Is there shame in being a shit parent? Yes. And guilt. And regret. And self-loathing. But it’s not the end of the story.

Parenting isn’t easy is fucking hard. There’s no sleeping in if you stay up late, you occasionally get another person’s poop on your fingers, and half your ice cream always gets stolen by someone a third your size.

how to be a better parent
Snarfing ice cream.

But those are the easy struggles.

Sometimes you have a 4-year-old, virile monster who won’t settle down, refuses to relax during their bedtime stories, and keeps yelling for food and water when they literally just filled their bellies with both. And half my ice cream.

How I Know I’m Shit

It’s right about 45 minutes into that situation that I lose my shit.

As negative reinforcement for her already scrambled emotional-state (exhausted and playful at the same time) I take away a book each time she gets rowdy, then a stuffed animal, then they’re all gone, and she loses her back tickle.


Her emotional state deteriorates because I’ve just removed her bedtime routine entirely as a punishment for not following her bedtime routine. Great idea, Dad.

So she starts yelling and screaming in frustration, as toddlers sometimes do. So I threaten to put her things in the garbage. She doesn’t stop. Garbage bin: book. She screams.

Garbage book. Screams. Garbage book. Yells. Garbage stuffed pig. Screams. Garbage stuffed elephant. Wails. Garbage stuffed panda.

how to be a better parent
All the things I threw away.

It doesn’t stop until we’re both mentally and physically exhausted and pass out upset with each other.

Then comes the morning. The wake-up routine goes perfectly well, and I take her to school.

On the public bus ride back to my home it hits me like a baseball bat: I’m a shit dad. I handled the previous night like a rookie.

Where do I go from here? I asked myself a question, “how to be a better parent?”

I took myself on a three-step process to right where I had wronged.

If you’re how to be a better parent, do what I did.

Take These Three Steps to Know How to Be a Better Parent

be a better parent
Me, being a good parent.

Step 1: Recognize It and Admit It.

Say it with me: “I did something shitty. I can do better.”

This is probably the hardest part because you have to own it. But taking that ownership and letting go of the idea that you’re a great parent is freeing up yourself to committing to better. You’ll set your goals higher for yourself because you know you can improve.

Once your goals have been refocused, step two is a bit easier.

Step 2: Act Sorry.

When learning how to be a better parent, it takes effort. When I got Auburn home from school, I had her books and her stuffed animals laid out on her bed.

She’s very perceptive, “I thought you threw these out!”

“I did. And that was wrong,” I put my hands on her cheeks so she would look me in the eyes. “I overreacted yesterday, and I’m sorry about that.”

be a better parent
We usually get along 🙂

I’m not sure exactly what was going through her mind at that moment, but I hope it was understanding. Understanding that I’m not perfect, and that’s okay, even though my reaction wasn’t. Understanding that I’m trying my best and I can admit when I’m wrong. Understanding that I love her, even if I don’t always show it.

The important thing here is that I’m not just saying I’m sorry, I’m acting sorry. Her books and animals were cleaned and placed nicely on her bed. I made eye contact with her while I sincerely apologized.

It goes a long way, and if you’ve set your new goals to reach that standard of recognizing and reconciling your mistakes, you’re already on the path to becoming a better parent.

That brings us to step three.

Step 3: Do better.

I’m not going to be using my negative reinforcement tactic of throwing away books and toys anymore. It’s counter-productive and only escalates the situation. I want to honestly know how to be a better parent.

how to be a better parent
She’s generally a happy kid and makes it easy to be a parent.


That doesn’t necessarily mean that my next tactic is going to be a useful and effective one, but I’m going to try.

I’ve been reading about using fewer words and remaining nonchalant in times of stress; enacting those behaviors have been a different story, but I like to think I’m improving.

And that’s what step three is all about: doing better. It’s about making an effort by reading, exploring, and experimenting with what works for you.

All you have to do now is repeat steps 1-3 for the rest of your parenting life, and you should eventually be a substantial parental figure.

how to be a better parent
Is your kid this cool? Mine is, duh.

Parenting is a wild ride–are you in control?

