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06 Sep

DIY Natural Cleaning Products

Here is a list of DIY Natural Cleaning products for just about any job in your home! Follow the recipe and you’ll be amazed by how great your own natural products smell, and how great they WORK! Once you try them you’ll never go back. Saves lots of money, and helps the planet!

Most of these ingredients can be found at your local grocery store. You can make them easily right in the spray bottle. Be sure to label the bottles when you’re done so that you can tell them apart.

 

All-Purpose Cleaner

 

½ cup white vinegar

10 drops essential oil (tea tree, lavender, or lemon)

2 Tablespoons baking soda

Water to fill up a 12 ounce spray bottle

 

Combine vinegar, essential oils, and a small amount of water in a clean, 12-ounce spray bottle. Add baking soda, then fill bottle to the top with water. Shake gently to mix ingredients.

 

 

Carpet Cleaner

 

1 cup white vinegar

2 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

15 drops of lavender essential oil

 

Combine vinegar and water in spray bottle, then add salt and essential oil. Shake to mix ingredients. Spray on carpets and shake in between sprays. When carpet is dry, vacuum all the areas sprayed.

 

 

Wood Polish

 

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup white vinegar

30 drops essential oil (lemon or orange)

 

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake to mix. Spray directly on wooden surface and wipe down with a clean, dry cloth. Shake before use.

 

 

Mirror and Glass Cleaner

 

¼ cup rubbing alcohol

¼ cup white vinegar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups warm water

 

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake to mix. Spray on glass surface, wipe down with a microfiber cloth. Shake well before use.

 

 

Toilet Cleaner

 

1 cup vinegar

½ teaspoon tea tree essential oil

½ cup baking soda

 

Mix vinegar and essential oil in a spray bottle. Spray on toilet bowl, base, seat, and lid. Add baking soda around bowl, scrub with a toilet brush. When all clean use paper towels to wipe down all areas sprayed with the solution.

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03 Sep

The Four Friends

“The Four Friends” is an ancient fable that the Buddha repeated to teach the value of respect for one another. The lesson we can learn from this is that when there is harmony, there is also happiness.

 

Long, long ago, there was a pheasant would eat fruit, and then spit out the seeds. A small sapling grew from one of those seeds. That sapling then grew into a small tree that bore fruits, and the pheasant happily ate them.

 

Then, as the tree grew bigger, since the pheasant had difficulty flying, he could no longer reach the fruit.

 

A rabbit arrived, and said to the pheasant: “Neither of us can reach the fruit. Let me lift you so you can pluck the fruits, and we can share them.” The pheasant agreed, and the two enjoyed the fruits of the tree.

 

As the tree grew bigger, the fruit became out of their reach.

 

A monkey came by and agreed to help the rabbit and the pheasant. The monkey lifted the rabbit, and the rabbit lifted the pheasant, and the three all shared the fruits.

 

But then, the tree grew even bigger still.

 

Finally, an elephant arrived on the scene, and joined in to help the other three. The elephant lifted the monkey, the monkey lifted the rabbit, and the rabbit lifted the pheasant. Now, however high the tree grew, they could always reach the fruits!

 

These four friends became good examples to others in the forest. The bird taught other birds to be good. The elephant taught those with fangs to help others, and the rabbit taught the creatures with paws to do their part, and the monkey taught those with fur to do good for others. Eventually, the small group influenced even human beings by their example of cooperation, despite differences in size, strength or even species. By working together, the four friends learned the value of unity, integrity, friendship, generosity, and selflessness for the greater good.

 

The Four Friends, or Thumpa Punshi, is a familiar theme in paintings, curtains, thangkas and walls in Buddhist temples and homes. It is thought that wherever this picture is displayed harmony will increase. The picture acts as a reminder of how we should stay together and help each other. We all have various strengths and challenges, and yet we can complement one another to accomplish those things that we cannot achieve alone.

The Four Friends. I got this picture from allposters.com – I have a canvas print hanging in my home!

 

“Respect should be freely given to all simply because all have Buddha-nature, because all can become Buddhas.” – Stonepeace

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24 Mar

Sleep Your Worries Away

by Lissa Coffey

What’s keeping you up at night? Chances are it is worry. Let’s face it, in our hectic lives there’s always something to worry about, even if it’s the state of the world. Worry can contribute to insomnia, or trouble falling asleep. Worry can also cause what is called “maintenance insomnia” or difficulty in staying asleep. This is when we wake us up in the middle of the night, and then have a problem getting back to sleep.

