Why I Didn’t Create an Over-the-Top Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day yesterday was low key at my house. My husband cooked an amazing meal for me on Sunday. I gave him chocolate and each of my girls a little Valentine’s candy on the 14th.

Over-the-top Valentines Compared to the heart-themed-breakfast, love-notes-in-lunch-boxes fusses many of my fellow moms made, it doesn’t sound much like a bucket list celebration, does it?

There’s a reason for that.

Over-the-top celebrations aren’t sustainable for me. And I would argue they aren’t healthy or sustainable for most. They raise the bar and set expectations such that we’re often scrambling to find ways to make the next event memorable, to wow our kids or spouse or friends or social media followers with our creativity and pizzazz, to outdo ourselves. And in the process we cheapen everyday life and rob our kids of anticipation.

Going big has become such a way of life in our culture that I suspect we’re losing the ability to appreciate the ordinary. Our sense of perspective has been skewed by this desire for every milestone or occasion to be bright and amazing. When Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day and Easter share the same level of riotous hype in a household, how do kids learn which of those days is most significant?

When teenage girls become accustomed to up-do’s and manicures and professional makeup for homecoming dances, preceded by an elaborate “ask” by their date, then prom must include limousines and multi-hundred-dollar dresses and fancy “after parties.” But what’s left for the day they become engaged? And how can they help but expect the type of wedding that requires an exorbitant price tag when a mere high school dance merited so many frivolous expenses?

We have become so focused on giving our kids everything now, that we are leaving nothing for later. What will your children’s bucket lists look like when they reach their 20s and their 30s? When they are your age, what will they be hoping to do? How will they not be bored in retirement having done it all already?

More importantly, what do your kids bucket lists look like right now? In the wake of the hype and the busyness and the constant need to go big and achieve much, I’m hearing from kids how they just want a day to hang out at home and do nothing. They want a break from it all. Are you brave enough to give it to them? Or do you fear making them feel “left out” by not giving them every over-the-top experience you think their peers are getting?

Break the cycle. Dare to be the parent who invites their kids to enjoy the ordinary and leaves some bucket list experiences for the future. I know a lot of other moms who would appreciate it. And I’m pretty sure in the long run, your kids will too.


1603UdemyDisct Feeling exhausted from trying to match the over-the-top expectations prevalent among parents? Are you still eager to give your kids meaningful experiences that bring your family closer? I can teach you how. Check out my book Family Bucket Lists, or take my online course, Bonding Through Bucket Lists.

How Do You Spell Success as a Parent?

spell-successI nearly blew it again. My youngest daughter turned thirteen this past weekend and I almost didn’t have a card for her. As a rule, I don’t buy cards. I’m a crafter and I know I can make a card that I like much better than anything I’d find in the store. And I enjoy making them. But I have a hard time getting down to the business of making cards – it requires pulling out my stamping supplies and finding the creative bandwidth to generate a design.

On my daughter’s birthday, cards arrived in the mail from her grandmother and great aunt, as they do every year. Me? I missed sending my nephew’s birthday card last month. And I hadn’t started yet on my daughter’s card.

I beat myself up about it. I want to be like my mother and my husband’s aunt. I want to be the person who always sends a birthday card. And I’ve always felt like a failure because I’m not.

Then it occurred to me this week: whose priorities am I trying to live by? What do I really want success for me to look like?

I once met a dad who boasted about never missing one of his son’s basketball games from youth league on through high school, despite holding a job that required him to travel. It was impressive. He had committed himself to being there. It fit his definition of success and he fulfilled it. But me? I’ve missed gymnastics meets and soccer games. I haven’t bent over backward to be present for every one of my girls’ sporting events because that isn’t what I feel called to do (not to mention that it’s physically impossible when you have kids in events at the same time in different places). I’ve never considered myself a failure for missing my girls’ meets because perfect attendance was never part of my definition of success.

