Healthy Concepts

Volunteering is an unselfish activity where an individual or group of people provide service for no financial gain. Volunteering can also be an opportunity to develop a skill or improve one’s quality of life. Yet, what truly motivates someone to volunteer? Why do people give their time, money and talent to get involved?

Some people volunteer because it meets a personal need. This could mean completing community service, or their company has an expectation of their employees to give back through volunteering, or even as a way to meet other people, expand their resources or utilize networks for personal or professional gain. Volunteering also provides a social opportunity and the chance to meet new friends. In any of these situations, the organization receiving the volunteers benefits by the utilization of free services and advice when needed.

The strongest form of volunteering comes when someone has a personal belief and passion for a cause. Passion is a strong motivator for someone who wants to volunteer, and is the driving force that connects individuals with organizations they believe in. Often times, people are willing to sacrifice more to give back when they are enthusiastic about what they are doing. When someone becomes truly passionate about a cause, this is when an organization has truly connected with someone on the strongest personal level and gains the most from their volunteer.

It’s too easy to say that you don’t have time to volunteer, or it’s really not your thing! There are hundreds of organizations, in every community, that could use help to improve lives and make a difference. From simple, one-time opportunities to more complicated, skill-based activities, everyone has something to share that can make a significant impact. Ask yourself, “If I could get paid to do anything in the world, what would I want to do?” This doesn’t have to be a job, it can be a hobby that you enjoy doing. When you have the answer to that question, you can begin connecting yourself with volunteer opportunities. If you love to run, you could consider volunteering at a race event. If you enjoy traveling, this could be your opportunity to look into mission work. Volunteer opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, just like people and the passions they encompass.

If you want to get involved but don’t know where to start, consider what nonprofit organizations or groups in your community connect with your skills and passions. A simple search on Google can help you get started. For example, I love to sew and quilt so I searched online “volunteer sewing in Appleton, WI.” I immediately found a number of opportunities where I could get involved through existing projects and groups who sew quilts, blankets, aprons, pillowcases, doll clothes and so much more for charitable causes and nonprofit organizations. I had no idea how easy it was to find opportunities in our area.

The YMCA of the Fox Cities is a great place to begin your search. Their Togetherhood® Program gives people the opportunity to participate in meaningful community service projects that benefit people and organizations right here in our neighborhood. Togetherhood is not about the Y, but rather serves as a conduit to projects that improve the community. Members, and the passions they have, are what drive various service projects. This is a way for you to start small as you navigate the waters of volunteerism.

There is no better time to start your search than now. Grab a friend, find your passion and commit to a cause. Just think what an incredible difference you can make in your community and the positive and lasting effect it will have on you. 


As an instructor in the aerial arts I notice a big reoccurring issue with women entering the sport. A woman will finally get up the courage to try pole or silks and after her first class she says, “I’m just not good at it.” And my head explodes.

Why is there an expectation that you should be good at something you are trying for the first time? The aerial arts are challenging. Flying in the air is a lot harder than running or doing an activity that makes some sense with what you already do on a day-to-day basis. Pole, hoop, hammock and silks are not things you do on a daily basis. They require strength and coordination in a different combination than anything else you do. So it always blows me away that women are disappointed that they aren’t immediately Cirque Du Soleil quality performers.

We need to treat ourselves the same way we treat the people we love when they are trying new things. We allow the people we love to experiment, try, practice and grow and even fail (gasp!) so why don’t we allow ourselves that? For example, if your child was trying to ride a bike for the very first time and they needed training wheels or you to help hold them up, would you tell them, “You’re just not good at this”? No! So why say that to yourself?

What makes me super sad is that women often will quit after that one try because they don’t feel good enough. After their comment of, “I’m just not good at it,” I always ask if they had fun and they often say, “I loved it, it was so much fun.” So if they loved it the reason they don’t come back is because they didn’t feel good enough. If your child didn’t ride around the block on their bike the first time they tried it would you want them to quit? No! If they had any joy in it you’d encourage them to try again until they were able to ride around the block. So why won’t you give yourself that same time and freedom to learn?

It is extremely sad to let not feeling good enough at the beginning of something stop you from pursuing it. Think of the activities you truly love — how many were you good at your first attempt? Did you sound like Liberace the first time you played piano? Were your first rows of crochet even and perfect? No! That is why you practiced!

