The Life Stages of Pumpkin Carving

Richard called me a “sentimental fool” over the weekend, and I guess I have to own it. My kids are 10 & 13 now, and Halloween came & went this year so quickly I hardly knew what hit me. As I enjoyed the weekend and looked back over the years, this is what came to mind.

LIfe Stages of Pumpkin Carving

Single/Twenties – Your friends invite you to a Fall Fest, and one of the activities is pumpkin carving. You’ve had several beers and now you think it is kitschy. You grab a knife and start cutting.
Outcome: The next morning you look at the pumpkin and don’t quite remember what inspired you to carve your pumpkin this way – it must have been really funny last night when you were drunk carving. You take a picture and post it to instagram so everyone can get a good chuckle.


Married, No Children – You and your sweetie take a day off of work and you go to the local organic farm (hey – you’ve got vacation days to burn, and you’d do anything to avoid all those damned families on a weekend). You leisurely stroll around, sipping lattes, and pick “just the right pumpkins”. You come back home, search the net for about 2 hours to find just the right carving patterns that represent you each individually. You then meticulously carve your pumpkins together while sipping mulled wine.
Outcome: Pumpkin perfection – beautiful pumpkins you are proud to have perched on your porch. You take a picture and put it on your Christmas card.

carved pumpkins

Married & Baby Makes 3– You are so excited to be a family that you head out to the pumpkin patch to start a family tradition. You are all dressed in the quintessential autumn attire, which is good since you are snapping photos every two feet so you can remember this FOREVER. You pick out 3 pumpkins – one for each of you. You get back home, and the baby is asleep and you should be too.
Outcome: The pumpkins go out front uncarved, but that is ok…there are 2 big pumpkins and 1 small one, and that is just too cute for words. You have a glass of wine to celebrate all the joys of life (sniff, sniff).

3 pumpkins

Married, Young Kids – Off you go on the annual trip to the pumpkin patch. By the time you get there, child #1 needs to pee (yes, you told him to pee before you left home; no, there is not a bathroom in the middle of the pumpkin field; yes, you are already starting to loose your patience), and child #2 has lost a shoe. This will not stop you! This is a tradition! You WILL get pumpkins. You plaster a smile on your face and tell the kids to find pumpkins. Now begins the longest 30 minutes of your life as your children wander around the patch looking for “the right pumpkin”. Many are picked out, then discarded for being: the wrong color; the wrong size; too big to pick up; doesn’t look like me; it has dirt on it; it isn’t dirty enough; I like the other one better, but I don’t remember where I put it down; this one is the very furthest from the car, and I MUST have it (insert screaming child here). Finally you take the pumpkins to the stand, have them weighed, have a cardiac arrest at how much this precious lifetime memory is going to cost, and you head home. Once you arrive home, the children inform you that you MUST CUT THEM NOW! Under protest your husband begins to carve up the pumpkins – 10 minutes in the kids have lost interest and are now watching Curious George.
Outcome: 2 pumpkins carved by what looks to be Edward Scissor Hands, and 2 pumpkins with scribble on them (the ones you drew on after you downed a bottle of wine to recover from the whole day). You take a picture just to have it, but let’s not post that one anywhere.


Married, Pre-teen Kids – In the 2 days between Fall sports ending and Halloween approaching you are reminded by your youngest that you haven’t carved pumpkins yet. You debate for a moment just scrapping the whole thing, but the look on her face is enough to make you believe you will be sitting at the back of the “Mother of the Year” banquet if you don’t get your shit together. No time for the pumpkin patch – going to have to pick up a few at the grocery store (but tell them that they came from the organic local vegetable stand down the street). You get three (let’s face it, dad has only ever participated under protest and these things were expensive) and bring them home. You inform your oldest that he is going to participate in the forced family fun. Each kid gets a pumpkin and a knife and you hope for the best. You get a glass of wine (but only one in case you have to take one of them to the emergency room). You perform the age-old duty of scooping the guts, and wonder why you thought this was a good idea so many years ago.
Outcome: Hmmmm…who knew these kids were somewhat artistic…guess we can put these outside. You take a picture and post it on FB as proof that you actually do things with your kids.

