Refresh Your Mind and Body This Spring!

Spring is here and it’s time to do a little spring cleaning. No, I’m not talking about cleaning out the pantry or the bookshelf. I’m talking about us. With our busy lives it can be hard to carve out time to take proper care of ourselves and push out all the toxic energy in and around us. We need to completely cleanse our system every once in a while, and Spring is the perfect time for a fresh start. Here are some ways we can detoxify the body, mind and soul.


Cleanse Your Body

Unfortunately our bodies can’t hide a toxic lifestyle. It’s very easy to see the effects of a stressful life on our bodies, often showing as low energy, inability to sleep and so on. What can we do to get that spring back in our step?

Detoxifying Exercises

High energy exercises: I.E. cardio! Although cardio exercises might seem like an impossible feat for those of us already struggling with low energy, it’s actually the best thing! Increased heart rate during cardio exercise can release endorphins, also known as the happy hormone, which amps us up and keeps us happy.

  • Tai-chi: This slow, controlled form of martial arts with powerful breathing techniques is very relaxing. It helps to lower blood pressure and is very easy to incorporate into a busy life.
  • Yoga: This is an obvious remedy for refreshing the mind and body. It is a guaranteed stress reliever (talking from experience!) and also a very good way to get into shape!

Give some of these detoxifying exercises a try:

5 Stress Relieving Stretches
Workouts for Stress Relief
20-Minute Workout for Stress Relief 

Detox Baths

  • Sea Salt Detox Bath: This detox bath has been around for hundreds of years. This is a very relaxing bath that helps pull out toxins from the body. It livens up our skin and leaves us with more energy throughout the day.
  • Ginger Detox Bath: This is similar to a sauna. Sweat out toxins with this great bath that will leave us with a lot more energy to use. It also helps with knocking out cold symptoms.

Check out more bath ideas and recipes here:
10 Detox Baths to Cleanse, Relax and Rejuvenate You
5 Easy DIY Detox Baths


Refresh Your Mind

Our thoughts and mind state control our well-being a lot more than we think, so a relaxed mind will most likely lead to a relaxed everything else. How can we break away from our toxic minds and keep anxiety at bay? Here are a few tips that have worked for me:

  • Keep first things first: Prioritizing our schedules can really keep us on track and stop us from having stressful breaks throughout the day. When we know what we have to do, when we have to do it and how much time we need for it, our mental boats can sail a lot smoother.
  • Give yourself a star: Treat yourself like you’re a little kid again and give yourself a star. Keep track of your improvements regularly so you can see how far you’ve come to realizing any of your goals. Also, be sure to celebrate all of your victories – no matter how small! This is a good way to ward off anxiety when you think you’re not doing enough to get to where you want to be.
  • Complete it from A to Z: Finish what you start. It’s a very simple thing that could shed loads of anxiety. Whenever we complete something we start, we don’t have to worry about it later, instead we can just sit back and relax.

More ideas for a mental detox:
10 Steps to a 10-Day Mental Detox Diet
Want to Be More Effective? Try a Mental Detox


Recenter Spiritually

My top tip for feeling re-centered spiritually is to remind myself to be thankful for what I already have, rather than continuing to focus only on the things that I want. A great idea for this is to keep a gratitude journal. Giving thanks is something we tend to overlook. The power and peace that comes from just appreciating what we already have can clear our minds of negative energy. We all need a little encouraging advice on this spiritually healthy habit. My Tips for Journaling:

  • It’s not a competition: Don’t compare your journal to anyone else’s. It’s YOUR journal! It doesn’t need to be a J.K. Rowling book. Write what you feel as if no one else will ever read it.
  • No word count: You can write as much or as little as you want, it doesn’t have to be a five page essay. Remember, it isn’t about how much you write, it’s about the meaning each word has to you.
  • Turn off your timer: Most people, if not all, need time for their words to flow out of their brains, through their pens (or keyboard) and onto their paper (or computer) and that’s okay. Don’t make writing in your journal a timed affair. Write until you have put down everything you wanted to.

