Author: Mary Ann Johnson

Children Learn Best When They Are Interested!

In the next four weeks, I am going to be sharing articles I wrote over ten years ago. Why? Because they were fun, contained great information and when I reread them, I fell in love with my family all over again. I will have a current introduction to each article, but I‘m not going to adjust the information to make it appear that it is in the now. You will see people and situations as they were over a decade ago.

You know, I have been in the parenting trench for a long time. I raised my own seven and then I moved into a three-generation home. I didn’t have that 24/7 responsibility but I was still surrounded by children and the challenges, joys, and learning that come with that territory.

Now, I am in a four-generation home. It just goes on and on. LOL I think I was made for this and although sometimes I would like to be in a home with just me, Don, and quiet, well, I would miss out on much, and I would learn far less. So, enjoy these lessons from the past and the cute kids who taught them to me.

Children Learn Best When They Are Interested

Benny is two, and he loves knowing how things work! Yesterday, as I came upstairs, I saw him working with a screwdriver on the wall heat vent. He was trying to put the blade of the screwdriver into the slot on the screw head.

Of course, his motor skills aren’t developed enough for him to manage it. Then there is the issue of being strong enough to turn the screwdriver. Benny didn’t seem perturbed or discouraged about what he couldn’t do. He was totally immersed in learning at his level.

I said, “Benny, what are you doing?” He replied, “Take off.” When his motor skills catch up with his desire to work with tools, we had all better look out!!!

I am thinking about Benny today because of what happened this morning. I have been tied to my computer for a few days working on a project with a deadline.

This morning Benny climbed onto my lap and watched for a short time. Then he said, “What this” while pointing to the cord that connects my computer to the source of electricity. I responded that this cord brought electricity to the computer and that a computer had to have electricity to work. He repeated, “Electricity”.

He then pointed to the printer cord and said, “What that?” “It is a cord to the printer, Benny. It lets the computer tell the printer to go to work”. I pointed out the cursor on the screen and then hit the printer icon. Then we watched the page print.

Next, he pointed to the cord that connects the mouse to the computer. “What that?” “That is the mouse, Benny. See, when I move the mouse this little cursor moves on the screen and lets me pick what I want.” He repeated, “Cursor.” He was fascinated.

Then he pointed to the thumb drive I was using for my project. “What that?” I told him it was a thumb drive that contained pictures of family. He said, “Thumb drive”.

I moved the mouse, pointed out the cursor on the screen, and he watched while I opened the device and then the file. We took a moment or two and scrolled through the pictures while he named off the people. When we were finished looking at the pictures, he pointed to the thumb drive and wanted to start over again! Children learn best when they are interested!

Why Taking the Time to Hear Matters!

This is a perfect example of what happens when we make time to listen to children and respond to what they are currently interested in. I was listening, I heard his interest, and I responded. Then we had what I call a mini-conversation. It was tempting to say, “Benny, I can’t play right now, I am working.” But who knows when he will come again to ask about the computer.

And since when does a 2-year-old sit still and learn about something way over his head for almost 5 minutes? Anytime they are really interested.

That is the key to real learning. When a child is interested in something, they want to know more. So, it is important to resist the temptation to put off what we could do now, until later, when it feels more convenient.

The Rewards of Making Space to ‘HEAR’

We can’t always respond right now, but we should respond whenever we can; the younger the child, the more fleeting the interest and the teaching moments.

Benny won’t remember the terms he heard today. He still has no idea how any of it really works. But here is what he will remember:

  • Grandma loves him and is interested in what he is interested in.
  • Learning is fun.
  • He is never too young to ask questions about what interests him.
  • Asking questions is a good thing. Not knowing yet, is OK.

When Listening to Kids:

  • We can scale down any topic to fit the child’s age as I did with Benny.
  • We need to listen to and hear their interest
  • Watch for Sparks, your child is telling you what they want to know NOW
  • If you can’t respond now, do so as soon as you can. With children, time matters.

I enjoyed helping Benny learn more about the computer today, and it went a long way in helping us connect and share love. Remember,

Children learn best when they are interested!

Make Learning Safe!

Over the last twenty years, I have run across wonderful resources. Today I want to share an article that I read back in 2013. It was by Kerry Patterson. I enjoy reading his stuff because it is always fun and illuminating.  In this article Kerry outlines the parent or teacher’s job of establishing an environment where their charges can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being in trouble. Whether you school your children at home or they attend public or private school, we all are teachers to our kids every day! You are going to love this!

     “It Is Rocket Science”

by Kerry Patterson

When I woke up that bright and sunny morning, I never suspected that I’d burn down my bedroom. But some days just don’t go as planned.

It was a Sunday morning, and this meant that later that evening the entire Patterson clan would plop down in front of their fifteen-inch black-and-white DuMont TV and worship at the altar of the Ed Sullivan Theater. For those of us living at the far edge of the U.S.—and at the far corner of Puget Sound to boot—Ed Sullivan provided a lifeline to the bigger world of hip happenings and top-notch entertainment. Who knew what menagerie of singers, dancers, acrobats, and comedians Mr. Sullivan would bring us! Would it be Elvis or even the Beatles? Surely the ventriloquist Señor Wences or the puppet Topo Gigio would grace the stage. It was Sunday, it was sunny, and all was well.

And then came the bomb. Mom sat me down and explained that she and Dad would be attending a volunteer meeting that evening and that I’d have to chaperone in their stead. Chaperone? I was a fourteen-year-old kid. Whom was I supposed to chaperone?

It turns out that a friend’s daughter, who was attending the local college, wanted to buy her first life insurance policy, and Mom had volunteered our living room for the sales presentation. Unfortunately, since Mom and Dad would be gone, I’d have to hang around. Without my dampening presence, who knows what lecherous shenanigans the insurance agent might attempt? And, as if listening to an insurance salesman wasn’t going to be bad enough, the meeting was to take place during the sacred time slot of the Ed Sullivan show!

When the appointed hour finally rolled around, I squirmed impatiently while the insurance fellow yammered on about “contingencies” and “risk aversion” until I could take it no longer. With one swift move, I slipped unnoticed into my bedroom adjacent to the living room. This put me out of range of the insurance talk but left me with nothing to do. After carefully studying the skin on my elbow for a couple of minutes, it hit me. Under my desk was a large bowl of rocket fuel I had recently concocted and set aside. Now would be the perfect time to turn it from a dry powder into a solid mass by melting it down and then letting it solidify.

I had never performed this operation before, nor did I have the necessary equipment on hand, but I had heard that transforming the powdered fuel into a solid block gave it more stability. I quickly fashioned a Bunsen burner out of materials I found in the bathroom. A Vaseline lid, a wad of cotton, and a couple of jiggers of my dad’s aftershave lotion—and voila! I was ready to cook. Next, I poured a generous portion of the fuel into a Pioneer chemical container that consisted of a cardboard tube with a flat metal bottom and a pop-out metal top. The cardboard would provide me with a safe place to grip the container, while the metal bottom would take the flame and melt the fuel.

