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Bev Benda

Bev Benda is a licensed registered dietitian and board certified coach in Grand Forks, N.D. She is the owner of My Coach Bev, a private practice dedicated to assisting individuals, groups and work sites achieve healthier lifestyles and environments. She offers nutrition, wellness and health coaching services as well as teleclasses, motivational presentations and work site wellness consultation. A native of Wahpeton, N.D, Bev graduated from North Dakota State University and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics. She has worked in a variety of settings, including public health, health promotion research at the UND Medical School and clinical nutrition. For many years, she served as the state media rep for the North Dakota Dietetic Association. In her spare time, she likes to play Pickleball and golf. For more information, go to www.mycoachbev.com or email her at bev@mycoachbev.com.

BEV BENDA: My Coach Bev — How To Escape Back To School Shopping And Save Thousands of Dollars

I recently read that the National Retail Federation projects parents will pay on average $970 for back-to-school expenses. “Back to School” shopping is the second-largest retail shopping season next to Christmas.

So if each family spends roughly $1,000 annually, we are up to $13,000 on average from kindergarten to 12th grade! Ouch!

Want to save thousands of dollars in back-to-school shopping? It’s quite simple.  Don’t do it.

What? Rebel against the school supply list? No. Honor the school list but in a different manner than back to school shopping.

I credit my two sons for the solution.

They love sports. As they were growing up, they loved being outside, batting ball, playing catch, kicking soccer balls, throwing footballs, etc. During harsh North Dakota winters, they were building snow forts. Video games were not an option because we as parents didn’t buy them. While their friends were glued to videos and TV, our boys were  outside playing.

They did not like back-to-school shopping because it took away at least one day of playing outside in the summertime.

So when they were 12 and 8, respectively, they approached my husband and me with a way to eliminate this annual tradition. I remember the proposal well, and the conversation went like this, with the older son doing most of the talking:

“Mom and Dad, we have a great idea to save you money!”

“OK, lets’ hear it!”

“We want to skip back-to-school shopping.”

“Hmmm. And how to you propose you meet the requirements on the Back to School Supply List?”

“Easy. We use our old backpacks and find all the supplies right here in our house.”

I thought about this, and realized this was achievable. I have often said the pens and pencils in this house reproduce when we aren’t looking. I also remembered my own childhood. I used the same backpack throughout elementary, high school and college … and I still have it! Truly, do children need a new backpack every year? Probably not.

“OK! Let’s try it. Here’s the list.”

We gave each boy his school supply list, and they raced to start the “treasure hunt.” They filled up their old backpacks with all the required supplies in less than an hour.

My younger son said, “We have enough pens, pencils, notebooks, erasers and Glue sticks to supply the whole neighborhood!”

“What about your school clothes?”

They both looked miserable. “Please don’t make us go to the Mall! There’s nothing wrong with the clothes we have!”

We thought about that and realized they were right.

Like many other consumers, we have been deceived into believing they needed new clothes just because school was starting. If they grew out of their clothes, that’s another story. But there are plenty of garage sales and thrift stores to find “new clothes” for little or nothing. Don’t forget about the relatives who like to buy new clothes for them on their birthdays. Truly, they have never been without something to wear.

So that was the beginning of saving thousands of dollars. By senior year in high school, each boy had back-to-school shopping down to a science. They kept all school supplies in one place, so it was just a matter of going through the list and checking off each required item.

My younger son came up a brilliant idea as time went on as he saw his friends going back to school shopping. “Since I’m not buying new clothes, could I get a new baseball cap every year? After all, we are saving you and Dad a lot of money.”

I thought about his baseball cap collection, which lined his room with at least 150 caps. He didn’t need another one. I thought about it, then responded.

“Absolutely! Here’s $25 — I am excited to see your new cap!”

BEV BENDA: My Coach Bev — HighMont Beef — A North Dakota Treasure For Heart Health

Do you enjoy the taste of beef but worry about the saturated fat and cholesterol content? Look no further than the Red River Valley Ranch in Walhalla, N.D.

Recently, my artist twin sister Barb, her husband Paul, and I took a road trip up to Walhalla. We had three agendas: Do a little hiking in the Pembina Gorge, visit the Brunch Bunch Art Show and visit Ed and Connie Jonas, owners of the Red River Valley Ranch.

