Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Giving Everyone a Say in the Family Vacation

Here's a good idea from the blog of Doug Boude (Rhymes with Loud): Involve your children in planning the family vacation.

His family recently went to the beach in an effort to promote family unity. While there are always some things the parents need to decide - such as how much to spend and perhaps where to go - it helps to involve the children in decision-making as much as possible.

Doug went a long way toward promoting family harmony during the vacation by having a pre-vacation family meeting. This achieved two ends:
  • It gave the children a chance to reach a decision about some things before they pulled out of the drive.
  • It gave the parents a chance to outline the trip rules.

We're going on vacation soon, and I'm definitely giving the pre-vacation family meeting a try.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tuesday Quick Tip: Tea Time

Yesterday was Family Day - a day dedicated to encouraging families to have meals together. I hope you took the time to have a family dinner yesterday, but if you didn't, no biggie - just plan on eating together as a family tonight. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be together!

But I'd like to look at another fine tradition we've lost over time, particularly in America: Tea time.

I don't do this every day or week, or even every month, but every now and then, we all sit down before dinner and have a nice cup of tea, sometimes with a few cookies or lite snacks. While a fruity herbal tea is a great option for children or anyone who doesn't drink caffeine, Little Bit won't drink anything hot, so she has milk, water or juice instead.

Sometimes, I even break out a real teapot and our wedding china.

We sit down in the living room and enjoy a nice cup of tea and chat about our day in a civilized way. Hubby and I almost feel like real adults, and what child doesn't love a tea party? You could even use your child's tea cups if you want to add a bit of zing.

It's a fun, easy way to slow down, enjoy each other's company, and the snack is particularly nice if dinner's going to be awhile. Some even say the practice of tea time contribute to world peace - you may find it increases the peace in your home as well.

Tea can be made in the microwave, of course. But using the more traditional preparation adds a touch of elegance and relaxation to tea time.

For more on why tea time is a great idea for families and tips for preparing tea properly, read this essay by Karen Deuschle, a mother and nurse, on Old Fashioned Living.

If you don't like the idea of tea, think about adding a healthy late afternoon snack, perhaps cut vegetables, salad or soup, as a way to help hungry family members 'make it' until the adults can prepare a healthy sit-down dinner.
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Five Fun Family Things to Do on a Week Night

I had a tough day at work. A really tough day. It started out with five threatening emails from Germany, the senders of which apparently did not realize that there's a huge time difference between their country and the U.S. They didn't have a leg to stand on, but nobody tries to work things out in a decent manner anymore. They just jump straight to the threats.

It was actually an easily solved problem, but it set a nasty day tone for the day, apparently, since everyone I dealt with afterwards had something hateful or snide to say.

Frankly, by the end of the day, I felt a bit beat up. So, Hubby and I agreed we'd all do something fun tonight. And since I work from the home, I desperately needed to get out of the house.

The question was: What to do?

Recently, our favorite weekday past time has been swimming at a local outdoor pool. It's awesome - the pool is huge and we can all sort of float around aimlessly watching the blue sky and white clouds.

Since it's 96 degrees here, that appealed to us, but alas, the pool closed weeks ago. We wanted to swim at the indoor pool, but it was only open for lane swimmers and classes tonight.

As it turned out, pretty much everything was closed: The amusement park, the zoo, the museums. There are tons of ways to spend your evenings in the summer. But when summer ends, so, for some reason, does the fun.

I understand there's not a lot of demand for weekday family fun during the school year. Children need to go to bed early. There's homework. And of course, there's not as much daylight.

But sometimes, you need to have some a good time and forget your day. You need to break out of your routine. You need a mini-vacation, preferably away from your house.

In the past, we'd probably went for ice cream. But I'm on Weight Watchers now, so I thought it'd be best if we avoided food as the main attraction.

