Cross Your Heart: Four Healthy Promises to Make Today

Written on April 7, 2015 at 9:56 am , by

Despite all the negative headlines, there’s actually good news when it comes to the top health threat for men and women. “In the past decade, there’s been a dramatic drop in the death rate from cardiovascular disease,” says Alexandra J. Lansky, MD, director of the Yale Cardiovascular Clinical Research Program. Women, however, need to take special care when it comes to their hearts. “We still see an excess mortality in women,” laments Lansky. “We’ve come a long way in terms of early detection, education and therapies, but we still have a ways to go.” Here are four promises you can make to yourself to take better care of your ticker—today.

1. I will never delay a 911 call.
“Women tend to brush off their symptoms,” says Lansky. In fact, they wait longer to call emergency medical services than men do, according to a new study released by the American College of Cardiology. Women, on average, let an hour lapse before picking up the phone. Men averaged 45 minutes. “Fifteen minutes can make a massive difference,” explains Lansky. “If you’re in the middle of a heart attack and you delay by 15 minutes, you could go into cardiac arrest.” This tendency to wait before calling 911 is just one of several factors experts suspect contribute to women’s poorer outcomes with heart attacks. Save your own life by recognizing the warning signs and getting to a hospital ASAP.


2. I will eat better, bit by bit.
Listen, we know you’re not going to overhaul your—and your family’s—eating habits overnight. But could you commit to making one healthy change this week (like no more  soda in the house), another next week (eating fish twice a week) and so on? “When preparing meals, you want to go high protein and low carbohydrate,” suggests Lansky. “Skip the soda and get the sugar out of your diet as much as possible. Consuming excess sugar can lead to blood vessels going from nice and pliable—which you want—to hard and stiff—which you don’t.”

3. I will exercise, every single day.
We’re not talking about running 10K every morning, but how about clipping on a pedometer and getting your 10K steps in? “Any type of outdoor activity is key for you and your family to stay fit,” says Lansky. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, for example, lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

4. I will talk to my doctor.
When you head to your PCP for a visit, always ask if there’s anything you can do to improve not just your overall health but disease states you may be concerned about. For those with symptoms of heart disease, for example, there’s a new blood test that can help your doctor rule out obstructive coronary artery disease. It’s called the Corus CAD test. “It’s more accurate at excluding a severe blockage than a nuclear stress test,” says Lansky. “It’s a game-changer.”

While there’s always more we can do, these promises will get you—and your family—on the road to better health. “Women are in a unique position to impact so many people around them—husbands, children, parents,” says Lansky. “And a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing you can commit to.”

Alexandra J. Lansky, MD, is director of the Yale Cardiovascular Clinical Research Program, Yale School of Medicine. She is also associate professor of medicine and a practicing cardiologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in New Haven, CT. Dr. Lansky has authored and coauthored over 500 academic peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters in the fields of interventional cardiology, angiography and women’s cardiovascular health. She is a fellow of the European Society of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the Society of Angiography and Intervention and the American College of Cardiology.


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Modern Life: Naomi Mathis

Written on April 1, 2015 at 2:31 pm , by

Carmen, 21, Maurice Mathis, 31, police officer, Daniel, 9, Naomi Mathis, 38, Transition Service Officer, Sabrine, 15. Not pictured, stepdaughter Raelyn, 8. Gulfport, Mississippi

By: Suzanne Rust
Photography by: Patrick Molnar

Looking for a career that would provide security for her kids and give her a sense of doing something worthwhile, Naomi Mathis, then a 23-year-old single mom, left her job as an administrative assistant and enlisted in the air force. But after three deployments—two to Kuwait and one to Baghdad—the realities of war, including an ambush in which she lost a fellow operator, shook her to the core. Six months after returning home, it became apparent that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and in 2007 she was medically retired from the military. Since then, Naomi has married, grown her family and joined a church. She now works as a transition service officer for DAV (Disabled American Veterans), helping men and women who’ve served return to civilian life, both practically and emotionally. Naomi shares what it’s like to be a military mom.

Describe your family in three words.

Loving, compassionate, resilient.

What’s the best thing about being a parent? What’s the most challenging?

The satisfaction you get when you see that your sacrifices are worth it. For example, when your kids have the chance to make a decision on their own and, based on what you’ve taught them, they make the right one. Seeing them prosper and use the tools you’ve given them. The most challenging thing is negative outside influences: trying to make sure that yours is the only voice your children hear. Another challenge is getting them to understand that you’ve made mistakes and having them learn from the lessons you’ve picked up over the years.

What do you love most about your kids? Which of their qualities do you admire?

