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Catch Some Quality Z’s

August 29, 2019

Most of us occasionally have trouble sleeping. Your brain refuses to shut off as you think of that work task that didn’t get completed, the unexpected furnace repair that throws a wrench into the household budget, or the mean-kid bully that makes your child not want to go to school. After a night of tossing and turning, looking at the clock and thinking “if I doze off now, I’ll get at least four hours of sleep . . . “ we end up staggering through the following day feeling drained and foggy. We’ve all been there, but for some of us, chronic sleep loss is a regular problem.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults routinely sleep fewer than six hours per night. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School states that sleep deprivation can “affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”

Obviously, that’s not good. Yet in a world where we’re often expected to be superhuman and be all things to everyone, how can we slow down and get the sleep we physically and mentally require? There are natural ways to help the body relax and prepare for a restful full night’s sleep.

  1. Use the bed for its main purpose—sleeping. Avoid working, eating, watching TV or turning on a laptop or other gadgets. Meditate or read a book (an actual paper book, not an e-book) until you feel tired. Resist the urge to check the smartphone one more time. News or any other updates will still be there in the morning. Make technology work for you, not the other way around.
  2. Speaking of gadgets, keep them out of the bedroom altogether. A National Sleep Foundation survey found that nearly all participants who had difficulty falling asleep used televisions, computers, video games, or cell phones within the last hour before going to bed. Light from these devices stimulates the brain, making it harder to wind down. Sleep experts advise putting gadgets away an hour before bedtime to fall asleep quickly and sleep more soundly.
  3. Stay active: aerobic exercise four times a week can improve sleep quality.
  4. Cut back on other stimulants: Reduce or eliminate food and drinks that contain caffeine— coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, by mid-afternoon. Make dinner your lightest meal (eat like a king at breakfast, a prince like lunch, and a pauper at dinner), and finish any food intake a few hours before bedtime. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion.
  5. Skip the naps and instead strive for a full night’s sleep. Short power naps are beneficial, but long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep. Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock, meaning that you may struggle to sleep at night.
  6. Keep your sleep environment on the cooler side, rather than too hot.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only.  If you continue to have disrupted sleep, it could be the cause of an underlying health condition. Be sure to check with a healthcare professional regarding appropriate treatment.

Sheila Julson is  freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. 


Refreshing Homemade Ices Teas to Cool Down Hot Summer Days

July 30, 2019

There are myriad kinds of tea—black, green, white, oolong, pekoe, jasmine, Earl Grey, plus countless herbal teas, or tisanes. The regions of origin, processing methods and blends can also affect the final taste, so exploring the world of tea can be a magical experience full of exotic flavors and fragrances. And don’t forget the apparent health benefits of tea, like the high antioxidant levels found in green tea, or studies showing black tea may reduce risk of stroke. Herbal blends that do not contain tea are generally caffeine-free.

When chilled, few beverages compare to sipping a dewy glass of iced tea on the patio or porch on a hot summer day. Grocery stores carry an overwhelming selection of bottled tea; some are good, while others are loaded with synthetic additives, but making your own iced tea is easy, economical and requires no glass or plastic packaging.

To brew tea, the average ratio is one tea bag per one cup of water. If using loose-leaf tea, one teaspoon equals about one tea bag. You can always adjust to suit your taste. Heat your desired amount of cold water in a teapot or stainless steel pan. When the water just starts to come to a boil, remove it from the heat. A common misconception is that tea water should be boiling, but that can destroy tannins and other desirable compounds of the tea; green tea in particular should be steeped in hot but not boiling water. Green tea leaves are not oxidized like black tea leaves, so water that’s too hot can scorch the leaves and alter the flavor.

Add your tea bags or tea ball to the hot water and steep for three to five minutes. Steeping longer can produce a bitter flavor. Place a generous volume of ice in a ceramic pitcher or any vessel that can handle temperature changes. Remove tea bags/ball from the tea and pour it over the ice. There you have it—basic fresh brewed tea. Now it’s time to jazz it up.

Iced Southern Sweet Tea (from Joy of Cooking, 2006 edition)

Steep 6 bags of black tea (orange pekoe) in 4 cups of water using the method above. After steeping and while the water is still hot, add 1 cup of organic sugar and stir until dissolved. Add 2 to 4 cups of water and chill. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon slices or fruit.

