Happiness, Stress and Longevity: A 9 Year Old’s Questions

good night bearAs I put Valen to bed she hit me with a profound question.

Valen, “Mom, is it true that happy people live 9 years longer?”

Me, “probably, happy people tend to find the positive and good in things.  People in positive relationships live longer too.”

Valen, “Like you and daddy?”

Me, “Yes, like dad and I. Also people who have a strong family or community tend to be happier and live longer.”

Valen, “Like friends?”

Me, “Yes, like friends”

Valen, “Is school stress, like wanting to do well on a test bad?”

Me, “No, that’s a short term kind of stress, it’s stress that goes on for a long time that’s not so good”

Valen, “So mom, at school we have table groups. The group that wins gets to invite a friend to gym class. Would saying ‘come on guys hurry up lets clean-up’, be bad stress?”

Me, “Well, it would likely depend on how it’s said, in a light hearted manner or screaming.”

Valen, “No mom, I don’t yell.”

What I thought was interesting was how she approached finding out if trying to hurry up the other kids was ok or not.   In hind sight there are a million questions I could have asked her around how she was feeling about hurrying the other kids, but replaying the conversation would stress me out.  Instead, I relay it as the interesting musing of a 9 year old on living longer and being happy.

I’m happy she ponders how her communication affects a healthy lifestyle and how it will impact on  her stress, health and happiness.   We could all benefit from a little introspection around this topic.

What are your thought on this?   Leave a comment to start the discussion.

To living a life that fills you with love, joy and excitement.

Hugs Allison

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Family Love and Connection to Up Your Energy

Whether you live close to your family or across the seas from those you love you will feel more energized when you celebrate, share and express your love for them.

Added Benefits of Connection include:

  • Having a closer relationship – we’re more likely to share more of ourselves when we feel loved and show love for others.
  • Being happier – Isolation of any kind is not ideal for our mental energy or our mental health.
  • Living longer – Research shows those who feel part of a community, in this case family, have lower stress and better health.

I speak from the heart.  It’s hard to live apart, I miss my husband terribly, the kids miss their father it’s a heck of a sacrifice. One that we know is short term and by our determination one that we project the benefits will, and do, outweigh the risks.

We manage this distance by focusing on our connection every day. I’m not talking internet connection, though we do use the internet to build connection.

Even with my parents, who live  just a few blocks away,  I  work on building connection.

Here are my favorite ways to create connection with those that live near and far.

Carve out time for connection

Local connection

Trip to the organic market –   shopping isn’t a blast but having a loved one to shop and chat with connects us through food and experience.

Host a dinner party – there is nothing like creating a meal with the vitamin Love in it.  The meal tastes better when shared with those you love too.

Do something nice for them – spend a moment and think about things your family love and surprise them with that, it might be a cake you make, or a card or that you video their favorite movie for them.

These little acts of Love and Kindness express your feelings.

For Distance Relationships

These can be more challenging but it’s possible.

Skype or FaceTime calls – these are free and are a great way to physically see each other.  It’s like being in the same room.

Creating Videos – as my kids love to do.  I’m including one below which the kids made for Victor just this week.  They  wanted to share how much they are looking forward to seeing him.

Sharing photos – letting loved ones see what’s happening in your life and then following up with a conversation creates that loving connection.

Sending trinkets in the mail – little gifts that symbolize your connection, sticky notes or a cute card that conveys your feeling are great.

Life moves fast, but taking time to slow life down and make  connections more than pays off in terms of  increased energy, happiness and love in our lives.  Of course, it’s not what you do one day it’s what you do consistently that builds loving connections.

Leave a comment below to share how you create connection,  Your tips help others create more connection and that’s a great thing.

To your health and energy,

Love Allison

Happy 6th Birthday Kateryna

3 girlsToday is my baby girl’s 6th birthday.  We’ve carried her in our hearts for 5.5 years, and there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t miss and love her.

As you can imagine, this is not one of my/our family’s favorite days, so my task today is to make the day special for all of us and to remember the joys and celebrate Kateryna’s day.  Let me take you back.

