Family Togetherness: Sunday Family Counsel

– johanna | October 19th, 2010


Photo: property of Lily Jane Stationery

With the start of school also means the addition of all the extra curricular activities. Household schedules can become pretty hectic. Sunday Family Counsel is a way to meet up with the rest of the family to plan the week and work out any conflicting schedules.  In our home we meet together on Sunday night to go over the calendar and finances. We plan the weekly menu inviting suggestions from the gang. We also discuss any needs and reasonable wants. We can plan time for completing both home and school projects, schedule outings and even chores.

Family Counsel encourages communication, teaches leadership, time management and financial responsibility.  Create a suggestion box or a dedicated notepad to jot down notes and ideas throughout the week to be discussed. Be sure to come prepared with the necessary documents and calendars. Follow an itinerary to keep things moving and to insure you do not forget anything. Jazz up the meeting by serving dessert or offering a chance to win a door prize.

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Family Togetherness: Say HooYah!

– johanna | September 21st, 2010


Photo: (info unknown)

One of the best ways to bring out positive behavior is to acknowledge it. Children and teenagers especially need our encouragement. They enjoy knowing good deeds have not gone unnoticed. One way we show recognition for the positive things done throughout the day is to give a big HooYah! at the end of a day or week. At the end of the day when we gather together before bed the high fives are dolled out. As each person is recognized we all take turns giving them a  high five.

This week for example our daughter got a HooYah for using a cutting board to cut her fruit on. Our oldest controlled his temper when the baby destroyed his Lego car. It also helps me focus more on remembering the positive moments during the day rather than the negative ones. The idea of applauding their successes has taught the children to feel genuinely happy for each other while learning how to help build one another up.

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September Resolution to Give

– johanna | September 14th, 2010


The Giving Tree by Lady Squall

With the onset of September also comes change. Children begin a new school year. College students move away. I no longer have to watch reruns of 30 Rock. New friendships will be made. Empty nesters will adjust to a quiet home. Lives are begun anew. Change can be difficult yet at the same time refreshing. This new beginning allows us to put our best foot forward.

I am not convinced that our resolutions are timed with the drop of the Ball on New Years Eve. I believe our desire to become a better person begins two months earlier. In November we celebrate all that we are thankful for. It is then that our hearts are touched by all the giving thanks; that iIn December we are compelled to reach out to those less fortunate allowing them to share in our bounty. By the time January 1st rolls around we have already felt the stirrings in our minds and in our hearts for change. What happens between February and November that causes us to loose momentum? We forget. We get busy. Playtime is over and it is back to the stresses and everyday battles.

The purpose of this year’s monthly resolutions provided a way to make a goal, stick with it for a month and if it was a success shout hooray and move on to a new goal the next month. On the other hand if success did not come about that month no worries. The slate is wiped clean. Instead of looking back at the weight I did not loose I can look to the future as I try to laugh more with the kids. There is no rule saying we cannot still try to work on the previous month’s resolution. The goal here is to gather the motivation to keep moving forward instead of giving up or feeling down because we could not do it; to focus more on our successes rather than our failures. As each month approaches it is like starting New Year’s Eve all over again.

Funny thing about this month’s resolution is I wanted to skip it all together because I felt so overloaded. Ironically isn’t GIVING all about forgetting our wants while focusing on others needs? As it is already the second week of the month I can tell you I was not as overloaded as I thought. When a friend’s dog died in a car accident this month I offered my condolences. When my daughter cried because a friend told her she no longer wanted to be her friend I gave her a listening ear. The act of Giving is more abundant in December. As I am trying to keep that spirit with me all year September seemed to be the perfect time to focus more on giving my heart, time and talents.

Ways Give:

  • Give more time to each of my children. (Spend 15-20 minutes day of devoted alone time)
  • Give more time to my husband. (Plan a weekly or bi-weekly date. Picnic in the park, walk around the lake, bowling, portable DVD movie in the car, dance in the moonlight on the back porch)
  • Give more time for myself. (Exercise, read a book, spend time with a friend, learn something new, practice talent for 15-10 mins)
  • Volunteer at the hospital.
  • Hold preemies in hospital.
  • Read to the elderly.
  • Read the books “The Giver” by Lois Lowry and “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
  • Focus service on a family with an active son or daughter in the military.
  • Make cookies for a neighbor.
  • Take dinner to someone who just had a baby, surgery or a family in need.
  • Secretly mow your neighbor’s yard.Give unused items to someone who needs them.
  • Give gratitude.
  • Give up unsavory habits (gossiping, drinking, smoking, addictions)
  • Give up gossiping
  • Give blood.
  • Give recognition to those serving our community. (firefighters, police, nurses, doctors, farmers, teachers, wait staff, crossing guards)
  • Share a talent.  (make canned jams to share, scrapbook, photography, quilting, sewing, crafts, car maintenance, math tutoring, ect.)

