Who's leading the dance of your life?

I love to read Cheryl Richardson's work.  If you don't know who she is, you may want to visit her website She is a motivational speaker and a life-coach.

Cheryl Richardson is the author of The New York Times bestselling books, Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, The Unmistakable Touch of Grace and The Art of Extreme Self Care. I love her books because they are very inspirational and are filled with practical tips to help you take care of your life. 

Well, I have been receiving weekly newsletters from Cheryl Richardson throughout the whole year, but had never had the time to read them. So, I recently decided that this summer, I will make the time to read her letters. 

Today, I was reading one of her letters entitled "Who's leading the dance of your life"? Of course, the title of the letter ready attracted my attention. The main purpose of the letter is basically to force us to examine the relationship between our personality and our soul.  Who is serving who? According to Cheryl's letter, our personality should serve our soul.  But, how do we know that our personality is serving our soul?

According to Cheryl, you know that your personality is serving your soul when: 
  • You use difficult situations as opportunities for growth and greater understanding.  
  • You say no because a choice doesn't feel right rather than say yes just to keep the peace.
  • You stop yourself from being harsh or judgmental toward yourself and choose love and acceptance instead. 
  • You make space in your schedule for solitude, time with nature, and time to create.

In this inspirational letter, Cheryl says "The personality is the vehicle, the instrument or the apparatus that allows us to function in everyday life.  The soul is the Essence of who we are - the Divine energy that animates the personality...the trick is to choreograph a beautiful dance between both partners - the personality and the soul, by remembering who needs to lead - The Soul".

Powerful statements!! Click here to read Cheryl's newsletter.

A Radical Canada Day - According to David Suzuki

I like to share with you an interesting post that I received yesterday from the David Suzuki Foundation. It's entitled "Here's to a radical Canada".  

In this post, Dr. Suzuki invites us to reflect about Canada and the way that we would like Canada to be, especially when we think about the environment, health care system and other fundamental social issues.

"What kind of Canada do you want? Do you treasure our spectacular natural landscapes, clean water and air and abundant natural resources? Do you value our commitment to fairness, enlightened social programs, education and public health? Do you believe we should do all we can to protect the things that make this country great?"

In less than 48 hours, we will be celebrating Canada Day, and as Dr. Suzuki suggests in his post, it may be a great opportunity to meditate about our country, and the Canada that we want to give to future generations. This is a wonderful country, let's keep as it is!

Click here to read Dr. Suzuki's post.

Kids and Chores – Teaching children to be responsible for their actions

If you have children and you have tried to ask them to do chores, you may have encountered the same problems that we often face in our house: battles, yelling, frustrations, etc.  Why is it so difficult for kids to do their chores?  Well, I believe that one main reason is because kids (and many adults!!) do not take responsibility for their acts.

I think that most people would agree that a chore is an excellent way to teach a child responsibility or to hold them accountable for their actions.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to convince a child to do a chore.  Asking children to do chores is usually an important source of frustration for most parents.  For example, our 12-year old son needs to be reminded quite often that he is responsible to do certain household tasks, including set the table before meals, put the garbage out, and make his bed before going to school.  Why cannot he remember these tasks by himself? Why does he need us to remind him that? I mean, we don’t need to remind him when to charge his IPod or any other of his electronic devices. 

Household chores are boring!
Let’s face it, the main reason kids don't like doing chores is the same reason that we, adults, don't like doing chores: household tasks are generally boring.  The satisfaction of getting the dishes done does not match the one of reaching a new level in a video game! Most kids do not care about whether or not the dinner table is set or their bed is made before they go to school.  Of course, we have tried many things to convince him to do his household chores, including positive reinforcement, allowances, prizes, etc.  None of them worked well because our son does not seem to register the reasons why doing chores or being responsible for certain tasks is important.

Discuss the importance of the chore
Many experts suggest that when deciding to give a child a chore, it is essential that we discuss with him/her the importance of the chore as well as the skills that will be gained by doing this chore.  I think that in order to do this, we first need to ask ourselves “why is it important that my child do this chore?” "What will he/she learn by doing this chore?" If we have trouble answering these questions, then, this may be one reason why we are experiencing trouble convincing our children on the importance of performing a given chore.  

According to this idea, when we ask our 12-year old to set the dinner table, I should first know what I am trying to teach him when asking to do the chore.  Or, if you prefer, which skills I want him to gain by doing this chore?

