Saturday, November 30, 2013

This Holiday Choice Could Save a Life



We are tree-lovers over here. Our girls have been known to hug trees in true California-girl fashion. Last week, we were driving home, when I noticed a large tree at the end of our block had suddenly been cut down. "THAT'S HURTING NATURE!", my daughter exclaimed. Each time we got in the car for the next few days, she let us know she was still in mourning. We all were.

It is very important to me to teach my children that we are stewards of the Earth. This can be quite a challenge, living in an apartment in a big city, but we manage to do our part. Last year, when we went to pick out a Christmas tree, we had just experienced another tree drama. Tree trimmers had shown up at the little grove down our street and hacked off the lowest branches of all the trees. There was one particular tree that the girls could climb on their own. It had a long, undulating branch their father would swing them up onto and he would help them jump down. They were heartbroken when they realized it was gone and each day when we drove past it, they just asked "Why?. It was as if we had lost a pet. The tree was alive and there was no reason for it not to exist in their world anymore. 

So flashback to the Home Depot parking lot and we found ourselves at a crossroads: to our left was the fenced-in pen of Christmas trees fresh from the farm, cut and ready to be tied to the car roof, decorated and admired for three weeks, only to be cast off and thrown dead in the gutter a month later. To our right, was a small display of Living Trees. A few 3-foot saplings planted in pots displayed meekly next to some grills on clearance. It was a moment of truth---would I cave-in and bring home something that was sure to set the mood seen in all the magazines and commercials? Surely, if we had a 6-foot tall tree posing majestically in our front room, Christmas would be cozier, Santa would bring more presents, everyone would feel more...well....Christmas-ier. A plastic tree felt like a better possibility, but a tree made of chemicals didn't feel right either. So we headed over to the little potted trees and picked one out. It was our first "Charlie-Brown" tree--we couldn't get our fancy antique topper to stay on it, so we made one of paper, we used a total of two strings of lights around it. But, just like the end of the Peanuts Special, once we got it all set up and decorated, it was beautiful. And it was alive and would stay that way. After we rang in the New Year, it took up residence on our patio, where it has filled out a bit. This year, instead of buying another tree, we bought a bigger pot and some extra soil.


Are you up for the challenge this year? We were able to find living trees at both our Home Depot and our local grocery store. If you really want the glamor of a big tree and live in California, you can rent a living tree from Living Christmas. They will drop it off and pick it up for you. If you have no space to raise a potted tree after the Holiday, consider donating it to a school, church, scout group or park. Artificial Christmas trees are generally oil-derived and not recyclable, so consider giving this gift to your family and Mother Earth this year.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

6 Steps to a More Connected Thanksgiving


Last weekend, my parents lost power for over a day after severe weather hit the Midwest.  Even though my Mom and Dad have a strong relationship, my mom commented that "it's hard to have a conversation when you have to". It made me realize how much of my own conversations are based on what I am currently looking at on my phone/ipad/laptop. Going into Thanksgiving, my husband and I have talked about using our electronics minimally and intentionally and asking our family members to do the same. We really want to show our kids that it is important to be present with each other. At first, I thought I was being old-fashioned in my ideal that we should put away things that often connect us as well as entertain us. But then I thought of my childhood and my Grandma hollering in the general direction of the living room to "TURN THE TV OFF" as she hauled food from the kitchen to the dining room. She probably wanted us lazy bums to get up and help her set the table, but I think she also was frustrated that we weren't doing much more than a bunch of strangers do at a movie theater.  This year, we will still watch football and listen to music. I will probably refer to a recipe or two online. But I find I use my Facebook feed to "check out" when I am bored or overwhelmed. My husband checks scores and texts as a way to pass the time. In a room full of adults, each armed with a phone or laptop, what should be a celebration filled with conversations and laughter can feel more like the morning bus commute. A really nice morning bus commute with pie and gravy.....but still.

I encourage you to set aside your devices for part of the day on Thursday and talk to each other, play some games, take a walk, ask to help with the dishes. To fill in some of the gaps, here is a party game to play that is fun for all ages, even eye-rolling teenagers:

Celebrity (also known as Celebrities or Lunchbox) is a party game where teams play against each other to guess as many celebrity names as possible before time runs out. Little kids can play along too with help from the adults. Smaller kids can choose characters from books or shows, any person they are familiar with that the other players are familiar with as well.

6 Easy Rules for Celebrity with Pictures

 Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 


 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Give it Away....Give it Away...Give it Away Now!!




It starts with Halloween. Suddenly, the shelf of organized toys is littered with little plastic fangs and cheap glow-in-the-dark spider rings. As the holidays approach and we start seeing family members,  half the Target Dollar Spot takes up residence in our house. Pretty soon there is a new litter of stickers, puzzle pieces, those awful fake crayons that don't actually color, 490 new legos and 62 hair clips floating at random all over the house. By Valentine's Day, I am certain that this was the way one of the people you see on that show "Hoarders" started their collection.

