Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's - Looking Back

Image: Pedja Mi.
About a month ago, an eighty-three year old family member and I were discussing her most recent health issues.

"Whatever happens, I've had a good long life," she said. 

Sadly, those words were part of the last conversation I had with her. She passed away just before Christmas.

I've been thinking about what she said, ever since. 

You may think this is a strange way to begin a new year, but I hope that her words will inspire you, as they have me.

As 2012 stretches, awakens and gets up, can you say that you've had a good life? If you hesitate to answer in the affirmative, take heart, all is not lost. Each day is a gift for you to do something differently, to learn something new, or to simply enjoy and give thanks for what you have.

What small, incremental and consistent changes can you make to allow you to not only survive, but to thrive? 

To help you get clear, you may wish to check out last year's post: A Quick Year Planning Exercise - Stop! Start! Continue...

Health. Finances. Work. Relationships. Recreation. Look at each of these areas separately. Are you able to apply the "good life" statement to it? Perhaps only one area is causing you grief, but it casts shadows over the others, colouring your perspective. 

The good thing about perspective is that it can be changed. 

How? By learning and practising stress transformation techniques. These techniques bring about subtle, yet profound changes in many areas of your life.

It's never too late to change the course of your life. What would it feel like to be able to say, "I've had a good life,"?

I wish you a Happy New Year - one that is just right for you!

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's in the Spirit

Last week, on CBC's Passionate Eye, I had the pleasure of watching a documentary, Becoming Santa.

Jack Sanderson, a.k.a. Santa, even has a Twitter account. However, I think he may be far too busy at this time of year to be tweeting his Santa thoughts and impressions.

As the film rolls on, you witness him growing into his larger-than-life role. He is everything a Santa should be; not only in looks, but also in personality and persona.

This documentary is about more than the commercial frenzy that signifies this season. It's about honesty, the sharing of secrets and the wonder and kindness of a larger-than-life myth that represents hope and possibilities.

It is obvious that by the end of the film, Jack feels it, too.

However you are celebrating this holiday season, may it be one that is filled with safe travels, booming laughter and joyful memories. Merry Christmas!

Wish on stars 
 Take time for wonder 
Enjoy a beautiful, peaceful holiday season! 
~Author Unknown

Image: Ilco

Quicksand of Feelings

Image courtesy of mn-que
I was thrashing about in an emotional pit of quicksand. As I wildly kicked at feelings of depression, annoyance, frustration and hurt, I sank deeper into the sludge of negative emotions.

In September, I enthusiastically and whole-heartedly began a year-long blogging project. On A Rheumful of Tips, I share an assortment of tips, tricks, techniques and strategies that document how I've moved through thirty-four years of living life with rheumatoid arthritis.

By providing an intimate look at how I live with this disease, my goal is to inspire people to live their life well, in spite of a devastating diagnosis. 

It sounds good so far, right?

You see, I was getting mired by things over which I had little or no control. 

Before I go on, I'd like to share a definition of stress with which I like to work. Then, I'll explain how I used it as a "big stick" to help me move onto solid ground.

Stress is your interpretation of external events that causes internal distortion or strain. How you feel determines whether or not the stress response is triggered - a cascade of fourteen-hundred chemicals that flood your body, prepping it for flight, fight or freeze. By learning to treat the cause of your stress, not just the symptoms, you can transform our stress.

Problem
I was getting bogged down (internal strain) by my interpretation of what I thought should be happening with my blog by this point in time. My readership was something over which I had no control (an external event). 

Fortunately, I soon recognized that I was feeling disappointment. I was doing the best I could by sharing a part of my life that I don't typically discuss in such detail - three-hundred and sixty-five days worth of details! I was condensing thirty-four years of my life into one year. It seemed that my common-sense strategies for living with a disease that is debilitating wasn't of much interest to many people.

Hurt Solution
Quit! After all, I know these strategies, so why spend so much time blogging about them, if it doesn't matter?

Heart Solution
Undress my stress! I did a heart-based stress technique that helps to bring the nervous system back into balance. This then enabled me to make a better and more informed decision - one that was not made from the position of stress. In my case, the negative emotions I felt - disappointment, frustration, hurt - only contributed to more of the same. I was up to my neck in it!

I gained several insights from doing the technique: 
  1. Continue on with A Rheumful of Tips because I am helping the readers I do have. 
  2. It takes time to gain a readership.
  3. Recognize that I am in over-care, which impacts the quality of my writing. 
Now, you may be thinking that these are common-sense solutions. Indeed they are! Remember, that stinkin' stress thinkin' often results in far-from-common-sense self-talk.

Your turn
Are you able to recall examples of when your stinkin' stress thinkin' caused you to sink even deeper in the pit of despair? What changed it for you?

Please note that Blogger is experiencing some sort of comment hitch. If you have left a comment and it doesn't appear, please let me know via email.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Does Your Marriage Have A Flat Tire?

Image courtesy of Petr Kovar

Whether it's a new romance or one that has rolled easily along, life has a way of creating break-downs. Those break-downs could be as quick as a blow-out or could be like a slow leak. Regardless, both have the same result over time - a flat tire or a flat relationship.

Very few people drive around without a spare tire in their car. In fact, they may be better-prepared for a flat tire than they are for relationship break-downs.

Your married life can change in a heartbeat. Serious illness. Job loss. Relocation. Increased work load. Unexpected bills. Troubled children. Family issues. All of these events can put even the soundest of relationships to the test.

Without adequate tools and techniques, the stress that results from these pressures continue to wreck havoc, both externally and internally. Each bout of negative thinking results in a cascade of 1400 chemical changes, which affect you in the short and long-term.

Externally, there may be an increased incidence of addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, etc.). Communication breaks down and people may choose to withdraw in order to cope. Or, the number of arguments grow. In either case, intimacy suffers.

Internal changes include changes in sleep patterns, digestive upset, irritability, loss of memory. Stress has a connection to a number of serious illnesses. Over time, it may lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and immune and fertility issues.

