Finding Balance, Helping Others, Putting Family First
All about me: I connect people to better health and wellness through communication, coordination, and advocacy. By being open to paths that have opened up to me, I currently: work to build awareness and donations for the North Dakota Hunger Free Garden Project with the ND Department of Agriculture; coordinate the Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota Coalition with Healthy North Dakota; work to increase access to healthier food and improved health for people in the United States as Chair of the Legislative and Public Policy Committee of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; serve on the transition team at First Presbyterian Church, where I also share my flute music; teach cooking classes with my husband; am a public media supporter and Past Chair of the Board Chair for Prairie Public; and have wonderful friends in the community and across the country.
Married to: Duane Ehrens
Children: One daughter, Emily.
What is your biggest challenge every day? Focusing in on one priority; there is so much to address in working to make our state a place where people can make healthier choices.
Karen was working for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and her husband was a traveling food salesman when their daughter was born. Both jobs involved travel and it was not working out at all. Within just a few months Karen quit her job and began doing projects for the DPI, as an independent consultant, teaching classes and then got more project opportunities through the Department of Health.
As a result, Karen took her daughter along to many meetings, gardening, cooking classes and volunteer opportunities when she was young. “Every year my business is growing,” she said. “I am really grateful for being able to do what I do from my home, because I can be there for my daughter when she gets home from school.”
All about me: I’m a mom to 5 precious kids and a wife to one amazing guy, living our lives for Christ.
Married to: Kasey
Number of Children: 5
Biggest challenge every day: Homeschooling our children well.
Kristen and her husband Kasey have two biological and three adopted children. They had talked about home schooling for several years and last fall made the decision to jump in. “It is challenging, but rewarding, too,” said Kristen. “We are using a Christian curriculum and everything is intertwined with God’s word. We all love it.”
All about me: Even though I was born in Grand Rapids, MN and attended the University of MN, I feel that I am a native North Dakota gal, after living in Bismarck for almost 10 years. My professional background is in sales but I “turned in my pumps” to stay at home with our two boys before they started school. Once they went to school, so did I. I have been with the Bismarck Public Schools since 2005 as an Instructional Aide. My current job at Solheim Elementary allows me to work with children with special needs. In addition to my “day job”, my husband and I are also licensed foster parents and have had the opportunity to have some wonderful children share our home over the last four years. My life is not all about me, it’s what I can do for other people.
Married to: Glenn Pladsen
Number of Children: Two boys, Isaac (15) and Eric (14)
What is your biggest challenge every day? Managing my time so that everything that needs to be done, gets done.
Jennifer and Glen have been married for sixteen years. “We have a very busy house, people are coming and going all the time,” Jennifer said. “We have two dogs and a cat. My husband teases me about trying to save the world one kitty at a time, because I have been known to take in a stray cat or two.”
Both of their boys are in hockey, so they split up a lot of weekends, with one parent going with one boy and vice versa. When the Pladsen’s are caring for foster children, they just tag along!
All about me: I work full time at The God’s Child Project. I am honored to utilize my previous experience running Toys for Tots and working at AARC as a Special Event and Volunteer Coordinator to become part of this team. Together we not only help families locally but worldwide. I also own a small business, the Memory Shack. My cousin Maranda and I had scrapbooked in a little “shack” in my backyard for years. With a passion for working with photography, we put together several custom scrapbooks for family and friends. As word spread, the need for a more convenient location grew. The Memory Shack was born! I also do alphabet photography. I take pictures of things that look like letters so people can spell their first name, last name, business name or sometimes something inspirational like, ‘believe’. We are now located at 311 East Broadway, downtown Bismarck.
Married to: Unfortunately divorced, which hasn’t made any of this easier.
Number of Children: Two, unless you count my dogs then the number jumps to four. (They are family, too!)
What is your biggest challenge every day? Every day I wake up thinking I need to help whoever I can, however and wherever I can. There are only so many hours in the day. Sometimes it breaks my heart to not be able to help everyone. However, you have to prioritize to make sure you are not putting you and your family behind the needs of someone else.
Michelle calls herself the ‘Queen of Busy’ and said it is all about balance and prioritizing. She explained how hard it was when she was tied to a desk job until a couple years ago. “My son has always struggled with asthma. I almost lost my job a few times, but what do you do when your kids call, especially when my son would have an asthma problem. You have to work to put food on the table, but you have to be there for your kids, too.”
Michelle has been told she has ‘Save The World Syndrome’. “I decided I am going to embrace that and help everyone I can,” she said.
Editor’s Note: These four women had never met before we sat down to chat. Watching the interaction and networking that happened in thirty minutes was amazing. They connected through mom stuff, business opportunities and household challenges.
And, I did not realize it until we sat down together, that all of these women really put an emphasis on ‘family first’. They have made career and life choices that allow them to be there when their children need them.
These questions were answered via email and expanded upon during our time together.
How do you balance work, family, husband time?
Kristen: Well, most of our days consist of family time…we are a pretty close knit family, which we love, but it’s also important to take the time to spend one on one time with your spouse. We definitely look forward to a night out once in awhile.
