Decorating for the Holidays

Shadra Bruce

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To be honest, I’m not much of an interior designer. My furniture would stay in the same place forever if we weren’t making room for extra people. But this time of year, it’s fun to bring a little holiday spirit into every room, and even I get into the spirit. Try these ideas –

Light Up Your Home with Candles

christmas candlesCandles are one of the easiest ways to make your home cozier for the holidays. While scented candles are ideal for use in bathrooms and guest rooms, unscented candles should be used in kitchen and dining areas so that they don’t compete with the delicious smells of food. Create the perfect look by grouping several candles together, or create an eye-catching centerpiece with a large, multi-wick candle on a mirrored plate or tray.

Chase Away Chills with Throw Blankets

cozy blanketsBlankets and throws in rich colors and soft, inviting fabrics are essential accessories for this time of year. From burgundy to forest green, from velvet to flannel, you can create a welcoming and warm space with these simple additions of color and texture. Flannel or fleece sheets on the guest room bed can be a welcome touch, too.

Go Top Shelf

 If you do not have a bar cart, this is certainly the time of year to add one to your entry way or living room. A bar cart welcomes everyone with an always-ready-to-entertain style. Use cut crystal decanters and offer a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options for guests to help themselves. Decorate with live fruit and sprigs of mint. Don’t forget to put out fresh ice when guests arrive. Chris Bowman and Benjamin Harrison of Let’s Drink About It provided HuffPost a fabulous guide to the well-stocked bar cart.

Dress Up the Guest Room

guest roomIf your guest room has become your craft space, workout space, or additional storage, now is a great time to create a welcoming space for holiday guests. While a comfortable mattress and luxury bedding should be standard for any guest room, it’s the details that make all the difference. To make your guests feel like they are in a home away from home, provide a sitting area with a comfortable chair and throw blanket. Leave a card on the nightstand with your Wi-Fi username and password. Consider a mini fridge stocked with bottled water and juice. Provide towels, washcloths, shampoo and soap in a basket with a candle.

Christmas Up the Fireplace Mantle

christmas fireplace mantleNo home’s holiday look is complete without the right décor for the holiday mantel. Fresh pine branches, red ribbons, cinnamon scented pine cones, and stockings hung with care create a Rockwell scene straight from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. You can also use the mantel to carry your holiday color scheme through the home by placing extra ornaments in glass jars on the mantel and decorating with garlands or ribbons in complementary colors. Lights, candles, miniature trees, or an all-white winter wonderland can also create a cozy, holiday feeling.

Computer Safety for Kids from Toddler to Teen

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June is a great month, offering a sense of relief at being beyond the reach of any further cold weather. The last snowstorm is a distant memory, the last day of school has been celebrated. Everything is all smiles. Of course, all of that celebration is often followed by an unending chorus from kids, who, after five seconds of being out of school, are boooooored with far too much free time on their hands. While summer vacations are being planned and we can hopefully encourage our kids to spend more time in the fresh air, the reality is that kids end up having more time online. This isn’t always a bad thing – in our home, we have embraced the idea that technology is something our kids will live with, so the more comfortable they get with it now, the better.

Our daughter has her own blog, and she’s learning how to manage Twitter and a Facebook page. Our son has multiple YouTube channels that he runs, as well as associated social media pages for each. They’re also both on Facebook with personal accounts. We’d rather have the kids making mistakes now, when we can guide them, than have them experience the horrors of an improper post or tweet when there’s no one there to help them learn the etiquette and safety tools they need.

But because they’re online more, it’s even more crucial that you know what they are doing online, what sites they are visiting and who they are talking with online. Have regular conversations with your kids about the risks, reminding them not to share their personal information.

It’s so ingrained in our son, who is now 15, that even when we’ve given him permission to create an online profile for some project he is doing, he will still come and check with us before giving out his name, let alone more detailed information. And to this day, we know the passwords for all of our kids’ online accounts.

Online Safety with Your Kids from Toddlers to Teens

Since there is no way to avoid exposure to the internet for your kids, the best thing you can do as a parent is be proactive. Schools introduce kids to computers in kindergarten, and most kids older than age 5 are more tech savvy than their parents! It’s better, we think, to expose your kids to technology and teach them how to safely use the internet than to simply hope they won’t go there. They will.

To keep your kids safe, remind them:

  • Never to give out personal information
  • Never to open emails or files from people they don’t know
  • Never to agree to meet with someone in person that they’ve met online
  • To always tell you if there is anything that happens online that makes them uncomfortable, nervous, or upset

The FBI offers great tips to help you keep your kids safe online. For more information, visit their website.

As a reminder for all of us who spend time online, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Be wary of pop-up ads, as clicking on them may make you vulnerable to malware.
  2. Never click on links from emails that come from unrecognized sources (and definitely do NOT open attachments, especially .exe attachments, that are sent to you by email).
  3. Always update your virus definitions regularly.

