In Their Honor - The Petit Family Foundation: An Interview with Dr. William A. Petit, Jr.

(l-r) Brad Drazen, Dr. Petit, little Bill, and Todd Piro, at NBC 30. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)(l-r) Brad Drazen, Dr. Petit, little Bill, and Todd Piro, at NBC 30. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)When I arrived at the offices of the Petit Family Foundation, located in sleepy downtown Plainville, CT, the first thing that struck me was how unassuming their office space was. In fact, they share it with an advertising company, using just two rooms. There is nothing to indicate the large amount of charitable giving that is generated from here. I was greeted by friendly staff from both companies who made me comfortable while I waited for Dr. Petit, or as he is known here, Bill.

When he arrived a few minutes later, I was led to a nearby office that belonged to a executive of the advertising company, shared space for a meeting. “Why don’t you sit behind the desk?” Bill asked immediately. “Why me behind the desk?” I said, a bit surprised. “Well, you’re the one with writing to do” he replied. So there I sat, behind that massive desk, and Bill sat across from me in a chair.

As you may recall, Dr. Petit’s wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, were murdered in a home invasion in Cheshire, CT in July 2007. Their house was then set on fire. That is not the subject of this article, but in order to explain what the Foundation does, some history is necessary. I asked Bill first about how the Petit Family Foundation began and about its mission. He replied, “Well, it started, of course, after that night when I lost my family and my house was burned. I was numb, and I had no place to go. At first I stayed with my parents, and I didn’t want to see anyone. I was numb, I cried, and then I was numb again. But I was fortunate that I had many supportive friends and family to help me. They tried to draw me out, but I wasn’t interested at first. After a while, friends started just stopping over and saying, “Come on Bill, we’re going fishing.” The fact that they did that kind of thing made a big difference. My mother would knock on my door and offer me a ginger ale. Just a ginger ale, but the fact that she reached out was helpful. Meanwhile, the donations started flooding in immediately from everywhere: money, artwork, letters, and self-help books. I must have over 300 self-help books. The donations came from all over the country and all over the world! At the time, I did very little reading, as it was hard to focus.”

“Then in August of 2007 some friends proposed an idea that the donations should be used for some charitable purpose, but initially, we didn’t know what.”

“First, we decided to fund three scholarships; one at Miss Porters School, which Hayley had attended, one at Chase Collegiate School, which Michaela had attended, and one at Cheshire Academy, where my wife, who was a pediatric nurse, had worked. Then we founded a special fund called Hayley’s Hope and Michaela’s Miracle, for those affected by multiple sclerosis. My wife had MS. You can find the link on the MS Society Site.”

Dr. Petit with Jess Morin, a GE intern, at the GE 5K and Fitness Walk. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)Dr. Petit with Jess Morin, a GE intern, at the GE 5K and Fitness Walk. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)“Then in December of 2007 the Board (of 12) met, and we decided to become a 501c3. Papers were filed in 2007, the 501c3 letter arrived in 2008, and the Petit Family Foundation was formed. In Oct of 2007 we had already had our first Golf Tournament to benefit the foundation. It took 3-5 months to come up with a Mission Statement. It was three-fold: 1) to benefit the education of young people, especially women who were going into the sciences, 2) to help and protect victims of violence, and 3) to benefit those with chronic illnesses and their families.”

I asked Bill to speak specifically to what has been done in each of these three areas in the years since the Foundation began. “My friend Dennis Chapman had the idea to do some horticulture work with the Science Center, and he started Michaela’s Garden, a rooftop garden at the Science Center where Michaela’s favorite flowers, Four O’Clocks, are grown. The seeds are then harvested and replanted, and some are sold to benefit the Petit Family Foundation. We wanted to encourage families and youth to become more involved in community gardening.”

(Authors note: The original Four O’Clocks were dug up and removed from the Petit property, as little else was salvageable. All the seeds are reproduced from the original plants. It is a lovely way to remember Michaela.)
Bill added, “Hayley was interested in science. Shortly before she died, she had expressed an interest in becoming a doctor. We began working with the CT Science Center in Hartford by funding the First Women in Science Mentorship Award.”

Bill continued, “About 50-60% of the grant proposals go to domestic violence programs. The rest goes to education and programs supporting those with chronic diseases. We prefer to give to smaller groups in order to help those that would not otherwise get funding, such as those with rare diseases. We like to give to programs rather than individuals, so that we can help the most people. We gave $100,000 three years ago to the Channel 3 Kids Camp so they could construct a new health center. It’s named after my wife, the Jennifer Hawke-Petit Health Lodge. They can now accommodate children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. We also gave $100,000 to the CT Science Center.”

I asked Bill to talk about the Petit Family Foundations major fundraisers. He named three annual events, the Golf Tournament, which began in 2007, the Road Race in July, and the motorcycle Ride for Justice, in September. Bill added that the Petit Family Foundation first sponsored a Women in Science Gala in the Green Gallery at the Science Center, and that now they have their own Green Gala each year, at which the Foundation awards its Mentorship Prize. In regard to the Petit Family Foundation’s greatest successes, he said, “We have given millions in grants just this year.”

Asked whether he works full-time for the foundation now, Bill replied, “Yes, that is, as many hours as are necessary. I take no salary, zero. I’m a volunteer. Everybody here is a volunteer, with the exception of two office staff members. Even they come in on weekends and volunteer.” Bill said that there was never a lack of volunteers. They come back, and others just keep volunteering.

