100 small things: 2015

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy almost new year!  Gah, what an exciting time of year; the freshness and clean slate feeling that the new year brings makes me so happy that I'm practically giddy over here.

Vincent Van Gogh said,
"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

Over the past two-ish years, I have become more and more passionate about leading an intentional life.  I want the things happening in my life, the experiences, and relationships to bring happiness, beauty, and joy into my life. Yes, there are frustrations and challenges, but I want to spend my energy intentionally building a daily life that is fulfilling and inspiring to me.

So, with intention as my inspiration - and taking a cue from Ashley from The Big White Farmhouse I've decided to shake up my 'new year's resolution' for 2015.   (thank you Ashley, you are always inspiring me with your intentional life!)

I'd like to present my list of 100 small things to complete for 2015.

My list of 100 things was compiled using lots of different bits of inspiration.  Things that have been weighing down my mental to do list, plans I wanted to accomplish this year anyway, I looked to Ashley's list, my pinterest projects board, and my own lists I have tucked into notebooks and the back of my planner.

Throughout the year, I'll come back to this page (or re-post with updates) about the things that I complete on the list.  There are a few items that are quite lofty, but I'm going to try to go for them anyway.  I hope my list will inspire you to create one of your own for a more intentional year in 2015!

1. move photos to external hard drive/shutterfly
2. take each kid on an individual date
3. dress-up/out date with Brandon 4 times this year (2/4)
4. "Get to 'The End" of the first draft of one novel
5. Run/walk at least 30 miles one month
6. Read 12 books that I've never read before:  (Two of which are 'classics')  (1. Delirium by Lauren Oliver, 2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson 3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson 4. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoutx 5.The Husband's Secret by Lianne Moriarty 6. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston  7. Make it Happen by Lara Casey 8. Paper Towns by John Greene 9. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng  10.This Much I Know is True by Wally Lamb 11. The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart, 12. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 13. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 14. One More Thing, Stories and More Stories by B.J. Novak 15. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Plum)
7. make jam
8. organize the upstairs office space
9. take kids and grandmas to a city
10. throw out 50 things & re-read Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life (31/50)
11. Host 12 family dinners at our house
12. Host an 'art gallery opening' with the kids artwork with family/friends
13. create books with kids from their own stories and drawings
14. try Zumba
15. take down and wash, kitchen and living room curtains -
16. buy plastic cups
17. buy new plates -
18. create individual memory boxes for each family member
19. finish 2014 family yearbook
20. finish 2010 family yearbook
21. order personalized keepsake Christmas stockings for each family member (Brandon, Tabitha, Greyson, Gemma, Violet, Bully/Trixie, Lola)
22. make dogprint frame for our hallway
23. blog 3 times a week consistently
24. submit 4 articles/posts for publish to other blogs/sites
25. camp out with the kids
26. visit an indoor water park
27. kid playdate with Katie & Karpy -(twice!) January in Fredricksburg, VA and October in Altoona, PA
28. Dominican Republic family vacation - May
29. update my blog pages
30. create and manage The Hunting Daddies Youtube channel
31. serve a meal at the Winder Area Community Kitchen 
32. keep a daily gratitude journal
33. officially complete our wills
34. pour patio on the side and front of the house
35. plant a "garden"
36. participate in Screen Free Week 2015 -
37. fix the curtains in the kids' rooms
38. get new carpeting upstairs
39. go roller skating
40. hand-build a hope chest with my Dad
41. make enchiladas with my Mom
42. Learn to drive stick from Rudy
43. make homemade pierogies with Marianne
44. sew matching nightgowns for the girls with Grammar
45. make pysanky eggs with Pap
46. watch 5 documentaries (1. The Dark Matter of Love 2. On the Way to School 3. Alive Inside! 4.Hoop Dreams 5. Twinsters)
47. SCF weekend
48. create a family time capsule
49. create 5 gallon emergency bucket kit for the house
50. make handwriting page for school years for Greyson
51. build laundry pedestals
52. 12 month long deep cleaning schedule
53. Host a book exchange party
54. watch 15 TED talks (1. How not to be ignorant about the world 2. Connected, but alone  3. How to overcome biases? 4. How to Live a Life of Purpose  5. Creative Confidence  6. Got a wicked problem, first tell me how you make toast.  7. Why a Good book is a secret door  8. The math behind basketball's wildest moves  9. Practicing Intentional Empathy 10. How to let altruism be your guide 11. A radical exercise in empathy 12. Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves? 13. The art of asking 14.The surprising science of happiness 15.How to start a movement 16. Why city flags may be the worst designed thing you never noticed)
55. make Spend/Share/Save piggy banks for the kids
56. make a Hawaiian vacation trip book with our photos for the kids
57. make a Costa Rica trip book with my photos for the kids
58. visit Flight 93 memorial
59. get the dogs trained
60. organize/clear out junk from holiday decorations
61. take a photo of Gemma in my wedding dress
62. paint the breaks in the kitchen stone backsplash
63, scrub kitchen table & chairs
64. organize fridge documents (calendar, photos, etc)
65. 'finish' basement bathroom
66. take kids to a Curve baseball game
67. bike ride at Ohiopyle
68. go coal tubing
69. get everyone new bikes
70. convince Brandon to get rid of some clothes -
71. hang a clothesline
72. have a sleepover at Aunt Kitty's house
73. run in a 5K- May; Path of the Flood 5K
74. go one whole month with NO dining out at all- 
75. blog every single day for one whole month- October (26/30 days)
76. plant a tree on Earth day
77. subscribe to the Sunday local newspaper
78. read my writer's manual from front to back
79. take an online writing course
80. re-read my favorite book:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
81. get a couple's massage
82. get my hair done (highlights/cut) 
83. host an oxfam america hunger banquet
84. make homemade bread
85. eat one meal a week at the dinner table with candles/flower centerpiece
86. put in new french doors in the dining room
87. summer outdoor brunch/meals
88. campout under the tree before Orthodox Christmas
89. remove all blinds in the house
90. re-paint the living room
91. start to wear aprons while cooking dinner
92. order another Brian Andreas print
93. go eye-bombing with the kids
94. order a lovely print from a artist friend (!) that makes me happy
95. comment to other blogs and be better at replying to comments on my blog
96. remove TV from our morning routine -
97. start a 'first day of school eve' tradition
98. add Violet's birthstone to my Mother's ring
99. design my 3/4 sleeve tattoo
100.  make a 2016 list!

