When the Weather is Frightful

We’re under a snowfall advisory, the winds are blustery, and even my most avid winter adventurist only lasted 15 minutes outside today.  Inside isn’t much better what with our Tornado Two-year-old careening around the house and destroying everything in his path.  These are the moments that make me panic.  What am I going to do, how am I going to keep 5 children with such varying degrees of abilities entertained?

Enter Valentines Day.

For the past few years I’ve tried to talk the girls into letting me make Valentines with them, but they have chosen the boxed cards with the popular characters instead, (and really who is going to argue with that $2 price tag when you have 5 classes to cover?)  This year they agreed to let me indulge my crafty side, utilize the Rainbow Loom that Santa brought them, and get our DIY on.

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Michaels had a sale on their Rainbow Loom elastics, (I think it’s still on for $2.99/600) and I chose just a few colours to maximize the sale. I made 80 bracelets and didn’t use up any of the colours, and only one and a 1-1/2 bags of the white ones.  The kids are still going to make more intricate bracelets for their teachers, so we’ll come close to using up the lot I bought which was 8 bags, (4 white and 1 of each colour). These are fishtail bracelets, super easy, you can do them or your kids can do them on their own.

DSC_0081I have absolutely no skills at making printables of any kind, so I borrowed the template for these from this blog.  I had some cardstock in my scrapping supplies and all I had to do was print and cut, thank you Pinterest community for sharing your skills.

DSC_0076To make sure we don’t miss anyone the kids pull out their class photos and make sure there is one for each friend.  (Bonus if you have new spellers- the names are right on the photo.)

DSC_0082We slid on the bracelets and now all these lovely gifts are ready for the giving next week.  DSC_0083I know that Valentines Day can often be seen as an over-commercialized spending trap, but I really enjoy taking the time with my kids to make small gifts for their classmates.  Taking time for people is a pretty great way to spend a snow day.

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PS: Give the toddler a scrap to colour on and he is as happy as a clam, for 30 seconds at least.

Uncommon Sense.

January is a fabulous month for brand new beginnings.  But often times all that ambition gets lost in the January dreariness and we loose our momentum.  This is so true if we’re trying to reach a goal that we weren’t able to reach before. And especially true if we’re trying to obtain the same goal in the same fashion we’ve attempted before.  I think Albert Einstein gets right to the point when he says: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”; the definition of Insanity.

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It’s kinda common sense that if Route A didn’t work, try Route B instead.  Like if your goal is to drink more water and your plan is to stop whenever you see a water fountain and sip.  After a few days you realize you haven’t been drinking more water.  Every time you leave the house you remind yourself to be mindful of where the water fountains are.  Good idea.  Unless of course there aren’t any water fountains where you are walking, which you realize is true.  Once you’ve had that realization then it’s just silly to continue in that fashion, insane really.  Some of us more stubborn folk would insist that there must be a water fountain, we made a good plan, just stick with it and success will follow but, really, instead we should switch it up and start carrying around a water bottle.  Common sense, right?

I get that.  Sometimes it takes me a little longer than others, but eventually I get that.

I often approach my faith life in the same manner.  I get caught up in looking for the blessings.  And if I can’t see them I assume I haven’t been properly seeking them.  That Route A isn’t working, time to find Route B.  God has to remind me that often Christianity is uncommon sense.

Particularly prayer.  I think of Hannah who prayed, and prayed, and prayed for a son.  And not just little ‘oh yeah God, that thing I’m committing to prayer- I pray for that.”; Hannah prayed so hard, so fervently, so passionately she was mistaken for a drunk.  She prayed for years.  And the Bible doesn’t say her prayer was just immediately answered after the events recorded in 1 Samuel 1, it says “in the course of time” God delivered on that request.  From what the Bible tells us I’m sure she didn’t stop praying until her request was granted, (and even then I think she prayed just as faithfully- a new prayer.)  She continued unwavering, with the same tactics, the same MO, the same game plan- for years.

I think we’ve all heard stories about people who have prayed and prayed for something, fervently, for years.  Often times in those situations there are other options.  Maybe you’re petitioning God for your own biological child. Everyone else is gently nudging you to consider adoption.  Maybe you’re praying for wisdom to dig out of financial troubles.  The people around you are telling you to file for bankruptcy.  Perhaps you are daily laying a troubled family member at the foot of the cross.  And pamphlets keep on showing up in your mailbox about institutions promising ‘Serenity’. Maybe you simply find yourself on your knees every hour of every minute of every day for strength to get ‘er done and, instead of joining you, your friends invite you to escape to Hawaii.

