What Are You Thankful For?

Every year at Thanksgiving I ask the question “what are you thankful for” at the table. I get a lot of sighs and “oh no not again” but reluctantly everyone finds an answer and whether it is real or not, they comply.

It is tough to answer honestly with such a broad question. Most everyone was giving general answers to this general question and I realized we were not getting to anyone’s true self. In order to change it up, I had to think of a better question.

There had to be a better way to make this fun and make it memorable. I remembered a list I saw on a bulletin board while teaching one day that intrigued me — It was from an article printed in HuffPost

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids ‘So How was School Today?’ ‘Without Asking Them ‘So How Was School Today?’

By liZ Evans
Blogger, Simple Simon and Company

Here are a few:

  • What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)
  • Tell me something that made you laugh today.
  • How did you help somebody today?
  • How did somebody help you today?
  • Where do you play the most at recess?
  • Who is the funniest person in your class?
  • If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

I thought the questions were brilliant and after trying them out, I realized I learned a lot more about a day at school. It takes some effort to dig deeper to ask questions that will give you insight into another person. I am inquisitive. I like to know the deepest parts of a person. It takes the right questions to get there. The most interesting people don’t give up their thoughts easily.

Is everyone as bored as I am watching those 4-5 minute question/answer segments on the morning shows? You come away with nothing new about them and realize they were only there to sell a book, a movie or an album and that everything is scripted. I can’t imagine being asked the same question over and over again and trying to look interested. Guess what? That is what I was doing at Thanksgiving every year!

At the last second I changed it up — “What is one thing you did this year that you did not feel you were capable of?” Okay, I got the same looks but after a minute of hearing the answers of the kids, the adults took notice. The kids answers were heartfelt and genuine. They knew right away that a 100% on a math test was a huge accomplishment. Semester grades that had more A’s than C’s were worthy of a huge smile on their face. Getting through the first months of a new grade and feeling good about it was huge to them. It was their world and they were tackling it. It’s funny how math became the pinnacle of success. It told me that math was a tough subject to master. It is ever changing and you must keep up. It has exact answers. I know in my substitute teaching that I can see a lightbulb flash over the head of someone who understands a concept for the first time.

I was thrilled with the answers of the adults at the table who may have thought their revelations were simple — BUT — they displayed real amazement at their accomplishments. Painting a wall to painting people for the first time; moving to a brand new area and adjusting better than expected; finding a new way to visit Las Vegas and it being more fun; to my own revelation that working five days a week at jobs I loved proved to be more satisfying than I ever thought it would be.

I learned something new. Change up the questions. Find ways for people to talk about themselves in a different way. Be interested in learning what others are trying to accomplish. Most of all get them off guard and give them a reason to dig deep and reveal something no one has ever asked them before.

I saw lightbulbs over everyone that day. In the end, they may still roll their eyes at my questions but I think next year they will look forward to letting us in on their secret.

Lightbulb Moment

The Eye Of Your Camera

I was thinking the other day about the history of family photos. I remembered my grandmother sitting down with me as an adult and opening a shoe box full of photos. That is all she had of her past. They were special and she could remember everything they said about her life. I got one day to soak it in with her. She is gone now and so are her thoughts about her life. If I could have one more day with her. . . .

Grams Had A Story

My parents took more pictures and my mom got creative with scrapbooks. She bought books with black paper and used a white ink pen to label them. She took so much love and care with each photo, carefully placing them in order and I’m sure smiling as she pasted them in. I treasure the pictures of my parents as newlyweds—they were just starting out with hopes and dreams. Kids rarely let their parents be people. It is too hard to see their reality next to the person you need them to be. Those pictures became all that was left when they divorced 23 years later. Both never let us sit together just one more time — the five of us — to hear their stories of life together. The chasm between them grew so big that they both erased their marriage and created new lives with new spouses. Kids deserve to have the family pictures preserved and not hidden away in boxes never to be looked at again.

