Author: Mary Ann Johnson

Do You Leave in the Middle of Memory Making?

I had the opportunity to do some work with a nephew of mine. That meant instead of listening to Andy Williams or a musical, I was listening to Country Western. One of the songs I heard was In the Middle of a Memory by Cole Swindell. It’s a love song about meeting the person you want to be with and then having them jump ship, so to speak.

There was one line in the chorus that caught my ear – How you gonna leave me right in the middle of a memory?

Has that ever happened to you? It happens to kids all the time. As parents, we often just disconnect or check out in the middle of memory-making moments.

Here are some examples

•You’re raking the leaves with the kids. There has been a lot of laughter and horsing around. But time is passing, and lunchtime is approaching. So, you throw one more handful of leaves and head into the house. It feels as if getting lunch done on time is important.

•Your teen is telling you the details of the camp she just got home from. You’re laughing at the craziness that went on. Then your cell phone rings, and you say, “Just a minute” and answer it. It might be important. By the time you finish the call, your daughter has drifted away.

•Finally, after a few days of craziness, your family are all sitting down at the dinner table together. Your oldest son is telling corny jokes and all the little kids are laughing. Then someone spills their milk. You jump up, grab a rag and remind everyone that this is dinner and not a free for all and that milk isn’t cheap.

•You’re having a coloring session with your four-year-old. You enjoy your son, but it’s been a long day and your novel is calling. If you hurry you can get a little reading in before dinner. You pat his hand and tell him it’s been fun but that you’ve got to go and get dinner made.

These are some simple examples of how adults leave in the middle of memory-making moments.

When I was writing the book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with Your Kids in Five Minutes or Less, I did an informal survey. I contacted my kids, my grandkids, nephews, cousins, and siblings. I asked them for their favorite memories. I think you’ll be surprised at the results.

Most of my kids said, “Eating together.” They also mentioned picnics in the park, which was a block away, watching movies together and having treats as a family. My daughter’s favorite memory was of us sitting under the table reading one of the Ramona books. My favorite memories are of the times my mom read poetry to us.

Memories that last are made during the everyday moments we have

with our kids.

If we want these everyday moments to be memorable then we need to put technology, work, our interests, and even time, on hold. We need to stay Present. It isn’t always easy. I get that. I was a busy mom of seven kids. I am not saying that we shouldn’t take care of the duties of running a home or that it isn’t OK to give yourself a break. What I am saying is that we don’t often think about the impact that our checking out makes on our children and youth. We forget that it sends a message and one we probably don’t mean.

If we want our family to have memories that last, then we must practice putting our focus on what is most important for just a few minutes at a time during the mundane work of caring for our family.

Keep your mind with your child or family for the short time it takes to read a book, take a walk, eat a meal, clean up spilled milk, or color a picture. When your kids are adults and remind you of some ordinary moments that they remember fondly you’ll be glad you did.

Your shares are the BEST

compliment. : ) 

What is most worth doing must be done at home

Did you know that happiness begins at home?

 

In a study of thirteen to twenty-four-year-olds conducted by the Associated Press and MTV, more than 100 questions were asked of 1,280 young people. The questions were all centered on determining what made these youth happy. Can you guess the number one answer? Spending time with family! Yup, that’s right, spending time with family. (Associated Press, “Youth Happiness Study,” 2).

And even better, in the AP-MTV study, nearly three-quarters of those youth and young adults said that their relationship with their parents made them happy (Associated Press, “Youth Happiness Study”). What kids and youth want are you and a close relationship with their family! They long for that connected ‘family feeling’.

So, what goes into creating that connected family feeling that kids and youth want, that makes them happy?

1. T-I-M-E spent with those they love and trust. We can best serve our children if we practice being present with them. When kids know they are seen and heard they are more trusting and will come to us when they’re in trouble and need help. Being present takes giving minutes of your time consistently. It doesn’t have to an hour or even thirty minutes. Three minutes, a few times a day is a great place to start.

2. Learn to listen. It takes effort to clear your mind and hear another person. It’s called active listening. We aren’t looking for answers to their stuff or formulating a rebuttal. We’re just hearing to understand. Teaching and problem solving can come later.

