daughter’s room but I can’t say it is complete. We are doing something about it one of these weekends.
The garden effort this year was very poor. I know I wanted to do a few things, but I think I only got to 50% of it. I forget what took over my time during the fall planting season. I wanted to plant and learn to use automated irrigation and understand how to survive in TX heat. I don’t plan on starting a lot in early 2017 as we hope to move to a different house, but gardening is a critical skill and I will have it again as a goal in 2017-maybe in the fall.

Those were the big items on our list for 2016. Obviously other big things happened but these were the ones that we put on a list and said “we will get these done”. I feel good seeing we achieved about 75% of them. It really helps having the goals listed and thus reminding us to make plans to achieve them.
2017 will be another 365 days to work on the life we want to have. Each day seems to go so fast and looking back it did not feel that long. The day to day struggle to get thru the work week seems to be a slog to get thru. However, if we have other goals running parallel to the workdays, slowly we eek out a lifestyle which we will be able to live fully in the future. The days have more meaning. At the end of the year we can say we started back there and now we have made good progress.

Gifts for family resilience

Christmas is here and I am trying to avoid cramming last minute shopping for gifts. I would like the gifts to have long term meaning for me and my family. Aaand since I encourage my family to live a better lifestyle-I am always looking for gifts that will lead us to resiliency . Here are some cool ideas for both parents and kids. Please note I have not tried out all of these, but they are some ideas I am considering for my own family.

For the kids:

  1. $$ A subscription to kid activities that will entertain and educate them. Some products that come to mind are Kiwicrate.com and Mystembox.com. Both these sites provide you with a kit that teaches you about science and technology.chromatography_current
  2. $$ Select apps that will educate your kids. We have Toca Builders and Minecraft-both allow my son to create in a 3D world. I plan to supplement this and increase my sons spatial skills
  3. $$ Ebooks-these are great for bedtime stories and road trips. Be selective and find stories that inspire critical thinking and problem solving.
  4. $$ Legos are always good as it helps kids imagine and build. However, sometimes their excitement for these have already worn out and you might need to raise the bar to the next one-which just might mean….
  5. $$ Robot kits-be age appropriate or you will be dealing with a few tantrums. There are options as to how complex the kit is. Some start from the smallest pieces (like Lego EV3 robots) and some have bigger pre-assembled parts. Most kits allow some type of programming, and all kits come with instructions(Hooray!)robot-kits-for-adults
  6. $$ A martial arts class that will focus on character building, respect and discipline. Some parents are wary of martial arts class for kids because of potential damage to their softer bones, but there are options. Most kids are interested in martial arts at an early age-mostly from movies and cartoons. It would be good to channel that interest into something productive. They may make friends and learn respect and discipline.
  7. $$ BB gun-if you feel comfortable and if your kids are old enough you might consider a bb gun. Use this to teach them about gun safety and respect for the tool. It will encourage being in the outdoors and teach the value and results of practicing. If your kids are younger, consider lower powered bb guns (check the “feet per second” or “fps” on the box) If your kids are younger still, maybe a Nerf gun is appropriatered-rider-daisy-tin-1000-web
  8. $$ Books are also a great option and some focus on topics that promote resilience. You will need to be selective to find the right book. Most sites provide book reviews to help you. Perhaps you can find books that help deal with frustrations, facing challenges or learning new things.

For the lady of the house:

  1. $$ Martial arts classes – We have been planning on my wife getting martial arts classes, this way she can start it in January after the holidays (this works for the man of the house too. I am mainly listing it here because I’ve had some already and my wife is next in line to get some training.) She was always hesitant to this until we went to an all woman’s starter self defense class. The sensei was very informative and gave actionable ideas which got her interested.
  2. $$$ If we had the money we would get her CCW permit-then again this is not restricted to Christmas. This for us is really more of a budget issue than it is a timing issue.
  3. $$$ Bike, running shoes or exercise gadgets (a Fitbit)to get her started on her exercise routine. Sometimes people are looking to start new things and need a push, an excuse or inspiration.surge-2016-0fd2880053305928cdaf399527734bcf
  4. $$ My wife likes to knit and sew, a gift card to one of her favorite hobby stores is a good idea. It puts her in the creative mood and it always comes back to the home. The idea is to nurture a productive hobby. I find that this is sometimes better (and easier) than getting her an actual item from that store-unless I really know what she is looking for.
  5. $$ An online class-there are month long classes and there are mini-classes. The price range varies, but there are classes for just about anything. You can find some cool classes on sites like Skillshare, Smallfarmacademy.com or if you have a profession she is already interested in you can check those out also.
  6. $$ A dutch oven might be a good idea if the lady loves to cook. It lets you experiment with a whole new set of recipes and later on is an alternative way to cook without your oven.flamedutchoven
  7. $$ to $$$ Gardening supplies for spring-never too early to plan for that spring garden. These can be tools, seeds, trees or even a bird bath to encourage habitat.
  8. $$ An indoor herb planter-it skips the slow stage of starting up an herb garden but lets you jump right in to learning to use and appreciate the herbs you have. Stick to some herbs you know you are likely to use.

