Summer’s Last Hurrah! How to get the most out of the season’s final stretch.

We’ve got a few days to squeeze the lastsummer fun few drops out of summer.

I don’t know about you, but right about this time, every year, I find myself staring at the calendar in a state of shock, wondering, “Where did all the time go? I had all those plans … all those picnics I wanted to go on … all those dinner parties I meant to throw … what happened?”

I’ve learned, over the years, to simply accept the facts: Summer is always shorter than we’d like, and the time always moves faster than we think.

But even though there’s just a little sliver of summer left, you can make the most of it.

Here are my tips on how to celebrate summer’s last hurrah — and step into fall feeling refreshed, without any regrets:

Re-shuffle your wardrobe.
Pull out your favorite summer dresses, shorts, sleeveless tops and sandals; and arrange them in the front of your closet, as a visual cue that summer is here … but not for much longer.

Cut your to-do list…
If you’re like me, I’m guessing you’ve got a list a mile-and-a-half long of things that “could” and “should” get done. Like re-tiling your bathroom. Or organizing your spice drawer. Or clearing out your inbox. See if you can cut that to-do list as much as possible. You can tell yourself, “I don’t have to do these 5 things right now. Those are ‘winter activities’. Today, I’m going outside!”

Revisit your Summer Bucket List….
A Summer Bucket List is a list of joyful things that you want to do before summer is through. When you write down a goal, you’re 42% more likely to actually follow through. If you did one earlier this summer, read through it and make firm plans to do the things that still interest you. Put it on the calendar and get your family involved. If you didn’t do one before, there’s still time. Here are some ideas for you:

1.    Take a hike.
2.    Go mini-golfing.
3.    Go star-gazing and learn a new constellation.
4.    Make homemade popsicles.
5.    Make a family movie.
6.    Check out a new farmer’s market and make a new veggie recipe.
7.    Take a spontaneous weekend trip.


Tell the world, “See ya later!”
Experiment with email tools like Inbox Pause (which “pauses” incoming emails until later) or set up a “vacation auto-responder” (even if you’re not “literally” on vacation).

Your auto-responder could say: I’m away from my desk right now, savoring the last few drops of summer with my friends + family. I hope that you’ll have a chance to spend part of your day doing the same. I’ll write back as soon as I can!

Remind yourself what really counts.
Not to be too grim, but on your deathbed, will you say to yourself, “Gosh, I really wish I’d spent more time inside, on a conference call!” Or, “Wow, if only I could have written just a few more emails in my lifetime!”? Nope. You’ll regret not playing, traveling, laughing, cooking and connecting with loved ones, more.

So do what counts.

And give yourself the gift of a summer that’s fun and free of regrets.


Dr. Sue


P.S. Ready, set, go! What’s your last hurrah for the summer?

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Busy, productive or energized? How do you want to feel today?

“Wow, you sound incredibly happy today!”downtown

My friend, on the other end of the phone line, couldn’t help but notice the cheerful sparkle in my voice.

“I am!” I said. “I’ve had a great morning. I’ve had a couple of meetings with fun, creative people, and I got invited to speak to a group of university students about innovation. And now, I’m sitting in a beautiful space, getting caught up on my charts, with a bowl of fruit on the table. I love days like this!”

“It sounds like you’re having a really energizing day,” my friend commented.

She was right. I felt unstoppable. And her comment got me thinking … isn’t it interesting how some days (OK, most days!) are really busy … some days are really productive … but then there are few days that feel truly energizing?

For me, an energizing day is a day where I get plenty of things done, without really “trying.” Like I’m floating around on sunbeams. I’m in the zone. And then, at the end of the day, I feel ready to rest, but not flat-out exhausted. Like my cup has filled, instead of drained.

Those kinds of days seem so rare and magical, but setting up your day so that you can feel energized isn’t really that complicated. It’s just a matter of paying attention to what energizes you … and then making those things a priority.

I’ve started to much pay closer attention to the types of activities, people and situations that energize me — so that I can bring more of that positive juice into my life.

For example, I know that …

Brainstorming with passionate people energizes me. Especially if they are entrepreneurs, fellow physicians, or people who are devoted to making the world a happier, healthier, more positive place to be.