Jennifer: I feel like I wing it a bit each day. We look at our calendars and kid’s activity schedules the night before and plan a strategy for the next day. Sometimes it works as planned, sometimes it doesn’t. We try to do as many things as possible as a family as the time before our boys head off to college is becoming short. My husband and I get whatever time is left over, which isn’t always as much as we would like.
Michelle: I include my kids in every aspect of my life. My nine-year-old daughter knows how to do almost everything down at “The Shack” and I bring her to all the work-related events I can. She was an infant when I started coordinating Toys for Tots and was there each and every year while we were sorting toys, getting donations, and distributing them to the families. My son, who is 17 now, was also there. He may not have enjoyed it quite as much, but was there and helping others nonetheless. I feel that I have spent quality time with my kids to teach them the value of helping others while being together as a family as well. I have tried to teach them that if you can help, then you should.
Karen: By working from home, waking and working in the early morning, when my energy is at its peak. Since I start early, I can most days finish by the time my daughter is done with school.
My husband, Duane and I discuss food and cook together nearly every day, and we teach cooking classes. Sometimes our daughter helps with cooking classes, too.
Do you make time for yourself every day/week?
Jennifer: I try to take time for myself but it is dependent on family and work obligations. I tend to have a difficult time saying “No”, so I get pulled into volunteer work frequently. I try to get to the gym at 5:00 am, because that is the only time I have, but it is hard.
Michelle: Yes I have learned that you have to stop take time for yourself. You must take time to recharge your mind, body, and soul.
Karen: Walking outdoors with my dog is where I find time for myself each day.
Kristen: Each night after the kids are down for the night, I take time to read, relax in the hot tub, visit with Kasey about each other’s day and we hope, dream and wish together.
What do you do for yourself, or what do you wish you could make time for?
Michelle: A good friend of mine says that there are two kinds of people in life – apple givers and apple takers. I am an apple giver. We often don’t realize our apple bucket is running empty because we are so busy giving them away to people who need them. I make sure that my social circle includes other apple givers to refill my bucket. Of course I take the time to refill theirs whenever I can. It also shows how important it is to surround yourself with friends and family that are a positive influence in your life.
The other thing that is food for my soul is music. I love all kinds. I can sit down and listen to some good tunes or strum a few songs on my guitar and feel totally at peace in my own world. My kids love music as well and this often ends with my daughter singing and dancing around the living room, in some outlandish outfit with a pair of my shoes that are much too large for her.
Karen: I have long-time friends from Minot and more recent friends in Bismarck. Spending time with friends is something really wonderful that I have in my life. I wish I had time for dance classes.
Kristen: As I mentioned before, I love reading a good book…the latest was “Love Does” by Bob Goff. If you want an encouraging, inspiring, real read, I highly recommend it!!
Jennifer: I exercise and stay in touch with my girlfriends. I have high school friends, the Grand Rapids Girls, (the GR girls) and we get together once a year. If I could find more time, I would like to get good at photography since I love taking pictures.
If you had a magic wand, what is the one thing you would wish for that would make your life easier?
Karen: Someone to help keep my house clean!
Kristen: Oh gosh…this is a hard one for me. Hmmm…easier. I don’t want easier.
Jennifer: I would wave the wand and make each day longer. This would give me more time to do both what I have to do and what I would like to do.
Michelle: I would wish that I could instill my positive attitude and hard work ethic in as many other people as I could. This would be a great way to “pay it forward” as they say. If I was to be selfish but only for a moment, I would wish for financial freedom. As a small business owner in today’s world every day is a constant struggle wondering if you can pay your bills and then yourself. I would buy a home for my family so we could have a place to really call our own. And then, you guessed it, I would continue helping whoever I can, however I can, wherever I can.
Do you see yourself doing the same thing in five years?
Kristen: I do. I love being a wife & mother. Obviously, in 5 years my days might look a bit different, kids growing up, more activities. If I’m still doing what I do now in 5 years, I would consider myself a pretty lucky woman.
Jennifer: In five years, our youngest son will be graduating from high school so I see my life changing. Right now I am focused on enjoying the next few years with them both in the house.
Michelle: Absolutely, I believe I was put on the earth to help others so I will always be doing that in some way, shape or form. Business wise, I love photography in all aspects. I love to take the photos and put them into a book to preserve memories. I love the alphabet photography. Taking these photos has brought on a new challenge to my business that has grown and become very successful.
Karen: My work is constantly evolving, but I think I will still be working toward my mission… “Connecting people to health & wellness through communication, coordination, advocacy, and food & nutrition.”
Are you planning for an empty nest, in other words, will you have something to do when your kids leave the house?
Jennifer: Today we travel with our kids for their sporting activities, once they leave, we plan on continuing to travel, but to the destinations of our choosing.
Michelle: When my kids leave the house I will still be actively involved and supporting them in whatever it is they are doing. I hope to be able to travel more, as I love to do that.
Karen: Definitely! I am a life-long learner, so I look forward to continuing to read and learn. I look forward to continued public service and volunteer opportunities.
Kristen: That hasn’t even entered my radar yet…ha!! Maybe I should start thinking about this!!!