Most of the activities that we enjoy in life are the things that didn’t come naturally to us. Think hard about what your favorite activities are and how you worked to get good at them. Now, think about when you started those activities. How many “new” loves have you found in the past year or two? How frequently are you giving yourself time to fail, learn and grow? For most of us, as we age, we are less willing to put in the work and be in the uncomfortable space of “not good” while we learn something new so we cease conquering new activities. We gravitate toward the activities that aren’t challenging and we can feel competent at quickly. Would you encourage your kid to only pursue activities that came easily to them?

Give yourself time. If you enjoy an activity but it is hard, work with an instructor and practice. Set yourself a small goal so you can see improvement and then celebrate that small goal as you set a bigger goal. Remember that you are worth taking time for. It’s OK to work on the same move for many months if it means you are exploring yourself and growing in the process. By working on things that don’t come easily you’re growing more than by taking the safe route. The best moments of your life will be when you allow yourself the time to be way outside your comfort zone for as long as it takes to make what was something you’re “not good” at something you are proud of. 

Beat the summer heat with vibrant, vivid herbal teas and refreshments! You can keep cool all summer long using fresh or dried herbs and water. Many delicious combinations can easily be made in the home kitchen. Growing a few of your favorite herbs and edible flowers will make these recipes super simple to make at any time throughout the summer months.

Herbal teas are easy to make and are delicious, although, technically not tea. Tea is used to describe the tea plant, camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are more appropriately called tisanes, a fancy word for an herbal infusion. Commonly used parts of the plant to infuse into water are leaves, flowers and berries. To make a tisane, add 1-3 tablespoons of dried herbal material, or up to a handful of fresh herbs to a steeping vessel. Boil 8 ounces of water and pour over the herbs. Steep 15 minutes, strain herb material and sweeten to taste.

The easiest way to enjoy fresh herbs is by adding a few sprigs to water along with cucumber or slices of fruit. Mint is a favorite herb used this way along with fresh citrus. There are several varieties of mint to grow, including: peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, mojito mint, etc. Pick your favorite and add it to ice water with lemon, lime, or orange slices, watermelon, or infuse alone in water. Lemon balm is another herb in the mint family that pairs perfectly with ice water, imparting a subtle lemon flavor.

Check out some of these refreshing herbal recipes.

Hibiscus Mint Cooler

Hibiscus is a beautiful summer flower that makes the most delightful, bright red tea. Children and adults alike will love this red herbal ‘Kool-Aid’ replacement. Peach leaf is a great addition to summer teas as it is cooling to the body.

  • ½ cup hibiscus, dried
  • ¼ cup rose hips, dried
  • ¼ cup lemongrass, dried
  • ½ cup spearmint, dried
  • 3 tablespoons peach leaf, dried
  • Raw honey, to taste

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and steep, covered for 30 minutes. Strain and add enough cold water and ice cubes to equal 1 gallon. Pour into your favorite cocktail glass and drink through a stainless-steel straw!

Herbal Flower Ice Cubes

Any herbal tisane recipe can be frozen and made into ice cubes or popsicles. Add sliced fruit or edible flowers, such as borage, calendula, nasturtium, rose, violet, pansy or bee balm for a lovely touch!

Place one or more edible flowers in each square of an ice cube tray. Fill with filtered water and freeze. Enjoy in tea, lemonade or punch!

Strawberry Mint Sorbet

Any of the mints listed above can also be made into an extract and blended with fresh strawberries to make a sorbet that is out of this world. To make the mint extract, simply add fresh or dried mint to fill a glass jar half full. Add vodka or brandy to fill the jar and leave about one inch of headspace. Let sit four to six weeks and strain. Use to flavor baked goods, mixed drinks or ice cream. Yum!

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries
  • 1 teaspoon mint extract
  • ½ cup honey

Puree until smooth, run in an ice cream maker for 15 minutes. Serve immediately or freeze for later use.

Blueberry Maple Syrup Switchel

Switchels, commonly referred to as haymaker’s punch in years past, are an invigorating vinegar and honey drink made to quench the thirst from a hard day’s work. Made with vinegar, honey, and herbs or fruit, there are endless variations to the recipe. Enjoy with fresh or frozen berries after a long summer day.

