Simon Says, “Rub Your Ears!”

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The other day, I had my ear needled.  My mom’s acupuncturist, Matt, suggested it.  He said it would help me de-stress. It is amazing how stress can make you look like a giant elephant.

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Or a spaced-out  cat.  “You will buy me that Betta fish.  You know I’ve always wanted one. Buy it…  Buy it meow–oops–now!”

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Matt  put 3 needles in my left ear at various acupuncture  points for relaxation.

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He then put 3 needles in my twin sister’s left ear. Matt pointed out that my sister and I have completely different ear anatomy. He said he can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their ears.

  • The ear is a microcosm of the human body– and in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine it is compared to an upside down fetus.

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You can also de-stress by using your own fingers to press on acupressure (or marma) points of the ear.  According to Vassant Lad’s book, Marma Points of Ayurveda:

  • Gently pulling the earlobe downwards helps to descend energy to relieve headaches and migraines.  It has a tranquilizing effect because of its functional connection with higher cerebral activity, which promotes tranquility and bliss. This action also aids in stress management and quieting children who are hyperactive.

 

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Qi gong is an ancient Chinese health practice that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention for total body wellness.  Try this Qi Gong ear exercise.

 

 

Shiatsu is a form of therapeutic bodywork from Japan. It is based on the same principles as acupuncture–in which pressure is applied to certain points on the body using the hands.  Take a look at this Shiatsu ear exercise.

 

 

You can even make up your own daily ear massage routine. Just do what feels right for you. You cannot go wrong.  Your whole body will benefit!

 

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Caffeine Fiend

 

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My little caffeine problem started with Kombucha–that fizzy drink that is supposed to be so very healthy for you (according to a lady I overheard at a grocery store).

  • Kombucha is a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks. Kombucha has many supposed health benefits. It is produced by fermenting tea using a “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY).

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I did not like Kombucha–at first.  There was something odd about the vinegary aftertaste. Even so–I kept buying it and drinking it.  I became a Kombucha addict. I tried nearly every kind of Kombucha out there. I even tried strange DIY looking local brands that were suspiciously packaged in recycled Coke bottles.  But after a few months–I got tired of Kombucha. That initial odd vinegary aftertaste was hardly even noticeable to me by this point.  It wasn’t even boosting my energy anymore either.

I put a twin size mattress for myself  in my mother’s room so I could help her at night. The night shift began taking a toll on me. I needed something to keep me awake during the day.  That’s when I turned to coffee–Black Coffee!

Wowee. My coffee fling escalated quickly. It was great–at first.  But soon, I noticed my driving was reckless. I was  having terrible thoughts about those #$@&%*! people who should not be on the road. I was getting headaches too.  And I was fidgety–I just could not rest, ever. My vision even deteriorated.  I had to call it quits.

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But of course, I found something else— Chai. I even started making my own.

The combo of super caffeinated black tea with spices, milk and sugar (lots of sugar) was delicious. It went well with breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and everything else in between. Eventually, I realized that caffeine  was getting the best of me.  I had to stop– cold turkey.

  • Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant of the methylxanthine class. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug.
  • Caffeine can produce a mild form of drug dependence. Tolerance develops with chronic use leading to autonomic effects of increased blood pressure, heart rate, and increased urine output (Wikipedia).

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I do think about coffee and tea and all things caffeinated from time to time.  I actually still have an unopened bottle of Kombucha in the refrigerator (just in case…).  But even if I am a little tired during the day–I am a much calmer, happier person without the caffeine.

A Good Reason to Vote

When I woke up on Election Day– I had already decided.  I wasn’t going to vote.  I thought, “What difference does my one vote make anyway?”  Plus–I just did not want to deal with long lines or parking problems or people.  I was in a sour mood.

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My mother, on the other hand, was getting ready early.  She was determined to get to the polling place and vote.  She was beyond excited.  “This is historic.  It’s important,” she said.

 

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My older sister had already agreed to take our mother to vote later in the afternoon.   But around 10:00 am, my twin sister suggested we make a dry run to see about handicap parking before our older sister arrived.

 

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Surprisingly, the polling place was practically empty.  There was ample parking–even handicap parking right at the front door.  Clearly, there was no turning back.

 

 

So I voted.  We voted– and I’m glad we did.  I realize now that my mother needed to feel a sense of normalcy again. She got a chance to let go of her own worries to focus on something different, something a little bigger for the moment.  That was important, and a good reason for me.

