How to Make the Sensational Memories of Summer Last

We have to enjoy every second of summer because it seems to come to an end before we’re ready to see it go.

In Minnesota where I’ve lived my whole life, summer has a special quality to it. It brings a sense of excitement and an active energy that opposed the restlessness of winter. It seeps into frozen bones and forces me out after six months of hibernation into the open air to feel the sun on my face, the sand between my toes, and the wind in my perpetually untamed hair. It is amazing.

Summer in Minnesota, like anywhere else, is not to be squandered. My favorite tidbits are the deep evergreen pines up north, the iridescent blue of the 10,000 lakes you can find outside virtually any front door, and the beautiful bike trails, patios, and sidewalks beckoning people to come and sit. There are only three months of this transcendent time when the sprinklers on freshly-mowed lawns try to keep ahead of the scorching sun, catching rainbows in their misty spray. Communities hold parades, carnivals, and cookouts, and there is a festival in some corner of the state every night. There are outdoor concerts, movies in the park, and the ice cream truck runs on a perpetual loop. There are always fireworks on the fourth of the July. We live on hot dogs and s’mores, and we love it so much. Even dark summer storms with rolling thunder and lightning are incredible.

We have to enjoy every second of it because it seems to come to an end before we’re ready to see it go. Three months to squeeze in every slice of watermelon and every slap of a mosquito. When you look at it by weekends, there are only 12 pairs of Saturdays and Sundays to soak up like the cool clear water of a swimming pool on a scorching day. I want these days to last forever.

I know they won’t. The long hot days of summer are beginning to cool and shorten. The barefoot children in the street every evening soon will be for loading backpacks and headed for early bedtimes. When the fireflies and hummingbirds flutter by a little less often, I start to take an inventory of my time. I look back on the three little months empty of school and homework, and I sit still and listen. I ask myself, “Did I use my time well this summer?”

It’s not like I have an actual bucket list of things that qualify as a good summer. It’s more of a general feeling that I try to tap into, a sense of quality over quantity, of easy tempo and pace, of lackadaisical freedom I fondly remember from my own childhood, that tells me if I spent my summer wisely, calmly, and memorably. Through my self-appraisal I have found two basic hallmarks are the keys to living summer well and making memories that last.

Traditions

The simplest things in life are often the most magical. The experiences that we make important over and over again are the ones that we will hold the dearest. A cabin weekend every summer, a camping trip, the big fourth of July parade, a picnic at a lake in the same spot every first weekend in August. It doesn’t matter what it is, how big or small. Make it specific and put it on the calendar every year. How special will it be to have those memories? To hear your kids say, “Remember that one year it was windy enough to fly the kites? And the one year it was pouring rain so we had to eat in the car but then that beautiful rainbow came out?” These summers go by fast, you don’t have to make the whole thing memorable, just make one thing memorable every year.

Saying yes

There is so much to be said for making plans, but there’s even something more amazing about making no plans and just doing whatever comes to mind. The key is spontaneity. Being tuned into the moment and being ready to say yes, Jumping on a bike and going for ice cream, walking around the block as the sun sets with tunes playing on your phone, letting your kids bike through every sprinkler on the block, attending a random parade you come upon in a small town while going to that awkward family reunion, or spending an endless day visiting friends’ cabin when they text you the night before to “just come up!” These will be the times you and your kids will remember more than anything else you do.

Summertime brings lazy days, late moonlit nights, cool grass, hot sun, and the feeling that every moment is priceless. The experiences that arise unplanned and unfettered are like little drops of perfection that last forever.

So as this summer winds down and the sun sets a little earlier every night, I hope you can look back and say you know two things for sure: you made some plans, and you made no plans at all and let the day take you. If you can’t say so for sure this year, there may still be time. Either way, put stock in next summer. I have a feeling it will be the best one yet.

Laughing in the Face of Imperfection

Modeling laughter, even through tears, will build the resilience and courage our kids need to seek their own joy.

I sat in the office of a new therapist, unable to hold back tears. I was a shell of a person I sort of remembered but didn’t actually recognize anymore.
She suggested that I watch a TED talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame.
As I left her office I clung firmly to those threads of my rapidly fraying rope. Curiosity flickered somewhere within me. Watch a TED talk. That’s all. I can do this.
I watched Brene’s talk later that week. I felt like my feet could start taking one step at a time in front of each other.
After Brene pep talked me out of the doldrums, I devoured her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” in a day.
The guidepost chapter on laughter, song, and dance particularly spoke to me. In it, she speaks of how her family’s quality of life can be gauged by how much dancing goes on in their kitchen.
There are so many ways becoming a parent can turn off the silly switch.
In the thick of sleepless nights, early mornings, and constant demands of little people, the energy it takes to find our “silly bones” seems pretty impossible.
I try to cling to those moments when I feel the lightness of joy. I let myself feel gratitude for the therapeutic benefits of a good laugh.
I hope for more of that and fewer tears as we grow as a family.
Things go a lot more smoothly in our house when I forget about what I “should” be doing, and try not to take myself too seriously.
Brene Brown’s words have a crucial message for parents to remain grounded in our own self-worth, giving us the permission to be vulnerable enough to sing, dance, and laugh.
“No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
It can be a struggle to dance like nobody’s watching and love like we’ve never been hurt. But modeling laughter, even through tears, will build the resilience and courage our kids need to seek their own joy.
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Camp Songs Could Be Your New Drug of Choice

Science also shows us that we may be wired to feel even better when we sing in a group – and the bigger the group, the better.

