Dungeons and Dragons for young kids: why, how, and how old?

[WARNING - Nerd talk ahead!]

So I’m an engineer, so it should come as no surprise I at least tried Dungeons and Dragons in my youth. I talked my mom into the red-boxed Basic D&D set when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old, and with my two brothers and a couple of friends  played a few games before dropping it.


Basically, we didn’t know how to play and sort of made up rules based on the book. It was fun, but we never took it to the next level. We followed up that experience up with a Marvel Superheroes RPG, which was fun too, but that soon followed the path of D&D. We lived outside of town, and not having a mentor or other friends to play the games with were probably our biggest reasons for dropping it.

marvel rpg

Somehow I got it in my head that my kids may be interested in playing it this summer. Thought it may be fun to mix it in with all the other summer activities (swimming, camp, soccer, video games, piano, gardening, crafts) and keep things interesting. So I bought the newly released (July 2014) basic level Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set ($12 on Amazon) at a local hobby shop for $20. It comes with basic rules, a guide for the game master (AKA Dungeon Master or DM in nerd-talk) and some multisided dice. I wasn’t sure how my kids would like it, or be able to handle it (they just turned 7 and 9 respectively). Prior to this arriving in the mail, I had checked out some D&D rule books (something like version 3.5, which are for “real” players) from the library, and holy shit, was my head spinning. Very complex for someone who hadn’t looked at this stuff for 25 years and never played at that level.

Thankfully, this starter set made things easy. They had pre-made characters (though my kids wanted to make their own anyway), simplified instructions (that I further modified for the kiddos- recommended age was “12 and up”), and a pre-made adventure. As I was reading the instructions, I told the kids they should have a Lego figure to represent the character (there are no miniatures in the kit), so they spent some time getting outfits and weapons and so forth set. Then, I gave them a brief description of the first adventure setting, so they went ahead and built a Lego version of the adventure complete with bridge and water. Finally, they built Lego “bad guys” of unknown species or origin. Half the fun for this first go around was this initial effort.

lego dungeons and dragons

They weren’t happy with their pre-made equipment list for their characters so rolled for gold and went shopping using a weapons/armor/equipment list in one of the library books.  After equipping their newly rolled characters, they were finally ready for adventure. Since I don’t really know how to DM, I followed the book adventure closely, but tried to impart on them the need to flesh out their actions and pretend they were really there. I led them to their first battle (LoudBoy, Birdsnest, and Birdsnest’s friend SoccerGirl) which they recommended for 5-6 players. Not to spoil it, but it was against four goblins or some such villianry – two raining down arrows while the other two attacking our party with swords. Rolling dice and battling was quickly figured out by the group, and all three barely made it out alive. LoudBoy’s cleric casted a heal spell on himself despite the fact that his sister’s wizard was getting creamed and his hit points were mostly fine. Funny.

We called an end to our first part of the tale shortly thereafter, where the characters set up camp to heal and recover to move on to part two which we played later.

My thoughts on the whole thing is that while 9 (and especially 7) is too young for full on D&D adventures and rules, if you dumb it down, focus on stories, let them have the benefit from time to time of some “lucky” rolls and engage in battle of various sorts, they will have a great time. We weren’t doing lots of extra dexterity or wisdom rolls, or figuring out movements in battles – we would just move the Lego characters and bad guys around the grid and Lego setting, have them tell me what they were doing (attacking and with what, casting a spell) while they battled it out. That was a key part of our adventure. Keeping things moving and simple.

Now lest you think I live in my own fantasy world and don’t know the social stigma associated with the Dungeons and Dragons term, think again. I’m not looking to have my kids be social outcasts (not to say D&D folks are, but it is looked down upon, or was in my day), and I’m even considering changing the name to “Dragon Adventure” or simply “Adventure” to perhaps take away some of the geek stink from it when they talk about it. But it’s a social atmosphere, where they use their imagination, problem solving skills and teamwork to beat the bad guys. Anything is possible in the game, so unlike the constraints of a videogame, they truly are tapping into parts of their brain that doesn’t get used and had a wonderful time imagining fighting goblins and monsters. I’d much rather have them playing something that requires these skills versus sitting in front of a television watching shows or playing computer games. I’m not out to make geeks, but to have them play Adventure and have a good time, and have some quality time with them to boot – creating fond memories, I hope.

