Connected Holiday

iphone pics 2011-2012 856This time of year things can really amp up a bit – with social events and sing-alongs and school pageants and classroom projects and gift giving and decorating and, well, you get the idea, it’s busy right now. Even if it’s good busy (which I hope for all of you that it is!) it’s still busy and definitely takes some serious intention. And planning. And ideas for how to keep things feeling the way you want them to feel.

While I do love the giving spirit that is prevalent this time of year, I don’t love the feeling of obligatory getting that seems to want to dominate. And that marketers spend billions of dollars on. Being aware of that is our first step towards making it work for us. When we know what we don’t want, it’s easier to focus in on what we do want. And from that knowing, and from the web, and from trial and error over the years, I bring you this…

  1. Experience. Rather than a thing, focus on an idea. A special class or outing, a trip to the movies, a book of coupons for visits to the bakery or the ice cream shop or a one-on-one date to the cafe or some other such outing where the prize is the process itself.
  2. Consumables. Perhaps this comes from having a big family now and coming from a big family, but having your very own box of your favorite cookies or a special treat or your own bag of chocolate pretzels or some other food that normally isn’t the norm?  That you can eat when you want and that you don’t have to share if you don’t want to but you can if you do want? That’s heaven for a kid. You can eat if fast, or make it last. It’s up to the recipient and they are in charge of that little food domain.
  3. Want/Need/Wear/Read I saw this a while back and I think it’s brilliant. I love the parameters it sets and I love the simplicity of it and the fact that it’s all sort of covered – desires are met, needs are met, a fun garment can be purchased that might not be otherwise, and a book to read, which provides an instantaneous activity! It all takes care of that feeling many of us parents get when we put the gifts out and think, “Oh my! That’s not enough!”
  4. Presence. It sounds cliche I know, but truly, what if accompanying the presents there was also presence. Phones would be turned off, screens could be pushed away, distractions could be eliminated or at least minimized , and we could greet our children with our full present selves. We could play the games they want to play, and engage in a way that felt like a gift in itself. Something I know we can’t always do with all that needs to be done in a day, but on this day, in this season, that seems like it could really bring about the feeling we’re all truly seeking.
  5. Group gift that is also an activity. Something like a board game for the family or a big giant puzzle or an art supply of some beautiful variety or coupons for bowling or the batting cages or some place you’ve all been wanting to go. Something that is given to the group for the group and that instantly inspires some fun family time.

In our house we’re going for the feeling of satisfaction and we are well aware that feeling comes not from a thing but from the approach. (and quite often this time of year I need to remind myself of that!!) It is not about getting more, but about making sure that what we bring in are the things that bring us more of the feelings we want.

After a talk I gave recently on creating your slow holiday, I realized, there is no magic in a cranky mom.

What are some ways you make it work in your house? What is one of your ideal holiday memories? What’s your favorite gift to give? Or get? What’s the feeling you’re going for this holiday season? And how do you make sure you get there?

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cranberriesEvery year I make my grandmother’s cranberry relish. It’s easy, it’s delicious and it’s always a big hit at gatherings. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 bag of cranberries
  • 1 whole orange (peel included)
  • sugar to taste (about 1/2 cup)
  • Blend in food processor. Done.

I told my sister that I loved it for it’s taste and it’s simplicity. She was surprised that I found it so easy. “It’s the cooking part that takes the longest,” she said.

“The cooking part?”

Apparently my grandmother used to cook it somehow. But I never knew that and so skipped that step altogether. Which was a good thing for me because I think if I had to cook it, it wouldn’t be a prt of my tradition and I wouldn’t have thought of her every time I did.

Now when I make it I think of my grandmother AND my sister. It connects us. And I am reminded about the importance of this amazing season. It’s not something to get through. It’s not something that should make you feel stressed and beholden. It should FEEL right.  You can borrow from tradition and mix it with your own ingredients. You can make up new stuff altogether. You can do it in a way that honors the past and celebrates the now. And find what works best for you and your family.

