Planning: An act of hope!

Some people take great comfort in planning out their day in great detail, laying it all out in neat time-slots, and ticking off each item with satisfaction. And then there’s me. A clear agenda sheet divided into tiny intervals makes my chest tighten and is more intimidating to me than a blank page waiting for a blog post or poem. As a poet I love to capture spontaneous moments and share them, but I could never get into writing short stories…I just don’t know what would happen next…so much planning!

When it comes to homeschool, I love to have tons of great supplies around for art, drama, reading, baking, geography, learning games, etc, but planning exactly when to use them or in what order is my downfall. With four young girls being schooled, and two rascally boys in tow causing lots of ruckus, planning at all is an act of hope. We end up doing a variety of things, but the disruption of various bad moods, sudden low blood sugar, baby diapers and necessary chores makes planning specific times for each topic seem ludicrous. With children literally climbing the walls, having an exact time for geography seems beyond the realm of possibly. I know there are homeschool moms who are amazingly organized and structured, because this is what works for them. That’s awesome, but just not where I’m at.

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However, I yearn for more peace and order in my day, and think I have finally found a handy resource to help me be reflective and intentional about creating this kind of day. It’s a sheet of question put together by April and Eric Perry, the great husband-wife team of the site http://learndobecome.com/.

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The idea is to quietly read through the 7 questions, ideally before bed or early the next morning, and use them to reflect on what kind of day you want to create. The questions include things like appointments and important projects for the day, but take it further to ask how you will strengthen you family relationships within carrying out those duties, as well as how you will take care of yourself physically and spiritually. Rather than just a to do list, you record a number of important intentions that help set the tone of your day. It’s then up to you to put them into your agenda or up on your white board in whatever order seems best. There is a great 17 minute podcast that goes with the sheet, explains how helpful it is to do this process prayerfully, keeping in mind character goals as well as things to accomplish.

The question that really interested me was “How will I learn today?” Not just how will I teach my kids, but how will I learn and grow as a person today. April mentioned something that she learned at a leadership conference I think, that to be a great leader, you must be a great learner. Of course as a homeschooling mom, like any mom I’m sure, I want to promote a lifetime love of learning to my kids. And the best way is to model it. So I tried to think how I could fit more learning into my busy jumble of the day…and the best solution is to listen to great podcasts about homeschool, happiness, personal and professional development, etc, while I do dishes. It gives me something to look forward to, as well as lots of new ideas to think about, use and share. Hurrah for my iPad mini, now keeping me great company while I’m “stuck at the sink.”

Here is the question sheet so you can try it out, but I highly recommend also checking out the great articles and podcasts on LearnDoBecome site as well!

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Using this template has been helping me, and this morning I included the kids in planning as well. We actually had quite a good day, and did lots of learning, ticking off all boxes but one in our plan. The kids added lots of their own reading and projects as well, like making a Canada clubhouse out of their puppet theatre, and making homemade flags to wave while singing the anthem repeatedly, much to the delight of their loud baby brother, who delights in song and dance.

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So when life is chaotic, remember to P.P.P….Pause, Pray and Plan…even just a little. And don’t forget to hope, which makes everything a lot brighter. I’ll try to remember that myself! My bigger kids making muffins all by themselves today after a number of classes in our Kids Cook Real Food e-course certainly confirmed that little continuous efforts do pay off! 😊

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The father-daughter trip of a lifetime: visiting the Holy Land

One good thing about my dear old friend insomnia is that when the days are way too busy and chaotic to find moments to write, the quiet of night is a secret refuge…moments stolen from sleep to find myself again, and to reach out and reconnect with you, my readers. So in this much overdue post I will finally tell you where my daughter and husband James went on holiday recently! The Holy Land!

