Author: Mary Ann Johnson

Do You Have a ‘Family Thing’?

Every mother struggles to bring all that she has to the family table. We all want to teach our children to be kind, to have manners, to be honest, to do their chores, to share, and on and on. We also want to teach skills that can help them as adults. We desire to encourage them to develop talents for the joy of it. It can feel daunting.

But there is something else that many of us struggle with; we want to have meaningful ‘family learning’, where our families connect and where the connection we create is passed down. That can often seem even more challenging because of the time and effort it can take. This is not something that we can give to our children by our example or our way of being.

I am talking about what we do as a family that is uniquely our own, that is passed on because we did them together and they became part of us. Today we are going to tackle this sticky wicket and see how it can be done, even if you have felt that you are failing at this or if you don’t even get what I’m talking about. : )

THE MAGALEI FAMILY THING

I want to introduce you to my friend Quincy Magalei, a homeschooling mom. We met via the internet. Years ago, Quincey discovered my blog and then bought my book, Becoming a Present Parent. She signed up to receive my newsletter and followed me through the years, reading what I wrote.

Quincy has seven children. Last year she and her husband took over the care of two newborns with severe special needs. They require a vast amount of time and need willing hands and hearts to care for them. That is when I heard from Quincy in person. She knew it was going to be more than she could manage alone and felt she should set a few things in place so the chances of success would be greater.

Quincy knew she and her husband would be very short on sleep and time. The babies were needy and on oxygen. There were going to be lots of doctors’ appointments and therapy. How to do this and still homeschool? Quincy reached out to me for friendship, ideas, and a safe place to talk.

This last December, in one of our conversations, Quincy mentioned a concert that she and her children were giving in Heber City, Utah. That would be an eighty-minute drive from my home, into the mountains, and at night. : ) But there was no snow, which was unusual, so I decided to attend.

The concert was held at the Wasatch County Senior Center, which also houses the library. A perfect place. There was a good crowd on that night because of the lack of snow. : ) The concert was amazing. There was audience participation, amazing vocals, musical numbers, and good-hearted joking around. Quincy played the piano, as did some of the children. Her husband played guitar and ukulele. The children played guitars and violins. Her twelve-year-old son, Ezra, did some beatboxing and he was good! He began learning this skill at age nine. Asher, one of the 6-year-old twins sang with the Bigs because he loves singing. Ehli has a natural talent but is not yet as engaged. However, he participates because this is a family thing, it’s what they do!

I enjoyed myself thoroughly, as did my mom. I will attend other concerts they give because it was worth the drive. It was wonderful to observe a family doing their thing together. It was moving to see them connecting. It was hopeful to see what a father and mother can do together when they want to share something with their kids, despite the odds against it.

After the concert, I asked Quincy how in the world did her children learn to sing like this, play instruments, and perform together. I really wanted to know. I didn’t think I had done anything like this with my family. Why not? I could sing. My husband played an instrument. Did we fail?

She said the whole idea was born years ago because she wanted to give her children a chance to learn music and then provide a place for them to perform. But how? It was intimidating and would require time and effort. Then she saw another family singing together and was astonished. She had no idea that was even possible, all the littles to bigs, performing together. This pricked her heart and gave her hope and 20 years later her family is doing the same. It wasn’t easy. They were homeschooling seven children. Her husband worked. But the desire to do something as a family was strong, they loved music, and it helped them overcome the barriers.

When they lived in Oregon they performed in the homes of widowers/widows and for older couples they knew from church. When they moved to Utah, they continued the tradition. Then they were asked to sing at the senior center. Quincey began setting up concerts. They honed their gifts, talents, and skills as a family, over time. I want to tell you they are GOOD and sang one song that was so challenging I couldn’t believe they were doing it!

Quincy said that this concert, where all her family was together, was the highlight of her life and worth the time and effort. She told me she was proud of what they had accomplished as a family. I loved these words from her – “It demonstrates the synergy of working with God and trusting yourself; then watching the results while being sustained by grace in every moment.”

Despite the uphill battle and the addition of two special needs babies as they began working on last year’s concert, she said her efforts were magnified in a way she had hoped and prayed for. As she said, “God makes us more than we are alone and fills our hearts and souls in the process.”

But what about me and the fact that I didn’t teach my children to sing or play instruments when Don and I could have? I was a self-taught professional cake decorator too. I made fabulous wedding cakes which were my specialty. But I never taught my kids. Two of my daughters went on to teach themselves and I am proud of them. I was also a terrific seamstress, but I only taught my last two children to sew. Hmmm, did I fail my family? This is a question I have heard other women ask themselves when they see what other families have accomplished. This is a question we each need to examine.

OUR FAMILY THING

Every Sunday for many years, after church, I would take my children to the care center to visit the elderly. They would read to the people, tell jokes, and visit. I took them to the homes of older people and visited. We served in this way as a family often. Today, none of my children are put off by where people are at, special needs, elderly, ill, homeless. They can talk to anyone, and they do. They have hearts that are tuned to those in need.

That is why my son, Seth, is one of my granddaughter Maggie’s, favorite people. Maggie has severe cerebral palsy. She can’t walk or speak. But Seth knows how to talk to someone who can’t talk back. He isn’t the least put off by her situation. He knows that every person wants to laugh and be seen. In fact, every member of our family, even those who have come in by marriage, knows how to spend time with Maggie.

My daughter Jenny, despite a brain injury, has a master’s degree in communication science and disorders. She works with the elderly helping those with communication impairments, swallow deficits, and cognition. She has told me that her experiences at home moved her in this direction after her accident.

My daughter Jodie regularly takes her children to help the homeless. They pass out cocoa and cookies. They smile. They shake hands. They listen.

All my children serve the underprivileged, the needy, the elderly, and the ill. It was a family thing, and I didn’t even realize it at the time. It was the connecting family activity that left home with our children and is being passed down.

OTHER FAMILIES AND THEIR THINGS

Let me tell you about another mom that I just met a couple of months ago, Emily. She cuts my hair in her home studio. At one appointment the Magalei family came up in our conversation and Emily lamented that she wished she had time to do something like that for her kids. She is a very good seamstress and felt like a bit of a failure because she hasn’t made time to teach this skill to her children. : ) Then our conversation moved on.

I discovered that this family hikes. She said that even her three-year-old is a great hiker. They have hiked in many places. They do it whenever they want to be together as a family. They all love it. She and her husband have taught their kids how to enjoy the outdoors and be safe. I told her that this is a legacy as powerful as what Quincy has given her children or what I gave to mine. It just happens on different stages. Quincy’s family is on a stage in a community center. Emilie’s is on the side of a mountain, and for my family, it is in the halls of the ill and afflicted.

Another mother I know has a son who was obsessed with rocks. It became their family thing. They went to digs and planed vacations around where rocks could be found. They collected, sorted, and displayed them. They spent time in mineral and geology museums. They had constant family conversations on the subject. This is what they did as a family.

Another family I know skies together. They spend whatever time they can every winter skiing. And when possible, do it on the water in the summer. This is their family thing.

I didn’t realize what our family thing was at the time. It would have been helpful to me to have figured that out. I would have been more confident in the job I was doing. It was helpful to my hairdresser, Emily, when she realized that they did have something that was a family thing.

So, I am asking you. What do you do to connect as a family? It is there if you look at where you spend your time together. Is it something that bonds and connects you as a family? If not, then what would accomplish that? As you can see it doesn’t need to be 20 years of teaching your kids to sing and play on stage. So don’t be intimidated. That was Quincy’s dream. Mine was more modest, but in the end, just as meaningful.

What matters is that we have something we do regularly as a family that we all enjoy, that bonds us and helps us connect. Bowling. Skating. Sewing. Baking. Hiking. Reading together. Fishing. Hunting. Serving at nursing homes. Science. What is your family thing? Begin observing your family and your regular activities. What do you do to connect?

When you can see it, you will be comforted, that yes, you have a family thing, and it matters. You’re doing good!