3. Utilize bedtimes. This is true even for youth. Spending just 3 minutes sitting on our child’s bed, touching an arm, allowing them to talk if they want to is huge in creating connected relationships.

4. Work together. Yup, chores, when done right, are magically bonding. It takes a bit of work on our part and we may get a bit less done, but it says volumes to our children about their place in the home and their value in our eyes.

5. Manage technology. Being home is only connecting if we’re doing things to connect. Recently I visited a friend on a Sunday afternoon. Both Mom and Dad had been using their computers before I arrived, one in the study and one at the kitchen table. Their older son was in the family room playing a video game on the TV. Two young children were lying on their stomachs on the floor, each with an iPad. Their older daughter was in her room talking and texting on her cell phone. Now, this is a normal, ordinary family, but these Sunday afternoon activities were isolating, lonely, and de-energizing.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it happened one afternoon, but it is a problem for families if it occurs three or more days a week. We begin to lose our sense of family, the connectedness that gives a child a feeling of stability and support, a sense of belonging and safety. What if I’d found them reading together or playing soccer in the backyard or watching a movie together? Even if no one spoke a word during the movie, at least they would have been together; possibly sitting on the couch by one another, cuddled in a parent’s lap or sitting by a sibling. There would have at least been a sense that this was a family, that they liked each other and enjoyed being together.

6. Eat together. The dinner table can be a place of unification. It can give your family a sense of belonging to something that matters. During the years, when some of our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t try to teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we didn’t agree with, but it kept our children bonded to us until they were ready to make changes. It kept us unified as a family.

Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos.

Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).

7. Read together – From Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, we learn only 17 percent of parents of kids aged 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83 percent of kids aged 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot (Scholastic Inc. and YouGov 2014).
What are some of the benefits of reading as a family?

  • Reading aloud allows you and your children to achieve physical closeness. You are all in the same space at the same time.
  • Gathering together as a family and reading creates a sense of security and safety—a feeling that all is right with the world
  • There’s a sense of belonging which comes from everyone being in the same room, snuggling and listening to the same story, having a shared experience. This can be especially helpful as our children begin to mature. They’re trying to figure themselves out as well as figure out where they fit in the world. This process of personal growth can bring a sense of isolation. Reading as a family is one of the ways parents can create a sense of belonging.

Spending money doesn’t build relationships. Giving your kids’ stuff doesn’t build relationships. Leagues and classes, lessons and even educating a child at home don’t necessarily build relationships. These things may help your child as they grow. They may better equip them to succeed in the world financially. There isn’t anything wrong with providing these things.

However, relationships are built when we learn to be Present with another human being, when we spend time together, listen to each other, and show that they matter to us. In the final analysis, a good relationship with trusted adults is one of the key elements of happy children and youth.

What is most worth doing must be done at home. Kids want to spend time at home with their family. They want and need that ‘family feeling’. They want to feel connected. They want to matter!

Want to know how you can make bedtime, meals, and chores work with your teens? Get more information FREE by downloading Chapter 4 of my book Becoming A Present Parent: Connecting with your Children in Five Minutes or Less. For information on many aspects of creating a more connected home buy the book on Amazon or in any good bookstore.

Your Shares Are The Best Compliment

People Over Projects – Is That Even Possible?

One of my sisters decided to finish her basement and hired another sister and her husband to do the job. It’s important to know that they aren’t contractors but thought they could do the job. My sister, Nanette, went to Google to learn how it was done. She estimated that it would take them about two weeks.

While her husband hung the sheetrock, she mudded and tapped. They worked six days a week, 12 to 14-hour days. It went on and on. They experienced a fair amount of discouragement, but they had said they would do the job and they couldn’t quit. It was challenging because they don’t live in the town with the basement and so they had to abandon comfort and home and move in with the other sister.

After they had been at it for over a month, I spent some time helping them out. We put in long hot days, slept in less than perfect spaces and then got up and did it again.

At almost two months in, one day when we had been at work for only a few hours, my sister got a call from one of her married sons. He and his wife and four-year-old were going to do some shopping at Costco. He wanted to know if his mom would come and go with them.

It’s important to know that this son and his family, although they don’t live in the same town as my sister, don’t live very far away. The week before they had spent three days together at our family reunion and they get to see each other throughout the year.

