Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Birthday Table


My daughter turns five next month, so I set up this "Birthday Table" for her.  The top is covered with a roll of gift wrapping paper, the decorations are from the dollar store, and the cards are from years past.  Before placing the cards on the table, I read them to her, telling her the story about each one.  

This table is our "Holiday Table", which we decorate for most major holidays and birthdays.  It is a great way to introduce cyclical memories and gratitude into our family.  

As I write this blog entry, we are in the middle of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, restricted from free movement throughout our cities, so things like "Holiday Tables" can be one way to transform boredom into creativity and connection.  

And, these creative traditions might be even more important for singles than ever.  Using our bodies to create traditions in the midst of singlehood can help us connect not only with others, but also ourselves.  I'm not certain if this is true, but I wonder if when we create these things as singles that maybe our bodies might even release oxytocin which is vital to our relational connection with self, our mental health, and our connection to others.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Birthday Books for Kids


Kids love their birthdays, so anticipation is half the fun.  What better way to emotionally connect with our kid's anticipation than to read birthday books to them, leading up to the big day?

My daughter's fourth birthday is in three weeks, so I decided to search the library catalog for preschool-aged birthday books.  If you don't happen to feel all that comfortable with library catalog searches, then visit your children's librarian and they can help you.  Here are the birthday books I just borrowed from the library:

  • Big Brown Bear's Birthday Surprise by McPhail, David
  • A Birthday for Cow! by Thomas, Jan
  • Birthday Mice! by Roberts, Bethany
  • Carl's Birthday by Day, Alexandra
  • Happy Birthday, Bertie! by Pfister, Marcus
  • I Want Two Birthdays! by Ross, Tony
  • The Secret Birthday Message by Carle, Eric
  • Happy Birthday to You! by Seuss

As you can see, we read a lot of books in our house, but more importantly, reading these birthday books during the weeks leading up to a birthday can create a tradition and relational bond that can be emotionally felt for a lifetime.

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Valentine's Day Traditions



Who said decorating is for Christmas alone?  A couple weeks ago, I stopped at Target and picked up a three dollar "Special Delivery" Valentine Mailbox.  A family can put handwritten notes in the box until Valentine's Day, and then open them all up.  

The heart and the garland were a buck-a-piece at Dollar Tree, and the chain links and drawings were free with use of our own construction paper.

Next year, the plan is to make more runs to the dollar store for more decorations over time.



Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Choosing Family Over Money (Literally "Buying Time")


Best selling author Brene Brown recounts a time* when she and her husband wrote down all of their goals for the upcoming year.  Many of their goals required more money and more work.  Then they decided to write down their deeper desires for family and relationships, discovering that many of their relational desires were in conflict with more money and more work.  In fact, they decided they needed to work less, meaning more time for family but less money for their original goal list.

Brown's story remained tucked away in the back of my mind for several years.  The pressure to make more money in order to have the things our family wants runs parallel with our deeper desires to have more time with one another, outside friends, and more rest.  I certainly can identify with the tension between money and time that Brown and her husband experience.

This past summer, Sara and I took the risk to work less, cultivating more time for family, friends, and rest.  I had been offered to teach two classes at one college and two classes at another college, thus totaling four classes.  The commute time was going to take away a lot of desires for family, friends, and rest.  We decided it would be best for me to teach only three classes at one college instead of four classes at two colleges.  This reduced commute time considerably, opening up an additional ten or more hours per week.

In the past, I would have seen this move as a loss of money, which is certainly true in a technical sense.  However, as I pondered our decision, I realized that I was literally using my money to "buy time".  Abstractly, money is a form of power, and we can use our power to buy "products" or "services", or we can use our power to "buy time".  While "loosing money" can feel dis-empowering, "buying time" can feel empowering, stimulating a sense of ownership, power, and decision making.

