Camping: Not Great. Camping: Great!

We went camping last weekend. Beth did not sleep at all. Abraham threw up on me twice, and again when we got home. We were muddy all weekend. I got to carry Eden around the campground for two hours trying to get her to go to sleep. The RV guy next to us ran his generator most of the night. There were lots of flies. The bathroom was far away. Camping is not that great.

We went camping last weekend. We got to be outside all weekend. I turned my phone off for 2 days and it was awesome. We got to hang out with friends. Our whole family hiked up to a waterfall, and Abraham pretended he was a bear. Eden played in a big mud puddle as much as she could and loved it. We got to sit around a fire. Abraham and friends got to throw sticks in the fire. Eden loved the dirt. Abraham and I got to swim in the river for 3 hours. Camping is great!

There are a few things that camping teaches me about intentionality. We actually don’t go camping often, so I am sure there is more to learn. I imagine those of you who take your families to the woods a lot will have much deeper insights.

First, simple things are harder. Cooking takes longer, going to sleep takes longer, walking to the bathroom takes longer. This of course forces you to make intentional choices about how you spend your time. It also brings focus. The “easy everywhere” of our normal life gives us the option to focus on nothing. When things are suddenly more difficult we suddenly have to learn to focus on what we are doing. I appreciate the being forced to ignore the constant wandering of my mind to try to make a decent pancake on a griddle that is burning up hot in the middle and cold on the outside because my old camp stove has tiny burners. If we let it this need for focus can apply to our family and community we are in the woods with as well as ourselves.

Less stuff. This is obvious, but fitting everything we need for a few days into our Corolla makes us really examine what we need. (Let the record show, we were camping with friends, so we got the benefit of things they brought, like a canopy to cover the table and a grill, without having to bring it ourselves.)

Finally, common experiences. I am pretty convinced that one of the most important things that a family, community, or team needs to be successful is common experiences. There is big value in doing things together simply because that time gives you common language and norms, understand of each others way of being in different situations, and a foundation on time together to build on later. Camping is a great common experience. Everybody is a little bit out of their comfort zone, so we get to learn new things about each other, but at the same time it is fun and low pressure. There is not much risked, so we can all be intentional to slow down, learn about each other, learn about ourselves, and try to get a little bit of sleep all at the same time.

Grown Up Book Report: The Tech-Wise Family

I am thankful that my parents were very conscious of the potential pitfalls of to much TV and computer time for kids. My brother and I actually had to pay to watch TV, which is a pretty great system looking back. In college, I read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. To be honest, I struggle to remember any of the points he makes in the book (it was 1999….), but I do remember that it cemented my belief that there is something harmful about passive entertainment from screens.

Jump ahead to 2018, and it is a whole new world. In his book The Tech-Wise Family Andy Crouch speaks of technology as “easy everywhere.” Easy travel, easy information, easy distraction. Through our glowing rectangles and other tools, we have access to a lot of easy. This is not bad exactly, but it also is not good. The problem is that being a person is hard. Being wise is hard. Creating is hard. We let the easy information of Google stand-in for the hard wisdom gained from experience and study. We let the easy connection of Facebook stand-in for the hard work of deep relationships. We let the easy of TV stand-in for true wonder of the world around us. We let the easy of consumption stand-in for creating.

All of this is not a surprise to any of you of course. Postman and Crouch are just two of many people talking about this stuff. State Farm has an article about the dangers of screen time on their website. The people who sell you insurance feel like they need to make sure you know that to much screen time is bad for kids. I think we all get it. We just don’t believe it, and we don’t do anything about it.

This blog is about intentionality, and how we are trying to live our family life intentionally. We are doing some things to be intentional with screen time for Abraham and Eden. That is good. The thing that stood out to me from Crouch’s book though is that the intentional choices are not really about what you don’t do with technology, it is about what you are choosing instead. I can clearly see in my own life how I consistently choose the easy over the valuable. There is a lot to say about that, but I do think that a big factor is that I am not intentional about what I am choosing instead of the easy. I am trying to reframe my thinking. Instead of just trying to have more self-control to not get distracted by the shiny object of the latest crazy thing on the news, I want to choose to create value. Instead of being sucked into superficial learning on youtube I want to choose to see the world with wonder. Technology can help with these things, but only if it is in its proper place. I don’t have enough discipline on my own to constantly choose to put it in its place. But, I think I can learn to desire and choose something better.

