Tuesday, February 26, 2013


"Our lives are too cluttered.We have gadgets, clothes, books, mementos, and possessions of all kinds. We are also chaotically cluttered with bad habits and pursuits that really don't amount to anything important in the larger scheme of things. The so-called hallmarks of the modern busy life are not all they are cracked up to be. If anything, they conspire to fill up every inch of our space and the moments of every day with meaningless detractions that divert us from the things that really matter. And I am as guilty as anyone.
Sometimes it takes a life tragedy to push us back on to the right tracks of our lives. To me, it happened thirteen years ago when my son-in-law, Richard, father of two of my grandsons, had his young life tragically cut short. A schoolteacher, he was driving to work when a crate fell off a truck in front of him. He swerved to miss the crate but lost control of the car and it plunged over the edge of the freeway, ending his life.
What a painful time it was for all of us. I grieved for Richard. I grieved for my daughter, widowed at age thirty-four. I grieved for my two young grandsons, who had been robbed of years of fun with a dad they loved. ..
But at the same time, something profound happened deep inside me. I was preoccupied with things like my career and wanting to be more successful as a writer. I focused on what I didn't have and wanted and what I did have but regretted. All told, I was certainly not a contented person. ... life itself had become a little too complicated for my own good. ...
Standing at Richard's graveside, two realizations overwhelmed me. First, life is short and unpredictable. ... Second, when death strikes unexpectedly, all the clutter and accumulations of your life don't amount to a hill of beans. Death screams loud and clear, 'Get your priorities right, my friend, if you want to live a contented life!'
From that moment on, I have had a profound feeling that there is very little on this earth that really matters besides the relationships we have with one another. And what do we have to do in order to extract meaningful pleasure from our existence? I am convinced it is quite simple : make space for the things that really matter. "
THRILLED TO DEATH : Dr Archibald Hart.
A couple of weeks ago I put up a collection of quotes from this book. There are many aspects to the book, all worth discussing, but the message Hart gives here is perfect for this week. 
I know of friends currently struggling with the death of loved and the occupying thoughts of that time in one's life are significant and unforgettable.
Around this time many years ago I became a widow at age 24. I had no children and I had plenty of time to prepare for my husband's death, so I was very privileged. Regardless, I line myself up with Archibald's comments above - the questioning of what am I doing/putting my time into/aiming for... were natural to me too.
When a close person in your life dies, you suddenly become aware of the the importance of that one. All manner of things everyday are 'missing' now. A relationship has stopped in mid-flow. 
At that time for me, people who had up until then, been at a distance, were now brought in closer. Many of my great friends were willing to become dearer and closer to me, and some people who I hardly knew made themselves available to me in friendship. This really helped me to start to sort out my life and begin again.
Further along in his book, Archibald gives 6 things he believes we need to make room for in our lives. I wish to only talk about 1 in this post - Friendship. 
Hart discusses the increasing choice people today are making to "become loners". He bases his comments on studies from Harvard, the University of Arizona and Duke University. Adults, teenagers and children are all showing this tendency of a choice for isolation even with those they are closest and most intimately connected to.
You can probably identify many reasons for the dramatic increase in this practice. One of course is the alarming time spent pursuing friendship or connection on line, compared to face-to-face friendship. Archibald says, "But is this really what friendships are all about? Can you cry on a blogger's shoulder? Can you find comfort in the arms of an e-mail? I can assure you that e-mail and text messaging do not have the same cathartic effect as a heart-to-heart..."
I have a wonderful friend who lives in a different country to me but this year we marked 50 years of friendship. While in New Zealand last month she visited us. We are not in each other's pocket but we both say that with each email or get together physically, we literally pick up where we left off. I feel totally natural with her and she with me. Even knowing personality pitfalls, and having neglected each other at times, doesn't stop our friendship.
We may have a great friendship with a person we chose to become friends with, but we can have equally deep friendships with people who happened across our path.
People look for different things in a friendship. Similar interests, things they have in common such as a sense of humour or both riding a motor bike. But true friendship, the kind that will last all your life doesn't hold on to these things alone. 
