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For many of us, planning for the holidays is just another thing to add to our long list of things that stress us out. I felt the pressure as I walked into Home Depot over the weekend—I was greeted by a HUGE variety of holiday decor. 

OMG! It’s that time of year, again. 

This year, like no other, will cause you to search for the true meaning of the holidays and new ways to celebrate.

As you prepare for this upcoming holiday season, here are a few questions to consider:

  • What’s the meaning of the holidays to you and your family? 
  • In the past, what have the holidays looked like? 
  • What are some of your family’s favorite holiday traditions?
  • This year, what will be different? 
  • What needs to change?

Personally, the holidays are a time of celebration and gathering. It usually includes families who travel and friends who are like family. Food and fun are the centerpieces of activity. However, this year requires more conversation and planning beyond the menu and what football game is on television. Below are some ideas to consider as you make your holiday plans.

Think About Other Years The Holidays Were Different. Learn From Them!

This year will be like no other, but there may have been some years that didn’t go according to tradition. I recall one Thanksgiving where I had to work on the day after, but I wanted to have dinner with my out-of-town family. We decided to meet midway between our homes so we could be together. The only thing open was a southern-style restaurant. We were the only people there, and the food was pretty good. Was it our traditional holiday? No. But it is one of the ones that my children talk about and remember the most. 

Consider Creating New Traditions.

Change is not always comfortable for our near and extended family. A tradition becomes a tradition because it has meaning, and it occurs over time. Traditions take many forms: from using Grandmother’s china and silverware to who carves the turkey. As your family grows, it’s inevitable that change will occur. You may have had to create new traditions or adapt old ones. Different doesn’t mean deficient. It’s just different.

Create A Plan.

You have considered how things used to be. Now, think about the new possibilities for the holidays. It’s ok to look at a variety of conditions in order to create a plan that works for your family this year. (You may need to work on contingency plans as well.) 

Here are some thoughts that may enhance your planning:

  • What are the latest health guidelines and recommendations? 
  • Are we willing to travel? If not, will we allow family to come to us?
  • How many people can attend? 
  • Should we be tested before gathering? 
  • Should we gather in homes or try to find a large space for our festivities? 
  • Can we celebrate earlier? Later?

Talk and Listen to Family

Seek out your family to discuss plans. Everyone may not be on the same page and that’s ok. Be open and willing to be flexible with the plan. Listen for concerns and fears, but also new opportunities. Remember the meaning of the holidays and how you can work together to make it come together this year. 

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that family and friends are what matter. The holidays are moments of concentrated time we have with those we care about the most. It may not look the same as it has in the past. It may actually be better because we’re keeping first things first.

Ready or not—here comes the 4th of July! But what if this year you really connected with your family, not just got the grill out and some sparklers? Holidays are a great opportunity to connect, strengthen family bonds, build your family identity, maintain or start new traditions, and even learn some history in a fun way! Oh, and eat good food!

1. Eat Together. (And Let The Kids Plan And Cook The Meal!)

If you are anything like the average American family, it is getting rarer and rarer to eat together as a family. This a great opportunity! Whether you go the traditional burgers and hot dogs route or the kids pick some crazy stuff—make sure everyone eats together. (And that they put their phones away after they snap a couple of pics of the family and yummy food.) There is just something special about sharing a meal together that strengthens family bonds. Don’t let your teenager make a plate and disappear to watch television or play video games. This is family time!

2. Cultivate Conversations!

Just like the charcoal grill needs some time to warm up, conversations often need a little time to get cooking. While you are eating, have some conversation starters ready—What are you looking forward to this summer? Whats your favorite family memory & why? What 4th of July stands out in your memory? Is there anything that we (parents) DON’T let you (kids) do that you wish you had the FREEDOM to do? ★ Retell “those” stories that tend to come up when everyone is together and laugh at them. If you have multiple generations of your family represented or extended family, encourage them to tell stories from “back in their day” or how their families celebrated holidays. Don’t rush off—let the conversations ebb and flow.

