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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.

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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!

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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.

Valentine Fun with the Kiddos

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My son reminds me so often to celebrate the little things.  He gets excited for every holiday – EVERY holiday.  From Groundhog’s Day to Battery Day (February 18) to the traditional New Years’ to Christmas Day.  Need some fun creative days to celebrate, check out this fantastic calendar! He reminds me that each day has a reason to be celebrated. 

But, he also reminds me daily how hard it is to be a parent.  Some days, weeks, months (if you have that teenager), it is so easy to focus on the negative.  “My kid isn’t…. (fill in the blank) and should be.”  Grades are down, a call to the principal’s office, a truancy notice.  Some days it can be hard to want to love on our kids.

But, this month of love, I think we can (and should) do better.  Our kids need to know they are loved just as much as we need to know our spouse or significant other loves us.

Here are some ways to bring more love into your relationships with your kids:

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  1. Encouraging words. We parents are often so quick to bring to light the negative actions of our children.  And there is a good reason for that (discipline is essential to growth and development).  But how quick are we to bring encouragement?  When was the last time you told your kid you were proud of them? Impressed by them? Complimented them? This month, I encourage you to try to do this once a day and see how much richer your relationship with your child gets.
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2. Play.  This is so hard!  Most parents work and parent. By the time work is done, we are exhausted and tired and the last thing we want to do is get on the ground and play blocks or Lego with the kiddos.  We don’t have the energy to play a video game or draw.  When we spend time with kids, the adults typically chose the activity.  I encourage you this month, to purposely set aside 30 minutes a day where your child gets to pick the fun activity and then pour heart into it.  After all, aren’t they more important than a replaceable job?    

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3. Cook.  It is amazing what bonding happens over food.  The smells.  The textures. The colors.  Cooking together is a great way to get quality time naturally.  Teaching how to cook or experiencing new recipes and flavors together invites conversation, laughter, and play into the home. Enjoy the mess.  Enjoy the yummy product.  Enjoy the time with these precious children.

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4. Apologize.  How often have we yelled at our kids out of anger?  Frustration? Exhaustion?  How often have we gotten on to them about disrespect? Self-control? The choice of words?  Too often as adults, we do not practice this vital step in our relationships with our children.  Then we wonder why the attitude doesn’t change or the disrespect increases.  We must be willing to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness from our children when we respond negatively to them.  They will practice what is modeled to them.  Apologize.  Talk it out with them like you would in the reverse.  Grow together.  Be stronger together.

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5. Date night: We make it a priority in my home to have a date night with my spouse.  But, I think this same tradition should be made with the kids.  Quality one-on-one time with each child is essential.  It allows the child the opportunity to speak freely, laugh honestly, and get needed coaching without an audience of siblings.  It is a perfect time to pour in honest discipleship into the next generation – who loves you above all other people.  Once a week, take your kid out or spend some time in, just you two, and see how they prosper.

What are you doing to fan the flame of love in your children?

The Truth About Valentine’s Day

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In the dark of night, under the cloak of secrecy, she said, “I do” to the man who had walked with her through the pain and terror and the excitement and laughter of the past two years.  Quietly, guided by the whispers of the Christian priest Valentine, he said, “I do,” with a silent prayer that it would not be for the last time.  In the morning he would be headed off to war – to battle – called to fight for Claudius II Gothicus, one he does not believe in for a cause he does not agree with, at the penalty of death. His only earthly light was the love of this woman beside him.  The least he could do was set her up to be taken care of should the unspeakable happen.

There are many stories behind the history of Valentine’s Day.  Some say it was because St. Valentine performed secrete marital ceremonies against Emperor Claudius II Gothicus’s decree against engagements and marriages in Rome.  Some say it was to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia (a celebration of purification and fertility).

Whatever the reason, the reality is we celebrate the day in practice as a way to celebrate those we love.  The day has become one to celebrate your significant other.  But, it is more than that. 

For those of us who have to spend days like this apart from our “better-halves” or for you single parents who are widowed, left, or worse, it is a day to remind you that you are alone. 

I do not think that is true.  I think this day is a great way to remember those who love you and those whom you love. It is a day to act in love, mercy, and kindness.  It is a day to remember that you are never alone.  A day to count your blessings.

