Holiday Lights: More than just Twinkle!

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 4.37.56 PMWhat is it about the lights? At this time of year, I love driving around the streets to see the holiday light displays.  The minute I wake up in the morning, I turn on the Christmas tree lights and the lights across the mantle above the fireplace.  My house is filled with candles that flicker during these long winter nights. I can sit in a trance for hours in front of the fireplace watching until the last ember dies. Yes, I admit it; I am a light junkie.

Lights can brighten even the darkest times in our lives; they have always figured into human history. Our ancestors lit candles and fires to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Today, candles and lights play an important role in Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations. Lights, twinkling like stars, remind us that we are part of the Universal Spirit; they remind us to find ways to light the world around us, bringing joy to others.

As I enjoy the Christmas lights scattered across my community and throughout my home, I realize that each light flickers to remind me of treasured past memories, but also with the promise of precious memories still to come. And so today, as I sit sipping hot chocolate by the fire, I can’t help glancing at the twinking Christmas tree lights. They remind me to think about those who are gone, of their love for me and mine for them. But I am also mindful of how blessed I am to be surrounded by loving family and friends and of the wonderful memories we will continue to make together.  So thank you all for being the light in my life; my days are brighter because of you. Merry Christmas! I love you.

Choose Kindness

When children are “given”, it can create a sense of entitlement. When children “give”, psychologists tell us that human bonds are strengthened. There is greater joy in giving than in receiving and this is a lesson we should allow our children to learn.

This activity works for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa; actually it works any month of the year! Here is my proposal: Give your child a blank calendar page. This simple page becomes a journal or record of kindnesses. Each night at bedtime, ask your child to record an intentional kindness they performed that day. This few moments allows your child to savor joy in the kindness they performed. It also allows you a moment to look your child in the eyes and genuinely say, “I am proud of you!”

That moment when you really look at your child and tell him or her you are proud is powerful and profound…this is a message that helps forge a strong, resilient, loving, lifelong bond.

Here are a few ideas to get you and your child started on this journey of giving:

  1. Do a chore for a family member.
  2. Hold the door open for someone.
  3. Recycle.
  4. Pick up litter.
  5. Feed the birds.
  6. Give someone a compliment.
  7. Let someone get in front of you in line.
  8. Set the table.
  9. Send a Thank You note to a service member or first responder.
  10. Say, “I love you!” first.
  11. Read to your little brother or sister.
  12. Play with someone new on the playground.
  13. Write a Thank You note to your teacher.
  14. Help make dinner.
  15. Donate a toy so a less fortunate child can receive a gift.
  16. Bake cookies for a nursing home.
  17. Clear the table after dinner.
  18. Load the dishwasher or wash the dishes.
  19. Clean your room without being asked.
  20. Give a compliment.
  21. Offer to play with your little brother or sister.
  22. Write a Thank You note to your postal worker and leave it in the mailbox.
  23. Share a toy with your brother or sister.
  24. Help carry in groceries and put them away.
  25. Fold the laundry.
  26. Help your little brother or sister with homework.
  27. Share your umbrella space.
  28. Listen to your little brother or sister read out loud.
  29. Get a haircut for Locks of Love.
  30. Use sidewalk chalk to leave a positive message for others.
  31. Smile!!

 

KINDNESS CALENDAR

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Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part III

dec10_button1Holidays can be expensive, and most of us have to be cautious about what we spend. I know I’m not the only person out there who is bothered by the commercialism of Christmas. My goodness, the Christmas “season” is in stores before Halloween and “Black Friday” has become “Black Week” followed by “Cyber Monday”, which is now followed by “Green Monday”.  Yes indeed, corporate America is encouraging us to spend, spend, spend. Our children are watching endless toy commercials on TV, the radio, and social media.  Greed is running rampant; how many times have you been in a store and witnessed a child crying and having a melt down because, “I want…”. You can fill in the blank.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to cut corners financially while keeping the true meaning of the Holidays front and center for my family. In my mind, the truth behind Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa is all the same: Faith ~ Family ~ Friends ~ Fun. When my children become adults, I want them to look back on their childhood Christmases and remember these core values

I spend time each year thinking about how to balance giving and getting. My belief is that when children “get”, they learn entitlement; when children “give”, they learn generosity. One of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that the greatest, most precious gifts come to us when we GIVE. The story of Christ begins with an act of  giving; we are taught that God gave us the gift of his Son. Soon after His birth, the Wise Men came bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Indeed, the joy of giving is a life lesson that we can begin teaching even our youngest children.