I met this delightful couple not long ago.  After briefly meeting them, I was soon having coffee with them and learning about their ranch. When Ed found out I was a Licensed Registered Dietitian, he was eager to tell me about the difference between his beef and “regular beef.”

The Jonases have created a low-fat, low-cholesterol meat called HighMont Beef by breeding together two types of cattle: the Scottish Highlander and the Italian Piedmontese. (Think “high” for Highlander, and “mont” for Piedmontese.) They started this operation back in 2003 in Montana, and a year and a half ago, moved it to Walhalla for the rich soil and grazing land.  When I asked if I could taste it, I was invited to lunch and for a tour of the ranch.

Ed grilled burgers for us, and to truly taste the meat, I decided to forego ketchup and mustard. I asked Ed for a “well-done burger” and the look on his face was that of a chef who cringes in the kitchen when such an order is made. He was concerned it would change the flavor too much, but I didn’t budge, so he delivered a well-done burger with fried onions on a homemade oatmeal bun made by Connie. My brother-in-law, Paul, took his more rare. My sister, a nonbeef eater, declined the meat, but enjoyed the rest of the meal.

As I searched the sky for words to describe the meat, she kept asking, “Well? How does it taste? You look like you have never eaten a burger before.”

She was right. I have never eaten a burger like this before. The beef was tender even though well-done, and had an amazing earthy taste to it. It wasn’t stringy or crumbly or tough. It was simply “delicious and amazing.”

I can understand why they call it “buff beef.”

As an RD, I was impressed. I hear about the “cardboard” taste of many foods that are low in fat. This meat was not tough, even when served well-done, and it had a flavor that was better than any meat I have tried. I tend to not focus on cholesterol content when discussing heart-healthy meals, since it is saturated fat in food that tends to raise our blood cholesterol, and I put my focus there.

Here’s the profile of HighMont Beef compared to other types of meat:

What is most striking about the Red River Valley Ranch is the high respect for their animals. For example,

  1. The cattle are fed an all-natural diet of oats, flax and mineral water. They also have access to straw mounds and allowed to roam freely on the chemical-free grass and hay.
  2. Despite having about 50 cattle, Ed knows each one by name. There’s Pretty Girl and Pretty Woman. Then there’s Flash and her calf, Bulb. Onto Percy, Gus, Nutmeg, Dulce and the Christmas calf, Noelle. As more cattle roamed around, we met them each by name.
  3. The bulls are allowed to choose their own “girlfriends,” and they mate naturally instead of a forced environment. The cows are encouraged to nurse their young and enjoy the beautiful outdoors as a family. The males are assessed for size, and “confirmation,” as determined by the length of the back. The longer the distance between head and tail, the better. Those with less than ideal confirmation are castrated and turned into “steers.” After 27 months, these steers are candidates for processing. While this may seem harsh, keep in mind that many cattle that are fed growth hormones have a much shorter life.
  4. Due to having a relaxed environment, these cattle are not stressed, like many cattle. Ed said “stressed” meat tastes bad. We walked among them with hardly a stir of a reaction. (We knew better than to approach a calf, though … Mama Cow would not like that!)
  5. Once the steers are processed for meat, Ed and Connie personally deliver it to buyers. This is cheaper than shipping it commercially and gives them an opportunity to know their customers.

HighMont beef at the Red River Valley Ranch … another N.D. treasure to enjoy!

For more information on the Red River Valley Ranch, formerly known as the Blacktail Mountain Ranch, please visit http://www.blacktailmountainranch.com/blacktail-mountain-ranch-nutrition.html

Please check out the following gallery of photos taken by Barbara Benda Nagle and myself. Barbara Benda Nagle provided the watercolor artwork.

 

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — When Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, Must We Cut Them Down?

Six years ago, my childhood home was bulldozed after the new owners had a fire and the city condemned it. When I learned that it took less than a half-hour to crush our huge old house into a pile of rubble and lay pavement in its place, I felt like my parents and seven sisters were also crushed into that pile.

Our home was one of the original homesteads of Wahpeton, N.D. My mother painted it Bubblegum Pink for as many years as I lived in it. In her words, “Who couldn’t smile looking at this lovely pink?” My brother-in-law, Jim, nicknamed it The Wad. However, to sell it after my mother died, the Realtor suggested we paint it a drab gray.

It was hard to look at it after that. I avoided it even more once I heard it was torn down. Yet when I finally mustered up the courage to see the property, I discovered grace had been granted.

