Monday, March 11, 2013


So this article from Psychology today is blowing my world open: Magnesium the cure for your crazy (my title, not theirs).

Granted the info is a couple of years old. But it has me seriously looking at adding magnesium to my diet, and yours. Everybody's.

More research awaits, but I got all excited and wanted to share. So take the time, read it through. Make your own decisions.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Quit Shoulding All Over the Place

Personally, I find a fast way to feel crazy is to look around at other people (like my sister, or the legislature) and the choices they are making and think either or both of the following:

"They shouldn't do that."
"They should do this."

Now I'm not advocating complacency in the face of injustice. I am saying wearing judgey pants is living in other people's business and not necessarily the best use of my time and energy. But it gets even better. I get extra neurotic when I get in the habit of shoulding all over myself.

"I should..." (and I'm not)
"I shouldn't..." (and I am)

It's a basic kindness we can do ourselves when we catch ourselves in the act of holding some one to standards that just aren't happening right now in reality. There's a difference between these two kinds of self talk:

A) I should floss.

B) Flossing is a good idea, I used to do it. I think I'm going to try again.

Do you see it? A is rooted in what's not happening and a super great gateway for feeling crap about yourself. B is much nicer and more supportive and might actually get you the outcome you're looking for.

Let's try it again:

A) My dad shouldn't be so friggin bossy and such a crap communicator when he's stressed. (Hi Papa!)

B) Oooh, he's being bossy and frustrating me. I wish that weren't happening right now.

I'm not saying go throw a switch and start doing B instead of A. I am however suggesting you notice when your thoughts fall in the A category and then try to revise to a B. It's just one small sanity inducing way to be kind to yourself and to others and can help you get a little space from an emotional reaction before it happens or even after it has happened for that matter.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Money & Lists

This one is for my sister who initially got me writing about my thoughts on how to navigate life recently. This is pretty much what I gave her and am now disseminating to the three of you who read this blog.

Well being isn't all about a happy healthy body. It's also about having a Logic Brain you trust to get things taken care of. Now I'm going to share my nerdy secrets for organization and sanity and maintenance of said Logic Brain.

I really like Leo Babauta's Zen Habits, so you’re going to see a lot of links back to his writing. And he has a lot of writing, so hopefully I’ve cherry picked for you. Lesson the first, change your mind-set about goals.

But still, it feels good to get things done and introduce new projects you feel excited about so here are some good starting places.

Getting Organized:

I love, as in ardently, David Allen's Getting Things Done for my work but not for my personal life. This Leo has put his own spin on it and a fair bit of it works for me. Yes I'm making you click all these links and do your own reading and your own thinking. Mostly because I don't even want to begin to pretend I thought of any of this on my own.

I do have a moleskine as suggested and I like it.  

I also like using Google Cal which is synced it to my iphone and laptop as well as Google Drive for managing bigger projects
both online and on my phone. This is not difficult I promise.

I tend to set MITs for the week rather than the day. Actually, sometimes I don't even do that. Sometimes I just pick the tasks that I think I'd feel best about getting done this week, regardless of whether or not it results in a particular outcome being achieved. But then other times I really go after and outcome or three.

My thinking here is once there’s an organizational system for your ideas, your stuff & your projects that you feel good about being in daily & weekly habits with then you’ll actually develop some faith that you can achieve the bigger stuff. Because bigger stuff is just a bunch of small things are squished together :)

As far as “lists” go, I like Projects (defined by David Allen as anything that requires more than one basic step) and Tasks (or Action Steps). For work my personal life I use ToDoist (yay FREE!)

My work responsabilities are very complex and I can’t have 400 projects (not exagerating) staring me in the face or I’ll melt down so I use Things. This application is a little too complex for my day to day. I have some very strong and clear opinions about an effective use of the application as I have watched two employees misuse it and had to sit them down and help them simplify it. If anyone wants follow up, I'm game. But for the purposes of this post it might be a bit of an obscure tangent. Which is all to say it works very well if you have a lot of different responsabilities and hundreds of open loops to keep track of.


Money is usually a key part of bigger projects (or, you know... goals...) and I feel like I spent a lot of time with Quicken, since I was 21 actually, just tracking my money and not really planning or strategizing with it. And if you aren't rolling in dough and are walking around with student loans, credit card debt, a lein or a mortgage like most of the nation you too need to get a handle on your relationship with debt and spending money.

