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Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering Dad

My Dad, aka Earl the Pearl, fought in WWll. He often told stories about peeling thousands of potatoes, hiking for miles with a fifty pound pack, and camping out and sleeping in mud. He shared the places he traveled, his favorite being Australia--Madagascar and New Guinea--not so much. What he didn't share were the memories that woke him screaming in the night for the next fifty years. He never spoke about the horrors of war.

Post traumatic stress disorder wasn't diagnosed back then, and men and women who suffered from it, suffered in silence for fear of seeming weak or cowardly. I like to think we have evolved enough to better understand and treat this affliction for what it is--a psycho-emotional wound that requires treatment as surely as any physical injury. Back in my Dad's day, survivors were considered lucky to come home in one piece. They were told the "shell shock" would wear off. I know this to be untrue.

Growing up, I never understood my dad's emotional distance, why he felt the need to lock doors and windows at night, or why he nearly jumped out of his skin if you caught him off guard. Why he couldn't sit with his back to the door at restaurants and why he always had a far off look in his eyes. People don't realize the impact on the families of those suffering from PTSD. As a child and well into young adulthood, my relationship with my dad was lacking at best and his emotional absence was devastating on many levels. I wish I knew then what I know now.

After doing much research for HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, I finally understand that It's the wounds you can't see that take the longest to heal.

My special thanks to our troops and to all who have served. May we honor and respect them enough to take the shame out of seeking treatment for all of their wounds--and not expect them to just feel lucky to have survived. And thanks to my dad,who for all his short comings taught me about Patriotism, honor, and the value of hard work. Lessons I carry with me daily. Thanks for doing your best Dad.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Agricultural Athlete?

Welcome to Fit-Fri, where I'll be offering my insights into how you can get and stay fit. This Friday I'd like to talk about us crazy weekend warriors who dive into spring like we're starved for getting our hands in the dirt and our faces into the sunshine. I'm talking gardening, of course. After such a long winter, it feels amazing to have 80 degree days where we can plant flowers and vegetables without fear of a late frost. Even up here in the Berkshires it's said to be safe for planting. I prefer to wait until the first week in June, myself. I've lost too many tomato plants by putting them in too early, but I digress.

Before you get caught up in your weeding and mulching, make sure you stretch. That's right, I said stretch. With the constant forward bending, pulling, pushing,and  twisting motions we do in the garden, we need to treat this like it's an athletic event. Especially if you've been sedentary throughout the winter.

 Stretch your hamstrings, calves and quads (downward facing dog and dancer pose are good for this). Do some trunk twists and arm circles. Stretch your chest and shoulders by clasping your hands behind your back and pressing your knuckles down toward the ground. Bend your knees and arch your back a few times. Take frequent breaks and stretch again. Just like sports, stretching before, during and after will reduce your risk of injury and your soreness.

Use good body mechanics as much as you can. Bend your knees and squat rather than leaning forward for long periods of time. Sit or kneel, using a small stool or knee pad to keep you comfortable. Change positions frequently. Give yourself a time limit, so you don't get stuck in one position or spend eight hours in the garden in one day. Moderation is key. Just like with other forms of exercise, build up slowly until your body becomes conditioned again.

Make sure you hydrate. It will keep you from feeling drained at the end of the day. Drink plenty of water and if you sweat a lot, replace your electrolytes by eating a banana or drinking grapefruit juice or gator-ade. Something with potassium and sodium will do. Sugary and caffienated beverages can dehydrate you further.

Don't forget sunblock, a wide brimmed hat, and gloves. Hazards of the sport can include overexposure to the sun and critter bites. I've heard the ticks are really bad this year, and with all the rain, the mosquitos are out in full force as well. There are some really great natural bug repellents. I think the most effective products are the ones that have Neem. I've bought this at both EMS and at the Whole Foods Store. It's made from plant oils and is non-toxic to humans and animals.

Now that you have all the scoop on staying fit and healthy while you transition from the winter duldrums to summertime fun, I 'll expect an invite to a barbeque or two so I can see those fabulous gardens. Don't forget to take pictures of your masterpiece, and feel free to email me your shots. I'll post them over the summer. At the end of summer, I'll have a vote on the best pic and will send a signed copy of my book, HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, to the winner.