Stress is defined as your internal interpretation of events that leads to internal strain. If your marriage is developing or has a “flat tire,” one of the best things you can for yourself is to ensure that you have tools and techniques in place to transform your stress. This allows you to look after your emotional, physical and mental health, and get back on the road, whichever one it may be, faster and with more ease.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Stress Doing to You?

It's not "just stress". There's nothing "just" about the impact that stress has on you and your family.

Empower yourself with tools and techniques that treat the cause of your stress and not just the symptoms. 

If you're ready for results, please email or visit my website.

* Why not put a gift certificate from Auntie Stress - that's me - on your gift list? Either to give or to receive.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Grateful for these Fine American Folks

In Canada, we celebrate our Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. For more information on this, please visit the Canadian Heritage site or Wikipedia.

A visit to Twitter and it doesn't take long to realize just how BIG the Thanksgiving holiday is for our neighbours to the south.

In honour of American Thanksgiving, I'd like to devote this post to giving thanks:

1. To Twitter, for without this medium, I would not be writing this post.

2. To the following Americans who have, through their friendship, impacted me:

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter - As I once tweeted, Texas got another star when she moved there. Jacqui is gracious, generous and caring. One of her gifts is her ability to paint a picture with words - crafting a story that is personal, instructive and entertaining.

Carol Dunn - I am impressed with the depth of her concern for the well-being of others. I have pleasant memories of our time spent working together. Diffability is my salute to her.

Conrad Hake - I'm not sure if Conrad realizes the impact he had on me when he invited me to be a part of the Loose Bloggers Consortium. Delighted, encouraged, honoured and yes, even uncertain - how could I keep up with such skilled bloggers?

Conrad has the ability to make you act, cry, engage, laugh, think and reflect, and of course, write. Here is a post that caused me to do all that!

Steve Finikiotis - We haven't "spoken" much of late, but the "conversations" we have had have been meaningful to me. On his blog, Touchpoints, Steve enlightens us with his vast experience of working with cultures from distant shores.

Beth Havey - In Twitter-time, Beth is new to me. I hope I'm correct in saying that we're part of the "Mutual Admiration Society"! :) I am always learning something new on her blog, Boomer Highway.

Kayt Hoch - Although Kayt is no longer visible on Twitter, she is not forgotten. She unearthed the poets within the Twitter community with her daily poetry prompts that made it safe to take poetic risks and make them public. To read more of her positive influence: Playing with the Big Kids and Poetry Pollination.

G. L. Hoffman - He no longer has a Twitter account, but you can find out more about his adVentures on his blog, What Would Dad Say. His invite to write a guest post provided me with a powerful reminder. You can read about that on  Reverberational Effect.

I am also grateful for his generosity in sharing resources. You do know what I mean, right G.L.?

Rob Longert - We've shared a few tweets and a couple of emails. Rob's interest in getting and staying healthy is generously shared on his blog called Fit City.

I am grateful for his meaningful testimonial on LinkedIn.

Dorlee M. - Considerate. Courageous. Curious. Unselfish. Her tweets and blog are a reflection of her spirit.

Casper McFadden - This friendly and multi-talented ghost is quick to make an appearance when support is needed.

If you're so lucky to have this ghost in your court | @CasperMcFadden is one terrific good sport | Level-headed and oh, so smart! | This one's got a great big heart!

Rose Pena - I was inspired to write a post entitled Forgifting Yourself after Rose shared her family history with me. Thank you.

Zebra Finch - Despite on-going health challenges, Zebra Finch is a relentless advocate for those who don't have a voice. A generous nature - a big heart!

These are people with whom I've had the pleasure of speaking, sharing, learning, laughing, crying, caring. I may not regularly communicate with them, but I want them to know that they occupy real estate on my heart.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thank you for your friendship.

May your table be filled with food, your heart full of love, and your home a safe haven where good memories are made. Happy Thanksgiving!

Appreciation to Cecile Graat for the image.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your Toe-Tappin', Time-Keepin' Heart

Image: Christian Ferrari
Blue Rodeo has been a favourite of mine ever since I first heard them in the eighties. I love them -  as a friend of ours would say - enthusiastically, unequivocally and wholeheartedly!

We had the pleasure of attending one of their yearly under-the-stars concerts in Malkin Bowl. Even the moon made a spectacular attendance on that warm September night in Stanley Park.

The playlist included all those Blue Rodeo tunes that have created a decades and generations long fan base. The songs are singable, danceable, memorable and memory-tickling; just hearing a song such as Five Days in May instantly transports me back to another time when I had fewer miles under my feet.

As I watched, sang, danced and swayed to all those Blue Rodeo favourites, I caught myself doing something that I don't usually do when I attend a concert.

Music
I was looking for entrainment, which is what occurs when organisms synchronize their rhythms to the rhythms that are produced by another organism. At times, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and Colin Cripps may have started out tapping opposite feet or either swaying left or right in time to the music. However, a few bars in, and their movements became synchronized, almost as if there had been a choreographer hiding off to the side, whispering get-it-together instructions.

Evidence of entrainment was found within the audience. You could see it occur during the songs, as row upon row of fans sang and swayed in time with the music, and with one another. Also, you could hear it at end of each song, when the applause changed from a disparate sound of clapping to a more unified and rhythmical sound.

Image: Doug Brown
History
During the seventeenth century, Christian Huygens, a Dutch scientist, made an important discovery about synchronization. He noticed that when set in motion, the pendulums of two clocks, suspended from a beam, would eventually synchronize and be heard at the same time. Even when the clocks were stopped and started again, they would soon resume the same rhythm.

Nature
Next time you take a walk through a farmer's field at dusk, listen for the synchronized crkcrkcrk sound - known as stridulation - that is made by crickets. Entrainment in nature.

Brain
Brainwaves have been classified into five categories based upon their electrical activity, which is measured in cycles per second (Hertz). Alpha, beta, delta, gamma and theta are identifiable by their frequencies. Your brain will shift through these states, dependent upon the task, much like you shift gears in a car with a manual transmission. Currently, there are a number of programs on the market which aim to entrain the brain, using auditory, and/or visual stimuli that will help the user balance the brain in order to achieve a more desirable state of being.