So here's to a new year!  To a year of doing small things to help accomplish the BIG life I imagine for myself and my family.  Here's to living intentionally in this one great life!

12 Months of Kindness 2014 Recap

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

We are closing out another year of 12 months of kindness and I wanted to reflect back on the year. In January, we had planned to do mostly gifts of time for our 12 acts of kindness in an effort to save money as it was our first full year living on only one paycheck.  We planned out each month to dedicate to a certain group of people to give gifts of time (ie. heroes, neighbors, each other, etc).

Taking a look back at our list, we did not do so well in comparing it to what we had initially planned.  The thing about gifts of time (although so important and my favorite) is that without a concrete event; it's pretty hard to track and keep ourselves accountable.  So lesson learned for years to come.

The first part of our original plan was for three of the first four months to do things for/with people in our family (our parents, grandparents, and extended families).  Gifts of time and extra attention.  And although I can't think of any glaring particular things we did - I know we spent lots of time and made wonderful memories with them; all throughout the year.  We have a lot of built-in family time already (holidays, fishing season, Grandmas & Kids NYC trip, birthdays, family reunions, parties), and some special family time too (baby showers, births, going-away parties, weddings, baptisms). The truth at the foundation of all truth is: we.are.infintely.blessed in the family department.

It was our 6th year choosing a high school senior for our Studer Scholarship at our alma mater this May.  We selected two students to receive our award and scholarship based off of their essays that explained to us how they left a positive impact on the school, community, or friends while in school.  It is always so refreshing to hear directly from the students about all the good that is happening.  Young people generally don't leave status updates that proclaim they are mowing the grass at their church for free or cleaning up the little league fields with volunteer groups - but that doesn't mean it isn't happening!  You just need to ask and you'll be happily surprised to hear all the good kids are doing these days!

June brought my first attempt at planning a 5K, which was exciting and scary.  I worked with the Conemaugh Valley Alumni Association to set up a Superhero 5K and Family Fun Run/Walk to benefit the organization and school district.  The 5K was just an out and back timed run - we even had some folks dress up like superheroes!  The Family Fun Run/Walk was out and back with some added superhero obstacles!  I was lucky to have the grandparents take our little superheroes while my husband and sister Tasha were geared up with bikes and supplies to set the whole trail up (luckiest girl ever that my family goes along with my wacky plans).  We had a pretty good turnout for both events during the day and learned a few lessons for planning for next year too.

July always holds our biggest kindness event of the year, our Invitational Beer Olympics event.  This year, it was co-sponsored by The Hunting Daddies and we raised over $530 to support the Hunt of a Lifetime organization.  

While we were in the final few weeks before our new baby was to arrive, we made a trip to our local Humane Society to drop off treats and donations in September.  Both of our pups were rescue dogs and we are so grateful that someone was willing to take care of them before they came to be part of our family.  We dropped off the goodies and visited with the animals for awhile.  The kids love visiting with them and we always make a little wish that they'll each find their family soon.

In October, we painted #tealpumpkins for trick-or-treat night and made sure to have halloween tattoos available to hand out for kids with food allergies.   We also secretly dropped off treat bags with candy & a homemade halloween craft for our neighbors as a Boo! Surprise for them.

getting ready to deliver our Boo! surprises

In November, we signed up to sponsor a kid through WorldVision.  We chose to support a 4 year old boy named Raph from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  We like talking about him and including him in our bedtime prayers.  Raph's picture is hanging on our fridge and the kids love saying hello to his sweet face in the kitchen.

I also gave our annual contribution to Oxfam America.  If you are still looking for last minute gift ideas, check out their Oxfam America UnWrapped page for amazing "in honor of" gifts that have printable cards to include to the recipient.  My sis just was gifted one that informed her that books were donated in her honor to kids in need.

By December and the end of the year, I knew we were well behind schedule for our acts of kindness, so with the holiday season in mind - we are working to try to make up for lost months.  We went big with #GivingTuesday this year and knocked three items off of our list:  Purchasing gifts for our adopted family through the Salvation Army, Donating money to the Salvation Army through my sister's Red Kettle Lips campaign, and baking cookies with homemade thank you cards for our local volunteer fire department.


dropping off our adopt-a-family gifts

show your Red Kettle Lips!

cookies for the fireman

I also stopped by a local blood drive to donate in December.  It was my first time eligible to donate again after being pregnant - so it felt good to get back into it again.  I also learned about platelet donation, which I am considering doing once a month after February when Violet's nursing schedule is less demanding.

