6 Essential Lifestyle Tips From A Freelance Digital Creative Stay-At-Home Dad

The only thing in America worse than being gay is being a stay-at-home dad.
Now, I know I will get some arguments on that point, but the gays have no idea what it’s like to have people judge you because they think you aren’t fulfilling your gender role the way God intended.

No idea.

I have been a stay-at-home dad for over a year now. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to do or ever saw myself doing, and I was resistant until the bitter end. But it made sense. My wife loves her job and the company she works for. She makes better money than I’ve ever made, and my ‘career’ has comprised of a long string of low-wage, dead-end, service industry jobs, most of which I enjoyed, some of which I tolerated, none of which I was passionate about.

A few years ago, before the whole stay-at-home dad thing, I started doing freelance graphic design and simple website setup, mostly for local small businesses. I still remember the thrill of being handed my first check for a job. A hundred dollars. It was for setting up a website on Tumblr for a cafe I used to deliver bagels to. It was also the first time I ever made money working for myself. Ah, I thought, I have opened the floodgates on this whole freelance money making machine.

In the year since I’ve gone SAHD, I have also been a part-time graphic designer and creative sidekick, part-time creator of a web magazine, and recently, part-time aspiring novelist. Despite trying to do so much, somehow I still manage to waste hour upon irretrievable hour of precious workable time.

One of the curses of the digital age, as we all know, is the ease with which we can waste whole days in this internet machine. After five minutes of Facebooking, my son starts crying and I think, why is he crying? I just put him down for his nap. But I keep forgetting, or choosing not to remember, how this internet machine warps time and really an hour and a half just passed in those five Facebook minutes.

The point of all this seemingly pointless drivel is that I’ve learned a few things. Specifically, I have learned as many as six things. Six things about how to, a.) be more productive, healthy, and happy when you’re working from home, and, b.) make the most of stay sane while being a stay-at-home dad.

Write down 3 things each night

This is the first essential practice in being more productive. I think Tim Ferriss and Leo Babauta both recommend this. If you don’t know who they are, then you’ve no manner of experience with this internet machine at all. If you click enough links, you will eventually get to the blogs of both Tim and Leo, because their blogs exist at the absolute center of the internet, a fact that has been proven many times, and needs not be proven again here.

At the end of each day, whether it’s the end of your work day or before you go to bed, write down the 3 most important things you want to get done the next day. The 3 things, besides keeping your kid(s) alive, that will most further you on your path to imminent legendariness.

It helps if you use Post-it notes because you won’t have room to write down very much. If you write down more than 3 things you’ll only frustrate yourself when you don’t get them all done, unless they are very small things, like ‘pee standing up today’ (unless you are a woman, in which case pee standing up should count as at least one of your main to-dos).

Keep a separate to-do list with everything on it. If you think of other things you need to get done, write them down on your master list, not on your 3-things list.

The benefit of this is, when you get started in the morning, or whenever it is you are able to get started, you won’t waste any time or mental energy thinking about what you need to do for the day. It’s already there, waiting for you. It’s amazing how much better this makes your life. It is the main reason to which I attribute my wealth, fame, and many accomplishments.

Take 2 walks each day

Your brain needs breaks and your body needs exercise. Going for a walk outside is one of the best ways I’ve found to build a little of both into your day, and get that much needed Fresh Air everyone is always going on about.

I don’t know about other kids, but mine loves being outside. There have been times where taking him outside was the only thing that calmed him down. Even now, if he’s fussy, I can usually strap him in the stroller and get him out the door, and he settles right down, just taking in all the Fresh Air and Natural Beauty of our suburban town.

Troy The Mystical Mormon says you can tell the babies who are outside a lot and the ones who aren’t. He says the outside ones are more aware and alert. So if you want your kid to be as nice and well-behaved as a Mormon child, take him or her outside a lot.

