I've written before about Stephen Jepson and his Never Leave the Playground program.  Now he has added brachiation to his collection of fitness "toys."  Note his interesting form, without the usual swinging action of the body.

Those who have visited our house will understand why I picked up on that.  Here's grandson Joseph exploring our indoor brachiation ladder.

And here he is with sister Vivienne almost three years later on the outdoor version.  (Forgive the videography; the camera was new and I was clueless.)

Note that Jepson's solution for an easier version while building up strength is very similar to ours, though his also works when the weather's too cold for swimming.  I'll have to remember that!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 11:14 am | Edit
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And they wonder why some people take doctors' recommendations with a grain of salt.  The same medical establishment that pushes the Back to Sleep campaign and is now spreading panic over measles (though I mostly blame the media for that) has declared our grandchildren to be out of compliance.

The National Sleep Foundation and the panel of experts has come up with new sleep recommendations for various age groups.  To wit:

alt

I'm all for sleep, and agree that most people don't get enough, myself included.  But did you catch the recommendations for babies?  Newborn to three months, 14-17 hours?  Four to eleven months, 12-15 hours?  Porter wonders if the doctors are recommending drugs or the ol' baseball bat trick to enforce those limits.  I'm pretty sure none of our eight-and-counting grandchildren slept that much in a day.  It's possible our own children did, but I was too sleep-deprived at the time to have established reliable memories.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 11:37 am | Edit
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It takes a rich, greedy capitalist to grind the poor into the dust, right?  Certainly over the years many have done a very good job of that.  Our recent viewing of the documentary, Queen Victoria's Empire, drove home the disastrous consequences of both imperialism in Africa and the Industrial Revolution back home in Britain.

However, the same video also revealed the devastation that can be wrought by someone with good intentions, even against his will (e.g. David Livingstone), and especially when combined with the above-mentioned greed (e.g. Cecil Rhodes).

Which brings me to the point.  I cannot count the hours and hours of struggle Porter has put into getting us health insurance in these post-retirement times.  Without a doubt, I am personally grateful for the choices the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) offers us, as much as I philosophically fear its negative consequences.  Some of those negative consequences are personal, too: e.g. the colonoscopies that had been covered by our insurance in the past no longer qualify for coverage because of new rules instituted by the ACA.  And we can't afford to get sick until after the end of January, because the "helpful" phone contact assigned us the wrong Primary Care Provider, and the fix won't go into effect till February 1.  However, I admit to no longer hoping for repeal of the ACA, because the damage has been done.  Too many people, including us, are now dependent on it.  I doubt we can put the genie back in the bottle.

While I freely acknowledge that the passage of the ACA had at its heart noble ideals and good intentions, I'm not convinced it's really helping the poor, or at least not as much as it's helping people who get rich off the needs of the poor.  Porter, being retired, has the time to put into navigating the complex and exceedingly frustrating waters.  He also has a degree in economics and a mind well-suited to financial calculations.  Which convinces me that the truly impoverished will (1) throw up their hands and settle for a much less than optimal health care plan, or (2) fall prey to those who would profit from doing the paperwork for them, while charging inordinate fees and still coming up with a less than optimal plan.

Nonetheless, the purpose of this post is neither to start a political discussion nor to depress you.  It's to honor my husband, for whom Sunday's Animal Crackers comic could have been created:

alt

No doubt about it:  I married the right man.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 19, 2015 at 7:56 am | Edit
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The two best things about Geneva, Florida may be our friend Richard and the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band, but thanks to Jon I've discovered a third:  Stephen Jepson. Take time to watch this Growing Bolder video.  It's less than eight minutes long and will show you why I'm enthusiastic about this 73-year-old man's ideas.

I'm looking forward to exploring his Never Leave the Playground website.  After watching the Growing Bolder interview, my only negative reaction was that keeping so mentally and physically fit takes up so much of his time he can't possibly fit in anything else, and few people can (or would want to) live that way.  But clearly that's not true—he's an artist, an inventor, and a motivational speaker—and his website promises you can begin with easy baby steps.

