Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Red Tail Hawk Encounter

Here is the scenario: you are walking down the street, a VERY busy street, where at least  200 or so cars and trucks pass each day. Fortunately most of the traffic on the road seems to come in spurts, especially around school drop off and pick up time.  In fact, some of you need a gentle reminder to slow down, as just about every late running Mom and Dad feels justified driving 10 to 20 MPH over the speed limit to get your precious cargo to school. Please, take your time, nothing is that important. And yes, I am guilty of it myself as I too have hurried to the bus stop to make it before the yellow behemoth arrives.

It is a lovely street, with equally lovely homes, and just enough of the natural flora and fauna remaining that make it a great place for various types of wild life to thrive here. There are black bears, racoons, possums, fisher cats, foxes, ground hogs, voles, moles, mice, chipmunks, red squirrels, grey squirrels, bobcats, skunks, porcupines, rabbits, deer, the occasional moose and coyote, as well as all manner of flying avian including my favorite: Red Tail Hawks. 

One bright, sunny day, a week or so a go, I was walking, enjoying the peace and quiet of my early morning exercise when suddenly out of the corner of eye I saw something pass over head. When I looked up a huge Red Tail Hawk landed about 17 or so feet in front of me. (I know, because I counted off the paces after it took flight.) We watched one another for at least 4 minutes as the hawk repetitiously passed back and forth some small, dark prey it had caught in its razor sharp talons.  Frozen in my place, transfixed, I could make out just about every feather and tuft on its beautiful breast. Its eyes were watching me with no sign of fear what so ever. We continued to gaze fixedly at one another until the inevitable, spring time arrival of the landscaper truck on our block, rounded the corner. The gorgeous raptor took off with a steady whoomph, whoomph, whoomph as its impressive wide wings spread slowly apart gaining air and heading across the street to enjoy its freshly caught treat. I saw the landscapers with their mouths agape as they watched the hawk take flight and pass before the grill of their battered truck. It was a magical moment  I will not soon forget.

Where is a camera when you need one?

It was a wonderful to have such strong feeling of connectedness to all things natural.  I was so thankful to not be wrapped up in thought but truly engaged in the present moment to enjoy every minute of that all too brief encounter. I see hawks soaring over and around my house all the time. I even had one or two screeching in my woods all last summer. And screech is an understatement, it was ear piercing and constant,  lasting for hours on end. I was in awe, although, found myself wishing it would move on after 4 or so hours. But then suddenly when it finally did leave, the silence was deafening and I missed "my" hawk. Ironic.

Hawks are amazing creatures. They are symbols of self healing and intuition according to many Native American cultures.  The hawk has keen sight and is a hunter of prey only for sustenance. It is single minded in its focus and majestic in its soaring flight. 

Here is an added treat for those hawk watchers brought to you by my favorite feathered friend site: Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University.

A live web cam of a nest where the female has laid three eggs. They were supposed to hatch around the 17th of April but no signs yet. So enjoy the view!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thank You Erma Bombeck!

Vintage Ad
I was watching a show recently that had been "tivoed" (Is that a true verb yet? If not, it will be soon!) about the life of Erma Bombeck. For those too young to know her, she was a syndicated newspaper columnist in the 1960's and 70's whose tongue-in-cheek look at suburban housewives and their families was called "At Wits End" She was a staple in my childhood growing up as my mother, who was a fan of all things humorous, adored her. Erma was truly funny. Here is just a smattering of quotes attributed to her:

I am not a glutton -- I am an explorer of food. 

Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.   

With the entire block of my friends feeling trapped, bored, neurotic, and unfulfilled, why should I feel good and alienate myself?

Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.   

It goes without saying that you should never have more children than you have car windows. 

She poked fun at herself and at the proverbial American housewife at a time when women were still in aprons in the kitchen and baby doll pj's in the bedroom, being the good little wife and mother. No complaining, no arguing back, this was your lot in life to be at everyone's beck and call and just possibly lose yourself in the bargain. Needless to say, her column was a hit. Oh, she had her share of haters, there were women so offended that Erma would have the nerve to say the things she did, after all being a mother was sacred ground. Her column was written at a time when few women were working outside the home, let alone being anything other then the good girls they were brought up to be.

There was one column written about Erma needing to leave one of her three children on the front stoop of her home each time she went out for errands, otherwise she would never recognize which house was hers. She was referring to the fact that  in suburbia, everyone's house was a cookie cutter version of the one next to it.  I believe we refer to this as tract housing. Women were so outraged that Erma could ever conceive of doing something so shameful and cruel as to leaving a child on her stoop.


After watching that show I came to the realization that I owe a lot of my satirical humor and desire to poke fun at life to Erma Bombeck. You see, I think there are indeed just too many people out there who take life way too seriously. People worry about how they look, do they fit in, are they successful, are you well liked, do you make enough money, are you keeping up with the Jones sufficiently, etc. 