Thinking about innovation energizes me. When I got invited to speak to a group of students, I wasn’t just flattered by the invitation — I was energized by the topic: innovation! I get a “natural high” thinking about ways to do things differently and better.

Beauty energizes me. It can be as simple as a vase of fresh flowers on a conference room table, or as dramatic as a sunset. I love beauty, in any form. It’s pure energy, for me. My work with beautiful faces energizes me, and I love helping women smile when they look in the mirror.

Being downtown energizes me. While I love all of Fargo, I love the historic buildings, bumping into friends and neighbors, and the thriving arts scene. Taking a Saturday stroll down Broadway can shift my whole week. A popsicle from Gigi’s, a shop stop at Shanna Lee or Downtown Diva, tea at Nicole’s and a little treat for Grant at UnGlued or Zandbroz…. I could go on and on! What fun!

Giving patients resources to make healthy lifestyle changes energizes me. Simple choices can have profound impact and I love to see patients flip the switch for great new habits that make them happier and healthier.

There are plenty of things that do NOT energize me, of course.

Some of those things could be taken off my to-do list (… and I’m working on it).

Some of those things simply have to get done (… and I’m working on that, too).

I know how helpful it is to structure my day to include some activities that energize me. It’s the perfect blend of job satisfaction and life satisfaction.

So far, today, are you feeling busy, productive … or energized?

What energizes YOU?

~ Dr. Sue

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Making lemonade: Sweeten up your day with the art of the “re-frame.”

Grant got to help his neighborhood buddy, Eddie, with lemonadea lemonade stand this week. Eddie even shared the profits, much to Grant’s delight.

As adults, we sometimes make lemonade in a different context.

It was Friday morning, and I was looking forward to a weekend retreat with one of my favorite writers and a delightful group of women entrepreneurs.

We’d all flown into Portland for the weekend, and I was gleeful about the prospect of curling up in the library of our hotel with my laptop and just… writing!

No distractions. No drama. Just delicious brainstorming, happy blogging and free time to revamp that book I’ve been working on for, oh, the past three years.

And then… things happened.

I learned that a key member of my clinical team had to move to a different part of the state at the end of the month for her family. Caught me off-guard.

My six-year-old — Grant — fell into one of his very-special-moods at the breakfast table (think: grumpy grandpa, trapped in a tiny kid’s body).

The rain started pouring down, which meant that Dad couldn’t take Grant out of the hotel on the day trip that they’d planned.

A couple of lemons, souring the “perfect weekend.”

In the past, hiccups like these might have ruined my whole day. After all, it’s so easy to focus on the negative. As human beings, we’re physiologically wired to fixate on danger, criticism and bad news… far more strongly than good news. Our brains have evolved that way, as a form of self-preservation. Annoying, but true!

The key to staying positive and productive, I’ve learned, is to master the art of the “re-frame.” Or as your grandma might have called it, “making lemonade out of lemons.”

Cognitive re-framing is the practice of interrupting a negative thought and actively replacing it with a positive alternative. It’s a way of choosing how you want to feel about a situation, rather than allowing negative emotions to darken your day.

Writer Eric Proulx tackled big lemons after a layoff and made a documentary called Lemonade: The Movie, about people reclaiming their lives during the recession. He did a follow-up with Lemonade: Detroit, about the rebirth of car town.

No need to shoot a film, although that might be really cool to do. Just put pen to paper. Starting with a “re-frame script” can help.


“It’s OK that _______ happened. Now, I have an opportunity to _______.”

For example: “It’s OK that one of my team members decided to step down. Now, I have an opportunity to find someone new, who will bring new skills. And I know that my former employee will be happier, too!”


“I wish _______ wasn’t happening, but I can let it go. The important thing is _______.”

For example: “I wish my son wasn’t throwing a tantrum, but I can let it go. The important thing is that he’s here with his mom and dad, in a beautiful place, spending quality time with his family.”


“I wasn’t expecting _______, but I can handle it. The good news is that _______.”

For example: “I wasn’t expecting it to rain all day long, but I can handle it. The good news is that now I have NO excuse not to sit down and work on my book!”


