Saturday, November 27, 2010

Finding Contentment in the Moment

A new study from the Positive Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert finds that we are most content/happy when we are absorbed in what we are doing. (Science 12, November 2010) Using a happiness iPhone App, the researchers checked in with 2,250 people at random times to see how happy they were at that moment. Not surprising, when asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, those people having sex gave an average rating of 90.

Personal grooming, such as brushing your teeth, was associated with a much higher rate of mind wandering. In fact 47% of the time, people’s attention is focused on something other than what they are doing-a sobering thought when you are driving or trying to have a meaningful phone conversation.

Aside from those having sex, 99.5% of the people had little correlation between the joy of the activity and pleasant thoughts. While mind wandering happens less with enjoyable activities, it still occurs and the mind is likely to be thinking negative thoughts.

The biggest predictor of happiness is whether the person was focused on what they were doing. It didn’t matter what the activity was, it was whether the person was engaged and focused.

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr. Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

The study found that it wasn’t necessarily what you do that makes you happier. Rather, the more mind wandering that occurs, the more unhappy people were. That appears to be happening because as the mind wanders, it tends to stray to negative thoughts.

The take home message is one we've heard from your parents, teachers, employer and even your spouse/partner, “Think about what you are doing.” Add to that “think about what you are thinking about.” Recognize that when your mind starts straying to negative thoughts, Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Then proceed.

Read more interpretations of this study

New York Times

Want to be Happier? Pay Attention by Soren Gordhamer

A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy one by Jason Castro (Scientific American)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Take A Break: The Thank in Thanksgiving

A few days ago, I received a Thanksgiving e-card from a friend I haven't seen in years, but talk to every few months. It was lovely to know that she thought enough of me to compose and send an e-card. It gave me a left.

The next day, I was thinking of a colleague/friend and thought that given that it’s Thanksgiving, I’ll e-mail her and let her know that I’m thankful she’s been part of my life. I’m not all that good with the e-card piece, so it was just a short e-mail, but from her response, it meant quite a bit. Besides, she wrote something nice about me in return.

So today’s “take a break” is all about expressing our thanks to those who have and/or do make a difference in our life this Thanksgiving.

There must be some sort of connection, since I’m finding that as I receive calls and e-mails, people are using it as an opportunity to thank me and vice versa. I really don’t ever remember a Thanksgiving where this has happened to such a degree. Given the economic crises of the last several years, maybe we all have a new understanding of what’s really important.

Below are some fun and creative ways to express thankfulness:
• Send an E-card. See if something strikes your fancy at

• Call

• Leave a voice mail of appreciation. That’s always nice to hear and it has the added advantage that the person can play it over and over again.

• Send an e-mail

• Give them a hug

• Make a card. So it’s not going to arrive by Thanksgiving-unless you are seeing them that day-but it will be appreciated whenever they receive it. Some ideas for making cards:
- Sketch something, or even use clip art, that would be of interest to the person receiving it.
- Iris Folding These are very easy to do and can be made out of scraps of paper. Thanksgiving Turkey
Maple Leaf Patterns

- A hug card

- If you have punches, or cookie cutters, cut out shapes and glue them on a card.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Home after Hospitalization

This week I was mulling over several topics to post about, when I saw an article in the New York Times “Planning for Temporary Home Care After the Hospital Stay.” An interesting piece, it reminded me of how “going home” can be so different depending on the community you live in, the reason for the hospitalization and financial resources. A lot of the chronically ill people I work with can’t afford to pay $90 to $160 for a care or nurse manager, which is one of the article’s recommendations. However, depending on your diagnosis, where you live, and where you receive your care, you may be eligible for free case/care management services.

People with chronic conditions may have more experience with hospitalizations then most, but all the same it requires planning and attention when returning home.

If this is a planned hospitalization, such as an elective surgery, you have time to prepare for what you’ll need when you return home. Stock up on food, notify friends and family who can be counted on to help, lay in a supply of books, DVDs or whatever might be of interest to you. Depending on the admission, the hospital where you will be receiving care may have a website on discharge planning and/or offer tips on recovering at home from a particular procedure or surgery. The more information you can get up front, the better.

Unplanned admissions are a bit more difficult. As soon as possible, start meeting with the “disposition coordinator” or “ discharge planner.” The last thing you want to do is to be scrambling an hour before going home. If you do have a case/care manager, contact them as soon as you can after admission and have them work with the hospital team in planning your discharge.

