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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Embrace a Soothing Ritual

Waking up to early morning darkness is not so fun. When my alarm clock goes off in the morning, I'm not really thrilled to get out of my warm bed and head toward the shower. But there's one thing that inspires me about my morning routine: coffee.

It actually brings a smile to my face to think about my coffee brewing as I'm getting ready each morning.

We had dinner with some friends tonight, and they were telling us about little routines they have each day that they love. The husband has a little chocolate and wine while he stays up late and reads each night. And the wife has fancy espresso with frothed milk each morning. They also have a carbonation machine to turn tap water into bubbly water in seconds. (My husband was practically drooling over that little invention. Who knew that even existed?) The neat thing was that describing these little routines brought a smile to their faces. And this really got me thinking about how small things can have big effects.

I mean, if I'm running late and don't have time to have my coffee in the morning? It's going to be a rough day.


The point is that everyone has some sort of ritual that is soothing. And this brings us a bit of happiness. Nothing groundbreaking, just a little reward built into our day somehow. And I think we should embrace those little rewards. Recognize them as kind of special. This is how we cope with stress. How we soothe ourselves in a busy world. How we prompt ourselves to get up into a dark, chilly morning and even smile while we're at it.

What soothing ritual can you not live without?

By the way, I'm currently watching Weeds (the pic above is from the show), and I get such a kick out of the writers' portrayal of suburban coffee lovers. Apparently my love of iced lattes is oh so suburban. :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Get Thee Outside

The weather has really cooled off here in Durham! It finally feels like Fall!

So we are of course enjoying as much outside time as we can this week. It's been rainy, but that won't stop us. We have galoshes, and umbrellas, and jackets, and a complete disregard for how muddy our shoes get.

Today I didn't have any clients after school, so I was able to pick up Flannery from her school a bit earlier than normal. We walked to the park on our street and had an early picnic dinner. (On Tuesdays, Robi has dinner with his Duke students, so we usually eat without him.) She collected acorns of all sizes and carried them around calling them her "eggs" that she needed to care for until they hatched.

There was a moment this afternoon when Flannery was swinging high in a little bucket swing, her lanky legs flinging toward the trees. A breeze blew some ginkgo leaves across the grass ahead of her, and overhead, puffs of white clouds drifted through a deep blue sky.

This was a nice day. A nice day indeed.

What was nice about your day today?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Funny Flanna Quotes

While she was drawing a self-portrait: "That's me, cute old Flannery."

Petting our little Annie dog: "I wish we had two Annies!"

Talking about a wedding she's going to be in soon, as the flower girl: "Mom, can I marry daddy?"

Oh my goodness, the cuteness just overwhelms me sometimes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Even Good Changes can be Hard

Some of you have asked how my new full time job is going. I haven't really posted much about it because I've been so busy, and really, I've been kind of unsure as to how it relates to my happiness project. I mean, this new job definitely brings me a lot of happiness. I love my new colleagues and students, and just feeling like I have a team of folks to learn from and feel connected with each day has been a wonderful change for me. And here's the kicker...I don't have to bring work home every night! That has been a wonderful change, to have my evenings free to focus on my home and family.

But then there's also the change from part-time to full-time work that has brought a lot of guilt for me. I leave for work each day before Flannery wakes up, and get home around dinner time, when there are meals to be made and laundry to be washed and dogs to be fed and baths to be taken. I've been trying to squeeze in some special playtime for us each evening, but it's so different than our long afternoons of walks and crafts back when I worked part-time. Sometimes it feels really silly and even frustrating to be teaching other people's children all day while someone else teaches my child all day.


Anyway, I just keep trying to remember that this summer, we'll have months of leisurely days together, and that I'm a much better mom when we're financially stable than when we're stressed about money.

I read this post over at the Four Flights of Fancy blog yesterday, and it really resonated with me. The writer is another mama who has just started back to full time work. She speaks much more eloquently than I can about the ebb and flow of accepting this new lifestyle. It's hard sometimes.