Driving up to my old address on a sunny July day, I discovered thick green grass and the majestic trees of my youth still standing. Yes, there was the big old tree that served as first base in hundreds of backyard softball games (until the night my twin sister knocked a homer through the glass porch window.) The white picket fence separating our property from the neighbors was shedding paint, but it was still ready to serve as “steady catcher.” The rose of China and flowering crab trees were in full bloom, fully pinkifying my world again. The banana tree out back was still shedding “baby bananas,” sustenance for our dolls and stuffed animals.

In the years since, I was willing to go back and visit my childhood home of grass and trees, plop down under the big old tree and bask in a whirlwind of memories.

Oh, if those trees could talk, they would tell of Kick the Can, Ante—I-Over and Starlite Moonlight games, snowball fights, crab apple battles, productive gardens, family reunions, animal funerals and burials and even a Wimbledon grass court in celebration of our favorite tennis event. They would tell of how my mother fed hobos picnic meals as they jumped off the trains near our backyard. The trees heard her explain to us why she did it: “God says to be kind to strangers, for you never know when you are entertaining angels.” From their mighty stature, they saw so much, including her last breath. Life, death, it all took place here.

The city owned the land after the fire and eventually put it up for sale. Because it was next to the railroad tracks, it wasn’t very marketable, so I had this feeling I could visit it as my own for many years.  Maybe it will become a little city park, just green grass and trees, where people (like me) can enjoy the greenery and the fragrant trees in the summertime?

Nice fantasy, but short-lived.

To sell it, the city rezoned my old address from residential to commercial and sold it recently to a computer business. Without any input from the neighbors, the computer gurus promptly cut down all the trees. Our beloved trees!

I don’t begrudge any business for buying property that is inexpensive. However, maintaining the beautiful trees of one of the original homesteads in Wahpeton, rather than impulsively cutting them down, is a decision that could have been made with more consideration.

You may say it’s not my home anymore, so it’s none of my business. If this computer business wants trees, it can easily create trees on computer with a few clicks of a mouse. Never mind that computer-generated  trees don’t provide shade or permeate an incredible fragrance blocks away — with eyes fixed to computer screens, these business owners are oblivious to the loss to the community. They aren’t concerned either about longtime neighbors who are mourning the loss of the trees. Money was the issue. And money did not grow on our trees.

Only memories.

Fortunately, no tree-chomping truck will ever take those away from us.

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — Bison Named National Mammal: Love, But Do Not Touch!

On May 9, the bison was named the national mammal through the National Bison Legacy Act. The campaign was led by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and 11 other co-sponsors. This act passed through Congress and the Senate easily before being signed by President Obama.

A few facts: Bison are the largest land animal in America, found in all 50 states.  While there once were millions roaming the plains, by 1876, bison faced extinction. In 1905, ranchers, tribes and conservationists joined President Theodore Roosevelt in the first major wildlife recovery in world history. The numbers are now back to 500,000.

Bison are valued for their historic importance but also for economic, cultural, environmental and sociological benefits they provide. One of the roles I read about was their contribution to biodiversity.  This brought back memories of an amazing experience I had about 15 years ago in Medora, N.D., one of my favorite family vacation spots.

Our sons — ages 11 and 7 — had never ridden horses before, so we signed up for a trail ride. We were the only people who showed up for the afternoon ride, which meant we had the guide all to ourselves. She was fabulous.

“Karen” (not her real name) was a true educator — in her “normal life” she was a high school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher. She was ever so gentle teaching the boys how to ride their horses in the corral before we headed out on the trail. She taught them how to keep their horses’ heads up so they didn’t start grazing and refuse to move. She kept the ride interesting by telling stories about the wildlife and the history of the Badlands, while also giving us time to ask questions or simply enjoy the view. Near the end of our two-hour ride, we came to a bluff and were overlooking a herd of bison. She asked us if we were ready to go down and ride through the herd. Whoa!

Enter Karen’s lesson on biodiversity. She informed us that bison and horses are “friends” in nature, but bison and humans are not. She assured us the bison would be kind to us as long as we stayed on our horses and didn’t talk or be disruptive. We agreed, then silently and slowly went right through the middle of that large herd of bison.