3. Have Fun!

Card games, board games, get the Heads Up app on someone’s phone. (It’s a blast for the whole family!) Depending on how old the kids are and the weather, don’t be afraid to get wet. Get that sprinkler out, the kiddie pool, water balloons, squirt guns, or just start spraying kids with the hose! (They’ll scream and run away—and then run back for more.) The internet is full of Fourth of July craft ideas. For a twist, let the kids pick the crafts and games or even let them make up a game that everyone plays. Go for a walk after dinner around the neighborhood or ride some bikes. Stop and say “Hi” to your neighbors.

4. Learn A Little History Together!

Reenactments, movies, and virtual tours are great fun ways to learn a little about what Independence Day actually means (or just some American history in general). These can be fun for everyone, plus they can add a little depth to your Fourth of July. (Don’t make it like school—school’s out!) For reenactments, you don’t need elaborate costumes or props. They’ll be more fun (and funny) with what’s laying around the house. The midnight ride of Paul Revere, Washington crossing the Delaware, battling the British, cracking the Liberty Bell, the family forming the Statue of Liberty. Whatever!

Check your television or streaming service for specials, documentaries, biopics, or age-appropriate war movies to learn about the lives and sacrifices that built America. Gather the family around for some edutainment!

Virtual Tours are awesome! Maybe try the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, The Museum of Flight, National Women’s History Museum, NASA, The American Battlefield Trust Virtual Battlefield Tours, or any number of others. What better time to learn about the country than on the Fourth! Can’t decide? Try one of these 15 virtual tours of American landmarks. (If possible, connect it to your television!) Lots of virtual tours have games built into them like scavenger hunts.

Be intentional about this (and all holidays).

Sometimes we get so busy with food, crafts, and decorations that we forget about family. (Your kids won’t remember the perfectly matched plates, napkins, and cups. They will remember the family fun and conversation!) ★ If you are one of the many people who feel conflicted celebrating this Fourth of July given our current events, remember, this country affords us the freedom to talk with our families about the ideals upon which this country was founded—”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,”—and what we have seen happening across our country. It’s a great conversation with our children to learn the responsibility that all of us carry to live out those ideals. Seize this moment with your family! This is the perfect day to examine our country and ourselves. 

This Fourth of July doesn’t have to just be an excuse to get the grill out—it can be a meaningful and profound way to connect as a family!

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Celebrating the holidays with family looks different for everyone. It can be super stressful, too. Some families get along really well and they look forward to being together. They never speak harshly or cry, get in a hurry, burn the rolls, forget to thaw the turkey or have a meltdown at any point. Other families just know that major conflict or hurt feelings are predictable, but they long for something different at their holiday gatherings.

Whether your family holiday gatherings are fun and carefree or they’re not the stuff of your dreams, the way you choose to communicate at a get-together can make a huge difference in the way you feel when you head home.

These ideas can help you out!

