Keeping New Year’s Resolutions – How to do it

file0001564894818After looking at all the kinds of New Year’s resolutions that people make and fail to keep, I thought about why failures happen and what would be helpful to prevent them. I am as guilty of failed resolutions as anyone so I decided this year I would not let those good resolutions fall by the wayside. If that’s truly your intention as well, here are some of the ways I found to help insure your success. While you will often find a few lists of helpful tips, the amount of really useful support out there is much less than you would think. So here I am sharing what I have found and hope it will give you some real assistance.

First let’s start with a word about negativity. Keeping resolutions is hard enough without having your own subconscious sabotaging your efforts. The human subconscious reacts in a peculiar way to negative phrasing.  When your subconscious hears all those resolutions with negative wording, “quit” or “stop” or “give up”, it  triggers that exact mind set, Stop. The call to action thinking is turned off. Your subconscious, resistant to change,  only conveniently hears the stop words. Reprogramming the subconscious is a major undertaking but forming your resolutions in more positive language can help fight that subconscious bias. Make a resolution like “I will eat healthy food” and you subconscious hears “I will”. Eating healthy food will help you both loose weight and and have more energy. It also avoids thoughts of privation that the idea of most diets bring up.

Another thing to consider is the season. Instead of celebrating moderately, people will tend to go overboard and then make rash plans out of guilt. In fact the dead of winter is the worst time to start a diet or embark on an ambitious fitness routine. Less sunlight and colder temperatures cause the body to react by slowing down. While humans don’t need to hibernate to survive the winter, it’s a natural time for mind and body to rest and restore. Those who have a a hard time loosing weight or or getting fit would find their resolutions easier to keep if they made them after an overindulgence of Easter candy. Sunny spring days are much less likely than cold, dark winter ones to discourage you from going out to the gym or taking that morning run. And your metabolism is ramping up again, your body is no longer getting signals to consume calories for energy to survive the winter. so it’s a lot easier to control your appetite and burn the calories you do take in.

PART_1432640214545 (2)jeansThe kind of resolutions that fit best around the New Year holiday are those tedious but sedentary activities we are always putting off. Culling your wardrobe or collecting toys your children have outgrown and making a donation will help you start the year with a sense of accomplishment. If you want to get out of debt now is the time to sit down and assess your finances and make a budget or find a counselor or financial advisor. . Getting organized is a top resolution in all the lists and again, this is a good time. The holidays are over and as you pack up the decorations and lights, add a few other things to get organized. Start putting together the things you’ll need for tax filing. Whether you use a preparer or do them yourself it’s much easier to be ready early.

Here is a handy checklist of tips to help you form your resolutions based on what you now know.

1. Be reasonable  If you need to loose 50 lbs, you can’t safely do it in two weeks or even a month. Instead aim to loose 10 or 15 lbs in six or eight weeks.  If you live in snow country an hour from a gym, skip the membership, get an exercise video or a pair of dumbbells and plan to work out at home. If you want to get out of debt, identify the account with the highest interest rate and focus on that first.

2. Don’t overbook If you feel as though everything is wrong or out of control in your life don’t try fix everything at once. Setting a whole raft of goals is a surefire setup to ensure none of them will be met. You will need focus and concentration to keep even one resolution. Two or three related ones might be workable, but a half a dozen is almost impossible. So think about it and narrow it down. If you want to lose weight, and have more energy so you can do physical activities with your kids, resolve to eat healthier. This will achieve all of those things by focusing on one area and you will be less likely to get distracted.

3. Make it a positive experience  Don’t make resolutions from an angry, frustrated or depressed state of mind. We all have problems and issues but if the resolution is linked with negative emotions your subconscious will only read the negativity and not the goal. Frame you resolutions in positive language and take it one day at a time.  Promise yourself rewards and do it in a way that keeps you on track, too. If you set a goal of loosing 10 lbs by Valentine’s Day make your reward a dozen roses or an addition to your wardrobe instead of a box of chocolate.

