Can-Do Kids: Changing Our World at Any Age

ELLEN SABIN

This article is written especially for young readers eager to embrace the true spirit of the holiday season. Sharing it with them can help cultivate a lifelong practice of giving.

Have you ever seen someone do something that changed a situation from bad to good? Maybe your parents helped someone whose car broke down, or a teacher spent extra time after class helping you with schoolwork. No matter your age, where you live or what you own, you have the power to do good, too. What you do can make other people happy and make the world a better place. Here are some ideas to help you figure out how.

• A good place to start is to think about what’s important to you. This will help you find a way of giving back that you’ll enjoy and want to do again and again. For example, if you love taking care of animals, offer to walk an elderly person’s dog for them. If you get sad when you think about someone being lonely, visit a neighbor that lives alone or send a special card to a relative as a way to show your love.

• It’s nice to help strangers, but you can also do little things close to home that’ll make life easier and better for your family. You can call your grandma to say hello, help your mom or dad with the dishes or play a favorite game with your little sister or brother.

• You can also use your own special talents to help others. If you are a good cook, bake a healthy holiday treat to bring to someone that is feeling sick. You can read out loud a story to a younger child. If you’re strong and have lots of energy, you can help your neighbor take out the trash or do other household chores.

• You can have fun and make an even bigger difference by doing good things with others. One way to get your friends excited about joining you is to plan a “Giving Party”. Ask your parents to help you download a free guide (WateringCanPress.com/html/parents.html) that has fun ideas and activities for creating a holiday-time or birthday party or rainy day get-together.

• Giving to other people is important, but the planet needs us, too. You can practice giving by picking up litter, recycling and even turning off lights when you leave a room. When we pay attention to the environment around us, we can learn how to respond in a giving way.

Ellen Sabin is the founder and president of Watering Can Press (WateringCanPress.com), a publishing company committed to growing kids with character. Her series of award-winning books include The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of GivingThe Greening Book: Being a Friend to Planet Earth; and The Healthy Body Book: Caring for the Coolest Machine You’ll Ever Own.

Teaching kids value of kindnessFun Activity

Who’s Been Giving to You?

Whether it’s time, love or things, the people around us give to us all the time. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about what people do for us, so we forget to say, “Thank you.” Appreciating what people give us is just as important as giving to others.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. After you have answered each question, think about what you can do to thank people for their kindness.

Who shared with you? What did they share?

Who taught you something? What did they teach you?

Who showed you love? How did they show you love?

Who made you happy? How did they make you happy?

Source: Adapted excerpt from The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin.

Posted in December 2014

Find Your Fitness Style

Workouts that Suit Your Personality

While some people find repetitious workouts boring, others like doing predictable routines at regular locations. Ensuring that our fitness regimen jives with our “fitness personality” is integral to making exercise a consistent part of our lifestyle, a concept that has traction among exercise experts.

Jonathan Niednagel, founder and director of The Brain Type Institute, in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and an athletic consultant for professional teams, explains in his book, Your Key to Sports Success, that understanding our inborn brain type can help us to determine which sport is best suited to motivate us. In Suzanne Brue’s book, The 8 Colors of Fitness, she applies principles from the Myers-Briggs personality inventory to help readers develop a personalized exercise program. Susan Davis-Ali, Ph.D., in St. Paul, Minnesota, a professional coach for working women, created a Fitness Interest Profile survey for the Life Time Fitness health club chain. She points to research that suggests people that engage in activities appropriate for their personalities enjoy their workouts more and are likely to stay with them longer.

Identifying our fitness personality can help us find a program that suits our rhythms and interests. Based on composites from growing research, here are six categories that assess and capture the way we may feel about exercise; more than one can apply to any individual.

Disciplined and driven. This is an image to which many of us may aspire, even though not everyone fits the mold. These exercisers are self-motivated and goal-oriented. Commitment and consistency go hand-in-hand. They like to use devices to track progress, maintain a training log and/or work with a personal trainer in systematic workouts geared to measure improvement. Disciplined types are often early risers; starting the day with regular exercise is second nature. Compatible fitness regimens include cardio workouts, interval and weight training, running, swimming and martial arts.

