Category Archives: Schedules

On Overcoming the Winter Blues

The beginning of February marks the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere. For many people, winter can a dreary and depressing time. Why is this the case? Are children also thus affected by winter, or is the sense of gloom limited to adults? Can anything be done to help those of us who feel discouraged during the winter months?

We did a little research into the above questions, and learned a few things which we will share with you. We learned that there are multiple reasons why winter can drag down our emotions, especially because of the reduced light and/or sunshine that people living in wintery climates experience. The combination of less daylight and colder outdoor temperatures also discourages people from getting fresh air and exercise (two other possible remedies for combating gloom). We learned that children are affected by these struggles in a similar way as adults are affected. We found many suggestions of things to do to combat the so-called “winter blues” including the idea of getting out of the house within 2 hours of waking up, and exercising (outside, if possible). (Author’s note: my teen son invited me to try this out, so this morning we got up a few minutes earlier than usual, threw on our coats, and briskly walked around the block before beginning our regular morning routine. It was an invigorating and sweet way to begin this dreary, gloomy winter day! We will do it again.)

Below you will find links to a few favorite articles we encountered in our research which address  the above questions. We hope that the next time you experience mid-winter (whether right now or in a few months, depending on where in the world you live), you will find some of this information and these ideas helpful. Together, let us take steps to combat the gloomy feeling that winter can so easily invite in our own life and in the lives of our children!

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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Here is a resource that offers a quick overview of the difference between the Winter Blues and  Seasonal Affective Disorder. Included in the graphic illustrations: who is susceptible to these seasonal changes in their well-being, where these struggles are the strongest, and ideas for how to help overcome them.  http://visual.ly/how-beat-seasonal-affective-disorder-and-winter-blues

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Here are 8 great scientifically-backed ways to beat the Winter Blues: http://time.com/3692785/beat-winter-blues/

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Find 30 simple ways to beat the Winter Blues in this collection of tweets: http://www.citizenwatch.com/en-us/blog/30-ways-to-beat-the-winter-blues/

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This article helps its readers to identify whether or not their child is suffering from Winter Blues and then offers a variety of really fun outdoor and indoor activities to help your child to combat them: http://blog.connectionsacademy.com/fight-winter-blues-and-sad-with-fun-activities-for-the-family/

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This blog post offers 10 practical things to do to make your winter less “meh”: http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/life/10-ways-beat-winter-blues/
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This blog post was written to be used during the month of January. Although January is already over, this post is still useful because it contains so many fun and outside-the-box/outside-the-self ideas: http://momlifetoday.com/2011/01/ideas-to-beat-cabin-fever-and-the-winter-blues/ (And we can tuck away the day-specific celebrations for NEXT January!)

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Here’s a list of 16 indoor and outdoor activities for having fun with kids in the winter: http://bcparent.ca/2016/12/28/16-activities-to-beat-the-winter-blues/

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This article offers more ideas of ways to help kids beat the Winter Blues: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-usky-/beat-the-winter-blues-with-these-8-family-friendly-activities_b_6764100.html

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We need light! “The amount of daylight we get each day has a dramatic effect on our mood too. Without this daylight our body produces substances that make us feel lethargic and lacking in energy.” ~ http://woodlandclassroom.com/got-the-winter-blues-nature-has-the-answer/

Read about how to handle the lack of light in a winter atmosphere here: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/20090211_healthtip_winterblues/

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This article offers creative ideas for indoor activities to do with children during the winter: https://www.momooze.com/indoor-activities-winter/

On Resting in Christ While Savoring the Simple Joys This Summer

 

Happy summer!

It is the time of the year in North America that children (and, many times, their teachers, too!) anticipate for months. School lets out for a length of time, routines change, and life is different. It is a good and much-needed respite. But do we parents anticipate the summer as our children do? If not, why not? Should we?

Many of us eagerly await the additional time with our children while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed. How will we keep them busy all summer? What will they do? How can we keep them learning? How can we make sure they don’t lose any of their freshly-acquired skills that they have just learned this year in their studies? What can we do to encourage their growth, both physically and mentally? How can we multiply their positive social skills? How can we best help them to rest from the intensity of school? Considering all of these questions simultaneously is daunting, and aiming for perfection with each is nearly impossible.

Contrast the stress of trying to meet society’s picture of “perfect parenting through a summer break” with Matthew 11:28-30. In this passage, we read about peace, gentleness of heart, souls at rest, and a burden which is light. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” It appears, from this scripture, that Christ (who spoke these words) is willing to shoulder the stresses that we have, if we are willing to learn from Him and take up His yoke. A yoke is a piece that allows two creatures to share a burden or a workload. So, in this passage, our Lord is asking us to share in His work while simultaneously trusting Him to help carry our load.

