A FRIGID DAY FOR THE SEASON OPENER?

COLD. NOT FRIGID. IT IS SPRING IN NEW ENGLAND.

It has been a cold spring. This is not, despite all the complaining, particularly unusual. Spring weather in New England is notoriously unstable and it’s not unusual for the weather to also be surprisingly cold. We’ve had a few very warm springs too.

It will stay cold and cold and cold and we’ll get a little snow here and there — which will melt off almost immediately — and then, suddenly, in about three weeks, it will turn into a perfect spring.

Perfect spring will last about 4 hours, after which, it’s time to install your air conditioners because suddenly, it’s summer.

It’s like this most years, except when it’s exactly the opposite. Spring weather is erratic. Why is everyone making such a fuss about it? I too would like to see some lovely spring flowers but spring isn’t a real “season” in this region. Mostly, it’s a few hours between winter and summer.

Fellow New Englanders! Give us a break! It would have been nice to have the baseball spring opening day a little less chilly, but it is what it is.

Get used to it already. Sheesh!

WHAT IS THAT SOUND IN THE BASEMENT?

We were watching “Father Brown” on Netflix and in the back of my head, I was hearing a grinding sort of sound. I could not identify it, but it was coming from the basement. I could barely hear it … but it was there. It isn’t the sound our boiler makes and it didn’t sound like the dehumidifier.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Odd sounds in the house always get me investigating. I can’t ignore them. 

So I went downstairs to look around. Aside from realizing that we really are overrun by mice, the sound had stopped. I shrugged and went upstairs, pondering how the mice — which we used to have under control — went so crazy. I think it’s because no one lives downstairs now, so they’ve the run of the place. They are living here, but as far as food goes, they are “ordering out.”

Woods in winter – Photo: Garry Armstrong
Snow starting in early winter

Our Pest Control guy assured us they aren’t eating our food because you can follow the trail of acorns from the trees. Our oak trees could feed a world of squirrels. It turns out, they are already feeding a world of mice.

Living in the woods is wonderful and romantic. It’s also messy and invites many uninvited guests to drop by and stay awhile.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Today, we took Gibbs to the vet. It was his annual visit. He needed to be tested for heart worm, though I know he doesn’t have it. As we were driving home, I noticed all the little streams looked more like real rivers. Everything has overrun its banks.

The Mumford and Blackstone Rivers are full and the dams wide open. Even the usually shallow Whitins Pond is deep and wider than usual.

Manchaug Dam

That was when I realized what that sound was, the one I heard last night. It was a sound I had nearly forgotten because it has been years since I heard it.

It was the sump pump, pushing the water out of the sump under the house.

Flooding!

If we didn’t have a sump, a pump, and French drains, we would be up to our kneecaps in water downstairs. For the first time in more than a dozen years, we are facing the likelihood of flooding in the valley.

We are pretty well prepared for it because when we first moved here, we had some serious flooding issues. Before we even fixed the roof or put up siding, we were adding French drains across the entire front of the house, down the driveway and through the backyard into the woods. The sump and pump came about two years later and we haven’t had any flooding since.

Of course, if the water gets bad enough, nothing will stop it, but we don’t live on the edge of a river — though many people around here live very close to the river. We have a lot of rivers and tributaries and streams and ponds.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We are a major water source for all of Massachusetts as well as parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island. It is the reason I get so worried when we go through long periods of drought or semi-drought. It isn’t just “our” well. We are all linked to the same underground waterways and rivers. The water belongs to everyone.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 3

I ‘ve talked about breathing and visualization as relaxation techniques. This week, I’d like to add a third element – movement.

Human-Body-Muscles

Coordinating breath and movement can calm you down, center you, clear your head, and focus your mind, and help the relaxation spread to the muscles throughout your body.

Another benefit is that the physical movement gives your mind a focal point that can not only deepen relaxation but can also allow you to relax when you’re too restless, fidgety, listless or unmotivated for the purely mental techniques.

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When you are concentrating on moving your body in a certain way, it is easier to keep your mind off stressful thoughts that creep into your mind. However, thoughts will invariably intervene at some point when they do, just acknowledge them and immediately click the remote and switch back to the breathing channel. Then refocus on your movements.

One classic exercise that combines breathing and movement is Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR. This can be done standing, sitting or when you are having trouble sleeping, in bed. Body focus techniques not only help insomnia but also improve headaches and stomach problems if done for a period of time when you’re having symptoms.

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In PMR, you first tighten and then release major muscles, starting with feet and moving up your body. Doing this helps you learn what your muscles feel like when they are tense versus relaxed. It may sound strange, but most people don’t realize their muscles are tense until the tension gets bad enough to hurt.