Tips on keeping a gratitude journal:
How to Maintain a Gratitude Journal for Stress Relief
11 Tips for a Powerful Gratitude Journal
5 Steps for Creating a Gratitude Journal to Cultivate Positivity


Guest Blogger:

Komilla Karim

Communications Intern

Mental Health Association of Montgomery County

How I Like to Put #MeFirst

February is not just about Valentine’s Day. This time of year serves as an excellent reminder that we should all take time out of our busy lives and show ourselves some love as well. As Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Here are my tips on self-love and putting #MeFirst sometimes.


How to Fall In Love with Yourself

1. Say “No” to comparisons: No matter what, there will always be someone who seems smarter, stronger, prettier, livelier, wealthier (the list goes on and on) than you. The most important thing to know is that there is only one “you.” So instead of beating yourself up over your perceived shortcomings, accept who are and keep on trying to be the best you can be.

2. Eat with love: Healthy food = a healthy body. You don’t have to eat at five-star restaurants or spend your whole paycheck on a fridge full of 100% organic foods to be healthy. Be conscious of what you eat and make better choices. Love your body enough to feed it the best you can.

3. Treat Yourself: Every once in a while we deserve to spoil ourselves. So yes, it’s okay to get that fancy purse you’ve been eyeing for months or indulge in that box of chocolates you’ve been day dreaming about. You’ve worked hard, so you should get to enjoy a few simple pleasures.

4. Be kind to people: Simple acts of kindness toward the people around us can really increase our “happy vibes.” Holding a door open, giving a compliment, helping someone carry their groceries, these are all easy ways to brighten someone’s day. Just imagine how you would feel if someone was kind to you for no reason. Pay it forward.

5. Say “cheese:” Even if you have to fake it. Smiling is a natural, contagious way of boosting your mood, and of course it makes everyone look better. Take some photos while you are at it. It is always fun to look back at pictures and smile.

Let It Go

1. Physical clutter: A clear mind can never be developed in a cluttered environment. To create a clearer and happier life, our space must be clear and happy as well.

2. Resistance to change: Change is inevitable in life, we are constantly evolving. We need to embrace change so we can improve and help others improve as well.

3. Need for control: To all the self-proclaimed “control freaks:” let go of the reigns! It is unhealthy to try to control everything around us. Life has a crazy way of changing our plans.

4. The past: The past will always be what it is. We cannot go back and change it no matter how much we want to. All we can do is embrace what has happened in our lives and use those experiences to become better people. The best is yet to come!

5. Expectations: The things people expect from us and the things we expect from ourselves can cause us to put too much pressure on ourselves shoulders and make life seem like a rat-race. We should always try to keep pushing ourselves to become better but do not let the line between positive expectations and “over-working” blur.

How to Put Yourself First

1. Accept that you deserve “me time:” Without a doubt, each and every person should be able to accept the fact that they deserve some guilt-free time completely to themselves. Once we can accept that then it becomes very easy to actually carve out time to do so.

2. Say “No:” It is absolutely alright to shake your head and say “no” to people’s requests. We should allow ourselves time to breathe and take care of the things we need to do for us, and not what others want us to do for them.

3. Spend a few minutes a day doing what you like: Whether five minutes or 20, spend some time each day doing something you love. Whether it’s listening to music or reading a book, it will breathe some fresh air into your daily schedule.


Guest Blogger:

Komilla Karim

Communications Intern

Mental Health Association of Montgomery County

Keep Your Cool Now That the Kids are Back in School

It’s time to say goodbye to sand, beach and weekend barbecues. Back to carpooling, soccer practice, study schedules… ahh! This exciting yet hectic time of year can push stress levels to warp speed. But as always, we’ve got you covered with tips to help keep the back-to-school stress to a minimum.

Stress less

Create a direction for your day
Create meaningful goals to guide your days that contribute to your bigger picture. Since we know we may not get to accomplish everything that we want to, prioritize your goals to ensure you complete everything that absolutely needs to be done for the day.