Harness the Power of Focus

I have a friend that I admire very much, Alysia Humphries. What got me thinking about her this last couple of weeks was that tonight (Saturday) I am going to a special event for caregivers. She and a handful of other women are giving some nurturing to caregivers. I fit into that group and so Alysia asked me to come. I am going to have some foot zoning done and Alysia is giving me some light therapy. Restful!

That got me thinking about Alysia and a letter she sent to me after an event I participated in over a dozen years ago to help mothers learn to be present. Today Alysia kids are twelve years older, but being a present parent doesn’t change even when your kids are adults. I thought you would enjoy her letter and the tips that she came up with for herself to manage better. Enjoy Alysia’s experience and I will enjoy my light therapy. : )

The Power of Focus or Being Present by Alysia Humphries

“Recently at our Mama Mastermind, I got to learn from an amazing Mom and Grandma, Mary Ann Johnson, about the power of Being Present ie. the power of focus. She gave us a challenge that has been, well, challenging for me. It is a simple one, and I really needed it, but it has been harder so far than I expected. Here’s what it is. You’ll laugh, it sounds so easy.

‘Commit to Be Present with one person each day for 3 minutes. Totally focused on them, no multitasking, thinking about other things, no other agenda, no looking into the future, just looking into their eyes, listening to them, and letting them know you value what they feel, say, and who they are by the way you are with them. 3 minutes.

Anyone can do that for 3 minutes, right?

‘Well, it turns out it’s not so easy for me. I have gotten really good at doing 3 or 4 things at once, which has served me well in some ways, but it often means I am missing things that matter the most, opportunities to connect and teach and understand my kids better, and powerful moments together. Nursing a baby, while typing an email, while half listening to a child’s request, or trying to mediate a quarrel from the kitchen while washing the dishes and thinking about what I am making for dinner all at the same time, have become a normal way of life for me. And it doesn’t only zap my energy, it zaps my power to touch my children and be touched by them. Yes, I really needed this exercise. I want to learn to harness the power of focusing!

‘It’s only been a day and a half, and here’s what I have noticed so far.

1. Old habits are hard to break, so I really have to concentrate on being Present! I guess there is a reason why Mary Ann started with such a short period of time. Baby steps.

2. It really helps to physically remove myself from my distractions. If I am reading something and I want to be present when my child wants to tell me all about their latest Lego creation, I need to physically remove myself from what I was reading, get up and go see what they are talking about, or go sit down with them on my lap and turn my whole self toward them. Otherwise, it is too easy to sneak a peek at what I was looking at before and get distracted again.

3. Three minutes really can pay big dividends! I have had better conversations with my kids in the past few days than I have had in a long time, and I learned a lot about them! Sometimes it only takes one minute, to have a moment that is meaningful together, that satisfies a need and makes them feel loved, and they go skipping away happily like I just gave them the world. It really doesn’t take a lot of time; I just have to be willing and not put it off. There is power in focusing!

4. I enjoy my kids more when I am present with them. Making time with them my purpose rather than a distraction means I get more satisfaction out of spending time with them. And they do, too.

5. I DO have time to be present! I don’t have to rush around getting tons of things done at once. And it’s something I can’t afford to miss! It’s funny (and sad) how it’s the things that you can’t get back, like making memories with your kids, that seem like the easiest thing to put off in favor of things that will always be there, like dishes and phone calls and errands. That exact moment might not ever come back no matter how much you try to recreate it when it fits in the schedule. Taking 3 minutes to stop, turn, and take in your child completely means capturing something irreplaceable. I need to remember that when I’m tempted to put the kids off.

‘I’m very grateful for this exercise and I think it will carry over to other areas of life as well, being present with my husband, being present with God when I am talking to Him, and being more open to the people around me and the beauty that is everywhere.

‘Being Present helps us be more Joyful. It helps us see more. It helps us be more effective in the things we do. It might seem like slowing down means accomplishing less, but I think by being present I will actually accomplish more of the things that matter the most.”

Empowering Action:

Take the 3-minute challenge. Give each child 3 minutes of your focused presence this week and see what a difference it makes.

Some things NEVER change! Kids or adults, just 3-minutes this week, for each one! Let me know how it goes.

HELP! I Need Activities for Small Children

I enjoyed the time I taught and mentored mothers and fathers. I was able to share stories, experiences, and resources. I met many parents who wanted to create strong family cultures and tight relationships with their children. The years that I did this work were sincerely fulfilling.

I recall getting an email from a very harried mom with a three-year-old. I laugh about it still because I can relate!

“YIKES!! My three-year-old wants me to help him with everything!! I need some activities and games for small children!”

Not long after, I got an email from a mom who was homeschooling. She loved working with her eight-year-old, but she had two littles who made it difficult to give her older son the attention she wanted to. She needed some diversions for those little ones. She planned for all of them to be in the same room, but she needed her littles to be able to play happily without her help for short periods.

Small children want their mom or dad to be with them. It’s all about “being present” and frankly, their little hands need more help figuring things out so they can keep going. So, what’s a mother to do when she needs to help an older child or wants to keep a little one entertained while she does dishes, folds laundry, or works from home? And then there are times a mother wants to do some learning or reading of her own. We are so good at multitasking that if we can keep the littles happy at our feet, we can do some of our own work and study.

At that time, I put the question to my readers and was amazed at the wonderful answers they gave. If you have littles and need them to learn or play on their own for bites of time, give some of these ideas a try. Most of them came from moms who have mixed ages in their homes, some school at home, and some work from home. They are tried and true. : )

Activities and Games for Small Children

  • Building blocks activity – my kids LOVED magnetic blocks and my grands still do. Any type of blocks will work.
  • Lego’s. “Throw a sheet on the floor and dump the whole caboodle in the middle. They can swim in them if they want to so long as they keep them on the sheet. When it’s time to clean up, fold the four corners together and dump the lot back into the container.”
  • A marble shoot game…”Use tubes that create a tall tower. They drop the marble at the top and watch it go through the tubes down to the bottom.” (Make sure your child has reached the age where they won’t put the marbles in their mouths. : ) You could have an older child create one for the littles. Here is one created by a mom in minutes. If you don’t mind a bit of noise this is fun. You would have to make it lower on a wall and wouldn’t need as many parts.
  • Play-Doh activity – Provide an old rolling pin and have them play on the floor with a variety of cookie cutters.
  • Geo-trax. There are so many different versions of this. If you have one, use it.
  • Try a shoe box for each day of the week. “In each box, there are a variety of toys to play with that day. When you are done, close the box…next day is a new box with new things to discover. (It could be anything…not just toys, but nesting Tupperware, spoons, rocks…anything new can be exciting.)”
  • A pile of stacking cups and a pile of math manipulatives “(1×1 inch tiles in the same colors as the stacking cups) make a great learning activity for young children. This worked for my two-year-old as long as she could sit in the middle of the kitchen table with them. She did it every single day the whole school year pouring, sorting, and making piles of those little tiles.”
  • Mr. Potato Head game.
  • Lacing cards.
  • Large beads to string.
  • Painting! “Before you run screaming, let me tell you they can paint quite happily with water. If you give your little ones some colored construction paper, a big paintbrush, and a small cup of water, they can “paint” to their hearts’ content. If they spill anything, it’s just water. Put them on the table with a vinyl cover and put a towel over that.”
  • Pegboard and big plastic pegs.
  • Buy a package of paper cups and let your children play with them. They can nest them, stack them, build with them, etc. If they get mashed, no loss. In fact, if you’re like me, you might want to take a few at the end of playtime, place them upside down along the floor, and then jump on them. Kids LOVE this. It is the reward for playing quietly for a while, alone.
  • Nesting cups.
  • An indoor sandbox? “When my children were small, we had one of those turtle sandboxes, with the cover, in the house. We put some plain white rice in it, and some appropriate toys: scoops, shovels, containers, etc. They LOVED it! If you don’t want an entire sandbox, you can fill a smaller container with rice, and let them play in that. Place it on a sheet for easier clean up.”
  • “If you have time to make some materials, you can make fun matching games from posters. Dollar stores often have education posters. Buy two posters, cut up one of them, attach Velcro to the back of the pieces, attach the other part of the Velcro to corresponding areas on the intact poster, and voilà! You have a lovely matching activity for them. Do this with colors, shapes, numbers, letters, or anything that lends itself to matching. Hang the posters on the wall. This is a great learning activity for young children.”
  • Board books. You can find books that have textures, which are nice for the little ones. You don’t have to buy them new.
  • A small folding dryer rack, some washcloths, and a few clothespins.
  • A little spray bottle of water, a sponge, and a table they can “clean.”
  • Plastic rubbing plates, plain paper, and crayons.
  • Plastic food is always a hit, especially if you also have plastic plates upon which to serve it.
  • Stuffed animals and some blankets or baby clothes.
  • A magnetic dry-erase board and a fun set of magnets.
  • “If you have room- a train table with bins underneath is great because they can do so much on top of it, and everything stores beneath it.”
  • Audiobooks – When they were small some of my grands loved this activity.
  • Simple art supplies: crayons, paper, pencils, clay, etc.
  • “Deliberately leave things undone–kids at that age love to help with the right encouragement. Whenever you notice that attention fading, send your little one to go ‘do something’. Leave your shoes in a silly place for example. If approached with the right cheerfulness, a 4-year-old will certainly hunt for 30 min. or more for Mother’s sweater, not just because she’s cold but because it is so funny to discover silly mom left it in the soup pot again!”
  • Make a game of chores: “Folding laundry is one–sure you may have to re-fold it, but it does work. Feeding pets, setting the dinner table (does it matter if you won’t eat for a few hours?), cleaning baseboards (because no one really cares what they look like), making lunch or a snack–a 4-year-old is quite a gracious host if given the responsibility. They can do all kinds of things with fruit and veggies and dip and even make sandwiches.”
  • “Montessori websites have great suggestions for toys, games, and learning activities for young children. The best book on making your own Montessori materials is Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elizabeth Hainstock.”
  • Find a workbook for preschoolers.
  • Cutting, pasting, and tracing.
  • Mini trampoline.
  • Plastic balls in a big pot. You can go cheap and fill up a kiddie pool with them if there is space.
  • Make a fort with sheets or blankets.
  • You may not believe it, but some little children love to sort socks.
  • Big cardboard boxes will keep any young child busy for hours. I used this and they played for hours. They really liked decorating them with crayons.