  • Consider trying to get on the same page ahead of time. Talk about who is coming so you can prepare, especially if there will be extra people that you or your children don’t know well or see often.
  • Anticipate and set boundaries. Most families have at least one person who has the potential to make holiday gatherings interesting, if not downright miserable. Don’t let them get under your skin. Instead, take a deep breath, and recognize you’re only going to be around them for a limited time. Don’t allow them to steal your joy. You don’t have to prove your point, have the last word or “win in a conversation with them.” Consider telling everybody that super-divisive hot topics are off limits for discussion at the gathering.
  • Be self-aware and teach your children to do the same. Talk about what to do if someone says something hurtful or gets on your nerves. In the moment, it’s easy to forget that you have a choice about how you will respond. Discuss how you know when someone’s getting the best of you. For example, your heart starts beating faster, sometimes people feel warm, your palms sweat or you want to cry. All of these warning signs can let you know to proceed with caution, help you stay in control of your emotions and choose how to respond to the person. If you talk about it ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared and less likely to lash out, defend yourself or lose it.
  • Get your ZZZs. Believe it or not, getting enough rest can be a huge help when it comes to healthy communication with family members. Rest helps you to think clearly and be less on-edge. When you’re tired, it’s easier for people to get the best of you.
  • Guard against anticipating too much about how things are going to go in general or with a certain person. You can actually make the situation worse if you’ve replayed scenarios in your head. It’s one thing to prepare yourself; it’s another thing to have yourself so on edge that if someone uses the wrong tone of voice or a certain word it sets you off.
  • Take a breather. If you think things are escalating and you don’t feel like you’re doing well, go for a walk to get some fresh air. If that’s not an option, find a quiet place to breathe and calm down. Research indicates that just 20 minutes of doing something different will help you recalibrate and handle a situation better.
  • Have a plan. Sometimes it helps to bring a little structure to the holiday gathering instead of everybody just hanging out. (That can open the door to who knows what!) Occupying everyone can go a long way toward keeping the peace and creating fun. Grab some boxes of graham crackers, gum drops, candy canes, pretzels and other fun treats and let people make gingerbread houses. Or, gather food items and such and have everybody help make care packages for the local homeless shelter. Divide into teams and play several rounds of Minute to Win It (this is easy for children and adults to do together). Get a fun Christmas puzzle and let everybody work on it. (Once it’s finished you can frame it!) Play a game of Name that Tune: Christmas Edition. Anything that creates an atmosphere of fun is helpful.
  • Pay attention to others. If you really want to make someone feel special and set the tone for the day, show interest in the things that matter to them. Request that delicious casserole recipe. Ask to see recent photos or find something to compliment about them. Ask them what the best part of their year has been.
  • Know when it’s time to go. If you’ve tried all you know to try and you’re either not enjoying yourself or feeling emotionally or physically drained, it may be time to make a graceful exit. Give everyone a hug or shake hands. Then say thank you and end your visit well.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. Acknowledge that perfect holiday celebrations can be overrated. After all, think about all the things you laugh about from past celebrations. Chances are, it’s probably not all the things that went just right.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 14, 2019.

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It’s here—that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, and places to go. Not to mention there’s only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

For the most part, we’re really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. Plus, we ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat. Then, if we’re honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that’s the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but you’re still stressed about all you want to pack into the month. Even if you’ve opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations.

The holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family, and even strangers.

It may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible. However, this season has the unique potential to create a new mindshift going forward.

A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons. But perhaps the most important reason is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present during the holidays and in the lives of others.

Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the most meaningful gift we can give doesn’t require us to spend money. But in our minds, it may be the most costly present—because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present during the holidays. Time is the one thing that once you spend it, you can’t get it back.

Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

This article originally appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 7, 2019.

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With all of the expectations around the holidays, things can get kind of crazy. The very time that’s supposed to bring families closer together is often filled with extra stress, fighting kids, awkward extended family dynamics, and sometimes marital tension.

Sometimes the craziness gets the best of us and family members start to feel disconnected. This leads to all kinds of holiday drama—the very thing we all want to avoid.

Want to help make sure the holidays are a time where family members feel connected and close? Here are some things you can do at home, in the car, during meals, and out in the community that not only will create conversation, but also laughter, insight, memories, and you guessed it, CONNECTION!

IF YOU’RE TRAVELING…

Instead of automatically plugging into technology, what about giving your kids a limited amount of time with tech stuff? Don’t be intimidated by the pushback and don’t expect them to thank you any time soon. Get creative and offer some motivation for participation. For example, for every 30 minutes you play the game you get X number of minutes with your screen. During the downtimes, interact with each other by playing some of these games:

  • Categories:  Pick a category (Disney movies, popular songs, flavors of soda) and take turns naming something in that category until someone is stumped. (This person loses and the winner picks the next category.)
  • Going on a Picnic: This is a memory game for all ages! The first person starts a story with, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” and then lists an item. The next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” and then lists the first person’s item PLUS a new item. As the story grows and grows, each person repeats the list and adds a new item. The first person to incorrectly list all the items is out! You can keep playing until only one person remains.
  • License Plate Game: Interpret the letters in each license plate you pass. For instance, TMK could stand for “Toasty Miniature Kangaroo.”
  • People-watching: Watch a vehicle traveling on the road near you for a few minutes. Make up a story about the people in the car. Answer questions like: What are their names? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What are they going to do when they get there? The sillier and more detailed the story is, the better!

