All posts by li8818bu

Men and Machines

Two weeks ago our twenty-one year son bought a motorcycle. I never saw it coming. It’s not anything I ever thought he would consider buying. Moreover, my husband and I are the farthest from the stereotypical motorcycle type, so I couldn’t understand where the idea came from.

However, I should have known. As a baby, his first noises resembled car sounds. By the time he was four, he could identify cars by their hubcaps. My dad loved it when he was in the car with us to listen to this little kid rattle of car models. Soon after, when he learned how to use the telephone, he would often call my parents to ask, “How’s your Buick doing?” And, our vacations had to include something to do with go-carts or some sort of motorized vehicle he could drive.

Our son knows I’m not happy about the bike, so he’ll  say things to get me to lighten up about it. This weekend he was cleaning the motorcycle in our garage. He came in the house for a short break, and with his witty sense of humor, he said, “all the middle-aged men in the neighborhood stopped by to chat and reminisce about their motorcycles—but now they’re tied down by their wives and kids. They’re all wishing they could have one, again.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his goofy remark. I understand he’s young, and not “tied down” to anything or anyone right now. And, he’s done everything right by buying a top-of-line helmet, jacket, boots, and gloves, as well as signed up for a motorcycle safety course—but it still scares the hell out of me.

A comic that an older neighbor gave me because it reminded her of our son. It’s still on the side of our refrigerator.

Mindfulness Matters

The past few weeks I’ve been feeling stressed from the demands of working full-time, going to school, volunteering, and staying connected with our four children (two live on the east coast). Adding to the mix is the need to clean the house, do laundry, and other obligations that pull my attention in too many directions. But, today I realized what was missing. I need to get back to practicing mindfulness meditation! When I practice mindfulness regularly, no matter what is going on in my life my stress level dissipates.

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of being. When you’re mindful, you purposefully pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, being mindful means you’re living in the present and awakening to your experiences. The practice of mindfulness meditation teaches you how to cultivate awareness, which reduces stress.

My introduction to mindfulness was through my employer’s wellness program. At work, they offer a weekly mindfulness meditation class over the lunch hour. The mindfulness training is compatible with the aim of the wellness program—to enhance employees’ well-being.

A small group of people meets weekly for a one-hour session of guided meditations, compassion practices, and breathe awareness. The instructors provide examples of ways to integrate mindfulness into our daily lives—which trains our brains to live in the present moment. Because the class is not offered over the summer months, I’ve gotten out of my routine.

Principles to start your day off on a positive note
While I’ve abandon my mindfulness practice for the last month, I continue to use the tips from The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Dr. Amit Sood, MD, to start my day with good intentions.

Dr. Sood says, “Your attention is like a muscle; working it out makes it stronger” (53).  He recommends beginning each day by focusing on one of the Stress-Free Living principles. So, I added them to my google calendar. I receive a reminder every morning at 8:15 a.m. They help me to start the day off on a positive note. The following list includes the assigned principle for each day:

Day of the week Theme
Monday Gratitude
Tuesday Compassion
Wednesday Acceptance
Thursday Higher Meaning
Friday Forgiveness
Saturday Celebration
Sunday Reflection and Prayer

 Benefits of Mindfulness
There are both physical and emotional benefits from practicing Mindfulness. The techniques help to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Lower pressure
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve symptoms of anxiety

Practicing mindfulness has been a positive experience, and many of the group members agree. When I practice regularly I am able to focus on and enjoy everything that I’m involved in. I feel more like I’m living life, rather than rushing through it.

For the Writing and Designing for the Web I course I designed a “Mindfulness Matters” website. We needed to provide a handout for the class on presentation day, so I created this one-page Mindfulness Matters Tip Sheet.

When I meditate, I find the practice beneficial for juggling a busy schedule. Give it a try! You, too, can reap the benefits of mindfulness meditation.

What tips do you have for dealing with the stresses of a busy schedule?

Battling Parkinson’s Disease with Grace was Ali’s Greatest Fight

With the recent passing of Muhammed Ali, I don’t really think about his boxing career. Instead, I think about his strength and grace as he battled Parkinson’s. He was such a strong man whose life changed forever by a progressively debilitating disease.

Another strong man touched by Parkinson’s is my father. I have seen firsthand how the disease effects a person’s quality of life. Like many people, I associated Parkinson’s with the severe tremors that actor Michael J. Fox suffers from. When my father was diagnosed five years ago with the disease, he never experienced tremors, so I thought the doctor got the diagnosis wrong.

