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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Staff Blog

February 4, 2016

After 10 years, final thoughts

It has come down to the final 460 words (the length of these missives). This is my last column as editor of The Lutheran. I’ve made some of the points that follow over the years, others are new. Here are 10 of my top takeaways after 10 years as editor.

• Don’t judge The Lutheran by just one article in one month. That’s simply unfair.

• For certain matters such as publication of denominational notices, The Lutheran serves an official purpose in the ELCA. It’s not, however, “official” in the sense that every word, photograph or advertisement carries the endorsement of the ELCA or represents its “official” position.

• You’ll find uplifting elements even in articles that by their subject matter appear to be negative. Articles can be filled with reports of congregations taking positive action to face their challenges. Consider the full article.

• The notion of scarcity vs. abundance is gaining currency in the ELCA. No one wants to focus only on the negative. That’s a prescription for defeat. An abundance worldview can also run amok with unending happy-happy-happy. Let’s not deceive ourselves either way.

• Quotes are used in articles with the understanding that readers will or should know they are that person’s opinion. The question for The Lutheran is: “When do we — should we — shift gears from journalism to apologetics?”

• Civility is a concept that appears to be waning. If not me, listen to Martin Luther King Jr. on this: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

• It’s been said that alcohol removes the thin veneer we call civilization. Ditto the Internet. Heed Martin Luther’s admonition: “The most dangerous sin of all is the presumption of righteousness.”

• Then there’s Luther’s explanation to the eighth commandment: “[W]e do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

• We do so much more together than separately in the ELCA. We confess one holy, catholic and apostolic church. Congregations are part of something bigger.

• I salute the people who, over the past decade, helped make this magazine happen. God bless them all: Megan Brandsrud, Kathryn Brewer, Bette Bruce, Barbara Fletcher, Elizabeth Hunter, Kathleen Kastilahn, Andrea Kulik, Amber Leberman, Jeremy Ott, Curt Peterson, Melissa Ramirez Cooper, Julie Sevig, Sonia Solomonson, Joel Stombres, Erin Strybis and Michael Watson.

Finally, I leave you with the Scripture verse I hold most dear, Romans 8:38-39. I intentionally ask that you look it up — to keep that Bible near.Goodbye, dear readers. It was a privilege to be your editor.

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January 11, 2016

Ups, a few downs the past 10 years

Ten years ago I became editor of The Lutheran. It was a position I had applied for previously but didn’t receive, so I assumed the door of opportunity had shut. Things changed.

Edgar Trexler served as the first editor of the ELCA’s version of The Lutheran from 1988 to 1999. Upon his retirement, David Miller, the magazine’s senior editor, became editor. When he left in 2005 for a position with an ELCA seminary, I applied again for the job and pop—the door reopened.

Formed by decades in secular journalism, it took some time to get fully in place as editor. As a cradle Lutheran, I knew the church and had covered the merger of what became the ELCA, but working inside a denomination required a whole new education in institutions, processes, people and policies.

Over the past decade the magazine has been able to not only inform ELCA members with news, features and columns, but also help raise understanding around key issues so members could cope with decisions that impact the church. Just two examples were the cover articles of January 2013 (“The shrinking church”) and November 2014 (“The ELCA’s aging clergy wave”).

What couldn’t be seen 10 years ago was a coming terrible threesome for any publication: a church-dividing controversy, the Great Recession, and a societal shift in reading to ever smaller electronic devices along with increasingly narrow fields of reader interest. These combined to halve The Lutheran’s circulation despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on marketing and promotions.

What’s kept me charged over the years are encouraging conversations with members at synod assemblies (I’ve attended 56) and elsewhere and letters to the editor about the positive impact the ELCA has in the world. Thank you all. While negative correspondence takes a toll, one letter tops all types for cleverness. A pastor, upset over coverage of sexuality issues, disparaged the magazine, adding: “Maybe the most edifying thing is the obituaries. Some of my friends don’t need to read [The Lutheran] any longer.”

Regardless, it’s an honor to be editor of The Lutheran, but all things must pass. I turn 65 in two months and have informed my supervisors of my intention to retire. My last day at the magazine will be Feb. 19. It’s time for change.

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September 3, 2010

Learning from moose

Last month, my fiancé James and I went on vacation in Isle Royale National Park. The park is an island in Lake Superior, and many visitors to the park hope to see one of its 500 moose.

We saw three moose — a cow and twin calves wading in Washington Harbor.

However, our closest encounter with a moose involved sound — not sight. One night we camped at South Lake Desor, an interior lake near the center of the island. I awoke at midnight to the sound of branches breaking. I woke James and said: "I think there's something outside our tent." I often wake James when I hear noises, which usually turn out to be birds or squirrels. "You're imagining things again," he said and went back to sleep. The snapping of branches continued, and was followed by scraping noises and huffing. When I woke James a second time, we both heard the moose sneeze.

