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15 Easy New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

We are halfway through January and (with all the spikes in COVID cases) and the holiday hullabaloo behind us, perhaps you have forgotten about New Year’s Resolutions.  It can be easy to get lost in the fast-paced world of life and then feel like you are already behind. 

Not to worry.  I have compiled some of my top 15 favorite resolutions I have done (and some I continue to do) to help inspire you and your family to live a more animated life.  Many of these are simple, measurable goals that won’t leave you feeling guilty at the end of the month (or next year).

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1. Read a new book each month: This is a great one to do alone or with your spouse or friend.  It is also a measurable goal and easy to do. Find new books that interest you and read them.  I like to read with my hubby before bed.  This is a great way to be intimate with each out and have a date night for free.  Or, I have also enjoyed book clubs.  Clubs are a great way to meet new friends and get out of the house.

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2. Do something creative each month: This is a fun one.  I have found using a subscription service to be helpful.  Monthly getting a box of something new and creative to do brings a little more joy to the mailbox and the house.  I then use what was created to decorate my house.  Cratejoy has a ton of subscriptions for all ages. 

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3. Discover one new place each month: We all get into the habit of eating at the same places, going to the same places, and doing the same things.  This is great for those of us who like routine.  But, life is not routine (as much as I wish kit were sometimes).  It is good for us to shake things up.  So go out and explore your neighborhood or the world for that matter.  Try something new and make some new memories.

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4. Sleep better: This is one I try to do all the time.  Sleep helps us function better during the day, have better relationships, think better, and so much more.  Sleep is also what a lot of kids and teenagers struggle with.  For some great steps on how to help with this, check out this blog on 10 Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep.

5. Exercise more:  I know, this sounds like every other resolution you have heard.  And you would be right.  But, let’s face it, we all work in front of screens, socialize in front of screens, get entertained in front of screens.  Our bodies were not designed to just sit.  Our bodies thrive on movement.  We get endorphins, are happier, and look nicer in that swimsuit (summer is just around the corner) or jeans.  But this doesn’t have to be a do-or-die goal.  Make it simple.  Just plan to incorporate a walk after work with dogs, or a run in the morning with your son, or just get on YouTube and enjoy a quick 25–60-minute workout. Make it a social thing and do it with a friend. 

6. Eat better: I love food.  I also like a healthy family.  Gut health affects brain health.  Gut health effects are particularly strong for those with neuro and sensory needs.  We have learned how to incorporate healthy (on a budget) and enjoy really good food. The more colorful our plate the yummier our food tastes.  Many of our daily recipes we use for entertaining as well and hear only “oo’s” and “awes.” Need help getting started?  Check out these simple recipes

7. Do something new each month: Sometimes I feel like I get in a rut.  The best way to get me out of a rut is to try something new.  Sometimes this is a new experience altogether (new food, new museum, etc.), but it can be as low-key or extreme as you wish.  I know someone who used this resolution to give him the guts to go sky diving and another who used it to travel the world.  Just recently, I did this by helping replace our stove range. It can be simple and little or something you need to get done on a budget or something big and grand. Enjoy.

8. Monthly family night: Life gets busy fast. With sports teams, music lessons, study sessions, games, and friends, it can seem like your child is a roommate (who doesn’t help with the bills) the older they get. Take the family back.  We like a daily mealtime together. But once a day over dinner (sometimes breakfast) is not enough.  We like a monthly family night when we play games, watch movies with popcorn, or roast marshmallows by the fire.  This is especially great when hubby is on swing shifts or 14-hour day shifts.  We can plan a time together and not feel like it is crammed into the schedule.

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9. Self-care:  This is a hard one for me.  My older sister has been encouraging me to do this for years.  As a mom, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself.  Truth be told, I haven’t even had a haircut since 2019!  It is just easier to ensure my family has what they need and want first.  But self-care doesn’t have to be hard or cumbersome.  Have a glass of wine with friends on a Friday night.  I like working out with friends (making friends and getting healthier).  I love going to farmer’s markets and enjoying the sites and smells.  Sometimes there is nothing better than snuggling under a blanket and reading.  The important thing is that you take the time to plan for it.  Because if you do not plan for it, you never will get it.

10. Serve someone else: The season of giving is winding down.  But it doesn’t have to end.  No matter the season, serving someone else is so good for all involved.  Sometimes we just need to get out of our heads and focusing on the negative.  The best way to do this is to serve someone else.  This might mean teaching Sunday School at your church or volunteering with the babies.  Or, it might mean sitting with your elderly neighbor an hour a week and reading to them or learning about their incredible life!  Fear has taken hold the last two years, our elders have survived wars, sickness, and so much more.  Learn and grow from their strength.  Or volunteer at the local elementary school teaching how to read or simply cutting out and printing worksheets for the overworked teacher.    

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11. 365 days of gratitude: This one is so important to me.  It was a resolution I had years ago and practice I continue.  Gratitude is so important because it changes our perspective and often calms us down (preventing us from doing something stupid).  Being thankful in all circumstances is a great way to not only change your world but the whole world.  If we all just found one thing daily to be grateful for, imagine the difference in attitudes we would have. 

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12. Monthly Date Night: I love date night!  I covet date night!  Having a date night is hard with a special needs kid.  It is hard for military families who always move.  It is hard for families with multiple kids who just have so much going on.  Date night does not have to be a big deal.  It is there to build and strengthen a relationship with someone you already love.  Here are 12 great date night ideas we use and still keep in budget. 

13. Service Project/Awareness monthly: There is so much pain in the world and so few people know about it, much less do anything about it.  Take 12 months and learn about different issues (local and global).  At the end of the year, pick one that you became passionate about and get involved.  Serve.  Do a campaign of awareness.  Donate.  Just do something about it.  Be the change in the world.

14. Take a Class:  I know, most adults hate school.  That is because we were forced to go to school growing up learning about things we don’t like.  Our kids currently hate it for the same reason.  But learning doesn’t have to be torture.  Take a class with your kids (or just yourself) and learn something new.  Always want to learn a new language? Do it.  Duolingo is a free way to start and see if you like it.  Want to learn a new hobby?  Take a class at Hobby Lobby or Lowes.  Want to be able to make your car repairs?  Take a class at the local community college.  Be open to learning more things. Learning new things is fun and healthy – and can help prevent diseases like dementia.  

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15. Start letter writing: Screen fatigue is a real thing.  It is happening more and more often in this post COVID world.  Everything is on a screen.  Zoom and Google Chat have taken over our lives.  We like to take a step back, put out real paper and pen and compose a nice greeting or letter to a family member or friend.  This is a great way to keep in touch over a distance and have a keepsake for the kids when they are older.   Try just writing to one person.  Or write to someone different monthly.  It is so wonderful to see what comes back in the mail.  Enjoy.