Re-framing might feel silly or awkward at first, if you’re not used to doing it.

You might think, “Am I just lying to myself? There’s no silver lining, here. This situation is terrible!”

But no, you’re not lying. You’re consciously choosing a new set of thoughts and beliefs about a particular scenario. That’s very real. And very powerful. And very healthy!


What’s one not-so-great situation in your life that could use a re-frame to sweeten things up today?


~ Dr. Sue

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Want to be every doctor’s “dream patient?”

Every year, The Physicians Foundation happy patientcollects data from thousands of people to identify the needs of patients, as well as the physicians who serve them.

Last year, the survey revealed that….

  • 84% of physicians feel that the medical profession is in decline.
  • 60% say they would retire if they had the means to do so.
  • 50% would not recommend medicine as a career.

Other surveys suggest that up to 90% no longer recommend a life in medicine.

As a physician, I find these statistics depressing. At the same time, I understand why some physicians feel the way that they do.

TV shows like Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice make it seem like practicing medicine is a nonstop, sexy, exhilarating adventure… filled always grateful patients, miraculous 11th hour recoveries, and of course, romantic interludes in the supply closet!

In reality, being a physician is a very different story. With a lot less romance. And a lot more insurance forms. Every year, it’s more alphabet soup of complexity: ACA, HIPAA, CMS.

As a patient, it’s not your “responsibility” to make your physician feel better. More physicians need to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”

That being said… you can make a difference. If you want to help your physician smile, and feel good about her (or his) career, and maybe even empower them to be part of the change, there are some very simple things that you can do.

After all, when your doctor is happy, the benefits flow right back to you!

Here’s my take on how to become every doctor’s “dream patient.”

1.    Say “thank you.”

That physician who just walked into your examination room? She might be saddled with a quarter-million dollars in student loan debt. She might have said “no” to a date last night, because she needed to complete a stack of paperwork. She may have postponed having a child, in order to focus on setting up her medical practice. And now it’s too late.

You never know what kinds of sacrifices your physician had to make in order to be here for you.

Expressing your appreciation doesn’t take much time or effort. Just say “thank you.”

“Thank you for helping me today.” “Thank you for the great advice.” “Thank you for making me feel better.” “Thank you for all that you do.”

2.     Come prepared.

Show up for your doctor’s appointment as if it’s a job interview — for your health. Get all of your ducks in a row, before you walk in the door!

If you are visiting a new doctor, bring your health history and medication list, including any vitamins or supplements that you take.

Bring your three biggest questions, and be prepared to answer questions too.

If you’re coming in to talk about a “mysterious” condition, make a list of any recent changes to your life (moving to a new house, starting a new job, switching to a new cosmetic line… anything that might be a cause.)

Set an intention for each visit. Know what you want, so that you + your physician can get right down to it.

3.    Be patient.
(No pun intended!)

The average wait time to see a doctor is 23 minutes.

Instead of getting annoyed, plan those 23 minutes into your schedule, and use them! Maybe you could answer a few emails, giggle while flipping through a funny book, or go over the questions that you want to ask your physician, one more time.

Some delays are due to system inefficiencies with paperwork, electronic medical records, scheduling and habits. These are inexcusable, and we need to work hard on improving.
 
But just as often when your doctor is running behind, it just means that an earlier patient needed some extra attention. If that patient was your child, your partner, or your parent, you’d want them to receive the best possible care. We are all human, and sometimes our needs don’t fit into a 15-minute time slot.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t take much to become every doctor’s “dream patient.”

So, go ahead… make your doctor’s day!

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. Want to read the flip-side of this conversation? Check out last week’s post: How to be every patient’s “dream doctor.”

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How to be every patient’s “dream doctor.”

Every year, big research firms like Gallup roll out doctornew statistics about “patient satisfaction.”

Some of the numbers are encouraging. (72% of Americans who have health insurance are “satisfied” with the current U.S. healthcare system. Not too shabby!)

Others are a bit depressing. (97% of patients are frustrated by long wait times. Yikes!)

The unfortunate reality is that many physicians are over-worked and over-scheduled, which makes it difficult to go “above and beyond” for every single patient on the docket.