Citrus tea

Steep 5 black tea bags in 2 quarts of hot water using the method above. While the tea is steeping, juice two lemons and one lime and set aside. Stir in ¼ cup of locally soured honey to hot tea. Pour tea over about five cups of ice; add lemon and lime juice and stir. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon and lime slices.

These are just a couple of possibilities. You can also experiment with flavored herbal teas, or steep spearmint leaves, dried hibiscus flowers or lavender along with the tea. Try flavorings like muddled blueberries or cherries in your tea; the possibilities of nature’s bounty are endless.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings -Milwaukee magazine. 

June Farmers Market Finds

June 25, 2019

Let me count thee ways to enjoy summer in Milwaukee:  Summerfest, myriad music, ethnic and food festivals; free park concerts; beer gardens, art fairs, Milwaukee County Parks pools, bike trails . . .  okay, I’ve already lost count. And then there’s the neighborhood farmers markets, which have become so much more than a place to support our local farmers and get fresh, health produce, flowers, and artisan foods.

Now well attended social gathering spaces, farmers markets are another place to meet our neighbors, enjoy live music and build communities.

Most area farmers markets are now open and operating in full swing. Although our state has experienced a wet, chilly spring, you can still find locally grown lettuce, spinach, asparagus, and strawberries.

This light summer salad calls for three ingredients now available in late June at area farmers markets: mint, fresh cilantro, and spinach. Despite the long ingredients list, it comes together easily for a healthy, hearty meal. It can be made vegetarian or with beef or chicken stock to please omnivores.

 Warm Lentil & Goat Cheese Salad (adapted from Vegetarian Step-by-Step, Parragon Books)

Serves 4

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 t. cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 t. grated fresh ginger

1 ½ cups lentils

3 C. vegetable stock

2 T. fresh mint

2 T. chopped fresh cilantro

2 red onions, thinly sliced

8 ounces fresh spinach, washed and patted dry

1 t. walnut oil (or nut oil of your choice)

2/3 C. soft goat cheese, crumbled

¼ C. plain Greek style yogurt

salt and pepper to taste

lemon wedges

Heat 1 T. of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds, garlic, and ginger and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

Stir in lentils and return to heat. Slowly add the stock until the lentil mixture, stirring continuously, until stock is absorbed. This will take about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in herbs. Set aside.

Heat remaining 1 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add onions. Cook until soft and lightly browned, stirring frequently.

Put spinach in a bowl and toss with walnut oil. Divide spinach among four individual serving plates.

Mash goat cheese with yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the lentils among the plates. Top with the onions and add a dollop of the goat cheese mixture. Garnish with lemon and serve with bread or crackers.


Local asparagus makes a brief appearance every year, like a celebrity who lies low and does the occasional brief yet spectacular project, gaining praise and fanfare. The harvest window for asparagus in Wisconsin is short, but I’ve lucked out this past week and found it at a couple of markets around Downtown and the South Side of Milwaukee. Arugula, like most leafy greens, is also in season in June, and some farmers grow mushrooms indoors year round and sell them at area farmers markets. Be sure to also check your farmers market for locally sourced honey produced by area beekeepers.

Asparagus & Mushroom Salad(adapted from Everyday Vegetarian Cooking, Hinkler Books)

Serves 4

6 ounces asparagus spears

1 T. stone ground mustard

¼ C. orange juice

2 T. fresh lemon juice

1 T. lime juice

1 T. orange zest

2 t. lemon zest

2 t. lime zest

2 garlic cloves, crushed

¼ c. of honey

pepper, to taste

14 ounces of button mushrooms, halved

6 ounces rocket arugula

1 red pepper, cut into strips

Trim away tough ends from asparagus and cut in half diagonally. Place in a saucepan if boiling water and cook for one minute or until just tender. Drain and plunge into cold water. Set aside.

Blend mustard, juices, zest, garlic and honey in a saucepan. Season generously with pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and add mushrooms. Toss well and let cool.

Remove mushrooms from sauce with a slotted spoon and set aside. Return sauce to heat, bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low. Let simmer for about three minutes or until thick and syrupy. Cool slightly.

Oss the mushrooms, red peppers, and asparagus, together and serve over a bed or arugula. Drizzle with the sauce and serve.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines.







