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31 items found for ""

  • Book Guide: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

    Published in 2016, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls remains a favorite of ours, a book that our children still enjoy very much (reading as well as gifting to others). Written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, this book introduces little readers to famous women, such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller and many more. The short one-page biographies tell the inspirational tales of past and present extraordinary women, from activists, mathematicians, painters, astronomers to doctors or prime ministers - more than one hundred exceptional heroines from all walks of life who overcame hardship (and odds) to achieve their goal. With uncomplicated words and narrative, this book does not discuss the character's life in detail but rather aims to introduce children to these inspirational figures of past and present history. In our case, we started reading this book to Josèphine at the age of 4, regularly incorporating it into our evening routine and loved seeing that she knew who Amelia Erhart, Jane Goodall, and Rosa Parks were when asked about it in school - in second grade! This book is beautifully illustrated, portraying each figure in the most creative, colorful, and unique way - our children would spend many long moments looking at each detail on each page. While there is a similar book for boys called Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different (Vol.1& 2), this book is for all children: while our youngest ones will learn names and stories, our older kids may find themselves in one or the other heroine and (hopefully) be reminded to always dream bigger, aim higher, fight harder and, when it doubt, remember you are right. If you enjoy Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls take a look at the second volume which was released in November of 2017 featuring over one hundred new portraits of extraordinary women.

  • An ode to a garden

    by Chantal Bufe As I am typing these lines, I am looking out of the window and see a sea of flowers so varied in number that they can spell out the letters of the alphabet: I see Amaryllis and Begonia. I see Carnations and Daffodils. There is Lavender, Roses, Violets, and even Zinnias. And I will admit I am a little green with envy (as unfortunately, the garden I am looking at is not my own but belongs to someone who has not one but two green thumbs). It has long been a dream of mine to have my garden. To, one day, step outside my home into the outdoors and be greeted by a sea of flowers, fresh herbs, ripe fruits, and vegetables. All planted, cared for, and harvested with our own hands. (And yes, if you must know, my vision does involve me wearing a white flowy dress while carrying a wicker basket). I know! I am fully aware that between my romantic notion of a garden and reality lies much work and that this labor needs to be preceded by actual knowledge of how to create and maintain a garden. It involves learning about things like our climate (at the moment, I would say it's seasonal-ish?), our planting zone (can I say 'square'?), our season length (I find it too short!), and frost dates (wait... what?). Jokes aside: I am aware that if I want to create my garden and if I am to teach my children anything about gardening, I better know exactly what I am doing. But I am willing to get my hands dirty (pun intended), and in hopes that my children will join me and that one day soon, we will find ourselves preparing the soil, sowing seeds, and tending to plants in our backyard. The benefits To us, being able to eat the freshest produce we know where it is coming from is one of the main reasons we want to start a garden. We also like the idea of becoming less dependent and more self-sustaining. And sure, there are significant health-related advantages of being outdoors, such as the much-needed vitamin D exposure (which is said to increase your calcium levels, vital for your bones and immune system) and the decreased dementia risk. But if I am honest, my children are the primary catalyst that drives my desire for a garden: my children and their future. A source of wonder Children seem to have this immediate, inherent connection to nature from the moment they are born, don't you find? When in nature, children seem to walk around in a constant state of wonderment, noticing every little detail that has long become invisible to adults. I see evidence of this purity and connection to nature when I observe my children. My kids stop in their tracks to watch fall leaves dance in circles. They marvel at the architectural intricacy of snowflakes. They can sit at our family's pond for hours, counting the fish and watching out for that one tiny sea snail. My children will also actively pick up someone else's trash from the beach when they find it and rightfully get angry when they see cigarette stubs carelessly thrown somewhere on the ground. I count their awareness of the environment as one of our most outstanding parental achievements - provided that my husband and I manage to continue to nourish and sustain this consciousness in my children as they become older. Interconnectedness Preserving my children's connectivity with nature is what drives my desire for a garden. If my kids frequently contribute to our garden, to growing something, I hope that this will deepen their bond with nature; that they will not be able to 'disconnect' from it as they grow older. If they experience firsthand the amount of work, patience, and dedication it takes to care for the environment around them, they will hopefully continue to never take it for granted and will remain protective of it. Luckily for my children's generation, there also seems to be a significant general shift in awareness regarding human relationships: more and more people seem to realize (possibly fueled by the current pandemic?) that there is an interconnectedness to all life. Since all humans are connected - only individual growth can bring about a collective change. The best world possible More than two hundred years ago, French Enlightenment writer Voltaire explored this concept in his satirical novel Candide when the eponymous protagonist reminded the reader that "we must cultivate our garden" - one of literature's most famous closing lines. And while Candide's final words have been subject to many interpretations over time, I always like to think of them to mean the following: Similar to a garden, our mind requires constant attention and care in the form of nourishing thoughts (seeds) if we aim to evolve, grow, and flourish as a person. And we each must do our part, start with ourselves first, tend to our garden first. And if humankind wants to live in what Voltaire cites as 'the best world possible' (a world filled with optimistic sentiments; a phrase coined initially by German polymath Leibnitz), we must contribute personally to achieve collective success. In regards to our planet, this means striving for a balanced world - an ecology on a global scale. Doing their part Next to interconnectedness, there is also the issue of responsibility that drives my desire for a garden. Although my children are only 10, 8, and 6, my husband and I believe that it is essential to be transparent with them regarding our environment. We feel that they are old enough to hear our worries about our planet's dismaying state and our concerns about what kind of earth their children (our grandchildren) will one day inherit. At the same time, we feel that, as parents, we must foster hope. We can show our children that with compassion, courage, and wisdom, they have a higher chance of resolving many environmental issues (the cutting of fossil fuel, the redistribution of wealth, to name a few) more effectively than our generation could thus far. We must teach our children that there can be an act of goodwill for every act of destruction. That with every tiny seed we plant, we can give rise to new life. No matter how young, our children have to be included and made part of this process (that requires every human to partake). Through small acts of compassion towards our environment, our children will know no different from treating nature with respect as they grow up. Little helpers Let's include our children and encourage them to do their part. A child is never too young to learn how to conserve water, save electricity, or minimize food waste. A child can recycle, and yes, a child can pick up trash that is not their own. By being proactive parents, we can help our children start their seeds. For our children and our children's children deserve to live in the 'best world possible.' PS: Book Guide: We are the Gardeners (Photo: Coco Tafoya/ Unsplash)

