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Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

Silence is golden, or so the saying goes.

Silence also is a rare commodity these days. Sound -- and especially noise -- is all around us, especially in today's fast-paced, urban world.

Sound can have a profound impact on my mood. Certain things -- traffic, yiping dogs, screaming kids and blaring televisions -- drive me crazy. There are other sounds that I really enjoy, such as the sound of a whale exhaling as it surfaces, a tennis ball hitting the sweet spot on a racquet, rain on the roof, and the sound of birds singing.

One of the things that bothered me about living in Moscow, even on the 12th floor of my apartment building, was the noise. I lived just a couple of blocks from a 12-lane road that circled through the city. Known as the Garden Ring, it is always full of traffic and impatient drivers. Russian street crews used to work on the street in front of my building in the wee hours of the morning, jack hammers echoing off the surrounding buildings. One night I had to move to the small bedroom on the other side of the apartment to escape the clanging of snow removal equipment. This wasn't a snow plow, but something called the 'crab' that moved the snow into a dump truck for disposal.

When I lived in California, my house was near a city park that was home to kids' baseball seven days a week for eight months of the year. In addition to the traffic and incessant beeping of car horns as people locked their vehicles, I was subjected to the never-ending drone of the announcers. A couple of blocks in the other direction was a major expressway, complete with noisy mufflers, lots of emergency sirens and racing motorcycles.

Now I live in a place of quiet. I still hear dogs barking sometimes, but not a lot. There is virtually no traffic on my road. I do hear the howls of coyotes sometimes, or the funny noises of the neighborhood quail. But these sounds are enjoyable. And I love hearing the quiet when I wake up in the middle of the night.

I am not one of those people who have to have the television on "for the noise." Sometimes during the day, I will listen to a CD, but generally the house is devoid of artificial noise. My daughter, on the other hand, always wants to have the television on.

Unfortunately, due to tinnitus -- a persistent ringing in my ears -- my world is never completely silent. The ringing doesn't bother me most of the time, except when everything is still.

A few years ago, a sudden ear infection caused my ear drum to rupture. Due to significant hearing loss in the other ear when I was 10 years old, I was left with very little hearing at all for a couple of months. This was a frightening time, as I waited for the ruptured ear drum to heal, the fluid in the ear to dissipate, and my hearing to return. In the meantime, I was unable to hear approaching cars as I walked, to hear my daughter walking into my room, or to hear the television without the volume cranked up to a very loud level. Eventually, everything healed, and my hearing returned to normal.That experience made me very conscious of how important sound is.

People these days seem afraid of the quiet, as if they use the distraction of noise as an excuse not to think or contemplate. I am quite happy driving without having the car radio on. I enjoy listening to the quiet breathing, even the snoring, of my elderly dog as she sleeps in her bed at night. Silence is something to be enjoyed, not avoided.

Perhaps it is time for us to seek out periods of silence, when we can focus on the sounds of nature, our own breathing and our thoughts. Whether we use times of silence to pray, meditate or just 'be,' silence is nonetheless something to be cherished and enjoyed.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Favorite Things

Central New Mexico is having some very cold weather. Tonight is supposed to be only 5 degrees, with a high tomorrow of 27. Strong winds make it seem even colder. So as I lay in bed early this morning, long before the sun tried to make an appearance, I started thinking about some of my favorite winter things. If I thought about all the things I don't like about winter, I would probably never get out of bed until spring.

Winter weather is definitely not one of my favorite things. But there are a few good things about this time of year:
  • Lying on my wonderful bed, snuggled between flannel sheets and covered by several warm blankets.
  • Listening to my 14-year-old dog sleeping, and sometimes snoring, in her bed.
  • Making homemade macaroni and cheese from a new recipe.
  • Drinking a cup of hot tea as I read the morning paper.
  • Eating hot soup or chili to ward off the cold.
  • Enjoying a bowl of hot oatmeal or multi-grain cereal for breakfast.
  • Putting on a warm cotton sweater and cozy socks.
  • Feeling the temperature inside the house rise after I turn up the thermostat.
  • Feeling my car seat warm up once what I call the 'bun warmer' is activated. 
  • Contacting a real estate agent in Tucson to start the search for a winter home so I no longer have to put up with this awful winter weather.

Do you see a pattern here? Most of my favorite winter things are about getting me warm. Snow-shoeing, skiing and ice skating are NOT on my list of favorite winter things. I passed up a hike recently because the weather was too cold and windy to enjoy a nice hike. Staying warm definitely is one of my favorite things.

I don't have a lot of good things to say about winter. But at least there is a handful of things I can enjoy while I eagerly await the arrival of spring.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

From Hopeless to Hopeful

Today is a very exciting day for me. More than than three years ago, I was encouraged by my daughter's therapist to write a book about my experiences raising a child adopted from Russia when she was 11 years old. Today, my book has been published. Well, it has been self-published through www.lulu.com. 

I had several reasons for writing this book. First, I have loved to write since I was in middle school, way back when. Writing provides an emotional outlet for me. Many people have told me how much they enjoy my writing. But the primary reason I wrote this book was to encourage other adoptive parents who may be struggling with their adopted children's behaviors and emotional issues, to let them know that no matter how dark things appear, there is hope for their family, and to help educate prospective adoptive parents about the challenges they will likely face should they choose to adopt.