Everybody Wants You: Trade Screen Time for More ‘Me’ Time

May 28, 2019

It feels like every time we turn around, somebody wants something from us.  In addition to the demands of our workplace, social media posts want our attention, sometimes even guilt-tripping us if we don’t share or repost something. Commercials on television want our attention, and ultimately, our money. Open the email inbox, and we’re bombarded with virtual pleas from nonprofits, special interest or political groups, often leading us to believe the world might end if we don’t respond—and give them money. Dusk falls and you wonder where the day went because there’s no time left for you.

Aside from the workplace, where time is not ours because employers pay us to show up and do what they want us to do, we can put some control on other time-suckers. It often starts with simply saying ‘no’ to the screens.

  1. Share if you care about animals, type ‘yes’ of you agree, repost this to support (childhood cancer/veterans/fill in the blank). We’ve all seen these on Facebook and other social media sites; posts that imply that if you don’t share it, type yes, like it, or repost it, then you’re just the worst person in the world. Yet most of those memes posted and shared by well-meaning people originate from spamming efforts. Armchair activism also does little to help any cause, so ignore those posts. Your friends and family likely already know that you are a thoughtful, caring person, and you don’t have to repost or respond to something to prove it.
  2. Don’t impulsively download apps or sign up for email notices, push notifications, or anything else that truly doesn’t interest you. You don’t have to do it just because you’re asked. All it takes is getting on one email list for one particular cause, and before you know it, your inbox is flooded with emails from similar groups. Don’t be afraid to just say no. If an email or phone number is required to make a purchase, or if you do want to keep abreast of certain organizations or causes, consider creating a “junk” email account for the sole purpose of receiving those types newsletters, and check it only when your time permits.
  3. Do a social media cleanse. They all want you, but do you really need an account with every social media outlet in existence? As yourself what you truly need or want to accomplish. What can you go without? Does checking a particular social media account daily (or several times a per day) really service a purpose for you? Are you getting out of it what you truly need? For example, I closed my LinkedIn account because after being on the site for several months, I had yet to really “link in” to any opportunity, and it sucked much of my time because it was one more thing I felt had to check daily.
  4. While watching TV, my husband automatically grabs the remote to change the channel as soon as commercials come on. I soon realized that he has the right idea. Advertisers are paid big bucks to entice you—and occasionally deceive and lie. We all need and want products or services, but do your own homework and seek them out on your own terms, at your own pace.
  5. Aside from work or family obligations, screen your calls. If a number appears that you don’t recognize, let voice mail get it. If it’s important, the person, business, or organization will leave a message.
  6. It’s nice to have our smartphones on us in case of emergencies, but leave it in your purse, car, or tucked away while walking, hiking, or visiting with family or friends. Focus on engaging the people and scenery around you. Resist the urge to whip out the phone to look up the name of the actress from that weird movie whose name nobody can remember, or to see which store has the best deal on a new car stereo. Before you know it, you’ll fall down that virtual rabbit hole and miss what’s happening in the real world around you.

It wasn’t long ago that we all managed to get through our daily lives just fine without cellphones or smartphones. Will you miss something by unplugging more often? Probably. But that’s okay—the world will not end, and that message, text, email, article, or online deal will wait for you as you kick back and enjoy a cup of coffee or take a walk through the neighborhood and take back your ‘me’ time.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.



Sustainable Habits for Earth Day and Every Day

April 24, 2019

The word is out—plastic is everywhere, and it is causing a serious pollution problem in our oceans and coastlines. Plastic bags, bottles, jars, trays, carryout containers, deli items, and packaging has become so prevalent in today’s to-go lifestyles that it is part of our everyday backgrounds. The Earth can no longer handle all the trash we’re throwing at it, and it’s now screaming at us through intense storms, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and overall weird weather patterns.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid all plastic in our modern society, but by developing mindful changes in our daily habits, we can, with minimal effort, help reduce the trash problem, no matter how hectic one’s lifestyle can be. Here are a few tips:

  1. Bags—this one’s easy. Economically priced reusable cloth bags are available at most retail stores, and I’ve found sturdy tote bags and reusable bags at thrift stores. Sometimes the not-so-easy part is remembering to put them back in your car after shopping, so place them on the doorknob or another visible place where you’ll see them on the way out of the house. Reusable mesh or muslin produce bags are also available, or reuse the the mesh bags from oranges or potatoes. Also, a bunch of wet spinach needs a bag, but bananas or avocados do not.

