Sometimes Mom needs to work.

It was the phone Grant and Momcall that no mom ever wants to get.
“Grant just threw up his breakfast.”

Uh oh.

I glanced at my schedule for the day and felt my heart sinking.

All I wanted to do was rush home to be with my son, but — as a physician — it’s not always possible for me to just “skip work.”

My son is the center of my world, but the reality is there are other people who need me to care for them, too. I have patients, staff and bills—office and household—just like everyone else.

If I go home, then people don’t get to see their doctor.

If I don’t go home, then my son doesn’t get to see his mom.

Kind of sucks, no matter what.

I know that I’m lucky. I have a nanny who is flexible. My husband is a farmer and land broker. He was done with harvest, and while real estate keeps him very busy, he has seasons when he can be flexible too. We have family in town who could help out in a pinch.

I’m also lucky that Grant is pretty healthy. We haven’t missed much school. We had to miss Thanksgiving Day a couple of years ago, and this year New Year’s Eve was a bust.

But my fingers are always crossed!

Happily, on that particular day, luck was in my favor when I got the phone call.

A patient cancelled an afternoon appointment, and I was able to shuffle a few things around and finish earlier than expected.

My husband and I did the trade off at home later that morning. Grant and I spent a beautiful, quiet afternoon together. He’s very graceful when sick and usually aims pretty well in the little bucket. When he was awake we were reading books, cuddling and talking quietly, with no TV or loud music. (He was very excited about being allowed to drink as much ginger ale as he wanted!)

I loved the “sick day” that we shared, but I also know that sometimes that’s not the way it’s going to unfold.

Sometimes Mom needs to work.

This has been difficult for me to accept, but it’s the truth.

Rather than fighting the truth, I am learning to accept it.

My son will always be my central focus, and there is nothing that I wouldn’t do to help him be the happiest, healthiest child he can be.

I know that Grant is probably a little too young to understand right now, but someday I hope he will grow up to share the values that I hold.


Values like:

“Treasure your family.”


But also:

“Ask for help.”


And:

“When your commitments conflict, just make the best choice that you possibly can, get the help you need… then forgive yourself and let it go.”


I’m still working on the “forgive / let it go” part.

Getting there.

In the meantime, I will treasure every chance that I get to be “mom.”

And I will make sure that Grant knows I love him, even when I am being “Dr. Mathison.”

~ Dr. Sue
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The power of a good hair day.

My beautiful niece just turned 20, and watching her stewedding hairstylep into the world, all grown up, is an amazing thing to behold.

But I remember when she was 3 years old — the year that she got her first “big girl” haircut.

Her wispy little toddler locks got chopped into a sassy, chin-length bob.

We called it “The Dominant ‘Do,” because after getting her first haircut, this little girl discovered her inner swagger! She walked differently, became noticeably bossier, and marched around like she owned the town.

Her mom and I still giggle about it, to this day.

But that’s the power of a good hair day. It draws out your strength and confidence, and allows you to stride through the world with a positive attitude.

I recently attended a writing retreat in Los Angeles, and we all got blow-outs at the local Dry Bar salon on the final day of the retreat — which meant we all went home looking fabulous. (I remember swinging my suitcase into my Lyft ride, headed for the airport, thinking, “I feel… sassy!”)

I had tons of paperwork, appointments, hiring meetings and all kinds of responsibilities waiting for me back at home, but somehow, having a fantastic ‘do made everything feel more… doable.

This is in stark contrast to a horrible high school perm that made me want to crawl under a rock until it grew out… which meant months!

Throughout history, human beings have been fascinated with chopping, coloring, styling and decorating our hair. And thanks to Kate Middleton, America’s favorite Royal, hair “adornments” (like the fascinator!) are even making a comeback.

Is it “silly” or “frivolous” to fuss over your hair?

This doctor says… if it makes you happy? Then, no.

Research continues to confirm that there’s a direct connection between your thoughts and feelings… and your overall health and well-being.

Thinking “grateful” thoughts can lower your blood pressure.

Cuddling up with a cute dog can lower stress hormone levels.

Walking through a beautiful forest can boost your immune system.

And — although I’ve yet to find a scientific study to confirm it! — I believe that looking at your reflection and loving your hairstyle can have a profound impact on your self-esteem and physiology, too.
 
