Friday, September 23, 2016

6 Ways to Make a Difference in the World Today (Without Spending a Dime)

Raise your hand if listening to the news makes your head and heart hurt. Hand raised over here. But here’s the thing, we are the ones who get to decide what tomorrow looks like - not anyone else.

I'm all for financially supporting worthwhile organizations and causes. But I also know that money isn't always the solution. We are. 

Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” So let’s take steps today to create the kind of world that we want to live in tomorrow.  

Here are six simple ways to make a difference without spending a dime:
  1.  Smile. Yes, seriously. Show your pearly whites. Smiling is a simple but powerful act.  Do you need proof of its effectiveness? A lieutenant colonel used it as a strategy for victory during wartime. On the morning of April 3, 2003, U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division stood outside the holiest Shia mosque in Iraq when hundreds of Iraqis turned on the troops. While the soldiers were there to liberate the city, word had inaccurately spread the troops were there to take the mosque and arrest the cleric.

    The scene quickly became tense and someone in the crowd lobbed rocks at the soldiers. The commanding officer yelled for his men to “Smile, relax.” He further ordered everyone to take a knee and point their weapons to the ground. This action not only prevented bloodshed, but it also ultimately caused one of Iraq’s leading holy men to issue a decree that the people of that area should welcome the soldiers.  W
    hat’s your reason for not smiling today?
  2. Be kind to a parent. The one thing that people get scrutinized for even more than their politics or their faith is: their parenting. Recently, we were at the park when one of my children committed the grave offense of taking another child’s stick. I asked the offending party if he had taken his sister’s stick. It was a rhetorical question because I’d seen the whole thing, but I wanted to give him the opportunity to come clean. Instead, a passerby offered an unsolicited “Yes, he did!” Let’s just say, that didn’t help the situation. At all.

    We all know what it feels like to be the parent whose kid starts crying even before the at-capacity airplane takes off or whose toddler tantrums full volume in the restaurant while waiting for the food to arrive. Offer another parent these four little words of encouragement and reassurance: “We’ve all been there.
  3.      Do something unexpected. Once when we were going to an aquarium, I ended up with a few extra coupons. After I realized that I didn’t need them, I passed them out to the people in line behind me, all of whom were immensely appreciative. (No wonder. Have you seen the price of aquarium tickets?)  A few days ago, my neighbor let me know about a sale she knew I would be interested in. These are tiny acts, but, even small ripples build a mighty current.   
  4. Be courteous.  We’ve all heard manicurists, cashiers and others in service-related industries talk about how they get treated as non-entities. Let’s act like customers, not Klingons. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind.
  5. Write a note.  It doesn’t have to be a handwritten note, although those are certainly nice to receive. Just take the time to tell someone you care about them in writing. Now is always a good time to receive a tangible reminder that you’re loved and appreciated.

    6.    Follow the rules. Recently I was sitting at an airport gate located near a Starbucks. I heard a customer tell the barista that she was still waiting for her order. The barista said that someone else had probably picked up her order and that they would remake it. “It happens all the time,” the employee said. 
    Because the coffee shop is in an airport terminal, one might assume that people simply grab the wrong coffee as they run to catch their flight  - except that Starbucks puts people’s names on the cups. No matter how big a hurry you’re in, it’s pretty hard to mistake your own name. What seems more likely is that given the crowded and transitory nature of the pickup area, people simply swipe the coffee. That’s shameful and inexcusable. Do you know what else is inexcusable? Parking in the handicapped spot or cutting in the school pick-up line “just this once.” Once is one time too many. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

8 Children's Books That Teach Empathy

As parents we want our kids to be empathetic. We want them to not only be considerate of other people’s feelings, but we want them to be able to understand why someone may (or may not) respond or react in a particular way.

There are a couple of different ways we can teach empathy. The first and often hardest way is that we can model for our kids the kind of behavior we would like to see in them. For better or worse, kids are a mirror, reflecting back the best and worst of who we are. They remember with exacting detail the way we respond when someone cuts us off or the things we say about other parents under our breath.

The other way we can choose to teach empathy is by lecturing our kids, but we all know how effective that is. If you want to see a zoned out kid, just look for a parent on a soap box. Instead of lecturing our kids, let's try reading to them. 

Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He wasn’t necessarily talking about emotional intelligence, but, I think the same principles apply.

Here are 8 books that demonstrate empathy and kindness. Note: middle grade books are typically meant for kids 8-14, while pictures books are meant for the younger crowd; however, these are just guidelines. Younger kids can easily enjoy the Trumpet of the Swan and bigger kids can benefit from the picture books.


Chrysanthemum, author Kevin Henkes - Chrysanthemum, when she was old enough to appreciate it, loved her name. She loved it until she got to school and her classmates teased her for being named after a flower. Then "she wilted."

Whoever You Are, author Mem Fox - This book that celebrates all cultures discusses about how we all feel love the same and pain the same, no matter where we live in the world.

Wemberly Worried, author Kevin Henkes  - Poor Wemberly is a worrier. She worries in the morning, at night and throughout the day. She worries about big things like going to school and small things like shrinking in the bath. At the end of the story, Wemberly overcomes her worry.

One, author Kathryn Otoshi – A book about colors and numbers and standing up for yourself and others. The different colors in this book learn there is strength in numbers, including the number one.


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, author Kate DiCamillo  – Edward is a china rabbit, who lives with a little girl who loves him very much. Then one day, he is lost. On his miraculous journey, he learns that even china hearts can break.

The Trumpet of the Swan, author E.B. White – A classic about Louis the Trumpeter swan who doesn't have a voice. All is not lost, however, when Louis gets a real brass trumpet and a chalkboard.

Wonder, author R. J. Palacio  - August "Auggie" Pullman was born with a facial difference. The story begins with Auggie starting mainstream school in the fifth grade. This book is especially great because it's told from different points of view: Auggie's, his sister's, a classmate's, etc...

The War That Saved My Life, author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – Nine-year-old Ada has never been outside of her family's one-room apartment because her mother is too ashamed of Ada's twisted foot. When her younger brother is shipped out of London to flee the bombing of World War II, Ada escapes with him. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

3 Techniques for Falling Back Asleep

I used to have a super power. No, I was not faster than a speeding bullet. Nor was I able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. My super power was better than Superman’s – I could quickly fall back asleep after being woken up.  

A child would call me in the middle of the night and I would get up, get them a drink or pull up the covers and then I would stumble back to bed, where wham, I was back asleep almost as soon as I hit the sheets.

If you’re jealous – you’re not the only one. My husband was too. Whenever someone called “Daddy,” I’d give my husband the old side poke. He would get up begrudgingly, muttering that he would be up for hours whereas I’d be snoring before he’d get back to bed. He would cite the “unfairness” of the situation while I just snuggled deeper into my pillow.

But, and, get your hanky out because here’s the sad part, my super power is… gone. I don’t know what happened exactly. All I know is that as my kids have gotten older, they’ve thankfully woken up less frequently throughout the night, which in turn has garnered me many an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

For whatever reason though, over the last month or so, little people have been calling out between 2-4 AM. I go into their room and get them whatever they need, but when I get back to my room, I can’t get what I need – peaceful slumber.

A good night’s sleep is a gift, I recognize that. I also know that it’s like our health, we take it for granted until it’s gone.

I’ve never really had trouble falling asleep; I still don’t. Before I go to bed, I almost always read for a little while and then when I’m good and sleepy, I go to sleep. It’s almost always been that easy for me, and so this difficulty in falling back asleep is new territory.

When I first had trouble going back to sleep, I tossed and turned for a bit. Then I tried reading on my phone because I could do that with the light off, but that didn’t really seem to help. I don’t know if it was because of the oft-blamed blue light or because of too much brain stimulation too early in the morning, all I know is that I was still awake.

So then I tried some meditation-related techniques, like focusing on my breathing. It sounds so very simple; but, sometimes simple works. Here are three techniques to try when you can't fall back asleep.  

1.    Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Method.  This exercise involves exhaling completely and then breathing in for four counts, holding your breath for seven counts and exhaling for eight counts. The pioneer of this method, Dr. Weil, claims that this method will induce sleep in 60 seconds because breathing like this calms the mind and relaxes the muscles. It hasn’t been my experience that I fall back asleep that quickly but hopefully it will be yours!

Find a video of how to do this technique here.

2.    Focus on where your breath comes from. Breathe naturally, but focus on the source of your breath. Are you breathing more deeply from your mouth or from your nose? Continue observing your breath. Now switch so that you’re breathing differently from how you were before.

3.    Slowly scan your body. While breathing naturally, do a scan of your body. Start at the top of your head and work your way down to the soles of your feet. You aren’t zooming through from head and shoulders to knees and toes; you’re assessing slowly, almost like an MRI machine would. As you check in with your body, what sensations do you feel? Is anything hurting or tense? Relax and repeat as needed. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Parenting Paradox

Webster’s defines a “paradox” as: someone or something with qualities or features that seem to conflict with one another, such as the paradox of fighting a war for peace.

It lists the synonyms of paradox as: dichotomy, incongruity, contradiction.

Do you see the biggest paradox missing from that list? I do. Parenting.

Parenting is, of course, a volunteer position. Not only is there no overtime or holiday pay or hazard pay or combat pay (all of which are needed, and deserved), there’s simply NO pay.  Yet, people for generations upon generations keep doing it. If they stopped, humanity would cease to exist.

I started working when I was in middle school. My assorted minimum wage jobs were all interesting - “sandwich artist” (working for Subway, thank you very much), mystery shopper, and watch and jewelry repair person.

But the most interesting job I’ve ever had is: mom. Where else could I get asked questions like: “Do kings and queens take baths together?” and “Mommy, if the tooth fairy’s job is taking teeth, where does she get the money she leaves people? Does she steal it?” (It should be noted that all these questions were asked in the course of one day, by different children.)

Being a mother is the most beautiful and most confounding thing I’ve ever done. Last weekend a few close friends and I escaped our husbands and our children and our lives and went to Palm Springs. Inexplicably, by the end of the trip, we missed the very people we were fleeing from. How does that happen?

It is my privilege and my joy to parent children who came to us through adoption. It is also my privilege and my joy to parent children who happen to have some medical and physical needs. All of the aspects of my children have made my life bigger, and brighter.

But, by the same token, these aspects that enhance our lives can sometimes be so very hard. I identify with Kahlil Gibran’s words in The Prophet: “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” Simply put: it’s a paradox.

My book, Beautiful Paradox: Musings, Marvelings and Strategies of a Special Needs Parent is free for 48 hours on Amazon Kindle. Go get your copy and then please leave a review on Amazon. The reviews not only help with sales, but they also help people find the book. A book, whose message I believe, is oh-so important.

Also! I'm on a couple wonderful sites with guest posts this week. Come see me over there, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

4 Things You Need To Know About Freelance Writing

Are you curious about freelance writing? Have you wondered: Would I be good at that?

A surprising number of people have aspirations to write. Some, of course, just want a forum to rant. While others have dreams of the next great American novel. 

I've always liked writing. When I was in high school, I wrote for the school newsletter (Our school was so small we didn't even have a newspaper. Pathetic, I know.) and wrote dorky pieces for a retirement center where I did some volunteer work. The old people appreciated my scribblings; a classmate was mocking. I can't remember what he said - I just remember that he said it. In fairness, the piece was meant to be humorous and I'm not funny. Wasn't then. Am not now. Still, his words stung. (Also, I think I wrote about ants, and, well, ants don't exactly scream natural hilarity - especially to sophisticated high schoolers.)

My writing has always felt like an extension of me. Even when I write about generic topics, it always feels very personal. I read somewhere that writing is making yourself vulnerable in public - I agree. Somehow, my writing feels just as personal, if not more so, than public speaking

Which leads me to four things you need to know about freelance writing. 

1. You have to put yourself out there. I don't make a full-time salary freelance writing. Heck, I don't even make a part-time salary from writing. There are a lot of reasons for that. But one of the reasons is that I haven't been as pro-active as I could about finding work. As much as I'd like to believe that my obvious literary genius will bring me work, it hasn't (although having a blog as helped to plump up my writing portfolio). If you want to find work, you have to seek it out.  

Which leads me to my next point. 

2. You have to make friends with rejection. Last week, I got an 11-minute rejection email. No kidding. On the one hand, I was extremely appreciative that this particular editor didn't leave me hanging, as so many do. (I don't know of another industry where it's considered an acceptable practice to simply ignore people. As in, to not even send a canned response. But, I digress.)

On the other hand, I hadn't even finished drinking the cup of coffee that I had started when I sent this editor a submission email. It wasn't that the body wasn't even cold yet, the coffee wasn't even cold. (See. I told you - funny isn't really my thing. Also, if you’re curious as to how I know it was 11 minutes, it’s because Gmail tells you.)

But after I got over the very decisive "no thanks," I sent the piece elsewhere. It's been a week and I haven't heard anything back from this other publication. So that's a good thing. Or maybe it's a bad thing. The point is, sometimes it’s a numbers game. You've got to keep at it. One man’s emphatic “no way” is another man’s life-changing “yes, please.” 

3.  You have to be decent at grammar, but not great. Editors, oddly enough, care about commas and the like. So you need to pay attention to grammar. Although I try, grammar is not my strongest suit. In response to a request for feedback, someone recently told me to make friends with the semi-colon. It was good advice. 

Even though the rules for who vs. whom often confound me, I'm getting published. And the more I write, the better at self-editing I become. (Also, Grammarly is a good friend to have.) 

4. You need good resources. I’ve been dabbling with freelance writing on and off for about a year now. In that time, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade. I’m here to tell you about them, so that you don’t flounder around unnecessarily like I did.  

