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People Featured Lifestyle Mind & Body

Fresh Faced

Radiant Life: How did Niki Newd come to fruition?

Kirsi Kaukonen: The kernel of inspiration for Niki Newd was planted over 16 years ago, when I taught my friend a facial masque recipe that has been passed down from mother to daughter in my family for at least 200 years.

The masque recipe is freshly blended just before use. When I was young, my mother mixed it for herself and me and my brothers just before we went to the sauna. We let it work on the skin in the sauna for a while. How wise our mothers have been! Now science can explain to us why the masque is so effective and why this recipe has been our “secret weapon” for at least 200 years. After the masque, we developed our oatmeal soap, which has become a very iconic product. It is a gentle product for cleansing the skin of makeup without drying. Dry skin was our problem before we developed our oatmeal soap, but not anymore. After the soap, we wanted to have our own cream, of course, and Skin Butter, one of our most popular products, was born.

Those 16 years have only strengthened my inspiration, and I feel that now the time seems to be mature enough for our product philosophy. Think of oat milk, which was consider odd a few years ago. But is it anymore? Over many years, Oatly pioneered its vegetable-based “dairy product” until it became part of our food culture. We are doing it now in skin care, little by little, by bringing out the idea that skin care products should be fresh, too, like the food we want.

The Niki Newd product line was launched five years ago. During the 10 years before the launch, we first developed skin care products for our own needs and for our friends. After that, we built our brand carefully and patiently. We test all products on our own skins, and we have a circle of friends who are always ready to test our products. After our long testing period, the product goes through an official external product safety assessment. After that, we launch the product.

After deciding to build this company pioneering fresh skin care, we haven’t had a single regret.  This is one of the things that make me smile every day.

Niki Newd Gourmet Collection. (Courtesy of Niki Newd)

Radiant Life: What exactly do you mean by “fresh skin care”?

Kirsi Kaukonen: Fresh skin care is freshly blended of 100% traceable, 100% natural ingredients without any additives, preservatives, or alcohol. And on top of that, we also focus on using food-grade ingredients instead of cosmetic-grade ones. These four principles are met in fresh cosmetics, unlike in “natural” cosmetics, where, at least for the time being, not all these criteria are met. In this way, we have taken natural skin care to a whole new level.

We believe that the principles applied to healthy food and nutrition should also be applied to skin care. So, when thinking of preparing a wholesome gourmet dinner, what kind of ingredients would you choose? The best ones, of course. And so would we!

Therefore, all our ingredients are of the highest quality: natural, fresh, and pure. In comparison, cosmetic-grade ingredients are no longer suitable for human nutrition. When designing new products, we start from the thought of how to complement the nutritional ensemble of our skin—just like healthy food. Also, in addition to favoring food-grade options, we always choose ingredients with scientific proof of supporting healthy skin.

Radiant Life: Let’s go over these principles one by one. What kind of a difference does it make?

Kirsi Kaukonen: Think of a glass of freshly pressed orange juice: delicious and high in nutrients—that is our goal. All our products are freshly blended using gentle, artisanal methods to protect the natural effectiveness and potency of the nutrients. We produce at least 12 batches of our products annually, and ship orders to our customers right after manufacturing. We produce our products in our own laboratory in Finland and ship globally to our customers within one or one and a half weeks from ordering. This is also a way how we want to respect and cherish valuable resources by producing our products according to demand; we minimize any leftover products and also avoid long periods of warehousing.

We choose food-grade ingredients, and you need to really deep-dive into the ingredients to find the best and unique ones to harness their characteristics for skin care products. And honestly, I think we have done it very well.

Freshness and food-grade was not enough for us. We wanted to really know what we put on our skin. Just like a top chef can describe the origin of the ingredients used in a gourmet dish, all our ingredients are 100% traceable.

We look for nutrient-rich ingredients from the best suppliers and manufacturers. We have carefully hand-picked the best ethical producers and small organic farms around the world. Over 50% of the ingredients come from Nordic countries, including Finland, which is famous for its pristine nature. We are not satisfied with mediocrity, and always seek the best.

And if you already use the best ingredients in the world, why add anything extra? We want to cherish the natural microbiome of our skin by saying “no” to additives, alcohol, synthetics, and preservatives.

All our products are made here in Finland, in Espoo, in our own laboratory. We do not use third parties and have not outsourced any of our products. This gives us flexibility and the quality we want to offer to our customers.

Radiant Life: Tell us about some of the specific ingredients you use. Where do they come from and how did you pick them?

Kirsi Kaukonen: The sea buckthorn oil we use comes from a family farm in northern Finland. The rugged natural conditions of the North and the “nightless nights” give the berries an exceptional amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. That’s what we want for our skin. Our sea buckthorn oil is cold-pressed from fresh whole berries and naturally provides abundant amounts of beta-carotene—a vitamin A precursor—E vitamins, omegas 7, 3, 9, and other nutrients. The color in the oil speaks of nutrients. The color of our oil is deep orange, and its taste is intensely berryish and rich in texture.

