2020/2021 Issue

Note from the Editor

It seems like all that is encompassing our minds this year is the pandemic. While it has dramatically affected our lives and we can’t take our eyes off it, life must go on. But it’s affect upon us can sometimes be surprising. Read The Weight of a Pandemic to discover how one woman fell back in love with her body after gaining weight.

Another article which helps put things in perspective is Exploring Social Connection in Times of Social Distancing. This article requires that we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to see what it’s like to be quarantined in a country far from family, friends and all that’s familiar.

And if you’re seeking advice on how to deal with this change in daily life routines, check out Coping as a Family during COVID-19. Our local YMCA gives us lots of ways to stay active, healthy and happy. Likewise, if your sleeping habits are being adversely affected due to stress and anxiety, read our article called Sleepy Worthy. It’s packed with useful information on how to tackle the things that are keeping you awake at night and will help you change your habits so that you can get your rest.

And let’s not forget about art. It’s a central pivot point in our communities providing us with identity, fresh perspectives and opportunities for new conversations around important topics. You’ll enjoy reading Dr. Sharon McCoubrey’s article The Importance of Art in our Communities.  Now that we can go back outside, don’t forget about public art and our art community. Make art, go experience art and support our local artists. We need them.

Home schooling has now become a household term. If you have young ones who are just learning their letters, check out our article Getting Off to the Right Start in Reading. Brenda Larson has a logical, no nonsense take on how we should be teaching our kids to read and write.

All in all, parents are undertaking a lot more in their parental roles than ever before. Not only have we become teachers and been put in charge of our kids physical fitness routine, we have also had to live with our kids 24/7. More patience is needed. We all want to be good parents and raise healthy, confident kids but sometimes we need a little extra help. We have  two articles for you to read: Perfecting the Family-Work Life Balancing Act and Parenting for Positive Identity. Both offer tips and interesting views on how to handle the many things that daily life throws at you.

Life wouldn’t be complete without some kind of cuteness so we offer you Hatch a Chick. Who doesn’t love baby chicks?

And I’ll leave you with that. Life is more than a pandemic. It’s family, friends, neighbours and strangers who, when we face  difficult times, step in, lend a hand and show support, reminding us that we are not alone. Thank you to everyone who demonstrates daily that we are in this together. You are all heroes and we need you more now than ever before. You inspire me with your kindness.

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The Importance of Art in our Communities

by Dr. Sharon McCoubrey, Professor Emeritus, UBC

Many years ago, I was assisting an artist install a sculpture in our community when a store worker came outside to eat her lunch. She watched us for awhile, then approached me and asked, “why are you spending money on that art when we need to fix our roads and clean up our water?”.  It was a legitimate question and one that I always keep in mind and fortunately, can always easily answer.

Adding art to a community results in a better community.  I will support that declaration by giving a few reasons, but first, a brief exploration of what is meant by art will be helpful.

The term art is used to cover visual arts, music, dance, film making, architecture, landscape design and more.  For the discussion here, my use of the term ‘art’ will refer to the visual arts in all its forms, paintings, sculpture, drawings, installation art, realistic or abstract, as a few examples.  It will refer to both indoor and outdoor art.

Indoor art is quite straightforward, someone needs to enter a building in order to see the art.  Art Galleries are the most obvious indoor spaces that offer art for viewers.  The distinction among galleries is that they can be public art galleries, commercial art galleries, or artist cooperatives.  One might also see art indoors if they visit an artist’s studio, enter a hotel lobby, a bank, city hall, or other spaces that display art in order to enhance and highlight those spaces.

Outdoor art is often referred to as public art, or street art and generally consists of sculptures, banners, or murals on buildings.  It is special in a very unique way.  Public art is out and about in our community for everyone to see.  You do not need to enter a building in order the see the art, instead, the art is there for you to see as you drive or walk throughout your community.  Everyone will encounter public art.

One additional category of art that is of great value to communities is integrated art, which combines a function and a design or image.  Examples of integrated art are fences or retaining walls that have designs along them, or, bus stop shelters that have pictures etched into the glass walls, benches that are made into unique shapes, or bike racks that form the outline of an animal or other shape while holding bikes secure.  This combination of form and function has never ending possibilities in a town and add so much interest to basic items.

Just why is art so important

to our communities?

Here are ten answers to that question.

1. Art keeps a community from being boring, it adds the sparks that make it interesting.

2. Art contributes to the overall aesthetics or beauty of a community.  We try to make our towns attractive by making sure that they are clean, by reducing clutter, ensuring that the buildings are interesting and by including green spaces.  All of these efforts are important, but the addition of art takes the aesthetics, the beauty of a community up a notch by adding unique special features.

3. Art adds the features that distinguish our community from other communities, contributing to each town’s identity. Most towns consist of the basic elements of stores, homes, streets, lights, signs, maybe farms and parks.  The art that is added in one community will be different than the art that can be found in a different town.  Sometimes, the art will reflect a town’s history, pioneers, geographic features, or significant events.  That is the nature of art, it strives to be unique, to be one of a kind, thereby adding to a town’s identity.

4. Ensuring a community has art ensures a healthy balance for its citizens, which is the mandate of local government.  An imbalance might be seen in a community that has great roads and transportation systems, but have no parks or green spaces.  A town with an efficient infrastructure system but no sports facilities would be imbalanced.  A community that offers safety, sports and plenty of shopping, but no art would also be lacking balance.  Art adds balance to a community by ensuring that there is something for all interests and needs.  It provides something to engage people, it provides experiences, it entertains us.  The variety of art within a community enables people to have different ways of knowing and understanding.  These types of balances are essential for well rounded, informed citizens.

5. We are all concerned about the economy, so here are a few facts that explain how the arts contribute to the economy of a community.  Arts festivals and events bring visitors to town and fills restaurants, stores and hotels.  The artists living in a community make sales, so they pay taxes and make purchases.  Through such activities, the money moves around and keeps the economy going.  But what is really interesting is the multiplying factor.  Studies in Edmonton, Vancouver and other cities, have shown that for every dollar that those municipalities spent on the arts, seven to ten times that amount was injected into the economy.  Another study showed that visitors attending arts events contribute two and a half times the economic activity than sports visitors.

6. An abundance of arts within a community ensures that there are jobs and career choices. The range of ‘what do I want to be when I grow up’ is as wide as the people within a town.  The arts provide opportunities for careers.  Some might be direct, such as being an artist or a gallery owner and some might be indirect, such as a producer and seller of materials and supplies.  Both direct and indirect arts activities contribute to a community’s economy.

7. Health is of major importance to all of us.  It is amazing to hear how the arts improve our health.  A study in New York showed that after being involved in arts programs for a couple of years, seniors had fewer falls and fewer hip breakages.  This wonderful outcome happened because the seniors were more engaged, had a purpose, moved more, reduced some medications, had better balance and generally felt better.  The demands of making art requires brain actions, which keep our brain connections and which is highly beneficial as we get older.

Some concerns of youth at risk can be addressed through the arts by allowing them to deal with their issues in a personal and expressive way.  This often results in a more positive sense of identity and self-esteem.

The arts also make us happier.  A 2012 study from Norway showed that depression is decreased and happiness is increased when people participated in arts experiences.

A Canadian study from 2013 stated, “The arts might not save you from the common cold, but it could be key to increasing your overall health, people who immerse themselves in the arts have better physical health and a stronger satisfaction with life than those that don’t”.  That benefit is realized by being a maker of art, but also, by simply being an observer of art.

8. A very important benefit of having art in our communities is that it helps develop an understanding of multiple perspectives.  In order to function harmoniously at work, or in our homes, we need to accept that some people think differently than we do.  The variations within art convince us that people think and work from different perspectives. When two people look at an artwork, it is common for one person to like the art and the other to dislike it, for one to think it is of good quality while the other might think it is a piece of junk.  Each artist uses background knowledge and experiences, personal opinions and skills to create an artwork.  Those differences show through in the art.  Such is the outcome of creative people making art and of different people responding to art.

The giant spider just outside the National Art Gallery in Ottawa is a strongly emotive image, playing with people’s fear or love of spiders.  Some people love this sculpture and some think a huge spider should not be a public work of art.  This sculpture called Maman’ was created by Franco-American artist Louise Bourgeois and was acquired by the Gallery in 2003.

 9. The ability to understand multiple situations or perspectives is especially helpful when dealing with social justice issues.  Art has been used throughout history and more so in current times, to draw attention to social issues.  Some of the crucial issues of our time include poverty, racism, other forms of prejudice, hate, violence, or environmental problems.  Sometimes the art that focuses on these issues keep us from turning a blind eye to an important social issue and sometimes, it provides us with some joy and beauty to counterbalance the challenges of our world.  In the article ‘Art in Precarious Times-a Reprise’, the author made this statement, “so many valuable human experiences revolve around beauty, stunning moments of awe that stop us in our tracks, like a jolt of reset-lightning pulsing through our beings saying, this matters”.

10. The fact that things are always changing can sometimes be challenging.  The skills that are essential for anyone coping with change, or navigating life in general, are creative thinking and problem solving.  Art cannot be created without creativity and problem solving.  There is no job of the hands that does not require the use of the mind.  Creative thinking is about developing the imagination.  So when people make and respond to art, they are developing their imagination, their creativity and their thinking skills. Fortunately, these vital skills can be applied to many different aspects of our lives.

Conclusion  •  I have heard many people say that they don’t bother going into the art gallery in their home town, or, to go on a public art tour, but these are exactly the things they do when they are traveling and visiting other towns.  I have always wondered why that is.  I encourage you to engage in the art of your own community so you do not miss out on all the benefits that come from engaging in these art experiences.

Let your voice be heard, that you want art in your community to ensure that these ten important benefits are available to you and your neighbours.  Above all, engage in the art in your community for your own enjoyment.

I am grateful to live in a community with many opportunities to participate in arts experiences.  The relatively small community of Lake Country hosts many artists, a large number of public artworks and many arts events.  Hopefully you will have an opportunity to visit the Lake Country Public Art Gallery, or to search out the many pieces of public art and to attend the annual ArtWalk festival.

Dr. Sharon McCoubrey is Professor Emeritus at UBC, following a career in the Faculty of Education with a specialization in art education.  Sharon currently volunteers as President of the Lake Country Art Gallery, Chair of the Lake Country Public Art Commission, Past Chair of the Central Okanagan Foundation, Insight Team with ArtsBC and is in her 22nd year as Chairperson of the Lake Country ArtWalk festival.

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Hatch a Chick

by Quality Farms

When I met David, owner of Hatch a Chick and Quality farms and he told me about his business and asked me if I was interested in hatching eggs and taking care of chicks, I thought, well okay. We didn’t have any pets so I thought it would be a learning experience for my daughter.

Hatch a Chick has been operating for more than five years! They go to libraries, schools, retirement homes and neighborhoods like mine to teach people about the process of hatching a chicken from incubation to the hatch, to taking care of chicks until they become laying hens or roosters.

Dave brought over my eggs, incubator and everything I would need to hatch these chicks! It’s pretty simple and straight forward. We would have to fill up the water every one to two days and make sure the incubator was plugged in. That I could do! Then Dave explained what would be happening inside the egg and how many days it would take until we could ‘candle’ them, which means looking inside the egg to see the development (or lack thereof, oops, some don’t) and we also got to see the chicks eye! The process of this stage was easy enough that you could still go away for a night and not have to rush home to add water. If you are thinking about getting your own Hatch a Chick these are some things to consider about the whole process. Dave pretty much sets you up with everything you need from pre to post hatch. When they are newborn, they can live anywhere in your home, in a large container. A heat lamp provides them with the warmth and comfort they need at this early stage. A self-filling water feeder is also a key part of the chicks first needs.

Back to the waiting. We had to wait for 21 days from the time we got the incubator. But the process was fun! There were things we did that David wrote down for us, so we had things to look out for and count down to.

Finally, hatch day! It’s not as sudden and surprising as it sounds. Actually, from the first little crack in the egg shell it took another eight hours for our first little one to be born!

She was wet, slimy, eyes barely colored yet, still blinking away and walking around over the other eggs in the incubator. You can’t let them out until at least 24 to 48 hours of being born. They still have to wait inside the incubator. Then, just like magic, the next day she was fluffy, healthy, alert and fresh! Super cute little peep! (Chelssie Baker).

At Quality Farms, we provide a unique hands on learning experience to schools, early learning centres, retirement homes, home schools  and community programs. Our chicks are certain to be a hit, with opportunity to incubate, hatch baby chicks and watch them grow! For more information phone 250-258-7818, email david@thecluckstopshere.ca, visit www.thecluckstopshere.ca or find us on Facebook.

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Coping as a Family during COVID-19

by Erica Marshall, Marketing and Communications Manager at YMCA of Okanagan  •  Photo provided by YMCA

We are all experiencing added stress and anxiety to some degree, which can have devastating effects on our health both long term and short. A healthy mind and body are key to a strong immune system. Coping through COVID is a marathon not a sprint and families need to focus on the physical, mental and emotional health of their children, as well as themselves. Unfortunately, this pandemic will be our norm for the foreseeable future. The warmer months may be easier, but the winter months will likely bring its own set of challenges. The good news is, there are many practices and techniques to help families stay well, together.

Get Active  •  Get those endorphins pumping to combat stress, calm your mind and build your immunity. Activity levels are at an all time low and many studies report exercise as the biggest tool to enhance our mental and physical wellness. There are many ways family members can exercise while remaining physically distanced. Some may be able to join certain sports, swim lessons, a gym, or online fitness classes that are safe and follow COVID protocols. If this is not an option, get active outside or at home. As a family, make it a priority to do at least one activity a week like hiking, visiting a pool or snowshoeing.

Prioritize Self Care  •  We know it’s a buzz word right now, but it’s for a reason! Everyone is carrying a larger than normal stress load right now. Whether you love bubble baths, yoga, running or reality tv, make it a priority to do what you need to nourish your self and boost your mental outlook. Many believe self care is a key determinant to good parenting and role modelling this for children is especially beneficial.

Practice Mindfulness  •  A calm home is especially important right now when family members are exposed to increasing amounts of negativity and uncertainty outside and in the media. Fitting in mindful practises can help reduce anxiety and stress while building resilience. Incorporate breathing practices into the day as a family and for yourself. There are many great guided meditations for kids available online. Start off with a short meditation and work towards longer ones. This will help family members manage their feelings and keep grounded. Youth and young adult mindfulness programs are available at the Y at no cost.

Get Outside  •  Nature therapy helps improve mental health and wellbeing and we are lucky to live in an area with endless outdoor opportunities. Plan a nature scavenger hunt, try geocaching, take on an outside project together or have family members rotate in picking your next outdoor adventure. Getting a daily dose of vitamin D via sunshine is hugely beneficial for our immune system.

Nourish Relationships  •  Make time to connect with those who support you emotionally and talk about how you are feeling and check in with them. Send a hug in the mail, find a pen pal and get out to connect with others safely. The YMCA’s family play time program is a safe way for families with young children to connect with others and engage in educational play together.

Practice Gratitude  •  Daily gratitude leads to increased overall happiness and reduced stress. At dinner time go around the table and have everyone list three things they are grateful for. It could be as simple as pizza for lunch or beautiful sunny skies. There are no limits to what you can be grateful for and even very young children will enjoy this activity. You can also express gratitude by sending thank you cards or gifts to a kind neighbour, helpful organization, or hero to further propagate kindness inside and outside of the home.

Limit Negative Screen Time  •  Let’s make one thing clear, children are getting more screen time now than ever. It’s time to stop apologizing for this and let that guilt go! As parents, we all do our best to limit screen time as recommended, but it isn’t always possible. However, a good practice is to limit negative screen time that causes bad behaviour or emotions. Social media is often a guilty culprit. Do a social media cleanup so you only see posts that lift you up. Set time limits on platforms and take breaks from reading or watching news stories about COVID if they are causing anxiety. Family movies are different. We recommend pairing these with popcorn and a living room fort.

Go Easy on Yourself  •  At the same time, don’t punish yourself for letting children watch more screen time than normal. Let some things slip and forgive yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure with unreasonable expectations. Remember, we are all doing our best in this current climate. It’s expected and normal to struggle and have bad days. Forgive yourself, focus on moving forward on the good days and nourish yourself on the bad days.

And if you need a little extra support, the YMCA of Okanagan can help – offering a variety of supports including health, fitness and aquatics services, child and youth programs, child care, employment programs, mindfulness services and more. Learn more at ymcaokanagan.ca.

The YMCA of Okanagan was established 40 years ago as a cause-driven charity dedicated to building a healthier local community. The Y provides a wide range of programs and services with a focus on health, inclusiveness and accessibility, serving people of all ages and abilities. The YMCA is in the business of prevention, while promoting healthy lifestyles, nurturing young minds and strengthening our community. Visit ymcaokanagan.ca to learn more.

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Parenting for Positive Identity

by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.   •  Psych Central www.psychcentral.com

Identity. It’s a complicated concept that defies easy definition. Yet it is at the heart of the lifelong question, ‘who am I?’. How we answer includes how much we value ourselves and how safe and competent we feel in the social world. Although it can and does change in response to life experience, the foundation is laid down in childhood.

Parents can and do have enormous influence. Yes, identity development will happen whether parents actively do something or not. All children absorb the attitudes, attributes and values of the people around them. Parents can, however, provide the care and environment to foster the healthy identity that includes security, a positive self-esteem and resilience. Several factors foster a positive identity:

Belonging  •  According to early 20th-century theorist Alfred Adler, knowing that we belong in the human community is fundamental to mental health.

Attachment theorists such as John Bowlby and researchers in positive psychology such as Martin Seligman argue that positive attachment to caregivers influences children’s belief in their own loveability and the capacity to form trusting relationships throughout life.

Children who grow up in a family that is embedded in a larger community and that is proud of its heritage internalize an additional sense of security and pride. Positive messages about their culture, history and values provide what Adler called a ‘guiding line’, a set of principles to guide decisions and values throughout life.

Else is an international consultant. I once asked her how she had become the competent, self-assured person I know her to be. She was quick to recognize the encouragement and support she’d always had from her parents to follow her dreams. But she also credited her mother for providing her with a strong connection to both her family and to a larger community.

When her mother stretched the family budget by regularly serving potato dishes for dinner, for example, she didn’t lament that they were poor. Instead, she explained that they ate potatoes a lot because the recipes had come down from their Austrian great-grandparents. Reframing what could have been a negative to instead be a valued reflection of family heritage gave her children a cause for pride, not deprivation. The sense of belonging to a larger, international family with its own foods, traditions, even music is, I’m sure, part of the reason Else is so comfortable working with different cultures.

Positive Self-Esteem  •  For many years, popular psychology emphasized the need for children to feel good about themselves in order to succeed in life. Current researchers argue that feeling good is only half of the formula. It’s not enough to identify children’s strengths. They need to be encouraged to use those strengths in positive ways.

Karl was in one of my parenting groups a few years ago. One evening, when we were talking about what parents can do to build their children’s self-esteem, he shared this story:

Karl was never the athlete his three brothers were. But his parents encouraged the voracious reading habit that was evident from the time he could hold a book. While his brothers learned to be generous members of a team in sports, Karl developed those same skills in group science projects. “My parents wanted all of us to be happy,” Karl told the group, “but they also emphasized the importance of being contributors in whatever we did”.

Karl was doing his best to do the same in how he parented his very energetic (and yes, athletic) son. “I may never understand someone who would rather run than read but I know how important it is to follow a kid’s talents and interests instead of force-fitting my own agenda. Even more to the point, I know how important it is to teach him to be a good team player.”

Karl’s family intuitively figured out what the research of positive psychologists such as Barbara Fredrickson and Martin Seligman are proving. Although channeling a child’s inclinations instead of criticizing them is fundamental to the development of positive self-esteem, there is more to it than that. For that self-esteem to be sustained, a child needs to learn how to make use of talents and strengths to earn those feelings of worth.

Resilience  •  Life can be difficult. It can even be awful. Children who are taught to cope with stress can survive and thrive in spite of setbacks and failures, even in spite of traumatic experiences. Although resilience is partly a result of temperament and intelligence, there is strong evidence that it can be nurtured and taught.

Ann Masten, an important researcher in the resiliency field, confirms that a basic characteristic for resilience is a family that is looking out for the child. She also emphasizes the teachability of resilience. Children whose caregivers model good coping skills and encourage them to solve problems develop an identity that includes faith in their own resilience.

I know a number of young adults who are seriously challenged by significant health issues. One has multiple sclerosis (MS). Another has diabetes. The third has a seizure disorder. They have each succeeded in college, found a loving partner to love and launched a successful career. On the face of it, that wouldn’t seem possible. But they grew up in families that always included them as ‘one of the gang’, that encouraged them to be all they can be and that focused on their abilities not the disability. The result? Each of them sees the limitations imposed by their illness as problems to be solved, not reasons to withdraw from life.

Every child eventually answers the question “who am I?” regardless of parental interest or attention. Whether that identity is positive or negative has a great deal to do with their observations of adult behaviour and how they are treated by the important adults in their lives.

How we parent really does matter. A child is assured a healthier identity when parents provide a secure sense of belonging, encourage the positive use of strengths and teach the skills the child will need to be resilient when confronted with the inevitable challenges of life.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counsellor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central’s Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

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Exploring Social Connection in Times of Social Distancing

by Dorothee Birker, Communications and Development Coordinator for KCR Community Resources

‘We are all in this together’ has been recited over and over as a well meaning catchphrase to give us strength and comfort as we grapple with a new COVID-19 world.  It’s a simple phrase that speaks volumes about the human need to be connected. When we feel bound, tethered or grounded together we aren’t weathering the COVID storm alone.  However, while the phrase is encouraging, it may not be that true. We are in the storm together, but the type of boat we are in varies greatly.

Certainly all of us have been impacted by the pandemic. And certainly, all of us have had to struggle with our new circumstances.  This is new territory and we are learning to cope as we go through it. This pandemic is hard. But while we are all in it together, our individual experiences, our toolboxes and our ability to cope, are vastly different.

The truth is that, a better catchphrase would be the Dickensian “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  For many individuals and families, there have been moments of slowing life down, of taking time to appreciate and to connect.  For other individuals and families, the ones that are already marginalized or vulnerable, it is a much harder time.  For people that don’t have large families to stay in a bubble with, it’s lonely.

For families and individuals that are already isolated, unsure of where to go for resources or help, they are going to be set even further adrift.  Families that have already been fighting to keep their heads above water, are going to have less stamina than those that have been floating comfortably. Even families that thought they were secure and managing okay, have had their safety nets taken away and are learning how to survive in a new world.

For some people, staying home as a family has simplified and comfortably slowed down hectic lives. Everyone needing to live, work and play in the same space has offered opportunities for new ways of being together and learning about each other.  It’s lead to a surge of crafting, baking and home-making.

For other families, everyone needing to live, work and play in the same space, has added untold stress that has led to the home being an unsafe space. And for others, kids not being able to go to school means a lack of access to food programmes and vital supports.

For many families and individuals, connection is one of the biggest factors to help them get through difficulties. We are social creatures and having strong social connections makes a world of difference to our stamina, resilience and capacity to cope with the new reality.

So, in a world where social distancing is mandated, where facilities are closed, events and activities are cancelled and the way we do things changes so rapidly, how do we stay connected?  Although not quite the same as in person contact, virtual gatherings and digital platforms have helped many of us stay close to friends, family and the world. It isn’t the same as IRL, but it is a connection. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to access technology the same way, so there are limitations and barriers here also.

But there are options and opportunities for everyone and KCR (Kelowna Community Resources) is a great first stop to access them.

For over three years, the Central Okanagan Family Hub has been a great space for families to get connected to the community, as well as to information, resources and referrals. While COVID has temporarily forced the closure of the physical space that houses, the Hub, we are still here delivering valuable services.  The Family has now gone mobile to meet the exponentially growing need in the community.  The Family Outreach team is able to get out into the community to meet families where they are at, offering opportunities for play, connection and support. With support from community funders, the outreach team is also able to provide life essentials and help to address food security for vulnerable families.  The outreach team is also able to offer support and referrals so that families can access healthcare, child care, stable housing and mental health services.

For many people, volunteering is their best connection tool and while initially the pandemic may have stalled some volunteering opportunities, the community quickly rose up to the challenge to support others. Whether as formal volunteers working with organizations, or grass-roots groups starting up to address a need, thousands of people forged forward to make a difference and help where they could.  In addition to being the volunteer centre of the central Okanagan, KCR also engages many volunteers who help us to provide the wide array of supports offered.

At times, having a special family friend in their lives, is the best connection any family can have. The family friend programme pairs a screened, trained, competent family friend for friendship, support, mentoring and connection to community resources with single parent families to let them know they are not alone. This ongoing relationship is a valuable and consistent connection for the single parent and the family.

For newcomers to Canada, understanding cultural and language differences is hard at the best of times and during a pandemic, when everything changes, it becomes even more difficult. The settlement and employment mentors at KCR are able to help newcomers navigate this time and offer valuable connections to the community. Even while these mentors are grappling with their own challenges during the pandemic, they are there for their mentees, offering life and employment supports.

Sharing expert knowledge and information, our community services workshop facilitators, help non-profit organizations thrive and achieve their mandates. Their commitment to supporting non-profit organizations helps to make enduring positive impact on the whole community.

The highly trained volunteer Crisis Line responders are a vital community safety net that exists 24/7, ready to connect people in crisis with the support and resources they need.  They help individuals and families with managing their mental health concerns and to provide a non-judgmental ear to those who could benefit from engaging in collaborative problem-solving. Crisis Line workers refer callers to appropriate community or professional resources and, if needed, intervene in life-threatening or emergency situations. The Crisis Line provides confidential telephone crisis intervention through active listening and support. Trained, caring volunteers listen to caller’s concerns, empowering the individual to meet their own needs and find their own solutions. If you or someone you know is in need of support, call the Crisis Line at 1-888-353-2273 (1-888-353-CARE).

This pandemic is continuing to challenge us, to bring about change and to offer both opportunity and distress. It has forced us to isolate and stay apart, but this has ultimately also highlighted the imperative, driving need for social connection. The pandemic and its impacts are not going away anytime soon.  They will require our best efforts to connect, to work collaboratively to create a new normal that makes our world a little more equitable.  And as we evolve, it will be so important to remember that while ‘we are in this together’, we really aren’t all sharing the same experience.  The best thing we can do is practice our empathy and understanding and remember Dr. Henry’s words to “be kind, be calm and be safe”.

Dorothee Birker is the Communications and Development Coordinator for KCR Community Resources, a non-profit organization that fosters diversity, resourcefulness and diversity by tailoring services to meet community, family and individual needs. As a multi-service agency, KCR provides programs and supports in four broad areas: Family and Adoption, Employment, Community and Immigrant Services.  KCR Community Resources is your connection to Central Okanagan services and opportunities. Contact us at 250-763-8008 or find out more at www.kcr.ca.

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Getting Off to the Right Start in Reading

by Brenda Larson, B. Ed and M. Ed, Creator of Itchy’s Alphabet

Every parent wants their child to experience success at school. Yet, statistics show that close to one in three children may struggle with learning as they begin their school journey. Here are four steps to ensure your child has the best chance of becoming a reader.

1. Focus on Language Development  •  Children with strong language skills typically become readers. It stands to reason when we recognize that the material we read is simply our language put down in print. We develop those language skills by talking to our children right from an early age.

Talk to them about what they are doing, things they see when you’re on an outing, things they create or things you read about in story books. Ask questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Use appropriate language. For example, if they ask when you’re going to visit grandma, instead of saying ‘four more sleeps’, use the correct ‘time’ words – hours, days, weeks, minutes, etc. When your child gets to school and the teacher is introducing something new, they will have greater success learning the concepts because they recognize the words being used.

2. Use Letter Sounds  •  It has become a ‘societal tradition’ to introduce letter names to children first. We all teach our children the ABC song. However, learning letter names first puts children at a disadvantage when it comes time to read. One of the basic premises of learning, The Principle of Primacy, states that we tend to remember best what we learn first. Since children need letter sounds in order to become readers, it makes sense that we should be introducing these skills first. Children who have learned letter names tend to try to use the names when sounding out words. They will say ‘see’, ‘ay’, ‘tee’ when trying to decode the word ‘cat’. What they need to be successful with that activity are the letter sounds ‘c’, ‘a’ and ‘t’.

Some will argue that the names help with the sounds – in fact, only eight names (b, d, j, k, p, t, v and z) help with the sound and the other 18 suggest a different sound. That’s so confusing for young children. There is no reason why we can’t call a letter by its sound rather than its name – I always encourage people to ‘talk sounds’ with young children.

3. Use Lower Case Letters  •  As with letter names, there is a tendency to introduce upper case letters first to young children. However, when children begin printing letters and words at school, we expect them to print in lower case. If it is lower case they see in books and use in printing, those are the letters they need to learn first, based on that Principle of Primacy. Some children have such difficulty breaking the habit of printing those upper case letters if learned first.

You will hear an argument that upper case letters are easier to form. They are not. Upper case letters have more slant lines than lower case. Slant lines are the most difficult for young children to form. Also, 17 of the upper case letters require children to lift their pencil and re-position it to a specific place in order to complete the letter – that’s a very difficult task for little fingers! Only six lower case letters require that action.

To become a successful reader, children need lower case letters and letter sounds. Get these foundation skills established first and bring in the names and upper case later on.

4. Use Picture Cues in the Shape of the Letters  •  The very best way to connect letter sounds and lower case letters is with a picture cue in the shape of the letter. Research (Linnea Ehri et al, Pictorial mnemonics for phonics, Journal of Educational Psychology, 1984, Vol 76, No 5) confirms that this is the most effective way of learning these skills. Much of what young children learn comes in through their visual channel. We teach them about so many things in their environment by viewing objects and pictures. However, learning letter sounds is an auditory skill and the letters themselves are probably one of the most abstract things children are required to make sense of. By using a picture cue in the shape of the letter, we connect the sound and the formation to something visual that makes sense to young children.

Focus on language development, introduce letter sounds and lower case letters using a picture cue in the shape of the letter and give your child a great start to reading!

Brenda Larson (B. Ed 1971, UBC, M. Ed 1979, Gonzaga U) taught in the BC public school system for 34 years, 29 of those years in School District 23 (Central Okanagan). In her role as a Learning Assistance Teacher, she supported children who struggled with learning and developed key strategies to help young children with early literacy skills. Her Itchy’s Alphabet is one of the best programs available using a picture cue in the shape of the letters. To view her videos and learn more about Itchy’s Alphabet, please visit www.itchysalphabet.com.

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Sleep Worthy

by Amelia Ellsworth

The Problem  •  I’m lying in bed. It’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m supposed to be sleeping and I want to be sleeping, but my brain defies me and its wide awake. Thoughts race through my mind and I can’t shut them off. I’m consumed with worry and I’m exhausted. I know it’s only a few more hours before I have to get out of bed and being awake now, is stressing me out. Why can’t I sleep?

Night after night, I was experiencing this same scenario. The worries in my head playing out my worst nightmares, reciting a cruel mantra: ‘You are stupid. You make bad decisions. You are useless. No one likes you. You’re a failure’. Self-loathing was a blanket of shame I unintentionally pulled closer. After many sequential nights, this led to exhaustion and an inability to make the simplest decisions.

The Cause  •  At the time, I was having a lot of financial problems and I was sinking into a financial chasm. I told myself it was my lack of planning and I was drowning in guilt. Stress swelled to a level I had never experienced before and it was keeping me awake.

The Awakening   •  One night while turning circles on the gerbil wheel of shame, something shifted unexpectedly and threw me off. I had recently met with a friend who tearfully shared with me her own troubles and admitted that she wasn’t sleeping at night either. She too was experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress and was hearing harsh words being whispered in her ear, ‘you’re lazy. You’re a terrible mom. Nobody loves you’. Reflecting on this, I realized with a blast of clarity that my friend was experiencing the same thing I was, but for entirely different reasons. I knew definitively none of it was her fault and suddenly I knew my situation was not entirely my fault either. Where were these damaging thoughts coming from and how could I stop them?

Understanding Stress and Anxiety  •  Stress is our body’s natural flight or fight reaction to external pressure. This is normal and is helpful. It gets us ready to deal with challenging situations or life events and diminishes when the problem is resolved.

Examining what kind of stress we are dealing with is a great place to start because not all stress is bad. Some stress we experience is good, like when we push ourselves to try something new. But critical stress is produced when we have little or no control over circumstances. We may experience this type of stress if something we perceive as negative happens. Although stress can be useful, if left unattended it can also dramatically affect our emotional well-being leading to negative attitudes and behaviours. Prolonged occurrences of critical stress may lead to anxiety.

Anxiety is a thought process that triggers the body into a response which becomes so intense it interferes with daily routines, work and relationships. Anxiety does not dissipate when the stressful experience is over. Feeling excessive worry about everyday situations or experiencing sudden fear or terror that quickly peaks (panic attacks) are signs of anxiety.

The Realization  •  I realized I was internalizing misplaced guilt for a situation that I had little control over. I let anxiety develop and become a destructive repetitive voice that was keeping me up at night.

My Solution

1. Truth  •  I decided to conquer these negative repetitive thoughts, with facts. I took a pad of paper and drew a line down the middle. I labelled one column, ‘Lies’ and wrote, ‘you are stupid’. The other column I titled, ‘Truths’ and wrote, ‘you are smart and credible’, I continued with, ‘you make bad decisions’ and countered with, ‘you make good decisions based on the information you have’. I did this for every negative thought that cycled through my head and found that by reciting my truths repeatedly, I effectively diminished the lies. I stopped allowing shame to dominate my feelings and found strength in the positives I knew to be true for me.

2. Perspective  •  I needed to change my outlook on the night-time situation. Instead of being stressed that I was not sleeping well and viewing it in a negative way which caused more stress, I chose to view it in a positive light. When I woke up in the middle of the night, without judgment I allowed myself the freedom to use that time. I would make a cup of my favourite tea, read a book or meditate. When I inevitably started to tire, I went back to bed knowing I would sleep in for as long as I could. Accepting my situation as it was helped me reframe it in a positive way.

3. Device Curfew  •  I set a digital curfew for myself and resolved not to watch a screen for at least one hour before going to sleep. Scrolling through Facebook before bed was not a good idea for me. I learned that my devices released an artificial blue light with a short wavelength which suppressed the release of melatonin. Without melatonin the amount of REM sleep I got was reduced. Instead I chose to read an actual book before bed.

4. Meditation  •  I found listening to free meditations when I went to bed increased my ability to relax. Not only did it help me unwind, it helped distract my busy bee mind by giving me something else to focus on which was calming. Unlock Your Life, The Mindful Movement and Louise Hay are YouTube channels I used that provide healing meditations and positive affirmations which help to release anxiety, stop negative thought patterns and create a positive mindset.

