Archive for 'parenting'

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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Amplify the love

Sometimes as a parent the sibling strife seems to dominate our existence.

Stop fighting. Let him use it. Come on, can’t you agree on a show? You don’t treat your friends like that. 

Until I feel like the referee more than the parent.

birthday-card-we-all-love-youThen sometimes you catch a glimpse of some sweet interaction. A conversation about a funny video. An invitation to go out together or to give a ride somewhere. A sharing of a special treat. And, perhaps my most favorite of all, a shared raucous laugh coming from a room where two siblings sit on their own. It’s like music to a mother’s ears to know they are communing and having a special moment that isn’t forced upon them by me. Of their own accord they’ll hang out. Converse. Commiserate. And it is in these moments that I take comfort knowing they will indeed have each other their whole long lives.

For these moments I don’t even mind being the butt of their inside joke.

Did you see Mom freak out over the smallest thing? Can you believe she was singing so loud in HEB? What the heck is up with that dance move she does? She’s crazy.

 

Just this week I spotted this card that one child made for another’s birthday. We all love you. What sweeter words could a mother see from one sibling to the other?

It makes me feel that the kids really are alright. And though the sibling squabbles are loud, I can choose to amplify the love.

And if they thought I was crazy before, how crazy will I seem now when they are mid-squabble and I whisper to myself, “we all love you.”

 

 

 

 

 

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One man’s trash…a recipe

I’m not really known as much of a cook. I cook of course. And there’s some things I’m pretty good at, but overall? Not so much.

But now that it’s back to school time, there’s one recipe I can’t resist. It’s simple. You’ve got all the ingredients on hand. It takes less than 3 minutes to make. And it’ll not only save you from throwing food away, but you will actually be making treasure out of trash.

peanut butter and jellySo, here you go, without further adieu, the delicacy known as Grilled PB and J which I learned long ago from my friend Ted.

  1. Take one stale PB and J left over from your kids lunchbox.
  2. Slather it with butter.
  3. Grill till golden brown.
  4. Eat when alone so you don’t have to share.

With this recipe in hand, you will rejoice when your kid’s lunch comes home half eaten.

The staler the better.

 

 

 

 

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Admittedly, in my own home with my own children, sometimes they resist my requests to participate in the work I do. Currently that work is in the form of my new book, Look At Us Now; a creative family journal. I’ll say something like, “Hey, let’s fill out a page!” And the response will be something like, “MAAAH-AAAAHM.”

teens filling out pageLast week I was encouraged when a reader sent me pictures of her own teens filling out pages in their copy of their book. Her teens resisted at first, but she persevered and asked them to just do one page with her. They agreed and by the time they were finished they had filled out THREE pages and were all laughing together, plotting out adventures and recapping moments worth noting. And they decided two things: 1. that it was not only not so bad but actually kind of fun and 2. that they would sit down weekly and fill out more pages together. As the creator of this book, knowing that I have captured the attention of the reluctant teens and that I have given this family a few moments of fun connection, I feel my mission is accomplished!

Families are using Look At Us Now in all sorts of ways. Some are using it as a Sunday morning ritual. Others are family selfieusing it as a tool for bribery such as one mom who tells her kids they can earn their desired screen time if they fill out one page together. One mom used it to create connection with her step-daughter. Another family I know took it on their family road trip so that they could both capture their adventures and have a fun family activity to do together in the car. And one family told me they keep it in the car to fill out as they’re running errands around town. The kids take turns filling it out while the parent drives and conversations are had they might not ever have otherwise. In all cases, what I’m told by readers is that EVERYONE is digging it and really, really having fun together! And at the same time capturing some family moments that might otherwise be forgotten.

sample page 1I decided to try again with my own offspring. I had a chance to dine with just one of my teens this week and we took the book to the restaurant with us. As we waited for our food we opened to the page: ONE THING WE WANT TO MAKE HAPPEN. Originally I imagined this page for satisfying long-term plans but realized instantly it was also a good page for some more immediate goals. By the time our food arrived we had a plan in place for a family day trip next week to a nearby water park. As you can see, not only did we set the goal, but we put all the pieces in place too to actually make it happen. Like soon! Like next week.

How are you using Look At Us Now?* What good things have come from your family’s copy? What discoveries have you made about your own family life? Send me a sample and let me know! Id’ love to see. Or join me on Facebook at the Slow Family Living page and get inspired!

 

*If you want to leave a review on Amazon I wouldn’t mind that either!

 

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Look At Us Now.