I always say that I can do surgery, but I can’t blow-dry, so I am eternally grateful when my stylist Edward takes over. He even did a 5am appointment once to get me ready for a photo shoot. And his scalp massage is amazing. What a way to start the day!

So, go ahead. Wash. Cut. Style. Be fabulous.

Give yourself– and your mind & body– the gift of a good hair day.

 

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. What was your worst hairstyle of all time? What was your best?

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Sniffling? Sneezing? Wheezing? You might have winter allergies.

“Achoooo!”spring cleaning

Most of us associate annoying allergies with springtime.

But millions of people suffer from “winter allergies” — irritations that pop up during colder months when most of us spend lots of time indoors, often in poorly ventilated homes with minimal fresh air.

Winter allergies can cause sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes, coughing, itchy eyes and nose, and difficulty breathing. If you’ve got asthma, or have a kid with asthma, allergies can exacerbate asthma symptoms, too. Not fun.

Influenza can cause some of these symptoms as well. So if you feel acutely ill, congested, feverish and achy, get checked out to see if you are a candidate for a medication called Tamiflu which can decrease the severity of your symptoms. This year’s flu is a tough one.

If you have been feeling mildly junky for a few weeks, winter allergies should be on your radar. Your doctor can help you with the detective work, by differentiating cold, flu or allergy. Here are 3 of the most common winter allergies, and a few tips on how to deal with each one.



Dust mites.
These little critters are microscopic animals that hang out in your bed… because they like to nibble on flakes of human skin that you shed, during the night. Totally gross.

Solution: Get a set of allergen-proof bedding (it’s made from a special fabric that dust mites don’t like to live in). Wash your bedding weekly in hot water, just in case. If your allergies are severe, consider swapping the rugs / carpeting in your bedroom for wood or cork floors.

Cork is considered once of the best flooring choices for folks with allergies, because cork naturally contains suberin, a substance with antimicrobial properties that reduces the growth of mold, mildew, bacteria and other allergens. You can pretend you’re walking around on the top of a champagne bottle every night. We have these at Catalyst, and cork is easy on the legs too!


Mold.
Mold thrives in damp, humid areas like basements and bathrooms. Sometimes, it forms right on the surface of the wall (pretty easy to remove). Other times, it forms inside your walls (much harder to remove).

It can be tough to detect without the right tools, but you can buy a mold detection kit from your local hardware store, or hire the pros to scan your home for you (just Google “mold inspection” + the name of your city).

Solution: Get rid of that mold! You can kill mold with bleach, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and natural, no-fume products like vinegar and tea tree oil.

However: it depends on where the mold is growing. If you’ve got mold growing on a porous surface (like a soft wood), it’s much harder to clean, because most household cleaning products won’t be able to penetrate deeply enough.

Sometimes, you’ve got to call in the pros. (Google “mold removal” + the name of your city to find someone who can help).

Once you’ve removed mold from your home, you’ll need to take some preventative measures to stop it from forming again — like fixing leaky roofs and poorly-ventilated bathrooms, for starters. (Here’s a list of ways to make your home mold-resistant. Basically: it comes down to reducing moisture!)


Pets.
If you’re allergic to a cute, cuddly animal, you’re probably not allergic to their fur — but rather, to a particular kind of protein found in pet dander (aka, old skin cells) as well as proteins found in saliva and urine.

Pet allergies can become more severe in the wintertime because you and your pet are probably spending a lot more time indoors, in close quarters, with the windows sealed shut. If you’ve got a heating system that is blasting hot air through your home, that means it’s also blasting pet dander into every room!

Solution: Make your bedroom an allergy-free zone. Get allergen-free bedding, clean the room thoroughly, and don’t let your pet inside (Sorry, Fido!). Get rid of furnishings that tend to collect pet dander, like big heavy drapes and thick carpets. Bathe your pet weekly to remove excess dander. (Here’s a list of more tips on how to deal with pet allergies, straight from your friends at the Humane Society.)


Winter allergies are no fun. You may require testing to see which ones are affecting you. Saline nasal sprays like Ocean, Ayr or Simply Saline can help flush the little particles away before your tissues have a chance to react. But with a little common sense and some elbow grease, you can get to the root of the problem and prevent allergens from piling up on your bed, in your carpets, inside your walls, and inside your heating system. With a few adjustments around your home, you may start to feel relief very quickly.  

