What I learned from trees

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This spring, I’m living and volunteering for a month at a monastery in central Florida. One of the many, many, benefits of my stay here is that the grounds are beautiful and are home to huge, old oak trees, softly draped in bluish-grey, lush-looking Spanish moss.

The weather has been perfect for outdoor reflection, and a good deal of my time has been spent in the shade of the trees’ blanketed branches.

Here are a few life lessons these massive mentors have shared with me . . .  

Stay rooted.

Learn to sway.

Going out on a limb can be a good thing.

Accept that there are seasons, and change is inevitable.

Leaves, like so many things in life come and go, and that’s okay.

Oh, yes, and being green is a great way to live!

 

If you are thinking about branching out this spring,

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“30 Days New” Day 14, Day 15 & More

“30 Days New” – Day 14 & Day 15

I woke up feeling terribly guilty that I was behind in my “News” and also in posting about them. I was feeling embarrassed that I started the project and wasn’t keeping up with it. I also was beginning to find ways to justify my lack of follow through. (Step 2 in the rationalization process – Step 1 one is to admit a problem/situation has occurred, Step 2 is to figure out a way to blame circumstances or someone else for our failure!)

When I realized I was ruminating ad nauseum about the situation, I decided to occupy my mind elsewhere for a bit and began creating a mental to-do-list for today. The minute I switched gears I felt lighter and after making a few mental notes, I started to laugh at myself.

I had solved my own problem. I know beating-up on myself leads to no good end, and if I kept it up I would simply fall further behind and probably begin adding other lapses to my life to confirm to myself that I really had “failed”!  Misery loves company and I had to admit I was already inviting imaginary and very unlikable guests to my personal pity party. (You know, those voices in our heads that never have anything nice to say, but we listen to them anyway.)

I decided that instead of filling my head and my heart with my real and imagined failings, I would simply get started planning what my “New” would be for today. It took me less than a second to come up with it. Stop back tomorrow to read my results.

Day 14 & Day 15 Results – A kinder, gentler me – to myself, and an increased ability to swallow a good dose of humility to soften my judgmental rough edges.

Forest for the trees

awareness that I could not see the forest for the trees. I had done lots of wonderful things on Day 14 & Day 15, including re-doing some of my “News” and expanding on others, but I was so focused on the project that I discounted the benefit of those things, simply because they weren’t “New” enough.

To read more about why I am developing my “30 Days New” habit, click here.

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Smiles for the summer of 2026

Make the summer of 2018 one of the most memorable of your life.  

Get started by reading the following post, which I wrote and shared eight years ago.  I’ve made a habit of rereading it every year to keep me on track and smiling inside and out. I thought you might enjoy it, as well.

sunset-681749__180Writing and reading it helped me conquer a number of personal fears; experience adventures near and far and to enjoy colorful sunsets, majestic sunrises and quiet afternoons watching leaves dance in the wind. But, best of all, it reminds me to relive and to savor the most touching and heartfelt moments of my life.

I hope it inspires you to explore your dreams and become aware of all the things that make your heart sing. After you give it a read, let me know your thoughts and any plans you have for this summer. (Sharing them in a public way increases the odds that you will actually do them!) My goal is to give you something special to smile about in 2026 when you realize the summer of 2018 was filled with inspiration and joy.  

“Thinking ahead . . .” published on Wishful Thinking Works, May 28, 2010

I never read the obituaries, well practically never, but I have a sister who does, and one morning after I had a wonderful visit with her, I flipped though The Fort Myers News Press and discovered the life of Vera Jane Clapper-Richter.

I don’t know Jane, nor do I know anyone who does, but I liked her immediately.  She is the kind of person I would want as a friend, and the kind Katherine Hepburn would play in a movie.

Jane died at 85 after a struggle with Alzheimer’s, but what struck me is not her death, but how she lived, which I quote, except for the links I added:

She was born July 6, 1924 to Maurice and Elizabeth Stover Teasdale in Brownsville, PA. Jane will be remembered for her feistiness tempered by cheery good humor. She was always up for adventure.

In 1960s, Jane, her mother and her daughter could be found at 2 a.m. hanging off the “wooden bridge” angling for snook with cane poles. Few snook were caught, but much beer was drunk.