Let go
If we could steer the course of our days there would be no such thing as traffic and lines at Starbucks would be nonexistent. But the reality is that most aspects of life are simply out of our control. Learn to accept what we can’t control, and let your worries over those things go. Instead, focus your energy on the things that you do have control over.

Realize that you can’t do it all
Do you begin the day with an enormous task list and find yourself only halfway through it by the day’s end? That’s perfectly okay. There will always be one more spot that needs to be cleaned, one more email that needs to be written before going to bed. At the end of the day sometimes we need to tell ourselves, “You have done enough today.”

Learn to say “no”
Your time is a precious commodity and it must be protected. There’s just no way that you can accomplish your own goals if you are constantly completing tasks for others. Before you commit to doing something, ask yourself if it’s realistic to add to your work load. Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for what you just don’t have the time to do.

Shut it down
Set a cut-off time each day for working and using technology. Shut down your laptop and TV and give your mind and body the time needed to unwind before falling asleep. If you like to go to sleep by 11 pm, set a 10 pm cut-off time. You may find that you sleep a bit more restfully and become more motivated to complete your day’s work in the hours before your cut-off time.


Take time for yourself every day

It isn’t hard to forget about your own needs in between making sure the kids have eaten and that your deadlines at work have been met. But it’s crucial to make sure that you’re taking time for yourself.


Click through below for a few ideas for mental health moments throughout the day:

Kids’ Mental Health Matters

During back to school time, parents make sure to get all of the necessary immunizations and physical health check-ups kids need, but ensuring that your child is mentally healthy is just as important.

If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior, it could be an indication of a mental health issue. Warning signs to keep an eye out for that interfere with his or her daily activities include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Avoidance or disinterest in activities
  • Avoidance of eating, or weight loss
  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Drastic personality changes

Keep an open line of communication with your child. Don’t be afraid to ask children how they feel with direct questions like, “Are you sad?,” or open-ended questions like “What was the best part of your day?” Make sure you REALLY listen. Read more about what to do if you think your child is struggling with a mental health issue here.


Guest Blogger:

Jasmine Berry

Communication, Education & Advocacy Coordinator

Mental Health Association of Montgomery County

Taking Time for Yourself During the Summer

Summer is warm and exciting, with plenty of fun activities to participate in. But summer activities and jobs can get overwhelming. Year-round jobs during the summer (while everyone else is sunbathing) can get pretty overwhelming and depressing, too.
Therefore, it’s just as important as ever to take your occasional mental health days, or to set aside some time for you to relax by yourself, or with others.
Here are some of the ways I like to spend my own mental health days:
1.) Coffee and a good book. 
Don’t underestimate the power of an extra cup of iced coffee or tea to accompany that new young-adult, romance or science-fiction novel, while sitting near a window, or outside if possible. I recently read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, one of my favorite childhood authors, and it helped distract me from everything that usually stresses me out during the work week.
2.) A date with your laptop or TV.
Let your mind relax while you watch a movie in bed, or binge-watch a couple of the new “Orange is the New Black” episodes.
3.) Explore your town or city.
As someone who has been living in Washington, D.C. for the past year, I can honestly tell you that I have barely explored any of it. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that many of us live places where there are areas we have yet to venture out to. Take a break and explore your surroundings. Take it all in and let your mind wander. 
4.) Petsmart trip.
If you don’t have a pet of your own, consider relaxing by going to Petsmart. Look at all of the cute little kittens or the weird looking birds and guinea pigs. Also, studies show that watching fish swim in fish tanks can help relieve stress and anxiety. 
5.) Youtube pet videos.
If you can’t go to Petsmart, take a look at some of these online cat and dog videos that are sure to make you smile.
6.) Take a break from social media.
Uninstall Facebook and Twitter (if you can) from your phone for a day. Sometimes social media stresses us out more than we can tell. Social media is great, but it’s important to maintain your mental health while using social media 
7.) Listen to instrumental music.