I know, all too well, that when you’re rushing from appointment to appointment, it can be tough to remember to ask yourself:

“How could I give my next patient the BEST possible experience?”

Tough, but still doable. Even on the most challenging days, we can all strive to do better.

Whether your medical practice is receiving positive feedback, negative feedback, or a grab-bag of mixed responses, there is always room for improvement.

Here’s my take on how what we can do to improve patient satisfaction and become every patient’s “dream doctor.”  And feel free to share this with your doctor!


1.    Express genuine care and concern.

As the communication expert Kare Anderson once said: “People like people who like them.”

The way you move, touch, talk, and most importantly, listen, should convey to your patient:  “I like you. I care about you. I want you to have the life and level of health that you deserve.”

Don’t forget to smile, make eye contact, and treat human beings like … human beings.

2.    Acknowledge progress.

I know personally how hard it is to make changes. When your patient has made good progress, even just a baby step or two, acknowledge it!

“I can tell you’ve been using sunscreen, just like we talked about. Great job!”

“You seem calm and happy today. I can tell your new stress management regime is paying off!”

“You’ve lost ten pounds since our last visit. I’m so proud of you!”

As Earl Nightingale once wrote, “Children bloom like spring flowers under praise.” The same is true for adults, as well! Find something to celebrate.

3.    Anticipate overwhelm.

Your patients aren’t physicians. They don’t have the same training + vocabulary as you.

So, even if you think that what you’re explaining is “simple,” to your patient, it might be the most confusing thing they’ve heard all year!

Anticipate feelings of overwhelm, give written handouts whenever possible and say to your patient:

“Would you like to record these instructions on your smartphone? That way, you’ll be able to listen to my instructions again, later. I know that it can be difficult to remember everything on your own. I’ve been in those kinds of situations, too.”

4.    Be willing to keep trying.

For a patient, there’s nothing as disappointing, or scary, as a physician who has “given up.”

If you can’t make a diagnosis, or if the patient isn’t responding to your treatment, seek help. Keep trying.

Say:

“I want to get a second pair of eyes to make sure I’m not overlooking any possibilities. I’ve invited my colleague to step in. She’s wonderful. Together, I’m confident that we’re going to make progress.”

5.     Make “easy changes” first.

Improving patient satisfaction doesn’t always require big, systemic changes.

It can be as simple as adding free Wi-Fi to the waiting room (a move that 60% of patients say would make them very happy, indeed!) My six year old son is always checking for free Wi-Fi whenever we are out and about so he can download games on his iPod. He will be happy that we now have it in our reception area!

We bring in fresh flowers at the check in desks (unscented so they don’t bother our allergy patients) and patients love the Keurig coffee maker and water.

Start with a few “easy changes” — then move on to bigger overhauls.



We will keep trying to do better with wait times, and communicate when things are running behind. And compassion, courtesy, little human touches, a willingness to keep trying — and yes, free Wi-Fi! — can go a long way too.


~ Dr. Sue


P.S. Check back next week, when I’ll explore the flip-side of this conversation: How to be every doctor’s “dream patient.”

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3 “innocent” habits that are just as bad for your health as smoking…

We may love the show, but I’m so glad we don’t broken cigarettelive in the Mad Men era anymore, when casual smoking at work was a total thumbs up. (Just like hurling offensive comments at female employees, and having a triple-martini lunch!)

These days, most people recognize that cigarettes are a terrible health risk. My son Grant plugs his nose and holds his breath if we walk by someone smoking. He sometimes slips out a less than polite comment too. Although I don’t like smoking, I don’t like him being rude either.

But when it comes to your health and longevity, there are several other habits that are just as bad — if not worse — than having a smoke.  

1.    Sitting all day.

As this NPR story reports:

“Men who reported more than 23 hours a week of sedentary activity had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who reported less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity.”

Sitting at your desk absolutely counts as “sedentary activity.” If you’re working at your computer for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, you’re already clocking in at 30 hours. (And that’s before you factor in that Netflix movie marathon on the couch after work!)

To fight back against this health risk, invest in a standing desk. Or, at the very least, take a 10-minute stretch break every 90 minutes to get your circulation flowing. I recently wrote about taking walking meetings, or doing stand-up huddles to get things done.