 

Why does worry affect our sleep so much? During the day we might have all the same worries – but we’re engaged in other activities that take the mind elsewhere. At night, when it is quiet and the mind isn’t distracted, all those same worries come to the forefront of the mind, and we can’t seem to quiet them. It is important to give ourselves that “wind down” time to help settle the mind before hitting the sheets. Read, meditate, listen to soft music, or take a warm bath. And of course, make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable as this is the key to having a cozy bed to climb into.

 

Worrying is nothing new. It happens to everyone, all over the world. Generations ago, the indigenous people of Guatemala created “Worry Dolls” as a remedy for their stress. These are tiny dolls, hand-crafted with fabrics from Mayan costumes twisted and tied around little pieces of wood and wire. It is all held in place with colorful yarn, which makes up the doll’s head, hair, feet and hands. At just two inches high, the dollars are small enough to tuck under a pillow. The tradition is that when worrying keeps you awake, you tell your worries to the doll, who then does the worrying for you so that you can sleep peacefully through the night.

 

This is the traditional story of how the worry dolls came about, and it is a wonderful way to introduce worry dolls to children to help them get to sleep.

 

The Worry Dolls

 

In the hills of Guatemala there lived an old man, his daughter, Flora, and Flora’s two children Maria and Diego. Their home was a small hut made out of mud and wood. The grandfather was a farmer, as many of his ancestors were, and as he taught his own family to be. One year there was a terrible drought. Without enough rain the crops could not grow well, and they had very little food.

 

The whole family would wake up with the sun and tend to the fields in the hope that the rain would come. Then Maria and Diego would go to school for the day. At night, Flora would make tortillas for dinner with what corn they had, and then weave colorful cloth to sell at the market. Grandfather would tell the children stories before tucking them into their hammocks at bedtime. One of the children’s favorite stores was about a magical doll that could grant wishes.

 

One night a robber snuck in and stole all of Flora’s cloth, everything she had worked so hard to make over many months. She cried that she had nothing to sell at the market and didn’t know how the family would get the money they needed.

 

The next day Flora came down with a fever, and Maria knew that she had to do something to help. She got an idea. She went through her mother’s weaving basket and found scraps of fabric in odd colors and shapes. She brought the basket outside, and told her brother to collect small twigs for her. With the scraps of cloth and the twigs Diego and Maria got to work. They worked late into the night, and kept their project a secret. When they ran out of cloth they saw that they had made dozens of tiny dolls in tiny clothes. Maria hoped that these dolls would be magical like the one in her Grandfather’s story.

 

That night Maria lined up a few of the dolls and spoke to them of her worries: “My little friends, we need your help. My family is in trouble. The fields are dry, my mother is sick, and we have no food or money. Please help us. Good night.” She placed the dolls lovingly under her pillow and lay down to sleep. Maria slept well that night, confident that the dolls would somehow help her.

 

In the morning, Maria and Diego packed up all the dolls and walked a very long way to the market. The family was so poor that the children didn’t even have sandals, they had to walk barefoot. When they finally got to the market they found that it was crowded with people. They had never sold at the market before, and she had never seen anyone else sell tiny dolls there, but she was determined that her plan would work. The two finally found a good spot near a shoe seller.

 

Maria and Diego laid the dolls on the sidewalk. The shoe seller saw them and wondered by anyone would want such tiny dolls. Marie explained that there was magic in the dolls. The shoe seller just laughed and said that the magic in his shoes doesn’t help them to sell. Marie was firm and said: “We shall see.”

 

It was a long day, and no one had bought any of the dolls. The children we getting sad, and worried. As Maria was packing up the dolls to go home, a man in fine clothes and a large hat came by and asked what they were selling. Diego piped up: “These little dolls.”

 

“Magic dolls!” Maria corrected her brother.

 

The man looked impressed. “Well, I could use a little magic. I’ll take all of them!”

 

Maria and Diego excitedly wrapped up the dolls for the man, who then handed them a stack of money, without asking the price. Maria thanked him and the man was gone before Maria could say anything more. She counted the money and found that there was enough for the family to live on for a year.

 

The two bought some food at the market and then excitedly headed for home to tell their mother and grandfather the news.

 

“We sold the dolls we made!” Diego exclaimed.

 

“Magic dolls!” Maria emphasized, and she told them the whole story.

 

“This doesn’t sound like any magic,” Flora said to her children, “It sounds like you worked hard and it paid off.”

 

“Ah,” the grandfather chimed in, “but you are feeling much better, Flora, how do you explain that?”

 

“And look! It’s raining!” Diego jumped up and pointed to the fields. Sure enough, it was raining and the fields were getting the water they needed. The drought was over.

 

That night as Maria got ready for bed, she noticed something in her pocket. She reached in to find a pouch that contained the same dolls she had slept with under her pillow the night before. She was surprised because she was sure she sold all of the dolls to the man. Inside the pouch was a little note that read: “Tell these dolls your secret wishes. Tell them your problems. Tell them your dreams. And when you awake, you may find the magic within you to make your dreams come true.”