Whatever you pick for your resolution, I hope it helps bring joy and unity to your household.  May you be covered in Peace, Love, and Joy this year.  May the road rise to meet you and the wind be ever at your back.

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6 Ways to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Work For You

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The new year has begun and goal setting and resolutions are upon us.  The new year offers a time of reflection and retrospection.  The new year offers a fresh start and a great opportunity to create a better life for us and those around us.

According to Forbes, for 2021, the “most popular New Year’s resolutions are about self-improvement (living healthier 23% of people, getting happy 21%, losing weight 20%, exercising 7%, stopping smoking 5%, reducing drinking 2%). In addition, people resolve to meet career or job goals (16%) and improve their relationships (11%).”  Of those working out falls into three of those top goals (a whopping 50%). 

According to FSU News, “on average, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February…it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to become automatic.”

So how do we combat this huge obstacle and make our resolution to be healthier happier people come true? Here are six steps I have taken to help me in the past and present.

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Be Realistic:  Do not set yourself up to fail.  Be realistic in goal setting.  If you have never worked out, it is highly unlikely you will work out six days a week an hour and a half. You likely won’t lose 50 lbs in three months.  Set a goal that works for you.  A good goal will be SMART. The more specific and measurable a goal, the better.  Want more?  Check out this blog on 10 goal setting steps to success

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time-Bound.
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Set a routine: The hardest part of a resolution (or any goal), is to incorporate it into your already hectic routine.  By creating a routine where your goal is a part of it, you are more likely to be able to attain your goals.  According to Northwestern Medicine, routines are essential to a healthy lifestyle.  Routines will help reduce stress, increase sleep, give better health, and set a good example for your children.

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Get accountability/work out partner: Progress is never made alone.  We need each other.  Find a friend or partner in your goal.  This will help increase serotonin when you work out or work on your goal because you will be doing it with a friend.  This friend can also help keep you accountable on days you don’t want to work toward your goals (and we all know there will be those days).  Exercising with a friend is just more fun and it helps build your friendship. By including an accountability partner, you are more likely to stick to your goals and succeed.  You typically work harder when someone else is around (because they are watching you) and it brings out the competitive side and spurs you on.  Working out with a friend can be cheaper by splitting the cost of the trainer/equipment.  Your accountability partner may have new ideas to bring.  And, it just safer – you want a spotter on those weights or someone to run those trails.

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Track Progress: I have said it before and will say it again.  Without a way to track the progress, you can get very discouraged – especially with weight loss.  Muscle weighs more than fat, so that scale may climb before it falls.  Have a way to track your progress toward your goal.  I like this habit tracker for my goals.  But, for weight loss goals, I find tracking with a picture to be more satisfying.  It shows the way the body changes over time rather than a scale that just reflects gravity.

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Eat Healthily: We all know we should eat healthily, but we typically do not. The words themselves just make it sound like salads and bland food or processed protein shakes for the rest of our lives.  BORING! But, healthy food is the opposite! Eating healthy just means incorporating colors into your diet.  Get away from processed foods and enjoy the great taste of vegetables and fruits.  Don’t snack on chips, snack on berries.  Don’t eat bread three meals a day.  Replace at least two of those servings with veggies.  Vegetables are so versatile you can have a different dish with a different flavor every night of the week for months. Limit the sugar and salt.  Enjoy the garden God gave us. You will be surprised how good it all is!

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Drink Water: This is probably the most simple and overlooked tip in getting a healthy habit started.  Water is so beneficial to our bodies.  It helps our bodies process every system.  It helps our skin stay brighter.  It helps us look younger.  So, instead of that second cup of coffee, drink a glass of water.  Have water before a meal, and you will eat less.  Bored with water, add some flavor.  I like to flavor mine with lemon, kiwi, mango, and other fruit flavors.  Water doesn’t have to be boring.

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Stretch: This one is often forgotten when people talk about working out.  It is also often forgotten in most classes at the gym.  If there is no stretch in the workout class, do one on your own.  Research shows time and again, stretching is good for you. The Mayo Clinic provided stretching:

  • Improve your performance in physical activities
  • Decrease your risk of injuries
  • Help your joints move through their full range of motion
  • Enable your muscles to work most effectively

Research also shows stretching can relieve post-exercise aches and pains (we all hate day two of a workout routine), improve posture, and manage stress better.  So take the time to stretch daily.  This is a great way to help relax at the end of the day as well.

New Year’s Resolutions are great ways to get us towards goals.  But they are only as good as the effort put in.  If your goal is like half of America to live a healthier happier lifestyle, then try these six steps to ensure success.

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10 Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep

We have all been there.  Three AM and you are staring at the ceiling.  The fan spins and you try to count the repetitions.  Sheep have been no help.  Your brain swirls with the thoughts of the crazy that was your day and dread for the day to follow slowly seeps in. 

Suddenly, the silence of the house is shattered by the bouncing bubbly kid in the room down the hall.  Energy pours out of his room.  Joy exuberates from him.  He is excited to start his day…before the sun.

You groan as you turn over.  You know today will be like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  Why can’t this kid just sleep?  By the time he is asleep, you finally get a bit of me-time.  But me-time at midnight is never good.  This needs to change. But how?

There is no debate on how badly poor sleep affects us.  Poor sleep can hurt our hormones, performance, and brain function.  It can cause weight gain and increase the risk of disease (1234567). 

But, oh sweet, good sleep, can have incredibly good results.  It can help you eat less, exercise better, have better response times, have more control of your emotions, and increase of thought process (28910).

With New Year’s upon us, perhaps now is a great time to take charge of our sleep to have better success with our other New Year’s Goals.

Speaking from experience, this is exhausting for you, your partner, and your children. Here are ten tips we used to help our son (and ourselves) get on a better sleep schedule.

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Reduce blue light exposure during the evening:  Blue light comes from our screens.  We surround ourselves with blue light, especially before bed.  Checking our social media before bed may sound relaxing, but the blue light stimulates us (along with the social media).  So put a stop to screen time at least 30 minutes before bed.  We try for an hour on school nights. No TV, no video games, no phone, no computer.  Instead, use this time to relax and connect face to face with those you cherish the most. Click here for more tips on how to manage screen time.