2. Not getting enough sleep.

As a physician who is board-certified in sleep medicine, as well as ENT and integrative medicine, I’ve studied the effects of sleep deprivation firsthand, and let me tell you… it’s pretty scary.

Lack of sleep (or low-quality sleep that’s being disrupted by blinking lights, snoring or sleep apnea) raises your risk for stroke, heart disease, hypertension, depression and diabetes.

If you’re frequently groggy in the morning, like you can’t pull yourself out of bed without a gallon of coffee, make some lifestyle adjustments — or consult with a sleep specialist!


3. Unresolved anger.

It doesn’t matter if you’re angry at yourself, your parents, your partner, or “the entire world” — living in a state of chronic anger + bitterness can be deadly.

As this article reports, summarizing a study from Washington State University:

“People over the age of 50 who express their anger by lashing out are more likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries — an indication that you’re at a high risk for a heart attack.”

Lashing out is bad, but suppressing your anger isn’t any better. Bottling it up has been linked to elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Some researchers suspect that suppressing negative emotions can actually triple your risk for a heart attack.

The solution is to find healthy ways to uncork your emotions. Psychologist Dr. Suzanne Gelb recommends thwacking a pillow with a knotted up towel. I guess the punching bag workout would be great as well! Or, like sculptor Pablo Solomon, you could try banging a stone with a hammer and chisel, turning your emotions into a work of art!


Do what it takes to work on these three health risks. Your well-being is worth it.

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. What’s the toughest habit you’ve ever had to kick?

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How to run a happy, productive meeting

Meetings…just the word can elicit eye team meetingrolls or acollective groan. But they are vital to effective group communication. Family meetings. Committee meetings. Volunteer meetings. Board meetings. Staff training meetings. In-person meetings. Virtual meetings. Mastermind meetings.

Since launching my medical center 14 years ago, I’m almost afraid to try and tabulate the number of hours that I’ve spent in “meeting mode.” I’m probably on my way to being a 10,000 hour expert.

I’ve learned that there’s an art to leading a happy, productive meeting — one where real progress gets made, and where everybody’s ideas get to come out and play. They can even be fun and healthy.

Here are my tips on how to run a meeting that you can be proud of…

1.    Getting to know you. The best part of working on a project together is establishing and deepening relationships. Meeting new friends is a major source of joy for me in board service.

Even in our small office at Catalyst with 30 employees, not everyone has a chance to chat on a regular basis. So we use staff meetings to give personal updates. We share about our kids, favorite grade school memories, a recent vacation, new hobbies, favorite recipes or home projects.

For our TEDxFargo meetings, we have a diverse group that gathers early Wednesday mornings. We go around the table and do a brief introduction, and a fun fact. One week was “words to live by” and another was “favorite Easter candy.”

2.    Celebrate progress. It’s so easy to get bogged down by everything that’s “not working” or “not finished yet.” But what about everything that’s going… right? Kick off each meeting by taking a moment to acknowledge something good: a job well done, a recent success, or a small contribution that every team member has already made.

3.    Champion every voice. Sometimes, younger employees will be hesitant to speak up… but their ideas are just as valuable as anybody else’s. Say: “We’re a team, and everyone’s input is equally valuable. Let’s make sure that everybody gets an opportunity to speak.” Once again, a ‘round the table’ approach works well.

4.     Make it “safe” to share difficult truths. Often, the most valuable feedback that a group of people can hear… is the one thing that nobody wants to say. Make it safe by offering people the option of writing feedback anonymously and submitting it before the meeting, or coming to speak with you, privately.

5.    Keep the energy moving. As the leader of the meeting, it’s up to you to keep the energy flowing! If you sense that one person is dominating the conversation, or starting to ramble and repeat themselves, gently interject and say: “That’s a great point, [name]. I think we can all agree that the big takeaway from what you’ve just said is [reiterate their main point]. In the interest of time, I’d love to move on to the next item on our agenda. Are we all ready for that?”

A timer can be helpful if you want to break up into groups of two or three to chat about an issue, and reconvene at the sound of the alarm.