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July Resolution How to Have FUN

– johanna | July 13th, 2010



Photo: Dancing in the Rain, courtesy of Photo Bucket

Someone once told me they were leery of overly happy people because they must be hiding something. I think that there are individuals out there who are genuinely happy. The faults of life roll off their backs like RainX on a car windshield. On the opposite side of the glass half-full crowd are those who need to wallow in self-pity. They feel robbed of their liberties if their feelings are not validated. They feel they are  fake if they act contrary to how they feel. If they do not feel happy then why should they be happy? Problem is when they are not happy they feel no one should be happy. Thus we are all made to feel miserable with them.

One day I was listening to a radio talk show. The caller expressed the need to be true to her feelings but longed to be happy like her fiancé. Even so, she found it difficult to “fake” being nice if she did not feel like being nice. Her question was if she woke up on the wrong side of the bed was it ok to fake being happy? The host told her if that is what she needed to do then yes it is ok because it is never ok to lash out at someone. The host then added that sometimes when we try to be happy by smiling and doing nice things for other people eventually we become happy.

Not long ago I received terrible news that a dear friend of mine had succumb to liver cancer. She discovered that she had cancer only three months prior to her death. Donna was in her late 50’s. Her life had been fraught with peril at every turn. She was abused and abandoned most of her existence. She was strong. She was a fighter. She survived every negative confrontation thrown at her. By the time we met in my late twenties she was no longer the victim. Her rosy cheeks and denim overalls said everything about her character. She was soft spoken and kind. She would give the shirt off her back to help someone. She was genuine; always a pleasure to be around. She always had a kind word to say on both good and bad days. I loved being around Donna  because she was fun.

As the month progressed I learned of the severe personal tumults suffered by several of my dearest friends. I realized  that day there are more people than we realize who have or are  suffering in some form or another. Despite their afflictions, they strive to keep their heads high making the most of what they have. They have dealt with the past. They are moving on. Their lives are not perfect. They are battle worn and scared. Nevertheless, they are striving to make their lives and those around them better. These women are some of the most noble people I have had the pleasure of befriending. Most importantly despite their hardships they are permitting themselves to have fun and enjoy the pleasures of life.

boat by Dapixara

Photo: Red Boat, by Dapixara

When I was a young girl I loved the movie Pollyanna starring Haley Mills. Pollyanna is a vibrant 11 year old girl. Upon her father’s untimely death she was shipped off to live with her Aunt Polly. The daughter of a Missionary Minister, Pollyanna did without the finer things in life. Her only belongings came from missionary barrels or donations. As it so happens, one summer she begged her father for a doll. The ‘Ladies Aid’ tried to find one but all they received by the time the barrel needed to be sent off was a set of crutches. Pollyanna’s father seeing her terrible sadness came up with an idea. He asked her to find something glad about the situation. When she could not he told her she could be glad that she does not have to use the crutches. From that time forward she and her father played what they called the “Glad Game”. Pollyanna set about changing the hearts of everyone around her including her sour-hearted Aunt Polly. One passage I greatly enjoyed, reading in the novel written by Eleanor H. Porter, occurred shortly after her arrival. Miss Polly had just given Pollyanna her daily schedule consisting of cleaning her room first thing in the morning after which she should read 30 minutes aloud to Miss Polly followed by cooking lessons. In the late afternoon Pollyanna was expected to practice the piano. Pollyanna asked “what about living?” When was she supposed to live when her time was taken up with all these extra activities? She lamented that she did not want to just breathe she wanted to live. And so she did. Her Aunt Polly was surprised at the numerous acquaintances Pollyanna had made and the impact Pollyanna made in their lives. The Aunt Polly was so moved by the town’s love for Pollyanna that her own heart softened so much so that she became susceptible to love and forgiveness. The glad game is not that simple. You must find something to be glad about on all occasions. Learning to look on the brighter side of life enabled Pollyanna to step out without fear of condemnation. People loved her because she was so much fun to be with. She could be friends with even the grouchiest of souls because life held no bounds.