 

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Tree Hugger

 

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I love trees.  My favorite tree–Harriet–lives on the golf course near our house.  She’s huge and beautiful.  A few limbs are missing and she even has a scar– a deep, deep line that stretches way, way up to as far as I can see. I have to sneak on the golf course just to visit her.  But–it’s well worth it — because with every visit — I  am transported.  And I feel renewed, free. Unlimited.

 

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My twin sister, Akwelle, is a serious tree hugger.  She says she only hugs the trees that call out to her.  But, on our daily walks with Kookaburra (our dog)–Akwelle can often be found cavorting with tree, after tree, after tree, after tree.

 

 

I am a lot more self conscious than Akwelle is.  I wish I could just go and hug a random tree–in public–without thinking too much about what some bicyclist might say or think. My favorite tree, Harriet, of course, is tucked far, far away from peeping eyes.  She is mine alone. So, no worries for me there… at least, so I thought.

 

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The other day–I saw this young man visiting Harriet–my tree.  He hugged her affectionately and said, “Bye Jacob–see you tomorrow!”  I was shocked.  Speechless even. I wanted to run up to him and say, “Her name is Harriet and she’s mine.  Go find your own tree!” But I stopped myself.

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How foolish of me to think Harriet (or “Jacob”) only belonged to me.  That’s the beauty of trees. They belong to no one.  Trees are gifts–portals that transport us all to quieter, more peaceful, elevated worlds.

 

How lucky we are to be near them.  How lucky we are to experience them.

 

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My advice–instead of watching t.v. — go out and hug a tree!

 

Confessions of a Wheat Belly

It has been 2 months, 1 day, 4 hours, 10 minutes and 15 seconds since my last cupcake. I am now officially grain free.  I honestly never knew I had a problem until I changed my diet.

 

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My dog, Kookaburra, has been grain free since she was a puppy. Looking back– I can now understand (and relate to) the crazy behavioral issues she had during her transition from kibble to grain free.

 

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Initially, I found myself secretly, quietly perusing images of cupcakes and (yes) sandwiches on the internet.  Then my wheat addiction symptoms got more serious.  I bought food magazines and cut out pictures of bread and other grain filled gems and pasted them on my bathroom wall!  I was also light headed and a tiny bit cranky.

 

 

But, to support our mother’s path to wellness and her newly prescribed grain free diet, my sisters and I have decided to remain grain free too. As Dr. William Davis, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author states, “Once wheat-free, always wheat-free is the best policy.”

 

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Question:  

  • Is there a difference between Gluten-Free and Grain Free? 

Answer:  Yes

  • A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.  
  • Rice, corn, barley and oats are allowed.

 

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  • A Grain-Free diet is a diet that excludes all grains including wheat, rice, corn, barley and oats.  
  • According to Dr. William Davis, a Grain-Free Diet is the healthiest.

 

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In a recent interview from https://www.wellnessmama.com, Dr. William Davis  states:

  • Wheat, harboring its hidden gliadin protein, increases appetite.
  • Wheat is a weak opiate. Eat wheat, you want more wheat, you want more carbohydrates. 
  • When we eat more grains, we gain weight and acquire all the health consequences such as hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, acid reflux, and diabetes. 

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To celebrate our new grain free life–I have decided to reincarnate my favorite popcorn snack into a non-popcorn (grain-free) snack.  It really is just as delicious.  Enjoy!

 

 

Non-Popcorn Snack

1 cup marcona almonds, salted
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries, sweetened
3-4 ozs. dark chocolate bar, chopped
1/2 cup manchego cheese, cubed
3 cups popcorn (eliminate)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.

 

 

Feldenkrais for Fitness

 

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Last January (just before my mom’s stroke) I bought Bruce Holmes’ cd called The Feldenkrais Lessons: Awareness Through Movement.  I was looking for something different from my regular exercise routine. Back then, I had no idea how crucial Feldenkrais would become– not only for me and my own well being–but also for my mother, Alberta, and her stroke recovery.

 

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The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education (from https://www.feldenkrais.com):

  • The Feldenkrais Method® is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life.
  • The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. By expanding the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness, the Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements. 

 

 

Take a moment to participate in this short lesson to try Feldenkrais for yourself.