I’m 11 years old and I’m sitting at a long table in the mess hall. The primitive building has cement flooring, a raised ceiling, and enough space to comfortably hold a few hundred kids and dozens of counselors. Just as I am about to ask one of my fellow campers to please pass the ketchup, the sound of conversation and silverware against plates is drowned by the sound of a song. It’s coming from a few tables over. Before the first verse is over, every conversation has ceased. Everyone in the room is singing about the wishy washy washer woman who washes her clothes in a way that I will eventually come to realize is weirdly sexual: “She goes ‘Ooh-aah. Oooh-aah.’”
Over 25 years later, I still haven’t experienced anything else (legal or illegal) that instantly puts my brain in the same relaxed, joyful state I experienced while singing at camp. I can’t help but wonder why. Apparently, I’m not the only one wondering what’s behind this phenomenon. According to the experts, it’s not just something in the bug juice.

Singing changes your mood – and your cells

Science has actually proved that the act of singing, as opposed to the experience of listening to music, is a natural mood elevator. A 2012 study published by Evolutionary Psychology found that in comparison to simply listening to music, the active performance of music (they tested singing, dancing, and drumming) elevated subjects’ endorphin levels. Endorphins are the “feel good” chemicals your body naturally produces. They have a lot in common with opiates and prescription anxiety medications and elicit a similar sense of well-being – without any of the side effects.
Similarly, a 2004 Journal of Behavioral Medicine study found that participants who sang in a choir demonstrated increases in positive affect (i.e., subjective mood) based on self-reports and, according to saliva samples, higher levels of immune system function than those who simply listened to the choir music.
A 2010 study from Music Performance Research also found choir participants self-reported high levels of mood elevation, stress reduction, and psychological well-being as a result of singing.
Meanwhile, the benefits of singing are not limited just to the talented. They also extend to tone-deaf people like me. In fact, A 2002 paper published in Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science suggests the less serious a singer you are, the more benefits singing can offer you. Researchers found that after a singing lesson, amateurs reported elevated levels of joy and elatedness, while professionals did not. That said, both the pros and the amateurs reported feeling more energetic and relaxed after a singing lesson. Additionally, both groups demonstrated significantly higher oxytocin levels after a singing lesson. (Oxytocin, a hormone released in both men and women during orgasm and in women when breastfeeding, plays a significant role in pair bonding – including the parent-child bond and between romantic partners. Further, oxytocin deficits are thought to contribute to depression.)

More is more

We know that singing in the shower or your car makes you feel like a rockstar, and we have the science to prove it. Science also shows us that we may be wired to feel even better when we sing in a group – and the bigger the group, the better.
A 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior asked participants to provide subjective reports on social bonding and had their pain threshold measurements (representative of their endorphin levels) taken before and after singing for 90 minutes. Subjects either sang in a large group (over 200 people) or a small group (ranging from 20 to 80 people).
For both groups, feelings of social connectedness improved. Even more fascinating was that for those in the large group the improvement was significantly steeper, despite the fact that many of the participants were strangers to one another. Researchers conclude that the group cohesion facilitated by singing is consistent with evolutionary theories highlighting the role of music in social bonding, “particularly in the context of creating larger cohesive groups than other primates are able to manage.”
When you’re talking to someone who has never been to camp, it’s hard to explain the connected, joyous high you feel while singing “You’ve Got a Friend” over the sound of crickets, surrounded by fellow campers. They may look at you funny when you say it’s nothing short of a spiritual experience, but you can stand your ground, knowing there is plenty of science to back you up.

Falling in Love With Here

One of the greatest principles of success: You become what you think about. So, what are you thinking about?

One of the greatest principles of success: You become what you think about.

So, what are you thinking about?

I started my career as a classroom teacher and while I loved working with young children, opportunities took me out of the classroom and put me into another realm of education. I loved this work enough to spend close to 13 years in it. However, around the 10 year mark I began to grow restless. I was at the top of my field, there was no position above me to reach. I was starting to feel like my career needed a change. I starting thinking of myself as something or someone else.

I started thinking about it a lot. In fact, it was all I could think about. Sometimes when you dream too much, it can affect your daily living. I so badly wanted what was in my dreams that I could hardly stand to live the professional life I had – the real professional life I had. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of identifying your happiness only with what will come. I could hear and feel myself becoming less and less happy in my current professional state, feeling like I would only be happy when my life changed. Having dreams is important. I might argue it is critical, but my dream needed limits.

