Sunday, 21 August 2016


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Friday, 12 August 2016

Planning to plan.

So.. if it isn't obvious by now, I am a single mom of 5 children. I cook their meals, wash their clothes, bathe them, play with them, read stories, kiss owies and do bedtime. I also make sure they have clean dishes, a clean bathroom (or 2!), an organized playroom, and generally tidy house to live and work in. I homeschool said children, teaching (in 2016) from preschool to Grade 7. I also work from home, as a business researcher and virtual assistant.

Obviously I do a lot of planning.

I plan daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly.

It sometimes feels like I do more planning than living, but the planning is the key to my living, and still keeping my sanity. I know I talk a lot about planning and organizing and schedules and routines, but that's because I honestly believe that no one who wants to do everything they need to do and not be overwhelmed with it all can do anything without a plan.

Planning is the first step to doing anything. But how do you plan when you're in the middle of actually trying to live and work and keep house and eat and still have time to sleep?  Children have the most annoying habit of needing you right when you need most to concentrate. Planning around kids takes .. a plan.

It seems counter-intuitive to plan to plan. I get that. Preparing to plan actually doesn't take that much work, but just a little bit of forethought, and the right tools.

For me, the planning starts with my yearly plan. Once a year, I take 2-3 days to lay out a foundation for the planning of the rest of my year. Right now, this coincides with the week or so that my children spend with their father over the Christmas holidays. But when I was still married, and in the middle of having babies, I still took the time to plan, if loosely, a year in advance. It took me a bit more time (usually a week, instead of 2-3 days), and it did require some help from family (usually my mom), but it still happened.

This kind of planning happens best when you can have someone else watch the kids. That's why I usually do it over the holidays. I actually find it restful, because I'm away from my daily routines, without the sink full of dishes, crumbs on the floor and kids yelling in my ear, even though I'm still working.  I use a vision planner (I like the one from Kimberlee at to help guide my thinking, but sometimes just a notepad and pen, and some quiet time to think, is all that is needed, along with a year-long calendar, so that you have an idea of dates.

What do I plan for my year? I plan out a vision. Or rather, I refresh the vision I already have. Did you know you can have a vision for your family? Most likely, you already do, even though you may not have verbalized it. I have articulated and specified what my vision is for my family, and I refresh myself and my vision with review every year. (This is best done with your partner, if you have one, by the way.) Then I plan out our holidays. For me, this is also our homeschool calendar, so if you have children in school, be sure to include that in your plans. Last, I plan out any major changes I know in advances, like having a baby, or moving, or work changes.

The planning continues seasonally. Every 3-4 months, I look ahead to the next season and update our calendars. Usually I'm at my parents, where my children are occupied, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes I have them at home, and it ends up being a few days of movies, playdates, or indoor playground time. I arrange something to occupy them for at least 2-3 hour blocks, so that I can have the uninterrupted time to plan. This planning happens in my PlannerPad, where I look at the monthly calendars over the next few months.

So what gets planned here? This is where I plan our extracurricular activities - swim lessons, baseball, dance class or martial arts. I think ahead about what family activities we want to do, such as barbecues to invite the neighbours to, birthday parties, beach trips or sledding days, field trips and festivals, concerts and movies. I plug these into my monthly calendars, and compare to my budget for those months. This way, there are no budget surprises or missed events, and I know ahead of time whether or not we can say yes to that impromptu visit to the zoo. And I make sure that everything fits in with my vision for our family. That makes it easy to say no, even when it's "good". Good doesn't mean best fit.

Monthly, I take a Sunday afternoon, usually on the last weekend of the month (or maybe the first), to look ahead. I make notes about doctor's appointments, the planned fun things and opportunities, and how that fits in with visitations and social needs. I check our church's calendar, and our homeschool group's calendar. I look for days that I need to shop on (for special things like back-to-school or birthdays) and I plan out my budget for the month. It works for Sunday afternoons, because we have a regular quiet time every Sunday afternoon, where I insist that everyone sleeps (even the 12 year old!) If you have a partner, this is a great time to reconnect and make sure you're both on the same page with what you want to do as a family.

Weekly, I have a quick glance over everything on Monday morning/Sunday evening. I check for my cleaning routine and adjust for the days we might be out. I write out the top goals for my blog, work, school and personal development that I want to do that week. I jot down the reminders for the ongoing projects I might have going on. And I meal plan, taking into account days we're out versus days we stay home. Again, if you have a partner, this is a perfect opportunity to check in on priorities and plan the logistics of living together while raising a family.

Daily, as part of my morning routine, I look over the day, and the next day. My PlannerPad is usually left open to the week at hand, or bookmarked at that spot. I hand out chores to my kids, pull out meat or prep for meals, and make sure I'm ready to go out, if that's what's on our plan. I jot down reminders to call for appointments or upcoming classes, webinars or work deadlines. My children will often ask questions and I take advantage of the teaching moments, including them in the details of what's happening that day. If you have a partner, leaving out a daily plan or having shared calendars will help keep everything running smoothly, and even make it easy to work as a team, instead of running into each other or forgetting things.

You see that by the time I get down to my daily plan, it's more a case of following the plan than actually planning. I've already done all the hard work before. Planning is a priority, so our daily routines are adjusted to allow for the time to plan. All you need is a system to calendar, a notepad to jot down reminders and goals, and a little bit of regular time to do the work. Start with a year, and work your way down. Even if you don't get to plan every day, just having a month in advance or even a season will help you stay more on top of the things you want to do, and less about being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Having a plan will get things done.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Diagnosis and Disability

I was so excited when I finally got the call setting up the appointments with the child psychologist. It was a huge relief and yet I was nervous. It was relieving, because finally, finally, it felt like we were getting somewhere. I was nervous, though, because.. what if it was something serious? What if it wasn't?? What if it was something I had done or not done, even though I thought I had done everything I could? What if.. it was all my fault? 

In May, we went for the first of two appointments. This one was an observation/interview appointment. The doctor, and his student intern (I don't mind students -- I let the local universities use my children for their studies frequently.) sat and watched my daughter play, while they asked me questions about her history and the testing and therapy we had done up to this point. I tried to be detailed, but without bias. I have and had my personal opinions on what my daughter's challenges were, but I did want the psychologist to give her his complete attention. I didn't want to "lead" him in any direction. After all, he was the expert on child development, not me. 

The second appointment was a couple of weeks later, and took all afternoon. They asked my daughter to do several tasks, and answer questions, and solve problems. Some were timed, some were not. The intern did the actual testing, while the psychologist observed from a different room. He was observing both my daughter and his student, so I'm sure he had a lot to pay attention to.  My baby girl squirmed and rocked her way through the tests, reaching for my hand and her security toy frequently, but without melt down. I was so proud of her trying so hard, and doing so much work that was really challenging for her. 

Then came the wait. 

We waited over a month before we heard from them again. It was anxiety-inducing and agonizing. But finally, they called us back. They had some questions about the testing they had done, and wanted to do some more testing. But to save us a trip (it was an hour one-way just to get to the centre where all the specialists were), they offered to do the testing in the morning, and give us feedback on everything that same afternoon. It 

I arranged childcare for the day for my other children, and off we went. First, we did the testing. It was more of the same like before, only this time it was more academic in nature. I found it eye-opening for my future education plans for my daughter, so in that sense, it was really helpful for me personally. 