Janie married “the boy next door,” Bob Clapper, in 1941 in Arlington, VA. They made it through the war years and, like everyone else, started a family. By 1951, they were ready for sunshine and fishing. After a brief stay in the Koreshan trailer park in Esterothey settled in Fort Myers.

Bob worked as a surveyor and civil engineer for Carl Johnson in Fort Myers and Cap Prewitt in Clewiston and Jane dived into community activities. She taught local Red Cross first aid classes, was Lee County Chairman of the Gray Ladies and worked with Veronica Shoemaker in the first Head Start program in Dunbar. Her pride and joy was her Girl Scout Troop 29, which she led from Brownies in 1954 until the girls graduated from Fort Myers Senior High School in 1965. She taught them outdoors skills and wilderness survival. Protective of her girls, she once used a flashlight to fight off a wild hog that tried to take over their Fisheating Creek campsite. The hog fled squealing back into the woods.

After Bob’s death, she pursued her dream of investing in real estate, buying and managing several rental properties, then married Clarence Richter, a retired federal air traffic controller, in 1983. She and “Ric” were active in the local chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees and Save Estero. Ric died in 2005.

She was a friend of Bill W. for more than 30 years and will be remembered by the old timers at YANA. She’ll also be remembered by her pals on Memory Lane at Park Club assisted living, her home for the last few months, for her sweet helpfulness, lovely singing voice and fashion flair. On her, even at 85, a paper sack looked like Prada . . . Jane was predeceased by her two sisters.  She is survived by her daughter, grandson and granddaughter, both of whom helped care for her in her later years.

I hope this is not too morbid for you, but I think Jane’s obituary reflects a well-lived life, and whoever wrote it obviously loved and admired her.  Reading it got me thinking – ahead.

I decided that I am going to live my life for my obituary.  I wish I had thought of starting at the end and working backwards sooner, I would have been nicer, more courageous and much more interesting, and would not now be faced with having to cram so much stuff into so little time.  :-)

The reason I am bringing this up now, is summer is on our doorstep.  I know it doesn’t officially begin for almost a month, but when I was growing-up Memorial Day signaled the beginning of summer, and I think summer is a great time to begin fully living the life I want.

This summer I will watch the moon rise and set from a mountain or a rooftop without interruption, or at least from my backyard with a really good friend.  I will also watch the sun rise and set at least two days in a row, and I will run through a sprinkler.

I will sleep on a front porch or a patio, in a tent or on a beach, and with the windows open more often.  (Yes, I know, it will be hot and sticky, and maybe I will sweat and the bugs may bite – but who cares, I will have more stories to tell and the teeny-tiny scars to prove them.)

I will spread more blankets out in the grass, and spend more time looking up at the trees, day dreaming and listening to the thoughts and wisdom of people under the age of 10.

I will ponder theories large and small – relativity, the chicken or the egg – without worrying about the answers.

I will be kinder and gentler; listen more and speak less; give more hugs, and send more hand-written notes.  I will give people what they want, not what I think they need.

I will read more books, light more candles, and sing out-loud more often.

If you are in the mood to join me, please do.  Summer is a great time to be a bit more courageous about being us.

This weekend find your sleeping bag, your bike, your racquet or your glove, your paint brushes and easel, the book you have been meaning to read or paper and pencil to begin the one you have been meaning to write.

Open an ice-cold beer or bottle of Coke, pour yourself a tall glass of sangria or lemonade, sip it slowly or with gusto, and then get started on the rest of your life.

Do what you think Jane might do.  Or better yet, what you would do, if no one was watching, or if they were and you didn’t mind – not one little bit, which come to think of it, might be exactly how Vera Jane Clapper-Richter lived.

The rest is all up to you, go for it.

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A new way to think about the labors of your life

51jOKnNkKRL._SY346_Why not labor on things that you love instead of spending so much time laboring about the ones that don’t?

I first shared a version of this post in 2012, when Gretchen Rubin’s second book was brand new. Her ideas were great then and apply today, as well, so I thought I would share them again with a different twist for Labor Day.

As part of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project”, she created her own “Twelve Commandments.”  Her first commandment, and my favorite, was: “Be Gretchen”, which for her meant accepting her personal likes and dislikes, and then acting on them.