How do you keep your “littles” occupied and happy? Got a GREAT idea.

Share in the comments.

I No Longer Have a Bucket List or Is Parenting the End of My Dreams!

Do you have cherished dreams? Is there a goal you want as much as breathing? Do you worry that because you chose to be a parent they may never come to pass?

I can relate. I raised seven children. I was busy and overwhelmed lots of the time. I had goals and dreams and there were times I felt they could come to pass. Then, just when I felt I was moving towards them, I would be called home physically or emotionally and the dream would be on hold again.

Today, I want to encourage you and give you heart, so will hold on to your dreams while you do this most important calling, raising your family. I have often said, “You can’t know until you get there.” I have gotten to a new place and in time, I believe you will get there too.

As a child and youth, I had a marvelous bucket list of things I wanted to see, do, and become in my life. Some were BIG dreams. Others were dreams that weren’t as out front, but dreams, nonetheless.

I Want to Be a Speaker!

When I was five years old, I wanted to be a speaker. I know that’s young, but I had spoken a couple of times in my church’s children’s group, and I LOVED it. I was not afraid of getting up in front of people. It was thrilling to share something that I knew to be true, even when I was five.

When I was deeply into parenting in Montana, I attended a women’s conference with my sisters in Utah, at Brigham Young University. As I sat listening to the keynote speaker, I had a thought which took me off guard. “You will speak like this someday.” I replied in my mind, “That’s never going to happen.” After all, I had seven kids, and some were struggling. I had already had to quit speaking for schools and community organizations to manage the chaos at home.

In 2009 I began sharing family connection information with parents. For the next ten years, I traveled the United States speaking and teaching. When I began, I was fifty-nine years old, and our youngest child was 19 and just leaving home.

I Want to Write and Publish a Book!

When I was eight, I discovered the Oz books. Did you know there are fourteen, full-length Oz books? While visiting my grandma and grandpa Cazier, I discovered them in the library. I spent hours sitting quietly on the library floor reading.

It was then I decided I wanted to write a book. I began that summer. I got a notebook and hand-wrote the first few pages of my own novel. My grandma Gardner was a teacher and when our family visited her home in Logan, Utah, she would throw open her ‘paper’ cupboard and we could pick anything we wanted. I always chose a fresh, clean notebook and a new pencil and would begin another story.

In 2016 I did write a book. It took six days a week, at 4 am, for six months. It was published by Cedar Fort Publishing in 2017. It wasn’t what I thought I would write. It wasn’t a novel, but it was a story about my experience parenting, what I had learned, and excellent counsel to help others avoid some of the mistakes Don and I had made. I was sixty-seven.

I Want to Make a Recording

My mother could have sung in an opera. She had an exquisite voice and even tried out for the Lawrence Welk Show. I heard her singing while she hung laundry for her family of eleven. She sang as she cooked and cleaned. I loved her voice. I knew I didn’t have a voice like my mom’s, but I wanted to sing.

I took every opportunity that came my way. I sang in front of the whole school in 7th and 8th grades. I was brave because I LOVED singing.

When my mother was 74 her voice began to change. I asked my sister to take her to a studio and have a CD made. Evette got it done. I was 54 years old, and it was then I decided that I would make a recording of my singing someday.

It was just a wish until twelve years ago when I put a picture of a CD on my wall with my face in the center. There it hung for years. At one point, in 2022, as my efforts to find a studio and a pianist began to fall apart, I felt it would NEVER happen.

My voice, like my mother’s was changing. I was out of time, but I decided to give it one more year! I so wanted to see it happen. Last year, on Dec. 31, 2023, I finished the recording and had my own channel. That felt heady. : ) I was forty days shy of my seventy-fourth birthday.

In March of 2022, I wrote an article naming many other buckets list dreams I had knowingly and unknowingly accomplished. It was delightful to realize that because I had held on to my dreams they had come to pass, more than I consciously knew. Some came to fruition in completely different ways than I had envisioned.

In the first week of January, this year, I revisited my 3-5 year goals. I felt my bucket list was done. I had some financial goals, but they weren’t true, ‘all my life’ bucket list things. I was still working on two ways of being that matter a great deal to me, but I will be working on charity and making time, my friend for the rest of my life. LOL My bucket seemed empty.

I was happy to focus on those few financial goals because they will matter in the coming years. However, I felt a tad disappointed that I didn’t have anything exciting to work for.

One evening, not long after I wrote the article about this year’s goalsI was pondering as I sat at my desk. I often pray to God while doing mundane stuff. I don’t kneel, I just begin conversing.

This was one of those times and I was thanking Him for helping me accomplish the recording, a thing in 2022 I felt couldn’t be done. I mentioned that I had done everything I had wanted to do except to continue to work on a more charitable nature and have time be my friend.

During that prayerful conversation, I had a thought and as happened at the Women’s Conference, it brought me up short. I began to laugh. Here is it. “Well, Mary you haven’t become a dancer yet. You still can’t play the piano. And didn’t you want to learn to speak Spanish? What about painting?”

I laughed because these all have been dearly-held dreams, they just never made it to the front of the list! Because of the intervening years, they had taken a back seat in my consciousness.

I Want to Play the Piano!

I took a few piano lessons while raising my children, but I never got far because one of the kids would want lessons and our income in Montana was small.

In my late sixties, I bought a keyboard so I could take piano lessons. But I was deeply into speaking, teaching, and business building at that time. I let the dream go and when we joined our home with Jodie’s, the keyboard didn’t come with us.

I Want to Dance!

I wanted to be a dancer my whole life! I still have a few books about dancers in my library that I have had since I was under ten. In my younger days, I was able to take a few ballet lessons. But with nine kids in my family, they were short-lived.