 

For lots of great sleep tips visit The Better Sleep Council: www.BetterSleep.org

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2911002/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/too-early-to-get-up-too-late-to-get-back-to-sleep

http://blog.shamansmarket.com/the-legend-of-the-worry-dolls/

 

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15 Mar

“Sleepy… Verrrrry Sleepy…”

“You are feeling sleepy… verrry sleepy…” Those are the words that we think of when we imagine being hypnotized. You may have seen a stage show where a hypnosis performer gets people from the audience into a trance, and then gets them to act silly. But could hypnosis really be used to help us sleep better? For many, the answer is a resounding yes!

 

I studied hypnotherapy and got my certification years ago. I’ve found that this is an effective tool to use in many areas of our lives.

 

Hypnotherapy has been used to treat various ailments since the 18th century, although hypnosis itself dates way back to prehistoric days. Hypnosis isn’t magic, or brainwashing, it is actually a heightened state of concentration. There are many times we’ve been in a state of hypnosis and not even been aware of it – for example, when we are engrossed in a really good movie, or super focused on solving a problem. That’s when the rest of the world somehow goes away. We might be called for dinner and not even be aware of it. That’s how hypnosis works.

 

Hypnosis is often performed by a certified hypnotherapist who guides a person into a trance-like state where suggestions can then be given to the subconscious mind to help that person improve a golf game, increase their confidence levels, decrease anxiety, overcome a fear, or attain other goals such as getting a restful night’s sleep. But we don’t necessarily need a hypnotherapist to achieve these results. We can use self-hypnosis, a technique very similar to guided meditation.

 

When we have trouble getting to sleep, it’s likely that we are having trouble relaxing for one reason or another. We may be stressed, worried, or feeling anxious. Self-hypnosis is one way that we can help fix the relaxation response that triggers sleep. Hypnosis helps us to refocus our thoughts by focusing instead on certain words, music, or a soothing voice. In this way we basically retrain the brain to once again relax when it is time to sleep. We provide the mind and body all it needs to calmly drift off into a pleasant sleep state.

 

The benefit, of course, is that when we awaken from a great night’s sleep we feel more energetic and focused. So, we are naturally more productive and motivated!

 

There are many self-hypnosis apps and recordings available and you can try some to see what works for you. Some of these programs use “binaural beats” as a background “white noise” kind of sound. Before sleep the brain must achieve the delta frequency. Binaural beats, a combination of sound frequencies, are used as a tool to help sync the brainwaves to that delta frequency.

 

Autogenic training, also called Autogenic therapy, is one form of self-hypnosis. This relaxation technique was developed by Johannes Schulz, a German psychiatrist, in 1932. With Autogenics, through a series of sessions, we gradually learn to relax the limbs, heart space and breath.  The idea is to induce a feeling of warmth throughout most of the body, and a feeling of coolness in the forehead. It is a way for us to influence our own autonomic nervous system to counterbalance the effects of stress. The Autogenics technique creates a physiological response, preparing us for sleep.

 

To practice Autogenics follow these guidelines:

 

– Practice alone, in quiet, or with soft background music or environmental sounds.

– Wear loose, comfortable clothing, and no shoes.

– Practice before meals so that the digestive process doesn’t interfere with the relaxation process.

– Take your time, do not rush.

– Sit comfortably in a chair, or lie down.

– If you are practicing at bedtime, make sure your room is conducive for sleep, and that your mattress is comfortable and supportive.

– Now follow these six steps:

 

1) Warm -up: Begin slow, deep breathing. Inhale for one beat, exhale for two. With each breath, increase the duration of the inhales and exhales, always doubling the length of time for the exhales.  Breath to six counts in, and twelve counts out. Then reverse the process all the way back down to one count in and two counts out.

 

2) Heavy and Warm – Heaviness and warmth represent muscular relaxation.  Visualize and actually feel your limbs becoming heavy. Mentally say to yourself on the inhale: “My arms and legs are” and on the exhale: “heavy and warm.” Repeat two more times.

 

3) A Calm Heart – Mentally say to yourself on the inhale: “My heartbeat and breathing are” and on the exhale: “calm and steady.” Repeat two more times.

 

4) A Warm Stomach – this helps you to add a central warmth and peace to your body. Mentally say to yourself on the inhale: “My stomach is” and on the exhale: “soft and warm.” Repeat two more times.

 

5) A Cool Forehead – This helps you provide a calm, stabilizing coolness to the forehead. Mentally say to yourself on the inhale: “My forehead is” and on the exhale: “cool.” Repeat two more times.