This month’s resolution is to have fun. I made this list in the beginning of the year. When July neared I was unsure of what exactly Fun meant. The word Fun is defined as something that provides enjoyment or amusement. I think fun means being able to lighten up despite our circumstances. Miss Polly caved into and was trapped by embarrassment for 11 to 15 years. Her fears lead her down a lonesome unemotional path. Pollyanna gently guided her away from tight buns, dark clothing and pursed lips and back into a world full of color, friendships and joy. Fun for some may include dancing on the bar top but I am not talking about temporary self-satisfaction. Remember the New Year’s resolution’s purpose is to enlighten us and make us better friends, neighbors and relatives. Some activities are better left in the ignorance of youth. The fun I speak of entails allowing ourselves the freedom to stop and enjoy life. Put the electronics away. Forgive whom you need to. Find the glad in your most heart-breaking sorrows as difficult as it may be. To have fun is to help others find the glad so that they too can have fun. To have fun is to vow even though we wake up disgruntled we can make the choice to fake being glad if we have to. To have fun is to discover why everyone calls you the “party-pooper” or “no fun” and change it.

Nuns Having Fun by Maureen Kelly and Jeffrey Stone

Photo: Nuns Having Fun

I try to teach my children it is ok to feel hurt, angry, sad, disappointed they are all legitimate feelings. But, we make the choice to let those feelings dictate our behavior and attitude or to let it go. It is not easy trying to tell that to a five year old who demands justice even to the point of missing out on the fun that is happening at that moment. I know there is more injustice going on in the world than we can fathom. There are people out there who are suffering or have suffered tremendous acts of violence, abuse and emotional warfare. Yet, day after day they keep moving forward. The writer Erma Bombeck wrote a column, upon discovering that she was dying from cancer, entitled “If I Had to Live My Life Over.” Erma wrote, “… I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. … I would have sat on the lawn with my kids, even if it meant grass stains.” During the month of July I hope to use up the bottle of perfume sitting in the vanity drawer. I want to view my new home as a vacation rental. I want to find more of the glad, relax and have fun.

This is a short but fairly long list on how to have fun. The possibilities are practically endless. My hope is maybe something on the list will spawn additional fun ideas. Please feel free to share your FUN in the comments section.

Each day write down 3-5 positive things that happened that day.

Learn to have fun playing the glad game.

– Watch the clouds

– Watch a sun rise

– Take a midnight swim

– Observe bugs

– Pick flowers

– Camping

– Build a fort

– Take a treat or a balloon to friends and family.

– Read a book and come up with a project or something fun to do based on the material.

– Call the girls or take your daughter(s) to go get pedicures.

– Go on a leisurely bike ride with friends.

– Host a mystery dinner.

– Have an unbirthday party.

– Pay for the person behind you at the movies or toll booth.

– Act out a book complete with make shift costumes.

– Host a Karaokee night.

– Have a Nerf gun Showdown.

– See how many Balloons it takes to lift off the ground. Then watch the movie “Deckchair Danny”.

– Put on a Shadow Theater show.

– Simply your life and home. Throw out the excess. Ask yourself do I really need this? Why do I have it? Is it in the way? Allow your home to feel like the vacation resort you always wanted to visit.

– Learn something new.

– Go to a concert

– Go on a ‘first’ date with your significant other.

– Take a “I feel good day” off of work, if you can.

– Check the Entertainment section of the newspaper or a local website to see what is happening in your town.

– Celebrate a holiday or an achievement.

– Stay up until 4 AM devouring a good book or chatting with an old friend.

– Plan a picnic

– Play a game of volleyball or basketball with friends and/or family

– Go to the lake

– Rent a houseboat.

– Host a game night.

– Play Frisbee.

– Go to a public sporting event.

– Play a sport.

– Date night at the arcade.

– Have a scavenger hunt.

– Make a home movie.

– Build a rocket or model car.

– Find a new hobby.

– Learn about Geo Caching

– Let the kids jump in the rain puddles

– Most important loosen up and lighten up. Don’t be negative. Be willing to come out of the comfort shell once in a while. Laugh a little more. Smile a lot more. Look for the joy or “Glad” in everything around you.

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Setting a Table and Dinning Etiquette

– johanna | April 26th, 2010



If we want to have an enjoyable and civilized dining experience with our kids we have to take the time to teach them. That means eating together as a family and practicing good habits at home. Etiquette is defined as the rules for socially acceptable behavior. Bad table manners are a form of disrespect. If you want to make a great first impression on a first date, land a job interview or be ready for Thanksgiving at Aunt Bertha’s practice makes perfect.

Consider dinnertime as an intimate social event. You are not only there to eat but to enjoy each other’s company. Etiquette helps us know what is expected of us and what we can expect from others. It is like a coordinated dance from the placement of the dinnerware to the movements of the dinner guests. Knowing and understanding table manners (the dance steps) allows everyone to enjoy the meal and avoid embarrassment.

