Archive for Education

Awareness Wednesday: Beating Holiday Stress

It’s the most wonderful … stressful time of the year?

We build up the holiday season all year long, but once it’s here, the stress can be a little more than we bargained for. Whether the issue is friends and family, high expectations, or money, there are a few simple steps you can take to make the season a little brighter. These are some of the things that I recommend to beat holiday stress:

  1. Mentally prepare
  2. Adjust your attitude
  3. Lower expectations
  4. Make new traditions
  5. Give experiences!

Friends & Family

The holidays have a way of putting us in a variety of social situations with people we haven’t seen in a long time. It may be impossible to avoid being bombarded with personal questions, but you can mentally prepare yourself with responses to the questions that you know you’re going to be asked: questions about significant others or the status of a job search are quite popular… Knowing how you’re going answer the tough questions ahead of time will save you from getting caught off guard by the punch bowl.

This time of year we may also be seeing a lot of people that tend to get on our nerves after a while. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. At this point, there may not be a lot that you can do to change your bossy mother-in-law or your nosy uncle, so the best way to deal with it is to change your attitude about seeing them. Accept those family members as they are, grin and bear it, and hope that you don’t have to see them again until next year.

High Expectations

Speaking of mentally preparing and attitude adjustments, the holidays can be a time of high expectations and visions of perfection that we unnecessarily impose on ourselves. I’m a bit of a perfectionist myself and I love the idea of every Christmas being exactly as I remember it from when I was little, but it can be hard to enjoy quality time with your family if you’re obsessing over every little detail of holiday traditions. I find that it’s easiest to just live in the moment and recognize that every year will be a little different than the last: there’s always an opportunity to make new traditions as the family grows or as the dynamics change. Plus, few people will notice (or care, I hope) if your gift-wrapping skills haven’t improved since you were 12–Right, Mom?


Between decorations, gifts, and holiday gatherings, our financial situation can diminish rather quickly over the holiday season. Most peoples’ go-to solution for a tight holiday budget is to give homemade gifts… but what if you’re not crafty or don’t have time to bake dozens of cookies? Over time, I’ve found that some of the best gifts I’ve ever given or received were experiences. The promise of taking someone out to dinner, inviting them to your home for a relaxing movie night, or offering to babysit the kids is much more memorable than some generic candles anybody can find at Target. You’ll end up spending less than you would on traditional gifts, you get to participate in the fun if you choose, AND the IOU can buy you time until your next pay check.

Click here for few more ways to make the holidays happier!


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Awareness Wednesday: “The Gratitude Book Project”

We have some exciting news! Our very own Stephanie Solaris recently participated in a wonderful venture called The Gratitude Book Project: Celebrating 365 days of Gratitude.   Find out more at  Stephanie’s is one in a collection of over 300 short essays answering the question “What are you grateful for?”. We’re thrilled that she was able to take part in creating a book full of real inspirational stories written by real people. With Thanksgiving gone for another 11 months, it might be nice to give ourselves and others a daily reminder of reasons to be grateful: whether that’s acheiving a goal or being able to learn and grow from hardships we encounter. The Gratitude Book Project is available for sale on just in time for the Holidays!

Some other great news is that proceeds from national book sales go to the following deserving non-profit organizations:

  • ASPCA for the prevention of animal abuse
  • FeedAmerica
  • Make-a-Wish
  • Women for Women International

The Gratitude Book Project: Celebrating 365 Days of Gratitude gathers together more than 300 coauthors who answered the question “What are you grateful for?” The project is now a book found on Stephanie Solaris of Solaris Whole Health is a co‐author in the book. Find out more at

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Awareness Wednesday: Mental Exercise

Need a midweek break? How about working out your brain? The New York Times had a special issue focused on puzzles earlier this week, which reminded me of the importance of using your noggin for something fun once in a while. Time to put your thinking caps on!

There are countless benefits to mentally-stimulating leisure activities such as crosswords, Sudoku, or playing cards besides the feeling of satisfaction upon successful completion or impressing your friends:

  1. Enhance your critical thinking skills
  2. Sharpen your vocabulary and trivia knowledge
  3. Become a better conversationalist
  4. Improve your memory and cognitive function
  5. Grow new brain cells
  6. Ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s

You can find links to the puzzles featured in Tuesday’s Science Times here. There are plenty of other ways to exercise your brain besides doing a standard puzzle: do math in your head, draw, paint or craft, or write with your non-dominant hand. Start simple and you’ll be amazed at how much you can improve these skills in a few weeks: the key is to present yourself with new challenges.

