Categories
Lifestyle Travel

Gearing Up for Ski and Snowboard Season

Gliding down a fluffy white slope through an enchanted winter forest is an endorphin-inducing respite from the daily routine. Organizing the necessary gear to unlock that blissful moment can be daunting and expensive. Here’s a practical guide to getting started.

For Beginners:

Rent your skis/snowboard and boots: When you’re first learning and gaining confidence, you’re better off renting gear, which keeps the upfront costs down.

If you plan to ski three days or less, daily rentals from the resort are practical. Allow extra time as it can take 30 minutes to an hour to get your boots, skis, poles, and bindings all fitted and adjusted. Arrive early to eliminate unnecessary stress, or see if you can get fitted the night before.

If you plan to ski more than three times this season, you’ll save time and money by getting seasonal rentals from a reputable shop. They’ll give a proper fitting and allow you to swap out gear mid-season if needed.

Clothes: Considering that you’re playing on frozen, crystalized water, staying dry and warm is the key to being comfortable in the great outdoors. Therefore, avoid cotton, from head to toe. It retains moisture from sweat and snow, which will chill your body.

I recommend a three-layer system:

  • Base Layer: Thermal underwear wicks perspiration away from the body, keeping you dry and thus warm. A pair of synthetics will do just fine. If you want to splurge, Merino wool is oh-so-nice and makes a great gift of coziness for a loved one.
Women’s Comet Tunnel Hoody. (www.duckworthco.com)
(www.duckworthco.com)
  • Mid Layer: On colder days, you’re going to want a mid-layer on your torso for warmth. Pick something with less bulk and more breathability to keep from overheating and restricting your range of motion. Fleece and soft shells are the common choices. However, wool sweaters with reindeers and non-cotton flannels will give you more style points in the lodge and après at the bar. As the weather warms up, luau shirts are a festive look and are totally appropriate with the mountain crowd.
  • Outer Layer: I prefer my warmth to come from the middle layer, so that my outer layer (or shell) can be used for both winter and spring. Whether you choose a light or heavily insulated jacket, the objective is protection from wind and water while breathing well to prevent overheating. Some nice features you may appreciate include a hood that can fit over your helmet, nifty pockets, and climate-control venting zippers. When choosing pants, I prefer bibs to prevent snow from going up the back when wiping out, keeping my layers from untucking, and full-leg side zippers for venting and easy access to make boot adjustments. Finally, while black and gray may be good color schemes for urban wear, vibrant colors make it easier for your friends and family to spot you on the slopes and in the crowded lodge. The brighter the better—I’m talking orange, yellow, light blue, and green.

Gloves/Mittens: Get a pair you love. They can certainly be expensive and fancy, although they don’t need to be. Dry hands and warm fingertips can make or break your day!

Socks: Here’s a point of failure easily overlooked. Your feet are what connect you to the skis. Make sure you pull those socks up nice and tight over the calf so there are no creases, and be sure there’s no cotton in that blend. While snowboard boots are more forgiving and softer, ski boots are rigid and meant to fit very snug, so a bulky sock just won’t do. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but a thin silky sock can keep your feet warmer than a thick cushiony sock, because when you tighten those boots, it’s easy to inadvertently disrupt your blood circulation. That leads to numb feet, and now you’re not having much fun!

Ski and snowboard boots are naturally quite warm, and unless it’s in the single-digit temperatures, you don’t need the thicker socks. If it’s in the budget, as with the thermal underwear, a nice pair of 100% Merino wools will keep you quite happy, though a synthetic, non-cotton blend will do the job fine. If you happen to suffer from extra-cold feet (like my wife), solutions such as heated socks and boots are incredibly effective.

While you’re at it, trim up those toenails. You want to make sure that when you flex forward in the boot, your big toenail isn’t making contact; that can end poorly. To play it safe, throw a nail clipper in your bag, and do a quick inspection before you boot up.

Another tip is to bring pack your ski socks in your boot bag, and then change into them just before you put on your boots. Feet sweat considerably, and starting your session with a clean, dry pair of socks will maximize comfort.

Lessons: Coaching is the quickest way to get you comfortable with stopping, speed control, and maneuverability. Lots of resorts will bundle lessons with lift tickets. If you live within driving distance of a local “learning” hill, splurge for five consecutive Saturdays. You’ll establish muscle memory and confidence, and be ready to cross into the intermediate and expert realms—and plan a trip to a bigger resort.

Intermediate/Expert

As your speed and precision increase and you develop your style, you’ll want to put your money into the gear best suited to pursue your favorite terrain.

Boots: Whether you’re skiing or riding, boots are the most important piece of gear, even more than the board(s) themselves. If your boots are too big, your foot will bang around the inside as you start to ski faster. Too small, and your feet will feel numb.

Boots and socks at the Smuggler’s Notch Resort. (Pat Kelley)

Don’t skimp here with your time or money. Make an appointment with the best boot fitter you have access to. Seek out an expert preferably with at least a decade “on the bench” (kind of like a judge), or an apprentice with direct access to the “master.”

You’re going to spend a few hundred dollars, so get your money’s worth. Plan for one to two hours for a proper fit, which could include setting a custom foot bed or boot liner. Try to go mid-week, or early morning if you go on the weekend. While occupationally patient, boot fitters tend to deal with a huge crowd the weekend before a holiday, and it’s basically chaos. Try to avoid that scene, but if it’s unavoidable, bring a book and headphones, and be patient. (And it may not hurt to ask how your boot fitter likes their latte and show up with a little care package!)

Boot fitting is the essential part to gearing up for the sport, so get it right. After a few days of skiing, it’s normal to do a follow-up visit after your boots “pack out,” as great boot fitters are able to make minor tweaks that can lead to more comfort, confidence, and enjoyment.

Helmet: If you’re committed to spending ample time on the hill, then go get yourself a helmet. They keep you warm, keep your goggles in place even on wipeouts, and will give you the confidence to push a bit past your comfort zone.

Goggles: As your speeds increase, you need goggles to protect your eyes and keep your face warm. There is a huge spectrum of price points and varieties. First and foremost, find a shape that works well with your face and your helmet, and covers your glasses if needed. Decent goggles will be double-lensed and enable airflow to prevent fogging; however, the degree to which they accomplish this can be the difference between a $30 and $300 pair.

You’ll pay substantially more for spherical lenses over standard flat lenses; they look great and are better at venting. Your budget will determine if this is where you want to splurge. Another option worth considering is interchangeable lenses or multiple goggles if you ski in a variety of light conditions, from night skiing to full sunshine. Alternatively, you can certainly use your sunglasses on bright, warm days and use a versatile tint, like amber, if you can only manage one pair.

Water Bottle: With all the fun you’re having, it’s easy to forget that you’re exercising out there and sweating a bunch. Couple that with high altitudes, and you need to remain hydrated. Go with a small water bladder or mini flask that you can keep in your chest pocket. Fill up in the lodge, and take swigs on the chair between runs.

Ski Pass: If you can get enough days at a single resort or with a multi-resort pass to make it cheaper than a la carte, splurge for unlimited skiing. The more time you spend on the slopes, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll enjoy it.

Skis/Board: It may seem counterintuitive to advise against buying skis, but you don’t actually need to own your own. If you’re flying to fun destinations, baggage costs for skis could exceed the renting costs of high-performance skis, and renting will also save you the trouble of lugging them to and fro. You’ll also want different planks for different conditions. If you do choose to commit to a pair (or multiple pairs), make sure you love them, and buy them for the conditions you’ll mostly be skiing in. While deep-powder gear may be aspirational, it may not be too practical if you’re mostly skiing on man-made packed powder. When in doubt, choose an “all-mountain” pair. Also, try before you buy and get them from a knowledgeable shop, as you’ll want them to adjust the bindings to your boots with the confidence that it will be done properly.

 

 

Categories
Chefs Lifestyle

In and Out of Love With Food

Chef Michael Schulson—TV personality and head of a restaurant empire based in Philadelphia—started healing his damaged relationship with food during the pandemic.

And it helped him lose 35 pounds in less than three months.

It sounds delightful and delicious tasting food for high-end restaurants all day. But, Schulson said, “I don’t think I even like food anymore.”

“Yesterday, I think I tasted 12 to 13 dishes—and that’s before 3 p.m. That’s enough food for someone to eat for a day and a half.” He tried the same octopus dish three times to adjust the taste. “Who would want to eat an octopus dish three times in a row?”

“I love food, but the concept of how we have to eat on a day-to-day basis is the problem,” Schulson said. “I want to be able to choose what I eat.”

The pandemic was hard on the restaurant business, and Schulson did what he could to ease the impact on his employees. But the silver lining was a chance to clear his plate, literally and figuratively.

(Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

New Regimen

Schulson started fasting until 2 p.m. and after 8 p.m. each day. He finally got to choose what he was eating, and often enjoyed light meals of fish. He cut back on carbs, salt, and oil.

He started running everyday and exercising in his home gym, but he said “The exercise piece is kind of secondary. … It’s all about eating properly.”

His main advice to anyone looking to start a weight-loss journey is: “Cut back on portion size. First start with portion size. … You can assume if you’re in America, your portion sizes are slightly bigger than they should be.”

Yoga was also part of his new regimen. It got him to slow down and think about things.

He realized, “Anger and toxicity can only be included in your life if you choose it.” You can’t change the people who are toxic in your life, he said, so it’s best to distance yourself from them.

“When you realize where the main piece of anger or toxicity comes from, once that’s removed, the smallest piece of anger and toxicity really sticks out like a sore thumb,” he said.

“It’s almost like I found an emptiness within me. When you don’t have to deal with certain things anymore, you just have all this energy and time to deal with positivity. It feels like an emptiness, but it’s liberating.”

Schulson has reflected more upon what he enjoys and what’s important to him.

He seeks authenticity. When he’s sick of fancy food, he goes to “a dive,” he said. “Because it feels authentic and genuine and it’s not what I’m getting every single day.”

Though his relationship with food has been somewhat strained, he loves the design and operations side of the restaurant business—managing all the “widgets,” as he calls them (such as financing or the cost of goods).

Authentic Design

He studied architectural engineering in his youth, but dropped out because the classes were more about beam weights and building codes than design. He got a job at a pizza joint instead. That was almost 50 years ago and it took a lot of time and effort to work his way to the top.

Harp & Crown. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

Young hopefuls in the restaurant business seem to expect to open several restaurants at the beginning of their careers, he said. He pointed out that he spent a decade as a line cook, another decade as a sous chef, then started with a single restaurant.

Double Knot. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

He’s glad he got to come back to his interest in design. Authenticity is important to him in the design of his restaurants.

“I like to make people feel a transformative experience. Meaning, if they walk into a restaurant in New York, they feel like they could be in Japan or London or Italy,” Schulson said.

Alpen Rose. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

His attention to detail is great. He gave the example of a restaurant he’s working on right now, an Italian pizzeria called Prunella. Construction was almost finished when he walked in recently and spotted a column that didn’t look right. “It doesn’t make me feel spectacular,” he said, so he had it changed.

“I don’t want any one location or spot within the restaurant to feel like we missed it or we ran out of money.”

He’s careful to be true to the concept. If it’s a 1920s style, you won’t include a decor piece from the 1980s, he said. You might include a modernized version of something from the ‘20s, but you have to be well aware of your art history to achieve authenticity.

“Do what you love,” he said. He was only earning several dollars per hour right up into his 40s, but he stuck with his passion. His two sons, aged 11 and 14, are also interested in the business and the elder has spent much time with him learning the ropes.

Categories
Gardening Lifestyle

Composting for Beginners

In gardening, composting is important and beneficial to the plants and flowers you grow, to the environment, as you are reducing your waste footprint, and to society at large, as composting dates back at least 12,000 years. There are things you should compost and things you shouldn’t —and learning the difference is important.

The benefits of composting include reducing certain food wastes that would end up in landfills, fertilizing and improving your garden soil, growing healthier flowers and more nutritious foods, and potentially saving money in the process.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that “in 2018, 2.6 million tons of food (4.1 percent of wasted food) was composted.” The agency further states that in 2018, “Americans recovered over 69 million tons of MSW [municipal solid waste] through recycling, and almost 25 million tons through composting.”

Compost begins with not discarding your kitchen scraps. (Lenka Dzurendova/Unsplash)

What Is Composting, and Why Should You Do It?

Composting is simply taking fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, and things like coffee grounds and tea leaves, and putting them in a pile in your yard, or in a composting barrel. You can add grass clippings and dead leaves, then let nature get to work breaking down the materials you’ve added to your compost pile.

As the scraps break down, compost becomes nutrient-rich, inviting insects, worms, and beneficial bacteria to live and grow, which further breaks down the materials and enriches your compost pile. In time, you’ll have a fertilizer-like product you can add to your vegetable and flower beds that will improve the soil, add nutrients to your foods, and keep your garden beds producing year after year.

However, compost is not fertilizer. The simplest way to distinguish between compost and fertilizer is to remember this: Compost feeds the soil and fertilizer feeds the plants.

Whatever you add to your compost pile will become the nutrients your garden will use to grow healthier foods. Instead of buying a bag of carrots or a few tomatoes—produce that might have been sprayed with pesticides, or sat on a truck for a week as it made its way to your store—now you can pick and prepare your food the same day. There is no loss of nutrition or taste, and you know what went into each vegetable (and more importantly, what did not go into it).

What Can Be Composted?

Now that we know what composting is and why it’s a good idea, let’s talk about what we should and shouldn’t include in our compost piles. Most of the fruit and vegetable scraps in your kitchen can be composted. Things that you shouldn’t add to your compost pile include meat (cooked or raw), dairy and cheese products, fat, grease, and oil of any kind, and cooked foods such as rice and bread.

Here is a small list of items that can be easily incorporated into your compost pile. All vegetable and fruit waste, even moldy pieces—cores, peels, pits, rinds, and skins—can be composted.

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Loose-leaf tea and tea bags
  • Corn husks
  • Eggshells that have been rinsed and crushed
  • Expired spices
  • Flowers from bouquets
  • Juicer pulp
  • Shredded, ink-free unbleached paper and cardboard
  • Healthy household plant clippings and leaves
Rinsed egg shells are among the things you can safely add to your compost pile. (Jonathan Kemper/Unsplash)

Starting a Compost Pile: Do’s and Don’ts

You only need a few tools to start your compost pile. If you want to increase your chances of having a successful pile, you can buy a few things that can help move it along.

For starters, buy a small container that you can keep in your kitchen to hold food scraps; this will encourage you to sort your compostable garbage and reduce the frequency of your compost pile visits. It can be any small container, but its size will partly determine how often you empty it out onto your pile. Many products offer various features, but you don’t need anything fancy to get started—just a container with a lid in which you can deposit your scraps until you move them outside.

If you want to have usable compost sooner, one option is to add a compost activator, which speeds up the decomposition process by adding nitrogen to your pile.

A successful compost pile is a careful balance of dry, brown items containing carbon, such as dead leaves, and wet, green matter containing nitrogen, such as food scraps. An equal one-to-one ratio of these materials works best. Make sure to regularly mix your compost pile, so that air can get in and help the decomposition process.

You can also break down your waste materials ahead of time to help things along, by blending your scraps or chopping them into smaller bits before adding them to your compost pile, as doing so will also speed the transformation from waste to compost.

A compost pile is a valuable resource for a beginning gardener. It takes a bit of time and the development of new habits, but the benefits are truly numerous. You can actively reduce the amount of waste going into landfills while recycling your own garbage in the best possible way—by composting it and putting it right back into your garden to nourish your flowers and veggies and grow healthy food for years to come.

Categories
Mindset Mind & Body

On Being Brave

When my children were little, I read a story in a magazine that stopped my heart. A mom had sent her daughter to the corner grocery store to buy some bread and milk. Her daughter was walking home with the purchases when a stranger in a car pulled to the curb beside her. He smiled at the girl, used her name—which he had overheard the clerk use at the store—and told her to get in the car.

The girl, who was 10 or 11, was confused. She knew better than to get into a car with a stranger, but she had been taught to be polite and respectful to adults. Against her better judgment, she obeyed.

Luckily, a woman driving by saw the interaction and noticed the look of terror on the young girl’s face. The bystander acted quickly, blocking the man’s car with her own so he could not speed away.

It turned out the abductor was a registered sex offender recently released from prison and on parole. If not for the brave bystander who intervened, something horrible might have happened. Ever since I read that story, I have marveled at that bystander’s bravery—and her willingness to take action to save someone’s life.

What Is Bravery?

Bravery is a virtue that was considered fundamental in the ancient world, but what is it, exactly? Is it even relevant today? Let’s take a look.

In the time of the Iliad—an Ancient Greek epic poem about a hero named Odysseus that describes the last year of the Trojan War—the Greeks called bravery thumos, the Greek word for “liver.”

The Ancient Greeks believed the liver to be the seat of many emotions that people in today’s world would more readily attribute to the brain or the heart. Courage, confidence, “spirit”—these were things that came from that big, fleshy, reddish-brown organ in your torso, according to the Greeks.