Within minutes, I gingerly held the jury-rigged beaker above the Aqua Velva flame and was merrily melting the powder. Sure, I’d be missing Ed Sullivan’s guest star, Richard Burton, as he performed a number from Camelot, but I was advancing science. What could be more important?

Then, with no warning whatsoever, the powder hit its ignition point and burst into a frightening torrent of smoke and flames, scorching the wallpaper above my desk, and burning a hole in the ten-foot ceiling. I couldn’t drop the blazing tube, or it would have careened around the room and set the drapes and other flammables on fire. So, I gritted my teeth and held the flame-spitting cylinder firmly through its entire burn. For a full minute, the fiery tube charred the wall and ceiling while dropping blazing bits of debris on my arms and legs—burning holes in my shirt and pants and leaving behind pea-sized scars.

The rest is a blur. When it was finally safe to set the container down, I bolted from my bedroom and threw open the front door to vent the house. A fire truck loaded with highly animated firefighters rolled into our driveway and it wasn’t long until several of them were screaming at me for being so stupid as to—well, cook rocket fuel in my bedroom. Apparently, not being able to swing their axes or shoot a single drop of water into our home had really ticked them off. One angrily threw open the parlor windows when I asked him what I could do to get rid of the smoke. Another glumly stared at my bedroom and shook his head while muttering, “Boy, are you going to get it when your folks come home!”

And then my folks came home. As the fire crew backed out of our driveway and the insurance salesman and frightened college girl bolted from the scene, Mom and Dad slowly approached. Watching a fire crew pull away from your home is never a good sign when you’re the parent of a teenage boy; however, it did give my folks a hint as to what lay ahead. As the two walked stoically into my bedroom and surveyed the damage, Mom stated, “You realize, of course, that you’re going to have to set this right.” I did. I paid for the repairs out of my college savings.

And then, Mom said something that was so quintessential “Mom” that I’ve never forgotten it: “What did you learn from this adventure?” Most parents, when faced with the smoldering shell of a bedroom would have grounded their careless son through social security. Or maybe they would have hurled threats, pulled out their hair, or perhaps guilt-tripped their soon-to-be-jailed juvenile delinquent into years of therapy. But Mom simply wanted to know what I had learned from the incident. It wasn’t a trick on her part; it was how Mom treated debacles. For her, every calamity was a learning opportunity, every mishap a chance to glean one more morsel of truth from the infinitely instructive universe.

So, I talked to Mom and Dad about ignition points, research design, precautions, and adult supervision. I meant most of what I said. I even followed my own advice and avoided catching any more rooms on fire. In fact, save for one minor screw-up a few months later during a routine rocket test where I accidentally blew off my eyebrows (leading to an embarrassing few days where I was forced to darken my remaining forehead hairs with eyebrow pencil—not cool for a guy in high school), I averted further disasters of all types.

But what I didn’t avert was the bigger message. Mom wanted me and my brother to be full-time learners—ambulant scholars if you like. It was her central mission in life to turn us into responsible adults who learned at every turn. While the masses might bump into the world, take the occasional licking, and then endlessly complain, she wanted us to bounce back with the question: What does this teach us? While others carped about effects, she wanted us to find the causes. Our classroom was to extend beyond the halls of academia and down any path our journey took us—even into the occasional charred bedroom.

The implication of this message to parents and leaders alike is profound. It’s the adult’s or leader’s job to establish an environment where their charges can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being grounded through social security. This isn’t to suggest that either the home or the corporate learning environment should allow individuals to run about willy-nilly—heating up rocket fuel without a single thought as to what might go wrong. I had been irresponsible, and I was held accountable. But I had also been experimenting with rocket science, and Mom didn’t want to stifle this part of me. She wanted me to experiment, and this called for calculated risks. She saw it as her job to teach me how to make the calculations, not to set aside my test tubes and chemicals.

So, let’s take our lead from the ambulant scholar. Should our best-laid plans run afoul, may we have the wisdom to pause, take a deep breath, and ask: What did we learn from this?

Thank you Kerry, so beautifully said! : )

P.S. Kerry Patterson has written some wonderful books which I have read. They are worth your time.  Here are a few –

Better Word Choice – Better Outcome

Understanding truth changes lives

Many years ago, I read Remember the Ice and Other Paradigm Shifts by Bob Nicoll. It was life-changing, or I could say it was communication-changing. : ) All these years later, when I engage in a conversation, I can hear Bob say, “Remember the ice!”

I attended an event that Bob spoke at and then I bought the book. I learned later that he was a friend of one of my clients. What a lovely coincidence or it would be if I believed in coincidences. We had a number of opportunities to visit together. Later, I was also privileged to be on stage with Bob, teaching parents together.

Bob had a passion for linguistics and empowering language choices. He focused his energies on studying the power of word choice: the Psychophysiology of Words, as he said. Now, that is a big word. : )

Bob had been a counseling psychologist, a business owner/consultant, a motivational speaker, a sales trainer, a restaurant owner, a financial planner, and a top sales manager. He knew the importance of all kinds of relationships and the power that words had in those relationships. He had a passion for helping people shift their paradigms with respect to empowering word choices. And that is how the book Remember the Ice came to be. So, what was in his book that was life-changing for me?

Let me share one story from the book and you will see.

In Bob’s words – Imagine being able to create a simple message. You know in your mind what you would like to convey. You get ready to share it with one of your precious children. You open your mouth, speak your mind, and then realize you have attracted the opposite of what you want.
Huh??? What’s that you say?

All you said to your precious 6-year-old was, “Don’t touch that vase.” Seconds later, you hear the sound of broken glass and your favorite, imported, crystal vase is on the floor in a myriad of pieces.

So why would he touch it after you specifically said, “DON’T touch that vase?” Before I share the answer, let me share a quick story.

It all began on July 23, 1991 — at 10:07 AM PDT

In a convenience store on Northern Avenue in Phoenix, AZ, the manager had placed a couple of signs above his cash registers. His intention was to encourage his patrons to buy more ice during the hot desert summer.

I lived across the street from this store and came to know him. Rick was working one day as I made a purchase. This time I paused and asked him how his ice sales were going because I am intrigued by word choice and the resulting behavioral outcomes. You see, the signs above the cash registers read: DON’T FORGET THE ICE

I asked Rick how sales were going. His reply was less than favorable. I paused and asked if I could make a suggestion. I mean, after all, this was Phoenix—in the desert—in the middle of the summer. (110+ degrees in the shade)

“Rick, do you have a couple of pieces of paper and a magic marker?” I inquired. He gave me the items and I quickly made two new signs for him. REMEMBER THE ICE

I left with a knowing smile and purposely stayed away for about a month. When I went back to the store, I spoke with Rick about his recent ice sales. “What did you do? My sales are up over 500% in the last 30 days!!”

I smiled and asked him a simple question: “If I say to you: Don’t think of the color blue. What color are you thinking of?” “Why blue of course” he replied. “Of course.” Now if I say, “don’t forget the ice”, what will you forget? “Hmmm… the ice.” “Right.”