  • 1 quart of filtered water
  • ¼ cup of maple syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Mix everything in a glass serving pitcher. Refrigerate overnight.

Be sure to keep notes of which recipes you make or you’ll be scratching your head later trying to remember what you put in that delicious drink. Enjoy any of these recipes all summer long. You’re sure to find a cooling herbal blend that suits your tastes and keeps you hydrated. 

Children in North America will spend, on average, more than 900 hours attending school in a given year. The average school year in the United States lasts 1,016 hours, the equivalent of 42 continuous days. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, many developed countries begin their academic years in September and end them in June. Some, like Australia, feature four terms with two-week breaks in between each term. Others go to school for most of the year — with various holiday breaks in between — and then get the bulk of their time off during the summer.

As much time as kids spend in school, there will be times when they are left to their own devices, and during these times it’s easy for them to forgot classroom lessons. Sometimes called “summer learning loss” or “summer slide,” this forgetfulness sees many students fail to retain all of their lessons over prolonged breaks from school. Studies indicate that students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer compared to their performance on the same tests at the beginning of summer. Anywhere from between one to three month’s worth of educational achievement can dissipate during prolonged breaks from the classroom. To help ensure that those hard-earned lessons are not so easily forgotten, parents can help children remain intellectually engaged in various ways over school breaks.

Stick to a schedule. Try to maintain a schedule similar to school, with children waking at the same time each day and going to bed at similar hours. This will make it much easier to get back into a routine when a new school year begins.

Encourage reading. Set aside time for reading each day. All it generally takes is 15 to 30 minutes of reading per day for kids to remember their vocabulary lessons and maintain their fluency and comprehension skills. Children may enjoy picking their own books rather than having a required reading list.

Keep a math book handy. On long car trips or rainy days, children can do a few math problems to keep their skills sharp. This will help keep learning loss to a minimum. Math workbooks may be available at bookstores, or parents can look online or ask a teacher for a summer to-do packet.

Plan educational trips. Vacations and day trips can be fun, entertaining and educational all at the same time. Science centers, museums and living history locations can bring to life information learned in the classroom, even on family vacations.

Learn at camp. Many children attend camp for a portion of their school breaks. Look for camps that do not simply babysit children, but engage them through enrichment activities.

Take a class. Children and families can learn together by exploring new skills. Enroll in something educational and enjoyable, such as a music or dance class, a STEM seminar or something else that engages the mind and body. This gives everyone a chance to learn something new and have a great time together as a family.

Parents and educators can reduce lesson loss over school breaks by encouraging families to remain intellectually engaged in any way they can. 

Do you ever feel that you are simply “stuck” in your workouts? Maybe you’ve been focusing on losing 15 pounds and you saw results in the first couple of weeks, but now you’ve sort of leveled out. Or perhaps you are training for a competitive event in a few months, but your workouts seem to be growing stagnant — you aren’t getting any faster and you tend to feel burdened by the effort rather than energized. Simply trying harder and doing more hasn’t worked. Ever wonder why?

In their book “The Plateau Effect,” authors Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson have combined their analytical expertise to provide us (“us” being the regular people who don’t solve differential equations for fun!) with an understanding that our bodies and minds are prone to falling into frustrating ruts. Though everyone experiences these ruts from time to time, to get out of them it helps to understand a little about how we are wired. The book provides thought-provoking examples, stories and case studies and is in itself a treasure trove of insight, but it’s their critical point that really hits home — “just because you do something that works doesn’t mean doing more of it will work even better.” Whether you end up reading their book or not, this concept will help you realize that you have to change things up in order to get out of your workout rut. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Think movement, not muscle

Whether you are an athlete or just trying to stay in shape, to get the most out of your training sessions try focusing on the development of movements instead of muscles. Muscles do not work in isolation. They work synergistically, with multiple muscle groups, to create the desired movement. Think about your ability to pick up your toddler-aged children or grandchildren. This requires an integration of many muscle groups. You could spend countless hours at the gym training each muscle in isolation by doing bicep curls and tricep extensions, but we aren’t Frankensteins made up of a hodge-podge of leftover parts. Instead, try including full-body movements in your workouts like squats, kettlebell swings, pushups and rows. Not only will this save you a lot of time at the gym, but you will be training your body to function in the ways it was designed. On this note, here’s some advice from the authors of the book:

“Running on a treadmill can’t hold a candle to running on a golf course. Bench press exercises on a universal gym don’t do nearly as much as lifting free weights. And that stomach-crunch rolly thing isn’t worth the $9.95 shipping and handling you paid for it. Why? Because all these gadgets work to isolate individual muscle groups. That’s fine if you want one very strong muscle in your life. But if you want to be healthy, you have to play outside. You have to let your body struggle with all the variety, surprise and diversity that nature affords.”