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Reduce naps during the day/length of naps: I LOVE naps! But, we limit naps.  If we or our son takes a nap, it is usually on a weekend to allow a little breath before scheduled sleep.  When our son was younger, he could take a nap for two hours or more.  We quickly learned this was detrimental.  Now, if he takes a nap, it is limited to 15-30 minutes.  The best way to know you slept enough for a nap is to take your keys (or something else that makes sound) and hold them in your hands.  When you have slept enough for a day nap, you will relax enough the keys will drop and wake you up.  Perfectly refreshed for the remainder of the day without messing up your sleep that night.

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Start a pre-bedtime routine: If you have followed me even for a short time, you know how much I love routine.  This is one of my favorite routines.  This is great for executive functioning and calming down for sleep.  We use this simple routine in our house.  After dinner, we brush our teeth, take a shower, and get in PJs.  Then we do a meditation/prayer and story.  This typically takes 30 minutes if done correctly. This routine acts as a mental trigger that the day is ending, and it is time for bed.   

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Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time: This one is hard.  I admit.  Especially as more people and commitments claim on your time. Find a time that allows the right amount of time for your child to get enough sleep.  We kept an 8 PM bedtime for our son till he was a teenager.  Then we increased it to 9 PM on weekdays and 10 PM on weekends (unless there was a game/dance/etc.)  And let’s be honest, no good happens after 10 PM anyway.  We also keep a routine wake-up time.  Alarm clocks may be needed for the first few weeks to get the body used to it, but soon you will find you naturally wake up at the same time daily.  This is important even on weekends.  You might think sleeping in on weekends is good, but it can mess you up for the first few days of the week.

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Optimize the bedroom: The room is a sanctuary.  It should be a place where you feel safe and comfortable.  The best sleep happens in comfortable rooms.  Here are some things we use to help our family sleep:

  • No screens: There are no screens in our son’s bedroom.  No computer. No phone. No TV.  These produce light, sound, and are an easy distraction once the kid thinks Mom and Dad went to bed.   
  • Blackout Curtains: These are lifesavers.  Two houses we lived in had a streetlight that shone straight into our son’s room.  These curtains helped block that light and create a boy cave for him.  He knew when they were drawn, it was time for hibernation.
  • White Noise/Soft Wordless Music: We lived off a highway in Maryland for years.  You often heard sirens and the like at odd hours of the night.  We learned white noise and wordless music were great for helping our son sleep.  Do kids share a room?  No problem! Try this awesome tool in the child’s pillow and they can listen to their own sound without bothering their roommate.
  • Temperature: A room that is too hot or too cold is prohibitive to good sleep.  The best sleep temperature is about 70° F (20° C).  But the temperature is dependent on your preference.  Test it out. 

Don’t eat before bed: When you are having trouble sleeping, it is tempting to find yourself in the kitchen eating. We often go beyond the warm glass of milk and eat a bowl of cereal or ice cream. Not only is this bad for our waistlines, but it is also bad for our sleep.  Your body uses sleep to restore muscles and systems.  When we eat before bed, we tell our bodies to divert that energy to digestion.  Save yourself and just say no.  I find when I am tempted, a good cup of hot tea is perfect.

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Relax before bed: Relaxing before bed helps me and my family fall asleep and stay in deeper sleep longer.  Take a nice hot shower or bath, do some meditation or yoga (or both).  Read an actual book.  The blue light from a Kindle or iPad will be counterproductive.  Need some entertainment? Do some art or adult coloring pages. Take up a new hobby.  Sew. Crotchet. Knit.  There is so much you can do that does not require a screen. Enjoy learning about you and your kids.

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Rule out a sleep disorder: This one is so important – especially for those with special needs.  Sleep disorders are real. Take the time.  Talk to your doctor.  Describe the sleep your child (or you) is getting.  Do a sleep study.  They are not scary and can be quite comfortable.  This can be eye-opening.  We learned a lot when we took our son for one.  One eye-opening thing is how fast my son can hit REM.  Once he shuts his eyes; he is practically in REM.  This means he is being charged faster than the average human.  Due to this, he needs slightly less sleep than other kids his age.  Taking with our doctor (who happened to see my son fall asleep in a routine checkup once) was so helpful in starting our path to successful sleep.  

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Exercise regularly: It is New Year.  You are thinking you will be at the gym five nights a week for an hour or two.  Let’s get real.  That is probably not true. But you should work out regularly.  Take a walk after work and enjoy the outside world.  Do a workout online or in your gym.  Start the day with a workout.  Just, do yourself a favor, and do not work out before bed.  This will increase your adrenaline and prevent the natural melatonin from working. 

Don’t drink liquids before bed:  This is important especially for young ones working on potty training.  This is a great model to use lifelong.  Drinking too much before bed keeps us up or wakes us up at odd hours. Waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom can stimulate your brain enough to prevent you from being able to go back to sleep.  Try to limit the liquids at least an hour before bed.

BONUS: If all else fails, set rules for waking up the house.  This is so important if you have a child like mine who literally needs less sleep.  Here are some of the rules we incorporated that helped keep the rest of the house asleep and the house peaceful:

  • A time when to leave the room: If your child is waking between 3 AM and 6 AM, it might be helpful to get a visual clock and tell them when an appropriate time to leave the room and start the day is.  This helps with the telling of time and teaches family values and compassion.  Different children have different needs.
  • Give activities they can do: If toys are in their room, let them play. Books are a great way to keep them engaged and quiet.  Books do so much more too! We also allow our son to use his electronic drum set, but he must use headphones. 
  • Have a Coffee Rule: We have the One Cup of Coffee Rule.  Even if we are awake, the quiet of the house must remain until the end of the first cup of coffee.  This allows everyone to wake at their own pace and keep the house peaceful in the mornings.

We use these tips for our entire household.  It has changed how we operate, how kind we are to each other, and helps create a productive environment throughout the day.  These are by no means all the tips that can help you. I encourage you to try them.  Use what works for you.  Ditch what does not.

May this year be one full of rest, relaxation, and growth.

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12 Days of Crafting: Enjoying Christmas Break With Your Family

The holidays are here. Christmas is finally here! Oh, what fun! The food, the presents, the time with family and friends. What a great season of joy.

But, after tonight, and once the holiday hype has called down, parents everywhere will be thinking, “What do I do with my kids for the remainder of school break?”

I completely understand. Without school filling most of the day, how do you keep a kid busy for a week or more?

Here are five great ways to survive the school break. Today I want to focus on giving a project. Here are 12 days of projects that can help you celebrate the season and enjoy great a product.

