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The One Trick that Changed Our Life

I have a secret. I love lists! It doesn’t matter whether it’s a shopping list, a to-do list, or some other random  list. I love to write things down!

I discovered a new way to use lists that brought our family closer together and helped accomplish even more every day. Plus it decreased our stress and increased our fun! What could be better than that?

Check out these two lists and how we use them:

 

Daily List

The daily list is a list of no more than 3 items (except rare cases when something out of the ordinary happens). One item is something we’ll finish that day. The other two items are things we hope to finish, but don’t need to.

Each evening, after supper, we talk about what we accomplished that day. Then the whole family makes plans for the next day. We use ‘Reminders’ on our apple devices so we can all access the list during the day. It’s important for everyone in the family to know what everyone else wants to do, that way we can work together instead of against each other!

Once we check off each item on the daily list, the rest of the day is free. We don’t add to the daily list except at the end of the day.

 

Weekly List

The weekly list is more flexible than the daily list. We add to it during the day and throughout the week. Anything that pops up, we just add it to the list. If the list gets to be 50 points long, that’s okay. This list isn’t about importance or how quickly something needs to be done. It’s about reminding us of things we wanted to do.

We use this list to help generate the daily list. I usually read this list once a day. It helps me decide what’s most important to do the next day. It also helps me see any patterns develop. For instance if I’m adding a lot of extra cleaning to the list, it lets me know the mess has gotten to me and it allows me to either shift my perspective, or do something about the mess before it overwhelms me.

 

How These Lists Transform

One of the greatest feelings is checking something off your to-do list. But that pales in comparison to finishing your to-do list! Because our daily list is so short, we finish it everyday. It feels ah-mazing!

Every life success amplifies the way we feel about ourselves and our life. Each small step makes the next step that much easier and more enjoyable.

But the real transformation is on the whole family. Our children learn to set their own goals.  Even Brom makes a goal each day (admittedly his goal is the same every day: Play more video games). Talking about our goals together, increases the connection between us in so many ways. They see what Ryan and I need to finish each day, so they either help us, or give us space so we can get it done quickly. We know what they want to do, so we help them with their goals. Once we’re done our items, we then have a lot of time in the day to do things together as a family, or spend special one-on-one time with the kiddos.

At the end of the day everyone feels more loved and respected and we all feel more peaceful.

This simple daily activity takes no more than 15 minutes each day, it’s impact on our day is immeasurable!

 

 

 

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Camping Connection

It’s easy to drift away from those closest to us. Even as we see them every day. We sometimes forget to take a moment to sit and chat about our thoughts, our hopes, our fears. Sometimes we get so caught up in parenting that we forget our children are people too. People with big ideas, brilliant minds, and easily bruised hearts.

I find it’s always a good idea to reconnect in small ways frequently, but sometimes we need more than just a few minutes here and there. We need to spend time focused on our family, with few distractions. It’s in these moments we see the patterns we’ve fallen into, the ones that have us saying ‘no’ more often than we should or lecturing about something that really just needed a hug. Camping, tenting specifically, allows our family the opportunity to connect in ways we can’t at home.

We don’t have appointments and obligations pulling us all over the place. We don’t have cell phones or internet to distract us. We don’t have bedtimes or alarms. What’s left is family.

Catching water falls
Exploring Upper Kananaskis Lake

On our most recent camping trip we found so many times to connect with our children, build them up, and also provide them with extra independence, and a whole lot of pride.

We like to tent at Elkwood in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The site we choose is large, surrounded by trees, and has a small field on one side. It provides the kiddos with tons of space to roam and explore where we can hear them, if not see them, at all times, but also where they can create their own little games, complete with forts. Adults are on hand when needed, but mostly they do their own thing while the adults set up camp, do the dishes, or other camping chores. For children who rarely have access to a forest, or wild nature, it’s a grand adventure!

We can tell by the number of times they come dashing over, faces glowing with pride, calling us to listen to the daring things they’ve done, or to show us what they’ve built, that they’re growing in ways they couldn’t at home. It’s one of the most beautiful things to witness!