Gretchen explained that she loved reading children’s books, which eventually led her to start a book club with other folks she knew, who also love reading children’s books. At first she felt reading children’s books was a bit foolish and not the best thing about herself to share with others, but by being open about it, she learned others loved it, as well. Now they share their interest and enjoyment together. (Admitting to reading children’s books as an adult might not seem like a big deal, but it probably would have surprised Gretchen’s law school classmates and readers of her more scholarly books on Churchill and Kennedy. And, for the record, most of the things we “hide” about ourselves are not such a big deal either.)

Are you willing to open your life to your likes?

Perhaps you would rather eat burgers, than pretend to enjoy foie gras?  Drink beer than champagne. Or you might, prefer spending the night alone reading, rather than going out. (Please note: each and every one of these examples could be reversed – you might prefer going out rather than reading anything, anytime – there are no “right answers,” only you and what you like.)

Here’s Gretchen’s point – if you like eating ice cream right out of a container rather than baking (or buying) fancy pastries, why not serve containers of ice cream with spoons for dessert at your next dinner party? Not that you need to even have dinner parties, but if you do, you could!

Make what you love doing a part of your life in fun ways. Have a beer tasting. Or a potato chip tasting, or ask your friends to make and bring their favorite comfort food to your next gathering. The list is endless and can bring you great joy and happiness, and will probably do the same for others. Have fun doing and sharing what you like!

Are you ready to discard your dislikes?

Stop doing things you really dislike!  And, stop spending time obsessing about not doing the things you don’t like. (Three negatives make a positive!)

Gretchen learned to accept her dislikes, which for her meant that she was never going to”visit a jazz club at midnight, or hang out in artists’ studios, or jet off to Paris for the weekend, or pack up to go fly-fishing on a spring dawn”, so she learned to stop worrying about not doing them!

Now remember – there’s nothing wrong with doing those things, but if you don’t want to do them it is time to let yourself off the proverbial hook, and set yourself free to focus on what you do want to do – and then do it!

When my kids were 4 and 5, I found creative ways to include them in chores I really disliked. Giving them a pail and some dish soapy, sudsy water became a game and my kitchen floor got clean without much help from me! (Yes, I really did that, it was a tad messy, but still more fun than me facing it alone, and they grew-up to be happy, healthy adults, who clean stuff and love the water!)

As they grew older, we instituted a rule that while everyone had chores to do, no one would ever have to do their least favorite chore – it worked liked a dream for them and me, and I avoided having to empty the dishwasher silverware tray until they left for college!

Being you” has many silver linings, following Gretchen’s lead, I’ve come up with three:

1. Learning to”be you” will help you create more happiness in your life.

2. The happier you become, the happier the people you love and meet may become. (Research shows happiness is contagious.)

3. Learning to “be you” will help you understand and accept that your spouse/significant, kids, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc. need to be themselves, too. If you get really good at all of this – you will let them be them, which will make them happier, and in turn, you’ll be happier, because happiness is contagious.

Well, there you have it: “Be you.” Get happier. Pretty profound stuff for this Labor Day.

So, what are your “Likes”?

Any that you’ve been denying or hiding? Admitting them may be the first step to truly enjoying them!

IMG_2418 (1)Don’t be shy, once you share your “hidden” likes or dislikes, others will too. It’s really quite freeing. I’ll start.

I used to read the newspaper every single morning, now I don’t. To many of my friends and former colleagues that’s akin to treason. But I no longer enjoy it, so I don’t do it.

I loved watching the movie  “Speed” with Sandra Bullock when I had a really stressful day at work, somehow the action relaxed me! Silly, but true.

Oh, and I might as well tell you that I read children’s books all the time; truly believe any dessert tastes better eaten from a fancy dish – even instant pudding; watch lots of TV reruns and truly dislike sushi – except for the veggie kind.  And, I adore forests and trees.

I also find nightly news shows boring, I love the in-depth shows and morning news, but nightly news reporting is not for me.

There, you have it, a few of my likes and dislikes. Oh, yes, and I’m perfectly happy eating any sort-of leftovers for breakfast, preferably cold, such as pizza with a liberal sprinkling of vinegar. (I will sprinkle vinegar on just about anything.) And, truth be told, most days, breakfast is my biggest meal of the day, and I will still nibble my way through the morning.

Why not share some of your likes and dislikes? You will feel better and you might discover other folks feel exactly like you do.