If you are interested in more discussion about making choices about technology I recommend the current season of Winning Slowly. The first episode, “Actual Luddites“, is particularly relevant.

Poverty Inc.

The basic premise of the film Poverty, Inc. is that the west has built a huge industry around international development, and that this industry does not always have the best interest of the poor at heart. Often this anti-poverty industry does more harm than good. The movie includes standard critiques of TOMS Shoes, a thought provoking look at orphanages in Haiti, some harsh words for Bono, and a general call for more entrepreneurship as a solution to poverty. It also had this great story in it about how a church in Atlanta ruined the egg market of a village in Rwanda.

While not without its shortcoming and room for critique it is a good film, if you have any interest in helping people it is worth watching. Then go read Walking With the Poor, that book is probably more important.

Community development and helping people is a big, important part of my life. But it is not my intention for the current iteration of this blog to be about international aid and how the west basically destroyed Haiti. The premise of this blog is that we can learn ideas in business, non-profit, strategic planning, Lean, etc. and apply them to living intentionally and effectively as a family.

So, what comes from Poverty, Inc. that we need to be thinking about in our family?

The big idea from the film that really stood out to me is social fact. This idea is not original to Poverty, Inc., having been first proposed by David Émile Durkheim. Durkheim defined social facts as “every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations.”

Basically the idea is that there is a broad set of norms, institutions and assumptions that transcend individuals and define and constrain the way we act. It is “the way things are.” Durkheim argues that social facts have a coercive influence on us. Even if the social facts are immaterial (norms, meanings, assumptions, sentiments, etc), they are still external to the individual and control the individual.

Here is the interesting part to me. Even if we challenge our own assumptions, break the mold and do something innovative, we are still acting inside our social facts:

“The social fact puts constraints on how we think and act, leading us to take many things for granted. It becomes simply the way things are done. This does not mean that there is never innovation or attempts to fix the system…the trouble is that most of the innovation takes place inside the assumptions, beliefs and values of the social fact.”

We have assumptions within assumptions (Inception!). Even if we work really hard to challenge ourselves and think in new ways we are probably still acting in the framework of our social facts. We have to work even harder and think even deeper to break out of that box and do something truly new.

These social facts obviously impact the way a family operates. But, I think that it is probably helpful to think of family social facts also. We have social facts within our family that are not necessarily shared by other families. If we are going to make progress as a family to find a new way of living that is better for us and for the world we have to understand how these social facts are coercive in every level of our lives as individuals, a family, a community, country and world.

I have no grand conclusion, except that it is clear that we all have a lot of work to do to understand the world around us, and how to make it a better place.

If you want to really go off the deep end listen to Episode 5 – Spiral Dynamics from The Liturgists and think about how social fact fits into Spiral Dynamics.

Bedtime Standard Operating Procedure

Abraham, who is three, has been having a really hard time going to sleep the last few weeks. We have been spending our entire evenings trying to get him to stay in bad. This is not fun.

We have learned that Abraham needs routine. He also needs to know what the routine is. The calendar Beth made for him is a great example of this. It lets him know what is going on that day in a simple visual way. We have had bedtime routines for him before, but his needs have changed, and we have not been very consistent.

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Today, we made a new bedtime routine. Beth and I talked through what we thought would work well for Abraham and the rest of the family, then we included him in making some decisions, and writing out what we would do each night. We drew pictures for each step and talked through them. Once it was all written out Abraham decided where we were going to hang it up so he could see it at bedtime.

 

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It’s pretty fun to see him understand and buy into a new way of doing things. When it was time for bed we read through the list then got started. He was actually telling us what came next without to much input from us. Bedtime was better tonight, it still took a long time and a few tears, and included this conversation:

Abraham crying: You’re my friend and I love you so much, I want you to lay with me!!!!!!!