Happy Marriage Stories — My Grandparents and My Parents

I am the generation that started with paper photos and transitioned to digital memories sitting on a computer. I kept the scrapbook tradition and have many books that I made sure stayed current. I also have three baskets in a closet of paper photos that never made it into a scrapbook. I did have our VCR videos transferred to a USB device. Our videos are treasures but lopsided in having much more footage of our youngest child than our older ones. I have digital pictures on the cloud and wonder who will ever really see them when I’m gone. I’m determined to not let my stories go when I do.

I met my friends, Amanda and Kristi, at a conference in Texas by chance. I volunteered at the welcome desk and there they were in front of me checking in. Amanda was not on the list (we later found her) and we laughed all weekend about her crashing The Photo Organizers Conference. Their lives are in Canada (each on separate coasts) but their friendship with each other is real. I dared to work my way into becoming the third wheel — I am happy to be in that role!

Together they formed Memory Momentum and are always finding solutions for their clients to keep their memories alive and safe. They have experience and a sense of humor. They care about stories. They care that you will organize your pictures in a way that will be easy to understand and keep up. Here are a few of their thoughts in beginning to change how we think about organization and it’s meaning in our lives:

  • Organization does not mean perfection;
  • Organization optimizes the quality of life;
  • Having a system means less time overwhelmed and frazzled;
  • Keeping the system up means more time for fun and less time recreating the wheel;
  • Starting is the hardest part — let someone teach you how to begin and how to keep only what you love!

Here are their tips on valuing the photos we save:

  • DELETE — schedule it daily, weekly or monthly. Keep only the ones that have meaning for that month and year.
  • TELL YOUR STORY — your photos are your story. More does not mean clarity. It is too overwhelming to see 1000 pictures in our digital photo album. They lose their meaning. Pick the right ones and lose your guilt over deleting the ones that are not meaningful to you.
  • BE MORE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY — If you end up with 12 for the year (one a month) that tell your story, there is no need for 1000 that you will have trouble remembering in 10 years.

Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in Amanda and Kristi’s witty photo-organizing wisdom! You can find them at www.memorymomentum.ca — Don’t worry you do not need your passport or a one-way ticket to Canada — they are experts at remotely working with you. A video meeting is just as much fun as meeting them at a welcome desk!

Simplify and Be Intentional — such a great way to live if you just let go of stuff. You don’t need to be perfect, just know what you treasure and Delete the things that weigh you down. Make sure that your memories are safe and available for future generations. Nothing tells a story better than what your eye sees while capturing a photo.

Your Story In The Eye of Your Camera

Tell Me More

It is impossible to not love Hoda Kotb. Watching her on the Today Show is inspiring. She loves what she does and she loves her family life. She brings a sense of accomplishment and wonder to the table. She might be the best role model for blending career and family. But all of this took her a while to set in motion and understand.

I was particularly moved on her first day back to work after a five month maternity leave having unexpectedly adopted her second daughter. She was paying attention to life during those five months and made sure we knew how magical it had been for her. She has a very high profile on morning television and it is refreshing to see her personality show through. She is real. She has waited a long time for her family life. She appreciates everyone and everything around her. She elevates anyone who sits next to her.

A great segment with guests Esther Wojcicki who wrote “How to Raise Successful People” and Kelly Corrigan who wrote the essay “Advice to My College Freshman” in The New York Times as well as the book “Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say” — gave great tips on not only raising successful people but how to navigate and accept the empty nest when your kids leave home. Esther was so calm in her approach to letting her kids discover the world around them and how they fit into it and Kelly was hilarious in her nervousness in trying to tell her daughter everything in an hour that she wanted her to know before leaving her at college.

Hoda brought up that we parents try so hard to teach our kids all the life lessons we want them to know that we push them too hard. Kelly’s book offers that listening is key by simply saying “tell me more” instead of giving solutions. I took note of these simple three words — tell me more — what a great way to not only listen but extend a conversation.