I love how fun my children are and the witty things they say at the most unexpected times. They’re all different. I admire Carmen’s respect for us, her resiliency and her ability to tell the truth in any situation. With Sabrine, it’s her wit, tenacity, loving spirit and ability to have fun. With Daniel, it’s his intelligence, talent and ability to excel at whatever he really puts his mind to. And I admire Raelyn’s loving nature, willingness to learn, compassion for others and candidness.

What do you enjoy doing with your family?

We definitely enjoy a good board game—we’re all very competitive. We’re also huge movie junkies! Our family likes to do community outreach, showing love to those who maybe feel they aren’t loved or haven’t heard the words “I love you” in a long time. We also enjoy taking trips together to see our extended family in Florida or even just visiting the zoo in New Orleans.

When are you the happiest?

In church, spending time laughing with my family and reaching out to the community.

What drew you to a military career?

I was looking for something different that would provide benefits for my two kids, and something that would make me feel that I’d made a difference at the end of the day.

What was it like being away from your family on such dangerous missions? How did you cope?

I disconnected myself emotionally from my kids when I left. I kind of went into robot mode. I would do whatever needed to be done to make sure the kids were taken care of while I was gone, and then I would solely focus on the mission at hand. Because of the nature of my field, I couldn’t focus on anything else. If I did, someone could get hurt, including me. When I deployed, I put a picture of my kids at the bottom of a backpack I carried, and I wouldn’t really look at it. I just knew it was there, so they were with me. I limited my calls to home. This detachment helped me cope.

How has being in the military shaped you as a person?

It taught me discipline, how to sacrifice and how to focus. I learned how to have a passion for something and really run with it. The military gave me a sense of camaraderie and taught me how to depend on others—to really trust them with my life. I gained a lifelong extended family. It taught me how to lead and how to follow, all at the same time.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my kids: how resilient they are, their ability to accept change and make the best of a situation. I’m also proud of my husband: how he accepted me just the way I am, and his willingness to work through any residual issues from my military service. And I’m proud of how God has changed me and made me come so far as a person.

What do you want people to know most about the things you experienced in Kuwait and Bagdad, and about PTSD?

The things we experience in combat are terrible, whether it be the loss of a friend and colleague, such as Staff Sergeant Patrick Griffin Jr., or the bombs dropping all around you or the gunfire. However, except for losing Staff Sergeant Griffin, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. It helped make me who I am today. It helped me have a better appreciation for life, friends and family. When I signed on the dotted line, I knew I was making a life-altering decision. I was willing to lay down my own life for the freedom we have as Americans. Having to deal with flashbacks and other symptoms is a small price to pay. Every time I look at this family, I realize the sacrifices I made were worth it.

PTSD is like a wound. When you first get cut, you have to stop the bleeding. You seek aid, and if the wound is especially deep, you get professional help. Eventually, it will scab, and if you pick at that scab, it will bleed again. However, if you continue to seek help and treat the wound, the scab will heal and fall off. What you are left with is a scar, which will always be there. PTSD never really goes away. You figure out how to cope with it, deal with it and learn from it. It has helped me to help others—at work I can relate to those who may be dealing with the same issues. I’ve come to understand that I’ve got a PTSD diagnosis but PTSD is not who I am.

If you know someone who may be showing PTSD symptoms, please talk to them. If they won’t talk, there are resources out there where they can get help. Sometimes we veterans and military types feel most comfortable speaking with other veterans and military people. Have them reach out to their local VA Vet Center or VA Medical Center. No matter how far they push you away, stick it out with them. It will get better if they seek treatment.

So many people want to support the military. What’s the best way to do that?

For me the best thing was when someone would see me in uniform and say “Thank you for your service.” That always put a smile on my face no matter what kind of day I was having. Knowing that I was making a difference gave me satisfaction.

Reach out to an organization that is sending care packages overseas. We loved getting goodies in the mail! Maybe you don’t have access to many military people; then reach out to veterans’ service organizations such as the DAV, which are doing wonderful things. Lastly, vote! Make sure your legislators hear your voice. Push them to support the men and women who serve this country.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were younger?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be comfortable with where you are and take it all in. Find the lesson that you need to learn from any given situation, rather than giving in to your emotions.


How I Walked Off 100 Pounds

Written on March 27, 2015 at 11:07 am , by

In this guest blog post, AMBER WILLIAMS, a 44-year-old mom of two teens, reveals how having a personal mission tied to a greater good helped her transform her body. Read on to find out how you can follow her amazing lead.