In all those circumstances people will label you insane.

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God calls you faithful.

When it comes to prayer the common sense thing to do is totally uncommon.  And just like you can recall folks who have faithfully done the uncommon thing, you can also recount the uncommon answers to those prayers.  And, in God’s economy, that just makes sense.

Be It Resolved.

It’s that proverbial time of year for new beginnings.  Taking stock of what’s important, where our resources have been going, setting goals, charting courses, making new paths.  It can be such a rewarding time, but also so completely overwhelming.  How do I decide if I was successful last year?  How do I know what direction to point myself in?  How do I choose/set good goals?  How do I know if I’m clearly seeing what’s important?

After one sets their goals or charts their course a new question arises; one that, in my opinion, is even harder to answer- by what will I measure my success?  How do I properly discern if I need a kick in the pants or a pat on the back?  What are the landmarks of progress?  Am I even being fair to myself?

Personally, if I’m being totally honest, I only find reason to be dissatisfied with myself or where I’m at in life when I try to live up to the expectation that I should, (and can), have ‘it all’.  Admittedly I don’t even know what ‘it all’ is.  Just that I can’t honestly think I have it, because enough people have told me that no one can.

I don’t think that perspective is healthy, or even personal.  Your ‘it all’ may be completely different from my ‘it all’.  Yet because I am a woman, as soon as I try and decipher what my ‘it all’ is, I am going to compare it to yours.

Are there things in my lifestyle that are dissatisfactory to me, absolutely.  But that fact in itself is satisfying.  If I was happy to be where I am, right as I am, then I would be stagnant.  Scripture promises that I will be on a path toward perfection my whole life.  That there will always be somewhere to grow until the day I die.

In the past I’ve written resolutions and set goals, but I never really obtain them.  I get bored.  It gets too hard.  I get distracted.  On December 31st it feels like just yesterday was January 2nd.  (Seriously how can the days be so long and the weeks so short!).  This year I am attempting a new perspective.  This year I am using a new yardstick to measure my progress.

My goal in 2014 is to bring glory to God.

In my actions, words, thoughts, attitudes, choices, decisions and priorities- I will be constantly asking myself if what I am doing brought glory to God today.  I will be able to look back at the end of the year and know the answer to that question- to see the growth- because I will change.  It’s a promise.  God promises that when we spend quality time with Him it WILL change us.

Maybe the change will be a smaller waistband as I glorify God by treating my body as a temple.

Maybe the change will be renewed energy and passion as I am filled with the joy of being a servant.

Maybe the change will be less noticeable bags under my eyes as I learn to let go of my stress and worries.

Maybe the change will be more peace in our home as peace fills my heart.

Maybe the change will be all of those.  Maybe the change will be none of them, but rather things I haven’t even thought of.

The thing about this new perspective is that it’s not about me.  It’s not about my handwork to accomplish goals I decided on.  It’s not about persevering through trials because I resolved to.  This perspective isn’t about getting from Point A to Point B as efficiently as I can. This new perspective is uncharted, (by me at least), this perspective is about where I am right now and what I am doing right now.  It’s not about 365 days down the road, it’s about today.

New Years Resolutions stress me out.  I don’t know anyone who sets a goal and is happy to not reach it.  I can’t think of many people who are free from self-induced stress to be more, to be “better”.  So this year instead of making a resolution I am changing my perspective.

I feel different already.

Disney 2012

When I started this project I thought it would take me 2-4 months to complete.  I quickly learned that my estimated timeline was way off.  Almost 24 months later, I finally finished this project and now that my mom has it in her hands I can share it with you! This was the first time I had made a gift album for someone that included pictures and events that I had participated in.  In the past my gift albums were templated pages for the recipient to add their pictures to, or photos of people and events I had no intimate knowledge of.  I left lots of space for my mom to add her own journalling, (or if she isn’t as wordy as me, she can put more pictures there!).  I made sure to include pictures of her and my dad and things they did without the rest of us.  I know it was a special trip partly because she was sharing it with her grandkids, but I didn’t want to make them the focus.  I also tried to create a mix of uniform pages and eclectic ones.  I wanted to string all the different parks together, but keep them unique at the same time.  I know my mom is enjoying this album, and I hope you do too!