Well, I did the exercise and thought about all the reasons why do we want our son to set the dinner table.  I should, first, say that meals are a family affair in our house.  With the exception of breakfasts (except those taking place during the weekend), we eat dinner and sometimes lunches as a family.  A meal is a social event in our house and it is an opportunity to show and practice social etiquette and good manners.  We love to take the time to eat and to enjoy each other’s company.

I believe that it is essential for children to have good manners and know basic social etiquette because they learn to behave in a polite manner in society.  So, why do I want our son to set the dinner table? Because dinners are special family moments and we should all help to make these moments special.  Besides that, I also think that knowing how to set the dinner table or how to behave properly at it during meals is important for kids, so they know how to behave at other people’s houses or at restaurants.  

Although I feel that the arguments presented in the previous paragraph are compelling, I know that I need other arguments if I want to convince my son to set the dinner table on a regular basis.  Now, if I only use the argument that he will gain important social skills that can help him in the future, I feel that it will even be worse (my son is not really thinking about the future yet!).

Team work or collaboration strategy
Lately, we have been using another strategy with our children when it comes to household chores. It is called the “team work or collaboration strategy”.  The idea is simple, our family is a team and because of that we all need to help by sharing the chores.  Household chores are not always fun, but they need to be done and we all need to participate in this.  If they (kids) don’t do their chores, well, they are not doing their part as team members. 

Of course, this strategy does not work 100% of the time.  But, at least for us, it is working better than the allowance or the bonus approaches.  I think that one of the advantages of the team strategy is that kids understand a little bit better the notion of accountability which is so essential in life.  In other words, kids seem to take responsibility for their actions and realize that if they don’t do a given chore, there will be a consequence for that choice that could affect the whole team.  For instance, if the dinner table is not properly set and there are not forks or spoons, well, dinner will be delayed and there may not sufficient time to watch TV or play a game that night.

Knowing that each one of our actions has a consequence is an important lesson that kids need to learn.  I believe that it is a parent’s job to teach kids to be accountable or responsible for their actions because it is an essential skill for life. It takes practice and patience, but it may be a good strategy for some kids and some parents.  Again, I don’t think that it could work in all situations, but it is worth a try!

The Ultimate Guide to Motivation – How to Achieve Any Goal

Do you want to achieve a project? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to get up early? Do you want to work out more? Well, the answer to all these questions is MOTIVATION.

"Motivation is what drives you toward a goal, what keeps you going when things get tough, the reason you get up early to exercise or work late to finish a project. The best motivation, then, is a way for you to really want something, to get excited about it, to be passionate about it."  

Very powerful sentences, with so much meaning. I extracted them from an excellent article  that I just read regarding motivation. I certainly recommend you all to read it (click here to read article).
In this article, the author proposes eight ways to motivate yourself from the beginning

  1. Start Small
  2. One goal
  3. Examine your motivation
  4. Really, really want it
  5. Commit publicly
  6. Get excited
  7. Build anticipation
  8. Print it up, post it up
Once you have started, then, you have to keep your motivation. This is what the author calls "the second half of motivation".  In my opinion, this is the most difficult part because it is so easy to find excuses or reasons to give up.

But, the second half of motivation is crucial simply because it is what keep yourself going when you don’t feel the same excitement as you did in the beginning. Without the second half of motivation, you can't achieve your goal. So, the author of the article proposes 20 ways to sustain your motivation:
  1. Hold yourself back
  2. Just start
  3. Stay accountable
  4. Squash negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones
  5. Think about the benefits
  6. Get excited again
  7. Read about it
  8. Find like-minded friends
  9. Read inspiring stories
  10. Build on your successes
  11. Just get through the low points
  12. Get help
  13. Chart your progress
  14. Reward yourself often
  15. Go for mini-goals
  16. Get a coach or take a class
  17. Never skip two days in a row
  18. Use visualization
  19. Be aware of your urges to quit, and overcome them
  20. Find pleasure again
Try some of these tips, and let me know whether or not they helped you to achieve your goal. And remember, if it doesn't work the first time, don't give up, just continue trying!

Screen time creates sleep problems in children

I believe that one of the most difficult challenges that parents face today is to limit our children's usage of electronic devices.

It's certainly a big issue in our house even with our 4-year old who loves to play with the IPad. He usually plays educational or developmental games that involve puzzles or learning something such as letters, words or numbers. Having said this, we also let him play general entertainment games where there is not violence or destruction. 

We watch little television during the week, partly because we are generally busy doing something, or are supposed to be somewhere else than home (tennis lesson, soccer game, swimming lesson, etc). However, I admit, we watch more TV during the weekends, especially movies.

