Maybe you have heard of food recalls because of listeria. What is it? Listeria is named after Joseph Lister, the British scientist, known for instigating sterile areas for surgery. Listeria is a category of bacteria that often comes from contaminated food.
Listeria causes food poisoning-like symptoms which might involve vomiting, aches, pains and headaches, and/or diahrrea. If the symptoms become severe and medical intervention is necessary, a blood test will determine if it is listeria. It is found in soil, water, and some animals. It can also be found in food processing plants and can sometimes be found in cold cuts. (I only learned this a year ago when our daughter was pregnant and could not eat deli meat.)
It can go away on its own but it can also cause significant issues for pregnant women or those with weak immune systems. Listeria can be IN food and it can be ON food.
Recently, I read that one in five avocados has listeria on it. This motivated me to wash every avocado under running water (and I use a little dish soap) before cutting it. I have always washed my squash and melon before cutting it, realizing that those items often grow on the ground and contaminants are frequently unseen. Apparently, as the knife blade pierces the skin of the fruit or vegetable contaminated with listeria, it carries that bacteria into the edible portion, potentially causing illness.
This is just one example of being careful with fresh fruits and vegetables. As we travel to farmer’s markets, roadside fruit and vegetable stands, or even our backyard gardens to purchase or harvest the food we eat, remember this: Wash everything first.
I have a strong immune system, developed over years of living on the farm, but listeria isn’t something I want to ingest, so I’m especially careful to rinse, wash, rinse food before we consume it.
Enjoy eating the colors of the rainbow, safely.
Twice a Year
I have a couple of soap boxes. Two, actually. One is about keeping everyone else safe and healthy in the fall and winter season when the cold/flu/virus season comes upon us. You have heard that one in the last year.
The second soap box is set for today. It’s called ‘eat healthy’ or ‘where are my healthy choices’ or ‘here are some options.’
I can nag and remind you of how important it is to eat well and eat as organically as you can afford. The real proof is in tasting the difference. So, today’s article is mostly a challenge. It’s a challenge to those of you with children who would like to teach your children about the source of their food; the taste difference; and the quality differences.
My disclaimer is that I don’t belong to a group because I have my own organic garden. But, if I couldn’t manage that space or if I didn’t have a garden, this is what I would do. Now, I’m going to lead you on a brief rabbit trail to tell you why I feel so strongly about this.
We have health issues in our home. Some of them are related to food issues. Celiac: the inability to process wheat, rye, or barley because the protein ‘gluten’ argues will all systems inside. My husband discovered he was gluten intolerant about 5 years ago. As soon as we learned this, I encouraged our older daughter to be tested. She had been to 25 specialists for health issues and they all thought she was perfectly healthy. She was not.
After she learned she was also gluten intolerant and changed her diet, her health improved but not all the issues were resolved. It has only been in the last year that one doctor has been able to put many puzzle pieces together and begin to bring her out of ‘health hell’ into some kind of normal. Many of her tests are still in the basement but she feels better than she has in a long time.
One of the key elements has been the right combination of healthy foods. Not just eat the rainbow kind of healthy, but REAL food. Food that has no processing. Food that has no pesticides or herbicides. Food that is heirloom for flavor and nutritional content. The detour has now ended. I shared that so you understand why I am passionate about this topic.
I know it is easy to go online and order your groceries and drive up and have them loaded into the back of your van. It saves time. But, it isn’t very interesting and there is no guarantee of freshness. Instead, why not join a CSA?
A CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. This means, the consumer pays the farmer up front to plant and grow food, of which they get a share. The consumer then shares the same risk as the farmer. Some things like weather, insects, and environmental factors are high risk for one person to assume. A partnership between the consumer and farmer fortifies each one and spreads the risk.
The consumer pays a set amount of money at the beginning of the growing season. Each farmer has rules for how the food will be distributed to the consumer. Often, the consumer gets a ‘share’ each week. Some farmers have options, so if the consumer is on vacation, a week can be skipped and made up the next week or so.