If you don’t have a Lotsa Helping Hands page, this may be the time to start one. If you are not familiar with this free website, it allows you, or an appointed person, to coordinate what you need, when and by whom. A lot of the support services-cleaning, cooking, transportation, laundry, yard maintenance, child care-can be achieved by using trusted friends and relatives. People really do want to help.

When a hospital wants you out, they’ll do whatever they can to make that happen, no matter if the patient thinks they are ready or not to be discharged. Pleas to a supervisor can easily go unheeded. If you really don’t think you or the person you are caring for is ready to go home, speak to their doctor. Keep in mind, that even with the best advocacy, it’s a dollars and cents game and you may be forced to leave before you feel you are ready.

Be as clear as possible about what it is you’ll need when you get home. Check your insurance to see what type of coverage you have. If you know that you’ll need some assistive devices, like a wheel chair, walker, or commode, and your insurance wont cover it, ask about “loan closets.” There are a variety of organizations that loan such equipment for free. The social worker/discharge planner should know about them. However, if you get a blank stare, call 211, the state by state information and referral service, the local chapter of your condition specific organization, and/or a local community organization that helps in times of need.

Condition specific organizations, such as the local chapter of the American Diabetic Association, can be very helpful in seeing that you have resources and tools to help you at home.

During discharge, pay close attention to the information they are giving you. Be sure to determine if they are calling the home health agency that will provide nursing care or if you need to do that. Are they going to make appointments for follow up care, or is that your responsibility? Get written copies of instructions and that you do understand them. If you get home and are not sure about something, call.

In summary, if hospitalization is necessary, you can maximize the chances you’ll remain at home after discharge if you:

• Prepare in advance if it’s a scheduled admission

• If unscheduled
- Connect with the hospital’s discharge planner as soon as possible. If you have a care/case manager, have them coordinate with the discharge planner.
- Update your Lotsa Helping Hands website if you have one, or start one if appropriate.
- Determine what you will need when you go home
- Determine what insurance will or will not cover
- Identify gaps and work to close them using hospital and community resources.
- Understand discharge plan and don’t leave the hospital without a copy of it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Take a Break: Preserving Autumn Leaves for Your Thanksgiving Table

Several weeks ago, I was responsible for decorating tables for a community dinner. At my son’s soccer game, I noticed a number of trees with incredibly brilliant leaves and figured what could be more appropriate for a harvest dinner.

At half time, I started picking and ended up missing quite a bit of the second half of the game, as I found myself enjoying walking in the crisp air, looking for the perfect leaf. Hard to do when each one is so unique and beautiful. By the time we got home, I figured I’d preserve them the next morning, and stashed them in a cool part of the house. While many survived the night, a number of them didn’t. In short, autumn leaves are beautiful decorative items, particularly for a Thanksgiving table, but if you are going to use them, gather when you have the time to preserve them.

Where I live, I figured since leaves were off the tree, I had missed the golden opportunity of this year’s foliage. However, yesterday I started looking at some of the few remaining leaves dangling from branches and realized that a number of them could be used. I’ll just have to do a lot more searching to find enough for my Thanksgiving table.

I grew up putting leaves between wax paper and ironing away. When I think what I must have done to my mother’s iron, I cringe. So some simple steps using wax paper to preserve your leaves:
• Make sure the leaves are dry and flat. (see below)
• Place the leaf between the wax paper.
• Place a cloth on the ironing board, lay the wax paper down, place another cloth on the top and set the iron to warm, with no steam, and iron away.
• Once cooled, trim them close but leave a little edge to protect the seal.

You can dry the leaves by:
• placing the leaf between paper towels and ironing on low;
• placing them between paper towels and laying a heavy book on top of them;
• placing between paper towels and drying in the microwave for about 30 seconds on high.

Once you have a dry leaf, you can seal it in wax paper or preserve it further by spraying it with varnish.

My brother-in-law said you could preserve leaves with hairspray, something that I don’t use or like, so I decided to go searching for other techniques, particularly ones where the leaves would be a bit more supple.

