Focusing on What’s Important This Year

As I looked at the last year and made plans for the new one I came away with a super long list of things I wanted to improve for our family—because now that it’s January 1st we will magically change into this super family with perfect children always wearing matching clothes and smiling all the time.  Everything on our To Do list will be instantly completed.  We’ll be like those families I read blogs about who are building homes for the poor while their 8 year old earns a Bachelors Degree.  Because, you know, it’s January and this all magically happens, right?

But seriously as I looked back at year I saw that there was a lot to be proud of.  We were happy overall–that alone is a huge accomplishment to celebrate.  And we went through some very big life changes–buying a house, my husband’s retirement from the military and start a new job, our family getting settled for somewhat permanent life.  We helped others and had fun together and somewhere along the way my children became more educated.  But I also felt like we were so busy last year but not necessarily getting done what we wanted.  It seems like we were reacting to things instead of being proactive.  Too often we were rushing around and were tired but didn’t always have a lot to show for it.

Too often we were doing things because I thought it was the “right thing.”  Because if I didn’t do it, who would?  Because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.  Because others expected us to.  Because we hadn’t made a better plan.  Because we had waited until the last minute.

I realize as I look back, we need to be more purposeful in choosing how to spend our time, and with that we will hopefully have more time for the things that are truly important.

I was wasting huge amounts of time and then we were rushing to get caught up.  And in agreeing to things maybe I didn’t want to do, I was becoming bitter and overwhelmed.  And my kids were paying the price.

And so, as I go into the new year, I am not making a list of resolutions or outcomes I want, but instead I have made a list of questions to ask myself.  Before committing to something, before I make the family schedule, before choosing how to spend my time, I will ask myself these four questions…


And you notice “Is this good for others?” isn’t on the list.  I of course would like to be a better friend and volunteer in my community even more.  But in this season of my life, when I looked at where we’ve gotten off track, I realized I need to focus less on others and more on my immediate family.  I can’t worry if I’ll hurt someone’s feelings if I can’t go to their event or give their child a ride.  I can’t worry about what others think of me, either in real life or on social media.  And I can’t do things simply because others expect me to do it, even if that means it doesn’t get done.  But the biggest part of all is that I can’t feel guilty for saying this and drawing these boundaries.

I started this a bit at the end of this past year.  Yes it was hard for me.  I know I let some people down and I felt huge amounts of guilt for it.  But in saying “no” to others and “yes” to myself more, I was happier and had more time with my kids.  I’m not saying to become totally selfish or reclusive or walk around hurting people’s feeling, just that it’s okay to focus inward more and outward less, especially when committing time, energy, or finances.

And so as we move into a new year and a new decade and a new page for our family, my goal is to be more purposeful and in doing so hopefully help us to bring more peace AND productivity to our lives.

Car Bucks

If you are traveling this holiday season, you might want to consider bringing some car bucks.  They have definitely brought peace and joy to our car.  🙂

20150512_101611This past summer we went on TWO major road trips, hitting both coasts–I am proud to say that during the course of the summer I drove on the I-10 in every single state it passes through.  All told we visited 15 states (but really Texas should count as like 10 different states since we drove from one end to the other).   And most of it I did alone with the kiddos. Two six-year-olds and a baby can make for a LONG trip.  Trust me.  Enter car bucks…

Car buck tickets

I got the idea on our first trip and we used imaginary ones.   By the second trip, I had my husband design actual “car bucks” for us.  The girls loved them!

So, how do you earn car bucks?

  • Being good during the drive,
  • Helping out when necessary,
  • Passing things back to siblings,
  • Being quick at rest stops,
  • Having good listening skills,
  • Good manners at our stops, etc.

With the baby in the car, my girls earned quite a few by helping keep Colton quiet and happy.  And I’ll admit that I pass the bucks out very freely.  I would rather reward good behavior throughout the trip then have grumps riding with me.  And this gives them more to spend.

Travel tickets

But what do you spend the car bucks on?

  • Buying souvenirs
  • Treats at rest stops
  • Special snacks

    Enjoying a rest stop along the way

    Enjoying a rest stop along the way

These were all things we would buy anyways but this way it was connected to good behavior which helped prevent whining and begging.  The souvenir money wasn’t an arbitrary amount and it allowed the children to practice good financial skills when deciding how to spend their money.  But don’t feel like you have to do a $1 to 1 buck ratio.  Make it work for you.

As for the snacks, of course our regular snacks were all free.  I just also picked up some extra special ones.  Like oreo sticks with creme dip (yum!) and the cups of cookies.  (I’m not very health concious on the road.)  The kids loved being able to choose when they could have something special like the cookies.  They tend to know best when they need a little pick me up.

Print on green paper to make them look more like money

Print on green paper to make them look more like money

Download Car Bucks

Car bucks have made our road trips easier.  I hope they help you!


Family Plan for Summertime

It’s summertime.  If you’re anything like me you have big ideas for family fun and projects to get done but before you know it summer has sailed by.  That’s why I loved this idea of my sister’s so much.  (She also came up with the game in the last post which just proves that she provides the best ideas!)

Anyway, last summer she made this chart for her family with spaces for Work, Play, and Learn.  She called a family meeting and then everyone in the family used a different color to write their plans in each category.  Their summer was well-balanced and productive but still a lot of fun.

