Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Attitude of Gratitude

So, on the first day of December this year I committed to having an attitude of gratitude for a month which I would share with my Facebook friends each day. I didn't come up with the idea myself. I was inspired by The Mums Lounge "Attitude of Gratitude Photo Challenge" because I have been feeling more grateful lately and because, to be quite frank, I like that it rhymed.

I started off slow. A quick photo and something small in my day that I was thankful for. But, as all good things do, it gathered a momentum of its own and my thankfulness became more significant. 

My attitude actually changed. 

The commitment I made to having to stop each day and think of something to be grateful for, during a very busy time of the year, became my calm. I discovered that I have so much to be grateful for and that I have fallen into the well-known trap of taking my good fortune for granted. This month has reminded me to be extremely grateful for my journey in life. For the lessons I've learned. For the losses. For the gifts. For the growth. For the pain and for the joy. It's EASY to get caught up in the rat-race of life, particularly at Christmas time. It's soooo busy and everyone seems to want a piece of you and I have MANY times spent almost the entire month complaining. But this year, not so much. This year when I have caught myself whingeing about.... whatever, I have stopped and said 'Lucky you Tan, that there is space in your mind for such a silly complaint'. 'Lucky you that you do not live in fear. Lucky you that you do not live in pain. Lucky you that you do not live with loneliness. Lucky you that you do not live in darkness. Lucky you that you do not live in silence. Lucky you, Tan.'

I had planned to post something to be grateful for every day of December, but I stopped a couple of days ago. Not on purpose. I was running out of hours in my days and telling everyone how grateful I am was the first casualty of tasks I didn't have time for. I have still stopped every day though. Stopped and thought and felt lighter. And now, in the quiet aftermath of a marathon family Christmas lunch, I have stopped to think about what I am thankful for. And of course, on days like today, there is so much. Family. Love. Tradition. Giving. Eating. Playing. Fun. Togetherness. Sharing. It's almost a no-brainer but I have something more [yes more!] to be thankful for.

Attitude of Gratitude - Days 21-25 (!)

I am grateful for my friends who came along for the ride with me. All of my friends but especially the friends who are otherwise quiet on Facebook but have showed their support by 'liking' my post. It kept me honest. When I realised how many people were listening, it encouraged me to actually say something.

I am grateful for the friends [who I do not 'see' socially but with whom I share my Facebook life] that took the time to comment on my posts. Friends like Di, Riannon, Crawford, Monique, Josie, Mia and Mandy. When I realised how many people were touched, it encouraged me to dig deeper.

I am grateful for the friends who made a special effort to tell me how my Attitude of Gratitude posts had inspired them. Friends like Alischa, Isabelle, Kalyna and Isabella. When I realised how many people were inspired, it encouraged me to share more of myself.

I am grateful for my friend Polly who took my proverbial hand and travelled down the road of gratitude with me. When I realised I was not alone, it encouraged me to stay on the road.

I am grateful.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

10 CHEAP, screen-free things to do at home these holidays

Many of you would now know that I'm not a fan of kids sitting in front of a screen, of any sort, for any great lengths of time. I'm not entirely anti-screen and my kids actually start most of their days watching some tv or playing on the computer. And, for their own survival, I have many times dumped them in front of a movie or two in the middle of the day so that I can quietly rock in the corner with a glass of wine. I am committed to limiting their screen time though and so have a number of activities at hand in the holidays to help keep them occupied when the screens are off. I find it easier to have an arsenal ready to fire at them when I am under attack from the "I'm bored!" cannon.

Get Ballsy
Pick a ball, any ball, and send them outside to play with it. Play soccer, football, netball, basketball, handball, lawn bowls, totem tennis, ten pin bowling in your driveway or marbles. There's something for every kid to do with a ball. If it's just you and your little one, get out there with them. 

DIY Christmas Tree
We do this one every year and it takes up lots of time. Tick!
1. Search for appropriate 'trees'. We live in a suburb with mature street trees so we often find these on our footpath but if you have a nearby park, why not go for a walk and see what you can find. The boys have become quite picky and know the best options are ones with lots of branches.
2. Paint your tree. I have a whole selection of bright coloured tubes of paint that I've accumulated from Cheap as Chips over the years. They're about $2 per tube and I recommend having a few in your 'craft box' all the time. This year the boys have chosen orange and gold as their colours.

3. Make the decorations. I save the fronts of each year's Christmas cards that the kids cut out the pictures of to put on their trees. We also make garlands out of left over wrapping paper which I measure and rule up and the boys cut 
them out and put them together.

4. Make a tree stand. I have a collection of old bottles which the boys fill up with sand [to weigh it down] and voila - perfect tree stand. Sometimes they decorate these too with ribbon etc. Depends on their mood.

Kill two birds with one stone here... lunch/snacks AND an activity. One time you could make your own pizzas. Have your kids help you set out the ingredients. We've done this many times now so the boys know that we use a packet of mini-pitta breads, a couple of pizza sauce sachets, a bowl of grated mozzarella, ham, salami and capsicum. Pop them in a pre-heated oven and you're done. We also like to do cupcakes together, gingerbread people/aliens and plain old cheese and fruit platter that the boys wash and cut up themselves. 

DIY Christmas decorations
I love this activity. It's quiet. It takes ages. It's extremely cheap. It's excellent for fine motor skills.
1. Get yourself to IKEA and pick up a tub of their coloured plastic beads and a set of their bead plates [the whole lot will cost you less than $15].
2. Think up some nice 'Christmasy' designs and help your little ones by starting the pattern for them.
3. Sit back and have a coffee while they finish off their decorations.

