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I’m not embracing a single word to focus on for 2017, but if I was, it would probably be GRATITUDE. Even in my darkest nights of the soul, my life is filled with people and things I am so grateful for. I know there are many tools available to help me focus on those things. I was even gifted a gratitude journal. There’s only one teensy weensy problem…I hate journaling. Really. I hate it.

I love writing, but journaling and writing are completely different beasts! I fill my blank books with lists and story ideas and writing “Niki loves Benny” in my best penmanship. I don’t journal.

But…

On a melancholy, wintry day in 2015, I sought solace in a cup of chai at Starbucks. While I was chatting up the barista, I grabbed one of those little freebie cards for iTunes apps they used to give out. My eyes were drawn to the big number 5 on it. If I had looked close enough to see the word “journal” I probably would have left it on the counter. When I finally checked it out, I was impressed, and it was FREE. Bonus! Thank you, Starbucks! *bats eyelashes*

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I love this app so much, I had my kids download it on their phones too. The simple format is appealing – I’m not sitting down to a blank page wondering what to write, I just follow the prompt, answering the same questions every day in the morning and evening. It helps me think through my goals for the day and reflect on the little amazing moments that add up to my life.

You can add daily pictures, set up notifications, and share their inspirational quotes to social media. It takes less than 5 minutes yet it’s had a profound impact on my attitude over the past year. Even on my bad days, it helps to focus on what went well and who I am. The daily affirmation might be my favorite part. It gave me a new perspective and I’m happier for it.

As for my kids, I’m helping them form habits that will serve them (and others) well and I get the added bonus of happier, healthier kids. We’re usually together when our phones light up with our journal prompts, which is fun.

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Need a celebrity endorsement? Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, is a big fan.

The Five Minute Journal is one of the simplest ways that I have found to consistently ensure improving my well being and happiness. Both in terms of achievement and actual measurable, quantifiable results.

Tim Ferriss, NY Times Best Selling Author

Sadly, the app is not free anymore, it’s $4.99 in the app store for my fellow IOS users. It is worth every penny!

Android users: I’ve read you can use the same principles with a journaling app like Dario, or 5 Minute Journal is also available in book form from the makers at Intelligent Change and on Amazon.

Try it risk-free! If you subscribe to the newsletter at Intelligent Change, they will send you a free quick start pdf for you to try 5 Minute Journal for five days. You can always unsubscribe to the newsletter if it’s just not your thing, but why not give it a try?

Do you journal? How do you motivate yourself and stay focused on positivity? 

Update: If the video isn’t working, here’s the YouTube link: 5 Minute Journal on YouTube

I’m kicking off 2017 by sharing some of my life hacks! Next up: LastPass!

It’s Sunday night on the first day of the first month of 2017, and the eve of the first Monday of the year. I’m doing what I do most Sunday nights, planning for the week.

I’m snuggled in my bed, sipping something sweet, and poring over my calendars. Plural. I love my phone’s Google Calendar that syncs up with those of the rest of my family, but I can’t live without a paper version too.

Though my own brain and habits haven’t been studied and tracked, I know there is Scientific evidence that suggests by physically writing things down, we process the information better by creating spatial connections in our brains and we have an easier time remembering the important stuff.

I’ve always been a writer-downer. It is one of the tools that allows me to be a high-capacity woman. I’m a big fan of lists and I create them for everything: Grocery shopping, names I might like to use in the stories I’m writing, funny things my kids say, special information about friends I don’t want to forget, books I want to read, etc. All of this gets jotted down in the different sections of my paper planner, then some of it gets entered into my phone, and on the big family calendar on the side of our refrigerator.

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I prefer to see the whole month-at-a-glance, so I like the large flexi-planner. Mine is dated August 2016 – December 2017. My phone calendar is set to see the day-at-a-glance. Do what works for you!

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Each month I begin by filling in the squares with standing commitments like meeting times, food bank days, fieldtrips, and my kids’ work schedules and babysitting dates.

I use the extra blank squares on the calendar to record notes about the kids and that month’s book releases I’m excitedly awaiting. This month they’re on the bottom. My teenagers pay for their own phones, so this is where I record what they owe us and I cross it off when they pay it. Any other loans and notes about the kids get recorded here as well.

I use the side column to list birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends, and section off the bottom for our list of bills so I have a visual of what we need to pay for the month.

The top margin gets filled in with quotes, questions, observations, and other notes.

The circled dates are my paydays for my part-time jobs.

