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!

6 Steps to Building Your Family Relationships This Holiday Season

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I love the holidays.  I love the crisp air.  I love the tradition.  I love the colors.  I love the music. I love the time with my family.  I love spending hours trying to find the perfect gift.  I love the smells of great food only served during these special occasions.

But, I hate traffic.  I hate to travel.  I hate crowds.  I hate the demands of my family time.  Add in some COVID, a touch of election discussion, a dash of natural disasters, a splash of special needs, and the longer nights, and I find my exhaustion can (and sometimes does) lead to an attitude of complaining. I can lose focus on the good; I can (if I am honest), sometimes, even ignore those blessings right in front of me.

 I am so grateful for a husband who has helped me see this reality and the tips and tricks he has taught me to overcome this. I also know this is a year-round problem.  This is a lifestyle choice.  This is a daily choice.  So, here are some things my family uses to be grateful for the family and build our relationships.

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Count Your Blessings: The first step to having a gratitude attitude is to count your blessings.  As the old adage goes, name them one by one. For some tips on how to make this a daily practice, take a look at these simple steps.  Recognizing that, even though this year has been exhausting, challenging, and all around, awful for pretty much everyone, there is still so much to be grateful for. Take some time to name all the reasons you love your family; how they help; how they have grown; how far you have come toward goals.

Building Lego Airplane and Airport

Spend Quality Time with your Family: We make it a practice to spend at least an hour a night hanging with our little one.  It doesn’t always happen, but we try to make it a priority most nights.  This is the time our son picks what we do (the things that interest him).  We get down on his level.  We laugh with him. We celebrate with him.  As he has grown, this time has become more and more essential.  We often spend time cooking together or doing art together.  This is an intentional time we spend learning who he is and how amazing he is.  It is a reminder, especially on harder days, that there is so much light, love, and life to give to him and that he gives to us.

Family Game Night

Family Fun Night: These are my favorite nights!  My husband is usually in charge of planning these nights.  And he is so good at it!  Of course, we do the family game night, but my husband doesn’t stop there.  Having the same routine can become monotonous if that is all you do all the time.  So, we build Lego as a family or spend a night reading to each other.  Around the holidays, usually the first week of December, my family loves to read The Best Christmas Pagent Ever.  But here is a list of some books we have enjoyed reading together as well. 

Community Serve Day: Sending cards to those in senior homes

Family Work Days: I have a love-hate relationship with these days.  I hate getting started and how some tasks take WAY longer than they should do to teaching and training.  I love how we accomplish things as a family, I love seeing how my family grows in communication, strength, and bonds.  We set a goal for the day. Sometimes it is getting the garage clean.  Sometimes it spring cleaning (dusting, wall cleaning, re-organizing).  Sometimes, it is a community volunteer day where we volunteer at a local organization for someone else.  We really like these events being able to do things from helping the elderly to yard work for a non-profit.  We love being able to serve together.  This opens the door to so many life conversations that get missed in the daily chaos.

Family Work Out Night: 2 mile run and Card Deck Strengthening Game Night

Family Work Outs: I know what you are thinking…“No way!  Working out is for me to have a break from my kids” or “Nope, I don’t do that.”  Although there are numerous reasons to work out for your health and wellness, there is something more rewarding when you work out together as a family.  love to long-distance run together.  I am slow…very slow compared to my family who can run 2 miles in under 17 minutes.  But, we start as a family, and when they are done, they come back and finish with me – as a family.  I love the deck of card nights.  We use a traditional deck of cards and shuffle.  Each draws a card.  The number on the card tells us how many of the activity, the suite tells us what activity (hearts are abs, diamonds are pushups, spades are squats, and clubs rotate burpees, heavy ropes, punching bags, kicks).  There is so much variety with this, and it becomes a game.  We are completely out of fun ideas or need to get out of a rut, we find a new workout on Tubi, Amazon, or Youtube.   

Family Fun Hiking Day

Family  Fun Days:  My husband and son are as manly as they come.  They love to fish, hike, dig in the sand, and play in puddles.  I am as girly as they come.  I love to read, write, and paint.  We could not be farther apart on the spectrum.  But I love these days.  My boys will take me hiking into a beautiful wood, then stop for hot chocolate and smores before hiking back.  They have taken me fishing, while I bring a book, and enjoy watching them bring home dinner.  I love it when we go to the beach and play in the water, build sandcastles, and attempt to catch fish with our hands.  But, they love me too.  So, sometimes we find the free days at the museums and aquariums and learn about history and art for a day.  Zoos are great places to go as a family and spend time out in nature able to talk with each other.   Check out next week’s blog for more ideas on how to build your family relationships on a budget.