So as we kick off this big holiday season, let’s not fret about what we SHOULD be doing. Or how it HAS to be done. Instead let’s keep our eyes on the prize which is the gathering, the celebrating, the appreciating and the connecting. Oh, and the fantastic feasts!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

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Back to School Supplies

pencilTHIS POST IS FROM 2011. Still I feel the same. Still I find pencils on campus all the time. Still I want us to consume less and reuse more. Yes, I’ve told the pencil story to endless classes of children. And now I tell it to you…

Last year I went into my daughter’s second grade classroom to talk about a pencil. I thought about pencils often when I was on the school campus because everytime I walked across campus I picked up AT LEAST one brand new pencil. Often never sharpened, almost always full length with an intact eraser. I had actually started to make it a point – to always pick up a pencil on campus. There were times when I walked across that 20 yards of grass and picked up 3 or 4. It started to seem like people were planting them there because they knew of my obsession. But alas, no, it’s just the way it was.
So when my daughter’s teacher said there was a shortage of pencils in their classroom last year I was confused. We had all bought a lot of them before school started. And surely so had the teacher. And yet there were no pencils. Anywhere. Not even crummy pencils – which I should add here I kind of hate – or rather I should say, I like a good pencil. A Ticonderoga black for example. One of my faves.

When I got the request, I volunteered for storytime, with full disclosure to the teacher who was with me all the way. Even in regards to good pencils vs. crappy ones. And I told them all the story that my mom  told so many times from her own youth. How in 1930s, depression era New York City, a kid would have one pencil. That was it. Just one. They would have it at all times and use it until it was a nub and then some. They kept track of their pencil and if they did lose it they tried to keep it secret so nobody would get mad or so their parents wouldn’t have to buy a pencil with money they didn’t have. On your birthday you most often got a pencil for a present. Or maybe win a spelling bee in school and get a pencil for a prize. Sometimes perfect attendance would give them the coveted new pencil. Or maybe they would FIND one. Actually find one that someone had dropped. “Then,” my mom would say and always with a delightful sigh, “then you would feel so lucky!”

So I think of pencils when I walk across the campus and I think how lucky my mom would have felt if she were a kid walking across these grounds. One a day. 150 or so a school year. That’s pencils for a lifetime. Or for a whole school.

I challenged the kids in the classroom that day to try to keep their pencil as long as they could and use it well and keep track of it and don’t just think of it as a simply disposable tool which was easily replaced by another. I think a challenge like this is definitely made easier by having access to a good pencil – one that really feels good in your hand and writes smoothly on the paper and looks good when you’ve put on the paper what you want to put there. The kind of pencil that kind of makes you feel like drawing even when you’re writing.

For the rest of the school year some of them would tell me they still had their pencil. They were loving it and they were proud too! To be so resourceful. And to feel a sense of ownership to this tool rather than just feeling like it was yet another disposable item at their ready disposal.

Last week, when everyone was purchasing their school supplies there was a lot of discussion about pencils and crayons and other school supplies. And everyone kind of felt like we were buying too much. And I wondered why we always needed new stuff each year. New crayons. New scissors. New pencils. Where were all the packs from last year? And why does everyone need their own box of crayons vs. the giant bin of multi-colored crayons all mixed together in a shoe box? Why buy lots of the crappy supplies vs. less of the good supplies. What if we actually gave the kids less so that there was a sense of ownership in each item and less of a feeling of disposability?

We bought a pack of black Ticonderogas this year. I gave each of my school kids 4 to put in their pencil case. Really 2 probably would have sufficed. We etched a little mark in each one so they could keep track because they’re challenging themselves to keep them all year. It’s fun for them. And interesting too to see their sense of responsibility around this simple item.

I think I’m going to go in the classroom again and tell that story. Maybe I’ll challenge the class again. Maybe I’ll be the crazy mom who gets the reputation for telling the same pencil story year after year. And with one that hasn’t even started there yet, I’ve got a few years ahead of me!

 

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P1050471A few years ago my friend and colleague and co-founder of Slow Family Living, Carrie Contey, PhD, wrote this little reminder to mothers all across the U.S. of A. who were crossing their fingers, clenching their teeth, biding their time, and wishing upon a star that the Hallmark promised Mother’s Day would bring them all the feelings they desired on this day of maternal honoring. It’s good and bears repeating for all you new moms and old who are bearing down on this day that celebrates YOU! And all the amazing things you do!!! If you’d like to get daily reminders from Carrie about how to live a life you love, you can subscribe here!

