Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Take a Break: With Rocks

Whenever I go to the beach, or walk along a riverbank, I’m drawn to rocks. Smooth, streaked with color, different shapes, thin or thick, I’m picking them up and putting them in my pocket.

This past summer, we had a family reunion on Cape Cod. Every morning, I would begin my day walking on the beach, watching the gray seals, and collecting rocks. I would bring them back to the house and deposit them on the dinning room table. Throughout our stay, the pile grew along with the various shapes and designs people were making with them. We’d sit around the table and talk, all the while stacking stones to make wonderful art.

When we left, I returned the bulk of our rock art to the shore, but I had to bring some home. A collection sits on my desk. Most of them have lost their wonderful ocean smell, but I make art with them while I’m on the phone, taking a break from work or whenever the mood strikes my fancy. The site of them alone evokes wonderful memories as well.

Find some rocks-you can always go to the Dollar Store if need be-and enjoy the amazing art you can make with them. Check out this website of a rock pile artist that takes it to a whole new level.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sleepless /Psychology of Possibility

From an early age, I’ve often had times when I had trouble sleeping. After some heavy fire and brimstone lectures, and the occasionally visitation story from the nuns, I’d find it hard to sleep as a child. I can remember praying that some saint or the Blessed Mother wouldn’t enter my bedroom at night.

Adulthood posses it’s own challenges in the sleep department-worrying about bills, health issues, crying babies, being a caregiver, trying to get work done you didn’t have time for during the day, shifting hormones and at times staying up all night because it’s just plain fun. Last night was one of those times I wasn’t sleeping well, and I wasn’t enjoying it.

When I can’t sleep, I hate lying in bed for too long. It irritates me and just compounds the problem. I’ll get up and read (my father always did this), watch a PBS special that I missed 10 years ago but in general try to relax as much as possible so I’ll drift off to sleep. I avoid the computer as it’s a stimulant. However, last night, I made an exception.

Earlier in the week, I had been looking at the work of Dr. Ellen Langer. In her book, “Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility,” she wrote " we should open ourselves to the impossible and embrace a psychology of possibility. The psychology of possibility first requires that we begin with the assumption that we do not know what we can do or become. Rather than starting from the status quo, it argues for a starting point of what we would like to be. From that beginning, we can ask how we might reach that goal or make progress toward it. It's a subtle change in thinking, although not difficult to make once we realize how stuck we are in culture, language, and modes of thought that limit our potential...When faced with disease or infirmity, we may find a way to adjust to what is. In the psychology of possibility, we search for the answer to how to improve, not merely to adjust."

Using the idea that what I wanted was the possibility of sleep and not obsessing, I decided to check out UCLA’s Mindful Meditations Awareness Research Center (MARC) website. I found a section on Mindful Meditations. I wasn’t sure if this would be at all helpful, but figured I’d try one of them. It was seven minutes long and after I was done, I turned off the computer and went to sleep.

While Langer’s work is something I want to blog more about, particularly after I’ve had a chance to read more of her work, I definitely connected with the concept of the psychology of possibility.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Take a Break: Celebrate Earth Day 2010

Tomorrow, April 22, will be the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day was created by Sen. Gaylord Nelson and first celebrated in 1970.

Things to do for Earth Day:

Find an Event or Volunteer Opportunity for Earth Day

Learn more about “environmental arts.”

Make a Solar Pizza Oven

Make a Pop Top Bracelet

Start composting. There are all sorts of devices made to do this. Many will be on sale for Earth Day. However, if you live rurally, as I do, or have a large enough yard, consider just making your own. My Mom’s approach was just to dump scraps (no meat) in a corner of one of her gardens. No fencing, no special container, just an area far enough from the house and out of the neighbor’s view. Lawn trimmings went on top and periodically she’d toss it. After exploring various "composters," I followed my Mom's example and it works just fine.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?

Have you ever reported symptoms to your medical provider and felt that they didn’t take you seriously? Years ago, while working with women with HIV, many were taking a new treatment. They complained of horrible gastric side effects, which they didn’t think their providers really understood. At one conference, I spoke to a drug rep about this, and he said he had been hearing something but….. I mentioned to one of the women on that particular drug and her reply was swift and to the point, “Shall I go over and fart next to him?”

There is an interesting article on this in the April 12 New York Times. Dr. Ethan Basch is an oncologist who treats men with prostate cancer and does research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He argues that doctors, researchers, drug makers and regulators should pay more attention to patients’ firsthand reports of their symptoms while they take medicines, because their information could help to guide treatment and research, and uncover safety problems.

Direct reports from patients are rarely used during drug approval or in clinical trials, Dr. Basch says. If patients’ comments are sought at all, they are usually filtered through doctors and nurses, who write their own impressions of what the patients are feeling.

In addition, he writes, doctors and nurses “systematically downgrade the severity of patients’ symptoms” and sometimes miss side effects altogether. One result is “preventable adverse events” — for instance, suicidal thoughts in young people taking antidepressants, or severe constipation in people taking a drug for irritable bowel syndrome, both of which might have been detected earlier if symptoms had been systematically tracked.