A true friendship 
    ~ is loyal
    ~ is where one doesn't dominate the other
    ~ is where one does not make exclusive claim on the other
    ~ is kind
    ~ cares for and goes out of their way to help the other
Faithful and unfaithful friendship, were themes in Shakespeare's plays, and many poets and novelists of the nineteenth century. Movies from the past and present such as the Hornblower series, ET, Charlotte's Web, Finding Nemo, and the on-going Downton Abbey series, all show us friendships for the better and for the worse. 
But all the watching of movies or reading of books will have no effect if we don't make time or make room for friendships. 
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ for your own sake and the sake of your children, pursue some time catching up with an old or new friend - one you really want to be with for many years to come.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


' "Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions," say Dr Stuart Quan and Dr Russell Sanna, from Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine.
"The combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance."
They also point out that lack of sleep was a "significant factor" in the Exxon Valdez wreck, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. ....
And lack of sleep can have a significant effect on our inner lives as well. The Great British Sleep Survey found last year that poor sleepers are seven times morelikely to feel helpless and five times more likely to feel alone - consequences that can affect everything from our relationships to our productivity.'
THE POWER OF SLEEP: Arianna Huffington. Life & Style. New Zealand Herald News. Saturday February 16 2013. 
This article by Arianna Huffington of Huffington Press fame, is worth reading in its entirety. It appeared last weekend in our weekend Herald.
I can just hear my Mum saying her version of the opening sentence, to my sisters and myself, when we were teenagers and "burning the candle at both ends". But something has changed since then. Attitudes to sleep have shifted. Sleep was once seen as normal and essential, but it is almost put-off or postponed, given-in to only when one is exhausted or sick and must lay their head down.
"In the early nineteenth century and prior, something called the second sleep was highly valued. Second sleep, also called beauty sleep in a time when people went to bed early, refers to the early hours of the morning when one usually sleeps much more lightly. During a period of wakefulness before the second sleep, people would meditate, and take in the good, quiet things of life. Usually lasting about an hour, this was a time of day that was highly prized.
Then we invented the electric light and prolonged the daylight. People went to bed later and so-called second sleep became history. People go to bed so late now that they don't get enough sleep in general, let alone have the luxury of some beauty sleep." Thrilled to Death : Dr Archibald Hart. p 211.
We all can easily identify "Sleep deprivation's negative impact" on our children, even if we don't admit to its effect in our own lives. There's grumpiness, complaining, the inability to control one's temper, babyish or regression in behaviour, non-communication..... not that a full night's sleep totally solves these behaviours, but more sleep certainly helps.
In Hoffington's article, she quotes Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter's article in The Atlantic magazine, about high powered workers' "time macho" image, "a rentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more allnighters...". But this is not only practiced by the professionals. It is also paraded, like evidence of 'maturity' or 'coolness' by teens and people in their twenties. Their 'occupations' during these hours, are not usually work related, but tend to be screen controlled, technology cruising or smart device multitasking. This busyness of moving from one thing to the next, could be thought of as giving one a break or a rest. But is that what is actually happening? "At the same time, change of occupation is not rest; if a man ply a machine, now with his foot, and now with his hand, the foot or the hand rests, but the man does not." Parents and Children : Charlotte Mason, p 78.
People are human, not machines, and we all need rest.
The confused picture about rest among growing children, teenagers and beyond, relegates sleep to a low priority in a day.
However, it doesn't need to stay that way. Hopefully as a parent you were rattled reading the bulk of the quote above. In a nutshell, a habit of lack of sleep leads to DISASTER.
Parents have to bring a change in how we arrange the family hours before children sleep.
Just as we understand the importance of a routine in eating - breakfast, lunch, dinner - children need a sleep routine also. Without such a routine not only will children's health, growth and emotions be affected, but a faulty pattern for life will be set up.
I am not by nature a routine person, but the more children we had I came to see we simply had to get some system for some things to actually happen. Sleep was one such thing. This is the system we devised ~
We tried to get the little kids to bed by 7:30pm - at first this was an impossible feat, but once we had the system working, subsequent kids just slotted in. If they went to bed before 7:30 it made teatime and clean up a rush, and then they woke up too early for me to regularly cope with such an early start - Mmmmmm. If they went to bed later, the following morning the kids were hard to drag out of bed. A negative attitude is a bad way to start a new day.