The food that is available is whatever is ‘in season’ that week. In the spring, lettuces, strawberries, and asparagus are likely things to find. In the fall, it’s more likely to see squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, etc.
Some CSA’s have meat or eggs in addition to vegetables. Some have orchards or berries on the farm, which give a vast amount of variety. One of the best advantages of a CSA is the food is FRESH. I mean, picked the day before or even the morning of the distribution of food. Grocery store vegetables are often weeks or even a month old, picked before ripe, shipped and stored. With every passing day, the nutritional content decreases. Pick it and eat it optimizes nutrition.
Each CSA operates differently. There are several in the metro area. Some also show up at local farmer’s markets as one way to market. Some have roadside stands.
Today, I’ll share about just one CSA. I know these folks a little. They offer eggs, poultry (meat), and fruits and vegetables. They have distribution on their farm AND at a local chiropractor’s in West Des Moines one afternoon a week. A family can purchase a small, medium, or large ‘share’ depending upon family size or your willingness to take a risk…if you aren’t too adventuresome, go small. They offer shares based on seasons of the year. They offer so much flexibility.
Additionally, they host events on the farm, just west of the metro. This month, there is a cookbook exchange. They have sponsored a 5K run. There have been strawberry shortcake Sat. night events, where members gather for fellowship and good food on the farm. There are potlucks and recipe exchanges. It’s an opportunity to explore good food, know the grower, and expand the palate. They accept feedback from their customers and change what they grow based on what people want to eat. There is a dedicated Facebook page for their members. There is a weekly newsletter keeping people up to date on what is happening on the farm and with a recipe for the week.
Meet Lori and Matthew of Heirloom Farms at this website:
Because I cannot grow my own chickens in my suburb, I do purchase the poultry meat from their farm. I can say this: it tastes a delicious as the chicken my mother grew on our farm. It’s wonderful.
I recommend you take a food adventure this summer and join a CSA. The time to join for spring shares ends soon. There are options for summer and fall shares, too. You might expand your food options, find some fun field trips, and teach your children (and maybe yourself) how food is grown and what delicious tastes like. I challenge you…just do it.
It’s that time of year again, where mud seems to automatically appear. Pets and children drag it into the house and even the most careful adults deposit sand and silt from the winter salt and sand deposits from sidewalks, parking lots, and streets, into our homes. Fastidious housekeepers may despise this time of the year because it is impossible to keep dirt out of the house.
Recently, we were watching some program that claimed Ireland had found a cure for superbugs: dirt. There was a careful analysis of the soil from a particular area of Ireland, where folk lore taught this soil could and would cure what ails one. The analysis showed the microbes of the soil could destroy what we know as superbugs: germs resistant to our current range of antibiotics.
My grandmother used to claim that a little dirt was good for children as long as it was clean dirt. While that sounds like an oxymoron, there is truth to it. Growing up on the farm must have inoculated my constitution with good germs. I shudder to think of the things we touched and played with. I remember my mother’s words to ‘wash up’ for a meal, but honestly, I don’t think any of us were thorough by today’s standards. Yet, we were rarely ill and seemingly healthy. Hand sanitizers had not hit the market yet and I doubt my mother would have bought them even if they had.
It turns out that exposure to dirt isn’t all that bad for children today. Now, my disclaimer is that yards and gardens treated with chemicals to fertilize and keep pests at bay would not be my choice for child’s play and ingestion. With that in the back of your mind, listen to some of the new research on dirt and children.
Jack Gilbert, who studies microbial systems at the University of Chicago, did a study after parenting a second child. He decided to investigate the science behind germs and the risks they pose to children in the modern era.
Perhaps surprisingly, his research demonstrated that most germ exposure was actually beneficial.
‘As adults, we naturally want to protect our children from anything that could hurt them, but what we may not realize is that, by trying so hard to protect them, we could actually be hindering their ability to develop a strong immune system. When we rush to wipe their hands and faces after playing outdoors, or block the affectionate licks of our pets, we prevent germs from working their magic.