Italy has always been one of our family’s favorite destinations and it was natural that this is where our olive oil comes from. The olive grove where one of our olive oils comes from is near Naples. Our producer produces exquisite olive oil, pressed from a single variety of green olives, with the highest antioxidant content and the lowest acidity that comes from pressing within 24 hours of harvesting. Our olive oil, just like our sea buckthorn oil, is bursting with nutrients, promoting the well-being of our skin and slowing down premature aging. Naturally, using the best ingredients brings a very different cost structure to our products, instead of using cosmetic qualities that are much cheaper. It is like with fine dining: We pay more for the ingredients used in a gourmet dish than in a chain restaurant.

(Courtesy of Niki Newd)
Niki Newd facial cucumber. (Courtesy of Niki Newd)

Radiant Life: How long can fresh skin care last? Will this change skin care routines and habits?

Kirsi Kaukonen: We recommend using our creams, balm, and oil serum within 6 months. They could last longer, but they are at their best when used as recommended. Would you find an artisan baker who would say that the bread is still at its best after a few days? No, they want you to enjoy the texture, aroma, and taste of fresh bread.

The Skin Cream and Skin Mist we recommend being used in two months, to be able to enjoy the ultimate freshness of vitamin C and other antioxidants. Most of our products are stored at room temperature. Only two products, Skin Cream and Skin Mist, are stored in the fridge, like fresh food. The fridge is an excellent place to store these two products and keep their exceptional freshness and nutrients.

Radiant Life: Tell us a bit about your own skin care rituals.

Kirsi Kaukonen: My skin care ritual is very simple. I rinse my skin with cool water in the morning and usually apply a cream cocktail to my face. Usually, I want to boost vitamin C to my skin, so the morning cocktail of creams consists of our Skin Cream to which I add one or two other products to make a perfect mixture. My skin tells me which products it wants. If I work at home without makeup, I might add some balm to my cheeks and lips during the day. In the evenings, I always wash my face with our oatmeal soap and apply a cream cocktail. Mostly during the weekends, I regularly make a masque a few times a month. Basically, my skin care routine is very straightforward, as I can put the same products around the eyes, the décolleté area, and the rest of my face. My skin tells me which product to use when and where.

Radiant Life: What other healthy lifestyle rituals do you incorporate into your life?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I try to eat as healthy and simple as possible during the week, and during the weekends, I give myself freedom. I follow a gluten-free and dairy-free diet because I feel much better then. Sports have been a big part of my life. I competed in cross-country skiing until I was 16, and ever since, I have enjoyed sports. At this moment, I do reformer Pilates, take long walks, and swim. When my body is stressed or tired for some reason, I also do breathing exercises that help me focus and find a calm relaxed feeling.

Radiant Life: What other values or philosophy did your mother and grandmother pass on to you?

Kirsi Kaukonen: My mother and grandmother were very different in nature, but their values were very similar. I am sure that the experience of war and how to cope in wartime influenced their values and philosophy of life. I have been encouraged since childhood to try my best and believe that “I can,” and, in bad times, to be resilient and have trust that all things will work out. And perhaps the most important values that I am very grateful of are that both my mother and grandmother always emphasized the importance of taking other people into account, showing love and warmth, and the idea that we are all cared for.

Radiant Life: Please tell us more about yourself. What is your background? Where do you get your inspiration?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I hold a MSc in civil engineering and am a former photography model. I funded my studies with modeling, and I really enjoyed my profession because it allowed me to see unique places and meet a lot of interesting people. After graduating, when my daughters were young, I worked as a project director in the IT field, and during that time, Niki Newd was created little by little.

I started developing skin care products with my friend, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology. Making masques and creams during weekends with her was our own quality time and a way to relax. That prepared us for Niki Newd, and most importantly, the philosophy of fresh skin care was born during that time. When I was working in the IT sector, I never felt like it was my true passion, but now I am so grateful that Niki Newd is part of my life. I am feeling that I do what I have always wanted to do with all my heart and for the rest of my life.

I am very visual, and I like to create images and ideas. In addition, I am very curious, and follow a wide range of different events, and I exercise a lot in nature and outdoors. It’s wonderful and inspiring to create a unique concept, but I need to keep in mind to take breaks, take long weekends for recovery. It’s a way to keep your life in balance and the creativity and inspiration flowing.

Radiant Life: There has been a broader trend toward natural skin care. What are your concerns about the general skin care market when it comes to ingredients and quality, and most importantly, how they impact people’s skin?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I would love to answer this question by asking further questions. What would happen if all manufacturers of skin care products listed the ingredients of their products in the native language instead of Latin, and openly stated the percentages of water, preservatives, fillers, fragrances, and additives in their products? If we go beyond this line of thought, how many manufacturers could tell us about the traceability of their raw materials? And last but not least, how many manufacturers would be willing to state how fresh their products are? I am particularly proud and glad that we do not have to hide behind anything at Niki Newd. Instead, we can really answer every question mentioned above.

In conclusion, what worries me most is that most consumers are influenced by the mass market and mass-market players. It remains to be seen how we small players will make our voices heard and increase consumer awareness. It would probably require at least one big player to set an example for others.

Radiant Life: Your products can now also be found in some establishments here in Finland. Could you tell us more?

Kirsi Kaukonen: We have launched, for the spa and beauty sector, a “Nordic tasting menu for the skin” spa concept, which offers the customer a unique, holistic skin care experience. In the main roles are fresh skin care products, the special expertise of a beautician, and a relaxing treatment environment.

All products are made to order for the spas and for their needs. Treatments are customized to meet their and their customers’ desires. There is clearly a rising trend where users of select skin care products wish to switch to more natural alternatives for products and treatments without the need to sacrifice effectiveness. We meet this demand perfectly.

I hope users find products that feel wonderful, genuine, and caring on their skin, and that they also feel that they get a natural glow to their skin. And, of course, I hope to hear feedback that their skin has never looked so good.

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Featured Lifestyle

The Polo Life

Nic Roldan, raised in the town of Wellington, Fla., is America’s leading polo player. With an 8-goal handicap, Roldan has won some of the world’s most prestigious polo tournaments, including England’s 2018 Cartier Queen’s Cup, Argentina’s Copa Camara de Diputados in 2006, and the 2005 Australian Open, to name a few.

(Courtesy of Michele Cardamone)

Roldan, 39, plays professionally for the Ganzi family. Marc and Melissa Ganzi, who also compete in polo tournaments around the world, are the founders of the World Polo League, the Grand Champions Polo Club, in Wellington, and the Aspen Valley Polo Club, in Colorado. Roldan promotes several charities, including the Kids Cancer Foundation, the Buddy Program, and the Neil S. Hirsch Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.

Nic Roldan at the 1st East Coast Open Game – Audi vs Airstream 2016 (Courtesy of Chichi Ubina)

During his childhood, Roldan showed an early talent for the game, often called the “sport of kings.” He played junior tournaments until he turned 15 in 1998, when he achieved the significant accomplishment of becoming the youngest polo player ever to win a prestigious U.S. Open Polo Championship title—a record that still stands. But Roldan’s love for the game doesn’t just stop in the fields, and he works to inspire young players with polo lessons while dedicating himself to philanthropy.

“I feel like there is more to do besides bringing awareness about polo—the sport that I am most passionate about,” he says. “I believe this new stage in my life is to take care of others, to guide people that have been less privileged than me.

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

Horses are a big part of Roldan’s life. “When you live in Wellington, we treat horses with the utmost care,” he says. “Here, horses are so important, and we treat them with so much dignity. When I realized that in other countries, that is not the case, it shocked me,” says Roldan, who was born in Argentina.

Roldan’s father is Raul Roldan, an Argentine polo player who was on the Sultan of Brunei’s polo team; he met Nic’s mother, Dee, of German descent, when she came for a visit to Wellington. Nic’s grandfather, Audilio Bonadeo Ayrolo, won the Argentine Open in 1931 and 1938 and was also a champion around the world.

(Courtesy of Barbara Livingston)

These men greatly influenced Roldan’s ability to compete on the field. While his father was based in Brunei, Roldan competed in the junior tournaments in Wellington. He quickly outshone other kids competing in polo, and at 15, winning the U.S. Open earned him a 3-goal handicap.

Early Drive

Roldan greets the staff as he walks around the Santa Rita Polo Farm in Wellington, which has some of the most beautiful stables in the area. His low-key demeanor and elegance translate admirably to the sport of polo.

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

“I started riding when I was 2 years old,” he says. “Surrounded by horses, it was natural that I would live this life. What people do not realize about this sport is that besides the luxury and glamorous feel it has, it can be very dangerous and demands so much training as well as being in top athletic shape.” Roldan trains several times a week. “You have to wake up early in the morning and be ready to train for several hours to get ready for competition. It’s an old and glamorous sport with so much risk, sometimes it is unimaginable,” he explains.

Roldan has won several major tournaments, and at various times he has also been a 9-goal-handicap polo player. “It’s really hard to achieve that jump from 8 to 9,” he says. “I went back and forth—really difficult and challenging to get to that 9, but I’m so passionate about it. Polo is a big priority in my life.”

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

Roldan is a spokesperson for several brands including St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and Provident Jewelry, and he has his own High Goal Gin label. “It’s been a lot of fun. The gin comes from South Carolina, and it has started to expand to other areas of the country,” he says. Roldan is also in high demand for fashion features and has made many appearances on television, and in 2010, he taught Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian how to play polo. He has recently made forays into real estate, and just launched his lifestyle brand, Roldan Lifestyle.

His skill, good looks, and charisma have established him as a household name of several brands, including Italian fitness company Techno Gym. “It’s very upscale, sophisticated equipment that enables you to stay fit—a priority in my lifestyle,” he says. “You don’t have to overwork yourself; you just have to do it right. I exercise three times a week only. I also rest.”

Inspiring Youth

“In selfish times, we have to be selfless,” Roldan says.

Although Roldan is no stranger to the limelight, he is a down-to-earth person who simply loves playing polo and helping others. His philanthropy work often sees him play in front of crowds of young kids at the polo fields in Wellington, and he’s helped charities raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Carbondale and Aspen, Colo.-based Buddy Program that he supports empowers youth through mentoring experiences that help them achieve their full potential. Since 1973, this nonprofit has helped thousands of little buddies, and Roldan has been very influential within this community.

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

“I travel the world, I live in the most beautiful polo settings, and I meet amazing people, but there is no bigger reward than the smiles of underprivileged children when they get to meet you, or to watch the horses we try to aid after toiling in tough terrain and hard weather,” comments Roldan, who was named one of the country’s most eligible bachelors by Town & Country magazine.

This year, Roldan plans to travel to St. Moritz, Switzerland to play snow polo, and he will play during the World Polo League season in Wellington as part of the Grand Champions Polo Club team.

Categories
Featured Lifestyle People

Sheetal Sheth Says Honesty Helps Kids Through Hard Times

Actress and children’s author, Sheetal Sheth, writes about “real things in a real way.”  She says that she doesn’t do abstract stories about “unicorns and dragons.” The “real things” in her children’s books include illness, death, racial differences, and conflicts between the sexes. Her characters—including an Indian American girl in Sheth’s popular Anjali series—deal with these real-life situations.

Sheth herself has had her own poignant experiences with these topics. Growing up in small-town America as a first-generation Indian immigrant, she felt uncomfortably different. She understands how important it is for children, including her own, to see book characters who are similar to themselves. “I make a point to curate books and the things that [my kids] watch so that they do see themselves. We’re watching stories of people who are us, and not us, because we want to … create empathetic kids,” she said.

As a woman in Hollywood, she has faced #MeToo situations, and therefore, understands how important it is to teach children respect between the sexes. She is also a cancer survivor. Her children were 2 and 4 when she was diagnosed, and she understands how important it is to help children cope with serious illness.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

On Illness

“I looked for [children’s] books about illness and death, and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t abstract,” Sheth said. Her newest book, “Making Happy” (set to publish in the fall of 2022), is about a girl named Leila whose mother is battling illness. Leila’s family gets through these hard times by finding joy and laughter together. Sheth’s advice to anyone helping children cope with illness is: “Tell them as much as you think they can handle. I’m all for being honest, but also in an appropriate way. Tell them that you’re feeling all the same things they are, that you’re scared too, and that you’re going to go through it together.”

As a young mother coping with cancer, Sheth had her unique challenges. One was the recovery from her double mastectomy. “The hardest part was that I couldn’t hug my kids for a long period of time,” Sheth lamented. “It’s really, really difficult not to hug your children.”

She received her diagnosis in 2018, on Christmas Eve. “I was with family, and so I wasn’t really ready to talk about it—but I was in it, so I kind of had to,” she said. During the holidays, things were closed, and medical staff were out of the office, so it was hard to get answers at a time when she had so many questions. That struggle is in her past, yet always present. “I don’t think you ever really overcome cancer,” Sheth explained. “I think you live with it. Once you have cancer, it’s part of your life.”

On Racial Differences

Earlier that same year, Sheth had published her first children’s book, “Always Anjali.” Anjali struggles with how different her name is. It’s not on any of those novelty items you see in gift shops with names printed on them: like Jennifer or Joanne or Sarah. Nobody knows how to spell Anjali, and one boy makes fun of her, calling her “peanut butter ‘and jelly.'”

Anjali wants to change her name to Angie, but her parents teach her about her name’s beautiful Sanskrit origin. It means “a gift, the most precious kind, just like you,” her mother tells her—and Anjali learns to wear her name proudly. People in showbiz have also asked Sheth to change her name to something more “American,” and she has always refused.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

The issue of changing names is something many children go through across the board, Sheth said. She has volunteered at children’s organizations and, she says, “I worked with kids on a regular basis who told me they didn’t fit in, or they had to change something about themselves to fit in, and that narrative is something I heard over and over and over again. And I thought, ‘Is there a way to put this into a book?'”

Anjali’s experience has resonated widely. “Always Anjali” won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Storybook Grand Prize, voted on by teachers and librarians.

Growing up Indian American, Sheth said that she felt “a push and pull. Are you Indian enough? Are you American enough? Who are you?” Her parents wanted to protect her from being too “Western.” But that was impossible, growing up in the West. Also, she felt they had a romanticized vision of how India was when they left. It had changed since the 1960s. Her parents raised her with a strong sense of community, which led her to a service-oriented life, always working with nonprofits.

She learned the magic of Indian culture, as Anjali does in her book, but she also appreciated being American. When Sheth’s first child was born, she started looking for books that featured children of various ethnic backgrounds. But the books she found were “inaccurate, insensitive, or just plain wrong,” she said. That’s what motivated her to create Anjali.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)
(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

On Boys, Girls, and Big Feelings

Sheth’s second book, “Bravo Anjali” (published in September 2021), has Anjali learning to play the tabla, a traditional Indian drum. It’s usually played by males, and the boys in her class are jealous of her talent. She tries to hide her talent to avoid jealousy, but she also becomes angry and hurt. Anjali and the boy who was most jealous and mean, talk to each other and resolve their conflict, healing their friendship.

Sheth says “Bravo Anjali,” is “really about teaching our kids, boys and girls, how to talk to each other when they’re having big feelings.” Many children feel like crying and bursting out with anger, though we often tell them to calm down, she noted. Sheth tries instead to recognize those feelings and help children work through them. “Having big feelings is a good thing,” she said.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)
Categories
Family Featured Mind & Body Parenting Relationships

How to Discover What Your Children Are Feeling and Why It Matters

Have you ever behaved in a way not typical for you?

If you cared enough to ask yourself why, did you find that a feeling had hijacked your heart?

For instance, for me, it’s a critical spirit.

This is the opposite of who I want to be, so when I realize I’ve been critical, I’ve learned to look inside. It’s much easier to blame others. (She made me do it!) But taking personal responsibility matters. Unwanted feelings like jealousy, disappointment, pride, or insecurity influence my choices. When I work on my heart, the behavior stops.

Imagine our children understanding this at a young age! When they behave in surprising ways, they can learn to look inside and think about their feelings to change outward behavior. We can help them. They don’t need to get mad at themselves or lash out at others.

Why Are Emotions Difficult for Children and How Can We Help?

Challenging times. In the past 18 months, because of health concerns, the quarantine, and loss of what children could depend on (school, church, athletics, time with friends and family, and more), many children of all ages are reporting that they’re depressed, anxious, or stressed.

Concerned parents are asking their children, “Are you depressed?”

But it may be unreasonable to expect children to know. They don’t know what depression feels like. They may not know what “too much stress” or anxiety feels like. What if asking the question increases their stress? And many tell me they’re afraid to answer “yes” because they don’t know how we’ll respond.

Rather, let’s describe what we notice that causes us to ask about depression and stress. For instance, “Jake, normally you’re very patient when playing games with Dave. We’ve noticed you’re not lately. What’s up?” And “Beth, I miss our talks while you hang out in the kitchen and help me fix dinner. You’re choosing to isolate. What’s up?” You could add something like, “Because our feelings change our behavior, we’re just wondering how you’re doing.” And “How can I help?”

Children may not immediately answer, but you’ve described something real that can’t be denied. They may come to you within a day or two to talk about their experiences and feelings. If they don’t, approach them and let them know they’re too important to you for you to not ask again about how they’re doing.

Vocabulary

Boys’ emotional vocabulary is not as robust as girls’, so it’s harder for them to answer questions about their feelings. This is a reason “Okay” is a frequent answer to “How are you doing?” and “How are you feeling?” Girls can answer in the same way, but they have an emotional thesaurus in their mind. If they trust us and want to take the time, they can usually answer the questions. They may be frustrated, upset, angry, confused, jealous, and disappointed. Boys are safe saying they’re “angry.” But there are almost always other feelings, too. Anger is caused by something.

We can teach boys emotional vocabulary and how to assign accurate vocabulary to their feelings. We can use accurate words to describe our feelings and explain why we’re frustrated, but not angry. Or why we’re jealous and how we didn’t let it result in anger.

When asking boys (especially) how they’re feeling, we can give them choices based on what we think might be going on. For instance, “Do you think you’re mostly frustrated or confused?” “Are you more content or joyful?” We can invite them to explain their choice and we can provide helpful feedback.

Technology. Technology causes children to believe they can be happy all the time. Tech is new, all around them, easy, quick, and they get to choose much of what they do with it. As a result, they have a hard time with “hard” emotions. They may tend to stuff grief, fear, and disappointment rather than process them.

We can model that those hard emotions are a fact of life. We can explain how we handle loss, grief, sadness, and the like. When children bravely share that they’re feeling something challenging, we can listen longer, help them find the words they need, and thank them for trusting us with their hearts.

Also, when they share that they’re having a hard day, they’re angry, or mad at themselves, let’s not flippantly announce things like, “Tomorrow is another day.” Or “I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you think it was.” This “toxic positivity” can shut children down. They’ll feel invisible and unimportant. It makes it less likely they’ll be honest in the future. If they learn to deny their hard emotions, these become bigger and more controlling, increasing stress and anxiety.

Vulnerability Isn’t Easy

For reasons already mentioned, being transparent, authentic, and vulnerable don’t come naturally to young people. If you want kids to go deep and share details, talk with them without their siblings present. As an example, the dinner table is a place for light conversations, devotions, and sharing quick highlights and low points of everybody’s day. Don’t expect deep conversations about personal things unless the topic is relevant to everyone.

To make vulnerability more likely, try talking in the dark at bedtime.

Children tell me frequently that it’s easier for them to be open when they can’t see the fear or disappointment on our faces. Also, going for a car ride or a walk is wise. Again, extended eye contact isn’t possible.

Boys will open up more when they’re busy doing something. So when you go for a walk, let them kick a rock. Girls may be able to handle talking while you sit with them. Boys need to be doing something—building with blocks, shooting hoops, doing a jigsaw puzzle, weeding the garden with you, or playing a favorite game.

Perhaps you’ve been frustrated that children tell you about how they’re feeling or what’s going on, but don’t elaborate. You start asking questions, which causes them to get mad that you always must know more, are never satisfied, and make every conversation into an interrogation.

Instead of asking questions that force them to share details they may not be ready to share, when they pause, listen. Be quiet. They may continue. If not, try saying “and?” with an inviting tone that suggests you want to know more. You can say “Keep talking” or “Tell me more.” If they complain or even if they don’t, it can bless them to hear, “I want to understand you.”