Wasn’t that story awesome and haven’t you experienced something like this? I have with my own children, my husband, and friends. Words matter. What we say and how we say it impacts not only us but those we are talking to. Don’t is a word I rarely use because I hear Bob in my head.

Do you see how the innocent and commonly used message of “DON’T results in the opposite of what we want? Our mind has no conception of the word NOT (Bob explains more about that in his book), and we proceed to DO what follows the word Not (Do not or Don’t). So, the end result is, 6-year-old Tommy is compelled to touch the vase BECAUSE you told him to.

Words mean things. Word choice has behavioral consequences.

If mom had said, “leave the vase alone”, or “no touching the vase,” the end result is, you would have a beautiful piece of crystal to showcase your flowers. And this is the crux of the book.

How can you think differently about the words you use? How can you have better outcomes? How can words assist you in getting your kids, spouse, and others to respond positively more often?

I recommend Remember the Ice and Other Paradigm Shifts.

It is available on Amazon. You will be a better parent for having read it. Bob taught people that, “There is Power in the Clarity of your Articulation.” Another way of saying that is: “Word Choice has behavioral consequences.”

Here is how I say it –
Words mean things. Learn how to use them well.

Want more direction on having meaningful conversations with your kids:

My Meat Chopper is a Metaphor for Growth. Really! : )

My granddaughter joined a group called Girls on the Run. She was excited to learn how to run. Because she hadn’t done this before Matilda was a bit apprehensive, so her big brother ran the race with her. Ya gotta love big brothers who care! She had a wonderful experience and wanted to support the group. She sent me an online catalog. Part of the proceeds would go to the group. As a dutiful grandparent, I looked it over.

There wasn’t a single thing I needed or wanted. I am a minimalist by nature and experience. I have what I need and nothing more. Not only wasn’t there a single item I needed or wanted but they were all pricy, and I am frugal by nature. What was I going to do? Well, there was one gadget I had seen in a few of my friends and siblings’ kitchens. I knew what it was for. It was used to break up sausage and hamburger while cooking.

In my kitchen, I grab the burger or sausage and mash it into bits in my hands as it falls into the pan. This works for me. But I had to buy something, and this was the cheapest item. I love my granddaughter, so I ordered it.

It sat in my utensil container for weeks, unused. Then one day I noticed that I hadn’t gotten my hamburger bits as small as I wanted them for a particular dish. I grabbed the meat chopper, because it was close, and cut up the partially cooked chunks. Hmmm, that was easy even though the meat was hot and partially cooked. I could have gotten the job done with a spoon, but it would have taken more time.

Since then, I have begun using the meat chopper more often. It is fast, I don’t have to wash my hands, and I can chop as I cook. I have decided I like this tool. I mean, I can manage the old way, it works, but this works better.

As I was making spaghetti sauce this week, I thought about how finally experimenting with the meat chopper is like the process of growth and change. We learn to do things a certain way. It’s how our mom or dad did it. It’s how our extended family did it. It seems to work. Then someone introduces us to a thought or idea, that suggests that whatever it is, can be done in a cleaner, easier, more successful way. There may even be a suggestion that what we think is working really isn’t, and we need to make a change. That can feel intimidating.

Do you hang back? I mean, you thought things were OK. Even if you knew they weren’t working all that well, you might feel unsure about your ability to make a change. Maybe the thought that what you have been doing, that isn’t working, makes you mad, and you want to turn your back on the new idea or suggestion. Been there, done that! It took me a long time to learn that even when something seems to be working it might work better managed another way and that if something isn’t working, you really can make a change.

Here is my Point:

We can get stuck in how we approach problems, and health issues, manage ourselves and relationships, discipline children, or chop cooking meat. We can be resistant to experimenting with something new. But often, if we open ourselves up to new thoughts, ideas, ways of being, and resources, we can learn to manage better.

I can’t begin to tell you all the resources I have taken advantage of in the past 40 years. Here is a very abbreviated list of some things I have changed over the years because I finally began experimenting with new thoughts and ideas.

  • I now mash my meat faster, cleaner, and more safely when it is cooking. LOL
  • I listened to a friend who taught me how to manage when my kids were not doing what I wanted. Over time, with her continued advice and support, I changed the relationship I had with my children.
  • When my neighbor, who was a nurse, gave me a pamphlet on anger management I was shocked. But her concern and the ideas she presented stuck and over time I did get control of my anger. I stopped raging and yelling.
  • I took a couple of classes to learn to manage my money stories, the ones I got while growing up. This information has changed many things. The work isn’t fully done, but I feel more at ease with money.
  • I had some serious reservations about anything outside of traditional medicine. I was totally in a box about it. However, a time came when I finally climbed out of the box and saw a homeopathic doctor. WOW! She was able to crack some health issues for me that had caused me to suffer for years.
  • After having it come to me three times, I tried energy healing which seemed like wowo to me. I was able to heal from some childhood trauma and begin to regain boundaries. It wasn’t something I entered into lightly. I did considerable knee time in order to choose the right practitioner and remain safe. It was a short stint of work, but it was so important in my life.
  • After having a particular book on energy types come around three times, I finally read it. I had been totally uninterested because for over a decade I had heard about energy types at business meetings and I wasn’t all that impressed with the information. I was grateful that I finally listened to my inner voice about this particular book. It answered the question as to why I sometimes felt like two people in the same body. It also helped me appreciate my husband more.
  • After some years of resistance, I read two books on emotional healing, a thing that I didn’t put much stock into. They were written by women with very different spiritual outlooks. However, both were pivotal in my learning to communicate with my body, and it has made a difference in my health. I love my body and we now communicate. : )
  • I grew up in a family and an extended family of complainers. It was what everyone did. It was normal. But eventually, I heard from others that I admired, that complaining wasn’t an innocent pastime and caused problems in life. Well, I wasn’t ever going to be able to change that! But, eventually, I decided I could change.  I read a fabulous book and I have made changes. I am not perfect at this skill yet, but I am getting darn good.

Not everything that has come my way has been the right thing for me. I had to learn how to discern when to accept a new resource, idea, or thought. That is a skill that took time to learn. It isn’t wise to read every book, go to every class, listen to every friend, or accept that something you are doing is wrong on the say-so of another person.  So how can you know what to try and what to walk away from?

Tips for Discernment:

1. When confronted with a new idea, thought, tool, class, book, or another resource, I ask myself if there is really an issue it might address better than how I manage now. I look honestly and deeply at the situation. I ask myself hard questions and give myself honest feedback. It can be painful. This is, in itself, a skill that must be practiced. But over time you can get better at being honest with yourself.

2. If I think there might be some efficacy to experimenting, I counsel with my Higher Power to get questions answered and fears allayed. Then I decide to move forward. Since I’m not perfect at hearing the Spirit or my own inner voice, I may decide to walk away and then have the same information resurface again. If something comes my way three times, then I really do take notice and put more effort into learning about it and making a decision.

