Birthdays: Candles and Kids

 Today I learned:

1. Birthday candles: I always wondered at what age people give up trying to add the correct number of candles to your birthday cake. Today I learned that age is 37, and there is a very simple reason for it: Economics.

Everything up to 36 requires only one box of candles. It costs the same to decorate a cake for my 2 year as it does for my 4 year old, or for that matter for my wife.

But not for me.

As of today I am officially a 2 box’er.  In a monetary sense at least it just isn’t worth it.

2. Kids: Sitting at the table tonight eating a 36-candle cake (lovingly made by my wife and kids) it occured to me that I enjoy my birthday now far more than I did a few years ago. You might expect that the reverse would be true. I am getting to an age where people start to worry about the number, but that doesn’t bother me. 37 is no worse to me than 35 or even 25 as far as I am concerned.

It is more that before kids I just didn’t pay much attention to birthdays. Now I can’t avoid them. At any moment in time the kids can spout off the next three birthdays in our extended family, and the number of sleeps to the next one. They love birthdays and a celebration is required. What I saw as just another day is to them a very, very big day. I don’t think they could even comprehend the possibility that I might not have agreed with them.

I think a lot of adults are like me. We go on day by day and don’t pay much attention to things like our birthday. Not everyone is like that though – I work with a few people that take a vacation day on their birthday every year.  I always considered it kind of silly – why waste vacation day on a rainy Tuesday in November? -I am now just starting to get it. My kids have helped teach me that I need to rethink my position.  It can be a good day, and if I want it can be a great day.

Why not?

Time to open a nice bottle of wine.

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Parenting: Blueberry Yogurt and The Power of Suggestion

Today I learned:

1.  Blueberry Yogurt: My kids love yogurt. We have to buy in bulk to keep up with their appetites.  They go through strawberry, vanilla and raspberry at an insatiable pace.

The problem is bulk packs all come with 25% blueberry flavour.They love blueberries but they hate blueberry yogurt.

Faced with an ever growing stash of the stuff I have two options: Eat it or waste it.

I just can’t bring myself to throw it out, so day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt. I love blueberries and there was a time in my life that a nice bowl of blueberry yogurt was appealing. That time has passed. At this point I hate the stuff. Can’t stand it. But day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt.

It occurred to me today, as I choked down another spoonful at breakfast, that life as a dad can be summed up in a bowl of blueberry yogurt:  Ultimately what is in their bowls is more important to me than what is in mine. I know I am not alone in martyrdom.  At my brother’s place it’s the leftover food. I haven’t seen the guy eat an entire meal from his own plate in 8 years. I think he feeds himself entirely off leftover scraps on the plates of his 4 kids. That’s life. We’re dads. That just what we do.

2. The Power of Suggestion: As I peered into my daughter’s dresser this morning to help her pick out clothes I noticed something odd in the corner of the drawer. Odd but not unexpected. With two little kids you learn that something odd is always going to be there. I actually check spots like this frequently to reclaim items like the whisk, TV remote or one of my shoes.

With today’s find I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire to mess with the kid.

Casually I laid out her clothes – pink socks, monkey shirt, striped pants – all typical 4 year-old garb. On top of the pile I added the piece de resistance: Ski Goggles.

She looked at me a little funny, but she didn’t say anything. She certainly didn’t object. The goggles actually went on first, making it tough to execute the shirt phase in our daily dressing drama, and 2 minutes later she was at the table laughing, sucking back yogurt and just generally looking at life through rose-coloured goggles. When I left for work she was still wearing them.

My wife walked her to daycare and apparently she was pleased to have them on – they kept the rain out of her eyes. The kid was still wearing them when my wife left for work too.

8.5 hours later when we returned to pick her up? Still on.

It all got me thinking about the impact we can have on our kids, and potentially on just about anyone, with just a subtle suggestion. I didn’t ask her to wear the goggles. I just put the idea in her head and she ran with it. She got to be the centre of attention. People around her got a smile or two. Everybody is happy. Win-win.