This month, I also organized through the Conemaugh Valley Alumni Association a "Human Library" for the current high school juniors and seniors.  What is a human library; you ask?  It's an opportunity to speak to a variety of people about interesting topics from their experiences - sort of like 'checking out' a book at the library, except the books are people instead and the stories/information come from their experiences.

We enlisted the support of 16 young alumni from the past ten years of graduating and gave the students an opportunity to speak and ask question in a low-pressure atmosphere about what to expect for post-graduation.  There was a lot of great conversations and connections made throughout the morning.  One sweet student came back in before we left and thanked us for holding the event. She said, "Ya know, I thought this was going to be weird, but it turned out to be really cool."

We have one kindness (at least!) left before the end of the year, and that's visiting and dropping off cookies with our neighbors before Christmas Eve.  Just a batch of cookies and chocolate covered pretzels separate us from that yet....which speaking of...I really should get a'bakin.'

I'm really looking forward to 2015 and the 12 Months of Kindness challenge.  Even though our year wasn't successful month by month, it was an important year for learning a lesson about making more clear and trackable goals all through the months.  Despite our challenges, we did still have a very kind year - always remembering that the place to start with kindness is at home in the way we speak and relate to each other.

Did you participate in 12 Months of Kindness?  Or are you doing something big for the holidays?  I'd love to hear about it - comment and link up below!!

hi! I miss you!

Friday, December 12, 2014

hi.  I've missed you!  I wish we could grab a cup of coffee with our kids running and laughing in the background while we each sighed about the gifts we have yet to buy and the Christmas cards that still need sent.  Maybe we could slip a little bailey's in the coffee and eat a cookie or two without letting the kids know.  Let's pretend that's what's happening?

How are you?  What has been keeping you busy and feeling so happy and grateful?  What's been wearing on your mind?  I've been thinking of you.

In case you've been thinking of us too -
Here's the skinny on what we've been up to.
First, YAY!  It's the holidays!  And yet, we are not even close to being ready!!  hahha, but I'm still laughing about it so that's good, I guess.  Our Christmas cards just arrived yesterday and I got them all addressed and then looked at the stack yesterday and knew I wanted to get them in the mail asap but between bathing the baby, making the kids dinner, and getting to B's basketball game - they were definitely NOT going to get stamped, sealed, and return label'ed.

And so I called in my elves who were overjoyed to help "do some hard work."  Which is why for those of you who receive our christmas cards - you'll see that they've been closed up by two little darlings...which would explain why most of them have double-stamped return addresses, kid stickers on the back closing them up, and the stamp is sort-of in the right place.

Besides Marco and decorations - we haven't done too many holiday traditions, except celebrating St. Nick's day on the sixth.  But lots of our traditions begin this upcoming week with our annual Polar Express party with the Fiores, Santa and pizza with the Stahls, and Christmas with my parents and sisters in a week a day (gulp.  must start shopping).

It is also basketball season and I am so happy we are back into the swing of the season.  I love Coach Daddy.  He is passionate, time efficient, and a major hottie...hah, but seriously.  

The team just had a big win last night, so we are all feeling proud and excited for more games to come.  Our whole family is so invested in these boys and watching them try their best and work together.  They're like an extension of our family during the season and it makes me so glad to know my kids have role models to look up to.  While watching Reindeer Cam yesterday, Santa said that "Cody" was on the good list (also the name of a player on B's team) and Grey looked up with a huge smile and said, "Cody!  I have to tell him he's on the good list!"  And yesterday Gem put stickers all over a piece of cardboard and told me she made it for Coach and I asked "Coach Daddy?" and she said, "No, Coach Furman." (our assistant coach).

Our kids LOVE basketball season.  Grey has attended a ton of practices with the team and both kids ride the bus home with B and the players from away games - which have meant Mum&Violet home alone for a little while after away games - which has been wonderful.  They use the game time to practice sitting and watching (keyword being Practice; we are pretty antsy-pantsy in our seats) and then can hardly wait for halftime and the end of the game to get out on the court and run around like wild animals.

Brandon was on vacation last week and he and my dad got to work remodeling our upstairs bathrooms (the kids/guest bath and our master bath).  Both of the rooms had old linoleum floors and my dad (also known as The Tile Master) ripped them up and got to tiling them both.  (Hello, clearance tile racks at Home Depot!)  The guys worked tirelessly (thank you!!) while also being patient with the kids occasionally during the day when they escaped me and snuck up to "help Daddy and Chum."

The kids' bathroom is now almost done (needs painted) and looks beautiful.  Our bathroom still needs the floor and side-tube tiled, grouted, painted, and put back together.  Full update to come when everything is done.  In the meantime, our bedroom looks like this -

Grey has been attending "Ninja School" (also known as Karate) with Pappy for the past few weeks and loves it.  He is really doing well in the class and comes home so proud to show us his new moves and how he is learning to count in Korean.  Such a big kid these days!  He is really very sweet and patient with his sisters 95% of the time and wants to be helpful to us.  It's baffling to me that he was ever a baby at all; he has always seemed like such a boy trapped in a too little body and now he's really hitting his stride being 'big enough' to do all the things he wants to.  He makes us very proud.