As I listened to my sister and her son talk, I thought, “What’s he thinking. He was just here helping last week. He knows what’s left. It’s a BIG job.” But Emmett, the four-year-old, really wanted to have his grandma with them. I wondered what my sister would say.

She said, “I’ll meet you there.” She changed her clothes; told us she wouldn’t stay for the whole shopping trip and would see us later. Then off she went. I knew from some of her comments that this was a challenge for her.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!

But this is a mom with her priorities straight. It’s not a question of whether the son should have asked or whether my sister should have said yes. It’s more a question of what my sister wanted.

It’s important to know how my sister was able to make this challenging decision to put her son over an important and time-constrained project. She had been thinking for some time how she could strengthen the relationship with this married son. As she said later, “I knew this would say volumes to my son. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.” She knew what she wanted.

When we know what we want, then we’ll be better able to put people before projects. Whether the project is as large as sheetrocking a basement or as small as getting dinner on the table, people trump projects.

ANOTHER VALUABLE EXAMPLE

Let me give you another example that illustrates how important it is to know what we want because it helps us determine how to respond.

I have a friend who had nine children living with her, all under the age of 11. She was distracted, interrupted, and overly busy one day. As the day wore on, the children became awful; they were fighting, noisy, and making messes. It was constant chaos. My friend felt she was going to explode at any minute. However, she had been working diligently on becoming more present with her family so that they could have stronger relationships. She knew what she wanted.

Finally, as she was cooking dinner and things were escalating in the living room, she stopped. She turned dinner off and gathered them together and began to read. Eventually, they calmed down and listened. It got relatively quiet and as peaceful as it can get with ten people in the same space. She didn’t give it a significant amount of time—about thirty minutes. She said it made a difference in the rest of the evening. Things were more peaceful. They enjoyed eating together and being with each other. The feeling of chaos was significantly reduced. She didn’t explode and she didn’t dole out consequences. Relationships were strengthened.

Get clear on what you want in your family relationships. Then it will be easier to make your family members a priority over all the projects that it takes to run a home. It’s worth the effort and thought.

Your Shares Are The Best Compliment

At War With Your Family?

Many years ago, I had a friend ask me if it made me mad that someone would undo what I had just cleaned up. I must admit that is exactly how I lived many years of my parenting life. I was at war with dirt, disorder, laundry, and frankly, my family. But all that changed the day that I had an epiphany. I realized that I wasn’t at war at all. I had signed up to serve, to minister to my husband and my children. That small shift in the story that I had been telling myself changed everything. It didn’t change the workload. It didn’t change the messes or the frustrations. What it did change was my ability to deal with the load, the messes, and the frustrations.

What Is Ministering and What Does It Look Like

Ministering is being aware of and attending to the needs of another person. When we minister, we watch over, lift, and strengthen those around us. Doesn’t a family seem like the perfect place to minister most effectively?

I’ve never forgotten a short video I saw as I was beginning to make this mental shift from war to ministering. It was of a very influential man who was hurrying to get to a meeting that he would be leading. As he headed down the staircase his one-year-old daughter was climbing up. He stopped to pick her up and hug her.

He discovered that she had a messy diaper. He knew that his wife was in the kitchen with their other children trying to get them fed and off to school. He faced a dilemma. After all, he was going to a meeting and he was in charge. But here was his sweet daughter in need and his wife was occupied. He could have engaged in a mental battle. He could have felt irritated that his daughter was messy, that his wife wasn’t taking care of it; that he, in his suit, probably should. But he didn’t go to war. As he realized the need his face softened, he gave his daughter a smile and a squeeze and he headed back up the stairs. He diapered his daughter, washed his hands and then headed out to his meeting.

In a family the ways we can love and minister to one another are limitless. I find that I need the help of a power beyond myself to keep my thoughts on ministering and not at war. I need help to know what’s needed because what is needed by one may not work for another. It’s been my experience that as we commit to being flexible, as we ponder real needs, as we make the effort to know another person, as we consider how best to love and serve, we can know how to minister better.

