Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Things That Count

Things I Count

Steps I take in a day
Ounces of water I drink 
Miles I run per week
Words I write in a story 
Dollars coming in a month 
Likes on social media posts
Pounds I weigh 
Dollars going out in a month 
Emails in my inbox 
Calls I make as a volunteer
Hours I sleep a night
Books I read a year 

Things I Can't Count 

Cookies I have eaten 
Moments spent in daydreams
Laughs shared with friends
Kisses from my husband
Tissues I’ve used on runny noses
Hugs with my children
Raindrops that have fallen on me
Phone calls to my mom 
Problems my friends have helped me handle
Bandages I’ve put on skinned knees
Licks of ice cream cones

Waves that have washed over my feet

Monday, January 15, 2018

What To Do When it Rains on Family Vacation

Oh no - the worst has happened! You're staying at a hotel with your family and it's pouring down rain. 

Now what do you do? 

Don't worry - I've got some great ideas to help you stay sane during the rain.

It's not the time to turn on the TV, this is a golden opportunity for real family time. Here are great ideas for entertaining the kids (and keeping the adults sane) from toddler to school age, as well as that "perfect storm" of all three! The best part is, these ideas rely on things you would have handy in a hotel, no special equipment or preparation needed. 

Toddlers: Lay out the bedspread on the floor and get on the ground with your cooped-up kid and make a toddler obstacle course with pillows and cushions. For older tods who aren't quite ready for Simon Says, play a simplified version of "Copy my silly face" or "Copy my clapping pattern." You'll be amazed at what your little one can show you!

Preschoolers: Hunt through your luggage and roll up some socks (a bigger sock ball is easier to catch) - practice tossing the socks back and forth to each other, moving back one step for each catch. Count your catches and keep track of the score. Winner gets to pick dessert at dinner!

School age kids: Why should smartphones be a distraction from family fun? Turn this downtime into something special and have your school age kid prepare some interview questions for you and your spouse, then use the video feature on your phone to record the conversation. It's the perfect time to create that digital scrapbook that's been on your to-do list forever.

Combined age groups: Work together to create a monster! Using the notepads in the hotel drawers, fold a paper into thirds. Each person can create part of the monster (head, body, feet) on one-third of the paper, but can't look at what the others have drawn. Unfold and reveal your "horrible" creation! And there's never a bad time to have a Sock Puppet Show. Older children can rehearse and perform the show while the younger siblings become thrilled members of the audience.

More ideas include Shadow Charades, No-writing scavenger hunt, and Paper Airplane Airport and Playing Card Bingo. 

What ideas have you used to stay sane during the rain?

As a traveling mom of three boys, I know the panic that can ensue when bad weather threatens to ruin a great vacation. But stay cool, moms and dads, and remember to enjoy the moment and create your own unique memories, regardless of sun or rain. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Puzzle Personality Test

We have three boys, and while they are similar in many ways, they are also astonishingly different. Sometimes their differences emerge unexpectedly and I'm surprised and delighted to discover unique perspectives and skills. Other times, I'm caught off guard in the midst of a major miscalculation.

I should have known that the puzzle I picked out as a 10th birthday present for our middle child was not a perfect fit. While the image on the puzzle was just right - a wizard and dragon playing a magical game of chess - the box sat unopened for months. I suggested it as an anti-boredom activity numerous times, but he always turned it down. I should have read the signals.

When I found a dinosaur puzzle, 1000 pieces, I knew right away it would be a great Christmas gift for the oldest. He's always loved puzzles and has even completed 3D spheres and fun shaped crystal puzzles.

The oldest and I plowed right into the dinosaur puzzle two days after Christmas. It was a family effort, and I did stay up a little too late one night even though we were leaving for the airport early the next day.

It turns out, I also love the challenge of a good jigsaw puzzle. I think, even though it takes a long time and there are lots of mistakes, I really love the definitive feeling of completion that puzzles guarantee.

