Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What’s in a manual?

For those of you who have husbands who travel with work, you will appreciate this story. For those of you who don’t, but have found yourself figuring out something on your own, you too will enjoy.

In the early years of our marriage and before children, both my husband and I travelled extensively with our jobs. Now 15 plus years into our marriage and three children later, it is he who has continued the frequent work travel and I am now able to pick and choose which trips I will take. Most of mine now surround thefamilyroom and the work we do.

When my husband is away, I like to refer to myself as a ‘low-maintenance wife’. Simply meaning, I’m able to handle the home front (mostly with ease) and I can manage the curve balls that are thrown my way. The children and I slip into our routine, we have lots of fun and we release Daddy to do what he needs to do whilst away. In saying that, there have been a few teary calls over the years, children missing him at bedtime, a toilet that has overflowed or a math equation that needs explaining – and mum has just had it!! Dad to the rescue and all is well. Secretly, I know he loves knowing that he is needed.

Recently, we were mid-way through a 10-day trip for Philip (my husband). One thing I’m not used to handling is the automotive department in our home. I leave that to Philip and he leaves it to the experts … probably a good idea. This particular week, however, my window washer light came on, indicating it needed a top-up. I ignored it for two days and finally decided that this was just one more task I could handle. After much thought, I decided it was time to get the job done. I did what any girl with car trouble knows to do ... I phoned my dad. I asked what I needed to buy and where I would find the location point for the fluid. Of course, I knew it was under the hood but where? My dad explained and I made like I knew exactly what to do.

Another day passed and the washer fluid I’d bought was still swinging around in the back of the car at every turn, serving as a constant reminder of the task at hand. But I still wasn’t quite sure where I needed to put the fluid. I hadn’t even opened the hood, being unable to locate the hood release anywhere in the car (who would have thought it would be hidden on the side wall beside the foot brake)!

Later in the day, on the phone to my cousin, Angela, I shared my washer fluid woes, asking if she knew where it went. “Maybe check the manual, it should tell you,” she replied. At this point, I began to laugh hysterically. I was laughing at the fact that we truly are those girls (and I know there are men out there too with the same problem) who just plug things in, set them up by ‘eye’ and our own understanding, whilst ignoring the manual that is usually sitting right beside us.

So, after a read of the index and a few flips through the pages, I successfully filled my car with windscreen wiper fluid. No more warning lights flashing insistently and no more bottles sliding around on the back seat. Rather, you can see me coming a mile off because I have the cleanest windscreen on the road. It’ll probably need filling again soon, I’m using so much of it. My reward.

So, what’s in a manual? Everything you need to know!!! I FINALLY discovered that.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The Gift of Time

You've read articles I've written discussing time and the age old question of quality vs quantity. I remain convinced that it isn't one or the other, rather it's a combination of both that gives richness to relationships.

The other night, my eldest daughter was at dance, my youngest daughter, Ella, had fallen asleep in the car, which left my seven-year-old son, Gabriel, and I with 1.5 hours on our hands. We decided to let Ella continue sleeping in her stroller while we enjoyed an early dinner together, just the two of us. A good decision indeed.

The occasional interruption from the waitress was my only distraction. Gabriel had my attention 100%. I was fascinated to learn about what was truly was going on in his little life. He shared about the fun stuff, the not so fun, the questions, a few confessions of a little harmless mischief and his overall excitement about life. I was gobbling up every moment and loved listening to him. My husband and I make it a priority to spend one-on-one time with all three of our children. This gives us the opportunity to really hear them and to let them know they are being heard. I think it's important to give each child regular, undivided attention. It's the only way to get a full understanding of what's really going on in their lives.

Our conversation moved from school to friends, to sport, to family and then bounced to the bigger picture of life. Remember, my son is only seven years old. He's well travelled for a young man, he enjoys reading and he loves to explore and has an adventurous spirit. As he was sharing his life hopes and curiosities, he asked me: "Mummy, what do you think I was born to be?"

His question caught me by surprise. I looked at him and wondered what must be going on in that mind of his. I marvelled at his question. He wasn't wondering what he would do, rather he was wondering who he would BE in this world. Before I could answer, he continued by saying: "I wonder what God wants of me." You can imagine the fullness in my heart as I listened intently to my child asking questions beyond his years.

I responded by saying: "Gabriel, if I know one thing, I know that there is a plan and purpose for your life. I know that you were born to do something amazing on this planet my son. Listen with your heart, be moved by compassion, love deeply and stay true to the things you know are right."

Did my answer suffice? I'm not sure. Was it a bigger answer than expected? Probably, but the door for further conversation has now been opened. I didn't miss the moment. We were enjoying both quality and quantity time together, allowing us to connect on a deeper level than the day-to-day rush we all experience.

