Tag: slow family living

Family Good Deeds

It’s that time of year! Time to think of good deeds and other ways to make the world a better, kinder place. While of course it’s nice to carry kindness with us the whole year through, I think the holidays are a great time to kick off some new ways we can do that – both at home and in the world. As individuals and as a family too. And I think we’d all agree, that this year it’s feeling more important than ever.

I created this project for a local library’s family craft night which I’ll be doing this evening at Westbank Library here in Austin. But it’s simple to create your own Family Good Deed Box at home. The materials are simple and the effect will hopefully be profound.

good-deed-boxFamily Good Deed Box

Materials needed:

  • 2 small vessels of any variety: a box, can or jar of some type. Any size will work as long as you can insert slips of paper
  • Decorations for your vessel such as colored paper, ribbon, stick on jewels, stickers, rubber stamps or just good old fashioned colored pencils or markers

Decorate your vessels as you like. In one you’ll put the slips of blank paper and a pencil or two. The other will fill up as you go along.

Read through the list of ideas for good deeds below.  Add some ideas of your own too. Think of things you can do as a family and others that you can do on your own. Some you can do every day and others just once in a while. Try to do at least one each day!

As you complete a good deed, write it out on a strip of paper and slip it into the box. Sometimes doing secret good deeds is fun and you can write those out too to surprise your family when you open your box.

When you gather for your holiday celebration, whatever that celebration may be, open the box and read aloud all the good you created in the world this season. Save your box from year to year as a reminder of the pure goodness you can create as a family.

  • Clean up litter in a park or on your street
  • Bring coloring books and pencils to your local fire station
  • Decorate your sidewalk with happy chalk notes for passersby
  • Make handmade bookmarks and stick them in books at the library
  • Help your sibling with a chore
  • Write a thank you note for your mail carrier
  • Let someone cut in front of you in line
  • Bring sidewalk chalk to the park and leave it for kids to use
  • Bring drawing supplies to a family clinic and leave them in the waiting room
  • Donate children’s books to a family clinic or children’s hospital
  • Write a letter to your grandparents
  • Mail a handmade card to someone you know who might be lonely
  • Do chores around the house without being asked
  • Read a book to a younger sibling or a little kid on your street
  • Leave a love note on your parent’s pillows
  • Leave a treat on your sibling’s pillow
  • Smile at people you pass on the sidewalk
  • Say hello wherever you go
  • Put some toys on the curb with a sign that says FREE!
  • Ask the checkout person at the store how they’re doing today
  • Hold the door open for a stranger and say hello
  • Clean your room without being asked
  • Make your sibling’s bed
  • Leave a quarter in a gumball machine
  • Leave bubbles in the park or give them out to neighbors
  • Drive around and hand out socks to homeless people
  • Give a back or foot massage to your parents
  • Pretend for one night that you are your parent’s servant
  • Write a thank-you note for your teacher
  • Volunteer to help with a household chore that isn’t usually yours to do
  • Sit in your front yard and say hello to passersby. Make a sign that says hello!
  • Apologize to someone you’ve hurt
  • Offer compliments to people you see during the day
  • Tell each person in your family why you appreciate them
  • Bake cookies and take them to a neighbor
  • ___________________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________________

Let me know what your family dreams up! And don’t forget to record your own experience in your copy of Look At Us Now!

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Since I view this time of year as the official new year for many families, it seems a perfect time to chronicle a little bit of what family life looks like right now. What’s everyone into? What are you all wanting? What did you love about summer? What does a typical day look like? What’s working? What’s not? All of these questions and more can be answered in Look At Us Now thereby creating a time-capsule of sorts, a memoir, of your family life. Plus, the pages you fill out will serve as a good guide for moving forward with intention into this next school year.

If you need proof that everything in family life changes always, just take a look at where you were one year ago? Are things the same? Heck no. So capturing where you are right now is a great way to reflect AND project.

look at us now imageWait, what? You don’t have your copy yet? You can order yours here…

look at us now pageHere’s some ideas people have shared with me. Find some inspiration here and then share your own ideas and pages too!

