Gratitude: Why You Don’t Need to Find a Pot of Gold to Feel Lucky This Month

 During the month of March, people often think of lucky four-leaf clovers, chasing leprechauns, and finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s the month of luck after all!

Sure, finding a pot of treasure or stumbling upon a stash of golden horseshoes would be lucky, but the chances of that happening—unless you’re a treasure hunter–are slim to none.

That’s ok.

At The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, we believe it’s best to create your own luck, so that every day can be a great day!

Keep reading to discover some of our favorite ways you can remind yourself just how lucky you really are and show gratitude for everything you have.

Reflect on the Good Things in Life

It’s really easy to get caught reflecting on the bad things in life…like being diagnosed with cancer, losing a loved one, or being stressed out at work.

Yet, when we take a minute and begin to reflect on the good things in life, we realize there is often more good than bad happening in our lives.

Think about how lucky you are to have loving friends and family in your life that are there to support you whenever you need them. If you don’t have a lot of close friends or family, perhaps you have a pet that is always available for a snuggle.

Do you have a home, a warm bed to sleep in, and food to eat? Sadly, there are many people in the world that don’t. We consider ourselves lucky to have those things.

Chances are you’re reading this blog post from a computer or a smartphone. Just the fact that you have access to technology is very lucky! Not to mention other luxuries like electricity, a TV to watch, the ability to call friends and family via your cell phone, etc.

You see, when you start thinking about how many good things you have in your life, you don’t need “leprechaun magic” to realize just how good you have it!

Volunteer or Help Those in Need

Sometimes the best way to realize how lucky we are is put ourselves in the same room as those who aren’t as lucky.

The best way to do this is volunteering.

Working a soup kitchen is a great way to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have food in our stomach.

Volunteering at a homeless shelter is a wonderful way to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have our own beds to sleep in.

And spending time with sick children or adults in a hospital is the best way to show us how lucky we are for our good health—regardless of the health issues you’ve faced in the past.

Volunteer for a cause that is close to your heart, and I promise you won’t need to find a pot of gold to feel rich in your blessings.

Create Your Own Luck

Good fortune is often the result of a lot of hard work.

Think about it…many millionaires who own thriving businesses started with nothing, working out of their garages. But, with hard work, they now live a very fortunate lifestyle.

If you feel as if you’ve been stuck in a rut without any good luck, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, follow your dreams, and create your own good luck for the future.

Have the tools and resources you need to start your dream business? Do it!

Need to finish your college degree to help make a comfortable life for you and your family? Hit the books!

Do you dream of traveling the world? Start saving a little money each month to make that dream a reality.

With a little hard work and planning, you’ll have the potential to do whatever you set your mind to—how lucky is that!

How do you make your own luck? Let us know in the comments below!

The Benefits of Animal Therapy

 Different animals, such as dogs, cats, or horses, all have one thing in common. They all provide humans with unconditional love and affection.

This trait makes our furry friends perfect for animal therapy. And it’s certainly no secret.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world—from people battling cancer to children who are afraid of going to the dentist—reap the benefits of animal therapy on a daily basis in order to live a happy and healthy life.

Would you or someone you know benefit from animal therapy?

Check out a few of the most common reasons people seek out the comfort of therapy animal companions.

Anxiety

If you’ve ever noticed that you feel better when you’re around your pet, you’re not the only one.

Many doctors and scientists claim that petting an animal releases “feel good” hormones into your bloodstream, which make you feel calm and relaxed. Many studies also claim that the action of petting an animal helps lower blood pressure.

These things combined help the body relax—something very important for someone who suffers from anxiety.

If you’re ever feeling anxious, and you have a pet in your home, trying spending a little time curled up on the couch with your furry buddy…it may help!

Warning: If you ever find yourself suffering from an anxiety attack and the comfort of an animal doesn’t help, contact a friend, family member, or your doctor immediately for help.

Trauma

If you or a loved one has ever experienced some sort of trauma in life, you know how hard it can be to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Healing from trauma—whether it be physical, mental, or emotional—takes time, patience, and love.

The good news…most of our fluffy friends are experts at providing unconditional love and affection. Not to mention, as long as some petting is involved, most animals are willing to lie down with their owners (or the people they are visiting) and provide support as long as it’s needed.