With a variety of free resources and older adventure modules you can find in .pdf, even if you aren’t a creative game master like me, you can still navigate your group through whole new worlds and campaigns. Since I still don’t really know what I’m doing as DM, I may sit in with the neckbeards at the local hobby/game shop on their weekly game night and observe some real D&D play to get a better understanding of how it goes so I may better lead my kids adventures.

For those out there punching their fist like Nelson Muntz looking to give me a wedgie, I ask you, is Dungeons and Dragons any dorkier than Fantasy Football (which I, and 33.5 million other people play)?  Both require “fantasy” in that you don’t really own an NFL team. Both involve stats. Both involve randomness. Both involve picking players. Not that different people.fantasy football

Your wife thinks you’re a dork no matter what, but on the D&D side, I think it is different playing with your kids (quality time with games) vs. taking it to the next level and finding a real game with of grownups (it’s harder to shrug off gaming with grownups, though I’m sure it is pretty fun and not much different than board game night with friends). Regardless, whether D&D or Fantasy Football or some other dorky hobby, you have to balance out this tendency to nerd-out with some manly things like weights, or hunting, or MMA – something so that your wife can pretend to ignore these (perhaps) less than sexy hobbies for ones that have more street cred. That is, unless your wife is into CosPlay and dress up, which sounds super hot to me.

Thievery will be punished

Thievery will be punished, now bend over for your spanking

Finally, since starting this topic, I can’t get this song out of my head. Thanks Weezer!



Happy Labor Day

I hope your extra day off enjoying the fruits of all the labor you do goes well. We all work our asses off, and hopefully you take the time to enjoy and reflect on all that you do. Life is bountiful.

For us, Labor Day marks the end of the summer. Kids get back on the school bus tomorrow morning and our schedules start filling in and changing from the summer’s flexible hours. Our family is enjoying a nice relaxing weekend with no real plans, so are filling it in with a mix of yardwork, housework, and fun. So I’m now going to open up a good book, start the rest of my day, and wait for a sexy happy ending tonight. Thanks for reading.


Tattoos and Family Tree

Regardless of what you personally think about tattoos, you must admit that A) they are usually very personal for the person getting them and B) some are very cool art. Mine qualify for A) and for me B) as well, though opinions on art quality are very much individualistic.

I got my first tattoo at about 20 years old and my last a couple of years ago at 36. I don’t regret any, but certainly appreciate that other’s perception of mine may be different than my own. My wife doesn’t particularly like mine, but she’s got her own favorite style and mine are for me. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have done things a little differently, but for the most part my tattoos don’t look like a random hodge-podge pile of shit like many you see at the county fair. Though done over a period of years, I was able to roll in existing work into a semi-thoughtout half sleeve of a large family tree concept. It includes my wife’s family crest carved into a tree, representation of my kids, and something for my immediate family roots. Forgive the poor presentation of a partial arm:

tree 1 tree 2

So why did I decide to permanently ink myself with a family crest of my wife’s family? Or with a family tree idea? First, my representation of my kids on the outside and most visible part of my arm (not shown) will always be a large part of who I am. They are integral to my daily presence and even when grown, moved on, and out of my house, will be a reminder of what the love of two people can create (regardless of what can happen from now to eternity). Second, my wife’s family name is my daughter’s middle name, and the crest is both a a representation of the combination of our two houses as well as a nod to my children’s family background from their mom’s side. I don’t have a family crest of any sorts, and feel very much part of her family anyways. It’s not an epic fail like a name if things were ever to go awry.