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The week-at-a-glance section in my planner is where I record notes as I think of them. Kind of like a daily sticky note of what happened or things I want to remember.

What I’m adding this year:

  • Book List – Books I’ve read will be recorded on the day I finish them.
  • Movie List – Movies watched will be recorded on the day I watch them.
  • Moving List – Daily recording of the steps I take. I plan to add a lot more of them.

Do you use a planner or calendar? More than one? How do you stay organized? 

I’m kicking off 2017 by sharing some of my life hacks! Next up: The 5 Minute Journal!

2016 Mom’s Mystery Trip

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$500.00.

A weekend away in an unknown destination.

Details to be given once you arrive at the airport with your carry-on bag.

Are you in?

I said YES!

Last fall, my friend Cindy decided to put together a Mom’s mystery trip. She’s the director of the private school where I teach and my kids take classes on Fridays. She’s also an experienced world traveler, having led several educational trips abroad for high school students, and done some traveling of her own with her family. She excitedly made the first announcement to see if anyone would be interested.

The responses ran from “YES, YES, YES!” to “Are you crazy? I’m not spending money to go on a trip without knowing the details!”

In the end, it was a chilly January morning when five excited women met Cindy at the airport with our carry-on luggage in tow. (A very special thank you to my mystery friend who made it possible for me to go on this adventure! I can’t thank you enough!) After we gathered around, Cindy announced we were booked on a non-stop flight to Miami where we would spend the night in a luxury suite before driving to the Port of Palm Beach the next morning to board a ship for a two-day cruise to the Bahamas! It was more than I ever hoped or imagined! WOW!!!

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2016 Mystery Moms

We arrived in Miami and drove to the Marriott on Biscayne Bay. It was beautiful! We settled in a bit then talked and laughed our way through dinner at Primo Restaurant near our hotel. My friend Veronica and I ordered different meals so we could share. Delicious! I also tried crab cakes for the first time and loved them. Who knew?

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Marriott at Biscayne Bay

After dinner we drove our minivan down to south beach and cruised past all the clubs. Can you picture it? lol We were so cool. The traffic was insane! We came back to the hotel and took some pictures of the bay (and each other) and hung out enjoying the cool breeze. What a beautiful night!

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Miami Sunrise over Biscayne Bay

The next morning, we headed for Little Havana to eat breakfast at the famous Versailles Bakery & Restaurant. I tried Cuban coffee (yuck) and took lots of pictures of the architecture and my breakfast. I’ll spare you those particular photos. Not having seen palm trees since I was a little girl living in California, I loved the drive to the port! You could feel the excitement and energy in the van as we planned possible activities: A glass bottom boat tour, swimming with the sharks (Ellison was the only one up for that adventure), shows on the boat, and of course, shopping.

Then we arrived at the port and our trip took an unexpected turn.

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

As we were checking in, we found out Amanda had a copy of her birth certificate and wouldn’t be allowed to go on the cruise. The port only allows state-issued birth certificates or passports for re-entry into the United States. I suddenly felt like I had swallowed a pile of rocks. I have a military hospital issued birth certificate. Sure enough, when it was my turn at the counter, the guy practically rolled his eyes at me as he handed me my documents and told me no, I would not be leaving with my group.

Stunned, angry, sad, disappointed. I didn’t know what to feel. We were just told we needed an original birth certificate with a raised seal. That’s what I have. It’s the one I’ve used my whole life. But it wasn’t enough. It was a terrible mix up, and Cindy felt awful about it. My tender-hearted friend was beside herself trying to fix it.

It was a struggle looking into the sad faces of my friends. Everyone felt terrible. I love them and wanted them to enjoy their cruise. A few deep breaths and hugs later and they were off, leaving me and Amanda to form a new plan for a few days in Florida.

We were both in a bit of shock, but we pep talked each other into looking at it as another unplanned adventure. It worked! We had a blast! We decided to take lots of pictures and post them to Instagram so our cruising friends would know we were having fun, and they’d be included in our part of the trip too. We didn’t know they didn’t have internet and couldn’t see our pictures or share their own. My friend Ellison was the only one to interact with us at all, so now I’m convinced she’s either a spy, has her own satellite phone, or connections in high places. I’m leaning towards spy. 😉

Amanda and I found a nice place to stay in West Palm Beach and spent our two days walking, talking, going to the beach, visiting a state park, and attempting an Anthony Hernandez scavenger hunt. Our first night in West Palm Beach we happened upon a pretty cool wall mural of JFK, so I googled the artist and found out he had street art all over the city! (See above and check out his website, the ones below are other people’s art.)

