Monday, March 30, 2009

Keep the kissing alive

In the run up to Valentine’s Day this year, I was thinking about what my husband of 17 years would really love.

I considered spending money and buying him something nice, or maybe taking him out for a great meal, just the two of us.

What a dilemma.

Now, those of you who know me are aware that I am not the most romantic woman on this earth. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when my husband Mark and I do get the chance to be romantic with each other, but with three kids and endless weekly activities, we are often too busy. We are continually trying to work out ways of finding more time for each other.

Well, here’s what I did. I decided to write him a letter and print it on nice paper, then put some love hearts on it and so on. My 10-year-old daughter came to the rescue and helped me include some pictures – thank goodness for computer-savvy kids.

Then, I thought about the fact that I really don’t kiss him enough. He is the most loving, caring and affectionate man I know and he deserves so much more from me.

When Valentine’s Day finally came around, the weather was cold and miserable, so we stayed home and enjoyed a wonderful family meal. But I was able to give Mark his letter and I made sure I gave him a huge, sloppy kiss. He just loved it!

So, I’m sharing this story with you all today to encourage couples out there to rekindle the kissing in your marriages. It’s an intimate moment and is guaranteed to bring you much closer together.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Journey and the Destination

Enjoy the journey

Having small children, I enjoy the privilege of experiencing the wonder of childhood almost every day.

Last weekend, I took my kids on the Toronto subway for the very first time. On entering, my seven-year-old could barely contain his excitement at the thought of speeding through an underground tunnel on a train. He clutched his younger sister’s hand on the platform, their eyes glittering in anticipation. We managed to get the front seat next to the conductor. My children sat backwards with their faces plastered against the window, and I couldn’t help compare their wonder with the adult interpretation of the ride: the dull, daily ritual that transports them to and from work each day.

I believe that deep within us all, lies a longing to recapture this innocent celebration of life. I saw glimpses of that desire show itself in the smiles on the faces of nearby passengers as they watched my children marvel in the simplicity of a ride on the subway. Their joy was contagious and many were eager to be part of it.

When we emerged from the subway on the way to the famous Royal Ontario Museum, I wondered what my kids would remember more fondly – the ride on the subway or the visit to the museum itself. As is true with many things, isn’t the journey often more memorable than the destination?


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Room makeover - one happy tween

Recently, a friend of mine shared a story with me about her tween daughter. She noticed that her daughter wasn't really herself.

I asked questions, trying to find out what she thought was going on. In the end, it appeared that her daughter was struggling with a recent move their family had made. She wasn't feeling that she fit in and was missing the things she knew and loved.

Apparently, her daughter is the type of girl who likes to be at home and loves to curl up with a good book. She enjoys being surrounded by family, friends and all the things she loves.

During our conversation, I asked my friend what her daugther's bedroom was like. I asked this only because, having a daugther of my own, I understand the importance of them having a space they are proud of and something that truly reflects who they are. Like our own bedrooms, our children deserve a comfortable place to lay their heads whilst they consider the issues of the world according to them.

My friend shared with me that she hadn't paid much attention to her daughter's room, in fact, it was more of a shell with a bed. She actually wasn't sure what to do with the room, and wasn't sure how to reflect her daughter's eclectic nature.

Armed with this information, I headed to one of our familyroom decorating and design experts, Suzie Crocker (Michaela Grul is also one of our truly gifted space creators). Suzie was enlisted to help this young girl out and ultimately this family.

In an effort to truly bring this young girl's style to life, Suzie spent time with her. She asked questions and discovered what was needed. After a day of shopping and a day of decorating, this shell of a room was turned into a tween-come-teen haven. A comfortable yet functional room for a growing young girl.

Suzie incorporated her love of reading with an exceptional chair and side table, a desk for study with all the necessary day to day school supplies plus some special additions for tackling the last minute search for project material.

Suzie found oversized pillows and age appropriate bed linen and artwork. She hung photos of her friends and family above her desk which serve as a reminder of how loved she is. The room truly took on the personality of this young girl.

To hear Suzie discuss this project and other decorating and organising ideas jump onto and listen LIVE or on DEMAND to our March 25th show where Suzie and Susan talk about Making a house a home and a home a haven.

Please email your questions, pictures or problem areas to and Suzie will do her best to help you create a space you will love.


Monday, March 23, 2009

A powerful partnership

If you’ve been listening to Coffee with Susan and Friends on blogtalk radio (, I’m sure you’ve heard conversations about keeping kids safe. Not having my own children yet, my take on these discussions would be quite different from many of you, although I do care greatly about this issue. As someone who works with children and families, I understand the amazing partnership between parents and childcare workers.

I remember an incident that happened when I was in Grade 6 which showed this partnership in action.

