Friday, December 5, 2008

A Mental Diet

I like to listen to the radio while working. My favorite station is “streamed” from out of state because it’s in the same city where our two sons live. It’s a great way of staying connected with them and their environs. I hear about their weather, their traffic tie ups, and listen to what they’re listening to. I just heard the morning host make the following comment, “We not only are, what we eat, but also what we think.” What a simple statement, but certainly one to make us pause. Living in our “diet conscious culture,” a day doesn’t go by that we’re not reminded of what and how to eat, but seldom do I hear about our mind’s diet.

What we eat enters our body through our mouth, but think of all the other influences, the external stimulants in our world that we see, hear, feel and touch. How do they affect, inspire, influence us, and who we are?

So what are some of these influences? Well, lots. How about what we read, what we listen to -- be it music, news, TV, talk radio, our colleagues, friends, family, neighbors. And how about ourselves? How often do we truly listen to our own thoughts, our own body?

Years ago, in my early 20’s, along with a few friends I signed up for a yoga class. Following the stretches and postures we would close each class with meditation. Self-consciously my friends and I sat in the circle and silently went through the actions but not truly getting into the spirit of meditation. Older and wiser, I’m now ready to consider giving it another try.

Based on the following article,
evidence from an impressive group of researchers from some of the leading institutions in the world have found that a serious effort at meditation can physically change the brain, leading to reduced stress, better mental focus, and possibly fewer effects from aging.

"One of the most important domains meditation acts upon is emotional intelligence — a set of skills far more consequential for life success than cognitive intelligence," says Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin.Davidson.

If I’m looking for proof, there it is. So, what am I waiting for?

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Colbert Inman

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nurturing Nature

Recently, I have been pained to see Illinois’ natural resources on the chopping block of politics.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved being outdoors. There is something soothing to me in the smell of the earth and the multiple shades of green in the canopy of leaves as I lay back. I seem to think better in nature, and I am not alone. I took my daughter and her girl scout troop on a camping trip to an Illinois park a couple of years ago, and I watched in amazement as my girls bloomed and became almost inseparable from the natural world around them.

Across a number of disciplines, researchers have conclusively demonstrated that “conservation can now be viewed as a public health strategy” (Frumkin & Louv, 2007). Contact with nature is related to lower depression, better immune system functioning, lower levels of ADHD behaviors in children, and a host of other benefits. Colleagues and I did some work in the 1990s demonstrating that contact with even small patches of nature is related to more positive functioning for residents of inner city housing complexes. We learned that nature has important benefits for people in their everyday lives across the lifespan, from young children to their grandparents. These studies and many others show that nature isn’t simply part of the background of human existence but is an important thread in the foreground.

What can you do to tap into the benefits of nature for you and those you love?

Spend time outdoors as often as possible. Find enjoyable activities that you can do outside. Some may be solitary activities (reading on a bench, walking, meditating, fishing) while others might integrate others (hiking with a loved one in a state park, sharing a picnic beneath a beautiful tree, playing a game of croquet on your lawn). Protect your skin from the elements, but soak up your daily dose of nature.

Find a place close to your home where you can enjoy nature. Having nature near your home will allow easy access when you have time. You can drop by on the spur of the moment sometimes, maybe when you need a boost.

Plan inexpensive trips to state parks and public natural areas. These make great vacation destinations that can turn our focus away from materialism and toward enjoyment of the environment.

Given the large body of evidence, it is clear that access to nature is the birthright of each of us. We do not have to have a second home on an exclusive wooded lake. The parks that are maintained by our federal government, states, and municipalities are a relatively low-cost investment in our present and future wellbeing. Let’s make use of these resources!
This entry was submitted by Angela Wiley.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Age Old Lessons for Contemporary Times

I believe my children are gifts – given to me for a season, to teach, and try my best to instill family values in them. With this awesome responsibility comes the need to filter what they learn in the world as they observe others and interact with peers. In today’s economy prices rise while income levels remain the same. I am finding it necessary to communicate with my younger daughter differently about the issue of money, gas prices, and the cost of entertainment.

I have always tried to help my two girls learn about money – first, tying this valuable lesson to what my daughters were learning in school. I remember saying, to my now 21 year old, when she was only four, "You have to learn to count your money if you want to spend it." She would be allowed to spend a dollar at a time learning to count the change before progressing to more difficult denominations. This seemed to work well. She learned to count with ease; progressed to being able to count her money back from what was owed; and learned about percentages as we shopped (10% off / on sale 30% off, etc.). But, as my younger daughter enters her senior year of high school I have begun to wonder where has this training gone? Did I exude all my energy on the older daughter forgetting to provide the same lessons to the younger one? I find myself saying to this young “diva” … “Do you think I have endless pockets?” My colleague is having the same conversations with his teenage son about leaving the lights on. I think the key is that parents must not grow weary of guiding – these lessons do eventually sink in and getting stressed out about it is fruitless.