Here are some different techniques

Preserving Leaves with Liquid Wax Video

New Hampshire Fall Foliage: How to Preserve Leaves (includes glycerin)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fear of Death

Going to Catholic school positively warped my mind about death. In their efforts to scare us into submission, the nuns described death as just the worst thing anyone could imagine. Anything you did, that was viewed in their minds as being bad, unholy, or unfit, ultimately led to dying. Then there was the nun who assured us that no matter how good we might think we were, we most likely would have to spend time in purgatory, which is a division of hell. Yes, you would get to heaven, but you would have to roast there for a while to atone for sins. However, if people prayed for you, or you had the right number of prayers said just before you died, had a papal blessing or whatever else they were pushing that day, maybe then you could go directly to heaven. Not a lot of time was spent on the beauty or glory of heaven, or if it was, I don’t remember it.

Since our brains are primed for fear-a sound device when you live on a hostile planet-these stories made for many a sleepless night as a child, and periodically come back to haunt me. What if they were right?

Having spent 30 years working with people with various types of chronic and terminal conditions, I’ve learned a lot from the dying. As a young kid, I remember sitting at my desk thinking that the nuns had it all wrong. As an adult, I know they were wrong. All the same, how does that impact my fear of dying?

Even though I remember reading about Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross as a young kid in “Life” magazine, it was during my years of working in AIDS that I read her books and articles. With the arrival of new treatments, we were seeing far fewer deaths, so I was caught by surprise when one of the kids died from AIDS. I couldn’t see my way out of this one until I overheard someone talking about Kubler-Ross’s book “The Wheel of Life.” I immediately purchased it, very rare since I am a major library patron, and read it cover to cover in an afternoon. It transformed my understanding of death and my approach to work. Her writing kept me working in AIDS, long after many I knew had changed careers and I still read parts of it from time to time.

During a hospice in-service, I was given “Final Gifts” to read and it too became one of those transforming books. In fact, I keep extra copies of “The Wheel of Life” and “Final Gifts” just so I can loan them to people. All in all, I thought I had a good understanding of things. Then one of my closest friends developed a terminal disease and was dead in less than four months.

It’s taken a good 18 months to get some sort of perspective on this. Every pain or ache quickly was turning into some form of horrible illness in my mind. I realized that my anxiety was interfering with living and was probably causing the physical symptoms in the first place. It reminded me of how my friends would worry about getting pregnant month after month only to discover many years later that it would be difficult for them to conceive. As one woman said, “I have wasted so much time over something that was never even a problem.”

In reading an article by Dr. Morse, who has studied the near death experiences of children, entitled Coping with the Fear of Death, I realized that a combination of age and the impact of sudden loss was contributing to my anxiety. We fear death for a variety of reasons-sadness of growing older; it's an unknown; reluctance of giving up people that we love and enjoy; pain etc. Many turn to religion to find answers and support, others find it by delving into studying it. There is now a growing movement of neuro scientists that are seeking a newer understanding based on their knowledge of the brain.

Several years ago, a woman I served on a board with was dying of brain cancer. She asked that I call her nearly every day, just to check in. During the many conversations we had, I came away with two insightful comments that she made. The first was that she didn’t feel sorry for herself, “We all have to die and it’s just my turn.” On death itself, she said “I think I will know it when it happens and I will have spent years worrying for nothing.”

Maybe the take home point of this post is to recognize that fear of death is part of being human and that as we age and have different experiences our views will change. For some, reading and talking about dying is important. For others, belonging to a community of faith provides answers they are seeking. Whatever your beliefs, you are not alone if you fear death, just don’t let it cripple your living. Again and again we need to remind ourselves that we can’t live in the past or fast forward to the future. What we can do is to live mindfully in the present.

Some links that might be interest:

Overcoming the Fear of Death by Dr. Alex Lickerman, a physician and former Director of Primary Care at the University of

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight

Dr. Robert Lanza’s articles from the Huffington Post that deal with various aspects of death from a scientific bent

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Caregiver Relief Fund/ National Family Caregiver’s Month

If you are a caregiver, that has been taking care of someone for 12 months or longer, and have a yearly income less than $80,000, you are eligible for The Caregiver Relief Fund. The Fund is a social venture committed to caring for caregivers. The Caregiver Relief Fund provides resources, assistance and a voice to over 50 million Americans who are currently caregivers to the chronically ill, aged and disabled by providing vouchers for at-home respite. Applications can be filled out on line.