But how does an already overwhelmed parent take up the yoke of Christ? Perhaps a good place to begin is by focusing our attention on the areas of prayer and trust. Prayer allows us to communicate with Him what is overwhelming us and in what areas we are feeling inadequate. It offers us the opportunity to be still before God. It allows us to lift others up before Him, reminding us that the world is beyond us and our personal (or familial) stresses. Prayer will also help us to better see what work He has for us to do. But what about trust, you may ask? Trust is the true test of taking up the yoke. Do we really trust God to carry His end of  the load and to lead us to do the work that He has for us? Or do we try to micromanage Him in addition to our children and their summer schedules?

This summer, instead of focusing on the stress-inducing questions above, let each of us parents focus on Matthew 11:28-30. Let us challenge ourselves to come to God with all of our stress and our concerns. Let us take up His yoke, sharing the burden with Him. In doing so, may we indeed find rest for our souls. If we do so, we will be able to truly anticipate this time with our children. If that is the case, then it will indeed be a happy summer!

Come Sit a Spell

As you work on simplifying your own stress load through prayer and trust, consider making “simplify” the theme for your summer! Here are some ideas of ways to help your children to have a simpler summer, as well:

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Model “resting in Christ” by allowing your children to see you spending time in daily prayer time, especially if they do not usually see you do so. Invite them to join you if they wish to. Consider beginning the day with a regular time of prayer together (adjusted according to age and ability of your children, of course) coupled with a few minutes of quietness. Being still before God is about as countercultural as you can get, and it will benefit the entire family to learn to do so even if only for a very short time each day. These moments of resting in Christ and being still will go a long way in setting a simpler tone for each day of your summer!

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Consider making one evening a week “simple joys” night. Spend that night playing very basic childhood games together, chasing fireflies, watching the sunset, learning to whistle with a blade of grass, etc. If you have a rainy “simple joys” night, play hide and seek inside your whole house, read aloud together, or creating and playing with these fun shooters: http://www.happygoluckyblog.com/2016/03/balloon-cup-shooters.html. The key is to do something together with minimal equipment and maximum creativity and/or stillness of heart!

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“Childhood serves a very real purpose. It’s not something to “get through.” It’s there to protect and develop young minds so they can grow into healthy and happy adults. When society messes too much with childhood, young brains react. By providing a sense of balance and actively protecting childhood we’re giving our children the greatest gift they’ll ever receive.” Read this and more about why it is important for us to simplify our (and our children’s) lives in this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tracy-gillett/children-mental-health_b_9400848.html

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Encourage your children’s creativity with simple activities. Perhaps you could challenge your children to create their own games from time to time. One challenge could be this: gather recycled materials in lunch bags, give one bag to each child, and have them use everything in it to create a game that everyone will have a turn to play.

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Spend time in nature. Take your family hiking at different places throughout the summer. Allow time and space for your children to get dirty and wet. Make mudpies. Float sticks in races. Plant things and watch them grow. God is there, and your heart will be still if you allow it the simple joy of time outside.

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Keep basic art supplies readily available (paper, pencil/pen/marker/colored pencil/crayons/watercolors/clay/etc.) so that your children can create at will. You won’t regret the money spent or the creativity that comes alive when your children have the opportunity to try different mediums in their self-expression. You may regret the volume of items gifted to you for display, but the love and creativity behind them should be your focus!

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Many simple summer memories begin with books! Generate your own (don’t worry, it really is simple) reading rewards program like this: http://lessonsfromyesterday.com/plan-summer-reading-program/. Need an easy, stress-free place to start when it comes to reading? Find an alphabetical-themed list of essential Orthodox books here: http://ocbookreview.blogspot.com/2011/07/essential-orthodox-childrens-books.html.

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Encourage your children to create simple toys. If they have enough of their own already, encourage them to make them to give as gifts to others – either neighbors, hospitalized children, or other children in your parish who would enjoy them. Here are some simple toys that can be created at home: http://babbledabbledo.com/25-diy-toys-to-make-at-home/ (Tuck away this website to check out sometime when you need to find fun ideas for science, art, design, and engineering activities for kids! https://babbledabbledo.com/)

 

 

On “Saving” Time

It is that time of year when many countries in the world enter “Daylight Savings Time” and collectively shift their schedules accordingly. Interestingly enough, this schedule shift occurs near the onset of the “holiday season” in North America. The implication of saving time, combined with the culturally-imposed busyness of the forthcoming season creates an interesting juxtaposition in thought. Pondering this clash of ideologies brings an important question to mind: How can we as Orthodox Christians truly “save” our time; even during the “holiday season?”

