Enjoy an Extra Hour of Sleep this Weekend!

This weekend, the clocks fall back by an hour in most places of Canada and USA as we return to Standard Time.

If you haven't yet made plans for the extra hour, my suggestion is to sleep, sleep and sleep!

Spillover: A True-life Non-fiction Mystery Book

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic is one of the most interesting books that I have read over the last couple of years. Clearly, it's a must-read book!

Although it is a non-fiction book, it really reads like a real mystery book. I bought the audiobook version of the book, so I have been "reading" the book while walking my dog or during my runs. When I told my husband that instead of listening to music when running, I was listening to this book, he said that it was a little "weird" (he probably meant that I was weird!). But, the reality is that this book is better than listening to music ... yes, it may sound strange, but the book is so engaging and captivating that it is very difficult to stop the audiobook recording.

I should say that this is not the first book written by David Quammen that I have read so far. For one of the courses that I teach at the university, I have replaced the textbook (click here to read my post) with "The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction", a book that Quammen wrote in 1996. Personally, I believe that Quammen is a brilliant writer and wonderful teacher. In this case, he captivates his audience with mind gripping narratives of exact moments where deadly diseases such as Ebola, SARS and AIDS find the way to move from one species of animal to another; in other words, you get detailed information of the whole process of spillover.

As in other Quammen's books, in Spillover you get to travel with him to fascinating places of the world, including Australia, remote forests of Africa, some Chinese cities and popular cities of North America. You get to know the exact moment where the meeting of one disease-carrying species meets another (sometimes in a very mysterious way) and the lives of these animals, including humans, are forever changed. There are even spy stories in this book!

When talking about Spillover in his website, Quammen indicates the following "I tried hard to deliver the science, the history, the mystery, and the human anguish as page-turning drama...", and when you read the book, you realize that it's true. Spillover is a really fascinating book that you will not want to put down. Following his traditional writing style, Quammen writes sensitively, but humorously about what happens to people, communities and researchers who have been deeply touched by these diseases. The book doesn't come across as a boring fact-dump, but rather a very colorful story of people, viruses, and cultures. 

I highly recommend you get a copy of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. If you are like me and don't have too much time to read, consider the audiobook version -- it's pretty good!

You Have the Power to Increase your Abilities

A positive thought for the day

Star Wars Birthday Party - Ideas for a Home Party

My son is turning 6-year old this week, so we had his birthday party last Sunday.

As usual, my husband took charge of the party's organization. This year, my son wanted to have a Star Wars birthday party. So, my husband organized the perfect Star Wars party for him. By the way, if you ever need ideas for a birthday party, you definitely need to talk with my husband - he loves to organize birthday parties and can come with the most amazing ideas. 

Here is my husband's take on the perfect Star Wars Birthday Party for a 6-year old boy. As you will see, the party included classic elements that are essential for a successful birthday party, including a pin-the-tail activity, piñata, scavenger hunt, decor items and a cake among other things.

Ten kids (boys & girls) were invited to the party. We had both outdoor and indoor activities.

(1) Scavenger search outside - Kids were divided into two teams (dark side of the force vs "good" side of the force)  and were given a list of items/characters to find. 

My husband wore a Darth Maul's outfit that all children loved very much.

(2) Death Star Piñata - This pinata was just incredible. My husband painted each one of the yellow and black points that you see on the pinata. It took him days to make this piñata.

(3) Pin-the-arm to C-3PO. A Star Wars birthday party cannot be completed if you don't include in it C-3PO. Instead of pinning the tail, kids pinned the left arm of C-3PO. My husband drew, painted and laminated this image of C-3PO.

(4) R2D2 birthday cake. My husband baked a gluten free R2D2 cake. The cake was completely edible, including the decorations and the arms. The arms were made with rice crispy and licorice candy.

(5) Party invitations & Decorations - The house was decorated with Star Wars decors that included balloons and other items. 

