Home and Family

“That’s Amazing!”

Last week Sienna suddenly said to me, “I don’t like it when you do that.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, “Do what?” I asked.

“Say, Cool! or That’s good, when I show you something.  You do that all the time.”

Now, Sienna has a flair for the dramatic and honestly I didn’t give this comment much attention that day.  My thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, Sienna. Give mommy a break.”

Then, yesterday, as we got to enjoy some cozy Christmas-y time together, she brought it up again.  “See, mom, like that.  You said Good! and didn’t really look at what I was showing you.”

I understood what she was getting at.  “You mean I sound distracted when I make those comments?”

“Yes, like you just say That’s cool when it’s really “Amazing!”

011Ah, that’s different.  “Well, Sienna, things aren’t always amazing.  I said, “That’s cool” because that’s what I thought.  Sometimes things are amazing, but not everything is.”

These conversations got me thinking.  First of all, I do often make general comments in response to Sienna’s requests for me to “Look at what I did!” or tell me a story.  I often am distracted because I’m doing something else when she asks for my attention.  During this later chat, I also explained to her that she’d get a more focused response from me if she asked for my attention and gave me a moment to transition from what I was doing before launching into her story or presentation.


I’ve read several articles, books, etc. that tell parents to describe what a child has done, or make specific comments about what you like that they did, rather than just offer empty praises, i.e. “That’s amazing!”  “You’re such a great artist!”  I’ve been practicing this for the past day (with lot of opportunities since Sienna got several craft/art sets for Christmas and has tons to show me).  She does respond well to my engagement in what she’s doing.

I find it funny that she’s asking for exactly what the experts say you shouldn’t do.  She wants me to gush over and praise each of her creations.  While this is a normal desire for a child, I’m happy to have this obvious teachable moment to explain that not everything is amazing.  I’ve seen adults who were raised by parents who thought everything they did was wonderful and special.  It does not serve people well to expect that level of praise from everything they do.  Believe me.


I’m also noticing that my focused attention and taking the moment to engage in her story or demonstration is what she needs (and wants – even though that’s not what she’s expressing).  It’s a real way for me to be in the moment with my daughter.  Remaining mindful of entering into her world and asking her probing questions about her artwork is a wonderful way for us to bond.

All of that being said, her gingerbread house did illicit my praises because it truly was “Amazing!”

Home and Family, My Awakening

Honoring the Important over the Urgent

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “The tyranny of the urgent over the important.”  This concept has inspired and haunted me over the past couple years.  It’s so true.  Our daily lives are often filled with urgent tasks and activities that demand our attention.  Emails need to be answered, meeting kept, kids’ activities attended, meals prepared, etc.


How can we make time for what’s important – teaching my kids to do household chores, financial responsibility, personal discipline; spending quality time with my husband; watching the play Sienna wants to put on; playing cars or soccer or superheroes with Teo.

A blogger I’ve followed pretty regularly, Leo Babauta of ZenHabits, wrote: “It’s easy to fill up our lives because there are so many things that sound amazing. We hear about what others are doing and instantly want to add that to our lives. But it’s harder to remember that by adding so many things to our lives, we are subtracting space. And that space is important.”

What I’ve come to know, for me and my family, is that the important stuff only gets attended to when there is space.  When we’re running from one activity to the next, fitting in weekly grocery shopping between parties or play dates, there’s not time to practice reading with Sienna, teach the kids to empty the dishwasher, or play in the backyard together.

I’ve been thinking lately about how this space is critically important to my ability to “stay in the moment” with my loved ones.  When there is transition time between tasks or activities, there’s space for spontaneity and connection.  I’m able to be present because dinner doesn’t have to be planned hours in advance; we can decide what we want and prepare the meal in a relaxed way.  When authentic teachable moments occur, we can take the time to explain lessons to our children, rather than rushing through a disciplinary situation in order to get on to the next event.

So, how to keep the urgent from becoming a tyrant over the important?   The key is what you add to your life and schedule that will become urgent down the road.  Each commitment you make, committee you join, invitation you accept, appointment you make, and activity you (or your kids!) sign-up for reduces the amount of space on your calendar and in your life.  Many of these things are worthwhile, valuable, and noble.  But, perhaps not as valuable as maintaining space in my life.

This post is entitled “Honoring the Important Over the Urgent” because that’s my goal.  The urgent will always remain a tyrant over the important, by simple definition.   I can honor the important values in my life by limiting the instances of urgency that would inevitably pull my attention away.

The Happiness Trap

Recognizing the Trap

The past several weeks have been way too busy for my liking (hence a complete lack of time for posting to this blog!).  This is my favorite time of year and I would like nothing better than to relax with my family, celebrate the birth of Jesus, cuddle up to watch Christmas movies, bake goodies, and relish the season.  While I’ve gotten to do many of the activities of the Christmas season, some unforeseen circumstances have caused me to be mentally cluttered and stressed.

The team I manage at work experienced significant turnover this month and I took on a new leadership position at my church due to a sudden resignation.  Most of these situations were beyond my control.  I was already busy and these events pushed me to become overwhelmed.

As a result, I switched into hyper-planning mode in order to make sure no balls were dropped. Really, it was a survival mechanism.  However, I also started falling into the happiness trap of telling myself that all of this was fine.  Good, even.  There was a little of that, “Look how much I can handle.  How much I can successfully pull off, and with a smile!” attitude settling in.

It was a very familiar place for me.  I’d been there before.  Taking on more and more, living by my (ever growing!) to do list.  Making time for more activity at the expense of connecting and being in the moment.

But, after a little while, this state didn’t work for me.  I could feel the disconnectedness from my family and missing out on the enjoyment of Christmas time.  This was not how I wanted this season to be.  A couple conversations with my mom and husband helped me to clarify my feelings.  Although these extra responsibilities are mine and I’m not going to shirk them, I need be real that this isn’t all fun and admit that don’t I want to be this busy.

It’s interesting to me that, after all of this growth, I still have trouble identifying my feelings in the moment.  There’s still that sense that things need to be labeled as “good” in my mind, and that often means suppressing my real feelings.  Or, perhaps that’s just normal?  Maybe it takes awhile for ones “real feelings” about a situation to manifest themselves?

004This week my friend and co-worker gave me a “Be Still and Know” sign, that I’m keeping in my office.  It was a perfectly timed reminder of how I want to live – in the peaceful knowledge that God is taking care of every moment, whether it’s happy, frustrating, stressful, or otherwise.

This situation was yet another reminder of the constant ebb and flow of emotions in life. I’m happy to be embracing the moment and focusing on celebrating the birth of our precious Savior this week.

Home and Family

Christmas on the Prado


When Dennis and I started dating in 2003, Balboa Park was a central place for us.  We ran through the park several nights a week, strolled through the park on weekends, and that December went to our first Christmas on the Prado together.  That first visit began a beloved family tradition.  Just thinking of “Christmas on the Prado” puts a smile on my face!

mom and teo 2011


This event (which is now formally called “Balboa Park December Nights” to be politically correct) is a two-day holiday festival held in Balboa Park on the first Friday and Saturday of December.  Over 300,000 people attend the event.  It’s BIG!  The museums are all open, free of charge from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. each night, the International Houses are open and many sell food from their country, Santa can be found in several museums, there’s a full carnival in one section of the park, and the artists in the Spanish Village are all lit up and welcoming.

sienna and teo 2011

In the early years of our relationship, we’d walk from our downtown apartment on Friday evening.  We started the night with split pea soup from the Swedish booth.  That tradition lasted about 5-6 years, until they discontinued the pea soup. That was a sad moment.

When we moved to Hillcrest, the park was still walking distance for us. The year I was pregnant with Sienna (very pregnant, her birthday is January 2nd!) I recall is was rainy and also my mom’s first Christmas on the Prado.  I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

dad and teo 2011

For San Diegans, this is the one time of year we actually need a wool sweater, scarf, gloves, a winter jacket, and a warm hat.  We love bundling up to face the elements, when we know it’s going to be in the mid 50s by the end of the night.  We’re of tough stock in Southern California.


The highlight of the event, is held at the Organ Pavilion.  Around 8:30 p.m. the Del Cerro Baptist Church performs “The Living Christmas Tree” – a musical performance that tells the story of Christ’s birth.  This huge Christmas Tree on stage opens up to display scenes from the nativity.  It’s awesome.

For the first time this year, we listened to some of the other choir performances in the afternoon.  The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir performed several gospel style Christmas songs.  The Director gave a little history of how negro spirituals were also coded songs that slaves sang to exchange information.  The “promised land” was a metaphor for freedom, the Jordan River referred to the Mississippi.  This lesson reframed the songs we were hearing.  One amazing woman sang “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” a capella.  When it was done Dennis and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes.  It was stunningly beautiful.

118This past weekend was mine and Dennis’s 12th year of attending this event together.  Now that we live in the suburbs, we have to make a whole day out of Christmas on the Prado.  We drive down to park close so we don’t have to deal with the shuttle or traffic.  This year we arrived at 11:00 a.m., which makes for a long day, but it’s worth it.

It’s become a cherished tradition.  Sienna and Mateo know that this is going to be part of our Christmas celebration each year; I hope they come to look forward to it as much as I do!