Dr. Petit visiting a class at Glastonbury High School Vo-Ag program with Michaela’s Seed Project. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)Dr. Petit visiting a class at Glastonbury High School Vo-Ag program with Michaela’s Seed Project. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)(l-r) Dennis House; Kara Sundlun; Dr. Petit’s wife, Christine; and Dr. Petit after giving the annual CT Science Center Petit Family Women In Science Mentorship Award. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)(l-r) Dennis House; Kara Sundlun; Dr. Petit’s wife, Christine; and Dr. Petit after giving the annual CT Science Center Petit Family Women In Science Mentorship Award. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)When asked him what types of organizations are eligible for grants through the Petit Family Foundation, and which he would especially encourage to apply, Bill replied, “We must commit to programs that benefit larger numbers of people, no one-on-one scholarships. For example, we funded an anti-bullying program. Initially we funded three scholarships for women in the sciences through the Plainville Rotary, named for Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela, but now we fund programs and projects, rather than individuals”. He said that nonprofits are encouraged to apply, as well educational programs that address domestic violence and protect its victims. In addition, programs that promote wellness for those with chronic illness and their families are encouraged to apply.

Given the many grants for organizations listed on the website, I asked Bill if any of them were especially meaningful to him. He thought long and hard about this question, then he replied “The MS Society, particularly the Hayley’s Hope and Michaela’s Miracle fund, The Prudence Crandall Center, that does primary prevention of domestic violence, and domestic violence shelters such as the Susan B. Anthony House in Torrington, Safe Haven in Waterbury, Safe Futures in New London, the YWCA of Greenwich, and Interval House in Hartford.’

Asked if there was anything else he would like to add about the Foundation that we had not discussed, or that he was particularly proud of, Bill answered, “I love the program at the Science Center. Often in junior high, girls drop out of science, but this encourages them to be interested in science again. They work on the Seeds of Hope and the Plants of Change Project. I like the 3-year grant to Plainville Middle School that expands their science curriculum. This is extra, beyond the school budget. The kids can analyze blood samples to determine the sex and paternity of a child. They do fingerprints and analyze DNA. At New Britain High School, there is the Health Academy. The smallest donation is one of my favorites: At Bulkeley High School in Hartford, it’s a melting pot, kids from all over the world. Mrs. Hoffman there has a knitting club. I know it seems like a small thing, but the kids in the knitting club make friends, and they donate the things they knit to the CT Children’s Medical Center. Mrs. Hoffman got a $500 grant which she uses for knitting materials. A drop in the bucket, and she only took it as she needed it.”

“The best thing about the Petit Family Foundation is the outpouring of people, friends and volunteers who work with us. They come from 48 of the 50 states and 20 countries. No one takes anything out of the grants; 100% goes to the recipients.”

We then discussed causes Bill would like to promote in the future. He said he would like to do more for people affected by MS, to help the parents of those children, and to provide respite opportunities for caregivers, supporting families who are dealing with chronic illness to get out to a concert or a sporting event, or a weekend away. He also would like to see more educational conferences about illnesses.

The Petit Family Foundation Ride for Justice, 2013. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)The Petit Family Foundation Ride for Justice, 2013. (Courtesy of the Petit Family Foundation)Finally, I asked Bill if he had any advice for widows and widowers who were seeking their own path forward after a loss. He gave this a great deal of thought, and he spoke from the heart, “Get help. It’s critical to get help, don’t be afraid. And accept the help that is offered by friends and family, don’t push them away. Get out and do something, such as volunteer at church, the Elks, or the Rotary.”

“And to those who are concerned about the widow or widower, be proactive. The person who has experienced a loss is not going to ask for help. Show up, take them out, bring food, and if you say you’re going to call, then call. I got pulled, cajoled, and ultimately it worked. Reading books sometimes helps”. Bill decided that he may pay it forward, giving some of the many books he received to those who need them now.

The activities of the Petit Family Foundation are not the future Bill perceived for his life. He never asked for any of this to happen in the first place. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But “helping people”, a phase he uses often, has become his way to move forward. The Petit Family Foundation motto is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, and that is what he does every day.

For more information, or to donate, visit www.petitfamilyfoundation.org.

Ask Jane - Friends Indeed

Love partnership friendsWe thought we had our “always and forever” lifetime companion. Our spouse, the person we most loved and trusted, and with whom we most wanted to spend our time, is now gone. This was not part of the plan. 

What do we do now? Who will we talk to about what is on our mind or about how we are feeling? How would we even know who was willing to listen? What about activities we used to share together, such as dancing, sports, traveling, dining out, or a movie? Can we ever imagine doing these things again with anyone else?

First of all, take your time to consider these very valid questions, and give yourself permission to grieve the relationship. Whatever the circumstances of the death, the marriage was a big part of your life, and as such, should be validated. But don’t isolate yourself from others. Life is going to be different now for sure, but different doesn’t necessarily mean worse.

The truth is, there are many people in this world who could love you, and whom you could love, not necessarily in the romantic sense, but as a friend. What is a friend, and how do you know if someone is one? Well, first of all, we must distinguish between types of friends.

Close Friends: Close friends are the ones you trust with your most personal issues. They know you well, but like you anyway. Obviously, not everyone can fall into that category. Friends: Friends are the people you know and spend time with on a social or business basis, but don’t share personal information with.

Acquaintances: Acquaintances are the people you spend time doing activities with, such as working out, being part of a club or other organization, or participating in community activities. They are the people you encounter often in your everyday life.

The difference between close friends, friends, and acquaintances is the level of trust you share with each other. Some people claim to have dozens, or even hundreds of friends, but they don’t (and should not) trust any of them with their personal feelings. Trust is the most integral part of a friendship, and deepens it to another level.