Life experience whether in career or family life does give clarity. We are meant to learn from mistakes and situations that don’t feel right. The panic and anxiousness felt in our 20’s and 30’s fades as our confidence builds. We shed friends and family that drain us to the core. We find ourselves having more moments of joy than sadness. We center our days so as to not exhaust ourselves. Seeing life through someone else’s eyes is a better way to understand and bond with them.

It is not lost on me that the way to know a person’s heart and mind is to listen to what they say and what they are fascinated by. Let them know you hear them instead of trying to help them. I am learning that all of us young and old have a creative outlet. Acknowledging that creativity is amazing. I scrolled through Chris’s pictures on his phone the other day and got an insight into what he takes note of when outside.

Dragonfly in Flight
Spider Creativity

When my kids call me — which is surprisingly more often than I would have thought — I want them to “tell me more.” Their ideas are more valuable than any solution I could conjure up. They’ve got it together. They have creative outlets. I want to know them more as adults than try and keep them young. They deserve that from me. They can now teach me.

One thing I have always had my whole life is a love for people. The journey someone’s mind takes fascinates me. I love reading biographies and following along on what it took to get where they wanted to go. It takes a while to understand what is worth paying attention to every day. As time goes by I see that learning to shed rather than accumulate is a path to feeling happy.

Fun Times To Remember

I was lucky to have a great high school life. Now don’t get me wrong there was drama and worry but for the most part I was able to come away with the best memories. As I got further away from that time, life got busy and I lost a part of that girl.

This weekend I went back. My sister and brother-in-law came to visit and we went to the Friday Night Football Game to watch a nephew start his high school football life there. So funny, those kids looked so young and we thought we were so old and grown up — making decisions that seemed at the time life altering.

It’s good to get back to who you were before the stress of life takes hold of a carefree personality. It can’t happen every Friday Night but it is good to re-set and remember once in a while.

My High School Days

I keep this picture in my office to remind me of who I was when I was at the beginning of my adult journey. It keeps me focused on what I was thinking and who I still am. I believe that none of us ever lose that 18 year old wonder and feeling that we can do anything. It just gets lost in daily life and responsibilities.

We had the weekend to discuss our lives and what we hoped for our kids and for our own futures. My sister and brother-in-law were also a part of my high school days. We’ve seen each other through all of life’s joys and sadness. It has been a comfort to know I have big open arms to land in when I need it. Chris and I are here for them too. We realized that since all of our parents are gone, we are the leaders of our family now. We are proud of our own accomplishments but we beam when talking about our kids. They are such great people. They are never far from our thoughts but we respect their autonomy and need for privacy — they do reach out often and we know that we have created a safe zone for them to talk and rejuvenate.

We talked about our home and our talk of downsizing. We never realized what having this house meant to the entire family. It reaches more than just Chris and I and our kids. It’s a place to feel happy and safe. As with my high school memories, there are many that our entire family have stored here and treasure. Our kitchen table has been the place where anyone can be fed and listened to.

Our Kitchen Table

I remember watching The Waltons Television Show (click link to see a picture) in the 1970’s and thinking that their kitchen table was so loving and welcoming. How did we get to the point of thinking that families living far from each other would be a good idea? I realized tonight that it’s time to plan more family dinners at this table. Luckily, Chris is a great cook and I love to clean and organize the kitchen afterwards. I also think including everyone in the process of a meal is a great way to create laughter and a sense of belonging.

I have always loved a comfortable family room complete with comfortable couches and blankets. So many positive discussions can lengthen when there is room for everyone to sit. When relaxed, people talk with their heart.

The Family Room Discussions

It doesn’t matter how big or small these two important rooms are. Just make sure they are welcoming and used often. I am content tonight knowing that we have created the home where everyone wants to be. All are welcome and I’m going to get better at making family time an open invitation. Scrapbooks, yearbooks, home movies and videos tell the stories that are the thread that connects us and helps us know that we are loved.

