5 ideas for an awesome Stay-cation

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am very much in favor of frugality.  In my mind, style and substance should be pursued intelligently, not in a way that can handicap a budget or put a family deeper in debt.  Thinking like that flies in the face of substance!  However, going the entire summer without some type of adventure for the family doesn’t really make sense either. The stay-cation becomes a wonderful way to do both.
But when children (and some adults) hear the word “stay-cation” they often immediately connect it with another word … BORING!
So how do we dissociate stay-cations from boring and connect them with more exciting adjectives?  Here are some ideas to start with!
A map and a pencil!  Granted, this might be easier said in terms of google maps, but the principle is pretty easy.  gather the family and ask them how long they are willing to ride in a car, one way, for a good adventure.  For every hour the mention, draw a line showing a radius of 50 miles from where you live.  50 miles allows for traffic, surface street speeds and potty breaks (as necessary).  Now, you have your planned vacation area!
Jump on the web!  Most states and many cities and counties have websites that list recreation and entertainment activities.  In our area for last year, my wife found a museum that we drove past almost every week for fourteen years.  When we went, we were the only people there, and we not only had the run of the place, but asked all kids of questions that we might never have been able to ask had it been a more “well known” museum. Additionally, many museums offer summer engagement activities for children of various ages, so check websites and ask around.
Change the eating routine!  We make a promise when we travel; limit the fast food chains!  Instead, explore local dining options.  It can be fun to do the same thing in your own neighborhood.  How many places do you drive by and say, “We ought to try that place one day?”  A stay-cation is a perfect excuse to get to those new places.  Not only that, but within the circle you have drawn, if you are visiting someplace away from home, this is a perfect time to try a mom-and-pop diner or hamburger joint.  Who knows, you might find an awesome place!
Unplug!  With this I am not just talking about unplugging from electronics and social media, except of course for posting to Instagram.  No, what we are talking about here is staying away from all forms of electronics as much as possible.  Video Games? unless it is one that the whole family can play together, leave it!  It will still be there when the stay-cation is over.  Tempted to binge the latest on Netflix?  Instead, negotiate a board game or a card game and play something old-fashioned for a while.
Consider Service!  At least for part of the stay-cation, give some thought to finding a service project.  The app, JustServe, (and its sister website, justserve.org) gives some options based on selectable criteria.  You simply input your zip code, select the radius that you are looking at (here’s that map and pencil again!) and you can see different types of service opportunities.  Depending on the age and experience level of your family, you may just be looking for something that can be completed in an hour or two, but the experience is sure to set your stay-cation apart in their minds for the rest of their lives.
Being a man of style and substance is an all-the-time kind of thing.  Hopefully these ideas give you some ways to inject both style and substance into your summer.
Go forth and conquer!

My Four Mentors.