As I faced the dissonance between my dream-professional life versus my real-professional life, I realized I had to take my own advice. I had talked with a friend who wanted a change in her life that wasn’t immediately available. When faced with this, we have two choices: 1) make the change happen or 2) find a reason to be happy without the change.

So, my friend really wanted to live in Minnesota. She was so unhappy not being in Minnesota that it was affecting her life here. I gave her the two options: If you really, really want to live in Minnesota then you need to stop wanting it and make it happen. You have to start today and begin your move to Minnesota. If that is what you want, then you have to be the one to create it for yourself. However, if for some reason you cannot move to Minnesota right now, then you have to make a change here. You have to find a reason to fall in love with here.

Falling in love with here can be hard when you have your sights set on Minnesota. Nonetheless, I knew I had to take my own advice and fall (back) in love with the professional life I had. I wasn’t about to give up on my dreams but I had to make the best of my current situation. The reality was, I might be there for a while.

From that day on, I was fully committed to making the most out of my here. I was going to be the best version of myself each and every day, and put my best professional foot forward. I kept the pilot light of my dream ignited but I didn’t let it burn down my current life.

It was then that I found myself at another decision point. I’m giving my all to my here and I have found a reason to love it again, but I was feeling like my dream was starting to fade. How can I keep them both alive without letting one ruin the other? I realized that being happy in a current situation and yet wanting another situation are not mutually exclusive. These things can certainly co-exist! I wondered, then, how in the world am I supposed to keep the dream alive? It’s just like anything else you want in life – you have to ask for it.

As I’ve gotten older, I have, actually, grown up. There was a time when I was afraid to ask for what I wanted or to tell people how I felt. Today I live a very different life. Especially with kids, I don’t have the luxury of protecting myself from the possibility of looking like a fool. It’s simply part of the job and I am fully committed to do it well. As a mother, I really don’t care what you think of me. Professionally, though, the thought of sharing my feelings and dreams made me  very nervous.

Vulnerability is a scary proposition for a lot of people. Somewhere along our paths of life we learn that sharing exactly how we feel or what we want is dangerous. We learn it young because as adults so many of us would rather die than admit to our most honest feelings.

We are not born this way. I know for sure because I watch my daughter as she precisely and with abandon expresses her feelings and her desires. I recently helped her though a situation where she was feeling left out. I made the very adult assumption that the resolution for the problem was that she and I would talk about her feelings and think about how she can make things better in the future.

Nope.

Her idea for a resolution was to actually tell the person that she was feeling left out and that she wanted to be included. Believe me, I wanted to wave my hands in the air and emphatically help her understand that these things rarely go well. I wanted her to understand the possibility of public humiliation and scandal that would ensue! They might laugh at you!

Of course, I did nothing of the sort and I merely followed her lead. She made herself so incredibly vulnerable and it was the best thing she could have done. She made her feelings known and asked for what she wanted, and received it.

I know my daughter is right and that accurate self-expression is the best way to live our lives. But, let’s be honest, exposing our underbellies to other people is scary. In a professional setting, with people I only know in a professional capacity, it is even scarier.

So back to my dream. The only way I can achieve it is if I ask for it. I need the universe to know my dreams in order for it to help me reach them. Whether or not I think the prospect of making myself vulnerable each day is scary, I don’t really have a choice. I refuse to sit back and not at least attempt to make this happen. So, the plan at this point is to continue being the best I can be today, here, while at the very same time, telling every single solitary person that I come across what I want.

Several months later, I was out of town to present at a conference and the honest truth is that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there. My plan had been in place for close a year at this point and there were days that I was tired of holding things up. I wanted what I wanted and I couldn’t help but have days where I wanted to be anywhere else but here.

How much longer? What’s really in the plans for me? How many more people do I have to tell? Was telling the bellman really necessary?

I had time to kill before my session and I was hungry. Keeping my chin up, I went to the hotel lobby for lunch. I was at a table alone when I heard someone say my name. I looked up and it was one of my professors from when I was working on my doctorate. I invited her to join me and we began to visit, catch up on people we had in common, and talk about her current travel plans. Then she asked me the question, “So, how is work?”

I truly believe there are moments in the universe that almost flicker with energy. I swear I could feel a current of connectedness with this woman at that very moment. There was a very real reason why I was there that day and a very real reason why our paths crossed in that random hotel lobby. I could sense the heaviness in her question and the gravity of how important it was that I answer her with the utmost of honesty.

My plan worked. I guess it is within the realm of possibility that I could have landed the position without ever having to put myself out there. I mean, miracles do happen. More than likely, though, I was connected to my fate by working hard to find that connection, saying what I wanted, and asking for it.

Using Minimalism to Teach Our Kids That Less Really Is More

Minimalism, to whatever degree you take it, can teach our kids important life lessons they can carry into their adult lives.

Marie Kondo started a minimalism craze with her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Her method, which involves only keeping items that truly bring joy, has transformed messy homes and cluttered minds for many readers.

As someone who loves Kondo’s books, I was excited to get my hands on “Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism” by Fumio Sasaki. Reading it reignited my desire to stay true to simple, minimalist methods and to pass them on to my kids.