6.    More movement. Speaking of energy, try a walking meeting for a small group. And since sitting for 8 hours a day conveys the same mortality risk as cigarette smoking, consider a standing meeting or at least take a few stretch and move breaks.

7.    Know your “why.” All too often, people hold meetings because they think they are “supposed” to — or simply because it’s “on the calendar” as a recurring event. Those kinds of meetings are rarely productive! The best meetings always begin with a clear intention — a specific reason for being there… a purpose… a goal of finding a solution! Open and close your meeting by reiterating your “why.”

I think the key word is “solution.” So often we discuss issues, and discuss them some more, without agreeing upon and actionable solution.

Opening: “Thank you for joining me this morning. The reason we’re here today is to find a solution to __________. I’m so excited to brainstorm with all of you.”

Closing: “Thank you for spending this time with me. I’m so thrilled that we were able to find a solution to __________. I’m excited to put this plan into motion.”

This will ensure that people go home feeling accomplished and proud, instead of scratching their heads, wondering, “What the heck did I just do in there?”

Meeting with other people can be a total chore, or the very best part of your day. The right attitude, structure and leadership makes all the difference.

Here’s to happier meetings… and getting things done!

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. A question to think about… what’s the worst meeting you ever attended? What would you do differently if you had a chance to be there, again?

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My Summer Bucket List. (What’s on yours?)

Summer is never long enough here in thesummer relaxation North Country, but we sincerely appreciate it after our hard winter.

Long-time Fargoans (like me) know that summer is something to be treated with the utmost respect — you’ve got to savor every sweet moment, before it’s gone.

That’s why — as soon as the winter snow melts away, and those gorgeous spring flowers burst into full bloom — I start making a new Summer Bucket List.

Here’s one of my Lists from a few years ago. Yep. I still want to do pretty much everything on that list … all over again!

I rarely complete everything on my list, and still haven’t done the photography lessons I’d hoped for. I’ve made peace with that. But it’s a fun way to get the wheels turning … and sketch out some new plans! At least of few of them become reality, and I think I’d have less of a summer without my bucket list.

In honor of summer, here’s my list for 2014:

1.    Yard games! Grant seems to acquire a new Frisbee-like toy at any child gathering, so we’ve been outdoors tossing them around. I’ve gotten into yard games — like Blongo ball and bean bag tosses. I’m loving a Pinterest board, filled with outdoor game inspiration like water balloon piñatas. I have a feeling my six year old, Grant, would get pretty excited about this glow-in-the-dark lawn bowling idea!

2.    Puppies! Grant has been begging for a dog, pretty much since he could say the word “dog.” We’ve decided that he needs to wait until he’s eight … but in the meantime, we’ll be teaching him about pet care by volunteering at the Humane Society. We get to start with the cats.

Like the idea of temporarily taking care of somebody else’s pup, in your own home? Register as a dog sitter on DogVacay.com!

3.    Block parties! I have such happy memories of block parties from my childhood — descending into the street for a friendly BBQ with the neighbors, with packs of kids running through the backyards. We haven’t had a block party in my neighborhood in the ten years I’ve lived in this house and I’m determined to change that!

Here’s a no-brainer guide to throwing a great block party from WikiHow.com. Don’t forget to obtain a permit from your local city officials if you really want to stop traffic.

4.    Road trips! I’m constantly reminding myself (and others) that travel is good medicine. There’s nothing like a trip out of town to see new sites, and recharge the soul. Duluth was Grant’s favorite last year, not for the beautiful view of Lake Superior, but for Adventure Zone, a warehouse filled with bouncy houses, mini-golf and arcade games.

5.    And … everything else. Fruit-infused water, a la Jamie Oliver. (Checked this one off when we hosted Prairie Roots Food Co-op at Catalyst last week!) Cucumber-lime-mint popsicles. New music. Great books. (I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things.) Gardening. (Another check….. big pots of tomatoes and basil are on the patio and Grant has his own special pot for Luke the Cuke.) Dinner parties with friends. As many “unplugged” days as possible. Oh, and definitely THESE from Martha Stewart, brownies with peanut butter ice cream.

So, that’s the List … so far. I’m always willing to add a few more dreams.

What’s on yours?