I was a bit tense at first, especially when I found myself right next to these gigantic wooly animals, looking right into their eyes. But when they peacefully looked back at me without batting an eye, I relaxed. My sons braved their way through without a word.  The herd did not stir; it was as if we weren’t even there, or as if we were one of them. Biodiversity. The ability of different living animals (and plants) to live peacefully together.

It made sense to leave the bison alone — they were being calm, so why rock the boat? It was surreal to be among them, hear them breathe, yet slip through almost unnoticed.

It’s beyond my imagination that tourists in Yellowstone National Park would approach, touch, pet and take selfies with bison. Worse yet, is the story of the father and son who loaded up a baby bison and put it in their vehicle, “thinking” it was cold. The mother rejected the baby bison (due to its contact with humans) and it had to be put to sleep. This is sad beyond words.

One doesn’t need a lesson in biodiversity to understand that mothers and babies belong together or that a furry baby bison doesn’t need to be in a heated car for warmth. This is common sense. So is not putting any wild animal in your car.

Having watched the news on events in Yellowstone, I noticed there are a lot of people without common sense.  I wouldn’t blame Medora trail guides if they don’t take people through the bison herds anymore. When my sons and I went, we didn’t even take a camera along. We were committed to holding onto the reins.

It’s not enough to appoint a national mammal. We need to protect it from exploitation and harm from its greatest threat to its existence — human beings.

If you ever encounter our magnificent national mammal, please remember what Karen, our Medora guide, told us: “Bison and horses are friends in nature. Bison and humans are not.”

It’s that simple.

Bruiser © original painting reprinted with permission by Barbara Benda Nagle, Moorhead, Minn.

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — Looking For Lucy’s 5 Cent Psych Booth

After watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the umpteenth time (yes, I have my Christmas rituals), I had the urge to join Charlie Brown and visit Lucy’s Psychiatric Booth for some advice. After all, her advice was quite sound.

At the start of the movie, Charlie Brown was feeling down as the holidays approached, much like 45 percent of the population at this time of year. He told Lucy, “I feel depressed — I know I should be happy, but I’m not.”

Lucy counseled with, “The mere fact you realize you need help indicates that you are not too far gone.” After ruling out a multitude of phobias, she suggested “involvement.” She suggested he direct the upcoming Christmas play. Even though he didn’t know how, he agreed to his assignment and in the rocky process, learned the true meaning of Christmas.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn the corner and find Lucy with her little booth and receive appointment-free, insurance-free, HIPPA-free psychiatric advice for only 5 cents? Sometimes we are so down in the dumps we don’t want to jump through all those routine hoops! It seems easier to just crawl in a hole.

If this sounds like you, keep heart. At the end of this article, I will provide free resources that don’t cost a nickel.

There are different reasons people feel down during the holidays  — lack of connection, family problems, money problems, reminders of lost family members, too much stress combined with too little time and too little sleep, lack of sunlight, and the list goes on … the reason doesn’t matter — this experience is real.

Thirty-two years ago, I lost my mother in a tragic accident just three weeks before Christmas. Since that sounds like a long time ago, you would think I would be over it. Yet when it feels like yesterday, it’s not so easy. Even though I can go through the motions of decorating, attending Christmas events and putting on a happy face, not once have I been able to stop the undercurrent of that life-changing event from swirling through my heart every Christmas season.

Tim Lawrence, in his blog The Adversity Within says,

“Let yourself live. Take your brokenness and allow it to be on full display. Sit with it, in the haunting majesty of space-time, and allow it to become part of your imprint upon the world. Life is a series of movements that cannot be reclaimed. So it is imperative that you claim them as they cross your horizon. 

“If you’ve lost a loved one, you do not have to try and make it OK. It’s not OK. And you can honor their death by acknowledging that it’s not OK, but acting anyway, in whatever form that takes. If you’re dealing with heartbreak, mourn the loss with the fullness of everything you are.”

I appreciate those words because I have never believed anyone who told me “time will heal” or “you’ll get over this.” Once I realized I would never fully get over losing my dear mother, I set myself free to grieve in my own way.