IF YOU’RE STAYING AT HOME AS A FAMILY

  • Plan a walk and play “I Spy.” When you exercise together, your brain releases endorphins that create “feel-good memories” you can all enjoy for years to come. Walk around the yard, neighborhood, park, or find a local hiking trail, but encourage the whole family to come! To keep the kids engaged for the walk (and to keep things playful for the adults), play as many rounds of “I Spy” as you can. Then keep track of who wins the most “I Spy” rounds and award them with a special treat when you get home, like hot chocolate, a cookie, or maybe watching the movie or show of their choice.
  • Make something special. Baking goodies for the ones you love is fun, but baking goodies for someone in need, or someone who doesn’t expect it is even more fun. It also teaches the littlest ones in the family that holidays aren’t just about receiving, but giving! Choose one or two people, families, or organizations you’d like to delight this holiday season. Then, gather together in to bake something yummy together and share. Consider giving to an elderly neighbor, a family friend, the staff of a local nonprofit your family supports, etc.

IF YOU’RE SHARING A MEAL WITH OTHERS…

To avoid awkward silence at the dinner table with relatives or friends you may not see very often, try a few of these conversation starters:

  • What is one way you have helped another person this year?
  • Who is someone in your life you’re thankful for and why?
  • If you could have dinner with anyone (past or present), who would it be and why?
  • If you could have a superpower what would it be and how would you use it?
  • What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen?
  • What is the hardest thing about being your current age?

It’s possible to be in a room or a car full of people who are not interacting fully with each other, especially when routines get thrown to the side and people are tired and cranky. When people feel disconnected and schedules are upside down, chaos reigns. Instead of chaos, plan for what you know is coming, whether it is boredom, difficult conversations or unwanted silence. During the busiest season of the year, these tips may help lessen the drama and help you make memories with family and friends.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 30, 2019.

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Maybe you just aren’t feeling thankful this year. Maybe you haven’t felt thankful for a long, long time. Let’s face it, in a lot of ways, we live in some dark times. I’m with you. There is a reason that suicides go up during the holidays. There is a reason that this is the season for infidelity and divorce. So, what do you do if, honestly, you just don’t feel very thankful on Thanksgiving?

Don’t beat yourself up for not “feeling it” this year.

It won’t help. You already know that you don’t live in a Third World country without clean drinking water and basic infrastructure. I’m not hitting you with all that stuff. Things can be hard no matter what tax bracket you’re in. Sometimes being more affluent makes it harder to be thankful. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. You don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad. You don’t have to feel bad for not feeling thankful, either.

It might be time to take a hard look at your Thanksgiving Game Plan.

Does it involve a lot of family and travel? Tons of cooking or hosting? Seeing people that might be family, but are difficult to be around? Traditions that come with all kinds of expectations?

This might be the year to start some new Thanksgiving traditions. This might be the year that parents, in-laws, and extended family are all informed that your family will be doing something different this Thanksgiving. (Translation: We won’t be piling kids into a car, fighting traffic for hours, and showing up stressed out with a casserole.)  

Try this: This year, we are taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to stay at home and rest and focus on our family. We wish all of you a wonderful, Happy Thanksgiving!

There is nothing wrong with that! Your family should get it. Hey, they might be relieved.

Be honest.

Is what you’re referring to as “not feeling thankful” really masking a deeper issue? Is it more accurate to say that you are “unhappy?” Maybe even depressed? Anxious? Lonely? Angry? Bitter? Think of your feelings as an iceberg. Not feeling thankful might be what is showing above the surface, but the deeper issues that need to be dealt with are below the surface.

