Simple Joys
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This past week, we were blessed to have my 2 ½ year old grand-daughter staying at our house. We visited parks, played at the pool, colored pictures and discovered that life is filled with countless simple pleasures. As adults, we often allow our worries, cares, hurts and disappointments to muddy the waters, and we easily lose sight of the fact that there are many reasons to smile. So let’s revisit some of our childhood cheerfulness and take a few cues from these little ones.

Life lessons from a two year old:

  • Take time to see (and I mean really see) God’s creation – the magnificence of a flower, the wonder of a bug, the fun designs in fluffy clouds.
  • Smile often. Smile big. Allow yourself to be happy. Bring joy to others, by giving them the gift of your smile.
  • Cry when you are sad. We all need to release our tears and grieve at times.
  • Do a happy dance now and then.
  • Forgive quickly and completely and move on.
  • Make new friends where ever you go.
  • Be truly happy to see others and hug them like you mean it.
  • Use your imagination. Allow yourself to be creative. Dream big dreams. Keep hope alive in your heart.
  • Play. Find something you enjoy (a sport, a hobby, an activity) and do it with gusto.
  • Remember, the best activities are the simple ones. Collecting leaves on a walk, making pretend pancakes at the park, reading Green Eggs and Ham (again), playing “House” under the kitchen table, making a fort out of a large box, all remind us that we don’t need a lot of elaborate or expensive things to experience joy in life.
  • Love well and laugh often – the best lesson of all!

 

End of Summer Kitchen Fun
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How did summer zoom by so quickly? You may be ready for summer to be over, or you may be sad that the school year is about to start. Either way, try to make the best of the last few days of freedom before the routine begins. Here are a few fun ideas you can do with your kids in the kitchen:

Flower Face Sandwiches

Bread

Favorite sandwich ingredients

Flower shaped cookie cutters

Celery or Zucchini strips

Spanish olives (stuffed with pimento)

Small tomatoes or carrots

Make several of your favorite sandwiches then cut them into floral shapes using your cookie cutter.  Add veggie strips to be the stalks of the flowers.   Create a face on the sandwich using sliced olives, tomatoes and/or carrots.

 

Ice Cream flower pots

            4 – 6 Small Clay flower pots (thoroughly washed)

1 gallon Vanilla or Chocolate Ice Cream

2 cups Chocolate cookie crumbs

Gummy Worms (optional)

4 – 6 Plastic flowers

Soften ice cream.   Line bottom of pots with wax paper or foil.  Pour softened ice cream into pots (adding gummy worms if desired).  Cover top of ice cream with cookie crumbs.  Stick one plastic flower in the top of each pot.   Place ice cream flower pots in freezer for several hours.

 

Breakfast Pizza

            2 cans crescent rolls

1 – 2 lbs sausage

6 – 8 eggs

Shredded cheese (your family’s favorite)

Pre-heat oven to temperature on the crescent rolls can.  Smooth out crescent rolls over an entire cookie sheet, making sure all seams are smoothed together.  Brown sausage, then crumble into small pieces and sprinkle over crust.  Scramble eggs and distribute over crust.  Sprinkle cheese over pizza.  Bake for 16 – 18 minutes or until browned.  Serve with salsa or ketchup.

 

Happy Face Ice Cream Sundaes

            Favorite flavors of ice cream

Variety of Candies and marshmallows

Chocolate or Carmel syrup

Place a large scoop of ice cream in a bowl.  Squirt or drizzle syrup at the top of the scoop to resemble hair.  Place candy or marshmallows to create eyes, nose and mouth.  Allow each family member to create their own.  Vote on the most creative work of art before eating them.

Click Here For Karol’s Back to School Tips

 

Spoon Photo by hue12 photography on Unsplash

Terrific Travel Tips
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When someone asks me to describe my fondest childhood memories, I always respond with the vacations we took as a family.  Some of you share similar fond memories, while some of you have only horror stories as you recollect those times of family togetherness.  Yes, family travels can be terrific or they can be terrifying.   Although often the unforeseen can arise on a vacation, we still have the ability to take any vacation and make it a great vacation.