3. After I have made a decision, I take that decision, in prayer, to the Lord, and I ask him if what I have decided to do is going to be good for me and if now is the time.

4. If I have good feelings after that prayer, I go for it. Sometimes I feel moved to wait. I have had times when I have been told, “Not now.” Then later, sometimes years later, I am told to go for it. The truth is, no matter how good the information may be, you have to be ready to receive it. Occasionally, I know it is not for me, ever, no matter how good it is.

Let me share some examples:

A. I considered energy healing dangerous and dark. However, it kept coming up. I went through the process above sure that the answer not to become involved was correct. I got the opposite response to my prayer, and I was shocked. I was led to a safe and knowledgeable practitioner and did a short stint of work with her. I was able to clear up a situation with my dad who had been dead for over a decade. So freeing.

B. In the early 70’s I had three children and was a wreck. I didn’t know at the time that I was suffering from severe postpartum depression. I thought I was just a horrible person. One of my dearest friends suggested I read a parenting book. It was a New York Times bestseller and it changed many things for the better in her family.

I wasn’t as familiar with the process I have just outlined but I did pray. I knew clearly that reading this book was a bad idea for me. I didn’t know why, I just knew I wasn’t to read it. It wasn’t until a few decades later that I read the book. I was ready, but I could see how damaging it would have been for me back then, despite the great ideas it contained. I would have had my ‘badness’ confirmed.

Sometimes there is only one thing out of a whole class, book, doctor’s appointment, counseling or mentoring session, conversation with another trusted adult, etc. that you need, but that one thing has an impact that was worth whatever time or money it cost.

In the mid-eighties, I took the class Parenting with Love and Logic. I had so much baggage at that time that only one thing stayed with me. That one thing helped me manage our family during the drug years. It made ALL the difference when dealing with kids who were not manageable.

Other times, the entire resource can be life-altering, and is well worth your time and/or money.

My final words:

We need to hang on to what is working. There is always more than one way to do something right. We also need to be open to broadening our knowledge base. We need to jettison the fear of change. We need to be willing to grow. We need to trust ourselves that we can change and then be willing to experiment with new ideas and thoughts. We need to be discerning in how to move forward.

Be willing to learn, change, and grow. Your life will be better!

I Don’t Run, or Do I?

In August 2010 I wrote an article that I posted on my original blog, Home School Coach. It was titled I Don’t Run. In the article, I shared why I had begun running and why it wasn’t working out well. I also shared that I didn’t intend to quit running despite the difficulty.

It’s funny, but the reasons that I was having such a hard time running have been resolved over the last thirteen years. I have gotten a handle on sleep. I go to sleep early and rise early.  I get enough sleep and I sleep at the correct times of the day.

I don’t eat junk or drink soda and my food is healthy. In the article, I said that having to think about food and cook differently is such a bother. It makes me laugh because that hasn’t changed, but I am doing it consistently anyway.

I now drink enough water and I exercise five days a week, most weeks, so I’m far fitter at 73 than I was at sixty. I also weigh 30 pounds less than when I was sixty. I have made many changes in my lifestyle and my thinking since 2010.

However, I did quit running. I didn’t have a strong enough reason to continue and walking is easier.

Here is why I am sharing this with you:

When you have a strong enough purpose, belief, or why, you can do and change anything. I have lived this truth and I want to share some real-life examples with you.

Example 1

In my 73 years, I have learned that I can make myself do anything I need to do. I have learned that if I can’t make myself do something then there is a problem with my why or my belief in myself. I know that anyone reading this article will relate.

Back to the running. Recently I had to run for about half a block. I was pressed for time and being on time mattered a great deal! So, I ran. There was no grace in it, no flow; a bit more like lumbering, but I did it. When I reached my destination, I had to stand and work on breathing for a while, but I was smiling because I had just run a little over half a block.

As I said, I walk. Every day I walk with my weights. They are only 3 pounds, but they are weights, and I am walking with them. It counts! : ) As I walk I raise one arm into the air until I can’t hold it any longer and then I raise the other arm. I usually do 2 rotations of this and then I speed walk the rest of the way.

After my running experience, I wondered if I could run regularly. So, I gave it a shot. I ran half a block and then tried to breathe the rest of my walk. LOL The next day I wanted to see if I could do better. I ran a whole block in both directions, with some breathing time in between. That made me feel as if I could really run, like daily. In my mind came a goal – by Fall I will be able to run my whole route. To be sure, it is a short route of only five blocks but imagine me doing it at 73.

Why would I run if a brisk walk with my weights, at seventy-three is sufficient? Remember when I said you need a strong enough why. Well, my ability to remember details has lessened in the last two years. I care for my mom who has dementia and my grandmother on the other side died of Alzheimer’s. This creates a BIG why for me. I need and want a healthy brain. Walking is a great exercise, as is lifting weights, even if they are only 3 pounds. But it seems I need something more. Running is what I am determined to experiment with.

I have done a lot of study on the issue of brain health in the last five years. I have taken classes and read many books. I know what I need to do to have a healthy brain; this is my why and it is a BIG one!

Example 2

Let me share another real-life example. I have always hated the cold. When I was a kid, coats weren’t cool, sorta like now, but I wore mine. I would rather be warm than cold. The same went for boots and gloves. I wasn’t cool looking, but I was warm.

I never enjoyed swimming because I don’t like the cold. Give me the beach over the water. I love the sun and warmth. I take showers hot enough to boil lobster, even in the summer. LOL I go out of my way to avoid being cold.

As I studied, I learned that when your skin temperature drops it helps manage insulin spikes, hence body and brain health. I read this in Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease–and How to Fight It. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has any type of health issue!

This information impressed me as a simple and effective way to fight insulin resistance, lose weight, and maintain better body/brain health. Now when I feed the chickens, I go coatless or in a light sweater. As I struggle with the cold, I remind myself that this is going to help me remain healthier longer. Over time, the chilliness of my skin has begun to feel good. This adjustment in my thinking has shocked me. As I said, I have always HATED being cold!

Then in the series Limitless, starring Chris Hemsworth, which my husband was watching,  I learned that if you use cold water after a hot shower, it helps your brain. That was the whole premise for the series, to discover ways to have a healthier brain. I knew this was something I should try. I couldn’t imagine doing it, but I wanted to. Remember I have a very STRONG why.

For a couple of weeks, after my hot shower, I would turn down the hot water until I couldn’t feel warmth, but the water wasn’t icy. Then a few weeks ago I began making the water colder, much colder. I know that in time the water will be icy, like a frozen lake. It doesn’t feel foreign anymore and is almost pleasant. I only do it for a couple of minutes but that is a significant start.

If you had asked me even six months ago if I would run or stand in cold water on purpose, I would have emphatically said NO!! But here I am doing both because I have a strong enough why.

And that’s what it takes to make big changes. A reason that helps you overcome your resistance to doing what you aren’t even sure you can do.