  1. For getting inside her teens heads one mom brings the book with them when they go out for their weekly Saturday breakfast. Of particular interest to this mom was the page where everyone describes things they really, really want. She was surprised at all the information garnered and surprised at some of her own answers too!
  2. For planning a family outing we used the Places We’d Like To Go page. By the time we were finished we had an entire outline of steps needed to make a particular event happen. And now that outing has become one of our favorite summer memories.
  3. As a Saturday morning family activity one family fills out a page before they even get out of bed. It offers a fun way to plot out the weekend, plus a little more lounge time for the parents.
  4. A dad who shares custody with his ex, uses Look At Us Now as a tool for jump starting conversations with his kids. It’s hard sometimes when everyone’s been apart and Look At Us Now gives them all an intimate glimpse into each other’s daily existence.
  5. One mom wrote to tell me she uses Look At Us Now as an incentive tool for her kids as in, “You can play XBox after we sit and fill out a page together.” And we both agreed incentive sounds way better than bribe.
  6. Feeling frantic? One mom says whenever she starts spinning out, she tries to find 10 minutes to sit with her kids and fill out a page.
  7. Need to process a bad day? One dad told me he sat and filled out the Worst Day Ever page with his son after a battle they had. By the time they were finished they were laughing about it and coming up with ways to avoid such a mess in the future.
  8. A mom wrote to tell me she left the book open to the page One hundred things we are so glad about and by weekend’s end the pages were full!

The ways to use Look At Us Now are endless and the connection and information it can provide are beyond measurable! Let me know how you use Look At Us Now in your home and what it’s bringing to your family’s experience. Wait? What? You don’t have yours yet? You can order one and leave a review here!

It’s a brand new year people!!

 

 

 

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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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iphone december 2012 114Today I was looking for something in an old blog of mine, my first blog. Old being relative really because it was only 5 years ago that I last posted there. But when I read my words, 5 years felt like a lifetime ago. 5 years ago I was married. 5 years ago I had a brand new teen at the top of the list and a toddler at the bottom. 5 years ago our main concern was which park to hit on Friday after school. And nobody was asking to borrow the car.

Once again I’m reminded that time flies. And this time flying is more of a feeling than an actual thing you can grab, though I keep trying. From this feeling came my latest book, Look At Us Now; A Creative Family Journal, just released from Tarcher Perigee. Because maybe, just maybe, by filling out a page here and there and capturing some of the small moments that make up the big life, we’ll be able to pause long enough in the moment and appreciate where we are right now.

I’ll pause today and take stock of who we are and what we love and where we want to go. I’ll shed a sentimental tear when I look back on these words below of just a few short years ago. And I’ll try to remember to remember that where we are right now is only for right now. And now. And now. Hopefully this pausing will bring with it some appreciation too…

Today I have no answers. Only questions. One particular question actually. One question that I feel like I’ve been asking for a long time and only occasionally do I feel like I have the answer.

When will I learn?

When will I learn that when the 13 year old says I need a few minutes to calm down, to actually allow her those few minutes.And by doing so I can avoid a lot of confrontation.

When will I learn that when the 4 year old is running around like the proverbial headless chicken that it usually means he is either hungry or tired.

When will I learn that the 8 year old needs way more sleep than the 11 year old and that even though she’s mostly extrovert she also needs to spend some time alone filling up?

When will I learn that the 11 year old doesn’t need to be told to say thank you. That actually he is quite a polite little lad and has a good handshake and even looks people in the eye without being told to do so.

Sometimes I need to step in. But other times I need to just back the heck off.

When will learn how to differentiate?

When will I learn that a lesson learned one day might need to be learned again and again and again?

I’m just gonna take it day by day by day by day by day.

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Raising adults.

Dean and Dorathea Noll

Further proof that time flies.

The morning my 18 year old got on a plane to fly off to Europe with her cousin, I came upon a brand new human in the arms of said human’s brand new mama. The baby was 3 weeks, maybe 4. I tried to keep our exchange light but I cried as I spoke giving all the adorations due and speaking a few warnings too, “Oh so beautiful! Oh so tiring! Hold on tight because it’s a wild ride and TIME! SHE FLIES!!!” I had become THAT woman.

I remember the days of my early parenting when middle aged women and older would stop my cart in the grocery store to ogle my youngins. Their yearning was not for my baby really, but for their own babies now turned fully grown adults. “Enjoy it,” they’d say with eyes overflowing with tears. “Because before you know it, they’re gone.”

