Sunday, September 30, 2007

Birthday Blessings

My birthday was this past week, and my sister’s was the month before. Every year, we go through the same routine of asking each other for a wish list and struggling to come up with anything we want. We’re so blessed, aren’t we, that we have such a hard time coming up with things we really need? We get tired of buying each other the same items every year. I buy her favorite lotion, which she can just as easily buy for herself and save the postage of having it shipped. (We live in different states.) Or we’ll send each other gift certificates, when all we’re really doing is just swapping money. So, this year we decided to forgo the gifts and donate money to each other’s favorite charity. I asked my sister to donate to the memorial fund for my friend’s son, an airman who was killed in an accident in Afghanistan. My friend was so grateful for the donation that it made me feel great! In fact, I felt so good that I went a step further and donated some money of my own to a charity I had read about recently that really touched my heart. Being able to give really made me count my blessings on my birthday.

Another favorite gift I received was one that my 14-year-old son made. When he asked me what I wanted, I had the usual difficulty in coming up with some suggestions, so I jokingly told him I wanted “a new house.” (That wasn’t really a joke. I do want a new house, but it’s highly unlikely he’d be able to arrange it!) Anyway, he spent hours putting together a little house with Popsicle sticks and glue, cutting out doors and windows, and painting it. He then searched through his Lego people to find the perfect representations of our family and gathered them around a little Lego table inside the house. It was adorable, and the thought and labor that went into it thrilled me more than any gift he could have bought. (To top it off, however, he did tape a Barnes and Noble gift certificate inside the roof of the house!)

I didn’t suffer my usual depression this year at getting another year closer to death (as I so dramatically phrase it), and I’m certain the reason was because I felt as if my birthday was more meaningful this year. Don’t get me wrong . . . my family still spoiled me with some really nice gifts, which I loved and accepted gratefully. But I was surprised at how much joy I felt in also giving something away, as well as in knowing that my son took the time to make something that made me laugh. I think this way of thinking is going to become a birthday tradition in our family. Wouldn’t it be great if we could teach our children that our birthdays are days of gratitude in which we should be thankful for all that we have and joyously make someone else’s life a little better? Start up a new “giving tradition” when the next birthday comes around in your family. I guarantee it will make everyone feel wonderful!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Self-Defeating Speech Habits

I believe I’ve mentioned in a previous post that it bothers me that my husband never says, "I’m sorry." Well, the irony of that hit me the other day when I was reading an article and realized that I say "I’m sorry" all the time! I apologize for everything, whether it’s my fault or not. "I’m sorry you don’t feel well," I’ll say to a friend, as if I were responsible for her illness. "I’m sorry to bother you," I’ll say, as if whatever I have to say is certainly not important enough to be worthy of someone’s attention. "I’m sorry if this isn’t what you wanted . . ." I’ll say, assuming someone won’t like what I’ve done for her. So, why am I so overly apologetic?

According to "Are Your Words Holding You Back?" by Ellen Welty (Redbook, October 2007), "self-defeating speech habits" such as this can get to be, well, a habit! And, I found out, I’m guilty of quite a few. Here are some others that Welty points out in which I recognized myself:

• Have you ever been in a meeting in which you brought up an idea that was met with a so-so reaction, and then somebody else brought up the idea later and it was met with enthusiasm? Think back to how you broached your idea. If you started out by saying, "This is probably a stupid idea, but . . ." or "This might not work, but . . ." or "I’m no expert, but . . ." then you’ve given your listeners permission to appoint a lower value to your opinion. When someone else boldly states, "We need to do this . . . ," then the idea is suddenly taken seriously!

• Do you preface your statements with the words "I think"? For instance, "I think I can handle that," or "I think I’m pretty good at that," or "I think we should do it that way." Experts say this phrasing is "a hedge," allowing you to play it safe and not totally commit to an idea. Needless to say, many people take your words more as opinion than fact, and don’t take them seriously.

• The word "just" is also highly over-used. If you tell someone that you’re "just an administrative assistant," or you call your friend and announce, "It’s just me," then you’re minimizing your importance in the eyes of others.

The problem with using these speech patterns is that they really do cause people to begin to see you as being less capable. And when these people treat you in a manner that supports that belief, it validates in your own mind that you’re not worthy. It’s a chain reaction that needs to be broken by being more conscious of your use of these phrases and getting rid of them. Now that I’m aware of these harmful speech patterns coming out of my own mouth, I’m vowing to try to banish them from my conversations. I think you should join me . . . I mean, please join me today!

Friday, September 14, 2007

I Love Mr. Food

I made what’s getting to be my monthly trip to Mr. Food’s today. In case you’re not familiar with Mr. Food’s, it’s one of those places where you assemble your meals at their store. I simply go on the Internet to view the month’s menu, pick out my selections, and pay by credit card. Then I pick a day and time for my “session” and go in to assemble my meals. I love it because it takes care of the problems I always have in preparing meals for my family, such as:

Lack of creativity—They come up with the greatest dishes, such as Chicken Napoli in Phyllo, Orange-Ginger Pork Roast, and Shrimp and Tortellini in Lobster Sauce.

Lack of ingredients—They have all the ingredients right there. I don’t have to make up a shopping list to make sure I have enough spices, cheese, pasta, meat, etc., in the house.

Lack of time to prepare—I can prepare 7 meals for my family in an hour. You can’t beat that!

Lack of desire to chop—I hate cutting up chickens, slicing vegetables, peeling onions, and so on. They do all the prep work.

Lack of patience for a complicated recipe—All of their recipes are so easy to follow that even a cooking-phobic like me can follow them. All the ingredients and utensils are laid out. Even the proper measuring spoons are placed with each item. It’s easy! (And they clean up after me, too!)