I wonder if we've passed him among the spectators at our Independence Day parades.  Nah, he'd more likely be in the parade himself.  But I'll keep my eye out this year for someone juggling on a skateboard.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 5, 2015 at 9:56 am | Edit
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Thanks to my NEHGS newsletter, I can point to where my own observations are confirmed (and explained) in print.  The Summer 2014 edition of the Old Sturbridge Village Visitor reports on some historical myths, one of which is that everyone died young in the olden days. I get so frustrated when people attempt to explain something in the past by invoking, "because they only lived to be 40 years old."  Many of my ancestors lived into their 70's, 80's, and even 90's.  Here's the explanation:

While average life expectancy was shorter in 19th-century New England than it is today, many people then lived into old age, and some even lived beyond 100 years. The Bible says that expected lifespan 3,000 years ago was "70 years; 80 for those who are strong" (Psalm 90:10). But before the mid-20th century, people died regularly in all stages of life, not just in old age. Life expectancy at birth in early 19th-century New England was only in the mid-40s.

But as the old saying goes, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Statistics in the 19th century were skewed by high childhood mortality rates—especially in urban areas—largely due to infectious diseases such as pertussis, measles, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. (Thanks to vaccination, these diseases are rare today.) By the time a person reached age 30 his life expectancy jumped to 67 and the average 50-year-old could expect to live until age 73.

Note that this still puts many of my ancestors above average, but that's no surprise.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 8:23 am | Edit
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Every kid knows how wonderful it is to bounce on the bed.

But all too soon we get older and heavier and our parents ban the activity before (or immediately after) we destroy the bed.

A YMCA outside of Boston has taken pity on our inner three-year-olds and installed a jumping pillow.

I'm certain the world would be a saner and happier place if we all had access to jumping pillows. Not to mention healthier—what a fun form of exercise!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 7:51 am | Edit
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I need to ponder this a lot more.  I think I've just been struck by lightning.

From Jen at Conversion Diary"The Mental Neat Freak."

When Joe came home that evening, I was at my wits’ end. I was mentally fatigued to the point that I felt like I was on the brink of a breakdown, and could barely restrain myself from yelling at everyone about everything. When Joe asked what was wrong, I snapped, “I’ve been doing nothing but working ALL DAY. I JUST NEED A BREAK.”

It was kind of awkward when he reminded me, “Didn’t you spend half the afternoon at that nice salon?”

Oh.

I stopped whining immediately, per that law of the universe that states that you’re not allowed to complain about anything for at least six hours after you’ve had an aromatherapy scalp massage. Yet I still felt miserable. No matter how many times I admonished myself to FEEL GRATITUDE NOW, I still walked around in that red-zone state where I desired a break like a drowning man desires oxygen.

...

The big moment occurred when I was trying to explain to my friend why I did not find the salon trip relaxing. “What would you have rather been doing?” she asked.

I knew the answer immediately: “Writing.”

...

[F]inally, after digging my way through piles and piles of words, I hit the core of the issue: “It brings order to my brain. It’s like…there are all these things that happen in my days that make my mind feel — I don’t know how else to describe it — messy. Like I’m surrounded by chaos, but on the inside. And it keeps piling up and piling up, to the point where sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.

...

Just like with physical space, it is possible for your mental space to get “messy.”
Again like with physical space, it is critical to your sense of peace and wellbeing to regularly clean up your mental space.

...

I think the biggest insight, though, was this:

Just because an activity is relaxing doesn’t mean it’s good for helping me regain a sense of internal order.