Achilles, the strongest warrior of the Trojan War, who looms large in the Iliad, had plenty of thumos. But the Ancient Greeks also valued other qualities, many of which were embodied in Odysseus. It was Odysseus, after all, who made the plan to defeat Troy by hiding soldiers in a giant hollowed-out horse that he offered to them as a gift of peace. Odysseus had clever ways of dealing with problems, and shrewd judgment. He knew how to win a battle no matter what it took. He also personified persistence in the face of adversity—part of the Ancient Greek idea of bravery.

Bravery in war was a primary virtue. But the Greeks also valued cunning, pride, know-how, good judgment, and skill in war.

Aristotle: Bravery Means Balance

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived several centuries after the Iliad was composed, also grappled with the question of bravery in his writing on ethics. For Aristotle, bravery was about balance: too little of it, and you have cowardice; too much, and you have foolhardiness.

Aristotle did not believe more bravery was better. He argued that bravery had to be gauged to the danger. The brave fear what should be feared, and are bold when the situation demands.

Combining Courage With Good Character

Confucius, the Classical Chinese philosopher whose ideas had a formative influence on Chinese culture, had a slightly different idea of bravery. Confucius argued that courage needed to be combined with good character. No one would admire the bravery of a rapacious evildoer, as such boldness would amplify vice, rather than embody virtue.

In fact, to possess bravery without a strong sense of right and wrong would turn bravery into wickedness, according to Confucius. In The Analects of Confucius, a collection of his aphorisms published after his death in 479 B.C., he wrote, “An ordinary person with courage but no righteousness would become a bandit.”

Bravely Breaking Totalitarian Laws

In the modern world, the best examples of bravery may be people who have gone against the current of their societies to stand up for what is right—for example, the Germans, Poles, and other Europeans who resisted the Nazis during World War II, hiding Jewish people in their homes, even as they knew they could be killed for doing so.

These resisters were truly brave. So were the Americans who lived in the Deep South before the Civil War who refused to obey unjust laws and instead secreted escaped slaves to the North where they could live freely. And the Chinese students and other demonstrators who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 to demand democracy and freedom of speech in Communist China. Standing unarmed against a totalitarian force, the demonstrators showed extraordinary bravery.

When you are truly brave, you do not merely endure the troubles that come your way, but put yourself in jeopardy against overwhelming odds in order to fight for what is right.

Against the Consensus

While being brave was highly valued in Ancient Greece and Classical China, most people in the Western world don’t talk much about bravery today. You may hear people say someone “bravely fought cancer,” but bravery these days is more about trying new foods, asking someone you just met out on a date, or doing something that creates personal risk, like skydiving or bungee jumping.

For most people, there are certainly fewer physical threats today than there were in the ancient world. But are there fewer opportunities for bravery?

Most people feel a tremendous amount of pressure to unquestioningly go along with what is happening in today’s world, and there seems to be less tolerance for people to use their own conscience to make choices outside of the societal current.

But going along with the status quo is not being brave. Bravery is when you do something that your conscience tells you to do—or that you know is right—even though it is outside the social norm.

The situations in our lives that require courage today are often quiet ones. We show bravery when we stand up to a boss at work, defend someone from a bully, or tell a friend about their child’s missteps. When we do the brave thing in these everyday situations, we aren’t going to be recognized for our courage. No epic poem or magazine article will be written about our heroic deeds. Instead, we become everyday unsung heroes, acting with virtue in the face of challenges.

Are You Brave?

Are you sleepwalking through your life, going along to get along, or are you acting with integrity, even when it is difficult to do so? Do you make your own decisions, or just go along with whatever is easiest, and grumble about it afterwards? If you don’t make your own decisions and back them up with action, are you really your own person? Are you living a virtuous life, or a life of conformity?

There may not be an imminent battle to win or lose with swords, but these questions make it clear that the personal stakes for courage are as high as ever. When you act with cowardice or remain quiet in the face of unkindness or evil, you lose your sense of self.

When you act with bravery, you increase your self-respect. And as you act with bravery more often, you also gain confidence that you can make a difference, and aren’t helpless or passive, in your life or in the world at large.

How to Be Brave

You know when you feel afraid. Maybe your heart starts to race, or your hands get sweaty, or you start to get lightheaded. When you feel that fear, check in with yourself and acknowledge it. But don’t let the fear stop you. The voice in your head telling you not to act is the voice to ignore.

Instead, ask yourself how the person or mentor you look up to the most would act facing the same situation. Then channel that person—whether it is Jesus, Ganesha, the Biblical David who stood up to Goliath, your closest friend, a parent, your spouse, or another relative—and use their bravery as your own. This means telling your close colleague that you disagree with their decision to get a nonessential surgery (though you will support whatever choice they make); insisting that you get remunerated by your clients for the time you spent on a job even as they try not to pay you; or writing a letter to the editor or an opinion piece for the newspaper explaining why you disagree with your local politicians’ attempt to enact popular but unethical legislation.

When You Act Rightly

In his short essay “The Great Learning,” Confucius wrote that when you act rightly and affect your small sphere of direct contacts and family, it’s worthwhile because it’s the right thing to do, but also because right action reverberates to produce an outsized effect. In other words, your right action influences the people who you affect and those who see you doing the right thing. Then those people, in turn, act just a little differently with their contacts, and your circle of influence spreads like ripples in a pond. The effect you have diffuses, spreading outward through society. Maybe you can’t completely change society, but every ripple affects the whole pond. Your actions matter.

“I think it’s always brave to do what we know is right, even if it isn’t popular or will not benefit us personally,” says Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D., an expert in Asian studies and coauthor of the book “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life,” which includes a chapter on Confucius. “I think we all benefit in the long run by having done the right thing.”

The Butterfly Effect

The “butterfly effect” is an idea first proposed by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1963 and later championed by mathematicians, physicists, and other thinkers interested in chaos theory. Lorenz proposed that every time a butterfly flaps its wings, the weather across the planet is affected. The idea behind his theory is that small actions can have a nonlinear impact on a much larger system.

That’s what your bravery can do today. Being brave, in both small and large ways, has a positive impact on the world.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and book author. Learn more at www.JenniferMargulis.net

 

 

Categories
Mind & Body Parenting

Steps to Free Our Kids From Screen Dependency

“I don’t know how to explain it, but something is wrong with my son,” one mother told me, fighting back tears. “He’s a good student, he does his chores, he used to be so sensitive and caring. But I feel like I’m losing him. His video games are the center of his universe now and he’s losing connection with us.”

She explained that her son was depressed and seemed to be disappearing into another world. Her child was becoming unrecognizable to her.

This lonely parent was sharing what many parents wish they could share, but don’t due to the current cultural norms around kids and screens. Many parents are afraid to talk about it. We, as a society, have accepted the idea that screens are harmless, and part of every child’s day-to-day life. And the industries responsible for producing and marketing the technology have not been transparent with the known risks.

So how do you help your child? How do you rescue him or her from this screen-driven culture? How do you get your child to come eat dinner, join in family celebrations, and reclaim the happiness of everyday real-life pleasures?

It is not as hard as you may think, but early action is the key.

Get Educated

A basic understanding of child development provides direction for healthy screen use. For example, when parents understand that the executive function area of the brain is not fully connected until the mid-twenties, they understand why children and teens are driven largely by unregulated emotions and rewards.

When parents know that young people crave peer and group approval just about as much as food, they think twice about allowing negative exposure to social media. When they understand that the dopamine released during video gaming and social media use mimics the effects of a drug, they will be motivated to take action.

 

Warning Signs of Screen Dependency

  • On entertainment screens every day and for longer periods of time
  • Lies to parents about how much time they are spending on screens
  • Sacrifices social and physical activities for more screen time
  • Leisure screen time interferes with homework and school success
  • Experiences bad moods when not allowed on screens
  • Chooses screen time over spending time with family

 

Get Community

When the weight of your entire society is tilted in one direction, the first step after education is to find support.

One of the greatest human needs is to bond with others and earn the approval of our peers; it is a survival mechanism and a core aspect of the interdependent nature of human beings. This is true for parents as they look to other parents for advice and support, and it is true for children as they seek to fit into peer culture and develop their identity.

The human drive to belong to a community is so strong that people may follow group norms even if they are being hurt by them.

Finding a new community that understands screen struggles and offers you support is essential to creating healthy screen habits for your kids. Most parents can’t make screen changes alone. The bigger your struggle, the more important it is to seek out like-minded families. Without this support, the odds are that you and your kids will slip back into old habits.

Once you are confident with the facts and find a new community to bond with—or even just a few friends to support you—you will be ready to remove the screens that are harming your children.

Be a Coach, Not a Friend

Adjusting your parenting style is the next important key to successfully raising kids in a screen culture. Decades of research point to one style of parenting that offers the most success: firm but loving parenting. This means that parents are not their child’s best friend; instead, they are their best coach. Strong parents are not afraid to go against the norm when needed and put up guardrails and boundaries so their kids will thrive.