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Do you Ponder what I Ponder?

Every year Christmas seems to sneak up on me and there is a mad rush to get everything pulled together.  Every year, except this year.  Christmas didn’t sneak up at all.  I bought the presents, the tree was trimmed, but something was missing.  It left a huge hole in my holiday spirit and has made it feel like Christmas 2013 didn’t really happen.

Where were all the people?

There wasn’t any kind of Christmas event at our church this year.  No brunch, no ladies morning, no family get together, no volunteer gatherings.  There aren’t ever any ‘office parties’ for us- (or maybe there is but we have them everyday…..).  We ended up skipping the kids Christmas concert because it was -20 and the event was happening outdoors.  Traditionally December is a month where you try and fit ‘it’ all in, ours was empty save for two events. Now it may just be that we aren’t that popular, but there was a lack of people and that has left a gaping hole in my Christmas spirit.

Some of my favourite parts of Christmas involve people.

Saying ‘thank you’ to them.  Showing them how much you appreciate them.  But just dropping off a gift is only half the fun.  I missed the gatherings this year.  The silly games and the food and the music and the noise.  Our house is small, but we can fill it to the rafters a few times a year…. I suppose it’s time to remember that and bring the party here because not being in a crowd made our Christmas way too quiet.

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 Making gifts for people who are special to you, (I forgot to take pics of my other ones).  Or searching high and low for The. Perfect. Gift.  I’m the kind of person who searches for gifts all year long.  The better I know you, the harder I search.  This year there was a lack of gifts beyond our front door.  I felt largely uninspired this year, (it’s been a bit draining).  The lack of gift searching led to a lack of Christmas excitement.  It just got bumped up on my priority list.

ImageThis year Christmas just felt ‘meh’ (and it didn’t have anything to do with the Epic Ice Storm), and the only thing I can put my finger on is that the people were missing. Like I said before, maybe I just have to eat some humble pie and cash in the reality check that I’m just not that popular, but it feels a bit bigger than me.

Like people aren’t investing in community they way we have in the near past.  Like we’ve traded tweets for drop ins; FaceTime for face-to-face hang outs, status updates for coffee dates, forums for conversation.  For all the access we have to the world around us our worlds seem to be shrinking while we spend more time in front of screens and less time in the company of others.

Like I said, maybe it’s just me.

But maybe it isn’t.

Worth 1,000 Words

As the end of the year draws near I get to reflecting.  It always begins with trying to figure out what to say in my Christmas Letter, (yup I write those).  Trying to figure out how to sum up the happenings of 365 days is quite a task.  Do I focus on the new things?  The exciting things?  Do I want people to have a highlight reel, or know more of our reality?  Do I want it to be about stats or memories?  Have I already told everyone everything anyway? (Which is a new thing to consider since Facebook didn’t exist when I started writing these letters.)

Somewhere along the way inspiration strikes and I am always amazed at what I end up with.  Somehow the mundane events of everyday life are encouraging and thought-provoking and I see the truth in the small things being important.

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For some reason after my Christmas letter is written I start to judge the previous year.  Would I consider 2013 a success?

We got the photos from our annual family photo shoot yesterday and so this process has begun.  I like looking at our family, into those eyes, (that never look that way on my camera).  I usually choose which pictures I will be using in our cards and start writing what they make me feel or think about.

Will our Christmas letter be goofy this year?

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Or reveal our more serious side?

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Just kidding, you can’t cover up our true colours.

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Will I claim 2013 was a success?  And if I do, what will I judge it’s success by?  Accomplishments and milestones?  The fact that we could all laugh together for this photo shoot? And if I don’t will it be because of all the bribery that came between these photos? Or the fact that the children are getting slimmer and the adults are not?

I’ve only just begun considering this year’s Christmas letter and reflecting on 2013 so I’m not quite sure where my mind will wander.  So many thoughts jump into my head just by these few photos, (which will not be the ones on our Christmas card). They say a picture is worth 1,000 words- I’ve got about 50,000 words to choose from.

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Photos courtesy of Jaime at http://www.inmyviewphotography.ca

The Countdown is On!

