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Silverpen Productions Blog

How to Stay Inspired During Seemingly Uninspiring Times

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Feeling inspired is not only important for your writing – it is important for all aspects of your life. Motivation to be the best version of yourself is what will allow you to truly thrive in whatever it is you are doing.

Staying inspired during tough times is especially difficult, and also especially applicable right now in the midst of COVID. So, how do you stay inspired during seemingly uninspiring times? Let’s take a look.

 

 

 

*Take Time For Yourself

Do things that you enjoy. Being productive does not just mean doing work. Being productive also includes taking care of your mind, body, and soul. If you feel overworked and just need a break, listen to your body and take the break that you need.

 

*Stay Open Minded

By keeping your mind open, you allow yourself to find inspiration in new realms. This is especially important when the world feels hectic because you're allowing yourself to find inspiration in everyday things. If you go for a walk, take an extra moment to look around. Look for things that please your senses, and draw inspiration from them. Even if you are not exposed to something new, you can still find excitement and pleasure in everyday life.

 

*Don’t Fall Behind

Procrastination can lead down a deep hole of unfinished work that is hard to lift yourself out of. Stay on top of your workload. Once you get into the mindset of “I can just do it later,” it will be harder to get out of it as time passes.

 

*Set Goals for Yourself

When setting goals for yourself, it's important to balance reality with ambition. Shoot for the stars, but not for Neptune. Make note of what you want to achieve, then determine what is the best route for you to get there. Once you make those goals, stick to them. Work for that feeling of accomplishment.

 

*Believe in Yourself

Most importantly, believe in yourself. You CAN do this. If no one has told you this today, let me be the first. Life can be tough, but you are tougher. Whatever it is that you are dealing with, just know that you ultimately have control over your own life, and while it may seem challenging at times, you have the power to get to where you want to be. You got this!

-Dorothy Irrera

 

 

Photo Credit: shixart1985 Closeup view of a young woman holding a coffee while using a laptop. via Photopin (license)

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Drive-In Movie Theaters: A Brief History and Why They’re Thriving During a Pandemic

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During a time when the spirit of Americana seems as far away as ever, what once was a thing of the past is now a safe night of fun. That’s right, we’re talking drive-in movies. With indoor movie theaters still shut down, if you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance to one of these emblems of America’s classic past, now has never been a better time to pick up drive-in moviegoing as a new date-night or family-time routine. But before you bolt for the silver screen, here’s a bit about how drive-ins began and why they’re seeing a bump in popularity during a global pandemic.

 

HISTORY 

The first drive-in movie theater was invented in 1933 by Richard Hollingshead of New Jersey. His idea for a drive-in theater was originally to accommodate those who were too big to comfortably fit into indoor theater seats, specifically his plus-sized mother. The concept began when he draped bed sheets over a wire between two trees in his backyard and set a projector on the hood of his mother’s car. After expanding, he opened his drive-in to the public at 25 cents a car, advertising the experience as family-friendly entertainment, regardless of how loud your kids are.

Hollingshead’s success inspired the emergence of drive-in theaters in every state across the US and some internationally. However, drive-ins saw the most success between 1950-1960 with the number of drive-ins in the U.S. peaking at 4,063 in 1958.

Drive-ins began to fall out of the style in the late 1970’s with the introduction of VHS and the increasing popularity of in-home televisions, which left many families unwilling to pay for movies when they could just watch them in their homes. This, along with indoor theaters’ ability to show a film 6-8 times a day, left drive-ins gasping for revenue and showing B-level and even some X-rated films to stay afloat until most went out of business.

 

DRIVE-INS NOW

While drive-in theaters have lost their appeal in the eyes of big organizations, there are 324 remaining drive-in movie theaters in the U.S. that are almost all family or small-business owned. New York is the state with the most remaining drive-ins (15) with Pennsylvania and Ohio trailing close behind.

And with indoor theaters remaining closed, drive-ins are seeing an unexpected boost in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. A safe alternative to sitting in a packed theater and an exciting new form of entertainment for much of the younger generation, drive-in theaters are proving to be a valuable new plan for weekend family time and date nights.

 

If you’re looking to head to the drive-in any time soon, make sure you check the theater’s website for updated rules and policies regarding COVID-19. You’ll likely be encouraged to order your tickets ahead of time online and park farther apart than usual, so the lot will most likely only allow partial capacity. Dining, snack-shack, and bathroom policies vary by theater with some drive-ins encouraging you to purchase meal passes to bring food from home and others allowing patrons in at partial capacity. But whatever theater you go to, make sure you don’t forget blankets and pillows-- A drive-in experience isn’t complete without comfort!

-Tess Howat

 

Photo Credit: Phillip Pessar Boulevard Drive In Theater Press Photo 1980 via photopin (license) 

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How Small Businesses Can Adapt to New Consumer Habits

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With new CDC guidelines in place across the country, small businesses everywhere have been tasked with finding ways to maintain their customer base. As stores and restaurants of all kinds open their doors for indoor and outdoor shopping and dining, a variety of factors can make or break a customer’s decision to enter an establishment. And while businesses had trouble keeping up with the rapidly changing consumer habits during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have now picked up on a few new widespread consumer habits. Here’s how consumer shopping and dining habits have changed and a few surefire actions your small business can take to suit them.

 

HOW CONSUMER HABITS ARE CHANGING:

 

Consumers are buying more local and ethically sourced products. Consumers know that small businesses are hurting, which has contributed to the new trend of supporting local stores and restaurants, many of which sell more ethically-sourced products than large brands. And with the increasing popularity of making socially conscious and environmentally friendly choices, more and more consumers are looking for ethically-sourced products.

Ernst & Young published a new Future Consumer Index revealing that 34% of consumers are now willing to pay more for local products, 23% will pay more for ethical brands, and 23% will pay more for well-trusted brands.

 

Consumers value safety. A store’s set of health and sanitation protocols and/or its method of service has never been more important!

This can mean anything from requiring masks and the use of sanitizing stations upon entry to the frequency of surface sanitization and the distance between customers and employees during service.

 

Consumers value the option of contactless service. While many of us are comfortable entering an establishment with a mask and adhering to safety measures while indoors, other high-risk customers that practice increased social distancing measures would rather opt for contactless/curbside service. And with providing curbside service, comes the necessity for an easy way to order, whether it be online or by phone.

 

HOW SMALL BUSINESSES CAN ADAPT:

 

Make the changes. A business that fails to adapt to these new consumer habits brought on by the recent health and societal changes will most likely not see success.

Follow CDC guidelines and make as many changes as possible to protect the health of yourself, your employees, and your customers. Sanitize frequently, enforce social distancing measures and require the use of masks indoors or when in close proximity with one another.

Providing a sense of safety and security to your customers will increase the likelihood of them giving you their business. Once you’ve done that, the offering of extra safety measures like curbside service and easy-to-use remote ordering tools will help establish trust and appreciation.

 

Make your new safety protocols and methods of service known. Once you’ve tackled a COVID-19 response, get the message out that you’ve made changes to suit your customers’ changing needs!

This should include clear signage in the storefront or door as well as on your website and social media stating what customers should expect from you upon entry, and what you expect from them. This should include information regarding if they need to wear a mask, if/how to order curbside, whether you have a new maximum capacity and whatever other knowledge customers need to know before entering or ordering.

 

Increase your business’ online presence. If you don’t have an online presence, now is the time to get one!

Make sure it’s mobile-friendly and updated frequently as it’s the main avenue your customers will be taking to seek information about your business. Information about your COVID-19 response should also be easily accessible online on your website and/or social media pages to let all customers know what changes you’ve made to make their service as convenient and safe as possible.

Now is also a great time to introduce or freshen up the blog section of your website as it’s the best way to keep your site updated (which Google likes to see) and easily adds content/updates to your website. These consumer habits will likely be long term, and since businesses are subject to a back-and-forth of being open and closed, maintaining a strong online presence is the most important way you can retain existing customers as well as reach new ones to establish a sense of safety and trust with people who may have never been to your restaurant or store before.

 

Make new connections. Use your online presence to not only promote your own business but to encourage others to buy local!

Post articles and stats about the importance of buying local. Also, consider reaching out to other local businesses and making new connections. Put together fundraisers and events to support one another while spreading your business’ name and increasing your customer base in the process. This is the time for local businesses to come together and support each other and the community as best they can.

-Tess Howat

 

Photo Credit: Go-tea 郭天 Five senses series - Taste 1/2 via photopin (license) 

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Women-Helping-Women Event: Blogging Success in a Virtual World

Blogging Success in a Virtual World edit

When the shock of the pandemic rocked our world, many businesses scrambled to make the transition to mostly online interactions. In an uncertain world of constantly changing new procedures, consistent online communication is now the lifeline for every business as they are forced to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to keep their momentum moving forward no matter what's happening in the world.

Using a blogging platform to stay connected to your current customers while also reaching out to new potential clients is vital for success in our “socially distant” society!

Join SP founder, Jenna Caputo, in this online event sponsored by the Women's Business Center of NYS and the Women TIES organization to learn how to create a new blog or enhance your current platform to make sure you are staying connected no matter what comes our way. We will also discuss how to connect with your social media accounts and answer any questions you have about best practices for using the internet to not only keep your business viable during the pandemic, but also successful!

Join us on Zoom this Thursday, August 27th at 10:00 AM. Bring your questions!

Register Here or visit www.womenties.com.

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Maintaining Business Relationships From Home

bad bThese days, very few of us are able to work the way we used to. If you’re used to seeing your colleagues in person on a daily basis, working from home can be a difficult adjustment. There’s something special about working with people face to face, a connection that’s hard to recreate through a screen. If you’re used to working with others, you’re likely missing the little things, and it may feel like your business relationships are slipping away. However, with the technology available to us today, keeping in touch in a touchless society has never been easier.

 

Tips For Maintaining Your Business Relationships While at Home:

 

Never underestimate the power of email. Tie yourself to your email like never before. If you’re working from home, make sure your notifications are turned on and you’re checking your inbox as frequently as possible for updates from teammates and colleagues. Everyone else is glued to their screens too, so correspondence should be quick. Also, check in via email with other associates you’d normally catch up with every once in a while over lunch, and let them know you hope they’re well.

 

Take advantage of video chatting. While you may not be able to work with your team in person anymore, technology has made it easier than ever to work face-to-face. Utilize free apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to work remotely with your colleagues. And with features like screen-sharing, messaging, and team editing on most of these video chatting systems, you can ensure everyone is on the same page and working collaboratively. Don’t be afraid to video chat socially as well; hop on Zoom for a lunch meeting or a chat with a colleague over a drink!

 

There are also great resources available for businesses that rely on forming new professional relationships to attract clients. For example, some organizations like the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce and The Pallete Café in Saratoga are putting together online “mixers” and informational workshops that allow business professionals to network via Zoom, some including networking breakout rooms for individuals to converse as well as social hours and online presentations/webinars.

 

Call! With so much now available through our screens, we often forget about the classic phone call. If some members of your team are unable to reach their laptops, hop on a conference call.

 

Send mail on a special occasion. If you work somewhere that usually celebrates the birthdays and/or accomplishments of employees-- whether you signed an office-wide card or celebrated with drinks after work-- and you know of a special occasion in a close colleague’s life, send them something! Try a simple card or a basket of some sort. You may also consider teaming up with colleagues and pitching in for a gift from the whole team-- it shows that even though you aren’t able to celebrate in person, you wish you could!

 

Make plans for the future. They don’t need to be concrete; with the uncertain nature of the world today, you probably shouldn’t be putting dates on much. But make sure you’re expressing your intentions of getting together once it’s safe to catch up over lunch or dinner, or simply let them know you’re looking forward to working in person again.

 

Get creative and expand your reach. Despite how odd it may feel to move your business life online, take advantage of all the new sets of eyes on you! Reach out and collaborate with other businesses in new ways to help support one another as well as the community. Put together a virtual event or fundraiser to help support those in need in your community, and while doing so, expand the reach of your brand.

 

Soon business will be business as usual, hopefully with some positive societal changes. But until then, it’s crucial that we keep a strong sense of community by coming together virtually to help fellow businesses and those in need, most of which can be done through maintaining your business relationships from home. We also must remind each other that this is all temporary, and more importantly, that we’re all in it together.

-Tess Howat

 

 

Photo Credit: shixart1985 Young woman with laptop holding a hot coffee closeup. via photopin (license)

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Becoming the Teacher: A Parent’s Guide to Balancing Your Kid’s Curriculum With Your Own

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed more than most of us anticipated. Not only are we washing our hands like mad men, but we’re turning our homes into offices, gyms, and with the cancellation of schools, classrooms. With the sudden addition of homeschooling to parents’ schedules, juggling work and home responsibilities on top of being the teacher can seem like an impossible task. But with a few adjustments, you can make slipping into the teacher role a natural part of your schedule while still maintaining your sanity and productivity.

 

Set a Schedule. Chances are you’re juggling a lot, especially if you’re now working from home. Make a daily/weekly to-do list of your own. This may include everything from cooking and running errands to completing work tasks and designating down-time for yourself. Once you have a list of all you need to do, talk with your child and/or school and find out what’s on tap for your at-home curriculum. Plan learning sessions with your child—make them feel included. Try asking about their favorite/least favorite subjects and let them know that you’re learning too.

 

Make it a Focused Learning Experience:

 

Reinforce the Learning Schedule. Try drawing it up together. Have fun with it—make it something they’ll want to look at! Then leave the schedule in a place they will see it often— try the fridge or their bedroom mirror. Remind them to take a look at it every morning.

 

Find a Good Learning Environment and Stick to It. Designate a single spot away from technology and distractions to learn. You want to create a space that they’ll associate with focusing and learning, set apart from the couch, bedroom, or play-room. Designating a space just for school will encourage them to flip off the down-time switch and enter learning mode. You should also designate a space for you to work from home. This means you should set clear boundaries with your child regarding when you need time to work or hop on a conference call, and when you can help out with school.

 

Separate School Time from Down Time. Remember that their world has changed too, and it’ll likely be difficult to adjust to learning at home. Make sure to include breaks during learning sessions and make them clear on the schedule. Setting boundaries between work and play will likely take some adjustment.

 

Be Kind to Yourself:

 

Practice Turning Off Teacher Mode. When the learning day is done, it’s done. It can be hard to compartmentalize when you’re sleeping under the same roof that you’re working and teaching in, but treat a day of classes like a day at work—leave it at the door before coming home. The act of coming home may have changed, but its meaning doesn’t have to. It’s also important to relax with your child—make time to play or just snuggle. Remind them you’re still their parent at the end of the day.

 

Practice Self-Care. After a day of learning, take a bath, read a book, watch some TV— find ways to remind yourself that you are taking on yet another role and deserve to relax accordingly, which means dropping the pencil and calculator and coming home to yourself.

