Summer is not half way done and many of us are involved in the back to school process. Educators, parents and students will all experience that half-excitement, half-dread, pit-of-the-stomach feeling that unfamiliar experiences and change generate. And of course, there is a picture book for that. Lots of them. Reminding us that we can do this.
A little girl in a humongous blue-striped helmet chooses a bike, practices a lot, and (aided by a patient guy in a green tie) learns to ride. The gentle text offers pithy encouragement. “Let’s go! . . . Watch everyone ride . . . They all learned how . . . Come on, let’s give it a try . . . Training wheels are helpful . . . They keep you from tipping over.” Raschka’s well-chosen words, spread over several pages, admonish: “Find the courage to try it again, again, and again until… by luck, grace, and determination you are riding a bicycle!” Raschka deconstructs what’s needed to acquire this skill (which may be unique for its lessons on the physics of motion and the rewards of self-reliance), but also suggests the complexity of achieving balance and independence in any of life’s transitions.
From those wobbly first steps to those wobbly last steps, it’s all about the balance. And if you have a cheerleader and someone to catch you that’s an extra bonus.
Kevin Henkes’ wonderfully appealing child-mouse has a stubborn habit: worrying. Wemberly, a shy white mouse with gray spots, always feels nervous. “At the playground, Wemberly worried about/ the chains on the swings,/ and the bolts on the slide,/ and the bars on the jungle gym.” She tells her father, “Too rusty. Too loose. Too high,” while sitting on a park bench watching the other mice play. Her security, a rabbit doll named Petal (rarely leaves her grip. Henkes lists Wemberly’s worries, “Big things” heads the list, paired with a vignette of the heroine checking on her parents in the middle of the night with a flashlight, “I wanted to make sure you were still here.” He shows how Wemberly’s anxieties peak at the start of nursery school with huge text that dwarfs illustrations. At school Wemberly meets another girl mouse, Jewel, who turns out to be a kindred spirit (she even carries her own worn doll). Henkes offers no solutions, handling the subject with realistic gentleness; while playing with Jewel, “Wemberly worried. But no more than usual. And sometimes even less.”
Sometimes you just want to know that you are not the only one. A perfect book for those with anxiety and for those who ‘don’t understand what all the fuss is about’.
Sometimes you need to be your own cheerleader and this girl has it covered. No matter what she does, wherever she goes, or what others think of her, she likes herself because, as she says, “I’m ME!”. Evoking Dr. Seuss’s work with quirky absurdity, she is so full of joy that readers will love her. Even with “-stinky toes/or horns protruding from my nose”. The rhymes are goofy, the illustrations are zany (for the “I like me on the inside” verse, he shows the narrator and her horrified dog in X-ray mode).
Whatever new experiences await you, you can do this! And we have a book, DVD, or e-resource that might help. See you at the library.
Have you ever experienced an emotion that you could not explain or describe? If you have, you can attest to this unexplained emotion leading to even more indescribable emotions. Before you know it, you are left feeling like you don’t understand yourself.
I have had experiences where loved ones have told me to “be happier” or “calm down” after I try to explain what I’m feeling. These dismissive responses have caused me to repress my emotions at times; as if they didn’t exist. You can’t just “be happy” because someone told you that you should be. In fact, you shouldn’t tell someone how and when to feel a certain way. Instead, be respectful of their feelings and find ways to help them.
Many people living with depression and/or anxiety can’t always put their feelings into words. Much less, explain why it’s happening, just that it is. The society we live in is very good at prescribing solutions to fix, assist, or aid in one’s physical health. If we tell a friend we’ve broken our arm, the solution is a cast. If we have any kind of physical illness or disease we have everything from physical therapy to surgery to address these ailments. Unfortunately, when it comes to emotional health (and intelligence) our friends and family aren’t always able to come up with tangible solutions. In fact, mental wellness is often seen as a more abstract concept and, sadly, isn’t always taken seriously.
Working to recognize your emotions (and the emotions of others) and the ability to distinguish between different feelings is key. Once you’re able to identify your emotions and the feelings that come with them, you can use that information to guide your thinking and behavior. Having a plan and taking action to healthfully address your state of mind is an essential step in managing your wellness. A few examples include: examining your diet and exercise regimen, trying meditation, exploring a new hobby, exploring the outdoors, making time for yourself, talking with a close friend or therapist, and coloring. These are just a few ways you can find positive behaviors that can make you both happier and healthier.
Each person experiences life, and the world around them, in a different way. So, the answers to their emotional needs will be just as diverse. Let’s find more ways to be more understanding and practice compassion when the people around us are comfortable sharing their feelings. Besides, we’re on this planet to help each other.
Modern life is riddled with many problems and situations involving SWAT. This is a constant, perennial, and vexing by-product of our current lifestyles. As such, SWAT, in one form or another, follows us like a shadow, everywhere. They rob us of the sense of freedom and enjoyment we should experience from living our everyday lives.
