The Case For Summer Camp

Camp in Colorado? Sign me up!

Camp in Colorado? Sign me up!

As a kid, my favorite part of summertime was overnight camp.  In fact, some of my very favorite memories come from my weeks spent on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay at a sailing camp.

Now as a parent, I want my kids to have their own wonderful camp experiences.  Why? Because a lot can be learned from spending a few nights away from home.  Being a camper can teach kids a lot:

Let the fun begin!

Let the fun begin!

How to navigate social situations on their own.  Admit it, most of us can be helicopter parents at times – even thought we know it’s not in the best interest of our kids.  At camp, kids are able to make friends and social decisions on their own, out from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Doing this, and being successful encourages self-esteem and confidence.  What could be better?

How to have fun without technology and social media.  It’s hard for all of us to put down our phones and tablets – and no one struggles more than kids.  They’ve never known life without them! Summer camp is the perfect time to learn that a million awesome things can happen without electronics (hiking, swimming, canoeing, kickball, crafts).  What’s more, they’re still awesome even if they aren’t shared on Instagram!

How to move past your comfort zone.  Whether it’s taking on the high ropes course, eating freshly caught fish, sleeping under the stars, or making friends with someone from a different culture or background, summer camp is chock full of opportunities to stretch and challenge kids in ways they never are at home.

It’s also important to note that summer camp holds some important lessons for parents, too.  Namely, how to start letting go of our precious babes.  I have to admit that it was harder to say goodbye to my kids when I dropped them off at camp than I thought it would be.  I’m making it through, but definitely counting down the days until I see them again.

 

Packing for camp with StickerKid

Packing for camp with StickerKid

Check out these cute stickers and labels, perfect for school and camp:

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This post sponsored by StickerKid.

 

Celebrating 10 Years On Briggs Street

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I am so excited to be celebrating 10 years in my office on Briggs Street in Erie.  Erie has grown a lot since I arrived here, and the little downtown (where my office is located) has really blossomed in the last year.  The local Farmer’s Market, town festivals,  and the Homecoming parade all happen right outside my front door.  There are also a bunch of local restaurants, cafes and brewpubs on my block.  I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring!

Standing With the Citizens of Orlando

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

I am joining the voices of so many others in the last few days in offering my thoughts, prayers and condolences to folks in Orlando and beyond.

If you’re looking for resources on coping with distress after the events in Florida, check out some of my past posts:

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And here are a couple of resources from the American Psychological Association:

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Lastly, check out this thoughtful and useful article over at Huff Post about How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims and Their Families.

#OrlandoUnited

When You’re Too Embarrassed To Get Help

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I really wish I knew how many people think about starting therapy, but don’t actually do it.  Because my hunch is that it’s a whole heck of a lot.

We hear people talking about the stigma around mental illness and mental health treatment all the time, and honestly I think the one who suffers from this stigma is often ourselves.  Here’s what stigma against mental health treatment looks like when we use it on ourselves:

  • I should know how to fix this myself
  • I am a __________ (insert title: therapist, physician, teacher, etc), I should know how to deal with this on my own!
  • I am too smart to have anxiety (or depression)
  • I don’t have anything to feel worried or depressed about
  • I have good friends and a supportive family, I shouldn’t feel so bad

The fact is, public education about mental health has been so good in recent years, that most of us wouldn’t dream of saying any of the above statements to a friend, loved one, or stranger.  We know mental illness isn’t:

  • A choice
  • A weakness
  • A comment on one’s intelligence, place in the world or likeability

But yet some of us still say these unhelpful, untrue things to ourselves.  Why?  Because the stigma around mental illness still exists.  It’s fading for sure, but it has a long way to go.  So if you find that you are talking yourself OUT of getting mental health treatment, label those thoughts for what they are: junk.  Then pick up the phone and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To find a psychologist near you, check out APA’s Psychologist Locator service. It’s a free, easy place to start.

 

Chicken Avocado Enchiladas With Produce for Kids

Happy Summer!  School’s been out for exactly one week, and the excitement has just about worn off.  Which means we’re looking for things to do that aren’t: watching TV, playing video games or zoning out on the ipad!

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking.  Luckily,my kids share my interest.  So the other day we decided to try a recipe from this awesome cookbook:

We agreed on the Chicken Avocado Enchiladas, then headed to Costco to pick up the ingredients (or as close to the ingredients as we could get at Costco since I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, too!)

ingredients

I couldn’t find ripe avocados, so I bought this pre-made gauc.  I also have one family member who HATES yogurt, so swapped that for sour cream.

We checked all the steps, then were ready to get started!

getting ready

Another thing I forgot to mention was that I needed A LOT of enchiladas.  I’m trying to stock my own freezer, but also have a new nephew so I wanted to make a tray for that family, as well as another family who is dealing with illness.  So, I bought 2 of those rotisserie chickens at Costco to save time.  Here it is:

chicken

I didn’t get a shot of us shredding the chicken, but I am pleased to say that I didn’t have to do that much.  My girls are now old enough to take over that hideous job. Woohoo! Then we mixed in the goodies:

stuffing

Rolling them up:

rolling 'em up!

