12 Months of Kindness Project: 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

We are starting our ninth year of our commitment to the 12 Months of Kindness Project and it's really become part of who we are as a family.  We try to choose kindness, patience, and empathy in all things we do throughout the year - but our #12mokp is a way for us to intentionally build out at least one kind act for each month of the year.  I have found that if you don't plan it ahead of time, the days just swallow you whole in the regular busy of life and you find yourself at the end of the year in a blink trying to remember where all the days went.

Our 12 Months of Kindness Project gets its own dedicated page in our family yearbooks and the kids ask regularly when we will do certain things again.  We love that our kids are learning first hand that being nice can be easy and makes you feel good....That we get to choose to be nice in all situations - it's up to us!

Over the last few weeks, the kids and I have talked about some of our favorite kind acts we've done in the past and about some new ideas we might try together.  We also talked a little bit about the kindness we do that doesn't technically count for our 12MoKP - like giving breakfast treats to Greyson's bus driver and leaving notes and candy for the mail lady.  And we try to include them in conversations about kind acts that they are too young to do yet - B and I tell them about helpful/kind moments in our days, they check my Red Cross app to see how much 'blood Mum got out' for others, and they make trips with us or help us in small ways to work towards a bigger kind task.

So we're back with our list for this year and as is true for each year, it builds up our year with things to look forward to and ways we can help make this world a little nicer for everyone.

January:  deliver (3) meals to families we know that could use some extra support and love

February:  make valentines for people to brighten their day (classmates, family, the librarian, firefighters, elderly neighbors, etc)

March: Volunteer at our church's Lenten fish fry dinners

April: Volunteer our time at the Johnstown Backpack Project

May: 9th annual Studer Scholarship for high school seniors at CV

June:  Studer's Invitational Beer Olympics (funds go to a charitable cause)

July: Donation to the Humane Society

August:  Pick up trash locally

September:  totally kid-run (plan, make invitations, cook, serve, clean up) at our house for the grandparents (and 'honorary grandparents') for Grandparents Day

October: trick-or-treat for UNICEF

November: make placemats for our local Meals on Wheels (and deliver?)

December: white envelope gift


I'd love to hear about the acts of kindness that you and your kids do together.  If you're tracking your kindness, please feel free to tag your photos with #12mokp too so that we can inspire one another!

Around Here Week Three: 01/13-19

Friday, January 20, 2017

A glimpse into what it is like to live in our home just this minute.

Intentional Outdoor Hours:  5+ hrs (of 1000)
While in North Carolina on our weekend visit, we were lucky to spend a few hours outside on a nice long walk around the neighborhood and some playtime in the yard.  Gosh, the sunshine on our faces and the grown up chatting with my best friends (and snacking on Girl Scout cookies!) did some serious cup filling to my soul.  Also, my half marathon training began this week with three miles on Tuesday and Thursday with some yard laps.  Thanks to the Running Gods, both days were pleasant running weather in the high 40s & low 50's!  The training is going okay, but three miles is about my max at this point (I think I could probably crank out four if I had to right now), and honestly the thought of all thirteen miles in only three months is still quite terrifying (life threatening?! ha).  I'll get there, little at a time.

Reading nothing this week!  As my first week back to the sahm groove, I took it easy and slow.  I saw that Hulu has a The Handmaid's Tale coming out and thinking about re-reading that great book again.  I also got my books from my friend Shelly that I get to benefit from as she does a book clear out:)  And I watched the Netflix series The OA while getting through so much laundry and found it really interesting and intriguing.

Finishing my last day as a substitute Spanish teacher to close out the first semester.  It was very bittersweet and some of the students were so very kind with notes and even surprising me with a bouquet of flowers!

Traveling to North Carolina with Rusty and best friend Kate to visit our other best friend Karpy and her two babes for an AKT weekend.  What a weekend with girlfriends can do to my soul is incredible and I'm so grateful that we were able to all get together with the youngest boy babies.  We spent the weekend hanging out, chatting, and making our babies smile.  Gosh, what a great weekend.  Bud held down the fort with the other three back at home and the two big kids had their first soccer practice for the season!

Stepping back into the swing of fulltime sahmhood.  It feels good to get back into the rough work of raising babies.  I've been working slowly chipping away at chores that have been piling up, grocery shopping (with all four kids in tow!), meal planning, and mostly taking it slowly with lots of kisses and focus on making time in the day to just play.  I've been feeling really grateful to be back home again with these little babies of ours.

