And Just Like That......

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All across our beautiful coast, pencils are being sharpened, papers are coming home to be signed, buses are chugging and lunchables are flying off the shelf.  It’s that time again. Schools are open and moms rejoice! Or do we?

More than ever, I realize that Father Time waits for no one! Hence, the conundrum. You see, as parents, especially moms, we love the fact that summer is over and there is routine again. We love that there is a bit of free time to run errands or read a book, get to work on time, clean and organize, maybe have lunch with a friend or go to the gym… I’ll stop there. You get the point.  But as this “light of day” begins to shine on mothers everywhere, there are others who, despite liking structure again, are facing big changes and are having a slightly different reaction or two. Maybe sadness and a sense of loss as she sends her baby off to the first day of kindergarten. Or anxiousness and uneasiness with clenched fists watching her tiny 6th grader go in to face the big kids of middle school. And of course the ace of all… the no-longer-senior that she just left behind on a college campus with one eye on the road and the other in the rear view mirror hoping for that last glance or two…that’s when it gets real! 

But despite this plethora of emotions floating around, the one constant is the heart of a mom. It doesn’t change. It may get less anxious when it’s the 2nd or 3rd but still, it doesn’t change. She’s the one who waits on the edge of the pool with one toe in the water ready to jump in, even after you have learned to swim.  She’s the one who is so happy you are dating someone who seems like a “good kid” but is slightly jealous they are taking so much of your time.  By the way, she will also be the one to help pick up the pieces of your broken heart. She’s the same one who is so thrilled you passed your driver’s test but every single morning as you leave, she hugs you and says “be careful”…like she would ever say, “Why don’t you just drive reckless today! Go wild and have fun!” Somehow there is a simple peace that comforts her to just say it. She’s the one who even though you are 17 years old and a senior and can make your own breakfast, still gets up at 5:30 to do it for you, just for a few special moments together. She’s the same one who fusses when you wear her favorite shirt but ends up giving it to you anyway. She is still the one who blows up balloons at the crack of dawn to float along your ceiling so that when you wake up, your birthday is as colorful and beautiful as you! 

The mom’s heart! And it occurred to me, having a senior this year as well as a tiny 6th grader, that there is a long, sad growing list of “no mores.” No more paper plate ornaments or painted CDs to add to the Christmas tree. No more Blue Corn Festivals or book fairs, no more musicals to watch, no more field days...  

Recently a friend of mine posted a first-day-of-school photo of her son who is now a senior. She had it side by side with a photo from his first day of kindergarten. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the oversized laminated car pinned to his shirt.  I remembered that of my own except we had the big bus. It made me sad also, because it made the “no more” list. I will no longer have another kindergartner to pin a bus on. My heart broke as I thought about the moms who know well how long that list will get, as she just became an empty nester or maybe just sent her firstborn off to college. Either way, it stings the heart.   She is not thinking about routine and structure right now but rather wishing she still had a little one to pick up at the bus stop or a teenager to argue with about what he believes are his personal rights now that he is a big senior.  She wishes her daughter were there to steal her favorite shirt. I heard one friend say about her oldest that she will miss hearing the sounds of his routine. From her bedroom below, she could hear his footsteps across the ceiling…the water running, the brushing of teeth, the toilet flushing…the sound that he is home.  The thought of her sadness and void that she feels is unmistakably a rite of passage for both, but regardless, even though he will be back, he is no longer simply upstairs nor will he be home for dinner on weeknights.  And then there are the moms who just sent off her last, the baby. Somehow, getting up at the crack of dawn to scramble an egg for your hubby doesn’t have the same sweet pleasure.  Quietness. Too quiet! Gone are the days of dirty clothes and shoes left on the floor and dishes in the sink…another “no more” addition. Oh, and the pantry stays full now.  She wishes it weren’t. The moms that still have a full house dream of those quiet moments… while others would give anything to have the noise back.  Yet another friend she said this: “It is painful but brings beautiful growth for them and for us. You will find yourself stepping into their empty room just to ‘feel’ them. But each stage brings its own joy.”

I write all of this to say, as much as we get frustrated with them, need time to ourselves, get tired of a dirty house with empty chip bags everywhere or even feel like we as moms have lost ourselves…it happens that fast! They are born and they are gone and on their own. For some reason, I can think back on holidays or events that were years ago and remember the smells, the conversations, what I wore, what they wore, what we ate…just like it was yesterday. But ask me what I had for breakfast this morning and I will struggle. I think it’s because we long to file away and desperately remember details that grip our heart because we know how fleeting these moments are and will soon be added to the ever-growing list of “no more.”  Our babies are here one day and they are gone the next. So…as much as I would love to say I have an answer or a point to all of this, I really don’t…other than be present, seize every moment, recognize in the rough patches that these ARE seasons that will be gone all too quickly and embrace each stage. I’ve already broken the news to my senior that I am riding shotgun with him this year and to hang on for the ride!  I only meant that I wanted to take in every minute of his last school year but I think he is worried that I might make him take me as his date to Homecoming. I’m going to let him sweat that one out for a bit. But I want to remember it all ...each of his eventful or even non-eventful moments as a senior because I know that even though it’s only the beginning of the school year, May will be here before you know it, a diploma will be handed to him, and off he’ll  go… just like that! 


Beauty in the Broken

By Crystal Tingle

Recently I went on a girls’ tennis weekend to a resort near Jacksonville, FL, and yes! It was fabulously fun as you probably could deduct from just three little words…GIRLS’- TENNIS- WEEKEND!! Enough said, right? But it was also located on a beach. Sadly I must admit that I have never been to any of the Atlantic beaches because why would I? We have the most fabulous white sand and emerald green water on our Gulf Coast that beats any other place in our country! But what I didn’t realize about this particular beach is how many shells blanketed the water’s edge! Despite the beauty, our shell searching doesn’t come that easily. This beach had thousands and thousands of small shells to the point that it was virtually impossible to walk along without stepping on one. I thought it magnificent simply because I hadn’t seen that before. So as I strolled and started picking up a few to take home, I noticed something else. Most of them were broken. Some with just a little chip here and there but others were really marred with sharp edges. Maybe they washed up that way, beaten down by the waves that carried them in, or maybe they didn’t arrive that way at all but were stepped on as people passed by.  But each of them had a uniqueness that I found so interestingly attractive. Each had its own shape, size, and color. No two seemed to be alike even among the ones that looked to be of similar type. The colors that draped each shell varied much like the different colors in our personalities we don. Some were more vibrant and rich in color, and some were shiny with a regal pearl patina, while still others were very subtle and soft and grey, blending in among the thousands of others. But regardless of the statement they made, they were broken yet beautiful. 