 

Reflect Positively On Your Day. Treat the incorporation of teaching into your schedule the way you would a new job. At the end of the day, reflect on how you thought things went and come up with one realistic way to improve your child’s learning experience as well as a way you can improve how you get your own work done. Regular reflection and conscious efforts to improve upon your instructing methods and abilities will open the door to teaching becoming an enjoyable, rewarding experience for both you and your child. In addition to pinpointing ways to improve, reflection should include recognition of what you are doing well. Remind yourself that this is all new and give yourself a break for not being perfect.

 

Most importantly, remind yourself that this situation is new to everyone and there’s no right path towards conquering it. We’re all exploring this new world together, and it’s somewhere none of us have ever been—so be patient and kind to yourself and your kids, and everything will fall into place.

 

-Tess Howat

 

 

Photo Credit: pockethifi IMG_9841 via photopin (license) 

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Writers’ Block? Tips for Working Through It

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You know the feeling. That slowing, stalling, painful feeling as thoughts, ideas, and words dwindle down to a frustrating half.

Writers’ block.

We have all been there. And sometimes, to make it even worse, the feeling of being unable to write drives you to want to do so even more desperately. Writers’ block doesn’t have to be so scary and immobilizing though. There are many productive uses of your time and ways to get your mind working again that can help you to move past whatever mental block is standing in your way.  

 

 

*Read!  If you’re stuck and can’t seem to write, what better way to work through it than by reading? Picking up a book will help ideas start to circulate in your head. If those ideas seem “too similar” to what you’re reading, write them anyway. You can always develop and change pieces of them later. The important part in that moment is to write anything and everything that comes to mind in order to work through the block. Don’t be afraid to just free write! Worry about the polishing and the specifics later. Read to find some ideas and just go with it! 

 

*Find a Prompt!  With the internet and social media at our disposal now, it’s so easy to pull up writing prompts. A simple search can lead you to hundreds of prompts. You can find a shorter one just to get the words flowing again, or even use a longer one to start planning out a larger piece of writing. Just because it was triggered by a prompt doesn’t mean that it’s not good writing or that you can’t use it. Prompts offer a window into scenarios you may have never considered or encountered otherwise. 

 

*Make an Outline!  Maybe you have an idea, but just can’t seem to figure out where or how to start it. First, write down all of the information you can think of about your piece, and then start to structure it into an outline or map. Remember, outlining is writing! A useful part of outlining can be working on your characters. Starting the process of writing a piece by beginning with the characters is a great way to jump start your writing. We can identify with characters and that makes it easier to think of things to write about and get past the writers’ block.  

 

*Change Your Environment!  This could mean a lot of different things. Putting on some music can make a huge difference in working past a spell of writers’ block. Jazz and classical are great suggestions but really, any music that makes you feel something is good music to use at a time like this. Changing your environment could also mean moving to a new location. Maybe this is from your office to the porch or living room. Or maybe it means somewhere new entirely. Libraries and nature are always good spots of inspiration for writers. Other places to try are ones where you've had success at writing previously or a location that holds some emotional significance to you. These can also be fruitful environments to work in because they often bring bundles of thoughts and memories to mind.  

 

*Reminisce!  As is suggested through changing your writing environment with music or emotional locations, reminiscing can prove very successful for getting past a block. Memories can be great nonfiction pieces but can also offer a variety of lived experiences that could contribute to an idea for a work of fiction, poetry, film, or even other types of nonfiction. Writing requires emotion, sympathy, and to some degree, experience, or at the very least, a desire for experience. Recalling old memories and sentimental moments is a fantastic way to stir up some of these emotions. When in doubt or feeling stuck on what to write about, ‘the self’ and ‘yourself’ are always viable options.

 

-Jennafer Maselli

 

 

Photo Credit: Sharon Drummond #ds139 "Writer's Block" via photopin (license)

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How To Write for Social Media

Social Media Color Splotches

 

Find yourself on social media a lot more these days? Be sure you are making the right impression with these five quick tips:

 

1. Casual and intimate voice.  One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing for social media is that it requires a welcoming voice. Your readers want to feel as though they know you to some degree, and a huge part of that connection is making your voice accessible and intimate. This allows you to break some of the “rules” of writing such as using the "I" and "you," as well as contractions. This also means staying away from complicated, industry-specific words and phrases that your audience will not understand and may make them feel as though they are being shut out from the piece.

 

2. Use questions to your advantage. Writing for social media requires writers to try to engage with their audience, even if the audience is not yet engaging back. One easy and effective way to do this is through asking questions. Simple and general questions like “Feeling the Monday blues?” or “So what will you create today?” can be great ways to hook a reader at the beginning, keep them engaged throughout a longer piece, or to finish concisely. Questions draw your reader into the content of the piece and help them feel as though they are included in the conversation. 

 

3. Create common ground.  Questions also serve as a great way to start creating common ground. The trouble of writing for social media is grabbing your audience members’ attention and keeping it amidst all the other things going on on their page and screen. Your audience will be more interested and engaged with your writing if they feel that it is relevant, or about them in some way. Use a common ground to achieve this feeling with your audience. Talk about your Monday morning struggle as a way to bring them into ways to have a better morning routine. Write about what is relevant to your life, whether it be the ups or the downs, and chances are, other people reading will find something in it that they can relate to.  

 

4. End on a positive note.  On social media, you want an easy-to-find take away message from your piece. Readers want to feel as though they got something from their time spent focusing on your page, blog, or post. Ending whatever piece with a positive note is a good way to attach that theme to something your audience will want to remember. This positive reinforcement at the end of the piece will also help them to feel as though it's rewarding to read what you put out there, so they will be likely to read your writing more often. The recurring audience is what eventually creates engagement, and that’s the goal! 

 

5. Edit your post.  Whether it’s for social media or not, take your writing seriously! Your writing represents you, and social media is one of the easiest ways to reach a lot of people at once. So why wouldn’t you want to take the time to make sure your writing is ready to go out into the world? It’s so easy to get your voice out there now with social media and technology that we often forget how important it can be for us writers. Respect your audience by taking the time to edit your writing, and they will respect you and your work, too!  

 

-Jennafer Maselli

 

Photo Credit: Visual Content Social Media Marketing Mix via photopin (license)

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Craft Corner: Sock Bunny Decorations

ea bEaster is just around the corner and thoughts of bunnies and spring time are creeping in. It always seems that this time of year makes us all a little more playful and creative, and these no-sew sock bunny decorations could be just the fix! They are super easy to make and you’ll probably have most of the materials on hand too! This is the perfect craft for kids, Easter decorations, or even a baby shower!

 

Materials:

Socks (all those socks that are missing a match are perfect for this!)
Scissors
Rice for stuffing
Twine or string
Ribbon
Markers
Pom-poms (optional)
Glue (optional)

 

How To:

  1. Fill the sock with rice, up to about the beginning of the heel. The sock should be able to stand up by itself once it has been stuffed.
  2. Gently squeeze the sock into the shape of a pear, so that the bottom of the sock has more rice stuffing that the top does.
  3. Tie the sock off with the twine or string immediately where the stuffing ends at the top of the sock. Be sure to tie it tightly and securely so that the stuffing cannot come out. This will serve as the separation between the head and the ears.
  4. Pinch the sock ⅔ of the way up and use another piece of twine or string to tie off the top ⅓ to separate the head from bottom ⅔ that will form the body.
  5. Turn the stuffed sock so that the heel is towards you. The point of the heel will become the face. At this time, cut down the middle of the excess ankle portion of the sock to form the ears. You can also trim off some of this fabric to shape the ears more to your liking: longer and floppy, or short and perky.
  6. Using the marker, add it dots for eyes and a mouth. An X for the mouth works well, or you can get a bit more artistic with it. Whiskers, bigger eyes, or a more detailed mouth are all cute options!
  7. Tie a stretch of ribbon around the neck to cover the twine. Make the bow to your liking with larger ribbon or angled tassels.
  8. Lastly, you can choose to add a tail. This can be done by pinching off a small portion of the back of the bunny and tying it off with twine again, or alternatively, you can glue on a pom-pom to make a little “cotton-tail” for your bunny.

 

These cute and simple bunnies offer tons of ways to customize and make them your own. They’re just as cute with traditional rabbit colors like white, grey, black, beige, and brown, as they are with bright and fun colors. Pastels also offer a fun and festive way to get into the Easter spirit! Whether it be a fun craft project for the kids, or an easy, do-it-yourself way to spruce up your spring decor, these no-sew bunnies will be a hit!

 

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-Jennafer Maselli

 

 

Photo Credits: MirandaFaith via photopin (license) and Denise ~*~ Purple N Pink via photopin (license) 

 

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Home Activities

ada bThe world has been told to stay home.

Does that freak you out? Are you constantly worrying? Not sure what to do with your time so you don’t go stir crazy and literally start climbing the walls?

Remember, there is no right way to do this. A “time out” can mean different things for different people. Don’t feel pressure to do it the same way as someone else on your newsfeed. Often the first thought after the initial panic is, “Oh, extra time? I’m going to write the great American novel!” Or take up painting again. Or write a symphony. Or,… well, you get the picture.

That’s a lot of pressure!!

And hey – there’s enough anxiety and pressure going on right now as it is. Don’t add more to it. Give yourself a break, and find what works for you. What will allow you to ENJOY this time? What will renew your spirit? What will ease your mind, allow you a time of gratitude, and leave a smile on your face to greet the world again once it’s safe to do so?

If you’re not sure, here are a few ideas to get you started:

 

 

JUST FOR FUN:

We are in unprecedented times, so might as well take advantage of the silver lining. You have an excuse to not HAVE to do anything. Allow yourself to be silly and have some fun! Not much else to do, right?

 

  • So many books, so little time! If you don’t have enough books around, libraries are offering free digital books to hold everyone over until their doors open again. Read something for yourself, and have a book that everyone reads aloud together (Harry Potter anyone?), then watch the movie after you finish. Have little ones? Many authors and actors are posting free videos of read-alouds. Log in and have fun!

 

  • Complete a puzzle or other mind game. Like words? There’s always crossword puzzles, word scrambles and searches, and many other games like that.

 

  • Create an indoor scavenger hunt and leave clue #1 out for some indoor fun!

 

  • Choreograph your own crazy dance to your favorite song. And, of course, make sure you video it to keep the fun going!

 

  • Board games. When is the last time you really played one? There are so many different ones out there now, both for the family or for adult fun. If you have to entertain the family too, set up a tournament and keep the fun going over several days. Or, take out those long, involved directions that you never really read, and learn the right way how to play that complicated game that has been sitting on your shelf.

 

  • Want to make yourself laugh? Try putting on a soap opera or silly movie, but mute the sound and create your own dialogue. This can provide hours of entertainment for sure!

 

  • Learn your favorite Hollywood dances. Put on your favorite movie/TV dance scenes on slow mo until you get the moves down. Then play it at normal speed and feel like a star! The kids might like doing the routines in the Descendants movies. Adults can go classic with a Fred & Ginger routine, or throw on that scene from Pulp Fiction, your favorite musical, or the classic Dirty Dancing routine. (Just a word of caution - that last lift is a LOT harder than it looks. If you don't already know how to do it, don't chance any injuries at a time you don't want to leave the house!)

 

  • Build a family room fort. Doesn’t matter if you have kids or not – who doesn’t love a good fort?? Add blankets, popcorn & a fun movie for added fun!

 

  • All those award-winning movies or new TV series you’ve been meaning to watch? Yup – now’s the time!

 

  • Make up a new song.

 

  • Finally learn the real lyrics to some of your favorites. Many lyrics are now online, so print them out and belt out those tunes!

 

  • Don’t forget about that pile of magazines that you keep meaning to get to!

 

  • Got kids at home? Write a story with your family! Everyone takes a character and writes a separate adventure for them, or, one person writes a chapter then hands it on to the next person for the next chapter. Not into a book? Then create a play that you can act out. Have them create the costumes, “sets”, etc. Video your production and send to family members to enjoy while they’re at home too!

 

  • Don’t forget about your pets. Give them some extra love and attention and play! Dogs love playing games and learning new tricks!

 

  • Stand in front of a mirror with paper and pencil and try a self-portrait.

 

  • Remember those old fortune tellers and paper games you played in school? Create your own adult version and embrace your inner child.

 

  • Do a Lego challenge.

 

  • Make yourself move in slow motion. See how long it takes before you can’t stop giggling!

 

  • Let yourself act silly and LAUGH!

 

 

LEARN SOMETHING:

It is never too late to learn something new, and many of us always have something on “the list” that we want to learn or try “when we have time.” No time like the present!

 

  • Download a language app like Duolingo and learn some new phrases.

 

  • Use online tutorials to learn how to knit, sew, crochet, or try something totally different like ventriloquism, woodcarving, origami, or perhaps a new art skill.

 

  • One word – beatbox.

 

  • Have long hair in the house? Use those online tutorials for braiding or other hairstyle techniques.

 

  • Research another country or culture. Need more to do? Create a powerpoint or video with what you learned.

 

  • Try a new recipe or increase your skills in the kitchen. Pretend you're on Top Chef.

 

  • Have some fun with Pinterest and try to recreate something new. Take pictures for a good laugh.

 

  • Enjoy a LunchDoodle! Illustrator, Mo Willems, is offering free lunchtime videos through the Kennedy Center with drawing tips and an inside look into his studio.

 

  • Create a Rube Goldberg Machine (chain-reaction fun like in the game Mouse Trap or Doc's morning invention on Back to the Future). These are super fun once they're built, but the real game is in hunting for objects around the house to make it work!

 

  • Learn to dance! Many dance studios are now offering free online classes in all styles to keep everyone movin' & groovin'.

 

  • Virtually visit a museum, zoo, or national park. Many museums and other sites are offering free online tours. Let yourself enjoy a virtual field trip!

 

 

CONNECT WITH OTHERS:

Humans NEED human contact (yes, introverts – us too!). We are a social breed and science has proven that human connectedness actually affects us physically. We will feel this distancing, no doubt, but there are ways to stay connected to humanity at large and to those in our circle as well.

 

  • Send uplifting notes and/or care packages to our health professionals that are fighting so hard to heal our country.

 

  • Write thank you notes to our fire, police, and military men and women for their service and protection.

 

  • Write a letter to your grandparents or to residents at a local senior home who are in lockdown right now. Include artwork or other uplifting messages and trinkets to brighten their day and let them know that they are not alone.

 

  • Keep your local businesses going during this time by buying gift cards or services online.

 

  • Hang a rainbow or other symbol of hope and love in your window or out on your lawn for people to see as they take a walk. Remind everyone that we are in this together and we will get through it!

 

  • Chalk your walk. Use sidewalk chalk and draw or write uplifting messages for passersby to see.

 

  • Start (or pickup) a journal or blog. Journaling is a huge stress reliever and a great way to pass the time. Keep it private or use it to connect with others.

 

  • Don’t forget that you can still video chat! Set up “playdates” with friends or family and pass the time together.

