When You Want to Pull the Blanket Over Your Head, Do This Instead

hospital #HFMThe smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows,  A Long December

A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.

I was looking for warm blankets.

There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …

When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”

She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.

I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
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Life-Saving Reminders for a Child

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain." -Emily Dickinson

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.” -Emily Dickinson

The term cyber-bullying sounds so futuristic … so foreign … and so far-off.  When I heard the word about a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time before this type of threat could touch my family. Part of me wanted to believe we could avoid it altogether—that it was something that happened to “other people”.

But now I know that kind of thinking is just foolish and naïve. I know this because cyber-bullying has been getting frighteningly close to home. Family friends and loyal readers of my blog are telling me just how easily it happens … just how damaging it feels to the victim … just how helpless it feels to the parent … and in some case, just how devastating it feels to be the bully who never intended for things to take a tragic turn.

I’ve made a conscious effort to protect my children from the dangers of the online world by installing filtering and accountability software. I have established an open line of communication with them and am involved in their online activities. But despite having these external protections in place, cyber-bullying (and good-old fashioned face-to-face bullying) can still happen and is happening. In many instances, these attacks are coming from trusted friends and classmates within a child’s social circle. [source]

At times, I’m tempted to banish technology from our lives—but I know that is not a realistic solution. Electronic devices are becoming an integral part of the education system. For my older daughter, these devices have quickly become tools that are required to complete daily schoolwork. I watch in awe as she uses technology to create, navigate, and acquire important skills for the future.

It is imperative that I continue to provide external protection for my child in the digital world, but that is not enough. I must also provide internal protection—protection of her heart, mind, spirit, and emotional wellbeing. I must provide affirming words and beliefs that she can use as armor if and when she is attacked.

A very brave mother spurred this action in me. Her beautiful and vibrant daughter, Rebecca, took her life after being a victim of cyber-bullying. As I read the significant actions that Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, took to protect her daughter and remove her from the toxic environment, I couldn’t help but weep knowing the outcome. The mother noted that she thought things were going better for Rebecca at her new school, but the child kept her distress from her family. “Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own.

After reading that particular sentence several times, my role as a parent of a child growing up in the 21st century became crystal clear. I want to be sure my child knows she doesn’t have to go it alone.

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The Vacation Moments of Everyday Life You Might Be Missing

what is necessary #HFM

I didn’t realize how poorly I’d been sleeping.

I didn’t realize how long that medical test kit had been sitting on my dresser waiting for my attention.

I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were or how dark the circles under my eyes had become.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the sound of certain people’s voices, as texting had become my usual mode of communication.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to immerse myself in silence …

Until I did.

Today I come off a two-week blogging break. It was a terrible time to go quiet. My new book was just picked up by Target. It was being “tested” in stores nationwide to see how well it did last week. When I should have been tweeting, posting, and encouraging people to buy my book, I was getting my nails done by a 9-year-old with little manicure experience and carving scary faces on pumpkins.

what is necessary #HFM

what is necessary #HFM

My book had just gained serious momentum, I knew going quiet—no interviews, no viral posts, no podcasts, and no email—would certainly not keep things going. Going quiet meant the glorious momentum would drop off. I could have pushed myself. After all, I have an impressive track record when it comes to powering through the exhaustion … ignoring the warning signs of burnout … and making excuses as to why I cannot slow down. “Someday, I’ll have time to do that, ” slides off my lips quite well—at least it used to.

But ‘someday’ is nowhere to live your life. This I have learned.

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An Open Window to a Bravely Lived Life

windows #HFM
“Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
–Sara Bareilles

It was late, but for some reason I decided to clean the pantry. A friend had been weighing on my heart. I picked up the phone and called her while I arranged cans of beans and tossed near-empty boxes of old pasta.

It quickly became apparent why I’d called her. She was experiencing some tough revelations. Was it a mid-life crisis? She wondered out loud. “You’re going to hate me when I tell you my truths,” she said.

I assured her that nothing she could say or do would change my love and respect for her.

“You are kind, compassionate—you are a good person. Nothing you say will change that,” I said.

My friend took a deep breath and shared thoughts, feelings, and questions that were hard to admit to herself, let alone speak out loud. But she said no truth that any one of us hasn’t had or could have at some point in our lives. She was just brave enough to admit it.

“Do you hate me? You probably aren’t going to talk to me anymore,” she said worriedly. I could practically see her cringing through the phone.

“My opinion of you has not changed. I love you. I am here to support you as you try to figure out exactly who you are and what you need to be the truest and happiest version of yourself,” I said confidently. “It would make me sad if you were to live an unauthentic life for the next 40 years,” I added.