Relishes routine. While these folks are disciplined and driven in some ways, they tend to be more relaxed about regimens. The key to success here is consistency. They like order and familiarity in exercise settings and practice and may enjoy reading or watching a screen during workouts. Whatever the preferred approach, whether it’s a favorite training video, Wii Fit video game, favorite teacher or memorized Pilates moves, these exercisers like to stick with it, even working out at the same time every day—often first thing in the morning or after work—finding that regularity can be habit-forming.

Conscious contemplative. Reflective individuals enjoy quiet, solo activities like long-distance running, biking, hiking and swimming, that allow opportunities to look inward, often without thinking too much about the physical details. Exercise offers a chance to clear the mind and renew the spirit while strengthening the body. These types naturally gravitate to outdoor pursuits, but some indoor practices may also suit them, like yoga, Pilates, tai chi or even karate, which incorporate a strong mind-body component. Workouts are often soothing, rather than intense.

Plays well with others. For many people, exercise is best enjoyed with others, combining the social and fitness benefits of both. Connections and camaraderie get them off the couch, revved up and ready to go. Whether it’s a committed group of friends chatting during water aerobics or a high-powered cardio class that compares notes, motivation comes primarily from the presence—and accountability factor—of others. A lunch-hour class at a nearby studio or gym may be a fun break in the workday. On weekends, consider golf, tennis, dance or a local recreation team.

Compulsive competitor. While the communal aspect is appealing, the greater gratification for this type comes through the thrill and challenge of competition. Trying to win is the great motivator, unlike driven and disciplined types that are happy to push through to their personal best. Team sports are a natural outlet, including soccer, rugby, lacrosse, basketball or swimming, plus disc golf, tennis or racquetball matches and running events.

Avid for adventure. It’s tough for any formal exercise program to keep the attention of adventurers. They crave freshness and spontaneity in fitness venues, activities that engage their interest and animate enthusiasm. It’s crucial for adventurous types to mix things up and not rely on any one exercise practice. Outdoor endeavors such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, inline skating or mountain biking have appeal. They may gravitate to the variables of Nia, Zumba’s high-energy Latin dance groove, kickboxing, exercise balls or hot yoga. A midday exercise escape can break the work routine. Their key to keeping active is to keep things stimulating.

Wendy Worrall Redal blogs at Gaiam Life (Life.Gaiam.com), from which this was adapted.

Posted in December 2014

Happy Feasting to All

Tasty Rituals that Deepen the Holiday Spirit

The holiday season is ripe with an array of spiritual, cultural and family rituals. We celebrate, reflect, give gifts and, of course, feast. Fortunately, the media also teems with tips on how to avoid high-calorie holiday goodies, says Dr. Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. For our diet-driven culture to resolve its struggle with food, she says we must learn to honor its intrinsic value. Ritualized eating can help; a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that engaging in food rituals evokes mindfulness that enhances the enjoyment of eating.

Pause

Hunger, the body’s fuel gauge, manifests in physical symptoms like a growling stomach or low blood sugar, says May, citing a useful analogy. “You wouldn’t drive around and pull into every gas station you see; you’d check your fuel gauge first. Before filling up with food, pause and check your fuel gauge. Am I actually hungry, or is this desire coming from something else?”

May suggests practicing FEASTing: First, focus on physical sensations, thoughts and emotions; perhaps we’re thirsty, rather than hungry, rationalizing that holiday foods are special, or feeling stressed or lonely. Next, explore why the feelings or thoughts are present, and then accept them without judgment. Strategize ways of satisfying the need and take a small step toward change.

Savor

Complex preparations for a major holiday can provoke anxiety and impatience, and likewise, feelings of longing or disappointment when it’s over. Sarah Ban Breathnach, bestselling author ofSimple Abundance and Peace and Plenty, recommends allowing Christmastide to unfold at its own pace and celebrating all of December with a homemade Advent calendar.

