Step into Wellness with Walking Sticks
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IMG_0191_copyMy dad, a former All American athlete, teacher and coach, has always maintained an active lifestyle and tried to stay in shape. In the past, he recovered from heart and hip surgery by walking regularly. Though his neuropathy has gotten progressively worse, he is not one to sit still, so I gave him walking sticks for his 83rd birthday and told him to set the trend in Sterling.

Since the 1930s, Nordic walking has been used as a means for cross country skiers to train during the summer months because it closely simulated the same movement. However it wasn’t until the late 90’s that pole walking or ski walking took off around the world.

When the activity first originated in Finland, people called it “dementia walking” because people thought walkers forgot their skis. The craze once laughed off as foolish nonsense has gone global. An estimated 3 million people practice pole walking regularly. Since 2004 over a fifth of the Finish population take part in the sport. http://www.onwf.org/

Now doctors are aboard, agreeing that it is one of the best forms of cardiovascular workout because it uses all muscle groups. They also recommend that it is ideal for those in cardiac recovery.

  • Engages 90% of your body’s muscle
  • Increases heart rate
  • Burns more calories than ordinary walking
  • Trims the waistline
  • Improves posture
  • Takes pressure off the feet, knees and back
  • Proven to lower Body Mass Index in 12 weeks

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning forms the core of the workout. Nordic walking requires muscular endurance, balance, range of motion, agility, coordination, efficiency of movement, and visual acuity. Pole walkers must focus forward not down, which helps improve posture. Some experts argue that ski walking provides more health benefits than walking, biking, jogging or running.

According to an article in American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013, “studies conducted by NCBI National Library of Medicine show that Nordic walking exerts beneficial effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and quality of life in patients with various diseases and can thus be recommended to a wide range of people as primary and secondary prevention.”IMG_0189_copy

In the mountain villages one can see hikers of all ages using walking sticks. In our fitness courses, we teach Nordic walking to our high school students. It is particularly popular with long distance athletes whose joints can no longer take the pounding. When I told my friend Tina, an x runner, about it she immediately joined the movement.

Accolades aside, Nordic walking’s best health benefit is helping maintain a long, active life.

So, what are you waiting for? What better way to invest in your future?IMG_20140816_162919_901_copy

Join Grandpa Jim and get fit.

Viva La French Diet- Live to Eat and Lose Weight
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15999751-french-iconssetAmerican women have long envied svelte, sophisticated French women who indulge in forbidden culinary pleasures yet remain slender. The French, who savor high fat chocolates, high cholesterol cheeses and high priced wine, to boot, should be role models for the rest of the world. Ironically, the society that lives to eat could set health trends. French focus wholeheartedly on food.

A French dinner party conversation is a lesson in verb conjugation. The discussion revolves around what is being eaten in present tense, what was eaten in the past and what will be eaten at the next millennium. Mealtime is still sacred. So much emphasis on food makes one less likely to eat anything, any time of day. Snacking is limited to once a day at 4 pm sharp. La gouter, which means taste, not gobble, not gorge, gives one permission to sample a sweet or savory treat.

French females remain lean by running the country, flitting from one chore to another, while balancing precariously on high heels. Not only do they work full-time, they collect the children from school, buy baguettes daily, and pick up fresh produce in open markets. They take time to fondle tomatoes, pummel melons, and squeeze nectarines testing for ripeness. They wait in line to order fresh cut chops, but butchers beware. No wrath is greater than that of a French woman’s who has been sold poor quality cuts of meat. French women are never more demanding than during transactions dealing with food.

The French savor foods with full flavor that pack a punch, pungent cheese that singe nose hair, Dijon mustard that puts hair on the chest, and coffee, so strong, that hair spikes straight up.10127676-cheese-composition

It is not so much what the French eat, but what they don’t eat. Deep-fried meats and fish, chips and crackers and our beloved sandwich are taboo overseas. Serving size does matter. Crackers, sold in tiny, palm-sized mini boxes are nibbled, but only at the aperitif. Petit fours, pinky sized tarts, éclairs and cakes are served in bite-sized pieces for dessert.

Petit aptly describes the French and their serving sizes. Food is served in mini courses on plates ascending in size from doll-sized saucers to starters to entries on full size dinnerware. Then the plates shrink again up to the grand finale, a sculpted dessert that leaves most of the plate empty for artistic effect.