If you are interested in getting tattoos, here’s some general advice:

  • Think long and hard. It’s a very personal decision, but often not getting one is the right choice
  • Where you place them is always important. Personally, I like to have mine in places that can be covered up if needed. They are visible at the pool, and peak out of short sleeve shirts, but besides that I’m the professional looking dude if needed. Mine also aren’t scattered all over my body, which provides, in my opinion, a cleaner look and one that looks better.
  • If you like them on your back, recognize that you’ll never see it. Sounds dumb to state that, but I have one on my back, and it’s often forgot about.
  • It’s fine if you want one that is clearly visible (on your leg, on your forearm, on your neck), but recognize people will be judging you without even knowing you. It may not matter to you, but may impact certain life/job options for you.
  • Finding the right artist and tattoo shop is critical. This can’t be overstated. If you are just getting a chinese symbol or peace sign, it probably matters less, but any real art should be done by the best you can afford. This requires some research. If you don’t know who you want to go to, visit a few shops and ask to see the various artists portfolios. Make sure they are up to snuff with cleanliness.
  • Figure out your style. My wife likes more realistic, asymetrical works, while I enjoy more traditional pieces with linework. I’m not sure what holds up best over time (they will fade and the crispness of that first year will sort of melt, so consider that when deciding your work). Then find an artist who matches your style. Yes, most artists can do most works, but they often have a preferred style as well, along with strengths and weaknesses.
  • Don’t neglect the artist vibe, walk away if it’s not right. One of my pieces, I used an artist a friend recommended. The vibe was off, his artwork had to be redone before inking per my request (and in the end, it still didn’t capture the vibe I was looking for), and I wish I had done things differently. It looks good, and I’m mostly happy with it, but the experience wasn’t great and it could be better. Contrast that to working with an artist who matches your energy or vibe. You’ll be much happier. Most tattoo artists aren’t happy go-lucky Mary Poppins type, but you should connect on some level with your dude or lady who is working on you.
  • Work with your artist on the design if you don’t have the chops. While a few of my pieces were cut and dry, most were designed as a collaborative process with the artist. They often have some great ideas on things to make them look better.
  • Plan for the future. If you get one, think about if maybe you want a bigger piece (like a half or full sleeve, or larger work on say, your back) and take the time to plan out an option to roll in pieces to look like a planned conglomeration instead of a hodge podge of shit.
  • It will hurt. Getting inked is somewhat annoying to fucking annoying depending on where you get it. Truth. Deal with it like a man.
  • Follow aftercare instructions. This is critical. If you are picking tattoo scabs, your skin can scar making it look like shit. My typical aftercare instructions included gently washing with anti-bacterial soap like dial, and putting aquophor healing ointment on it. This has been great for me, but your recommendations may be different.
  • Item 1 again – think long and hard, often the best decision is not getting one.

If you want a good book (rated 4.5 stars on ‘Zon) on the what it’s like on the inside, I recommend Jeff Johnson’s Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink. I found a copy at my local library, which always my preferred choice for you and me.

So there you have it. But what tattoo post would be complete without some lovely tattoos. Happy Friday.

girl nipple tattoo patrick swayze child tattoo fail twilight unicorn dolphin tattoo

Standard American Diet is SAD

Le sigh. We have had my MIL watch our kids for part of the summer, and we’re very fortunate both for strong family relationships and the cost aspects of this benefit. But MIL is very unhealthy, and despite starting to read great books we’ve lent like Wheat Belly, and giving lip service to “trying” various diets (weight watchers, Atkins, whatever) she still refuses to change her poor habits. This despite being about 100+ lbs overweight, having diabetes, and needing another hip surgery (but the surgeon won’t do it until she loses weight). Yesterday, I came home to her idea of good food for the kids (that she brought into our house).


So we have the main food group grains well established, plus the chip group. Breaking this box of goodness down we have corn chips, Cheerios, ice cream cones, a loaf of bread, pretzels, a box of saltines, and another bag of dill pickle chips and I think a partial bag of table sugar. You may notice some zucchinis, onions, and tomatoes on the edges – those are from our garden.

The kids LOVE when grandma comes because they are looped up all day on this crap. And despite telling her we don’t eat this stuff (and have a fridge full of more nutritious foods) she insists on “treating” the kids. Now lest you think we’re food nazis, or are perfect in our own right, we aren’t. We may not buy bread or flour products any more, but we don’t push too hard against this behavior as baking and treating the kids brings her happiness. But as soon as she’s gone, most of this crap ends up in the garbage, and the kids are back to having an apple with almond butter or cheese stick for a snack.