For example, I have a close friend from high school who has been through many phases of life alongside me and who knows about mistakes I’ve made, as well as my accomplishments. Miraculously, she’s still my friend after many years, and we reconnect periodically to catch up on each others lives. We don’t need to be anybody special with each other, because we both accept the other as she is. When we are together we can be who we are, no holds barred. This is the kind of friendship that would continue to exist without regard to our marital status. I also have a close friend from college and one from work. I have friends and acquaintances whom I value a great deal, and who, given the opportunity for us to get to know one another better, could become close friends.

You may not have any close friends, or even any friends, particularly if you spent nearly all your time with your partner. Certainly stays connected to old friends, and help them to become comfortable with you as a “single”. But be open to developing new friendships as well. Notice that there are many people you see frequently but don’t really know. Why not strike up a conversation about interests you share, or places you’ve been? Try some volunteer work, or join a club. A good conversation starter is to ask the other person about themselves, rather than talking about you. People are usually flattered and pleased that you asked, and you are on the way to making a friend. When you feel ready, ask them if they’d like to stop for a cup of coffee with you. Look for things you have in common, as they are also good conversation starters. Don’t pour out your soul right away, but at the same time, give them a chance to show you whether they are an authentic, honest person. Don’t trust everyone, but don’t distrust everyone either. Give everyone an equal chance to be a friend. You won’t know for sure until you try.

Health & Wellness - Exercising Over the Age of Fifty

CyclingAt age 50, 10% of our muscle area is gone and continues to decline with age. Research shows that participating in regular exercise is an effective way to reduce or prevent functional and physical declines associated with aging. This article provides evidence-based strategies for effectively combating these changes associated with aging. We can be strong and active well into old age and have fun along the way. Being fit allows for participation in many social activities. No longer must we sit on the sidelines. This article provides the scientific background for designing our exercise program so that we can get maximum benefit without injury.

As we age, the natural course of biology is for our muscle tissue and bone density to decrease, causing us to lose strength and power, and for our metabolic rate to decrease. These losses are often due to inactivity. We find that simple activities of daily living, like walking up stairs or standing up from a chair, become more difficult. The risk of falling also increases. No matter what our age, these changes can be arrested and even reversed! No matter how weak we are now, endurance and resistance training improves strength and functional ability. We can become stronger!

Older individuals should be prescreened for medical conditions prior to participating in an exercise regimen. Knowledge of appropriate attire, footwear, warm-up, cool-down, post-exercise stretching, equipment use, nutrition, fluid replacement and training principles is very important. 
Appropriate attire includes shoes with good traction and clothes that allow your body to dissipate heat and do not restrict your movement.

The Exercise Session

Before exercise, one should perform a warm-up. A warm-up is 5-10 minutes of low intensity activity and moving through the full range of motion that you will be using in your sport or exercise; this should increase heart rate without causing fatigue. It may seem obvious, but during exercise, holding your breath should be avoided to prevent restriction of blood vessels causing hypertension or lightheadedness; one should exhale on exertion and breathe continuously.
There are two major components of the exercise program: Resistance training and endurance training.

Resistance training:

Your physical therapist or personal trainer will help you determine how much weight you can lift one time. You’ll then develop a lifting schedule like this one, and do it 2-3 times per week.

Load (weight)

Repetitions

Sets

Rest

Low Power

(75-85% of 1RM*)

3-5

>1

2-5 minutes

High Power

(80-90% of 1RM)

1-2

>1

2-5 minutes

Strength

(85% of 1RM)

4-6

>1

2-5 minutes

Hypertrophy

(65-85% of 1RM)

6-12

>1

30 secs-1.5 minutes

Muscle Endurance

(<65% of 1RM)

>12

>1

< 30 seconds

  *RM=repetition maximum

Endurance training also has necessary principles addressed when designing a program including. First, pick the specific activity. Choose from cycling, running, tennis, golf, swimming, skiing, or walking. Determine the number of sessions, with time adding up to 150 minutes per week. Know the intensity you want to put forth into training, as measured by %-age of max heart rate or rate of perceived exertion. Higher intensity workouts require shorter time of work-out, and lower intensity requires longer duration.

So, find a sport, exercise or activity that you like. You will stay committed if you do something you enjoy.

After exercise, a cool down allows the blood that has been pumping to your muscles to return to the heart and lungs and decreases the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness.
After cooling down, one should stretch. Stretching can decrease power and force production; therefore, it is not recommended prior to exercise. Stretching before exercise is only favorable for individuals in sports requiring a large range of motion, like a gymnast. Minimal research supports pre-exercise stretching as beneficial for injury prevention. Static stretching is a prolonged hold that must last at least 30 seconds. Bouncing your stretches is detrimental, because it causes micro-tears in your muscles. 
Hydrating is important prior, during and after exercise. One should drink approximately 1 pint of fluid, preferably water, 2 hours before exercise. During exercise one should drink enough to replace fluid lost through sweat. After exercise, you should drink 1 pint per pound of fluid lost in sweat. You do not require electrolyte or carbohydrate drinks unless exercising greater than an hour. 
Muscle soreness may occur after exercise, but muscles repair to adapt and prevent future damage from the same stimulus. Use ice if muscles are sore after exercise. 
If you are afraid to exercise, talk to a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist.

People who tend to fall or injure themselves have the greatest fear of exercise, but are also those who need it the most. Balance can be improved by strengthening, and by exercises requiring quick stepping. Dizziness should be assessed by a physician.

