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How to cultivate social-emotional well-being in our families

If there’s anything the past 2 years have made excruciatingly apparent, it is the urgency of social-emotional wellness for families. Kids require care and instruction to manage successfully in school (whether that’s in person or online) and in life. Skills like identifying and managing emotions, being a good friend, controlling impulses, communicating effectively, and working with others are invaluable.

Big emotions—like anger, fear, and sadness—can be really uncomfortable. But even uncomfortable feelings are okay. In fact, all emotions are okay. It just takes practice to manage uncomfortable emotions so you can respond in a healthy way.” ― Jessica Speer

 Social-emotional well-being strengthens us as individuals and as communities, especially during uncertain times. When we practice and build our skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship building, and decision making, we are better prepared to circumnavigate stressors, anxieties, and challenges. We can resolve problems and work together to function at a higher level—in the classroom, at work, and at home.

In the same ways we exercise our bodies or practice dribbling a ball, we have to train in identifying, articulating, and handling our emotions. Empathy is a muscle we have to activate. By consistently doing so, when we encounter stressful situations, we have a toolkit that we can readily draw upon to help us navigate that stressor or decrease the conflict.

So how can we practice Social-emotional well-being at home? Here are a few ways that families can easily incorporate them into their lives.

1. Take care of yourself, even when you are bogged down with your to-do lists and other demands

In order to foster the social and emotional skills of young people, you must take care of your own mental, social and emotional wellness. Young children are sensitive to the stress of their caretakers. They sense when we are worried and anxious, and our emotions directly affect the emotions of our children. We must create time, for our own wellness practices—journaling, going for a walk, meditating, exercising, for instance. Just like we would put on our own oxygen masks first before putting on a child’s.

2. Create routines with the intention

Routines ground us and offer a sense of safety and security. They are especially important for young children. Right now, amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, having the groundedness of set routines and schedules brings with it a semblance of certainty.  Establish a daily routine for you and your children to stick to. Create intentional time and structure for social-emotional learning. This would ideally be 5 to 10 minutes of dedicated practice every day. This could be done through, art, dance, yoga, dance, or journaling.

3. Quality time

Many parents may be more physically present as kids will be home due to the summer holidays and the uncertainty of the pandemic. But that does not mean they are truly present due to increased work demands while supporting learning at home. It is vital to dedicate planned time to connect and not presume that it will happen naturally because we are more “present” now than ever before. Be intentional about when you’re connecting with children and when you are working. Set daily times for playing together, reading books, or singing songs.

4. Devote time for acts of service or kindness for others

Cultivating ways to offer kindness to others helps us build thankfulness for our own lives and situations, and improves our own physical and mental health. Write a letter outlining the highlights of your day, or draw a picture of a joyful moment you’ve experienced or something you wish for someone else.

5. Participate in creativity together

Being creative is a fundamentally vulnerable process, especially for older students and adults. By expressing our creative sides, we can open up to find opportunities to learn new things about ourselves and others or learn new modalities to communicate. Cooking or baking together, doing puzzles, colouring or art projects, playing board games, or writing a poem or a song together are some instances of exploring creativity together.

6. Practice active listening

Don’t simply presume that you know exactly what your child is feeling or is afraid of. Ask questions, listen actively and model eye contact, and then explain what you can in response to their questions. Validate that you see and acknowledge their feelings, fears, and concerns. By validating our child’s emotions, we help them better accept and understand their feelings, develop self-compassion, and commiserate with others.

7. Help your child express and name emotions

This aids young people understand what it is that they’re feeling. If children are struggling to identify their feelings, ask them to express them through drawing, a facial expression, or a movement in their body.

8. Practice social-emotional learning mindfully

Creating important habits take practice, and just as you brush your teeth every day, children and adults both need to regularly identify, express, and manage their emotions. Our emotions and stressors vary hour to hour and day to day, and it’s important that we check in with ourselves and those around us in order to recognize what we all need in order to work through those feelings and move through them together. You could also gently stretch your bodies and follow the leader, co-regulating and bringing down your “emotional temperature” to center yourself and move on to the next thing with more focus.