We brainstormed our options and here's what we came up with:
  1. Go to Gattiland, or Chuck E. Cheese, or any restaurant with a fun zone where you and the kids can grab pizza and a few laughs. This is what we did. I had a nap while Little Bit and Hubby knocked out a level on Star Wars Legos, then we all headed for the pizza buffet at Gattiland's. Afterwards, we spent $5 and had an hour's worth of fun trying the arcade equivalent of Dance, Dance Revolution, throwing balls, playing air hockey, trying skee-ball and riding an indoor Merry-Go-Round. Hint: If you watch the inside, you actually get more dizzy than if you look outside the Merry-Go-Round.
  2. Live near a city? Go for a horse-drawn carriage. Hubby checked - they run all the time in our downtown. Alternatively, you can visit a park and swing or bring your bikes and go for a ride. If you're in the country, go fishing. I loved fishing in the evenings when I was a kid and nothing erases the day like throwing a few lines after dinner.
  3. Head outside after dark with some hot chocolate and check out the stars. You don't need a telescope - in fact, my daughter hates our telescope. Binoculars are actually a much more kid-friendly way to view stars and work just as well, if not better, than a telescope. There's also the old-fashioned star-gazing, where you just point out constellations with your finger.
  4. Go to a movie. Why not? Some theaters even have discounts during the week.
  5. Go bowling. For some reason, bowling alleys are open weeknights. I know it's impossible to get a lane on league night, but often you can grab a lane right after work and bowl a few games before the league players even show up. For children, bowling alleys will usually put up lane bumpers, so the game's not quite so frustrating.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Better Way to Make Family Goals

I read a lot of self-help and advice books. Stuff about money, organization, goals and so forth. I guess it's sort of a sick hobby.

There are tons of interesting ideas that pique my interest. And I try most of them, but by and large, the recommended actions are very hard to sustain.

But very rarely, I'll read a book and think, "Wow. I can do this. This is really going to change how I live my life."

I happen to be reading such a book now: Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want NOW! by Stephen M. Shapiro.

I admit it: I'm what Shapiro calls a Goalaholic. You just have to read the December/January entries in this blog to see that. But like most goalaholics, I never reach most of my goals. Some, certainly, particularly the career goals, but no where near most, and particularly not those involving my family. It's very frustrating, ugly cycle. You don't make a goal, you beat yourself up and you set the goal again.

Living your life through goals is also a good way to miss the best in life, Shapiro argues. Even if you achieve your goals, you can miss out on things that you actually wanted more - for instance, he was so focused on career success, he missed the fact his marriage was falling apart. And once the marriage was gone, he knew he'd rather have had the marriage than the great career goal - which he did achieve, by the way.

So, if you don't set goals, what do you do? How do you make sure you don't drift aimlessly through life, accomplishing nothing but an encyclopedic knowledge of sitcoms?

You use a compass, not a map, as Shapiro puts it. This means instead of goals, you set a direction, a theme, if you will. And you change it - as needed, but certainly yearly.

Setting a theme helps guide your decisions in all areas of your life and challenges you to bring more into your life of what you want.

The book offers some examples of themes that various people have used for a year or for their lives:
  • Shapiro's overarching map is "to make a massive and visible impact in the world." One year, his theme was flexibility - which meant creating a lifestyle that let him follow different paths. Another year, the theme was platform, meaning a place to express himself - he wrote this book.
  • Mark Grossman's overarching compass has been to be part of something bigger than himself, but to be true to himself.
  • Another couple followed the following themes: Year of Exploration (She decided to explore her potential as a writer and started a book); the Year of Adventure and the Year of Lightness, (for some calm time, after the year her book was published).
Shapiro explains how you can do this as an individual, but I think the theme idea would work wonders for family. And the idea of setting a compass - an overarching direction - for a family just strikes me as brilliant.

I'll post later with a few ideas on how this could be applied specifically to build family identity and bonding.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It Be National Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Ahoy, Me Hearties. It be National Talk like a Pirate Day. It be a grand, grand idear for yer parents and ye little mateys to be bonding over de dinner table by talking like a pirate. Aye, that sure beats da plank.

Avast! Read up on these fine, fine tips for talking more like a matey and less like the landlubber ye be! Dinner be a grand, grand time for trying out ye new lingo, yer sprogs.

And whilst yer at it, ye be thanking Dave Barry for the idear. Yer can also learn more on about.com, which doth offer links to pirate and wench clothing.

It be a dinner the likes of which yer'll never forget!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where Can Kids Eat Free?

If you like free food - and who doesn't? - then check out the budding website, KidsEat4Free.com.