Gilbert references the way life used to be, explaining that “we would have eaten a lot more fermented foods, which contain bacterial products and bacteria. We would have allowed our children to be exposed to animals and plants and soil on a much more regular basis.” Today we are so careful to ensure anything on them or around them is sterile, when in fact, that lack of exposure and over-sterilization creates a hyper-sensitized immune system:
You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and pro-inflammatory. And so when they finally see something that’s foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That’s what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies.
By allowing your child to play out in the dirt and remain relatively “dirty,” you are increasing their chances of building a strong immune system. One main crime most parents are guilty of, despite the good intentions behind the behaviour, is over-sterilizing their environment. Gilbert specifically mentions how using hot or even warm soapy water is fine for washing your child’s hands, and much healthier than using a hand sanitizer.
Gilbert also debunks the “5 Second Rule” myth, explaining it takes “milliseconds for microbes to attach themselves to a sticky piece of jammy toast, for example. But it makes no difference. Unless you dropped it in an area where you think they could be a high risk of extremely dangerous pathogens, which in every modern American home is virtually impossible, then there’s no risk to your child.
This is definitely something every parent thinks about the moment the pacifier drops from their infant or toddler’s mouth. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that most people can’t help but have. Yet Gilbert offers some controversial advice for how to respond in this situation, recommending that, when this happens, parents should lick it rather than wash it. One study showed that for “parents who licked the pacifier and put it back in — their kids developed less allergies, less asthma, less eczema. Overall, their health was stronger and more robust.”
Dirt has amazing benefits for us, even as adults. Soil microbes, specifically mycobacterium vaccae, are considered a natural antidepressant.
Regarding the frequency of bathing, “Over-washing can actually damage the skin and lead them to have a higher likelihood of infections and over-inflammatory reactions like eczema.” Children under the age of six months and infants up to about 18 months can safely go a few days without bathing — using a warm wash cloth is sufficient.’
For more information, and to answer questions, you might want to refer to the book, DIRT IS GOOD: THE ADVANTAGE OF GERMS FOR YOUR CHILD’S DEVELOPING IMMUNE SYSTEM.
Perhaps the mud pies, the outdoor pets, livestock, walking soybean fields, making hay, and gardening were inoculating our immune systems as farm kids. It might be a good idea to spend less time worrying and more time enjoying the things children naturally do, to be sure they are healthy from the inside out.
Teach A Child
Last week I wrote about my basketball tournament tradition of cleaning the coils of my refrigerator. Now I want to encourage you to share the duties of household maintenance. Here’s why.
Growing up on the farm, we learned to be helpers at an early age. There were usually bottle babies to feed or cats and dogs for which to care. There were always household tasks that we could do from setting the table to doing dishes. There was no question about whether or not we could work. The only question was which chores were age appropriate.
When I was twelve, my mother was pinned beneath a heavy garage door. It was a weight activated door and as she was walking under the door, the weight fell off and her spine was broken in several place. She was paralyzed for some days. The nuns in the Catholic hospital prayed over her continuously for days. The trauma of seeing her in this hospital was exacerbated since my dad’s sister had died in the same building just weeks before.
For the weeks she was in the hospital, running the household and attending school was my responsibility. My dad was busy with spring farm work. Making meals and doing laundry landed in my lap. We boarded the bus at 6:45 every morning and returned home at 5:30. It was that very week that the wringer washer decided to die.
This experience motivated me to teach my children basic tasks so they could survive should such a tragedy befall our household. They learned to take dirty clothes to the laundry area if they wanted them washed. In time, they learned to sort into appropriate and color-coded baskets. Eventually, their clothing was sorted into their individual containers and they could fold and store as they wished. By high school, they did their own laundry.
As youngsters, eager to help, they learned to set the table, unload the dish washer, use knives safely, bake, cook, and clean up. When they went off to college, they were astounded that new friends were clueless on cleaning rooms, managing dirty clothes, or even time management skills.
It's thrilling for me to see young moms teaching their children basic domestic skills today. Here’s why:
Chores develop a work ethic. Learning to start and finish a task is important. Seeing a job complete creates a sense of accomplishment. Life involves work. School, earning a living, day to day life doesn’t come with a butler in our culture. It’s important to learn that life takes effort.
