By: Julie Manriquez


My 12-year-old son expected an Xbox 360 for Christmas. Instead he received an emphatic “not gonna happen, Kid!” He persevered with the drive and optimism of a skilled closer, spouting assumptive comments like, “When I have my Xbox, you can use it to make sure I do my homework and my chores.” Wait a minute, isn’t it the JOB of every 12-year-old to—uhhh—do his homework and chores? After discussing with friends their discontent with the game and their kids’ effective behavior, the hubby and I stuck to our guns and kept the “kid crack” out of our home.

Just to clarify, we don’t have a problem with gaming, even the violent or adult varieties. And anyone who knows us knows we are certainly not big on censorship. The kid watched Gladiator at the age of eight at the hubby’s suggestion to get “pumped” for his basketball playoff game!  We simply do not wish to sabotage our kids’ sometimes limited focus on school and their chosen activities; but, even more importantly, we do not wish to rob them of the gift of pure, unadulterated boredom, which every child needs to expend physical energy, inspire creativity, innovation, and passion for something (anything!) larger than they are.

We proudly stood united and much to his chagrin no Xbox miraculously arrived beneath our rather odd left-leaning Christmas tree. Read more of this post


The Bluford Principle

The windshield keeps you focused on where you are going, but the rear view mirror reminds you where you came from.

We spend Christmas Eve every year at my in-laws in Modesto, CA, a little over an hour drive from my hometown of San Jose. We always have a great time there during the Holidays. My children get to see and spend time with their cousins, whom they don’t see very often. My wife gets to hang out with her siblings, whom because of life’s commitments- kids and work just to name a couple- she also sees a lot less than she probably should. And I get a mini-vacation, a few days that, because there are more adult eyes to look after ours and the other children, I get to relax and unwind a little.

As the stoplight turned green and we proceeded through the last busy intersection on the final stretch of road before my in-laws’ home, I noticed a man standing in a used car lot, which because it was nearly nine pm on Christmas Eve, had been closed for several hours. He was bundled up next to a streetlight, smoking what I’d hoped was a cigarette. “Look at that man,” my daughter said. “He must be cold,” my son added. Upon hearing my children, my eyes immediately glanced at the temperature gauge in my car. It read 36 degrees. Those readers who reside in the Northeast, or even the Midwest or South for that matter, might not see a man standing in 36 degree weather as particularly alarming. For a California boy, though, witnessing this man standing alone, on a street corner, in almost freezing weather, on Christmas Eve no less; was a perfect opportunity to empty my bucket (referring to the great book, How Full Is Your Bucket? If you have children and haven’t shared with them the kid version of this wonderful book, you definitely need to pick it up) and also teach my kids a valuable lesson.

It sounds so simple. “Appreciate what you have.” We make it poetic at times. “Be sure to smell the roses.” And sometimes it’s beaten over our heads by our moms. “Boy, there are people in Africa that wish they had half of what you have!” (That last one is courtesy of my mom, bless her soul.) But the truth is we all- or at least most of us- suffer from this affliction. The problem, I’ve determined, is not that we are all ingrates, as my wife hilariously proclaims at times. The issue is that it’s hard to feel that way–grateful and thankful– while working from a model or view of the world built on ill-advised and unproductive reference and comparison. I’ve gone so far as to name it. I call it the Bluford Principle. Why the Bluford Principle? Well, mostly because I haven’t heard anyone else refer to this dilemma, on which I’ll elaborate in a moment, in quite this way. And maybe a little because I just like the way it sounds. Read more of this post

9/12/2011: Practice Forgiveness for Better Health

As I wrapped Halloween goodie bags for the elderly at a National Charity League meeting on 9/11 with my 13-year-old daughter, she asked if we’d have time to attend mass that evening. We are hardly model churchgoers and—as I’ve mentioned (See Recipe for Change- Less Everyday) —I consider myself at best a “Recovering Catholic” open to the tenets of several faiths. Our children are the product of this open-minded spirituality regardless of their more formal exposure to Catholic teachings their first nine years. For me it is a gift to see them reach for their own spiritual lifeline when it comes to navigating their way through difficult times.

Over the past week we have discussed the 9/11 of ten years ago, when my son and daughter were just two and three; and, as I answered questions and cried tears as I recounted the day—the moment—that we all personally own, I realized that they too need to personally mourn this piece of history that defines their generation. Read more of this post

Keep Choppin’ and Keep Steppin’

Chop big or chop small. Chop quickly or chop slowly. But whatever you do, Keep Choppin’!

Not long ago I was going through one of my crazy circuit training routines when one of the employees at the gym looked at me with a peculiar, perplexed, almost confused face. She’s seen me there dozens of times—always friendly and conversant—so I was wondering why she was looking at me in such a manner. Her confused look was actually, well, confusing me a bit. Later she walked by and said “Why do you work so hard? Is it like your thing or something?” I didn’t really know how to respond. As odd as it sounds, I initially felt the way I did when I was in high school, the same way a lot of kids, struggling to find an identity, to fit in yet stand out, feel. I thought back to a time when doing the best you could in school meant you were being a “teacher’s pet”, “bookworm”, or worse yet, a “know-it-all”. I remember when my teammates called me “Coach’s Favorite” just because I did my best to be first in every sprint, first in the weight room, and last to leave the field after practice. Even as you get older, these labels don’t escape you. Young men and women who go to college are often accused by their less ambitious friends and classmates of “thinking they’re better” than them. Even wearing a suit to work, as I experienced firsthand, can create a stir and be frowned upon when those around you are more comfortable in Kakis and Polo Shirts.