Right now, it's restricted to Louisville, Kentucky, but they are taking restaurant submissions from across the nation and hope to quickly grow the site to include other communities. If you know of a local (to you) restaurant that lets children eat free, you can help by clicking on "Recommend a Restaurant" on the left hand nav bar, and filling out the form.

Hey - family dinners are great for bonding and for - I kid you not - keeping your children off drugs. Nobody said these meals had to be cooked or served at home!

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Quick Tip: The Evening Stroll

Fall's easing into my home state, Kentucky. For my money, there is no better time to live here. Gone are the oppressive heat and humidity of summer, replaced by clear air that crackles with energy. The trees are nearly magical in their beauty, caught between the silver greens of summer and the early yellows of autumn.

With the temperature a pleasant 75-85, it's perfect weather for an evening stroll. We've always had plans to make an evening walk part of our routine, but struggled with it. Since I often work late, I usually nap as soon as my husband comes home. Then there's dinner, clean up, exhausted TV watching and, finally, baths and bed for everyone else, work for me.

But that's changed recently. My daughter has finally gotten up the nerve to hop on her bicycle - she was a strictly Big Wheel kid previously. As children will do when they're learning a new skill, she's a bit obsessive about getting out on her bicycle. So every night, we're outside, walking or, in my husband's case, slowly pedaling his bike, while she confidently rides all over the neighborhood.

We're not alone. Since summer's heat has subsided, the neighborhood is alive with families pushing strollers, bicycling with little ones, and fathers and sons tossing footballs.

It's fantastic. I know an evening family walk isn't the most original of bonding ideas - but I think it's also one of those things we realize we could do, but don't do.

It doesn't have to be long. Even a 15 minute outing will increase your health, raise your family happiness quota and remind you of why it's good to be alive. My guess is, once you try it, you'll find it's hard to go back inside.

If you're having a hard time starting the habit, dedicate one week to trying it. My guess is, after that one week, you may be surprised to find you've created a habit your child won't let you forget.

And if that doesn't work, I ran across this Zen Habits post, "Engineer Life: Set Up Habit Changes So It’s Hard to Fail." The writer points out that to change a habit, you need to do four things:
  1. Increase positive feedback for the habit you want to form.
  2. Decrease positive feedback for what you're doing instead.
  3. Decrease negative feedback for the new habit.
  4. Increase negative feedback for the old habit.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Carnival of Family Life

If you've never checked out a blogging carnival, you'll be pleasantly surprised. I submitted a recent post on playing with your child and it's included in this week's Carnival of Family Life, hosted by Mother Approves.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fun Blog, Good Advice

Not long ago I stumbled across a relatively new blog, Millionaire Mommy Next Door. She uses treasure maps as a means of growing her money, which sound kooky, but I've used it and find it's a very effective tool for bringing money or whatever into your life. I make no claims as to understanding how it works - I suspect it's because it focuses your brain to look for opportunities, but some people view it as a form of prayer.

Anyway, I wanted to point out an excellent post titled "How to Make Money Management a Family Affair." The title is a bit too broad, since it doesn't really talk about getting the whole family involved in financial decisions so much as it focuses on teaching your child about money.

She mentions you can make a five-year-old a millionaire by 65 with a one time contribution of $9875 OR a monthly contribution of only $57. She provides a link, which also says you can achieve it with a $98 monthly contribution through age 18.

Right now, I put aside $30 a month for a college fund. Not enough, probably, but it should be about $7200 by the time she goes to college, at 8 percent. I'd love to make my child a millionaire, but I also would love to retire. So, maybe I'll focus more on the other tips so she can make her own million!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Crazy Cost of Family Health Insurance

Did you know premiums for family health coverage have increased 78 percent since 2001?

By comparison, wages rose 19 percent and the inflation rate was 'only' 17 percent, according to this Columbus Business First article.

No wonder my husband's pay raises never seem to result in more money for us. I know it's the insurance, too, because my husband gets his pay increase in March and a cost of living adjust in January. However - the insurance plan doesn't change until July. This year, it ate up his entire pay raise, plus a three percent a cost of living adjust - and then some. Not only that - but our co-pays went up!

The article also included this cheering statistic:
Workers on average now contribute an average of about $3,281, or 27 percent, of their paychecks for a family plan.

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How Parents Benefit from Pretend Play


I hate playing pretend with my daughter.