Buffalo Plaid Christmas Wreath; Credit: Carrie at Lovely Etc.
  • Buffalo Plaid Christmas Wreath: This project brightens any door in a classy way. This is fun way to liven up the holiday décor for this year and next.
Let IT Snow Wall Decor; Credit: Blooming Homestead
  • Let It Snow Wall Décor: I love the simplicity of this design. This can hang wonderfully in any room or on any wall and bring immense joy.
Jingle All the Way; Credit: Hallmark Channel
O, Come Let Us Adore Him; Credit: View Along the Way
Joy Wine Bottle Table Toppers: Credit: Sytletic
  • Joy Wine Bottle Table Topper: Reuse those empty wine bottles from Christmas by adding a touch of beauty to your holiday décor. Reduce, reuse, and recycle with this fun craft.
Mosaic Tree Table Topper; Credit: Handyman
Grinch Table Scape; Credit: House of Elynryn
  • Grinch Table Scape: What is the Christmas season without the Grinch? Bring in this fun Who-Ville inspired décor to the celebration.
Snowflake String Art; Credit: DIYonthecheap
  • Snowflake Sting Art: No matter what part of the world I have lived in, there is something about snow that makes the holidays – even when I live in the heat at Christmas. Add a touch of winter wonderland to your home with this fun craft.
Snow Frosted Candle Holder; Credit: Crafty Morning
  • Snow Frosted Candle Holders: Lights and lanterns are a tradition the world over for the holidays. Enjoy these beautiful candle holders as you prepare the way.
Joy Farmhouse Christmas Serving Tray; Credit: Create and Babble
Giant Christmas Ornaments; Credit: HGTV
  • Giant Christmas Ornaments: Decorating our yard is such a fun tradition. Add these simple ornaments and be the talk of the neighborhood.
Santa Wine Glass; Credit: My Paper Craze
  • Holiday Wine Glasses: New Year’s is just around the corner. Adding these fun glasses to your entertaining will bring smiles and laughter galore.

I hope these fun crafts help you find time to slow down and be intentional with your family. Families that create together, make memories together, stay together.

Let me know what fun crafts you like to do.

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20 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Across the World

I love Christmas. You cannot come to my home and not see Christmas in every room of the house (yes, even the bathrooms). But I also love culture. I got my master’s in political science with an emphasis on international relations. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. If you spend time at my house, it would be normal to watch documentaries on culture, anthropology, and archeology from all around the world.

Although I celebrate Christmas in the Christian way, I also like to see how the rest of the world celebrates. I like sharing this with my son, so he is more inclined to understand other people in the world and all the beauty they bring.

Toward this endeavor, we look at a different culture every week of the season and learn about their traditions, songs, stories, and food.

These are just some ways we have incorporated other cultures, traditions, and fun into celebrating the Christmas season.

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Christmas in China

  • Shen Dan Jieh (Holy Birth Festival): Families decorate their homes in evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The tree is decorated with flowers and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. Color is a big part of this celebration. We sometimes like to use the bright colored chains as our advent calendar to help count down to the big day.
  • Ta Chiu: This is a celebration of peace and renewal. The Chinese will make offerings to saints and read the names of everyone who lives in the area. We chose this time to find a non-profit to give to, give to our church, and remember those we love near and far.
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Christmas in England

  • Christmas caroling is a big tradition here. People give carolers little treats (little fruit and nut pies are especially delicious). All the wrapping of presents, baking cookies, and hanging stockings happens Christmas Eve. This is one fun tradition we do. I wrap (my husband builds toys and things), and we watch Christmas movies with a nice cup of Egg Nog, wine, or spirit-filled fun drink.
  • Writing Letters to Father Christmas: English children write letters to Father Christmas then put them in the fire, so the wishes go up the chimney. We tweak this tradition by having a mailbox to Santa by the fireplace. Our son puts his letter in the box on Christmas Eve and Santa writes by Christmas morning.
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Christmas in Ethiopia

  • Ganna: Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7 as the Ethiopians follow the ancient Julian calendar. For Ganna, people fast and dress in white, usually a traditional shamma (a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends). They attend church at 4 am. We incorporate this tradition by dressing up on Christmas Eve in our finest clothes.
  • The Ethiopians do not exchange gifts during Ganna. If a child receives a gift, it is a small gift of clothing. To incorporate this, we do Elf-ing with our son. We find a family that needs a bit of extra love, and secretly help make the season better for them with food and small gifts.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Christmas in France

  • Fasting: Christmas Day is a day of fasting and midnight mass. After mass, they come home and enjoy le Réveillon (nighttime feast). Growing up, I enjoyed attending the Christmas Eve midnight service. We move so much; it sometimes is hard to find one. So, we adopted my father’s tradition of bring coffee. and donuts to those security forces (local police) who have to work the holiday at midnight.
  • Christmas shows: Plays and puppet shows are popular entertainment (especially in Paris and Lyon). We always try to find a local production to watch (dance schools are great for this) to help get us in the spirit.
Photo by Maria Geller on Pexels.com

Christmas in Germany

  • Advent Calendars: There is something fun about counting down to Christmas. In Germany, they use an advent calendar where children open a little number flap to see the Christmas picture hidden there. We do this with pictures, sometimes tiny candies, and verses for the season.
  • Christmas Tree: The tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany. Under the decorate tree, they arrange a manger scene. Instead of stockings by the fire, in some places children leave their shoes outside the front door filled with carrots and hay for St. Nicholas’ horses. We leave carrots and celery out for Santa with his cookies.
Photo by Mohan Reddy on Pexels.com

Christmas in Holland

  • The Letterbanket: This is a letter cake made in the shape of the family’s last name. Some families give a little “cupcake” version to every member. We do this, but instead of our cake in our initial, we bake one for Jesus.
  • Poems: During the gift giving, the giver also recites a poem written by the giver about the recipient. We love this. We decided to do this all year round by having a dedicated notebook to little notes and encouragements to each other to read and enjoy.
Photo by Francesco Sgura on Pexels.com

Christmas in Italy

  • The Italians use the manger scene in a lot of their decorations. We incorporate one in the center of the entertainment, so we are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
  • La Befana: Legend has it, La Befana was too busy cleaning house to help the Wise Men on their quest to find the King, so now she spends January 6 (Thee Kings Day) wandering through the air on her broomstick looking for the Christ Child on the eve of Epiphany leaving gifts and candy in the shoes of little children. We do not do this, but we do watch movies about La Befana in the original Italian for fun.
Photo by Ivon Gorgonio on Pexels.com

Christmas in Mexico

  • Las Posadas Buena Noche: Christmas Eve the children lead a procession to the church and place a figure of the Christ Child in the Nacimiento (nativity scene) and attend midnight mass. To incorporate this, we attend a city children’s parade.
  • Farolitos: This little tradition is when family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns. Families then place candles inside the bags, and the lanterns are set alongside sidewalks, in windowsills, and on rooftops outdoor to illuminate the community with the Christmas spirit. My family lights the entire yard with lights. My son also makes additional decorations for the tree (or anywhere).
Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina on Pexels.com