After the initial grief counseling, I let pen and paper be my source of comfort through journaling.  Sometimes I write letters to her. Other times I write memoirs. I even took a class on writing memoirs in the hopes my descendants might actually enjoy reading them. Here is an entry from last year:

“I still remember my mother’s voice, less than 24 hours before she died. She had called me to check on the troubles I was having with my cherry red Chevy Luv pickup. Mechanically inclined, she was convinced all symptoms pointed to the carburetor. She gave me strict instructions on what to say when I took my truck in for service. ‘Be sure to stand over the mechanic while he’s fixing it … make sure he doesn’t create new problems … those guys don’t think we women know anything about cars!’ I was quick to say, ‘But Mom, it’s true, I don’t!’ She laughed and said, ‘Well, at least stand over them. You know I don’t want anyone taking advantage of you.’ Yes, I knew that. I was on my own, but she was always in my corner. We ended the call with me promising to report back to her the next day. Our call ended with the usual, ‘I love you …  goodbye.’  

“I didn’t get to report to her on how I kept an eye on the mechanics.  We held a funeral instead.

“Thirty-one years later, her voice is still fresh in my mind. Last night while making pumpkin pies, I was pinching the dough bringing the pie crusts together on the frame of the pie pan. I could hear her whispering in my ear. Suddenly I was 12, giggling in the kitchen, with my mother cheering me on, ‘Yep, yep, you got it …  just give a little pinch-anna- twist to make it look so nice … ooh, yes, you got  it!!’ She was so kind and encouraging, and despite having eight daughters and 17 grandchildren, she had a way of making me feel like I was the only child in her life. Years later, talking to my sisters, they would say the same thing, and we would always agree we had the best mom ever.”

I don’t know what this year will bring. I hear her voice through so many memories — sometimes I laugh, sometimes I smile, and other times I still shake my head in disbelief of that tragedy and the hole it created in my life. Despite that, the holidays are here, and I will get through. I always do.

It helps to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

If you struggle through the holidays, please know you are not alone.  Visit Mental Health America for information and resources (including screening tools.)  They can help you find counselors in your area or refer you to hotlines if you need to talk to someone.  Keep breathing and hang on … as my mother often said, “this too shall pass.”

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — Gentleman’s Final At Wimbledon

I got up early so I wouldn’t miss any of the commentary of “Breakfast at Wimbledon” in preparation for the matchup between the two greats, Novak Djokovic (No. 1 Seed) and Roger Federer (No. 2 Seed.) I have been cheering for Roger Federer throughout the tournament despite friends telling me “he’s over the hill,”, “past his prime” and “on his way out.” I believe in him — his graceful strokes, his strong serve and his positive attitude. I like his opponent, too — he’s determined, resilient and a brilliant shot-maker.

Bev Benda and her son, Nick Moe, at Wimbledon.
Bev Benda and her son, Nick Moe, at Wimbledon.

Five years ago, I was fortunate to attend Wimbledon in London with my son, Nick, and my British-born friends. This was one of the best travel experiences of my life. The “tradition” of Wimbledon made it so memorable, starting with being in the “queue” for four hours to get a “ground pass.”

For anyone considering going there, this is the least expensive way to attend Wimbledon, for a cost of about $45 American dollars — seeing matches all day long on the outside courts and of course, on Henman Hill. Volunteer stewards along the queue provided delightful conversation, making it an “easy four hours.”

By going on the starting days of the tournament, we found front-row seats for top-notch players. You can bring in your own beverages. Some people carried in coolers with wine and cheese, complete with glasses and small plates! As my girlfriend said, “This isn’t like American sports … it’s so much more relaxed here.”

Yes, it was!

The players walked among the crowd, and John McEnroe gave a TV interview 2 feet away from me! No pushing, no shoving, just “Excuse me, Love” and “What can I get you, Love?”

How does one feel at Wimbledon?

Loved!

“Breakfast at Wimbledon”  — scrambled-up eggs with garden kale, basil and cilantro, added toast with jam, red grapes and dark roast coffee.
“Breakfast at Wimbledon” — scrambled-up eggs with garden kale, basil and cilantro, added toast with jam, red grapes and dark roast coffee.

“Breakfast at Wimbledon” has been a family tradition since I was 15. It doesn’t require strawberries, just china. Today, I made scrambled-up eggs with garden kale, basil and cilantro, added toast with jam, red grapes and dark roast coffee, all served with fine china on an antique tea tray. Delicious company to my memories.

When the match started, I was focused on the beauty of two amazing players who gave their all in four incredible sets.

They call it the Gentleman’s Final. And it was truly that. In the final game, in what could have been a challenge point, Federer didn’t flinch, just let the point go to Djokovic, who then won, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.