Not to whine. I fully realize that I am insanely lucky to be able to find a new wonderful job in this ridiculous economy. I'm so thankful to be able to help support my family doing something I wholeheartedly enjoy. But I try to be honest on this blog, so that's where I am right now.

How does your job relate to your own happiness and fulfillment? Do you think if you didn't work, you'd miss it?

(By the way, that cute SLP voice magnet is from CafePress. Neat, huh?)

Don't Base Your Happiness on Other People's Mood

I'm often guilty of feeling responsible for my family's overall happiness or mood. Which can be a good motivator at times. I mean, my family is often happier when I can be lighthearted and silly with them, when I plan fun things into our week, and when I make a point to try to take time for myself so that I can be energetic and not drained when we're together. So, feeling responsible for the overall mood of my family can sometimes inspire me to take good actions.

But sometimes, regardless of how lighthearted and silly I am, or whether we've had fun times together, my daughter's mood can be a little sour. She's a kid, for goodness sake. She can't always be in a cheerful mood. As Flannery O'Conner says, "Kids have the weight of the world on their shoulders." Really, it's tough to do what people say all the time, and to have to follow what seem like arbitrary rules, and to have to eat stuff you don't like just because mom says, and to have to share your toys all the time.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that my child's mood should not dictate my own. She has no responsibility to be happy so I'll be happy. And it's unfair to expect anyone to be happy or cheerful all the time. We all have negative emotions, and it takes a long time to learn how to deal with those emotions. It's funny, it seems so natural to separate ourselves from a colleague, a family member, or a spouse who's had a bad day and is in a bad mood. We can chalk it up to stress or a tight deadline or something unrelated to ourselves. But when it's my daughter, I have a much harder time separating myself from her moods, from feeling responsible for them even. Which is just silly.

Anyway, I'm working on it. If you notice me all exasperated at Target with a grumpy kid in tow one day, remind me that I'm working on it!

I thought it was neat that I was able to capture a few of Flanna's different moods in these pictures of our museum trip yesterday. I especially love the deep thinking photo of her above!

Do you find yourself feeling responsible for your family members' moods? Or stressing over other things you can't really control?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Science of Happiness

Check out this cool video about the science of happiness. It's a Ted Talk. If you've never watched a Ted Talk Video, you're in for a fun way to learn. I really enjoy the Ted Talks, and the whole idea of spreading ideas and information in such a neat format.

What do you like to learn about?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Experience Nature

One of the things I've found to be true for me during my happiness project, is that time spent in nature is restorative. Experiencing nature reenergizes me, calms me, allows me to be in the moment more, and just generally makes me happier.

I was excited to run across this article by a Duke researcher, that discusses whether time spent in nature can be helpful in other ways. Specifically, he reviews two articles that examine whether children with ADHD are better able to focus their attention after spending time in nature. Not just outside on an asphalt playground, but actually in a natural green space. And from what I gather, the effect of time spent in nature was pretty significant (as significant an effect as ADHD meds for the task they measured). Interesting stuff!

So maybe taking a walk on my lunch break could actually help me focus better in the afternoon.

Yet another reason to get myself off the computer and out the door for a walk more often!

How does time in nature affect you?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrate Successes

Yesterday, one of the kiddos I work with had such a fantastic speech session that I just had to pat myself on the back. He's learning to use a picture exchange communication system (PECS), where he gives a picture to communicate when he wants something. I had been trying to back off on the amount of cues I was giving him, but for several sessions, he just continued to need me to put my hand out before he would hand me the picture to make a request. Now in real life, people are not going to put their hand out in expectation that you want something. You're going to have to make your needs known without any prompts. So, I've been trying to "ignore" him, and to turn away and not look at him or give him any cues at all, as if I'm busy working, to see how he reacts to "no cues."