We will certainly not be perfect each moment of every day. But by opening an honest dialogue about our emotions and integrating Social-emotional well-being into our family structure with intentionality, we are only helping ourselves and our children now and in the future.

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Creativity vs. Judgemental Mind

We are defined by our experience. And our experiences, our perceptions, are determined by what we pay attention to. Sometimes we have the choice of where we look and what we think about, and sometimes we have a locus of attention forced upon us. When we make judgments of ourselves or of others, we cast attention to a thought or belief that is limiting and sometimes negative and when taken to an extreme can put ourselves, or our flexible mind, into a box.

So, thinking about how we look at and feel about the world and ourselves can affect whether we are open, accepting, and flexible enough to work at the top of our creativity.

Excerpt from: Creativity vs. the judgemental mind

Being able to create expressive art without the pressure of producing an end product suitable for public consumption, has been a freeing and at the same time empowering experience for me. In therapeutic sessions with clients, being able to work with a nonjudgmental lens for oneself and for the client is the space from where the healing and transformation begins.

One is experiencing all kinds of emotions on a daily basis, even the ones who do a lot of spiritual and inner work. I remember how earlier my coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions used to be shopping, going out to a coffee shop hoping that it will go away with these short term pleasure activities. But after sometime, I noticed the pattern and nothing was being done to break it and some days I would spiral. It’s painful to sit with these emotions to go deep and see what is really causing the anger and hurt. It starts with acknowledging whatever is arising and expressing it on paper in any form but in a safe space where a trained professional can hold you as you take this journey inwards.

By working on this consistently and with honesty, one can move to a place of acceptance and find the strength to deal with whatever arises.

After acknowledging the presence of anger and resentment, I was able to go down to the root which led to grief and loss. Accepting that gave me the strength to create space for that and I was able to find some peace to move on.

Expressive and creative arts when used in a therapeutic way become expressions of our emotions and we do not have to worry about the result being an artwork fit for a gallery.

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Summer is an ideal time to hit the reset button

Many of us first arrive at our spiritual practices in the summer. There is something about the changing pace of our lives during these months that makes it easier to devote time to grow and look inwards. An idyllic time to hit the retune and retreat from whatever drains you.

A time to pause and wait for the energy planted in the Spring to reach full bloom.

If the Spring season signifies action, the Summer epitomizes patience. Itrepresents the transition from action to nourishment, which is exactly what the Sun gives us during the long nights of summer, both to our harvests and also to the continual journey we traverse from darkness to light. Summer reminds us that there is hope in the world, that the light within can spread to the far reaches of the world and inspire others. Summer becomes a time to work on ourselves and our ability to be the light and find meaning in our journey, even when it seems uncertain. This is the rhythm of nature; new beginnings transition into a period of uncertainty.

Here are a few ways to help us with self-healing during the summer season:

  1. Clear out the old. Sit quietly for a few moments thinking about your fears, regrets, and sorrows. Now is the time to let go of the old stories that keep you small. The past is over, so make space for the new.
  2. Play like a kid again. Let the child in you come out to play. Taking off your shoes changes your connection with the world. You relax and let your guard down. So, play in the garden or in the open space. It is good for the skin to touch Earth and the soil is soothing, grounding, cleansing, and healing.
  3. Feast on summer treats. Have a picnic with summer fruits, grilled vegetables, and a great summer salad. Add some lemonade or iced herbal tea. Invite your neighbours or friends to join in the festivities.
  4. Cherish moments of summer stillness. J. Krishnamurti observed in Meditations: “As you watched, a great stillness came into you. The brain itself became very quiet, without any reaction, without a movement, and it was strange to feel this immense stillness. ‘Feel’ isn’t the word. The quality of that silence, that stillness, is not felt by the brain; it is beyond the brain…You are so still that your body becomes completely part of the Earth, part of everything that is still. And as the light breeze came from the hills, stirring the leaves, this stillness, this extraordinary quality of silence, was not disturbed.” Find a place where you can experience this kind of stillness.
  5. Take in the wonders of sunsets. Look at the colours in the sky at sunset. The day that is diminishing away is like your inner being that is changing little by little, that has the freedom to transform, to grow. Look into these colours of the sunset and notice the ‘being’ that you are, which is renewing. As you watch a sunset, deliberate on the shades and divergences in your life. Say goodbye to those parts of yourself you wish to transform or discard as the Sun dips behind the horizon.
  6. Listen to your body. Summer is an ideal time to pay attention to your body. You will have opportunities to soothe and comfort it through water and warmth and to develop it through exercise and extra rest. Listen to your body and see what it needs the most. As Miguel Ruiz says, “Also, go inside and listen to your body, because your body will never lie to you. Your mind will play tricks, but the way you feel in your heart, in your guts, is the truth.”  
  7. Unlock your creativity. This time of year, your soul desires creativity. Summertime holds a particular type of charm to it that somehow gives us permission to expand our thinking and creativity. It’s the perfect time to visit museums, take vacations, go on adventures, and go out of our way to create ‘experiences’ during the summer.