Women
As I was writing this post, I thought of another example of entrainment. In fact, you may be familiar with it if you share a household with a number of women. The menstrual cycles of women who live in close proximity (think university dorm) have a tendency to synchronize.

Stress
When you regularly undress your stress, entrainment occurs with many of your bodily systems. It can be equated to that regular tune-up you get for your car - afterwards, it runs better and more efficiently because all parts are working well together, as intended.

Heart, respiratory system, heart rate variability, blood pressure rhythms. What would it mean to your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health if you could synchronize these systems? Rather than "outsourcing", you can do some "insourcing" with a unique set of techniques and tools that empower you to live a better life.

In five one-hour sessions, learn how to address the cause of stress, simply by using that great "rhythm-master" - your heart!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Burnt Pot = Another Stress Lesson

I set the rice to boil, while I quickly went to edit a post on my new blog - A Rheumful of Tips. I was so engrossed with what I was doing that I forgot about the rice.

As you can see in the picture, I made quite a mess of the pot.


I could scrub and sweat and scrub some more, all in an effort to get that pot clean.

Instead, I used a trick my mom taught me.


Let denture cleaners do the work!

I'll bet you're wondering how I'm going to tie this in with stress.

Are you vigorously trying to scrub that stress away? In stress transformation, you're allowing, your heart to do the work.

Do you recall those times when you were in-the-flow? When answers came easily to you? When you slept soundly? When you felt a great sense of inner- strength?

Those are times when your heart sent messages of well-being to your brain, rather than releasing chemicals that trigger the stress response - that famous flight, fight or freeze response.

Learn and practise changing the way you think and feel so you change the way you think and feel.

How? Maybe this will help you remember the keys to stress transformation:

  • Awareness - if you don't know that the pot is burnt, you won't clean it. In stress, if you're not aware that you are frequently engaging in negative thinking and feeling, you won't know that you need to change it.
  • Knowledge - use tools and techniques that make it easier to scrub that pot. I can teach you how stress impacts your life and how to transform it using educational technology that shows you in real-time how your heart responds to how you think and feel.
  • Practice - no one wants to burn a pot just to practise cleaning it. Nor does anyone want more stress in order to practise transforming it. However, learning to change the way you think and feel is a skill. Learn the skill and your heart will take care of the rest - just like those denture cleaners did on my burnt pot!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Celebrations = Stress Transformation

I often have trouble hearing, especially if someone is speaking to me from behind. These new hearing aids of mine are performing well. Please read on to discover why.

Behind me, at the Olive Garden in Bellingham, there was a commotion of a celebratory nature. A couple was having lunch in honour of their seventieth (Yes, that is 7 - 0! ) anniversary. The staff, upon learning of this monumental milestone, poured out the compliments with the same amount of attention they provide when they wait on tables. To put the icing on the anniversary cake, the manager, Kara Mech, informed the couple that their meal was on the house, which was a complete and pleasant surprise to them. (If my hearing aids served me right!)

Image: Fleur Suijten
When I turned around to offer my congratulations to the couple, the woman told me that they had married young, and proceeded to describe their double wedding ceremony.

It was a touching moment on so many levels. The length of time that they had been married. The kindness and consideration shown to them by the staff at the Olive Garden. The generosity of the restaurant for picking up their tab.

It was an honour to share, if only from the sidelines, in their celebration.

One of the keys to transforming stress is to mark the important events in your life. Celebrations are more than what they seem. When you know what they can do for you, you may begin to look at them differently.

A stressed person may not have the energy to celebrate. They may feel like there is nothing to celebrate, anyway. Life can seem like it is too much work and effort. "Fun? That's for other people."

So, how do you crack through the ice to defrost that frozen-in-stress person? By starting small. By learning to balance your nervous system with techniques that activate the power of your heart. Things like honouring your values and scheduling time to do the things you love. Amping up your appreciation and forgifting yourself.

Celebration is another way. This doesn't mean that a party is thrown each and every time, with invites to the fĂȘte going to half the neighbourhood. You can do a private happy dance.Give yourself a little pat on the back for completing a small task. Smile. Begin honouring your successes - big or small. Privately, or with friends and family. With co-workers, too, as Dr. Ellen Weber beautifully explains in her post entitled "A Brain on Celebration".

With the right tools and techniques, celebrations make for a happy heart.

Care to share? Have you witnessed or been part of any celebratory milestones? What do you do to celebrate your small successes?

Friday, October 28, 2011

The New ABCs


Approximately a month ago, I sent out the above tweet. I like it so much, that I am re-gifting it, especially for you.

Appreciation - when you activate genuine feelings of appreciation - much as Ramana does regularly on his blog with the Gratitude List - you are triggering a different set of chemicals. 

The trick is not just to think these feelings, but to actually go deep into your heart and feel them.This was a big challenge for me, but I have learned to discriminate the difference between the two. How do I know? Well, when I see the change in my heart rhythms, that's proof enough for me. 

When you are able to achieve that, grasshopper, the pay-off is well worth it.

What's the pay-off? Well, it is different for everyone, but how would bliss and calm do, for starters - or finishers, for that matter?

Friday, October 21, 2011

I Hear and See You

We all want to know that our life counts for something - that we've been seen and heard. That we matter.

Do make some time to listen to the stories of friends and family members; in sharing, you're caring. In caring, you're building connections that will sustain you, long after the light of your relationship has dimmed.

If you're young, document the history of your family; don't just wait for "one day" because that day arrives too soon, and then it becomes "yesterday" - and it's too late.



As I read David's post today, I realized that blogging is another way to preserve those memories for family and friends.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Surgical Success - Activating Your Control

There's no doubt about it. Going for surgery is stressful, regardless of which way you look at it – mentally, emotionally and physically. So, it stands to reason that in addition to following your doctor's orders – quitting smoking, losing weight and/or following a special diet - you also get your stress under control. Stress affects your physiology – increases your blood pressure, heart rate and the production of chemicals, which have their own set of side-effects. Why not prepare in advance, and give your surgical team (and you!) a helping hand?

Learning to control your anger may also speed up the healing process after surgery, US research suggests.

The Brain Behavior and Immunity study indicates stress has a major impact on the body's ability to repair itself.