Wishing you a peaceful winter, full of good food, friends, family, and gently falling snowflakes—and not the sounds of sneezing, hacking, coughing!


~ Dr. Sue

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Big Goals or Tiny Changes?

Tis the season that makes us think about so many stairswhat we want to do differently in the future.

A few years ago, my life was feeling incredibly packed and frenetic.

I knew I needed to make some changes.

I wanted to feel a sense of peace, calm and order.

But every time I started to think about all of the big changes I needed to make, I started to feel overwhelmed. I felt paralyzed. There was so much to do, and I was already so busy. It all just felt… too… big.

You may have heard the question: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

But I was too overwhelmed to open my mouth!

Then I discovered a very smart man named BJ Fogg.

He’s a professor at Stanford who studies habit-change — the science of how human beings create and stick with new habits.

Through BJ, I discovered a concept called Tiny Habits.

The concept?

Instead of tackling the biggest, scariest change first, start with the absolute smallest change you make.

Like, ridiculously small.

So small, you think, “Seriously? That’s almost… stupid.”

Just one step.

BJ says: Make a tiny change to your daily routine. Establish a new Tiny Habit. Prove to yourself you can do it. Then keep doing it.

The pride and energy that you feel from that tiny success will fuel the next step in the process.

I figured I’d give it a try, and I decided that my Tiny Habit was going to be:

Taking three deep breaths every morning.

That’s it.

I committed to taking three deep breaths every morning, and I told myself, “I don’t have to change anything in my life else right now. Just three deep breaths. That’s it.”

Committing to this new habit felt so good — and so easy! A little extra oxygen does wonders!

It may seem silly, but I felt a surge of pride every single time I did it!

These positive feelings spilled over into the rest of my morning, and the rest of my day.

The momentum started flowing, and eventually, I felt ready to make some other changes.

Like keeping up with my charts better.

Eating more veggies and less sugar.

Working out with a personal trainer.

Holding interviews to bring new staff members onto my team.

Tiny changes lead to new habits.

New habits lead to new (and more positive) feelings.

New feelings fuel more positive changes.

So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, stuck, or frustrated with some aspect of your life, resist the temptation to (a) do nothing or (b) try to change everything, instantly.

Instead, start tiny.

Start with something so small & manageable, you are practically “guaranteed” to do great.

Put one foot in front of the other. One small step!

Ask yourself:

“What’s the tiniest change I could make?”

~ Dr. Sue

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How “old” do you want to feel?

I met the holiday baking legend Donnakrumkake Carlson when she was in her late seventies and our friendship lasted until her death a couple of years ago in early January. She was well into her eighties when she passed away.

I was proud to be her customer and was so glad to have awesome treats to bring to holiday parties and family gatherings.

My order? 80 dozen krumkake. 40 at Thanksgiving. 40 at Christmas. The best I’d ever tasted. Dear Grandmas Agnes and Daisy in heaven, I hope you’re not mad, but Donna’s cookies were awesome.

I told Donna that if anyone ever ordered more than me, to top it by a dozen.

Donna assured me that my order would no problem at all, and I believed her. No doubt in my mind.

After all: she was our community’s official Krumkake Queen. Kevin Wallevand crowned her with the title and celebrated her with a news story on WDAY TV.

She always completed the orders on time. I picked up the cookies from her apartment, which was filled with empty shoeboxes (her cookie storage unit of choice) and the scent of hundreds upon hundreds of delicate cookies, fresh from the griddle, and rolled … by hand.

Donna’s fingers were arthritic and bent with age. Her face was lined with wrinkles. Her hair was silvery and wispy. She certainly didn’t “look” like the young woman she had been, decades ago.

But she was happy, industrious, chatty… and she absolutely loved making krumkake.

(Not to mention: earning money for her efforts! No “retirement” for this domestic goddess.)

She also loved praying, and had a long list of good intentions for friends and family that she shared with God daily.

In her mind? She wasn’t a smidge over 32.

Donna passed away just a few weeks after her WDAY debut. Her illness was quick in its decision. Right up until her final days, she was still… Donna.  

Her family told stories about the positive, energetic woman we all knew and loved. They celebrated her with a toast and… krumkake, of course. Since I ordered so many, I had just enough left over to give for her family to share.

To me, Donna’s life and legacy is a reminder that “getting older” is inevitable, but that “feeling old” is a choice.

