Establishing goals for the new year

new years

Hello All!

Many people think new year’s resolutions don’t work, and that may be the case for a lot of folks.  However, I think if we reframe our resolutions into goals for our lives, they take on far more importance.  It is easy enough to blow off a resolution a week (or less 🙂 into the new year.  If we have a goal though, it shines like a beacon in the dark to a need in our lives to change something.  Change can provide hope, and hope propels progress.  Humans seem to resist change with a certain degree of fierceness, yet there are things we yearn to alter to make our daily lives better.

For me, if I continued to resist change, I’d never have gotten out of my wheelchair, or lost over 130 pounds.  I feared change, but was desperate enough for a different life to push myself hard to accomplish it.  Now, I can beam with pride, having met and surpassed the challenges I set for myself.  With higher self-esteem, I can do more in my life and for others.  Homeostasis, (no appreciable change) when that place is less than I was designed to be, makes me feel worse, not better.

magical, forest, sensory experiences, children

What goals do your kids have?  How can you help them to reach their goals?  First, modeling is important.  You can share your goals with your kids, and they will watch you progress with those goals. Your observable behavior can inspire them to make good changes in their lives too.

For example, if you wish to stop smoking, quantify your goal by putting this big change in measurable terms.

1)  I will cut down my cigarettes to 1 pack a week by Jan. 31st.

2)  I will cut down my cigarettes to 1/2 pack a week by Feb. 28th.

3)  I will no longer be a smoker by March 31st.

Don’t worry, your kids will keep you honest, and monitor you all their waking hours. They want you alive to dance at their weddings!  They will also be your cheerleaders for change.

If your kid wants to get better grades, this is great, but vague.  Have them sharpen the goal, and keep it positive, putting goals in terms of what they will do versus what they won’t.

Example:  I will improve my history grade from a C to a B next semester by studying an extra two hours each week, and reading my text on time.

Children today have far more homework than their parents’ generation, and many extracurricular activities too.  While goals are very important to moving their lives forward toward adult successes, it is absolutely crucial that they be given free time on a daily basis to play, do nothing, rest, be social, and be children.  The downtime is necessary for learning to take hold, to give them time to ponder all they learn in school and the world, and to dream, and play.

It is essential too, for children’s mental health to not be overburdened with a ton of activities.  Playing gives them freedom to fully be themselves, gain experience with social interactions, and to give free rein to their imaginations.  Without downtime and play, for both adults and kids, life can become a drudgery of necessities.   Then depression sets in, as well as apathy.  They will only be children for so long.

Winter break should stay just that–a serious break for two weeks, to allow them to have the holidays with family and friends.  All of your goals can wait to begin after winter break.  Enjoy this free time with your kids, and make some new memories.  Then, after they go back to school, focus on goals.  Play with your kids.  You need this play and the break as much as they do.  Put your to-do lists down, and let the housework go.  Play a game.  If you have snow, go sledding or make a snowman.  You won’t regret it.

snow day

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Artsy Kid Lit Continued

Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew

Note:  Sorry, I could not upload the picture for this one, as the wordpress uploader is seriously whacked out, and I’ve already spent far too much time doing this book review, and pulled more than enough hair out, figuratively speaking. I know you will understand!  Who hasn’t experienced techno angst, and beat their heads on the desk over glitches that wouldn’t fix themselves? At some point you either have to surrender and leave it, or age while sitting there trying to make it work.

This was my favorite book of all those I reviewed this week.  Katie is a little girl visiting the art museum with her grandmother.  Standing before Monet’s “The Luncheon,” she steps into the painting, inhaling the scent of the flowers.  While inside, she picks a bouquet for her grandma, as it is her birthday, and interacts with the subjects in the painting.  Katie meets Monet’s grandson Jean (pronounced John), and he shows her the artist’s studio where they make their own masterpieces.  There’s a very interesting juxtaposition here, between the fine art paintings and the appearance of Katie and her grandma, making them almost cartoonish to contrast the difference, elevating the status of the art.  When Katie leaves this painting, the flowers have wilted, but she finds another painting to enter, to revive them in a highly creative way.  When she gets into trouble in two different paintings, Katie dives out into the museum to safety.  As Katie moves through Monet, Degas, and Renoir, she has a rich variety of experiences.  For a brief time, she can’t find her way out of one of them until she sees the frame of the next painting in the museum off to the side.  It is the kind of book I’d have enjoyed writing and illustrating, if I’d thought of it first!  Kudos to McClintock for a luxurious tour through the French countryside to meet some of my favorite artists!