Younger children require constant reminders. Over time if we stick to it they will surprise us. Avoid saying “do not do that” and never scold them when they slip up. Small children lack the coordination therefore; meals are going to be messy. Making negative comments or yelling at them only embarrasses them and encourages them to misbehave. Instead use positive reinforcement to explain what they should be doing and why. When a glass of water is unintentionally spilled quietly help them clean it up. The same rule applies when adults tip a glass. We would use our napkin to calmly and quickly stop the spill from running over to the persons next to us. Withholding our agitation at the mess teaches them by example how to handle the situation properly. Should a child want to purposely cause mayhem remind them of the rules; food belongs on the plate not on the floor. If they insist on making a mess they can eat dinner alone in the other room or take their meal away.

It is important to explain to children and teenagers precisely why we have rules of etiquette at the dinner table.
–Always wash your hands before eating.
— We wait until everyone is served or the hostess says to start eating because that is the polite thing to do. It is rude to eat in front of someone especially when we are a guest in someone’s home.
— Always place a napkin in your lap so that food lands in the napkin and not on the floor. You also do not want your napkin to invade your neighbor’s eating space.
— We don’t put our elbows on the table, because it crowds others and you could knock something over.
— We don’t burp out loud, because it is unpleasant and offensive to those around you.
— Chew with your mouth closed because no one wants to see your chewed food, it is gross.
— Take small bites because you could choke.
— Ask brother to pass the peas. Reaching for things far away on the table could knock something over.
— Always say please and thank you to show gratitude.

For everything you ever wanted to know about dinning etiquette visit The following videos will cover setting an informal dinner table and touch on a a few basic principles of etiquette.

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February the “Month of Love”

– johanna | February 15th, 2010


Valentine's Day Heart by Claudia Bear

Source: “Valentine’s Day Heart” by Claudia Bear

Franklin Convey once said it takes 26 days to make a habit. Child Development therapists tell us when disciplining our children to modify one behavior at a time. I decided to take their approach to my New Year’s resolutions. Rather than become overloaded by all I want to accomplish my quest this year is to pour my heart into one goal each month. In the flavor of “Love” this month my goal is to plant seeds of kindness and grow some love.

Many, many, many years ago I had a roommate I could not stand. In addition to a very long list of irritating habits, she had a deviated septum that made it difficult for her to breathe through her nose quietly. What I remember is that I really started to despise the girl. You have to understand I am a peacemaker. Born in July makes me a Cancer and so I tend to try my best to avoid confrontation. So I set out to seek advice from a wise old man on how to remedy my problem. I was told to love her. Yep, love her. How do you treat someone who grates on your nerves with kindness? Well I will tell you this, it was not easy. At first I made her bed every morning. Then I would grudgingly give her compliments. By the end of 6 weeks she and I became great friends.

It seems in relationships the first line of defense is to ignore the problem or enact revenge in the form of hurtful words or actions. Or in the case above with my friend I would have allowed negative feelings for someone I hardly knew ruin a potential long lasting friendship. I know sometimes we just want to wallow a little in our sorrows. It is ok to feel hurt, even anger and jealousy, but it is not ok to act out on those feelings. Move on. I know, easier said than done. The way I explain it to my five year old is like this; when we harbor negative feelings they begin to grow until they take over our bodies like the Dark Side did to Aniken Skywalker. We have to forgive ourselves, the person we wronged or the person who wronged us and move on so we do not turn to the Dark Side.

I really had to think about what I wanted to achieve by my Love Dare. There is always room to improve when it comes to expressing love but I did not want my goal to be too vague or corny. I had to narrow it down enough that I would remain interested and most of all see the results. The answer came to me the day I was filling out a “Get to Know You” questionnaire for our kindergartner. The last question asked “Name one thing my parents think is especially great about me.” Mason could not grasp what the question meant. More importantly I wondered how often we express to him the things we admire most about him. His answer was “I play with the baby to distract him.” How sad is that? I decided that not only is it important to tell our children daily how much we love them, we also need to help them see how great they really are. The same thought can be applied to all of our relationships, most especially our spouses.

Ways To Give More Love:

  • Forgive and Forget: Accidents happen. Our mantra states “That’s ok!” All messes can be cleaned up. Some just take a little more work than others.
  • Be positive: No one likes a sour-puss. Nothing is worse than being told you cannot accomplish something. Be supportive of others and their dreams even if you do not share their enthusiasm. If we dream hard enough we can touch the stars or at least feel confident it was a successful failure.
  • No Nagging: Nagging is contention and contention creates nothing but negativity. Negativity can lead to animosity and the destruction of a soul. This can be a difficult feat to accomplish with kids. A kind warning and a strict consequence is easier on the ears than harsh criticisms for not following through.
  • Compliments Galore: The way to a man’s heart is not food but compliments. It is like their energy source. Fill them up with superhero power and they will dazzle us. Our friends and family could use a good dose as a pick me up too.

