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Archive for November, 2010

Good thing I didn’t actually decide to liveblog my Thanksgiving. It would have gone something like:

“Moseying across the street to buy coffee.”

“Time for a walk!”

“Reading.”

“Turkey and conversation!”

“Zzzzzz.”

That about sums up my Thanksgiving. The most eventful part of the day was when my father ordered “The Flintlock”—a supposedly-historic drink from the Colonial period. But what arrived at our table looked more tropical than classic. Who would expect that a drink called “The Flintlock” would be pink, or so tasty?

In any case, this is the first time that I’ve taken note of how my views toward the holiday have changed, and it’s made me appreciate how even powerful associations can be reframed. For me, the switch came after my family found ways to make the day less stressful for everyone. And, as one might expect, my acknowledgment of change only came after several years of pleasant Thanksgivings.

I suppose now is the time to start reframing other holidays I find stressful, but I actually think those are few and far between. And as of tomorrow night, I’ll have another celebratory holiday to enjoy. Chanukah falls early this year (find out why here), so the next eight days are full of outings, gatherings, and candle lightings!

To share some Chanukah cheer (and because The Office informs us that all Cornellians love a cappella), here’s a video to start off the celebrations:

Weather: Pleasant enough for the last day of November!

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m well rested.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. She worked from home today. In her pajamas.

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I keep thinking that Hannah and I should be liveblogging our emotional calendars this Thanksgiving. But that seems excessive. And I’m pretty sure that won’t allow us to be truly mindful, as Hannah suggests. So instead, here’s to a happy, joyful, and reflective Thanksgiving from DTU!

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This is an exercise in mindfulness.

Bring your awareness to your mouth. Take pleasure in the sensation of rubbing your tongue against your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Swallow. This should feel good.

Now, take a clean glass. Spit into it. Now, drink your own spit.

Repulsive, isn’t it?

This exercise comes from Ellen Langer’s seminal book Mindfulness, one of the first to bring the concept of mindfulness into Western medical lexicon. I love it because no matter how many times I try, I can’t help but be totally grossed out. I know that rationally, there is no reason to dislike saliva. But I cannot break my constructed hatred of spit. It’s disgusting.

Langer’s point is that every day, we take thousands of actions that are not rational. Some of them, like not drinking our own spit, are fairly innocent. Others are more troubling: the ones that impact the way we act around disabled people, for example, or the elderly. (One of Langer’s  most laudable impacts has been in teaching nurses and families to recognize the difference between physical disability and mental disability.)

Mindfulness can also be helpful in improving the way we treat ourselves, especially at times when we are feeling particularly out of control. Anna is lucky in that she has totally overcome all of her Thanksgiving anxieties. But for the rest of us, this time of year is overloaded with emotional, cultural, and environmental stressors. There are childhood memories. Family expectations. Cultural pressures. The smell of snow on the wind.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed on Thanksgiving. It’s also easy to act on all of those anxieties without knowing why. To get angry at the turkey. To break down over the cranberry sauce. To lash out at an innocent great aunt or overly energetic toddler. All of which means, less time to enjoy a delicious dinner in the company of the people we love most.

Which is what Thanksgiving, at its best, can be about.

This holiday season, I’m going to try to be a little more mindful about where my emotions are coming from. And I’m going to hope that increased awareness will improve my ability to act, instead of just reacting.

But I’m still not drinking spit from a glass.

Wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, with love from DTU.

Weather: 36 degrees, a bit overcast, and beautiful

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10. Excited to go running this afternoon.

Anna: 7.5, and thrilled to have a few days to relax.

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Well, Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it, the stress of one of the most highly charged family meals of the year.

I used to hate Thanksgiving. In fact, my freshman year of college I chose to stay in upstate New York and celebrate with a friend instead of making the 8-hour bus ride home. The dining halls all closed down, which we anticipated. What we hadn’t considered was that the buses would also stop running, nearly all the restaurants would close, and we would be stranded on an empty campus without proper sustenance. So, instead of turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing, she and I raided the vending machine, watched Zoolander, and gave thanks for the man who delivered our emergency General Tso’s chicken. It actually turned out to be a pretty fun day.

Less fun, though, are the family negotiations that seem inevitable around the holidays. Who’s going where. Who’s hosting whom. Which relatives are escaping to remote islands (or secretly wishing they were) instead of joining the rest of the extended family for football and conversation.