 

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Memorial Day thoughts

MH900399612I planned to write a brand new post for today, but then I started reading my earlier posts around Memorial Day and decided to offer a blend from the past. One of my favorite posts, is from May 28, 2010. It was about the life of a woman I never met, Vera Jane Clapper-Richter, but whose obituary inspired me. 

In 2011, my post began . . . “A lot has happened since I wrote about Vera Jane. Most important and touching of all, was being asked to and then writing my Dad’s obituary in 2011. Who knew that was ahead?”

And continued with the following, all of which still applies . . .

“But that’s the thing about life, we truly never know what’s ahead for us. There are so many experiences out there for us. I think the words I wrote just over a year ago ring even truer 367 days later. Here’s an excerpt from that post.

‘The reason I am bringing this up now, is summer is on our doorstep. I know it doesn’t officially begin for almost a month, but when I was growing-up Memorial Day signaled the beginning of summer, and I think summer is a great time to begin fully living the life I want.

This summer I will watch the moon rise and set from a mountain or a rooftop without interruption, or at least from my backyard with a really good friend. I will also watch the sun rise and set at least two days in a row, and I will run through a sprinkler.

I will sleep on a front porch or a patio, in a tent or on a beach, and with the windows open more often. (Yes, I know, I live in Florida, it will be hot and sticky, and I will sweat and the bugs will bite – but who cares, I will have more stories to tell and the teeny-tiny scars to prove them.)

I will spread more blankets out in the grass, and spend more time looking up at the trees, day dreaming and listening to the thoughts and wisdom of people under the age of 7.Patrice Koerper  Life Coach Wishful Thinking Summer Fun 1

I will ponder theories large and small – relativity, the chicken or the egg – without worrying about the answers.

I will be kinder and gentler; listen more and speak less; give more hugs, and send more hand-written notes. I will give people what they want, not what I think they need.

I will read more books, light more candles, and sing out-loud more often.

If you are in the mood to join me, please do. Summer is a great time to be a bit more courageous about being us.

This weekend, find your sleeping bag, or your bike, or your racquet or your glove, or your paint brushes and easel, or the book you have been meaning to read or paper and pencil to begin the one you have been meaning to write.

Open an ice-cold beer or bottle of Coke, pour yourself a tall glass of Sangria or lemonade, sip it slowly or with gusto, and then get started on the rest of your life.

Do what you think Jane might do. Or better yet, what you would do, if no one was watching, or if they were and you didn’t mind – not one little bit, which come to think of it, might be exactly how Vera Jane Clapper-Richter lived.'”

And, in honor of the true meaning of Memorial Day, in 2012 I posted . . .

mp900178942“Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began after the Civil War to commemorate the Union soldiers, who had died. After World War I, Memorial Day evolved into a special way to honor all the men and women, who died while serving in the armed forces and to show support for the sacrifices of their families.

Today, my thoughts are with all who are currently serving, have family or friends who are serving, or who have served in the past.

My sincerest condolences to those of you, who have lost a loved one while he or she was serving our country. Your contributions and losses are in our hearts and minds this Memorial Day.”

Which brings me to Memorial Day 2013; my thoughts are still with the courage and commitment of all who have served or are serving in the armed forces. Special thoughts for each of them and their families.

Since the summer of 2010, I’ve spent time doing many of the things I mentioned above, but having fun, and finding flow and fulfillment is an ongoing process, so I will renew my efforts this summer to find new ways and to revive old ones that blend the carefree moments of childhood with the rich and satisfying experience of flourishing Permanently in adulthood. 

To welcome the summer of 2013, I’m visiting friends this weekend in the Fort Myers, Florida area and I’m heading out the door – right now – to visit one of my favorite nearby places – photo to follow! I hope your summer is off to a great start, too.

Go without knowing or expecting, and see what unfolds

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I recently spent a month at a monastery in central Florida. The weather and surroundings were absolutely perfect; I enjoyed the chilly mornings and soft northern-like summer evenings. Between my volunteer chores I had time for reflection as I strolled over gently rolling, lush, spring-green lawns, leading down to a dusty blue lake and as I sat in the sun or shade, depending on the time of day and the weather. While I was daydreaming one afternoon in a lovely little garden under a huge, old oak tree, a particular thought came to me and has kept me company ever since.