Much like these shells, this is life... this is us!  We live in an imperfect world and are imperfect people. I cannot think of one single person in my life who has it all together and figured out. Not one! We are all like these thousands of shells…a chip missing here or there…some more marred and jagged than others…some subtle and subdued because maybe they have lost their voice…others more vibrant in color because they have found theirs and have something to say about it all! Some are broken from disappointments or maybe lost dreams. Some chipped and cracked from the waves of life…maybe from sickness or loss. Still others might be more jagged from being stepped on by abuse or abandonment… or addiction or loneliness or just simply hardships that life can bring…little or big.  But regardless, broken. 

I love when God meets me in these moments in His creation and allows me to see these comparisons between nature and man, because it reminds me to “consider” these things in everyday life when I encounter or interact with others. It reminds me that everyone has a story. I have my own. It reminds me that their story is just as important as mine. It reminds me to value who they are and why they are. It reminds me to look beyond the hue they don and see the chips and cracks of life here and there. It reminds me that we blanket the water’s edge of life together…side by side. It reminds me that each one, and not one more than the other, is beautiful! It reminds me of the magnificence and splendor in this beauty and that there is truly beauty in the broken!


“We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.”  -Ernest Hemingway

 

The Duck and Run! Have You Ever?

By Crystal Tiingle

I kind of think I already know the answer to this and for one reason only. We have ALL done it! So let me just say that this is meant to be one of those stories that as you read through it, you will blush and giggle at the same time because you were able to answer yes to the question. I will be the first one to admit it. Yes! I have been in that moment where I have pulled the “Duck and Run”…that moment when you see someone you know and do your very best to avoid speaking to them. But hang on before any of you get offended and feel like you were on the receiving end of that, especially if I know you…let me explain.  Recently, I found MYSELF the victim of a “Duck and Run!” I know! Can you believe it? Yes, I was the one whom they ran from! Now, I don’t think that typically you are supposed to be aware that the “duck” happened to you, especially if the “runner” is an experienced one, but regardless, I noticed.  It’s okay to laugh! My first reaction was to get tickled because #1, they got busted and # 2, because I have done this very thing to someone else.  My second reaction after thinking about it was confusion.  “Why me? I am a nice person. Why did they try to avoid me?” And then my third was internalization. “If they did it to me and I do it also, why do we do it?”

So I started my own little low-scale investigative journalism project. I asked a few random friends if they had ever participated in such anti-social behavior and, to my humor, almost 100% were guilty as charged! It was actually quite funny listening to everyone’s reasons so I thought this would be a fun, to-be-taken-lightly look at some of our human frailties that lead us to do ridiculous things such as this as if no one notices. It is this journey through life that makes us all the same in our very different ways. 

So here is the fun part. How is the “Duck and Run” pulled off? Gathering from several people including myself, here are a few methods! For our purposes, the setting is a grocery store and to add a bit of humor I have assigned names to each category. (This was also fun creating title!)

1. The Rewind

The most obvious way is to turn or back out and hit another aisle. This has to be done quickly and with precision with no jerky movements as to not draw attention to the retraction.  Stay cool and smooth as if planned. 

2. The Phone-a-Friend

If you are too late and already down the aisle and feel that a jerky Rewind would be noticed, quickly grab your phone and pretend like you are talking with someone. Just hope that you have your phone on silent as you pass them by, offering a courtesy wave and smile, and it doesn’t start ringing in your ear. 

3. The Parade Wave

If you are a fair distance from them but you were spotted, and you are in a place where you have a fair area to roam like the produce section and not right past them, smile, step up your pace, keep walking and give a friendly across-the-store wave and a courtesy yelp like “Hey there!” but keep on walking.

4. The Analyzer

They haven’t seen you but you can’t pull off the Rewind, so quickly throw your attention on a product that may have caught your eye, pick it up and stay distracted and apparently very interested in the nutritional facts until they pass. 

5. The Traveler 

You saw them early enough so you quickly head to the opposite side of the store and begin your shopping in reverse, but take care that you carefully navigate the aisles, cautiously sneak, peeking around the corners, before committing to turn because at some point you will more than likely collide if not careful. 

These are funny! And these are just a few of the top ones that I have heard and quite frankly used myself. And it makes it even more comical as you picture yourself in some of these situations! But the truth is, we are all guilty and do things sometimes that might not seem like the most considerate or kindest thing to do to someone, but I have often said that there is a always a why behind the what of the who. There is a reason and history behind each of our actions and often, as the aware recipient, we are so quick to get offended or take things personally when it may not be personal at all.  I think more often than not when I evaluate the different reasons why I have avoided people it was NOT because I didn’t like them or want to speak to them. I am a very social person and love to talk. More times than not, my attempts to elude were based on what I was dealing with on that particular day and it had nothing to do with them. Could it be that others do it for the same reasons? Could it be that they were having a very busy day and had only a short amount of time left to accomplish things before getting home to fix dinner or pick up kids and were just trying to stay on task? Or maybe they just weren’t in the best mood! Maybe the morning started off rough…a disagreement with one of the teenagers or hubby, a phone call from a family member that set a bad tone for the day. Maybe in that moment they just needed to get out and get things done and just weren’t feeling very personable from the morning events that were weighing on them. Is it possible that they were just not feeling good? Maybe they were just under the weather and coming down with something. Or another scenario could be that you knew something personal that they were going through and they just weren’t ready to answer questions about it or even discuss it yet. There are so many reasons why we each set boundaries and distance so we can have our personal space, and sometimes the “Duck and Run” is all we know to do. 

This is certainly meant to be light-hearted but also to shed light on our imperfections and humanity. Our nation has gotten to the point that we are so quickly offended and less likely to forgive and extend grace which is sad because we often forget our own imperfections in those moments when we are really all very much the same whether we admit it or not. Recently, I watched a movie that is now in my top 10 favorites of all time! The movie was Same Kind of Different as Me and is based on a true story.  It is about a man who was a very wealthy international art dealer, his wife who served at a homeless shelter and another man named Denver Moore, a very bitter, angry homeless man who many years ago was a slave.  The three develop a very unlikely lifetime friendship and at the end of the movie, Denver says one of the most profound endearing statements that I will never forget. I won’t say why he delivers this message in case you want to watch the movie but regardless, he says this: 

“I found out everybody’s different – the same kind of different as me. We’re all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or something in between, this earth ain’t no final restin’ place. So in a way, we is all homeless – just workin our way toward home.”  – Denver Moore

So you see, we really are all the same kind of different. We are all just trying to figure it out and move through the best we can. Though we are wonderfully made, we are still amazingly human. So as we blush, giggle, duck and run, or see it happen, let’s also try to remember that we are on this crazy journey together and with that comes time constraints, personal problems, mood swings and just life…busy, crazy beautiful life! Life that we should see, even in the craziest of moments, as the same kind of different as you…and me! So just laugh, grin and extend…grace to all!

