Monthly Archives: March 2008

Writing daily gratitude lists

I’ve been consciously trying to do less to keep my inner balance, which is why I haven’t been posting much lately.  It’s so easy to get too busy in today’s busy world, running from thing to thing without improving the quality of our daily lives.  I tend to do a lot, and do them fast, and slowing down isn’t natural or easy for me, but it’s important to maintaining my emotional and physical health.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of a positive attitude, and thought I’d share something that I’ve found very valuable.  When I was 18 or 19 years old, I began a gratitude notebook – each day, I would list several things I was grateful for.  They could be big or small, but they couldn’t be the same things every day.  It was amazing what a difference it made to my outlook on life in a short time.  It forced me to look for the good and find it, every single day, even when I was feeling tired or irritable.  I did this for quite some time, then eventually stopped after 2 or 3 years, but by then had gotten into the habit of looking for the good in things.

I’ve often been told that I’m a positive person, or that I always seem upbeat and happy, and whatever positivity I’ve developed has its roots in this practice.  I wasn’t naturally an easy going and optimistic type (reading my poetry as a teenager points to the exact opposite), so whatever I positive outlook I have is a result of an ongoing effort on my part.  I try to look for the good in situations as much as I can.  Sometimes I’ve gone through periods that have emotionally sapped me and I’ve felt that my attitude needed some adjusting, so I’ve pulled out a notebook and gotten back into writing my gratitude lists.  It always helps me get my head back into a good space.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who wants to be a happier person.  Abraham Lincoln once said that a ‘person is as happy as he makes up his mind to be’, and I definitely feel that’s true.  We all have struggles in life. Not one of us has been given the easy pass through life, regardless of how it may look to people on the outside.  But when you decide you want to be happy, you can focus your mind on thinking thoughts that make you more joyful. 

It may seem like there’s nothing to write about at first.  That’s part of the power of this exercise.  We get so used to noticing every little thing that bothers us.  Writing down things to be grateful for forces you to look more deeply into your day so you can find them!  There are so many things every day that happen that are good, but we take them all for granted.

Did you wake up on time this morning? Did your alarm go off when it was supposed to?  Did you have running water when you wanted to wash up, toothpaste to brush your teeth, food to eat for breakfast?  When driving somewhere, did you get any green lights?  Did anyone let you merge?  Did you notice the clear sky, the warm sun, the newly blooming flowers on the side of the road? 

What if you were stuck in traffic because of construction or an accident?  Can you appreciate that you and your loved ones made it home safely?  The construction will lead to a smooth new road (or whatever improvement) – there are countries where the governments don’t use tax monies to improve the roads.  Didn’t hit any potholes on the way home?  Write it down!

What if you were in an accident?  Could it have been worse?  The check bounced – maybe you can appreciate that it was only one check, instead of five! 

If you decide to try this, commit to doing it for at least a month.  And please let me know how it affects your life!


An interesting mentoring opportunity

This afternoon six of the kids went to help out for a community fundraiser while I stayed home with the baby and toddler.  It was unusually quiet, and allowed me to have a very interesting conversation with someone who called during that time.

Remember when I told you we wanted to pull our oldest out of school for the afternoons?  We got the approval for that two weeks ago.  At that time, I asked the principal if all the teachers were notified so they wouldn’t think he was cutting class.  Yes, they were all informed, I was told.  A week later, my son was in school when his science teacher saw him and asked him where he had been.  Turned out none of the teachers were told, and they all thought he was sick the entire time. 

Anyway, the science teacher spent quite a lot of time talking with my son, then ended up driving him home since ds missed his ride because of the talk. 

It was this teacher who called me today.  My son mentioned in the course of their conversation that he’s interested in investing and real estate.  His teacher lives off of the money he makes trading options, and just teaches one or two classes a day because he enjoys it.  He’s willing to mentor him (for no cost) in trading stock options, but wanted to check with me first.  