5. Soul Searching  •  I created a manifesto and taped it to the fridge: ‘I will make time for myself and the things I love to do, because I am worth it’. First, I wrote a list prioritizing and scheduling the things that made me feel good. I love nature and being in the sunshine made me feel happier, so I scheduled a daily walk. Being around my friends and family made me feel good about myself, so I scheduled time to talk or meet with them. Being creative made me feel fulfilled, so I bought a set of paints and scheduled time to unapologetically use them. The better I felt about myself, the easier it was to look at my current situation and make sense of it.

Deal with The Cause  •  Getting through a difficult situation includes dealing with the root of the problem. I had to accept I didn’t have enough of the right information and needed professional guidance. Looking at the cause of our stress may seem daunting. We are afraid to face it so we shove it to the back of the closet hoping it will go away. But it doesn’t and negative thoughts become more destructive the longer they are left unchallenged. If we are stressed over money, we need to see a financial advisor and learn what all our options are. If we are worried about our health, we need to see a doctor, seek their expert advice and get that test done. Facing that difficult topic puts us in control of our thoughts, decisions and actions. And we feel better when we’ve taken steps to deal with the things that we can.

My Conclusion  •  It’s important to recognize when you are experiencing stress or anxiety and to seek help, especially if it is keeping you up at night. Otherwise your worries will wear you down, jeopardize your emotional well-being and could affect your health. Feelings are not facts but reactions. When we learn to identify and deal with stressful feelings by using healthy strategies we can once again enjoy many restful nights.

For more information check out the following websites:

Understanding Stress and Anxiety – The Mayo Clinic

Understanding Stress and Anxiety – The Centre For Stress & Anxiety Management

Healthy Sleep Habits – Sleep Foundation

Free YouTube Meditation Channels

Self Care – American Psychological Association

Dealing with Stress – Mental Health Foundation

Amelia Ellsworth is a freelance writer who has grown up in the Okanagan. In fact she was born right here in Kelowna. Having spent most of her life in the valley she enjoys the usual recreational activities such as hiking, gardening, boating and visiting wineries. She has not yet had the privilege of being a mother, but would describe herself as a child, an adult, sister, aunt, god parent, community member and well rounded human who is part of the world community. Be the change you want to see.

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Perfecting the Family-Work Life Balancing Act

by Melanie Williams  •  photo Julie Koivisto

The family life – work life balancing act has always been difficult to juggle. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelowna local, Marissa Dutoff, someone who stands out as having mastered the family life – work life balancing act. She owns and operates a business with her husband Kelly and as any entrepreneur will tell you, having your own business often means more personal time and energy is required. In fact, Marissa and her husband travel an average of 158 days a year for their business.

But Marissa had a clear vision of what she wanted her life to look like and didn’t venture into parenthood with traditional notions. This charismatic woman is mother to three-year-old Sam and nine-month-old Audrey and knew that being with her children as much as possible was her top priority. She also had no intention of giving up her career and instead has successfully created a lifestyle that synergistically combines her roles. I visited with Marissa to uncover her secrets to perfecting the working parent’s most precarious balancing act.

Tip #1: Prioritize your Values  •  Prioritize your children and life experiences you want to share as a family.

Q. What do you do for work and how long have you been doing it?

A. My husband Kelly started our business dealing in academic resources fifteen years ago and I have been working with him for six years. We travel approximately half the year across three provinces, to visit our suppliers and purchase inventory.

Q. What do you do with your children when you travel for work?

A. We bring them with us! It was always the plan to bring our kids along-side us when we work and travel. Sam was one month old when he took his first business trip to Alberta and Audrey was just ten days old when she took her first work trip with us.

Q. Ten days old! How did you manage travelling with a toddler a week after giving birth and why would you choose to do that?

A. It was interesting! I was pretty emotional, but it was wonderful to be with my husband and for him to not miss out on any of those special first moments. It was a great bonding experience for us as a new family of four.

Tip #2: Subscribe to Good Strategies   •  When you can envision what you want your life to look like, your decisions lead you towards that vision.

Q. What did you imagine your life would look like?

A. I didn’t dream of a white picket fence, but I always wanted a life that was family centered. Building a lifestyle where my family and work life could commingle and provide opportunities for shared life experiences, was what I wanted.

Q. What unique opportunities have your children had, being on the road with you?

A. We have been able to do a lot of cool things that other kids may never get to experience. We spend a lot of time on university campuses. We toured the Museum of Natural Science at the University of Saskatchewan where we saw dinosaur bones. At the University of British Columbia, the kids saw the blue whale skeleton in the Biodiversity Museum. Every day is a field trip and that’s the kind of life experiences and education we want for our kids.

Tip #3: Build a Lifestyle  •  Determine what needs attention each day; make a plan, share responsibilities and keep it real.

Q. Do you ever feel overwhelmed being together all the time?

A. Of course, but we have a team mentality. My husband and I both see what needs to be done, whether it’s family or work related and we purposefully share responsibilities. We work as equal partners in all of our roles and we regroup often.

Q. How do you maintain that equality without competition?

A. We try to neutrally divide tasks so no one feels they are working harder or longer than the other and we don’t keep score. We both value being present and co-parenting is much easier when you’re in sync. In turn, our kids are just as likely to go to daddy, as to mommy.

Q. When you are working do you take your children with you to visit suppliers?

A. Yes. Building authentic relationships has been key to our business. They know we are a husband and wife team and were delighted to meet our kids. I think a lot of people enjoy the break in their workday when a three-year-old comes in and shakes their hand.

Q. Do your children ever become problematic when you are working?

A. Sometimes, sure. Having a partner makes it easier. If there is a meeting and Sam is dismantling someone’s office, I can leave with the kids and Kelly will finish the business at hand, or vice versa. But having the kids around reminds us why we work so hard and encourages us to take breaks.

Tip #4: Be Flexible and Adaptable   •  Learn to roll with life’s punches and be flexible with traditional ideas; this develops resiliency.

Q. Will your children attend public school?

A. No. I have always planned on home schooling my kids. As with all other aspects of our life, I want school to be flexible and fit our lifestyle, instead of the kids having to adapt to fit the traditional school model. Sam is a kinesthetic learner and is always moving; having hands-on real-world experiences is excellent for him.