Children are excellent observers. They watch everything we do. Littles normally want ‘to help’ because they want to grow up to be like mom or dad. Let them. Work beside them. Give them opportunity to try things. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, there are more messes to clean up. Yes, they develop a sense of accomplishment by assisting. There is research to show that doing chores can helps kids be more responsible, develop high self-esteem, and even delay gratification.
Chores help children learn skills and become independent. Learning how to do things gives the natural inclination to want to learn new things. It’s the carrot to higher learning. If a child is confident in knowing basic life skills, he will have every confidence to strike into new territory as an adult. It’s an important reason to start early. Honestly, by the time middle school rolls around and sports or activities in school occupy their lives, it’s too late to start. Begin when they are little.
Find an outside motivator if you need. Our children participated in 4H. There are a host of opportunities for children to learn new skills. Scouting and many spring break classes or camps offer other ways to teach children specific skill sets. Use them for things that don’t happen in your house. Your child wants to learn to bake bread but you don’t? There’s probably a class for that.
Let’s arm our children with the confidence and skills to be productive and engaging in their adult lives. It’s our job as parents to train them up in the right way. You never know when it will be an important aspect of your family’s survival.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
The state basketball tournaments, held this week and last, are full of tradition. In rural Iowa, following the home town basketball games was a tradition almost as sacred as church service on Sunday morning. If you lived that, you know what I mean.
My elementary years were in a small town that encouraged girls sports. Somehow, they managed to make practices between the two gymnasiums for both girls and boys. Perhaps they didn’t have middle school sports. I don’t really remember. We moved to a larger school the year before a basketball career could begin for me and the larger school focused on multiple sports for only boys. So, I didn’t play. But, I loved the sport and enjoyed watching the games.
When tournament weeks roll into town, I watch the schedule to see if there are any teams of friends whose children or grandchildren play. It helps me select a team to cheer on to victory. My family doesn’t care one way or another about basketball. I had to force one of my children to attend the state tournament when her high school played. She enjoyed the environment but didn’t know enough about the game to enjoy the details of accomplishment.
Consequently, I relish just listening to the game and commentary, the interviews, the general celebration of youth in Iowa who gain the privilege of playing at this level. So, I go to the kitchen, close the door and get busy. You see, I’ve started my own tradition during the basketball games.
I’m not certain how it started but one year I determined to get my spring cleaning done. I knew it was important to vacuum the coils from under the refrigerator to help it work more efficiently. I took off the front panel and could see more than dust on the coils.
I remember pulling out the refrigerator and vacuuming the dust off the floor and the back and trying my best to clean. I could tell there was more dust under a cardboard ‘plate’ in the back. My helpful husband removed the plate and I found dust bunnies the size of grown rabbits that had accumulated in 27 years. I suppose no one takes the back off the refrigerator, but I had spied these dust bunnies while trying to remove dust off the coils from the front.
These days, my refrigerator is older than 27 years and I want it to function for a long time more. We had to replace our ‘extra’ refrigerator last year. It replaced one that was only 8 years old. My old-timer has a few dings in it, but I’m keen to do what I can to preserve its life for as long as possible. Keeping the coils free of dust is just one way I attempt to keep that baby humming.
If you haven’t started spring cleaning, I recommend you take the front plate off the refrigerator and see if you can vacuum the coils. You might want to pull it out and clean behind it as well. And, if you team the cleaning with something remarkable, like a basketball tournament, it will be easy to remember when you last did it! I need all the help I can get at remembering things.
You know that I plan a menu and it keeps me on track and avoids the last minute scramble of ‘what’s for dinner?’. I’ve even resorted to making a two-week menu to make fewer trips to the store and hopefully reduce our grocery bill. But, I’m almost over it. Every time I put soup on the menu, we have a snow storm.
This week, my husband assured me that winter was almost over. I really had not complained. I like the purity of snow covering the undulating contours of my back yard. I can recognize the tracks of various wild creatures who come to forage or walk through the yard on their way to the water source, a few blocks from our home. I was actually glad we had that last snow storm. Why come this far and not set a new record?