On this camping trip we saw each of our children tackle new skills with wild abandon and we saw them settle into the peaceful love of our family. Before we went camping certain things were sure to start fights, other things would certainly cause crying, but during our trip those patterns melted away as our entire family took the time to connect and fill each other’s love cups.

To us, it seems so small. Jumping from stone to stone across a stream, but to a child, it’s a big adventure, filled with the knowledge they might slip. They wonder what might happen if they fall. They might worry about wet feet, a bruised knee, or maybe something else. But it’s a much bigger deal to them than it is to us. It’s so important to allow children the opportunity to make that leap. Even if it means they get wet feet and dirty socks!

 On our camping trip we ran into a couple moments we didn’t expect. On our first full day there, we hiked from the Interlakes day use area, around upper kananaskis lake to a water fall. It was about 7KM one way to Lower Kananaskis falls. On the way there, the kiddos learned how to safely go down steep hills, with loose rocks. The first hill meant Ryan and I each went up and down a couple times as we took turns holding hands, correcting foot placement, and helping them gain confidence. We needed the first aid kit a couple times, but over all everyone did okay. By the end of the hike they all declared themselves pros! hahaha When we arrived at the falls, we were surprised to discover Cordelia was really frightened, she didn’t want to pose for the picture because she felt too close to the rushing water. I snapped the picture as Ryan tried to reposition her, but she clung to the tree. As much as I wanted the picture, we didn’t force her. Instead, we knelt down, found out what she was afraid of (falling in), then I brought her over to where I was standing to take the picture. From there, she could see where everyone else stood was far enough away from the edge that even stumbling would be well away from the water. We talked about how important she was to me, and how I would never ask her to do something I thought would put her in danger. Then I sat and listened to her talk about her concerns for a few moments, then I asked her to look around and tell me whether she thought her fears might come true, we also talked about what she could do if they did.

dancing at the falls

By exploring her fear, she was able to overcome it, and when we hiked to different falls a couple days later, she was prepared! She felt confident enough to climb onto the stones, and to dance at the edge of the falls. As adults, we see danger where children don’t, but sometimes we also see safety where children see danger. It can be really hard to take a breath and listen, but it’s always worth it when we do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teaching Thankfulness and Gratitude

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference between a day and a whole life. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference between life and a moment. 

*The words in italics are about my spirituality. Feel free to skip that and just read about how we guide our children to being thankful and showing gratitude. *

Easter is such an important time for me. It has been a time of rebirth and new life in so many ways in my life. But over the past few years I’ve allowed myself  to drift away from the spirituality that brought huge blessings to my life. Not only did I drift aimlessly, truly without direction. I closed my eyes and refused to see where I was going or where I’d been.

Can you imagine a moment when  a great gift is given to you, only to realize you smashed it? 

I’m not sure when, but that moment hit me. Hard. I looked around and I saw my life in shambles. So many blessings that withered. Neglected. 

But the wonderful thing about God is that it doesn’t matter where we end up, He always welcomes us home. 

Easter is the perfect time to renew our faith and rejuvenate our spirituality. 

I want to invigorate my prayer life. And shift my perspective to see the glory of God.

I want to show my children the wonders of gratitude and thankfulness that I’ve known.

It’s taken me a lot of work and a lot of time to figure out how to see those moments as more than a blip on the radar of life. I want my children to grow up able to see the hardness of the world, the sharp points as mere moments, but the joy and wonder as  life. 

Until recently, I saw the hardness, the sharpness, the starkness and could barely see beyond it except in rare moments. But through a lot of meditation, mindfulness and guidance from others more experienced than I am, I was able to shift my perspective. 

In order to bring that fresh way of looking at things to my family, I placed a gratitude poster on the wall. 

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I didn’t say anything at first, but throughout the first couple days, I just wrote down things I was grateful for. I drew little pictures. And I moved on. They watched me, asked what I wrote, and listened with brilliant smiles as I read out words of love and gratitude for them. 

I invited them to write or draw on the poster as well. 

