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Putting the Happy Back into the Holidays

[ Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 0 comments ]
By Lisa Culhane

The holidays are just around the corner. I know this because the catalogs encouraging me to redecorate my entire house lest my guests judge my inferior interior have started to arrive along with the Christmas decorations at the neighborhood mega store.

If the idea of the holidays brings a smile to your face and you find yourself skipping around the room then you’re set. Enjoy. However, if the thought makes you feel like sprinting for the corkscrew as you shove copious amounts of chocolate into your mouth or you suddenly feel the desire to curl up under your desk in the fetal position, read on.

Every year it happens. We think this is it. This is the year I’m going to get the holidays Pinterest perfect. We know it’s possible because obviously everyone else is doing it.

Or are they?

Comparing ourselves to the social media vortex is a sure-fire recipe for guilt, stress and overwhelm. To avoid this pretty little cocktail this season try the steps outlined below. Decide to put the happy back into your holidays. For many the holiday season is filled with unrealistic expectations that can be a minefield, whether we're expecting something from someone else or from ourselves. Either way, when we wind up with a different outcome from the one we hoped for, disappointment guilt and blame aren’t far behind.

Anne Lamont calls expectations “resentments under construction.”  Unchecked, expectations can create all sorts of angst, especially around the holidays. As the saying goes, hope springs eternal and perhaps this is the year your family will change. The year that your brother won’t get sloppy drunk, that your uncle will keep his racist comments to himself and that your mother won’t lean over and stage whisper, “are you sure you want that cookie dear?” But expecting your family to change is setting yourself up for disappointment. In spite of our most ardent hopes, the most likely scenario is that no one is going to change. In fact, the only person you can absolutely count on to change is you.

One way to make a positive change is to notice and note your conscious and unconscious
Christmas Morning
expectations. For instance, perhaps you unconsciously expect to have a relaxing Christmas day in which you stay in PJ’s and read your new book from Santa. However, if you’re staying at your in-laws who invite the world over for brunch you are going to be disappointed. Or maybe you are planning an elaborate dinner that will take everyone’s help to prepare, yet your family would prefer eating something simple and spending the time together working a new puzzle.

This year, instead of enduring disappointment, head it off at the pass. By simply noticing and noting your expectations, you can create more realistic ones or choose a different path.  For instance, you cannot enjoy a day in your PJs if you have agreed to stay at your in-laws. So, you need to make a conscious decision. You can agree to go to your in-laws and adjust your expectations or decide to stay home for the holidays so you can enjoy a PJ day. Or maybe you agree to go to your in-laws but leave a day early so you can create a second Christmas day at home where everyone spends the day in PJ’s reading and relaxing. The point in noticing and noting your expectations is to create a solution that works rather than unconsciously believing in an unrealistic outcome.

Another issue that can lead to holiday disappointment is failing to set boundaries, especially around gift-giving and over-planned schedules.

First, let’s address gifts and how we receive them. Again, start by checking in with your expectations. If there is something you want, ask for it because no one can read your mind. No one. Believe me, I’ve tried. For years my expectation was that if my husband loved me, he would know what I wanted. Giving up this simple, but crazy expectation helped both of us immensely. Trust me. Don’t count on Osmosis. Ask. And be realistic. In addition, be gracious. There will almost always be a something that takes you by surprise. Just assume the person meant well and move on. Dwelling on the meaning of a misguided gift will only make everyone involved feel bad. (And keep reading for my suggestion on how to turn that blooper into a winner!)

Now, for those you plan to buy for, I suggest a fresh perspective. Instead of sending Aunt Bess yet another fruit cake or pair of slippers consider making a donation in her name to an organization she loves. Or, consider giving Uncle Alfred an invitation for tea or ask him over for a game night and he’ll be far happier in the long run. In fact, studies on the Greater Good website demonstrate that experiences make people happier than possessions and that the feeling of happiness grows, rather than fades, over time. You might find this dubious but one year my 11 year old daughter was thrilled to receive a single book, a jump rope, toothpaste and a handful of treats for Christmas while my 9 year old son was delighted with his book, popsicle sticks, yoyo and treats. We were traveling and tested the concept in real time that having fun experiences together trumped stuff. And it worked.

The marketers would love for you to believe that everyone wants more stuff. I encourage you to take a moment and question that premise. You might be pleasantly surprised.

As for time, if you are truly the belle of the ball type with a closet full of good dresses, a reliable babysitter and copious amounts of free time, then by all means say yes to every invitation that comes your way. However, if you’re not, graciously saying no to every invitation that doesn’t light you up like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center is a better choice.

To accomplish this, start today, before the invitations begin to arrive by creating a way to measure your reaction. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line across the page. In the middle of the line write a big fat 0, which is neutral. At one end of the line put a -10 which means absolutely not and at the other a +10 which means absolutely. This is your scale. When an invitation arrives, pull out your scale, take three deep breaths and then simply ask yourself, “Where does this invitation fall on the scale?”

Write down the first number that pops into your head -- the number that arrives a split second before the rationalization that says “but it’s my boss, best friend, mother, etc.” If the first number is a + 5 or above, RSVP yes and for anything less, decline. No excuses are necessary. Just say no politely. A simple note or phone call that simply says, “Thank you so much for your kind invitation. We’re so flattered to be included and so sorry that we will be unable to attend” will suffice. While initially difficult, this practice ensures that you are spending your time on the things you truly enjoy rather than on the things you’ve justified as being important. And it is this simple practice, repeated again and again, that allows real happiness to take root.

Another issue that often causes holiday anxiety is a never-ending to-do list. This can be stressful, both because an unfinished list prevents you from relaxing, and because many of us simply put items on the list that are neither important nor satisfying to our holiday season.

Just like above, using a scale to manage your to-do list is helpful. First, make a list. Don’t skimp. Write every little and big thing down. Now go back over the list and notice which items make you feel like skipping and which items bring up a feeling of dread and rate them on your scale from a -10 (I would rather die than complete this task) to a +10 (This makes me feel like skipping!) Put a check next to every thing that rates above a +5. For everything else, ask yourself if it is really necessary. If not, see if you can just decide to not do it. (Bag it.) Many items might initially seem important but really just add a lot of work without actually adding much to your holiday celebration. Is the time and effort of homemade cookies worth it? Or would you be just as happy with treats from the store or from that bakery you’ve been meaning to try? Everyone’s answer will be different. That’s the point. It’s not about doing what’s on Pinterest or everyone else’s list but rather about doing what makes you feel good.

If after an honest evaluation there are still items on your list that don’t make you feel like skipping and are necessary, figure out a way to get someone else to do it for you by either paying them to do it or trading a service. (Barter it.) Or make doing the item more fun for yourself. (Better it.) For instance, I dislike shopping both on-line and in stores and the pressure and crowds of the holidays increase that feeling. So last year I first limited the number of items I needed to buy by giving donations in people’s names in lieu of gifts to many on our list. Then I limited my actual shopping to the few stores I truly enjoy. (Bettered it.) Finally, my husband then did the rest of the shopping on-line for specific gifts we couldn’t get at those select shops. (Bartered it.) And viola, just like that the dreaded holiday shopping was not only done but enjoyable and easy.

Another sneaky component here is the glorification of busyness and feeling stressed. That’s a black hole you want to avoid. As friends, colleagues, family and social media compete for who is busier choose not to participate in the conversation. I guarantee that you’ll feel better.   No matter your best intentions we can still get overwhelmed despite our best efforts. When this happens, sometimes just observing yourself and your situation, as though you were watching a movie, can give you a new perspective and allow you to see the humor in your situation.

For instance, I like to pretend I write for The Onion and as the holiday drama unfolds I reframe the scene in my mind as if it’s going to be an Onion article.  In doing so, I’m able to distance myself enough from the situation so that things that usually make me crazy make me laugh instead. If the idea of being a satirist doesn’t work for you perhaps the idea of a contest does. Invite 4 friends to contribute $10 each or have everyone pony up their worst gift of the season and whoever has the craziest family story when you reconvene for the post mortem, wins the money or box of bloopers. At the very least, make arrangements with a trusted confederate who you can call to debrief with while you’re in the middle of crazy town. Just knowing you are going to share your story with a friend may help you detach, just enough, from the craziness and not be drawn in. Whether viewing the scenario as if it’s a movie, using humor, a contest or debriefing, the idea is that you see your siblings bickering, your child’s fit about not getting a pony or the gift from your mother-in-law as something to laugh about.

Yes, the holidays can be stressful. However, by noticing and noting your expectations, limiting your activities to things that fall into the higher range of your happiness scale and learning to laugh at the craziness, you can put the happy back into the season. Skipping is optional.

