Life balance seems to be an elusive goal for all of us who hold full-time jobs and have family and other responsibilities waiting when we get home. However, it’s not as difficult as you might think to meet this goal of being able to focus equally on all the areas of your life that demand attention. All it takes are three easy steps to help you better focus on yourself and the things you want and need to do. In the interest of making things as balanced as possible, I’ll be focusing on a different step each week for the next three weeks.
Step 1: Simplify Your Life
I look at simplifying as a way of preparing to make your life easier and more efficient. Simplifying your life involves:
- Giving up some control by allow someone else to take the lead once in awhile. You don’t have to immediately start delegating responsibilities – you just have to prepare yourself to be okay with the fact that it’s perfectly normal to ask family, friends, and coworkers to help you out.
- Sharing your priorities. Let those around you know what you need to get done. If your family members or coworkers know how busy you are, and what needs to get accomplished, they can either help you or leave you alone so you can get things done.
- Reducing your number of commitments. Clear out your calendar so you have several free nights each week.
- Redesigning your nights and weekends. Take back your free time by making it your own. Do what you want and need to do during the hours when you’re not at work.
Once you’ve become okay with making things easier on yourself, you’ll be ready to take the next step of reasserting your commitment to the person that matters most – YOU!
When you hear the word fig, you probably think of Fig Newton cookies. Just thinking of the fig in terms of a cookie, however, doesn’t do it justice. Figs are a great snack on their own, and they can be used as a healthy substitute for candy the next time you’re in need of a sweet treat. Figs, most commonly sold in dried form, are lower in sugar than candy, and higher in fiber, too. A quarter cup of dried figs also counts as a serving of fruit, so you can’t go wrong by adding them to your repertoire of healthy treats, or using them to add a little bit of sweetness to your meal.
Black Beans with Figs and Bell Peppers
1 ½ tablespoons corn oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
12 medium dried figs, diced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 15-ounce can low-sodium black beans, rinsed
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, garlic, cumin and cilantro. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Add the diced figs, lemon juice, and brown sugar to the onion-pepper mixture.
3. Add the beans, cover and cook over low heat until the peppers are soft, about 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Serve hot or chilled. Serves 4.
Recipe adapted from California Figs
In my mind, one of the best ways to manage stress is to focus on the positive, rather than negative, aspects of a stressful situation, as well as your life in general. Few people realize that there are actually two forms of stress – distress is the chronic, negative, overwhelming form we most often associate with the term, while eustress is positive stress that we use to take positive action and make positive changes. Most stressful situations can be turned into something positive with a little bit of focus and determination. For example, if you are stressed about a tight deadline at work, you can turn the situation into something positive by challenging yourself to work more efficiently to get the job done. It’s also important to surround yourself with positive thoughts about both the stressful situation and the rest of your day. Two ways to do so are by following the Positivity Ratio and by keeping a positivity calendar.
The Positivity Ratio states that for every one negative thought you have about a person or situation, you should also think of three positive thoughts. If you have the unfortunate job of telling a coworker they did something wrong, follow that conversation up with three things that they’re doing right. You’ll shift your focus away from only thinking about the negatives and will help spread a little positivity to your coworker as well.
As for the positivity calendar, the premise behind it is simple – every day, challenge yourself to write down (on a calendar, journal, or a piece of paper) at least one good thing that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing event – your “positive” for the day could be something as basic as getting a seat on the subway or bus. The goal is to have a visual reminder of all the good things that happen to you, which will help take your mind off of anything negative that might be occurring. I’ve kept a positivity calendar, and have challenged my friends and family to do the same, so I can tell you first-hand that it’s easy to do, and it really works to help erase negative thoughts.
We don’t always have control over our stressors, but we do have control over our thoughts. It’s up to you to try and make the most out of a bad situation; remember, a little positivity can go a long way!