Every birthday party and picnic we’ve been too this summer has this same stuff. Oreo cookies, potato chips, hot dogs, jello salad. You know the drill.

jello salad

All we have the power to do is decide what goes into our pantry, our bodies, our children’t bodies, and our minds. The kids are picking up that they don’t feel as good eating flour (though they choose to do so anyway – it just tastes so good!). They recognize that people who don’t care about what goes in their bodies often look that way (as they pointed out at the water park this week). When I talk to friends and neighbors who are looking to lose weight, I always tell them ditch the bread, ditch the flour, stop drinking soda, and everything else will fall into place. “What will I eat at the restaurant with friends?” they ask. “Burger without the bun, and a side salad” is my standard response. Changes don’t have to be drastic.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is so bad. The same sheeple feed that fattens up the livestock also fattens up the sheeple. Subsidized corn and wheat and soy that is cheap and easily processed. I usually point people to Mark’s Daily Apple for the first step towards improving, and usually to Hawaiian Libertarian for the more cynical viewpoint. They build on each other, and when you see why we’re being duped as a society to eat like this, you have incentive to change.

Some of the better Kaoni posts on diet:

Of course, Robb Wolf has a great intro (link on the right for Paleo Solution), Denise Minger’s new book (Death by Food Pyramid) is good, and the The Primal Blueprint is easily digestible to the lifestyle as well.

While I’d like you, my friends, and family to all be healthy, that’s not something I can control. If you’re like my MIL or brothers and simply don’t care enough, despite health issues, that’s your choice. Or you could follow many of the success stories seen on MDA and go a different route – but that route means giving up most of the SAD and getting over the hump that most encounter. Everything in moderation (don’t shoot for perfect or you’ll fail), but what you’ll find is that when you reincorporate flour and processed stuff in the middle grocery store isles back into your diet, you’ll feel worse.

I encourage you to find others to join you in your healthy eating quest, usually those that live in your house are a good group. There may be push back, but every improvement area needs a champion. That can be you. Educate yourself and decide how you want to be. You can thumb your nose at the SAD, but you don’t have to look down on the people, mostly they don’t know any better. Best of luck on your journey.

One final note: my wife is a big fan of Everyday Paleo’s Sarah Fragoso and we have a couple of her Paleo Cookbooks. For those with kids just ramping up to get back to school, perhaps my favorite post of hers is from a few years ago where she chronicled her family’s menu (and kids’ lunches) over a week.  The post is A Week in the Life, check it out if you need ideas.

My Kids Learnin’ Stuff

“That… that… that fucking dog!”

Those are words my lovely daughter spoke at about 4 years old after seeing dog poop on the floor. How do you think she learned to say that? She was essentially copying my wife’s Holly typical reaction for seeing the same thing. That was an eye opener and my wife got the big ole stink eye from me.

Kids are terrific mimes of our words and actions. If you read a lot, and make it a priority in your house, it’s likely they’ll be more apt to do that as well. If you laze around and watch television, they’ll accept that as the norm. If you work out at home or swim laps while the kids have swim lessons they are likely to copy you or keep with an activity that they see you enjoy. I’ve been doing some personal training of a neighbor who is getting back into exercising and my 9 year old has been joining us for some of those of her own desires (I having them do mostly bodyweight movements).

If you want to see your kids do an activity, introduce them and support them, but they won’t all stick. My 7 year old beat me in chess the other day (admittedly, I suck, and barely know the names of the pieces, still referring to them as “horsey” and “castle”) but he has very little interest in doing swim team again. He is obsessed with playing a simplified version of table top RPG Dungeons and Dragons (that I recently introduced them to, but a story for anther day) but has no interest in learning how to bat or throw a football properly. Get him on a soccer field though and he’s an absolute obsessed beast with some inherent talent.

In general though, my kids are following in my wife and my footsteps. Newly minted 9 year old Birdsnest is a bookwarm, aspiring pianist, and crafter (necklaces, bracelets, duct tape wallets, is working on crocheting) and LoudBoy (7) loves video games and playing legos. These are things my wife and I do or enjoyed ourselves growing up. Both are very active, as my wife and I are.