Lisa Culhane is the author of Discover the New G Spot (or How to Unfriend Your Guilt), a Life Coach, weekly gratitude blogger and the mother of 2 teenagers and can be found at lisaculhane.com or reached at lisa@lisaculhane.com Read the full story »
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Are You Helping your Kids to Cultivate a Healthy Relationship with Food – or Setting Them Up for Struggle? – Part II

[ Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 0 comments ]
By Annette Sloan

In the first post of this series, we learned why it’s best to avoid labeling foods as “good” and “bad.” Instead, parents can explain that there are “foods we eat more often” and “foods we eat less often.” This removes morality from the picture and stops us from connecting our self-worth with what we eat.

Our next DON’T and DO stem from my professional experience as a health coach for teen girls. This dynamic plays out when well-meaning parents try to guide their kids towards moderation and healthy choices. For the sake of simplicity, I refer to girls in this post, although this is certainly an issue that can affect boys as well.

DON’T: Make judgmental comments about what’s on your daughter’s plate.

“Do you really need another serving?” “Are you sure you want to eat that piece of cake?” “Wow, you must be really hungry.”

Before we dive into why these types of comments are harmful, I first want you to know that I get it. If one of your kids is on the heavy side, you want to do everything you can to help her reach a healthy weight. You know that life can be socially harder for heavy kids. And you worry about her future if she continues to gain weight into adulthood. Or, on the flip side, perhaps you have a healthy-weight daughter who is a dancer, gymnast, cheerleader – anything in that camp. For better or for worse, bodies that look a certain way are basically required in those arenas. You want your daughter to excel, which means fitting in with the norm.

Regardless of the undoubtedly valid reasons you have for expressing concern about what’s on your daughter’s plate, your comments are not doing any good. Even if they result in her eating less in that particular instance, in the long term, you’re most likely giving her a food complex. You’re telling her that she’s only “good” when she eats healthy foods in moderation. Even worse, the underlying message is that she is unworthy if her body is too big.

I’ve seen this dynamic play out first-hand. When we first started working together, Abby* (not her real name), a quiet, empathetic 16-year-old client, shared with me that she can’t remember ever NOT stressing about healthy eating. Her well-intentioned mom, who struggled with her weight when she was younger, had been adamant since Abby was born that her daughter would not have to face the same battle. She stressed healthy eating (and made comments about unhealthy choices) throughout Abby’s childhood. Over time, these comments led Abby to feel bad about herself – and then, paradoxically, she would seek comfort in food.

When I first met Abby, she expressed her frustration with her eating habits, telling me, “Every day I wake up telling myself that I will eat healthy today. But later in the day, it’s like my mind just turns off, and I find myself eating junk.” At the time, she had no idea why this habit had such a strong hold on her, and she beat herself up for being weak and unable to control her desire for junk food.

We’ve been working together for three months, and Abby is now beginning to understand the reasons behind her eating behaviors. Her mom’s constant comments created a deeply ingrained belief that her worthiness was connected with her weight and with how healthy (or unhealthy) her food choices were. (See Part 1 of this series). Whenever she felt stressed or unworthy, junk food was an easy source of comfort, made even more appealing by the fact that it was, on some level, “off limits.”

Abby now knows, intellectually, that her worthiness is not dependent on her weight or on what she eats. And she’s getting closer all the time to really believing this truth on a soul level – which is allowing her to slowly let go of her need to use food for comfort. Abby also found the courage to have an honest conversation with her mom, who has backed off and is now giving her daughter the space to find her own way.

[Side note: Please keep in mind that there is no room for blame in this situation. Abby’s mom was doing what she thought was best to help her daughter thrive. Now, with a new understanding, she’s taking a different approach. This is the journey we are all on – doing our best, learning from our mistakes, and making changes as we grow.]

DO: Model a healthy attitude, and make it easy and desirable for the whole family to eat well.

So, how do you encourage your kids to eat healthfully without giving them a complex? My suggestion is two-fold. First, try to model a healthy attitude. I like to think about it in terms of the 80/20 rule. A habit is something we’re doing 80% of the time. If you exercise on 8 out of 10 days, exercising is the norm, and your body will experience great benefit from that habit. Likewise, if you eat healthy foods 80% of the time, healthy eating is your habit, and your habits are what determine your long-term outcomes. What you do the other 20% of the time will have little impact on the big picture.

Practice modeling the attitudes of “I choose healthy foods most of the time because they give me energy and allow me to thrive,” AND “Sometimes I eat foods for the sole reason that they taste amazing – and that’s a valid choice as well.” Try not to express remorse or the idea that you’ve been “bad” when your choices aren’t so healthy. If you eat a cookie (or a few), enjoy them, and then move on to the next life experience. Keep in mind that your habits – what you do 80% of the time – will be the biggest determiner of your outcomes. The other 20% of the time? Enjoy, then let it go. [Note: I am not advocating gluttony here – but I do encourage you to allow yourself to take pleasure in foods that delight you, in a way that nourishes you on a soul level].

My second suggestion is to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Full disclosure: when I open the fridge and see fresh fruit, or carrots and hummus, or other healthy snacks I enjoy, it’s easy to choose them – unless I know that there are cookies in the pantry. If I know that there cookies in the pantry, I will most likely not even stop to consider the healthy options. Let’s face it – it’s much harder to make a healthy choice when tempting unhealthy options are readily available. My strategy to overcome this scenario? Simple: I rarely keep unhealthy foods around. When they’re not around, I don’t even think about them, and I’m totally content with my apple and almonds. Do your family the same favor – make the healthy choice the easy and desirable one.

In Part III of this series, Annette Sloan will share a third essential DO and DON’T for helping kids to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. Her business, (w)holehearted, specializes in compassionate health coaching for teen girls. She also offers mother-daughter bonding sessions that incorporate yoga, positive body image, and a healthy relationship with food. Learn more (and download your free report, “The Savvy Parent: Five Essential Practices for Role-Modeling a Happy, Healthy Relationship with Food,”) at www.healthyteengirls.com. Read the full story »
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Are you ready for a natural grocer in your community?

[ Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | 0 comments ]
By Thomas Spahr, NCCM Board Chair and Bluff Lake Resident

The Northeast Community Co-op Markety has made great strides since incorporating in late July. In just eleven weeks, we have grown to 392 members comprised of residents living in Stapleton, NW Aurora, Park Hill, Lowry, East Colfax, Montclair and beyond. Our team has been diligently finalizing the details of our business plan, building connections and partnerships with other food-based organizations in the Denver metro area, and exploring all opportunities for funding and viable locations. There is clearly enthusiasm and excitement for our project and we feel that we have an outstanding business concept that will meet the needs of our community while growing into a valuable neighborhood resource and institution.

The goal of our “Roots to Reality Fall Membership Drive” is to increase membership to over 850 and share the vision for our community-owned grocery store with a wider segment of the community. Achieving this goal is important so that all options remain on the table moving into next year. In order to open our doors by next fall, we expect that we will need a total of at least 1,500 members. Both of these benchmarks are within reach, we just need the full support of our community, which has repeatedly emphasized the want and desire for a natural grocer. If you or someone you know is on the fence about becoming a member of the food co-op, let me go over a few frequently asked questions with you.

What do I get as a member? Fame. Fortune. Bragging rights that you helped start one of the most innovative grocer concepts in the Denver Metro Area. Well…fame and fortune is probably a stretch, but you will get an ownership share of our co-op, which will help us obtain the capital we need to open. Besides the obvious benefit of finally having a grocery store that reflects the values of our community, our members will get to influence the store concept, vote on the Board of Directors, and down the road may get access to special discounts and end-of-the-year dividend shares that are not
available to non-members.

What is the ROI on my membership? There are many ways you can look at the return on investment for your membership. From a consumer standpoint, yes, you may get money back and savings over time. But there are more immediate ways to view the ROI on membership – I will identify three.

  1. If you are currently driving to Sprouts or Whole Foods once a week, you are likely spending        $100-200 a year on gas alone. Not to mention the additional time spent planning and travelling to these destinations. Regardless of income, time is everyone’s most finite resource. Why not invest in something that will free up more time to do things we enjoy?
  2. A study conducted in 2012 correlates an increase in walk score (see http://www.walkscore.com/) of 1 point into a $700-3,000 increase in property value. The logic is simple: homebuyers are attracted to access to unique, desirable, and walkable amenities. This is why homes prices in Highland, Wash Park, and Congress Park seem to have no ceiling. Since many of us will live within walking distance from the co-op, it is very possible that the co-op will increase our walk scores and affect an increase in our home values (see -http://www.ceosforcities.org/research/walking-the-walk/). Furthermore, every community in Denver can say they have good restaurants, shops and breweries, but we will be the only neighborhood that can tout its own community-owned grocery store.
  3.  A food co-op is a community wealth building strategy. It increases the ability of our community to increase asset ownership, anchor jobs locally, expand the provision of public services, and ensure local economic stability. Corporate chains come and go (Circuit City, anyone?), but a co-op can continue to adapt and address the needs of our community as time changes it, keeping our money and our wealth firmly rooted in our neighborhood. 
Where will the co-op locate? We don’t know yet. We intend to locate somewhere in the area along
Montview or Central Park Blvd. While we love the potential, vision, and alignment of values with the Stanley Marketplace, Flightline Ventures is running against an aggressive timeline for development
that may conflict with our timeline to become adequately capitalized to sign a lease. We are currently
on track, but we have also evaluated other sites and have talked with other developers.

