Small things to make life better

we-become-what-we-repeatedly-do-3 Making small changes in order to live a healthier life has been an obsession of mine for a while now. I love Gretchen Rubin and Zen Habits and all the other people out there who write meaningfully about this topic, without just making listicles like "12 Things to Do for Eternal Happiness." So of course I was excited about the "One Small Thing" series from one of my favorite bloggers, Alicia at Jaybird! She and other bloggers write all about small, actionable things you can do to make yourself feel better and healthier - like making your bed every day, or storing your canvas bags more efficiently.

I get excited every time she posts a new one, and I was lucky enough to contribute as well! Click here to see my guest post on making grocery shopping faster, easier and more awesome. Just like the other ideas in her series, it's a tiny thing that makes a big difference in reducing stress (which ultimately makes life better).

Post-run yoga cooldown

Full disclosure - this post-run yoga cooldown was not my idea; it was stolen directly from Pinterest. [My Pinterest linked it back to this blog, although I don't think it originated there.] But I really like it! I'm trying to get more yoga into my life on a daily basis. I think it's unrealistic that I'll get to a yoga class more than once a week (even though I now live three blocks away from a yoga studio - teaching doesn't leave me much energy or time during the week), but I always carve out time for running. This would be a good way to get in both...

Whose responsibility is it to pay our exorbitant medical bills?

I don't know enough about the Affordable Care Act to swear by it. I'm not sure if it is without a doubt the best possible plan that anyone could have come up with. I'm sure there are lots of flaws (although they weren't put there purposely by President Obama). Despite its imperfections, though, I believe that it's better than nothing. We had to do something. From my own personal experience, the health insurance world is a nightmare to navigate. I have had multiple bills in the hundreds of dollars that weren't covered for some obscure reason, or because my employer didn't offer health insurance and therefore I was paying out of pocket. And my bills were just for routine medical or dental checkups. I have been very fortunate not to have any debilitating illnesses or major accidents. If I had, I know that I would be in enormous debt right now, either to credit card companies or to my family. Neither of which is a desirable option.

But it's accounts like this one that really get me upset about the health care system. In this moving article, a college professor ends up tens of thousands of dollars in debt because her partner comes down with advanced-stage Lyme disease. Her health insurance hasn't kicked in yet, so they have to pay out of pocket for several weeks, and no one is able to diagnose her properly. The partner is in extreme pain and misery, and all she can do is watch helplessly. Eventually, thousands of dollars later, they get an accurate diagnosis, and it turns out to be a diagnosis that isn't covered by health insurance! They end up having to start a website to plead for help from their friends and family. Fortunately, they raise a lot of money, and are able to pay their bills.

But it's just ridiculous that people need to go to such lengths as designing a website to beg for help to pay simple medical bills. Imagine if they had been a family with less know-how, who didn't have such a network of support that helped them navigate web design and mounting bills. Imagine being an English language learner, who is trying to understand stacks of paperwork that involve "deductibles," "claims," and other confusing requirements. Imagine being a single mother who can't pay her child's medical bills because her employer either can't or won't insure her. There are endless scenarios where people's lives are ruined, temporarily or permanently, because of our unsupportive, confusing health care system.

While I don't think the Affordable Health Care Act is perfect, I do think it's a good start. We had to start somewhere, so stories like this don't go on. As this article said, "It is not our community's responsibility to pay our exorbitant medical bills, to prevent our lives from being annihilated by the cost of illness. It is our government's responsibility."

Image source: NYTimes

Why killing time isn't a sin

The author of Zen Habits, one of the blogs I read about simple living, has a pretty awesome policy that anyone can share or reprint his blog entries if they so choose. He calls it an "uncopyrighted" policy. So when I saw his post this morning about killing time, I decided to repost it since it really resonated with me. I realized that I am definitely the type of person that views killing time as a bad thing. I'm always thinking about how I can be more productive. If I'm watching a movie, I'll try to answer emails at the same time. If I'm in the car, I'll try to listen to podcasts so I can learn more. If I have an unexpected day off work, I think about all the things I can complete that day. Those tendencies aren't necessarily bad, but they can border on unhealthy when I realize that I can't relax when I have down time. Thus, as part of my quest to live a healthier life, I'm going to think more about making time to just relax. It's one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.

Why Killing Time Isn't a Sin

Post written by Leo Babauta.
I recently read a travel tip from someone who reminds himself that “killing time is a sin”, and so makes the most use of every bit of downtime, even on an airplane: “read a good book, learn a new language with Rosetta Stone, write to my friends around the world who haven’t heard from me in too long”.
I have no objections to reading books, learning languages, or writing to friends. It’s the idea that downtime must be put to efficient use that I disagree with. While I used to agree with it completely, these days I take a completely different approach.
Life is for living, not productivity.