 

Life is Good...Even When it's Bad.

By Crystal Tingle

It seems like these days, I am in the grocery store at least once a day…and by the way, this has nothing to do with this article yet and it has EVERYTHING to do with it. It’s important for me to ramble a bit for background, so just hang with me on the rabbit trail.  I remember a time when I had a weekly grocery and meal plan and did once-a-week shopping. Once, I even did a monthly meal plan and bought items that I could in bulk and spent the entire day separating, storing, freezing, etc. Notice I said ONCE! That wore me slap out. And on top of that I still had to go back to the dreaded store to pick up perishables that I couldn’t buy for the month like vegetables and fruit. That never happened again. But even recently, I can’t even get a weekly plan wrapped around my brain. It seems that I am living day-by-day dousing the flames of the biggest fire of the hour which usually puts scrambling for dinner ideas for that night and school lunches for the next day in the afternoon flames.  I mean, as a mom, there is ALWAYS something when you have three kids, a husband, a dog, a household to run, work, laundry….LAUNDRY… Child #2 forgot something at home that he needs for school while Child #3 mentions last-minute school project needs…the list goes on and on. I need about four more daylight hours to get things done! It’s at times mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting!  Often, deep sighs resonate from my mouth that I’m often not even aware are happening until my husband asks, “What’s wrong?” 

Me: “What do you mean?” 

Him: “You just sighed really hard.” 

Me: “I did?” 

But on this particular day dragging my fire hose, I entered the line to check out before running home and throwing a meal together and ran into a friend that I haven’t seen in a long while. We exchanged cordials: 

Her: “How are you?” 

Me: “I’m great but just been super busy.”

Her: “I know, right?  Same here.” 

That’s not verbatim, but it went similar. Then we spoke of our kids briefly as the sweet checkout lady scanned my friend’s groceries. We continued to chat in terms of the kids’ schedules and keeping up with them and how overwhelming it is at times, and then we said our goodbyes and good seeing you. At that point, the checkout lady engaged in conversation with me and spoke of (all with a positive and sympathetic tone) how she raised her children as a single mom and understands how stressful it can be, as well as overwhelming, when you find yourself needing to be in two places at the same time, like being at work and needing to bring the kids to school activities, with no help. When she finished and I paid, she said to me with genuine sincerity and empathy, “Have a good day and I really hope things get better for you soon.” And… it hit me! Did I make my life sound that bad? Do I really feel that way? Are things that overwhelming? It stopped me dead in my tracks and I looked back at her and all I could say was, “Thank you. Life is good!” 

I am not sure why those are the words I choose to reply with. Quiet honestly, a barrage of thoughts and emotions flooded my mind and heart all at once, and I truly felt that I spoke what I should be feeling, but I realized in that moment they were not the same. Why had I projected such discontent and frustration? I found myself at a loss for words. I am married with a husband who helps out and works hard to provide for us, three healthy and beautiful children who need a mom to do what moms are supposed to do, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, great friends and the luxury to be a stay-at-home mom.  What in the world do I have to complain about and why should I feel so overwhelmed? Are my feelings unjustified? Here is this sweet lady working as a cashier in a grocery store, a single mom who has had her share of heartache and trials with no one to share the burden with, and yet offers me words of condolence and encouragement. I had never felt more ashamed. I actually cried when I got in my car. Because you know what …Life IS good! I am not saying this based on material comparisons to her. I don’t know really anything beyond what she said in that five-minute conversation. I just know that she was the richer one! The precious jewels that she had amassed were from her attitude and gratitude and in her humility, the trinity for joy!   She probably could have shut me down quick and said, “Oh, suck it up sister and quit complaining!”  But she didn’t. Full of compassion, she expressed her heartfelt sentiments.  

So am I just a spoiled brat and never satisfied? My circumstances are real.  My challenges are tangible. I have a child or two with special needs, and that requires a bit more at times which is why I actually do not work. I have a couple of newer health issues that hold me back occasionally from being as productive as I would like, BUT…. when I count the things I have to be grateful for…it FAR outweighs the overwhelming components. This is where the trail ends…

You see, my epiphany in that moment before walking out the door was that truly Life is good! No matter what! Life, breath and the freedom we have to allow circumstances or trials to define us OR NOT is still a choice we own. And I was reminded while I was sitting in my car afterward of what my pastor recently said… that often our circumstances DO warrant or justify a bad day or season…but more times than not it’s our attitude about it that changes us…even when it can’t change our circumstances. We can be the victim or be the victor over our attitude despite our circumstances! 

This lady on this day at that moment was walking in victory despite anything that was happening or had happened to her or around her. She chose that day to be grateful and to fly higher than her circumstances. She was the victor and truly because of her attitude she impacted me! That’s where and when you see the fruit, joy and victory you can walk in despite the craziness…when you can say, “Don’t look at all of this surrounding us, just look at me. Hear what I am saying. It’s going to be okay…LIFE IS GOOD!”

The Gift of Life

By Crystal Tingle

Do you know what I see when I look around my home? I see an amazingly gifted songwriter who, as Barry Manilow put it best, writes the songs that make the whole world sing! I see a famous video game designer who has developed the next generation game play that no one ever thought possible, so futuristic! I also see a brilliant engineer who will design a smart home that self-protects against flooding and fires and theft, unable to be penetrated or destroyed by natural disaster or home invasion! I see possibilities! I see potential! But mostly, I see value! Not monetary value but rather value in simply who they are and were created to be! Their individuality. What they love to do! Their unique DNA. Their wonderful contribution to the world, their friends and family by just being them. Their priceless and irreplaceable value to me.  Yes, they are my three sons. And each of them is so very different from the other. Their unique expression of life and dreams is what I love …much like a fingerprint, they each have their own soul print, that one thing that no one else but them can mark this world with and every person they encounter! I don’t know if they will ever eventually be a famous musician, game designer or engineer but regardless, their immeasurable value to me is not what they do, it is distinctly who they are and what they bring to my life!

