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  1. Seek and Ye Shall Find the Nuttiness

    May 22, 2016 by Diane

    girl with bag and binocular

    In a previous post, I invited you, dear reader, to tell me about the squirrelly things that happen to you. In exchange, I would offer my tongue-in-cheek advice on how to deal with them. I have come to the conclusion, based on the lack of Dear Digby submissions, that all things squirrelly are funneled by some cosmic force exclusively onto the path upon which I ramble.

    Perhaps I need to ramble a different path.

    Or notice different things on the path I ramble.

    Bun Karayado, in his guest post on my blog, spent a morning observing things that drive him crazy, per my instructions. It’s only fair, I reasoned, that I distribute the craziness. So I roped him into this task, this dear man who won’t leave home without a paper bag over his head. I suggested that he take off the bag and look around. There is much to see in the world that is just plain squirrelly.

    This he did.

    This he did, when a complete stranger asked him in a sort of I’m-brainwashing-you-into-seeing-the-world-as-the-screwy-place-it-is kind of way.

    And he did so, hilariously.

    This is what I love about Bun’s work. He takes very ordinary things—showering—and finds the hilarity in them, and somehow does it all with good cheer even though he’s complaining. It’s a true art.

    What I learned from his post, and I’m sure it’s the takeaway that everyone had, is that if you look for things to annoy you, that is what you will find.

    Every day, we are presented with a banquet of goodies. It’s like sitting down to a long table filled with heaping platters of food: turkey oozing juice and roasted to a golden crisp, piles of creamy mashed potatoes, fresh-baked sourdough rolls still warm from the oven, peas dripping with butter.

    But all I see is a dead bird, gluten, and dairy, and I’m a gluten-intolerant vegan.  Sitting in a three-legged chair.

    Now, if I turned my attention to the left, I might notice the wooden bowl overflowing with salad greens that my sister harvested from rich dark soil that very morning. Or the glass bowl of cranberry sauce that my mother made, standing at the stove with her wooden spoon.

    So, I have decided to counter the suggestion that I gave to Bun, and look for things that bring me joy. This I will do for seven days, and share the results with you in my next post.

    No squirrelly-ness.

    No nutty takes on the nutty stuff that drives me nutty.

    Can I do it? Can I get through a day without some elderly woman disrobing and delousing herself on my park bench as I eat a sandwich? Can I stand in line at the pharmacy without a complete stranger telling me his life story? Can I attend an outdoor concert without some drunken woman clambering over row after row of seats to reach the one seat next to me so she can pass out on my shoulder?

    I’m willing to give it a try. I’m willing to test the possibility that it’s my viewpoint, and not some huge practical joke by the universe, that provokes such occurrences in my life.

    And you? Will you join me in this expedition to the bright side of the street? What brought you joy today?

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  2. All Aboard for Slumber! How to Catch the Zzz’s You Need

    May 15, 2016 by Diane

    backpacker waiting for train

    You know how it is: after a string of sleepless nights you run to catch the train to slumber, but it takes off without you. Maybe you were caught up watching TV or surfing the ‘net. Maybe you were caught up in your own thoughts–about stress at work, the mounting debt, the kid who promised to be home at eleven and now it’s after midnight. Whatever the reason there you are, weighed down by your baggage, staring down a long empty track of sleeplessness.

    So you hoof it, straining to catch that train, painfully aware of every pebble and blade of grass underfoot; but no matter how hard you labor, the farther off it gets.

    Welcome to insomnia.

    Whether you struggle with it nightly or wrestle with it in spells, insomnia is a challenge not for the faint of heart. That long trudge through an even longer night causes muscle tension, increased stress hormones, impaired thinking, and a foul mood.

    But there is a way to get your sleep back on track. All you need is a ticket. And I’m here to tell you how to get it.

    Why me? Because I’m an expert insomniac. I’ve missed the train so many times I’ve started to blame the platform. I’ve read the books. I’ve taken the classes. And I’ve found a few techniques that got me back on the slumber train.

    Here are three tips to help you hop on board, too.

    According to Rachel Manber, Director of the Stanford Sleep Health and Insomnia Program, you need three things for a good night’s sleep: a strong sleep drive, a correctly timed circadian clock, and a calm mind.

    Build a strong sleep drive

    The sleep drive sends sleepiness signals to the brain. When the drive is strong, we spend more time in deep sleep. When the drive is weak, we toss and turn in bed, feeling tired but wired.

    How do we make it strong?

    First, set a regular bedtime and rising time and stick with it, no matter how little you slept the night before–even on weekends. If six a.m. is your wake-up call on work days, then it’s up-and-at-‘em at six a.m on your days off. When the alarm buzzes, get out of bed. Don’t linger. Don’t fall back asleep or lie there mentally writing up your to-do list for the day.

    Why is it so important to get out of bed? Because when you get up and start moving, you’re setting the sleep drive. And the longer you stay awake, the stronger the drive to sleep.

    But it’s Sunday, you say, what’s the harm in sleeping in?

    Well bucko, when you oversleep, you’ve essentially flown across country. You’ve developed jet-lag. You’ve taken the pressure off the sleep drive, and you’ve messed up your circadian clock. To keep the pressure on so you’re drowsy at bed-time, you’ve got to get up, stay up, and get moving.

    Set your circadian clock

    The circadian clock sends “wake up” signals to the brain in the morning, and “go to sleep” messages at night. When it’s in sync, you’re alert during the day, and sleepy at night.

    To regulate your circadian rhythm, you need a little hormone called melatonin. Our bodies manufacture it naturally, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. But we often muck up our melatonin levels by staying up late under bright lights, or oversleeping in the morning.

    When the sun starts to rise, our melatonin levels drop, making us more alert. To help it drop, open the shades and look into the sun, or take a walk outdoors. If it’s dark outside when you rise, then use a light therapy box to mimic the sun. At the very least, turn on the overhead lights as you get ready for your day. You can buy inexpensive full spectrum bulbs at places like Target that replicate daylight.

    At night, you want your melatonin levels to rise. So turn off all electronic devices (computer, iPhone, TV), dim the lights, and engage in a pre-sleep ritual for 30 minutes. Brush your teeth. Read a book that’s not too stimulating. Have a conversation with your spouse; one of those conversations where you normally mumble, “Huh? What did you say?”

    Then turn out the lights.

    Our circadian clock is also regulated by our body temperature. You want to raise your temperature in the morning—get up and get moving—and lower it to help you sleep deeply through the night. Take a shower or bath two hours before bedtime to allow your body to cool down, and crack open a window when you go to bed if it’s safe to do so.

    Calm your mind

    A calm mind allows you to drift off to sleep, and fall back asleep when you wake during the night. Everybody wakes several times during the night. A good sleeper will turn over and go back to dreamland. A bad sleeper will lie awake, ruminating on o’possums.

    There are three ways to achieve a calm mental state: deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and meditation or prayer.

    After your pre-sleep ritual, turn out the lights, lie on your back, and breathe deeply into your belly. There are many different methods of deep breathing, or pranayama, as it’s called in Hindu yoga. I find alternate nostril breathing to be very calming. Here’s a short video on how to do it.

    Or just breathe through your nose, filling your belly with air, for the count of four, then exhale through the mouth for the count of six. Do this ten times. The long exhale taps into your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your blood pressure and giving you calm vibes.

    You can also try an “ocean breath,” where you breathe in through the nose while constricting your throat slightly, and breathe out through the nose with that same constricting sound. It’s almost, but not quite, a snore. Do ten.

    After your deep breathing, relax in your sleep position and let go of thoughts. This is where a good meditation practice comes into play. If your muscles are tense, breathe into the tight places and breathe out the tension. Practicing a progressive muscle relaxation technique—or any body relaxation exercise—during the day, will help you conk out at night.