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Top 5 Educational Toys for 2017

If you’re like me, you’re never entering a toy store with your child. Why would you torture yourself like that? It’s the third level of hell. Most of the toys you’ll see are pura caca: they’re cheaply made, un-educational, and going to die a slow death crushed to pieces under the weight of all the other crap smashing it in your toddler’s overflowing toy box. Worse, your child is going to pull boxes off the shelves, shout about wanting every toy, and you might accidentally impulse buy a drone because, let’s face it, those look pretty sweet with the VR Helmets and attachable NERF rockets.

Thankfully the web helps us avoid those problems, but, being a parent is difficult enough without having to sift through the internet looking for the top educational toys for your child. Luckily for you, I have some free time today so I’ve compiled my favorite list of toys that I’m considering buying my toddler for the holiday season this year.

Top Educational Toys for Children for the 2017 Holiday Season

SmartMax Start XL 

If you’re looking for a toy that will encourage your child’s spatial and logical awareness while building and replicating awesome structures with a long-lasting toy, then the SmartMax Start XL is the best choice for you! The pieces are large enough that it’s safe for children as young as 1-year-old, but they’re colorful and engaging enough for an older toddler. Your little architect can learn about the power of magnetism while practicing their engineering skills. Seriously considering this as the next toy for my little Auburn! Click the image to check it out!

Amazon Fire 7 for Kids

Honestly, I’m tired of my daughter taking over my Kindle to play her games, I wanna play my games! So it’s about time I get her the All-New Fire 7 Kids Edition Tablet with Kid-Proof Case so we can play together! For less than $100, this is perfect choice for my top educational toys! It comes with a two-year guarantee that if your child breaks, they’ll replace it, which is the best peace of mind you can offer us parents, in my opinion! It includes a free year of FreeTime, which gives them access to educational videos, games, books, PBS and Disney, for starters. And if you’re looking to buy more than one? There’s currently a variety-pack promotion that you can buy two of these tablets for just $149.98!
You know the drill, click the image or the links to check it out!

Mini Kick Scooter with Light Up Wheels

Okay, I’ve been geeking out over these Mini Kick Scooter 3 Wheels! So jealous I’m not a little kid and would probably crack the axels of one of these because I’m a chubby, old man super handsome, stacked, 30-year-old. I see other kids whipping around on these, wheels flashing multicolors, leaning to steer and slaloming between pedestrians, uggggh, I wanna do that! The next best option is buying one for my daughter so her childhood can be happy and I can imagine mine was, too. Without one of these scooters, however, I can’t lie to myself, childhood sucked. But how is this educational you ask? Duh! It teaches kids how to be awesome-looking. Also, balance and depth-perception are important parts of physical intelligence. 

This model is less expensive than some its better-known competitors but doesn’t sacrifice on quality. I honestly think the only difference in price (this is one better!) is the cost of marketing. Probably because they get free marketing from thoughtful parents like yours truly.

Check it out via the link or the picture, it comes in several different colors!

Tegu 42 Piece Magnetic Wooden Block Set

I’m having a very difficult time choosing between the SmartMax Start XL and this 42 Piece Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set! I honestly can’t recommend one over the other because they both look awesome, have a sturdy build, and will teach your child about magnetism, engineering, and spatial awareness. I would like your feedback in the comments to let me know what one you like better to help me decide!
Again, click the image to check it out!

Super Nintendo Classic Edition 

Yup! I’m going there, the Super Nintendo Classic Edition is making my list of top educational toys for 2018. Firstly, don’t give me your ‘video games aren’t educational!’ nonsense. You obviously haven’t ever played video games, researched their benefits, or been crushed by a rival in Mario Kart. Video games teach kids all sorts of things: eye-hand coordination, pattern recognition, increases memory skills, improves brain speed, and if you’d ever been crushed by an annoying rival in Mario Kart, then would know that it teaches you humility and improved social skills. 

Also, I grew up on a Super Nintendo so maybe this is just my nostalgia speaking, but Star Fox is the greatest game ever invented. You might disagree, but that’s because you’re an idiot. Click the link or the image to see what other games that come included you could incorrectly argue are better than Star Fox.

Conclusion

Whether you’re looking for the top educational toys to help your child build, improve their balance, or increase their eye-hand coordination, any of these can help your child grow into a more complete human.