So, as much as we want to control screen time, I have to admit that our kids, like most kids today, are exposed to a certain amount of screen time. Of course, I am aware of the health and social problems that are associated with too much screen time or electronics, particularly when considering children. But, I was not particularly familiar with a problem that was the object of a very recent study.

This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study conducted by Dr. Egambaram Senthilvel from the University of Louisville. The researcher showed that children who view television for more than an hour and a half sleep less than those who watch little or no television. While television was the main focus of the study, Dr. Senthilvel also mentioned that other types of screens such as computers and video games can also negatively affect the brain’s ability to sleep in the evening.

Dr. Senthilvel also said "In my practice, I see at least three to five children every week with a sleep problem, whose sleep problems are mainly related to the amount of time they spend on electronic devices”.  

So, if you have a child who is having sleep problems, you may want to ask yourself, how much time he/she is using electronic devices? Click here to read more about this study.

How to Create a Happy Future by Accepting the Present

One of my favorite blogs is "Tiny Buddha". The site is filled with inspirational information and tools to help you live a more positive life. 

In a recent article posted in this site, the author (Jackie Vecchio) indicates that to create a happy future it is essential to accept the present. Life is a wild, adventurous ride, and that is exactly what makes it so beautiful and intense.  Some days are filled with beauty and joy while others, dreams don't come true; the balance of life!

It's a very inspirational article that I recommend you read. Click here to read the article.

Work-life Balance Issues in Canada

I came across this very interesting study that was part of the 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada.  I decided to talk about it because I found some of the findings particularly interesting, especially if you live in Canada. 

Two researchers (Drs. Linda Duxbury and Christopher Higgins) from two Ontarian universities (Carleton University and University of Western Ontario) surveyed more than 25,000 Canadians from all provinces and two territories. The study covered a vast array of workload and work-life balance issues, from the role of gender in income and parenting-task distribution to the way work roles affect physical and mental health.

The results of the study are very interesting and I suggest you click here if you want to have all the details.  Here are some findings that attracted my attention: 

  • Almost two-thirds of Canadians are working more than 45 hours per week which is about 50% more than two decades ago.
  • Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years.
  • Only 23% of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991.
  • Workplace roles placed a higher strain on women, who, despite having primary or equal responsibility to provide the family income in half of families, are still largely the primary caretakers of children.
  • One-third of Canadians feel they have more work to do than time permits.
  • Two-thirds of Canadians spent more than an hour a day catching up on e-mails; one-third spent more than an hour e-mailing on their days off.
Although these stats are not completely surprising, it is still interesting to see that the majority of Canadians are clearly unsatisfied with their work-life balance. This is very sad, especially if we consider that supposedly we live in one of the best countries of the world. 

Yes, I know, "best" in terms of what? Well, if you don't know, Canada is among the best places in the world to live, according to a quality of life measure from a leading international organization that compared rich industrialized nations. The "Better Life Index" from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found Canada among the leaders (Canada ranked 3rd) in most of the 24 indicators measured, everything from hard data dealing with jobs and income, to perceptions of something the OECD calls "life satisfaction." Click here if you want to read the complete report.

As indicated by one of the authors of the study that examined 25,000 Canadians, If we want to build the case of being the best country in the world to live, we’ve got to make changes to make that the case”. 

How to do this? According to the authors of the study even though striking the right balance can require serious life and scheduling changes, it is imperative that workplaces change the way that do things. 

What do you think? How do you do to balance work and life?

Leaning out

A very interesting article by Alice Dreger who is a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. She has written for The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

"I intentionally lean out of my career. A lot. I do this because there are only 24 hours in a day, and when I ask myself, If I died tomorrow, what would I want people to remember me for? it isn’t anything I’ve published, any TV appearance I’ve made, or anything like that...I’d like my son to remember that, almost every morning, I snuggled with him for 15 minutes before we finally got up together" Click here to read the article.

Work-life Balance: My Personal Experience

If like me, you are a woman in academia or a scientist, you have probably already heard about the best seller "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" by Sheryl Sandberg.  If you haven't seen or read the book yet, I suggest you get a copy as soon as possible. 

In this book, Sandberg (chief operating officer of Facebook) argues that in many cases professional women hold themselves back in their careers by failing to "lean in" to opportunities.  According to Sandberg, the main reason why women hold back is because of concerns about how professional positions might affect future life choices.  The author suggests that some women prefer to remain as associate professors or faculty members because they anticipate challenges they may face in leadership positions or the promotion process.  Sandberg also mentions that other women choose part-time or non-tenure-track positions as a way to avoid potential conflicts between academic work and motherhood or family.