  • Book Guide: What do you do with a chance? by Kobi Yamada

    by Chantal Bufe I recently wrote about the importance of courage: why we need to step outside our comfort zone, take a leap of faith, and dare; why no amount of embarrassment or judgment should ever deter us from trying again and again, for the rewards of living with courage will always outweigh our fear of failure. And this is the very message of Kobi Yamada's meaningful children's book What do you do with a chance? - one of our favorite stories for so many reasons. Published in 2017, "What do you do with a chance?" follows along the footsteps of its predecessors (What do you do with an idea?, What do you do with a problem?) in exploring life's most essential questions. Through the eyes of a little boy, readers learn how chances present themselves, often, unexpectedly: "[Chance] just seemed to show up. It acted like it knew me, as if it wanted something* ." Seemingly so subtle, it is precisely this skillful use of Yamada's simple language that makes this story unique. Each word in this book carries meaning and truth: undeniably, we all know how it feels when an opportunity presents itself. When a chance acts like 'it knows us' and consumes us to the extent that we feel it wanting something from us. Through Kobi Yamada's words and Mae Besom's gentle yet vivid watercolor illustrations, readers come to understand that an opportunity in itself is an emotional journey of (self -) discovery: initially, there is surprise and confusion, often followed by shame, embarrassment or regret. Finally, there is enlightenment and - hopefully - courage. Besom captures these feelings faithfully with a pure artistic finesse of her brushstroke. She portrays chance, for instance, like a golden, origami-style butterfly, accurately symbolizing both the frailty and the freedom that lies within an opportunity. A chance can catch our attention. Now we can decide to meet it with an open heart and fearless mind. Or we can choose to ignore it and then, with a flap of its wings, it is gone. But rather than dwelling on regret when an opportunity is missed, "What do you do with a chance?" has faith. In you. Just like "butterflies are God's proof that we can have a second chance in life" (K. Kingsbury), this book reminds us that this is the same with opportunities. We miss a chance, we learn, and then try to be a little more courageous the next time. And when that next time comes around, we try and catch that butterfly, like the little boy in the story: we step outside our comfort zone, take a leap of faith... and dare. "What to do with a chance?" is a beautiful reminder that as we journey through life, courage is our road map. It is the only guiding force that reveals the unknown paths that are meant for no one but ourselves. We all struggle with courage throughout our lives, but maybe, just maybe it is about nothing more than the simple realization that " I don't have to be brave all the time. Maybe I just need to be brave for a little while at the right time." PS: 5 reasons why you should dare

