This Simple Family Activity is a Treasure

One man's trash is another man's_optWhat follows is a step-by-step guide to a simple, surprisingly fun, high-quality activity I do with my kids that I want to share with you.

First, I should tell you that volunteering for charity and giving back to my community are high on my priority list.

There are a thousand ways I am fortunate and giving back to those less fortunate is an important value to me.

But you wouldn’t know it by how I actually spend my time.

I always manage to procrastinate volunteering at a soup kitchen or spending an afternoon at a food pantry. Despite the good feeling of helping others that I always get from the time I spend volunteering, despite my best intentions, I put it off.

I tell myself that it will get easier to make time for giving back when my kids are older. Or I tell myself that work will settle down next month. Or I tell myself that I won’t be as tired and I can volunteer tomorrow.

But so often, tomorrow never comes.

As a result, this priority simmers unfulfilled somewhere in the back of my head and my heart.

So, one afternoon several months ago I was making my way to the cash register of a local hardware store to buy some light bulbs. Something caught my eye on one of the aisles.

I felt a flash of inspiration.

I selected 4 of these objects and took them home, excited to propose a new plan to my family.

The result has been that our trips to parks or playgrounds have become special events for Mr. B and Mr. C and especially for me. They can be for you and your family, too.

Here’s the activity, step-by-step:


1. If you don’t own a bucket, get a bucket. 

A trash bag works just as well, but we already had a bucket and my kids had fun with the bucket.

A bucket is not required, but I recommend a bucket.


2. Get a trash grabber for every member of your family. 

This is a trash grabber. I found them on sale that afternoon at the hardware store and spent about $20 for 4. Online they are about eight bucks a piece.

These aren’t required, but some of the thrill that my boys experience comes from getting to use these. It might be the same for your kids.


 3. Bring your bucket, trash grabbers and family to a local park or playground.  

Approach the activity nonchalantly, so as not to spook them. My 3 year-olds don’t often want to do the things that I want them to, so I had to slow play it like a hand of poker.

If your kids go gangbusters for eating their vegetables and brushing their teeth, then you might not need to play coy.

I carried the grabbers and bucket to the playground but left them by a bench and busied myself with pushing Mr. B and Mr. C on the swings.

Soon my patience paid off, as Mr. B wandered over to play with a trash grabber.

“Hey, Mr. B,” I called, “I see a piece of treasure over there by the slide! I wonder if you can pick it up with your grabber claw?”


 4. Trash is not trash. Trash is treasure.

I never have and probably never will refer to what we do with our grabber claws and our bucket as ‘picking up trash.’

I sold it to them as a treasure hunt, a fun departure from the typical playground activities and now that’s exactly what it is to them.

We hunt together through the grass and the trees and pick up all the treasure we can find and drop it with a satisfying plunk into our bucket.

Occasionally we find actual treasure, as in the time that Mr. B discovered a cache of golf balls in a park. He was beaming with excitement when he brought us his haul. We recounted that find to each other repeatedly throughout that week.

But mostly we find discarded water bottles, ancient paper, candy wrappers, soda cans and plastic shopping bags. We pick all of it up just the same. We’re happy to find our treasures and to drop them in our bucket.

Sometimes the boys aren’t as interested; they pick up a few pieces of treasure and then go back to playing on the merry-go-round.

Most times they are as eager to hunt for treasure as I am.

One time, we spent an hour in the hot July sun loading our bucket and dumping it in the trash bin and loading it back up to the top again.

On that day the playground equipment went completely untouched. By the time we headed home I was a deeply satisfied father and a deeply satisfied citizen.

To my boys, this activity isn’t about quality family time or giving back to the community we owe so much to.

This activity is about fun. 


In Conclusion

My advice is to keep it about fun. 

Most kids aren’t likely to do what you say, but they are likely to do what you do. They don’t always need to understand all of the reasons you do what you do.

When they get a little older I’ll explain to my kids the feeling I get from cleaning up a park with them. I hope they get that same feeling themselves someday.

In the meantime, I keep this activity in the rotation every week. After all, I think I have as much or more fun as they do hunting for treasure together in the park.

I hope this activity brings the same fun and satisfaction to your family.

Good hunting!

How To Organize All Your Photos & Videos in 3 Days or Less: Day 1

13301540_mlI often get asked to help people organize their photos and videos.

I’m here today because I am passionate about helping people overcome the confusion and overwhelm that can come with organizing digital media.

I know what it’s like to feel anxiety and hassle when even thinking about backing up or organizing my photos.

This post will help you learn how to systemize your photos and videos so that you can print, share, and quickly find what you’re looking for without any stress.

It wasn’t that long ago that I felt overwhelmed and hopeless that I’d ever be able to make sense of all my digital data.

Then, I discovered This Life.

Now my photos are aggregated, organized and easy to retrieve wherever, and whenever I want them.

I was so excited I shared This Life with all my friends and family members.  The results were overwhelming – everyone felt lighter and more relaxed knowing where their data was and that it was safe.

