Choosing Gratitude

Happy November everyone! The beginning of November means the start of the holiday season. I really love this time of year and one of the things I love most is that it is a time when I feel myself, my family and so many others making an effort to focus on one of the most powerful emotions we have – Gratitude. Gratitude is not simply an emotional response; it is a choice that we make. And as we enter into the holiday season it seems like the ideal time to share a few reasons why I feel it is so valuable to choose to live with gratitude. I will then provide some simple suggestions to help you incorporate a habit of gratitude into your daily life.

As writer Alexis de Tocqueville beautifully described, gratitude is “a habit of the heart.” Simply stated it is recognizing and appreciating all that you have. It is taking moments to acknowledge and breathe these things in while releasing any focus on things you lack.

Gratitude1One of my favorite reasons for making gratitude a habit is that it is an amazing way to reduce stress. When life’s worries about kids, work, health, our world, etc. start to cause stress, a great way to remedy this is with gratitude. In those stressful moments, if we refocus ourselves on what we have to be grateful for, the positive emotions we feel as we count our blessings will help our relaxation response kick in and calm us down.

A grateful heart helps us to feel content and secure in the life we have. Our consumer culture works to get us to feel like we need the newest or next best thing instead of being content and grateful for what is ours already. When we get caught up in materialism we feel exhausting emotions like insecurity and envy. Gratitude acts as our shield against these depleting feelings. By examining our list of things we are grateful for, so often we will find they are things that money cannot buy, i.e. family, friends or health, so it allows us to reflect on how unimportant material items really are.   Gratitude shifts our focus away from what we are missing in life and allows us to feel fulfilled and happy with what we already have.

Gratitude AffirmationGratitude can help develop resilience.   There are going to be challenging times when things happen that we don’t like or don’t agree with. Choosing to be grateful for these challenges is one of the best ways we can transform these situations and ultimately our lives. By meeting a difficult situation with a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for the opportunity to grow and learn, the negativity will be unable to hold us down for long. This transforms gratitude into a pro-active coping skill that helps us to grow instead of fall-apart in times of stress.

Another important reason to choose to live with gratitude is that it allows us to live more fully in the present moment. Remaining in the present moment can be a difficult thing to do. It is so easy to find ourselves worried about what the future may hold or wrapped up in what we could have done differently in the past. But when we choose to be grateful we automatically bring ourselves into the present moment. We do this by appreciating all that we have right now. Our past Gratitude3becomes something that brought us to all the things we are grateful for today, so there is no need to waste energy on what could have been different. Our future becomes an opportunity to greet whatever blessings or challenges come our way with a grateful heart so there is no need to fear what may be. With gratitude we can settle into the present moment to see and enjoy what is happening right now.

A sense of gratitude is something that can take time to develop and there is no better time than the holidays to devote some extra energy to this practice. Below are some simple ways to encourage appreciation and expand the capacity for gratitude during all times of life.

  1. Find time each day to pause and ask what it is that you are grateful for. You can do this activity on your own by writing the items in a gratitude journal or you can do it with a group by going around the dinner table or taking turns while together in the car and asking everyone to share what they are grateful for.
  2. Try to imagine losing some of the things that you can easily take for granted in life like your home, your refrigerator, the ability to walk or to hear. Then imagine how you would feel to get these things back. Recognize the gratefulness you would feel in that situation and try to feel it for those things now.
  3. Challenge yourself to refrain from complaining or criticizing for a week. When the week is over notice the amount of energy you previously spent on negative thoughts and actions. Move forward enjoying the room you have created for additional positive and grateful thoughts.
  4. If you find yourself in a difficult situation that you are struggling to see the good in, ask yourself, “When I look back on this what will I be grateful for?”
  5. Give yourself at least one compliment daily. Really appreciate that aspect about yourself.
  6. Tell others why you are grateful for them. This is wonderful to do with your kids or your partner. Not only is it another opportunity for you to express gratitude, but it is an opportunity to remind those we love what they have to be grateful for about themselves.