I’ve shared this before but it is worth repeating because it is so important that we allow this to sink into our very core. A dear friend of mine who at the time was healing from being a two-time cancer survivor spoke these words to me in the midst of her affliction: “Honey, if you had never lived, would anyone be affected? Make a difference that you have lived.”  I will admit at first hearing that seemed like so much pressure. What a huge weight to know that I MUST impact people to the point that if I never was, their lives would be less because I was never in it. Holy moly! But as I have gotten older and think often on what she said, I understand it differently than I did almost 33 years ago. 

Why? Because I see differently now. I see now that it isn’t about performing or excelling. It isn’t about solving the world’s problems or finding the cure for a disease. It isn’t about going to the best college or having the highest paid job. Making a difference is about our soul print! Just as unique as our fingerprint is, our soul print is all the more valuable! You see, our fingerprint identifies who we are individually but our soul print…well, that magnifies all the lives that have been touched and are being touched BECAUSE of your fingerprint…because you ARE.  You are daily marking this earth with a part of you…your soul print is everywhere…left behind at every place you visit and person you encounter. YOU are making a difference in someone else’s life whether you see it or not.  

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." -- HENRY DAVID THOREAU

I believe Thoreau’s words are saying that the image we might describe based on what our eyes observe is not necessarily what is in front of us. It’s what lies within us. What we believe to be truth about ourselves and our value and significance to others will determine the soul print we leave. It will determine what we see and how we see it. What do you believe about yourself? What lens do you see things from? Does your lens hold tight an image of just how valuable you are? If so, you will handle with care because you believe and know that you are a precious gift!  And all that you are is wrapped up waiting for someone to open so you can leave your soul print on his or her life.  They are waiting with joyful expectancy! 

But what I also believe and see is this. I see how our world has changed because of technology. I see the pressure put on our teenagers these days to perform and one-up another. I see the private lessons and the travel teams stealing time from our Norman Rockwell sit-around-the- kitchen-table days of old. I see social media measuring our worth based on a thumbs-up.  I see the low value we unconsciously are tagged with when we compare ourselves to smoothing filters and edited images. I see this pressure trying to steal our worth and our significance and our soul print! I see it desensitizing our youth and adults as well in the art of communication and real life. I see the lie that we sometimes believe as truth!  

I read this the other day and I thought it was so good. It reminded me of the recent hurricane, Nate, that came in as a tropical storm.  Well, Nate didn’t scare me in the least, but I admit when I was awakened by Nate’s presence at about 5am and looked out to see the trees in my backyard a little more bent over than I anticipated, it rattled me for a moment. Oh, we were fine and fared well, but it has been a while since we have weathered a big storm in this area and I had forgotten what 50 mph gusts looked like, much less if it had been even a CAT 1 hurricane or worse. But as I watched the tops of the trees bend, I also watched the base at the roots. They stood strong. So when I read this, I was moved: 

“Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don't see what goes on underground - as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don't see the roots. We just see and enjoy the beauty. In much the same way, what goes on inside of us is like the roots of a tree.” --Joyce Meyer

The value of that tree is in its roots! It’s what is on the inside regardless of what is happening on the outside. It doesn’t matter if it produces succulent fruit or a gumball. The value lies within and its ability to stand tall and recognize its significance and beauty. Nature depends on that tree.  Wildlife find safety and refuge and love in its boughs. And just like a tree, your roots, the valuable and unique things within you, leave a mark, an imprint that only you possess. Distinctly you! That is the fruit you bear. That is your soul print.  That is the amazing gift to the world of your life!  That is truth!

And in a world of thumbs-ups or smiling emojis or clicked hearts to “love,” you may not always see whom you make a difference to…. but they are there. Watching. Listening. Loving. Appreciating you! Embracing your soul print. It is just that simple. It is about being! Being you! All of you! Roots, fruit, gumballs … whatever! Just be you…the wonderful, unique, one-of-a-kind you! Billy Paul, who wrote many amazing songs, said this: “All my life, I wanted to sound like myself. I never wanted to sound like anybody else.” He didn’t say as much but he recognized his strong roots within, his unique soul print. And you have one too. You’re a precious gift and your value is priceless!  The point is …be you! Just be the remarkable unique beautiful one-of-a-kind you! Because we need the gift of your soul print in our lives!

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Art of the Heart

By Crystal Tingle

Have you ever been to a fine art gallery and appreciated the beauty and originality of what is before you? I have …but admittedly there are some pieces that I immediately loved and admired while there are others that I just didn’t get. But I can still say that I appreciated each simply because it is what was in the artists heart and inspiration to create whether I understood it completely or not.  It’s a one of a kind. A masterpiece that says something special…a message or language all it’s own. I have even stepped back a few feet to view from a different perspective or angle to see more, to understand…to know and hear what it is trying to convey so I could love it as much as the others. Sometimes it worked and sometimes not. But the beauty of the artwork and desire of the artist for it to be truly loved and appreciated is still there regardless of my perspective. 

“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” George Sand

Much like a painting, our hearts have a unique beauty and message…a language all it’s own. It’s telling a story to the beholder…a story of who I am and how to love me.  A story as unique and special as a fine piece of art…ready to be heard and truly loved by the one who holds it in their hand and is willing to listen.  I admit… I watched a lot of Hallmark channel at Christmas this year and as I as I watched I kept thinking about how fairytale these movies all seemed to be.  No couple lives this way. Can you imagine having the Hallmark life? I mean to be in love…AND to be truly loved in return or at least feeling that way?  And not just a little or kind of …but TRULY loved like the fine piece of art that is adored, appreciated, highly valued and understood.  But it just isn’t real beyond the honeymoon phase! Everyone knows it moves from bliss to blah, doesn’t it?  We blame it on lack of communication and understanding and then say, “that’s just how marriage is” right? Sure there are great moments and occasions but can anyone really be TRULY loved and understood?   I believe the answer is yes! Maybe not quite like Hallmark. Life does happen! But just like the art, each heart is speaking a love language that tells us a story …and it is up to us to figure out how to interpret.   

Have you ever heard the saying, “You are speaking my language”? There is much truth to that. I read a book several years ago that was so eye opening for me in my own marriage.  Yes, much to my families chagrin, I generally write from real life and tell stories on them and in an effort to always better my relationship with my husband and even my children, I read this book called The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It will forever stay on my list of highly recommended!  What really put everything into perspective for me was when he explained how we communicate best in our own native language.  Anyone who has traveled to another country understands how difficult it is to communicate when you don’t speak the native dialect.   It’s the same way with our hearts. He believes that there are 5 emotional languages that people speak and conversely how they receive and express love. 

