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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Home Baked Gratitude - A Thanksgiving Tale

One night my children were listening to another one of their father's tales from work.  Dinner time conversations, when staged around an actual dinner table, can lead to some pretty amazing outcomes.  A recent job change to a Senior Living environment provided the subject.  Actually, a few concepts emerged that night.  1.Work ethics  2.Quality of Life  3. Respect for individuals who have a treasure of life experiences  4.Memory Enhancement Activities

The children had just finished sharing their schedule of daily events from school.  It came time for their father, Ramon, to share his day.  Tales from papi usually have a high level of drama, descriptive language, and a tremendous amount of detail that either intrigue the children or make them beg to go do their homework.  I listen because it usually leads to some creative ideas of my own.  I'll spare you the details of that for today!

Ramon recently accepted a position as Lead Cook for a Senior Living Home that markets itself as one of high quality and compassion.  It's also one where a family's expectations are elevated to correspond with the expense of said quality of services.  A brand new facility is still under construction.   Ramon traveled to another location 50 miles away to complete his training in preparation for the opening.  So imagine Ramon's shock when he arrived at the one-year-old building and discovered that the kitchen staff had grown accustomed to taking short cuts. 

Menu items that were expected by the residents often got substituted.  Cooking techniques were altered to reduce wait times but created less tasty food.  The "cookie" that was listed for the desert plate came from a box instead of home made.  Ramon asked about recipes that are given by the company and was directed to a location where they are kept.  He was told that if he wanted to make the cookies it was all right, but other duties also needed to be completed for dinner service.  Ramon located the cookie recipe and saw that it was a simple one.  He easily baked enough for the dinner service plus completed all the other assignments in the kitchen.  Turns out that this simple act of initiative and desire to give the residents a better dining experience lead to a heart warming interaction with one of the residents.

Ramon was asked to meet one of the residents after she had finished eating her meal.  She complimented him on the home baked cookies that were added to the dessert plate.  Mrs. Larsen said to him, "I used to make those same type of cookies for 20 years when I worked for a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado.  I wished I could still make them, but it's so hard to get the recipe out of my head and onto the cookie sheet."   She thanked him for giving her a happy memory of times when she baked cookies for others.  He had a few tears in his eyes and I admit that it choked me up too.  This kids squirmed uncomfortably in their chairs, as they often do when mommy and daddy get emotional.  But I could tell that the story made an impact.

Another story from the Senior Living Home:  Ramon brought home a container of Red Cranberry Juice Concentrate that was accidentally delivered to the kitchen.  I asked why the residents can't have the red juice and was told that they might spill it on the carpet.  I asked, "Well why don't they have the carpets specially treated so the spill gets wicked away.  I know that product exists!"  Ramon said, "They do have carpets like that, but they still prefer to give the residents white cranberry juice."  I informed him emphatically, "Well when I am in a Senior Living Residence some day, you damned well better serve me RED cranberry juice!" 

Let's all take time to appreciate individuals who have way more life experiences than we do.  There are stories that need to be told and we should listen.  There are memories that occur with the taste of a cookie or the aromas of a well cooked meal. I believe that if someone has to opportunity to make a difference whether through a career choice or by being a volunteer visitor, they should take the time to make every moment a quality interaction. I would hope that someone would do the same for me or a family member someday.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Hope you make more than a great meal!  Make some Memories that are worthy of conversations for years to come!  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anatomy of A Conversation with My Children - Life Lessons

I am always intrigued by how a seemingly simple conversation with my children can evolve into a more serious subject matter.  Wednesday morning I dropped Sebastien off at school first since his brother Nathan had a Doctor's appointment.  I then returned home for transportation round#2 with Isabella needing a ride to Middle School then Nathan and I going to the doctor's appointment from there.  On the short ride to drop off Isabella, I asked Nathan to please remind me to pick up a bottle of water for Sebastien so I could deliver it to him when Nathan was done with his appointment.  Sebastien's Spider Man water bottle had sprung a leak when I attempted to fill it that morning.  It was a Dollar Store purchase so I didn't expect it to last the entire school year. 

Sebastien likes to chew on the top to his water bottle, so it was likely the cause of it's early demise.  Nathan made a negative comment about this so I felt compelled to launch into my developmental explanation about why some children have a need to chew on things:  water bottle tops, erasers, etc...I informed Nathan that some children, like Sebastien, actually need to chew to help them focus in school.  Sebastien has a lot of motor energy that is probably hard for him to contain while in school.  Yet he does it extremely well.  Chewing may be a compensatory technique for him.  I'm not sure if it totally convinced Nathan, but it did allow me to further explain another topic near to my heart.

