Did you send out Christmas cards this year? No worries. Send an end-of-the-year letter instead.

Last January, a friend mailed me handwritten lettersan end-of-the-year letter.

It wasn’t a particularly long letter. It wasn’t fancy or complex. Just a few sentences on a simple card. In her letter, she said:

“I’ve been watching all of your hard work this past year, especially with your writing and blogging. I see the articles you put out, all the progress you’ve made. I love reading about your son and the adventures you have. It’s beautiful to see. Keep up the good work.”

Her letter reached me at just the right moment.

With holiday cheer comes lots of responsibilities, like making sure The Elf finds a fun new spot each day to watch over my son, buying gifts and wrapping them without being discovered, and designing a new Christmas card. And don’t forget the Advent calendar. On top that, lots of surgery gets done in November and December when folks have already met their deductible.

So something has to give. The Elf on the Shelf at our house doesn’t do crazy stunts. The Advent calendar was something I had to fill, so I missed a few days. Note to self, find the one pre-loaded with tiny Legos next year. I had a staffer at my office who helped me with part of the wrapping. I didn’t get Christmas cards done this year… Must admit, I’ve sent New Years and even Valentine’s cards in past years.

But I always feel a little guilty when I can’t get it all done. When I read her letter, I realized, “You know what? She’s right! I am making progress! I don’t need to be so critical of myself. I am doing my best… and my best is OK.”

I kept that letter for a long time. It really meant a lot to me.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest gifts and messages that make the biggest difference, especially when they arrive unexpectedly and serendipitously at “just the right moment.”

If you’d like to make a significant difference in someone’s life this New Year, take a cue from my friend and send an “end of the year” letter to someone you care about.
It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t need to become an “all day” project. All it takes is a pen, some paper, and a few minutes of your time.

Here’s a sample letter to help get the words flowing…

Dear [name],

I’m writing to your from [describe your environment / setting].

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on that time that we [describe a cherished memory] and so of course, you popped into my mind.

I just want you to know how much I value your [describe a trait or quality] and how proud I am when I see you [describe an activity].

You really are making a difference in your [home / community]. Even if you can’t quite see the difference you’re making, please know that other people do see it and feel it. You enhance the world, just by being you. I am honored to call you a friend.

Next year, I hope that we can [describe something you’d love to do together]. Let’s set a date!

Cheering you for a beautiful 2015 and wishing you a wonderful New Year.

Until we chat again…

[your name here]

Send off your note in the mail, or hand-deliver it along with a gift, or mysteriously tuck it in someone’s coat pocket or on his or her desk at work. Know that, with one simple letter, you will truly change someone’s day.

This letter-writing activity can also be a beautiful “alternative” to sending out holiday cards. If you can’t manage an armful of cards for the postman, why not write “end-of-the-year” letters for a handful of treasured friends? It could be a much more peaceful, meaningful way to handle your holiday correspondence, and you’ll certainly be making a deeper impact on each person you choose to write to.

For even more letter-writing inspiration, check out my friend Alexandra’s free booklet, One Letter Today, which is filled with lots of inspiring writing tips, as well as this beautiful project: The World Needs More Love Letters. Last but not least, stock up on gorgeous stationery supplies from Sugar Paper, Papyrus, or check out fun cards at ShannaLee, a lovely boutique in downtown Fargo.

Happy New Year… and happy writing!

~ Dr. Sue

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One question that can help you achieve your New Year’s Resolutions.

On January 1st of each year, millions new years party favorsof people jubilantly declare what they intend to achieve in the year ahead.

It might be to “lose 20 pounds” or “exercise three times a week” or “start a side-business” or “stop smoking” or “save $100 a week for retirement.”

And then… a couple of weeks into the New Year, most people get overwhelmed, or feel bored or deprived, lose momentum, and get pulled back into the undertow of old habits and patterns. It happens every year.

Yet every single year, we set new resolutions, eternally optimistic that this year will be different!

I’m definitely an optimistic to the core, and I believe that every new day holds the promise of a new beginning. That’s likely why I love being a doctor on a mission to help others feel happy, healthy and more beautiful. It’s always exciting to help someone to experience a feeling of being refreshed and renewed.

But over the years, I’ve gotten a bit more pragmatic with my approach to that annual reset button of New Year’s Day with its lists of goals and resolutions. Rather than just setting a new resolution, and leaving it at that, these days, I try to set a resolution that’s backed up with a specific “strategy.”

If I say to myself, “I want to start taking a 20 minute walk every morning before heading to work.”

