Holiday Helps for Harried Moms

It’s the most exhausting time of year! For moms the duties of kid schlepping, meal cooking, and overall household management, are joined by holiday baking, gift buying, card sending, and party coordinating. Put it all together and you end up with many mothers who are barely surviving. I’m right there with them!

1412SanDiegoFamWhy does it end up this way for so many of us so often? I believe it’s because in the midst of all the chaos there is also much joy and satisfaction to be had. Even just checking off tasks accomplished from our lists can be fulfilling because we know we’re playing an important role in our families.

But in case satisfaction is proving elusive for you this year, here are some hints and tips from my articles published in regional parenting magazines to help you navigate challenges like gift wrapping and sickness, as well as some encouragement for your new year.

Good-Looking Gifts That Are Good For the Planet

My new article, “Earth-Friendly Gift Wrap Alternatives,” offers ideas on how to make use of bags, tins, and other materials you have around the house to disguise your gifts this Christmas, along with some history behind gift-wrapping traditions. Check it out in the December issue of San Diego Family.

Sickness Plus a Holiday Can Still Equal Celebration

None of us plans to be sick during the holidays, but it happens more often than we like. The good news is that  sickness of any kind doesn’t have to derail the festivities entirely. In this month’s issue of Connecticut Parent I share insight from experts and moms who’ve been there on how you can adapt the celebration around a sickness – whether it be a garden-variety flu, a hospitalization, or a life-threatening condition.

Plan for a Bright 20151412AugustaFam

Forget the New Year’s resolutions. There’s a reason many people don’t like them: they don’t work. Instead, why not count down to 2015 with a list of things you can look forward to, or that can make life better, in the new year. Plan out 10 date nights, list 9 friends you will get together with, and so on. My article in this month’s issue of Augusta Family, “A New Year’s Countdown That Will Have You Looking Up,” offers 10 idea-starters for listing out what you want 2015 to look like. After all, it’s not too soon to be mapping out the next twelve months of your family’s bucket list aspirations!

My Favorite Things

Don’t you love it when you find a product or a system or a tool that improves your life? Maybe it simplifies a task. Or it saves you money. Or it brings beauty to your surroundings. Or all of the above. Well, those same qualities also make for good gifts. And since we can always use more ideas for holiday gifts, I thought I would share some of my favorite things that have made my life better in one way or another.

StarbucksReusableStarbucks Reusable Cup ($1 at select Starbucks stores) - Okay, so it’s just a plastic cup. But for me it is the right shape and size: big enough for a Starbucks grande and tall, not wide, so that your drink doesn’t cool too fast (my beef with half of the mugs in my cupboard). It has a lid with a sip spout. And besides only costing a dollar, it also gets you ten cents off your drink, hot or cold, when you use it at Starbucks. Plus it keeps more disposable cups from ending up in landfills. What’s not to like?

Tosca Lee’sHavahCover books – When I read her book, Havah, a reimagining of the life of Eve, expanded from the accounts in the Bible, I was hooked! It changed and expanded my thoughts on a very familiar story. And the storytelling itself is just breathtaking. Similarly her book Iscariot, about the infamous traitor, was well-crafted and not at all predictable. For those who aren’t big on historical fiction, check out her more contemporary book, Demon: A Memoir or The Books of Mortals series, a collaboration with Ted Dekker. I’m hoping to get her latest book Sheba, for Christmas this year!

PSCalPaper Source Wall Art Calendar
($29.95) – It’s a calendar and it is art. Don’t expect to write on this calendar. But do expect to use it. Mine hangs above my desk and brings me smiles every day. It’s a treat to flip the page each month and see what new image will grace my wall. Then, and this is my favorite part, when the year ends you turn each page over and cut it up. Note cards, pill boxes, file folders and more are printed on the back sides of each month. Simply cut along the lines (and fold, if necessary) and use. Those gorgeous images find new life when you use them on or as packages. Just yesterday I dug out my 2013 calendar to cut out a file folder. The 100% recycled pages are sturdy enough to double as templates for creating your own boxes and cards out of other materials too. It is worth every penny and makes an awesome gift!

