Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts on Discipline

When I was filling out my home study questionnaire, I had to answer some questions about discipline practices in parenting. I've always had some vague thoughts about this, but for this questionnaire I had to flesh them out a bit. I'll admit right now that I am probably the least qualified person in the world to give advice on this topic (considering I have no experience as a parent yet), so these are just my thoughts on the subject and things I want to try to incorporate into my parenting.

I have to start with my thoughts on “discipline” as it is used most commonly, and I promise I'll step off of my soap box after this paragraph. Let's face it, “discipline” usually means “punishment.” While I know this perspective isn't shared by all parents, it's all too common. Discipline comes out of the word Disciple, meaning someone who follows a person or a set of ideals fully. If you want to discipline your child, you shouldn't focus on the punishment, but how to get them to understand the set if ideals you want them to follow. Punishment is only a small part of the discipline equation, and it shouldn't be overused.

Stepping down now.

When I thought about disciplining children the other day, one of my oldest pet peeves came to mind: I always hate when people consistently give instruction without explaining any of their reasons for giving the instruction. In a business, you should all be working toward the same goals, so why not get your goals in line before giving the instructions? In a family, you should all be working to keep a household running and helping the kids to learn and grow as they should, so why not follow the same principals here?

This is probably where most parents start, but what about those times where you've had this talk 3 times already, and they still break the rules? This is where most parenting styles diverge. Many will follow some of the more proven methods, like spanking or grounding. Others will yell a bit. My preference? Make it a teaching moment.

What I mean is that spankings don't necessarily make a kid think twice before stealing, and sending them to their room doesn't necessarily make them stop lying. Parents do these things because kids don't like them, and we hope that the negative experience of the punishment will connect with that thing they did in their memory. And I'm not saying there shouldn't be a punishment, but if you picked a punishment that naturally arises from the crime, wouldn't that make the punishment more meaningful?

One great example I turn to came from a scene TV show, although I'm sure they weren't the first to try it. When the kid abused the privacy of their room, do you know what the parents did? They took her bedroom door. It sent a very direct message that “we provided you with this privacy out of kindness. You don't need it, and if you use it improperly, it gets taken away.” There's also been a story going viral on Facebook about a mother's 18 rules for her 13-year-old's new iPhone, where the rules clearly state that the phone is owned by the parents and can be taken back at any time if it isn't used responsibly.

These got me thinking about other “relevant” punishments. What if the kid steals? Maybe the parents could “steal” toys from the kid to show how it hurts when you're stolen from. What if the kid won't tell you the truth? Maybe he parents could stop sharing unnecessary information with them, so they know what it feels like when they're not trusted. What if they never finish their healthy dinner before going for dessert? Maybe the parents could let them engorge themselves on sweets and feel the stomachache that comes along with it (I know this works for me every December).

Point being, I can clearly remember the things I did as a kid that weren't corrected when I was spanked or grounded, and as I grew up I pinpointed the reason they didn't work: I knew what I was being punished for, but I never saw the natural consequences. My goal is to find a way to help my kids learn from their experiences, just like I try to learn from mine.

Now, all that's left is the big question of parenting: will it work with my kids? I guess we'll see!

Always moving forward,


Monday, January 21, 2013

Hope Springs

In recent years, I have found one of my distinct spiritual gifts.  It's hope.  I always knew I was an optimist, but until a few years ago I never saw it as a spiritual gift.  Probably because I always thought spiritual gifts were something more supernatural than this, like speaking in tongues, prophesying, or healing the sick.  I thought my optimism was just part of my personality, and that was all there was to it.

What started to change my mind about this was my first full time job.  I had always seen myself as either a business owner or an eight-to-fiver, so moving from college and part-time work into the 8-5 scene felt perfectly normal.  I enjoyed the new challenge of learning the industry, and I felt like I was part of a group: The Breadwinners.

This went on for several months, and while there were frustrations, I took them all in stride.  As I pushed past my first year in this career, things started to feel routine.  Learning new things became more about un-learning old things, and the frustrations became obstacles.