I didn’t know what they meant back then but I smiled at them as if I comprehended their tearful message. Those days of tending babies seemed interminable. The endless feedings and changings and night-time awakenings seemed like this was how it was and this was how it would always be.

But days passed. Years too. And suddenly my tiny newborn was navigating her 6′ frame into the airport for a curbside drop-off no less. “Fly little birdie, fly,” I cried, wanting to pull her back into the nest but knowing that her wings were already spread.

Sentimental tears come much easier to me now that I am 50. It is partly the age, partly the parenting and partly seeing that life can be short. I do not even attempt to hide the tears that flow and my kids chide me for my public displays of emotion. So, if you happen to see me and you have a brand new human in your arms, I will most likely approach you. Don’t worry, I won’t stay long, but I will stay long enough to breathe in the newness of life and warn you that truly, it is all a blink.

And we are not raising children. We are raising adults.

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Resistance is futile.

Our refrigerator door has a feature in which a tight seal is activated each time you close the door. Once you shut it, it takes a few seconds, maybe 3 or 4, for the seal to loosen enough to open the door again. So if you  try immediately, it is difficult to pull. There is resistance.

It used to bug me this feature. I occasionally even exclaimed out loud a rather inappropriate epithet, followed by a frustrated sigh. To a refrigerator door. For a delay of possibly 2 seconds of time.

Then one day when all was calm and the seal had activated as I was putting away groceries, I just stood there, hand on the handle, and took a big deep belly breath. In, down, out. In the time it took to take that breath, the seal released its vulcan grip, and I easily, effortlessly opened the door. AND had the benefits that a deep breath can bring.

Simple as that. What was frustration, was now benefit. What was blood-pressure-raising, was now calming. And at the risk of sounding all spiritually haughty, what was resistance, was now empowerment.

All day I looked for more chances to turn frustration around. And I didn’t have to look too far. Each time I came across the little things that aggravate like red lights and toothpaste on the counter and socks on the living room floor, I froze. And took a breath. The things that are so momentary and so minuscule really, but became monumental in the way I let them impact me. And all day I used those frustrations as a reminder to take a deep breath.

Now it’s my sometimes mantra. FREEZE! Take a breath. Feel better.

Because really, though I long to remember these mantras of mine ALL the time, I am human and it is only sometimes I am wise.

I am grateful when I do remember, and even a tiny bit grateful for these little frustrations now that I know I can use them to my advantage.

Because believe me, living in a house with 4 other humans,  those little frustrations aren’t going anywhere and I am breathing deeply all day long. When I am not shouting inappropriate epithets that is.

 

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Midway through our last full week of school I came upon some photos from the beginning of the school year. Seriously? That much physical change has occurred in all four of my (not so) little people? Faces went from kid to teen. Bodies stretched out a few inches. Hair grew. Shapes shifted. And that’s just  their external selves. On every level, physical, mental, and emotional, the expansion, if laid out in graph form would be off the charts. From not knowing to knowing. From strangers to friends. From uncertain to certain and vice-versa too. As if I, their mother, connected to but outside of their being-ness, could even begin to fathom the changes brought on by these past 9 months. Like a gestation of a whole new being.

We are ready for summer on many levels, and for the break from the routine. We look forward to turning off our alarm clocks or at least setting them to a more humane time. We are ready for a pause from the onslaught of information and from the hustle and bustle that is the scene of the school year – socially, academically, mentally, physically.

In these last couple of weeks of school, I’m going to make an attempt to mark the here and now as a keepsake. Because even though I think I’ll always remember us as we are in this very moment, apparently, based on the shock I felt looking back to September, that’s not true.  Who we are keeps changing, morphing, growing, expanding and it’s hard to see where we were in the face of the present day.

I’m going to create a ritual that will capture this particular moment, knowing that we will never be right here right now ever again. And knowing too that it’s fun to reflect and collect our year’s souvenirs for posterity’s sake. My goal these next few weeks, whether one-on-one, or as a group, is to inquire with my children about their year. Because here’s what I want to know…

  • What were your highlights of this school year?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know going in?
  • What was hard?
  • What was easy?
  • What are you appreciating about your own sweet life?
  • What do you love?
  • What were the highs?
  • And what were the lows? Knowing too, in retrospect, that even the lows have brought their own rewards.