In a world with such economic downturns I'm trying, like others, to cut costs where I'm able. This means I now have to send very clear messages about what my family needs to do to change. In fact, as I write about this I'm planning to implement a new strategy one which I hope will help my younger daughter understand more about cost savings and eco-friendly citizenship. You see, she enjoys long showers, watches television while on the Internet, leaves the television on while she runs a short errand or simply wastes energy. My plan is to have her log the results of usage and costs of our electric, gas, and water bills. Next, I will have her suggest ways “we” might save money and then suggest how “we” might treat ourselves with the savings.

A few cost saving tips that might work with children without causing stress:

 Watch the news together and discuss issues about the economy together
 Reflect on today’s economy in the current presidential campaign
 Provide them with limited choices – i.e., you have extra money for Great America, but that means you are choosing not to go to dinner and the movies with your friends later …(I used this one on my younger daughter and she understood perfectly)

Although more research is needed on the effectiveness of economic and financial education programs, educators do agree on what parents can do to help. Economic educators have long argued in favor of teaching children the principles of financial and economic education early and often. In order to assist with financial literacy, Schug and Hagedorn believe parents must begin as early as possible and enforce these lessons repeatedly.

To learn more about financial and economic literacy programs go to University of Illinois Extension - Consumer Economic Team’s web site:

Schug, Mark C.; Hagedorn, Eric A. (2005). The Money Savvy Pig™ Goes to the Big City: Testing the Effectiveness of an Economics Curriculum for Young Children. Social Studies, 96: (2), 68-71.

Other helpful tips may be gleaned from a well written tip sheet, 101 Ways to Save Money Alabama Cooperative Extension

Learning more about positive ways to have these conversations reduces stress and creates valuable dialog. I chose not to get too stressed and remain in a spirit of “Intentional Harmony” as it pertains to teaching my girls about tough economic times.

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Giesela Grumbach.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What We Can Learn From a Toddler

I recently spent a weekend with my daughter and thirteen month old grandson. Typical of a toddler, he is learning how to manage disappointment. His mother was busy and told him that he could not go outside at that moment. This little boy, standing almost 2 feet tall, bent at the waist, put his head to the floor and loudly cried out his anger. Then standing straight again, he was soon involved in happy play. I was reminded that sometimes all we need to do is vent.

Venting is most useful if it is intentional and planned. While venting by yelling and screaming works for a toddler, there are more useful and productive ways to vent. Many people find that physical activity releases the emotional energy that is built up from stress and/or anger. I am told that running or working out at the gym is a good way to release that energy. I like to work in my flower garden.

But there are less physical ways to vent, too. Reading, meditation or praying are useful methods for releasing pressure. Sometimes, I like to talk to someone about a stressful situation. It helps me see the situation differently. I guess that is similar to my grandson who that same weekend was in a nonverbal discussion with his cousin. It seems they both wanted the same swing and chose to resolve it by pushing (physical venting) His mother was able to discuss it with him and redirect him to solve his problem in a more helpful way. Venting or discussing it with others is most helpful if talking about it doesn’t stir up the initial emotions and pressure but helps us move through the situation.

There are many ways to vent after a tough day at work or home. Remember that in order for venting to be useful, it needs to be controlled. Regular planned activities help to prevent negativity from reaching a point where it spills over to other relationships. Venting is of no use if it keeps us in a state of anger.

Learn a lesson from a toddler: Vent and move on.

For further information on anger management check out the following Extension websites:

This blog entry is submitted by guest blogger, Rachel Schwarzendruber.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A New Adventure in Life—Grandparenting

I have heard that there is nothing like being a grandmother and very recently have been privileged to experience this reality. I must admit that with the emphasis for young people on careers today, I was wondering if my son and daughter-in-law might decide to pursue their careers over having a family.

After thinking I received a present by mistake last Christmas from my son and daughter-in-law, I was thrilled and filled with joy when I realized the meaning behind an ornament with the word “Grandma” on it. It was the first time that I seriously considered moving to Iowa to be closer than four hours away from my son, daughter-in-law, and future grandbaby! It was also the first time that we learned that this was their second pregnancy and she had miscarried her last child. So they were very excited but hesitant to tell us and asked that we not tell the rest of the family until things were a little further along.