Do Less, not more (Seriously!)

I have a non-running friend who told me about a book he heard about called Run Less, Run Faster and immediately commented that, based on that theory (and the fact he never runs), he should be winning his age group every time. Though I laughed at his joke, it does seem counterintuitive to some extent. Sometimes you need to do less of something to benefit more. Steady state cardio (keeping a steady pace jogging or on the elliptical machine) will technically burn more fat during the exercise compared to higher intensity movements like kettlebell swings or squats. However, the fat burn will drop back to normal levels as soon as the steady state cardio has been completed. On the flip side, the high intensity effort of the kettlebell swing creates a metabolic effect in the body that keeps your metabolism heightened for a longer period post-exercise, resulting in an overall greater fat burn.

If you have fallen into a workout rut, it’s probably because your body has gotten numb to its current routine and it’s not responding anymore. The time to change things up is NOW. Try something new. Sign up for the class you’ve been hearing about. Meet with a coach to develop a new plan for meeting your goal. Nike may have created a catchy slogan with “Just Do It” but when you consider the science behind “The Plateau Effect” perhaps “Do Different” would be more helpful in staying motivated. 

My business is about helping people stay healthy even as they age. I have concluded from my own experience that there are just three things that cause most of the health problems that we acquire, if we are born healthy:

  1. What you eat
  2. How much you move
  3. How you think

I usually cover what you eat in my articles. I personally exercise daily but there is lots of information available about the health benefits of exercise and the dangers of being sedentary.

There is not so much written about how you think and how it affects your health. How you think and what you believe has a major impact on your health. I recently read a little book I got from Amazon for my Kindle. The title of the book is “Simple Self-Healing: The Magic of Autosuggestion.” The ideas for the book came from a French psychologist named Emil Coue. The original book was published in 1922. The current book has additional comments by Cyrus Harry Brooks. In a nutshell he says we have a conscious mind of which we are aware but we also have a subconscious mind of which we are not aware. This subconscious mind is responsible for our breathing and keeps our heart beating along with the operation of all our organs. We don’t consciously try to keep our hearts beating.

It is in this subconscious mind, unknown to us, where we create habits for health and/or sickness. This was known in ancient times, but with modern science and drugs for every illness, that information has been lost. Modern science is now rediscovering the lost understanding.

Autosuggestion, according to Emil Coue, can heal most diseases or at least make them less bothersome. This is done by saying — every day, 20 times — to oneself, “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.” What you are doing is reprogramming your subconscious to support health rather than illness. This must be done without any effort from your will. The use of willpower prevents it from working.

I recommend you read the book. You can find on Amazon or Google the words, “Simple Self-Healing, Emil Coue” for more information. I have an extra copy of the book at Natural Expressions Bakery for customers who would like to borrow it. 

Are you finding yourself in the midst of transition? That uncomfortable void where one thing has ended and the new has not yet begun? Transitions are often preceded by loss. It could be the loss of a loved one through a passing, the end of a love relationship or the loss of employment. Transitions can also follow important milestones, such as a move to another town, a new place of employment or our children leaving the nest. Anytime we find ourselves asking, “Now what?” we are probably in a period of transition.

Transitions by their very nature are uncomfortable places to be. As humans, we like routine and predictability. We love to know that tomorrow will bring the same steadiness and comfort that today has delivered. We spend a great deal of energy trying to avoid the discomfort of not knowing.

For most of us, transitions are the place we want to avoid hanging out. We stay in relationships long after they are healthy for us in an effort to avoid the unknown and uncomfortable possibility of having to navigate this world alone. We try to hold on to our children as they prepare to leave the nest. We stay in jobs that no longer feed our soul, because starting over somewhere new, making new friends and learning new tasks, seems too daunting. Living life in this protective, yet half alive state feels less scary than jumping feet first into the unknown.

