Every kid knows how wonderful it is to bounce on the bed.
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!
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?”
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:
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.
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.
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!"
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!
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.
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?
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out Janet's great article at Power of Moms!
I knew the importance of rest going into motherhood, but for some reason, my beautiful and demanding son didn’t know that Sunday was my day off. He somehow missed the memo that on this “day of rest” he should sleep through the night, take long naps, not need to nurse on my bleeding breasts, and not cry so that I can be refreshed and a good mother for the remainder of the week
Often as mothers we are either working or feeling guilty that we’re not working (and sometimes both at once!) We need to learn to rest guilt-free because rest isn’t restful if we’re feeling guilty!
Trust me (the objective, unbiased proud, excited mother), you'll want to read it all.
It's been more than a decade since a family tragedy forced me to look into how childbirth has changed in America since our chlidren were born. It's still a major concern of mine, and so I read with heightened interest this profile of Suzanne Davis Arms in the May/June 2011 issue of the University of Rochester's Rochester Review. (Yes, I realize that is two years ago. Any regular reader of this blog knows I'm behind in practically everything.)
A few things made the article particularly interesting, beyond the basic subject.
- Arms is a University of Rochester (alma mater of three of the four people in our family, and of my brother as well).
- Betsy Naumburg, quoted in the article, was one of the doctors when Porter worked for the UR's Family Medicine Center.
- Arms wrote Immaculate Deception: A New Look at Women in Childbirth in 1975. Although I hadn't read it, her book clearly influenced the attitudes and options that were prevalent when our children were born in the late 70's and early 80's. Her revised edition, Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic, and Birth came out in 1995, not long before my forced re-entry into the world of childbirth. Perhaps if I had read it then, I would have been forewarned of the return of over-medicalized childbirth.
Yesterday I had a dentist appointment, and while I was there I had a revelation in their restroom.
Sitting on the counter was a mug full of disposable, single-use toothbrushes, individually wrapped and pre-loaded with toothpaste.
When I spoke with our dentist, she said that she had gotten the idea from orthodontists, whose patients often come to the office without having had the opportunity to brush their teeth. But I saw quite a different use for them.
One of the most annoying aspects of overseas airplane travel (after the expense, lack of sleep, and forced minimal movement for hours on end) is the difficulty of brushing one's teeth. It's bad enough to have to negotiate the tiny lavatory, hoping the plane doesn't lurch as you attempt to spit into the diminutive sink. But schlepping a travel toothbrush in your carry-on luggage, and toothpaste in the TSA-approved clear, plastic, quart-sized, zip-lock bag, and negotiating their interaction within the confines of the aforementioned lavatory—well, let's just say it's enough to make many people forego dental hygiene on long flights.
Enter the single-use, preloaded toothbrush: Light. Individually wrapped. No hassle from the TSA. Brush and toss. Brilliant.
There's only one problem. You can order these NiceTouch toothbrushes from practicon.com. However, since they expect you to be a dentist, the minimum order is 144. (I so wanted to say "gross!" but that doesn't fit with toothbrushes, unless you drop yours on the lavatory floor while trying to brush your teeth on an airplane.) So either you must plan a lot of travel, or go in with a lot of travelling friends, or have a nice, friendly dentist who will get some for you.
If you succeed, remember this caveat from our own nice, friendly dentist: they really are for one use only. They're not made well enough to stand up under repeated use, and have been know to fall apart in very uncomfortable ways.
I'm looking forward to brushing my teeth on my next trip to Switzerland.
Don't you love what you can do with statistics and charts? This chart is from a great article in the New England Journal of Medicine: Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates. For a less scholarly report on the data, see this Reuters article.
The article begins like this.
Dietary flavonoids, abundant in plant-based foods, have been shown to improve cognitive function. Specifically, a reduction in the risk of dementia, enhanced performance on some cognitive tests, and improved cognitive function in elderly patients with mild impairment have been associated with a regular intake of flavonoids. A subclass of flavonoids called flavanols, which are widely present in cocoa, green tea, red wine, and some fruits, seems to be effective in slowing down or even reversing the reductions in cognitive performance that occur with aging.
One day, while apparently bored in a Kathmandu hotel room—I'm guessing it was night, or cloudy—the author, Franz H. Messerli, began to think.