Some people shy away from the idea of minimalism because they view it as a system that demands deprivation instead of simplicity. However, minimalism doesn’t have a checklist of items that are or aren’t allowed. There are no specific requirements. It’s a movement that’s more about personal growth and conscientious living than it is about trying to win a prize for owning the least number of things.

While some people, like Sasaki, take it to the point of having one bowl and a single towel, with only a roll-out mat to sleep on, for most people embracing minimalism doesn’t go quite that far. Regardless of what it looks like for each individual, it can teach our kids important life lessons they can carry into their adult lives.

1 | Teaches want versus need

There is nothing wrong with desiring an item, but many kids and adults have lost the ability to actually distinguish between a want and a need. For those of us lucky enough to have the essentials covered, it’s easy to consider our wants necessary because food, shelter, and other basics are something we’ve never struggled to have. We start desiring more and calling it need.

Minimalism causes adherents to stop and think about if they actually need an item, or if their want is strong enough to justify its existence in their lives. There’s a pause and an acknowledgment that buying something will not offer us permanent happiness, so if we’re only grabbing an item for the quick high purchasing offers, it’s a bad idea. This is an essential lesson for kids, and one they should learn young.

2 | Achieves freedom by focusing on less

Minimalism is not just about physical items, though that is the best place to start purging. Minimalism is about getting rid of distractions, whether they are material distractions or mental distractions, that zap our energy. Worrying about money, storage, or organization takes away time and offers mental stress, something minimalism helps alleviate.

Teaching kids that things don’t have to be their masters frees them to let go of items that aren’t worth keeping. They don’t have to remain consumers.

Those who try minimalism may also analyze food and free time choices. It could lead to eating simpler meals and cutting out processed foods, focusing on less. Parents and kids may practice minimalism magic on their calendars, opting for less activities with a more meaningful focus.

Many find they are also more intentional about technology use, opting to set aside times to perform tasks online instead of letting it be an all-day interruption that simply takes up time. All of these changes offer the freedom of less.

3 | Opens us to experiences

Minimalism often opens up time for its adherents, and it also helps them value experiences over things. Experiences make us happier than material items anyway, according to a study from San Francisco State University. The short-lived thrill of a purchase fades, but memories of experiences bring us joy long after the experience is over, enriching our happiness.

Experiences don’t have to be exotic or expensive, though they can be. They simply need to offer a child memories he will enjoy looking back on that will last longer than that trendy toy he thought he wanted.

4 | Stops the comparison game

Minimalism is a journey of self-discovery, with the focus on making our lives work for us. In this way, comparisons are of no use. It doesn’t matter how much or how little those around us choose to consume. We exit the game where participants constantly compare their purchases and nice things to someone else’s.

This is a great lesson for kids because it’s easy for them to look around and assume they are supposed to have the same items other children do. By focusing on minimalism, we are teaching kids to develop self-control and think about how having less things, a more open schedule, and less stress helps them. They can then make choices that positively affect their lives without worrying about anyone else’s decisions.

5 | Helps the unorganized kid

We believe that giving our kids things is a way to show love, but for unorganized kids, it can be an overwhelming burden to carry. I know because I was one, and I’m now an unorganized adult who is helped tremendously by the practice of minimalism.

I needed to be a minimalist in the 1980s (when it wasn’t common) because I didn’t care for things, but I would have loved the mental clarity and lack of guilt that comes with being able to properly sort a few items.

Unorganized kids can be unburdened quickly if they learn how to prioritize their wants and needs, find a special place for the items they deem essential, and learn some basic skills for keeping things sorted. It builds confidence in kids who can otherwise snap under the pressure of handling more than they are capable of.

6 | Makes us grateful

Having less can truly make us more thankful for what we have. Having more doesn’t particularly make us grateful for it. If anything, having more can make kids expect more instead of being thankful for what they have.

Helping kids embrace minimalism in every aspect of their lives promotes being grateful for the big and little things in life. It can leave our kids happy with less instead of always thirsting for more.

Embracing the Beautiful Pain of Parenthood

I began to understand that the more I relinquished the self-appointed duty to protect my son from all trouble, the more freedom I felt.

The heavy, stagnant air pushed through our car as I rolled the windows down. It was a steamy Saturday morning in July with no breeze and overcast skies. On our way to run errands, my one-year-old son and I drove along the back road of our shoreline town. I quickly glanced over at the beach-goers setting up their chairs and umbrellas for the day. A group of teenage girls caught my eye and I suddenly found my mind wandering.
Wasn’t that just me down on that beach? What did that feel like, before I had an extension of myself toddling around in the world? I couldn’t fully remember. The only emotions I felt were the memories of feeling untroubled and carefree.
It was in that moment that I recognized the severity of the fear I’d been wrestling with since becoming a mom. The first year of motherhood served as a kind of fire for me. The whole experience was intense, yet beautiful. I felt the stiff layers around my heart melting away as the dark rusty corners were brightened and refined.
Never before had I experienced such ambivalence. All at once I felt I could burst with love, protect with ferocity, and scream with restlessness. I struggled to accept this as normal, though deep inside I knew it was. The biggest stress for me, however, was the constant worry. I found myself acutely aware of all the things that could happen to our child, to us, or to our family. Life felt more fragile than ever before. All the pain I knew I could not protect our son from became overwhelming at times. I was in bondage to the unknown of what the future may hold.
 