Watching my daughter-in-law go through morning sickness, a scare of blood spotting, and proclaim “It takes a lot of energy to grow a baby” has kept me in prayer. Seeing my son, while talking with me and his father, move to stand protectively behind his wife with his arms stretched out as she climbed a step-stool to reach something out of the kitchen cabinet made me feel proud. Observing his excitement of making the baby move when he spoke or massaged his wife’s stomach brought smiles to my face.

Three weeks before the baby’s due date on a Sunday morning before church we got an email that Kelly’s, (my daughter-in-law’s) water had broke at 4 a.m. and she might be going into labor. We called my son, Tim, and they were already at the hospital. Things were going slow and Tim said he would call when they knew more. We told him we would keep the phone on during church which we had never done before.

Sure enough the call came at 11:33 am during church service and my husband went out in the hallway to answer it. Kelly had delivered a 5 lb. 15 oz. healthy baby girl with no name yet. But most importantly, mom and baby were doing fine. Eventually the name came, Abigail Ann. They wanted to call her, Abby. We love the name.
Part of the challenge of being a grandmother is abiding by the unwritten in-law rules that say “If it is my daughter, I get to see her and the baby first and if it is your daughter, you get to see her and the baby first.” Letting the other set of grandparents have first priority at seeing the baby when I so wanted to get into the car and drive to Iowa NOW was the first place I felt myself needing to adapt.

I knew I had to consider Kelly and Tim’s feelings and plans and put them before mine, no matter how strongly my desires felt. Kelly planned on her parents being the first to see little Abby. So rather than feeling sorry for myself since I did happen to take the week as vacation and could have easily driven up to see them, I used my extra time to cook up some casseroles that Kelly could freeze as I waited for the weekend--our scheduled time to see them. It was also the time when Mike and I could both go together.

A jaundice scare put Abby back in the hospital in an incubator under lights for an additional night. Again we were asked to wait until she was released from the hospital. Ughh! Couldn’t we be a help and support? It was getting difficult to wait, but eventually our time came.

Nothing prepares you for seeing your grandbaby for the first time. Besides the joy of holding Abby, I so enjoyed watching Tim and Kelly interact with her.

My son is an engineer so he loves to solve problems. When Abby began to fuss in my arms, Kelly came over and immediately quieted her down. We assumed it was mamma’s voice that calmed her. But then we learned something endearing.

When Abby had cried at the hospital, Tim would try different things to calm her down. He tried rubbing her head gently, it didn’t faze her. He tried massaging her legs, her stomach, but nothing stopped her crying until he took both of her arms and gently held them close to her chest while placing his two thumbs up for her to wrap her palms and fingers around. She immediately quieted down and stopped crying. “I don’t know why it works Mom, but she obviously finds it very comforting.” We realized that this is what we had witnessed Kelly do to calm Abby when she was upset in my arms. I loved to see Tim apply his engineering skills in his new role as a father.

Following are a couple of websites that are useful to new (and old) grandparents: Benefits of Grandparenting, Ohio State, Grandletters (a correspondence program for grandparents of grandchildren 7-12 years old), Kansas State University,

My next challenge will be grandparenting from a distance. How do I form a close bond with my grandchild when I am hours away? Phone calls, letters, emails, birthday cards, photos and small gifts are probably the most common ways of staying in touch. Holiday and summer visits to our home and attending special child events are also important ways to build the relationship. Audio or video tapes with a bedtime story that I read or stories about grandpa or myself as a child could be other ways. What have you found to be the best way to build relationships with those who are far away?

This entry submitted by Patti Faughn, Family Life Educator.

Monday, July 14, 2008

♪ “It’s Not That Easy Being Green.” ♫

Remember Kermit’s song, made popular back in the 1970’s? At the beginning of the song our little frog friend was feeling pretty nondescript, ordinary and un-special about being green and blending in with so many ordinary things, like leaves, for instance.

Fast forward 35+ years and here we are still talking (why not singing?) about going green. Contrary to Kermit’s song title, it’s pretty easy for us to be green. It helps if we’re knowledgeable, imaginative and down right “intentional,” if we want in improve our greenness. If you were to sit down with pencil and paper, and number your sheet to from one to 12 do you think you could list at least a dozen things that you’re doing to “go green?”

Here’s my list . . . .