 

6) Completion. Mentally say to yourself on the inhale: “I feel” and on the exhale: “supremely calm.” Repeat two more times.

 

It is important to memorize this “script” so that you don’t have to spend energy trying to remember the words. Many people find it beneficial to record their own voice with the prompts, and this may be a good way to start. The repetition of the words helps to get the body and mind into a calm, relaxed state, which in turns promotes peaceful sleep.

 

When you are first learning Autogenics, practice this routine three times throughout the day. Before breakfast, before lunchtime, and then right before bedtime so that it helps you to fall asleep. Give it some time to see the best results. Most people notice a big, positive shift in their sleep patterns after a few weeks of practicing Autogenics.

 

Important note: Never listen to any hypnosis recording or try to use self-hypnosis while you are driving or operating heavy machinery. Also, hypnosis is not recommended for those with epilepsy or for those with any kind of psychosis. Always follow the advice of your health professional.

 

Here is a sleep hypnosis recording I made just for you!

Download
References

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Yourself-Sleep-Using-Hypnosis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autogenic_training

https://bebrainfit.com/autogenic-training/

https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2013/06/24/the-science-of-hypnosis/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_hypnosis

Lissa Coffey is the spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council. More sleep tips at www.bettersleep.org

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14 Feb

A Valentine to Love

Valentine’s Day has us all thinking about love. We can’t escape the ads, the decorations in the stores, the promises of chocolates and roses at every point of purchase. We get caught up in the celebration and romance of this holiday. And yet, we know that there is much more to love than cards and candy.

Love is all there is.

Really. There’s nothing else. It’s what we’re made of. It’s what we live for. It’s who we are. Love is at the source of all creation. It’s something we all strive to understand and that we all have in common. It’s what connects us.

Love is our greatest teacher. It is so big, so all-encompassing, that individually we could study it throughout our entire lifetime, and as a society we have studied it throughout the ages. We can learn about love, we can learn from love, we can learn to love.

Bhakti yoga is the path of love. Bhakti yoga teaches us to love everything and everyone, because all of it is divine. Each small thing is a part of the greater whole, and that whole is divine. So when we practice Bhakti, we experience the feeling of love in the recognition of divinity, with everything we come across.

We experience love the most profoundly through our relationships. Although there is only one love, love is expressed in many different ways. There have been sonnets and songs written about love throughout the ages, yet it is still difficult for us to define, because it is so vast. The Indian sages have come up with terms to help us understand some of the many aspects of love.

-Santa: Santa is peaceful, calm, and slow. This is a love we might feel for ourselves. It is gentle, steady, and natural.

-Dasya: Dasya is the love that we might feel toward a teacher, a mentor, someone we respect and want to serve.

-Sakhya: Sakhya is the love we feel for a dear friend. In friendship, there is a kind of equality, a give and take, an exchange of feelings, a sharing of ourselves.

-Vatsalya: Vatsalya is the love that a parent feels for a child. A baby is so innocent, and we can’t help but to want to give love to that child, without demands or expectations for anything in return. Children are pure and completely lovable. We recognize this without hesitation.

-Madhura: Madhura is the love of our beloved. This is the “in love” feeling when we are swept off our feet, blissful, devoted, and intense.

Bhakti yoga continually reminds us to “love the highest.” When we find ourselves infatuated with our jobs, our cars, any material thing, Bhakti tells us that we are misguided. When all of our human desire for what is new, fun, novel or beautiful is instead directed toward love, we then experience the greatest delight.

In our human experience, love is not all hearts and flowers. Sometimes it’s messy, it can be complicated, and it can hurt. Love itself is pure, simple, and perfect, but we tend to muddy it up with our humanity. We question, we expect, we desire, we need. And in our attempts to understand, we come up with definitions, we analyze, we discuss, and then we filter all of this through our past experiences to come up with what we think love should be, would be, could be. And every one of us is doing the same thing, with oftentimes very different results. Jealousy, temptation, broken hearts and bitter break-ups are the inspiration for many songs and screenplays.

But the basic truth is that love is. It just is. Love is beyond definition, beyond space and time, beyond any relationship. Love is a true constant in this world. It does not need to be created, it is always here, it has always been here, and it always will be here. We have only to know this to notice it. Eyes open, mind open, heart open, love is available to us in all of its myriad forms, essential simplicity and spectacular glory.

“Namaste” is a Sanskrit greeting that means: “The Divine in me recognizes and honors the Divine in you.” That recognition of the divine is Bhakti, or love. On Valentine’s Day, and every day, let’s try to practice Bhakti a little more often. Not just with our valentines, but also with everyone we meet. Let’s love the highest, starting with ourselves. This is where we start. This is where the seed is planted, where love can grow, and thrive, and blossom within each one of us into a delightful bounty that can be shared. We can feed our souls on this banquet of love. No one need go hungry.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Namaste!