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Often I’d remind myself that we live in a broken and beautiful world. On the hardest days, choosing to start a family felt like willingly signing up for an extra dose of pain. I knew I had to let go, but I found my proverbial fingernails dug into a shaky sense of control. At the end of the day, isn’t suffering the one thing we all live trying to avoid? As though the inevitable grief of this life isn’t enough, we waste so much of our energy anticipating it, ignoring it, or trying to escape it.
Over time I began to understand that the more I relinquished the self-appointed duty to protect my son from all trouble, the more freedom I felt. Not only would it be a vain effort to guard him against all tragedy, it would most certainly hinder his development into becoming the best version of himself. Difficulties and hardship are what tend to shape the most resilient and courageous parts of us. Don’t we learn most when we simply sit in the silence of our losses and battles? This new pattern of thought seemed foreign, yet revolutionary.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally consider the infinite list of tragedies that could occur in and around our family, but I began to acknowledge that I was powerless to stop most of them from happening. What’s more, I learned that my worry would only teach my son to worry. Did I want to raise a valiant man or one who let the fear of pain stand in the way of leading a full life?
The answer was obvious. Therefore, instead of running from fear, I began to lean into it. I’d tread through life in spite of fear and let my son watch me do it – an imperfect mother illustrating what it means to live in an imperfect world. As I continually learn to drop the weight of raising our children in today’s complex culture, I discover the opportunities to pick up the beauty that is so readily available in every moment.
What if we all did this – embracing both the beauty and pain of life while consciously setting our fear of losing control aside? How freeing would that be? What kind of parents would we be, and, more importantly, what kind of generation would we raise? I don’t have to think back to the carefree days of my youth – I can live in that sense of freedom right now, even amidst greater responsibility.

5 Ways to Foster Creativity in Yourself (And Also Benefit Your Kids)

Finding or maintaining a creative practice after becoming a parent can be difficult. But there are plenty of opportunities out there.

In 2011, the little black book came in the mail. 80 blank white pages. My goal was to dream on these pages – to draw, to journal my life, to create. I had signed up for the Brooklyn Art Library, a unique project that offers anyone with an interest in creativity the aforementioned sketchbook.
Once I had turned the pages into art, I would mail the book back to the library. The staff would catalogue it and add it to their collection of thousands. I would be personally fulfilled – art and writing have always had a role in my life – and part of an international creative movement.
Beyond a scribble on the first page, I never drew a thing. As a full-time employee and mother of a teen and pre-teen, life butted in. I was busy. The little black book stared at me. The deadline to submit the book creeped up. Eventually I admitted defeat and tucked the book into a drawer.
At the time it was the necessary choice, but I have always tried to keep creativity in my life. A study has discovered that 75 percent of people don’t believe they’re living up to their creative potential. I can only imagine a huge portion of that would be parents. We produce meals, provide entertainment, chauffeur, clean up, and often work outside the home. Although 80 percent of people think “we all have the potential to create” and “creativity brings my imagination to life,” who has time for optional passions?
 
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Turns out we should find the time – and not only for internal satisfaction. Parents who are stressed, both by non-parental demands and by the pressing need to be great parents, have a greater chance of raising children with behavioral and emotional problems. These children may also not do as well at school. If being creative is your “me time,” it will help you de-stress.
You’ll also be setting an example for your children. Creativity in childhood fosters important life skills. Our children learn to analyze situations and problem-solve. They come up with new ways of thinking. They learn to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. They improve their self-confidence. (Ditto for us grown-ups.)
Plus if you’re taking “me time,” your children may be getting “me time” too. This unstructured time has been shown to boost focus, creativity, problem solving, and self-control. It may even predict success in school and later on in life itself.
So find a way to carve out the opportunity: before your kids wake up, after they go to bed, once they’re immersed in their finger paints or homework. Then get creatively cracking.
Too rusty to know where to begin? External motivation is a great, well, motivator. As for me, I’ve signed up for the sketchbook project again. The book is currently on its way in the mail. Being proactive, I have already drawn four pages, which I plan to glue in. This book, I’m determined, will not be filed in a drawer.
You too can take part in this project: see details below. Plus learn about four other kicks-in-the-butt that can restart you on your creative path. Now grab that pen/needle/whatever and get going!