Talking to Your Children about Change

In our post Tuesday we touched on the importance of teaching children to develop a positive attitude towards change. So today, for Slow Down and Share Sunday, we have a quote and some discussion points that can be used to initiate conversation with children about change.

Sunday Quote 6(1)

 For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Sunday Quote 6

  • Share with your child(ren) that palm trees are able to survive hurricane strength winds that can uproot or break other kinds of trees. Ask them to guess why this might be. Then explain that the reason for this is because when powerful winds are blowing palm trees they don’t remain straight up. Instead they are flexible and bend, almost to the ground sometimes, and this is what helps them to survive.
  • Talk to them about about a time you were confronted by change and, like a palm tree, chose to bend instead of break. Try to keep your example basic and at their level of understanding. For instance, with a very young child you could use the idea of going to get ice cream and the store being out of your favorite flavor. Instead of getting mad and throwing a fit and leaving with no ice cream, you instead remained flexible and selected a different flavor so you still got a treat to enjoy. For an older child you might share about being at recess and having your best friend suddenly decide they don’t like to play the game you two usually play together. Instead of getting frustrated about your friend’s opinion or abandoning a game you really loved, you chose to bend a little and tell them you would try a new game for one day if you could return to the game you usually play tomorrow.  Then you ended up trying a new activity you really enjoyed and you still let your friend know it was important to you to play your favorite game another time.
  • Give them some different examples of scenarios where they might experience unexpected change and ask them to share what might happen if they chose to stand stiff and inflexible. You could follow that by asking how they could bend and be flexible in those same scenarios. Examples could be the following; a play date where their friend doesn’t want to play the same things they want, going to a resturant that doesn’t have their favorite food they like to order, finding out they have a substitute or new teacher at school or learning that there were going to be new rules at home.
  • After you talk with your child(ren) about this concept, whenever you feel them getting flustered when confronted by change you can simply remind them “Maybe we should try to bend a little…so we don’t break…just like a palm tree.”

Fall Flavors – Cinnamon Sugar Mini Pumpkin Muffins

Today I have an amazing Fall-inspired recipe to share with you. This treat makes a perfect Friday Favorite because my daughter loves to make muffins and these are currently her most favorite mini muffins to bake. They are simple, absolutely delicious and whenever they are baking in the oven they make your whole house smell wonderfully Fall-filled :-).

She found the recipe for these muffins on one of our favorite food blogs – Sally’s Baking Addiction. Since we did not adapt the recipe at all, please click over to Sally’s site for the list of ingredients and printable version of the recipe.DSC_0900

Learning with Leaves – Fall Butterfly Craft

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The beginning of a new season always provides a wonderful opportunity for me to engage my daughters in discussions about change. I have found that a great way to do this is through fun and age appropriate activities that get us out in nature and talking about all the changes we see around us.

This year, as fall approached, I set out to look for a simple nature craft and came across this Fall Leaves Butterfly Craft here: http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2009/08/fall-butterfly-craft.html. I loved that this craft was easy, adorable and convenient!

Below I have laid out a supplies list and simple step-by-step instructions for completing this craft. I also have provided a few ideas for initiating conversation on the cycle of seasons and change that you could use with your child(ren) as they work to complete this craft.

 Supplies needed:

  1. Cardboard
  2. Crayons or markers
  3. Scissors
  4. Tape
  5. Fall leaves

 Directions:

  • Gather the first four supplies listed above.
  • Then set out on a nature walk to collect two to four leaves per child.DSC_1112
  • Clip the stems off the leaves and set aside.
  • It is now time to craft the butterfly. First, draw a butterfly body on your cardboard.
  • Next, have your children color in the body and add eyes and a mouth.
    • You may want to help younger children by providing them the outline for this step.DSC_0994
  • The body is now ready to be cut out.
  • Once the body is cut out you will want to have your child flip the butterfly body over and tape the leaves (wings) and stems (antennas) to the back.DSC_1119
    • If you want a double leaf layer look (like my younger daughter created) simply layer two leaves on top of each other and tape them down.
  • Your butterfly is now complete!B-ButterflyCraft

