Live Like a Tourist

Somewhere inside this woman who feels eternally responsible for getting dinner on the table and clean underwear in everyone’s drawers is a fun and spontaneous person. Really! But for whatever reason, it proves difficult for me to mesh my fun side with my taking-care-of-business side when in the midst of my daily routine. Why? Gee, I don’t know, maybe because the home is my workplace, and it’s filled with things, projects, lists, and people screaming at me (both literally and figuratively) to do this and to do that every waking moment of the day.

As much as I like the idea of being the mom who initiates dance parties in the kitchen and pillow fights at bedtime, I have to admit that most of the time I’m in work mode. (I’m not a total dud, but you get my drift.) In order for me to really relax and get my fun on I actually need to leave the premises and go to a worry free environment. And for me, that translates into living like a tourist.

It started when I became a mother. Anxious to introduce my children to all the wonderful things the world had to offer, and in an effort to create lots of warm and fuzzy family memories, I quite naturally sought out the best of the best activities for families in whatever place we lived. (When I say “the best of the best,” I just mean the best for our family. Obviously, each family will seek out and enjoy different “best” activities.) The wonderful by-product of this was that I created a whole lot of fun for both my family and myself.

The crazy thing is, in every place we’ve ever lived I’ve met longtime residents who have never done the “top ten” list of things to do in town–the things anyone visiting the area would do if they were on vacation. I’ve always been a little surprised by this. One of the first things I do when I move to a new city is find out what the tourist attractions are and start plugging them into the calendar. I understand that some people are just more of the “home body” type, but these same people will often go out of their way to travel to other states and destinations rather than simply taking advantage of what is in their own backyard.

Reynolds family in IowaWhen we lived in Iowa City, we enjoyed Wilson’s Apple Orchard with its big red barn, apple turnovers, hay rides, and over 100 types of pick your own apples. The Amana Colonies and Amish communities were always a hit, as was fossil collecting at the Devonian Fossil Gorge. While Iowa isn’t typically thought of as a tourist destination, we had more than our share of good times hiking, boating around Coralville Lake, hanging out at the Ped Mall near the University of Iowa, and seeing an occasional Broadway show at Hancher Auditorium.  We even had a great time last summer by going to the American Gothic House! You might think you live in an area with very little to do, but I contend that with a little bit of research you’d be surprised.

Sea Caves in CAThen we moved to the Los Angeles area and there really was no end to the out and about activities. Even so, in addition to the predictable trips to the beach and Disneyland, we also found activities that longtime residents had never even heard of. One of my favorites was the day I hiked with my four children up to the Bat mobile cave that was used in the old Batman TV show. (When you walk through the end of the cave it actually opens up to a great view of the Hollywood sign!) It should be noted that this little activity didn’t cost me any more than the gas to get there. Living like a tourist doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money. I am a firm believer that some of the best things (or activities) in life really are free.

Reynolds family in Southern UtahSpeaking of which, now that we live in Utah, we can’t get enough of the national parks and beautiful local hikes! Other than the occasional and inexpensive entrance pass, hiking is just about the cheapest fun you can have as a family. And while not always free, Utah also seems to have a never ending supply of other family friendly activities for every season and holiday of the year. So much so that I find myself spending more time figuring out what not to do rather than what to do. In fact, this weekend is our school district’s fall break, and while many people use this time to go down to Disneyland or who else knows where, we are more than happy to stay right here in town and do a few of the great things that our local area has to offer (like another new and beautiful hike to see the fall colors!) It’s going to take quite some time for me to feel like I’ve seen and done it all. Utah is just another great place to live like a tourist.

My point is, if you’re feeling a little stale these days and not at all like the fun mom you used to be or thought you would be, maybe you just need to get out of your workplace (the home) and start living like a tourist. Get online, Google “things to do in (your town)” and then sit down and make some plans with your family. (Most city websites are a great resource, but GoCityKids and Thingstodo are also very helpful.) It may just be the spark you need to remember how much fun you really are.

QUESTION: What are the “top ten” things to do in your town? Do you know?

CHALLENGE: Find out and go have some fun!

By Allyson Reynolds, Power of Moms

Images provided by the author.

Two Simple Ways to Nourish Family Life

Loosli family at KolobOnce upon a time, before my life began to revolve around naps and then homework and now carpools, I studied some fascinating stuff about families while pursuing my Masters degree at Harvard (that diploma on my wall is mostly useful these days for reminding my kids that I actually DO know a thing or two…).

