Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Returning to Nature Through Pictures

By Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

Spring has sprung here in Western PA! The trees are budding. The daffodils are blazing in hues of yellow and orange. The grass is greening up and needs to be cut (or "needs cut" if you're a local). The songbirds are busy with their mating rituals and provide a symphony of music as the sun rises. The pollen is torturing every poor soul that suffers from seasonal allergies.

This past weekend I joined a group of folks who I'd like to think were significantly older, but in reality were my peers, sigh, on a trek through the woods of the nearby Yellow Creek State Park. We were led by an experienced nature photographer. She gave a thorough and information-packed talk on how to best take pictures in nature using whatever camera you own. 

Some of my photog cohorts lumbered around with cameras and tripods or cameras with lenses as tall as a toddler or just a simple cell phone. All listened intently as we learned how to take advantage of light and shadows. We learned how to frame a shot. We were encouraged to spend time with one subject and take the shot from different angles using a variety of settings (when available) to get a different effect.

We began our slow meandering walk into the woods forcing ourselves to see the beauty in the leafless trees, the rotting detritus of last fall that carpeted the forest floor and the general browness of the landscape.

After a few minutes and shifting my idea of what beauty is, I was able to spot a variety of shapes, textures and even some color peeking through to photograph. I spent some time fiddling with the manual settings on my Canon EOS not relying on the automatic options. I changed F stops and ISO. I zoomed and unzoomed. I got low and aimed high. 

I found green lichen making interesting patterns on the bark of trees. I found bark in all types of textures and shades of brown. Moss provided a spectrum of greens and textures. The sun glowed through thick clouds that at first appeared to be a solid wall but when studied they had shape and shades of grey. The barren trees made for dramatic angles. Red berries the birds hadn't eaten popped against grey-brown bark. Little yellow wildflowers popped from brown leaves providing a contrasting background.

Once I started to appreciate the beauty of early spring, I couldn't stop taking pictures. Most of my pictures did not come out as I had intended but it was nice to get back into using my camera that had been collecting dust. I needed this push to get me excited about a hobby I let slip away. I love taking pictures, especially black and white photos.

As I started to snap shot after shot I became excited. I got dirty as I knelt i in the ground for better angles. I wandered off from the group and winded my way into the woods looking for more interesting images.

I would have kept at it but my 10-year-old camera decided it had had enough and just shut off.

As I wait for the new battery to arrive, I anticipate my next foray into photography so I can hone my skills.

Until then I will share some of my not so great shots with you.

Happy Spring. Take time to enjoy the little beauties that get lost.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Magical Christmas on a Dime

 By: Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

My mother always managed to make our Christmases magical. It started with crafting hand painted ornaments or building them from clothespins with scraps of fabric and sundries from her sewing room. 

We always visited the local tree lot to select the perfect “fresh” cut evergreen tree. We would adorn that tree with the ornaments we’d made at home and school as well as the store bought and inherited treasures. Each branch of our perfectly lit tree would be finished with exactly three of evenly hung pieces of tinsel. No balling it up into a frizzy mess and tossing it on at our house.

We would smell batches of her cookies baking throughout the season as mom perfected old and new recipes. We would be allowed to help decorate her cut out shapes with candies before she baked them. We even were permitted to select a few shapes to be made into her delicious sparkle cookies. There were parties and family gatherings as well.

Of course, the most anticipated time was Christmas morning when we would find mounds of presents under the tree and overflowing from our stockings. My sister and I received very few gifts throughout the year. Our parents did not spoil us by buying us every little toy we coveted. On our birthdays, we looked forward to a few gifts, but Christmas was the when we hit the jackpot.

I’m not sure why my mom felt compelled to lavish us with such riches on this day. Perhaps she was trying to outdo her childhood. She was the fourth child of nine and my grandparents were not wealthy so gifts at Christmas were sparse. Perhaps she was trying to compensate for our emotionally absent and verbally abusive father. More than either of those, I suspect she liked to shop. She was an expert bargain hunter and that allowed her to buy many, many things for her girls at Christmas.

On Christmas morning it looked as if Santa had barfed under our tree. There were unwrapped toys that were clearly from Santa himself. Beyond those lay meticulously wrapped boxes that were from mom and dad to either my sister or myself. There had to be at least 20 gifts for each of us. There were toys, clothes and books.