There’s nothing like having a loyal buddy to stick with you when the times are rough.

Depression

When people fall into a depression due to illness, life-changing events, stress, etc., it can be very lonely.

Yet, despite the loneliness, it’s not common for people who are depressed to have the desire to socialize with others. Time spent in isolation can make depression worse.

It’s an awful cycle of feeling sad and lonely—a cycle no one should have to experience.

Therapy animals are great for people who are depressed because they open up a low-pressure outlet for socialization. They provide people with a “friend” during the times they need companionship most.

Even better—because animals require exercise and time outside—they can even help people get up and moving who would otherwise be confined to their bed or couch.

An Extra Set of “Paws”

Aside from emotional support, many people use therapy animals if they have a disability or are recovering from an illness, as an extra set of “paws” around the house.

Dogs can be trained to retrieve items, call people in case of emergencies, detect if an owner is going to have a seizure, and so much more.

Cats, with their keen sense of smell, can also be trained to sniff out danger and warn their owner if a medical emergency is about to occur.

Even horses—typically miniature horses—can be trained and used as “guide services” for the blind.

It’s truly incredible what our four-legged friends are capable of.

If you or someone you love enjoys animals and is in need of emotional or physical support, ask your doctor if a therapy animal would be appropriate!

Do you have a therapy pet? Tell us about your furbaby in the comments below!

5 Self-Care Tips

 

Between working full-time jobs, taking care of our families, and juggling day-to-day activities, it’s easy to forget about self-care and put everyone and everything else before our own needs.

Think about it…

How many times have you put your own desires on the back burner in order to cater to someone else, whether it be work, your partner, or your children?

There’s nothing wrong with taking care of others.

In fact, the ability to put others before yourself is a beautiful gift that not everyone has. But serving others doesn’t mean you should stop taking care of yourself.

Self-care, especially when you are someone who puts yourself last, is an extremely important topic. That’s why, this week, we’re sharing with you easy tips to ensure you get the self-care you need so you can live a happy, healthy, and balanced life.

Keep reading to discover a few self-care tips that you can easily implement into your schedule every week.

Schedule Weekly “Me Time”

Long work days, carpooling your kids to various activities, being there for a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on, and other similar activities eat up a lot of your time. And when you have a servant’s heart, it can be really hard to say no when someone needs you.

That’s why it is so important to block time off during your week that is “me time.”

Some people need an hour every night to relax and refresh, while others need an hour every other day. It’s up to you how much time you think you’ll need.

The idea is that whatever amount of time you block off is for you and you only.

Don’t let anyone schedule plans with you during that time. Tell your partner you will be unavailable during your “you time” so he or she can help with the chores or kids or manage anything else that needs to get done.

Turn off your phone and computer so people don’t have access to you.

Use your time to relax, unwind, and enjoy the things you love to do.

Cook a Meal You Love Once a Week

For those of you that have children and/or a picky partner, cooking can often be a chore.

You may find yourself making mac-n-cheese 3 nights a week because your children won’t eat anything else. Or maybe you refrain from making your favorite vegetarian dish because your significant other doesn’t enjoy veggies.

It’s ok to compromise and make meals that will make everyone happy…but what about you?

Every once in a while, you deserve to indulge in your favorite foods, too. That’s why, once a week, you should treat yourself to cooking your favorite meal.

If your kids or spouse doesn’t enjoy what you make one night a week, there’s always bread and peanut butter in the pantry.

If you don’t want to search for a good recipe, check out some of our favorites:

Quick and Easy Soup Recipes

Quick and Healthy Meal Recipes 

Simple Charleston-Area Recipes 

Visit a Spa

Everyone deserves to be pampered once in a while—even you!

If you are able, a trip to the spa to get your nails done or get a massage is a great way to relax and take care of yourself. Let someone take care of you for a change!

If you know a handful of other women that need some self-care, get a group of girlfriends together and make it a fun outing.

If you’re in the Charleston, South Carolina area, we recommend these local spas.

Get Some Exercise

Part of self-care is ensuring your body is healthy and happy. This means partaking in some form of exercise every week to keep your mind clear and your body strong.

This doesn’t mean spending hours breaking your back at the gym. That’s no fun. We encourage you to pick activities you love, like yoga, walking, Zumba, etc.