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Last time I posted a few pictures with palm trees and rocky desert but no one ventured to guess where they were…so now you know! My husband has always wanted to go, and recently that desire had increased even more. As he is such a hard-working accountant and really needed a break, I finally relented…having been reluctant to have him so far away. To make the trip even more special, he wanted to bring our 10-year-old daughter with him, to make memories for a lifetime. When I was 12 my Dad took me on a train trip to California to the San Diego zoo and Disney Land, and it was so wonderful, and such a bonding experience, so this partly gave us the idea. At first that really scared me, but the more we researched and learned about the trip and their great tour company, Tours 206, the better it felt…security there it pretty top-notch now, and Tel Aviv airport is said to be the safest in the world. Apparently Norway is more dangerous…and what is there to worry about there…perhaps falling tree or grumpy gnome? 😉

A few of my closest friends encouraged me to not make decisions and live life based on fear, and to let them go as it was such an amazing opportunity to see the world, especially while she is young enough to still want to hang out with her Daddy. My daughter really wanted to go as well. “Please, Mummy? I want to see where Jesus lived!” So after weeks of crazy passport preparations, paperwork and shopping for desert gear like giant sun hats, off they went! Now here is the fun part: some more pictures!

The Importance of Emotional Connection in Marriage

I started reading a fascinating new book called Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples, which explains the importance of authentic emotional connection in marriage. Maybe this sounds obvious, but what makes it interesting is the application of ideas from attachment parenting to attachment in marriage. Studies found that orphans and widows after World War Two both exemplified similar symptoms of trauma, and had similar needs. Things like emotional connection, stability, warmth, and affection. They needed a reliable, emotionally accessible person to attach to in order to feel safe and able to flourish. Come to think of it, don’t we all?

Absolutely, yes! We were indeed created for connection. We are social beings–made in, for, and to love. We aren’t solitary snow tigers who are happiest prowling the mountain tops alone, glorious in our defiant independence. While we all have a strong need to be ourselves, few of us are called to be ourselves, by ourselves alone…as hermits for example. So while we may value independence and self-reliance as signs of maturity or being “grown-up,” we should question whether they are the sole indicators of true maturity. Well-developed emotional intelligence should reflect our true nature as communal beings, and value connection, empathy and understanding as equally valid signs of maturity. In this view, “to turn to others for emotional support is a sign and source of strength.”

So how does this apply to marriage? The writers of the book, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson and Emotionally Focussed Therapy trainer Kenneth Sanderfer, who both work as marriage counselors, say that their clients often get trapped in negative cycles of communication…attack and withdraw, verbal dumping and retreating into silence, etc. They call these negative speech patterns the “Demon Dialogues.” Conventional therapy tends to focus on clearing up communication issues and resolving conflict. Although valuable, this approach is actually dealing with the symptoms of marriage crisis (nagging, fighting, withdrawal into silence), rather than the source (lack of emotional connection and fear of abandonment). The authors found that the key to real progress in therapy was getting the spouses to stop accusing and attacking, and open up emotionally to explain how they really felt and what they needed. In short, letting their guard down and being vulnerable.

So instead of a woman accusing:

John always ignores me and goes to his office when he comes home! That’s why I have to nag him…or he won’t do anything to help. I have to do it all.

She could express her fragility:

I am lonely after a long day alone with the kids. What I really need when John comes home is a big hug. I want to feel we are a team and that I am not alone.

And instead of a man complaining:

It’s so stressful coming home. The second I get in the door I am barraged with demands. She does nothing but yell at me. No wonder I try to  escape.

He could admit:

I am tired after work and don’t want to lose my temper and get into a fight. I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I just try to get out of the way. I feel useless and unloved.

This vulnerability allows the other spouse to approach without fear of being pushed away. They are moved to mercy. Once they have the opportunity to comfort and reassure their spouse, they can begin reconnecting emotionally. Spouses who are able to be vulnerable with each other can start strengthening their marriages, and healing their wounds to work towards “emotional and spiritual wholeness.” They can work as friends and not as competitors in a contest of ‘who is the worst spouse.’

Even if you’re not in a marriage crisis, a greater awareness of emotional needs and insecurities underlying common marital tensions can help you draw closer to your spouse. How many times have we projected negative thoughts on our spouse when asking for a favour? How easy is it to not ask for help and then be resentful, or to be afraid to help out in case we do it ‘wrong’? How much drama do we live out in our heads, not realizing that so many negative interactions are the result of misunderstandings? Keeping silent is not always the best way to keep the peace…rather finding good moments to gently and honestly share how we feel or what we need can help us deepen our relationships and give our spouse a better chance to respond to those authentic needs.