I know this happens to everyone who pursues a career, and really to anyone who pursues long-term goals, but one part of my struggles related very specifically to who I am.  As the stress of this environment weighed on me, I became something I never thought I would be.  I became cynical.

One day, it struck me that I was becoming a cynic.  I wondered how I got here, from the cock-eyed optimist I had been for the first 2+ decades of my life.  I wondered how I had let something like a job change me to the core.  I wondered if it had broken me.

The last thing I wanted was to become a bitter old man who worked late 5 days a week just to come home and gripe about it over a stiff drink.  I didn't want to become a slave to my career.  I didn't want it to control me.

First, I tried to find ways to escape from work.  Like exercising and pursuing hobbies.  This helped for a short time, but I still complained about my day every day, and it felt like I couldn't stop.

What really changed was understanding who I really was.  I'm not just an optimistic person.  Somehow even when I feel cynical, I never expect the worst.  I always hope things will change for the better.

The older I get, the more I've learned to manage my hope.  I've learned that hoping for the best doesn't guarantee you'll get it, but it helps you take positive steps to get there.  I've learned that it's ok to be disappointed when something I've hoped for doesn't happen.

Through this hope, I've moved past my cynicism (and it doesn't hurt that I moved out of the job that brought out my cynicism in the first place).  I still vent about things I don't like from time to time, but I don't dwell on those things.  I've learned that hope is stronger than the negative circumstances in my life.

I expect to write more on this topic in the future.  Hope is a big part of who I am, and since it's my biggest gift, I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

Hoping for the best,


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cancer Sucks

When I was growing up, I didn't know much about cancer.  I knew my parents would get upset or sad when someone they knew was diagnosed with cancer, and I had a vague idea that there was something called Chemo that made these people lose their hair.

Later I learned that it was serious, mostly because it's more fatal than just about any other disease.  Sure there are viruses that have a higher mortality rate, but these viruses are so protected against that they're only seen in rare outbreaks, mostly in third-world countries.  Cancer is the one we have to worry about.

It wasn't til 2009 that I really started to learn about it.  In June of that year, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  I think the initial shock was because of the mortality rates with cancer.  My reaction softened over the next few months as I learned about the comparably lower mortality rates associated with prostate cancer, at least when compared against leukemia, lung cancer, colon cancer, etc..  I was even relieved when his doctor prescribed a hormone regiment.  No radiation, no chemo, no surgery.  I decided that if this was mild enough to be treated with hormone therapy alone, I didn't have much to worry about.

But this is where cancer really starts to suck.  As much as I've learned about different types of cancer treatment, there's only one diagnosis that can be treated for a lifetime with a single drug: Hodgekins Lymphoma.  With the miracle drug, Gleevec, these patients can keep their disease in check with nothing more than a daily pill.  Every other diagnosis is met with a treatment plan that changes a couple times a year.  And do you know why they keep changing the treatment plan?  Because the last one stopped working.

That's not the end of it, either.  When the new treatment is planned, the doctor has to help the patient decide how much quality of life they should sacrifice for the next attempt.  Hormone therapies have minimal side effects, radiation mostly causes scheduling chaos, chemo turns your life upside down half way between each treatment, and the most radical treatments include surgeries with lifelong consequences.  Worst of all, for leukemia patients, the doctor has to consider whether a 75% survival rate is good enough to attempt a bone marrow transplant.

Through all of this, the patient along with their friends and family have to hope.  Hope that the next treatment isn't too hard.  Hope that the next miracle drug works as well as the doctor says it will.  Hope that it doesn't end too soon.

As much as cancer sucks, there's so much it can't do.  So many parts of me it can't touch.  Some of my favorite words about this came from the back of a t-shirt, and unfortunately I can't identify the author.  The truth is:
Cancer is so limited...
It cannot cripple love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot corrode faith
It cannot destroy peace
It cannot kill friendships
It cannot suppress memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot steal eternal life
It cannot conquer the spirit.
Next time you think of your loved ones who are going through this battle, don't give the disease too much credit.  Remember who you are, and who they are.  And know that you are bigger than this disease.