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Only one month left until Christmas!

I used to love Christmas.  I loved everything from the decorations to finding the perfect gift for each person on my list.  I loved spending every day from Thanksgiving to January 2nd immersed in all things Holiday.  Surrounded by snow one can’t help but cuddle in to the warmth of mittens and scarves.  Every glistening grain of the white stuff shouts out to hope and anticipation.  Christmas lights are my favourite, (just ask anyone I went to college with).  People who have been too busy to hang out the other 11 months of the year make people a priority in December.  There is mail, for me, and it’s not a bill.  Little traditions have monumental meaning.  I used to love Christmas.

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Then I stopped earning an income, had children and moved to a snowless city.

The decorations got torn down quicker than they went up.  We actually put up our tree on December 23rd a few years, (and took it down December 26th), because all I was doing was shouting at the children to leave the decorations ON THE TREE.  Christmas movies ceased being an escape because someone needs juice/cookies/to use the bathroom or has a zillion questions about plot/characters/random non-movie related stuff for the entire 90 minutes.  Everything from parades to shopping are great ideas, until you’re actually doing them and then they’re boring/too cold/too not-as-fun-as-something-else.  To me the perfect gifts were often hand-made just for the person I was inspired by.  Now hand-made gifts are reserved for teachers, simply as a budgetary measure.

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The office party just isn’t the same.

Buying the perfect gifts becomes a tricky balance of wants and needs and cost effectiveness.  All of which is opened in a chaotic 10 minutes and most of it broken or discarded within the next 30 days.

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All the things I enjoy about the holiday season have become lessons.  Lessons about giving.  Lessons about gratitude.  Lessons about gluttony and greed.  Lessons about why the special things are special.  Lessons about why we don’t lick the spoon we’re making the cookies with.

I used to love Christmas.

I look forward to loving Christmas again.

If there’s one thing that parenthood has taught me it’s that there is very little instant gratification.

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One holiday season the children will keep gift secrets until after the gifts are opened.  One holiday season the children will reach higher on the tree than me.  One holiday season we’ll all cuddle up for a Santa Clause marathon.  One holiday season it will hit a little person here how blessed they are and the list for others will be longer than the list for self.  One holiday season I’ll tackle that pile of recipes that are more complicated than pour, mix, bake.  One holiday season there will be silent nights.  One holiday season I will anticipate the arrival of the children home from school/travels/living across town.  

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One holiday season I will love Christmas again.

One holiday season I will realize that, maybe, I always have.

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Cue The Sparkle

I have had writer’s block for the last 11 days while I tried to figure out what to say about the last key point in Inside the Magic Kingdom.  I wanted to write something poignant and witty, something worthy of reblog, something to transport the magic of Disney into your current situation and circumstances; whether you’re sleep-deprived, planning your wedding or washing your umpteenth load of laundry for the week.  

But I could not find anything worthy to say.  

The final key to Disney’s success is that they truly believe Everyone Makes A Difference which is probably why it’s the most aggressively friendly place on the planet. Why people smile the same whether they are picking up garbage or introducing a little girl to Cinderella for the very first time.  They know in their heart of hearts that what they do today, tomorrow and every day matters.  That they can and will make a difference this very day.  

And I want you to know that too.  I want you to know how truly special you are.  How uniquely hand-crafted you were made.  How lovingly every fibre of your being was woven together.  Because you are that special, because you make a difference by being here, by being you.  

I’m also reading a few other books and one of the authors I’m reading summed up what I was thinking so well, instead of trying to pen something new I’m going to borrow his words.  These words are written in Forgotten God by Francis Chan:

“I write this because I love the church and want you to trust that you are more than just a helpful addition.  You need to believe you are a vital member.  As real estate brokers, salesclerks, restaurant servers, baristas, teachers, dieticians, therapists, students, parents, farmers, school board members, and city council officials, you are vital members of the body of Christ. Ask yourself, Do I believe the church needs me like a body needs a mouth?

It is true that God may have called you to be exactly where you are.  But it’s absolutely vital to grasp that He didn’t call you there so you could settle in and live out your life in comfort and superficial peace.  His purposes are not random or arbitrary.  If you are still alive on this planet, it’s because He has something for you to do.  He placed us on this earth for purposes that He orchestrated long before we were born (Eph. 2:8-10).”