We discussed how everyone has different learning styles.  Some people are kinesthetic learners and need to be able to touch items to learn about things.  Writing, hands-on science experiments, and learning about letters through texture props can facilitate learning.  Also, some individuals need to be in motion to pay attention and learn.  Last year Sebastien's Kindergarten teachers were excellent about allowing the class to participate in music and movement prior to beginning their rotation of centers.  They learned their sight words through action games such as a "snow ball" throw.  The sight words were written on sheets of white paper, wadded into balls, and placed into a large bucket.  When the teacher began the music, a snow ball throw began.  When the music ended, each child had to grab one snow ball and bring it to the teacher.  The child then opened the ball and revealed a sight word, which he/she recited for the teacher.  Brilliant and fun!  I had the opportunity to observe this for the Christmas party last year and was impressed by the results.

Some individuals are visually tuned in and do well with written information, posters on display in the room, and other props.  I explained to Isabella that when I help her with homework, I always ask to see the math problem or the information she is trying to study because I need to have that visual cue.  If she just recites the math problem, it is harder for me to focus on a way to help her.  I also need pencil and paper to show her how I envision the problem being solved.  (kinesthetic)  

Music is a terrific auditory cue that helps with memorization of information.  Listening to the teacher, hearing a video tutorial, and being able to study while listening to music, a movie, or other external sounds are also indications that someone is an auditory learner.

We talked about how sometimes children can be on "sensory overload" and have a difficult time focusing in a classroom.  This overload can happen if the lights are too bright, there are unusual aromas in the room, if others are talking too much, or if the classroom has so many decorations and information displayed in the room that they become distracted.  (I have seen a lot of overloaded classrooms - sometimes out of necessity when teachers have no storage space.)

I explained to Isabella and Nathan that sometimes a child will be allowed to chew gum in the classroom if it helps him/her focus on the assignments.  Other children may be prescribed treatment by an Occupational Therapist that encourages them to sit on a therapy ball instead of in a regular desk chair because it helps the student maintain focus.  There are many reasons why students could benefit from adaptations to their environment and to their work stations.

When I mentioned the therapy ball, Isabella shared that there is a student in one of her classes who uses a therapy ball and sees a therapist.  The child is having a hard time attending to her work and gets distracted.  The student lost a parent in a car accident just over the summer and needs extra assistance adjusting to Middle School due to the trauma experienced so recently.

Of course, I started to get teary-eyed.  I stopped in front of the school to let Isabella out and gave her a big hug.  I told her how much I love her.  You never know when a car ride to school will lead to a conversation that stops you in your tracks.  Forget about the list of things that you planned to do!  That day, I took Nathan to his doctor's appointment, picked up another water bottle for Sebie, took Nathan back to school, and personally took the water bottle and a snack to Sebastien's first grade classroom.  Those simple actions took on new meaning for me as I thought about the now mother-less middle school child whose life had changed forever over the summer.  And I felt a deeper appreciation for the opportunities I still have to talk to my children about the things that matter to me and to them.

Anatomy of A Conversation indeed!  Allow your children to talk, but also take those teachable moments and see where a conversation might lead.  From a chewed up water bottle to learning styles to the loss of a parent...all these conversations are helping my children gain information that will shape who they are, how they learn to cope in the world, and hopefully inspire them to respond with compassion to those in need when the time comes.

Thanks again for taking time to read this and I welcome your input regarding the subjects I write about.  Sharing resources and encouraging each other as we go through our journey as parents is a worthwhile endeavor.  It is a pleasure to have you along for the ride.

Happy Weekend!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Memory Games & Techniques for Maintaining Relationships During the Holidays

Last night I needed to take my own advice and adapted the A to ZZZZ Good-Night Game for myself.  Too many things going on right now and it's hard to fall asleep sometimes.  My version of this game is to begin with the letter "A" and think of people I have known whose name begins with that letter.  By the time I got to the middle of the alphabet, I began to feel a sense of calm.  My spontaneous journey back in time brought back memories from childhood to adulthood including places where I have lived, worked, traveled, and gone to school. Soon whatever worries I had were replaced by gratitude.  I have truly been blessed in spite of all the trials and challenges.

Sometimes I think about all the things I have yet to accomplish and don't give myself enough credit for the intriguing, awe inspiring things I have experienced.  Perhaps that's a first born symptom or just the way I was hard-wired from the moment of my conception.  Whatever the reason, I continually look for ways to accommodate the way my brain functions.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this dilemma.

Another fun activity to do is to look at the change in your pockets or purse once in a while.  When I hold a coin in my hands and look at the date, I immediately recall how old I was at that time, what I enjoyed doing, a special event, or a family trip.  (Like the one where our large family of eight traveled from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Minneapolis, Minnesota in a small Ford Escort - Luggage rack on top.)  These simple memory games are known as "anchoring" techniques. For more ideas regarding memory techniques refer to the link below. Perhaps you will be inspired to use some of these techniques when you gather with family and friends for the holidays.