The kids also accept their share of basic chores that we have them do (emptying dishwasher, doing their own laundry, helping water plants or garden, taking the dog out). There is no reason why kids can’t be playing a role in keeping the household tidy. Back in the day, these young ‘uns would be helping to feed calves and clean manure in the family farm, so having them clean their room, put away laundry, do the dishes, and sweep the floor is not exactly slave labor. This basic work ethic is learned, and I believe structure here should be taught sooner rather than later.

As we’re about to start school learnin’ again in a week, our kids have had a good education on other things this summer. Mostly though, this summer has been about having fun and being a kid, without the constant supervision of parents. The kids get to run around and play with sticks and play flashlight games while the parents talk smart around campfires. What a life!

Setting and chipping away at HUGE goals

how to eat an elephant

I strongly believe that we should all set some huge, scary goals that stretch you well beyond your current spot in life. These should be things that if you tried them tomorrow, or 6 months from now, you would fail.  When looking ahead, you should be shaking your head a little saying “I have no idea how I could ever accomplish that!” And then take that thought and switch your perspective, knowing that it can be done, but you have to take tiny, little steps on a near-daily basis and commit to it. These goals should be like a beacon in the night, like the star over Bethlehem, guiding you on your journey. Some examples of the kind of goals I’m talking about:

  • Losing 50 or more pounds
  • Running a marathon, or completing a triathlon
  • Getting completely out of debt
  • Retiring at 50 years old
  • Starting a side-hustle business, and turning it into a full time gig
  • Switching careers mid-stream to something that you have passion for

These things, when looking at them today, are very intimidating. Most of them you have a lot of control over the ability to accomplish them.

I like motivational speaker/life coach Tony Robbin’s acronym CANI – Constant And Never-ending Improvement. Basically, you do very small things each day and keep track of those small things in a notebook or diary. Just writing these things down is a way to both motivate and track progress, even if that progress is not even really tangible at this point.

For most of us, we tread water each day – get the kids up, pack lunches, go to work, make dinner, play and relax, go to sleep. Even if you exercise, it’s usually to stave off age more than to accomplish a set goal. All that is fine, it can be a fulfilling life by simply treading water and smelling the roses. If you are happy, then you’ve accomplished what we are all striving to achieve in this world, then you can ignore anything else I have to say. If you feel things could be better, then CANI to a large goal is often a large contributor to life fulfillment. Most of those example goals above are solid since they all, in their own way, provide an opportunity to pursue passions, instead of being obligated to work or live for someone else. Or in the case of weight loss, improve health to allow you to pursue other life opportunities, and often to feel more love for yourself.

So I encourage you all to reflect on this coming weekend on some super-stretch goals. Then, take that first step on the journey, and keep track of that step. Buy a small notebook, and take a minute each day to put the date down and what small step you did for the day on life improvement or towards your goal. For example:

  • Maybe you want to open a photography business, since you love the beauty of nature and love the energy of weddings, but you don’t even know how to work your camera. So you would write in your diary “Looked at community college classes on photography.” Then, another day you could check out a book on photography from the library as your single step of the day. Another entry could be “read 10 pages in photography book.” Another could be “practiced aperture settings on various garden flowers” or “talked to neighbor about shooting photos for teenage son’s senior pictures for free as beta test of skills.”
  • If you want to get rid of $20,000 in debt, the first step may be taking a detailed look at your finances with your spouse, and perhaps not making any changes at this point but just really concentrating on what the situation is. Then a diary entry may be “drank water from the drinking fountain today instead of buying a soda” or “brown bagged it instead of buying lunch.” Another may be “continued to save receipts for the month, dear wife is too, so we can see where we’re spending money.” Then bigger steps can be made like “committed to cutting budget by 20% over next two months” and “cut cable television” and so forth.
  • If you hate your job and want to explore a new field that you have passion for, it is going to likely take more training. First, you may decide to do some research to make sure it is worth it, both from a financial aspect as well as from a life fulfillment aspect. Often the dream is different from reality. Maybe you reach out and make contact with someone who has worked in the field. Most people will give you the good and the bad. Then maybe it’s “discussed with husband about this idea.” Then, maybe a diary entry is “started on-line savings account to squirrel away $100 from each paycheck for training/tuition/classes.” and “checked out book from library, read 20 pages tonight, still excited about this path.” And so on…

I’m just like you, I have goals that scare the shit out of me as I look at them from afar, but I chip away at them little by little, not exactly sure how or when I’ll get there. I’ve done this before, and know to have faith in myself, to take it day by day, and to have patience. You can’t swallow that elephant whole, and if you try will will surely fail. You’ll lose faith and patience and quit. Celebrate small goals each day or week and you will surely succeed.