I remember it well, I’d been admitted to the hospital with a very nasty sinus infection.  I was 32 weeks pregnant and Kateryna decided she wanted to make her grand entrance.  I would have preferred she wait a little bit, but that was her way…. Always in a rush.

At least I was in the hospital.

I woke up at 6 am and thought, “Whooo that’s not good.”  I was having contractions.  I called the nurse she graciously  put a monitor on me and walked away.   The contractions got stronger, and I called the nurse.  This time she looked at the machine – not at me – and said, “No, you’re not having contractions.”  Seriously!!!

Thankfully, I had my Doctor’s phone number, Dr. Ramzi Finan, a wonderful Gynecologist in Lebanon.  I called him and said, “They’re telling me I’m not in labor, and I’m telling you she’s coming.”  He said, “I’m coming,” and within minutes the nurses came into the room and guess what…My water broke.

They checked me and I was 8 cm dilated.  Good thing I wasn’t in labor, hey?

Things happened very quickly.  I was rushed into delivery and because she was so early and coming so fast, the attending put her hand on Kat’s head to keep her from coming out.

Vic was driving like a mad man from South Lebanon, Tyre (where we lived) to Beirut where I was delivering, when my girlfriend Leanne arrived at the delivery room.  She held my hand and told me how great I was doing.  Thanks Leanne, that helped me to stay calm as I naturally worried about my baby.

The doc finally arrived and took his place without even an opportunity to put on his medical white coat.  That proved to be a mistake.  As soon as he said it’s ok to go, and the attendee removed her hand, Kateryna came flying out.  Literally, he just about dropped her.  Argh, that wouldn’t have been good.

Kat HospitalKat was assessed and spent a few days in the ICU because she was a preterm baby weighing in at 2.2 kg.  She came home with us after a week, and we celebrated her welcome.  She was so small and precious.

Happy Birthday Kat, we love you.

So today, I’m making a cake, I’ve exercised, I’ve cried and lit a candle.  Tonight, we will blow out the candles and raise a piece of cake to my beautiful girl, a daughter, sister and granddaughter.

With great sadness, I can attest that we don’t hold all the cards in life. But how we live our day and the choices we make dramatically affect our health and our happiness.

Is my blood pressure a little higher today with the emotions I’m feeling?  Yes. Am I bottling my feelings?  No, I’m expressing and sharing.  Celebrating Kateryna’s life and – yes – mourning the empty place at the table.

I’ve learned it’s better to feel than to bottle and suppress.  Happy and sad come together in a mix mash of emotions. 

Bubba, we are happy to hear that your surgery went well and that you are soon to be home.  We will celebrate this success tonight with Kat’s birthday.

Lots of love.

Where Does The Time Go?

koalaIt’s almost mid June….can you believe it? Where does the time go? There’s that word….time. Something we all seek more of. Instead of seeking more time, what if we invest time in evaluating how we spend our time?

Seriously, think about it. When we invest for our future, we often calculate how much we invest vs. what we predict we’ll get back (ROI). However, when it comes to our time, are we as methodical?

Yet, time is more finite than money. With money, we can always go out and get more either by working harder, longer or smarter. With time, we have a set number of hours in a day. The only variable we don’t control is how many days we’ll have. Although, we do have some influence over this number as it’s influenced by our lifestyle choices.

ROI of the Pleasure Value of Time

If we tweak our thinking and start measuring the Return on Investment (ROI), measured not by monetary terms but by the pleasure we would give or receive, would we make the same time decisions we do today?

Is spending time at your child’s soccer game more or less valuable to you than having lunch with a friend? Does the feel good you get from the gym measure up against the feel good of a drive-through cheese burger and a hurried lunch while running errands?

We often use the excuse of not having enough time to do the things we want to do, yet when there is something we really want, I mean in the pit of our gut, we find a way to make time for it.

How would you spend your time?