My next question to myself is, “How can I set myself up for success?”

After mulling that question over in my mind for a few minutes, the answer usually becomes clear fairly quickly. To set myself up for success, I could… Place my walking clothes at the foot of my bed along with my shoes and clean socks. Set my alarm 20 or 30 minutes earlier. Have my water bottle ready to go in the fridge. Pre-load my phone so that I’ve got an audio book to listen to on my morning stroll… and so on.

Lots of tiny steps that I can take, tiny “success strategies,” all of which, combined, make it infinitely more likely that I’m actually going to go on my morning walk consistently!

That one question “How can I set myself up for success?” has made such a difference in my life.

Asking myself that question has helped me to instill all kinds of new habits, from drinking more water to getting more sleep to exercising more regularly, even activities as simple as remembering to “breathe deeply” when I feel tired or stressed.

Next up on my list: Begin a daily meditation practice.

To set myself up for success, I will get up 10 minutes earlier. I will sit in my favorite chair in the living room, feet on the floor. I will wrap up in the cozy ultra-soft new blanket I got from one of my nurses. I will use a little hour glass for 10 minutes. I will download a 10-minute guided meditation that also incorporates deep breathing. I will do it. If my mind drifts, I will say “come back” but I won’t berate myself for drifting. I will celebrate each time the grains of sand run out at the 10-minute mark.

How about you?

Choose just one of your New Year’s resolutions and ask yourself, “How can I set myself up for success?”

How could you set the scene? How could you remove physical and emotional barriers? How could you make it practically impossible for you NOT to succeed?

Don’t be afraid to give yourself every possible advantage. Creating a new habit is never easy, so set yourself up for victory as best you can.

It’s the difference between trying to force a train across a ragged field full of boulders, versus moving a train across well-built tracks that have already been laid in place.

A little pre-meditated “set up” can go a very long way! Check out the Tiny Habits movement for even more guidance on these personal success strategies.

~ Dr. Sue

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A trio of holiday beauty products that even non-crafty people can make at home.

There are just a few precious days before fruited waterChristmas. Perhaps the thought of braving the crowd at the mall gives you shivers. But you want to give out an attractive, festive, thoughtful gift to your friends and family this holiday season. And maybe you’ve been inspired by the hand-crafted movement.

You want something that’s beautiful, practical, and doesn’t cost much to make.

Oh, and also you have basically zero crafting skills, so it’s got to be extremely simple to make. Like 5 steps or less. Is that too much to ask? No!

The following beauty products are so simple to make, even non-crafty, non-artsy, kitchen-phobic people can easily whip them up at home. No fancy equipment required. Nothing bewildering or intimidating. If you can mix sugar and salt together in a bowl with your fingers, you can handle these recipes! I’ve arranged them in order of difficulty.

If you’re inspired but craft-resistant, I’ve included a few gift items that you can purchase. Small business owners and artisan crafters always appreciate your support.

Super simple –
Infused water

OK, so this isn’t exactly a traditional “beauty product,” although drinking plenty of water is essential for your overall health, including the health of your skin, so one could argue that infused water is “sort of” a beauty product

Take an attractive glass bottle. Add a selection of aromatic herbs, fruits, berries, veggies, citrus zest, and / or edible flowers. Pour fresh water over the top to fill the bottle. Seal with a cap. Bring several bottles along to a holiday party!

A few pairing options to inspire you:

Thinly sliced cucumber – watermelon chunks – orange zest
Thinly sliced apples – blueberries – fresh mint leaves
Thinly sliced ginger – fresh pineapple
Fresh basil – cucumber – strawberries
Fresh rosemary sprig – lemon zest

Mix and match to create your own signature “holiday H20 blend.”

Pair this homemade gift with a cute note: “Happy holidays! I treasure your friendship… and friends don’t let friends get dehydrated. Especially during the Christmas season. Here’s some infused H20. Drink up—to your health!”

Fairly simple –
Peppermint-vanilla foot scrub

Melt 1 cup of coconut oil in a saucepan for a few seconds until liquidy. Add 3 cups of white sugar, 6 teaspoons of peppermint extract, 2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a handful of coarse salt. Mix together until blended. Let cool. Divide the mixture into jars with snug-fitting lids.

Pair this homemade gift with a caring note: “You’ve worked hard all year long… now it’s time to get off your feet and rest! I hope this foot scrub inspires you to treat your feet to some well-deserved TLC. Enjoy!”