The sights and sounds of summer can instantly offer a “refresh” moment in our lives. Fresh air, sunny skies, and warmer temperatures invite us outdoors. The relaxed and less-hectic pace of the summer months also gives us a chance to slow down, reflect, and reconnect with ourselves and our friends. How do you plan to spend your summer?

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Exploring the spiritual way of being

Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” – Joseph Campbell

Spirituality is a sacred connection within our mind, body, and soul.

Spirituality is one way you can express your body’s language and heed to the call of your spirit. Most of us can affirm the presence of a deep connection between body and mind. Yoga is a classic example of an embodied practice as it emphasizes what’s in your mind and takes your body through a set of movements that inspire your brain to find a balance between rest and activity. There are other embodied, movement-based spiritual practices, like tai chi or qi gong. But embodiment can come whenever we practice a meaningful activity with mindful attention, from gardening to cooking to walking.

Striding into a meaningful life requires a modification in the way we show up for ourselves and others. Bringing the science of spirituality into practice takes intention and effort. The benefits are across-the-board. Most human beings are looking for meaning in their lives. Making connections in disconcerting times eases stress and depressive symptoms, and increases immune response.

Start small and build new habits to create a new practice

Do not rush to entirely implement a set of beliefs overnight. Becoming more spiritual can be as simple as staying silent for 5–10 minutes a day in a quiet, soothing environment. Increasing hope, kindness, self-compassion, gratitude, and awe, helps to begin a spiritual way of being. All it takes is deciding to switch perspective by practicing mindful attention to your thoughts, emotions, and behaviour to discover experiences in spirituality.

Small, everyday rituals can bring comfort and create better lifestyle habits

Set positive intentions while simultaneously discovering a deeper purpose. Create a practice that resonates with you and be as creative as you want along the way.  What all spiritual practices have in common is the invitation to connect to your heart center and be light. Surrendering subconscious angsts by cultivating love, and allowing our own courage to continue showing up each day for ourselves is extremely healing.

Spiritual practice doesn’t necessarily have to mean visiting a temple or performing a complex ritual

Walking in a purposeful and conscious way can also become a spiritual practice. It gives a chance to clear the mind and reflect. You can use mindful walking as an opportunity to take a break from your busy schedule and reconnect with yourself. Regular breaks throughout the day help improve health, wellness, and performance at work. That can mean a simple yoga stretch with deep breathing, sitting outside of the office in the sunshine for 5 minutes, or simply mentally reciting a prayer. Keeping a regular gratitude journal or simply reflecting on the good people or things going well in your life represents a simple daily spiritual practice that can help harness the many benefits of gratitude.

Ask questions and get curious about people who have cultivated this beautiful way of being in the world

While getting curious and beginning to ask more questions, slowing down how you speak and exploring strong personally held beliefs can open your mind to more possibilities. Seeking a meaningful connection with something bigger than yourself can result in increased positive emotions. Transcendent moments are filled with peace, awe, and contentment. Emotional and spiritual wellbeing overlay, like most facets of wellbeing.

Interlace an approach of integrity and service into every aspect of your business

Include compassion in how your business gives back to the world. The most impactful businesses are those with a genuine contribution that they make to humanity. People who are inspired by the work they’re doing are more spiritually connected to the work they’re doing. Foster opportunities for your employees to connect with the higher meaning of the work you do. Hold space for each employee to find the value in the work they do and the effect it has on the world.

Whether you are exploring your life purpose, consolidating your commitment to a recognized one, seeking your spiritual side may help improve your overall well-being. Spirituality is a very personal experience, and everyone’s spiritual path may be unique. Spiritual wellness is a part of balancing your life.

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Finding calm in the chaos

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As human beings, we desire structure and order. Yet at the same time, chaos exists in both human beings and nature — the turbulent sea, the fluxes of wildlife, the undulations of our hearts and brains, even the occurrence of a pandemic. Instabilities create volatility but allow creativity.

To discover calm amidst chaos, it’s helpful to identify the worth of disorder in your life. Then you can easily acknowledge and move through chaos. In the midst of transformation (especially, times like right now) everything can feel chaotic. While chaos can seem portentous because we’re conditioned to avoid it, in reality it may be redeploying our minds and aligning our psyches for growth. 

Uncannily our lives can feel the most exciting and rewarding, when we experience chaos. Right now, thanks to the pandemic and its fallout, we’re living through one of the most chaotic times the world has ever experienced. When chaos strikes, it can help to look at the feelings it can engender.

Use these times to reform the way you respond to negative feelings and build personal grit and strength. Recognize that you are being asked to change, embrace new skills and move forward. Chaos can be a great stimulus, goading and pushing you to keep going, recommence your goals and question your behaviors.

Here are seven effective strategies to help you move through chaos, once you stop being overwhelmed by it, you can actually come out feeling calmer:

  1. Trust in yourself. When you’re in chaos, trust your inner voice. Believe in your intuition and continue to recognize and welcome what’s positive in your life.
  2. Have faith in a higher power. Whatever happens, the structure of your world will uphold its shape. It won’t disappear. Focus will emerge.
  3. Recognize that sanity develops in persistence. Your main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain, but rather to see the gist of life emerge. Use this time to pause, ponder, reboot and shape a calmer and more focused you.
  4. Nurture your growth.  Simply realize the state of calm through contemplative practice. We use breath in meditation as the key anchor to the now, to the present. With that, we keep the mind busy observing and noticing the breath while we start connecting with our physical body and its sensations. Be gentle with whatever you’re going through.
  5. Focus towards your direction. You may feel like a ship at sea being tossed around in choppy waters. But keep directing it toward the shore or the light. The key lies in breathing and steering the boat. Remember you’re going to get through it all. Eventually, there will be a wide, calm, and a deep delight. Meditation will allow your mind to step out from the flight/fight mode and step into a calmer sense. Use the breath as an anchor. Use visualizations if helpful to center when thoughts pop up.
  6. Be prepared to be troubled. Once you arise from chaos to order without too many bruises, you’ll know you can throw yourself into the flurry of chaos anytime, and you’ll still be all right.
  7. Keep going. The next time you find yourself in chaos, keep moving. Physical movement brings balance to our body (mental, physical and emotional) and allows to express and release emotions through physical activity. This releases endorphins (happy hormones) while detoxifying cortisol/adrenaline (causing stress). Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to move while being present and connecting with your surroundings. Anything from yoga to running to boxing to dancing – allows you to express freely!

Finding reasons to be happy, joyful, content is fundamental to stay healthy and with a positive mindset. Being able to forgive yourself, to be compassionate will release a lot of the guilt that you are holding back for “not having been able to do better” – you did the best you could in the given circumstances – that’s enough, that’s perfect.

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Self-care Tips for Parents and Kids

“To be a good parent, you need to take care of yourself so that you can have the physical and emotional energy to take care of your family.” – Michelle Obama

Parents often focus so much on their children that they have no time for themselves, more so during the pandemic. Self-care can be one of the best ways for parents to not only meet their own needs, but also their family responsibilities. Once you view self-care through the accurate lens, it’s easy to see that it’s anything but self-centered. Self-care habits are sustainable and help us stay healthy and thriving. Self-indulgent habits, like binging on Netflix or food tend to be short-term fixes rather than actual answers.

Did you know that the best way to teach your children about self-care is to model it yourself

Self-care can have the same effects in preserving your child’s mental and physical health as it does for you. Try to integrate activities into your everyday schedule that teach your child self-care, too.

