Is Stress Causing You Distress?

Sunflower against blue skyMy friend Ellen has been going through some tough times, a squabble with her sister over the family farm.

I visited Ellen recently and she complained that her lips had been burning for a couple days.

We discussed the possible causes of her discomfort. What was she eating? Had she started using any new products? Had she developed an allergy to something?

The pain was unresponsive to her attempted remedies which included coconut oil and vitamin E. Nothing worked.

Another day passed and Ellen’s lips slow-burned like a Scottish bog.

We reviewed our attempts to diagnose the cause.

Finally I blurted out, “What have you been doing the last several days? I’ll tell you.

“You’ve been writing your responses to 160 pages of lies and vitriol from your sister, words and thoughts that you have worked hard to ignore. Until now, you’ve taken the high road but your lawyers’ insistence that you respond to this poison has caused this reaction. I suspect your body objects to the toxins you’ve “spoken”.”

I suggested that she could get relief if she would recognize and release those negative thoughts. She meditated on it that evening when she went to bed.

The next morning her lips were no longer burning. It seemed a miracle.

Our bodies ARE miracles. The strange thing is how little we know about our own bodies and the tremendous power of our minds to affect our bodies.

Frankly, when I suggested the remedy, part of my own brain whispered, “That’s woo-woo stuff.” But I kept that to myself and persuaded Ellen it made sense and it was worth trying.

I’m so happy Ellen had faith. I got to witness a miracle. I needed the reminder.

Are you experiencing inexplicable physical symptoms that don’t respond to usual remedies?

I suggest you examine your life for stress. I’ve come to believe it is most often the root of illness or the catalyst that spawns an adverse health event.

After this experience with Ellen, I am more convinced than ever that an active plan to relieve stress is as important as a healthy diet and daily exercise.

100 Books in 2014

PhilomenaMy book club read the book Philomena, by Martin Sixsmith and we met to discuss this week. The book is purported to be about a mother’s search for her adopted son. But the majority of the book is about her son trying to find himself and his birth mother. It should be called Anthony. We chatted about the themes in the book. The consensus was lukewarm.

For me, the book is monumental, not for itself but that it’s the 100th book I’ve read this year. That seems like a mountain of books, but honestly, since beginning my reading mission in 2007, this has been the easiest year to meet my goals.

(If your eyes glaze over when you see numbers, skip the next two paragraphs).

In 2007 and for the next two years, I read a book a week. Partway through 2010, I realized I was reading two books per week so that became my new goal for 2010 to 2013. At the start of 2014, I had read 579 books since 2007. With a bit more effort I knew I could get to 700 in 2014.

Then I decided, why not strive for 1000 books in ten years? That meant I had to read 421 books in three years, 140 books per year. The hundredth book puts me at 679 so far. 321 books with 28 months to go: 2.5 books per week. Let’s call it three.

It may seem obsessive, but it’s quite exhilarating to be accumulating knowledge on a wide variety of topics, including health, business, politics, marketing, speaking, writing, spirituality, food, gardening, real estate, self-help, history, various other non-fiction, poetry, and even a few novels.

People are shocked to learn of my reading habits. It has become such an integral part of me, I’m not as impressed as I once was. Here are my tips for those who desire to read more.

Make reading a priority. We all waste time every day. If you truly love to read you will find some wasted time. And read!

Carry a book. I always have one in my purse because I realized much of my wasted time is waiting…in line at banks and supermarkets, at appointments, even at restaurants and coffee shops when clients are late. (I sometimes purposely get there really early so I can read a few chapters!) I read about two “purse” books each month.

I also have partly read books throughout my house: one where I sit in the living room, one on my nightstand, sometimes, one in the kitchen. I rarely read two novels simultaneously. The last time I tried, one book had a man who had lost a daughter and the other had a woman who had lost a son; I had a hard time staying on track: which book am I reading?

Trade TV watching for reading. The average North American watches 35 hours of TV each week, a full-time job! Watch one less hour of TV each day and devote that time to reading. At one hour a day, everybody can read one or two books a month. Soon your books will call you away from most TV.

Schedule reading times. My husband likes to sleep in on weekends. I usually can’t sleep past eight. So I read for two hours, keeping the house quiet for my sleepyhead husband. I often read a novel on a Sunday afternoon. On vacations, I plan to read a book each day. Airports are a great place to read books since so much waiting is required. And a four hour flight whizzes by when a mystery is unfolding in your hands. I can usually read a book before I get there and one to get home.

I appreciate e-books when I travel. Before I go, I load up my iPad with books. I always bring a couple real books because airlines won’t let me use electronics on take-off and landing which can last many “chapters”. Sometimes I take books with me I don’t expect to want to keep so can I leave them behind in public places, surprises for strangers.