I am working on a new book right now with Penguin Random House Publishing called, Look At Us Now (And now. And now. And now.)  It’s an interactive journal for families with questions and prompts that will encourage readers to pause in family life. And in that pause it offers a way of taking stock of right now; like an emotional snapshot of sorts. Each page, each prompt will offer a chance to look at family life right now. And right now. And right now. Because one thing I’ve learned in this parenting thing which I’m now more than 17 years into, is that what we look like right now as a family is always, ALWAYS changing.

My own mom, she-who-raised-nine-children, turned 90 this month. When you say 90 is sounds like a lot. But when you say 9 x 10 years it doesn’t really sound like very much at all. I mean, look at how fast the last 10 years have gone. And the 10 years before that! And how is it that in some ways I still feel like a little family starting out and at the same time there are college catalogs arriving daily for my eldest? In the words of my mom, and someone else who said it first, “Time flies like the wind. Fruit flies like bananas.” Which to me means, you can try to make it sense of it all and make sense of our time here on earth but really, it’s hard. So when we can’t make sense, at least we can take notice.

If you don’t believe me that time flies and that things are always changing, I offer the photo here as proof. (I’ve been watching so much The Good Wife that I’m speaking like a lawyer!)

This is my mom on the streets of NYC in 1926. I think it’s Mulberry Street, the street where she was born. See the wicker pram? The cinder streets? The boys playing stickball in knickers? Time does fly. This was only 9 x 10 years ago. And rest assured things look a little different there now. My mom is still here 9 x 10 years later, but just about everything around her has changed.

And so I encourage you to pause at some  point today. And take a look at your own sweet life  – whether you are just a little family starting out, or whether you live alone or whether all your birds have flown the coop and made their own nests elsewhere.

Who are you today? What do you love right now? What fills your heart with joy on this day? Pause and take stock of today because tomorrow will most assuredly be different.

 

When my daughter was born people warned me with a little laugh, “oh just wait til she’s 17! Then you’re in for it.”

Well, she’s 17 and I really am in for it. I’m in for all of it. I’m in for discussing colleges and options and cities and futures as yet unknown. I’m in for staying up late at night watching heart-wrenching movies and discussing bad scripts. I’m in for great conversations about life, liberty and the constant pursuit of happiness. I’m in for long lingering hugs just because. And soulful apologies after we have a fight. I’m in for laughing until we cry and crying until we laugh. I’m in for dancing to loud pop music to shake off the blues or sitting quietly side by side at the kitchen counter eating cereal at midnight. And I’m in for the constant reminder that while we might be alike in some ways, in many ways we are different and isn’t that a beautiful realization.

I want her and  all my kids to know that I have complete and utter faith in them. Sometimes I forget this and I get in their faces with a string of you-shoulds, but really, when I step back and watch, it is mind-blowing how well they navigate this world. I remember when she was little and I reminded her for the gazillionth time to say thank-you to someone, and one time she turned to me and said rather annoyed, “I know!!! You just have to give me a second!” She had been there for the lesson all the times before, and now, all I really needed to do was to let her be. This I will try to remember  now and for their whole life long. I will try to let them be them. I will try to give them a second. And when I don’t, I will try not to take their reminders personally.

I want my kids to view life like a fresh notebook at the beginning of a semester, or a three-day weekend with no plans. I want them to know they can make it whatever they want, that they can fill it big ideas and people they love and the things that make them feel good. They can fill it with projects and plans and adventures and they can allow a little space for dreaming too. Because it is those quiet moments of dreaming that take us all to our next big ideas.

I want all my kids to know always that I am so glad they were born. And while my daily focus might sometimes be too much on the tasks, overall my heart explodes with the realization that we are fellow humans, walking through this life together. And while that takes a little while to sink in when you’re tending to the physical needs of babies and tiny children, that becomes so clear when your child turns seventeen.

So yes, if you have little kids now, just wait until they’re seventeen! I guarantee you, it will blow your mind.

 

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This is an old post. A verbal #TBT from a few years back. Eleven to be exact. When I had 3 kids not 4. Before anyone was in school, let alone a junior in high school. When I wrote this I thought it would always be like this. Like time would somehow freeze. But when I look back? I see that every single year of parenting has been different than the last. Every child has brought something new to the table. (pun not intended but appreciated!) Every age has taught us new things about ourselves, our family and life in general. Here’s to the ever present changes. Here’s to family dinners. And here’s to the realization that right now is ALWAYS right now. Every single minute is the beginning of time – to be noticed and appreciated too.