At the age of 35, I took my first steps on a weight loss journey with a lofty end point: lose 100 pounds. At my heaviest, in 2005, I weighed 278 pounds, leaving me with high blood pressure and a warning from my doctor that I was at risk for diabetes. Because I was so out of shape at the time, the only exercise I could tolerate was walking. So when I heard a Susan Komen 3-Day commercial on the radio, something inside me sparked. I knew I wanted to push myself to another level both for my physical health and to honor the four women in my family who had battled breast cancer.

Because I’d set a pretty big goal for myself, I started training a year before the actual walk. Let’s just say it was training for my training. That September, I got active, started walking around the block, going to the gym, anything to get moving. Then I began the 3-Day 24-week training schedule, in May 2006. I followed that program closely to prepare for my 3-Day at the beginning of November. The coaches helped me with my exercise routine and fundraising questions, and the training walks in the months leading up to the event made me confident I could pound the pavement for three days straight.

People ask me all the time how, as a working mother of two teens, I pulled off the training and fundraising for the 3-Day. It’s simple, really: I committed to something and I stuck with it. I’d get to the gym at 5:45 a.m., before my sleepy teens were up, and do about 30 minutes of cardio followed by weight-lifting. The more pounds I lost, the more energy I had, so I began to incorporate Spin classes for some cross-training. Afterward, I’d be home to wake up my kids and get them off to school. I learned that we make time for the things in life we truly enjoy, and working on myself and my goals at the gym was very important to me.

Getting ready for the 3-Day was a family affair; over the summer, my daughter would walk some early mornings or after dinner with me. My husband helped with my fundraising efforts, perfecting the letters and emails I would send out. It certainly helped make asking for money easier! I also felt a sense of community as I walked with friends after work and on weekends.

November 2006 was full of milestones. I completed my first 3-Day in Dallas and was 100 pounds lighter than the previous November. Before all this, I’d been a woman who became incredibly winded just walking down the block or up a flight of stairs. Once I crossed the finish line, I felt stronger than I ever had in my life. Through my tears and emotions, I knew the women I had loved and lost to breast cancer were smiling down upon me and were so proud too!

What else was I supposed to do other than set a new goal? In 2006 I told myself I would walk in the 3-Day for five years to maintain my health and my passion for the cause. In 2011, after I reached that milestone, my daughter Emilie, then 14, asked me to keep walking until she could join me when she turned 16. In 2013 we reached yet another milestone, and Emilie was able to participate with me for the first time. She had always been on the sidelines cheering me on, but having her walk by my side in this emotional and powerful event was incredible.

Does the training get in the way of family time? It never has, and now that Emilie is walking in the event, we train together! We share this passion, and I have never been so proud as when I watched her accomplish those 60 miles in just three days. As a team, we raise money that benefits so many women and men. Together we help to change the future of people like my mother, who is a 12-year breast cancer survivor, and my mother-in-law, aunt and grandmother, who all lost their battles with this horrible disease. We are determined to dedicate our time and effort to this event because it means so much to us.

Amber Williams celebrating Mile 59 on Day 3 with her daughter, Emilie, and Emilie’s youth director, Tom Riggs.

My advice? If you’ve heard about or are interested in participating in the 3-Day, just sign up. Set your goal. Buy some shoes. Get walking! If I can do it, anyone can. And I will be doing it again. This November I’ll mark my ninth consecutive 3-Day, 60-mile journey in the Dallas/Fort Worth walk!


Thanks to events like this, Susan G. Komen has invested more than $2.5 billion in the fight against breast cancer to date. To sign up to walk this year—or for more information—visit

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Should You Switch Your Parenting Style?

Written on March 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm , by

Mom and daughter talking

Have you ever heard of “lighthouse parenting”? If not, it’s about to change your world. In his new book, Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with TrustKenneth Ginsburg, MD, introduces the uninitiated to this surprising concept. The vision: Be a stable force on the shoreline that your kids can always look to (no matter what they’ve done this time). Make sure they don’t crash against any rocks, but allow them to ride the waves. (That’s for you, helicopter parents.) Master this technique and you’ll decrease anxiety, boost school performance and generally have a happier kid, says Ginsburg, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia whose new book was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In this Q&A, the author explains exactly how to be the lighthouse your kid needs.

Parenting books focus on every topic under the sun, but you homed in on two key actions: giving unconditional love and protecting your child. Why did you pick these?
Because they define the struggle of modern-day parenting. When we love our kids unconditionally, we give them the security to face the world. But how do you love your kids unconditionally when you also have to hold them to high expectations? Those two points seem in opposition. Second, kids have to fall down so they can learn how to get up. But you want to protect your kid. I wanted to put in one place the science, logic and strategies behind how to strike a balance for your child.