Me: I am your friend, and I love you too, but I’m not going to lay with you, you can go to sleep by yourself.

Abraham yelling: I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me, I want you to lay with me!!!!!!!!

But, we are on the right path toward not having to spend 2 hours every night getting him to bed, so win!

There are two tools that we are applying here. First, visual management, second standard operating procedure.

Visual management aims to make the situation easily understood merely by looking at it (think silverware holders that are shaped like spoons, forks, and knives). While standard operating procedures are a set of written instructions that document a routine activity that is to be followed by members of an organization (think recipes).

Visual management is really great for a three-year-old because he can’t read. Information has to be simple to understand at a glance for him. But we all need this. We are inundated with information all the time. The more we can do to make it simple to grasp the critical parts of a situation the more effective we can be in responding.

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Standard operating procedures are great because they get us all on the same page, and establish consistent ways of doing things. It is possible to over structure and over standardize, but I do think that there is value in common routine which can make space for creativity and spontaneity.

I would love it if everything in our house was so simple to understand that Abraham could do it. Where do the toys go? Where do the dishes go? How do we start our day and end our day? What are we doing this week? Those are all things that can be made simple, which will help our entire family have the margin to do the really important things like loving each other and being friends.

How I wrote five blog posts in five weeks

This will be the fifth post I have made in five weeks. Not that impressive really, but it is part of something bigger in my quest to live intentionally, and learning to be effective. I am drawn to this word effective because it is about more than the number of things you get done, it is about how important they are. I want to do important things, not lots of things.

I have never had a great system of keeping track of tasks and projects, which makes it pretty hard to be productive, effective or intentional. I need a structure that had been created by somebody with more experience than me. With very little thought and pretty spontaneously I decided to try out Full Focus Planner. I have been using it for about six weeks now. Six weeks is far from enough for me to say my life is permanently made wonderful by this small book I carry around, but it is enough to start getting a feel for how it can work for me.

The basics of the system are that you set SMART goals by quarter. Each week you review the previous week for lessons learned and set a big three focus for the coming week. Each day you set a big three for the day and list other tasks. You also have four intentional times to, among other things, make sure what you working on connects to you daily and weekly big three and your goals.

So…big thoughts:

Goals

Connecting tasks with goals definitely help keep you on track and help make faster progress towards goals. This has probably been the biggest benefit for me so far. Reviewing goals often when I am setting tasks naturally makes my tasks match up with goals.

Challenge: one thing that I am still figuring out is how to integrate work goals and projects into the goals of the system. For me the goals are all personal, so I have to find ways to make sure I am including work things as well.

Analog

I like having to write things down. It reinforces them, keeps them in a distraction-free area, and lets me set the book open next to me whatever I am doing for reference.

Challenge: This is not a task manager or a project manager. It is really about bringing focus to your day. I am still struggling a bit with how to integrate work tasks and project management, our family kanban wall, my personal kanban wall, calendar, etc. There are still lots of places stuff is stored, and I need to keep streamlining that. Also, each planner lasts a quarter. Four books a year. What am I supposed to do with all these dead trees?

Overhead

There is no doubt doing the Full Focus system adds some overhead to my day. It calls for four ritual times each day, a weekly review, and a quarterly review. These can be a lot of different things, but partly they are for reviewing tasks and goals, filling in the planner, going over schedules, and reviewing lessons learned. But, this is time well spent, there is no doubt that the increase in effectiveness that results is worth it.

The Dip

It’s pretty easy to be excited about stuff like new planners and goals for about 3 days, use it really effectively, and then slide back to most of your own habits. This is kind of where I am at right now. I see how it can be really effective, and I have to really push through the temptation to use it half way so I can pretend I am getting the benefit when really I am just putting some paint on old bad habits. I am trying to really focus on fully engaging with the process of the planner, not just doing it halfway.