But, really, I’m about done with winter. It’s time to plant seeds and think about new life and growth. I’m ready to clean drawers and do what I consider spring cleaning, with the understanding I might not get back to the deep cleaning till November, when the growing and preserving season draws to a close.
This week, it seems everything I think about takes me back to the scripture that says, ‘See, I am doing a new thing.’ (Isaiah 43:19). It began in late December when I was pondering what the next year would hold; what I should focus on for my personal growth. That scripture not only came to my mind but it was on my Face Book Page, and everyone seemed to be noting this scripture. I was taken aback and wondered what I should do.
So, the question is ‘what is the new thing?’ And, how do I prepare or what do I do with it? Is the ‘new thing’ a record amount of snow fall for the month of February? Is the new thing the new food forest I want to establish in my yard? Is the new thing just the blooming of (more than I want to admit) tulip bulbs I planted last fall?
It seemed to be underscored with the Adoption stories from Sunday: a new thing: new siblings, new families, found families. New revelation of how God sees us. A new thing.
What is the new thing in your life? What is the urging you have to grow or rest or find a different season?
I haven’t pinpointed my ‘new thing’. I could tell you what I HOPE it is, but I cannot be certain my hope and God’s plan are the same thing. But, I want to leave myself open to His direction. So, maybe my ‘I’m over it’ attitude toward winter ought to also be present in the daily menu of my life so that I can be alert and aware of the ‘new thing’ God wants to do in my heart and the body as believers I’m a part of. Let’s join our hearts and our hands and watch for the new thing.
You probably think I don’t know how to spell that word, don’t you? Actually, it’s the brand name of our treadmill. And, the treadmill taught me a valuable spiritual lesson last week.
I like to think of myself as purposeful. By that, I mean, I like to have a purpose for everything I do. My knitting serves a purpose: to give a gift or make a useful tool for our home. Three seasons of the year, my yard and garden give me great purpose. Not only do they provide beauty for my eyes; rest for my soul; food for our table; spiritual insight as I am alone and pondering; and exercise for my body.
But the winter months fail to create much exercise. There is snow scooping but my husband hates to have me scoop snow. I actually enjoy it. He despises it but he feels like less of a man if he lets his wife do the lifting. So, I let him use his snow blower and leaf blower to accomplish the task and I watch. Honestly, reading and knitting, and even housework have not offered me much physical exercise during the non-gardening months of the year.
We have had a treadmill for a decade or more and I’ve resolved to use it and failed in the long term application of my resolve. I do well for a few days or even a few weeks and then fall out of the routine. This year, I’m trying to do better. I try 5-6 times a week to walk and I’m happy if I can get 3-4 sessions completed. I’m also working on my ‘just do it’ attitude because it is very easy for me to find other things to do first. I don’t love it.
I dug out some ancient CASSETTE praise tapes made for walking and found my little pocket sized cassette player to keep me stepping. Intent on making the most of this 30 minute event,
I moved the speed up and increased the incline. I did fine for awhile and then I decided to take my pulse. This requires holding a special handle. I found that it was easier to walk when I was holding on to something.
Not only was it easier to trot along, I could close my eyes and keep up. I focused on the music which was really an opportunity for me to praise the Lord right along with the lyrics. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was that label: Sole. And, it occurred to me that my soul is in better shape when I focus on two things: praising the Lord and holding on to Him.
You see, I tried closing my eyes and walking and I stumbled because I wasn’t hanging on to a handle or the pulse bar. The treadmill must be 24-30 inches wide. It isn’t a narrow path, but when I wasn’t watching some distant point while I was stepping or holding on to the side rail, it was easy to lose my balance and fail to stay upright. But, I could close my eyes and hang on to the side rails and the pulse bar and listen to that music and focus on the One who has me in His hand.