The party was a real success. A birthday party is always a special moment for the children and the parents. I am certain that all the children who attended my son's party had a lot of fun. My husband did an amazing job. Thank you for your work, Love!

World Health Organization: Processed Meats Rank Alongside Smoking as Cancer Causes

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said there was enough evidence to rank processed meats as group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer (to read the press release click here).

After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.

The IARC’s experts concluded that each 50 g (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” said Dr Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs programme. 

What do you think about the results of this report? Are you going to change your diet?

Solving the Problem of the Forgotten Pencils: Give Them Away!

In addition of having his own birthday party in October, my son was invited to other birthday parties this month. He got all kind of interesting things in the loot bags, including pencils.

Have you ever asked yourself how many pencils do you have at home? It struck me that although pencils can always be useful, we already have too many in our house. Pencils are popular gifts given to kids as souvenirs or little gifts. My son has received pencils from doctors, teachers, librarians and other professionals. He has also received pencils as Halloween treats, Christmas gift and in loot bags. I am 100% certain that we have more pencils at home that he would ever be able to use.

What to do with all these pencils?

Although many people thought that pencils would become obsolete in the computer age, it appears that we are still producing between 15-20 billion of pencils each year (apparently, Faber-Castell produces about 2.2 billion by itself!). How many trees does it take to make all these pencils? 

My issue is that many of these pencils are not used and will most probably be wasted or forgotten in drawers. For instance, we must have at least 50 pencils in drawers and other places in our house alone. Are we really going to use these pencils one day? I doubt.

I know that pencils can be recycled and used for all kind of creative crafts. I suppose that this is better than nothing. But, pencils were invented for writing and drawing. How many of the pencils that are produced each year are still used for this purpose? 

I don't have anything against pencil crafts or the use of pencils for similar projects. My issue is that there are kids in developing countries that could use many of these pencils for writing or drawing. In many developing countries, kids use pencil nubs to write or draw. It doesn't make sense at all - a really unfair situation.

My Takeaway

Call me blind or naive if you want, but this "pencil situation" is only striking me now. It sounds completely crazy, but it's true. It's like, I am suddenly opening my eyes and I am seeing something that was always there in front of me, but that for an inexplicable reason I was never able to see. I am now wondering, how many of these "realities" are there in front of me and I am not seeing them?

I feel that life is giving me an opportunity to do something to help others, perhaps to change somebody's life. I know that I will not be able to give pencils to all the children of the world that need one. All I know is that we have ~50 pencils at home that aren't used and that can be used by kids to write. I also know that this is a great opportunity to teach my son the importance to give back.  

It is often said that changing the world starts with little acts. So, if you are like me and have pencils at home that are not used, please consider donating them to organizations that send pencils to developing countries or kids who really need them. I am investigating the possibility of sending pencils to Peru where I know pencils are expensive and many parents cannot afford to buy pencils for their children. This is a project for me now, and I am planning to involve my family, friends and whoever else wants to help.

Small Changes can make a big difference!

Accept and Celebrate Our Differences

During the last couple of weeks, I have heard a lot of comments, conversations and discussions around the whole of idea of multicultural diversity, or simply diversity. The theme has been very present during the last elections here in Canada. 

Why? Because diversity means difference - we, humans, have a lot of trouble with the whole idea/concept of difference. I am planning to write a longer post about this issue, but for the moment I want to share with you a quote from Audre Lorde that describes the problem clearly.

Give Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes

Here are some words that I wish I could remember every single day of my life.

Although we all know that nobody is perfect, we somehow wrongly believe that we should never make mistakes. We tend to forget that mistakes can be fixed, and more importantly, there is always something that we can learn from each one of our mistakes

It's Not Easy to Be a Stepparent

It is true that being a parent is a difficult job, but being a stepparent of an adolescent boy is even more challenging.