The Full Focus Planner won’t do your work for you

From reading the reviews of Full Focus Planner, and other productivity systems, it seems like some people have found a way to make the system actually do their work for them. I can assure you this is not the case. I am still tempted by distraction, often lazy, pick the easy work over the hard work, and let the urgent crowd out the important. There is no doubt that the planner is helping me get better at these things. But, I have a really long way to go.

Five blog posts in five weeks

One of my goals is to write a post every week. My streak is at five, which is by far the most consistent I have ever been in writing, and a lot of this is because using the planner brings me back to my goals on a daily basis. Success!

As I learn to be more effective, more intentional, and create more value in the world I want to embrace the tools that are available. Nothing Beth and I are doing is all that new or original, we are just trying to apply things we know to our own lives, Full Focus Planner is turning into one of those tools. I hope that these five blog posts are part of a bigger trend in my life of setting goals and accomplishing them while being effective in the big and small parts of life.

Want to read the five blog posts? Here they are:

  1. The one are reading
  2. Lean Family?
  3. Weekend to do list
  4. Tell me about this…
  5. eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack Reveiw and Life Application

If you want more info, check out fullfocusplanner.com (disclosure: I get a discount on my next planner if you use this link). If you want to see some nice pictures of the planner check out this review over on rightlydesigned.com. The Full Focus Planner is based on Michael Hyatt’s book Your Best Year Ever and his Free to Focus system (neither of which I have read or used…I just sort of jumped into the planner).

If you are looking lightweight productivity tools I have used Trello, Zenkit,  Storyline Productivity Schedule, and The Task Order Up!. All of them did their job for a season, and are worth looking into. 

Visually Managing the Eggs

We eat eggs daily around here. Some mornings we can easily consume half a dozen eggs at a single breakfast. This means we buy at least two dozen eggs at each grocery trip.

And that means at any given time there are two or three dozen eggs in our refrigerator.

And we were having trouble easily knowing which carton had been opened and should be used first.

Which often resulted in two egg cartons, both half full.

I would glance at how many egg cartons were left and think, “Oh, there are still two cartons. We shouldn’t need eggs this trip to the store.” Only to find out that one carton had 3 eggs left and the second had 5.

And we mentioned several times that this was an issue, and sort of joked that we needed some visual management in our fridge.

And finally one day I realized that there was a pretty simple fix. And we didn’t need some big process to analyze the problem and determine the best solution. It took about 15 seconds total.

So I got a Sharpie and just wrote a number 1 and number 2 on the cartons.
IMG_0195.jpgA simple step that has already alleviated frustration and confusion.

Some problems require a fairly involved process to really understand all the pieces involved in order to really find the most effective and beneficial solution. And some problems can be fixed with a quick decision and a Sharpie. Ben wasn’t even in town when I did this. There was no reason to wait until he got home, days later, add it to our agenda, discuss it at length, and then implement a solution that we mutually agreed on. We didn’t even make a Post-It for this one! (*gasp!*)

Sometimes you just need to know which egg carton to use.

Lean Family?

Thanks to Kibo Group, CI Solutions. and the Regional Food Bank I have had the opportunity to receive a couple weeks of Lean training recently. I even got a cool certificate!

This training was focused on using Lean Methodology (a systematic method for waste minimization within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity – wikipedia) in a fairly traditional way. The tools, ideas and methods of Lean are pretty fascinating to me, I learned a lot, and I hope I can apply what I learned there within Kibo Group and other organizations I am part of.

But this blog is not about businesses and non-profits. It is about families, and specifically my family. We started writing again because we wanted to try to apply some of the tools we have seen in business, non-profit, strategic planning, Lean, etc. to living intentionally and effectively as a family. So…a few takeaways:

How does our family create value?

Lean is about eliminating waste so that you can effectively create value. In a business, this is pretty easy to measure (money, customer satisfaction). In non-profits, it can be a little bit harder (We changed the world! But did you?). But how does our family create value? Lean is pretty focused on value creation (one of its core tools is called Value Stream Mapping which is used to understand how value is added to a product or service from beginning to end). This pays off for businesses because it forces them to make improvements to areas that truly add value first, which ultimately means that customers get more value.