Style and substance, two ideas that are neither mutually exclusive nor guaranteed traveling companions. Why then would I devote myself to a project of championing both ideas? It would be easy to say it is exactly because of the dichotomy represented by the ideas, but for me it is a bit deeper than that.
I want to tell you a story of four men. These four men shaped my life. They were dramatically different men, having come from entirely different kinds of lives, but each of them gave me an element that helped shape my life and my appreciation of style and substance.
First is Marvin, my paternal grandfather. Marvin was an example of consistency and simplicity. A Marine who served in WW2, he was somewhat rough around the edges. He owned his own plumbing business in small town Minnesota. Our visits to the family home were a high point in my life, partly because he always made time for me. He was always kind and gentle with me. I don’t remember him ever wearing anything other than his work coveralls, and he always drove a 1950’s era truck, his work truck. From him I learned to shoot, to fish, and I learned about consistency. He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t, and imperfect as he was, he always made me feel important. He was a man of style and substance.
Second is Leo, my maternal grandfather. He was a powerful example of joy found in the midst of responsibility. He was a missionary for his church to war torn Europe in the aftermath of WW1, and a father before the start of WW2. He ran his own grocery store through much of the depression and through the war, extending credit and kindness to the people in his small town in Utah when times were difficult. He sponsored a family wanting to emigrate to the US during the rise of communism throughout Europe. He and his wife raised 6 children, and tended his lawn after retirement with the care and attention of a master gardener. I never knew a day to go by that he didn’t laugh heartily at something! Overflowing with love, he was a man of style and substance.
Third is my Uncle Jim, the namesake of my youngest son. He was a scientist and a teacher and he fostered in me a love of discovery and an insatiable curiosity. He was always the first at family parties to ask me about my adventures, listening to them as though they were the most interesting things he had ever heard. I’ll never forget the hours I spent sitting with him at the player piano, playing pinball, or heating the goo that came from the inside of a Stretch Monster to see if we could figure out what it was made of. He encouraged me to pursue things I was interested and passionate in. Truly, he was a man of style and substance.
Finally, my father. We didn’t always see eye to eye, as I imagine is somewhat typical of fathers and sons, but he always took care of me. A quiet man, we spent hours shooting rifles and shotguns, riding motorcycles in the mountains, playing softball and baseball, and watching old westerns. We sang John Denver songs together nearly every week, he playing the guitar and me finding harmony. He was my first and only basketball coach, and he always encouraged me to do my very best in everything. All the things I learned from the other mentors in my life he helped solidify. Quiet, steady and dependable, he was a man of substance, and a style all his own.
As I became a father, I looked for mentors and role models. I desperately wanted to be the kind of example to my children that these men had been to me. Sadly, three of them are no longer with us. My wife never met either of my grandfathers, nor my Uncle Jim. And for a time my relationship with my father was strained enough that we struggled to connect. Like I said, fathers and sons.
None of these men were followers of fashion, but they all had a sense of style borne of practicality. Because of them, I learned to recognize the value of timelessness in the face of trendiness. I also learned to prize the permanent over the passing. These men helped me learn what it meant to be a man of style and substance.
May we all have men in our lives to help us learn these lessons!

My four mothers

Mother’s Day was yesterday. With it comes a tremendous sense of gratitude for the profound influence of those women whose influence has been that of a kind mother. Because of that influence, I am going to take a moment in this blog to share some of my thoughts on how the mothers of my world have helped me learn to prize both style and substance.
First I wish to acknowledge Shelby Gould, whom I called my Summer Mom. During the summers of my pre- and early teen years, she was constantly on hand. My two best neighborhood friends, Donald and Tamara, and I spent countless hours running around our street in small town Utah, swinging wooden swords, broom handles (that we imagined as lightsabers) and riding bikes that would change from horses to star fighters. When weather prevented our outdoor gallivanting, my Summer Mom allowed us to take over the entire downstairs with Lego’s and action figures and play sets galore. She frequently included me in activities as though I were one of her own, including the inevitable clean up and yard work. She also fostered an appreciation of all types of music, music that became part of the soundtrack of my life. She helped solidify in me the ideas of responsibility, of following through til a job was done. She was a woman who influenced me in the pursuit of style and substance.
Second is Kathy Garff. Kathy is the wife of Bob Garff, the man who was my mission president while I served a mission for my church in England. She became my Mission Mom. She was always on hand to offer a smile, a hug, and the encouragement that I so desperately needed when I was thousands of miles from home. She always spoke to me of my ability to handle challenges, of the greatness of my heart, and of the way that my smile, my laugh, and my musical gifts brought joy and hope and peace to everyone around me. I was often lonely during this time of life, but she had the uncanny ability to find me in my loneliness and refocus my attention on others, and on the gifts that I had and that I could give that would help them bear the burdens of their lives. She was a woman who influenced me in the pursuit of style and substance.
Next is Christie, my angel wife. When I first met her, I found her attractive. As I grew to know her better, I found her intoxicating. During the ensuing years of our marriage, nothing has changed. One day during the early stages of our relationship I had occasion to see her with a child, babysitting for some friends. Her gentle handling of a tired and overstimulated two year old was mesmerizing. Being an only child, little children were something of a frightening mystery to me. I had no framework for things like temper tantrums, changing diapers or even how to help a little child get dressed, but Christie handled it all in stride. I fell even more deeply in love with her at that moment, knowing that she would be a wonderful mother. And she has been, to each of our five children, at each stage of their growing up, balancing firmness with gentleness in the most beautiful of ways. Gratefully, she has extended the same blessing to me. She has encouraged me in the chasing of my dreams, my gifts and my service to others at every opportunity. She is a woman who influences me in the acquisition of style and substance.
Of course, my own Angel Mother is foremost in my pantheon of these loving and supportive women. From my earliest memories of listening to me sing, play the piano, tell stories, and build science fiction toys from Lego’s, stray pieces of wood, cardboard and masking tape, she has always been there to encourage me. From the darkest times when I wondered if I could endure another day of difficulty and sadness, the mere thought of her could give me reason to carry on, to hope, and to try once more. She has been an example of patience and faith in the midst of illness, sadness, and the impartiality of life’s challenges. She never let me avoid the difficult tasks, however, and frequently she played the role (uncomfortable for her, though it may have been) of disciplinarian and Guardian at the Gate. She was clear about what was right, what was wrong, and how choosing wrong in any degree would lead to unnecessary heartache and pain. She was constant in her encouragement of accepting responsibility and following through on a promise. She was the first, starting me on the path to understanding and championing a life of style and substance.
While I have spoken about the way that each of these women embodied and encouraged substance, make no mistake. They all were women of elegance and grace, each in her own way. They all knew how to make a home beautiful and welcoming. They all knew how to dress with an eye to being classic and timeless, but also to be aware of the trends and delights of fashion. They each guided me to being more than a brute, to appreciating refinement and the arts at least as much as I enjoyed roughhousing and outdoor adventuring and games.
I said earlier that Mother’s Day brings a sense of tremendous gratitude for their influence. I must admit, along with that gratitude has come a portion of guilt. The guilt is borne of a feeling of not having quite measured up what I imagine my mother’s wished for me. And while I doubt any of them
would say they feel the same, I am grateful that my journey is not over. I still have time to grow, to change, to more fully become a man of style and substance.