4.  Make a plan and write it down  As with driving somewhere, you can’t plot a route to your destination if you don’t know where you are starting from. Decide what steps you need to take to get started. Then write down the plan and set milestones for each step. Research has shown those who write down their goals do much better at accomplishing them. For example, if your goal is to save, plan a time to go to your bank and set up a savings account if you don’t have one. Identify and write down what you are really spending your money on. Decide what time of day you have the most time or energy for working out and write in a calendar or put a reminder on your refrigerator. If you know you will need outside help, do some research and find a counselor or support group and make an appointment with them before you start.

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Caturday Thoughts – Simba’s Last Days

“Why do you want a bunch of pictures? You see us every day. Humans do some strange things.” “Yes Simba but I will outlive you and now I can look at your pictures when you are gone.”

The bitter cold finally broke last Sunday. So did my precious little Simba. She began to look peaky the day after New Year’s day. It seemed like she had a cold. She had gunk around her eyes and nose. But she kept to her routine of trips to the cat fountain and even the litter box. She didn’t eat very much but even the other cats were sleeping a lot more and eating less. She spent most of the day on the futon with me and slept a lot but that was not unusual.

I made an appointment for her for the Monday morning because she was not doing better. It had seemed to me around Christmas she was showing weight loss but it wasn’t until Friday she had trouble getting up on the futon. The platform for it is much lower than a normal bed and she was always able to jump up. That day she couldn’t make it without help.

Orage Simba curled up on her blanketI wound up taking her in first thing instead of waiting for her appointment. Of course it was a drop off so I went and ran errands. Finally I got a call around four. The damned phone had sent two previous calls to voice mail without a single ring. She was really sick and they were going to try to stabilize her overnight. Thinking she might die in the night or need help to the Rainbow Bridge the next day I spent an hour with her in back in the surgery that night. She did stabilize and was better the next day. I visited her Tuesday night ad talked to her support tech. She was better but she would not eat so the tech was syringe feeding her. I could see they way they were offering food was not something she would eat even in the best of health, so I said I would bring her favorite the next morning.

Wednesday morning I brought some food and Greenies treats. She really wanted the treats and ate four but she seemed to have a hard time with them. She licked the food a couple of times but that was it. I spent an hour with her in the exam room(feeling guilty for taking up an exam room during appointment hours) and then her vet talking with me about her situation and what would be required for home care. That evening I went to get a quick course in administering subcutaneous fluids and was able to bring my Little Orange home.

Simba sleeping on the futonOf course, Simba will not really “get well”. Once kidneys begin to fail that’s it. This is true for humans as well. Humans can undergo dialysis but giving subcutaneous fluids is the general protocol for cats. Some specialist centers like Animal Medical Center in New York, and the University of California at Davis provide a true dialysis but since this requires a weekly visit of several hours for the procedure you can see the commitment in time and money is prohibitive in most cases, even if available.

There are two ways of delivering dialysis to a cat. Hemodialysis filters the toxins from the blood. For the chronic renal failure found in older cats, hemodialysis will only be performed before a kidney transplant. Peritoneal dialysis is done through the stomach. The  vet uses a tube to fill your cat’s stomach with dialysis fluid where the waste products in the food are absorbed by the liquid. Then the vet flushes the cavity and discards the liquid, repeating until the waste products are diminished. Peritoneal dialysis works well for cases where illness or accident (like poisonig) were the problem ad some of the damage is reversible in the early stages. The process isn’t painful and is easy to do.

These procedures are not available for most cats and their people. There is no cure for chronic renal failure in a senior cats and it is the number one cause of death in that population. And lest anyone harbor guilt if their cat suffers the same fate as Simba I highly recommend reading this article from PetMD. In addition to being a veterinarian Dr. Coates has a background in evolutionary biology that gives an interesting perspective on the problem that I found very comforting.