Craft a tree-shaped tower of tiny boxes or a garland of burlap mini-bags clipped with clothespins. Place an almond covered in organic dark chocolate in each container and use the treat as a daily mini-meditation. “Drop into the present moment, fully savor the luxurious, small bite and experience the pleasure of eating,” suggests May. Consider it symbolic of the season’s sweetness.

Connect

“Food connects us with one another, our heritage and our culture,” says May. Heather Evans, Ph.D., a Queen’s University professor and a holiday culinary history expert in Ontario, Canada, suggests creating a food diary of traditions to reinforce a connection with the past and support a holiday food legacy for the future. Ask grandparents about their childhood culinary memories, peruse family recipe books or discover new dishes that honor everyone’s ethnic heritage. Then create an heirloom holiday cookbook with handwritten recipes arranged alongside favorite photos and stories.

Sync

According to pagan philosophy, sharing seasonal food with loved ones during the winter solstice on December 21 symbolizes the shared trust that warmth and sunlight will return. Eating warm foods provides physical comfort and eating seasonally and locally connects us to the Earth, observes May.

Sync body and spirit with the season by stewing root vegetables, baking breads, sipping hot cider and tea, and nibbling on nuts and dried fruits. “The repetition of predictable foods is reassuring,” remarks Evans, and it celebrates nature’s transitions.

Play

New Years ritualsStir-Up Sunday is a Victorian amusement filled with fun, mystery and mindfulness, says Ban Breathnach. Some December Sunday, have each family member help stir the batter of a special Christmas cake while stating a personal new year’s intention. Drop a clean coin, bean or trinket into the mix and bake. Serve it with a sprig of holly on Christmas Day, and the person with the piece containing the lucky charm will be rewarded with a prosperous, wholesome and positive new year, according to tradition. Evans remarks, “This is a wonderful ritual for nurturing the health and spirit of the family.”

Give

Boxing Day offers something far more meaningful to celebrate than post-holiday sales. Originating as a tradition that thrived during the 19th century, “December 26 was a chance for landowners and homeowners to give back to household staff and local tradespeople,” says Evans. “It’s a tradition worth reviving to pause, reflect on our own good fortune and contribute to others’ comfort.”

Consider serving a meal at a local soup kitchen, collecting items for a food drive or offering a box of healthy culinary treats to community stewards at a fire station, post office or library. On Christmas Day, says Ban Breathnach, “Our kids have the world lying at their feet.” Boxing Day, she says, provides a natural transition to reach out in charity.

Lane Vail is a freelance writer and blogger at DiscoveringHomemaking.com.

HEALTHY HOLIDAY TOPPERS

Creating a repertoire of delicious wintery foods can help evoke health, mindfulness and delight during the holiday season. Dr. Michelle May advises approaching the entire process of eating, including the menu planning, shopping and food preparation, with a spirit of mindfulness, which adds a deeper dimension of pleasure to the experience. “Cake becomes more than just cake,” she says. “It becomes something the family creates and enjoys together.” Savor these rituals and recipes with loved ones.

Memory-Making Christmas Cake

This nontraditional, healthy Christmas cake is alcohol-, sugar- and gluten-free. It relies on fruit for sweetness, almond meal for moistness and vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange essences for a perfect mingling of flavors. Prepare the cake with the whole family as a Stir-Up Sunday ritual, and keep it tightly sealed in the refrigerator until Christmas Day. Serve in small portions at room temperature or warmed in the oven and alongside vanilla bean custard or plain yogurt swirled with orange blossom honey.

Yields 20 servings

2½ cups (600 grams) mixed and chopped dried fruit (raisins, prunes, figs, apricots, currants, sultanas and/or dates)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
Zest and juice from 1 organic orange
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 organic free-range eggs
2 cups (200 gm) ground almonds (almond flour)
¼ cup (50 gm) walnuts

Courtesy of Teresa Cutter, TheHealthyChef.comPreheat the oven to 300° F. Line the sides and base of a 7-inch round cake tin with parchment paper.

Combine the dried fruit, spices, vanilla, orange zest and juice, olive oil and eggs. Mix in the almond flour and walnuts, then spoon the batter into the baking tin.

