decorative circle

One Simple Trick to Happiness

One Simple Trick to Happiness

You can’t flip through a family magazine, play a parenting podcast, or tune into a talkshow without being bombarded with advice, tips, tricks, and strategies to spend more time with your family and lead a happier life.

Want to spend more time with your children?  Have more quality family time, happiness, and all that?  Forget all the articles and books you’ve seen.  When it comes to spending more time with your family there is only ONE SIMPLE TRICK you need to know.

And honestly, feel free to substitute anything you’d like in place of spending time with your family.  This simple trick is fairly universal.

And unlike all those silly internet advertisements, this simple trick is real.

Looking for a way to spend more time with your children?  It’s easy:  JUST SPEND MORE TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

But before the spade of “buts” come, there is one simple catch that accompanies this one simple trick:  YOU’LL ALMOST CERTAINLY EARN LESS MONEY AND HAVE LESS TIME FOR YOURSELF.

My wife, Liz, and I have been testing this trick since the day our oldest child was born.  We work(ed) very hard to spend a lot of time with our children.  On workdays we have breakfast at home, some days we even make pancakes or waffles from scratch.  We hunt for bugs under rocks or blow bubbles on the porch.  At a time when most people are still working at their desks, we’re sitting down to dinner.

The best of all, with few exceptions either Liz or I, if not both, have spent Fridays with our children.  For us three day weekends are the norm.  For us Fridays aren’t that slackadasical last day of the work week, instead they’re trips to the less-crowded zoos and museums, picnics in the park, hikes in the woods, puzzle-building in the dining room, block building in the living room, and all around fun-having.

Though we didn’t take up this grand experiment so willingly.  Initially we had no choice in the lifestyle.  I was laid off from my job as an architect when our oldest child was just four months old.  I made due with part time and odd jobs for a few years and in doing so Liz and I came to cherish all the time we had together with our growing family.  It’s nice to be up every morning before the sun is.

I had time to make some playthings for the Kids and heard a few too many “you should sell these” comments.  So I did.  Thus Happy Bungalow (famous wooden toy company) was born in our basement.  It has been a tremendous amount of work, but has allowed me to earn enough money while working from home and spending more time with my family.

Now every morning isn’t berry topped oatmeal for breakfast.  And every Friday isn’t a Mary Poppins inspired romp through the chalk drawings.  We have to leave early or work late sometimes.  Fridays see sick or grouchy kids (or parents).  And now that our oldest is in school, mornings have become much tighter (and funny enough, the school doesn’t subscribe to our three-day weekend schedule).

The catch though?  Working less to spend more time with our children means earning less money.  This means we’ve become even handier at fixing lawn-mowers, repairing leaky gutters and toilets, and getting by with clothing that’s more worn than we’d like.  We make pancakes from scratch, because it’s so much cheaper (they taste pretty darn good too).  We eat in more because we can’t afford to eat out as often as we did pre-children.

Then there’s the stress, the worry, the anxiety, and the occasional fight.  Liz has had a full time (though flexible) job throughout our children’s lives, but I’ve largely had unpredictable work.  Initially as a part time architect, then as a newbie professional toy-maker.  So for several years the burden of supporting the family financially fell on Liz.  Again, very stressful for everyone.


Sticking with this lifestyle hasn’t been easy on the accounting end, but it’s been wonderful on the personal side.  Our children will only be young for so long.  We’ll play catch-up on the monetary side in a few more years when the Kids aren’t so into spending an afternoon playing made-up adventure games in the park.

I know, this isn’t easy, and it may not be possible for you.  Though I will say that before we were put into the situation, we wouldn’t have thought it possible for us.

DIY Cutout Animal Paper Dolls

It’s a little chilly here at the Bungalow.  Brr . . . We’re treating it like a rainy day and staying warm inside:  lots of puzzles, board games, and paper crafts.  The latest we’ve come up with is a paper animal safari.  If it were a television show it would be called:  PAPER DOLLS:  ANIMAL CUTOUT EDITION.

But it’s not a tv show.  Just another free printable from Happy Bungalow.

3 giraffes, 3 tigers, 3 crocodiles, 2 lions, 2 tigers, 2 elephants, and 2 trees to lounge under. Everything fits on one 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper.  Click to print your animal cutouts.

Animal Cut Out Paper DollsDIY Cutout Animal Paper Dolls

Refrigerator Pickles (recipe)

We’ve had great success in the backyard garden this year.  Cool temps + frequent rain = productive plants ∴ loads of yummy food.