Possible discussion starters:

  • While you are outside gathering the fall leaves engage your child’s senses by asking them what they notice about the leaves, trees and weather. Some simple questions you could ask are:
    • Do you notice anything different about the leaves? If so, what? What color are the leaves? Are they all the same colors? Why do you think that is?
    • What do you notice about the amount of leaves on the trees?
    • How does it sound to jump in a pile of leaves?
    • How does the weather feel today? Does it feel warmer or cooler compared to the last few weeks?
  • Take a moment to discuss the different seasons we have. Ask them questions like:
    • What season is it right now? What are all the different seasons we have? Which one came before and after the season we are in right now?
  • Have your child consider what they think would happen if we didn’t have seasons. Ask them what they think things would be like if it was always hot and sunny…or cold and wet/snowy. Spend a few moments helping them to see the effect it would have on our earth if the seasons never changed.
  • Ask them to name other things that change. Gently point out that there are always things changing around us. Have them explain why they think it is important to experience change.FallButterflyCraft

A Season of Change

The beginning of October is a time I have always felt confronted by change. It’s the time of year when summer gets left behind and fall brings with it change to the trees, weather, baking ingredients, stores, scents, and amount of sun I encounter each day. It greets me with a push to revise my pace of life as I begin a three month period where my already hectic schedule attempts to accommodate several important family birthdays and a few major holidays. And as I feel the changes confronting me now, I know it is a good time to reflect on the importance of having an open and accepting attitude towards change. This is something that can be difficult for me, so I know this reflection is not only valuable for me as a person, but also as a mother, because there is much my children can learn by watching how I react to change.

TBCHANGEALANFINALThe most important thing to remember is that change is inevitable. No matter what we do we can’t make it stop happening. Of course we can resist it, but when we spend time resisting we end up addressing change from a place of survival or reaction and that can feel stressful. When we allow ourselves to accept that change is a natural and necessary part of life it eliminates the need to resist it.

It is when we stop resisting that we can better examine our attitude towards change. We can try to simply acknowledge it. The basic act of being aware that change is constantly happening in our life is important. Things can and will be different then they are right now. Once we acknowledge this we can move towards learning to accept change and allowing it to unfold. Having an acceptance helps us to deal with change much more effectively. When we accept what is we can move forward more easily and avoid feeling stuck.

After acknowledging and accepting change we can move towards embracing it. When we embrace change consciously we may even find ourselves enjoying it. It is by embracing that we are provided the opportunity to discover and appreciate the lessons that there are to be found in times of change.

If you, like me, can struggle to have a positive attitude towards change and are hoping to work on that, the beautiful truth is that life gives us endless chances to react to change. There are new and evolving moments all around us every day that can be used as our next chance to calmly and openly embrace whatever is MR1thrown our way. And as we work to achieve a positive outlook during times of change we are blessing the children in our lives by teaching them to release negative attitudes toward change now, while they are still young, and their opinions and outlooks are not fully engrained.

And now, in this season of change, let’s intend to have love and compassion for ourselves as we navigate both the natural and unexpected changes that life offers us. It isn’t easy. But if we can acknowledge, accept and embrace change we can reduce our stress and maintain a more positive attitude towards it. It is this, in turn, that will allow us to freely and calmly move through the changing seasons of life.

Share and Compare – Reasons for Participating in Youth Sports

MIAHAMMToday we have a Slow Down and Share Sunday idea that can assist you as you work to become a more relaxed and supportive sports parent. One way to better equip yourself to be more relaxed and supportive while your child participates in sports is to have a clear understanding of the reasons they choose to get involved in athletics. The simple exercise we provide below allows your child the opportunity to share those reasons with you. It also gives you the opportunity to go a step further and compare their reasons for playing with the reasons you have for wanting them to participate. With the insight and perspective this exercise provides you will be better able to relax, allow and support your child as they play sports for the reasons they choose for themselves instead of reasons you choose for them.