I love listening to rock, country and pop music. However, I have come to realize that sometimes lyrics can stress me out. When I really need to calm down and relax I turn to my favorite pianist, Yiruma. I also enjoy listening to the Scottish instrumental band Mogwai
8.) Go for a swim.
 If you live in an apartment complex with a pool, or if you live near a pool, take a swim every now and then. Swimming can help clear your mind.
9.) Redecorate.  
Sometimes, all you really need is a change of scenery. Move around some furniture in your home or hang up a few new pictures and interior decorations here and there. Need help? Check out, which is one of my favorite redecorating blogsCurrently, this article about temporary and removable adhesives is my favorite.
10.)  Try a cold shower or a warm bubble bath. 
We often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of rushing to get ready for work on time and rarely ever take that time to relax. If you get a moment later in the day, try a cold shower (you know—for when it’s INSANELY hot outside and your commute home involved walking) or a warm bubble bath (because when was the last time you actually took a bath? What about one with bubbles?) with a book to read or music to listen to. 
11.)  Window shop! 

Whether it’s the book store down the block, or the consignment shop two streets over (or maybe you have returned to take another look at the fish in Petsmart), window shopping is a nice (and free) way to get your mind off of daily stressors.
12.) Creative expression.
Have a few hours to relax in between jobs or obligations? Try a quick and easy outlet like creative writing, sketching, journaling, painting or singing. Personally, I tend to prefer writing or painting to help express myself. This article is one of my favorite guides to painting for stress relief. 
13.) Go on a road trip. 
If you have a car and gas money to spare, road trips can be really fun and are great for taking your mind off of work. It doesn’t have to be long, either. Maybe you live two hours away from the beach, or three hours from the mountains. Pick a friend or family member, your favorite CD and hit the road! Driving down country roads with the windows down, while listening to “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas never fails to make me happy. 
14.) Go kayaking or canoeing.
If you don’t have a canoe or kayak (I don’t have either), you can still take part in this activity. There are many businesses along rivers in cities and towns that let you rent a canoe or kayak for an hour. I like to kayak on the Potomac on Saturday mornings when I’ve had a really bad week. The wind and the smell of the fresh, river water helps me relax. Plus, it’s a great work out. It can be a little expensive ranging from $15-$20 an hour, so I only do it occasionally.
15.)  Rant. 
Find someone willing to listen to what you have going on in your life—your best friend, your mother, your significant other, your dog, the Internet…and just rant. The rant could be about annoying coworkers or your detail-oriented boss, but they don’t have to be. Rant about the weather. Rant about climate change and social justice issues. Rant about how silly you think it is that a museum in Kentucky decided to keep a sinkhole as a tourist attraction. Just rant For me, I am constantly ranting to myself about these subjects in my head, but since I’m not letting any of that anger out verbally, it just bottles up. After getting all of those rambling, raging thoughts out of your head, the weight on your shoulders starts to feel a little lighter, and it really does help. 

Guest Blogger:

Rain Freeman, Summer Communications Intern


Mental Health Association of Montgomery County

The Other Side of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, and it does not discriminate.

A year after the Boston Marathon bombing, it has come out that more than 10% of the children who witnessed the event are likely to exhibit symptoms of PTSD.

There are three types of PTSD symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal.
Common symptoms under these three categories are:

· Flashbacks, recurrent and persistent distressing thoughts and effort to ignore or suppress such thoughts
· Difficulty falling or staying asleep and/or recurrent distressing dreams/nightmares
· Avoiding places, objects or events that may remind a victim of the trauma
· Guilt, depression, mental numbness and worry
· Loss of interest in activities once enjoyable
· Difficulty concentrating and memory difficulties
· Hyper vigilance, irritability or outburst of anger

In addition to the children of Boston, the victims of Hurricane Sandy are suffering from the mental and emotional repercussions of such a traumatic event.

Other well-known victims of PTSD include veterans and active duty military members. One in three American troops returning from overseas experience PTSD, but less than 40% will ever receive help.