There are times when it’s just too hot, cold, or rainy outside to go for a walk, which I refer to as the McDonald’s Frappe At The Mall days. This past summer, when it was too hot inside or outside, I would take the boy on Mc.F.A.T. Mall days all the time, so we’d have somewhere to walk and not get heat stroke. (If you are a compulsive shopper, I do not recommend this tactic.)

That would never work now, because he doesn’t really sleep anywhere but his Pack ‘N Play in the closet, so I will probably see how long it takes him to drink a large Frappe by himself, then buy him four or five to keep him busy while I try to get some work done.

Use a timer

This is a lesson I’ve been trying to put into practice recently, but have had a hard time remembering to do. For example, right now I am writing this without a timer running.

I can’t remember where I first learned about it, but this is called the Pomodoro Technique. I’m sure there’s more to it than this—I haven’t read the book so I don’t know—but basically you set a timer for 25 minutes, do as much work as you can on whatever one thing you want to focus on, then take a 5 or 10 minute break, then start again.

I’ve been playing a little loose with those rules and doing 30 minutes of work followed by sometimes a 5 minute break to go pee standing up, and other times a 20 or 30 minute break to stare at clouds, but the principle still works. You’re forced to take a break, evaluate your progress, and come back to your work with a slightly fresher focus.

Nancy The Starbucks Manager (who does not know about my secret McDonald’s frappe addiction) says she does this when she’s trying to clean around the house to help her focus on getting one thing done at a time instead of getting lots of things partially done.

I use e.ggtimer.com, which is super simple and does the job just fine for free. Also, the same guys behind e.ggtimer have created a site called steep.it for timing your tea steeping, with a handy little chart listing quick links for different types of tea.

Go on adventures

This dovetails with the Take walks lesson above. If your life is all about work and productivity now, while you’re still a nobody, then chances are it will continue to be no matter how much stuff you accomplish, how much money you make, or how famous you become. My opinion is try to live the schedule you want now, no matter your current situation.

I’ve taken Asher to a lot of the national and state parks in our area. We’ve strollered most of the Battle Road Trail in Lincoln and Concord, where the very first battles of the American Revolution took place.

We have strollered along trails through marshes where people set up giant cameras and take pictures of birds and butterflies and various marshlife.

We’ve gone, along with Wendy, the wife and the mom of our little tricycle family, to Acadia National Park in Maine, where we stayed for three nights and drove and walked around and ate fantastic food and took lots of photos (but did not see a moose).

The hardest part of these adventures for me is that I have been cursed with a small bladder and always try to stay close to a public bathroom. I will admit to having urinated on a state park once or thrice, but that is just part of the adventure, and another reason why stay-at-home dads make more sense than stay-at-home moms.

Some of you probably have kids who have never slept in the car, or don’t live close to so many interesting public places, or don’t have an all-terrain stroller, but I believe if you are creative, and have enough desire, you can find a way to go on your own micro adventures. (Bonus tip: taking a small child to a bar does not count as an adventure.)

Plan ahead

As a freelance digital creative, planning ahead is muy difficult, at least for me. But hard as it is, I know that I do more of what I care about and less of what I don’t when I plan ahead, and it helps me focus on longer-term goals and projects.

A few different non-consecutive years now, I’ve done a year-end review, as inspired and advocated by Chris Guillebeau, which is actually more about planning the year ahead then it is about looking back on the year just past.

I have noticed a difference in the quality and significance of the things I get done in those years when I have planned ahead.

The main difficulty for me when I do plan ahead is, of course, sticking to the plan. And not that I think you have to stick to a plan—in fact, part of the fun of having a plan is deviating from it. But when you’re talking about chunks of time as big as years, it’s hard to stay focused in June on what you decided on doing in January.

I plan to have some kind of short list on the wall near my workspace to remind me what my main goals are for the year, to keep me pointed in the right direction. I get distracted so easily.

Oh look, all six seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars are on Netflix. Gotta go.


Let’s Make A Film—An Interview With Doug Wilson, Graphic Designer Turned Filmmaker

Doug Wilson directed a documentary called Linotype: The Film, which he made with two friends, Brandon Goodwin and Jess Heugel.