Children crave this type of parenting. When parents love their children enough to say “no” to negative forms of screen use, they will win against the pull of today’s screen-obsessed culture.

This coaching perspective allows you to love your “team” with confidence, and to do the right thing even if the team doesn’t like it. You can trust your instincts that have come with years of experience.

Are you experiencing a losing season right now? Then it is time for a new game plan. Go back to the fundamentals and do the hard work—even if the team complains.

When we change our perspective and begin to parent like a good coach, we put ourselves on course to win the screen battle. This one simple step to rethinking your parenting style will get you halfway to your goal of reclaiming your kids. You are no longer the mean parent; you are a smart, winning coach.

Redefine Fun

Your child uses screens because screens are fun. Your job is to replace those activities that bring about negative consequences with something truly fun: real life. This art of replacement is paramount in overcoming most addictions.

Parents must plan ahead to fill the time that was previously spent on screen-based activities. Practical replacements like board games, books, art supplies, and puzzles are a necessity. One mom reported that during this replacement period, she had never played so many Monopoly games in her life. Another mom learned how to play chess. Don’t worry about having to play board games every day with your kids forever; this phase is temporary. Eventually, your child will not need you to fill downtime.

In order for replacement activities to work, your child’s environment will also need to change. Video game controllers on the table are too hard for your child to resist. Willpower has a short shelf life; few can withstand the same temptation more than a few times. Many addicts do well detoxing at a treatment center only to fall right back into their addiction when they come home to the same physical cues in their environment. For families, this may mean that you need to rearrange your home to be more family-centered instead of screen-centered.

Right now is not the time to worry about over-scheduling your child. Sign them up for lessons: music, art, sports, dance, etc. But realize that you don’t have to break the bank. Do what you can to keep them busy, creative, and physically active. How about a family bike ride after dinner, daily runs, or workouts with Mom or Dad? Your goal is to structure new interests by getting involved, especially at first.

Reconnect to Family

The final phase of screen detox is centered around your effort to get your child reattached to your family. This is easier to do with younger kids, but can be more challenging with teens. Chances are that if you have a dependent gamer or social media addict in your home, you have a child who has emotionally distanced themself from the family unit. Your child—at every age—needs to feel close to the family.

Don’t stress about what some friends might say. Ignore what mainstream culture says about kids being “left behind” without screens. Your goal is to unconditionally love and support your child through this lifestyle change. You know in your heart that your kids will be far ahead without the stress and anxiety of negative screen time. Spend time with them. Sit and read a book with them. Go camping, even if it is only in the backyard. Get off your own screen when you are with your child. You have everything you need to save your child.

One of the best parenting tips I can leave you with is this: Trust your intuition. Our world is full of stories of a parent’s intuition saving their child. A police detective working in the sex trafficking division once told me, “We listen to the moms. When they tell you that they have a ‘feeling’ about something, I can’t logically explain it, but they are always right.”

Screen detoxing is the best decision you can make for your family. It is difficult at first to think of a life that doesn’t revolve around smartphones and video games. But stepping away from these distractions leads to freedom and a revelation that these devices, not your child, are the problem.

Forty years ago, very few people suspected that cigarettes caused cancer. People smoked in hospitals, churches, and airplanes. Today, no one questions the facts that cigarettes are detrimental to the health of smokers and those around them. One day in the very near future, people will think the same thing about screens for children. As a parent, you need to start now to protect your kids from years of damage.

Think of your screen detox as the happiest decision you will ever make—a proactive decision to help your child that will benefit them the rest of their life. You are creating new habits that will not only enrich your child’s development, but also enrich your relationship. You are opening doors you never dreamed you could open, helping them reclaim potential they never knew they had, and creating fun memories that almost never were.

Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder of ScreenStrong, an organization that empowers parents to help their children gain the benefits of screen media without the toxic consequences of overuse that threaten healthy mental and physical development. The ScreenStrong Solution promotes a strong parenting style that proactively replaces harmful screen use with healthy activities, life skills development, and family connection. 

 

 

Categories
Uncategorized

Demolish to Renovate

As we think about improving our lives and our goals for 2022, it’s wise to remember that before renovation, there is demolition.

If you enjoy watching home-repair shows, you’ve seen this pattern. As much time, if not more, is spent deciding what’s wrong before people decide how to make it right. Then, making the changes begins, and this can take a long time.

If you’ve lived through a home renovation project, you have experienced this, as well. It can be challenging to live in the in-between state as improvements are in process—but it’s necessary.

A while back, my church began a major remodeling project. For a long time, we had to meet in our fellowship hall while our sanctuary was remodeled. Our services were crowded and there were more hallway traffic jams than usual as we came and went. Those who were used to sitting in the front right area of the sanctuary might have found themselves in the back left area. Very little was predictable.

Parking spots for our seniors were moved from the south end to the west end of the church. It felt strange parking in new places, using different doors to enter and leave the church, and sitting in new places. On top of that, many classes for adults, children, and teens were relocated as the addition to our children’s wing got underway.

Our new sanctuary wasn’t ready for months. We couldn’t snap our fingers and expect renovation to start, much less finish, because demolition had to happen first, and had to be carefully planned. Making mistakes during this phase of the project would have major repercussions later.

After the right contractors were hired, I can only imagine all the questions. Which part of the demolition should we do first? What kind of new doors should we choose? If we knock out that wall, how will the rest of the room be affected? What about the balcony? The new sanctuary depended upon making careful changes to the old.

Think about your life. Is there something you would love updated? New attitudes? New actions? New beliefs? Or maybe something as practical as a new wardrobe? A new garden? A new easy chair for the corner of your den?

We are not going to change if we simply put something new on over the old. We couldn’t keep old pews and make room for new chairs. We couldn’t keep old windows and add new ones. We didn’t need both the old organ and a new one, the old pulpit and a new one, the old lights and new ones. No—we needed to identify and demolish the old before bringing in the new.

As I think about improving my life in the year ahead, I am considering what needs to go. What about you? Is there an attitude that is in the way of progress? A belief to reject as you work to believe something new? Unnecessary actions or habits that are slowing down your progress? Are you believing something that’s actually false?

Let’s strategically demolish the old to get ready for the new. Although change isn’t always comfortable, we can live in the in-between as we think about the future blessings we’ll experience. Renovation can be beautiful.

Dr. Kathy Koch (pronounced “cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including 8 Great Smarts and Start with the Heart. Dr. Kathy earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

 

Categories
Tea Mind & Body Nutrition

GABA Oolong Tea for Health

Originating in Japan and introduced in the late 1980s, GABA oolong is a type of oolong tea containing high levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—an amino acid that naturally occurs in the human body and acts as a neurotransmitter. Typically, oolong and green teas tend to have higher levels of this amino acid compared to other teas.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid is naturally produced in the human brain and is also present in many foods containing glutamic acid, including seafood, beans, lentils, sprouted whole grains, and berries. To better synthesize GABA, one may need to increase consumption of foods containing vitamin B6 to further stimulate the production of GABA in the brain. The lack of this amino acid in humans has been shown to be responsible for many mood and sleep disorders.

Research has correlated the consumption of GABA tea with a decrease in high blood pressure. Due to its inhibitory function, it causes the muscles lining the blood vessels to relax, aiding normal blood flow.

Japanese researchers in the 1980s discovered a special tea-processing technique that results in an increase in this amino acid in tea, transforming it into a powerful health tea. By placing the unfinished tea leaves in a sealed chamber devoid of oxygen and pumping in nitrogen to displace any oxygenated air, they created a fermentation process that synthesized the glutamate in the tea leaves into GABA. They also discovered that shading the tea plants for up to two weeks before harvest causes increased levels of GABA.

Flavor and Caffeine Levels

The oxidation level of tea has a great influence on its flavor, and depends on the elevation at which it was grown; the higher the elevation, the lower the oxidation level. High-oxidized teas display darker, richer colors and deeper flavors, whereas lightly oxidized varieties have a more fragrant, smooth, and fruity flavor with a sweet aroma.

GABA oolong has a medium amount of caffeine.

Research on the Health Benefits of GABA Oolong

For the tea to be fully classified as GABA, it must contain a minimum of 150 milligrams of GABA in every 100 grams of dry leaf tea. Research has demonstrated that when brewed, regular oolong tea contains only 0.25 milligram of GABA per 200 milliliters of tea, while the level of GABA-enriched oolong is around 2 milligrams per 200 milliliters. Oolong tea has proven to be beneficial for health as it contains high levels of antioxidants. One study has even shown that, compared to many black, white, and even green teas, oolong tea displayed stronger levels of antioxidant capacity—suggesting it is a top beverage for health and well-being. GABA tea is reported to be a great natural alternative to some pharmaceutical drugs, as it has no addictive properties nor side effects when consumed in moderation.