1. Wash dishes by hand, particularly if we can’t fill up an entire load in the dishwasher. The dishwasher is generally saved for “company only.”
2. Use solar and wind power to dry laundry on the line. Yes, even in muggy, humid central Illinois you can dry clothes outside in a reasonable amount of time. No fabric softener can match the natural fresh smell of line dried laundry! (Don’t talk to me about the birds.)
3. Wrap gifts in colorful Sunday paper comics, or incorporate a gift as the wrapping such as a kitchen towel, hand towel, etc.
4. Take the bus. The past six weeks I’ve made an effort to take the bus to work twice a week. Not only does it save on gas, but parking as well. (UI provides us with free bus passes.) It forces me to get more organized in terms of limiting errands to the other three days. Another benefit is I’m walking several blocks to and from my bus stops, thus getting in some exercise.
5. Donate to Goodwill and other places. One of my big life goals is to clean out my house and find homes for items we can no longer use.
6. Purchase items from Goodwill and other second hand stores. Yes, I’m a shopper at these stores, on occasion, too. For someone like me, who frequently is not into the “current styles or look,” I find it refreshing to find my retro taste still available at these stores, plus you can’t beat the price. Along these same lines I’m not above “dumpster diving,” either. It’s amazing what useful, valuable things get put out in the trash!
7. Use a push mower rather than a power mower. I have to admit I’ve only pushed this hand mower around our backyard once in the last year, but I did it once and will likely do it again. See #6 to see from where this mower came—hint “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
8. Open your windows and use fans rather than A/C. I seem to be able to tolerate the heat and humidity more at home or at work than I can in the car. And there are definitely times the A/C at home is humming.
9. Install florescent bulbs. Pretty simple.
10. Walk more. We’re fortunate to live within walking distance to many places we frequent – park, restaurants, bank, library, etc.
11. Conserve water. This one goes back to number 1—wash dishes by hand. Given our water heater is some distance from our kitchen sink, this past year we’ve been filling up gallon jugs of water while it’s heating up. This water is later used for watering plants, making coffee, doing laundry, etc.
12. Bring bags to grocery store. We’re getting a lot of mileage out of our paper bags with handles. We keep a supply in the trunk of the car. Our store even gives us a 3 cent credit for each bag we bring in.

I’m definitely not a “purest” when it comes to going green. Sometimes I’m in a hurry, hot, tired, forget, become extravagant, whatever, but I’m not too hard on myself. I figure that the times I do make an effort to conserve, re-use, recycle makes a difference.

Achieving a sustainable society is pretty much the mission of Worldwatch Institute. It delivers the insights and ideas that empower decision makers to create an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs. Founded in 1974, Worldwatch focuses on the 21st century challenges of climate change, resource degradation, population growth, and poverty by developing and disseminating solid data and innovative strategies for achieving a sustainable society. The following website pages from Worldwatch Institute includes some of their suggestions of what we can all be doing to help sustain our world:

Additionally, there are numerous sites on line that calculate your carbon footprint. I think we can all strive to reduce our shoe size.

Back to Kermit and his song. While he starts out lamenting about being green and so ordinary, he progresses through his verses recognizing and then gaining new appreciation for his greenness. By the end of his song he’s happy – “It’s beautiful! And it’s what I want to be.” Me, too Kermit!!

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Colbert Inman

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Last week I got a parking ticket. I’m talking about a $10 ticket. I think that’s sizable, but my reaction this time was different than it has been in the past. This ticket resulted from pure negligence. I simply forgot to feed the meter. When I saw the ticket, I immediately wrote the check, walked a block down the street and deposited my penance in the little box attached to a pole. Thus, within minutes the ticket was discovered, dealt with and forgotten (almost). Previous tickets have triggered different responses. If I’ve fed the meter, and then get there moments after it's expired to find a ticket, I’m red hot mad! Not only had I “wasted” $3 on feeding the meter, in the first place, but now I have to pay $10 more. So what does a passive aggressive person do in a case like this? They scribble their check out, to demonstrate their anger, they wait until the 71st hour to deposit it in “the box,” and they seethe and fume to whoever will, or won’t, listen to them. Once, I felt justified in appealing my ticket, and won. I knew the meter was soon to expire so ran out to the car and discovered that: One, it had expired. Two, there was no ticket on the windshield. Three, there was a meter maid standing next to my car writing, or punching something into an electronic devise. I immediately fed the meter, in front of her, before she could put the ticket on my windshield. This prompted a dialogue. She argued that the ticket was valid from the moment she entered it into her “system.” I countered that there was no ticket on the windshield when I re-fed the meter and that I shouldn’t have to pay. This went on for a short while and ended when she suggested I appeal it, which I did. Did I mention I won the appeal? I thought so.