A lot of women say they don’t care about Mother’s Day, it’s just a Hallmark holiday. But then the day comes and goes and, in fact, it did matter. Mother’s Day matters! You want to feel appreciated for the work you are doing. And you deserve to feel appreciated for the work you are doing. So here’s what I recommend… Tell the people around you what you want.

If you do have certain expectations, and, it feels like, in the past, the day hasn’t gone the way you would have liked it to have gone,

Take responsibility for your happiness.

:: Do you want the day off from parenting?
:: Do you want to be with your partner and children the whole day?
:: Would you like to be with your own mother? Friends?
:: Do you want to be outside in nature?
:: Do you want to run a few errands on your own?
:: Do you want some time alone? An hour…or 24?
:: Do you want to eat a certain meal?
:: Do you want to be surprised with something special?

Don’t wait for your family to read your mind or hope that they will magically just know what you want. YOU are in charge of your experience. Set yourself up to have a day of your choosing, if that is important to you. Set your family up to succeed. Because I promise you they want you to have a great day. And they want to know they made you feel as special as you are to them.

Give them the gift of helping them give you what your heart desires.

Right now take a minute and ask yourself, “How do I want to feel on Mother’s Day?” And then, “What needs to happen so I can feel that way?”

Be honest with yourself. Be clear with your people.

:: You expect presents? Great! Tell them.
:: You want to sleep in on Sunday? Communicate that Friday (and Saturday!)
:: You want to be alone in the house for a few hours? Fantastic! Let them know that and then brainstorm ideas as to how they can help you make it happen.

NO HINTING! People need clear and kind communication. The result? Your happiness and their success. I call that a win win.

I know what you might be thinking: “But if they loved me, they would know what I want. I wouldn’t have to tell them!”

Really?
REALLY?!?

Stop. Stop, stop, stop. People cannot read your mind. It’s not fair to expect that of others.

Asking for what you want = getting what you need.
Done.

Remember this on Mother’s Day and always…
To feel great you must communicate.
And be sure to appreciate – because what you appreciate, appreciates.

If Mother’s Day is something that matters to you, I want you to feel celebrated this weekend. I want you to have a fabulous, joy and love-filled day. You deserve it. Decide how you want to feel and then tell the people around you how to help you make that happen. They will LOVE you for this and you will get a day that feels oh so good. 

xo,
Carrie

ENJOY YOUR DAY IN WHATEVER WAY WORKS FOR YOU!! xo Bernadette

And if you’d like to hear more from Carrie, check it out here!

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Working Together

I had a workshop last week at one of Austin’s many amazing library branches, Old Quarry. I’m really loving these library gigs because it feels like collaboration and community, both of which fills me to no end. We started the evening with some guided writing and ended the evening composing and creating postcards to mail to ourselves and to those who inspire us along the way.

While discussing collaboration and the impact of community, one of the attendees shared a bit he’d heard about Draft Horses and how their strength increases exponentially when they work in teams. And even more so when they work with a known and trusted co-horse. I searched it and found this…

chalk peopleRecently, I was reading about draft horses which are very large, muscular animals that, throughout history, have been used for pulling great loads and moving very heavy objects.  A single draft horse can pull a load up to 8,000 pounds.  The strength involved in this is hard to imagine.  So then we can speculate what would happen if we hooked up two draft horses to a load.  If you instantly thought two draft horses could pull 16,000 pounds if one draft horse can pull 8,000 pounds, you would be wrong.  Two draft horses pulling together cannot pull twice as much as one.  They can actually pull three times as much.  The two draft horses that can each pull 8,000 pounds alone can pull 24,000 pounds working together.

The horses are teaching us a very clear lesson in teamwork, but they still have more to teach us.  If the two horses that are pulling together have trained with one another and have worked together before, they can’t just pull three times as much working together as they can by themselves.  The two trained horses in tandem can actually pull 32,000 pounds, which is a load four times as heavy as either of the horses could pull by themselves.