I naturally read more in winter as I’m not distracted by my garden, golfing and summer socializing! I guess that’s one good thing about living in Calgary: long winters for reading. (As I write this on September 8, it is snowing!)

Start with one book. Many despair that they could ever read three books a week! Start with one a month. Then two. You will become a faster reader. That’s what happened to me. I got faster so now I can read more. I can read 100 pages per hour unless the font is miniscule or the language archaic.

I have no idea when this will stop. But I have a list of over 400 books to read, books recommended by somebody I respect, and there’s so much to explore at the library, I expect to keep reading. The number doesn’t really matter. It’s just fun to challenge myself and then reach those goals.

Keep a record. One of the best things I’ve done is to keep a spreadsheet record of my reading. I record the dates I read the book, the title, author, source, who referred it to me, and whether I’d read again, recommend, want in my library or am happy I read it. I also include a description or any quotes that grabbed me. Very valuable. I often forget whether I’ve read a particular book. I simply search my spreadsheet. Also when people ask me to recommend books, I can remind myself of my favourites and choose books I think will be appropriate.

Use your library! If I had bought every book new, I would have spent $20,000 so far! ($30 x 679 books). But I didn’t. I borrowed most books. Bought many used for $2 or less. Got some as gifts. And bought a few new, often at discount at Costco or as e-books. I estimate I’ve spent less than $700, including gift cards I’ve received, in nearly eight years, about $90/yr.

Join or start a book club: Your reading list will expand when others add to it. There is nothing more fun than discussing a great book with others who’ve just feasted on it too. My club has led me to read books I never would have thought to read. Some are among my all-time favourites.

One of the most important gifts you can give yourself is making time to read. Your knowledge will begin to expand immediately. Your vocabulary will grow: I’ve calculated I learn about 20 new words from every book I read. Reading strengthens your writing. I’m convinced I’ve improved.

One of my few regrets in life was not having a degree. One day I discovered a quote to the effect that everything is written down in books. If one can read, one can be educated. That made sense to me and I haven’t looked back.

Most people think I am educated in the traditional sense, often inquiring about my education history. I proudly tell them that my school is Life and my degree is self-directed and on-going. Then I tell them about the number of books I read and/or have read. It impresses. But it doesn’t matter to me. I do this for me, not to impress (unless someone is being elitist and snooty, then I might indulge in some chest beating).

I’m enjoying my book journey. Won’t you join me?

Divot the Dog Celebrates her 14th Birthday in a Big Way!

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photo belongs to

Health Lessons from an Old Dog

Last week our Golden Retriever, Divot, turned 14 and she had a wild and crazy birthday.

It began with a lunchtime party with the Grandtoys, who simply love to have dog parties. I barbecued chicken legs. The wind blew the aluminum foil cover off the pan and Divot gobbled down a chunk of the chicken-skin-flavoured foil before I could stop her.

Peanut butter on rice cakes is her usual birthday fare but this year it was leftover blueberry pancakes with peanut butter. And my Grandtoy had put so much peanut butter on the pancake it stuck to the roof of Divot’s mouth. So funny as she struggled to suck it off! See video of Divot’s party.

Finally, Divot and my husband went to see an old friend, Betty, who fed Divot most of a bag of popcorn. Later while hubby was sitting at the table with Betty he heard a slurping sound from the living room. There he found Divot’s nose in a box of chocolates. He dug some out of her mouth and deduced she may have swallowed one or two. Not the end of the world.

As you can see Divot still behaves like a puppy. She has slowed down in some ways: our walks are often strolls. She can no longer jump into the truck; in fact, she can’t even put her paws up to boost herself. She sleeps most of the day.

But the tiniest sign that we’re ready to walk: I brush my teeth, get my phone, ensure I have my Epi-Pen, put on my shoes, any one of those signs gets her excited about our walk. She bounds off the back porch like a puppy. Divot loves people and is happy to greet others as we walk around our neighbourhood, canines less enthusiastically than humans. Her pace going is faster than coming home, something she’s always done, anything to prolong the walk.

We are privileged to have Divot in our lives for 14 healthy years.  Divot is our living experiment. When she was ten weeks old we decided to feed her a diet that was more in keeping with her nature. As a descendent of wolves, we knew she would thrive on a wolf-like diet.

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Divot’s Supper – photo belongs to

Since then she has eaten almost all raw food. Her typical meal consists of ½ cup raw meat, ½ cup cooked brown rice, ½ cup raw veggies like carrot or cucumber. She gets garlic and parsley; she gets fish, olive and coconut oils and some other supplements. An integral part of her diet is the raw beef soup bones she has two or three times each week. They keep her mouth healthy and her teeth cleaned. She has all her teeth and they’re not black, as is expected by this age.

