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15 Easy New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Tips to Ace Your Next Test

Schools are back in session across the world.  Parents are all giving a collective sigh of relief.  Lunches are being packed, backpacks filled, and routine starting again.

Ahh!

But, along with school and routine, are tests, quizzes, and the inevitable paper.  Students across the world are giving a collective groan. 

Uhh!

Schools do not teach time management, study tips, or note-taking anymore.  These are all things that are supposed to be innate in our students these days.  I disagree.  I find these skills to be essential, not just academically, but professionally and personally as well.

Studying is an essential part of being a student in school or a student of life. These steps are used by my son at home who is reading 3 grades above grade level. These tips are especially useful for kids on the spectrum and help alleviate some of the stress that comes with school.  Here are 9 tips to help you ace that next test.

1)      Listen and pay attention: This sounds so simple.  In reality, this can easily be the hardest thing to do; especially if you have a mono-tone teacher, or find the subject taught to be boring.  Listening (not just hearing, but really taking in the information) is key to comprehension.  Pay attention is not just listening, but actively listening.  Ask questions.  Be engaged.  Be willing to learn.

2)      Make sure you understand the material: It is really easy to think you understand the material in a lecture, but then get home and realize you have no idea what happened in that class.  So, make sure you understand the material.  A great way to do this is to use elaborative integration and self-explanation.  Elaborative integration is asking how this information actually affects other areas of study or your life.  How does math affect your career choice?  How does the history of politics affect your personal life?  Self-explanation is essential.  Summarize the class to yourself.  Teach yourself.  If you cannot explain it to someone not in the class clearly, you need to study a bit more.

3)      Skim, skim, skim: This was essential to me as I got higher and higher in academics and had more to read in a shorter amount of time.  Skimming is essential to getting your brain in the right mindset to accept new material.  Skim chapter titles, headers, subheaders, fist sentences of paragraphs.  These will usually tell you the most important topics, ideas, and vocabulary likely to be on tests.  These can be the beginning of your study session notes.

4)      Take good notes: This is a hard one.  Some students want to write down everything in a lecture – word for word.  Some students only write single words.  Both are poor notetaking habits.  I recommend the Cornell Note Taking Process.   These actually allow for you the places to incorporate elaborative integration and self-explanation.  For those who are visual, this also helps for those who need academic doodling. 

5)      Distributed practice: I love this technique! Simply put, this means studying throughout the week instead of in one cram session.  The Cram Session is a technique used by students throughout the world, but it is not helpful in long term retention.  As academics (and life) build on each other like a high rise, it is essential to retain the information.  Using distributive practice to ensure retention.  Studying ten minutes a day for a subject (50 minutes a week) will ensure you retain the information and spend less time the day before a test (2 hours) trying to make sure to know the material.

6)      Interlevel practice: This practice is great to ensure recall.  This is mixing information when studying.  For example, if you have ten vocabulary words and you practice spelling them each word ten times each, you would be doing distributive practice.  If you were to practice the spelling words writing one word, then the next, then the next, and the doing this pattern ten times, you would be doing interlevel practice.  This can become a really good technique as you mix subjects as well.  We use dessert time to review grade-level material incorporating all subjects for this.  This also ensures we are out of a school setting and can be a little more silly.

7)      Create a study schedule: This sounds like a given, but it is the most forgotten part of scheduling. Most parents make sure there is time for the extracurriculars of football, soccer, dance , and music, but then forget that studying takes time too.  We have stopped holding our children accountable for studying until the day before a big test.  With a study schedule in place, there is sufficient time set for all subjects to be worked on without spending hours every evening on homework.

8)      Practice Tests: No one wants to hear more testing is needed.  This is a great way to get a feel for what you know, what you don’t know, and where you need to spend extra time.  You can create your own practice test using the keywords and questions taken in your notes.  Or you can create flashcards and practice that way.  The key is to practice. I like to start a session with a practice test early in the week, then use it at the beginning and end of every session following up to the test day.

9)      Review Often: Most students will review.  They just typically review the night before a test.  Use your downtime to review (going to and from school or practice).  I recommend reviewing the notes for the day at least 30 minutes after the class.  If you use the Cornell Note Taking System, this is a great time to pull out those headers, vocabulary, questions, and work on your summary of the notes.  This should take 5 to 10 minutes.  Review the week mid-week.  Review the material in detail the day before tests. Review of material often will ensure retention, clear focus during study sessions, and less stress the night and hours before a test.

Some of you (like most my family), naturally retain information with little work.  But, if you are like me, acing a test takes time and effort.  These simple steps can increase your retention, decrease your stress, and help you utilize your time management effectively ensuring a higher grade.

Let me know your favorite study techniques in the comments below.