These actually are my kids and their pumpkins - Pumpkin Carving 2014
These actually are my kids and their pumpkins – Pumpkin Carving 2014

Married, Teenage Kids – It is October and you would barely notice by looking at your house. You have been running in so many different directions that you haven’t even had time to get out one Halloween decoration. And no one has said a word. One night over your evening cocktail you turn wistful…you don’t really have many more of these days left where they will be around to carve pumpkins. Saturday morning you declare it family day, you load everyone into the car and force them to the pumpkin patch. While you drive everyone is on their phone, but you don’t care, you are all together. When you get to the pumpkin patch the kids quickly grab the closest pumpkin and declare it “perfect”. You return home and as the kids go to dash out the door with the friends, you remind them that they aren’t carved. They inhale sharply and manage a perfunctory jack-o-lantern.
Outcome: Well, the pumpkins do have 2 eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Guess that is something. You put them out and take a picture – this may be the last one you get.


Married, College Students – It is October and you miss your kids and your traditions. They won’t be home for Halloween, so you make a care package of candy, a small pumpkin and cash (of course) and send it to school. A few days later you get a text with that says “thanks mom” with a picture of the small pumpkin that has been carved.
Outcome: You cry into your glass of wine as you look at the picture and think, “Who raised that sentimental kid?”


Empty Nesters – Your husband looks at you and says, “Hey honey, it is that time of the year…let’s go to the pumpkin patch.” You burst into tears at the fact that this man knows you so well. You head off hand-in-hand for a leisurely day of strolling in the crisp fall air. You watch the families and the children as you reminiscence about the many hours you have spent doing this same thing. You take a picture of the two of you and text it to your kids… “Mom and Dad miss you guys. Love you.”
Outcome: You have a pretty pumpkin on your coffee table that makes you smile as you sit with your glass of wine in the evening.

Pumpkins and Wine

Empty Nesters with Grandchildren – Your son calls you up and asks you if you want to go to the pumpkin patch with the grandkids. You say yes before he can take a breathe and you immediately start planning! You are more excited than the kids are when you get the pumpkin patch – you let the kids pick out whatever size pumpkin they want and even treat for hot chocolate for everyone. You take enough pictures that day to create a whole photo album. When you get back to the house you sit back with your glass of wine, and you watch as your son struggles to wrangle the kids and carve their pumpkins. He looks at you as he is cleaning up and says “Thanks.”
Outcome: You could care less what the pumpkins look like, and you think to yourself, “I guess I did something right.”

Disclaimer: This isn't my family, in fact, I don't know these people, but don't they look like they are having a great day!
Disclaimer: This isn’t my family, in fact, I don’t know these people, but don’t they look like they are having a great day!

Separating the Urgent from the Important

Sorry I left you hanging on that cliff for so long, but brilliance can’t be rushed.

For those of you eagerly awaiting this blog which is part two of the Pulitzer-winning blog entitled: “I want more hours in my day!” your wait is over. When we last checked in with our hero, he just identified the fact that prioritization is the key to successful time management. “But, BAM, KAPOW, ZOWIE” you say, “how do I do that?”

Thank goodness you came to the right place! I have an amazingly original and brilliant answer to this question (as well as answers to many more of life’s difficult challenges – someone should notify the President – he’s really missing out on a major resource).

These solutions have come from the 17 years of retreats that we have done as well as my 25 years in business management.

Face it. We all wish we could spend more time on key goals but so much is happening around us that even though we start with good intentions, we often get distracted (kinda like how I INTEND to eat well, but then I get distracted by the pan of brownies cooling on the counter). We know that we need to address the “urgent” tasks first, but the problem is that everything seems to be “urgent.”

By urgent, I’m not just referring to emergencies. I mean text messages that need a quick response or the phone ringing that needs to be picked up or someone interrupting you at work with a question to be answered. Especially in our increasingly digital world, we feel like everything is urgent and needs our immediate response – even that silly text message while we’re driving.

joker 2If urgent were a movie character it would be The Joker trying to wrestle control from Batman (btw – you are Batman in this analogy and The Joker is all the people/things that are so “urgent” but are really just a joke – ha, ha).

So the answer lies in determining what is most important to you. What do you believe in? In 5 or 10 years, what do you want to know you gave the most attention to? Do you really want your kids, spouse, faith, health, etc. to be the most important things in your life? Then you need to act like it! When you’re clear about what your top priorities are, it becomes a matter of holding yourself to that standard.

One way to take back control of your life is to critically analyze what is merely urgent and what is truly important. Even if you’re swamped, taking a few minutes to think about this will actually free up time for you.