The Table Dance (c. 2003)

In the beginning, it was just us, at our little table in our little shack of a rental house. Side by side we would make our feasts: chopping, slicing, sautéing. The two of us at the table sipping wine, eating our curries or fiery salsas and fantasizing about what the rest of our lives together would be. We’d linger for hours over more red wine and a few cigarettes and maybe a coffee at the end. We would eat late and long and imagine living in a big building with a big room and a big table – where we would eat late and long all the days of our lives.

In this same house with our first baby and still we ate late into the evening and not much changed in our ritual. Not much changed while we cooked and she snoozed in her sling. While we ate, she’d nurse, then collapse on my chest, neither of us always noticing or ever minding the salsa in her hair. In those early days of babe many things remained the same and we thought that’s how it would always be, with our little carry-on-bag of a smiling, contented, only baby.

As she started to crawl, we wriggled away from that hovel of a house that held such sweet emotion. We left that house of first meeting, first marrying, first baby and were off into our own first home. Our first own home that was not the enormity of our fantasies but rather the smallness of our bankbook – that made us choose between a living room and our dreamed of big table, and of course we chose the latter. At this big table our meals were a little earlier and our menu a bit altered and our sentences unfinished as we split chores in different rooms and we split kids, as now there were two. You change the baby and I’ll cook the dinner, you read a story and I’ll set the table, you run after them and I’ll run into the bathroom and take a deep breath. And then we’ll all sit down together at our big table, not late or long, as the attention spans are shorter and the bedtimes never early enough.

There are no more cigarettes but still there is red wine or a cold beer. Still we fantasize about the future, even more so now, as we imagine not only our own lives but our children’s too. These fantasies though are often interrupted by spills and crying and questions and directives: Eat your supper, get back on your chair, keep your hands to yourself, don’t forget to chew, and with this last command they are requesting (for the 100th time) the retelling of the caveat of the time as a kid I forgot to chew and I threw up whole orange slices all over the floor.

Three kids now and we fully surrender to the meals at 5:30 instead of 9:00 and they are in bed an hour or more before we ever would have even entertained the notion of cooking. Detailed conversations are rarely attempted, as no thought is too great to be left uninterrupted and only a rare sentence sees completion. We have ritual in the setting and the lighting of the candle and I have my own private, mindful, sanity-retaining moment of deep breathing, in through my nose and out the mouth, like childbirth and then salud, and I gulp my beer.

Dinnertime is chaotic and messy and we must remember not to sweep until the rice dries. The commands are many and seemingly more all the time, and the reminders to behave and to be nice and to listen, but so too increases the conversations and the sharing and the stories of our youth or theirs – those one or two or thirty long years ago. We exhale when all is said and done, or not (next time can we have macaroni and cheese?). With that exhale or with a lengthy discussion as to whose turn it is to blow out the flame, our dinner candle is extinguished.

Though we sometimes question our sanity at the concept of dining regularly with such ritual and with three small sometimes frantic and frenetic children, and though we sometimes start at their getting too close to the candle or their knocking over of their cup or their falling nonsensically from their chair or their singing during our moment of silence (read: moment not minute), it is our hope that what they will take away is the desire to one day sit and linger long and late and enjoy a meal shared with each other, with us, with friends or with mates.

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I wrote this a couple of years ago when my eldest was starting high school. I realize as I come upon it again, it’s just good advice for all new endeavors, be they school, work or whatever. So, to the graduates of the world, heading out into college or into the world, some advice for life, from this side of my own experience…

In no particular order…

1. Celebrate your newness. Remember that all your classmates will all be freshman and therefore also new to this whole scene. Some will pretend they know what they’re doing how could they? It’s all so new. So revel in the collective newness and celebrate the fact that you are all inexperienced. Wear it on your sleeve in a very exposed way. Laugh at your errors. Ask for help. Inquire where or what or who something is even if you think you should already know it. Don’t be afraid to look lost or confused or in awe. If you celebrate the fact that you are unfamiliar with this whole scene, you’ll allow others to celebrate it too and you’ll alleviate any teasing from upper classman because most of their teasing is about the fact that you are new. If you’re already wearing it, what’s to tease??

2. Form your own opinions. Whatever you decide to do, study, try, taste, or experience, someone will have a story to tell you about whether you should or shouldn’t do it based on the experience they had. Listen to the stories with your mind wide open. Then open your eyes to all the possibilities and come to your own conclusions. Look at all the people, all the classes, all the teachers, parties and clubs.  Then make your own story.

3. Show your awe. If you see something amazing or hear something wild or meet someone mind-blowing, show your awe. Don’t hide behind a mask of coolness. Wear your awe. Share your awe. And you will allow others to do the same.

4. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”  When faced with something new – a concept, a big word, a book, a food, an idea, whatever – if you don’t know, say “I don’t know.”  It leaves you open to the possibilities of learning more and seeing more and discovering whole new worlds. A cautionary tale to emphasize my point… When I was about 19, I was at a friend’s house and they were serving whole artichokes with butter. I had never seen anyone eat them before and while everyone else was super excited, I was afraid to expose my naiveté. Rather than saying “I don’t know” I said, “I don’t like those” and so I missed out on a chance to try something new and really delicious. While everyone else sat around the table drooling, and pulling leaves off these exotic plants and dipping them in vats of butter, including one other friend who admitted he didn’t know, I sat there feigning my disdain. It was years before anyone offered me an artichoke again. So when someone asks you if you know this answer or that or if you know about a certain band or scientific procedure or if you know how to tango or drive, don’t pretend to know, don’t pretend to not like it, simply say “I don’t know” so you can share in this new experience and gather the information you need to gather.

5. Eat well and eat enough. As you make your way through classes and homework and practices and socializing, don’t forget to eat good foods and eat enough. Eat the foods that make you strong and give you power to think and do. Eat the foods that will allow you to fully engage with the world, to learn the subjects you want to learn, to play the sports, bang the drum, and communicate and play in the strongest way possible. Sprinkle in some of the other not so good foods too for fun, but treat them like the luxury they are; not everyday sustenance but every now and again indulgence. Eating well will give you a distinct advantage in whatever you do.

6. Bring your whole self to the table.  You are strong, smart, beautiful, creative, thoughtful, innovative and powerful. Remember that when you are dealing with teachers, peers, people you have crushes or want to befriend. When you come to the table, bring your whole amazing self. Don’t shrink to impress – a boy, girl or otherwise. Don’t lose your voice for fear it might seem like too much or too loud or too opinionated. Don’t diminish your abilities in order to make someone else feel bigger. If someone else feels bigger because you lessen, they are not someone you should be hanging out with anyway. As your mother, I realize this advice might come back to bite me when you speak up against something I say, but I’m willing to take that risk in the face of your being your strongest, most powerful self.

7. Choose real experiences over virtual ones. If you have the choice between hanging out with real people, going on real adventures, trying real things in real places, choose that always over a virtual experience. If, for example, you are given the choice between watching a movie and rock climbing, or going for a walk around the block with friends vs. a Facebook chat, choose the realness. The screen will be available always, but the real life adventure might not. You won’t remember the time you watched Hulu all night or got a high score on a video game, but you will remember the hike you took with friends when it started to pour or the meandering walk you took around the city with a dear, dear friend.

8. Be here now. Be present. Love the ones you’re with. When you are with friends, at a show or on a hike, in a class or sitting on the side of a mountain, ignore incoming texts and phone calls that pull you away from fully experiencing where you are and who you’re with. (unless it’s me of course wondering where you are and why you’re not home!) Don’t let the lure of virtual greener grass pull you away from being fully present with the people and places you are actually with.

9. Be nice to the school support staff. The custodians, the lunch ladies, the crossing guards, and all the other support staff do A LOT of work for not a lot of money. Be nice to them. Learn their names. Say good morning. Find out something about who they are and what they like. Pick up garbage in the hallways. Put your tray away neatly. Give a wave. Treat them like fellow human beings who are walking this same earth as you and working hard to make your world run a little smoother. And not that this is the only reason why, but they will be the ones to let you in the school after hours when you accidently leave your study notes in your locker.

10. Join something. Whatever it is, join something. A club, a team, a squad, a support group. Whatever it is. High school is about learning and most of the learning takes place outside the classroom.  By joining something you’ll learn about your own desires, abilities, working in a group, creating something amazing PLUS, you’ll meet lots more people than you would if you just go to class and then go home. You might forget a lot of what you learn in US history but you’ll always remember that bus ride home from the county tournament or the night you stayed up all night with friends to get the yearbook to the printer in time or the way that kid in your Spanish club could make you laugh like no other.

11. Give a hearty handshake and look people in the eye. Whether you are being introduced for the first time or greeting someone for the thousandth time, greet them with a hearty handshake and look them in the eye. The connection made can be just seconds long, but when done with intention and intensity, it can be the most connecting thing you can possibly do.

When you meet a new person, hold their gaze for an extra second. When you come home from school in the afternoon, look your parents in the eye and give them a big hug, look at your siblings. Linger there for just a second or two longer until you feel that essential connection made. It might be uncomfortable at first but it will soon become a part of you and you will be remembered more, you will get the part or the job, it will energize you and the person you are greeting and you will create a human bond that can significantly increase your serotonin levels thereby making you happier, healthier, and cooler too.

12. Listen to your gut. Whatever you decide to do, wherever you decide to go, whomever you decide to hang out with, whatever parties you decide to attend or groups you plan to join, before you do anything, listen to your gut. Is there a part of you that’s questioning your decision? Give that place a little time and space. Sit in the decision. Tune into what your body, mind, heart and ego are saying, then follow that feeling. Listening to your gut will help keep you out of harm’s way more often than not. It will bring you to the right people, places and things and it will let you have more fun than you ever dreamed possible. Which is definitely one of the goals of high school.

So learn a lot. Have fun. Make good memories and don’t forget we’re here if you need us.

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Seems hard to believe, but according to a poll of 4 students that I know, there are only 21 school days left in the school year. Really. 21.

With a few big events behind us, like the Austin Maker Faire, a few house guests and getting our house on the market, I am ready for some solidly intentional days.  I want to make sure that events, practices and obligations created are events, practices and obligations desired.

My goals for these next few weeks…

  • Each day do my own work first.
  • Ponder each invitation before saying yes. Be they meetings, parties, or other. Not always easy for me, especially when faced with so many exciting things!
  • Schedule in spaciousness.
  • Put family time on the calendar.
  • Play outside more. And really just play more in general.
  • Turn my phone off at random intervals.
  • Schedule a couple of “spend nothing days” each week. Not even for the money but for the freedom from consuming. And the freedom from the many demands for impromptu spending.
  • Write a note to my children’s teachers telling them how much I appreciate their love and devotion.
  • Do one creative thing everyday.
  • Eat outside more.
  • Find a way to celebrate a school year completed by each and every one of my children.
This time of year, things seem to speed up a bit, so I’m going to be attentive to really slowing it all way down.

 

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School started this past week here in Austin. It always feels so abrupt, that transition from summer to school. For three months there are basically no bedtimes, lots of cousins, time with Grandma, swimming, canoeing, lazy afternoons reading and napping and lounging about, and morning after morning spent sleeping in.

Then BAM! School starts back with lunches and homework and early mornings and strict bedtimes and lots of things that just have to be done, right away or at least on a pretty tight schedule. Not that it’s bad, just that it’s different. and by different I mean kind of bad in that it hits us with  a real wallop. ESPECIALLY if we are not prepared.

Which this year, I gotta say, even with 4 kids getting out the door to 3 different schools, we all felt pretty prepared. We had figured out bus schedules and school supplies and lunch boxes and wake up times. We had found scissors and binders and mechanical pencils from last year.  And had even thrown the backpacks in the washer for a fresh clean start to this brand new academic season.

And the other thing I did? I took myown advice from my very own book and I set my alarm for 10 minute earlier than I had set it last year.  I also vowed to myself that I would not hit the snooze. And that I would wake the kids up a few minutes earlier too. Because really, though it SEEMS like the snooze will give me what I want, and though I am not naturally a  morning person, not by any stretch of the imagination, unless I can snooze for another hour, it doesn’t do anything but prolong the agony.

But this ten minutes of extra awake time? It gives me the world. It gives me time to put my coffee on and get dressed and even take a few sips of that coffee paired with a nice deep breath. It gives us all space  – around getting that signature we forgot  last night or finding that shoe that’s got to be around here somewhere or changing the stained shirt or just sitting for a minute while someone picks at the typewriter, without me freaking out that WE NEED TO KEEP IT MOVING OR WE”RE GONNA BE LATE!!!

It’s rather amazing really, the chilled-out-ness that the extra 10 minutes is giving us all. Not to exaggerate or over-emphasize,  but truly? With this extra 10 minutes in the morning, we’re  happier, easier, and surely healthier too, because that feeling of panic that comes from  rushing, whether we feel it in our heads or our bellies or  in our throats as we’re yelling to get a move on, that feeling cannot be good for us.

I know we’re only in week one of school, and I have been known to wane on resolutions in the past, but I think this one’s a keeper. And  I am going on record here as saying that that extra ten minutes is a total game changer at our house. Not that we’re all walking out the door singing Kumbaya or anything, but we might. We just might.

My children love it when I sing.

 

 

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