There was a student in another Grade 6 class who would bring Tylenol with her to school and distribute it to other students during recess. The students who took the Tylenol didn't have any aches or pains, they took it just for the sake of it.

A bit confused (I had trouble swallowing pills as a young girl), I talked to my mum about this. As a concerned parent, she naturally (or maybe not so naturally) contacted the school so that the Grade 6 teachers were aware of what was going on in the playground.

Within a few days, all the Grade 6 children were crammed into a room with the school nurse who proceeded to tell us about the dangers of taking medication – when it’s needed, when it’s not needed, the possible side effects and so on.

Soon after this meeting, the "Tylenol dealing" came to an end.

A little while ago, my husband and I had a run-in with a young man who was telling us about watching inappropriate movies for someone his age (or any age in my personal opinion). At first we were both uncomfortable with how to deal with this. Were his parents allowing him to watch these films? Should we ask at the risk of seeming judgmental, or would our concern be welcome?

Thankfully, this mother came to us asking if her son had mentioned anything. We then proceeded to say that he had. It came as such a relief to her to know that we were concerned as well. Together, we came up with a plan on how to discourage this young man from watching these shows in a diplomatic, yet very serious manner.

I think parents often feel they are alone in educating their children how to be "street wise" and how to make wise decisions. This is quite unfortunate because of all the resources available through schools and other places where extra-curricular activities happen.

Let it be known that I personally believe in these partnerships as I have seen a very positive outcome. If you are a parent, I would encourage you to spend time voicing your concerns to your children's teachers/childcare workers etc. Together the two are capable of shaping incredible young people.

Love you loads!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful (and grateful)

A year ago, Brisbane photographer and mother-of-two Hailey Bartholomew began a project which would change her life.

On each of the past 365 days, she has taken a Polaroid picture of something she was grateful for. From the simple to the sublime, she has snapped colourful umbrellas in the rain, a friend's wedding, a surprise gift, a beautiful leaf or flower, the list goes on and on.

Hailey's gallery of photographs now forms an inspiring collection which she has catalogued into a leather-bound album for her daughters.

Hailey was recently featured in an article in Notebook magazine here in Australia ( where she describes how her project began after she was counselled by a nun to reflect on the good in each day.

As the year progressed, she became more and more aware of the beautiful moments and situations in each day – ones that she would normally miss. Pausing to look for the positive has now become a habit which she plans to continue.

To see Hailey’s photographs, go to her website and click on Flickr Galleries. You can also read more about the 365 Days of Grateful project on her blog

Inspired by Hailey, my daughter and I have decided to have a go at our own Grateful Project. It was Emily’s birthday earlier this week and, because one of her gifts was a camera, we’ve decided now is the perfect time to begin.

I’ll let you know how we go!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Head for the hills

When my husband suggested we enrol our kids into a 10-week ski program this winter, my initial reaction was one of doubt.

We barely had any family time as it was. Joining the course would mean dedicating two full days every weekend throughout January, February and a bit of March to skiing – something I wasn’t big on to start with. It would be in addition to gymnastics and karate, and would cut into, I thought, our already minimal family time.

However, we live only 10 minutes from the hills and I would rather have my children learn how to ski safely than worry about them when we go there. So I agreed.

I knew my son would be fine. He always is. He is the kind of kid who will try any new food, makes friends easily and dives into new activities with full enthusiasm. And I was right. He was fine as usual.

But I wondered about my four-year-old daughter. Being the second and youngest child, she has always been a bit of a momma’s girl and a definite “leg-clinger”, if you know what I mean. I imagined hectic mornings, talking her into getting ready, perhaps even resorting to bribery. I envisioned cold feet with lots of whining.

My assumptions were wrong.

First of all, instead of losing family time, we actually gained (and improved) it! With the kids in lessons in the mornings, my husband and I could spend time together. And even better, it was outdoors in the fresh air being active, something we used to do before we were married. And through the ski club, we have made a ton of wonderful new friends. The same people go every weekend and we all have similar interests with kids the same age. As newcomers to the area, this is one of the best things we have done.

My daughter, Tanyss, has turned out to be a true ski bunny. She wakes up each morning with: “Is it a ski day?” And if the answer is yes, she brings her elbow down to her waist with an emphatic “Yessss!” Unlike school days, she is dressed and has gathered her ski gear together before I can say a word.

And when her lessons are done for the day, she will usually insist on continuing to ski until the lifts have stopped running.

It is such a joy to see Tanyss on the slopes. Her ski skills are good, but more than that, a self-confidence has emerged which I have never seen in her before.

It all goes to show that sometimes we need to push our motherly doubts aside and let our children grow as they will.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

For mothers everywhere

Every now and then, an email drops into your inbox which brings a message so timely and relevant that it stops you in your tracks.

