Read to your Kids

By Jeanne Reynolds

I had to hear it a couple of times for it to sink in. When it did, I could hardly believe it.

“Here’s a great hack for your home virtual assistant device,” the radio announcer enthused. (For those like my husband who think a hack is a terrible golfer or someone who sneaks into your computer system, “hack” is current slang for a quick fix, trick or work-around.)

“You can get (name of device) to read your child a bedtime story!” she continued. “Just say, (name of device), read Billy a bedtime story. Then you both can sit back and listen until one of you falls asleep.”

This may be the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. I mean, it ranks right up there with, “Here, eat this sausage dog right before you get on the roller coaster” and “Don’t worry, these bungee cords almost never break.”

Seriously? Take a beloved childhood ritual – one of the most important things you can do to help your child develop a love of reading that will reap untold lifelong benefits – and ask a machine to do it for you?

Now, I totally get how exhausted, frazzled and pulled in 7 directions parents of young children are at the end of the day, especially if they’re also holding down jobs outside the home. And reading a story may seem like another chore there’s just not enough time for. The digital voice is better than nothing, right?

No. It’s not.

Because that’s no more “reading” than is watching a movie version of a book. Both are entertaining, but very different. And just getting Billy to shut up and go to sleep is not what a bedtime story is all about. bedtime-story

Reading – seeing the words and pictures, turning the pages – is essential to a child’s future. Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. And two-thirds who are still struggling by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

And it’s not just being able to read, but loving to read. A third of high school graduates never read a book after high school. Living in a house overflowing with books, and remembering trips to the public library as a highlight of the week as a child, this is harder for me to understand than black hole theory. And incredibly sad.

It’s one reason I’ve been volunteering for the past school year with Midlands Reading Consortium. Even though my pre-K student can’t read a lick (yet!), I’m trying to model the joy of reading and help him develop not just a skill but an avocation he’ll enjoy the rest of his life.

No batteries required.

Here’s an idea …

By Jeanne Reynolds

Tube lights? Really? (imagine vomit emoji here)

That was pretty much our reaction when the architect designing our new home suggested placing lights on the top of the exposed beams in our main living area. We pictured large, ugly tubes like the florescent lights in many garages. How could this respected (and frankly, pricey) architect make such a hideous recommendation?ceiling beams

Well, it turns out they weren’t tube lights like that at all. They’re long, thin strips of tiny light dots that shine upward, creating a subtle, radiant glow toward the high ceiling. You can’t see the lights themselves at all. And guess what? We. Love. Them.

It’s funny looking back at our quick and extremely negative reaction to an idea that’s ended up being one of our favorite things about this home. There are some good lessons embedded in that experience. In no particular order:

  1. When you hire experts because they’re, well, experts – listen to them. We contracted with an architect because our marsh-front lot, while lovely, is awkwardly shaped. Flip through the big book of Southern Living plans and plop one down on the spot? No such luck. It took a lot of skill to fit what we wanted in the space available. Yes, it’s our home, and the architect’s Frank Lloyd Wright modern vision sometimes rubbed against our old Southern farmhouse tastes, but the end result still thrills me after three years.
  2. Be open to new ideas. The beam lights are far from the only example of ideas the architect pushed for, we resisted – and now love. There are the half-tint ceilings (aren’t ceilings supposed to be white?), the kitchen cabinets that are actually drawers (what in the world would I want that for?) and the dark green garage doors (can’t even remember what I assumed there, but it wasn’t that). It doesn’t hurt to at least listen (see above) and consider another viewpoint, even if you ultimately decide …
  3. It’s OK to say no (thank you). Work with experts and listen to their ideas, but know your deal-breakers and your bottom line. We didn’t need or want high-end light fixtures, designer appliances or drawer pulls costing thousands of dollars (there are a lot of drawers and cabinets in this house) when good-quality, attractive alternatives are available at the hardware store or through discount retailers. We were up front about our budget limitations and weren’t intimidated into getting in over our heads.

 

I wish I could say I’ve learned these lessons once and for all, but I seem to have to keep wash-rinse-and-repeating. At work, at church, even on the golf course, I’m still a slow learner:

Golf pro: “Try that long chip with a hybrid.”

Me: “What? That’ll never work.”

Me again: “Oh, wait, you’re the golf pro and I’m paying you for this coaching. OK, I’ll try it.”

If only I could get those tube lights for my brain.