 

 

After I read Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais’ book, Body Awareness as Healing Therapy: The Case of Nora, I knew for sure that my mom could also benefit from Feldenkrais.  In the book, Dr. Feldenkrais describes his work with Nora– a woman who suffered a massive stroke and lost her neuromuscular coordination, including the ability to read and write.

 

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Thanks to the internet, I found a Feldenkrais practitioner, Chrish Kresge (https://www.chrishkresge.com) to help my mom.

 

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Chrish teaches my mother crucial strategies for improved awareness.

 

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With Feldenkrais my mother is also learning how to overcome obstacles more effectively  with less strain on her body.

 

 

Chrish has been fundamental in helping my mother regain her balance and independence.

 

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Working Again (Repurposed)

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According to http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/purpose/life-purpose/why-life-purpose-important:

  • One of the common features among people who live with a purpose is that they are able to find meaning in the things that happen to them. Andrew Zolli, author of Resilience, describes these people as being able to “cog­ni­tively reap­praise sit­u­a­tions and reg­u­late emo­tions, turn­ing life’s prover­bial lemons into lemon­ade.”

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Back when my mother, Alberta, was in rehab, I arranged for her to have a phone consultation with Dr. Steven D. Farmer (http://www.earthmagic.net).  Dr. Farmer is a spiritual healer, psychotherapist (retired) and shaman.  My mother has no interest in anything esoteric, woo-woo or  otherworldly.  But as a former psychotherapist, I knew Dr. Farmer would know how to speak to my mother in a way that would be both  encouraging and therapeutic. I also knew that his shamanic abilities could reach those esoteric parts of my mother that needed healing and support.

Dr. Farmer talked to my mother about  her purpose– her role with her patients and her family.  It was a very helpful and much needed conversation.

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  Dr. Victor J. Stretcher, author of the book “On Purpose” states

  • When you see the data about the elderly who have little or no purpose in life, and how quickly they get sick and die, you realize how important it is for an elderly person to repurpose their life toward something bigger than themselves.

Although, I had referred most of my mom’s patients to other child psychiatrists or pediatricians–a handful of parents kept calling, sending cards –asking when they could  make an appointment.

I don’t think my mother anticipated how  going back to work would affect her.  Her patients have given her a huge gift.  Because of them–she has not only repurposed herself but she has also reclaimed her self esteem.

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Getting to Know You

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My dad was mischievous.  Even when he was seriously ill and in treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma–he was mischievous.  My twin sister and I used to take him to chemo and radiation therapy–daily.  It was a difficult time, but in hindsight it was also a great time because we got a chance to get to know each other–differently.

 

 

I remember once driving my dad home from the grocery store– I had the radio on and was listening to Bon Jovi.  My dad turned to me and said, “I didn’t know you liked this kind of music.  There’s so much I don’t know about you.”

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Later, when we got back the house, my dad started to make an elaborate  lunch.  My dad loved to cook.  He then set the table for 4 instead of 3.  “Someone  else joining us?” I asked. “Oh.  Just a friend I met… who speaks Italian.”  At that time, I was obsessed with everything Italian. I had even learned to speak Italian  in college.  So, of course, I was excited.  I started thinking about the fabulous possibilities of this mystery guest.  “I’m gonna be the next Mrs. Ferragamo or  Mrs. Gucci,” I thought to myself as I planned an elegant, yet simple wedding.

 

 

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Then the doorbell rang.  It was my dad’s new friend–an elderly,  Ethiopian man.  My dad introduced him as Mr. Wollo.  “This is odd,” I mumbled.  My twin sister, Akwelle, giggled. We all sat down for lunch.  My dad then told this old, odd man, Mr. Wollo, all about me and my interests.  “She looooves speaking Italian.  She loves to cook.  She loves to paint. She loves photography. Why don’t you say something in Italian, Koko?” my dad said to me  as he opened his eyes up super  wide.  I growled something incomprehensible, even to me.  Then I stormed from the table and ran up to my room and devoured a party size bag of plain M&M’s.

 

 

By the time I went back downstairs, lunch was over.  Mr. Wollo was long gone. Then I yelled at my father, “What was your plan here with this crazy lunch!? Have you lost your mind?  Mr. Wollo is even older than you … and… he’s… hideous!”