For some strange reason when I reflected on my tickets and the various ways I dealt with them I got to thinking about “forgiveness.” My most recent ticket experience seems to have been the least painful of my ticketed past. Why is that, I wondered? Is it because I quickly recognized that I was wrong, (forgetful) immediately faced the consequences, paid my dues and then it was over. I could, and did, go about my business without the storm and fury of previous experiences. All was forgiven. Whereas, in the past when I painfully drag it out, I’m the one who gets upset, stressed, mad and distracted, not the city of Urbana. So, by not forgiving myself, I’m the one who suffers.

The need to forgive ourselves for minor annoyances, like parking tickets, is small compared to the interpersonal hurts and losses we face. Fred Luskin, Ph.D. Stanford, is devoting his professional life to the study of forgiveness. Forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress and lead to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self confidence. Dr. Luskin’s research is conducted in a workshop format and typically lasts from five to six weeks. “It is not therapy. It is teaching people how to learn this kind of skill,” he said. “We can teach people to forgive and that will improve their well-being.” One of the greatest outcomes of forgiveness has been the reduction of anger felt by the forgiver. One of the benefactor’s of Luskin’s work sums it up, “To me, the most important thing was that when you are angry you are only hurting yourself. You are not hurting the person that you are mad at.”

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after, is to find peace. Dr. Luskin lists nine steps toward forgiveness including: Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Colbert Inman.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

To Pitch or Not to Pitch

Living in a mid-western university community I feel we get a couple extra “new years” -- opportunities for making resolutions, changes. Spring is filled with rebirth and “newness” in nature, from crocuses and tulips poking through the dark earth, to robins hatching from pastel blue eggshells. In a community that revolves around the University of Illinois, the beginning of the school year also seems like “a new year.” After a slow quiet summer the community blossoms and prospers while the locals cry out, with forked tongues, “Oh no! The students are back!” And lest we forget that our traditional new year begins January 1. I don’t know about you, but I feel more energized in the spring and fall, than I do in the dead of winter, when it comes to making (keeping) resolutions.

One resolution that keeps rearing its ugly head at me is, “Clean out the house!” Notice I said clean “out” the house, not “up” the house. Accumulated clutter -- where does it all come from? We’ve heard the rhetorical question – If a cluttered desk is indicative of a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk convey? Well, I’d like to switch words: instead of an empty desk, how about an organized one? I don’t think anyone can argue with being more organized. There are tons of books, websites, blogs, and even TV shows on the subject of decluttering. Why are they so popular? Well maybe there’re lots of clutterbugs, like me, out there. People who spend too much time “looking” for lost items, wasting money on unnecessary stuff and having difficulty parting with certain objects. These behaviors can lead to stress, frustration and negativity.

The first step to effective decluttering starts with our “mind,” not a dumpster. Just like successful dieters have to change the way they think about food and examine what “needs” food is meeting in their lives, we need to ask some similar questions about “things,” and what they represent to us. Lifestyle changes need to come first if we’re to achieve and sustain our new behaviors, be they dieting or declutturing.

But, doesn’t it all seem overwhelming? Where do I begin? Karen Chan, Illinois Extension Educator, of Consumer and Family Economics has developed a comprehensive guide on, "Dealing with Clutter.” You can read all about it at the Extension website:

Karen addresses all kinds of clutter, from the paper clutter of magazines, kids’ art work, junk mail and utility bills, to clothes we hope to some day get back into, keepsakes that hold special sentiment, and all the stuff/junk and things that stack up in our garages, basements and attics. The kitchen has its own section, as she shows us how we can organize this very busy room in our house.

Like so many big, overwhelming jobs, we get stuck in our tracks, paralyzed, “can’t move.” But Karen breaks the big jobs into small manageable ones. She introduces us to the Clutter Emergency Card – a series of six questions to aid us in deciding whether to keep or pitch, give away or sell? She shows us that we don’t need enormous blocks of time to tackle the jobs, but we can make good use of small pockets of time. She gives me hope. I can see the light at the end of my attic. I can put my house on a diet and we’ll all be the better for it. Yes I can, yes I will!

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Colbert Inman

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Getting where I need to go

Each year, the first Friday in April is national “Walk to Work Day” in the U.S. Walking, which can be a form of moderate exercise, has been shown to improve health in a number of important ways. People who walk at least 30 minutes a day can lower their risk of heart attack, reduce their blood pressure, and improve their outlook. Not to mention that walking saves gasoline. As prices quickly approach $4.00 a gallon, most of us can use some relief.