Move over to the sunny side of the street

By Jeanne Reynolds

 

I’m a fairly focused, goal-oriented person. And although I don’t take myself too seriously, I do take what I do seriously. So I’m not one of those people walking around with a big smile all the time (and I so hate it when someone, especially a stranger, says “Smile! It can’t be that bad.” I mean really, how the heck would you know whether it is or not?)

That doesn’t mean I’m not happy most of the time. Even joyous occasionally. Able to see the humor in most situations. And overall, pretty optimistic. Which is great, because it’s … (drum roll, please) … National Optimism Month.

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Lucky for me, optimism isn’t about walking around with a goofy grin on your face or spouting Pollyanna-ish sayings all day. Optimism is about seeing the positive in situations — you know, that glass-half-full thing.

There are plenty of good reasons to look on the bright side:

  • Better health. Optimists tend to have healthier hearts, making them less prone to attacks and strokes. Being optimistic in a stressful situation can raise your immune response, increasing your ability to fight infection and disease. And we’ve all heard stories of patients who stayed positive bouncing back faster from illness and injury.
  • Higher achievement. Researcher Martin Seligman found athletes and teams that are more optimistic perform better than pessimistic ones. That’s one reason some employers seek out optimists as job candidates.
  • Longer life. If optimism and good health go hand-in-hand, no wonder research shows links between optimism and avoiding early death from heart disease, cancer infection and other diseases.

Even if you’re not naturally super-optimistic, there are ways to cultivate a more optimistic mindset. Try these:

  • Examine your habitual thought patterns. Do you pay more attention to complaints than compliments? Often describe things with words like “always” and “never,” and tend to jump to conclusions with all the information? These are all signs of negative thinking. Techniques such as cognitive restructuring can help you learn to challenge your negative thinking and replace it with more optimistic thought patterns.
  • Develop optimism-enhancing habits. Try keeping a gratitude journal (Oprah does), a coincidence journal or a vision board.
  • Get outside and get moving. Exercise is proven to alleviate symptoms of depression, and completing that walk, run or tough class will feed your sense of positive accomplishment. Plus, it’s hard not to feel a sense of wonder and awe when seeing a beautiful sunrise, a shooting star on a clear night or the first brave buds of spring about to open.
  • Laugh at yourself. The ability to see the humor in a situation can go a long way toward dissolving stress, disappointment or embarrassment. Add more laughter to your life with a funny page-a-day calendar or watching silly movies.

Now, ready to break out that happy dance? (And it’s OK if you can’t help smiling while you do it.)

Cozy up to hygge

By Jeanne Reynolds

Heard of hygge? This online buzzword (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-ga, depending on the source) is Danish and means a feeling of comfort and coziness. It’s all about enjoying the simple things in life and taking time to notice and appreciate them.

It was big over the winter: Think fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa by the fire. A walk in the park wearing warm mittens. Baking cookies from scratch. Or my go-to: comfy sweatpants, a good book and a glass of wine with some cheese and crackers.

And when I say “big,” I mean one of the hottest home decor trends of 2017 on Pinterest and more than 1.5 million posts tagged with #hygge on Instagram.

But now that we’ve had a week of 80-degree days (in February!) I’m thinking about ways to get all hygge-ied up for spring. Here are some ideas:

  • Flowers: What says “spring” more than new blooms? Cut a couple forsythia forsythiabranches from the yard and put them in a pretty vase on the table. Or buy a pot of tulips or one of those cute miniature azalea or rose bushes and put it in a woven basket for a centerpiece.
  • Food: Oven-roast some fresh asparagus in a drizzle of olive oil until barely done and sprinkle lightly with shaved asiago while it’s still warm. Or bake heart-shaped cookies for your loved ones (my hubby got oatmeal raisin for Valentine’s Day – yum). Sharing simple homemade treats with family and friends is very hygge.
  • Dress: Put on something lightweight and flowy, maybe even sleeveless, and rejoice in the feeling of freedom. If a quick trip to your favorite retailer is required, go for it – no one is judging (so not hygge).heart cookies
  • Read: Put down that dry business book you feel like you’re supposed to wade through to keep up with the other over-achievers and read something you’d normally take to the beach this summer. If you need suggestions, talk to your local librarian (bonus: library books are free!).
  • Move: Most hygge advice seems to involve cuddling up indoors, but I find peace and contentment while appreciating nature. Believe me, you can’t be much more “in the moment” than when you’re about to hit a golf ball. Walk, run or ride a bike. Or if the pollen is keeping you inside for now, take a yoga class or literally shake things up by trying Zumba instead.
  • Clean: I’m guessing scrubbing mildew off my shower isn’t high on the hygge list, but the wonderful feeling I get looking at how sparkling clean it is now should be.
  • Garden: Well, here I go with the chores again, but hang with me: If you don’t have a lightweight battery-powered leaf blower, get one and see how much fun it is cleaning off the drive and walkway. The hygge part comes when I peek out the window – or even walk outside – so I can admire how orderly and tidy it looks. Or plant some new annuals in those tired pots by the door to greet you every day.
  • Unplug: As in put down that phone. This is a big one, and possibly a deal-breaker for some people. But is constantly checking texts and emails and Facebook posts really relaxing and comforting? Most studies show constant use of electronic devices increases stress and interferes with sleep. C’mon, try it for a day … or at least an hour. You might be surprised how little you miss it. Hygge is about connecting with your faves in person.