There are many forms of exercise, like hiking or dance classes, that you can do in groups. Make your self-care exercise time more fun by inviting your friends to join these types of activities with you if you enjoy having company.

Just Be

At times, life can be hard, stressful, and challenging. For that reason, sometimes the best form of self-care is to simply sit quietly and just be.

This can be accomplished in many ways.

Some people prefer meditation, a time where they can sit in peace, reflect, and free their mind. Others enjoy things like taking a hot bath with calming music in the background, or sitting in nature and admiring the views for a while.

The idea is to lose yourself in the stillness and calmness of the moment so you can free your mind, relax, and enjoy yourself.

The laundry, business reports, and doctors’ appointments will all still be there when you’re done relaxing, so take some time and just be.

 What do you do regularly for self-care? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Make Exercising More Fun

 

Exercise is good for our heart, muscles, and lungs, and helps us release stress and extra energy that builds up inside ourselves.

It’s something that, no matter how old or young we are, we all need to do in order to keep our bodies strong and stay healthy.

Unfortunately, many people avoid exercise because they feel incapable of it, or are intimidated by it. Part of the problem is that many people believe you need to spend hours at a gym lifting heavy weights or running miles on a treadmill to get a good workout.

This is simply not true.

Any time you are up and moving, you are getting exercise. That means you can turn daily activities into exercise and, most importantly, have fun while you’re doing it!

Keep reading to discover a few ways you can have fun while exercising—without the expensive gym membership or insane workout plans!

Dance

Dancing is a wonderful form of exercise, and it’s a total body workout.

When you dance, you get a solid cardio workout, strengthen your muscles, and improve your flexibility. The best part is that it only takes about a half hour of dancing to your favorite tunes to provide you with your daily dose of exercise.

If you want a more structured form of dance exercise, we recommend taking a class, like salsa dancing or Zumba. You can find these classes available at local community centers, dance studios, or gyms.

Play Outside with Your Kids

The next time your children, grandchildren, or nieces or nephews ask you to play outside, unleash your inner child and go for it!

Playing a game of tag, hopscotch, or jump rope is a fun way to get fresh air while moving your body. You’ll have so much fun, you’ll forget you’re even exercising.

It’s important for both kids and adults to get out and move, so try scheduling a half hour of outdoor play every day.

Join a Club Sport

If you love watching football, basketball, baseball, or any other sport on the big screen, we know you will enjoy getting off the couch and playing your favorite sport.

It doesn’t matter if you your were colleges all-star player, or if you have two left feet. Anyone can participate and have a good time when she participates in club sports.

Rally a bunch of your friends or family members together, join a team, and get a workout on the field together.

Take a Hike

If you dislike running on a treadmill, but want to improve your endurance, build strength, and get a good cardio work out ,take a hike!

When you hit the trails, you get the same amount of exercise as you would on a treadmill, but you get to enjoy the beautiful outdoors and work out at a more comfortable pace. Most people get so wrapped up in the beauty of nature that they forget they are even working out!

Pick a cool day, invite a friend, be sure to bring plenty of water, and plan an exciting day on the trails.

What’s your favorite fun exercise routine? Share in the comments below!

Fun Valentine’s Day Activity Ideas

Thanks to Valentine’s Day, February is commonly known as the month of love. On the 14th day of this month, many people show love to their friends, family, and significant others, while participating in Valentine’s Day activities.

While we believe that you should express your love for others throughout the entire year, we also know how fun it is to plan special surprises and events on Valentine’s Day.

To help you celebrate, we’ve put together a few of our favorite Valentine’s Day activities so you can plan the best day ever for your partner, friends, or family.

The best part—you can set aside some of these ideas to use throughout the rest of the year to show people how much you care.

Keep reading to discover some of our family Valentine’s Day activities.

Make a Homemade Meal

For many people, food is the key to their hearts. After all, who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal comprised of their favorite foods?

Taking the time out of your busy schedule to cook a meal on Valentine’s Day is a great way to show how much you care. And it’s easy, too!

All you need to do is find out your special Valentine’s favorite meal, and then cook!

Call up your girlfriends for a dinner party at your house, invite your parents or siblings over, or plan a special dinner in for you and your significant other this year. We promise you can’t go wrong with this idea!

 Make a Delicious Dessert

If you’re not much of a cook, but you love to bake, making a Valentine’s Day dessert may be good choice for you.