There’s a great part of your book where you list a series of things parents should stop saying to their kids, like “How did you do on your test?” Why is that not the right question to ask your kid?
When we praise the outcome or the result, people become very anxious about what they’ve done. When we notice the process and effort they put in, then they understand they’re in control. So instead ask, “What did you learn today?” Another example: Don’t say, “You’re so smart in math.” Then kids will be afraid to explore history and they’re going to be anxious about getting that B+. Instead say, “You worked really hard to study and complete all your math problems. That’s why you’re doing well.”

How about a parent getting frustrated and telling her kid, “Your grades are slipping. Sometimes I wonder if you even care.” What damage does that do?
When our kids don’t perform to our standards, we think they’re lazy. So often it’s the opposite. It’s that the kids care deeply and feel deeply. They worry about disappointing us. And as a result they choose to get off the playing field. It’s hard for a kid to say, “I care so much. I’m feeling insecure all the time.” Saying “I don’t care” or feigning indifference is easy. Allow yourself to step back and wonder if this kid is feeling too much pressure.

You have a section in the book where you offer a series of questions parents should ask themselves. There’s one I wanted you to talk about a little more: “Was love given to you unconditionally while growing up? How might that have affected you?”
If we felt that we had to perform for love instead of just being given it as kids, chances are we’re never going to feel good enough as adults. We’re always going to be anxious, trying to gain favor from other people. If you ask yourself that question and the answer is “I never knew how [my parents] felt about me” or “They seemed so angry when I didn’t _____,” there’s a good chance that as an adult you’re still paying for that emotionally. Rather than repeat that cycle, understand the importance of full unconditional love of your child. It doesn’t mean you approve of every behavior, but it means you’re not going anywhere. The kid can always rely on your presence, wisdom and affection.

You talked about the countless emails you’ve received with the subject line “Code Words Saved My Child’s Life.” What are code words, and why should parents use them?
We have to remember that our job is to protect our kids, but our bigger job is to raise kids to be healthy 35-, 40- and 50-year-olds. Let them go out into the world, but have a safety net so they can call you at any time and get out of any situation. Code words allow kids to call or text and put in a phrase the parent knows means “I’m in trouble; get me out of this,” like “I forgot to walk the dog.” And that triggers you to demand they come home or insist you pick them up or give them an excuse to leave.

Why did you put so much energy into weaving teen voices throughout the book—including your daughters’?
Kids are the experts in their own lives. But the truth is our own kids push our buttons. What this book allows you to do by including 500 kids from all over the country is to hear their voices in a way that doesn’t push your buttons. And you can imagine what your children might think based on what these kids say.

Would you try lighthouse parenting with your child? Post a comment below and tell us.

Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, is a specialist in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is also director of health services at Covenant House Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous scientific papers and five books, including the award-winning best seller Building Resilience in Children and Teens. Most of all, he’s a dad.



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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on March 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm , by

Our Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Spinach Salad is such a hit, we’re featuring a second reader who re-created the recipe! Instagram user @mominbloom smartly swapped strawberries for grapes and cashews for sunflower seeds!

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FAMILYCIRCLEFOOD.

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Three Myths That Have Misled You About Meditation

Written on March 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm , by

With dedicated centers popping up nationwide and stacks of studies touting its health benefits, there’s no doubt: Meditation is the new yoga. So what’s holding some of us back from trying it? Despite the promise of everything from improved mood to an immune system boost, there are still many misconceptions about the practice of relaxing your mind. “I’m trying to demystify meditation for people who say, ‘That’s not for me’ or ‘I can’t do that,’” says Barb Schmidt, a mom of two and author of The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace and Uncovering Happiness. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and the more I explain it to people, the more they think: ‘Oh, I can do this! I can try this.’” If you’d like to be one of them, consider taking some time to get centered after reading the facts behind these three meditation fictions.

Myth #1: “I Don’t Have Time to Meditate.”
Got 60 seconds? You’ve got time to meditate. In fact, Schmidt recommends that beginners start with a small daily time commitment. “Spend one or two minutes before you get out of bed with your eyes closed just focusing on your breath,” says Schmidt. “You’re learning how to focus your attention on your breath even as it occasionally goes down a path of what’s for breakfast or what time you should pick up your daughter from school. You’re strengthening your resolve.”

Myth #2: “I’ll Probably Do It Wrong.”
Like trying a new recipe or helping your kid with the New Math, worrying we’ll do something incorrectly can stop us from doing it at all. But that definitely shouldn’t stop you from getting centered. Trust us: Just say om. “There is no right or wrong way to meditate. All of that is false,” says Schmidt. “It’s simply sitting with yourself. You’re connecting with yourself. Be with you, not trying to do anything or get anywhere.”