I also happen to think that most people are naturally drawn to people who make us laugh. Case in point:

We had some friends over the house for dinner recently and my husband and I were retelling the tale of how we met. It was in a beach side bar/restaurant in Wollaston Beach, MA. I was supposed to have been heading out to see Sister Act II with a good friend of mine. It was a gorgeous, warm sunny day that smelled of promises to come, in early June. We agreed it was far too nice an evening to sit in a darkened theater. Ice-cold beers in sweating glasses along with the tang of sea air and the throb of the latest up and coming band from Boston were just what we wanted. Especially for this Jersey girl who grew up close to the shore and loved all things beach, Springsteen, highway 9 and fast cars. But I digress.

My husband recalls seeing me from across the room being chatted up by some drunken bar dude who thought he was winning me over.  He could see I was trying to be nice and felt obligated to come over and rescue me. I honestly do not recall all that, especially the rescue part, but who am I to argue as the thought is quite romantic, as well as the fact that he still remembers it so well! What I remember is that my girlfriend and I sat down at the bar so we were far enough away from the live music to talk, but where we had a full view of the entire room. Behind us were the huge windows that lined the street overlooking the outside seating area and slowly setting sun. Neither one of us was here to meet the love of our life, just two good friends looking to pass the time and enjoy the spectacle of people..

I also recall Seal's hit song playing over the speakers during a band break,  my favorite anthem of the moment "Crazy." I saw this broad shouldered, very handsome and shy seeming man standing next to me and before I knew it, we were both laughing and talking about David Letterman, Larry "Bud" Melman and anything and everything that struck our funny bone. He tells me it was his first time coming to this club, I tell him I was supposed to be at the movies, he tells me he won two tickets to a Red Sox/Yankees baseball game at Fenway, I tell him I am originally from NJ and a Yankee fan, we have a good chuckle about that arch rivalry, then he asks me to go with him to the game.  So you see, it all started with some shared laughter. That same laughter continues to pull us through some pretty tough stuff in the last 18 years of our marriage, but more importantly, helps us appreciate the good stuff even more.

And oddly enough, even though my "little man I love",  as I adoringly refer to my son, is NOT genetically ours, he has our same absurd and off the wall sense of humor that makes this little person very much ours, as much as any child can truly be yours, in every way indeed!!

So thank you Erma, for giving me the courage to face life’s changes and be the modern day humorist that I am, with a brand of merriment all my own! And for giving me the moxy to start my own Blog in order to poke fun at my own life and the endless absurdities of this world as we know it. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Supplements are such a very individual thing. I pondered how to tackle this topic for quite some time now since I in no way want to endorse products or encourage usage of them either. Or worse, make recommendations that may not agree with your own metabolism and cause adverse reactions. If you have been keeping up with my Blog posts, you know I have a sensitivity to supplements, medicines and the like. So my rule of thumb and suggestion is that you only add one supplement at time, in the smallest dose available, and even go so far as to halve the pill even further just to see if it works for you. Some supplements will cause minor diarrhea and similar gastro distress, but this tends to last for only a few days in order for your system to adjust. Should it continue longer or become worse, or as happened to me with a blend of Chinese herbs given me by my former accupunturist, cause an immediate adverse reaction: cease and desist!

First let me say, there are a number of very good sources to read to help determine your supplemental needs at this transitional phase of a woman's life. Dr. Christiane Northrup. Dr. Susan Love, Dr. John R. Lee, Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, and Susun Weed all offer different views on what types of supplements, both herbal and otherwise, could assist someone with the various symptoms that plague women, to varying degrees at this time of flux. Women to Women the clinic in Yarmouth, Maine started by Dr. Northrup many years a go, (she is no longer affiliated with them) offers their own proprietary blends of supplements. I am not necessarily a fan of proprietary blends as I need full disclosure in order to know precisely how much of each ingredient I am taking. You may not feel this way, and from the reviews, it would seem a lot of women have found some of their products quite useful. In addition, the information and articles on the website are well written and helpful.  I have referred to them many times for clarification on my own research when selecting supplements and much more to try.

Also, when in doubt, turn to the experts. Ask your doctor for their advice or seek the advice of other more holistically oriented medical professionals well versed in this transitional period. There is a wonderful NP, Leslee Kagan at the Henry Benson Institute in Boston, who wrote a most helpful book entitled "Mind Over Menopause." It is an abundant resource and I do suggest you read this book if you, like me, prefer to transition with things as "naturally" as possible! If you live in the New England area, Leslee offers classes in Boston to help women through the process of uncovering what works best for them. I met with her several months ago and am proud to say her response after hearing all I am doing was "so what are you here to see me for!?!" Made me feel good knowing I am moving ahead on a path toward self healing. But my knowledge seeking is done not just for me, but for all of you who may find yourselves facing the same challenges one day.

Here is what I have found works for me:

Multi vitamin: A good, comprehensive multi vitamin, high in B vitamins is SO needed for many at this time of life
Biotin: Helps with thinning hair and dry skin
Selenium: Aids thyroid and immune system functioning
Calcium and Magnesium: Strong bones, calming properties and aids better sleep
Probiotic: Aids digestion and immunity support
Vitamin D3: Mood enhancer: Get tested, if you are low, like SO many of us are, get on a high dose Vitamin D3 therapy through your health care provider
Omega 3: A truly necessary supplement for women at this time, whose benefits are far too lengthy to list here, but number one for me is pain and inflammation  reduction.

