Only time will tell if we can bring our crazy, hyperextended family together...BETTER! Come share our laughs and struggles as we test tips, tricks, and tools-of-the-trade in our quest for a more fabulous family life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving by the Numbers

Thanksgiving is a time when we count our blessings.  In keeping with tradition, here is a compilation of blessings counted this Thanksgiving:

TEN—at least the number of gallons of gas it took to drive our rickety van down to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner so that we could visit with the twins, the triplets, the in-law’s, the in-law’s new baby, the grandparents, and great-grandma, of course.  We made it without any breakdown incidents or popped hoses….other than a few pit stops for children with whoozy stomachs and one allergic reaction in my youngest son who broke out in hives after drinking five juice boxes (no, I did not give him those!). 

NINE—number of healthy friends who, after commiserating that we all overate several times this weekend, decide to motivate ourselves to waddle out our front doors, groaning, to meet, run four difficult miles, and create our own watered-down Cross Fit intervals at one mile stops.  Did we overdo it?  You betcha.  I am waddling still, but in pain now!

EIGHT (dollars)—overrated cost of a bunch of bittersweet that I have entwined beautifully, I think, yet guiltily, around my chandelier as my husband reminds me every time we drive anywhere, “there’s some bittersweet you could have cut for free.  Oh, and there’s more bittersweet…” and for which, it is true, I have been torn between 1) buying a whole other bunch just to spite my husband and 2) plotting how to cut bittersweet off of branches along the road, without being caught and arrested for trespassing.  I have resolved that I can do neither and that I am just plain a “wuss”, but at least I am a non-lawbreaking “wuss”.  The bittersweet, though expensive, looks lovely.  I plan on keeping it up all the way through the holidays because it is so beautiful… and maybe just for the principle of it…and perhaps a little bit to drive my husband the teensiest bit crazy.   

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trail Hike--Family Activity

This week, we were inspired by Andrew Weil's excerpt from his book, Spontaneous Happiness, which appeared in the October 30, 2011 issue of Newsweek, to get outside and take a hike in the woods.  Dr. Weil's theory is that our society shows signs of suffering from "nature-deficit disorder...coined by the author Richard Louv to explain a wide range of behavior problems in children who spend less time outdoors but now is invoked as the root cause of an even wider range of....ailments in people of all ages who are disconnected from nature."  The weather was gorgeous and we wanted to take advantage of record-breaking temperatures, no snow yet (knock on wood), and explore one of the sets of trails nearby. 

The kids loved stopping and looking at the still-green plants along the way.  They took many of these pictures.

My youngest son was especially interested in stumps with different colored fungi and moss on them. 

My daughter, with her eye for abstract shapes, preferred the patterns of the leaves:

Andrew Weil states, "I believe we are gathering scientific evidence for the benefits of living close to nature, not simply for enjoying its beauty or getting spiritual sustenance, but for keeping our brains and nervous systems in good working order."  Interesting stuff, but all I know is we started out complaining and ended our hike telling jokes, laughing, and challenging one another to runs up and down the hills. 

Connecting with nature--just what the doctor ordered!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turkey Run Pics

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May you be thankful for each day you have.  May your day bring all that is good your way.  May your blessings be plentiful.  Here are pics from the Turkey Run earlier this morning.  Wa-hoo!!! 
People starting to fill the street, getting ready to line up and run (or walk).  Some people wore turkey hats, some wore homemade shirts with handprint turkeys, some wore Santa outfits, but the person who garnered the most attention was the guy who ran with a 20 pound frozen turkey in his hands, smiling all the way!  Yikes!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"It is Good to Have an End to Journey Towards; But It Is The Journey That Matters In The End." --Ursula K. LeGuin FAMILY ACTIVITY DAY