Refuse to accept a bag for only one or two items, and keep an eye on cashiers or            baggers as they pack your items; some stores are plastic bag-happy and use them willy-nilly. Politely tell them you don’t need all of that plastic.

  1. Pet waste—this one is a little trickier, especially while walking your pet. If you can’t avoid plastic, instead of accepting new bags from grocery stores for this task, grab them from recycle bins at stores, or reuse plastic bags from bread, tortillas, or other consumables. When picking up after my dog in my own yard, I use an old gardening shovel to scoop the poop into a paper bag and promptly take it out to the trash. This is how my grandmother picked up after her dog during the 1970s, before plastic bags became commonplace.
  2. Deli and produce containers—these are hard to avoid because most grocers only offer produce like berries, cherry tomatoes, or microgreens in plastic clamshell containers. To-go deli items like potato salad are also in plastic containers with lids. These can go into municipal recycling containers, but a better option is to reuse them for arts and craft projects (they make great art paint palettes) or for gardening projects.
  3. Buy in bulk whenever possible, and bring you own container.
  4. When dining out or getting carryout, refuse plastic straws. If you need a straw, bring your own stainless steel or bamboo straw (keep then in your purse or car). Many restaurants have gotten on board with the Last Plastic Straw campaign and have eliminated plastic straws or switched to biodegradable paper straws. Ask your favorite restaurant to do the same.
  5. Most frozen foods come in plastic bags. Buy seasonal produce from farmers markets and freeze it yourself.
  6. Bring reusable cutlery with you to work for your lunch, or to fast food or fast-casual restaurants that only offer plastic.
  7. Condiments often come in plastic bottles. Try to purchase items like mayonnaise or peanut butter in glass jars, or make your own. Items like ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, and barbecue sauce are not too difficult or time-consuming to make. (
  8. Health and beauty products—many natural options can be used in lieu of pricey, plastic-packaged conditioners and moisturizers. Pure coconut oil is an excellent make-up remover and moisturizer, and some local artisan soap companies make shampoo in bar form. Check out Ecobeauty (c. 2009, Ten Speed Press) by the mother and daughter team Janice and Lauren Cox, for how to use items in your own kitchen to make body scrubs, bath bombs, skin toner, and more.
  9. Speak up! Talk to friends and family and incorporate plastic-reducing efforts into activities and get-togethers. Using reusable plates at a picnic or a party can generate conversation about avoiding Styrofoam or plastic plates. Write to corporations that package their products in plastic, or better yet, avoid purchasing products in plastic bottles—one thing corporations will listen to is their bottom line.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.







Declutter with Purpose

March 29, 2019

Wisconsin has finally unthawed! Tulips and daffodils are emerging after a long winter’s nap, the Milwaukee Brewers are back on the field, and indoors, many of us have begun that ritual known as spring cleaning. Along with the usual washing, dusting, yard cleanup and the like, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has spearheaded a decluttering trend, which some of us include on our spring cleaning chore lists. After careful purging, sorting, and packing stacks of those material objects that no longer spark joy, now what?

A first step most of us take is to donate items to a local resale or thrift shop. Most of those stores are affiliated with a nonprofit group that is partially funded through the sales from store merchandise. This, of course, is an awesome way to help support the mission of a nonprofit organization doing great work. Although in January, the “Today” show reported how second-hand stores have reported a dramatic uptick in donations, possibly due to Kondo’s book and new Netflix series, “Tidying Up.” Maybe it’s time to spread the bounty around a bit, so here are some other ideas for repurposing clothing and household items:

  1. Homeless shelters, emergency services, and community church pantries: Many shelters are in need of gently used clothing for their homeless or indigent guests. Rather than reselling items to the public to make money, these services give donated clothing, shoes, or coats directly to those in need. Some shelters serve just men, some provide emergency shelter for women, and some serve families and accept clothing for children and infants.
  2. TerraCycle: This company provides a zero waste answer for unwanted clothing and fabric. You can order one of their recycling boxes online ( for your unwanted items. Once the company receives the items, they sort them and recycle, upcycle, or reuse as appropriate.
  3. Clothing swaps: Invite some friends over for a glass of wine, and have them bring a bag of unwanted clothes. Arrange the clothing on a table and tell everyone to have at it. There are also swap events throughout the area.
  4. Fix or repair: A small tear or a missing button are easy fixes and can extend the life of a garment. Keep a basic sewing kit on hand with a couple of different sized needles and basic colors of thread. If you don’t know how to sew, no problem—many people do, so chances are you know someone who can help you out. There are also tailoring shops income communities, and many dry cleaners also offer tailoring and alteration services.
  5. Rags: If there’s an item that’s no longer usable, cut it into squares for rages to use for washing the car, dusting, or other chores.

I always have a sense of accomplishment after purging drawers and closets and sending items on to a new life. But the ideal solution is to choose our consumables carefully and not generate so much unnecessary clutter in the first place. When shopping for new clothing, try to avoid fast fashion that will quickly go out of style (looking at you, cutout shoulder tops!) and choose classic looks that can be mixed and matched. Be conscious while shopping and consider whether you really need that eighth pair of dress shoes or T-shirts in every color of a box of crayons. Shop out of necessity rather than just for fun. Spending our money on experiences instead of excessive consumables can create memories more fulfilling than buying a new pair of jeans, and memories from those experiences can ultimately spark joy for years to come.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.


Who Said All Bacteria Were Bad? A Microscopic Solution to the Macroscopic Plastic Problem

February 19, 2019

Hiking along the tracks of bodies of water across the world, we, as humans, are no longer in the hustle and bustle of a city. Instead, we are whisked away to a natural sanctuary, where we are belittled by towering trees, calmed by the soft flow of the waves, filled with the music of benign birds, and blanketed by a faint breeze. However, travel further and one will see sure-fire signs of human touch; entire sections of rivers that are covered by water bottles, chip bags, and grocery bags. The world has produced a total of 8.3 billion tons of plastic, but only about 21 percent is dealt with in the U.S., according to a study in the prestigious Science Advances Journal. The rest, 6.3 billion, ends up in the landfills around the world, also according the same study. That is the same as about 3 billion U.S. cars, or two billion elephants. And the largest purchaser of this plastic is currently not accepting it anymore; after the China ban, we may have a new 111 million ton-plastic problem by 2030, according to a study by the University of Georgia.

The current myriad production of plastic is choking wildlife, polluting waterways and overall pushing the environment to the brink of instability. It is a self-made pandemic that scientists are eager to cure, and they have come up with some viable options, ranging from biodegradable plastic to large industrial floating nets to clean up waterways. However, there is a newly discovered solution, with something so small people cannot see it with their naked eye.

In contrast with large nets, a microorganism could be a potential solution.  A team of Japanese researchers stumbled upon a species of bacteria, which produces enzymes to break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most common forms of plastic. It conceals itself amongst large piles of plastic bottles and in benthic mud on banks of rivers. The bacteria has been given the name Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, which only savvy ecologists would understand. Put in common language, this bacteria has been put under the recently created category of Geobacter, a group of bacteria with extraordinary applications. These same Japanese researchers had to put their discovery to the test. They conducted a study to determine the hydrolysis (breaking down) time of PET plastics with these extraordinary bacteria­ but to their dismay, it took close to six weeks to break down an entire water bottle. 

After these results, one may be thinking that this isn’t viable option. Most experts would concur. However, next time you go to the grocery store, take a look at those labels in the meat section. “No GMOs” are proudly paraded on most of the packaging. Science has revolutionized the size of animals, making them bigger, or more resilient to disease; they have genetically modify organisms! Who knows, with some growth hormones to beef up these tiny guys, they might be ready to knock out plastic water bottles like Muhammad Ali, and as intrinsic to the survival of the planet as water is to humans.  

Also, there is an added bonus to these bacteria; when breaking down molecules, they produce electricity, putting them in the vanguard of discoveries of the power of bacteria. Solutions like biodegradable plastic are novel discoveries. Activism to recycle more plastic and use less plastic are necessary. But those are for the future, not cleaning up the mess we have already made. These bacteria may be the cure for our planet. What do you think? I hope this article gave a scope into the usefulness of nature, and the many coexistent species yet.

Akul Goel is a freelance writer.