I don’t take my choices for the top educational toys lightly. You’re welcome for doing your holiday shopping. 

Shopping for children is a serious business of making smart choices–choose wisely.

Good Parenting and How to Shut Up About It

Everyone who is not a parent assumes that everyone who is a parent sucks at it. Everyone who is a parent doesn’t give a f*ck about what other people think. I’m in the latter group. Other people’s opinions are irrelevant. That is, except for one: my daughter’s.

The most important thing I can distinguish that makes me a good parent? I know how to shut the f*ck up. Blah, blah, blah I hear people say to their kids, including myself. The best thing I’ve learned, however, is how to cease the blah, blah, blahs.

“Don’t do [this or that].” “Be careful.” “Quiet!” I’m not sure how many times I repeated these futile remarks until I realized one day: they are all a waste of time. Now? I don’t want to waste my time, nor pretend like talking a lesson is going to teach my daughter anything.

Certainly, it didn’t stop her from dropping the wooden swing on her own head.

A Story of a Falling Child, Good parenting Idea #1

The other day, after I’ve warned her many times, “be careful,” she was not being careful. Auburn climbed into a circular monkey bar set, selected the highest pole and decided to hang from it. I knew what was coming, her grip would hold for maybe 10 seconds, and she was going to fall. Before I learned to shut the f*ck up, I would’ve rushed to her, possibly scolded her, and warned her again and again as she repeated this dangerous move.

good parenting
Let them smash their fingers, they’re tough!

So what’s my key to good parenting in this situation? Now that I’ve adapted my ‘shut up,’ approach. I watched and waited in anticipation as she was about to fall. Her fingers slowly slipped once, then twice, then her grip gave out. Down, down, down she fell. Feet, then butt, then her whole body, kerplunk! She looked up, searching for me, saw me watching and waited for my reaction: a neutral face. She smiled, laughed, and climbed again. “You okay?” I asked. “Yup!” She shouted back.

The moral? What a waste of time warning her (or worrying about her) again would’ve been, you know, ‘good parenting.’ She’s tough, she proves it over and over again, she doesn’t need my warnings, spoken lessons, nor vocalized concerns. If she had broken a bone, scraped up her face, or twisted an ankle, I would’ve immediately taken her to the appropriate facilities, of course. But instead she learned a lesson, “I can fall and get back up.”

A Story of Breaking Bedtime Routines

Another quick example of learning to shut up as a parent: last night before bed. We usually lie down, I’ll read her 3-5 books depending on how tired I am, and she’ll usually be asleep by the time I’m done reading them, or at least close enough to sleep I can give her a goodnight kiss and exit the room quietly.

good parenting
Sleeping, with her underwear on her head. Champion.

Last night, however, we were watching a movie during dinner, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, and it was almost finished by the time it was bedtime, but not quite. She requested demanded that she be allowed to finish the movie. So, I gave her a choice: watch the movie before bed, or have your bedtime stories read to you. She chose the movie, which meant no stories (Lion Lessons, The Snowy Day, The First Strawberries (Picture Puffins)) from me.

So we watched until it was over, then she wanted to watch the credits and listen to the song, so we did. Then it was bedtime. “Stories?” She asked. “No,” I said, “you chose the movie.” She replied, “I’ll read them to my animals.” I gave her a goodnight kiss and left her room.

good parenting
Auburn playing Minecraft before bed, because I don’t always expect her to read books, no, just 95% of the time.

From my room, I could hear her reading repeating the stories I’ve read to her over and over again. Her stumbles, her stutters, her reading one of the Spanish books is especially hilarious because her speaking ability in Spanish is quite poor, it was all very touching and I just laid in bed listening to her from the other room. When she was done, she asked for two more minutes of snuggles, which I allowed, and she slept as well as she’s ever slept. Which, if you’ve been following our story, her sleep schedule has been one of the most difficult parts of my experience.

The moral of this one? Just because it might not be what’s considered ideal, break the conventional wisdom your own rules, shut the f*ck up, and let your child explore themselves and their routines on their own once in a while. You’ll be happier and calmer like I am. And my daughter’s opinion (the only one that matters)?

Well, not to brag, but, she says she wants to marry me one day.