In a social distancing world, where we have pitted ourselves against the other because of a sniffle or politics or the way we dress, this is a great time to remind ourselves that we all bleed the same.  We all cry, laugh, mourn and dance.  This is a time to change our hearts and practice what we preach – love.

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Here are some ways to bring more love into your marriage: 

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  1. Schedule priority time together. I have said this again and again….dating should not stop just because we said, “I do.” Dating should just be beginning. We change so much as we grow. Dating helps keep us connected to the changes of the other person. This is valuable invested time in the marriage. Pull out your calendars and set a date every week or two—just to spend time together and talk.
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2. Laugh together. One of the reasons I married my awesome husband was he made me laugh.  That sounds cliché, but in reality, it is really hard to get me to laugh – much less guffaw.  Laughter truly is the best medicine and brings healing and bonding.  When was the last time you shared a funny story and chuckled with each other? We like finding little jokes and sharing them with each other (especially when we are apart for work).  As the song goes, “Girl, let your hair down.”  Laugh freely – give yourself permission.  Live lightheartedly!

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3. Play together.  I love this one.  It is so easy to forget how to play as adults when faced with the reality of the world.  We get stuck in bills, taxes, doctor appointments, and dinner we forget how to play.  That childlike view of the world disappears.  Another reason I adore my husband, he makes it easy to find that child again.  We love to play together.  We especially like crating together (and yes, I will watch the stories of the video games he plays…they can be quite good).  I encourage you to find a hobby or activity you both enjoy: fishing, bowling, tennis, hiking, biking, crafting.  It is also ok to take turns on things only one of you enjoys and spend time doing what the other likes.  You learn a lot about your mate that way.

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4. Be romantic together. It is no secret to those who know me well, I love words of affirmation.  I love hearing compliments.  I love quality time hanging out with Hubby.  My husband, on the other hand, loves gifts and service.  He feels most loved when something has been done for him or a special trinket arrives for him. Our love languages are different, but not incompatible.   For my birthday I asked my husband to write a letter, poem, or story of why he loves me.  For his Christmas present, I cleaned the garage and got him the gaming system he wanted.  Send your spouse a note of encouragement in the mail every once in a while, just to say, “I love you.” (I keep a list and little sticky notes around my office and bathroom of the romantic and uplifting things he has said to remind me on days that feel distant). When possible, spend one or two weekends away each year just with your spouse. (No buddies or children allowed.)

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5. Be grateful.  I was reminded this week how much we take for granted in marriage and in partnership.  It is easy in marriage to compare the circumstance of each other and think one has it harder than the other.  In reality, it is just as hard for your spouse as it is for you.  That is why love is a choice.  Love is work.  Love is patient. Love is kind.  Love keeps no records of wrongs.  So, say “Thank you” to your spouse.  You know you are not perfect.  They choose to love you anyway. They choose to work through your baggage with you.  They choose to walk through life with you.  So thank you.  Purpose your days to see all the things they do that make your life better and acknowledge that. 

While Valentine’s Day is a good time to put some spark into your relationship, the only way to fan the flame of a good relationship is for every day to have a Hallmark moment. 

What are you doing to fan the flame of your marriage?

Your Words Are Powerful: 8 Positive Speaking Habits to Build Yourself Up

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Last week, I spoke of texting some friends about the state of the world and changing the conversation to more positive thinking.  When I asked for them to let me know 3 things they were grateful for, the first response was, “Not a whole lot of good these days. I’m alive and healthy.  That is pretty much it.”

My heart sank.  This person has a wonderful family, two beautiful children, income, and has a spark for life that challenged me to better since the day I met her.  Have our lives really come to this?  The only thing to be thankful for is breath?  (Don’t get me wrong, breathing is powerful, important, and amazing!  But, honestly, there is so much more to be grateful for).

This got me thinking.  Have you ever heard yourself saying:

“This is too hard/impossible to….”

“I could never do….”

“I’ll try, but no guarantees.”

“This is such a nightmare!”

If you lived through 2020, chances are yes. When we do this, we set ourselves up for failure.  We set ourselves up to find the nightmares, the impossible, and to dwell on the negative.  Psychological research has found that your subconscious interprets what it hears literally. This means your mind and body will follow the direction your words lead. In other words, your words are POWERFUL!  If you want more opportunity, life, love, etc. project the positive things into the world each time you open your mouth – or more importantly, repeat in your mind.