When we returned from our travels, the middle son pulled his wizard puzzle off the shelf. He and I started with the systematic process of overturning pieces and building the outer frame. Thanks to a two-hour delay, we had a chance to work together one morning, and I promised I wouldn't proceed without him. The next day, I asked if he wanted to work on it again during the two-hour delay, and he declined. I couldn't resist the call of a puzzle and while he was at school, I made significant process on the wizard.

I thought he'd be pleased when he got home, but I was very, very wrong. He was devastated. His reasons for being upset were complicated, but my belief is he was frustrated that I did something he was struggling to do, and he didn't like feeling 'behind.' He didn't really want  to do the puzzle, but he wanted the same connection I had with the oldest on a project. He also hated how hard it was and how frustrated it made him. He was already off-kilter that day and eventually cried a total of four times. The puzzle wasn't really the problem, it was just learning that he didn't like doing the same things his brother, dad, and I enjoyed.

You can't force pieces together that don't fit.

We hashed it out and I encouraged him to try and let himself acknowledge when he doesn't like things and not to force himself to do things just because others seem to enjoy them. He's still figuring this out about himself. I'm still figuring this out about myself.

Maybe one of the oldest human behaviors is trying to be like others, because it can be scary to head off on our own and follow our hearts.

Is it better to be happy on our own, or miserable with those we love?

Does this have to be an either or choice?

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Christmas Prince Quiz

It's the holidays, and we're busy, but it's important to take time to be with friends…and to watch movies like A Christmas Prince. 

Although I feel the synopsis is misleading - she's not so much undercover as completely lying to everyone - the movie is quite open and honest about what it promises to deliver.

If you have enjoyed experienced this movie like I have, I invite you to take my brief quiz. Submit your answers and I'll choose a winner and make a donation to the charity of the winner's choice!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Demand Gun Sense

Americans shouldn’t have to worry about being shot at outdoor concerts, movie theaters, elementary schools, churches and nightclubs. We don’t have to live like this.

Our country is at a defining moment: Do we want to live in a country where the NRA leadership’s “guns everywhere, for anyone, with no questions asked” vision prevails? Where we we are all armed to the teeth in every moment of our daily lives? 

This nation’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than the average of other developed nations. This is a uniquely American crisis.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We must demand action to end gun violence.
To join the movement to end gun violence, please text ACT to 64433. To honor Las Vegas, we must demand that legislators act now.

Friday, August 25, 2017

"I Know What You're Thinking, Mom…"

said my middle son. "Because I'm psychopathic."

Of course he meant telepathic, but it was an excellent mistake that has led to one of those family stories we tell over and over again. It gets a laugh every time.

But sometimes I wonder. Not that he's psychopathic of course, but if he really does have any idea what people are thinking, how they perceive things, what makes people happy or angry, and the consequences of his jokes and antics.


On the first day of fifth grade, his teacher explained he has an auction system that encourages kids to earn points and spend them on small but interesting gifts. This classroom incentive program excited my middle son. He explained it in lengthy detail as we drove around in the minivan doing a few after school errands.  Then he shared this story as told by his teacher:

Once there was a fifth grade girl who really liked lip gloss. A boy in her class knew she planned to get lip gloss at the next auction. He decided to bid on the lip gloss to force her to spend more tickets. The auction started and the girl bid, and the boy bid, their bids going higher and higher. Finally, the boy bid 200 tickets! The girl said she was done, and the boy ended up spending 200 of his tickets and winning lip gloss he didn't want.

"That's what I'm going to!" crowed my middle. "I'm going to find out what people want and then bid on it and force them to lose their tickets!"

"Um, if you do that, don't you think people will get angry at you?" I said. "You're always telling me you want to have more friends. I'm not sure this is the best way."

[insert the sound of air gushing out of a punctured balloon.]

"But that was the fun of it," he insisted.

"What's fun in tricking people out of tickets?" I persisted. "I'm pretty sure your teacher meant that as a cautionary tale, not a suggestion. Maybe you should work with friends to pool your tickets and win cool stuff."