When we moved to our current home six years ago, I searched for a jazz dance teacher who took older students. I didn’t find one, so I stopped thinking about it. After all, I was caregiving three people and when would I do it anyway?

I want to Paint Beautiful Landscapes

I thought often about being a painter. I knew in my heart I could do it if I could just take lessons. At one point I took a community class, but my children kept touching the canvas and then wiping the evidence on the wall. I let it go.

In the later years of parenting, I took a short trip and sat at the side of a lake and painted the lupine. Later, while caring for my daughter who was in a car accident, I took her to a painting class and did a piece that hangs on my wall today.

I Want to Speak Spanish Fluently!

Speaking Spanish is like my recording. I have wanted to speak Spanish for decades, but I felt the time was past. To learn another language, you must be able to remember things, and my detail memory is compromised. But I know that I wouldn’t have been reminded about my love for Spanish if there wasn’t a way. It makes me smile thinking about it.

I still have those financial goals, but now I have put some long-held dreams back in the bucket. I need to put them on my vision board and then I need to ponder how they could come to pass despite age or difficulty. Just this last year I saw a dream that didn’t seem possible at my age come to pass. : )

Here is My Message

Parenting doesn’t need to end your dreams. There will be time and opportunity. Focus on your family. If small steps can be taken, take them. Practice when you can and then patiently wait. Space for you will open. It will.

I was over fifty before many of my fondest hopes came into being. Like many of you, I felt I had exchanged my dreams for a family. But as you can see it was only a story and not a true one.

And when I thought I had done all there was to do, all I had ever dreamed about, I was reminded that I still have dreams. I am still here and I can accomplish more, if I choose.

I gave parenting my all, as imperfect as it was. I took my role as a mother very seriously. I gave up opportunities. I, like you felt that most, if not all, of my dreams would never come to pass because time was moving so quickly.

I had goals that came to pass while I was mothering. But most of my bucket list dreams came to fruition after my children were grown.

Never give up on your hopes and dreams. You may not know how to bring them to pass, or when it can be done, but hold them close and trust that you will see miracles happen.

I know this is true because I got there!

Simple Techniques for Stress-Free Single Parenting

Photo via Pexels

Life as a single parent is a challenging journey, but it can also be filled with growth, resilience, and moments of joy. I have a daughter navigating this path, and it can be both painful and joyous watching her and her children as they move through this new territory. To manage well requires a blend of practical strategies and emotional fortitude.

Understanding how to manage as a single parent, either a mom or dad, requires support and resources. In April of 2023, I posted an article by a fellow writer, Laura Pearson, filled with resources to assist parents returning to school. Today I am sharing another of her articles with resources for single parents. If you are a single parent this will probably not be new information for you, but I hope the included links will be useful in helping you move forward in investigating these and other resources that may be just what you need.

Simple Techniques for Stress-Free Single Parenting by Laura Pearson

Set Aside Time for Self-Care
In the whirlwind of single parenthood, it’s easy to overlook your own well-being. However, taking care of yourself is paramount. Carve out moments for self-care activities that rejuvenate you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Whether it’s a brief yoga session, a soothing bath, or even a quiet moment with a book, these small breaks will help you stay grounded and resilient.

Building a Support Circle
You don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Reach out to your family, friends, and other single parents for support; you can also look for resources online. Building a strong support circle not only provides practical assistance but also offers emotional solace. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in this adventure.

Involving Kids in Household Chores
Teaching responsibility from a young age can benefit both you and your children. Assign age-appropriate chores to your kids and make household tasks a family affair. Turn cleaning, decluttering, and organizing into a game guess how quickly you can finish! Involving your children not only lightens your load but also fosters teamwork and responsibility.

Establishing Consistency with Rules and Routines
Children thrive on routine and structure. Establishing consistent rules, schedules, and routines helps organize your day and provides your children with a sense of security. Predictability eases the challenges of single parenthood and fosters a harmonious household.</strong

Open Communication with Your Children
Maintaining open lines of communication with your children is a crucial aspect of single parenting. It’s important to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings openly. This safe and open dialogue helps foster a deep sense of trust and understanding between you and your children. Ultimately, this approach makes navigating the complexities and challenges of single parenthood a more unified and manageable experience.

Financial Planning and Budgeting
Single parenthood frequently involves navigating financial constraints. To address this, creating a budget, meticulously managing expenses, and planning ahead are essential steps. Practicing financial savvy not only secures your family’s stability but also serves as an excellent role model for your children. These actions demonstrate the importance of financial responsibility and forward-thinking in ensuring a secure future.

Utilizing Community Resources
Don’t hesitate to tap into the resources available in your community. Seek counseling services for emotional support, join support groups for shared experiences, explore childcare services for convenience, and explore financial aid programs designed to assist single parents. Your community can be a valuable ally in this journey.

Pursuing an Online Degree for Career Advancement
Investing in your education can significantly improve your career prospects and income; you may consider this option by enrolling in an online degree program. The flexibility of online education, with its adaptable schedules and remote learning options, allows for a balance between your parenting responsibilities and your educational ambitions. This path not only enhances your qualifications but also opens doors to diverse nursing careers in education, informatics, administration, and advanced practice.

Life as a single parent may have its share of hurdles, but with these strategies in your toolkit, you can transform it into a fulfilling and successful journey. Remember, you are stronger and more resilient than you might realize, and your dedication to both your growth and your children’s well-being will lead to a brighter future for your family. Embrace the support around you, invest in your education and self-care, and maintain open communication.

You’ve got this.

Are You Prepared for the New Year? I am NOT talking New Years Resolutions!

I no longer make New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, I have a few useful tools I use.

For a few months, I have been contemplating the new year. I asked myself questions and then thoughtfully answered them. What has worked and what hasn’t? Where have I made progress, and where have I lagged? I looked over my daily commitments from 2016 to 2023. (Some people call them affirmations or declarations.) I don’t change them every year. In fact, I used the same ones from 2016 to 2019. Then I adjusted them for 2020 to 2022. Last year I had new things I wanted to keep in my head daily. For 2024 I rewrote them. I needed more brevity and greater impact.

My commitments and goals have been a work in progress since the last week of December 2023. I have read them every day and made any adjustments that came into my mind. As I worked on this article, I made three final adjustments.

I also asked this question – What do I want to see happen in the next three years? I felt this was vital because I had accomplished some big things in the last ten-plus years. This year, I finished a major dream and milestone that I will share in an upcoming article. But I had no new goals, no big dreams, no impossible things to bring to pass. I need that in my life!

After some prayer and thought I came up with three items. They aren’t earthshaking but as I accomplish them I am going to feel like a big deal. : ) I know it’s important to have something to work for, to care about, something that will stretch you. My goals all have to do with money. Now feels like the time to focus more on this part of my life. I am not seeking a six-figure income or anything grand. I am reaching out for what I know fits the season I am in and will bless me and my family. I have had to work diligently on my money stories for a few decades. I have made significant progress, so I am excited about these goals.

My new goals aren’t as exciting as some of my past goals – writing and publishing a book, becoming a well-known teacher and speaker, creating a musical recording, and finishing my audiobook. As of December 30th, 2023, I have accomplished three of these things, and the audiobook is well on its way. But these new goals fit the season I find myself in now. That was a wise move on my part. : )

Another thing I began doing, just two years ago, was choosing a word for the year, a word that I could bring to my mind anytime, anywhere, and remind myself of what direction I was going. Last year my word was LOVE. This year my word is FINANCIALLY INDEPENDANT. I know that’s two words but it is one thought. LOL Wealth is not my goal. Independence with money is.

My friend, Heid Totten’s word for last year was wealth and she increased her income by 50%. This year her word is “rest” so she will intentionally create experiences that provide that. Truly, manifesting matters!

I recommend these practices to you.

-Do you have affirmations/commitments that you repeat out loud daily? Maybe it would help you make progress if you did.
-Do you know what you want to see happen in your life in the next 3-5 years? It would be useful if you had a direction you were going. if you could have one or two wonderful things happen or accomplish in the next three years, what would they be? You can’t hit a bull’s eye if you have no target.
-What word fits your great desire for this coming year?