 

  • Get a penpal.

 

  • Join an online game or chat.

 

  • Hang Christmas lights or put a candle in your window to show “lights of love.” People are doing this all over the world as a sign of gratitude to all our healthcare workers and to all those who continue to serve us during this crazy time. It is also a show of solidarity and a reminder of the love and joy still around us during a time when it is easy to forget.

 

  • Prepare an interview and use a program to video chat with the grandparents. Be sure to record it!

 

  • Musical? Start a song chain. Record yourself performing a song. Post it, then tag your friends to play along.

 

  • You can do the same with a poem or dance challenge, too!

 

  • Be creative – what can you come up with to reach out to others and remind everyone of our humanity and the good in the world? Share it online so others can participate too!

 

 

SELF CARE:

This is obviously a very stressful time, and extra stress can deplete your immune system even more. We need to be extra good to ourselves during times like these. “Self care” means something different for everyone, so do what you have to do to lift your own spirit, but here are a few ideas to get things started.

 

  • Meditate. Not sure how to do it on your own? Check out the many apps available, like Headspace, Insight Timer, or Calm to help guide you.

 

  • Coloring has been proven as a stress reliever, plus it’s fun! There are many free pages online to download if you don’t have a book to get you started (plus there are some super cool books you can buy too!). You can do it old school on paper for extra relaxation, or use your tablet and color on screen.

 

  • Pamper yourself in ways you never normally have time for – do a face mask, deep condition, mani/pedis, bubble bath, new hair color – so many options!

 

  • Look at cute pictures of puppies – hey, science says it can lower blood pressure, and we don’t want to argue with science, right??

 

  • Practice gratitude. Start a list of things you are grateful for. Add something new each day.

 

  • Eat right – Don’t just snack on those junky quarantine snacks non-stop. Find new, healthy foods and drinks to fuel your body through these stressful times.

 

  • Listen to music that lifts your spirits. Breathe deep and immerse yourself in the sounds of the instruments and the rhythms that surround you.

 

  • Keep a routine – still go to bed at a decent hour and get your sleep. You want your body strong and ready to go!

 

  • Practice mindfulness – stay in the moment and notice everything as you’re doing it. Try not to think about the future or the next thing on your to-do list. Stay in the now. How many coffee beans do you actually use? What do they smell like? How does the air feel on your face when you go out for that walk? What do you hear? Smell? How does your body feel RIGHT NOW?

 

  • Keep moving! See below for ideas on keeping your body healthy, strong, and ready for summer fun!

 

 

PROJECTS:

Know all those projects that keep getting put off for “one day” when you have time? The day is here, my friends! What projects are on your list? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

 

  • Go through those containers and find all the matching lids. Got leftovers? Throw them out. No need for extra clutter!

 

  • Hit up those closets. Have clothes that don’t fit or that you haven’t worn in a while? Or maybe ones that you just don’t like? Pull them out and put in a bag to bring to charity once lockdown has lifted. Now organize and rearrange the rest of your clothes. All that new space will feel fantastic!

 

  • Rearrange your sock drawer. Why not?

 

  • Don’t forget about that overflowing junk drawer, makeup bin full of old products, supply shelves, basement, shed, and garage. Might as well use the extra time and be productive. Even little changes can feel like a big difference!

 

  • How about small repairs? Maybe there is a loose doorknob, squeaky hinge, scuffed-up walls, etc. that could use a quick tweak.

 

  • Want a new look? Try rearranging the furniture, changing up your wall decorations, or slap on a new coat of paint. You’ll feel like you’re in a whole new house!

 

  • Organize all those picture files! Put them into folders for easy access, then pick out some favorites and make a special photo book or print them out for new wall frames.

 

  • Got some land or patio space for containers? Start a veggie garden! Now is a great time to start seeds indoors so they’ll be ready to plant in a couple of months.

 

  • If you haven’t done your taxes yet, might as well get them done and out of the way now so you won’t have to worry about them when it’s safe to go out again.

 

  • Write that book, poem, or music you’ve been meaning to try, or dust off those old paint brushes and let your inner creative child back out again!

 

 

MOVE!

The human body is not made to sit as much as we do. And now that we’re spending so much time home, chances are we’ll be sitting even more, so it’s important to keep yourself moving even though you may be stuck in one place.

 

  • Of course at-home exercise videos are a great option. If you don’t already have exercise DVDs collecting dust on your shelf, there are many wonderful streaming services, apps, and YouTube videos to get started.

 

  • Many personal trainers, studios, and yoga masters are posting free, online videos to get yourself moving during the day. There are short 5-minute break ones, or longer full-workout length videos as well. Find what works for your day and get moving. Be sure to try something you’ve never tried before for an added brain bonus. Plus, you may find something that you love that you can continue after quarantine as well!

 

  • Dance! Dance is not only fantastic for your body, but it’s a great stress reliever too. Crank up your favorite tunes and do your own thing, or hop on the internet and participate in TikTok, or take an online dance class (many studies are currently offering free classes) or follow along a how-to in your favorite dance style. Or better yet, try something new! There are videos for all styles of dance, from traditional to social to belly dance, hiphop, Latin, old world, partner dances, tap, and beyond!

 

  • Stretch – Flexibility is an important part of health, so keep those muscles limber. Hey, maybe by the end of quarantine you’ll be doing splits! (Hey – it could happen!)

 

  • Bored kids driving you crazy? Check out the free, online Cosmic Kids Yoga videos. Kids love the stories and silly poses, and it just happens to be good for their bodies too!

 

  • Foam rollers are fantastic for keeping the body AND mind in tiptop shape. Bring the concepts of physical therapy home and pop on a video or check out the MELT Method.

 

  • Incorporate games into the house. Use painter’s tape to make a hopscotch on the floor or to create lines and challenge your family members to see who can jump the farthest. Or, you can use it to create different shapes and throw bean bags for points. Create an obstacle course, throw the ball around in the yard, play kick ball, jump rope, hit a punching bag…. Get creative – there are a lot of options!

 

  • Two words – Disco Party. Put on the groove tunes, crazy clothes, flash the lights, and have some fun Saturday Night Fever style! Laughs guaranteed!

 

 

Remind yourself to slow down and breathe every day. We have been forced into a time out, but that can be a good thing. Take the time to restore your body, mind, and spirit. Reconnect with yourself, and let magic happen!

It may feel lonely, but remember we are all in this together, and we are not alone. We’ve got this!

 

 

 

Photo Credit: freshwater2006 Máquina de Rube Goldberg en la base del Alinghi via photopin (license)

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How to Master Email Writing

feaddIn the current technology age, email has become a staple of both workplace and personal communication. However, after all the time spent texting, it can be tricky to figure out how to write a formal email. Having good email skills helps you come across as professional and respectful and can give you that extra edge above other job applicants. Or, it establishes a good repertoire and image for you. Using the tips below, you’ll have a polished email in no time!

 

Don’t underestimate a subject line!  This is especially important when you are emailing someone you have not previously been in contact with. If someone does not recognize your name, they will immediately look for the subject line to know if they should even bother to open the email or just delete it. Your subject line should be concise and clear. The person receiving the email should know why they need to read it, just by reading the subject.  

 

Address them respectfully!  If you’re not sure how to begin your email, good old fashioned “Dear” and their name always does the trick. If they have a title –president, professor, doctor, dean, etc– this is a good way to address them in your opening. “Dear President Smith,” will always sound respectful. If you you are emailing a group and do not know exactly who you will be emailing, “To Whom It May Concern,” is a good way to go, or sometimes a more casual “Hello,” will work as well.  

 

Open with why you are contacting them!  After you have addressed the person, open the actual text of your email with explaining why you are emailing them. They will already have some idea based off of your subject line, but it's important to explain to them the context of the conversation. For example, you are contacting them in regards to a question about submitting an application or proposal. Similarly, this could be a short bit of information introducing yourself. “I work for xxxxx and am looking to interview you about yyyyy” will tell them your credentials as well as why you needed to be in contact with them. 

 

Use paragraphs!  It’s pretty likely that you’ll have multiple points that need to be included in your email. Just like writing a paper or document, use paragraphs to organize and separate your information. In addition, using line breaks is incredibly important. Both of these will make the layout of the email much more inviting than one big chunk of text, as well as make it easier to read. When sorting through your information, it can be helpful for both you and the person receiving the email, if you put similar points together. Doing this will also convey that you put some time and effort into the email, and that it is important to you. If someone can comprehend your investment in the matter, they are likely to be more engaged.

 

Mention your attachments!  When you are sending documents and attachments via email, it is incredibly helpful for the person receiving the email if you tell them what you have attached. This is especially important if you have attached multiple things. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to sort through all of the attachments on an email without any reference as to what they are and why they are relevant. Save your recipient that frustration, and it will be a much more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

 

Have a go-to closing remark!  Keep it simple! There is still nothing wrong with “Sincerely,” but other things like “Best,” “Thank you for your concern,” “Thank you in advance,” or even just a simple “Thank you” will work as well. And always sign your first and last name. This is a good opportunity to present how you would like to be called. If you have a lengthier name and go by something shorter, this is the time to convey that. Including your last name makes the message more formal and also gives a more complete detail for the recipient to remember easier.

-Jennafer Maselli

 

Photo Credit: Wiertz Sébastien Stop checking your email continuously via photopin (license)
 

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How To Create a Customized Writing Schedule

fccecAny writer, whether green and aspiring or famous and well-published, knows that making yourself write can sometimes be extremely hard, almost impossible. A common challenge for writers, especially those with other jobs, can be finding the time to write. Feeling as though what you're producing is quality work can also be a frustrating challenge. Creating a personalized writing schedule can be helpful for working through both of these, as well as fostering better and more productive writing habits in general. Here are some ways to help put together a customized schedule to get you writing more: 

 

*Discover when you are most productive.  Mornings are always recommended as a great time to write, before the stress and distractions of the day have started to weigh on you. However, for some people, early afternoon or evening can be a much more productive time when their "to do" list has been completed for the day and they can finally focus and think clearly. Think about what time of day you tend to be most productive with your writing and plan to have that be your time slot.  

 

*Find your space.  Just as important as when you are most successful, is where. A home office, quiet kitchen nook, or table at the public library can all be great options. However, this could depend on the time of day you choose to write. Your kitchen table may not be the best option when your teenagers are running around in the morning getting ready for school. In discovering this space it’s important to think about eliminating distractions as well. A place where you do not have to talk to anyone and can easily set your phone aside is important. Plan to close all extra tabs and email notifications. Make the time solely about you and writing. Finding a set-up and space that helps you focus and feel inspired to write is important for your schedule.  

 

*Start with manageable time slots.  It might be unrealistic to lock yourself into a five hour window of writing time in your first few days. Begin with a small writing block each day so you can settle into a routine and feel like you are really using your time. Giving yourself too much time too soon will lead you to feel frustrated and defeated. You can always increase your time slots or add more writing days as needed as you adjust to your schedule. And, you are always free to write outside of your schedule if time allows, but it’s better to overflow than feel overwhelmed!

 

*Make your alternative productive.  Sometimes, even with a well-crafted schedule and good habits, you just can’t write. And that’s okay. Use this scheduled time to read instead. In order to be a good writer, being a good reader is a must. Having these few hours to read can be just as inspiring and helpful as writing can be. However, make sure you plan this out in advance. Have a stack of books ready with you so you don’t have to waste your time hunting one down and getting distracted. Maybe this is an old favorite or one you have been dying to read, or a book on the craft of writing. Either way, there is always so much to gain from checking in with other writers.

-Jennafer Maselli

 

Photo Credit: Nico Kaiser Homeoffice via photopin (license)

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Easy Habits to Boost Productivity

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Are you struggling with that to-do list?

With work, home, family, friends, and responsibilities that need to be tended to, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and under productive. The good news is that by changing some habits you can boost your productivity and get more done in less time! 

 

Prioritize your to-do list.  It’s easy to be stressed and to work unproductively when you are thinking about all the many things that need to be taken care of each day. Whether it be at the office or at home, prioritizing your tasks is incredibly useful. Consider any deadlines or upcoming events that require certain things to be done before others. Maybe several of your tasks can be done in the same errand trip or can be brought up in the same meeting. Arranging your to-do list in order of importance, time constraint, and in similar groups helps you work through them faster.

 

Stop multitasking. Finish what you start!  It always seems like things will go by faster if you try to get them all done at once, but what actually happens is that everything gets started and nothing ever gets finished properly. Pick a task off of your prioritized list and work on it until it is done as completely as it can be. A task at work may require information or collaboration with a coworker so do all of the parts that you are responsible for. Once done, you can move onto another task instead of having to find the time to go back and finish what you started. 

 

Don’t dawdle.  There will be times that you work on something and feel as though you are making no progress. If you have spent at least a half hour working on something and have not made any substantial progress on it, move on to another task. While this may seem a lot like multitasking, it is different in that you will move on to complete another task. There is no sense in wasting your time so pick a task that you know you can accomplish fairly easily. Once you get going, it will be easier to keep working through that to-do list.  

 

Reward yourself.  There are so many ways to do this. Give yourself a ten minute break to grab a coffee or snack, or get outside and grab some fresh air. Setting small goals can help with this too. Tell yourself that you will accomplish three tasks before you get up to refill your coffee. This will give you something to look forward to and make the list much more manageable.  

 

Limit your distractions.  Whether you’re organizing your closet, balancing your checkbook, or working on an office task, it will be much easier to get done if you are not distracted. It’s no secret that cell phones and social media have made it harder to stay focused. Consider closing your extra browsers, setting your phone aside, and silencing email notifications. This will help keep you stay focused and working through those tasks faster! 

-Jennafer Maselli

 

Photo Credit: Ivan Radic A female hand with pen on notepad, working on laptop in office via photopin (license)

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Fictional World-Building Tips

 

Fantasy is my favorite genre. I’ve been a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan for as long as I can remember, I grew up playing The Legend of Zelda, and my favorite book series is A Song of Ice and Fire, which was then adapted into my favorite television series, Game of Thrones. Good fantasy has everything one could want from a story: epic action, engaging characters, heartfelt romance, and no shortage of betrayal and tragedy. But, in my opinion, the aspect of fantasy that makes it so much more enthralling than the average narrative is the setting. Modern fantasy works, in particular, are set in worlds with such comprehensive lore that they almost convince us they are real places.

Even in non-fantasy works, having a believable setting is crucial. Creating a plausible yet still imaginary world is a daunting task – one that, hopefully, the following tips can help you with.

 

  • Familiar Elements: The beauty of world-building is that you are not beholden to the history and rules of reality. However, it is a good idea to at least loosely base your world on existing cultures as a way of grounding your readers in familiar territory. Most fantasy works tend to imitate medieval Europe, likely because that is where the genre was conceived, but this is not at all mandatory. In fact, it would be better to include a variety of different cultures, as it would make your world seem that much more real.