Yes, th guilt is unbearable, but so is the mind-numbing boredom that comes from trying to make a plastic seal talk to a plastic leopard for an hour. Or making up games for the My Little Ponies to play together, preferably while staying within the confines of your easy chair.

I'm much more of a talker. Occasionally, we'll play ponies and my pony will play by asking her pony what she learned at preschool. She saw through this ruse immediately.

"No!Talk about something that's not real!" She commanded.

Did I mention she's also very bossy when we play pretend?

After talking with other moms and learning that, yes, they too hate these games and avoid them at all time, I decided to give myself a break. After all, I read to her, I take her places, we watch movies together; heck, I even like playing with playdough.

So, who can blame me for avoiding this one particular mode of interacting with my child?

It turns out there is someone who blames me: Little Bit. Not a day goes by - not even an hour - that she doesn't lobby for me to play dolls, ponies, or animals with her. She can spend the whole day at a park, playing with other children, and still look at me with those big browns and say, "Will you play with me during bath time?"

'Why can't we just talk during bath,' I wondered as I pulled out the bucket of bath Barbies and miscellaneous water toys.

That's it hit me: I connect to the people I love by talking. But she connects to me and other people she loves by playing.

Playing isn't just a way for her to entertain herself and have fun. It's her way of reaching out and bonding.

I realized that if I want us to have a healthy mother/daughter relationship, with lots of great mother/daughter talks, chats and bonding, then I needed to respect her need to play with me.

So for the next hour, I happily sat and played the role of a talking baby seal, whose owner is a Barbie mermaid. And for once, I was happy to do it.

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Plans Gone Awry

Since I'm thinking about a five year plan for our family, I reviewed some of my early posts on New Year's resolutions. I have to say, I didn't get very far with them. For instance, I said I wanted to have Soup Sundays and invite in family and friends to dine with us.

I'm sure I wanted to do it at the time. And then we got the flu. And then spring came. And now, I can't imagine why I'd want to tie up myself to my house on Sundays when I could be outside doing something fun!

I also said I wanted us to volunteer and be more active in the community. To some extent, I tried this by volunteering more at our church - with disastrous results. (We're looking for a new church.) Otherwise, we never started volunteering - though I did make efforts to do so. It seems people aren't eager to have a four year old join their volunteer squad. So, that had to wait.

As I start the strategic plan for our family, it's going to be important to remember the idea isn't to create more goals. The point is to create a mission or values statement that will guide our day-to-day and year-to-year choices. That may lead to new action plans and goals may ensure, but the trick is: Goals can change and action plans can fail. A mission statement - which I translate as having an idea of where you want to go and what your values are - should be a more enduring statement of direction.

I think that's part of the reason I didn't achieve many of my resolutions: I didn't have a clear direction, except to spend more time with family and friends. Plus, I didn't ask Hubby to participate in the process. So, while the resolutions are fine in and of themselves, they couldn't stand up to competing interests that better reflect what I wanted to do - or even needed to do - with my life.

Sure I want to see friends and family. And Soup Sundays would be a great way to do that. But it's only one way, and when I really examine it, it's not particularly fun or effective and it actually would compete with other, more important goals - like spending more time with my immediate family and taking care of my own health.

While I haven't had a lot of success with resolutions, my family and I have had success with strategic planning. That's because strategic planning starts with the most important thing first: Define your purpose.

Here are some free online resources we'll be using as we begin this process:
Family Goal Setting: Ready, Aim, Achieve!
Setting Goals: You Can Achieve Any Dream You Desire
Dr. Phil's Five Factors for a Phenomenal Family (good fodder for what to cover and how to achieve your goals)

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Monday, September 10, 2007

What Will the Next Five Years Bring for our Family?

I am a long-range planner. Every since middle school - at least - I've had a four to five year plan. What do I need to do to graduate high school. What do I need to do to graduate college in four years. Where will my husband and I be when he finishes the Navy in four years. Let's have a house and child within five years.

What can I say? Hubby and I are both strategic thinkers. Plus, we knew what we valued.

Until now.

The truth is, I had a five year plan. I planned to have another child and continue freelancing and working from home until said child turned five, by which time, I planned to have another plan.