Papermate InkJoy 100 Pens Inkjoy(approx. $.50 each) – Who doesn’t love a good pen? I fell in love with Inkjoy pens after picking them up during back-to-school shopping a year ago. They come in lots of colors, which I find fun. And they write so smoothly without scratching at the paper. One drawback – they do tend to bleed. But I’ve come to expect that from any inexpensive pen. A pack of these in multiple colors makes a great stocking stuffer.

2015OrgCoverMy Weekly Planner ($14.99) – I owe it to a friend for creating the original format that got me hooked on this two-page weekly planner. It allows me to capture on paper all of my daily to-do’s, from household tasks to volunteer duties to work responsibilities and even meal planning. I tell my family, if it doesn’t get on the list, it probably won’t happenMyOrg. I sit down every morning and fill out my lists. If I know I won’t get to something that day, I write it down on a later date. Then as I complete tasks I highlight them (see that picture to the right?), so I can easily see what is left to do. And since I’m an office supply junkie, I use a different colored highlighter every day. (See below for the winner of a coil-bound copy of the 2015 edition).

These are just a handful of the things that make me happy and brighten my day in one way or another. I’m an advocate for sharing about products that work well and make life better. So please add your recommendations in the comments below.

And now, for the winner of the 2015 Bucket List Mom Organizer Challenge: Katie H.!

Lulu is offering an extra 25% off the coil-bound paperback edition, if you want to get your own copy or buy one for a friend. Just use the code KTP4 through Dec. 25th (one coupon per account).


The November List

The November ListI was talking last night with a longtime friend when she mentioned her “November List.

“What’s your November List?” I asked.

She explained that for years she has kept a list of things which would usually  get done in December, but felt too much like chores and marred the month. She made a point of tackling them in November instead, which left her more time and more peace in December.

When I spoke with her, she and her husband had spent the day completing most of their Christmas shopping – one item checked off the November List. Other things on her November List include getting the holiday card photo taken and putting up outdoor Christmas lights (before it gets too cold out).

Are you as blown away by the brilliance of this as I am?

Two things stand out about what makes her November List so powerful: it requires self-awareness and a recognition of what doesn’t work in life, and it intentionally paves a new path. Many times we assume a helpless stance toward the stressors in life, particularly during the holidays. Come December we may complain about how much more shopping we need to do (when the stores are all crowded), or how much more baking we have left to finish. It may feel good to vent about it at the time, but it does nothing to make life any better. The November List does make life better, without denying that certain “chores” must happen for the holidays to meet our expectations.

What the November List does for the holidays, the right weekly planner does for the rest of the year. Running a household with children (of any age) requires the coordination of many moving parts. And without a system of organization, things can quickly crumble. I know, because I live it. I found that having a place to track all of my responsibilities and appointments in one location has made me more effective and relaxed. I am able to get the “chores” out of the way and have time for enjoying myself. It allows me to live more intentionally and conquer my goals, instead of being conquered by stress.

For the past five or so years I have used a two-page 8.5″ x 11″ weekly planner. When the original version of this planner (designed by my friend Emily Neal) went out of print, I created my own and have been printing and binding my own version for the past three years.

This year I added inspirational quotes and life goal prompts, along with the My Bucket List Goals chart and the Family Bucket List worksheet to make a Bucket List Moms 2015 Organizer. And I am making it available to all moms because I believe so strongly in the difference it can make in helping us be more competent, fulfilled mothers and household managers. You can buy a coil-bound, glossy-covered paperback version for 2015. Or purchase a digital download to print your own.

I know it can be difficult to tell whether a planner will work for you, so I have created a two-month sample version for November and December 2014 that you can test out. And I am issuing a challenge for those of you who do try it: provide me with your feedback using this survey, and on November 30th I will select a random winner from the submitted surveys to receive a free paperback copy of the 2015 organizer.