From age 9 on things changed ~
9years - bed at 8pm
11years - bed at 8:15pm
13years - bed at 8:45pm
15years - bed at 9:15pm
16years - bedtime became open - usually because school demands became too much to maintain a specific time. We also considered that by then we had established some order/priority for sleep, and now it was over to them. For some of our kids doing long hours of sport training into the evening, we had to literally grab the planned time to go to bed on the nights they had off.
The issue of homework controlling a child's evening is an issue for the future.
Some children get off to sleep easily while others have extreme difficulties. I think a routine of when bedtime IS, is a start in helping change this. It's a plan, so you are working towards something, rather than living totally at random. There are several things you can do preceding sleep which will also prepare a child to sleep.
 1. Slow down life 30minutes before bedtime, e.g.. 
     ~ Turn off the TV, computer.
     ~ Turn off the lights and turn on the lamps. 
     ~ Turn off challenging music and turn on music that calms or have no music at all.
     ~ Generally slow and quieten down the end of the evening.
     ~ For older children and adults, right before hopping into bed, take slow deep breaths while you slowly stretch your arms up above your head, then slowly lower them down to touch your toes, then up again... 5 times.
     ~ Finish the day off in a happy frame with each child - read a little bit from their favourite book, give them a cuddle, pray with them, massage them...
2. Have a routine of what happens at the end the day before bed, e.g..
     ~ Have a bath, take a shower, wash the face and dirty feet. Washing the body just before bed I think is a real weapon to bring on sleep - but don't make water temperature too hot.
     ~ Clean teeth, brush hair - this is another one I personally love because it relaxes me, feels like a head massage. 
These simple things cause children to anticipate bedtime and prepare for sleep.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ spend some time thinking on how you can improve your family time before the kids go to bed. Ask your kids what they would like to do just before they go to bed tonight. If their ideas are definitely not sleep inducers, then do them with the kids on the weekend instead.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Over the summer I read this fantastic book. THRILLED TO DEATH : DR ARCHIBALD D. HART. This week I'm putting up some quotes from the first section of the book, in the hope of winning you over to go read it. I intend to refer and comment on more from the book in the future, but due to lack of time to think at the moment, some quotes are better than nothing. 
"Despite having more sources of pleasure than ever before in history, we are probably the unhappiest people who have ever lived." p23
"I am convinced that a lot of this pleasure loss is the result of over stress and overdependence on high stimulation." p22
"We are increasingly seeing a different kind of depression where the dominant symptom is not sadness but pleasurelessness." p27
"Many teenagers and even young children today cannot tolerate doing nothing for more than thirty seconds, max - then they demand more stimulation." p28
"The addictive  process that drives our world today not only robs us of pleasure but also takes away the energy we need to pursue things that can bring meaningful enjoyment." p32
"You can only be really happy if you preserve the function of you pleasure  system." p41
"True happiness is more enduring than pleasure." p46
"Real, deep and abiding happiness doesn't come from the excitement of life but from the simple joys of plain living. And this is where unhappy people usually miss the boat." p53
"When you become content with ordinary feelings, you will find that they are more beautiful and far more satisfying than thrill-loaded experiences." p54
"People desperately want reassurance that their hectic life is ok .... They push for help on how to live with their stress ... how they can increase their tolerance for it." p59
"Unless we as a society, learn to slow down, examine our values, change our hectic lifestyles, we will continue to suffer from Cardiovascular disease..... Further we will pass these traits and poor coping skills on to our children." p62
"When stress becomes persistent... - our stress hormones change their focus and shift from helping us cope with our stress to protecting us from self destruction." p66
".... our modern technology, has reduced the availability of recovery time. Every system in the body needs rest.... With enough rest these systems serve us well. But without adequate recovery time, they fail us because we are pushing them outside their normal limits." p68
"Kids today, aided and abetted by parents, as well as by the media and our culture, are slowly moving toward a pleasureless existence." p73
The final chapter in part 1 deals with our loss of pleasure sexually - excellent chapter. Then part 2 of the book is called Seven Steps to Recovering Your Pleasure. 