1 | Put it to the page

You too could be the proud owner of a new blank sketchbook!
For a moderate fee, the Brooklyn Art Library will mail you a sketchbook (with optional drawing supplies), provide you with a choice of non-restrictive themes, give you a fill-that-book deadline, and set you on your way. No need to be a professional artist here. Even children can submit – so get your kids involved on their own sketchbooks too!
Once done, send the sketchbook back in to be added to the world’s largest collection of sketchbooks – over 36,000 from over 100 countries. Not only can people visit the library and browse the books at the Brooklyn location, but the library often goes on tour, bringing your creative efforts to people across the United States. Plus your book can be digitized and appear online. You even get a tracking number so you can see exactly where, when, and how often viewers enjoy your book.
Collage, doodle or document your vacation. Make people laugh, make people cry, or just make a mess. How you fill the book is up to you.

2 | Stitch it forward

Knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, bombing – crafts made with yarn abound and are celebrated each year on I Love Yarn Day. On October 14, 2017, dust off your own needles and paraphernalia to join this seventh annual effort to create and share the yarn-based love. Get free patterns and tips on the website, learn from expert designers and bloggers, and join the community on social media through the hashtags #stitchitforward and #iloveyarnday.
Put on by the Craft Yarn Council, the day is not only meant to motivate you, but to motivate those around you. With the theme “Stitch It Forward,” the day encourages you to share your skills by teaching them to at least one newbie. Not only can you get your parental quality time, but, if they’re old enough, you can head your children in this creative direction too.
You’ll get a tangible item and feel expansive. Plus research has shown that yarn-based crafts can help you reduce your stress, improve your mood, increase your memory, and more. One study even showed that knitting can reduce burnout amongst nurses – which is likely true for parents too!

3 | Be collectively silly

You tell your kids to dress respectably, but maybe it’s time for you to throw that rule out the window – or rather, into a subway car. Nourish the exhibitionist in you and learn how to deal with situations on the fly by taking part in the annual No Pants Subway Ride.
The event is put on by Improv Everywhere, whose tagline is “We cause scenes.” They invite you to join them for this annual prank, which takes place in dozens of cities in dozens of countries. (Join the mailing list to be notified of the next date.)
Here’s what you do: Take off your pants (but leave on your underwear). Get on a subway. Pretend nothing strange is going on – even as other pants-less people get on and off the train. The only requirements: a daring attitude, the desire to have fun, and the ability to keep a straight face.
The goal, says the founder, is to share an experience and bring people together through absurdity. Our kids get to play – with no rhyme or reasoning – so here’s a chance for you too!

4 | Add to your talents

The above suggestions assume you already have some creative skill (or at least the ability to strip). But what if you’re more inclined to add to your talents?
Learning in person is a great way to proceed, so check out the offerings at your local art studios, craft stores, colleges, etc. If you live in New York or can travel there or to select other locations, you could try a Creativity Workshop, specifically focused on writing, photography, drawing, mindfulness, and other activities that explore the power of the imagination.
If a book is more your style, take a look at Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” and accompanying journal. Here you’ll learn 10 tips about being creative – including how to steal ideas from others. If you’d rather shuffle than flip, the Art Sparks Creative Project Deck gives you a month’s worth of ideas.
There are also many opportunities to learn online. Search the options at The Great Courses or Udemy, or find classes specifically focused on creative pursuits at CreativeLive or Creativebug. Proceeding at your own pace is an ideal way to fit the learning in.

5 | Tune out

Then again, sometimes the best way to be creative is to not try to be creative. Research has shown that taking a walk – outside or on the treadmill – helps ideas flow and can generate novel concepts. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” This also extends to movements like running, dancing, and yoga.
Even if you have a child in tow, schedule the walk around nap time, tuck the smartphone away, and take advantage of zoning out with just you, the stroller, the passing world, and your thoughts. Not only may creative ideas come to you at the moment, but the effect extends to when you get back home too. You’ll be ready to tackle your creative projects with greater zest or, if nap time is over, immerse yourself in the imaginary world of Disney characters like you never have before!

21 Simple Ways to Indulge Yourself Even When Time is Limited

Even though there are piles of laundry to tend to, and ice cream to scoop, there’s still time for you. Choose to carve it out, you deserve it.

You belong on a hammock with a cold drink in hand;

you belong in a field of sunflowers, fragrant and grand.

– Rachel Macy Stafford, Only Love Today

 

Confession: every summer I get a little bit giddy.

I love slow days where “success” is measured by whether or not my three kids have swapped their pajamas for swimsuits and then back to pajamas before (late) bedtime.

I love making rainbow pancakes for dinner.

I love the piles (and piles) of chapter books that we collectively move through.

However, there’s another side to summer. With all of the time spent creating family memories, it sometimes feels like there’s not much time left for me.

 It doesn’t have to be this way.

 
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One thing that I’ve learned throughout the years as my kids’ schedules and calendars have grown so very busy, is that if I want something to happen, I have to carve out the time for it.

Just like I choose to create the time for rainbow pancakes, I can choose to create the time for me. Not only is choosing self care important for you as a mom, your kids actually benefit from this choice as well.

In an article on Psych Central, associate editor Margarita Tartakovsky M.S. wrote, “sacrificing your needs for your child serves neither of you.” Citing the work of Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, Tartakovsky wrote, “It is better for your kids if you have periods of unavailability that increase your presence later on, than for you to be partially available at all times.”