This one struck a chord with us here at thefamilyroom and today we would like to share it with you.

So grab a cuppa, sit back and enjoy this inspiring story.

Invisible mother

It all began to make sense. The blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking: “Can't you see I'm on the phone?” Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.

The invisible mum. Some days, I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! “Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?” Some days, I'm not a pair of hands, I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask: “What time is it?” I'm a satellite guide to answer: “What number is the Disney Channel?” I'm a car to order: “Right around 5:30pm, please.”

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they’ve disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating a friend’s return from England. Janice had just come back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said: “I brought you this.” It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: “To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”

In the days ahead, I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover what would, for me, become four life-changing truths upon which I could pattern my work:
  • No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names
  • These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished
  • They made great sacrifices and expected no credit
  • The passion of their building was fuelled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built. He saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man: “Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, no one will ever see it.” And the workman replied: “Because God sees.”

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me: “I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you sees. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.”

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up for a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that will never carry their name. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving: “My Mum gets up at 4am and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linen for the table.” That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add: “You're gonna love it there.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The magical mystery tour

My husband has a way with kids. Perhaps it is because he is still a kid at heart himself, but whatever the reason, I don’t mind because he has saved the day on more than one occasion.

The other weekend, we had a school holiday on Friday. This can be good or bad depending on how the day goes. But on this particular morning, my kids were feeling restless and the household was in chaos for lack of a plan.

My daughter (4) was intent on going skiing and was scrambling around collecting her gear. My son (7) wanted to go for a swim at the Rec centre which is part of our condo complex, and was filling a backpack with towels and goggles. I thought we should all just get outside – something that usually calms the kids and seemed to be the most direct and easiest route out of the house.

But then my husband exclaimed: “Grab your blindfolds everyone, we’re going on a Magical Mystery Tour!” My kids dropped everything, put on their jackets and boots and ran around excitedly. They had experienced the “Tour” when we lived in BC and were delighted to re-live some wonderful memories. We had often used the Magical Mystery Tour as a way to get out of the house quickly.

So we all climbed into the car, with the kids blindfolded in the back. As we turned right or left, they tried to guess where we were going. As it turned out, we ended up on a section of the Bruce Trail, a hiking path that runs from one side of Canada to the other. My husband handed each of them a basket and we proceeded to go on a spontaneous scavenger hunt.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day and the snow on the trail was crisp. As we hiked along, my husband called out the things they needed to find. First something red, then something soft, something alive, a flower, and so on. The kids had a blast and delighted in their afternoon adventure. When we got home, they were calm and played nicely together until dinner.

I highly recommend the Magical Mystery Tour if your kids are between 3 and 7. Not only does it bring some adventure and structure into their day, but it makes for an exciting family outing.

You could end your mystery tour at a nearby park, a hiking trail, a friend’s house, a beach or even a science centre. It doesn’t really matter where you go, but getting out into nature is one of our personal favourites.

Next time you need ideas for a fun, family day out, why not give it a go – it’s guaranteed to be a hit.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Random acts of kindness

Never underestimate the power of a random act of kindness.

Like ripples radiating from a rock thrown onto the smooth surface of a lake, so the effects of a good deed can encourage and inspire others. And, like those ripples, the effect can be much greater and spread much further than you could ever have imagined.

I witnessed a tiny example of this sitting in the queue at the petrol station. In Sydney, Tuesday is the cheap day for fuel. For reasons unrelated to market forces or the global economy, Sydney “servos” lower their prices on the second day of the week and cause a mini-stampede of drivers keen to bag a bargain.

As you would imagine, this means queueing for ages and tempers can easily get frayed.

On this particular day, I was four or five cars back in line waiting to use the petrol pump. There were another four identical queues stretching across the forecourt and beyond.

I watched as the driver at the front of our queue finished filling up and slotted the nozzle back into the pump. However, instead of dashing inside to pay his bill, he hopped behind the wheel of his car, started the engine and moved his vehicle forward. This meant the next driver in line could start the job in hand much sooner.

I’m sure each person in that queue was delighted to know they would be home for dinner 10 minutes earlier that night. But it didn’t end there. Taking the generous driver’s lead, each person in turn began moving their car forward as they finished at the pump, a minor inconvenience for them, but a major benefit to those waiting. And each driver smiled and thanked the next as they went on their way – what an amazing chain reaction from such a tiny good deed.

There is a quote in The Shack by William P. Young that goes as follows:

“If anything matters, then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes. With every kindness and service, seen or unseen, his purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.”

I love to think that in that tiny moment in time at a Sydney petrol station, when one driver chose to inconvenience himself to benefit everyone else, the universe changed in ways that we will never fully know.


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