Exercise is the key to healthy living. At this stage of life you are hopefully wiser and will use your experience and knowledge for motivation to stay healthy to continue to do what you love for years to come.

Written by Sarah DeNoia Arruda, PT, DPT, CSCS

References:

Baechle, T.R., & Earle R.W. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd ed.). National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Mazzeo, R.S. (2013). ACSM Current Comment. American College of Sports Medicine. Indianapolis, IN. http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/exerciseandtheolderadult.pdf

United States Department of Health and Human Services. October (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. vi-viii. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines

Westcott, W.L., & Baechle, T.R. (2007). Strength Training Past 50 (2nd ed.). Human Kinetics.

Finance - Gina’s Kokopelli – Couponing with Sanity

Gina JulianoKokolineIt’s just plain smart to get the most for our money. Being frugal allows us to have extra money to spend on some special things. Couponing is a free and easy way to trim our expenses, and it can be done well without becoming a compulsion. Gina Juliano needed to adjust to a new budget in 2009, when the Hartford School System laid her off, and her $100,000 income as assistant principal at Weaver High School, became a $26,000 per year unemployment salary. With three kids and a husband to feed, it was a challenge. 

“I was close to losing my house and had no money. My mortgage alone was more than I took home in unemployment. I realized I had to cut down our expenses,” says Gina who is also known as the Connecticut Coupon Lady (www.ctcouponlady.com).

She went on line and discovered she couldn’t find the coupon resources she was looking for in Connecticut. The deals and coupons posted in other states weren’t always valid in Connecticut. “So I did it myself. It started out as a blog and it grew and grew and grew. Now I have 50,000 followers across the nation. I learned everything on my own. No one taught me.”

But Gina also just likes to help people. She wanted to share her research to make the couponing experience easier for others. So she started a website, and called it www.Gina’sKokopelli.com. The site’s name was inspired by the Native American symbol for joy and happiness, Kokapelli. She thought it apt because it way joy that came into her life when she began this quest to help others, reduce her own expenses and generate a little income along the way. After getting her website on line, she began teaching couponing classes and volunteering at Master’s Manna, a faith based, non-profit organization in Wallingford, CT. Master’s Manna serves the homeless and low to moderate income families, who struggle to eat well on a budget.

Her version of couponing is not extreme although it may well be extremely helpful. The Extreme Couponing show which airs on TLC, has painted a picture about couponing that bothers Gina.

“That show frustrates me. People see it and think it’s real. It’s not. They see people spending hundreds of hours at home, and then 6-10 hours in the grocery store. You see people filling carriages with tons and tons of crap. No real meat, dairy products, or fresh produce. I teach people to eat healthy and to do it on a budget. My website has natural, organic and gluten free options. I eat healthy myself. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a coupon for Cheetos. Everyone likes Cheetos once in a while.”

So what’s the trick to healthy eating on a budget? One thing Gina suggests is being consistent. She goes to one store regularly to shop. It shouldn’t take any more time than it takes to shop now she says, including creating a list, clipping coupons, shop and get out. She maintains a small stockpile of regularly used items because it’s better to get them when they are on sale than paying full price as long as you use them often and before their expiration date. A box of pasta for example goes on sale for $.50 so if you use pasta she recommends getting 6-12 weeks worth, at that sale price. Why pay twice that, or more?

“Backing your car up to your garage to unload your own mini-mart…now that’s crazy!”, she says. But a little stockpile of commonly used items that are on sale can go a long way in savings. Being frugal can be a beautiful thing.

“I’m completely frugal,” she says. “I’m not cheap. Frugal is practical. Frugal is being careful with how I spend money. I’m frugal with grocery shopping but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat myself and get my nails done. You want to be able to splurge and care for yourself. Do that, but be frugal in other areas.”

She recommends starting your new frugal lifestyle by taking a couponing class. They are often free and offered at libraries and community centers in your area. Taking a class not only motivates and spurs you into action, but it’s informative. Next, she suggests that people find a buddy. Or find someone to go to the class with you. This is also helpful when someone is single and you want to take advantage of the “buy one get one free” deals. Shop with a friend and split the total cost on the item. The holiday coupon classes are geared at getting deals and sales for holiday shopping and how to utilize freebies to cut holiday costs. She fills her kids’ stockings every year with items she gets completely free.

Happily, Gina has found another position, as principal at Rushford Academy School, but she continues with couponing. Why? You might say it’s in her blood. “Some people quilt. Some people scrapbook. I coupon.” She is a monthly guest on Channel 8 Connecticut Style where she sits down with Teresa Dufor to talk couponing. In addition to the joy of helping people, she appreciates the feedback she gets and the difference she knows she is making in the lives of others. Although she hasn’t always been an avid couponer, her grandmother was. Josephine Pratson of Manchester was a widow for more than 30 years before she passed away six years ago at the age of 88. “She used to coupon like a fiend,” says Gina. “She didn’t drive and we would drive over to Manchester and she would say, “take me to Walgreens, I have a coupon,” and we would roll our eyes. She had a little stockpile of a few things like spaghetti sauce. As computers became more common she went on line and printed out her coupons. I regret I hadn’t started this when she was alive. She would have loved it.”

For more information visit Gina’s website or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She welcomes your comments and questions.