If money, commitments and life pressures didn’t prevent you from doing what you really want, what would you do? Your answer to these questions will depend on how completely stressed out you are, what your values are and how you prioritize your life.

feeding-the-wallabiesJust think about it. Being able to spend your time however you want. No obligations, nothing getting in the way………sounds pretty amazing doesn’t it? But we know better. We can’t always spend our time the way we want to. But once you answer the questions above, you’ll get clear on what you really want to be doing. Then, you make choices.

The clock is ticking……what will you choose?

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Together we grow happier, healthier, stronger and more resilient to lifestyle disease.

Much love, Allison

The Positive Effect of Pause

positive-effect-of-pauseDo you say the first thing that comes to mind? Or do you take a deep breath before you let your tongue go? Pause is a healthy lifestyle choice.  It creates space to let the mind catch up, to let emotions cool, to change the subject or to articulate more clearly.

As adults, we often pause and think about the ramifications of our flash thoughts.  Children, however, don’t naturally stop and think….at least mine don’t. Their lack of conscious awareness about how the words that spill from their mouths impact the receiver can be very damaging to their sibling relationships, not to mention external relationships.

It’s natural for pre-teens to bicker, but when it goes beyond occasional, it’s damaging to relationships and our household harmony.  Frankly, it stresses me so after a particularly bad day of bickering that I decided it was time to nip it in the bud.

So last night over dinner, we talked about how they’d been treating each other and about why it’s not acceptable to name call and constantly bicker over every little detail. I wasn’t sure if they were fully paying attention, as they rolled their eyes at each other.

Just to make sure we established a no bickering rule with consequence – no TV/ Playstation or electronics of any kind on the weekend.  Given they don’t have them during the week, weekends are something they really look forward to. Now we had their attention!J

Of course, it’s not enough to simply say it stops.  We have to explain why it’s unacceptable and give them the tools to prevent the bickering.  Here are some of the things we came up with.  Feel free to add to the list in the comments section.

Reasons to Pause

  1. Words are hurtful – Bickering digresses into nasty comments and hurt feelings. Sometimes we regret saying things in the heat of the moment.
  2. Built in friends – Siblings are friends for life, so best treat each other well. It’s easier to hold your tongue or go to your respective corners than to heal the damage after its already been done.
  3. We just wanna be happy –It’s really hard to do if you’re constantly butting heads with someone.  Don’t knock someone down in order to prop yourself up.
  4. Being hyper-critical isn’t going to make anyone happy.

Does this mean the kids shouldn’t stand up for themselves if they feel they’ve been wrongly treated?  Absolutely not.  But often, their bickering is just a result of letting the words spiral out of control.  When we teach them to pause, it allows time for their minds to catch up with their words.  This can save some very hurt feelings.

Does pause have anything to do with a happy and healthy lifestyle?  I think so.  What about you?

If you want support on your way to having more energy and achieving a healthy lifestyle, I invite you to apply for a FREE 1-on-1 Health History Session. During this 50-minute call, we’ll explore how your lifestyle is impacting your energy levels and discuss the strategy needed to get you exactly where you want to be. I’m here to guide, support and encourage you!

Life Skills to Keep Your Kids Healthy Long-Term

kids-in-the-kitchenAs a parent, it’s important to me to raise respectful kids. In fact, I have a long list of values that I want to pass on to them such as respect for others, manners, work ethic, how to study, how to share and how to express their feelings.

When the kids move out, I want them to go into the world prepared and able to care for themselves. I want them to grow and mature through their adult years as happy healthy individuals. For them to do this, they need the life skill of cooking.

Say what? You heard me. If the kids move out and haven’t mastered the basics of the kitchen, they will have few options other than eating boxed meals, restaurant meals or fast-food meals….all of which will quickly take them from what I’m assuming will be an optimal state of health to lesser state.

I don’t want that to happen, so it’s kitchen duties 101 in my house. Of course, the kids don’t know I’m preparing them to thrive in the outside world. They think they’re helping with getting the meal onto the table. And they are, but they are learning so much more in the process.

Tips to get your kids involved in the kitchen.