Now I want to help you get the same results.


1. Sign Up

The first step is simple.

Go to and click the “Sign Up For Free” button.

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Next, you can either sign-in with your Shutterfly account if you already have one

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or, sign-up for a Shutterfly account if you don’t already have one.  (Shutterfly is the mother company of This Life)

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For the purposes of this post we’re going to assume you don’t already have an account.

After you click “Sign Up” you will be given a spot to enter your information.  Be sure to note your username and password before you hit “Sign Up” to get started.

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 2. Select Your Plan

After you sign up you’ll be taken to a page where you get to select your plan.  Unless you are a photographer or take lots of HD video, I would recommend the Standard Plan.  You receive a free 8×8 photo book and you can upload HD video, which you can’t do in the Free plan.  If you want the Premium plan, you’ll get more storage plus a free 12×12 photo book, but I say start Standard.  You can always upgrade later if you need or want more space.

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Next, you will be asked for your payment information.

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After clicking Checkout (or “Get Started” if you chose the Free Plan) you will be taken to your new This Life Library.  Now the fun can really begin!

One of the reasons I love This Life so much is because it cleverly aggregates your iPhone (or Android) photos with your DSLR photos, Instagram photos, FB photos, etc.

After entering your payment info, you should see a screen that looks like this:

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Click on “Next” in the bottom right hand corner.  Then click “Start Using This Life to Begin.”


3. More to Come!

The next screen you see may feel overwhelming, but don’t worry.  We will start adding photos to your library and using some ninja moves to easily organize them in my upcoming Days 2 & 3 blog posts in the coming weeks!

Be sure to sign up for our newsletter in the box below so that you won’t miss anything!

3 Fun and Unique Autumn Activities

Family in Fall_optAutumn is here and school is in. There are thousands of activities to celebrate the fall with your family. Most of them involve leaves and most of them are on Pinterest.

But don’t surf over there; it’s likely just going to make you feel bad about yourself.

Instead, get inspired by these 3 off-beat ideas that exist outside of the Pinterest hive-mind of leaf-shaped cookies and scarecrow puzzles.

1. Wear All of Your T-Shirts

I believe that I actually invented this when I was a kid, as perhaps lots of weird, singleton children probably also believe.

Like spring, autumn is the time of year to swap out clothes. The winter clothes come out of storage and the summer clothes go sit in a dark closet for another half-transit around the sun.

In 3rd grade I decided that since all of my t-shirts were piled on the bed, I should put all of them on. To see if I could, maybe. Then I headed over to my neighbor’s house to see if he noticed anything strange.

It turned out that he did notice something strange, since I resembled a pint-sized stay-puft marshmallow man. Then I peeled 12 t-shirts off of myself one after the other as we laughed.

Anyway, it probably ate up a couple hours. I suggest you take the initiative at home and add a heaping dash of absurdity to this autumn ritual. Go ahead and kick things off by putting on 4 or 5 of your own t-shirts. Say nothing and see if your kids pick up on it.

If they don’t notice, casually take 2 or 3 of them off and they should get the hint. If your little ones are like my boys, they will be clamoring to follow suit.

Now everybody is laughing and having fun, while also tottering around like Hans & Franz.

2. Bring Down Old Baby Toys

Autumn has always felt like the time of year I become nostalgic. I don’t know if it has more to do with the slow decline of sunlight each day or colder weather causing me to seek the feeling of warmth, which has  been found to be the evolutionary advantage of nostalgia in this study.

When this time of year rolls around I yearn for flannel, which leads me to yearn for my oldest flannel shirt, which leads me to remember the first time I listened to the album ‘Ten’ by Pearl Jam. Then I’m lost in reflection for a solid 10 minutes.

Recently and purely by happy accident, we discovered that Mr. B and Mr. C will play with baby toys for a couple hours if you pull them down out of the attic after they haven’t seen them for a couple of years.

I have to imagine there are some basic forms of nostalgic feelings of pleasure that drove their lengthy engrossment with these artifacts, but I don’t know for sure.

Did seeing the toys cause them to pleasurably regress to some younger state? I know I enjoy feeling like a child whenever I can, do they enjoy feeling like a baby in the same way?

All I can tell you is the delight in their eyes was visceral and they played quietly and with almost no comment for a couple of hours.

Your mileage will undoubtedly vary, but let us know what reactions you get.

3. Easter Egg Hunt with Eggs Filled with Leaves

Ok, just hear me out on this one before you pass judgment.

Our kids like nothing more than hearing that we are making a breakfast dinner. There’s something so joyful for them (and us) about breaking the ‘rules’ of mealtime and serving waffles and eggs for dinner.

By the same token, some families eschew holiday traditions by vacationing in a tropical locale for the winter holiday season, instead of bundling up by the Yule log. I’ve never tried it, but some people speak highly of it.

Deviation from the norm is refreshing. Variety is the spice of life.  You with me so far?

There are literally thousands of activities you can do with fall leaves. Why? Because they are all over your yard, somebody has to pick them up and your children are the least-skilled laborers and the most energetic candidates.