Then came the afternoon appointment. The psychologist pulled out a chart with a hundred little stick figures on it, arranged in a bell curve of sorts, divided by lines. The bulk of the figures were in between the lines marked 25 and 75. The doctor explained that this was a representation of typical abilities. If we compared 100 children aged 8, the majority would fall in that bulk in the middle. Those who had advanced abilities would be on the far end of the curve, and be considered gifted. Those who were delayed were on the other end. 

Then he pointed to the lowest end of the curve. Figures 2-4. This was, he said, where my daughter's development was. If we compared her to 100 other children her age, 96-98 of them would be ahead of her. Only one or two would be behind her, or the same as her.  

The testing showed that she had difficulties with short term memory access and processing information. She also had challenges understanding language. (No, really??) Her comprehension of language was so low, it was actually not even on their charts. He said to compare, we'd have to compare to 1000 children, not 100. 

Because of all of this, he said he was diagnosing her with an intellectual disability.  It was mild, yes, because she was still on the charts, even if only in the 2nd percentile, but it was a definite disability. 

Mild intellectual disability.  I had to let that sink in a bit. 

An intellectual disability means that this was how she was born. It explained a lot, but it also meant a lot of adjustment of how I thought of her.. of her future. An intellectual disability isn't a learning disability. You don't change your IQ.  If it was a learning disability, we could teach her coping strategies, give her tools, use different ways of teaching, and she would "catch up", once we identified those. But an intellectual disability meant .. no catching up. 

Having an intellectual disability means forever being vulnerable. There's a reason we call it a disability. It doesn't mean that she can't learn.. it just means that there will forever be a gap between her and her peers. It doesn't mean that we stop teaching her, but it does mean that there needs to be a greater priority on practical things as opposed to academic things. It's not that there's a ceiling on what she's capable of, but more.. a time limit. There's only so much time until she's supposed to be independent, and she learns only so fast. But that's the same with all children. This one just takes a little more time than what's typical. 

Intellectual disability changes everything, but it changes nothing. It changes how I do things, but not how I feel about my daughter. It changes my expectations, but not my standards. It changes how I will prepare for her future, but it doesn't change the fact that she will have a future. 

Because God still has a plan for her. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Asking the right questions

They say its not what you know, it's who, that determines your success. Whether in building a career, starting a business, applying to school, or even your chances of meeting a life partner, you can have all the factual information in the world, but none of that matters when you don't have the right connection.  But what if you don't know anything at all?

Your success at anything is based on what you know you need to learn. If you can ask the right questions, you can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle, and fix any issue. We can do anything with the right tools, facts or connection.

It doesn't matter what your personal standard of success is, or even what area of your life you're looking to achieve success in, it all starts with asking the right questions. There are 5 specific questions to ask to solve any problem.

First, ask why. 

Why does this problem exist? Why do I need to solve it? (Related: do *I* need to solve it? Or can someone else solve it? Is this my problem to solve?) Why does it matter if this problem gets solved or not?

Asking why helps narrow down a purpose. Sometimes, we take on problems that aren't ours to fix. Sometimes we're making a problem out of something that isn't actually a problem. Sometimes it's a problem that will eventually resolve itself, whether or not we do anything. Ask why it matters.

Second, ask what.

What exactly is the problem? What are my options? What are the consequences to those options?

You need to define the issue. Be specific. No problem can be solved without all the information about it, at least not effectively.  Sometimes if you address a problem without considering the consequences, you create more problems than you solve. Ask what, and get clear on the details.

Third, ask how. 

How quickly does this need to be fixed? How should this problem be solved? How will we know when it's fixed? How can we get through this?  How do we do this?

"How" questions are the natural result of definition. This is brainstorming in its simplest, purest form. Our brains generate tons of ideas in answer to the "what" and "how" questions, which then lead to the 4th question:

Ask when. 

What do we do first? Second? When do we need to start? or finish?

Asking when helps organize all the ideas and options and possible solutions. This is the beginning of a plan to solve your problem and move you towards success. Even if you don't write anything down (and I highly recommend writing down your ideas), you'll start to make sense of what you want, and the feeling of being overwhelmed will begin to turn into passion and anticipation.

Finally, ask where. 

Where do we begin?  When you ask where, you're asking for the actual steps of your plan. In GTD-speak, (David Allen's book "Getting Things Done", a method for time management and organization) you're looking for the "next action". If you can identify the next immediate thing you can do, you can actually do something that will actively move you forward towards your definition of success.

All the tips, tools or right connections in the world can't help if you don't know what you're looking for. Asking the right questions is where you always need to start, no matter if you're deciding who to date, where to live or how to start a business. But when you have the right questions, the answers are easy to find, and no obstacle then can stop you from doing exactly what you want to do. When you ask the right questions, success is easy.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Habit forming and Change-making

artur84 @
Recently I've had 6 different women ask me how and when I knew enough was enough. How did I make the decision, the big scary changes, in my life? They were specific about my choice to leave my marriage, but this applies to any big, drastic decision.

You decide to make a change when
  • the pain of the status quo outweighs the fear of the unknown. 
  • the terror of staying is bigger than the agony of leaving. 
  • the frustration of life as it is now is more intolerable than the irritations and uncertainties of starting over. 
You decide to change when changing is easier than staying the same.

In terms of my marriage, I realized that it would be easier to be a single mom of 5, in terms of physical, mental and emotional health, in terms of productivity and parenting, in terms of financial and spiritual peace   -- it was going to be easier to do it all myself than try to do anything with my then-spouse.  Parenting would be easier. Making meals would be easier. Doing housework would be easier.  Even financially, I would be better off.  (I was right, by the way. It has been easier.)

In terms of life, I've made several changes over the last year or so.

I've changed how I view relationships and dating. (He has to be incredible to be worth my time.)
I've changed how I view money and budgeting. (God always provides what I need, and I will have enough.)
I've figured out a direction for my life .. well sort of. I'm still working on that one.

I've made smaller changes too. I've changed habits, things like remembering to take my vitamins, and putting on lotion, drinking water and planning meals.  I've created routines for my family, that I tweak and adjust, but the core routine is pretty solid. All these changes have made my life easier.

That's probably the key to making a change. You change when it makes life easier. You see this in nature too, right? Water always takes the easiest path downhill. We human beings are naturally lazy, procrastinating people. We all can claim to be type A personalities, but be honest here: would you really rather clean up your kitchen than watch the latest episode of whatever on TV?  (If you do, can we talk? Please?)

Habits, they say, take 21 days to form, and 90 days to make automatic.  For me, habits start with a realization of how my life could be easier. Those 21 days are a continual reminder of how to make my life easier. Then 90 days of simply practicing and relaxing into the easier life I've decided on firm up the new habit.

Change isn't actually painful. Contrary to popular belief, the pain associated with change isn't coming from the change itself. It's coming from the impulse and need to change.

One of the biggest life decisions, outside of deciding to keep my baby at 19, and deciding to end my marriage, was deciding to start a business. Every day, I'm faced with decisions that are definitive and scary and the whole process has been nerve-wracking. But every day, I think -- I'm willing to deal with this because the alternative .. not having this business, not succeeding, not working from home .. and the consequences, such as giving up homeschooling in order to work a job, or the scary future without income options ... is intolerable and unthinkable. I can't not do this.