I Have Made Major Changes and So Can You

I have made major changes in my life. Each change had a different why. They each required me to believe in myself, that if I was committed, consistent and had the right resources I could do it.

•I stopped raging and yelling.
•I overcame my fear of heights. I climbed a tall pole and walked across a 20-foot cable
without holding on to anything. I did it twice.
•I learned to manage my fear of speed and went on a short zip line. I may never do it again,
but I did it once.
•I gave up sugar, changed how I eat, and lost over 30 pounds.
•I began exercising regularly.
•I have made significant progress in giving up complaining, which was a family tradition in
my childhood home and extended family.
•I have learned to manage my penchant for annoyance and frustration with others ‘stuff’. I
will probably be working on this for the rest of my life, but I am making progress.
•I have rewritten some damaging money stories from my childhood and have gotten a grip on
money management.
•I overcame the effects of child sexual abuse.
•I have gone from having no boundaries to being able to say no and keep myself safe. Continue reading

2022 Was Really HARD!

2022 was hard! There was a reason for that, and I was finally brave enough to tell you about it in last week’s article, Tracking Can Turn Your Life Around. The whole experience caused me to ask the question: “Why do things have to be hard and uncomfortable so often? After all, I am 73 and I have had a lifetime of hard. When will it get easier?” Please don’t think this is the first time I have pondered this question. I know the answer, and you probably do too. We are going to discuss it here, but the question rears its head every now and then, anyway.

I want to tell you about a church meeting I attended on January 8, 2023. At this meeting, people in our congregation had the opportunity to share some of their deep feelings about Jesus Christ and God. This information will apply even if you believe in a different higher power or none. So read on. : ) I always carry a small notebook because I never know when I will hear something I want to remember. This was one of those times!

Comment 1

A woman who teaches older grade school students spoke. She admitted that just before the holiday break she taught a math concept that was REALLY hard for her. During class one of her bright-faced children (her words) looked up and said, “This is too hard.” She replied, “I know, but that’s what’s going to make you great.” She went on to explain to us that this is what God does. He allows us to have hard experiences because when we learn from them, that is what makes us great. Note the phrase ‘when we learn’. It matters.

Comment 2

A man shared that in our congregation he has a friend who builds guitars. I know his friend, but I didn’t know he made guitars. His friend’s health has been failing but here he is, still building beautiful guitars. The man telling the story said that when he visited the guitar builder’s home and saw the workshop, he noticed a newly finished guitar. He said it was beautiful and glossy. At some point, he was able to strum on it and it sounded wonderful.

The guitar had some amazing curves. He asked his friend how in the world he got the wood to bend in this shape. He was told that the wood had to be submerged in water for some time. Then it was clamped onto a machine which heated it up. And voila, the perfect curves to make perfect music. Hmmm, doesn’t that sound like some of your weeks, months, or years? It certainly sounds like my 2022; in over my head, and then clamped down and heated up.

Comment 3

A third person said that she had learned that God gives perfect trials to imperfect people and that if we have faith, we learn and grow as we willingly embrace the hard thing. Pay attention to the words ‘willingly embrace’. Again, they matter.

These beautiful sentiments fit perfectly with what I experienced in 2022. When I finally willingly embraced the hardships of the year, I began to unravel the challenges and learn more about myself.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, in 2022 I had a story that was causing me a lot of grief. Here it is – There is no place in my life for me, I am invisible. I said it out loud in anger on occasion. After the passage of time and some serious thought and prayer, I was eventually able to see this story for what it was – a lie. I am still working on resolving why I was telling myself this story and structuring my days so that the story looked and felt true. I haven’t worked all of that out yet, but just knowing it wasn’t true has helped me stay out of resentment.

It took almost an entire year because:
•I was sure I already had the management of my stories down pat and I wasn’t yet open to
  learning at a deeper level.
I pushed against the hardship, rather than willingly embracing it so that I could learn.
I forgot the truth that I am 100% responsible for how my life feels and for my response to
it. I can’t control all the circumstances and people around me, but I can control myself.
When I was finally ready for the lesson it came. I am becoming greater for having had the
experience. I am wiser. I can manage my stories even better because I am a little less
cocky. : )

I wish I had gotten to this place earlier in the year. It took until November. I suffered and my family suffered. As I have said often enough, suffering is a choice. We suffer until we see our story, rewrite, or manage it, give up blame, and are willing to learn something new about ourselves.

Now when I find myself putting everything ahead of my own needs and my writing, I stop and say, “Mary Ann, this is a choice. If you are going to make it, you must be responsible for it, how it feels, and the consequences.”

I still choose to put myself and my writing last on occasion, but I am no longer resentful of my responsibilities or my family. I have chosen to be where I am, doing what I am doing. No one made me come to this place! I know this is about me and not them. As I unravel why this situation occurred, I am going to learn some amazing things about myself and my mission. I know it. I look forward to it.

Do You See the Relationship?

Do you see how this relates to the comments of those three sincere members of my church congregation? I know I have been placed where I am, in a challenging situation, because I am learning some life-altering things and practicing skills that I have used for a long time but needed to refine. I am growing as a person, as I come face to face with myself. My ‘greatness’ is increasing. : )

Do I like it? Not much. It was far more fun to travel the country teaching and speaking. It was more peaceful when it was just Don and me, alone in our own home and he was well. But I wasn’t growing like I have the last five years as a full-time caretaker to my 92-year-old mother, Don, and my 16-year-old granddaughter with severe cerebral palsy, in a four-generation home. And my growth, as I have shared it, has made a difference in the lives of others who are learning from me. It shortens their learning timeline and makes it more bearable as they learn.

Recently, I was reading an email from Amy Walker, an old mentor of mine. She told the story of a man she was helping as he built his business. One day, as he sat in her office, he came face to face with a huge challenge. In the middle of the stress, he stopped and said out loud – “I am at the perfect place, at the perfect time, having the perfect experiences, for my perfect good.” Amy was astounded that he had memorized this thought and could pull it out in the moment of need. She has since memorized this for herself. I have taped it to my computer, and I read it every day.

2022 was HARD. Nevertheless, I was in the perfect place, at the perfect time, having the perfect experience, for my perfect good. I still am. I am grateful.

 

P. S. When I sort out the reason for my untrue story, I will most assuredly share it with you. In the meantime, I will continue to practice what I know and watch my stories even more carefully. : )

Tracking Can Turn Your Life Around!

Tracking Can Turn Your Life Around

When we’re trying to implement a new system, create a new habit, change our way of being, or resolve a problem, tracking is helpful.

I know this doesn’t sound fun or doable for many of you, but I have learned the hard way that tracking makes a difference in how well I do in any of the above scenarios.

Tracking helps with consistency. You can see at a glance how you are doing and, in fact, if you are doing.

When you track you can’t pretend that you are doing better than you are. You also can’t delude yourself that you aren’t doing enough. It becomes clear if a family system is working or needs to be revamped. You can tell if your behaviors are modifying, or if you’re responding differently than in the past.