Painting with leaves, creating animals out of leaves, gluing the leaves to stuff to make pictures of trees, animals and seasonal images; I even found a recipe for baking an autumn spice cake that uses dry leaves in the recipe. All have their relative merits.

But see, you want to keep your kids attention for more than 5 minutes, right? You don’t want to end up as the only person sitting at the kitchen table cutting leaves into the shape of ducks after your kids have grown bored and wandered off, right?

So while you’re up in the attic bringing down the baby toys (see #2), go ahead and grab those plastic Easter eggs. In truth, there’s a good chance they melted and fused together during the heat of the summer, anyway.

If they are functioning and intact, you are in luck. The first part of the activity is gathering up the leaves. Newly fallen leaves are best for your purposes, as they are more flexible and less likely to crumble into orange powder.

After you gather 30 or 40 leaves, start stuffing those eggs. Kids love this part too, as long as they are manually dexterous enough to contribute.

Now go hide the eggs in the yard and turn the kids loose.

Why would your kid care about finding an Easter egg if there’s just a moldering leaf in it, you ask?

For the same reason that a kid loves opening a present, regardless of what’s actually inside. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the fun of discovery as they push over the watering can to reveal a big, shiny, yellow egg hidden underneath.

If you need to add interest, set a reward at the start of the hunt. Each kid who brings back at least 10 leaves gets a little treat.

Best case scenario, your kid decides to bend the rules and pad his total by picking up more leaves he finds on the lawn.

When they start losing interest, flip the script on them and let them hide the eggs for you. Putting your little one in charge usually always results in renewed enthusiasm for any task.

In Conclusion

As I’m fondly recalling the Autumns of my youth spent lost between the pages of books, seeing my favorite bands live in concert and falling in love with my wife Sarah for the first time (autumn 1995), I will also be wondering what activities and traditions your family enjoys at this time of year.

Please write a comment below to tell us what autumn activities make the biggest impact on your family. Sign up for our weekly newsletter by entering your email address in the box below this post. Or email us directly at and we can swap leaf baking recipes.


Be Yourself – The Conspiracy

Who taught you the importance of “being yourself?”

Probably a parent or a teacher or a close relative.

What no one talks about when you’re a child is the startling fact that most people encouraging you to be yourself, are in fact secretly suppressing their true self.

Case in point: The other day I was driving with the boys in the minivan and I wanted more than anything to jam out to “Ice, Ice Baby.”  Why?  Because I like to dance and sing.  And why “Ice Ice Baby”?  Because I know all the lyrics and I felt like rapping.  (We can define “rapping” in another post – stop laughing.)

I thought through the lyrics in my head and tried to figure out if there were any horribly inappropriate words.

If I had been in the car by myself, I would have just turned on the song and danced.

But being that the boys were in the car, I wondered if I should really sing and dance to this admittedly silly (though remarkable) song.

So how can I avoid being a hypocrite?  How can I teach my children that it’s important to be yourself, to embrace your weirdness and not to worry what others think, when I usually do the opposite when I’m around them?Be Yourself - The Conspiracy

I don’t have the answer to this.

(If you do please reply now and let me know).

I do, however, have 5 oddball ways I’ve chosen to be myself, despite what might be “best” for my kids.

1. When we leave the grocery store or Target I make sure everyone is on the shopping cart, and then I scooter pedal as hard as I can then hop on and ride that cart straight to my car.  I feel like I’m 6 years old again riding my bicycle down a big hill.

It’s fun.  It’s easy.  And it makes me smile every time.

2. I read books and ignore my children while doing so.  I rationalize this by thinking that I’m teaching them the joy of reading.  The truth is, I don’t know if it’s teaching them anything or not, but sometimes, I just want to read.  And have some quiet time.  So I do.

3. I talk about places and people all around the world.  I realize the boys don’t understand what a country is, let alone what “Germany” or “Costa Rica” are.  But travel and learning about the world is a huge love of mine.  I have globes and maps in our house.  They hear me talk about castles in Germany, kangaroos in Australia, and they see my eyes light up when I look through old photos or find seashells and bookmarks from trips long ago.

4. I get frustrated.  Chris mentioned this in his post last week, and it’s true for me, as well.   I let the boys see when I’m upset about other situations, people or life in general.  Feeling frustrated is not something I necessarily love about myself, but it is part of who I am.

5. I organize.  Both out loud and to myself.  I’ll go through the schedule of the day, the month, the next hour, whatever is on my mind.  Sometimes I worry that this is going to make them too time conscience, too “scheduled,” but I do it anyways.  Because it’s part of who I am.

I’m still trying to figure out the balance between being myself while also being a mom and a role model.

If I’m going to high five Mr. C because he gets excited about gingerbread socks and I’m going to encourage Mr. B to tell knock-knock jokes because it delights him to no end, shouldn’t I be delighting in my weird as well?

Do you feel like you’re authentic with your kids?  Where’s the line for you?