Six simple ways to minister to your children

•Don’t criticize – Listen, support, ask questions and teach gently. We all make mistakes. We all have moments of poor judgment.
•Don’t talk poorly about each other. Words are powerful in moving us to emotion. We want to feel good about our children, so we need to refrain from using words that are negative even when we’re frustrated or stressed.
•Refrain from judging – We can’t always know why a person behaves as they do, chooses one action over another or disappoints us. Rather than jumping to a judgment listen, ask questions, choose to think the best.
•Smile more – It’s amazing to me that we must be reminded of this, but we do.
•Listen, Listen, Listen – Those who are the most influential in this world listen more than they talk. They’re interested in others’ ideas and thoughts. They feel they can learn from anyone and so they do. When we listen it’s easier to think the best, criticize less, refrain from judging and so on.
•Touch – I am a champion of random touch. We shouldn’t need to be reminded of the power of a touch, but we do. I work on reaching out and patting a shoulder or giving a hug. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Maybe it doesn’t to you. But with practice, we can do better.

All those years ago, when I changed my story from war to ministering, I made a short video. I hope you’ll watch it. You will find it helpful.

Here’s to families and the opportunity to minister.

Share some of the ways that you keep from going to war with your family.

Welcome To My Morning

Recently I was taken back in time as I listened to a soundtrack by John Denver. He was a singer-songwriter from the1960s through the 1990s. I was a young teen when he began his career and I enjoyed his music.

One song, that I listened to on this day was particularly meaningful – Welcome to My Morning. Look at the opening stanza.

Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way

Many years ago, I finally understood and came to believe that I was truly responsible for how my days look. That belief can be a bit intimidating because if it is true then we must take 100% responsibility. Yikes! We must give up blame. Double yikes! We must stop being victims. Triple yikes!!!

But it’s true. And here is why. We cannot control other people or their actions. We cannot always control the circumstances that we find ourselves in. But we can always control our response to them. That is the key to the tenor of our days – our response.

Make Controlling Your Response a Daily Practice

It isn’t always easy to stay in control of our response but there are a few things that we can practice daily that will help us get better at it.

• Pay attention to your thoughts – Thoughts generate emotions and emotions move us to action. Our action will trigger a result, either positive or negative. So, it’s important to monitor your thoughts. Make the effort to keep them positive. Don’t let your mind make stuff up which it will try to do. Our mind wants to make sense out of things and sometimes we put our own spin on the facts.
• Think the best of others – It is easy to have negative thoughts about others and their motives, but if we make it a practice to think the best rather than the worst it goes a long way to helping us control our response. When someone cuts us off in traffic we can think, “That dumb jerk.” Or we can think, “She must be in a real hurry. I hope she gets there safely.” We get to decide how we will view the actions of others. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts better
• Give up blame. Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening. Taking responsibility for how we perceive what’s happening can and does make a difference in our outcomes.
• Practice gratitude. It’s remarkable how thought shifting gratitude can be. For many, it doesn’t come naturally because life is hard. People are rude and inconsiderate. Bad things do happen to good people. But gratitude is something we can cultivate and when we do, it goes a long way to helping us have more positive thoughts. That leads us to better responses, and we have better outcomes.

I love this example from my friend April Hiatt, who had attended a class I taught on this topic. She was practicing giving up blame, thinking the best of others, and being grateful.

“I opened the dryer door to discover wet clothes. Jonathan (my 14-year-old) didn’t press the start button when he transferred loads. I was three words into my grumble when I heard myself say out loud “Oh, I’m so glad I checked the dryer.” The next words were of understanding, with a deep feeling of love . “I’ve done this same thing before .” This whole cycle took under 3 seconds, and it happened without me really thinking about it. Wow, I’m amazed.”

We need to make setting our intention for the day a practice. We will have to do this our whole lives. Eventually, it does become easier, but it is a life-long work. We must decide that we’re going to have a good day. We must decide that people are basically kind. We must decide that life is good. These daily decisions help us respond better.

When you wake up and have a headache you can roll over and think, “This is going to be a lousy day.” Or you can close your eyes and think, “I’m glad I have something I can take for this.”

I know, it feels irritating to even think about it. That’s exactly how I felt when I first learned this principle, that I am responsible for how my life feels. But I want you to know that as I embraced this truth it changed my world. It gave me all the power!