Your words can change how you view yourself and your body.  They can transform dreams into goals and goals into reality.  They can also create negative thoughts, feelings, anxiety, and depression.

Those who speak negatively, view life and all circumstances as negative.  They create a pattern of negativity in their life.  Those who speak positively, view the glass half-full to speak, are achieving goals and success in all aspects of their lives.

The language we use impacts on how we are perceived by others.  I have created entire teams based on the language they use.  Negative language leads to demoralized teams and failures.  Making excuses leads to missed deadlines and disunity.  Positive language leads to success in the face of difficulty.  Giving solutions leads to moving forward on a project. 

Our brain and mind are powerful.  They ensure our body functions daily without our thoughts.  They ensure we learn and grow.  They are rewireable! Let’s do just that! Spend 24 hours monitoring your speech (and thoughts).  Then, have someone else do the same for the next 24 hours.  Then, you can really see where changes need to be made.  This puts you firmly in command, shifts your energy and, in doing so, makes you someone others want to listen to.

Dated picture of me as drum major of my high school band circa 2002-2003

1. Have a drum major mentality: Drum majors lead bands of hundreds in intricate field shows and parades.  Their heads are held high – eyes on the horizon.  Their posture is straight, and they march with confidence.  Their facial expressions are strong.  Their tone of voice carries authority.  Stand up tall.  Shoulders back.  Smile.  Take on the world with a posture of authority.  This will amplify your presence, and it will ensure the words you say come out in a way that will have an optimal impact on who hears them.

2. Reframe your words and thoughts:  As Henry Ford so aptly put it “If you think you can or you can’t, your right.” Stop thinking “I can’t” and “I won’t.” Instead, see yourself accomplishing things and change your language to “I can” and “I will.”  Speak “I have love”, I love,” and “I create…”. 

3. Absolutes are not your friend: I teach my son taking tests, absolutes are wrong.  If the question states only, always, never, etc.;  pick the answer false. Ignore that answer in the multiple-choice questions.  Don’t use this language in your test-taking or your life.  Instead of “They are a complete idiot”, say “they see things differently.”  Instead of “I could never” state, “I can with help.”

4. Stop apologizing: My older brother has hounded me on this for years.  It is a hard habit to break.  I apologize for not agreeing, for someone else bumping into me, for my success.  Why?  To bring me down so others feel better?  As Rachel Hollis put it, Girl, Stop apologizing! You have value.  Your success does not minimize others.  Stop.  Just be respectful.

5. Ditch “Should”: Growing up I wanted to be a Navy Seal.  I was told I could not because I was female.  So then, I wanted to be the first female president of the US. (I even attended the National Young Leaders Conference in DC and had my first interview at a lobbying firm at age 15).  Then I became a mom.  My dreams took a back seat.  (Don’t get me wrong – I do NOT want to be President or a Navy Seal now).  The word “should” entered my life as an excuse.  “I should write more, but my son needs…,”  “I should work out more, but my life is too busy,” “I should eat more fruits and vegetables, but I am on the road too much.”  I had to learn to change “should” to “could.”  “I could write more when I plan it in my schedule,” “I could work out more with an accountability partner,” “I could eat more fruits and vegetables when I bring them with me on the road.”

6. Commit. Don’t try: When we say, “I’ll try” we are not committing to anything.  When we do not do it, we excuse ourselves.  When we commit we congratulate ourselves. A simple change from “I will try to work out this week” to “I will work out this week” commits our minds to accomplishment.  There is a reason why Nike’s slogan “Just do it” is still impactful decades later.  As I tell my son and the youth I work with, break up with “try” and marry “will.”  Stop trying.  Start doing.   

7. Stop labeling: I love labels!  If you look at my kitchen, labels are everywhere!  But, labels in life, are limiting and debilitating.  Labeling yourself as “lazy”, “fat,” “disorganized,” “spender,” “terrible at…” tells your brain you are those things.  Just because you are those things today, does not mean you have to be those things tomorrow.  You CAN change! Start saying things like, “I am hardworking,”, “I will be organized,” and “I will be better with money.”  Change is one step away.

8. Problems are opportunities in disguise: We all have “problems.”  What differentiates successful people is how they look at problems.  Successful people look at problems as opportunities.  Instead of “I failed” and “Well, that didn’t work” they look at problems as “I know what doesn’t work.” Instead of “What a nightmare!” it becomes, as my son says, “What an interesting challenge.”

You are capable of more than you think.  You do not have to live in this state for the rest of your life.  You have the power to change.  You are amazing.  You are wonderfully made.  You have a unique purpose.  Choose to speak what brings out the best in you.  Be more positive and see the change it makes in your life. 

I would love to hear how your positive words and thoughts are making impactful changes in your life and the lives of those around you. Drop a comment.  If you like what you read, please share.  Together, we can make this world a positive one.

New Year New You: 5 Tips for a Happy Healthy New Year

Congratulations!  You survived 2020!  Whew!  If you are anything like me, it felt touch and go there for a while. 

Welcome, 2021!  After last year, it will be really easy for you to be better. 

But, how can we be better? Better physically? Emotionally? Mentally?

Five days into 2021 and the world was shocked by riots in Washington, DC.  I had a few friends reach out in utter dismal disappointment.  Five days.  That was all it took for them to feel like they had no hope in the world. 

I introduced this group of friends, whom I love dearly and have known most of my life, to one of the five practices I will share with you today.  That group text went from disappointment and fear to light and edifying.

How can we be the best we can be in 2021?  Here are five simple steps I use that may help you.

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  1. Live Loved: Don’t be a slave to emotions.  The last year was a roller coaster of emotions – fear, anger, depression, hope, joy, defiance.  We have all felt them in such intensity for so long, it is easy to forget the most powerful emotion, word, magic, verb in the world: Love. As Lysa Terkerst so aptly put it, “No one can soar to the place of living loved when it’s a performance-based endeavor.” It is time to stop treating ourselves like we are reacting vessels.  It is time to start acting.  Time to reclaim the gift you are to the world.  You are uniquely and wonderfully made for a purpose for a time such as this.  Claim this.  Love yourself.  Love all the uniqueness that is you.  Love the quirks.  Love the weaknesses.  Love the strengths. 
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2. Love your body: It took one hour for my inbox to be flooded with weight loss and exercise tips and workout boot camp invitations from when the ball dropped on December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2021.  First, let me remind you: the weight loss industry is designed for you to FAIL and they KNOW it.  So, ignore that. You know what you should eat and how you should work out. The healthiest thing you can do is start where you are and love your body. I love the above picture – she is so graceful and confident! Find one thing on your body you like and look yourself in the mirror daily and complement it. Eventually, you will come to love it and be able to find more things to love about yourself. When you love yourself, much like when you love a child, you want what is best for yourself.  See yourself as the healthier version of you now and you will find you start choosing the healthier food at the store, ignoring the food table at gatherings, and investing in the people you are with more. 

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3. Speak Life: This past year has brought out the worst in people.  Our language has turned against each other – our politics, our friends, even our families have been divided over how we view the state of things.  Division is high and our language isn’t helping.  Instead of listening to the views of others, we ignore them.  Unfollow.  Unfriend.  We spread hate and insult those who disagree.  We speak negativity and hate.  But, our words have power.  2021 is a time to take our tongues back.  It is time to speak love and life.  We are uniquely made, so we have different opinions.  That does not make one stupid and the other brilliant.  It means our lives are different and the realities of what is happening in them are different.  Stop. Listen. Then speak love.  When we change our language to love and light we open doors to unity, growth, wonderful friendships, and grand love.

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4. Be grateful: If follow me, you know how much I believe in the power of gratitude.  There is a change that takes place in the heart when we recognize things we are thankful for.  This year, thank you body.  Your body does amazing things all day with your consciously thinking about it.  Blood cells move to make sure organs work. White blood cells come to fight off bacteria and viruses.  You have completely new skin every 27 days! Thank your body.  Your family knows the worst of you (you know what I am talking about) and loves you anyway.  Thank your family. Your teachers, therapists, and doctors are working diligently (some more than 60 hour weeks) to help ensure a healthy and smart community.  Thank them.  I practice a discipline of gratitude daily.  I attempt to write out 3-5 things daily I am grateful for.  This is particularly helpful on those days I am tired or short-tempered.  It recenters me.