I currently use this simple spreadsheet and it’s really helping me manage my budget (which I’ve had to reign in big time recently).

Again, our Zen fellow has some helpful pointers

I do currently use the envelope system which I have avoided because it seemed cumbersome, but money is such an issue for me right now I sucked it up and tried it. I’m finding it feels like a game. A game I'm almost winning.

ING used to have my online savings but they got bought out my CapitalOne who I really distrust based on negative experiences in the past, but I'm not here to complain about that. I’ve done my research and Ally has a strong rate and a great reputation. So I just opened up with them, it was a very simple process and no minimum was required.

Tracking the BIG STUFF (also known as goals)

A lot of this is already covered in all the links but if I had to break it all down I’d say it comes down to this:

1. Pick a BIG THING you want (ex: buy land, have baby, go to Timbuktu, etc.), define the project by it’s outcome.

2. Choose the very next task you need to do from where you are sitting in your chair right now in order to start moving in that direction (ex: brainstorm perfect land to buy). And once it’s done, check it off and put the next task in place (ex: research how much land costs in this particular area at this particular size). Just because a next task is there doesn’t mean you want to or are ready to do it but it’s holding it’s place.

3. Eventually you’re going to get to a task involving money and that’s why it’s nice to have all that other stuff in place.

4. Sometimes all we can do is wait while money grows and focus on other projects in the meantime. It’s ok to wait.

All right, those were my big broad strokes on how I manage details and money. It seems to be keeping me sane. I hope something in there added a new tool to your tool box. Maybe another time I'll do a piece on more money fun like savings and credit scores or IRA Roth accounts. Or Taxes. Because all of that sounds like great fun to read... or, no maybe I won't.

Friday, March 1, 2013


This is really more of a heart/head based post more lalala less adrenal glandy. Possibly even a touch of spirituality in there. You've been warned.

Grace is one of those words that gets thrown around a bit during hard times. By some anyway. Mostly it's a theological word calling on divine assistance. Some tie it to beauty and elegance in form or manner. That last one is actually in the dictionary. I think of grace as a kind of elegance in our ability to cope with hard things.

Personally, I see it as a three legged stool. The three legged stool of grace? Yeah, sure. Why not? Clearly it's a simplistic metaphor, but she's mine and I love her.  There's lots of three legged stool metaphors out there. You should really consider building your own, it's fun!

image credit: some other not very good blog that probably got it from clip art.

I suppose the point here is that I believe we can rest in grace, on grace, and we all carry something like this around with us to rest on as needed. I've noticed, for it to last with out too much wobble, or a full blown ass landing, three things need to be in place for me personally.

TANGENT: when looking for a three legged stool image I liked I came across this:
image credit: 
and this

image credit: I CAN'T FIND WHERE I GOT IT!!!
Which has me totally wondering if I can figure out how to get a milking metaphor going. I mean, did you know this was a thing? I don't milk anything, ever. I wasn't really sure why one would have a three legged stool to begin with when four legged ones work so well. And clearly these are working stools, not resting stools, so I may have really chosen a poor metaphor here. But I'm not sure what we would be milking exactly when we rest our butts on our grace stool, I mean it calls to mind all sorts of unfortunate images involving utters. I'm not quite sure I can stretch it that far but I wish I could. So milking stools. There ya go.

Back to just sitting on a three legged stool. Obviously, all three legs are equally important.

Gratitude for the Past

I'm not suggesting we relish pain and periods of intense strife. That we carry it around and celebrate the Hard that has happened. What I'm suggesting is a little more subtle than that.

-Is there something that has happened that I wish had not and I'm dwelling on it?
-Have I sat with this experience long enough to find a lesson in it that I can work with moving forward?
-If so, do I need to revisit that lesson and reconnect with it?

Or sometimes, maybe I just need to do a review of what has been going right lately and say thank you to the universe or myself or my mom or whoever.

Accept the Present
Simply put don't fight reality. Is there something happening that I wish were not happening right now? Yes? Well, guess what. Here it is. Happening. Doesn't mean I don't get to be scared, in fact I may feel very very scared. It doesn't mean I can't change what is happening (like leave the room if someone is yelling at you). But looking a hard thing in the face and saying,"You shouldn't be happening" isn't going to change anything. Sometimes, I say "Okay" as in "Okay, here you are, now what?"