A metaphor for any major life decision is childbirth. There are stages of childbirth -- early labor, active labor, transition and delivery. The most painful point, physically and emotionally, is transition. Up to that point, you've done all the work -- researched the options, thought about do I, don't I, weighed the pros and cons, figured out what you should do, but you haven't actually made the decision -- just like a woman's body has done all the work of dilation and getting baby into position. But transition is when everything is ready, and it's time to do the real hard work of pushing through. The pain in intense, there's fear and panic, but there's no going back either. Change, like the baby coming, is the natural result of all the work. The pain of pushing through the delivery isn't as intense as transition.

Feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of change. Feeling scared and panicky and unsure -- it's all normal and natural. A former mentor of mind often said, "When you want to make a change, you actually have to make a change."  You'll change when you can't stand the way things are one minute longer.

Monday, 1 August 2016

What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. We have certain skills and traits that create the kind of crazy person driven to work for ourselves. Owning a business isn't for the faint-hearted. It requires dedication, passion and a certain sadomasochism. After all, when you're the boss, there is no such thing as time off! And we love it!

There are specific characteristics that are common to all entrepreneurs. How much these traits describe us will determine just how successful we can be, though effort can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Developing these mindsets further is what helps create a good entrepreneur.
  1. A good entrepreneur is able to delay gratification.
    This one seems kind of obvious on the surface but its true. To start a business requires a lot of sacrifice, and you don't always see the results right away. But to the entrepreneur, the timing of the reward isn't the concern. We aren't worried about being recognized or compensated right away.  We aren't intimidated and we don't feel entitled to anything. We're in this for the long haul, and a lack of immediate success isn't going to stop us.
  2. A good entrepreneur can tolerate conflict.
    Whenever you start something new, there is inevitably conflict. Whether its with your schedule or the people around you, there will be some contradictory demands made on you. The successful entrepreneur is unafraid of conflict. We don't seek it out and we don't cause conflict. But we don't take attacks personally, and we maintain composure in the face of stress. We never attack personally either, but deal with the issues at hand.
  3. A good entrepreneur can focus.
    It can be hard to start a business, among all the many other things we do in our busy lives. But the difference between the dreamer and the entrepreneur is this: focus. The entrepreneur doesn't let the distractions of life and work deter them from turning the dream into a reality. He keeps his eye on the end goal and focuses on the plan, doing those things necessary to bring success.
  4. A good entrepreneur is judiciously courageous.
    The mark of a successful, creative thinker is the ability to ask the embarrassingly simple questions. We challenge the current status quo and ask why a lot. Sometimes this gets us into trouble, which is why we also need to know the proper timing for such questioning, and to use some common sense. It takes courage to ask the questions, but also takes discernment to know when and where to ask them. And sometimes it takes a little common sense to see the answer before you ask.
  5. A good entrepreneur can control their ego.
    Sometimes when we start new things, we make mistakes.  Being willing to admit to them is what will create the atmosphere of respect and openness that every new business needs to succeed.  We need to acknowledge the contributions of others and be willing to accommodate them. We also need to recognize our own contributions without fanfare. An ego trip is bad for business.
  6. A good entrepreneur is never satisfied.
    Business Insider recently ran an article quoting AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who stated that those who don't spend time learning new things will find themselves obsolete. If this is true for those working for big corporations, its even more true for the entrepreneur. We need to be always learning, always looking to improve, always looking for the opportunity to gain a contact or relationship or new skill. We're never satisfied with the current state of affairs.
  7. A good entrepreneur solves problems.
    Rather than complain or criticize, we work for the greater good. A successful small-business owner doesn't sweat the small stuff, but handles each detail as it comes up. No issue is too small, since we know that its in the seemingly trivial things that can make or break us. We don't tolerate waste, whether its in operations, in capital or in our time. We look for the solutions.
  8. A good entrepreneur is accountable.
    The words "it's not my job" are not in our vocabulary. We own our work, and we own our mistakes. We may not have a boss to report to, but we are accountable to a mentor, a coach, our life partner, or friends.. and we are most definitely accountable to clients. If you can't be accountable, you will not be a success.
  9. A good entrepreneur is marketable.
    As much as a good product or service is essential to business, so is the person behind the product. To be a success, the entrepreneur must sell themselves as much as they sell their business. You have to be likeable and have a certain amount of charm and ease around people. We create a sense of trustworthiness and integrity with how well we represent ourselves to others.  It's the leadership skills - true servant leadership - that will ultimately make a client decide whether or not they work with us.
Everyone dreams of being the boss. But it's those with the key traits of an entrepreneur that turn their dreams into reality. While not everyone is good at everything, we can develop these traits, and as we do, we will find that our hard work turns into the success we're looking for.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Ups and Downs

If you've followed my blog at all, you'll notice that over the last few weeks there have been some changes lately. And there are likely to be more, as I figure out just what I'm going to do with this, with my business and life. The purpose of this blog started out at a personal online journal -- a way to keep a record of my life, of the ups and downs of my marriage and my family, and just to keep up to date with friends and family. But as my life has changed, my story has resonated with some, and it's been interesting to watch the page-views grow.

I figured out lately that I have just 5 and a half years until my oldest child is an adult. Just 5 years and 6 months to make count before she launches into her own independence. Life is going to change so quickly, and I need to be prepared for this -- not just in raising her, but in the changes that will really impact our family.

I became a parent so young, that I never really had a chance to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. My identity has been wrapped up in parenthood, in raising my princesses, and making sure they have everything they need. But while I will always be their mother, I'm not always going to actively be raising my children. This active parenting ends so quickly, and even though my youngest is only 3, it still will be really fast. And I will not be "old" .. as in anywhere near retirement age. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want when my kids are grown and gone. I will have time to pursue dreams and hobbies that I've not even thought about having while in the middle of diapers and middle-of-the-night feedings. The problem is, I don't even know what that would look like. 

Then I thought, why do I have to wait until they're gone? I don't. My children are getting older now. My last one is potty-training. We'll soon be done with naptime. The kids are actually helpful now. I can walk away from the table after a meal, and know that my children are trained on how to clean up the kitchen, so I don't have to anymore. It's pretty sweet, actually. 

I've been working from home, part time, almost in hobby-like fashion, for years now. There have been periods where my business plans were laid aside because of life-interruptions, for weeks and months at a time. But now.. now I have time. Now I have drive, and energy, and mental space to devote to creating a career I love, that will support me well past the time my children are gone. 

So what do I love to do? I love to solve problems. I love to connect people to the tools, ideas, products or networks they need to fill in the gap. I get real satisfaction when someone else's life gets better because I was able to introduce them to the right person, or share the right program, or show them a different way of doing something that fixes their frustration. 

This blog is changing to reflect this vision. I want a platform to share the solutions I've found to the frequently asked questions I get, because I'm a single homeschooling mom of 5. I've dealt with abuse, domestic violence, marital separation and divorce, special needs and diagnoses, homeschooling while pregnant/with a newborn/with a toddler/moving/during relationship breakdown/seriously ill/in college and all with very little support.  I've moved umpteen times, bought a car, bought (and sold) a house, found new friends, lost old friends, been on social assistance, been homeless, and used foodbanks. I've managed life through the death of family, through the birth of children, and almost any other kind of stress you can live with and survive. I've started direct sales businesses, network marketing, bought and sold my own products and now I'm providing services.  I have found solutions to my own problems, and answers to my own questions. These are the things I want to tell. 