By now, James' curiosity was piqued. He unzipped the tent's vestibule and looked out, but because there was a new moon he couldn't see the animal. He was about to turn on his headlamp, but I stopped him. The moose seemed very close to our tent — so close I could smell it, a musky scent reminiscent of wet dog. I didn't want the moose to become spooked by the light. I worried that if the moose was frightened an errant hoof might trample our ultralight tent. So we lay still and silently for the next fifteen minutes, listening to the moose chew foliage as it meandered through our campsite.

When we woke the next morning, we examined the leaves and branches the moose had browsed. It had lingered only five feet from our tent. 

I didn't expect to learn anything about my own health — or others' — from a moose.

A highlight of the trip was the opportunity to hear a talk by Candy and Rolf Peterson. During the summer the Petersons live in a cabin across the bay from the popular Daisy Farm campground. Twice a week they paddle over to give talks to the hikers and boaters staying at Daisy Farm.

Candy is an educator with the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study, and Rolf has been its director for the past 40 years. It is the longest-running study of any predator-prey system in the world.

Candy talked about the island's moose and wolves, their inter-relatedness and the challenges facing each population. While we were on the island, one of the findings from the wolf-moose study made national health news via an article in The New York Times ("Moose offer trail of clues on arthritis," August 17).

According to the study, many of the moose on Isle Royale have arthritis stemming from nutritional deficits early in life. Scientists think human osteoarthritis might also be linked to nutritional deficits early in life.

I'm grateful to the many moose (and to Rolf and Candy for their research over the years) for teaching us something about how our early nutrition might affect diseases that manifest later in our lives.

Recommended reading: Candy Peterson's memoir A View from the Wolf's Eye introduces readers to the island, the study and a faith that is marked by seasons and lived out by exploring the natural world, serving others and sharing knowledge.

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June 22, 2010

How much of health is our guts?

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry Last week an article in the Chicago Tribune caught my eye: "Make this recipe and call me in the morning."

I laughed, because essentially, it's what two wise doctors told me earlier this year.

They didn't offer to refill megadoses of naproxen or ibuprofen I'd been taking for years. Or the promise of a nice, cool cortisone shot. Nor the threat of having my knee painfully drained, yet again.

Tests were negative and diagnoses elusive, until finally, a food intolerance test revealed a severe allergy to casein (a protein found in all dairy) and eggs. The joint inflammation and chronic sinus infections went away when I stopped consuming dairy and eggs. This was kind of a big deal, since for most of my life, the typical day's menu included 3 glasses of low-fat milk, morning yogurt, cheese, and probably about one egg a day. It's hard to eliminate all traces of milk and eggs, but the more I can do it, the better I feel. 

Other nutritional choices could also reduce the inflammation, the doctors said, adding that anyone with arthritis, or any type of inflammation can benefit from an anti-inflammatory (sometimes called Mediterranean) diet. And indeed, much about health may just be about our gut, as a Time article asserted last year.

So now, instead of preventing me from walking, my allergies actually help me stay on a healthy path of feeling better and losing weight. At least, that's my gut feeling. 

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June 19, 2010

Backsliding in Scranton

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I'm posting this blog update from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport in Pennsylvania. I just finished representing The Lutheran at the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly in Wilkes-Barre.

I had a blast at the synod assembly. I met some amazing Lutherans, heard about some incredible ministries (look for future articles in The Lutheran) and had the opportunity to lead some focus groups with Susan Williams (principal of Susan Williams & Associates) who is doing some research into how to better position The Lutheran to serve its readers.

As usual, I'm returning home from this assembly more fired up than ever about the mission and readership of the magazine.

I was very grateful for the "lunch/dinner on your own" options during the synod assembly, which allowed me to make healthful meal choices. The one meal provided by the synod was an outdoor barbeque with choices such as baked barbeque chicken, a spicy corn dish (almost like grits but better), salad and fuit

Two hours ago, I got to the airport on time for my 5:30 flight — only to find out it had been delayed until 7:15. That's when it happened.

I figured I better eat before getting on the plane. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport is small (but it has wi-fi!), and food choices are limited. The only thing that appealed to me was the mozzarella sticks and fries. It has been three months since I've eaten an entire meal of fried food and cheese. (I used to love french fries — just ask my cousins, who insist it was the only food group I would eat as a child.) Today, I ordered and immediately regretted my choice. The fries tasted so greasy — not at all yummy like I'd remembered.

In the end, I ate the mozzarella sticks and skipped the fries.

But I learned a valuable lesson: Time away from unhealthy food decreases its appeal. I'm unlikely to order either again, now that my body is used to vegetables and foods that aren't fried. This one moment of backsliding will probably keep me from noshing on fried foods in the future, so for that I'm grateful.

I'm off for now — it looks like the plane that I'll be taking back to Chicago has arrived.