Recently I decided it would be interesting to re-read one of my favorite books from that period of my life. It’s called The Shelter of Each Other and it’s by NYTimes bestselling author Mary Pipher (she also wrote a great book called Reviving Ophelia about raising adolescent girls – it was a big deal back in the 90’s). The Shelter of Each Other offers lots of great insights into how to build a happy family or create a happy family out of an unhappy one. The book was really interesting to me when I first read it. But the book means much more to me now that I’m actually in the midst of trying to build my own family.

In the book, the author shares case studies of families a couple generations ago and modern-day families. It’s  interesting to see some of the things our society seems to have lost (a strong and quite universal sense of what is right and wrong, a strong sense of responsibility, acceptance that hard things are part of life, the slowness and peace of a world with very little technology, etc.) and some of the things we’ve gained (greater openness, more understanding and acceptance, etc.). It’s also interesting to compare the big hard issues main-stream families dealt with long ago (sickness, poverty, deaths of loved ones, hard physical labor, too much responsibility put on children, too few choices) with the big hard issues main-stream families face today (drugs, alcohol, monitoring what kids have access to and how much time they spend in front of screens, lack of tangible work and tangible results, too many choices, etc.)

But the part of the book that struck me the most was this part:

Pipher is meeting with a family in crisis. The mom is depressed and works long hours. The dad seems addicted to the Internet and can’t seem to kick his smoking habit. Their 18-year-old daughter is a perfectionist recovering from anorexia. Their 14-year-old daughter is downright mean to everyone in the family and has problems with drugs and alcohol. Their 10-year-old son is lonely and mercilessly teased at school and wants to play video games constantly.  They don’t feel at all connected with each other and consider themselves a totally dysfunctional family. They have the desire for a strong, happy family. But they don’t really know how to get from where they are to where they want to be. So they’re willing to try just about anything that Pipher suggests.

In thinking about how this family could heal itself, Pipher says, “This family needed more nourishing activities. As adults, people remember three kinds of family events with great pleasure – meals, vacations and time outdoors. I wanted this family to have some memories.”

Based on this need she identified, Pipher said this to the family:

“I”m going to make a couple of radical suggestions here. One is that you turn off the television and computer for at least a couple of nights a week, and two, that the family do something out of doors every week together. Watch a sunset, go for a walk, or take a trip to a wilderness area.”

Turning off TV’s and computers isn’t really a radical suggestion for families these days. In the 15 years since Pipher wrote this book, it seems that our society has started to face the real issues involved in too much screen/technology time and many families have learned the necessity of declaring and protecting “screen-free” time in their lives. Of course, actually implementing what we know is right can be a challenge . . .

On the other hand, the suggestion of spending time outdoors isn’t something our society seems to be thinking as much about. Pipher goes on to explain this further: “I think the natural world has great power to heal and restore families. Children need contact with the natural world. It’s an antidote to advertising and gives them a different perspective on the universe. Looking at the Milky Way makes most of us feel small and yet a part of something vast. Television, with its emphasis on meeting every need, makes people feel self-important and yet unconnected to anything greater than themselves.”

The family in the book took Pipher’s suggestions. They went on walks and hikes (even though some people hated it at first) and found that conversations came naturally and the fresh air and varied scenery just felt good. They played board games, read and actually talked to each other during their no-screen evenings. Over the next few months, while they still had plenty of issues to work through, their relationships were strengthened, they started to enjoy being around each other, and some of their problems seemed to dissipate.

In our family, we work hard to maintain screen-time boundaries for our kids. They can have a little computer time after finishing homework and family work (chores) and they only watch some limited TV on weekends. But I’m realizing my husband and I need to have some screen-free evenings after the kids are in bed to enhance our relationship (after a long day, it’s so easy to get sucked into emails or TV shows). So we’ve decided to keep two evenings a week screen-free from here on out.

As far as outdoor time, we’ve always loved hiking and biking together on weekends and after-dinner walks around the neighborhood were part of our routine for quite a while. But I’ve realized that lately, as we’ve had more extracurricular activities to get to in the evenings, our after-dinner walks have dwindled to nothing. And as our weekends have been filled up with soccer games and home-improvement projects, hiking and biking excursions haven’t happened much.

Last week, after reading Pipher’s advice, we went on a family hike and made it out on a couple quick after-dinner walks. Getting people out the door isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Everyone’s just a little nicer and life feels better when we get some outdoor time – even a quick walk around the block seems to help.

Whether our families are in crisis or not, Pipher’s simple do-able ideas for nourishing our relationships and building memories can be applied with real success.