I am a stepparent of a ~14 years old boy. I know him since he was a baby and have always had a loving and caring relationship with him. However, I must admit that our relationship has changed over the last 4-5 years. Many changes have occurred in our lives over the last few years. I am not certain why, but I feel that neither he nor I have completely adapted to all these changes. My stepson is going through the changes associated with adolescence while I am experiencing the changes that characterize the menopausal years. So, our moods are sometimes very unpredictable. We both tend to be hypersensitive and easily affected by comments or any criticisms made by the other person.  

A Continuous Adaptation to Life Changes

One of the biggest changes that occurred in our lives was without any doubt the birth of my son. During the first years, it was not easy for my stepson to share his "dad" with his brother, but with time he has adapted to the situation and things are fine now. Although the usual rivalry exists between them, the two boys love each other very much and are always able to spend wonderful moments together. 

Few years ago, I decided that my ultimate goal with respect to my stepson was to have a positive influence on his life. I don't want to be his mother because he has one and doesn't really need a second mother. All I want to be for him is an adult who loves him sincerely and want to be there for him when needed. But, there are days that I feel that I am doing exactly the opposite. During these days, I find myself questioning each one of my interactions with my stepson and stressing myself even more. 

My Biggest Challenge: Don't Cross the "Boundary Lines"

The fact of the matter is this: stepparenting can be confusing, blurred and very frustratingOne of the most difficult things about being a stepparent is not crossing the imaginary "boundary lines" that separate stepparents from biological parents.  Although I am expected to participate 100% in the guidance and caring of my stepson, I am not his biological mother. Yes, invisible lines will always differentiate me from his biological parents...frustrating feelings!

I am the first one to admit that I am not a perfect parent. I tend to lose my patience with both boys, particularly when they are lazy, rude or when I see that they don't value what they are given. Please don't think that I am trying to excuse myself for my lack of patience or parental skills, but believe me parenting is not easy.

From my point of view, the difference between parenting and stepparenting is that if I make a major parental mistake with my son or if I am too hard with him, my son will forgive me for my shortcoming if I apologize and spend quality time with him. But, the same situation is different with my stepson. If I make a parental mistake with him, I am not always certain whether or not he would forgive me. I really hate this because with my stepson, I often find myself worrying that I may at any moment make an irreversible mistake that could cause a permanent bad animosity or bitterness.

Learning from Step-parental Mistakes

Last week was a rough week for me because I made several step-parental mistakes with my stepson. Although my intentions were always good, I know that the way that I approached the situations was not the best. I did apologize to my stepson and I honestly hope that he forgot me for my bad step-parental decisions/actions. Unfortunately, I will never really know if he forgot me or not - a very frustrating feeling.

I know that we should always try to learn something from our mistakes. In this case, I learned that I have to work on my patience and compassion - My stepson is a great boy and I am very lucky to have him in my life. 

Two Reasons Why We Hate Mondays

photo obtained from http://www.friendburst.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Monday-3.jpg

Weekends are a great time to step away from the pressures of work, spend some quality time with your family and loved ones and recover physically and mentally from the previous work week. 

But, as the weekend gets to an end (i.e., Sunday evening), we all start thinking about Monday. Of all the days of the work week, Monday is often considered to be the worse one. Why?

Why are Mondays so difficult? 

I don't know you, but unless I am scheduled to teach classes on Monday or have a meeting, I am usually not mentally prepared for Monday. I always feel that I am never well organized or ready for Mondays. Of course, I am the first one to admit that I need to change something, so I am more productive on Mondays, at least for part of the day!

Well, I did a little bit of research about this topic and found that there are various reasons why we hate Mondays and are often not prepared for it. Out of all the different reasons that have been suggested or proposed, two are particularly interesting and somehow controversial.

2 reasons why we hate Mondays

1. Sleep patterns.  Since most people don’t get enough sleep during the week, they often try to make up for it on weekends. Flinders University sleep expert Leon Lack said that "extra sleep just makes you more tired at the start of the week". According to this expert, an extra two hours of sleep during the weekend can delay your body by up to 45 minutes, making harder to get up on a Monday morning. 