You can listen to John Denver’s beautiful song HERE. Enjoy.

We All Lean Into Love

There’s a tree in our back yard that is growing faster on one side than on the other. The other morning my daughter gave me her impression as to why this tree is so lopsided.

First, you need to know that it wasn’t lopsided two years ago when we moved into our new home. You also need to know that it was a very sad looking black walnut tree. The leaves weren’t thick and deep green. There were very few nuts that first year and not many more the second. However, this year the tree is loaded with nuts, the leaves are thick and deep green and it’s growing towards my patio.

Jodie said that she thinks it’s because the tree is reaching for our patio as if it wants to come right inside. She said that’s because it feels the love, the caring. Isn’t that an extraordinary thought!

I’m not one to talk to plants, but I love nature, outdoors, and gardening. I even love weeding. As soon as we could I built garden boxes for my patio and I’ve tended them with loving care. I feed them and I prune them. I deadhead the flowers every day, so they’ll keep blooming. I water. I am consistent.

Our patio is a shaded, blooming wildness that is irresistible. Yes, those are sweet pea plants in the flower beds, and we’ve enjoyed snacking from them for weeks.

It doesn’t really matter whether this thought about why the tree has become lopsided is true or not. It illustrates a very important, in fact crucial, fact about people, about families. We all lean into love. We want to be loved. We want to matter.

What I know from working with hundreds of families is that most parents want their children to know they matter. Why then do we unknowingly send messages that make our kids feel they’re in the way, that they’re bothering us, or that they aren’t as interesting as whatever else we’re doing, or that they aren’t good enough. It’s because we aren’t focused on being Present with our children. We check out.

It’s easy to check out in this busy world and often we don’t even realize that we have checked out. When we’ve checked out or are totally involved in what comes next on our list, it’s easy to be irritated and frustrated with our children, which leads to poor responses on our part. Children and youth don’t hear “I’m busy. I’ll help you later.” They don’t sense you’re overwhelmed or tired. They aren’t old enough or experienced enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. They hear, “You have no value.” “You don’t matter.” “This is more important than you.”

HOW TO SEND THE I LOVE YOU MESSAGE CONSISTENTLY

Here are some behaviors that we, as adults, can practice that will help us send a clear message to our children and youth that we love them, that they matter, regardless of whether they’re meeting our expectations or not, regardless of how busy we may be?

• STOP whatever you are doing. Turn away from the TV or your computer. Put down the cell phone. Saying “I’ll talk to you later” will not cut it. Say “I can’t talk right now but I will come and find you in ten minutes.”
• LOOK your child in the eye. When we take the opportunity to look another person in the eye, we send the message that we are present with them, want to hear them and find whatever they have to say important. This is especially important when we need to disciple or teach.
• TOUCH them on the shoulder, hand, back, etc. Touch sends the message that we like being with them even if we are upset with them. It connects us to them.
• RESPOND to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. Are they feeling angry, disappointed, attacked, judged, sad? Focus on the feelings.
• LISTEN with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.
• ACTIVELY LISTEN Don’t check out looking for solutions or what you want to say next. Stay Present. Hear your child and respond to what they’re saying. If you feel the need to teach don’t. Wait until later. You can always teach but your children will not always come to you if they can’t trust that you hear them.
• CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY – We must begin taking full responsibility for the words we say. If we want better outcomes, we need to watch our words. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Words generate emotions. You’ll feel the way you speak. How you feel moves you to an action that gives you a result, either good or bad.

We want our children to lean into our family, to want to be home, to see our example, and to know that they matter, that they are loved. Children who feel loved have far better outcomes in life.

This leads to the final behavior:

• BE CONSISTENT – You won’t be perfect. You can’t be. But be as consistent in your efforts as possible. If you do, it will be enough, and your kids will know that they are loved and that they matter.

Share and comment. I love hearing what you have to say. : ) 

This Is the Most Fun Thing I Have Ever Done!

Some years ago, we had a dirt pile in the corner of our yard. Then my daughter decided to create something beautiful in that space.