So Simba is in her last days. She is going on 15 which puts her somewhere between 72 ad eighty. She had some serious dental problems of long standing and needed several extractions. All the latest research points to inflammation as a root cause of many human ailments and I believe that might have contributed to undetected strain on Simba’s kidneys, long before even blood tests showed anything. I do not regret for one minute having to pay for quarterly blood panels or special food for the last year. She had a very good year, what would be about five years to a human. I highly recommend a baseline blood panel for any senior dog or cat. So many diseases don’t show otherwise until things are critical. This even happens in humans with things like diabetes. We were able to help Simba’s kidneys with diet when only the blood work showed there was a problem.

It is now about hospice care. As long as I can give her good days of a warm bed and attention from her friends Cloud and Milk ad Skye and the petting she head butted for even on death’s door in ICU, I will. She will get her sub Q fluids and I will find food she will like to eat and when she gets tired of things I will see she has a peaceful passing. It’s the only way I can return the years of unconditional love my Simba, my Little Orange has given me.

Simba back safe in her carrier, her normal “safe place”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Why do you want a bunch of pictures? You see us every day. Humans do some strange things.”

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How to Make New Year’s Resolutions

file0001564894818We all make them, even if only in jest. There are lists of them in newspapers and on the internet, the most popular, the most often not kept. New Year’s Resolutions. Year after year the lists remain basically the same, depending on the number listed and the focus of the authors, and year after year the same resolutions are listed as not kept.

So the question must be, why are we so poor at achieving success with our intentions. First let’s take a look at what people say they want to do. A search showed almost all lists were virtually identical. Top ten items were quitting smoking, quitting drinking or drinking less, loosing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, getting out of debt and/or saving money, spending more time with family and friends and getting organized.  After looking at these lists until the repetitiveness became soporific, I began to see some patterns.

Shot glassVirtually all these resolutions fall into a handful of buckets. The first buckets is for the “I want to quit.” group. The folks who say they want to quit drinking or smoking obviously must feel their practices have a negative effect on their lives. But they are not likely to keep such resolutions. It’s easy to point the finger at substance abusers and say “Admit you’re an addict!”, which is of course the first step in overcoming addiction. It is harder to do when you are the addict. The resolutions will not be kept because in these cases the resolver needs help, a lot of help, and a really good support system in order to keep them. I’ve known many people who gave up the battle to quit smoking because their withdrawal and adjustment made them irritable and grouchy and family and co-workers complained and snapped back instead of overlooking it to help the person through the bad part.

DSC03616-BThe second bucket is the financial bucket. Those who want to get out of debt and save money are to be commended. For many though, this may be almost as difficult as bucket number one. In fact, if the reason you are in debt is chronic over-spending or spending binges you may be more properly assigned with the smokers and drinkers. If you are spending as a substitute for some unmet emotional need or as a compulsive behavior you need the same help and support as they do. As an accountant for decades, I often had to look closely for the true reasons my clients were having money problems and this is more common than most people realize.

It may however, be that you lack good money management skills and like other skills, these can be learned. It may be that you truly do not earn enough and are squeaking by from paycheck to paycheck, one problem away from disaster. There are remedies for this too, but they require a lot of work beyond a simple resolution. It may finally be that you have been listening to the media onslaught that attacks your man or womanhood for not having the right clothes, accessories, or toys. Buy now, pay later is true indeed, but the pay later does much more damage than is first evident.  There are ways to overcome being a pawn in the advertisers game but these too require a little work. Only you can decide on how much effort it’s worth.

The third bucket is the health and wellness bucket and it should come as no surprise. OverweightLoose weight, exercise more, get fit, stay fit, get healthy, eat healthier, the same items listed again and again. No wonder. Sixty eight to sixty nine per cent of Americans are obese or overweight. Here is where resolutions really break down, While many of these people are not making resolutions, it’s plain many are and the success rate doesn’t seem very high, given the obesity statistics. There are so many resources available and so much attention given to this aspect of our lives, it seems it would be much easier to achieve some progress. But by February the equipment is at the back of the closet, the diet has been abandoned, the cabinets are full of processed items and trash bag in the car is full of the remains of fast food meals. Some of the same issues may be present as in bucket one. There many be psychological issues as the root of weight or health problems. Or like bucket two, life skills may be lacking to create a workable plan, skills like effective shopping, meal planing, or how to properly assess an exercise program. Many people have be underlying medical issues and consulting a health care professional is always a good starting point before beginning a diet or exercise program.