If we cannot find a way to avoid it, we try to rush our way through it. Those transitions that are pushed on us are often the most difficult to navigate and are the ones that challenge our spirit the most. The death of a loved one, the end of a relationship we were not ready to see end, losing a job that we loved, chronic illness, those are the places where the void can be felt the hardest. Often times, it leaves us on the floor, devastated, scared and alone. We want to rush through it and get to the other side. We jump prematurely into new relationships, we find unhealthy coping strategies as we try to numb out the pain and fear of the unknown. There is, however, a way to navigate through the void in a way that honors what was and prepares us to be in a healthy place for what is to come.

Now that you are finding yourself here in transition, what are some strategies you could employ to make this place of transition be the place of rebirth and a newly expanded version of you? Ready to claim your new reality and jumping at the chance to say “Yes!” to the next phase of your life?

Honor your feelings of loss. All losses are difficult. Children heading off to college is of course a wonderful event, but that does not mean that there isn’t also the loss of family life the way we knew it to be. The end of a relationship, even if the relationship was not a healthy one, is still a painful loss. We mourn the hopes and dreams of the future we imagined. We might have a hard time forgiving ourselves for the demise of the relationship or for staying in it long after it stopped being healthy for us. If we allow ourselves to feel the pain, without the attachment of the painful stories, we can allow our feelings to move through us. Many times we avoid feeling the pain, because we feel as though we may never stop crying. What keeps us trapped in the cycle of pain though, is our reluctance to feel the immensity of it. Loss demands to be felt. If we avoid the feeling, the feeling gets bigger until it becomes overwhelming.

Take this space between not anymore and not yet and dig deep into your own psyche. Learn about yourself. What makes you tick? What makes your heart sing? What scares you? Who are you? Can you feel compassion for yourself? Can you dig a little deeper to find who you are at your core? These are wonderful questions to explore with wise friends, a life coach or therapist. Take this time to really get to know yourself. What are you willing to accept in your next relationship? What is your worth? How deep is your capacity to love yourself? There is so much wisdom and growth to be had in transition, that if we use this time wisely, we can expand and grow and become more fully who we are.

Keep moving forward. If there are things that you have always enjoyed doing, but you lack somebody to do them with now, due to the loss of a loved one or the loss of friends, do them anyway! Yes, the first time you go to a movie by yourself might feel awkward to you. Going on your first solo road trip feels vulnerable and a bit scary. What will happen though, is that when you do the things you were afraid to do alone, your confidence grows, your capacity to find joy in your life grows. Happiness and self-reliance should never be attached to other people. They truly are an inside job. Think of the pride that will be the reward. Imagine how much more alive you will feel! How much bigger your world will be! Every time we shrink back in fear, our world gets a little smaller. Every time we step boldly out of our comfort zone, our life expands.

Try something new! Is there something you have always wanted to learn, but were unable to do so in the relationship as a busy mom or with a demanding work schedule? Use this time to experiment. Sign up for classes, join a women’s group or a book club. Find a community to be a part of. Yes, walking that path alone can be difficult and awkward. Any new situation is only a new situation the first time you do it. Afraid of entering that yoga class alone? You will enter it for the first time only once. Does that not already make the thought of doing it feel easier? Every person in that class had to walk through that door the first time — once.

Yes, transitions are hard. When they are over, we are happy that they are over. Would it not feel wonderful though, to look back at what was a painful transition and be able to say to yourself, yes! That void was the birthplace of me! That lonely place is where I found myself. That transition propelled me into a bigger and bolder version of me. I rose to the occasion and the universe met me there.

Paddleboarding, which involves participants standing on a paddleboard or surfboard and using their arms to paddle through the ocean, is an increasingly popular recreational activity.

Often seen as a relaxing way to spend a peaceful day on the water, paddleboarding might provide some hidden health benefits. The following are just a few potential health benefits of paddleboarding.

Stress reduction: According to the American Psychological Association, in 2015 a greater percentage of adults reported feeling extreme levels of stress than in 2014. Many paddleboarding enthusiasts acknowledge the soothing qualities of paddleboarding, and a 2016 study published in the academic journal “Health & Place” found that increased views of blue space, including oceans, can be linked to lower levels of psychological distress.