In the meantime, I thank them for the encouragement, their support and their love. Happy Mother’s Day to the four mothers of my life, and to mothers the whole world over! We who seek to be men of style and substance are in your debt.

Style – A Sense of Consistency

As I talk with men, and sometimes with women, about this blog, I often see smiles. Those smiles are sometimes accompanied by comments like, “Well, I wouldn’t have any need of that. I don’t have any sense of style.” Never mind that such an individual could frequently benefit from a little blog like mine (or any of the others out there that address similar topics). No, what really concerns me about those types of comments is the clear fact that such an individual has confused style for fashion.

I see that all too often.

Perhaps I can take a moment in today’s post to describe what I see as the difference between Style and Fashion.

Let’s start with Fashion. According to that great repository of wisdom, the internet, Fashion is defined as “a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior.” The emphasis here is on trends. Current trends are considered with the Fashion, or fashionable. Trends that are either too new to be widely adopted or were considered fashionable in times recently past are subsequently considered unfashionable. And, as many of us know, to be considered unfashionable in some circles is to be considered irrelevant.

Contrast that with the concept of style. As we have indicated in this blog in the past, style can be identified as “A way of behaving or approaching situations that is preferred by or characteristic of a person.” This sense of style is somewhat independent of fashion.

For example, earlier in my life, denim jackets were considered a useful and fashionable element of a man’s wardrobe, especially if that man spent a considerable part of his life outdoors and working with his hands. During that period of time, I acquired a denim jacket that was somewhat fashionable.

Immediately I began to adorn it with embroidered patches. The patches came from all sorts of places. I received some as gifts from friends. Others I purchased. Some were specific to the space program or military organizations, while others were reflective of things I enjoyed like racing, entertainment franchises and travel. Putting patches on my jacket immediately made it unfashionable. At least at the beginning.

As time went on, it suddenly became fashionable, in some social circles, to have a patch jacket. At that point, I became quite fashionable.

