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zen habits: December 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


It's the Christmas season, and I wanted to get my kids into the real spirit of Christmas, so we've been looking for opportunities to volunteer or donate to good causes this month. We've been enjoying it so much that we want to continue it year round. It's a great feeling to do something good.

We've participated in the Angel Tree program, each of our children buying gifts for a child whose parents are in prison. That was a lot of fun. We also donated used toys in good condition that the kids don't play with anymore to the Salvation Army thrift store. We're looking into how to help serve food at the homeless soup kitchen here on Guam.

This week, we decided to volunteer for Salvation Army bell-ringing duties. The wife took three of the kids on Monday, and I was scheduled to take two yesterday. However, I got stuck at work, couldn't pick the kids up on time, and ended up doing it all by my lonesome.

After ringing the bell and whistling Christmas carols (I forgot the words) for two hours, here are my tips for anyone who does this:

1. Bring water and snacks. Two hours is a longer time than you think, and you definitely get thirsty and I got pretty hungry (it was around dinner time).

2. Don't do it alone. Two hours of ringing a bell and whistling without a break is very tiring. If you have your kids, at least, there's a little bit of a rest, and if you have another adult, you can kind of give each other breaks.

3. Bring a folding chair. This goes with No. 2 ... if there are more than one of you, one person can take a break while the others are ringing the bells and singing.

4. Print out Christmas carol lyrics. I can't remember all the words to any carols. Not even Jingle Bells. So print them out and sing them with your kids. It's very festive.

5. Bring Santa hats. It's fun and merry and full of Christmas spirit. Also have jingle bells. Get into the spirit of it!

6. Don't pressure anyone. I always feel guilt if I walk by bell ringers without donating at least some change. But as a bell ringer, I saw it from a different perspective. I didn't judge anyone, and tried not to stare at people as they walked by, so they wouldn't think I was judging them. I think people still feel guilty anyways, but I never wanted anyone to feel like they were obligated to donate. I still got plenty of donations anyways. People were very generous, and whatever they could give, I was very appreicative -- from $5 to 5 cents!

Whatever you do, volunteer for something. You will love it, and the organizations that you help will love you for it. Volunteers are a sorely needed commodity.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Keeping a stress-free, clean house

Yesterday I cleaned my house a little, tidying up, cleaning the bathroom a little, cleaning the kitchen, and generally making the place look nice.

It is simply beautiful. There is a tremendous pleasure I get in being able to relax in a clean house.

Of course, with six kids, it never lasts long, but there are things I can do to keep it generally clean and tidy.

Here are the habits I will try to maintain to keep a stress-free house:

1. Never leave dishes in the sink. Or counter. Clean up any messes in the kitchen after I'm done. Wipe the counters, keep the sink clean.

2. Tidy the bathroom as I go. After I use the bathroom, clean the sink, the toilet, spray down the shower, real quick. It only takes a couple of minutes, and the joy of a clean bathroom is unmatched.

3. Pick up as I go. There are little things the kids leave around the house. I'll just pick them up throughout the day, or keep a basket for their stuff and just dump them in there, for them to put away later.

4. Never leave clothes out. I have a tendency to hang my once-used but still clean clothes in my bedroom, leaving them out to clutter the place up. No more. They either go in the dirty clothes, or they get hung in the closet.

5. Take the trash out every day. It's cleaner, and even if the trash isn't quite full, this is a good habit.

6. Tidy up before I leave the house. It's wonderful to come home to a clean house. Just pick up a little before I leave.

7. Make my bed in the morning. I'll do this either before or after I shower. I love a made bed.

8. Tidy up before I go to bed. Waking up to a dirty house is stressful. Waking up to a clean house is an incredible way to start the day.

9. Don't let clutter pile up. There's a place in the kitchen where we pile books and papers. That needs to go. Piles are stressful. I will clear this counter daily, along with the inbox we have for all incoming papers.

10. Get rid of the papers on the fridge. I can pretty much put all of that info on our calendar. They leave a very cluttered appearance.

