Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Can moving cause your brain to shrink?

Anyone who has relocated knows that a move is a very stressful event. The process can leave you feeling isolated and lonely, possibly experiencing depression or anxiety. When I moved across the country to Calgary last year, I was very lonely. Reading Lonely by Emily White drew my attention to the cognitive effects of loneliness that I was experiencing but had not associated with my loneliness.

My eyes were drawn to a recent article titled " Stress may cause brain to shrink".  The article detailed a Yale University study where researchers found that stressful life events can reduce the grey matter in regions of the brain that regulate emotions and physiological functions. Looking at MRIs, the researchers found brain changes soon after stressful events such as a hard day at work, a fight with a spouse. They did not mention a move, yet the impact of that is much longer.

Now, almost a year into my relocation I am feeling settled and engaged in my new life. So I am hoping my brain is no longer shrinking! I do wish they had tested to see if the impacts were temporary. Research show that stress hormones tend to increase waist size and now I read decrease brain size- if only the reverse were true.

If you have relocated, how long did it take you to feel like you were settled in and did you notice any cognitive or emotional  differences between those two states?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Connecting across the miles, and the years

When you move across the country from friends and families, it is a challenge to stay connected. The three-hour, time difference makes it difficult to connect in real time either by phone or a newer technology like skype.

There is the convenience of email which allows you to read and respond when convenient at your end. The speed of this is addictive. Yet, my children delight to receive letters in the post. No doubt novelty is a factor in the hand-clapping glee with which they receive the news, "you have a letter."

And so it was yesterday when my son received a letter from my dad, his favourite person in the world. In the letter was a newspaper article Grampie knew he'd be interested in (and Grampie is on side with me encouraging my reluctant reader to read- thanks Grampie!). In addition, was a handwritten note from Grampie. Since I know this is a rarity, I was thrilled until I saw my son's face fall as he realised he could not read this cursive writing.

In our school system, at least in my children's experience, reading and writing cursive is a lost art. Hence, a lost connection with the previous generations. Thankfully, our grandparents are using the new technologies so we can stay connected.

 It made me nostalgic for all the great letters I have received in my life, and that thrill of recognising simply from the handwriting who the sender is. When I first moved across the country years ago, a friend and I corresponded almost daily- yes the letters passed each other in transit, but this commitment to friendship helped me navigate my new city without feeling I had lost connection to the old. It was a like a shared journal of our lives and that bag of letters has been read a few times.

 I never find myself sitting and rereading emails- they seem so much more transitory in nature. I have spent many hours rereading "real" letters whose connection seems more solid to me.

Does anyone else miss letter writing?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

YA Author I am currently reading

I started reading Junior and Young Adult novels as a way to preview books for my children. One of my children is a reluctant  reader, so my hunt for great material is doubly important. I cringe when I hear, "I don't like reading." My comeback is always, you have not found the right book yet.

A friend introduced me to the work of award-winning, Canadian author Valerie Sherrard and I am hooked. Above is a sample of some of her books. Having fostered over 70 teens in her home and run a group home for teens, this woman "gets" teens and their issues. Her writing respects their viewpoint and her characters feel real.

I read aloud to my daughter, her Junior novel Tumbleweed Skies and confess I cried through most of the latter part of the book. It had an Anne of Green Gables-feel that I adored.

I just finished reading three of her Shelby Belgarden mysteries that I gave my daughter for Christmas. The author now lives in my home city of Miramichi, so I felt a sense of connection with the setting, although it is not necessarily Miramichi. Speechless was another engaging Sherrard novel that I read but the topic was a bit harsh for my sheltered pre-teen, so it is on her shelf for future reading.

Next up are Sam's Light and Kate, which I found in the bargain bin at the local Chapter's store. I'm curious if other readers go on an author binge once they discover an author they enjoy.

And I'm always happy to hear recommendations.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Calgary plans active communities well

After a week of hibernating to escape the biter cold, we ventured to our local lake which transforms its activities according to the season. While the rest of my family zoomed down the sliding hill, I soaked in the joy of skating around the lake. As I glided along greeting many other smiling faces (both young and old), I felt  gratitude for planners who built such jewels in a city. It brought back many happy memories of skating as a child and teen. In the small town where I grew up the outdoor skating rink was a social centre.

We relocated to this bigger city of Calgary almost a year ago and I am pleased to say that our quality of life has remained. My husband has a five- kilometre commute to work, much shorter in fact than when we lived in a small, New Brunswick town. Across the street from us we have access to swimming and playgrounds in the summer and sliding and skating in winter.

On sunny, warm winter days like yesterday it is easy to embrace winter. This week, I plan to skate as much as I can- the gym will be still be waiting for me next week. In Calgary you never know how long the nice weather will last.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Where have all the manners gone?

My son commented the other day that he found some children at his school "not kind." His choice of words intrigued me. When I probed a bit, the examples led to me to classify the behaviours as bad manners. And it is not only children who seem to have lost some of the social graces, if signage at Calgary businesses is any indication. Since I moved to Calgary, I have seen posters asking people to behave respectfully at the DMV, hospitals and even our private community association. Sadly, I thought if you were old enough to read such signs, no one would need to correct your manners.

 Before the holidays, I had my children give the bus driver a bag of homemade treats. My son bluntly asked, "why would I want to give her a treat when she is not kind?"
I suggested that if we bestowed kindness on her, it might encourage her to behave more kindly. We arrived at the bus stop and another boy also had a gift bag. I said, "Oh a present for the teacher?" He said, glumly, "No my mother made me bring something for the bus driver, but I do not know why, as she is not nice."