So many of us are busy working moms and dads. As a result, one of the most precious things we can give is our TIME.  Time spent together is what creates the memories we carry with us for a lifetime.  I promise that twenty years from now, your children will not look back on the 2017 holiday season and remember that the tree skirt matched the color theme of the room perfectly. And even though they have begged for it endlessly since October, they probably won’t remember that they got that Star Wars toy either.

They will remember that they had fun spending time in the kitchen baking cookies, snuggled on the couch reading with you, making homemade cards, secretly delivering batches of cookies to the neighbors or caroling at a nursing home.  Take a moment and think back on your own memories.  What stands out? See, I’m right…you remember TIME too, don’t you?  Anyway, I have decided to focus on giving and I’m doing that by spending TIME on the traditions that don’t cost a lot.  Here are some suggestions:

~ spend a quiet afternoon baking and decorating Christmas cookies with your child/ren.  Even your youngest toddlers can help in small ways.

~ make some homemade gift wrap; again, let kids use markers, crayons, colored pencils, or even paint and potato stamps to decorate plain paper.  Will you have the most elegant tree on the block?  Probably not, but your child/ren will have a wonderful memory to store away.  Remember, Beautiful House magazine is not coming to take pictures at your house.

~ ask your child/ren to spend an afternoon going through the toys and outgrown clothes.  You may find things to donate to a woman’s shelter, a foster program, or a church that supports needy families.  Focus on the joy that comes from giving.

~ get together with friends and neighbors.  Plan an evening of Christmas caroling.  Take the carolers to a nursing home, the local hospital, or just around the neighborhood.

~ remember, it is okay to tell your child/ren that something is too expensive.  Even Santa is feeling the recession and learning about the value of things is actually a GOOD THING!  Managing finances responsibly is an important life lesson we must teach our children.

~ if you live where it snows, build a snowman; if you live at the beach, build a snowman out of sand!

~ visit the local library to check out some Christmas books; bedtime stories are such a positive bonding activity for you and your child/ren.

~ let your child/ren decorate some pretty stationary and then write a thank you letter to a soldier or first responder.

~ make homemade ornaments to decorate the tree, string popcorn, cranberries, make paper chains.  All of these are fun and keep little hands busy.

~ make homemade Christmas cards for grandparents; they will treasure them!

~ snuggle up with the book or movie, The Polar Express.  When you finish the story,  go to the kitchen for some hot chocolate and have a jingle bell waiting there with a pretty red bow.

~ cut paper snowflakes to decorate the home, porch, windows.

~ watch a favorite holiday film as a family.  We love Elf. Which is your favorite?

~ plan snacks for Santa, the elves, and the reindeer.  What will they eat? Where should the snacks be placed?

~ make photo props for the family to use in pictures this holiday season. Use words like JOY, FAMILY, HO HO HO, MERRY…

~ pile the whole family into the car and drive around the neighborhood enjoying all the festive Christmas lights.

You get the idea…Each of these ideas means TIME spent with your child.  TIME is one of the most precious gifts of all.  Trust me, childhood goes by so quickly.  You and your child will treasure these memories of simple fun.

These are just a few ideas.  I know you will have some of your own. I’d love for you to send along a comment letting me know some traditions you and your family share.  MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Words of Praise

Our children remember two things…the most caring and the most cruel words directed at them. As a parent and teacher, I want my children to be surrounded by words that make them feel loved, valued, and appreciated. But sometimes, “good job” feels old, tired, inadequate.  Here are some new ways to let your children know how truly proud you are and how special they are!

That’s Incredible! * How Extraordinary! * Far Out! * Outstanding! * I Can’t Get Over It! * Great! 

Amazing Effort! * Unbelievable Work! * Wonderful! * Marvelous! * Phenomenal! * You’ve Got It!

Superb! * Cool! * Excellent! * You’re Special! * Out Of Sight! * First Rate! * You’ve Outdone Yourself!

 Way To Go! * Thumbs Up! * You’re The Best! * You Came Through! * Terrific! * You Tried Hard! 