 Most importantly, enjoy every moment of soaking in the fresh air, sunshine and time to reconnect with the earth. You'll find you feel more grounded, your creativity will soar, and you'll sleep like a baby.

Blessings!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Why's? This week, 'Why I write.'

When I was little, even before kindergarten, my grandfather taught me to read and write. We played games mostly, since he lived with us and babysat me while my parents both worked. We would spend hours playing spit and rummy and go-fish, to the point I could add and subtract way ahead of my classmates once I went to school. I could also tell a good story.

Grampa used to tell tall tales and he would sit me on his lap and help me write them down. He would make up part of the story and then ask me what happens next? When we were done, he always smiled--something that was rare for him. I have wonderful memories of my grandfather, although I hear he was a son-of-a-gun (I'll keep it PG), to his own kids and even to my older siblings. Whether he was trying to make up for all his ill deeds or was just partial to me and my sunny, unflappable disposition, I'll never know. What I do know is that he planted a seed. A powerful passion for writing, telling stories and crafting a good tale.

I continued to write after he died when I was ten. Keeping journals and diaries on and off for many years, writng poetry and short stories, never considering publication. Until I went to a financial seminar where Harv Ecker, motivational speaker and finance wizard, talked about creating passive streams of income. When he suggested that writing a book was a way to make money, (you write the book and then collect the royalties), I thought,  I'm a decent writer. How hard can it be?

OMG! Six years and seven manuscripts later, I still haven't made a dime. Yet I keep learning, growing and writing. Some days I think I must have been crazy to embark on this journey. At first, I started looking at what people read (55% of the book market being romance) and thought, I know about that. I could write one of those. Again, I asked myself, How hard can it be? OMG! Harv is probably having himself a good laugh right about now.

 With indy-publishing my first book in September, I am taking on the new role of publisher and author, as well as director of marketing and promotions. I haven't even stopped to count how many hats I'm wearing at once. But amidst all of this chaos and craziness, I go back to the reason why I write.

 I love to tell a good story, and I love making people smile. So what about you? WHY do you write? Or quilt, or play sports? What inspired you to do what you are passionate about?

Friday, May 20, 2011

FITNESS FRIDAY--Balance Grasshoppers

After growing up in a chaotic house with seven kids and three adults, (that's ten people, one bathroom, eighteen hundred square foot house kind of chaos), I realized the only way to survive in life was to find some sort of balancing point. Thanks to that epiphany, (and more than a few years of counceling and support groups), I somehow found my way from figure skating to martial arts, and then yoga. All of these practices have taught me about balance--the yin and yeng of life.

 I live by the motto 'BE WILLING TO DO WHAT'S HARD, AND LIFE WILL BE EASY. IF YOU DO WHAT'S EASY, LIFE WILL BE HARD.' (I think Harv Ecker said that one)I know how challenging it is to take care of ourselves. We are high maintenance and for most of us, life is a tightrope walk--always struggling to stay on some center line and not fall too far off to one side or the other. I would like to share with you what I know about finding balance. For now, let's talk basics.

1) HYDRATE-start your day with a galss of water. It's amazing how much fluid we lose in our sleep, simply from the act of breathing. Drink water often throughout the day. My rule is take your weight, divide by three and that's how many ounces you need to drink a day to stay sufficiently hydrated. ex.: 150 pound woman should drink 50 ounces of water a day. Fill a water bottle in the morning and keep it with you.
2) BREATHE-Take ten deep breaths in and out through your nose in the shower every morning and every night when you get into bed. You will sleep better, have more energy, be more relaxed and remain more centered throughout the day.
3)  TAKE CARE OF YOU FIRST-Mom used to tell me to 'mind your own business'. Being the youngest, I was quite the pest--I think precocious is the word. I couldn't help that there was always something exciting happening with that many people around all the time. But she was right. I figured out that I couldn't fix, change or otherwise control what other people did and that I was only responsible for my own personal well-being. Some people might construe this as being selfish. I call it self-preservation and self-caring. This lesson has helped me to LIVE AND LET LIVE. Ironically, when I do take care of me first, I am so much better able to take care of others. And knowing I am not responsible for anyone else's happiness takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of me to be a people pleaser. I find balance in knowing how to DETACH WITH LOVE.
4) TAKE JOY IN SIMPLE PLEASURES-A walk on the beach, butterflies in the garden, sunshine on your face, a beautiful melody, a rainbow after a storm, a waterfall in the woods, the taste of strawberries and whipped cream, babies and puppies...you get the picture. There is so much beauty amid the chaos and darkness of life. Don't take anything beautiful or meaningful for granted.