He and Violet are absolutely obsessed with each other.  He is madly in love with her and regularly says "She's so cuuuuute!  Sometimes I feel like biting her!  But I won't Mum, because I love her, but she's just so cuuute!"  If he comes near her she start smiling and talking like a little maniac and it's so sweet I could faint.

Gem has been her regular, ridiculous self.  The girl does not stop talking which is both hysterical and exhausting.  She has been trying to use "Actually" and "Also" this week.  I had to go through the heartbreaking talk with her this week that people only grow bigger not smaller - as she wants to be older than Grey someday.  (it's heartbreaking to me, not to them).  She seamlessly plays wrestling with Grey while holding a purse and wearing princess dress-up clothes.  Have I told you all yet that she no longer calls Grey "Booboo" (which she used exclusively for the first 2 years of her life), and now she only calls him "Greyson."  Sometimes Grey will say, "Call me Booboo, Gem."  And she flatly says no.  She takes nothing from nobody and it makes us feel both proud and terrified.  She's a force to be reckoned with, our Miss Ro.

On Wednesday before Ninja school, Gemma dived into a 30 minute diatribe on how there should be a girl ninja school and she doesn't care if she's not old enough yet, it's not fair that she doesn't get to go too.  So, I figured, if she can eloquently argue the situation, it's time for her to attend a class and so the girls and I headed to her first class of gymnastics.  She was shy at first and then got comfortable and took to it like a fish in water.  She's in with the 3-5 year old girls and since she is fearless and already wild, it's really a perfect fit.  Also, her little butt in that leotard; I could die.

Grey and Gem together are like a little tornado blasting every corner of our house with destruction and roughness.  I'm so grateful they have each other to play with though, especially with all the cold weather.  Having a new baby in the house has been infinitely easier since they have a playmate.  Not that they don't fight (THEY DO), but they mostly get along which allows me to run through the house getting small cleaning/cooking/bill-paying/organizing/phone call/newborn tending tasks completed without having to entertain the two of them too.

For part of the day they get 'gated' in their room with the understanding that they can do whatever they want, but they'll need to clean up the mess after.  The other day, I was folding clothes when they both came sneaking in my room.  I asked how they got out of the gate and they showed me...they used the bunk bed ladder to escape.  Also, that huge pile of pillows/blankies are for a landing spot when they cannonball off of their dresser.  Welcome to the Studer Zoo Crew, folks.

And then, we have this girl.  She just slays us all.

It already feels like she is growing too fast and getting a little bigger after each naptime.  I can not overstate this next bit - she is the best baby on the whole planet in the history of babies.  Seriously.

The only thing she really doesn't like and screams about is getting boogies sucked out - but I mean, come on - who doesn't hate that?  Other than the boogies, she is an angel.  An absolute angel and I think a hundred thousand times a day what in my life have I done good that lets me get to be the mumma of this baby.  I know it sounds over the top, but this girl is honestly heavenly.  Sleeps so good, hardly cries, sits for long periods of time and occupies herself, sleeps right through the two loud, crazy ones, and gives her smiles away generously.  

Gah, I am in serious love with this child.

Violet loves to chat, she just wants to coo and talk all day long.  If you look at her face and start talking she acts like you've just given her a million dollars.  She just wants to talk, talk, talk and it's with the sweetest sounds in all the land.  Grey and I have started calling her Little Goo (as in baby talk "Ah Goo").  The other night, I was getting ready to put her to sleep and I whispered, "I love you"  She made a little humming sound that sounded like she was trying to repeat me, so I started giggling a little bit.  Well, that woke Violet right up and she got to her talking and cooing like we were going to grab some coffee real quick instead of bedtime.  Oh, this girl makes me so happy.

Brandon and I have done only a few of our adult advent calendar items, but we've mostly been fondly calling them "the tasks we probably won't do tonight."  HAHAHAHHAH.  We have on multiple occasions both passed out at night to wake up in a panic to lock the doors, turn off the lights, set up Marco, and barely make it to bed before falling back asleep.  Between the kids, basketball, work, and the holidays - we are running low on energy.

But that doesn't mean we aren't squeezing in quality time together and giggling over things that are so dumb but we both think are hilarious.  (Most recently laughing and using the young person fad of commenting with the use of "dem" and "doe" in place of "them" and "though".  #weareoldlosers

Overall, it is a daily whirlwind over here, but one that feels steady and comfortable somehow.  So far, having three under five has definitely been exhausting but also so full of love and hilarious personalities that I am truly loving our little family of five.

Last night at the game, someone with three grown kids asked me if I had gotten 'to the point of giving up the idea of perfection yet?' and it was such an accurate description of what it feels like that I heartily laughed and exclaimed, Yes!  That is what it feels like with three; like somehow I have let go of this pressure I've been putting on myself for things to be perfect like I did with only one or two kids.  And now, our days are so full of movement and loudness and giggles and things that need done - perfection has been removed from an item on a goal list.

It is finally like I've realized perfection is not something we are striving towards, but rather perfection is the sum of all of us all together.


In short, inside my bones, I feel like this Story People One of Us from Brian Andreas*, (of which had me in tears the other day) explains exactly how I feel.