 It’s an interesting idea.  As I told the teacher, I leave decisions like this up to my son.  I think that knowledge of financial stuff is both practical and empowering, so I would be inclined to encourage him to go ahead, but I think he’ll want to do it even without my encouragement.  His teacher would come to our house, which I prefer, since it’s important to me to know who is interacting with my kids.  I warned him that it wouldn’t exactly be a peaceful academic setting, since the computer where they would work is located in the dining room, right near the living room where all of the action is.  And I also told him that it’s quite likely he would end up with other kids listening in and watching.  He said he’s fine with that. 

It was nice also to hear his feedback about our son.  We, of course, think he’s a great kid, and enjoy having him around.  But it’s nice to hear what others say, particularly since as homeschoolers, we’ve all heard ominous warnings about how homeschooled kids won’t be able to appropriately socialize.  (I’m rolling my eyes as I write this since our personal experience is increasingly demonstrating exactly the opposite with all of our kids.)

The teacher commented about how comfortable my son was with himself, confident but not pushing himself on anyone.  He was particularly impressed that as a 14 year old, he could have an intelligent conversation for an extended period of time with an adult on real subjects, and told me he would have thought he was 17 or 18 if he hadn’t known he was in the ninth grade.

I’ve so often seen that you can’t plan for the opportunities you’ll have in life; you can just be open and prepared when opportunity knocks.  This is an example of that for my son.  He really wanted a mentor in real estate or investing, doing a lot of reading and thinking on his own.  But he felt he couldn’t move forward right now without mentoring with someone local.  Who would have thought a science teacher would end up being a mentor in investing?


Baking marathon

My house the last couple of days has resembled a mini bakery – a friend came over today and said our kitchen and dining room looked like an assembly line.  The older kids had three friends over yesterday, and they all independently said the same thing! 

When we recently renovated the kitchen (which still isn’t totally finished), we replaced our freestanding full size stove with a gas cooktop and a double electric oven (24″ wide).  Generally that suits our needs, but at times like this, it would be nice to have the larger capacity for baking to get all the pans baked faster.  We’ve had an early dinner the last two nights, since the table is covered with so many batters and pans during the day that lunch is out.  So between eating breakfast a little later, snacking on all that they’ve been baking, and an early dinner, we manage to keep hunger pains at bay. 

We have many dozens (have no desire to count) of filled cookies in an assortment of flavors (these were labor intensive because they had to be rolled out), about 15 loaves of banana bread, and 75 banana cookies.  Tomorrow we’ll make another big batch of banana breads.  I don’t even want to think about how many dishes I’ve washed. 

The reason for so much banana baking is that I bought a case of ripe bananas for $4 a couple of days ago – so I need to find a way to use them all up!  Bananas can be mashed and frozen for later use in baked goods, but in the past I’ve ended up leaving the mashed frozen banana in the freezer for so long that I eventually just threw it away.  So I’m making a big effort to use them all now.  You can also make chocolate covered banana pops: stick a popsicle stick in the banana, dip it in melted chocolate, and then roll it in shredded coconut or ground walnuts. 

Today I made baked banana oatmeal, and tomorrow I’ll give them banana milkshakes for breakfast.  I know it sounds like bananas are coming out of their ears, but it’s really not like that.  The kids usually have fruit sometime during the day, but they aren’t having bananas as their fruit right now.  The banana breads are for giving to neighbors, and the cookies will be a treat for the weekend.  We made the cookies healthy enough that I feel okay about sending them with my oldest son to have for breakfast (he hasn’t been taking food for the day and comes home famished).  We’re down to about 30 bananas, and I think we’ll finish them tomorrow, at this rate!