On October 29, President Obama issued the following proclamation
Every day, family members, friends, neighbors, and concerned individuals across America provide essential attention and assistance to their loved ones. Many individuals in need of care -- including children, elders, and persons with disabilities -- would have difficulty remaining safely in their homes and community without the support of their relatives and caregivers.
Caregivers often look after multiple generations of family members. Their efforts are vital to the quality of life of countless American seniors, bringing comfort and friendship to these treasured citizens. However, this labor of love can result in physical, psychological, and financial hardship for caregivers, and research suggests they often put their own health and well-being at risk while assisting loved ones. Through the National Family Caregiver Support Program, individuals can help their loved ones remain comfortably in the home and receive assistance with their caregiving responsibilities. This program provides information, assistance, counseling, training, support groups, and respite care for caregivers across our country.

My Administration's Middle Class Task Force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, has made supporting family caregivers a priority, and we are working to assist caregivers as they juggle work, filial, and financial responsibilities. We made important progress with this year's Affordable Care Act, and because of this landmark legislation, Americans will be able to take advantage of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Program. This voluntary insurance program will help individuals with long-term care needs to maintain independent living, as well as compensate family caregivers for their devoted work.
Our businesses and companies can also contribute to families' ability to care for their loved ones in need. By offering flexible work arrangements and paid leave when caregiving duties require employees to miss work, employers can enable workers with caregiver responsibilities to balance work and family obligations more easily. Such efforts impact countless lives across our Nation, easing concerns and contributing to the well-being of individuals and families as they go about their daily lives.
During National Family Caregivers Month, we honor the millions of Americans who give endlessly of themselves to provide for the health and well-being of a beloved family member. Through their countless hours of service to their families and communities, they are a shining example of our Nation's great capacity to care for each other.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2010 as National Family Caregivers Month. I encourage all Americans to pay tribute to those who provide care for their family members, friends, and neighbors in need.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Take a Break:Soda Can (Aluminum Cans) Art

There is a lot you can make with aluminum cans. To start, you will need to remove the tab-easily twists off- and set aside. You’ll see several projects below just using the tabs. Next comes the removal of the top and bottom. I punch a hole near the top and use regular scissors to cut around the top, side seam and then the bottom. Wear gloves to avoid any nasty cuts. So now that you have a solid sheet of aluminum, below are some projects that are easy to make.

Ornaments: If you have punches, even small ones, you can punch out shapes. Punches like Big Shot and Sizzix, often used for scrap booking are ideal. You can also use a cookie cutter or a pattern to draw a design and cut out. The advantage of the punches is that they round the edges so you don’t have to do a lot of sanding. If you are concerned about using the punches on soda cans, watch this scrap booking video, which shows how using the aluminum cans actually sharpens the punch.

Since we’re close to the holidays, check out how a Big Shot was used to make beautiful snowflakes. Other ornament ideas:

Star I

Star II

Aluminum Can Ornaments from Little House in the Suburbs

Soda Can Jewelry

Soda Can Earrings

Recycled Can Flower Bouquet

Soda Tabs and Bottle Top Garland Video (uses ribbon or thread to join them)

Tab bracelet Video

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Building a Social Network

One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve been given was about relationships. A psychologist told me that they are like a pail of water that has a leek in it. People drop out of our lives for one reason or another-move away, change jobs, no longer have common interests, ill health, don’t get along, divorce, death etc. If we want to keep the pail full, we have to work at keeping people in our lives and adding new ones to replace those that leave.

There have been a host of studies that show one of the most important keys to well being, as well as longevity, is having a good social network. Family and friends can be in your life in all sorts of ways. They can be friends and family that you see only in certain situations, such as the yearly New Year’s Eve party or family events. There are others that are part of your day-to-day life-co-workers, neighbors, spouse/partner etc. Then there are those people that no matter what happens, or when the last time you saw them, you know you can count on them.

Aging, our health, marital/partnership status, kids/no kids, all impact how we maintain our social network. In our busy lives, when and how often do we assess our network of friendships/relationships? Does having a chronic illness increase our opportunities or decrease them?

Below are a series of questions followed by resources to help you turn negative answers into positive ones.

