Monthly Archives: December 2006

Resolutions for the new year

There probably isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t noticed that around this time of year, every one gets busy thinking of all the improvements they want to make in their lives. I tend towards self-reflection a lot of the time, but this year, my musings on what I could do to improve the quality of my family’s life coincided with everyone else!

In making resolutions, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Take one small step – as the saying goes, ‘By the mile it’s a trial, by the inch it’s a cinch’. Just do it for today, or for an hour. This is the approach that I took when I stopped eating sugar, flour, wheat, or sweeteners of any kind over 18 months ago. At first, I couldn’t imagine going for even a day without it. I didn’t think about a lifetime without doughnuts, I just focused on one meal at a time. And then the meals turned into days, which turned into weeks, and then months. And now eating the way I do is just normal to me – it’s become a habit.

There are lots of things that I could work on now, but I know that by committing to just one area, I can focus my energy on that and have a chance to really change my habits. If I make a long list of things to work on, my energies will get scattered, I’ll lose my focus, and end up discouraged because I haven’t been successful across the board. But one positive change can make a real difference to lots of other areas. The area that I am currently working on is becoming more disciplined about my sleep. I tend to stay up late to get things done when the house is quiet, and very often, stay up way too late! It’s challenging to wake up perky and positive when you just want to turn back over and sleep for a couple more hours before facing the day. On the other hand, when I get to bed early, I wake up feeling energetic and on top of the day. By the time I go to wake up the kids, I’ve had time for reflection and prayer, breakfast is ready, and I feel relaxed and upbeat.

Despite knowing what a huge qualitative difference this makes for me throughout my entire day, I really struggle in maintaining an early bedtime. In the past, I’ve usually lasted for about a short while, and bit by bit, I go to sleep later each night (always staying up to take care of something important). And after a month or two, I’m back to my late nights. I decided that this time, instead of trying to go straight to an early bedtime (which was probably too extreme a change for me), I’ll try to get to bed a little earlier each night, so that over the course of a few weeks, I’ll be getting to sleep much earlier than I do now. Hopefully, it will be easier for me to maintain something like that.

I have a tendency to beat myself up if when I don’t live up to my plans that I think lots of us share, and since we often set the bar so hight, falling short sometimes is inevitable. I have to remind myself that any progress in this area is also good; even if I’m not in bed at my ideal time, midnight is still better than 1:30 am, and 11 pm is even better!

Bad habits can be broken, good habits can be changed – so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t 100% successful. Pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve made, and get back on track when you see yourself slipping. When it’s hard, think about the difference establishing this new habit will make in your life. Experts say that it takes about 3 weeks to establish a habit, so be persistent and don’t give up!


Great gift idea – coupons!

I thought some of you might find it interesting to hear what a poular gift in our home is for our kids. Coupons!

When I was a kid, I remember giving my mom coupons for services or a certain amount of kisses and hugs, redeemable by me. She always loved them, but never redeemed them! Much more recently, I thought about how to give our kids coupons, something that they would love and something they would use. Here’s what I do:

I spend some time thinking about the kind of thing each child enjoys doing, in order to make each coupon something that will really be appreciated. I make about 10 – 12 coupons for each child, and compile them into a coupon book. Most of the coupons are for small things that I know they will appreciate, with one bigger coupon for the older kids. Some of the small coupons are for things like: 1/2 staying up late after bedtime (or an hour, for older kids), picking a favorite video, playing a game with me or dh, reading an extra story, a trip to the dollar store (to pick up one item for the youngers, two for the olders), a trip for pizza or doughnuts and cocoa (we eat a pretty healthy diet, so something like this is a rare treat :)) with one parent. I find that the idea of a special outing with just one child and one parent is really appreciated by the kids. The one on one time makes whatever outing that much more special. One child may love swimming, so a coupon for her would be a swimming trip to the local pool with mommy. Another child will enjoy raquetball or a catch with daddy, or a mother-daughter workout at the gym, so that’s what they get. For the older kids, the coupons included a concert ticket to a favorite singer (accompanied by dad), a series of weight training classes given at our community center that enables kids under 16 to have access to the workout area without a parent’s supervision, and a session at a local pottery studio (which includes buying a ceramic piece and then several hours of studio time).

Then I type up each list in a nice font (a different font for each child), with it written twice on each line. I photocopy the list onto a sheet of colored paper (bright, so it doesn’t easily get lost!), then cut the list into long strips and staple all the strips together at the end. When a child wants to redeem a coupon, he rips off the half of the coupon on the right, leaving him with a copy of what it was he did. That way, even once the coupon has been used, they still have a printed stub as a reminder of what they received.

It is amazing how much the kids love these. They look forward to seeing what not only each of them gets, but what all of their siblings get. It’s a unassuming looking gift, but they each love getting so many ‘presents’ all at once, and love being able to control when they use the coupons.

Get creative, and you’ll find you can think of some pretty fun stuff for your kids, too!


Joy in the holiday season

I love this time of year- the music, the sense of family, and the building of memories. I also see a lot of tension in families as they try to find the get all of the presents bought and wrapped in time, create and build on past family traditions, and manage the zillion details that come up. What can we do to feel joy in the season, and not be overwhelmed by all the stuff that needs to be done?

I think it’s really important to have realistic expectations of yourself and your family. It’s nice to picture everyone gathered together, smiles on all faces, but overtired kids (and adults!) is normal, so is the less than perfect behavior can come along with overstimulation. Do what you can to take the pressure off of yourself and your family, by realizing that it’s just fine to be imperfect! Even better, think about what leads to those stressful situations, and do what you can to eliminate them – eg, make sure the kids eat on their schedule – don’t make them wait for the adult meal, everyone can rest in the afternoon if you know it will be a late night.

Practically speaking, don’t wait until the last minute to take care of all the details you need to tend to. That is a recipe for major stress! Take care of as many things as you can ahead of time. Making a detailed list can be very helpful; a simple checklist can work just as well. Do not wait until the last minute to do your shopping – you will be battling the crowds of people who also all waited until the last minute, have longer lines, more tension and pressure, and generally just lose the joy of what it is you are doing. Ideally, the best time to buy gifts is months in advance – I like to buy things that I think my family will enjoy and stockpile them throughout the year. I do the vast majority of my shopping off season, when the stores are empty, the prices are low, and I am feeling relaxed about what I’m doing. (Thegift of doing things in advance is that it is accompanied by a sense of inner peace.)

Lots of the food preparation can also be done ahead of time. Right around Thanksgiving is the best time to buy baking ingredients at sale prices. Bake with your kids, and pop it all into the freezer – you will enjoy not only getting the things done that you want to get done, but have the double bonus of spending fun time with your kids.

Don’t forget, this time of year is called the holiday season for a reason. It’s not about one week or even one day – make the entire month a process leading up to the holiday itself, by sharing holiday books and stories, baking, and special activities.