Despite losing most of her hearing and some of her sight, Divot has had few health issues. Apart from some antibiotics for ear infections from swimming in the Bow River, she has taken no medications. At two years old we removed a large wart from her paw. No diabetes, epilepsy or other modern dog ailments. She is not obese and she has never stunk, like most dogs do.

Divot has lived two years longer, so far, than the long range for her breed. We think it’s her diet and lifestyle. If it works for a dog, it should work for humans.

So here is what I recommend based on Divot’s fine example. Eat whole, real food, suitable to your species as much as possible. Not too much. Drink plenty of water. Exercise everyday. Sleep lots. Play whenever you can. Surround yourself with people you love and choose to be happy.

If Divot were a human she’d be pushing 100. And I’ve just shared the secrets to her longevity!

Reading Record 2013: Includes Tips to Read More Books

booksAt 10 PM on December 31, 2013 I finished my 104th book of 2013, achieving my ambitious reading goals for the seventh straight year.

My life continues to be enriched beyond my expectations because of a decision I made seven years ago to read a book each week.

Three years later, it became two books per week.

I’ve toyed with upping it to three each week but if the goal is too arduous, it may no longer appeal and I am sure to flounder. I’m shooting for 1000 books in ten years, which means I have just over three years to read 422 books. I’ll give it a go and see what happens. In the short-term I plan to read 22 books in January 2014, to reach an even 600.

Let me tell you about the last 104 (in 2013) of the 578 books I read from January 2007 to December 2013.

In past years I have read about 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction. This year fiction accounted for only 30% of my reading. Another 25% are particular to business and marketing. A significant number are health related.

At the beginning of 2013 I set out to read some important works, including The Holy Bible, The Holy Quran and The Book of Mormon. I was intrigued to see for myself what these influential books had to say. I was surprised by the Quran’s early references to respecting Jews and those who follow Jesus, leaving me to wonder from where the “kill the infidel” mentality comes.

In an unusual move, I finally abandoned the Book of Mormon after reading 60% of it. I could no longer force my eyes to look at words that carried no real meaning or purpose. I actually avoided books for a month because I dreaded getting back to The Book of Mormon. I wonder how many of my Mormon friends have read it cover to cover. For the record, it is just the second book I’ve abandoned in seven years.

I didn’t get to the Bible until January 2014; one of the few goals I missed in 2013. I have read most of it many times but have I never gone cover to cover. (So far, I’m at Numbers!)

I read some great titles suggested by my book club, including A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout, a woman from my hometown, on her kidnapping and confinement in Somalia for over a year.

As always my book club expanded my reading horizons. These ladies are like sisters because we’ve shared so many experiences and had so many heart-to-hearts, usually, but not always related to our book of the month. I value our book discussions and the connections they spawn. Another highlight of my year was visiting a friend’s club and seeing the way they conduct their meetings. (They have rules! No non-fiction!)

Many of the best books I read this year were about speaking and writing, as I continually hone those skills. Paid to Speak (various authors) was a real gem. I recommend it for everyone, not just speakers. A friend loaned me Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, and The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron. I plan to buy copies for myself. Coveting it for my own library is a sure sign of a book’s value.

I read 16 books on my nine-day vacation to the cottage, catching up on some classics like The Secret Garden and re-reading Heidi, a book I enjoyed reading when I was eight years old. Many of the classic titles are available for free online and they’re easy to carry in your favourite electronic device, perfect for vacations. I love paper books but e-books have their uses.

On another week vacation, I read ten books including some John Grisham novels. I enjoyed them well enough but I won’t seek more of his work.

I read some light stuff like The Sisters Brothers by Canadian author Patrick de Witt and The 100 Year-Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

My reading habit sparks interesting conversations wherever I go. People love to tell me about their favourite reads. My to-read list has over 400 titles on it. As I lop off one, other readers suggest another two or three to add to the list.

Reading so much makes me appear to be educated. I suppose I am but I don’t have the piece of paper to verify that I know stuff. No matter. It’s the knowledge and experience I crave, not the recognition.

Reading more does require different behaviour. I always carry a book with me as I encounter many stolen moments to read each day. I estimate that I read a book a month, simply waiting: in lines, for appointments, and for lunch dates or the school bus to arrive. Waiting for and on planes is like winning the reading lottery!

I have several books on the go at any given moment. This prevents “reader’s block”, moments when diving into a technical book doesn’t appeal but a good mystery would hit the spot. I also use technology by sourcing and reading books online.

I set specific times to read, like first thing in the morning, before my day bulldozes me into an unexpected direction. I also read before bed, a great way to quiet the mind and wind down for sleep.