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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04 Feb

Ancient Secrets of Seduction

“Tantra” means “instrument of the body.” It sounds exotic, but it is actually very simple. Tantra teaches us to use all five of our senses consciously, because our senses are how we are connected with the physical world. And of course, it is with our five senses that we connect with each other, too. If you’re looking to up the romance quotient in your relationship, here are a few tips from ancient India. And for good measure, let’s use the romantic rose in each example. Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red signifies desire!

Touch (“Sparsa” in Sanskrit)

The skin marks the visible limits of the body; it is where we make contact with the world. Our skin is our largest organ, and 16% of our body weight. With touch we experience much of our environment: temperature, clothes, sheets, shower, etc. Wake up the sense of touch with massage. Use different materials and textures, such as a feather, a velvet hat, baby powder, a silk scarf, or rose petals. Infuse sesame oil, or unscented body lotion with rose petals, or rose essential oil for a wonderful massage oil.

Smell (“Gandha” in Sanskrit)

Women are particularly sensitive to smells. Our pheromones are the scents that we give off without even realizing it. These pheromones train us to recognize and desire our partners. When people stop smoking, they are amazed by how much they rediscover their sense of smell. Studies have shown that the loss of the olfactory sense is often accompanied by a loss in sexual interest, so it is a good idea to keep our noses functioning optimally! Fragrances have quite an allure to them. Roses just smell like romance. Use rose-scented candles, and sprinkle rose petals in the bathtub. Shower together with rose-scented shower gel.

Taste (“Rasa” in Sanskrit)

Is it any wonder that we say we have a certain “taste” in partners? The tongue is super-sensitive. By blocking out the other senses, by closing your eyes for example, you can focus on the taste more fully. Love is sweet — there’s a reason why we call each other honey and sweetie and cupcake! Savor and delight in the tastes and textures of various foods and drinks: whipped cream, chocolate, a strawberry — and, yes, rose! Sweet rose tea is made for romance! It smells wonderful and tastes divine — and it is the perfect way to end a romantic meal. Tulsi Rose Tea has the added benefit of helping you to relax, and de-stress…to get you in the mood for romance! It is easy to make your own blend of rose tea with dried rose petals, or dried rosebuds, steeped in hot water.

Sound (“Sabda” in Sanskrit)

Sounds have a profound effect on the body. Studies have shown that sounds can open up our inner pharmacy and balance our physiology. They can help us to be healthier, and to generally feel better. What sound do roses make? They’re silent. Sweet and soft. Whisper sweet nothings to your loved one. Play soft, sweet music. Dance with the rose between your teeth, let your body move to the rhythm, breathe gently into your partner’s ear.

Sight (“Rupa” in Sanskrit)

For romance, it’s all about lighting. Think pink — use rose-colored light bulbs, so you naturally see things more rosy! Dine by candlelight. Spread rose petals on the table. Make a trail of rose petals that leads to a surprise. Do a few Bollywood shimmies, put on a show. Look into each other’s eyes until you get lost. Feel the intense connection that you create.

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21 Jan

Better Sleep Can Warm Up A Relationship

For couples having trouble under the sheets, improving their relationship could be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

Catching extra winks together in bed can significantly help improve a relationship. A good night’s sleep is restorative to the mind and body, gives us energy and improves our mood—all attributes that can make us better partners in romantic relationships. On the other hand, a poor night’s sleep —often the result of a couple’s mismatched sleep styles— can be a major problem for a relationship.

Many couples can live happily together, but they can’t sleep well side-by-side, which can negatively impact their relationship. Sleeping together is an important way for couples to feel connected with each other. And not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling sluggish, cranky and hard to get along with.

If your partner’s sleep style is keeping you up at night here are some tips to bring harmony back to the bedroom and into your relationship:

1.
Problem: Your partner kicks in his or her sleep, waking you up.
Solution: Make sure your bed gives each sleeper enough sleep surface to move around comfortably. For couples sharing a bed, the mattress should be at least queen-sized.

2.
Problem: Your partner likes it hot, you like it cool.
Solution: Ideally, your bedroom should be a cool 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. But a few simple adjustments can make it possible for a person who craves heat and a person who craves cool to sleep side by side comfortably.
• Double-fold the blankets so there is more coverage on one side.
• Invest in a dual-control electric blanket or a twin-sized electric blanket on one side.

3.
Problem: Your partner snores, keeping you up at night.
Solution: Snoring can be a serious health concern, so make sure to consult your physician. If your partner’s snoring is not a serious health condition, try alternative treatments like investing in anti-snore pillows, sprays or nasal strips that are designed to help people breathe more easily.