Dr. Basch, 42, said he first became interested in this subject around 2003, when he attended a presentation of the results from a study of a new cancer drug. The researchers had not found fatigue to be much of a problem, but other doctors in the audience said their patients had suffered terribly from it while on the drug, so much that some had to quit taking it. Somehow, the study had completely missed that finding.

Intrigued, Dr. Basch began to study people receiving chemotherapy, and to compare symptom reports by patients with those from doctors and nurses. The differences were striking. For every problem — fatigue, nausea, appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation — patients reported it earlier and more often than did doctors and nurses.
Why does this happen so often?

There’s no simple answer.

I’d be the first to admit that if some one was a constant whiner, I was less likely to take them seriously, even if it was a new issue. It was definitely a situation of the “boy who cried wolf.”

Some things to help you get your point across include:

• When talking to your provider be calm and state clearly what the problem is. Leave the whining at home.

• Prepare for your office visit by putting in writing symptoms, questions and issues you might be concerned about.

• The nature of a chronic disease is that it’s something that’s going to around for a long time. Be realistic in your expectations.

• Let your provider know when things are working well, what’s been helpful etc.

• Dress how you feel. Many was the time the woman I was advocating for was feeling awful, yet for her office appointment, she’d dress up and put on make up. The provider didn’t always grasp how sick she was simply because, “she looks so good.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

National Healthcare Decision Day

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), along with other national, state and community organizations, is leading a massive effort to highlight the importance of advance healthcare decision-making—an effort that has culminated in the formal designation of April 16, 2010 as National Healthcare Decisions Day.

As an organization committed to increasing awareness of advance care planning, NHPCO is providing information and tools for the public to talk about their wishes with family, friends and healthcare providers, and complete written advance directives.

“National Healthcare Decisions Day is an important day of awareness and education, focused on encouraging everyone, including those who are healthy and in the prime of their life, to think about and document care treatment preferences before a crisis,” said J. Donald Schumacher, NHPCO president/CEO. “Hospice and palliative care providers are important sources of information for advance care planning and many of our member organizations are actively working to promote awareness and provide advance directives on April 16.”

Advance directives allow you to document your end-of-life wishes in the event that you are terminally ill or critically injured and unable to talk or communicate. Help ensure your loved ones and healthcare providers know how to honor your care decisions by filling out these important documents today.

NHPCO’s Caring Connections has free, state-specific advance directive forms and information on advance care planning that can be downloaded from its website People can also contact the HelpLine at 1-800-658-8898.

Additionally, NHPCO’s Caring Connections and Google Health™ came together last year to increase the availability and accessibility of advance care planning information and resources online.

A feature on Google Health enables users to download a free, state-specific advance directive and store the scanned documents securely online. This will help overcome a common barrier in emergency healthcare situations, where it can be difficult to access a patient’s advance directive. Google Health is a secure, online Personal Health Record (PHR) that allows consumers to store, organize, and share important healthcare information. A link to Google Health is available on the homepage.

For additional information about National Healthcare Decision Day and efforts throughout the country, visit

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Take a Break:What’s Art/Flowers

This past weekend, I was asked how to get started in art if you have no talent or don’t think you are very good. Well that begs the question, “what is art?” For years I described myself as having the artistic ability of a toad. This is in part due to growing up with friends that could draw as well as being married to an artist. However, I was a dancer for years, played music, spent many hours quilting with friends and in short, find a great deal of enjoyment making something. Art isn’t about whether you can draw, paint or create a sculpture.

Much better minds than mine have grappled with this question, so I thought I’d check around and see how it’s been defined by others. The definition I liked the best was on Wikipedia. “Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It compasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture and paintings.” In short it’s all about the aesthetics.

So with the idea of “arranging elements,” it’s finally spring in northern New England. Daffodils and other spring flowers have replaced the snow piles in my backyard. It’s time to go pick some flowers and arrange them in various parts of the house. Today’s “take a break” is all about flowers-arrange them, plant bulbs for next year, divide plants, pick up a flat of annuals for your garden, or take some flowers to a friend. Take a walk and see what’s in your neighbor. Keep in mind that shrubs and grasses look lovely in an arrangement.

If gardening isn’t an option for you, you can purchase flowers and arrange them. Need some ideas on decorating, check out the following:

“How to Arrange Flowers Like a Pro.”

Ikebana the Japanese art of flower arranging

Can’t afford flowers? Make them out of tissue paper or Kleenex.

Tissue Paper Daffodils

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Becoming Resilient

Yesterday, I was a presenter for a Parkinson’s Disease (PD) Conference. I was privileged to witness many examples of resiliency, the ability to adapt and adjust to the major changes and difficulties in life. It is about thriving, not just surviving.

A former Taiko drummer, one woman learned of her disease because she was having trouble coordinating her hands. While PD was a devastating diagnosis, she was not only in the process of teaching herself another Japanese instrument, which she could play with one hand, but she was raising money for the PD group through her art. At the same time, she had recently organized a month of meals for a friend undergoing cancer treatment..