I realized this week that as much as my bucket list gives me goals to shoot for, I have to pay attention also to those I am not shooting for. I have ask myself, “How do I spell success as a mom? When my girls graduate from high school, what do I want to be able to say I did without (or nearly without) fail? What do I want to be able to check off my parenting bucket list? And what am I not going after?”

My priorities include serving a family meal every night of the week (success!), seeing them off to school every morning (success!), and making them a card for their birthdays (working on it). But my priorities don’t necessarily include being that person that doesn’t miss sending a card to everyone else. That might be a priority for me in another season of life.

I’m ready to stop trying to measure myself against other people’s priorities. I hope to recognize when I’m tempted to feel bad about measuring up against a standard that I haven’t subscribed to. And I’m only including on my parenting bucket list those things that truly matter to memy priorities.

Would you do the same? Think about how you spell success as a parent. Let go of trying to be the mom who throws Pinterest-worthy birthday parties if that’s not you. Don’t push yourself to execute the perfect bedtime tuck-in every night if it’s not working. Find the goals that do suit you and pursue those. Put them on your bucket list so you, like the perfect attendance basketball dad, can celebrate your accomplishment when the time comes.



September 2016 Bucket List Life Dare: Pass It On

What is something you do well? Have you ever thought of passing along your expertise to someone else?

September 2016 Bucket List Life DareI have been sewing since I was 16 years old. After making a skirt in Home Ec class in high school, I was hooked. Sewing is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, there are the patterns. If you’ve ever tried to follow one, you know what I mean. It’s like reading a foreign language. Just when you think you have one figured out, something goes awry in the execution. Thankfully, my mother is an excellent seamstress. For many years I consulted Mom when problems arose during my sewing projects – which was pretty much the case with everything I made. Knowing that I had expert help on call gave me courage to stick with it.

I still remember the first time I completed an entire project without having to seek Mom’s help. It was a Halloween costume for my daughter. Every year when the girls were young I would create one new costume. With three girls that meant someone got a new one while the others had to choose something from the closet. Each year I sought Mom’s help with the costume. Until the fifth one. By then I had been sewing for nearly 20 years. That’s how long it took to master the skill of sewing.

Sewing is something I love to do that I’m proficient at. And it’s something I gladly teach to others when I can – my daughters, children of friends. But I still feel like I have more to give when it comes to sharing this knowledge. “Teach someone how to sew” remains on my bucket list.

My goal for this month’s bucket list life dare is to spend time teaching someone a new sewing skill. I think my youngest (who is already comfortable around my sewing machine as a quilter) may be needing to learn how to make button holes. But if other opportunities to teach sewing arise, I’ll seize them too.

In light of the new school year, I’d like to dare you to add an element of teaching to your bucket list, a way use what you know and pass it on to others. Even if you can’t accomplish it this month, think about completing the phrase, “Teach Someone to/How to…” as an item for your bucket list.



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Daddy/Daughter Trip to the Olympics

David Williams and his wife Sarah are longtime friends of mine. One of the things I have always admired about David is his desire to see the world. In his 20s, David made it his goal to travel to every continent (so far he’s made it to 6 continents and 80 countries). But he didn’t leave that goal behind when he become a dad – he uses that passion to shape his parenting. He takes his kids on trips to places you and I only dream of going (like Fiji, Australia and Paris, to name only a few) – because that fits his vision for his family.

WilliamsOlympicsMost recently, David and his fourteen-year-old daughter Lydia traveled to Rio for the Olympic games. I thought it would be fun for you to hear from David about this once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip.

When did you get the idea to go to Rio for the Olympics?

It is something I have always wanted to do. I always liked watching the Olympics and I thought it would be cool to go. It seems like lots of people talk about going, but not many actually go.

About nine or ten months ago, I booked award [airline] tickets, but didn’t book anything else. I didn’t know whether I go. As the year progressed, I started thinking it really would be fun. And I imagined Lydia would have fun if we went. So I booked a hotel and bought event tickets [a few weeks before the opening ceremony].