So, I was actually unprepared to respond to Jo, the employee who had caught me off guard with her comment. I forgot what my response was. I probably said something I thought was funny like “I have to keep at it because the pool boy my wife hired is too handsome.” Or I may have brushed it off with “Nobody’s going to do it for me.” Whatever I said, I realized later the real reason. And unlike my normal witty and charismatic responses, it’s not very funny, clever, or necessarily inspiring or informative. It is however, law. It is a universal law that, while boring and simple, is one that few accept, let alone embrace.

I’ve gotten to where I am, you see, not by large jumps or progressions. Whether as a student, a finance professional, a wanna-be programmer, a father and husband, or a fitness junkie (and sometimes coach), it’s always taken (actually taking) some time to grow and learn. And I’ve always understood and accepted that. It was never—it is never—one big step. It is dozens, hundreds, even thousands of small ones. When you’re chopping a tree down, for example, you never know which chop ultimately brings it down. It’s a combination of all of them. When you study for a test, you can never pinpoint which hour or minute ultimately produces the outstanding score you receive. And it’s never one, two, or even three things that make someone fall in love with you. It’s the entire you. The whole is always more than the sum of the parts. Read more of this post

It takes no skill to hustle

My wife is always telling me that I’m smart. It makes me feel kind of, well, weird. I’m not sure why. I’ve accomplished too much academically to dismiss it altogether, but it’s hard to completely accept such praise. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what the heck it even means. To be smart, that is. I mean we all say it, referring to those around us as smart or bright. And I know there are tests that are supposed to effectively measure intelligence. But how many of us have actually taken one? And if we have, what exactly has it done to help us? Schools, of course, are notorious for using standardized testing to rank its pupils. But we’ve all heard about the biases inherent in some of these assessments. Furthermore, with more and more ways to prepare and study for these and similar tests, what does a good score on them really mean? That you are able to take a test and do well? That you have the means to afford private classes and tutors? Or that your parents forced you to spend your summer afternoons systematically going through math, grammar, and reading exercises from volumes and volumes of instructional books instead of playing football or riding bikes with your buddies? Whatever it means, I’m not convinced it means you are smart. You may in fact be smart–again, whatever that means–but getting a good score on a test, or getting accepted to an Ivy League School (yeah, I said it) doesn’t mean you are smart. I’d venture to say, even, that the two –being smart and academic achievement— are not nearly as correlated as we’d like to believe, again if we could even define what being smart means.

Well, when she tells me that, my answer to my wife is usually the same. It, of course, has its foundation in sports. And not only does it humbly dispute any inkling that I’m somehow this innately smart person–trust me; I know enough really smart people to think that– but it is also a firm rebuttal to every person (I love ya, but you know who you are) who has referred to my physique— the result of twenty years of hard, dedicated work— as “mostly genetic.” Like my strength and fitness, whatever I have that makes me appear to be smart, is not something with which I was necessarily born. Read more of this post

Life Preparedness Kit

My kids started math camp this week.  I know what you’re thinking, “what kind of person sends their kids to math camp?”  But hear me out.  Aside from the fact that my kids love it so far, it’s a great learning and growth opportunity for their mother and me, as well.  You see, they normally attend a small, private school, the kind where everybody knows everybody and you always feel like your kids are safe.  Well, this Math Enrichment Program (sounds a lot better than ‘math camp’, huh?) is not at their normal school.  And to our surprise–and as it turns out fear– there are 800 students in this darn program.  So, dropping our kids off at such a large school, with so many kids is a little nerve-racking.  To say the least!

But let’s put aside my issues– I mean emotions– for a minute.  The purpose of this post is to point out something that struck me as I was driving away after the first day of the program.  I’d just left my kids and felt a bit uneasy.  For them.  Never had they been thrust into such a situation.  What I might call a social overdose–meeting and having to fit in with a whole new group of kids–they seemed a bit overwhelmed.  As I was driving, I could still see my daughter’s face when I hugged and kissed her goodbye.  My hand was also still hurting, a result of my son not wanting to let go of the security blanket he sometimes calls “daddy”. Read more of this post

45,000 Minutes!

Rocky Balboa had been bullshitting for weeks. He was going through the motions, kidding himself that he was ready for his upcoming defense of the heavyweight title. And true to himself, Mickey, Rocky’s grumpy old trainer, told him like it was. “For a 45 minute fight,” he yells, “you gotta train hard for 45,000 minutes! 45,000!” He goes on to tell Rocky that he wasn’t doing nearly enough to be ready for a rematch with Apollo Creed, to whom he’d lost a close decision just a few months earlier. The message Mickey was trying to pound into his pupil’s head was simple. To go along with his rare combination of size, speed, and strength; Apollo now had extra incentive and motive, namely his desire to prove to the world that his beating of Rocky was no fluke. And Mickey knew he had to get Rocky ready.

Now I have to admit that I love the Rocky series. Yes, it’s extremely predictable, full of corny scenes, and far from cinema royalty. But I contend that within it are several messages to embrace, many life lessons to be learned. Read more of this post