Featured Widow/er - Downsizing can mean an intentional future

Isabella & Lucas (Rachel White of Rachel White Photography)Isabella & Lucas (Rachel White of Rachel White Photography)Alysha St. Germain with her children Isabella and Lucas. (Rachel White of Rachel White Photography)Alysha St. Germain with her children Isabella and Lucas. (Rachel White of Rachel White Photography)Alysha St. Germain was in Idaho babysitting her niece and nephew when she received the phone call that would change her life forever. Her husband Pete had just returned home in November 2011 from deployment in the Middle East, where he was a U2 aircraft maintainer for the United States Air Force. Alysha was a stay at home Mom to their two young children, Isabella and Lucas. They were only married a few years and had purchased their first home, a 1950’s era house that Alysha had been remodeling in his absence. He was finally home from the service, and life was supposed to get easy as their little family settled into their new life together. But with that one phone call, everything changed. Pete was diagnosed one month after he returned home, with stage IV cancer. Within 15 tumultuous months, Pete was gone. He was 32 years old.

Pete and Alysha met on line in 2006 and they just knew they were meant to be together even though Pete was from Massachusetts and she was from California.

“Pete and I just clicked,” says Alysha. “We were best friends. He adored me to the moon and back. He proposed in a hot air balloon over Napa Valley. I knew I wanted to be his wife and the best wife possible.”

Family was important to them, and they both loved outdoor activities and travel. They had lived abroad in Abu Dhabi, Pete went trekking in Nepal, climbed mountains and was always active. Despite their adventuresome spirit, they both knew they wanted to settle their family in the United States.When his daughter Izzy was born she was the apple of his eye and he was a great Dad. Having returned home to northern California, they were ready to settle in to a new kind of normal. But learning of Pete’s diagnosis and then losing him changed everything.

“It was a total shock, the biggest shock of my life,” says Alysha. “I knew I needed to be with my kids (now 3 and 5 years old). I was a stay at home mom and after he passed, I needed to be there for them.”

She had always been a purger, clearing clutter and excess stuff with ease, while she describes Pete as a “hoarder.” He liked his stuff. Clutter stressed her out and she had learned to really evaluate what her honest to goodness needs were. She came across the tiny house movement on Pinterest, a web based tool for “collecting and organizing things that inspire.” She had the opportunity to meet up with Tammy Strobel, who it turned out went to the same high school as Alysha. Tammy is an author, photographer and blogger at RowdyKittens.com, and one of a growing number of people who are part of a tiny house movement who are living in small spaces in an effort to live large in other ways.Tammy, her husband Logan and their cats, live happily in a 128 square foot house. She invited Alysha to see her alternative dwelling place and Alysha liked what she found.

“They’re incredible,” says Alysha about the tiny homes. “I was blown away by the finished product. It was way bigger than I imagined. Some people don’t think they can live in a tiny space but you totally can.”
Alysha St. Germain’s tiny house. (Rachel White of Rachel White Photography)Alysha St. Germain’s tiny house. (Rachel White of Rachel White Photography)With some reservation and a determination to be close to her children, she ordered an Ynez model tiny house from the Oregon Cottage Company (www.OregonCottageCompany.net). She first checked references, fell in love with the design and was attracted to the price, which is listed on the company’s website for $39,000. It didn’t take long before their new home was delivered, fully built on a trailer and ready to use. But these are not your grandmother’s mobile homes. This one was just over 200 square feet including the sleeping loft, filled with style, character, lots of windows and all the modern conveniences a mother could want including a tub/shower and washer/dryer. Alysha made arrangements to settle in her parents back yard at a time when being close to family was a comfort she welcomed. She hooked up her electric and water connections to their house and uses an RV cleanout for the sewer connection. Her greatest challenge has been working out naptime but the kids have gotten used to it and enjoy their loft space.

“It’s all about being together with my kids,” says Alysha. “Life has been in turmoil over the past 15 months. I was the caregiver to Pete. They saw lots of babysitters. I needed to reconnect with my family.”

Within a month of Pete’s passing, Alysha began writing a blog at www.anintentionalfuture.com, where she sought to inspire people who are grieving to celebrate life again. She encourages people in similar situations with this from her blog: “There are those of us that choose to not allow loss to steal our life. We continue to persevere in the face of loss; not only by not succumbing to the devastation of loss, but by using it as in impetus to live well…It is my hope to ignite a passion within the grieving to use their trials as a means to do great things. We are far more than our circumstance. I hope you’ll join me in redefining loss.”

For Alysha, it’s all about living intentionally and living in a small space enables her to do just that. She offers a few lessons on her blog about what living large in a tiny space has taught her:

• It is a lot easier than expected.

• It reminds me that we have everything we need and then some.

• We are more connected.

• We spend a lot less time shopping.

• We spend a lot more time just “being.”

In October of 2013, a widower on the east coast, stumbled upon Alysha’s blog and “fell in love,” according to her. By December Dave had proposed and they married in June of this year. This new family of four, outgrew Alysha’s tiny house and although she is keeping it, they are currently exploring new ways to downsize and live tiny on the east coast.

“I will definitely continue to pursue my blog as grieving is still a huge part of both our lives.

Just like with Pete, when you know, you know.” says Alysha. “It’s quite obvious that God has a plan.”

“People think life is done when they lose someone important to them. They need to know there is hope. And that God has so many good things in store for them. It is an opportunity for people to see it is possible to grieve differently. Life is unpredictable and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Focus on what matters most today and stay true to yourself.”

Spirituality - Retreats offer respite and rejuvenation

Cynthia Good2Cynthia GoodTaking a spiritual retreat is an opportunity to step out of time, to carve out a space just for you, and to breathe in the light of a new day. “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths,” writes Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. And a retreat experience can be a stepping stone in that direction.