Stress is caused by feelings of anxiety, tension, and worry about situations (or unpleasant experiences) that are happening to us. They cause a great deal of psychological and emotional distress and pain. Often, this manifests itself in the form of a sense of helplessness and lack of control. Their effects are pernicious on both body and mind: constant irritability, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, inability to concentrate and to deal with the various tasks at hand that need our attention. Consequently, time, energy, and money are often wasted in unproductive ways to combat SWAT. Some seek quick relief for their distress, in remedies such as: drugs, alcohol, smoking, binge eating, and compulsive shopping—all of which only compounds the problem, without solving the underlying root causes.
Of course, there are other cheaper and more sensible short-term remedies:
(1) Take a walk; (2) Listen to music; (3) Enjoy nature (smell the flowers); (4) Try to feel grateful for what you have; (5) Read a good book such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Ask yourself, “Is the SWAT caused by some self-imposed, misguided values and beliefs which trip you into doing things and engage in activities causing more harm than good?”
Common SWAT Situations:
1. I have no time! Many Time-starved modern families find themselves too busy, trying to do too many tasks, which cannot all be completed within a certain time period– (day, week, or month). Are all of them really necessary? Do they all make sense? Will these activities/choices help to improve your ultimate Quality of Life? If the answers to these questions are mostly negative, then, you should Prioritize these tasks. Give up what is really not important for your long-term wellbeing. Concentrate on a few, and let the others go. “Don’t bite more than you can chew”. Or, as Thoreau advised: “Simplify, Simplify”.
2. I don’t have the money. Are you spending too much? Are you unable to meet your multiple financial obligations? Finding too many bills in the mailbox? Then, look for possible solutions such as: (a) Cut your spending as much as possible immediately; (b) Sell some assets (stuff) and pay off your debts carrying high interest rates; (c) Increase your income temporarily by working overtime/2nd job; (d) Try to re-arrange (stretch) your monthly payments by investigating cheaper, more affordable loans (refinancing); (e) Find out if someone (friends/family/employer) can help you out a bit; (f) Downsize your dwelling/car/association memberships/subscriptions/gifts/donations, etc. (f) Look for other ‘creative’ solutions to increase cash ‘inflows’ and reduce ‘outflows’—depending on your situation.
3. I can’t let go. Don’t try to win every game, all the time. Remember: “It is the journey that is important; not the destination– (or winning)”. Sticking to this wise counsel can save your sanity, and free yourself from many unhappy, hopeless situations/goals, such as—climbing the proverbial “Corporate ladder”, trying to win every argument; getting ahead of others in sports/competitions, building wealth, and various aspects of getting ahead “in the game of life”.
4. I can’t deal. Bend, not break- trying to change others—their habits, values, political and religious beliefs, attitudes and expectations—generally don’t work. Other people are just as fastidious as you are. It is far more sensible and productive to change yourself, before trying to change others. This is within your control, and therefore, doable. It is up to you to try.
5. I’m not happy. Contentment. Enjoy what you have, right now; and don’t fret over the future too much. Have realistic goals. Keep striving, while practicing self-control, with discipline and determination. This will improve your physical and mental health.
6. I have nothing to offer. Finally, try generosity. Share, care and help those who are less fortunate. Provide physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual comfort, to ease their burdens, in whatever way you can. This can be a great ‘stress reliever’, helping you, while helping others as well.
There are myriad classes and activities for the young on everything you can imagine. It is easy to find a children’s soccer, tumbling, ballet, art, gaming, or music class, and the list goes on. It is much more difficult for adults to explore an interest or talent. If you are still in the workplace, there are opportunities for training and social interaction, but those opportunities may not always tap your creative potential.
Now is the time to liberate your creativity even if you think you’re not one of those people. Engaging in arts and crafts and other creative projects can have a positive impact on your health. Dr. Gene Cohen was a pioneer and one of the world’s experts in gerontology. In studies of aging people and in Dr. Cohen’s own work, four aspects of creativity stood out: Creative activity strengthens our morale later in life, contributes to physical health as we age, enriches relationships, and is our greatest legacy. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s work here.
Creative potential is there and alive in all of us. Your creativity is only limited by your own imagination. You can paint, draw, sing, write or do whatever sparks your interest. It does not matter if your project comes out less than perfect. Enjoy it, be creative and have fun. Collaborative creativity allows you to share your ideas and experience in a social setting.
Howard County Library System (HCLS) offers a variety of classes to spark your creativity potential, including Pins and Needles, Crafty Readers, Writer’s Group, and Hands-On, Off Camera Flash Photography workshop. No prior artistic experience is required. One of the classes offered by the library at the Miller Branch on the second Monday of every month is Calming Crafts. Lynn, one of the class’s instructors, said one of the reasons she started the class was because “doing simple crafts can help keep you in “the moment” and some your worries dissipate.” Ann, the other instructor, is the library’s Enchanted Garden Coordinator, so when weather permits, the class is held in the garden. Past projects have included finger knitting, pinch pots, leaf rubbings, card making, and rock painting. During the last two weeks in July some of the class projects will be on display at Miller Branch.