Trust in the Future
I SUCK AT THIS. By far it is my weakest leg these days. I think it happens at a certain age. When you have to start thinking about IRAs and long and short-term disability insurance. We are a worried society and the easiest part of the time line to worry about is everything that hasn't happened yet. Really, the check in here is:

-Am I time traveling in my head and going to some possible scenario in the future and worrying about it?
-Am I certain this scenario going to happen?
-Am I taking steps in the present to help alleviate my fear of this possible outcome?

But mostly, it's just a moment of self-talk,"You've done what you can do Aurora, you take care of you and let life take care of itself."

Basically, if I'm struggling, aching and generally anxious or unhappy as hell that means that at least one of these three legs is not in working order. It's just what happens in our human skin with these human brains in this over-worked, over-taxed, over-stimulated society. For me, the stool is an assessment tool for determining where maybe my perspective needs a little maintenance. And frankly sometimes I don't have it in me to do maintenance. Sometimes it's enough to just say "Well it looks like I'm borrowing trouble from a future that isn't here yet today." Or "I'm hurting, I'm scared, I'm fighting what's happening today."

So, that's my stool. It's not a key to the meaning of life or anything, it just makes living in my skin a little easier. And let's me rest when I've been walking a long path.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Good news everyone! It turns out meditation is a sham! All those people sitting there with blissful empty minds are only PRETENDING to be better than us.

Fine. It's not a sham. But they aren't better then us. I promise. And their minds aren't empty. Or particularly blissful.

When you aren't meditating, meditation can seem foreign and feel like a waste of time. Admit it, even if you have a practice, from time to to time the extra 10 minutes of sleep wins out. Or that beer. Or walking the dog. Or TV. Or kissing. So many things to do instead of sit there!

Here's what this post is NOT:

-It is not a list of all the incorrect assumptions people have about meditation (but I bet those are really funny).
-It is not a list of even SOME of the various meditation practices out there.

There are LOTS of ways to meditate. I'm just going to tell you why it's important that you do and how I do it.

Why Do It:

Meditation, however you do it, is proving to have a whole host of benefits that come with it. Not just a kickass attitude in the face of hard days:

-It helps relieve chronic pain.
-It makes you better at relationships.
-The parts of your brain associated with stress get smaller and the parts of your brain associated with compassion and self-awareness get bigger. Harvard says so. Harvard doesn't lie.
-There are some studies that say that it affects HOW YOUR CELLS METABOLIZE.  I don't know what that means really, but it sounds super important.

Nerd moment: It's SOOOOO interesting to be alive in a time when we are able to poke around in the human brain and human body and witness the benefits of meditation (or prayer or yoga or whatever you do).

What I Do:

I try to sit every day. My friends who got me to start trying to meditate called it that. Just "sitting." It took the pressure off of. Worst case, if I sat there reviewing all the crap I hadn't dealt with on my to do list instead of "meditating," at least I successfully sat there.

So I try to sit every day for 10 minutes but usually I hit about 4- 5 days a week (fine sometimes it's 3). If I'm feeling particularly squirrely I'll just do 5 minutes. A good day has 20 minutes for me.

I sit in a chair, not one of those fancy cushions, because I like the back support, and I sit up straight. I keep my hands on my legs and I stare softly at the ground a little ways in front of me and I just breathe. Because Pema says to breathe. Yes, I practice mindfulness meditation as taught by Pema Chodron.

image credit:

I pay attention to every out breath by counting to 20 out breaths three times (60 in total) and then I stop counting and just notice the out breaths and I spend 10 minutes just noticing every time I find myself thinking. Which I do ALL THE TIME.

Pema stresses being kind to yourself when you notice that you are thinking. Don't treat it like a game of Buck Hunter and try to destroy every thought you notice. Just watch it drift on by or try to let it go so it can go away when you realize you're holding on to it.

My meditation practice has taught me how to recognize my split second feelings/thoughts that lead to more feelings and thoughts that make me crazy over the course of a day. Or night.