As our poster fills dup more and more each day, I let them know I had more posters and I’d just keep putting new ones on the wall as soon as we filled the old ones. 

It took  few days, but eventually one, then another added their own bits to the wall. It’s been so wonderful to see them noticing the moments more and more. But even more amazing, I’ve seen them looking to create moments to add to our wall!

So young and they already know more about life than I did as an adult. 

 

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Admit When You Make a Mistake

Agatha’s been having such a tough time lately. It’s been so difficult figuring out what’s been going on and how to fix it. Over the past few days Ryan and I’ve both spent more time with her, talking to her and playing with her. It looked like things were going great, then bedtime hit. We’d already finished reading their bedtime story. It was late. I wanted to get on with tidying so I could get some work done on a sculpture. I was done.

She wanted another chapter of our book.

I said no. She was disappointed.

I didn’t see her disappointment. What I saw was a child who wouldn’t think of others (Cordelia was asleep and would miss the story). I saw a child who just wouldn’t let up. Always demanding more time, more attention. I snapped. I lectured her.

I forgot our number one parenting tool. Always assume your child has positive intent.

I forgot that number one parenting ‘rule’ and I hurt Agatha deeply when I assumed she was being selfish. I was the one being selfish, I projected that onto her.

Luckily, mid lecture I realized what I was doing. Got down on my knees. Apologized to her. And asked if I could start over more respectfully. She was hurt, but she agreed. Again she asked if I could read another chapter of the book. Again I said no. Again she was sad. This time instead of lecturing. I hugged her and said, “I know it’s an exciting book and I really want to know what happens next also. I know it’s difficult to wait, but Cordelia’s asleep and she’d be sad to miss the next part of the story. We’ll wait until tomorrow to read more.” We hugged and kissed, then I asked her if she’d forgive me for the way I treated her. I let her know she didn’t have to. But she did forgive me. And it was the greatest gift in the whole wide world!

The next day I needed to make it right with everyone else also. I called everyone to come to the table. I explained what happened, and pointed out that (both Ryan and I) I’ve been doing this in small ways for a few weeks now. I apologized to all of them because they were all impacted by my treatment of Agatha. I promised to do better. I explained our parenting ‘rule’ to them. And asked if they’d forgive me. They agreed.

This rule is simple, and the most effective parenting tool in my toolbox. Just believe your child is a good person and always has good intentions.

It doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean we’ll always be happy with things. It doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and roses. It just means they aren’t trying to be mean or spiteful. It means that the root behind their behaviour is goodness. Even if one child hits another, there is some positive desire at the root. Find that goodness and most problems can be solved and fixed without any stress or fighting. It’s both that simple, and that hard.

It isn’t always easy to see the goodness. Sometimes it takes a lot of work on our part to sit there and talk to our children and actually understand them. But the pay off in the end is so worth it!

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Time and Attention

Right now our family is so busy with classes, crafting, and renos, I have few moments left over for anything extra. But my children often find themselves with nothing to do except notice all the moments I don’t spend with them. Agatha’s really felt forgotten a lot lately. Eight going on nine is such a difficult age at the best of times, but it’s particularly difficult for her because her older sister has grown and matured out of the things Agatha’s interested in, but her younger sister hasn’t quite matured into them yet. For a child who loves people so much and wants to be with someone all the time, this is so difficult for her!  She wants so much time and attention, but with so many people in the family with such widely different wants and needs, sometimes that attention has to be given while cooking, cleaning, or helping someone else. Often it means she’s left on her own.

It can be so difficult to meet the needs of everyone in the family, especially when life shifts as children get older. All she wants is me to spend time with her helping her with her projects, but the most I can give is 15 minutes at a time before Brom needs me. I feel so badly for her. All I want to do is say ‘yes’ to her requests, but reality has me saying, ‘I can’t’ way more often.

But, I’ve cleared the next two days, and Ryan’s home, so I can spend extra time and attention helping her with her latest clay project. Helping her with a sewing project, helping her play WOW, and generally just spending extra time with her.

