All posts by Jennifer C.

Balance. Flow. Integrate… Just live.

The expression Work-Life Balance was coined in 1986 and is defined as a “state of equilibrium in which the demands of both a person’s job and personal life are equal.” Well, for starters, when are work and personal demands ever equal? It seems just when most people’s careers are starting to take-off is about the same time they decide to start a family! Biology and career-planning are inherently at odds if you ask me. You graduate from college at 22, take an entry-level job, work your butt off for 10 years and then your doctor tells you you’d better start thinking about having kids before it’s “too late.” Or, conversely, you have kids when you are in your twenties and don’t enter the workforce full -time until you’re in your thirties and all your chronological peers are three pay-grades ahead of you.

Also, what may feel like balance for one person might be completely out of whack for another. Some people really enjoy spending the bulk of their time pursuing their career goals and to them a 15-hour day flies by. For others (like me), their job is simply a paycheck that allows them to pursue their true passions in other areas of life. Some people want to “lean in” while others are perfectly content to just walk away (there’s me, walking away, see my backside?).

Forbes.com published an article titled, “10 Commitment of People Achieving Successful Work-Life Integration” and it makes some very good points about integrating work and life to achieve what works for them personally. It points out that many women are comparing themselves to other women who may be at a completely different place in life, or with men who have wives or partners who stay home and handle their personal lives. It isn’t possible to have everything all at once and so deciding what is most important to you at any given stage of your life will go a long way in making it easier for you to make the right choices for yourself. Forbes.com also published article telling us Work-Life Balance was OVER and now we are to create a Work-Life Flow, and that was in 2013. See? You just can’t win when you try to label your life.

For me personally, working full-time, going to school part-time, and raising a son can feel overwhelming some days (especially during 6-week condensed courses). My solution has been to start actively seeking part-time work to replace my full-time job. It may increase the amount of debt I have when I finish school next year and maybe it will put me at the end of the line for a promotion at the office, but it is more important to me to be able to spend time with my kid while he still IS a kid and still wants to spend time with me, his mommy. I’ve spent the last twenty-years building a career and while a lot of it has been really enjoyable, I have no qualms with my decision to step back to spend more time at home. There is plenty of time to work since I plan to live to be one hundred. I’m also fortunate to have saved and spent pretty wisely and have already purchased a home and made some other financial plans that ensure security for my son and myself.

I guess the expression Work-Life Balance to me means looking at it over my lifetime, not on a day-to-day basis. I may not have perfect balance on any given day, but looking back on my hundredth birthday, I’m confident I will be able to say I lived the life I wanted to.

It’s fresh, so fresh…

Whether it is a desire to return to simpler times, health concerns over modified crops and pesticides, or plain old financial thriftiness, backyard gardening is experiencing a resurgence. It can be great way to engage the whole family in a project with some tangible rewards – fresh, tasty food!

You don’t need a large yard, or any yard at all, to start a garden. There are ways to grow delicious, healthy vegetables in pots on a sunny doorstep, balcony, or patio. Some people even prefer container gardening because it requires less weeding and pots can be mixed and matched for a fun look. You can be fresh and fashionable. Sweet!

If you are like me and enjoy fresh food from the garden but are too busy to actually do all the planting and harvesting yourself, you can hire someone to do it for you. A Backyard Farm is a local company that does everything from building the raised beds to planting, weeding, and harvesting all those nutritious veggies for you. You’re still getting the benefit without all the back-breaking labor. Nice!

The latest craze in backyard gardening is actually backyard farming: raising your own chickens. People have found that raising chickens can be a fun and rewarding way to have fresh eggs whose taste puts store-bought to shame. Just remember, chickens stop producing eggs after about five years but they have a lifespan of about twenty. You will need to decide if you want to continue to keep you cute little chickie-poo as a pet or turn her into a fricassee at the end of her egg-bearing years. And don’t forget to check with your city government about local ordinances – not every city allows backyard chickens.