Make the Most of Every Minute

There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the minute they awake. I know because not too long ago I was one of these folks.
Got time on the train or plane? If you’re not doing work, maybe you can be enriching yourself by learning something.
Got time before a meeting starts? Organize your to-do list, send off some emails, write some notes on a project you’re working on.
Driving? Why not make some phone calls or tell Siri to add a bunch of stuff to your calendar? Why not listen to a self-help audiobook?
Watching TV with the family? You can also be answering emails, doing situps, stretching.
Having lunch with a friend? Maybe you can talk business to make it a productive meeting.
This is the mindset that we’re supposed to have. Every minute counts, because time’s a-wasting. The clock is ticking. The sands of the hourglass are spilling.
I used to feel this way, but now I see things a bit differently.

Is This What Life Is To Be?

It might seem smart and productive to not let a single minute go to waste (they’re precious, after all), but let’s take a step back to look at the big picture.
Is this what our lives are to be? A non-stop stream of productive tasks? A life-long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine?
What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals.
What about freedom? Freedom from being tied to a job, from having to improve yourself every single minute, from the dreariness of neverending work?

An Alternative

Killing time isn’t a sin — it’s a misnomer. We’ve framed the question entirely wrong. It’s not a matter of “killing” time, but of enjoying it.
If we ask ourselves instead, “How can I best enjoy this moment?”, then the entire proposition is reframed.
Now we might spend this moment working if that work brings us joy. But we might also spend it relaxing, doing nothing, feeling the breeze on the nape of our neck, losing ourselves in conversation with a cherished friend, snuggling under the covers with a lover.
This is life. A life of joy, of wonderfulness.

Recipe of the week: Israeli couscous and chickpea salad

Now that it's getting hot, I'm pretty much eating only simple, grain-vegetable-and-bean recipes. Here's one I'm obsessed with lately, from the NYTimes Well blog. I make a double batch of it and then eat it for lunch for the rest of the week!

Israeli Couscous and Chickpea Salad

  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 T chives, chopped
  • 3 oz. feta, crumbled
  • 2 T pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 t chili powder

Heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-heat. Pour in the couscous and stir until the couscous begins to brown and smell toasty, usually four to five minutes. Add two cups of water and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until couscous is soft but not mushy.

Put the couscous in a big bowl and add the cilantro, chives, feta, pine nuts, chickpeas, and red pepper. Stir. Mix together lemon juice, cumin, a little salt, yogurt, and chili powder. Pour the sauce on top of the couscous mixture. Enjoy!

Image source

Nourish: Food curriculum for upper elementary and middle school teachers

A friend of mine showed me a new food curriculum called Nourish. It looks fantastic. It's geared towards upper elementary and middle schoolers, so I won't be able to use it this fall (I'm teaching kindergarten). But it has some really great ideas for teaching about where food comes from, eating in season, food advertising, and other important food literacy concepts. It also has a bunch of graphics called Food Tools that are perfect for teaching about food systems. Here's one graphic I love and might actually print out to put in my classroom...

The curriculum also has a half-hour video that goes with it. Seems pretty awesome!

Being active in nature makes kids healthier

By now you've probably figured out how much I love infographics. But this one is the best I've seen in a while! It's called Children and Nature: Being active in nature makes kids healthier. As a teacher who works at an environmental education center (for one more week!), the facts in here are great. I printed a copy and laminated it, to put up in my new classroom!

The two most stunning facts:

  • Kids spend more than 7 hours a day with various electronic media.
  • Children have lost 50% of unstructured outdoor activity over recent decades. 

But fortunately:

  • Children living within 2/3 mile of a park with a playground can be 5 times more likely to have a healthy weight.
  • Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be overweight by 27-41%.

The link to the printable pdf is here.

Biking and walking in the U.S.: 2012 benchmarking report

A friend of mine just passed this fascinating document along to me. It's a report done annually on walking and biking in the U.S. I was shocked (but I guess not surprised) by some of these statistics. Click here to see the full report, or here to read quick facts from the report summary. I've always been somewhat conscious of how often I choose to drive somewhere that is within walking or biking distance. But now I'm going to try even harder to get places by my own two feet. I'm just glad I live somewhere that is reasonably bike-friendly. Some places are impossible to get around. (That's a whole other issue that we need to work out in this country.) Anyway, here are some interesting stats from the report:

  • 40% of trips in the U.S. are shorter than two miles, yet we use our cars for 87% of these trips.
  • 27% of trips in the U.S. are shorter than one mile, yet we use our cars for 62% of these trips.
  • Only 1% of trips are by bicycle. Only 10.5% are by foot.
  • Biking and walking levels fell by 66% between 1960 & 2009, while obesity levels increased by 156%. [connection??]
  • The number of children who biked or walked to school fell by 75% between 1966 & 2009, while the percentage of obese children rose by 276%

This report also ranks all 50 states, as well as 51 major cities, based on how often their residents walk or bike to work. My current state (Michigan) ranks pretty low at #34, whereas Alaska surprisingly ranks #1!

So, if that isn't enough inspiration to consider walking or biking to work (or at least one place that you normally drive to), check out this infographic for some more reasons.