I know two days doesn’t make up for the months of run, run, run we’ve had lately, but I know it’ll go a long way to filling her love cup because we have a pretty solid foundation to begin with.

I’ll post pictures of our activities on instagram, and post back here and let you know how it goes. 🙂

And keep your eyes open for our next movie theme post – Brom chose Big Hero 6 and Ella chose Peter Pan – activities for both of those will be coming soon!

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Toy Story Trouble

Over the past few months we’ve been getting rid of stuff and really looking at what we use and don’t use, so we can make our home more joyful. We want to be able to use the space (and the stuff) we have without needing to put a ton of effort into cleaning in order to do so.

While Ryan and I’ve been going through our stuff and the general household stuff, w e’ve also been encouraging the kiddos to also get rid of their old toys they don’t use anymore, or the ones they forgot they even had.

Things were going pretty well, until we watched Toy Story 3.

Brom was so taken with the idea of toys being sad that their children didn’t want them anymore that he cried for hours anytime he thought about his toys being given away. It was heartbreaking to watch. We spent so much time this week cuddling and talking about how hard it is to say goodbye. We talked about the movie and how the toys felt, and also how the children felt. We talked about the actions the parents in the movie took and how that impacted the children and toys. It took time. A lot of time. He was heart broken.

We took all of his toys he’d decided to donate out of the box and sent them back to the playroom. He cried some more. We talked some more. We cuddled some more.

Then just as suddenly he brought all the toys back, put them int he box, and said he was ready to give them to someone else who’d continue to love his toys as much as he does. He knows his toys will be happy because someone loves them.

As a parent it was an amazing thing to watch. To hold space for him while he was sad, to walk this journey with him. Not trying to change his mind or make him feel better, but just being with him while he was sad.

It can be so difficult when our children do something different than what we want. It’s absolutely painful to see our children sad. But those are both experiences that are so powerful and important not only to our children, but to us and our relationship with them as well.

My heart swelled with so much love and pride when Brom gently placed his toys in a box, told them he loved them, and wished them well in their next home.

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Frozen Week Finale

We’ve sung ‘Let it Go’ and ‘Do you Wanna Build a Snowman’ so many times this week! It’s been so much fun!

Of course we couldn’t have a frozen week without actually going outside. 😉 We took to the fields, rivers, and hills this week to spend some time under the beautiful, blue Alberta sky.

We don’t have a reindeer on hand, so I hooked Chester up to our sled and had him give our kiddos rides around the field.

You’ll have to excuse the photos, it’s difficult to take pictures and run at the same time. lol Chester loves to pull, even with 80+lbs worth of child behind him, he runs faster than I do!

We also took some time to take the toboggans to the hill near our place. I didn’t get any pictures of that, but I did get pictures of the aftermath!

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The wind hardened the snow on the hill just enough to speed us up, without being dangerous. It was glorious!

For two runs.

Then we hit a drift of powder covered in a very thin layer of hard snow. We ploughed through it. Brom was not happy. We went home right after. Poor guy.

The next day Ryan was home so we took our skates to the outdoor river and rink by our place. It’s located next to the ball diamonds. They wound a manmade ‘river’ of ice through the field and then created a nice sized rink on the other side of the diamonds. It was really fun! I even managed to stop a couple times! I can be taught! hahahah

 

Brom didn’t skate, but he did have fun on the ice, and found a ‘snow sculpture’ to bring home with him. Isn’t it pretty? 😉 (yep the sculpture is the big snow ball lol)

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Snow-free Snowman Activities

The weather around here’s all over the place. One day it’s -30C, the next it’s melting. But melting didn’t improve the quality of our snow, the wind hardened crust got thicker and stronger as it melted, then refroze. There’s till plenty to do outside in our snow, but building snow people isn’t one of those things right now.

Instead we made snow creatures from marshmallows and chocolate chips. This activity was a huge hit! By the end there were plenty of sticky children and huge smiles!