When I think of the way flowers make people smile, or sunshine makes even our insides warm, or the smell that goes along with rain…. when I think that the same Creator who paid such fantastic attention to those details also created me…. I can’t help but know deep down in my core that I make a difference…

And I hope you know it too. 

Cha-Ching. The Ways We Get Paid.

Stats say that for every one negative comment we hear, we need to hear 8 positive comments to outweigh it; and I don’t know about you, but I feel like I say a lot of negative things.

“Stop that.”

“Just Don’t”

“Seriously?”

“You’re so slow, hurry up!”

“Just sit down and be quiet already.”

“One more time and you’ll spend the rest of the day in your room!”

“NO!”

“You can’t….”

“You’re so frustrating.”

In the book Inside the Magic Kingdom, the author talks about the ways in which Disney employees are recognized for their hard work.  Did you know that if you write a letter to say thank-you to a specific employee they will get it, (even if you only know it was ‘that guy’ with Snow White on Main Street at 3pm on Friday).  That takes effort when you consider the number of employees working for Disney, but it’s effort they put in because they know that as important at words are, what people remember is how you make them feel.  They know that if everyone at Disney ‘walks the talk’ then executives need to treat employees the way they want employees to treat guests.

There are two types of income that everyone is paid regardless of where they work: economic income and psychological income.  We need both.  Economic income enables you to keep a roof over your head; psychological income enables you to keep your head up.  Good employers know that both have equal importance.

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This is something that has hit home for me this past week in a bit of a situation with our oldest daughter.  Something started to change in her near the end of the school year last year.  She didn’t want to be around us anymore, she didn’t want to do anything I asked her to do, she constantly stood at odds with me and she was miserable.  I thought it was just some mother/daughter thing we’d have to work through, but in September she took it to school.

It’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing.  There are a lot of days where she is wonderful and then all of a sudden she becomes another person; no warning, no common denominator.

I talked with her teacher about it a bit and she asked what we were doing at home to combat the attitude.  At home it comes across as defiance which quickly turns to self-depricating talk.  So at home we take the time to remind her often and firmly that she is not dumb, the work before her takes effort and focus.  That she isn’t getting her work done because she is choosing not to focus, not that she doesn’t know how.   And we remind her of times she has done the work and we encourage her.  Sometimes that’s good, sometimes she tells us just as often and just as firmly that we don’t know what we’re talking about, but either way she has to stay with her work until it’s done.  We don’t let her off the homework hook.  Her teacher was concerned we were focusing too much on the emotions and that we would be manipulated, that she just needs to learn to do her work.

We decided our first course of action against this problem would be a ‘communication book’.  Each day her teacher writes in it. If there was an incident she describes it and if was a good day she lets us know as well.  We’re only a week in but so far Isabella has had all good days.  And she asks, did I have a good day?  I think I did.  And she is delighted to know that is what the book says.

Life gets crazy and we forget to catch people being good.  The not good things are always louder and deeper, we always pay attention to them.  I think something is depleting Isabella’s psychological bank account and we’re not making regular enough deposits to keep her from being overdrawn.  I still don’t know what the source is, what caused her to get so low on funds, but for now it’s a good plan of action to make sure we are making a conscious effort to give psychological credit.

Rewards and recognition at home are a great chance to be creative.  Whether it’s chore charts or family fun nights or special dates with Daddy.  It’s a chance to not only say; “I believe in you.”, but to show it.  And we all know people don’t remember what we tell them, they remember how we make them feel.

At DisneyWorld there is a wall where letters and pictures from people expressing their thanks are posted for everyone to see. Recognition is public and personal there. I think we need some more of that here, I think it’s off to one of my favourite places to find some creative ways to build up the psychological bank accounts at Chez Franks.

Survey Says….

family-feudConfession:  Family Feud is one of my all-time favourite game shows.  I haven’t watched a full episode in ages, but when I flick past the Game channel and it’s on I stop until someone complains. I feel validated when my response is on the board, (even more so if it was the most popular answer), and get excited when the families get to 180 on the bonus round, two questions left, will they make 200!?!  I am literally on the edge of my seat.  I shout out the answers, I get exasperated when they aren’t on the board, I am fully invested for them.  I think it has to be one of the greatest game shows ever.

