Never Miss a Monday – Sitting is only to take a rest from moving

Slide1Who has a stand-up desk out there? Raise your hand! Who has a treadmill desk out there? Raise both hands! (umm…sorry about that…). The recent popularity of these types of desks has brought to the forefront the challenge many of us face in incorporating everyday movement in our daily lives. And there are countless studies showing not only the benefit of moving more during the day but the detrimental effects of being too sedentary. (Washington Post, Jan 26, 2015, “Too much sitting may have some serious health effects — even if you exercise”)

What many of these studies are finding that being overly sedentary is not the same as “lack of aerobic activity”, instead, there seems to be a set of biological factors that are affected directly by the actual sedentary behavior. So even for people that are able to fit in some regular weekly exercise sessions, if their remaining time is spent sitting down at a desk, watching tv, driving in a car, etc, there are still potentially harmful health effects.

As individuals, we need to move to change our mindset from one of “I need to move for 10 minutes every 30 minutes of sitting” to incorporating the idea that sitting is not an activity, but just a helpful respite from our usually active day. So find one or two areas where you spend a large amount of time in a sedentary position and make a commitment to changing it to an active environment.

I can personally vouch for stand-up desks and specifically the DIY kind as mine is just a sturdy tray table sitting on top of a basic desk. And the theory that a body in motion tends to stay in motion holds true…you’ll find yourself upping the energy level by walking while on the phone, making one-one-one meetings walking meetings, taking the stairs more vs. the elevator, etc.

And even small bursts of activity can add up. Do something during television time, even if it is just standing during commercials, or light stretching while sitting on the couch (please don’t ever lie down…!). If you are unable to change your daily commute right now to an active commute, then be sure to stand up on the train rather then sitting down. Tap your fingers or your foot during your car commute, squeeze a stress ball and switch hands as you go. All movement is good movement, so find what works for you, and get moving!

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Never Miss a Monday – Pin Down Thoughts

ThoughtsI’m going to guess that the majority of you, like me, has some type of to do list you use to help keep your life organized. It may be a quick post-it note for what is on the agenda for the day, or it may be a planner tracking system for all of your weekly and monthly tasks. Either way, many of us feel compelled to jot down what we need to do so that we can stop “thinking” about it and move onto the work for the day.

But what about those thoughts and ideas that don’t fit into a daily to do category? The ones that rattle around in our brain, requiring deeper thought, time to analyze, mull over. And yet they have an urgency about them due to their impact on our lives, popping up at the most inconvenient times trying to gain our attention. Allowing these unfettered thoughts to flit into and out of our brains can be quite stressful. It is also using up our precious brain power for the day (and yes, we all only have so much brain power in our daily reservoir) and we are then taking away our attention to an actual task at hand. And as I’m sure we can all attest to…oftentimes the task at hand is to go to sleep, yet this is the most opportune time these thoughts find to race through our minds, leaving us to toss and turn all night.

Pin down these thoughts the same as you would your daily and weekly tasks. Give them a time and place to be contemplated the same as you would going to the grocery store or writing a work memo. It may seem strange at first to write down a to do item that says “Saturday, 10am-10:30am, consider pros/cons of getting masters degree”, but I promise you’ll be amazed at the relief you’ll get once you’ve pinned it down. You’ve told your brain you are going to think about it on Saturday, so there’s no need for it to pop up in your mind before then. And for any stray thoughts that have yet to be pinned down, that show up just as our heads hit the pillow or in the middle of the night, be sure to keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed and pin them down at that moment. This will help ease your mind and ensure a better night’s sleep.

Be Well,
Terry
June 23, 2015

Organic VS Responsibly Grown

orgvsrespBy Pam Denholm

I often get asked questions about labels, and with good reason, there are so many these days. Produce alone can be USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance, Protected Harvest, Food Alliance, Certified Naturally Grown, Fairtrade, and more. The biggest, most recognizable brand we have is USDA Certified Organic, it has the best infrastructure in place, and farms are audited by an independent third party. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The USDA label focusses only on the life cycle of that crop, considering use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, fertilizers, and also the source of the seed. The approach is similar to the ‘chain of custody’ applied to evidence, in that legal and chronological documentation is required, recording every step – in plants, that is from seed to harvest. That puts a different perspective on it, doesn’t it?