Lowers Stress and Anxiety

An Australian study conducted in 2019 established the relationship between GABA-enriched tea consumption on stress and heart rate variability (the difference in time between each heartbeat). Stressed individuals typically display an increased level of heart rate variability. Chronically stressed people are more prone to developing cardiovascular illnesses; therefore, it is important for these individuals to minimize their stress levels. The study found that participants displayed a significant decrease in their immediate stress scores and a significant improvement in their heart rate variability levels upon drinking a cup of GABA oolong tea. The results highlight the complex interactions of the nervous system in mood regulation.

Improves Sleep and Mood Disorders

The notable health benefits of GABA oolong include improved sleep in individuals suffering from sleep-related disorders like insomnia. This is largely attributed to the calming effects of GABA, which acts as a natural sedative without any addictive properties. Humans naturally produce GABA in their brains, but it has been suggested that individuals with sleep, depression, and anxiety disorders may have lower levels of GABA, causing sleeplessness and mood-related problems. The amino acid GABA functions as an inhibitor in the brain and, when mixed with L-theanine (found in all tea), it helps to encourage relaxation and improve sleep quality.

Another reported health benefit is enhanced mental focus and concentration. Many Japanese children even drink GABA tea before school to stimulate mental alertness in class.

Drink in Moderation

Researchers recommend it is safe to drink 10 to 20 milligrams of GABA from tea, equivalent to four to eight cups of brewed GABA tea. This is best done in the evenings to help with sleep or mood disorders. The amino acids in the tea are highly soluble so steep time is usually very short—two minutes at most. As with anything, it is important to consume GABA tea in moderation as too much of it may cause nausea, digestive upset, and breathing difficulties.

Today, GABA tea can be found in most specialty tea stores, with Taiwan and Japan being the most common exporters of this tea.

Meditating and Keeping a Healthy Mind

Another way to naturally increase GABA levels in the brain is through practicing meditation and mindfulness. Just as consuming a healthy diet is important for the body, taking care of the mind is a powerful way to deter stress and anxiety.

 

Categories
Mind & Body

Embodying the Truth 

The truth is a powerful thing, but unraveling what is true isn’t nearly as straightforward as we might believe.

The dictionary meaning of truth points to an indisputable fact or an accurate portrayal of objective reality. Honesty, integrity, and transparency allow the truth to be seen. Lies, denial, and deceit cover it up.

You may think truth is merely the polar opposite of false. But there also exists a more personal and mysterious side to this idea, because our perception of what is true hinges heavily on our ability to perceive, understand, and experience.

Take, for example, the Greek word for truth, alethia. Instead of describing the true-versus-false dichotomy we typically think of, alethia refers to the process of uncovering the truth. It means “to reveal what is hidden.”

Instead of just a cold, hard fact, alethia describes a search for answers and the enlightenment that comes with finding them. This is an active form of truth—an insight that lifts the veil—allowing you a new and profound perspective on something previously obscured.

For example, we all have blind spots—aspects of our character that are more apparent to others than ourselves. We may have a problem overeating or getting angry that we dismiss, ignore, or overlook, often through personal justifications, or because we grew up around people with similar tendencies and our baseline has adjusted to consider this normal. And then, one day, something happens, or a loved one points it out in just the right way, and suddenly we can see this aspect of ourselves more clearly, allowing us to take meaningful steps to address it.

One finds a similar meaning to alethia in zhen, the Chinese word for truth. Zhen can mean real and genuine. But much like alethia, zhen also describes something more personal and intuitive.

When the zhen character first emerged centuries ago, its meaning differed considerably from the kind of truth we think of today in the West, according to a 2019 article in the Journal of Chinese Writing Systems by Youngsam Ha, from Kyungsung University in South Korea.

“Chinese people experienced development differently from the people in the West due to environmental factors,” Ha writes. “So Chinese people did not ask questions such as, ‘What is truth?’ Their interest was about doing, or how they could go on doing the right thing.”

Zhen and alethia don’t describe truth as a factoid you find on Wikipedia. Rather, they represent a type of knowledge you earn through life experience. Will Ward, a language enthusiast and CEO of a company that sells translation equipment, says the concept of alethia describes “embodied knowledge.

“For example, we often hear and recognize as truth that ‘traveling broadens your horizons,’” says Ward. “Anyone who hasn’t experienced this can receive it intellectually, but it isn’t until you actually travel and experience what it feels like to have your horizons broadened, as it were, that you have embodied knowledge.”

Our conventional understanding of the truth allows for only one version of reality; everything else is merely a subjective interpretation. But consider the difference in light of alethia. Ward says that realizing the distinction between an embodied and a non-embodied truth can provide you with a broader view of the world and the people within it.

“You begin to see the world differently in almost every way, and your interactions with, and understanding of, everyone you know and meet can become so much more meaningful when you realize you’re both relating from experiences of revealed, or embodied, truth,” Ward says.

This perception allows one to become more broad-minded and thereby freer from the inevitable biases we each hold. When we can entertain the possibility that our own perception is limited, we gain the essential prerequisite to a larger capacity to understand.

Truth of Trauma

Of course, there are times when we require the kind of truth we can all plainly see, agree on, and establish as fact. But an individual, embodied truth also serves a vital purpose. Author and coach Danielle Bernock discusses this purpose through the lens of trauma in her book “Emerging With Wings.”

“One of many problems with trauma is that people dismiss it in their lives, and so it festers and wreaks havoc either until the trauma will not be denied, or it costs them their lives,” says Bernock.

Bernock suffered numerous childhood traumas, but she always brushed them off as trivial because they didn’t compare with the kind of violent or harrowing events she considered truly traumatic. Instead of experiencing a school shooting, domestic abuse, or natural disaster, she felt emotionally wounded by friends and family, and says she was only able to heal when she acknowledged that her traumas, however small, really meant something.

“Since then, I’ve learned that trauma is not the event,” Bernock says. “Trauma is an involuntary wound left behind by something a person was unable to process. Validation of trauma is a vital part of healing. Trauma is personal, and until someone owns that truth, they will remain trapped in the pain.”

Many people who are unable to see the truth of their own experience remain shaped by events they are unable to examine honestly, because they exercise an involuntary self-deception that denies them the clarity they need to heal.

A Consequence of Truth

Finding the kind of truth contained in alethia can be a gratifying experience. You can look back on your previous ignorance and appreciate the world from a clearer perspective. But psychologist Claire Grayson says these epiphanies come at a cost: They can make it harder to relate to others who haven’t yet made the leap.

“On one hand, we’ve been taught to believe that ‘truth is the root of all good.’ On the other hand, it has also been suggested that ‘the more you know, the more unhappy you are.’ So why do ignorant people tend to be happier?” asks Grayson. “The reason for that is that knowledge can put a burden on trying to be understood.”

It’s less stressful when we all agree and get along. And life might be easier if we all decided to see everything in the same uniform way. But for many of us, our quest for truth trumps our desire to conform. Grayson says humans are curious creatures. We want to know, even if it might alienate us somewhat from friends and family.

“Investigating and finding the truth can help us make meaning in life,” says Grayson.

Consider those who have lived through times of great deception, like Nazi Germany or the communist revolutions in many countries around the world. At such moments, political leaders censor information and scapegoat a portion of the population, leading others to accept or participate in acts of cruelty. For people that choose to believe what is objectively and personally true in these environments, truth can come with a mortal risk.

Your Thoughts Shape Your Truth

Aside from extreme situations, how do we embody a truth? Grayson has a few tips. First, have an open mind. Consider that grief, anger, and sadness can cloud your vision, so strive to be emotionally sober before seeking truth, and be prepared to feel vulnerable. Understand that truth can be subjective and expect the unexpected.

Some may look to a higher power for guidance. For outside observers, this approach may seem quaint, irrational, or naive. But outsiders have not witnessed all the signs and confirmations of truth that have led the faithful down this path.

For those that hold that creation is linked to a benevolent force present in their lives, truth includes dimensions that others may reject. Often, people that hold this belief have experienced a transformative experience that led to this type of embodied truth—an experience that often began with an illness, tragedy, or some other painful tribulation that inspired a search for answers.

In 2002, Patricia Heitz was devastated by a kidney cancer diagnosis during a routine checkup. She eventually dealt with the news by developing a daily prayer: “Help me see what I need to see and know what I need to know about this disease.”

While recovering from cancer surgery, Heitz found an answer in “You Can Heal Your Life,” a book by Louise Hay that describes how physical disease is linked to chronic emotional patterns and thoughts. It made Heitz realize that the anger she had been holding since childhood was the driving force behind the cancer that had been festering in her body.