I take this as a cue to choose self care, guilt-free.

So what does that have to do with that hammock?

I’m a huge fan of Rachel Macy Stafford’s message of Only Love Today. Her book is a part of that chapter book pile that I told you about in the beginning of this article.

Her point is simple: choose love, her format is busy mom-friendly (you can read a short section per day), and her message is insistent: everybody counts in the Only Love Today message.

I’m taking that to heart.

“Only Love Today” is segmented by season, and right in the middle of the summer section is the gem about hammocks and how you – and I – belong in them.

I like to think that Stafford carefully and purposefully placed it there so that even the most self care-aware moms among us would get this specific message loud and clear mid-summer, right when your weeks are thickly bookended by sunscreen days and bug spray nights.

Even though there are piles of laundry to tend to, sprinklers to run through, and ice cream to scoop, there’s still time for that hammock. Choose to carve it out, you deserve it.

Here are 21 summer “bucket list” ideas for you so that you can get started today. (And yes, hammock-sitting is absolutely on this list!)

1 | Read a deliciously fluffy book, cover to cover.

2 | Sit on a patio.

3 | Host a girl’s night.

4 | Call an old friend.

5 | Turn up that 80’s music and sing along at the top of your lungs.

6 | Date your partner.

7 | Take a nap.

8 | Take a bubble bath.

9 | Spend a few minutes leaving compliments on social media.

10 | Don’t share your dessert.

11 | Go to that yoga class.

12 | Wear that dress.

13 | Buy new sunglasses.

14 | “Make” cheese and crackers for dinner.

15 | Go hear live music.

16 | Move that Amazon item from “Wish List” to “Cart.”

17 | Ignore the dishes.

18 | Create something that makes you smile.

19 | Try something new on the menu.

20 | Compliment a stranger.

21 | Sit way back in a hammock, of course.

"I Might Be Pregnant Again" and All The Emotions That Come After

This would be our fourth child together, and she wants me to be happy so that she can be happy. I want to be happy about this, too. I really do.

My wife tells me that she might be pregnant again, and I get that sinking feeling in my stomach like I’m back in my college theater program moments before I go on stage, or back when I rode roller coasters and didn’t care about the sudden ups and downs. Didn’t care about that steep, first drop. Back when I enjoyed the feeling of speeding out of control.

Problem is, I can’t decide if this news is good or bad. My wife looks into my eyes and I know I’m showing my hand. The more I remain silent, the more I reveal.

This would be our fourth child together, and she wants me to be happy so that she can be happy. I want to be happy about this, too. I really do.

We (she) had been talking about having more kids recently, ever since I turned 40. I said that I was nervous about childbirth at our age and she said I was being ridiculous and that we were both perfectly healthy and capable. I was not convinced.

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Twelve years ago, when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, I was watching a Yankees game. It was a good game. Close. Joe Torrey was managing.

“Are you sure?” I asked, eyes on the TV.

“Positive,” she said, holding up five pregnancy tests, fanning them out in one hand like playing cards. A full house.

Afterward, we’d hugged and laughed and talked about the timeline to delivery and wondered about when we would tell our parents and friends and who we would tell first and what the baby room would look like. We guessed at the sex of the baby and thought of names, and we sat and laughed and cried tears of joy and pondered the future. Our future. Our new, larger family. But not a lot larger.

Back to the present, and my wife and I sit on our bed. I’ve turned away from her. All three of our kids (ages four, nine, and 11) are asleep in the middle.

“Wow.” This tiny declaration is all I can manage. I know it’s not the response my wife is hoping for. I do not think to reach out and hug her.

“I don’t know for sure,” she says, her voice low. “I had some spotting and I’m late. I’m going to wait a few more days before I take a test.”

“Wow,” I repeat.

Comic Jim Gaffigan does a bit about the stigma associated with having a big family. He says that after three children, people stop congratulating you and start treating you like you’re Amish.“Four kids, huh?” he chides. “Well that’s one way to live your life! (pause) Can you make us one of those wood fireplaces?”

It’s a funny routine, but laughter is not one of the emotions rising inside me right now, sitting on the edge of our bed. Stupid bed, I think to myself. You’re the one who got us into this mess.

Is it a mess, though? Why do I feel this way?  What’s wrong with having a large family? What’s wrong with having four children? Am I pressing my luck? Doubling down?

I mean, we already have three healthy children. Why would we need another? Why would we want another?

Am I being . . . greedy?

“Say something,” my wife commands.

But I cannot speak. I’m at the crest of the first, giant hill again, seated in the front car, hands choking the safety bar. If anything comes out of my mouth, it will be a scream.

Later, after I’ve brushed my teeth and washed my face, I find a small  space on the edge of the bed and watch Gaffigan’s bit again on my laptop. “You wanna know what it’s like to have a fourth (child)? Imagine you are drowning . . .  and then someone hands you a baby.”