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Often I wonder who the 100 random people are, (especially when the answers are ridiculous), and where/how they’re being surveyed.  Is there someone in a shopping mall with a laptop asking seemingly random questions to accumulate this data?  Do people reply to email messages?  Is that why the phone is ringing at dinner time?

It would really upset me and burst my bubble if 100 random people aren’t actually asked.  So if you know that’s how it happens, (like if you know what’s really in Chicken Nuggets), don’t tell me.  I wish to remain blissfully unaware.

Oftentimes the answers to the questions on Family Feud make me shake my head.  Did someone really say that?  How did Ketchup not make the list of 5 most popular hot-dog toppings?  Who thinks Arbor Day is one of the most important National holidays?  Really people, just who are you surveying?

Surveys also make me think about listening. Who are you listening to?  How well are you listening?  Did you clarify what you were hearing?  How limited were the options for opinions?  Did you really hear what was being said?

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Listening is hard work.  Listening well is exhausting.  Listening well to children is… whatever is after exhausting.

But when you listen, when you really hear what people are saying, you have a lot of excited, edified people.  And since DisneyWorld is the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ you gotta know that Disney listens well.

I was surprised to read in Inside the Magic Kingdom that Disney uses a lot of surveys to ask their guests for feedback.  I was surprised because surveys are boring, they take up time and, let’s be honest-I only fill out a survey when I have something negative to say.  (Anyone else?)

But I also expected Disney to use several types of surveys to get their data.  So many companies do it.  I imagine Disney surveys are even very colourful and maybe Tinkerbell flies across the screen every now and then.  Really though I don’t really want to delve into their surveying techniques.

The book touches on a second way that Disney Executives/Decision Makers gain feedback:  through their employees.  They really value the feedback of their employees because the employees are on the front lines, interacting directly with guests.  They know how annoyed people are when an entire building of restrooms are shut down for cleaning at the same time, or the most inconvenient place to store cups in a restaurant.  Anyone who has worked for anyone else has been reminded that employees are the ‘face’ of the company, but how many employees feel like they are the ‘ears’?

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This got me thinking to how I gain feedback from my own ’employees’.  All that crying and carrying on from my Terrible Two Year Old is a form of feedback.  The attitude from my almost-tweens is another form of feedback.  I love it when the feedback comes in the form of hugs, kisses, giggles, high-fives and ‘best-day-ever’s.

How well do I listen?  How well do I hear?  How many opportunities do I give for feedback?

At the end of each day in our house we ask the kids what their favourite part of the day was.  Many nights it’s simply the last thing they did before bed, but there are days when something important sticks out and they coin it ‘favourite’ hours after it’s happened.  By listening to those simple sentences I’ve learned who their favourite babysitters are, what friends are important to them, why they didn’t enjoy an outing, things that make them angry or sad.

I can watch what they carry around the house.  Recently they received pictures from their pen-pals and they have carried them all over the house, tucked them into books to stay safe, one was even taken for show and tell.  Likewise with certain stuffed animals, shirts and mementos of special outings.  By watching I hear what is important to them.

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Even temper tantrums are an attempt at being heard.  They aren’t tolerated here and I don’t listen until you can tell me what you want to say while you are still and not screeching, but a temper tantrum tips me off to the fact that someone isn’t being heard, someone isn’t being understood, someone is frustrated.  I can learn lots if I take the time to listen to temper tantrums; like the fact that people don’t like to be rushed at our house, or if I just gave so-and-so a chance I would learn that they really can put on their shoes/squeeze the toothpaste/spell their name without my help.

Listening is so very important.  Listening is so very hard.  Listening is a skill to be learned and taught.

I think we can hear a lot indirectly.  We can hear what people are feeling and thinking by watching their actions and attitudes.  But I also think we should ask more.  I think we should invite more opportunities for feedback.  Simple things, like what kind of dinners would you like to eat?  More in-depth questions like; how did that make you feel?  Even the hard to ask questions like: What can I do better?

I think we all know what it’s like to feel unheard, to feel misunderstood.  I think we all long to have someone hear and understand us.  No matter our age, gender or roles.  And I think  if I asked 100 random people what they could do better….

SURVEY SAYS:  Listen.