It isn’t useful to copy what someone else is doing. It is vital that you put in the thought time to determine your own needs, your own path, and your own goals. But it’s often helpful to have a starting point. I thought that sharing my 2024 affirmations/commitments and goals with you might get your thoughts moving and your heart ready to write your own.

I shared a quote last week that I have on my wall. It’s next to my side of the bed and I read it often. I have experienced its truth.

“Create a vision, present it to the Lord, tell Him this is what you would love, and then ask Him to help you identify your next ‘right’ step. You don’t even have to be totally confident that He is guiding you. If you do this exercise, then I assure you, as you give it your best shot to move forward with the next ‘right’ step, He is.”

The commitments I say every day are visions of what I would love. My three year goals are visions of what I would love. My word for the year is a condensed form of what I would love. I know that as I present them to myself every day and to the Lord, he will lead me step by step to their accomplishment.

Take the time to identify what you would love to have or be, and then present it to the Lord. Move Forward!

 

P.S. You will not believe what happened tonight. It is Friday and I have been busily working to get this article finished. I took a short break and checked my messages. There was one from my friend, Mary Black. She is part of a financial firm and she and one of her partners have decided, because of the need they have seen, to do a workshop on Financial Awareness for Women. She invited me to attend. WHAT! Didn’t I just share that my 3-year goals were all about money? I have prayed about them and have been manifesting them for a couple of weeks and the next right step has shown up. This is how it works and it is wonderful!

P.S.S You can find my goals, commitments, and word for the year HERE.

 

Thoughts On My Wall

Last week, I shared my daughter’s journey from a traumatic brain injury to a life of love and service. I shared one of the secrets to her success – she had taken charge of what she focused on.

I, like my daughter, put ideas on my wall.

I post on my walls thoughts and ideas that I want to understand and incorporate into my life and way of being. I am a person who decries clutter. Order is the name of the game for me, so it hasn’t always been easy to put things on my wall. LOL However, I have experienced the value of this practice, and I embrace it.

I have shared that I was mad when I learned that I was 100% responsible for my choices. I didn’t believe it. It couldn’t be true. It took me ten years to accept the truth and begin living it. Giving up a victim mindset can be a challenge.

I have lived this truth for many years now, and I know from experience that it is life-changing when we know we are in control of our response. This one principle has made a significant difference in my life. One thing that I do to help myself stay out of victim mode and manage my stories and response to them, is to post on my walls things that help me maintain perspective. I choose ideas I want to understand more fully and live better, thoughts that buoy me up and give me solace. I also focus on things that are not yet part of how I am, because I know that reading them often will help me integrate them into my way of being.

I thought it would be fun to share some of what I have on my walls with you. If it resonates you may want to post it on your walls. If not, enjoy the read and then find what does resonate. I have many thoughts from spiritual leaders in my faith. You will find the same in your faith. I have quotes from people I trust or admire. Some come from books I have read. If it rings true or is principle-based, it can find its way to a wall in my home.

I apologize because I haven’t always put the source on the quote. However, I will share the source if I know it. : ) Even though I don’t always recall where I heard certain words and phrases, it doesn’t matter. They captured my heart in the moment, and I put them on my wall.

I will explain why some quotes are on my wall. It will help you going forward to find great thoughts for your walls.

25 Wonderful Thoughts

1. The picture at the top of this article was gifted to me by my granddaughter Mary, when she was ten. She said, “Grandma, you and I are the same.” I hung her drawing on my wall to remind myself that those I love are watching me, and I need to be careful to be worth watching and emulating. Also, the sentiment is true, there is beauty everywhere, even in the hardest times. There are days when I need to be reminded of this truth. (See Photo)

2. I have this painting on my wall, among the quotes, because it has deep meaning for me. The words came in a dream, and I held them in my heart for years. Eventually, I found a friend and distant relative who painted the dream. It reminds me of what I’m here to do. “Mission Statement – The Savior is healing me. I release old wounds and baggage. As I heal, I am healing generations. I feel satisfied bringing light to others.” Mary Ann Johnson

3. “Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”

I heard this in a story told on a Christmas program a few years ago. A father lost his four daughters in a tragic sea accident. He immediately sailed to his wife’s side. As he passed over the place, in the ocean, where his daughters were lost, he said these words to himself. This is how I want to manage loss and suffering.

4. I read the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben. As she suggested, I wrote my own happiness commandments. I pondered for many days and finally narrowed my personal commandments down to these three. This card has been on my wall for many years. These personal commandments have had a huge impact on my way of being.

5. “I like to think of waiting in terms of a waiter at a restaurant. In this sense, to wait on someone is to serve that person. A good waiter – or server – gives his or her customers excellent care and attention by checking on them often, learning their desires, and attending to them. When I adopt this attitude toward the Lord, it adds purpose to the time I spend awaiting a particular blessing. Time seems to pass more quickly when I am diligently working to serve God. Ironically enough, it’s through this work that I ‘renew strength.’ ” From a talk by Christy Nielson

6. “What is the great cause of Christ? It is to believe in Him, love as He loved, and do as He did.” From a talk by Dieter F. Uthcdorf

7. “God’s prosperity is the power to press forward despite the problems of life.” From a talk by L. Whitney Clayton 

Many years ago, I was in a very lean time, and I asked God, in prayer, to bless me with prosperity. He did. It was the most amazing year of my life and I felt so much abundance. Our income did not change. In fact, nothing changed except how I felt about my life. It was amazing. Years later I saw this quote and I knew exactly what it meant!

8. “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend…when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that is present – love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us happiness – the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

As I said in #7, I have lived this!

9. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16  From the King James Bible

10. “Life is incredibly unfair – in your favor.” Jennie Taylor

Jennie’s husband was killed in war, and she was left with a family to care for. I listened to her talk about navigating that terrible loss and I was moved beyond words. I was also chastened for my penchant to complain. Jennie taught me the power of these words and also these… “We want everything to happen for a reason. A better mindset might be to let God make reason of everything that happens.” Jennie Taylor

11. When I became a full-time caregiver and made the choice to let my career go, I got a lot of flack from people. Many business associates felt that I was taking the easy way out, business building can be a challenge. Others felt I could do it all if I really wanted to. I spent time pondering and praying. Eventually, I wrote this statement for myself so I would never again second guess the choice I had made. I have it on my wall because caregiving is stressful. It has many challenges and few of the perks of being a teacher and speaker. I must remind myself who I am, why I am doing what I do, and that it is right for me, at this time. Three years have passed, and this is as true today as it was the day it was written.

“So here is my clarity – It won’t be what you would usually think. I live in a four-generation household that is filled with active children and those who are ill. I am also a published author, teacher, and coach. I post daily on Facebook, a meaningful thought for the parents I write for. I write and publish an article each week, which always elicits comments of hope from my readers. My published book is fabulous, and the day will come when I will again promote it and speak and teach on the contents. I have a couple more amazing books in files on my computer which will wait patiently for me. But for now – I am caring for my mother and my ill husband, and helping my daughter care for her 14-year-old with special needs. This is my path, my mission for now, and my time to serve and patiently wait. It is enough for me.” Mary Ann Johnson

11. “Celebrate endings because they precede new beginnings.” Jonathan Lockwood Hule

When I read these words, I knew I had to post them on my wall because I balk at change. I knew that I needed more flexibility of mind and heart. I read these words often.

12. “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” John 14:18 From the King James Bible

13. “You can’t wait until life stops being hard to be happy.” Jane Marczewski

Jane was known as ‘Nightbirdie’ on the show America’s Got Talent. She had cancer but decided to audition anyway. Simon Cowell gave her a Golden Buzzer. Jane died before the end of the season, but she had lived these words spoken on stage. I don’t watch TV, but my husband does and while doing dishes I saw Jane’s first appearance. Much later I learned she had died. I decided that her words would help me in the years to come and so I searched for them. They are now on my wall.