Here is the problem with USDA Certified Organic: the label doesn’t address other environmental or socio-economic practices. For instance, what type of irrigation system does the farmer use? Is it drip line, sprinkler, gravity, flooding, rotational, furrow, sub irrigation, or surface irrigation? And where is the water drawn from? Some irrigation methods are more environmentally friendly and responsible than others, and some sources are more sustainable than others (wells, rivers, dams, rain barrels, reservoirs). And then there is the matter of staff welfare to consider: are workers paid a fair wage? Do they have access to medical? What about working conditions? Health, and safety? Many farms have workers living on-site, are the living conditions adequate?   What about bio-diversity on the farm, is there a ‘sacrificial conservation section’ that helps maintain plant and insect biodiversity? What about composting, soil fertility, energy use . . . the list can go on.

There is no wide-spread certification option that covers all these issues, which are of increasing importance to consumers. And this is what prompted Wholefoods to design its own rating system. They have come up with a responsibility rating that took three years to develop that looks at wide range of factors from worker welfare, and environmental impact to social responsibility. The problem is that farms around the country are spending $5’000-20’000 to comply with the program, and it has organic farmers up in arms because some conventional farmers are receiving a better rating. The system grades things as ‘good, better, best’ – and the New York Times found that conventionally grown asparagus from Mexico was rated ‘best’ at a store in Capitola, CA going for $4.99. In Cupertino, a pile of organic asparagus from Durst Organic Growers was rated “good,” the lowest Responsibly Grown rating, for $7.99. Whole Foods says farmers have to get 220 points on their rating system to be awarded the “best” label and Jim Durst admitted that maybe he “didn’t fill in the blanks correctly” when it came to labelling his product. “Whole Foods has done so much to help educate consumers about the advantages of eating an organic diet,” a group of five farmers wrote in a statement to John Mackey, the co-founder and co-chief executive of Whole Foods, on Thursday. “This new rating program undermines, to a great degree, that effort.”

Personally, I understand the desire to communicate important issues around how food is grown to consumers – of course I do – and I also intimately understand some of the challenges. I think Whole Foods is also trying to evolve and change their image as they face increasing pressure from other grocery store retailers who continue to increase their Certified Organic offerings – last year for the first time, Costco surpassed Whole Foods as the nation’s largest retailer of organic produce. I am not sure putting more pressure on farmers, or detracting from USDA labels is the way to go, it would have a greater impact to work together to try and improve the USDA certification to include some of the other evolving priorities.

Source: New York Times

 

Never Miss a Monday – Healthy Whole Grain?

whole grainWhole Grain! Multi-Grain! 12-Grain! Ancient Grain! Natural Grain! Sounds like good stuff, right? But alas, those clever product marketers have found ways to work around the already less-than-restrictive FDA whole grain labeling laws to entice consumers into thinking that their product is healthier than it actually might be. Few if any of these labels actually means you are getting all the good stuff (aka, fiber, vitamins phytochemicals) of the “whole” grain… endosperm, germ and bran. For example, “multi-grain” just means they used multiple types of grains to make the product, but all of the “grains” could just be highly processed flours. So what’s a Nourish-to-Flourisher to do?

Lucky for us, those scientists at Harvard School of Public Health are oh-so-much more cleverer. They did a study on consumer grain products and determined that the 10:1 carb-to-fiber (similar ratio in actual whole grain) criteria was the best way to ensure the product itself not only had higher fiber but was also had lower sugar, sodium and trans fat. And the best part is, all the info you need is on the product label. So, let’s do this at home, shall we?

Find a whole grain product and check out the nutrition label. Go to the “Total Carbohydrates” bolded line and find the amount of grams (my product has 24g). Divide this number by 10 (I come up with 2.4) Then go to the Fiber line and if it is equal or more then this number, your product passes the test. My Fiber line is at 4g, so I’m feeling pretty good about my item…how did you do?