QUESTION: Do you prioritize screen-free time and outdoor time in your family? What works for you?

CHALLENGE: Follow Pipher’s advice!

By Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms

One-on-One Time with our Kids – PODCAST

saren and eliza one on onePower of Moms is creating a new podcast series offering fun conversations full of great ideas to build your family. Each Wednesday, we’ll be posting the latest episode here at Donny Osmond Home.

For this week’s podcast, join Power of Moms Founders, April and Saren, as they share simple tried-and-true ideas for making one-on-one time with each child into a regular and meaningful part of the family routine.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Or right click here to download the podcast straight to your computer.

Here’s a summary of some of the tips shared in the podcast:

  • Let each child take a turn staying up 15 minutes late and during this time, the child gets mom and dad’s attention all to themselves. They could choose to play a favorite game together, read a book together, research something they’re interested in via the Internet together, etc.  Or if bedtime doesn’t work, you can set up 15-minute rotations during the day when kids get special individual time with a parent.
  • Pick kids up from school during lunch and take them out on a special date. Tell them what you’ve noticed about them lately (all the positive things!) and let them talk about whatever they want.
  • Take each child out on a special “date” every month if you can. Give them a budget ($5 works well) and let them choose what the activity will be (brainstorm a list of ideas together as a family if you want so they have a “jumping off” point for thinking about what they’d love to do with you). Examples include going for a walk or bike ride, browsing at a book store or library, going on a “photography walk” to take photos of interesting things, going out for ice cream or a smoothie, etc.
  • Think about how you can make housework into great one-on-one time and teaching time as you work with a child how to make a meal, clean a floor, make a bed, fold laundry, etc. (this works especially well if you help them with a job they’ve been assigned – they’re extra happy for your company when you’re helping them do something they know is their responsibility!)
  • Take advantage of opportunities for spontaneous “dates” but taking a child who seems to be needing a little extra attention with you on a necessary errand and making a point of really talking in the car and involving the child in helping you find things and make decisions at the store.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

*** All podcasts are also available on iTunes 

Music from Creations by Michael R. Hicks.

9 Ways to Fill November With the Joy of Gratitude

Halloween’s over, and everywhere I go, Christmas decorations are popping up. But I’m not ready for that. I want to focus on THANKSGIVING first.

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it’s my favorite holiday.

I love cooking with women who are dear to me and involving my children in the cooking as well. I love making the table look beautiful. I love the anticipation of the feast as you smell that turkey cooking all day. I love the old-fashioned all-too-rare focus on sitting at the table for a good long while, really talking and really enjoying our food. I love the fact that decorating for Thanksgiving takes just a few minutes – a few gourds, some Indian corn, maybe some autumn leaves and a nice table cloth – that’ll pretty much do it.

But what I love the very most about Thanksgiving is that it forces me to think about my blessings, and I’ve found that when I adopt an “attitude of gratitude,” life is just a lot happier.

Here are some traditions that can help you make Thanksgiving into so much more than a day of overeating and watching football with family and friends:

1. Thankful List
Growing up, my dad would “set up shop” in the kitchen first thing Thanksgiving morning with a roll of cash register tape where he’d write down everything that he and anyone else who walked into the room was thankful for. He’d number each item, and by the time dinner was ready, we’d have hundreds and hundreds of “thankful things” on that list. We’d put down everything from “light bulbs” to “kindness” to “pumpkin pie.” Dad would drape the list like crepe paper around the dining room, and it helped us ponder our blessings as we enjoyed our feast.

This tradition – or a variation of it – has stuck with everyone in our family.  As a college student in Boston, as a missionary in Bulgaria, during the time I worked in Washington DC, and on into my married life, the thankful list has been part of every Thanksgiving. Any roommate, friend or relative involved in any Thanksgiving celebration involving any Eyres has been asked to add their “thankful things” to a list (not many of us have made the effort to find cash register tape – but any piece of paper will do). As a mom, I’ve loved focusing on gratitude with my own children each year. I’ve saved precious thankful lists dictated by my little toddlers and painstakingly written out by first graders with creative spelling. We’ve had contests to see who could create the longest list and have made it a tradition to share our “top ten” while enjoying our Thanksgiving feasts.

