Indoor game: “Clue” reimagined

Indoor game: “Clue” reimagined

While we spend most of our summer days enjoying the outdoors, sometimes we need an indoor escape from the heat or rain. Our family version of “Clue” isn’t a mystery board game, but a treasure hunt guided by self-made picture clues of objects or parts of objects around the house.

We each took a turn drawing several clues on small pieces of cut up printer paper, which led us on a hunt through the house that ended in finding a small reward (i.e., a lost toy). No need to spend a long time drawing—5 minutes should suffice. Part of the fun for my kids was offering me hints, while giggling with delight, as I tried to decipher which piece of furniture or toy the picture depicted. My favorite clue was my son’s third one–the unicorn horn of my daughter’s giant stuffed animal. When I recognized it, I was surprised by his creative choice.

This game, which kept us constantly moving around the house, engaged intense curiosity about how we can simply and quickly draw objects, how we string clues together on a path through the house, and how we all naturally focus on different objects around us. For older kids, write out clues instead of drawing pictures.

Protocol:

  1. Cut printer paper into quarters.
  2. Draw out 8-10 clues that move you from one part of house to the other.
  3. Place your clues and set a starting point near clue #1.
  4. Laugh and have fun as you hunt for all of the clues!

Summer Salads

With such a wide selection of flavorful, succulent fruits and vegetables at their peak ripeness during summer, I almost always enjoy a large salad at lunch and often as a generous side at dinner.  These delicious salads leave me feeling full, yet energized, and help me stave off afternoon tiredness in the heat. At lunch, pair them with peppery arugula and at dinner with simply grilled fish or pork chop. Making a batch of essential vinaigrette on Sundays allows for quick meal prep. Enjoy!

nectarine/tomato/basil/mozzarella

  • 12 mini heirloom tomatoes, sliced in half OR 2 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1” cubes 
  • 2 ripe nectarines or peaches, cut into 1/2″ thick wedges 
  • 8 mini mozzarella balls, sliced in half OR 1/2 large mozzarella ball, cut into 1/2” cubes
  • handful of basil, coarsely chopped 
  • Using ripe fruit is key here as the juices released from slicing the fruit will add a sweetness to the salad that balances the basil. 

watermelon/avocado/tomato/mint/feta

  • 2 c watermelon diced into 1/2″ cubes 
  • 1 c heirloom tomatoes, diced into 1/2″ cubes 
  • 1 medium avocado, diced into 1/2″ cubes 
  • 1/4 c crumbled feta or herbed feta 
  • handful of mint, coarsely chopped 

Use a ripe, but not overly soft avocado. 

strawberry/arugula/almonds/goat cheese

  • 8 oz strawberries, sliced 
  • 4 oz arugula or watercress, coarsely chopped 
  • handful of basil, coarsely chopped 
  • 1/4 c crumbled goat cheese 
  • 1/8 c sliced almonds (optional) 
  • Strawberries may be substituted for 2 ripe peaches or nectarines. 

Protocol: 

  1. Mix all ingredients and leave at room temperature
  2. Just before serving, add light coating of essential vinaigrette 
  3. Add salt/pepper if needed

Essential Vinaigrette

  • 1 c first cold-press extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1/8 c aged balsamic vinegar 
  • 4 tbsp agave 
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice 
  • 1/2 tsp pepper 
  • salt to taste 

Protocol:

  1. Whisk together EVOO and balsamic vinegar
  2. Whisk in agave and lemon juice
  3. Add pepper and then salt to taste

I usually make a batch of this dressing so that I can add it to salads just before serving and without having to prepare fresh. Store for 1 week in the refrigerator in this handy salad dressing mixer or in a glass jar. 

Notice. Wonder.

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Notice. Wonder. 

These two headings,  ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’, were written at the top of my son’s workbook page just after the first spring flowers bloomed, which had followed a particularly harsh winter. I asked him what he was focused on noticing and wondering. He described that his entire class went outside, sat quietly in the garden, and took note of how the world around them appeared and what that caused them to wonder about. 

That afternoon, when we went to the park, I consciously kept my phone on silent, sat on a bench, noticed and wondered. Everything was vibrant and alive. Birds were chirping, kids were running, and adults were smiling. This made me wonder about how the dreary winter dampened our spirits and how the sounds and sights of spring immediately lifted our mood. After focusing just a few minutes on noticing and wondering, my curiosity in the world around me left me feeling invigorated. The exercise of intentionally noticing and wondering teaches us to focus and naturally engages our curiosity. 

Why is curiosity an important trait to cultivate both as a child and adult? Two benefits are: it improves our learning and activates the reward circuits in our brains. A 2009 study utilized functional MRI and measured increased brain activity in structures related to reward that paralleled study participants’ curiosity about various trivia questions. Another study in 2014 measured brain activity while participants learned answers to trivia questions they had classified as highly curious about or not curious about, followed by an image of a neutral face. These results also showed increased activity in the brain circuits relating to reward, demonstrating that intrinsic, not only extrinsic, motivation may stimulate the reward circuit. When challenged to answer the trivia questions in a memory test, as one would expect, the participants remembered more answers to the questions they were curious about. Surprisingly, they recognized more of the neutral faces associated with those answers, suggesting that a curious state improves learning even for things we aren’t curious about.

Curiosity is often described as the desire and drive for learning and knowledge. It is a trait we associate with all children, but not all adults. As we age and learn answers to questions that puzzled us as children, it’s easy to become less curious. We can cultivate our curiosity by improving our ability to focus. When we’re focused and engaged, it’s more likely and easier to be curious. 