Be Well!
Terry
June 15, 2015

Rhubarb – Facts as funny as the name

rubarbBy Pam Denholm

I never gave much thought to Rhubarb before, it was one of those ‘olden-day’ plants from ‘yester-year’ that only my grandmother knew how to use. Well, that’s how it was in our family. Truthfully, my first introduction to rhubarb, as a grown up with a kitchen of my own, happened when I started South Shore Organics and the farmers offered it for our baskets. I took some home, tried it a few different ways, but didn’t like it. It has a tart and bitter flavor, and I didn’t understand the fuss. It was in my second year of South Shore Organics that my new year’s resolution to find a recipe I liked for every vegetable – in other words, find a way to like them all – led to some promising results.

Today, my favorite way to enjoy rhubarb is either (predictably) in a pie, or in a salsa, or in a cocktail (if you can’t smother it in bacon and cheese, well then, you may as well add it to gin or turn it into a margarita!!) Did you know, that the leaves of the rhubarb are actually poisonous? The stems are (obviously) edible, and so too, are the flowers. Rhubarb flowers have the consistency of cauliflower, with the same tart flavor of the stems.

Next interesting fact: rhubarb is not just ‘olden-day’, it’s historic. The Chinese have been using it for thousands of years, and it is thought the first traceable mention of it is in Greece from around 2700 years ago. Back then, the root, or rhizome, was traded as an herb, and fetched ‘several times the price of valuable herbs’ like saffron, cinnamon, and opium. In fact, its value can be seen in Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo’s report of his embassy in 1403–05 to Timur in Samarkand: “The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb…” – Ruy was a Castillian traveler and writer.

So, thousands of years old, and equal in value to opium, diamond, and pearls – that’s a very different beginning from where we are today. Rhubarb is under appreciated, under-utilized, and in some instances, treated as an invasive plant. I have one friend who has a rhubarb plant growing in the middle of her lawn, she has dug it up, mowed over it, and sprayed it with vinegar – and the darn thing is determined to grow big and beautiful despite her exasperation. But gardeners everywhere might have a different opinion if they knew the next funny fact . . .

Rhubarb’s are one of the few plants that boast the title ‘biodynamic accumulator’, a fancy-schmancy term for ‘pulls nitrogen out of the air and fixes it to the soil’. Nitrogen is what is in most fertilizers, it’s what most plants need to grow, and through a relationship with a bacteria in the soil, the rhubarb will make nitrogen available to other nearby plants, and as a biodynamic accumulator it is one of the few plants that actually improve soil the longer its around (even if you mow it). On a side-note, did you know that clover is also a biodynamic accumulator? And a few patches of clover in between your grass can help you eliminate your need for fertilizer completely? Okay, back to rhubarb, it also makes a great mulch (cut and drop mulching method) and does wonders for your compost. If you love to companion plant, then plant rhubarb near kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Beans do very well near rhubarb as well, rhubarb protects beans from some insects.

After learning a little more about this plant, I view it a little differently than I did before. Now when I sit on my deck drinking a rhubarb-gin cocktail this summer, I will feel much worldlier 😉 and I am delighted to say that I have managed to find a couple rhubarb plants for my own garden.

Resources: Wikipedia.com, Rhubarb-central.com, Biodynamic Association

 

Toddler Sensory Garden

Blog 3By Bethany Whitemyer

It’s finally getting warmer and we can see the soil again. We had a boring empty raised bed filled with dry sandy packed down dirt on the Toddler playground, so we planted a Sensory Garden. Children this age learn primarily through their senses; they need to touch and taste everything! Our goal in planting a sensory garden was to offer plants that stimulated a variety of the children’s senses, and of course to find plants that were hardy enough to withstand some (hopefully) gentle exploration and enhance the children’s outdoor time.

photo aPreparing the raised bed for our plants really stimulated the children’s senses! I loosened up the packed down dirt with a big shovel and then gave the children some small pails and shovels and had them top of the bed with some great organic garden soil. They loved scooping the soil from the bag with the pails and dumping it in the bed. It’s great to see how many children really don’t mind getting dirty. There were a few that even gave up their shovels and just used their hands to transfer the soil. If you are lucky enough to have a child that doesn’t mind getting dirty be sure to give them lots of opportunities to explore different materials like this. It doesn’t mean that your house has to be dirty though. Be prepared with wipes, a spray bottle with soap and water and a washcloth or paper towels, and a special place where you can brush off your child before he/she goes indoors. Don’t forget to have a designated outdoor space to dump soil or sand out of their shoes too.

