December 4, 2017

Trader Joe's vs. Costco

After moving to Southern California, I was introduced to this quaint little grocery chain called Trader Joe's. Of course they were bigger than I realized at the time, and are an ever-expanding company, having spread nation-wide by now. But back then, I was a very reluctant follower in the cult of TJ. Their stores are small and always seem packed full of people. The parking lots are never quite big enough, and the whole claustrophobic experience just made me shy away. Also, they were a little more money than my habits of only-buying-sale-items at Ralphs, which was a store a little closer to what I had grown up with.

However, after a few years and marrying a woman who is very pro-Trader Joe's, I am happy to say I have come around. The problem now, though, is that we aren't in Southern California anymore, where there is a store located in between every Starbucks and Coffee Bean. There is only one TJ's to supply the needs of the increasingly popular Charleston area, and so even though the parking lot is bigger here (more space than LA), the store is still quite crowded. It is also across the biggest hill in Charleston (the Cooper River Bridge), and so I am also not keen on driving all the way over it to get some chips and salsa (they have excellent salsa). Because of the distance, when I became the stay-at-home dad again and regained the responsibility of grocery shopping, I have to say I explored more local options to see if I could find better deals closer (you have to take gas into account too, you know).

The catalyst for Costco.

And what did I find after shopping several grocery stores near me? Trader Joe's is cheaper, with higher-quality food, a no-questions asked return policy and happy workers, thereby making it the greatest grocery store available in the US right now. Yeah, that's right: this once reluctant shopper is now singing the praises of the store he so severely avoided.

But what about the title: Trader Joe's vs. Costco? Comparing those is like apples and oranges, right? Maybe not. We recently joined Costco (for the second time) and I, of course, am examining the cost-effectiveness of this mega store. What I am disheartened to find, however, is that maybe this giant isn't saving as much money as advertised...

Katie and I got into juicing back in 2013, when it became popular because of the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. We actually never saw the movie, but some friends gave us a high recommendation on the benefits of juicing, and so we bought one with a gift card we had. Here's a video of our first time doing it:

Juicing is super healthy, but man, you really obliterate large quantities of fruits and vegetables to gleam only a cupful of juice. This is where Costco comes in. You can get a massive bag of spinach for about $5. A huge bag of carrots for the same. Apples, mangoes, oranges, etc. Buying in bulk is an excellent choice while juicing, and helps keep the cost down. The other noticeable thing about juicing, however, is that it is extremely messy! Cleaning up after juicing burns about enough calories to warrant cheating with some egg nog or a Guinness (or maybe some egg nog-Guinness?) afterwards. As a result, our juicing-life has been pretty spotty.

Recently, however, we got back into it, hence the renewed membership. The thing that I have been noticing about Costco this go around though, is that all this bulk is just making me consume more stuff, which is where my problem lies. I have a massive bottle of scotch, and so of course I pour that extra drink when I want it. Katie went crazy on the snacks when we first got the membership, and so if I'm craving a granola bar -- why not? We have about forty of them stored somewhere. Whilst on the snack topic, the other problem with all these items is that we are creating a huge amount of trash with all the wrappers and boxes and such. The whole thing really just feels kind of wasteful.

But we're saving money, and that's what is important in life, right? (Can you sense my sarcasm?) The kicker of it all, I'm finding, is that even this isn't entirely true! Trader Joe's is so cheap, that things we consume every day (bananas, cereal, granola, wine) are the same price at Costco, if not more expensive! The whole thing has got me questioning whether this membership is worth it at all.

I wanted to share all this because it is in this muddy, every day decision-making that families are built on, rising and falling amongst the corporate hand of mass consumerism. Here we spend our valuable dollars, trying desperately to get ahead while maintaining some degree of normalcy in an ever-fluctuating society. Any little bit of wisdom or insight helps, and though this overly dramatic conclusion may have deterred my credibility with you, hopefully you find this comparison truly useful, and choose to give the mystical land of Trader Joe's a try.

November 27, 2017

How to Take Your Kids Skateboarding

This may be the most important blog post I've ever written...

Just kidding. But it so deeply identifies with what I am all about, that I think it's pretty cool. A couple years ago I made Skater Dad: the Movie, which features lots of shots of me and Ellie at the El Segundo skatepark. I was blessed to find this place -- empty most of the day, totally fenced in, overall pretty safe but also super fun to skate. I would take her pack 'n' play, and then later let her run around, while I skated. I was also lucky enough to take Waverly here too before we moved away.

More recently the park of choice has been Ackerman Skatepark in West Ashley, which has been a big part of my life since high school. The last Halloween I ever trick-or-treated, instead of wearing costumes, we brought our skateboards and asked for petitions to get a city skatepark in our hometown. "Kickflips for candy" we joked as we gathered about 75 or so names, if I remember correctly. We then attended a few meetings, thanks to the help of my friend Jason's awesome and super-involved mom, and before too long we had our modest park!