Some weeks my consistency may be pitiful. Some weeks it is awesome. But tracking helps me even it out over the space of a year, and that helps me accomplish things I might not otherwise get done.

Here is an example –

I currently have a tracking grid on my office wall. My office is in my bedroom, so it’s very convenient and frankly, occasionally irritating. LOL I am just like the rest of you. I would rather not have what I need to do and where I am falling short staring me in the face. The grid also gives me the courage to keep going because I can see what I have done, even if it isn’t as much as I wish I had done.

You may laugh, but I use this grid to track how often I contact my family members and a few people that need my care. You see, I am a project person. I care about people, and I love my family, but I can get caught up in my work and let days or weeks go by without reaching out to those who matter and those who need to feel they matter.

Another example –

On my daily worksheet, in my morning routine, I have included meditation. I know I haven’t meditated for months because I haven’t been able to scratch it off. This week I meditated for 4 whole minutes. It was so satisfying to mark it done that I know I will do it again. I will become more consistent. I just needed to begin, and tracking has helped me finally get going. (P.S. I have done it again!)

Things like prayer, scripture reading, taking my vitamins, and exercising aren’t a problem. I am completely consistent. But I still track them on my daily worksheet because some days go south early. When I am finally able to sit down and look at my list and realize that it is noon and I haven’t taken those vitamins or said that prayer, I can stop and do it. It keeps me from missing things that are important to me.

A third example –

Consistency isn’t a well-practiced skill for my husband and because he has health issues it needs to be. So, he asked me to make him some simple tracking grids. They are on the edge of his computer screen where he can’t miss them. He also has a couple in the bathroom where he can track his blood sugar, weight, etc. Don tends to think he is doing better than he is. LOL Tracking keeps him in reality. He isn’t a list guy and so making that check mark can be challenging. But just seeing the tracking sheet helps him get up and walk, take his meds, weigh himself, etc.

Example four –

I recently finished a book by Darren Hardy. I didn’t want to read it but felt I should. It has turned out to be extremely valuable to me. There is a chapter on tracking. He didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know, but he reminded me of some things I had put on the back burner and got me to move on a problem I hadn’t been able to solve.

Darren suggested that we track one thing we really needed to change to make our lives better: watch less tv, drink or smoke less, get more sleep, stop overeating or eating poorly, track how your money is spent, and the list went on. I wasn’t having an issue with anything on his list! And the one thing that does cause me a little concern, well, I was already tracking it. I asked myself and God what I needed to track that I wasn’t already tracking to make my life better.

In 2022 I had a story that was causing me a lot of grief. Here it is – There is no place in my life for me, I am invisible. I said it out loud in anger, frequently. After pondering and some prayer I felt I should track when I was making space in my life for me.

What! I couldn’t believe it, because I wasn’t doing things for myself. I was on call 24-7 practically. My life wasn’t my own. I didn’t want to see in black and white, what I already knew. But I got a small notebook and each day I would write down anything I did for myself. Guess what, every day there were at least 5 things and often more.

Why hadn’t I seen this before? It was because I wasn’t letting things count. You heard that right; I wasn’t letting things count. They were on my daily list, and I was scratching them off, but I wasn’t letting them count. Prayer is for me. Reading my scriptures is for me. I mean, no one holds a gun to my head and says you must. I have learned in seventy-three years that these two things help me manage my day better. But I wasn’t recognizing them as ways I fit myself into my very busy and often chaotic life.

Then there is the walk I take daily, with my weights. Isn’t that for me? Of course, it is. I do it because I want my brain to work well and I want to be able to walk till I am 100. Again no one makes me. No one chides me if I don’t. There isn’t any guilt if I do or not. I’m seventy-three. I could let it go. But I do it for me because I want to. I don’t get to it every day, but I get to it enough days to know that I am fitting myself into my life!

Here are a few other things that I discovered I wasn’t letting count – taking my nutrition, writing in my gratitude journal, smiling on purpose (yes that is on my to-do list LOL), reading in the bathroom a few times a day. You see, I was doing a great many things for myself because I want to. I was taking care of me. Every day I did things to build my body, my mind, my heart, my faith, me, because I love me. I just hadn’t recognized it.

So, what was the outcome of this tracking exercise?

The story is DEAD! and with it the resentment and anger that I was feeling. The weariness has lessened.

I have also been adding a few things. I decided I wasn’t connecting with old friends enough. To make that happen I had to come up with a system. Here it is. I picked three women I love but wasn’t talking to, even yearly. I reached out to them, and we set up a phone call every 3 months. It’s on my calendar and that is how I track it and make sure it happens. This is an exercise in fitting me into my life.

Truth be told, when I see a call on my calendar I inwardly groan because I have stuff to do. : ) Remember I am a project person. LOL But it’s there on the calendar, and it happens. I love these women and I enjoy talking to them when we get on the phone, but if I wasn’t tracking it wouldn’t happen.

Tracking matters. It helps us do the things we really want to do. Tracking helps us learn to be more consistent, so the outcome is better. And if you are feeling less than, left out, or like me, invisible in your own life, then track. See if the story is true or if you have been deluding yourself and not letting things count.

If you find the story is true, then determine what is within your power to turn it around, then track your efforts. This can change your life. It has changed mine. 2022 was a VERY hard year because of the untrue story I believed with all my heart until October. I have now rewritten that story and I am very glad! So is my family. : )

If tracking seems overwhelming to you, know that there are many ways to track. It may be a daily list. It may be a grid on the wall. It may be a date on the calendar or marbles you drop in a container : ) or any number of other ways. Find what works for you, then give it a try.

Tracking can turn your life around

Taking Care of Ourselves and Managing Stress – Two Lists

Guess what runs in my family? Depression. For some, it is outright depression and for others, it is seasonal depressive disorder or SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It isn’t just in my family of origin but in my extended family. As a kid, I watched a lot of adults struggle and I have watched siblings, cousins, and some of my children struggle. The bleak days of winter bring an added challenge. In some places, winter lasts a long time!

Some take medication and some don’t. Regardless, because of this propensity, we all must work at managing stress and learn to care for ourselves.

In February 2022, I spent some time in Seattle at my youngest daughter’s home. One evening we were talking about depression and stress. The reason it came up is that Kate is learning to live a good life with depression. At the time, I was struggling with a hormone disorder and the stress of four years of caregiving had gotten me down.

We shared with each other what we individually do to relieve stress and take care of ourselves; how we treat ourselves with compassion so that we manage better. It was interesting that we had some things in common, but we also had different things on our lists.

This article isn’t about managing stress or overcoming depression. It’s to share some things that have worked for my daughter and me. Whether you have depression or not, if you are parenting then you have stress and some depressing days. It comes with the territory. I thought you might like to see what we do and if you feel so inclined, please respond in the comments below because other moms will be interested in what you can add to these lists.

SO HERE GOES

•The number one thing on my list was sleep. I learned the hard way, over a 30-year period, how vital this one thing is. You can read about my experience HERE. 