Without warning, I laugh. Softly at first. I watch the bit again and laugh harder.

Soon, I have tears streaming down my face and my belly hurts and I can hardly breathe. I don’t want to wake anyone (especially my wife, who has found a skinny spot on the opposite side of the bed), but the harder I try to contain myself, the more everything wants to rise to the surface.

After a few moments, I look down at my family, a tangled mass of legs, arms and hair. It certainly has been a wild ride, these last 12 years. A scary, unpredictable ride, full of twists and turns, loop de loops, and corkscrews.

Wild, sure, but exhilarating.

What I do then is I wipe the happy tears from my cheeks and rub my belly where it is sore from laughing. Then I carefully reach across the mountain of breathing bodies and find my wife’s hand. I squeeze it gently and she squeezes back. A squeeze of assurance.

There is room yet in this bed. Space still on this speeding train. Whatever happens next week, I know we can handle it. We will continue the ride, wind in our faces, hurtling onward into the unknown, and loving every single second of it.

The Intentional Path to Becoming a Sensitive Parent

Sensitive parenting has been associated with multiple social, cognitive, and emotional benefits for kids.

Sensitive parenting is also commonly referred to as responsive parenting. It has its roots in Diana Baumrind’s “authoritative” parenting style, a term she came up with following a study undertaken in the 1960’s. Baumrind spoke of authoritative parents as those who have high expectations but are also receptive to their kids’ needs and emotions.

Sensitive parenting has been defined as parents’ ability to:

  • respond to kids’ cues and signals appropriately and promptly,
  • engage in positive interactions with the child, and
  • provide a secure base enabling kids to explore their environment.

Some research has also defined this type of parenting as “active emotional, affective, and behavioral engagement with the child characterized by high levels of responsiveness, positive reinforcement and praise, stimulation and animation.”

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There appears to be a consensus that the impact of sensitive parenting goes well beyond the childhood years. This type of parenting has also been associated with multiple social, cognitive, and emotional benefits for kids.

Sensitive parenting fosters kids’ cognitive development

Much evidence suggests that sensitive parenting influences kids’ cognitive abilities. It has been identified as one of the strongest predictors of cognitive development. One study which sought to analyze the extent to which parents’ responsive behavior would facilitate infants’ development found that the kids whose parents had been guided toward responsiveness displayed greater social, emotional, communication, and cognitive competence. In other words, teaching parents about responsive behavior and helping them analyze this behavior had an impact on their parenting. Yet another study found that sensitive parenting during the first three years of life has a significant impact on social and academic competence through age 32.

Sensitive parenting helps foster kids’ emotional intelligence

When we provide a family environment in which kids feel safe and are taught about emotions, they are more able to deal with tough times. Several studies have reported that providing kids with a supportive emotional climate through sensitive parenting provides an optimal context which enables kids to explore their surroundings, communicate more effectively through both verbal and non-verbal communication, and react to failure better.

Sensitive parenting has been associated with health benefits

According to one study conducted among low income households, sensitive parenting has a buffering effect against poor health outcomes. The study found that kids who had memories of being raised by sensitive mothers were less likely to suffer from health issues. However, these findings remain inconclusive as it is yet to be determined whether the impact on health resulted from sensitive parenting alone or from other alternative unobserved factors. Moreover, the study did not determine why the results were only observed for maternal warmth.

How to become a sensitive parent

1 | Get attuned to kids’ feelings

Being a sensitive parent involves guiding your kid through emotional regulation. When we help kids name their emotions and teach them how to manage them, we give them important tools to navigate life’s challenges. Fostering kids’ emotional regulation means helping them be aware of different feelings, the events that spark those feelings, and how they can react to them in a socially acceptable manner.

When we get into the habit of naming our kids’ feelings – “I can see you’re upset, do you want to talk about it?” – we make it easier for kids to deal with their emotions. It is also important to talk to kids about your own emotions when you’re angry, happy or sad. Tell them what happened. How did you feel? What did you do?

Teaching kids to regulate their emotions helps them develop important mechanisms that enable them to cope with their own emotions. It also helps them be more aware of others’ emotions.

2 | Practice “mind-mindedness”

Mind-mindedness is an ability to appropriately “read” your kid’s mind. The research on mind-minded parents has been unable to determine whether this characteristic is inborn or whether it can be learned. However, parents can become mind-minded by being sensitive to their kids’ cues and signals and making a concerted effort to determine the behavior behind kids’ signals.

Being mind-minded means assuming that kids’ signals are meaningful and making an attempt to understand the hidden meanings.

3 | Focus on your relationship with your child

No two kids are similar, which means that kids might react differently to similar situations. When we focus on our relationship with each of our kids and treat them as individuals, we are more likely to be attuned to their signals. When we expect kids to “be like other kids their age,” we fail to see them for who they really are and to respond to their own unique signals.

The thing to remember about sensitive parenting is that it’s not about giving in to kids’ every whim. Sensitive parenting is the ability to find the right balance between firm boundaries and a democratic parenting style that is attentive to each kid’s emotional needs.