2. Thanksgiving Tree

thanksgiving tree

In the past few years, we’ve expanded on the “thankful list” idea and made it a daily part of November to think about and write down something we’re thankful for. Starting at the beginning of November, we talk about what we’re most grateful for at dinner each night and everyone picks one “thankful thing” to write on a “thankful leaf” that we  add to our “Thanksgiving Tree.”  Our tree is just a collection of branches we found in the backyard and stuck into some of that green florist styrofoam-type stuff in a left-over container I found in the basement. The  ”leaves” are made of leaf-shaped pieces of yellow, red and orange construction paper that we write things on and tape to the tree’s branches.

thankfultree

My sister’s Thanksgiving Tree is pictured on the right – she does a “flat” tree that hangs on her fridge. And when I hopped on Pinterest and typed “thanksgiving tree” into the search bar, I found lots more ideas – so check Pinterest if you want more ideas.

3. Gratitude Journal
Another thing I’ve done the past couple years to focus on upping my personal level of gratitude (which greatly impacts my personal level of happiness), is to keep a gratitude journal. I write about one thing I’m especially grateful for each day in my journal or on my blog. Sometimes I write just a few words. Sometimes I write a couple paragraphs. This little practice makes me look for the positive every day and celebrate the good things that can be found even in hard days and hard situations. I like the person I am when I’m searching out and celebrating all that is wonderful in my life. If you want to see my gratitude blog posts from last year (I did every single day in November!), feel free to visit Five Kids in Five Years – Gratitude Posts.

4. Make gratitude a deliberate part of our every-day lives
If we’re reading a book to our kids, we can point out where a character in the story lacks something we have and express gratitude for that thing. If we’re enjoying dinner at a restaurant, we can point out how blessed we are to be able to go out to eat and enjoy good food without even having to make it or clean up. If we’re cleaning the house, we can talk about how blessed we are to have carpets to vacuum and toilets to clean when so many families lack the basic things we’ve got.

5. Watch video clips and look at photos with your children that make you recognize your blessings. Here are a few great links that made me and the kids realize how incredibly blessed we are:

  • The World is Amazing (by Discovery Channel – points out how cool our world is)
  • Where Children Sleep (a photo-essay about children and the places they sleep – from lovely bedrooms to an old mattress on the side of the road to a dirt-floored hut)
  • Orphans in Bulgaria (a video I made with the photos I took while visiting orphanages where babies are left in their beds 24 hours a day and where children have very few opportunities for learning and nurturing – we show this at the fundraiser my kids put on in our neighborhood each year. No matter how many times we’ve watched this, it makes us so grateful for our family and our home and all that we have.)
  • Pollyanna (We love this movie/book. It’s cheesy, yes, but it’s such a great story of optimism and recognizing blessings. Watch a clip or get the whole movie for a family movie night.)

6. Write thank you notes. Brainstorm with your kids a list of people in our community who we are thankful for and spend a half hour or so writing thank you notes to them. Kids could tape a thank-you note on the trash cans for the garbage man, hand a thank-you note to the check-out lady at the grocery store, take a thank you note to their teachers at school, etc. And thank-you notes or emails to relatives and friends far away would be very meaningful as well. There are so many people who do so much for us – many of whom don’t get thanked very often. November is a great time to say thank you.

7. Do service. Many families search out service projects to do during Christmas. Why not focus on service in November as well? December can get so busy and perhaps it’s even more helpful to serve at a soup kitchen or gather clothing for those in need or sing a song at a nursing home in November – before the Christmas rush. As we serve those who are less fortunate, our own blessings are brought into focus for us.

8. Express gratitude for your children and your husband. Make it a daily practice throughout November to tell your spouse and each child one specific thing you are grateful for about them as you tuck them in bed or say goodnight at the end of the day.

9. Use social media. Using Instagram, Facebook, a blog or email, you could post a photo or statement about something you’re grateful for each day during November. This can help encourage the joy of gratitude in others while increasing it in yourself.

For further explanation of the ideas above and more, you can listen to the brainstorming session I had with my mom and sisters – PODCAST: Thanksgiving Ideas).

I hope that some of the ideas here may help you and your family embrace the joy of gratitude this month and make this the best Thanksgiving ever.

QUESTION: What are your favorite traditions and ideas for Thanksgiving?

CHALLENGE: Pick one new activity you’ll do this Thanksgiving Season to focus on gratitude.

By Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms

9 Tips for Great Dinnertime Conversations

 

April son at dinnertime for DOH post oct 31 2013For many years, our dinner conversations sounded something like this:

Please chew with your mouths closed.

I don’t yike dis.

Five more bites.

What’s for dessert?

You’re not getting dessert unless you eat your food.

My juice spilled!

Why did you put your cup so close to the edge?