 

  1. Words of Affirmation – You need to hear verbal words of encouragement, adoration or kindness and it’s just as important to you when your spouse to or in front of other people affirms you as well.  
  2. Acts of Service – You heart is full when your honey takes care of things for you. It could be cooking, doing the lawn, paying the bills or running an errand. The list is endless and personal to you but the energy, time and planning required by your spouse to do these things speaks volumes of love. 
  3. Receiving Gifts – You need visual symbols of love. You don’t always need purchased gifts. They can be found or made also and sometimes the gift of your spouse just being there is important as well.  
  4. Quality Time – This is not simply being around your spouse. You desire focused undistracted attention from them whether you are on a date, doing an activity together or simply having a conversation. 
  5. Physical Touch- More than words or gifts, you just need to literally feel your spouse is there. From a back rub to a hug to holding hands in public, you need their gentle touch to know that you are loved. 

This is of course a very abbreviated explanation of each language and some people may speak more than one but each person has a distinct primary that we must not only interpret but also learn to speak for a successful shot at truly loving one another. But often, just like with our native language, we try to speak “our” primary love language to our spouse instead of theirs. Thus, communication breaks down …bliss seems like it’s turning to blah…when in fact, that isn’t the case at all. It’s simply a language barrier. It means stepping back a few feet, seeing this masterpiece from a different angle and trying to understand what this fine art is saying. 

Learning each other’s love language, learning how to speak it and recognizing when your spouse is inadvertently speaking to you in their own instead of yours and extending grace in the moment will be key to unlocking the potential masterpiece of experiencing truly loving one another the way each receives it best.  I am not saying to you “do this, learn that” and then promising you the Hallmark life… but I do believe that only when you give your best to something, can you expect to get the best out! Happy translating! 

“Love is when the other person's happiness is more important than your own”. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 

Essentials For Life

By Crystal Tingle

It is hard to believe that another year has come and gone. I don’t know about you, but I must admit that 2015 was full of busy, packed with crazy and overflowing with all kinds of changes for me. Some of it was good and anticipated while other changes presented a bit of a challenge, a brain stretch of sort - learning to think differently about the things I already knew, such as the way I had always viewed health and fitness. I know that a fit body on the outside must start from a healthy body on the inside. I know that what you put into your mouth plays a more important role in many ways toward your external transformation than any exercise you do. I also know it takes both to achieve the best you, but just hear me out. Events from this year have really altered the way I view healthy living. I have realized that it must go well beyond what I have always known and been so passionate about…it is also understanding the role “wellness” plays in it all. I love the way McKinley Health Center defines wellness: “Wellness is a state of optimal well-being that is oriented toward maximizing an individual’s potential. This is a life-long process of moving towards enhancing your physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental well-being.” In other words, you can’t eat great, exercise 3-4 times a week and hold your claim on healthy.  The beyond is also looking at how much rest you get at night, learning to manage stress and anxiety that life creates, and realizing how environmental and traditional practices of western living impacts our overall well-being. This is just as important as the food you eat and your weekday workouts. 

Admittedly, evaluating the beyond for me was a bit daunting until I gave myself permission to take it slowly. It first meant acknowledging that to achieve an optimal state of wellness for not only me but my family as well, I had to open up and empty more cabinets. Knowing that our skin is actually the largest organ in our body and designed to absorb as well as secrete, I really began to dig deeper to look for more natural alternatives to the everyday things we use that contain potentially harmful synthetic and chemical compounds. It also became clear and essential that I not only open up the cleaning cabinet but the medicine cabinet as well. As I began my research, one common thread kept surfacing - essential oils! I have dabbled with a few in the past but I was honestly somewhat skeptical and thus never put a lot of energy into the research, but after putting in the long pushed aside time, what I found, I liked. What I read made sense!  And what I tried, I loved! Now I am certainly not claiming to be the expert yet but I will say I have been quite impressed and ready to learn more. These oils have so many useful applications that I cannot even begin to cover them all, but the reach extends from household cleaners to the shower and straight into the medicine cabinet. With each day, I am that much closer to “cleaning house” and it’s a good feeling. It’s a healthy feeling. But it is a process…and here are a few questions I had in the beginning of my process that hopefully helps you in yours! 

 “What are essential oils and what’s so great about them?”

Essential oils (EOs) are derived from the plant in its entirety. It’s an extraction of a highly concentrated pure liquid using the stems, flower, leaves, bark, roots, etc., using a distilling process usually by steam or water. For example, it takes about 75 lemons to extract enough oil for a 15 ml bottle. Or, look at it this way: one drop of peppermint EO is equal to about 28 cups of peppermint tea.  That’s pretty concentrated! 

The molecules within the oil are very small, making it easily absorbed by the skin. Depending on the oil used, it may work within our bodies to enhance our immune system, stimulate cell growth, aid in eliminating toxins, kill bacteria and viruses, and more. Because the FDA does not regulate EOs, few studies exist, but more and more are being released. EOs have been used medicinally for thousands of years. You’re familiar with the most famous historical story use of oils, right? The wise men’s gift of frankincense and myrrh. 

My next question was, “Where do I start?” 

EOs are not regulated nor are they created equal.  Because this industry lacks standardization, this is one area where you want to make sure you are buying therapeutic grade EOs.  Many companies, however, will make this claim, so go with a trusted source and buy from one that uses:

*  Indigenously grown plants free of chemicals and pesticides.

*  Plants harvested at the right time for peak properties.

*  Proper extraction to preserve the molecules in the oil.

*  Third party testers to ensure quality and integrity. 

“How do I use them?”

EOs can be used aromatically, topically or internally. Make sure you read up on the oils you decide to try. Some can be used all three ways while others are only meant to be used topically and may require dilution. Still others should not be used on children or pregnant women. Read! Read! Read! If you are uncertain, I can refer you to people I consider experts in EOs to answer your questions and help you.

And finally, “Which ones should I buy first?”

This part can be overwhelming since there are hundreds of EOs and blends available. So if you are just starting out, I would recommend these five: 

Lemon

Since this oil has antibacterial properties and a great fresh smell, I dilute it and use it as a household cleaner and disinfectant. Lemon also has antihistamine and antiviral properties as well as being a great natural detox, which benefits our digestive track and can aid in reducing inflammation in our bodies. It’s a must!