Do you think allowing children to occasionally break their bedtime routine is okay? Let me know in the comments!

camping with kids

One of the best things you can do for your children, in my personal experience as a child and as a parent now, is get them outdoors. The majority of my childhood memories are outdoors, and memories are what makes your life longer and more meaningful. Sure, I remember playing video games and watching TV as a child, as well, but I don’t have any particular memory that comes to mind that is nearly as enjoyable to look back on as my memories of being outside.

If you’re looking to get your child outside, take them camping! If you’re unfamiliar with who I am and what I consider to be a proper camping experience, then you should know straight away that I don’t consider using an RV to be camping. Plenty of people do, that’s fine, but we have a difference of opinion on that. Going camping is about connecting to nature, engaging with the elements, and removing as much of your comforts as you can. Now, some people are more extreme in their views of camping than even I am, but everyone has their own tastes and preferences. Here’s what I believe to be a camping experience and why is it important to go camping with your children.

Auburn and I went camping several times this summer. Tahquamenon Falls, Kitch-iti-kipi, and lots of smoked fish was on the menu. Rockstar of a summer. My dad even came out camping with us once!

camping with kids
I’m not a selfie-taker but the Upper Falls of Tahquamenon Falls deserved one

 

Why Should I Go Camping With My Children?

#1 Prepare for Doom!

Not really, but sort of. What if the electric grid goes down? What is a solar flare knocks out all the satellites in the sky? What if you get lost on a hike someday and can’t find the trail? Have you spent enough time outside to know that, hey, the end of the world isn’t so bad? I have, and Auburn is on her way there. She can help set up the tent, gather firewood, and prepare the food.

camping with kids
Auburn preparing some corn to cook in the fire

Camping is essentially wildlife survival training if you do it correctly. I’ve been trying to become more and more rustic in my camping adventures, but I’ll admit that I still bring along a blow-up mattress, an electric coffee maker, and a waffle iron so I definitely do not completely do rustic camping.

camping with kids
My little helper
caping with kids
It’s hammer time! Goodness, I’m old.

#2 Meet the Animals

Children love animals, at least mine does. She may be slightly frightened of some of them, but she adores little mammals like squirrels, chipmunks or ‘chick-monks’ as she says, and rabbits. One of the coolest things about camping is that the animals who live near the campsites are generally used to humans. They are still skittish if you get too close, but if you camp for a week or so, you’ll notice that the little animals will get quite close to you if you’re nice to them.

camping with kids
Meeting the ducks on Indian Lake

#3 Get Comfortable in Uncomfortable Settings

You’re not going to have a lazy boy, a big screen TV, and a microwave unless you are using an RV. And that, dear reader, is why using an RV is not going camping. You’re certainly not camping with kids if you’re using a wheeled home. An RV, no matter its class, is a home, and simply going from your usual home in the city to a home with wheels under some trees is not going camping.

camping with kids
Auburn playing at the campsite

I’ve been in campgrounds where there are 100 campsites full, and 90 of them are RV’s. (Sure, it’s because I’m in the RV area because I need an electric outlet for my waffle iron, coffee maker, and blow up mattress, but I’m hoping to cut down one day and get some cots, boil water over the fire for coffee, and simply not eat waffles.) But the point is that when the 90% of my fellow ‘campers’ experience rain, or thunder, or both, they retreat into their wheeled homes.

camping with kids
Doing a little trail hike 🙂

They aren’t taking the time to experience what camping is meant to give you, a level of discomfort that removes your brain from the plugged-in, electricity-driven world. Sleeping in a tent in a rainstorm is amazing: it’s loud, your tent may shake from the wind, and if you have to get outside to use the toilet, you’re gonna be part of the storm. If you’re not comfortable in those situations, you’ll probably be one of the first people to die when doom happens (see #1).

camping with kids
Found the most interesting tree

#4 Get Dirty

You know you’ve witnessed a parent who tells their child to stay out of X, Y, or Z because “they’ll get dirty.” Makes me cringe, ya’ll need to go camping with kids. One of the top reasons (hence why it’s on the list) that I like to get my daughter outside, especially in a camping situation, is because it gets her dirty. If anything, I fear the clean. When I take her to school in the morning, I’m probably the only parent who opts out of the teacher at the door holding hand sanitizer, “no thank you,” I say.