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Chinese New Year – Year of the Tiger

– johanna | January 18th, 2010



Photo By: Yang Yi, in China Hejin, Shanxi Province

I am not superstitious; yet, I will admit I get a little nervous when salt is spilt. I do not believe in horoscopes; however, they really have my personality pegged. The Chinese baby gender calendar called the gender of each of my three children. The “Chinese Day Of” calendar that reveals the major personality trait based on the day you were born is surprisingly accurate as well. So don’t call me foolish when I realized that this year, 2010 is the year of the tiger. That is me. And I admit there was a second of hopefulness that this year would bring us some luck.

I started this year two weeks behind on everything. News Years Day had me sitting at my desk pondering if I should go ahead and mail out my Christmas cards. I didn’t. I hated starting the year in such disarray. But… it is a new year and I was not about to dwell on the negative. It was after all the first day of the year. Hey, I started the day off right. I ran that morning and we went out on a family outing and later that day I bravely took the kids on a bike ride. There was much to rejoice over. So I cleared my desk and began writing thank you cards. I am THE worst at remembering to write thank you cards. If I do write them I forget to mail them. I decided if I did not master anything else this year I am going to be the best at writing thank you notes.

I am pledging to forgo one larger New Years resolution in favor of smaller monthly goals that are more attainable for my ADD brain. For one month I am going to focus on one goal. If at the end of the month I am a complete failure I will not beat myself up and melt into a year long depression. I will arm myself to work even harder the following month on a new daunting task.

First up is laughter. This year I vow to laugh more. Yes, this was my New Year’s resolution last year and I think I did fairly well. Laughter, as the saying goes, is the best medicine. The tricky part is learning to laugh in the face of adversity. I think we could all use a lesson in putting our best face forward. The point is, I want to teach my kids that life is full of spills and falls and embarrassments and it is ok. If we want to find happiness we need to discover laughter first.

A good hearty laugh can:

  • Lighten our mood.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Boost our immune system.
  • Stimulate the brain.
  • Reduce anxiety, depression and aggression.
  • Produce endorphins that stop pain.
  • Is a great abdominal workout.
  • Increases our energy level.
  • Breaks down barriers.
  • Help us cope.

Learn to Laugh by:

  • Being silly with the kids.
  • Being adorable with the significant other.
  • Hanging out with people who are genuinely happy. Laughter is contagious.
  • Quit trying to act so grown up. (Who made the rule that grownups have to be stiff?)
  • Find a reason to celebrate.
  • Abandon the negativity.

Laughter, of course, won’t make our problems go away, but it can help us get through them gracefully. How do we pick our way through the briar patch? We slow down. We take the time to enjoy a cup of laughter.

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Raising A Leader

– johanna | January 4th, 2010


Washing dishes

To become a successful leader kids need to learn responsibility somewhere. That begins in the home when they are young by building their confidence through applauding small achievements. Some may have negative feelings toward chores because of the way they were brought up. I know I often felt like I was a slave rather than a kid but as I matured and gained insight I realized the responsibilities thrown at me as a kid has taught me how to be self-reliant as an adult.

Chores can be a positive and constructive way to build confidence and teach leadership through responsibility. Boys especially need chores. We are no longer a society that sends our boys out to work in the field all day. They relish the satisfaction of a job done well. Boys love to solve problems. They also need structure and to be held accountable. Give them a task and help them learn how to go about completing that task by giving them clear concise directions but with a little leeway for creativity and a consequence to hold them to it and they will radiate confidence.

Chores are also a way to teach our children how to one day care for their own homestead; moreover, chores teach them to respect property and accountability. Boys should learn to cook, clean, do dishes and mend clothing just like girls should know how to care for their car, take out the trash, repairs and mow the law.

Know What Is Expected- Be Consistent.

I think we can agree that chores are not on our kids list of top priorities. Whenever my mom would ask my brother to clean up his reply was always “I am eating.” Somehow he was absolved without any further discussion. My daughter though she is three takes after he Uncle Todd. When asked to clean up she will lie down and feign she is oh so tired.

If you implement a system you have to be ready and willing to be consistent because they will fight you on it. They will push the boundaries a little to see how tough you are. Lay out the rules so they know what is expected of them and hold them to it. We are a team and we work together to keep the home functioning.