Although I agree with the author that is difficult to balance work and family-life, I don't think that the situation is as simple as Sandberg describes it in her book.  As indicated in an article that Kelly Ward and Pamela L. Eddy wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, "increasing the number of women in leadership positions means not only looking at the individual women, as Sandberg does in her book, but also looking to institutions to create environments that encourage and support women who want to integrate family life and personal goals with their career aspirations for leadership and advancement".  I would add to this that it also depends on the individual’s priorities.

Let’s see my case
Personally, I think that each person (woman or man) has his/her own reasons to avoid or pursue leadership positions.  In my case, I have consciously avoided to apply for leadership positions during the last five years.  Perhaps, one day I will regret this, but for the moment, I think that I am doing the right thing.  Two reasons have dictated my decision: motherhood and personal life.

As some of you know, I am a biology professor who has been in academia for the last 25 years, 7 as graduate student and 18 as faculty member.  Throughout all these years, I have learned many things about academia, but the most important one is that keeping a work-life balance is a big challenge. I would even go so far as to say that it's practically impossible unless you set your priorities clearly, and are prepared to assume the consequences without regrets.

In her book, Sandberg says "There is no such thing as work-life balance". Of course, her argument is supported by stats that indicate that in most disciplines, professors work 60+ hours a week.  Interestingly, professors work less than that, or are engaged in activities outside their academic lives are often perceived as not serious.  Even when trying to balance work and personal life, you still end working more than 50 hours per week; it’s really unavoidable the extra work in academia!

Now, don't get me wrong, I love academia most of the time.  I love to teach and enjoy immensely the contact with students.  Although I still love many aspects of research, I hate the stresses associated with publishing papers and writing grants.  So, although I want to be an academic, I also believe that success in academia should not require giving up on having an outside life.

What are my priorities?
My family is my #1 priority.  It's fundamental for me to have quality time with my children and husband.  Of course, this is not always easy because as most people in academia, both my husband (who is also in academia) and I don't work the typical 8 hours per day.  We both bring work to home, work until late hours, and often times have to work during the weekends. Our work-related activities often overlap with our children’s extra-curricular activities.

Although work at home is sometimes unavoidable, it is crucial that you know what you are willing to do and not do.  In my case, I figured out that if I wanted to be present for my family and have personal time for myself, I needed to prioritize things a bit differently than I used to do 5 or 10 years ago.  I guess, you have to do what it works for you, but for me what is working is to be selective and to learn to say no.  I have also had to adjust my definition of success to my current priorities.  Although it sounds simple, it’s not!

Balancing work and life is a continuous job that certainly requires a lot of practice and dedication.  I also find that you need to work on your ability to ignore negative comments or critical faces.  In addition, I keep reminding myself that we only have one chance to live, and that it is not necessary to sacrifice an outside life in order to succeed in academia.  I don’t want to wait until I retire to start living!

How do you do to balance work and personal life?

Women are better than men at multitasking, but are they more productive?

While writing my previous post, I came across various articles regarding the differences between women and men in their ability to multitask.

Are women better at multitasking than men or is it a myth?
There is certainly a common belief that women are better than men at multitasking.  This idea has its roots in human evolution and is associated to the fact that in early human civilizations women tended to be the gatherers while men were usually the hunters.  In these societies, women had to accomplish several tasks, including take care of the children, prepare food for the family, water fetching, etc.  So, the common belief is that this division of tasks between women and men would have prepared women better than men to multitask or accomplish several tasks at the same time.  But, is this really true?  Let’s say that women are better than men to multitask, does it mean that they accomplish all the tasks well or efficiently?

I was particularly surprised to find that the differences in gender regarding multitasking have been the subject of several studies recently.  Overall, most of these studies indicate that, indeed, women are better at multitasking than men.  For example, after scanning brains of 949 people, Dr. Ragini Verma and various colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania found that women are better at multitasking but men are better at concentrating on a single task.  The researchers also found that women have far better connections between the left and right sides of the brain, while men display more intense activity within the brain’s individual parts, especially in the cerebellum, which controls motor skills.  Another interesting finding from this study was that men have better connections between the front and back of the brain, giving them a better ability to quickly perceive information and use it immediately to carry out complex tasks. Click here to read more about this study.