  • How to help kids cope with their feelings

    by Chantal Bufe There are many moments when - even as adults - we struggle to identify our emotions. When we are in a particular situation (pandemic, anyone?) that evokes a specific response in us, and we find ourselves having to think twice (thrice? four times?) about what exactly it is that we are feeling. And sometimes, our emotions remain a mystery altogether. And that's ok. But, if we grown-ups can grapple with identifying our emotions more often than not, imagine how hard it must be for children - who usually lack the vocabulary as well as the maturity (or rather life experience) to name their feelings correctly? How frustrating and isolating must that feel? I have noticed my children living through a whole lifetime of emotions during the past unsettling months, with each one of my children frequently displaying a different response to a similar sentiment than their sibling. I have also noticed that my children frequently did not understand why they reacted a certain way (once we talked about it afterward), and I came to realize that this was because frequently they could not precisely label that big, small, or in-between feeling that had triggered that particular response. And if our children struggle to identify some of their feelings, how are we, as parents, able to support them? Through everyday life? Let alone through a pandemic that forces our children to unlearn behaviors and belief systems that they have known since birth while having to adopt a whole new set of scary rules (masks), confining (lockdown), and emotionally painful (social distancing) in many ways. So where to go from here? As I searched for better ways to help my children identify (and deal with) their feelings, I looked to the experts: teachers. As professionals, how do they encourage their students to build an emotional vocabulary to communicate and cope better in school and life? And I came across one particular modus operandi that Josèphine's teachers set up in second grade to offer emotional support: the so-called 'take-a-break-corner' (also known as the 'calm-down-corner'). It includes an 'emotions chart,' which helps students better identify what they are feeling. This may seem trivial to adults but can be an actual eye-opener for children who will discover that what they are feeling is... normal. Charts like these are available online (we like these resources created by teachers), and depending on age, they range from displaying the basic eight core emotions (joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust) to including more complex feelings, such as pride and shame, and many more—a loving and playful way of discovering emotions, especially for younger children. Most importantly, the 'take - a - break - corner' also offers the children a course of action that guides them through what to do next and helps them think about making different choices. Charts like these are easy to create for your kids at home (you can personalize them with colors and names), and they look somewhat like this: First, the child is encouraged to calm down: ✰ how do you feel? (see the 'feeling chart') ✰ try a calming choice. (this includes breathing deeply - here's a great technique, drinking a glass of water, or the very effective punching of a pillow) ✰ are you calm enough to think about it? (no, → try other calming choices; yes, → start thinking about it) Then the child is asked to think about: ✰ what happened? (what did I do?) ✰ why did it happen? (why did I do it?) ✰ could it have been prevented? (no, → go back to thinking about it/ talk to someone about it; yes, → how could it have been prevented?) ✰ what could be done differently next time? (taking a deep breath, talking to someone about it, counting to 10) Lastly, the child is motivated to take responsibility and return: ✰ How do you feel? (are you feeling differently/ better than before?) ✰ Do you need to repair a relationship? (do you need to apologize?) ✰ Do you need to clean up a mess? (do you need to help anyone?) ✰ Are you ready to return? (what have you learned?) Why these visuals work for us: We find this exercise helpful when one of our children is 'stuck' in a big feeling (anger, name it). When their minds race, their hearts close, and there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. That's when the visuals come in. By seeing - in a precise order - what action they could take next (if they so choose), our kids find it easier to calm down and open up to a solution that could help them feel better, help them find the light. By doing so, whenever there's a need, they are starting to understand that dealing with emotions is a process that requires time (and worse...patience!). First, there is the feeling; then there is the response, then there is the consequence. Our children are learning that, sometimes, this process can be easy, joyful, and quick, and other times, it is more complex, painful, and slow. And yes, they realize that one of the consequences can involve having to apologize, which can be challenging. (And the sooner our kids learn that an apology is a sign of strength rather than weakness, the better). Moreover, these visuals help our children process their feelings (and responses) without taking directions from us, without our interfering! They are encouraged to think, solve, and respond independently and at their speed. This is significant as our children learn to self-regulate (while self-discovering). By doing so (trying, failing, learning, and trying again), they are sharpening their intuition and understanding that it's always best to go within and listen to that inner voice rather than relying on others. What else can parents do? Create a trustworthy environment When there is a safe space for emotions, our children will feel more comfortable expressing themselves without being judged, dismissed, or mocked. Problems that may appear minuscule to adults can lie heavily with children, so it is essential to get them out in the open. And if your child does not open up by themselves and you get no more than the 'I am ok' (which is a frequent reply I receive from my son), there are some creative ways to elicit information. Games, such as feelings and dealings or books, are an excellent tool to encourage conversation. Among our kids' favorite books that deal with emotions are All about feelings, What should Danny do? My feelings and me and A little spot of anger. Writing, drawing, or coloring is also a fantastic tool. There are tons of drawing exercises online; we especially like this one by Sesame Street in Communities because it involves arts and crafts and the possibility of discovering the various emotions more intensely. (If your kids like Sesame Street, check out their many special activities, all dedicated to Exploring Emotions. Model a positive attitude Undoubtedly, it also helps when parents model a healthy attitude towards feelings. When we, as adults, name our feelings and positively and swiftly deal with them in front of our children, they get a chance to observe that emotions are a part of daily life and that it is worth dealing with them promptly to avoid prolonged pain and that 2) there is no shame in having/sharing/ talking about feelings. Everyone feels. Even gown-ups. Even mum and dad. Offer encouragement Finally, there is praise. To reinforce the importance of identifying and sharing emotions, we need to commend our children every time they do so. Our encouragement will mirror and underpin the truth that our emotions are the key to human connections and more profound and meaningful life experiences. Building relationships When children learn to identify, communicate, and cope with their feelings at a young age, it will also be easier for them to comprehend others' emotions (and responses) as they grow up. Instead of ignorance, they will feel compassion. They will be able to communicate with sincerity and kindness and act accordingly. This will allow them to experience more positive and stable relationships throughout their lives, whether with co-workers, friends, or loved ones. PS: how to get your children to (really) talk about their school day (Photo: Chin le Duc/Unsplash)