If you aren’t really into gardening or even lawn maintenance, you can still reap some benefits from the things that grow in your yard. Did you know there are delish dishes that can be made from those pesky weeds you keep neglecting to pull?

One last option if you love fresh food but have no interest digging through the dirt to find it is purchasing a share in a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and picking up your fresh produce at a drop-off point every week. CSAs are also a great way to try veggies you normally wouldn’t since you get a share of everything they grow all season long. Most CSAs will provide you with recipes for those weird, purple things you can’t identify, too. Or stop by your local farmers market for the freshest pick of your favorites.

Whatever you do, make sure you take advantage of all the fresh and healthy food your Minnesota farmers have to offer all year round!

Cook. Play. Connect.

Healthy kids are successful kids. According to the CDC, “Health-related factors such as hunger, physical and emotional abuse, and chronic illness can lead to poor school performance.” Physical inactivity and poor nutrition is resulting in childhood obesity at an alarming rate – it has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Obesity can result in other chronic ailments and contributes to depression. It may also prevent children from trying new activities for fear of being judged or made fun of by their peers. It is a dangerous epidemic that we need to stop.

It’s easy to point fingers and blame fast-food, lack of PhyEd programming in schools, and video games as the culprits, but the truth is many times the problem lies closer to home. Many parents simply don’t take the time to plan and cook nutritious meals or take the kids out for a long walk or a bike ride after dinner. They aren’t instilling healthy habits into their children. Yes, I know we are all busy trying to make ends meet. I’m a single mother – I get it. But if you make time to cook (most) meals at home and ensure your child engages in daily activities like biking or walking, playing outside or at indoor parks with friends, or swimming at the local pool, those things start to add up to a healthier, and more engaged, life. And your relationship with your child might just become closer and stronger to boot.

My son isn’t an organized-sports fanatic and frankly either am I, but he has found a niche with TaeKwonDo and swimming and he participates in those activities year-round. I limit video game time and the only television he watches is the occasional movie, usually with me, on the weekends. Is it hard to maintain and enforce these standards? Sometimes. But it would be harder to watch my son grow up living an unhealthy lifestyle.

We cannot control what our children do once they leave the nest, but for the short time that I do have a say over how my son spends his time and what he puts in his body, I’m going to make sure he has an opportunity to be healthy and active and hopefully those habits will stay with him into adulthood. Making dinner and making memories with your kid is way more fun than making excuses, too!

Here are a couple great resources for how to involve your kids in cooking at home, engaging in healthy activity together with your kids, and facts on how to prevent childhood obesity. For more information, just Google “healthy kids” and peruse the millions of hits you will get. Or join the movement!

 

“Weird” New Trick Really Works!

When is the last time you were minding your own business, surfing the web and chatting up your posse on FB when – POW! – you were assaulted with breaking news about a “WEIRD” new diet secret that will allow you to lose inches, neigh yards, of disgusting fat – overnight! Without exercise! While you sleep!

Well our good friends at US Diet Guide would have you believe there has been yet another “miracle” drug that when “Taken reguarly (sic) for at least 1 week, this weird fruit-based ingredient has been clinically proven to not just rapidly erase fat but produce a host of other benefits.” Finally! I’m SO tired of exercise and eating right, I’d much rather just go ahead and “erase” my fat to achieve the body of my dreams. What took them so long to discover this “weird, cool secret?” Any why is it always a secret? And what makes it so weird?

The site also claims, “…the Garcinia Cambogia Formula encourages weight loss and increases energy whilst the Miracle Coffee Bean helps rid your body of toxins and allows your body to work and burn calories more efficiently.” So, basically, it makes you poop. Great, that is just how I want to lose weight, through my butt. That is so much easier than going for a walk and winning the stare-down with that last cupcake. (And really, whilst? Is Princess Kate using it or what?)

