Posts Tagged ‘Stress’

There, I said it. The first step is acceptance. I’ve tried every type of mind numbing hobby over the years; quilting and sewing when the kids were little, knitting later on and working in a friend’s shop named “Tanglewool.” Of course writing, cooking and gardening were always there, forming a tapestry of my days, until Great Grandma Ada turned me on to Beads. When I was packing up my aviary last summer, I knew I had to have my beads with me, no matter what!

I’ve already started stringing some green landscape jasper and white jade this morning. Last night I wore a coral and turquoise number to the Love Bug’s school, she was wearing an elephant necklace we’d made together. It was an International Night filled with foods from every corner of the globe, Bollywood dancers and Spanish songs. But I zeroed in on the Mission Table to Uganda – they were selling beautifully intricate paper beads. I realized I was powerless and had to have them.

Before our move to Nashville I’d been venturing outside my comfort zone, knotting pearls and working with tiny seed beads. The results were spectacular but the work was tedious and long. Yesterday I’d stop and look at my design on the dining table, adding something here, subtracting another bead there. This morning after coffee and the daily “damage report” from Bob, I picked out my wire and started stringing.

It’s like a meditation, almost like moving rosary beads in my hands when I was little. Your mind is focused on one thing, all the rest fades into the background noise on the street. And the finished product is uniquely mine, a small piece of art. Out of the chaos of my dining room dresser filled with beads I’ve created something new. Most of the necklaces and bracelets I’ve made I give away as gifts, but sometimes a piece will win me over and it gets to stay.

Some people have said I could sell my creations, who knows? Maybe some day when I get into my Pod and find all those eternity necklaces I made with freshwater and coin pearls. An eternity necklace has no clasp, no hardware or “findings” as we say in the Biz. I wonder what people would pay for them? There is some research yet to be done, and there are plenty of cute boutiques in the area, surely one of them might give it a try? But who knows, what if they don’t sell? Wait, there’s always Etsy!

My sister Kay made beautiful needlepoint pillows, I treasure the one on our bed in the likeness of our Corgi, Tootsie Roll. I have the white cotton coverlet my Nana crocheted over a hundred years ago, and I sent the lilac Easter sweater the Flapper knit to our cousins in California. What treasures will our children and grandchildren decide to keep, and what will go to Goodwill? Everybody is wired differently, and stringing melts away the small, still, everyday stress of life, like reading a good book.

Robins are dancing outside on the grass, and a squirrel keeps promenading up and down the sidewalk. I’m thinking of Spring colors, the yellow burst of buds, the soft green of moss. It’s time for some spring cleaning, but not before I finish this necklace.


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Call me crazy, but yesterday I picked up the latest, golden-colored Atlantic magazine with a picture of the Donald on the cover. “The Mind of Donald Trump” is the cover story, all about how a psychologist would dissect the Trump brain, what makes him tick. Since he had recently entered my dream life, yes folks, Donald gave me six million dollars for a book deal, In. My. Dreams., I figured I owed myself a reckoning. But I didn’t read that story, I read the one about kids, and achievement, and toxic stress. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

It seems we are now a country with more than 50% of children living below the poverty line, requiring free or reduced lunches at public schools. Once I got over that shocker, I read on…educators are looking beyond standardized test scores to predict why some poor kids fail and some thrive in school. They are looking into the character traits that contribute to a child’s academic success…

“…often referred to as noncognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children, especially low-income children.”

In other words, who has true grit? Lo and behold, research has shown that this stuff cannot exactly be taught. It takes a combination of forces, all environmental (although if you ask me, nature plays an important role here as well) that combine in the right way during early childhood, and can be enhanced by a certain pedagogy. And most importantly, if a child is raised with “toxic stress,” he or she will adapt to school in a way that makes learning nearly impossible. They will close off and become “behavior” problems.

Toxic stress is defined as severe and chronic stress, the kind a child living in poverty is more likely to encounter. Is it safe for them to play in the street, or walk to school? Do they see loved ones routinely, are they consistent when they do ? Are they hungry, can they sleep at night? Are their needs being met? Imagine a child growing up in Syria, or Chicago. Stress baths a developing brain with all the wrong signals.

In a way, they are learning not to trust the world, or anyone in it.

“When those signals suggest that life is going to be hard, the network reacts by preparing for trouble: raising blood pressure, increasing the production of adrenaline, heightening vigilance. Neuroscientists have shown that children living in poverty experience more toxic stress than middle-class children, and that additional stress expresses itself in higher blood pressure and higher levels of certain stress hormones.”