I'm figuring this all out on my own. I'm debating about going back to school even, to get training in more specific areas of business. This is exciting for me, though, and while I feel a tad overwhelmed, its a good thing. 

Ten years ago, I met a guy, who changed my life, for better and for worse. Ten years ago, I was a scared little girl, naive and ignorant.  Ten years later, I've learned a lot, I've made my mistakes, but I finally feel like I'm adult, ready to take on the world, and make my mark. I'm still not sure what that will look like, but I'm narrowing my focus, and I'm setting some goals. I may be a little slower than most, but I'm getting there, and while I know it will change some more, I can finally say I'm not scared about my future anymore.
One of the newest changes: my new car!!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Self Care Solutions

saphatthachat @
The first week of July I fell into a slump. I didn't sleep well. My body ached and my mood was grumpy and irritable. My heart was sore and my mind was cloudy and sluggish. It was hard to concentrate on anything, let alone my business. 

So what does a busy mom do when she just wants to hide?! 

I was a bit fortunate that it was a weekend where my kids were gone to their dad's. I could hibernate a bit. But even with that, there were chores and work staring me in the face, and before the weekend hit, I still had 5 small children needing my attention. 

Self care when you're a work at home mom, single or not, sometimes feels impossible to fit in our busy lives. We often devote ourselves to our kids (and partners), and when our attention isn't on them, it's on the business, and in between work and family, we try to fit in the myriad tasks related to keeping our family fed, clothed and clean. We all acknowledge the truth that you can't give away what you don't have, but how to fit in those recharge moments is difficult at best. 

For me, it's always been a struggle. It feels selfish and uncaring to take any time for myself. I've gone without meals just to make sure my children were fed, so to actually do something for me when I'll give up even basic necessities seemed the ultimate sign of greediness.  But gradually I realized that if I want to be the best mother I can be, I must be able to fill up before I can pour out. 

I desperately want to be the best mother in the world to my children. 

Stuart Miles @
The truth is, I can't do it all, without taking some time for myself. No parent can, and still stay sane. The myth of super-parents is a pervasive, dangerous one, and it's time we realized that it really is just a fairy tale. Where did we get this idea that self care is wrong? Because it isn't wrong at all!!

Self care is more than just the basic necessities. Making sure one gets enough rest, eats proper meals and drinks enough fluid isn't self-care, it's just common sense. So if you aren't doing that, start there. The fastest way to landing yourself in serious health trouble, mentally and physically, is to neglect common sense basics of life. 

Self care means doing those things that give you joy, relaxation and refills your soul. It could be hobbies, or having a social life, or even just moments of inspiration. Making yourself happy, even just for 5 minutes, will do wonders for your productivity, mood and health. 

It's those 5 minutes of peace that are the foundation of self-care for the busy work-at-home parent. Self care can be as simple as remembering to put on face cream in the morning, or buying that latte on the way to the next play date or networking event -- even though all the financial experts say it's a waste! Ignore them. Mental health is worth way more than the cost of those lattes added up. It can be taking your phone into the bathroom, locking the door and scrolling on Facebook for a few extra minutes, even if the kids are screaming just outside a few seconds longer. It may be ignoring the umpteen emails one evening in favor of reading a book -- that is not related to your business!! It's picking up the phone to call mom or your bff while you're making dinner. Self-care is carving out those minutes here and there to do those things that recharge you and make you smile. 

So how did I change my outlook earlier in July?  

  • First, I recognized the symptoms of my hormonal changes. It really was that time of the month! So I definitely needed to take care of the basics first: I went to bed a little earlier to get some extra rest, I drank extra water and I made sure to take my vitamins. 
  • Second, even though I had planned to work on some projects over the weekend that my children were gone, I changed my plans. I rearranged my schedule and I took the weekend off. I turned off the email notifications, and I pulled up an old movie favorite instead. I played a video game. I took a nap. I made my favorite chocolate treat, and I curled up on the couch to enjoy my evening. 
  • Third, I made plans with a friend. I took advantage of a free church program for a week, and spent the mornings with friends, venting, chatting, and just enjoying that time. We did a spontaneous beach trip and the fun with friends and my kids really helped lift my mood! 
  • Fourth, I took some time out to re-evaluate my work plans and projects. Was my encroaching burnout simply due to hormones and fatigue or were some of my plans not in line with my core values? Was I straying from my purpose and passion, and stressing myself out? I made the adjustments in my strategies and projects. 

Self care is a priority for me. Being a single parent makes it both extra important and slightly easier to accomplish than parenting with a partner. For anyone though, it should be treated as just as important as making sure your kids (and partner) are cared for. Find the things that make you happy. Talk to your partner and/or supports about what you need and ask for the help. The people that really care for you will probably surprise you by how encouraging and eager to help you out they are. Above all, don't feel guilty for spending the little bit of money, taking the extra moments, and putting yourself first once in a while. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Finding Resources

There was a lot going on in our lives for a few years. We continued with the therapy services we had, and kept going to the developmental pediatrician, trying this test and that assessment, every 6 months or so, until my daughter turned 6. Therapy was great, and we saw great progress with both language and motor developments. She potty trained around age 4.5 years old, just in time for my 5th daughter to join us the following spring, and my marriage to end the following summer.

At age 6, she aged out of the early intervention resources that were available to us.

I was now moved back into the city, continuing to see a family doctor and the developmental pediatrician, and trying to find resources to help my daughter. But everywhere I turned.. I was turned away. The early intervention services hung up on me as soon as I mentioned her age. The developmental resources apologized, but without a formal diagnosis, there was nothing they could do. I even contacted the health department to ask about special education services, and I was informed that because her disabilities weren't physical, there wasn't much available there either.

I finally connected with a parent network. Their monthly newsletter gave me lists of programs and private groups that I could connect with, even without a diagnosis. I began to put together things we could do to target the issues I knew about, even if I wasn't getting direction or help. We did an adapted swim lesson for children with disabilities, which was perfect for her, and a lot of her clumsiness eased. I signed her up for a sports activity class that combined one-on-one coaching with group social skills. She loved it, and was able to interact not just with her coach buddy but with other kids.

I started my own research on sensory tools and needs. I bought a giant exercise ball, a mini trampoline and black out curtains. I got headphones to help with noise issues, and I got exercise weights for weight stimulation. I tried to teach my daughter calming techniques to help with the anxiety and tried to create an environment that would help not hurt her. I even saved up to buy her a tablet for the educational multi-media games and videos that seemed to be the way she learned best.

It all paid off, and the meltdowns became fewer and less violent. Because her environment was more manageable for her, we did notice more self-stimming behaviour, but it was less disruptive. I learned how to put limits and boundaries on that without trying to ban it altogether, and emotionally, my daughter became calmer. She began to talk more -- lots more. She sang .. well sings. Almost constantly. She verbally processes her feelings, and now I'm able to talk her through social situations and anxiety-causing moments, before the meltdown happens.

 Her learning has taken off, and at age 7.5, she began reading. Now I'm faced with a new challenge, because her vocabulary and understanding of language is still delayed that it's affecting her reading comprehension. But I now know that I can find the tools to help her, even if it's challenging. She can learn, which is so exciting for us.

It still wasn't perfect though. There were still lots of unanswered questions, and we were still waiting for a psychometric assessment with a child psychologist. And without a diagnosis -- a label -- there were still limits to the resources I could access.

