Posts Tagged 'Holidays'

Be Present to Receive the Gift

By Karisse Callender

downloadA lot happens during the holiday season. There’s a lot of food, celebrations, family visits, travels, and time with loved ones. No matter the situation or our experiences, there is a gift we can all give to ourselves – the gift of mindful living so we can be present, in the moment, to fully experience life.


Here are some mindful tips and suggestions for the holiday season to help you remain present:

  • Practice gratitude: I use the word practice because being grateful takes intentional effort and it is a habit that needs to be cultivated. During this season, take a moment to think about at least three things you can be grateful for. It can be as simple as “I’m grateful for having a meal today,” “I’m grateful for a safe place to sleep,” “I express gratitude today for waking up.” A gratitude list can help to remind us of the simple things in life that make the biggest difference. On the days when it seems hard to find something/someone to be grateful for, think about what you would express gratitude for if you were having a good day.
  • Set intentions: Think about what you want this holiday season to represent for you. Is this a time for you to bond with distant family? Create new rituals with loved ones or for yourself? Is this a time to be contemplative and introspective? Whatever your intention, write it down and work towards it.
  • Journal: This is a great way to keep track of your thoughts and feelings over the holiday. It’s also a way to sit with what you are experiencing, in the moment. What did you learn about yourself? How did your intention(s) manifest? What were you able to do for others? How have you grown in the year? What lessons from the holiday can you take into the new year? How have you shown yourself loving-kindness over the holiday?
  • Radical acceptance: It would be ideal if things happen the way we want, all the time. However, that’s not the reality of our lives. When we feel confused and have no control over how things happen, you can remind yourself that “it is what it is, it is as it should be.” In other words, you are recognizing what is happening, as it’s happening, and acknowledging that it is out of your control.

Mindfulness is less about sitting still and more about being present in our lives – each moment, each experience, each day. When we take the time to be attuned to what is happening within and around us, we learn more about ourselves and our needs, and what we are capable of giving to others. As we think about what we can give to others, another mindful practice this holiday season is to remember and reach out to those who may also be in distress. Some may experience grief, a sense of loss, poverty, homelessness, and discord in relationships. As we think of the ways we are blessed and the simple privileges we have, let us also think about how we can be the difference for others.

May you all be happy, healthy, and at peace during this season and the new year. Be well.

A Season for Self-Care

6808412351_d8928f0240By Dr. Lisa Edwards – “It’s that time of year!” I’ve been hearing this a lot recently from colleagues, students, and friends, and I’ve been saying it myself. There seems to be a certain level of stress in the air, an energy that you can almost feel as you walk around campus or enter a school or mental health center. There are piles of work to get done, coupled with unexpected situations and crises that have to be addressed. And in the midst of it all, each of us is trying to manage our own professional and personal lives, while avoiding the latest cold or flu. Perhaps it’s the time of semester, the change in weather, or the holidays. Either way, it can be a lot to manage.

It would be easy during this time of year to push ahead and sacrifice sleep, balanced meals and exercise to get everything off the to-do list. We could spend our moments complaining about how busy things are and day-dreaming about a more calm time. I admit that I sometimes do this—my mind will wander as I imagine a day off from work (and kids) where I can sip hot chocolate, do some baking and reading, and take a few naps.

The reality is, however, that I won’t have an entire day like this. Dreaming of this just makes me frustrated, and then I find myself complaining. So, what’s a more productive way for us to approach the season rather than working to the point of exhaustion or living in a fantasy world? Slowing down and taking the time to periodically nourish our bodies and minds.

It’s exactly in these busy times, when it feels like we can’t possibly squeeze in another minute or activity that we have to make time for self-care. Research would suggest that when we take the moments to step away from work and engage in self-care, we can actually be more productive. The consequences of not attending to self-care, of course, are that we can become sick, overwhelmed, irritable and even burned out. At that point, we surely won’t be able to accomplish anything on our to-do lists!

Below are some basic self-care strategies that are easy, brief, and that you can implement today (or even right now!):

Take 5. Try taking a walk (outside, or up and down the stairs), or doing some basic stretches to get your body moving at different points during the day. Also consider trying a short guided meditation. Sitting in silence can be challenging if you don’t already have a regular meditation practice, so guided meditations are great for helping us through the process. Some of my favorite meditations (options range from 3 to 20 minutes, about different topics) can be found at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website:

Turn off the technology as early as possible. We all have grand plans to go to bed early, but then one activity leads to another, and another, and suddenly we are faced with getting less than an ideal amount of sleep. Research suggests that sleep is critical for our bodies for a variety of reasons, and a recent study even demonstrated that adults who were infected with a cold virus were less likely to develop the cold if they slept at least 7 hours per night. So let’s promise to turn off our phones/ iPads/ TV’s/ computers at a certain point in the evening and head to bed for some quality zzzz’s.