  1. Talk to them about the weekly meal plan. Kids know what they like to eat and they love to make dinner recommendations. Of course, if they’re requesting meat and potatoes or chicken nuggets, this is a great opportunity to talk to them about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. Ideally, you’re striving for a plate of ½ vegetables (one green and one color), ¼ protein (meat, chicken, beans) and ¼ carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, rice, pasta). Remember, the smaller your plate, the easier it is to control portion size.
  2. Build a grocery list. With the menu in hand, you can plan the groceries. While you sit at the table, you can ask the kids to check the cupboards and fridge for the items you need. This gets them used to preparing a grocery list and makes them aware of the various foods that make up their meals.
  3. Shop with them. When you shop off of a list, you are teaching the kids to stick to the plan. You can use the opportunity to show them how less healthy foods are strategically placed at eye level. You’ll want to have them look up and down to find the healthier selections.
  4. Have them wash and chop. Foods should always be washed before starting food preparation. Washing the fruits and vegetables help the kids to understand which foods can be eaten in their natural state and which need to be peeled. For example, beets will need peeling, but carrots require only a good washing.
  5. Set the table. Setting the table is like ringing Pavlov’s bell. The process of putting the condiments, water glasses and cutlery out helps to establish the habit of eating at the table, not in front of the TV. It also carves out a safe family eating environment.
  6. Clear the table. Many hands makes light work.
  7. Pack away leftovers. When we pack away the leftovers for repurposing or for lunch, this helps kids learn the “cook once, eat twice” strategy that saves time and money. That’s a good habit to learn.
  8. Do the dishes. This skill will enable them to get a job as dishwasher or busser in a restaurant – we may not want to eat there, but it’s a great first job.

When you use these simple tips, you’ll create valuable together time and model healthy lifestyle habits that the kids will continue to use long after they move out. Best of all, when meal preparation is a shared event, you’ll have less stress and may be happier spending time in the kitchen. I sleep better knowing that the kids can navigate their way around the kitchen….do you?

I’d love to hear ways that you get the kids involved in the kitchen. Please leave a comment to share.

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Preparing the Evening Meal Together

FrittataThankfully, my husband Vic and I share the evening meal responsibilities. I say thankfully because I get bored eating the same food all of the time. But with him cooking, it gives me a break from the kitchen, adds a bit of surprise to meal time and, most importantly, shows the kids that men have a rightful place in the kitchen!  They learn that to make a household work, both parents have to work together. This is very different from what we grew up with. Back then, our mom’s did all of the cooking and cleaning. That might still be the case in many households, but in ours, Vic has a role right alongside me.

But I digress….tonight was my night to cook, and all I knew was that I didn’t have time to cook quinoa burgers, the kid’s favorite fall back dish. I immediately thought – leftovers! They’re quick, easy and environmentally friendly (discarded leftovers are a big contributor to global warming….not to mention a waste of money).

I searched the fridge and found mushrooms (that were just shy of their use by date), green beans from last night’s dinner and some fresh spinach. I thought, “Ok, I’ll sauté the mushrooms with some garlic and add in the greens!” However, I still needed a main dish. Sautéed vegetables weren’t going to fill the kids’ bellies, and it’s so hard to sleep hungry. Then it came to me. I’ll do a frittata! They are so easy to prepare and you can throw in practically anything but the kitchen sink to make them work.

The one-pot Spinach, Mushroom & Green Bean Frittata that came together was satisfying and delicious.  Click here for the recipe.

This fantastic meal offered some impressive health and nutritional benefits!

  • White button mushrooms reduce heart disease by reducing inflammation of the arteries and boost the immune system.
  • Green beans provide dietary fiber, which adds bulk to your diet and your stool. Vitamins B and C add needed minerals and are great for fighting infection.
  • Spinach is high in iron and fiber.

Not only was the meal delicious, but my fridge is now emptier and I can sleep better knowing that we ate well and prevented food from landing in the garbage.