The whole art district was pretty great. We stayed up late into the night talking, got sand all over the rental van, laughed, cried, shared the highlights of our lives with each other, ate great food, and relaxed.

And what is a trip to Florida without spending a bit of time writing at the beach and playing in the waves? The photo of my hands full of sand is me rescuing a stranded baby jellyfish. He’s the bluish blob on top. I carefully scooped him up and threw him back into the ocean and cheered him on with the hope he’d beat the tide.

Our vacation flew by and soon it was time to meet the other ladies at port and begin the uncertain trek back to Denver – which was in the middle of a snow storm. I kind of hoped our flight would get cancelled so we’d have another day with all of us together. I even bought this postcard and texted the photo to a few friends. Ha! No such luck. We actually arrived home early?!

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It was a fabulous trip! It was good that I didn’t have a plan, and even though it didn’t go according to Cindy’s plan either, I would do it again! And guess what? Last week, Cindy announced the next mystery trip is scheduled for February! I wonder how long it will take me to get my passport?

What about you? Would you go on a mystery trip?

Do you have any suggestions for great WARM places to visit while it’s freezing in Colorado?

 

My newsfeed this week was filled with stories about Mother’s Day being painful for some people (I know) and how we should temper our celebration of this holiday by honoring all women instead of just mothers. I read an article by a well-known pastor who said his church will not be focusing on mothers with their service today. Fair enough. I wonder if he’ll do the same on Father’s Day. Should we not single anyone out to thank them for their service lest it offend someone else?

When did saying thank you to one person mean you were leaving another person out? Is this a political correctness thing? Do they really mean by honoring mothers today we’re being exclusive instead of inclusive? What a load of crap! I don’t know how or where this new trend began, but it sucks!

Before you think me cold and indifferent to the pain floating around in the world, let me share a bit of my own story.

I struggled with infertility for seven years before I had my first child. I spent many Mother’s Days dying on the inside as I cooed at the baby sitting in front of me at church, and played with my friend’s kids. I know the pain of hope and wishing I was a mother.

I lost a baby in 2008. It’s the single most shocking and horrifying moment of my life, and I blogged about it here and here. My heart aches for all of the other women who’ve experienced such tragedy. I know the pain of all of those missed birthdays, hugs and kisses, and the little girl I’ll never know.

I grew up the daughter of a single mother with multiple mental illnesses. She’s no longer in my life, not because she died but because we cannot be in relationship anymore. I know the pain of not having a mother who could mother me. I meet women all the time who deal with that same pain, and I love several women who are missing their moms today because they’ve already entered eternity.

I get it. We are surrounded by wounded women. Many of us ARE wounded women. We should be sensitive to the experiences of others, but lessening how we honor mothers today doesn’t erase those wounds OR rub salt in them.

When we celebrate Father’s Day, we’re honoring the dads in our lives. Some biological and some not. We honor men who have fathered us and also the men who we admire how they father others. There are father wounds around us too, but celebrating fathers does not make men who are not fathers lesser in any way. It’s just not about them on that day, and that’s okay.

When we celebrate Veteran’s Day, we’re honoring the brave men and women who have served as military veterans in our armed forces. I’m not a veteran, so Veteran’s Day isn’t about me, but it doesn’t take anything away from me or cheapen my role in this world in any way to spend that day thinking about and honoring the veterans in my life.

Why can’t we look at all honoring holidays this way? Why do we have to perpetuate a self-centered, victim mindset? Sometimes it’s just not about you!

I am a mother. I’ve mothered hundreds of people in my lifetime and it hasn’t subtracted anything from the three children who live in my house.That’s the beautiful thing about love – it expands to fill the need.

Today is about celebrating who I am as a mother. It’s about honoring the sacrificial lifestyle I’ve chosen as a mom. It’s a time for my children, husband, friends, and family to acknowledge who I am and what I do.

Mother's Day card

Today is a thank you for the thousands of meals I’ve cooked and the mountains of laundry I’ve washed, dried, and put away for them. It’s a thank you for cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night, and my amazing splinter-removing skills. It’s a thank you for spending weeks reading the Harry Potter series aloud, and months teaching them phonics so they would someday be able to read Harry Potter on their own. It’s a thank you for the late night talks about navigating friendships with people who hurt your feelings, and puberty, and frustrations with school. It’s a thank you for the many miles I drive every day to get them to work and back home or connect them with their friends.