What happens to my money if the co-op never opens? Failure is not an option. Seriously. If Plan A doesn’t work out, we have Plans B-Z ready to go. There is already enough support in our community that we are sure we will be able to open our doors at some point. The better question is:

How soon can we open the doors? This entirely depends on how quickly our community is willing to invest. We have 392 households that have stood up and said “Yes! Let’s do this!” However, we need more members. As members, it is everyone’s responsibility to recruit additional members. Maybe a neighbor is still sitting on the fence. Maybe your friend wants to wait and see what happens down the road before buying in. Maybe someone you know just doesn’t know about the co-op yet. Regardless of excuses, this will not happen unless we can effectively engage our community and
convince others to join us. If you are already a member, share this with your friends, neighbors, community groups, workout buddies and anyone you know that would be interested. If you are not a member, what are you waiting for? You can sign up online at http://www.northeastco-op.org/membership.html. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NortheastCommunityCoOpMarketCafe Questions? Email thomas@northeastco-op.org Read the full story »
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Are You Helping your Kids to Cultivate a Healthy Relationship with Food – or Setting Them Up for Struggle?

[ Wednesday, October 8, 2014 | 0 comments ]
By Annette Sloan

As a health-conscious mom, you want the best for your kids. You work hard to make sure they eat well and get plenty of exercise, because you want them to live long, happy, healthy lives. This is certainly a laudable goal – but have you ever stopped to ask yourself if your approach might be doing more harm than good?

As a health coach who has been on her own journey with food, I’ve learned that sometimes our well-intentioned efforts to promote healthy eating can backfire on us. In this first post of a three-part series, I share an essential DON’T and DO for helping your kids to cultivate a healthy relationship with food.

DON’T: Label foods as good and bad. Kale. Cupcakes. Blueberries. Candy. Admit it – as you read these four words, you automatically labeled each of these foods as “good” or “bad” in your mind. Of course you did, because we all do. We’ve learned that healthy foods are good and unhealthy foods are bad – and most likely, we’re teaching our kids this same mentality. When I was a wellness teacher, I certainly did. Here’s the catch: when we label foods as good or bad, we’re associating our food choices with morality. As in, “I was good; I had a salad for lunch,” and “I was bad; I ate fries last night.” Yes, certain foods offer more nutritional value than others – but WE are not good or bad as a result of what we eat. Our self-worth has nothing to do with our food choices. Do you see how this is a dangerous belief to teach our children? Our kids need to learn that they are worthy no matter what. (For more on this, check out BrenĂ© Brown’s book Daring Greatly). Labeling foods as good or bad has another unintended consequence – it makes the “bad” foods much more appealing. We’ve all had the experience of wanting something just because it was off limits. By calling unhealthy foods “bad,” we give them more power. Food companies are already doing everything they can to make junk food highly desirable to kids. Let’s not make their job even easier.

DO: Emphasize how healthy food makes you feel great. Luckily, all you have to do to change your messaging around healthy eating is implement a simple shift in language. Instead of labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” talk with your kids about foods to eat more often and foods to eat less often. Explain that your family eats nourishing, whole foods most of the time because these foods help kids and adults to thrive. A healthy diet gives kids the energy to play and to do well in school. It puts them in a great mood so that they get along with their siblings and friends. It helps them to grow big and strong. Ultimately, a diet made up of mostly healthy foods allows their inner light to shine.
On the flip side, explain to your kids that there is nothing wrong with unhealthy foods. They taste great and give us pleasure. However, your family chooses to eat these foods less often because they don’t nourish us the way healthy foods do. By shifting our language to foods we eat more often and foods we less often, and removing morality from the picture, we put food in its proper place. It’s a source of nourishment and pleasure – nothing more, nothing less.

In Part II of this series, I will share another essential DO and DON’T for helping kids to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. Her business, (w)holehearted, specializes in compassionate health coaching for teen girls. Learn more (and download your free report, “The Savvy Parent: Five Essential Practices for Role-Modeling a Happy, Healthy Relationship with Food,”) at www.healthyteengirls.com

Read the full story »