Gratefully!

As soon as November begins, I find myself automatically thinking about Thanksgiving, and gratitude.  However, I think of gratitude on more days than not, across the span of the year.  I have so much to be thankful for, and now more than ever!

This last year has been an incredible one for me!  I was in a wheelchair for 17 years, and over the course of the past sixteen months, I’ve gone from a sitting position, to swimming, riding a bike, and in the last three months, competing in 5k walks!  It is nothing short of miraculous!  I did my 2nd 5k walk yesterday.  In two weeks, I’m ratcheting this up to a 10k! disability, recovery, movement, mobility

Also, in 2011, I had gastric bypass surgery (weight loss), and have lost a stunning 134 pounds!  This put my diabetes in remission, got me from 8 medications down to 1, and eliminated my sleep apnea!  I’m in awe of my new mobility, and love to exercise it, and me!

What does my story have to do with parenting?  Well, it is about gratitude.  I know every single day, how blessed I am to be out of the wheelchair and healthy.  I know what a tremendous gift this is!  For me, it is my relationship with God that ultimately healed my spirit, and then my body.

What are you grateful for?  Do you share your appreciation of life with your children?  How better to inspire them to be grateful, than to express your gratitude with them, regularly?  Doing so, you model gratitude for your kids.  It is a habit you can practice, and they will likely imitate you.

talking, sharing, gratitudeGratitude does not require everything in your life to be going well either. It is about selecting the parts of your struggles that you are happy aren’t worse, and recognizing pieces that are improving with time.  Doing this will inevitably help your own emotional well-being too, and show your kids how to dissect a difficulty to find the positive in it. This helps everyone be more resilient when hard things happen in your lives.

Appreciative words can be said in whispers and coos to babies; shared in moments with toddlers; talked about with pre-schoolers (like having a daily ritual of sharing the best parts of the day); and can get more complex with older children.  With little ones, it can be as easy as asking what they liked best about the day.  This is a great time to share how their being in your life enriches you, no matter how old your child is!  For instance, Benjamin Bear’s mother could say, “Benjamin, I just love your smile, and you make me smile every day, both with my mouth and my heart!”

bonding time, sharing, loving, appreciating child, appreciating life

With older kids, gratitude can begin evolving discussions about where these gifts and blessings come from, according to your own faith or belief system.  The shared nuggets of gratefulness can feed into all kinds of wonderful discussions, and even action, such as volunteering in the community.  Adapt the discussion or ritual to the age and comprehension of your child.

Sharing appreciation and gratitude for all you have, is helpful to your child in so many ways.  Here are some examples.  It helps them:

  1.  Focus on positive aspects of their lives.
  2. Connect to you in positive ways, and promotes bonding.
  3. Understand where you are coming from, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally.  (even if they don’t understand these levels of being yet).
  4. Prepares them for a bigger spiritual life.
  5. Connect emotionally to the needs of others.
  6. Feel happier.
  7. Observe things in their world, and sample the worlds of others.
  8. Be more prosocial in their environments (school, church, communities).  Want to help more because they are realizing how fortunate they are, and seeing others don’t always have it as easy.
  9. Experience nature, seeing the beauty in creation, and knowing the best things in life are free (smiles, hugs, rainbows, etc.)
  10. Talking such things over, helps verbal expressions, and leads to higher levels of thinking.

Practicing gratitude, even keeping a journal of what you’re grateful for, not only helps you model it to your children, it helps you keep positive and feel more content and peaceful, even if you’re experiencing difficulties.

kids, volunteering, gratitude

The Sensory Experience of the Forest

When was the last time you took your children camping, particularly in the forest?  I bet many of you did this over the recent summer.  Have you ever thought of the forest in terms of a full-on sensory experience for your kids?  The forest ranks as my second favorite place to be on earth, topped only by the ocean.