Here are a few different ways you can use dessert to say “I love you!”

#1 Make your partner’s favorite dessert and serve it as an after-dinner surprise.

#2 Bake a batch of desserts (like brownies or cookies) and hand them out at the office or to your neighbors.

#3 If you have children, make a dessert like cupcakes, and then get the whole family to decorate them and celebrate together.

Go Out for Coffee

Taking a friend, family member, or significant other out for coffee (or tea!) is a great opportunity to spend time with those you love.

This Valentine’s date idea is budget friendly, but most importantly, buys you precious time to chat and spend quality time with the ones you care about. Time together is certainly the best gift of all.

If you’re able, give your “Valentine” a gift card for future coffee dates throughout the year.

Have an In-Home Movie Night

Avoid the Valentine’s Day crowds and have a movie night in the comfort of your own home.

This type of activity works well when you want to celebrate with a bunch of friends, but want to keep the activity cost budget friendly.  Simply put together a list of people you want to celebrate with, pick a movie, and ask your friends to bring a sweet treat to share.

A movie night in is also a great option for a more intimate date night.

Pick out your significant other’s favorite movie, make a yummy movie treat, grab a cozy blanket, and enjoy a quiet evening  together.

Get Out the Crafts

If you have children, a Valentine’s Day crafting night can be a lot of fun.

We recommend using colored paper, stencils, and stickers to write Valentine’s Day cards for each other. This is a great way to remind your children how much they are loved.

While the cards are fun, it’s also a wonderful way to spend quality time with your kids…something they will cherish forever.

Volunteer

Not many people think about doing volunteer work on Valentine’s Day, but it’s a good way to show your community how much you care. It’s amazing how much one act of service can impact a person who needs a little extra love this season.

This Valentine’s Day, get your family or friends together and pick your favorite place to lend a hand like a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or animal shelter.

Not only will your community feel loved, but you’ll also feel good about making a difference.

Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day activity? Share it in the comments below!

3 Healthy Snacks to Bring to a Super Bowl Party

The 2017 Super Bowl is right around the corner, and football lovers all over the country are gearing up for the big game.

Between coordinating game day screening locations, rounding up your friends and family, and making sure your team jersey is washed and ready, you’ve got a lot to think about.

That’s why we thought you might like a few ideas on healthy snacks to bring to your Super Bowl party.

After all, aside from watching the game go down and all the commercials, food is the most important part of the event, right?

We think so!

Regardless of whether you love watching the game, or are just going to the party to enjoy the socialization and atmosphere, we know these snack recipes won’t disappoint.

Give them a try…

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Hot, salty, delicious French fries are a staple game day food for many people. Keep the game day tradition going strong with this heathier version of baked sweet potato fries.

Packed with Vitamins C and A and plenty of dietary fiber, this is a snack that is sure to please.

Ingredients:

  • Sweet potatoes (approximately 1 per guest)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

#1 Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

#2 Cut four sweet potatoes into 1-inch-wide wedges, place flesh-side down on a roasting pan, then brush with a mixture olive oil, chili powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

#3 Cook, turning once, for 20-25 minutes.

#4 Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon kosher salt.

Tip: Make the switch from savory to sweet by cutting out the chili powder and salt, and sprinkling your fries with cinnamon and sugar.

Recipe Source: http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/healthy-snacks-for-adults/

Chocolate-Covered Fruit

There’s no better way to cheer your favorite team on to a sweet victory than by eating a sweet snack during the game.

Fruit is a great snack choice to bring to a party because it’s sweet, refreshing, and contains lots of vitamins that are good for the body. The best part—because it’s so healthy, you can score a touchdown with your party guests by covering it in decadent chocolate.

Ingredients:

  • Fruit of your choice (we recommend a variety of strawberries, pineapples, and berries)
  • Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate (or all 3!)

Directions:

#1 Skewer fruit on wooden skewers (or your implement of choice).

#2 Melt your desired chocolate in microwave or over the stove.

#3 Dip fruit in chocolate.

#4 Set in fridge to chill.

#5 Serve when chocolate coating is hard.

Tip: Not everyone likes chocolate-covered fruit. To combat this problem, skewer your fruit and then serve your chocolate sauce as a fondue so people can coat their fruit in chocolate as they desire.