Summer Chart

We were doing school this summer and the girls would probably blur Work and Learn together so our chart this summer was a little different with Play, Learn, and Projects as our categories.


This is such a quick easy way to focus your summer plans and make sure that everyone is on the same page.  I just think it’s such a great way to organize your summer!

Your Child’s Growing Mind book review

I recently finished reading Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning from Birth to Adolescence by Jane Healy and I can’t recommend it enough to parents.  I’ve said before that I really enjoy reading about brain development but I what I especially liked about this book P1050895was that it wasn’t simply interesting facts but also useful information that you could apply to your children’s lives.  Healy explains clearly what is going on in your child’s brain at different stages and then gives practical ideas to support your child.

This book covered questions I didn’t even know I had–things like when to start music lessons, if counting on the figures is okay, how children learn new words.  But the book deals with far more than skill development.  Healy really focuses on emotional aspects of development.  I felt like the book gives you a huge pat on the back and shows that you aren’t ruining your child’s life but it also gave a huge list of ideas to help your child be successful in life.

Many books have lists of milestones or what your child should do at each age but these can simply become a checklist making it seem like every child should be able to do the same thing on the same day.  Here Healy explains more about what the brain is capable of at each stage.  She offers very broad ranges and tends to explain things more in the form of “By age six most children can…”  I felt like the book helped me to have realistic expectations for my children. And I really liked how Healy is able to deal with all different ends of the spectrum.  She addresses everyone from average children to gifted children to different learners.  I say different learners because Healy often points out strengths (and even causes sometimes) when discussing learning disabilities or delays.

backpackWhile I think all parents can benefit from this book, and those with little ones might be more drawn to it, I would especially recommend it to those whose children are getting ready to start school.  Having been in education for 30 years, Healy does a fabulous job explaining what you should expect from your school.  She explains what good schools do and recommends how you can go about getting the best for your child.  She offers tips for helping with homework, talking to teachers, studying with your child, and advocating for your student.  Even if you are schooling at home, like we are, the sections on schools will be useful.  When she says what to look for in a school or teacher, I just applied that to our own home and what we should be incorporating.  This truly is a book for everyone.

Brain TVI also appreciate the way Healy deals with technology.  She definitely discourages overuse and explains why.  For example, babies’ brains need live speakers and don’t process the electronic sounds the same way.  But she also makes suggestions for when to use technology and how to get the most of it.  She points out that math programs for early grades can be bad because it’s important to learn the concepts not just memorize the answers but software for older children can be great because it allows them to practice real world skills.

The first part of the book is all about brain development.  Recently I was at the park with the girls and while watching all the kids play I could actually see things she had described in the book.  The later parts of the book all deal with practical applications, specific things you can do based on the science.  While I must read a book front to back or it drives me crazy, this really is one book where you could jump to the section you want.  Just don’t tell me.

Alright, I now feel like I am president of the Jane Healy fan club.   I will stop singing her praises.  I just really think this is one parenting/development book that many, many people can appreciate.

Our Big Move

We recently moved a few states over due to military orders.  I would love to say that things went perfectly and I have a whole list of tips and tricks to share, but the truth is there is a lot that I would do better or completely differently next time.  Sometimes I felt like I was clutching my seat waiting until it was over.  But our most important goal–making the move a positive experience for our daughters and not scarring them for life–was one that we actually got right.  Well, I think so.  I hope so.

The trucks arriving with the crates filled with all of our belongings.

The trucks arriving with the crates filled with all of our belongings.

When one of our girls ended up in the hospital during the move, we were able to see just how well we had prepared them to deal with this difficult time.  For whatever it’s worth, here is what we tried to do and how it worked out.

Stay positive and get excited. 

I had lived in our last city for over 15 years so moving anywhere would have been hard for me.  But we tried to stay upbeat with our girls.  In fact, when our original orders to North Dakota were cancelled they started crying and wailing, “But I want to go to North Dakota!”
We also went online and looked at pictures and places around our new town to have something to look forward to.

Warn them about what is coming.

We looked at a calendar many times throughout the process and talked about each thing that would happen. After the packers had been to the house, my husband warned the girls that it would “look different and maybe scary but it was just our stuff in boxes.”

Surprising their Nanny by hiding in the packing materials.

Surprising their Nanny by hiding in the packing materials.

Keep them involved.

It’s easy to find jobs for even the littlest helper.  They can pack or unpack their stuffed animals or toys.  We had the girls go through their toys and choose items to donate ahead of time.  We also had them set things on the counter while we unpacked and collect the packing paper after we were done.

Focus on the family.

We tried very hard to make this a family adventure.  This was an exciting time for the four of us to stick together.  When things went awry, such as when we were forced to sleep in our car because bad weather had filled every single hotel in town, the girls just considered it one more adventure.  And they learned that we stick together no matter what.

Our brave patient with her best buddy

Our brave patient with her best buddy

This lesson paid off big time when our daughter ended up in the hospital from a blood disorder.  Riding in the ambulance was just another adventure in her mind (she asked if we could take a picture of her) and there was no question that all four of us would be staying at the hospital together.  It was a Thanksgiving we will never forget!

Have fun!

This is a stressful time for any family–well, it was for ours–but you can still have fun.  It’s part of your family history so make some memories.

A proud Zoe poses next to the R2D2 they created while her sister is inside the robot.

A proud Zoe poses next to the R2D2 they created while her sister is inside the robot.

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