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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Giving Thanks, Our Way

For Eli and Craig and me, our extended families live at least 90 minutes by plane (and at this time of year, $1000 minimum) and further. Due to school and work schedules, and familial obligations, seldom do we get time for just the three of us to enjoy time together, guilt-free, without feeling like we have to either, a) run to one relatives house for a large holiday (Jewish, Christian, Secular); or b) do chores/fix up the house/do laundry/run errands that don’t get done on normal days.

Eli’s first Thanksgiving was one of sleepless drama (the child was anti-slumber until he was four and even now can do zombie-inspired four-hour anti-sleep binges worthy of the worst of college drunken study habits and expect one of us to joyfully participate with him. Years two and three we hazily remember as having my mom come out and some friends visit but we aren’t really sure and can’t find any documented proof.

So in 2012, we decided that Turkey Day weekend was just for US, for short trips just the three of us, someone that we could really regroup, decompress, hike, read, eat turkey sandwiches (or turkey camping food if that was what the cards dealt), and if so available get into a Jacuzzi naked.

Twenty Twelve

With high hopes we set sights on the Grand Canyon. A friend offered her house in Prescott, AZ as she was going to be away, so we set off with toddler Eli (who chose the car ride to sleep, but not so much any other time that whole trip). We dined on home-broiled salmon on Thanksgiving, and due to the lack of sleep (reminder: three hours was Eli’s max at this point) we never made it to the GC.

We did get up to Sedona, where we not only walked through the lovely Church of the Rock (sidebar: My now gone Aunt whom I idolized was the proprietor of the shop in the church when I was a child so this place had special nostalgia for me.) but also hiked the other-worldly rock formations (see photo) with Eli having the crow’s next view in the Kelty backpack.



We took the back roads home and saw the Pre-Columbian Indian Trail outside Glamis, the desert dunes, the expanse of farms along the Colorado River, the river itself, which made the normally uninteresting highway drive one of the best parts of the trip.

Twenty Thirteen

When Eli was four, we ferried out to Catalina Island (sidebar: I made sure we all took anti-motion sickness meds for this trip. My former experience with ferries across channels, yes even something as tame as this, and even kayaking in Hawaii, were enough for Craig and I to become aqua around the ears and ruin at least the next six hours). We stayed at La Paloma la Flores, in a 100 year old cottage whose adjoining units were built into the steep island hill. The town was quite empty in the days leading up to and including the holiday, and without chain restaurants we relied on the locals’ advice on where to eat, get coffee and explore. After a few small sacrifices to various deities Eli agreed sit in the kid tow/carriage as we toured around town on electric bikes.

We also hiked the Garden-to-Cloud trail with Eli in a cheap umbrella stroller and he slept the whole way up (see photo). In fact, was the first trip he slept for any length of time in his own "bed" so this trip goes down in history as a confirmed success no matter what. Thanksgiving dinner? Turkey sandwiches in the cottage. Day after? Chinese food!.



Twenty Fourteen

We decided to explore something a little closer to home, with access to Julian (which not surprisingly doesn’t have “bed and breakfasts” that welcome small children. The town of Descanso has a number of historic rock houses, and we were able to rent one of them for our trip. The upside? Totally adorable, rustic, huge rock face fireplace, antique stove, large extra bedroom addition. The downside? Rock does NOT make a good insulator from the cold and it was a chilly fall that year.

We used the fireplace every night, the hot tub multiple times a day, and as for sleeping, well… the King size bed was not big enough for three. Not surprisingly one of the adults ended up on the twin in the (chilly) den but at least there was rest.

We spent Thanksgiving Day in Julian, eating (you guessed it) turkey sandwiches, and hiking part of Volcan mountain (photo shows us at a gate marker; notice how we are not wearing sufficiently warm clothing). We traversed the highway Descanso and Julian daily and visited every historic marker we could find - the old mining spots, the smallest library site, and true to form, we made the drive home an adventure as well.


We drove the twisty turny old Viejas Grade Road to experience the beautiful backcountry views of San Diego; the homes are incredible out there, and it’s strange how remote they are due to topography, despite their actual proximity to San Diego.

Twenty Fifteen

This was the year we gave in Eli's desire to see snow. An internet search for reasonable priced cabins with fireplaces and Wi-Fe in Big Bear led us to a “quaint” 1 room setup near the center of town (walkable even) that turned out to be a converted garage. The fireplace was nothing more than a space heater in fireplace clothing, and it took us until the second night to figure out how to work  the wall heater, so the first night’s snowfall temperature drop made it a bit sleepless (traditional for our first night at this point).