– Use a chore chart to help them keep track of the chores they are responsible for. There are a myriad of charts out there. Behavioral charts use motivational cues such as rewards. Chore charts can be a spinning wheel to cards. Just search Chore Charts in Google Images to find something that fits your family.

Set a time frame. Something like all their chores must be done before school or by dinnertime. For younger children the consequence might be if you have to pick up their toys you get to keep them. The next day when they ask to play with them you calmly remind them why they are put away and that they may have them tomorrow or they must earn them back. For teens you might take away a privilege. They can’t go out with their friends, play video games or watch TV.

A timer works well to keep them on task. If they insist they are too tired or hungry to do their chore set the timer for 15 minutes. Once the timer goes off they must complete the chore or there are consequences.

Play to the age group.

Create the habit of cleaning up by introducing the concept of chores at an early age. Kids can learn at one year of age how to pick up their toys and throw away their diaper. The little ones love to imitate mom and dad hard at work. Let them contribute in their own way even though you will have to go back later to “fix” the job. Little ones can help vacuum, sweep, wash dishes and help make the bed. As they grow look for tasks they are good at and those that will help improve developmental milestones.

Since our kids are young their chores are pretty simple. I help the two year old clean the loft, the three year old has to keep the downstairs free of toys and clothing (since she is the one who usually puts them there) and the five year old chooses a task to complete each day. It could be emptying the laundry baskets or shredding papers. They are also responsible for cleaning their own room as well as helping set and clear the table. It was interesting to note one day when our five year old left something downstairs and the three year old got onto him about it. She was showing accountability for her area.

Make a list then have them choose the one they would like to be responsible for. I mentioned that the two younger children have specific household chore they are responsible for overseeing each day while the oldest may choose. When dealing out chores the first criteria to take into consideration should be age and the second the child. Our oldest is five and a highly creative kinetic learner. We know that he performs best when given the leeway to do it his way. Our daughter does not like change. She prefers to know what is expected of her in advance.

Make chores fun.

Play to a child is their job. Some days it is a struggle to get the kids to finish their chores. Other days they beg me to let them help me with mine.

– The kitchen floor becomes a skating rink. Wrap wet rags around their feet and let them skate to mop the floor.

– The sink becomes a car wash. Little ones love to play in the suds. They may start out playing with their cars and end up washing dishes, the chairs, the cabinets and even you.

– Play a game under the blanket to make the bed. The kids can pretend they are in a cave. Spread the bedding out over them smoothing the edges to make the bed. Reaching in from the bottom of the bed grab their feet and pull them toward you and off the end of the bed. Then attack them with tickles and kisses. move on to the next bed.

As a mom I understand the biggest hurtle is time. School and extra-curricular activities do not leave much time for quality family time or responsibilities at home. Your plan and how it is carried out depends on your family dynamics and the specific chores. After a six hour day at school the last thing I want to ask of my child when he gets home from school is to complete his chore, especially if he has homework and sports practice. We have tried early morning chores before school. Before bed time did not work either. We have small children who go to bed early to ensure they get the maximum sleep needed. In the mornings it is a race to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door. We have found right before dinner works best in our home, if weekdays are too hectic schedule chores on the weekends.

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Slowing Down in a Fast Pace World

– johanna | October 28th, 2009


Italy Slow Movement

When our oldest was born I had no clue what Helicopter, Attachment, Authoritarian, Permissive, Glider, Conscience or Hyper parenting were. All I knew was I loved holding and kissing my little one every moment. I did have an idea of how I wanted to raise our young one and with time that plan has been revised, remolded and redefined multiple times; for as we know kids come with their own personalities and what works for some others resistant.

We lived in the North Bay of California within easy access to the big city, lazy beaches and majestic mountains. We found we were no longer lured in by the amenities of the city but rather captivated by the peaceful slow moving pace of the country. Our turn of heart is shared by many who escape the congestion and noise of the busy streets for that of suburbia in a noble quest to raise their family. However, many families whom have jumped on the band wagon with dreams of the perfect family life behind the white picket fence in the Burbs or country, have discovered the grass does not always stay greener on the other side. They are coming away from the experience just as overwhelmed as before. The fact is families who dwell in the city as well as those in the country pack too much into their lives.

Slowing Down:

Did “Mary Poppins” and “Hook” not teach us the value of slowing down? I am reminded of the lyrics from the song “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, “would you lie with me and just forget the world.” Take time out to forget the world. Turn off the electronics, the computers, cell phones, MP3 Players and TV. Sing another song, read the book as if you are present, use the time in the car to open up and connect with your children, go fly a kite.