Of course, because of my position as a college instructor, I have a certain privilege of making a decent amount of money per class that others might not have in the jobs that they have.  I am completely aware of this privilege.  Nevertheless, whatever our situation in life, if we do have the opportunity to "buy time" for our family, friends, and rest, we can opt to "buy time" instead of "goods" and "services".**

Our budget is very tight right now, but I am thankful for the time we have bought by giving up a class, figuring things out financially along the way.

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

*I can't remember which book or podcast this came from, but it was probably The Gifts of Imperfection or Daring Greatly.

**For those who are in a completely difficult financial situation, working three minimum wage paying jobs, my course of action might not be possible, and I never want anyone to feel shame or condemnation for things that are sometimes out of their control.  Maybe there are only little things that can be done in some situations.  For more help with budgeting, Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University might be helpful.  Be aware that it does have a Christian flavor to the course, which might not be your thing, but the budgeting principles and debt reduction techniques are very powerful.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

From the Inside to the Outside


For a lifetime, my heart has desired goodness and transformation for me and the world.  However, until my early thirties, my pursuit of these things had been unfulfilling and ineffective, looking something like this:

From the Outside to the Inside (unfulfilling and ineffective)
1. Change the world
2. Change my community
3. Change my family
4. Change myself

Bringing transformation and goodness in this way is filled with many good intentions but often unfulfilling and ineffective.

In my mid-thirties, for a variety of reasons, I discovered a much more fulfilling and effective way to bring about transformation and goodness:

From the Inside to the Outside (fulfilling and effective)
1. Self-Care
2. Family-Care
3. Community-Care
4. World-Care

This second model is slower but stronger over time.  As I care for myself, I can care for my family.  As I care for my family, I can care for my community.  And, as I care for my community, I can care for the world.

This might seem selfish, but it is the opposite.  Embarking upon self-care, and working from the inside to the outside, could be the most outwardly focused course of action we have ever embarked upon.

Photo by Laurent Naville on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Preschool Arts & Crafts

Creative art projects await us on Buy Nothing, whose geographically-based, Facebook groups offer a platform to give, receive, and request almost anything for free. 

I found this Keirug cup holder on my local Buy Nothing group, intending it for a creative art project with my 3.5 year old daughter.  


My daughter is learning to cut, tape, and perform other fine motor skills, so I figured we could cut up construction paper and hang strips from each circle.  My wife, daughter, and I cut them out together, adding important family time together.



We taped the pieces onto the K-cup holder.  My wife and I had ideas for the perfect design, but my daughter wanted her own pattern.  Time spent cutting and taping her five or six pieces contributed to growing motor skills.  


The whole thing was a cost-free mixture of family attachment, arts and crafts, and fine motor skills, the result being a fun, goofy type of Dr. Seuss concoction.  As you can see, the base of this K-cup holder rotates!


Buy Nothing and thrift stores provide numerous preschool arts and crafts projects for our developing minds and families.



Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Importance of Family Member Sleep Rhythms



In families, different members have different sleep rhythms, and these sleep rhythms can change over time.

"Early risers" sometimes receive false credit for hard work, while "night owls" might be called lazy or undisciplined.  However, sleep science is discovering these sleep rhythms have biological causes instead of perceived character traits.

For example, teenagers can receive a bad rap for laziness; however, a shift in sleep rhythm is more responsible.  Studies show that teenage sleep cycles generally shift bedtime to later in the evening and later in the morning.  Our high school systems have not responded very well, and I favor later classes for teenagers.

While life schedules are complex and intertwining, my hope for families is to accommodate the sleep patterns of its members as best as possible.

Work cited
"Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders"
The Great Courses
Professor H. Craig Heller, Ph.D.
Stanford University

Photo above by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash


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The Importance of Sleep for Children (and Us)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Practice Trick or Treat Before Halloween


In our home, Halloween starts much sooner than October 31st because of our daughter's 3.5 year old imagination.  She has been practicing trick-or-treating since September 30th.