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5. Take Chances:  The new year is a great time to evaluate where we are and decide where we are going.  What will your path be this year?  One of anger and hate? One of love and acceptance?  One of accomplishment? One of excuses?  Be honest with yourself when you make this evaluation, and start moving those dreams to goals. Dreams are passing thoughts – goals are paths to reality.  Goal setting can be easy and fun. So dream big and start making the reality you have always wanted. If you are new to goal setting, pick a small goal.  Maybe you want to lose weight and have yo-yo dieted for years.  Instead of a diet, set a goal to drink more water daily, or eat less sugar.  This is quantifiable and you can it in baby steps. The single change will have a big change.  Maybe your goal is to write a book – but you are not sure you’re an author.  Set a goal to write 10-15 minutes two days a week.  This is measurable and will get you in the practice to write the book later.  Whatever the goal, if you survived 2020, you are set up with more grit, strength, and perseverance than you ever had in the past.  Claim that and use it as fuel to take chances of making your dreams a reality.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am stronger than I ever knew and able to do great good.  I want you to know: you are loved.  You are smart.  You are important. You can do all you set your mind to. You are uniquely made for such a time as this. 

I would love to hear your goals and thoughts on how you are going to make 2021 the best year yet. Drop a comment.  If you like what you read, please share.  Together, we can make this world a positive one.

5 Simple Steps to Surviving Winter Break

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I loved winter break as a kid, a student, and as an adult.  I love the opportunity to take some time to reset, renew, and rejuvenate before the new year begins.

This time of year offers a great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends (something I think we all need more of this year).  It also offers the ability to slow down; remembering this time of year is not about us.

Winter break is also notorious for creating conflict with children, turn off our brains, getting out of routine, and all-around can be a formula for disaster (something no one wants more of this year).

We have learned for our winter refreshment some simple steps that decrease conflict and increase the quality time (all while keeping our brains fresh and working for the coming semesters).

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  1. Set a routine: It is really easy to let our kids run amok during school breaks.  After all, it is vacation time, right?  Ture, but when you plan a vacation to Disney World or on a cruise, you have an itinerary.  Why would you not have a similar concept for your stay-cations? We have found that even the littlest routine is in place, behavior and attitude are much better all around.  Our vacation routine consists of ensuring all chores are completed, some reading is done, some time outside playing, and perhaps a craft is done before turning to any computer or television screen.  For some more tips on screen time, check out my blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?
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2. Join a Reading Program: Words have power. Books have power. For those who follow me closely, it should come as no surprise I incorporate reading into our lives – even on vacation.  A great way to incentive this (and keep our brains working), is to join a reading program.  This is a great way to keep kids (and adults) reading year-round, but especially during school breaks.  Many local libraries have winter break challenges.  We particularly like Beanstack.  This site allows you to find local reading challenges near you (or create your own).  Many challenges have tangible rewards.

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3. Plan at least 1 outing a week: Many are averse to this for money’s sake and others are adverse to this for COVID-19 sake.  I understand both of these.  However, neither should prevent you from getting outside and enjoying the beautiful world around you.  For those concerned about money, many zoos and museums offer great deals for the year for family memberships.  For those worried about COVID-19, a hiking trail is a great way to be outside, seeing nature and enjoying the beauty around you.  Either way, getting outside your home once a week during the break prevents Cabin Fever from setting in and taking over.

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4. Give a Project: This should be something they can do in the allotted time.  Projects offer a way to feel productive and successful at the end of the break.  More importantly, if you help your child with the project, it can be a great time for bonding and making memories.  Some projects to consider for winter breaks: rearranging the room and painting it (let them choose the color and help); painting a scene or picture onto a canvas, building a new bookshelf (or re-purposing furniture).  For those with younger children, some projects might be arts and crafts, sorting through toys they no longer want, writing a comic book, or a story with illustrations. If your child plays an instrument, this is a great time to give a new song to practice and then a recital at the end of the two weeks to celebrate.

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5. Schedule Active Family Time: I love family time.  My family tries to set apart an hour a day to just be with family – no screens, no phones, no distractions.  But, that can be difficult (especially with my and my husband’s jobs).  How do we manage?  We set a specific time and put our phones on silent or away (we do have to keep them out sometimes due to the nature of work). Then, we let our son pick the activity. Often he picks games (we like games a lot in my family).  Sometimes he picks art or going for a walk or bike ride.  Then we do that.  It is our time to invest in each other.  Some of our favorite family games are Shut the Box, Speak Out, Apples to Apples, Quiddler, Phase 10, Uno, Pictureak, Boggle, Scrabble, Concept, Clue, and Sorry.

We are hoping this winter break is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  May these simple tips be as useful to you as they have been for us. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good break! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours.

