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.

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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.

7 Steps to Preventing Divorce Before It Starts

Marriage is a messy process.  Hollywood would have us believe marriage is happily ever after all the time.

“We grew apart.” “We just wanted different things.” “We had irreconcilable differences.” 

All of these things are often the reason for divorce. When they are simply saying the same thing – “We just didn’t invest in our marriage anymore; divorce was easier.”

Marriage is a choice.  Daily.  You must choose to love your spouse daily.  Choose to put their needs above your own daily.  Choose to see the good in them daily.  Choose to work as a team daily.

There is a reason weddings have vows and licenses are needed for marriage.  It is a heavy undertaking. 

Once the “honeymoon” has worn off (and it will), and life really sets in (death in the family, sickness, special needs, pandemics), that is exactly when the marriage starts.

It is easy to “love” when people agree with you and life is going your way.  It is a lot harder to love when you have been months out of work, or your spouse travels for work a lot, or your kids’ doctor’s appointments are never-ending and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

So how do you save your marriage before it fails?

1.       Avoid parenting your partner: I think this is harder for wives sometimes.  Often the comment about kids includes their spouse.  When we parent our partner, we are saying we don’t trust them as peers.  We actually disrespect them as adult humans.  We create a separation between us.  Instead, partner parent and see how that deepens your marriage.

2.       Embrace differences: Remember when you were dating and you just loved how different your partner was?  Being equally yoked is more than just a faith expression.  A yoke was used to pair animals together to work together toward a common goal.  It keeps animals moving in the same direction.  But, it only works well if you pair the right animals together.  A physically strong animal with a mentally strong animal is a great combination.  Marriage is no different.  You have been yoked together.  Where I am weak, my husband is strong and vice versa.  We pair well because we are different.  Embrace this especially in the hard times (like when one wants to grieve a diagnosis and the other pushes forward or one is fighting post-partum and the other fights PTSD).  

3.       Be proactive: Don’t let resentment build. I have so many people talk to me about how their partner doesn’t help parent, or clean, or spends too much time in front of the video game and not with their child.  But, these same people do not express that to their partner – the person who needs to hear it the most. Ask for help sooner.  If the laundry is becoming an issue, ask for help.  If mopping is your downfall, ask for help.  If you have to reschedule or re-order your schedule, ask for help.  The point of marriage is to have a  help-partner for life.  When we stop being helpmates and instead, become roommates, we invite separation and seeds of divorce to be planted.  

4.       Argue and Debate:  Hollywood has ingrained in western society that arguing is wrong and harmful to a romantic relationship.  Hollywood is stupid. Healthy arguing leads to creative solutions and stronger bonds.  I don’t recommend daily arguing, or insulting, or physically arguing, but a healthy argument and debate can lead to a deeper understanding of your partner, stronger family bonds, and some incredible solutions. Two different people are becoming one unit.  Change takes works, time, and is painful.  The orange tree doesn’t start with fruit.  It must stretch and go through growing pains, fight off insects and strong powerful winds, and more before it has a single fruit.  A good harvest is still years off at this point.  Marriage is no different.  Work. Argue. Learn. Grow.

5.       Get creative when it comes to romance: My husband and I have been on a handful of dinner and movie dates in the past six years.  We have a weekly date night.  It is easy to get comfortable and complacent in your date life.  Don’t.  Be creative.  Think about the other person. Take turns planning it.  Enjoy being silly or dressing up or just playing a game.  Dates do not have to be dinner and a movie.  Sitting in front of a movie where you can’t talk with your partner surrounded by a bunch of strangers is the farthest thing from a great date in my mind.  I much prefer creating something together or playing a game.  Check out these ideas for some creative date nights that won’t break the budget.  

6.       Appreciate each other’s efforts:  Share responsibility.  Before we married, we discussed the division of duties.  I dislike yard work.  He dislikes laundry and mopping.  We simply divided the chores.  His domain is outside and mines inside.  He is an excellent cook and I am a great teacher.  He does dinner and I do homework.  It is about balance, an equal yoke.  No one should feel they have all the responsibility all the time.  Remember, they are doing work and investing.  Thank them.  A “thank you, you are appreciated and valued,” goes a long way.  Recognize the effort.  Give a thank you card, or surprise present for no reason, or simply send an “I appreciate it when…” text to your partner and see how your marriage strengthens.  The Love Dare is full of great ideas and resources for this to become a regular practice in your marriage.

7.       Sleep: Sleep is hard to come by the older you get.  The lack of sleep leads to irritability, memory issues, anxiety, lower immune system functions, and so many other effects. When I have not been sleeping well, it shows in how I treat my spouse more than anyone else.  Study after study, show the importance of sleep for our health.  This translates to the health of our marriage as well.  Don’t argue when tired.  Table it.  Don’t express frustration when tired.  Table it. Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived in the first place.  Talk about the quality and amount of sleep you are getting with your partner regularly.  This will help them better understand you and may lead to some insight into the reason – ultimately leading to solutions that help you, your marriage, and your family completely.

For more ideas on how to strengthen your marriage, take a look at my Facebook page.

10 Goal Setting Steps to Success

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter
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There is something about the cooler weather and beauty of the leaves turning colors that bring a refreshing change in perspective. Nature is discarding the old to make way for the new.  There is a fresh beginning in the atmosphere as school starts across the country and fresh excitement builds.