Colouring Pages
This may seem like an obvious one but you'd be surprised how many people forget to bring this one out [especially for boys] I like to get new stock [including books and textas/crayons] at the beginning of every holiday which my boys really appreciate too. We choose the pages they want to do together and I find that if I'm part of the selection process etc, they're far more interested in doing it than if I just set them on their way.

Art School
My kids LOVE this one and we have been doing it from a very young age. Get yourself some large format paper. If you're really stuck, grab a roll of paper from Ikea and cut into suitable lengths. Squirt some of those bright paints I mentioned earlier onto plastic plates and lay out a couple of brushes and some jars of water to rinse with. Our favourite way to do this is to peg up a whole lot of sheets along the fence, but it would be just as much fun on an easel or laid out on the ground or table. I like to give them topics to paint to help stimulate their creative juices. If they're really little you could paint their hands and feet and get them to stamp the paper to make some gorgeous keepsakes.

Waterbomb wars
A packet of these rippers cost about $3. Fill them up, but not too much otherwise they burst too easily and the game's over in no time. I then send the boys outside with a big basket of them of each and the rules are that they are allowed to throw them at each others' FEET as they're running around trying to evade the bombs. This is a big WINNER and lots of summer fun.

Caine's Arcade
I was inspired to introduce this idea to my boys after seeing this video. It's a fantastic activity to get them thinking and it will cost nothing but some old boxes and a couple of rolls of sticky tape. The best part is that after making the game, they want to play it too! More time for coffee and a magazine.

Quiet inside time
I bet you have books, board games, card games, puzzles, lego which you and your kids have probably forgotten about. Sometimes we're all activitied out and just need some quiet time inside. I like to pull out one of these either to  share or for them to do on their own ['cause they get sick of each other and   need space too] It's great when the weather is no good or if they haven't been feeling very well.

Let's play house
This one is my all-time FAVOURITE. My boys are still young enough to not absolutely despise household chores [not long now though]. I get them to help me out and make it like a game. Who can sort the washing into piles the quickest? Who can make their bed the neatest? Who wants to use the vacuum cleaner? Who can make the biggest pile of weeds from the garden? Who can make the best cafe latte? 

Well... baby steps ;)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

We need to talk

"My kid just won't tell me what's going on.."

It's a common complaint of parents to children of all ages today. 

"How was school?"
"What did you do?"

Sometimes that's frustrating. Sometimes that's worrying. Sometimes it's hurtful. Nonetheless, mums and dads everywhere will keep asking those same questions hoping, one day, for a bit of insight.

My kids are really good sharers which I'm sure doesn't surprise you given that their mum IS a blogger and I can't help thinking of an apple tree somewhere. There are other reasons that they share their stories so freely though. We are invested in communication in this family. Good, old-fashioned talking. We do a lot of it. In fact, we have to tell our youngest to STOP talking regularly. 

5 things that we do to encourage sharing are...

1. Dinner time is family time
We eat together as a family almost every night. Phones, iPods, iPads, tv etc are not allowed at the dinner table and the kids are used to chatting. The location is not important either. Our usual dining table, outside under a tree, at a restaurant or fish and chips at the beach. It's the ritual of sharing at dinner time that is important to all of us and very rarely missed. It usually starts with a comment about dinner [loving it or hating it - doesn't matter] and then one of them will ask "Who's starting?". 

2. Highlights and Lovelights
We all get a turn at starting 'highlights' and this is when we share the best parts of our days with each other. We do it every night and if we have guests at our dinner table, we invite them to share too. If I was to be honest, the highlight of my every day is probably hearing 'highlights' at the dinner table - but I'm not allowed to say that. I have to come up with something good that made me happy during that day. Somedays it's hard for all of us but we never let anyone get away with not having at least one highlight. Just recently I added an extra little thing which was everyone to share one thing that happened in their day to make them feel loved or cared for, which the boys have called 'Lovelights'. The kids worked this one out really quickly and are coming up with some really warming moments in their day such as "I felt loved when Mum sat with me on the couch and watched tv with me" and "I felt cared for when my teacher put a bandaid on my knee". 

3. Drive time is chat time
Any time in the car is a perfect opportunity to chat because your audience is captive. We don't do headphones and we don't do movies in the car, even on long road trips. We learn so much about the boys here. Just yesterday while I was driving with my 7 year old I discovered that he's already thinking about the logistics of getting his licence and how he can save up to buy his own car. It was an absolutely fascinating conversation and it gave me great insight into his thought processes.

4. Bedtime is story time
Most nights we are both home to put the kids to bed. Almost always on time and almost always with enough time for a family story. My boys share a room so we can all be in there together to read the story. They get to choose a different book each night and we all take turns to read. Even the little one has a go now too. After stories it's time for the goodnight kisses and a quick reminder of what's on the next day. Sometimes this is when I hear about something they HAVE to bring in to school the next day that I have to pull out of nowhere. Little Stefan often asks me "What do I have to look forward to tomorrow Mum?"

5. Many hands make light work
Wherever and whenever we can, we share the chore workload with the kids. Which means we're weeding together, washing the car together, stacking the dishwasher together, doing the laundry together, washing the windows together and planting the garden together. In my experience this is the best time to learn about something that may be bothering my oldest particularly. I find that if he's distracted I can take the questioning and conversations to places he would not usually feel comfortable with in the 'spotlight' of a one-to-one talk.

The foundation of solid family communication is essential for so many reasons. Harmony. Togetherness. Longevity. Respect. Understanding. 

If you are having trouble getting your kids to open up to you, try any one of my 5 tips. It doesn't matter which one/s you can do. If you're not able to eat as a family at night then come together at bedtime. If that's no good and you're flat out ferrying them from school to care to sports then use the car trips. If you're not already getting your kids to help out at home then pick a task you can share and start there.

The truth is they're all easy and I'm sure that even doing one of them regularly will result in a positive change.