11. Teach the kids to put their stuff away. By far the greatest source of stress and messiness. This will also be the most difficult task, and I don't know if it can ever be accomplished. But it's worth a try.

Monday, December 4, 2006

How I save money

I think I'm a fairly frugal person. I haven't always been this way, and it's taken years of simplifying and cutting back on little things, one at a time. And while there are definitely many more things I can scrimp and save on, I'm proud of how far I've come already. Here's how I save money:

1) I cut my own hair. I bought a $20 buzzer, and it lasts about a year. I used to get a haircut every month, at a cost of $20 (including tip, not including gas money to get there and valuable time spent there). So I save the cost of about 11 haircuts a year. I do the same for my three sons, saving another 36 haircuts (at $10 each). Annual savings: $580.

2) No Cable TV. We watch DVDs, or read. I don't spend much on DVDs either (probably less than most people, per month). Cable costs about $65/month. Annual savings: $780.

3) Became vegan. I eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, which are expensive, sure, but you are supposed to eat those whether you're vegan, vegetarian or a carnivore, so I don't count those as extra expenses. The real comparison is between meat, and the protein substitutes I use. Most of my protein comes from tofu, although I do eat beans and soy protein such as fake ground beef or soy burgers. Overall I believe I save about $2-3 per day not eating meat. Annual savings: $900.

4) Don't use the gym. I used to be a member of a gym. Didn't use it much, and still got charged for a full year. Now I get a lot of exercise, but I do it at home and on the road. I do strength exercises in my living room and jog (and will soon start cycling and swimming). Annual savings: $420.

5) Rarely go to the movies. I used to go out to the movies at least once a week, and sometimes more. I slowly made it every other week, and now I don't even go once a month. Now we take the kids to the park or out to do something more fun and creative. I figger this saves me at least $15 per week, although it's probably more when you factor in the cost of my kids' tickets, and concessions. Annual savings: $780.

6) Quit smoking. I quit over a year ago. I smoked a pack a day, plus a soda or tea or coffee to go with the cigarettes, at a cost of about $5 per day. Annual savings: $1,825.

7) Don't drink much. I never did, really, except maybe in college. But for some people, drinking is a major expense. A beer or two a day can add up, and for the sake of these calculations, I'll count it. Annual savings: $800.

8) Never go out. I don't go to clubs, or the theater, or ballet, or opera. I guess I'm just not that type of person. Annual savings: maybe $500.

9) Stay healthy. As mentioned above, I'm a vegan, a runner, and I don't drink or smoke anymore. I never go to the doctor, and if I keep up this lifestyle, my likelihood of getting the most common diseases are greatly lowered. Annual savings: probably $1,200.

10) Don't go shopping. We used to hang out at the mall a lot. It was convenient, and had a lot of great stuff to look at, and a food court. The food court alone costs $30 for us, and if we bought stuff that would be another $25-75. Cha-ching. Now I rarely ever, ever, ever go to the mall. I hate it anyway. I only go to the mall or Kmart if I need something, and even then I try my best to avoid it. Annual savings: probably $2,600.

11) Have only one car. We are a married couple with six kids, soccer practice, choir, school functions, many many family gatherings, running events, martial arts, and much more. But we get by on one car. We are looking to get a used van with better fuel economy, and I am going to start commuting at least a few times a week by bike. Annual savings: unknown, but perhaps $5,000.

12) Bring my own lunch. My co-workers eat out every day, at a cost of $8-20 per lunch. I bring leftovers or a sandwich and fruits and pretzels and stuff. At a cost of probably less than $5. Annual savings: $1,800.

13) No magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I used to have the paper delivered. Now I read it online or at work. I used to subscribe to 1-2 magazines. Now I read the Internet. Annual savings: $360.

14) Rarely buy new clothes. I use my clothes and shoes until they are threadbare. Really. Ask my wife and kids. Annual savings: maybe $400.

15) Never travel. I would like to travel. When I am out of debt and my savings accounts are nice and healthy, I will travel. But for now, I skip it. Others I know take at least a trip per year. Annual savings: $1,500.