I feel this when I’m working with others – whether they are family or friends or random people I meet along the way, together we are greater. When we work with other trusted humans, whether we are brainstorming ideas or moving 4000 pounds, together we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. That is the power of community!

 

If you are in Austin and would like to stay informed of my various events or workshops, follow Slow Family Living on FB! 

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SPRING BREAK!!!

In our neck of the woods, spring break starts next week. While the actual dates of break vary from town to town and state to state, the fact is, the kids are about to be off from school for an entire week. In some households that brings great joy at being able to avoid the alarm clocks and settle into some unstructured fun. In others it brings a little panic at a week home with everyone. Some families will chill at home, others will go on vacation, in others camps are plotted, or childcare planned, schedules are reevaluated or carpools made, and it is determined who has what and who will bring who where.

Regardless of what you are doing, take a few minutes to ponder it all. Whether you are excited or anxious. Happy or worried. Scared or elated.

What will you do? Where will you go? What do you all want from this week? Are there people you want to see? Projects you want to do? Roadtrips you want to take? Do you want to explore? Make? Craft? Play?

No matter, what you decide, the one thing you can also figure out is what you want. How do you want to feel? Do you want to have fun? Be productive? Be social? Get time alone? Be still? Be active? All of the above? How do you feel right now when you think about it? Figure out how you feel and how you want to feel. Figure out what you fear and what you want.What you have and what you need. What is definite and what is flexible.

Make a list.  Ask your partner. Ask your kids. And then put everyone’s lists together and see what you can come up with. I really believe that with a little plotting and planning, and a little discussion around it all and time given to it, everyone really can get what they need.

 

Originally posted for Spring Break 2012, all of this still rings true!

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All I want for Christmas is…

To get yourself in the right mode and mood this holiday, I propose a little writing exercise. I also suggest pen on paper but feel free to do it on your screen if you like. Just that sometimes pen on paper brings you to a different place. For each of these set the timer for 5 minutes. Keep your pen or keyboard moving the whole time. Ok. You ready?

1. The kids are home for holiday break. You’re off from work. The shopping is done and you’re all just home. With the timer going, write out your dream day at home with your family.

2. It’s Christmas Day. The presents are opened. Everyone’s home. Describe the perfect scenario – remember to write about the feeling.

3. Now, as you look back on what you wrote, what are some things you can do now to help set up the ideal? Are there certain gifts you can give to help create the scene? For example, if you picture all of you working together, perhaps new cookie cutters in each stocking? Or a big puzzle for the whole family. Or a new sketchpad and pencils for the family? If you picture yourself sitting in front of the fire or taking a family walk, are there certain tasks you can tend to ahead of time so that you can be as present as you want? Whatever you envisioned in your ideal scenario, find at least three things to help you get there. Remember to go for the feeling which allows a bit more flexibility than going for the order of events.

Only by knowing what we really want, can we even begin to get there.

And if you have any revelations or aha’s from this exercise, feel free to share in the comments.

This post was originally posted 12/2013 Please note the title is for poetic purposes only. I know that Christmas is just one piece of the festivities this time of year.

good-deed-box

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Old age and gift giving

liz 92Recently I got to witness the birthdays of two women over the age of 85. It must be wild to get to an age where every time you tell your age there is an audible gasp and some variation of “holy WOW!” It’s old. And these two women both felt grateful to be where they are – old, happy and surrounded by love. So much love.

These women both received many cards and gifts for their birthday and were super appreciative of the thoughts involved in the giving of said gifts: flowers, sweets and more sweets. More sweets than they should sanely eat at their age (or any age really).

But what to do for a senior citizen on a gift giving occasion? You want to bestow goodness upon them but they don’t need any stuff, in fact they are working hard to get rid of stuff. So what to give that will say “I’m thinking of you” without also causing the need for a trip to the cardiologist.

After a bit of discussion with a few older folks, here is a list of gift ideas to give to an old person without cluttering up their life or their arteries!