Surgical Success
Over the years, I've had a number of surgeries, but 2006 topped them all! I did extremely well in recovering from all four of them by developing my own surgical success list, which included learning to transform those negative emotions associated with surgery. For me, they included fear, worry and frustration.

Exercise Control
When you're stressed, you often think that you don't have any power in whatever situation you may find yourself. This is the conundrum – you feel stressed – you act in a certain way – you act in a certain way – you feel more stress...and 'round and 'round it goes.

Surgery can make you feel as if you have no control. What you can and can't do is dictated by the type of surgery you have. You spend a lot of time waiting - for nurses, doctors, appointments, results, recovery. Wouldn't it be great to be able to take back some of that control? To misquote the toddlers, “You are the boss of you.”

If you are scheduled for surgery, take some time to learn techniques to augment your recovery. Please email me for details.

Image courtesy of Zern Liew.

Please visit my other blog, A Rheumful of Tips, where I provide a daily tip on how I move through life with rheumatoid arthritis.

This article originally appeared in the White Rock Valley Women's Network newsletter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Amp up Your Appreciation

Even animals can say thank you.

.

Did you know that by amping up your appreciation, you are undressing your stress?

When you activate positive feelings - ones that are genuine - you affect your heart rate variability. The smoother the rhythm, the better it is for you. (Learn to tell when you've actually made the switch or are just thinking you've made the switch, which is what I did until I had the program to show me the difference.)

Go ahead and amp up your appreciation by finding some small thing that has brightened your day in some way.

For example, while I was out shopping yesterday, someone sat down at the electric keyboard in the store and began playing Fur Elise. I love that! It was a welcomed interlude to an otherwise dreary chore.

Your turn. What is on your appreciation list today?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weeding-Out Wednesday

In physics, stress is described as an external force producing internal distortion or strain. As a working definition, I like to use the following: It's our interpretation of external events that produces internal distortion or strain.

To sum it up in one word - perception.

But, there's more. It has to do with values. When you honour your values, you feel better, more alive. It's as if you've listened to yourself - listened to what is deep in your heart. Many things can get in the way and soon, your values - the things that are important to you - take a back seat.

Ironically, the more stressed you are, the less likely your true self shines. The likelihood of you living your values lessens. The less you live your values, the more you experience stress. And around it goes.

Time and time again, I hear people say that they need to clean out their closet, the garage or the buffet, but yet they never seem to get to it. (Orderliness or neatness is one of their values.) It becomes an irritant, a tornado of unused and unwanted items that have taken on a life of their own. It's always present and it is a painful reminder of a job unfinished.

Stress transformation doesn't take a lot of time. What it does require, though, is a willingness to do it, consistency and a plan. I can help you with that - email for more information, please.

What is Weeding-Out Wednesday?
I thought it may be an interesting and hopefully, a fun experiment for you to join me in Weeding-Out Wednesday. Choose a small area in your home and set the timer for fifteen minutes and "Go!"

If you're stressed by the lack of orderliness, then this may be the "push" you need. You'll be surprised what you can accomplish in just fifteen minutes. 

In addition to taking that important first step, your efforts may result in something to donate, discard or display.

Why not make every Wednesday a Weeding-Out Wednesday?

Here's the next step, now that you're done:
Take a picture of the newly cleared/cleaned out area, an object that didn't belong there, or something you've been looking for. Then, share the link of where you posted the picture. (I can't seem to find a way to do so in the comments section in Blogger.)

Suggestions:
  • a drawer in your filing cabinet
  • your tool box
  • one book shelf
  • the glove compartment in your car
  • the button box
  • a dresser drawer
  • the magazine rack
  • the odds 'n ends drawer
  • a bulletin board
Today, I tackled the "I don't know where to put it, so I'll stick it in here drawer" in the office.


Vice grip image courtesy of luvlymumsy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New AdVENTURE

When my age could be told in the single digits, I was often not far from a notebook, pencil and my imagination. Pages later, I had spun a tale or three. I loved to write.

Then, something happened and the decades passed. I stopped doing what I loved. It wasn't until 2006 when I learned how to transform my stress that I found this lost love. It started with periodic articles for the monthly newsletter of a networking group, of which I was a member. Some encouragement and soon this blog appeared, followed by Heart to Heart, my quarterly, now monthly newsletter.

Now, I'm embarking upon a new writing adVENTURE. I've had rheumatoid arthritis for thirty-four years and had to adapt, change and let go of the way I do things in order to find a new way of moving through the world.

A Rheumful of Tips is my year-long, once-daily blog project. You're invited to walk a year in my shoes. 


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Word Store

Tom Guadagno recently indited several synonymous groups of adjectives; all of which were available for the plucking on Twitter.





This has led to some fanciful thinking on my part. What if, when you're stuck, you could pop into The Word Store? You'd walk in and find shelves and drawers heavily laden with words of all sizes, manner and method. A system for cross-referencing would be a necessity. It would be a polyglot of an emporium. Assistance? - Swift. You'd be welcome to scurry through or to linger for the day.

Words of pain, words of worth
Words of joy, shelves of mirth

The Word Store is there
They can help you prepare

A sonnet or a song
A letter, that's gone wrong

Adjectives and adverbs
Nouns, to help with your blurb

Words of laughter, books of care
The Word Store is beyond compare!

Stress can rob you of many things... 

I'll complete this post by briefly discussing three of them.
  1. Frivolity - A manner lacking seriousness. The ability to take a break and partake in some frivolity.

    When you are stressed, everything may seem heavily-weighted with the woes of the world or those closer to home - closer at heart. 

    Your life may be imbued with a sense of seriousness that is excessive. When the work is done and it is time to play, you may find that you cannot spend a few moments doing something that seems to have no inherent value.

    "Play is more than fun," says Stuart Brown. In this TED talk he explains why play is essential and how we establish the basis of human trust through play. He also points out that many people begin to lose the ability to play as they age.

    Transform your stress and increase your play propensity. It works. I know this from experience.

  2. Courage - The state of mind or quality of spirit that enables one to face danger, fear or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence and resolution.