file0001192861004The last bucket I call the “time management” bucket. This includes those who want to get organized, spend more time with friends and family, learn something new, volunteer, or travel.  These resolutions can only be kept with good time management and life skills. Fortunately, there are lots of tools to help with these kinds of resolutions. They range from paper planners, to cell phone reminders, to detailed apps and programs. Nonetheless, without identifying why you can’t find time for the activities you want to do, you are not likely to make best use of all these tools. So a good first step would be an assessment of how you actually spend your time.

Knowing some of the pitfalls, making New Year’s resolutions doesn’t have to be a futile process. It can be an opportunity to make positive changes and improve your situation. It’s just important to do it with the right frame of mind. Don’t go overboard and take on too much and don’t expect change to be instantaneous.  It’s good to keep in mind midwinter is meant to be a time of rest, renewal and reflection. Before making resolutions, spend some time thinking about the past year and where you would like to improve. Taking a first small, manageable step with some forethought and following it up throughout the coming year with other manageable steps will be more likely to create permanent change. Making a single major goal and expecting to find the energy to achieve it in the aftermath of the holidays is impractical and underlies the high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions.  The important thing is to recognize change is needed and to work toward it in a reasonable way.

Success Starts Here Freeway Style Desert Landscape

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Personal Alchemy for a New Year

Water - Personal AlchemyI was fascinated by alchemy long before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. While I never believed you could turn lead into gold or really wanted to, I did find the history of the subject fascinating. So many colorful characters, including the Nicholas Flamel mentioned in Harry Potter.  Alchemy was not only the forerunner of modern chemistry but a basis for much philosophy and spiritual thought. Then, many years ago I went to a Barnes & Noble with my friend Maryann and found a book that I had to take a look at, Alchemical Psychology by Thom F Cavelli PhD. While Maryann perused the books she had chosen to look at and we drank our coffee I dove into the book. It was so interesting I bought it. I recently pulled it out to revisit for my winter reading list.

The combining of alchemical thought and psychology was new to me when I first saw the book, but the author was far from the first to examine this. In alchemy the main object is the Magnum Opus or Great Work. This was initially considered the complicated process of creating the philosopher’s stone, which could transmute base elements into gold, but later was applied to the perfection of the self as well. Carl Jung is credited with rescuing the idea that the work of transubstantiation also represented a symbolic process of bringing the inner and outer worlds of man into harmony and wholeness. The self improvement section of any bookstore or library will tell you, while alchemy is no longer a common practice, many people are still actively interested in working to better themselves.

The Knight's Dream painting by Antonio de Pereda

The Knight’s Dream Antonio de Pereda [Public domain],

In the winter we are naturally inclined to sleep and sleep leads to dreams. Up until the last few years when health problems disrupted sleep I recalled my dreams almost every night. I would like to recapture that inner exploration. I have begun to dream again quite a bit but recall is very fragmentary. Winter will be a good time to work on that and incorporate alchemy into my plans for a better new year. I have been sleeping more quite naturally and starting to remember at least sections of my dreams. Dreams speak to us in symbols and that is also the language of alchemy.

Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby of The alchemist

The Alchemist by Joseph Wright of Derby ,

I am appreciative of the many blessings I have but I also know that it would not take much to loose them. Even in the developed world hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, are living on the brink of disaster. It might be a flood, tornado or hurricane, but it might also be a lost job or a serious illness. Having only a single source of income is a recipe for trouble. I would like to change this in my own life and for others but it seems very difficult. Thus the search inside myself for more focus, more determination and more energy. I want to turn the lead in my life to gold. Alchemy is about transformation and I intend to use it as a tool to make my life better, to achieve needed goals and in the process help others to do the same. In his world today you need focus, determination and energy just to get by, never mind get ahead. I want to turn the base metal of stress into he gold of physical energy. doubt, discouragement and depression into confidence, positive thinking and healthy assertiveness. And so he journey begins.