•Second, I learned the value of taking deep breaths. Taking four deep breaths and then letting them go can help you remain in control when life is going South. This little trick can be done in a traffic jam, when your toddler spills a bag of rice, or when your husband isn’t helping. It does require practice and I am still practicing. : )

•Third, I make time to read. When I was a younger mom, I would stay up till one or two in the morning reading. Of course, you know from point one, that had to stop. I have learned to read in snatches. I keep a basket of books in the bathroom, and I read a few paragraphs each time I go in there. It has been amazing how much I get read in a year, just a few paragraphs at a time.

Because I have no little kids you probably think I would have lots of time to read. Not so. Not even in the bathroom. I live with two adults with bladder issues and four grands whose own bathroom is frequently occupied, and so like you, someone is always knocking on the door. LOL Hence, learning to read in snatches, a few paragraphs at a time.

•Fourth, I have learned to drink water. I have never had a strong sense of thirst and I can become so focused on what I am doing that I will go hours without drinking anything, even during the summer while working outside. I know, crazy. So, I have had to learn to drink water regularly. I know how much I need, and I keep track of what I take in. It makes a huge difference in my attitude and my health.

•Now we come to point five, eat well and regularly. It’s sort of like the water, especially when I had a house full of kids. I would get distracted and forget to eat. That would happen even now if I didn’t have a system for meals. The system is simple – I sit down at the table to eat every meal. It was hard to make myself do this in the beginning. I mean, you can get a lot done while eating a sandwich. LOL But I no longer allow myself to care so little for myself.

•Sixth, give and accept grace and forgiveness. I have learned to forgive myself for not being perfect. For making mistakes. For missing deadlines, appointments, etc. I have learned to give myself grace and to accept the grace of Christ. This one thing has been HUGELY powerful in my life and frankly, has made the most difference.

•Seventh, having an openness to seeing what I need and then responding. I have learned to listen to my body, my heart, and my mind. When I sense a problem in any of those areas, I take time to ponder and I pray to determine what I need to do.

For example, after a disastrous mix-up in my hormone prescription for over half of 2022, I arranged three counseling sessions. The counselor couldn’t reverse the months of suffering from the lack of the correct medication, but she did help me sort out how I felt about it and how I was going to move forward from it. I haven’t done personal counseling before and I never thought I would, but I listened to myself, had a talk with God, and it seemed like the right thing to do. It was!

•Number eight is self-care. I have two very simple self-care rituals. I shower each night. I light a candle and stand under the wonderfully hot water. I say a prayer for someone I know is in need. Then I dry off and lotion my body. I do this almost every night. It calms my soul, helps me think about others, and gives me a chance to breathe and be alone. Being alone is a very hard thing to get when you are parenting or caregiving; and frankly, we all need some alone time!

My Daughters List

•The number one thing on Kate’s list was therapy. She didn’t have the same issues I have had thinking about getting therapy and went for it without feeling broken. It has helped immensely. She needed some guidance as to how to move forward despite her depression and she got it. Don’t be afraid to get counseling, therapy, or mentoring if you are in over your head. It can make a huge difference.

•Number two on Kate’s list was journaling. I was surprised and hadn’t thought of that as self-care. I should have because all those decades ago, when our family was falling apart, I journaled almost every night and it kept me together. There is great value in writing down what is happening in your world and how you are feeling about it.

A little over ten years ago I learned and used another writing activity that was helpful – free writing. When you are angry, sad, depressed, or have wounded or less than feelings, free writing is powerful for healing and forgiving. You sit down alone and write whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be nice, spelled correctly, or what a ‘good girl’ would say. You can let it all spill out. Then you burn it.

You don’t cover another person with your stuff, yet you get it out. Then you set it on fire, and it goes up in smoke. I can attest to how satisfying it feels to see all that ‘stuff’ go up in flames!

•Kate’s, third item was meditation. It hasn’t been on my stress relief list, but it should be. I learned to meditate a little over a decade ago and it is very soothing and helpful. I meditate myself to sleep. No music, just a simple mind practice that works almost 100% of the time. If you, like I did when I began, have negative feelings about meditation or are sure you couldn’t do it, then read the book Eight Minute Meditation by Victor Davich. It was a game-changer for me.

•Fourth on Kate’s list was alone time. I mentioned that I get that in my two self-care rituals. I have never had alone time on my list as its own thing because I don’t make it happen. Kate does. She determines what she needs and then she talks with her husband, and they make it happen together.

This last summer she went on a hiking trip by herself for a week. She camped by a lake and rested her heart, her mind, and her body. I was amazed as that is something I would never have done but she came home a renewed woman.

I have made an effort in the last few years. I have gone to a BnB for three days a couple of times. However, I always break down and call Don and invite him over. The truth is that I allow myself to feel guilty for being by myself. In fact, Don and I were talking about this very thing this week.

I said that a wonderful gift for my birthday, which is coming up, would be to go to a BnB for a few days. I have some writing I would like to do and having no interruptions would be a blessing. At the end of the conversation Don said, “Hmmm, I didn’t hear ‘we’ in there. LOL

Alone time is a great item to have on your stress relief list but keep in mind that you have to make it happen. That is why it isn’t on my list. I have some old habits, that at 73 I am not interested in tackling. We need to be honest about where we are so that we don’t feel like failures or riddled with guilt by putting something on our list that we are not ready to do.

This type of alone time isn’t something I can easily do, so I have different items on my list that work and that I can manage. I do get alone time every day in my shower. : )

•I LOVED the fifth thing on Kate’s list – communication, being willing to ask for help from others. It is a bit like my number seven, listening to your body, heart, and mind. I am very skilled in listening to my body but sometimes you need more.

I am not as practiced in communicating and I freely admit it. Asking for help isn’t something I have done for most of my life and now I have a habit of not asking for help. That is why getting counseling was such a BIG deal.

Lately, I have asked Don for help with things around the house and in caring for my mom. Even more important, I have been willing to accept help when he or my mom offers it. It is a habit to say, “No, I’m good. I can handle it.” Here again, honesty about where we allow ourselves to get stuck is important.

Kate asks for help. She doesn’t consider it a weakness. It is a strength to be able to ask for and accept help from others. I love this item on her list and have decided to add it to my list and work on it more in my own life.

•Her final item, like mine, was self-care. I was impressed by something she said to me. “We have basic needs and then there are the things that ground and rejuvenate us. A lot of women get those mixed up.” She talked about a shower as being a basic need, so by itself, it doesn’t fill the role of self-care. Then she said, “However, mom, when you add a candle and an intentional prayer like you do, then it moves from a basic need to self-care.” She also mentioned shopping alone as a basic need that is often touted as self-care because the mom is alone.

However, as Kate said, if an activity doesn’t ground and rejuvenate you then it isn’t really self-care. If we add sipping your favorite drink and listening to your favorite music to and from the store, well, shopping moves from a basic need to self-care. : )

When considering if she is actually caring for herself, Kate asks this question after an activity – “Do I feel rejuvenated? Did the activity remind me of who I am?”