Turkey Snack Wraps

This year, skip the fast food hot wings and serve delicious, flavor-filled snack sandwiches at your party.

These wraps, filled with fresh turkey and veggies, are the perfect Super Bowl finger food. And because they are fresh and healthy, your party guests will be able to indulge in other party treats without any guilt. [Link to ]

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh tomato
  • ¼ cup chopped soft sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 8 thin slices low-sodium deli turkey
  • 4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas
  • 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

Directions:

#1 Combine corn, tomato, sun-dried tomatoes, oil and vinegar in a medium bowl.

#2 Divide turkey among tortillas.

#3 Top with equal portions of the corn salad and lettuce.

#4 Roll up.

#5 Serve the wraps cut in half, if desired.

Tip: To remove corn kernels from the cob, stand an ear of corn on one end and slice the kernels off with a sharp knife. One ear will yield about ½ cup kernels.

Recipe Source: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/250292/turkey-corn-sun-dried-tomato-wraps/

Do you have a favorite healthy snack recipe? Share it below!

Safe and Easy-to-Make Cleaning Recipes

Most people do their best to eat nutritious meals, exercise, and go for regular medical check-ups to ensure they stay healthy. All of this is great, but there is one more thing we should be paying attention to in order to live a healthy lifestyle.

That thing is the products we use to clean our homes.

Although people buy cleaning products with the best intentions—to clean their home and eliminate germs and bacteria—they sometimes don’t realize that the harsh ingredients in the products they purchase can do more harm than good.

To combat this problem, we’ve put together some of our favorite safe and easy-to-make cleaning recipes. These recipes will ensure that your home stays clean while also making sure that you aren’t negatively impacted by harmful commercial cleaning products.

Check out the recipes now…

All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe

Everyone needs at least one solid all-purpose cleaner in her cleaning arsenal. This recipe can be used on any surface (kitchen, bathroom, floors, etc.) and will leave your home smelling fresh and clean.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. borax
  • 1/2 tsp. washing soda
  • 1 tsp. liquid castille soap
  • Essential oils of choice. I use 4 drops lemon, 4 drops lavender and 10 drops orange
  • Glass spray bottle for storage

Instructions:

#1 Place borax, washing soda and soap in a spray bottle (preferably glass).

#2 Add 2 cups of warm water. Distilled is best, but any water that has been boiled will work. Cover bottle and shake well. Use as needed. I use as bathroom cleaner, floor pre-treater, kitchen cleaner and on toys to disinfect.

Recipe Source: http://wellnessmama.com/756/homemade-all-purpose-cleaner/

Laundry Detergent Recipe

For many people, laundry is a weekly chore. For that reason, having a safe, all-natural laundry detergent recipe that you can whip up from home is important. Keep your family’s clothes safe and fresh with this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • Washing Soda (Arm and Hammer Brand available at most stores)
  • Borax Powder
  • Bar Soap (Dr. Bronner’s, Ivory, or other natural, unscented bar soap)

Note: Washing Soda and Borax should be available at your local grocery store on the laundry aisle. Natural bar soaps are in the health, beauty, or organic sections of the store, or online. You can also add a couple tablespoons of baking soda to help freshen clothes.

Instructions:

#1 Grate the bar soap or mix in food processor until finely ground.

#2 In a large bowl, mix 2 parts washing soda, 2 parts Borax and 1 part grated soap. (Add a few teaspoons of baking soda if desired).

#3 Store in closed container. I keep mine in quart or half gallon mason jars. If you are using a big enough container, you can just put all ingredients in a storage container or jar and shake.

#4 Use 1/8 to 1/4 cup per load of laundry.

Recipe Source: http://wellnessmama.com/462/homemade-laundry-detergent/

Natural Oven Cleaner Recipe

Most people regularly clean their countertops to keep surfaces clean for food prep. There is one place food goes that people don’t think to clean on a regular basis—your oven. Try this easy recipe to keep your oven clean.

Ingredients:

  • Baking Soda
  • Water

Instructions:

#1 Spray water inside of oven with a spray bottle.

#2 Sprinkle a ¼ inch layer of baking soda inside oven.

#3 Let sit for 2-3 hours. Do NOT turn on your oven.

#4 Wipe clean

Recipe Source: http://wellnessmama.com/211/natural-oven-cleaning/

 Do you have an easy-to-make cleanering recipe you love?