I think it’s useful to use the tools from attachment parenting in marriage. When a child is acting up, you assess circumstances (tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, need for reassurance, etc) before responding. We can do the same for our spouse who is grumpy…look at the facts of the situation: “Are they tired or hungry? Are they stressed after a long day of meetings at the office? Or of caring for sick kids? Are they suffering from illness, or grieving a loss of a loved one?” Keeping these things in mind can hopefully help us respond in a way that will help us reassure and reconnect. Perhaps a snack, hug or friendly joke will do more to improve things than entering into their grumpiness or punishing them with silence.

When we feel supported and understood, we are better able to cope with difficult circumstances. Created For Connection mentions studies which find spouses who are well-connected emotionally can cope better with stress and even physical pain. Happy marriages also effect our health by lowering our blood pressure and making us more resilient in recovering from serious health crises like heart attacks. On the flip side, blood tests reveal that the stress of fighting with our spouse has been found to lower our immune system for up to a whole day! So it’s worth it to work on our marriages in little ways every day, and to offer our spouse the same grace and understanding we offer our kids. Instead of wanting our spouse to “grow up and get over it” when they are struggling, we can honour their need for connection and try to provide emotional closeness and affection. We will all be happier for it!

The Power of Positive Speech

Do you remember the childhood rhyme, “I’m rubber and you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you”? Well, apparently there is some truth to this. Happiness author Gretchen Rubin describes this phenomenon, called “spontaneous trait transference.”

Studies show that because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to me the traits I ascribe to other people. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, unconsciously Jean associates that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I’m linked to those qualities. What I say about other people sticks to me–even when I talk to someone who already knows me. So I do well to say only good things.” (The Happiness Project, pg 156)

No wonder we don’t like spending time with people who complain about others a lot! To solidify this image in your mind, think of it this way: every adjective that comes out of your mouth sticks to your face like ketchup (so hard to get off!). So saying: “My boss is so annoying, demanding, and thoughtless etc”…means all those characteristics are stuck on your face. Yuck. Really gonna need some baby wipes.

I started thinking about all this recently after noticing my older kids picking at the younger ones at the table. Like little parent parrots they repeated things like, “Chew with your mouth closed! Are you finishing that pickle? Eat your food and stop being fussy!”

Hmmm, if that’s the kind of parenting talk they hear a lot, that’s what they’ll imitate. Since it takes three positive comments to combat one negative one, I better up my ratios of positive comments dramatically! So as they griped at each other about fussy eating habits, I started talking about all sorts of things I liked. “This is good. I love pickles. It’s nice we’re having lunch together. I am so glad you got the groceries delivered; now we’re all set for the weekend. It will be fun to read stories after lunch,” etc. It felt a little silly but you’ve got to start somewhere!

I want my kids to be people who speak well of others, so I need to be a good example, even at home. Actually especially there, even though the long 24/7 shift makes it the hardest place to do so consistently.  Possibly my mother-in-law is now running to the store to buy me a year’s worth of duct tape…oh, well, perhaps there’s a back to school sale? 😉

 

 

The four stages of happiness

“The Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin identifies four stages of happiness. According to her research, “the key to happiness is squeezing out as much happiness as possible from a happy event.” “To eke out the most happiness from an experience,” she explains, ” we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.”

Anticipate, savour, express and recall. It is worth asking ourselves how much we do these things. Do we really enjoy our blessings, or do we allow happy moments or pleasant events to slip by without acknowledging them? Rubin feels that the awareness of being happy contributes greatly to our overall level of happiness. This is a good reminder to practice gratitude and to express it. It’s a good way to be happy and to share our joy.

The other night the younger kids fell asleep a little bit early (hallelujah!), so I got to snuggle my 8-year-old while my eldest read us Harry Potter. It was a cosy, relaxing moment and I made sure to really savour it. And then to tell people about it, and write about it…and so to make that simple happiness stretch from moments to days.