16) No more lattes. I used to get a latte every day. At a cost of about $4 per latte. Sometimes I'd get two. Now I make my own coffee. Annual savings: about $1,000.

There are more little ways that I've learned to save, like getting my books at a used book store, cooking most of my meals (aside from the above-mentioned lunches), power-saving measures, no long distance calls. There are also ways I can still save, including eating out less (we eat out 1-3 times per week, mostly fast food like pizza or Taco Bell or Wendy's, all of which I can do without).

Estimated total savings: $20,445.

Now, I'm not sure if most people spend the full amounts listed above, or if I ever did. But at some point, I did come close, and I think many people do as well. But however you look at it, I'm proud of how far I've come. Does this all go into savings? Of course not. Other expenses have gone up, because I now have six kids, and our income has temporarily gone down. Also, we're now putting money into debt, and once that is freed up, more will go into savings.

Similar posts elsewhere:

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Friday, December 1, 2006

Positive Parenting Day 1

OK, the first day of my 30-day positive parenting habit passed yesterday, and here's my report:

Day 1 Zero yellings or spankings: Successful (1/1 days)
Praise or talk gently to each child at least once: Fairly successful (1/1 days)
Show love and affection for each child at least once: Only partially successful (0/1 days)

I need to make it a point to praise and show affection to each of my children. As I have six of them, this can be a difficult thing to remember. My daughter, Chloe, suggested that I wear a rubber band around my wrist, as a reminder. This is a good idea, and I think I'll give it a try.

Research on the Web
I think one of my problems is that I genuinely do want to be more positive, but I'm sure exactly how to do it. I'm doing some research and here are some tips I've found so far:

From What is Positive Discipline (pdf):

  • Mutual respect. Adults model firmness by respecting themselves and the needs of the situation, and kindness by respecting the needs of the child.
  • Identifying the belief behind the behavior. Effective discipline recognizes the reasons kids do what they do and works to change those beliefs, rather than merely attempting to change behavior.
  • Effective communication and problem solving skills.
  • Discipline that teaches (and is neither permissive nor punitive).
  • Focusing on solutions instead of punishment.
  • Encouragement (instead of praise). Encouragement notices effort and improvement, not just success, and builds long-term self-esteem and empowerment.
Some of the better tips from Positive Discipline Guidelines:
  • Celebrate each step in the direction of improvement rather than focusing on mistakes.
  • A great way to help children feel encouraged is to spend special time “being with them.” Many teachers have noticed a dramatic change in a “problem child” after spending five minutes simply sharing what they both like to do for fun.
  • When tucking children into bed, ask them to share with you their “saddest time” during the day and their “happiest time” during the day. Then you share with them. You will be surprised what you learn.
  • Have family meetings or class meetings to solve problems with cooperation and mutual respect. This is the key to creating a loving, respectful atmosphere while helping children develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills.
  • Teach and model mutual respect. One way is to be kind and firm at the same time—kind to show respect for the child, and firm to show respect for yourself and “the needs of the situation.” This is difficult during conflict, so use the next guideline whenever you can.
  • Proper timing will improve your effectiveness tenfold. It does not “work” to deal with a problem at the time of conflict—emotions get in the way. Teach children about cooling-off periods. You (or the children) can go to a separate room and do something to make yourself feel better—and then work on the problem with mutual respect.
  • Use Positive Time Out. Let your children help you design a pleasant area (cushions, books, music, stuffed animals) that will help them feel better. Remember that children do better when they feel better. Then you can ask your children, when they are upset, “Do you think it would help you to take some positive time out?”
  • Focus on solutions instead of consequences. Many parents and teachers try to disguise punishment by calling it a logical consequence. Get children involved in finding solutions that are (1) related (2) respectful (3) reasonable.
  • Make sure the message of love and respect gets through. Start with “I care about you. I am concerned about this situation. Will you work with me on a solution?”

There are many more good articles out there on Positive Parenting, and I'll be posting some of my better finds as the month goes along.

See also: