When life turns up the heat, do you expand or contract?

As a citizen of earthquake country, over a lifetime of shaky moments I have picked up on a few geological terms.

Take “mechanical weathering,” for example.

In the simplest of terms, mechanical weathering takes place when rocks are essentially torn apart by physical force, rather than by chemical breakdown.

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Tectonic forces, such as earthquakes, break and shatter rocks in the earth’s crust.

Temperature changes also effect mechanical weathering through slight expansion and contraction, weakening the rock itself.

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I think there’s a lot more to it than these simple examples, but the term “mechanical weathering” comes to mind when I think about my personal stress levels. I think we expand and contract, depending on life circumstances, an unlimited number of times under stressful circumstances.

But don’t we all want to minimize our earthquakes?

I will admit that pressures have been a little high as I’ve been adjusting my schedule to accommodate the unexpected and the overflowing.

We’ve had a couple of family hospitalizations–nothing dreadful–just those things that come along and need addressing. When that’s the highest priority, I think I brace myself, contracting just a wee bit.

There are happy times, too. Anticipation of babies joining the family, anniversary celebrations and birthday parties. The calendar feels overloaded, with good things, mind you, but times of expansion are a different form of stress. Our neurons don’t always differentiate the positive from negative.

Perhaps I don’t  experience ACTUAL mechanical weathering, but to be certain, we can allow stress to build up, making an earthquake inevitable.

So what to do?

Don’t do…just be.

Let’s do a reverse energy flow, avoiding those fissures and cracks, if possible, focusing on what brings down those earthquake producing high stress-induced cortisol levels.

I didn’t have the attention span to follow-up on my last post and give the low-down on when John Muir spent time in Pasadena. For those of you who share my love of Muir and other American naturalists, I’m in a reading frenzy. I’ll be back to that very soon.

Instead, wherever I can find them, I’m taking little mental vacations. A few minutes with our workplace turtles, and anxiety lifts off my shoulders. You just have to change your focus. It’s another little law of nature!

Tell me now…do they look stressed?

Earthquake avoided.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir

Stress-busting at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Have you noticed that stress is cumulative? I put significant effort into ameliorating the effects of daily stress. I try very hard not to let it build up, but I don’t operate under any misconception that I can eliminate it. However, I know that if I regularly tap into quiet I am better prepared to offset the barrage of noise and clamor that seems to come with living in a busy world.

One of my favorite places to find that peace is the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Once the home of Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, the library contains priceless literary and artistic treasures rivaling collections found in the greatest museums.

I will undoubtedly take you along with me on one of my trips inside the many buildings and exhibits associated with the library and art collection. But this weekend I was mostly interested in spending some time on the grounds. The botanical gardens cover 120 acres with rare plants from around the world. It is incredibly satisfying to just walk the grounds.

A benefit of being a local is having a membership offering early entrance to the grounds. I took advantage of some free time to enjoy the beauty and soak up some silence three hours before the Huntington opens to the general public.

Dodging sprinkling systems, tuning out the incessant drone of leaf blowers, and making note that silence is a rare commodity anywhere in Southern California, I  focused on the beauty of a lovely fall morning.

I wasn’t alone in early entrance to the garden–I do fantasize that I can have it all to myself for just an hour–but I noted others who were also committed to being as silent as possible. One woman had her sketch book and pencils. One man was sitting in the sunshine of the rose garden reading a book. Many more were like myself with camera in hand.

For a brief time I walked behind two young women accompanied by their children. The children caught my attention because I really wished I had my two granddaughters with me to explore and enjoy the birds and squirrels busy with their morning meal. The women were chatting, loud and clear, about school preferences, challenges they were experiencing with a particular teacher, and debating the suitability of the educational system as tailored to meet the needs of their children.

Yet the children were walking by themselves, looking and touching and taking it all in without the benefit of either mother using the opportunity to engage with them. They weren’t “together”–they weren’t sharing this wonderful  hands-on teaching environment.

I thought back and wondered if I had been that unconscious with my own children. At times, the answer is probably “yes,” but one benefit in getting older is realizing opportunities need to be grabbed.  It’s about “now” not later.

I did have time with Sophia and Karina on Saturday. The girls were at our house in the afternoon and we had several hours to do with as we pleased. So we took a nature walk around our own neighborhood.

I left it up to them to decide what was important to notice. They talked about palm trees, rocks, a piece of bark, a stone, squirrels, butterflies…somehow an American flag made it into our “nature” observations. But they noticed. That’s all I wanted.

We came home and colored pictures of what they had seen. Since Sophia is still working with a broken arm I encouraged them to create on paper we could cut out and tape into a new nature journal I had purchased. They spent about an hour coloring and “writing notes” in our new field observation guide! We now have one full entry. But we can do this again each time we have the chance to walk and look around us. What a delightful record of their childhood this will be for me!

And so a new week begins. There will be stress…for all of us. For those living in the path of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, the word “stress” isn’t even adequate. However, everyone has moments that feel like mini-storms.

I do encourage considering what you’ll do to capture even a moment or two of  “peace and quiet” this week.  I guarantee we need to regularly access quiet, not just on the weekends, in order to strengthen resilience and keep stress in check. And maybe start your own journal–poetry, photography, painting… keep track of what it means to stop and be mindful and notice how good it can feel to jump off the treadmill!

For my American friends–we may be in for a bumpy political road this week. I’m going to try to get outdoors as much as possible and tune out ALL unnecessary noise.

Let’s all breathe lighter, shall we?

This Was The Week That Was…I think there were Sunspots!

Every week–make that every day–holds challenges. Unless you somehow manage to keep your base of operation really, really close to home, it takes a little extra reserve just to get by.  I don’t think my expectations include being trouble-free. But when things get odd, that’s when I take particular notice!

Every evening I go through the garden and have a little pep talk with the vegetables.  It’s also how I make sure everyone is doing well. A few transplants went into pots–there wasn’t room in the garden and I didn’t have the heart to throw them out.  I was finishing some watering when I did a double-take at one of the potted tomato plants. The day before it looked beautiful– full of nice green tomatoes and the healthiest of stems with abundant flowers. But now it was obviously sick!

After a few minutes, and I mean it took a little time, my eye adjusted to the camouflage of multiple horned tomato worms. In one 24 hour period these green meanies had  all but decimated the plant, leaving behind half-eaten green tomatoes and a huge loss of  previously leafy green. Tomato worms aren’t rare, but I’ve never had such an infestation on one plant.

Well, you can’t have an organic garden and expect to survive without losses. It was just disappointing. I’d show you pictures of the worms, but you see, I can’t get the photo off the camera…I don’t know why! But stay with me here…

Another day I showed up for an appointment to be told there had been an unfortunate double booking. Come back in a few minutes. Not thrilled, but I took the extra time to go to the store next door. Leaving the grocery store the wheel on the cart hit a six-inch shift in concrete stopping the cart so abruptly that I careened into it and fell to the ground in a very un-Olympic-like dismount. I would have preferred to slowly make my way to the car and escape, but I did attract attention.

Still thinking about my narrow escape I was almost to the car when I heard a man yelling THE “B” WORD with a few accompanying other words I won’t use here. I was mostly lost in my own thought so it took me a moment to realize the tirade was directed towards me. My still shaky brain wasn’t registering any particular reaction until he came closer to me and seemed threatening. I then realized that he was obviously suffering from some form of mental illness and I just did my best to quickly get to the car to avoid any further contact. I shakily made my way to the original appointment!

When the weather abruptly changed to light rain with extreme humidity (by Southern California standards), I employed the shorthand Jay and I use between us when we have a number of Twilight Zone encounters…Sunspots!  Intense magnetic activity must be responsible for also causing our modem to do some odd dance with spotty connectivity. And then there were the power outages…I think magnetic pressure was causing some kind of metaphysical chaos! And I didn’t previously mention how while handing Pinky the bunny to one of the girls she “spooked” and tore up my hands in Freddy Krueger-like slashes. That gravitational pull caused a normally very docile pet to  go wild on me.

As we neared the end of this week all I could think about was the weekend and hoping to stay very close to home. I finally sat down tonight and thought I’d give myself a little time with getting caught up on some blogs…I’ve had only minimal contact this odd week! I opened my Spam folder and enjoyed a hearty chuckle!

My weary brain perked up when I read  the nicest, most complimentary Spam message I’ve ever received.

Let me tell you what “American Airways” had to say:

“As a result of browsing throughout the online world and coming across techniques which are not productive, I assumed my entire life was done. Being alive minus the strategies to the problems you have sorted out by way of your good short article is crucial. Your own capability and kindness in maneuvering all things was helpful. I am not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t encountered such a subject like this. I can also at this point look forward to my future.”

At the end of a tough week, it’s good to feel appreciated isn’t it?  Sunspots I tell you!

I’ll end my week sharing a tune I’ve been humming for a couple of days. I have no conscious memory of ever seeing this television show, but I somehow I know the theme song. That Was The Week That Was, also called TW3, was a satirical political comedy airing on BBC Television in the early 1960s. I would have been about ten years old and I had no access to British television. The show did migrate to the U.S. at some point, and although I don’t remember watching it, perhaps I did!

If  you want a glimpse of some funny banter back and forth making good fun of both American and British early 1960s politics, do take a moment to watch. I suspect this show was an early forerunner for the likes of Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live.

I’m finally beginning my exhale…and turning the page quickly on That Was My Week That Was! I will revive quickly now that I’m home!

Finally breathing lighter…Debra