Of course my TV viewing habits are different from others and I rarely see a movie. But I don’t feel the least bit deprived. My world is far richer and more satisfying than if I were mesmerized by mind-numbing so-called reality shows.

My book expenditures are amazingly sparse. I buy a few new ones (usually with gift cards) and a stack or two of used books each year. The rest are borrowed or gifted. I’ve learned to pass on books to others quickly. The more I give away, it seems, the more I receive.

When I started this journey I had no idea what I would experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

I encourage you to set goals to read more books. It doesn’t have to be two per week. It could be one per month. I guarantee it will change your life for the better.

Happy Reading in 2014. Please recommend your favourite books.

See my 2013 list here

See 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

Great Full

Great Full Picture 1

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Our Thanksgiving after dinner activities included an exercise in gratitude where we wrote why we are grateful for the members of our family on small pictures our granddaughters had painted.

My youngest granddaughter, J_____  generally sees the world from a different perspective than most of us. Perhaps it’s her red hair. Or maybe it’s her free spirit.

She wrote: I am great full for Grandma because…

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Great full.

That gave me pause.

Because if you think about it, being grateful actually does make us “great full”.

We feel good inside. Others feel good. The step from good to great is not a huge leap.

Giving thanks is that: an act of giving.  Giving is good. In fact science has proven repeatedly that any act of kindness performed improves the health of the giver, the receiver, and incredibly, even the health of those who witness the act of kindness.

By being grateful to others we build bridges, give hope and encouragement, and sow the seeds of more good deeds coming our way. People are less apt to help next time if they don’t receive thanks.

Sadly, “thanks” is not common in the modern lexicon. Strangely, some people believe “thanks” takes away their power, positions them lower than others.

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If only they understood that by giving thanks they GET power.

I truly think that’s what J_____ meant by great full.

Today, I am great full to J_____ for opening my mind to the great state of great-fullness.

I’m Alive Because a Skunk Sprayed my Dog

HornetThe last few days the world has looked a little rosier to me. I notice I’m taking more time to marvel at natural wonders.

Near death experiences tend to have that effect.

Here is the story of how a skunk spraying my dog last week saved my life. It’s one of my silver lining stories.

Hubby, Doug and I were on vacation last week and our daughter was babysitting our 13 year-old Golden Retriever, Divot.

Two days after an emergency vet visit, Divot encountered a skunk. Despite numerous baths she still emits a faint “eau de skunk”.

Our first day back Divot had a playdate with Betty, an elderly customer of Doug’s. Betty loves Divot.

I had an hour of found time. What will I do?

Read my book? Or weed my flower garden?

Lazy Shelley voted for reading. Responsible Shelley opted for weeding.  Responsible Shelley won by a hair.

My, how the weeds have grown in just ten days! There is a big one there.

Ouch! Something just stung my left calf. Oh! There are prickles up my right side! What is happening? Insect! Bees! Run!

I dash for the front door, tear into the bathroom and tear off my shirt to survey the damage. One of the attackers is in here with me!

I bolt for the kitchen, slamming the door behind me.

Baking soda! I make a paste of baking soda and cold water and smear it on the stings on my side and in my armpit. Soothing.

I feel light-headed. Something is happening. Where is my cell phone? I have to sit down. My phone in hand I head towards the couch.

Divot and Doug walk in the front door.

“I’ve been stung several times and I don’t feel well.”

I sit down, relieved to see Doug. I know he will take care of me.

“What can I get you?”

My lips begin to tingle.

My throat feels tight.


“Call 911.”

While he dials I have the sudden urge to scratch myself. All over! It doesn’t help.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah. A bucket. I’m going to throw up.”

I wake up on the floor. Doug is holding me, saving me from aspirating my own vomit. He is on speakerphone with 911. I obviously missed the pail. I am confused. When did that happen?

EMS arrives.

They ask a lot of questions. I know the answers but some of my answers are too long. I don’t have the energy!

Epi-pen in thigh. That hurts!

We need to get your blood pressure up. That’s why you passed out. How is your breathing?

Amazingly, I had all the symptoms of anaphylactic shock except the trouble breathing.

After six hours in Emergency, they release me, a prescription for an Epi-Pen in hand and strict instructions to avoid bees for 72 hours. Seriously? They need to tell people that?

Doug found and destroyed a hornet’s nest behind the weed I plucked. (Now I am The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest!)

So what does all this have to do with the dog being sprayed?

When Divot got to Betty’s, Betty wasn’t feeling well and she was put off by Divot’s skunk smell so Doug decided to cut the visit short.

If he hadn’t walked in the door when he did, I’m not sure I could have called 911 for myself. I could have choked on my own vomit. Without immediate attention, I could have experienced cardiac arrest or had severe breathing issues.

So the way I see it, I’m alive because a skunk sprayed my dog.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.