What makes a terrific vacation?  There are three main ingredients to success. It begins with wise planning.  I know that the best laid plans can (or will) go awry, so the next ingredient for terrific vacations is to remain flexible.  The third ingredient for success is a good attitude.  Honestly, it doesn’t really matter where you go, what you do or what happens along the way, if you have these three ingredients you will most likely have a successful trip.

What?  We don’t need lots of money, first class tickets and a luxury hotel?  No, in fact I know many people that can attest to the fact that extravagance won’t guarantee a good vacation.  The material stuff is not essential.  Even the destination is not all that important.  It’s the preparation, the flexibility and the attitude that make it an enjoyable experience.  Let’s explore how to make it happen.

Wise Planning

Plan, but don’t over schedule. There is a healthy balance.  Do the research ahead of time to find out what is worth doing, seeing and visiting at your destination.  As much as humanly possible, keep the activities age appropriate (Don’t drag a three year old to ancient artifacts museum and avoid taking a teenager to a children’s playground).  Do your homework via books, magazines, friends and internet.  More importantly as your kids get older, assign the research to them.  This will build their excitement about the trip and help them take ownership of the experience.

Using your research, create a list of opportunities, activities and interests that you can do on the trip.  Have each family member circle one or two activities on the list that they especially want to do.  Instead of scheduling every moment of each day, consider going over your list each morning during breakfast and choose one or two activities to do that day.  This system helps you plan around the weather for that day and takes into account how family members are feeling physically (tired, energetic, sickly).

Plan your destination carefully.  I’ve interviewed many families and have heard the good, the bad and the ugly about family vacations.  Two suggestions (or perhaps I should call them warnings) surfaced in my discussions.  One was “Don’t take five kids, stuff them in a car with nothing to do and drive non-stop for six hours.”  This is a prescription for misery for both parents and children whether you are traveling via car or plane.  The other suggestion was, “If you have a wide variance of ages in the family, try to go to a place that has a little something for everyone.”  Let’s tackle both of these warnings with a positive plan.

  1. Make travel time enjoyable. Perhaps the most effective way to make travel time a success (whether you are on the road or in the air) is to prepare a Travel Goody Bag for each child.  This can be a simple bag of goodies which you hand the kids right before you begin the journey.  Customize the bags to your child’s interests and age.  You will want to include a snack and a small drink, a simple game or book, colored pencils or markers, a journal or coloring book or puzzle book, and perhaps a small toy.  For older kids you may want to give them a favorite CD for their player with earphones!

Plan to stop along the way.  Do a little research to find out a good restaurant or park or place of interest along the route.  When it comes to kids, your trip will be much more enjoyable if you offer a few bathroom breaks as well as a chance to stretch their legs.  Certain auto clubs like AAA (www.aaa.com) will help you plan out a trip.

Add some entertainment.  Bring along your DVDs  or ipad to watch movies or listen to music or an audio book. I do think movies or books help the trip go much faster and make the traveling much more enjoyable, but I wouldn’t recommend watching them for the entire journey.  Leave room for interaction or to play games or to talk about the trip itself.  For younger kids you can have a story hour or even bring a puppet for entertainment.

Play a few travel games.  Stimulate the brain and add some family interaction with timeless travel games.  Here are a few to consider

  • ABC Adventure – One family member begins by saying something like, “I’m Anne. I’m driving in an Automobile, and I’m going to Alabama.”  The next person says a name that starts with a B (like Brittany), traveling in something that starts with a B (like a boat) and going to a destination that starts with a B (Bermuda).  On so on throughout the alphabet.
  • I Spy (Magazine Version) – Before the trip tear out pictures from magazines of objects you could possibly see out of the window as you travel (barns, houses, cows, people, planes).  Find 3 or 4 per family member.  Place the pictures face down and allow each person to take several.  When the driver says go, everyone looks at their pictures.  The first person to spy objects that match each of their pictures wins.  You can then scramble the pictures and play again.
  • 20 Questions – You start off saying, “I’m thinking of a place.” A family member responds, “Is it in America?”  Each question demands only a yes or no response.  If you make it through twenty questions and no one had guessed what you are thinking of then you win.  If someone guesses wrong, they are out.  If someone guesses correctly before twenty questions are asked, they become the winner and start a new round.  You can begin with a person, place or thing.
  • Car Trip Sing Along – You may want to bring a sing along tape, or if you are musically talented then you can do it yourself. Start with some of the kids favorites.  Add in familiar songs from church, camp and patriotic songs.  My favorites are:  “Do your Ears Hang Low,”  “This Little Light of Mine,” and “I’ve Got that Joy, Joy, Joy down in my Heart” Of course “99 Bottles of Anything” is not allowed to be sung in our car because we want to maintain our sanity!
  1. Plan destinations where there is something for everyone. In my family, we have two girls, one year apart in age.  It’s easy to entertain both with the same type of agenda and activities.  Not so with a family of three kids ranging in age from 14 to 5.  In the case of wide span of ages and different genders you can find some happy compromises.  Here are a few suggestions from families that found a happy haven for all.
    • The Beach
    • Dude Ranch
    • Family Camp
    • The Mountains