 

  • Put Story First: It can be easy to get lost in the process of fleshing out your world and its history, but the more time you spend on the historical details, the more limitations you’ll have when you actually start telling your tale. Think of the story you want to write first, letting the world build itself as the plot advances. Once you know how your main story is going to go, then you can go back and fill in the gaps. Otherwise, you may find yourself constantly tweaking details to make everything fit together.

 

  • Make a Map: Not all of us are skilled in illustrations or cartography, but knowing the lay of your land is essential, especially if your characters are going to embark on some kind of quest. Knowing where the landmarks of your world are and how far apart everything is will help you– and, subsequently, your readers– keep track of where and when the events of the story are taking place.

 

  • Establish Lore: I know I said not to get bogged down in your world’s historical details, but establishing some lore is important for making your world believable. Think of your setting like you would a character. Every character needs a backstory, so ask yourself, what past events have transpired that have shaped the world as it is in your story?

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: "Stròlic Furlàn" - Davide Gabino Praia de Esteiro via photopin (license)

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Tips and Tricks for Adding Exercise to a Busy Schedule

beach beautiful diversity

 

Fall is setting in and the days are growing shorter again. School and work is at its busiest right now as everyone tries to prepare for the upcoming year ahead, whether it be an academic or business year. With so much going on it can feel impossible to juggle all of the activities we desire, and at the end of a long work day, it is often exercise that gets left out. Here are some easy ways to add a few extra minutes of exercise to your busy day! 

 

  • Make it social!  It’s hard enough to manage work and/or school, family, home projects, and schedule commitments, let alone trying to have a social life and exercise. Combining the two can be a great way to optimize your time. Make a plan with your friends to all go to the same exercise class or meet up for a walk with your dogs. You’ll get to chat and catch up and burn some calories while you do it. Dancing, walking, and doing yoga with your friends can be just as fun as meeting up for drinks. 

 

  • Decide on a spark moment!  Pick a repeated daily action and attach a short burst of quick exercise to it. An example of this idea is to do 10 squats each time you go to the bathroom at home or stand up from watching TV. Once you get home and you’ve got your comfy clothes on, this can be a great way to add in more exercise. It may not seem like it will help much, but getting up from your show even just three times will result in 30 squats. That’s the same amount done in most exercise sessions! 

 

  • Park farther away!  It’s been said before, but it really can be such a useful technique for getting that step count up. Whether it be at the grocery store, the office, or the post office, parking at the back of the lot will help you increase your exercise levels each day. And chances are, the extra few minutes it takes you won’t change your day all that much. 

 

  • Take the long loop!  Going grocery shopping? Instead of going right to the aisle you need, make a point to push your cart up and down all of the aisles to get to the products on your list. You’d be surprised how big a grocery or department store can be when you walk all of it. You’ll be adding to your burned calories without changing your daily routine at all! 

 

  • Take the stairs!  Another classic that works great. Stairs are a great way to increase your heart rate in the middle of the day. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator every time can equal out to a whole session on a stair-climber, but won’t require you to add another event to your schedule like going to the gym would. 

 

  • Read on a stationary bike!  Biking is great exercise. Stationary bikes offer a perfect alternative as the weather gets chilly, and with the right set up, you can get some work or leisure time in while you do it. A tray or shelf on the bike, or even over the screen, can be a good place to set your reading materials. Once you figure out your set-up on the bike, you can get to those files that need to be read for work tomorrow or even just that novel you keep trying to find the time to finish. This will also make your time on the bike more enjoyable and feel much shorter.  

 

-Jennafer Maselli

 

Photo Credit:  Luis Quintero from Pexels. Used with permission. 

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The Pros and Cons of Social Media

Despite being a relatively recent creation, social media is already ingrained in our lives. Here are a few reasons why that could be cause for celebration, and a few reasons why it may be cause for concern.

 

PROS:

  • Streamlined Communication: Perhaps the greatest gift social media has given us is connectivity with the rest of the world. There are countless platforms under the social media umbrella, all of which allow you to see what’s going on and connect with people across the globe. It can also let you keep in touch with people who may have otherwise fallen out of your life.

 

  • Easy Access to News: Social media has also changed the way people stay informed. Young people, in particular, get the majority of their news from platforms like Facebook and Snapchat – free of charge. As a result, people can more easily stay up to date on current events.

 

  • Sense of Community: With so many people in constant communication with one another, it’s no surprise that they often find common ground. Through posts such as memes, one can express their fears or anxieties from a comedic perspective, and they will often find that others relate to it. Social media has helped people realize they are not alone in how they feel, thus building a sense of community.

 

  • Job Market: Social media has revolutionized the job market by making it much easier for companies to connect with potential employees and vice-versa. Some platforms, like LinkedIn, are dedicated entirely to business and professional relationships. Applications and interviews can be done entirely online, and if one job doesn’t pan out, there are countless others only a click away.

 

CONS:

  • Permanent eFootprint: We’ve established that social media has both professional and casual uses. While this may seem like a positive, problems can arise if your casual posts affect your professional life. People who have grown up with social media likely have posts from their youth that would be seen as undesirable by a potential employer. Even if you clean out your account, nothing online is ever truly deleted, meaning it could still come back to haunt you.

 

  • Spread of False Information: Part of the beauty of social media is that anyone can post essentially anything they want. However, this can be a double-edged sword in that it allows for the easy spread of false information. The sad truth is that many people do not bother to fact-check their news sources; they just believe whatever they read, and phony, uncredible sources are pervasive online.

 

  • Hinders Real Life Social Skills: People growing up using social media often find themselves stunted when it comes to real-life social interaction. Studies have shown that excessive use of social media can cause personality and brain disorders, particularly in young people whose brains are still developing.

 

  • Can Be Used to Promote Hate: Unfortunately, the freedom that comes with social media can also be abused. We’ve seen hate groups and terrorist organizations use social media to spread their own, evil messages. Some platforms have implemented regulations to ensure that this does not become commonplace, but the sad fact of the matter is that the messages still get out, even if only for a limited time, and people still gravitate to them.

 

At the end of the day, social media itself is not inherently good or evil; it is up to us to use it responsibly.

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: Christine Schmitt 02-52 Home Sweet Home [Explored] via photopin (license)

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5 Reasons Why Writing About Yourself Is Important

We’ve all had to do it at some point or another whether we enjoyed it or not. Writing about ourselves is likely something we’ve had to do for a school assignment, applying for jobs, or for a biography on our online profiles. It can be uncomfortable and make you feel exposed or vulnerable, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing! Writing about yourself is something you can do without being prompted, and can make you feel good too!

One tangible benefit of writing about yourself is self-promoting yourself in business. Being able to write about your professional accomplishments to show potential clients or employers why you would be a great choice is a useful skill to have. If you're able to create a description of yourself that exemplifies your talents, qualifications, and achievement you'll always have a document to use for future assignments, proposals, and other professional inquisitions!

Another great thing about writing about yourself is allowing yourself to have time for self-reflection. When your days are busy it’s often hard to find some time just to think big picture about yourself and your life – past, present, and future. Reflection can lead you to create new goals or make plans to make your life even better. All the self-reflection and thoughts about where your life has been can also be a great way to think about where you would like your narrative to go.

Reflection can also lead to new insights and discoveries about yourself. Finding just the right words to describe yourself and your experiences can cause you to look at yourself from a different perspective. Even looking at what happened to you just yesterday can uncover important moments you did not realize were important at the time. We don’t always realize the significance of things until we’re out of the moment.

Putting all your thoughts and reflections about your life into words can help you craft your own life story. By recreating your life on paper, you have the ability to present your narrative the way you experience it – wholly your own.

Getting words on paper and focusing your energy on your own thoughts can be cathartic as well. Expressing your feelings on the things you’ve experienced can be an emotional release in a way that helps makes sense of things instead of holding them in. Almost like having a conversation with yourself, writing can be a healthy way to work through your feelings.

Finally, at the end of it all you will have a written history of yourself to either keep to yourself or share with loved ones. Even if you choose to keep what you wrote private, it can inspire future writing by being there to reference the context of your past experiences. The writing you create is your own personal history to mull over for years to come.

Writing about yourself is a great way to be creative and engage in self-exploration. Who better to write about yourself than you! So start documenting the moments of your life now and you might just discover something you didn’t know about yourself.

-Brianna Cochran

 

Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley scribbling via photopin (license)

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Book Corner: We Were Mothers

IMG cropYou know that feeling when you are surrounded by your girlfriends, sharing secrets and confessions, worries and fears, and above all, laughs over a sparkling glass of wine? That feeling of support - that you have a clan that's got your back?

That's the feeling you get as you dive into reading We Were Mothers by Katie Sise. A celebration of motherhood and all the complicated feelings and decisions that go with it is woven into a twisty suspense story with all the drama, secrets, scandal, and lies that lure you into this seemingly idyllic neighborhood and make you forget all about being a mom in the first place.

This is a story that celebrates the complex nature of relationships - both romantically and among our neighbors. Told from the point of view of four different women, with a ticking time clock as chapter headers, the reader is pulled instantly into the pages as the story unravels itself and smacks us with revelations the same time as the characters.

The thoughts of the characters provide an honest insight into the intricate emotions of women as they face their day-to-day lives, the outcomes of their life decisions, and their longings for something more as they grapple with the betrayal that surrounds them and their fierce devotion to their families.

Katie Sise's first adult novel provides an entertaining story great for the upcoming summer days at the beach or lounging on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. An intriguing page turner that keeps you guessing right up until the very last page!

Buy at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photos Copyright (c) Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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Speechwriting Tips

 

Public speaking is a fear shared by many, and unfortunately, most have to face it at some point or another. It's important to first realize that writing a speech is different than writing an essay or story. By following these tips, you can get your speech to be the best it can be, thereby increasing your confidence when you step up to the podium. 

 

  • Write Casually: As mentioned above, speeches are different from other forms of writing. While in an essay you would be discouraged from using conversational language like contractions (I’m, we’re, etc.), these are actually ideal for speeches, since you want to appear at ease in front of your audience. It can also be helpful to share a personal experience related to your topic; letting the audience feel like they actually know you will make them more interested in what you have to say. Just remember to tailor your speech to the event. If the event is formal, use less casual language, and vice versa. 

 

  • Simplicity is Key: The most important part of public speaking is keeping your audience engaged. If your speech is too long or has too many points, chances are you’ll lose the audience along the way. It’s better to simplify; narrow your speech down to the most important couple of points. By putting more emphasis on fewer points, the audience can more easily connect with and remember what you say. 

 

  • Numbers and Statistics: Nothing supports an argument better than cold, hard facts. Having statistics and figures to back you up lends credence to your speech. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on them, as rattling off statistics is an easy way to bore your audience. 

 

  • Acknowledge the Other Side: Many speeches are persuasive in that they attempt to articulate a point and make the audience agree with it. But with every argument, so too is there a counter-argument. In addition to backing up your own points, it is also important to acknowledge and disprove the points of the opposing side. Otherwise, the audience can be swayed by the counter-argument just as easily as they were swayed by yours. 

 

Not all of us are confident speakers, but by following these tips, anyone can write a good speech. And with a strong speech, confidence comes naturally. 

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström Microphones via photopin (license)

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Overcoming Indecision

Making decisions can be hard, and making the right decision can be even harder. Whether it’s a simple question of what you want to have for lunch, or a potentially life-changing decision like determining your career, the following methods can help you overcome your indecision.

 

  • Acknowledge the Consequences: Taking time to analyze the situation before making a decision is prudent, but this can easily lead to over-analyzation and prevent you from making a decision at all. In times like these, it is important to acknowledge the potential consequences of what will happen if you do not decide on anything. More often than not, a decision is better than no decision, and this should motivate you to choose more quickly.

 

  • Flip a Coin: The oldest trick in the book for overcoming indecision is flipping a coin. If you are truly indifferent towards your options, you can leave the decision entirely to chance. In many cases, however, a coin toss can reveal which option you truly wanted if you find yourself displeased with the outcome. Whether you obey the coin or not, it can be useful in figuring out what you actually want.

 

  • Write It Out: Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto something tangible, like a piece of paper, can provide clarity in your decision-making process. Start off with something simple, like a pros and cons list, and if there are other relevant factors, write them out, too. Transcribing the information will make it easier for you to quantify.

 

  • Get Second Opinions: Decisions, especially important ones, are hard to make alone. Asking your friends and/or others you trust for their input can provide useful insights you hadn’t thought of. Just be careful to not let others decide everything for you – you can heed their advice, but ultimately, the decision should be yours.

 

Indecision often stems from a lack of trust in oneself. Learn to rely on your instincts, because you may not always have time to think things over. Once you are confident in yourself, making decisions will come easily.

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: jenny downing shall I? via photopin (license)

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Developing Fictional Characters

 

Strong characters are a cornerstone of any successful story, but creating them is easier said than done. Here are a few things every character needs in order to come to life on the page.

 

  • Relatability: Whether hero or villain, human or otherwise, it is important to make your character relatable to the reader. The easiest way to do this is to clearly define your character’s motivation – in other words, why do they do what they do? Whether or not the reader agrees with it, they will be better able to empathize with the character if they can at least understand their mentality.

 

  • Interestingness: This may seem obvious, but that does not make it less important. Every character should have something interesting about them, no matter how small their role in the story. For a major character, however, this goes deeper. Characters who are purely good or purely evil are far less interesting than those who fall somewhere in the middle. Similarly, you need to find a balance of strength and weakness. If a hero has no weakness, then there is no risk when they save the day. Conversely, if they are too weak, then there is no story to tell.

 

  • Backstory: Everyone is the product of their experiences. Even if it doesn’t appear in the story, you, as the author, should know the backstory of each of your characters to inform how they behave. This doesn’t mean you need to write a biography on every character, but you should have ideas about what happened in their past that shaped them into the person they are on the page.

 

  • Consistency: Characters are supposed to change over the course of a story – that’s the whole point – but certain aspects of your characters should persist throughout. If a character changes too much too often, it can be hard for the reader to form any kind of attachment to them. A consistent character who undergoes gradual change will resonate better because their journey will seem more true to life, making it easier for the reader to get invested.

 

In the end, the nature of your characters largely depends on the story you want to tell, but these general tips will at least help you get started.

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: Paul of Congleton 27th of December 2017 via photopin (license)

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5 Ways to Stimulate Creativity in Your Everyday Life

Many don’t realize that creativity is a skill, and like all skills, it requires practice. The best way to hone your creativity is to try creating something every day – whether it’s writing, painting, or just about anything. But we’ve all experienced a creative roadblock at one point or another. Whether you have no idea what you want to do, or know exactly what you want but have no clue as to how to do it, the following tips can help you figure it out.