We continued chatting and devouring the yummy food we had ordered. We began to talk about places we would like to go and things we would like do. I asked him where he would go if he could choose to go anywhere. I was expecting Disney World or somewhere in search of anything Star Wars related. Instead his response: "Heaven. I'd like to introduce myself to God. I know he already knows me, but I'd just like to let him know I'm here and happy to be here. It's just somewhere I'd like to visit and then come back. I just want to see."

My breath was once again taken away and, again, before I could respond, he said: "I'd also like to go to Holland, my friend told me about a cheese festival they have and it sounds really neat." I laughed and said: "Both sound great." The mind of a seven-year-old boy can never be underestimated.

Our children are thinking about things beyond their years. They are exposed to things earlier than we ever were and, more than ever, they need our guidance. They need our listening ear and they are desperate for understanding. Know that if we don't listen, they will find someone else who will. I don't know about you, but I'm not prepared to take that risk and allow someone else access into my children's lives. This job is solely for my husband and I and we choose to make quality and quantity time available to them.

Enjoy your children whatever age they are, and know that they need you even when (at times) they push you away.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grow your dreams

After reading Jane’s blog about holding on to our dreams, I’ve found myself encouraged and challenged by where I currently am in life.

As a young adult, I look at my life and can't help but feel content. I'm married to an incredible man; not only is he my best friend, but he has been so almost since the day we met in grade 10 (I don't have any problem (YET) saying that that was more than seven years ago).

I spent my first two years out of high school studying at a college in Australia, where I made incredible friendships (including those with The Family Room team!), and really "found myself".

For the past two years, I've been working at my dream job, and often get referred to as a "successful college student", as I am, in fact, working in the field for which I was trained.

I’ve also been hosting a Saturday morning children’s show on a TV station in Canada, where I have the opportunity to speak into the lives of thousands of kids each week.

My husband has a great job which he loves and where he continually sees favour, as he makes advances that are very rare for someone of his age. We're in the final stages of having our first home built and eagerly await our move in date (within the next few weeks!).

If you had told me five years ago that this would be my life after graduating from high school, I would probably have laughed at you. Although I'm essentially living my dream, I never thought it would happen so soon after college. Yet here I am ... but where to now?

The challenge then comes to dream bigger!

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about what I WANT and rather about what I CAN DO. Thankfully, there's more to my life than what I've achieved to this point. I know there's more in me to give. I know there's untapped potential in my life. And I know that it’s not all about me, it’s about making an impact on the world around me.

And so my dreams have and are expanding ... are yours?

Happy dreaming!
Love CJ

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hold on to your dreams

I grew up in an environment where I was encouraged to dream big and my assumption was that, of course, I would be part of changing the world.

I held on to these dreams through my 20s and into my 30s, and while I have lived and seen things beyond my expectations, there has always been a frustration in the back of my mind and heart that it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

I married young and had my beautiful babies. I kept on going, but the flame died out a little as I couldn’t really imagine doing some of the things I had wanted to do as a young (er) woman, in the midst of nappies and playgroup and paying the bills.

To back up a bit, a great marriage and my children are my first dream. They are the reason I continue to dream about changing the world. However, I think we can, as women, lose sight of the things we once cared about, because we tend to give ourselves so fully to our families. While this is a wonderful thing, I think the world is a better place when we as wives and mums embrace the stretch and are fulfilled in the things we dreamt we would do as children.

I felt very passionately about issues of justice and oppression and came up with lots of ideas. I studied (I’m still studying!) and wrote things down, but it’s only recently, as I approach my 40s, that I feel the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.

Maybe my confidence needed to grow, maybe I needed to learn how to live a bigger life, maybe all the planets needed to align!! I don’t know, the seasons of life can take us by surprise sometimes.

So the next 12 months seem set for me to put my hand to some really exciting projects that I’ve wanted to see happen for a long time. The right people, the places, the finance and the timing all seem to be coming together and I wake up each morning with a buzz that helps me navigate the daily stuff that, without a dream, can feel like Groundhog Day!

I say all this by way of encouragement. If you find yourself losing sight of yourself and your dreams in the midst of what may seem like an endless treadmill of same-ness – hold on!
Even in a changing world and tough economic times, and maybe because of this, dreams can flourish.

Hang on to the dreams you had as a young person … write them down, share them with trusted friends and then wrap them up in tissue paper and wait for the right time for them to be opened.

A gift to the world …

Lv Jane

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Economy and Our Future

With the economy in turmoil and the world changing around us, I have found myself lost in my thoughts, wondering what all of this means for us individually. I've listened intently to the bail-out packages. I've made all of this my business more than ever before.