There's a lot more to the article, so if this resonates at all with you—or if you know someone who seems inexplicably stressed by a life filled with activities that you think should be relaxing—do take the time to read the whole thing.  I suspect this is a major reason why programs such as Mind Organization for Moms and Getting Things Done are so popular:  they recognize the debilitation caused by mental chaos.  What "Mental Neat Freak" adds is recognition of the need to identify and deliberately choose activities that promote clearing of mental clutter, which may or may not be connected to organizational activities.  Jen, for example, has so far discovered the following activities to be very helpful:

Writing
Jogging while listening to music (oddly, it has to be both — one or the other doesn’t do it)
Reading a well-written book

Nearly everyone could be helped by MOM and GTD, but mind-chaos-taming activities are clearly many, varied, and personal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 7:13 am | Edit
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I suppose that title requires some explanation.  I don't wish any of our grandchildren harm, but I do wish for them a better good.

Jonathan (age 9 1/2) and Noah (almost 7) have it pretty bad:  poison ivy over much of their bodies, faces red and swollen and bound to get worse when the blisters come.  I'm not happy that they're suffering.

But they've seen a doctor, who was not at all concerned; they've started treatment, which should help a lot; and they seem to be weathering it surprisingly well (being not nearly as wimpy as their grandmother when it comes to anything skin-rash-related).  Therefore I feel free to be delighted at this evidence that life for them is an adventure.

Physically, they were only in their backyard, but who knows where they were in their imaginations?  Whatever the adventure was, it required bows and arrows.  At some point, both Native Americans and English longbowmen learned that you don't use poison ivy vines for bowstrings, and that if you use your teeth in place of a knife, you'd better know what it is you're cutting into.  Jonathan and Noah know that now, too.

They also know that adventure entails risk, and sometimes you get hurt.  To be honest, this is not the first time they've learned that particular lesson.  My hope is that with each small risk and each small hurt they develop not only muscles and grit, but also discernment, so that by the time they are teens they have a good idea how to tell a reasonable risk from a stupid one.

The following is a multi-hand story.  I no longer remember which of my blog- or Facebook-friends pointed me to Brave Moms Raise Brave Kids, though now that I've found it again through a Google search on a phrase I remembered, I'm guessing it was something on Free-Range Kids.  It turns out that the story wasn't the author's anyway; her source was a sermon by Erwin McManus.  (Don't expect to get much from that link unless you're a subscriber of Preaching Today.)

The gist of the story is this:  McManus's young son, Aaron, came home from Christian camp one year, frightened and unable to sleep because of the "ghost stories" told there about devils and demons.  He begged his father not to turn off the light, to stay with him, and to pray that he would be safe.  Here's his father's unconventional response:

I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.

I said, "Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room."

There's nothing wrong with praying for safety.  I pray constantly for the safety of those we love, and of others as well.  But McManus's point is well taken:  Safety is not much of a life goal.  I want our grandchildren (boys and girls) to grow up dangerous to all that is evil, and to all that is wrong with the world.

Sometimes poison ivy is just poison ivy, but sometimes it is warrior training.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 10:15 am | Edit
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Recognizing the approach of Mother's Day, I honor my own with this story.  When it comes to sunshine and health, it turns out Mommy really did know best.

According to my mother, children needed "plenty of fresh air and sunshine" to grow up healthy.  Fresh air is still allowed, I guess, but sunshine has been anathema for years.  Faced with increasing cases of modern-day rickets, doctors are reluctantly allowing small amounts of sun exposure free of sunscreen, hats, and long sleeves, "but 15 minutes a day is enough!"

Until now.

In a study after my own heart, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found evidence indicating that my mother's advice was right—and not just for kids:  sunshine may be necessary for good health.  Quite apart from its role in vitamin D production, ultraviolet light interacts with the skin to produce nitric oxide (NO), which reduces blood pressure.

Dr Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, said: "We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight.

"We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure. If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure."

Here's a TED talk by Dr. Weller on the same subject.

Thanks, Mom, for sending me outside to play!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 10, 2013 at 8:00 am | Edit
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I've been interested in learning and brain plasticity for a very long time, especially in young children.  More recently, thanks to the book The Brain that Changes Itself and the work of Michael Merzenich and the Posit Science organization, I've extended that fascination to adults as well.  Specifically, me.