These days, Thanksgiving is less stressful for me. Part of it is that I’m older and I can make my own plans. Part of it is that I’ve reframed the holiday and now think of it as a big family meal as opposed to a super-charged family fest. Gathering in small groups helps, as does eating out, which is a tradition that my father started several years ago. Last year, we went to a Greek restaurant anticipating ouzo, saganaki, and moussaka, only to find they were serving turkey! This year, we’ve embraced traditional American fare and have a reservation for four at a quaint New England inn.

Whether you hate, love, or are generally indifferent to Thanksgiving, take a deep breath and enjoy the food. Remember—if things get too stressful, you can always escape for a nap and blame it on the turkey.

Weather: Cloudy skies all day, but warmer than usual for late November.

Mood:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. She ate great cheese this weekend.

Hannah – 6 out of 10. She hates November.

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We’re nearing the holiday season (who can believe Thanksgiving is only a week away?!), so we invited our colleague, Louisa, to give us another perspective on this time of year. Here’s what she has to say:

I love fall. I love the combination of the weather, my birthday, and the brilliant colors of the leaves. As much as I love it, though, it brings up feelings of sadness, of being out of control, and of anxiety, especially as we move into late fall and early winter. Unlike many people, these feelings don’t come from the dreaded approach of a cold winter. (I competitively cross country skied in high school…) This time of year is a strong personal and emotional hotspot for me, stemming back fourteen years.

That was the fall of 1996. My family was moving from our home in Maryland to Massachusetts. My dad started work in September, so for two months, he lived with my grandparents up here, while my mom stayed home with my sisters and me. As a nine year old, I felt like everything was changing at the same time and I was powerless to stop it. Further adding to this feeling, my grandfather died suddenly at the end of September. We all came to Massachusetts for the funeral, only to immediately go back to Maryland, where our house was half in boxes. Right before Thanksgiving, we moved up here for good. It was a sad time for my family and for me, even though my tenth birthday was thrown into the mix in late October. Rather than feeling like a happy event, my birthday was confusing and disorienting. Was I supposed to feel sad or happy? What would my new life be like?

Thanksgiving was equally as confusing. Amidst all the celebration, there was an acute feeling of pain at the loss of my grandfather. And even though I had been traveling to Massachusetts since I was a baby to visit family, I was unprepared to spend the whole winter in New England. I was unfamiliar with the kind of biting cold that comes even as early as Thanksgiving some years. I learned to wear more clothes, to always take a hat and gloves, and to look at snow as a usual occurrence, not some weather anomaly.

I have grown to accept the winter weather now, and the pain of moving and my grandfather’s death has long since abated. But even writing about this time brings back those same feelings of sadness and anxiety.

So during this hotspot, I’ll be paying close attention to my emotional calendar. I promise to post an update about it after the holidays!

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The other day Anna and I were talking about how our “food calendar” changes over time. I had noticed a sudden desire for baked foods and carbohydrates. In the summer, Anna recalled, all we wanted to eat was salad. “Remember how in July I didn’t even want to eat chocolate?” she asked.

That stopped us both short.

But it’s true that, as winter approaches, my food associations change. I am the kind of person who can be almost religious about my eating habits. I recently went to eat WooDaddy Waffles at Moynihan’s Irish Pub in Worcester and it took some real mental gymnastics to accept the idea of a Falafel Waffle or a waffle pizza. (Good thing I did – they were delicious.) It’s not that I’m not adventurous. But I take real comfort in foods that are perfectly suited to the time of day or the time of year. Apple pies in October. Strawberries in July.

And one of the best things about the approach of winter is that the end of the fall is perfectly aligned with the most delicious kind of baked goods. I don’t know if it’s some sort of innate preparation for hibernation, or whether it’s a cultural association with Thanksgiving dinners and the dearth of fresh vegetables. But it’s true that, if I happen to being slipping into a late-fall depression, all it takes is a mug of hot apple cider and a slice of pumpkin bread to get me on my feet again. Or a cranberry muffin. Slice of pumpkin pie. Hazelnut-chocolate torte. Apple strudel.

(Yes, donations are welcome.)

Anyway, this week I indulged my cravings by baking a whole bunch of new things, the best of which was this ridiculously delicious yeasted pumpkin bread. The recipe made enough to last me a couple of weeks. I’m hoping there will be some left to boost up my spirit when the first snow arrives.

Weather: 52 degrees and cloudy

Mood:

Hannah: 5, I’m feeling a bit under the weather.

Anna: 7, she has some fun, engaging projects at work today.

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Exciting news! Sarah Hampson of The Globe and Mail has written about her emotional calendar and the book that inspired this blog, The Emotional Calendar, by Dr. John Sharp. You can read the article here.

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