Did you have any concerns about going to Rio?

Everyone was saying “you’re crazy. You’re going to get kidnapped. There’s Zika. That’s the worst idea I ever heard.” My theory was that it was incredibly important to the country of Brazil that these Olympics go okay. They will do whatever it takes to make the Olympics go well and make sure visitors are safe. Because their national reputation is at stake.

And that was the case. I didn’t see one mosquito the whole time. I felt incredibly safe. The people were super friendly and there were tons of [Olympic] volunteers.

What were some highlights of the Olympics?

I sat next to the father of Britain’s best Olympic swimmer and World Champion in the 200m freestyle. It was pretty cool.

Also, we had tickets for three sessions of swimming. But nothing else. So after dinner the first night I decided we should go see something else. We looked online at beach volleyball, for tickets to the game the next morning. And they had no cheap tickets (B & C level) left, only A level (top tier). But they were only $22 each. So we went to a beach volleyball game.

Just you and your daughter Lydia went to the Games. Why her and not the rest of the family?

I knew it was going to be expensive. My wife wouldn’t want to go, my eldest was busy with high school marching band and I had taken my son to Tokyo earlier in the year. But I knew my middle daughter Lydia would love it because she likes swimming.

Did that trip impact your relationship with your daughter?

Any time you spend extra special time with your kids, it will help your relationship. I’m all about experiences you remember. This is something Lydia and I will remember for the rest of our lives.

Lydia is a really laid-back person. But she had the biggest smile the whole way home. She got to see Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps, and Katie Ledecky. It was a great experience that went off without a hitch and she had a great time.

I want my kids to realize what a big world there is and to be interested in the rest of the world because they experienced it.

Any advice for other parents?

I’m very thankful that I’m able to do a few things like this. I try to do it at a very reasonable price. Just being flexible is the key. If you’re flexible and willing to sit on a plane for a while, it’s worth it to go to some of the famous cities of the world and experience them with your family. It costs money. But I do think it’s worth it.

Everyone should check out theflightdeals.com. You can find amazing airfares if you’re willing to go wherever and aren’t set on a particular destination.

What’s next on your bucket list?

I’m planning on taking my son to Hong Kong in November, thanks to a really good airfare I found.


CoursePromoImageWant to bring your family closer by creating and living out bucket list dreams like this one? I can teach you how. Check out my book in e-book or paperback or take ”my online course,” now only $15!

Back to School Tips & Helps

1608AlaskaParent It’s back to school time and the parenting magazines have plenty of good tips, information and inspiration for parents this month. I’ve rounded up some of my contributions to August issues that I think will make back to school better for you and your family.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your child’s academic performance this school year, you should check these out:

Help Improve Your Child’s Memory gives you 4 methods you can use with your child to improve his skill at memorization. They’re simple and sensible enough for any parent to put to work.

Exercise Smarts for Teen Brains offers strategies that teens can use to maximize the proven benefits of physical activity on brain performance. Have your teen try them out!

Studies say that families ought to sit down to dinner together, but how do you get the conversation rolling once you’re at the table? If your kids are anything like mine, they’re probably expert at giving one-word answers to questions about school, 1608PittsburghParenttheir day and what’s up with them and their friends. 21 Questions to Jump-Start Conversation gives you alternatives to “how was your day” that can enliven your dinnertime chats this school year. Like this one: “what part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

Fall sports are ramping up, which means football for the boys and girls’ basketball – two sports known for concussion-producing collisions. Lest you think a concussion is merely a bump to the head followed by a headache, read the essay I wrote following the 9-month ordeal my daughter went through with post-concussion syndrome: Heartbreaking Moments for the Mother of a Concussed Teen.

My girls go back to school today. It’s the last First Day of School for me with my high school senior. I’ll be spending the day trying not to be weepy or sentimental. How about you?