Monday, 8 June 2015

Episode Forty: Grieving

Warning - some of the content of this post might be upsetting to some readers.

Our cat died. Our poor old, eighteen year old cat that was a big part of our family finally left us. We knew it was coming as she was very old and was starting to look a bit frail, however it was still a very sad shock for us all.

As parents, my wife and I knew that there was going to be some difficult discussions and questions coming about our cat Porridge's passing. When Porridge died we jumped headfirst into the honesty and tried not to hide anything about the experience from our children. This included letting them see her (although she was hit by a car there was no blood or visible trauma which was a blessing), letting them touch her and talking about the realities of death. We didn't tell them she'd gone to live on a farm or anything fanciful - just the truth.

We found a place to bury her behind the house and I started digging. The children were keen to be involved and asked for turns with the spade so I let them. I was glad they were asking to be involved in what was a pretty crummy situation.  

To see them comfort each other in their grief was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Loss isn't easy and to see the children hugging each other and talking through their thoughts and feelings made me feel hopeful for any future times of grief they'll go through together.

I have to say that a lot of their tricky or left-of-centre questions were helpfully answered by a book that we already had in the bookcase: 'I Miss You - A First Look At Death' by Pat Thomas (this can be purchased here). It's a great book that talks quite matter-of-factly about the nature of living things dying but also covers the emotions that go with grief quite tenderly.

I personally don't have a great amount of experience with the loss of loved ones so this whole experience was important to me to share with my children. I wanted them to know that feeling sad or asking crazy questions is perfectly normal and OK in our house. That if they wanted to poke and prod their cat's lifeless body that was fine. If they wanted to put flowers in the grave, that wasn't a problem. If they were worried about the soil being thrown on top of their cat's body, that wasn't a silly thing to think. It was also important for them to see their parents crying and feeling sad about saying goodbye to a family member they loved.

In the end, I was pretty thankful to that cat for all that it taught our children while it was alive and finally when she died.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Episode Thirty Nine: Toasting Marshmallows

Hey Team!

A lot has been going on behind the scenes with Ideas For Dads including a brand new website. I can't wait to share that with you. I've also been working on a wee giveaway that I hope to share with you within the next month. Keep your eyes peeled.

Toasting marshmallows is my latest idea and, admittedly, it's nothing new. This was one of my favourite past time as a kid usually reserved for evenings on the beach or around a bonfire somewhere. But at my house we're quite fond of having a brazier going and a few beers. It's also a good chance to burn the results of our tree pruning etc.

While we were camping at our favourite, local campground our children invited themselves to a bonfire on the beach where the kids were toasting marshmallows. Part of me relived this fun childhood memory while another part of me wondered how this could be transferred to home life.

My father-in-law got handy with some number eight wire and created perfect skewers for toasting marshmallows without burning your fingers. Armed with some dry firewood, some circulars from the letterbox and a trusty box of matches we fired up the brazier and brought the magic of that evening at the campground home to our house.

We have a great time figuring out who has the best technique for toasting, who has the most patience and who can fit the most marshmallows on a skewer without them falling off. The best part about this whole idea is that you can do this so easily in your own backyard plus it's a neat thing to do in the Winter with the heat from the fire keeping everyone warm and entertained.

There are some excellent opportunities to teach your children about fire safety and get them comfortable around fire, smoke and all that fun stuff. But most of all it's a great chance to bring the whole family together outside and doing something that will put a smile on their faces. As demonstrated above.

Have fun!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Episode Thirty Eight: Teach Them A Chore

Hi again Team!

Wow, I've been meaning to do this idea for a long time now but have never got around to writing about it. I don't know if you're anything like me - but if you are, the images below make you feel a certain way. Like a father teaching his son to shave, something about letting your kid push the lawnmower around just pulls at the manly heart strings. Manly ones, of course. I'm not really that sort of guy but there's something about the noise, the petrol fumes and the danger that makes me love pushing the lawnmower around the yard. To share that with my middle boy is a dream come true.

First I should make two disclaimers: One) We borrowed this lawnmower and it was the quietest lawnmower I've ever heard, which is why neither of us are wearing hearing protection in these photos. Please use common sense when letting your children use machinery. Two) We had to borrow this lawnmower because we have people mow our lawns on a fortnightly basis for us. It was just that with the Christmas holidays they were on a break and our lawn needed doing.

I knew as soon as I ripped the cord on the mower that my son would come running out asking if he could have a go. He's only five but I thought with some supervision and instruction it would be no problem and I knew he would enjoy it so much. So away we went! I got him started on the grass strip down the centre of our driveway and then I turned the mower off. I talked him through all the parts of the mower and also lifted it up and showed him the blade and explained why he should never, ever put his hand in or under there. I then told him the story of the one-armed lawnmower repairman who lived in my town when I was growing up. True fact! 

From there we got the mower started and away he went. Sure, mowing the lawns isn't a chore we do ourselves but it is something that contributes to making our house look good and function well. There are so many things that we as caregivers do to keep the house running. There is something to be said about introducing these to your children. They don't have to take them on straight away, but an awareness of them is a healthy thing. I certainly don't want to raise children who think the toilet cleans itself or expects clean washing to just appear in their drawers.

It's really hard to know when you should get your children contributing to the household jobs and what you should give them. I'm really interested to hear what your children do and at what age. For comparison to my own children, mainly. I grew up having to do a lot for myself and I'm often stuck between wanting to pass on that same skill set but also allow them to have a easier upbringing than I did. Very hard to find the balance, don't you think?