Always moving forward,


Monday, January 14, 2013

Defining Moments

Since I was a teenager, I've felt like my life was missing that one major defining moment. When I heard stories about people who found God after suffering injury or illness, or about people who suddenly re-arranged their priorities after the loss of a job, the first question to mind was “what moment defined me?” When I couldn't answer this question, I started to regret not having one. What defines me? What experiences do I look to for confidence in my choices? For the longest time, I wasn't sure.

Don't get me wrong, I've had my ups and downs. There were times in school when I realized being smart wasn't enough, that I needed to start applying myself. I had times when I ignored my finances until I landed myself in a rough spot, and I had to learn to the importance of a budget all over again. Over and over, I've crossed lines to remind myself where the line was. I've done wrong to the point that it's taught me to do right. But each time, I wound find myself making the same mistakes again. Why didn't those moments define me like they had others? Why didn't I learn?

Usually, I assumed that my Learning Moments just weren't strong enough to be Defining Moments. I had felt sadness, but never despair. I had suffered loss, but never lost it all. I had fallen low, but never hit rock bottom. And as the chain of Whats and Whys continued, I always wondered the same thing. Do I have to hit rock bottom to know what defines me?

From time to time, this thinking skewed my focus. Sometimes I wanted to suffer loss so that I could feel defined. Other times I allowed myself to make bad choices, thinking that once I made enough bad choices I would find my defining moment. In my Junior High years, I read a few of the Left Behind books and dreamed of being “left behind” so that I could prove myself. Luckily, when you're a teenager being raised in a good, moral family, you can only make so many bad choices before someone jumps in to start correcting them.

Now, it's probably been a decade or more since I've thought about this. Until recently I hadn't identified the catalyst for this change. I think the difference is that I don't feel the need to be defined anymore. Maybe it was an adolescent dream to want my circumstances to define me. Maybe I was scared that if I defined myself, I would do it wrong. Maybe I thought that the person I was wasn't significant enough, and I really wanted to be redefined. It could have been any combination of these, but the point is that those feelings subsided and gave way to a little bit of maturity.

We can probably talk for a couple of days about what maturity really is. My answer for myself is this. Maturity is not waiting for others to make your decisions. It's choosing who you want to be day after day, and taking action toward being that person at every opportunity. It's setting your priorities today, and not changing them tomorrow when you don't feel exactly the same way.

In case you didn't notice, I said my life gave way to “a little bit” of maturity. Hopefully the people who know me would testify to my maturity as I've defined it, but most of them also know that I have plenty of room for improvement. The biggest part of maturity, as I see it, is picking up where your forward momentum left off, whether it was 5 minutes ago or 5 decades ago, and taking a couple of new steps in the right direction. Isn't that really all we can ask each other?

Always moving forward,


Saturday, January 12, 2013

The best meals I've ever cooked

Off schedule, I know, but I have to give a ringing endorsement for our new cookbook, Smitten Kitchen.  It was a Christmas present from the mother in law to the wife.  We have cooked 4 dinners and a dessert out of this book, and each one was freakin' amazing!  Between the breaded chicken with salad and homemade dressing, the eggplant calzone, and tonight's butternut squash galette, I now have 3 new favorite foods to add to my list.  They aren't easy (these 3 all took upwards of an hour and a half to prepare), but they're well worth the extra time.  The instructions were very detailed, so as long as you have the ingredients and the equipment, anyone can put these dishes together.

Honestly, a couple of the dishes sounded questionable to me, but Katie put them on the list to try.  The eggplant calzone was nothing more than roasted eggplant slices in a blend of 3 cheeses wrapped in a homemade dough.  I usually like meat, onions, etc. in my pizzas, but the unique blend of cheeses and the dough recipe made the dish, and the roasted eggplant was plenty enough flavor to spice it up.  Similarly, the galette is made up of roasted butternut squash (cubed) with caramelized onions, cheese, and herbs wrapped in a homemade dough.  Vegetarian dishes aren't usually my thing, but I just might be a convert!

Still, the breaded chicken was the first (and still my favorite) recipe to cook from this book.  The chicken was just butterflied breasts dipped in flour, then a mustard and lemon marinade, then panko bread crumbs.  But as simple as this sounds, the dish was made in the details.  The butterflied chicken was to be pounded (not tenderized) between plastic down to 1/4 inch, and after the breaded chicken was prepared it was refrigerated for 1-2 hours to let the breading set tight to the chicken.  And as great as chicken was, the fennel & arugula salad with homemade mustard and lemon dressing topping the chicken was the perfect complement.

I feel bad not detailing the other 2 recipes we tried, but I already have to change my shirt from all the drooling.  Believe me, they were great!  I'm considering pulling a Julie & Julia thing with this book, so you can look forward to more raving about this book in the weeks to come.

The authors are the same folks that write the blog at  Check 'em out, you won't regret it!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Big Decisions

I haven't decided how much I want to direct these posts to my adoption journey yet, but there's no denying it's a huge part of my life.  Besides, there aren't a lot of male perspectives out there about infertility or adoption.  I hope my readers don't mind my occasional push of adoption related info.

Last weekend, I spent a lot of time filling out our Home Study Questionnaire.  This is basically several pages of questions that help you bring out your family experiences, family expectations, household changes, and any other issues that will psychologically affect your bringing an adopted baby into your home.  Since we already had the demographic information out of the way from the application, this one cuts straight into what makes you tick.

When we met with the agency last February, someone asked how long the paperwork usually takes to fill out, specifically the HSQ as it is the most intensive.  The answer was "I can't really put a time on it, but I've never known someone to fill it out all in one sitting."  Yikes!  This document starts as a 7 page list of questions without spaces left for answers.  There's a sentence at the very top of the first page explaining that "one or two word answers are not acceptable."  I haven't even read the specific questions I'll have to answer, but already it doesn't look easy.

Now that we're to that point in our application, I woke up Saturday thinking about it.  It was just me and the dogs awake in the house, so I pulled up a fresh copy and started typing.  First section: Motivation.  Who initiated discussions about adoption?  Why do you want to adopt?  How long have you been considering adoption?  So far so good.  Pretty easy questions to answer.

Second section: Feelings about yourself, your parents, and your childhood.  My first thought "yeah, I had good parents and a good childhood!"  Then I read the questions.  Tell me about your mother/father (personality, faith, relationships, etc.).  How did they support you as a child?  How did they nurture you as a child?  What would you change about your childhood?  How did they handle sex ed?

Holy cow, people, back up a couple of steps!  Here I am on a leisurely Saturday morning, sitting in my favorite chair, trying to achieve some sort of relaxed state while trying to decide "how I want my children to view sex?"

Somewhere down the line I remembered why I was answering these questions.  It's not just to appease the agency, or to go through the motions.  I'm answering these questions because they are important.  I remembered that we're talking about a child that is going to be born into a family who hasn't thought about these questions, who would raise a child that many would consider "deprived."  And that child is going to be placed in a home like mine.

Through this, I realized another difference in biological families vs. adoptive families.  Biological families can be started for a million different reasons, at a million different times, into a million different circumstances.  There are so many great parents in the world, but sometimes families are started too soon by accident.  Sometimes people think they're ready today, but maybe their circumstances change, or maybe they just haven't fully understood the responsibility involved.  And once the ball gets rolling, you know you have less than 9 months to get your life in order.

With adoption, the child is given yet another gift: that their parents spent years preparing for them.  Their parents spent countless hours thinking about the hard questions and the big decisions to come up with the best possible answers.  Their parents even spent years putting huge amounts of savings aside, not just so that they could afford the agency fees, but also so that they can get their income to what it needs to be and practice their hand at tight budgeting.  Their parents gave every ounce of hope toward that baby, so that when it arrives, it's the most exciting thing on the planet to them.