After we opened those gifts, my grandmother would arrive with bags and bags that overflowed with gifts. Many of her gifts were handmade. She was crafty and a bit eccentric. Her gifts never disappointed. The most memorable of her lovingly crafted gifts was a piece of thick cardboard cutout into the shape of a wreath. She coated it in bright red wax and pressed seashells into the wax before it set. Then, she topped it off with a red feather. What eight-year-old wouldn’t want to unwrap that on Christmas day?

There were always more gifts from family friends. We would travel to my other grandma’s house where we would open several more gifts. The bounty and booty were overwhelming and glorious.

The tradition of overabundance continues to this day. My mother has created a monster of a tradition. The difference between then and now is that we do buy things for ourselves and our children throughout the year. We spoil ourselves and our kids 365 days a year, not just that one spectacular morning. As a result, the gifts at Christmas become redundant and not as exciting.

Not needing stuff or even wanting anything in particular combined with dwindling expendable income has made me want to downsize Christmas and focus more on the quality of the gift, not the quantity. The quality can be found in the meaning, not in the cost. 

A thoughtful gift means more to mean than an expensive one.

I have been encouraging, to mixed reviews, the idea of low cost or free gifts for our Christmas. Rather than spending two or more hours opening gifts, why don’t we spend that time playing games, cooking and sharing stories? Christmas is often a time for families to reconnect, that in itself is a gift.

Ideas for Free or Cheap Gifts

  • Make a photo album
  • Frame a picture you made or a photo you took
  • Make a Mixed CD/[/playlist to share
  • Regift something you no longer need like jewelry, a pretty scarf, an heirloom cast iron pan or knife
  • Offer your services like babysitting, cleaning, painting, etc...
  • Gifts of food like granola, spiced nuts, soups mixes, baked goods, etc...
  • A box/book of your favorite recipes
  • A day out to a museum, park or another free place
  • A homemade meal
  • A handmade gift, not a wax wreath with seashells, but something you sewed, knitted, sculpted, painted, etc….

My mother happily agreed to provide gifts from the heart and her kitchen. So now, at Christmas, I open homemade cookies, hand-me-down jewelry, CD’s of her favorite music and 20 store-bought gifts. Not quite what I had in mind, but I appreciate the effort.

All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth

Sparkle Cookie Recipe:
Pre-Heat oven to 375

1 cup (2 sticks) butter (softened)
1 ½ cups Sifted confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
1 tsp Vanilla
1 egg
2 ½ cups sifted flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
Cream butter, vanilla, sugar and egg together. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the first mixture.

Chill the dough 1 hour cover with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. 

Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about ¼ inch thickness.

Cut into desired shapes with a floured cookie cutter

Place on baking sheet. Brush lightly with cool water. Decorate with Candies and sugars.

Bake for 10 minutes

Makes 3 dozen

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Think Thrice Before You Speak: How Social Media Made Me Nicer

By Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
At the first gate, ask yourself “Is it true?”
At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
~ Rumi
Those who have known me the longest know I had no gates to contain my words for much of my life. My words just leapt out the door as soon as my mouth swung open and ran for the hills unencumbered by barriers of any kind. No locks were in place to slow the pace of my often reckless word choices

The hurt and embarrassment they caused were not impeded. They just made a mad dash for the nearest pair of ears and drove their meaning both unintended and intended into the brain and heart of the people within reception distance.

Many times, I tried to will those words to make a sharp left as I prayed for the sound waves to be absorbed into a nearby tree or bounce off a wall and ricochet back into my mouth where I could swallow them back down and save myself the embarrassment and others the pain they would surely cause.

Sadly, acoustic science does not work like that.

Instead, I would inevitably have to face the consequences of my blabbermouth. My belief in always telling the truth no matter what was not as charming a quality as I had hoped. I thought honesty was the best policy. I still do.

If you want the truth, I’m your girl.

The problem was that I felt compelled to blurt the truth even when a white lie would have been a wiser and kinder option. Even just silence or evasive tactics like changing the subject would have served me better. For some reason, the truth always erupted from my lips and that was that.

Damage done.

My truth-telling was more obvious than I thought. Many people who I had thought took little notice of me and what I said often characterized me as someone that says it like it is. Or, she’s a straight shooter. Or, she’s not too shy to tell the truth. Or, she doesn’t hold back. Or, she has a strong personality. Or, she’s a bitch

Let’s face it, all those other euphemisms were just nicer ways of saying the latter.

The problem I had with that banal estimation was that I wasn’t a bitch. My words were never intended to hurt. They were meant to be kind. Truly. I believed being honest was the equivalent to kindness. I was not being mean or judgy like so many thought. That was me being nice.

Once I got my head out of my ass, I realized that my brand of thoughtfulness was never going to be perceived as kindness.

I needed to make a change.

"...social media taught me to be kinder and gentler"

Strangely enough, social media has taught me to be kinder and gentler. It has taught me to stop and think before I speak and respond. This took a bit of time and few instances of getting it wrong, very wrong before I learned to the art of letting my words pass through three gates before I speak.

How Social Media Taught me to be kinder:

Tone and intent are lost in the transmission. How many times have you sent a text or an email with a sarcastic tone in your mind only to realize the jokiness intended got lost in the microwaves no airwaves, no phone line, no…oh heck whatever line transmits our typed words to other people’s devices?

Other People are Jerks: Nothing has taught me this more than the cruelty that is being spewed in the name of political affiliation across the land of Facebook and Twitter. The things people feel compelled to share and the way others respond to what they disagree with is sickening. Many times, I have read something a reacted by typing some angry response followed by backspace, backspace, backspace until it was erased. I’ll sit and seethe and breathe and then type something more level-headed and wise only to realize that fool has no interest in my sage approach. So, I hit backspace over and over until my thoughts are erased once again. I walk away and imagine all the witty or intellectual retorts I could leave and then decide it’s best left unsaid. I am not going to change anyone’s mind or personality with a few well thought out sentences.

I want to have friends and family in my life and a job. While I occasionally like or share something that is mildly political that others with my group of followers, I purposely keep my stronger beliefs and opinions to myself. This is very hard to do because I want to support and defend those I love who are being hurt by the political views and leanings and voting of others who I like.

I have decided that I am not eloquent enough to be the voice that can make the strong arguments using factual information and the correct language needed. My rantings would sound more like inarticulate whining more than debate worthy knowledge presented in a professorial tone that I strive for.

If I allow my truth to flow from my fingertips, I will offend many more people than I did when it spewed from my lips. I want to share information about the things I love on social media: my family, my books, my travels, my work, and what I eat because I eat some pretty damn tasty stuff. If I start ranting about my politics I will alienate those people I want to hold close. Just because we don’t agree politically doesn’t mean I want to lose them in my life. Well most of them. Some I just can’t handle their level of hate so I unfollow them, but the others I want to keep.

Being employable for years to come is necessary. I am only 49. I can’t risk making myself a pariah in the warm and fuzzy field in which I work. All I can say is as my retirement age gets closer, watch-out. I may just let the words fly again. That is if I have word finding ability at that age.

So, for now, I have installed three gates. I will determine if what I have to say is true. I will then decide if sharing it is necessary. Finally, I will ask if it is kind. Once my words have passed through the three gates, I will type them and then ask the even more important questions, is my spelling and grammar correct?

Little Less Talk and A Lot More Action

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Falling Back: Time Change Torture

By Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

Is it any wonder I've got 
Too much time on my hands?
It's ticking away with my sanity
I've got too much time on my hands
It's hard to believe such a calamity
I've got too much time on my hands
And it's ticking away
Ticking away from me
Too much time on my hands
Ticking away...
Too much time on my hands
I don't know what to do with myself...
Too much time on my hands~ Styx

Who are these mythological creatures who get an extra hour of sleep when daylight savings ends?

“Falling back” is the cutesy way that weathermen remind us to set our clocks back an hour every Autumn. This sleep-robbing annual event does not deserve this charming slogan for it wreaks havoc on the lives of every person forced to follow its stupid rule.

These weathermen, in the Autumn of their lives, stand before green screens and show us clock hands sweeping backward on clock faces that have cartoonish smiley faces. The co-anchors and traffic reporters gush with joy as they claim they will get a whole extra hour of sleep on the weekend.

I call BS on them.

The only ones that get an extra hour of sleep are the sloth-like creatures who roam the halls of homes across America, teenagers. That’s right, the only ones who get more sleep are the ones who would have taken it whether or not the time changed.

Extra Hour of Sleep my Butt

These same weather people took my hour of sleep from me in the Spring when they forced me to, “Spring my clock forward,” another ridiculously happy slogan. If they just would have left the clock alone, the world would be a happier more rested place.

People blame the invention of daylight savings time on many different folks and ideas. Farmers and Ben Franklin are two common culprits. Sports and business operations might be to blame. I say, it doesn’t matter whether it is saving on candles or keeping money flowing by manipulating light hours to coincide with people shopping, stop messing with my sleep. Oh, and leave the farmers out of this, they hate it just as much as me. (Or is it “I”? I never know how to end a sentence with a pronoun)

As an insomniac, I rely on a steady sleep schedule to keep me sane.

Even my poor dogs suffer from these biannual time shifts. They live on an internal clock that tells them when they need to wake up to pee, when everyone gets home from school and work, and most importantly when it’s dinner time.

The sound of kibble filling their bowls is expected at 5:00 pm sharp. By 4:00 pm they start acting like fools in anticipation of their dinner. I am not sure what is so exciting about getting the same dry food day after day, but they seem super impatient to wolf it down.

The old dog must pee at 6:00 am and receive her Milkbone biscuit immediately after or she will bark and howl and cry and scratch at the door until someone wakes to do her bidding.

Like my dogs, I have always been equipped with the unwanted superpower of setting my internal clock. This can happen with just one unplanned wakening. If I have a cup of tea or water too many before bed, my weakening bladder will rouse me at 2:03 am to relieve the intolerable pressure and stop the dreams about drowning in a tidal wave. Then, for the end of time, I will wake at exactly 2:03 am.

I have not developed the superpower to undo this internal clock.

An Extra Hour Does Nothing for Me, NOTHING

My daughter made the observation on the day the time changed, "This day is moving so slow." Yes, dear daughter, it did, because we had an extra hour to fill. An extra hour to stay awake until you could slip off to bed without feeling like a toddler. An extra hour to need to eat. An extra hour to listen to your teens argue. An extra hour of darkness.

Prior to the latest time change, I happily woke around 5:00 am. Guess what time I wake now…4:00am. Do you know what there is to do at 4:00 am…NOTHING.

Everyone is still sleeping so I can’t be a jerk and run on the treadmill. I have to wait until 5:00 am to be a running jerk. I can’t go outside for a walk because it’s cold and dark and probably raining because it is ALWAYS raining these days. I have no desire to watch TV until 7:00 am when GMA comes on. No one can watch 3 hours of local news waiting for GMA, that’s just agony. So, I wander around and do chores.

I am doing chores when I should be sleeping!

The flip-side of this “extra hour of sleep” means by 8:00 pm I have been awake for 16 hours and I am bone tired. I must sleep. My internal clock did not “Fall Back” like the weatherperson told it to. My internal clock is irreversibly set, remember. So, by eight o’clock I am trying to keep my eyes open. I give-in by 8:30 and fall into bed. I fall fast asleep until 2:03 am when I wake…wait is it 2:03? Did I switch my clock? Nooo, I can’t remember if I changed my clock.

Anxiety from the uncertainty of whether it is 2:03 or 3:03 or 1:03 keeps me up.

Now my superpower kicks-in and from now until the end of time I will wake at 2:03 and never fall back to sleep.

Sorry if I sound a bit grumpy, but I am very tired!

Very Important Time Change Questions

Do sundials work? If the sun is directly in the center of the sky at noon and we change the time by an hour in the spring, is the sun directly in the center of the sky at 1:00 pm?

Also, if the powers-that-be decide to end daylight savings time forever (pretty please), does that mean that people born between March and November might have changes in their birthday? For example, if Sally was born at 12:01am on July 5th during daylight savings time and then daylight savings time ends she will have actually been born at 11:01 pm on July 4th, right?

Merciless Massage: My Journey to Cure Insomnia

Subtracting Sheep and Counting Blessings: Coping with Insomnia

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Creepy Murderer or Friendly Neighbor: A Sort of True Horror Story

By: Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

He paces the corner like a shock collar wearing dog confined within some invisible boundary. He hears my approach and stops in his tracks. He raises his head and shifts his gaze from his feet to my eyes. Menace oozes from him. Unblinkingly, he stares directly into my eyes, piercing my soul.

I notice I am holding my breath. I try to avert my gaze, but, as if there is some magnetic force, I can’t stop looking at him. Neither of us smiles. The air between us is silent and still. Time ceases to pass. I keep walking, picking up my pace, then stumbling as I try to escape the indefinable threat I feel.