For a printable version of the questionnaires please click here: 

Child Questionnaire

Parent Questionnaire

Child QuestionnaireParent Questionnaire

 

Fun with Color – Tie Dye Shirts

TDP8Today we have a craft to share that our kids all LOVED – Tie Dyed Shirts. Tie dye shirts are a fun craft because you can select specific colors to customize the shirts any way your child desires. My kids chose a sports theme and since it is football season, they used the colors of their favorite NFL teams. Keeping with the sports idea, you could use the colors of youth sports teams your child plays on, the colors of your local high school or the colors of your alma mater so your family has something fun to wear during games. Or, if your child is not into sports, you could use their school colors, the colors that their favorite super hero wears, or simply use colors they love. What makes this fun is that the possibilities are endless.

TD3The mess factor can seem a bit intimidating with this craft, but we found ways to keep the process simple and relatively mess free. Also, since little K managed to tie dye herself while the adults were busy shooting pictures for this post, we know from experience that if the dye does happen to get all over you or a child it will wear off in just a few short days :-).

Supplies Needed:

  1. White 100% cotton T-shirt
  2. Rubber bands
  3. Rubber gloves
  4. Tie dye (we purchased ours at Michaels and would HIGHLY recommend purchasing the ones that come in the little squirt bottles)
  5. Gallon Ziploc bags

Directions:

  1. Pre-wash and dry the shirts you will be using.
  2. Prepare the dye according to the directions on the box. As mentioned above, when doing this project with children we recommend the dyes you can purchase that are powder in squirt bottles. You simply fill the bottles with water, shake them up and are ready to dye. Leave the prepared dyes out of reach of children while you prep the shirts.
  3. Lay the shirt on a flat surface, grab a big pile of rubber bands and select one of the various techniques to create the patterns your child would like on their shirt. A simple internet search will provide you with many different options, but we selected three simple techniques that our kids loved.
  • Option One – Starburst:TD16

Pinch the fabric of the shirt where you want the circle to be and pull the fabric into a cone shape. Wrap a rubber band approx. 1-2 inches below the tip of the fabric. Be sure to wrap the rubber band several times and make it very tight. Repeat this process all over the front and back of the shirt.

  • Option Two – LinesTD17

Roll your fabric up until it is a tightly wrapped thin cylinder.  Wrap rubber bands tightly around the entire shirt about 1-2 inches apart.

  • Option Three – Rainbow SpiralTD15

Select the spot on the shirt that you want to be the center of your spiral and pinch a small piece of fabric.  While holding that begin to twist the fabric around in a circle until the entire shirt is wrapped up into a flat spiral. When that is done, carefully bind the shirt with rubber bands that go all the way around and across the shirt so it ends up looking like a circle that is divided into several wedges. Make sure you bind the shirt up tightly.

  1. TD2Once the shirts are bound gather up the dyes, shirts and rubber gloves and move outside onto the grass. Using string or some other type of marker block off a small section that will be the tie-dying area (we didn’t do this and that is how we ended up with kids and moms with the bottoms of our feet beautifully tie-dyed). Have the child place their shirt in the center of the tie-dying area.

Note: If you don’t have grass to dye on, you can do this on any surface, but you will want to lay down plastic to protect the surface you are working on.