camping with kids
Getting dirty racing Grandpa to the restroom.. she lost

I’m not afraid of germs, dirt, but leeches yes because they’re weird, wormy vampires. Go camping with kids and show them that being dirty is okay! Getting filthy improves the immune system, calms the soul, and creates memories that last a lifetime. Just stay away from leeches, they’re little graboids trying to grow big enough to eat your truck, I think.

camping with kids
Running through the forest, she fell a few times and got quite dirty

#5 Pee on the Trees

There’s no better feeling than being able to let loose on a bush with no one judging you. That’s all I need to say about this.

 

The Wrap-Up

So go camping with kids, it’s fun, educational, and an experience that adds time to life because memories are what makes life long. A comatose person will not have memories of their coma (usually), and an able-bodied person who spends their whole life indoors is just a thinking comatose patient.

camping with kids
Auburn and I visiting Kitch-iti-kipi

Do you already enjoy going camping? Where is your favorite place to go? Let me know in the comments and I’ll comment back with one of my favorite places 🙂

From planting a garden, to swimming at the lake, to camping and canoeing the Tahquamenon River, we have had a refreshing and relaxing summer, mostly.

Of course, I came home to make sure my mom was fed and kept on her meds while she recovered, but it wasn’t the only thing I did. Now that she is starting to get back on her feet again, I feel I have finally have enough time and energy to get to updating you on our life and a relatively mistake-free summer.

The Garden

We started our summer with getting some plants in the ground. The garden beds needed some TLC and Auburn was happy to help. She helped shovel in new soil, plant some vegetables, and put in this beautiful sunflower that is now standing taller than me!

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What We Grew

From tomatoes to kale, marigolds to other types of marigolds, the garden did quite well this summer. That is, except for the tomatoes. Why? Because we planted a few varieties with indeterminate growth and didn’t have a trellis system in place to support them. So what did we do? Improvised!

Gardening tomatoes, growing tomatoes
An old chair that I axed the seat out of to use as a support system for the tomatoes

Gardening is a learning process year-to-year. To me, it doesn’t matter if the garden looks professional, is well spaced out, or has an particular aesthetic to it. As I’m trying to learn in life and gardening: plant your seeds, care for them, and make due. If people want to judge you, oh well, that’s on them. Set your own standards and you won’t be flailing for reassurance from anyone else. The tomatoes will turn red either way, and they taste no less delicious.

Growing tomatoes, unconventional methods
An old guitar stand I used to prop up another tomato plant

If there’s on plant I can’t recommend enough to grow, it’s kale. It’s a delicious superfood that goes great in smoothies, salads, and steamed with butter. It grows quickly, has a a solid yield per plant and is also quite attractive on it’s own. Gardening with children helps them learn about where food comes from as well. You may find your own children are more likely to eat vegetables with them grow them themselves. 

Kale, dew, gardening
Morning dew on the kale.
Tomates, gardening
Tomatoes growing

Marigolds are a great addition to any garden. They come in many varieties and colors and are incredibly easy to take care of. Give them water, and dead-head the dying flowers. At some point you might even be overwhelmed with how well they do. One of plants went from a tiny sprout to a flower plant nearly 2 feet in diameter with flowers sprouting from all over!

Marigolds, flowers
Marigolds: blooming and wanting to bloom.

Gardening with Children

Auburn has helped me create the garden at my Mom’s for several years now, but this was the first time she was actually helpful! Previously, she was keen to shovel out the soil I was shoveling in. This year however, she managed to fill several of plots all by herself and loved it! There’s nothing like watching a little kid get dirty and enjoy themselves, it makes me wish I was still a child sometimes. Aside from the fun they having gardening, there are numerous health benefits to it: fresh air, exercise, relaxation, and the microbes in the soil that get under your nails are beneficial to your immune system. Dig on, my child! And parents, try gardening with children and see how they do, it could be your next family activity 🙂

Gardening with children
Putting in work with her Auburn-sized shovel

 

single parent blog, parenting blog, single parent travel

Two Healing Words

After a day of rain drumming on the bungalow’s tin roof, my 3-year-old would say two words that would help me in forgiving myself. The strength, the clarity, the confidence that she showed me through those two words helped me understand that the strongest amongst us are missing something when we punish ourselves for making mistakes. We focus on the wrong like it’s a stain on our only shirt, thinking everyone will see only that and judge us accordingly. My daughter’s two words help me realize something we all need to understand, ‘it’s okay.’ Failing isn’t nearly as important as what we do after we fail.