Another study that I found worthy of note was the one conducted by Drs. Laws and Stoet from the University of Hertfordshire.  In this case, he gave 50 male and 50 female students 8 minutes to perform three tasks at the same time: carrying out simple maths problems, finding restaurants on a map and sketching a strategy for how they would search for a lost key in an imaginary field.  As they conducted the tasks, the volunteers also received a phone call that they could either choose to answer or not. If they did answer, they were given an additional general knowledge test while they continued to carry out their other activities. While women were able to perform well in all four activities at once, men performed, on average, worse when it came to planning to search for the key. These differences between women and men in terms of their ability to multitask could have important consequences for how workplaces are organized.  According to Dr. Stoet "Multitasking is getting more and more important in the office - but it's very distracting, all these gadgets interrupting our workflow. It could be that men suffer more from this constant switching”. Click here to read more about this study.

Multitasking or task-switching
Now, let's do some clear reasoning. If the studies summarized above are correct, we can say that women are generally better than men at multitasking. But, is this actually good? Within the context of productivity or accomplishment of tasks (i.e., effectiveness), are women really more effective than men because they are able to multitask better?  

Personally, I think that even though women may be able to multitask better than men, we cannot conclude that women are generally more efficient or productive than men.  During my research about the topic of multitasking, I found a good number of articles discussing the dangers of multitasking, especially when talking about productivity or work effectiveness.  Multitasking is considered to be worse than unhelpful in terms of productivity because it makes everything we do to take longer, affecting negatively the quality of our work.

Furthermore, it appears that the concept of multitasking itself is a myth.  In a Psychology Today article, "The True Cost of Multi-tasking", the author (Dr. Susan Weinschenk, Behavioural psychologist), argues we cannot actually perform more than one high-order cognitive task at a time. Interestingly, Dr. Weinschenk also suggests that what appears to be multitasking is actually constant task switching.  So, all these years when I thought that I was multitasking (which you have to admit, sound a little bit sophisticated or glamorous than task switching!), I was actually just switching tasks. 

According to Dr. Weinschenk, there has been a lot of research on task switching and the main findings are clear:
·        It takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between tasks instead of focusing on one task at a time.
·        You make more errors when you switch from one task to the other, especially if you are performing complex tasks.
·        Each task-switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day, it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity. 
In other words, it usually takes more time to complete properly a task when we are multitasking or task switching than when we are focusing exclusively on one task, partially because we make more mistakes.  Every time we switch, there is a loss of efficiency as we disengage from one task and pick up the thread on the other task.

Practical Conclusions
Although it may be true that women and men differ in their ability to multitask or task switching, they both would get more done and get it done better, if they stuck with one task until it is finished, before moving onto the next.  So, even if you think that because you are very good at multitasking, you should ask yourself whether or not this balancing act is really helping you to be more productive or efficient. 

As Roger Kay from Forbes.com concluded in a very interesting article (click here to read this article) about multitasking: "Multitask where you can, task switch when you have to, and focus on the job at hand as much as possible for the best results". 

So, let's follow the example of little children, and focus on one task at a time!

Water Recreational Activities at Casa del Sol

Here is a close view of the canoe and playboat (small kayak) that are available for people staying at Casa del SolFrom our easy to launch beach you will be able to paddle through soft, still waters in the warmth of the summer sun, and watch sunsets and beautiful full moons. 

We bought the palyboat few weeks ago and hope our guests will enjoy it. Paddles and safe life jackets are also provided for our guests.  

Busy Life and 7 Tips to Manage Your Time

One of the biggest challenges that I am facing these days is to find time to do all the things I would like to do every day.  Ok, I don’t want to say that I never had this problem before, but for some reason, it has been particularly obvious during the last days.  Although I get up every morning at 5:30 am and I am usually in bed by 11:00 pm, I am still unable to complete half of the things that are included in my to-do list.  

If you are like me, you must feel that everyday demands or chores appear to engulf the day, leaving only little time to pursue those things we enjoy or want to explore.  Of course, I keep dreaming about the things that I would like to do if I could have 1-2 extra hours daily.  I envy all those people who only work part-time or have jobs that don’t require bringing work at home.  There are days that I just accept the fact, and simply tell myself that this is my life, and that there is nothing that I can do about it.

But, the truth is that most of the time, we do have choices about how we spend or use our time.  I know that if I would be a little bit more organized both at work and at home, I may be able to find that extra time to do other things.  If I just know how to use my time efficiently, life would be so different!

I am a firm believer that balancing what we “need to do” with what we “want to do” should lead to more satisfaction, and potentially both happiness and success.  All we need to do is become a master of how we use our time.  After doing some reading and examining many different lists, I have identified 7 tips that I believe can significantly improve time management.  I chose these tips because they are simple and easy to implement in personal schedules.