10 Easy Steps to Successful Time Management – How to keep your School/Work/Home Life in Harmony

Sometimes it feels like life is a juggling act.  Juggling school and work.  Juggling play dates and cleaning.  Juggling parenting and being a spouse.  Juggling life.

How do we find peace in the chaos? Simple. Time management.

Time management is not a complex theory of life, as some may think.  Time management taking (or not taking) simple steps to make life easier. The continuous use of these simple steps will make you more productive at school, work, and life with an added benefit of decreased stress.

Here are the 10 steps of time management my family uses:

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1)      Allow time for planning and Make a List: Planning can often seem like a waste of time.  But, this small step at the beginning can save you tons of time at the end of a project.  We set a tentative plan for the month/week and modify as our needs change.  Life happens, plans change.  Planning ultimately allows for flexibility. We also use this planning time to make lists.  We love to check things off.  It gives a simple sense of accomplishment and keeps us motivated to move forward when things get complicated.  

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2)      Keep work with you: I don’t know about you, but I always seem to find downtime in my day.  Whether it be while driving or walking to an appointment, or waiting in line, or waiting for a doctor show to a scheduled appointment, I wait. Waiting is a part of life. Knowing how to use this downtime efficiently can be a huge advantage.  We have a choice. We can either scroll through a social media page or we can practice a new language or worksheet, or read a required book, or practice and review your notes for the day (study habits will be in the next blog).

3)      Be Realistic and Flexible: It is really easy to over commit.  We have to be realistic with our strengths and weakness.  We have to be honest with how long something is likely to take us.  Just as important, we have to be flexible.  Some of the most highly effective people have a “bumper” set in every schedule.  Do not schedule activities back to back.  Include a “bumper” of time to account for meetings/classes going long, traffic, accidents, forgetting your homework/assignment, and needing to head back to the house.  This will ensure you have flexibility without encroaching on others’ time.

4)      It’s OK to say NO: This took me a really long time to learn.  If I am honest, I still struggle with this. It is OK to say, “No.”  You do not have to agree to do everything everyone wants you to you.  You are only human.  Knowing your limits (time, personality, requirements for sleep), are all essential to creating quality products and lasting relationships.  If you do decline, just make sure to do it with grace, and perhaps a referral.  I like to decline with a “Thank you, but not at this time.  Perhaps you can consider So-and-so.  I think they would be very interested,” or “Thank you, but not at this time.  I would be happy to donate my time to next month’s fundraiser/money to the event/set up the flowers to be delivered/etc.”  This simple referral allows the other party to feel heard, valued, and perhaps come back to you for help at another more appropriate time.

5)      Find your productive time: I once watched an episode of Brothers and Sisters, where a political character stated, “I have done more by 8:00 am than most people do in a day.” This really stuck with me; so much so, I changed my entire schedule.  I am more productive in the wee hours of the morning than I am from noon to five.  So, I ensure my workday reflects that productive time.  I learned in grad school no one bothers me between the hours of midnight and seven in the morning.  So, I set up my focus hours then.  As a mom, I do not stay up all night but know I ensure I am at my computer no later than 6:00 am to start work.  Before work is prayer, meditation.  After work, I help with school, and then we do a workout, field trip, or fun activity to wind down for the day.

6)      Create a dedicated work/school schedule: Schedules are so important.  They help keep you organized and ensure you have set time aside to complete the required activities.  Knowing when you are required to work/school (and the prep time for each), helps to ensure you are not double booking, over-scheduling, or ignoring (for those procrastinators) an important task.  The trick is to keep the schedule flexible as needed, but it should be used in the majority of situations.

7)      Budget your time: Budget your time like you would budget your finances.  Track where you are spending time and where you are not using the time to your advantage. This will help you prioritize when is productive, what needs more focus, and where you can rearrange to have more productivity. B a clock-watcher.  If you know what time it is, you have a better grasp of your time throughout the day.

8)      Exercise to clear your mind: Physical movement is so important to both production and retention. Study after study shows a connection between physical exercise and productivity at work.  Some companies are even paying their employees to work out as it increases productivity, decreases stress, improves social connections, and oh, makes us healthier.  For students, exercising after learning a task has been shown to improve memory and retention. So, burn some calories, get stronger, and strengthen your brain and production all in one thirty-minute workout.

9)      Don’t get sidetracked: Distraction is the key to failure. My son is the king of distraction.  I can ask him to put the dishes aware and all of a sudden, I have a robot in my kitchen.  The trick to time management is not to get distracted.  We teach this to my son by using a HIIT timer.  He attaches this to his belt loop and every time it beeps it reminds him a) to be on task and b) that the allotted time to complete the task is diminishing.  To introduce this, we started it as a game.  Now, he uses it for everything from a work out to clean his room.   At work, I use the 25 minute rule. I work on a project without distraction (no emails, texts, or calls) and then can take a break between my next 25 minutes and catch up on all those things.