I don't know if this was by design or by accident, but I think the adoptive community got this one right.  Remind me to thank them for making me think about the big decisions.

Always moving forward,


Monday, January 7, 2013

My Pre-Adoption Journey

About 4 years ago, my wife and I decided to start a family. It felt like a big decision at the time, even though that initial conversation was over almost as soon as it started. We went through the usual waiting, going through pregnancy tests every month thinking “maybe this is the day!” The first few months were disappointing, but it didn't take long before they felt devastating.

As you might expect, my wife took the disappointment a little harder than I did at first. She probably still does. And I, with my overly optimistic and always hopeful attitude, tried to always spin the situation toward the positive. This went on, until my wife started to use the word Infertility. I still remember how this threw me for a loop. I kept telling her (and myself) that we just need to wait a little bit longer. Anytime we tested, I still thought “maybe this is the day!”

After a year or more, we started seriously discussing the possibility of infertility. Katie started scheduling tests with her doctor, and we hoped for the best. As the test results came, each one arrived with the bittersweet realization that we still didn't know why we weren't pregnant yet. Next, it was my turn. It didn't take long before we had a little bit of our answer: something was wrong.

After verifying the results and narrowing down the diagnosis, we scheduled a procedure. I needed a minor surgery that had about a 2/3 chance of fixing our fertility problems. The surgery went through without a hitch, but there was still that 1/3 chance that it wouldn't change things. With each of the 3 month, 6 month, and 9 month follow-up tests, we hoped for the best, but we didn't get the results we wanted.

The next step (in the medical route) would be IVF-ICSI, a procedure that would directly fertilize a few eggs, and use medications to try to come out with the best possible circumstances to result in a pregnancy. It was expensive, and there were no guarantees. In the best case scenario, we would pay $15-20k for a single attempt that would hopefully result in a healthy pregnancy. Worst case, we would try this a several times without ever reaching the result we were looking for.

This discussion became very real before my final (9 months post-surgery) follow-up with the fertility doctor. What we thought we wanted more than anything was to have a baby resulting from a healthy pregnancy, but we knew the potential consequences involved if we were to put ourselves through the emotional battleground of IVF.

Until then, I had resisted the other methods of starting a family. Partly, I was still hopeful that we could get pregnant on our own someday, without having to deal with IVF or anything besides the “natural” route. But I think I was also influenced by the stigma that goes along with raising a child that doesn't carry your genes. I want to assign some fault to the adoption practices of the 1960's through 1980's, but when it comes down to it, I just felt like I would be raising someone else's baby.

In anticipation of my final follow-up testing, we had the “what if” discussion. When it came down to brass tacks, we were sitting in the car half way through the 5 hour drive to my parents' house for Thanksgiving last year. We asked the question, and we prayed. Suddenly, the word “adoption” didn't seem so foreign. Suddenly the idea of standing in the gap for a child as their parent felt … well, it felt right! To both of us.

3 months later, we had finished researching local adoption agencies and chose our favorite, determining that we would need to save $22,000 to afford the agency and legal fees associated with our planned adoption. 1 month after this, I was offered a closer to home, higher paying job so that we could start our Adoption Savings Account. Another 3 months later, my wife was promoted at her part time job, doubling her pay. Another 4 months, and my company bumped the minimum salary for my job, giving us even more money to put into the adoption account. And as the Christmas holidays have come and gone, we have been gifted over $4,500 from friends and family ($1,100 given anonymously), all deposited into the adoption account. We've received 4 different baby gifts this Christmas, showing us just how much support we have from our families in this journey. We've even been able to watch my cousin take care of her 6-week old adopted boy, while we imagine coming home with our baby next Christmas.

Today, we have submitted our application to the agency. I would say that all we have left to do is pray, but I think we'll probably spend the next 5 months scheduling meetings and home study appointments, putting together a nursery, coordinating pre-adoption baby showers, and putting the final touches to the savings account before fees are due. And every day, we'll be hoping and praying for the pregnant girl who is hoping and praying for us to come along.