Each retreat is a unique experience, each with its own style. Some focus on certain topics; they can be very group centered or solitary; some are filled with movement and action or steeped in silence and contemplation. They can be very religion based or completely non-denominational, and they can be far more spiritual than religious. They are an invitation to breathe in new life and provide an opportunity for peace, discovery and healing.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Good is an elder in the United Methodist Church. Since completing her master of divinity degree at Yale Divinity School and a doctor of ministry degree at Hartford Seminary in 1999, she has served as pastor at three churches and interim pastor at eleven. As important as that work has been for her, it is facilitating retreats and offering spiritual direction that has really stolen her heart, and is where she focuses her ministry now.

“I’ve led retreats since I was newly ordained,” says Cynthia, a breast cancer survivor who pursued spiritual direction training just last year, while recovering from a double mastectomy.
“God made human beings because God loves stories. There is something about spiritual direction; you listen to people’s stories. I’ve always loved to listen to stories. During retreats, when you get people to talk with each other, you are giving people permission. You can feel people opening and being able to expand their sense of selves and of their faith. It’s something you just don’t get during worship. It’s opening up in a different way.”

For people who are working through grief, the retreat experience can really be a time of opening. At home we may stay closed off to others and closed off to new experiences. But having a quiet reflective time, either alone or with others, can be an opportunity for healing that may not happen in familiar surroundings.

Cynthia points out that some people choose to be alone while grieving. But it can also be helpful to be around people with similar stories. And while the world seems to “allow” a certain amount of time that is acceptable for grieving, the retreat setting offers a place where you don’t have to be done, where there is no time limit on grief. Recognizing that people grieve differently, retreats offer a container for the process, even if it is not a retreat specifically for dealing with loss.

“Retreats offer an opportunity to look reflectively on life and life with God. It can help deal with loss and grief as well.”

Aruni Nan Futuronskyultimate experience 195166Group and individual retreats both have their place in the healing process during different stages of the journey. For many, being around others who have experienced significant loss in their life can be freeing. It helps to realize you are not alone, to be freed from feelings of guilt, and to see that there is light and life at the end of a very dark tunnel. And silent time within a retreat can serve a purpose as well, helping to increase awareness of what you need and being honest about that knowledge.

“What people gain from retreat is a breath,” says Cynthia, “stepping away from your own life, spending time learning about yourself and about God. It’s an opportunity to talk with others in what is often a beautiful, natural setting.”

One of the things she appreciates most is when she is witness to a retreat participant experiencing one of those “ah ha” moments. She delights is seeing people open to the experience and be surprised by what they learn about themselves.

“It’s important to have people to talk to where feelings are held,” says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health teacher and the senior Life Coach and Program Advisor for Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “The anonymity that people experience on retreat fosters great intimacy and opportunity for connection.”
Kripalu is a retreat facility located in the Berkshires of Massachusetts that offers a plethora of programs year round on yoga, health and wellness, creativity and spirituality. It is one of many places throughout the country that offer an escape from the everyday.

“We tend to ignore feelings in the western world,” says Aruni who offers Grief, Loss and Renewal programs, among others, at Kripalu. “But if we allow the feelings (to surface and be recognized), if you confront it, you can heal it. I’ve seen amazing things happen. This is about taking time.”

For Aruni the retreat experience is about getting away, being around people who can listen, and being in a safe space where feelings are nurtured.

Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the need to nurture their body, minds and spirits and nowhere is that more evident, than at the Rhinebeck, New York campus of Omega. Twenty three thousand people pass through the 200 acre, Hudson Valley campus annually, according to director of external communications, Carla Goldstein. Omega offers retreat programs in New York City and around the world.

“Everybody experiences grief and cycles of grief in different ways and at a different pace. People process grief in many, many different ways. Taking time to step back and reflect either by yourself, or with the help of a teacher can be highly beneficial.”

Carla suggests that it may not be specifically a grief workshop that appeals to someone. They may take a writing retreat, or meditation retreat. Healing can come through a variety of means and often that can come through some creative experience. Depending on where they are, they may feel ready to talk with other people. It can be a social outlet and an opportunity to process the experience and because they aren’t talking with a family or neighbor, who might be too close to the situation, it can be very helpful.

“Grief is such an individual process. There are so many things to consider,” says Carla. “It is important to give space and time to grieve. We know from people who have been here, that they find peace in the natural surroundings. There is a sense of connecting as they come out of isolation and are reminded of the support all around them, immersed in this compassionate community. We take our role seriously as being a place people can come and heal, from all kinds of things. We pay great attention to how people are treated when they’re here. The feedback we receive conveys that we help people heal and transform lives every day in small and big ways. There is life before Omega and life after Omega. For many it is a life altering, healing experience.”

RETREAT CENTERS

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
Stockbridge, MA
877-837-9430
http://www.kripalu.org

Omega
Rhinebeck, NY
New York City, NY
877-944-2002
http://www.eomega.org

Wisdom House Retreat & Conference Center
Litchfield, CT
860-567-3163
www.wisdomhouse.org

Mercy Center
Madison, CT
203-245-0401
www.mercybythesea.org

Rolling Ridge Retreat & Conference Center
North Andover, MA
978-682-8815
www.rollingridge.org

Expressive Arts - The healing power of pen on paper

Brenda McCartyBrenda & Tom McCartyBrenda McCarty started journaling when she was taking care of her husband before he passed away. Tom had prostate cancer and three years later it metastasized to his bones. The Center for Hospice Southeast Connecticut was called in during the last four months of his life. 

“It was an intense four months,” says Brenda noting that the challenge was not only the cancer but Tom’s “OCD personality.”