In the meantime, I’m going to go write my own November List. How about you?

Costumes, Bucket Lists & Your Future: A World of Pure Imagination

Costumes, Bucket Lists, & Your FutureThis week I am putting the finishing touches on my daughter’s Halloween costume. None too soon, I know! She is dressing as her favorite movie character: Arwen Undomiel from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Can I say that I’m a bit jealous? I wouldn’t mind having my own elf princess costume (complete with pointy ears).

It sounds odd for a grown-up to be admitting that in essence she still likes to play pretend, to dress up as a different person. And maybe I am odd. But I’m not alone. In fact, our culture reveres people who convincingly pretend to be someone else. We call them actors. We also enjoy interacting with them in the realm of first-person historical interpreters at places like Colonial Williamsburg and Renaissance Faires. At Disney World they’re called cast members or performers. And of course we can’t forget the attendees of gatherings like Comic Con.

There is something inside many of us that longs to inhabit a different world, a different life. We aren’t so keen on living out the story we’re in. Or maybe we’ve just grown bored of it. We want to write a different role for ourselves.

Kids play pretend and invent roles for themselves to test out their world and explore options. They are full of expectation and possibility.

But as adults, we think we have closed doors on plotlines for ourselves. We decide we are stuck on the path we’ve taken. Which is too bad. Because as long as we’re living, aren’t there still many possibilities for how our life will go? Sure, some options may be lost to us. But we mistakenly stick with things that aren’t entirely working for us because we’ve lost the ability to imagine other possibilities.

Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, the center of cognitive gravity tends to shift from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain… At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory. Instead of creating the future, we start repeating the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic. ~ Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

Don’t neglect your imagination. Go ahead and entertain answers to questions like: if you could be or do anything, what would you choose? Then dare to answer the question of what it would take to reach that dream. Pretend for just one moment that you were actually going to step out on that other path. What would it look like?

I find as I dream of how I wish to spend life and think through step-by-step what that would look like, I start to find ways of making those steps happen. Imagination becomes reality.

That’s why I’m excited to be attending the Storyline Conference this week. I have a feeling it will ignite more of my imagination. And while it may not land me my own elf princess costume, it could lead to something even better.

How about you? When was the last time you engaged your imagination?


When Super Moms Make You Feel Small

[Editor's Note: This post originally ran in 2013, and was well-received. I wanted to share it with you again to remind us all of the importance of being brave enough to be ourselves.]

I’m waiting at a stoplight when I see one again: an oval sticker on the back of a minivan that reads “26.2” (or sometimes “13.1″).

26.2Are you tired of those yet? Because I am. And not because I think those who have completed a marathon don’t deserve to boast. They do. Completing a 26.2 mile race requires significant training and determination. They have joined an elite group of distance runners.

But I don’t like how broadcasting their accomplishment like this can make the rest of us feel “less than.”

You know what I’m talking about. It’s the same way you feel when that friend posts photos of her Hawaii vacation, which comes on the heels of her business trip to France.

And these women are raising children the same ages as yours. Why am I not doing more with my life, you think. It appears your daily struggles to keep the family on track will never amount to what others are pulling off.

Yet there is a cure for this feeling of being “less than.” And it’s not called “greater than.” As soon as you find an accomplishment that puts you ahead of moms around you, someone will top it. Forget making life and motherhood a competition. The answer to “less than” is “equal.”

So you’re not Super Mom. Who cares that you haven’t finished a marathon or hosted a successful benefit or traveled the world? What aspirations do you have? Would it be equivalent to completing a marathon for you to sign up for a class at the community college that might start you on the road to that degree you’ve been considering? Would pulling together a family trip to the camp you grew up going to as a kid equal another’s Hawaii vacation?