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June 10, 2010

I can do this

spring

Last week I represented The Lutheran at the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod assembly held in Rosemont, IL. One of my tasks was to speak at the plenary on behalf of the magazine. Since public speaking isn't one of my strong skills, I was pretty nervous about addressing about 600 people.

In the days prior to the assembly, I rehearsed in an empty room to get my timing right and be able to speak to folks rather than just read to them. Even with this effort, I needed some courage to do it.

On the day I was to speak at the assembly, I drew on my yoga practice for help. One of the things I learned in yoga class when learning a new pose is that if you say "I can't do this" you probably will not be able to. If you tell yourself you can you may surprise yourself and succeed.

As I sat in one of the speakers' seats next to the stage a few minutes before I was to address the assembly, I  kept telling myself "I can do this." I also practiced the deep breathing I learned in yoga right before I was called to the podium.

When I addressed the assembly, the phrase "I can do this" kept running through my head. I was able to stay focused and kept going without stumbling until I was finally done and heard applause. Thanks to yoga, I found courage and showed myself "I can do this."

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June 7, 2010

I did it!


©istockphoto.com/nodmitryI wrote last week about the "moment of truth"  — going in to get my blood drawn for my three-month follow-up cholesterol and glucose screening.

Today, at my follow-up appointment, in the presence of my doctor, I discovered my results.

 I was nervous on my way to the appointment. I'm always nervous when I go to the doctor ... maybe you are, too. I value my health and well-being as a gift from God. When we started this blog, one reader suggested that we were promoting body-worship. I was gratified that other readers chimed in that we are to honor our bodies as temples of God's Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and that being good stewards of God's gifts means being mindful of what we consume.

After three months of being more intentional about my choices, I was ready to discover whether they'd made a difference in my test results. I was nervous — maybe I hadn't made enough of the right choices. Or maybe my genetics would prevent me from being able to attain good results, even with the right choices.

My doctor and I compared the numbers. In the past three months, I've lost 21 pounds. My total cholesterol has gone from 29 points outside of the normal range to just one point outside of the normal range. My HDL cholesterol (what's often referred to as "good" cholesterol) has increased. My LDL cholesterol (often called "bad" cholesterol) decreased. My fasting glucose levels have dropped six points and are again within the normal range.

I was delighted. So was my doctor. She and I talked about willpower, the necessity of a support system and remembering that making healthy choices is a lifestyle change, not a quick-fix. She reminded me that as a result of managing my health better, I'll save hundreds of dollars that I otherwise would have used for medicines to control my cholesterol and glucose levels.

As staff of The Lutheran, we are enrolled in the ELCA's health plan for employees (administered by the ELCA Board of Pensions). Staying healthy keeps us off medications, reduces the need for doctor's visits and, as a result, drives down the cost of providing health care to all ELCA pastors, lay rostered leaders and congregation staff who participate in the plan.

Thank you, blog readers, for being part of my support system. This is an ongoing process, so if you have wisdom for me (or others), please feel free to comment below.

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June 2, 2010

Summer is here!

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Summer may officially arrive June 21. But for many of us, summer is that span of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Here’s a good reminder to care for ourselves and the planet during these months. The wisdom below comes from Josh Judd-Herzfeldt, administrator at my congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago, in our weekly e-newsletter:
 
“As we become fully embraced by the warmth of summer, be sure to take time (whether you’re busy or not) to fully enjoy the beauty around you. Slow down, take a breath, pause, and enjoy all that creation has to offer. Sit in a park, do some gardening, climb a tree, stop and ‘smell the roses’ (or any other flower!), take off your shoes and feel the grass, sand or dirt — the earth — between your toes.

We take for granted all that this planet has to offer. There’s no better example of this than daily updates on how much oil is pumping into the Gulf of Mexico — threatening our planet, our wildlife and even our livelihood. And this is on top of concern over the effects of global climate change and other issues facing our planet. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by it all. It seems like nothing I can do will change anything. This is not true.

This summer, make an effort to do something, anything, no matter how small. Every little bit helps, and the more we, as a healthy, vibrant, thriving community of faith can model positive and life-sustaining behavior, the more these actions will catch on. Develop some simple habits:

• turn lights off after you leave the room;
• unplug appliances like toasters, microwaves, mixers, etc;
• plug TV’s, VCR’s, DVD players, video game consoles, computers, sound systems into surge protectors with a switch and turn it off when not in use;
• buy produce at local farmer’s markets;
• walk or bike instead of drive whenever possible;
• set the heat 2 degrees cooler and the AC 2 degrees warmer;
• hang clothes to dry instead of running the dryer.

Doing even one of these things will have an impact if we all start to do them. And once these habits are in place, they’ll be passed down and expanded upon by future generations. Take the time to see what you can do to help, and enjoy the summer!”

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June 1, 2010

You go, girl!

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Amber, my neighbor to the south in our quad-pod of cubicles is making great strides with her health and wellness goal. It's encouraging to see how the steps each of us take impact others.