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Value Stream Map

If we want to live our lives intentionally we need to figure out how we create value so we can focus on the things that let us do that more.

Continuous improvement seems perfect for families

Lean is a continuous improvement method. You don’t strive for big dramatic changes, just incremental changes that make small improvements that add up to big changes over time. I think there are times when dramatic and immediate change is needed. However, families seem like a place where it does not take very many small changes to see big results, so continuous improvement is a great way to make changes.

True Lean is pretty out of proportion to a family’s needs.

Lean was derived from the Toyota Production System. Building a car is pretty complicated. The resulting Lean Methodology is an entire system of thinking that is pretty big, complex, and different at every company that uses it. I have no idea how you would actually do all of it as a family. It does not really make sense. That said the core principles and some of the tools are very adaptable, and seem to have pretty easy application. Looking for ways that our family waste time, energy, money, and ideas will certainly help us be more intentional about what we do. Fundamental ideas like PDCA and The Eight Step Problem Solving Process have to be done on purpose but seem like they can be really valuable. Specific tools, like priority matrix, 5S and visual management, are pretty easy to apply in modified forms (Ben and Beth use Lean tools…sounds like some blog post ideas). Some of it seems pretty non-applicable without modifying it beyond recognition, for example, standard work.

Which leads to….

This stuff needs a translator

I have read blogs and books about people who have done fairly direct applications of Lean, Agile, and other similar methodologies into their families. Generally, these are people who practice those processes at work so they know them really well. They get the nuances and so they know how to adapt it to their family situation. This is great, but I think for a lot of us it does not work very well. The trick is to understand the principles and then create new ways of explaining and applying them that make sense to a broad set of people lots of types of families (we have popular psychology, why not popular lean?). I really do believe that there is value for families in the methods of Lean (among other project management/CI/strategic planning frameworks), I hope that over time they are simplified and made accessible to more people.

I am curious, what are some “from the business world” techniques that you are applying to your personal life?

Weekend to do list

We have this crazy big somewhat complicated system for keeping track of our projects. This is really helpful, but weekends are different from the rest of the week. We have more time to try to work on projects around the house and more time for family. We want to spend our weekends intentionally just like our weekdays, but using our board is to big picture for planning what we want to get done on a Saturday. We need a way to really focus and plan a couple days.

I got an idea from Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry to make a small board out of tape on the table. It worked really well. It let us list out our to-dos for the weekend, but still keep the idea of only working on a few things at a time, and seeing progress by moving things into the done column. The only real problem was that the tape took some of the finish off the table, so we don’t do it directly on the table anymore.

How do you make your weekend intentional?

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Video Stars

We have seen how visual management can be helpful for ourselves, as adults. And I can remember bulletin boards in my elementary school classrooms with big monthly calendars, a spot for today’s weather, the daily schedule-all in very colorful, visual formats. So I wondered if it would be helpful for a specific problem we were having.

Abraham has a weekly calendar that utilizes visual management already. He really seems to find it helpful and enjoys moving the star each morning to the new day and seeing what we have planned for the week.

So, the problem was that we (I)  had gotten into a habit of letting him watch a lot of videos, or at least more than we wanted him to be watching. He is still pretty limited on the screen time he gets and what the content is. But basically any time he asked to watch a video, I saw 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to get dressed, catch up on dishes, eat my breakfast, etc. Which is great and all, but we just felt like for our family and our goals and values we needed to set some limits on video watching with Abraham.

We decided three videos a week was a good place to start. I made three small yellow circles that say “Watch One Video” with a star in the middle. (Yes, I realize we call them “video stars” but they are really circles with a star in the middle.) Each Sunday we move the three video stars to the wall next to his calendar.

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“Videos” are what we have described to Abraham as “short”, meaning 30 minute episodes of Daniel Tiger or Reading Rainbow, etc. “Movies” are “long”, meaning full-length movies. Movies are extra special and we really try to limit those to a specially planned family movie night. Or like last week when he was running a fever and laid on the couch basically all day.