 

 

  1. Step Outside Your Creative Comfort Zone:
    Finding a specific field or genre that interests you is great, but you should not limit yourself to consuming the same stuff day in, day out. Instead, experiment with new material as often as you can. Try reading something you normally would not, or listen to a new kind of music – you might find the inspiration you’ve been looking for.
  2. Tiredness Boosts Creativity:
    This may sound bizarre, but studies have shown that people do better creative work when they’re tired. This is because a tired brain is more likely to wander, which can lead to new ideas, one of which could be the idea you’ve been searching for. Just make sure you still get a healthy amount of sleep.
  3. Cooperative Brainstorming:
    Whether you’re trying to come up with ideas or flesh one out, working with another person or people can be immensely helpful. Someone might say something totally random that winds up sparking a new idea, which in turn can spark another idea, allowing everyone to build off each other. Working with your friends or other likeminded individuals can be fun and lead to great results, but brainstorming with people who think differently from you is more likely to yield diverse and innovative insights.
  4. Give Yourself Constraints:
    Oftentimes, when we find ourselves creatively stumped, it is because we simply don’t know where to begin. The blank page can be overwhelming in that there are infinite possibilities for what you can create, so start by narrowing it down. Tell yourself you want to paint using only certain colors or write a story that is only 500 words. Even if you don’t hold true to the constraint, it gives you a place to start.
  5. Experience the World:
    Those in the writing field have likely heard the expression “write what you know.” This holds true for any creative enterprise; it is incredibly difficult ­– some might say impossible – to create something with no frame of reference. The best way to widen said frame is to get out and experience the world. Travelling abroad and experiencing different cultures can be very eye-opening, but even something as simple as getting out of the house can inadvertently inspire you.

-Eddie Godino

 

 

Photo Credit: marcoverch Nahaufnahme eines kleinen Notizbuchs via photopin (license)

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Reading in a Technological Era

Once upon a time, books were the primary form of entertainment for people. But with the technological renaissance came other, easier ways to pass the time. Slowly but surely, books have become scarcer and scarcer.

There are a few culprits behind the increasing disappearance of the physical book, the most guilty of which is the Internet. Publishing companies used to have a monopoly on book distribution, and focused on churning out the greatest quantity of books they could without much emphasis on marketing. But now, the Internet allows authors to publish their own work online using services like Lulu or Kindle Direct, and they can market their work through social media, which is putting publishing companies out of business. Amazon specifically poses a great threat to publishers and bookstores by allowing people to simply search for the book they want and read it instantly.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why does it matter if books are transitioning from physical to virtual? It’s not as though they are going extinct. The sad truth is, people just aren’t reading as much as they used to. Movies, TV shows, and video games are easier mediums for people to consume, and nearly everyone has a device that can play them. Another problem is that kids associate reading with schoolwork, and often find it tedious as a result. But not reading enough long-form text can actually negatively impact children’s cognitive and critical thinking skills later in life.

Fortunately, there is still hope. Many are concerned with preserving the future of the book and ensuring its survival. And, while books are overall less popular than they used to be, they can still achieve great success. For example, Harry Potter went on to become one of the best-selling franchises of all time, but the original book series actually grossed more money than the films.

So, don’t weep for books just yet, but next time your son or daughter asks to watch TV or play Fortnite, consider putting a book in their hand instead.

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: marlenedd 2014-07-24 16.51.42 via photopin (license)

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How to Self-Motivate

We all have those days where we wake up and just can’t get ourselves out of bed. Maybe you’re just tired, or maybe it’s just easier to stay under the covers rather than face the daunting tasks of the day. Knowing how to motivate yourself is a valuable skill regardless of your profession, but motivation comes more easily to some than others, and no single strategy will work for everyone. However, the following steps are general enough that they can be applied to almost anyone, and hopefully they can help you figure out how to seize the day every day.

 

  • Set Small, Specific Goals: Looking at a task in its entirety can make it seem insurmountable, and prevent you from even starting. No matter what the problem is, it will be easier to approach if you break it down. Work at it in increments: instead of reading the entire book at once, read a few chapters at a time, but be specific about how many chapters and hold to it.

 

  • Challenge Yourself: You may be tempted to just take care of the easy parts of your work and then call it a day, but you’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment if you tackle something challenging. Just remember to be realistic about what you can achieve.

 

  • Don’t Think, Just Do: Planning out your work is a great way to manage your time, but sometimes you can wind up overthinking it to the point where you don’t even know how to begin. In times like these, it’s best to just dive in and start working, letting a rhythm emerge naturally.

 

  • Reward Yourself: Giving yourself a reward after a hard day’s work makes the hard day’s work all the more worthwhile. Just make sure the reward is suited to the work; it would be a bad idea to reward yourself for exercising with a box of doughnuts.

 

  • Track Your Progress: This may seem tedious at first, but trust me, it will pay off in the long run. Tracking your progress helps you know how far you are from reaching your goal, and also lets you see how far you’ve come, which can be a reward in its own right.

 

At the end of the day, you have to figure out how to motivate yourself. Only you know what method works well for you. But, hopefully, these tips can help you find out what that method is.

 

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: donnierayjones Rise 'N Shine via photopin (license)

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Tips for Writing a Business Email

In an era where almost everyone constantly has access to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, email has become the primary form of professional communication. With just a few clicks, you can instantaneously send word to your co-workers or employer. As a result, people, particularly in the business world, are constantly sending and receiving emails, and more than a few get lost in the depths of the flooded inbox. If you don’t want your message to go unnoticed, look no further. With three easy steps, you can make your email stand out and increase the odds of a speedy response.

 

Strong Subject 

The first, and arguably most important, step in getting your email noticed is to have a strong subject. Many people write a vague subject line, with the intent of revealing more information within the email itself. However, a vague subject often fails to convey the importance of your message. At the same time, a lengthy subject line can be overwhelming and deter the recipient from even opening the email. Try to limit your subject to under ten words, only including the essential details. For example, if you want to schedule a meeting, state the date and time, and try to phrase the subject as a question so the recipient knows an answer is expected of them.

 

Clear & Concise Content

Once you’ve piqued interest with your subject, the next step is organizing the content of the email. Like in step one, brevity is important here. Even if your subject is engaging, the recipient may forgo reading through the email if they see it is too long. Only include relevant information, and format the email in such a way that the important parts stand out. This can be done by putting significant details in bold text or using bullet points. You can also use line breaks to make the content of the email appear less dense. If you have a request or question for the recipient, make sure to state it plainly to avoid misunderstandings.

 

Formal Formatting 

Lastly, you want to make sure your email looks as professional as possible. Avoid using informal language, like contractions and acronyms, and proofread your email for any grammatical errors. Sites like grammarly.com can help if you are unsure if something is incorrect. Also, make sure to include a formal greeting and closing. “Dear (recipient),” is fine for a greeting, but if you ever find yourself writing an email to an unknown person or entity, try using, “To Whom It May Concern.”

As for closings, “Sincerely” or “Regards” are good, all-purpose choices. If you are expecting a response, you can try writing “I hope to hear from you soon,” in an effort to prompt a quick reply. In other instances, it may be wise to show some gratitude to the recipient for reading your email. Then, you could write, “Thank you for your time,” or something along those lines. Finally, always make sure to sign your full name at the end of the email. Some programs allow you to customize an automatic signature, which could include other information such as your phone number and office address.

 

By following these three easy steps, you can give your email the best possible chance to stand out amongst the countless others.

-Eddie Godino

 

Photo Credit: rawpixel.com Aerial view of woman using computer laptop and a smartphone on wooden table via photopin (license)

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Why You Shouldn’t Shy Away From Opportunity

 

Making decisions with long-term consequences is scary. Choosing to make a big change to one’s life or keep things the same are both hauntingly ambiguous options. Some opportunities are too easily swayed by irrational fear, while others are obvious answers. But for the ones that seem to shake us to the core, even if they are great opportunities, it sometimes takes a little more convincing for commitment. For those indecisive individuals with their heart and heads in conflict about what chances to take, there are many reasons you shouldn’t shy away from opportunity.

Being nervous for new changes in your life is normal. For people who are especially nervous about their life decisions, sometimes the easiest option is to just go for it. Committing to a choice and then seeing how it plays out can help make scared people more familiar with being uncertain. No one is certain of anything in life, so why not get comfortable with feeling a little ambiguity now and then?

Taking a chance on an opportunity even if you’re afraid could also be great if you end up loving the choice you made. We’ve all heard the sayings, “If you don’t try, you’ll never know,” or, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and even, “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” As cheesy as they are, those sayings are true. You might really love the decision to commit to a new opportunity, but if you never take that chance then you’ll never know. Your fears about what if it doesn’t work out are valid, but what if it does?

On the other hand, if you take an opportunity and find out you absolutely hate it, that’s all right! You tried something and realized that it’s not for you. Finding out the things you dislike are just as important as finding the things you love. It’s good experience to figure out what doesn’t work for you, and that opportunity may lead you to some new discoveries about yourself and what you truly want to be doing.

Sticking out an opportunity you chose can also help you learn new things. Even though your new job might require you to travel more than you intended, you might become a master in efficiently navigating airports. Or, if you decided to move to a new city, you might learn the best way to move a couch up to the 9th floor of an apartment building without an elevator.

In the end, regardless of whether you loved it or hated it, taking one opportunity might welcome new opportunities as well. So even if you didn’t love the opportunity you took initially, you may meet someone or learn something that can open new doors and welcome new experiences in the future.

Any big opportunity presents pros and cons, but the openness to new experiences may also play a role in your decision. Despite your apprehension to take a chance on new opportunities, fear shouldn’t nudge you away. Taking new opportunities is nerve-racking, but a lot of good can come out of it, even if it’s not the way you expected!

-Brianna Cochran

 

Photo Credit: marcoverch Every change is a chance via photopin (license)

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How to Start a Mini-Garden ANYWHERE!

A few months ago my housemate and I decided to dedicate a corner of our house to a garden. We live in a small loft apartment with about 70% of the day’s sun beaming over our house; the sun’s rays just slightly missing our windows. We get 5 hours of direct sunlight into our living room every morning. That brief amount of sunlight in the life of plants who thrive off of sun rays was just enough to give life to a beautiful garden consisting of a variety of plants.

Starting an indoor garden is easier than you would expect. All you need is an empty cardboard egg cartoon, a few packets of seeds (which you can find various kinds of in the dollar store. We found ours for 25 cents a pack!), soil ($10 a bag in our local supermarket, which yielded plenty for our garden), water, and sun. After you have gathered all your items what you’ll need to do is find the sunniest spot in your space. Dedicate a section of the spot to only your plants. All we needed was our windowsill and a small 12 in. by 12 in. table.

Next, simply divide your egg cartons into three sections, four spaces each, dedicated to three kinds of seeds. We used oregano, parsley, and marigolds. Depending on the kind of seed you have decided to plant, you could see sprouts as early as a week, to up to four weeks.

Patience is an essential virtue to have when starting a garden from seeds. It took us three tries with three different egg cartoons to finally see lasting results. With a garden you will learn that plants, like all life forms, are resilient. The most challenging plant we grew was lettuce. Six months passed since the initial sprout and the lettuce has since dried out and regrew at least four times.

Gardening is an experiment, teaching you valuable lessons about how we nurture and how nature does its job with grace and relentless strength. Since starting a garden I have learned the most valuable lesson of all. Plants want to grow. They will seek what they need and communicate with their caregiver what it is that they need.

All in all, do not be hesitant to start a garden if you are unsure about sunlight, your ability to care for a living thing, or space. Gardens, like us, will always find a way to live. Start with simple plants like marigolds, oregano and basil. I have found that herbs and flowers are the kindest plants to start with and the most rewarding because you can enjoy their visual beauty and use them in your cooking!

Once you begin to see your garden come to life you can easily transport the egg cartons directly into a pot since the cartons will decompose on their own. In just a few weeks you will see the beginning of new life forming right before your eyes. In a few months, you will see a self-sustaining garden filled with the will to live and the ability to enhance your life - even if it is just by enhancing a simple egg omelet!

-Samantha Garcia

 

Photo Credit: Photos by Samantha Garcia. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

 

 

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How to Add a Little More Reading to Your Life

Life is busy. We often find ourselves winding down our day thinking of all the things we did and the things we have to do tomorrow. But how many times have you told yourself you should start reading more yet struggle to find the time? One of the best ways to start anything is to start small and gradually. Slipping a little more reading into your life is no exception.

One of the very first activities of our day (or at least usually is, if we can manage) is eating breakfast. If you’re someone who eats breakfast peacefully solitary, try spending some time reading the newspaper, or a poem, or even just a page from the book you’ve been meaning to start. Reading can also be incorporated into any other time you’re eating as well.

However, if you’re usually eating with family or eating with a significant other, you can designate reading time with them instead. Carving out reading time for your home to settle in with a book can be a great way to get others onto your ambition to read more. Try persuading your family or significant other to agree to read for 20 minutes before you start to prepare dinner or after you’ve eaten. Getting others on board will also help motivate you to stay on track and continue your reading quest.

Another time of day you could afford some reading is while you’re working out. Reading on the stationary bike or walking on the treadmill definitely requires some coordination, but can be just as easy as watching the TV mounted to the gym wall.

You can also swap the screen for a book while watching TV at home on your couch. Binge watching your favorite show is always tempting, but it’s an equally good time to read. If you just can't give up the show and you're watching something that has commercials, especially the same commercials you’ve seen five times already, you can always opt to read during them. Since sporadic bursts of reading between TV may make the flow of reading a bit challenging, it might be best to read non-fiction or short articles that can be finished in little time or easy to come back to without forgetting the context.

You can also read while you wait. If your day is busy with hurry-up and wait kinds of activities, like waiting for meetings, picking kids up from school, or waiting for your train, there is always a little time to squeeze in a page or two.

Finally, one of the most convenient times to read is right before bed. When you get in bed, you’ve made it! You have completed your day and have resigned to rest for the night. The down time before you sleep can be used to read a chapter of a book, but if you’re too tired and sleepy for a chapter, reading just a page a night can make a dent.

If you’re someone who finds it hard to stick to one book or other reading for long periods of time, keeping multiple books around can help keep the reading going, even if it’s not from the same book. Switching between books that hold your interest can help make reading less of a chore and more fun. Additionally, having a physical stack of books lying around can be motivation to pick them up more often!

Reading is an easy fix for any chance you have time to kill! The best way to read more is to have something you’d like to read handy, so if keeping a book in your bag, in the car, by the couch, by your bed, or in your office seems do-able, try it out! With the digital version of books, magazines, and newspapers, interesting reading material is never far from reach. Whether if you love the feel of a paperback in your hands or if you love the convenience of a kindle or smartphone, find the sorts of material you like to read and keep them with you!

-Brianna Cochran

Photo Credit: paologmb reading via photopin (license)

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Recipe Corner: Homemade Strawberry Jam (Kid Friendly)

The summer months are a great time to enjoy the freshly harvested fruit. You can stock up on delicious strawberry jam for the rest of the summer and not have to worry about buying the high-fructose corn syrup, factory-made, store-bought option. Once you see how easy it is to make your own delicious jam, all the store-bought options won’t seem as appealing!