Yesterday I also got a note from the Bride telling me that a certain Principal was moving from their neighborhood school to a magnet school. Yes, in Nashville there are public elementary schools where one can be immersed in Chinese and learn to stand and speak in class, into a microphone, with impunity. Students grow their own veggies and feed into the very best high school. The problem is getting into those schools is a matter of luck – it’s a lottery system. Which in my mind seems cruel and unusual.

It’s one thing to abandon “No Child Left Behind,” which arguably didn’t work anyway, but then to offer the best practices at only some schools in the country is a piecemeal approach to the problem. Fostering a feeling of belonging, a willingness to learn and resilience almost always comes down to each individual teacher.

Let’s train and teach our educators, ALL of them, to foster true grit in their classrooms. Failure is OK, keep trying. Don’t say to the boys who sit at the back of the class with their caps pulled down covering their eyes, “We know who the losers are in this class.” Let’s make every school magnetic, with high expectations for every student and : “…less lecture time; fewer repetitive worksheets; more time spent working in small groups, solving problems, engaging in discussions, and collaborating on long-term creative projects. It’s a style of teaching and classroom organization that is relatively common in independent schools and in wealthy suburbs but quite unusual in inner-city public schools.”

School is almost out for the summer. It’s time to raise a child who feels her or his world is a safe place. Let’s work on our children’s resilience this year, a little indomitable spirit never hurt anyone. It’s takes a piece of grit to create a pearl.  IMG_4265Yesterday, the sun came out.


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There is only one area of my life where I exhibit OCD tendencies. My kitchen table is semi-covered with a cloth (so the cat wouldn’t slip off) and miscellaneous notes and magazines. My study is a study in my “file by pile” method. But when it comes to books, once I find an author I love, I’ll stick with her/him and find everything they ever wrote. Which is how I came to read Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/16/AR2006031601632.html

I loved Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys. But in this story she has entered a new realm. I’ve always wanted to have faith, to believe that everything has been planned for us and all we have to do is pray. But my early lapse from a severe Catholic upbringing, coupled with a conversion to Judaism so my children would be raised in a faith, has left me adrift in a spiritual mumbo jumbo, a limbo of grace deferred. So it was a rare pleasure to lose my doubting/Thomas/self in a young minister’s life.

I’d recommend this book particularly at this time of year. It’s about loss, and fathers and daughters, and so much more. It’s about a marriage that was probably a mistake, a New England community filled with gossip and judgement. The protagonist preacher, Tyler, thinks about what Catholic saints and German Protestant ministers jailed during the Holocaust would do in certain situations. He is suffering because his wife has died.

One of my favorite Buddhists is Pema Chodron. She shares her breathing contemplation/meditation to relieve that little sense of discontent we all experience from time to time. Suffering is inevitable, “Everybody dies” as Bob likes to remind me. Pema tells us to take six deep breaths and open our hearts to the pain, even the everyday disappointments:

“When you breathe in, you can recognize that all over the world — right now and in the past and in the future — people are going to feel exactly what you’re feeling now. A feeling of being rejected. The feeling of being unloved. The feeling of insecurity. The feeling of fear. Rage.” Chödrön says. “Human beings have always felt this and always will. And so you breathe in for everyone that they could welcome it, that they could say, ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’ Embrace it.”

Pema calls this practice “Compassionate Abiding.” We accept our fear, our pain, our feelings and we learn to incorporate them, not to resist, in order to forge our spirit. What a beautiful concept, this is, in a way, prayer. It’s saying the rosary after confessing your sins; but without the beads and the dark priest’s closet. And the shame. It’s forgiving yourself.

When everyone around you seems to be in the “spirit” of the holidays, and you find yourself feeling blue, take a few moments to breathe, and abide within the feeling. IMG_1764

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There’s snow on the ridgeline this morning. I’m back in my mountain home after 10 hours on the road with my 4 month old Bug and her parents. She did well for about 7 hours with many stops, which is 1 hour more than my limit in a car. And yesterday I did the hand off to the other set of grandparents for their New Year’s week visit. In the midst of this transition, after my long stretch of babysitting, I had a nightmare.

The Bride was leaning back on the balcony of a large white iconic building (hospital?) and she fell slowly over the edge. I watched incredulously but could not reach her in time. When I looked over, she was hanging on by her fingertips. “Help her!” I yelled at Bob and then promptly woke up in a sweat. She had worked 5 straight nights in a row (including Christmas Eve and Christmas) and before that, 4 daytime shifts. Shift work takes its toll on a body, just ask any nurse or police officer.