Christmas in Spain

  • Christmas Day Reunion: This is a day for families to come together and enjoy a great feast (having fasted Christmas Eve. As we cannot always travel for the holidays, we use this day to call, text, and zoo family across the world.
  • Urn of Fate: Names are written on cards and placed in a bowl. Then, two names are drawn at a time. Those two people will be friends to each other throughout the coming year. My large family does a similar thing via excel spreadsheet. Each name rotates so a new sibling gets to think about and take care of the other for Christmas the following year.
Photo by WARLEY VENANCIO on Pexels.com

Christmas in Sweden

  • St. Lucia’s Day: Christmas really begins here on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day. The Swede celebrate the patron saint of light. The oldest daughter will get up before dawn, dress as the “Queen of Lights,” and go from bedroom to bedroom serving coffee and treats to each member of the family. The younger children help. We like this tradition, but we serve each other cinnamon rolls and coffee after getting the house beautiful for celebration. We work as family helping with chores, making breakfast, and enjoying a slower morning.
  • The Jultometn and Julbokar: This tiny Christmas gnome comes on a sleigh drawn by the Christmas goat, Julbokar. In some families, a family friends dresses up in a red robe and wears a long beard to bring toys for children. In other families, gifts are left behind on the tree. After gifts are open, the families dance and sing around the tree. We incorporate this little tradition by leaving notes for our son throughout the season and singing and dancing is a part of our life, so we listen, sing and dance to Christmas carols.

Perhaps there is something here that you might do? May want to try? Let me know.

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Slow Down this Season: Christmas Movies and Books for the Whole Family

How easy is it to get lost in the planning, gifting, and chaos of the holiday season? Do you find yourself exhausted? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Is the holiday season taking over your life (and not in a good way)?

I completely understand. The demands placed on people during the holiday sometimes seemed completely unrealistic. This can be especially true for deployed or separated families, single parents, parents of special needs children, and single people. It is so easy to get lost in the chaos.

How do we get out of the funk the demands can place us in? Change our focus. Stop thinking of “me”, and start thinking of others. If you are still having a little trouble getting into the season, try some old family traditions.

Part of the fun of the holidays is the books and movies that get pulled of the shelf and dusted off to enjoy. Growing up, my mom used to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to kick off the season. My dad would read Luke 1 to us prior to opening any presents. It was in these calm moments the real meaning of the season came alive.

I have continued this tradition in my own home. It is so special to pass this on to my kid and husband. These memories require no money, just quality time with those you love. When my husband was deployed during the holidays, this was one of the things he missed most about not being home. This is also what helps me stay grounded in the chaos when things start to get overwhelming.

So, I invite you to slow down with us this Christmas season.  Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, snuggle up (perhaps by a fire), and enjoy these fun movies and stories. May they bring you as much joy as they have our family.

MOVIES

BOOKS

I do hope these give you as much joy as they have our family.  What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?

For more fun Christmas traditions, check out my Facebook page.

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10 Practical Steps to Changing a Selfish Attitude to a Serving Attitude

It is that time of year again. The snow is blowing. The lights are glowing. The turkey is on the table. And the toy catalogs have found their way into everyone’s mailbox (like it or not).

It is the time of year when our “perfect angles” remind us just how perfect they have been. When they do extra chores or are extra nice to siblings so they can remind us just why they “deserve” that special toy or one more present over than last year, or (you fill in the blank).

As the years pass, it seems the “need” for stuff grows like ivy – clinging to the hearts and minds of our dear little ones (and if we are honest, sometimes ourselves). So how do we stop this selfish weed from growing in our homes and slowly, silently, destroying everything our dear ones worked toward all year round?

The answer is simple: giving. Here are four easy ways to get back Christmas with a focus on giving. Give of our time. Give of our attention. Give of our resources. Turn the focus of the home from inward to outward.

But, how do we do that in this media-influenced, one-click purchase, instant gratification world? But maybe, giving is not the problem. Maybe it is a matter of the heart. Here are 12 ways we try to shift our focus year-round (but especially around the holidays).

1. Give Attention: There are so many people in our lives that need an extra touch of love. Take time to notice them. Greet them and see how their day is. For those in middle and high school, take an extra two minutes to hang out with that “strange” kid or the kid at the lunch table all by himself. Chances are those are the kids whose stockings will be empty and/or there will be an extra seat missing at the Christmas dinner.

2. Check in on friends and family: We love writing to our extended family using snail mail. There is something nice about receiving a card, letter, or extra something in the mail from a loved one. My son has taken it next level and will include mini-comic books he created or add in recipes he thinks the other person will enjoy. This takes less than 30 minutes and brings delight and joy to all involved.

3. Practice Gratitude: If you have been following me long, you know I really believe in practicing gratitude. This past year I chose to take things even further to make this a daily practice. I have shifted my weekly calendar to reflect not the appointments I have or the deadlines I need to make, but what I am grateful. This shift has been so helpful during deployment and moving to keep me grounded and less stressed out. Here is resource I created to help my son do the same thing (though now he uses his school planner as well). It has been so rewarding to see the year in review (a great idea for New Year’s too).

Credit: Dressember Foundation (https://www.dressember.org/howitworks)

4. Donate to organizations around you: Organizations that help others are often strapped for cash (especially during the holidays when more needs arise). Donating to an organization is a fantastic way to not just spread the wealth, but to open the door to talking with your children about why there are needs, how your kids can avoid being in situations that need the extra help, and why you chose that organization.

This year, I have joined the Dressember Thrive with Dressember Team to help support human trafficking prevention, intervention, and survivor empowerment programs around the world. Having lived in the highest human trafficking areas in America (Los Angeles/Huntington Beach, CA; Greater Washington DC area, pan-handle Florida), and spending all of college and graduate school campaigning for awareness and change in this topic, it has served as a great way for me to help teach my son about stranger-danger, what to look for, and how to report it

5. Practice Forgiveness:  The holidays bring about family. Family brings about questions into your life, you might not normally talk about. Family also tends to say and do things to and around you that you dislike. Although the holidays are a fantastic time for bonding, they can also break relationships. Instead of building walls or hanging on to the continued pain, use this time to forgive and let go. After all, the pain is only hurting you – not the one you are mad at.

6. Shine a positive spotlight on others: No one likes to be at a family gathering where it is the “All About So-and-so Show.”  Nor do they want to be in the spotlight of negative attention. For those parents with special needs, this can be a challenging time of year with routine changes and high sensory impact. Instead of using this time to remark on how displeased, you are with how people act around you or children, or to complain about how they did not think about how to incorporate your needs more, take time to spotlight those around you.