It’s time to stop feeling less than. Take this opportunity to consider what unmet ambitions you have, or simple goals you’d like to tackle, and start moving toward making them happen. Just acknowledging which accomplishments matter to you will empower you. You’ll be free to celebrate another mom’s achievements, without having to match her. You’ll be ready to seize opportunities to do more and be more on your terms.

Because we’ve all got our own 26.2 inside of us. It’s up to us to cross that finish line.

Bucket List Living For Moms can help you get past the 26.2’s and other common bucket list pursuits that keep you feeling “less than.” It contains questions that help you tap into longings you may have ignored and former dreams you’ve let die. It enables you to create a concrete, actionable list of where you want to go in life over the next months and years. And it equips you to find the means to incorporate your list into the chaos of family life where you can start feeling successful, because you are successful (even if you’re not Super Mom).

Photo credit: 26.2 by Matt Beckwith on Flickr via CC License

Autumn Tips & Inspiration for Parents

18 Ways to Celebrate Fall – Fall is my favorite time of year – the sights, the sounds, the smells and especially the flavors. It is also a great time for trying new things since it seems like the list of possibilities this time of year is endless. In this article for San Diego Family, I list 18 options. Check it out and try one or two local versions with your family in the coming days.

Tricks for Getting Rid of Those Treats – Confess mom: how much of your kids Halloween candy do you sneak? Instead of putting on the pounds or chasing sugar-hyped kids, try one of these options for dwindling the candy haul a little faster in the October issue of Birmingham Parent.

Preventing Concussion Confusion: 6 Myths Unmasked – Do you keep a concussed child from going to sleep or not? If they don’t vomit it isn’t a concussion, right? I didn’t realize how mistaken ideas I had about concussions my daughter got one. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and this article that ran in Idaho Family.

From Crippling Threat to Family Pet – If the biggest fear your child faces this Halloween is one of dogs, then you should read my online exclusive article for Houston Family this month. I talked to experts and parents to find out what advice they have for helping a child overcome what can sometimes be a crippling fear of canines. And not just overcome, but transform (trust me, my animal-loving child was once terrified of dogs).

Comfort in Books – during my daughter’s concussion recovery I made an unexpected discovery about the power of books. Read about it in my essay published by St. Johns Parent magazine.



Confessions of a Reluctant Scrapbooker

A vacation cottage within walking distance of the beach. No kids to care for. No meals to cook. No laundry to fold. Six other women to hang out with. And a house full of scrapbooking supplies.

StartFinishIt was my second trip away with this group for a scrapbooking weekend. Forget the beach or the nearby outlet mall. Forget sleeping in late and going out for meals at restaurants. We planned to crop and scrap as many hours as we could.

There was just one small problem: I don’t relish scrapbooking.

I have punches and papers. I own binders and bags of embellishments and stickers. I may not have collected every scrapbooking tool known to woman, but I’m not missing much. Yet most of the year my scrapbooks sit inside my craft cabinet.

It wasn’t always that way. For a few years I loved creating ingenious spreads of my children’s escapades. I labored for hours at my dining room table making masterpieces of each event. It was a haven for me from the unrelenting chores of motherhood.

The laundry that never ceased. The meals that had to be prepared day in and day out. The grocery lists and dust bunnies that kept returning. After years of schooling with final exams and semester grades, and then the business world with orders shipped and projects filed, being a stay-at-home-mom whose work had no visible result was at times soul-crushing. Yes, I enjoyed my children and the opportunity to be with them as they grew. But I missed the opportunity to accomplish something tangible, something that lasted more than a few hours.

Scrapbooking proved to be the perfect outlet. My children provided me with plenty of raw materials and my creativity bloomed. I looked forward to the evenings working on their albums while they slept. But soon my photo boxes bulged. I was four years behind on scrapbooks and then seven and then more. I hesitated to take pictures because I believed they would only add to my burden. The scrapbooks, like my laundry and errands, would never be finished.