Corn is a very misunderstood food. You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t eat it because it’s higher in calories than most vegetables, it’s too starchy, and it’s difficult to digest. While the last two points may be true, they’re not a deal-breaker, because corn has a lot of other positive attributes. For starters, it may appear to be higher in calories than many vegetables, but that’s okay, since it’s not actually a vegetable – it’s a whole grain! As far as whole grains go, corn is nutritionally comparable to many of its counterparts. It’s a good source of fiber, Vitamin C, several B Vitamins, and potassium. It’s also a very versatile grain – you’ve probably eaten it in several different forms including on the cob, ground up as cornmeal, and as popcorn. Since corn is currently in season, the recipes below showcase it in its natural state.
Grilled Corn on the Cob
4 ears of corn, husked
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
Your favorite spice blend (I like salt-free ones like Mrs. Dash or McCormack Perfect Pinch)
1. Heat grill to 350°, or set a stovetop grill pan to medium heat.
2. Brush corn with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning.
3. Wrap each ear separately in aluminum foil, twisting the ends closed.
4. Allow the corn to cook for 15-20 minutes, turning halfway in between.
Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
10 ears corn, husked and cut from the cob, or 10 cups frozen corn kernels (4 10-ounce packages)
10 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
5 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ cup sour cream
8 sprigs dill
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat and cook onions without browning until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the corn and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and simmer until corn is tender and liquid has reduced slightly, 15 to 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper, stir, and remove from heat.
3. Serve in bowls with dollops of sour cream and dill sprigs. Serves 8.
Recipe from Real Simple
Well, the Department of Transitional Assistance finished the Take 10! Challenge no worse for wear. We were 25 strong when we first started, but we ended with just four people successfully completing all four weeks of the Challenge.
During the Challenge, I found that if I started the day by doing a few of the exercises before I left the house, I felt better during the day. I continue to do some of the exercises during the day at work.
I liked being able to focus on different types of exercise each week; this kept me motivated to complete the Challenge. I would like to thank and congratulate all who hung in there to the end. Until next time!
Nectarines have been on sale and ripe and ready to eat at my local grocery store for the past few weeks. I try to buy nectarines every week when they’re in season, for their taste as well as their health benefits. These seasonal stone fruits are a good source of fiber and Vitamins A and C, and they’re relatively low in sugar. Nectarines can substitute for or be used alongside other stone fruits (like peaches and plums) in most recipes, but why not make them the star of the show, like in the following recipe?
Baked Nectarines with Pistachios
4 tablespoons shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 drops (less than ⅛ teaspoon) almond extract (optional)
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 nectarines, halved and pitted
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Chop 3 tablespoons pistachios in a food processor until finely ground. Add butter, confectioners’ sugar, almond extract, and salt. Process until combined.
3. Place nectarines, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and squeeze lemon over top.
4. Place a generous tablespoon of pistachio mixture on each nectarine half.
5. Chop remaining tablespoon pistachios, and sprinkle on top. Bake until fruit is tender and topping is crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to 4 plates.
6. Whisk together yogurt and granulated sugar. Spoon over nectarines, and serve.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
By Guest Blogger Ana Karchmer, ELD
Many of us have to deal with one or more chronic health conditions. Learning how to successfully manage our conditions is key to living active and productive lives. Regardless of the particular illness we might have, we all have similar emotions when dealing with chronic illnesses. We might feel angry, depressed, anxious, frustrated, and afraid. Sometimes, we may wish we had a set of “tools” we could use to help us deal with these unpleasant emotions.
The Stanford University Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (in Massachusetts called “My Life, My Health”) gives us the tools we need to help us better manage our health conditions. This evidence based program consists of six group sessions that meet once a week for 2 ½ hours. The groups are limited to 10 to 18 participants and the sessions are facilitated by two trained lay leaders.