[Scrub instructions adapted from a recipe published on The Gunny Sack.]

A little more complex –
Cranberry lip gloss & cheek stain

Two beauty products in one! Melt 4 tablespoons of coconut oil in a saucepan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of cranberry powder plus 1 teaspon of beetroot powder. Transfer the oil-and-powder mixture into a bowl. Let it rest and cool for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth. Stir 1 tablespoon of shea butter into the strained mixture. Let cool a bit longer. Once the mixture is fully cooled and has solidified, gently beat with a fork or spoon until light and creamy, like cake frosting. Transfer to a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. It will stay fresh for three to four months.

You can use this product on your lips or use a small dab as a cheek stain / blush for a rosy-cheeked winter look!

Want to experiment with different colors? Whisk in different powders with different color tones, like cherry powder, acai powder, cacao powder, hibiscus flower powder… lots of fun options to play with. Check out the Mountain Rose Herbs website for a huge selection of natural powders.

Pair this homemade gift with a sweet note: “You’re so beautiful, inside and out… but just in case you’re craving some lip or cheek color, use a small dab of this! I made it myself, just for you.”

[Lip gloss instructions adapted from a recipe published on Hello Glow.]
If you’re not the DIY type, support small business owners instead.

The indie marketplace, Etsy, is filled with beautiful, lovingly crafted bath & beauty products that make wonderful holiday gifts. This Dead Sea Bath Salt mixture from Herbivore Botanical in Seattle looks lovely. And this vegan sea salt & charcoal soap would make a handsome gift for any discerning gentleman.

Sesame Gifts is another terrific website to know about if you want to give a unique gift with a DIY “feeling.” The folks at Sesame put together creative gift boxes filled with items curated from lots of interesting business owners. You can select a box, enter your recipient’s shipping address, add some text for a personalized note, and it will get shipped almost immediately, arriving in just a few days. Perfect when you’ve forgotten someone’s birthday or when you want to ship off a holiday present quickly. The Pure Pampering box includes a lovely candle, soap, perfume, and some bath fizzies made with cedar and sandalwood with green, leafy top notes. It’s like soaking in a forest!

I hope this list inspired you to whip up a few creations at home. If now’s not the time, save the list for a snowy Sunday afternoon and make a few gifts for yourself.

Have a very merry holiday season & a beautiful New Year!

~ Dr. Sue

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Your brain wants you to think you’re right—even if you’re not.

If you’ve ever been on a first date… or if x-ray brainyou’ve ever interviewed someone who wanted to work for you… or if you’ve ever taken a new car for a test drive, you’ve probably experienced a pesky cognitive situation known as: “confirmation bias.”

What is confirmation bias?

It’s when you “want” something to be good, true, accurate, or right for you, so your brain begins to search for information to support what you want to believe (“This car smells great! And it’s blue, my favorite color!”) while rapidly filtering out any information that contradicts your desired belief (“I’m sure I can get used to this funky steering wheel, no big deal.”)

Basically:

Your brain wants you to think you’re right, even if you’re not.

Unfortunately, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers struggle with confirmation bias, too, just like anybody else.

One study, which is described in the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, a book about how human beings make decisions and how we can learn to make better ones, states that doctors who feel “100% confident” about a diagnosis are actually wrong a surprising amount of the time.

Another study found that fatal diagnostic errors in intensive care units lead to about 40,000 deaths every year. To put that in context, that’s the same amount of people that die from breast cancer every year. Yikes.

It’s easy to place all the blame on doctor’s shoulders (“Doctors make too many mistakes!”) but that’s not a particularly fair or productive attitude.

After all, doctors are responding to the information that you, the patient, bring into their office. Maybe there’s a gap in the information that you provided. If you forget to mention something, if you don’t know about a particular aspect of your family or medical history, if you leave something out because you’re embarrassed, or if you’re already feeling “totally certain” about what’s going on because you did some Googling earlier today—all of those things can impact your doctor’s ability to help you get an accurate diagnosis.

You are smart. Your doctor is smart too. You are flawed and human. Your doctor is too.

That’s why it’s up to both of you to work together as a team to avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly, to avoid slipping into a biased way of thinking, and to explore every possibility before coming to a firm conclusion about what’s up with your body and what you ought to do next.

At your next doctor’s visit, my recommendation is to ask lots of questions.

You don’t have to be rude, obviously, but you can carry the conversation and be extra-inquisitive.

You can ask questions like:

~You believe that I’m dealing with [name of illness or issue]. What other possibilities could there be for this?