Some family togetherness activities for a range of ages include:

  • Hiking
  • Cooking a Meal Together if you have a kitchen
  • Swimming
  • Walking on the beach
  • Horseback Riding or Biking
  • Puzzles and board games
  • Sea World, Aquariums, Zoos
  • Picnics
  • Some museums and monuments
  • Amusement parks that offer something for everyone
  • Water parks
  • Boat Rides

Flexibility

Every spring break we went to Destin, Florida.  Now our kid’s spring break came earlier than most, so we typically had a few days of sunshine on the beach, and several days of cold and rain.  Needless to say we needed to be fairly flexible in what we do.  We tried to prepare for both possibilities, but it is impossible to know exactly how the week would play out weather-wise.  Instead of moping and complaining that our vacation is no fun, we created fun.

The only thing we can depend on is change.  A change in plan is bound to happen, so we must help our family understand the importance of adjusting.  It helps to take a short moment to acknowledge the disappointment, (“Oh I’m so sorry this didn’t work out.  I know you are disappointed.”) Then begin forming a new plan together.  This is a good opportunity to hone everyone’s ingenuity and problem solving skills.  Here are a few ideas to consider.

In case of bad weather:

  • Check out local indoor amusements, museums and shopping
  • Visit a book store, give everyone a certain amount of money and have them find their own treasure to read
  • Go to a craft store and pick out one craft to do together or individual crafts for everyone
  • Go get ice cream or milk shakes
  • Have a Family Uplift Meeting.  Write down or tell all the qualities you admire about each family member.  You may want to choose one family member each day that you will bless with encouraging words.
  • Complete a puzzle together
  • Go to a movie or rent a movie
  • If you have a kitchen, bake something together like cookies or a pizza
  • Purchase a new board game and play as a family

In case of being stuck at an airport (layover, flight cancellation, etc):

  • Play Card games
  • Play I Spy or some of the travel games listed above
  • Observe People, guess the occupation and destination
  • Watch a movie on your laptop
  • Give each other back rubs
  • Draw pictures with your fingers on the kid’s backs.  See if they can guess what you drew
  • Read a book to the kids
  • Buy a magazine for each child and have a scavenger hunt (find the comics, a high school sports score, a political editorial, a picture of a star and an advice column)

Good Attitude

It may sound trite to say, but the best thing you can pack to bring along for your family vacation is a good attitude.  Before your trip begins it is important to talk about the importance of everyone choosing to be pleasant during the trip.  Whining will not be tolerated.  If the kids have a request or complaint they can share it respectfully, but they may not whine and complain.  You may even want to demonstrate the difference between the two.

One friend gives her kids spending money for each trip, but if they whine or complain they have to give her back a dollar.  I love that idea!  You can imagine it only takes one whining episode for the kids to see that mom means business, and they don’t like having their spending money diminished.  You may find it fun to have a silly symbol that you will do if someone is whining.  My husband used to act like he was playing a mini-violin when I complained about anything.  He said it was the world’s smallest violin playing “My Heart Bleeds for You.”  It always made me laugh and certainly curbed the whining.

Encourage your kids, if they don’t like an activity or situation, to try to think of something they can be thankful for or glad about. Make it into a game – who can find the one thing to be thankful for in this situation?  You may even want to have a reward system for every time your kids smile or say something with a grateful spirit.  We can teach our kids (as well as ourselves) to look for the good, ignore the bad, and work through the challenges.

Happy Travels!