Finally, the spring before she turned 8, things finally started to come together...

Monday, 18 July 2016

I love my PlannerPad

I confessed last week that I am a planner junkie. I've probably tried dozens of different planners over the years. From dollar-store agendas to Daytimer, from teacher's grade books (for schooling) and a calendar to ones claiming to cover homeschool and everything else, online, offline, free printable and purchased downloads, I think I've tried every variation possible. I've even tried to create my own.

There are so many to choose from. Every store that sells school supplies also sells agendas and organizers. And just about every mommy blog has something to help with your time management. How do you know which to choose?

As with everything else, the answer is always it depends. Choosing a planner is a personal experience, based on a number of factors. A family with a lot of medical needs will need a different kind of calendar system than a family who have two fulltime working parents. A large family will have different needs than empty-nesters.

The first thing to consider when choosing a planner is what you need to include in the organization. If keeping track of housework isn't an issue for you (because you happen to be naturally organized and tidy -- if that's you, teach me your tricks!!), but you do have a lot of game times and practices to remember, then you might do better with more monthly calendars than daily tasks.

The second thing to think about for your planner is how much art, inspiration and color matters to you. For me, the artsy stuff, while gorgeous and I admire it very much, is distracting from the matters at hand. I'll get lost in the inspiring quotes, and forget about the appointments that I need my planner for in the first place. So I absolutely must avoid the colorful, inspirational, picture-filled planners, if I want to get anything done. You may get utterly bored with just plain black and white lines and boxes, so if it's pretty you'll use it more.

Third, check how complex your needs are. If you need to keep track of school events, ballet class, housework, meals, a work schedule, baseball games, football practice, piano lessons and doctors' appointments... you may want to get a downloadable one that you can customize. (Or you may want the one I use... keeping reading for more details.)

Once you've gotten an idea of what kind you need, then you can look around. Obviously a budget might come into play here. There are plenty of free and low-cost printables around; some that even allow you to edit on your computer before printing. My favorite sites for printables include Get OrganizedHey Donna, Andrea Dekker, and Mom's Tool Belt. However, there is still the cost and hassle of printing and figuring out how to bind the pages together. Do you want to continue to tweak in a binder? Get it coil bound or sewn at a local copy store? Use a duo-tang or folder and staple?

Or maybe you want to avoid the paper altogether, and you'd like something on the computer, sending Cozi or Google Calendar, are free to use.
you regular reminders on your phone or email. Some online planners can be shared or updated by more than one person, making them ideal for couples who want to keep up with the logistics of a home and family together. Often, online planners will have purchase prices (as in apps) or subscription fees. But some, such as

Then there are pre-made, pre-bound planners that you can purchase. Sometimes you can get the binder or executive portfolio and purchase refills, as in Daytimer or the Franklin Covey planners. There are prettier ones, such as Erin Condren or Passion Planner.

Finally, there is the one I use. With my busy life, and my need to keep track of *everything* I can in order to stay organized, I use my planner to track:
                       -my work
                       -my blog
                       -kids' extracurriculars (sports, classes, lessons)
                       -social events
                       -my garden
                       -my daughter's therapy appointments
                       -all my kids' doctors' appointments (5 kids means a lot of appointments, even if only                                           once or twice a year!)
                       -schedule of visitation with my ex

There's a lot going on, so it was a real struggle to find something that fit everything. This is why I love my PlannerPad. So many reasons to love this planner. The way it sets up just works the way I think. So it seems natural for me to write it, review it and actually remember the things I put on it. 

Let me explain. The main pages are a two page weekly spread. It begins on a Monday and ends on a Sunday (which I love, because it means I can keep track of visitation weekends easier!) At the top of the spread is the first row of columns. These are blank, with a title line, and several lines underneath. You can use these for anything. They are on top of the daily titled columns, so you can match up with the days if needed. Or you can categorize them according to the areas of life, areas of interest, priorities, to-do lists, people, types of tasks, or however suits you best. I organize mine according to to-do lists (or next action lists, per GTD philosophy). 

The second row is untimed daily columns, with each day of the week on the Title line. These make great places to put the things you want to accomplish on each day without actually specifying a time for those tasks.  I take my tasks from my next action lists and divide them onto my next days' list, when I review nightly. I also keep household tasks on these lists, and note meals for each day. 

The last row on the bottom is the timed daily columns. These are ideal for all those appointments and deadlines I need to keep track of. They also help me visualize my day, so I color block these times. Doctors' appointments, kids' extras, social events and my work deadlines all end up on here, along with blocked out time for school, chores, and work hours. 

I love this "funnel" concept. I go from the next actions I've determined in each of my areas of life, to putting them into specific GTD time slots. I can set goals, and figure out when I'm going to work on each goal. 

There are also monthly pages for a month-at-a-glance scheduling and planning ahead, and blank notes pages, for future reference. I usually use those for the reminders of "I want to do that this month, but I don't have the date/time yet" kind of events, like vacations, festivals, family activities, seasonal chores, or personal goals. 

There is an online option that does the same thing, but I'm a paper-and-pen kind of gal. I get immense satisfaction out of crossing off the to-dos, and I find it much easier to jot down things of interest or change things around on paper. It gets messy, at times, but my life is messy at times, so my planner is a real reflection of my life. 

No matter what planner you choose, having one helps keep things in order. If you've ever felt overwhelmed at life, frustrated because you keep forgetting appointments or stuck because you don't think you have the time for the things you really want, using a planner can help change all that. 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Distractions and discipline

When I was a child, my mother would often have to call my name four or five times before I would respond. It wasn't that I was deliberately ignoring her or rebelliously refusing to answer. It was because I was usually so deep into a book, a game or my own fantasy world that I didn't actually hear her. I zoned out frequently, and not always on purpose.

I loved to read as a child. I still love to read, but I don't have time, and to be perfectly honest, I'm a little nervous to let myself read the way I once did, because as a busy mom and business owner, I can't afford to get that oblivious to the world around me. But when I was young and without the same responsibility, I would read for hours, lost in dreaming the stories I was reading. I read quickly, devouring whole series of 4-5 novels in an afternoon. I could visualize the stories as if they were movies playing before my mind's eye.

That ability to hyper-focus can be a gift, but at the same time, can also translate into an easy distract-ability. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. When you focus, generally you are blocking out distractions. Hyper-focus, however, is not just blocking out distractions, but being completely unaware of the world around you. That means, then, that when one is not hyper-focused, the other extreme can happen, where every little sound and color and flash of light can draw one's attention away from the task at hand.

When I became a mom, I had to learn not to "go so deep" that I didn't even hear my baby crying. At first, I avoided reading entirely, for fear that I would zone out and put my little one at risk. Gradually, I learned how to "come up for air", not unlike learning to swim, only in this concept of time rather than water.

For a while, I started using background noise to prevent myself from blocking out the world. It's hard to zone out with a movie, radio or tv show on. I needed to be able to concentrate, but still stay aware of what was going on around me. Then timers and surrounding myself with clocks became a way to survive. I had to teach myself to pay attention to the time.