Posit Science is the company that makes Fast ForWord, a training program that worked wonders for a friend who suffered from CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder).  When I learned that the company was developing general brain exercise programs for adults, I was intrigued.  I even went so far as to spring for one of the (much too expensive) programs.  I'll admit that I never did much with it (ouch!):  too many distractions, too much to do, plus I ended up getting a new computer and haven't yet tried to see if it works under Windows 7.  I was also annoyed with Posit Science—and told them so—for treating the program as therapy rather than software, i.e. not only was it horribly expensive for software, but the license was for one person only.  Even Microsoft lets me share Word with others as long as they're sitting at my computer to use it.

One way or another, Posit Science got the message and revised their system.  The brain exercise program is now available on a subscription basis, much like my Ancestry.com subscription only considerably less expensive.  It's still for one person only, but a much better price:  a one year's subscription ($96) is less than a third of the cost of the program I had bought, plus I now have access to all their exercises, not just the limited selection of the previous version.  What's more, as they improve exercises and add new ones, I have immediate access to them.  And unlike the original program, I can come back and redo any exercise I've already "completed."

I think they finally got the system right.  I've been using the program for a month now, and find I enjoy the exercises.  Not enough to become addicted, but enough to keep coming back every day.  It helps that you can do them on a five-minutes-here, five-minutes-there basis, so they're perfect for those "Quadrant Four" moments when you just need a break.  Only this break is doing your brain good!

The program is called BrainHQ, and offers exercises in the areas of Attention, Brain Speed, Memory, People Skills, and Intelligence, with Navigation in the works.  Both auditory and visual pathways are exercised.  Much as for physical exercise, thirty minutes three times per week is recommended, but whatever fits into your schedule will help.

Does it work?  For myself, I can't say after only one month.  I've certainly improved on the individual exercises with practice; whether or not it's doing any lasting good for my brain is beyond my power to tell, at least at this point.  But I'm convinced enough to keep going.  In theory, the exercises are designed specifically for the way the brain works, and do more good than general intellectual activity, such as working crossword puzzles.  (I'm still addicted to my World of Puzzles magazine, however.)  You can read a lot about the theory, the science, the laboratory test results, and the personal testimonials beginning with Why BrainHQ?

Why am I writing about this now?  It would make more sense to do so after using the program for more than just a month.  But from now until May 12, Posit Science is offering a buy-one-get-one-free Mother's Day promotion, and I know enough people who might be interested at that price that I decided it was worth posting.  The cost for a year's subscription is $96.  (You can also subscribe by the month, though I don't think that's covered by the sale.)  Even after the sale ends, subscribers can give gift subscriptions at the discounted rate of $69.

I get no kickbacks whatsoever from Posit Science for writing this, nor from any sales; I just think it's a good idea.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Edit
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It's no secret that I like Michael Pollan's food books, and I'm fifth in line for his latest, Cooked, at our library.  In the meantime, here's a chance to hear Pollan speak on the nutritional value of home cooking.  (H/T DSTB)  I'm sorry I can't embed the interview; you'll have to click on the link to hear it.  Here are some quick excerpts:

Why don't people cook at home anymore?  Skills have been lost over the last two generations, and people are intimidated by culture of cooking they see on television.

Time is not a valid issue:  "people make time for things they've decided are important."

Neither is demographics:  "poor women who cook have better diets than wealthy women who don't."

"Built into the very nature of cooking at home is a curb on consuming the worst possible food."

The best diet for an American today?  Pollan, quoting a marketing researcher in the food industry itself:  "Eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself."

Pollan's final recommendation leaves me scratching my head, however:  Cook at home, and get soda out of your house, and obesity is taken care of.

It sounds great, but reminds me of the facile advice I heard years ago that an easy way to gain more time is to cut down on television viewing, or that you can save a lot of money by quitting the smoking habit.  What if you don't smoke and don't watch TV and still find yourself short of time and money?  What if you already cook at home and don't drink soda?