Unbeknownst to me, my 12-year-old daughter had come up from watching a football game with her dad. She’d been listening with open ears and wide eyes. This is my wise-beyond-her-years child. She is my question asker … my leave-no-stone-unturned child … the one who’s been drawn to the world’s sufferings since age three. I predicted the questions would be coming.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as I said goodbye to my friend.

“Well, my friend suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood and now she is dealing with a lot of things she has not allowed herself to deal with. She is trying to figure who she really us—not who the world expects her to be. And she chose me to share her truths,” I explained.

“And she was afraid you wouldn’t like her anymore—the real her?” she asked, following along quite maturely.

That’s when I knew. I knew I was being given a beautiful opportunity right then and there. With my pantry in disarray and this brown-eyed beauty donned in her Indianapolis Colts jersey staring back at me, I had the chance to highlight this moment in time. What I was about to say would be stored away in this child’s mind for years, maybe decades, and referred to often. I chose my words carefully.

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Break This Morning Habit to Create More Time & Goodness in Your Day

morning ritual #HFM

If mornings are the toughest part of the day … if you feel agitated before you even get out the door … if you’ve had a heavy heart and can’t explain why, I am going to encourage you to make one small change in your morning routine: Resist the urge to reach for the phone.

Starting your day by checking the phone is like flipping a switch from peace to productivity … from loving nurturer to grumpy manager … from present to absent. Reaching for the phone takes you out of your cozy pajamas-clad world and catapults you into the fast-paced, information overloaded world. Once your mind leaves your loved ones and fixates on all the things you need to do, it’s hard to come back—so hard to come back. Scrolling, clicking, and responding sneakily rob you of the precious minutes you need to get out the door on time—and then everyone is yelling. I know these things because checking the phone was how I began my day—or perhaps I should say sabotaged my day—for several years.

Things are different now. And I attribute an overall improvement in my home environment and personal wellbeing to one small change: Reaching for meaningful things rather than the phone to start my day.

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Reaching Your Child In a World of Distraction

park connection 2At my very first Hands Free speaking engagement several years ago, a woman in attendance said her children were getting to the age where they just wanted to do their own thing. She felt that the older her children grew, the more difficult it was to find shared interests and spend time together.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. This concept of one’s children not being permanently attached to one’s side seemed completely foreign to me. I simply did not believe the day would come when I could use the restroom without a voyeur. I could not fathom the thought that my younger child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.

But here I am several years later and it’s happened. My daughters love to play together. And I am no longer needed nor invited. They set up the Barbie house and play for hours without any need for my creative storylines and juicy plot twists. They play school and inform me I am over the age limit to be a student. And when they log on to animaljam.com and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, I might as well be invisible.

But I am all about being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some realness: When my kids are in their own little world, it’s quite tempting to go into mine. It’s tempting to pop open the laptop and knock out another chapter in my book, draft a new blog post, or even just pick up a delicious book I have been dying to read. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, nor is there anything wrong with my children playing by themselves, I can see how easy it would be to allow separate lives to become a way of life. I can see how easily the space between us could grow until the gap is so wide we can no longer reach one another.

What motivates me to get up from my keyboard and participate, even just as an observer in my children’s preferred activities, is the whole reason I started this Hands Free journey in the first place. I don’t want to look up at my children’s high school graduation ceremony and see a stranger walking across the stage.

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Wish List for Those Growing Up With a Phone In Hand

wish list #HFM

There are a few things in life that fuel me more than anything: being in nature and being at a live concert. In each of these settings, I feel most alive. Most at peace. Most hopeful about the world. A little over a week ago, I got to see one of the most talented musicians of our time, Ed Sheeran. I’d been looking forward to the concert for months. I’d listened to his album on repeat while writing my second book, Hands Free Life. Attending his concert was the perfect way to celebrate the book’s recent publication.

Happily nestled between my husband and one of my best friends, I surveyed the diverse crowd. From the animated teenagers behind us to the grandfatherly men across the aisle, Ed Sheeran fans stood for the entire concert and and sang along to all the lyrics.

I couldn’t help but notice there was a distinct difference between the way the younger generation viewed the concert and the way the thirty-and-over crowd viewed it. One saw the concert through a screen; the other did not. Although I was trying to immerse myself in the moment at hand, my eyes kept being pulled to the white light coming from the hands of the young couple in front of us. In the glow of a palm-sized screen, I could see the young lady’s beautiful face. Her long brown hair with honey blonde highlights made me think of my twelve-year-old daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder what my daughter’s future dates would look like … what her conversations would entail … where her most alive moments would be found in about ten years.