Sometimes we slap a bandaid on a superficial issue, put on our brave face, go through the motions, and never address what’s really wrong. (We might even be able to fool those close to us for a while.) This isn’t a long-term solution. What we think we are hiding below the surface eventually will “bubble up” in ways that hurt us and even cause pain to those we care about. It’s probably already happening…

Take care of yourself. Hear that? Go get the help you need. This might be the Thanksgiving that you will always be thankful for because you took your mental and emotional health seriously and made self-care a priority in your life.

Okay, you aren’t feeling thankful this Thanksgiving. Often, we look at thankfulness as a feeling and it totally can be something you feel. But sometimes thankfulness is a practice or a discipline or a habit. Thankfulness can be something we do or something we cultivate, not just something we feel. (We get into this habit of letting our feelings drive our actions– I mean we’ve all tried to explain our choices by saying, “Because I felt like it,” right?)

Catch this last thing. This is really cool and it isn’t some Yoda or Mr. Miyagi stuff, but sometimes the actions come first and then the feelings follow. Read that again.

Cultivate thankfulness even though you don’t feel it. Yet.

1. Sit down and list everything you are (or should be) thankful for. Think of different areas of your life, include all the big and all the little things. Start really basic: “I’m alive.”

2. Write a “thank you” card to someone who impacted your life and explain how they influenced you. Try to avoid electronic communication if at all possible. A handwritten note gives you more time to ponder as you write and will mean so much to whoever receives it. Write a few cards if you can. They still make stamps, right?

3. Find a way to make someone else happy this Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be big or showy. Often, the smaller the act of kindness, the better. It can be totally anonymous.

Listen, this might sound heartless, but you don’t feel thankful on Thanksgiving this year. So what? How can you make someone else thankful? Make it your mission. Get creative. Get a little crazy. What is a need someone has that you can meet?

Hold on, hold on. Wait a second!  What is that you’re feeling? Thankful…

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

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I can’t believe that it is less than 90 days from Christmas! It seems like yesterday I was actually looking forward to school starting because it brought some structure back into my carefree summer lifestyle. Today, I am headlong into sports, extracurricular activities, and community service events. It’s far from carefree- it’s stressful. But that’s okay.

I feel exhausted, overwhelmed and don’t know how to get off this merry-go-round that is my life. The real dilemma for me is, do I really want to get off the merry-go-round? Should I get off? Do I know when I need to hop off? Despite all that is swirling around, I am choosing to enjoy this season in my parenting life. I realize that it will only be for a SEASON. So, how do you lean into the stress that is unavoidable?

I am the proud mother of three sons ages 21, 16 and 13. I realize that the time for me to be a Hands-On Mom is quickly coming to a close. If you are like me, living in the midst of chaos, you want to know how to keep your head above water.

Here a few tips on handling the stress of parenting:

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan: I am not the most organized person. I try to keep the car on the road by creating a plan. Understanding that things will probably change, I still have a calendar with everything on it color-coded. (I need the color-coding!) I include my work schedule, the boys’ school calendar, sports, meetings, extracurricular activities, and even my husband’s two work schedules.
    Stress might be inevitable, but NOT having a plan dramatically increases my stress.
  2. Learn To Say, NO: I am generally a social butterfly. I am learning to say “no” to things that are not the BEST use of my time, energy and attention.  Even good things and fun things. Sometimes the answer is just, “No.” (If I say “yes,” I make sure to add it to the calendar and, yes, color-code it!)
  3. Empower My Children: I have to be honest and confess that, often, the reason I feel so overwhelmed is because I am continuing to do things for my sons that they can do for themselves (e.g., washing clothes.)  I rationalize doing things for them by telling myself that I can do it faster and get it done correctly (e.g., not placing a red shirt in the white clothes with bleach.)
    The reality is that I need to empower my children to be independent and to learn how to do certain things for themselves. And that’s less stress for me.
  4. Follow Your Child’s Lead: If we are honest, there are activities that our children participate in that they HATE. Why do we make them do those things? We tell our kids: It looks good on your resumé. It will help you get a scholarship for college. I would have loved to have this opportunity when I was your age.
    There can be a lot of truth in those statements, but what is the balance with letting our children develop their own interests? Sometimes we are stressing ourselves out as parents by rushing our kids around town to do things they don’t even enjoy. Are we really doing it for them or is it to relive our past or fulfill our own hopes and wishes?
  5. Build Relationships: Sometimes stress is relieved in community. I am a proud Band Mom. I have created friendships with other parents whose children are in the band. We tailgate together, sit at the games together, and do the funny band dances with the band. It’s nice knowing we are in this together! (I also get to spend time with my son enjoying something that he enjoys.)