One Final Suggestion

We want children to feel their feelings and to process them. We want them to understand their feelings and their feelings’ effects. Sometimes being distracted helps the processing. Children won’t feel as overwhelmed. They may make progress without trying.

Spending time outside might be the perfect idea. Try it. Send your kids outside when they’re frustrated, stressed, and tending toward depression. Their dark bedroom full of technology won’t help them. Being outside, sometimes with you, will.

My friend Ginny Yurich says it this way: Nature provides many different types of safeguards to help kids as they navigate depression or anxiety. Exposure to full-spectrum sunlight, for example, causes the body to release serotonin—that “feel good” chemical. Kids often go from sad to glad when we change from an indoor environment to an outdoor environment.

Being outside will lower cortisol levels, the chemical associated with feelings of stress. Rumination decreases after time outside, which can be notably impactful for the worrying child. Even the simple act of observing nature evokes feelings of calmness.

What About You?

Like with so many other things, how emotionally healthy you are will influence the children in your life. Would rereading this with yourself in mind be beneficial? Only you know.

Dr. Kathy Koch (“cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including “8 Great Smarts” and “Start with the Heart.” Dr. Koch earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

Categories
Fine Arts Arts Featured Mind & Body Relationships

Birds of Fortune

In traditional Chinese culture, the following idioms are often used to describe a perfect marriage: lute and zither playing in harmony, flowers blooming under the full moon, dragons soaring and phoenixes prancing, mandarin ducks playing in water, and swallows and nightingales flying in pairs.

These metaphors are inspired by objects in nature, among which bird-related analogies are the most common.

Such admiration of the creatures dates back millennia, as birds were believed to herald good luck. Bird-and-flower paintings (hua niao hua) are one of the three major genres of Chinese painting, and chirping birds are typically used to convey the painter’s earnest wishes.

Noble Blessings From a Sacred Bird

The phoenix (fenghuang), a sacred bird from the ancient days regarded as the king of birds, is considered the noblest emblem for grand weddings. Married couples sharing in the ebb and flow of each other’s lives are compared to male and female phoenixes flying in blessed harmony.

In Shuowen Jiezi, an ancient Chinese dictionary from the Han dynasty, the phoenix is said to appear only in places blessed with utmost peace, auspiciousness, and fortune. According to the dictionary, the phoenix also has the breast of a goose, the back of a tiger, the neck of a snake, the tail of a fish, the grain of a dragon, the face of a swallow, and the beak of a rooster. Its body contains the five fundamental colors: white, black, red, green, and yellow.

According to the Writings of Huainan, Yu Jia is the name of the ancestor of all birds. Dragons were said to have given birth to phoenixes, and the phoenix (fenghuang) was used to symbolize both husband and wife, as male phoenixes were originally called feng and the females huang.

The luan is another mythological bird similar to the phoenix—red, flamboyant, and rooster-shaped. Both the phoenix and luan are totems of auspiciousness and are often seen in royal rituals, paintings, and accessories. No ordinary bird could compare with the appearances of phoenix and luan—their superiority is everlasting. Many believe that the image of the luan is derived from golden pheasants. Therefore, paintings with a pair of pheasants can also convey wedding wishes.

Till Death Do Us Part

Mandarin ducks (yuanyang) represent the unwavering faithfulness and commitment of married couples. Male ducks are called yuan, and the females yang—so together, they’re often used as a metaphor for wedded bliss. Mandarin ducks often swim and inhabit in pairs. Luo Yuan, a literati from the Song Dynasty, famously depicted that yuanyang would never leave one another, and upon being torn apart, they would die of grief.

The yuanyang was used by the literati as a symbol of inseparable couples, and it was widely used in many contexts—sadness, happiness, separations, and reunions. For instance, Lu Zhaolin, a poet in the Tang Dynasty, wrote in “Changan: Poem Written in an Antiquated Form,” that: “I would die without regret if we were flatfish swimming together, I wish to be mandarin ducks with you more so than immortals.” The poem expresses a man’s earnest wish to be with his love.

The “Book of Odes and Hymns” (“Shi Jing”) shows the auspiciousness of yuanyang in this way: “They flit in pairs and the net captures them. May men be blessed with luck and fortune! They swam in pairs gathered aside by stakes, and folded their left wings. May men be blessed with auspiciousness!”

In the past, people would also catch and gift Mandarin ducks. Poems demonstrate that though the birds were met with danger in these instances, they would suffer together rather than abandon one another. As such, the birds are widely acknowledged as conveying blessings for the newly wedded—no matter what hardships the couple faces, they will get through them together. The unwavering character of yuanyang is frequently interpreted by poets, and its symbolic meanings have become irreplaceable.

Harbingers of Joy and Love

There are birds more commonly seen in our everyday lives, such as the swallows who often build nests under traditional roofs.