I remember the grand opening when Jud Heald and Tim Byrne came out, both of which were on Christian skate teams that I was familiar with. We had countless sessions here. I hit my face on the concrete once trying to crooked grind the top rail. Lance Mountain and Ray Barbee signed my yearbook here (two of my all-time favorites). All that to say, I'm proud of this park and am glad it is still around; and now even more glad to be able to bring my kids here!

I to take your kids to a skatepark. I really want my children to love skating, or at least love that I love skating. And so taking them to these fenced-in parks is like a playground for the both of us. They slide down the quarter pipes...I do lip tricks. Win, win. As I have been doing this for a few years now, I thought I would compile a list of things to help YOU take your kids to the local skatepark (because I know you want to):

FS 360 while Waverly enjoys a snack at Ackerman. (See step #3)
  1. Find a park: The first step is obvious. I have found that having a fenced-in park is really nice for younger kids. You don't want them crawling away while you're going for that fakie frontside flip on the pyramid. When they were really young, I would put them in a pack 'n' play, but again, in a safe area of a fenced-in park, just so strangers weren't loitering nearby (I'm kind of a paranoid parent sometimes). It is also good to head to parks during off times, because skaters don't always look where they are going, and even if they are looking, kids rarely do. But that's just a good way to teach them social awareness and taking turns, right?
  2. Bring gear: Your kids need their own little skateboards and, maybe even a scooter, at least until they are competent enough on their own two feet. My sister bought Ellie this scooter/skateboard hybrid that has moveable trucks, so your child can grow with his or her skateboard. I think it's pretty rad. Of course, helmets and pads are also necessary; although the pads don't stay on well for my kids, so we usually just stick to helmets.
  3. Bring more gear: I'm talking the typical stuff -- diapers, extra clothes, water, snacks. Snacks is the biggest one, as their attention span isn't what mine is, and when I am really close to landing that trick, snack time might just buy me a few more tries. Baby wipes are also key, as skateparks are usually kind of dusty, and these things will save you some time cleaning hands before snack time.
  4. Don't forget the camera: I love making skate videos and sharing them! Bringing my kids along for the ride only makes the videos better (because let's be honest, my skating isn't the most interesting thing on the internet). Pictures and videos of your kids' progress are fun for you, and for sharing with family. 
  5. Stay safe: Skateparks are kind of dangerous, even more so for kids. Boards are flying everywhere and people are smoking cigarettes and the such. That is why it is so important to find parks that are mostly empty, although don't shy away from skating with other guys that seem competent and friendly towards the little ones. It brings your kids into a world where they learn to take turns, look out for other people, and be respectful. 
I hope that helps give you a little more confidence in doing something out of the ordinary with your kids. If skateboarding isn't your thing, these same principles (with minor adjustments) can apply to whatever your interest is: kid's day at the rock climbing gym, the beach, concerts (replace helmets with ear muffs) and even snowboarding. So get out there and do what you love, with the people you love most!

November 20, 2017

Choices - A Follow Up

I wrote a few weeks ago about some difficulties in getting our children to sleep. Actually, there have been a couple posts about it...I guess this is just the season we're in. Anyway, I found something that really works that I thought would be a good follow-up, and hopefully worth the share.

Katie and I have based a lot of our parenting style on the Love and Logic books, which seem to be doing pretty well for us. One of the big things that they preach is giving your child choices, all of which result in situations you are okay with. This is done in order to make your child feel like he or she has some degree of control of said situation, putting forth that many of our battles with the little ones are about control. So naturally, giving control away should help alleviate the problem.

We have done it with our oldest, but I didn't think the younger one was ready for it yet. However, when trying to get her to nap, it seems that the best thing that works has been to give her lots of choices during the nap time process. "Do you want this blanket or that one? Do you want your socks on or off? Do you want to lay on this side or that side of the bed?" All of these things are inane decisions, but it gives her several ways to control the situation based on a decision she has no control over: whether or not to take a nap.

I have been surprised at how well this works, even for a one year-old, and so I thought I would share. I hope it helps!

November 13, 2017

Difficulties in Endeavors

I wrote last week on our new adventures in sleeping/napping. In the midst of change, I had a thought I'd like to share here...

If you read that last post, you know we have recently moved both of our daughters into one bedroom. I have to admit I was kind of excited about the idea in a way. We have always talked about the girls sharing a room later on, my wife and I preferring to live a little more simply with smaller spaces. My youngest's enhanced ability to climb just sped up the transition.

The night of the incident, as we moved Waverly's matters into Ellie's room and moved out Ellie's bed, both became extremely excited at the prospect of sleeping in the same room. They wanted their mattresses next to each other, so they could be closer, and then proceeded to jump on them like trampolines. Great, I thought, this will be easy, they love it already! Not so. Even after keeping them up late because of a church meeting, Waverly did not take to the new bed well. Ellie prefers more lights on in her room than Waverly, and Waverly isn't used to the freedom to get out of bed. I figured these things would happen, and that the transition would just take time; but it also made me think of something else: We often get really excited about a new idea or new adventure, but when it comes time to actually perform the task at hand, somehow we lose steam.