At least until the jacket began to wear out and become threadbare. After all, embroidered patches were fashionable, but functionable patches are still considered quite unfashionable.

And I couldn’t have cared less.

You see, the idea of a patch jacket for me, or even the material of the jacket involved, was not important to me. I wasn’t trying to be fashionable . I was cultivating a personal sense of style, and that style was characterized in part by making my casual clothing distinctive of me, my interests, and my experiences. The clothing was functional, but it was also a carefully cultivated expression of what was important to me.

And that is style.

Now, there is a definition of style that refers to a sens of sophistication and elegance. Those who have read this blog for any period of time will recognize that I am also an advocate of developing that type of style as well. In that case, the style we are speaking of lends itself to a sense of substance, of appreciation for what I call “time and place conformity.”

Allow me to share an example that serves as something of a case in point. I am a firm believer in the idea that every man should own a tuxedo. But I am not a strong advocate for following trends or the dictates of fashion in the purchase of a tuxedo. Instead, I advocate a classic cut and fit. Lapels that are neither too wide nor too thin, notched instead of peaked. A shirt whose pleats are neither noticeably wide nor outrageously decorated. Pants tailored to fit with a conservative break and neither too full nor to tight. In short, a tuxedo that is likely not fashionable because it is timeless.

This sense of style is what embodies elegance, and it is wholly in step with the cultivation of both a sense of substance and a sense of personal style, because it can be accessorized with touches that come from the man’s personal style. For instance, the cuff links I wear with my tuxedo are very much in keeping with my earlier descriptions of my personal style. Whether I wear the Millenium Falcon ones given me by a student, the Michael Kors ones I bought on a trip to NYC, or any of the ones given me by my wife and children.

Gentlemen, cultivate your personal sense of style. Learn to describe it, champion it, embrace it, and recognize that, while there will be times that the fashion is in step with you, there will be many times when you may be out of step with it.

And your confidence in those moments is what can make you a man of style and substance.

Notes from a conference

This may be the longest post I’ve ever composed. It is made up of thoughts that came to me while I was attending a recent work conference. Few of these ideas we’re entirely new, but all of them made it into my scribbles from the two day conference. Enjoy!

  • We need to become more interconnected in our teams.
  • Power is unleashed when we commit to people long term.
  • If there isn’t a plan for keeping promises, they probably won’t be kept.
  • Taking ownership for the work is how outcomes are influenced.
  • When a person is passionately connected to his or her purposes, overcoming the little stuff along the way becomes easier.
  • Harnessing trust requires understanding.
  • original thought during convention everyone is talking about how important it is to develop trust, but no one said anything about how to go about it. . . what about t