6 Steps to a Gratitude Attitude

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Happy Halloween!  Belated as it might be.  I apologize for the silence the past two weeks – technical issues abounded.  All bugs have been sorted and we should be fully operational.  Thank you for being patient with me.

This month is all about gratitude.  Thankfulness.  Something most Americans, and I would wager most first-world citizens, are in desperate need of. 

This past month, as a mom of an adolescent, I found myself often frustrated by the poor choices my son made.  It felt like no matter what we as parents did, my son was determined to make poos choices.  My son was successful in breaking something every – single – day for one week straight. Dealing with crazy work demands and trying to figure out how to balance everyone’s needs seemed more complicated than usual.

Honestly, there were some days it felt hopeless.  I felt the world against me.  I felt frustrated with the special needs I have to deal with, the demands of work for both myself and my husband.  I felt very alone. But that is never the case, is it?

So, how do we pull ourselves out of these dark moments as moms and dads?  How do we remind ourselves of the enormous amounts of blessings that are part of our lives daily? How do we develop a Gratitude Attitude?

Here are my five steps to having a Gratitude Attitude as a parent, and for life:

  1. PERSPECTIVEDid you know, according to an article published by Anup Shah in 2013, at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day ($3,640 annually)?  Almost 2 in 3 people lack access to clean water to survive on less than $2 a day ($884 annually)?  More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day?  More than 385 million live on less than $1 day ($364 annually)?  Or that 1.6 billion people (1/4 humanity) live without electricity?  The stats are a bit outdated, but the principle remains the same.  The first world has champagne problems.

As I write this, I am sipping my fair trade Laughing Man coffee (super yummy), my son is creating art with actual paper and pencils and we are enjoying a beautiful sunny cool fall day on the deck in our backyard.  We have a wonderful home, a beautiful big yard, and my husband and I both have jobs.  Our bellies are always full, and we can pull out water from any faucet (or our fridge) whenever the notion strikes.  And my son had enough in our house to break something every single day in one week and still, our house functioned just fine. I find a gratitude attitude starts with the right mind set – reset your mind.

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2. RENEW YOUR MIND: If you are like me at all, what you watch, read, scroll through, etc. all affect your state of mind.  When I watch scary movies, I get scared.  When I focus on the negative comments in a scroll, my mind is negative.  When I read an intense book, my anxiety rises.  We need to renew our minds – start treating them like we do our bodies. 

Just like a healthy body needs exercise and quality food nutrition, a mind needs exercise and quality food nourishment.  Reading is essential to renewing your mind.  Don’t just read novels (though I like those).  I find reading historical books, world solution books, and culture books help me to see the world from another’s perspective more.  I have attached some of my favorite books to help get you started in this.  

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3. MEDITATE: This sounds New Age and for some a little hippie, but what a difference it makes!  Most people picture meditation as sitting on a yoga mat with your feet crossed and saying,” om,” in a quiet voice.  There is so much more to it.  Meditation is simply the practice of focusing your mind.  What you focus on is just as important.  Focusing on whatever is true, beautiful, pure, lovely, admirable, think on these things.  For those who pray, this is a great time for that.  I find doing this throughout my day is beneficial to keeping my mind in a good place.  There are a lot of apps that can help make this a daily practice.  I like Calm and the Abide podcast.

4. WORKOUT I try to do a 30-60-minute workout four times a week.  Ideally, we should be moving our bodies cardiovascularly at least 30 minutes a day, but in life, I find that is not always possible. I have a love-hate relationship with working out.  I hate the getting started part…and doing the workout part.  But, I love how I feel when I am done.  I find I feel less stressed, more energized, and sleep so much better.  There are other benefits to working-out too – higher happiness levels, better success setting and meeting goals, improved memory, and concentration and so much more.  

5. GET OUT IN NATURE: In a world of computer screens, tablets, phones, and social media, we often forget the importance of getting outside. So often, people get their dose of nature from a documentary in the comfort of their own home. But that does not have all the same benefits of actually walking outside, getting sun on your face, and enjoying the sights and sounds around you.