Beef and broccoli lo mein

Here’s the recipe – my daughter made several times this recipe, which lasted us for one meal, one partial meal, and several lunches for my son to take with him.  It was very abundant.  :)

8 oz. angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti

3 T. Braggs amino acids (we use this instead of soy sauce)

2 T. chicken or beef fat 

2 T. sesame seeds

2 T. sucanat

1/2 large onion

3 c. chopped broccoli

4 garlic cloves

1 t. ground ginger

1 lb. London broil or filet split (we used chopped brisket that we had in the freezer; use whatever you have)

1/2 c. water

3 T. Braggs amino acids

Boil pasta, drain when slightly chewy, not mushy.  Add 3 T. Braggs, sesame seeds, melted chicken/beef fat, and sucanat.  Mix it all up.

Then saute sliced onion in whatever kind of oil you use; add the chopped broccoli pieces (make sure they’re bite sized) .  Saute 4 minutes. 

Mince garlic into pan, add ginger, add to pan with broccoli.  Then slice whatever meat you’re using into thin strips, and add to the pan.  Saute for 5 minutes. 

Add the second 3 T. of Braggs to pan.  Mix all together with pasta.  Now serve! 

The consensus of our family was that this is better than the lo mein the local Chinese restaurant makes, and it was lots cheaper, too!  I won’t tell you how cheaply I made this, because I feel embarrassed and I’m sure you won’t believe me.  But I will say it was less than one serving at the restaurant would have cost, due to the super deal I got on meat and pasta.  And we served 12 people just for dinner, several servings for some of them!


Convenience foods on a budget

I’ve been noticing a trend when I’m grocery shopping – I see many items being packaged for convenience that traditionally haven’t been sold in that way.  Junk foods have been packaged like this for eternity, but now the healthy food is following suit.  Some examples of what I mean are: bags of carrot sticks (not baby carrots), prewashed potatoes for baking, and hard-boiled eggs in a sealed package.   And those things come at a much higher price as a result.

I dislike seeing everything commercialized, but I also understand that marketers are appealing to the desire of today’s busy shoppers to minimize the time in the kitchen.   And aren’t all of us busy?  I know I appreciate shortcuts that simplify my life!   I’ll share with you how you can make your own convenience foods, cheaply and easily.

When I buy a few heads of cabbage, I’ll take some time to shred a bunch.  Then I fill a couple of gallon sized ziploc bags, squeeze out any extra air, and keep it in the fridge to quickly use in salads, stir fries, or kimchi.  I do that with green and purple cabbage, as well as carrots.  Carrots – buy a five pound bag, peel them all, and cut them into sticks, then fill a bunch of sandwich bags for your kids’ lunches.  Do you like hardboiled eggs?  It takes less than a half hour for them to boil, whether you make two or twenty, and either way the effort involved is just putting the eggs in the pot, filling it with water, and putting it on a burner.  (That takes all of 1 minute?)

You’d be surprised at how little time it actually takes to do large amounts.  It’s the same principle that once you’re baking cake, you might as well quadruple the recipe and have four times the amount with just a little more work.  Once you’re doing it, it doesn’t take much more effort to do lots than a small amount.

You can use the same approach for less healthy things like snack foods.  If you bake cookies or other treats, put it in small portions in separate sandwich bags.  But it doesn’t matter if you make it yourself (that just means it’s cheaper and healthier).  You can take the big bags of popcorn, pretzels, or snack crackers and likewise divvy them up into portion sizes.

I have to send my oldest son to school every day with breakfast and lunch (he waits to eat dinner until he gets home), so I use the same approach for him.  (No, I don’t send him processed garbage just because it’s convenient.  :)) I make a bunch of a dish and then divide it into meal size portions, putting it aside in the fridge or freezer for him.  Last night my 13 year old daughter made a huge amount of broccoli lo mein – everyone said it was delicious!  (If you tell me you’d like the recipe, I’ll share it here with you – it was a big winner in our house, including the friends of the kids who ate over last night.)  So we put aside several containers for my son to take for lunch. 