~What additional testing or screening would you recommend to help us rule out (or confirm) those other possibilities?

~What’s our timeline for exploring other possibilities?

~Can you refer me to another specialist for a second opinion?

~Could we get group-input from a few of your colleagues?

~Do you have any more questions for me?

~If you were in my position, what are some additional questions you’d want to ask your doctor?

Explain to your doctor that you value his/her opinions, but you’re also aware that misdiagnosis can happen, and you want to take every possible step to make sure you’re both arriving at the right conclusion.

To be honest, I might not have an answer to every question, but it would get me thinking.

By reminding yourself that confirmation bias happens to everyone, even doctors, and by posing lots of questions to fight back against that kind of bias, you’ll have a better chance at finding the right solution, not just the solution that you (or your doctor) “wants” to be right.

~ Dr. Sue

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What is your cause?

Reality TV starlet & model Kylie Jennerart is charity has taken a stand against bullying.

Pop singer Demi Lovato wants to educate the world about the realities of mental illness.

Athlete Ronda Rousey is outspoken about why women need to stop starving themselves and punishing their bodies.

These famous women all share one thing in common: a cause that they believe in.

They’re leveraging their fame to raise awareness and spark conversations about topics they care about. They’re creating real change in the world.

Incredible, right? But celebrities aren’t the only people who can enact change in the world. We all have the power to choose a heartfelt cause and raise awareness—perhaps not amongst an audience of “millions,” but certainly in our own communities.

Like my niece, Paige, who has chosen to support an organization called HERO, which collects gently used medical equipment and other supplies, processes them, and then ships the goods overseas to countries like Haiti, where recycled equipment can save many lives. HERO was started by an OR nurse who hated to see the waste and thought of a way to collect and redistribute the items. My medical center just made a donation a few weeks ago to the Fargo-based Haiti Medical Mission. It’s good to know that supplies we no longer need can help others.

Or my sister-in-law Liz,  who has made it her personal mission to raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease—not just the impact on victims of the disease, but the impact on other family members, like spouses, who often serve as caregivers and who face many challenges, too. Her work honors her late father Marv Bossart, and her mom, Betty, who was a champion caregiver. She and her family even climbed White Butte in western ND this summer with Michael J. Fox himself as part of an awareness campaign!

Or this amazing woman, who decided not to have a traditional “wedding registry” filled with saucers, plates, and other gifts for her home, but instead raised money to build a science lab for girls in Kenya. Now that is a truly beautiful bride!

I read about marathon runs and walks across America to honor loved ones and to raise money for research. I had a co-worker, Cindy, who started a charity and walk for melanoma research after her wonderful husband, Willy, lost his battle with this awful skin cancer. And then there’s Laura, who started a downtown Fargo Boutique called Others, which promotes fair trade and ethical shopping. And how about James, who is partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build a house by encouraging as many people as possible to contribute five dollars or more.

What is a topic that matters to you? What makes you frustrated or angry? What is something you wish other people understood better? Or something you wish people would do more, or stop doing?

Your cause doesn’t have to be disastrous or sad. Maybe your cause is planting more gardens in communities that lack greenery… or helping kids and their parents get active and play outside more… or inspiring more girls and young women to pursue careers in science and medicine (that’s a personal mission of mine!).

Likewise, your cause doesn’t necessarily have to become your “full time” occupation, either. You don’t have to run a massive Instagram campaign or throw a huge fundraising event or deliver a TED talk about it. You can support your cause in “everyday” ways: by talking openly about your story, by gently correcting people’s misguided perceptions, giving when you can or simply leading by example: modeling the kind of behavior you’d like to see in the world.

I know from experience that life becomes so much richer and more satisfying when you feel a sense of purpose, when there’s something you’re trying to change for the better, when you’ve got a cause and you’re not afraid to share it.

Look into your heart and see what is calling to you. The Christmas season seems to make all of our hearts bigger, so now is the perfect time.

Where are you being led? Maybe you support the backpack program so that no child is hungry over the weekend. Or maybe, because of you, all holiday wishes are fulfilled on the Giving Tree.

What is your cause?

~Dr. Sue

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Face reading: useful insights or just entertainment?

It’s often said that the eyes are woman's facethe windows into the soul, and that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their smile.

In my profession, I get to see lots of beautiful faces, from softly wrinkled grannies, tired but happy moms, thirty-something gals with a hint of lines from smiling, tired but proud dads, and some very cherubic kids.