Your yoga pose for the day is TREE POSE.
Stand with your feet together, shoulders down and back. Draw your belly button into your spine and lift up through the top of your head. Now shift your weight over to your left foot and turn your right knee out to the side so that your weight is through the ball of the foot, your toes are on the floor, and the right heel rests just above your left ankle. Take a breath in, place your hands together over your heart space in prayer position (or hold on to something sturdy if you have poor balance). Exhale, lift your foot so the sole of the right foot rests on the inner calf of the left leg. Lift up tall, balance, and breathe. Keep your eyes on a focal point. Hold for at least three to five breaths. Repeat on other side.

Balance is a blessing. It just takes practice.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fitness Friday--Yoga for Writers, Students and Computer Geeks.

I know I'm a day late, but I do plan to post on Fridays with some health and fitness tips for my friends and readers. Since my day job is as a yoga teacher and massage therapist, I thought I would share with you the benefits of yoga and a few key poses that are great for writers, readers, students, and computer geeks. As always, if you have an injury or health concerns about physical activity, consult your doctor before doing yoga or any other type of exercise plan. This first part, anyone can do, so take a deep breath in and out through your nose, lengthen your spine, and relax your shoulders away from your ears. Connect your feet to the floor and guess what? You are already doing yoga. Yoga is about awareness. Connecting your mind, body and breath.

Yoga is a 5000 year old practice that has been a path to enlightenment and good health to millions of people all over the world. And no, you don't have to be able to wrap your feet around your head to do it. As a matter of fact, even if you can, I don't recommend it. I'm not a fan of extreme yoga postures. Of course, each individual must find their own 'edge'--that place where you feel a stretch, are comfortably challenged and where you can maintain a steady breath. Yoga should not be painful! The people who are being injured at alarming rates are not practicing responsibly, or are not getting good instruction. One of the main philosophies of yoga is 'ahimsa' which means non-violence--towards others, but also towards yourself. Be kind to your body and it will be kind to you.

Anyone who spends time sitting at a computer or hunched over a desk all day NEEDS to stretch. So stand up, press your heels into the floor, tighten your thighs (without locking your knees), and tuck your belly button in toward your spine. Now take a breath in through your nose, raise your hands over head and lower your shoulders down and back, opening your heart space (chest). Turn your palms inward as if holding a big beach ball overhead and breathe in and out a few times, feeling the energy in your hands and legs. Release your hands slowly to your sides and relax. You just did Mountain pose (Tadasana).

Another good posture is yoga mudra. In standing again, clasp your hands behind your back, squeeze your shoulder baldes together and open your heart space. Now slowly bend forward, keeping your knees bent and raising your hands behind you away from your hips. Listen to your body and respect your limitations. If your shoulders and chest are super tight, you may not be able to go far, but with consistent stretching over time , your flexibility will increase. If this is difficult for you, you can use a belt or towel between your hands to make it easier. Hold this posture for a few breaths and come back up slowly.

There are so many wonderful postures that energize the body and mind, improve posture, increase the immune system, and reduce stress, I've decided to offer a couple of easy poses each week. This will be interspersed with other fitness and health tips that I think you will find are enjoyable and that improve the quality of your life. So tell me, have you ever taken a yoga class? If so, what kind? Do you have a favorite posture? Mine, if I had to pick one, is cow's face posture. Don't ask me to describe it. It would take too many words. If you haven't taken a yoga class, why not?