4.
Problem: Your partner tosses and turns.
Solution: It may be your mattress. Mattresses should be evaluated for optimum comfort and support every five to seven years.

5.
Problem: Your partner loves to cuddle, but you like your space while you sleep.
Solution: Compromise. Before falling asleep, spend some time snuggling together and then agree to sleep apart.

6.
Problem: Your sleep schedules don’t match.
Solution: Try finding a bedtime that works for both of you. Be considerate if you are a night owl or an early riser compared to your sleep partner. Keep overhead lights off and use minimal lighting while you are awake and your partner is asleep.

A bad night’s sleep affects your mood, work and relationships with others. Sleep, like proper diet and exercise, is essential to overall well-being.

More sleep tips at BetterSleep.org

Sleep Tips video

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14 Jan

More Birthdays: A Reason to Celebrate!

Recent survey results released by the American Cancer Society reinforce, once again, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and the findings are definitely cause for celebration. The online survey, which showed a strong link between health and attitudes about birthdays, revealed that people who say they are in excellent health are more likely to consider birthdays special and exciting events.

In addition, the survey found that people who say they are in excellent health are nearly twice as likely to love celebrating birthdays, generally consider them fun and feel more special on their birthday than people who say they are in poor health.

Clearly, these results are another reminder about the benefits of leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Not only will you look and feel great, but you’ll also be a brilliant birthday party guest!

The results are part of the Society’s Official Sponsor of Birthdays campaign, which asks people to imagine a world with more birthdays. More birthdays mean more time with our friends and family, and more opportunities to celebrate the important milestones in their lives.

A big part of the American Cancer Society’s effort to create more birthdays is helping people stay well by making healthy choices in their daily lives. Whether you’re planning a party for a child, an adult, or yourself, there are fun and creative ways to make your celebration one that will help create more birthdays for years to come.

Get Active.
To get your guests moving, pick an action-oriented theme for your birthday celebration — pool parties, soccer games, dance parties, or scavenger hunts are great fun for kids and grown-ups alike. There’s nothing like a little healthy competition!

Be Prepared.
If you’re hosting an outdoor party, have sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and extra hats on hand for guests who might have forgotten them. If you’re hosting your celebration indoors, find a smoke-free restaurant or venue or have it at your house and remind guests that cigarettes aren’t welcome.

Stay Food-Smart.
We know birthdays are about celebrating, but you can have your cake and stay healthy, too. There are plenty of healthy and delicious foods you can choose to share with your guests. Consider serving low-fat snacks like popcorn, pretzels, and baked chips and salsa and healthy meal options like grilled chicken or shrimp skewers. You can bake healthier, too, by making your birthday cake from scratch so you can control the ingredients and make smart substitutions like swapping butter for applesauce.

Give the gift of more birthdays.
Joining the movement to create a world with more birthdays isn’t limited to your own special celebration. By giving birthday gifts to friends and loved ones throughout the year with health and wellness in mind, you can help the people you care about look forward to more candles to light. Here are some creative gift ideas to help people stay well:

For cooks or want-to-be cooks
:
Package flavored oils and vinegars in a large bowl made for salads.
Create a basket filled with healthy cooking utensils such as an apple corer, zester, lemon/lime juicer, garlic crusher, ginger, and nutmeg graters.
For the portion size conscious cook (and eater), consider giving a food scale, measuring cups, and/or attractive measuring spoons.

For foodies:
Create a basket with cheese, crackers, and fresh fruit, with perhaps a decorative cheese spreader.
Package dried fruits and nuts in a unique serving dish with pretty cocktail napkins.
Collect your favorite healthy recipes and give them in a recipe journal so they can also record their own.
Give a cooking class gift certificate.
Give a subscription to a favorite healthy cooking magazine.
Give a gift certificate to your favorite local healthy restaurant.

For those wanting to be more active
:
Give a gift certificate to a local athletic shoe and apparel store.
Include a step counter/pedometer with an mp3 player.
Package a jump rope, exercise band, set of hand weights, and/or workout ball for an all around healthy workout.
Make coupons for babysitting so your friend can work out while you watch the kids.
Make workout buddy coupons and commit to get up three days a week to walk before work with your friend, if that’s what she wants to do.
Give a gift certificate for a tennis lesson, packaged with a water bottle and flashy colored tennis balls.
Give a gift certificate for a golf lesson, with a book on the best public courses to play (and encourage your golfing buddy to join the USGA Walking Member Program).
Give a gift subscription to a favorite health magazine such as Fitness, Runners World, Walking, Golf Digest, Bicycling, etc.
Give an exercise mat and workout tapes or CDs for home use.
Volleyball net and ball.
Badminton racquets and shuttlecocks.
A yearly pass to a local or national park.
Croquet set.
Baby jogger.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the American Cancer Society, eleven million cancer survivors will mark their birthdays this year. What’s not to celebrate about that?