Happy holidays to you!  I hope you are remembering to feel the joy of the season right along with the hustling and bustling.  xxox

*If you are not familiar with the work of Brian Andreas, I would strongly suggest discovering him.  His words make my heart float.  We have a print of his (No Words) in our bedroom.  He is magnificent.

is there more fun to be had than countdowns?

Monday, December 1, 2014

...but is there anything more fun then squeezing every last drop of anticipation out of an upcoming event by counting that thing down?  Over here at Team Studer, we're going to go with Nah, there isn't.

We love us some countdowns, we do countdowns for anything and everything in the upcoming future that us parents accidentally mention too early which then causes our sweet, curious children to ask incessantly on the half hour daily "Is it time now?"

And so, as we now have sufficiently stuffed ourselves with delicious turkey and thanksgiving merriment - it is time to move into the holiday season.  Which means our favorite jolly elf friend, Marco arrived again at our house on November 30, under the tree in a sparkly box all the way from the North Pole with a note from Santa.  best.day.ever.

We have been talking Marco up for the past few weeks actually, because Grey could barely stand himself in how much he was hoping Marco would come stay with us again.  He's mentioned quite a few times (read: approximately 7500 times) which of Marco's antics are his favorites (underwear in place of stockings -obviously; potty humor never goes unappreciated in our house).  So, with Greyson's favorites in mind and a little help from Pinterest - I've created another 24 days of Marco Mania in our house for 2014.

If you're a regular around here, you already know that we do Elf on the Shelf a little differently than the book goes - so Marco has spent his last two days here with us in the arms of my kids most of the time.  He's sort of like just another person in our family and we find him all over the house participating in our normal routines; at the dinner table, watching movies with the kids, and snuggling up at naptime.  Marco is our Christmas Countdown helper and someone that helps our kids to remember kindness, patience, and love is what the season is about.

While I was thinking about Marco and his tricks a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about how much effort goes into the whole countdown.  Every night, setting up these little scenes and making sure I have the accessories for each on hand for the right day.  I mean, it's not elaborate or anything but it is an effort and such a fun way to make it through the crazy weeks leading up to the season....and I got to thinking....Sheesh, what if we put this much effort into something special for Brandon and I every night?

And thus, our grown-up advent countdown was born.    This is not revolutionary - see this beer advent calendar, this sexy one, and this lotto ticket one.  But it is for us because we are notorious for putting our alone time dead last (like laster than last).

So - Quick, funny story -
B texted me last week "I have a surprise for you tonight" and I literally thought, "oh, I hope it's a chance to get an uninterrupted, unnecessarily long hot shower when he gets home and we go to bed early."  not.kidding:  this is my current fantasy with three kids under the age of 5.  super sexy.

Anyway, the surprise was actually our first solo dinner out at a fancy-ish restaurant in a reeeeeally long time (i'm talking like months...a year?  oh God).  So, I put on a dress and heels (!!!), ya know the whole nine yards, Gigi&Pappy watched the kids (thank you!) and just the two of us got to go to a restaurant where the floor wasn't sticky and there were no kid's menus.  it was delightfully disorienting.

Then the waiter comes over and starts telling us the specials using phrases like "pan-seared" and "resting on a bed of arugula" and I kid you not, I was smiling so wildly that I was near the point of giggling.  The 'Shouldn't laugh in church but now I can't stop' sort of stuff...all because I was honestly holding back moans of ecstasy at the sound of grown up food that I wasn't in charge of making and that no one was going to try to steal from my plate.  It was ridiculous. There must be a stay-at-home-Mom specific version of Stockholm's syndrome...no?

Okay - Back to our grown up advent calendar
It's super duper fancy and elaborate.

just kidding.
it's on post-it notes
and we had one rule: we aren't allowed to buy anything new to complete the activities.

The point is to set aside time after kid bedtime to do something together that we don't normally make time to do.  Some of the activities are short & sweet:  hand massages for each other, or slow dance to our wedding song - and some more time consuming like a game of scrabble with wine or our favorite Christmas movie and popcorn.

Tonight?  I'm taping The Voice to watch while we enjoy a beer together on the couch when he gets home from practice :)

Is your family fans of countdowns too?
Yes?  How are you counting down the season?

12 ways to practice empathy with kids

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'd like to be a Mum who can do it all - I used to think I could, back before I had kids.  That'd I'd be the Mum who would not rely on tv but instead creative educational lessons would fill the hours in the day.  The Mum who made sure her kids were eating only food that was good for them and never made of processed cheese and corn syrup.  The Mum who always looked put together and made time for her own mind, body, and spirit.  The Mum who carved out time for elaborate date nights.  The Mum who has a clean, organized house and even made time to properly clean the coffee maker and wiped out the microwave more than once a month.

I'm consistently none of those Mums and much to my very stubborn heart, it took a long time for me to figure out that it's okay to be a little bit of each of those Mums occasionally (when stars align just so and if all the kids had gotten enough sleep that night and no one is sick, sad, or over-sugar'ed for the day).  But I came to understand that it's more realistic and important to be one Mum; the one that I cared enough about being that I'd make the time every.single.day relentlessly to talk, walk, and model the kind of person I want my kids to grow up to become.

And after some siphoning of my 'wish I could be' and 'who I really am' pieces of myself; I found that the thing I care about most as a Mum is that my children will have the first instincts of empathy and kindness in every situation.  This is what I believe will ensure fullness, gratitude, and happiness in their lives long after I am no longer.  