The power of suggestion is huge with little ones. Kids run with whatever tools you give them. Leave a few sheets of paper and some crayons on the table and within minutes you will find them drawing. If we leave out cookies they will eat them. Put out grapes instead and they will be gone, no questions asked. We can get them to do pretty much anything. Except eat blueberry yogurt.


A Milestone Day – Reflections on Day 66 and Next Steps for the Two Things Blog

When I kicked off the two things project I set a simple goal: Learn two things a day and blog about them for 66 straight days.

This post marks my achievement of that goal. To celebrate the accomplishment, for today only, I will go past my usual two things to reflect on what I have learned from the experience and to discuss next steps for this blog.

Today I learned:

http://atabsh.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/lessons-learned.jpg

1. Be Consistent: Practice, practice, practice. I am not saying practice made me perfect, but it made me better. Looking at my early posts, one thing is clear. I wasn’t very good. With practice, I feel like I got better, or at the very least I got more confident. This led me to take more risks in my writing and at the very least helped me feel better about what I was doing.

2. Be Experimental: The most fun I had came out of trying new things.  Throwing Smurf into a conversation and finding enlightenment in the Honey Badger are just two of the things I would not have done without the blog experiment. As well, Email Free Day, The Streaming Diet and The Helping List have all improved my life in some small way.  Life gets better when you take a few risks and try new things.

3. Be an Artist: I didn’t need to buy brushes and an easel to create art, and the energy that flowed out of committing to create something new from nothing everyday felt amazing.

My behaviour also changed unexpected ways. One impact was in how I consume things.  After two months of blogging, Facebook is basically dead to me. It’s an exaggeration of course, but there is an aspect of truth to it. My consumption of media has shifted 180 degrees, moving away from passive sources and on to more active or creative forms. I was a classic Facebook lurker, visiting the site 3 to 5 times a day for several minutes just to see what other people were up to. Now I rarely visit the site – 1 to 2 times per week at most – and typically to communicate with a friend through messaging services. Instead, I now spend my internet-time reviewing sites that inspire learning and creativity.

4. Be fearless: This is easier said than done, and in truth it was an unintended result rather than an initial goal. When I launched the blog I was clearly fearful, and the emotion did not dissipate quickly. In fact, when it disappeared on day 24 I made a note of it. It was then that I realized my self-talk had shifted from “What am I going to write about today?” to “What do I get to write about today?” My post that day focussed on emotion, and at that point I finally felt fearless. Day 24 was also the first time I got up the courage to “publicize” what I was doing to people I actually know too – that is when I first referenced the blog on my personal twitter account (@darrenmcknight) and put up a link on my personal website (darrenmcknight.com).  The lesson for me?  Do something 23 times and it will finally get easier.

5. Be present: Learning facts is easy but the best lessons I learned came from listening to family, kidsfriends, colleagues and even strangers.

At the outset I found I immediately listened more closely. This in itself was a good thing, but my motivation initially wrong. At first I was trying to find a “nugget” in my conversations that I could write about. Eventually this faded away and I simply felt more engaged.  Once I stopped looking for things to learn it was easy to focus on just listening. That’s when I started to find true nuggets.

All in all, this was a planned exercise in introspection and from my perspective it has gone very, very well. So well in fact that, goal accomplished, it is time to change things up a bit…

What’s next for two things I learned today?

The journey is not over, but the pace of blog posts is changing. I will still endeavour to learn and record two things every day, but from here on out I only plan to post a new blog piece when I feel the lessons learned contain ideas that are so “big” in my journey that I should share them with the world.

How often will that be? I really have no idea, and you will notice that I make no attempt to define “big.”

I will say this though: I have thoroughly enjoyed the self-reflection and creative outlet this blog has added to my life. With that in mind, some days big might be huge and some days it might be pretty small.  Hopefully, at least, big will be entertaining…


Cookies vs. Cookie Dough: A Risk Tolerance Analogy

 Today I learned:

1. Everything I Know About Risk Tolerance I Learned in the Kitchen: I recently met with an investment advisor and to kick-off the meeting he walked me through a Risk Tolerance assessment. You know the test – it is the same one you are required to run through at the bank every time you change your RRSP portfolio. I assume this holds true for your 401K in the U.S. too.