She measured and cut the wood and figured out how to hold it all together. She built a fence to keep the dogs out. She planted herbs, tomatoes, peas, a watermelon, and a pumpkin. She built trellises for them. As a final touch, she added a metal baby robin, a fairy statue, and a brick walkway. It was beautiful!

My daughter said, “It took me two weeks to do a one-day project”. That was because she had three small children, one with cerebral palsy. The fact that she couldn’t focus and get the job done more quickly was a bit frustrating. Yet, despite the frustration, she said, “While I was building the garden, it was exhilarating. It was so exciting and rejuvenating.” Building that garden gave my daughter a wonderful sense of “This is the most fun thing I have ever done!”

My daughter was startled by the absolute joy she experienced as she figured it out and then built the garden. She thought a lot about that and remembered that she had felt this overwhelming joy before when she was four.

On our porch, she found two pieces of wood. She decided to make a plane. She asked for her snow pants because every builder needs overalls. She wanted a hammer and nails. Then she proceeded to make a plane. It didn’t look like a plane, just two sticks nailed into a T which she painted. She thought it was grand!

My daughter loves to build things. She also knows that she doesn’t build often enough. She works on ways to add that element into her life. When she makes time to build, no matter how stressful life is, she manages better.

Satisfaction and Joy Make Us Better People

There’s value in determining what brings us a sense of satisfaction and joy. As we create opportunities where we experience these feelings, we’re better mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and people. These feelings enhance our ability to problem-solve instead of blowing up or becoming depressed. They ease the stress of modern life. They increase our patience and our ability to reach out to others, to forgive and to love.

The key is knowing what brings us these feelings and then finding ways to include them in our lives more often. We must make space for them. This isn’t always easy, but it is doable!

Do the work of figuring out simple things that feel exhilarating, satisfying and joyful to you. As you implement more of these activities into your life you fill your bucket. This enables you to give more to your family, friends, and community. Above all, it increases the quality of your life.

Let me leave you with an example from my own life. I love organizing things. Yup, work. I know it wouldn’t feel joyful and satisfying to everyone, but it is to me. So, I make plans on a regular basis to order something in my life, a drawer, a closet, a shelf in the garage, under my bed, etc. I organize something at least once or twice a month. I’m busy so I must plan it. I must get the support of my family to make space for it. But it’s worth it because it feels exhilarating, satisfying and brings me joy.

Someone once said that life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the real deal, so find ways to live a life of satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy no matter how busy life gets. Determine what generates these feelings for you and then find ways to incorporate them into your life.

Feel moved? Please comment.  Then share. : )

Rolling Stones, the Fourth of July, and Family Traditions

Happy Fourth of July from Laurel, Montana

I grew up with a rolling stone, my dad. He liked to move and was forever looking for new ideas and new opportunities. He and my mom had nine children but until they hit number 9 they moved around quite a bit. I went to half a dozen grade schools and three high schools. I finished my high school career in a new school, in a new state. Who in the heck does that!!! Well, those were the days when if mom and dad moved ALL the kids moved too.

My husband grew up in the same town, Aurora, CO, all his life. He did live in two homes and that was a BIG move for his family. When we married my rolling stone nature rubbed off I guess and for the first ten years of our married life we moved alot; to college, to work, to college,  to work, to college…you get the picture.

Then we moved to Montana and lived in three different homes until we landed in Laurel. That was a turning point for us, and we found ourselves planted for twenty-one years. For me, that was an amazing experience, to be in one place for twenty-one years. I liked the feeling of having roots, of belonging someplace.

Laurel, MT. a railroad town filled with refineries.

Laurel was a small town and while we lived there it grew to 10,000. You could cross it from one side to the other in about five minutes.

There are some real advantages to small town living. One day I got a call from the bank. “Mary Ann, we have a check here from a casino in _______ and we’re pretty sure that you didn’t write it.” My checkbook had been stolen. That call saved me lots of money and frustration.

As a girl, I had never learned how to balance a checkbook. So, one day when I was in a huge mess I visited the bank with a stack of about 12 check registers and asked for some help. The sweet woman that I talked with took my stack of check registers home, balanced the whole thing and then taught me how to do it every month. Cost, exactly zip!!!

