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Apr 262016
The 21-Day Challenge


Technology is wonderful and fabulous until that moment you realize you’re more disconnected than ever before and yet you live in the same house! Check out the first of three videos as Kelli takes her family back and attempts to ban technology from family time. It’s never easy changing and no-technology family time is no exception.


So Long Social Media and Video Games, I’m taking Back Family Time-Kelli Style!

Trade Screen Time for Real Time With Your Teens

 Posted by on April 25, 2016 at 00:50
Apr 252016


We are minions to technology these days. In my relaxed state, you will likely find me on the couch, multitasking across multiple screens (TV, phone, and laptop) … and it must be contagious because my teens and husband do it too.

So how do we get our teens (and ourselves) to unplug and engage with the rest of the family, peers, society — or anyone other than a screen? I think the answer lies in teaching our teens (and reminding ourselves), to make choices to keep our activities in moderation.

Unplug: it’s a family affair. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not realistic. Actions leave a deeper impression with teens than words do. What parents do in their everyday life, teens will come to know as the norm. If we want our teens to unplug from the screen and plug in to socializing with family and friends, we have to do so ourselves. (And I say this while looking in the mirror with one lifted and self-accusing eyebrow.)

Replace don’t quit. Let’s go for a lifestyle change. It’s easier to replace a habit with another, healthier, activity than it is to quit cold turkey. I struggle with this, but am working to improve on creating more opportunities for our family to put the phone down, turn the TV off, rest the game controller batteries and do something more interesting and productive. Here are some ideas to try in place of screen time:

  • Volunteer (many high schools require a minimum number of hours for a seal on the diploma)
  • Practice a sport (at school, on base, with a travel team, or with the county parks and recreation)
  • Be active in a club (join through school, the community, a national or religious organization)
  • Play an instrument (colleges require extracurricular activities and the arts are great options too)
  • Get a job (provides great life experience and a little extra cash flow)
  • Exercise (walk every day with a pet or the family, work out on base, through the YMCA or solo)
  • Read a book (find your local community or base library, used bookstore, or swap with friends)
  • Learn a hobby (learn for free from friends, family or on-base social groups, or pay for lessons)

Experiment with new activities to discover interests and talents. After a few art classes I acquired a new love for painting and drawing. My son is tackling a new sport — he recently joined the lacrosse club at his high school. My husband, son and daughter volunteer as umpires for our local youth baseball league.

Beware of the overscheduled life. Replacing tech time with social experiences and community involvement is a great way to go, but learning the lesson of doing all things in moderation is just as important. I know I started out overscheduling our family thinking it would help keep my teens out of trouble. But I found that, in practice, it lead to all of us being gone so often we were tired when we were home, which lead to excessive tech use.

How is that? Because tech use can be relaxing and mind numbing — it lets us veg out from our problems or an exhausting day (think about the binging of TV shows, smartphone games, social media sites and video gaming). There’s nothing wrong with doing any of those activities on occasion, but when it becomes a habit, it takes time away from the people in your life and becomes isolating and problematic.

To combat tech overuse and everyone going in opposite directions, try something new as a family. Our family recently started training our dog by attending classes together and practicing the skills at home.

Create downtime at home. Encourage your teens to get outside with their friends and neighbors and start pick-up games of a favorite sport. My son plays a lot of street hockey with friends.

Consider creating a place for your teen and friends to gather. We recently built a fire pit in the backyard and with some smores, hotdogs and soda — it’s an instant party. It’s been rewarding to see them breaking out the guitar and entertaining themselves for hours just talking and singing — and being the silly and fantastic teens they are. They created some videos and took many selfies too, but if they are using tech together while interacting face to face, I call that a win.

Remember that technology isn’t the enemy. It is here to stay and our teens need to be experts with it to be able to function in the workplace one day and in school now. So instead of banning it, embrace it and make it work for you.