Have fun!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Episode Thirty Seven: Get Chickens

Hello again Team! 

There have been a lot of ideas I've shared that are pretty easy to do and use things you may have lying around the house. This one, not so much. This one take a little more effort and frankly, it's not for everyone. Either way, this weeks idea is get chickens.

First things first: Most councils within New Zealand have bylaws surrounding keeping chickens in suburban areas (the majority of them do not allow for roosters within town) so make sure you're aware of what you're allowed and not allowed to do. There can be some pretty stringent rules around how far away from dwellings and fences the chickens are allowed to be. Don't get caught out.

Once you've got that bit of homework done, the fun times begin. For us that meant building a chicken house and a pen for them to be kept within. There are a lot of differing opinions on how much room chickens actually need - not much room if you talk to battery hen farmers. However, we've opted for around 10m2 for five chickens. They seem pretty happy with that.

Chicken houses differ and companies like Farmlands sell pre-made ones which can be quite cool. I've made my own using forklift pallets I've found behind various shops around town. The cool thing about building your own is that you can make tweaks and changes - trust me, there will be a few variations needed as chickens are quite particular about where they lay and roost.

From there it's a case of finding chickens to buy. TradeMe is your friend. We got all sorts of advice around what sort of breed we should be looking for and in the end opted for Brown Shavers. They are pretty hearty and lay quite consistently. There is a great online resource called 'Chickens By Design' that has some good info around breeds and how to choose your chickens. 

For our children it's been a great excercise in seeing food being brought to the table from their back yard. We feed our chickens our various table scraps and compostables and in turn they provide us with five eggs a day. Our kids are pretty stoked to go out every day, feed them and collect the eggs. It's the same theory as gardening and bringing your veggies to your plate - just with less fuss.

I've also learnt a lot about chickens myself. I didn't realise how curious they are. If I'm working in their pen making adjustments or even in the backyard near them, they love to gather around and get involved. They can be quite smart too!

Anyways, this idea may not be for anyone but I guess this is my way of sharing the fact that we've got chickens and they are super low fuss, fun for our children and we haven't had to buy eggs since getting them. If you've been toying with the idea of chickens in your backyard, do it. Trust me, it's great fun. It's nice to have spare eggs to give away and incredibly easy to entice people to feed them while you're away on holiday (they just collect their eggs as payment as they go!).

Have fun!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Cool Stuff: Heights

I can't stand heights. I can sometimes convince myself to go up high or go up ladders but I have this weird thing where afterwards I think about how I could have fallen off and get panicky.

I talked about not letting your own fears get in the way of your childrens progress here.

Anyways, check out this video below. It made my heart race but looks like the coolest job in the world regardless.

A lot better than this job at least:

Have fun!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Episode Thirty Six: Go Camping

Man, this one seems so obvious, I can't believe I haven't written this before. Or have I?

Every year my family (and my in-laws) go camping at a camp ground not far from where we live. It's about 40 minutes drive away but on the other side of the harbour so it feels like we've gone away but still close enough to race home and get the things we've forgotten.

Camping when I was little was being in a nylon pup tent on a bare piece of land on the West Coast of the North Island. Foam mattresses, solar showers and instant pudding. However, these days we camp a bit more comfortably with a powered site, the modern creature comforts and maybe a few luxury items in the chilly bin. The point being however you camp (glamping or roughing it), it's an awesome experience for your children.

The main thing I like is how the everyday household processes are broken down right in front of your children. They see how much effort it takes to make dinner using a gas stove or how much of a hassle it is to do dishes in the communal kitchen. It gets them to think about how easy things are at home and how much is done for them. It does for my kids anyway! There is always a look of realisation on their faces as they get to see all the steps of doing the laundry first-hand - not hidden in a room at the other end of the house.

Sure, there's the cool parts like spending all day on the beach riding waves and making sandcastles. There is the ecstasy of flopping into bed at the end of a hard day running around the sand dunes. There is the squelch of mud between your toes as you hunt for crabs. Those are the things that memories are made of. However as a father I love using camping as a way to give them a 'behind the scenes' of domesticated life and to use that to challenge them. Push them into doing more around the place. Weird huh.

Whether you're a strange person like me who uses camping to show his children how good they've got it, or as a way to leave the hustle of every day life behind, taking your children camping is so good for them. To get back to basics and get amongst nature, leave the screens behind and have some good quality family time.

What does camping look like for you? Leave a comment, I'm interested.

Have fun!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Cool Stuff: Ideas on Zen Habits

Zen Habits is a blog I discovered a long time ago. I try not to visit there too often as I know I'll get stuck in a wormhole of content. There is so much good stuff in there. Also, it makes me feel frustrated with where my life is at and how amazing this guy's life seems. Comparison is the thief of joy and all that.

Anyhow, I stumbled across this article the other day and it's a 15 year old asking him for advice on what to do with her life. There are some interesting suggestions there - but I looked at them as interesting ideas I could share with my children. It's the middle of the holidays and they need something to do, just to get them through those boring hours between lunch time and dad coming home (haha). I voxer'ed a message to them to say "Do something that scares you" - or some such.

With a bit of imagination and forethought, I can think you could use this article to come up with some cool ideas and nurture some values that set up your children for a future where entrepreneurship is the norm.

What do you reckon?