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For the man of the house(I will try to not go crazy on my wish list):

  1. $$$ Additional firearms training (this works for the lady of the house too)
  2. $$ Gardening supplies for spring. In my case, this would be an irrigation system, but this varies. Mom has her list and so do I.847976f2-9565-4ff8-a585-fb56bdaae6a1_1000
  3. $$ Credits for audiobooks for learning new things-Audiobooks have been a great source of learning for me. I like books, but due to time restraints I have moved to audiobooks which allow me to listen to them during my daily commute.
  4. $$ Outdoor cooking gear – a camping stove and propane tank. This doesn’t need to be the latest charbroil high end grill+smoker combo. But if you don’t have an alternative way to cook other than an indoor stove, this might be a great add to your home. It brings everyone out of the house and sparks a time to bond over a  meal. (Obviously using this will need to wait til the weather gets warmer) This is also a great backup if your house relies on electricity for cooking. In the event of a blackout, you will be able to save the food in your fridge and still stick to your diet.
  5. $$ Powertools! I almost forgot but this is always a good option if the husband is inclined to building. Sometimes, the tools are just fun to use that it gives you an excuse to try to build something.61pwvgiefkl-_sl1500_
  6. $$$ A First aid class (basic or advanced). Everyone should know CPR and ways to treat wounds. Usually the schedule for this needs to be worked out, but with some planning it an be done. A budget to build your own kit is also useful.
  7. $$$ A good self defense knife-having a knife is a given in my opinion. It gives you options in a defensive situation. Hopefully you will never need to use it, but if you ever do it should be reliable.
  8. $$ A small utility knife-sometimes your self defense knife is just not worth cutting up packaging and gummying it up with tape. A utility knife can be one that fits into your keychain or can be a neck knife.
  9. $$ Bread maker – if the man likes to cook, perhaps a bread maker is a good option. It reduces the mess and makes baking bread a bit more convenient.

 

Some of the items listed are not very exciting-like the audiobooks for example. But, as they purchase the books through the course of weeks, they will be glad to have those credits. The benefits will be long lasting and is really a way to invest in one’s self.
If you have noticed, some of the ideas are not specific. These are not gadget specific gifts, these offer more of an idea on what gift types can promote learning, improving oneself or gain a new skill. The ideas are also interchangeable between mom and dad depending on interests or current skills.
Also, livestock did not make it in the list. I mean, winter is just a bad time for starting it anyway right?
If you have other suggestions or gifts you wish your spouse thought of, please feel free to post it below. I can definitely update the list as I know I probably missed some really good ideas.

Tips for visiting NYC: After action review

A week of being vulnerable just to be with family.

We went to visit family in New York city recently, as we try to do every year.For us,it is worth the trouble and expense to see everyone, especially since we all have kids who should have a lot of time to bond with their cousins.

Maybe I am still reeling from the visit, but I wanted to make some notes about it since we will be doing this again in the future. Lessons learned should be leveraged to make the next trips easier.

Visiting that part of the country around November, the landscape is just amazing. We are always mesmerized by the color of the trees and the rolling landscape. It just pales in comparison to fall in North Texas. I have to keep reminding my wife that this is unfair, as this is the peak of the autumn beauty. Come winter, this will all be brown sticks with gray slick roads.

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SECURITY

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Self defense: I am basically naked whenever I go to visit NYC. This year I felt particularly naked because I have been carrying concealed on me daily. So going there I realize how unarmed the everyday guy has to be:

  1. No firearm
  2. No knife
  3. Pepper sprays may be okay-may be not. Depends on the officer giving you the ticket

I am sure there is some way around it. Perhaps I just forgot how I dealt with it before when I still lived there. Not being up to date on any local laws, I opted to stay safe. I have been given insanely stupid tickets before so I understand how stupid the mindset can get. What seems reasonable to me, might be completely unacceptable there. I may need to prepare for this ahead of time on our next visit; research what local laws allow and mail a small kit there for myself to use.

Unfortunately my tools were very limited and for the most part we relied on situational awareness for our safety.

GETTING AROUND

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Traffic has not changed. There is always some type of construction. Have a sense of direction so you can navigate around these. The subway is a great way around. If you want to feel the beat of the city, take the subway 1 day and take the time to ride it during rush hour as part of the experience. You can do this and stay within Manhattan, shuffling from one destination to the next while sharing the train with the locals.

If you are looking to maximize your time and visit, the best way is to have a local drive you and wait for you from one place to the next. Not everyone gets to do this, but I suppose there’s a better chance of anyone pulling this off today than they could before. Uber seriously makes this possible. In our case, my dad drove in the city as a living for years-he is retired now. His knowledge plus my map updates on my smartphone allowed us the best routes. Since he is retired, he preferred to just park somewhere and wait for us to finish checking out something. I did not get this at first and was always hesitant when he offered, but in the end I think we benefit immensely from it and he likes doing it on occasion anyway. To be able to serve family for free when you feel like it is usually more rewarding than serving your employer.

SOCIO-POLITICAL CLIMATE

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I realized we would be in NYC when the election results came out. I was worried about this but there wasn’t much to do. We bought the plane tickets based on the deals we got months ago. As we now know Donald Trump won the election. I woke up from a nap when I heard there were protests going on. We were outside of the city visiting family, and as soon as I was awake enough to analyze the news, I made sure we had a route home that was far away from any protests. We did not even risk being in the island of Manhattan even though my dad thought it was fine. I told him he was underestimating how these groups coordinate, being at Union square one moment and popping up to block FDR the next. We took the bridge straight to Queens.

Our next few days involved keeping track of protests so we know we were not headed into any. Not that there were a lot, but the fact that they are there and you never know what might happen makes it a good idea to check. Particularly since I am traveling with small kids.

TRAVELING LIGHT – AS BEST AS YOU CAN

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When we were done, we packed our luggage that night with special considerations for the airport we were using. To be very clear, Laguardia airport is one of the worst airports I get to use on a regular basis. This is amplified by the highly stressed people in it and the cranky security personnel who reciprocate said stress.

What does this mean (obviously other than not packing items not allowed in the plane)? For us we packed the check in luggage so there were no questions with it and the weight was safe. We gave ourselves a pound or so of buffer so we did not have to open the check in luggage to shuffle weight to other bags. We did not want to pay any extra fees.

For our hand carry luggage this was tricky also. Being a small family, I will be bogging down the security check in with 3 small luggage, a tote, a diaper bag, 2 parts of a stroller and another 4 trays for laptops, shoes and what not. I make a lot of enemies in that check in line. We plan for this so that I only have to open one bag which has all the electronics. There are no liquids in the whole entourage other than my daughter’s milk. I had a very curated first aid kit in one bag for my son who had some skin issues. We had some medication in the luggage also but only in small amounts. No liquids. Next time, we will need to have anti-allergy meds in a small container in our hand carry luggage-lesson learned this year.

Most of our wires/chargers were rolled neatly so x-ray would clearly show them. If we brought food in the bags, they were easy to identify on the xray. Previously we brought some food rolled in aluminum foil and we had it in our carry on luggage-this was a mistake from last year and we made sure not to do it this time.

Given the small house we were carrying with us thru security, we made it thru pretty quickly. At the gate, we would check in the rest of the carry-on luggage. We would also ask to leave the stroller at the door of the plane. When we sit in the plane, all we have to deal with are the kids, one luggage with the meds and electronics and a diaper bag. We had food, entertainment, meds and diapers.

INFLIGHT KID ISSUES

Traveling with kids is always fun. They easily get bored and will constantly try anything in the new environment. We brought an ipad mainly for entertainment. We had snacks for the kids and extra bottles of milk (last time we ran short when our flight was delayed).

For reasons still unclear, my son burst into allergies during the flight. He was itching and scratching the entire time. We saw the hives break out and spread. This was complicated by another skin issue/injury he had on another part of his body-which meant he could not scratch/touch it or he risks spreading it. Also had a minor diaper issue when my daughter ran out of baby wipes when she did a number 2. With what we had we still made it okay. The heavily curated medical pouch ended up being on my pocket and was crucial for us on this trip. The only thing was, I plan to have a small dose of allergy meds in my pocket next time.I think I went to the bathroom about 7 times for the 4 hour flight-thinking back now it does not sound that bad.