 

Movement symptoms of Parkinson’s

My dad was an avid walker. He walked a couple miles each morning around my parents’ neighborhood. Everyone knew the social Irishman. After a couple of falls on his walks, which he contributed to the uneven pavement, he changed his routine to walking indoors. He met up with his friends at HarMar—a regular place for walkers. Not long after, he noticed that his legs were always feeling stiff and that his paced was slowing down. I thought he simply needed to do more stretches.

However, my mom noticed that dad’s gait was changing from regular steps to more of a shuffle. He finally went to the doctor when the pain in his legs became unbearable. Originally, the doctor sent him to physical therapy, but it only provided temporary relief. Next, they gave him cortisone shots to relief the pain. Again, the benefits didn’t last long. Eventually, they sent my dad to see a neurologist. The diagnosis came back as Rigidity Parkinson’s Disease. Our family had never heard of that form of the disease. We now know that the four main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are:

  • Tremors
  • Slowness of movement
  • Stiffness, and
  • Trouble with balance

There is no cure for Parkinson’s. However, there are medications that can provide mild relief from the symptoms. The National Parkinson’s Foundation is a great resource for families to learn about the disease and find support.

It’s hard to see all of things that Parkinson’s is taking away from my dad. But, like Muhammed Ali he is fighting it with strength and grace.

Vaccinations are good for you and the community

The vaccination debate continues in the presidential campaign. And, many medical experts believe Trump’s fear-based comment about the link between autism and vaccinations is dangerous for families and the community at large. There are rare exceptions where vaccines caused severe reactions; however, studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccinations and developing autism. Vaccinations save millions of live. The benefits of vaccinations outweighs their risk.

I believe in advocating for our own families; however, when your actions affect the greater health of the community you need to accept the consequences. When government guidelines require specific vaccinations before a child enters kindergarten, then I think families who make the choice not to vaccinate their children (for personal reasons, not medical reasons) ought to home-school their children—that’s how strongly I feel about vaccinations. Because of the 1990s deadly measles outbreak in Minnesota, one of our daughters had to get an additional measles vaccination due to our exposure to community mostly affected.

From thirteen to sixteen years-old, I volunteered as candy striper at a local hospital. My assignments were simple tasks that supported the patients’ need such as, filling their water, delivering their food trays, or bringing them an extra blanket—but I took the job seriously. It felt good knowing that I was helping others.

At the same time, my volunteer experience exposed me to some of the consequences of infectious diseases. The patient who impacted me the most, to quit fussing about getting vaccinations, was the young women in the iron lung. She had polio. She was only in her mid-twenties and was confined to a large machine to help keep her alive. Because only her head was exposed from the machine, she learned to paint holding the paintbrush in her mouth. My job was to hold the paint pallet so she could enjoy painting.

Watch a video clip to learn more about the iron lung

As a carefree teen, it was alarming to see the damaging effects caused by polio—a vaccine-preventable disease. Since 1979, the U.S. has been polio free, thanks to the polio vaccine. However, the crippling and potentially deadly polio virus is still a threat in some countries. It only takes one case of an infectious disease to cause concern, because it can quickly cause an outbreak. The range of symptoms can be from mild to severe and life-threatening. With the ease of access to travel around the world it’s important that you and your family have up-to-date vaccinations.

The infographic below (compiled by designer Leon Farrant) shows the dramatic impact of vaccinations.

 

Your vaccinations also help people who cannot receive them for health reasons. For example, people with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses when exposed to diseases. Our friend Steve, who has been sick since childhood, had a double-lung transplant in 2014. He relies on the people around him to be up-to-date on their vaccinations to help protect him—it’s a matter of life and death.

Are your vaccinations up-to-date? Educate yourself on the positive impact of vaccinations. Visit the Public Health Organization to gain a better understanding of vaccines.

 

 

Is it November yet?

I don’t like to wish time away, but I can’t wait for the 2016 presidential election to be over. The mudslinging and sophomoric behavior, from both sides, demonstrates the candidates’ lack of respect for the American people.

Because of their right-leaning views, Fox News’ website posts more unfavorable articles about Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. They often include the most unflattering photos they can find, too. While I don’t care for either of the front-runners, as a woman, I especially don’t like Trump’s misogynistic rhetoric against women.

 

When Trump responds to Hillary’s criticisms of his offensive views on women, I expect him—and Fox News—to come back with an article that attacks Hillary for a similar offense. Instead, I saw the headline: Trump: Hillary’s married to ‘the Worst Abuser of Women in the History of Politics’.