Since I often eat a different meal than my kids (because of my food plan restrictions), I do the same thing to keep my life simple.  At the beginning of the week, I will chop up a bunch of veggies for salads, and place it into separate containers so I can just grab one each day for lunch.  (If you use grape tomatoes or keep the chopped tomatoes at the very top of the salad, the salad will stay fresh through the week- this was a very helpful tip for me when I finally figured it out!)  When I make my chicken, meat, salmon patties, or whatever, I make up a bunch, and then package it in a meal sized amount and put it in individual bags.  It makes my mealtimes much faster when I can just grab a bag out of the fridge or freezer.


Using threats to motivate children – part 3

When I started thinking about the issue of threats, the final question that was rattling around in my mind was, ‘What do I do if I phrase things positively, and they still don’t do what I want them to?” 

The problem I was mentally running into is one that some of you may also have, remembering that love and strength go hand in hand.  Love isn’t weakness and doesn’t mean wimpy.  We aren’t give up our parental power just because we don’t use threats. 

What’s the purpose in changing the way we communicate with our children?  We don’t speak with love and respect just to get our kids to do what we want, as a nice way to manipulate them.  We speak to them in that way because that’s what they deserve, and it helps them grow into emotionally healthy people. 

Does that mean we’re doomed to have kids who won’t respond to what they’re told to do?  Of course not!  Wouldn’t you feel more motivated to do something when asked by someone who you knew respected you and believed in y0u?  The goal of communication is to build the relationship.  We want to build the relationship so that our kids want to do what we want.

But that’s takes time, and even if they love us to pieces doesn’t mean that they’re willing to override what’s more comfortable for them at that moment, right?  So back to the original question, what do you do when they don’t listen?

The same thing you would do otherwise.  You step in and help them do what you’re telling them.  The child is throwing something and continues, you remove the ball.  They need to clean the room, you work with them.  You tell them to stop slamming the door and they slam it again, you have them practice closing and opening it ten times nicely.  You take concrete action to show that you mean what you say and that you back your words with action.  That action isn’t punitive, it isn’t threatening.  It shouldn’t be done in an angry or frustrated way.  You are being matter of fact, firm, and friendly, and showing your child that you will take the necessary steps to teach them to do what they should.


Using threats to motivate children – part 2

Okay, so I’ve addressed the lowest level of using threats in my last post. But I recently went to hear a parenting lecture (something I do very, very rarely) that challenged my thinking about this issue. 

The speaker described something so common that virtually all of us speak this way at some time as using threats.  And while I agreed with his points 100%, I still don’t fully embrace his conclusion.

Here’s a couple of examples:  “If you don’t finish your dinner, you can’t have ice cream.”  “If you don’t do your homework, you can’t play with your friends.”  Sound familiar?  It doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  And it’s not so bad.  I’ve done something similar (I’ll have to give my way later on in this post) to this plenty of times in the past and felt it was clearly defining what behavior was acceptable and what would happen if it wasn’t. 

He suggested a better way to accomplish one’s goals as a parent.  What’s wrong with speaking as the examples above show?  Firstly, you are still using negativity to get your child to do what you want – you’re stressing the negative consequence of not doing as you instruct.  And you’re still using the control model of parenting to a degree.  The opposite of the control model is when we release control and instead empower the child to do the right thing.  We want him to do the right thing eventually whether we are there or not.

I think it’s good to distinguish what is healthy guidance and what is unhealthy control.  We have a responsibility to our kids to guide them, to teach them the right way to behave, and to enforce our expectations.  I very strongly believe this is our absolute responsibility as parents, and to shirk it is not only irresponsible but cruel.  But we must approach our children (or anyone else we interact with!) from a position of respect and caring.  

The best alternative is to use our power to motivate them to want to do the right thing (this is what I referred to as empowering them) .  It means changing two things – one big and one small.  The small one – the area where I’m feeling challenged by this lecture, and unsure if his way is any any improvement over my way – is the way we phrase our expectations to our kids. 

Here’s an example of he suggested.  Instead of the ice cream example above, he suggests: “I’m so glad I’ll be able to give you ice cream when you finish your dinner.”  “You’ll enjoy playing with your friends when your homework is done.”   You’re showing your love and desire for them to enjoy good things.  They can infer that they won’t have those benefits if they don’t do those things, but it wasn’t the message that came from you.  It was something they figured out on their own. 