Slowing down is a difficult decision to make. There is the PTA, deadlines, Classroom sign ups, homework, housework, holidays, family, friends, sports and the list goes on and on. Slowing down does not mean you have to move to the woods and take up knitting and canning. If your family is happy with their present obligations it just means you may need to get a little more creative when it comes to fitting in quality family time. Slowing down means doing what works best for you and your family.

Find Balance:

It has taken me five years to get over my perfectionist tendencies but much longer than that to find balance. I am one who tends to expend all my energy at once leaving me on empty for days or weeks at a time. When I was young and single it was not a problem; however, now that I am older and mom of three sensitive hyper-active children I cannot afford to check out. Sometimes that means ordering take out for dinner on game night or the evening the kids and I loose track of time. There are times I put the little ones in the bathtub a couple times during the day just so I can have time to breathe. I may even go to bed without doing the dishes because I would rather read to the kids. Finding balance sometimes requires making sacrifices.

Make the Time Count:

A friend of mine once described me as the type of person who never had enough hours in a day. I was up early. I retired late. The busier I was the more fulfilled I felt. Comedian Eddie Cantor once said, “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” The question I needed to ask myself was “why the rush?” I was filling my day with mindless tasks that in retrospect were fun and made the time pass quicker but were unproductive.

I lived life to the fullest without a thought of where I was going and who I wanted to take with me. Making each moment count means understanding “where am I going?” and “how to get there?” Life is filled with decoys that stall us or hinder us from getting to the place we want to be. Take the journalist approach by asking the important questions relative to relationships both family and romantic, your job, and the person you want to become. Find ways to make those relationships more meaningful.

When time is of the essence we dare not waste it with decoys that give us limited relief. Leo Babauta the creator and writer of wrote, “slowing down is a way to incubate, conserve, and harvest our energy, not about relief from boredom by just watching more TV or going shopping” “We need leisure to rest, create, relate, and think.”

The Central Valley of California is a long way from the sandy warm beaches of Florida where I could cast off the stresses of my week and prepare for the oncoming onslaught of responsibilities. I found peace as the waves washed over me taking with them my fears and frustrations. I go there in my mind when my daily challenges build up so much they begin to suffocate me. I find that as I lie there daydreaming I can taste the salt in the air, feel the sand between my toes and hear the crashing of the waves. I feel more relaxed after a hike in the woods or my virtual reality at the beach than an hour spent on the internet or watching a show.

Forget the Jones’:
Lastly, stop the guilt. Sometimes it is ok to ignore the schedule. Stop living a fast life and start living a good life. If we have learned anything at all these past few years in a down turned economy is that less is more. Less gadgets and toys equals more creativity. Less scheduled activities more play time, think the Sandlot. Hopefully one day less meaningless homework and more time to be a kid.

The slow movement is moving beyond the Attachment Parenting mentality that suggests we cater to every whim and need of our children. The slow-movement is bypassing Hyper-parenting that fueled the guilt we already felt by adding prenatal classical concerts in the womb in addition to a Doogie Howser mentality prompting parents to compete with one another over development milestones, pricey preschools and extra extra-curricular activities. The slow-movement is sailing over Helicopter moms who hover over their kids worrying about every bump scrape or bruise and who are responsible for the influx in child safety such as baby knee pads. While safety should be our top concern these little guys need to learn the right amount of independence proportionate to their age.

The slow-movement is getting away from a society super charged with “getting rich quick” and spending that wealth extravagantly. The slow-movement is steering kids away from cell phones and video games and directing their interests to building a treehouse in the back yard, allowing them to explore, providing downtime to relax especially after school and focusing more on family time; nature walks, bike rides, lying in bed and family game nights.

More and more families are taking the conscience parent approach to parenting. They are taking the reins raising their family according to the families needs rather than doing what someone else says they should do. “Conscious parenting is about tuning into your feelings, doing what feels right to you, finding ways to move toward balance, choosing connection, living with joy and gratitude, letting your love spill out all over the place, adopting an attitude of self-reflection, having loads and loads of compassion for yourself, your partner and your children and recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect child.” Carrie Cotney PHD.

NY Times- Parenting: What is Slow Parenting.

Slow Down Now: a parody site.

A Holy Experience: religious references but the site is lovely and peaceful.

Ted: Video clip on why we should rethink our fast paced lives.

Playful Parenting: A book on how to make parenting fun.

Slow Family Living: A site dedicated to supporting the family.

Power of Slow: a web blog on slowing down.