There are so many things in forests to appreciate with all of your senses, and even the youngest children can take these in and enjoy them, even if they’re too young to verbalize what they are learning!  Let’s take them sense by sense, in a no non-sense kind of way!

children, experience, forests, visual

Visual:  Point out the vast expanse of skies, at any time of day.  What do they see?  If they’re too young to answer, they can learn by what you verbalize to them.  It is a good time for the youngest to learn the names of colors, whether they are the simple names or the colorful ones that might be found in crayon boxes.  If you have crayons along, you might ask your toddlers and pre-schoolers to pick out the colors that best match the sky at the moment.

For older children, the night sky can be a time to learn about astronomy.  If you don’t know much on the subject, pick up a kid’s book on it at the library, and see if your family can find the Big Dipper, or any other constellation.   During the day, pre-schoolers can look at clouds and imagine what their shapes look like.  There’s no wrong answer!  They will cherish this quality time you’re sharing with them, and who knows, it could foster a life-long love of nature, or even an occupation down the line.  Autumn is a wonderful season to spy brilliant colors.

autumn, fall, forest, visual

Hearing:  Crows, hawks, bluejays, all have varying calling cards.  Can your older kids guess from the sounds, which noise belongs to which bird?  What other noises might you hear in the forest?  The rustling of a deer stepping through the brush?  Frogs croaking in a creek?  In my area of forest, there are free-range cows and some horses, so we’re equally likely to hear mooing or whinnying.  It is a great opportunity for toddlers and pre-schoolers to identify animal sounds and match them to the animal who made them.  What about hearing a stream gurgling?  Can you all find it as a family?  A child in elementary school can learn the proper name for the noises she’s hearing, like whinnying, neighing, and lowing, and learn how to spell these terms.

Tactile:  This is the fancy word for touch.  What can your child touch in the forest, to get a fuller idea of the complexity of this environment?  How about the bark of different trees?  A crayon and paper can be rubbed gently over the bark, to see the differences in various trees.  An older baby can hold a pinecone, a pine needle, or a tuft of grass, while you tell them about it.  A pre-schooler or toddler can lay on their bellies on the grass, and feel its lushness, or wave their arms through a stream.  Older kids can rub their hands across different kinds of rocks, to determine which types are smooth, and which are rough.  If they have cameras of their own, they can take pictures of a range of different rocks, and compare them with a geology book later, to see what they’d found.

Smell:  The forests can be full of different smells that usually are pleasant to the olfactory sense.  Out here in Central Oregon, the juniper trees have a wonderful scent that is like sage but sweeter.  Pine can also have a pungent, great smell.  If there are free-ranging cows in your forest, don’t inhale too much!

Taste:  This one is tougher.  I don’t recommend drinking the water from streams, especially if cows are nearby!  There can be a host of micro-organisms or E-coli in there, that can make you sick.  This is particularly true with young children in tow, whose bodies aren’t ready to fight such things.  But hey, let’s leave the tasting to the delectable meals you can fix while camping or having picnics in the forest.  There’s nothing like the gooey deliciousness of roasted marshmallows.

You don’t have to wait for great weather to have these outings.  You can have autumn picnics!  Or, have a night drive out to see a lunar eclipse, or go star-gazing!  Of course, there’s little as magical as a snowy night in a forest!  Just make sure you have extra blankets, food, water, and chains!  Just in case!  That’s a whole other sensory experience! The coldness, the moon shining on the snow and making it look all sparkly, the pointiness of icicles….and so on!

magical, forest, sensory experiences, children

The Benefits and Costs of Kids and Electronics

There are so many electronic devices for kids in our modern world. What are the benefits and costs of children using them? How much should you allow your kids to engage electronically?

sesame street, electronics

Perhaps an equally important question is: What activities are your children passing up while they are hooked up to the two-dimensional world of the internet, video games, and the rest of the gamut of electronic devices out there?  Are there social opportunities, quality family times, or access to the outdoors, fresh air and exercise, that are missed because your child is mesmerized by the bells and whistles of their devices?