I had seven children and they caught lots of illness over the years. Ear infections were common, as were sore throats. I would call my trusty general practitioner (there are no specialists in small towns) and say, “Robert, Marie isn’t feeling well and has a green runny nose. I’m sure she has an ear infection. Will you call something in?” “Sure Mary. You’ve seen enough ear infections to know”.  As I said, small town living has its advantages!

Laurel swells from 10,000 to 30,000 on July 4th.

Here’s something else quite unique about this small town. They have a firework display to DIE for. I am not kidding. The Laurel fireworks display is so magnificent that on the Fourth of July the population swells to 30,000 people. This is not an exaggeration! They all want to see the most spectacular fireworks display in the state of Montana. About two weeks before the big day the fire engine rolls through town stopping on every street and the firemen knock on doors collecting money for the display. On the Fourth of July, the firemen stand at the freeway exit into Laurel with black rubber boots and collect money to pay for the show.

Our family loved and really celebrated on the Fourth of July. It became one of our treasured traditions. We would pack up a large cooler of watermelon, fried chicken, potato salad and treats and head to the park at about 2:00 pm. We staked out our space with blankets and then just chilled out while the kids ran all over the park meeting friends, watching the parade and blowing off fireworks. Neighbors and friends would walk by and we’d have a good chat. I loved it.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Good grief, when was this, 1950? How old is this woman anyway!!!” Well, this is how it was right up until we left in 2003, bank, doctor, fireworks and all.

My adult children, half in their 40’s, still talk about those good old days and the 4th of July. One year we all went back to Laurel just to take it in one last time. More recently they all came to our home in Utah and we made a great effort to recreate it.

Traditions, no matter how homely, hold families together. They are the fodder of great reminiscent conversations. Be sure that in all the busyness of life you’re creating some family traditions. When your kids are in their 40’s you will be glad you did!

Happy Fourth of July!

Add Presence to Your Summer!

I’m glad summer is here. I like summer. I like the freedom that comes with summer. BUT summer can be a very busy time. Sometimes the pace outstrips my ability to keep up.

For me the pace began to pick up in March as I worked on my garden. It was so rainy that I worried I might not have a garden this year but it’s coming along nicely now.

My poor patio garden really took a beating last year and through the winter with the free range chickens. Then totally covered over early spring until the chicken run was done and they were contained. I feel as if it’s a gift from God especially for me every time I look at it. There is no way that we could have this little piece of heaven after the chickens. But here it is and it’s so beautiful.

Putting up the pergola came next and since my husband has physical limitations I learned that I can do some pretty difficult things. Very cool!

I spent almost two weeks in Seattle with my youngest daughter’s family. New babies are so wonderful! I helped them landscape the front yard. Whew, that was a lot of work. They waited until I got there because they had this idea that I know a lot about plants, how they grow, how to design gardens, etc. Yikes! It was a real adventure at the greenhouse picking everything out. It was an even greater adventure designing and planting everything. However, it turned out great and we got some good together time in the bargain.

Don spent part of his time helping the kids create a fairy village in the crooks of the big tree by the front door. The kids LOVED that. I learned all about play dough and the wonderful things that kids can create. : ) Then we moved on to bubble snakes. We also built and exploded a volcano because Elliott like everything prehistoric.

This Friday I returned home after a three day service project at my sisters house. I and another sister and her husband were hanging sheet rock, mudding, and taping the basement. Whew, that is a lot of work and a lot of ladder time. They project that they may have it all done by the end of July and so I may have the opportunity to do another stint on the ladder.

I also made a big decision this spring, to spend the summer writing. So I sat down and set up a writing schedule because without a firm plan it wouldn’t happen right? Two days later I became ill for the first time in two years. Hmm, might be my bodies comment on the whole writing thing. : )

Then a week later my computer went down. That in itself wasn’t so bad but that is how I discovered that the backup system I have been paying for for two years wasn’t backing anything up. YIKES!!! Not the systems fault but mine. Didn’t know what I was doing. It was a miracle we were able to retrieve all the data from the dead computer. So grateful because many files are not replaceable and all my writing would have been lost.

Now the computer is in some faraway manufacturing site being repaired and I am working on a cobbled together computer system. I have been out of sorts over it and haven’t quite gotten my feet back under me so the writing has been going slow. Not to fear though because I am fairly resilient and Monday is a new week. Pressing forward.