I believe that thoughts which survive a return to the “real” world are worth sharing. I think this one is particularly special because it connects me to others in a more compassionate way. I didn’t visit the monastery to find compassion or to figure anything out, or even to relax or renew, it was just something I had wanted to do for years. (Wishful thinking at work!) I had no expectations, which was all part of the adventure – go, without knowing or expecting, and see what unfolds. Follow your interests and see what happens. This is one of the thoughts that unfolded for me . . .

“Everyone is trying.”

Each of us in our own haphazard and sometimes confusing way is trying to be better personally or at something, or to work something out, or to make something better for someone else. We don’t always succeed, but for the most part everyone is trying.

On a good day, this thought is exciting and exhilarating – everyone is trying! It peaks my curiosity and expands my empathy. On a not-so-good day, it softens the edges of humanity and brings clarity or at least a bit of understanding or acceptance to the actions of others. Everyone is trying.

While my new-found realization might not seem particularly profound or dramatic, it delights me, and I’ve decided to keep it, to take it wherever I go, and to see what unfolds. I’m trusting that you will give me the benefit of any doubts you may have about its value, because, after all, I’m trying.

Enjoy your weekend, I hope you have a moment or two to let go, and see what unfolds.

Other Wishful Thinking Works posts you might enjoy . . .

The Art of Unfolding

What I learned from trees

Stories and Strengths

Words to Live By

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Join the fun! Two Wishful Thinking Works workshops in Cleveland, Ohio in April

Patrice Koerper  Life Coach Wishful Thinking woman and treesOne of the best parts of my life coaching practice is being able to take interesting, helpful, scientific research and breaking it down into user-friendly formats and activities for real folks – like you and me – to use. 

I’m thrilled to announce that on Saturday, April 20th from 1-4 p.m., I will be in Cleveland, Ohio doing just that as I present a 3-hour workshop chockfull of great ideas and information to help women of all ages re-energize or redirect their lives.

And, on Saturday, April 27 from 1-4 p.m., I will be presenting a special “Flourishing Together” workshop for moms and daughters, ages 9-12, to help them discover new ways to work together to build their self-esteem and confidence.

If you are in the Cleveland area, please plan to  join us for one of these fantastic workshops, if not, consider bringing a Wishful Thinking Works workshop to your part of the world!

Don’t put off the changes you’ve been considering.

Spring into them, and launch a new you!

For more info on my “Re-energize and Redirect” April 20th workshop in Cleveland, click here.

For more info on my “Flourishing Together” April 27th workshop in Cleveland, click here.

To learn more about Wishful Thinking Works Workshop options, click here.

For information about Wishful Thinking life coaching options, click here.

For wonderful, free Wishful Thinking Works, Resources, click here.

For hundreds of helpful posts about happiness, well-being, creating the life you want and so much more follow Wishful Thinking Works or “Like” us on Facebook.

Each and every one of the above Wishful Thinking Works options can help you create the life you really want. Pick one, and go for it!

How walking in circles can calm your mind

labyrinth-2405313_960_720

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. It represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

I walked my first labyrinth this weekend, so I am no expert – but I am now a believer.  I believe that taking 15-30 minutes out of your day to do something that can relax and center you is a good thing. I also believe that walking anywhere – even in circles – can be good for us.

And, I know first-hand that guided walking and mindfulness are a peaceful and positive combination.

Labyrinths

Here’s what I learned about labyrinths before I walked one.

  • They are an ancient practice. The oldest are around 3000 years old.
  • They have been found all over the world.
  • There are different designs and sizes. Two of the most recognizable are the classic design shown above and the medieval style shown below.

My Walk

The labyrinth I walked was made of rust-colored bricks and was surrounded by moss-draped oak trees on the banks of a creek in southwest Florida. I was leading a group of 12 Wishful Thinking Women and we were being guided by a local labyrinth expert. The afternoon was rainy but luckily, the downpour slowed to a drizzle long enough for us to step outside into a new experience.

The retreat setting we visited was so beautiful it was easy to feel we were going to be experiencing something special. The deep blue of the sky was the perfect backdrop for the glistening greens and browns of the grass and trees around us, made all the more vibrant by the rain. Nature was at its best.

Each of us paused before we stepped into the mouth of the labyrinth. (That’s what you call the opening.) No one said we had to, it just seemed liked the thing to do, and doing so let us move forward with awareness and intention.

The first turn came up quickly, I realized almost as quickly that concentrating on the path was going to be necessary.  I remember thinking “This is easy, the path is laid out for me.” (A metaphor?)