I've been using Insight Timer to track my progress and time my meditations for almost 2 years now and I really like it. Find me and you can be my Insight Timer friend :)

Where You Can Start:

If that's all too involved and meditation still seems like too much of a brain/time commitment, maybe try this instead:

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Sleep. I know too much about sleep coming from a people prone to insomnia. There's two different kinds of insomnia:

1) Not able to get to sleep to begin with
2) Waking up in the night and not getting back to sleep. Often times they like to hang out together.

And in my experience there's a few basic culprits:

-Booze to close to bed time.
-Stress (which we often go to #1 to alleviate).
-Caffeine too late in the day.

I'm sure there's more but those are the big three sleep eating monsters in my world.

Thanks to insomnia, and poor sleeping habits, many of us are walking around in a state of partial sleep deprivation (when you just aren't getting all of what you need). But if you really want to over achieve and say you are suffering "Complete Sleep Deprivation" all you have to do is go more than 17 hours with out sleep! It's just that easy. Many folks even qualify as having long-term partial sleep deprivation, when you go months to years (hello new parents) getting less than your "optimal" amount of sleep.

What Happens When You Don't Sleep:

So I am just going to go right on past the piles and piles and towering piles of research that says: you have to friggin sleep if you are going to have your physical health and want sound judgement. We're just gonna go ahead and agree that's true.

What? No? You need a little something? Ok, here are highlights from Harvard. Harvard did a great big series of studies and came back with the following (I can't link to this because I bought a report and Harvard threatens to break your fingers if you distribute it to more than just one person and I already blew my load on that - so here are my interpretations of what I read, no copyright infringement intended):

-Sleeping 4 hours a night for 6 days won their participants higher blood pressure, higher cortisol (remember cortisol and our good friends the adrenal glands?), a 50% reduction in flu antibodies and signs of insulin resistance (which is a good way to get to diabetes).

-Over the course of two weeks, sleeping 4 or 6 hours a night gets some interesting results. Reaction times are almost the same as if you go three days with out sleeping. THREE DAYS. Memory plummets and the ability to solve problems in general all go to the equivalent of TWO days of sleep deprivation. And more over the study showed that we are just not capable of gauging just how tired we are. Like a drunk person being incapable of knowing how drunk they are.

-24 hours of being awake (and if you're paying attention you can see that partial sleep deprivation eventually adds up to the same thing) has the same detrmimental effects on driving as that of a blood alcohol content of .10%. That's a DUI in most states, people.

Then we've got another nifty cycle that acts up around sleep deprivation:

I don't sleep = I get more hungry than usual = Calorie intake goes up = Obesity increases
I don't sleep = I'm more tired = I burn fewer calories due to fatigue = Obesity increases

And I think we're all starting to learn about the health issues that come with obesity. I'll save that for another day.

Other fun side effects from sleep deprivation include:

-Viruses come make themselves at home.
-Heart disease can too.
-Mental illness takes an uptick.
-Sleep Debt piles up.

Sleep Debt? What the hell is sleep debt? Good question.

Sleep Debt:

Your body is a creditor, bet you didn't know. Let's say your personal sweet spot for sleep is 8 hours and one night you rock some insomnia one night and come away with 4 hours of sleep on a Sunday. Your body is all, "Hey, that's cool. I'll loan you this energy to get you through the day on just 4 hours, but you owe me that 4 back over the course of the next week. But I'll be really nice about it and as long as it's a good solid 2 I'm happy."

But you flake on your body and maybe get an additional 1 Monday night making a total of 9 but then you do another 8 on Tuesday and then Wednesday you come in at 5 and now you're in the hole for 3 more hours. And it piles up my friends. It piles up. And suddenly you're in so much debt the creditors have taken away your ability to drive a car and threatens to break your knees. Wait, maybe that means your body is a loan shark. Do not piss your body off, as you can tell from the effect of sleep deprivation listed above, it will come for you. Yes, definitely a loan shark.

So let's go to sleep and stay there for a good 7 - 9 hours. For weeks on end, shall we?

Sleep Rehabilitation:

Mercifully, paying back the loan shark is relatively simple if you don't have an imbalance in your brain or body that requires all sorts of support that you shouldn't be looking for in a blog. Sadly, it means doing things you clearly don't want to do otherwise you'd already be doing them.