If the worst happens and you believe your system has been compromised, turn it off and disconnect it until you can obtain help removing the virus or malware.

Depression in Children

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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Truth: Children get depressed.

Depression is not just an adult problem. People of any age are susceptible to depression. But the signs in children may be different.

Depression in children is not always apparent. In fact, one of the main signs of depression in a child is something that can easily be mistook for a behavior issue: irritability. Children often do not have the cognitive skills necessary to articulate how they are feeling.  A child who is extremely irritable on a regular basis could be showing symptoms of depression. And children do face pressures that can cause stress.

It’s not always easy to diagnose depression in a child, but it’s something to be aware of. Treatment is available. If you’re concerned your child could be depressed, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor, especially if there is a history of depression in your family. Depression can run in families, and children are particularly susceptible to depression if a parent is depressed as well.

You know your child better than anyone. If something is off, it’s a good idea to take a closer look.

Encouraging Individuality

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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There are things that your child might do and wear that make you cringe. For example, Kira got her tongue pierced a few years back and all I could think was, “Ouch!” (And, “Stop lisping!”) Yet she was happy, and who were we to tell her who to be? Admittedly, she was over 18 and could make her own decisions, but she still lived with us and I suppose we could have “laid down the law”. But that would have only bred frustration and animosity. [Fast-forward a few years and she figured out on her own that the tongue piercing made it difficult to get the jobs she wanted – and there is a hole in her tongue that remains to this day].

It can be even harder when your child is not 18 yet but still desiring the freedom to express themselves. We certainly put limits on it, such as restricting piercings to ears only and forbidding tattoos before 18, because we do feel the kids need to be emotionally mature enough to make permanent or semi-permanent decisions about their bodies. But if the kids want to dye her hair random colors, or wear crazy outfits that don’t suit my OCD-inspired need to match from head to toe, so what? Hair grows out. Styles change.

All of our children have their own personal style which they embrace and love. As long as it is appropriate and they have good behavior, to us there isn’t a problem.

The thing is, looks are definitely deceiving. Some of the nicest people we have ever known have been covered from head to toe in tattoos and piercings. As children we have to restrict their expression to some extent but parents need to remember that outside appearances don’t tell the whole story – and teach our kids tolerance and appreciation for difference.

A teenager who likes the gothic style is not guaranteed to be depressed. Listening to heavy metal music, as Parker does, does not make him an angry person. Being blonde does not make you unintelligent.

Perhaps if we all celebrated our own unique and wonderful selves a little more we’d be less inclined to judge.

Fighting the Zs with Better Habits

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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Plenty of SleepSometimes that morning coffee just doesn’t do it for you. We’ve all had days where we are just dragging, whether we are low on sleep, overworked, or just plain worn out. But if you’re having a hard time shaking sluggishness in general you might need to make some changes.

Some people can’t recall the last time they didn’t feel somewhat tired, which may be a sign that something is a little off. Chronic sleep problems could be a symptom of something other than stress. Constant fatigue is also a potential sign of depression. These are things to look into if you think there may be a serious cause.

But before you go running off to the doctor you might want to try out some simple fixes. Your diet can have a major impact on your energy levels as well as your level of activity. Incorporating exercise and healthy eating could not only boost energy but help you sleep better. Also, some people react differently to caffeine. That soda with dinner may not be much but it could be keeping you up at night.

If you find yourself fighting exhaustion all the time try to figure out why. A few changes to your day could have you feeling healthy, energized and ready when the sun rises.

United You Stand

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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When there is more than one person caring for a child there are bound to be disagreements. It can come down to personal preference or may actually be differing values based on how your were raised. But the disagreement itself is rarely the problem; it is how that disagreement is dealt with.

Communication is key when raising a child, and can perhaps be even more crucial when in a blended family. When Dave and I first married, Kira was notorious for asking first me, then her dad about doing something and then taking whichever answer she liked best. It left us wondering what happened, and often frustrated with each other because we each thought the other had undermined our authority. Yeah, Kira was a sneaky one, but it taught us a lot about having a united front.

We started to realize that we had to talk to each other when the question was asked. We would tell each other, Kira just asked me about going to the park, but I said no because she hasn’t finished her homework. Then, when she went to the other parent to ask the same question, she’d get the same answer – and we were able to address with her the inappropriateness of trying to pull a fast one by being so sneaky.

Before we worked out the need to have such open communication, we would end up frustrated with each other in front of the kids. The disagreements only fueled the motivation of the kids to take advantage. They weren’t being bad; they were just being kids. It wasn’t their fault; it was our need to improve. We learned quickly how unpleasant it is to have your opinion undermined in front of a child, even if the other person does have a point. It doesn’t encourage respect and breeds dissatisfaction in relationships.

Dave and I learned to talk about our disagreements about discipline in private. It gave us time to listen to and respect what the other was saying without an audience. We could work out differences and come to a consensus and feel good about it, while also demonstrating to our kids that we were a team.

It didn’t take long for Kira to realize her approach would no longer work, and it forced Dave and I to confront and overcome some of the differences in our parenting styles. As we realized that we were both operating from a place of love and concern, disagreements about what to let the kids do or what kind of house rules we would have became minimal.

Sugar High

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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Sugary treats are fun. I have a hard enough time saying no to ice cream for myself, so imagine how hard it is when the kids want it. Dave and I could give in each time the kids want some sort of dessert but it’s really not the message we want to send. We try to restrict treats for all our sakes, because it’s definitely not the healthy choice.

Too much sugar is not good for you or your kids. Cavities are a huge risk with a high-sugar diet. Childhood obesity and other health complications have been directly linked to sugar consumption.  Worst of all, the habits your kids form now will likely influence their health and habits as adults.

The easiest way to limit sugar is to keep it limited inside and outside the house. Set the right example, and show your kids how to have balance. A couple of cookies after a healthy dinner? Sure. A whole package of oreos for an after school snack? No way.

It’s all about moderation and balance, teaching our kids to make healthy choices most of the time so that a treat is a treat and not a habit.

Something to Fear

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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There are rational and irrational fears. Children especially can be fearful because there is so much they don’t know. As a parent it can seem silly, but not taking a child’s fear seriously can make things much worse.

Your child might be scared of the dark, a stuffed animal, loud noises, swimming, or the color of peanut butter. As a parent, you don’t want your child to be upset or scared. Your first instinct might be to turn the lights off or toss them into a pool to show them that nothing’s wrong. Well-meaning, but forcing your child into an uncomfortable situation can potentially be traumatic.

Solving a problem always starts with a conversation. Find out why your child is frightened and discuss ways to either lessen their fear or at least work around it. A nightlight could make a huge difference and “special” goggles might make the pool approachable. See what your child is willing to try and the problem might fix itself. You are their safety net and you always them to think of you that way. If that means an extra check under the bed every night, then why not. There’s no harm in it.

Stress Management for Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

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I have a confession. Every weekend, Dave and I play Mario Kart on our Wii. It’s more than just a video game. It’s a way to recognize that it is the weekend, that the work week is over. And it’s a way to relieve stress. During the game as we race, we get wildly competitive, scream and yell, and really let loose. It’s a wonderful stress release, much like our morning walks during the week.

When your children get upset, regardless of age, they feel many of the emotions that adults do, including anger and stress. Things get messy (sometimes literally) when your child has all of these emotions flying around but doesn’t know how to handle them yet. Younger children especially might throw toys or lash out physically.

Teach Your Child to Manage Stress

Even when a child is too young for critical thinking, there are better ways to handle a tough situation besides kicking mom in the shin and throwing legos. Expose your child to some harmless forms of stress relief.

  • Engage your child in physical activity. Run around outside, crank the music and dance, or jump up and down to release stress in a healthy way.
  • If screaming tends to be the release your child turns to, give them a safe outlet to get it out. Teach them how to scream into a pillow when frustrated, or have a 2-minute yell zone that helps them get the stress out.
  • If your child is prone to throwing things when frustrated, take them out and throw a ball with them or even let them throw clods of dirt at a tree or something.

Finding safe outlets for your child will give them relief and the ability to understand that their anger and stress is ok. How they handle it is what is important and soon they will hopefully be able to use more words than actions.

Keep Pedaling

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Nothing in life is worth doing if you’re not passionate about it. And if you’re passionate about it, it’s always worth it. The simplest job can be a wonderful experience if you can expand your mind enough to see how it fits into your bigger picture and appreciate the skills and experiences you gain from it. Every step we take, professionally and personally, is part of an overall journey of discovery. Make the most out of your journey by keeping an open mind and fully engaging in every experience.

It’s easy to be distracted by everything that life throws at you, but the people who achieve the most success are the ones who stay focused. Achieving your goals requires more than just effort; it will require consistently putting one foot in front of the other while maintaining confidence in your own agenda (even – and perhaps especially – when it differs from what others might expect from you). Think of the effort it takes to make that first push on the pedal of a bike: the first push is the hardest, but then, as long as you keep pedaling, you keep moving forward. If you stop, you have to give it that big push all over again. So stay focused – and keep pedaling.

Don’t let momentary setbacks keep you from seeing both the progress you’ve made and the view up ahead. Sure, you’re going to have rough times. You’re going to change directions, question yourself, and worry that every step you’ve taken is wrong. If it wasn’t hard to get there, you wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much as you will. And one of those things you may have to learn with time is that even when the road has a lot more curves than you expect, you’ll eventually look back and love the journey you took to get where you’re going.