Trying to do the parent do-not-laugh-but-seriously-that's-hilarious lip squeeze with Violet as it is clear she is making her ascent into the wacky of the 2.5 and 3 year old stage. She's been mouthing back with a lot of "No!" to requests and throwing some mean tantrums.  She was especially ridiculous during this conversation -
Violet: Is Rusty sleeping?
Me: Yes
Violet: upstairs?
Me: Yes
Violet: That's stupid
Me: Violet Mary!! We don't say stupid!
Violet:  Ummmm.......Goo Goo Gaga?
I just have no words for this child sometimes.

Feeling like the worst Coach Daddy fans ever as we have not been making it to many basketball games this year!  But by the time we need to head out to the game, Rusty is ready for bed and homework needs done and I just can't seem to justify hauling everyone out of the house.  ugh.  We were able to make it to the home game last night and it's always comforting to be with our basketball season family again and makes the kids so happy and proud of their Coach Daddy.

Making chicken spaghetti, Grey & Gem put together these chicken & cheese crescent rolls, and the girls helped back these cream cheese chocolate chip cookies for our What's Cooking Wednesday activity.  I started back on the 21 day fix diet (to support my half marathon training) and so it was a lot of salads, portion control, and so much water for me which makes me feel energized.

Sending love and peace and kindness and goodness out into the world today and everyday moving forward.  my dear friends, can we all be the kind of people we hope others will be.  In that spirit, I love this quote from Mother Teresa and I've been personally working toward living this out in my own life in the past year and continuing so today and onward,

“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” - Mother Teresa

Why 1000 hours outdoors?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I set out a goal of reaching 1000 hours outdoors in 2015 and after giving it a good effort (although, if I'm being honest, not a great effort), I accumulated over 510 hours counted that we unplugged and got outside.  And despite a small defeating feeling from last year's attempt, I'm going for it again this year. 

If for any reason, you've been asking yourself why am I doing this at all - here's both a rationale and a recap from last year's effort that will hopefully shed some light on why I'm doing it (and inspire you to try to be better at outdoor time too). 

I wrote a little about my immediate reflections last year in April about how being outside was making me feel more calm and seemed to enhance our quality family time (but was also a lot more difficult to rack up the hours than I initially thought).

I was originally inspired by Ginny who runs the 1000hoursoutside instagram account.  At about the same time, I had read The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart and was completely intrigued with learning more about family life and technology and raising kids in a plug-addicted world.

And so I stepped into the challenge myself to reach for 1000 outdoor hours in 2015 to get a better vantage point for myself.  And as part of my goal, I also read The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and was gripped with interest and fascination.  (recommended!)

Since then, many of the books, articles, and TED talks I've watched around kids and technology have all been interesting and sadly, just the scratching of the surface on the research.  This whole technology takeover happened so quickly, that we've barely had time to see what the effects even are for kids, for relationships, for the environment.

So for some number crunching (that makes me honestly dizzy and scared):  One of the most commonly cited numbers is that the average American child gets about SEVEN HOURS A DAY of screentime  (about three hours of TV and four hours of other screens: phones/tablets/computers/video games).   In a year's time, that's 2,555 hours on Screens for kids!

For some personal reflection:  in our home on weekdays, screentime isn't allowed to start until after 11am.  We have one TV (downstairs) and one tv upstairs that's connected only to Netflix.  We have a wii but it doesn't get used (yet anyway) for video games, and we have one iPad.  Brandon and I are the only ones with phones and the kids aren't allowed to use them for games.  So, if I'm being one hundred percent (painful) honest, looking at Gemma who is four and half and not in school yet:  She gets about two hours in the afternoon for a movie/show on TV, probably an hour of iPad time in the late afternoon (just to get her out of my hair of asking me questions), and then at night probably another hour maybe...and this is a good day where I am present the entire time to monitor.  If it was up to her it would certainly be more screentime.    So Gem clocks in on average about four-five hours a day.

So for my kids - we're looking at about 1,825 hours a year on screens (and for my screen time - surely closer to 7 hours a day!) So setting a goal for 1,000 hours outside for the year seemed like a goal towards BALANCE which is what I hope to create in our life.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to expect our kids would spend equalish amounts of time on screens and in the outdoors, right?  It was in fact though, a lot harder to do than I though it would be.  My goal was not to demonize screens, but have a healthy balance in plugged and unplugged living for all of us, myself certainly included in that balance.

My goal offered me an opportunity to slow down, to breathe in this wild and chaotic current life with the breezes and to the tune of the songbirds in our yard.  I felt more present this year when my focus stayed steadfast on my outdoor goals, than any time during my young motherhood ever, yet.