Victims of sexual assault are even more likely to suffer from this common mental condition. Almost 31% of sexual assault survivors develop PTSD at some point in their life, and 11% of those survivors are still experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

Anyone can experience a traumatic event and at least 70% of Americans do. Twenty percent of those who experience such events develop PTSD as a result.

Nancy Brisebois-Good LCPC, NCC is a licensed bilingual mental health therapist with the N*COMMON program at the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County. She works with newly arrived French-speaking, multicultural clients, who have mostly come from countries in West Africa, and are in the U.S seeking political asylum. Many of her clients suffer from PTSD, as a result of severe trauma and torture.

“Some of my clients have lost their families and everything they owned and they are here because they are being persecuted in their country,” says Brisebois-Good.

These clients frequently suffer from nightmares, insomnia and constant fear. The triggers are sometimes hard to distinguish.

“Sometimes there’s no trigger at all because they are constantly thinking about their trauma,” says Brisebois-Good. “A slight noise can lead them to be jumpy and scared.”

When it comes to treating these issues, Brisebois-Good is one of many who prefer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a method of treatment that addresses dysfunctional emotions and thoughts and the impact of these thoughts and feelings on a person’s behavior.

Another method of treatment used by Brisebois-Good is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI) which involves that the client filling out a sleep journal. Later on, the therapist can look at the journal to see what is most likely causing the insomnia and decide from there how it should be treated.
Exposure, Relaxation, & Rescripting Therapy (ERRT) is a cognitive behavioral treatment for trauma-related nightmares also used by Brisebois-Good.

Most of Brisebois-Good’s clients have nightmares. By using ERRT, the client is able to (if they agree to do so) relive and discuss their nightmares with their therapist, where they feel safe.

When they do so, they discuss disturbing details of their nightmares. ERRT helps to re-script these details by supplying clients with the tools to empower themselves.

Brisebois-Good described a scenario where a client might have a nightmare about someone violently chasing them. She would tell them to imagine what they would do if they had all the superpowers in the world, and then she would ask them what they would do next.

“And that’s when you start to see them smiling,” says Brisebois- Good.

Over time, the clients are able to use ERRT techniques to create a more positive outcome in their nightmares. Soon, Brisebois-Good says, they are able to feel more assertive and confident while awake as well.

Several other techniques are used in these therapy sessions, such as narrative therapy, Gestalt, and relaxation techniques.

“Sharing their experience in a safe environment allows the clients to process the trauma,” says Brisebois-Good. “Learning tools from all these modalities, provides them the knowledge and psycho-education necessary to be able to live in a more functional and comfortable way.”

PTSD can often seem and feel very debilitating, but with treatment, recovery is possible.

If you think yourself or a loved one may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the most important measure to be taken is to offer emotional support.

For additional help:
National Center for PTSD: 1-802-296-6300
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
Suicide Prevention Lifelines: 1-800-273-TALK, 1-800-SUICIDE
MHA Military/Vet Resource Line: 1-301-738-7176

Guest Blogger:

Rain Freeman, Summer Communications Intern


Rain Freeman

Mental Health Association of Montgomery County

A Walk a Day Keeps the Doctor Away



Opportunities to get “well” are all around us. They are shouted from billboards advertising gyms, hidden in community education catalogues, and “sold in a store near you.” It’s exhausting.


In my role at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, I manage a group of wellness programs called the Healthy Communities Partnership. Every day, I hear many, many messages about wellness, and I’m constantly working with my team to come up with messages and strategies to help people find the information they need.


But maybe we’re over-thinking this. Is it possible that there is a simple answer? A recent video by Dr. Mike Evans promotes a single therapy that has been clinically proven to:


  • reduce depression and anxiety
  • reduce progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • reduce progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes
  • reduce hip fractures in post-menopausal women
  • reduce overall risk of death
  • reduce fatigue
  • increase quality of life.

What is this miracle drug? Walking. Walking 30 minutes during the day has been proven to accomplish all of those things.