  • 5 reasons why you should dare

    by Chantal Bufe Sometimes I wonder what the world would look like if we all dared a little more. If we were able to put aside our fear of failure, rejection, and shame, and just... jumped. I am pretty sure the answer is: a whole lot of crazy, beautiful magic. Maybe fear of failure is the problem here? Because we know too well how quickly we like to judge and when we do, our perception becomes our opinion and our opinion becomes our reality and then - alea iacta est, the dice are dealt, and we have made up our mind about someone and.... judge. Sans fear of failure and judgment, we wouldn't mind falling as much. We would get back up, feeling supported by the people around us who would commend us for having tried in the first place. Sans fear of failure and judgment, we would feel free to express ourselves fully, explore possibilities thoroughly, and seize opportunities more readily. Sans fear of failure and judgment, we would feel comfortable sharing our successes and - most importantly - our failures! Our vulnerability would be out there, visible for everyone to see (and comment on) while we proudly admit: "Yes, ouch, I fell, but that's ok... because I am HUMAN!" Is this such a utopian scenario in which waiting for humankind's realization that judgment is of no service to anyone is like Waiting for Godot? (In case you haven't read the book, Godot never arrives.) So, what to do? We can start by distancing ourselves from striving for outside acknowledgment, approval, and acceptance and instead focus on recognizing, nourishing, and strengthening our inner passions. 1. Accept failure Be prepared for failure and the subsequent pain that follows. Failure is a natural part of life and, therefore, an involuntary companion on your risk-taking journey. Two things are important to remember here: When we fail, we have at least tried. Which means we can never regret not trying. And isn't this an empowering feeling? Trying, attempting, endeavoring, seeking, striving, aiming, and yes.... struggling... isn't this so much more rewarding than never having tried in the first place? Or in Paulo Coehlo's words: It's better to cross the line and suffer the consequences than to stare at the line for the rest of your life. Secondly, let's remember that we all need to start somewhere. Every successful person has had their shares of failures, and the only thing that differentiates these people from others is that they didn't give up. They chose not to quit. They allowed themselves to pass through the pain of failure, dusted themselves off, and tried again. And again. And again. Until, one day, they realized that their continuous effort, patience, resilience, and sheer refusal to resign brought them here: success. 2. Rejection equals redirection We often consider rejection synonymous with failure, and we all know the following scenario too well: we open our hearts (to someone or something), and it is scary. We become vulnerable, and that is even scarier. Already feeling insecure, we are then ....rejected. Now, we feel immense pain which manifests as shame (what will people think of me? who am I to have tried this in the first place?). So we quickly close our hearts and promise ourselves never to let down our guard again because THIS was embarrassing! Right? Wrong! This was not embarrassing. It was brave. And the entity telling you that rejection is embarrassing is not you but your ego (the part of you who reacts to the outside world and deeply cares about what other people think). So, if we (try our hardest and) take the ego out of the equation, we can see rejection for what it is: a guidepost that prevents us from going the wrong way while redirecting us to something that is meant for us. And since a subtle whisper would often not suffice (we are strong-willed humans, after all!), redirection often materializes as loud and painful rejection. That way, we are sure to listen (for pain is something that we humans pay close attention to, especially when it is our own). So next time you experience rejection and are pained and shamed by it, try and take a step back and put some faith into the new path that all of a sudden has opened up instead. It is your path, after all! Start exploring it! 3. No excuses It usually takes time before we take risks. And rightfully so: before we take a (serious) leap, it is crucial to understand what we are risking entirely. To examine who, how, and what will be affected by our taking a risk is necessary to determine whether this risk is worth taking. This valuable preparation time means we are serious about our endeavor and want it to succeed. And when done thoroughly, it will allow us a better take-off for when we jump. Then there is what I like to call the justification time, during which we come up with one excuse after the other to rationalize why we are not able to take the risk we have been contemplating. These excuses always start with the following three words. I am not ... I am not strong /smart/ original /attractive/rich (fill in the blank) enough. When we are scared to take risks, there are endless ways we can try and convince ourselves of all the reasons that make it impossible to pursue our endeavor. The good thing is that there is always that inner voice. The one that bugs and bugs you for as long as it takes for you to face the truth: your excuses are plain excuses and you either continue to nourish them or destroy them. One by one. Until there are none left. Until the inner voice has won, and then you prepare and muster up all the courage and ... jump. 4. Be You A common excuse for not having yet dared is because "someone else has done x/y/z (fill in your heart's desire here) already". Fact is: yes: someone else has very, very likely already done (and accomplished/ received awards for/ made millions doing) what you would like to do. So here are your options: not doing what you feel passionate about at all (and regretting it forever) or just doing it your way. You are unique, so whatever you create will have your distinctive signature on it, independent from anything that has ever existed before. And if you continuously remember to tap into this creatively unique well filled with your authenticity and originality, courage, and resilience, there are no limits to what you can achieve. 5. Your only shot This is it. This is your opportunity. Right here and right now. You have this precious life which will end at some point (amidst our daily to-dos, we like to forget this rather consequential certainty), so really: carpe diem and seize the present. Stop and smell the flowers, gather the rosebuds and strike the iron while it's hot... you get my point: take the chance. Now. And then be brave and share the story of how you dared with others, for THIS is how we replace judgment with empathy and (seeming) failure with (actual) success.

  • Book Guide: The Day You Begin

    A child is never too young for a conversation about being different. It is a life-long heart-to-heart that goes beyond any pages of a book. It is a familial conversation that begins at home where our children listen and learn from their parents' school of thought and (hopefully) start to develop their own. It is a personal conversation that continues throughout our lives as we - consistently and courageously - keep reevaluating whether our belief system still mirrors the human truth. Finally, it is a collective conversation that asks us to encourage one another to raise our voices and share our stories in order to see the real beauty that lies within our differences. And this is where The Day You Begin comes in. Published in August 2018 by American writer Jaqueline Woodson, this book is a must-read for all of us - children and adults, alike. Inspired by her great-great-grandfather's life (William J. Woodson was the only black student in his classroom in Ohio), Woodson lovingly addresses "the many ways we walk into rooms and feel like we don't belong there." In the story, we meet characters who are all very different from one another which makes them feel uncomfortable at first. As the readers turn page after page of this beautifully illustrated book, we find the characters acknowledging their differences and starting to see them for what they truly are: unique treasures upon which friendships are built. The Day You Begin lovingly encourages readers to move past this uncomfortable feeling we all know too well when we are amongst people who are different from us and asked us to raise our voices and share our personal stories. Woodson's message is clear: only by being our authentic selves and hearing others speak their truth, and learning from them, will we be able to understand one another better, appreciate one another more, and love one another more deeply. This is a meaningful (and necessary) book for anyone who has ever felt left out, scared to raise their voice, or reveal their true self. This is a book for all of us. PS: Read more about 'The Day You Begin' in the Time with Kids interview with Jaqueline Woodson here. And if you would like to continue this conversation at home with your children, below are some questions upon which to reflect: ☆ Have you ever walked into a room full of pf people who seemed different than you? ☆ How did you feel? ☆ What made you feel that way? ☆ What is something that makes you unique? ☆ How might people with differences in ability, culture, race, gender, or wealth feel when they are in a group that seems different from them?