The trip included a four-wheel drive guided tour in the mountains, a tour of the historic town sites, a hike to the lake, and up into the snowy trails (sidebar: this was the last time we were able to the use the Tula Carrier with now six-year old Eli), and introducing Eli to snow tubing. Thanksgiving dinner? Spaghetti after tubing!

Twenty Sixteen

Last year we went up to the San Jacinto Mountains, staying in another old (read: cold) cabin this time in Idyllwild, which Eli still pronounces as “Eye-Dee-Wild.” We hiked the nature center trail three times (the photo is somewhere on that trail near a Scout Camp marker). (Sidebar: On one hike I tentatively fished what I thought was a human hand on a chain out of tree. It turned out to be an old Halloween prop.)


We met the town mayor, Max (a golden retriever, yes you read that right) and in general were charmed by the beauty of the area, to the point where we actually went to two open houses. We did our own four-wheel exploration as far as we could towards Tahquitz Peak (at night), and Craig added it to the hiking bucket list).

Eli slept like a champ on the overstuffed living room couch, which reminded us he likes to be cradled with as much padding and blankets as humanly possible for best sleep (which took us 6 years to learn). I also learned that yes, you can drink too much extra spicy Bloody Mary mix on an empty stomach, and that frozen pizza is an excellent Thanksgiving dinner when you are worn out from hiking, have a fireplace, cable TV and your family around you.

Twenty Seventeen

This year, we are headed to Running Springs, near Big Bear. We all agreed that brisk mountainous air makes it a bit more "Thanksgiving-y" and gives us a chance to break out the fleece gear. The altitude challenges our lungs a bit, and the alpine air with its tinges of spruce and pine lift the spirit. There may not be snow, but we'll be near a lake, and two small town that beg exploration. The house owners says there will be deer visiting the yard in the morning, with views into the valley and possibly all the way to Catalina if it’s clear. We'll eat our pizza, or turkey sandwiches, or spaghetti, or who knows what, we'll sit in the hot tub (now a requirement along with Wi-Fi), and listen Eli talk about how tired he is from the hike, or ask questions about the trees, maybe just listen to quiet.

Then we'll call our families in Sacramento, in Portland, in Chicago, in Fort Lauderdale, we'll send well wishes all our friends on Facebook, Eli will invariable Skype/Facetime with his Minecraft playing friends, and we'll be happy. I hope you all will be too. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Want to relax. heal and REMEMBER? Try deep breaths (in AND out)

"'Vagusstoff' [the substance released from your vagus nerve] (acetylcholine) is like a tranquilizer that you can self-administer simply by taking a few deep breaths with long exhales. Consciously tapping into the power of your vagus nerve can create a state of inner-calm while taming your inflammation reflex."

Simply put, taking some slow inhales and even slower exhales will at the very least calm you down, and at best, help reduce the body's biological markers for inflammation response. Which means, less pain, less stress, less illness.

"Healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale. Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety."

Breathing with focused aware (mindful) inhales and consciously slowed exhales will help realign your mind body connection, bringing you into the "yogic" place. By paying attention to the breath, you are giving your body, via vagus nerve stimulation AND being present, the opportunity to calm. With calm comes relaxation, with relaxation comes restoration.

"Recently, an international team of researchers from Amsterdam and the United States conducted a clinical trial which demonstrates that stimulating the vagus nerve with a small implanted device significantly reduced inflammation and improved outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis by inhibiting cytokine production."

You read that right. Increasing vagal tone was found to create improved QOL for patients with an autoimmune condition. Cytokenes are the nasty particles that start the inflammatory response. Vagus nerve stimulation reduced the level of these chemicals in the body.

But I don't do the article justice by cutting and pasting. I know how great deep rhythmic pranayama (breathing exercises) feel. But to read that there is scientific proof to WHY the body feels better after a breathwork session, well that satisfies both sides of my brain, and my entire being as well. Thanks for reading, and much healing to all.

Read the complete article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/vagus-nerve-stimulation-dramatically-reduces-inflammation

UPDATE: another article this time from neuroscience news (thank you Amy Wheeler for the references) says
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered for the first time that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.
Read that whole article here: http://neurosciencenews.com/memory-fear-breathing-5699/