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Returning Home for the Holidays

arrival-adelaideAhhh, holidays sweet holidays. A time to relax, kick back and take deep, deep breaths. This year, my family and I returned to my husband’s family home in Adelaide, Australia. As soon as I set foot out of the car at Vic’s parent’s house, my senses were flooded with the incredible smells of Fall. The sweet aroma of pine and lavender filled my head, and the sounds of crickets singing filled my ears. Oh, the sweet land of trees! Such a contrast to Tyre, Lebanon – where I live – which is a cement jungle. This only makes these Adelaide sensations all the more wonderful. I breathed deeply, capturing the moment and the memory.

I couldn’t help but remember the last time I arrived here. It wasn’t joyous, and I remember nothing of the smells. I was shut down, retracted into myself. I remember not wanting to get out of the car. I remember Vic’s folks coming over, tears in their eyes, to hug us. You see, the last time I was here, our beautiful daughter, Kateryna, was admitted to the hospital for overnight monitoring. Little did we know, she would never come home again.

That was almost 5 years ago, and this was my first time back. Vic and the kids have been back, but I’ve typically made excuses (aka smoke screens) about needing to work. This time, however, I was ready to breathe and move through the experience of seeing this house and the family again. I was mentally prepared, mentally strong enough to accept and ready to see joy in the present. I was going to breathe and let life unfold.

As we drove to Vic’s family home from the airport, I prepared myself, knowing that this was going to be really hard. I took calming deep breaths, gently and lovingly reminded myself to live here in the present and reminded myself that I have a choice to be either happy or sad. And when we arrived, I was present….right there in that moment.

I was happy for the smells. I was happy for the joyous laughter of the kids, for the loving hugs of grandparents to grandchildren and for the warmth and love that embraced my family and me. Sometimes, the gift of life is in letting go, in taking a deep breath and letting the moment be unpolluted by all that happened before. And yes, sometimes we have to consciously choose to do this.

It doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten or that we don’t have pain. I can’t describe exactly how it feels. I only know that both homecomings have been integrated into my life and have played a role in molding my spirit and my being. I will never say that I’m grateful for my loss, but I have learned to live again. For that….I am truly thankful.

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5 Tips for Bringing Back Family Mealtime

family-mealDo you eat meals with your family, or have today’s hectic lifestyles made family mealtime a fond memory? For my family, eating together has become a commitment that has been well worth the effort.

The best part of tonight’s family meal wasn’t the eating, though it certainly was a delicious, nutrient dense meal that provided tons of healthy phytochemicals, protein and fiber. No, the best part was the conversation!

As I sat there listening to everyone’s chatter, my heart swelled, and I realized there was a hidden added vitamin in our meal. When we eat together, and share our day’s experiences and stories, we’re enjoying Vitamin C….not only from the vegetables but the Vitamin C of Connection.

I don’t recall where I’ve heard about this vitamin, it’s not my invention, but that’s exactly what my family was sharing….a growing connection, a bond that forms when we ‘break bread together,’ when we banter and laugh and share our lives.

This eating dinner together wasn’t always the case in our household. When the kids were little they ate earlier, and once they were tucked into bed Vic and I would eat, often in front of the TV. Thankfully, a few years ago we decided to change our family mealtime routine. It wasn’t easy. The kids had to eat later, and we had to get home from work earlier. But we did it.

Some nights, dinner is a little earlier or a little later, but overall we have managed to carve out this sacred time twice a day, breakfast and dinner.

Eating together today is still something we consciously commit to, but if we let our guard down, it can quickly become a thing of the past. Maybe you experience the same roadblocks:

  • kids’ schedules
  • late nights at work
  • eating in front of the TV
  • talking on the phone
  • eating in front of electronic gadgets

It can be a challenge, but by sticking to a few key strategies, you can make it happen. Here are 5 strategies you can use to bring your family together around a meal:

  1. Set aside designated nights of the week where everyone agrees to be home for dinner. These are non-negotiable times for you and your family.
  2. Decide if you’ll allow friends to join your table. We eat together even when we have people around. In general, the kids love it as it exposes them to different forms of communication and topics than we normally have.
  3. Get them talking. We use a round table method where each person has a turn to talk about their day.
  4. Respect each other’s turn. Encourage everyone to listen and ask questions. This is such an important part of communication. No one wants to speak if they feel others aren’t listening, and asking questions is a way to let others know we are listening and interested in them.
  5. Don’t speak over each other. I was surprised how hard this was for us. I guess we all want to be heard, and we think our message is more important than another message. Having ground rules around this was very helpful.