Starting a school year is a great time to re-evaluate your goals.  Remember those New Year Resolutions?  If you haven’t checked in on them yet, now is a great time.  Never made a resolution?  Now is a great time to set some realistic goals.  This is a great time for students and parents alike to set up goals for the year.   This is a great time to set up a vision.

Where do you start?  How do you set goals that will make a lasting impact? Should they be long term or short term? 

Let’s demystify the practice of great goal setting.  Here are 9 simple steps to goal setting and achievement.

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals | John Doerr

1.      Evaluate/Discover Your Why: Goals, by nature, are to help you become a better person, better at something.  They are a progression toward success.  Before setting a goal, it is essential you discover your strengths and weakness.  What are you good at?  What are you not good at?  What skills do you have?  What skills do you need?  What are your fears?  Weaknesses? Passions? Values? Knowing where you are starting from is essential to know how to get where you are going.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail Big, To Dream Big – Denzel Washington | Goalcast

2.      Dream Big: Life is short.  What is the point of goals if we are not dreaming big!  Some questions to ask might be if today was your last day, what three things would you like to do? What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Why is that important? What does success look like in 3 months? 12 months? 5 years? Make a mission statement.  Have a word to ground you this year. Put that mission statement and word in a place you see it daily.  I use my planner and have the mission statement and word as my wallpaper on devices.

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3.      Triplets: Setting goals takes utilizing little action steps.  I use the triplet technique.  What three things will I do every morning and every evening?  What three ways will I connect with my family and friends?  What three things will I avoid? What three ways will I reward myself for success?

Everything About Vision Boards – How to Create and Use a Vision Board

4.      Vision Board: I love a good vision board!  I also, love one that is easily changeable.  A good vision board should show the END GOAL.  This will serve as motivation on those days you have no energy or desire to put in the work.  Those days will come. I use magazines, art, leaders, and celebrities I would want to immolate, and quotes on mine.  I have a financial advisor that had a voided check written out to him in the amount of $1,000,000.00 on his board with a glamourous house.  I have a friend who wanted to go to Harvard.  Her board had a picture of the school and the campus colors.  Once you have a board, put it where you will see it all the time.  My son has his in his room.  I keep mine in my planner (so I can see it no mater where I am).

SMART Goals – Quick Overview

5.      Set some realistic goals: Often I am asked if a student for school should focus only on academic goals.  I say no.  A student is a person; a person should focus on all aspects of their life when goal setting.  When setting goals, consider setting personal goals, family/friend goals, and academic/professional goals.  Each goal needs to be clear.  Have a purpose behind the goal.  The reason for doing something is essential to motivation to succeed.  Set the action steps up right then.  Set target dates to achieve.   I like to start with three goals in each category for the year.

Target dates are flexible, but help give a deadline to work toward.  These should be specific.  The key to goal setting success is specificity and motivation.  The more specific the goal, action steps, and target date are, the more likely you are to succeed.

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6.      Monthly focus/Action Steps:  Each month, I choose a new word to focus on that supports my yearly word.  I start the month looking at what I need to do more of and what I need to less of.  This helps me set my monthly smaller goals in each category (personal, family/friends, and professional/academic.   I also use this time to break each goal down into tangible smaller action steps I can reach in a month. 

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7.      Track Progress: It is easy to get discouraged when you do not see progress.  Good progress is slow progress.  Those who follow me, know I love tracking progress in all aspects of life. I bring this same practice into my goal setting.  Each month, I use the Habit Tracker for each goal I have.  This lets me know which days of the month, how often I am succeeding, and how often I am not succeeding at my goals.  This is a quick look at where I have succeeded and failed. I use this simple document (free download below). Each goal gets its own monthly tracking grid.

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8.      Reflect and Review: Achieving goals is a process.  We learn through reflection and review.  Without evaluating where we have been and where we are, there is no way to achieve accomplishing what we set out to do.  Weekly, my family reflects on what we are grateful for.  Life is hard and failure is a part of the process.  But focusing on this can be debilitating in a number of areas.  Finding one to five things a week you are grateful for, helps change that process.  Each month, we look at the top 5 things we accomplished.  Then we look at where we failed to make progress (or flat-out failed).  The Habit Tracker helps us evaluate.  But, we also discuss how we are feeling about our progress and WHY we failed or succeeded. I know I am pushing knowing the why, but reasons we do things helps us understand our success and failures. 

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9.       Revise: Reviewing and reflecting on goals is not helpful if you do not take action on what you learned.  Use this time to re-evaluate and revise your goals.  Life moves at a fast pace.  What may have seemed doable a month ago, may not be impossible in that time frame.  You may need to move your action dates.  Or maybe, you realize a goal is not for you.  This is the time to see what needs to change in your goals, your life, and action to make success a reality.

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10.       Reward: I love rewards!  I am a firm believer in rewarding yourself for achieving the difficult.  Knowing there is a reward at the end of the line, is great motivation to keep moving when things get hard.  Sometimes it is a simple matter of making a deal with yourself. When a goal is achieved, or a significant milestone, reward yourself.  Lost weight? Get new clothes.  Learned a new instrument?  Set up a concert or video share? Mastered the sewing machine?  Share the product with your family and friends.  Rewards can be big or small. 

Goal setting is so important to self-growth, growth in business, growth in our relationships and so much more.  Teaching our children how to set and achieve goals is a life lesson that will benefit them in more than just academics.  Doing this together as a family will strengthen your bond.  Goal setting as a family also gives an added benefit of built-in accountability partners.