Practicing self-care techniques is as important for your family’s needs as it is for your own. By eating well, sleeping enough, and discovering ways to meet your personal needs, you’ll be better able to care of your children and fulfil other household tasks.

Self-care and mental health are connected

Neglecting your self-care routine can have a negative impact on your emotional well-being. Sleep is a key element of both emotional and physical self-care, yet so many parents neglect it. Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep every night, if possible.

Try to do one thing every day that enhances your mental or physical health somehow. You could go on a walk after dinner or call a loved one you haven’t seen in a while. Enroll in Yoga or Qi gong classes. Download some self-care apps that have a few minutes of well-being just a tap away – be it listening to a mindfulness meditation, podcast or an audiobook.

Self-reflection is also a crucial part of self-care, so spend some time with your self-care journal deliberate on what you really need and reflect every day on how you took care of your health.

Emotional intelligence can be inculcated early

Emotional intelligence allows kids to act on feelings in an effective way. Encourage your child to talk about the feelings that come with challenges. Have your child’s name the emotion (“angry,” “sad,” “jealous”). Then ask, “Why do you feel this way?” You can do the same when your child has a positive experience.

Take time to look back at specific situations and talk about how your child has responded. Offer constructive praise if your child reacted in a constructive way. Use tough situations as learning opportunities. Talk about what your child can do when she’s feeling a certain way or facing a challenge.

Self-care for kids

Most kids hardly think about self-care. But we should be mindful that kids go through different emotions in their lives, just like the grownups. In fact, with the pandemic, some kids are more anxious than ever and they don’t always have the necessary tools and techniques to help them self-regulate.

Self-regulation is about possessing ways to calm down in the face of stress and anxiety. It’s a skill that develops over time and with practice. And being able to soothe yourself is an important step to being more resilient.

Here are five activities kids can use to self-regulate (that they can practice without any help from grownups):

  1. Use starfish breathing

The aim of this activity is to slow down your thoughts by focusing on breathing and touch. Starfish or belly breathing allows you to notice and name feelings before reacting to them.

Here’s how to starfish breathe:

  • Hold out one hand with your fingers spread wide, like a starfish.
  • With the other hand, use your index (pointer) finger to trace the “starfish” around the fingers.
  • Start at the wrist and breathe in while slowly tracing from the outside of your thumb to the top of your thumb.
  • Inhale through your nose for the whole upward tracing movement.
  • Then breathe out through your mouth while tracing down toward the inside of the thumb.
  • Continue breathing and tracing the whole starfish.

2. Focus with the 5-4-3-2-1 method

This mindfulness technique helps you focus more on what’s happening around you and less on any anxious thoughts you may be having. To use the 5-4-3-2-1 method, take a deep breath and focus on what’s around you. Notice and name:

  • 5 things you can see, like a desk or a clock or a water stain on the ceiling. It doesn’t matter how large or small.
  • 4 things you can feel or touch, like the pencil you’re holding, your shirt, or even the ground under your feet.
  • 3 things you can hear, like the tick of the clock, the buzz of an overhead light, or the sound of your own breathing.
  • 2 things you can smell. You could sniff your hands for a whiff of soap or hand sanitizer.
  • 1 thing you can taste. It’s not always easy to find a pleasant taste, but even a sip of water has a taste to it.

3. Mindful affirmations

An affirmation is an empowering statement that you can repeat to yourself. Help kids come up with empowering phrases or mantras they can say over and over again to crowd out negative thoughts. “I can do it” or “I am strong” are good choices. Once they have an affirmation, it helps to write it down and keep it somewhere visible to remember and say to oneself.

4. Rock (or roll)

If kids are experiencing strong emotions or a sensory overload, rocking or swaying can help calm their nervous system.

Here are some ways to do this:

  • Rock in a rocking chair or swivel in a swivel chair.
  • Lie stomach down on an exercise ball and roll back and forth.
  • Sway back and forth to soft music.

6. Put emotions into words or art

Journaling or drawing can help self-regulate. Encourage the kids to “draw/ write about what they see in their head.”