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you may remember that I’m not a fan of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, because of my concern that parents get too caught up in the technique of speaking to kids.  Does this seem like more technique?  It could be if parents think that the words matter more than the tone.

The most important thing about how we speak to our kids (in my opinion) is the emotion behind the words more than the actual words themselves.  Parenting isn’t about using the right kind of phrases.  When we feel loving towards our children, they feel that.  They also sense when we are ambivalent, tired, or irritable.

We can feel loving and still use the higher level of ‘threats’ (using the speaker’s terminology – I’m not fully comfortable with this) to get our kids to do what we want them to do. 

This is where I have trouble with his ideas.  I don’t threaten my kids.  That’s not my attitude, and it’s not my tone.  So how much does it matter that I don’t phrase my comments in exactly the way he suggests?  I don’t know. 

The reason I’m having trouble with this is that I don’t phrase my requests of my kids as the example above shows.  To me it sounds like bribery.  I don’t pull benefits away from them if they don’t do what I want, and I don’t offer benefits for doing what I say.  So while I’ll say, “No ice cream until dinner is finished”, I don’t use it as a threat.  I don’t have much emotional investment in it, I’m not waving the ice cream in front of them to convince them to listen to me.  I’m matter of fact about it – we eat dessert after we eat the meal.  I generally expect that they’ll do what I ask, because I’m reasonable in my expectations of them, and try my best to be respectful of them. 

This brings us to the second of the two points I said was crucial in motivating our kids in a positive way.  The first was the words we use, and the second is the spirit in which we speak them.  This is super important!!  I can’t stress this as the most important underpinning of all enough.  We need to really believe our positive message inside ourselves when we speak.  You can’t say the words and expect it to ‘work’ when your body language is telling your child something else entirely.  So the number one area to work on is our thoughts about our children, to see them for the precious people they are. 

As adults, we want to be treated with respect, and for others to acknowledge that we want to do the right thing, just we sometimes appreciate a pointer in the right direction.  Our kids aren’t any different.  When we talk to them, let’s try to give them the message that we know they are good, they want to do the right thing, and we believe in them.


Using threats to motivate children – part 1

I hear a lot of parents using threats when they deal with their children, and because it’s so common, I’ve decided to address this today.  First of all, I’ll clarify the two levels of what I’m referring to as threats.

The first is when the parent tells the child something extreme and scary will happen to them.  I don’t even like to give examples of this kind of threat, since I find it so disturbing to even think of speaking to our children like this.  But here’s something like what I mean, just so you know what I’m talking about.  I once read of a mother who knew her child was afraid of dogs, so she told her very young daughter she would bring a dog into the house if the girl didn’t comply with whatever the mother was requesting.  Of course the daughter was so terrified that she complied.  Or something much more common but equally troubling, “If you don’t come right now, I’m going to leave you here in the store.”  Why would we frighten them with threats of abandonment just to get them to do what we want?

I’ve heard parents justify this by saying that some kids are motivated by rewards and some kids are motivated by fear.  I don’t like the idea of using rewards or fear to get kids to do what we want, both are very problematic.  But I’m just addressing the fear based approach here; the problem with rewards is another topic altogether. 

Our children look to us to protect them and take care of them.  They are helpless and trust us to keep their world safe.  It’s damaging and harmful to the short and long term emotional well-being of a child to undermine this belief. Kids need to trust their parents and that kind of communication breaks that trust. 

Trust is at the heart of the parent-child relationship.  When you break the trust of a young child, you’re creating large problems in the future with that child as an adolescent or teen.  Parents make the mistake of thinking, ‘Well, it gets them to do what I say and nothing else works.’  Parenting isn’t about forcing compliance from those in a dependent position.  When we speak in this way, we’re speaking out of our own desire to control and that is usually fear based.

So how can we verbally motivate our kids?  More to come…. :)