I wrote about this very subject over at Return of Kings awhile back. In my mid-20′s, I wanted to not only complete an Ironman triathlon, but to qualify for the World Championships. The problems were many – I smoked, I was totally out of shape, didn’t know the first thing about road biking, and I didn’t know how to swim (besides not drowning). Over a period of three years I chipped away at these goals day-by-day, session by session, and qualified for Kona on my second try (almost did it in my first). I still have those training logs, and filling those out each day was like connecting the dots to an endpoint I couldn’t quite see, but knew was there.

Have a stretch goal to focus on is like having someone ride shotgun in your head. It helps guide in small ways decisions you want to make, and can sometimes give you tingles as you focus your life energy in a positive way instead of merely treading water. I know you all have your own secret goals and dreams. What are you going to do TODAY to take that small step towards it?

You can’t change some things about your spouse

A lot of times, changing your own behaviors and actions can result in changed behaviors or actions in your spouse.  Start eating better and exercising, and damn?! Isn’t it amazing, she does too. She doesn’t want to be left in the dust. Start being appreciative and finding the positives in situations or not being dragged into arguments, and isn’t it funny how the venomous balloon that normally fills up the room deflates and she may even act nice. Anyways, we all get that.

But I have come to the conclusion long ago, that we simply can’t change certain inherent things about ourselves or our spouse no matter how hard we try or nag (as Bea has written a couple of nagging posts recently). You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but your husband won’t even notice the dirty socks he through on the ground. Or the mirror with the toothpaste scum. And your wife may not notice that her car needs an oil change or her tires are low. I say, simply deal with it and accept it’s part of who they are. Some things are impossible to change.

marriage annoy

For fun, I thought I’d shed some light on me and Holly, and this isn’t intended to be mean but factual. I have let go of being pissed about this stuff long ago, and simply shake my head a little (and her towards me) as we lightly grumble about it.

First my things that get’s the Grrr from my wife:

  • Being a whirling dervish in the kitchen (I make no small movements, and this often results in broken dishes and people staying out of my way)
  • I don’t clean dishes very well (and break a lot of them to boot)
  • Nor do I clean the counters, or stove, or wipe things down – if clutter is gone, that’s clean to me.
  • Shove stuff in drawers or cupboards (this is probably her biggest thing. I do my best to put things away, but if I can’t find it in 2.7 seconds I shove it in a spot – at least it’s off the counter or floor – this applies to laundry, toiletries, dishes, and other household or gardening goods)
  • If not doing anything in particular, I often grab a spot and settle into a book. This can annoy her if she’s expecting me to contribute or if she’s motivated for something.
  • I do not ever clean out the refrigerator. Old food can be rotten or growing legs, I just simply don’t notice. I think of expiration dates as more of guidelines than anything to follow hard and fast :)

For Holly, things that are invisible to her but not me:

  • Doesn’t know how to tell time, our family is constantly waiting on her to get out the door
  • Shoes get littered in the house wherever she decides to kick them off
  • In general, she’s much more prone to not see clutter, and not clean up after herself (which coming from a hoarding family can frustrate me sometimes, but at this point, it is what it is – a perfect example is our side-by-side master bedroom sinks which are a sharp contrast in the clutter spectrum, mine: tidy and clean; her’s: looks like a goat got into Bed, Bath and Beyond, ate the makeup and hair section, and proceeded to blow up on her side of the vanity)
  • A full garbage can anywhere in the house is invisible and can’t be seen
  • Likes to play the game of “Dishwasher Chicken” to never empty the dishwasher if she can possibly help it. We now have daughter Birdsnest to help, which does help.