As I consider all that is happening, I find myself extremely positive and hopeful. I'm choosing to look at this economic situation as an opportunity, rather than bowing to the pressure of a ‘crisis'. In saying that, I'm not naive enough to think that this will all blow over, I realise there are hard decisions that need to be made, cuts that have to happen and, for some people, horrific struggles and obstacles to overcome.

Where do I see the opportunity? Well friends, perhaps this is a time for us to live better. How do we do that when everything around us says we're all worse off than a few months ago? Perhaps we need to get back to our roots and draw on the strength of the only solid foundation we have right now. Each other. I'm suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we need to be less dependent on our material resources and more dependent on, or shall I say interested in, each other. I think it's time we retrain ourselves and learn how to find joy and pleasure in other ways. We need to understand that our finances are not our only source of security.

It's time to start making heavier deposits into our families and our communities, then watch as our relationships flourish. We need to stand arm in arm supporting one another through these times. I'm always inspired by stories of pioneers and how together they have birthed nations. I love the thought of ‘Thanks Giving’, where families and communities come together to celebrate, whether the harvest has been good or not. It promotes an understanding of togetherness, where strength can be drawn on when needed.

So, what does your economic future look like? As for me and my house, ours is bright because our security lies in more than a bank account.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There's a world outside your window ...

As Christmas once again draws near, in 2008 it is approaching with a bit of a different feel. We find ourselves surrounded by talk of the world changing before our eyes and it is easy to buy into the fear, wondering where we will find ourselves tomorrow and the day after, next month or next year. How will it all work out? Will we be ok? Can we even afford to buy our kids presents this year?

These sorts of questions can take your breath away and as an exercise in removing the focus from me and mine, I have been considering the situation of those who are already disadvantaged, hungry, sick, poor, needy, alone – and for whom this current crisis only increases their plight.

Every Christmas, we support different international organisations in their work specifically so our kids can understand that Christmas morning with a fabulous toy and plenty to eat is not the way most of the world lives.

Even with economic uncertainty and a changing world, we are so fortunate and have so much – more than we need – so much to be grateful for.

Each year, we buy cards from Tear Fund ( ) which we attach to small gifts for the kids in our extended family. These cards represent a gift that has been given in the child’s name, to someone starting school in India who needs supplies or to a family in Ghana who need a goat to generate income.

These gifts help the needy, but also increase awareness for the person receiving the card about the world outside their comfortable four walls.

It’s a great way to remember that candy canes, laughter and family around the table at Christmas lunch are truly things to be thankful for.

I don’t want Christmas to be about stress, frantic gift giving and shopping malls on overdrive (my girlfriend calls them the vortex!), but about the spirit of the season that is the gift of peace and hope in an uncertain world.

Enjoy your Christmas this year … take a deep breath, hug your kids, laugh with them at the Christmas school play and go buy a box of mangoes, or roasted chestnuts as the case may be, and share them around …

Lv Jane

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Common Sense

Common sense – the funny thing about it is that it really isn’t that common at all. Sadly, I think it’s becoming less and less common as time ticks on.

As most of my regular readers know, I am frustrated, no actually I’m outraged, at the over-sexualisation of our children. I think the media has a lot to answer for (of course) but ultimately so do parents.

I read an article today titled Teen Pregnancies Tied to Tastes for Sexy TV Shows. This article referred to a study conducted on 15-year-old children. I won’t go into all the details, but to recap, it basically said that kids watching shows with sexual content will experiment and the pregnancy stats confirmed their research.

The report also said that only 19% of teens have open conversations about sex with a trusted adult. This, coupled with many schools not offering sex education, only means that the media is left to serve as a sex educator. Television shows like Sex in the City, Friends and That 70’s Show have become the voice of reason and understanding.

With no-one to talk to, and television, internet and video games providing guidance instead, teens and in some cases children develop their belief systems based on ill information. The study I refer to states that the end result is obvious. The television, internet and video games indicate that everything is seemingly ‘cool’ and they fail to discuss the downside such as STDs or teen pregnancies. Early sexualisation begins. Children enter a world of which they have no true understanding. I’ve always subscribed to the ‘prevention and education rather than cure’ thinking. What about you?

Back to common sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that our teens and children will try and experiment with what they see, and that experimentation coupled with lack of or limited knowledge is never a good combination. We were all young once and some things haven’t changed, especially when it comes to curiosity and pushing boundaries. However, the boundary line is further away than ever.