I didn’t. Someone else touched it.

I’m going to frow up.

No, you’re not. Just eat. Eat. And please pick up all those noodles you just spilled on the ground. And those peas.

But this isn’t my faborite.

Can everybody please just EAT?!

Oh, those crazy dinner hours seemed to stretch on forever, and sometimes I honestly wondered how that time spent flinging food all over the kitchen could possibly contribute to my children’s success on their SATs.

But we made it through, and now that the spills and whines have subsided, we can actually sit around the table together and talk.

The funny thing, however, is that sometimes after we’ve gone through all the effort of preparing a nice meal, setting the table, and creating a quiet, TV-free space in the day for us to bond as a family, we just stare at each other as we eat–without really knowing what to talk about.  (I think we were all stunned by the silence.)

After this happened three or four times without any improvement, I turned to our Power of Moms Facebook community for ideas, and our “table talk” has now become a favorite part of my day.  Here are some conversation topics you might like to try in your family.

  • The “Would You Rather” Game: Family members take turns asking each other questions starting with that phrase.  For example, “Would you rather be the President of the United States or a lion tamer?” or “Would you rather eat liver or three cans of green beans?”  Kind of fun, don’t you think?
  • Historical Events: Some families keep a calendar near the dinner table listing major historical events that happened on each day of the year.  They find the current day on that calendar, discuss the details of the event that happened, and give their children the opportunity to ask questions, share their opinions, etc.
  • Special Family Events: This is similar to the one above, but instead of focusing on worldhistory, you focus on your family history.  You could have a calendar listing the birthdays of your ancestors, when each child first walked, when you and your spouse got engaged, or when you went on a big family trip.  You could also add to this calendar whenever something funny or meaningful happens.  (It’s so nice to know that special moments will be reviewed at some point in the future, and it’s wonderful to help our children connect with those who came before.)

ancestors photo for DOH article oct 29 2013

  • Religion and Spirituality: The dinner hour can be a choice time to read from sacred text, discuss spiritual topics, or reflect on the question, “How did you see God in your life today?”  On our refrigerator, we have a “prayer list,” where we write the names of friends or family members who need extra help or strength in their lives.  Dinnertime is a great opportunity to review that list, discuss how each person is doing, and talk about how we’ve seen our prayers answered.
  • Math and Logic: If your children are a little older, they might enjoy some verbal quizzes involving math or logic. I love www.folj.com.
  • Joke of the Day: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it works for children of all ages, and there are tons of joke websites, joke books, etc. that could provide lots of fun memories.

Agent P's Top Secret Joke Book

  • Warm Fuzzies: You can purchase a simple glass jar and a bag of colorful pom-poms, and assign each child his or her own color.  Then at dinnertime, each person describes a “warm fuzzy” from his or her day (a time when he or she did something nice for someone else).

warm fuzzies bags

  • Current Events/World Cultures: The fabulous book, Growing Up Global, has tons of excellent ideas to discuss geography, various cultures, and current events with our families.  I’m still in the market for a large map that we can laminate and put on our table.  Wouldn’t it be fun to talk about a few different countries each week–and let our children share what they have been learning in their own studies?

map on Shawni's wall

This map is hanging on Shawni’s wall (from www.71toes.com). I love the idea of “showing our children the world” during meal time.

  • LOTS of Good Questions: Most mothers agree that the question, “How was your day?” is destined to fail.  But if we take a little time to get creative with our questions, some powerful, memorable conversations will follow. To make this simple for you, we’ve put together a PDF with 35 unique conversation starters.  If you’d like, you can print it out, tape it inside a cupboard, put it into a sheet protector, or cut it into strips and put them into a small jar at the center of your table.

family dinnertime conversation starters

Download your Family Dinnertime Conversation Starters here.

Our family doesn’t always have dinner discussions like the ones outlined above.  Last night, for example, my children had plenty of their own exciting things to say.  We heard about my daughter’s sixth grade graduation and about a friend who was struggling.  We talked about our summer plans, and my four-year-old reminded us how many months are left until he turns five.  We laughed at my husband’s jokes, decided we really wanted s’mores for dessert, and flipped through a couple of book catalogs that had arrived in the mail.

Nothing fancy, nothing scripted.  But it was sweet.

Family time is priceless, and even though it’s often messy, noisy, and frustrating, there is great power in having deliberate conversations with those we love the most. It’s just nice to be ready with something meaningful when the opportunity presents itself.

Here’s to building wonderful memories around the table!