Walk this Way

DSC_0243I love carousels.  I’m not exactly sure why, it’s just sitting still and going around in circles, but I’ve always enjoyed them.  My kids feel the same way and riding the Cinderella carousel at Magic Kingdom was definitely a high-light of our trip.  We rode it in the day time and the evening to enjoy it both lit and unlit.  I would have noticed if there was garbage on the floor of the carousel, or if the horses were chipped or cracked.  I may even have noticed if a chunk of lights were burnt out or the music was playing too slow.  After all, those are the sorts of things employees at a theme park are paid to pay attention to.  But like I talked about in my last post, Disney doesn’t stop there.

Did you know that the gold leaf paint on the carousel is in fact 23 karat gold leaf paint.  The best quality gold leaf paint there is.

I talked before about how they pay ‘fantastic’ attention to detail, but the details I meant were things that directly affect a guests Photo0160FourBySixexperience, things more along the lines of staying in character whenever people can see you so as not to break the ‘Belle’ illusion.  The gold leaf paint goes beyond that, to the details the company pays attention to that no one may notice, the things that indirectly affect the experience.

The phrase used to describe this is ‘Everything walks the talk’ and goes hand in hand with ‘Everyone walks the talk’.

Does it matter that the gold leaf paint is 23 karat gold?  Not in the slightest.  Except that it really does.

Think for a second about all the teachers you ever had.  One or two will probably stick out in your mind.  Teachers who were passionate about their subject matter.  Teachers who gave their time to help struggling students.  Teachers who seemed happy to be there, who seemed to love doing what they were doing.  Now think about your grades in school.  I’m willing to bet that you made better grades in the classes where the teachers were passionate about teaching.

The gold leaf on the carousel highlights this for Disney employees.  That paint serves to remind that the carousel is putting on it’s best face everyday.  When the paint starts to fade it gets a fresh coat.  But that paint goes largely unnoticed, just like the hand stitching on the clothing in the Hall of Presidents, or the upbeat music when the park opens becoming mellow music at park closing.  These details indirectly affect the guests experience but are important.  Can you imagine trying to coral your over-tired toddler to the parking lot while characters are popping up all over the place and the music is loud and jumpy and all the street carts are making fresh food?  It would be beyond chaos.  And Disney knows that.  So at park closing everything mellows out a bit, and that helps a toddler mellow out a bit too, and that helps a mom mellow out, and that helps everyone leave in a mellow state of mind, recalling the fun of the day and ready to come back and do it all again tomorrow.  Everything walks the talk.

In the same way Disney employees are encouraged to be ‘aggressively friendly’.  They’re the stories you hear that make you start planning your next Disney vacay.  Things like the restaurant hostess overhearing you talk about it being your 25th wedding anniversary and without you even asking dessert is on the house.  Or when you grab your daughter an ice cream for while you wait in line at Splash Mountain, only to find the line moving fast and she still has ice cream left when it’s her turn.  You are flabbergasted when an employee offers to hold her ice cream while she’s on the ride, (and even more so when you get off 20 minutes later in 100 degree heat and the ‘same’ ice cream cone is in that employees hand.).  Or the amount of times my children were offered stickers mid-tantrum.  Or when Peter Pan sat down to play pat-a-cake with my kids and when autograph seekers swarmed him he replied; “I never went to school, I don’t know how to write my name.’ and kept playing with my kids.

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The employees know that the best gold leaf paint available is on the carousel and this raises the bar for them to also offer their best every day.  This commitment to actively seeking opportunities to create valuable experiences is at the heart of Disney.  The way they sprinkle Pixie Dust throughout the day.  And it’s not something made important by writing it on a plaque or demanding it at staff meetings.  Attitude is caught, it’s leading by example.

Like Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What you do thunders above your head so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.”

This is something that I’m just beginning to work on at home.  I love when my environment feels a certain way, when it’s decorated and has an ambience.  But we’ve been living in toddler land for the last 8 years and there’s that t-shirt slogan, “I’m the reason we can’t have nice stuff.”; which has truth to that phase of life.  But as we’re exiting that stage those little details like candles and throw pillows can once again compliment our space.  And by and large I’ve done the bulk load of chores around here, and I’m not complaining because I could include the kids, except that is more work than doing the chores myself.  Or at least it was.  Now they are capable of doing things on their own and doing them well and I need to shift to encouraging and expecting that.