 

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On Parenting: For Fathers and Mothers

Happy Father’s Day to all good men: family of fourfathers, brothers, uncles, grandpas, colleagues, bosses and friends who help raise us up.

My dad and brothers just returned from a week-long fishing trip to Canada, a tradition that has spanned more than 20 years. It’s been a very rare occurrence for any of my four brothers to miss this trip, which is now expanded to include nephews and even nieces. For my dad, experiences like this were an integral part of parenting. Whether in a fishing boat, a hunting blind or at an athletic event, jokes were shared and lessons were learned. These times were not his only mode of parenting, but they were important.

Gender roles are less defined than in my parent’s days, and we’ve all heard the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

Parenting can be challenging, stretching our hearts, minds and patience like taffy.

And sometimes, as parents, we forget just how rich and abundant our “villages” truly are.

We are blessed to have excellent schools and community resources. I’ve sought out services to help my little guy, Grant, find the learning style that gets him excited and engaged.

Here’s a list of 11 amazing, inspiring and incredibly helpful resources for parents and kids that you might not know about, both online and in our local communities. Many are free!


1. ED.gov. The US Department of Education has compiled a huge collection of resources for parents — covering everything from how to prepare your child for preschool, to tips for kids who are struggling to read, to financial aid planning for college-bound kids.

2. Toporopa.eu. Studies have shown that taking your kids on travel adventures can help improve their grades at school. But if a trip to Europe isn’t going to happen this summer, go on a virtual journey with Toporopa’s cool geography lessons. National Geographic Kids is another great resource with a print magazine and a great website with games and videos.

3. Grammaropolis.com is a neat website that teaches kids about correct grammar. (Heck, most grown-ups could use a refresher course from this site, too!)

4. Get Sweaty. This website provides free, kid-friendly exercise routines … every day! Kids can save up points and redeem them for prizes including iPods! Also check out ChildrenandNature.org and their Let’s GO movement. GO means get outside!

5. Kids Bowl Free. Over 8.2 million kids have participated in this nation-wide program and have gotten to go bowling, for free! I also noticed that our local bowling alley has a $25 summer pass. What a great deal for parents!

6. Free gardening workshops. Grant and I planted a container garden last weekend, and his special plant is Luke the Cuke. Gardening is a stress reliever for most people and it’s great to introduce kids at a young age. I had no idea that The Home Depot holds free, all-ages classes on gardening, nearly every weekend!

7. Activity Village. This site has been curating free puzzles, games and print-at-home coloring pages for kids since 2000! Enough to keep your kid occupied for a decade (or at least … a rainy Sunday afternoon! :)

8. Insure Kids Now. Depending on your income, your child may qualify for free or low-cost health insurance coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn about programs in your state, here. If you’re in ND, Dakota Medical Foundation is a great resource for information on the Healthy Steps program.

9. Babysitting Cooperatives. To save money on sitters, many parents are forming Babysitting Cooperatives — taking turns sitting multiple kids at a time, in exchange for childcare and other services (like yardwork or cooking). This website helps parents form Coops, keep track of people’s schedules and issue automatic reminders for upcoming sitting appointments. (It’s not totally free, but it might as well be. Access is less than $10 a year.)

10. Breadvault.com is a great site for teaching kids about money. It has sections titled It Pays to Save, It Pays to Invest and It Pays to Give.

And last but not least…

11. Counseling for parents. Google the phrase “free counseling for parents” and “[name of your city]”, and you might be surprised to discover just how many emotional healthcare specialists offer free and low-cost services. Parents are only human, and sometimes, humans need help! Don’t be afraid to seek expert guidance, if your responsibilities are feeling overwhelming.

Parenting can be intense, but with all of the resources out there, there’s no need to feel alone.

Whether you’re looking online, or reaching out to a friend, family member or neighbor, help is close at hand.

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A Few Not So Fun Things About Summer and How To Deal With Each One

“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”
— Anita Roddick

Anita is right: little things can have a big
mosquito biteimpact on our communities and individual lives — for better or for worse! Anyone who has ever spent a sleepless night mercilessly scratching away at bug bites knows what I’m talking about!