Whatever your age, circumstances, talents or skills, it is never too late to try something new. American folk artist, Grandma Moses, did not launch her painting career until she was 78! Playwright George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, at the age of sixty-nine. Shaw was still working on a comedy when he died at the age of ninety-four! What will you do?
Eric Weiner spent many years as a foreign correspondent for NPR, and in that time visited many of the world’s countries. His travels frequently took him to decidedly unhappy places – or at least, people in unfortunate situations. A self-admitted “grump”, Weiner decided he would embark on a quest to find the happiest places in the world and, of course, write about it in his book The Geography of Bliss. Beginning at the World Database of Happiness in the Netherlands, Weiner checks out a list of the happiest countries in the world, statistically. His journey takes him to Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova (the unhappiest nation in the world, to see what the opposite of happiness looks like), Thailand, Great Britain, India, and ends in America.
How can happiness be measured? According to Ruut Veenhoven at the World Database of Happiness, “you can’t be happy and not know it. By definition, if you are happy, you know it”, and so, you simply ask people how happy they are (p. 12). According to the research, the happiest person ever should be an extroverted optimistic married religious-service-attending educated busy Republican – as people who meet each of those criteria are happier than those on the opposite end of each spectrum. If that doesn’t describe you, well, no worries! The science of happiness seems to be rather subjective. Plus, there’s “reverse causality” (basically the real term for “what came first the chicken or the egg?”): are happy people more likely to be extroverted/get married/go to church/take on more work/etc or does the factor in question make them happy? Well, that isn’t really the question Weiner set out to answer (and it probably isn’t definitively answerable, anyway), he was more concerned with where and why people are happy. The answers to both questions – as much as they can be answered – were not what Weiner expected. None of the usual suspects predict happiness level, not diversity, equality, wealth, income distribution, or climate. Some things are obvious: basic needs must be met (you need food and shelter, for example), and you need enough income to fulfil those needs and not feel stressed, but beyond that… Weiner spent a whole book looking for that answer.
So, what is it? In the end, happiness is a complicated equation. It’s a careful balancing act: add a bunch of culture, some family and friends, a dash of money, a big helping of gratitude and trust, remove envy and excessive thinking. Weiner’s chapter titles give us some insight into his quest; happiness is: a number, boredom, a policy, a winning lottery ticket, failure, somewhere else, not thinking, a work in progress, a contradiction, home. Weiner asks interesting questions and uncovers some interesting approaches to happiness from all over the world. If happiness research piques your interest, The Geography of Bliss will provide you some intriguing food for thought. It’s also an excellent book for group discussion, complete with questions provided by the publisher.
It’s true, I have a love of Teen novels and I’m not going to apologize for it. In all honesty, most of the ones I go for tend to be, well, let’s just say NOT realistic fiction. (Come on, The Raven Cycle has quests for dead Welsh kings, psychics, ley lines, and one of the best hitmen ever written–but you have to wait until book 2 to meet him. And , The Lunar Chronicles? Kick-butt, clever, fairy tale heroines in space–how could anyone resist? And let’s not forget all that exciting dystopian fiction.) But, I have to admit, I recently succumbed to a very positive review and picked up a realistic teen fiction title that I want to recommend (but only to older teens and adults). All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is an amazing book with a powerful story, particularly concerning mental health. I was trying to think of a summary that would not give too much away, but instead I’ll just give you 10 good reasons to pick it up and read it:
- Yes, yes, all the reviews say it, so why shouldn’t I: If you loved The Fault in Our Stars (or Eleanor & Park, or both), you will love this book. It has its own unique magic and is not merely a copycat.
- The book deals with first love/first sex compassionately, and still lets it be romantic.
- It’s already been picked up to be made into a movie, but, as every librarian, English teacher, book lover, etc. will tell you: “Read the book first; it’s almost always better.”
- Violet Markey, one of the main characters, is awesome. She is suffering a major loss in her life, and is struggling mightily, but still manages to be smart, relatable, and authentic.
- Theodore Finch, the other main character, is also awesome. He knows something is wrong with Violet, and he wants to help. He also knows something is wrong with him, and Niven lets him react to this in a way that is true to real life. And yet, he is still charming, dear, warm, and someone you want to root for, even though you know its is dangerous to do so.
- You will learn a surprising amount about some of Indiana’s “natural wonders.”
- If, like me, you tend to go for more “far out” (yes, I know, I’m old for using that expression) teen fiction, or, if you d on’t read any teen fiction at all, this might open you up to it.
- The author’s notes. Please, please, please read the author’s notes at the end of the book. If you relate to the book because you or someone you know is struggling with some similar issues, Niven provides some great resources. And if you are not, what the author discusses adds a whole new layer to the lives of the characters.
- The mental health issues are not sugar coated. In some ways this makes the book very difficult to read, but I am grateful for the fact that, though it is fiction, the book feels very real and doesn’t try to hide, romanticize, or make light of what is going on with its characters.
- You will cry. Okay, maybe this isn’t an enticement, but you’ll suspect pretty early on in the book that it will end with tears, and yet you’ll want to keep going. You’ll have to see it through to the end with Violet and Finch, despite the heartbreak that will stay with you well beyond the pages of the book.