Socrates had a great idea!  Everything in moderation.  Setting time limits on your child’s engagement with their devices, appears to be the best way to strike a healthy balance.  This balance should reflect your child’s age and take into account the time she spends in various pursuits, left to her own devices!  If your daughter or son is entertaining friends, into sports, and has a full life with a number of interests, it is fine to allow more time with the computer, X-box, etc.  However, if you have to drag your child (symbolically, of course) away from the gadgets, a shorter span of time allotted for the electronics is in order.  Instead of having a power struggle with your child about this, set firm time limits on the devices, and stick  to them.  Then, when your kid is widening her world with other activities, it is okay to reward her with small amounts of extra time on her favorite device, or play with her!

girl, cell phone

There are definite advantages to most electronics.  For instance, the Leap Pad is full of learning games, reading, and math options, and will very likely give a child a huge boost on their school work.  (No, I’m not a paid spokesman for the product!)  Video games accelerate hand-eye coordination, mental acuity, and can lengthen attention spans.  Cell phones are potential life-savers if a child is in a dangerous position and needs help.  Having a few devices is also a boon to your child’s social development.  Other kids are likely to have at least one electronic gadget, and if your child doesn’t have any, there’s one less bridge between them.  Video games, cell phones, and other electronics provide a shared activity for kids.  There’s only a problem when kids are too focused on the gadgets, or their plugged-in pursuits include violent or adult themes.

The internet (with appropriate filters) can help with academic work, and expose your child to an enormous amount of information that will expand your child’s intellectual world a thousand-fold, and give your child a cultural passport to anywhere in the planet, or to the galaxies for that matter.

safeguards, kids, internet

Naturally, safeguards have to be put in place, to protect your children from  online predators.  For instance, having the computer in a common area, rather than your child’s bedroom is essential.  Checking the history on the computer, and lettting your child know that you will do this routinely, reduces temptations to meander into forbidden territories.  Teaching your kids what information is okay to share online, and what they should never say there, is crucial.  It is of utmost import though, that you also instruct them to NEVER arrange to meet anyone, without your express permission and accompaniment.  This can save their lives!  This is a topic that should be an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time discussion.

In conclusion, electronic devices can add to our lives, and our children’s lives, but if they too often replace or make us miss real life and precious moments too often, then the gadgets can steal from us.  The devices are representative of a two-dimensional, and frequently smaller world than what can be experienced while we’re unplugged.  How are our habits with electronics either adding to our lives with our children, or taking from them and us?

A Banner Day in Nature!

the art of Linea MeadeToday was incredible for viewing wildlife, a banner day! It surprassed almost every expedition into nature that we’ve ever had!  We journeyed into the forest near Mitchell, Oregon (a favorite), and saw: 380+ black-tailed deer, one wolf, about 6 turkeys, and a herd of at least 150 elk! This is 140 more elk than we’d seen in the entire two years we’ve lived in central Oregon. It was incredible!

There are signs on the road to Redmond, eighteen miles from home, that indicate elk are in the area. We’ve never seen even one!  My other half and I frequently joke when we see that sign, “Oh look at all the elk in here! Have you ever seen so many in your life?” Then we go into detailed descriptions of what they’re wearing in whatever season we’re in when we pass by, or what they’re doing (like fanning themselves, and donning sunglasses in August.)

wildlife, elk, landscapeI learn so much from him about the habits of these creatures.  He was a hunter, so he had to study the habits of deer and elk to have any hope of catching one.  Me, I couldn’t bear to shoot such a beautiful animal, though I do like the taste of venison!

I love to teach kids about nature, but at the same time, I’m reminded of all I don’t yet know.  I learned today that elk with horns that go straight up, are called “spikes.” They are too young to have any prongs on their horns. The spikes are approximately a year old. The more horns a deer or elk has, the older that individual animal is (a year for each prong).  I also learned that “larch” is a kind of tree in our forests here, that changes color in the autumn, while most pine and fir trees do not exchange their green for other colorful adornments.  The larch are now a buttery gold color, and set off the green pines wonderfully.  God is my favorite “exterior designer!”

There are so many different directions nature learning can take. I was thinking of many as we traveled further into the forest lately, especially before and after I blogged about the lessons of the forest.