I have read enough scientific studies (those would be studies based in science, not studies touted by Dr. Oz, TV doctor to the rich and hefty (sorry, Oprah, I love you, but Dr. Oz is a joke)) to know that our bodies are complex organisms for which there is no “miracle” weight-loss “cure.” And the scientific studies don’t all agree with one another either, in fact most of them disagree with one another which makes for a lot of reading for me, but they do all agree that there ain’t no “miracle” weight-loss cures that come in a convenient 30-day supply. Managing our weight is more complex than taking a pill or drinking a shake or, sadly, even just pooping a lot. What works for some may not work for others, but taking a pill that jacks up your metabolism or suppresses your appetite for a few hours doesn’t work for anybody. It just makes you a hyper-crabby-pants-a-hole by the end of the day. The saddest part of this whole thing is the weight-loss industry is bilking the public out of millions of dollars every year by preying on people in their quest for unattainable bodies. (Money they could be spending on buying my next book.) So, next time you’re tempted to try some “weird” new weight-loss trick, try taking a walk instead. Weird, I know.

Hunger

When you hear the word hunger, what do you think of? If you’re like most people, you think of that empty feeling in you have in the pit of your stomach sometime between your bowl of Cheerios at 8:00 AM and your turkey sandwich at noon. But hunger has another definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a strong desire for something or to do something.” For people trying to solve the problem of food insecurity in our community, it is that second definition that drives them. Providing for the immediate needs of hungry families is an absolute necessity, but solving the underlying problems that lead to food insecurity, and the problems that are a result of it, is an even bigger challenge.

Solving the problem of hunger in Minnesota will require more from each of us than buying an extra box of spaghetti at the grocery store and placing it in the bin. Knowing who in your community is at risk or currently suffers from food insecurity is a start. Reaching out to them is the next step. Compassion. Understanding. Communication. These are the things that will help eradicate the stigma that is sometimes associated with food insecurity and will allow those who need help seek it without fear of being shamed or judged in the check-out line at Cub. No one should have to be embarrassed to accept help.

The recession has pushed social services, community service providers, and our food shelves to their very limits. Visits to food shelves by Minnesota seniors has more than quadrupled since 2008 and 1 in 6 Minnesota children live in hunger. There are too many people in need and not enough resources to meet those needs. Innovative programs like Second Harvest Heartland’s Harvest To Home are helping to reduce waste by collecting fresh unsold or un-harvested fruits and vegetables from farmers and farmer’s markets and using them to feed our local, hungry neighbors. Big problems call for big thinkers and big solutions. What are you hungry for?

Liking Biking

It is 8:30 AM as I sit here in my street-level office on Kellogg Boulevard in downtown Saint Paul and I have already seen more than a dozen bikers pass by. Some are dressed for work, some are in full-on Spandex regalia, some with helmets and some without. Biking is for everyone – from 8 to 80 – and city planners are starting to recognize that and design urban areas with biking in the forefront, not as an afterthought.

“Biking to work has increased 60% over the last decade,” according to a report recently released by the US Census Bureau. This is the largest increase in any mode of transportation during that same time period. For those of us who regularly choose to two-wheel it we totally get it and are excited that others are starting get it, too. Biking for transportation can help improve many social ills. From improving cardiovascular health to reducing emissions to bringing people “to the streets” to connect with each other – biking does it all. The report Modes Less Traveled highlights trends in alterative modes of transportation, like biking and walking, and looks at some specifics of why more people are choosing to leave the gas-guzzler in the garage.

Biking to Work graphic
United State Census Bureau

I know why I do it. Biking brings back the feeling of freedom I experienced as a kid on my own first two-wheeled adventure. It may have just been down to the end of the alley and back, but it was the first time I was able to self-propel myself with so much speed and power. It was awesome then and it is still awesome now, some 40-odd years later. Biking is freedom. Biking is empowerment. Biking is inexpensive, healthy, and clean. But mostly, biking is just good old-fashioned fun.