I have no innate sense of time passing. I could tell you sincerely that I only was 20 minutes getting groceries, when in reality it took me 2 hours. The only way I knew how long it took to drive to my parents was because my GPS told me it would take so many hours and minutes. Even now, 5 minutes can feel like hours, and hours can feel like seconds, depending on what I'm doing.

photostock @
It took me a long time to get over the idea that I was just lazy or undisciplined. I had always felt so guilty for being unable to manage my time the way others seemed to, so naturally. I had learned coping mechanisms for getting things done on deadlines, and I was constantly late or really really early for appointments. I avoided tasks that I found unpleasant, even if they wouldn't take me that felt they would take much longer than they did.
long, because I

It wasn't until my oldest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, and showed a lot of the same characteristics and struggles I did. I realized that, like her, some of these things weren't because I was lazy but because I had poor time concepts. I wasn't aware of time passing out of deliberate choice, but because I needed to be taught this. It didn't come naturally to me. Some people can't sing, or have no sense of rhythm. I have no sense of time.

When that lightbulb went off for me, I felt a huge weight lift off. I wasn't struggling because of something I just wasn't doing or couldn't do -- I just needed better tools and teaching to do it.

That's when I became a planner and printable junkie. I still have hundreds of files on my computer of templates and worksheets and ebooks about managing time, planning a schedule, making to-do lists and setting goals. I have shelves full of books about organizing calendars, managing chores, creating systems and taking charge of your time (and life!). I figured that if I wasn't naturally a time-aware and organized person, I was darn well going to learn.
Stuart Miles @

I've used dozens of planners and calendars to manage my life. I've tried variations of digital and paper-based organizers, apps for my phone and software on my computer and physical coil-bound books and simple printed out sheets in a binder. I've set up home management binders. I've done brain dumps and made lists of my lists. I've done courses on taking charge of your time, and making over your calendar and cleaning your schedule. I've attempted to implement various systems and schedules, following this expert or that.

Finally, I've learned to relax again. Most of the systems and planners and software were designed by naturally time-aware people for other time-aware people. It's no wonder they've frustrated me to no end. There are only a few key concepts I've needed, and only a few tools I use to stay on top of everything in my life.

First, I use a chime. In the old days, they had big old grandfather clocks, that chimed every 15 minutes. You could tell what time it was just by the chime that was used. I have a similar function I use on my phone. It helps me stay aware of the time, and provides useful breaks in my day.

Second, I use a paper calendar-planner. Something about physically writing something down helps me remember it, and there's nothing more satisfying than actually crossing off something on my list. My favorite planner is PlannerPad (, with space for active to-do lists in different categories, a timed and untimed daily planner in a weekly spread, space for notes and monthly calendars for planning ahead.

Third, I use routines rather than schedules. Routines are repetitive sequences of events, and the order of the events is more important than the time. I "anchor" my routines to big things like meals, that generally happen around the same time. This way I don't forget some of the little things I want to do that turn into my big priorities.

Finally, I take the time to plan and review frequently. I plan a week at a time, usually on a Sunday afternoon when my children are all sleeping. I check our weekly schedule for planned outings, go over my budget and plan my menu and grocery list. Monthly, I'm checking our planned outings to match up my budgeted income and making sure they're all in the weekly schedules.  Seasonally, I plan out our school year, update our chore lists and menus, sign up for extracurricular activities, pencil in social events and family trips, and note any holidays or birthdays. Yearly, I take a mini-vacation while my children are gone, to look back and review the last year, then I update and set goals for our school, my personal life and my business.

My time management discipline has been hard won and self-taught. But it has been so well worth it. I'm more relaxed. I'm healthier, physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. My home is cleaner, my stress levels are lower, and I even get time to fun things, both on my own and with my children. Best of all, now I have the freedom to be spontaneous, because I figured out how to plan my time.

Monday, 11 July 2016

How to work from home

I work from home. I make no secret of this fact. I have worked from home in some fashion ever since I became a mother, 12 years ago. Well, roughly 11 years ago, since it took me approximately a year to find my first WAH position.

There are roughly four main ways to work from home. There are variations of each, of course, and combinations, but most work at home falls into these four categories:

1. Direct Sales

This is the one most people are familiar with when they think of "work at home". There are many options within this category. It's a matter of picking a company or line of products you like, support and feel comfortable representing to your circles. From cosmetics to cook ware, fashion to bags, and food to cleaning products, there is something to fit every lifestyle, passion and budget.  

Direct sales have a bit of an undeserved bad rap. People think that direct sales mean hosting parties, begging family and friends to buy from you, and hounding people for sales and money. But it doesn't have to look like that -- and if it does for you, then you are in the wrong business. 

To start: choose your company, contact a rep, buy your kit and start selling. 
Cost to start: $-$$  Most kits average around the $100 mark. 
Degree of difficulty: 0  -- anyone can do this. 
Amount of money to make:  $ -  $$$   Most people will only make a few dollars a month with direct sales. It takes a perfect storm of a product you are passionate about, a compensation plan that works for you and being a really good salesperson to really make money. 

If you're outgoing and can talk anyone into doing just about anything, and on a low budget, this is probably going to be fun and a good fit for you. 

2. Network Marketing

This is a form of work at home most people don't understand. Basically, network marketing is representing a company to others without actually directly selling their products. Getting paid is more like an employee than being self-employed, usually in the form of commissions and bonuses. The structure of most compensation plans are similar to the sales force structures of major corporations, with front line sales people reporting to managers and on up the chain. A good example of network marketing is independent insurance brokers or mortgage brokers. There are a variety of companies to choose from, all with their variations of start up costs, training and income opportunities. 
Unfortunately, many think of network marketers as hawking pyramid schemes. This is absolutely not true, though confusion abounds, and there are a few scams that add to the chaos. Good network marketing companies will be upfront with their contracts, have clear cancellation terms and good reputations with trade associations, such as the BBB. 

To start: choose your company, contact a rep, purchase your membership or start up kit, and complete training. 
Cost of starting: $-$$$  The more it costs to start, the more likely it might be a scam. Beware and do your research before investing. 
Degree of difficulty: 1-5, depending on how good your supports are. Supports are essential to be successful with network marketing. 
Amount of money to make: $$-$$$$$  Most people will make a decent amount of money, provided they are consistent and have a good support team to help them. A few will make 6 or 7 figure incomes. 

If you are outgoing and a natural sales person, love working with a team and find an opportunity you can be passionate about, this is an excellent fit. 

3. Product

This kind of work at home requires that you have either a skill to create a product or a network to purchase products for resale. Once you have your physical or digital product in place, you simply open up an e-store and start selling it. It seems simple, but requires a good deal of technical know-how to set up an e-store and be able to handle inventory, shipping, taxes and the accounting necessary to back it up, on top of the actual making or sourcing your products. It will probably cost you a bit more to start than the first two ways as well, as you'll need to purchase supplies to sell, as well as the domain names and server space to host your site. 
Options for e-stores that are simpler: Etsy (for handcrafted goods), Ebay and Amazon.  You can also hire yourself a web designer or webmaster to customize a site for you, but be prepared to pay for that service. 

To start: make or find a product to sell, make a website or profile on an existing site to sell it. 
Cost to start: $$$-$$$$ Inventory, hiring an expert, domain names, back of house costs all add up. 
Degree of difficulty: 4-7  You may knit out cute little baby hats like they are flying off an assembly line, but actually selling them online is a different story. It takes a certain amount of skill (or connections) to create the store to sell them in. It's still easier (and cheaper!) than owning a brick and mortar store though. 
Amount of money to make: $$-$$$$ It depends on how good you are at marketing your product, and how much demand there is for it. But you can make a decent income at this, if you are willing to put in the work. 