10)   Get a good night’s sleep: I love sleep. Good sleep.  The body was designed to do some of the most intensive work while we sleep.  Our bodies rebuild and process the day while we sleep.  Sleep is essential to process and retention, but also, for us to have the energy to complete another crazy busy day.  Sleep helps us learn, strengthen our memory, increases our creativity and insight.  Sleep does so much!   (learn more, strengthen memory, increase creativity and insight)

Now that you have some tips, take this quiz on where you are in time management to know where you might want to focus your attention in the future. Create your time-use log. Do it for at least 24 hours. The longer you do it, the more you’ll see where you lose/waste time. 

Why Dads Matter

“It is the primary task of every society to teach men how to father.”

Margret Meade, Anthropologist

Women are superheroes.  Women have, and continue to, change the world.  Women have been changing the world since the dawn of time.  Women’s suffrage, flying across the Atlantic, serving in politics on cabinets, supreme courts, scientific revelations, and Nobel prizes and incredible sports achievements are just some of the incredible feats women have contributed to bettering the world.  

It is easy to get drawn into the rhetoric that women do so much and should have equal rights (if not outright better treatment) with men.

Although I am all for women’s rights, equal pay for equal work, and representation in political fields across the world, I fear we are devaluing the very crucial role men play in developing not only society but our children.

Our children are bridges to the future. I do not believe there is anyone out there who feels there is nothing left to improve in our world. If you want a better future, we need to pour into the next generation.  We need to teach them lessons from both women AND men.  We need to take back the narrative for men and celebrate how very important they are.  Men, dads, and those in dad-like roles offer valuable teachers to our children. 

I am not saying women and mothers are not important to raising kids.  We are.  But in bringing attention to the value of women, we have diminished the value of men.  We celebrate when a woman gets a job, she is unqualified for, over a man.  We take little boys’ heroes like Thor and Iron Man and make them women.  We encourage women to “wear the pants” in a relationship. 

We wonder why men today and young boys can’t step up when the time is right. Don’t know how to treat a woman with respect and dignity. We wonder why little girls grow up to be in a relationship with bad and abusive men.  We wonder why women have low self-esteem and self-worth.

Fathers are so essential to teaching children to grow into wonderful adults who contribute to society and the family.  Science has shown involved, active fathers help have a positive impact on both the dad’s mental and physical health and the child’s ability to positively interact with society.

Recent research on the value of dad has shown some interesting correlations to the success of children. The involvement of dads in a child’s life has so many positive outcomes on the child.  Positive outcomes that then affect society in positive ways.  The presence of an active father changes the the world in four significant ways.

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1.       Less likely to be criminals: According to Dr. Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, kids without attentive fathers are three times as likely to find themselves in the juvenile justice system before the age of 18 compared to those with involved fathers. This is echoed in Kevin and Karen Wright, in their paper Family Life and Delinquency of Crime. Children who are disciplined by both a father and a mother are better problem solvers and less aggressive resulting in decreased delinquency.

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2.       Do better in school: Who doesn’t want their child to do better in school except for the parents of Matilda?  School is where kids learn socialization and self-worth alongside academics. A study published in Sex Roles in 2016, found that U.S. teenagers with supportive fathers had higher optimism and self-efficacy which transferred to doing better in school. These results even occurred when the father figures had little education and limited English.  Daughters, in particular, performed better in math. Sons did better in language.

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3.       Stay at jobs longer: Commitment is a huge deal in life.  Everything from an RSVP to knowing your job will be there in the morning is critical to a functioning society.  It used to be, not even two generations ago, people worked for a company for forty years and retired.  Now, a company is lucky to keep an employee for three years.  Research is showing dads are critical to teaching commitment to their children. Involved dads tend to raise children who are more committed. 

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4.       Less likely to gender stereotype: My dad taught me how to change a tire, mow the lawn, and install an electric switch (all traditionally male chores).  He also taught me how to study, how to do laundry, and make an excellent stew. When a father is involved, children see how men and women handle situations differently.  They lose the idea that only one gender should do a particular task.

It is unsurprising the value of dads in shaping our children and playing a significant role in changing our society for the better.  Sometimes we just need a little reminder. 

This #FathersDay let’s remember to thank Dad for all he does.  Take a little extra time to think about him and maybe get him something more than a tie or new pair of socks.

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing on some of the valuable lessons Dad’s teach us as children and showcasing some of the stories you have shared about your dads.  Send me stories on how you were taught, or your spouse was taught, one of these lessons for a chance to bring some positive light on these awesome men.

Click here for more resources on fatherhood and being and becoming a better dad.