The big difference between videos and movies in our house, besides their length, is that he can request to watch (up to) 3 videos each week and Ben and I decide when a movie is appropriate. He will often ask to watch a movie, but our response is usually, “That would be really fun. We aren’t going to watch that movie today, but maybe sometime soon we will have a family movie night and we can all watch it together.”

So every Sunday he gets three video stars. He can choose (for the most part) when to watch them throughout the week. We still get to decide if it is a good time to start a video. (Not at 8am when we have to be at school in an hour, etc.) And he can’t watch more than one in any given day. When he uses a video star he moves the token to the day he watched it so he knows it has been used and that he can’t watch another video that day.

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I would say that for the most part he does really well with this system and understands. Having the physical tokens that we move from the wall next to his calendar (their “holding place”) to the day he watches a video seems really helpful. And giving him a choice about when to use them will surely start to help him make decisions and learn a little about delayed gratification (or…the pain of using up all your video stars before the week is even half over and not getting to use one later in the week when he really wants to.)

It sort of has be wondering what other areas of my life I could employ visual management to limit “fun” things like watching tv, time spent on facebook, and things of that nature.

Tell me about this…

Every now and then somebody is at our house, sees a bunch of post-it notes on the wall and asks what they are for. We tell them a bit about what we are doing and they often say “I need to do that!”

So, if you want to try this out, here is what we did, step by step:

First Step: Motivation (or Why would I want to fill up a wall with ugly post-it notes?)

Figure out what problem you are trying to solve. We want to create value in the world, but the way we manage our stuff, time, projects, money, and relationships prevented us from doing that. The mental energy of keeping track of our to-do lists in lots of places and not knowing what was a priority was overwhelming and kept us from making progress. We want to change that. Our post-it note wall is step one, we have a long way to go.

Second Step: Write it all down

We both got a bunch of post-it notes and did some individual brainstorming. We each wrote down projects, to do, aspirations, or things we need to buy. We wrote one per post-it. We did this until we had a post-it for everything we could think of. I don’t know how many we had, but it was a lot, probably 100.

Third Step: Consolidate

We matched up our post-it notes so that we did not have any duplicates. Discussed them to make sure we both understood them all and added anything we missed.

Fourth Step: Set Priorities (or Give yourself permission to ignore things)

For us, this is the key. Our 60 or so post-it notes are totally overwhelming if we think about them all at the same time. They don’t even all fit on the large bulletin board we use. Some of them (the ones with the lowest priority) are posted in a completely different room. But without specifically deciding to ignore some things for the time being they all just stay in our head and take up energy that is better spent elsewhere. We put things into three big areas:

  1. OK – These are things that we consider OK for now. That is to say, we don’t have to deal with them right away and we are giving ourselves permission to ignore them.
  2. Not OK – Things that are critical and need to be taken care of soon. We are only allowed to have 5 of these at any one time.
  3. Do Today – Things we are working on today. We can only have 3 of these at a time.

Fifth Step: Make it Visible

If you just do steps 1 – 4 and then put it all in a drawer or in the trash it is interesting but kind of pointless. It has to be visible. We used washi tape, cork board and thumbtacks to put our board up in our dining room. You can do it however you want, just make sure it is somewhere you see and interact with every day.

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Sixth Step: Check-in Regularly

Every morning we look at the board together and decide if anything needs to move to a new category and decide what we are going to work on that day. We move things around so it reflects reality. Checking in with the board every morning is our goal, we are far from perfect on that.

We try to do a more in-depth check in once a week to really talk through anything that needs discussion or to be changed.

Seventh Step: Update Regularly

If one of us thinks of a task or project that needs to be done we write it down and put it on the board as soon as possible. The whole point is to not hold these things on our head, so the sooner we write it down the better. We have a shared list we can access on our phones so that if we are not at home we can put it on the list and add it to the wall later.

That is what we are doing right now. We have a lot more learning to do, and some big ideas for next steps, but for now this wall full of post-it notes is making a big difference helping us set priorities and get things done as a family. If you want to give this a try go for it. Just be sure and make it work for you, you don’t have to do it how we are doing it. And send us a picture, we want to see it!