One of the beautiful things about childhood is making happy memories, and storing them up in our souls the way a dragon hoards gold…to bring us warmth and glimmer on rainy days. What is your favourite childhood memory? Have you told anyone about it recently? What is your favourite new memory? Recall and express it, and watch your happiness grow.

Happy New Year and hurrah for “The Happiness Project”!

Lovely readers! How I have missed you all! One New Year’s resolution….to write more often!! To not hesitate to post…to follow inspirations and forget perfectionism. Who knows what good can come from words conceived in joy or sorrow…they are better shared.

There was a gorgeous black and white card I saw when shopping for stocking-stuffers. It was of a little girl wearing fairy wings, standing at the edge of a small precipice. The card read: “But, Mother, what if I fall?” and on the inside, “Oh, my darling, what if you fly?” It almost moved me to tears.  The idea of this daring vulnerability, this willingness to take a creative leap and reach for one’s dreams, despite fear, is to me both brave and beautiful.

I am so excited for the new year–a fresh start and new projects. I have a new poetry book in the works, thanks to the warm encouragement of my mother and sister-in-law who asked me, “So, what’s next?” I realize it gives me great joy to have a project…something to ponder dream about while I am doing the dishes and housework–something to reflect on in quiet moments when I hear the Holy Spirit whispering.So I want to encourage you all to dream big and take lots of little steps each say this year to achieve your dreams…and may this process bring you much happiness!

I am thinking lots about habits and happiness because of a wonderful book my awesome husband got me for Christmas called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. She is a hilarious and warm-hearted New York writer, fiery red-head and mom, so of course I love her! She realized one day that while she was basically content, she could still be snappy, irritable and impatient at times, and didn’t always savour the beautiful moments as they came. How, she wondered, could she be more happy, not by making any dramatic life changes, because she already loved her family and career, but by reflecting on what brought her happiness, what brought her stress and grief, and then trying to build habits that were more conducive to joy. She does this by seeking to change her own habits and attitudes, rather than blaming or resenting others for things she finds hard.

She describes her journey of researching happiness, consulting everyone from psychologists to saints to friends in a café, and then testing out their theories by working on important areas of her life each month, like her home, marriage, parenting and career. This might sound intimidating, but it is quite the opposite. Her frank and funny descriptions of trying out her different monthly resolutions are as fun to read as a novel, and really helpful, too. For example, in February, the month she focussed on her marriage, she tried for a week of “Extreme Nice.” No snapping, dumping, nagging, etc. After describing how positively it affected things at home, she jokes about her relief when the week was up, as her tongue was sore from biting it so often!

She found that personal stories and examples do more for inspiring growth that vague stats and studies. Personally, even reading about her happiness project has made me more aware of savouring my own happiness, and seeking to make it grow. As Rubin reminds us, happier people make those around them happier, so being happy is really the best gift we can give to those around us, because joy is infectious. I so recommend this book to help inspire you to seek happiness this year by building habits of happiness and changing your heart so you can find it more easily. Her blog has tonnes of helpful resources, too. Here is the link: Gretchen Rubin

Happy reading! And have fun with your resolutions…I will write more about that another day!

Baby’s New Talents

One year olds are always bursting with curiosity and zest for life, and acquiring new talents daily. There are so many ways to make your family laugh, cry and generally go crazy when you’re one! 😉

Here are a few of my son’s new “skills:”

1. Climbing the stairs. Often. Like every time I turn around. And standing there triumphantly half way up and telling me all about it with a huge grin.

2. Standing up in his high chair. Also every time I turn around, and grinning again. This time covered in sticky sauces and waving a spoon.

3. Splashing his older siblings in the bath. Like a tiny happy water beast. And also cleaning the bathtub with the scrubbing brush.

4. Singing along with his siblings, especially to the Beatles’ song “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” Just the “yeah, yeah” part, but with gusto!

5. Climbing on the bathroom stool and stealing his siblings’ toothbrushes to eagerly brush his few teeth. Very concerned about dental hygiene…sort of…

6. Blowing kisses. Pretty charming, and nice addition to “Baaa-byeee!”

7. Patting my back when I rock him on my shoulder– sigh!

8. Turning on the cd player and dancing. Head bopping and butt wiggling to the beat!

9. Enjoying books and pointing at the pictures. He is delighted when his big sisters or visiting relatives read to him.

10. Taking a few steps. After months of delightful ape-like skootching, he has discovered the conventional crawl and also braved a few steps on his two little feet as well.