14. “We can feel heartbreak and joy at the same time.”

15. “Create a vision, present it to the Lord, tell Him this is what you would love, and then ask Him to help you identify your next ‘right’ step. You don’t even have to be totally confident that He is guiding you. If you do this exercise, then I assure you, as you give it your best shot to move forward with the next ‘right’ step, He is.”

16. “Be less worried about what you are doing and think more about who you are becoming.” From a talk by James E. Faust

17. I took a wonderful class on money stories from Erin Mathis Feik. I worked on my money stories for over fifteen years. I had made tons of progress, but Erin was a friend and I decided to see what she had to say. Here is what I distilled from the class. I read these words often and find them helpful, especially in these current, challenging financial times. (See Photo)

18. “Not what we give, but what we share. For the gift without the giver is bare, who gives himself with his alms feeds three, himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.” from The Vision of Sir Launfal by James R. Lowell

I have this posted next to a small picture of Jesus Christ, on my bathroom wall. I see it every day.

19. “God sometimes calls us into service at the most inopportune times. Often, we find a hundred reasons to say no…God wants our availability. He wants our hearts and minds and lives. He wants us to say in the words of Isaiah, ‘Here I am, send me.” God does not judge us by a set of standard performances. He makes a total claim on our lives and expects full use of all our talents. He judges us in terms of what we are capable of doing. In many situations, is not a call simply a realization of a need and an agreement that you have the ability to fill that need if you are only willing to do so?” Millard Fuller

When someone needed to care for my mom who has Alzheimer’s, I was traveling the country, speaking, guiding workshops, and really enjoying myself. I had just had a book published. My husband was already struggling with his health, and I was helping my daughter care for her special needs daughter. I knew the decision to take my mom into my home would come at a cost. However, I didn’t know the cost would be as high as it proved to be. Eventually, I had to let it all go, the speaking, the teaching, the traveling.

I have never regretted the decision, but resentment can come knocking, and maintaining perspective can be a challenge. When I read these words, I had to post them on the wall because this is where I find myself today. They help me stay in a good place so I can better love and care for those I serve.

21. “Being a widow is uncharted territory. It is a place of paradox-empty/full, heartbroken/healed, etc. Sometimes I miss so much I can’t breathe. Yet, having him helping from the other side of the veil has been incredible. Soooo many blessings.” Kim Gleason Davis

I have worried about losing my husband since the day we married. That is because he has been a truly safe place for me. I have talked to dozens of widows over the years to hear their stories, so I could be prepared for the day that this safety left. I know it is silly, but there it is.

However, I have known for a long time now that there are some things you can’t prepare for. When I read this post from my friend, Kim, I had to save it because I will need it in years to come. It resonates with me so powerfully because for decades I have said, “Don is my breath. How will I breathe when he is gone?” Kim reminded me how.

22. “Intelligence isn’t in you; it exists around you and you are to connect with it. Answers don’t have to be in your mind. You don’t have to be able to recall everything you read. You just trust that you are an intelligence in a sea of intelligence and answers and information will flow into you. When you begin pondering something and start talking about it, information flows in.”

As I have aged, my ability to recall details has diminished. I was frightened at first, but then I read this, I believed it and I hung it on my wall. I always seem to find the information I need whether it comes readily to my mind or not. Information, when I need it, does flow in!

23. “Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Trees don’t eat their own fruit. The sun doesn’t shine for itself. Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves. Living for others is the rule of nature.”

I come from a time when this was lived more than now. I have watched the world become more selfish and self-centered. I need this reminder to remain as I was taught, to take good care of yourself so you maintain your strength and then care for others.

24. “The Lord has a plan for me, and it will be a gift.” Mary Ann Johnson

After I quit speaking and teaching, I wondered if I had made the best choice. One day while coming in the back door I had this very clear thought flash into my mind – This will be a gift. I immediately came into my office space and wrote these words down and hung them on my wall. I wanted to remember what I had just been told. Five years have passed since that day, and I am seeing the gift being created!

25. “Charity – Patience is a reverence for the agency of others. The Lord’s commitment to agency is deeper than even your own. When we are patient with others, we are giving them space to use their agency, even if it complicates things for us or is different from what we would do. Patience is cheerfully doing all things as required by God. The fruit of patience is love unfeigned. We must have patience in order to withstand pain and grief without complaint or discouragement, which detracts from the Spirit.”

I asked for the gift of charity over a decade ago. As I began studying it, I realized that charity is made up of multiple ways of being. I have since begun studying the parts of this gift I desire. I have many quotes about charity and its parts on my walls. I cannot become what I don’t understand and practice.

I have so many other wonderful thoughts and ideas on my walls. I mean, I have been collecting them for years. : ) It is only possible to take one down if I have become the words or if they don’t apply anymore. There was no way to share them all with you, but I hope you have enjoyed these twenty-five and the stories that go with many of them. I am sure you can tell what my focus is at this season of my life. : )

Take the time in this coming year to find words that will help you stay on track and keep working towards who you want to become. Take charge of what you focus on.

It will elevate your mind, heart, and life.

You Are What You Think About and Focus On

In 2003, my world turned upside down when my daughter, Jenny, was hit head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a California freeway. Five years later, I wrote an article about Jenny’s journey and how she turned a major head injury into a life worth living. Another eleven years have passed, and I have watched my daughter live these words – You are what you think about and focus on.

Jenny’s sixteen-year odyssey is powerful. If you find yourself frustrated, angry, discouraged, resentful, sad, feeling less than, or any number of other difficult emotions, then this is a true story for you.

After a struggle with drugs, Jenny got clean, changed friends, and was one semester shy of graduating with a bachelor’s degree. All that came to an abrupt halt when she was hit by the drunk driver.

In May of 2012, Jenny’s first five years as a brain trauma survivor ended when she graduated, not just with a bachelor’s, but with her master’s degree in speech therapy, a skill she had learned to value as she regained her ability to speak after her accident. She set out for a new life, in a new city, at a new job, helping other people put their lives back together.

On that amazing day, it was wonderful to sit in the auditorium and watch her walk across the stage. It was overwhelming to see all the people who had come because they loved our daughter and wanted us to know what a successful job we had done raising her. It caused me to do some serious introspection. We did do a good job of raising our children; not a perfect or pain-free job, but the best job our knowledge allowed. We know this from the fruit – seven loyal, kind, adults with integrity.

But when I think of Jenny, I know that her recovery from an accident that left her unable to walk, think of the word for shoe, orange, etc., track conversations, manage social cues, or remember anything, was due to her preparation for life. Let me share her secret for living well, no matter the circumstances.

Take control of your thoughts!!

When I was at Jenny’s home the week of her graduation, I noticed quotes on the walls in every room. They were the fodder for her recovery; they showed the core of who she had decided she wanted to be long before her accident. She had begun choosing her thoughts in her late teens. This didn’t prevent her from taking a hard road to adulthood, but it helped her stay alive and hang on to values on how to treat others until she could put into practice what she wanted her life to look like.

After Jenny’s accident, these thoughts, which she had seen and read every day of her growing up, got her through. They had become part of the fabric of her thinking. Brain trauma is hard. It makes normal living a lot of work, but to finish college and go on to have a successful career helping others, well, that was a miracle of persistence, faith, and the beliefs she had fed herself for decades.

Let me share some of what Jenny had posted on her walls.

  • If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.
  • Life is not about finding yourself; life is about creating yourself.
  • “When I started counting my blessings, my whole world turned around.” Willie Nelson
  • When we strive to become better than we are, then everything around us becomes better also.
  • Live generously, love passionately, and be all that you want to see in the world. Shine your awesome love and light on all around you with no strings attached. Do it just because it’s who you are. Love is your nature. Sow it in your mind. Plant it in the world and enjoy the thrill of seeing love multiply and spread. All for love and love for all.
  • I’d always heard that your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all – it stretches on forever like an ocean of time. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad in a world where there’s so much beauty. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst. Then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold onto it, and the beauty flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will – someday. (From the movie American Beauty)
  • “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” Martha Washington
  • Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you. A Maori Proverb

During my almost 74 years, I have learned that we have a choice in life. We can choose how we are going to react in any circumstance. I recall reading Victor Frankel’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, as a teen, and I have never forgotten him saying “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Despite facing an addiction in those early days, Jenny had chosen to look at life through a lens of light. She was working diligently to get control of her life by choosing to embrace happiness no matter how hard the day. She was making every effort to control her thoughts!