Into the tray:

filling

Finished product!

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It was actually a great time to teach a bunch of kitchen lessons:

  • How to substitute ingredients
  • How to shred chicken (yay!)
  • How to double or triple a recipe
  • How to package food up for later consumption (including the importance of writing instructions for cooking on the packaging!)
  • The powerful role food plays in supporting our friends and family

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Ready to go:

give away

Oh! And we also had them for dinner that night.  They were a huge hit.  The sauce (which we served on the side) was amazing, and the chicken was super tasty.  Definitely a keeper!

dinner's ready!

Check out this recipe and many more in Healthy Family Classics.

P.S. We’ve also made One Pot Chicken Lo Mein and Broccoli Tater Tots – all delicious.

Full disclosure: I serve on the Parent Advisory Board for Produce for Kids.  See my articles on mental health and healthy eating on the PFK site.

 

Hold the Judgment: An Easy Way To Improve Mental Health

Judging others: So easy, so entertaining, so widespread.  But sadly, also completely contradictory to good mental health.

The other day I did my own little experiment and noticed how many times in an hour I made a judgmental comment (in my head – I was on the treadmill) about either myself or others.  I lost count at 25. Yikes.  Now, I didn’t speak these judgments out loud, but they were there just the same.  Things like:

“Why did she choose that shirt, ick”

and

“She totally looks better than me!”

and

“Who chose this awful music on the loud speaker?”

Oh boy.

All those judgments flying every which way got me thinking: How does a judgmental attitude affect mental health?  Here are some thoughts:

Passing judgment (on ourselves and others) keeps us from being fully present in our lives.  Life is full of things to notice and be a part of.  If we spend the bulk of our time formulating judgments, what might we be missing? A quiet, peaceful hour on the treadmill? The joy of watching our kids play sports or act on stage? A entertaining conversation with a friend?

No one ever wins. Judging ourselves, judging others; comparing ourselves to others. All these things lead to the same end: a downward spiral to misery and disappointment.  When it comes to judgment – no one ever ends up feeling good.

Judging others can make us paranoid that others are judging us, too.  Judging others has the nasty side effect of making us feel that we, ourselves are being judged – even when we’re not.  As in: “What are the neighbors going to think when they see me driving this old, dented car?”  See? Not so good.

We all want to spend time with non-judgmental people.  Think about some of your favorite people to spend time with.  I’d be willing to bet that most of them steer clear of judging, or gossiping about others.  Sure, it’s fun for a minute, but this behind-the-back judgmental attitude has a pretty nasty aftertaste.  Supportive, interesting (and interested), funny friends are the ones that give us longer-lasting feelings of warmth and closeness.

 

Is Porn a Public Health Issue?

Pornography is a hot topic these days.

The Governor of Utah recently signed a resolution describing pornography as “a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”  The resolution also reads that porn “equates violence toward women and children with sex and pain with pleasure, which increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography.”  Finally, the resolutions states that there is a need for “education, prevention, research and policy change…in order to address the pornography epidemic…”

Read the resolution in its entirety here.

Time Magazine is also talking about pornography, with a recent issue dedicated to covering the topic:

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According to Wikipedia, a public health crisis is defined as follows:

A health crisis or public health crisis is a difficult situation or complex health system that affects humans in one or more geographic areas (mainly occurred in natural hazards), from a particular locality to encompass the entire planet. Health crises generally have significant impacts on community health, loss of life, and on the economy. They may result from disease, industrial processes or poor policy.

So, does porn qualify?

I’m not sure, but I think it is becoming more and more clear that the easy, free access to pornography on portable electronic devices is having a pretty big impact on kids and adults.  The fact that these titillating images (and movies) are just one click away at all times is just such a big change from the past when porn could only be viewed if you:

  • Made a trip to the gas station and asked for the magazine behind the counter
  • Went to a strip club in person
  • Found an adult store/movie theater and had the guts to go inside

In short, it was much harder to access – and took a lot more planning and nerve.  Nowadays, it’s almost hard NOT to stumble into porn at some point while browsing the web.  And that’s one thing for adults, but quite another for kids who often don’t have the resources to:

  • Make sense of what they’re viewing
  • Understand the difference between reality and fiction when it comes to sexual acts
  • Stay away from sexualized content (it’s pretty exciting, after all)

So, the question remains…is pornography is a public health crisis? Perhaps Utah is on the cutting edge of dealing with this issue – maybe they’re over-reacting.  Either way, it’s an important conversation to be having with ourselves, our kids, our partners and our communities.

 

 

 

What To Know Before Your First Appointment

I recently had a chance to talk to the folks over at BuzzFeed about what to expect during your first therapy session. I love the way they presented the info – so fun, accessible and entertaining.  Adjectives not typically associated with therapy – but they should be!