Imagine starting your day with a breakfast crafted by you and your kids. You put the bread in the toaster. The bread is warm and toasted. As the jam melts over the bread the sweet rich scents enchant your senses. You and your kids are now ready to go for the day knowing your stomachs are full and hearts are happy.

Most jam recipes call for pectin, an added preservative that increases the shelf-life of the jam. However, this recipe does not require pectin. The jam yield in this recipe should last you about one to two months, if you have not eaten it all by then!

 

Prep Time: 10 minutes. Cook: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

2 Cups of Halved Strawberries
1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
1 Cup of Granulated Domino Sugar
1 Teaspoon of Cinnamon
1 Canning Mason Jar

 

Directions:

Place a plate in the freezer before cooking. The plate will be used later on to check for consistency.

In addition to the plate, while the mixture is cooking, heat up the canning jar either by running under hot water or submerging in heated water.

In a wide bowl, stem and halve strawberries. Lightly mash strawberries for desired thickness. The more mashed the strawberries are the more uniform the jam will turn out.

Pour the strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium-sized saucepan on low heat. Stir well to ensure all the ingredients have been mixed together. Do a quick taste test; add more lemon juice, cinnamon, or sugar to liking. (Be wary, the jam grows stronger in taste as it sets!)

Once the sugar has dissolved and the jam starts bubbling, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir continuously and maintain a rolling boil. After 20 minutes, check if the jam is ready by placing a spoonful of the mixture on the cold plate. Let it sit for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Run a finger through the mixture while tilting the plate, if the mixture resists running back onto itself your jam is ready to be canned!

Immediately pour the mixture into a heated jar and tightly seal the top. If you desire, place the closed container upside down on a cloth and cover. Otherwise flip the container upside down. Let it set for 24 hours.

Your jam is ready to eat!

-Samantha  Garcia

 

Photo Credit: Michel_Rathwell Strawberries via photopin (license)

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Finding Your Voice Through Writing

Our words, thoughts, and feelings reassure us that what we experience is real. The popular saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is great for thickening our skin in the face of a bad reputation, a bully, or a difficult conversation. However, our words hold immense power. They are our main form of communication. So it’s important that we narrow in on who we are and bring ourselves into our writing. We put ourselves into the clothes we wear, the car we drive, and the job or career we work, so why not into our writing?

Despite common belief, you do not need to be a professional writer to be a good writer. What makes a good writer is someone who is honest with himself, someone who is unafraid to put herself into the words she writes. Now, not every profession allows such leniency or creativity. However, there are a few ways to put yourself into the words you write, regardless of your profession.

  1. Sentence Structure. Notice how you write. Do you write in long flowery sentences or do you prefer short, brief, succinct sentences? This can be one way to find your writing signature. Authors play with their sentence structure all the time. A long sentence can mean you enjoy drawing out ideas. You like creating images for your audience that captivate and intrigue them. A short sentence can say you like getting straight to the point. You don’t leave anything out but you also don’t add anything more. This can be a way to let your audience know what kind of person you are.
  2. Visual Appeal. When you write a memo, post, text message, or paper do you find them to look long and bulky or short and narrow? This can let your audience know if you’re a long-winded writer or like to balance things out with short, brief paragraphs. Both are okay, but the key to bringing your voice into your writing is to be able to mindfully be aware of the kind of writer you are. If you’re like me and enjoy long bulky paragraphs, when someone asks you to write something, you’re aware of that and can either play it up or tone it down.
  3. Word Choice. The last two options pertain to the more visual, how you may look on paper. However, word choice focuses more on how you sound on paper. The words you choose say a lot about who you are. Do you like to challenge your audience? Do you like to make things sound conversational?

These are all things you can look for next time you find yourself writing. Most importantly, however, is to remember that your voice is who you are. Never sell yourself short. The words and wisdom you share can have lasting impacts on those who listen.

-Samantha Garcia

 

Photo Credit: rawpixel.com Aerial view of computer laptop on wooden table via photopin (license)

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Making Friends in the Office

New jobs can be exciting, but being the “new person” not so much. Being new in the workplace can be hard at first, especially if you’re not the most outgoing person. Since making new office friends doesn’t always happen right away, here are some tips to help get you started.

 

By far one of the easiest gestures is to smile at your coworkers and introduce yourself. It may seem silly, but unless you signal to others that you are open to socializing they could just as easily mistake you as a passing visitor.

Once you’ve established some acknowledgement, you can start to reach out and ask them if they’re interested in getting lunch together. Since you’re new, you could always ask for recommendations of places close by and extend an invitation to some of your peers. Lunch is a great way to learn a little more about your coworkers and allow them to get to know you a little better too!

Even without lunch, chatting with coworkers or making small talk to figure out common interests is helpful in getting more comfortable. An easy topic for finding common interests is asking how their day is going, or asking for suggestions for things like places to eat, books, or shows to watch. People love to talk about themselves and the things they like!

Once you find common interests, organize things that might be fun to do together, like a book club, a watch party for the Grammy’s, wine night, or an office soccer team. The best way to start being friends with people in your office is to be friendly, and at the very least smile. Most people will respond positively!

-Brianna Cochran

Photo Credit: caribb Breaking out via photopin (license)

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How A Good Author Can Improve Your Life

Who is your favorite author?

That can be a tough question for a lot of reasons. Maybe you love to read and struggle to pick just one. Maybe you are not a big reader and struggle to even think of one. Or maybe you just never even pay attention to the authors at all.

However, one of the best things about reading, beyond the content, is being able to dive into the mind of the person writing the novel, poem, short story, and more. The little glimpse of the inside of their mind that walks you through the words on the page. Authors are sharing a part of themselves with you when you read their words, and a good author can improve your life.

A good author can inspire you. Sometimes phrases or sentences strike a chord in you that make you feel like someone is explaining life to you, or at least understands the human condition. Other times, the message or plot of a novel can drag you through an emotional, intellectual, spiritual roller coaster and connect with you so strongly it’s as if the author is writing to you personally. A good author can move you, motivate you, or encourage you simply by creating words on a page for you to read.

And the best part about novels is that you’ll always be able to come back to it. Authors provide us with words we can always come back to. One of the most comforting things is knowing that the author's words will always be there to read over again, glean something new from, and still remain there should you ever want to return to them.

If you like what an author has written, then there’s usually more to read by that author. By finding one author you really love you can expand your library and read more by that author. Whether or not you love the other pieces they’ve written, it can help bring you to new ideas of what to read.

Finding a great author can also lead you down other roads of exploration. If you become interested in the life of the person you’ve been reading, discovering an author that’s piqued your interest can give you a history lesson too. Finding out more about the life of the author, the time period they lived, and what motivated them to write what they did can be fascinating and lead to interesting discoveries.

Authors are truly allowing you to look into windows of their souls and sometimes you get lucky and find one you love. Good authors make lasting impressions beyond their words, they make themselves a piece of your own identity and have the ability to improve your life.

-Brianna Cochran

 

Photo Credit: TaylorB90 #280 via photopin (license)

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Book Corner: This Is Not A Love Letter

 

Hate. Violence. Love. Loss. Fear. Guilt. Forgiveness. Depression. Racism. Teenage Years.
Be ready to journey through it all!

"This is not a love letter...
So don't get all excited for nothing. Maybe I should write you one, to go with all the letters you've written me and folded into perfect little airplanes. But I never wrote you one before, and it would be seriously bad luck to start now.
Chris. Where are you? How did you not come home last night?
I don't care where you went or what you're doing; I just want to know if you're okay. We all do. I mean, who does this? I'm starting to feel kind of weird. Desperate, if you want to know the truth. It's like when I get a mosquito bite. You're always telling me to leave it alone, but I can't stop itching until it bleeds. Right now you're my mosquito bite. Isn't that romantic?
I thought I'd write and let you know what we're doing to find you. Maybe it'll help me figure out where you are. So until you turn up, this is an account. I know. That's the unsexiest word ever. But if you want a sexy love letter, you're going to have to come back home and get it."

 

And so begins this poignant new story by award-winning author, Kim Purcell. This Is Not A Love Letter follows high school senior, Jessie, in the mystery of her boyfriend's disappearance. As one of the only black kids in their town, Chris dealt with his share of hate and violence. Is it possible that something horrible happened to this popular and talented boy? What really happened?

Purcell doesn't shy away from anything. This young adult novel is a candid glimpse into one teenager's life as she writes about all the events happening around her as her world comes crashing down, taking the reader along for all the ups and downs. I was pulled into this book from page one and was swept away by Purcell's honest writing and Jessie's relentless search for the truth. There are so many things happening in the world today that are hard to understand. It was refreshing to see a book that takes a brave step in opening up that world for its young readers.

While it does tackle some heavy topics, it doesn't throw anything in your face. There are no lectures; there is no "After School Special" feel to it. There's no sickeningly sweet life lesson attached. It's just life. Things are what they are and you either learn from it and adjust your own life accordingly, or you don't. We all have choices in life on how we deal with what is presented before us and on how we interact with the people around us. Everyone has their own secrets and struggles - no one is exempt. It's how you choose to survive that defines you.

This tender, coming-of-age story will pull on your emotions in all the right ways. I highly recommend for teenagers and adults alike!

 

This Is Not A Love Letter by Kim Purcell
Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group
On Sale Now
Suggested ages: 14+

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photos Copyright (c) Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

 

 

 

*Silverpen Productions, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.*

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Things to Do For Your Health That Are Easy to Forget or Overlook

These days, it seems everyone is so busy and caught up in their own lives that it can be easy to forget even the simplest actions that help us look and feel our best. Don’t forget these crucial steps for peak health and wellness, and make sure to adhere to them every day:

 

  • Fit in time for active walking and movement throughout the day. When all you’ve ever known is a sedentary life of sitting down at school all day, working a desk job, or unwinding on a couch, it’s easy to forget how crucial a little movement in our day is. Find ways to incorporate walking and being active even into your school or work. Take the stairs, park in a further parking spot, walk to any and all accessible and safe destinations, volunteer to run an errand at work that requires moving throughout the office, etc.

 

  • Take a breather. With work, school, and the everyday stresses of a busy modern life, it’s easy to forget to give yourself a break and time to breathe. Remember that small breaks are good for your health - they ensure you don’t overwork yourself and become too stressed out, and they’re also great for relaxation. Try some breathing exercises, meditation or yoga, or just take a minute to yourself. If your work involves a lot of computer screens, maybe incorporate a conversation with another person or a walk outside into your break. It’s important to interact and look at something real outside of a computer screen when your technology is busy soaking up your energy all day. No matter how much work you have to do, you always have time to put your health first, regroup, and refresh with a quick break. Your body and mind will thank you, and you’ll be more productive in the end.

 

  • Protect yourself from the sun. So many people walk around every day exposing themselves to the sun’s harmful rays and won’t think twice about it. Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and clothing are great ways to protect yourself all year round - not just during the summer! Find a moisturizer with SPF in it and use it every day on your face. Use sunglasses to shield your eyes and the skin around your eyes, one of the most prone areas to skin cancer. It’s important to wear sunscreen and sunglasses and be mindful of your time in the sun all year.  This is not only for the health benefits to the look and feel of your skin, but to protect yourself from skin cancer; a disease that is often overlooked when a person thinks they aren’t at risk because they “don’t sunburn.” Everyone is at risk, regardless of skin tone!

 

  • Start seeing water as your main drink. We all know how important water is; after all, it keeps us alive. We also have heard plenty of times the tropes about how much water we all should be drinking each day. While these recommendations might fluctuate, it’s still not a bad idea to make water your main drink of choice in order to get the proper amounts. It’s easy to forget to meet your daily amount when so many other options are out there: coffee, juice, tea, etc. We think we’re staying hydrated when we choose these drinks instead of water to accompany our meals, but this is how we fall behind on meeting our water recommendations. When you reach for water in place of these drinks, you’re much more likely to reap all of water’s benefits to the fullest extent. If you can’t give up other liquids, at least try pairing them with a glass of water each time you’re craving those different drinks.

 

  • Go to sleep! This is another one of those concepts, like drinking lots of water, we’ve heard plenty about and know it’s good for us and that we should be trying to do better at it. But now is the time to actually do better at going to sleep at a reasonable hour and getting a full eight or so hours! Set an alarm on your phone not only for when you need to get up, but also when you should go to bed. Don’t overcompensate on the weekends for a lack of sleep during the week; try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each night and get the same amount of hours each night. Try to avoid frequent naps as they can interrupt your sleep cycle and lead to grogginess. Avoid things like coffee and exercise late at night, as they can hinder your ability to get to sleep. And finally, avoid “all-nighters” at all costs. They do not help you accomplish more of your work and they only lead to worse performance the next couple of days.

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Raimond Klavins | Artmif.lv Yoga Intensiv 2016 Yantra.lv via photopin (license)

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Are You Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes?

Sexism and the behavior between men and women have been under scrutiny lately, and there’s a need to reexamine behavior. One place where gender norms creep up is the workplace, because even though both men and women coexist together doesn’t mean equal treatment is insured. Sometimes, gender stereotypes are reinforced without even realizing it.

One of the subtlest ways gender stereotypes are reinforced is by determining who gets to talk during meetings. In a room full people, men tend to dominate the conversation more and don’t always realize that the women in the room are being ignored or skimmed over during the conversation. One of the reasons behind this is men have traditionally been in power in office spaces and people tend to give more attention to people like themselves. In this case, men in charge allowing other men to speak more and listening to their ideas over women.

Similarly, assertive women are often perceived as difficult to deal with and written off as bossy and uncooperative. However, men are expected to be assertive and take charge, and in contrast women are expected to be demure and communal. The expectation of gendered behavior influences our own perceptions of others causing us to be critical of the assertive woman despite our acceptance of the assertive man.

Additionally, men tend to receive more complex tasks in the office than women. By allocating more intricate tasks to men, women are rendered to less important, more menial job that underutilize their potential. If men are always asked to handle the difficult stuff, women will never get the chance to prove they can do it too.

In general, women are hired as secretaries more often than men. The problem is that a secretary is a traditionally feminine job, and by continuing to hire more women for that position, it is perpetuated as a feminine job and also leaves out qualified men who apply. Qualified men are excluded, and women are constrained to administrative office work instead of managerial positions.

Finally, maternity leave and paternity leave play a huge role in the way men and women are thought about in the workplace. Giving women paid maternity leave is important, but it’s also essential that men receive paternity leave as well. By providing only mothers with leave for childcare, we are reinforcing the gender stereotype that women should be the primary caretakers of children and that men should be the main breadwinners. However, there are a lot of fathers who take an active role in childcare and mothers that are main providers and it should be recognized by employers.