  • Happily Ever After: 10 do's for a lasting marriage

    by Chantal Bufe They say that a successful marriage requires falling in love many times and always with the same person (M. Mc Laughlin). Would you agree? This year, my husband and I are celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary, and while we are nowhere close to our parent's achievements (40 and 48 years of marriage, respectively), we decided to take a look back at all the lessons we have learned over the past all the DO's (and don'ts!) that have worked for us... so far! 1. Pick the right one - for you. Make sure you are sure when you say 'yes.' This includes finding out as much about your spouse-to-be as you can. What are their values and beliefs? On life? On family? What are their goals, their hopes, and their dreams? Do they want children? And if so, what kind of parent do they want to be? While this may sound unromantic, it is the essential prerequisite for a happy marriage. When you find that yin to your yang and begin your journey with a deep-rooted, unwavering knowledge of having chosen the right life partner, you will be able to build a strong foundation from the very beginning. And when seeds of love, trust, and respect are planted (and tended to) from the start, it will be much easier to grow a love that not only carries the most beautiful blossoms, but that can also weather many of life's storms. 2. The benevolent heart. When my husband and I got engaged, we received a letter from my mother-in-law in which she wished us well and encouraged us to always lean towards each other with a benevolent heart. Only with time have I come to understand how much wisdom these words carry: loving each other may be easy, but being kind to one another - every day, consistently - is much more complicated. But it makes all the difference! Every kind thought, word or gesture is a small act of love that contributes to building one big, beautiful whole. Just like Simone Signoret once said: "It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years." 3. We are one, not. Despite the incredible magic of the 'we' within a marriage, never forget yourself. Being married does not change the fact that we are all individuals with our hopes and dreams of living this only life that we have been given. When we remember to regularly check in with our sense of self and reexamine our personal preferences once in a while, we are more likely to lead the life (and the marriage) we want. And when we are given the freedom and support to pursue our dreams, we are much more likely to want the same for our partner. 4. My happiness, my responsibility. This one is wise to remember from the onset: your partner is not responsible for your happiness. You are. It is so easy (and frequently, oh, so tempting!) to look to the one(s) closest to us to relieve us from any feelings of discomfort, unhappiness, stress, or worry. Yet, all that does is create unrealistic expectations and feelings of disappointment (premeditated, of course), which usually result in...yes, you've guessed it... a whole lot of resentment and tension. Which none of us want. So practice self-awareness and self-care. Do the things that you know you need to feel fulfilled and happy. And then go and do them. 5. Communication. Talk to each other. As much and as openly as possible. Your words are your lifeline, and maintaining a strong connection is vital. First and foremost, honest communication allows for more transparency. Frequently it is our assumptions about our partner's feelings or behavior that lead to tension. When we share openly - and include our partner in our thinking process - we automatically lessen the chances of unrealistic expectations, unwanted surprises, or plain misunderstandings. Instead, we build trust, show respect, and encourage support. The more room you leave for open communication, the more potential for engaging in conversations and fulfilling exchanges. Talk about keeping it interesting! 6. Alone time. Together. Make an effort to schedule regular alone time with your spouse. I am consciously saying effort since - once children enter the picture - even a night out (let alone a weekend/ week away) can involve organizational logistics similar to planning the Olympic Games. But it is always, always worth it, and all parties involve benefit: parents get the precious time and space they need to reconnect, and the kiddos get one of the greatest gifts a child can ever receive: happy parents - and comfortable home! 7. Don't sweat the small stuff. Over the years, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. This has taken me some time, but as I grow older (and hopefully wiser?), I realize that a) life has enough in store to keep me on my toes as it is and that b) my days are way too precious to waste any energy on anything that does not carry true meaning or importance for me. So, pick your battles and only fight for what truly matters to you. Otherwise: breathe, forgive (if need be), let go, and move on. 8. Carry your weight. Chores are one of the primary sources of relationship tension, and I have always found it so annoying to get into a fight about something so... well, annoying! Over the years, what has worked for us is to remember that we are in a partnership and that we are therefore equally responsible for creating a set-up that works for us both. When chores cause distress in your relationship, sit down together, and figure out a system that (really) works for you both. Tensions arise not from the actual unfinished/incompleted task but from feeling let down and disappointed. 9. Remember the fun. This is your only life, and it is your responsibility to make it as excellent, exciting, and fun as possible. Once you get married, this responsibilty does not fade away (or 'transfer' to your spouse, in case you've wondered). It is up to you to bring some humor and lightness, and plain fun to the table if you want to live within a happy marriage (and a comfortable home). Humour and laughter are not only incredibly sexy, great stress relievers and ways to connect. They are also one of the most useful tools to defuse potentially explosive situations... and there will be potentially explosive situations within a marriage. Yes. Really. 10. Don't take each other for granted. Your time here on earth is finite, as is your time with your loved ones. If you keep remembering this (yes, every day, people), you will treat the precious time you have with your spouse as just that: a treasure that deserves both your attention and appreciation - every day. So get out those sticky notes for some love messages to post around the house, send text messages telling your spouse how much you can't wait to see them tonight, or remember to say thank you more often (and by that, I mean out loud'!). So, here you have it. These are the ten lessons we have learned over the past years, and we are humbly aware (and blissfully hopeful) that the future holds many more in store for us. And while our experiences may vary from yours, we are convinced that the ultimate lesson - the universal truth - for us all to remember is this: Happily Ever After is not a fairy tale that requires a princess and a knight. Happily Ever After is a love story start begins and end with yourself. (Photo: Mandy von Stahl/ Unsplash)