It is about an old printing machine that radically altered mass communication forever. The three friends raised funds on Kickstarter to make the film, then began traveling the country, and eventually outside the country, to interview a handful of people who really know the Linoptype, tracking the bright history and uncertain future of the monolithic print machine.

I interviewed him in early 2011 while he was in the process of making it.

Do you now or have you ever had a garden gnome in your possession?

I have never owned a garden gnome but I’m fairly sure when I was a teenager, I stole some from a neighbor’s house and set them in someone else’s yard.

I think it’s safe to assume the biggest thing going on in your professional life right now is ‘Linotype: The Film’. Why is this movie important to you?

‘Linotype: The Film’ is about an old printing machine called a Linotype. The Linotype completely revolutionized printing and communication similar to the way that the internet is changing everything right now – but it was invented in 1886. This major invention of the early 20th century was invented by a guy that no one has heard of although the impact of the Linotype is as big as Henry Ford’s car or Edison’s light bulb.

It is important to me because people need to know about this machine and its impact on society. This amazing thing was invented and changed society and education and no one really cares. No one knows about it and the guy that invented it died unknown and poor. I hope to change that.

Professionally, I have no idea where this will take me. I am a graphic designer and letterpress printer, not a film director. I actually have no idea how to make a documentary film. But I know a good film when I see it and I know how to communicate visually – all the rest is details, right?

What makes you think you have what it takes to direct this film and do a great job?

Honestly, I am pretty terrified to be making this film. I’m not 100% sure that I can actually MAKE this film – but that is the fun of it. If you totally know you can do something before you start it, what is the point? Where is the fun in that?

What’s a ‘normal’ week like in the life of a documentary director and his crew?

A normal week for me is writing probably about twenty emails a day for upcoming shoots and people interested in the film, staying on top of our website and twitter account, and scheduling upcoming shoots. Coordinating the crew’s schedule is difficult as the guys are full-time media freelancers and one is finishing up school. I hope he graduates after all of the weeks he is missing this semester….

Directing and producing a film is a LOT of work. I am actually mostly a producer. I only get to play director on film shoots about two percent of the time. The rest is actually making this film, connecting with people, and making sure I book a rental car at the right airport. Did I mention I write a lot of emails?

As film production ramps up, what do you see as the biggest challenges ahead? What is it about the project that keeps you going and keeps you optimistic?

Staying optimistic is easy and difficult at the same time. We have had such a great response to the film and the support from all over the world encourages me on a daily basis. It is very easy to get overwhelmed at all of the details of the film. I am very much a completer of tasks, and there is ALWAYS more tasks to complete for the film, so I can get discouraged by never really feeling that completion. But in the end, I believe and love what I am doing – how many people can say that?

Your professional career up to now has centered on graphic design, but you’ve been able to do a wide variety of work within that field, and now the film. Is there some central passion or mission that ties together everything you do?

Passion and curiosity are what drive me to create. I am always asking questions, always asking ‘why?’ That is why I started the film. I asked ‘why don’t people know about this amazing machine? Are there still people crazy enough to use these machines? Will they survive?’ And here we are, making a crazy movie that I hope people will like. Or at least not hate.

You can find out more about Linotype: The Film on the official website and you can find out more about Doug on his website.

This interview was originally published as part of a larger story about Linotype: The Film on March 19, 2011 on OCSPLORA.com.

How to Turn Your Life Upside Down in 4 Short Years

An Interview With Rich McDonald about moving to Cambodia and starting a family and a business there.

Sometimes big life changes happen gradually, so gradually you don’t realize how drastically your life is changing until you wake up one morning and suddenly realize everything is different. This is not that kind of story.

There is nothing gradual about moving to Southeast Asia from New Zealand, or marrying a person of a completely different culture and having a child together, or starting a new business in a foreign land.