QUESTION: Do you have any fun dinner conversation starters you’d like to share?

CHALLENGE: Pick one of the ideas above (or identify one of your own), and make tonight’sdinner conversation into a binding family experience.

By April Perry, Power of Moms

Making Memorial Day Memories

I love when the red, white and blue season begins; star-spangled banners, patriotic pride and gratitude for the very best of us. These are the days worth celebrating.

This weekend, we’ll be hosting a backyard BBQ. Because the skies are spacious and America is beautiful, and a hot dog tastes so much better when stars and stripes are waving in the wind.

We’ll be plastering our deck in streamers of the red, white and blue variety, but for a little extra pizzazz, I’m thinking these beauties from Multiples and More will do the trick.  They suggest using florists wire, but an embroidery hoop (or anything that is sturdy and round) should work just as well. streamer

And because a party at our house means a bazillion kids running around, we’ll be needing something to keep their hands busy while my husband burns the burgers.  These adorable crowns from Spoonful will make for the perfect patriotic craft.  And let’s be honest, the photo op when all is said and assembled will be pretty close to priceless.  At the very least, highly instagrammable.

glory-crown-craft-photo-420-FF0808PARADA05

To wash down the char, we’ll spend the afternoon sipping on Red and Blue Lemonade from Betty Crocker. This is one drink that is equal parts tasty and delicious. Keep it kid-friendly by omitting the limoncello.lemonade

For the grande finale, we’ll dig into a perfectly patriotic confection.  This Red, White and Blueberry Trifle from Food Network is light and fluffy and super simple to make.  It’s the sparkler at the end of sunshine-filled, belly-satisfied day.637113_red-white-blueberry-trifle_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscape

**How will you be spending your Memorial Day?**

PODCAST: Organizing our Stuff

ikea-storage-bins-croppedFeeling overwhelmed by the stuff in your home?

In this episode, Power of Moms co-founders, April and Saren offer practical tips for streamlining and organizing the toys, clothes, dishes and furnishings in our homes. They focus on ideas to help you:

  • Make sure you’ve got the right things in your home (and get rid of the wrong things)
  • Make those right things easier to find and enjoy
  • Sort and donate regularly
  • Learn to view clothes, toys and furnishings as consumables
  • Be more mindful about what we bring into our homes in the first place

Click HERE to listen.

Show Notes

Music from Creations by Michael R. Hicks

Audio editing by Christy Elder

Everyday Traditions: PODCAST

family dinnerPaying a little extra attention to the positive “rituals” and “traditions” of our every-day life can really build relationships and enhance the love in our homes.

In this podcast, April and Saren share great ideas for enhancing your family’s:

  • morning routines
  • after school snack time
  • family dinner time
  • tuck-in time
  • weekend activities

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

HELPFUL LINKS:

After School Routines (Saren’s video showing what they do)

Mommy Detective (post about how we can ask the right questions)

9 Tips for Great Family Dinner Time (includes great conversation starter printable)

3 Unbelievable Parenting Tips (short post and podcast about the most important 9 minutes of the day)

Simple and Meaningful Holiday Traditions (podcast)

Housework Builds Relationships (podcast)

Your Family Identity (podcast)

* Photo courtesy of 71toes.com

7 Family Activities to Fill February with Love

heart for Saren

In my family growing up, Valentine’s Day was pretty mellow.

I remember working with my sister to make Valentine cards to bring to school, putting a few conversation hearts in each envelope (after carefully screening what each heart said so that we wouldn’t be giving any boys the wrong idea).  I also remember making elaborate Valentine’s Day mailboxes to bring to school to put on our desks and then everyone would deliver Valentines to everyone else’s mailboxes. On Valentine’s Day morning, we always found our cups at the breakfast table full of candy from our sweet mom. Valentine’s Day was nice. It was sufficient.

Then I went through my teenage years and twenties dreading Valentine’s Day. It seemed like a horrible holiday that caused a lot more pain than joy as it reminded every unattached girl and woman of what she didn’t have. On the few occasions when I did have someone I was dating or interested in around Valentine’s Day, there was plenty of angst trying to figure out what actions or lack of actions on Valentine’s Day might actually mean.

Once I was married, I quickly found that Valentine’s Day angst didn’t go away! Plus I realized that getting flowers and going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day wasn’t all good – the price of flowers in February is crazy and getting a table at a restaurant and finding a babysitter can be way more trouble than it’s worth.

But in the last few years, I’ve learned really love Valentine’s Day. While my husband and I do some special couple-oriented things around Valentine’s Day, we’ve decided to focus Valentine’s Day itself, and really all of February, on celebrating FAMILY love, not just romantic love.