In the post-match interview, they both praised each other for a well-played match. Federer made no excuses for his loss, just gave high praise to the opponent who beat him. And Djokovic, instead of gloating over his win, praised Federer for being the champion he is. Both expressed gratitude to organizers, fans, their teams and families.

The commentators noted before the match that Federer wanted his two sets of twins there for the trophy presentation. His girls are 6, and the boys are 1. It was important to him that they experience it, whether he won or lost. What his children would see is that their father is not just a great tennis player loved by the crowd but a great athlete who is a gracious sportsman. What a great legacy to pass on to his children!

Gentleman’s Final. Yes, it surely was.

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — The Eagles Do It Right!

On Friday night, the 1970s rock band The Eagles came to town. I remember a comment someone made on Facebook when the announcement was made: “But they’re so old!”

From my seat in Section 213 at the Alerus Center, the age of the Eagles did not show at all. Of course, they aren’t in their 20s, but if I were rating them on that, I’d rate them as “aging beautifully” — they all looked fantastic.

With regard to music, they sounded as good as 44 years ago! They still impart musical integrity, lyrical poetry, angelic harmony and depth. Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh can still duke it out in “dueling guitar licks.” Don Henley hit the high notes, showing effort but without flaw.

It was heartwarming to hear Frey and Henley sing “What Ever Happened to Saturday Night?” as they introduced their humble acoustic beginnings.

They introduced members one by one, such as Bernie Leadon, who was referred to them by Linda Ronstadt, and Timothy B. Schmit, of Poco fame. I appreciated these introductions — it shows they are valued as human beings, not just musicians.

I enjoyed the narrative about the “history of the Eagles,” as it gave me a sense of who they are as people, where they’ve been and how far they’ve come. The fact they have been together off and on for 44 years is an amazing and commendable accomplishment, yet they appeared more grateful than proud.

If age of the Eagles showed at all, it was in the policy they set for the audience: “All cell phones must be turned off — no picture-taking, no texting!”

This simple policy enhanced my concert experience immensely. What a joy to not have people flashing harsh white screens in the dark or block my vision entirely with a phone! I credit the Alerus for this as well.

When a woman in front of me started texting, security staff was right there to tell her to put her phone away. As I looked over the crowd, I saw very few “cheaters.” I suspect most people were respectful of the directive; after all, if they truly like the Eagles, why wouldn’t they honor their wishes?

The other aspect that made the concert fabulous was the volume. It wasn’t bass-pounding, ear-drum blasting, speaker-screeching loud. It was set so perfectly, I could hear every word, bask in each harmony and truly enjoy every musical moment. This also made me wonder, “Why are some concerts so loud I lose my equilibrium?” Quality, not quantity of sound, needs to be the goal.

I wish all events (concerts, movies, plays, etc.) would assess the volume setting and the cell phone policy to determine what is best for performers and audience members. The Eagles concert proved it is possible to put cell phones away for 3½ hours, and that texting truly can wait.

On another topic, if you are wondering what my favorite Eagles song is, I had two before the concert — and five after. That’s what a live concert does to a person.

Thank you to the Eagles and the Alerus for a great evening!

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — Las Vegas, It’s Not For Kids

I was in Las Vegas last week. When I told friends and family I was going, I got similar reactions from everyone: “You?” “Why?” “Are you serious?” Some were speechless. When I told them I was going for a nutrition conference, that helped ease the mystery. They all know it’s not my “kind of city.”

How did it go? Let’s just say I endured my time there, mostly because my nutrition conference was very good and I enjoyed my travel companions. And I went there knowing what to expect, although it certainly has changed since I was there more than 25 years ago. What surprised me, though, was the large amount of tourists who brought children to Vegas.

I was baffled why parents would bring children to the Strip. There were so many strollers and umbrollers on the Strip, I thought I was at Disneyworld. Sure, there are SpongeBob and Frozen characters children can meet along the way. Parents can pay money for caricatures or face paintings for their children. Yes, there are plenty of toy stores along the Strip. But there are also hookers and smokers.

Smoking was so rampant, my head hurt and my eyes burned, and this was outdoors! I have to point out that it wasn’t even me who angrily said out loud, “What is wrong with this picture? Cigarettes hanging in people’s hands the same height of children’s faces in strollers?” I turned to see who said it, and saw a young man, about the age of 30, walking with a buddy, shaking his head in disbelief.