It is our mindset, our attitude, our beliefs — more than anything else — that determine how “old” we feel.

This isn’t just speculation, though. It’s proven by research.

There’s an incredible story about a study led by a Harvard professor of psychology back in the early 1980s. Professor Ellen Langer took eight elderly men into a house that had been set up to “transport” them back to their youth in the 1950s.

For 5 days, these men were encouraged to think and behave as if they were young again. They were responsible for unpacking their own clothes and settling into the house, taking care of themselves, and enjoying the music, movies, books and magazines of their youth.

After 5 days?

“They were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies went along for the ride.” [NY Times]

This may seem miraculous, or even impossible, but numerous studies have confirmed what Ellen Langer suspected to be true:

Age is nothing but a number.

It’s how old you feel inside that really counts.

Your mind is connected to your body, and — in a very direct way — your mind sets the tone for your overall health and wellbeing.

Think and act like a younger person, and your body will tag along for the ride.

This doesn’t mean that every illness or aging issue can be “cured” simply by thinking positive thoughts or pretending to be a teenager again. But your thoughts do make a difference — and the difference could be bigger than we realize.

You don’t have complete control over your body and destiny, but to a significant extent, you get to decide how “old” you want to feel.

It starts in your mind. Donna was always young at heart and mind, and what she accomplished through her positive spirit and delicious cookies will always be with me.

And I sure missed her krumkake this year.

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. How old do you feel inside? How would it feel to spend the rest of today as if you were 11… 21… 29… or 32? Why not… try?

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How to stay healthy, happy and active when winter is just… awful.

Dec 21st. Winter Solstice. The shortest lonely trees in winterday of the year.

Here in Fargo, North Dakota, where I live, we’ll have about 8 hours and 30 minutes of daylight on that day.

Which means… 15 hours and 30 minutes of darkness.

Good grief. And we won’t even mention the temperature!

Even people who love the winter season, like me, often struggle to stay healthy, happy and active during these long, dark, icy, snowy, cold, blustery wintery months.

It takes some planning (and a fair amount of willpower) but it can be done.

I’ve survived many a long, grim winters having been born in Minnesota and raised in North Dakota. I remember many mornings waiting for the school bus shivering! Here are my tips on how to take care of your body and mind when it’s frightful outside:

Get outside. I know. The last thing you want to do when it’s bitterly cold is pop outside! All those clothes, the layers… ugh. It’s exhausting, just getting dressed!

But your body requires a daily dose of fresh air in order to function properly.
 
Breathing in some fresh air — even just for a few minutes — can help to deliver more oxygen to your brain, stimulate your metabolism, and possibly stimulate the production of serotonin — a neurotransmitter than promotes feelings of happiness and well-being.

So, bundle up. Put on a snow-suit that makes you look like the Michelin Tire Man if you have to! But try to get outside at least once, every day. Maybe it’s just on your walk to the car. Before the wind blows you away, take some deep breaths of the cold, crisp air.

Hydrate. We still need to drink plenty of water, even though we don’t have the summer sun to heat us up.

If the air in your home is dry, put a humidifier in your bedroom. It’s good for your skin, and can help prevent nosebleeds.

Moisturize right after your bath or shower to prevent dry, itchy skin.

Move your body. Every little bit helps, even shoveling snow from your driveway!

Or, if you want to pump up your heart rate without getting frostbite, try a video class that you can do in your living room.

Check out Erin Stutland’s Shrink Sessions (positive affirmations to boost your mood, plus gentle aerobics to get your heart pumping!)

I also love YogaGlo (yoga videos, on demand, with options for all different levels.)

And for yogis with curvier bodies… Anna Guest-Jelley’s Curvy Yoga programs are fantastic! She provides modifications for bodies of all shapes and sizes. Check out her Freebies for a no-cost introduction. (She’s absolutely adorable. You’ll love her!)

For the little people in our lives, take a cue from my friend Dr Hope Yongsmith. She turned the basement into a playroom/dance floor, complete with disco ball. Kidz Bop tunes blare, and the kids get down and boogie. My son aspires to be a break dancing king….but for now he looks like an awkward cricket!

Try a light box. Light boxes (also called: bright light therapy boxes and phototherapy boxes) are special lamps that mimic the natural light from the sun.

Your light box won’t give you a tan, but for many people, these boxes create a feeling of alertness and energy, just like waking up to a bright, sunny morning. They help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately called SAD.