    Fear can rule your life or ruin your life. It can make you see danger in everything and everyone. Your mind gets so busy searching out the danger that it obliterates the ability to enjoy your life.

    Courage is that ability to take risks. They may be little ones, like I did here, or bigger ones. The size and scope are totally coloured by your own experiences. What may constitute a big risk for you, may be small by someone else's standards.

    Transform your stress and your risk-assessment meter improves.

  3. Vulnerability - Open to censure or criticism.

    In this case, the type of vulnerability I'm referring to is tied in to courage - the ability to take risks and be vulnerable, within limits. It is the showing and sharing of yourself, knowing that you may receive less-than-kind comments. 
Note:  I thought this post was finished after my poetic(?) offering. After engaging in a bit of frivolous fun, the words flowed, and I was able to add more depth to this post.

Play, frivolity and laughter does serve a purpose. A very serious one. As stress is transformed, different chemicals are released and a different part of the brain - the pre-frontal cortex - is engaged. That means more flow - the brain does what it does best; classify, create, reason, solve, sort, etc. (A trip to The Word Store could help me round out this list! :) )

Your turn: When did a bit of frivolous fun lead to more productivity for you?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Change the Channel!

I had the following conversation on Twitter:

From @zebrafinch Getting eco-depressed, time to stop tweeting. See you all at the end of this week. Resting up for HBOT, loooong walk to dr office. 

From @AuntieStress to @zebrafinch Great idea to walk away for the time-being.

From @AuntieStress to @zebrafinch I watched the doc. "Surveillance" and noticed a sudden plummeting in my mood. Should have heeded my own advice!

From @ZebraFinch to @AuntieStress LOL, Marianna, saw yr tweet just now abt yr watching "Surveillance" -- you're human! Even the teacher is allowed. : )


How often does your mood shift based upon what you see, hear, smell or do? Until you begin to build awareness to these often subtle changes, you may not even notice that you are feeling differently.

To be human is to have emotions. Those emotions add quality and depth to your life. A lack of awareness, knowledge and/or practise, can cause you to get stuck in negative emotions. The paradox is that those negative emotions then generate more negative emotions.

Life happens. Death. Illness. Job Loss. Serious and not so serious events. Do you have the skills to neutralize those negative thoughts and emotions and balance your nervous system? Are you able to change your channel and switch to a program that is more enjoyable?

Start by checking your breathing. Are you using your diaphragm? Remember that the stress response is designed for flight or fight.This means that breathing changes. Prolonged stress makes these changes normal - you may notice that you are not engaging the diaphragm, but rather the muscles of the chest and neck.

If you're ready to learn how to change your channel, please call or email.

What's the crackle of Northern Lights without awe?
That first kiss without a stirring deep within?
What's the sound of your baby's laughter?
How do you feel with
A near-miss while driving, a found set of keys? 

What's your life without appreciation?
A harvest moon over the pumpkin patch
A meal to tantalize the taste buds
How do you feel with
Friends and family gathered 'round?

Image courtesy of Ry Young.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roundabouts


Roundabouts are still fairly uncommon in Canada; at least that's what I've noticed in the cities that I've visited across this country. In the Lower Mainland, they're being constructed more and more frequently. I love them! They remind me of my travels to places where roundabouts are de rigeur.

Not only are they efficient, but they're also fun to drive; provided that everyone understands the rules of the roundabout. (It seems that a lot of people omit Step 4. Turn signals are not optional. Other drivers, by and large, are not clairvoyant!)

Another type of "roundabout"

Not an official term, but it gets the point across. This type of roundabout produces stress and is a result of stress. It is both a sign and a symptom.

Looping thoughts - the ones where you recycle the same conversation, replay the vicious argument or circle around the What-do-I-do's?, all without arriving at viable solution.



Like the above sign indicates, 'round and 'round you go, until finally you stop, something interrupts you, or you crash. However, unlike a traffic roundabout, this kind of thinking and feeling is not a lot of fun, nor is it efficient. You end up burning a lot of fuel. In other words, a lot of energy.

How do you exit this "roundabout"?

1. You need to know that you are approaching a roundabout or are in one. Catch yourself in looping thoughts.
2.  What are the rules specific to roundabouts? How do you execute those rules? Learn how negative thinking and feeling affects you. (There's a lot of information in my posts and on my website about this.) But knowledge alone isn't enough. You need to know what to do to change or improve it.
3.  Think about drivers who gain experience by practising driving roundabouts. In other words, practise the new behaviours so that you are now able to automatically do them, regardless of the conditions.

What can you do right now?
  • Check your breathing. Are you using your diaphragm to breathe?
  • Do the things you love. They are restorative.
  • Amp up the appreciation factor.
  • Call or email me to discover which program is right for you. I'd love to be your "driving instructor", providing you with all you need to know so you can travel safely where and when you want!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

W.O.W. (Words of Wisdom) from Chris Rock

Over the last couple of years, I rarely watched Oprah.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I tuned in at just the right time.

Chris Rock passed on these wise words which I suggest you read carefully: "Don't like it because you've tried something, not because you dismissed something."


"I know what I like and I like what I know!" you may declare. It's an admirable trait to be so certain.

Bear in mind, though, that as life flows by, you gain new experiences. Your taste buds change. You change. Activities. Friends. Partners. Jobs. Health. This can and does affect how and what you like.

I even have an example to illustrate what I mean. Several weeks ago, we went to the Regional Tasting Lounge, where we were served a set five-course meal. I was dismayed to note that I didn't like three of the courses. But, as I told the owner, I was willing to give them a try. Well, what a surprise! Not only did I like them; I loved them! Kudos to the chef. The food was so delectable and elegantly presented that it enticed me to have a bite. And another, and another!  It seems that my taste buds had changed.

By being open enough to giving those previously disliked courses a try, I felt good. It was a culinary adventure, one upon which I gladly embarked.

Stress can make you dismiss something - an activity, a food, or a person - without giving consideration to how you may have changed. Dependent upon whether you are stressed or not, a different part of the brain is activated. The cascade of stress hormones is akin to making a knee-jerk decision; one that is based on a previously negative experience, which may not fit for the current situation or encounter.