  • Stationery of any variety: a variety of greeting cards, nice paper + envelopes, fold-a-note, etc.
  • Stamps! Because stationery PLUS stamps equals YES!!!
  • A nice pack of pens because pens run out and cheap pens inspire nothing
  • Variety of teas. Herbal tea, black tea, green tea. All good.
  • Beeswax candle
  • Essential oil spritzer or diffuser such as lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint
  • Comfy cozy socks or slipper socks with the non-skid bottom
  • Packet of individually wrapped hand wipes
  • A blank notebook/sketchbook for notes, info and other things requiring paper and pen
  • Donation to a scholarship or charity in their name*
  • A long, heartfelt, handwritten letter
  • Flowering bulbs

What do all these have in common? They’re useful and consumable! Two important factors in the lives of old people everywhere!

Have more ideas? Comment here and let me know. The bigger the list, the better for all!

Want to send a package to a loved one? I’d love to help.

 

*When my mom turned 80 she created a scholarship in her name at her Alma Mater, Misericordia University, in Wilkes Barre, PA. It has been self sustaining for a few years now and growing!

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Why am I telling you this?
10 years ago when my 4th and youngest child was born I was lucky enough to meet Carrie Contey, PhD. She came to speak with my women’s group to help us get a clear picture of the direction we all wanted to go. She gave us questions to answer, ideas to ponder, and simple tools to help us all get to our most satisfying place. Every day. The work we did with her had a profound impact on both our personal and professional lives.  Before long she was IN our women’s group. Lucky us.

Shortly after we that, Carrie and I started working together and through that work we co-created Slow Family Living. We joked that she brought the science and I brought the kids. It was a perfect union of ideas around ways to make family life more connected, more fun and more satisfying. From that work my book, Slow Family Living; 75 simple ways to slow down, connect and create more joy was born.

For the past 6 years Carrie Contey has been working with families all around the world on a year-long program called Evolve. It’s powerful life-changing stuff. Full of daily lessons on ways to stay more grounded, more connected and more wholly our very best selves. Truly, through this work, I am living a more joyful life than I ever would have without it.

So why should you care? Because Carrie is about to kick off year SEVEN of this year-long program and I encourage anyone who is seeking  a profound shift toward the positive to join. Rather than go on item by item, I offer a bullet list of the things I’ve discovered through my work with Carrie.

  • Understanding our own triggers and how to use them to make positive change
  • Understanding that our triggers are ours alone! Which means it’s about us and not what’s happening around us
  • Figuring out first how we want to feel and making decisions from that feeling place
  • Daily gratitude practices really do make life better
  • Understanding that under every behavior is a need
  • Truly knowing that our children’s behavior isn’t personal  (see above)
  • Finding ways to feel the feelings without judging them (which makes it infinitely easier to deal with the feelings of those around us!)
  • Focusing on what I want, rather than what I DON’T want

If you are seeking a way to make some changes in your own life,  or if you’re in the midst of big change and you need a compass – in your parenting, or in your partnership, – I HIGHLY recommend Carrie’s program and you can read more about it here. Perhaps you think I’m recommending this program because Carrie is my friend. And I guess I really can’t separate the two. But I’m also telling you about it because the work I’ve done in Evolve with Carrie and with the group that forms around it has allowed more family flow, more ease, more cooperation and more day to day satisfaction. I am a better parent, better daughter, better friend and better me than I ever would’ve been without Evolve. Truly. And in this current climate of change, I can’t think of a better time to jump in. The window to jump in is open until February 5th.

If you want to know more, send me a note and I’ll send you call-in info to a phone-in Q and A with Carrie on 1/30 during which she will answer all our burning questions.

And as long as I’m here, I’m just gonna put these  items down below. Because my editor tells me I should promote these more. Plus, they’re really, really good, fun and useful tools for families! Surely you know SOMEONE who needs one.

And this one of Carrie and me from a campout so many years ago. Just for fun.

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Calm Down!

I was lucky enough to hear Geeta Cowlagi speak this past weekend on the subject of mindfulness and joyful living. This was my most-important takeaway from her lessons on staying calm.

slow bern calm downTake four deep breaths.

Put your hands on your heart.

Smile.*

To learn more about Geeta and Joyful Living,  visit her on Facebook.  And in the meantime, stay cool people! To see more cartoons about family life and other human interactions, visit Slow Bern on FB! 

*my teen advises me to alert you all to smile to yourselves. If you smile at them, the calming effect might be lost!

 

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