Reduce your daily stimulants - No coffee after noon! Also, the refined sugar is a good way to wake up in the night or have a hard time getting to sleep, so save it for the middle of the day if it's a must (which let's face it, sometimes it is). I bet all caffeine falls in this category. So all you yerba mate lovers, this means you too. And lay off the friggin cigarettes. SO nasty.

Keep it dark and quiet - Get your TV out of the bed, your cell phone too. Or whatever. Stop exposing your eyes to artificial light around sleepytime. This means curtains over the windows, DARK ones, that close out light and an alarm clock that doesn't light up the room in anyway. Maybe a white noise making thing like a fan if you're in a noisy neighborhood. But seriously, we all need to stop watching TV in bed. Bed, in my opinion is for three primary things: sleep, sex and snuggling. Fine, read a book, but you better snuggle it later.

Get in to a bed time routine - This is especially pertinent if you keep strange hours and are going to sleep at erratic times. According to this fantastic book:
image credit: tattered cover

There are two basic circadian rhythms you can have when it comes to sleep, Night Owl or Morning Lark. Make no mistake, you are one of them. I would quote an excerpt from the book right here that's all detailed and educational but I loaned it out.

The point is your brain functions better at certain times of day depending on your sleeping category. The Night Owl functions better staying up later and going to sleep closer to the first hours of the day and the Morning Lark goes to sleep in the evening.

Fun fact: you have no control over this, it might be genetically determined and you might not even get it directly from your parents so it is perfectly possible for a couple of Night Owls to be stuck raising a Morning Lark.  Sleep how you are and keep it on a routine as best you can. Because regardless of when your body prefers to sleep we all need similar things from our sleep, duration, quality, etc.

Back to the routine. For some this means sitting down and clearing your head with lists at some point in the evening so your anxious brain knows you're taking care of business and doesn't nudge you awake. For others it means bath time and tea and a book. Maybe for you it's just brushing your teeth and washing your face. But figure out the routine you want. Do it every night and get in to bed as close to the same time each night (or morning) as possible even on your days off.

Two hours between booze & bed - Yep, that's pretty much it. Give your body time to process instead of waking you up saying, "I'm done! Aren't I a good liver?"

Do drugs* - Not really. I recommend Kava tea for a muscle relaxant (chamomile does NOT cut it for me) but don't do it every night. Much like drinking every night it'll tucker out the liver. In addition I recommend Valerian tincture, two dropper fulls before bed and once if I wake up, does a good job getting the lights out when I need additional support. If I'm really hard up I'll also throw in some Melatonin. Especially if I've been on edge and suspect I might be staring at the ceiling instead of falling asleep.

*Again, I am Professional Nothing in this field. It's just what works for me.

Belly Breathing - If stress is the culprit, I find it helps especially when you combine it with rolling your eyes into the back of your head. Sounds weird, but it's true. The eye rolling can actually trick the body into thinking it's time to sleep because our eyes actually roll back when we fall asleep and our bodies can get confused and try to catch up (ha ha stupid body!). There are other relaxation exercises out there, like visualizations or sex - yes I said that, but the breathing plus the eye rolling is fast and dirty and gets the job done for me.

Exercise - Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Who has the time when there's beer to drink!? It makes a difference though. Opinions differ on what, how often and how long and how hard. I say if it makes your body feel better do whatever works. Just do it. REGULARLY.

Well, that's my dissertation on sleep. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Today has been a bit of an ass hat. I was going to post this tomorrow, shooting for an every three days sorta thing, but since my own adrenals are extra crispy right now (Dr. P refers to my left one as a flat tire) I thought I'd just go for it.

Let's talk adrenal glands. Truly, this is one of my all time favorite soapboxes to stand on.

Mostly because it was an incredibly hard earned lesson back from my days in the throws of social services administration.

So. Your adrenal glands are these nifty little thumb sized bits sitting on the top of each kidney, like so:

They are there to assist you in your survival. As in: LOOK A BIG SNAKE AT MY FEET! And all of the sudden you're on the other side of the road 400 feet away from said snake with no recollection how you got there.

They do this by creating a cocktail of cortisol, adrenaline, testosterone and some other fancy chemicals and hormones (for our very simplistic purposes, I'm going to totally miseducate you and just call it adrenaline) and pumping it into your system. When the "adrenaline" hits you, senses are heightened and reaction times are increased. You become momentarily super human. Not really, but you get the point I think.

