Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Visit to the New York State Museum

We traveled to visit one of our favorite family spots--The New York State Museum--recently.  This week, the museum had three special exhibits going on in addition to their year-round exhibits. Though the the paintings, artwork, and photographs of the "Before September 11th" exhibit were awe-inspiring, we could not take pictures of them due to the desire to preserve the pieces.  However, we were able to photograph the "New York in Bloom" designer flower art pieces and the items from the"Gems and Minerals" exhibit along with the year-round exhibits. 

This is the Sesame Street exhibit.  Flower artists created the letters
"A, B, and C"out of flowers:
                                          Even Oscar the Grouch was made out of moss and flowers
                                       at the Sesame Street exhibit:

                               One of the most moving of the exhibits, other than the Holocaust
                             exhibit, is the World Trade Center, September 11th exhibit.  Here is
                             an actual fire truck from Ground Zero. Flowers put on the front of
                             truck are original and over ten years old:

                                   This is part of a steel beam from the World Trade Center:

This is a recovery trailer from Ground Zero.  It was used
by families who were awaiting news of their loved
ones on September 11th.  Now it is filled with hundreds of their
signs used to search for their loved ones in the rubble,
cards, messages, momentoes, and framed/signed pictures:

This is one of our favorite exhibits, the mastodon:

This is our other favorite exhibit--the Native American longhouse replica.
As we have a smidge of Native American Sioux in our genes, we
really appreciate learning about this part of our heritage.
This is inside the Native American longhouse.
We ended our visit to the New York State Museum by checking out
the New York gems and minerals exhibit. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Though it has been an unusually warm winter so far this year (knock on wood so I don't jinx us with a whopper of a storm now!), as soon as there was even a smidge of snow, we headed to our favorite sledding hill early this past week. Everyone, young and old, gets into the act here as there are both steep and small hills. The cold of winter, sometimes bitter in past years, tends to keep people in their homes. But the snow brings many people out from isolation; they all come to sled at the best spot in town and visit with neighbors they haven't seen in a little while.
We have a huge open area, with many good sledding hills, near our town.

As soon as the kids clamber back up the hill...

...they ready themselves...and sled right back down, laughing.

Of course, no outing in the cold would be complete without
hot chocolate and whipped cream!

The best part about sledding, besides being FREE (Wa-hoo!), is all the great outdoor
physical activity (the kids sleep good that night), the visits with neighbors and friends, and all the smiles and laughter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Spontaneous Happiness, by Andrew Weil, M.D.

Dr. Andrew Weil presents information on the newest theory in health, integrative health care, in Spontaneous Happiness, published this past November 2011.  I became interested in reading this book when Dr. Weil’s article on his belief that people suffer from “nature deprivation”, taken from Spontaneous Happiness (Newsweek, October 30, 2011), prompted our family to take a hike in the trails near our home.  We found that we loved hiking!  (See our blog post, “Trail Hiking—Family Activity”, November 2011).  Dr. Weil’s recent book not only contains useful information for creating a healthy lifestyle to a wide audience, but also presents it in an accessible three-part format.  Highlights of the book include an eight-week program for personal integrative health and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.  The book’s contents are also featured online at www.SpontaneousHappiness.com. 

Happiness, according to Weil in Part I of the book, is not “ceaseless bliss” but more like the Swedish term, lagom, which translated loosely “means something like ‘just right’ or ‘exactly enough’-- basically a balance point of “resilience, contentment, comfort, and serenity…your emotional safe harbor which you can leave but to which you should be able to return easily and naturally”.  I don’t mind telling you that, as a “keeper of the family”, this also struck me as part of a definition of home.  Part I continues on with Weil’s theory that an epidemic of depression abounds, that a new integrative approach is needed which addresses a person’s “physical, psychological, and spiritual needs” (which  reminds me as more of an extension of the “mind-body” connection, so often quoted, to a “mind-body-soul” connection…and the “health triangle” approach of personal-physical-social realms), and that integrative health can benefit from the practices of both eastern and western health theories.  As a reader looking to this book for further information on helping families, Part I of the book seems less intriguing than Parts II and III, but I do see the importance in Weil’s definition of happiness, and the background of health as well as the introduction of integrative health.

Part II and Part III include concrete suggestions for creating “happiness”…once again defined as “a balance point of resilience, contentment, comfort, and serenity”.  Part II focuses on three areas:  Body, Mind, and Secular Spirituality.  For the body, Weil suggests adopting an anti-inflammatory diet (outlined in the appendix), exercising more, getting adequate sleep in darkness and quiet at night, as well as adequate light exposure during the day.  For the mind, Weil focuses on “ruminating negative thought patterns” that he states are the “root of unhappiness”.  He makes several suggestions for a healthy mind including interventions of the positive psychology movement, mindfulness training, meditation, reducing attachment to those items which are often associated with addictions in people, and practicing visualization and daily “breath work”.  Weil is quick to define and explain the difference and the overlaps between spirituality and religion in the chapter on secular spirituality and its importance.  Its here that Weil suggests that people need to be more aware of their connection, not only to the natural world, but also to animals, art, beauty, and communities of people in order to bring more fulfillment into their lives. 

Part III, the final section of the book, consists of an eight-week step-by-step program to improve an individual’s happiness and two appendicies which include a general outline of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and a list of further books to read as well as several online resources for readers on many of the Weil’s suggestions in the book.  As well, he gives two of his own web sites, www.drweil.com and www.SpontaneousHappiness.com , where readers can access even more information on integrative health. 

It is important to note that throughout the book, Dr. Weil is careful to suggest and explain that for individuals with depressive disorders, his suggestions should be used in conjunction with their current therapies. 

FINAL REVIEW: As a person first attracted to this book by Dr. Andrew Weil’s researched belief that we, as a people (especially kids), suffer from “nature deprivation” and his concrete suggestions on connecting more with nature in his Newsweek article, I read this book as a mom looking for more suggestions for my family.  Though I didn’t need the extensive background on health theories or the treatment of depression at this reading, I did find several activities that I can do, teach, and adapt for my own family to improve their overall health in general.  However, his suggestion to quit coffee and caffeine drinks (for overly dependent people) “cold turkey”, though well-intentioned, won’t “fly” in my family!  I definitely don’t want to be any where near a person who is trying to cut a dependence on caffeine in that manner; I don’t think it will increase the family’s happiness quotient one bit (initially anyhow!).  Otherwise, I found the concrete suggestions and resources to be a highly positive factor of the book, and very easily to adapt and implement.  In fact, for the next two weeks, I’m Counting To Three…Okay, Four will be highlighting several of these suggestions, adapted for families, as our “Weekly Tips”.   As well, our family will try these tips ourselves and give a full “Family Review” at the end of three weeks.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ice Skating!

Ice skating was our first family activity of the new year. It was a great way to get active during that "in-between season", when the weather is not cooperating outside for either bike riding, or sledding and ice skating outdoors. We even were able to visit with friends and other family members who showed up at the rink. With the music pumping in on the sound system, we skated along talking, visiting, trying new tricks--and trying to hold onto the side rails(!), not even realizing that we were getting in some exercise. There were even large industrial paint buckets that when, propped upside down, made great helpers for the young, new skaters. The kids could put both hands on those and then skate around, or sit down upon them for a little break. My kids used to use those when they were young. It's a great way to include as many age groups as possible in a family ice skating outing.