But the thing is, you can't plan everything in life. And last year, my five year plan fell apart after a miscarriage. The second child didn't come. And now, we aren't sure it ever will.

And so, for the past year, we've been floating through life, status quo, with no real objectives. We've spent more money than we should on I don't even know what. I've started a job again, but I've no idea if I want to continue to freelance when my Little Bit goes to school full time next year. We have no savings goals, no long-term plans and even our values are confused.

  • Do we want to raise our daughter in the country - where I was raised - or city - where we live now?
  • Do we want to be nearer my parents?
  • Do we want a bigger house in a different location? Or should we stay here and invest more in this house?
  • Does my husband want to pursue a new career path or stay put?
  • Do I want to homeschool? Should we put Little Bit in private school? Would that be worth the financial sacrifices - and the long-range impact on our savings?
  • Do we want or need to relocate to another state? Country?
  • Do we want to live frugally and save? Or do we want to not worry about it and just enjoy life with our little one, even if it means adding a bit of debt for a camper and truck?
  • Do I want to be a teacher so I can have summers off with my child and a retirement plan? Do I want to go to work full time? Do I want to continue writing? Study law? Get a master's degree? Start a family business?

I just have tons of questions, and no answers right now.

I keep trying to accept that this is a time for reflection and chaos. A time to wait. But that's darn hard, especially when you consider how short five years is. I mean, within five years, we'll have a budding pre-teen on our hands who may not want to go camping with us. We'll be getting too close to my husband's retirement to consider a change. We'll be five years older, and if we're not careful and clear-headed, no farther along financially or professionally than we are now.

How do you solve this kind of dilemma? How do you pull yourself together and find a new direction when all your plans changed suddenly, and without your permission? Especially when life keeps throwing your family curve balls.

In the old days, hubby and I would sit down and hold a series of meetings. We'd used Deming's TQM method to identify our long-term goals. We'd take a few nights and hash out our feelings, thoughts and values. I kid you not. It sounds crazy, but it worked for us, because then we had a long-term plan to guide our decisions.

True, at the beginning of this year I did outline resolutions for this year: Build Family Identity, Show the Love, Become a Healthy Family, Widen Our Family Circle, Be Financially Responsible, Create a Family-Friendly Home. But, those resolutions didn't have specifics. And, they still leave a lot of unanswered questions, such as: How do we want to widen our family circle? How do we build family identity? And what does financially responsible mean beyond no debt?

Right now, my family is so caught up in day-to-day survival (eat, clean, run errands, work, sleep), when we do sit down - we have no idea where to start. All my husband can contribute is, "I'm tired," because he is and he's busy at work and home, and neither of us have time to even think about what we want, much less think about where our family is headed.

And if we do get started, we're quickly interrupted. And repeatedly.

The truth is, there's never a good time for long-range planning - which is why you have to schedule it. When our family didn't include a child, this was much easier than it is now.

I'm thinking we might need to take a weekend and go away to do some long-term soul searching and planning.

I'm going to search for some help on long-range planning for families. I'll report back on my findings.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Family Therapy Helpful for Bulimic Teens

If you've ever been to therapy - and particularly if you've ever had weight issues - you probably won't be surprised by a recent study, reported by Reuters, that found family therapy is more effective than solo therapy for helping teenagers abstain from binging and purging.

I know I wasn't.

I love my family, but no one can drive me to overeat quite like they can.

Sadly, this is the first time U.S. researchers have evaluated treatment plans for bulimia nervosa in teens. The family-based therapy was broken into three phases:
Phase one: Patients and parents meet weekly for a therapist tot ry to help the parents stop their children from engaging in binging and purging. This phase lasts 2-3 months, according to the article.
Phase two: Begins only after success with stage one. In this stage, the family meets with a therapist every other week and the goal is to put give control over 'eating issues' back to the teen.
Phase three: Therapy is moved to once a month and they attempt to address how the eating disorder affects development processes.

The results beat solo therapy: Thirty-nine percent of the 41 patients in family-based therapy were completely abstaining from bulimic behavior, according to the story. Only 18 percent of the 39 bulimics who tried solo therapy had stopped binging and purging.

This family-based approach, called the Maudlsey approach, has also been used effectively to treat anorexia. You can find therapists who specialize in this approach online at Maudsleyparents.org.

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