So, what are some of Kate’s self-care items? You are going to love this list.
she reads self-help books
she likes to sit and doodle with a pen and pencil
she always gets into a perfectly made bed

Let’s dig deeper into the made-bed thing. Kate doesn’t make her bed when she gets up. It doesn’t work for her or her schedule. But when it’s time for bed, she makes it and makes sure it is beautifully done. Then she lights a candle, washes her face, and sits in her beautifully made bed for 10 or 15 minutes before laying down to sleep. She might read one of those self-help books. : ) As she said to me, “Kate is a wife and a mom, but Kate, is also a separate person and I need to do what fills me and grounds me.”

Can you see how Kate moved going to bed from a basic need to self-care? Can you see how I do that with my shower? With a little thought, we can care for ourselves and relieve stress right at home, in very simple ways. We can’t often get away for three days or a week alone by a lake. However, we can find a few things that can be done right where we are and that we can structure so they fill us and ground us.

Hopefully, our lists have been instructional for you, and if you don’t have a clear idea of how to manage the stress and down days in your life, you will work on a list of your own.

When there are a few things you can bring to mind, to do in the moment, it can make all the difference in how you manage your days.

A Story of Classic ‘In the Box’ Thinking

A Story of Classic ‘In the Box’ Thinking

I lived in an apartment before we consolidated into a four-generation home. I loved my apartment except for one thing, there weren’t many electrical outlets, and they didn’t all work well. I know I could have fixed them, but as with most things that don’t cause enough discomfort, I just kept thinking about it.

Because of the outlet situation, I plugged my vacuum into the bathroom outlet, which was down a short hallway from the living room. It was high on the wall by the mirror. It wouldn’t hold the plug tightly and the plug frequently fell out. It was exasperating every time I vacuumed.

By the time I finished, I would be angry at the vacuum and the plug, as if they were living things out to make my life miserable. Occasionally I would yell at them. I was a victim of a home with lousy outlets! When I was ready to vacuum, I sometimes thought about how exasperating it would be. I was bugged before I started. You may be laughing, but I know you can relate!

One day my daughter stopped over and helped with the vacuuming. I noticed she plugged the vacuum into the kitchen, which was also off the living room. I was amazed because it never occurred to me to do that. I had always used the bathroom outlet. Despite being upset over the situation, I was busy and wanted it done so I could get on to the next thing. I never took the time to problem-solve the dilemma. This is an example of classic in the box thinking.

It took an outside view to help me see another alternative. The next day Jodie had a second idea. She showed me that if I wanted to use the bathroom plug, I could wrap the cord around the towel rack hanging just above it, and it would stay in. Imagine two solutions to my problem in two days after years of frustration. Both solutions were simple and doable.

I had gotten into the box when it came to vacuuming. Being frustrated, angry, and feeling like a victim of bad outlets had become a habit for me.

I am sure you are thinking how silly, how foolish to put up with a bothersome situation so long when there were easy solutions right under my nose. You are right, but that is what in the box thinking is…moving down one road filled with ruts and holes and not taking the time to consider other alternatives; feeling put upon, bothered, stuck, or victimized.

I am sharing this old experience because this happens in relationships and in parenting. A child is bugging us, we can’t figure out how to solve a problem in their schooling results, we can’t seem to fix our schedule, the kids won’t do their chores, we haven’t been able to make curfew work or manage the technology in our home, and the list goes on.

We’re all busy and sometimes do not take the time to step back and think out of the box to resolve the issue. It’s easier to put up with things that are bugging us until they become habits and cause real pain. It’s also easier to blame someone or something else, just as I blamed the vacuum cord and the plug. The real problem was easy for my daughter to solve because she wasn’t blaming anything, she wasn’t willing to be frustrated, and she was willing to STOP, look, and see what other options were available. Once we climb outside the box, all sorts of possible solutions emerge.

Thinking out of the box is associated with creativity, it causes us to move in diverging directions, consider a variety of solutions, and not feel like victims.

We all need help to get out of our boxes. We may find that help in a wise neighbor or friend, maybe even a helpful daughter. We might need a counselor or mentor. We can find solutions to issues that are causing us pain.

But we must:

• Realize that there may be a better way if we look.
• Be willing to accept other options when presented.
• Listen to the ideas of others. Sometimes ask your child.
• Get outside help if needed.
• Allow yourself to experiment with new ways of being or engaging with others. If it doesn’t work, there is no failure. Just try another experiment.

When we learn to stop and look at our problems in new ways, we can solve them.

Getting out of the box can lead to better family relationships and peace.

 

Personal Growth When Life Turns Upside Down

Jams and Grahams – a Caregivers Story of Personal Growth

Last week I shared a tremendous story of how my sister maintained her sense of value and happiness and was able to problem-solve effectively during a very stressful experience. Today I want to share one more that is equally amazing. This happened on Christmas day, 2022, so I wanted to share it before we were too far into the new year.

My sister Rozanne’s husband has had two strokes. They have upended their lives. Some days can be very challenging. As she said, “Since the second stroke, it has been six months of ‘adding in and letting go,’ of various expectations, for both of us.”

Christmas was not the same. There were no gifts under the tree they had purchased for each other. It wasn’t something her husband was capable of, and she had been busy taking care of Christmas for her grown family and others she loves and cares about.

Nevertheless, we want to carry on with traditions, so on Christmas morning Rozanne placed a bow on a box of jam that she had purchased for Daryl. He loves jam. She chose not to wrap the box, only adding a bow. At this challenging time, she had been practicing letting go of what had seemed important in the past but that she now knows is unimportant. After all, since her husband’s stroke what was necessary and important had changed a lot.

The box of jam looked lonely sitting there. Then she remembered Daryl had asked his son, Kenny, to buy a box of graham crackers for her, because he knows she loves them. They were in the kitchen cupboard. She went to the kitchen and retrieved the box of crackers and placed them under the tree next to the jam. Into her mind came these words, ‘Jams and Grahams,’ a Caregivers’ Story of Personal Growth. As a full-time caregiver, I can relate to my sister’s experience!

You see, life isn’t static. It changes. Sometimes the change is exciting and pleasurable. Sometimes it requires that we manage our story and in turn how we choose to feel.

The Rest of the Story

My sister could have mourned the changes that Christmas morning, but instead she took charge of the story, and the result was joy, not sorrow. Let me share the rest of the story and you will see what I mean.

Daryl was happy to see two gifts under the tree. He took his bottles of jam and put them in hiding. : ) As my sister walked to the kitchen to put her graham crackers back in the cupboard she noticed that Daryl had taken the bow from his jam package and placed it on her cracker box. My sister said, “The picture in my mind of that sweet gesture, will remain in my thoughts, for the rest of my life.”

This year, choose to suffer less. Choose to remain in control of your stories. Write them in your mind in a way that lifts you, no matter what happens. You are 100% in control of your response to whatever comes your way. You can’t control everything that happens or how others behave, but you can control your response.

Here’s to a ‘Character Building’ New Year full of personal growth.