By the way, newspaper crossword puzzles are easiest on Mondays and get progressively harder as the week goes on, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping into the Sunday Times Crossword just yet!

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Awareness Wednesday: Inspiration

As a client and current consultant to SWH, Josefina has truly embraced a tool I use to guide all those here to realize their optimal potential in every way.

Read her story, I venture to say there are two more “P’s” she used as well, Progress not Perfection and Prayer.

-Stephanie Solaris

This week’s Awareness Wednesday is a little more personal… What can I say? The Thanksgiving weekend and starting a new stage in my life have made me pretty introspective. Plus, you don’t really have that much of a say: This week is about me!

I graduated from college in May of 2009 and just started my first full-time job this week. I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out, but the past year and a half has definitely had its highs and lows. The most valuable thing that I learned during my journey to health at Solaris Whole Health and my new job was the importance of the three P’s: practice, patience, persistence.

  • Practice: This is the simplest P to achieve, but it’s also the first to be forgotten. During my journey, I found myself talking a lot about things I was going to do—apply to a certain job, get in touch with a certain person, adopt a healthier lifestyle. However, I didn’t always follow through because of fear or complacency or some other excuse. Goal setting can be invaluable but it’s pointless unless you’re taking the necessary steps to get where you want to be, regardless of how small they may seem. Keep your eye on the prize.
  • Patience: I didn’t get my dream job right after graduation, but maybe the timing wasn’t right for me. If I had jumped into something that wasn’t a good fit, I would have missed out on wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world now: spending time with family and friends, WWOOFing in Italy, and working with Stephanie and Diana. I had the opportunity to prioritize and figure out what is important to me personally and professionally… something I wasn’t too sure of last May and didn’t realize at the time. Good things come to those who wait.
  • Persistence: There were a number of times during my journey that I lost motivation. After dozens of things not working out the way I anticipated, I occasionally questioned myself and whether my journey was worth the effort. Sometimes I would take a couple of days (or weeks in Italy) as a breather to remind myself of the small victories and that I wasn’t going to achieve anything by complaining or feeling sorry for myself. The more you try, the higher the chances of something working in your favor. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I feel as though I have grown in many respects since I started my job search and self-discovery journey and I don’t think I would change a thing.

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need.

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Awareness Wednesday: Thanksgiving Edition

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! I have so many things to be thankful for this year: family, new and old friends, and all of the wonderful opportunities that have come my way since last November. It seems that sometimes I get so caught up in reuniting with family and preparing the perfect meal that I forget what Thanksgiving is all about. A recent article in the Huffington Post did a good job of reminding me of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving: a celebration of the first successful corn harvest and of life. I think you’ll enjoy it!

One of the great things about Thanksgiving is how it inspires us to reflect and to wax philosophic about gratitude, family, and the holiday’s true meaning. As a lover of rituals, I particularly love the fact that we all partake in this family dinner together as a nation. Nora Ephron got it right when she wrote that it is “a miracle that once a year so many millions of Americans sit down to exactly the same meal they grew up eating.”

But is our Thanksgiving exactly the same as it’s always been? How close does our family feast really come to the holiday’s original intentions?

The actual giving of thanks that took place during that first Thanksgiving feast in the 1600s was probably motivated by pure relief. After a winter of scurvy, freezing temperatures, and deadly diseases, only about half of the people who came over on the Mayflower even survived to see the spring. It was truly a blessing that the rest made it until autumn. If not for the hospitality of Native Americans, who knows when or even if they would have figured out how to grow corn, or catch fish from the rivers, or get sweet maple sap from the trees.

This first feast, a celebration of the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, was a giving of thanks for the bounty of the earth, in all its seasonal, local glory. There was no pumpkin pie (a tragedy, I know) — the Pilgrims had nearly run out of sugar by that point, and there were no ovens to be found. There’s even some debate over whether there was turkey at the first Thanksgiving. Can you imagine filling your belly this Thursday with lobster? Or how about some seal?

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost touch with the original intent of Thanksgiving. Along with forsaking many of our traditional rituals, we have also discarded the traditions of how to eat. The abundant fall harvest — fresh, local, and seasonal food — was the original reason for this special day. The gratitude was palpable: heartfelt thank yous to the sun, rain, and earth for providing enough healthy food for us to survive another year.