 

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My dad was laughing loudly by this point.  Coughing even. “You take things too seriously. Your temper tantrum was priceless, though. It was all a joke. No big deal. But if you change your mind, I am sure Mr. Wollo is free tomorrow,” my dad said as he continued laughing his biggest laugh.  I was too upset to appreciate the humor.

 

 

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Late last night, when I was helping my mother get to the bathroom (for the 4th time), she suddenly started laughing.  She was walking very, very slowly and said, “I’m a comin’.  I’m a comin’.  I might be a little slow and the coffee might be cold when I get there, but I’m a comin’.”  Then she really started laughing, coughing even–with tears in her eyes.   By this point, she was pretending to hold up a cup of coffee as she moseyed along in her fuzzy, pink, skid-proof socks.  We were both laughing!

 

 

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I mention all of this really as a reminder to myself that even in difficult times–there’s still always something to laugh about.  I am able to appreciate that now.  Ultimately, this whole experience– with my mom’s stroke and recovery– is a chance for us to get to know each other–differently, and to keep laughing.

 

 

Marching Orders

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My mother, Alberta,  likes having a schedule. Before her stroke, her life was highly routinized. She was always up by 5:30 a.m.–at the office by 7:30–home by 3:30–dinner was by  4:00– and at 4:30 she was always watching  Judge Judy.  Her nightly  bath was at 6:00  and she was in bed by 7:00 p.m.

 

 

Once our mom left the inpatient rehab facility, she soon started outpatient rehab 3-4 times a week.  This routine of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy was grueling– but our mother needed something to do.

 

 

 

 

I appreciated speech therapy the most. The speech pathologist  was the first (and only) person who explained the nature of our mom’s stroke to us.

 

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Frontal Lobe – Front part of the brain; involved in planning, organizing, problem solving, selective attention, personality and a variety of “higher cognitive functions” including behavior and emotions. 

The speech pathologist informed us that the area of the brain where our mom had her stroke (frontal lobe) governs sequence, organization and memory. She explained that speech is more than just verbal ability. It is all about how we see ourselves in space. It was the first time anyone mentioned how the brain damage from the stroke affected how our mom perceives and misperceives herself and others in the world around her. As a result of the stroke, our mom is much more impulsive and restless.  And she has no filter for her thoughts. If she thinks the food you made is bad, she will not sugar coat it. She tells it like (she thinks) it is.

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The speech pathologist, however, gave us tools and cognitive exercises to kick-start our mom’s brain back into appropriate action. We were also encouraged  to get a (paper) calendar so that our mother could anticipate her daily schedule and routine.

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The speech pathologist explained that we all need awareness (a sense of ourselves in time and space) to effectively function in the world.

 

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When our mom first started outpatient rehab she was in a wheelchair and was using a right sided hemi-walker to stand up, sit down and shuffle from place to place.  Midway through rehab, our mom started using a 4 pronged cane to walk.  We were also told to “ditch the wheelchair.”

 

When outpatient rehab (4 months) was over, the discharge advice was:  Keep walking. Walking boosts brain function.

 

First Night Jitters

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Once we got home, my sisters and I had to figure out how to get our mom out of the car, down a few steps, onto the walkway  and into the house– in a wheelchair.  At this point our mom was unable to maneuver steps well.  The therapists at the rehab facility told us to remember, “right foot up, left foot down.”

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But the rain made walking more complicated.  We had to figure out another way. For some reason we thought carrying our mom in the wheelchair was the easiest option to get from A to B.  It was a clumsy mess.  But– finally we got her to the front door and eventually into the house.

 

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Once inside, our mother was in a state of total disbelief.  It was like she was returning from war or prison.  We were  prepared for the little things like getting rid of the floor rugs and making sure we had plenty of pull-up diapers and wipes and even a bath lift and shower chair. But we were miserably ill prepared for the emotional aspect of our mother’s return. We were each experiencing a sort of PTSD.

 

 

I kept waiting for my own emotional meltdown.  I busied myself by spending time with Kookaburra.

 

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The therapists warned us against installing a stair lift to get our mom from the first floor to the second floor.  They said stair lifts promote laziness. Instead they suggested bumping up the stairs.  That first night–it took us two hours to bump our mom up those fourteen steps. We were all exhausted.

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My sisters and I divided our time with our mother– giving each other breaks to avoid burnout.  I chose the night shift.  I crazily thought this would be easy.  That first night was easy.  Our mom slept like a baby.

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