For instance, there used to be a regular procession of fattening treats or leftovers displayed on the top of the low bookcases that run along one side of the cubicles. Not anymore. Water bottles can be seen on some desks. Two days a week, churchwide employees carry yoga mats for Lunchtime Yoga at the Lutheran Center. When folks are talking, frequently it's about trips to the gym, hiking, Wii-exercising, fishing, the lake, etc.

Still, many days I find physical health so much easier to care for than the spiritual side of things. Today is no exception: The magazine's on deadline. The week's child care arrangements for our oldest fell apart and had to be reconstructed anew. Over the weekend our youngest had another trip to the doc and needed to be camped out near a washroom, so I missed my hubby's sermon and some badly-needed spiritual re-fueling. An upstairs sink is mysteriously clogged and the garbage disposal is broken.

Sigh. It's just the list of everyday things that make you skip a workout, cut out time for prayer and devotion, eat a plate full of cookies, etc. So I'm feeling pretty good that despite the list and the deficits, I've lost another two pounds and found some good devotionals in my reading here, for the magazine — grace that I didn't expect.

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May 27, 2010

The moment of truth

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Three months ago my doctor ordered me to make lifestyle changes to reduce my overall weight, cholesterol and blood-glucose levels.

For the past three months, I've been avoiding fried foods, cheese-based dishes (a difficult task for someone originally from Wisconsin), starchy foods and refined sugars.

This morning, I had my blood drawn for the follow-up lab tests.

Over the past three months, I've lost 20 pounds from eating healthy, modest-portion meals and exercising. I'm hoping that the labwork numbers have also improved.

I should know within a week.

Update: I made dessert once over the past three months, the chocolate-orange ricotta cheesecake from Clean Eating magazine's May/June issue. The verdict: Some of the ingredients (agar agar and dutch-processed cocoa) were hard to find, but the recipe was easy to follow. I thought the crust was especially simple and delicious (rolled oats, honey and cocoa combined in a food processor). I thought the final result was quite good, but my boyfriend (who is a far more experienced baker than I) could tell at once it was a no-bake cheesecake and had some issues with the texture. I'll make it again — but I'll keep it for myself.

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May 18, 2010

Healthy travel

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Traveling away from home is an understandable cause for diet and exercise lapses. You're captive to schedules and menus not of your own making. There may be more stress, more sitting, and most of the time, you're socially "on." The Lutheran's nine staff are together visiting 27 synod assemblies this spring/early summer, so this was a bit of a concern for me.

What a pleasant surprise I found at the Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly this past weekend! I was on my feet at the display table about half of the time, and we had plenty of traffic. At this assembly, there were a mere handful of people who passed by, avoiding eye contact or making a quick, silent grab for the treat dish. Most people stopped to chat, check out materials, or offer feedback/comments.

Meeting in Akron, Ohio, assembly-goers were served a healthy lunch (chicken caesar salads, vegan sandwiches, water, fruits, [not huge] oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip cookies). American, Middle Eastern and Italian restaurants in the area were within walking distance (under .5 to 1.5 miles), and had healthy options as well as fattening ones. A stand-out was Vegiterranean, a popular Vegan restaurant owned by a '70s rocker named Chrissie Hyndes. After the trip, my weight had held steady. I've had much worse consequences, believe me. 

From the ELCA Board of Pensions, Sandy L. Rothschiller (filling in for Fana Teklé) spoke about the variety of overall health improvements members have made, from choosing generic medications to exercising/dieting in ways that have saved the overall plan millions of dollars. I wish I could remember exact numbers, but I was next up at the podium, to speak about The Lutheran, and doing yoga breathing so as not to panic. The breathing helped a lot, as did a great introduction from wonderful, funny Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. Her sense of humor has got to be one of the greatest assets for this synod. : ) And the talk must've been alright, because afterwards a few people came over to say they'd start individual or congregational subscriptions

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May 14, 2010

My exercise burnout

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Like many people, one of the problems I've had with exercising regularly is boredom with the same routine week after week. It often led to burnout and I would eventually stop exercising for months at a time.

Last year I began to experience this again. I had been going to a local women's health club for several years. The routine was very set and programmed and while I enjoyed the convenience and camaraderie, I knew I had to move on and diversify my routine.

I began going to a larger health club where there are many more activities. I alternated between a cardio workout certain days and weight machines on others. Occasionally I do both. There are also group classes available if I wish to attend. Alternating days and activities has been working well.

In February, Mary Frances, a colleague at the ELCA who is also a yoga instructor, started lunchtime classes twice a week and brought yoga into my life. I've gone to every class including a special two-hour workshop and have enjoyed learning something new and different. Several of my colleagues at The Lutheran and I had never practiced yoga before and now we really look forward to it. It also gives us the chance to build community with colleagues from other floors in the building.