When we got to Dallas, things got better fast. We got the allergy meds and my son calmed down. We took a photo of which area we parked our car so we did not forget. As soon as we got in the car we felt more at ease and in our element, and we calmed down.

LESSONS LEARNED

Next time we visit, we have some improvements in mind so the trip will be even easier for us. For me, some highlights are:

  1. a creative self defense kit
  2. better supplied and curated med kit
  3. a set budget, in cash and on cards so we me and my wife are insync on how far we are spending for this trip
  4. a more defined list of places to go so we can schedule better
  5. letting friends and family know sooner of our plans to visit so they don’t all try to get to see us at the same time
  6. factor in an extra 1.5 hours to check in at airports
  7. coordinate better on clothing so we can travel lighter-bring pants not shorts, layering options for tops, 1 hat each
  8. coordinate what items can be bought online and shipped there
  9. make a list of conversation topics I want to hone into with certain family members-this lets me maximize time spent with them.

So there you go, some things learned from our trip. We used to live there so we know what to expect, but traveling with small kids always adds a bunch of unknowns. We do not try to see a lot of places-that is never practical anyway. We make a list of new things to see (maybe newly constructed projects) and sort by how much we want to see them. We try to get to them, but not stress out if we miss on any. By seeing a few good sites, we get a feel of the beat of the city, get some new photos for the family album and check of stuff on the bucket list-but we don’t exhaust ourselves and stress relationships by forcing ourselves to go to places.

Next year I hope things will be easier. Our kids will be a year older and we will have planned better for the trip.

Abstaining from new posts

I have been feeding myself new lessons lately and I am a bit drunk from the parts of it which I have retained. I am not saying I can use it, or am an expert on any of it. Heck I am far from any of that. But I want to acknowledge that I have been absorbing way much and need to just stop. To some degree these are also distractions.

Unless I can use the thing I have learned to improve my current lifestyle, then none of it matters.

I am going to hold on any blog posts, will not make any new sites or pursue any new ideas until I have executed/practiced/used any of the new lessons I have learned in the last 2 weeks.

Right now the pivot point on all this are the worksheets for homeschooling. It’s way more work than I thought and way less people interested it seems. I want to apply the lessons I learned to this first before I do anything else.

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Amazon Flex – making you less dependent on the conventional shipping

Have you heard of Amazon Flex? It is an app that lets you sign up with Amazon, basically as a freelancing courier. Here’s a summary direct from their webpage:

(well what do you know, since a few weeks ago the site has changed. It seems the demand for flex drivers has shot up and they finally amped up their webpage for this. Here is a link to the current video and testimonial filled webpage)

Basically, you sign up and set hours available. You set hours up in blocks and when those blocks open up from Amazon’s side-meaning if they need someone during those available times, they will send you a message for you to confirm. The pay is between 18-25 per hr (nice). It is in most cities already.

I signed up early for the Dallas-Fort Worth area but it took them awhile to get back to me. I think it was about 2 months before they emailed me back. It seems that they were not fully operational yet at the time, but in the last 2 weeks I have gotten multiple follow up emails asking me to finish the application.

Obviously this will impact people working in the shipping industry-USPS, Fedex and UPS are some of the first that come to mind. It will relegate some of their work to the freelancing app based workforce. This will be a more regular scene in the future – people from all walks of life working these freelancing opportunities; working more than one job, but not in the conventional norm where they are necessarily stressed out and running to the next job. The next job simply starts when they get in the car after work, and they can choose to drive straight home or earn a few extra bucks on the way.

Here are some active Youtubers who are vlogging about it:
Paul Yeo

Zacharia (AppBasedGigs)

 

 

 

Prepare for the future; shape it or someone else will.

I stumbled onto this great article on Forbes. It validates what my concerns are but it is absolutely written eons better. Here’s a snippet of the article:

…the future is about more than just technology.  Health trends, economic trends, population growth and climate change, just to name a few, will also create massive challenges—and massive opportunities—in the years to come.  The time to start preparing for the future is always in the present.

…….

The job of a manager has clearly changed.  A generation ago, we could enter an industry, learn the trade and work our way up.  Today, however, we can’t expect a business model to last a decade, much less a career.  To wit, since 1960, the average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 has fallen from more than 60 years to less than 20.

Other topics noted/mentioned in this article include:
vertical farming
robotics
nanotechnology
future ready

Here is the link to the article for a full read