Learning Inspirations - Monash University

If you do this activity with other family members, be prepared for some disagreement as to the actual facts of the memory.  Why does this happen?  The differences in remembering are the result of a few components:
  • Depends on the age of the individual at the time of the event. 
  • Life experiences at the time of the event can cause each person to "frame" the event the way they perceive the moment.
  • Each person has variations in their sensory awareness of surroundings.  One person may focus on visual details while another family member may recount aromas or a song that was playing on the radio - an auditory cue.
  • Some people "check out" when family chaos ensues - thus eliminating any chance of a negative memory. (Think of the person who falls asleep during times of stress.)
The best thing to do if you and a family member disagree on the details attached to the memory is to let it go and not argue.  Does it really matter who is "right" or who is the more accurate "family historian" ?  Just know that your memory is exactly that....YOUR Memory!  Be happy you have that very personal account.  Finding ways to keep memories alive is important.  Story telling, journaling, and pictures are great ways to bring back the experiences that help define who you are, what you have become, and where you still want to go in life.  Sometimes you may need to replace negative memories by creating new ones in the present. 

Thanksgiving is coming up soon.  Families and friends may reunite for this holiday time.  This is usually a perfect time to either renew relationships or regret gathering together.  Which one will you select?  Hopefully it will be a time to remember, repair, respond, and renew relationships. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A to ZZZZZZ - A Good-Night Game

Occasionally one or more of my three children has a difficult time falling asleep.  Usually the reason is what I call "Restless Brain Syndrome."  I tried to research this topic on line and found articles related to actual sleep disorders, ADHD, and various diagnoses.  None of these applied to what I will share with you today.  We all have moments when concerns prevent us from "turning off" our brain at the end of a long day.  Children experience these moments too.

My six-year-old, Sebastien, has way too many ideas going on for someone so young. Throughout the day he typically comes up with ideas for new superheroes, what they will wear, their character traits, and how they will be incorporated in his next movie script.  He creates elaborate drawings of buildings, his future tree house, and martial arts gear. I can't keep enough paper, glue, and tape in the house to sustain the tremendous creativity that emanates from this tiny being.  And I wouldn't have it any other way!  Sebastien often competes with his eight-year-old brother, Nathan, for how many journals he can go through each month.  Those books are filled to overflowing with a treasure of amazing and intricate structures. Perhaps someday it will help them determine the course of their future career interests.

For now, I am responsible for the daunting task of assisting my zealous bunch in decompressing at the end of the day so that they can wake up refreshed and ready to tackle school each morning. Mondays are especially challenging since they have had two days of "free-style" activities coursing through their veins.  So last night Sebastien needed a little extra assistance winding down and getting to sleep.  I am grateful at these times that I worked with awesome Pediatric Occupational and Physical Therapists back in the day who made me aware of Sensory Integration issues and how different children respond to stimuli.

In the interest of sharing some intriguing Parenting Tid Bits...

  • What Is Sensory Integration? - › … › Sensory Integration Dysfunction
    This article explores sensory integration: what it is and what problems relate to it.

  • Sensory processing - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Images of sensory Integration

    Although my children have not been diagnosed with "Sensory Integration Disorder"  I can appreciate many of the concepts and have adapted our bed time routine to accommodate my children's energies, activity levels, and tendencies toward sensory over load at bed time.  To help them de-camp from their list of unfulfilled activities and dreams of future creations, we came up with a Good-Night Game to distract them and help them relax:

    You are probably familiar with this game in some form.  I call it the A to ZZZZ Good -Night Game.  I ask Sebastien, Nathan, or Isabella to imagine that there are little lambs or another type of animal who are still out in the farmer's field.  It is getting late and it is time for them to come home so we can put them to bed.  Each animal has a name beginning with the letter A,B, C...etc.  We sometimes use this as a memory game too and list all the animals each time we add a new one.  (think of the game "I'm going on a trip and in my suitcase I will pack...)  Same concept!  It's fun to hear the names they choose.  One night, Sebastien just wanted to make a list and not say all the names every time a new name was selected.  I knew then that he was already tired.  Works like magic!  Here's why:
    • It allows the children to participate in one last activity before calling it quits for the evening.
    • The repetition and refocusing of thought process allows the brain to relax similar to meditation.
    • It provides the children with a strategy that can be adapted for future use.
    • The children have control over the type of animal and the names.
    I once worked with a teacher with whom I shared my dilemma regarding how to help my children decompress at the end of their day.  She shared her story about how she was the same way as a child.  Her mother let her talk about her day before bedtime or read a story to her...anything to help get her mind off the many things she would think about late at night.  As an adult, she still experiences these same issues and was very helpful to me when I would arrive to work tired after dealing with my sleepless child.  Just hearing her express how she felt as a child helped me gain awareness of my own children's concerns and come up with some strategies.