There is a great article, The Positive Effects of Nature on Your Mental Well-being, published on October 16, 2020, that goes in-depth into the numerous benefits of nature. Here are just some of the highlights. Nature helps emotional well being, and memory focus (for those with special needs kids, this is a wonderful FREE tool). Nature lowers stress and helps those suffering from depression. Nature walks and other outdoor activities help build attention and focus. This is a great way to spend time with the family and increase school focus later. And one recent study shows spending more time outside and less time in front of a computer can help increase our problem-solving and creative thinking.

6. CHOSE JOY: This may sound the simplest, but it can be the hardest.  It is so easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of life – the doctor’s appointments, the tantrums, the politics of the world, the pandemic.  There is so much negative out there.  It is easier to find the negative and focus on that than it is really to choose joy.  This is different than happiness (a fleeting feeling).  Joy is a deeper peace and understanding that it is good in the world.  Good will win.  Joy is actively counting our blessings and naming them one by one.  This is hard in a society where we judge each other instantaneously on 15 different social media platforms.  This is hard when everyone’s voice is fighting to be heard.  This is hard when we encourage the negative in our feeds.  To make this a higher priority in my life, I have ceased actively participating in social media – outside of this blog and its Facebook page.  Oh, sweet relief!  Oh, calmer and happier self!  I highly recommend at least a social media fast for a bit and see how it affects your mental and emotional state.

Having a gratitude attitude is not always an easy process.  It is often contrary to our society’s love for drama, negatively, and sin – let’s call it what it is.  Our society has been constructed to be all about Me and less about others.  When we change our perspective to helping others and focusing our minds on what is true, noble, pure, and good, it is amazing how grateful we are.  It is amazing how truly blessed we are.  It is amazing how these small actions can change our lives for the better forever.

For more tips and tricks on how to have a gratitude attitude, check out my Facebook page.

9 Steps to Preventing and Stopping the Meltdowns and Tantrums

When people meet my son, they are often taken aback to learn he has a special need.  We are often complimented on how well behaved he is and how polite.  But, life was not always that way.

When our son was younger, could not speak at age five, and could not communicate to us anything without grunts, hitting, and kicking, we often felt like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller. 

Helen Keller’s first experience with Anne Sullivan (an ABA therapist if ever I saw one)

One Christmas, when he was younger, I remember walking into a store and my son pulling the most epic of tantrums because he could not get the toy he wanted.  This was literally five minutes into walking into the store.

He threw himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing about, and screaming like a banshee.  Words did not help. 

The stares started.  The condescending looks.  My husband and I were faced with a choice: give in and get him what he wanted so badly or stand our ground.

I am stubborn…we stood our ground.

My son did not expect what I did next.  My husband continued with the shopping trip while I hauled our son (kicking and screaming) back to the car. I then put him in his seat, shut the door, and stood outside in the safety and relative peace and quiet.

My son spent the next 15 minutes kicking, screaming, and hitting everything he could reach, in the safety of the car and seat.  I was there ready to open the door at any moment should he become unsafe, or once he calmed down.  The windows were rolled down a bit (all safety precautions were met).

Once he calmed down (and stopped seeing red), my husband and I were able to talk to him about his behavior and how that was unacceptable.

This was our turning point. This was when I began to dig into every parenting book for strong-willed children I could get my hands on, every podcast, Ted Talk, everything I could find out about our son’s needs, how his brain worked, and how we could help him overcome the challenges he was born with.

Here are the top 9 things we learned about how to prevent and stop meltdowns, tantrums, and mayhem.

1.       Start Small: If your child is anything like mine, then you probably want to tackle everything at once.  Potty training.  Tantrums. Cleaning. Manners.  Unfortunately, we do not learn that way. Pick one to three things you want to focus on.  We chose behavior in a store and classroom and transitions from preferred to non-preferred activities.  

2.       Prep: So often I hear of parents who cave in the market check out line when their child starts a tantrum.  Or parents tell me of how exhausted they are from calls from the school and parent-teacher conferences.  I get it.  We could time the first call from the school to the exact day in the school year (Monday week three).  We once had three parent-teacher conferences in the first week and a half of school.  What we learned, prep.  Prep the child with what is expected of them and what they will earn if they accomplish it. Prep the teachers what is expected of both child and teacher.  Teachers have to be on board.  We had a system where I texted the teacher daily what our son was earning and the expectations.  This was helpful for consistency throughout the day.