1.    Make a list of what should be done – In other words, maintain your to-do list up to date.  Most people also suggest that we should always keep the list all the time with us.  Although you can always use a daily agenda or small notebook, I strongly suggest you consider using a service for electronic devices.  If you have a cell phone or a tablet, you probably already know that there are several good services that can help manage lists and tasks, including Ta-da list, WorkHack, RememberTheMilk, Nozbe, Evernote and Mojonote. If you are not familiar with these services, I suggest you check this website (http://gigaom.com/2007/01/07/20-different-ways-to-manage-your-to-dos/) that provides an excellent review of some of the best online/electronic ways to manage lists and tasks.  Several of these services are free.

2. Rank your priorities daily – Apparently, prioritizing daily tasks is fundamental to successful time management.  When you prioritize, you make sure you accomplish the most important tasks first. 

3. Do not distract your attention – One thing that I have learned over the years is that sometimes is really necessary to close your door if you want to accomplish some work.  If your problem is not people but procrastination or computer-related distractions, there are applications that can help you get disconnected from the internet and social media (e.g., Cold Turkey, Training Wheels, Get Concentrating), so you can only focus on your tasks and be more productive (http://mashable.com/2012/01/03/block-internet-distractions-apps/). 

4.      Set a strict time limit on meetings – Not always easy, but apparently one of the best ways to manage our time is to set time limits for meetings.  Three things that we can do to achieve this: have an agenda, invite as few people as possible and keep it short! 

5.      Find your prime time -- Everyone’s energy timetable is different. Some are morning people.  Others do better in the evening. One key to better time management is to find your high-energy periods and schedule complex tasks when you are likely to be at your best. 

6.      Use technology to your advantage – Technology is supposed to save us time and make our lives easier if properly use.  Find the ways that technology can help you and not the opposite. 

7.      Learn from others – Find the most efficient person (people) you know and watch what they do and how they do it. What kind of planning system do they use? How do they schedule their time? How do they combine tasks? How do they balance?  See how can you integrate or use this information in your own time management. 

Let me know what you think about these tips.  Also, if you have other useful tips, write me a comment.

Teaching kids to Take on Challenges

When navigating the internet, I came across this very short post about "teaching kids to take on challenges" written by Hollee Schwartz from La Petite Academy.

I thought that I will share it with you because I find the information useful.  She proposes three simple, but effective techniques to help kids to take on challenges.

The techniques are simple:
     1. Put on a brave face.
     2. Relate
     3. Offer extra love during difficult times.

Do you use other techniques?

Click here to read more about "teaching kids to take on challenges", a very interesting post.

Obesity and Lack of Physical Activity Affect Children's Academic Performance

Lately, I was trying to find information about factors affecting academic performance in kids. I found interesting information that links academic performance to both obesity and lack of physical activity. More important, the studies that I read suggest that parents and schools may both play a role on these issues.

Obesity and academic performance
 An article from The Telegraph (http://tinyurl.com/cmye6fj), reported the findings of a study conducted by Dr. Convit, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at NYU School of Medicine. He compared 49 teenagers with metabolic syndrome to 62 without and found that those showing physical changes due to being obese had poorer scores on thinking tests. To understand this study, you need to know that metabolic syndrome is a collection of at least three health problems associated with obesity which can include a large waist, low good cholesterol, high blood fats, high blood pressure and insulin resistance which is a pre-cursor of diabetes type 2. So, this study suggests that obesity has an adverse effect on academic performance.

Source: Statistics Canada (http://tinyurl.com/n8fmyg7)

Obesity in Canadian children
I am certain that you are all familiar with the fact that Canadian children are suffering an epidemic of inactivity that contributes to rising obesity rates.  Using World Health Organization standards of measurements, 31.5% of Canadians aged 5 to 17 years old can be classified as overweight (~1.6 million Canadians; statistics for 2009-2011) or obese (http://tinyurl.com/n8fmyg7).  The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest youth aged 12 to 17 years should do at least 60 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous physical activity.  Unfortunately, less than half of Canadian children met those requirements three days a week, and fewer still (only 6.7%) met it six days a week.

Is there a role for parents?
In a new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers were interested to investigate how kids play in parks or playground areas. The goal of the study was to help park designers create public spaces that would better entice kids to run around and exercise.  But along the way, the authors discovered that the single biggest barrier to children’s physical activity had less to do with park design itself and more to do with the hovering presence of a parent (http://tinyurl.com/ouspuqf).  

According to the lead researcher, Dr. Bocarro, “it’s a catch-22 for today’s parents, unfortunately.  Many parents are worried about the safety of their children, so they tend to hover”.  According to this study, the so-called “helicopter-parents” who show too much concern while their children are playing in the park actually cause them to be less active.  Based on observations made in this study, these parents often interrupt their children's spontaneous play, making them more sedentary. 