While I am grateful for the ways my tribe honors me on other days of the year, today is special. I get two days a year that are all about me, Mother’s Day and July 29th – my birthday. Let me have them! Let me be celebrated by my loved ones how they see fit and don’t tell them their actions are insensitive to the wounded women around them. That’s not fair. To those who think by honoring moms you’re being insensitive to other women, I ask you to rethink your position.

If you are a mother, I honor you today no matter what your circumstances are:

Those who have birthed a child, I honor you.

Those who have given a child a better home through adoption (both the giving up and the taking in), I honor you.

Those who chose not to keep their child and hope to be reunited with them in eternity, I honor you.

Those who have no children of their own but choose to love other children in their lives, I honor you.

Those who have lost a child, I honor you.

Those who wish they had a mom who cherished them, I honor you.

Those who are navigating difficult mother/child relationships, I honor you.

Single mothers, I honor you.

Married mothers, I honor you.

Widowed mothers, I honor you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!

You are seen. You are loved. Thank you for who you are!

For everyone else: Choose to honor a mom in your life today! Kind words, a text, a phone call, a card or letter, flowers, chocolate, or time spent with them and for them. They deserve it.

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These three each gave me a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, and the rest of the day to do whatever I want…by myself. Happy Mother’s Day to me! 😉

 

Here it is, the last post of the challenge. As I have not yet gone to sleep for the night, I consider this a completion of the challenge on time. Hooray! I chose this challenge because I love writing and I wanted it to aid me in my quest for discipline in that area. I’m a work in progress for sure, and I’m today’s topic.

You can read about me up at the top of my blog under the “About” page and the “I Love” page. If I weren’t me and had to describe me to someone who doesn’t know me, here’s what I’d say:

“I like her. She nice, brave, fierce, sassy and a great friend. She loves people and does all she can to help others. She’s a good wife and mom. She’s a reader, a healer, and she never gives up.”

My tagline for everything is this: Freedom fighter, people lover, word artist, Chai fanatic, and so much more! My hope is that people will take the time to get to know the “so much more.”

And here we are at the end. I’m proud of my fellow challengers for sticking this out with me. It’s called a challenge for a reason, and we did it! Thanks for reading along with us!

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

I know the title says a random person but the person I chose is anything but random. I’ve already blogged about Zoe and Pete. Now it’s Max’s turn.

me and Max

He’s my first born, my fellow night owl, my handsome, strapping sixteen-year-old son. He’s strong, and strong-willed. He’s protective and fiercely loyal. He’s a natural leader – how could he not be when he was born to two first-born children. He’s bigger than me, but I know how to take him down because I’m the momma and I know where he’s ticklish.

 

He’s a comic book and anime geek. Having people ask to take their picture with him at Denver Comic Con might have been the highlight of his weekend. As I mentioned in an earlier post, he’s a fan of both the DC and Marvel universes, but leans more towards the DC side.

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He’s also a drama geek, like his parents before him. He has a lot of hobbies, but his life right now is mostly about finishing high school as soon as possible, Kainos – his youth group, and his girlfriend Sarah.

max and sarah

He spends his free time designing and creating things out of raw materials and duct tape. We gave him an iPad mini for Christmas last year and his favorite gift was still his dremel. He’s a creative kid, and he uses what he learns and knows to teach others. He started his own youtube channel when he was eleven years old to teach other kids how to make things.

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Max calls me “Mommy” and gets frustrated with the other two when they call me “Mom.” I love that. I love him, this giant man-child who made me a mommy for the first time. He’s amazing and I’m proud he’s my son.

There are a few more random people to read about:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

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Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the world’s greatest thinkers, artists, philosophers, and innovators. He was centuries ahead of his contemporaries. I’ve been so fascinated by him, he actually plays a role in my time travel novel – or will if I ever finish it. 😉

A few years ago there was an exhibit here in Denver celebrating the works of da Vinci. It is by far one of my favorite field trips I’ve ever led. We got to try out models of his inventions and learn about the rivalry between Leonardo and Michelangelo. I was especially impressed with his war machines, which he designed then purposely left key elements out of the printed plans so the machines wouldn’t work. We spent hours reading, touching the models, watching a film about him, and of course the tour ended in the gift shop. I bought each of my kids a “Think like da Vinci” rubber bracelet, and this book:

how to think like da vinci

His accomplishments are amazing. His creativity is inspiring. I can’t think of a more diverse man in history. He was the archetype of “Renaissance Man.”

You can read more about him here: leonardodavinci.net

Visit the other challengers here:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

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