  • T
    – transparency
  • R – Relationships
  • U – Understanding
  • S – Service
  • T – Time
  • An individuals mood or state of mind influences communication patterns more than almost anything else.
  • It isn’t selfishness to spend time doing what makes us happy, it is attitude protection.
  • The most important skill is the skill of developing new skills (this is obviously my thought that was triggered by something that someone was saying at the time).
  • To accomplish something more than you have ever done, you must become someone bigger than you have ever been.
  • Purpose turns a job into a career and a career into a calling
  • You don’t move out of your comfort zone; you expand it to include new things.
  • If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together (African proverb)
  • When a professional shares, there is almost no difference between what they share individually and what they share in a group
  • The fact that one impacts another is not proof that one could only be impacted by that other
  • Just because your contribution may be less visible does not mean it is less valuable.
  • The most potent poison in the world is a hateful, ungrateful attitude.
  • Information is the beginning of planning. We must not only be brave enough to gather information, we must also be brave enough to question and understand all the implications of our information.
  • It matters, you are an actor, take pride!
  • One can be phenomenal. One can do amazing things. But as amazing as one is, one is never as powerful as many.
  • The difference between a professional and a specialist is the willingness and ability to something extraordinary.
  • When people have all the facts, most of the time they react positively.
  • The influence of one is multiplied by time and space as others share how they were influenced.
  • We may never know what will stay in the minds and hearts of others, but we do know that two things can affect what they might be: repetition and simplicity.
  • Others may not remember everything we say, but they are quite likely to remember how we treated them.
  • Dynamite comes in small packages!
  • When it comes to family, I’ve never known someone who regretted having (another) child, but I know a lot of people who regret not having another child.
  • Resist the temptation to define yourself or others by limitations. Instead define yourself and others by aspirations and the efforts made to realize them.
  • While it takes all of us to make a positive experience, it only takes one of us to make a horrible experience.
  • Directionless passion is annoying and exhausting. Directed passion is energizing and infectious.
  • Great coaches are masters at asking questions, and listening to the answers.
  • Great coaches use sensible directness
  • Great coaches seek clarity
  • Great coaches challenge paradigms.
  • Great coaches have integrity in their actions and their intentions.
  • The manager gets to the end result by informing. The coach gets to the end result by questioning. — Eric Juhlin
  • Authenticity is the doorway to trust. Is there a difference between being genuine and moving to the lowest common denominator?
  • What if I was being treated like a valued contributor and appreciated patron at every interaction?
  • What if I treated everyone I dealt with in the same way?
  • Do we treate our students the way a customer is treated at Tiffany’s?
  • Products attract attention; service keeps involvement.
  • Information acquired but not applied is undervalued.
  • If you cannot balance your own emotional roller coaster, how can you ever hope to help another with theirs?
  • Growth or fixed mindset – we are all on a continuum. People operate from fixed or growth mindset perspectives.
  • It’s a lack of faith that makes people afraid.
  • It’s just as bad to have an inner dialogue running when trying to listen to someone as it is to interrupt them at every turn.
  • Failure is a temporary event, not a permanent label.
  • The best version of you is when you are happy. That is the time we are most likely to help and serve.
  • Service is a key to joy. Purpose makes service meaningful

What it means to be AWESOME!

Words are tools. Like all tools, when used correctly they are extremely useful. When used incorrectly, they can inadvertently cause considerable damage.

Why am I starting with this? Because I want to talk about the word Awesome and, more specifically, what it means to be awesome.

Earlier today I sent a text to my son. He had not been having a great morning, and going to school for him has been difficult, even on the best days. I wanted to insert a small moment of hope and happiness into his day. As part of the text, I told him “I hope you have an awesome day” It took a while for him to respond, and when he did, I gave him an additional note of “You are awesome.”

As I contemplated the exchange, and the lack of communication back to me (typical of teenagers in high school, on lots of levels) I wondered if he and I see the term in the same light?

Awesome is defined by the online dictionary as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear,” and “Informally, extremely good; excellent.” I think my son and, coincidentally, much of the population at large use the term in its informal sense. We use awesome to describe things that are extremely good. They aren’t singular, they are extremely good. They aren’t earth shattering, they are excellent. In fact, based on popular usage, they might be just extremely good in the moment. It is not unusual to hear that a band or a performer has an awesome video or that they did an awesome job on a particular song, or even a part of a song. It is not unusual to hear someone say that a meal is awesome, even if it is just a burger or a chicken sandwich.

Because of the frequent use of the term awesome we may, as one of my friends recently put it, diluted to impact and meaning of the word.

This may all be true, and may also help to inform my sons silence when I sent him a text saying he was awesome.

But I believe he is.

I believe that his capacity for growth is “inspiring of admiration.” He is “excellent” at whatever he puts his mind to. He overcomes things that, perhaps, may be considered to be “daunting.” He approaches things that sometimes make him “fearful or apprehensive” and he meets them head on, making progress toward handling those situations.

Doing all of that makes him awesome.

I believe that part of being a man of style and substance is using words thoughtfully. I am not encouraging the use of the word awesome in place of all the other words or phrases that can be used. I am not saying that the only adjective that we should employ in our conversation is awesome.

I am suggesting that being thoughtful about the word awesome may come in one of two ways.

First, we may choose to adopt the informal use of the word as a focused word of encouragement.

Second, we may choose to use the word more judiciously, saving it for a moment of significant effort and progress.

However, in either case, I am trying to remember that the word awesome can be used to describe the inner progress that one is making or is striving to make as much as it may be more frequently used to describe the outer results that occur.