10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.

It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world.  This year peace seems so much farther away than usual.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace.  May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.

  1. Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life.  Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness.  Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath.  Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass.  Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine.  this more a routine.

2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives.  In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

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3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature.  Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other.  More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration.  But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day.  For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

5. Read/watch something uplifting:  What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel.  Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car?  This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior.  When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things.  Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.

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6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows.  Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that.  But, during that time, we are still taking in messages.  Use this time to listen to what is uplifting.  In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to.  Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music.  At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.

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7. Write down your worries…then burn them:  This is one of my favorite things to do.  There is something powerful about writing down the worries.  It gives them a concrete feeling.  And concrete can be destroyed.  Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits.  Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear.  Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them. 

8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships.  We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax.  But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love.  As a military family, we have lived all over.  It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us.  The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them.  But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this. 

9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better.  But, more importantly, I feel better.  When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally.  I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn).   However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.

10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.

This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity.  May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.

From “Give me” to “Give them”: 4 Simple Ways to Get Back to Christmas

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Hot cocoa. Chestnuts on the fire. Family and friends and loved ones.

Kids around the world have begun shouting at commercials, “I want that!” Toy catalogs are being circled with hopes and dreams of young and old.

But, for many, this year has brought heartache, fear, and darkness. Families and friends seem farther away than ever before. Fear clutches the hearts of even the most stoic.

But, it does not have to be that way. We can embrace the real and true meaning of Christmas – the greatest gift of all time. To celebrate this gift, my family has incorporated one of my favorite holiday traditions.  I thought I might share with you how we have changed our house from a “Give me!” to a “Give them” household.

  1. Elfing: It is better to give than receive – especially when you go out elfing.  This is similar to “Booing” (a Halloween tradition).  Many do this for friends and family, but my family likes to find those in need.  We like to find the families struggling to get by, but would never ask for help.  We like to find the families that feel so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, that the simple act of love changes their life.  Some years we choose a single-family and “elf” them weekly for the month of December.  Some years we “elf” a different family in need every week.  But, it is a weekly part of our Christmas tradition. All you need is a goody bag – or – stocking. Fill them with Christmas fun! Things like coloring sheets, crayons, candy, card games, elf hats, and ornaments are great. Cookies are a favorite of ours. **Tip: The Dollar Tree is a big money saver for small trinkets and fun children’s toys.  Have the kids help choose the filling.  Then wait till dark, load up the kids, and leave the gift on the porch.  Ring the bell and RUN! RUN! RUN!  The best part of “elfing” is no one “knows” it was you.

2. Christmas Caroling: Music is powerful!  I spent years studying how music is used to create culture.  But, of all music, there is something unique about Christmas music.  The way it brings peace, hope, and love to even the darkest places is incredible.  This year, with so many shut-ins, senior citizens, and families in quarantine, it is easy to think this tradition is out date.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  We have traditionally caroled with our Rotary Club and church groups, but this year, we are doing things, well, differently.  We are caroling via the internet.  Simply record yourself singing and send it to the same places you would normally go in person. If possible, make this a family event – my family loves singing together.

3. Give: This time of year is always a bombardment of “give me” from charities the world over.  Having spent more nearly 15 years in the non-profit sector, this is often the time of year where most of the budget comes in.  It can seem like everyone wants something.  We have learned to use that as teachable moments.  We present the different ways to give to our son, then we let him pick which ones should be a part of our giving.  He also saves all year a tithe (see my article on finances for more) and this time of year is when he chooses where to put it.  I highly recommend you look at the charities and non-profits in detail to know how they will spend that money – we ensure a majority of giving goes to the need (not the CEOs).  Charity Navigator is a great place to start.

4. Out with the Old: As a military family, we move a LOT. In 15 years alone I have moved 13 times.  We have discovered in moving, there is a lot we don’t use or need.  So, about five years ago we started a new practice (partly out of wanting to make moving easier and not having to purge a lot).  We decided that for every Christmas and birthday, for every 1 thing in, we donate 1 thing out.   This helps keep our house manageable but also allows our little to understand that the needs of others are year-long – not just once a year. 

So, whatever way you celebrate this beautiful time of year, I hope you find these simple ways to give away to remember what Christmas is all about.  May it help take off some of the “keeping up with the Kardashian” mentality at bay and bring us back to the heart of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!