“I had created a perception about who I was based on my need to be loved and approved in my dysfunctional family,” Heitz says. “When I realized what I believed about myself was not the truth, I then went on the journey to find out what the truth of me really was, and lo and behold, I found out I had some amazing gifts that, when I tuned into them, gave me great joy.”

The epiphany for Heitz was how powerful thoughts can be, and how they could dictate her truth. That knowledge gave her a new sense of control. If she could create disease out of self-hate, what could she create from self-love?

“I looked at the world through the eyes of unlimited possibility,” she said. “If I could discover what the beliefs were that sabotaged me, and correct them, I could create anything. If I could create disease through negative beliefs, I could create anything through positive beliefs.”

While such an idea may sound unscientific or idealistic to some, what is true for Heitz has been true for many. Experiences of miraculous disease recovery with a change in thought, the power of the placebo effect, and the links between mental state and disease are all well documented. So, while science gives us one way to agree on what is true, being broad-minded and willing to entertain ideas we disagree with gives us another.

Conan Milner has been a reporter for 16 years, covering health and wellness for the past 7 years. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.

 

Categories
Lifestyle

Jean Shafiroff: A Compassionate Worldview

For Jean Shafiroff, philanthropy is truly a lifestyle.

Shafiroff has always had the heart to give—long before hosting her television show “Successful Philanthropy” and authoring a book of the same title, becoming a board member of several major charities, and giving to and chairing countless other charities.

“It was the way I was raised, to be kind and giving,” Shafiroff said. From the nuns at her Catholic school who led their young students to care for others through giving back in small ways like bake sales, to joining the Girl Scouts and learning about fundraising, to listening to her father, a music teacher, speak passionately at the dinner table about his students and their futures, compassion has always been a core value for Shafiroff.

“It’s a great privilege to be in a position to give, and we all can be philanthropists. Everybody has worth. We all have great value to society and never think that you have nothing to offer, because you do. Everyone has compassion,” Shafiroff said.

Defining Philanthropy

Shafiroff is well known for her leadership in philanthropy. She chairs at least eight charity galas a year and champions causes like serving under-served populations, bettering healthcare, women’s rights, and animal welfare.

(Jean Shafiroff by J.Vanderwatt for Rob Rich/SocietyAllure.com)

She is a board member of American Humane, Southampton Hospital Association, NYC Mission Society, French Heritage Society, Couture Council of the Museum at FIT, Global Strays, New York Women’s Foundation, Casita Maria, Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation Honorary Board, Jewish Board, and is an ambassador for American Humane and the national spokesperson for its “Feed the Hungry” initiative. The list of charities and organizations she gives to is even longer. For her work, Shafiroff has been honored many times by dozens of organizations.

“We give because we know actions and choices made now can help in the future. We give because small gifts can help lead to big change. We give because we are compelled to take action. We give because giving honors life and the power of the human spirit to affect change,” Shafiroff writes in her book. “We give because we do not wish to see suffering and we wish to assuage it.”

The book’s subtitle is “How to make a life by what you give,” and Shafiroff’s message is a humanitarian one. It is that anyone can be a philanthropist; we can all give in some way while staying within our means. For some it may be a charitable donation, for others it may be volunteering their time or knowledge. Not many people describe themselves as philanthropists, but Shafiroff wants everyone to understand that they can.

“The truth is that philanthropy is accessible to anyone,” she writes, and this new definition of philanthropy is “so vital to the future of our society, the human race, and the world.” The book is a practical one, step by step guiding any would-be philanthropist on their new journey toward giving. She proposes insightful questions, shares example stories, and leads the reader to think realistically about what they can do for others given their own specific set of circumstances.

(Nick Mele for Jean Shafiroff)

Moved to Create Change

Shafiroff’s first career was as a physical therapist at the inner city St. Luke’s Hospital in New York.

“I wanted to be helpful to people and helpful to society,” she said. “There, I worked with many patients living below the poverty level, and had serious health issues. That left its mark.”

She returned to school to obtain a masters in business with a plan to go into hospital finance. Then, at Columbia University she met her husband Martin.

Shafiroff then worked briefly on Wall Street. The hours were long and she would come home at 9 or 10 at night. She realized after  having her first child that if she continued this way, she would have little time to see her children.

“So I stopped my career. And as a stay-at-home mother of two daughters, I started volunteering at the schools,” Shafiroff said. She started with baking brownies for bake sales and then got involved with the school’s annual fund. Her goal was “100 percent participation.” She would tell the parents that it wasn’t about the size of the gift, but their involvement. If they could only give $5, it would still be a worthwhile gift.

During Shafiroff’s travels, she was further inspired to give. “I’ve seen tremendous poverty, in Cambodia, different parts of Central America, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic,” she said. “When you see extreme poverty, you know you have to do something, because life is not created equal, and I believe that those that have resources have an obligation.”

As an American, it is part of the culture to give. “In the United States, even people who don’t have a lot of money give their time and resources, and then they write small checks. It’s very much a part of our culture, which I think is important,” she said. “I believe that philanthropy must be taught in the home. We teach children how to be philanthropic by first teaching them to share and to be kind to others.”

(Courtesy of Jean Shafiroff)

Over time, Shafiroff’s philanthropy has given her a voice and a platform, which she has only used to amplify the good work of various causes or philanthropists so others can do the same.

“If people ask, and I have the time, and I feel that I can do something, then I do. I want to be helpful,” she said. “And I have to say, I enjoy it, because I have the philosophy that when you give, you get. It’s highly rewarding to be useful and to be helpful to society.”

Getting Started

“Start off slowly. Do a lot of research on the charity first: go to their website, ask people about them. And get involved in a cause that you have a passion for, and where you think there is a need—that’s very important.”

For more tips and guidance, Jean Shafiroff’s “Successful Philanthropy” discusses how to choose a charity, how to work with a charitable organization, what to expect, and more. 

Categories
Craftsmanship Lifestyle

600 Years of Tradition

On an elevated plateau between Austria’s Dachstein mountain range and Enns valley stands the Lodenwalker factory. Inside are 35 artisans carrying on the work that began there in 1434, making an especially durable wool fabric called loden.

The building has been completely destroyed by floods and rebuilt five times. It has endured through the ages and maintained ancient techniques that have fallen into disuse elsewhere. Some of its machinery is centuries old.

“I believe that honest work is the key to keep a business over such a long period of time,” said Jörg Steiner, the current owner. His family has run the business for 15 generations. Before that, it was owned by various farming families in the small town of Ramsau am Dachstein (current population about 2,000).

Honest work means “a fair and sustainable approach for people, animals, and the environment, [and] no unnecessary or compulsive growth,” he said.

Lodenwalker favors air drying over the tumble dryers of modern textile factories. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)

Lodenwalker has always been energy self-sufficient, drawing on local hydropower to run machinery that entered the factory in the 19th century. Its traditional methods of craftsmanship also require less energy. For example, instead of using tumble dryers as many textile factories do today, Lodenwalker workers hang huge swaths of cloth out to air dry.

“It almost looks like a giant clothesline,” Steiner said of the 65-yard-long wooden structures outside the factory.

Lodenwalker doesn’t use chemical waterproofing like many textile producers. The process of fulling, or walken in German, makes the wool durable and water-resistant. The cloth is hammered in warm water, causing it to compact to 40 percent its original size.

“This ancient working technique makes our fabric into loden,” Steiner said. Loden is the material of the region’s traditional garb, and is so durable that garments often last decades. “The looks change from year to year or from century to century,” Steiner said, though the fabric remains the same.

“Fulling is something you do by instinct,” he said. The artisan feels the impact to the wool, shaping and crafting it. Though fulling fell out of practice widely during the Industrial Revolution, this hand-crafting process remains important at Lodenwalker.

Steiner emphasized the importance of also keeping the business in hand—keeping it simple and steady without compulsive expansion. Lodenwalker doesn’t distribute to other companies, but rather maintains direct contact with its customers. One modern boost to business is online sales, which have opened the market worldwide

Situated on an Austrian plateau, Lodenwalker has been producing durable wool fabric since 1434. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)

The factory is open to visitors and Steiner loves having customers come to understand the care that goes into each piece.

“The textile industry in fast-moving times like nowadays is all but healthy and sustainable,” Steiner said. Lodenwalker’s motto is, “Wool takes time.”

It takes about three months to produce a meter of finished wool starting from the raw material, he said. Then the wool is shaped into garments.

‘Wool Takes Time’

The hardy mountain sheep of the region provide the wool, though some suits and overcoats are made from Australian merino wool. A benefit of virgin wool is that it is a renewable resource, unlike petroleum-based synthetic fibers.

The wool goes through a carding machine, a 19th century addition to the factory. Cylinders covered with needles comb the wool. It then goes through the spinning and weaving machines, which entered the factory not long after the carding machine.