Jenny didn’t engage in negative conversations. She wouldn’t verbalize the bad but chose to talk about the good. After the accident, she would not say an unkind word about the other driver. She said that she wished him well, that she hoped for joy in his life. She knew the struggle he was facing, one she was conquering. She wasn’t going to waste one minute on anger. She embraced what she had posted on her walls.

Change your thoughts, change your life.

Controlling your thoughts can change your life completely. We all can choose our response in every situation. Accepting personal responsibility for our lives and not blaming others, money, time, or circumstance makes all the difference in the quality of our lives. When you give up being a victim, you free yourself from whatever has you bound.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Choose your words because they become actions.
Understand your actions, for they become your habits.
Study your habits, for they will become your character.
Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny. Lao Tzu

Jenny has proven this to be true!

I, like you and my daughter Jenny, must work daily to maintain this way of thinking and living. It is a practice, and it takes work every day. My walls are hung with things I want to understand and live better. Next week I will share some of those thoughts, beliefs, and quotes with you. I hope you will take some of the words of wisdom that Jenny and I choose to look at each day and put them on your walls because what you surround yourself with, what you choose to think about and focus on, does make ALL the difference.

You Are What You Think About

and Focus On

Today Jenny works in senior and rehab centers helping others who have experienced trauma learn to speak again. She and her husband, Brett, have an online Christian ministry, Humans of Surrender, helping those who struggle with addiction to find help and embrace God. They have a beautiful church on their wooded property called Grace Wood where everyone is welcome. From traumatic brain injury to a life of service and love is an amazing journey proving once again, that when you control your thinking you can change your life. Jenny is adamant about one other thing and I agree – When you add God and Christ to the mix of managing your thoughts, you have better outcomes. : )

How To Enjoy Life More, Even When It’s Hard

Today, although there are things I could share that would be less time-consuming to write and less emotionally draining, I am telling you about my morning. I am sharing this experience for a reason. After several decades of working on two principles, they can still trip me up. They are also stumbling blocks for many moms I talk with. I have written about them often, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is pivotal for our happiness and our ability to parent and relationship well.

What is so challenging to manage?

1. You are 100% responsible for your response, regardless of circumstances or other people.
2. Control your story. You are not a victim!

Yeah, they make me feel annoyed, too. : ) A few decades have passed since I learned about number 1. After learning this principle, I was angry for ten years because how could I be totally in control of my response when my husband and kids kept doing and saying stupid stuff? And then there were the neighbors, the government, and a chaotic world.

I didn’t know anything about number two for at least fifteen years after learning the first principle. I had lived as a victim most of my life, from childhood, when I was a victim, right into my late fifties. It was frankly, if not a happy place to be, comfortable. Figuring out how to change my thinking in both areas was going to be a lot of work, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

This morning is a perfect example of the two principles above, the work required to live them, and the result of both living and ignoring them. I hope you won’t be bored. I also hope it may ring a bell or turn on a light. : )

It has been a whirlwind at my home since the beginning of December. I got all my Christmas baked, wrapped, mailed, and delivered, including the friend and neighbor gifts. Then I helped two very old and ill friends get theirs done. I have a 53-year-old special needs friend who needed me to help her with a couple of things. I was glad to assist her, but it took time and effort. On Wednesday, Don and I traveled from one end of the Salt Lake Valley to the other and from one side to the other to connect with dear friends we only see every few years. It was a delightful but completely exhausting day.

During these early weeks, we all had the flu, and you know what that entails for the women in charge, sick or not. : ) Jodie’s kids were all ill, as was she, but she still had to work, so I was on deck for a portion of each day. I had to care for Mom and Don. We have all recovered, for the most part, but it has been a long two weeks. By this Friday, I was done in and ready for a break.

Friday night I dropped into my chair at about 8 pm to look over the Saturday schedule, only to discover that we had a church Christmas Breakfast at 9 am, and I had promised to take a family of older people who would normally not attend. We care very much about this family, but seeing this on the calendar, I came unglued. I felt so angry. I yelled that it was too much.

What frustrated me was that in my mind, I thought I was done and that today, Saturday, was going to be free, except for writing my article, which I hadn’t even started on. This is something I try to avoid by writing a little each day but here I was, not only going to need to write an article, create a newsletter, and record a podcast, but now I was going to have to get my own family up and out of the house by 9 am, pick up another family, do a lot of smiling and talking and then come home and do this big job I had left to the last minute!!

Well, I sat there fuming that my life was too hard, I had too much to do, nobody else did their share, and on and on. However, it was bedtime, so I had to shut it down and move on. Fortunately for me, I have a system to ‘dump’ the stuff out of my brain and I know how to meditate myself to sleep, so fifteen minutes after lying down, I was asleep.

When I woke up this morning, I was still ticked off. Why me? Why another big day? It wasn’t fair. I didn’t want to feel this way, but I did, and I didn’t have the energy or time to work it out. I got my family into the car, picked up our friends, and drove to the church.

It was going to be OK though, because I could at least sit and eat, right? I could rest since I wasn’t in charge of anything and wasn’t doing any cooking or serving. It didn’t turn out that way. The event was very well attended and the line to serve yourself breakfast was long! I got my plate and my mother’s and helped my older friends. After about twenty minutes, we all sat down, and I ate a grape. All I had was fruit and yogurt because the main dish was filled with pork, a food I cannot eat. Another thing to be bummed about. However, I like grapes. As I picked up my second grape, Jodie asked me if I could sit by Maggie so she could get a plate.

If you think the line was long when I went through, it was double that for Jodie. Over thirty minutes later, she finally returned. By that time, I had fed Maggie my yogurt, rolled her over to watch the movie Polar Express, and tracked down Santa so she could get a photo with him. Jodie finally came back with a plate. However, neither of us got to eat!

It was time for the children’s nativity play, and Maggie was the Heavenly Star, so Jodie put her costume on and got her on stage. I had gotten some more yogurt, but the family I brought were ready to go home, as was Don and my mom. So, I drove them home.

Here is the important part of this morning’s story.

There I was bringing an older, ill couple to the party and Don and my mom. Saint, right? Then I stood and fed Maggie my yogurt. Feeding a child who eats mostly from a tube in her stomach isn’t the easiest thing to do. Saint, right? And I didn’t get to eat, but made sure those older people I brought got home when they were done in. Super saint, for sure.

Well, as I was helping everyone up and out to the car, my friend, Bunnie, leaned over and said, “You are such a wonderful person. So gentle and kind,” or words to that effect. I looked at her and replied, “Don’t give me too much credit. I am feeling angry and annoyed.” Another friend at the table, who also helps care for these elderly friends, looked at me quizzically and said, “Angry?” I replied, “Well that isn’t the right word, more like irritated and annoyed.” Then I smiled lamely and shepherded everyone out to the car.

I responded the way I did because the whole morning, I was continuing the very negative conversation from the night before, in my head. You know, the one I mentioned before – Why me? Why another big day? It isn’t fair. I should be able to eat. Why do I have to get up early and go to bed on time? Why can’t I be a lazy bum? Why can’t someone else be kind and do this stuff? I have too much to do, nobody else does their share, and on and on. Bunnie’s comment, which was meant as a sincere compliment, was a punch in the gut.

Doing The Work

Now, to be honest, the whole mental conversation wasn’t negative. I was making an effort to get a grip on my story. At one point, while feeding Maggie, I went over the things I had managed in the last two weeks and I asked myself questions, “Did anyone make you do this? Could you have not done it? Why did you? Were you afraid to say no? Was your self-esteem on the line? I answered each question honestly, as I have practiced for decades. Ultimately, I knew I chose each of these things because I wanted to. It’s my way of being and I like how I am. There was no one or any circumstance to blame. I had consciously made choices that fit with what I wanted my December to look like. Ok, I was making progress with number 1.