Almost daily, she puts on last year's butterfly costume, grabs our plastic jack-o-lantern, and knocks "trick-or-treat" on doors throughout the hallway.  My wife and I open with a "Happy Halloween" and drop small toys into her pretend collection of gummy dinosaurs, chocolate oxen, and licorice snakes.  

"Let's pretend trick-or-treating again!" She smiles.

Mom and Dad switch places, knocking on her doors, and receiving her pretend candy, extending Halloween from a one night event to weeks of playtime.  

Add Peppa Pig and Fancy Nancy Halloween books into the equation, and Halloween becomes a month-long tradition that builds family-emotional connections for a lifetime.  

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Importance of Sleep for Children (and Us)


Emotion coaching, healthy boundaries, and sleep are the most important factors in my parenting tool kit.  I bring up these three factors because one time a parent asked me how my daughter is so verbally advanced.  "Is it because you are a teacher?"  Truth be told, this is part of the equation, yet in my mind, emotions, boundaries, and sleep are far more important.  To sleep I turn.

Researchers are not entirely sure why we sleep, but they have found that brains seem to organize and reorganize emotions, memories, and learning.  Thus, sleep is not just about resting the body.  The brain is doing wildly amazing things at night.  When we shortchange our brains or our children's brains, mental and physical health can deteriorate over time.  Learning also becomes compromised, so that is why when I think of my own daughter's verbal acceleration, sleep is one of the key ingredients.

The average child needs 11-13 hours of sleep, the average adolescent (ages 10-19) needs 9-10 hours of sleep, and the average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep.  The easiest way to figure out how much a child needs to sleep is to let them "sleep in" on the weekend.  How long do they sleep on average?  There you go.  After you figure that out, then think about when they need to wake up on the weekday.  Now calculate what time to wake up.

In my 3.5 year-old daughter's case, we figured that she needs about 12 hours of sleep a night.  This is from when she actually falls asleep until she wakes up on her own.  She usually talks to herself for about half-and-hour, and we want her to wake up on her own by 7:30am in the morning.  This means we need her to fall asleep by 7:30pm.  Backtrack 30 minutes for her to fall asleep, and that means turning the lights off by 7pm.  Backtrack 30 minutes for books, story time, teeth brushing, and turning the lights off, and this puts us at 6:30pm.  There it is - we must start working towards bed by 6:30pm.  The planning gets even more tricky for schedules because that means we need to make sure we have dinner by 5pm, because we want to have family time after dinner, instead of rushing her off to bed.

Many parents have schedules that work against such planning, and with today's working couples, working single parents, and working divorced parents, scheduling can be quite daunting.  The goal is to try to do what we can with our schedules to make sure they get as close to the amount of sleep their bodies need.  

The question is what can we cancel, move, or rearrange to make it happen?  Our children's emotional, mental, and physical health depends upon it.  By the way, how is your sleep as a parent?  It is also part of the equation.  Longer sleep can lead to better parenting.

Science of sleep videos you might be interested in:


Photo at top by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Songs at the Dinner Table



For those who do not follow religious traditions, the notion of prayer before dinner feels a bit strange.  However, dinner table traditions seem to be important for some reason, so we try to implement them.  Sometimes, we pray.  Sometimes, we don't.  Often, we share good and bad things that have happened during the day, offering empathy for one another.  Even our three-year-old daughter participates in this part.

This evening, we sang a song in lieu of a prayer.  Civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer was known for her signature spiritual song, "This Little Light of Mine".  I had the urge to sing the first verse of the song, probably due to my recent research of her life.  I have a terrible singing voice, but I started us off, and my wife helped me out shortly thereafter.

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Not every song needs to be tied to civil rights activism, but this one was.  There are so many short song verses that can be sung at the dinner table, ones that fit your background.  Feelings of connection and empathy can go hand-in-hand with a song.

Two minutes into dinner, my daughter quietly sang one line.

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine...

May you always, beautiful daughter.


Photo at top by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash.com
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If you'd like to listen to Fannie Lou Hamer leading others in "This Little Light of Mine", then here it is: