Monday, December 8, 2014

Crafting A Remarkable Advent Season

The season of advent is upon us. 

I think mothers are given a unique understanding of this season. this period of waiting of anticipation of a birth. the Christ child. We can put ourselves in Mary's shoes. Imagining what it would be like to be carrying our Savior. Anticipating his coming with the understanding there will be the struggles ahead but to hope in the promise of a new born child who would be King.

As a mother to a child with special needs, I can imagine how Mary felt knowing he would not be accepted by some, that the world may not understand the potential of a baby born in a manger to a women from Nazareth. Yet, Mary always believed that God would show the world the true worth of his Son and the world would come to love Him.

As usual, this season is busy and full of opportunities to craft special memories with the kids and teach valuable life lessons of faith, hope, charity, temperance and self-control. As we run from holiday gatherings, to birthday parties, to holiday dances, open the boxes of our Advent calendar, go to Mass, make Christmas crafts, bake goodies, shop the malls for the perfect gift and bring our lists to Santa, I try to find ways to reinforce the true meaning of Christmas and bring anticipation for the Christ child.

This year, we are adding a cradle to our Christmas tree to serve as the manger awaiting the Christ child. We will fill it with "hay"and on Christmas morning find the baby Jesus laying in it in swaddling clothes. We will also have a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas day.

Here is a link to last year's Advent post with several ideas for marking the season and to a recent review I did of Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas, if you are wondering how to reconcile Santa and Christ.

Another project I am working on this busy season is developing the Sheran Memories Purpose and Pause Daily Planner. It is an all encompassing planner/food journal/diary/memory catcher for the busy mom with versions for working moms and bloggers. It addresses all areas of one's life and is a guide to help you purposefully craft the remarkable life you desire.

I developed this planner because I got tired of having multiple calendars and places to log the important things in my life (daily food and exercise, diary, goals, to do lists, etc). While I am a person who loves all things digital and have used several apps for organization and planning (I still use my ical and Trello in conjunction with the written calendar), I found I wanted everything in one place. Additionally, I was having trouble remembering to log my food on My Fitness Pal each day and then my go-to journal entry app closed down. Finally, I am making an effort to spend time away from my digital devices.

I find it somewhat therapeutic to actually write things down during my planning and reflection time. I still use my phone/tablet as a source and these devices are the things I turn to when on the run. So, I have been self testing and developing my planner for the past five months and now I am finishing up the 2015 inaugural edition. I'm excited to have friends test it this year so I can go to market completely for 2016. It is a fun process. Stay tuned for how you can get your copy.

In the meantime, enjoy the season.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is a digital device on your kids gift list? How to handle growing up social.

It's that time of year when our kids are shouting from the other room when the commercials come on "Mom, I want this!"

It is the time we begin to organize our Christmas lists and prep for a big week of sales, Monday before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Tech Tuesday! Phew!

I've been putting careful consideration into what I get our kids this year. I am concerned that they don't get enough active play, so I want them to get something that encourages movement. I want to encourage hobbies. I want to get them reading print! (Book/print reading, as opposed to reading on a digital reader promotes focus and creativity, it is calming and relaxing and is linked to increased intelligence and brain activity.) And then there is this issue of technology. 

At our home my husband, teen, and I have smart phones and I have an iPad. Increasingly, my four and six year olds are taking over our devices! Now filled with their apps, my storage is low, the power is always running low and they are sticky (if I can get a hold of one). I believe that technology has a lot of positive benefits. I can see it in my son, who has Down syndrome. He is a visual learner and these apps have helped him learn words and colors. But research shows that too much time can actually be detrimental to brain development. Not to mention other dangers involved with social media I must consider for my teen. 

I recently read this post pointing out that as GenX parents, we are the first to face this parenting dilemma and straddle the divide between traditional media consumers and digital natives. So what are we to do? How do we handle this territory that is relatively untested? How will our decisions impact our kids' futures?

I've considered getting each their own devices this year. Nabi has child friendly tablets with great parental controls such as time limits, Internet blocking, etc. They even have versions for ages 4-6, 6-12 and teens at reasonable prices between $99-$200. But how to make sure I put the right controls in place to reap the benefits and limit the negatives?

Fortunately, I have a guide. Dr Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane have written a guide for us called Growing Up Social. In Growing Up Social, Chapman and Pellicane acknowledge that we all want to equip our children to show affection, appreciate others, deal with anger, learn to apologize, and pay attention. Through research and stories, they illustrate how screen time can affect our ability to equip our children in these areas and give us strategies to work around the negative aspects of screen time, such as:

  • Reduced attention span
  • The need for instant gratification
  • Lack of patience
  • Overstimulation
  • Not able to relax
  • Sleep issues
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of empathy
Growing Up Social addresses how the digital world has affected the A+ skills of affection, appreciation, anger management, apology and attention and provides solutions for ensuring these skills are taught and embraced. The book also addresses the affects of screen time and brain development, shyness, security, parental authority, single parenting and us! The authors point out obstacles and challenges and provide sound advice. The authors are not preachy and fully accept the fact that the digital world is here to stay. They want us to be aware of the affects and consequence and have tools and skills to work around these to provide a right balance for our families.

So, I will likely go ahead and get these devices for our kids fully using the time limit features. I plan to set up a system to earn screen time and to lay a few ground rules:
  • Must read printed words for at least 20 minutes before screen time
  • Must have active play for 40-60 minutes per day
  • No screens while doing homework, unless needed for research
  • No screens during meals
  • Screen time daily limits according to age
  • Devices must be checked in and out by parents in order to use
  • Teen phone must be on charger upstairs by 9 p.m. each night
  • App purchases must be pre-approved
  • Must have all usernames and passwords
  • Teen must review and sign agreement to social conduct/safety standards
  • People first, tech second
In the people first, technology second arena, we will make sure that face time takes precedence in the areas of affection, appreciation, anger management, apology and attention. If you are concerned with how screen time can affect your kids and your family and what you can do to minimize the negative affects, pick up a copy of Growing Up Social, or comment with your family tech tips/guidelines below for a chance to win your own copy!

Disclosure: I was given a copy of the book by the publisher for an honest review.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Saving Christmas

I don't know about you, but when the Christmas decorations started popping up before Halloween, I became really annoyed. It is not even Thanksgiving and we are already seeing Christmas ads on TV and hearing carols on the radio!

Then there's all the drama in Christian circles about what is okay and not okay to observe and do: Santa or no Santa? Elf on the shelf? Jesse Tree? Is the Christmas tree a pagan symbol? On and on...

Well, Kirk Cameron (a childhood crush of mine), is out to save Christmas and make it a little less stressful for us all in his new movie Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas. Although a little corny in its execution and acting (I think intentionally so), the message is one I was grateful to hear. Cameron explains to his scrooge of a brother-in-law who has determined Christmas should be done away with altogether, how the symbols and traditions of the holiday are all a part of and reflect God's story and ours. He illustrates Biblical foreshadowing in the manger and the tomb, the swaddling cloths and burial cloth, in the tree and the cross. He shows how Santa is really a defender of the faith and gives us all permission to embrace and take back the holiday once again to let the light of Christ shine in each of the lights that we hang this season.

Now, I have already seen the haters online accuse Cameron of trying to make money off of Christmas himself and bowing to pagan traditions. The extreme Protestants that hate anything coming out of Rome are online saying he has been duped by the antichrist. They prove his point exactly. All of that criticism, division and bickering about Christmas and its origins does nothing to shine a light on Christ and the fact that God came to earth as an infant to eventually die for us all.

So, if you are struggling with all of the confusing messages around this holy season, take a break and visit a theater near you this weekend (check for a theater near you). You just might join Kirk Cameron in saving Christmas.

Disclosure: I was given the opportunity for an advance viewing of this film in order to give an honest review.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Their Name Is Today

Last month, my 13 year old asked to go trick or treating with some friends in the neighborhood. They wanted to leave from school and go to a kids house and leave from there. I have never met these kids or their parents so I had cause to be concerned. Truth be told when I was her age, in the same neighborhood, I had a group of girls meet at my house to get ready and roam the neighborhood on. Halloween, but today is so very different.

I ended up not allowing her to go and she had friend come with us. They did go out on their own, but just on the few streets near our house and we were nearby. Call me protective but the dangers of things such as sex trafficking, sex offenders and reckless/distracted drivers just scare me. Halloween is a night that has unseen dangers if not careful. 

It's sad that so much has changed since I was a child. In the book Their Name Is Today, Johann Christoph Arnold talks about the need to reclaim childhood in a hostile world and I agree much has been lost. But, he claims that parents and teachers can turn the tide by giving children the time and space they need to grow.
"I am getting older; my life is coming to an end, but I still have a great urge to use my remaining strength to help anyone within reach, especially children. Working in schools for forty years, counseling many struggling families, as well as veterans and prisoners, I have seen much human need and tragedy. So often, the roots of this suffering began in childhood."
At the root of it is a need for cultural change in the way society views and treats children. We have
become a society that:

  • pushes children to the edge of our busy schedules
  • is always striving for overachievement
  • does not allow enough time for play
  • relies too much on screen time
  • focuses on material rewards over true signs of affection
  • is slack and inconsistent with discipline
Arnold writes this guide book for parents and teachers to offer insights into how to raise and influence a new generation of children to be more compassionate, considerate, courageous, bold, independent, secure and thoughtful. His perspective stems from the premise that children are to be cherished and every child has a right to joy and wonder.

"For whatever else may define childhood, one thing is constant: it is the gathering place of life's first and most indelible memories- the unalterable frame for all the experiences that accompany us through life. And this in the end, the task of bringing up children is not only a question of effective parenting, and even less one of educational insights, theories or ideals. It is, first and foremost, a matter of the love we give them, which has the power to awaken more of the same, even years down the road."

If you struggle to keep up and wonder if your priorities are right or if you are an educator wondering if you are really making a difference, grab a copy of Their Name is Today - Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Homemade Halloween Minions

This Halloween, my gang decided they wanted to be Minions. After a Pinterest search, I came up with a plan to make our own costumes and set out to find the various components: yellow shirts, overalls, yellow hats, black gloves, goggles and a Minion logo. I knew the cheapest place to find the clothing items would be The Goodwill so I searched high and low and fell a little short. I only found overall dresses for me and Annie ($5.60 each).

The next stop was Walmart where i scored two adult yellow shirts ($7 each), black gloves ($1x4), and two pairs of kid size overalls ($8 each). However, I could not find yellow hats or yellow shirts for my little people. My solution was $1 white hats (x4) and two white long sleeve shirts ($4x2) that I would dye yellow.

The dye project was only partly successful. The yellow shirts took perfectly to the RIT dye ($3) and matched the other yellow shirts exactly. However, the white hats did not take at all. Time for plan B. I tried yellow craft paint that I had on hand. The paint covered the hat but did take a while to dry. Because I was running out of time, we decided to try spray paint ($4). I put the hats over cans outside and sprayed them all around. It worked and by Trick or Treat time, they were dry.

Finally, we needed the tell-tale goggles worn by the little Minion creatures. I was fortunate enough to happen upon some clown sets at The Dollar Tree that came with black coke bottle glasses and clown noses ($1x4). We used the glasses and a silver paint pen ($3) to make them look like Minion goggles.

To finish off the outfit, I found a Gru Logo print out online and used double stick tape to adhere them to our overalls. I think we made for a cute bunch of Minions at approximately $52 for four costumes with the shirts, gloves, hats and overalls all able to be worn again.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Discontent at Allume

After a very busy fall, I had been looking forward to an upcoming trip to Allume, a Christian bloggers conference which I have twice attended before. I was looking forward to connecting with other like-minded ladies and learning from authors and publishers to improve my writing. As I drove north toward Greenville on Thursday morning, yawning and eyes involuntarily shutting, I realized how dog tired -mentally, physically, end of my rope tired-I was. The tires I had been running on were going flat and I had been riding on the rims.

Stress, lack of consistent sleep, over extended "to do" lists and a life out of balance, had taken its toll. Instead of being excited about Allume, I found myself longing for deep, restful sleep.

As I sat in session after session, my brain could not comprehend much of the information being shared. I did not have a desire for worship and fellowship. I could barely register the themes of the keynote speakers. I wanted to gain new insights, be inspired, share more stories and grow in the craft of writing, but the spark of inspiration was dying out within. I even skipped the dance party to retreat to my room. This was not like me at all. The Type A, love to party and be social person had fallen to a level of exhaustion only to be matched by the first weeks after a child is born.

Sitting there, reflecting on life, I realized I'd slipped into a state of constant production mode. I had become a soldier constantly on a mission and fighting on too many fronts at once. I could not recall a recent time I could just be still, rest, and remain in the moment and be with my people. Instead, I have been rushing through interaction in order to take care of the business at hand. The list.

My desire for sleep and rest, is being battled by natural tendencies to "do." I think to myself, "maybe if I plan each day right, I will find the margin I need for adequate rest, exercise, prayer and connection and get everything checked off the list."

In that moment I began to understand that this constant state of alertness and action and performance is wreaking havoc on my body, my soul and my relationships. Something has to change.

I need to learn to love and depend on moments of freedom again.  I need to be present, to make a connection with my children, my husband, my parents, my neighbors without internally obsessing about what needs to be done. I need to soak in the life that is passing by without feeling guilty.

However, work does need to be accomplished, things need to be taken care of for school and child activities, the house needs cleaned, meals need cooked, financial obligations need to be met and the kids need coached in reading, sight words, letters and handwriting. Weight needs to be lost, so exercise and meal planning needs to happen. Is it possible to get it all done and not come undone? Can there be margin? I have not yet figured that part out.

Maybe I was at Allume this weekend to hear the words of Leanna Tankersley speak about our need for Breathing Room. Maybe I was just there to get a few night's sleep with no little persons waking me to play musical beds. But all weekend, I was in a state of discontent and searching for the answer to balance.

I was also a little disappointed with the conference this year. In the past three years, Allume has gone from blogger conference with lots of sessions related to all aspects of blogging and writing, to spiritual conference with blogging almost as an afterthought. Additionally, the order of the sessions did not seem to be organized with much thought to what attendees might want to get out of the conference. For example, there would be several writing specific sessions at the same time slot rather than spread out throughout the day. I would suggested that each session time have at least one writing choice, a technical/blog choice, a marketing choice, and a life balance/spiritual choice.

And while they answered our request for more free time, Saturday was almost a waste with only one session in the morning and lots of eating (early lunch, panel, tea time, dinner, after party) and a gathering event with the sponsors in the afternoon. Even the sponsors began packing up by lunchtime.

I was happy that my friends at Shazzy Fitness seemed to have a good conference and a good response to their awesome dance fitness DVDs. And working out with them twice did a lot to help increase my energy level for sure.

While the women behind Allume have big hearts for God, and are seeking to do mighty things, I think I will next invest my professional development time in a more traditional writers conference or a content marketing conference because I really want to take my writing to the next level. However, if you are looking for a place to be spiritually challenged and uplifted among women who have a heart for God and love to write and be creative. Allume is worth it for sure.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Dare

Dare to love big. This summer as I embarked on a new leg of my career journey, the Lord prompted me to love big when he expanded my heart beyond the love for my son who has Down syndrome, and even for other individuals with Down syndrome, to encompass a desire for dignity, justice, meaning for all individuals with developmental disabilities when I went to work at All About Developmental Disabilities. 

I have met amazing individuals with a strong spirit who seek inclusion in a world that still wants to exclude them. These people seek employment, desire community, want to be known and most importantly have immense worth. I am so honored to come alongside them and, with my words, help the world know that they matter. To encourage people to fight for inclusion, support and acceptance. I hope you'll join me and dare to stand up, include others and exclude the "R" word from your vocabulary.