Additional uses: breath freshener, add to shampoo for dandruff, anxiety.

Lavender

This is my favorite. Lavender is most known for its calming and relaxing properties. As much as my mind is aware of the need for adequate sleep, my body does not always comply. I have often had to use OTC methods to help me shut down and get rest. However, since I began using this oil, I have not had the need for sleep aids. My children even come to me for their nightly dose as it stays right near my bed. I apply it topically as well as dilute and spritz it over my pillow and bedding. Lavender also smells amazing and is known to aid in easing muscle tension and stress. So add some to your diffuser and let it work throughout your house.

Additional uses: skin rashes and acne, insect bites, minor burns and cuts, laundry freshener (a drop or two in the washer).

Peppermint

I have been a long-time believer of peppermint in moments of nausea or upset stomach or other digestive issues. In the past it has been chewing a piece of gum or sucking on a piece of candy. Since I have started using EOs, my peppermint oil is a favorite second only to my lavender! This is not only for the reasons above but also for alertness, which I have used on many occasions. I simply apply it topically to my temples or put a drop in my mouth and it’s invigorating! It’s a great breath freshener as well. 

Frankincense

Every morning I put a drop of this oil under my tongue. It doesn’t have the best taste but its medicinal value is undisputed.  Because it promotes cellular health throughout our body, it supports and helps to maintain a healthy immune system. This is an important catalyst in overall wellness. 

Eucalyptus

 This oil is a great addition to the family wellness stash especially in the colder months when colds, sinus infections and asthma attacks seem to be at an all-time high. Eucalyptus is used to support respiratory health including chest congestion and asthma attacks and clears breathing. It also has antibacterial properties so it can be used as a spray or cleaner for germs and odors. 

Now you have it…my fabulous five to help get you started. I know that EOs are not a fix for everything but they have certainly been a very welcome and useful addition to my home in ways I can’t even count! The very idea that I am using something so natural is refreshing.

So when you sit down this month and begin to set your New Year’s resolutions for 2016 that will most certainly include being healthier in some way, the bottom line is essentially this: Reach beyond what you have always thought healthy living to be and consider including a well-balanced approach to optimal wellness, which as we have read by now…is essential for life! 

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Checked in for the Holidays

By Crystal Tingle

Just when I thought I wasn’t one of “those” people who always has their nose in cyber world, checked out of reality, I realized rather abruptly that I was deceiving myself. It happened one evening as I was winding down and my sweet little eight-year-old chatterbox was not.  As I scrolled through social media, he was telling me one of his precious “endless” stories from his overactive imagination. “What would you do if I had hair so long it could wrap around a human and it could grow? It would wrap around them like Spider-Man’s web…kind of like a sneak attack. You know how he grabs them up and wraps his web around them, but it would be hair.”  I robotically replied, “Oh wow, that’s great my love…that would be something!” With one raised eyebrow that has become his signature look in our family and his little half-cocked droopy lip that he does, he said with a sigh, ”You aren’t listening to me. You are always on your phone!” 

Is this true? Could this be me? I know better. I mean, I can justify my behavior, for Pete’s sake! I have to use social media because of my business. It is how you drive traffic to your website, right? It is an integral, indispensable part of the cyber business world! Or is it? Yes, it is true it is important when you are striving for top rankings and driving traffic, but there is also this other “cyber social world” phenomenon called “checking in” that we might want to redefine. 

You have seen it…so-and-so just checked in to ABC Restaurant, or so-and-so just checked in to XYZ Gym.  I personally don’t do this, with the exception of a few favorite stores that offer me a discount if I do. But still, it got me thinking…how can we be so checked in when it comes to the wood, hay and straw of this world that will burn away, but be so checked out from the treasure that will last forever, our family? I stepped back to take an honest look at myself to evaluate how  “checked in” I really am with my family.

I am not writing this as one who is fully checked in. Trust me; I am walking through this myself but I want to do better. I want to use this holiday season to be not only “plugged in” but also truly “checked in” with my loved ones. I am hoping that if I can be somewhat successful with this through the business of the holidays, then I will be able to carry this over into those just ordinary days year round.  I want them to know in those moments of time that matter to them, whether it’ s a school performance, a conversation about a new crush, a fictional story about “what if” from an 8-year-old or a great day at work for my husband, I want them to know that in that moment of time, they have my undivided attention!  

The hardest part of this all was the self discovery that what I truly believed I was already doing I, in fact, fell short by miles! How many times have I said to one of my boys as they were trying to tell me something, “Keep talking but walk with me over here” as I tried to maximize these moments by tackling a load of clothes or emptying the dishwasher while I listened, or worse…checked email or social media?  Does this sound familiar? I challenge you to become keenly aware when you are in those moments to take note. 

Try sitting with one of your children who really DOES want to talk to you (mothers of teens know what I mean) and try to stay focused on them and them alone.  Watch where your mind wonders while they are talking. Watch where your eyes roam. Watch your body posture if you can even sit still long enough to not grab your phone or tackle that pile of clothes that you see as an opportunity while you are listening.   You will be shocked! When we really become self aware of what we do, we realize how short we actually fall in giving our spouse and children the honor, respect and value they deserve.

I don’t have a five-point how-to list to help with being better at “checking in” with your loved ones, but I do have homework for you. The next moment the opportunity presents itself and one of your children want to chat, say this to them before allowing them to continue: “You are so incredibly important and special to me and you deserve my undivided attention in this moment.”  Why? Because what this does, secondly, after you have first officially freaked them out, is hold you accountable for following through with the value you have just placed on them.  Consider your public admission of intent to them the same as your social media check-in button. Once it’s clicked, you have officially entered the building!  And more importantly, everyone knows where to FIND you, especially your family…checked in to hear their heart and treat them like the valuable treasure they are!

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What the HEC are you eating!

By Crystal Tingle

Here we are again! Yep, we have all done it. In fact, most of us do it year after year! We eat like a bear for three months as if preparing for hibernation, and then January rolls around and the revelation hits that in just a very short time those of us living On the Coast will soon be baring it all, well, at least baring more than what our comfy leggings and big sweaters have been able to hide. Swimsuits and shorts aren’t as forgiving.  We cut calories, junk and all the cocktails and hit the gym with a vengeance. Our bodies and hormones are hanging on for dear life, kicking into “fight or flight” mode, sabotaging our weight loss goals, at least for most of us. 