Your Help Counts! * You Made It Happen! * It Couldn’t Be Better! * Fantastic Work! 
You’re a Real Trooper! * Fabulous! * Bravo! * Exceptional!  * You’re Unique! * Awesome! 

Breathtaking! * The Time You Put In Really Shows! *  You’re A Great Example For Others!

Keep Up The Good Work! * I Knew You Had It In You! * Dynamite! * It’s Everything I Hoped For!

You Should Be Proud Of Yourself! * What An Imagination! * You Made The Difference! * Stupendous! 

You’re Sensational! * Very Good! * A+ Work! * Super Job!* Good For You! * Take A Bow! *Nice Going 

Well Done! *Class Act! * You’re Inspiring! *How Artistic! * Hooray For You! * You’re A Joy! 

How Thoughtful Of You! * You’re Amazing! * You Go The Extra Mile! * What A Great Idea!

You Deserve A Hug! * Extra Special Work! * You’re Appreciated! * Thoughtful! * You’re Tops!

Great Role Model! * You’re Neat! * You’ve Got What It Takes! * You’re #1! * You’re A Shining Star!

Outstanding! * Wow! *  Remarkable! * Beautiful! * You’ve Got Know How! * Very Impressive!

You’re Sharp! * You’re A Winner! *  Hot Dog! * Spectacular Work! * You’re So Kind! *Hard Worker!

Totally Involved! * Thanks For Helping!  * Great Discovery! * You’ve Earned My Respect! 

Thanks For Caring! * You’re A-Okay! * Congratulations! *  How Original! * You’re A Champ!

You’re A Pleasure To Know! * Very Brave! * What A Genius! * You’re Very Talented! You’re The Greatest!

You’re Super! * You’re On Target! *

If you don’t like any of these words, try three simple words…   “I LOVE YOU!”

Kindess Lives!

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Today we are still evacuated from our coastal homes in Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida.  Sitting in a small hotel room in a small town in Alabama has allowed me lots of time to reflect.  Today people are struggling to make sense of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma.  Today is also the anniversary of the horrific attack of September 11, 2001.  How are these two events so closely intertwined?

Lately the news has been so overwhelmingly negative.  Social media is filled with images of police using excessive force, vengeful attacks on police, angry mobs carrying torches and screaming epithets of hatred.  I read about frightening incidents of road rage, people purposefully driving vehicles into innocent groups of people, bombs being set off at concerts.  It is easy to sink into feelings of depression and despair.

But, what IS real? Can I allow the media to shape my vision of the world I live in?   Let’s take a moment and think back to 9/11.  Yes, this was a hideous act of terrorism. However, out of this act emerged tremendous human kindness and selflessness. People, complete strangers, reached out helping one another with no expectation of anything in return. The news was filled with images of men and women committing amazing acts of courage and kindness. The lesson I learned from 9/11 was that the light of humanity in all of us is not easily extinguished.  Good Samaritans are everywhere.  Instead of diminishing our country, it was strengthened. There was a resurgence of pride in being an American. Flags flew proudly across our nation.

Look at the human response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston. There were countless examples of people risking their own safety to rescue a complete stranger.  People from all over the country mobilized to help in any way possible. Today, people are already reaching out to see how they can help in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. We are strong. We are resilient. We are America.

Will bad people still do bad things? Sadly, yes.  But I prefer to see the good in people.  One of the elementary schools in my Georgia community is challenging students to perform daily Random Acts of Kindness.  We are instilling in our youngest citizens the importance of doing good, showing compassion, being kind.

When the news reporters interviewed the everyday heroes of 9/11, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, they all had one common response.  When asked, “How does it feel to be a hero?” every one of them said, “I am not a hero. I was just doing what anyone would. I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing; I just did it.”

These folks are right. Yes, what they did was heroic, but I believe that within all of us lives a hero.  Too often the media focuses on the negative, the frightening, and the violent.  These isolated incidents sell news, but they are not representative of who we are as Americans. Kindness, in its every day form ~ quiet, gentle, subtle ~ doesn’t attract attention and so, often goes unnoticed.

What is the lesson here? I have been reminded today that it is human nature to care, to protect, to love. I choose to believe that this is the true picture of who we are as a human race and as American citizens.  I am actually grateful for this day of reflection.  I am happy in my restored belief that Kindness Lives.