Nevertheless, it was a back-and-forth, emotionally challenging mental conversation. I knew when I got home, I would need to do some more work to manage number 2, controlling my story. I could go for a walk and yell until I was done yelling. I could smile, even if I didn’t feel like it, because it still releases endorphins. I could go home and do a dump write and then crumple it up and throw it away. What I choose to do is the tool that works best for me. I prayed. I dumped on God because I knew He wasn’t mad at me when I acted lame. : ) Then I began asking God to help me sort out why I felt distressed. I had helpful thoughts. I had been ill. I was overly tired. I did need a rest, but I still had work left to do, write to you. : ) I got my story straight.

As I finished my prayer, I knew I still had emotions to manage and I spent the next couple of hours, as I cooked a wonderful lunch for my family and began working on this article, doing just that.

How do I feel now, at 4:45 pm? I still have lots to do to finish this article, the newsletter, and the podcast. But I feel OK. There isn’t anything I have done in the last two weeks that I wouldn’t do over again, by choice. I know that I have done my best to care for myself. I went to bed on time more days than not. I got up early and did as much of my morning routine as was feasible. I dumped the junk before bed and slept well. I took a day off when I was ill.

I’m not angry, irritated, or annoyed anymore. I know who I am. I know why I was emotionally challenged. My story is straight. I’m not blaming anyone or anything. Tomorrow is Sunday, a Sabbath for me. I will rest, and then I will prepare for next week.

You can see the work I had to do over an evening and much of a day, to get my head straight about my story and my responsibility. It took work, but I got the work done.

Here is the result.

Last night and this morning I felt angry and annoyed. I couldn’t enjoy my friends or being with people. Now, I am at peace. I feel happy with myself and the kindnesses I have been able to share. I feel somehow rested, even though I am facing a few hours of editing and recording. I am at peace with myself, my family, my friends, and the world.

When we choose to accept responsibility for our responses, when we let go of blaming anyone or any circumstance; when we ask honest questions and get our story straight, we will find ourselves happier and more at peace. This allows us to parent from a better place and to manage our relationships with better outcomes.

Each of you has had a couple of days, weeks, or even months like mine. Each of us must learn how to control the story and how to take responsibility for our responses.

As we do, we will enjoy life more, even when it is hard.

A Response to This Article and a Tender Mercy

Say Yes More Often Than No

I bought Mom a beautiful fake flower in a glass bowl. My mother loves flowers, but we can’t have any living plants in her room because she pours water on them continually. There are some problems with that.

1. Plants die if the roots are submerged in water. We have lost a few.
2. Eventually, they begin to smell.
3. She uses the water she is supposed to drink, and then it’s impossible to track her water consumption. Water is a vital part of what I manage because one of the first things to go with dementia is a sense of thirst, and dehydration is a real issue.

The day I bought this lovely plant, I entered her room to find the pot filled with water! I felt irritated and explained to Mom that it wasn’t a living plant, it didn’t need water, water might ruin it, etc. Then I cleaned out the pot and the mess on the dresser. I refilled her water glass.

When I returned, she had again filled the vase with water. This is what dementia is, and it isn’t her fault, but I was tired and felt angry to have another mess. I knew she couldn’t recall our previous conversation, and if I said it all to her again, she wouldn’t remember. However, if she kept putting water in the vase, I would have to remove the plant from her room. I mean, it was a fake plant and didn’t need water. Right!

Later, standing at the sink washing dishes, I had this thought, “What does it matter?” I was astonished and stood thinking about it. What did it matter? If water were in the vase, it would just be there. The stems were plastic, and the vase was glass, so water shouldn’t hurt. I didn’t want water in the vase, it was out of order. But what did it really matter?

I returned to my mom’s room and said, “You know Mom, if there is water in this vase, it doesn’t hurt anything. It doesn’t matter. Why don’t you put some water in the vase, and then you won’t worry about it.” She poured water in the vase, and it made her happy. After all, to her, it was a living plant. She sat back in her rocking chair, and I said, “I’m sorry, Mom. I can get grouchy.” She smiled and replied, “That’s OK.” Then we hugged. Eventually, the water evaporated, and she never refilled it. It was only on her mind that first day. Not a problem at all.

As I thought about this experience, several things came to my mind.
•There isn’t just one right or OK way to do a thing.
•Flexibility when working with others smooths our daily interactions.

When something seems wrong, bizarre, or dangerous, we need to stop and consider if that is a story, we are telling ourselves or if the facts indicate it’s true. If it’s true, then we need to act. However, if it’s just not how we would do it or if it seems out of order to us, then we should step back and see how it could be made manageable.

When we do this, it can impact our relationships in a big way. It is freeing to us and validating to others when they are allowed to make decisions for themselves even if they are different from what we might do. My boys and their bedrooms are a good example.

Managing a Boys Dirty Room!

I am a very tidy person, and I like order. When I was younger, I felt this was right and the only way to be. That caused me some problems because order and tidiness aren’t important to everyone. Take my three boys for example. Their rooms, in my opinion, were pigsty’s. The floors, dresser tops, closets, bed, and every space in their rooms were littered with stuff.

Of course, I spent lots of time yelling about their messy rooms. I had consequences if the rooms were out of order. It never made a dent. Even on days when I wouldn’t let them leave till their rooms were clean, by that night, they would be in disarray and cluttered again.

I finally got tired of yelling and how it made me feel, how it was hurting my relationship with my boys. I knew there had to be another way to handle it, so I prayed and pondered the situation. I came up with a plan that worked perfectly for many years.

I sat the boys down and told them how their messy rooms made me feel. I told them that I knew they didn’t feel the same way, so here was how we were going to handle our differences.

If I couldn’t see the mess, I would leave them alone. That meant they had to keep their doors closed with nothing spilling into the hallway. Maybe they would clean them occasionally, but that was up to them.

The caveat was this, every six months the room had to be deep cleaned. I would tell them when the cleaning week was. They could clean the room, or I would. They could decide what stayed and what went if they cleaned their room. However, if I cleaned their room that decision was up to me.

My sons Barry and Seth never cleaned their rooms, and I was more than happy to go in every six months and dung them out. Cleaning is my thing and I like it. They didn’t care if I junked stuff. It was perfect.

My son Andrew didn’t want me in his stuff so every six months he would deep clean his room and I stayed out. That also worked perfectly.

I know this wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but for us, it was a great way to handle the issue. No more yelling, no more Saturdays with upset boys sitting in their rooms feeling angry. And every six months I got to do my thing. As I said, for us it was perfect. Don’s Christmas ornaments are another good example.

Don’s Christmas Ornaments

Don loves decorations at Christmas. I used to go all out. Our home looked like a Better Homes and Gardens picture. But I’m older now, and I don’t care about most of the trappings of Christmas. Much of what I do these days is for Don. I would buy a big poinsettia and call it good. LOL

Last Christmas, as has happened for many years, Don didn’t want to take down the tree. He would leave it up till April if he could and did do that one year. : ) I, of course, wanted the tree down and all the paraphernalia put away. You know, back in order. But he was firm in his desire to be able to see his favorite decorations longer. What could I do?

Again, I prayed and pondered the situation. One morning I saw this picture in my mind; all of Don’s favorite ornaments hung on the wall behind his desk. And that is where they hang year-round, to this day. It isn’t what I would do because it is cluttered to me. However, I can live with it, and he is as happy as a clam because it’s how he would do things.

My daughter Jodie, has a wonderful saying that she lives by. I have seen her use it consistently in her home, and I know the results. I am often amazed at her yeses, and I have learned a lot about flexibility watching her with her children. Her belief in this saying has paid off many times. I work to remember this more often and it helps me focus on people, not things, and my way of how it should be done.

What if we said yes as often as we could and not only when we had to?