I approach. His eyes never leave me. As he pivots his head to track me, his body remains still as a statue. Tension and fear radiate from me. I can feel my heart beating in my throat. I am just yards away from him, too far for him to reach me but close enough that I can’t ignore him.

He parts his lip into a sneer and creepily utters, “Hi there.” Not wanting to provoke or offend him, I force a smile that never reaches my eyes and squeak back a lame, untranscribable greeting.

My heart races as I look around trying to find another person who can witness whatever heinous crime this guy is about to commit on me. No one else exists. I am completely alone.

I put my hand in pocket to locate my phone readying myself to either dial 911 or smash it into his head if he makes a move to grab me. Trying to unlock it, my sweaty hands keep the fingerprint code from activating. What is my password? My mind is swirling with all the ways I can escape. I can’t conjure the damn code. 

Where is everyone? Am I really alone?

I worry that if I scream no sound will come out just like all my nightmares when I’m attacked and immediately rendered impotent with no strength to fight back.

I widen the distance between us, crossing the street so he can’t grab me as I pass. I usually feel weird about crossing the street when someone else is approaching. I was raised to be polite. My gut commandeered my manners. My fight or flight instinct was in control.

He kept looking at me like he wanted to have a conversation. I just wanted to leave the scene before it became a crime scene. Just then, he started to move. At first, I thought he was going to start pacing again, but this time he emerged from his invisible fence. It didn’t appear he had been shocked.

He moved slowly in my direction. I wasn’t planning on going for a run that day, just a brisk walk, but I felt my muscles begin to twitch. My body had taken over and I could feel myself preparing for a mad dash.

Where would I go? Home was back past him. Plus, I didn’t want him to know where I lived. If I kept going forward I would find myself in a place with no houses. A small stand of trees and a cemetery were the closest places. I wasn’t a strong runner and much of the terrain was uphill.

He did not look like an athlete. He had the appearance of well-fed mama’s boy. He was doughy and shapeless. His clothes were impeccably clean but not trendy. His jeans had a sharp crease down the center of each pant leg. His white vinyl sneakers showed no sign of wear and tear. Surely, he never used them to exercise. Maybe he can’t run. Maybe he has asthma and his inhaler is inside the house around which he paced.

His hair was wet and combed back in the Beaver Cleaver style of good boys whose mothers’ lick their hands to smooth down the pesky cowlicks. He wore glasses with large frames harkening from the 1980’s. His pasty white skin made it seem that he spent little time outdoors like a guy who has hobbies that keep him in dark rooms with fluorescent lightening for hours on end.

He definitely looked murdery. You know what I mean, just odd enough to give off the vibe that, if given the chance, he might drag you into the bushes and stab you to death.
He definitely set off my creepdar

Creepdar: The innate sense that the person before you is a pervert, murderer or just a plain bad guy who you should immediately avoid or abandon in the middle of a conversation and by no means ever willingly seek them out again.

This nameless man lives along one of the three-mile loops I walk daily. He has not been there for long. Had I noticed him 20 years earlier, I would not have made his house part of my regular walks. Now the route is ingrained into my muscle memory and I have trouble diverging from it.

I wish I would have brought my dogs with me. Why didn’t I bring my dogs? They aren’t as much ferocious as they are wise. They can sniff out a bad guy in a Nano-second.
Just in case my creepdar is off kilter, my dogs confirm any suspicions.

I have been blessed with owning some pretty easing going, people loving dogs over the years. On a few occasions, my dogs have been spooked by friends of friends or strangers who have shown up at our door. Usually, my dogs want to say hi with friendly barks, jumps and doggy kisses while their tails wag and ears perk up. Every once in a while, upon seeing or smelling a new person, they get mean.

The happy yips morph into deep warning rumbles. If the suspicious person advances, the hairs on the ridge of their backs stands-up on end. Their tails and ears tuck as they tremble with growls and snarls and shower this person with ferocious barks as they pace uncomfortably around the suspected creep. 

We try to silence our dogs and calm them. We use soothing voices as we grasp their collars for fear they might actually take a chunk out of our guest. But, I know my dogs are never wrong and my creepdar is alerted

Too bad I can’t get away with barking and growling. I would definitely do that now.

He continues to move toward me as I vacillate between running, screaming or banging on the doors of the seemingly vacant houses. I notice that his gaze shifted to the car I hadn’t spied parked on the street until that moment. What was he planning?