When spring finally arrived this year, I got a passion to go bike riding down the paths in the forest preserve across the street from where I live. A month ago I bought a bicycle, my first in many years, and will try to ride as often as the weather permits.

Now between varied activities at the gym, yoga class at work, walking and bicycling I am exercising almost every day, am never bored and am enjoying it.

Oh — and did I mention that in June I will begin going to Zumba classes on Saturday mornings? I can hardly wait!

Let's hear your ideas about ways to avoid exercise burnout.

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May 9, 2010

No eggs, no oil, no sugar... how could it be any good?

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This weekend I made vegan waffles out of a cookbook from the library, The Joy of Vegan Baking. The recipe called for no eggs (flaxseed provided the stickiness), no oil and no sugar. Could this really be good? I wondered. Better make a 1/2 recipe. So I did.

But the waffles were stunningly good... our whole family thought so! Probably the best waffles I've ever had. They didn't last, and the kids refused to eat the generic version of Eggo waffles this morning.

I checked out the cookbook on a whim. We're not vegans, but I recently discovered I'm allergic to milk and eggs, which wreak havoc with my immune system if I eat 'em. How do you get around that? With a vegan cookbook. 

Now I'm thinking I'll make a triple recipe next time, freeze a bunch, save money and make the kids happy. And after I try a few more recipes.. .I think I'll go ahead and buy the cookbook on Amazon...

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May 3, 2010

Weekend eating

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I've been trying to eat more healthily for the past two months.

For the most part, I've done pretty well. I've increased the amount of fiber I eat, I try to get enough protein throughout the day and I am limiting my intake of carbohydrates and sugars.

I've lost 13 pounds. Don't misunderstand me, the numbers on a scale aren't terribly important to me. I think physical fitness is more important than a person's weight.

However, as someone with specific health concerns, those 13 pounds represent steps toward lower cholesterol and blood glucose readings. I won't know for sure until my follow-up bloodwork in a month, but my guess is that my positive life changes will be reflected in those numbers, too.

Although I've done fairly well overall, this past weekend was difficult for me. On Friday night, I had a hard time pacing myself on tortilla chips at a favorite Mexican restaurant. For Sunday lunch, I grudgingly (and crabbily) opted for whole-grain bread when I really wanted white bread on my submarine sandwich, and Sunday night I had a strong craving for sweets (especially chocolate). I gave in and had one Thin Mint, followed by a large slice of honeydew melon.

Weekends are hard, because they're a time of leisure. Our society associates leisure time with food: popcorn at a movie; snacks in front of the television; peanuts and beer at the baseball game; dinner dates with our loved ones; leisurely Sunday meals with our families; coffee-hour treats after worship.

As I've tried to eat more healthily, I've had to work hard at de-emotionalizing food. It's been a struggle, but having made (mostly) good choices despite temptation this past weekend, I know I can keep it up.

Oh, and my first issue of Clean Eating magazine arrived on Friday. So the next time I'm having a difficult weekend of cravings, I can whip up a no-bake chocolate-orange cheesecake that weighs in at 166 calories (and 13 grams of sugar — from raw honey) a slice. (I'll let you know how it tastes in a future post.)

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April 23, 2010

How clean is our air?

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Our health and the health of our planet are intertwined. Today, for Earth Day, someone forwarded me a story from The Root, about how climate change disproportionately affects the health of African American people. It's a perspective piece from Jacqui Patterson, an NAACP staffer, about a civil rights aspect of climate change, global warming and pollution.  

While some parts of this perspective piece made me wonder (really!? are you serious?! what's your source for kg of carbon dioxide emitted by ethnicity? and is this really helpful?), there are studies that correlate race/ethnicity and location of toxic facilities.

And all of us who live in Chicago and its near suburbs—of whatever ethnicity, class, age, or other background—are affected by industrial pollution. A 2008 Chicago Tribune article called it simply "Chicago's toxic air." Even Forbes magazine, the EPA and the American Lung Association agree that the Stinky Onion isn't sweet.

We can carpool, use alternate modes of transportation and recycle our hearts out. But don't we also need to advocate for better standards for the industries and machinery we use to make our lives easier, healthier and well?   

Click here to see how clean the air is where you live (by county or address).

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April 15, 2010

Salmon, anyone?

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Mmmmm. I'm thinking about making fish for dinner tonight. Salmon is a crowd-pleaser in our household. It's tasty (unless you don't like fish) and replete with Omega-3s, which are good for everything from your immune system to your joints.

Salmon with lemon & vegetables  

1. Spray or spread a light layer of olive oil into a casserole pan.
2. Chop up onions, carrots and potatoes into chunks. Scatter these on the bottom of the pan.
3. Place the raw salmon on top of the vegetables. Cover with slices of lemons ( I use two lemons.)
4. Season with pepper, fresh dill and a smaller amount of sea salt. If you have some white table wine, go at it!
5. Add one cup of water to the pan.
6. Cover the top of the dish with foil.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

It should be tender and flaky when you take it out. It sort of steams in there, and everything is very flavorful when it's done.