The key to differentiating between the likes and don't likes is in how you are feeling emotionally. That is something you can learn and practise how to do.

That "trying" that Chris Rock speaks of, is life-long adventure and experience.

Image courtesy of Asif Akbar.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Swimming Through Air

Tell me you didn't smile, even just a little bit!

Check out the faces of the people waiting for the elevator.



Thanks to Casper for always finding that just-right something to brighten our days!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Science of Control

Let's just say I was more than surprised when I started watching this episode of National Geographic's Fight Science.

It wasn't the "fight" that intrigued me, but rather the training that these soldiers endured in order to have such utter control of their physiological responses. With scientists, doctors and paramedics standing by, the participants were put into extreme conditions and asked to complete a variety of herculean tasks, all under pseudo extreme conditions.

This show demonstrated that training helps us control our physiological responses to our environment.

At times, a far-from rational rush hour, interminable line-ups or exploding deadlines may seem like a battle-zone. In actuality, our interpretation can trigger the stress response; the get-out-NOW or the stay-and-fight flood of chemicals that was inherited from our ancestors. The flood of chemicals comes complete with side-effects, which in a true life and death situation are necessary for survival.

Without techniques in place to help us reset, restore and revitalize our system, we may find that we are much more reactionary. Patience has trickled away, anger or frustration may be the standard emotional forecast and a sense of well-being has long been buried and forgotten.

You don't need to put yourself in extreme conditions in order to train yourself to choose a better way of maneuvering through your life You do need to practise, though.

Call or email and learn how to work with yourself rather than fight against yourself.

Of interest to you, may be this research about how your brain is changed by city living.

Image courtesy of  Cristian Galletti.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Communication Breakdown



Have you noticed that as stress increases, the channels to communication often break down? The conversational waters become polluted with the flotsam and jetsam of bad feelings which could include anger, resentment, withdrawal and lack of cooperation.

Problems can arise whenever one or both parties involved are stressed. Negative thoughts and feelings can quickly set a conversation off-course. The listener may not be fully engaged or misconstrue the context of what is being said. The speaker may have difficulty with expressing how they feel in a respectful or constructive manner.

Regularly practising stress transformation techniques will help you safely navigate the sometimes murky conversational waters.

If you are learning another language, stress techniques will help you there, too! (More about this in a future post.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Got Tension?

I emailed Gail with a sewing machine tension question: "I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but regardless of which way I adjust the buttons, I'm getting bunching or pulling. Any thoughts?"

Gail replied, "Tension is a funny thing in people and in machines. It's hard to control."

As I thought about Gail's reply, I realized how accurate she was in making the comparison between tension in people and machines. When people get tense, muscles do start to pull; the tightness may even feel like a bunching up in one area of your body.

As far as controlling the tension; it is hard. It is much simpler to learn to manage your emotions with techniques that change the signals that go from the heart to the brain. Rather than flight or fight, you get alive and thrive or alright and delight. There is a different chemical cascade that occurs when you feel positive versus when you feel negative. Notice, I said "feel" as opposed to "think". There's a vast difference; one you'll learn about in a short, targeted program.

When you regularly practise operating from the heart and see the difference, you'll find the tension, or rather, you won't find the tension!

By the way, the solution to my sewing dilemma was to purchase a different type of thread. Thanks for that suggestion, Gail!

Image courtesy of Iwan Beijes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Life Truths From the Li'l Ones

1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.

2) When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair.

3) If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person.

5) You can't trust dogs to watch your food.

6) Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.

7) Never hold a DustBuster and a cat at the same time.

8) You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.

9) Don't wear polkadot underwear under white shorts.

~ Source Unknown

Friday, August 5, 2011

WheeeOhhhhhOwwww!

Think back to when you were young ...

Do you remember jumping on a wagon and hurtling down a hill with reckless abandon? Faster and faster you went until the speed was such that it was no longer fun.

At some point you invariably got hurt. Wheeeee! went to Owwww!

How much of the seemingly-increasing speed of today's world is taking you from "Wheee!" to "Owww!"?

The pressure is on to do more, in a shorter amount of time, often doing simultaneous things.

There is a cost to be paid. Less attention to detail. Poorly completed tasks. An unbalanced nervous system, which can lead to serious consequences.

Stress is like an octopus with its tentacles reaching into all areas of your life. Health. Family. Work. Creativity. Sports. Recreation. Unlike Vegas, stress doesn't stay where and when it occurs. Cortisol, the stress hormone, takes up to thirteen hours to leave your body. It is cumulative. Unless you have techniques to diffuse its effects, you are steeping in a "brew" that leaves more than just a bad feeling.

If you're feeling stressed by the "gottadomoreandfaster" urge, help is on the way. Learn some simple and effective techniques that take you from "Owww!" to "Wheee!"

You're thinking and feeling anyway, so why not make it count?

Image courtesy of Anthony Bonventre.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Punny Stuff # 3

When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.

A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two tired.

What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead give away.)

She was engaged to a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off.

If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.

Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.

With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

~Anonymous

Thanks to Connie, a pun master in her own right, for sending me these.

Image courtesy of Lieven Volckaert.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Google and Stress - Conversation Killers?

A gambit is a remark that is a conversation opener. One of the best ways to open a conversation is with a question.

"How are you?"

"What's new?"

"How, When, Where, Why do you...."  We use them all the time.

I love Google for the ease of finding answers. On Twitter, I've often thought about asking a question to help get the conversational ball rolling, but then I think, "Ah, it's just as easy to Google the answer."

Has Google stabbed a hole in the heart of the opening gambit? How often do you turn to Google for answers instead of asking a colleague, neighbour, friend or stranger?

I can't help but wonder if this has contributed to the discord that people feel. Many times I visit blogs where people express a discomfort in communicating. Like everything else, communication requires practise. That means it needs to be done, and often.

For some people, a question moves the focus onto the other person and unrolls the carpet of communication. This makes it an ideal tool for someone who suffers from shyness and wants to engage.

Would it change things for you if you looked at shyness as a way you use to protect yourself from further hurt? Perhaps a past social situation may have caused you embarrassment, or had some other strong negative consequence.