The blog Beyond Your Blog has been a great resource for me. (I wrote about it here.) Through Beyond Your Blog, I found Horkey’s Handbook. Gina Horkey offers basic, but extremely useful, step-by-step information on how to get started, including places to source freelance writing jobs. Today and tomorrow, her book is free on Amazon. If you’re even remotely interested in freelance writing, I suggest you check it out. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

In Praise of Quick Trips

I was listening to a podcast recently and heard Gretchen Rubin talking about the benefits of quick trips, saying that when it came to family visits, frequency is more important than length. I heard this on the heels of a mother-daughter trip and on the eve of a girls weekend - and although these visits are with friends that feel like family - I have to say I agree. 

We adopted our daughter nearly four years ago. In her orphanage, there was another little girl that she was extremely close to and that little girl was also subsequently adopted to the U.S., albeit the opposite coast. 

My family connected with my daughter's friend's family before the girls came home, and we've stayed in contact with them over the years. The girls have Skyped but hadn't seen each in other person, until recently. 

A few weeks ago, my six year old and I got on a plane, and she and her more-than friend were finally reunited. It was a super quick trip. We arrived very late on a Friday night and we were home by Monday night; but, it was oh so worth it. 

Our families had always intended a much bigger trip, with my complete family meeting their family. But each time I looked at airplane tickets and schedules and all the other obligations, it got very complicated and pricey.  

When I saw a dip in ticket prices, we decided to finally make it happen, using this very narrow window of time. My guys were bummed not to get to go, but they were thrilled with their officially dubbed Boys Weekend (BBQ, ice cream and football). As for me and my daughter, this sweet reunion was everything we could have hoped for - and more. 

 We made our quick trip after school had already started, which wasn't my intention, but was how things worked out. I thought the school might frown on a departure so soon after school started, but the teacher encouraged the trip, saying how much it would give my daughter to write about in writing class. How wonderful is that teacher!

After I got home, someone commented that we went such a long way for such a short trip, and, it's true - we did. But it worked! Sure, I would have liked a longer visit and I would have liked to have been able to travel as a family, but this visit not only reunited my daughter with her friend, but it paved the way for future visits. 

There were also upsides to so short a trip: we made every minute count. There was no waiting until the last day to take pictures or do something special given that our first day was practically our last day!  We just reveled in being with our friends, and they us. 

Last year, we made a similarly quick trip, albeit on a much grander scale. We went to Thailand, where were only in-country for about 10 days. That was a very long way to go for such a fast turn-around, but again we condensed so much into that short time. We had full days, jam-packed with fun. My kids talk about that trip all the time. 

They don't talk about the length (any time young kids are gone from home, it feels longer to them) - they talk about the people they saw, the things they did and the food they ate! 

Sometimes it isn't about the duration - it's about how much you value the destination. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

No One Has To Tell Them to Read: Children's Books

Now that we are post-Labor Day, school has started for just about everyone. When I went to Target the other day, the back-to-school aisle had dwindled to just a few remaining items - a sure sign the school is back in full swing. 

A return to school means a return of homework assignments, and because we've been back in school for a few weeks, we're already plugging away at it over here. While schools have been generally decreasing the amount of homework they assign over the past few years, they've been increasing the amount of required reading time. 

In our house, we have one strong reader, one emergent reader and one still looking at the pictures reader. But all of my kids love books. No one has to tell them to do their reading homework and it's my favorite homework too. 

Here are some of the books currently circulating through our house. 

The Last Train by [Titcomb, Gordon] 
The Last Train, author Gordon Titcomb
Even as we're headed out of the Thomas the Train era over here, a love of a good transportation theme - and trains especially - remains. This is a beautiful picture book about an old train station from a bygone era.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children by [Kaplan, Bruce Eric]

Monsters Eat Why Children, author Bruce Eric Kaplan
My second-grader's teacher introduced this book to her class and my second-grader introduced it to the rest of us. A cute cautionary tale for whiny children (and adults too)!

My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by [Brown, Peter]

I remember thinking that my teacher lived at the school until we ran into her at the grocery store one day. What?? Teachers can leave the school? Imagine Bobby's surprise when he sees his monster teacher at the park one weekend. 

Product Details
Ready Freddy, author Abby Klein

Ready Freddy is a series of books about a kid named (wait for it) Freddy. Each book documents a relatable problem Freddy has and how he and his friends handle it. These make for quick read-alouds. 

Winnie the Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh Book 1) by [Milne, A.A.]

Winnie-the-Pooh, author A.A. Milne

Because, well, who can't help but love this beloved bear. I'm re-reading this again after many, many years and I think it's actually better now that I'm an adult. I'd forgotten that it was funny. I'm reading this for me now so that I can go at my own pace, but it will make great bed-time reading for everyone once I'm done.