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April 14, 2010

Good health means less screen time

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry In our effort to lead a healthier life at home, our family is trying to be less attached to electronics. This is mostly directed at our kids, and specifically 7-year-old Peder, who is just too attached to his Nintendo DS.

We've banned weeknight TV, taken the DS away and for now Wii can only be used as a family activity. All three kids can earn TV and electronic game privileges back in moderation (weekends) by doing household chores and reading more. We're still fine-tuning this "points" system.

As an alternative, we brainstormed things to do sans electronics. Peder wrote them all down on pieces of paper and put them in an empty Diet Coke fridge pack box: "play at the park," "game night," "puzzle night," "neighborhood walk," "invite someone to dinner," "go out to dinner," "have dessert." A few things are reserved for weekends nights and may involve a screen: "camp out in the living room" and "family movie night."

Tuesday was our first night with the activity box: outdoor treasure hunt. We made a list of 10 things to find or do in the neighborhood, including "picking up litter" (we filled a bag) and "make a new friend." It was a success. The kids were so excited when they returned with their crossed off list, they wanted Oliver, 4, to draw an activity for tonight. So if you need me after supper, I'll be playing in the park.

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April 13, 2010

Busy hands and a prayerful mind


©istockphoto.com/nodmitryDuring my sabbatical last year, I realized that I needed to do more to nurture my creativity.

I'm lucky to have a creative job. Many of my daily tasks involve visual thinking. Because most of my creative work happens on a computer screen, I decided to take a course in three-dimensional art.

I found a lost-wax casting class at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago. I'd always been interested in lost-wax casting, the process of carving or molding a sculpture or piece of jewelry in wax, making a plaster mold of the object, then using a centrifuge to fill the mold with molten silver or bronze.

Some waxes are soft enough to mold with your fingers. Others are hardened with plastic so they must be shaped with a knife, dental tool or file.

After taking classes for four months, I've discovered I really enjoy working with hard wax, the kind that needs to be filed. There's something very meditative about filing. Without even realizing it, I filed my first piece of wax down to nothing.

Something about the repetitive movement of the hands that makes the mind still. Even though I've never done woodworking or knitting, I suspect those pursuits have a similar effect.

Making time for my mind to be quiet is something I don't do well. When I was younger I'd sit in quiet prayer for long periods at a time, but as my mind has become more and more cluttered, I've lost my discipline for just sitting and listening for God. It's something I've rediscovered through my class.

As I file, my hands are busy and my mind becomes more detached and open to the Spirit's counsel. This is not what I expected from my class, but it is a welcome benefit.

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April 7, 2010

Priorities

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I like food.

My two dearest friends live in Austin and New York. When we vacation together (or visit each other) our itineraries revolve around what and where we'll eat. We joke: "That's why we're friends."

I also like cooking. Unlike my boyfriend, I can't dream up delicious recipes on a moment's notice. But I can follow a recipe (or adapt it to my taste).

I've always struggled to find the time to cook from scratch. Before I started watching my cholesterol and sugar intake, I'd get carry-out or pop a prepared meal in the oven when I didn't have time to cook.

Now that I've made eating more healthily a priority, I'm cooking from scratch almost exclusively. Last night, I made a delicious (and healthy) chicken marsala with grilled carrots. (Recipe courtesy of Clean Eating magazine, to which I just subscribed at Mary Frances' suggestion.) But it involved going to two grocery stores (the dried porcini mushrooms still eluded me) and more than an hour devoted to preparation and cooking.

My other priorities are suffering. Last night, by the time I had finished shopping, cooking and eating, I had very little of my evening left to work on my homework for the children's book-illustration class I'm taking.

This is not a challenge unique to me. I'm a single woman who lives alone, and most of my time is my own. I can't imagine how difficult it is for families (especially single-parent households) to devote the time necessary to obtaining nutritious food and preparing it in a healthy way.

What are your tips for eating well with limited time? I'd love to hear your suggestions for weeknight meals that are quick, yummy and healthy.

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April 6, 2010

Diet transplant

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Near the beginning of 2009, I had a diet transplant. I switched to soy milk, whole wheat flour (no white/refined flour), brown sugar or honey for sweeteners, and olive or grapeseed oil in cooking. No fried foods, very little red meat. Since I'm the main grocery buyer for our family, we all switched to healthier eating. We threw out the white sugar & a variety of unhealthy snacks. It's actually a less expensive way to eat, given that we shop at Aldi, Trader Joe's and Costco (organic soy milk, fish and chicken in bulk).

After weeks of being "off" an unhealthy food, I didn't seem to crave it anymore. Between meals we and the kids try to snack on fruit, nuts, popcorn and the like. But I was surprised this Easter when our five-year-old picked out the chocolate eggs from his Easter basket. He said they tasted too sweet.