Swallows are small and often have a black back and a white throat, giving them the nickname “black cape” in Chinese. In traditional Chinese culture, swallows symbolize a home of joy and comfort. They can also be used to describe a loving and inseparable couple. In “Swallows Leaving in Pairs,” the poet Li Bai wrote about how people admired swallows for always flying in pairs, forever by their lover’s side. However, after their nest was burnt down, one female swallow was left alone without her partner. It was a heartbreaking sight, seeing the swallow now flying alone. This tragedy shows the swallows’ fidelity and commitment.

Magpies are another significant cultural symbol in China. In ancient times, grumpy magpies were actually considered auspicious—their chirping can bring good luck and fortune. This is why magpies are called “happy magpies” in China. Magpies are also seen as fairies. In the Song Dynasty, a man named Yuan Bowen dreamed about a fairy and asked her to stay during the night. The fairy replied to him: “I shall make a bridge for Zhinu during the day, staying would bring disgrace to my duty.” When Yuan woke up, the sun had risen and he saw a flock of magpies flying eastward, among which one flew away from his window.

Zhinu is the youngest daughter of the Jade Emperor, and magpies are also associated with the folktale of the weaver girl Zhinu and cowherd Niulang. When Zhinu came down to Earth, she fell in love with Niulang, a mortal cowherd, and the two got married. However, their love wasn’t allowed, and the Queen Mother of the West banished them to opposite sides of the Heavenly River (Milky Way). On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge, connecting the two lovers and allowing them to briefly reunite. Thus, magpies are seen as a type of Cupid that brings lovers together and are often used to signify marital bliss.

The symbols embodied by birds have been imagined and reimagined by literatus, inviting us to explore the previous cultural heritage hidden behind the chirping birds.

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Arts Featured Lifestyle

Language of Flowers

Floriography, also called the language of flowers, has been a means of cryptological communication for centuries. Through arrangements of specific flowers, coded messages could be delivered to recipients. Plants have therefore represented metaphors for virtue or vice.

The origins of plant symbolism can be attributed to the literature of antiquity, religious writings, and the documented study of medieval herbology. The Bible includes many instances where trees, fruits, or flowers lend themselves to sacred allegories.

Many devout writers and artists from the medieval period through the Renaissance used floriography as a means to explain and interpret religious beliefs.

The seventh-century English Benedictine monk Bede the Venerable likened the Virgin Mary to the lily by describing “the white petals signifying [her] bodily purity, the golden anthers the glowing light of her soul.” Therefore the lily flower has become a symbol of purity and humility.

The use of botanical imagery flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries as many artists became interested in illustrating objects from nature with greater realism.

“Vase of Flowers,” 1722, by Jan van Huysum. Oil on panel; 31.6 inches by 24 inches. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. (Public Domain)

Prior to the 17th century, flowers were primarily symbolic decorations, in service of the main subject. To provide more depth and context to a painting, a plant would either give clues to the identity of the subject or offer a moral description of the subject.

Ludger tom Ring the Younger, a 16th-century German portrait painter, created a pair of flower paintings that have been regarded as the first independent flower pieces. The inscriptions on both vases read, “God is the word, in the plants (in herbis), and in the stones.”

“A Vase with White Lilies and A Vase with Reddish-Brown and Yellow Irises,” 1562, by Ludger tom Ring the Younger. Oil on oak wood. Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History, Münster, Germany. (Public Domain)

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder was the first great Dutch painter of botany, and the head of a family of artists. He started a tradition of floral painting that influenced a generation of fruit-and-flower painters in the Netherlands.

Bosschaert and other Dutch painters often referred to herbals and other botanical texts when composing floral arrangements. These bouquets typically combined flowers from different countries and continents in one vase, arrangements that were quite popular with patrons and nobility across Europe.

“Flower Still Life” 1614, by Ambrosius Bosschaert. Oil on Copper; 12 inches by 15.3 inches. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. (Public Domain)

The theme that predominated this period of Dutch still life is that of the vanitas. A vanitas is an artwork that symbolizes the impermanence of life relieved by the prospect of salvation and resurrection. Flowers became the ideal symbol of transience and impermanence.

Some of the most commonly represented flowers in Dutch vanitas works include carnations, tulips, irises, sweetbriar roses, and poppies.

The carnation’s genus, Dianthus, comes from the Greek words meaning “Flower of Zeus.” Red carnations often symbolize divine or earthly love.

The iris flower’s name originates from pre-Christian mythology. Iris was the goddess of the rainbow, and a messenger for the gods. Over the centuries, iris flowers found their way into Christianity and came to symbolize divine messages, faith, and hope.

The poppy is a symbol of eternal sleep, while the tulip symbolizes the sanctifying grace of the Holy Ghost, and divine love.

Since the sweetbriar rose has five petals, it represents the Passion of Christ, and the act of suffering to save man from punishment for earthly sins.

“Still Life of Flowers, Fruit, Shells, and Insects,” c. 1629, by Balthasar van der Ast. Oil on oak wood; 17 inches by 29 inches. Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama. (Public Domain)

Dutch vanitas works have other common elements within their floral arrangements, such as the symbolic use of insects and fruits. The caterpillar symbolizes man’s existence on earth, while the butterfly represents the soul. The representation of a nest full of eggs is also an ancient symbol for the resurrection of a soul.

The fly also makes a frequent appearance in Dutch vanitas depictions of sin. Flies carry plagues and diseases, therefore they are regarded as symbols of retribution and evil. The spider represents man’s fragility, and the lizard embodies the process of decomposition, awaiting the end of man’s bodily existence.

The golden age of Dutch flower still lifes has been a constant source of inspiration for contemporary culture—particularly flower arranging. Several centuries after these artworks were completed, the paintings still offer guidance for new directions in floral design.

The annual Springfield Festival of Flowers was held the second weekend in April, 2021. This year’s participants showcased arrangements based upon their “reflections” from 2020. Heather Sullivan, owner of Durocher Florist, created a “wave of flowers” to represent the wave of emotions she experienced during the pandemic and the challenges she faced while operating her company during lockdown. She said her wave came crashing down in December when her father passed.

Delphinium is one of the main flowers Heather selected for her floral arrangement. The delphinium flower represents the ability to strive and achieve goals. It can also symbolize change in opportunities and the openness to new feelings and emotions.

A living still life. (Jennifer Schneider)

“My piece is a dedication to my father,” Heather wrote, “he always helped me realize and achieve any goal I set for myself! The biggest one was owning and successfully running my own flower shop! Losing him certainly brought on new feeling and emotions I have never felt before. But knowing how proud he was of me has helped me move forward during all of the sadness of 2020 and uncertainty during the pandemic!”

Whether we use flowers to express our inner thoughts for recipients or to document the beauty of divinity in nature, flowers have the power to speak to us. Flowers can inspire hope and bring solace, joy, and quiet reflections.

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Featured Fitness Habits Mind & Body Mindset

Reclaiming the Lost Art of the Stroll

Not long before the pandemic hit, someone reported me to the police. I wasn’t selling drugs or stealing a car or making too much noise in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even breaking the law. My only crime was to stroll through an American neighborhood where walking is not the done thing.

“People here drive everywhere,” the policeman told me. “Walking sets off alarm bells.”

A joke, right? Wrong. In a world in thrall to cars, walking is often seen as deviant behavior.

I grew up in a Canadian city where people would drive rather than walk 10 minutes. My earliest memory of walking to high school was hearing some guy hanging out the passenger side of his friend’s ride, hollering at me, “Get a car, loser!”

In many cultures, landing your first set of wheels is a rite of passage, a passport to adulthood. Driving can certainly boost your dating odds. Remember that famous line from Grease: “Tell me more, tell me more, like does he have a car?”

Small wonder the World Health Organization described walking as a “forgotten art.”

To make matters worse, when we do walk, it’s often with a very modern blend of impatience, distraction, and goal-hunting. We use apps to count our steps. We curse anyone daring to dawdle in our path. We spend much of the time staring down at our smartphones. All over the world, distracted pedestrians get hurt walking into lamp-posts, fire hydrants, or other distracted pedestrians.

Brick Lane, a hipster haven in London, came up with a novel way to curb walk-and-text injuries: wrap local lampposts in foam padding.

The truth is, we need to walk more–for our health and for the sake of the planet. But we also need to walk better.

The French have a wonderful word: flânerie. It means strolling without any goal in mind beyond exploring, observing, and savoring. It’s the opposite of power walking.

When you channel your inner flâneur (or flâneuse), you notice flowers and trees, clouds in the sky and hills on the horizon, how the light dances on water or across the windows of a building. You hear birdsong and the laughter of strangers. You take pleasure in what others are wearing and doing. Walking like a flâneur is a balm for the mind and the spirit.

In the 19th century, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, used his daily constitutional to silence the chatter in his head. “I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it,” he once said.

Shakespeare was on the same page. In “The Tempest,” Prospero says, “A turn or two I’ll walk, to still my beating mind.”

Walking can even be part of a path to enlightenment. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, says that a mindful stroll can bring spiritual clarity and heal both the walker and the world.

Ambling also fires up the imagination. That’s why big thinkers, from Aristotle to Virginia Woolf, have hailed the creative power of a good walk. William Wordsworth composed much of his poetry while wandering lonely as a cloud through the English countryside.

“All truly great thoughts,” said Nietzsche, “are conceived while walking.”

Nikola Tesla agreed. The inventor of the induction motor had his eureka moment while perambulating in Budapest. “The idea came like a flash of lightning,” he later recalled. “In an instant, the truth was revealed.”

A silver lining of the pandemic is that walking is making a comeback. With normal life on pause, people everywhere have embraced it as a way to exercise, unwind, or just get out of the house. I now take a long stroll every day in my corner of London. My route winds along Victorian streets and through three parks.

And I walk it in full flâneur mode. No rush. No Fitbit. No music. No phone. Just meandering for the sheer joy of it.

The other day, as I sauntered past a pond in the park, a question popped into my head: Has the pandemic finally made flânerie permissible in that neighborhood where someone dialed 911 after seeing me on foot? I emailed a local to find out.

“You’d fit right in here now,” came the reply. “I’m looking out my window, and everybody’s out there strolling around like they have all the time in the world.”

Carl Honoré is a London-based writer, broadcaster, and TED speaker. His bestselling books on the benefits of slowing down and aging have been published in 35 languages.