Having done this quiz a number of times, it got me thinking: Is there a more creative way to tackle this subject?

http://thepinkpeppercorn.blogspot.com/2010/05/chocolate-chip-cookies-for-new-house.html

Without any immediate ideas I dropped it until the other day.

I arrived home from work to find my wife and four year-old daughter making chocolate chip cookies. I came in at the perfect time. The hard labour was done – all that was left was to lick the spoon and put the trays in the oven.

After a failed attempt to wrestle the spoon from my daughter I was faced with a simple decision.  I could wait 9 minutes for the cookies, or I could dig in to the uncooked dough immediately.

For me, that decision is simple: Eat the cookie dough.

After eating a couple cookies worth of dough I started to think about my decision. Other than the obvious – I have more than a bit of a sweet tooth – could I learn anything from my behaviour?

I realized that given the choice to eat chocolate chip cookie dough now, or wait 9 minutes for what will hopefully become the perfect combination of crispy chocolatey goodness, I will always go with the dough.

Why?  I know the cookie dough will be good, now. I also know that if executed properly the finished product will be better. The problem is that so, so, so many things can go wrong.  A kid might need to go pee. I might get distracted by an incoming email. Don’t even get me started on telemarketers.  Nine minutes could easily become twelve, and all will be lost.

It is about risk. And when it comes to cookies, my tolerance is pretty low.

2. Analyis of Risk – The Cookie Dough Method: The above baking-based self-assessment made me wonder, does my dough-first strategy translate to other aspects of my life? My investment strategy?

The Cookie Dough Method for Analysis of Risk Tolerance was born. Or, I guess, baked.

Do you think your approach to baking cookies can predict your risk tolerance in investing? Take a nibble on my quiz to find out…

Take the Survey

A. Your age is:

  1. Under 18 (If your mom does not let you use the oven alone please navigate to this page now.)
  2. 19- 64
  3. 65 or over (Cookies should not be a prominent part of your diet and will wreak havoc on your cholesterol. Navigate here.)

B. You are headed out to buy the ingredients for a batch of cookies. Do you:

  1. Methodically record all the requirements from a recipe card you got from your mom, which she got from her mom?
  2. Arrive at the store and then shop for what need based on the recipe they put on the bag of Chipits.
  3. Wing it. You can borrow from your neighbours if you forget eggs or sugar.

C. Your oven is:

  1. In tip-top shape. You have it serviced annually.
  2. A professional, model. You installed because it matches my fridge. You don’t really know how to use it.
  3. Oven? You prefer to cook over an open fire in your backyard.

D. You are responsible for:

  1. Providing cookies for yourself, and probably a husband/wife and kid or two one day.
  2. Providing cookies for yourself, your spouse, your ex-spouse, all the kids and three generations of elders.
  3. Responsible?

E. It is Sunday and you invest 2 hours making a batch of cookies for your kid’s birthday party. Your oven thermostat breaks and they are all ruined. You:

  1. Pay a weekend night service charge to get things fixed before you bake again.
.
  2. Go to the bakery and buy whatever is recommended.
  3. Take another kick at it.  You’ll guess right this time.

F. The timer is about to go off and the phone rings. You:

  1. How could it ring? You planned ahead and turned the ringer off.
  2. Call screen and answer if if sounds interesting.
  3. Answer it and agree to a survey that will take “about 5 minutes.”

G. How would you describe your overall cookie status?

  1. I already have a cupboard full in case we have visitors.
  2. I have been known to take all my cookies and invest them in one of those Christmas time cookie exchanges where people try to show up with raisin-based “cookies” and then trade up.
  3. I live cookie to cookie.

Results

http://cache.kotaku.com/assets/images/9/2011/04/scoring.jpg

Total the value of all responses:

Score 7-8: You are a lot like me. You have a low tolerance for risk and must consider this in both your baking and investment strategies. You should consider safe investments. Oreos for example. Start with the bulk of your portfolio in short to medium term bonds and pre-made Pillsbury dough. The rest of your portfolio should go into highly diversified, large cap stocks and Girl Guide Cookies.  Tinker with home made recipes but save some chipits for mom’s recipe.