That’s really about the extent of it, I’m guessing you do things and your spouse does too that they’ve been doing since you met that drives you a little bananas. Now we both contribute to chores in our own way, and it all balances out, but it’s funny, no matter how much we nag at each others, from now until we’re 90 years old even, I don’t expect any of these behaviors to change.

stop nagging

Happiness Musings

We’re conditioned to think that if we have the right stuff, or are with the right person who behaves in a certain manner we will be happy. If only we had the right jobs, and our kids were at the top of their class or First Chair in band, or if we only got laid more we would be happy. The reality is that these things may result in a transient happiness. These things provide a timed code to unlock the happiness combination and make us feel good for a short while, but once that code expires, we are once again searching for that next code to make us happy. Many find that code shopping and acquiring. A new pair of shoes – happy (for a short bit). A new iPad – happy (and distracted) for a bit – like a rat hitting it’s lever for a dopamine release/food pellet. Over and over again. Sex – great and very much happy feelings and connection with our partner, but only for a bit. If you don’t have something inside to fall back on, or hate other circumstances of your health or life, you’re going to creep back to an unhappy state once again very quickly.Filling the void with consumption isn’t the secret to happiness.

The state of happiness comes from within, and you can go to that state with a Master Key to unlock that state whenever you want. You don’t need outside influence to get there, just inside awareness, gratitude, presence and making the most of wherever you currently find yourself. Take deep breaths and instead of letting the constant stream of self talk and your mind going on and on about stuff that happened and stuff you’re planning to do and worrying about stuff that will never happen but you’re playing it out anyway – tell it to SHUT UP – and simply let the state of joy into your life. Bad situation? Your car broke down? Waiting for a tow? You can wait in your car, maybe listen to some music, and still be happy. You can turn that raincloud in your mind to sunshine, and perhaps take the opportunity to have an in depth conversation with your traveling companion about life or when you broke down on a family vacation with your family or how you learned to change a tire.

I’m not immune to this message either. Work stresses and shit people and situations get into my brain like a parasite and try to interrupt my fun family times. I’m getting better about building a moat to keep them out, and enjoying the moment more. Deep thoughts and staying present, remembering how lucky I am in the moment, and expressing those thoughts to those I love are a weapon against the usurpers of my happiness. One thing that contributes to happiness, or the ability to build on your current happiness, is something I’ll talk about more (and have talked about before), but is constant conscious incremental improvements every day. You don’t need to be perfect, but taking little steps each day in the right direction absolutely makes a different in your life quality, even if you aren’t sure how. Believe.


AMD’s Alex Peck – interview in Men’s Fitness (Sept. 2014 issue)

So chalk this up with the FBI phone call to things I didn’t expect to do this year. Back in May, I conducted an interview with a writer who was helping with a piece on CrossFit for Men’s Fitness magazine. It was a weird interview in that A) I was traveling, at an airport with my family and about to board a plane and B) I had no idea what direction the article was going in. As regular readers know, I have some general issues with CrossFit, and one of those is the fact that nearly everyone I know who has done it for any length of time has gotten injured. Most are minor, but I now know six people at my former gym who have had to have surgery for various things that were either caused, or contributed by, CrossFit. So that was the gist of the interview I gave them and what made it in the magazine.

The article in this month’s magazine (Sept. 2014) was focused on various individual’s experiences (maybe 12 total) with CrossFit. Mine was a more contrarian opinion, but overall they captured a typical cross-section of experiences with the program.

men's fitness Alex Peck


So if you’re in the grocery store and want to read AMD’s thoughts, I’m on page 93 of that issue.

The 40 hour work week is antiquated

So if you are working in a factory, making something, and hitting some production quota, maybe a 40+ hour workweek is still necessary. Or maybe if you are a skilled tradesman working on project deadlines where you physically have to complete the tasks, then I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say a normal work week may still be needed. But for many, we don’t need this arbitrary number to hit productivity goals. I loved this quote from Office Space, when Peter was meeting with the Bobs (consultants evaluating people’s roles in the company, and if they were valuable or not):

Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.

Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

Big Dick Chronicles (on my blogroll) talks about how efficiency trumps brute strength. While he doesn’t come out and say it, if he get’s his work done, it sounds like he’s got time to do what he wants, at least when he’s on the road:

At the end of the day, these things only matters because I push myself. I’ve learned to be proficient with my computer skills, knowledgeable in my field, and willing to work as much as needed to get the job done. But what sets it all apart is learning to be outrageously efficient with my work flow, to the point that it looks like I’m not even trying.

For many of us white-collar people, we have to be chained to our desk for 40 hours whether it’s productive time or not. There are a few times a year where 40+ hours a week are really needed to crank out stuff, get deadlines completed, and make sure shit gets done, but most weeks, like Peter Gibbons above, I spend much less time doing actual work. And like Adam from BDC, I’m good at my job, am efficient and often make it look easy. Captain Capitalism talks about this as well in his book Bachelor Pad Economics, where he recognizes us drones are trapped in an antiquated system but we should use our downtime for good: for learning, for developing a business plan, for something productive at least instead of reading Reddit and simply being entertained.

The United States is particularly good at training worker bees to accept the hive mentality. Nowadays our time away from work is still encroached by work through smart phones and e-mail. It sucks, and most days I don’t check work e-mail at home. While I disagree with working until 80, this professor at a Danish Research Center thinks a 25 hour work week is ideal. If you aren’t in a blue-collar, physical production world, many jobs simply waste time on busy work that doesn’t provide much value, taking us away from our passions, kids, hobbies, and things that really matter.

Workers in the Netherlands average 29 hour work weeks (and 4 day work weeks are nearly mandated). In Norway and Denmark, the average work week is 33 hours.  Japan and the U.S. among others still remain very high, near or above 40 hours. But this isn’t necessary productive time. There has been a 63 percent increase in online shopping and a 31 percent increase in running errands since 2011 according to a 2013 study by the Captivate Network. Yet worker productivity remains high, or even continues to climb. 

Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Workweek talks about how to slowly get your boss to start letting you work from home. Lifehacker also talks about it in this article. They have some great comments after the article from regular people that ring true to me, like this one:

The 40-hour work week for offices is one of the most counter-productive policies a company can have. I’ve noticed that most people are actually more productive if they have shorter work days, because there is less temptation to goof off. We all know we can’t focus on this stuff for 8 hours, and we all fill at least part of our day with web browsing or socializing with co-workers. Most of us have no idea just how much of our time is wasted at work rather than put to good use.

If you start keeping track though, two things will happen:

- You’ll feel guilty.

- You’ll notice that you don’t spend even six hours of your day actually being productive.

When I started going home early, working basically a 35-hour week instead of a 40, I noticed that I was working for most, and sometimes all of the time I was in the office. I went from being productive for about 6 hours per day during a 8-hour day to being productive 6.5–7 hours per day during a 7-hour day. I’m lucky that I can get away with it where I work. Most places get angry when you stop pulling your full 40, even if your productivity noticeably dips as a consequence of working a “full day”.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the freedom to check out at 2 pm. The 40 hour week is very arbitrary to begin with, and if you’re meeting your clients’ needs and productivity goals, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be changed. But companies don’t want to do this for whatever reason, maybe because it will show the emperor has no clothes. I think it would result in happier, healthier and more productive workforce with a better work-life balance.  This is the reason why starting your own company, or consulting firm, is so great. You have no boss breathing down your neck about the TPS report procedure and keeping you chained to your desk just to adhere to social norms. It’s a tough step to go alone, and most won’t, so perhaps you could utilize some of the strategies above to start expanding at least your time spent working from home. You’ll likely see more productivity, your boss should be happy, and you’ll be happier if you can get your head around the concept of getting your stuff done, then doing what you want to do – at home. Instead of just looking like your busy, as working in an office requires.

Working at home also impacts your bottom line – no commuting costs (gas, wear and tear on your car), perhaps less money spent on work clothes, can eat at home (should be doing that anyway), more time to exercise and stay healthy, perhaps allow more flexible child care situation. And really, that’s where it has the most impact – ability to flex your time for life situations and saving untold time wasted in a car going back and forth each day.

dilbert work