I want to give them the tools to be able to look across the way and see themselves in any person that they come to meet in their life.  To care about their neighbors; of which every person is in some way.  To empathize before they pass judgement; to know that they have not walked in another person's shoes; haven't seen, heard, or felt all things that another person may have experienced...and to know that although they may disagree; there is still an opportunity to choose and act with kindness and compassion.  That the universe and karma have a way of working things out and to trust that somehow the good will find a way to float up.

Yes, I want them to be smart and talented and well-read and financially successful and well traveled and to care about good food and exercise and care about being organized and clean.  But most of all I want them to be kind.  And not just to the people who are nice to them; but nice to everyone.  Because our is a family that always first chooses kindness and empathy.

So today, I'd like to share 12 ways that we practice Empathy in our home:

1. Tell them stories about when you were little:  Not much captivates our kids more then a story about something that happened to us when we were little kids.  Hearing about how their parents and all the people they know (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) were once little kids is delightfully amazing to them.  We tell our kids about all the best memories and traditions from our childhood, but also about times that we made bad choices and the consequences that came with it.  We tell them about choices that we made that hurt someone else and times that we were hurt by someone/thing (physically or emotionally) and the lessons we learned.  Almost after every story we tell them, our kids respond with, "Tell us again."

2. Listen to music and talk about how it sounds and makes them feel:   Music is a great way to build empathy in kids because it supplies a way into experience feelings without being an actual situation that is in front of them or directly impacting them. If a song is on the radio in the car, sometimes I'll ask the kids if they think the song is happy or sad.  When we watch a movie and there is a spooky or exciting part coming up, I'll tell the kids to listen to the music to get an idea of what is going to happen next.

3. Give them opportunities to be selfless:  It feels good to be kind; this is no secret.  We supply plenty of moments for our kids to be kind, just for the sake of being nice to someone.  Many times the burden to us as parents means simply that whatever we are doing will take longer (and require more clean up) but it's worth it.  I let the kids pack lunch for their Dad, bake and deliver cookies to our local fire department or neighbors, create and mail notes and pictures to friends and family through snail mail.  Each member of the family is expected to help whenever needed (cleaning up, opening & holding doors, carrying in groceries, feed pets, etc) because we all need to do our part to contribute to the happiness of our family.

4. Make generosity, kindness, and patience celebrated qualities:  we dole out a boat load of positive reinforcement when it comes to the kids acting generous, kind, and patient.  The reverse, though, is the same - the kids know that we do not condone (nor feel proud) when/if our kids choose greediness, rudeness/bullying, or impatience in their actions.  These are near federal offenses in our house.

5. Play the "Maybe" Game:  When we see someone act a certain way that the kids might not understand for a situation, we play the 'Maybe' Game with them to come up with reasons why the person is behaving like they are.  We make every effort to not supply an easy answer that places blame on someone by making assumptions like a 'bad kid' or 'bad guy.' Instead for example, when we see another kid screaming in the grocery store we start the conversation by naming reasons of Maybe.  Like maybe they're hungry, maybe they wanted something but their mom can't buy it, maybe they are tired, maybe they're having a 'hard day,' maybe they can't talk and can only cry to tell their family they need help....Talking about how many different reasons is a reminder that feelings lead to actions and only actions are visible to everyone, but rarely ever are the reason for the feelings.

6. Practice(and practice some more) celebrating someone else's joy:  This is difficult to do with little kids because kids prefer to be the one who is experiencing special treatment - like birthdays, presents, and happy surprises.  We do this by reminding our kids that seeing our friends and family happy makes us feel good too and we talk about it frequently in big and small moments.  We model shared joy when the kids experience happiness as well as when we hear of good news for our friends and family.  We talk how good things for others can also mean good things for us; someone else's birthday means playing with our friends at a party (even if we aren't getting presents, we still get to have fun!)  And how sharing our happiness (when we get it) is nice - like sharing snacks and new toys.

7. Use the "How can I fix it?" apology:  Besides just saying sorry when we hurt someone (physically or emotionally) we also practice following it by asking How Can We Fix It?  We have talked about ways to help the person feel better after being hurt; things like a hug, high five, sharing a toy, or giving the person some space for awhile.  The kids have also made up secret handshakes, telling each other a joke, or making a picture/sorry note for the person.  Often times that person who was hurt wants to answer that "nothing" can fix it - so this is two fold as it helps the person who is hurt find a way to forgive too even if they don't feel like it at first.

8. Practice sharing someone's sadness:  using the 'How can I fix it' apology helps us practice sharing sadness that we helped create.  It gives kids a chance to see their own contribution to someone's pain but work towards helping the person feel better.  We also model how it's important to share someone's sadness in which we didn't contribute.  How it's important to be there to listen and help for people who have had bad things happen to them.  How lending a hand or listening ear can help make someone who is sad feel a little bit better. We talk about how it feels good when someone helps us when we are sad or hurt. How seeing someone suffer in pain or sadness also somehow makes us feel sad and how that's normal and maybe why that is (because we recognize ourselves in them or their situation).