Bake for an hour-and-a-half. Insert a skewer or toothpick to see if it comes out moist, but clean; if not, bake for up to 30 minutes more. (Cover the top if necessary to prevent over-browning.) After cooling, remove from the tin and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one month.

Courtesy of Teresa Cutter, author of The 80/20 Diet and founder of TheHealthyChef.com.

The Perfect Custard

Yields 6 servings

A velvety-smooth custard, also called crème anglaise, may be used as a foundation of many desserts. It can be flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, citrus, coffee or pistachio. Pour this vanilla bean custard over a warm Christmas cake or serve it straight up as eggnog, adding a touch of brandy and dusting of nutmeg.

2 cups milk of choice (organic, almond, coconut, soy or rice)
2 organic free-range eggs
2 tsp vanilla bean extract
2 Tbsp organic maple syrup or 1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp cornflour or kudzu Pinch nutmeg
Heat milk in a saucepan with vanilla and honey and bring to near boiling, then remove from heat.

Beat eggs and cornflour in a stainless steel mixing bowl until combined.

Pour the hot milk over the eggs and whisk in well.

Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon.

Remove from the heat quickly and pour back into the mixing bowl.

Whisk well to slightly cool and smooth it out. If any lumps appear, strain the mixture through a sieve.

Serve hot or cold. To warm up cold custard, put in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir and heat through gently.

NOTE: For an egg-free custard, heat 17 oz almond milk with 2 Tbsp honey or 100 percent maple syrup and 2 tsp vanilla extract until near boiling. Thicken with a slurry made from 2 Tbsp cornflour, arrowroot or kudzu. Finish with a sprinkling of nutmeg.

Courtesy of Teresa Cutter, author of The 80/20 Diet and founder of TheHealthyChef.com.

Melody Moonlight’s Magical Monster Loving Potion

photo by Carl HoggYields 4 servings

Melody Moonlight’s story, which birthed the potion
32 oz apple juice
½ cup dried holy basil leaf
2 Tbsp dried orange peel
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1½ Tbsp crushed cardamom
1½ Tbsp dried ginger root
1 Tbsp dried peppermint leaves
½ Tbsp ground nutmeg
1½ cinnamon sticks
13 drops each of essences of chicory flower, beech flower and rose quartz (all available at natural grocers)

In a large pot, bring the apple juice to a near boil.

Add all the other ingredients and turn off the heat.

Read Melody Moonlight’s story at Tinyurl.com/LovePotionStory to infuse it all with magic and meaning.

Courtesy of Andy Bottagaro, potion maker at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place, in Boulder, CO.

Posted in December 2014

Hymn to Living in Silence

There’s one truth, and it is silence. All truths come from, exist as and return to silence. Silence is behind every holy thought, word and act. All holiness is silent.

This is what all sages know and say: Enter silence and we leave behind the rubble of self and no-self, time and death. Enter silence and we see the world that God created; that we are the created. God, the world and being are one. Life is suddenly real—beautiful and perfect in each curve and angle.

This awakening into truth happens as we surrender everything to silence. We must give away our inventory of unreleased thoughts and cherished beliefs, undigested experiences and dogma, disappointments, fears, worries, resentments and sorrows; even personal desires and joys.

If it’s difficult to do: throw it away, fling it off, kick it out. Just don’t let it stay. We must empty our storehouses of past, present and future, and then burn them down so that nothing can ever accumulate again.

Now give more. Let go of ego, will and humility, ignorance and knowledge, the body and its faculties. Surrender what is and is not yourself. Give away meaning, purpose and happiness, even precious life itself. Nothing can remain.

Then, by letting everything go the second it occurs, we return to clarity, freedom and eternal openness. We live in silence. For it is in silence that God is working, playing and loving. In silence, we become perfectly one with that divine working, playing and loving.

When absolutely all has been given up and only emptiness remains, even then, take one more step towards silence. Give away the emptiness. Hold back nothing. Even the giver is given away.

