November Quiet

IMGP6083My daughter’s birthday month got off to an early start when she received her birthday card from the Green Bay Packers on October 31. Finally, an organization that appreciates November with the same enthusiasm as my daughter!

Typically we don’t get excited about November. It’s that brown month between the captivating color change and crisp fall air of October and the lights, tinsel and snow of December. The harvest is in. The fields are barren; the birds have migrated, and the snow has not yet covered the earth in its white winter blanket.

November is the month of naked trees, early nightfall, and frosty mornings. It’s monochromatic. In the United States, the even the major holiday in November, Thanksgiving, is primarily black, white and brown—harkening to pilgrims, turkeys, and a harvest brought in.

At first glance it is a plain month, a quiet month, a slow month.

And in our society we are not comfortable with plain, quiet and slow. Continue reading “November Quiet”

A Crockpot Treasure

blogMy dad was the consummate story teller, and one of my biggest frustrations at losing him is the rapidity at which I seem to be losing his stories. Just bits and snatches here and there—the gist remains, but the details that made the stories so wonderful escape my memory.

The lesson here is: Record the stories now. Write them down. Get them on video or digital format, whatever medium you can—just record them.

This weekend though, I discovered a treasure. While cleaning the basement, my husband found a letter that my dad sent me not long after Mom died. It contained one of those little anecdotes that had escaped my memory. I present it here now, as Dad wrote it, because I can only improve on his spelling and punctuation—not his storytelling.

The Crockpot

Since the passing of your mother, I have done some experimenting with preparing my own meals. There have been some mild successes and few failures. Continue reading “A Crockpot Treasure”

“Knitting-tation”

fall_knittingSeveral scientific studies over the last couple of years have provided some evidence (see some references below), most of it by correlation, that a daily habit of meditation promotes successful aging and better mental health through stress reduction, but it’s actual effects on any given health problem are mixed.

But have you ever actually tried to meditate? I can’t even make it to ten deep breaths. “ONE…”, I say to myself as I inhale and exhale slowly. Then, without fail, before I even finish exhaling, my mind has wandered to the fact I need to RSVP for that birthday party my daughter was invited too and find time to get a gift.

“Wait, what breath was I on?”

ONE…inhale…exhale…TWO

“Oh and I really need to get that package mailed to my sister, and I’ve got to buy the airline tickets for the upcoming trip so that they aren’t a thousand dollars a seat, and can you believe the extra work…NUTS! What breath was that again?”

ONE…inhale…exhale…

“Wow, look at that, there is a Sandhill crane wandering around…”

And so goes my meditation session.

Yes, I can see how mediation might be helpful and healthful if I could actually clear my mind long enough to accomplish ten cleansing breaths. But as soon as I am seated with nothing to do, nothing on which my mind can focus, my mind finds its own focal points, thousands of them.

However, I have found that if I am knitting, I am able to reach that coveted state of cleared mind.

My mantra becomes the pattern I am knitting: slip, slip, knit 2 together. I repeat that over and over in my mind, and my hands are busy committing my mantra to finger memory. Perhaps because there is muscle memory involved, I find that the repetition of knitting even calms my heart rate and breathing. It has not only mental effects but physiological too.

Because I am working on a knitting project, I have to focus on my mantra or I will be doing rework—so I stay focused. I find that the problems and irritants of daily life disappear and my mind clears—it’s meditation for the Type A personality. My hands are busy, I’m producing something useful, and I am clearing my mind.

I’ve had life-long knitters tell me similar things; I’ve read about elderly knitters who have lost memories and the ability to communicate, but they maintain the muscle memory of knitting—the movement seeming to calm them when nothing else does.

In my humble opinion, I can’t think of a better form of meditation. You clear your mind and get a scarf, hat or sock to boot. A clear mind and a sense of accomplishment, what more could a girl ask for?

References

  1. Davidson, R. et al. (2003) Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine 65, 564–570.
  2. Blom, K. et al. (2013) Hypertension Analysis of Stress Reduction Using Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga: Results From the Harmony Randomized Controlled Trial. Am. J. Hypertens. epub.
  3. Ahmed, M. et al. (2013) Acute Pain Relief After Mantram Meditation in Children With Neuroblastoma Undergoing Anti-GD2 Monoclonal Antibody Therapy J. Pediatr. Hematol. Oncol. epub.
  4. Luders, E. (2013) Exploring age-related brain degeneration in meditation practitioners. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. epub.

©2013 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

Grandparents

IMG_0135I’ve had reason recently to think a lot about extended family and its importance in a child’s life. My parents relocated from their childhood haunts before I was born, so when I grew up, I was growing up away from extended family—far from aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas. Although there were trips to see them periodically, and letters back and forth, particularly between my grandmas and me, the closeness in the relationships was limited by the distances between us.

Even with that limitation, the letters and contacts I had with my grandparents, particularly my Grandmas, were always delightful, and when I look at the relationship our daughter has with her Grandma and Papa, who are close by, I am in awe. Even the relationship she has with her Grandpa Arduengo, who is many miles away, is amazing, thanks in part to technology that brings them closer. What is it about Grandparents, particularly Grandmas, that they are the very embodiment of unconditional love? Why, when my daughter was two and just beginning to talk, was the sentence “Let’s go to Grandma’s” greeted by squeals of delight and “Oh good, hugs!” Continue reading “Grandparents”

Fall into Comfort

The first weekend in September Fall arrived. The air was crisp, the breeze was blowing. Perfect football days, unless you were a Bagders or a Packers fan, that is. One of my greatest regrets with the end of this weekend is that so many of my colleagues at work are going to be grumpy on Monday morning because of the football outcomes.

Oh well. It was still a beautiful weekend. Continue reading “Fall into Comfort”

5 Tips for Building a Better Monkey…Bread

My daughter loves “monkey bread.” On the mornings when my daughter’s preschool is offering this as a special breakfast treat, I want to return to preschool and eat breakfast there. The smell of sweet bread is heavenly. So, when my daughter asked me one day after monkey bread had been offered (a rare treat on the breakfast menu), “Mama, can we have monkey bread for breakfast?”, I said “yes”.

Now, I never had monkey bread as a child, and I have never made monkey bread as an adult. So, when my internet search for monkey bread turned up the recipe I swallowed hard. “What had I promised my daughter?”

The recipe is sugar, more sugar and processed biscuit dough sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.

Agghh. No wonder it’s a favorite breakfast of my daughter. It would be a favorite breakfast for me if I weren’t concerned about turning into a demented obese diabetic with clogged arteries by the time I’m 60.

So, after talking with some colleagues (also parents) and calming down a bit, I set out to make a better monkey bread. Continue reading “5 Tips for Building a Better Monkey…Bread”

The Healing Power of a Hug

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a hospital waiting room over the last week, concerned as a cherished family member recovers from surgery to replace a stenotic aortic valve. It’s been a frustratingly slow recovery with its share of setbacks. But in the process I have learned some important things about family.

I married into a large Italian family. Large. Italian. La Famiglia. There have been times this week when I have wondered if the hospital would be adding a new wing just to accommodate the members of the Calvagna family. They may have to.

Truly when the waiting becomes unbearable, and you are surrounded by family, someone tells a joke or remembers a story from the past. And suddenly the unbearable becomes bearable again.

Or someone new comes to visit and the hugs start. Continue reading “The Healing Power of a Hug”