This is my regime each day. I tend to choose companies that produce pharmaceutical grade products as safety is key. Plus, I don't want a lot of fillers or odd things added into my supplements. I tend to start slow, at a low dose and add one thing at a time, only after being sure I will not have any adverse reactions. I had a good deal of trouble with fish oil supplements as I had an allergic reaction to two of them (tingling lips and a rash) so I use 100% pure salmon oil, and that works great for me.

So, read up and try to determine what your own needs might be. Make sure when you supplement that you know exactly what you are buying and use reputable companies. It may cost you some money initially to try different products, expect that to occur, since not all supplements are created equally. Two companies I happen to like very much are Solgar and NOW.  Not endorsing either of these companies or suggesting you use them, I have simply found they work for me.

Good luck!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Meditation and Menopause

I think what has truly been most helpful to ease my approach toward menopause has been, believe it or not, meditation. This has been the single most effective method toward aiding my ability to cope with the extreme swings of hormones that ebb and flow so rapidly through the brain and body. Meditation first came into my life close to 20 years a go. At that time, I was going through some extremely high stress conditions on both the career and personal front. All of these external events collided causing me to experience, what I soon would learn were panic attacks. I recall only too well how shocked I was to learn that stress could indeed cause one to have body symptoms that mimicked a heart attack. (Keep in mind, this was the mid 80' to early 90's when the public's understanding of "stress" induced symptoms was in its infancy. We have thankfully learned much since that time.)

To back track a bit, I was in my mid 20's to early 30's and very much "married" to my career. I was the quintessential career woman: driven, strong, and tireless. I was the employee who gave up her vacations for the "good" of the company, attended many "power" breakfasts at the Harvard Club or  Parker House, dined out routinely and spent hundreds of dollars on drink filled nights with both coworkers and clients, was considered the "best" at what I did, and in general, lost sight of who I was in the process. I mean, the company came first, right? Or so I thought.

A very enlightened and most helpful career counselor who worked with female graduate students at Boston University helped me to put my life back on track. It was she who introduced me to the world of meditation, and in it I found a respite from the churning thoughts that raced through my mind at break neck pace. Not long after this discovery of meditation, I bid a hasty departure from the coming storm of a merger at my work place and relocated to New Jersey, place of my birth, to lick my wounds and decide what path lay ahead for me in life.

I soon found myself following a love I had long ago given up, and that was to pursue a fine art degree. Along the way I met a most inspirational teacher, Marianne Matlock-Hinkle who jump-started my love of abstract art, ( a la Hans Hoffman, Mark Rothko. Louise Nevelson, and so many more) and Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. She was/is a Buddhist inspired artist whose work was/is quite lovely to contemplate.  I started to routinely attend classes and meditation nights at the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Philadelphia, led by a wonderful monk Lobsang Samtem. Always smiling and always engaging, this man was my teacher and guide. I was captivated by the beauty and simplicity of mantra and chant, and knew this was indeed an answer to the constant barrage of noise from one's daily life.

My love of meditation also led me me to seek out a yoga practice that has stayed with me to this day. While my body cannot move in quite the same it once did, the breath work and and meditative qualities are an additional aid to daily life in this fast paced, got to have it now, cell phone manic, 24/7/365 email accessible, world in which we dwell.

Yoga and meditation literally gave me the strength and determination needed to face my cancer diagnosis almost 10 years a go.  I am not exaggerating when I say that period of my life went by with a graceful sense of purpose that made it all seem to flow naturally onward. And it got me through much more: the death of my sister-in-law at age 38 to breast cancer, the Non Hodgkins Lymphoma diagnosis of my sister at age 39 and recurrence in her mid-forties.,  the death of my grandmother at age 90, the adoption of my wonderful and laughter-filled son from Korea 7 or so years ago, the breast cancer diagnosis of my mother at age 75,  my foray into the art world, my sadness at leaving all my friends and family when we relocated, the day after Christmas, to a cold and friendless New England, the recent down turn in my mothers health with her COPD and Congestive Heart Failure diagnosis and my ever increased  inability to handle stress as well as I had with my approaching menopause. The subsequent shift in hormones make me feel like the same erratic and unpredictable teenager I once was so very long a go.

In the last two years or so I found a renewed sense of purpose to my meditation practice and a much more profound understanding of all this talk of mindfulness in my daily life. I have rediscovered the benefits of a daily meditation practice and owe this, in large part,  to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn whose 8 week mindfulness program I underwent, on my own, a year or so ago in the hopes that it would reignite my stalled and somewhat haphazard meditation practice that had once been a daily routine for me. (Motherhood has a way of shifting priorities, and rather then focusing on my daily practice I let it become far too erratic in my life.) Not so anymore! The MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program) brought such insight and calm to my raging hormones that I was convinced this was indeed a practice that must continue daily.

In the words of an often quoted phrase: Meditation: its not what you think. Indeed, it is not. Something that sounds so simple can truly have such far reaching positive effects while providing the ability to face the diatribe of life, is indeed a "keeper' in my mind.