  • Complement the chef if you are not the one cooking. Even if you do not like the food. Afterall, they spent all day cooking.
  • Give a shout out to the host or the in-law watching all the kids so the siblings can catch up.
  • Point out what a great idea someone had for a game or activity (and then let yourself enjoy it).

7. Compromise: I am the middle of seven children. You can imagine how difficult holidays can be when you are coordinating all seven children, their spouses, and the next generation. It may be time to compromise. Instead of doing gifts for everyone, just a family. Or instead of opening presents first thing in the morning on Christmas Day, you wait until December 26 or December 27 (we even opened on New Year’s Eve one year). Being willing can make the holidays sweeter in ways you never thought possible.

8. Watch the road rage: I have lived in the worst traffic places in America (405 and 101 intersection in CA, Baltimore/Annapolis, and the Indi-85 in Florida). It is so easy to get angry quickly in your car when no one will let you in to merge, or they are slow to start moving when a light turns green or, Heaven forbid, they are driving the speed limit. When you find yourself in this situation, remind yourself the extra two seconds will not change if you hit the next light or not and the other driver may be heading to the hospital in a hurry or coming from a funeral. You do not know what is happening in that car.

9. Donate your time: For some, money is tight. That means giving to local organizations seems like a burden. So, for those where money is tight, take time to help a local organization. This is a wonderful way to show kids firsthand what your time can do. Help Habitat for Humanity build a house. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Carole at the hospital or senior citizens center. Small tasks can make an enormous impact. Not sure you want to get completly engulfed in a project? Find an organization you really care about and ask how you can

  • Donate your time.
  • Donate your stuff (and make room for all the new stuff on Christmas).
  • Donate your expertise. It is amazing how many non-profits need editors, writers, tech savvy help.

10. Start small: The best of the holidays, for me, are the small traditions. If you are having trouble getting into the spirt, start small. See the city Christmas Tree lighting. Enjoy the local dance school recital. Have a cup of hot chocolate (and spring for marshmallows) with the kids. It is in the small things that memories are made.

I would love to hear how you enjoy your holiday season with the kiddos. Let me know your favoirte way to make the season all the brighter.

For more on how to enjoy the holidays, check out my Facebook page.

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Three Steps to Great Friends

Me with my two besties of over a decade and spanning three states and four time zones.

Transitions are hard. From deployment to moves to the “new normal” after COVID-19 quarantines, you can expect challenges to come at you left and right. Sometimes it feels like us versus the world. Sometimes that is true. But there is a way to push through, fight back, and end up on the other side better, stronger, and happier.

I watched a great movie with my best friend and husband recently, TAG. I laughed so hard! But, more importantly, it reminded me of my great friends who developed across the country and for years. It helped me realize the importance of friendship in transition (be that deployment, move, health diagnosis, or something else entirely). Here are three things I have learned about creating friendships that last a lifetime.

Photo by Creative Vix on Pexels.com

Strength in Community

In life, support makes or breaks you. Without it, you walk a tight rope with no safety net. With it, you walk a tight rope with a smile. A good support system includes people who are willing to walk with you in your best and worst moments; people who know when to check in because they know you; people who know when to let you figure it out because they know you and when to hold you accountable.

Ever notice how the most influential leaders surrounded themselves with a quality support system? Abraham Lincoln had his wife and Joshua Fry Speed. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his wife and Ralph David Abernathy. Gandhi had Charles Freer Abernathy. Jesus had the twelve, but within the twelve he had the inner circle of three. If they could not face the challenges of this world alone, why do we think we can?

As we walk through life, we must remember we do not do so alone. Every part of our life touches another’s. It is ok to ask for help. It is ok to let people in. It is ok to spend the afternoon enjoying a cup of tea with a friend. Do life together. For more ideas on community, check out my blog on thriving during transitions.

Build a strong community

I won’t fool you – building community is hard. Letting someone in to see the real you is difficult. But it is SO important to a quality life. But there are so many people out there in it for themselves, how do you know where to start?

  • Start by choosing the people you want in your community. This could be family or friends. Church, community organizations, and volunteer groups are a wonderful place to start because you know the values and things that interest people from the start.
  • Serve. Serving is a terrific way to see people for who they are. Are they someone who genuinely cares about the cause or people? Or are they someone who wants the limelight? Is Instagram selfies how they spend time or do they invest in the people in from of them? Is this someone you want to invest in or have invest in you?
  • Spend time with people. My favorite way to spend time with people is by strolling a farmers’ market, playing games, or having a nice cup of tea/coffee/wine (depending on circumstance). It is in the conversation you get to know people. If you cannot do these things, write letters (I love getting mail that is not a bill) or Zoom/Skype someone. Just take the time. As for plants and a good wine, time makes relationships sweet.
  • Don’t tell everything about yourself at the very start. Take time getting to know each other. Be honest (but smart). Not everyone is going to be quality; not everyone is going to be in your life forever; not everyone is going to safe with your information. If you wouldn’t want it blasted virally on social media, keep it to yourself until trust and need-to-know have been established.
  • Don’t think a no is a no forever. Sometimes people are just busy (or stressed). They want to hang out and invest but have no idea where to start in the chaos of their mind and life. Keep the door open for future invites and be sure to check in on them to see if you can serve them. Sometimes knowing someone is out there who cares is just as important as spending time over a cup of Joe.

Be the Person You Want to Be Friends With

I have lived everywhere from CA to MD, in big cities and small (having moved 25+ times in 20 years). I can say (without hesitation) people are guarded, wary, and skeptical. They have every right to be. Today’s world is infested with social media telling us what we should look like, act like, be like. Let’s face it: magazines are photo-shopped -NOT REAL. Let’s own it: we put on social media the best of our lives and hide the not-so-great. Let’s take accountability: We prefer looking down at a screen than straight across at the face of who we speak to because…here is the killer….it is easier. Then we complain we have no real friends.

Tough love, but true. If we want genuine friends, we must, as Jesus said, “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  What that looks like is different for everyone (because we are all uniquely and wonderfully made). But the basic principle is the same: treat people with respect and you will have respect. Treat people with love (thinking of them above yourself), and you will be surrounded by love. The best part of this, when you treat people the way you want to be treated, it opens doors to new people, possibilities, and brings so much joy. So, why not?

Friendships enrich your life and improve your health. You can find so much strength in quality communities. Building strong communities can help in transitions from life-changing moves to life-changing diagnoses. They provide places to laugh, cry, and be real in. Being wise in developing community and friends can ensure you have lasting friendships for life.