Share it in the comments!

10 Ways to Fight Cabin Fever This Winter

The winter months can seem to drag on forever–especially if you live in a climate where you’re stuck inside due to freezing temperatures and snow. Even here in Charleston, SC, January can seem to drag on forever.

After weeks of being cooped, up you may begin to feel the effects of cabin fever.

The good news is that there many things you can do to combat that awful restless feeling when the weather just won’t cooperate.

This year, don’t let the snow, ice, or cooler temperatures keep you from enjoying the things you love. Instead, we suggest you put together a list of indoor activities you can do to avoid cabin fever…for you and your family.

Need some ideas? Not to worry. We’ve put together a few of our favorite things to do during the winter months. Keep reading to check them out.

Visit a Friend 

Between the hustle and bustle of work, taking care of our children, and getting chores around the house done, we don’t often have as much time as we’d like to spend with our friends.

If you find yourself sitting inside your house on a blustery Friday night with nothing to do, call a friend and make plans to hang out.

Not only will visiting a friend get you out of the house, but spending time together will be sure to warm both of your hearts.

Tip: Really beat the winter blues and plan a trip to visit a friend who lives in a warm place, like Florida! Or better yet, plan a trip with your girlfriends to visit a tropical destination together.

Go to the Movies

A big screen projector, the smell of delicious popcorn in the air, and the excitement of watching a new movie make going out to the movies a really fun activity.

Put together a list of movies you want to see, and then pick a day to go out and see one with your friends or family.

There’s nothing wrong with going to see a movie by yourself either. It’s important to be able to treat yourself and have a “you” day every once in a while. Grab a package of your favorite candy, purchase tickets to that chick flick you’ve been dying to see, and enjoy!

Volunteer

Organizations and charities need volunteer help as often as they can get it, especially during the cold winter months.

Warm the stomach of a person in need by making hot meals at your local soup kitchen, volunteer to help wash clothes at a homeless shelter, lend a hand to someone who’s battling cancer, or show the animals at a pet rescue some love.

No matter what cause you’re passionate about, there’s always something you can do to help.

Bundle Up and Go for a Walk

Sometimes all it takes is a 30-minute walk to break you out of your cabin fever slump.

As long as your roads aren’t icy or dangerous, grab a winter coat, hat, and scarf, bundle up, and head outside for a walk.

Tip: Start a weekly winter walking group with your friends. Pick a time once a week to meet up, encourage each other to get outside, and walk together at your local park or in one of your neighborhoods.

Go to a Sporting Event

If you love basketball, football, or other winter sports, now is the time to pick up a ticket and go see your favorite team live in action.

If you can’t travel or afford to see your favorite professional team play, I recommend that you check out your local college or farm teams. Tickets to college or farm team games are generally cheaper, but come with just as much fun.

To make a night out on the town to watch your favorite sport even more fun, invite family or friends along. Pick up some team jerseys (or make them yourself at home) and enjoy an exciting night out together cheering on your favorite team!

How do you combat cabin fever? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Classic Books You Should Read This Year

As the new year begins, most of us make lists of things we’d like to do differently this year.

For you, it may be going to the gym, eating healthier, or volunteering more often. Or maybe you want to travel more, finally sign up for yoga, or not work weekends. While these are all wonderful goals, we suggest you also add exercising your brain to the list.

Instead of sitting in front of the TV this year, we encourage you to pick up a book. What better way to exercise your brain than to sit down and read a few classics.

To make it easy for you to get started, below are our top 5 recommendations.

Book #1 – Great Expectations

Great Expectations is Charles Dickens’ 1861 classic novel about an orphan named Pip and his journey from poor orphan to power and wealth, the friends he gains and loses, and his eventual humbling.

The stories and lessons you’ll learn in this book will last you a lifetime.

Book #2 – Treasure Island

Treasure Island was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883.

This book tells the story of Jim Hawkins, a boy living with his parents at their inn, whose life is changed when he encounters a sunburned sailor singing, “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!” at his family’s establishment.

If you like stories about adventure, pirates, treasure, and sailing the Seven Seas, this book is certainly for you.

Book #3 – Little Women

Little Women is Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 “coming of age” novel set during the American Civil War and follows the lives of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

If you’re a bold, fierce, and courageous woman, you will get a kick out of everything these girls, and their mother, Marmee, encounter throughout this heartwarming book.