            Sometimes, it is chance happenings, those unplanned events, that turn out to be the most memorable parts of life.  Squished in between the cleaning chores, kids’ sports games, friend gatherings, birthday parties, and several pre-Thanksgiving errands of the weekend, we scheduled a time to put everything aside and celebrate our family with a family activity.  As it turns out, our family activity turned out to be something completely unplanned. 
            J.J., my youngest son, was involved in a food-gathering activity for the local food bank.  This was an activity important to him and to the other boy scouts in his pack.  The food bank, especially since Hurricanes Irene and Lee, has had its inventory severely strained.  His pack leader was taking all the help she could get; there was more of a need than much of our boy scouts could fill.  In fact, the reality of the situation is that many of the people being asked for food donations quite possibly were people who needed the food.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Family Meeting #4--Day 23

Our family meetings are falling into a routine. The meetings are having effects on our family that we never realized would occur.  We are starting to learn about one another in a way that we hadn’t learned about each other before. 
Our meetings now start with letting everyone know our business for the coming week, then our discussion of self-achievements, family achievements, and our new topic—telling other people in our family what we appreciate about them.  Although compliments and achievements may seem like something that doesn’t need to be said in a family, or shouldn’t have to be said, these words bring smiles to each person in our family.  An unintended result of this part of the meeting is that we learn more about each other.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekly Focus Tip--The New, Improved "Star Chart"

“Star” Charts, as my kids call them, are nothing new.  Teachers have been known to use a similar format as a “behavior chart” for classes or individuals, depending on the type of classroom.  When first introduced, they were meant as a positive reinforcement tool for behavior modification.  Instead of giving a negative consequence for a negative behavior, the idea is to give a positive reward for a positive behavior and, as some people do get in a habit of appreciating negative attention, attention is not given toward the negative behavior.  When a person earns enough “stars” on the chart (or “smiley faces” or whatever token is chosen to use), the person can then receive an award.  In classrooms this type of reward system can be used for individuals on a weekly or even a daily basis.  The earned reward system works best if the reward is something that the person has chosen for himself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beware the Uncool Lunch Box Note

Every year, Hallmark runs a television commercial in which a girl, sitting at the school lunch table, opens her lunchbox and pulls out a card given to her by her mother.  The girl reads the card, smiles, and sighs.  All is right with the world.  The pressures of school are no more for her—her mother gave her a surprise card.  This was my inspiration yesterday for lunch box notes.  I wrote We love you for being YOU! and We’re so proud of you!, then I folded the little messages and slipped them into each of my children’s lunch boxes.  I will surprise them and make their day, today! I thought.  Maybe I’d get a little bit of embarrassed backlash or an eyeroll from my high-schooler, so I knew this was risky, but worthwhile to let him know I care.  Maybe my middle schoolers wouldn’t say anything about it, too, but would still appreciate it.  My elementary schooler, I was sure, would love it. 
Later, once my kids came home from school, I waited to hear something, anything, about their reception of the lunch box notes.  It wasn’t until I was driving in the car with my elementary school child, that I heard, “Why did you put that note in my lunch box today?”  His voice was almost a whisper. 
“Because I love you!” I said.  “Were you surprised?!”  I cannot hide the excitement in my voice.  I knew he would notice! 
“Well,” said my youngest son, “can you not do that again?”  His voice quivered with emotion.  “I didn’t know what that piece of paper was and so I unfolded it and I read it out loud.”  His voice starts to crack as he tries to keep his composure.  “Everyone laughed.  I was so embarrassed!” 
I must be the most awful mom in the entire world.  How could I not think about what the other kids would say at the lunch table?  “I’m so sorry!”  I said.  “What happened?” 
“Well, everyone was laughing so loud that the principal came over to my table and had to yell at them not to laugh at me.  She said that if they didn’t stop, she would have to assign them lunch detention!” 
“Oh, no!  I’m so sorry, honey,”  I said.  “I promise, I won’t ever do it again.”  I repeat this over and over to him as he chokes back tears in the back seat. 
 “Okay,” he said. 
Did all the kids feel like this? I wondered.  Once home, I cornered my middle school son.  “Did you get your lunch box note today?” I said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meal and a Movie Night

This was my daughter's week to pick a family activity so she created "Meal and a Movie Night".  Her idea was for each family member to find a recipe, make it, and share it with the family as a special meal.  Then, we'd all watch a movie!  Throughout the week, we each picked out a recipe, wrote down the ingredients on a shopping list, and then we went shopping for the ingredients together. 

Although it was difficult timing and coordinating each recipe in the kitchen, everyone agreed that this was one of the most fun activities we've done as a family--and we never left the house.  My daughter chose to try a Paula Deen recipe from Food Network magazine called "Sweet Potato Bisquits".  As usual, she added her own flair, adding cheese to half of the recipe just to see how that would work, and she made them free-form rather than rolled out and cut. 

Family Meeting #3--(Day 16)

This week was a change as the kids actually begged for the family meeting.  We had so many interruptions during the weekend that we ended up having our family meeting during dinner, but that worked out well as we decided on pizza (a favorite, rare dinner—YUM!).  Although we need a lot of practice communicating, it seems like we are accomplishing something…though I’m not sure what!  We are almost done working on our actions and consequences board.  Also, we reviewed upcoming weekly responsibilities for school and work—so that everyone knows “what’s going on”, and we added a new part to our discussion of individual achievements and family achievements—we each had to say something we liked about one another.  This worked really very well.  I think it’s a “keeper”!

"...and remember not to take others for 'granite'"--Anonymous student writer

Last week, I participated as a judge for the annual Veteran’s Day Essay contest.  I look forward to this every year because it involves listening to the words of both the young and the young-at-heart.  One evening a year, the judges for the contest  meet at the VFW and sit at large round tables reading essays from children.  This year, we had over 500 essays to read and narrow down to just a few winners.  These children are then visited at school and surprised with an award in front of all their peers. 

I am the youngest person in the room.  When one of my parents’ dear friends gradually lost his eye sight, I was offered the honor to take his place to read and score the essays.  He has now since passed away but I still go each year, sit in his chair, and read for him.  It is a quiet evening for me, a once-a-year evening when I sit, listen, and see people that I haven’t seen since last November.  Several people in the room are parents of my childhood classmates, so when they walk in the door and I hear their voices, it triggers many wonderful memories of when I grew up, went to school, went trick-or-treating or holiday caroling.  It’s funny how that is, isn’t it?  How just the timber of someone’s voice can bring you back in time.

It's Called "If You Can't Find Your Bathing Suit, You Can't Go Swimming!"

Grandma is coming to visit!
...or otherwise titled "I Cleaned And Now I Can't Find Anything!"  So, we did a lot of cleaning this past weekend (i.e. my Big Fall Clean or the BFC as I fondly refer to it) to get ready for friends and relatives to gather at our house during the holidays (my favorite part of the holidays)--including my grandmother, who is also known by some as great-grandmother, and by others as great-great-grandmother (I'm so excited!). However, today is my swim practice and I cannot find my bathing suit ANYWHERE!  I'm sure I put it somewhere where I wouldn't lose track of it and guess's gone.  The one lesson I'm learning with this year's Big Fall Clean is that we need some serious organizational help.  The problem has to be admitted before an answer can be found, correct?!  Anyhow, we did get the two main rooms painted a warm, dusted, and curtains washed (my grandmother's pet peeve--dirty curtains).

(This post is also filed under "Just Put It In A Box").