These questions have stuck with me, and I’ve been giving them a lot of thought. I feel quite an urgency, a panic even, for preservation. I’m afraid the abundance, ease, and social acceptance of technology are threatening certain life experiences to the point of extinction. Like the seldom seen pay phone and rarely used digital camera, life’s most simple, yet most meaningful experiences, could easily diminish with my daughter’s generation.

yogurt #HFM

My wishes for my child when she was born included being anything she wanted to be and living a long, prosperous life. While those wishes are still valid, there are now some wishes far less complicated, but absolutely critical–and it makes me cry even to type this. I want her to live. I want her to experience life with all her senses. I want her to experience life in living color, face to face, with two open hands. I have wishes for my child growing up in a text-happy, vitamin D deficient, connection-starved culture. These wishes are simple, but they are rich. These are for you, my brown eyed beauty with honey highlights, whose smartphone lays unattended for now.

My Wish for You: A Living Life

I wish you crickets that lull you to sleep.
I wish you pumpkin guts oozing through your fingers.
I wish you the most perfect S’more stick you can find.
I wish you the ability to be alone with your thoughts.

I wish you the feeling of someone’s hand in your back pocket.
I wish you shade from a Weeping Willow tree.
I wish you goodbye kisses and puppy dog fur.
I wish you moments of complete silence.

I wish you fresh squeezed lemonade made by your hands.
I wish you spontaneous gatherings where no one wants to leave the table.
I wish you porch swings and bare feet.
I wish you sea air breezes.

fresh air #HFM

I wish you playing cards that slide from your fingers in a triumphant hand.
I wish you historic monuments and sunsets that make you feel small.
I wish you books in bed.
I wish you peace.

I wish you answers without Google.
I wish you mindless wandering with a good old-fashioned map.
I wish you boredom that leads to the best ideas you’ve ever had.
I wish you starry nights.

I wish you window watching from the subway, wondering what’s his story.
I wish you talented street musicians who make you stop and stare.
I wish you flowers from Pike Place Market that brighten your day.
I wish you joy.

heart inside you HFM

I wish you laughter from a small child that makes you look up.
I wish you wrinkled hands to embrace you and share stories of long ago.
I wish you handwritten notes in your mailbox.
I wish you a chance to heal a broken soul.

I wish you memories and someone who holds the door for you.
I wish you smiles that are not for public consumption.
I wish you travels without chargers and safety worries.
I wish you freedom.

freedom #HFM

I wasn’t quite finished with my list—there were more wishes. But something happened. My daughter asked me if we could go to the “rock river”. I’d been taking my daughters there for over a year since we moved to our new city. Mother Nature had given me peace in the midst of book writing and settling into a new life. “Rock river” was my refuge.

“But this time, Mama,” my daughter said, “I want to invite my friend.”

I was surprised. It was usually just us.

“She’s been looking really sad,” my child explained. “I’ve asked her what is wrong, but she’s not ready to talk about it. I thought maybe going to the river would help. It is so peaceful there. I always feel better after I collect rocks.”

rock creek #HFM

As I looked into those big brown eyes, I felt as if one of my wishes had just come true and maybe I didn’t need to keep adding to the list. As she ran off to invite her friend, I realized life experiences do not have to diminish with each new version of the iPhone. Human connection does not have to weaken as the need for WiFi grows. The electronic screen does not have to become a substitute for life’s richest experiences—not if we pass down the tradition to live

She can inherit my love for baking if I invite her into the kitchen.
She can inherit my need for walking outdoors if I ask her to join me.
She can inherit my thirst for authentic conversation if I open up and give her time to talk.
She can inherit my love for music if I take her to concerts and listen to what she likes.
She can inherit my places of refuge if I take her to wade in the river.
She can inherit life’s richest experiences if wishes become invitations.

So let’s keep wishing—it’ll keep us intentional.

Let’s keep living—it’ll keep us alive.

Let’s keep inviting—it’ll keep our precious children from fading into the light.



Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am grateful for those who have reached out while reading HANDS FREE LIFE to let me know the difference one of the 9 habits is having on your life. In light of today’s blog post, please note that Chapter 7 describes practical ways to empower children to make smart, safe, healthy, and informed decisions about their digital lives. Chapter 8 reveals a collection of meaningful rituals that would make life-giving gifts to pass on to your loved ones. I love how Kristi specifically mentions her connection-staved soul in this beautiful Amazon review: 

“Reading Hands Free Life has been both freeing and revealing. I have been suffering from a ‘connection-starved soul’, and the pressure to ‘do’ had become overwhelming, robbing me of the chance to really enjoy life’s sacred moments. Since reading, I have been trying with intention to disconnect a little more each day from whatever it is that fills my mind, day, and even life with clutter. We live in a world in which we face a distraction almost non-stop. This book has given me practical ways to recognize that and to actually do something about it. I highly recommend this book to women, men, parents, non-parents, book clubs, Bible study groups, anyone and everyone. The message presented within these pages is life-changing.” –Kristi D

Thanks to all who have taken time to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give an author. I am really looking forward to seeing my Canadian friends on Wednesday, September 30. I’ll be doing a Question & Answer session with brilliant parenting educator Andrea Nair and signing copies of Hands Free Life at Chapters at One Square Mall, 189 Rathburn Road, Mississauga at 7pm.