  1. Ask the child to put on rubber gloves. I would recommend that adults helping wear them as well. Leave the shirt in the center of the marked tie-dying area and have the child sit right outside the area. Hand them the bottle filled with the dye they are going to use first. For the starburst option it works best to have the rubber banded areas dyed one color and the background of the shirt a different color. For the rainbow spiral option you get a more colorful design if you use different colors in the wedges that the rubber bands created.  The same is true for the separate sections created on the line shirts. Have them continue using the bottles filled with dye until their entire shirt is covered in color.
  2. Place the wet shirts into a gallon Ziploc bag and seal them shut. Let them sit for several hours so the dye has time to set. We let ours sit overnight.TD14
  3. Remove the shirts from the bags and carefully cut off the rubber bands. Enjoy the excitement your child feels as they see how awesome their shirt turned out. This is a really fun step :-).
  4. Then launder each shirt so any excess dye is removed. I did a very small load with nothing but the tie dyed shirts in it just to be certain I did not ruin any other laundry.TDP10

For the shirts we made for the girls we added a few extra touches after the shirts had been washed and dried. Details on those variations are below:

Dress Variation:

For these we simply cut the sleeves off the shirts and using the material from the sleeves, we cut long strips of fabric that were about 1″ thick.  We used those strips to tie bows around the material between the arm and neck holes. Then we used a third strip to bring together and tie the fabric that was left between the arm holes on the back of the shirts.  In one dress we left the neckline alone and in another we cut it off. Both ideas worked well.TDP6TDP5

Tank Top Variation:

For the tank top I cut off both the sleeves right at the seam and cut off the neckline a bit below the seam line.   Using the fabric from both the sleeves and the neckline I cut approx. 1″ thick strips. I tied one of the strips around the material that remained between the neck and armholes of the shirt. I simply did a double knot to secure the fabric and then wrapped it around and around the material between the neck and arm holes. The idea is to create thin, round straps. I continued this until I got to the section that would be on the back of the shirt. When I got there I pulled both sides together to create one strap that ran down the back. When I would run out of fabric I would cut another strip and tie a knot to begin the new strip right on top of the piece I had just finished. After my straps were finished I went back and cut off any extra fabric that was showing from the knots I had tied and I twisted the fabric so the knots were on the inside of the straps and not visible. If my directions are at all unclear, here is the link to the post I viewed for inspiration on the tank top shirt idea: http://www.luluandsweetpea.com/2012/08/no-sew-diy-t-shirt-to-tank-tutorial.htmlTDP2

Customizable M&M Cookies

Cookies3Today I have a very versatile cookie recipe to share with you. These cookies are easy to make, delicious and they are an awesome treat to use for all types of occasions. By simply changing the color of the M&Ms you use when baking the cookies you can customize them so many different ways. You could use red and green M&Ms for a holiday cookie exchange. Pink and red M&Ms would make them the perfect Valentine’s Day treat for teachers. Use your school colors for a school bake sale item.   You might make them with the colors of your child’s sports team for an end of the year party. And the list could go on and on. In this house, we love to make them with the colors of our favorite NFL teams, so the version I share today will be Oakland Raiders M&M sugar cookies.

I recently made these cookies for my daughter’s birthday. The Oakland Raiders are her favorite football team and she chose to have a Raiders themed party this year. The cookies were a great addition to our dessert table.

The idea for NFL sugar cookies originally came from the blog Thirty Handmade Days. If you decide to make these for any football fans, please visit her site for some fun NFL printables to go with your treats. Please note, I did not use her recipe to make the cookies.

The recipe for the cookies was adapted from allrecipes.

M&M Sugar Cookies:

Makes approx. 5 dozen

Ingredients:

  • COOKIEPIC1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups of M&M’s

Directions:

  1. Cookies2Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Measure and then divide the M&Ms into two equal piles and set aside
  3. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugars with a kitchen aid or hand mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, and vanilla and beat well.
  4. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda and salt
  5. Add the flour/baking soda/salt mixture to the dough and beat on low just until combined
  6. Add 1/2 of the M&Ms and gently fold them into the dough
  7. Drop the cookie dough onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. I used a cookie scoop so my mine were all about one very rounded tablespoon.
  8. Take the remaining M&Ms and gently press them into the top of the cookies so you can clearly see the colors of the M&Ms you chose to cook with.
  9. Bake at 375 degrees for approx. 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browning.Cookies5