• Do you attend a support group of any type? Whether it’s AA, Al-A-Non, church group or condition specific group (e.g. cancer support group) being part of a support group can help on multiple levels. Places to find a support group include: local newspaper; clinic or doctor’s office where you receive care; condition specific organizations; asking friends and family; your place of worship; or local library. Find friends and places that can support you emotionally, and where it is safe to talk about your health issues. For more resources

• Are you involved in helping others by volunteering? If not, there are a large number of ways to become involved. If you are 55 or older, one call to your local R.S.V.P. chapter can keep you very busy. Look in the paper. Ask friends about their volunteering efforts. Keep in mind that organizations count on volunteers, so be sure to do what you say you’ll do.

• When was the last time you went through your address book and connected with friends and family? This could be a simple e-mail, phone call or letter.

• How often do you organize a social activity? This can include: a party; meeting friends for dinner a walk or hike, having a friend over for tea etc.

• How often do you attend events that you are invited too? Keep in mind, the more times you don’t go, the fewer the invitations you will receive in the future.

• How much time do you spend around other people? If you find it’s very little, consider activities that interest you and find out what types of organizations or groups that you can participate in. Such activities could be a reading, birding or a hiking group; cooking, art or craft classes; campaign for a candidate that you like. Participating in activities where everyone has a common interest increases the odds you will find people you want to connect with.

• Do you use internet social networking tools, such as Facebook, message boards etc? There is a growing level of social networking happening thanks to the internet. A month ago, a close friend of my husband’s died. Since this individual, was known and loved by many, a Facebook page was established so people could connect, remember and grieve. It was the most wonderful piece of social networking I’ve witnessed in years. Not only was it an interactive way for people to mourn their loss together, all of the entries, videos, photos etc. are being downloaded and made available in digital format for this individual’s family.

Up until this point, I would occasionally look at my Facebook page, but hadn’t invested a lot of time in it. Because of this experience, I have been following my Facebook page, as well as making entries. I’ve added a lot of friends that I haven’t talked to in years. Yes, there are issues with this technology, so be very careful. Don’t look to this form of social connection for your health information. There are people that join these sites just so they can promote a treatment or make money off of someone’s illness. Also, don’t limit your social connections to the internet.

To the question of whether having a chronic condition increases or decreases chances for social interactions, it depends on the person. Many people are clear that receiving their diagnosis was the best thing that happened to them, since it gave them a social outlet they were lacking. However, people do withdraw from you because they can’t deal with the idea of someone being sick. When it comes down to it, relationships are critical to our well-being, and therefore it is important that we continually work at keeping a balance of them in our lives.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Take a Break Activities 8/09-10/10

Since I began this blog, in August 2009, every Wednesday has been, and will continue to be, "take a break" day. These posts (there are over 60 of them) contain a variety of activities that can help relieve stress and increase your sense of well-being.

August 2009
Take An Art Break: Five Ways
Art of the Game

Make a Potholder
iris Folding
Walk a Labyrinth
Take a yoga Break

Paper Beads
Color a Mandala
Learn Something New

Make a 3-D Snowflake
Play Moon Fish Ocean
Feed the Birds
Cards/Relax/Family History

Duct Tape/Music
zen gardens-make one/rake one
Garlands and Christmas Mandalas
Make Snow/Do Qigong Now
Take a Beach Day

January 2010
Plant Something
Watch a Feel Good Movie
Save and Read Quotes
Make a King Cake

Groundhog/Chinese New Year
Valentine’s Paper Basket
Langston Hughes poetry
Fold a Dollar

Be Inspired
Make Irish Soda Bread
Decorate Eggs
Make an Easter Basket/Remembering Anderson/Roosevelt

Fly a Kite
What’s Art/Flowers
Celebrate Earth Day
Take a Break With Rocks

Paint on Glass
Bring Nature Close to You
Aboriginal Art
Memorial Day Activities

Interact with Art
Do Something for the Dad’s
Play with sand
Get Ready for the 4

Make a vase that reflects your environment
Beat the Heat
Spatter Paint

Watch the Clouds
Visit a Farmer’s Market and Eat Well
Read a Book/Sip Tea
Fun Holiday Gifts to Start Making Now

Back to School
Apple Shrunken Heads
Apple Recipes
Apple Fables

Dia de los Muertos-Paper cuts/skulls
Dia de los Muertos-skeleton figurines /paintings
Dia de los Muertos-Food and coloring
Dia de los Muertos-Altars/Flowers/Halloween Movies