The amygdala, which remembers strong negative feelings, triggers the stress response when it senses a situation that is "close enough" to the original one. Without stress techniques in place, feelings of flight, fight or freeze take over. Rather than being in, and even enjoying the moment, the focus is on the ensuing feelings of shyness.

Becoming aware that this is happening and then implementing stress techniques does make a difference. You activate a different part of the brain, one that is not designed for flight, fight or freeze!

I worked with a grade four student who seemed as if she were shrinking into herself. Once she knew what to do, and practised it, the transformation was beautiful! By the end of the school year, her teacher remarked upon the change - she was volunteering answers and speaking up in class! Her grades improved, as well. She was claiming her space! 

What a joy! And she didn't need to go to Google, only to her heart!

If you would like to find out how to help your child overcome shyness and enhance performance, please email for further information.

Image courtesy of Ilker.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Balmy?

You need your lip balm. You must have it. Your lips are so dry. How will you ever survive without it?

If you feel as if your lack of lip gloss is making you balmy, there is a reason for this.

Did you know that you can get addicted to lip balm? Although it's not so much about the lip balm. It's the process or the behaviour. The feeling that if you don't have it, your oh-so-dry lips will crack and your world will crumble, or at least appear to do so.

Being addicted to lip balm is not the worst thing that can happen ... lip balm-makers will tell you that! Your lips are soothed, (try saying that word!) as are you.

When do you feel a need to put on lip gloss? Notice whether you are feeling out of sorts. Do you immediately feel a sense of "Ahhhh!", not only on your lips, but in your sense of well-being?

Many people have little, relatively harmless habits that they do to assuage themselves.

It's somewhat like The Tell that is spoken about in poker.

What is your Tell? Things like smacking your lips, circling your thumbs together when you are nervous or vigorously chewing gum. When do you do them? Ask your family and friends if they have noticed any habits. I'm sure they'll gladly tell you.

Image courtesy of Alicia Solario.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Punny Stuff # 2

A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.

Dijon vu - the same mustard as before.

Practice safe eating - always use condiments.

Shotgun wedding - A case of wife or death.

A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.

A hangover is the wrath of grapes.

Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion.

~Anonymous

Thanks to Connie, a pun master in her own right, for sending me these puns.

Thanks to http://www.sxc.hu/profile/agamamedia for this image.

Friday, July 15, 2011

You're Booked!


I was sharing a theory with my friend about how people are like books.

Some are like encyclopedias. Their lives are an A to Z of life experiences, filling many volumes with information, knowledge and skills.

Others cover a wide range of topics and interests. D.I.Y., drama, fiction, humour, horror, non-fiction, reference - it's all there, awaiting discovery.

It takes many types of books to fill a bookstore, just as there are many types of people that make up a community.

My friend started to laugh and asked about the book that is blank. Perhaps that blank book is like a journal, remaining in pristine conditions until the pages disintegrate from neglect. Or is that journal eagerly pulled off the shelf and filled with inspiration, colouring the world with hopes, dreams and vitality?

If you were a book, which type of book would you be? How many rewrites have you undergone?

Fortunately, it's never too late to issue a newer edition and change the contents and the direction of the Book of You.

Image courtesy of Judith P. Abrahamsem.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Backhanded Compliment

The ten year old I work with often comes out with comments that make me laugh. Last week was no different.

We were practising stress techniques while doing a cooking lesson. (A perfect way to practise the stress concepts is to do them in conjunction with a fun activity that is of interest to the child.) I mentioned that I would love to do a cooking show.

It didn't take him long. "I think you're too old to switch jobs like that. Besides, you'd be so busy that you wouldn't have time to work with me."

Compliments. Take 'em when and where you get 'em! :)

Image courtesy of Luca Baroncini.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Act Like a Royal

I seem to have come down with a fever. But don't worry, it's not serious. Perhaps you've heard of it? After all, it has made headlines around the world. It's reigning royal in Canada!

I'm not the only one who has caught this fever, judging by the crowds that line the streets wherever Will and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, make a public appearance.



My interest in Prince William and Catherine has surprised me. I have never much cared for the pomp and ceremony of the monarchy. I may have read the odd headline or caught the end of a broadcast, but that was the extent of my royal watching.

What is different this time around? I think it has to do with the commitment Will and Kate demonstrate, not only to each other, but also to those with whom they're engaging. The way in which Will gently places his hand on Kate's back as they enter a new environment. The hug they give each other after participating in dragon boat racing, as you saw in the above clip. The for-their-ears-only whispers in the core of a Canadian crowd.

Then there is the attention they generously share with the public, many of whom have been waiting for hours, if not days, in the hopes of shaking a hand, saying a few words or offering a gift. Compassionate, caring, genuine and curious are words that are repeatedly told to the media by those fortunate enough to have interacted with Kate or Will.

I think what people are feeling is that Kate and Will are truly living in the moment, fully embracing each situation with open hearts. Despite the huge number of distractions, they are each totally focused on the person with whom they're speaking. That's a skill that seems to come naturally to them.

How about you? Are you living each moment fully? When you are speaking with someone, are you thinking about work, your grocery list or whose turn it is to pick up the kids? Stress can impact your ability to be in-the-moment. It distracts you from putting your full attention on whatever it is you are doing. Feelings get hurt, conversations clipped, communication cut short and accidents too readily accessible.

Undress your stress and act like royalty. The people you engage with will certainly feel regal when you give them your undivided (and unstressed) attention.

For more coverage, check out Will and Kate in Canada.

Musically inspiring - Update 2012/01/12
By reading Your Toe Tappin', Time Keepin' Heart you'll know that I'm a fan of the band Blue Rodeo. When the Jim Cuddy band came to Vancouver, I eagerly bought tickets.

It seems that he was also impacted by Will and Kate. During his stellar performance at the Vogue on January 7th, he talked about the Royal Wedding and how it inspired him to write Everyone Watched the Wedding. (You can listen to it here.)