Lack of cash—When you first add up the total, it looks like you’ve spent a lot. But if you actually add up all the ingredients and consider that each meal feeds 4-6 people, it’s really a value.

Lack of time in the day—On those days when I realize at 4:00 that I still haven’t figured out something for dinner, I simply take one of my Mr. Food packages out of the refrigerator or freezer and prepare it according to the directions. Most of the meals just involve sticking them in the oven.

Best of all, their ingredients are fresh and yummy, and I have a Mr. Food’s right around the corner from my house. Being that my specialty is normally Hamburger Helper, my family is eternally grateful that I found this place!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

As I sat at my kitchen table eating potato chips and dip, an article in today’s newspaper caught my eye, "Rampant obesity cripples children’s health." A child obesity expert at the Texas Children’s Hospital reported that today’s children "may be the first in a century not to outlive their parents, because of weight-related illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes." Scary, isn’t it?

Fortunately for my immediate family, obesity hasn’t been an issue we’ve had to contend with thanks to good genes and high metabolism. I was always the kid they called "bones" or "skeleton" because I was so skinny. My mom had to take a "tuck" in the waistband of all my jeans to make them smaller. (As an adult, of course, it’s a different story, as my metabolism has slowed way down. I suspect that only a small appetite keeps me thin these days!) So far, my kids have been just as fortunate. Tall and lanky, my boys seem to be bottomless pits when it comes to eating, and yet they remain thin. But, experts tell us, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re healthy. Despite our appearance, I suspect we’re sadly out of shape.

Of course, a lot of the obesity problem stems from our diets of fast food, chips, candy, soda, ice cream, and so on. But there’s also the problem of inactivity. I can’t remember the last time my kids went outside to hit a tennis ball or play a game of basketball. They can usually be found in their rooms in front of the computer. Nutritionists say this generation of kids "is battling a toxic fast-food, couch-potato culture." But who introduced them to this culture? Sadly, we as parents did. After all, most kids aren’t getting to the local fast-food joint by themselves. I would suspect that most homes, including mine, have an overabundance of snacks and an absence of fruits and vegetables.

It saddens me to see children who struggle to breathe when they run or who have to buy their clothing in the adult section. And, quite often, when you see an overweight child, he’s accompanied by overweight parents. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if families spent more time together on fun and healthy activities? When was the last time you threw a ball with your child at the local park or took a walk together to explore an adjoining neighborhood? Have you shown your child how to throw a Frisbee or play Hopscotch? Children are only going to start losing weight when physical activity is made a part of family life. It has to be a group effort to get out of the house more and eat healthy foods. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading out to the kitchen to throw away that bag of chips and take my twins to the park.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Berenstain Bears for Grown-Ups

You’d have to live under a rock not to know of the Berenstain Bears books and TV shows. I’ve loved the Berenstain Bears ever since my teenagers were babies. I like the classic Bears (where Papa Bear is always a bumbling idiot) and the later Bears (where Brother and Sister always learn an important lesson). However, I recently learned that Stan and Jan Berenstain, creators of the Berenstain Bears, wrote some books for parents! I just read one of them called The Berenstains’ Baby Book: Advice for Parents from the Creators of the Berenstain Bears (ISBN 0-671-49629-8), and it’s hilarious! The Berenstains dispense advice on all kinds of subjects, including pregnancy, feeding, bedtime, first words, discipline, daycare, and much more. The book was published in 1983, so parts are dated, but it really doesn’t matter. The humor in this book remains fresh! Here’s some of the advice they offer:

Pregnancy: While you’ve been working through the final stages of your blimp impersonation, solicitous friends and relatives have kept your phone ringing off the wall. Your mother-in-law is convinced that the whole process is taking much too long and that your delaying tactics are for the specific purpose of embarrassing her.

Grandparents: The grandparent’s first impulse upon seeing the grandchild is to pick him up. It matters not that the child is happy in the crib, coach, or playpen. Nor does it matter that it required a supreme effort of stamina, will and native cunning to get him to lie there quietly in the first place. Up he’s snatched! Then, after a few minutes of knee dandling, Grandpa glances at his watch and discovers that he’d better hurry if he’s going to pick up Grandma in time to make the first show. . . . So, putting Baby back where he found him, he bids you adieu, but you don’t hear him over the mounting decibels from your infant.

Potty-Training: Bladder Control consists of putting the tot on the pot every hour on the hour. It also entails sponging up a puddle every hour on the hour, roughly two minutes after you take the child off the pot. Stated in its simplest terms, your objective is to get the puddle in the pot. The solution is largely a matter of sticking rigidly to a schedule and constantly keeping a weather eye squinted for signs of precipitation.

Undressing: At two and a half, your tot will probably try to remove socks by grabbing at the piggie end and pulling toward his face. He pulls and pulls. Nothing happens. Eventually his hand slips off and connects with his nose. After this, be sure to slip his socks off his heels for him when he’s in the mood to undress himself. Then when he grabs a handful of sock and yanks, he’ll get results: there will be a sock in his fist when it connects with his nose.

There’s even a brief fill-in-the-blank section at the end of the book with such humorous items as:
Smashed first priceless heirloom at ___ months.
First locked self in bathroom at ____ months.
Brought home first dead animal at ____ months.
First fist fight at ____ months. Who won? __________

The Berenstains’ Baby Book is also loaded with adorable classic Berenstain illustrations. This is my new favorite gift item for expectant parents. Parenting isn’t easy, but it helps when we can laugh at the many challenges and difficult stages. This book will bring out the chuckles in every parent.