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April 1, 2010

An appointment with Dr. Yahoo

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I get the "Spring into life" focus but I think some people should refer to it as "spring cleaning." You know the promises of the swimming suit, reunions and wedding commercials — all of those things are coming up this summer and we have to get ready now.

Like three months are going to make a difference!

Myths dispelled

I have read with amusement some of the confessional postings about gaining weight and getting into tight jeans. Either a) leave them on so you know something is going on or b) figure out a way to use a trampoline, hanger and harness to jump into them.

In a recent conversation I had with Dr. Yahoo, I was surprised to learn about some of the myths we live with. Dr. Yahoo informed me that:

1) Exercise is not good. Your heart is good for only so many beats ... take naps.

2) Alcohol is good. Wine and beer are made from fruits and grains.

3) Chocolate is good. It is from the cocoa bean, another vegetable.

4) Swimming doesn't help. Have you ever seen a skinny whale?

5) Sit ups don't prevent a soft middle. Exercise makes muscle which makes your stomach bigger.

I confess that Dr. Yahoo won't be included in any future health program (or current ones) and you won't find any of these tips on the ELCA Board of Pensions or Mayo Clinic website — but you will find answers to everything else.

Now for my confession. I went to dinner with my daughter the other night and she paid. My pants were too tight to get my hands in the pockets.

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April 1, 2010

Celebrating 35

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Nope, that 35 is not a birthday, but weight I've lost since February 2009. My effort to "spring into life" really bloomed after I began having some difficulty with one of my knees. Taking some weight off was bound to make a difference. 

There's no way I could've done it without God. My husband and I have together put on a small person since the wedding. We both felt the need to improve our health, so we could better serve. We knew what to do, but it was hard committing to it. Then the Holy Spirit blew:

* our congregation had made health and wellness a focus, and members began cooperating to offer healthy snacks (instead of cake/cookies/doughnuts, etc.) after worship.

* My husband's sister prayed for us, shared her own weight loss success, and lent us a video about healthy eating that shared concerns about various aspects of the typical American diet.

* We made regular time for prayer and Scripture.

* We did more walking, from one to three miles.  

* My doctor cheerfully aspirated water off my knee a few times. When the needle hits bone, you can't rely on Lamaze breathing. I guess doctors can't numb bones. For me, having a baby without any pain medication was preferable. My fear of this happening yet again, was probably the most motivating factor. 

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March 31, 2010

A no-brainer: use the lunch hour


©istockphoto.com/nodmitryFor the better part of the winter, I was in the habit of doing (at least) two things that aren't healthy: I was eating at my desk, and I wasn't exercising. At all.

With three kids at home and winter darkness, it was nearly impossible to exercise in the morning and evening. And to make up for lost morning time (again, related to carting kids around), I'd often work through the noon hour while munching on something at my desk. One of the downfalls of this, of course, is that I could literally spend my workday without social contact. I'm an introvert, but this was ridiculous.

And my health suffered — both physically and emotionally.

So my Spring resolve is to use the lunch hour for exercise. It's the most obvious, yet creative, use of time I can think of. Because a colleague at the Lutheran Center is offering Lunchtime Yoga two days a week, that's what I do two days a week. The other two (weather permitting), I take a brisk walk at the forest preserve just across the street from the Lutheran Center. Unless it's really warm (as it is today), there's almost always a chance of seeing deer-always a bonus.

Of course doing these two things over the noon hour doesn't leave much time for eating, but I think that makes it OK (and necessary, I'm afraid) to eat at my desk. And, on the fifth day of the work week, I try to line up a lunch date out of the building. Fridays are particularly good for this! Any takers?

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March 28, 2010

My indulgences


©istockphoto.com/nodmitrySince my doctor encouraged me to adopt a more heart-healthy diet, I've made some drastic changes. 

I'm no longer eating fried foods of any kind. I've switched from cow's milk to soy milk, and I'm eating as few processed foods as possible. When I eat breads and cereals, I opt for whole grains. I'm eating way more vegetables than ever before.

There are a few things, however, I'm counting as "indulgences" — little treats that make healthy eating a bit more enjoyable:

• Black coffee: I'd given up coffee last November, but when I started to eat more healthily I found I wanted a little something to perk me up in the mornings. Because I don't use cream or sugar, it's a low-calorie choice. It's also is a bit of a hunger suppressant, so it's made cutting back on calories a little easier. And at one to two cups a day, I'm definitely enjoying my joe in moderation. (For more information about the health effects — good and bad — of coffee, check out "Coffee and health: What does the research say?" at the Mayo Clinic web site.)

• Bison: A restaurant I frequent has locally-sourced bison on its menu. Low in cholesterol and saturated fat, some sources (such as the National Bison Association) claim that bison is healthier than boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Given these benefits and bison's tasty, juicy flavor (no ketchup or steak sauce required), my once-a-week red meat is sure to be bison. Even better, it can be found fresh or frozen at most of the groceries and meat markets I already frequent.