Summer is a wonderful, as well as a challenging time. If you have kids added to the mix then it can be even more so. Despite the distractions and business of summer, make sure you spend some present time with your children. As each summer passes it can’t be reclaimed. So hang on to what you can of them and make some memories. You will treasurer them later. Happy Summer!

Change Looks Like Failure First!

Change can be hard. One reason that change is so challenging is that we misunderstand what change actually looks like and we also misunderstand the time that is required for change.

I have read many books on change. There is the standard – it takes 30 days to create a new habit. If we are talking about making our bed daily or exercising every morning then that is probably true. But if we are talking about changes that involve our character or our ability to respond differently in times of stress then maybe, just maybe, it will take more.

When I wanted to stop yelling that required a huge mind shift. I had to come to believe that I could actually stop yelling, that it was in my power to make that change. Accepting that fact took a few years.

Then I had to figure out what to do besides yell because it’s easier to replace a behavior than to stop a behavior. Once I knew what I was going to do instead of yelling I had to practice, practice, practice.

And here is where it’s important to understand what change looks like. Change looks like failure long before it looks like success.

Steps to Change

Step One – Realize that you need to make a change.

Step Two – Begin to believe that it is within your power to make a change.

Step Three – Determine what needs to change. Let me give you an example. I needed to get a handle on my complaining. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy but the words of complaint just kept falling out of my mouth. It’s just too hot! I don’t know why you can’t put your socks in the hamper. I wish the prices weren’t so high. Why won’t my hair just do what I want it to? This meat is overcooked.

When I had this conversation with a friend, she said, “Well, everyone does that!” She is right but that doesn’t make it a healthful or useful practice. I knew that if I controlled what came out of my mouth I would experience far more moments of happiness during the day.

I determined that I needed to express gratitude more often and I did this by using a small notebook where I wrote down what I was grateful for as I went through the day. I also had a second small notebook where I recorded my complaints. Then I would tear up those pages each night. These exercises may seem simple and even silly but they kept my mind on what I wanted to do instead of what I had been doing.

Step Four – Make a firm commitment to doing the work and giving it all the time required. I can always tell when I only wish I was different or hope to be different and when I am committed. That is key. You have to have a firm intention that no matter what it takes, how long it takes or how discouraging it feels you will keep going.

The Process of Change

A – Realize that you will continue to do the very thing you want to change. This is the step where change looks and feels like failure. When I was working to replace yelling with self-control I would often yell. Right after I yelled I would think in my mind, “Rats. I yelled. I don’t want to yell anymore!” I would feel bad and I would feel like a big failure at this self-control thing.

However, I eventually came to understand that every time I recognized that I had errored, gave up blame and took responsibility for my actions and then determined to do better, I was making progress.

B – Stop. Eventually, I would stop in mid-yell. I would mentally catch myself and reverse course. This entailed a fair amount of apologizing. It was uncomfortable but it was progress. I caught myself and made an adjustment.

C – Change. Finally, I would think about yelling and I wouldn’t. I would choose to respond differently. It felt wonderful when I began to experience this step more often. That didn’t mean that I didn’t fall back to step three and four; I did, for a long time. But eventually, I found myself staying in control more often.

It Takes Time to Change Our Way of Being

Here is another place where people in the process of change find themselves in trouble. We think that if it takes 30 days to develop a new habit then that should equate to change but it doesn’t. The kinds of change that I’m talking about, those that make us better people and parents, are changes not just in what we do but in our very being, our character and that requires time.

It took me ten years from the time I realized that yelling was not a good coping skill or parenting tool to consistently staying in control. And the truth is, I can, on occasion, still find myself yelling. It is a lifetime work for me. However, if I had bought into the idea that I needed to accomplish this significant change in 30 days or one year or even five years, well, I might have given up and never made it to where I am today.

My current project, giving up complaining, has been in process for over six years. Sometimes I feel discouraged. But I express gratitude more often than in the past, even though I still complain. I am making progress.

Changing our way of being, who we are, how we respond, doesn’t have to take ten years or even six. But if it does, hang on and keep working.

As Nelson Mandela said,

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