As parents, it's our natural instinct to guard our own children from feeling sadness, embarrassment, or pain.  But in reality, shielding them from these feelings does them no good.  They will feel this at some point in their life and it will be out of our control.  In our family, we go one step farther then that to help build empathy by also permitting them to see, feel, and talk about other people's sadness.  It helps give them a sense that they are only a piece of a great big world and there are people everywhere experience varying levels of grief, but to also see examples everywhere of these people getting back up and moving on despite it.

9.  Teach them to pay attention to others around them:  This is our first reminder of good behavior when we are in public.  When the kids are acting up in a public place (restaurants, church, public transportation) we whisper to them to look around to see how everyone else is behaving.  It's a helpful reminder that although they are small, they are still part of a bigger picture.  We remind them that everyone else is also trying to enjoy their day and that there is a time and place for playing and being loud and a time and place for being respectful of other people's time, personal space, and quiet.

This also applies to paying attention to others around them while they are playing.  It's easy to get wrapped up in the moment of fun and lose focus of how other people feel.  We practice again and again what we should do if someone begins acting sad or upset while we play with them.  We stress consent when it comes to playing with others and if someone says "No" or "Stop," we stop what we are doing and ask if everything is okay.  The same applies if someone begins to cry or get upset.  We stop what we're doing and check in with them.  Even though we may be having fun, it should never be at the expense of someone else.

10. Give them opportunities to stand up for something:  We make opportunities to give the kids a chance to act courageously on behalf of someone (or something) else - in hopes that someday they will choose courage to stand up for someone/something weaker.  This takes form in many different ways; choosing between killing a bug in the house or 'rescuing' it and putting it outside instead.  Helping to decide punishment for a sibling who made a bad choice.  Choosing to throw a broken toy away vs. fixing it/re-using it for something new...  And then we talk about how their choice made them feel.  It's important to not always feed them the answer that we'd like them to have, but rather present them with a situation in which the consequences of their actions will effect their own feelings.  It's not a bad thing to let them feel guilty or worried about a bad choice on the small things - so they'll remember when it comes later in life with the big things.

11. Help them recognize their own gut feelings:  Greyson calls this 'spidey sense;' that funny feeling everyone has in their guts about moments in which something feels uncomfortable.  This feeling usually happens when faced with a situation in which the line between 'right' and 'wrong' feel very clear.  Many times it is a situation that requires action and a little bit of bravery.  Maybe the action is to go against peer pressure, or say 'no' when someone is asking you to say 'yes,' maybe it's simply to slow down for a second and check your bearings.  We want our kids to be aware of that internal spidey sense and listen to it's warning;  To feed the good wolf.

12. Give them tools to move on:  We know however, that always trying to share other people's feelings can be exhausting and draining.  All people need to be able to move on from feelings that can bring us down and make us feel worried.  Choose a tool that you can practice with the kids that can help them release some of those feelings when they can't seem to get past them.  In our house, that means 'praying about it' and we take a minute to send out a little prayer for the person or situation we are worried about and put it in the hands of the universe.  If your family isn't comfortable with that, you can also do other things - exercise through running or yoga, writing it out in a journal, perform a symbolic gesture (lighting a candle, a secret hand gesture, etc).  Any practice that will help remind your kids that it's important to also let the feeling go and move on.

I wish for a world in which everyone's first instinct is to react with empathy and kindness in all situations.  What would the school systems look like if we cared that our own kids AND the kids in the neighboring town had the best education?  What would the streets look like if we all realized it would take just a short period of hard times for us to also be without a home? What would the media look like if we celebrated empathy and kindness instead of celebrities, injustice and controversy?

In a moment like today, it feels very easy to pass quick judgment and choose a side.  But maybe instead, we can pause for a moment and see ourselves in all those involved.  The people who may have overreacted because they were scared.  The people who overreacted because they are tired of feeling unheard.  The people who got swept up in crowd mentality.  The people who are suffering from a broken heart.  The people who feel relieved and yet also afraid of what happens next.  The people who have to wake up this morning and rebuild.  The people who wake up this morning to see only the bad portrayed in the media and none of the good they were involved in.

Empathy is being able to see yourself in any person.  Believing that you'd never make a certain choice, but also knowing deep down that until you are in that exact moment you don't know for sure what you may or may not do.  That passing judgement is helping no one.  NO.ONE.

And maybe the only thing that will help a situation that is scary and tragic from every single angle is that in your own little, tiny corner of this Earth, you'll make the choice to choose kindness and empathy today.


Friday, November 21, 2014

We've made it!  Today marks the last day of the Rotten Eight!

We've been doing well over here and the days are going by unusually fast - maybe it's the earlier darkness of winter, but I swear by the time I turn around, it's already 4p and I'm left looking at my planner making choices between whether I'll fi.na.lly. write a blogpost this week or get a shower for the first time in three days/feed my children/or fold the clothes that have been in the dryer for two days.  Sorry - blogposts have not been winning recently - but I'm hoping the close of the Rotten Eight will bring a new bounce to my giddy-up.

I was even sort of feeling newly-energized yesterday and washed all the bedsheets (a feat in itself) and took all three kids grocery shopping by myself (heroic!)  Alas, Violet was determined to finish out the Rotten Eight with a bang by partying all night, so I'm running on two cups of coffee and a dream today.  She thinks she's hilarious.

Here's what we've been up to lately...