If you like the LIVE HANDS FREE bracelet worn by my daughter and me in today’s post, they have been reduced in price this week only. This includes the ONLY LOVE TODAY & I CHOOSE LOVE bracelets, as well. Bracelets can be cut to fit small wrists for children & teens. Click here to shop. Thank you for walking beside me on this journey! I am incredibly grateful for you! 


Change the Child or Change Your World

noticer 5“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”
–Walter Hagen

I would still be getting sick from sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

I would still be making my way through typed to-do lists and neglecting the most important tasks of life—like living and loving.

I would have missed the mama bird who tucked her nest in the corner of my porch.

I would have been in at least one fender bender (or worse) due my dangerous rushing and multitasking ways.

I would have given up on tangerines because they take too long to peel.

I would have missed a thousand conversations that just come when one sits still and waits for words to come.

But I didn’t miss any of them.

Thanks to her.

noticer 6Embracing my daughter’s Enjoy-the-Journey approach to life didn’t just alter my actions and my behavior, it changed my perspective, transformed my thought-processes, and loosened the tightly wound fiber of my inner being.

Although I am a work in progress, the change in me has been quite remarkable. But there is something even more remarkable about this story. And it became apparent to me when a blog reader asked for an update. She wrote:

“I see it’s been several years since you wrote, “The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’”. Did your daughter’s slow pace and ultra observant nature cause trouble in school? What is she like now? May I have an update? I have a Noticer and knowing how things turned out for your daughter would mean a great deal to me.”

As I began typing my response, unexpected tears fell on my keyboard. With clarity, I realized my transformation was secondary to an even bigger story—a story that could quite possibly bring solace and hope to those wondering if they too could let a loved one just be.

This is our story …

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A Question to Live By

small moments/small notebooks HFM

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” –Fernando Sabino

I wrote this post five months ago, but I knew the moment I wrote it that I would post it on January 1st. I’ve discovered that ‘Moving’ and ‘Moving On’ require many of the same skills … many of the same braveries … many of the same hopes. If you are ready to move on from the challenges and disappointments of 2014, take a look. Even if you have seen this message before, it might look different today. My friends, it’s a New Year, but more importantly, it’s a New Day. Let’s start looking for That Moment When.


I was standing over the shrimp dip when a family friend approached me. Although he was known to ask thought-provoking questions, and this was my going away party, I was not expecting this one. “So once you get settled in your new home, what do you imagine that moment will look like when you feel like everything is going turn out okay?” he asked.

In one mere sentence my friend went straight to my greatest fears, my greatest insecurities, and my greatest hopes. Funny thing is, I knew the answer to his question. I’d envisioned it a thousand times as I’d prepared our home to be emptied. Tears began dripping my face. An unsightly sea of mascara, I was sure, but I could not stop the tears if I tried. My friend didn’t act like it was any big deal. His wife, who is also my dear friend, had probably exposed him to spontaneous sobbing a few times. My friend just waited. Then he listened.

“When my children come home from school and say, ‘I met a friend today, Mama.’ That is when I know it’s gonna be okay. One friend makes the whole world better, you know. One friend for each girl. That is the moment,” I replied. Then I dabbed my eyes with a yellow party napkin and smiled because friends like that just make you smile even when you’re crying.

I thought that conversation concluded over appetizers and farewell hugs, but it didn’t. For the past two months, that conversation has continued in my head.

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No Moving Target December

No Moving Target December HFM

There are times when I become a moving target. This time of year is typically one of those times.

When there is always one more thing I could get done …

When the calendar severely lacks open white spaces …

When the hustle and bustle overtake the peaceful silences …

When decorating, wrapping, cleaning, and shopping take priority over smiling, laughing, breathing, and memory making …

When my goal becomes surviving each day rather than living each day …

When my line of vision looks past the people and only sees the duties …

When I don’t have time to point in wonder or pause in gratitude

When my day is so packed that my blessings get covered up …

covered up HFM

The circumstances described above result in me becoming a moving target. And if you know anything about moving targets, they are difficult to reach—even by those with the best intentions. I know because this is how I used to live: Always busy doing … existing in perpetual planning mode … always looking ahead to what was next on the agenda.

The ones who loved me had a hard time reaching me.

So I missed out on the love. I missed out on the greatest part of living: To love and be loved.

Granted, I didn’t know what I was missing at the time, but I do now. And I use this priceless awareness whenever I feel myself slipping back into old ways, like in the month of December when there is more of everything—more stress, more pressure, more commitments, more expectations, more invitations, more temptations, and more distractions.

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