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Review--Building Family Communication

         Building Family Communication (Family Matters) by J. Denis Mercier and Waln K. Brown for the William Gladden Foundation is a quick read. It is a small book of approximately 45 pages which gives a succinct overview as to why communication is such an important tool for families--and the best way to begin strengthening your family. As they state in their forward, “Despite all its power and strength, the family unit remains one of the most vulnerable human connections….Building family communication is the classic ‘win/win’ situation: every member of the family is more secure with one another and ready to deal with the world outside.” The book answers such questions as “How Does A Family Build Communication?” in short, one or two paragraph responses that give a quick overview and perhaps a few examples.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."--Abraham Lincoln

Okay, well I sooooo overdid it today!  Today, I woke up, did weight-lifting, went swimming with the girls, did a walk/run in the woods on my own, and then watched the kids play and ride bikes outside.  I don’t know why I did it.  Actually, I DO know why….the weather is so beautiful out, especially for November.  When I walked outside today, it just smelled alive.  My heart skipped a beat.  I knew I was in trouble right then.  How can it be possible to have such a lovely day here in November?  The squirrels are scurrying around gathering nuts.  The Canadian geese are stopped at tiny pools of water all around our area, resting as they make their way south.  The signs are all around that the colder weather is on its way.

Weekly Focus Tip--Positive and Negative Messages

One of this week's family focus tips we are trying this week comes from William Gladwell Foundation's booklet, "Building Family Communication (Family Matters) published just this year.  We are focusing on positive and negative verbal and non-verbal messages that family group members convey to one another and why it helps to build a more fabulous family when we increase positive messages and decrease negative messages.  Here are a few quick guidelines that we are trying to keep in mind as a family this week:

“To be effective in a close-knit group such as a family, communication must be believable and trustworthy.  When someone avoids the truth, he or she loses the respect of the others….All family members must be open, candid and trustworthy.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Football and Pizza!

Gorgeous weather for November--a bit crazy after a snowstorm in October!  After raking leaves we were all set to do our family activity.  Last week, my husband had been picked to be the first one to choose a family activity and he chose a football-watching and pizza-making evening.  The big game started at 4:00, right when my daughter had a soccer game.  What to do, what to do...

(This post also filed under "Family Activities").

Family Meeting Two (Day 8)

The kids actually asked to have our team meeting this Sunday. I’m taking that as a good sign! I came armed with “star charts” and information from the little book, Building Family Communication by the William Gladden Foundation, just published this year. (A review of this booklet can be found in my blog’s Family Resource Reviews section). Before we even sat down at the table, someone had found the “talking spoon” and my daughter had tacked up a huge sheet of paper for our discussions. We discussed upcoming weekly events, positive achievements that each person had this week, reviewed our use of the word “BACON” to halt arguments during our meeting time, and then discussed positive and negative verbal and non-verbal messages based on the Gladden book. Then, we got down to the nitty-gritty. It went a little bit like this, more or less:
MOM: Okay, let’s start with our next item: Positive Family Achievements. Five minutes.
LIZA: Well, we behaved at the football game last night.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Maybe She'll Forget By Then...

So last weekend, my husband took me out for my birthday. That was exactly what I wanted—to just go out together as a couple, and another time as a family (which we'd already done earlier in the month), to do something special together. Due to the Great Recession, we don't go out much at all.  He had found cheap tickets to a local musical and decided to surprise me with them. That was the best gift right there!  He even arranged for his mother to watch our kids--at her place. His mother is a little round Italian woman with a very eccentric personality, much like most of my husband's large, very extended family on his mother's side (and when I mean very extended, I mean we see third and fourth cousins in his family fairly regularly).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Figuring Out How to Manage Holiday Stress

This is my stress-reliever picture for today!  As the calendar turns to November and the holidays move closer, I can already feel my stress level climbing.  I love the holidays.  I love all the family time and beauty that the holidays bring.  I love all the connections and memories the holidays can make for people.  It's all the planning that stresses me out!  This is definitely something I'm going to want to explore these next two months--how to lower holiday stress and how to focus on meaningful family connections.  For now, I'm just going to look at pictures of my favorite places! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When It's Okay to Lie...

I think that when you’re late getting to your son’s “Halloween Costume Parade” around the outside of his school because someone in your house took your hairspray....and once you find it in a pumpkin basket in the family room (how did it get there…???), you realize that you had mistakenly put down the all-important camera during your panic-filled search through the house….And, when you find the camera, hairspray your hair, and run out to the car, you realize that the gas tank gauge is past “Empty”...