Then I’ll tuck it away. And we’ll have ourselves a summer. Full of expansion in its own right and of a totally different variety. And maybe I’ll be reminded with a passing glimpse, to do this periodically, to look back on the recent past with the lens that only hindsight can provide. And years from now, when all are gone, we’ll have a snapshot of all of these successive particular moments in time.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, in parenthood, in personhood, is that no year, ever, is at all like the last. We just continuously expand into our own truest selves. And while I can’t stop time, I can capture a little piece of it as a small souvenir.

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Aren’t my Children Marvelous?!

The other day I was walking with a friend. We were going on and on about all the marvelous things happening around us and all the marvelous places we had been that week and all the marvelous people we had met.  And it dawned on me, that that feeling I was having of being so completely blown away by the pure beauty of all these things, was exactly the parenting tool I needed to put in my toolbox.

I needed to marvel at my children.

Not in the bragging way that the title of this blog post suggests. Not in the oh wow they’ve won an honors award or  created a prosthetic hand for science fair or even passed all their classes. But in the way of just simply marveling. In the true sense of the word based on the  definition I found…

marvel. verb. 
1. to wonder at (usually followed by a clause as object): I marvel that you were able to succeed against such odds.
2. to wonder or be curious about (usually followed by a clause as object): A child marvels that the stars can be.
Everyday I wonder about these amazing beings of mine. All four them. So unique and yet so much the same.  Their own selves since the moment they were born and yet so much a part of me and each other.
Everyday I am curious about their existence. Wow. I made you in my body and now, here you are, learning to read, drive, do a handstand, write a paper, swim for miles, photoshop, even text, and ollie the 8 stair at the skatepark after a thousand attempts that I could not bear to watch.
Even the traits of theirs that make me blow a fuse,  like when they argue their point incessantly, or choose to stay up until 3 am because they were watching a movie they love or talking into the wee hours with friends, even those things are to be marveled at, when I can step away for a moment, and stop raging and really ponder what it is they’re doing. They’re defending their position, fighting for their desire, fulfilling a passion and creating deep, passionate connection.  And though the immediate result might be a fight, or a tired, cranky day, and though I might want to flip off said child in the moment, like Kelly Corrigan so astutely noted in her memoir,  in the big picture it’s all marvelous. Truly. A trait, a person, an act to marvel.
So today, and everyday, and maybe especially when I’m pissed, I’m going to try to remember to marvel at my children.
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A Pre-9/11 Love Story

About 22 years ago or so, I sent a postcard to my now-husband, then boy-I-had-met-on-a-trip-to-Chicago. He didn’t have a phone in his artist’s studio/warehouse where he was living but wasn’t supposed to be inhabiting. So I sent him a postcard telling him the flight I was taking from Newark, NJ to Austin, TX had a 3+ hour layover and I thought maybe, since he was not only a starving artist but also a cab driver, just maybe he could pop in and say hello. I mailed it without knowing whether he got it or not.

As we taxiied up to the gate I had kind of forgotten, well not really forgotten but kind put out of my mind, that he might actually show up. I got off the plane and there he was, his beautiful face, standing at the end of the chute with a big smile and this sweet leather beret he would wear when he drove the cab. We spent the next 3 hours talking, making out, having a drink, talking and dreaming about a future together.

I always think of that 3 hour layover as the tipping point in our relationship. The day we actually decided that we really liked each other. A lot. And the day we pondered how we coule make it work so that we could be together. A few months later, he came down to Texas and now, 4 children later, here we are.

So why am I telling you all this? Because it’s 9/11 and I think of all the changes that have happened to our existence since then and one of them is how we go to the airport. See, if it had been after 9/11 we wouldn’t have had the opportunity for that chance encounter. He couldn’t have come to the gate. We couldn’t have rendezvoused for a few hours planning out the next 20 years of our life together. And I probably wouldn’t have reached out because meeting up outside the gate would have felt like a lot of work and planning without phones. (oh yeah, no cell phones then either.) And it might have felt like an imposssibility. Plus, that feeling, of seeing him at the end of the gateway? Come on! That was like seeing heaven!

There was a certain fearlessness that accompanied the time before 9/11. I wish we could have that feeling back. And maybe we can. That feeling of trust. A friend posted this today on her Facebook wall…

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

Let’s get that back. That feeling. Of trust in humankind.

Oh, and could we maybe spend the billions of dollars we now spend on warfare on something else?

 

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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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