Myth #3: “I Have to Think About Nothing.”
While practice may eventually make perfect, right now you’re just training yourself to be in the present. Your mind will wander. That’s where mantras, like “I choose peace” or “This too shall pass,” can come in. “A word, phrase or passage can bring your attention back when your mind wanders,” explains Schmidt. “It’s the tool that brings you in the meditation back to the present moment.”

Have you given meditation a try? Post a comment and tell us why or why not below.

Barb Schmidt is an international speaker, philanthropist, spiritual mentor and best-selling author of The Practice. She has devoted more than 30 years to her studies with inspirational leaders such as Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and more. Believing that “outer peace begins with inner peace,” in 2011 Barb founded Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life to further serve those who seek to live a meaningful, happy life, and to fulfill her passion to bring peace to the world. Through this nonprofit, she teaches The Practice—a three-part guide to practical spirituality in today’s modern, and often chaotic, world.

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on March 9, 2015 at 10:00 am , by

This week’s featured chef is Instagram user @downtowndiane made our Chicken and Rice Soup!

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FAMILYCIRCLEFOOD.

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Four Truths About Social Media (That Parents Don’t Want to Hear)

Written on March 5, 2015 at 3:44 pm , by

Some questions about social media are an absolute breeze to answer: Why is my kid so obsessed with YikYak? What does PIR stand for? Then there are the queries that are a lot more complex: How much should I let my child use her phone? Should I monitor my child’s social life online?

I completely understand why parents want easy answers, like “Don’t let them sleep with their phones” or “Monitor their texts.” But it’s really hard for our children to take us seriously when we come up with strategies like that, and there’s a really good reason why: We’re hypocrites who often base our rules on anxiety instead of facts. Maybe you disagree with me, but before you do, consider the following four points.

1. We adults are as just as connected to our digital devices as our kids. Even as we’re nagging them to get off their screens, we don’t admit that we constantly check our phones when we’re bored or jump every time someone reaches out to us. And just like our kids, we convince ourselves that we always have a good reason for checking our email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

2. Many adults post about the same things our kids do. Sure, lots of parents describe their children’s online social lives as meaningless and a waste of time. They could be doing something more productive, like going outside and getting some fresh air. Right? Well, then tell me this: Why is what our children post about the party they went to last weekend more superficial than what we posted about the party we went to last weekend? And why do we spend so much time online when we should be getting some exercise or some sleep?

3. Some of us stalk other children online.
Some folks think that being a responsible parent today means running surveillance as much and as often as possible about anything to do with their children. One of the best ways to do this is to get on the popular social networking platforms kids are using, such as Snapchat and Instagram, and ask kids to link or connect with you. The theory being that if they accept your invitation, you can see what these children are doing. I guess. But in my experience young people are highly incentivized to hide their personal lives from adults they know. So even if they do accept your invitation, if they’re doing something they don’t want adults to see, they’ll figure out a way to hide it. And lots of kids who get these “invitations” see them for what they are—a way for parents to spy on them. Not only do they blow off the parent but they know that parent is trying to infiltrate their lives so they know not to trust that person. Not a great way to build rapport.

4. Everyone our children meets online isn’t a dangerous predator. Can we give our kids a bit of credit? Our children are “meeting” people they don’t know online all the time—especially if they play games online. If they have a headset when they play games, they are definitely talking to other people. Some of those people are annoying; some of them say racist, sexist, homophobic or just rude things a lot. But they aren’t physically threatening to your child.

Here are the stats: The vast majority of young people who meet people online and then meet them in real life fit a very specific pattern. I’ll say it to you this way: In my many years of working with young people, every, and I mean every, young person I’ve known who met a stranger in real life they initially met online was a 13- to 16-year-old neglected and/or abused girl who desperately needed attention and love because she wasn’t getting it from the people she was supposed to. The reality is that a young person who is vulnerable to online predators almost always has something very wrong in their real life that makes them turn to strangers.

Bottom line: As a parenting “expert,” I can give you lots of rules for your children about their online lives—whatever device they’re using. But none of these rules will work unless you have a relationship with your child built on mutual respect and their seeing that you live your life according to the same values you’re holding them to.

Do you think there’s a double standard when it comes to kids’ and parents’ use of social media? Post a comment and tell me. 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email

Modern Life: Sheree Curry

Written on March 4, 2015 at 12:43 pm , by

Jared Levy,14, Josh Levy,12, and Sheree R. Curry, 47, journalist and marketing communications Strategist. Maple Grove, Minnesota.