We put one of these inside my medical center, and several team members swear that it has changed their lives!

Most cost less than $150, and they’re well worth the investment. (Here’s a guide to choosing a light box that’s ideal for you.)

Connect with people you love. Winter tends to make people hole up and hibernate. That’s fine, in moderation. But if it has been weeks since you’ve shared a meal or a big, belly laugh with your friends… that’s a problem.

It may sound dramatic, but social isolation is considered a serious health risk — just as dangerous as obesity or smoking.

So, try not to isolate yourself. Make an effort to connect.

Throw a potluck. Meet friends for hot cocoa. Write an email to five people you miss, and say, “Let’s have a phone date. I’d love to hear your voice.”

I recommend blocking out at least two hours a week for social connection and friend-time.

Circle the time on your calendar in advance, and protect it, so that it doesn’t get swallowed up by work or other obligations.

Treat your “friend-time” as a non-negotiable health commitment, just as important as brushing your teeth, or keeping a doctor’s appointment.

Spending time with friends could, very literally, save your life.

Air.

Water.

Sweat.

Light.

Connection.

There you have it:

My recipe for a happy, healthy winter season.

Your challenge, right now?

Close your web browser.

Set aside your computer, tablet or phone.

Then, go give your body some air, sweat, light, social connection… or all of the above.

I know it’s dark and cold, and it might be difficult to find the motivation to get going…

But once you do?

You’ll feel so amazing.

Love,

Dr. Sue

P.S. How do you beat the wintertime blues?

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Everything you ever wanted to know about… gluten.

A few days ago, I popped onto Facebookgrains in jars and asked a few friends:

“What’s something you’d love to see me write about?”

Someone said:

“GLUTEN!”

That’s not surprising. I am asked about it often in my office. And at cocktail parties, in the grocery store, and in the hallway at school!

“Gluten” has exploded into our consciousness over the past couple of years.

Just about everything at the grocery store — from corn chips to specialty baking mixes to bottled water to fresh apples — now proudly bears the label:

Gluten-free.

But what do all of these new labels and buzzwords actually mean?

Here’s the real dirt on gluten — straight from an MD.

. . .

Gluten: what is it, anyway?

There are four types of protein found in grains:

1. Albumin

2. Globulin

3. Gliadin

4. Gluten

But, not every grain contains all four proteins!

Certain grains contain gluten. Certain grains don’t.

. . .

Which grains contain gluten, and which don’t?

Grains like durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, rye and barley do contain gluten.

(Here’s a complete list of grains that contain gluten.)

Grains like rice, corn, quinoa, yucca and millet do not contain gluten.

(Here’s a complete list of grains that do not contain gluten.)

. . .

Celiac disease vs. wheat allergy vs. gluten sensitivity: what’s the difference?

Celiac disease is a serious condition that affects about 1 in 100 people, worldwide.

If you have Celiac disease, it means that your body cannot process gluten at all — not even a tiny crumb.

If you have Celiac disease, and you eat gluten, your immune system will try to “attack” it. This leads to small intestine damage… which is not a good thing.

If left undetected or unmanaged, Celiac disease can lead to other health problems including diabetes, anemia, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, and even intestinal cancer.

You must be eating gluten for the damage to be recognized. The gold-standard for diagnosis is a small bowel biopsy taken via an endoscope.

The only way to deal with Celiac disease is to avoid gluten, completely.

Wheat allergies are not the same as Celiac disease.

If you have a wheat allergy, you might be allergic to gluten… and/or, you might be allergic to one of the other proteins found in certain grains (albumin, globulin or gliadin).

If you have a wheat allergy, eating wheat products can cause hives, swelling, itching, rashes, and in some cases, tightness of the throat and difficulty breathing.

Your small intestine isn’t being singled-out for attack, but your entire body can get seriously upset, even to the point of deadly anaphylaxis.

The only way to deal with a wheat allergy is to avoid wheat products, completely.

Gluten sensitivity is not the same as Celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant.

If you are sensitive to gluten, it means that eating gluten can make you feel foggy, tired, give you a headache, or make you feel bloated or constipated. Not life-threatening, but definitely not much fun!

However, many people who think they are sensitive to gluten are actually sensitive to something else. Some people feel better gluten-free for a few weeks, then their symptoms return.
Which brings us to…

. . .

The big 8.

90% of food sensitivities are connected to 1 of the following 8 foods:

1. Milk

2. Eggs

3. Fish

4. Shellfish

5. Tree nuts

6. Peanuts

7. Wheat/Grains [all 4 types of protein, not just gluten]

8. Soybean

If you feel chronically foggy, icky, bloated, or just “not good,” it’s a good idea to rule out all of the possible culprits, one by one, before immediately leaping to the conclusion that gluten is the problem. This is called an elimination-challenge diet.

To do this, you’ll need to remove all of the “big 8” from your diet, completely, for at least three weeks. You’ll need to closely track your body to see how you feel once all of the potential culprits have been removed.

Then, one by one, add each food back into your diet.

Here’s a sample plan:

Week 1 – 3: Remove all of the “big 8” from your diet, completely.

Week 4: Remove all of the “big 8” from your diet, completely… except, add Milk back in.

Week 5: Remove all of the “big 8” from your diet, completely… except, add Milk and Eggs back in.

Week 6: Remove all of the “big 8” from your diet, completely… except, add Milk, Eggs and Fish back in.

Week 7: Remove all of the “big 8” from your diet, completely… except, add Milk, Eggs, Fish and Shellfish back in.

Etc.

Keep going until you reach a week where, suddenly, you feel “not so good” again.

Which food did you re-introduce into your diet, that week? Bingo! That’s probably the culprit.

Identifying your food sensitivities can require a considerable amount of time, patience and experimentation.

And realize there’s controversy in the medical community about food sensitivities, especially gluten. We don’t have an absolute test that can say yes or no regarding sensitivities.

But if you’re really feeling unwell, it’s worth the effort to see which foods support your body and which ones seem to create problems.

. . .

Gluten-free mania: the final word.

There are people who absolutely cannot, and should not, eat gluten because of celiac disease or allergy.

There are people who should avoid gluten as much as possible, for comfort’s sake.

There are people who can happily enjoy as much gluten as they please.

Everybody is different, and we all have unique dietary needs.

That being said…

It’s important to look at all facets of health — not just food.

It’s tempting to villainize a particular food (“fat is the devil!” “carbs make people fat!” “gluten is ruining my life!”), but creating a lifetime of good health requires more than just removing one particular food group from your diet.

Food is certainly important, but you might (also) need better quality sleep… more water… more exercise… less noise pollution in your home… more time with friends… more laughter (it lowers stress hormones!)… or something else… or all of the above!

Bottom line?

Celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivities are all very real things.

If you’ve got one of those conditions, it’s important to know about it and make the necessary adjustments to your diet.

But it’s equally important to remember that “health” isn’t just what you put in your mouth.

It’s how you feel about yourself.

It’s how to talk to yourself.

It’s how you live your life.

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. Here are some resources to explore…

For more information on Celiac disease, check out:

The Celiac Disease Foundation: http://celiac.org

For fun recipes & tips for families who need to avoid certain foods, check out:

Food Allergy Mama: http://foodallergymama.com/

If you’d like to read a book:

Check out Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, both recent publications by MD’s. Realize that both are considered controversial in the traditional medical world, but you might gain some insights into your diet.

If you’re thinking about going “gluten-free” just for kicks, or to lose weight…

Experts say: “don’t.”

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My holiday intention: Simplicity. (What’s yours?)

Tsimplicityhere’s a book sitting on my bedside table, right now.

It’s called Less.

A friend gave it to me, months ago.

“It’s a beautiful book about the power of doing less — and focusing your energy where it counts,” she told me.

The minute I got the book, I thought to myself, “I really need to read this book. Accomplishing more by doing less… that sounds great!”

But… I have not read the book.

I’ve been too busy to read the book about why it’s not a good idea to be so busy.

This pretty much sums up “the story of my life.”  At least, until I decide to change the story.

So, how does this work when we’re in the throes of THE HOLIDAYS? …the most wonderful time of the year!

I glanced at my calendar this morning and realized how few “shopping days” we have left. Sometimes the action-packed season becomes more of a stressful burden than a blessing.

I felt a moment of panic (“not enough time!”) followed by a gentle realization. Maybe I can do less.

So here’s my intention for this holiday season: Simplicity.

Which means…

1.    More white space on the calendar.  I can choose a small number of holiday traditions to enjoy — rather than forcing myself to do absolutely everything.