After the snake is escaped and your system is flooded with "adrenaline" it takes about 45 minutes for the body to chill out again. Note: if you're having a fight with someone the same flooding can happen and it might not be a bad idea to take a 45 minute break before attempting a rational conversation.

What's supposed to happen is these adrenal glands then recharge and fill back up with all that handy "adrenaline."

There in lies the rub.

If you are stressed by work, by your kid, by too much coffee coursing through your veins, by an alarmist environment where everything feels like an emergency, then the little guys don't really get a chance to fully recharge because they blow their load again and again at every little thing. They start out helping you cope with stress by putting out "adrenaline" at a 100%.  But while the are recharging something comes up and maybe they only get to 80% the next time they have to do their thing. Or maybe they only recharge to 5% and then you're trying to cope with all of your stress on only 5% of the expected output form your adrenal glands. (These numbers are totally made up metaphors I have no idea how these things are measured).

So then they are firing off at a perceived survival emergency with only 5% because they aren't getting the chance to recharge to 100%.  Basically, our animal bodies are not that smart. They haven't caught up with the fact that every little interruption from our cell phones and our boss and our kids is not necessarily something to jump up and pay life-or-death attention to. Clearly, adrenal fatigue is one way our bodies struggle with our society and modern day realities. Social workers, I'm talking to you.

Side note ladies: If your adrenals are overly enthusiastic they can pile on the testosterone as well. Which is not to say you then become the Hulk. But testosterone has a fancy way of turning into estrogen and then you go from having an excess of testosterone to an excess of estrogen. Which, to my understanding, is one of those danger zone precursors to various illnesses including some forms of cancer.

You might be wondering, "How do I know if I've got tired adrenal glands?" I find this list of symptoms to be accurate for myself and others in my life who have reported the same:

-Every little damn thing is stressing you out.
-When you do get stressed it feels big and loud and hard.
-You tremble easily in response to stress.
-Shallow rapid breathing.

Your body is going to give you other signs too. But in my opinion, if you do internet heresay research on this you come back with a list of symptoms that can be rooted in a lot of things and generally means your body is over stressed and not getting enough of a lot of different kinds of support. For a long list of ways to worry, I like these folks.

The adrenal glands are gate keepers of a sort. When you blow them out your body starts coming up with creative ways to cope with stress, like gaining weight, losing sleep and taxing other organs. So it's in your best interest to take good care of them.

The care and feeding of your adrenal glands:

"I think my adrenals are pretty okay, thanks anyway." If this is you, then I suggest just staying on top of your excellent sleeping habits, clearly you meditate, so keep that up. And you have some kind of fantastic diet providing you all the nutrients happy healthy adrenal glands need. Also you don't drink coffee, so good for you!

"Hey, yeah. I think I could use a little something, I'm not coping with stress the best these days and they might be getting pooped. And there's no way in hell I'm giving up coffee ever, so just shut up about that already." If this is you, then you and I have a lot in common. We both need to reduce the stimulants, like sugar and caffeine. We need to move our bodies more every day. We need to stay on top of healthy sleeping behavior (Oh MAN, now I have to write one on sleep, great). We should keep rescue remedy on hand and take a supplement dedicated to helping those adrenal glands recharge and we should take it every day religiously. Possibly multiple times a day. I like this one. But I'm not a naturopath or nutritionist and haven't done a lot of research, it's just what works for me. Well, that is until I blow them so far out they need more help than daily maintenance. See: snarky comment from the naturopath mentioned at the start of this post.

"I have debilitating stress. Not entirely sure how I'm getting through the day." If this is you, get thee to a therapist, an MD and a naturopath or a nutritionist or a acupuncturist and stop looking for solutions in some random lady's ramblings about her opinions. But if you want an immediate aid while you are waiting for you appointments, I suggest bovine based adrenal support. It's not a solution. And depending on how fatigued your adrenal glands are it might not make a dent. But, hell, it's something to try and we've all been there when just trying something else feels better than nothing.

Well, that's my Adrenal Gland Soap Box. Thanks for listening and don't forget to thank your adrenal glands.

image credits: Woman standing on soapbox in IWW demonstration, Labadie Collection, Mayo Clinic