Most of all, have fun with hygge. It isn’t supposed to be a time-consuming project or another item on your to-do list. There’s no need to redecorate your whole house or spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Give yourself guilt-free permission to take time for the things you really enjoy and you’ll feel hygge. Maybe you already do and just didn’t know it.

Step by step

I stopped on my way home to order Chinese takeout for dinner the other night. Usually I spend the brief wait time on my cell phone, catching up on email and the next day’s weather forecast.

Not this time. Instead, I headed outside, crossed the road and circled a nearby church parking lot as fast I could walk for 12 minutes. It was dark and a little chilly and possibly not as well lit as ideal safety would dictate, but boy, did it feel good. Because … steps.

My company has been holding a “Walk to Disney” step challenge for the past several weeks. I’m part of a team of four trying to accumulate 904,000 steps to cover the 452 miles from our office location to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in 26 days. (Spoiler alert #1: We got there in the first two weeks and are well on the way home.) The Sole Sistas (see what we did there?) are competing against 211 other employees on dozens of teams with cool names like Holey Walkamolies and Cirque du Sore Legs to log the most steps. (Spoiler alert #2: The final results won’t be known for a week after I’m writing this, but we’re looking reaaally good right now.)

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Besides being a lot of fun and burning off some stubborn calories that mysteriously glommed onto my midsection after — not during — the holidays, I’ve learned a lot from this challenge. Some of these are more like duh-huhs but apparently I needed reminding.

 

  1. Being on a team working toward a goal together is both fun and motivating. All the gals in my group were already very active, but none of us wanted to be the “anchor” holding the team back. So we all kicked it up a notch, adding second daily workouts, joining neighborhood walking clubs and obsessively carrying our phones or smart watches to track every possible step. When one team member fell victim to the flu, the healthy ones had her back by adding even more activity.
  2. It’s easy to get complacent. I’ve been a distance runner for decades, usually walk when I play golf, almost always take the stairs at work, lift weights once or twice a week and take an occasional yoga class. But surprise: It wasn’t as much exercise as I thought. 10,000 steps a day? Pfff, piece of cake … not. I found I’d been overestimating my activity and had lots of room for improvement. Hmm, the mysterious holiday pounds might not be so mysterious after all.
  3. People will do anything to win a key chain. OK, that one’s not true. Yes, a company-branded lighted key chain is the only prize all but the top 4 or 5 people will win, but they’re not really participating for the prize. Rather, it’s all about the friendly competition and the challenge of seeing how well you can do. Many departments have their own internal rivalry going on — the top prize is barely on their radar.
  4. Fitness challenges can engage anyone. One of the most exciting things to me about this program has been the participation by the “non-athletes” among us. Evidence: We have walking workstations in a few locations around the building — treadmills with a place to plug in your laptop, so you can walk for 30 minutes while you’re on a conference call or checking email. Use of these workstations skyrocketed when the challenge was announced. Clearly, even people who had little chance of “winning” started stepping it up. Whether for better health or just to be part of a fun event, it really doesn’t matter.

Of course, the real success of the challenge will be if people continue their increased activity long-term. It would be cool if teammates kept in touch and kept each other accountable. Maybe those intra-department rivalries will spark new competitions of their own.

For me, I’m already thinking of ways to maintain at least some of the intensity and focus of the past month. I noticed Ash Wednesday falls just a few days after the challenge ends. So instead of giving up chocolate, I’m going to commit to at least 3 days a week of two-a-day workouts.

There probably won’t be an LED key chain waiting in my Easter basket, but I think I’ve already seen the light.