For more on developing friendships and community, check out my Facebook page.

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Quick Easy Thanksgiving Recipes

I love Thanksgiving. I love that we take time out of the craziness that is life to be grateful; to say thank you; to enjoy our family, friends, and loved ones. This is something I have purposed to do throughout the year but love that I get a day to do just that. What a wonderful tradition!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I hope you do take time to slow down, reflect, and give thanks this Thanksgiving. For some steps on how to get a gratitude attitude (or just some good family ideas), check out my blog on 6 easy steps to a gratitude attitude

But today, I want to talk about food! Although I love the family, memories, and time to slow down, I love (and my whole family) love the food!

My husband and son love the holiday for the delicious tastes and aromas that flood our home. I love the day for the family, the downtime, and the movies. I love snuggling by the fire after a delicious meal and enjoying time with family, friends, and loved ones.

In that spirit, today I wanted to share some good recipes for the big day. I am lucky and Hubby does the turkey (and sometimes ham depending on the number of guests we have). Sides, however, are typically up to me. Here are the top recipes we use that get an ovation every year.

APPETIZERS

Appetizers are so fun! But can be so time-consuming. They are the unsung heroes of the holiday. They waken the pallet and give something for little hands to do while they wait. But kids are fussy (and so are adults around this time of year). Here are a couple of easy appetizers we use for Thanksgiving that add color and are still healthy and easy.

  • Onion Dip (sometimes we make our own, sometimes we buy – depending on the time we have) or Hummus (there is a great recipe in Brain Food Cookbook) with sliced bell pepper, snap peas, broccoli, and carrots
  • Yogurt (we use the Brain Food recipe for ferments which takes 24 hours; if you do not have that time, use almond or coconut yogurt from the store) with sliced apples of all colors coated in a little lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Tortilla Rolls: As the GIF above shows, this is so good, quick, and brings color to what can easily become a brown table. Just some spinach tortilla rols, sliced bell pepers, spinach, carrots, and I use red onion with a touch of hummas (or your favorite spread), rolled, sliced into one-inch pieces, and set out beautifully. This is easy finger food that will make even the fussiest people happy.

SIDES

Sides can make or break a meal. Ever have a fantastic main dish that only found the accompanying side lacks luster? It can be what drops a review from five stars to three. Here are a few of my favorite unsung heroes of Thanksgiving:

  • Carrots are amazing! But become the ugly duckling next to green beans each year. Although I have grown to like green beans, carrots are my go-to for sides. I use them in everything from carrot fries (as I discovered in this gem for Autism/ADD recovering as well as Paleo/SCD/GAPS dieters) to quick on-the-go snacks without the mess.  
  • When oven and stovetop space is limited, I love this slow cooker recipe for cinnamon sugar-glazed carrots.  I use ghee or plant-based butter instead of regular butter. If I have the space, I truly enjoy this quick brown butter garlic honey-roasted carrots recipe. 20 minutes tops and you have a great yummy side that everyone will talk about.
  • I love mashed potatoes (and so do most of my friends and family). This staple is easy to make with a touch of almond milk. I dress mine up (depending on the day) with herbs and spices including. I like to throw in a touch of garlic and thyme for extra spice. I have also enjoyed replacing potatoes with cauliflower. This is an easy quick recipe for those who do not do potatoes.

SALADS

You cannot go wrong with a good salad. For those traveling and needing to bring a dish, these are quick tasty dishes. With all the treats around the day, a healthy salad is, not only welcome, but needed, colorful, and can tie a meal together. Here are our quick recipes:

  • Chicken Salad:  All you need is to cut lettuce, apples, strawberries, and red onion. Combine that with roasted or baked chicken cut into one-inch slices and your choice of dressing (we like the brand G Hughes and Skinny Girl) and voila! Colorful dish everyone will like.
  • Broccoli Cranberry: This is a fun twist on the traditional salad. Mix steamed broccoli heads, almonds (optional), and cranberries. Sometimes we add chicken or bacon bits (these are easy and do not require additional cook time). We sometimes add onion and sometimes add bell pepper for color. Mix and you are done.   
  • If I am feeling super fun, I use a broccoli grapefruit, and avocado salad. All these mixed with a touch of green onion or shallots and yum yum!

DESSERTS

Now to my favorite thing about the Thanksgiving meal – desserts! I love a nice warm cup of coffee or tea and a sweet dessert. Add in a fireplace and great company and you get a touch of Heaven. Here are just a few desserts (because I do love all things sweet) that I enjoy for Thanksgiving. Oh, who am I kidding? All year round!

  • I like pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I have loved this recipe from Betty Crocker for Pumpkin Cream Cheese pie.  It is easy but prepare to have the pie sit in your fridge for 4 hours before you can cut into it.
  • If you are like me, sweet things are the Achilles heel. So, I love to make individual size things so the sweet is there without the regret later. This is a great recipe for apple pie bites that do not take a lot of time.
  • What good is warm without ice cream? I love to blend frozen bananas, almond milk, and frozen strawberries (no green), vanilla, or melted chocolate (the flavors are limitless) to have a fun tasty dairy-free option. Using a blender, this delicious treat is ready in minutes and does not require the bulkiness of traditional ice cream makers.

There are so many delightful things to enjoy at Thanksgiving. I hope this small list can help make things a bit easier when planning to be at home or travel.

I do hope you have a great Thanksgiving. May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face (Luke 1:78); the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand (John 10:27-28). Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

For more on Thanksgiving treats and ways to celebrate, check out my Facebook page.

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Three Steps to Thriving During Transitions

Welcome back! For those who have been following, this past year included deployment and a permanent change of station (PCS) move. In the crazy times of being a single parent to moving, tons of transition takes place. And, if you have kids, you know transition means growth. Growth means stretching, growing pains, and (sometimes) regression.

So, I took the past year to focus on my family and ensure we are set up for success in the new city.

This past year has seen deployment and moving for our family. If you have ever had to one or both, you know how stressful it can be. So how do you make it through? Where do you start? How do you face this giant change?

Here are three things I have learned in the process of deployments and moving that I think might help you too.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Bh failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
  • Be Prepared.

As with any change, the more prep work you do the better. Having a member of your family move or deploy is a huge shift in daily living. The balance of daily life changes. Who takes out the garbage? Mows the lawn? Makes dinner? Add into this crazy shift, kids. Kids ask questions (often the ones parents do not have the answers to). Kids act out because they see the unfair nature of sending a family member away for a significant length of time. All this can – and will – lead to disaster if we are not careful.