She started using a journal to log Tom’s needs, his moods, his conversations. It was all about Tom. One of the hospice nurses suggested that she journal her feelings about what was going on in her life. And when Tom passed away 5 years ago, at the young age of 58, and after 38 years of marriage, Brenda began to write for herself. It was her first experience with journaling and she doesn’t consider herself much of a writer. But there was something about putting that pen to paper that helped her get through that difficult time.

“He really truly was my best friend”, says Brenda. “We were always together. He was supportive of everything I wanted to do. We worked together and played together. There was just unconditional acceptance.” Besides working together, in their computer consulting business, they shared Tom’s hobby of building toys and furniture. “While he built, I did the finishes. I had lost my builder. There was a void in my work, and a void in my hobby.”

Brenda took up oil painting to fill the void. It was there that she met Maribeth Stone and they became close friends until 2012, when Maribeth lost her own battle with cancer. The painting group that had grown so close has stayed together because Brenda arranged for another art teacher to guide the group that meets at her home now.

diary journal bookInk Pen“When you don’t have your ”go to” person anymore and you’ve never lived alone, well, it’s hard to put into words. But there is something about art and healing,” says Brenda, who also lost her mother after Tom died.

She lost her husband, two close friends and her mother in a five year period. Journaling helped her get through it all. After Tom died she wrote to him as if having a conversation. She found this helpful, and at the one year anniversary of his passing, she shared her most intimate feelings, pouring out everything she had into her journal. It was completely uncensored and free. She didn’t want anyone to read it and when she was done, she burned it.

“Something spoke to me in that process,” says Brenda who has not chosen to journal in an ongoing way. “We have two choices in life. We can lie down and feel sorry for ourselves or we can make the most of every day.”

She chooses to make the most of every day spending time in creative ways. She volunteers both at High Hopes therapeutic riding center and at the expressive arts program offered through the Center for Hospice Southeast Connecticut.

Kelly NiebergallJournaling, also called expressive writing, is a means for healing, particularly for emotional trauma. James W. Pennebaker, a Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, is a pioneer in the study of expressive writing, His studies have found that the release experienced in writing your feelings about an emotionally traumatic event can positively affect the immune system. Studies are ongoing, and over the years the journaling process has become increasingly accepted by therapists and other practitioners as a means of working through difficulties in life.

Kelly Niebergall has over 10 years experience with writing, editing and group facilitation. She recently founded Healing Pens, where she encourages brain injury survivors and their caregivers to use the reflective writing process as a source of healing, recovery and creativity. She is the assistant director for the University of San Diego Public Affairs Department, but she trained for her Healing Pens work at the Center for Journal Therapy in Colorado, where she is enrolled in the Therapeutic Writing Institute. She has a masters degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. Her interest in helping people recover from traumatic life experiences surfaced when her father had a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed, unable to speak or write. His whole life changed.

“To help me cope, I wrote through it all,” says Kelly. “I wanted to share that process with other people. I think it (journaling) is one of few avenues where people have to be honest and be themselves. It’s a great way to put your heart out there. Putting it on paper makes it real.”

Putting it on paper enables the writer to look back on a journal entry and see how it applies today and if they have grown, or if their circumstances have changed. She says it’s ideal to write at least three times a week but it is more important to set realistic goals for a writing schedule. She uses writing prompts in her workshops to help get participants started, that are tailored toward helping people work through the traumatic event in their life.

One prompt she uses is to write a letter which may or may not be mailed. Another is to create a dialogue with another person, with the self, or with a higher power. Thinking about hope and how to keep hopeful is another beginning as well as tapping into feelings about what is happening with your body as it works through grief. A third is a springboard list to get started. Here are a few she suggests:

• Today I feel….
• I love this about myself…
• My grief feels worse when….
• My grief is like…

“Don’t worry about spelling or grammar,” says Kelly. “Take a stab at being honest. You’ll be surprised by what you find. It’s an amazing experience. Some people are resistant in the beginning and I am amazed at how they do over the week. Some just don’t want to put feelings on paper. It takes a lot of bravery.”

Resources for writing available at the Center for Journal Therapy at www.journaltherapy.com.

Poetry - Endings and Beginnings

Ships at SunsetBy Jan Andersen Donovan

I watched the water ebb and flow
lazily around the rocks of the tidal pool.
Bits of seaweed clung to the sand,
left there until the next high tide,
to be carried out to sea again.
There is an order to changes.
Trees form buds, leaves appear and detach
according to the seasons.
Children are born, grow and leave the nest.
Parents remain, completing their own journey.
Life is like that, too, moving, inevitably changing.
Years follow years, lettings go occur, painful at first,
! then met with resignation.
Loneliness is replaced with acceptance.
Life continues, more sweet than bitter.

Janice Andersen DonovanJanice Andersen Donovan is a writer who uses poetry as a form of self expression to express her innermost thoughts and feelings. She has written poems since childhood, creating them ʻwhen they appearʼ. She enjoys reading the works of other poets, especially the poems of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins. Janice is a retired librarian who lives with her husband near the Connecticut shoreline.

Books-Movies - Book Insights – My Beautiful Broken Shell by Carol Hamblet Adams

Beautiful Broken ShellseashellEvery now and again I come across a book that is a classic for all time, a book that I love to read over and over, and want to share with others. My Beautiful Broken Shell – Discovering Beauty in Our Brokenness is just such a book. Illustrations by Bobbie Wilkinson help me to settle into the words in a relaxing, comforting way as if the beach sand sifted between my toes and sea spray dampened my pages as I read. 