I wondered how middle-schoolers could miss school on a weekday, but it didn’t matter — they were getting quite the education watching pictures of almost-naked showgirls wallpapered to buses. And there were plenty of women on the street wearing little to nothing. One mother tried to shield her young son’s eyes from a woman wearing just a tiny bra and thong as she walked ahead of them. The little boy kept saying, “Look, mama!” The mom said, “Don’t look! It’s just a bottom!”

I also noticed all the slot machines with cartoon characters: the Jetsons, Hercules, the Flintstones, etc. So why was I surprised me to hear a little boy in a stroller yell to his mom while waiting in line at Baja Express, “Mommy! Machines! Let’s go play Machines!”?

Then it dawned on me — the slot machines are luring children the same way the tobacco companies lure children with candy-flavored tobacco. Get ‘em hooked while they are young, of course.

As a person who likes to seek the positive, I will say I found one very nice part of Vegas in the Bellagio Fountain. This is a huge pond in front of the Bellagio Hotel that has fountain shows set to music. Seeing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was magical, and it was free. My favorite nonfree event was Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson, but the price set me back from doing too much else while there. I still have “Smooth Criminal” in my head, so at least I got my money’s worth.

When people say, “There’s so much to do in Vegas!” that’s true for some people. But for those of us who aren’t into gambling, drinking, partying, show-hopping or tossing money, it’s a different story. And The Strip is not my recommendation for children. If parents want to give their children a rewarding vacation, I have a much better idea. Bring them to North Dakota or Minnesota, where they can run freely in our tobacco-free parks, play to their heart’s content without worry and maintain their status as innocent children.

If I were a betting woman (not!), I would bet that a sunny afternoon in one of our lovely parks would beat shaking hands with SpongeBob on the Strip from the confines of a stroller in the environment of secondhand smoke.

Children, of course, don’t usually have a voice in such matters, so hopefully parents can give some serious thought to this one when vacation planning.

Bev Benda: My Coach Bev — Accentuate The Positive

“Be There!” “Bite!” “Make It!”

These are some of the words I heard Jordan Spieth use to coach himself on the final round of the Masters Golf Tournament. The golf ball came under Spieth’s verbal command, and the grounds of Augusta National surrendered to his brilliant 18-under-par round, giving the 21-year-old his well-deserved Green Jacket.

What I saw Jordan Spieth do, which may be one little key to his success in golf, was keep his language on the positive side of wording. Instead of saying phrases like “Oh, no!” or “Don’t go there!” he said “Be THERE” and “Be enough!” Another time, he pleaded with the ball, “Go softly!” When the ball was sailing over the green, he yelled, “BITE!”

Instead of telling the ball what NOT to do, he told it what TO do. And he did it with straight-up posture and confidence. I had to keep reminding myself he was only 21 years old. His calm demeanor and maturity was more “old soul.”

As a dietitian and health coach, I listen to the self-talk of my clients because it is very telling of where they stand in the path of success. Negative self-talk can put one in the grips of failure, while positive self-talk leads the way to success.

One phrase I often hear clients say is, “I can’t resist sweets.” I tell them, “You are right.” I then point out what they believe will come true through their actions — so if they want my help, we need to start by working on that negative self-talk. This is a basic principle of the Law of Attraction — our words will attract our destiny.

Jordan Spieth certainly seems to understand that. He also talked about his family’s influence on him, especially his younger sister, Ellie, a young lady with special needs. He said she gives their family “humility,” and she keeps him “grounded.”

Having worked with people with developmental disabilities in the past, and now providing occasional care for a young man with special needs, I totally get this. It’s so easy to be focused on what the world values (money, fame, recognition, productivity) when these things are quite small in the grand scheme of things.

Is there a connection between Spieth’s positive self-talk and his humility in relationship with his sister? I can only speculate.

What about you? What could you learn from Jordan Spieth with regard to positive self-talk or humility? What do you say to yourself every day that keeps you reaching your goals, or possibly … not reaching them?

If you are short of your mark, what would happen if you changed your wording to phrases similar to Jordan Spieth’s … such as, “Be there!”, “Make it!”, or “Go softly!”? What would happen if you let someone in your life “ground you?”

Are you up for the challenge? Warning: Your life just might become better if you accept the challenge!