So, if I understand this expert correctly, we should not change too much our sleep patterns during the weekend. One or two extra hours of sleep can have significant effects on our emotions and attitude on Monday morning because if we sleep too much during the weekend we modify significantly our biological clock. It may explain why we may feel so tired on Monday morning.

2. Sudden changeThinking that Monday is the worst day of the week may only demonstrate that there is a larger emotional shift from Sunday (a happy weekend day) to Monday (a work day) than there is between two work days. This is based on an analysis conducted by Dr. Arthur Stone (Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stony Brook University) and two of his colleagues.

These scientists examined data from a yearlong survey conducted by Gallup Organization. In this survey, people were asked to recall their mood in the prior day. Mood was evaluated with several adjectives measuring positive and negative feelings. Surprisingly, the data clearly showed that Mondays are not more stressful or depressing than other work days, except for Friday. The authors of this study suggested that the negative feelings that we have for Mondays may simply highlight the fact that "beliefs or judgments about an experience can be at odds with the actual experience".

In other words, Mondays are not as bad as we may think! 

What do you think? Do you hate Mondays?

Make This Weekend Count

It's the weekend! 

Are you one of those people who finds himself/herself checking the time on a Sunday evening, shaking your head and asking “Where did the weekend go?” 

Let’s face it - If you work from Monday to Friday, the weekends are the best days of the week...we love the weekends! Unfortunately, the problem with the weekends is that it is often difficult to fit the right balance of rest and recreation into two days. In some cases, the weekends can be worse in terms of busyness than other days of the week.

When you are a full-time worker, unfortunately, the weekend can become a time that you dedicate to accomplish some of the tasks listed in your "to-do list". Weekends can also be a time that you consecrate to running errands. By the time that you finish all your tasks or errands, Saturday is gone and it's Sunday afternoon. Then, you feel disappointed, exhausted or depressed because the weekend is in practical terms gone. I don't know you, but this how I feel sometimes.

I was thinking something that I read in a book that I am currently reading, "each day is a day of decision". I realize that an important decision that we can all make today, Friday, is to make this weekend count.

Suggestions to Make this Weekend Count

Here are some suggestions and tips that can help us make this weekend count:

Spend Friday night or Saturday morning doing anything that need to get done. You won’t have to worry about them again and you’ll still have the rest of your weekend ahead of you.

Practice mindful eating. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, "contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness can bring us much happiness".

Take the time to read a book or play with your children. During the working week, it is sometimes difficult to find time to relax and read a book with our kids. I feel that during the weekends, we should make an effort to spend quality time with our kids. One of the best ways to do this is to play with them or simply reading a book. The key element here is to be really present (physically and mentally) with our children.

Try a new cooking/baking recipe. Whether you whip up a Sunday roast or make some meals for the week, cooking is one of the most rewarding ways you can spend you weekend indoors. 

Set aside 1 hour or 30 minutes just for you! We all need time to do something that we love to do. Take 30 minutes or an hour just to focus on yourself; be the center of your universe during this time!

Go with friends or family members for a hike, bike ride or any other outdoor activity. when you elevate your heart rate, your brain chemistry is boosted. Thoughts are more easily shared and you will find your connections to others go up. People who sweat together, connect together.

Try a new activity or hobby. Changing up your routine is one of the best ways to stimulate your brain. 

Do a kind deed or do some volunteer work. There is so much research in the health benefits to you and others when you pay it forward.

Rain Brings Peace and Serenity to our Lives

It's a rainy morning here, but it's still a beautiful day.

I like rainy days. When I see the rain falling, patience and tolerance come to my mind. Rain is authentic power. Rainy days provide an opportunity to slow down, reflect and meditate about our lives.

Meditating on what really matters to you is a great way to use a rainy day. Listen to the soft sound of the rain hitting the earth and the buildings around you can be very inspirational. If you have a few minutes and are not too scared of getting a little wet, I suggest you to go outside to smell the way rain makes everything fresh and clean. 
It's a fantastic way to feel the renewal that rain brings to our planet. 


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