Although progress has been made towards gender equality in the workplace, there are many small ways gender stereotypes are reinforced that have lasting impacts. Everyone should aim to treat coworkers, and people in general, equally and respectfully and remember that gender stereotypes can be defied with our everyday interactions.

-Brianna Cochran

 

Photo Credit: franchiseopportunitiesphotos insurance claims adjuster meeting with a client via photopin (license)

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Benefits of Working With a Team

Do you need to collaborate efficiently with a group in your workplace? How do you ensure that everyone involved benefits from group work and is able to achieve the objective at hand?

Team projects can break your company or they can be a breakthrough for your company. As a college soccer player, I had been on a team for the majority of my life, but it wasn’t until college that I realized how great working with a team is, especially off the field. Beyond the actual sports aspect of my team, I learned a lot about the dynamics of a team that can be applied to any group collaboration. Some of the best life skills I’ve learned have come from my experience working with others. Here are a few tips to help make any team experience a great one!

 

  • Cooperation. This is one of the most important skills I've developed. Working with others requires compromise, in order to work together successfully it is crucial to acknowledge that you will not always get what you want. A group of people working towards one goal will often need to devise a plan of action to reach their goal and creating a plan means a lot of give and take between team members. A team won’t get anything done if team members are unwilling to give up on some of their own ideas for the betterment of the group.

 

  • Clear objectives. When working with others it is extremely important to make a clear path for action with deadlines so everyone is on the same page. Making clear objectives for each team member also helps eliminate confusion and will help each team member understand where to start working.

 

  • Handling different personalities. Collaborating with different personalities can be challenging, especially when you don’t “click” with every team member. However, it is important to remember that not every team member is going to be easy to work with and that dealing with personalities that don’t always mesh is part of team work.

 

  • Responsibility to others. A major aspect of working with a team is the ability to rely on others to do their part, but in return, it is just as important to make sure you do yours. Holding yourself accountable to your team members requires you to take responsibility for your actions and how they will affect the team.

 

  • Expanding your network. Although team members may not always be your best friends, they can be helpful resources for future projects. After working together, you’ve hopefully made a connection with your team members that will allow you to have a reciprocal helping relationship in the future.

 

  • Constructive criticism. One of the best parts of working with others is the multiple perspectives team members can offer. Although constructive criticism is sometimes challenging to both receive and deliver, it can be beneficial to hear what kinds of advice people have to offer when you’re unsure of something.

 

After being a part of a team for so many years, I’ve had to hone these skills for the success of everyone involved. But these skills have continued to be useful in a variety of settings, including academics, general workplace manners, interviews, and any professional interactions I’ve encountered.

I would not have had the opportunity to learn these skills and benefit from the help of others had I not been working with a team. Though working with a team can be difficult, especially with a “I like to do things my way” mentality, there is something to be learned from working with others.

-Brianna Cochran

 

Photo Credit: Photo by Emily Mendes. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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Self-Care Is Not Selfish

You’re run down, you’re tired. You have a million things going on and it feels like time is working against you.

Maybe you’re feeling drained mentally, emotionally, and as a consequence, physically. But calling out of work to take care of your mental health seems to carry a stigma – selfish. Tending to your mental health is just as important as physical health. So why does taking care of your mental health seem more unreasonable than taking care of your physical health?

Recently, the term “self-care” has made its way into popular vocabulary. But it’s hard to give a definition to self-care because it can mean different things to different people. The term self-care generally includes activities or lifestyle changes that help alleviate stress to maintain positive feelings towards oneself and their life. Although self-care strategies differ between individuals, the term can be thought of as a handful of characteristics of what it is and what it is not.

 

Self-care is…

  • Taking responsibility for your well-being. You know yourself best, so when you start to feel yourself needing to step back and take a breath, you’re able to do just that.

 

  • Setting healthy goals. Taking care of your mental health includes creating goals that are do-able and contribute to a positive outlook on life. Eventually, these goals will become a healthy routine that you won’t have to devise ways to recover from.

 

  • Being realistic and honest. There is only so much time in the day and you can’t keep eating power bars for every meal because you’re rushing from meetings to carpools to the gym. Understanding your own needs and how much time you’re willing to carve out for yourself will help relieve that run-down feeling.

 

  • Self-love. It is important to reflect upon yourself with compassion and remember that in addition to your high self-expectations, you must also be kind to yourself.

 

  • Personal growth. Self-care is not only sustaining a balanced life, but also changing and learning for the sake of betterment. This is not to say someone must change or learn something new to partake in self-care, but maybe taking the time to learn a new skill or become a habitual afternoon-walker could create positive changes in one’s life.

 

Self-care is NOT…

  • Being receptive to your needs without the influence of a reward. The activity itself is rooted in positive motivation, rather than a motivation for social gains. It is not self-centered to take care of your own health.

 

  • Self-indulgent. Changing part of one’s daily routine is not always what one wants, but it might be what they need for a healthier lifestyle. Deciding to work on personal fitness for health’s sake might be grueling and definitely not what one might call “indulgent.”

 

  • Just a benefit for you. By taking care of your own feelings and being self-aware of your choices, you’re allowing yourself to live your daily life the best you can. When you tend to your own feelings you’re able to interact and relate to others with compassion and understanding as well.

 

Despite the connotations “self-care” carries, people who utilize it when necessary should be met with compassion, like any other person with a sickness would. Although the bubble bath-taking self-care strategies may seem lavish, everybody has their own approaches to combatting everyday stressors. We should encourage people to take care of their mental health and applaud those who are self-aware enough to do so when they need it.

-Brianna Cochran

 

Photo Credit: wuestenigel Meditieren / Meditation via photopin (license)

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How Employers Can Make An Internship Most Useful For College Students

 

When a college student has an internship in their field of interest, they’re probably just happy to be there and be getting experience regardless of their actual tasks. But if you’re an employer looking to make an internship most useful for that student, here are some tips on how they can get the most out of their internship:

 

  • Allow the intern to see what a typical day looks like in your position.
    This can take many forms and differs depending on the job and field, but a few ideas include bringing them into any meetings they would be allowed in, giving them a hands-on task that would be applicable to the field, or just chatting with them at lunch or on a break about what it is you do. Chances are that college student is interning at this particular company because it relates to what they are studying and what they want to have as a career, and while they are probably just grateful to even be there no matter their tasks, it helps them see if this is what they truly want to do if they know what the job/field entails.

 

  • Challenge them.
    Let your interns know what it’s like to work under high-pressure or take on a daunting task. Internships are a learning opportunity. If the intern is debating whether or not they want to make a career out of this particular job or field, a challenge and how they handle it can help them make that decision about their true interest in the field. Even if the intern knows they have no future aspirations in the particular field, a challenge in any work setting is a growing opportunity and lets them learn more about themselves and build problem-solving skills.

 

  • Make them show something for their work.
    Encourage weekly write-ups on what the intern did that week or something to be produced by the end of the internship about what they did and learned. This helps interns reflect on their tasks, how well they performed them, and if they need to be doing more. Task write-ups would also help them moving forward in landing future jobs and internships as they could clearly understand and verbalize what the past internship taught them and how what they did there would help them in their new desired position.

 

  • Encourage communication post-internship.
    If you liked your intern and thought they had a good work ethic and brought something successful to the position, one of the best things you could do for them after they leave is be open for communication. It would be encouraging for them to know their boss was pleased with their work and helpful if you were there to answer possible future questions they have if the need arises. Especially if the intern is looking to pursue the field, you could be a great resource for them both in and outside of the office.

-Hannah Kotler

 

 

Photo Credit: 062 via photopin (license)

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Happy Thanksgiving!

We wish everyone in our Silverpen Productions Family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

We are so thankful for you and the wonderful stories you have allowed us to be a part of this past year, and hope that you and yours have a successful (whatever your version of success is!) year ahead.

What are you thankful for this year?

 


Background Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

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How to Spark Writing Ideas

Let’s face it, writing is hard. No matter if you write for a living or just need to get through some assignments for school or work, finding the right combination of words and transferring them to the page can be taxing. Next time you find yourself taking a step back from your writing or needing a break, do something that will help spark ideas rather than getting sucked into a world of procrastination and distraction.

 

  • Get outside. Stepping away from the computer screen and breathing some fresh air is not only a generally good activity to do for your health, but also for your writing. Take a walk, hike, meditate, go running, or do anything in the outdoors that you find peaceful and quiet. Sometimes when we’re writing we can forget about the outside world as we are so determined to get the assignment done or make something just right. Taking a look around you and seeing nature and real things outside of your Microsoft Word draft will help clear your head so you’re refreshed for when you go back to writing.
  • Talk to others. I used to think “a-ha” moments were something only reserved for television and movies, but then I realized even the simplest conversations with others can sometimes lead you to your next idea or push you past your latest roadblock in your writing. Whether you ask a person direct questions about your writing or just have a chat about how their day has been, anything can spark a new idea. When you step away from your writing, you leave behind the mindset that was having trouble solving a particular problem or couldn’t get past a part of the writing process. When you allow yourself to have conversations with others, any number of mundane conversation points can spark an idea and take you back into your world of writing with a new frame of mind.
  • Take a shower. A lot of people often say that their best ideas come to them in the shower. This is probably because there is very little hindering your thought process - no technology, no distractions - you’re practically forced to think. The sense of cleaning and renewal are also entwined with showering, and most people relate to the feeling of stepping out brand new when they’re done showering, so you can emerge renewed and ready to take on your writing again.
  • Go to sleep. If you have enough time to spare in your writing process to take a break like sleeping, do it. Dreams can be inspiring and full of ideas and the notion of “sleeping on it” helps you become removed enough from your writer’s block or hesitation that you can tackle the problem the next day with a better mindset.
  • Work on something else. Leave your writing behind for other brain-power activities. Sparking your mind in other ways can strengthen it overall. Solve a puzzle, do some reading, work on another assignment or problem, etc. Just get those neurons firing!

 

-Hannah  Kotler

 

 

Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley writing in the sun via photopin (license)

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What Literature Can Teach Us

No matter your feelings toward literature and reading, everyone at some point in their life has picked up a book and felt at least something. That’s because literature has the power to teach us countless lessons and information. Here are just a few things literature can teach us:

 

  • About ourselves. Books and the characters within them often hold a mirror up to the reader’s face, begging you to make comparisons and see part of yourself within some character. Relating to characters, questioning their motives, finding yourself angry at certain actions or any range of emotions you feel as you read teach you more about yourself. You are able to see parts of yourself, both the good and bad, in different characters and evaluate why you may have reactions to certain things, teaching you more about your behavior and likes or dislikes as a person.
  • About the human experience. Arguably the most important and prevalent lesson you can learn from literature has to do with the human experience. Reading a quote from a character and having found yourself thinking or saying those very words before, recognizing a fictional plot as a parallel to a point in history, or feeling a character’s same feelings based on similar experiences all deepen our understanding of the human experience. Even when exploring fictional, historical, or far off worlds that exist in literature, the ability to empathize or understand even a fraction of what the characters go through pulls us closer together as humans. Literature grants an equal playing field and allows people to project themselves into worlds they may never experience in real life; but at least they can know their feelings and experiences are not singular.
  • About other cultures and worlds. Books are great tools to use to learn about customs and ways of life completely different than your own. Considering the amount of research an author does and their ability to delve into a particular world, time, or place with rich description, one can learn a lot about other cultures. Historical fiction obviously works best for this, but even completely made-up stories take inspiration from reality on some level.
  • How to write. Any good writer will often cite books as their primary teacher. Reading literature will help you learn style, punctuation, grammar, plot, description, and everything else. Absorbing as much good literature as possible helps you find your place as a writer and offers endless sources of inspiration for how to craft sentences, characters, and whole entire worlds to play in.

 

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Maggi_94 Bibliothek am Steintor-Campus via photopin (license)

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What’s Behind the Pumpkin?

 

The American word “pumpkin” originated from the Greek word Pepon, which means large melon. The word gradually changed through the years by the French, English, and then Americans to the pumpkin we know today. It is believed that pumpkins and squash originated in ancient America, even before the prevalent use of corn. Based on early documents, it appears that pumpkins were a major source of survival for the Pilgrims, especially during the winter months. Pumpkins were first documented as served at the second Thanksgiving celebration.

There are multiple theories as to the origins of what we now know as jack-o-lanterns and our modern Halloween celebrations. Early jack-o-lanterns from the Irish and Scottish were actually carved from potatoes and turnips for their Celtic celebrations. The English used beets and added lit lumps of coal inside the hollowed-out vegetables. As the European immigrants settled in to America, the tradition transitioned to the better-suited pumpkins.

The use of pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving was not the only thing that seems to have originated with the Celtic tradition. In fact, it seems that our Halloween traditions in general can be traced back to early Celtic celebrations. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was an ancient Celtic festival from over 2000 years ago. At the time, their new year was celebrated on November 1, marking the end of summer and harvest with the beginning of the dark and cold winter that was usually associated with human death. They believed that the evening before the new year was when the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead were blurred and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

The Celts believed that these spirits could damage their crops and cause trouble in general. They also believed that their presence made it easier for the Celtic priests to make predictions about the future. They built large bonfires and the people would gather to make sacrifices to the Celtic gods, usually burning crops and animals. They wore costumes out of animal heads and skins and would attempt telling each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their own personal hearth fires from the bonfire to help protect their homes and families from the coming winter.

After the Roman empire conquered the Celtic lands, the celebration began to incorporate some of the Roman traditions. The Romans had two fall festivals - Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and a day to honor Pomona, a Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol is the apple and this likely is the background of the popular tradition of bobbing for apples. By the 9th century, Christianity was spreading into the Celtic lands and the Catholics blended their celebrations of All Souls' Day and All Saints Day (also was called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, derived from the Middle English word Alholowmesse and meant All Saints' Day). The night before, the traditional night of Samhain, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and eventually morphed into the Halloween we now know.

In America, while Halloween was fairly common in the southern colonies, it was initially very limited in colonial New England due to the rigid Protestant beliefs. But as other European ethnic groups came to America and meshed with the Native Americans, the festivities began to expand, and included parties, fortune telling, dancing, singing, ghost stories, and mischief-making. They also included the Irish and English traditions of dressing in costumes (mainly to avoid being recognized by the ghosts that crossed over into our world) and would go door to door asking for food or money, which evolved into the trick-or-treat custom we know today.

 

 

Want to learn more about the origins of our Halloween traditions? Check out what history.com has to say.

Want to learn more about pumpkins, squash, and how to pick the perfect one? Here's some great info on All About Pumpkins!

 

Background Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo / mythja

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#MeToo – Power in Social Media

Perhaps you've noticed this #MeToo campaign flying around social media right now.

I think pretty much every woman I know would agree with me that they are not surprised by the sheer number of me too's they're seeing on their newsfeed. What would be surprising is if there were many people that could write "not me" instead. Those of us who have been a girl all our lives know that we are under a constant state of scrutiny, criticism, harassment, and unfortunately for some of us, yes even assault. This is sadly nothing new. So why does it take a media storm about Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein to bring it to light? Just because "that's the way things are?"