I See You

I was in my local coffee shop and just finished my order. I noticed the line behind me had 2 people when a group of 3 went straight to the register and ordered without noticing that there had been people waiting behind me. They never looked, just ordered.

The lady who was bumped in line was so kind and just let them go ahead of her. I decided to walk up to her and let her know that I SAW HER and that she was not invisible. She explained that she just felt like it was a fight she didn’t want to start. The barista also spoke up and said that he saw her too. She appreciated that we noticed her.

It may seem like a small thing but I started thinking about people who do not feel seen. It got me wondering about how such a simple moment can change someone’s day. It woke me up to the fact that sometimes I am not paying attention either, especially when I’m in a hurry. Why has kindness taken a back seat in our society? Is everyone just in our way and an annoyance? Do we even care to realize that every person matters?

I started thinking of all the situations that trigger frustration:

  • On the road while driving — especially in traffic
  • Pedestrians who have the right of way
  • Any elementary school playground
  • The waiting room of a doctor’s office
  • The airport
  • Trying to reach customer service by telephone

It’s okay to:

  • Let someone into your lane, even if they decide at the last minute — we all do that once in a while
  • Look for pedestrians — show them you see them
  • Help kids learn to work out their conflicts right there on the playground — make sure they each listen to the other’s feelings — then send them back to play
  • Create better systems in waiting rooms — update everyone who is going to be taken in late — everyone’s schedule matters
  • When flights are delayed, update every 15 minutes and be honest as to what the problem is —
  • Customer service is the first line item when running a business — if that is not pleasant for customers, everything else will fail behind it.

I decided to change my routine and while taking my normal walk around our reservoir, I looked up at everyone I passed. Everyone smiled — people took the time to say hello.

Taking a Walk

I stopped on a street near my house last week and noticed that the neighborhood goats were set up getting rid of our dry brush. This sight attracted so many people — they all got out of their cars to see this extraordinary service take place and everyone was amazed, smiling and taking pictures. Kids don’t see this sight every day.

Thank You Goats!

It doesn’t take much of our time to value people. It just needs to be a part of our day. Who knows, it could become a habit —- I SEE YOU!

Your Home is Your Biography

I counted the other day and I have lived in 13 homes in my life. I have lived in my present home for 36 years which is by far the longest time period of any of them. I think all biographies could begin and end with a chapter on each home you have lived in. They tell the stories of growth, adventure, frustration, joy, finances, clutter and stir memories like nothing else in your life (except maybe our cars that hold stories within their doors).

I’ve always had a feeling about home. Each one becomes a part of the history of you. Moving in is tiring and fun. Leaving is sad for all that is left behind. Every house I’ve been in tells my story. I can be funny. I am a positive curious girl who daydreams a lot or I am extremely responsible and organization overtakes my day. My first house was simple and small. It was a fun neighborhood and it was easy to just grow up with few worries. My second house was two story and held all my teenage decisions. I had my own room and learned to meet new people. I’ve lived in apartments, rented homes and condos I bought too fast. Every place held promise.

FAST FORWARD 45 YEARS ~~ I’ve been in my home for all these years and I wake up every morning wondering if I will regret selling it for a smaller home. Our kids were raised here and we created an art studio for Chris. It is a large 1/2 acre yard and we spent every weekend caring for it and the kids. Is it possible to wake up in a different home and start over?

I lack a sense of adventure. I want to change that. It is okay to let my guard down and try new things. Chris and I have the chance to create a home without worrying how it will affect anyone but ourselves. We have ideas we have never been able to create.

My friend, Monday, has sold her home and her whole family has taken off on a trek across the United States. Even though she is scared, she made it happen. Her stories are hilarious and honest. It is not easy but I can almost guarantee that her kids will thank her for this one day. Even with all the sibling fighting, bonds are being made. Will our kids have nightmares about the new family that will be living in their house?

So this is the first step. Saying out loud that this is going to happen. Making a promise to myself and Chris that we will stay on this path and see it through. Now how in the heck do we start downsizing our “stuff?”

The Start