Some people can play this out with ease, quickly shedding the extra 10-15 lbs and prance through the summer looking fantastic. You hate them, right? Not really, but you want to. But you wonder why it is so difficult for you? Why can’t you stick to the plan, get to the gym and just shed the pounds like they do?

First of all, stop beating yourself up! You may think it’s because you lack discipline when you “fall off the dieting wagon.”  You’ve planned this out perfectly. Vision board, check! Pump-me-up gym music, check! A fridge full of healthy fruits, veggies and lean proteins - check!  Ready to go! You start carb-free or very low-carb since they are supposedly the culprits, right? But your energy is down. You feel weak and fatigued. Just no get-up-and-go.

Or you’ve taken away your favorite comfort foods. Salty chips and dips, gone! Ice cream and cookies, gone! Because after all, you CAN do this! You know you can.  It’s only for a couple of months till you lose the extra fluff, right?  Suddenly you can’t even function because you’re craving your woobie snack and it’s all you can think about! And then there’s the pantry raid!

Or maybe you are just flat-out starving…about ready to gnaw your left hand off. You have cut your calories down because the high-calorie cheese and crackers and rich casseroles aren’t on the plan, but a small piece of chicken and a leaf of lettuce just aren’t filling you up. 

Do these scenarios sound familiar? Here is what is going on. 

CortisolThis eating cycle of winter gorging and reduced activity level and then doing a 180-degree of severe calorie reduction and “two-a-days” at the gym have wreaked havoc on your hormones.  Hormones are messengers to the body telling it to act in a certain way based on the condition or circumstance it finds itself in, bad or good, fight or flight. Cortisol is the one that is blamed the most, but ALL your hormones act together and must be in balance to affect the most efficient metabolism for a healthy body.  If they aren’t, weight loss becomes very difficult despite your best efforts, and these out-of-whack hormones can create certain symptoms that can derail you. In order to prevent this and lose weight, you have to be able to control these hormones, and we do this by controlling our hunger, energy and cravings…or HEC. Any one of these could be the problem, but because hunger can sometimes look like low energy and cravings, we always want to start with that one.

So what’s the first step? Well, each person has their own blueprint, and unfortunately there is no cookie-cutter solution, but paramount to success is making sure your food plan has a good balance of lean proteins, fruits and veggies, and the right amount of carbs and healthy fats. You must also watch sodium intake and drink lots of water.

Another huge component is eliminating stress as much as you can. Daily life breeds enough of this and meditation along with exercise can help in this area. But the added stress and pressure of trying so hard to get back in shape can be largely reduced with a successful day on your plan. By this I mean going through each day and laying your head on the pillow at night and saying, “I did it!” And doing it without intense cravings and hunger and yet full of energy. That’s success. That’s managing what the HEC you are eating. So here are a few ways to create that successful day…day after day after day.  

If you have been fighting hunger each day, step 1 is to add more protein, veggies and water to your meals. If that doesn’t do the trick, step 2 would be to add more fiber. I use an unflavored organic brand and add it to my water or tea. Step 3 would be to eliminate artificial sweeteners as these are proven to increase feelings of hunger. IF needed, step 4 would be to add in a couple of extra bites of a complex carb to one or more of your meals. You might find that your body can utilize more carbohydrates than you think. 

If cravings are the recurring problem, try step 1. You want to make sure that it is not really hunger you are dealing with. If you are still struggling, step 2 would be to try a few things like unsweetened cocoa, BCAAs (branched chain amino acids - I buy as a powder and add to my water) or green tea. Studies show all three help to balance the chemicals in our brain thereby reducing or minimizing cravings. Step 3 would be to increase exercise time…maybe add in a walk or a bike ride in the afternoon, but don’t overdo cardio. Strength training trumps straight cardio every time!

Low energy? Again, repeat step 1.  Low energy could be because you are not taking in enough nutrients or energy (food) to fuel your body. Step 2 would be eating more often like every 2 hours instead of every 3-4 hours. Step 3 if needed would be to add unsweetened cocoa. In addition to it aiding in reducing cravings, it is also known to contain properties that elevate mood and serve as an antidepressant.  That should give you a skip in your step or at least a smile on your face!

 

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Manners Do Matter

By Crystal Tingle

So, this is our social life with other families when our children are included:

Do you hear them? The crickets I mean. That’s because there ARE NO social outings or dinner parties with them!  Or at a maximum, it’s minimal.  You know, only when required and with LOTS of pre-game coaching!  Why? Because we fear them! We live with them! We know them! How they eat! How they fight! Eye contact and handshakes?  Whattttt??? Scary!

So, it goes like this.

“Did you explain to the kids to be sociable? They are to come out of their rooms and hang out. You told them that, right? And did you tell them to say hello to everyone and ask how they are doing and make eye contact? And did you tell them to not stay on the X-Box the whole time…I mean, they need to go outside and hang also, right? And they know to not pick up their salad with their fingers, right?”

I am sharing this personal information only because I KNOW I am not the only one who feels that way. You know who you are! Although, I do meet the occasional child or teen and I think to myself, “Wow! What a well-mannered, well-spoken young person.” And when I compliment the parents, they look at me like a deer caught in the headlights and respond,  “My child?” That makes me chuckle. 

But as progressive as our world has gotten, good manners should always be a constant, especially if you live in the South.  And despite my present-tense rendition above, my husband and I did recently enroll our older two boys in an etiquette class for middle and high school youth hosted by the National League of Junior Cotillions because, well, we felt that maybe if someone else taught them, they would comply and become somewhat presentable.  The classes were held once a month on Sunday afternoons throughout the school year for an hour and a half each class, making it easy and minimal to position into already-busy schedules. 

But, according to them, they loathed every minute of it. They were required to dress in khaki pants, a dark jacket, a tie and dress shoes. I mean, really? The atrocity of having to wear such formal clothing! This makes me chuckle. I remember a time when shorts and jeans were never allowed in proper settings such as church or a dance. I had to wear a nice dress with pantyhose and white or black patent leather shoes!  Do we still even call them pantyhose anymore? Can you even still buy them? It’s so funny to me that this generation thinks a pair of dark-colored jeans with no holes is considered dressing up. The young ladies were required to attend with appropriate dress as well, but they didn’t seem to mind as much. 

But, despite the flack we got after each class, they enjoyed it! I know this how? Because the director of our cotillion did a very smart thing.  She required the parents to attend and volunteer at least once during the course of the classes. This was brilliant because we got to actually see that they weren’t being whipped into shape with a cane pole. What I saw looked completely different from the horrific story we were fed from the unified front of our two older offspring. As you would expect, the girls were all in, poised, excited and dressed to the nines and looking rather beautiful.  The boys sort of scuffled in, fixing their ties and tucking their shirts, but once it began, they were just as present as the girls, although they wouldn’t admit it.  

