children outside of tent in backyard

As we are now officially in the summer season, it can be very easy to overschedule our children and ourselves. This is especially true this year as COVID restrictions begin to lift and more events are becoming available again. Enjoyable but exhausting family vacations, summer sports leagues, day and overnight camps, 4-H fairs, library and park recreation programs, and the list goes on and on.  It is very possible to overcommit family members to the point where they do not get to relax, recharge and really enjoy spending time with each other before another busy school year begins.

person sitting on mat overlooking a lake

Since we are still acknowledging Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share a little bit about mindful movement. Mindfulness is defined as an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can happen in many ways including types of breathing, visualization, using our senses, practicing gratitude and even through movement! Mindful movement is an effective way to reduce stress and its physical consequences.

open laptop computer with a cup of coffee and baby toys

“Decide what your priorities are and how much time you’ll spend on them. If you don’t, someone else will.”  - Harvey Mackay

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is what are you busy about?” - Henry David Thoreau

hands holding playing cards

When someone asks you to think about health, wellness and fitness, you usually think about physical health, exercise or nutrition. Throughout a person’s lifetime, they should not only concentrate on improving and maintaining their physical health, but also be working on their cognitive or brain health. Since this is Brain Health Awareness Week, I would like to share a few things you can do to maintain a healthy brain. Getting enough good, quality sleep is important along with eating a heart healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Two boys making funny faces

Do you remember your first childhood friend? Do you still have friends that you keep in touch with from school or work? Humans are social creatures and we enjoy and do better being around others. So, knowing how to make and keep friends is an important skill for young children to learn.

person reading book with tea cup on table

Winter is upon us and those longer hours of darkness coupled with the colder temperatures can make many people experience those “winter blues.” Throw in a pandemic where we are isolating from others, and I’m afraid we are going to see more people experiencing those blues and maybe worse this season.

Give Thanks pumpkin decoration hanging on front door

Thanksgiving celebrations may look different in 2020 for many people. I have had many conversations with friends and family about whether to gather.

This year our attitude needs to be centered on giving people grace about their decisions and focus on expressing gratitude and thankfulness in a variety of ways, even if the holiday looks a little different this year. 

Man, woman and child playing on phone

The holidays are fast approaching, and what is usually a fun time of preparation and anticipation for many is now clouded by uncertainty with COVID-19. With the surge in cases and the severity of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, suggests celebrating Thanksgiving with members of your own household who consistently take measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 or with others virtually to lower the risk of spread.

man and woman sitting at table

We all know someone who is providing care for someone else. They may be caring for an older parent, a disabled adult child, or a spouse suffering from a traumatic injury or chronic illness. Even parents raising children are considered caregivers. Caregivers give of themselves without expecting anything in return, and they rarely think of themselves first.

woman smiling

I am concerned for the older population right now. Data has shown that older adults are more vulnerable in this pandemic due to their weaker immune systems and higher likelihood of having chronic conditions including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease and many others. The CDC reports 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have been adults 65 years of age and older. This has prompted the encouragement of older adults to self-quarantine, or physical distance from others - family, friends, social circles - to protect their health.

flowerpot with plant and heart

In the last article I shared with you many characteristics of people who manage well during difficult times. I would like to highlight several more for you in this article. Again, when faced with adversity, resilient people:

bench with paper bag that has inspirational saying on it

Things have not been easy for any of us during these past few months – or “unprecedented times.” We may feel like we’ve had many losses: loss of security, loss of contact with others, loss of freedom to come and go where we would like, maybe even loss of health and loved ones, among many more. Many of our blog posts over this time have focused on stress reduction, mindfulness, and finding balance in our lives. I would like to focus this week more on gratitude and looking at the positives that are also going on right now.

father with child writing

I just love the Illinois Early Learning Project (IELP) website, which is a valuable source of evidence-based, reliable information on early childcare and education for parents, caregivers, and teachers of young children in Illinois. It is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education and is housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the College of Education.

The effects of no separation between work, family, and no down time to decompress can vary from person to person. On top of that, having to work from home can be challenging and difficult to adjust to, especially if that’s not your norm. When this happens, it can create a stressful environment for you and those around you. It’s important to create boundaries for yourself to avoid letting that stress build up in you.

Here are some tips on how you can create a boundary between your work, family, and self-care to ease the transition of working at home!

family sitting on bench

Since summer is almost here, I thought it would be a good idea to re-post this article about unplugging from our devices and enjoying our surroundings - especially our children! This is especially important lately with the shelter-at-home guidelines, which has created more screen time for many of us by working, homeschooling and socializing virtually.  

family walking in the woods on trail

Since mindfulness can also mean being intentional, we should have the conversation about whether we practice being mindful with our families. Most of us say that family is most important to us and that we put them first – but do we? A 2018 Nielsen report stated that American adults spend over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media.

heart ornament with I am grateful printed on it

Another practice that goes along with being mindful is being grateful. Living life with an "attitude of gratitude" not only helps your current mood, but research shows that it helps you age well.

colored pencils and book

Another great suggestion for practicing mindfulness for this Mindful May is coloring! Well-known psychiatrist Carl Jung first recognized the benefits of coloring back in the early 20th century. Recently we have seen a rise in the availability and popularity of coloring books for adults. Adult coloring books often have more intricate patterns and designs where drawing skills aren’t necessary. However, it doesn't matter what you are coloring - whether it is a children’s or adult’s coloring book – it can be beneficial.

person eating apple

Extension educator Kristin Bogdonas says mindfulness is usually associated with meditation and stress relief, but it can also be a powerful tool when choosing what we eat, how we're eating, and how our choices affect our health. She suggests we take a closer look at how we can apply mindfulness to our everyday eating behaviors.  

person hiking towards woods

I have always been an outdoorsy nature person. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time outside – my parents had the hardest time getting me to come back inside at the end of the day. My love of nature continues, and I share my passion for it with anyone who will listen! I always drag my family to state parks, zoos, and botanical gardens. However, times have changed drastically, with the popularization of technology, along with urbanization, and people spend way less time outdoors and around nature.

man with hat on smiling

We traditionally celebrate Older Americans Month (OAM) each May. When OAM was established in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. By 2017, around 47 million had reached that milestone. Why not observe our older population with this year’s theme of “Make Your Mark?” Around the nation, older adults make their marks every day as volunteers, employees, employers, parents, grandparents, mentors and advocates. They offer their time, talents and experience to the benefit of our communities.

profile of head with watercolors

Nearly 50 million adults in the United States face the reality of Americans managing a mental illness every day. During the month of May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) joins a national movement to raise awareness about mental health. May is officially National Mental Health Month, and highlights mental health issues and provides a time for our nation to acknowledge mental illness.

neon pink sign that says breatheIn today’s world, especially now, no one is immune to feeling stressed. Eustress or positive stress can help motivate us to do well and get things accomplished. However, according to University of Illinois Extension educators, if stress accumulates and is not managed effectively or there is no outlet for it – stress can become chronic and have adverse effects on our minds and bodies.    Chronic stress has potentially harmful effects across the lifespan on the brain, on one’s

In today’s world, especially now, no one is immune to feeling stressed. Eustress or positive stress can help motivate us to do well and get things accomplished. However, according to University of Illinois Extension educators, if stress accumulates and is not managed effectively or there is no outlet for it – stress can become chronic and have adverse effects on our minds and bodie

art of journal

Many people find journaling a great way to process feelings in a positive way.

When we cannot see friends or family members, remember there are many ways for us to still connect. Human connections promote wellness, here are ways to reach out to family and friends who may be alone. Reframe your thinking. Instead of focusing on the negative, flip the script and think about the positive ways you can use this time. Start by reaching out to those who are important to you and deepen your relationships.

Woman sitting at a desk writing notes with computer in the background

In a time when more people are working from than usual, we felt it might be helpful to offer some tips for working from home. Of course some of these tips are best when working from home and not while some are trying to both teach their children and do their jobs from home. We understand if some of these tips are the ideal and possibly not your current situation. Hopefully some of them will be beneficial for you the reader:

Set a Schedule

stack of books with a rolled up diploma and graduation cap

The teenage years revolve around friends, school, family, sports, and events. Cancellation and social distancing may have real effects on the emotional health of teens.

Look for:

It is safe to assume that many adults today remember being told at one time or another by their disciplining parents, “You are grounded and are not to leave the house.” This typically meant separation from friends, playing outside, and taking part in planned activities. Even if it’s been a while since the age of being grounded, the social distancing plan underway may bring back feelings of “having one’s wings clipped.”

parents and baby

Raising kids, eating right, spending smart, living well—that’s the theme of a national Living Well Campaign that is being promoted by the Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, both at the national level and here in Illinois. The goal of the Living Well Campaign is to provide people with the education and information they need in order to “live well.”  

We often hear about the importance of family mealtime, but do you know what all the fuss is about? As a parent, it is sometimes easier to dismiss this family routine and feed kids fast food or prepared food in the car coming or going to their multitude of activities and events. So let’s pause for a moment from the rush of family life and learn a little more about the importance of eating together.

hands on top of each other

With families so busy with work, school, extra-curricular activities, sports, church, civic groups, clubs, etc., they can find it difficult to spend quality time with each other. Because families can be so busy, they need to intentionally plan their time together.

Two older friends

I recently found this article on the National Institute on Aging website that reinforces a topic of my programming lately – that socialization or social engagement is beneficial for brain health and longevity. I have been focusing on the effects practiced in later life but this article expands that to midlife, so I would like to share it with all of you:

pouting little girl

We talk a lot about stress during the holidays and try to find ways to reduce or make that stress more manageable. However, we usually talk about it in regards to us – the adults – and sometimes forget that holidays can be difficult for children as well.  Parties, shopping, and other activities may take families out of their usual daily routine and these routines provide security and stability for young children.

woman standing under lights

With the anticipation of the holidays, there can also be that feeling of dread – how are you going to get everything done on an already busy schedule? For many people, the extensive preparations they engage in to pull off those picture-perfect holidays create so much stress, that they can’t even enjoy themselves. The “picture-perfect” part is where much of the stress originates from. Many of us want everything to be “just right” and try to pattern our holiday plans with visions of TV specials, Norman Rockwell prints, and Martha Stewart magazine pictorials in our heads.

upset woman

In 2018, approximately 20.3 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder (SUD).

older man pushing older woman in wheelchair

We all know someone who is providing care for someone else. They may be caring for an older parent, a disabled adult child, or a spouse suffering from a traumatic injury or chronic illness. Even parents raising children are considered caregivers. Caregivers give of themselves without expecting anything in return, and they rarely think of themselves first.

harvest scene

Since most of the farmers in my area are deep into harvest season, I thought it might be a good time to touch on the topic of farm or agricultural stress. Those in the agricultural industry can face unique pressures, many of which are beyond their control. Some of these include:

 

kids reading books

Since my son (only child) recently moved to college up north back in August, I have felt like maybe someone has died. Friends, family and acquaintances will ask how my son is liking school, and then they lower their voice, get real close and grab my arm, and ask in a serious tone “and how are YOU doing?” I totally understand that they mean well and worry about me being an empty nester, but I find it very funny.

Scam signs

You may get a call from the “police” saying your grandchild is in jail and needs a certain amount of money to be released. Or a call from “Microsoft” telling you that your computer has a virus and they need remote access to it so they can fix it. Or you are contacted by your “bank” saying there was an issue with your account and they want to help you resolve it, but first, they need your account number. Do any of these sound familiar?

Overwork and over scheduling can take a toll on families and relationships as we find less time together, especially just to hang out.  Taking a break to spend some relaxed time together as a family can be a way to reconnect.  A “family night in” is doing something together at home that everyone in the family can enjoy.  It doesn't have to be a major event, since often simple things are the most fun and relaxing. Try to do one at least once a month if you can.

school car line

As the school year approaches, parents and children experience a rush of emotions. Sadness that the carefree days of summer are ending. Anticipation of seeing friends and learning new things. Curiosity at what new opportunities the new year will bring. Excitement of new schedules, new routines, new friends. And perhaps, joy….that the kids are finally out of the house!

It's happening more and more. You are driving along and the car you are meeting is slowly drifting into your lane only to be jerked back suddenly – and you see that the driver is busy looking down at their phone rather than the road. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention away from the primary task of driving and can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash. I came across this article by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and thought it important to share:

It can be an exciting and emotional time for children and their parents when a child officially begins his school career with kindergarten. However, is that child ready? And, how do parents prepare their child to be ready? The Illinois Early Learning Project has a great tip sheet on this topic that I would like to share:

What are the health requirements for a child to begin school in Illinois?

Many people celebrate Independence Day with family cookouts and fireworks. Fireworks are beautiful and often seen as entertainment, we need to remember that they are explosives and have a lot of potential for harm.

Sparklers are a popular firework choice for children. These fireworks can reach about 1,200 – 2,000 degrees and can cause severe burns. Just because they are legal does not make them safe for use.

I have always been an outdoorsy nature person. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time outside – my parents had the hardest time getting me to come back inside at the end of the day. My love of nature continues, and I will share my passion for it with anyone who will listen! I am always dragging my family to state parks, zoos, and botanical gardens. But times are changing drastically, with the popularization of technology, along with urbanization, and people spend way less time outdoors and around nature.

It's close to the end of the school year for my household and we are already gearing up for all the summer activities. For most parents and children, there is a shift in routine. It becomes a challenge whether you are figuring out how to balance the hustle of taking your child to sports camps, band camps, additional educational classes, livestock shows, and/or games. There are benefits for the change in routine but, taking a break from school doesn't mean to forget about challenging your brain. Encouraging reading is a great way to keep your child on track with academics.

Preschool children grow and learn at an amazing pace. They can't wait to feel busy, successful, grown-up, and independent. They begin practicing self-help skills at age two during the "me do it myself" stage. Even though this is annoying to adults at times, it paves the way for their development of essential skills for school success.

What are Self-Help Skills?

Self-Help skills are those skills that help a child gain control over his/her body over time. They include:

Since Older American's Month is coming up in May, wouldn't it be great to get our younger generations involved with our older generations in fun and meaningful ways? When children, teens and younger adults spend time with older adults, there are many benefits to everyone involved. Older adults can be great role models for children, while also passing on family stories, historical information and teaching the rituals and traditions of earlier times.

Screen Time and Young Children

A big thank you to the Illinois Early Learning Project located at the University of Illinois for their partnership, support and permission to share this information on our blog!

"Screen time" refers to time spent using a device (e.g., television, game console, tablet, computer, smart phone). Increasingly, children are spending more time using a screen for learning and entertainment. Adults also are using screens both at work and home. Some children and adults find it difficult to "turn off" their devices.

Decision making While I was attending a dual credit meeting for my daughter, I was thinking about all the decisions that high school juniors and seniors are making. High school students are planning and thinking about their future; if they want to attend a trade school, work at a local business, start their own business, attend a junior college, or enter a four-year university. So, the classes they are required or choosing to take has an impact on their future.

Mark Twain said "Never put off til tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow." As I've been helping my son during his senior year of High School, I have really become aware of what a procrastinator he is – just like me! Most everyone procrastinates sometime. There are different ways to people procrastinate. Some people will delay a task in order to gather more information for completion of the task. In this case, it is not really considered procrastination because you are actively working toward completion of the task.

We know that if we have a partner, that relationship is probably one of the most important ones. Then why is this relationship one of the most vulnerable ones to work-life stress? It is all too easy to take out frustrations on the person we love the most. How can we avoid this? Well, the answer is "It takes work" and an investment. Just like the title of this blog, we have to be intentional with having harmony in our life; it just doesn't happen. Keeping a relationship fresh and alive takes time, energy, and constant thought.

Originally printed in March of 2017, but thought it would be worthwhile to release again.

The complexity of the human brain is nothing short of amazing. The changes which occur in a baby's brain are significant from the time of conception to three years of age. As a caregiver of a baby, it is your goal to support healthy brain development. Here are a few suggestions to help:

female hand with engagement ring held by another hand

The day you plan, dream and somewhat dread has arrived…your child is getting married! It happened to me just last weekend. With every detail finally in place, my husband walked our daughter down the aisle to begin her new life as a Mrs.

First of all, how in the world did I get this old? It seems as if just yesterday I was changing her diaper and looking for her retainer in the trash can.

September is Fall Prevention Month

Falls are not a normal part of aging, but they are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. That is why University of Illinois Extension is partnering with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Falls Free® Coalition to celebrate Falls Prevention Awareness Day on September 22 and all September long.

After being stuck inside from a bad winter, we often say things like, "I'm suffering from cabin fever", or after being inside all day we might say, "I need some fresh air." As usual, there is some truth to these familiar sayings that we have heard passed down from generation to generation. I hope that with it being summer, we do not find ourselves saying them.