I have a confession to make. I live within a 20 minute walk of my workplace and 15 minutes of my child’s school. I’m not sure how long it would take the crow to fly, but this is how long it takes my feet to walk. My feet COULD, that is, if I didn’t keep making excuses for why I don’t do it very often. Let’s see.

  • I have too much to carry.
  • I don’t have enough time.
  • I have errands to run at lunch or right after work.
  • I have chauffeur duty for daughter and friends.
  • It’s too cold.
  • It’s too hot.
  • It’s too wet.

I do bike to work occasionally. Somehow taking the time to walk somewhere seems old-fashioned and inconvenient. I walk and do other activity for exercise but when I have somewhere to go, I tend to jump in the car.

Why walk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that on most days of the week we get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity.

Brisk walking is one example of moderate-intensity exercise. If I’m able to do more vigorous physical activity (such as running), I can shorten it to at least 20 minutes on 3 days a week. National studies conducted by the CDC show that at least half of us do not get the minimum recommended amount of exercise and that 25% of us are not active at all in our free time. Ouch!

Walking tips

Using a pedometer can help. In one study, people who were given information about the benefits of physical activity and pedometers walked more than those only given the information. My pedometer is a little inexpensive one I got free at a health fair. It seems that by clipping it on, I pay more attention to how much I walk throughout the day. It sort of becomes my health conscious… egging me to park a little farther away, take the stairs, and walk instead of drive to get lunch. Sometimes, I find myself personalizing it, competing with it, challenging it (“I KNOW that was more than 53 steps!”). Simple pedometers are widely available, at places like local pharmacies and discount stores for under $5.00. Fancier and pricier ones with many bells and whistles are available in athletic specialty stores and on-line. Many sources recommend between 6,000 and 10,000 steps per day, depending on factors such as whether you are maintaining health, doing other activity, or trying to lose weight.

Walking can be more fun when you’re not alone. Studies have shown that we are more likely to stick with a physical activity when we do it with others. Walking time can be therapy time with a good friend. Did I mention, free therapy time? It can be “couple” time to catch up with your honey. It can even be bonding time with children, who can walk and talk while not having to look you in the eye.

But I have another confession to make. I prefer to walk with my dogs or alone. While this may seem anti-social, for me it serves as quiet time. I have a lot of conversation during my job, so I like to use that ½ hour for quiet. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I space out, sometimes I plan. Sometimes I have conversations with myself and work out thorny problems. Sometimes I pray. All the while, I sweat and get the benefits that my body and mind desperately need. You might say it’s good for the body and soul.

My local County Extension office in Champaign published these other ideas to be safe and have fun while walking.

  • Choose a safe place to walk. Do not wear jewelry or headphones while walking and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Shoes should have flexible soles.
  • Wear cool clothes in summer and layer your clothes for winter walks outside. Don’t forget sunscreen.
  • Walk with chin up and shoulders held slightly back.
  • The heel of your foot should touch the ground first as you walk. Walk with your arms swinging at your sides.
  • Slow down during the last five minutes of your walk so you can cool down.
  • If you have not been exercising regularly, begin your walking program slowly. Add a few more minutes to your walk each week.
  • Walk at least 3 times per week but preferably most days of the week.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to do a few stretching exercises before and after a brisk walk. Keeping track of your walks by a simple notation on the calendar may encourage you to stick with the program, as well as chart your progress. And finally, walking and talking (on a cell phone) should be mutually exclusive.

Making a change

With the 2008 “Walk to Work Day” just behind me, I am resolved to make fewer excuses and take advantage of my ability to walk to work as well as many other places. It’s a win-win.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Scoop

Every so often I’m startled to realize that I’m now the senior member of my family of origin. No more grandparents, parents or older brother. Once the third oldest cousin on my dad’s side, now I’m the oldest. It’s the natural progression of life -- while losing senior family members the younger generations become prolific. That is good.

Memories sustain us and fortunately I’m saturated with so many. I don’t have personal memories of my great-grandparents, on either side of my family. One set lived far away in Colorado and died when I was young. The other three sets pre-deceased me. Despite not knowing them I heard stories about them and could recognize pictures of them. A few years ago, following the deaths of my parents, I found some of those pictures in my folks’ attic when I was emptying out their house. Several of those pictures now hang on my walls.

Today, like most mornings, I did my time on the stationary bike. The bike’s in the same room where two of my paternal great grandparents’ portraits now hang in their lacquered oval frames. Pedaling away while looking into the eyes of my great grandmother’s portrait day after day does something to me. She’s young in this portrait—probably in her mid to late 30’s. She died young—on Christmas Eve in 1918 from the influenza, during the horrific pandemic. While I can’t say that I’ve learned anything new about my great-grandmother these past few years, I can tell you that I’m more connected to her and enjoy my time in her portrait’s presence each morning.