    The stress we accumulate during our waking hours affects our ability to sleep. So take regular breaks at work: stretch, walk around, breathe deep, bring your awareness to the moment, and remind yourself that whatever stress you’re carrying, most likely won’t matter ten years from now.

    Besides, you don’t need that extra baggage. You have a train to catch.


  3. True Confessions: I Was Held Hostage by a Hypochondriac Dentist

    May 1, 2016 by Diane

    dentist chair

    Dear Dr. Lu,

    Every six months, after you poke at my gums, and scrape and buff my teeth, I entertain the thought of finding another dentist. Not because you recline the chair to such depths that my head is in China, or because you mutter just loud enough for me to hear, “That tooth has twisted even more! It’s ninety degrees now!” The reason, Dr. Lu, is because if we were in a contest to determine who is the greater hypochondriac, you would win.

    I’m reluctant to walk into your lobby where the photos of perfect veneer teeth lining your walls mock me, where the samples of bacon-flavored toothpaste tempt child carnivores. I am reluctant to commit myself to your bright light and sharp implements as you feverishly hunt for something wrong. I am reluctant to be motored upside-down, although the thirty minutes of traction, paid for by my insurance company, is a bonus. I am slightly more reluctant to hear your warnings:

    “If you don’t get a mouth guard, you will grind your teeth right down to the nerve!”

    Yes, Dr. Lu, I have heard your alarms. I have suffered your exclamation points. I am aware that if my teeth crack from the pressure, you might not be able to FIX them, a horror I refuse to contemplate—not because my teeth may be splintered, but because you would be the one I would be reaching out to in the middle of the night, a hypochondriac dentist from Hell. I am cognizant that a mouth guard will save my teeth, which is why I agreed to purchase the device.

    “Fine. I’ll get it.”

    “Think about it,” you said, practically purring with delight.

    “I’ll get it.”

    “Let me know, after you’ve thought about it.”

    “I said I’ll get the mouth guard!”

    “It’s five hundred dollars, you know.”

    As if I needed that parting shot. As if I needed to be reminded: well, there goes the retirement nest egg. 

    No, Dr. Lu, it isn’t the capitulation on my part to spend my last dollar on this robber-of-sleep that compels me to once again rethink dentists.

    It’s the hour-long torture I had to endure to make the mold for this five hundred dollar chunk of plastic. It’s the accusation that I moved my head when you held me hostage in the chair with that cold goop pressed between my clenched teeth. It was not I who moved, Dr. Lu. It was you. You, who held the goop in place. Yes, you—reaching for something the minute my teeth clamped down. “Don’t bite me!” you shrieked, and, “Hold still!” And then you reached, jerking my head which I tried desperately to immobilize. Oh, the glare you shot me after prying my jaw open and examining the smeared glob. “We have to do it again!”

    Five times, Dr. Lu. Five times you shoved that goop in my mouth. And every time, you moved.

    “I can’t make any more!” you wailed. “We’ve made fifteen!”

    Five. It was five.

    “I’m sure it’’ll be fine,” I told you, pulling from my Buddha-like self the calm that you lacked.

    But it didn’t end there, did it, Dr. Lu?

    Oh, no.

    When I returned for the final fitting of the completed mouth guard, the suction was so tight you had to brace your diminutive foot against the upside-down chair to pry it off. “That’s a good fit!” you said, your face aglow, as I had visions of calling 911 in the morning to get free of the thing, or roadside assistance, or someone with a crowbar.

    Yes, Dr. Lu, I have entertained the thought of switching dentists many, many times over the past ten years, dragging myself to your office, wondering why I am the only one coming and going. Did you display the bacon toothpaste, which now collects dust on your shelf, to lure a new generation of patients?

    Oh, I’ve tried to find a new dentist. I’ve searched Yelp, reading the reviews. But the only dentist available on my back-alley insurance plan is a man reportedly terrified of blood.

    So you may rest assured, Dr. Lu, I will continue to bare my teeth for you alone. Because a hypochondriac dentist seems like a much better bargain than a dentist who might blanche and keel over, leaving me with a drill spinning madly in my mouth.