Exercise: While it might not be high-intensity exercise, paddleboarding is exercise and can provide an avenue for otherwise sedentary men, women and children to begin increasing their levels of physical activity. Muscles in legs get a workout when paddleboarding, as these muscles are tasked with holding the body steady. In the meantime, core abdominal muscles also get a workout as they work to maintain the body’s balance. And of course, muscles in the arms, back and shoulders are needed for paddling. While paddleboarding may not qualify as vigorous a cardiovascular or strength-training exercise, it does provide a low-impact way for participants to engage muscles throughout their bodies.

Balance: Paddleboarding can be a relaxing activity, but those paddleboarders who are most relaxed are the ones with great balance. Fortunately, paddleboarding can help men, women and children improve their balance because it requires a stable core and strong legs. While novice paddleboarders might struggle to stay upright at first, in time they’re likely to notice their balance is improving.

Vitamin D: Human skin produces vitamin D in response to sunlight, which paddle boarders get plenty of. Vitamin D serves a host of functions in the body that can promote short- and long-term health. Vitamin D facilitates normal immune system function, which can help paddleboarders fight off disease and infection. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a host ailments, including diabetes, as inadequate amounts of vitamin D can cause insulin resistance. In addition, in 2014, researchers at the University of Georgia, the University of Pittsburgh and the Queensland University of Technology in Australia uncovered a link between vitamin D deficiency, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and a lack of sunlight. A type of depression related to changes in season, SAD affects millions of people across the globe.

Paddleboarding enthusiasts may not know, but this increasingly beloved activity may be greatly benefitting their overall health.

Turns out our mothers were right: “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Tell me if this has happened to you. You are leaving for an appointment or an errand and the papers or items you need to bring are nowhere to be found. Maybe you’ve lost track of items in the pantry and you’re in the middle of a recipe and realize you don’t have enough flour, sugar or whatever it is you need.

Have you wasted money purchasing something only to find out there are duplicates at home?

Could clutter be the culprit? Pantries, closets and the kitchen table are prime areas for clutter. When there isn’t a dedicated spot for the clutter items then it’s time to rethink and redirect your stuff.

It all starts with a pile. You lay some papers down telling yourself “I’ll deal with this later.” The pile grows and grows. It becomes a magnet for more stuff like magazines, maybe a book or your children’s artwork.

Organizing as a whole is big business. Books, magazines and stores are cashing in on our need to be organized. Nearly everyone I meet tells me how unorganized they are but they don’t take the next step and get help.

A few tips to cut the clutter that plagues us all

Everyone has time to get it right. Your paper pile that became a huge stack started because there wasn’t time to take care of it. If you aren’t going to deal with the mail immediately then don’t open it until you are ready. Then with a recycling bag, shredder and file system in place you may open the mail. The mail is full of fliers that may not interest you. Shred or rip it up and recycle.

Open the bills and put into a file that says “To Pay.” That file should be readily available so bills are paid on time. Even better is to have your computer open and do your bill paying right then and there. Mark the paper bills “Paid” and file away.

I’ve simplified my filing system over the years. I used to file each individual bill into its corresponding folder. Not anymore. I have a basket that I put all receipts and paid bills. I rarely need to pull them out until tax time. When I purchase something with the thought of possibly returning it that receipt does not go into the basket. I tack it to the bulletin board until I keep or return item. Then I file the receipt if needed at tax time or throw it away.

Do you have a system in place that works well — when you use it? I have a client who doesn’t open his mail. He’ll mainly open the school mail so he’s aware of the kids’ schedules and events. How does he pay his bills? That’s set up in his computer. Paying bills is not the problem. Piling bills in a box, on the flo or or worse on the dining room table is the problem. It accumulates faster than dust. Then I swoop in to open and shred and file. Thankfully we have a sense of humor and have a good laugh through the process. Having a system, any system, is great when you use it.

Think about your process with all of the incoming paperwork. Do you procrastinate because there is no system in place? File folders may be your first step. Label them in ways that make sense to you. File in the order of importance. What needs your attention now? What can wait?