Try cultivating your focus with a simple exercise. Find an ordinary object, for example a coin or stone. Sit in a quiet place for 3 minutes and take note of the details of the object. What colors is it? Is its surface smooth, rough, bumpy? Is it shiny or dull? Next, ask yourself questions about its history and future. Where has it been? What could it be used for? Where will it go next? Do this without any expectation of the outcome. Notice how you feel afterwards. This practice may be expanded to consciously focus on any routine activity during the day and observe details that you previously haven’t. Over time, you may notice that you’re naturally more engaged and curious.

Snow day Slime: 4 ingredients & no borax

Making slime, whether you’re 50 or 5 years old, is always fun! Kids can make it with only a small amount of help from us adults. Slime is quick to prepare, easy to clean up, and fun for hours. My kids categorize it as “not a solid, but not a liquid”, “so stretchy,” and “super sticky.”

On a recent snowy day when school was canceled and we were worn out from playing outside, we had a blast making this borax-free version of slime with ingredients that are readily on-hand at home.

Materials:

  • Elmer’s glue (preferably the clear version, but can be white)
  • food coloring
  • baking soda
  • saline solution (if you don’t have saline solution, add 1/2 tsp of fine salt into 1 c hot water, stir until dissolved, and cool)

Protocol:

  1. Add 4-8 oz of glue to a glass or plastic bowl
  2. Add a few drops of food coloring and mix with spoon
  3. Add 1 tsp of baking soda and mix
  4. Add 2-4 tbsp saline solution and mix until slime forms a ball that is slightly sticky, but won’t stay stuck to hands
  5. As slime is played with, add more saline solution as necessary to prevent it from getting too sticky
  6. Store slime in sealed plastic bag or container to preserve it

Observations and Experiments:

  • How does slime feel before and after saline solution is added?
  • How far can we stretch slime?
  • What happens if we pull slime apart with force instead of slowly stretch slime?
  • What shapes can we make with slime?
  • What surfaces does slime stick to?
  • Does slime bounce?
  • What happens to the surface of slime when we mold it to our palm?

Enjoy cultivating your and your children’s curiosity making and exploring slime!

Exercise: not just for your muscles, but also for your gut

 

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We can all agree that exercise is good for us. Exercise helps prevent chronic disease such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, improves mood, keeps weight in check, and boosts energy. We can now add to list of benefits of exercise that it alters the composition and function of our gut microbiome which may improve our health.

The gut microbiome is the genetic material of the microbes (10-100 trillion symbiotic cells) living in our digestive tract that play an important role in digestion, nutrition, maturation of the immune system, disease mediation, and body defense. While individual humans are 99.9% identical, the microbiome differs between individuals by 80-90%. Understanding exactly how the microbiome regulates our health and disease progression is continuously under scientific investigation.

Recent data demonstrate that endurance exercise modulates functional changes in the gut microbiome. Two groups of originally sedentary participants, one lean and one obese, began  endurance exercise that increased from 30 to 60 minutes three times per week for 6 weeks. Analysis of the gut microbiome before, during, and after completing the study demonstrated an increase in the proportion of gut microbes that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) during the period of endurance exercise. Butyrate is involved in the regulation of gene expression, immune function stimulation, liver detoxification, cell growth, control of body fat, and colon cell health. When the participants returned to their sedentary lifestyles, their microbiome reverted to its original state.

Although, these results show for the first time that exercise plays a vital role in regulating our gut health, we can’t discount the influence of our diet. During the study, there were no dietary restrictions and all participants followed their regular diet. Interestingly, the effect of exercise on gut microbiome composition was dramatically larger in lean participants versus obese participants. Given that all participants were sedentary at the start of the study, yet half were lean and half obese, we may infer that their diets were not the same. While it’s clear exercise plays an important role in the function of our gut microbiome, don’t forget about the importance of how we fuel our bodies!

Lifestyle is medicine

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What if lifestyle were medicine? What if we could prevent almost 80% of chronic disease? What if the only thing we had to do was make the choice to eat well and move our bodies every day?

It is. We can. Let’s do it.

There is an overwhelming body of research indicating that most chronic diseases including, many cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, may be prevented through lifestyle interventions. This concept is not new—the body of medical research supporting it goes back decades.

In 1993, The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published ‘The Actual Causes of Death’, data from approximately 20 years of research, showing that the prominent causes of death in the United States were the result of disease caused by smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. In 2004, this finding remained the same with smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise at the top of the list. But, the gap between smoking (18.1% of deaths) and poor diet and/or lack of physical activity  (16.6% of deaths) had narrowed. There’s no denying that disease is an effect of poor lifestyle choices.

JAMA also published a study demonstrating that there is a 78% lower risk of developing chronic disease—type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and many cancers (at least 13 types)—when we don’t smoke, aren’t overweight (BMI less than 30), eat well (high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and some meat), and are physically active (3.5 hours/week). A 78% decrease in developing chronic disease through lifestyle—that’s dramatic and an inspiration to be curious about wellness.

Yet, here we are, with more than 37% of American adults and 17% of youth 2-19 years old obese. This translates into over $150 million dollars a year in health care costs. Effectively, we are making ourselves sick through poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, and smoking.

Let’s avoid seeking medical intervention when we are already ill and be more curious about how we can prevent illness with lifestyle medicine.

How do we do this? Every day, we have so many opportunities to eat well or to eat poorly, to exercise, whether that be going for a walk or taking a spin class, or to not exercise. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or pretzels, grab an apple, some carrots and hummus or other real food. Go for a walk during lunch break at work, dance around the room, or stream a workout video at home (there are many low cost and free options). Making these changes permanent is certainly not easy, but it’s worth it for yourself and for your family.

We can’t afford to do nothing about our wellness. Lifestyle medicine is the best medicine we can ever create and we already have access to it.