I like this idea because almost anyone can do it without spending a lot of money or dramatically changing their lifestyles. The problem with most of the wellness strategies I hear about is that they just don’t fit my life. I can do anything for a few weeks, but I’ve got a son to raise, a job to do, a house to maintain and a television to watch! I’ve got priorities! But I can walk. All I need is a pair of sneakers and a few minutes.


We recently competed in an internal walking challenge here at the Penny George Institute. It wasn’t complicated. We divided into four teams, and the team with the most steps at the end of six weeks wins. We measured our steps with high-tech pedometers called Fit Bits.


During those six weeks, I figured out how to walk 10,000 steps a day without compromising other parts of my life. I walked my dog every day, something I wanted to do anyway. I worked in short walks during the day. We had some walking meetings. I took the stairs more. And I felt better!


You can take or leave the pedometer. I found it useful, personally, and you can get simple ones for less than $10. But the goal is to walk. It’s the easiest way I know to dramatically improve your health.


Guest Blogger:

Nathan Kreps, Healthy Communities Partnership Program Manager/ Live Well Blog Writer

Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Maintain Your Mental Health As A Social Media User

Do this. Open your search engine. Start typing in “social media makes me.”  What are the top search results that you see?

Here’s what I saw:

social media makes me lonely

How many happy days have been destroyed by Facebook posts about your ex and the new girl/guy? How many relaxing nights alone at home have been ruined by Instagram pics of friends out on the town, having a great time while you’re downing pints of Ben and Jerry’s in your zebra onesie?

Social media is an incredible tool. It has the power to reconnect us with friends we haven’t seen since we were kids, to share good news with millions of people worldwide in seconds, to even make dreams come true. But it also has the power to control our lives and our moods – if we let it. Like any powerful tool, use it wisely we must.


use it wisely


I’ll share a few tips on maintaining positive mental health as a social media user found around the web, as well as a few tips I’ve picked up from friends’ experiences and from some of my own.


Is your social media use cutting into the real-life things that make you happy?

  • Talk to your friends – Make sure you’re connecting with your friends in person, or at least via phone or video chat. Constant liking, sharing and commenting can make it seem like we’re always connected to friends. Social networks are no substitute for having actual, meaningful conversations.  Meet up for a cup of coffee or give a friend a call who you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  • Set Time Limits – Set boundaries for yourself so you don’t end up checking your accounts continuously throughout the day.
  • Be in the present – Scrolling through your feeds all day means that you miss out on the greatness happening right in front of you.
  • Remember that Facebook friends DO NOT equal real friends – Your roommate has more than 1,000 friends on Facebook. You have 250. That means she’s more loved than you, right? It’s easy to get sucked into this way of thinking, but there’s no way she can call on those 1,000 people to vent at the end of a long day. Think about the real people that you can depend on in your life. Those are the friends who count.

Are you trying to keep up with the Joneses?

  • Keep in mind that people share selectively – When checking your social media updates, it seems like everyone’s getting engaged, everyone’s getting promotions, everyone’s doing something exciting. Remember – people only choose to share those spectacular moments in life. No one shares about being short on rent or getting into a fight with their spouse.
  • Don’t use social media to seek validationIt feels good when people like your posts and pictures. It’s tempting, but don’t utilize your social media accounts to seek validation. When you share a picture of yourself that you think is cute or a post you think is hilarious, your lack of likes can be a blow to your self-confidence and a serious downer. Don’t give your networks that power over you. Self-confidence and true happiness comes from within, not from some acquaintance of yours giving their stamp of approval on your outfit.

Do you need a social media vacation?

  • Delete social media apps from your phone – Has that 4 inch screen growing out of the palm of your hand taken over your life? (Side note – that much hunching over your phone cannot be good for your neck or posture.) Consider removing social media apps from your cell phone to limit your access to your accounts and cut down on the time you spend posting and perusing feeds.
  • Remind yourself why you’re using each social media platform. There are a million social media applications available. Do you really need to be on all of them!?