(I can't take credit for this idea. My youngest did this repeatedly in first grade. He always had plenty of tickets thanks to his goody-goody behavior. He'd generously donate 10 tickets to kids who had lost their tickets for bad behavior and didn't have the necessary 100 tickets to eat at the cafe. All they had to do was pick him as their buddy. Quite the schemer.)

I pondered this conversation for the next few days. Why was it so hard for my bright 10 year old to realize it's so not cool to trick people out of tickets? That's a total jerk move. And he's not a jerk, really. He's pretty serious about fairness and treating people with respect. Couldn't he see it from other people's perspective? Was he going to grow up without friends and live in my basement?

Then I came across this article while doing research on another topic (a very annoying thing I notice in Facebook groups that could make a good satirical/venting essay) and thought, "my middle son needs to read this."

The title is "Psychology Tricks You Can Use to Influence People." It's nothing earth-shattering…to me. But maybe he'd get some ideas.

Back in the minivan, I pulled up the article and let him read it. He was silent for awhile. I wondered if he was reading it or just taking selfies.

Then he cried, "THIS IS AMAZING!"

It was like being given an owner's manual for a complex device. His favorite section was the part on asking for ridiculous things, knowing you won't get them, and then following up with a more reasonable request for the thing you actually wanted. I'm not totally confident he understood the difference between mirroring and the copying game, but I fully expect he will employ a few tactics in the future.

Maybe I shouldn't have let him read it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Art of the Road Trip

If you follow the adventures of our family, you know we love a good road trip. Check out our Revolutionary War Road Trip if you have an interest in history. Normally, we do family style road trips, but this August, our kids were on their own adventures on the Eastern Shore, so my husband and I headed out sans enfants.

We saw a lot of artwork on this trip and this post doesn't contain all of it, but it does highlight some thought-provoking pieces that weren't found in museums. These pieces were memorable, they gave me insight into the artist or creator, they offered a lens through which to view the world, they were works of creation and creativity. 

Are they art?

Let's discuss.

Check out these "historical markers" we spotted in Kingston. 

These markers are scattered around the Hudson Valley region. The artist, Norm Magnusson, has really found a way to catch people's attention and present a viewpoint about the world.

Is it art? Is it a stunt?

Many times, historical markers mention an event without placing the people or consequences into context. I like how these markers prod us to face important, current social events. But as a historian, I also like thinking about how certain events were chosen for those traditional markers and what people and events have been left out.

What historical events should be on markers that aren't?

On to the next piece. This is my husband standing on graffiti highway in Centralia, PA. Back in the 1960s, the town council started a fire to clear out an overfull landfill. The fire caught in an coal mine seam and burned underground. No one seemed to have a way to solve it and the town slowly sunk into disaster. The ground opened up and the fire released toxic gases and collapsed into sinkholes. The town was abandoned and this highway cut off from the main route. Now, people come and spray paint the half-mile stretch.

Some of the graffiti was what you'd expect: lots of penises, lots of rude words, lots of poop emojis. There were also flowers, suns, mushrooms, hearts, seahorses, mermaids and skulls. There were some sweet ones of initialed people promising to love one another forever.

There were contemporary pop culture references. Underneath "Summer of 2017" we were reminded "Winter is Coming." A healthy mix of political messages. There were also inspirational messages like "Even flowers that get stepped on bloom again."

New graffiti overlapped old. I could have taken a million photos.

Of course, as we walked and considered the messages left by visitors who had come by before us, we compared their art to the ancient petroglyphs we observed on the Big Island in Hawaii. Were those petroglyphs viewed like this graffiti? Are they both the work of people trying to make their mark, share their message, create something permanent in a world where things are easily swept aside and forgotten?

The other obvious topic we discussed was "What would you create?" I thought of basics, like a shamrock, or the Hogan family crest. We tossed around the idea of creating an elaborate celtic knot, practicing with spray paint at home to get comfortable with the medium.

Probably, we won't come back and spray paint something, but if we did, I might go the more enigmatic route and leave a single, significant word, like...

"If you made something excellent, would someone just come by and spray paint over it?" my husband asked.

"Yes," I said. "People want to make their own mark."