When I encounter the signs requesting politeness, it reminds me how important those social behaviours are. I figure if my family is extra polite maybe some other will follow suit.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

What are you doing with your precious minutes today?

We all have 1,440 minutes each day, or really 960 as we do have to sleep after all. But just seeing that huge number makes me consider what I am using my precious minutes for.

As a mother, many of those minutes are spent caring for others, but how many are minutes spent in self care or self reflection? Not enough.

As a yoga teacher I know meditation is good for me, yet I struggle to make time to sit and be. Simply sitting still is a challenge for me. Today when I read on a website about how many minutes we are given in a day, I thought surely I can take a few of those minutes every day and meditate.

I think we often  postpone certain activities we would like to do as we think we need huge blocks of time. But what if we began with one minute, five minutes, ten minutes and just let that be enough?

What are you choosing to do with your precious minutes today? I am off to sit on my meditation pillow, for just a few minutes today and see what that adds to my day.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Procrastinating at the pumps does not pay off

You would think having lived my entire life in Canada I would remember to keep the gas tank topped up in winter months. Apparently the spring-like weather we had been enjoying thawed my brain a bit.

Today, the thermometer dipped to -26, with snow crystals  in Calgary. BRRR. I was one of the poor planners who paid the price by shivering as I filled up. Made me miss those full service gas stations and parcel pick up at the grocery stores.

Do they still exist anywhere?

Friday, 13 January 2012

And Then it Happened Author Visits Calgary

I was thrilled to hear that Michael Wade, coauthor of the "and Then it Happened" books is visiting some Calgary schools. Unfortunately he is not at my child's school so I cannot sneak in to hear his presentation.

Aimed at readers grades 3-6, this series follows the hilarious adventures (or is that misadventures?) of three friends, Gordon, Paulo & I (who is never named).  Another volunteer librarian introduced me to this series a few years ago and I began reading them aloud to my children. Let me say, they are not just for kids. I do not know if anyone can read them without chuckling.

Back in NB I used to read to my daughter's class and it was a delight to see Grade 5 boys clapping their hands when they saw what I was going to read. Now that is a powerful endorsement.

If you have a reluctant reader in your house, or are simply looking for some fun, family reading, I highly recommend this series. Each book and chapter is a stand alone story, but the hilarity is heightened when you read them in sequence as these boys do not learn from past calamities!


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Smells trigger emotional memories

photo: Ruth Skiffington

As marketers know when they pipe smells into the mall, our olfactory sense evokes power emotional reactions. Walking this afternoon with my son, I took a deep breath, inhaling in the aroma of horse. What a treat to live in a big city, yet be so close to nature that we sometimes smell the scents from Spruce Meadows, Calgary's world-class, show jumping facility.

Apparently not everyone has a fond feeling for the aroma - I glanced at my son and he had his nose plugged in distaste! When the winds carry the horse scent to our neighbourhood, I feel happy as it transports me back to childhood and many fond memories of my friend's family horses; riding and cleaning them. When she visited the last time we lived here, we toured Spruce Meadows.

This summer we attended an event at Spruce Meadows where we saw these great creatures and the amazing feats of which they are capable.

photo: Ruth Skiffington

What smells transport you to a pleasant emotional memory?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Kudos to Calgary schools for banning junk food

Although I prefer educating people to make wise choices as opposed to banning undesirable behaviours or choices, I was pleased to see the Calgary Board of Education begin their ban on junk food in schools this week.

You do not have to be a nutritionist to know that a well-fed brain learns better.  Before the new guidelines began there was concern among the school volunteers I interact with about how we could still make special occasions "fun" with the new rules. It always interests me that we attach sugary treats to special occasions. Hopefully, this new policy will force us to be more creative in making healthy choices celebratory as well as a part of daily eating.

Now, if we could only get the elementary schools here (not all school do this) to let children eat their snacks inside. It goes against my idea of how to teach healthy, eating habits when you make children grab a snack and wolf it down as they run around the playground. It seems like a training ground for a drive- thru generation.

Mindful eating is essential to healthy eating. This outdoor eating is also not highly compatible with my desire to provide litter-less lunches as the children have no place to put their returnable containers. Imagine how much you would enjoy your snack in -20 weather.

Yet all long journeys begin with a single step. So kudos for this first step in Calgary schools.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Rememeber to breathe in the beauty around you

Yesterday I met a friend for tea in a small hamlet just outside the city limits. It was a sunny, blue-sky day. The vastness and personality of the Alberta sky still catches me by surprise. Truly, I felt the desire to breathe in that beauty and sense of openness. I hope I remain aware of that beauty that surrounds my new home and do not ever take it for granted.

It reminded me of Tourism Alberta's campaign.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Diabetes Support

An interesting way to show support.

New Year, new books await

Last night I had children organised for the return to school and was looking forward to returning to routine today. Alas, the blood sugar gods were not pleased and I was up all night battling high blood sugar with my son. His levels were in that worrisome range where going to the hospital might have been in the cards. So I did not trust myself to sleep between the hourly checks.

Thankfully, on my bedside table was this book, "Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson. It is a mystery romance combination that delves into the world of amnesia. A fitting title on a night that sleep was not possible, and a page-turning novel that kept me awake and alert on diabetes watch.

"Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Welcome to Christine's life. Interesting premise is it not?

This fast paced read has me hungry to start a new book. Once again I am reminded of how books have comforted and sustained me in a multitude of scenarios throughout my life.

The new year means many new titles to explore. What titles are you excited to have read or have on your to read list?