We love social media – it’s what allows us to connect with you! Just make sure your mental health isn’t being negatively affected while using it.  


And follow us, we promote positivity, won’t spam your feeds and share really great articles on mental health and wellness.

 Pinterest | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr


Guest Blogger:

Jasmine Berry, Communication, Education & Advocacy Coordinator

Mental Health Association of Montgomery County

20 Ideas for a Stress-Free Staycation this Summer


We all need to get away sometimes, but the reality is that life doesn’t always let us escape for long, expensive vacations. Perhaps your spouse is in school or the kind of job that leaves limited free time. Maybe you just graduated college and don’t have a lot of funds set aside for plane tickets and hotel expenses. Perhaps you prefer not to travel long distances with your children. Maybe you are taking care of an ailing parent. Or maybe, as much as you try, balancing work and life isn’t as easy as you would like.

These very real situations make it all the more important to remember that there are lots of little adventures that fit into our busy schedules. So if you don’t have a vacation already planned for this summer, take one of these staycations—because you deserve it!  And, just like a vacation, don’t forget to block out the time on your calendar.

Play a round of mini golf

Spend a day at a local pool

 Find a trail and go hiking or for a walk

Go for a bike ride/wagon ride with your family

Go camping

Rent a canoe or kayak and go for a little ride

Rent some fishing poles and go fishing

Go to the zoo

 Visit a national park

 Go to a baseball game

 Visit a farmer’s market and make a meal

 Take a historical tour of your city

Go to a science or space museum

Visit an aquarium

Go to a drive-in movie theater (don’t forget to bring snacks from home!)

 Take a tour of your city’s capital building (call before you go)

Set up a tent in your backyard and have a slumber party

Find free movies in the park (they are usually hosted by the city)

 Go star gazing.  Find maps and look for constellations

Stay the night with Grandma & Grandpa, with an Aunt or Uncle, or with a good friend

*If you have a great idea for a summer staycation, please feel free to share it with us! 

Cicadas Are Causing Quite the Buzz: Tips to Reduce Your Stress During the Insect Invasion

Picture1For 17 years, cicadas have been nesting underground waiting for the perfect conditions to make their appearance. And ta-dah, that time has arrived. Over the next four to six weeks, those living on the east coast from Georgia to Connecticut will need to find a way to cohabitate with the insects. Cicadas, although great for the local ecosystem (see below), can cause some annoyances in our daily lives including the drum-like “love song” that male cicadas make to attract a female partner. So here are a few tips to help you handle our little uninvited guests:


  • Protect trees and gardens: Homeowners who are concerned about their young hardwood or fruit trees (less than 5 feet tall) can protect them by wrapping branches with pond netting or spun polyolefin. Since Cicadas only consume liquid from trees, home flower and fruit gardens are not at any risk.
  • Keep animals safe: We can protect our animal companions from eating cicadas by keeping cats indoors and taking dogs for leashed walks. Although cicadas will not bite animals (nor humans) and cooking-up live cicadas may be a delicacy for some, eating a dead cicada can be potentially harmful to your pet.
  • Dress appropriately: This year, we will see more cicadas than usual. Depending on the area you live in, cicadas are predicted to outnumber people 600 to 1. Because cicadas will harbor in trees and will be emerging from the ground, you may want to consider wearing closed-toe shoes and carrying an umbrella.
  • Children: Cicadas, though somewhat unattractive, are not harmful to children. Let your kids know that the insects will not sting or bite. Actually, the six week period of infestation can actually be a unique learning experience. Children may like to collect Cicada shells after they shed and the rare occurrence may also provide an opportunity to teach kids about unusual species.

Just remember that Cicadas are a benefit to our environment. The Chimney-like tunnels they dig to emerge naturally arrogate the soil allowing more water to reach the trees’ roots. Also, female cicadas dig tiny trenches in young tree  branches to lay their eggs inside. This natural pruning helps strengthen trees so they produce more fruit and blossoms. And when cicadas die, their bodies become a nitrogen rich fertilizer. Remember: cicadas are our friends.