Turn TV shows and movies into time spent together and a chance for deeper conversations. Discuss the show with your teen and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Whether you are a veteran gamer or a newb like me, play a video game with your teen to get a glimpse into their world. Ask about their squad of online players and you’ll have more things to talk about in the future.

Make real time a priority over screen time so you continue to learn what is important to your teens and in turn, they learn what is important to you.

Looking Up: Phones Down, Family First

 Posted by on April 18, 2016 at 15:14
Apr 182016


Ever since my husband’s first deployment, I’ve been attached to my cell phone. The thought of missing a call from him, however brief that call might be, was unbearable to me. Because of that, I kept my phone on me at all times. It was on my pillow at night, in my hand while I was shopping and by my keyboard while I was at work. I’ll admit to even setting it on the soap shelf in my shower a time or two…or three or four.

After more than one deployment, it just became natural never to be without my phone, even when my husband was home. It became a routine for me. I had moved away from my family and friends, and as social media became more and more popular, I never wanted to miss an update, text or phone call.

Fast forward six years later to the birth of our son. My phone was with me in the delivery room, at home while I nursed and on my nightstand when I finally got a few minutes of sleep. I used it as my alarm clock, my camera and my outlet to the rest of the world.

No matter how anyone gets there, I was there. I was addicted to my phone. It wasn’t until one day when I had a real eye opener that things finally started to change. My baby was lying on his mat doing tummy time and I was taking photos and posting them to social media, then taking videos and emailing them to family. After about 15 minutes, I realized I had been looking down at my phone more than I was looking up at my son. I felt guilty and ashamed, and I knew it had finally gotten to the point where enough was enough.

It’s a hard habit to break, let me tell you! I first started by consciously setting my phone aside during any time with my son and during family time. I continue to use it as my camera, but I stopped posting or texting things immediately. It could all wait. What mattered most was that precious time with my beautiful baby boy. Next, I started removing my phone from the table at family meals. This was huge, and my husband noticed and starting doing the same. After that, I began removing my phone from my nightstand and placing it in the bathroom at night. I still use it as my alarm, but now the temptation to mindlessly scroll social media in bed at night or first thing in the morning is taken away. I’d say this has been the hardest step, and I still forget at times and find myself lying in bed, scrolling through my social news feeds. It’s a process, and like any addiction, it’s taking time to break free.

Finally, beginning in November of 2015, I began taking “social media-free weekends.” I turned off all social media notifications on my phone to avoid the constant desire to scroll through the updates that used to flash across my screen. To this day, I have not turned the notifications back on. At first, I had to completely delete the apps from my phone, but now I simply keep them all in a folder on my phone labeled “Distractions.” Any app or social media platform that distracts me from my family, real life or my work goes in this folder. Any time I want to open those apps, I am reminded that it is a big, fat distraction.

Now I love my social media-free weekends. I look forward to them each month, especially the break and release I feel from not being plugged in 24/7. I usually start these weekends on a Friday evening and stay off until Sunday evening. I find that taking this time once a month is just the break I need to not want to jump right back into it the next day. I look down less, and up more.

The most important thing to me is this —I will not be a parent who looks down at her phone more than she looks up at her child. I keep this phrase with me, repeating it to myself when I find that I’m slipping back in to that mindless thumb scroll on my phone. What matters most is my time with my husband and my son and making those moments count.

Picture This: 366-Day Photography Challenge

 Posted by on April 13, 2016 at 11:19
Apr 132016


I’d like to apologize to anyone who follows me on Instagram — it’s been nothing but crickets on there since the first of the year. My smartphone camera hasn’t gotten much use lately because I’ve been busy clicking away on my fancy — that is absolutely the technical jargon — camera that I got as a gift a few years back.

I’ve used the camera for blog pictures here and there, and I even managed to take newborn pictures of my daughter — gasp — three years ago, but adjusting the settings on manual mode took me an embarrassingly long time. My best photography subjects were inanimate objects because any living, breathing thing was long gone by the time I got my white balance, aperture, ISO and shutter speed balanced.