With summer finally arrived, here’s a list of 5 things that make summer life tough— and how to prevent (or alleviate) each one:

1.    Bug bites. You’re savoring a farm-to-table meal with your family, outside on the patio, and every bite is a nibble of pure heaven. That is, until a swarm of bugs descend and want a bite of you. Or a walk in the wood leaves you covered with ticks. Or you perhaps you do not even know you’ve been bitten. You may end up with red itchy bumps and a few sleepless nights, but there can be some truly dangerous consequences such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Malaria is also mosquito-borne.

DEET-based repellants are the gold standard, and EPA has maintained that they are safe. Picardin and IR3535 are some other options. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that these steps to ensure that you’re applying bug spray in the safest way possible include:

•    Spray over clothing and shoes, rather than directly onto the skin.
•    Never apply bug sprays over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
•    Do not apply on hands or near the eyes and mouth, especially of young children.
•    Do not allow young children to apply DEET products themselves.
•    After returning indoors, wash bug spray-treated skin with soap and water.
•    Heavy application is not necessary to achieve protection, so apply it sparingly.
•    Do not spray in enclosed areas.
•    Some bug spray products cannot be used on children under three years old, so always check the label to make sure.

You can also check out www.prairiehomestead.com for all-natural bug repellants that you can make at home with ingredients like vinegar, citronella, rosemary, basil and vodka. While most of us want to avoid chemicals, it’s a tough call since the insect-borne diseases are very serious.

2. Allergies. Nothing ruins a summer picnic like a torrent of sneezing, wheezing, dribbling and hacking. For occasional allergies, over-the-counter remedies like Claritin and Zyrtec can help.

But if your allergies are intense and persistent, schedule an appointment and ask for an intradermal skin test or blood test to identify what you’re allergic to. You may be able to avoid certain things that trigger you.

From there, your doctor can suggest the best form of care for you: drops or tablets to dissolve under the tongue, allergy shots, or prescription and over-the-counter meds. Salt water nasal rinses can flush out offenders before they have a chance to bind to your cells and make them react. You can buy pre-made Ocean or Ayr, or contact me for a recipe to make it yourself.

3. Headaches. You’re perched on a porch swing, sipping iced tea. Everything is wonderful … except for that darn headache that just won’t quit!

Most headaches can be prevented by getting good sleep, sipping plenty of water, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, but if headaches are a recurring nightmare for you, see your doctor for advice.  If you have a severe, sudden headache, seek emergency care.

If you want to take preventive action, check out Dr. Romie’s wisdom. Dr. Romila Mushtaq is an integrative neurologist who encourages people to try herbal remedies like butterbur and feverfew, along with acupuncture, magnesium supplements, regular exercise, and stress reduction. Read her top headache relief tips right here on her website www.BrainBodyBeauty.com.

4. Heatstroke. Feeling dizzy, light-headed or disoriented? Got muscle cramps? A rapid heartbeat? Running a high fever? You might be suffering from heatstroke. Stop reading this blog post and seek medical attention, now!

In all seriousness, heatstroke is a very dangerous situation. If you suspect you’ve got heatstroke, call the paramedics immediately. While you wait for them to arrive, wet your skin with a cool washcloth, apply ice packs to your armpits, groin, neck and back, or immerse your entire body in a shower or tub filled with cool water. The key is to lower your core body temperature, as quickly as possible.

The key to preventing heatstroke? Keep well-hydrated and stay out of the heat as best you can.

5. Stress. Bugs can be repelled. Allergies can be managed. Headaches can be cured.  Heatstroke can be easily prevented. But stress can ruin even the most beautiful summer day. And the most frustrating part is … it’s usually self-imposed.

If you’re the kind of person who feels terrible for not finishing everything on that to-do list … or feels guilty for taking a vacation … or guilty for NOT taking a vacation … try to let it all go. Holding onto stress has serious physical consequences for your heart health, your quality of sleep, your hormones and even your waistline.

Remember the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen: consistent, perpetual self-improvement. Little by little. Every day.

Your summer doesn’t have to be “perfect” — and neither do you.

Let your summer be perfectly-imperfect and Wabi-Sabi beautiful.

(Occasional) bug bites and all.

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