“Society is oriented toward traditional daytime work hours and work at night will often intensify fatigue and reduce alertness. Workers generally will not acclimate to night work, and sleep patterns will generally be disrupted so the non-work periods do not provide full recovery, resulting in sleep deprivation. Studies suggest that it can take up to 10 days to adapt to a night time work schedule.” http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_Hurricane_Facts/faq_longhours.html

When I was writing about normal holiday stress, I didn’t factor in having to change your circadian rhythm or nursing a 4 month old baby. I always joked that Bob became a director because he didn’t want to work nights; only it’s not a joke. He won’t do nights, he sleeps…at night. If he met a doc who wanted to work nights, he would hire him/her immediately. Keep this in mind future EM residents, if you are a night owl, you have an advantage.

Naturally, the Love Bug is off her schedule. Babies will change it up just when you figure it out, but this little nugget has been in 2 different homes the last few days and her mama was away many nights and sleeping-in many mornings. I tried to explain it all to her, I told her that she can be very proud of her mommy for saving lives. I told her that things will get better in the New Year. Her daddy and I did our best to play guitar and sing her to sleep at night. Hang on baby girl. Our country may sail over a cliff, but your mama is on solid ground.

My big news of Christmas week is the birth of 2 brand new baby girls! Congratulations and welcome to the world Great Nieces’ Francesca Lynn and Evan Margot. Have a very happy and healthy New Year everyone!

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We’ve all heard of seasonal workers, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when you live, say in England, and rarely see the sun. Well seasonal stress disorder (SSD) should get its very own ICD9 code. For the non-medical reader, these are the letters and numbers that correspond to a diagnosis your doctor provides you and your health insurance system with – then someone at a desk decides if the doctor (or NP or PA) gets paid. Simple as that. I imagine that depression gets its own ICD9 code, with all its reasoning and corresponding symptoms, but the stress of everyday life? Probably not so much.

Starting with the Thanksgiving day bird that needs stuffing, and quickly moving on to the next day…the Blackest of Shopping Fridays…the push is on to get going:
Deck the halls and drag out or cut down a tree;
Find our buy ornaments;
Decorate the tree and serve eggnog;
Bake cookies;
Mail holiday cards:
Attend parties;
Act happy.

And it’s the “acting happy” part if you’re feeling blue that can hurt. I don’t want to be all Scrooge about it, but even if you’re a reasonably sane person for most of the year, the stress of added or forced jubilation coupled with going into debt to serve a consumer-driven culture during the last six weeks of the year can squeeze the joy out of a season that’s truly all about giving. According to this article, 90% of doctor visits are due to stress-related problems. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/29/reduce-stress-real-life-tips-that-really-work_n_2204938.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009#slide=1814158 So how to avoid burn-out in a nutshell when we’re getting down to the wire? Easy. Put on the brakes and give yourself permission to relax:
Take a walk, preferably with your dog; EXERCISE
Take a bath, or better yet, jump into a hot tub; STAY WARM
Write down 3 things you are grateful for; THINK POSITIVELY
Help someone else who needs help; ACT KINDLY
Watch a funny movie LAUGH
Learn to love chaos ACCEPT YOURSELF
(ie give up perfection or trying to live a “clutter-free” life)

Where have you gone Betsy Ford? OK, maybe that last part is more mine than yours, but studies show that putting a smile on your face makes the brain trick the mind into feeling happy. Most moms today are working AND trying to do all of the above Christmas-related chores which would drive anyone nuts, IMHO (which I just learned means “in my humble opinion”) but if you use this too much are you really humble? Just heard Deepak Chopra say that babies learn very early on whether life is going to be “Yummy or Yucky.” So I’m starting my NEW New Year’s List
and it’s not about the good the bad and the ugly with resolutions galore to add up to more stress. It’s simply a reading list and Chopra’s new book “Super Brain” will be on it. Here’s a little brain test – can you tell which card doesn’t belong? I forgot, along with keeping Santa, I also do “Merry Everything” cards, which is much easier with Shutterfly. There’s Betsy upper left, my Rumson Clutter Counselor.
photo copy

Answer key: The new 2013 card of the Love Bug is nestled in last year’s display. Don’t worry, I’m archiving the old to make way for the new. Make it a perfectly yummy holiday and Happy Hanukka to all my Jewish friends and family…is it easier or harder when Hanukka comes so early? Answer key: Easier!

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