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ "Children should be given space to explore many interests. Families should eat together, play together and hike together and you should create a panoply of family traditions that will reside in their memory and be the source of much pleasure later in life when they recall those happy times together." p79

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


"Let me clarify that I'm not writing against friendly competition but against the competitive spirit that always has to win or be the best. Actually, I believe that healthy competition is good,especially for children and high schoolers, as it can provide an arena in which they can seek to do their best. And this kind of competition is not limited to sport. There is competition at science fairs or among bands or at spelling bees. But in whatever competition, the question the child or teenager and their parents should ask is not "Did we win?" but "Did we do our best?"
You can see now that there is a close relationship between envy, jealousy and competitiveness. We tend to envy a peer who is ahead of us in an area we value highly. We become jealous of a person who is over taking us. And both of these foster a competitive spirit that says, "I must always win or be number one." All of these attitudes are the result of ungodly selfishness, of thinking only of ourselves." RESPECTABLE SINS: Jerry Bridges page 154 - 155.
A person may think this last sentence is extreme or far fetched, but if you are aware of the Lance Armstrong story, you probably found this sentence to be totally on target. This quote describes the process that Armstrong must have gone through, to be now named as  "the biggest liar in world sport" by Simon Plumb, Sunday Star Times, or "this man, who must win at all costs .... He's a bully, a liar, a cheat, a man who is prepared to ruin lives, including his own perhaps, as long as he ends up on top." by Michael Donaldson, Deputy Editor, Sunday Star Times, January 20, 2013.
The Sunday Star Times account of "The Damage Done" by Armstrong's style of competitiveness, financially, comes to over 20 million dollars which he now has to repay. Irreparable damage has been done to friendships, with close friends having been "targeted by (Armstrong with) savage, and expensive, personal attacks." This includes Mike Anderson who was his mechanic and personal assistant and friend of nearly 20 years.
Lastly there's the damage to the sport of cycling itself. It's reputation is tarnished for now, with talk of it being dropped from the Olympics.
The disturbing thing however is that Armstrong believes that a public confession is sufficient, after which one can return to business somewhat as before, as he is now training for World Ironman events, hoping that his lifetime ban from cycling can be reduced.
I think the Lance Armstrong story is extremely sad, but it serves as a warning and evidence of the corruption that can come from the wrong mindset to competition.
Most areas of sport are full of this style of self-centred competition from amateur  to professional levels. As a family, we have and continue to experience it.  
And right now, as I type, I have heard on our TV news that this afternoon in Australia it has been announced that Australian sport across many sporting codes, have been involved in a huge doping scandal. Players, coaches and doctors have be said to be involved along with money from the criminal underworld paying for games to be rigged. It's being named Australian sport's blackest day. Of course, we need to ask is this going on also in our own 'backyard'? 
Such disaster - all from a "competitive spirit that always has to win or be the best."
Getting away from the doping issue and back to competitiveness - does this all relate to US? It certainly does! What are we saying and living out for our children to see and pick up, in the area of competitiveness?
As well as sports people taking drugs so they have that advantage, there are other dark and subtle shades to unhealthy competitiveness also. One such shadow is greed for gain, the desire to get or keep something for oneself - these words are in the dictionary's definition for the word "avarice". Or another one, which seems to be ignored today, even though it rages everywhere, is the problem of self-conceit, having an excessively high opinion of oneself. This may be accompanied with a craving for admiration. The dictionary calls this "Pride" and "Vanity".
When we speak about this type of thing in conversation, we tend to give it the soft title of "arrogance", and only direct it at someone else. We fail to see any of it in ourselves. As a parent, I suffer with these problem attitudes. We need the Lance Armstrong story to shake us up.
As Charlotte Mason says, the evilness is not in the sport, activity or competition itself, rather it is in the competitive attitude, the "ugly qualities of human nature" which we as parents have a choice to pickup and practice or step aside from and discourage. She says "...the time has come for the  thoughtful parent to examine them self and see whether or no it be their duty to make a stand against competitiveness." Parents and Children: Charlotte Mason.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ Why don't you talk with your kids about this man, Lance Armstrong, and then work out how your family can approach the competition you're involved in, to make it 'friendly competition' of 'healthy competition'.