Serving food in courses forces the diner to slow down. The traditional French meal lasts hours. A dozen plates will have been used for each place setting. By the time the first courses have been eaten, the brain will have hit the snooze button and no longer send those subliminal messages calling for cookies, cakes and ice cream.

The French are also major producers and consumers of yogurt and milk based products. Laitage is a standard dessert and there are 100 different varieties of puddings and yogurt products. The French got it right again. Recent studies prove calcium consumption reduces weight.

Chocolate, too, has gotten a bum rap in the past. Now the propensities of chocolate are being tooted for health benefits. The darker the chocolate, the fewer calories and more of those mood-boosting endorphins. French women adore chocolate, but rather than devouring the whole bar, they only indulge in one piece of rich, high calorie, ultra dark chocolate from a fancy box that costs more than my mortgage.

Another anomaly, whereas beer-guzzling Americans put on beer bellies, French wine drinkers remain lean and studies show that imbibing improves health. Red wine is beneficial for the heart, helps lower cholesterol and aids digestion.7992041-assortment-of-baked-bread-on-wood-table

Darned if those cultivated, French connoisseurs haven’t gotten the best of us of again.

Their savoir-faire and appetite for pleasure “à une bonne table” created a lifestyle where wellness is assured by living to eat right.

Back to School Tips for Teachers
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back-to-school-suppliesAs if passing on knowledge and sharing wisdom was innate, I was born with the educator gene. I come from a long line of teachers. My grandpa coached at the college level and my grandma taught high school English. My mom helped children get off to a good start as a kindergarten teacher and my dad guided them through the perils of adolescence in secondary school. My sisters taught in the Midwest, my sisters-in-law teach in France, and I am proud to say that my son enters the ranks in the Minnesota school system.

As teachers navigate the electronic age, we must adapt new tricks to capture students’ interest and hold their short attention spans. We rewrite curriculum, update files, correlate data, document schemes, track outcomes, learn how to differentiate and better motivate, following the latest educational theories, yet the essence of teaching never changes. If the teacher can’t connect, kids tune out.

The impact of good teaching is life long. Everyone remembers that favorite teacher. My mom recently received 80th birthday cards from former kinder and my dad still hears from old athletes that he coached. After leading the special education department at Yorkville High School my sister, Sue, retired last June.IMG951132

“Over the years, people have asked me what advice I would share with teachers entering the profession,” Sue said. “When I reflect back on my 35 years in education, these are the “lessons” that have served me best.”

We’re all in this together- No matter what job you do at your school, your contributions are important. It takes all of us working together, supporting one another, to help our students have the best possible educational experience and reach their full potential.

Pay it forward- Every single day we can touch a life and make a difference. And most of the time, we don’t even know when we do it. But that individual we influence will go on and maybe even years down the road pay it forward. That is the beauty of it!

It’s all about the relationships- Yeah, the subjects are important and the learning is essential, but when it comes down to it, I have found that the key to being a successful teacher is really all about the relationships that are nurtured.

Kindness matters-   I have never regretted treating someone with kindness. Like the lyrics to the song Nothing More by “The Alternate Routes “says “It is how we treat each other when the day is done. We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0mk5JRQGLk

So as we say every September in my neck of the woods (France and the French speaking part of Switzerland.)

“Bonne Rentrée!” (welcome back)le_chat_14sept11_197

Teachers remember this crucial caveat.

Connection is the key to unlock minds; kindness is the ticket to open hearts.

Bear Hunting at the Dump
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Image_copyWhen I was growing up one of my favorite activities was going to the dump to see bear. We filled the station wagon with excited children and parked at a landfill in the middle of the woods off Forest Road, where people dumped trash, old appliances, box springs, furniture, and just about everything.

Like witnessing meteor showers, sunsets or loon dances, bear watching was part of the entertainment Up North. We parked at the dump at dusk and waited with eager eyes for a glimpse of a bear lumbering in from the woods to gnaw at watermelon rinds and table scraps.

Long gone are the old dump days. Now garbage must be sorted into paper, plastics, and glass and hauled to dumpsters that are compressed and carted away by truck.

Garbage is no laughing matter in Europe either.

Switzerland, an ultra clean country, slaps on steep fines for littering. Even garbage disposals are verboten deemed a hazard to the environment.

The Swiss take tidiness to the extreme. Since January 2013, in addition to a local recycling tax, we pay for each sack of garbage. And only in Switzerland would civil servants actually be paid to go through “illegal” garbage bags to locate owners to be fined.