For a few sessions, he would just get frustrated with me. But yesterday, he got it! He picked up the picture of what he wanted from inside his communication notebook, walked across the room to where I was busily "reading," and stuck the picture in front of my face! Not just once, but several times! It was really exciting to see that progress toward independence! To celebrate, I bought myself a coke that afternoon from the drink machine at work. It felt nice to celebrate a little success, even if just in some small way.

Sometimes we get too busy to take pride in things done well. A newly painted porch. A new shrub planted in the yard. A presentation that was well-received. A new recipe that turned out to be a hit. But it's these little successes that keep us going, that help inspire us to keep plodding along toward bigger goals.

So buy yourself a coke after a good speech therapy session. Make yourself a smoothie after painting that fence. Treat yourself to a bubble bath after a long day planting your garden. Small successes bring big happiness returns.

What little thing were you successful at today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Visualize your Happy Place

Whenever I'm stressed out, I try to visualize a calm, serene, beautiful place. My current "happy place" is the zig-zag bridge at our local Duke Gardens. I just love the idea of not taking the shortest route to get somewhere sometimes, how this spot makes us slow down a bit along our path.

When I'm super stressed, I'll try to imagine myself sitting quietly on the zig zag bridge, watching a turtle or a duck swim by, watching the light dance on the surface of the pond. I'll try to imagine what I'd be hearing--maybe the soft rustle of leaves blown by a quiet breeze, maybe some ducks quacking, kids laughing as they run around and feed ducks and fish at the pond. I'll think of what I might smell--fresh air, sometimes flowers blooming, sometimes the smell of leaves or damp earth. It's a rare day that this little visualization doesn't boost my spirits.

We recently took my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and some friends for a walk around Duke Gardens, and I got a few shots of the zig zag bridge. Very cool place. So glad we found it.

What's your happy place?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Schedule some Happiness

Yesterday, we had a great and very happy evening. We invited two of Flannery's favorite friends from school, along with each of their parents, out for a picnic dinner. We watched a bluegrass band and some cloggers downtown while we ate dinner outside. The girls danced, jumped, pranced, laughed, and generally enjoyed one another while we parents chatted. It was so nice.

What happy event are you thinking of planning?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

School Days

Speaking of learning, here are a few cute pictures that Flannery's teachers sent us from school. These pics were taken just before Flanna got croup, and I now see that I should've noticed she looked a bit worn down. Poor thing!

Learn Something New

Right now, I'm obsessed with learning about how people learn. In the "spare" time I have (which pretty much means late at night after all logical folks are sleeping), I've been studying up about learning strategies. And I have to admit that I'm currently going "graphic organizer" crazy.

I've used a graphic organizer for pretty much every lesson I've taught in the last 2 weeks.

For my social skills group, it was a KWLS chart about how to introduce yourself to other people. K is for what you already Know. W is for what you Want to know, L is for what you Learned from the lesson, and S is for what you still want to know.

For my writing kiddos, I've been using the "double bubble chart" to help them organize compare/contrast ideas for essay writing. For my reading kiddos, I've been using a "sun chart" to help brainstorm all the words we find that contain a silent -e.
For my articulation kiddos, I've been using a "brace chart" to break down the steps involved in correct /r/ and /s/ production.
And then, today, when I was writing up an evaluation report, I found that it wasn't until I'd plotted all the test scores on a bell curve to graphically/visually represent strengths and weaknesses, that I was truly confident that I understood the nature of the child's disorder.

I might be overdoing it a bit.

But seriously, if you're trying to teach ANY concept out there, there is a visual thinking aid for it. (They're actually called Thinking Maps, created by David Hyerle, by the way.) Want to talk to your preschooler about how tadpoles become frogs? You need the sequence chart. Want to teach your high schoolers how to figure out analogies? You need the bridge chart.

I promise I won't bore you any more with my excitement. It probably seems so 2002 to a lot of you teachers out there who have been trained in Learning Focused Strategies and stuff like that. But I stumbled onto this video when I was looking for good planning tools for the writing process for my 3-5th grade kiddos, and it inspired me to use these with Flannery, too. So many times, when we go grocery shopping, I give her a list of things to look for at the store. Why not make it a "tree chart" and have the items categorized under headings like fruit, dairy, grains while we're at it?