4. Service

Self-employment by providing a service is probably the most challenging way to work from home. First, you actually have to have a service you can provide, and that usually means you have a skill, a talent or a specialty experience to share with others. Services that allow you to work from home include things like: real estate, accounting, speaking, authorship, coaching, law, personal fitness, etc. Most require you to have extensive training or worked for someone else in a similar capacity before launching into self-employment. 

Despite the difficulty, this is the most lucrative way to work from home. When you are self-employed, you get to set the fees you charge. You aren't dependent on commission rates, dealer discounts or market demands. You have complete control over your income, your schedule and your business. 

To start: decide on what service you will provide, and find clients to provide it to. 
Cost to start: $  I say this, because most of the time, it doesn't cost anything at all, if you have the pre-existing skill, talent or experience. But sometimes, you may need to get a certification, pay for advertising, go back to school or hire an expert to help with marketing or creating a business plan. 
Degree of Difficulty: 7-10  Pre-existing conditions must be met before you can succeed, plus finding the right niche, creating the platform and connecting with an audience can be tricky, and has a steep learning curve. 
Amount of money to make: $$$-$$$$$ The most profitable way to work from home. Seriously. It pays well. Just not right away (see steep learning curve!) 

I have worked from home in each and every way I've listed here. I still have my rep kit for Avon and Tupperware (my personal favorite direct sales companies) and I have close friends in the network marketing company I was a part of (still have my membership, just not active on the business side). I still will sell physical products online through Amazon and Ebay. But my favorite (and the one that lets me stay home!) is my business as a researcher, blogger and VA. 

If you have any questions about how to work from home, or want leads on where to start, feel free to contact me via email or by commenting here. I'm happy to help. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Summer bliss and Beautiful Sun

Photo by khunaspix @
Summer days are here. The warm weather has been here for a while, and I have just been relishing the days. I love everything about summer. I love the heat (you'll rarely hear me complain its too hot), I love the sunshine (even when it burns me), I love summer activities (except camping) and even better, my birthday is in the middle of summer. I'm a warm weather girl, what can I say?

There are so many things to do in summer, especially with kids. Here is my list of favorites:

1. Grow a garden.
       This starts, for me, even before spring happens. We start buying supplies as soon as they come out in stores. We pour over the seed catalogues and we make lists of the vegetables, herbs and flowers we want to grow. I plan out our garden and we can hardly wait to start seedlings. Usually the kids start theirs a little too early, and I end up replacing them at a better time, but it's lots of fun anyway.
        We currently have a small raised-bed garden in our back yard, and a small flower garden in the front yard. The back yard garden has had some of our seeds eaten by wildlife, but some plants are doing fine. The flowers we bought have all died this year because we have had only a little water, and I haven't really watered them enough. Oh well.

2. Check out local festivals.
       We are blessed to live in an area of rich, vibrant, colorful festivals, reflecting a variety of cultures, causes and special interests. From music to food, ethnic groups to stuff just for kids, we've got it all. Festival season starts in about May and goes all the way to October, with at least one different one (sometimes up to 5 or 6!) every weekend. We try to go to a different one at least once a month.

3. Splash parks and beaches
      What's summer without getting wet!?  Because I have so many still-little ones, we aren't yet able to go to the pools. I'm only one person and pool regulations don't allow a one-to-four ratio, even if I felt safe to do so. But we love splash parks, and most of the ones in our city have playgrounds nearby. And lucky for us, we also have a number of conservation areas and reservoirs with lovely beaches to check out. We even have a unique park in the city that has an outdoor pool, with a sand beach at one end! We are also just a day-trip away from any number of Great Lakes' beaches, for a longer outing.

4. Markets and yard sales
      My girls and I, even the ones who hate shopping, love going to the markets and yard sales. Along with the amazing festivals, we also have a number of awesome farmers' markets, including a couple that are year round. We like to shop for fresh, local food products on a weekend or weekday market, and we'll stop at a yard sale just about any time. There's always something to check out. We have found some great deals at these sales, from filling our bookshelves for cheap, to good quality furniture, to clothes and linens -- yard sales are how I usually clothe my kids for cheap, in brand name quality clothes.

5. Baseball and biking and ice cream
     I am a huge baseball fan, and my girls are hooked because of that. We regularly will bike on our driveway and sidewalks for an evening, while I listen to the game on the radio, and then walk over to the ice cream store a couple of blocks away (too busy a street to bike tho), for a great cap on a perfect summer day. We also play baseball in the spring, either through a community league or homeschool organized group.

There are soo many things to do! I didn't even mention the sidewalk chalk and teaching my girls the joys of skipping ropes and hopscotch. Or blowing bubbles. Or playing handball against the house. Or long drives on sunny afternoons after church. Or picnics in the park (we do this frequently!!) Or campfires, BBQs, sprinklers and puddle pools, fireworks and sparklers.. the list can go on and on.

Summer fun is here! Yay!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Lifestyles choices and Choosing life

There are a lot of trends in lifestyle choices these days. One can choose their decorating style, diet, fitness routines, wardrobe and appearance, parenting style, relationship preference, sexual orientation and even gender is a choice now, apparently.  There are a lot of fads, things that seem pleasing, generate a lot of hype and then quickly fade away to be replaced by the next bandwagon to hop on.

patpitchaya @
Some choices are ok to be fads -- clothes and shoe styles, for example. While disposable fashion isn't exactly a part of a healthy economy (though some would say its the basis of one), I'm not here to discuss the triangle of environment, economy and politics. We'll save that for another day. But individually speaking, following the trends in how you dress, style your hair, or decorate your home, probably won't hurt your body or soul, even if there's an impact on your wallet.

Some choices, however, have much longer impacts, and not just on individuals, but on families, communities and societies as a whole. Choosing how one parents, for example, affects a lot of people. Choosing who gets to decide impacts a lot more. Choosing what is acceptable and what isn't has implications not just for the present day but for generations to come.

A lot of people approach their responsibilities the same way they approach their wardrobe or diet. The latest fad in parenting, education, and relationships gets tried the way some fashionistas change their shoes, hair or make up routines. And just as quickly, these people change from one style to the next, bouncing around from this "expert" to the next.

I don't claim to be an expert on anything. Far be it for me to judge whether paleo diet vs gluten-free vs vegetarianism is the "global" right choice. As in diets, or clothing, there is no such thing as "one-side-fits-all" in parenting, relationships or education choices. The condescension that is prevalent from one group to the next appalls me. But almost as appalling are those who switch back and forth.

No matter what your personal, carefully-thought-out choices may be in some of these major lifestyle decisions, the key is that you have put the time and effort into considering and choosing. Poor parenting happens when there is no thought. Inconsistent education happens when you flip-flop among radically different choices. And instability happens when decisions are made on pure emotion.

 Serge Bertasius Photography.
We shouldn't decide how we are going to raise our kids the same way we decide on what's for breakfast.

As a parent of many, and especially now as my oldest is entering the teen years, I get asked frequently "how do you do this" -- whether its about my children behaving in stores or handling sleeping/eating or sibling rivalries. I really can't answer that question. I can't tell anyone which is the best way of doing anything. I can share how I have handled things, but .. your mileage may vary.