More than one person described how something that could appear to be so negative, had led to some remarkable changes in their life. One of my favorite quotes of the day came from a man who has been living with PD for 13 years. He described how Southwest Airlines had no seating reservations. However, because he had PD, he was first in line and could pick the best seat. “I have the bad, so I’ll take the good.”

What makes a person resilient? Is it something you can learn how to do? The American Psychological Association has a website and a brochure “The Road to Resilience,” which explains what resiliency is and how anyone can achieve it. Included are the following "10 Ways to Build Resilience:”

MAKE CONNECTIONS Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

AVOID SEEING CRISES AS INSURMOUNTABLE PROBLEMS You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

ACCEPT THAT CHANGE IS A PART OF LIVING Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

MOVE TOWARDS YOUR GOALS Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly -- even if it seems like a small accomplishment -- that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"

TAKE DECISIVE ACTIONS Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES FOR SELF DISCOVERY. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for their life.

NURTURE A POSITIVE VIEW OF YOURSELF Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

MAINTAIN A HOPEFUL OUTLOOK. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope. The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

“When you have a crises, the crisis itself becomes one of your biggest asset if that crises is bad enough.” Carl-Henric Svanberg

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Art is Medicine

This morning I am preparing to be part of a panel on the role of art in helping those who live with or are caring for someone with Parkinson’s Disease. While I had something written for today, I was captivated by a TED talk by Robert Gupta, a violinist. He explained that music is medicine. He described how he played with a psychotic person, who was also a brilliant violinist, and helped him find moments of sanity.

My husband is a fiddler, and he has told me of similar stories. Once he was asked to come and play for a baby that had no reactions and was dying. When he started to play the baby responded with what could only be described as joy. Weeks later, when the baby died, the mother told him it was a magical moment to see that her child could respond and clearly had at least one moment of happiness in their very short life.

If you haven’t been including art in your life, check out the Wednesday entries of this blog to help you find some ideas. Enjoy an art filled weekend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Take a Break: Fly a Kite

One of the things I love about this time of year is that it’s perfect kite flying weather most days. In fact, it’s National Kite Month (March 27-May 2).

I keep a number of kites in the trunk of my car so that I can jump out and have a quick fly if the mood strikes me. There is nothing like wrangling a kite on a blue sky windy day to feel one with the world.

If you are a kite novice, you can purchase a very simple kite at a Target or a similar type of store. Look for a kite that says “easy to fly.” Start simple with something like a Delta shape. They fly best in light to medium winds (approximately 6-15 mph). Other kites suitable for this type of wind include Diamond and Dragon kites. The latter are beautiful to watch in the sky. Box Kites need a bit more wind.

Most of the beginner kites come with string. However, if you find yourself interested in flying, there is never enough string with these kits, so pick up some extra if it’s available.

If you live near a kite shop, this is the time of year they will be having demonstrations, so stop and ask questions before making a purchase. Many shops will let you “fly before you buy.”

Once you have a kite, look for places without trees, utility lines, roads, buildings and other obstructions. The beach is an ideal setting. Since I live in the mountains, I’ve found that athletic fields and pastures are great places to fly. However, if you are in a pasture, watch your footing. Some parts of the country that are kite friendly have parks for just this purpose.

If you want to make your own kite, check out the following:

Make a Ben Franklin style kite

Make Your Own Kite

20 Kids * 20 Kites * 20 Minutes

Learn more about the uses of kites

The Virtual Kite zoo

Kite History

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Cleaning

It’s Easter weekend and unusually warm where I live. There is something about the combination of opening windows and hearing the “peepers” (chorus frogs) that sets one’s mind to cleaning the house after the long winter. However, an intensive spring-cleaning, with lots of toxic products, can make you sick. While this is an issue for everyone, it’s particularly important for someone who has a chronic or life threatening condition.

Below are some “green cleaning” tips that will not only reduce health risks but they will save you money as well.

• All you need are three ingredients: baking soda, vinegar and lemons.

• A solution of 1 part water to 1 part vinegar will clean most areas of your home. Vinegar is also a disinfectant and deodorizer. The smell disappears when the vinegar dries. Do not use on marble surfaces. You can use vinegar to clean the ring around the toilet, as well as dirty stovetops. Vinegar is also a natural fabric softener. Use 1/2 cup in the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener. The Vinegar Institute

• Baking soda can be used to clean surfaces much as you would use a cleanser. You can also combine baking soda with liquid soap to form a “soft scrub.” Baking soda is also a great deodorizer.

• Lemon juice will dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. It can be mixed with vinegar and baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Mix 1 cup of olive oil with 1/2 cup lemon juice and you will have a natural furniture polish.

• Have a nasty smelling (and looking) microwave, but a little bit of baking soda in a bowl with water. Put in your microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Let stand. Open and wipe down.

For additional tips on Green Cleaning, check out the following websites:
Greening Clean Net
Planet Green (Treehugger)
Consumers Report