Going back to the conversation that I was having with my son. He is struggling. But he is awesome!

Every day he faces a highly competitive, results driven situation, the likes of which can feel exceptionally daunting . Like many, he is struggling to keep moving forward in spite of apprehension and fear that is somewhat inextricably connected to living in a fast paced community with constantly changing guidelines and expectations. And in spite of all of this, he is really good at finding humor all around us, at finding things to laugh at all the time.

That makes him awesome.

I hope I can be awesome like him.

Compassion, a mark of a substance

Recently, I participated in a ritual of the American Public Education System known as Parent Teacher Conferences. In this ritual, parents who have had to take off from work meet for a brief few minutes with a teacher who is anxiously waiting for the time to expire so they can go home. Most of the time, the parents participating in the ritual are only doing so because their child (my youngest son, in this case) are struggling in school.

For the most part, this ritual went fairly well for us. My wife and I met with all of our sons teachers. All of them said roughly the same things: smart kid, quiet, participates when asked, stares off and easily distracted, just needs to make up missing work and all will be well.

All of them, that is, save one. That one said similar things, but not the same. He complimented us on the work that we were obviously doing to help our son, complimented us on being at the conference. He did acknowledge that making up the missing work could help his grade, but rather than talk about how we could all work to help our son see the value of the process, he spoke without compassion, defending his position of punishing our sons poor performance in his class.

As I said, all the teachers acknowledge (as did we) that our son is having problems with school right now. We didn’t justify those, nor did we ask any of the teachers to make special arrangements to allow our son to answer to a different set of rules. My wife and I have both been educators, and we know how challenging it is. We know our son is not making things easier.

But all the other teachers spoke with compassion for our son, and for our predicament.

Compassion is characterized by a sympathetic demeanor for the challenges of others. Most of the teachers that have been watching our son struggled had compassion for our situation, and they also manifested compassion for our sons. They acknowledged that the classes are difficult, that not every child does well, that many are struggling, and that this time of transition is a challenge for even the best and brightest students. They acknowledged that the diversity of information being covered, the breadth and depth, can feel overwhelming. And they acknowledged that, because of high stakes testing, it is unfortunate that some students get steamrolled in the need to cover information for the majority.

They had compassion for us and for our son.

In turn, we had compassion for those good teachers, trying to help open our sons awareness to the fact that he can accomplish more than he knows if he will just apply himself. We had compassion for them in the fact that our son is just one of many students that are likely having similar struggles and that not all parents are as involved in trying to help their child figure things out and master the process.

All but this one teacher.

To be fair, perhaps he has been burned by trying to act with compassion in the past.

Perhaps he is just tired of feeling like he needs to be the one to adapt.

Perhaps he feels like every time he acts with compassion he is taken advantage of, or the lesson is not learned, or some other negative outcome is foisted upon both the student and society as a result.


I’m trying very hard to not hold against him his inability to show compassion for my child. (I couldn’t care less whether he has compassion for me or my wife). And I am also trying to learn the lesson of compassion anew in this situation.

As a man of substance, compassion should be part of my stock in trade, a primary tool in my conceptual EDC.

In my experience, most people who act in a contrary manner toward us do so because they feel they have been wronged, poorly treated, or in some other way minimized by others. When someone feels wronged, that individual has two options open to them: Be sad (which is often interpreted as weakness) or be mad (which is a show of artificial strength). Because mad (screaming, yelling, throwing things, tantrums) is not often acceptable in civilized society, a more subtle form of scorn and disdain takes its place. And when an individual is acting with scorn and disdain for others, there is no room left for change and growth.

Hence, my need for compassion.

Compassion defuses anger, in all of its forms. Compassion opens the door to change and growth. And since men of style and substance are champions of change and growth, compassion should always be found in the way we act toward others.

I am working to show this teacher compassion.

I hope he will be open to change and growth as a result, and perhaps be open to showing compassion to others in the future.

Sadly, I think it may be too late for my son.

For him, we will have to try other solutions.