I do believe there is a one, best way. I don't believe it will look the same for everyone. You can pick attachment parenting, "Love and Logic", grace-filled parenting or "old-school."  The specific details aren't important when it comes to any lifestyle choice, whether that be how you decorate your house or how your relationship works. The most important thing for any lifestyle choice is that you are consistent.

This is why it's so important to think carefully about how you will do things before they come up. Fads create instability. Trends treat treasure like trash. Even with the less-impactful lifestyle choices, such as what you eat -- yo-yo dieting will have long-term negative effects on your health.

Take the time. Ask questions from those who have been there, done that. Carefully consider the pros and cons -- count the cost! Then decide, for yourself, what you will choose. And stick with it.

In life, the key to success is always and has always been: careful, consistent choice.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Love is .. amazing.

Amazing love I don't understand
Amazing grace I can't comprehend
Amazing mercy beyond my knowing

Love so that I may live
Live so that I may learn
Learn so that I may share

Giving away and I gain more
Choosing to surrender
      Becoming free to choose
Dying just to live again
      Living a life of love

Only when I can't see
Can I believe?
Tell me the story

Story of Amazing Love

Happy Canada Day! I'm off to love my family.. .

Monday, 27 June 2016

Love and Respect

They say a woman's greatest need is to be loved, and a man's greatest need is to be respected. While this isn't necessarily true in all cases, to some degree or another, it probably is true in most. But the definitions of "love" and "respect" differ from person to person, and in relationships, what may be "loving" to one person is actually "disrespectful" to another.

To define "love" and "respect", especially in a relationship, takes thought and care. I highly recommend Gary Smalley's book, "The 5 Love Languages", for a great discussion on the definitions of love. In brief, he suggests that everyone speaks a different "love language", that is, a different way of receiving and giving love. And if one person, especially in a couple, receives love in a drastically different way than their partner, there's a definite disconnect in those loving feelings we all look for.

The five main love languages include: physical touch (hugs, kisses, holding hands, etc), words (appreciation, compliments, etc), time (long conversations, doing things together, etc), service (doing a chore for the other person, holding the door, etc), and gifts (flowers, cards, jewellry, etc). To some degree, we all see these things as love, but the things you prefer most -- and the things you instinctively want to do for another you care for  -- are your personal love language. So if your first thought is to buy your partner a gift to show them how much you care, then your love language is probably gifts.

There's a problem when you like to give gifts, but don't necessarily spend a lot of time with the other person, and all they want to do is have a long conversation with you. You'll see their need to talk as a nuisance, and they'll see your gifts as inappropriate and insincere. Recognition of the different ways to express and needs to receive love will save a lot of difficult conversations and hurt feelings over misunderstandings.

However, I think there's the same kind of communication issues when it comes to the issue of respect. The common definition of respect is the idea of giving value to something or someone, or recognizing worth or honor. But how you give value or recognize worth depends on the same things that people give love.

I would suggest that respect is given in many different ways: courtesy (manners, etiquette, etc), deference (giving place to another, preferring them over yourself, etc), recognition (appreciation, awards, asking for advice, etc), attention (listening when they speak, watching for and asking their preferences), and consideration (keeping your promises, not assuming anything about them, being on time, protecting their space/time/possessions as your own).  Unlike the love languages, these aren't instinctive, but are often based on cultural or family-of-origin teaching. And again, unlike the love languages, there probably isn't one or two primarily preferred ways of showing respect, but that everyone wants respect, in an hierarchical form based on the degree of intimacy in your relationship.

Forms of respect are hierarchical in nature. The proverb is trespect is earned.  And this is true, to a large degree, though everyone deserves the respect due them based on the simple fact of Imageo Deo -- that they are image-bearers of God.

In fact, that is the bottom of the ladder of respect: courtesy.  Courtesy is that polite treatment of everyone you interact with, regardless of creed or color, status or gender, that most people learn at an early age from mom. It's saying "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me". It's holding the door open, or smiling. This kind of respect is the basic human
kindness that we should be showing everyone.

Unfortunately, all too many times its lost to prejudice. Whether racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, or some other "ism", if there is an antagonism based on another person's birth circumstances, appearance or beliefs, there will not be respect. Bigotry robs everyone of the respect they're due, simply because they are human. It stems from a lack of value on human life. When we don't even value life itself, then even the most basic courtesies are conditional, when they shouldn't be.

Deference is that form of respect that we give to those we are in nominal relationship with. These are the people that surround us --  extended family, neighbours, fellow members of church, gym or clubs, the parents of your children's friends, your boss and co-workers. This is the kind of respect that gives honor. It's letting them ahead of you in line at the potluck or social gathering. It's not passing judgement on others' choices, refraining from gossip or sharing of confidences. It's being agreeable (when there is no cost to agreeing) -- things like the choice of restaurant or music. It's graciousness and generosity. This kind of respect is the humble giving over to another, treating them as of equal or more value than yourself.

The danger here is to walk the fine line of agreeableness without agreeing to things that are wrong. It can also be problematic to be so generous that people end up taking advantage of you. Respect doesn't enable sin. However, you can still be respectful and disagree without giving offense.

The next form of respect is recognition. This kind of respect gives public honor to those who have earned it. This is the kind of respect we all think of when we think of showing respect. It can be as simple as a gentleman standing in the presence of a lady, or removing a hat while the national anthem is sung. It's the kind of respect that leads to banquets to recognize achievements or awards given to people who have performed special service. Recognition is the most public form of respect, but is often at a distance. And often, the respect of recognition is given to the office or title, rather than the person themselves.

The biggest issue with recognition as respect is ensuring that it's sincere. We can often go through the motions and mouth recognition without actually having the respect behind it. Especially when the respect is due the title of the person, such as a president, mayor, or pastor, and the person themselves aren't actually worthy of the respect due to character defects or immoral behaviour, it can be very difficult to give genuine recognition.

The higher forms of respect are those we give the ones that we are more intimate with. First, attention, which is simply what it says: giving one's full attention to the person we are in relationship with. It's paying attention when they talk, actually listening to what they say. It's paying attention to what they like and dislike, and taking the time to ask their preference. It's a carefulness about how you treat them, more than just basic courtesy, but an extension of that. This attentive respect is making their coffee the way they like it, or showing interest in their hobby. To the degree you pay attention, you show how much you value your relationship with them.

Carelessness can destroy this kind of respect. It can be hard work to pay attention consistently. When you show  disregard for someone's preferences, or zone out during their conversation, you show how little you value that person.

The highest form of respect is consideration. Consideration is as much about how much you respect yourself as the other person. This kind of respect is having the character to keep your promises, to respect another's time and space, to have integrity. This is showing up on time for dinner, and calling when you are leaving. It's about sharing your plans and including others. Its about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It's a thoughtfulness that marks your relationship as special. It's the Golden Rule: treating others the way you would want to be treated. When you are considerate, you show all the other forms of respect - courtesy, deference, recognition and attention - only taken up a degree in kindness and generosity.

Deliberate disdain will kill consideration. Respect is all about showing how much you value someone. Thoughtlessness and neglect devalue those you say you care for the most. When you are heedless of the effects on other people, it's a lack of respect for those people. Being consistently late -- not because of a lack of time management skills, but because you don't care about their plans or needs shows great disrespect. Taking their things -- their clothes or food, for example -- without regard to their wishes, is complete disregard of your relationship with someone. You show just how much you care about someone by how considerate you are of them.

Love languages are important. But if you truly love someone, you'll show them great respect.