*You’ll see some affiliate links here, check out this link for a full-break down of what that means. Hint: my links cost you nothing!

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Auburn doesn’t care if she fails, the first time she did this the seat knocked her forehead

Why Do We hurt?

In today’s social media atmosphere where we are constantly bombarded with images of the exceptional, it’s easy to feel inferior. The companies who advertise on social media know I am a traveling Dad, so the advertisements I see are about top-notch parents who never fail, travelers who make five figures a month working just 2 hours a week, and images of people working on hilltops, swinging in a hammock, or (most unbelievably) working right on the beach! What a bunch of crap.

 

Even if everything I am seeing is real, those images are denoting the .01% of people who are actually involved in any of those activities. Every parent repeatedly fails, travelers travel because it’s cheaper than staying in one place, and digital nomads like myself work at a desk. Can you imagine having your computer out at the beach for 8 hours? If you can, then you should also imagine the next computer you’re going to need because the sand, water, light, and elements are going to destroy your gear.

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This is not a work place, Nang Yuan Island, Thailand

So It’s all BS?

Marketing is all BS. They show the outliers, the freaks-of-nature, the rare runes. When you see these outstanding people every day, all the time, how can you not compare yourself to them? Your average life, your average job, your average face. This isn’t crap you can easily change, so when you can’t be extraordinary, you feel like shit, because you’re just average, and you’re a failure. Mark Manson touches extensively on this in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

Those Two Words

When my daughter stirred that night, at first just uncomfortable because her blanket was off her, I heard her whimper in the darkness. Once, then twice, a soft, third time. ‘What’s wrong honey?’ I asked her. Her little voice sniffled out, ‘I miss Mommy.’ I was instantly back to hating myself again, forgetting how hard I’m trying to love myself. My mind jumps to all my mistakes, what I’ve done to put Auburn in this position, a series of events leading up to her waking up and crying at 11 pm because she doesn’t have a ‘Mom.’

She crawls over to me and falls into my arm, I feel her tears drip onto the inside of my bicep. I squeeze her lightly, ‘I know sweetie, you got your Daddy here.’ A tear of mine drips unnoticed on her hair, ‘You’ve got lots of people who love you, Aubi,’ a few more whimpers from her. Her hand moves up across my neck, she stops crying, smiles, kisses me on the curve between my nose and cheek, ‘I know Daddy, it’s okay.’

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Sometimes she sleep with undies on her head

It’s Okay

You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be the outlier, the extreme example, the super-parent, the model, or the charming one. Like Mark Manson says in his book, ‘What is objectively true about your situation is not as important as how your come to see the situation.’ I’m an average parent and person, I constantly fail. But my little girl looks at me with the strength of a General, smiles, and says ‘it’s okay.’ It’s okay to be normal, it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to occasionally hate yourself for the things you’ve done. Failing, and feeling like a failure are a part of what makes us strong people.

If our minds couldn’t adapt to failure, we wouldn’t have evolved and spread across the world battling Smilodon, direwolves, and eating giant furry elephants. You think our ancestors had an easy time dealing with seeing their children shredded by a 400 pound cat? Or having dental work done with rocks? Or living only to the ripe old age of 36? No, we were all bred to be strong. Our strength runs in our DNA, that is our average. Our average is a lineage of survivors who failed all the time, and succeeded because of it. It’s okay to be average, to fail repeatedly, as long as you learn from it. That’s the best lesson our diseased and ill-fated ancestors can teach us. It’s okay to be human, to fail, and love yourself regardless. Sometimes it just takes a 3-year-old whispering it to you at night to understand that.

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3-year-olds know it will be okay

*You’ll see some affiliate links in here to the books I mention, I only link up to things I find truly valuable to the reader.