Book #4 –  The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925.

This novel takes place in the midst of the glitz and glam of the Roaring Twenties and is narrated by a character named Nick Carraway—Gatsby’s neighbor. Nick tells the story of the many incidents that take place in the home of the rich and famous Mr. Gatsby.

If you love history, this book will easily transport you back into the early 1920s and give you a firsthand look at all crazy things that went on during parties and other social events that were hosted by the wealthy upper class.

Book #5 – Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind, written by Margaret Mitchell in 1936, is by far one of the more classic pieces of literature around. Chances are you’ve seen the movie. If you haven’t read the book, it’s a must!

This book details the life of Scarlett O’Hara, a wealthy Southern belle, who lives on a large plantation in Georgia. The plot twists when Scarlett’s family loses all of their wealth, and she is forced to make a decision between marrying for love or for wealth.

This book contains a little bit of everything and includes storylines rich in history, romance, and life lessons.

Fun Winter Activity Ideas

When you think of winter, you may think of cold weather, snow, and hibernating until the temperatures get warm again. We don’t blame you—especially if you live in a region where temperatures often fall below freezing and stay there until spring.

If you’re cooped up in your home, you tend to miss out on some of the most fun activities winter has to offer.

This year, we challenge you to brave the cooler temperatures and have some fun—whether it be with your girlfriends or with the entire family.

From Minnesota to Florida, fun seasonal activities can be found everywhere. So, strap on your snow boots or slip on some flip-flops, and try out a few of our favorite winter activity ideas.

Ice Skate

Ice skating is an activity that can be done anywhere with a skating rink. If you live in a warm climate, find an indoor skating rink near you.

Chances are you have a community rink used for hockey or figure skating. If not, keep your eye out. Often, during the winter months, many communities set up skating rinks for everyone to enjoy.

If you live in a colder environment, you might be able to find an outdoor rink to enjoy—either natural or man-made.

Note: If you choose to use a natural ice rink and skate on a frozen pond or lake, be sure to test the ice to ensure it’s solid enough to skate on. Always skate with friends nearby in case of an emergency.

Ski

Skiing is one of the most popular winter activities. The only downside is that you must live in an area that has snow.

This is no problem for the northern half of the country. Places like Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, and Colorado are filled with ski hills you can try out.

If you live in a warmer climate without snow and are able to take a vacation this winter, consider visiting a ski resort for a ski trip, and give it a try.

For those that have never skied before, we suggest you take a few lessons before you hit the slopes. All ski resorts have ski instructors that will gladly teach you how to make it down a snowy mountain safely.

Host a Movie and Hot Chocolate Night

There’s nothing better than curling up on the couch with a warm cup of hot chocolate to watch a movie on a chilly winter night.

Keep an eye on the weather, and the next time a chilly day blows through, invite your friends or family members over for a movie night. And don’t forget to have plenty of warm blankets available for all of your guests.

Tip: Go above and beyond serving plain hot chocolate, and set up a hot cocoa bar. Toppings can include anything from marshmallows and chocolate chips, to caramel sauce and candy canes.

Take a Hike

If you’re lucky enough to live in a colder climate, frosted trees and sparkling snow make the winter season a beautiful time to go outside for a hike. Round up a group of your best girlfriends, bundle up, and hit the trails for a day of fun in the woods.

Take this winter activity to the next level by renting snow shoes. These specially designed shoes allow you to walk across snowy paths with ease.

No snow where you live? No worries. There’s no reason you still can’t hit the trails. The best part about taking a winter hike is that you won’t have to worry about heat exhaustion or dehydration. So, go out now and enjoy the weather while it lasts!

Cook Warm Comfort Foods

When the temperatures drop, it’s the perfect time for cooking warm comfort foods such as soups and stews.

This winter, pull together your favorite warm and delicious comfort foods. Then when an extra chilly day rolls around, do some cooking.

If you’re making a large pot of soup or a recipe that makes a lot of servings, invite your friends or family members over to enjoy a meal together. Better yet, make it a potluck and ask people to bring a side dish to complete your meal.

There is nothing better than sharing a hot meal with the ones you love.

What’s your favorite winter activity?

Share it in the comments below.