Blog 2It was easy for us to pick plants with different kinds of smells so we first added lavender, chives, and spearmint to the garden. The chives also had the benefit of stimulating the Toddlers’ sense of taste. I let each of them try a little piece before the planted it in the soil. A few liked it, but most spit it out. Tell your toddlers that it’s okay if they didn’t like it and thank them for trying. Give them a few words to try to describe what it tasted like. One of our toddlers said that the chives were spicy.

Blog 5For plants with different kinds of textures we chose lamb’s ear first and taught the children how to hold out one finger to touch the soft fuzzy leaves. For our garden box we decided that teaching them to touch the plants gently would be much more effective than just telling them not to touch at all. By having the children use just one finger to touch something they are much less likely to pick or grab one of the plants. It’s an exercise in impulse control as well as fine motor and sensory play! To contrast the lamb’s ear I added hens and chicks to the garden. The leaves of these succulent plants are firm and spiky at the end. Hopefully they will even spread over time.

Blog 4We didn’t have much space in our little garden, but some purple pansies and a small wind chime helped to complete our sensory garden by adding something colorful and something that sounded pretty too. The toddlers love checking on the plants, watering them with small cups and spray bottles, and checking for bugs and butterflies each day. Try planting a sensory garden in a small space in your yard or even in a container on your porch or deck.

If you have a large space that you’re looking to fill check out the Natural Learning Initiative at http://naturalearning.org/sensory-gardens or Planet Natural at http://www.planetnatural.com/sensory-gardens/ for more inspiration.

Bethany Whitemyer is the Center Director at the Bright Horizons in Pembroke, Ma. She and her family, husband David and sons Evan and Lucas, live in Rockland, MA and she LOVES to dig in the dirt.

Never Miss a Monday – Lunch for Breakfast!

Lunch for breakfastDid you know that the United States is one of the few countries that has foods designated only for breakfast? So while we often limit ourselves to eggs or a boxed cereal, other countries are eating breakfast items that you’d be happy to order off of any lunch menu.

Variety is key to a nutritious diet so there’s no reason to limit your choices on your first meal of the day. Leftover whole wheat pasta with meat sauce…dig in! Peanut butter and jam on whole wheat bread with a pear…go for it! Homemade chicken noodle soup with whole grain roll…nothing better on a winter morning! As long as there is some lean protein, fiber and ideally a vegetable and/or fruit, the sky’s the limit.

This is an especially important for people that are not big fans of eggs or oatmeal, so therefore veer towards muffins and pastries; or for growing teenagers, as they’ll get a much bigger nutritional bang-for-their-buck by having a breakfast of turkey roll-ups, some cheese and an apple then they ever would from a bowl of Rice Krispies. So go ahead, have a healthy “lunch” …for breakfast!

Be Well!
Terry
June 8, 2015

Glyphosphate

GlyphosateFrom Berkshire Organics

For those who choose to eat organic food, the concerns about insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides are quite relevant. For many years, the presence of these sprays on conventionally grown crops was the primary concern; today, it goes far beyond the residue of toxic “‘cides” on our food. With the increase in GM food production, these chemicals are now present in our food. For instance, herbicide resistant GM plants (like Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops) are engineered to specifically resist the herbicide itself, and are sprayed liberally to kill the surrounding weeds. In the process of growth, the plant takes the chemical ingredient of the herbicide—as well as any other surfactant sprayed on it—into its cellular structure. Therefore, no matter how well you wash that genetically modified veggie, you will still be consuming the chemicals.

Recently, reports on glyphosate have become increasingly prevalent in the news. A recent announcement by the World Health Organization that it is ‘probably carcinogenic’ has, in particular, sparked coverage of this herbicide’s potential toxicity. While much of the research on glyphosate remains lacking due to the strong arm of omnipresent agribusiness, some research coming out of Central and South America shows that the relatively uncontrolled use of glyphosate-based herbicides there has led to significant increases in birth defects, kidney toxicity, and cancer.