On another note
Kate and Will may have captured my heart, but they also starred in one of my dreams. I was surprised to get a phone call saying that Kate and Will were coming over for a visit. (All the more reason to make the house guest-ready!) When they arrived, they both sat on the couch, and in unison, sighed. One of them - I'm fuzzy on which one - told me that they both felt very comfortable in my presence and enjoyed the fact that they could relax and be themselves. That's high praise, even if it was in a dream! Time to go - I have a house to clean! :)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mirthful Monday - What Are the Chances?

She said, "That drive is so boring, I could pull my eyelashes out!"

He said, "Did you know that the optometrist pulled out my eyelashes last week?"


Once they stopped laughing, this is what was discussed:

Trichiasis is a condition where the eyelash grows the wrong way and irritates the eye, potentially causing scarring or loss of vision. Dogs can also be prone to this condition.

Image courtesy of Vea Avernalis.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Intuition Calling!

Do you find yourself repeatedly thinking of someone or something throughout the day?

I did. For two solid days, thoughts of Megh, my cousin's sweetheart of a Golden Retriever, kept popping into my head. She had fallen down and had trouble walking.

A phone call brought the sad news that Megh had a very aggressive form of bone cancer and had to be put down. (A very similar set of circumstances to our dear Murphy.)

So what is it about these seemingly fleeting thoughts? In a word, intuition.

Pay attention to the frequency of the thought that pops into your head. Someone may be "calling", even though the phone isn't ringing!

Similarly, have you noticed that when you're thinking about someone, they contact you?

Did you know that you can develop this skill? When you quiet the "noise" upstairs (stress), you hear that quiet voice of intuition. Developing your intuition is a process and you can start now. Enroll in a five week program that provides you with the foundation to undress your stress and enhance your performance!

When has your intuition been strongest? Are there times when you didn't pay attention to your intuition? What were the results?

Related posts:
Image courtesy of Robert Linder.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mirthful Monday - Back By Popular Demand

I've had more than a few requests to reinstate Mirthful Monday.

So, courtesy of Kathrin, here is today's bit of wonder - Stuff You Don't See Everyday!

Do you have a favourite?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Garden of Life

This spring has been cool and frequently wet, yet despite the rain, the seeds I've planted are breaking free of their interment. The beans and the peas are doing well with small amounts of sunshine. Even the topsy-turvey tomato appears to bask in the afternoon sun, whenever the curtains of clouds are pulled back.

Along with this year's anticipated crop of herbs and vegetables, I see a number of weeds muscling their way in, clamouring for their share of the sun. I know that it's best to remove the weeds before their roots take hold, making them more difficult to pull out.

Not unlike the garden of life. Bad habits can be like deep roots; difficult to unearth. How are you encouraging healthy growth? Do you regularly weed out that which no longer serves you?  Is it time to make some changes? When was the last time you experimented with some new seeds?

Sun, nutrients, water and care; these are all elements that encourage healthy growth. Learn to undress your stress and enjoy the splendours of the garden that is your life.

Related Post: Soil (Soul) Inspiration

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Garden of Words - W.O.W.!

Carol's post started me thinking about the wonder of words - W.O.W.!

I liken writing to my efforts at gardening. Each year, some plants remain undisturbed. I can imagine them breathing a collective sigh of relief, secure in their alloted spot. For now. Other plants are uprooted and moved because I think they'll do or look better in their new location. After a few weeks, they seem happier in their new home.

When I write, my words often move about, as well. I must admit, this is much easier than those long-ago, Olivetti-typewriter-days-of-university-essays. That's when shifting a phrase usually meant tearing out the paper and cranking in a new sheet, to start afresh.

Blossoms can appear early in the season or not make an appearance until the summer begins to show signs of fading into the chillier days of autumn. Similar to writing, where showy sentences may scent the piece early-on, or leave the reader reaching for that last bouquet of prose.

Sometimes, a pruning is necessary. Even then, those more tenacious members of the garden club pop up again and again. Editing and pruning. Pruning and editing.

Words, like so many plants in a garden, require attention and care, fertilizing, seeding and weeding. As time goes by, the garden grows and is shaped - much like the writing process, which also flourishes with attention, care, fertilizing, seeding and weeding.

I love that English cottage-garden look. I wonder if that says anything about my writing? LOL!

Friday, June 17, 2011

On Hockey, Hooliganism and Heart

Sadly, a recipe for violence and destruction was served in the City of Vancouver on Wednesday night.

Place one Stanley Cup Playoff game in a large container. Mix in one part fear, two parts group mentality, add in a helping of Andy Warhol (fifteen minutes of fame via social media), liberally add alcohol and omit the intelligence of the heart.

By now, the whole world has seen images of the riot that occurred following the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.

Who knows what went through the minds, but definitely not the hearts, of the small group of hooligans who went on a big rampage.

Perhaps there would have been less damage and fewer participants if they had known how to engage the power of the heart.

Consider that the heart is the strongest organ in the body. The heart can work independently outside of the body and its electromagnetic force can be measured in an eight foot radius (2.4 metres). It keeps us alive and it also adds quality to our life. Our language contains over seventy-five idioms to do with the heart, whereas there are approximately eighteen brain idioms. The heart is the essence of who you are, what you are and how you are.

When you act from the heart, you are acting with honour and from a higher place/plane. As you learn and practise techniques that activate the power of the heart, you'll notice positive emotional, mental and/or physical changes. Many notice an improvement in self-esteem, along with the ability and desire to act with more integrity. As you honour yourself, a "Reverberational Effect" takes place which positively impacts your environment.

Negative emotions such as frustration, anger or restlessness trigger a very different cascade of hormones than do positive ones. Paradoxically,  the 1400 hundred chemicals have side-effects that can add more negative feelings, unless an intervention is implemented.

How does the city begin to heal? On Thursday morning, many tweets focused upon the positive clean-up efforts by the residents to help make reparations downtown.


The image you see here was posted on Twitter by  @Scazon who wrote, "People are writing VPD thank you notes and putting flowers on a parked cop car in downtown Vancouver."

Post Stanley Cup Riot, the world is witnessing a labour of compassion; actions straight from the heart! Thank you.

A big heartfelt thank you to Sam, who without knowing me, generously agreed to allow me to use this positive image in my blog post!