The wool is spun into threads, thousands of which are placed on the loom and woven into various patterns, such as a twill weave that creates a pattern of diagonal ribs.

Some of the factory’s machinery still in use is centuries old. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)

“Weaving is a technique where you need to calculate and work very precisely,” Steiner said, contrasting it with the more instinctual process of fulling. Steiner’s education at a textile college focused on weaving. But, he said, “I’ve gained the real know-how from experience by skilled employees. Therefore, it’s important to pass down the knowledge from generation to generation.”

Many of the workers at Lodenwalker have, like Steiner, carried on the tradition of loden-making from their ancestors. “When I took over in 2006, many employees had known me from childhood. I always felt as a member of a large family. This is also the way our employees were treated, and I try to keep it this way,” he said.

After weaving, the cloth is spread over a light-table where workers patiently check the quality and fix any imperfections by hand. Then comes fulling, dying, and drying.

Weaving requires skills and precision accrued through generations of experience. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)
(Courtesy of Lodenwalker)
Unlike petroleum-based synthetic fibers, virgin wool is a renewable resource. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)

The final step is finishing, part of which is napping, or running thistles over the fabric to sort of fluff it up and make it soft. Steiner swears by natural thistles instead of synthetic brushes for napping.

“Thanks to this old technique our pure new wool blankets are napped in a very gentle way. This method helps to avoid electrostatic charging and fibers to pull out,” Steiner said.

Of the whole production process, he said: “One step leads to another like in a clockwork. If one small thing doesn’t work properly in a single step, it will affect the whole process. What’s important to us is time, we produce ‘slowly’ on purpose.”

The factory is now open to visitors interested in the creation of loden fabric. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)

Lodenwalker Legacy

Time seems to have moved slowly in Lodenwalker, though it hasn’t stayed still. The loden fabric is much the same as it was six centuries ago, though the style of garb has changed. A few machines have entered the factory, though they are themselves now antiques.

Jörg Steiner’s family has run the business for 15 generations. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)
The loden fabric and its making remains much the same throughout six centuries. (Courtesy of Lodenwalker)

Since Steiner took the reins at the age of 25 in 2006, there have been some ups and downs though nothing on the scale of the destructive floods his forebears had to cope with.

“There are always challenges, such as finding suitable personnel or keeping the old machines up and running. Even the pandemic confronted us with entirely new challenges. But overall, I’d say I’m quite lucky, because we’re living in a time where our philosophy and products fit in perfectly.”

His 13-year-old son is interested in continuing the family’s vocation, though Steiner said he won’t pressure the boy if he chooses another path. Steiner’s path was always clear to him, and he has drawn strength and wisdom from the guidance of his parents and support of his wife.

“The most important key lesson from my parents and ancestors was and still is to stay true to oneself and the business,” Steiner said.

Categories
Trending Meditation Meditation

Meditation: A Search for Inner Calm and Meaning

Take a moment to clear your mind. Let go of the chatter of doubt and obsession, and just be still.

Meditation is a simple idea, yet challenging in practice. In a world brimming with distractions, developing the ability to maintain a clear mind for any stretch of time takes dedicated effort. But those who practice this mysterious discipline say it’s worth the effort they put into it.

Enlightenment has long been the goal of meditation, but the bar doesn’t usually start so high. Today, meditation is often promoted as a drug-free way to relax, reduce stress, and improve mental focus. A number of studies validate the health benefits of meditation. Some doctors recommend it.

But the drive to meditate goes far beyond the scope of modern science. For Nicole Fiene, a sales representative from Massapequa, New York, meditation spoke to a void deep in her soul that she had never been able to fill.

“I was in a constant and seemingly neverending cycle of feeling unfulfilled with everything I did,” Fiene said. “I lived a beautiful life full of fun adventures and special friendships—always traveling to new places, meeting new people, and trying different things. But on the inside, it was never enough; I always wanted more.”

Fiene says that instead of feeling inspired, her constant search for stimulation left her feeling depleted. She relied heavily on multiple substances just to get through the day.

But when COVID-19 hit last year, Fiene was forced to change her routine. Under lockdown, all the activity and distraction she had grown accustomed to was no longer available. As a result, she could no longer hide from the painful feelings she had previously pushed down.

“Part of me knew that the reason I was going through such pain was because what was about to be next for me would be so extraordinary,” she said. “I knew that if I was going to fix this, I had to get to the root of it, and I knew whatever I was experiencing was spiritual.”

Fiene had no idea where to start, but direction came a day or so later. Speaking to a close business colleague over the phone, Fiene confessed to her emotional and spiritual unraveling during lockdown, and her search for something to cope with it. Her colleague recommended that Fiene try a meditation practice called Falun Gong. Fiene found instructions for the practice on the internet. She tried it and soon felt better.

“I felt a circulation of energy all through my arms, and for the first time in such a long time, I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and safety,” Fiene said. “I didn’t know anything about the practice, but in my heart I knew this was what was going to pull me out of the mental darkness I was experiencing.”

Roots in China

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition. In addition to the classic seated meditation, it also includes four slow, meditative standing exercises. The exercises are simple to learn, but those who practice them say they bring profound peace.

“Sometimes after meditating, I feel this buzz of soothing energy all around my body and mind, and it’s coupled with kindness and calmness,” Fiene said.

Today, Falun Gong is practiced in more than 80 countries, but it started in China—a place with a long tradition of slow, meditative exercises known as qigong (energy practice).

Falun Gong practitioners demonstrated at Union Square in New York on May 12, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Either at parks in large groups or at home, Chinese people have been practicing various kinds of qigong for centuries. Tai chi is perhaps the best-known. Falun Gong was virtually unknown until the early 1990s, but it is said to have been around since ancient times. According to Falun Gong’s founder, Li Hongzhi, before he modified it slightly and introduced it to the public in China, it was a lineage-type practice passed from master to student.

Li gave lectures on Falun Gong in a handful of Chinese cities for a few years, and interest in the practice spread—mostly by word of mouth.

In fact, it grew very popular very fast. By 1999, Falun Gong had grown to become the largest and fastest-growing qigong practice in China. The Chinese regime estimated that 70 million people were practicing Falun Gong, including some high-ranking members of the regime. The appeal was clear: Classes were free and open to anyone, and testimonials of positive experiences increased people’s interest. Many reported significant improvements in their health and state of mind from practicing Falun Gong.

Falun Dafa practitioners in a group practice session in Shenyang City, China, in 1998. (Minghui)

Jane Pang remembers first learning Falun Gong back in China 25 years ago. Today, she’s a 45-year-old school principal living in Toronto. Back then, she was attending a Chinese university, where she would occasionally practice qigong with a group of fellow students in her free time. When one of her qigong buddies introduced her to Falun Gong in 1996, Pang knew she had found something special.

“I practiced qigong, but it didn’t feel anything like Falun Dafa,” Pang said. “[Dafa] gave me a lot of inner peace immediately.”

The biggest change Pang first noticed from the practice was that it calmed her down. She was a very dedicated student, but extremely stressed from all the pressure she was under, and full of anxiety. Falun Gong meditation helped her get her anxiety under control.

“Meditation helps me physically,” she said. “I have more and more control of my physical body. I can calm myself down and relax myself. I’m not worried about the results. I think that’s a big change for me.”

At first, the Chinese regime was pleased with the beneficial results people like Pang experienced with Falun Gong. Some officials even noted how it could save money on health care costs. An official from China’s National Sports Commission told U.S. News and World Report that Falun Gong’s influence could save each person 1,000 yuan per year in medical fees, and the benefits could add up.

“If 100 million people are practicing it, that’s 100 billion yuan saved per year in medical fees,” the official said.

But in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) changed its tune. Top officials suddenly became concerned that Falun Gong was becoming too popular, and feared the influence of such a large segment of the population involved in an activity outside communist control. Perhaps most serious of all, Falun Gong was deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture, something the CCP had worked to destroy since the regime’s founding in 1949. Socialism and atheism effectively became the state religion.

Falun Gong books were ordered burned, the exercises were forbidden, and a major propaganda campaign to demonize the practice was carried out by virtually every media outlet in the country—all of which operate under tight state control.

Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners went to the Chinese capital to appeal what they believed was a misguided decision by the CCP. In 1999, Pang made her way to Beijing to convince the authorities that Falun Gong was good, that it wasn’t political or any kind of threat to the regime. It was something to be celebrated. Like many other practitioners in China at the time, Pang thought that if people in power could hear her positive experience, it would change their minds.

“We wanted them to know there shouldn’t be any concerns,” Pang said. “I thought if I went there and shared my story, it would help them to understand what Falun Gong is.”