  • Take 5 - the easiest breathing technique for kids

    by Chantal Bufe They say that your breath is your brain's remote control, and I couldn't agree more. Almost every day, I find myself telling at least one of my children to remember that "your breath is your medicine" and that by focusing on their breath when they are feeling anxious or sad, they can calm their mind and control their feeling a little bit better. Learning how to breathe consciously is the most valuable tool we have as humans: our breath is always right there at our disposal, we can regulate it as needed, and it always, always helps us improve the wellbeing of our body, mind, and spirit. So the sooner our kiddos know how to use their breath, the better! The Take 5 breathing technique combines a bit of Arts & Crafts fun with an effortless breathing technique for kids - one that our little ones can do instantly, whenever they feel like it: 1. Stretch your hand out like a star. 2. Get your pointer finger ready to trace your fingers up and down. 3. Slide up each finger slowly - slide down the other side 4. Breathe in through your nose - out through your mouth 5. Put it together and breathe in as you slide up and breathe out as you slide down. Keep going until you have finished tracing your hand. 6. Repeat as many times as needed. PS: the 4 - 7 - 8 breathing technique and one great way to connect with your child (Photo by Charlein Gracia/ Unsplash)

  • Shopping guide: Laguna Beach's Tuvalu Home

    Like most people right now, our little family is daydreaming about our first outing after the lockdown. What will we do? Where will we go? Whom will we see? For us, it will be Laguna Beach. We will stroll around our favorite town, visit all the little shops we love and have missed so much and show them our support - in hopes that all of them still exist. Fingers crossed! One of my favorite gems in Laguna Beach? Tuvalu Home! A coastal/eclectic interior design store by founder, owner, and Laguna Beach native Laurie Alter that contains everything your spirited interior design heart desires. Tuvalu Home carries a variety of incredible brands, such as Palecek which offers unique furniture, lighting, and accessories, all made of renewable materials. Or Arteriors, another favorite brand of mine. Rarely have I seen such incredible statement lighting fixtures, made out of materials such as nautical ropes, metal, driftwood, or shells. My (literal!) Arteriors highlight? These Jarrod pendants that also come in white - simply gorgeous! Indeed, Tuvalu's furniture and accessories are so elegantly, yet effortlessly, arranged, and displayed that all you end up wanting to do is move into this organic space this very second, just as it is. Tuvalu Home offers so many choices in furniture, lighting, and accents that you are sure to find that one piece to perfectly complements your home. We love their rugs (how gorgeous is this lush surya denali black area rug?), their eclectic pillows, or unique vases and candle holders. And how beautiful is this coconut shell mirror or this mosaic double dresser? True investment pieces that are sure to accompany you forever. Tuvalu Home is also my go-to destination for gifts, whether it be a special coffee table book or a cool print. My favorite hostess gift? The Simpatico Ambergris bath soak salts. Unfortunately, these are not displayed on Tuvalu's website. So you may just have to go there in person but remember: once you are inside, it will be hard to leave. Looking for more treats around Laguna? Check out Le Macaron, our favorite spot for something sweet. Tuvalu 295 Forest Ave Laguna Beach, CA 92651 USA (949) 497-3202

  • Coping with grief (amidst a pandemic)  