Although I certainly believe that giving freedom to children when playing in parks or playground is important, I also have to admit that like most parents I am often concerned about safety in these areas.  Unfortunately, the infrastructure in some playgrounds is not always well maintained and cutting objects can be found sometimes in areas where young children play.  So, at least for me, it is sometimes difficult to let my kid run freely without checking or being close by.  Perhaps, I follow him too much sometimes, but how do I know when I am overprotecting him?

Is there a role for schools?
Recently, the Globe and Mail reported the results of a Canadian test study regarding the effects of physical activity on academic performance (http://tinyurl.com/ouspuqf).  In this study, three different Grade 9 classes of at-risk students at City Park Collegiate Institute in Saskatoon were tested at the start and end of the school year.  Students who were in the physical education program for one or two years, and worked out for 20 minutes, three times a week, consistently out-performed those who did not do any physical activity.

After writing this post, two questions come to my mind:

1. How do we know when we go too far with the protection of our children in playground or parks?

2. Should schools intervene if increased gym time can help reduce obesity in children?

Fun Sculpey characters - Kids activities

Our kids love to make sculpey characters. Sometimes, they let their imagination run and create characters that only exist in their heads while other times, they just get inspired by movies, games or books that they are reading. It's a perfect activity for a rainy day and even for birthday parties.

When we used sculpey for birthday parties, we just made certain that the activity was done near the beginning of the party, so we had enough time to bake the characters. Then, kids can take their sculpey characters with them as part of their loot bag. The one thing that you need to remember with sculpey and similar products is that baking time is based on your character dimensions. So, it's very important to follow the instructions regarding baking-time carefully to avoid overbaking or underbaking the sculpey characters.

As they get older, it is amazing the level of detail that kids can include in their creations. These pictures are some of the characters made by our 12 years old son. He has always been particularly inspired by Pokemon figures as well as characters from the Plants Vs Zombies game.

Hate is a Passion Equal to Love

Whether you prefer to use the word dislike or the word hate (like me), I am interested to talk about the odd things that we hate and the reasons why.  You have to admit that most people are usually adamant in their likes, and perhaps even more adamant in their dislikes.  Our use of the words hate and dislike is generally accompanied by all sorts of strong emotions.  If you are like me, when I use the word hate, it’s a real verbal manifestation of my deep and negative feelings regarding something or a situation.  The question is how is it possible that an object or situation could cause that type of reaction in us? 

While some researchers suggest that some people may have inherent tendency to have positive or negative reactions to certain things, others claim that our dislikes or likes are usually influenced by previous experiences or acquired behaviours.  I don’t know you, but I think that this second reason is generally true for me.  For instance, one thing that I hate (for those who make a distinction between dislike and hate; here, I really mean hate) is to sleep in an unmade bed.  I just cannot sleep in a bed that is untidy and messy.  It drives my husband crazy when I make the bed at 11:00 pm, just few minutes before we go sleep (if I had not have the time to do it before, of course!).  It is not really my purpose to upset him, but I just cannot sleep in an unmade bed; it’s just impossible for me.

Ok, I am fully aware that studies have found that an unmade bed may not be such a bad thing.  Apparently, unmade beds are actually unappealing to house dust mites that tend to cause asthma and other allergies.  According to these studies, the warm, damp conditions created in an occupied bed are ideal for the proliferation of dust mites. I am usually too busy in the morning and almost never have the time to make the bed right after I wake up.  By the time that I make the lunches and organize everything, our bed is usually cold enough for the dust mites to like it (that's what I think!).  Besides, I generally don’t even think about dust mites (after all, they are probably always there anyway), what I really care is that the bed is tidy, otherwise I know that I would not be able to sleep later.

What happens in our brain when we express hate feelings for something or someone is actually fascinating according to Drs. Semir Zeki and John Romaya from the University College London.  These researchers suggest that hate is a passion that is of equal interest to love. Like love, it is often seemingly irrational and can lead individuals to heroic and evil deeds” (http://tinyurl.com/cy5epg).  These researchers examined the brain areas that correlate with the sentiment of hate in 17 males and females and found that is distinct from those related to emotions (e.g., fear, threat and danger) even though it shares a part of the brain associated with aggression.  It seems that the “hate circuit” includes structures in the cortex and in the sub-cortex, and has components that are important in generating aggressive behaviour that can translate into action through motor planning, as if the brain becomes mobilized to take some action. 