Score 9-15: You have a moderate risk tolerance, and may want to consider learning more about investment strategies and recipe development. You might consider a portfolio that is anchored by an index fund, and something from a bake sale. You could probably handle a good chunk of cash invested in fruit (e.g. AAPL) or other natural resources. Every once in awhile you’ll burn your cookies, and your capital, but in the long run you should have enough around to at least enjoy the crumbs.

Score >15: You have a high tolerance for risk.  You have never even tasted cookie dough.  In this economy, if you want to retire with a full cupboard one day, you need to marry a rich chef.

Real-Life Application

I am working on a full online and interactive version that will allow you to take your results straight to the bank, to skip their annoying questions and save time in the investment process (Note: I am not really doing that, and if you thought I actually was, click here.)

Obviously (or at least I hope it is obvious) this was meant as a joke. That said, I do see some applications for this type of thought process. As my kids grow up, I foresee difficulty trying to teach lessons like planning for retirement and the time value of money. Trying to get kids to think about what they want in an investment strategy is tough, but with a bit of creativity maybe we can teach them the same lessons through real-life application.  ”Come on kids, Daddy wants to talk about RRSP’s. We’re going to bake a cake…

Comments?

So, what’s your risk tolerance?  Do you steal from the tray or wait patiently until they are done? Do you keep a close eye on the process (READ: stare eagerly through the window with mouth watering and the oven light on) or just trust that things will work out in the end? Do you ever open the door early just to check if they are done?

As well, any other ideas on how to apply this type of thinking to teaching kids or others about money?


Leave ‘Em Be, plus What I Learned from the Honey Badger

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

http://i1112.photobucket.com/albums/k488/sqacct7/Topic%20Photos/Section%20B/betterthanyouquotes.jpg

Today was my first day back in the office after a week at home recovering from surgery. As I sat down with different people on the team through the day one thing became abundantly clear: Everything was under control.  This didn’t come as a surprise mind you, but it is good to learn that your expectations have been met, or exceeded. It reminded me of a great quote on hiring and team building:

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them alone to get on with it.”

David Ogilvy

2. What I learned from the Honey Badger: With 39+ million hits on You Tube, most people have seen the hilarious Honey Badger video (linked below). I’ve been exposed to it a number of times, but always from the perspective of humour.  When the link crossed my path again today I saw an opportunity to view it in a different light.

Can we learn anything about business from the Honey Badger? It turns out we can.

For me, there are three key lessons:

1. Be fierce:

“The most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a sh*t. “

The Honey Badger knows what he wants, and he goes after it. In his case the prize is a treasured Cobra and maybe a taste of larvae. For you it may be additional responsibilities, a new contract or just a chance to bend the bosses ear. Whether your goals are personal or career driven, it pays to clearly identify what you are after and then be fierce in your pursuit.

2. Be relentless:

“It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t care.”

The Honey Badger takes its problems in stride. Stung by a swarm of bees? Bit by a cobra?  Day to day, hopefully at least, you are not likely to be taken down by a cobra, but other pitfalls and speed bumps are all around us. Downsizing? Negotiations falling apart? Crappy boss? We have problems every day. And we choose our own response. Take your licks, get back up and continue driving forward with both eyes squarely on your prize.

3. Accept pursuit:

“The Honey Badger does all the work, while these other animals just pick up the scraps.”

You wouldn’t surround yourself with Jackals by choice, but they are a sign you are doing something right. In business the jackals will multiply in the good times. Don’t be concerned when they are hanging around. Be concerned when they aren’t.

I should note, I chose a business angle to this post, partly because I googled the subject and it turns out I am not the only person with a slightly odd sense of humour who thinks we can learn something from the Honey Badger. I actually found a couple other blog posts referencing personal learnings and life lessons from the Honey Badger. These are the two best I found:

As well, for those of you who would prefer to see the Honey Badger video in the light context that I am sure it was originally intended, I apologize. Here is a link to another hilarious video that I promise not to analyze and ruin for you. There is certainly nothing to learn from it, other than the fact is it an obvious reminder for self-censorship.