 

 

True grit

by Jeanne Reynolds

 What makes people successful – Talent? High IQ? Money? Luck? Genes?

 No, no, no, no and no. All those things help, but the true driver of success is grit.

At least, that’s the opinion of Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor who’s been studying this stuff for years. And the more I read and think about it, the more I believe she’s exactly right.

225px-True-GritDefinition here: Grit is a combination of unshakeable motivation, persistence and determination. Simply put, it’s sticking with it. Never giving up, even when it gets hard.

I’ve become fascinated with this concept since hearing Duckworth talk about it recently on National Public Radio. She’s done tons of testing with students and teachers, adults and kids. Unfailingly, whether in school, work or life, it turns out high performance is most closely tied to high levels of grit.

I’ve seen this play out in my own life. Take running, for example. I’m slow, and I didn’t T330_189554_Runningbecome active in the sport until later in life. But somehow I’ve managed to run 21 marathons, including five Boston Marathons. I tell people distance running doesn’t require talent – it only requires you to keep moving. That’s grit.

And because I’m pretty gritty (take the Grit Scale Test to get your score) there’s a good chance I’ll get that children’s book that’s been in my head since age 9 down on paper and submitted to a publisher one day.

Can you get grittier if you’re not hard-wired that way (Hey, marathon running isn’t for everyone. I get that.) or help your kids develop more grit? Probably. One way is to develop a growth mindset. It’s a concept developed by Carol Dweck that says our ability to learn isn’t fixed. In fact, our brain grows in response to challenge. The key is believing failure isn’t a permanent condition. We have to be allowed and willing to fail, so we can learn and start over with the lessons learned. (Note to helicopter parents: See that word “allowed”? You might need to back off so your child can develop grit.)

Programs like Girls on the Run that teach girls how to train for a longer-term goal may help. You can also try some online exercises like this this one.

I think the idea of grit as what determines our success is great news for most of us. I enjoy doing many things I don’t necessarily have an innate talent for: running, singing, golf, playing the flute, writing, cooking. But that’s OK, because talent and smarts apparently don’t matter as much as getting back up when I fall down and taking the next step.

As Duckworth says, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

 

Like nature, my to-do list abhors a vacuum

By Jeanne Reynolds

I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon in mid-December — a somewhat random day off work just to avoid losing vacation days as the window of opportunity quickly closes.

Wow, a whole day off just for me, with no doctor’s appointments, errands or family duties. So much free time just to read, relax or do whatever I want.

Yeah, right.

It started that way. Then I decided it would be the perfect time to submit online matching gift forms for my year-end charitable donations, address and stamp and stuff Christmas cards, bake my special gingerbread men that I give co-workers every year, wrap a few gifts, reorder a gift I already bought because the vendor just notified me it’s sold out, pick up air filters for all the air returns in the house (there are at least four, each a different size, so I also have to figure out where I wrote that information last year or get the ladder out of the garage and measure them), and oh, what’s that grungy stuff splashed all over the back of the pantry door, and when was the last time this sugar canister was washed?

And so it goes. This happens to me all the time — no, correction: I do this to myself all the time. I overbook and cram too much into my “time off” so the feeling of accomplishment from crossing so many things off my to-do list is outweighed by the feeling of resentment that I can’t take a simple day off and I never get it all done.

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Wait, back up a minute. I may have stumbled on the real issue here. I never get it all done because it never will be all done. Even if I draw a solid black line through every task on the list, 3 or a dozen more will leap into their places. I don’t know if it’s a female thing or a perfectionist thing or what, but there’s always going to be more to get done than I and a small army can do.

I keep thinking if I really slam it today, I can enjoy my free time tomorrow because the list will be cleared off. But no, like flipping over an hourglass so the sand runs inexorably from the top to the bottom, the list will fill, fill, fill again.

So what’s the answer? I probably could take a cue from the song in the animated film Frozen: Let it go.

Honestly, I’m not sure I can. At 60 I’m not likely to change my DNA. But maybe I can try some baby steps. Like today: I stopped what I was doing late this afternoon and went to have a pedicure, a favorite treat I enjoy only once a year or so. And it was lovely (can I get one of those massaging chairs installed in my car?).

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Ladies, let’s give ourselves permission to put down the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser once in a while, close the door to the closet that looks like Mount Vesuvius erupted again, and enjoy some guilt-free down time. I’ll try if you will.

 

Because I have to say those baby steps are going to look pretty good with these awesome toes.