But I still went on that scrapbooking weekend recently. I took two albums and a few dozen photographs. I told myself that the point was not to try to “catch up” on chronicling my family’s life. The point was to enjoy the process and possibly finish one project. And I am proud to say that I did both. That weekend was both refreshing and satisfying. And it has me eager to continue working on scrapbook projects in small, definable doses – ones that have a beginning and an end. I look forward to evenings at my table creating masterpieces again.

What is significant about this is that every one of us, particularly if you are a mom whose primary responsibilities involve running a household, needs a place in our lives where we can derive satisfaction from having accomplished something. And we need to be careful not to let that satisfying activity turn into just another chore. It needs to be one over which we have control to do or not do.

If you don’t have a place or activity where you can obtain that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction (and you’re even more reluctant about scrapbooking than I am), I would encourage you to seek one out. If you don’t know where to start, my book Bucket List Living For Moms can guide you through the process of discovering potential sources of personal satisfaction unique to you.

After that weekend away I can tell you it is so worthwhile to give yourself the opportunity to derive satisfaction from your accomplishments. I arrived home rested and happy. My husband and kids were happy for me. And we are all enjoying the albums I created.

Don’t you (and your family) deserve the same?


Going for Your Goals: Pick a Theme

We have a Spanish exchange student living with us for three weeks. She is so excited to be in the United States. She is eager to experience our culture, try our foods and see the sights. It’s delightful to see her reaction to the things she has most anticipated about the U.S. When we pulled up to the high school on Friday night fFWLookingUpor a home football game, the stadium was bathed in bright light, the stands filled with cheering students, and the marching band stood ready to take the field for the National Anthem.

She let out a gasp. “It’s just like on TV!”

You bet it was! Our school lived up to the TV image of the Friday night football game, including a nail-biting win by the home team. Our exchange student loved every minute of it!

After that, we couldn’t wait to introduce her to Chicago. With such a big city and so many sights to see though, it was difficult to decide what to hit and what to miss. Especially since we have a limited amount of time. Thankfully the school is taking the students on several tours. So we could rule out popular spots like the Sears Tower and the Art Institute. But we were still left with too many options.

One thing we did know is that Spaniards love American TV and movies. They watch them frequently (especially those learning English). Our student had also mentioned the first glimpse she got of our city skyline made her feel like she was inside of her favorite movie: Divergent. As luck would have it, we’d just gotten a copy of the movie from the library, so those of us who didn’t go to the football game sat down to watch it on Friday night. Which gave me some ideas as a tour guide.

We ended up taking her on a mini “Divergent Tour” that included a quick ride on the ‘L’  (minus jumping from it onto nearby buildings), followed by an afternoon walking down Navy Pier where we rode the Ferris Wheel (the one Four & Triss climbed). We could have explored more Divergent spots, but those two experiences were enough to make an interesting day.

I share this story to suggest that the same might work for you with your bucket list choices. If you have a long list of bucket list goals but aren’t sure where to start, why not try grouping them into themes? See how this changes your outlook. In my books, Family Bucket Lists and Bucket List Living For Moms, I suggest broad categories for brainstorming bucket list dreams (things to do, places to see, whimsical ideas, social/emotional goals). But categories aren’t the same as themes. A theme will more often have an emotional basis and will be unique to you.

For example, you may find that your list has a number of family heritage goals. You may hope to meet a long-lost aunt, visit the home your grandfather grew up in, and learn how to make your great-grandmother’s stuffed cabbage. Pulling them together under a theme might bring more impetus for fulfilling them. And you may find the experiences weave in and out of each other (that long-lost aunt might just be the one to teach you how to make the stuffed cabbage). Plus your theme may inspire you to broaden goals.

The next time you are stuck wondering which goal to put at the top of your list, try looking for a theme to guide you. As for me, I’m glad for the inspiration from Divergent. After a lifetime living in Chicagoland, it was the first time I had ridden either the ‘L’ or the Ferris wheel. Check those off my bucket list!