Today I'm thankful that I get to do interesting work that I'm passionate about. That makes me pretty happy.

What boring topic do you just love to learn about!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is a pretty neat thing. It's pretty much impossible to be angry, tense, or irritated when you're feeling grateful. It's like the idea of pain receptors being blocked when touch receptors are acting. You know, when we rub our heads when we have a headache, the pain receptors turn off for a bit because they're being blocked by the "touch" information flowing through the sensory receptors. So we feel better for a bit. (At least that's how I remember it from neuro classes forever ago!). Anyway, to me, gratitude is like that. It's a magical way to turn off stress receptors.

I think that's why the idea of keeping a "gratitude journal" is so big these days. (Not that I keep one, but I do think it's a neat idea!) Just keeping track of what we're grateful for can really make us more open to feeling good.

So where am I going with this?

I've had a very happy weekend. And I think a lot of it has to do with gratitude. All week, I've been thankful for my wonderful new job. Then, my hubby got back home, and I was thankful to have him home. So thankful! Then, he let me sleep in and have a day all to myself this weekend. We went to the park in the morning. We ran into a few of our wonderful friends, watched the girls play and climb trees, and Flanna even got to help give our friend's new baby a bottle! (She is obsessed with babies right now, so it was so cute to watch her being so sweet and gentle with the little guy!) I felt so grateful for the neat neighborhood and kind friends we have made here in the past year. And later, I went out for a pumpkin spice latte, then to a bookstore, where I just read and walked around for a while. It was lovely. And I just felt so grateful for a day to spend however I wanted.

So what are you grateful for these days? A good job? A job at all in this crazy economy? A partner in life? Family who helps you through the rough spots? A dog who snuggles up to you? I'm thankful for all these things, and way more. And just listing those things here really did boost my happiness!

Who are you thankful for today? If you haven't told them so, tell them! Don't worry about being cheesy...people love to be appreciated!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Funny Flanna Quotes (and one more)

Cleaning up her dolls, I picked up her Dora that smells like strawberries and said, "This baby smells good."
To which Flanna replied,
"She gets that from the Strawberry side of the family."

While I was cooking: "Mom, how big is God?"
and later, "God must be as big as a giant dinosaur!"

Reading a book about Franklin's favorite blue blanket, I asked Flanna what her favorite thing to cuddle with was, and she said,
"My mommy!"

And one more quote, not from Flanna, but from a kiddo at my new school:

A teacher was helping a preschooler catch up to his classmates in line in the hallway. He asked where they were going, and she said they were heading to the preK "morning meeting" where they could get all the information they needed so they could know what the day would be like today. To which he replied,
"Aww man, I hate information!"

What made you laugh today?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Get Enough Sleep

The past few nights, I've gotten pretty much no sleep. This makes for a very non happy mama. I just can't function on 4 hours of sleep anymore. Maybe I'm getting old.

Not maybe. Yes, I'm getting old.

And now, the old lady is going to bed at 9 p.m. Fingers crossed for actual sleep tonight! (A.k.a. no croupy coughing fits for Flanna!)

How much sleep per night do you usually get? Do you notice the effect sleep has on your mood and general happiness level?

By the way, this photo is a rare specimen of my child actually sleeping. I couldn't believe we actually had pics of her asleep, because she was so hard to get to sleep that I was very protective of that time and generally wouldn't dare to even have a click of a camera in case it might wake her up! :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pass on Little Family Traditions

Last night, Flanna woke up with a croupy cough. The scary, she can't breathe sort of croupy cough that comes from nowhere. So I slept in her room all night, and stayed home with her today. My day consisted of opening popsicles, refilling vaporizers, sitting in steamy showers, watching endless hours of Caillou, and trying to come up with some creative snack or drink that Flanna would at least attempt to eat.