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It’s time that everyone in our house begins to walk the talk, and for our environment to match the experience we want to have at home.  Ideas abound here about how to do that, but right now they’re just ideas.  I’ll keep you posted on how they play out.

How about your home: what role does your home play in your life and what details do you incorporate to make it say that?  Or your family/ housemates: how do you work together to take ownership of your space and place importance  on your relationships?

Read the Fine Print

I love details.  There’s something exciting to me about details.  Parties are a great time to dwell on details and this week we celebrated a birthday party.  I think everyone expends energy on details, but we also miss a lot.   The second lesson we can learn from Disney is about paying ‘fantastic’ attention to detail.

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Like making sure this image was on her birthday cake.  We found it while searching around online, and it was only deliverable in the States, but that is what she wanted so I figured out how to make it happen.

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Decorations are a detail I can’t forget.  I love creating the ambience to go with the party.  There are a lot of parties I don’t throw because I can’t figure out how to get my space to set the mood I want it to, or how to get the decorations to cover up the fact that it’s still our home and not wherever it was I wish to transport us to.  Honestly kids don’t care what colour the plates are or if the balloons are following a colour scheme.  But it all has to match for me.
DSC_0072And the activities have to fit.  iCarly is a web show where the kids basically do improv, so we played Charades and Pictionary, a little dress-up and some dancing.  We laughed and were loud for two solid hours, barely taking the time to eat.  It was high-energy, a little spastic… which, to me at least, is iCarly in a nutshell.

Like I said I love details.  When they’re about fun things.  Planning parties, buying gifts for people, finding just the right words for an encouraging note.  Things I know people will notice, details that may very well lead to recognition.

But when it comes to the details of everyday life, I forget their importance.  Something on my ‘party-to-do-list’ is always clean the house. And I don’t mean a quick tidy kinda clean.  When we moved the couch to make enough room for the party guests today I found a pool of spilt juice, which was obvious when I noticed the trail of ants coming to and fro.  This was a detail I missed, probably for days, because there are so many mundane details I forget to pay attention to. (I’m considering making 2014 the ‘Year of the Party’ so the house will be clean on a regular basis….)

I’m pretty sure it’s the details that make DisneyWorld so appealing.  I mean why else would someone choose to stand in line for hours, or listen to ‘Its a Small World’ more than once, or consider buying a $12 balloon.  Yet when I was there I kept getting lost, totally immersed in the land of make belief.  I wanted nothing more than to know what was going on behind the walls where they were building New Fantasyland, to see the reality of the Imagineer’s drawings- knowing that what is created will be what they dreamed.  It’s all the little details, turning fantasy into reality, that make a little girl look like this while waiting to see Belle in a parade and finally meet her.  The fact that Belle is a drawing completely escapes her.

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If I paid attention to the details of the mundane the way I pay attention to the details of a party, how much more fun could life be?  How much more laughter would there be?  How much more peace?  How much more bonding?  I know that one of the keys to running the household of a big family is staying organized, and the more organized I am the more we enjoy life. But it gets wearisome so quickly.  To be the one in charge of the details is exhausting.  To have to think of the million little things behind the big thing is a huge responsibility.  DSC_0118

(I’m tempted to say: ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That’.)

When the Imagineers are coming up with a new project they begin with a planning session, like most anyone, but they call them a ‘Sky’s The Limit Session’.  How cool is that?  Their job is to start with the dreams, then they walk backwards from the big picture to the smallest detail. And by paying ‘fantastic’ attention to those details they make dreams come true.

Right now we’re in a  ‘Sky’s The Limit’ phase of life.  Who knows what our 5 children will grow up to be?  How many more houses may we call home?  How many more family vacations will we take?  How many knew things will we experience?  There are millions of possibilities for the days to come. As the Domestic Goddess in my house, and the Special Activities Planner, and Wearer of All the Hats, I’m beginning to think it could be so neat if I started to see all the little things I do each day as the details of making dreams come true.

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I’m a dreamer, and I dream big things for our family.  By paying ‘fantastic’ attention to the details I go from being a dreamer to becoming a creator, (which only makes sense as I’m made in the image of The Creator, and I know there isn’t a detail that escapes His attention).

Details are important, whether you’re creating Disney or the Universe, planning a party or writing the grocery list, and all we have to do to make everyday fantastic is pay attention.