By: Suzanne Rust
Photography by: Sara Rubinstein

Generally, we are born into a religion, but sometimes our faith arrives through thoughtful reflection. This was the case with Sheree R. Curry.
 Her family exposed her to various Christian practices, approaching them all with an open mind. But it was a comparative religion class in high school that introduced her to Judaism. She began studying with a rabbi at 17, converted at 18 and hasn’t looked back. Sheree now attends Adath Jeshurun Congregation, a large Conservative synagogue in Minnetonka, MN. Divorced from a Jewish man, the busy single mom is raising her two sons in her chosen faith and finding time to work with, an online community she created for others to share their experiences.

Describe your family in three words.
Loving, funny, healthy and supportive—okay, that’s four words!

What religion did you practice growing up, and what was the appeal of Judaism?
I grew up exposed to various Christian religions through family, friends and schooling. My mother felt it was important that my sister and I explore religion and each choose one for ourselves. I took a comparative religion class as a teenager; we spent part of the year learning about what constitutes religions and how they are formed. We had to create our own individual religious doctrine for this course. Then we learned in-depth about various religions. I noticed more similarities in Judaism to the religion that I had created for myself at the start of the class. As a result, I began focusing on Judaism. At the age of 17 I began studying with a rabbi, and I ultimately converted to Judaism when I was 18.

How did your friends and family react to your choice?
Since I come from a very healthy and supportive family with a mix of religions, ethnicities and even nationalities, we are very comfortable in our differences. We are all steeped in faith and spirituality, thus my family remained quite supportive, but obviously curious. I was the first Jew in our family, so everyone had a lot of questions about customs, practices and differences. It was a learning experience for everyone. But because the process of becoming Jewish is not something that just happens overnight, it was gradual for everyone. I didn’t just spring it on them one day.

Have you always been made to feel comfortable in the Jewish community?
Well, I don’t think anyone has tried to make me feel uncomfortable in the Jewish community! But as with any convert, black or white or other ethnicity, one does tire of the question “How did you become Jewish?” I’ve been Jewish for more than 25 years now, so it gets a bit old. As does the assumption that because I am African American I must’ve converted, or converted to be with some guy. About 15 years ago I started an online community for Jews of color to share stories and experiences. Within the group you’ll find many African Americans who were born to a Jewish parent. We’ve shared stories of attending Jewish events and some others assuming we’re not Jewish and asking us to leave—it has happened.
Overall, I think most of us feel comfortable. But whether they are biracial Jews of color or identify as simply black Jews, I think one of the biggest concerns with feeling uncomfortable comes from the extended family of a white Jewish mate, and this can impact marriage and dating relationships. It’s one thing to befriend a black Jew at your synagogue; it can be totally different when your single, dating adult child says, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”
I have found that the black-white combination within the Jewish community, for Jews who strongly culturally identify as Jewish, is still rare compared to a Jew who dates a white Christian, for example. A lot of these relationships, and even some of my own, have been impacted by the negative pressure the white Jewish mate may initially receive from their own extended family. The sentiment is often that they feel caught in the middle. That was something my own ex-husband said. At one point before we married my mate told me that his parents even said they’d rather see him marry a non-Jewish Asian than a black Jew. Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on a young couple starting out. I’d say overall during the marriage everyone tried to get along, but eventually our marriage ended in divorce.

What does Passover mean to you and how do you celebrate? Do you have any personal traditions?
For my oldest son’s first Passover, when he was just a few months old, I created a family Haggadah that we still use today. The Haggadah is the booklet we use to tell the story of the slaves’ freedom from Pharaoh, but in our booklet we also tell the story of the freedom of American slaves. Although this is a holiday that lends itself well to the merging of our family’s two histories of being black and Jewish, this should not be limited to just the households of black Jews. All of us should remember and celebrate the freedom and right to freedom of all people.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Judaism?
The biggest misconception about Judaism is that it is a race of people. It is not. It is a religion and a culture. A lot of the culture stems from the regions of the world where certain Jews are concentrated. Most people are more familiar with Ashkenazi Jewish culture, consisting primarily of Eastern European traditions. But there are Sephardi Jews, with more Spanish culture, and Yemenite Jews, who stemmed from the Mideast and African regions. A lot of the culture of each of these sets of Jews will be more similar to the culture of those around them who are not even Jewish. Hummus is not a Jewish food. It is a Middle Eastern dish. Knishes are not exactly a Jewish food. They are basically pierogis, all stemming from cultures in Eastern Europe. Sure, different sects of people may put their own twists on a recipe, but that does not make us Jews a race of people. If people started thinking of Judaism more as a religion instead of as a race of people, they would be less shocked that there are Jews native to India who look just like other Indians. And Jews native to Ethiopia who look just like other Ethiopians. And there are black American Jews too.
But the world is becoming more and more aware that Judaism is a religion, not a race, and one that comes in many different flavors and colors. More people know of a black or Asian or Hispanic Jew, even if it is just a celebrity, like Drake or Rashida Jones.