To join me and the Society in the movement for more birthdays, visit www.morebirthdays.com.

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07 Jan

Time Well Spent: Volunteering in the Foster Care System

Time is a commodity. It’s been compared with money. We only have so much of it in this lifetime, so time is precious. And how we spend our time says a lot about what is important to us. Recently I’ve had a big change in where I’ve been finding my time spent – and it has surprised me, in many wonderful ways.

 

I’ve done the career thing, a couple of times over in a couple of different incarnations. And I’ve done the mom thing — wholeheartedly: from carpools and karate, to homework and heartache and everything in between. And all along the way I’ve been involved with some kind of service. But it was always secondary to the job, or the kids, because there is only so much time to go around, especially for a working mom.

 

When my boys left for college I found myself with time on my hands. This is something that hasn’t happened since I gave birth. Yes, I’ve still got work, but a person can only sit in front of a computer for so many hours a day without going crazy! I decided to volunteer at a group foster home.

 

The process for this is quite extensive. I had to go through security clearance, including fingerprinting and a TB test. And I also had to go through training. It took a couple of months for all the paperwork to go through, but now I’m officially a volunteer. And I love it!

 

In the past, when I’ve volunteered it was all about making gift baskets for silent auctions, going to lunch meetings, and selling raffle tickets to raise money for the organization. I wanted to contribute in a different way, to actually work with the kids. In one of my work incarnations I was a modeling school teacher, so I have experience working with teen girls. This population is the most “at-risk” in the foster care world and I felt it was a place where I could make some sort of a difference. At this particular foster home, there are 14 teen girls who live on campus.

 

A group foster home is often the last stop for kids. At this point they have nowhere else to go. Most of them are there through no fault of their own. If they have parents, their parents are abusive, addicted to drugs, or in jail. Or they are simply unable to cope with the difficulties that their child is going through. Most of the kids are SED, or severely emotionally disturbed. This foster home has family outreach, and things like parenting classes, with the goal of bringing the family back together again. But the reality is that just about 3% of the kids who arrive at group homes eventually return to a healthy family situation.

 

I waltzed in to the girls cottage thinking this was going to be fun, that the girls would be happy to see me, and that we’d have tea parties and book clubs. I quickly learned to not have any expectations, or any particular plans, and to just be present for whatever needs they had at the moment. One of the staff members told me that these kids are like porcupines. They are withdrawn, and suspicious, and have their spikes up to protect themselves. You need to approach cautiously, and gently. And when a porcupine throws out a spike, you can’t be surprised, or angry, because it’s just the nature of the animal. With everything these kids have been through in their young lives, it is completely understandable for them to be on guard.

 

Where we started to bond was in the kitchen. These girls need their spirits to be fed, and sometimes the best way to do that is by starting with their stomachs. Group homes aren’t known for their gourmet cuisine, and the weekend dinners are the most dreaded of all the meals. By cooking together, good wholesome meals with lots of fresh vegetables, we were able to fill up the cottage with yummy smells that made the place feel much more like a home than an institution. While cooking we can talk amongst the activity, so there are no awkward pauses. And we have a mutual goal that we accomplish together, something tangible to both serve and enjoy in a delicious meal.

 

I’ve been going up there every Sunday to make dinner with the girls. And I find that during the week, I miss them, so I’m up there at least a couple of times in the afternoons just to hang out, help them with their projects, and generally be available. I’ve given them books, and DVDs, and I bring fresh fruit for after school snacks. But what they really appreciate, more than anything, is my time. It’s just the being there that really makes a difference. And as time goes on, I’m discovering that more and more, this is where I am choosing to spend my time. Vedic philosophy says that the three most important things we can give our children are attention, affection, and time. The children in the foster care system are starved for all three. And this is something that any of us can provide without spending a dime.

 

As I learn more about how everything works with foster care, I’m finding more ways that those of us who want to help can really make a difference.

 

Right now there are more than 780,000 children in the United States who are in the foster care system because they are unable to live safely at home. Most of these children are there through no fault of their own, but because their parents can’t, or won’t, take care of them. The children often have difficulty trusting people, and making lasting relationships because so many strangers come in and out of their lives: police officers, lawyers, judges, therapists, social workers, and foster parents. If they are placed in a group home, there is also several different staff throughout the week to watch over the kids. They can be moved from home to home, and school to school, with little or no notice. It can be daunting, and even scary for a child.