2.    I will focus on creating meaningful experiences — like truly enjoying the Advent calendar each day, or baking cookies with my son — rather than stockpiling the world’s tallest mountain of gifts.

3.     I will try to set limits for my son. We’ve discussed “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” We’ve also talked about families that give three gifts, because Jesus got three: gold, frankincense and myrrh. He told me he didn’t want any gold, but a Nintendo DS would be nice. He also reminded me that Santa would be bringing gifts, and that he hoped that wouldn’t count in the total.

4.    I will use white butcher paper for all my wrapping, and a gold sharpie will be all I’ll need for gift tag and decoration. Thank you Pinterest!

5.    I am grateful for family that knows how to potluck holiday meals.

6.    I dream of a heartfelt brunch for a small number of friends to express my gratitude — in January.

By choosing to do less, I can connect more deeply with the people I love most.

By choosing to do less, I can live more and everyone gets gifts that money can’t buy: patience, love, kindness, generosity, and quiet self-reflection.

Maybe I don’t need to read that book, Less, after all.

Because I already know what to do next.

It’s pretty simple.

Just…less.


~ Dr. Sue


P.S. What is your intention for the holiday season? Can you express it in a single word? (Simplicity, Abundance, Play, Generosity, Inspiration, Sweetness, Style, Wonder…?)

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Growing Up Grateful: Thank Goodness for November

November seems to be lacking identity, Thank Youjust a build-up for the ultimate holiday of the year, Christmas. The days get shorter and we started talking about the dreaded windchill, brrrr. Sure, we have Thanksgiving, but now that seems less sacred as Black Friday shopping mania encroaches further every year.

Our kids are not immune to the frenzy…. Gift catalogs have been arriving daily. My seven year old son will circle items he wants, sometimes multiple things on each page. He also has a new passion, Pokemon cards, and he seems to NEED more of these every day. We are working to understand wants versus needs.

I am all for abundance, but as I get older, I find that abundance is virtually the opposite of material excess. I find that I want very little except for a balance of quiet time and joyful experiences with friends and family.

Thanksgiving started as a holiday to celebrate abundance of spirit. After great suffering in their journey to the New World, the Pilgrims’ needs for nourishment and community were met as they dined with their new Native American friends. They were profoundly grateful.

Most of us have our basic needs met, yet our world can be fraught with disappointment, as we and our kids are bombarded by messages that we always need to be smarter, faster and richer. And of course, there are plenty of products to get us there. What if we looked inside for worthiness, and felt grateful just to be here?

Oprah’s friend Iyanla Vanzant says, “We think we have to do something to be grateful or something has to be done to be grateful, when gratitude is a state of being.”

Bishop James Walker of Nashville, Tennessee suggests: “The solution to many of our earthly problems is gratefulness. Once we move from sporadic gratefulness to being grateful, our lives will change. When gratefulness is a state of being, we remove pessimistic notions that things happen to us and that we are victims of situations and circumstances. As a result of this change, we will become more optimistic and dare to do and be more. We will view some of our darkest moments under a different lens; we will be able to handle and maneuver through life’s pits and failures because we have become grateful in all things. The chance to take control of your life and the opportunity to allow things to serve their purpose is by being grateful.”

Even if you aren’t naturally sunny-side up with rose-colored glasses, feeling grateful is a skill we can practice and develop.

As we walk our own path with gratitude, how can we teach our kids to be present for all there is to be thankful for in life, even if it’s not on the shelves at Toys”R”Us? Research shows that grateful kids are happier and healthier.

Intentional habits, family rituals and even art activities can make a difference. Here are some ideas:

1. Start a gratitude journal. Think about people and experiences, as well as material things, we are thankful for. Write it down. Draw pictures.

2. Be more intentional about helping others. It is thrilling to see the entry way at Nativity School filled with food and supplies to be donated for Fill the Dome. My son’s class got to go to the Great Plains Food Bank last Friday and help unpack the food at the FargoDome the following Monday. I think it’s great that they get to see where the food goes and what an impact it makes.

Think about things you can do throughout the year, like donate toys, help with a Lend A Hand benefit or buy backpacks and supplies for the United Way Back to School project in August.