Such a spectrum of faces, and I do look for clues about health beyond the usual exam and conversation.

But can you also learn about someone’s digestive health by looking at his or her lips? Could your cheeks hold clues about the health of your lungs? Does a red nose mean you might have a bladder infection? And if you have big round earlobes are you destined for a life filled with many blessings? I hope so; I’ve got them!

For thousands of years, far longer than Western medicine has been around, healers have studied people’s faces, believing that certain facial features, skin issues, and other traits can point to related issues elsewhere in the body.

In certain traditions, people believed, and still believe, that you can actually “read” someone’s face like a crystal ball to make predictions, not only about that person’s health, but also their personality and even their future.

Face reading, or physiognomy, happened in many cultures around the world, from ancient Greece all the way to China. Face reading enjoyed a surge of popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it became “trendy” due in part to popular stories by writers like Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde. You can imagine a lively Victorian Era tea party with everyone excitedly crying out, “Read my face!” “No! Do mine next!” It was the “online personality assessment quiz” of its time!

So… is this stuff for real?

Can we really make valuable health (or personality) assessments by staring at someone’s forehead or earlobe?

Or is face reading just entertainment, nothing more?

Here’s my stance as a physician and skincare specialist:

Fact: Your skin can illuminate certain health issues. (Sometimes.)

It is true that your skin can hold clues about your overall health. For example, if you’re a woman and you break out with acne in the lower-third of your face, like your cheeks, jaw line, chin, and upper neck, that suggests that your acne is hormonally-triggered, and could indicate that you’re dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Another example, during residency, I attended a lecture by a famous facial plastic surgeon. He showed an amazing before and after photo of a woman in her mid-sixties. She looked fabulous… 20 years younger with natural, healthy looking skin. Then he dropped the bombshell. He hadn’t done any surgery on her. No lasers were involved. He had taken a good history and lab work. He then treated her thyroid condition and the results were close to miraculous, so much so that I still remember her photos 20 years later.

Another related example: Fingernails can give clues about the health of lungs.

Questionable: Every part of your face corresponds to a specific part of your body.

Similar to reflexology of the foot, in Chinese face reading, for example, your cheeks correspond to your lungs, your brows correspond to your liver, your lips correspond to your digestive organs, and so on, and so on. The notion is that every part of your face is directly connected to a specific part of your body, so whatever is happening on your face indicates good health (or disease) somewhere else.

This has never been proven by Western medical standards.
Fiction: Your face can be analyzed to predict your future.

I’m skeptical. I believe it’s 20% genes and 80% how your personal choices impact those genes that determines your future, not your eyebrows or earlobes.

Then again, who can say for sure? Much like astrology or palm reading or crystal healing, face reading is a tradition that’s been around a very, very long time—so perhaps there’s a tiny grain of truth to it. But I’d say it’s a grain—not a whole sandbag.

My two cents:

If getting a face reading helps you to understand yourself better, make better choices, or inspires you to take better care of your health, well, that’s great. Go for it.

But if a face reading specialist makes a specific recommendation (like encouraging you to start taking a particular supplement) you’d be wise to run their suggestion by your primary care physician before proceeding.

It’s great to stay open-minded when it comes to health and wellness. After all, new research is just now beginning to prove that some ancient techniques (acupuncture, meditation and deep breathing, for example) really do have clear, definitive health benefits, but if you’re intrigued about a technique that’s never been scientifically proven, be cautious and use common sense. It can go a long way!

~ Dr. Sue

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A Very “Selfish” Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of thanksgiving tablethe winter holiday season. It’s our peak time for expressing our gratitude, of course.

On magazine covers, morning talk shows, and blogs, you start to see the “gratitude” theme popping up everywhere. You see articles like… “100 things to be grateful about!” … “22 fun ways to express your gratitude!” … “How to braise your turkey in unbridled gratitude!” … “Not grateful yet? 10 reasons why…” … “Science says: being ungrateful is ruining your life!” … and so on.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s a gratitude bonanza out there. I should know—over the years, I’ve written dozens and dozens of blog posts and newspaper articles on the subject of gratitude, random acts of kindness, giving, selflessness, philanthropy, caring for others, gratitude, and… more gratitude.

I think we all love gratitude and strive to live in a state thankfulness. I love the holiday spirit of caring and giving.

However…

This Thanksgiving, what if we tried something different?

How about indulging in a Very “Selfish” Thanksgiving.

What do I mean by a “Selfish” Thanksgiving?