This week, we are going to make an attempt to stop this epidemic in its tracks. We are cleaning out, giving things away, collecting for a yard sale and simplifying our possessions. This is a complete family project in which everyone gets really real with what they really need, what they actually use and what they can let go of. I plan to have the usual conversation with my kids about living simply, circulating our belongings to those who have very little and how grateful we can be for all we have. I encourage you to clean out a closet or drawer and drop some bags off at your local Goodwill or homeless shelter. An addendum to this activity will come closer to the Holidays. Consider simplifying your holiday gift lists. It is wonderful to honor those we love with presents, but how can those presents be more intentional or experiential? We will ask relatives to gift our children with things like tickets to the museum, money for a class they are interested in, a night at a show or just a one-on-one special day out with them.

Have a wonderful week! Please feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions and activity feedback!

How to have a perfect parenting moment....


Every once in a while, appetites are satiated, emotions are calm and perfect harmony descends upon our household.  When that palpable feeling arrives, I want to cue the movie soundtrack and capture the moment on my mental camera. These are the moments we expect to happen often when we have kids. But, in truth, they arrive the same way an astonishing sunset does---yeah, there are sunsets everyday, but then there are the ones when the conditions are just right and light hits the clouds just so, and you find yourself stopped at a green light marveling the sky.

This activity gave us one of those moments--we were sitting around the table cutting out leaves together, talking and laughing and just feeling cozy. I had a chance to memorize how my daughter's eyelashes look when we she looks down to cut paper. I took in some of the last sights I will have of my eldest's hands and cheeks before their chubby baby fat melts into girlhood. And for that moment, before somebody needed a snack or insisted they must use the tape first, I am so very grateful.










Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?



It seems I have hit upon a theme over the month---trees and gratitude. Last year, we did this activity and I had already planned on making it a yearly ritual. I grew up in Indiana with a traditional fall---turning leaves, the smell of bonfires, crisp football Saturdays. When we moved to L.A., I found substitutes for most of the things I missed about home, but I couldn't find anything that made me feel as cozy as fall. I tried to make do by taping leaves to the windows or attempting to jump through my tv screen when I was watching a Big Ten game. My mom even sent me a box filled with leaves and sticks one year just so I could smell home. 

So last year, we decided to make an autumn tree to decorate the house and it just naturally evolved into a Gratitude Tree. We traced leaves onto colored paper and cut them out. Then we cut paper bags and fashioned them into a trunk and branches and taped them to the wall. Each day, we each wrote something we were grateful for on a leaf and taped it on the tree. Our then 3-year-old even had us writing leaves for her (she was usually grateful for seaweed snacks). By Thanksgiving, we had our own little piece of fall in the house. This year instead of tracing leaves, I printed them using this template. If you want to save the trouble of cutting them out, you can find die-cut cardstock leaves at craft stores or here. If you aren't feeling crafty, you could simply write your entry on your calender. Instead of fall leaves, you could write on pieces of ribbon and tie them to a plant, a fence or a wreath, you could write on slips of paper and use clothespins to pin them to a string or you could simply tape a piece of paper to the wall and write on it daily. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you would like. Regardless of what you choose, it will cultivate gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving.

Have a great week!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Stopped Breathing


My husband co-founded a non-profit called Do As One. It basically uses technology to help people breathe at an optimum level and connect with each other worldwide. He spends a lot of time facilitating breathing workshops, coaching clients through challenges and attending wellness conferences. Confession time---I am not a big "breather".  I know it's good for me and I do my best to use the techniques he suggests, but my nature is to stubbornly bulldoze my way through adversity. So this week's activity was a little tricky for me, not so much because I didn't want to do it, I just found myself forgetting sometimes. Am I the only one who feels like a designated driver after a college party when I have to put my kids in the car? There is always someone sobbing, somebody with the munchies and somebody who wets their pants (or pukes). Fortunately, I remembered to take my deep breaths when I was on my mini-vacation walking around the car from one side to the other. That walk ended up being like a mini-Camino de Santiago for me this week. Which is why I am going to continue doing this little minivan meditation. It worked. I found myself so much calmer this week, and not just when I was in the car. I found myself taking deep breaths more often throughout the day. My kids were calmer too---it was really cool to hear them behind me taking 4 deep breaths. And SCORE!---it forces them to close their mouths and be quiet for just long enough to forget what they may have been incessantly
whining about moments before.

Do As One has stickers of their breathing orb that are meant to be a reminder to take a deep breath. I am putting a few in my car and am happy to send some to anyone who may be interested in having visual reminders. They also have an app that has, among other features, a notification setting. It can be set to play a chime each hour (or whichever hours you choose). I use it to remind me to take a deep breath each hour. I have found myself in the middle of a mental tirade, storming and stomping, and BONG, the little gong chimes and it helps me simmer down. 

