Monday, September 24, 2018

A Dose of Humility or Two




Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, 
"If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me."
Mk 9:35-37

Today at Mass, one of our deacons, Deacon Gene, gave the homily. He started off by asking, "If I asked you to raise your hand if you are a humble person...," he paused as everyone began laughing. The irony was clear. Would anyone raise their hand? Would anyone truly humble raise their hand? The gospel story that we Catholic Christians around the world read today was the story about the disciples arguing about who was the greatest and who were then told that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Deacon Gene gave some beautiful examples in his life where he felt humbled.

I actually have been dwelling lately on how I can do a better job at being humble. It has been on my mind quite a bit.  How is it, that we achieve true humility?  It seems there can be a difficult balance be humble instead of arrogant, yet still maintaining self confidence, but also recognizing that being humble does not mean lacking self confidence or thinking self-destructively.   Arrogance is obviously the opposite of the goal we wish to achieve in humility and not the quality we want to possess or  demonstrate.  On the other hand, does being humble mean that we should think of ourselves as nothing or unimportant? This can present a challenge. How do we show self confidence, yet, come across to others as humble? I think this is especially challenging when we are conversing through social media, emails, texts and other forms of technology where we lack the tone of voice, the inflection and facial expressions. It is something I am far from mastering.

As I was sitting there with my children at St. Francis, listening to Deacon Gene, I recalled two life experiences that really humbled me. I thought they were worth remembering.

Humility Lesson Number 1
The first lesson begins back in my treasured days of marching band. I have wonderful memories of that time.  I remember the first year I began marching when we were outside in the beginning of August during summer band. We spent the early morning and late evening out there doing marching practice. It was hard work, and despite being out there during the cooler times of the day, it was hot, but the work out and the challenge felt good. We were tired, but we were making progress! We were doing great! Not like the flute players, who were periodically going to sit down because they had head aches or were feeling overheated.  Look at the flutes, we would mutter to each other. Sitting down again. What is up with that? I mean, I know they have to hold up an arm and all to play while marching but really, is it that bad? We assumed we were just tougher. That was when I was a clarinet player. I later switched to percussion and was proud that I could carry a drum and still succeed in marching. And without sitting down in practice!

Flash forward a few years later to my senior year of college. I was working on my bachelors in music therapy. One of my required classes was woodwinds. I was excited. I had really wanted to learn learn how to play other woodwinds instruments. We would get to learn three different ones. I already had experience playing clarinet so I got to learn Oboe, Saxophone and Flute. The first two were not too difficult to pick up since I had the experience with another reed instrument. I really enjoyed learning them.

Towards the end of the semester though it was time to switch to flute. We excitedly got our new assigned instruments, took them out of the cases, got a few instructions on embouchure, and began to try them out. After getting the hang of it on just the mouth piece, we put them together with the full instrument. I blew into the silver pipe, trying to make a sound. I continued several tries more as I finally started to figure out how to make that air into a flute sound. I took a breath and then quickly sat back as I was overcome with light headedness. Oh my word was it hard. I tried again and again with the same result of having to sit back and wait until my head cleared. I continued throughout that class struggling still, periodically sitting back in my chair to rest.  This continued into the next few classes!  The instructor piped up (no pun intended) at some point and said, "Oh yes, the resistance of a flute is equal to that of a tuba."  Well that explains it. Seriously? This was tough! And then I remembered the flutes in the marching band. Oh man, were we hard on them. The difficulties of making beautiful sounds on a flute paired with a marching workout plus the summer heat. Had I been a flute player, I may have likely been sitting out with them. Oh boy. A little lesson in humility right there. Had I sought to understand before speaking, maybe we would have been a little more compassionate.

Humility Lesson Number 2
My next example of humility is my experience learning to parent our children. Before I had my own children, I was under the assumption that in the nurture vs nature debate, kids personality and behavior was more heavily weighed by nurture. We talked a lot about that in my psychology classes in college. I had figured that like 20ish % was nature. Maybe less.