Seeing or hearing what’s on their mind can help to step back from the overwhelming emotion and can help isolate facts from emotions and make it easier to reflect on how to handle a problem using their inner resources. Sometimes, it’s less about figuring out a solution and more about understanding what seems so hard or overwhelming.

Learning to manage emotions is a life-long process. Children develop this skill at different levels, and it’s quite usual for children and adolescents to go through stages where they are more or less able to skillfully cope with powerful emotions. However, if your child consistently has trouble coping with painful emotions, consider seeking professional support.

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The pandemic and emotional well-being of kids

Life as we knew it, has completely transformed during the last two years of the pandemic. Most parents I know are concerned about the effect of social isolation on their children. Online learning is definitely not suitable for the development of children or teens, and most kids miss the social interactions that are part of the school day, as well as the after-school activities.

Masks and social-distancing restrictions can trigger a sense of disconnection and sadness for many and it becomes cumbersome for them to stay excited about learning under these conditions. And as the pandemic continues, many youngsters are battling anxiety and depression, just as adults are. And of course, children will be affected differently, depending on factors such as the supportiveness of parents, siblings or if they are extraverted by nature.

Given that this pandemic positions some palpable risks that may affect your child, what can you do to protect your child and reduce those risks? Here are a few resources and tools that you can use.

Children of all ages will experience anxiety

Develop healthy family habits to manage stress. Routines, traditions and rituals all lessen stress and power struggles while regulating healthy habits. Create a daily schedule that includes time outside in nature, exercise and positive family interactions, board games or an evening family guided meditation.

Discuss to come up with a list of positive actions everyone in the family can take to feel better when they’re having a hard day, such as snuggling, reading a book, dancing together or maybe just painting freely to express and release their emotions. Check in often. Listen, accept and validate whatever your child is feeling. Their disappointments are real, and they need to grieve as much as adults do. You don’t have to solve what they’re upset about; just make space for them to feel it and to share it with you.

Excessive screen time and online classes

Children required to go to school online all day may disengage and lose interest in learning. Isolation can negatively impact social skills and the development of empathy for others. Kids don’t necessarily need large group experiences, but they do need to play with other children one on one, which develops essential interpersonal skills.

Before online school every day, take your child outside for a walk or other physical activity, preferably in nature. Spend some time simply having fun and doing lighter things to ease them off. Laughter reduces your child’s stress hormones so they have more inner resources to handle school stress.

Plan regular online or if possible (in person with a few children keeping safety protocols in mind), playdates for your child and other children. Help your child sustain interest in virtual school by asking questions about what they’re learning and letting them teach you. (This one is a toughie, but make it fun instead of making it sound like a test).

Be sure that you continue reading exciting books to your child on a daily basis so they continue to love books and reading, as the school version of reading might not be exciting to them right now. (Cannot emphasise more on the advantages of this).

Be mindful of online safety

The risk of cyber bullying increases as children are spending more time online, as kids are just learning to use social media appropriately and are often unsupervised. Preteens required to go to school on zoom all day may find it hard to share devices with siblings, or may disengage and lose interest in learning.

Encourage your teen to communicate digitally with friends in whatever ways work for them. (Remember that everyone is under stress right now, and choose your battles). Allow your teen to take positive action against the pandemic, to ward off anxiety and powerlessness. Brainstorm a list of things they can do to help others. When teens feel empowered to take action against things they perceive as unfair, they gain confidence and resilience.

This too shall pass

The bad news is that you can’t completely alleviate the risks of isolation. But we must be mindful that ids are quite resilient and they will eventually be able to make up for the social and educational losses they’re suffering now.

Parents who are calm, warm, receptive and patient can help in regulating emotional health for children of all ages, so taking care of you may be the most important thing you can do to protect your child.

Model positive stress-management habits like regular physical exercise, meditation and emotional connection. What’s more, you have more power than you know. When your child looks back on this time, they’ll look back on how you stayed calm and with your sense of humour intact (most of the time!), how you modelled kindness in the face of uncertainty, how you went for walks together or enjoyed family dance parties, how you made cookies together or grew seeds in your balcony/garden.

Summing up with these famous lines – “What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.” – J. Sidlow Baxter