Lest you think I was just walking on a flat surface, the incline was greater than 50%. It was a steep climb for a little old lady. It generated some aerobic activity from my heart . But the most important lesson was what I hang onto to keep my balance; remind me to focus; live my life the way it is supposed to be lived; and do more than just get through it all.
Today and since then, I kind of look forward to that Sole. I feel as if I am accomplishing a little something. And, if I can avoid moving into a larger pant size, I’ll really rejoice!
The New Neighbor
The snow fell (again) just after the driveways cleared from the melt the previous weekend. It was the light, fluffy kind of snow, easy to move with the leaf blower or a snow shovel, depending upon what one had.
Matthew and I watched out the front window as the new neighbor across the street, donned in his winter gear, came out with his ergonomically correct snow shovel to master the driveway. I commended him for his work, mentally, as he cleared the driveway so the woman who comes and goes from his side of the building would not have to step into a snowbank when she returned from wherever she had driven earlier in the day.
I asked my son how he would approach the same driveway. It’s a duplex with a covered stoop. Each unit has space for one or maybe two chairs on either side of the entry door. From the stoop, a short sidewalk extends to the expanded concrete which offers parking and composes most of the front yard.
The other neighbors had 3 cars parked on their side of the concrete slap. The scooping neighbor moved his snow methodically. He even shoveled behind the neighbor’s vehicles, perhaps because it expedited the ability of his car to enter or exit regardless of whether they pulled in or backed into their single parking space.
What interested me, though was what he did not do. He did not scoop the 3 feet of sidewalk from his neighbor’s side of the stoop to the concrete parking area. I turned to Matthew and asked him, ‘What kind of a man is he?’ My husband approached the window and I asked him if he would have run the scoop over the neighbor’s sidewalk. He acknowledged he would have. I was not surprised. I’ve seen him help our elderly neighbors and even the new kids who live next door, void of much snow moving equipment.
My opinion of what kind of a guy he was formed from what I observed in him. A man who would go beyond what was required but not by much. Then, another storm blew in. He faithfully scooped his sidewalk and driveway. But, the second time, he DID scoop the extra three feet of his neighbor’s sidewalk.
The story doesn’t stop there. Storm #3 arrived just days later. He not only scooped his own driveway and the neighbor’s sidewalk. He also scooped around each of his neighbor’s three cars.
What a great reminder as I watched the progression of his workmanship. Observing him over the course of several snowstorms gave me a glimpse into his heart. Perhaps he had a time deadline the first time he shoveled. Maybe he had a conference call to get to. Or, maybe he is studying for a test and put himself on a ‘take a break’ time that was ending. I don’t know why he only did a little extra work the first time.
What this demonstrates to me is that we are known more by what we do than what we say. I’ve yet to meet this fellow. He and his housemate have only lived in the neighborhood less than a month. I’ve never spoken to him. The cold and weather mean we get outside long enough to do what we need to do and head back to the comfort of the house as soon as possible.
Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that our ‘works’ are what gain us favor. Our works are an outward expression of an inward attitude. Even though my neighbor is still a stranger, I have developed the idea that he is a nice guy because he has gone the extra mile to help his adjacent neighbor out of the goodness of his heart. (Maybe she is reimbursing him for his effort. I don’t know the facts.)
Let’s be good examples because our hearts are in the right place. Because the world doesn’t care how much we know until it knows how much we care.
At our house, the coldest week of the winter clamors for soup. It’s easy to make; refreshing to eat; filling; and nourishing. The varieties of soup span the globe from oxtail to legume; from vegan to meaty.
Soup is a great way to use the bits and pieces of leftovers for delectable reruns. Use the little bit of roast beef and the broth left from cooking it, mixed with bone broth, all the vegetables in the crisper, time in the crock pot and dinner is done in a dash.
After reading a couple of books by a food author who studied culinary arts in France, I decided to follow their lead and save the vegetable peelings by storing them in a ziplock bag. When the bag is full, everything is dumped into my large crock pot and covered with water. It simmers for 12 or more hours before being drained. The cooked vegetable pieces go into the compost pile and the broth is strained and stored in quart containers in my freezer till I have a recipe asking for vegetable broth. It is effortless and frugal. Every batch yields a different flavor based on the variety and ratio of different vegetables. And, broth is ready for the next batch of soup.