Furthermore, many scientists have expressed concern about its environmental effects. In a 2009 volume of the European Journal of Agronomy, the authors write about the concerns related to widespread use of glyphosate in agriculture. The article states that the continuous increase of glyphosate can “significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense…and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.” The authors also write that glyphosate “can have serious consequences for sustainable production of a wide range of susceptible crops.” They go on to warn readers that “ignoring potential…side effects of any chemical, especially used as heavily as glyphosate, may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious…[compromising] not only agricultural sustainability, but also the health and well-being of animals and humans.”

Perhaps just as alarming is the fact that the EPA has steadily increased the allowable concentration limit of glyphosate in food, as the weeds are becoming more and more resistant to it. As a result, the amount of herbicides introduced into conventionally grown foods has increased enormously. In fact, a recent study has confirmed that glyphosate is widespread in foods around the world, including corn and soy products, as well as honey. While the two most heavily engineered crops unsurprisingly contain glyphosate, the amount of the chemical found in honey—even organic honey—is definitely cause for concern. After all, bees pollinate a variety of crops, many of which might be treated with herbicides. Interestingly, the results of the study showed that honey from countries that permit GM crops (such as the U.S.) contained significantly higher levels of glyphosate than honey from countries that limit or prohibit GM crops. As the USDA and FDA are unlikely to regulate glyphosate without a serious fight from consumers, it seems that we are charged with the mission of continuously and consistently voting—at the local and national levels, as well as with our dollars—against the use of toxic chemicals in our food system.

Johal and Huber. “Glyphosate Effects on Diseases of Plants. European Journal of Agronomy. 2009.

“PA Researchers Discover Glyphosate Herbicide in Honey and Soy Sauce.” Sustainable Pulse. 12 Feb 2015.

Schubert, Dave. “The Coming Food Disaster.” CNN.com. 28 Jan 2015.

Walton, Alice G. “WHO Says Monsanto ‘Roundup’ Ingredient is ‘Probably Carcinogenic’. Are They Right?” Forbes. 21 Mar 2015.

Warren and Pisarenko. “Argentines Link Health Problems to Agrochemicals.” Associated Press. 20 Oct 2013

Never Miss a Monday – Make Your Bed

State of bed“Did you make your bed today?” No, it isn’t your Mom and Dad writing this post, but if you answered yes you should be thanking them not only for teaching you a tidy house habit, but a life lesson that affects productivity, mood, stress and happiness. (feel free to go give them a thank-you call, I’ll wait….).

Full disclosure, I didn’t always make my bed in the morning. I would run out of the house in a whirlwind, leaving my blankets and sheets to fend for themselves. And of course at night when it was time to go to bed, it was stressful to look at the mess before trying to settle in for the night. Sound familiar? Then I heard this quote and it would niggle at me during the day, til finally I just decided, I’m going to make my bed every day. There’s no quarters bouncing off of it but just pulling the sheets up and straightening the blanket definitely makes me feel like I’m starting the day with a clear head.

We’re all looking to check things off our to-do lists, so why not start with a sense of accomplishment as soon as your day starts? And this one small habit can begin to build on other small habits as it makes you realize that certain tasks don’t take as long as you think they do, and the sense of completion and stress reduction is well worth the time.

Try this challenge – sit down anywhere in your house and time yourself for 5 mins… not…doing…anything. Go ahead, I dare ya. You’ll quickly realize that 5 minutes is a loonnggg time. So now, do you think you have 2 minutes to make your bed in the morning? What about 5 minutes to pack healthy snacks the night before school and work? Can you take 20 mins on a Sunday morning to do some prep work for healthy meals for the week? Like all tasks, once they become habits, they not only go faster but they can become ingrained so that you are using less actual brain power to complete, saving up that energy for that next new healthy habit on your list.

And really…go call your folks, it’ll only take a minute.

Be Well,
Terry
May 25, 2015