If we were to look for a silver lining in all this, at least it's that the recent news (and yes, political events, too) are causing women to say, "Enough!" It's time to make a change. It's time to take control.

Any of my regular readers and clients will already know that I have a definite love/hate relationship with social media. There are a lot of reasons I hate it and feel it is causing serious issues in our society and businesses. But there are some definite pros to it, and the #metoo campaign, even with the issues and complaints surrounding it, is one of them.

It raises awareness.

To me, the surprise isn't the plethora of me too's in the newsfeed; it's the reactions of the men in my newsfeed and the conversations this campaign has brought up.

I've seen rebuttal posts saying they shouldn't have to out themselves as survivors of harassment or assault, because men have always seen the gendered violence happening around them and it shouldn't be just our burden as women to speak up. We are not the ones that need to change or become more aware. And if men need to see a huge threshold of survivors to  "get it," then they will never truly "get it." They say that the focus shouldn't be on the victims, and it should be on the assailants and enablers - that's the change we need to see. Survivors don't owe anyone their story and if they don't post a #metoo, it doesn't necessarily mean they haven't been through harassment either.

And you know what? I agree.
To a point. And here's why.

I am proud to say that I know a lot of men that I consider to be well-educated, intelligent, and fairly enlightened men. They help out around the house, they take a large part in their kids' lives, they think that gender inequality is wrong, and they treat women with respect.

What has surprised me is the surprise they've shown in response to the #metoo. I've seen several of my male friends posting that while they knew it was a problem, they didn't realize the magnitude. I've seen some express shock over how many of their "intelligent, well-educated" female friends spoke out. I've seen some express thanks, because they have learned a lot, and I've seen some of them posting articles that have popped up in men's magazines on things like what needs to come next (men - do something) and what to do if you see a female coworker being harassed.

It's a start.

For those women who have been traumatized does it seem too little too late? Sure. But it's a start.

The whole point was to raise awareness and to start a conversation - to spur action. And that is what's happening. For those who are survivors of assault, it is raising traumatic feelings and fear. Some don't want to speak out because they don't want questions. Some are writing #metoo anyway. (Men - here's another tip for you: Don't ask for details. They don't need to talk about it.)

Many women have "only" been victims of harassment in terms of degrading comments, catcalls, unwanted arms around the shoulder, hugs, kisses, etc. It doesn't mean they are completely traumatized (sadly, this is common grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it daily occurrences for many women), but know that it happens - often - and we don't like it.

And it's sad that many of these women are hesitant to write #metoo because they feel that their situation is comparatively "not that bad" and they don't want to take away from the women who have been through much worse hell.

See how society has warped this situation?

Women are banding together to support each other and want to stop the worst violence. But NONE of this behavior is ok. This should not be a part of everyday life in any way, shape, or form. Period. And yes, this campaign is bringing a lot of that up.

But you know what I've found interesting about all this?
The uncomfortable looks I've seen on men's faces when they talk to their friends and say, "Whaaaaaaa? I didn't know you ever had any issues...." Yes. Be uncomfortable. Be angry. Feel powerless. That is how many women feel every. single. day.

But then do something about it! Be mindful of your own actions and words towards women. Speak up if you see something. Don't just bury your head back in the sand. Stop just standing by passively as this happens to your wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend. Take action. You do have power. It can change.

Women have spoken up and taken the first step. What happens now?

I know that some of the comments I've seen are probably right - the people who are the main part of the problem, those guys that scoff at this type of stuff, unfortunately, they will probably never "get it," no matter what happens. But if this opens up the eyes of the other guys and makes them more aware and spurring them to action instead of passively standing by while this happens every day? That to me, seems like a win.

If they are more vigilant for their daughters and guide their sons and speak at the injustice, then maybe, just maybe, someday this will not be such a big issue. If it becomes more accepted to talk about this, to speak up, to be aware - maybe our children won't have this be a part of their everyday lives. Maybe #metoo can take on a whole new, positive connotation and women can finally walk down the street with a little more ease.

If that could happen, this could then truly have some meaning. But we need to remember that just expressing opinions online isn't going to actually change anything. It might raise awareness, but action - action is the only way to bring about true change.

So the question now remains, what are you going to do about it? What is the answer here? Perhaps that should be the next campaign - answering, #what next?

 

Photo Credit: Hugedé Loïc Aix via photopin (license)

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Calling All Teens & Tweens!

 

We have a couple of projects coming up that involve the young adult book market and we want to hear from the young adults that read!
This short survey only takes a few minutes and we would love your help. Please share this with any teens & tweens you know.

We look forward to reading your answers!

Send us a note for more info,
or find the survey here

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Why You Should Take a Writing Course in College

If you just graduated high school and are hoping to abandon all English classes and forms of writing while in college, think again. Here are some reasons why everyone should take a writing course in college.

 

You will most likely need writing in anything you do. No matter your future profession, the ability to communicate well is a necessary skill. From formal write-ups to casual emails and verbal networking, writing and communicating are unavoidable. Give yourself an edge by taking college writing courses so that you can continue to hone your skills over time. The more you write the better off you’ll be, so even if your schedule is filled with math classes, squeeze in that writing class.

Writing courses are a great way to get introduced to college-level work. There is a large difference between high school quality writing and college-level writing. Taking a writing course early on is a great way to introduce yourself to the new standards to which you will be held. The first college paper/essay you hand in will be a great learning experience, and your writing professor should only help you to get better over time and rise to your new expectations. Plus, the high demand of essays in the class should prepare you for the amount of work you will encounter in college and the work ethic you will need.

Writing courses will teach you basics you may not have learned in high school. A writing course will not only teach you how to write better, but also about sources, citations, constructing a strong argument, clarity, and more. You may think writing courses are just for learning how to use fancy words in a pretty way, but there are a lot more technical skills you will learn that are important all throughout college. High school writing classes are usually focused on structure (a persuasive essay versus an expository essay, the five-paragraph essay, etc.), but a college-writing course will actually teach you how to form a cohesive and convincing argument using proper sources and citations. These skills will come in handy in all courses.

You can probably tailor your writing course experience to your interests. If you’re still not convinced to take a writing course or are particularly against a “Writing 101” style class, see if your school offers writing-intensive courses or if a certain class in a different field involves a lot of writing. Look into what each class requires or talk with a professor about their courses. You don’t need to take a standard writing or English class to get a good writing experience; you may find a history class with a lot of essays or a science class with multiple papers throughout the semester. Each subject will offer different skills for your writing arsenal, but the experience is valuable nonetheless.

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Ikayama Geology Class via photopin (license)

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Family Summer Activites

As the summer continues, it can be easy to fall into a hole of boredom as you and the kids run out of ideas for things to do. Here are some fun family activities to try next time you can’t quite think of something.

 

  • Picnic. Not only is this a great way to come together for a meal, but you can also explore the outdoors together by going to a park, trail, or hiking spot for the picnic location. Expand on this by preparing the picnic food together and maybe trying a new recipe!

 

  • Movie night. There are tons of fun ways to do this classic activity in the summer. Find a drive-in theater nearby, use a projector and a wall outside, look for nearby venues like parks that host outdoor movie nights, find one playing on cable or Netflix, or just go to the theater!

 

  • Water-based activities. Of course the heat in the summer will make you want to flock to the nearest beach or pool, but an often more local option is water fun on rivers and lakes. See if you have places near you that offer kayaking, tubing, canoeing, swimming, or rafting.

 

  • Check out your town, city, or state’s hot-spots. Often when we’ve lived somewhere for so long, we overlook the many places around us that attract outsiders. What is listed on your town, city, or state’s tourist website? Maybe you have a museum, nature center, aquarium, or outdoor location that is particularly special to your place of living. Check out the local gems of your hometown or make a day of it and take a road trip elsewhere.

 

  • Farmer’s markets and food truck festivals. The summer is great for outdoor and food related events. Look into whether your town or neighboring ones have consistent farmer’s markets throughout the summer season. Larger cities also often host food truck festivals you could try.

 

  • Camping. While the weather is nice, why not take the family outdoors and live under the stars? Find local campsites and spend some old-fashioned fun roasting food on the fire, telling stories, and making the woods your new home. Not much for the rustic life? Set up a tent for the night in the backyard!

 

  • Competition-based activities. Have a friendly battle in the family by trying mini-golf, croquet, bocce, bowling, or board game night.

 

-Hannah Kotler

Photo Credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits Summer vacation via photopin (license)

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Recipe Corner: Blueberry Banana Smoothie

This smoothie recipe is very easy and helps start your day right with two different fruits. Plus, plenty of substitutions can be made to make it just right for you!

 

 

Ingredients:

1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)

1 banana (frozen or fresh)

1 cup milk (Almond or Coconut milk for vegan/dairy-free alternative. Almond Breeze brand unsweetened vanilla flavor used here.)

½ teaspoon agave nectar to sweeten

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup crushed ice

 

Directions:

Place ingredients in blender and blend until desired mixture and smoothness. This smoothie can be made thicker by adding more ice, using frozen fruit or using yogurt in place of or on top of the milk. Makes enough for one large cup and a little more left over!

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photos Copyright (c) Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

 

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How to Stay Motivated

 

We’ve all been there - late night piles of work, the feeling of procrastination overtaking your goals, and that feeling of wanting to give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do. Finding motivation can be hard. Here are five ways to stay on track:

 

  • Always look at the big picture.
    A lot of the time, finding motivation to do little tasks or larger stretches of work can be hard because they get lost in the overall goal. Try to remain clear on what it is you want to do and where you want to end up. These visions should be enticing and satisfying to you, so that you will be more motivated to complete the steps to get there.

    Whether it’s working hard at your current job to land an even better one or get a promotion, studying to eventually achieve the career or graduate school you want, or even cutting back on spending to save up for something you have always dreamed of, it’s more motivating to keep those larger and happier pictures in mind and work toward them than it is to think about doing unpleasant or monotonous tasks in singularity.

 

  • Have a clear path.
    While keeping your “big picture” goal in mind, map out how it is you’re going to get there. Reminding yourself of the overall goal is important, but it can also be scary to achieve if you don’t have clear steps in mind. Have something that you can revisit and make changes to in order to see your progress and feel like you are staying on track.

    Find what works for you! If you like crossing items off a list because it makes you feel like you’re accomplishing tasks, make a to-do list. If you don’t like having a list of every little detail you need to finish because it feels overwhelming, stick to just weekly or monthly goals to achieve in the course of the end goal. Or, if you just want to see what your goal looks like, make a physical representation (a diagram, map, etc.) of how you plan to go from point A to point B and so on to get where you want. Regardless of the method, you will stay motivated in the big picture if you have a clearer idea of how to achieve it in smaller steps.

 

  • Reward yourself.
    Once you’ve mapped out your goal and the steps to get there, make sure to keep yourself happy and interested by rewarding your progress. The first step in anything is normally the hardest, and once you get over that hurdle it can be easier to continue to take steps toward your end goal. But when tasks become difficult or you lose focus, use rewards as a way to stimulate motivation.

    The rewards don’t have to be counterproductive! Celebrate your progress by taking a short break filled with relaxation, spending time with someone you love, or enjoying a quality food or beverage. Don’t fall into a television or phone-watching hole and make your breaks worthwhile!

 

  • Manage your time by scheduling fake due dates. Procrastination often takes over when we know we have more time to do something. We find ourselves saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” because in our mind we still have tomorrow as an option (and a very doable one, at that!) Take this away by scheduling fake due dates and entering them into your calendar. If you act like something needs to be done at a certain date earlier than it actually should be done, you will act accordingly.

    If you have a pile of work on your desk that needs to be done by Friday, write down that it is due Wednesday. Keep this in mind and repeat this sentiment, so that Wednesday will stick in your head as the due date and you will act like it really is! And even if you procrastinate towards the fake due date you will have done more work by Wednesday than you originally would have if you always aimed to complete it by Friday.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    You don’t have to work toward your goals alone. If you are struggling, find the appropriate people to help you and don’t feel inferior for doing so. Even just asking for general life advice or smaller pointers will help you stay on track by including someone else in your goals. Often, once you’ve asked for help or advice, people will follow up on how things turned out. This alone will keep you motivated to keep working because you’ll have to give them answers or feel obligated to show progress when they check in with you!

-Hannah Kotler

Photo Credit: MorseInteractive Entrepreneur Macbook Pro via photopin (license)

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How To Have A Healthier Summer

 

Summer is officially here and while these may not be the months of cold weather flu season, that doesn’t mean your health goes to the wayside. Gear up for the warm weather with these tips!

 

  • Protect yourself from the sun. The summer is known for its sunny weather and it’s great to get outside and enjoy it, but make sure to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Always wear sunscreen for any outdoor activities (not just the beach!) Sunscreen is not only great for preventing skin cancer but also premature aging, spots, or skin discoloration. Not only that, but I think we all know how painful a sunburn can be! Commonly missed spots that still need protecting include your ears, neck, hands, and tops of your feet if you are in open-toed shoes. Also make sure to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and a hat to shield your face and protect your scalp (the top of your head can burn too!).

 

  • Eat on the lighter side. Summer is the perfect time to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into meals because a lot of them are in season. You can make healthy salads using in-season vegetables like arugula, cucumbers, bell peppers, and more. Fruits in season include cherries, blackberries, strawberries, melon, and plenty others that are great for including in breakfasts, as a snack on their own, or in a smoothie! And because of the weather you can grill rather than bake or fry lots of foods, more readily find farmer’s markets available near you, or even start your own garden!

 

  • Take advantage of the warm weather for exercise. The summer is a great time to enjoy fun workouts like hiking, bike riding, walking or running on trails, swimming, kayaking, and more! Staying healthy and active during the summer months is a lot easier and more fun because these activities don’t even feel like a workout. Plus, you get to explore beautiful places around where you live. Grab the family, some friends, or your pet and get outdoors!

 

  • Keep up with your health appointments. The summer is a great time to visit the doctor, dentist, or catch up on any check-ups that might have been pushed to the side during the school year. Those home from college should especially use the summer as a way to get in their yearly visits and vaccinations they may not have access to as easily at school.

 

  • Summer is a time for relaxation. Those in the workforce should take advantage of any vacation time they have to take a trip or at least have some “rest” days. It is vital to get outside to soak up the natural vitamin D as well as the restorative negative ions that nature provides (and that our computers, other electronics, and sitting all day zaps). Plus, breaks are important to your health as they offer a busy professional the opportunity to regroup, refresh, re-energize, and ultimately become more productive. If you can't get too far away from the office, make the most of the scheduled break times you have during the work day by getting outside and experiencing the summer weather, eating healthy foods, and recharging through restorative breathing or meditation!

 

Enjoy the summer and stay healthy!

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: bobobahmat 2017. Lviv. Ukraine via photopin (license)

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