Here are some  activities that help make February wonderful for our family:

1. Heart Attack

One of my favorite family activities is the “heart attack” we give each other. Towards the beginning of the month (usually the first Monday of the month), we cut out construction paper hearts (all sizes and colors), write down what we love about a  family member on each heart (the little kids dictate to someone who can write), then stick the completed hearts all over our kitchen cabinets. It’s great to see what everyone comes up with ands we’re all reminded of the love we share every time we’re in the kitchen. Plus it’s an easy and meaningful way to decorate for Valentine’s Day.

Saren's kids making Valentines cards

heart attack

valentine from Isaac to Saren

valentine to Jared

heart attack in kitchen

2. Jar of Love

jar of love

We started a new tradition last year that we LOVED (got the idea from one of our great Power of Moms readers – thanks, Brianna!).  We brainstormed a bunch of simple little activities that celebrate the love we have for those around us (examples below), wrote each one on a little slip of paper, and put all the slips in a jar.  Each day at breakfast for a week before Valentine’s Day, the kids trade off picking a slip of paper from the jar and then we do the activity on the paper they chose sometime that day. Some days, we don’t quite get to the activity and that’s okay – we put it back in the jar for later or draw out a different activity that might work better for that particular day.  So far, it’s really been a great new Valentine’s tradition.

Here’s what we put in our jar:

  • see how many hugs and kisses you can give today
  • “heart attack” someone’s front door
  • take a treat to someone
  • do a “secret service” for someone in your family
  • do something nice for someone outside your family
  • read a story about loving and caring for others
  • pop some popcorn and watch a fun movie that has a love story (Princess Bride is our favorite)
  • make a special Valentine for a school or church teacher
  • give a sincere compliment to someone today
  • write a nice note or email to someone you love who you haven’t seen for a while (see below for one example)

Here’s a Valentine’s letter one of my kids wrote last year on the day we drew “write a nice note to someone you love”:

Here’s a Valentine’s letter one of my kids wrote last year on the day we drew “write a nice note to someone you love”:

valentines-letter

3. Mommy Dates

During February, I love to take each of my children out for a special little “mommy date.” Since I’ve got a busy schedule and five children, these dates are pretty simple (stuff like picking up a child from school at lunch and going to a favorite fast food place, stopping for ice cream on the way home from a basketball practice, or simply going with me to the grocery store one-on-one and choosing a favorite treat plus the ingredients for a favorite family meal that week).  I try to do Mommy Dates throughout the year and I’m spotty at best.  But during February, I make a real point of ensuring that these special dates happen.

4. Valentine’s Day Breakfast Treats

On Valentine’s Day itself, it’s my tradition to set the table nicely the night before and decorate with some special candies and chocolates for each child (I’ve started keeping heart-shaped containers from year to year, simply refilling them). And I put some of my husband’s favorite treats in his bowl.

We always eat yogurt with granola and berries on top for breakfast (easy, yummy, festive).

valentines breakfast

special treats for valentines

5. Valentine’s Day Dinner 

At dinner on Valentine’s Day, everyone shares something specific that they really love about the person to their left (or right, take your pick!). I like to make a dinner that the family especially loves (one year I did take-and-bake heart shaped pizza which was a big favorite – and so easy!).  I heard of a family that always has a candlelight dinner on Valentine’s Day and I think we’ll try that this year as well.  Candlelight isn’t just for romance – it’s great whenever you want to create a calm and different ambiance for dinner.

6. Valentine’s Notes

Some years, I’ve written a love note to each member of my family and given it to them sometime on Valentine’s Day. In my notes, I’ve written down my current top 10 favorite things about that person.  I love this opportunity to really think about how much I love my children and husband and have shared some beautiful moments with them when I’ve found a quiet moment to share my note with them.

7. “We Love to Be a Family Day”

I love how my Power of Moms partner, April, celebrates this special day in February. We’re going to try it this year. Ideas, instructions and planning templates are found here: A Valentine’s Day Tradition Your Family Will Never Forget.

No matter your circumstances, talents and bandwidth, there are ways you can make February really special as you emphasize the love your family feels for each other and the larger world.  I hope you’ve found some helpful ideas here and please share your ideas below!

QUESTION: What are some of your family’s favorite Valentine’s activities?

CHALLENGE: Do something fun and new to celebrate your family’s love this year for Valentine’s Day.

By Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms

Streamlining Our Kids’ Stuff

Sports Equipment on White

As we get rolling with the new year, many of us have made resolutions to be more organized. And part of that involves organizing all the stuff that accompanies our wonderful children. From the double strollers and toys of the younger years to the sports equipment and electronics of the teen years, dealing with our children’s abundance of “stuff” is something we all have to face.

I’m no professional organizer by any stretch of the imagination, but like most mothers burdened under the weight of enough toys, books, gear, and clothing to supply a small third world country, I have read plenty of books and articles on the subject and found several useful principles that have worked for me that I’d like to share with you. Please feel free to share what’s worked for you in the comments section below!

The specific principle of organization I’d like to focus on today is the one I feel most effective for getting and staying organized, that of simplifying your stuff. The math is easy: The less stuff you have, the less you have to get and keep organized. So let’s make this really “simple” and break it down into just two categories. Outbound (getting rid of the already existing stuff) and Inbound (controlling the incoming stuff).

Outbound. Between the various books and articles I’ve read (as well as several episodes of Clean House), my favorite tips for getting rid of stuff are as follows:

1) Have a group De-Junk-A-Thon. I like to do one children’s bedroom at a time at the very beginning of the summer, and the play room/game closets every year right before Christmas. Use this time to reminisce with your kids and talk about how nice it will be to give some of these gently used items to children who are less fortunate.

2) The Four Box Method: Throw Away, Put Away, Give Away, Store Away. I actually use laundry baskets, because I use this method mostly for the non-stop clothing carousel at my house. With four children growing through four seasons every year, I have to have some sort of system in place!

3) One drawer, one closet, one countertop at a time. This really makes things do-able in my opinion. Next week I plan to tackle my “junk drawer” that’s overflowing with school, craft, and office supplies. I can easily wrap my head around one drawer.

4) By category: toys, gear, clothing, books. You could definitely use the four box method for each of these categories. No one said you had to use just one system–incorporate as many as you can!

5) Put de-junking on the calendar. Maybe the weekends of daylight savings in the fall and spring would be easy to remember, or the summer and winter solstice. Choose a weekend every 3 or 6 months that isn’t too busy with other activities when you can plan on doing some major de-junking.

6) Determine a specific number of bags or boxes to go out on a regular basis. I have a Catholic friend who likes to get rid of one bag a day for every day of Lent. I like it!

But how do you decide which stuff gets the boot? After all my reading and HGTV watching, here are my suggested Golden Rules of Discarding:

IF . . .

No one has used it or worn it in a year

it bugs you every time you see it

there’s no place to put it or store it

it’s broken and you haven’t fixed it in a year

you have multiples of the same item

it’s not beautiful, inspiring or useful . . .

say goodbye!

My Golden Rules of Discarding are similar to my Golden Rules of Purchasing which make a perfect segueway into part two of this post.

Inbound. Golden Rules of Purchasing: 

IF . . .

it’s an unplanned, impulsive purchase

you don’t have a place to store it

you aren’t committed to take care of it

you can borrow or rent it

you already have one that works for you

you don’t have “real” money for it

you really don’t need it . . .

don’t buy it!

That just about sums it up, but I have two more thoughts specific to moms.

1) Refuse leftovers. For heaven’s sake, please don’t take in other people’s unsolicited leftover toys, clothing, gear, and books unless you really need them! Just smile and say “no thank you” when that nice friend or neighbor tries to give you something you don’t really need or want. Taking in unnecessary stuff is much like eating unnecessary calories in my book. Don’t do it just because you can’t bear the thought of throwing something “perfectly good” in the garbage can. Make friends with your garbage can! (Or your local donations center.)

2) Give experiences rather than stuff. Consider giving your children experiences rather than stuff on their birthdays and Christmas. While we did buy her a few presents, the highlight of my daughter’s 13th birthday last year was going on a hike in the mountains with her dad and to get her hair done at a nice day spa with me. Knowing you will most likely be purchasing presents of some kind, think about giving your children things they actually need like a new backpack or new clothes rather than just handing those things out at random times.

Getting rid of the excess stuff we already have and limiting the amount of stuff coming in is the easiest way to organize a home full of children. The pay-offs are huge not just in terms of space and time spent cleaning, but also controlling materialism in both our children and ourselves.

QUESTION: How do you keep your children’s stuff “simply” organized?

CHALLENGE: Try getting rid of some stuff this week with one of the tips listed above.

Photo by Jhen 41 at http://www.flickr.com

By Allyson Reynolds, Power of Moms