Was he going to chase me down with the car? Was he going to run me down? Would he drag me across the road and stuff me into the trunk?

He reached for the door handle when I remembered the code to my phone. My hands trembled as I tried to type in the digits. I dropped the phone. I looked away from him long enough to find it in the pile of leaves at my feet. I grabbed it just as he yanked the door to his sporty sedan open. He locked me again in his gaze and his sneer returned.

More frantic than ever, I finally unlocked the phone. What was I going to do? Call 911 to report a guy getting into his car? That’s as bad as reporting picnickers for barbecuing in a park. I’m not that person.

I noticed his house behind him. A two-story home with a shabby, but not dilapidated, exterior. A yard with nothing but a lawn chair placed at the edge where the grass meets the sidewalk as if whomever sits in this chair wants to be able to snatch small children and unsuspecting adults as they meander past with earbuds blasting music impeding their ability to hear the man when he leaps from his perch to grab them off the street.

The house has basement windows. If it was like my house, there was a cold, dank and windowless coal room. It would stink of mildew and crawl with spiders. That’s where he probably stashes all his victims. He chains them to spikes driven into the dirt floor and gives them a five-gallon bucket for a toilet. His victims’ cries can’t be heard through the thick wooden door that seals them into the concrete room.

They shiver in fear as much from the constant cold in that dismal room. They are half-crazed from hunger and lack of sleep.

His prisoners must be girls who remind him of his mother. He waits for them to age like her.

I am closer to his mother's age. Maybe he wants me because he is growing impatient. His mother probably died long ago and he’s lonely. If I let him take me, maybe he’ll let the others go. I could be a hero.

Just then, the slam of his door brings me back to reality. He turns over the engine and slowly pulls out into the street and drives off. Moments later a neighbor emerges from his backyard and waves a cheerful hello. I recognize him from my previous walks. He does not alert my creepdar.

I restart my walk almost feeling disappointed that I wasn’t kidnapped and tortured. I guess all those girls in that basement will have to wait for the next middle-aged victim to set them free.
For now, I will relish my freedom and finish my walk. I'm no hero.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I Can’t Stop Talking About The Whole Town is Talking

By Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

Like most women from my time, I loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. I was astonished to learn that it was written by the comedic actress Fannie Flagg. I knew her from her antics on the Match Game. How could this same silly woman have written such an insightful and heart-wrenching novel?

Then I forgot about her.

One day I was perusing a used book sale and found another novel written by Fannie Flagg and I thought, “She wrote more than one book?” I paid my 50 cents and took the book home tucking into my need to read bookshelf. Years later I plucked it from the shelf and read it. I really enjoyed the book, though I cannot recall which of her many novels it was.

I find myself turning to Flagg’s books over and over especially after reading a very heavy novel. Her light-hearted and whimsical books are the perfect anecdote for the gloom and doom of many of the historical fiction books I love to read.

After finishing Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I desperately needed a Flagg novel to put me on an even keel. The Whole Town is Talking, Flagg’s most recent novel, called out to me from my library and I downloaded the MP3 audio version to my Overdrive app. I spent the next week being cheerfully entertained my Flagg’s words read by Kimberly Farr.

This novel which they say was inspired by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with which I am not familiar, takes the reader on a generational journey as a small town in Missouri is made and then grown and then lost over generations.

We follow a family of Swedish immigrants evolve as they inhabit a small farming community and build Elm Wood Springs from nothing. This town’s first major project was the cemetery. This cemetery becomes the heart and soul of the town as one by one the founders and then their descendants begin to fill the plots.

This is not a gloom and doom book. Each person lives a full life and dies when it is “their time” as Flagg’s characters insightfully suppose. In this town, ordinary people live mostly ordinary lives. We get to know them and watch them grow and change and encounter day to day things. Somehow, Flagg is able to highlight unusual happenings, coincidences and quirky personalities to make this book charming and interesting.

Elner, a good-hearted, animal loving, fig jam making farmers wife has many quirks. Her good-hearted friendliness means she welcomes all types to her farm. Lost travelers happen upon her land and she welcomes them all preparing them a hearty meal and sending them off with a jar of her jam made from her fig tree.

Unbeknownst to her, she fed Bonnie and Clyde breakfast when they got lost. Another time she entertained a future president and his wife. Both of these chance encounters weave there way into the storyline of this whimsical novel.