And the Winner of the Kindle Giveaway is…

We HaveaWinner!(1)Thank you all for helping me celebrate my new book, Bucket List Living For Moms. I have enjoyed having you all stop by and share about your bucket list dreams and the challenges you face as a mom who desires live a full and fulfilling life.

Don’t forget to check out the bucket list living resources I have here on my site. And make use of the freebies I offer such as the companion worksheets for creating your lists using the prompts in Family Bucket Lists and Bucket List Living For Moms and the downloadable poster of the Bucket List Life Manifesto to spur you on toward both making your list and doing it. Have fun with it!

And please, do keep stopping by. Add my blog to your reader feed, or sign up for emails of my posts (which happen weekly). Chime in to let me know you’ve been here.

Now, what you’ve been wanting to know: the winner of the Kindle prize pack that includes a Kindle 6″ WiFi e-reader, a digital version of Bucket List Living For Moms, the digital Bucket List Living Kit (Family Bucket Lists e-book, the Family Bucket Lists conversation cards, Bucket List Manifesto poster and two worksheets), and the bucket list mom car decal. Rafflecopter has chosen Christine LaFerrara Hiester! Christine, look for an email with details.

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Anticipation: What’s Next for Moms Who Want to Live the Bucket List Life?

Two hundred fifty-two days until the end of school (give or take). Ninety-four days until Christmas. Ten days until I leave for a scrapbooking weekend. Five days until the weekend. Seven hours until we have an exciting arrival to our household.

AnticipationI admit it – I love counting down to special events. The buildup of anticipation makes me giddy and energized. I remember as a kid looping one anticipation onto another. When one holiday ended, I began looking forward to the next one. When we returned home from one trip, I started thinking of the next.

And while as an adult I’ve come to appreciate the importance of being present to what’s happening now, I still believe in the value of having an occasion coming up to look forward to. Living the bucket list life has given me so many more opportunities for that.

In fact, today’s arrival is the culmination of a goal that my husband and I considered years ago, but never actually added to our bucket list. When we bought our home the summer before our now fifth-grader was born, we made sure it had extra space for overnight guests. We wanted a spot for out-of-town visitors and missionaries on furlough to come to, which has happened. But in the intervening years we also tossed around the idea of having a foreign exchange student stay with us. Except that our children have been so cautious and such homebodies, that we never expected them to have a desire to study abroad. We abandoned the goal of hosting an exchange student. In doing so, we missed out on years of anticipation.

Because today our first exchange student arrives from Santiago de Compastela, Spain. She’ll live with us for three weeks. And in return, our eldest will stay in her home for two weeks in the spring. In the time since the original idea rolled around in our minds, our children have grown more adventurous. They’ve learned to enjoy exploration. They’ve seen the excitement of branching beyond the familiar. And as a result, all three of our daughters have been counting down the days to our exchange student’s arrival since our high schooler signed up in August.

It has been a fun time of waiting and preparing. We’ve done some scrambling this past weekend to get our home ready. And I’ll spend another hour or two today at my sewing machine putting the finishing touches on the room our guest will stay in. And then this evening we’ll have the joy of welcoming a young Spaniard to our home.

I also hope you’ve been enjoying the Bucket List Living For Moms book launch celebration and the build-up to the Kindle giveaway drawing that will be announced tomorrow. After the conversations we’ve had here about motherhood, identity, risk-taking and community, you might be wondering, ‘what’s next?’ I hope you’ll read the book. I hope you’ll join our community. You have next month’s Adventures in Bucket List Living newsletter to look forward to. And of course, I’ll still be here each week offering tips, inspiration and insight on living the bucket list life as a busy mom. Beyond that it’s up to you.

Make your bucket list. Set a goal for the first thing from it that you’ll work toward. Then enjoy the anticipation of reaching that goal.

In the comments below, share with us one thing you’re already looking forward to. Are you counting down the days? What else can you do to build excitement leading up to it?

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Photo credit: 3 2 1 by NikonGirl1969 on Flickr via CC License.