Eating meals together has been such a gift on so many levels. We are more connected as a family, we all laugh a lot more and we have a better, deeper understanding of each others’ lives. Yes, it’s required ongoing effort, but it’s an effort that pays big dividends.

We get to choose how and with whom we eat our meals. Are you ready to take a step towards family meals?

Give the 5 tips a try and leave a comment to share how it went. I know it’s not always easy, so don’t worry if your comment is more of a question. : )

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Simple Pleasures: Lessons from A Little Town in Southern Italy

Simple Pleasures: : Lessons from A Little Town in Southern ItalyI’ve had the incredible fortune to travel to Italy 3 times for work.  Each time I’m there, I’m amazed by the Italian sense of community.

In the small and quiet Mediterranean town of Brindisi, the municipality closes the downtown main streets every Sunday afternoon in order to set up a kiddy-size merry-go-round perfect for 3-4 year olds.  As the afternoon sun sets, families hit the streets to enjoy an evening with their children.  They walk and talk and hang out together for hours at a time.

The people in this town are not rich in monetary terms, but they sure understand the value of community, togetherness and quality time.  When I witnessed this Sunday ritual in this lovely Italian town, it brought forth memories of my youth in Regina, Saskatchewan.  I recalled how we used to close off the streets for street parties.  I fondly remembered the three-legged race that I ran with my dad as well as hopping down the street in a sack alongside the neighborhood kids.

These days, life is a lot busier.  Kids have school, lessons and places to be, and parents make time for running errands between their own obligations and shuttling children to and fro.  Streets remain accessible around the clock for traffic and the continuous movement that we’ve come to accept as normal.  We do, of course, enjoy the merry-go-round from time to time.  However, now-a-days, this is an activity that happens only on special occasions like Buffalo Days or the town fair.

In Brindisi, Italy, they set aside time each and every week for their community event One that, as far as I know, costs people only the one Euro that they will pay for a gelato (a delicious, lighter version of ice cream) from the local Gelateria.  The Italian lifestyle is one that seems to place great significance on life’s simple pleasures.  Something as simple as strolling the streets while enjoying an ice cream or gelato with a friend or family member brings a great sense of community.  Men and women, young and old, enjoy the reverie of companionship and community.  In my eyes, Italy epitomizes community!  I strongly believe that each and every one of us can learn something from their lifestyle.

Consider what might happen if, on any given evening, you were to give up an hour of watching TV, playing video games or catching up on Facebook.  What if, instead, you opted to take a leisurely stroll with a friend, your child or your parents?  How do you think this would impact your life?  Do you believe that your relationships would be stronger?  Would you possibly feel happier and more connected to those around you?  I’m not talking about permanent, life-changing happiness, but simply about your state of happiness in that particular moment in time. 

While none of us can stop time from passing, it seems that time is something that we all wish we could control.  Simply stated, we all want more time.  Unfortunately, time is limited for all of us.  However, it is also one of the greatest gifts that we can give or receive.  The time that we share and spend with others is precious.  It is during these times that we indirectly build stronger relationships, stronger communities and stronger foundations for health and wellness.

While Italy is one of many places where we can enjoy a wonderful sense of community, it is important to remember that – with a little creativity and extra effort – we can cultivate a strong sense of community wherever we are.  The ability to do so all comes down to how we choose to spend our time.  Do we sit alone in front of a TV or computer screen, or do we engage with family, friends and new acquaintances?

The choice is ours to make.  As for me?  I’ve chosen to take a little bit of Brindisi home with me and remember those glorious Sunday afternoons.

Being a member of a community, especially a healthy community, is a great way to  create positive memories.  What memories do you have that bring a smile to your face and brighten your day? Tell me in the comments section below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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