I encourage you to allow common sense to find its way back into your life. Be very aware of what your teens and children are watching, listening to and who their friends are. Spend time in conversation with your teenager, your tween or your grandchildren and it won’t be long before you learn that innocence sadly, in some cases, has been stolen or lost due to early exposure to certain life experiences. Age appropriateness is something we all need to understand.

Friends, discover common sense and put it into practice. Monitor what your kids are watching, doing online and on their cell phones (if they have one) or what video games they are playing. Stay one step ahead and let common sense find its place in your home.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Welcome Eduardo Dos Remedios to thefamilyroom!

Well everyone, we have an extraordinary treat for you. We have a new contributor to thefamilyroom team and he is someone I know you will enjoy. Eduardo (or Ted as we know him) is a father of two beautiful girls, he is married to Rosie (a personal trainer), currently resides in Spain and, simply put, is just an all around great guy.

Eduardo grew up in Hong Kong and spent much of his early years exploring every nook and cranny the city had to offer. I first met Eduardo through my husband 17 years ago and during that time, I have always been fascinated by his love for cycling, fitness and overall health and wellness.

Most recently, I have been following his journey through his own fitness blog and I am constantly challenged and inspired by his active lifestyle. In addition, I enjoy his writing style and at times I have felt that I am racing through the streets of Barcelona with him, or climbing some unknown hill to capture an incredible sunset.

Through his gift with both written and spoken word, Eduardo takes you there and encourages you to live life healthy and well. He is a philosopher, poet and real explorer of life.

Eduardo has graciously offered to write a regular column for us based on family fitness. Both Eduardo and Rosie understand the need for fitness and are passionate about depositing that love and understanding within their two daughters.

We are going to travel with them as they continue to live strong, confident, healthy lives and, as always, it is thefamilyroom hope that you will be inspired to get off the couch, move a little more and become a shining example in your home of fitness, health and well-being.

Join us on this incredible journey and, trust me, this is not something you will ever regret.

Susan & friends.

Culture Shock

Some years ago, I decided it was time I visited the United States of America. I had travelled extensively throughout Asia and had noticed how much the youth there were influenced by the American way of life. Their exposure to it was limited to that which was portrayed on television.

Given that some of the poorer countries I visited could not afford to pay for the rights to expensive current programmes, the youth were being influenced by old, out-of-date re-runs of shows such as Dallas, Hawaii Five-O, Fantasy Island and Miami Vice.

This of course had a curious impact upon their dress sense. I was thinking about this one day whilst I was stuck for something to do in Hong Kong. I was planning to take six months off work and travel. I thought about a cycling trip to the good old US of A.

Being somewhat ambitious and perhaps slightly mad, I took it upon myself to start my trip in the land of milk and honey and end it in Costa Rica. I would be cycling through Central America, taking in Baja, then nipping across the Sea of Cortes to mainland Mexico, before stitching together a route that avoided bandits in Guatemala and Honduras, whilst still taking on board the Aztec and Mayan ruins. Sort of an Indiana Jones by bike, but without the arrows, booby-traps and guns.

My trip though Central America will be the subject of another blog. I shall do my best to avoid regaling you with tales of my escape from a mad man in Costa Rica, or elaborating upon a chance encounter with a naturalist-loving sailor in Baja who traded lobsters for pornographic movies. No, this post is about the time I went to America. It is about my first impression of the country and why it is relevant to this, my first entry in the Family Fitness Blog.

Back to the point. I had decided to fly to Los Angeles, wander around there for a while, then travel to San Francisco on a Greyhound Bus. Why? Well because a young Thai guy had told me that when he thought of America, an image of a Greyhound bus sprang to mind. That and the city of Los Angeles, closely followed by San Francisco. Oh and New York, but that was on the other side of the country and I wasn’t going there.

The other thing my Thai friend thought of when I mentioned America was McDonalds. So, I left my bags in an apartment in Los Angeles, along with my bike, and took a walk to McDonalds.

I quickly noticed that walking to McDonalds was not the done thing in LA. In fact, walking in general was practically alien. I had no car, so I walked to the drive-in, took a seat and tried to figure out what to eat.

Walking up to the counter, I stood behind a giant of a man, wearing a large cowboy hat. His jeans were held up by a belt with a buckle the size of Bangkok and he wore impressive boots with silver tips. He lacked spurs and, having checked, I can confirm that he had not arrived by horse.

He proceeded to order a family meal. Quite a large family meal, in fact. I looked around but could not see any smaller cowboys or cowgirls in the seating area. He did not appear to be travelling with a large extended family of any sort. I then realised the food was for him. He was alone.