I felt extremely happy to be walking the path surrounded by nature with a group of women whose company I truly enjoyed. At that point I relished having nothing more to worry about than where to place my next step.  I felt completely relaxed. The world around me faded and I felt I was walking in the woods, alone and happy.

Birds started chirping and cawing, I paused for a minute to look up, breaking my solitary spell, and immediately felt overwhelmed by the beauty of surroundings and the company around me.

I slowed my pace as passage on the path began to slow – others were walking the same path, but at very different paces. (Another metaphor for life?)

After a few more steps, I wondered how long this thing was going to last! When I entered, the labyrinth didn’t seem that big but now the paths seemed to go on forever, the twists and turns elongated the journey way more than I realized.  (I remember thinking that was a funny thought, since I am a life coach and I often coach folks on slowing down, but that’s the beauty of it. We all feel that way at times, it’s how we handle it that matters.)

At the next turn, I wondered if I was “doing it right”.  I almost laughed out loud, because even though I knew there was no way to “do it wrong” and the path was clearly marked, when I allowed my mind to wander from my task I immediately began to doubt my progress.  (I took that as a reminder for life – doubting the path, even when it is neatly laid out before you, is normal, not to worry, just keep going, so I did!)

The length of the labyrinth surprised me time and time gain, and each time I pondered  its length, I became aware of the other folks on the path and began to feel a need to visually follow the path prior to walking to it.

I wanted to figure out my path before I walked it. I felt a tad stressed and found it interesting that even though I knew where I was going, I felt the need to know exactly how I was going to get there. Pretty funny, since there was only one way in and one way out, and everyone was moving into the center and away from it with great ease. Once again, I laughed inwardly at myself and kept going.

The moment I returned my focus to the path directly in front of me, and away from the twists and turns ahead, I felt relieved. Within a few seconds I felt excited again that I was on the path and it was clearly laid out ahead of me.  My progress and feelings

My progress and feelings yo-yoed again and again.  Surprisingly, arriving at the center was anti-climatic, but in a positive, gentle way; I simply continued on the path. I have no idea how long my walk on the labyrinth actually lasted. I am guessing it was between 15-20 minutes. But I know the moment it ended, I wished it hadn’t.

I have no idea how long my walk on the labyrinth actually lasted. I am guessing it was between 15-20 minutes. But I know the moment it ended, I wished it hadn’t.

I’m happy I had the experience, and will find a way to “walk” one daily! If you click on the Classic Labyrinth above, you can print a copy of it and simply “walk” the labyrinth with your finger. You can also go online and with your cursor find plenty of labyrinths to follow. Physically walking a labyrinth is a great experience, but until that opportunity arises, don’t miss the opportunity to let your fingers do the walking.

My biggest take-away of the day? Twists and turns can pull me away from my path, but gentle awareness and not taking myself too seriously, always get me back on track.

I’d loved to hear about your labyrinth experiences. If you have walked one let us know what you thought of your experience. If not and you would like to, this Labyrinth Locator can help you find one close to you.

7 time-tested summer reading adventures for your family

This is the last reading post of my Friday reading series for June. I hope you have enjoyed them all, and are already planning some summer reading adventures for your family . . .

Teachers all over America lament the fact that kids lose lots of learning over the summer months. Why not give your kids a jump-start on school this fall by creating summer reading adventures and warm family moments for all of you to enjoy?

The trick with summertime reading, is to make sure it is FUN!  

1. If you don’t already have one, get a book shelf, book basket or create a book corner somewhere in your house. Studies of lifelong readers note that books always had  a special place in their home as they were growing-up. Our kids catch on fast, if you have the good dishes or other prized possessions in a special place, and multiple TVs, laptops, and iPads  around – kids start thinking they are important to you. Why not help them create the same perception about books!

While my two sons were growing up, we had bookshelves and book baskets in our house.  When they were in high school I kept a bookshelf at the end of the hall by their bedrooms – it was in constant sight and provided easy access without my direct involvement. I kept it stocked with gently used paperbacks of the books from their annual school reading lists. When summer storms and boredom rolled in, they and their friends often slipped titles from those shelves. I learned to buy multiple copies of the same title, so their friends could grab a book, as well. (Reading is a tad more acceptable when your buddies are doing it, too.) Find a way to keep books front and center in your kids’ lives, and remember to adapt access to their age and stage.