If you’re out of the office at an important meeting, do you answer your e-mail during that meeting? Probably not. And the world doesn’t end, does it? That e-mail probably wasn’t nearly as urgent as you might have thought. Another way to look at it is to remember that other people don’t know what you’re doing every hour of every day. When your phone pings and you realize you have a text message waiting, your pavlovian response might be chirping in your head urging you to grab that phone (despite the fact that you are sitting across the table from your mother and you know that she HATES when people text while in a conversation). Instead that person can wait for your response – because as far as they know you could be taking a nap, in the shower, or maybe even having lunch with your mother! And if you were doing any of those things your response would have to wait. So putting off your response for your own convenience should be acceptable as well.

And to apply this to your relationship: going out on a date night once a month with your partner might not be urgent. However continually postponing your date because you’re doing things that other people have convinced you are urgent is a problem. You are letting someone else’s list of priorities overrule yours.

Another strategy: schedule your most important things into your day and let the other stuff fill in the gaps. Trust me, if you don’t get to some of those “other things” they probably weren’t that important!

If spending time with your wife is important (before you get to divorce court that is) then schedule that in. If you believe that spending time with your kids is crucial (before they’re out of your house just like in that “Cats in the Cradle” song) then make the time now. If you don’t want to be sick all the time as you get older (and you probably don’t) then work on your health starting today.

Finally, if others are trying to control your calendar and eat up all your time, then give them a deadline. Tell them when you will respond (i.e., I have some things on my calendar this morning – I’ll get back to you by 8 tonight). This will put you at ease and will also keep others from badgering you.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Be proactive. Determine what’s most important and what’s merely urgent. Make a list – on paper – and keep that list with you and review it often. Then make a commitment to get the important done. Accomplish your priorities first, then work on everyone else’s urgent items.

I Want More Hours in My Day!


This past Wednesday was crazy and these days it seems like every day is similar. Up early for boot camp. Off to work. Race to my daughter’s swim meet where I’m timing. Then its home to pack for the next day, chat with the kids, play with the dog, and pack for a Boy Scout Leadership campout.

If most every day is like this, plus weekends filled with baseball games, soccer games, church, etc., when in the heck am I supposed to find time to work on my big life goals?

It seems like most everyone, I find myself asking, “How do I get more done?”

Fear not! I found the solution!

The answer lies in the time-turner necklace that Hermione used in Harry Potter and the Prisonr of Azkaban. She deftly utilized this necklace to take a double class load – to technically be in two places at once. It works great.


What?!? You don’t have a time-turner necklace?

Hmmmm. Then I guess we all need to go at this another way.

During the course of working on our book, we realized that while The 48 Hour Relationship Retreat might be a handbook about a couple’s retreat, the underlying theme is really all about being proactive. Working together to figure out what’s most important and then making those things a priority in your life. Basically, taking control of your life instead of letting it control you.

When it comes to the problem of getting more done, the only solution is prioritizing. We can’t get more hours in our day (I’ve tried, but seems that making a larger sun dial does NOT actually slow the rate at which time advances). The key is to get more of our top priorities done during the hours we do have.

If spending time with Amanda is my top priority (and she informs me that it should be), I need to put it into my schedule and work the rest of my day around that. Time management experts all preach the same basic mantra – determine what is most important (not what is most urgent) and then schedule those items. Let the lower priorities fill in around them.

All time management books stress that it’s crucial to be deliberate. Setting our goals and hoping that the top priorities get done is not enough. We need to take a moment to put those key items into our day ahead of time. And then stick to them like we would a doctor’s appointment.

In fact, my recent doctor’s appointment is a great example. Somehow, when I need to go to the doctor so I can get my medication refilled, I find a way to fit that into my schedule and work our other responsibilities around that. If one of your highest goals is spending more time with your kids or date night or exercise, treat that like a doctor’s appointment. Schedule it, don’t miss it, and the world won’t end.

I might not have a time-turner necklace like Hermione, but what I do have is a daily to do list that I create each day before I leave work. I write down all the things I want to accomplish the next day (it includes the things I want to do and the things other people want me to do). And then I prioritize them. I put “A”s next to the things I absolutely need to get done in the day, and then “B”s and then “C”s for the things that it would be good to get to, but they are at the bottom of my list. Then the next day I tackle the A’s first, and I treat the time on my calendar that I have set aside for those items as sacred…if someone tries to grab that time I get very protective and think twice before impinging upon it.