Well, I believe that there is Good Selfish and Bad Selfish. I think we all know about bad selfish, and we try so hard to avoid it, that we miss out on the life-saving benefits of Good Selfish.

I mean taking an extra day off work during Thanksgiving Week or some time during the holiday, for no particular reason, except to sleep in, and maybe get a manicure and pedicure.

In an ideal world, I would hang out with my son, and do other things that make me feel happy and worthy of care.

Can you imagine? So selfish.

You could make Thanksgiving dinner the way you want to make it. You could do a turkey breast, simple green beans, roasted sweet potatoes (hold the marshmallow) and a fun salad. You could even get a couple of the side dishes pre-made at the store to save time so that you can (selfishly) relax more with loved ones.

You could even use classy biodegradable bamboo dishes and silverware. Just add them to the compost pile when done.

Dinner companions could be compelled to tell hilarious stories so that you could (selfishly) lean back and just listen and enjoy.

You could (selfishly) hire someone to help tidy the house before out-of-town guests arrive so that you can (selfishly) be rested, grounded, and mentally present to greet them.

And (gasp!) instead of making the classic, annual “Things I Am Grateful For…” list, you might break convention and write a “Things I Like About Myself…” list instead. If you have a hard time with this, start keeping a happy file. Save every nice card or note you receive and peruse it occasionally. You might start believing all the nice things people say about you.

And after that? For me (selfishly,) I would do my absolute favorite thing ever: cuddle with Grant, read a bedtime story, tuck him in, and then slip out to savor a great book all by myself-ish.

So, how else might you have a Very “Selfish” Thanksgiving? How could you make things less stressful and more enjoyable for yourself? What’s your plan?

Life doesn’t have to be Pinterest worthy to still have meaning and intention. And Martha Stewart has a large staff to pull-off her seemingly effortless holiday festivities.

The truth is, if taking time to do something “selfish” makes you a less stressed, calmer, happier, more patient person with more energy for the busy day ahead, then that’s not actually “selfish” at all. It’s smart planning. And it’s healthy.

So please… join me in savoring a Very Good “Selfish” Thanksgiving.

Fill your cup, first, so that your gratitude runneth over.

Wishing you a beautiful holiday season… that’s exactly as “selfish” as you want it to be.

~ Dr. Sue

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How to save the world… and still have time to eat, sleep, and shower.

She gives all day long at work.Play the Free Rice game She’s the first one to sign up for the 5K fundraiser race, the church potluck, the summer festival event planning team. Her heart breaks when she sees a hungry man sitting on the street corner. She can’t walk into a pet rescue center without adopting a new friend. She lights up when she hears stories about beautiful people doing beautiful work in the world. She wants to be one of those “beautiful people” too, not realizing that she already is.

Also… she’s dead tired most of the time, struggling to care for herself when so many other people have urgent needs, too.

Sound like someone you know?

Sound like… you?

How do you balance your desire to save the world… and the need to eat, sleep, and occasionally take a shower?

One thing that helps me to stay sane is reminding myself that “helping others” doesn’t have to mean “over-committing” myself to the point where I can barely breathe.

There are so many ways to make a difference in the world, and many of them take very little time.

Here are 4 beautiful, powerful things you could do today and still have time to spare:

: Spend 10 minutes playing the Free Rice game. It’s an online game that tests your vocabulary and helps you learn new words. For every answer you get right, 10 grains of rice get donated to the United Nations World Food Program. Over 99 billion grains have been donated to date. Every grain helps!

: Spend 10 minutes clearing out your closet—or even just one t-shirt drawer. Get rid of anything you don’t love or don’t need. Put everything in a bag labeled “Donation.” Some states have a cool service called Pick Up Please sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Association. A driver will come to your home, grab the bag, and donate your lightly-used goods to veterans and other people in need. Here’s a list of everything you can donate (not just clothes). This couldn’t be easier to do (you don’t even need to leave the house) and it really makes a difference. Locally, call St. Vincent De Paul Society (the mission is to end poverty through systemic change and loving service) or The Arc or Dakota Boys Ranch.

: Spend 10 minutes having a conversation with your child about why hitting people is never OK. Whoa. I know. This is really heavy. But as this sobering video points out we spend countless hours teaching our kids how to play sports, hit balls, score points and goals, and yet… how many minutes have you spent teaching what not to hit? Have a talk with your son and daughter about why domestic violence is never acceptable. Also remind them that harsh words can hurt as much as a fist.