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This blog is an excerpt from Karol’s book, A Positive Plan for More Fun, Less Whining.  Click Here for more details.

 

Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash

Hope in the Dark
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 The world watched with anticipation last week as 12 Thai soccer players and their coach were heroically rescued from the cave which held them captive almost two weeks. The entire story is nothing short of miraculous as the valiant rescuers raced against time to bring each boy and their coach out of the cave and into safety. It certainly tugged on every mother’s heartstring

I couldn’t quit thinking about what it must have been like for the team to be trapped 9 days in darkness as they waited and hoped for help to arrive.

At the time of this writing, we don’t have all the information about those dark days, but we do know they survived by drinking water dripping along the walls of the cave and eating birthday snacks which they had just purchased for one of their teammates. The coach, a former Buddhist monk, led them in mediation which helped to keep them calm.

I started thinking, how would I handle days of complete darkness, not knowing if you would be rescued?  How would I keep hope alive?

We all go through dark days in our lives, whether it is a grim cancer diagnosis or a discouraging job situation or a difficult marriage. Hope may be impossible to see, but that’s the nature of hope. The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers,  “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Although we may not be able to see the outcome, we can trust that God sees our situation. Paul wrote these words of encouragement, “ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  By the power of His Spirit, we can begin to experience abundant hope in the midst of the dark cave, along with joy and peace.

When you find yourself in a dark place, here are three practical principles to help you gain hope:

Stay Calm – The soccer team may have sought peace through meditation, but we can find it through prayer. Prayer is a calming factor because we are bringing our cares to our loving Father and seeking His help, comfort and guidance. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule (referee) your heart.”

Consider What You Do Have – The Thai soccer team didn’t have a banquet of food, but they did have a birthday snacks. They had fresh water trickling down the walls of the cave. In a similar way, we must turn our focus on the provisions God has given us. Let’s take time each day to thank the Lord for His provisions and the helpful people He has placed in our lives.

Ask for Strength – The Bible reminds us that those who wait on the Lord gain new strength. Paul also wrote, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Let us not think that we fight our battles alone. Ask the Lord to give you the strength you need to make it through the night. He gives strength to the weary.

We may not be able to see hope in the midst of our darkness, but we know that God sees our situation no matter how dark the night. Let us say with the psalmist David:

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.

 My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
 O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge.  Psalm 62:5-7

Positive Life Principles for Moms
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As moms, we can easily feel discouraged. Whether it’s endless piles of laundry or potty training or simply trying to get out the door on time, it’s easy to lose sight of hope. How do we pick ourselves up again and keep going? Here are a few life principles to adopt as moms:

Take small steps. Sometimes the big picture can be overwhelming, so let’s learn to take incremental  steps forward and celebrate the little victories along the way. Create a few simple daily goals that are doable and move step by step in a positive direction.

Change the focus.  Life looks pretty bleak if we only focus on our problems. Let’s stop looking at what we can’t do, and consider what we can do. There is always a bright side, but we must be looking for it. Let’s make a deliberate effort to concentrate on what can be done and the possibilities ahead of us.

Be flexible. When we are fixed on only one outcome, we open ourselves up to defeat. Let’s be willing to adapt and adjust to Plan B for the day. Could it be that “B” stands for Better? Considering a variety of scenarios allows us to adjust our goals and broaden our horizon.

Ask Questions. Discouraging situations also bring opportunities for growth and learning. We can ask questions such as, “How can I do better next time?” “What can I learn from this?” “How can I help others as a result of this?” “Are there other people I need to seek out for counsel or help?”

Have patience. Let’s face it, waiting is hard, but if we persevere we will find that we become stronger and more courageous as we wade through deep waters. Victory, success and change take time. Hang in there and remind yourself that most things get better or easier over time. Even if our circumstances seem like they won’t change for a while, the good news is that we can grow and become better in the process.

Most important, let’s remember that we are not alone. There are other moms who have gone through similar tough times. We can reach out to them for advice, and we can find encouragement from their example. We can also find strength and hope in our faith that God will give us the courage we need one day at a time.

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For more on overcoming challenges, check out Karol’s updated version of The Power of a Positive Mom, Including QR codes with video messages from Karol.

Photo by Danilo Batista on Unsplash

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