Celebrating Thomas’s life This Memorial Day

It’s been eight and a half years since we lost Thomas in Iraq.  Every year is full of emotionally difficult dates:  the date of his death, November 11th, which is Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in other English-speaking countries, his birthday on July 6th, and national holidays like July the 4th and Memorial Day.  Memorial Day is publicly celebrated as the beginning of summer and an occasion for sales, but I think most Americans also remember, at least for a moment, that it is meant to be a solemn time as well.  People on my street break out the flags early in the morning and fly them until sunset (those with good porch lights leave them out longer).  I have to admit that I have no memory of what we did in the years before Thomas died, but since his death we’ve developed a routine to deal with the day and to celebrate his life and service.  Since he is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Montgomery County, as he requested, we go to mass there on the morning of Memorial Day, and then cross the cemetery to visit his grave.  As often as not, we find friends or flowers there, showing that others have been there before us.  In the afternoon, we have our own barbeque.  The first year after his death was filled with a number of public events, but we have mostly declined invitations since then.  Thomas was a private person and we think that he would have preferred us to keep it that way.

But this year has been a little different:  still quiet but allowing others to honor Thomas too.  Earlier in the year, my family finally decided that we wanted to have a portrait drawn by Michael Reagan, an artist who lives just outside Seattle.  Mr. Reagan (not related to the president) works from photographs of the fallen.  He takes no money for this.  We had debated literally for years which photo we wanted him to use but a news story earlier this year about his work finally convinced us that we just needed to send a picture and do it.  Unfortunately, we immediately ran into a problem of resolution in the photo.  We (and everyone else) were in the process of switching to digital photography in 2004 and the number of megapixels available then just did not lend itself to capturing fine details.  We sent several pictures by e-mail and finally I ended up sending the original prints, with Michael’s assurance that he would make it work.

It never occurred to me to ask how long it would take to get the drawing back and so I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when I came home from lunch with my younger son to find a large package on the front porch.  Matthew and I carried it in to the house and tried to figure out how to open it without damaging the contents.  Finally, we got through the tape using scissors and pulled out the picture encased in several layers of foam board.  We pulled off the top layer and found the pencil drawing was covered by a layer of translucent paper with notes at the bottom about the kind of glass needed for the frame and the fact that the picture had not been sprayed which left it vulnerable to smearing.  Nevertheless, we peeled the paper back to see the portrait.  I started to cry at the sight of my son’s face, his slightly pointed ears, the shirt collar that was folded up because he hadn’t straightened it, the slightly prominent teeth, his little smile, all so characteristic of him and all so dear.  Matthew held on to me as we looked on this beloved face, and then he took a picture with his phone and sent it to his sisters and father.  We reassembled the package and left for the craft store:  a coupon for framing at a national chain of craft stores was attached and we both felt that the best thing to do was to get that picture framed and under appropriate glass as soon as possible.

Thomas--memorial day

Half an hour later, we were explaining what we wanted to a bemused clerk at the framing counter and to the customer who had appeared right after us (in these situations, everyone has an opinion).  It took a while to select the frame and the matte but we overshot the value of the coupon by less than a hundred dollars.  As we again returned the picture to its packaging, I could feel myself starting to cry a little and the clerk patted me on the back.  “We’ll take good care of him,” she said.

I got a phone message a week later that the picture was ready.  Saturday afternoon, I drove back to the store to pick it up.  A new clerk took one look at my name and knew exactly why I was there.   She brought out the picture wrapped in cardboard.  Yet another clerk drifted up to look as she slit the tape and revealed the portrait.  We all stared at this remarkable drawing.  She knew, maybe everyone in the store knew, this bit of Thomas’s story.  They were very kind and there I was, crying one more time.

And so I was able to bring this little bit of Thomas home again.

My Mental Health Day Thanks:
Lee Ann Doerflinger
Mother of Army SPC Thomas Doerflinger, KIA 11/11/2004, Mosul, Iraq
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