    by Chantal Bufe Day 254759 of lockdown - or at least it is starting to feel that way. While I am so incredibly grateful that my family is healthy, safe, and lucky in so many respects during this extraordinary time, I am the first one to admit that there have been many challenging moments during the past weeks. There are tough days homeschooling (not only for the children), repetitive household chores that have me questioning my sanity (didn't I just do this?) and regular temper tantrums (pick a child: one of our three kids has one emotional outburst at least once a day). The most challenging moment during the last weeks, however, was born out of true pain: my paternal grandmother passed away due to old age. Her health had been declining for months and while we were somewhat prepared for her death, we never anticipated not being able to say our goodbyes when the time came - which is exactly what happened: the imposed lockdown due to Covid- 19 had made a visit to the palliative care station impossible and my grandmother died alone. For some time after, I grappled with the knowledge of her passing without any family by her side. And I grieved. And during this grieving process, something interesting happened: I did not feel the bottomless loneliness that usually accompanies my grief. On the contrary, I felt the powerful energy of a unified entity around me and it occurred to me that this was because I really was not alone! While I was sitting in solitude (in literal isolation!) - grieving the loss of my grandmother - I realized that indeed a much larger, collective grief was taking place synchronously as each and every one of us is currently grieving something - loved ones, jobs, old lives, old selves. In essence, we are grieving one and the same thing: time. Time as we used to know it (and used to spend it); the time we may think we are currently losing by living in isolation/unlike before and the uncertain times that still lie ahead of us. Unquestionably, we are all currently wondering what our new reality, our future, will look like after this pandemic. So when we look closely (inwards and outwards), grief - or shades of its notorious seven stages - are all around us: some people are still in shock or denial while others feel anger and pain. Some find themselves depressed, lonely, or in deep reflection while others are accepting and optimistically hopeful. And as we currently mourn time, those who have grieved before know that it takes just that - time - to get to the relieving final stages of grief: calming acceptance and affirmative hope. Still, during a particularly challenging moment last week - as I was missing my grandmother - I tried to remember: Besides putting our faith solely in time, what else is there that we can proactively - consciously! - do in order to inch ourselves closer to acceptance, to hope? And then I remembered a letter that I received in 2016 which holds the answer to this very question. 2016 had been a particularly challenging year with the passing of my father in March, my best friend's father passing in April, and my maternal grandmother passing in May. Three deaths of three very important people and three funerals within less than three months. I remember life turning very dark for a while. Grief hit - so very hard and so very loud - and when it did, I remember not even knowing where to begin. There was so much pain and confusion and pure resistance on my part that I remember thinking (and saying out loud, my apologies here to anyone who was around me at the time): "No matter who dies now, I AM NOT GOING!!!" And amidst my resistance - which had me running in circles - my brothers and I received a letter from my mother in which she reminded us that - while our pain may seem insurmountable - there was indeed something we could do to move through our pain, heal our wounds and lessen the scars. This is what my mothers' letter read: To my children, As mentioned I would love to share some thoughts with you that may be useful in guiding us through this time: As you know, all of us collect experiences throughout our entire life. Some are beautiful ones and some less so. Most often, it is the painful experiences that let us come into contact with true reality, one that allows us the deepest insight and most profound understanding of the circumstances and connections around us. Experiences let us consciously feel life: we suffer, and it is these painful experiences that help us learn and help us grow. People come into our lives and they also leave our lives. And when these moments, days, months, years, or decades end, it is the memories that remain. And our entire life consists of memories. And during this life, all humans face different fates: babies can pass away, young people can pass away and elderly people can pass away. And then there are people who go on to live a hundred years or more. Whatever fate, life just is. Grief comes in waves and not everyone grieves the same way or at the same time as the rest of the family. There are days when you may feel lighter and more positive and then, on other days, grief just overcomes you and you feel all of its phases: anger and bargaining; depression/reflection/loneliness; pain and guilt; shock and denial. These moments are moments of truth that require us to really look at what is happening with us: what is it that I feel? And to let that pain happen, which means to admit: yes, it is painful; yes, it makes me feel depressed; yes, it makes me feel desperate; yes, it makes me feel hopeless. In this case, letting the pain happen means upright recognition, honest recognition! Upright means: realizing that I can recognize pain objectively and subjectively. I have a choice. Upright means: to not fall into the trap of self-pity (which is subjective) and to put yourself into the position of the victim (for then you enter a depressing, downward spiral towards increased helplessness). And by recognizing the pain, in an upright and self- determined manner (which is objective) I can open myself up for the future and decide: at this very moment, what would help me feel better? At times this can be sitting at home - by myself, quiet and cozy - at other times I need a friend to talk to or I need to go out or I need to do sports.... as long as choose consciously and in an upright manner, I am able to choose best what really serves me at that very moment. It is a mistake to believe that we can control or influence every aspect of our life. We may think we can, but we can not. Life happens around us, so many things happen around us, none of which we have any power over. BUT these things can and will influence our lives so remember that wherever life may take us, we are always FREE to choose.... which path do we want to walk? This is our chance! This is our possibility! My children, may these words serve as a reminder to stand upright and choose your future; a future filled with confidence and optimism. Embracing you always, Your loving mother In 2016, this was my mother's message to her children. Today, amidst a worldwide pandemic - one that has so many people in shock, in denial, bargaining with fate, guilty, angry or depressed - these life lessons remain just as relevant. 1. Life just is. While we would like to control every aspect of our lives, especially painful and challenging experiences, we really can't. And while we can choose resistance as our response to discomfort or torment, we really shouldn't. If our goal is happiness, we must remember to stand upright in order to feel deeply, accept fully, and love wholly. 2. Grieve is undeniably the most personal of emotions - only next to love - a human being can experience. Its uniqueness makes it impossible for any other person to fully comprehend: I will never know the shade or depth of my friend's grief only because I once had the experience of grieving myself. And for this very reason, there can never ever be judgment where there is grief. This is extremely important to remember at this moment in time: while you may disapprove of or simply not comprehend why a person around you is currently behaving they way they are, remind yourself that that person may be struggling, grieving for something in one way or another. So instead of quick judgment why not offer kindness and compassion in its place? That person may need your generosity of heart more than you can fathom. 3: We do not know what the future will hold. All we can do is to remain open for it and to remember that we are always free to choose. (Photo: Kristina Tripcovik/Unsplash)