Pace yourself. There will be a lot of food temptations this season, many of which will be replete with the very ingredients that we know will zap our energy and increase inflammation in our bodies. Just because the cookies are there in front of us in the lounge doesn’t mean we have to take them every time. But, it can also feel discouraging to constantly deprive ourselves of a treat. Perhaps a little balance is more helpful. We can pace ourselves by having healthy breakfasts and lunches (think adding more whole fruits and vegetables) if we know we are going to indulge in treats later.

Extend compassion to others, and yourself. There are times when it’s important to hold others, and ourselves, to a certain standard or expectation. Sometimes, however, we can ease off a bit without sacrificing what we need. If a certain relative doesn’t pitch in during the holidays, cut them some slack. If a friend doesn’t seem to be as attentive this time of year, let it go. We’re all just trying to get through these busy times, so let’s be patient with one another. Most importantly, extend that same compassion to yourself. So you didn’t get to bake something for a party, or you didn’t accomplish everything on your list—oh well! None of us is perfect, and life will go on.

What self-care strategies do you do this time of year?

A Note on the Author: Lisa M. Edwards is an associate professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. Her blog,, is dedicated to sharing mommy-inspired and science-informed strategies for cultivating strengths.

Family First: What really matters during the holiday season

giftBy Sabrina Bong — After nearly half a year as a middle school counselor, I have started making a list of things I wish could be forbidden: girl drama, dating before high school, parents who have absolutely no interest in their child’s life, and parents who take a little bit too much of an interest in their child’s life.

But most of all, I wish I could eliminate poverty among the families in my school. As an intern, I knew that several of my students were struggling to get by: a lot of them were on free or reduced lunch, or came to school in the same dirty clothes for the entire week. But now that the holiday season is in full swing, I am seeing firsthand how poverty can frustrate a family.

This past month, I have had several families reach out to me, asking for help. Many times, the parents start off the phone call or email with, “I am so embarrassed to ask, but …” Some of the stories I have heard are absolutely heartbreaking: parents who have lost their jobs, parents who suddenly have more medical bills than they expected, or parents who lost their home and are now moving from friend to friend in an effort to keep their children fed and sheltered. Of course, this struggle has also meant that they are worried about creating a happy holiday for their children.

Sometimes, the students aren’t aware of this. But sometimes, you run into students who are painfully aware of their difficult circumstances. I remember one of my students coming into my office and telling me how, if he had any money, he would spend it on his little sister so she can get the Barbie she wants. When I asked him why he would do that, he explained that his sister was only in second grade, so it was more important that she get a toy instead of him. I was shocked. At the tender young age of 12, he was able to keep the spirit of Christmas alive, despite the circumstances.

As hard as it is to hear these stories, they also touch my heart. It is incredible hearing the selfless acts that people do in an effort to make Christmas a happy time for others. Teachers will willingly donate their time and money to ensure that their students get a little present. Local organizations have “giving trees,” where employees can pick the name of a child and buy them a present. Friends of students are making sure that everyone has a place to have Christmas dinner and celebrate.

Every day, I am thankful to have a job that I enjoy. It is a struggle on some days, but it is also a lot of fun. Most importantly, this job reminds me that I am incredibly blessed in life. Many of my students have been, unconsciously, showing me what really is important this holiday season. It is not the presents, the food, or the cards. Truly and simply, the holiday is about being with family. And whether family consists of parents, grandparents, or best friends, we should all be thankful for who we have surrounding us.

May you have a blessed Christmas season, and a wonderful start to 2014!

Carefully Combating the Crazy Christmas Classroom

By Nick McDaniels — Any classroom teacher will tell you that the week before the winter holiday break is a week that is seemingly filled with full moons. The students amazingly forget all the routines you have worked so hard to put in place and you are left scratching your head, hoping your supervisor doesn’t pop in and see children dancing like sugar plums throughout the classroom. All of us want to ensure that instruction continues up until break, but find ourselves searching for ways to curb the season’s enthusiasm.

If you are teaching in an impoverished area, you must understand the complexity of the situation before attempting to suppress the holiday happiness.   The holiday happiness is not always happiness, but rather a reaction to the stress of a holiday season that might be marked by hunger, violence, and hopelessness. With that understood, there are a number of things a teacher can do to ensure that as much learning as possible takes place the week before the holidays and that the experience is rewarding for everyone.

  1. Unless you are incredibly comfortable with your students, avoid holiday-themed assignments that speak about love, religion, family, feasting. These could cause unnecessary longing and stress and result in negative behaviors.
  2. Do not assign work that is worth a lot of credit or will be difficult to make up. Because many students will have spotty attendance around the holiday season, making sure the assignments that are given will not severely penalize absent students will help minimize the compounding negativity that the holidays can sometimes carry.
  3. Redirect energy into positive ideas. Instead of trying to suppress student energy, redirect it into calm positiveness by playing music while students work and having student assignments be directed toward being giving toward others, rather than receiving from others.
  4. Be sure your students know that you will miss them over break. Even if this requires lying, students need to feel loved and wanted during the holidays. Explicitly talking about what you are preparing to learn about after break will help students to know that you are dedicated to teaching them and would rather be with them than home for a week.
  5. Know your students well enough to know which parents to call for negative reports and positive reports the week before break as you have the power to greatly influence a student’s holiday experience.