Flagg leaves no twist unturned or loose end untied. Everything she writes eventually leads to something else. Even the cemetery built in the very beginning serves a major role in the lives of the Elmwood Springs residents.

I won’t’ give it all away.

Flagg has a knack for making the ordinary fun and interesting. Her books are not dark and twisty. She even manages to make potentially bad things feel conventional. She keeps the overdone crisis to a minimum.

When I need a drama free, smart and funny book, I always turn to Flagg. She makes even the gloomiest of days seem sunny. I definitely need more sun

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Why So Touchy? Thoughts on Sensory Processing Differences

By: Elizabeth Redhead Kriston

The other day a mother retold the story of how her toddler ate all the fur off of his stuffed dinosaur. It took everything in me to not vomit at the thought of this. In fact, just typing this is making my belly roil and I may have to excuse myself.

Years ago I used to use a stuffed dog puppet to help kids overcome sensory processing and feeding disorders. This dog had a slit in its throat which allowed it to "eat" cookies. The cookies were small squares made from a variety of textured fabrics. Every time I brought this toy out, I had to stifle my gags.

It wasn't lost on me that while I was trying to help kids overcome their sensory processing issues, I was strengthening my own aversions.

Working with kids who suffer from severe sensory processing disorders has made me become more in tune with my own aversions. Realizing that I have trouble processing certain sensory information has strengthened my sense of self. Understanding what sets me off and why has helped me be a better mother and person. 

Knowing what tips my sensory scales allows me to avoid the triggers or at least explain why I am acting like a disorganized emotional fool.

According to the STAR Institute, a sensory processing disorder can be defined as: 
A neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses.

I have yet to meet a person that does not have trouble processing some sensory information. Either our bodies under respond to sensations and we seek more information-think about those who eat spicy foods, shake their legs incessantly, or keep the volume up painfully loud- or those who become overwhelmed by sensation-think of those who don't like strong smells, eat bland food, or like the lights dim.

I know people who gag at the texture of yogurt. I know people who freak out when styrofoam squeaks. Everyone has quirks and oddities.

That's what makes the world an interesting place.

I have discovered that beyond fur on stuffed animals-GAG-I have trouble regulating my mind and body when I encounter strong smells. The worst form of torture for me is Bath and Body Works. I can't even walk past the store without swooning from the scents and not in a good way.

Any store that has the word "Country" in it, I avoid as I know the stench of candles and herb encrusted crafts will make me insane in the brain. I never wear perfume or cologne because it overtakes all my ability to focus and attend to anything except the way I smell. 

My husband bought me deodorant the other day and it was not scent free. I wore it for one day, two weeks ago, and I can still "smell" it on me. 

If I stay in a hotel room where someone smoked once, ever, I become nauseous, I get headaches and I can't sleep. Just ask my friend Sharon how our fun trip to Atlantic City was ruined by The Donald and his stupid hotel and the "smoke-free" rooms. Of all the heinous things he has said and done, that will be the thing for which I will never forgive him.

Loud noises make me crazy. Seriously, I get crazy and again, not in a good way. I cannot think or focus when things get loud. The irony is that my daughter has a sensory processing need for things to be very loud. As you can imagine that makes life in our house VERY challenging. 

While she is pumping up the volume, I am cranking it down. Because she is rendered deaf by her blasting earbuds she can't hear me yelling to TURN IT DOWN!! I have to get loud for things to get quiet.

That lasts for about five seconds before her sensory needs compel her to turn it back up. The cycle is neverending until one of us gives up and leaves.

Good times....

Little kids can't express their sensory processing needs or aversions. Often times they act out and we adults interpret it as misbehaving. Kids do not have the language or the understanding of how the body works to know to avoid the things that set them off or make accommodations to get the input they crave.

If their bodies feel like they are floating in space because their sense of touch is low, they crash, hit, throw, destroy, bounce, flip, climb and all types of risky and possibly destructive behaviors. Adults who don't understand the underlying reason for these behaviors react when they should adapt.

There are tons of resources available for parents who suspect their kids might have a sensory processing disorder. One of my favorites in The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz. It's an easy to understand and follow guide on sensory processing disorders.

Perhaps you are an adult who has always wondered why you seem to struggle with day to day life when others seem to coast through their days without feeling out of sorts. You might have an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder. 

Taking the time to understand the sensory system and how one that is not working well can disrupt your life is worth the time. 

What are some things that set your senses off?

You Can't Touch This!!!