Always moving forward,


Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Character Paradox

I want to explain something today. You may have noticed that my page title is called my Journal. Not my blog, my thoughts on life, or anything else that implies that I'm trying to broadcast my words to the world. To tell the truth, this is mostly for my own benefit.

I've always felt a little passionate about my writing, I just never did it much. I'm the same way with music. I grew up learning to sing an play piano, eventually took on percussion instruments in the school band, and even studied music for a year in college. But unless I had something to practice for (or sometimes when I had practiced enough that I thought I sounded good), I rarely used my free time to make music. I loved making good music, I just never felt like my music was good enough. I had to practice a piece for sometimes an hour or more a day, for weeks on end, before I felt like it was any good. And the longer I practiced the same piece, the more I noticed the little errors in my performances.

It was a vicious cycle, and the window into a strange mix between a good and bad side to my character. The good being my drive for perfection. Things are rarely “good enough” for me. Either I gave it a good effort and produced a near-perfect result, or I skimmed through it and wasn't proud of how it turned out. This pushes me to do work that impresses my boss, give gifts that get the receiver excited, or help people in need to the point that they'll remember it for years to come

The bad? If I can't do a great job at something, I can hardly muster the desire to work on it at all. This is why I don't play music anymore; because I don't have the time, training, or resources to make it great. This is why I never excelled above average in almost 4 years of a full time job that moved so fast-paced, that if you tried to make a “perfect” result, you would get behind before you knew it. After 3 years of trying, I became satisfied with “just getting by” until I could find my way out of that business.

Sometimes this character paradox confuses me. I have family who praises good character, and they always recognize the good side of this paradox. While I was still playing music, or while I was in the middle of my dead-end job, I would hear from a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent that they were proud of me. They would praise my perfectionism and my drive to produce results, all the while I was thinking “what's the use if I don't have time to be perfect?” Other times I flat out didn't believe them, and let the subject change as quickly as possible.

Before this project, I had only vaguely recognized my perfectionism when it comes to writing. I knew that my research papers in college would turn out well, I had a little fun with a meaningless blog once or twice, and I like to spin phrases in my emails to make sure my tone is understood the way I intend it. But since my research paper days have ended, I haven't had much use for writing on a regular basis

So why do it now?

First, I need to have hobbies in my life that allow me to pursue a lesser form of perfectionism. I've never pursued writing as a career or in any form of competition, so maybe I can be ok with being “good enough” at this. It's also something that makes good use of my time (at least better than sitting in front of a TV for hours).

*I have to admit here that this may be difficult, specifically because of today's topic.  I would love for this page to gain popularity, but I know that once it does I could run into the same obstacles as I described above.  If you're reading this early post, do me a favor and help me to keep this in check.  It's OK if I don't have a big audience, if nobody ever comments, and if I skip a day every now and then.  Any reminders of this are welcome.*

Second, I've found that writing is a great outlet for my thoughts and feelings. I've never been very good at expressing them verbally (just ask my wife), but somehow when it's just me and a keyboard, everything flows more easily.

But finally, and possibly the most important reason I've started writing, is the permanent record that it leaves. When I find myself thinking back, wondering if I've improved myself in the last year, I can turn to my writing to see exactly how I thought and felt. When someone asks me about important experiences in my life and I can't come up with all of the details, I can have something to remind me. And when I have kids that are old enough to ask me why their mom and I wanted to adopt them, I can show them exactly how badly we wanted them in our lives, and how long our anxious excitement lasted before we finally brought them home.

I have made this journal public partly for the accountability I get from your reading it, but mostly because I've learned that when one person is honest about their experiences, there's almost always someone on the other end of the conversation that needs to learn from those experiences.

Today I hope that some anonymous reader gains some encouragement from reading about my struggles.  Even more, I hope that I've been honest enough with myself that I learn from my own story.

Always moving forward,