What do you love most about your boys?
My two boys are very inquisitive and loving, and they care about others and they really care about each other. I hear stories of people who are at odds with their teens and tweens, and I am blessed that my boys inherited a lot of my family’s mild temperament and solid values.

What are the biggest challenges of being a single parent?
My challenges may be different from those of a single mom whose kids’ father is not in the picture. We have shared custody, so the biggest challenge, in some ways, is the same as it would be in any two-parent household: making sure that both of us, as mom and dad, are on the same page when it comes to major decisions for our children and finding ways to compromise when we disagree. Another challenge is just knowing that it does take a village. Since we don’t have other immediate family living in town who can pitch in when the boys have to be at different events or activities at the same time in different parts of the metro area, I often turn to friends who can help carpool the kids to activities. Or in some cases the boys know that they’ll have to do a joint activity or pick ones in the same facility, in order to make coordinating schedules a lot easier on everyone.

What’s your spin on finding that perfect work-life balance?
I am very devoted to my kids and their activities. I was a Cub Scout den leader, for example (not a den mom, which is different). So sure, a lot of nonworking hours were spent still being a part of my children’s lives. But again, since I am a coparent with their dad and the boys spend part of the week living at his house, I try to plan more of my personal professional development activities or fun activities for the days that the boys are with their dad. It might mean occasionally missing out on something the boys are involved in, but I am still like many other moms: My kids come first.

What’s the best part of your day?
Coming home to my two boys at the end of a workday. Honestly. It’s nice when your kids are happy to see you come home or when you pick them up from school. Since they don’t spend every day and every night with me, we all treasure the time that we do have together and the moments we are not running from activity to activity.

As an African American Jewish woman, you must have some curious anecdotes. Any funny ones you’d care to share?
There have been several occasions when I’ve met someone and they’ve assumed that I am some other black Jewish woman they’ve met before. “No, that’s not me, but I do know her,” I say. And it’s often true that I know the person. That’s not so much a testament that all blacks know each other, as it probably is that Jews play what we call “Jewish geography.” The Jewish community is small and we often know each other or know someone who does. Now, given the limited size of the black and Jewish community, and that I am involved on a national level in several groups for Jews of color, it is not so surprising that I know other Jews who happen to be black.


“I Survived Two Heart Attacks”

Written on March 3, 2015 at 6:37 pm , by

Heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths in the U.S. every year, but this mom of three was able to beat it—and you could too. In an eye-opening guest post, she describes her battle with cardiovascular disease and the serious symptoms she ignored that you never should.


The bathroom floor at my job was cold and felt good against my face as I was lying there out of breath, dry heaving and dizzy. “Get up. Get back to work,” I kept telling myself.

That was Friday, April 15, 2013, the day my life changed forever. But it started out like any other. I got up at 6:30 a.m., before my three boys—Brock, 14, Bryce, 11, and Miles, 7—and worked myself into a typical frenzy trying to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door on time.

I arrived at my job as branch supervisor at a bank and went through my regular routine: answering emails, dialing into conference calls and putting out fires. Suddenly, I felt a twisting pain in my chest and had difficulty taking my next breath. Then came heartburn, jaw tightening and, the worst part, nausea. An hour later, around 9:30 a.m., I was lying on those bathroom tiles in hopes of calming down and feeling better.

At first, I convinced myself  it was the flu. But I told myself I needed to save my sick days for when my kids became ill. I didn’t want to incur unnecessary bills or wait in the emergency room only to hear that nothing was seriously wrong. I needed to be at work to make sure my team was okay. Clearly, my own health and well-being were not a priority!

The symptoms came and went several times throughout that day, but as the hours passed, they only became more intense. Eventually I remembered a billboard about heart disease and the color red I had previously spotted on the highway in Charlotte, so I decided to Google it and found the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. As I sat at my desk scrolling through the tales of brave women sharing their experiences, I realized I was fighting the reality that I too could be having a heart attack.

Six hours after my initial symptoms appeared, I called my husband and doctor to explain what I was feeling. They both told me to go straight to the hospital, but I still couldn’t put myself first. After leaving work, I first stopped at home to leave my family a note and make some snacks for the kids.

Almost as soon as I got to the front desk of the ER around 2:30 p.m., I collapsed. I had my second heart attack in the hospital that evening. I lay in bed thinking, “Is this really it? Is life ending this way?” I had so many goals I still wanted to achieve. I prayed to God that he would let me live. And he did.