My story doesn’t end here.

Downstairs in my kitchen I was baking bread last night. You can’t make cranberry cheese bread without sugar, and as I measured the sugar I was feeling connected to yet another great-grandmother. This one is on my mom’s side. The sugar scoop I use is tin, and black with age. It was first my great-grandmother’s, then my grandmother’s, then my mother’s and now it’s mine. Using the scoop adds an unnecessary step in food prep. For years (when it was in my mom’s sugar canister) I did just fine fetching my sugar. But today, each time I hold that little tin scoop in my hand I feel grateful, grateful for the other hands that held it. It’s my little magic time machine that takes me back to other kitchens, other times.

One of the greatest honours that we can bestow upon our ancestors is to remember them. This is a quote I found while preparing this entry for the blog. It was included in a website about the Art of Ancestral Storytelling. It’s said that, regret is the cancer of life, and one of my great regrets is that I wasn’t more proactive, diligent or sensitive in gathering my family’s histories and stories. But, rather than dwelling on unanswered questions, or untold stories I can begin to record the ones I do know and remember. Like an amateur archeologist I can weave some stories from my recollections and the wonderful family artifacts (heirlooms?) now integrated into my own home. While it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever have the privilege of knowing my own great-grandchildren I can leave them a gift of their ancestry by recording mine, and those who went before me. And you can bet that among my written ramblings will be included a little black tin sugar scoop.

Since the beginning of time, and throughout history, stories have bound us together through their teachings, their influencing and informing, not to mention their entertainment value. Yet we’ve all but lost "natural" story telling traditions and skills today. Rather we rely on professionals to tell us stories through TV, movies and books. So what can we do to see that our own personal stories get told? We can write things down without worry of “perfection.” Our purpose is not to sell volumes or make a best sellers’ list, but rather to connect one generation to the next and on down the line. We can make albums that include stories and pictures. We can make audio or video recordings of our stories, we can interview other family relatives and include their voices, their stories. We can tell a story that no one else can.

“Generativity”-- producing new life or offspring. For over a decade Dan P. McAdams, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, and his students have been examining this concept of generativity in the context of the adult’s concern for and commitment to the next generation – through both quantitative surveys and qualitative analyses of life stories. His recent book, The Redemptive Self: Stories American Live By integrates research and images of the life stories of American adults. This book won the 2006 William James Award from the American Psychological Association for best general-interest book in psychology, across all subfields.

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Colbert Inman

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Speed of My Illusions

When my daughter was younger, she was scheduled to take part in a dance recital. That is probably a bit of an overstatement since "dance" to her at that age mostly meant shimmying and shuffling a little while smiling like Shirley Temple. Event title aside, I was rushing from my workplace to pick her up at her childcare so we could be at the second full dress rehearsal on time. I had discovered at the first rehearsal that the recital was as much an event for the mothers as the children. The veteran moms were lined up backstage with an arsenal of beauty supply products for use on their young daughters. There was a very specific list of how they should look, including their hairstyles and even their eye make-up. While I was disturbed vaguely by the prospect of layering purple eye shadow on my 5-year old, I was dutifully going through the list at each red-light along the way. Somewhere between me mercilessly tightening her hair into a prim bun and lining her lips, she peered up at me and said quietly "Mommy, you are going too fast."

"Psssssssttttt" (that is the sound that my illusions make when they fizzle out like a popped balloon). She wasn't talking about my driving, folks. And she was right.

Activities can enrich children’s lives and expose them to many opportunities for future success. But too many activities can create stress and exhaustion, spreading children too thin. According to a study from the University of Michigan, children as young as 3 have notably less down time than children of the same age twenty years ago.

“Down time” is time when there are no set activities; time is unstructured and reasonably free. Children who don’t have much free time probably don’t have enough time simply to be children. Family time also gets squeezed out as more activities are added to an already full calendar. Many experts believe that family time is the glue that holds family members together.

How can parents make sure their young children are not overscheduled and protect some family time?

· Include free time. The Work and Family Institute recommends that parents make sure their child has down time every day. Children need this to relax. They also need to learn how to play by them-selves so that they don’t always count on others to entertain them.

· Limit the number of organized activities to two or so per week. This allows the child to focus and prevents exhaustion. It also makes room for family time and down time.

· Make sure activities are fitted to the child’s age. For example, 3-year-old Jenna may love dancing but not be ready for beginning ballet. Little Bobby may like kicking the ball around but he does not need to experience the competition of serious team sports for quite some time.