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Caturday Thoughts – Three Kings Day

The Three Magi from a medeival manuscriptFor many Christians, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the 12th day of Christmas known as the “Feast of the Epiphany” or “Three Kings’ Day”. The holiday marks the event recorded in the Bible, the adoration of the baby Jesus by the three Wise Men or Magi. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the only one of the gospels that mentions them, the men found the divine child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem. Although the account does not mention the number of Magi, the three gifts led to the general assumption that there were three of them. In Eastern Christianity, especially the Syriac churches, the Magi often number twelve.

Magi is a term, used since at least the 6th century BCE, to denote followers of Zoroastrianism. The earliest known usage of the word Magi is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription, which can be dated to about 520 BCE. The Avestan word ‘magâunô’, i.e. the religious caste of the Medes, seems to be the origin of the term. Although the Magi are commonly referred to as “kings,” there is nothing in the account from the Gospel of Matthew that implies that they were rulers of any kind. The identification of the Magi as kings is linked to Old Testament prophecies that describe the Messiah being worshiped by kings in Isaiah 60:3, Psalm 68:29, and Psalm 72:10.Early readers reinterpreted Matthew in light of these prophecies and by 500 CE all commentators adopted the prevalent tradition that the three were kings.

The Magi Journeying painting by James Tissot showing them in the desert hills on camels

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Whether seen as kings or wise men, their visitation is celebrated in many ways in many places. In Hispanic culture, it is known as El Dia De Reyes,a special date to commemorate and enjoy. Children in Mexico write letters to the three kings to ask for desired Christmas gifts and receive their presents on January 6th. In Mexico City thousands gather every year in the Alameda park to share food and have the children’s pictures taken with the wise men.

A staple of the festivities is the Rosca de Reyes (or Kings’ Bread). Traditionally baked round as an allusion to a King’s crown, hidden within the sweet bread is a baby Jesus figurine.  The person whose slice has the figurine must prepare tamales for everyone on Candlemas, . Children leave their shoes right outside their doors so the Three Kings will leave their gifts inside, the bigger presents are placed around them. Many families leave a box of grass (or hay) and water for The Three King’s camels to eat. The camels are known for leaving a trail of hay behind that children often follow to their gifts.

Adoration of the Magi painting by Giotto

Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Spain the special pastry is called a ‘Roscón’ (meaning a ring shaped roll). They are filled with cream or chocolate and decorated with paper crowns. The hidden items are a figure of a king (if you find that you can wear the crown) and a dried bean (if you find that you’re meant to pay for the cake.). In Catalonia it’s known as a Tortell or Gâteau des Rois and is stuffed with marzipan.In France it would be a Galette des Roispa, a type of flat almond cake. It has a toy crown cooked inside it and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.

In Portugal, people take part in Epiphany carol singing known as the ‘Janeiras’ (January songs). On the Island of Maderia they’re known as the ‘Cantar os Reis’ (singing the kings). In Italy, some children also get their presents on Epiphany. But they believe that an old lady called La Befana brings them. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for La Befana to fill. In other countries, Belgium and Poland for example, it is for Epiphany that children go carol singing frm door to door.

If you want to extend your holiday celebrations, don’t end it all on Twelfth Night, Epiphany Eve. Continue on and enjoy some of the customs of Three Kings Day. At least try one of the varieties of pastry with your morning coffee that morning!

 

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Minor Cold xiǎo hán 小寒 Jan 5th

Snow covered road in pine woodsMinor Cold 小寒(Shōkan Japanese, 소한 Sohan Korean, tiểu hàn Vietnamese) literally means small or minor cold. and is the 23rd solar term. It ia a bit of a misnomer. Although “Minor Cold” implies less cold than the following solar term, “Major Cold”, there is an old saying in China that “The days of the Sanjiu period are the coldest days.” “Sanjiu period” refers to the third nine-day period (the 19th-27th days) after the day of the Winter Solstice, which is in Minor Cold.  In truth, Minor Cold is normally the coldest period of winter and most areas in China have entered the bitter stage of winter. The ground and rivers are frozen. The cold air from the north moves southward continuously. In the western calendar it usually begins around 5 January and ends around 20 January.

Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), there is a tradition of making a special type of chart called jiujiuxiaohantu, which helps them get through the cold days. The chart shows a picture of a plum tree with nine blossoms, each with nine uncolored petals. Or, it can be a grid of nine Chinese words, each with nine strokes. The practice of using a jiujiuxiaohantu actually starts with the first day of Winter Solstice and lasts throughout the nine nine-day periods that follow. From the first day, people draw one petal or stroke every day until it is finished. As Xiaohan takes place during the third nine-day period of the coldest days, people usually link the custom to this solar term.

It is important to keep warm during this period. There is an old Chinese saying that goes, “Get exercise in the coldest days of winter.”, which is Minor Cold. To keep warm, the children of China have special games to play, such as hoop rolling, but their are lots of ways to exercise in the cold. If you live where there is snow, cross country skiing is a tremendous workout and a wonderful way to enjoy winter.

From the perspective of dietary health care, during Minor Cold people should eat hot foods like trout, pepper, cinnamon, leeks, fennel and parsley. Chinese think Minor Cold is the best time to have dishes like hot pot. A good American dish for this time is chili. Soup is always good for you and hearty soups and stews are perfect for warming the body at this time.

Snow against trees and picket fence along snow covered roadIn Tianjin, there is a custom to have huangyacai, a kind of Chinese cabbage, during Minor Cold. There are large amounts of Vitamins A and B in huangyacai. As huangyacai is fresh and tender, it is fit for frying, roasting and braising.

Cantonese people traditionally eat glutinous rice in the morning during Minor Cold, adding things like fried preserved pork, sausage and peanuts and mixing them into the rice. According to the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine, glutinous rice has the effect of tonifying the spleen and stomach in the cold season.

In Nanjing there is a custom of eating vegetable rice that has continued from ancient times. The rice is steamed and other ingredients are added. Among the ingredients, aijiaohuang (a kind of green vegetable), sausage and salted duck are favored specialties.

 

 

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Caturday Thoughts – New Year’s Eve

I haven’t gone out for New Year’s Eve since I lived in Annapolis in the 1990s. They had a lovely First Night in the historic district where I lived. Everyone was on foot and all the entertainment was within a few blocks of my apartment and much of it was free. Since then it’s been a stay at home affair. I haven’t had a television for decades. Occasionally I was at my parent’s home or my brother’s for New Year’s Eve but we all gave up watching the Times Square broadcast after Dick Clark stopped doing it. We tried, but between the lame presenters and the enormous amount of time spent on commercials, we decided listening to some nice jazz or classical music or even watching old black and white movies was a better alternative. The Thin Man was a favorite, it had lots of partying and great dialogue.

2017 was a difficult year. Everything seemed to be a struggle. Things took longer than expected to accomplish, or cost more. The plumbing and other systems in the house continuously broke down or, as with the truck, the preventive maintenance was very costly. Mi Sun developed arthritis and Simba, kidney trouble. They are both on special diets. My office services place was forced out of business by a huge rent increase. I do not want another difficult year in 2018.

Large chrysanthemum stle fireworks burst, whiteSo on New Year’s Eve we will be staying in. There will be no fireworks unless the neighbors discover some they overlooked setting off in July. The cats don’t like the noise anyway.  No noisy, drunken crowds or hazardous road travel will be experienced. We will eat well and I will drink. The cats are teetotalers but I am not. There is plenty of food left from Christmas; smoked salmon, herring and sprats, cookies and panetone, pork and German bakery bread and Jannson’s Temptaion (I used a really big baking dish at Christmas).

We’ll start the New Year by having plenty of food in the house, mindful of those that have little food and no house. All over the world there will be people looking forward to the new year in refuge camps. And in the richest country in the world, there are hundreds of thousands more with no housing or in danger of loosing what they have. Let’s hope in 2018 many of them find security.

Old sepia colored wall calendar

 

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