I often hear from moms dealing with an empty nest, “Enjoy your time with your kids. It flies by so fast.”  They’re not wrong. In spite of this being a crazy season of life, I cherish these moments with my sons and try to handle the stress in healthy ways.

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Celebrating Earth Day usually never crossed my mind because – I’m just going to say it – I kill plants.

Unintentionally, of course. But I’ll admit: my dad’s green thumb had not NOT passed down to me. So it’s no surprise that about 4 years ago, there was a pot full of soil sitting out on my back deck, the sad remnants of where a beautiful plant used to… ahem… barely survive. I had neglected it terribly and the empty pot was a constant reminder of how I was unable to provide the appropriate care and attention required for horticulture.

Then one fine day, I saw a tiny green bud poking out of the barren soil. The next day, I saw another bud and a stem sprouting up. By day three, there were three little green plants growing in the pot. A couple of helicopter seedlings from our large Maple tree had found their way to their new home. There was soil and some rainy days that allowed these little seeds to sprout!

I was pregnant with my first child at the time and saw this as a miraculous sign of the life also growing within me.

I was convinced that this was our “Family Tree” and when the little plant continued to thrive… my belief was confirmed. So, once our little girl was born and the baby tree was large enough to survive in the ground – we planted it, as a brand new family, on Earth Day.

Having a family tree planted in our backyard has provided the opportunity to talk with our daughter about our environment and how to take care of it. It melts my heart to see her innocent tenderness toward our family tree as they grow together! This Earth Day, why not teach your children how they can enjoy and nurture mother nature?

Here are 5 fun ways to celebrate Earth Day with your family!

1. Plant (and/or tend to) a garden:

Get your garden gloves on and your watering can out! Planting a garden can be a neat experience for any age. Younger kids can help water the garden or create colorful plant markers using craft supplies. Older kids can help plant seeds and pull weeds. When the fruits and veggies are ripe, everyone can pick them together! Working together to establish a garden can open up a bigger conversation about responsibility (for specific gardening tasks and for the environment as a whole).

2. Take a hike (or just a walk):

It seems like a no-brainer, but being out in nature is a sure-fire way to appreciate the beauty of our planet! Whether it’s a walk around your neighborhood, a local park or a more scenic mountain trek, your family can enjoy the scenery, as well as each others’ company!

3. Make the switch to reusable water bottles:

If you haven’t already ditched the plastic, now’s the time to grab a glass or BPA-free plastic water bottle to refill and reuse daily! A simple change like this can have a huge impact, not only on the environment but also your wallet: On average, Americans spend about $5 a week on bottled water which means you could save $260 per person, per year, by switching to a reusable water bottle. (For a family of four, that’s $1,040 in savings!)

4. Eat plant-based meals for the day:

Eating your fruits and veggies is not just good for your health; it’s good for Earth’s health, too. Even if it’s only for one day of the week (hello #meatlessmonday), skipping the meat and animal byproducts can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, conserve water. It takes 2,400 gallons of water to product a single pound of meat! This frees up our land and resources. 30% of Earth’s land mass is used to raise animals to eat. Despite the fear of the unknown, cooking a meal without meat or dairy is extremely easy! There are so many recipes out there that even the pickiest of eaters will still enjoy, we promise!

5. Make some resolutions:

Just like New Year’s Eve, this holiday is the perfect time to set some goals for the rest of the year. Write a list of practical ways your family can conserve, recycle and reuse every day! Post your list somewhere prominent (like your refrigerator) as a reminder to keep the momentum going! Every change, whether big or small, will make an impact.