Now, each Thanksgiving, we obsess over serving turkey, but conveniently forget that it was likely shipped long distances after first being pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to make it grow bigger and faster (I’ll let you read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals to learn more about that). We open a can of cranberry sauce and pass around our Idaho mashed potatoes — regardless of where we live. Even those green beans in our casserole were probably shipped in from somewhere far away. And if you really want to get persnickety, green beans are actually supposed to be a summer crop, gone by the time November rolls around. And you can bet that the fried onions on top of that casserole didn’t just pop out of the ground that morning.

Today, there are over 50,000 items in supermarkets all year long. With the takeover of industrialized food in our country, we can now eat whatever we want, whenever we want it. Seasons mean next to nothing. Forget giving thanks for the precious vegetables and grains and meat that only are available where we live, right now. You want a strawberry in January? Well, get out the shortcake and start slicing. No need to wait for corn that’s knee high by the Fourth of July. You can buy it anytime of the year.

Of course all this “convenience” comes with a price. Much of our food has lost its integrity. It doesn’t taste the way it is supposed to. It isn’t as fresh or as healthy as it could be.

Our dining habits are on a serious thirty-year decline too. Contributing to that is the microwave and the trillion dollar processed food industry it helped to spawn. This magic box is helping to destroy the age-old ritual of family dinner with its eat-quick, eat-processed, and eat-alone meals.

But back to Thursday. Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving should be a reminder for us to give thanks not only for the flavors and family moments of that day, but for the miracle that nature provides. This year, find out what’s grown in your area, and who grows it, and whether it’s pumped full of chemicals or grown with just water, healthy soil and sunlight. Be part of the harvest – buy your sweet potatoes from a local farmer rather than a grocery store shelf. Meet the person who can sell you a humanely raised bird to complement your prize-winning centerpiece. Cook great food at home that is in season and local. And then sit down, share it with your loved ones and tell stories about when you were young.

Let’s make this Thanksgiving the one at which we start to rekindle the spirit of the original thankful feast — one where we remember the meaning of local, fresh food. Maybe even talk about growing some of it yourself. You can eat better by choosing the menu with love for your family and the earth, and appreciate it more fully by making the food together. Who knows, you might even want to do it again next week, and every week after that. Revel in the spiritual and physical benefits that eating more often with your family will provide. This year, you’ll find yourself giving more thanks than ever.

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Awareness Wednesday: WWOOF, Part 2

Are you looking for a unique way to spend your next long weekend or summer vacation in any of 49 countries, including the US? Check out World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

This is part two of Josefina’s WWOOFing (volunteer farming) experience in Italy this summer. You can read more about what WWOOF is all about in Part 1!

In late June my good friend Stefanie and I flew out to Milan where we met up with some friends that were on a European backpacking trip, Ben and Jason. The four of us spent two weeks at a small farm and agritourism (a type of Bed & Breakfast) called Tenuta Antica in the Piedmont region of Italy. The farm and six-room B&B are run by Pia and Mauro, a couple with two sons ages 3 and 9, and Pia’s mother who prepares all of the delicious authentic meals. Overall it is a small operation with a vegetable garden, hazelnut trees and a vineyard, but there was plenty of weeding, pruning, planting and firewood stacking to go around. We also had the opportunity to help out at two nearby farms with more hazelnut trees and peach trees—you haven’t had a peach until you’ve eaten a ripe one straight off the tree! The family truly incorporated us into their daily lives, fed us amazingly well, and housed Stefanie and me in one of the B&B rooms with a private bathroom. Tenuta Antica is literally in the middle of nowhere in a town of about 400 people, so downtime during the hot part of the day and at night was spent reading, playing cards, and relaxing. Our only expenses were for transportation to the farm and whatever we chose to do on our visits to Acqui Terme and Asti on our day and a half off.

Following a weekend trip to Lucca, an Etruscan town located near Pisa, and a quick lunch stop to see Ben and Jason in Florence, Stefanie and I traveled to our second farm in the Umbria region known as the green heart of Italy. Agriturismo Santa Maria is run by Rosaria and Daniel and their two teenage sons and has 12 sheep, a few chickens (that they got the day we left), a small vegetable garden, an olive grove, and an agritourism that could house upwards of 50 people. This farm was a huge change of pace from the first one in the sense that there wasn’t a daily, concrete schedule and I got the impression that they had volunteers more for the cultural exchange aspect than because they desperately needed more hands on board. I’m pretty sure they said yes to anybody who asked to WWOOF and, at one point, there were 15 of us WWOOFers ranging in age from 19 to 45: two Italian men, three French siblings, four friends from New Zealand, a young couple from Long Island, and another young couple from Manhattan with their 1-year-old son.