And yes, before you ask I do the same thing for my weekends. We determine what things we want to get done around the house, or with the kids, or which friends we want to see. And we put them on our to do list. And then the other stuff fills in around that. Does it mean some sacrifice (like I might not watch all of the Nats game, but rather catch just an inning or two)? Yes, it does. But I can stomach that sacrifice when I see the results of pursuing my priorities instead of the stuff that just gets thrown at me.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Stop lamenting your lack of time. Decide what is most important, get that into your schedule, protect that time, and let the rest fill in where it will.

Cliffhanger: Tune in to my next scintillating blog when I will to try to tackle the burning question: “How do I determine what’s most important?”

Be My Guest – and Can You Fix my Transmission While You’re Here? (Amanda’s Take)

My in-laws are coming this week. They are coming to help run the house while I will be away on business travel. Awww…that is very nice you might say. While I am saying “OH MY GOD!” Not because it isn’t nice (it is very nice of them…but don’t give them too much credit – they are totally psyched about getting their time in with the grandkids). But the mere thought of having them in my house for a week without me here strikes panic into my heart. Why?!? You don’t really need to ask if you are a wife and your in-laws are coming for a week. But for the men reading this or for those of you who live next door to your in-laws and have already adjusted, let me explain the inner workings of my neurosis.

You see, if my in-laws come while I am away they are likely to see what my house REALLY looks like. They are likely to uncover the secrets hidden away behind the closed doors that even those in my “village” don’t get to see. Like the fact that I still have presents from my cub scout banquet in February hanging out in my office, or I have twenty pairs of summer shoes sitting on my spare bed waiting to be transitioned into my closet, or the fact that my pantry looks like it has been ransacked by the Pittsburg Steelers defensive line!

I spend a considerable amount of time crafting the image of a put-together business owner/mother/friend/sister/wife/coach/whatever-I-need-to-be-today. And all of that might be undone in one 7-day visit when they realize that I am really not put-together at all. That it is all an illusion. And when they find out that it is an illusion, they will most certainly JUDGE ME! And that, of course, would be the worst part of it all.

Then I realized that perhaps there was another way to look at this. I mean I don’t keep a pin-perfect house for a reason. Because it is a choice that I make (because trust me, my mother certainly taught me how to be neat and tidy). It is a very proactive choice that I make to focus on other things in my life instead of spending time making sure every nook & cranny is squeaky clean. To coach my daughter’s soccer team instead of cleaning out the guest room closet. Or to write a book rather than make sure everything in my office is in its place.

So what if my mother-in-law comes and finds that there are some shirts that need buttons sewn on. You know what she’ll probably do? She’ll sew them on! And so what if my father-in-law notices the banister than has been loose for the last 6 months. If he is bothered by it he’ll probably repair it (thank God – because it has been driving me nuts for the last 6 months).

And I have a very conscious choice on how I can react to any acts of kindness that they may commit while they are here. I can either take it as a judgment – a feeling that they think I am not doing a good enough job for their son and/or grandchildren. Or I can embrace their giving ways and be glad that someone is doing the things that I can’t get to.

My decision is already made. I have plenty of room in my life for anyone who wants to help out. Please – feel free (I can even send you a sign-up genius request if you’d like). Step right up and clean off a counter, stuff a dishwasher, or take a kid to practice. I won’t mind. I won’t feel judged. I might even reward you with a tasty margarita when you’re done. I can use all the help I can get because I am spending a lot of my time carefully crafting the image of a put-together business owner/mother/friend/sister/wife/coach/whatever-I-need-to-be-today.

And that makes me really tired.

Disclaimer: My in-laws are truly salt-of-the-earth people who are not at all judgmental. All of the neurosis portrayed in this blog can be 100% attributed to the author. Just ask Richard – he will tell you.

And here is an aside. I am going to try to finish my blogs with a little take-away. A little something that you might apply to your life. Pretty much the moral of the story (so you don’t have to work that hard to figure it out.) If you like it great, if you don’t, well as I was told as a child, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then no one really wanted to listen to you anyway.” I am going to call them my “Scrap the Crap Tips”. It works today – who knows if it will work for every blog…guess we’ll all find out together.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Identify your own priorities, and then don’t feel bad about skipping the stuff that just doesn’t make your list. When others step in to fill in the gaps, don’t spend time worrying about WHY someone did something nice, just accept that they did it, and thank them for their kindness and for their help in your life.