The Swiss are not big on second hand goods either. In fact, garage sales are illegal. Instead communities organize fall and spring event called “troc du village” where you can resell top-notch goods. During the rigorous triage, only the best quality hand me downs make the cut. Twenty percent of your profit from sales goes back to the city. Boy, those Swiss sure know how to make money.

Switzerland is also the only country where you will never see a dumpy car tooling down the road. Dented, rusted-out, old beaters are not allowed on the highway. After new cars are 5 years old, vehicles must past a stringent inspection by the “service des automobiles” every two years, before being allowed back on the motorway.

As unhygienic and pollutant as they were, I miss the dumps of yesteryear when Grandpa would load the kids in the back of the old truck with tin cans and bump along the beat up old back roads of Wisconsin.IMG_3772_copy

Though recycling was not vogue in the 60s and 70s, we learned as children to never waste resources and respect nature. We grew up learning to pick up cans and debris carelessly discarded along Wisconsin’s back-roads.

At the lake now, my dad rounds up the carefully sorted garbage making the dump runs religiously on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday during the hours that the recycle spot on highway 45 is open for business.

“Any takers for a ride to the dump?” he’ll ask.

With little hope of seeing a bear at the modern day recycling center, no one jumps at the opportunity. Good natured, Grandpa goes anyway, stopping along the way to reminisce with the gas station attendant, postal worker and maintenance man about the good ol’ days when a trip to the dump provided good, wholesome entertainment for the whole town.

Happy 80th Birthday to my Remarkable Mom
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IMG_3055_copyOn your 80th birthday, what can I offer you, Mom, you who has given me life? You fell asleep under my crib patting my back in infancy assuring me that you’d always be there. You stayed up until dawn holding my hand as I struggled with problems as a grown up.

You loved me unconditionally.

You created a happy childhood by inventing fun, like painting sidewalks with water, reading books by candlelight and playing restaurant at a card table. When money was scarce, you splurged on small treasures: a plastic boat, a jar of Play Doh, and a Highlights magazine. When you grew tired from the caretaking, you pulled me onto your lap for a moment’s peace and told stories and sang songs.

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You taught me to respect my elders in the tender way you cared for Grandpa Mac and Grandma Olson. You spoiled Grandpa with his favorites – chili and pie. You visited your mom in the nursing home every day finding joy in her company even as she aged.

You, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked your way through college earning a teaching degree. Then, you made your four children feel as special as an only child. When the last one started kindergarten, you started your teaching career, guiding other people’s kids.

All the while, you were encouraging me to develop my own skills and take those first painful steps toward reaching my potential. You overlooked my flaws – saw my best when I was at my worst – and knew I would outgrow my orneriness. To help us survive our awkward adolescence, you told your daughters that they were caterpillars blooming into butterflies. Okay, so I never developed that delicate beauty, but I did learn to fly.

You forgave me for the untold suffering I caused: the trips to the emergency room, the nights I came in late as a teen. All the anxieties I created with desperate phone calls: my hospitalization in Peoria, my pro team’s collapse, my car accident in France.

You sought miracles in everyday events. The spring an African violet appeared on the plant I gave you, you knew a life was blooming. Nine months later, I gave birth to your first grandchild. You became the greatest long distance grandma, sewing matching outfits, writing letters, making calls, taking drives and plane rides to visit grandchildren, living nine hours away by plane.

You put Band-Aids on skinned knees, made cookies for bake sales, sent cards to shut ins, and gave pep talks. You remembered anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations, and never missed ball games. You were the first to take the sting out of life’s hurts; the last to criticize mistakes. First up and the last to bed, you worked overtime and never went on strike.

You put your own life on hold to jump-start ours. You kept my world spinning in a zillion small ways that I overlooked everyday.

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You, the unsung hero, taught us to accept the differences in others by nurturing the differences in ourselves. While I was defying society, playing sports at a time in history when little girls were supposed to play house, you let me be a tomboy. When, instead of coveting Barbie dolls, I asked Santa for a basketball for Christmas, you made sure he heard my wishes.

You never made me wear hair bows, instead you cut my bangs short and let me march to my own beat. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the neighborhood boys in the backyard, you grinned and waved from the kitchen window. When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, you straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”

Your heart grew as I grew, welcoming your French son-in-law into the fold even though you knew he’d whisk me off to live in a foreign country. You exemplified a good marriage, sharing sixty years of laughter and tears with my dear Dad.

You gave me wings and the gift of love. Though I can never repay you directly, I pay it forward daily in my work and family. Mom, because of you, I learned to love. I bought into the human race.