  • 4 nature walk activities for Earth Day

    By Chantal Bufe April 22nd marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and it seems like Southern California's nature just waited for this milestone in order to celebrate with an explosion of sunshine, vibrant colors, and the sweetest smells. It is truly quite incredible to witness. We can not believe that these flowers are growing in our garden right now! Together with my beloved palm trees, of course. But here is the deal: while I count down the minutes to our daily family walk, finally getting out into nature after long mornings of homeschooling in front of computers and iPads, our kids have become much less excited about our daily outings - for we have taken more or less the same route for weeks now. And there are of course good reasons for this, as we keep explaining to our children: Southern California's strict lockdown rules stipulate staying close to home when outside and to not go into other neighborhoods for recreation as this is said to increase the risk of virus spread. And in order to help everyone, our family firmly obeys these rules. Especially since we are incredibly lucky to have a beautiful 5km trail (which is still open!) nestled inside a gorgeous canyon right in front of our house! And while I don't care much for - or indulge in - my kid's complaints about the monotony of our daily route (our children are so lucky during these times in every respect) I worry at the possibility of them growing bored of nature, of ever not wanting to explore it and worse of all... of forgetting to appreciate it for all that it is and for all that it offers us. So. Since I have am currently wearing a big fat teacher hat anyway, I have been looking for fun and educational ways to mix up our route routine. And in hopes that they will help your little ones rediscover a bit of flora & fauna fun, I am sharing four activities that we are currently exploring. 1. ...go on a basic scavenger hunt Since the point of our nature walk, these days is first and foremost a bit of exercise, we need activities that don't slow us down too much but allow us to keep moving. And a basic scavenger hunt offers just that and - in the spirit of sibling rivalry - even encourages going faster than intended. And this is what our kids definitely need right now: ways to release their energy! We used below scavenger hunt chart template (and adjusted it a little) and the kids loved it. Fini (8) and Flo (5), especially, rode their bikes up and down the trail yesterday eager to find all they needed to complete their scavenger hunt. Their highlight? The 159 lizards and 49 snails they encountered (and dutifully counted) during their walk/ride. Download the chart here at 2. ...use your senses! In the below chart the children are encouraged to note what they see but also what they hear, smell, and - most importantly - feel when they are outdoors. Do you hear the birds chirping, leaves rustling, or water gurgling? And if so, can we find out where the sounds are coming from? Do you smell the scent of flowers or fresh-cut grass in the air? And how does being outside make you feel (also compared to how you were feeling before)? This is a really sweet activity to encourage children to pay attention to their environment and understand that our external surroundings have the power to influence our internal state. When I recently asked Fini how she was doing on one of our nature walks - this was after a particularly difficult day of homeschooling during which she was unable to let go of her negative emotions - she simply replied: "I am better now, mummy, the wind made it better." When we are stuck in a negative mental place, before going inwards the key is to also check our external environment. Am I surrounded by what I know I need in order to feel happy? If not, what can I do right now that I know will make me feel more positive? We can teach even our young children, that there is usually a thing or two that we can actively do to feel better. This can be as easy as going for a walk, taking in the fresh air, hearing the sound of birds, and letting the wind take care of the rest... Download the chart here 3. ...find your treemate This activity is a fun and hopefully meaningful one, as it is all about connection: each child picks a tree he or she likes and then start to inquire. Why did I choose this tree? What makes it so special to me? What kind of tree is it and/or how can I find out? The tree can be visited again later when the child can see if anything changed. Is the color still the same, are new leaves growing, are the same birds living in it? We found that this is a sweet bonding exercise for our children who - at this point - really miss their friends as well as the daily connections with the people they are used to having around, be it their amazing classroom teacher or the kids from their soccer team. And while nothing can replace a best friend's embrace, it is a lovely way for children to express their care and compassion for a living element outside of their home. Oh, and if your kids are old enough, check out Judi Dench's documentary My Passion for Trees (2017) which provides a beautiful insight into the magic of trees. Download the leaf id sheet here: 4. ... take responsibility and action! Lastly, we want to encourage our children to think of ways of how to play an active role in protecting our environment, and with this in mind, the below chart provides a fun game. It lets the child identify a plant or an animal and asks why is it important to this earth? and how can you take care of it? On our last walk, for instance, the children saw a swarm of bees and we spoke about why they were significant and how we could protect them, or more, help them thrive. We could start cultivating bee-friendly plants or supporting our local beekepers? We find that once we heighten the children's awareness of what is around them in nature, a larger conversation about human responsibility naturally opens up (given our children's age). Last week, Fini asked about whether our family should be eating less meat (she was concerned about the animals and then happily surprised to hear that this would also help lower the emission of greenhouse gases, i.e. be better for our planet). We talked about how to recycle more effectively - which we find much harder to do in California than in Germany! - and if there is a possibility of creating a compost pile (also tricky here). There are endless reasons why children should spend time outside in nature and our family believes that these are not only benefits but a necessity. While it is still unclear (to me, at least) how exactly nature manages to influence our cognitive functioning while improving our mood, I do know this: our children seem more confident in nature, less tired and anxious and simply free (for a lack of a better word). They show tremendous creativity and imagination, playing with leaves and rocks, cones, and sticks, designing little shelters for bugs in the most inventive ways. They seem to care more for the plants and animals around them, whether big or small, than ever before. So just remember when your kids whine about having to go outside, along the same route, again and again, that they will feel better the minute they start walking for in every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. - John Muir (Photo: Noah Buscher/ Unsplash)

  • Gratitude: scavenger hunt for kids

    by Chantal Bufe Practicing gratitude is an essential element to leading a fulfilled and content life, and as parents, we can teach our children about gratitude, how to practice it and where to find it (in our lives and our hearts). When we continuously recognize and celebrate all the things we are lucky to have, we can live a life more prosperous than we could have imagined. There are many ways to encourage our children to walk around with open eyes, notice, see and appreciate all the things they are lucky to have in their lives and be grateful for them. From saying 'grace' before a meal, making them earn their pocket money or any other materialistic item they may want. From teaching them kindness and the importance of being of service to others to exposing them (in an age-appropriate way) to some of the realities of this world. I found that a beautiful way to encourage gratitude in our children is through their senses: what do you feel, see, hear, smell or taste? When you bake (and smell the delicious cookies in the oven that you made), when you skate (and feel the wind in your hair as you fly down the road), when you draw (and see what you have created with your own hands)? There are also games and activities to playfully encourage gratitude, like a gratitude card game or a gratitude mason jar (which your child can fill daily with little notes of thanks). Our favorite is this Gratitude Scavenger Hunt by Natural Beach Living. Such a sweet and fun way to encourage our children to be thankful for what they have! (Photo: Pro Church Media/Unsplash)

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