Spending some extra special time with your family, no matter what you’re celebrating, doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or extravagant. The memories you make are priceless and will last a lifetime! Happy Earth Day!

Looking for more family resources? Click here!

Oh, Valentine’s Day – the one day a year it’s okay to wear pink and red together, tell total strangers you love them, and spend way too much money on chocolate.

And don’t forget about celebrating your overwhelming, joyous love for your partner! Right?

For so many couples, Valentine’s Day is more of a routine than a holiday. Get the flowers? Check. Go out for dinner? Check. Eat (all) the chocolate? Check. Then… go back to the norm the next day. But why has the “day of love” turned into one day of over-the-top, mushy-gushy effort to prove our love to our partner?

It doesn’t have to be that way. You may have heard that couples should “treat every day like it’s Valentine’s Day,” and this is not a bad idea! Now, it doesn’t have to mean that you get flowers for your spouse every day or have a fancy meal each night. It does mean that you and your partner choose to express and celebrate your love for each other every day of the year.

It will look a little different for each couple. But here are a few great ways you and your spouse can celebrate Valentine’s Day every day!

  • COMMIT TO SERVE. The humility it takes to serve one another is a great foundation in any relationship. Commit to serving your partner in their needs and wants. Maybe they need some alone time, or they want to try out a new restaurant. Be aware of ways that you can give to your partner and go for it!
  • ALWAYS FORGIVE. This is easier said than done, of course! But try letting go of previous pains or arguments and focusing on the conflict as the problem. It’s a great way to start the process of forgiveness!
  • CELEBRATE THE GOOD. Every couple is guilty of forgetting to do this. Even something as simple as writing a thank-you note to your partner is a great way to bond!
  • BE GENEROUS. This is not financial generosity, but generosity with who you are, the energy you have, and what you give to your love. A balanced relationship is not where each is giving 50%, but where both are giving 100%.
  • ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER. This may not happen as frequently as most couples wish, but a “thank you,” “I’m proud of you,” or “You were great when…” can totally transform a relationship.

Don’t let Valentine’s Day be the one day a year you think through how you can love your spouse the best. Choose to do at least one thing every day to put a smile on your partner’s face, and see just how far it will take you!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

In a quest to find out what makes life meaningful for Americans, the Pew Research Center conducted two separate surveys in 2017. The first asked people to write in their own words what makes their lives feel meaningful, and the second asked respondents to rate how much meaning and fulfillment they drew from different sources.

After reviewing thousands of responses from a diverse range of Americans across the country, in both instances, the most popular answer was clear and consistent: Americans were most likely to mention family when asked what makes life meaningful, and they were most likely to report that they found “a great deal” of meaning in spending time with family. 

Family was ranked first by two-thirds of respondents, career or job came in second place, followed by money. One in five cited their religious faith, friendships and hobbies, all of which came in fourth on the list.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this survey is that it mirrors the results from a study commissioned by the YMCA of the USA, Dartmouth Medical School and the Institute for American Values in 2003. Science has consistently demonstrated that people are hardwired to connect to other people, and to moral and spiritual meaning. They don’t just want these connections; they need them. 

The evidence is overwhelming. Humans desire close attachments to other people. It begins with our mothers, fathers and extended family, and then moves out to the broader community. Meeting these basic needs for connection is essential to health and to human flourishing. 

Large and growing numbers of people are suffering from a lack of meaningful connections to other human beings. This is especially true in today’s digital age. In fact, studies show loneliness is at epidemic proportions in America. However, when people model what it means to be a productive person in society, everyone benefits.

During the holidays, people often evaluate the meaning of life for them. As you gather together throughout the holidays with friends and family, don’t underestimate the power of the connections you’re making. Despite the inconveniences that may come with planning for holiday get-togethers, the time you spend with loved ones provides a type of connectedness that is irreplaceable. And it has the potential to impact future generations.

Click here to read the entire article. It originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 16, 2018.