Richard McDonald was born in Australia, grew up in New Zealand, and became a chef. Four years ago he led a team of young Christians on a trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as part of a missionary school focused on social justice. That trip began a rapid and epic series of changes in his life, resulting in Richard starting a restaurant in Cambodia with his new wife and daughter.

What were the events in your life that contributed the most to your move from New Zealand chef to Cambodian restaurant owner? Were they things that just kind of happened, or things that you had to move heaven and earth to make happen?

The main event in my life that led to my move to Cambodia was the realization that I would always be provided for, no matter my financial situation or my location. You can live anywhere as long as you have the means of sustenance for life.

The flip side of that is that you need to have your hands ready and your eyes open. Opportunity rarely knocks twice, divine providence is missed if you don’t have the eyes to see it, and work isn’t done if you don’t put your hands to the tasks required.

I had spent six months in the USA and in spite of being hands ready with eyes open for the means of sustenance, at times desperately seeking for it, the only opportunity I had there was the opportunity to leave. That led me to offer my cooking skills to a missions school [back in New Zealand] for a few months.

I stepped off the plane in Auckland, New Zealand, and somehow found myself leading a missions team to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. I knew almost from the first breath of the air that I was going to be drawn into a life here.

My three months as team leader quickly became three months as a culinary tutor to a group of women who had had some of the roughest knocks in life you could ever have. I was won over, and offered to return and continue the work for another eight months.

We opened a visitor centre cafe in Phnom Penh, and I stayed in the city mentoring and training my kitchen team. The girls were superb. I was tired, but inspired and decided to stay longer.

To keep it brief, the next steps followed. Changed ticket, extended visa, joined rugby club, played in an international rugby 10’s tournament, was offered employment as a hotel manager in the central province of Kampong Thom, moved there, met a beautiful young woman, was engaged, married, had a beautiful daughter and then after two and half years of managing the hotel, my wife and I left to open our first family restaurant, ‘Run Amok!’.

Do you naturally like big changes in your life or do you prefer things to stay mostly the same most of the time?

‘A change is as good as a holiday,’ or so I used to be told. It became one of the philosophies I lived by and was instrumental in the development of my ‘life by faith.’ As I get older I feel the green sap wood in my being become harder, stronger but less flexible and more resistant to change.

How has it been acclimating to a completely different culture and country? What have been the hardest parts about that change?

Not easy. Having a sense of justice, a flaming fire of a temper, no patience for foolery and a naive idealism that was never met in New Zealand, I was bound to be enraged by the things I see around me in Cambodia from time to time.

I ended up finding myself in a Cambodian police station with my wife bailing me out after being pushed to the line by a dishonest chef at the hotel I was managing. At $100 per punch compensation, I was glad to have stopped at three.

High expectations are the source of much disappointment, and patience can be worn threadbare when working with people who often have very poor education, very low standards of work ability, little desire to achieve or learn more, and who are resistant to change.

A local tradesman who installed the gutters for our restaurant inadvertently summarized the Khmer mentality to work after running our gutters to drain into the neighbour’s front porch and home. When my wife told him that his drains would flood the neighbour’s house, he replied with a question. ‘Who can stop the rain?’

The hardest change for me though, is the heat. As time goes by, my inner drive ebbs away in the humidity and glare, and I gradually morph into the man who shrugs and asks, ‘Who can stop the rain?’ The most urgent requirement in life becomes the need for cool and shade, a hammock, a fan, and a glass of ice.

What do your days look like now?

See the paragraph above. With the addition of a few hours sweating, swearing, smiling and growling in a stinking hot kitchen, and a few hours of resting in the shade, researching, reading, gaming or watching pirated films and t.v. serials on my laptop.

I sleep on a mat on the floor under a mosquito net in my restaurant with my wife, one year old daughter and seven year old brother in law, who has effectively become our son.

What are your plans for the future? Do you and your family intend to stay in Cambodia permanently?