Seriously? While I agree Bill Clinton is a sleaze ball, the article does not illustrate clear examples of where Hillary said disparaging things against women. Fight fair, Trump. You cannot blame Hillary for Bill’s roaming eyes—and hands. Trump goes on to claim Hillary “would go after these women [who Bill had affairs with] and destroy their lives.” If so, provide me with the evidence to back up the claims. Surely, Fox News has a vault full ammunition to use against Hillary—so use it.

Opening a Can of Worms

I have a hard time believing much of what either candidate says on the campaign trail. But when Trump brought Bill Clinton’s sexual scandals into the mix, he should have known he opened up a can of nasty worms.

Trump invited the left-leaning views of the Daily Show to highlight disturbing things he has said about his own daughters. However, unlike Trump and Fox News, they have the video clips with Trump’s own words to back up their claims.

It’s bad enough to hear how Trump objectifies women, but to hear his comments about his own daughters adds another thicker layer of ICK! See for yourself. The following clips are so disturbing and creepy:

  • Mother Jones: Trump (1994) response when asked which features his one-year daughter has of his and what features she has of then-wife Marla. He wonders about her breasts!
  • Daily Show:  Trump (2006)talking about another daughter saying, “I’ve said that perhaps if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, I’d be dating her.”

 

I cannot believe the women in Trump’s life don’t put a gag over his mouth. Could you support a parent in a high-profile race after they repeatedly said inappropriate and disturbing things–including things about you?

Communication: Consider the User

As a technical communication major, I am more aware of the importance of good document design and creating user-centered content. Whether writing instructions on how to assemble a table or writing content for the web, the information needs to reflect the user-experience. Letting Go of the Words, by Ginny Redish was my go-to book for the “Writing & Designing for the Web I & II” courses. The book helped me to create more purposeful content.

Effective Communication

User-experience applies to verbal communication, too. The exchange of information needs to be clear, so the listener understands the way the message was intended. It’s never to late to work on  improving communication. You can start by:

  • Actively listening
  • Paying attention to nonverbal cues
  • Keeping stress in check
  • Asserting yourself

Effective communication is important in all areas of our lives—even when the topic is uncomfortable.

 Communicating your Wishes

After I shared the news about my car accident with one of our daughters, the conversation turned to an uncomfortable topic (for me)—end-of-life wishes. As a medical resident, she has seen her fair share of families that were forced to make difficult decisions in the midst of their profound grief.
When our kids were young, my husband and I got a will and advanced directive. The main purpose was to ensure our four children were taken care of, in the event something happened to us. As a young parent, I didn’t want to think about not being around to watch our children grow-up, get married, and have children of their own. We had to answer if we wanted to be resuscitated, put on a mechanical ventilator, and donate our organs—not fun stuff to think about.

Completing the directive was an emotional experience. I was so freaked out that I wrote I had to be “REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DEAD” (in all caps) before anyone removes my organs. Our lawyer laughed when she saw my note. She understood most people felt that way about donations, but no one had ever listed their request the way I did.

Twenty years later, I’m still uneasy when people bring up the end-of-life topic. However, I saw firsthand how the benefits of communicating the wishes eliminated added stress on the family, when my mother-in-law became ill.

The conversation with my daughter made me realize that it’s time for us to update our documents. Time will tell if I’m ready to remove my special request.

Have you communicated your end-of-life wishes with your family?

Monitoring Children on Social Media Makes Sense

Texting

I frequently scrutinize social media through the lens of a protective parent. Knowing that the brain isn’t fully developed until closer to twenty-five years old, I worry about young adolescents who are obsessed with posting things on social media. Parents and teens can learn about the dangers of cyberbullying and how to prevent it  and gain more information on what they can do if they become a victim of cyberbullying.

With the surge of social media there has been an increase in cyberbullying, which is linked to depression in teens. At the same time, several high-profile teen suicides were linked to various social networks. In a study out of Leiden University in the Netherlands, on suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviors in adolescents, Mitch van Geel, PhD considers, “This may be because victims of cyberbullying feel denigrated before a wider audience, or because the event is stored on the Internet, they may relive denigrating experiences more often.”

Sure, kids learn right from wrong at a young age. However, their emotions and impulses are not fully developed to understand the devastating consequences of their actions. (Read the MIT Young Adult Development Project). I am not excusing children for bad behavior. Rather, because their brains are going through many changes parents/guardians need to be involved—and stay involved—in their children’s social media interactions. Monitor what your children are posting and reading online. Use that time for teachable moments to foster positive interactions.

van Geel M, Vedder P, Tanilon J. Relationship Between Peer Victimization, Cyberbullying, and Suicide in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(5):435-442. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4143.

http://www.livescience.com/43994-bullying-suicidal-behavior-adolescents.html

http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html