All this month we've been daily adding to our Thankful Tree.  It's been funny and enlightening to see what the kids want to add and also what they think Violet would add if she could talk.  I keep using language like, "We have so many things to be thankful for," and "How lucky we are!"  It's time to gear up for holiday consumption overload - so we've also been talking about how commercials and magazines try to get us to buy things that we don't need.  Grey has been randomly announcing during commercials on tv, "They want us to buy that truck, but we already have a car so we don't need it."  The fight of consumerism is on!  haha

We've been adjusting to basketball season , as this was the first official week of practice.  That means B goes to work all day, stops in to give us all a hug&kiss in the late afternoon and then runs to practice to get back in time to give everyone a good night kiss.  We all know that time is limited, so it seems like it forces us to really give quality in the moments we get it - isn't time funny like that?

Basketball season basically looks a lot like this at our house:

(Can I also add that I love basketball season because I can see so fiercely the passion that B has for basketball and his players in his face and the way he talks.  Seriously, obsessed with Coach Studer).

#tbt to circa 2001 when Brandon scored his first 1000 points as a sophomore in high school
I started teaching Catechism two weeks ago and I'm really loving it.  It's like a nice step back into a (sort-of) classroom and working with not my own kids.  I'm teaching fifth grade and it's been refreshing to spend time with kids that can ask questions and comprehend bigger ideas- but are still little enough to want to play and do crafts.  I'm really happy to have that hour and a half on Sunday morning to myself being a teacher - it's a nice change of pace from all the rest of my normal with my own three kids hanging off my limbs asking for new sippy cups of water.

entertainment with scotch tape.  Pig Noses.

Also, our little Gemmi bear is still in full-throttle and I have to repeat myself twenty times a day to tell her to, "Please find a nicer way to talk Gemma Rose."  She is very into yell-talking and telling us all what to do with the bratty voice of a tweenager.  She also lamented to me yesterday, "I don't like people."  ...nice.  Every single night when we pray and say thank you for the things we have in our life, Gemma consistently says thank you for both "the playground," and "the ocean."

Grey is a huge helper and very, very patient with both of his sisters.  Honestly, 80% of the time I feel so insanely blessed that this kind, generous,sweet boy is my son and the big brother to our girls.  He reads to them and shares and helps them when they need it, and suggests games they can play together.  Honestly, he is precious and makes me so proud.

And then there is the other part of the day that is filled with insane boy mania:  running. jumping, slamming into things, pretending everything is a weapon, wrestling, tackling, attempting to fly off of things, fake fart noises, talking about butts/poop/throw up, burping, messes everywhere.  Just so much roughness.  I think that's something I'll never quite understand about boys; such jagged, rough edges but such a soft inner core.  The dichotomy of it blows my freaking mind.

Violet continues to be an absolute angel (save last night) and astonishes us and everyone with what a good baby she is.  Thank goodness she wasn't our first - we'd have very skewed views of what normal babies act like.  She is such a pleasant little thing when she's awake, but spends most of her days blissfully sleeping.  No amount of Studer Zoo Crew general loudness can disturb her slumber.  It's the stuff of miracles.

When I wake her up to feed her (for real, she sleeps right through feeding schedules), she lets her eyes get adjusted and the moment she recognizes my face, she gets the sweetest, biggest toothless smile on her face.  My cup runneth over every.single.time.

We've been trying out lots of new recipes over the past few weeks for some reason (thank you pinterest) and Grey has been hesitant to try anything that looks remotely different than lunchmeat sandwiches or pizza.  So I tried blindfolding him at dinner to try new foods.  It works for a solid two bites and then he takes it off and decides he doesn't like it again.  While Gemmi digs right in and eats anything you put in front of her including a bite from everyone else's plates. She's our resident seagull.

Here are some of our (minus picky-eater Greyson) recent favorites:
Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta
Baked Tacos
Crumb-topped Chicken Supreme Casserole

For my parents' wedding anniversary - my sisters and I pitched in to get new professional pictures of our family taken by the wonderful Carissa McClellan.  We spent a very (very!) chilly afternoon outside snapping beautiful photos.  Is it too much to order wallpaper in these photos? J.Crew - feel free to reach out to us for modeling in your next catalog....hahah, but seriously...why does natural light, pinterest-suggested color pops, and really awesome photographers with really good cameras make peeps look so fresh?

And then after our group picture - THIS HAPPENED!!

Kevin waited until all the rest of us had left and when the photographer asked if they had any other couple poses they wanted to do, he said, "I have an idea" and.got.down.on.his.knee.and.proposed.


And now my baby sister IS GETTING MARRIED!!!!  I can't even properly post about this right now because I'm still processing and gushing over this.  Expect a full update when I am no longer hyperventilating.

I was in the parking lot, actually sitting in the truck nursing Violet when Tash came to tell me.  She was fake handing treats for the kids to me (really actually trying to stick her new engagement ring in front of my eyes) and like a total airhead I kept swatting her hand out of my face.  I think at one point, I was even like, "Tash, move your hand."  lololololololol.  finally she blatantly stuck her hand directly into my eyeball and I screamed, "Whaaaaaaaaaat?!!" all the while, Violet is happily drinking along.  hahahahha.  #momprobs

And then I repeated over and over the rest of the evening, "My baby sister is getting married!"

Thanks for hanging around - I'm hoping to get back into the swing of normal here now that the Rotten Eight is over!  Feel free to toast a glass of wine with me tonight over this fact!

(This post brought to you in large part by Violet's nap and SpyKids on the iPad.)