I plan to establish a chain of restaurants in various towns and cities and then move my family to a rural area a couple of hours to the north of my wife’s homeland where there are rolling hills, valleys, forest, rice fields and plantations and we can settle into our old age as the patriarch and matriarch of our clan.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about packing up and moving abroad long-term? What can they do to make the transition better?

Don’t look back.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to marry a Cambodian woman and have Cambodian kids? (This question was meant as a joke, but Rich’s answer was so thoughtful, I couldn’t leave it out.)

Realize that traditional marriage will generally be for providence, not for notions of romantic love. Love and loyalty come with the marriage.

Western people would consider this old fashioned and even sexist and demeaning. Embrace it and let the marriage bond be strong. Don’t look back. Love transcends our personal romantic notions.

Don’t let the local culture steamroll you. Have dignity and self respect as your cultures collide. Strive for humility, but never forget that a marriage between two people of different cultures is also a marriage of cultures. Your cultural input will be of immense value in growing, developing and broadening the character of your family.

If a white person has a kid with a Khmer, the kid won’t be called Khmer. They will be called ‘barang,’ and locals will adore them for the whiteness of their skin. Everyone will want to carry them, care for them, run away with them at the market to show their friends.

Your baby will return after being smooched, sniffed and exposed to the latest mutation of Asian Flu. She will give it to you. You will not appreciate it. Consider yearly flu immunizations if you want to take advantage of the many babysitters, or lock your daughter in a tower.

If you want to find out more about Richard’s restaurant, Run Amok, you can find them on Facebook or on TripAdvisor, where they’ve consistently gotten five star ratings.

Foundation—Interviews With Entrepeneurs

I’ve recently been watching Foundation, video interviews with mostly tech entrepreneurs, hosted by Kevin Rose, one of the cofounders of Digg.

They’re really good. If you’re into startups, starting things, or hearing the stories of how the big players in the internet/tech world got to be where they are, check it out.

Here are some of the big names who have been interviewed so far: Jack Dorsey (Twitter, Square), Philip Rosedale (SecondLife), Tony Conrad (about.me), Dennis Crowley (Foursquare), Leah Busque (TaskRabbit), Tim Ferriss (4-Hour Workweek), Kevin Systrom (Instragram), Scott Harrison (charity:water), Elon Musk (Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Ev Williams (Blogger, Twitter, Medium), and David Copperfield (illusionist).

Why you should talk about your dreams

It is easy for me to shy away from talking about my dreams and projects. I do not want to be ‘that guy’ – the guy who everyone steers clear of at a party because they do not want to hear one more word about his thing he is constantly talking, emailing, Facebook posting, and Tweeting about.
I care about my friends too much to be that guy.

But I’m learning that kind of thinking is hopelessly flawed. The fact is, the people I’m trying not to bother are the people who are my biggest allies and supporters, or could be if I choose to see them that way. The trick is not to avoid bothering those people. The trick is to give them whatever information they need to fully support and help me in my endeavors.

Here’s a little story to illustrate my point.


The other day I was with my friend, Cheeto, headed to his dad’s house to paint the guest bedroom. He pulled over at a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and Munchkins®. We walked in and it was packed. I ordered hot tea.

After a minute they gave us our order and we walked toward the door by way of the accessory station to fix up our drinks and grab napkins.

I opened up my hot tea and realized I just had hot milky water, no tea. So I walked back to the counter where we picked up our stuff and tried to get the attention of an employee, any employee, but it was packed, like I said, and none of the employees so much as looked in my direction.

So I said screw it and walked out.

I got out to Cheeto’s truck and he asked how it went. I said, ‘They’re too busy. I just–‘

‘Oh, hell no,’ he said, before I had finished my story. He grabbed my cup and walked back into Dunkin’ Donuts.

I sat in the truck and collected money on his ‘The Simpsons: Tapped Out’ iPhone game for a few minutes until he came back.

‘You need to learn to stand up for yourself, Natrix,’ he said when he got back in the truck, tea bag string proudly dangling from the styrofoam cup he handed me.