Ellie and Waverly were pumped to sleep in the same room, but when the reality hit, it was difficult. Ellie kept asking for Waverly to go sleep "out there," and Waverly wanted the same thing. The fun disappeared as the work began. I have seen this happen countless times with creative projects, with myself and others. We have a great idea for a script, movie or concept album even; but when we hit a snag with the outline, or songs don't fall from the sky, it's easy to lose steam. More often, a newer, more fun idea hits, and the previous one takes a backseat. Well, do this enough times, and you end up with about a dozen or so half-finished ideas, and nothing to show for it.

The same applies to most endeavors in life that don't have to get done. Your sink backs up and you rarely lost steam fixing it -- that needs to be addressed. But if you get an idea to build your kids a play set in the garage, or you decide to buy fog lights for your car and install them yourself -- things like this can be delayed when the actual work hits.

Maybe it's kind of odd how my mind went from my kids learning to sleep to this, but I think I've seen enough abandoned projects to note it and then want to share. The solution, I believe, is two-fold. First, be a finisher. "Bickerstaffs are finishers," I tell my family, and I believe it. Finish what you start, whenever it is in your power to do so. If you get a new, "better" idea in the midst of the first one, write it down and revisit it later. (This has applied heavily to me in writing projects.)

Second, involve other people that won't let you quit. Accountability Partners the church-world calls them. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator, sometimes for good. If others are expecting you to finish that book, and continually ask about it, you just might do it. They will also help refine your ideas, helping you to invest in the best ones and leave behind the rest. This principle also applies to heavier things, like your marriage or an important job. Telling your friends you are thinking of ditching out of something like that, and their words may just keep you in the boat long enough to go the distance.

As for us -- the girls went to sleep in about 30-45 minutes. That's not so bad. Maybe tomorrow will be less and the day after even less. Just one step closer to our tiny house near the beach with a chicken coop in the backyard and a halfpipe too. Maybe next I need to replace the "white noise" sound machine with the soothing sounds of skateboarding and rooster calls!

November 10, 2017

Stormy Skate

Rain is the enemy of skateboarding. It rusts your bearings, ruins your trucks, mushes up your board and diminishes your grip tape. It's no wonder why California is the skateboarding mecca of the world -- because it never rains there. Growing up, a rainy day would spell certain disaster on any attempt at a skate adventure. Many-a-times I made plans to hang out at a friends house, certain to skate, and ended up only playing skateboarding video games instead, longingly watching the rain drip sadly down a clear glass pane, like tears down my sad pimply teenage face.

The other day my wife went for a run after work, and then came home and told me I better go skateboarding quick because it was about to rain (I have a good wife). I rushed out the door and into a super windy session at the nearest skatepark to me. It was fun skating in stormy weather, the leaves flying around as the trees were jostled about like broccoli flung across the dinner table by my as long as the rain held out, that is. Which it didn't. I got a few tries on a fakie frontside flip I've been working on, but the ramp quickly got too slick and therefore too dangerous (I am a responsible father, you know).

Though the ramp was wet, a ledge nearby was dry enough to keep skating, and so I did, despite the ground spotting up with rain drops. Actually, the ledge slid better because of the water, so I was all over the place with out of control crooked grinds and wild 50-50s. I was working on a full-length crooked grind to 180 out, and then a frontside nosegrind (those things have eluded me lately), trying desperately to land one before my grip tape changed colors -- a sure sign it is time to leave. Here is a video of what came out of it, just a few shots with a little song I'm also working on.

So why am I wasting internet space (and your time) writing all of this? The whole thing just reminded me of the yonder days, skating no matter what, desperate to land the trick despite the odds. Many times I skated into the dark of the night, soaking wet with sweat and my feet hurting, begging my friends to stick around to keep video taping because I was so close to landing the trick. Those days have slowly disappeared the older I've gotten, but every once in a while they creep up again and remind me of the passion I had, and still have, for skateboarding.

Sure, my body won't hold out like it used to, and I rarely have more than an hour to skate before I have to get back to the girls. But I still love it and am still learning new tricks. In a way, that night's slick session is what this blog is about -- maintaining your passions throughout the changes of life.

Our responsibilities will grow and free time will lessen, but the things that once made you come alive still likely do just that, and so you should keep pursuing them, as long as they don't throw the rest of your life out of balance. Your family will thank you as they have a man or woman of passion to follow, knowing that you are rested and ready for each day, having recharged doing the things you love. I don't think we were designed to totally abandon everything that makes us individuals, just because we become parents. Of course, I write that in knowing that selflessness is a must in parenting; but again, it all must stay in balance.

As I examine all of the arts and actions that interest me, I find that one of my favorite things to do is inspire people to dream and chase after more. More of God, more of life, more adventure, more risk. Our God is too good to not expect more. So try something new today, or pick up something you used to love doing but haven't done in a while. Then let me know how it goes! I hope it's fun, brings you joy and won't break your arm.