3.       Be Consistent: I am a big proponent of this and will say it again.  Consistency is key.  If your child thinks he plays a parent against the other, if she thinks she can get away with something at school and not at home, if a child sees a weakness in defenses anywhere – they will exploit it! Be consistent and work as a team.

4.       Incentivize: I get the most push-back on this.  “I don’t want to bribe my child.”  “I don’t want my child thinking they get a treat just for making choices expected of them.”  “I don’t want to bribe my child.” I get that.  First, an incentive is not a bribe.  A bribe is reactionary – an in the moment choice: “If you stop throwing a fit, then I will get you the candy you are hollering about.”  This teaches the child that enough public humiliation for you as the parent gets them what they want.  An incentive is a contract.  A contract between parent and child of what is expected on both sides.  If you keep your hands in your pocket in the store/if you use please and thank you/if you finish your homework without asking, then you get a balloon/piece of candy/star on your chart.  This is actually a great way to start teaching finances and economy as this is a practice we adults use daily.  Work an hour and I will pay you $10.00, don’t complete the work well, and you are fired. Instead of hourly work, they are doing task work – like an independent contractor.

5.       Diet: Food affects behavior.  Food was not something we originally tracked. I am so glad we did.  By tracking his food, in combination with behavior, we learned that within 24 hours (to the minute) of having dairy, our son would have very negative behavior.  We learned that when he ate a lot of processed food, high sugar foods, his focus decreased and his attitude was negative. We later learned this was because he was having stomach issues (he couldn’t tell us his stomach hurt).  A great cookbook that helped us get started on a healthier diet for him is The Brain Food Cook Book, written by a mom of a special need’s kiddo.  I have to say, some of our favorite recipes are in this book, and the tips on how to do this without breaking the bank and how the brain works is incredible.  Our son’s neurologist concurred and said it was because of his diet and his oxidated stress regime, our son did not need medication for his migraines and other neurological issues.

6.       Medication: If you can avoid it, I personally recommend avoiding medication.  In our experience, when Kennedy Krieger doctors told us they don’t know enough about the need and effect of medication long-term on children, we were very hesitant.  However, the school system we were in at the time, told us without medication they would not teach our child.  The daycare echoed this.  (NOTE: This is not legal, and we should have fought it, but didn’t know at the time we could).  The medication prescribed was only approved in adults with heart conditions.  The bi-product was helping with behavior in children, but no long-term studies had been done.  We later learned (three years on the mediation), that there were studies showing his medication could lead to cancer long term.  They did help.  If that is what you think is best for your child, do what is best for your child. 

7.       Oxidated Stress: This an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.  This occurs naturally.  There are some peer-reviewed studies showing this affects everything from thyroids (almost 5,000), cancers (nearly 90,000), ADHD (nearly 2,000), and Autism (nearly 3,000). How do you combat this naturally occurring process? Fruits and vegetables are a start.  We also switched to “clean” cleaning products (chemical free), decreased screen time, and increased time outside. We incorporated Protandim into our life.  After a month on this vitamin, our son’s monthly to quarterly ER visits for stomach migraines decreased to none in the past three years, our son’s focus and attention increased (he is 11 reading at a ninth-grade level and taking a college music course), and he has been completely off medication for three years (taken off under the care of his physician).  We get ours from Life Vantage (patented formula).

8.       Track: It is important to only start one behavioral change at a time.  Introducing too many variables at once will not let you know which ones do anything.  We started with diet, then added medication, then dealt with oxidated stress – which eventually got him completely off medication.  Track measurable things – how often the school calls, grades, attention while reading, how long it takes to complete a task. Below are some great resources we used, and use, to help us. I recommend making them editable and laminating them. This reduces waste and allows you modify based on age and behavior. Dry erase markers work great on these.

9.       Celebrate and Recycle: Celebrate the win! Talk with your child about how proud you are of their progress. Celebrate the hard work it took them to accomplish that goal. Then, start the process over on a new behavior or more advanced behavior.  Humans should never stop learning and growing.  This is especially important for children.  When one thing is mastered, move on to the next level or new behavior. 

For more ideas on how to help avoid meltdowns and mayhem, take a look at my Facebook page.