 

But all good things come to an end. The marshmallows and chocolate were eaten, it was time to craft! I whipped up some puff paint. Sounds harder than it is – all you need is 1 part white glue and 1 part shaving foam. I also added some sparkles to help our ‘snow’ look more realistic.

If you’ve never painted with puff paint before, you really should try it!! Our kiddos always love to experiment with it and create texture to their paintings. Though be sure to wash brushes immediately after use lol we forgot one time and all our brushes were stuck together in one big clump that evening when I went to clean up. 😮

 

When Ryan came home we did another snowman activity. This time I made rice crispy treats and each person got to create their own snowperson. The silliness level was unusually high for this activity, which made picture taking difficult – well, that and my hands were covered in sticky marshmallow lol.

The kiddos all had snow much fun! 😀

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It's a Disney Life

To pass time while we wait for winter to be over, we’re starting our 3rd annual family Disney Movie tradition. Each year we plan a list of Disney movies to watch (yes, sometimes we add other movies as well). With each movie we add a couple activities that we do together as a family during the week. Normally we do this to prepare for a trip to Disney World. But we decided we have so much fun doing this, we might as well do it even if we don’t have a trip planned!

Given the weather over here, the first movie we decided to watch is Frozen. Hahaha It seems so fitting! We enjoyed cuddling on the couch watching the movie, singing the songs, and now we’re planning the activities to go along with the movie. Of course, we’re going to build a snowman – though at this rate we won’t use actual snow. For anyone who doesn’t know, snowmen require a specific type of snow, just wet enough to stick, but not so wet as to be too heavy. Right now our snow is rock hard on top and powder underneath. NOT snowman snow. Instead we’re making rice krispie treats and shaping them into snow people. It’ll be so much fun!

Later in the week, the weather’s supposed to warm up, we’re going to take the opportunity to go ice skating.

And, of course, we’re going to make paper fractals to decorate our house.

It’s so much fun immersing ourselves into the movies, and bringing our family closer together.

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Fostering Connection

It’s not always easy to foster connection with the people we love. Sometimes we’re tired, hungry, stressed, or just worn out. Connection isn’t always easy, but it’s always important.

This week I’ve found myself connecting more by stepping back than by stepping toward my children.

We went swimming this week. Brom wanted to learn to dive. He’s 3 and he wants to dive. I wanted to tell him no. Instead I told him not in the kiddie pool.  In deeper water, he climbed up on the edge, sat on the side of the pool, put his little hands over his head, then rolled, hands and head first, into the water. I stood by, telling him I was there if he needed me. I encouraged him, I cheered with each dive and was suitably impressed when he swam the 3 meters back to the edge each time. Over and over again. After about an hour and a half he began to tire, he couldn’t quite swim all the way back to the edge on his own. He floundered. I did not rush to grab him. I did not save him (though my hands were under the water to catch him if he needed me), I simply told him I was there.

I waited to see what he’d do.

He rolled onto his back, into his safety float. He relaxed, caught his breath, then rolled over and swam the rest of the way to the edge.

I cheered and congratulated him for his quick thinking and staying calm! I was so proud of him, and so was he!

Connection. It’s such a weird and interesting concept. By stepping back, being close, but not interfering I strengthened the connection I have with Brom more than if I stepped in, took charge, or directed his actions.

The same holds true for the older kiddos too.

Ella received a Kano kit for Christmas. It’s a build your own computer kit that uses raspberry pi as the base. (It looks awesome and she’s had so much fun using it!) She built the computer and was playing a game, but couldn’t figure out what the command prompt meant, she asked me for help. With some trial and error I helped her figure out what she needed to do. She deleted what I’d typed and re-typed it herself. It didn’t matter whether she needed help or not, she wanted to do it on her own.

 

Had I typed and hit enter, had I been the one to actually complete that step, I’d have taken away her sense of accomplishment. By answering her questions, showing her how, but not actually doing it myself I gave her the information she needed to move forward. When she ran into a similar problem later, she completed the steps on her own. I received the biggest smile ever for giving her that moment. I know Ella, if I’d stepped in and completed that step for her, she’d have been hurt and upset.