Spring cleaning does not mean April and May only. Deep cleaning can happen anytime of the year and anywhere in the home. The thought of doing the whole house in a short period of time can be daunting. Clutter collects all over the house so spring clean one room at a time, one closet at a time or even one drawer at a time. Rummage sales are born from spring cleaning.

I personally love the process and results of deep cleaning. Cleaning out a drawer can be done while talking on the phone. Have a trash can handy and a “give-away” bag ready.

I remember hearing this adage a long time ago: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Each drawer, cupboard or closet is your one bite at a time. The experience will pleasantly surprise you with accomplishment and peace of mind.

When the spring cleaning overwhelms you there are people you can hire to help. Maybe all it takes is someone showing you how to set up a system that fits your personality and lifestyle. The goal would be to save you time and money in the long run.

Once you find a place for everything and put everything in its place you can get your mom’s voice out of your head. 

Ah! Summer in Wisconsin. We wait all year to languish in the long days of sunlight, squeezing in as much as we can until the last ray has disappeared into the night. The kids are out of school, schedules have adjusted and sleeping patterns are usually adjusted. Most of us have an understanding of the importance of sleep and how sleep deprivation can impact our health, so let’s take a deeper look at the importance of sleep, the effect of extended daylight on an individual’s circadian rhythm, just what a circadian biological clock is and how hormones play a factor in all of this.

Circadian rhythm

Let’s start with a few explanations. Circadian rhythm is your body’s biological clock, timing periods of wakefulness and sleepiness throughout the 24-hour day. This clock was set hundreds of years ago in concurrence with the Earth’s daily rotation. The patterns of daylight, darkness, temperature and predatory activity affected almost every organism on Earth, including humans. Our circadian rhythm is controlled by a grouping of cells within the hypothalamus of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is connected to the optic nerve and is stimulated by changes in light. (People who are completely blind can develop a sleep disorder called Non-24 because of their inability to perceive light.) The SCN also controls many other functions of the body that revolve around the 24-hour day, such as core body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, metabolism, and the release of certain hormones.

Tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin

Melatonin is one of these hormones influenced by our circadian rhythm. It is made in the brain when tryptophan is converted first to serotonin and then to melatonin. This process takes approximately 15 minutes and it is essential to optimal health. Tryptophan, or L-trypophan, is an essential amino acid found in many of the foods we eat, like turkey, salmon, eggs and nuts. The body does not manufacture tryptophan; we must get this from our food supply or supplements. Serotonin is a calming chemical that works by transmitting signals between nerve cells, altering brain function and preparing for sleep. It is also considered to be a “feel-good” neurotransmitter contributing to a person’s feeling of well-being and happiness. Serotonin is then converted to melatonin and production increases during the night to peak in the early hours of the morning. Melatonin production will drop off after waking as the cortisol hormone takes over and wakes us up in preparation for our day.

Melatonin’s primary role in the body is to regulate the sleep/wake cycle, which many other bodily functions rely on to do their job properly. As mentioned, one of those functions is our metabolism. Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of weight gain. Melatonin has other roles. It has been found to have antioxidant properties and play a significant role in stimulating the immune system to protect against abnormal tissue growth in hormone-dependent areas such as the breasts and prostate. Melatonin also helps to keep the cortisol production pattern in check.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and it is responsible for our fight or flight response. It also helps to control blood sugar and regulate metabolism, amongst other functions. When the cortisol pattern is disrupted, it can lead to high nighttime cortisol (when it should typically be at its lowest levels) and in turn disrupt melatonin production. This sets off a chain of consequences affecting the entire body. So, sleep is critical — good sleep is critical. Maintaining a balanced sleep/wake cycle and circadian rhythm is critical.

Disruptions to the circadian rhythm

There are many things that can cause disruption to the circadian rhythm. Some of them are obvious: stress, shift work, a newborn, jet lag or living in Alaska. There are also circadian rhythm sleep disorders, such as Non-24, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome and Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm. There are also other hormones in your body that affect your sleep cycles. If you are deficient in estrogen and progesterone, you won’t sleep well — along with a whole list of other unpleasant side effects.

This is just one of many facets in “the symphony of hormones.” It truly is a delicate balance and each hormone must be in sync with the rest or we simply don’t feel good, and we can’t achieve optimal health. 

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