We had some cucumber seeds we didn’t plant last year, so we stuck them in the ground this year – they took off!  Too many to eat, so it was time for pickles.  We made up several batches of refrigerator pickles.  Easy, delicious, and there’s no food die like you’ll find in so many commercial pickles + it’s low in sodium.  Here’s our recipe:

Boil until sugar dissolves

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar (or whatever edible vinegar you have on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion OR 1/4 cup diced onions

Pour mixture over 8 cups sliced cucumbers and let sit for a few hours. Remember fresh cucumbers = crisp pickles.  Cucumbers that have been hanging around getting soft = soggy pickles.


Store in container of choice in your refrigerator.  We went with canning jars, but anything will do.  These pickles aren’t heavily salted like what you’ll find in the store, so they won’t keep for months and months, but – well.  I know they last for two weeks (that’s how long they could survive before being eaten), but I think they’ll do fine over a longer period too.


Easy Saw Blade Cleaning DIY

This post may start off a bit dull, but by the end, I think it will be looking mighty sharp.  That’s right – it’s a sawblade sharpening post!

Clean and sharp saw blades cut cleaner and are much safer than dull and dirty blades.  Keep your saw blades cutting better by cleaning them regularly.  The cleaning process is easy and cheap.  Skip the fancy “systems”  you see in catalogs – you only need five things to clean your saw blades:  Soap, Water, an old toothbrush, a plastic container big enough to hold your blade, and a towel.

I use a cat-litter box (never-used) for washing in.  The plastic is soft and won’t ding the tips of the saw blade like a metal pan might.  I add car-wash soap or dish soap (whatever’s handy) to an inch of water.  Place the saw blade in the water and let sit for five minutes.  Then brush off the pitch on the blade with a toothbrush.  Rinse with clean water and dry with a towel.  Repeat with your other dirty blades.  It’s as simple as that.


DIY Lighting for Product Photos

How do you create great product photos?  Wait for a sunny day, drag your products outdoors, take four dozen pictures, find the best pic, and endlessly tweak it in Photoshop.  No sun?  How about you round up all the lamps in your house, take eight dozen pictures, struggle to find one passable photo, and then spend too much time trying to make it look ok.

Thankfully there’s a better way and you don’t have to spend a fortune on professional equipment.  You’ll just need to head to the store and pick up a few items.

Here’s your shopping list:

  • daylight fluorescent bulbs
  • light fixtures
  • white sheet (or whatever background color you’d like
  • something or someway to hold your lights up (see below)

Happy Bungalow DIY lighting setup

A note about the light spectrum.

I used a number of light fixtures (you can see 4 in the picture), but you don’t need to.  I thought the strip fixture would give good general lighting (it does), but the light isn’t as strong as I thought it would be.  The clamp lights seem to deliver the most light and offer great flexibility (they’re about 7 dollars each).  I had the trouble light (with the yellow handle) and the blue lamp with taped on cardboard already around the house, so I used them.

It is important that all lights used in the photographing area be daylight bulbs.  Non-daylight bulbs will give your pictures a yellowy tint.  You’ll want to arrange your lights evenly to give good light to all sides of your product.  Or place your lights to one side to create a moody vibe.  It’s hard to have too many lights.  I went back to the store for reinforcements myself.

Fiddle with your camera.

I have a four year old point and shoot camera that cost a hundred bucks, but it has quite a few handy features.  If you have a digital camera, I’m guessing your camera has a few features too.  I can adjust my camera’s white balance, brightness / contrast, and lighting type exposure.  Then I can save these setting for later recall.

Take some pictures.

I started off lint rollering the white sheet I use for a backdrop before each shoot.  But I realized fuzz and minor stains will usually disappear with enough light an proper camera fiddling so know the lint roller gathers dust.  The picture below is the result of the setup shown above.  Happy Bungalow DIY lighting setup results - walnut boxes


Stayed tuned for Part II where I’ll discuss the creation of a white box for taking pictures of small pieces and free photo editing software.

Make Your Own Maple Syrup

It’s winter and the maple tree in my front yard is frozen, but Spring will be coming soon.  In addition to all the warming weather and flowers, Spring means maple syrup making time.  In my front yard is a big maple tree waiting to be tapped.  I’ve done some research and it seems I need a tap, a lot of buckets, and a fire.

The process:  I drill a hole in the tree, insert a tap, and let the sap flow into buckets.  I then boil down the gallons of sap into pints of syrup.  The boiling needs to be done outside because of the excessive moisture created with the hours of boiling.  I’m thinking a wood fire all day long followed by an outdoor dinner.  Roasted potatoes and steak?  Hot dogs and baked beans?

Check back as I’ll be updating my maple syrup making as the year progresses.  [edit:  This never happened.  More research revealed there are hours and hours and hours of boiling involved; a process best done not in your smallish indoor kitchen.  So.  We’ll have to wait a few more years until we build our corn shucking / maple syrup making shed out back]