If you’re not sure what to say, visit the website Futures Without Violence for tips. This may seem intense, but we all need to do this. This kind of conversation could change the course of your kid’s life, the life of your kid’s future partner or spouse, and the world.

: Online Shopping. You do it all the time, right? So here’s how to make a difference while you shop. Check out GoodSearch, ShopAnthropy, Giftback.com, iGive.com and Amazon Smile for great ways to shop with a purpose. The give back percentages range from one half a percent all the way up to 10% of your purchase.

Like these ideas? Want a few more? I love this list of 25 ways to make the world a better place from the lovely and wise website Elephant Journal. If you go through that entire list, here are 100 more ideas. Choose a couple fun ones with kids to do for the holidays. Or, you could always just keep playing that Free Rice game until we cross the 100 billion grain mark! Keep clicking. You’re helping!

To all of my fellow healers, helpers, and do-gooders out there…

Don’t forget to take some time to tend to your own needs, too. I know it’s easier said than done, but you’ll have so much more energy and brilliance to offer the world when your own personal “fuel tank” is full.

To a better, happier, healthier world… for all of us.

~ Dr. Sue

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That Sixth Sense: If you feel something is up, do something about it.

Christopher spent the majority of his teen

Christopher Feaster, sitting among some of the awards he received during his distinguished high school years. (Photo by Kristen Taylor Sorensen)

Christopher Feaster, sitting among some of the awards he received during his distinguished high school years. (Photo by Kristen Taylor Sorensen)

years living with his mother in a Washington DC homeless shelter. Food was tightly rationed and washing his clothes was a luxury—something he could only afford to do once a month.

Despite these circumstances, Christopher excelled in high school and went on to earn a full scholarship to attend Michigan State University.

The future seemed bright for Christopher. Unfortunately, once in Michigan, his excitement quickly turned to anxiety and isolation. He felt like an outsider at his new school of 37,000 students after he graduated in a high school class of 150. He felt unprepared for the rigors of university life. He worried constantly about his mom back at home. He got sick frequently, became depressed and eventually stopped going to classes. Ashamed, he told friends and teachers back at home that everything was fine.

But obviously, everything was not fine.

As reporter Kavitha Cardoza tells the story in her incredible radio documentary series, A College Dream: Deferred, a few people who worked at Christopher’s old high school began to sense that something was not right. They investigated and learned that he was flunking out of college. Michael and Tiffany, two people who worked at Christopher’s high school and who remembered him as an extraordinarily promising student, spent their own money to book a flight to Michigan to meet with Christopher face to face and see what was going on.

He had no idea they were coming. He was stunned when, one day, they arrived at his doorstep. Christopher broke down crying, Michael and Tiffany cried too, and together, they came up with a plan to help Christopher finish college successfully and build the future he deserves.

His experience led his university to ramp up the support level for disadvantaged students who are often the first in their families to attend college.

Today Christopher is working at a high-end restaurant near DC, but has not yet graduated from college. He still hopes to. His story is “a work in progress.” He and his mom still struggle with finances. But having Michael and Tiffany visit him in person was a transformative moment in his life. Because of that surprise visit, he realized that people really cared about him, really wanted him to succeed, and would go out of their way just to say, “Are you OK?”

I wanted to re-tell Christopher’s story; at least, an abbreviated version of it, because it’s such a powerful reminder for all of us… a reminder to show up for people, to check in on people, to ask “Are you OK?” and to keep asking, especially if you sense that someone might be too ashamed to tell the truth right away.

If you sense that something is not right with a colleague, a friend, a child, or a student….don’t ignore that feeling. Say something. Do something. Dig a little deeper for the story.

Pick up the phone. Show up on someone’s doorstep. Reach out to someone—even if they repeatedly insist that everything is fine, and even if they’re not asking for your help.

That could be the moment when they need your help most of all.

~ Dr. Sue

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Sweet treats that sneakily pack some nutrients and minerals. (Shh. Don’t tell your kids.)

Have you checked out your child’s Halloween stash yet? Spinach Ice Cream coneAre you in the dole it out slowly camp, or do you let them feast and get it over with? Here’s another idea, chop up chocolate based candy bars (Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, etc) and add them to cookie batter or brownies instead of chocolate chips.

Or maybe we want to take another look at sweets.

Last week, I shared a blog post about a common health issue: Magnesium deficiency. Millions of Americans are running low on Magnesium, which can lead to fatigue, anxiety and more.