So, we may love and hate objects (or people) with almost the same passion.  You know how sometimes we describe people as being passionate about something.  Well, if hate is a passion, then, I am certainly passionate about beds, particularly tidy beds! The question is why? Why do I care so much about a tidy bed? 

I think that it all goes back to when I was a child and my father forced my siblings and I to make our beds.  I think that we started to make our beds when were 3 or 4 years old.  I remember that I had trouble reaching all the sides of my bed because I was so little, so, I had to climb on my bed to make certain that I stretched all the corners of my blanket properly.  I don’t think that my father was looking for perfection at the age of 3 or 4, but he did expect well-made beds by the age of 6. 

When I analyze the consequences of this task imposed to us, I realize that my dad ingrained in me the idea that a well-made bed is fundamental and is the ultimate symbol of both organization and responsibility.  So, a well-made bed became a passion for me and I am certainly planning to teach my children that it is important to make their beds. I wonder how many other things I was told to do when I was a child, and now I am imposing to our children. Some may be good, others may be questionable!

What odd things do you hate and why? Are you teaching them to your kids? 

7 simple ways to save money on meat

Have you ever heard the saying: “A dish is incomplete if it doesn’t have meat”? Well, I grew up in a house where this expression was part of our daily vocabulary.  My father repeated this saying almost daily.  My poor mother had to make certain that there was always enough meat in my dad’s plate, otherwise he was not a happy guy.  I also grew up eating different types of meat from both the land and sea.  The one good thing is that at home we were not too picky with the type of meat per se, and we would eat almost everything, including internal organs such as the heart, kidney, liver and stomach.  Although I would not always like what my parents put on my plate, I have to admit that I got used to eat meat and consider myself as a meat-eater.  
The problem, however, is that meat is very expensive.  In April 2014, Statistics Canada announced that retail prices for grilling steaks and ground beef were up between 11-12% in the past 12 months.  This was more than 6-times the 2% increase seen in Canada’s overall inflation rate for the same period (http://tinyurl.com/p75tfje).

Normally, I am the one at home who does the groceries shopping, and I have certainly noticed that the amount of money that we spent in meat is enormous, representing a large chunk of our budget.  I should start collecting records to quantify this precisely, but I know that our expenditures in meat are huge.  Apparently meat makes up over 22% of the at-home food (not out-to-eat or alcohol) budget of Americans (http://tinyurl.com/pfxvmba).  We can assume that the value must be similar for Canadian families. 
In my effort to reduce food waste and the money that we spend in food, I have been trying to simple tips to save money on meat.  Of course, I know that the first way to do this is by buying only the meat that is on sale.  This may works sometimes, but we cannot eat chicken (or fish) every day of the week.  I need other tips.  So, are there other simple or practical ways to save money on meat?

After searching a little bit in the internet, I found a very useful post that included 7 simple tips to save money on meat.  Here are these tips: 
  1.   Eat less meat – Obvious, but not always easy.  In our case, we are trying to implement 2 meatless meals per week and replacing the meat with beans.  It doesn’t always work well, but we figure that if we keep trying, it will eventually work. 
  2.  Know your price per pound – Keep a grocery price book and write down the price per pound after every purchase.  Pretty soon, you will start seeing a trend, and won’t need to reference your price book as often.  Knowing how much are you paying for the meat will make you more aware of how much you spend on meat.
3.      Freeze as much as possible – Obvious, but we don’t always think about it.  Don’t leave meat in the fridge for more than a few days because meat (particularly bovine meat) tends to spoil fast.  Establish a rule that unless you will be using the meat that day, it goes straight into the freezer.
4.      Don’t buy speciality meat – Buy only basic meat; but, always make certain that you know how much are you paying.  Only buy speciality meat when is on sale and even then, verify the price per pound.
5.      Stretch the life of meat – Here the idea is to use the meat efficiently.  e.g., when preparing a recipe, we may want to reduce the portions requested by the recipe.  When you buy a whole chicken, make certain that you really use the entire chicken.  Freeze the extras for use in casseroles, and boil the bones for broth.
6.      Buy a portion of a cow, pig, lamb, etc – This is a great idea, particularly if you live in a farming area.  We followed this suggestion and bought half of lamb last week.  We have figured that we are saving ½ of the regular price per pound by doing this.
7.      Shop unconventional grocery stores – If available in your area, visit small international stores, sometimes they may offer lower prices for certain types of meat.

I recommend you visit http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2014/01/17/save-meat-guest-post/ if you want to have more information about this topic and other related ones.  It’s a great blog.

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