You may need to learn how and when to relax your muscles. PMR not only helps you relax, it increases your awareness of muscle tension. Soon you’ll be able to prevent muscle tension from building by stopping it before it gets serious.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Start by squeezing your toes together as if you were making fists with your feet. Hold the squeeze and feel the tension in every foot muscle. Then let everything go, all at once, as you exhale.

Try to feel the muscles in your feet relaxing and loosening up. Next squeeze your calves and thighs, hold the squeeze feel the tension and then release it quickly, always on an exhale. Feel all the tension evaporating from your legs.

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Focus on the contrasting sensations of tension and relaxation, tightness and openness. Continue up through your body tightening and releasing, sequentially, your buttocks then your chest and shoulders, scrunching your shoulders up to your ears. Then move onto your arms and hands, making fists and squeezing them tightly.

Hold and release the muscles in your throat and neck and then scrunch your face together and squeeze your eyes shut, hold, and then release. Open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out as far as you can. Hold and release. Then bring your focus back to your abdominal breathing, perhaps counting out an exhale that is twice as long as your inhale. Gradually transition back to your day.

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Short Form PMR

There is also a short form PMR when you are pressed for time. Divide your body into three sections, from your feet up to your face. Then tense all the muscles in each section, hold them and release all at once with an exhale, as you did above. Then move onto the next section. For example, feet, legs, thighs and buttocks are one section, chest arms and shoulders are another section and neck, throat, face and jaw are the last section.

Once you’re comfortable with PMR, you can try a Mental Body Scan. As with PMR you can do a detailed body scan, or use a short form. Like before, begin at your feet and work up your body. This time, though, just mentally scan for tension. When you find tightness in your muscles, mentally release it. I like to visualize the tension floating away from my body, like steam, evaporating into the air.

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You can also imagine the tight muscle opening up, spreading a warm, heavy feeling as it releases all its tension. Then let this sensation spread slowly up your body. Scan every part of your body in as much detail as you have time for. For example, you can divide the face into scalp, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, jaw and tongue or you can treat the face as a whole. Either way, make sure your jaw is loose and your teeth are apart, not clenched!

Mindful Walking

Another exercise that combines breathing and movement is Mindful Walking, which you can do it whenever and wherever you are walking. Start Abdominal Breathing with a 3 or a 5 count inhale and the same count for the exhale. Then count the number of evenly paced steps you take per inhale and per exhale, using only odd numbers for your count. This insures that you start each inhale on a different foot.

For 3-count walking, this means:

  • Inhale – left, right, left
  • Exhale – right, left, right.

A 5-count walk would be:

  • Inhale – left, right, left, right, left
  • Exhale – right, left, right, left, right.

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If you want to increase your relaxation, elongate your exhale and increase the number of steps per exhale. So, for example, you could inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 5 or inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 9 (remember to only use odd numbers and keep your steps steady and even).

If you want to energize yourself, increase the length of your inhalation and the number of steps per inhale while shortening your exhalation and the number of steps on each exhale. You could, for example, inhale to the count of 5 and exhale to the count of 3.

I find when I walk like this, I don’t get as tired or winded. I end my walk feeling more relaxed and centered as well as refreshed.

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Now you know some techniques that can help you circumvent your body’s stress response, reduce muscle tension and quiet your mind. This should help you get through each day feeling more positive emotionally and more relaxed and energized physically.

You shouldn’t have to get more stressed trying to find time for stress control. Do what you can when you can and you’ll find whatever you do, there will be definite benefits.

I DON’T BELIEVE IN CONSPIRACIES

After many years of not watching “The X Files,” Garry and I ran out of stuff to watch. So … we decided to try watching X Files. Now, maybe a dozen episodes in, I have some thoughts on conspiracies and secrets.

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Has anyone ever confided a secret to you? And you realized at that exact moment, it ceased being a secret.

Have you ever told someone something, realized you shouldn’t have said anything? Sincerely wished you hadn’t said it and asked them to please, please, never repeat it? And absolutely knew that everyone was going to know before lunch?

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How did that work out for you?

Now. Imagine that the entire military-industrial complex including all of the important politicians of the world — the basic who’s-who of power in the world — had to keep THE secret.

What secret? That aliens are here and have been forever? That we are secreting spaceships in dark caverns in the desert? And that every single one of them was mandated to retain that secret for their entire lives and never tell anyone.

Figure that’s going to work? Whatever the secret was supposed to be, it would be in every newspaper and on every television station — not to mention every social media network — long before lunch. It would be a multi-part television series before the weekend … and these days … utterly forgotten before Christmas.

That’s my point. Not that aliens might be here — now or in the past — but that a secret of such magnitude could or would be kept for a single day, much less decades. This could not, would not, will not ever happen in this world. Certainly not anywhere there is an Internet and computers.

Which is pretty much everywhere.