Category Archives: Lifestyle

Independence Days Challenge 7/11

Independence Days Challenge

I honestly didn’t think anything would make me feel like blogging again but Sharon Astyk has accomplished that unlikely task by reviving the Independence Day Challenge.   I am probably almost fan-girl excited about this because this challenge really helped me pull my act together the first time around. So all you people who ask me how I manage to get so much done, you are about to learn.   First of all I am going to send you to her public Facebook post to read the format.

Then I want to talk to you a little bit about me.  My house is the hub house for distributing food for the Iowa City Mutual Aid Collective and I am  the coordinator of our local Herbalists Without Borders chapter.  I am  also a strong  supporter of the Black Lives Matters movement.  I run with the protests as a medic and coordinate a local medic group. I was there when the protestors were tear-gassed and I was pretty consistenly harassed by cops when they were marching regularly, so I am a pretty vocally and unapologetically leftist.

Plant or Harvest something:  Right now we are doing more harvesting than we are planting. We are mostly harvesting greens (lettuce, chard, beet greens, and colllard greens) although we’ve had a few zuchinni and cucumbers, now too. This week I transplanted some basil,  feverfew,  oregano, and thyme to a new sunny garden spot in our yard left there because we had an ash tree removed, but it was done more out of necessity than really thinking it was a good time for it.  It was beastly hot, so I left most of my herbs alone but the poppies are just at that point where I can harvest tops with some flowers and some seeds.

Preserve something:  We have a fairly good size garden ourselves and we also get garden donations for the mutual aid group. Some we use and distribute during the week and some we put away for winter because our goal is to build sustainable local systems.  This week we froze collards and kale and pickled radishes.  I started a couple of hydroethanolic extracts (tinctures) including wild lettuce and california poppy.

Waste not:  I spent some time this week re-organizing the freezers, but more of the week was spent planning what we could do to make some space out in the garage and making lists because my partner is taking the next two weeks off and we plan on getting some stuff done.

Want Not: Tonight was the night we picked up our monthly bulk food order.  I’ve been buying in bulk for decades now so I have a pretty good rotation going so that I am always about four months ahead of the game.  I got a really good deal on 25 lbs of organic #2 carrots.  It was also the month to stock up on cultures from the cheesemaking website– about every four months I order just enough to get the free shipping.

We have been super fortunate thus far that my partner has been able to work from home through all of this… so far.  I have held on to a couple of my paying writing gigs, but we definitely have less coming in than we did before because I can’t teach in-person classes right now.  Since that’s beginning to feel like I pretty long term reality, I finally broke down and bought a renewed computer and a webcam.  I have tried the online class thing before but my ten year-old computer was really holding me back.

Eating the food:  We eat really well because cooking dinner is the way my partner unwinds from work and people who are friends with me on Facebook probably see enough of those pictures.  I will share some of those recipes, but instead of taking the easy way out and talking about that a lot, I am going to talk about my struggles with executive function and feeding myself. 

I am an Autist and one my particular challenges is that I struggle with body awareness both in recognizing where my body is in space and with what is called interoception. You can read more about it here if you like, but the bottom line is that  I don’t really pick up on all the cues my body sends me to help me self-regulate. It is not unusual for me to have gone all day long getting food to other people without feeding myself.  So I am going to work on that.

Caregiving and enhancing community support systems and mutual aid:   I have kind of a easy out in that department.  I sent 120 sack lunches to our unhoused neighbors, 10 bags of prepared meals to households in need, (some due to illnesss and some due to financial need)  and this week we sent a meal to one of our amazing Community Helpers as a show of support for all their work.

Skill Up: I  have to take CEUs, so on the 2nd I finished a standard precautions training on safe injections/managing needle injuries. Between that, re-upping my Red Cross Severe Bleed cert and the WHO module I took on IPC for covid, I have pretty much all I need for the year which is pretty good because I usually put it off until October. I am working through a conflict management specialization from Coursera because communication is not my strongsuit and I hope it gives me some insight. I am also learning Adobe Captivate so I can put the medic trainings online.

Winter is Coming:  It was a rough week.  Yesterday was the first day that a lot of people around here were officially late with their rent after the legal protections ran out and you could hear it in the voices.   So I feel pretty petty saying that my major concern right now is trying to figure out a way to make it cooler in this house, but losing the tree has made our house like an oven. It really would make all the baking I need to do tolerable.  It’s the middle of the night and it still 88 degrees in my house.  I am also thinking ahead to when canning begins in earnest.

My Shiny Old Tea Kettle

Chances are if you’ve been around my blog for any length of time,  you’ve seen this tea kettle.   It is the first thing my husband and I bought together for our kitchen.  I suppose we’ve had it for fourteen years, or so now.   We use it every day.

It had started to get a little dingy over the last few years. It  wasn’t whistling properly any longer and it was taking forever to heat water. One day, back in early November, I noticed that my tea tasted funny that morning and I really inspected the tea kettle.   I realized that a lot of gunk had built up on the bottom while I was ignoring it.   I thought about throwing it away and getting myself one of those fancy electric tea kettles.   I actually had it sitting in the Goodwill pile and had a fancy new kettle in my Amazon cart.

But you know,  I thought about watching it spit and sputter in a vain attempt to whistle and  I felt some compassion for it.  Odd isn’t it,  to feel compassion for something that is failing you?   Having been a broken thing once in my life, I get it.

I looked at it closely and I was pretty sure I could make it work again.   More importantly, I really love my  tea kettle. It has been there for me every groggy morning for a very long time now;  I have  pretty much built my morning routine around the amount of time it takes to whistle.  It has helped me nurse sick little children and make ice tea for special visitors.

The kettle definitely needed some work.  I took a little screwdriver to it and fixed the whistle.  I cleaned it and got some fine steel wool and polished until it was shiny, again.  Every week since then, I’ve been boiling white vinegar in it- cleaning out the gunk that had built up the bottom.

Today, as I was making my morning brew,  I realized that the little kettle is looking pretty shiny and new.   It’s been heating water a lot faster and it tastes better, too.  That’s not to say that there isn’t still some gunk to clean out,  but I love that I was able to make it work again, when others would have given up on it.

Some of my friends accuse me of being afraid of change, or putting too much effort into reclaiming things that are old and broken. I find it ironic, sometimes, that these are the same people who value me for my loyalty.  I am not without common sense, though.  If it quits working again, I will have to replace it.

Today, though,  I am just happy to watch my shiny old  tea kettle whistle.


Avoiding Seasonal Overwhelm

overwhelmTo switch gears a little, I would like to revisit managing stress, anxiety and anger. Over the years, I’ve written various posts about this topic.  If there is one thing that anyone who works in wellness can tell you, it is that chronic stress is one of the biggest challenges modern humans face.

Emotions can run high this time of year, as we approach the upcoming festivities with varying degrees of anticipation or trepidation.  Normal everyday stress is compounded by additional feelings this time of year that can create anger or anxiety for many people. It seems appropriate to do some proactive thinking about how to avoid those holiday meltdowns.

Anger is an emotion we all experience from time-to-time. Like the stress response, anger is also initiated by the amygdala. This structure is designed to trigger immediate physical reactions, long before any information reaches the cortex and good judgment takes hold. This is important to understand because it is why we often have irrational outbursts when we become angry.

When the amygdala is triggered by an upsetting event, neurotransmitters immediately trigger the release of catecholamines, which boost our energy levels but deplete our body of sugars. This is why some people shake when they are angry, or frightened. Soon after a cascade of reactions in the body trigger the release of hormones such as adrenalin and noradrenalin, prep our body for confrontation.

It is very similar to the stress response in that we are supercharged for action. Muscles tighten and tense. Our heart rate and respiration quicken. We might grind our teeth or clench our fists. Chemicals in our body, which cause blood to clot more quickly, kick in. A study done in 2004 showed that people who are habitually angry have a “10 percent greater risk of developing a heart flutter called atrial fibrillation” and are more likely to experience strokes. (1)

Anger affects mental functioning, as well. When we are in this highly charged state, memory becomes impaired. This is why it can be quite difficult to remember the things you say when you are truly angry. This adrenalin can stay with us for days. It can hinder our ability to concentrate and it shortens our fuse. We might notice that we start picking fights over things that would not normally upset us.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the stress response and the anger response. A significant difference is that instead of increasing alertness and awareness of our surroundings, anger may cause us to focus our attention on that which has made us angry-whether a person or a situation. Therefore, if you find your brain fixating on one person or situation, it is likely that generalized stress is not the culprit.

It is even more difficult to distinguish between anger and fear. Fear has a very similar physiological profile as anger. Some people even become aggressive in the face of fear which leads to anger being considered a possible symptom of anxiety. One way to differentiate fear from anger is by paying attention to the electrical conductivity of your body. People who are angry tend become hot and flushed, while people who are afraid are more likely to feel cold and look pale.

Thankfully, we don’t have to engage in too much deep introspection to be able to begin to address the physiological effects of these states of being. There are practices that we can incorporate into our daily life which reduce stress and feelings of anxiety or anger.  There is still time to incorporate some of them into your daily regimen, before the holiday overwhelm strikes.

Abdominal Breathing
Most Americans breathe improperly from the chest, which can limit the amount of oxygen we take in and may trigger the sympathetic nervous system. Breathing deeply from your abdomen is important to your health because it promotes optimal oxygen exchange. This in turn promotes relaxation and releases tension in the body. The diaphragm also serves a secondary role in helping to promote lymphatic circulation. It is a good to try to break yourself of the habit of breaking from your chest. If you find that difficult, even 15-20 minutes of daily focused abdominal breathing has benefits. It is especially useful to use this practice to calm down in a moment of overwhelm.

Remember to take time to relax.  There is so much truly lovely holiday music out there. Pipe calming soothing sounds throughout your day.  Take long candlelit baths.  Have a hot herbal footsoak.   Do Sudoku.   Whatever you find relaxing, take time to do it.

Daily exercise helps to alleviate stress and work off nervous energy. Walking is especially good for this if you can take the time to walk away from a situation in which you are angry. There are additional benefits to walking in nature. In recent years a great deal of study has been devoted to the effects of green spaces on human well-being, leading one group of researchers to coin the term “Vitamin G” in reference to time spent in green places. Spending time in nature, gardening or forest bathing, has shown to mitigate the effects of stress. Japanese researchers studying the traditional practice of forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku concluded “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.” (2) Swiss researchers found that gardening leads to decreases in cortisol which “promote neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress.” (3)

Traditional Meditation
Traditional Meditation involves cultivating stillness in the body and concentrating the mind on one thought. This website has some good tips for beginners. I admit that I personally do not resonate with traditional mediation practices, as I tend to have difficulties being still. I do find guided meditation useful at bedtime.

Moving Meditation
When I was taking a class on anxiety with Sarah Van Hoy a couple of years ago, class discussion turned to the fact that meditation can occur while moving. Yoga can be a very meditative practice. Tai Chi, Aikido and Qigong are all examples of ancient martial arts, which involve breath work, intention and flowing movements. There are also guided meditations specifically designed for use while walking.

Drumming as Meditation
The repetitive nature of the drum beat leads to a synchronous pattern of neural firing in the auditory pathway, which is perceived in the brain. Scientific studies have verified the physiological and psychological effects of this perception. In one study, researchers measured alpha waves by means of EEG to study response to tempo and mode of music concluded, “tempo was found to modulate the emotional ratings with faster tempi being more associated with emotions of anger and happiness as opposed to slow tempi, which induced stronger feelings of sadness and serenity.”  (4)  Another recent study successfully used alpha wave fluctuations to measure mood states. (5) Alpha waves are a brain wave which range from 8-12 c.p.s and are indicative of a state of “relaxed wakefulness” and are typical of the type of brain waves present during meditation. (6)

1) New York Times, “National Briefing: Science and Health: The Lethal Effects of Anger,” New York Times, March 2, 2004.
2) Groenewegen, et al., “Vitamin G: effects of green space on health, well-being and social safety” BMC Public Health, 6 (2006): 10.1186/1471-2458-6-149.
3) Agnes Van Den Berg, “Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress,” Journal of Health Psychology 16(2011): 3.
4) K. Trochidis, and E. Bigand,  “Investigation of the effect of mode and tempo on emotional responses to music using EEG power asymmetry.” Journal of Psychophysiology, 27(2013): 146.
5)  Chen, X., Takahashi, I., et al.  “Psychological responses to sound stimuli evaluated by alpha wave fluctuations.” Journal of Psychophysiology, 27(2013):129.
6)  R McClellan. The Healing Forces of Music: History Theory and Practice. (Lincoln: Excel. 2000), 910.