Poor thing, the evenings are just terrible with croup. The scary croup monster emerges at 5 p.m. and doesn't leave until the next morning at 7. So now we sit listening to the baby monitor for signs of inhalatory stridor, and in a minute I'll head to "sleep" in her bed for another night.

Fingers crossed that this illness is short lived. The one silver lining in all this is that I got to hang out all day with no other purpose but to be near Flanna. I told her about all the things my mom would do for me when I was sick, and tried to see if those things would help her feel better, too. Her favorite was having soup in a mug for dinner while sitting on the couch. And getting to sip on Sprite and Ginger Ale all day long was pretty fun, too!

What do you remember about being taken care of when you were sick as a child?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let Yourself Be Yourself

I have recently realized that I'm kind of strange. I'm not your average 31 year old.

For instance, I love to watch Mystery Diagnosis. It's my favorite show. That's just weird.

And I love country music and Christian pop. This really embarrasses my husband, who only listens to bands that no one else has yet discovered.

Also, when I'm at a party, I gravitate to the kiddie table. I'm just more comfortable with kids than with adults. Kids are more fun and more honest, and really, less work than making small talk.

But I somehow don't think that's normal.

And I'm okay with that. It makes me happy to just be myself. Not to worry about who thinks my favorite TV shows are strange, or that my Christian pop CDs are cheesy, or that it's odd I'd rather hang out with preschoolers than grown ups. When I turned 30, one of my friends told me, "Thirty means not having to explain yourself."

I like that. These days I'm just letting myself be myself.

By the way, I had my new speech kiddos at my new school create self-portraits, and I thought this would be a good post for showing them off. I just love how each one sort of shows a bit of each child's personality. (And just so you know, the scary Spock looking kiddo is actually a very non scary sweetheart...too funny!)

What have you embraced about your strange self lately?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nature Scavenger Hunt

Today, we had a friend of Flannery's over for most of the day. It was such a lovely day. We spent most of the morning doing sidewalk chalk, having a scavenger hunt, and playing at the park. Then we came home for lunch, made nature collages from the things we'd collected during our scavenger hunt, and the girls played dress up and baby dolls for the rest of the afternoon, with a little finger-painting thrown in for good measure.

The scavenger hunt was such a hit that I think I'll do it again very soon with more neighborhood kiddos. The girls searched for and found: a piece of grass, a piece of moss, a seedpod, a piece of pinestraw, rocks, and leaves. I thought it might be too complicated for the 2 year old, but she did just great! They especially loved crossing out each item as we found it, and deciding where the best place was to search for each item. I thought it was so cute that when it came time to look for seed pods, Flanna suggested we go to the park, because "there are always seed pods at the park!" What a happy way to take in the little things in nature.

How did you get to experience nature on your long weekend?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The time when we went to the pet store and were sorely disappointed

So, apparently turtles are not for sale in NC. At all.

There was some salmonella outbreak traced back to a turtle, and so NC has banned the sale of all turtles in the whole state. The pet store owner we talked with today did show us everything we'd need to take care of a turtle, though, and assured us that they're just as safe as owning an iguana. But since iguanas have squinty eyes and do that strange thing with their necks, that really wasn't all that reassuring for me.

Plus, the CDC says kids younger than 5 should never ever have pet turtles. The picture above is from the CDC website, and I'm calling it, "Sad boy with salmonella." (Is that terrible?)

Anyway, so there goes that dream.

Thanks to those of you who commented about the idea, though! When Flanna's over 5 and we live in another state, maybe we'll revisit the possibility of having a pet turtle. What a shame, because I could see how turtles could be a great pet! I like the idea of them having to feel safe and comfortable before they'll interact with you...seems like a good way to teach kids to be gentle. But, I guess my dog running away and growling at Flanna if she's not gentle can also teach that lesson, hah!

In the meantime, we're talking about getting an aquarium. Flannery is just as excited about an aquarium as she was about the turtle. Thank goodness she's flexible, the sweet kiddo!

And my hubby's home now! Thank heavens! We missed him so much!

What have you had to be flexible about lately?