2. Let your kids see you reading. Do you know the reading level of the Dad sets the overall interest level kids have in books? Read the newspaper or online sources, and then – this is key – talk about what you’ve read at dinner time or when you are in the car with your kids.

Start at least one conversation a day with “You know what I read today?”, “Guess what Aunt Debbie wrote on Facebook today.”, or “Guess what I learned on the Internet today.” Kids love to imitate their parents; before you know it yours will be sharing stories of their own. Subtle changes, may lead to big rewards.

3. Read in new and different places. Summer offers all sorts of exciting reading venues and opportunities – in a tent, in the yard, on the grass, or in a tree, in the pool or in a tube, by the river, in a boat, on a mountain, or on a goat, at sunrise or sunset, in Grandma’s lap or on a jet, in the rain or under the stars, and of course, as always, in a car. Ask your kids to come-up with new and unusual places to read a book, and then do it together. (Sorry about the rhyme, I couldn’t resist.)

4. Take books on vacation. Make a big deal about packing the books, by giving each child a special book bag or backpack. Let them select the books they want to bring, and then make sure to pack a few surprises in case they run through theirs quickly. (If possible, match them to what you will be doing or bring along imagination builders like mysteries or fantasies. )

Bring magazines or comic books along,  matching titles to your kids interests. Magazines or comic books are a great way to segue way non or reluctant-readers into books. If they’ll be watching movies on the road, try to get books of the same title or related to the film’s theme.

Let your kids navigate and/or read brochures or online articles about where you will be going, and incorporate at least one of their choices. One of the best road trips I ever took, was with my then 8 and 9 year-old sons – their Dad had just started a new job and could not make it to his family’s reunion. My older son road shotgun and navigated the entire trip using a map and Trip Tik. (Pre-GPS and MapQuest, Trip-Tiks were the way to go!) His younger brother kept use entertained by reading jokes all the way from Fort Myers, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.

5. Read-aloud lots to your kids this summer! The biggest reading mistake parents make is to stop reading to their kids when their kids start reading! Children need reading practice, so letting them read to you is essential, but when you stop reading to them, you reduce their opportunity for vocabulary growth and content understanding. You see, by keeping the words and stories you read to them on a higher level than what they can read, you are exposing them to more and larger words and to more complex plots and themes.

While they are reading beginner-readers books to you, you can be reading more advanced picture books and simple chapter books to them. When they conquer those, you can read longer, more complex chapter books to them. My husband read “The Chronicles of Narnia” to our boys when they were 7 and 8, and they loved it. Not long after, he shared “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings Tribolog.”with them.

 Don’t underestimate the listening level of your children. If they do seem bored or distracted, move on to something else – remember this is all about having fun.

6. The long hot days of summer are the perfect for introducing your kids to series books, either by reading them aloud, or by allowing them to enjoy on their own. It’s also a great time to share your childhood favorites with them. What were you reading when you were their ages?

If they don’t find your childhood choices as interesting as you did, you can spend time telling them stories about your summer vacations – you know, from way back when. Most of us still remember a tale or two our parents or older relatives shared with us.  Take time to make an impression on them, tell your tale with lots of details and memory-making gusto. Someday, they may repeat it to their kids, and for now, it helps their attention spans, and ability to follow plot lines and the twists and turns they present.

7. Keep it light! The goal is to have fun with it. These ideas are designed to work when the mood and intensity are low-key. If one idea or another doesn’t succeed, try, try again, but do so in an easy off-hand way. Don’t feel both parents have to be involved, but if they both jump on the summer reading band wagon, all the better.

We as parents have a tendency to overdo things. We are all guilty, at one time or another, of over booking ourselves and our kids. Don’t let this summer be yet another over-scheduled season. Your kids want to spend time with you more than just about anything else you have planned, I guarantee it. Your attention is much more important than what you are doing.  (Of course, if they are heading into middle or high school, you have to fine-tune your parenting radar to know exactly when and where they want you to invade their space!)

Years ago, when my sister and her family were returning home after their first summer vacation in Florida, my sister asked her two children what they enjoyed most. They responded that the time we all spent together watching  dolphins in the Gulf and feeling sand dollars in the water with our toes were tops with them – which meant that the five very expensive days at a major theme park, came in at least third. That’s not to say that activity wasn’t fun, too, it was, but it didn’t  match the fun of an un-orchestrated laid back moment.

Take some time this summer to make reading a rewarding, memory-making experience for your kids. I will never forget the joy and sense of adventure and possibility I felt as I read one of my many Nancy Drew mysteries while lying in my Dad’s old army hammock hung between two sky-high, straight-trunked hickory nut trees in our backyard.

The Lollipop Effect, redux

Each Friday in May I will be reposting or adapting Wishful Thinking Works’ most popular posts. (New posts will still appear weekly on Monday or Tuesdays.) This post, first published over a year ago, is based on a study I read about in former Harvard professor, Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. I hope you use the simple steps to give yourself, your children, and others you care about the advantage of happiness.

 

Good morning. Hope you are all set for a wonderful long weekend. Here’s some info that might make the summer weeks ahead even brighter.

What do sweet treats have to do with how our brains work?

Well, it turns out that positively priming your brain before attempting simple or complex tasks can improve your success on those tasks – big time. So how do we positively prime? In psychological circles it’s known as creating “positive affect”. In real world terms, it’s nothing more than giving yourself or others a boost of positive feelings or a shot of happiness, and that’s easier to do than you might imagine!

You can prime yourself to think more creatively and process information faster and more effectively by simply thinking of a happy memory or giving yourself a guilt-free treat such as a lollipop!

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage”, Harvard professor, Shawn Achor shares a study that reveals doctors, who were primed with lollipops, provided the correct diagnosis twice as fast as the doctors in the study’s control group. And, here’s the kicker – they didn’t even get to eat the suckers – they just received them!

That’s not all. Research shows that 4-year-old kids did better when asked to just think about something happy before starting a task. And, high-schoolers, who conjured up the happiest day of their lives before beginning a standardized math test (math-yikes!), scored higher than their fellow students.

Achor notes that much of this research is based on the positive psychology work of professor Barbara Fredrickson, which led to her “Broaden and Build Theory”. The “Broaden and Build Theory” represents the flip side of the “Flight or Fight Theory”.  The “Flight or Fight Theory” reflects the brain’s ability to focus and narrow our thoughts and actions in times of extreme fear or stress, which is a good thing in times of danger, but can deplete our resources when everything in our lives is perceived as stressful. Fredrickson’s work reveals that a happy brain broadens our perspective and thoughts, increasing creativity and stamina, which is a good thing!

Being relaxed and happy allows us to do better in most areas of our lives. Our brains are hard-wired to perform more successfully at “happy” than at neutral or unhappy.

Happiness matters! Feeling positive makes a huge difference on outcomes in educational, personal, and professional settings, and as the studies above and many others show – even the simplest things can make us happy.

Are you ready to get happy?

Start your weekend by priming your brain:

  • Think of something that makes you happy. Picture it. Relive it in your mind. Now, savor it for a few seconds – you know you are “there” when you are experiencing almost the same glow as when your happy moment  first occurred.
  • Listen to music you love on the way to work. (I know it’s too late for today, but consider jammin’ in the car on the way home.)
  • Enjoy a special treat each day when you arrive at work. Or, have one waiting for you when you get home. (Not all treats have to be high calorie or even food!)
  • Keep a joke or riddle book in the kitchen for the kids to share with you while you are making dinner.
  • Dance while doing the dishes.
  • Use summer nights for stargazing or sleeping out.
  • Think of ways to create an organization where fun is not a dirty word and buying the donuts is part of the strategic plan.
  • Create a toy corner where you and other staff can mingle and “play” with a variety of games and other fun stuff.
  • Color – keep a nice big box of Crayola’s on-hand.
  • Next week, encourage staff to swap stories about the fun they had over the weekend.
  • Allow physical distractions in the office such as: hall golf, desk-top football or cubicle badminton. Be creative. (Cubicle badminton:  wad a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper into a ball, use a steno pad or other spiral notebook to serve it over the net (cubicle wall) – discuss your latest project with your colleague while volleying back and forth.)

The options are endless for upping the happiness level of your home, office, or classroom. Keep your ideas simple, mix them up regularly, focus and savor the good stuff and then sit back and see what happens. I’d love to hear what works for you.

In my perfect world, orange Tootsie Roll Pops grow on trees; just thinking of it makes me smile. And, reaching up to pick one makes me very, very happy.

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