One of the best ways to get more Magnesium? Leafy greens, nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds. While writing last week’s article, one thing lead to another and I found myself Googling to find pumpkin seed recipes, like this scrumptious pumpkin seed brittle recipe from Martha Stewart.

That got me thinking… I bet a lot of people would love to read a list of sweet Halloween and Winter Holiday treats that sneakily pack in some nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
So this week, that’s what I’ve whipped up for you:

Five sweet and simple recipes.

Physician-approved. Mom-approved. Kid… hopefully approved!

I’ll test these out with my son Grant soon to find out for sure. He’s not a fan of dark chocolate and the green ice cream might get rejected. But I’m predicting these treats will earn an enthusiastic thumbs up! Especially if he doesn’t “know” that they’re slightly healthified.

Coconut whipped cream
(Recipe via: Minimalist Baker)

Just two ingredients: real coconut cream and sugar. It whips up into a fluffy, creamy bowl of deliciousness that you can spoon into a piecrust, dollop on top of fruit, or eat directly from the bowl. I know that Grant enjoys squirting whipped cream directly from the metal canister into his mouth, so hopefully this will provide a slightly more nutritious alternative!

Why it’s nutritious: Coconut cream contains healthy fatty acids that boost your immune system, your brainpower, and memory. Just make sure you choose a brand of coconut cream that’s pure coconut, no added ingredients or preservatives.

Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups
(Recipe via: Sprouted Kitchen)

Just six ingredients: dark chocolate, almond butter, honey, a smidge of powdered sugar, vanilla, and sea salt. These are like a grown up, sophisticated version of Reese’s Peanut Cups. Will Grant be able to tell the difference? Time will tell!

Why it’s nutritious: Almonds are packed with Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium and can help to fight diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Dark chocolate contains cancer-fighting antioxidants and many other health benefits, too. One research team found that dark chocolate boosts blood flow to the brain which can help you feel smarter and more alert. I could go on, but honestly, do we need any more compelling reasons to eat chocolate? I didn’t think so.

Salted Caramel Cookie Dough Smoothie
(Recipe via: Greatist)

Just 5 ingredients: a handful of frozen bananas, rolled oats, dates, vanilla almond milk and ice cubes (or, even better, ice cubes made from frozen almond milk). Blend until thick and frothy. It tastes like cake batter and the dates give it a caramelized flavor. You could freeze this smoothie into popsicles, too!

Why it’s nutritious: Bananas are your BFF. They reduce inflammation, protect against type II diabetes, and give you a big boost of Vitamin B6 and Potassium, too. Weird fact: if you’re trying to quit smoking, bananas may soothe the effects of withdrawal. Almonds and dates are both great for you, too. (After all, anything that grows directly out of the earth = a good choice!)

Spinach Ice Cream Cones
(Recipe via: Chocolate & Carrots)

Just 5 main ingredients: milk, vanilla, spinach, bananas, and organic ice cream cones. Plus a few dabs of decorative icing if you want to make “monster eyeballs” for these cones and serve them at a next year’s Halloween party. These are just too adorable for words. Check out the photos!

Why it’s nutritious: We’ve already discussed the awesomeness of bananas. Spinach is a powerhouse food, too: packed with Iron, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Potassium, dietary fiber, and all kinds of other goodies that give your body a huge burst of energy. Popeye the Sailor Man would approve of these green ice cream cones.

Magic Maple Candy
(Recipe via: Care2)

Just 1 ingredient: Maple syrup! You’ll also need a candy thermometer, a saucepan, and candy molds if you want to make fun shapes.

Why it’s nutritious: Maple syrup gets a bad rap for being high in sugar and calories (which it is), but real maple syrup is also full of good stuff like Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, and Zinc. Maple syrup is definitely no substitute for a leafy green salad (ha!) but it’s definitely more nutritious than plain white sugar or a processed candy bar packed with tons of preservatives.

I hope these recipes have inspired you to whip up a few new treats for the holidays, even if you’re not exactly a culinary virtuoso, and even if you are seriously pressed for time… a dilemma I completely understand! Some days, tossing a few frozen banana chunks into the blender feels like an achievement worthy of my own Food Network TV special. Maybe you can relate.

If you want to go really sugar-free, but still delicious, check out Swerve, a mix of erythritol and chicory root that measures like sugar. I found out about it through Maria Emmerich and her Art of Healthy Eating cookbooks. She’s got low-carb, sugar-free and delicious recipes for kid and adult friendly desserts.

Have fun and eat well, friends.

Happy holidays from my home to yours!

~ Dr. Sue

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