3. Have them imagine life without some of their favorite things.

4. Savor the beauty and the senses. I remember long family car trips. My dad would constantly chime… “Look over there! Pretty, isn’t it?” He was trying to get us to appreciate and notice. Usually my nose was in a book. My siblings still tease my dad about his landscape appreciation, but we now understand that what he was trying to do.

5. Write an alphabet of blessings…. From A-Z, there are lots of things to be grateful for. Have the kids write their list.

6. Set expectations when shopping. Author Hova Tamangar shared the useful approach of one of her readers, Melanie Etamad. She declared look days and buy days early on with her young daughter. “Like going to the museum, we enjoy the beautiful things, but we aren’t planning to buy anything. … We also tried to ensure that there were more ‘look’ days than ‘buy’ days, specifically to inoculate against the idea of always buying things, knowing that it breeds discontent.”

7. Make a gratitude jar. Choose a beautiful glass jar and throughout the year, add slips of paper with thoughts of gratitude. You could shape these like leaves or feathers. Read the slips out loud on Thanksgiving or another special day, and then use the paper to make a garland, wreath, tree, turkey or framed art project.

8. Search Pinterest for amazing arts and craft projects that kids can make to remind them of blessings or to give as gifts. What was life like before Pinterest? I know, I can’t remember either.

9. Write thank you notes. After Grant’s October birthday, we had to get the thank you notes organized before he could play with any new toys. I will always treasure his phonetic spelling of friend’s names (Geonu for Gianna and Ke Le for Keelie.)

10. Every night after prayers, we think of one special thing or experience that we are grateful for that day.

11. Remember the simple act and meaning of saying “thank you.” Say it often.

Thank you, November, in your quiet ways, for reminding us of the power of gratitude and the joy of thankfulness. And thanks for helping us help our kids grow up grateful.

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Your DNA: Life by Destiny and Design

Ever since the Human Genome Project DNA illustrationpublished findings in 2001, I’ve been wondering where this roadmap will lead us. The project was an international, collaborative program with a big goal of complete mapping and understanding of all the genes of human beings. All of our genes together are called our “genome.”

The group found that we have 20,500 genes and which mapped out detailed instructions for the development and function of a human being.

Dr. Frances Collins, the director of the project, noted that the genome could be thought of in terms of a book with multiple uses: “It’s a history book – a narrative of the journey of our species through time. It’s a shop manual, with an incredibly detailed blueprint for building every human cell. And it’s a transformative textbook of medicine, with insights that will give health care providers immense new powers to treat, prevent and cure disease.”

Over the past dozen years, more and more clinical uses of the information are being discovered. A few examples:

We’ve gone from chromosomal analysis to genetic and genomic testing that will help families more fully understand and nurture their special needs children.

We can analyze whether certain medications will provide the necessary protection for cardiac patients.

Last year, Angelina Jolie underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy since she was a carrier of BRAC1. Her mother died from breast cancer. This particular gene that conferred a 69% risk of Angelina developing breast cancer and a 25% chance for ovarian cancer.

Knowing more about our DNA can help us make decisions. It can provide an approach to disease that is tailored for the individual rather that “one-size-fits-all.”

Some call this “personalized medicine.” Dr. Lee Hood of Seattle, Washington, takes this definition further, calling it P4 Medicine: predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory.

He states “The convergence of systems biology, the digital revolution and consumer-driven healthcare is transforming medicine from its current reactive mode, which is focused on treating disease, to a P4 Medicine mode.”

“P4 Medicine will improve the quality of care delivered to patients through better diagnoses and targeted therapies. These advances facilitate new forms of active participation by patients and consumers in the collection of personal health data that will accelerate discovery science. Soon a virtual data cloud of billions of health-relevant data points will surround each individual. Through P4 Medicine, we will be able to reduce this complex data to simple hypotheses about how to optimize wellness and minimize disease for each individual.”

While all of this fascinates me, I think we can take participatory to a whole new level. While DNA is an instruction manual, the story is far from black and white when we take into account epigenetics.

Epigenetics literally means “above” or “on top of” genetics. It refers to external modifications to DNA that turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA sequence, but instead, they affect how cells “read” genes and how proteins are expressed.

Some scientists feel that what we eat, how we move and what we think exerts between 50-80% of the influence of over which genes and how genes are expressed. Wow… we have lots of responsibility for directing our DNA and designing our best destiny, and living our ideal life!

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. How do you optimize your destiny by designing your ideal lifestyle?

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