Check it out:

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One of my favorites quotes:

“Some people are just ready to spill everything and talk about the big stuff, and some people it takes much longer for them to feel comfortable sharing,” says Smith. “What’s important to me as a psychologist is to meet people where they are.”

Thanks, BuzzFeed!

Some Thoughts About Sex and Mental Health

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I recently participated in an event that included a talk about sex.  The speaker was a physician whose office is around the corner from mine, Dr. Gloria Oberbeck.  The audience was a group of women ranging in age from about 30 to about 75.  And boy did we have a lot of questions for the good doctor!

Sex is something that is all around us almost all the time, but paradoxically is something we almost never talk about in any kind of meaningful way.  Where are we to turn when we have questions like:

Why does sex hurt?

What can I do if I don’t have a partner, but still want to be a sexual person?

Why does my interest in sex wax and wane?

All are orgasms created equal?

These questions (and many more!) were asked during the talk and I took some notes.  Here are a few things I learned:

  • The vast majority of us like sex and chocolate.  The way they work on our brains is pretty similar.  And most of us don’t get enough of either one.
  • It’s a myth that men want sex more than women.
  • Regular sex helps us be more resilient to the stressors in our lives. As in: more sex = better able to cope with our annoying boss
  • Orgasms achieved by…um…machines might be fun, but they don’t result in the same overall health benefits as orgasms achieved through skin to skin contact.
  • Studies have shown us that most people want more sex than they are having
  • When sex isn’t possible (because of lack of partner, physical limitations, etc), skin to skin contact with another person can be the next best thing.  Holding hands, hugging, etc all have powerful effects on our bodies.

It was a fun, and very informative talk.  I’m already looking forward to Part 2!

Food and Mood: Pasta Is Love in a Bowl

This post is part of the Food and Mood series. Today’s author is Megan Alpert, welcome Megan!

 

Denver has so many amazing restaurants and one of my favorite local

spots is The Cherry Tomato in Park Hill. Delicious food and a cozy

ambiance make for a romantic date night or even a fun night out with the

family. The restaurant also holds a special place in my heart, as it was

where I navigated my first hostess job and delighted in the warm, savory

minestrone soup and scrumptious fettuccine Alfredo.

For almost twenty years, owner and chef, Tom Felise, has featured his

signature creation, Pasta Felise, which is a dreamy dish of bowtie pasta

with chicken, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and sweet green peas

dancing in a creamy white wine basil pesto sauce – how about that for

making your heart jump!

A few months ago, I attempted to recreate this masterpiece and am happy

to share my version of “Pasta Felise.” When I want to make my sweeties

feel special or when I get nostalgic for the taste of my twenties, I turn to

this dish. Enjoy!

Here is what you need. Wow, I feel fancy setting up this display like I am

the Pioneer Woman – love her recipes!

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Ingredients

3 Tablespoons olive oil separated

1 Tablespoon butter

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken breast (3-4 in a pack)

1 lb bowtie noodles (cook according to pasta instructions)

Basil Pesto (recipe below)

1 1/2 cup white wine – I like Sauvignon Blanc

1 package ready to eat julienne cut sun dried tomatoes

1 can of artichoke hearts (more if you want!)

1 cup of frozen green peas

3/4 cup of heavy cream

Salt and Pepper

Basil Pesto:

3 – 4 large bunch of fresh basil (about 3 cups basil leaves with stems)

4 cloves of garlic

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 cup olive oil

Serves 4-6

First, let’s prep the chicken. I cut the breasts into two inch pieces and salt

and pepper both sides.

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Next, cook the pasta according to the package and you can set it aside for

later.

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Then, heat about 2 Tbsp of oil with 1 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet on

medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until brown and just done (about 8

minutes). The mixture of olive oil and butter gives the chicken a nice brown

finish.

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While the chicken cooks, you can make the Pesto.

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I cut the very end of the stems off but use the rest of the basil – stem and

all – as it provides great flavor.

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Add the basil, garlic, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese to a food processor and pulse until

coarse. Then add the olive oil and pulse until smooth. So fresh and so easy!

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By now, the chicken should be nice and brown and you will want to set it aside

and lightly tent with foil for later.

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Heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.

Next, add the beautiful pesto that you made and heat until fragrant (about 2

minutes).

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Then add the white wine and simmer for 5 minutes.

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Now, add the sun-dried tomatoes – lovely color!

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Then, the artichokes…

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Finally, add the peas. If using frozen, I sometime just add them in straight from

the freezer. I can only imagine how good this would taste in the summer with

peas from the farmers market!

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Stir and simmer for 5 – 7 minutes until bubbly.

As a last touch, lower the heat and add the heavy cream.

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Stir and cook for just a few minutes longer.

Your last step is to mix the beautiful sauce with the cooked noodles and serve

with shredded Parmesan. Love in a bowl!!

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Megan Alpert is a recruiter at Accenture focused on finding top talent for the Marketing & Communications team. Megan lives in Denver with her husband and two sons and her passions include sports, yoga, music, travel and cooking.  One of her priorities and great joys in life is to cook and enjoy dinners with family and friends.

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