An important measure that we can take to that end is to go through our schedules now and prepare them before they are overtaken with other plans. There are a number of things that we should schedule into our “holiday season” immediately, so that we are certain that there is time for them. Here are a number of priorities which we should schedule in order to truly “save” (redeem) our time:

  1. “Save” time by prioritizing Church. What better way to redeem our time than to pray, worship, and be in the presence of God? Find out from your parish calendar (or priest) what additional services will celebrated during November and December. Put them into your family calendar, so that you remember them and can attend as many as possible. Challenge your family to attend more services together than you did last year.
  2. “Save” time by prioritizing fasting. The Nativity fast is an excellent way to prepare for Christ’s birth. Remember that fasting is not just about food; but also about refraining from excess/ judgement/unnecessary entertainment/etc. Fasting is also about giving to those in need. “The holiday season” is a perfect time to work at all of these. Brainstorm ways to work at them together as a family. Block out needed time in your family’s schedule for the fasting methods that require time (for example, helping in a soup kitchen or volunteering somewhere to help needy people). Scheduling family time to work at the different ways to fast will help you to do them better!
  3. “Save” time by prioritizing family devotional time. As families, we should regularly be saying prayers and reading/discussing the scriptures, as well as other books that strengthen us in our faith. If we have not developed a habit of this for our family yet, what better time to begin than in a season when we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming? (Read-aloud book suggestions for different age levels will be a topic for a future week. Stay tuned!)
  4. “Save” time by prioritizing down time. Yes, down time. During “the holidays.” One of the greatest challenges of today’s society is the constant requirement for noise, for entertainment, for socialization, etc. Each of these is escalated during “the holiday season,” and it is easy for us as Christians to get sucked into it “because, after all, it’s all about celebrating Christ’s birth!” However, the onslaught of stuff, noise, and busyness flies in the face of the still, quiet preparation that our hearts need in order to be truly prepared to celebrate Christ’s nativity. It is not wrong to say no to the busyness or to choose to miss out on some of the parties or other activities. It is different than the actions/expectations of the rest of the culture, but then again, so is our Orthodox faith! But how can we shape our schedules in a way that allows down time, especially during “the holiday season?” One family suggests sitting down now with your calendar, and blocking out days from now through the end of the year by writing something on the calendar. This family writes the word “something” on many of the evenings and weekends not already filled with church. If someone invites them to an event, they simply say, “Thank you very much for the invitation! I am sorry, but we already have something on the calendar for that day,” and it is the truth. (Note: the parents of the aforementioned family reserve the right to add something to the calendar when it already has “something;” but they take up to 24 hours to discuss it amongst themselves before getting back to the invitation giver, in attempt to maintain down time in the family. They do make exceptions to the 24 hour wait time occasionally.) Of course each family can institute their own version of this suggestion. The main idea is to block in down time, to deliberately NOT do every activity option that comes your way (which, in itself, can also be a form of fasting, too!). Note: if you do this but add things to your schedule instead of the “something” on your calendar, just be careful that you do not always ignore that “something” on the calendar. It is there to remind you to be still!

As we approach “the holidays,” let us be careful to focus on the real reason for our celebrations: the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us not be swept into the unnecessary cultural busyness that can distract us from being still and preparing for His coming. Let us do what we can to open our schedules to the things that turn our hearts and the hearts of our children towards Christ and His great love for us.

What ideas do you have to share? Please post them below!

 

Following are a related quotes and/or extensions of the above suggestions:

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“Unfortunately, many of us see church attendance as an obligation and a troublesome duty, rather than as a gift. We need to be mindful of the fact that living in a society of many temptations and countless mixed messages, we badly need the encouragement of one another to help us become and remain strong Christians. It is only by supporting one another that we are able to avoid distraction, remain focused, and order our priorities rightly. That is why St. Paul writes ‘Let us not give up the habit of meeting together . . . but let us encourage one another all the more.’ (Heb. 10:25).” ~ Rev Andew J Demotses, from http://www.goarch.org/resources/sermons/sermonettes/sermonettes5

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“ Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.

Fasting of the body is food for the soul.” ~ St. Basil the Great, from http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/OurFaith/Fasting/Sayings-Church%20Fathers.html

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Venerable Ephraim the Syrian had this to say about fasting:

“Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine eyes fast from bad sights: turn away thine eyes that thou mayest not see vanity; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and from stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds: Turn away from evil, and do good.”

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“Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he does not feel, neither the power of the words read nor gentleness in his heart.

To that the great saint will reply to him: ‘My child, just read! I heard that the sorcerers of serpents, when they cast a spell upon the serpents, the sorcerers are uttering the words, which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents hearing the spoken words sense their power and become tamed.

An so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit.’

My child, just read!

The Holy Spirit Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance; and the demons will understand will sense and will flee from you.

That is: He Whom you invoke for assistance will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue of Ochrid (May 8)

Reading together as a family during the Nativity Fast is a good way to get into the habit of reading/praying together. And even if you don’t “feel” anything, “my child, just READ!”

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Even “secular” sources suggest having quiet/still time during the holidays.

“Always plan for quiet time. It reduces exposure to holiday marketing, creates opportunities for family bonding and fosters independent children. Golin observes, ‘We can all be better about trusting our kids to entertain themselves. When reducing screen time, we don’t necessarily need to suggest activities to kids. Give them the space to be bored for a minute and be amazed at what they come up with on their own.’” (from http://www.naturalawakeningsmag.com/Natural-Awakenings/November-2014/Bring-Back-the-Magic/)