The class was structured to cover a variety of “appropriates” and “how-to's” at the beginning, and always ended with dance instruction from the fox trot to line dancing. I mean, who doesn’t like to line dance? Proper greetings were demonstrated, from the ordinary encounter to those of more distinguished title, authority and position, and then put into practice by the students.  Dining etiquette from a casual restaurant to a five-course meal was also taught and applied when the class ventured outside the normal meeting room to a formal restaurant and the symphony afterward.  Other appropriates such as proper handshakes and good eye contact were taught as well.  It was a very well-rounded program and all looked like they had fun throughout.  I think boys just innately have to “appear” to be disinterested in matters of manners. It must be like a “guy-code.” Despite any admissions or omissions from them, the classes were invaluable and priceless yet very affordable to all, with the purpose and intent to recapture the lost charm of manners and proper etiquette. 

So, if you have felt my pain, or even if you have a teen who doesn’t need a complete overhaul but simply a tweak here and there, I encourage you to look into one of the cotillion or etiquette classes offered along the Emerald Coast. We attended the NLJC directed by Joan Freeman because it was close to home and came highly recommended. There is another cotillion that came just as highly recommended for middle and high school instruction of etiquette and has been around for quite some time, Blue Ribbon Cotillion directed by Lucy Knight. Her program structure and meeting days/times are very similar to the one we attended, except her classes are held off of Okaloosa Island if that location is a better option for you.  You might even be an adult looking to improve your social skills for promotion or advancement at work or in relationships.  It is NEVER too late! Allyson Gordon with Ladies and Gentlemen Etiquette Classes provides an adult program containing the "50 dos and don’ts of proper etiquette” in everyday life, as well as business etiquette tips from dining to dressing. So essentially there is something for everyone and an excuse for no one! Manners do matter on the Emerald Coast and should never go out of style, regardless of whether our jeans do or not. 

I seek constantly to improve my manners and graces, for they are the sugar to which all are attracted.” 

“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” Fred Astaire

“Once I said to my mother: 'You would be happy if I just kept well-dressed and had good manners,' and she said: 'What else is there?'”Cy Twombly

 

The Traveling Toothbrush

By Crystal Tingle

Several years ago my oldest son had a sleepover at a friend’s house. As is usually the norm with my children, everything that goes doesn’t equal everything that comes back. This time it was his toothbrush. As I recall, they were going to drop it off the next morning on their way out for their family vacation. Either they forgot or ran out of time but regardless, the toothbrush went with them. And if I may say, that toothbrush became the highlight of their trip. Throughout their time away, they sent the funniest photo op pics next to monuments, state signs, fountains, you name it, and all had the toothbrush in the picture with them. Now, I am not sure who in that family came up with the idea or even why, but I thought it was brilliant and hysterical. Instead of fighting to get family pics as most moms do, the kids were engaged and they began looking for crazy ways and places to take photos with this toothbrush.  

So I got to thinking about my family and other families in general. I don’t know about you, but for us, it is hard enough just to drive to church on a Sunday without our kiddos’ noses buried in a phone or iPad.  Planning a vacation that all ages will enjoy and be engaged and present in…well, it’s almost impossible. We have all tried! We spend countless hours planning and researching. Gobs of money is spent and high hopes and high expectations of how fabulous this trip is going to be is pondered; not to mention the dream of how everyone will reconnect and bond as a family, returning changed and refreshed. Nope! Never happens that way for us! I mean they aren’t disastrous trips, just not how we thought they would be. In addition, does this sound familiar to anyone? “You have reached 100% of your allowed data limit. You will be charged for any additional overage.” Yep! That is because everyone  is on their devices using data since no WiFi  hot spots can be found. 

Now I am not trying to reinvent the wheel of vacationing, but rather adopting the adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” We live in a high-tech world that is only going higher-tech from here, so as parents we need to work and plan smarter, not harder. Smart vacationing involves being creative and to me, “the toothbrush” was ridiculously simple and extremely creative. 

 

Maybe you are planning an amazing long-awaited European vacation or a magical trip to Disneyworld. You may even just be doing a stay-cation On the Coast since we live on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Whatever you have planned, plan smarter and make this the “Summer to Remember” - and have the pictures and fun memories to prove it! 

Here are a few ideas to engage your kids and “join ‘em” in the fun:
 

   1.     Find YOUR family’s “traveling toothbrush.” Decide on an inanimate   object like a toothbrush or something else that is so completely random. Make a game of who can come up the most creative way to include the object in the trip and document it with pictures; for example, riding the roller coaster with it or giving the object its own seat at the restaurant. The object will begin to come alive for the family as the children use their imaginations.  You might even want to name it. 

2.       Create your own Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley is an old children’s book about a boy that learned to live life in paper-thin form after being flattened by a fallen bookcase.  Use poster paper or cardboard from an old box and craft your shape while involving the kids. Maybe your Flat Stanley is a pet that can’t go on the trip or a friend they are leaving behind. Maybe your cardboard creation is a favored superhero or an actor or singer they follow. Include it just as you would in #1. 

3.       Plan a scavenger hunt. Before leaving, have everyone make a list of random items or places to find and take a picture with as many items as possible over the course of the trip. This might ensue the children to Google special landmarks or activities native to your destination. Make it a learning experience that catches them by surprise. See who can identify the object first and keep score but more importantly, take a family pic alongside the object or place.

4.       Play a selfie war. If you have tweeners or teens, they are most likely texting constantly or using social media to stay connected with friends back home.  So again, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Have them take a selfie with something unique to that trip and challenge their friends to find the same (or as close to the same) background as possible and take a pic as well.  This will engage them to be aware of the sights around them in attempt to outdo the next challenge. 

5.       Set up a family hash-tag.  This is a hash-tag that you and your family can all tag your photos and videos with, like “#tinglesummer2015.” That way, as you’re posting on various social media sites and sharing with friends, you’re also creating a digital scrapbook of your family’s various experiences that all of you can  go over and perhaps print. This can include the photos’ descriptions and comments, creating a real, physical scrapbook that can also preserve your memories for years to come in a tangible way.

By incorporating any of these ideas into your family vacation, gone will be the photos of scowling faces or missing family members… instead you’ll have so many memorable photos full of laughter and fun, it will be hard to choose your favorites!

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