To anyone concerned about their general fitness and heath I recommend always having a one year old around…It’s like having built in personal trainer 24/7, who is charmingly adorable and constantly in danger…such constant rescuing keeps you on your toes! But when all’s said and done there’s nothing like a snuggle with such a critter to fill your heart to the brim!

 

K.I.S.S…keep it simple, sweetheart!

Sometimes as a mom it can be easy to get drawn in a million directions, until you find yourself stretched thin, as Bilbo Baggins says, like butter spread over too much toast. It could be million good things…family, friends, hobbies, writing, work, reaching out to those in need…all things you’re passionate about, but–when added up–require more than you can reasonably give.

When this happens my mother-in-law, who happily is a great friend, reminds me to K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart (or stupid…whatever works!). Time to step back, re-evaluate priorities, and see how things can be simplified so the most important things don’t suffer. What really matters most? Which things are too important to mess up? As my friend Monique told her teenage son when he was feeling overwhelmed: “You can’t do everything well. You can do a few things well or everything badly.”

It’s hard to step back from the frenzy of constant multitasking to quietly reflect. But it is also essential. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Can we really say that we are living intentionally, that is with passion and purpose, if we don’t periodically stop to reflect on life?


This rhythm of action, rest, and reflection can help bring more harmony to our lives and help us to be more present to the around us who matter most. This is why we need a special day each week to rest, pray and play (and not just soccer tournaments!). But we also need these moments every day. Tiny moments to gather ourselves and be recollected, so we can better face the chaos. I’m primarily writing this for myself. The other day I was texting two separate people at the same time while looking up something online and feeding my baby. Crazy…

In a recent talk I watched (in an online conference for moms) by a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, the speaker said that one of the things that drains our willpower and saps our strength (besides lack of sleep) is making many decisions.. . This could be in tricky meetings, in navigating traffic, making dinner while juggling kids, or even the many tiny decisions of how and when to respond to the beeps and bells on our phone. So I’m pretty sure that constant multitasking, and all the decision-making it involves, is something that drains our will power and makes us susceptible to impatience and exhaustion. This does not help us be the best mom, spouse, friend etc, we can be.

Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson said there are a few things studies have found will restore our will power, and recharge it like a battery pack getting plugged in. These things make us more able to calmly cope with life’s challenges. These were:

1. Sleep (I’ve heard of it…😉) Without sufficient sleep our will power is seriously compromised. Rather than trying to ruthlessly carry on, Dr. Susan recommends becoming a “sleep-seeking missile.” Get a nap in or get to bed ASAP. So many emotional struggles are simply signs of sleep deprivation. 
2.Temporal, sensory contact with friends…that is social time that is face to face or at least on the phone to hear a friendly voice and get an immediate response to our words. Online interaction doesn’t have this restorative function. 
3. Meditation. Even 3-5 minutes of quiet, deep breathing. In your office…or even bathroom (till the hoards of toddlers find you!) or on a walk outside.
4. Prayer. Brain scans show our bio-rhythms become more calm and we are better able to cope.
5. Gratitude. Make a little list of things you’re grateful for. Take a moment to reflect and give thanks.
6. Acts of service. Doing things for others out of love. Freely making efforts to help another person be happy, instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Trying to do your duties cheerfully. 

If we find ourselves too busy for these things…for taking care of our own need for sleep, prayer and friendship, we should realize we are too busy and that something has to go, for our sake and that of those we love most, who may be getting the short end of the stick. We need to take care of ourselves, or we will run out of fuel to take care of others. This means even finding moments for our passions and hobbies. Things that take us outside of time and make us forget everything else…dance, writing, skating, playing music or whatever makes you really happy. Dr. Susan referred to these kinds of activities as “flow:” things that make you feel like a kid again for a moment, and let everything else fade away, even just for a short time.


So stop, reflect, be grateful, and see what you can let go of so you have more time to play. And with a joyful heart you’ll also be better able to serve and to love.