Since chocolate consumption could hypothetically improve cognitive function not only in individuals but also in whole populations, I wondered whether there would be a correlation between a country's level of chocolate consumption and its population's cognitive function. To my knowledge, no data on overall national cognitive function are publicly available. Conceivably, however, the total number of Nobel laureates per capita could serve as a surrogate end point reflecting the proportion with superior cognitive function and thereby give us some measure of the overall cognitive function of a given country.
The results astonished him, though perhaps he should not be surprised: he is Swiss.
There was a close, significant linear correlation (r=0.791, P<0.0001) between chocolate consumption per capita and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons in a total of 23 countries. When recalculated with the exclusion of Sweden, the correlation coefficient increased to 0.862. Switzerland was the top performer in terms of both the number of Nobel laureates and chocolate consumption. [emphasis mine]
The only possible outlier ... seems to be Sweden. Given its per capita chocolate consumption of 6.4 kg per year, we would predict that Sweden should have produced a total of about 14 Nobel laureates, yet we observe 32. Considering that in this instance the observed number exceeds the expected number by a factor of more than 2, one cannot quite escape the notion that either the Nobel Committee in Stockholm has some inherent patriotic bias when assessing the candidates for these awards or, perhaps, that the Swedes are particularly sensitive to chocolate, and even minuscule amounts greatly enhance their cognition.
Which perhaps explains why I need to eat more chocolate than Porter does, he being 1/4 Swedish.
Dr. Messerli reports regular daily chocolate consumption, mostly but not exclusively in the form of Lindt's dark varieties.
The above quotations were all from the NEJM article; the final ones from Reuters.
Messerli ... said that despite the tongue-in-cheek tone, he does believe chocolate has real health effects—although people should stay away from the sweeter kinds.
"[D]ark chocolate is the way to go. It's one thing if you want like a medicine or chemistry Nobel Prize, ok, but if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate."
In case you were wondering, the date on Messerli's article is October 10, 2012. I guess they couldn't wait six more months.
The shows will be available for one week at PBS video (maybe not in Europe, sorry). Here is the link for Part 1. I'll update with Part 2 when it is released, which should be tomorrow. And here's Part 2.
Note on flu shots: This year they're pushing the intradermal shot. Personally, I think it's because they can use a lower dose, and therefore make the supply go farther. But they're hyping it as less painful ("90% smaller needle"). No matter how many times I told him needles don't bother me ("I gave blood yesterday!"), the nurse practitioner who administered the shot kept emphasizing the small needle and consequent reduced pain.
Based on a sample size of two, I'm here to say that that is bunk. Both Porter and I agreed that the intradermal shot hurt more than a regular injection, not less. I hope our grandkids appreciate the sacrifice. :)
Last Saturday was the opening concert for the Orlando Philharmonic's 20th Anniversary season. Pausing only briefly to wonder how the "new kid on the block" can be twenty years old already—I've done that several times already, the latest being only last month, with the first of our nephews to leave the teenage years behind—I'll just say that Maestro Christopher Wilkins once again began the season with a blockbuster program guaranteed to fill the house. One work: Mahler's Third Symphony. No intermission. Nearly 110 minutes long. The first movement alone is longer than the entirety of Beethoven's Fifth. The orchestra did a great job, but I have to say that they were upstaged by the members of the Florida Opera Theatre Youth Program. Some of those kids were as young as seven, they were highly visible on a platform well above the orchestra, the part that they had to sing was brief and late in the symphony, and they did not fidget. They sat still, they kept their hand in their laps most of the time, and they at least appeared attentive. In short, they did better than me.
I was not familiar with Mahler's Third; it's not programmed often, and I can see why: the orchestra is much larger than that required for most performances, and there's a large chorus as well. E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. I'm glad the OPO took the plunge to offer it. I do have to say, however, that—unlike Mahler's First, which was love at first hearing for me—this one may take a little more exposure for me to appreciate. I found most of the movements reasonably enjoyable, but the sixth and last was interminable. I don't think that had to do with the fact that we'd been sitting for so long as that to my ears it didn't seem to get anywhere. Slowly.
Still, it was a good experience, quite possibly once-in-a-lifetime. We don't even have a copy of Mahler's Third in our extensive music library, though that of course could be remedied.