    Another strategy I came up with can be found in my blog post:
    Hope you have a wonderful Monday and Find Inspiration to Feed Your Spirit this Week!


    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    "After Action Report" A Post Halloween Story

    It's been a few days since I have been able to get to a computer, but I had to share my Halloween experience this year.  When was the last time Halloween brought tears to your eyes?  Well, this year was one of those times for me.  I have been "flying solo" when it comes to Halloween and other events with my children for a while now.  This year was different.  My daughter decided that she wanted to go with her friend from school.  The friend's parents supervised the door to door trick-or treating preceded by dinner and ending with a movie.  I hesitated for a moment, but then decided to let her go since I had already met the parents. My daughter made a valiant attempt to restrain the inevitable eye rolling when I dropped her off at their house.  I appreciated her "tolerance" for dear ol' mom.  I admitted to the other mother (who was way cool because she is a professional make up artist and hair stylist) that I am having a hard time letting Isabella go with friends even though I know there is parental supervision.  The other mom said, "Yeah, me too." 

    So Isabella was turned over to another capable mom who helped her get all "Zombiefied" for the big night.  I returned home after posting my Halloween poem on this blog, and found both sons ready to go.  They had created their own costumes to reflect favorite super heroes and were excited to get started.  The difference this year:  Their dad was able to participate with them and supervised their door to door treasure hunt for goodies.  We had been separated until our visit this summer.  This year, thanks to a glitch in our return travel plans to Georgia, the boys were able to spend time with their dad.   (See Blog Post Titles Below regarding our unexpected change in summer vacation plans.)

    My role in our little adventure was to do reconnaissance and keep the van warm while the children and their father prowled the streets for houses that clearly indicated Trick-or-Treaters were welcome: Lights on and decorations such as fog served as our visual cues. In some cases, scary sounds and music provide auditory cues to beckon them forward.  I followed closely and kept the window rolled down so I could help them find their next target.  After a few houses, I could tell they were getting into the adventure of meeting people, saying their thanks, and waving good-bye.  Their father was equally happy for them.  He didn't celebrate Halloween as a child and I think it was fun for him to watch his children and their interactions with everyone.

    There was a feeling of camaraderie with the people who handed out the treats.  Some neighbors banned together to create a festive atmosphere - this happened a lot with cul-de-sacs.  Everyone was friendly and I realized that this was one time of year when we got to interact with individuals we may not usually get to see.  I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of our neighbors.  That warm feeling combined with the realization that last year at this time I had been struggling to corale three children after a long day of work.  It wasn't long before I got a lump in my throat.  I thought, "What on earth is making me cry on Halloween?" 

    Here it is:  It's hard to be a single mom. The expectations are high and it feels like there's never enough of you to go around.  As much as you want to believe that you are all the children need, the fact remains that they miss their dad, regardless of the circumstances.  So this year I was grateful that God has mercifully provide me with an abundance of love and forgiveness in my heart.  That has to be it, otherwise I don't know how I would make it through the many challenges that continue to present themselves for my review and resolution.  Halloween was a huge success for all of my children and for their dad.

    I played a significant role in navigating through another Happy Halloween.  It seems like every year I am dragged into this celebration kicking and screaming (in my head).  But after all is said and done, I feel a sense of pride that my children 1. Become creative geniuses when we see how much costumes cost at the store.  Home made is the way to go! 2. Are pleasant, polite, and socially appropriate with the neighbors.  3. Are really pretty good at rationing their treats so they don't over indulge on day one and throw up all over the place.  4. Demonstrate a kind heart by sharing with their friends and with mom - who loves anything with caramel, coconut, or dark chocolate.  5. A bonus of post Halloween is the skill of negotiation required to trade treats with your siblings and friends.

    Forgiveness is hard.  Really, honestly, truly hard.  But the rewards of watching your family weather the storms of chaos will hit home when you least expect them.  Like on Halloween.  When the weather is cold, the decorations are intriguing, the friends that surround you are comforting, and the children you love with all your being are able to share a special moment with their father - who has been forgiven.

    Isabella arrived home after her siblings had completed their evening of trick-or-treat.  She looked amazing thanks to the "mom of her friend" with the artistry skills.  When I asked how it went, Isabella gushed with excitement and clearly enjoyed her evening.  Then she told me, "Yeah, my friend's mom started crying too.  She said how grown up we are getting and she couldn't believe it."  I confessed that I too had my moment of wanting to cry a little.  Wierd?  Not at all!

    Hope you too enjoy the little things that add up to a whole lot of memories!  Happy November everyone!  Thanks for letting me share.

    Refer to Other Posts for Back Story:
    Spontaneous Moments and Unexpected Gratitude - Part I
    Consequences and Resolutions - Part II
    Moving Forward - Part III
    Why Did I End Up Here?
    Blessed Patience Rewarded