I coordinate a federal grant to promote and disseminate “My Life, My Health” in Massachusetts. Since 2010, over 6,500 adults have participated in workshops around the state. These workshops are typically held at senior centers, health care settings, residential facilities, and community centers. This past Spring, I had the opportunity to help bring this program to the Department of Revenue, working in collaboration with WellMASS and the DOR Employee Training & Development Bureau. The six-week series was held at the DOR offices in Chelsea on Friday mornings from April 25 to May 30. Fourteen employees participated in the workshop.
The implementation of the program had the full support of DOR Commissioner Amy Pitter. In the recruitment phase, she included information about the upcoming workshop in two of her weekly emails to employees. At the conclusion of the workshop she included the following in her June 6 weekly email:
“Last Friday, ten DOR employees along with four ANF/IT employees completed the six-week My Life, My Health workshop in chronic disease self-management. It was the culmination of a journey that was both an enlightening and inspirational experience for the participants. During the confidential sessions with external instructors, they learned not only how to manage their own disease – or that of their loved ones – but also how to deal with the impact the disease has on their lives and emotions. Participants learned the importance of action-planning, through which they were able to foster a deeper understanding and sense of self-efficacy. The Department is committed to strengthening its workforce in a number of ways and this program allows us to integrate chronic disease self-management education with current wellness efforts.”
As Commissioner Pitter mentioned, participants were very satisfied with the program. All the participants felt valued and respected and stated they would use the new tools presented to help them manage their conditions. One participant wrote: “I wish this was a mandatory class for everyone. It’s a way of developing skills for better health and communication for people regardless of whether they have any health issues at all.” Another participant wrote: “The instructors were excellent. I would highly recommend this class to anyone, especially someone with chronic health issues.”
For a full calendar of program offerings please visit www.healthyliving4me.org. If you are interested in implementing this program at your agency, please contact Ana Karchmer at email@example.com or call (617) 222-7490.
If you were to read the nutrition facts label on a bottle of vinegar, you might wonder why I’m featuring it as a Healthy Ingredient of the Week. Although vinegar is low in calories, it’s not a good source of nutrients like vitamins and minerals. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t do your body good – several preliminary studies have shown that vinegar has a few interesting health benefits, among them the ability to lower blood sugar, and possibly cholesterol, levels. Vinegar has also been shown to increase satiety, which may explain why it’s often touted as a weight-loss aid. At its most basic level, vinegar adds flavor to dishes without adding a lot of calories. When I make salad dressings, like the ones below, I substitute vinegar for some of the oil called for in the recipes, which makes my dressings lower in calories, but still pretty delicious.
All of the recipes below make enough dressing for 2 salads. The instructions are the same for each one: mix all ingredients until combined, and pour over salad (the dressings also taste good over broccoli and other veggies).
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon natural creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Summer is the perfect time to engage in outdoor activities, as there are so many options available in this area. The Department of Conservation and Recreation runs over 80 hiking trails across the state, as well as multiple pools and other recreational facilities. For those employees who live or work in and around Boston, there are also numerous free fitness classes happening all across the area, all summer long. This list, sent to me by EOHHS Wellness Champion Georgette Tanner, provides a great overview of all the free exercises classes and events in the area; if you’re looking to add something new to your exercise routine, I’d definitely recommend checking out at least one of these classes.
For those of you who want to change up your workouts but are pressed for time or are unable to make it to one of the Boston-area events, I have some good news: you can add extra activity to your day without even feeling like you’re doing so. Here are some easy, and free, strategies to burn calories and take advantage of the nice weather at the same time:
- If you take public transportation, get off the subway or bus a few stops early
- Walk to do errands close by instead of driving
- Skip the movie theater this weekend in favor of an outdoor activity like mini-golf
- Garden/do yard work
- Mow the lawn – with a push mower
- Walk around your local farmers’ market – you’ll get some exercise and have the opportunity to pick up some fresh, local fruits and veggies
Always take care to stay hydrated whenever you exercise outside, especially if the temperature is greater than 90°. And remember that no matter how you choose to be active this summer, getting up and moving is always a better calorie-burner than sitting down.