 

Thankfully, there is a volunteer organization called CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to look out for specific children in the overburdened legal and social service system. These volunteers make sure that the children’s needs are being met, that they aren’t getting lost in the system, or languishing in a group or foster home that is not appropriate for them. The CASA stays with the child until the case is closed, and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Because foster kids move around so much, many times the CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence, the one adult they can count on to care for them, and advocate for them. The CASA volunteer really gives the child a voice, by speaking on the child’s behalf in the courtroom and in team meetings so that the needs of the child are addressed and met.

 

If you have some time to spend, and you want to make a lifelong difference for a child who really needs your help, consider volunteering in a foster home. Or even better, consider becoming a CASA. Last year, more than 68,000 CASA volunteers served more than 240,000 abused and neglected children through 1,018 program offices. CASA volunteers have helped more than two million children since the program was established in 1977. Currently there are not enough CASA volunteers to go around. Statistics show that children with a CASA volunteer are far more likely to find the services and resources they need and go on to lead successful and productive lives. Now can’t we all consider that to be time well spent?

For more information, visit the CASA website: nationalcasa.org

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28 Dec

Michael Jackson: Another Look at The Man in the Mirror

Since Michael Jackson’s untimely death last week we’ve been inundated with stories and speculations about his life. I’m in the generation that grew up with Michael. We watched him as a child singing on TV with his brothers, ABC and Rockin’ Robin, and tried our best to copy his moves. As kids we sang along, mesmerized by the upbeat tunes that played on the radio as we sat in the backseat of our parents’ cars. We went through the awkward teen stage in our own lives, set to a disco soundtrack. And we came into our own just as Michael did with Thriller, finding our groove, and defining ourselves.

Celebrity is a creature all its own. We have a perceived access to these individuals, we feel as though we know them, even though we don’t. I remember getting my dad to buy me Tiger Beat magazine, which regularly featured either the Jacksons or the Osmonds or both on the cover. Today, celebrity access is widespread and instantaneous. We can follow just about anyone on twitter. Websites break news before the news stations can get a camera crew out to the scene.

When I was just two years old my mother was grocery shopping and I was sitting in the cart. One of the managers must have made an announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember my mother getting very flustered, and taking me out of the cart to go home. She was trying to explain to me what was going on — and I could feel that something was terribly wrong. This was such an emotional event that many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. I also remember where I was when I found out that Princess Diana died. She and I were about the same age, and we both got married and had two boys at about the same time, so I always felt a connection with her. And now I’ll always remember when I heard that Michael Jackson died. I got an e-mail alert that Michael had suffered cardiac arrest and was being transported to the hospital. I felt troubled, and confused. Then I drove to pick up my mail, and as I got in the car to come home, I heard on the radio an official confirmation that Michael had passed away. The radio station was playing his music in tribute. My heart dropped.

What is it about celebrities that gets us so engrossed in their lives and deaths? My favorite Michael Jackson song, and ironically it is one that he didn’t write, is “Man in the Mirror” and I think this helps to explain a lot of what we are going through.

Whenever we look at another person and feel a strong emotion, there’s something about that person that we see in ourselves. Whether we love it or hate it, people act as mirrors for each one of us. We are examples for each other, of what we judge to be good and bad, best or worst. The qualities in another person that draw us or repel us we can also see in ourselves to some degree, in some way. Celebrities, with a kind of larger than life image, end up being archetypes. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and now Michael Jackson might be thought of as the tortured artist. Talented, creative, expressive, and yet at the same time uncomfortable and somewhat out of place. Each turned to various distractions to try to “normalize” their feelings. Both Elvis and Michael basically created their own worlds in Graceland and Neverland. These were places where they could fit in, surrounded by people and things that made them feel at home.

If we are caught up in the coverage of Michael Jackson’s life and death that is going on right now, maybe it is because we have some of that archetype in ourselves. Maybe we feel misunderstood. Maybe we seek to create, and be heard the way Michael was. Maybe we long for our childhoods, for simpler days. What can we do? We can take out own advice, look at that man in the mirror and change our ways… “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change.”

In his 50 years Michael Jackson lived a very full life. He had successes and failures; he had conquests and controversies. As much as we feel we might know him from his concerts, albums, testimonies and interviews, we don’t really know Michael Jackson the person. The best we can do is to know ourselves. That’s all we can ever really do.

Michael Jackson’s death reminds us that time is fleeting. Just a few months ago many of the items taken from Neverland were on display in Los Angeles. I heard about this and went. At the last minute I decided to take my camera. I didn’t know if I would be able to take it inside, but I was allowed to, and I made a video of what I saw. It’s very interesting, and gives us some glimpse of insight into Michael Jackson’s life.
Michael Jackson’s Neverland Collection

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