‘Did you blow up on them?’ I asked. Cheeto has a habit of getting very confrontational, very quickly with customer service people, and also with people in general. Apparently it has something to do with his Italian upbringing.

‘No, I just went to the front and showed them,’ by which he meant he showed the customers standing at the front of the line the hot milk water in my cup, ‘And I said, ‘Does that look right to you?’ And they were like, ‘No way, you need to get that fixed.” So the customers let him in at the front of the line, he showed the employee at the register, and the employee fixed it right away.

I had a thought when I was walking out of the store, at the moment I was accepting that I would be drinking hot milkwater instead of tea, that I should not just accept it. That I should get it fixed, for the sake of my manhood, if nothing else. But I did not want to stand in line again, and I did not want to get in the way of other customers who had already been waiting for five or ten minutes, and I did not want to start yelling at super busy employees to drop what they were doing and fix my drink. Those were the options I saw I had to choose from. Or, take the walk of shame out the door with my hot milkwater.

What Cheeto did was to get the customers at the front of the line on his side. Once they saw what was wrong with the order, they got out their pitchforks and prepared to mob the store on his behalf. Then it was a breeze to get the problem fixed, without the need for theatrics or confrontation (which is a shame, because Cheeto puts on quite the show).


So what can I learn from this experience, other than knowing how to avoid the walk of shame next time I get a tea-less tea?

The people around me are ready to ally with a cause they believe in, but only if I give them a chance by presenting my cause in a way that makes it their cause.

Follow your dream or die trying

Have you heard of ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’, a small-scale indie doc about the all-too-common (first world) dilemma of getting stuck in a life you never went looking for?

I supported the movie on Kickstarter, not really knowing whether it would be any good, but liking the idea. It’s actually really good, sort of a documentary/road trip/mid-life change-up film all about the American Dream and what it really means. Here’s a little bit about it from the site:

In February 2012, a group of five guys converged on Wilmington, Ohio, with an ambitious goal – to make a film on the stories of every day people who’ve given up their dreams and settled into a complacent lifestyle.

No member of the crew had ever made a movie before. In fact, there were hundreds of reasons why they should have scrapped the idea, put it on the back burner, and moved on.

Instead, they picked up their cameras and decided to plow forward.

Simply put, their lives would never be the same!

The movie went on to become one of the most funded documentaries in Kickstarter history with over 4,500 people raising $100,000 to complete the editing and marketing of the project.

Since then it’s premiered in a dozen theaters across the United States (and now across several countries).

You could also label the film a who’s who of popular lifestyle bloggers. Among those who make an appearance: Jonathan Fields, Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens, Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity and a whole bunch of others that I didn’t realize were famous on the internet until meeting them in the movie. Even the producer, Adam Baker of the popular Man Vs. Debt blog is internet famous.

Five bucks to download or stream the movie.

Photo from the ‘I’m Fine, Thanks’ Facebook page.

Is this thing on – is anybody out there?


It’s hard to put a value on something that’s from you but for others when there is no response. It’s like huckin a rock in a pond at night and never hearing a splash. Theoretically, you know the rock got there but you have no closure; no evidence. Between my music, blog-posts, short-stories and online articles, I’ve been puttin out content for years. Over that time, I’ve received accolades only twice. It’s frustrating. It’s awkward and it seems unfair at times.

I was chatting about this with fellow hip-hop junkie, Cas-Uno. He explained his perspective like this: ‘You passed out or sold over two thousand copies of your albums, not including digi-downloads, YouTube views, etc. You have no clue who has your album playing right now and loves it. And that’s because they don’t find you on Twitter or Facebook and let you know. But how many artists or writers do you love? How many of them have you tracked down to personally thank or praise?’ My answer is one. Only one time I remember doing that. So why do I expect that?

Although the praise is fun and inflates the ego, you do not need anyone’s accolades. You do not need any permission to proceed and continue your creativity. It comes from the soul. The soul fuels the person, not the opposite.

Photo: ‘indastage’ by Friutz