This week our menu boasts soups: oxtail beef and vegetable; spicy split pea and ham; chicken gumbo, chili, and black bean. Most of them require some kind of broth or advance planning. It’s one of the reasons I make a menu. When I include something that has beans in it, I write in my ‘to do’ list for the day before ‘soak beans’. I defrost the broth from the freezer the night before soup assembly. It takes some extra planning to make it all come together, but none of the steps require much time.
My husband finds soups satisfying and filling. Served with a side salad, crackers or biscuits, and a fruit, we comply with our nutritional needs and leave the table not wanting another bite.
When the temperature refuses to rise above zero, there is something comforting about sipping hot soup. It warms from the inside out. Give it a try this week.
Winter Has Arrived
We missed the white Christmas this year. It became a joke in our house. I have a January birthday and some of my children wanted to come home and help me add another zero to my age. I objected because as a child all I asked for on my birthday was a blizzard.
This is very logical when one lives in the country far from school. A blizzard translates to a day off school in the rural areas. As I finished school, I noted that mid-January usually ushers in a blizzard.
My objection to having my children plan to come for my birthday was simple: they would not make it and my anticipation would be dashed. So, with sibling conference calls, the singletons convinced the married with child to come the weekend before so there would be an overlap of visitors from the 3 different states and we could have 3 generations together on one weekend.
That was a lovely weekend in many ways. The temperature was mild. Everyone was under one roof. Two of the family units joined me at church. And, someone else made dinner one night. We took many walks with the dog who comes with one of the singles and we enjoyed it all. And, my son, whose main focus in life is teasing anyone who is near him for the reaction wanted me to ‘eat my words’ about a blizzard near my birthday.
Low and behold, the next weekend, just one day after my birthday, the snowfall came. It was just a normal snowfall here but where our married daughter lives, snow fall estimates ranged from 12-17 inches. They would not have made the trip. I sent pictures to the tease and reminded him that my predictions were only off one day.
Despite the cold and blustery weather, being outside in the winter is a good idea health wise. I was surprised to learn a significant amount of research has gone into the benefits. Rather than be a bear and hibernate in the winter, it’s a good idea to head outside, let the cold air invigorate your body. Whether you are out to scoop the sidewalk, help a neighbor in distress or sled with the children, it will do your body good. Be wise. Dress for the event. Take breaks if you are working in the weather.
Being outside will increase your serotonin levels because of the increase exposure to light. “Physiologically, we know serotonin levels in the brain are lowest in winter. Going outside can increase positive mood and alleviate depression,” says Kathryn A. Roecklein, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
It increases your vitamin D absorption. Less sunlight in the northern hemisphere during the winter season also means less sunlight in the house. Being outside increases the vitamin D, even if much of your body is covered. Ten minutes outside can increase the amount you absorb.
It helps you be mindful: leave the cell phone turned off and put it in your pocket. Better yet, leave it in the house. Be wise to be safe. If you are walking in the woods, having a cell phone available is probably wise, but don’t walk and use the cell phone. Unplug and observe nature or the city around you. Listen for sounds. Watch for colors and shadows to refresh your brain.
It can improve your memory. A study done in Michigan showed that memory improved 20% in individuals who spent time walking in an arboretum vs. the group that didn’t. "People don't have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter."
It charges your immune system.One Japanese study measured the ability of “forest bathing,” or a short, leisurely spin around a forest, to improve immunity. Researchers found that forest bathing decreased stress hormonesand increased intracellular anti-cancer proteins. Plus, exercise, even walking out in the cold, may help keep illness at bay because it flushes bacteria out of your airways and lungs, according to MedlinePlus, a website from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
If you are headed out to remove the last 6 inches of snow from the driveway or sidewalk, consider the benefits besides a clean driveway. And, contemplate a warm mug of hot cocoa and the toasty sights and sounds of a crackling fire in the fireplace when you come inside. Put the kids to work. Be smart and live well.