Celebrate the dawn of the winter solstice on December 21 in nature and in silence.

In silence, we transform and are reborn. We become real with more joy, pleasure, peace and contentment than we ever hoped for. Our highest purpose is fulfilled, our greatest longing is realized in ways we know not.

In becoming nothing, we become everything. We need nothing, and thus have everything. With nothing to protect, only peace remains. It cannot be controlled or fathomed, only lived. We love this about the holy ones, the sages. No one knows how it happens, only that it does.

In silence, we are moved by what moves all else without knowing how, why or when. This is freedom, love and truth.

Robert Rabbin is a self-awareness teacher and author. Connect at RobertRabbin.com.

Posted in December 2014

Opening Up to Miracles

Motivational speaker and bestselling author Gabrielle Bernstein knows the gravitational pull of addiction firsthand. Although introduced to spiritual practices from an early age, she turned away from that upbringing in her 20s, pulled instead into a vortex of drugs, alcohol and unhealthy relationships while running a public relations firm promoting Manhattan nightclubs. After hitting rock bottom at age 25, Bernstein made the unwavering decision to seek spiritual help and change her life.

The entrepreneurial young woman found her groove as a spiritual teacher, introducing millions to new ways of thinking and living through her books, lectures, blogs and videos. Her no-nonsense approach to spirituality and knack for making practices like meditation and prayer accessible to beginners and cynics have attracted a new generation of seekers. Bernstein’s latest book, Miracles Now:108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose, offers simple, yet powerful tips to short-circuit unhealthy thought patterns and take a shortcut to transformational change.

Why do you reframe a miracle as simply a shift in perception?

Shifting your perception and choosing again is a core principle from A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical text that I study and teach from. When you choose to reorganize your belief system and align it with a loving, forgiving perspective, rather than a fear-based reality, that’s when miracles can happen.

Some people shift away from a harmful relationship with addictive drugs and alcohol like you did, while others take such unhealthy behaviors to the grave; what makes the difference?

Often when we get caught in unhealthy behavior, we aren’t willing to ask for help. I think the reason I was able to leave those behaviors behind and create a new path was my willingness to live a different way. I was able to witness my life and see that it wasn’t working. It’s an ongoing process; I’ve been on my current path of turning to spiritual principles for many years, but I’m still constantly working to apply them throughout my moment-to-moment experiences.

How does meditation help create radical change?

I think meditation is a key tool for health, happiness and well-being. It can help reorganize the nervous system, lower stress levels, calm the mind and recalibrate energy. It can help us experience more synchronicity in our lives and a greater sense of interconnectedness, as well.

What do you struggle with the most and what personal miracle are you still trying to realize?

I’m in constant conversation with myself over my thoughts and beliefs about judgment and separation. People are programmed by society to believe we are separate and to judge ourselves and others. My practice suggests a reinterpretation of that general belief system in order to perceive things differently. I also try to forgive limiting thoughts I was holding onto; for example, judging myself for not performing well at a lecture.

Talking too much in conversations is a big challenge for me. A practice in my Miracles Now book called WAIT, for “Why am I talking?” reminds me to notice when I’m saying too much, commenting unnecessarily or not supporting the greater good.

How do you think about money, and has that proven helpful in broader terms?

I believe that we have the power to attract healthier relationships in our financial circumstances in the same way that we have the power to attract healthier relationships with people in our lives. Some people think that you can’t both be spiritual and secure financial abundance; I think that’s nonsense. When you start to reorganize your beliefs around your self-worth and capacity to earn, and open up to your intuitive voice and the creative possibilities for earning, then your financial situation can change dramatically. I have lived that principle fully. I was brought up in a poverty mindset, but with a shift in perception, I was able to release my fears of financial insecurity.

Do you have a go-to practice that you reach for first when faced with a difficult situation?

When I’m faced with a complicated situation or feeling powerless, I say a prayer in stillness. Such a practice asks through prayer and listens through meditation. It’s in that stillness that I can hear the voice of intuition and the voice of forgiveness, and love can come forward.

Connect with freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.

Posted in December 2014