Do As One app 


New activity post tomorrow! 




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Star Power


After last week, it is clear that all I really need to do is be a S.T.A.R (because that would mean I get a personal chef and a massage every day). Really it stands for Stop Take a Breath And Relax. Designate a task you repeat daily (ideally something you and your child do together) and use it to remind you to take a slow deep breath. If you can't find something that will serve as a reminder, you can set an alarm to remind you. (I know we are doing "unplugged" activities here, but go with it.) 

Here's my plan--each time I get in the car, we are going to breathe. Put the baby in the car seat--one deep, long, slow breath. Buckle in the 4 year old--another deep, long slow breath. 6 year old clicks it---another chance to breathe. And finally, one more for the road when I strap in. I imagine with as much time as we spend getting in and out of the car, this routine should repeat an average of 6 times a day.  To honor the season of Thanksgiving, I am going to add a mental moment of gratitude to my breathing, simply noting one thing I can be thankful for. Granted, by trip number six it might be that it's only 3 more hours until bedtime.

Here are some resources if you would like to learn more about breathing techniques:

Do As One 

Fun Breathing Icons and Instructions for Kids from Conscious Discipline

Omnibreath

 

Have a great week!




Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Strength of My Ancestors



It was one of those weeks that is typical for parents with small children. A sleepless, tantrum-filled, grumpy week. One that makes me think when my children are grown and smell b.o. and coffee-breath they will feel strangely nostalgic for their irritable mother and a cramped apartment. When I decided to start this blog, I felt it could be dangerous. People might assume I thought of myself as super-mom, that I had mastered mindful parenting and that I spent my days at home patiently guiding my children through Pinterest-worthy projects. Oh how misguided this assumption would be. This Family Tree activity was a perfect example of just how chaotic things feel sometimes. My eldest loved the idea of making a family tree and got to work right away--she interviewed her Grandparents and wrote lists of relatives, she had my husband draw her a template to enter all the information into---basically she was making me look really good. By the middle of the week, her interest waned and in the interest of blog-worthy photo ops, I kept pushing the subject. My younger would have rather sat through a physics dissertation and my youngest was busy testing her ability to swallow legos. By Halloween, we had successfully talked about family trees and our ancestors for about 2 minutes. In the eye of the storm, I managed to tell the girls the story of my Great-Grandfather's immigration from Croatia when he was 16. It made for quite the after-school special moment as we strolled peacefully down the street discussing how my Great-Grandparents met. Then my husband called to tell me he couldn't make it home until after dinner. That meant I needed to get my kids home, fed and costumed on my own. This would have been pretty simple had my youngest agreed to take a nap for more than 20 minutes that day. By 5:00, I was in my kitchen with a screaming baby wrapped around my leg, scrambling eggs while trying to finish a Pterodactyl head, volleying complaints from my eldest that the younger was (insert annoying behavior here). I had about 10 pieces of candy I scavenged from piƱata to hand out and nothing to light the jack-o-lanterns with. Did I mention the baby was screaming? Was I handling any of this gracefully or with compassion? Oh no---I was yelling and stomping and slamming and calculating how many years until my kids would start college. By the time we got everyone out, trick-or-treated, home and in pajamas, I may have aged 23 years. I had completely forgotten our intention to honor our ancestors. As we were tucking our daughters into bed, my husband grabbed a candle and said a few words in their remembrance. I wish I could say I listened to a word he said, but I just wanted to turn the lights off and have a glass of wine. Of course, once that happened, the guilt set in and I felt personally responsible for ruining Halloween for the entire Western Hemisphere.

The next morning, I woke up anxious---I was still wiped out from the day before and had a long night with the baby---how was I going to manage the day without being a snarky mess? The guilt of how snippy I had been with my family the night before was still goading me and I spent most of the morning picking myself apart.  I got in bed to nurse my daughter down for a nap---I really wished I could stay there all day, mostly because facing the day felt so overwhelming. As I continued to mentally compose the litany of wrongs I had committed, the missed blog activity came up---I forgot to honor my ancestors. "Well--today's the Day of the Dead," I thought. I took a deep breath and decided to honor them in that moment. Then I had the insight that so many of them had been mothers and they had been exhausted, sweaty messes too. And over bigger issues like food supply, life-threatening illnesses and basic survival. Pterodactyl heads really caused them no stress. So I closed my eyes and smelled my baby's head and asked my ancestors to surround me, to surround our family, to give me the strength and wisdom to mother with more grace, patience and calmness. Just saying these words to myself broke me open. I shed a tear as I felt myself relax and allowed the energy of generations past to wash away my guilt and start the day anew. 

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