· Choose activities of interest to the child. Sometimes, adults can have their own reasons for wanting their child to be involved in some activity. For example, Jim always wanted to play football so he signed 4-year-old Taylor up for “Preschool Pigskins” although the little boy could care less. Choose and build on what your child likes.

· Find some activities that you can do together. Research shows that children are better off in many ways when their parents do things with them. Together, take a walk or ride bikes, read a book or bake cookies, plant flowers. If your child likes art, spend time drawing pictures together or find a parent-child art class where you can share in your child’s interest. Children who like dance and music might love a parent-child creative movement group or listening to music and creating funny moves while you do chores together.

In the long run, children’s best interests are not served by an overly busy schedule that overshadows family and down time.

In his book The Intentional Family, William Dougherty argues that parent leadership can keep families connected and strong. He writes, “An intentional family rows and steers its own boat rather than being moved only by the winds and current.” With this in mind, I have slowed down in the last few years. It benefits my daughter and it benefits me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding Time for Us

Sometimes my husband Bill's work takes him away from home. This past week, he was on the road where he slept in a hotel Monday through Thursday night. When this happens, if I take my mother’s advice, I’ll squeeze in as many precious “me” moments as I can in his absence. I recall that when my dad was occasionally gone overnight, Mom made no secret that a party was about to unfold. No, not an adolescent “Risky Business” kind of party, but a “we’ll eat cereal for supper and watch episodes of I Love Lucy in our nighties” kind of party. She knew how to live it up, my mom.

For me, I find it hard to constantly switch gears. The family schedule changes somewhat depending on whether Bill is in the house or on the road. Like many dual-earners, we have arranged our lives and divided the chores in such as way that we can keep things afloat. I cook, he cleans. I feed the dogs and walk them in the morning, he comes home at lunch. I supervise homework, he makes me tea. When he is here, that is. Maybe the worst part of the traveling is trying to find some private time to stay connected when our time is so limited. I am tempted to meet him at the door with a mop and bucket on Friday evening when he returns to welcome him into the squalor that has exploded in his absence.

Whether they travel or not, modern busy couples have to be creative to find some private time to keep their relationship on track. When partners do not take the time to tend to each other, it can lead to poor communication and feelings of emotional distance.

In her book What’s Happening to Home, author Maggie Jackson says, “Privacy protects us, allowing us to nurture our most intimate relations with others…” Researchers agree that partners need some private time, away from the hustle and bustle, to pay attention to each other. It is important to protect your relationship in a world where parenting, jobs, social duties and electronic gadgets often intrude on the couple’s privacy. While children need and deserve time, attention, and love, it is important to remember that children also benefit when their parents have a strong relationship.

Here are some ideas for creating and making the most of private couple time.

Set clear boundaries.
Boundaries, with limits you both enforce, can help keep all the parts of your life in their proper places. Examples: “Cell phones have to turned off during dinner.” Or “Saturday mornings are always our breakfast date, no matter what.” Or “No checking work email on the weekend.” Make sure your kids know about couple time and respect it, too. You may need to plan during times when they are busy or asleep, especially when they are too young to respect privacy.

Manage your non-couple time. Productivity has many benefits. If you make the most of your time while you are apart, it is easier to dedicate some free time to your partner, for example, in the evenings or on the weekend.

Share responsibilities.

There are many responsibilities around the house that can eat into couple time or can cause resentment and prevent couples from making the most of their private time. Make sure that both people agree about what is a fair division of labor.

When both partners contribute to the many jobs that keep a household running such as cooking, cleaning, errands and shopping, everything is done sooner and there can be more couple time. Couples who agree on how to share the load report being happier than those who don’t.

Candles and tablecloths are optional. Private time does not have to be expensive or even out of the house. It can be a coffee date at the start of the morning or an ice cream cone on the porch after everyone else is in bed. It is the one-on-one time that matters. It doesn’t have to be long either.

Quality private time.
Use your precious time well. Share with each other. This includes being open about your day and your feelings. While this does not mean you have to spill your guts about every little thing, it bonds couples to share regularly, especially any concerns. Remind your partner of your commitment to him or her, either in words or in actions. This is never old news!

After the next trip, on Friday evening I will meet Bill at the door with a nice cup of tea. I am going to suggest a long walk with the dogs so I can hear the details of his week and tell him about mine. (Between now and then, in honor of Mom, I’ll watch a few episodes of I Love Lucy in my jammies while munching my way through a bowl of Cheerios…).