For instance:

  •  Can your children spot the discolored places on rock formations, that indicate a waterfall used to be there?
  •  Can they see the landscape and notice where the plants and trees change from one area to the next?
  • How many different species of plants and animals can they find in one day trip?
  • What impresses them the most, about the nature they see today?  Why is it impressive to your child?
  • Have them draw, paint, or collage about their day in the outdoors.
  •  What fascinates them about being in nature?
  •  What animals might live in the different holes they spy?
  •  What vegetation do different animals eat?  For older kids, which animals are herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores?
  • How do the animals stay warm during the winter months? Or cool during summer?
  • How far do different animals travel?
  • Can your kids come up with any stories to write, illustrate, and/or tell about animals in the wild?
  • Can they compare the different hides on animals, and see differences? Which animals have coarse hair, which have finer hair?
  • Which animals have built in defenses against predators (skunks for example)?
  • What kind of material lays on the forest floor (pine needles, grasses, etc.) depending on where you are (desert forests, alpine forests, etc.) will likely have different things on the ground.
  • What are the different names of clouds (cirrus, nimbus, etc.)?  What makes the different hues in the sky?

To answer these questions, you can go online with your kids, or if you have any CD’s for the computer, like Compton’s Encyclopedia. You’ll learn new things with your kids, leading to high quality time with them!  Adapt these fun lessons to the age and abilities of your child, and you will enhance their education and their interest in nature. Let me know of any wild expeditions you go on, and where they took place, as well as what you and your kids learned!  Happy discovering!

P.S.  It amazes me when we pull over to see the deer, elk, or any other wildlife, how many people zoom past, never noticing the splendor of our planet.  Do you take the time to notice things in nature with your children?  What do you love to see?

creatures, forest animals, nature, learning

Lessons of the Forest

I’ve lived near forests all my life, but never resided as close as I do now.   I need only travel 10 miles north or east to be in a forest.  I know I’m incredibly close to forests geographically, when I can see deer up this close!  The picture above, I took of a doe in my next door neighbor’s backyard.  We see Bambi’s relatives with great regularity around here, particularly in the autumn.  These creatures are so intelligent, they know hunters can’t shoot them in residential areas or other private property, so that’s where they go! Brilliant!

I never tire of seeing deer.  They are agile, wondrous animals.  In fact, moments before I started this blog, a 5 point trophy buck strolled out of my backyard, and ventured into the neighbor’s leafy shelter.  I’m keeping an eye out to catch another glimpse of Buck when he exits.

Without truly realizing it, I suppose my life-long association with forests, inspired me to write the OTHER tale about three bears.   It wasn’t a conscious decision.  As a Camp Fire girl, I was earning beads in Galena Forest near Lake Tahoe, and later I was a camp counselor there, teaching art and poetry inspired by the surroundings.  There are so many lessons for kids that are entrenched in forestry:

  •  science— all the species of plants and animal life, ecology, the way things grow differently in sunny and shady aspects of the landscape, just for starters!
  • awe of our surroundings, and of creation.
  • healthy respect for animals (staying a distance, knowing how to react if you’re faced with a real wild animal of any size, giving the animal sufficient space to avoid confrontation; and staying far away from cubs because they are not ever far from angry, protective mothers (bears look cuddly and snuggly when they are stuffed, but you don’t want to try to hug a real one!)
  • philosophy—the enormity of a mighty pine or sequoia versus human size; and the question of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, does it still make a sound?”

These are just a few of these lessons.  There are probably hundreds more that I haven’t even thought of yet!  Parents can engage their children of any age, during trips into the forest, to spy as many types of animals and plants as they can.  The older ones can write the species down, or draw what they’ve seen, and share these things with their classmates and friends.

I suppose it just came “naturally” to me to write about the silly antics of bears, as a part of forest life, though I’ve never seen a bear in the wild.  I prefer not to!  I did have an unfortunate confrontation with a mother raccoon, in urban Portland when I stopped to admire her little offspring clambering up a tree.  My dog barked at the mom crouching in the street before dawn, ironically to protect me!  I’d never seen a raccoon baby before, and it was cute!  I learned a lesson, the hard way, outside the forest that night, and had the puncture wounds to prove it! I don’t think raccoons are that especially cute now, not after this mad mama tried to drag my beloved dog off.   A healthy respect for animals is crucial to teach kids, especially after we’ve shown them so many cute and cuddly animals in books and movies.