April Photo Challenge

Anyone who’s ever tried to document the precious, fleeting moments of their kid’s childhood knows that time for adjustment and do-over shots is not an actual option. So, it’s no wonder the masses are OK with smartphone photographer status:

  • The viewfinder is huge.
  • It’s a one-button operation.
  • We can kick any picture up a notch by masking it in sepia.
  • It takes only seconds to upload our prized works of art or hilarious kid videos to social media.

But I wanted to challenge myself and capture more than dust with that DSLR camera. Never underestimate a blogger with a little extra time and a case of writer’s block — I came up with 366 photography assignments (2016 is a leap year, after all). I would take one photo of a different theme each day for a year in hopes of wrapping up 2016 a better photographer than I was on the first of the year. To keep myself honest and on track, I started posting photos in a special album on Facebook, and I even talked some fellow moms with cameras into participating in the challenge right along with me.

105223081984884.gy8yOU0SYHtVVWeZHjaC_height640By the end of the year, I hope to have 366 photos that will help me and my family remember little details that made 2016 special to us:

  • Favorite spots in our (current) city
  • Favorite pieces of our (current) home
  • Major accomplishments for the year — no shortage there between a promotion, graduate-school acceptance and a soon-to-be kindergartener
  • Vacations
  • Friends and family
  • Holidays and birthdays
  • Day-to-day details

I have big plans for printing all of these photos in a coffee-table photo book. And, if I get really ambitious, I could do this every year…forever.

Whoa, slow down. One day at a time, Kristi.

Getting back to this year, I planned out a year’s worth of daily assignments before the first of the year, and I tried to pick themes relevant to the time of year and ones that were open to interpretation, like:

  • Something fluffy
  • Something cold
  • A photo I’ve been meaning to take
  • A mess
  • Something red

105223081984888.NMWej7rAt7CItDv652xM_height640To stay on track, I like to look ahead a couple of days to start brainstorming ideas for upcoming themes. Sometimes the plans play out, and other times something just presents itself at the right time. Challenges like this are all over the Internet, so you won’t have trouble finding themes if you want them. You could do a yearly challenge, a monthly challenge or your own interpretation of the challenge, like one photo a week or one photo per day without the pressure of a theme.

Now four months into the photography challenge, I can see a difference in the quality of my pictures, and I am definitely faster behind the camera — it takes me just seconds to adjust settings. And the challenge is, so far, producing the kinds of pictures I was looking for: significant details about my family at the moment and our time in California.

But I’m also discovering that I’m connecting more with my kids — quite possibly the best side effect of any challenge, ever. Any good child photographer will tell you that it’s important to get down to the child’s level. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and it’s gotten this busy mom back in the habit of getting down on the floor to play trains or climbing through playground equipment to catch the joy on my kids’ faces. My kids are getting into the challenge as well. They know that mommy has homework every day, and they are always asking what it is and what we get to do for the day to get the perfect shot. So far, we’ve:

  • Hiked, hiked and hiked some more
  • Whipped up homemade milkshakes
  • Painted outside
  • Hidden in the library
  • Popped in a candy store for cotton candy
  • Covered daddy in stickers
  • Played dress up
  • Spent countless hours on the beach
  • Had an ice cream date
  • Had a picnic (or five)
  • Gone for a walk (or 20)
  • Gone tidal pooling
  • Done impromptu science experiments in the back yard

Enthusiasm from the kids is motivating me to keep pressing forward with this challenge even though real life sometimes puts me behind. I’ve played catch up a few times which — if we’re being honest — technically means that I’m not sticking to the one photo per day rules, but the point to me is to have 366 meaningful photos at the end of the challenge. I don’t want to take a picture just for the sake of taking a picture. I want pictures that my entire family can glance back at fondly. I want my kids to see the highlights of this window in their childhood and recall what a fun year we spent together.

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