I was in the hospital for about five days. The doctor told me I needed to lose weight, exercise more, cut back on salt and sugar and, most important, put my own health at the top of my to-do list. I then spent three months doing cardiac rehab, which included monitored cardio and strengthen training, nutrition counseling and therapy.

Since my family has a history of heart disease, everyone has been tested and we’ve made changes to our food habits and physical activity. To start, my kids, husband and I each suggested one swap, which included avoiding sugary drinks like fruit punch and soda, adding more fruits and veggies to school lunches, giving up sweet cereals, eliminating fried foods, opting for leaner meats and having healthier snacks like yogurt, nuts and granola. I also began drinking a daily green smoothie (I love them!) and taking a walk every day during lunch. Now we’re all focused on heart-healthy living.

Some days are harder than others, but I make one good-for-me choice at a time—and my family is my motivation. The greatest lesson I’ve learned through this ordeal is that being healthy includes mind, body and soul. They all work together. So to other women I say, slow down, take care of your beautiful self and, please, make your heart a priority!


Julia Allen is 46 years old and lives in Charlotte, NC.  She’s a proud two-time heart attack survivor and national spokeswoman for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women. 

You Make It, We Post It!

Written on March 2, 2015 at 10:00 am , by

This week’s featured chef is Instagram user @teachchicwho made our Oreo Brownies!

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FAMILYCIRCLEFOOD.

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Motivation to Move: How to Get Excited About Your Fitness Resolutions Again

Written on February 26, 2015 at 10:38 am , by

Remember that goal you set a little over a month ago? The one about losing weight or exercising more? According to data from Gold’s Gym, that motivation you had on January 1st is probably waning right now. In fact, February 24th (deemed the “fitness cliff”) is the day that check-in numbers drop and never rebound. But we want you to defy those odds and get pumped about getting in shape again. So we asked Jeff Na, vice president of fitness for Gold’s Gym, to reveal his top tips for boosting your enthusiasm for health. “The only difference between January 1st and February 24th is prioritization,” he says. Make exercise a must-do again, reevaluate what you wanted to achieve and why, and adopt these ideas to get back on track.

Focus on the details
“The clients who see the best results come in not just with a goal in mind but with the steps for how to get there,” says Na. So if you made a general target of dropping 10 pounds, figure out a realistic time frame for getting there (probably about five weeks), how often you’ll exercise and healthy meal options. Then put each workout and kitchen prep day on your calendar so you can plan ahead. If want to remove the guesswork, sign up for a program like Gold’s Gym 12-Week Transformation Plan or Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation.

Find something exciting
Even before you start feeling bored with your usual routine, you should have an idea of how to switch things up and keep your regimen fresh. Otherwise, when your workout starts feeling too bland, it’ll fall to your B-list of priorities. Look at your local health club’s schedule to see if one of the classes seems enticing, or chat with a fitness-loving friend for a suggestion. “Group classes are great for workout newbies because they give you a sense of community and some professional instruction,” says Na. You may find that Pilates or Spinning naturally keeps you coming back for more. If you can’t get to a class, try a new walking route or fitness DVD. Adding variety to your schedule keeps you interested mentally and challenges your muscles physically so you don’t hit a plateau.

Reduce injury risk
Many people skip a proper warm-up and cool-down, but going from no movement to intense exercise or stopping immediately afterward increases your risk of strained ligaments or other overuse issues—which puts you off the workout wagon longer. Just take an easy stroll for about five minutes to up your heart rate and lightly stretch any tight muscles. When you’re done sweating it out, take another five minutes for deeper stretches.

Get back to basics
“Your body is your best machine,” says Na. “That’s why fitness professionals often recommend body-weight-only exercises—they translate to the movements you do in everyday life and make them easier.” So squeeze in some squats, lunges, push-ups and rows whenever you can. And when your body gets sick of those moves, add resistance with dumbbells or bands.

Make it a family affair
You shouldn’t be the only one at home who’s moving more often. Get the kids involved in your physical plans by doing a yoga DVD together or taking a walk outside (just bundle up!). Try organizing a quick team workout by doing jumping jacks before dinner or running in place during the commercials of your favorite show. It gives you time to bond with your kids and get everyone healthier, plus you’ll set an active trend for your teens and tweens to mimic when they’re older.

Don’t forget food
If you haven’t seen any results, it may be because you haven’t paid enough attention to your diet. Keep a journal for one week, writing down everything you eat, and then figure out what you need to cut back on. It’s best to munch on more foods that are close to their original source (read: no pre-packaged meals) and to create a realistic diet plan. For instance, if you aim to cut out all sweets, you’ll probably want to revert to your overeating habits in a few days. Instead, make portion sizes smaller.