I suspect that those in the adoption industry won't be happy with being 'called out' in this book for their failure to educate people before they adopt and for failing to provide support after the child is home. Adoptive parents are largely left to find qualified attachment therapists, physicians and caregivers on their own, through trial and error or by word of mouth.

Adopted children, particularly older children, often present parents with issues such as attachment problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Children adopted from Russia and Eastern Europe also are more likely to have fetal alcohol syndrome to one degree or another. And spending even a brief time in an orphanage can have profound effects on the developing brain of a child. Unfortunately, the adoption industry has done little or nothing to educate prospective adopters about these issues. The result has been families completely unprepared to deal with, these issues. Love is not enough to treat these serious emotional issues, the result of broken attachments with the birth family, institutionalization, and often, exposure to alcohol in utero.

Raising an adopted child is far different from raising a biological child, particularly if the child is older at the time of adoption. My daughter, who is now 19, and I faced a myriad of attachment- and childhood trauma-related issues. I was totally unprepared to even put a name to her afflictions, much less know how to deal with them. Many of the traditional parenting techniques for dealing with 'difficult' children not only don't work, but may actually make things worse. And many therapists, lacking knowledge of attachment issues, are unable to help. Fortunately, we were able to find, after several false starts, an excellent therapist who understands the special issues of adopted children.

With a great deal of therapy, residential treatment and her own determination and hard work, combined with my love and support, my daughter has made tremendous strides in self-esteem, confidence and self-understanding. She is a wonderful, charming, beautiful and caring young lady.

I hope readers will find support, encouragement and useful information in this book, which is, as a friend told me, truly a labor of love.

From Hopeless to Hopeful: Raising an Adopted Older Child is available at http://www.lulu.com/shop/ann-sullivan/from-hopeless-to-hopeful-raising-an-older-adopted-child/paperback/product-20619017.html or by clicking the button at the top right of this page.





Thursday, January 3, 2013

Keeping It Positive

Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviors. Keep your behaviors positive because your behaviors become your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny. -- Gandhi


This is another quote that showed up recently on Facebook, and I thought it was a great reminder of the importance of positive thinking. Our thinking truly can color our outlook on life, how we treat others, how we feel, and how we act.

It is, I admit, often difficult to be positive in our crazy, stressful, anger-filled world. The U.S. Congress refuses to deal in a meaningful way with our huge deficit. Wild species are threatened as never before, either for profit or sport. Threats to the environment abound. Mentally ill people with assault rifles continue to kill and injure innocent victims.The economy remains fragile, with millions of people unemployed. Add in our individual and family problems and challenges, and it is amazing that anyone can keep a positive attitude.

I am a pretty positive person, but as we begin a new year, I am making an effort to be even more mindful of my thoughts and words, and to keep them positive. No matter what I may be dealing with, there are many, many people facing far greater struggles.

A recent column in the Albuquerque Journal introduced a man who decided to make a new beginning, to commit to being more positive. If enough people do this, he believes, the world will become a happier place. And this world certainly can use a shot of happiness.

“No more hate,” he said in e-mails to the columnist. “It starts with one family at a time and one city at a time. Teach your family not to hate, and we will not have the tragedies that have recently plagued us.”

He urges us to refocus our priorities, to change our focus, and to try to be a source of happiness to others. What if we wake up every morning, expecting, as singer Dolly Parton once said, to have a good day? What if we focus not on what we can't do or what we don't have, but on what we can do and what we do have? I sometimes need to remind myself that I am very healthy and still able to enjoy hiking, bicycling and other outdoor activities, despite the fact that I don't have the muscle strength I once had, and I good workout leaves me more tired than I would expect. But at least I still can get outdoors and enjoy activities that make me happy.

What if we make a real effort practice kindness in our words and in our actions? It's worth a try, isn't it? We never know when a simple, random act of kindness will really make a difference in someone's day. And it will make us feel better, too.

Pay it forward.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Just Do Something

On New Year's Eve, I noticed a Facebook post about an elderly, disabled woman who had received a small ($10) increase in her disability payments. She said she wanted to 'just do something' to help animal victims of puppy mills, and contacted a woman active in this cause about donating her extra $10 to help.

How wonderful would it be if everybody committed to 'just do something' to make the world a better place? Buy an extra can of soup or package of pasta and donate it to a food bank or pantry. Donate an old winter coat. Buy a meal for a homeless person. Help an immigrant learn English. Tutor a child. Join the PTA. Foster an animal until it is adopted. Volunteer to walk dogs or play with cats at a local animal shelter. Form a team to do a charity walk or run. Write a letter to the editor or elected official about a cause that concerns you. Visit a veterans hospital or an elderly person in a nursing home. Drive a neighbor who no longer drives to the grocery store or to a doctor appointment.

Use your imagination. Think about what cause is important to you, then 'just do something.' Find a way to get involved, to help, to encourage, to support. If you can't give money, give a few hours of your time. If you have a special talent or skill (photography, Web page design, accounting or sewing, for example), share it with an organization. A group of people who love to knit and crochet makes baby blankets and hats for newborns. If you have children at home, get them involved in your charitable efforts, too. Teach them to give back. Ask them how they want to help.

Today is Jan. 1 -- the beginning of a new year. Many people vow to exercise more or to lose weight. How about adding something else to your plans for the new year, something that is guaranteed to make you feel better? Get involved. Make a difference in the life of a person or animal. It doesn't matter which cause  you embrace. JUST DO SOMETHING!