Stefanie and I were there for almost 3 weeks and our friend Dani joined us for the last week. A lot of our time was spent cooking for our group of WWOOFers under the direction of one of the Italian volunteers. We also prepared dinners for the B&B guests, planted and watered vegetables, cleared out an area for a chicken coop, and fed the sheep. One morning we all got up before six to harvest a field of kamut, a gluten-free grain that makes delicious bread! The host family took it upon themselves to be everybody’s tour guide through Umbria, the most beautiful region in Italy, where they showed us to the towns of Orvieto, Civita de Bagnoregio, and Assisi.

I now know more than I care to about hazelnut trees, picked up plenty of new recipes and have new friends from France to New Zealand, but the most unforgettable part was experiencing the uncomplicated approach to life of the host families. They welcomed volunteers to their breakfast table as if they were a part of the family, were thankful for every opportunity that came their way, and made a pastime of teaching high-strung Americans (and some Europeans) to take one day at a time. At some point the beauty of the Italian countryside and the taste of farm-fresh Italian food will fade from memory, but I hope to remember the importance of being open to new experiences and simple things such as respect and gratitude.

[Photos courtesy of Ben, Fanny, and Marion]

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Awareness Wednesday: WWOOF, Part 1

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live on a farm? Learn about the environment and sustainable agriculture? How do you feel about the idea of a few hours of work a day in exchange for food and accommodation? Or, like our “consultant” Josefina was, are you looking for a cheap way to travel, immerse yourself in a new culture, and, if you’re lucky, pick up a few things along the way? Then you may be interested in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Josefina wants to get the word out about her wonderful experience WWOOFing in Italy this past summer, so we’re doing a two-part Awareness Wednesday since she has so much to share!

The first time I heard about WWOOF was from a friend of a friend who went to work on a sheep farm in Australia for half a year during college. Now, I don’t consider myself to be particularly outdoorsy; I spend a decent amount of time outside and occasionally go hiking… but this sheep farm girl makes me look like Malibu Barbie, so when my friend Stefanie (not to be mistaken for Stephanie Solaris) asked me to WWOOF with her this past summer I initially laughed the idea off. After a little bit of thought, reading about some peoples’ experiences online, and realizing I didn’t have too much else going on at the time, I decided it would be a great way to spend a few weeks. Who doesn’t want to abandon all responsibilities and run away to a completely different environment once in a while?

WWOOF started in Britain in 1971 and has grown to be an international volunteer network with organizations in 49 countries. My friend Stefanie is from an Italian family, had studied Italian in college and was an Italian food enthusiast (same for me on those last two), so the two of us (and a few other friends you’ll hear about next week) got a one-year membership to WWOOF Italia for about $35 each which included support, health coverage while participating, and a list of hundreds and hundreds of potential hosts. Hosts range from small homes with tiny vegetable gardens to medium-scale vineyards to full-service agritourisms with acres and acres of olive groves. The work is diverse, but hosts generally ask for five to seven hours per day, six days per week: you could be weeding in the vegetable garden, taking care of sheep, or making jam and wine. In terms of accommodations, some hosts request that you bring a sleeping bag and tent while others put you up in their agritourism with a private bedroom and bathroom.

It’s up to each participant to contact the farms in which they’re interested and work out specifics regarding timing, the type of work that will be going on and general expectations. I should also note that the exchange is a two-way street: the hosts can (and will) ask that you leave if you don’t do any work but you’re also not expected to stay if the farm doesn’t live up to its end of the bargain—farms that mistreat WWOOFers are removed from the host list if reported. A quick Google search about a specific farm might lead you to past WWOOFers’ blogs or you could just ask your friends if they know of anybody who has participated; people tend to be vocal about particularly positive or negative WWOOF experiences.

WWOOF and other organizations like it have become popular over the past few years for several reasons beyond the die-hard sustainable agriculture movement. One wave has been young, jobless college graduates (me!) looking for a cheap way to travel and trying to figure out what to do in this recession. Some families want a “green vacation on a European farm” as a way of teaching their children about responsibilities and a holistic approach to life. There also has been a movement of white collar urbanites feeling the need to return back to the farm, mindful of farming facing an uncertain future and worrying that “as big agribusiness [corners] the market and family farms [close] up, the skills and knowledge needed to grow food responsibly [are] dissipating with each generation”.

Regardless of your reasons for doing it, I learned that the WWOOF experience is what you make of it and can be so much more than you expected. Next Wednesday I’ll tell you all about the six weeks I spent WWOOFing and traveling in Italy!

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