However, these types of appeals seemed only to intensify the regime’s determination to stamp out the practice. After they arrived in Beijing to appeal, Pang and other practitioners found themselves incarcerated. Pang says she was abducted on the street, put on a bus, and taken to several detention centers over the course of the next few days. She was tortured, starved, and denied access to a restroom. She also had no idea where she was.

“I was very, very scared,” Pang said. “I wanted to say goodbye to my family members. I felt that at any moment, I could be dead. And if they killed me, my family would never know how I died.”

After being processed at five or six different detention centers, Pang was eventually taken to a labor camp where she spent the next two years. The experience was designed to break prisoners like Pang of their adherence to Falun Gong. Ironically, it only deepened her dedication.

“Even if I just had a minute or two to myself, I would close my eyes and do the meditation. I tried to get some peace internally,” Pang said. “My physical body was deteriorating from the torture, but mentally I did not break down. Meditation helped me a lot in such a difficult situation.”

Better Health, Brighter Outlook

Falun Gong shares similar elements with Buddhism and Taoism, but it also has unique characteristics. In addition to providing methods to clear the mind and move energy through the body, it also teaches practitioners to elevate their character. This means doing their best to be a good person in every situation in life. The three guiding principles of Falun Gong are truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

(Photo courtesy of NYCC Falun Dafa)

Those who live by these principles say they have the power to overcome virtually anything. Pang says that even today she feels a profound sense of protection.

“Whatever happens in your life, your heart cannot be touched. It can be an extreme situation, but you feel calm because you feel protected,” Pang said. “I’ve been able to go through so many difficult situations because of the meditation practice of Falun Gong. I’ve benefited from day one.”

Falun Gong comes from China, but the people who practice it today hail from all over the world. One of them is 45-year-old Tabitha Smile. In 2014, Smile was a single mother of two teenagers and working a corporate job when she decided she wanted to find a meditation practice.

Smile had some previous knowledge of meditation practices found in Asia because of time spent in the Far East. Many of her formative childhood years were spent in Japan, and she also visited Korea and Taiwan.

But she discovered Falun Gong in a room above a Whole Foods store in Portland, Oregon, where she met up with a small local group to learn the exercises. She says it was a casual atmosphere where she felt comfortable to go at her own pace. But she saw profound benefits right away.

“The first time I did the Falun Dafa exercises in the group, I could feel the gentle warmth and vibrations throughout my entire body. I felt very light and wonderful, and I knew I had found a true practice.”

“For weeks after my practice, I felt a rotational type of vibration all over my body,” she said.

Within a few months, Smile’s chronic back pain disappeared, and a persistent skin issue that had plagued her for years was finally gone.

“I also felt an increase in energy,” she said.

If you’re new to Chinese culture, much of the philosophy of Falun Gong may seem odd at first. Mystical talk of energy channels, the power of inner silence, and the accumulation of virtue as a real physical substance are all a part of traditional Asian culture. But interested Westerners can find a connection with these ideas.

Those who come to embrace Falun Gong often talk about finding it at a pivotal point in their lives. Joseph Gigliotti, a 29-year-old chiropractor, was first introduced to Falun Gong almost seven years ago while in chiropractic college.

Jeanne Mitchell practicing the 5th exercise of Falun Dafa

“It was at a time when I was beginning to see that I had some serious work to do on my character. I was looking for an authentic spiritual discipline that could help me mature and be a better person,” Gigliotti said. “When a friend told me about this practice, I immediately knew this was unique, authentic, and very powerful.”

Gigliotti had previously struggled with anxiety and depression, but he says through Falun Gong, these issues simply melted away.

“I could never imagine then the changes that would take place in me,” he said. “Falun Dafa has left a permanent mark on who I am, and it has transformed all my relationships.”

Today, Gigliotti says meditation has become an integral part of his life. It has taught him to think of others first, and to look within whenever he faces any difficult ordeal.

“In many ways, this practice saved my life,” Gigliotti said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without it. It’s so nice to be able to sit and settle my mind.”

“While meditating, it feels like a shower to my mind and body. It can really be pleasant. It can also be challenging at times and helps me temper myself.”

A Treasured Discovery

Many Falun Gong practitioners say they treasure the practice because of the journey—the search they took to find it. But sometimes the practice finds them.

That’s what happened to a 63-year-old music teacher and photographer, Syl Lebar. In 2004, Lebar was researching information about a style of tai chi known as “wu,” but for some reason, his search results kept leading him to Falun Gong.

“Every time I searched, Google only showed me pages and pages of Falun Dafa. I had heard of it before, but that’s not what I was looking for at the time. I tried a second time, and the same thing happened. A third, and yet the same results,” Lebar said.

At first he was annoyed, but he decided to see what Falun Dafa was about. He found the main text of the practice, “Zhuan Falun,” online. After reading just a few pages, he was hooked.

“Before I knew it, I was in the third chapter. I couldn’t stop reading it,” Lebar said. “When I went to bed, it suddenly occurred to me—that was no accident with the results when I was looking for wu-style tai chi. Someone was guiding me there. I smiled when I realized what had happened. Dafa is what I was looking for all my life.”

Over time, Lebar saw benefits that he attributed directly to his Falun Gong practice. His health was improving. He developed a more positive outlook, and he found it easier to handle all the little challenges of life.

“Everything in my daily life seemed to be taking an unknown direction for the better. The meditation that goes with the teaching put me in a state of internal peace that I had not felt before, even with other cultivation systems,” Lebar said. “Relationships to my immediate and extended family were improving as well.”

Lebar says he got a lot out of other meditation systems he had tried in the past, but they didn’t compare to what he gained from Falun Gong.

“I could not imagine life without it,” he said.

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How to Write the Ultimate Holiday Greeting

Each year, we purchase and sign an untold number of greeting cards. We may spend an hour perusing the aisle, reading card after card, in search of one that expresses just the right sentiment, with just the right image and tone. And while we may triumph in finding a card that captures our intent just right, it never quite connects to the recipient as meaningfully as our own words, in our own handwriting, would have.

There is a power lost amid the text-message culture of smartphones and social media. It’s the power of the human face, smiling instead of sending a smiley emoji; the power of the human voice, sharing warm words instead of typing them; and the power of words written in our own hand instead of a computer’s impersonal, if attractive, typography.

A written greeting offers the opportunity to write something deeply felt and honestly held. Human beings have a profound ability to see one another, to empathize and understand one another—most especially those we have had years to watch and know.

This precious personal history is the raw fuel for that rare opportunity a greeting card offers: the chance to handwrite something that truly represents what that person means to us. There are few things more meaningful that human beings can do for one another than to make clear that they honor and appreciate the other person’s presence in this world. When we share our unique view of another person’s singular presence, we offer our fellow beings more than recognition: We offer them a reminder of their lasting legacy of goodness in this world.

In a time when we are constantly being told we are not enough, when social media drives comparison-culture, and everywhere marketers beckon with products that promise to complete us, there is something essential and potent in sharing our honest regards. With that in mind, here are one human being’s thoughts on how to let someone else know that they are known, and needed, this holiday season.

First of all, there is no requirement for a perfect card. The card becomes what you put into it. This is where some thought comes in.

Thought.

How often does one human being truly take the time to reflect on others, to consider someone’s presence in this world and their impact on our lives? The ultimate goal of whatever you write in that card is to show that you have taken this effort. You want to capture something essential, uplifting, and personal.

Take a moment to clear your mind of any other thoughts, and imagine your recipients clearly in your mind. There is no need to glorify or idealize them. You are not trying to flatter them or ingratiate yourself. You are trying to see them: see their qualities, their struggles, their pains, and their triumphs.

Each person is an incredible tale, and all but a few of us are all-but-ignored by the world we inhabit. But not your recipients. Not today. You know them. You know what they have done, what their strengths are, what they value.

We all have enough negative self-talk and delusional justifications, so there’s no need to attempt to draw out advice or offer excuses. This isn’t an effort at appeasing or elevating others. But you do want to look for their light, that unique hue they cast that illuminates a part of our reality like no other can.

For example, maybe you have an aunt who is pristine in her decor and appearance. What may seem superficial to some, you know to be a dignity of being, an attention to beauty that she brings with her everywhere she lives and breathes. There are too few people, and too few opportunities, to capture something like that on paper, and make it known to them that they are known.

So pause, think on them, and ask yourself what lesson their presence and history can deliver to this world. Ask yourself what they have shown you about yourself, when you measure your conduct against their best qualities. And then share with them whatever you have seen.

It can be as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph. Reinforce what you consider to be some of their best attributes. Give them that encouragement we each need to strive toward our ultimate self, not through hollow platitudes, but through affirming to them their best qualities.

Remind them of something they do that others may no longer notice. Share with them a memory that affirms your perception of their most noble self. Offer them a reason to strengthen that best part of themselves by holding it up for them to see. And know, deep down, that you have the power to nourish another person’s soul.