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The School Lunch Dilemma

– johanna | September 16th, 2009


The first day of school our little guy came home crying because he wanted to eat off a tray like the other kids and because the day was too long. The school schedule I cannot change but I pulled him into a big hug and told him we would look at the school lunch schedule together and he could circle the days he would rather eat a school lunch.

Although school lunches have been revamped providing meals that are lower in fat in addition to offering more fresh fruits and vegetables, I still worry about my little guy. With a plate full of, doctored up, mac and cheese fruits and veggies are an after thought. Each morning of the day he decides to brave the cafeteria we discuss the menu and he makes his choices. We talk about the importance of  eating healthy often at the dinner table but it does not hurt to give him a gentle reminder before he is out the door and out of my watchful eyes.

I prefer that he take his lunch however, coming up with portable yet healthy and tasty lunch ideas week after week is a cumbersome task when you also have to think about safety issues and pleasing the patron not to mention his friends. The following are some tips and ideas we have implemented. By all means if you have anything to add or share leave us a comment.

– A thick insulated lunch box. Insulated lunch bags or boxes are the best choice for keeping lunches cold. If you do use paper lunch bags, double bag to create an additional layer of insulation.
– A metal thermos: for drinking or transporting hot soups or cold fruit.
– A freezer pack.
– A few reusable containers to prevent food from leaking and getting smashed, and will help you avoid using disposable items like plastic bags and foil.

– Be sure to include fruits and vegetables, protein and whole grains every day.
– Breads: use whole grain breads, pita, bagels, tortillas, flat bread, rolls and crackers.
– Try sandwich spreads such as tuna fish, egg or chicken salad or cream cheese. Mix in finely chopped carrots, bell peppers or celery.
– Make your own lunchable. Pack string cheese, cheese cubes or prepared cheese spread along with bread sticks or crackers.
– Heat frozen waffles and make a sandwich with them, using peanut butter and jelly. Or cut them into bite-sized pieces or sticks and send syrup or yogurt for dipping.
– Take leftover cooked chicken cut into strips. Pack dipping sauce such as salsa, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, or marinara sauce.
– To vamp up the traditional peanut butter and jelly replace the bread with a tortilla. Add peanut butter honey or  jam, shredded carrots and apples, or sliced banana and raisins. Roll up tight then slice crosswise into pieces.
– Nachos with containers of ground turkey, guacamole, grated cheese and tortilla chips.
– Pastas such as pasta or couscous salads, macaroni and cheese, tortellini with pesto, spaghetti with marinara sauce
– Soups including Chili with corn chips, chicken noodle and vegetable.
– Always pack fresh cut up vegetables. Include a separate container with low-fat dressing or peanut butter for dipping.
– Pack fresh or canned fruit with peanut butter or a low fat fruit dip such as yogurt with whipped cream or cream cheese mixed with jam.
– Look for fruit snacks and fruit leather with 100% fruit juice. Fruit Roll-ups are really candy masquerading as real fruit. Do not overlook dried fruit and yogurt covered raisins.
– Include fat-free milk. Fill a portable drink bottle half-full with milk; freeze overnight. In the morning top it off with cold milk.
– Look for juice that contains 100% percent fruit juice. Brands like Sunny Delight, Hi-C, Fruitopia and Capri Sun contain only 10% juice.
– Limit sweets and chips to special occasions like Monday to help them look forward to school or Friday as a job well done or birthdays and holidays.
– Replace oily chips with baked chips or crackers, healthy breakfast bars, protein bars or granola bars.

– Prepackaged lunches and snacks are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories, and are much more expensive. Skip on the bagged stuff and use fruits and vegetables to fill them up.
– Ask for their input before loading their lunch box. Kids can be finicky. Foods they liked today they may not like tomorrow.
– Cut sandwiches into interesting shapes with cookie cutters.
– Recycle yogurt containers and fill with Jell-O or pudding mixture (before it sets), veggies or fruit.
– Add some fun by using colored plastic wraps, holiday zip-lock bags and napkins.
– To prevent soggy sandwiches pack the cheese, lettuce and/or tomato separately.
– Heat food thoroughly before pouring into the container. It is best to use a metal container. Heat the inside of the container with boiling water for 5 minutes then discard before adding hot food.
– Use freezer packs, gel pack or frozen juice or water to keep foods cold.
Pack perishables around the freezer pack.
– Leave the cookies at home. A couple of cookies with milk for an afternoon snack once in a while are treats kids look forward to. Give your kid a bag of carrots and a snack pack of oreos and guess which one he will choose? Stick with fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grain bread or crackers instead of chips and sweets.

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