• Red wine: As I prepare more evening meals at home, I'm finding that a glass of red wine is a nice accompaniment. According to this article at the Mayo Clinic, red wine might be a heart-healthy choice.

• Sweet potato fries: My boyfriend and I enjoy cooking together on the weekends. Tonight, we're making oven-baked sweet potato fries as one of our side dishes. The Mayo Clinic considers sweet potatoes one of "10 great health foods for eating well." Who are we to argue?

What are your healthy (or at least not too unhealthy) indulgences?

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March 26, 2010

Children and snacking

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I grew up in a household where there were plenty of salty snacks and homemade baked goods. After school and before bed snacking was an everyday habit. By the time I was 13, my habits showed up around my waist, stomach and hips. After wearing a size 16 dress for elementary school graduation, I began learning about healthier eating alternatives that summer.

Today children consume more unhealthy snacks than ever before. Snacking now accounts for more than 27 percent of their daily calorie intake, according to a recent study. The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina, surveyed more than 30,000 children and found that on average they snacked at least three times a day on candy, salty chips and other junk food. Unhealthy snacking added almost 600 calories a day to children's diets — up by 168 calories from 1977 to 2006. For some, those extra 1,176 calories a week could amount to as much as 13 1/2 pounds of body fat a year. The largest increase in caloric intake from snacks was found in children ages 2 to 6.

Researchers offered the following advice to parents:

• Don't let your children snack out of habit. Make sure they are actually hungry.

• Set a good example by snacking on healthy foods yourself.

• Stock the kitchen with healthier snacks that taste good such as yogurt versus chocolate pudding or apples versus cookies.

• Go for the grain. Whole-grain snacks can give your child energy with some staying power.

• Restrict snacking to the kitchen. If your child needs to snack on the go, offer string cheese, yogurt sticks or fruit.

Source:  ABC News Good Morning America, March 12, 2010

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March 25, 2010

Heeding the signs

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry My body fat had a party after I stopped playing volleyball almost two years ago. In January, I began in earnest to send the partiers home. Some people look at me and say, “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad.” My reply: “Thanks, but I see myself naked.”

I believe God sends us all signs that we need to start paying attention to our health. At my yearly physical my doctor told me that I “may want to do some aerobics in addition to yoga.” Your parents pull out their overflowing “weekly pill reminder” box (could that be me one day?). The Board of Pensions’ wellness test notes that your BMI is too high—as does the Wii (please stop saying “Uh-oh” when I step on the board). The tin lid won’t come off the can of Pirouette cookies (is someone telling me I don’t need this crème-filled, sugary deliciousness?). Or you have to lay on the bed to zip up your jeans.

But it’s up to us to pay attention to the signs. And it’s easy to ignore them, especially if exercising isn’t your thing. When I want to sleep in instead of exercising, I use this motivation: I pat my wiggly belly or stand in front of the mirror for a second. Yep, I see myself naked. Time to work out.

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March 24, 2010

Making changes

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The launch of this "Spring into life" blog series is timely for me.

I had my yearly check-up in early March. (Preventive services such as yearly physicals are covered by the ELCA Board of Pensions, through which I have health insurance.)

My doctor ordered routine bloodwork. When the results came back, my doctor advised me that I need to get my cholesterol (high) and glucose levels (borderline) under control.

She gave me three months to make positive lifestyle changes. 

As a journalist, I love deadlines. They're something to work toward, even if they're difficult sometimes. So I've made healthy living a priority. And with a firm deadline of June 7, I'm motivated to meet my goals.

I don't want to have to manage my health with medicine if I can achieve good results by being mindful of what I eat and how much I exercise.

I'm looking forward to this blog as one more way to support my goal of living healthier.

Over the next three months, I'll be blogging about my journey to better health.

As we go along, I (and the other bloggers here) are looking forward reading your comments about positive changes you've made in your life. Let's encourage each other!

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March 22, 2010

Happy spring!

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As the days grow longer and warmer, the staff of The Lutheran are back to blogging, under the theme of "Spring into life." For the next three months, we'll blog about health of the body and the spirit.

The ELCA Board of Pensions has long been encouraging us to "live well." The board's Web site lists 10 good reasons:

1. To be a more effective leader for the sake of the world
2. To model healthy behaviors for our children
3. To have a healthier relationship with God
4. To endure hardship with resilience and grace
5. To feel better in mind and body
6. To avoid lifestyle-related illness
7. To better steward gifts given by God
8. To age with strength and dignity
9. To lead my congregation toward wellness
10. To help decrease overall health care costs and increase mission dollars

Perhaps we can all encourage each other on the journey to better health. After all, research now shows that living well (everything from kindness to self-control) is contagious and can spread through social networks.

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