Q. What do you hope to teach your children by living this composite family – work lifestyle?

A. I hope they learn to make value-based decisions, instead of just doing what is expected. Learning how to deal with life as it happens is vital. I hope our kids learn through experience to be resilient.

Q. What would you say to parents that cannot possibly take their children to work with them?

A. I realize not everyone can take their kids to work, but I think because of the pandemic and the changes everyone has experienced, maybe they can see how they could potentially blend their family and work life more. I would encourage people to keep thinking creatively and ask themselves, how could I get this done without separating myself from my family?

As I reflect on my conversation with Marissa, I conclude that we all need to evolve our ideas about traditional conventions. Whether or not you have your own business, a partner at work or at home, or would choose completely different things for your own life, Marissa’s fundamental principles apply. Prioritize your values, have a clear vision of what you want your life to look like, choose good strategies to get you there and be willing to adapt so opportunities are never lost. Building a lifestyle that encompasses family and work life together, instead of keeping them at odds, can put an end to the family life – work life balancing act.

Melanie Williams is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Maclean’s, Todays Parent and Chatelaine magazines. Her passion for writing allows her to work out the ups and downs of life and to be an effective inclusion advocate. Melanie was born and raised in Lake Country, BC and still refers to this place as home. Currently she resides in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, two children and a small, were-wolf-like dog.

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The Weight of a Pandemic

by Melanie Williams; wife, mother, friend, confidant, writer, inclusion advocate

I have always felt like somewhat of a fraud in my own body. I am 5’3” and have a small frame but I have never had a flat stomach and my thighs squish together in the middle. Being petite has a certain image attached to it that I’ve never been able to live up to. I fail miserably at meeting industry standards. Shopping is tedious and clothes never fit me right. Trying things on usually leaves me feeling fat and ugly. I tell people, ‘you can be small and flabby’. This seems to extract a certain amount of disdain from others. What I never would have predicted, was how COVID-19 would fundamentally change how I saw myself – for the better.

When the pandemic unfolded and we were told to stay home, I rushed to Costco in a panic to stock up on my essentials: 2 kgs of mixed nuts and a case of my favourite red wine. Three weeks later, with my husband working out of town and home schooling my two children a total disaster, more essentials were required; nuts and wine. The pandemic made me a regular Costco shopper. I survived each day by eating my emotions and celebrated each night with Cabernet Sauvignon.

When school ended and summer started I was eager to get outside and enjoy the long, hot days with my kids. But when I brought out my summer wardrobe and tried to put on my shorts I discovered I could not pull them up over my bum. I eventually won the wrestling match but ultimately was the loser because I couldn’t zip them up. Surprised, I got out the bathroom scale and nervously stepped on. The dial spun like a whirly top and finally rested on a number that was shocking. The last time I saw that number I was blossoming with child. How had I let this get away from me?

I sat on the edge of the tub and stared at the offensive bathroom scale. I was contemplating how I had missed the changes in my body when I noticed I was still wearing my pink flamingo pajamas and realized it was 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. Instantly I knew this was part of the problem. I stripped naked and quickly got dressed in black leggings, pulled on a stretchy tank top and covered it with one of my husband’s white dress shirts that I had rolled up the sleeves on yesterday. I looked hopefully in the mirror. Damn, this was part of the problem too. I had spent the last few months in obvious comfort with no need for structure or shape and consequently, I had lost all of my own.

I stripped naked again and blatantly examined my full-length image in the mirror. Still small and still flabby. Correction, flabbier. My thighs squished together more now. My boobs were much rounder. My mid-section was shaped more like a wine barrel than I cared to admit. For a second I was horrified, but surprisingly the feeling was immediately replaced by an odd sense of pride. As I stood there looking at my bulbous body I felt, for the first time, that I was looking at the body of a mature woman and it gave me a weird sense of accomplishment. I realized I had spent a lifetime seeing myself only as looking juvenile. But on that Tuesday afternoon, I was absolutely thrilled at the sight of my evolution into the body of a respectable, well rounded woman.

Filled with unexpected delight I put the leggings and oversized shirt back on and confidently strode out of the house into the back yard. I turned my face up to the sun and couldn’t help but grin. I could feel myself beaming with excitement. The energy that erupted from my new-found confidence was dazzling. Pandemic weight be damned. I was a woman!

It sounds cliché to say, ‘be comfortable in the skin you’re in’. Whenever I heard that sentiment before I thought, ‘sure I will. Just as soon as I like what I see’. But I never would have expected to love what I saw after I gained weight. I felt glorious with my new bigger bum, giggly boobs and muffin top. I concluded my inner critic must be a magician. It tricked me into unhappiness for years, taunting me with a constant impossible ideal but now I slid into luxurious confidence with the addition of these several extra pounds. I felt beautiful immersed in the sensation of being a woman.

My new-found self-assurance awakened me. It compelled me to take the lead in my life instead of letting life happen around me. I could hear my own voice and it was loud and axiomatic. I was inspired and motivated. I started actively pursuing more of the things that I love the most. Reading, writing, creating, connecting. I felt released from unrealistic expectations that had been unknowingly limiting me for years. Somehow, I had let my self-worth get entangled within an idolization that I had created, which had nothing to do with what I truly valued. Finally I felt free and empowered to be 100% me.

It has been a truly weird experience. I had to gain to grow and this catapulted me into living a fuller life. When I stand in front of a mirror now, I smile at myself and I’m unapologetically delighted with what I see. My mind is gentler and my eyes are kinder on my body. Unattainable industry standards and others perceived disappointments no longer bother me. I have learned self-acceptance, motivation and personal fulfillment can come out of the most unexpected circumstances. I, for one, would never have imagined that the weight of a pandemic would give me this brilliant lightness I feel now.

Melanie Williams is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Maclean’s, Todays Parent and Chatelaine magazines. Her passion for writing allows her to work out the ups and downs of life and to be an effective inclusion advocate. Melanie was born and raised in Lake Country, BC and still refers to this place as home. Currently she resides in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, two children and a small, were-wolf-like dog.

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