I discreetly made a note of the contents of his trays:

  • Two large quarter pounders with cheese

  • A packet of chicken nuggets

  • A packet of onion rings

  • Three hash browns

  • A large milk shake

  • A large (and I mean ridiculously large) cup of Coke

  • Two large packs of fries

  • A chocolate ice cream

This guy was to put it bluntly, obese. He was not alone. Everyone in that particular McDonalds was what I would consider to be obese. It was shocking. I was by comparison, waif-like in appearance.

I thought back to the young guy in Thailand and hoped that he would not try to emulate the American fast food diet. He could wear white jackets with shoulder pads over the top of black T-shirts if he wanted, but I was sure this food would kill him.

Before I set off for my trip, I watched my Thai friend have lunch. He was eating rice with steamed vegetables, some sort of white fish covered in garlic and spices and was washing it all down with a glass of fresh orange juice. He then had a snack of papaya and mango served on a stick, covered in chilli sauce. After that, he was off to play football before his martial arts lesson. He was a fit and healthy chap who could quote lines from Fantasy Island until the cows came home.

Roll the clock on 20 years and there is much talk about a childhood obesity problem prevalent in North America. It should be noted that this is a problem shared by other developed countries. There are news headlines in the UK voicing concern over the millions of pounds being spent by the National Health Service in tackling obesity-related issues, such as diabetes.

For the past couple of weeks, I have researched the issue of obesity and, in particular, the cause of obesity in children.

There are numerous camps. Those that say obesity is to be blamed upon genetics, those that say it is down to a lack of exercise and those that say it is the result of a poor diet.

To be honest, all of these issues contribute to why a person is obese. However, I should state that the general view is that genetics alone is not an excuse or reason to be obese. Whilst it is true that genetics may mean some people are more disposed to becoming obese, it does not in itself cause obesity.

It would appear that obesity starts with diet. It is closely followed by exercise, or rather a lack thereof. These are both areas that we, as parents, influence in our children’s lives.

I have no doubt that if I fed my daughters a diet of McDonalds, or indeed any other fast food, kept them tied to the couch, drove them to school and back and restricted their exercise to that carried out in video games, they too would be overweight.

Back to Los Angeles. I was walking home from McDonalds when I saw a signboard for a new gym that had opened. It was called something original like ‘Frank’s Gym’. Beneath it was a tag line that said: “Putting the ‘F’ back into Fitness”.

This blog will be about Family Fitness and putting a bit of Fun into it, whilst hopefully doing something to combat the problem of childhood obesity.

It is about motivating parents to take an active part in improving their diets and those of their children. It will be light-hearted in its approach. It will not be full of scary diets that force you to eat raw food which tastes like wallpaper, and is only available in small stores run by people who knit yoghurt, hug trees and wear army fatigues to bed.

It will not insist that you live life like a monk sitting high up on a pole, alone in the wilderness. It is about empowering you to share my thoughts with your friends, to discuss it with other parents, to experiment with healthy meal ideas. Have you found a way to get your child to eat broccoli? Great, comment it in the blog. Let others know. Just please go easy on the hash browns. If you must eat them, please at least walk there and leave the car at home.

Oh and by the way, my young Thai friend went on to become the national judo champion. I do not believe he has ever succumbed to the big 'M'.

Eduardo A dos Remedios

Monday, November 03, 2008

To be or not to be?

During a recent evening with friends, an individual shared with us about a relationship he has with someone from the church he attends. He said it was unlike any of his other relationships because neither of them intends to get anything out of their friendship. Someone else in the group stated that he, on the other hand, doesn’t have any relationships like this, rather all of his relationships seem to have an agenda, whether it’s his or the other person’s.

As this conversation continued, it really got me thinking. How many friendships do we create for the sake of simply “being” and how often do we look at those relationships as a waste of time?

I’ve been told that there are three kinds of relationships we build:
1. Where we expect someone to invest into us (we get something out of it)
2. Where someone expects us to invest into them (they get something out it)
3. Where neither of us gets “anything” out of it necessarily, we just get to “be”

I truly believe that we as humans have been created with a need to be in relationship. Unfortunately, life experiences will often determine how we look at those relationships, and which ones we choose to spend the most time working on, when in fact they’re all so important in our development.

As we often state at The Family Room, it’s time to bring things back to the kitchen table, to place value on all relationships. Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at your relationships and determine which ones maybe need a bit more work than others. Are you missing out on “being”? Perhaps you spend all of your time investing into others, rather than being invested into yourself. Or maybe you’re quite selfish in your relationships and only think about what you can receive, rather than what you can give.

My challenge to you would be to think about your relationships and try to balance all three forms of friendships in your life. This could potentially mean dropping a few, and making some new ones.

Happy relationship building …

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