If that depresses you, take a moment to enjoy the story of Rowan Jacobson's (author of Fruitless Fall and and Chocolate Unwrapped) attempt to break all of Michael Pollan's Food Rules in one day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:33 am | Edit
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altI hate using sunscreen.  It's sticky, it stinks, and if I get the water-resistant kind—what other is of any use?—I can't get it off my hands.  I try to avoid using it myself, and am, shall we say, less than generous when asked by someone else to "do my back."  As in "You want me to do what?  Can I walk across hot coals instead?  Please?"

Our trip to Hawaii may have changed my mind.  Advised by friends who had been there to invest in some SPF 50 sunscreen, we picked up some Ocean Potion.  I'd never heard of it, but it appeared to be the best choice.  I think so!  It turned out to have the most pleasant scent I've encountered in a sunscreen, and though it was water-resistant, did not feel oily, sticky, or any other kind of icky.  I found I didn't mind at all donning it for our beach or crater-crossing days.  Well, to be completely honest, I didn't mind as much.  But it was a great improvement.

I've been hoarding the remainder, assuming it was a brand local to Hawii, which was the only place I'd seen it.  But recent research has revealed that it is now available here, at Wal-Mart of all places.  Considering that Ocean Potion is made in nearby Cocoa, Florida, you'd think I would have run into it somewhere before.  Perhaps I had, but didn't "see" it because I didn't recognize the brand.  They also have an SPF30 version, which I plan to try out for latitudes more northern than Hawaii.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 29, 2013 at 6:50 am | Edit
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O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion....

(from To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church)

Robert Burns assumed that we hold higher views of ourselves than others do, but for many of us, especially women, the opposite problem can be devastating.  Here's the latest from Dove's effort on behalf of all the young girls—and older women—conditioned by airbrushed and photoshopped media to see themselves as ugly.

You can see the sketches, and learn more, at Dove's site.

You can criticize Dove for choosing women who are all good looking in the first place.  You can figure that the sketch artist let his knowledge of the program influence his sketches.  You can complain that Dove's message still assumes that "real beauty" is physical.  But even a small candle illuminates when the world is dark.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:30 am | Edit
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Having watched the documentary on GMO foods, which reveals that those in charge of food safety in this country have treated with scorn the simple request that products made with genetically modified organisms be labelled as such, I have little faith that the Food and Drug Administration will not grant the request of the dairy industry to to alter the definition of "milk" to include chemical sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose without putting "Low Calorie" or "Reduced Calorie" on the label.  The artificial sweeteners would still be included in the ingredient list on the packaging, but the main label, that which most people read, would give no hint that the product was artificially sweetened.

I say that even "low calorie" is disingenuous.  "Artificially Sweetened" or "Contains Sucralose" (Aspartame, whatever) ought to be in large, bold print on the package.  Once upon a time, "no sugar added" was synonymous with "unsweetened." Now we must drill down to the small-print ingredient list to find out this important information, and more than once I've been caught and ended up at home with a useless product.  It is as if the surgeon general's warnings were printed on the inside of cigarette packages.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 7:21 am | Edit
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In the spirit of Fruitless Fall, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food, Inc., Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, and similar stories about problems in our food supply, I present Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of our Lives (H/T DSTB).

I'm always a bit skeptical of one-sided documentaries, especially of the scary and countercultural kind.  But this look at the unforeseen consequences of the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms into our diet, environment, and social structure is well-done and contains much food for thought, including the rise of herbicide resistance, decreasing yield, suppression of academic freedom, and the devastation visited on third-world farmers.  I had to watch in bits and snatches because the film is an hour and 25 minutes long, but I found it well worth the time invested.

Here's hoping my nephew will accede to the suggestion that he take on, as a school project, a balanced investigation of both sides of these claims.   If he does, and gives his permission, I'll report the results here.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 7:31 am | Edit
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