You have to prep. Spend time talking about the transition with your kids. Let them be a part of the planning process. Let them know you are all on the same team working for the same goal. Let them know where they can partner with you and how they might be able to step up (especially great for pre-teens and teenagers). Let them know how you plan to help them and ask them for ideas on how you can help them.

  • Be honest.

It is easy to get into the mind frame that you can do it all. Be everything to all people. But that is a myth. We all know it. We must be honest – with ourselves and those around us. It is ok to admit you need help. I am so thankful to my friends the Nelsons who came over multiple times to help me fix broken things while Hubby was gone. I am thankful to the Speers who would fix my car when it broke. I am thankful to Keiffers who let us enjoy holidays with them (and the occasional hang out).

Being honest when I asked for help made all the difference in how I processed the day. I knew that there were resources and people out there who wanted to see me succeed.

But honesty with yourself (and those who ask if you need anything) is not enough. You must be honest with your kids and spouse. Kids notice things (usually the stuff you do not want them to). So be honest. Let them the reality of the deployment. Let them know what to expect while the spouse is gone or what to expect when they get to the new house. Just like you do not like to be blindsided by change, kids hate it more. Be honest with them and the doors for open communication. Remember, sometimes just knowing there is someone out there who understands what you are going through is enough to make a world of difference.

  • Be Happy. Do Good.

In America, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  There is a Will Smith movie that shows the struggle on this pursuit of happiness. King Solomon (credited as the wisest man who ever lived) said in Ecclesiastes 3:12-15, “’I know there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live,” and in Proverbs 17:22 he states, “A joyful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”  Happiness and joy are innate in us.

However, today more people are plagued with depression, fear, and anxiety than any other time in history. (I honestly find this ironic since we live in the healthiest, richest, and safest time ever). So how do we stay out of this negative mindset when faced with deployments, moves, and sometimes worse? Follow Solomon’s advice.

Laugh. Laugh often. Enjoy the small things so you can appreciate the big ones. Do good. Get out of your own head and help someone else. Volunteer. Write a letter of encouragement. Have a cup of tea with your elderly neighbor. Be happy. Do Good.

Deployments and moves are hard. That is reality. But they do not have to be destructive or tough. Remember, you got this. All you need is to be prepared; be honest; be happy and do good.

For more on deployments and PCS moves, check out my Facebook page.

The Value of Friendships and How to Build Them

Transitions are hard. From deployment to moves to starting a new normal after COVID-19 quarantines, you can expect challenges to come at you left and right. Sometimes it feels like us versus the world. Sometimes that is true. But there is a way to push through, fight back, and end up on the other side better, stronger, and happier.

I watched a great movie with my best friend and husband recently, TAG which reminded me of the value of friendships in all circumstances. It got me thinking about my great friends across the country and the years we have been there to laugh, cry, and dance in the rain together. It helped me realize the importance of friendship in transition (be that deployment, move, health diagnosis, or something else entirely). Here are three things I have learned about creating friendships that last a lifetime.

1. Strength in Community

In life, support makes or breaks you. Without it, you walk a tight rope with no safety net. With it, you walk a tight rope with a smile. A good support system includes people who are willing to walk with you in your best and worst moments; people who know when to check in because they know you; people who know when to let you figure it out because they know you.

Ever notice how the most influential leaders surrounded themselves with a quality support system? Abraham Lincoln had his wife and Joshua Fry Speed. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his wife and Ralph David Abernathy. Gandhi had Charles Freer Abernathy. Jesus had the twelve, but within the one, he had the inner circle of three. If they could not face the challenges of this world alone, why do we think we can?

In Ecc. 4:9-12, the wise King Solomon said, “two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

As we walk through life, we must remember we do not do so alone. Every part of our life touches another’s. It is ok to ask for help. It is ok to let people in. It is ok to spend the afternoon enjoying a cup of tea with a friend. Do life together. For more ideas on community, check out my blog on thriving during transitions.

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

2. Build Strong Friendships

I won’t fool you – the building is hard. Letting someone in to see the real you is difficult. But it is SO important to a quality life. But there are so many people out there in it for themselves, how do you know where to start?

  • Start by choosing the people you want in your community. This could be family or friends. Church, community organizations, and volunteer groups are a wonderful place to start.
  • Serve. Serving is a terrific way to see people for who they are. Are they someone who genuinely cares about the cause? Or are they someone who wants the limelight? Is this someone you want to invest in or have invest in you?
  • Spend time with people. My favorite way to spend time with people is by strolling a farmers’ market, playing games, or having a nice cup of tea/coffee/wine (depending on circumstance). It is in the conversation you get to know people. If you cannot do these things, write letters (I love getting mail that is not a bill) or Zoom/Skype someone. Just take the time. Just like plants and a good wine, time makes relationships sweet.
  • Don’t tell everything about yourself at the very start. Take time getting to know each other. Be honest (but smart). Not everyone is going to be quality; not everyone is going to be in your life forever; not everyone is going to safe with your information. If you wouldn’t want it blasted virally on social media, keep it to yourself until trust and need-to-know have been established.
  • Don’t think a no is a no forever. Sometimes people are just busy (or stressed). They want to hang out and invest but have no idea where to start in the chaos of their mind and life. Keep the door open for future invites and be sure to check in on them to see if you can serve them. Sometimes knowing someone is out there who cares is just as important as spending time over a cup of Joe.

3. Be the Person You Want to Be Friends With

Photo by Rodolfo Quiru00f3s on Pexels.com

I have lived everywhere from CA to MD in big cities and small (having moved 25+ times in 20 years). I can say without hesitation, people are guarded, wary, and skeptical. They have every right to be. Today’s world is infested with social media telling us what we should look like, act like, be like. Let’s face it: magazines are photo-shopped -NOT REAL. Let’s own it: we put on social media the best of our lives and hide the not-so-great. Let’s take accountability: We prefer looking down at a screen than straight across at the face of who we speak to because…here is the killer….it is easier.  Then we complain we have no real friends.

Tough love, but true. If we want genuine friends, we must, as Jesus said, “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  What that looks like is different for everyone (because we are all uniquely and wonderfully made). But the basic principle is the same: treat people with respect and you will have respect. Treat people with love (thinking of them above yourself), and you will be surrounded by love. The best part of this, when you treat people the way you want to be treated, it opens doors to new people, possibilities, and brings joy. So, why not?

Friendships enrich your life and improve your health. You can find so much strength in quality communities. Building strong communities can help in transitions from life change moves to life-changing diagnoses. They provide places to laugh, cry, and be real in. Being wise in developing community and friends can ensure you have lasting friendships for life.

For more on developing friendships and community, check out my Facebook page.