I realize that these ideas are somewhat unspecific and do not provide a foolproof way of maintaining sanity as a classroom teacher around the holidays. However, keeping in mind the fragile emotional period that the holidays represent for many students in poverty will only help you to be the positive force your students need this time of year.

Sustainable Insight

By Jes Lothman — I love to cook and equally enjoy grocery shopping for all the necessary ingredients.  Now that I am home I have had the luxury to cook many meals including homemade sweet potato gnocchi with a rich sage and butter cream sauce, pumpkin pancakes with pecans and syrup (my favorite), and homemade pesto pizza topped with sundried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts.  As a result of all this culinary exertion, I have been back and forth to the store more often than I care to admit. During my last visit, I made an intriguing observation.

The cashier asked me “paper or plastic?”

Why is this routine question intriguing?  Well, when I went to the store in Cape Town the question was “Do you need to buy bags?”  Anytime the mention of grocery shopping came up in South Africa, there was a collective understanding that we needed to go home first to pick up the necessary shopping bags and only then we would head to the store.

The implication of not having brought bags to the grocery store in South Africa was paying 50 Rand cents per bag.  While this fee was nominal–the equivalent of about 10 cents–it was a cost nobody wanted to incur and as such, we went out of our way to avoid the expense.

Now that I have been home for a month, the habit of bringing my own bags to the supermarket has vanished, sadly. The quick reversal illustrates that environmental factors influence behavior more than I previously thought.

In higher education much ink has been spilled on the topic of the college environment and its effects on college student success and integration.  C. Carney Strange and James Banning are two scholars that come to mind, as well as Kristen Renn and Karen Arnold who studied campuses as micro-, macro- and meso- systems.

As I look forward to returning to South Africa next semester, I plan on revisiting these authors and several others who have mined a similar vein. In my new role as Residential Coordinator, it will be my job to create a positive space for students to interact with each other, the culture and their studies.  Being more aware of the affect of environmental components will help me immensely.

As for grocery shopping stateside, this afternoon I am on my way to buy the necessary ingredients for Christmas cookies.  And I’m taking along my own reusable shopping bags—I promise.

Saying Thanks: Thoughtful Teacher Gifts Inspire Priceless Memories

By Kathleen Cepelka — During the holiday season—but certainly not only during this time—the topic of appropriate gifts for teachers often circulates around the family table. As a K-12 teacher and administrator for many years, perhaps I can offer an experience-based perspective and some practical suggestions for those still wondering about “how to say thanks” to those who are tirelessly working to educate today’s students and form tomorrow’s leaders.

It’s critical to remember that teachers appreciate being appreciated all year long, not only during holidays or on special occasions. Although they derive tremendous intrinsic satisfaction and rewards from their lifetime commitment to education and from the little successes they experience with individuals and groups of students on a daily basis, they do become re-energized when someone, in any way, says “thank you.”

Teachers appreciate receiving feedback about their impact on the lives of their students. A parent I worked with years ago who knew she was dying of cancer took the time to write, “You took my reluctant sophomore son on a field trip to a senior care center, and he hasn’t stopped talking about the World War II stories he heard and the bingo games he played. Thank you for looking out for him.”

Teachers welcome gifts or decorations for their classrooms such as a basket of supplies, a quilt including children’s photographs, or a diary for recording daily classroom experiences. A mom at a local school recently organized a huge gift bouquet for a teacher comprised of flowers created by her individual students.

Other teacher-friendly gifts include

  • Donating a monetary gift in the teacher’s name to a local food pantry, literacy center, Habitat for Humanity, or Food for the Poor
  • Contributing a book to the community or school library in the teacher’s name
  • Presenting a gift card to a local restaurant
  • Cooking a meal, dividing it into one-serving portions, and gift-wrapping the containers

Students’ input into teachers’ gifts is important, since enabling students to learn the process of giving—thinking about the “why” and the “how” of the gift—matters as much as the “what.” Any type of handmade or hand-grown gift is particularly special.

Material value is truly inconsequential when it comes to gifts for teachers. In fact, the most significant remembrances often have no commercial value at all. In my office here at Marquette I have two of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received: a hand-drawn sketch of six former student teachers with the caption, “Thank you for teaching us how to fish” (extracted from the proverb, “Give people fish, and you feed them for a day; teach people to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime)” and a large group photo of my former high school faculty with personal messages and signatures beneath. Priceless gifts, both of them, because they inspire even more priceless memories.

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