And then I had kids.

I started babysitting when I was about 12 and I worked in our church nursery in college. I also got to watch family members raise their own kids. That and my cognitive behavioral studies in music therapy led me to my original belief.

I'm not even sure where to begin with my change of heart. First kid, Zac, I discovered that I couldn't force him to like a particular activity no matter how much or early I exposed him to it. Some of that maybe helped influence a little but not over all. 2nd kid, Adelyn was just different from Zac in so many ways of course, physically, and in her personality. They picked up different skills at different rates and responded to behavior modification differently. Zac was in time out quite a bit as a young pre-schooler and Adelyn only occasionally. She was quicker to admit mistakes or just responded to a hug.  Zac didn't like to play by himself that much but Adelyn could entertain herself for quite a while. Zac picked up sports in no time at all and Adelyn took a little longer to get the hang of them. Zac could follow his morning routine on his own, getting himself ready and making his own lunch by 2nd grade. Adelyn was distracted and still needed help from me and her velcro charts at that age.

So at this point my mind had changed. Maybe I increased the nature percentage to...oh, say 30-35%
hahahaha

Aside from the nurture vs nature, after having 2 kids, I had my opinions on the best methods for this, that, and the other. Sleeping, removing unwanted behaviors, getting kids to sit in the shopping carts etc.

Cue, 3rd kid Lincoln

Lincoln is a sweet boy who loves physical touch. He always wants to be attached to me somehow. He often drags his chair right next to mine at the table so that our chairs are connected. He would always hold on to my hair as a baby and toddler for comfort. Now he just asks, "Mommy, can I touch your hair?" 

He is also a very stubborn boy. And I thought my first one was stubborn. Let's start with sleep.

In the hospital, I decided I needed sleep so he came in the bed with me after I did my best to make the bed as safe as possible for him. Some people are quick to think that the problems after that were a result. I'm telling you. He had problems to begin with and that's why he ended up in the bed.

As a newborn when he moved into a deeper sleep he would twitch as often we do as humans, but he would jerk himself awake as that happened! As I observed this I was freaking out in my mind. How would he learn to put himself to sleep? I knew anxiety was present. Fortunately, I just had to lay my hands on him until he moved into deeper sleep. But he also, was struggling to put himself to sleep or go to sleep quickly once he was past 2 months old when our doc said babies could developmentally learn to go to sleep on their own in their bed. The Baby Whisperer technique of patting his back and making sushing sounds worked for 7 months.  I would roll him on his side and shush and pat his back and then lay him on his back when he was asleep. The book they couldn't hold more than 2 thoughts in their head at the same time. Once he started crawling and gaining more and more control over body movements, that didn't work anymore. I had every other mom I talked to hint to me that he just needed to cry it out. Well, crying for over an hour and not going to sleep wasn't going to fly with me. He worked himself up so much it took almost as long to calm his anxiety down after. I didn't try that anymore after a few times. The other kids would whine 20 or 30 minutes tops and go to sleep. Not this guy. This kid not only would not go to sleep on his own, he took forever to go to sleep if I rocked him. At least 30 minutes. I was never ever an advocate of sleeping in the bed with us but the he ended up with us a lot. I spend a lot of my life putting this kid to bed for almost 2 years.

My sweet boy, was indeed sweet, but his stubbornness spilled over at the grocery store too. I taught the other kids to sit in the cart around 7 or 8 months. Lincoln? Nope. Tears tears tears. Grabbing mommy all shopping trip long. And it never got better. Fine, I would wear him. I would at least try each time to sit him in the cart as he got older. I tried to involve him in the shopping trip like the other kids. That wore off past the produce and then he would wiggle out of the straps on the tightest setting and launch himself onto me. This included rides in the car cart. I think that worked for 1 or 2 trips. And then it was history. He would want one every time we would go and then not even halfway through he wanted me to hold him. Really? Well, can I ride in the car cart?

I wore him in the Ergo until he was almost 2 and then said, "I can't carry you anymore." He wanted to walk or ride on the side. And then halfway through the trip he wanted me to carry him. At some point, a mom is exhausted and the customers don't want to hear your toddler crying through half the store just because you want him to learn that he can't have his way. He eventually got better and would follow instructions, holding onto the cart while he walked. Now the challenge is teaching him to stay by the cart and hold on. Buddy bucks at HEB are a reward for following directions but that is still a struggle besides all reward and positive praise efforts.

Those are just two examples. And even with those two alone, I look at what I believed about myself and children and I am indeed, very humbled. Lincoln was a gift to me because he is my son, but God had a lesson for me there. I needed a little humility in my life. To anyone that I may have given my opinions before, I owe many apologies. We should be quick to understand, listen, and imagine a place in their shoes before we assume and speak. That seems obvious, but it is much harder to put in to practice.

So I don't know what my belief is on the nurture vs nature debate exactly now. But I do know, that nature plays an enormous part in a child's personality. As he knit us in our mother's womb, he knitted some traits that are a part of us throughout our life. We shouldn't say that we can't become a better person or fix mistakes.  We can use gifts like stubbornness to do great things. I'm hoping some stubborn parents can help us get more recess for the kids. :)

Deacon Gene shared a story about truly seeing Jesus in a kid with cerebral palsy in central America as he was serving on a Food For the Poor team.  He had almost nothing in the home he was in, but he looked at this child who was laying on the floor to get some exercise out of his bed and he smiled an amazing, genuine smile at Deacon Gene as he talked to him.

Those stories make me stop and pause. Life is too short to be prideful. We want to be appreciated but we can strive to receive that in humility. Our Lady, was the greatest women in the world and yet, she graciously stood in the background, humble.

Beloved:
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
James 3:16






Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Tridduum 2018


Yesterday was Easter.  It was a beautiful Easter day. For our family, it was a "real" day with "real" moments and where I put a "real" post on my family photo sharing.  Sometimes on blogs you see all kinds of posts with neat ideas, great tips, knowledge worth sharing and other cool stuff.  Just like on social media, we sometimes forget that online posts do not always share the real stuff that happens outside of the positive stuff we see online, but everyone has those "real" moments where things do not go perfectly.  I am sure it is not typically intended that way, but just a result of sharing the positive and fun moments of our lives with others. 

But yesterday, the Miller family had a "real" Easter morning which I shared with our family.

"Well, this morning we were still trying to get food in the crockpot 2 minutes before leaving the house for church (including the browning meat, spices, sauces and veggies. Veggies did not make the cut before church), we forgot Lincoln's shoes (because he was refusing to get dressed and only made it to the car seat with a shirt and diaper on), Lincoln made it through the greeting at Mass before Scott had to take him out (and they never returned), after Mass Lincoln grabbed Adelyn's Squeeze-It drink she had brought from her Easter basket and it spilled all over his white church shirt, and on the way home people in the car had a hard time remembering to not say things that are not kind, necessary, and helpful...but the joy today helped us to laugh and I know we are so blessed.  Happy Easter to everyone.  Jesus is risen and we have life."  

It was a morning yesterday when one thing after another was frustrating and/or going wrong, but for some reason yesterday I was able to feel the joy of Easter and just laugh at all of this with Scott as we were driving home.  In fact one child accused me of laughing at them in this moment. 

I am not always able to see the positive.  Some moments I know that I should be excited or happy because of whatever the event, you know such as Christmas Eve, but sometimes that stress just takes me over and I am grumpy central.  Yesterday I was blessed and fortunate to be able to enjoy the day anyone and find all of these irritations funny in the end.  I had been thinking a lot about the preparation for Easter and in the story of Easter, Jesus, the gifts he gave us on Holy Thursday, all he went through and suffered following the Last Supper until death, his compassion, and his immense love for us.  I was also thinking of how joy filled the disciples must have felt on Easter discovering the truth. I think the little things we do in the house together as a family help me get into the spirit and mood just as the Christmas decorations, advent candles and calendar do in the season of advent (if only the holidays were not crazy days in December). I guess these things altogether reminded me that in the end, I have an amazing gift of family in my husband, children, and each of our families on each side, we have a great place to live, we have food on the table, Jesus rose from the dead and saved us all, and we have life.  I hope that all of these things continue to impact us in this way during future Easters, but also throughout other moments of the year.  

Here's to real life, imperfect humans, forgiveness, and life! God's joy and peace fill us all this Easter season! 




Holy Thursday celebration of the Last Supper (a day early because we had events out of our control in the afternoon on Thursday). 


Sampling the bread before the Holy Thursday meal. 

Waiting, waiting, waiting for everyone to get to the table so we can start!!

Finally! Eating!

Family service and doing what Jesus has done for us. Lincoln not knowing exactly what was going on, saw his sister getting her feet washed by Dad so he hurried over to join in the fun!

Adelyn enjoying the water and Lincoln patiently waiting. As patient as a 2 yr old gets.


Egg dyeing on Friday. Lincoln's first time to try this!

This is way too much fun! Look at my colorful hands!

Palm Sunday and Good Friday decor up. Baskets are ready! Forgot to photograph our stations of the cross in the backyard with the baskets collecting from each station. Decor ideas from our church parish and Pinterest of course!

Our scripture snack.  
Got this great idea from http://www.catholicicing.com/lenten-activities-for-children/

Happy Easter!  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spring,Lent,Starting Over...Renewal




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"You can't see plants growing-unless you speed up a film-but you know that they do. Each day tiny changes take place. It's the same with your life." --Author Unknown




It was a little over a week ago, that I opened our backdoor and stepped out into a lovely afternoon of spring sunshine and weather. The air was the perfect, comfortable temperature.  There was no pressure of the beating heat or bitter cold on my skin.  It felt light with the wind just barely sweeping past.  In south Texas we hope for many spring days like this one, but one never knows in this area as is the case in other parts of Texas, Louisiana, and much of the south. 

I took in the beauty of the day as I proceeded with the spring gardening and seed planting preparation. I love this time of the year when we have the opportunity to do this preparation of the coming of spring.  The sound and feel of the hoe chopping up and mixing the hard dirt making it soft,  the refreshing feel of the water being sprinkled from the hose, digging into that dirt and feeling it between your fingers especially when it's moist, taking in the smell of fresh dirt and grass, and hearing the birds and creatures of nature singing along as you work. Our orange tree this year has more blossoms on it than we have seen since living here and the sweet smell fills the air around you when standing near.  My daughter has her own garden this year (because that's what she has to do before she is allowed to get her own fish) and you can see new little sprouts of green as the new little stems have pushed their way through the dirt. The Fig, Pomegranate, and Crepe Myrtle trees have begun growing new leaves. (Of course, the Oak leaves are just now falling off leaving much of the yard covered in little bits of brown that we hire neighborhood kids to come and deal with which they rake non-stop...not that they care. Who doesn't love a hug pile of leaves)?

 Anyhow, I find it very refreshing and therapeutic.  I have several aunts who have said it is their own form of therapy in their homes. I have to agree. In moments where I feel I need to take a moment of quiet or let go of the noise and mess that life can bring, taking a moment to go work in the yard of even walk in the yard helps to put me back in a state of thinking more clearly and peace. Even if I have to make myself get out there. 

Spring is a time of starting over. New life begins. The plants and trees start over in a new cycle of growth. New chances are in store and a new day can be made. It is no coincidence that lent begins towards the end of winter usually, and leads into the beginning of spring (or at least down in South Texas that is usually the case).  

Lent is just that.  A time to start over. A time for new growth. A time to stop and reflect on how we can become a better version of ourselves. What habits do we have that are worth changing? Is there a particular weakness that I can focus on changing? Do I need to ask for forgiveness for something that has been bothering me in the back of my mind or that I have ignored? Am I growing in character, charity, and on my journey to/with God? 

"...and that is really the point of Lent, the goal of fasting, abstinence, and all our Lenten observances: to grow in charity toward God and neighbor." --Jeff Young, Catholic Digest 

"Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life." --Pope Francis

The 40 days of lent are a good time to really form habits so that when Easter comes, these new habits are set and will stick with us for the rest of the year. You may think that it sounds like a New Year's resolution and to be honest, this is the time when I think about resolutions, instead of in January, and really focus on instilling them.  I am so much more dedicated when I am in the mindset of thinking of these things as being done for our Lord Jesus and growing more in charity as someone who follows him rather than something that I just do in January. Not that I could not have that lenten mindset in January, it is just so much easier in the Lent season during that time when we are really reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Sometimes we choose to give things up for lent (except for Sundays). This is a great way to practice delayed gratification and discipline.  


This lent I have decided to learn something everyday on how to teach my children about respect, focusing a lot of chastity but also respect in every aspect.  Also, to make sure I do not pick up my phone during Lincoln's bath time and nap time.  Instead I can interact with him or take time to pray and reflect. 

I also thought this an appropriate time to "renew" or "restart" the blog here. Over time I have had this idea that I have to have a very specific "box of things" to write about here.  I started the blog to keep track of activities I do in music therapy and with the kids at home.  I wrote about topics on here to be reminders to myself. I ended up thinking of more topics I wanted to include, and moved on to "music therapy" "family life" and "kids" activities but still trying to fit it all in. I have had a hard time pinning down exactly what I "should" write. I think it has limited what I write and the way I write. I was afraid of writing about topics outside of the category because it would be too broad or not in the belief system of some people.  I also was very factual and blunt at times and may have sounded like I am a closed minded or prideful. 

So I am starting over as myself.  Trying to be real and not being afraid to just write about my own life whether it be music therapy, family life, failures, and also my spiritual life, even if it is different than other friends or family who might read. Apparently writing about my own life and experiences is okay! If I have 0 readers that is fine because this is a place I can come to rejuvenate myself in writing and in reading my past experiences.  

So here is to spring, lent, and renewal.  

Preparing the veggie garden. And Sandy's tail. 


Orange tree blossoms


Orange tree



Very important! Citronella to fight off the South Texas mosquitoes. 


Weed like grasses. The part of spring I could live with out. 


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Rotating All of Them Toys




I am not sure that I have come across any family of children that said "We don't have enough toys in our house.  We really could use some more" or kids that say, "I think I'm good on toys, thanks though Mom." 

And clearly, would you ever find parents of young children that say, "I never step on toys that get left out...because my kids never leave them out! They love putting their stuff away. They developed a nice habit right off the bat!" If they do, they are hiding something from you.   Anyhow, we know that some are better at it than others, but kids have to be taught to manage their possessions. 

I am as guilty as the children for enjoying more toys and games coming in the house.  I love them as much as they do sometimes.  It is really not a good idea to take my kids to Toys R Us, but it is equally not a good idea to take me to Toys R Us either. I think about how that would be such an educational item and/or I could use that in a music therapy session, or I just really want that! When the kids are grown and off to college I think I still would love to have a small play area for people that come over with kids, and just because I love seeing toys set up. Yeah, don't mention that to my husband. 

In our immediate gratification world, it is challenging to keep the "outflow" of items greater than the "inflow." We acquire so much stuff. Often times kids might be very creative and find new ways to use their toys as they grow as well. I have a creative one that does not like to get rid of her toys. She gets attached to all of them and can find some way to include them in any pretend game she is playing. When I was her age, I felt like my possessions had feelings and I would hurt them if I gave them away too. As you have more kids and kids that are in different age ranges, you start to acquire new toys but still need the old ones. We are also in that category. We find ways to get rid of them periodically in our "outflow box," but we still have a lot and too many to leave out all at once. 

Kids may outgrow toys because they need more stimulation as their mind grows and matures.  Sometimes though, they may start to not notice some of their stuff that has been in the same location and would play with it if we changed it up a bit.  Maybe sometimes the answer is to get rid of stuff and get new stuff (or just get rid of stuff) and maybe sometimes we can use what we have by doing a toy rotation system.  

I know many families have a unique system that works for them. I have tried different ideas over the years.  We started with one idea and have added 3 more since! 


1

When I first started rotating toys, I just put some away in the closet in a plastic tub for a while. I would forget about them though and forget to pull them out later.  Or I was afraid to put things away because they would miss it or something, as if we didn't have enough already out. We still use it though. Especially when they grow and we swap out developmentally appropriate toys.


That's our put-away-for-a-while bin and shelf. 


2

My next rotation technique was to swap what toys were displayed on the top of the shelf and what was in the drawers, or if you have one of those colorful shelves with the bins, swap which ones are eye level or on the top.

Right now we have horses, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Bamboo Blocks, The Selenium Falcon, and the colored chicken egg matching box in sight. 


3

My third rotation technique I tried and still do each month (ish) was completely swapping locations of toys, as in the rooms they are in. We happen to have a few toys in the living room, a few in my youngest's room, a few in my closet so that Lincoln can play while I shower, and the rest in the playroom. Just rearranging or changing where the toys are can really draw attention to items they have not paid attention to and give it a whole new appealing look! Suddenly it looks more interesting!  

This is our downstairs toy area behind the couch and next to the kitchen. The little kitchen stays here but everything else including the stuff in the basket gets changed out. 

4

One of my favorite ways to rotate toys or draw attention to forgotten items is doing themes. I had a friend that got me started on these when my oldest was 2. I love it. This way obviously takes more planning, but I find it really entertaining for both myself and the kids. Even my older to like to see what I have set up when the come home from school.  Now, before proceeding, please do know, I am not perfect at remembering or planning ahead to make these themes happen every single week.  Don't give yourself a stress headache trying to do these every week if that is too much. Just start with an attainable goal. Sometimes I aim for 1x a month during the school year.  I think this school year we have done 6 themes and it's February.  It's just to change things up and make it a special week.  

For example, I gathered all of the farm themed things we have including toys, puzzles, books, etc. and put them out in the play room/game room in a particular area.  We also made a rice sensory bin with some of the plastic figurines.  And yeah, my only original idea was the hay. And finding the stuffed animals. Pinterest took over for the rest. 






Rainbow week was a total blast. Know any young kids, not obsessed with rainbows? Maybe a few, and perhaps those who might be color blind to an extent but not anyone here. We brought out the rainbow scarves to dance, jumped on colored cards to Rachel Coleman's Do You Know the Colors of the Rainbow, painted, categorized some rainbow toys, and brought out our Rainbow books.





The colored sections were mixed together in about 2 minutes. But it looked cool for a moment. 


Problems squeezing in exercise solved! We jumped for about 30 minutes on these colors during the song. 



The past 2-3 weeks we have done zoo things because Lincoln is totally in love with zoo animals right now. So the zoo toys have been hanging out. I put out our zoo books, puppets, fisher price animals, made little homes out of blocks, for the zoo stuffed animals, coloring pages, zoo animal rubbings that I have had since I was a kid, and zoo play doh. Raffi has his famouse song Goin to the Zoo also which is fun as well as the Wiggles with Do the Monkey.








Be creative with the toys you can use. During our theme weeks, toys that were not necessarily related to the theme got used also, such as the blocks that made our zoo homes and the food from the play kitchen so they could eat. You often end up using more that you initially may think! 

Well, that's what we got! Maybe you have your own rotation system down that is different and works well for you. These  are 4 things that work well for us. 

If you ever do a theme week, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! And the kids of course :)