In Louv's book, there was this passage that I highlighted and dog-eared the page as it spoke so deeply to my own reflections about my thoughts on busyness and relaxation and how as a mother to young kids I feel so strung out in so many directions that sometimes I feel that quality time with the kids - real face to face slow living - falls to the bottom of my to do list for the sake of all the other things that need done.
"Weekends are no longer for recreation, but for the undone chores that pile up during the week....if anything, most parents have an acutely tuned sense of responsibility - to the point where they consider relaxation and leisure, for themselves or their children, a self-indulgent luxury."  -Last Child in the Woods, p.120-121
What if instead of glorfying the busy that comes with life today, what if we (read: type A-ish Mum Me) allowed us to just chill the heck out?!  What if we just played, and learned through natural moments that the outdoors provide at every turn.  What if every single thing didn't need to be absolutely efficient.  In the spirit that thought, this year I even stopped taking my headphones on dog walks and jogs because I used to justify a walk/jog as doubling up on time to listen to audiobooks - like the walk/jog wasn't a reason enough.  Now I just walk and daydream and listen to the sounds that nature provides....I'm present in my walk, I'm present in my life.

This year, with my conscious effort on the goal - we got to be part of the living of nature.  We played in puddles and mud and creeks and bodies of water.  We stared into the grass and watched ants build up their mounds.  We guessed at constellations, caught lightening bugs, and howled at the moon.  We built new forts in our backyard, discovered new paths and trails in our hometown, and kept track of the animals that make their home around our home.  We lived and grew among the living, growing natural world.

And not just the kids, because truthfully, this year has been a huge reminder that I can set boundaries and limits for screentime until I turn blue in the face for my kids, but until I am a living example of a healthy unplugged/plugged-in balance - it will do no good what I preach to our children.  If I am daily reminding myself of my connection to the outdoor world and how it brings peace and rest to my body, soul, and mind - it will be easier for our kids to make that same connection....a life lesson that will serve them well as they continue to grow and compete in our plugged in society.
"First and above all is for the parents to understand the connection itself.  The future is not about designing a curriculum.  It's about awakening to creation.  Kids have to feel that this connection is vital and deep in their parents.  They see through us all the time.  They know what is fake and feigned.  As the connection becomes more vivid to us, our commitment to it becomes more authentic, and children respond to that authenticity." - The Last Child in the Woods, p.302
With my eyes up and off of a screen, I am calmer and gentler and kinder as a mum (and as a person too).  I am slower and more intentional. I am less stressed and feel like I'm in so much less of a hurry. this is so embarrassing to admit aloud, but many times when I'm involved in entertainment screentime, the thought bubbles up in my mind, 'these kids are distracting me!' and it feels so frustrating.  But what the heck kind of a world is it if I can't recognize that the screen is the distraction from THEM! 

The past year has been eye-opening, though we didn't even come close to our goal of 1000 hours I am so very grateful that we had the goal to push us towards more intentional outdoor time.  It has laid the backdrop for the kind of childhood I want my kids to remember when they're grown:  that they climbed and ran and built and hid and swung and discovered and explored and solved problems and played in the great big world.

Some important guidelines I discovered along the way, for anyone interested in attempting more outdoor time for themselves:

1. Pack snacks!
2. Invest in quality outdoor gear appropriate for the season for yourself (and your kids but they care way less about being too cold or too wet in my experience).
3. Don't be afraid to try somewhere new:  a local trail, park, or outdoor venue.  We've even spent time roller blading and riding bikes in the high school parking lot for a change of scenery!
4. Water is always the cure to all child bad moods.
5. Step back.  Yes, they'll do things that look too dangerous and scary - but let them show you that they know their own limits and have thoughts on creating solutions.  It is lifelong character building!

Looking back through my photos of this year, most of our favorite moments and certainly those with the biggest smiles happened while we were outside in the living world - with the sky all the way up high and the rocks of star dust orbiting in the vastness of space even above that.  And the bugs and burrowing animals moving around in the ground below us and the bubbling, molten lava even below that.  There is reassurance and power and inspiration that comes from the boundary-less feeling of the outdoors.  You can dream anything, the possibilities you can imagine are endless, and all those things that get caught up in your mind and make you feel worried float off with the wind.

There is an outdoor enthusiast quote that gets around the interwebs that I love.  It says, "Kids don't remember their best day of television."

So, get out there!  Your children's favorite childhood memories are waiting to be made.

Helpful information:
Screen Free Parenting:  Screen-Free Activities
NPR:  Kids and Screen Time: What does the research say?
National Wildlife Federation:  Health Benefits of kids being outdoors
TED Talk: Dimitri Christakis - Media and Children 
TED Talk:  Sherry Turkle:  Connected but Alone
Simon Sinek:  On Millennials in the workplace
Screen Free Week information - May 1-7, 2017
Childhood Unplugged - photo inspiration and encouragement to techfree playing
Let the Children Play - Outdoor Resources

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