Adams’ book began in 1982, she writes in her preface, when she learned that her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She went to the beach, a refuge for so many of us when life presents challenges. Walking and gathering seashells along the way, she noticed a broken scallop shell and tossed it away for its imperfections, and then upon reflection went back to pick it up again, noticing the similarity between her brokenness and that of the shell.

“God spoke to me about my brokenness, and I put His words on paper,” she writes. And so it is. A reflection, a prayer, a poem, a metaphor for life filled with inspiration, comfort and solace, in times of uncertainty. It is a celebration of our brokenness in a time and culture, when the pursuit of perfection is priority. In sharing these reflections, I think Adams seeks to help all who are broken or even scuffed up a little, in any way, if only for a time, to honor that brokenness and to know that through the strength of our human spirit and through prayer, we can thrive. She does this in a gentle and inspirational narrative that takes the reader along her walk as she discovers her own, beautiful broken shell.

This small, yet powerfully insightful read is written for people of any faith. The author addresses her higher power as Lord but I believe her intention is not specific to any particular religious tradition. I don’t believe the spirit of the book would exclude people of other faith traditions who could definitely find it purposeful regardless of whether or not they use the term Lord. One could easily interchange the prayer to read, Dear Buddha, Krishna, Vishnu, etc. This spiritual text would be well suited for anyone who at the very least, believes in some higher power, regardless of what you call him or her. It is easily relatable and earthy in its ability to touch people in a foundational way that can be transformative.

Part of the charm of taking this journey with the author is the organic simplicity of both the illustrations and the words. Images by Wilkinson evoke remembrances of meandering beach walks past, seeing the dark shadow of a mermaid’s purse, the sway of the dune grass, a piping plover, starfish and sand dollars, sand pails and shovels and even footprints in the sand.

There is only a simple, single thought on each couple pages, leaving time for reflection to ponder the invitation to embrace the experience. She first tosses away the broken scallop shell and returns to consider it further. So much like our life, we seek perfection, in ourselves, in others, in life. And we are sadly disappointed. We are challenged to see the beauty in that broken shell, the ones on the beach and the ones that we call life. Why is that? Upon reflection, I’m not sure I care for the word “broken” in this context but that is personal preference. We are not broken in our struggles, challenges and heartbreak. We are “in process” and we are given the opportunity for our lives to take on new shape, new form, just like the shoreline, forever evolving, and forever beautiful.

Adams offers a prayer of thanksgiving, “that I haven’t been completely crushed by the heaviness in my heart...by the pounding surf,” and she recognizes that despite that heaviness of heart, there is value in all of life’s experiences and how they shape and transform us. She writes of the strength and courage necessary to keep walking and to not be afraid of moving on, and the way that our broken shells inspire others with their resiliency, in a unique and special way. Her prayer continues reminding us to have patience during times of struggle and that anything is possible…including healing. The gifts on the beach are many as they are in life and Adams invites the reader to be themselves with no need to hide their pain. She notices sea glass and sandpipers, a lone starfish, a veritable jewel box of nature’s treasures and with her heart steeped in gratitude, she is filled with inner peace.

She prays, “Let me not destroy the beauty of today by grieving over yesterday…or worrying about tomorrow.”

My Beautiful Broken Shell and other inspirational books by Carol Hamblet Adams are available through www.amazon.com

Nutrition - Chocolate, food of the gods, a Blessing for our Health

ChocolateChocolate SplashIf you think chocolate is “heavenly” you are not alone. The botanical word for Chocolate literally means ‘food of the gods”. During this month of Thanksgiving, let us remember to be grateful for the humble cocoa bean. For from the bean comes those chocolate chip goodies, chocolate kisses, and delicious desserts that lift our spirits even during the tough times. 

It further enhances our enjoyment to understand why the chocolate is actually good for our health. benefits. Chocolate can be really good for us, but not all chocolate is the same.

If you want the health benefits, then forget about creamy milk or white chocolates and candy coated chocolate bars. Look instead on the label for dark chocolate.

The health benefits of chocolate come from flavonoids, a type of phytochemical found in the cocoa bean. Dark chocolate contains a higher proportion of cocoa than white or milk chocolate. The more cocoa a chocolate product contains, the better its health-promoting content.

So what does dark chocolate do for our health?

Research has shown that when dark chocolate is part of a healthy lifestyle, it can improve heart health, lower blood pressure and reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol. Louisiana State University researchers tested cocoa powders and found that certain bacteria in the stomach eat dark chocolate, ferment it and then release the anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit the heart.

Dark chocolate may also improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

How much chocolate should I eat to get the health benefits?

Limit the portion size because even though dark chocolate contains the “good for you” flavonoids, it also contains the “not so good for you “fat, sugar and calories.

Eating too much chocolate can undo any health benefits and lead to weight gain and the health problems that will bring.

A small portion of about an ounce should satisfy your taste buds, especially if you take your time, eat it slowly and savor that delicious taste! This will give some positive health benefits without adding to your waistline.

For example, a standard sized bar of Hershey’s dark chocolate has 531 calories compared with about 170 calories from an ounce of dark chocolate or about six Hershey’s Kisses. A one-ounce serving has roughly the same calories as an equivalent portion of almonds, another heart healthy food.

The research indicates that two to three ounces of dark chocolate a week is all you need to reap the health benefit. To satisfy your craving without the weight gain, a one –ounce square in the afternoon or as a mini – dessert after dinner is fine.

What type of dark chocolate should I buy?

A high percentage of cocoa will provide a higher content of flavonoids. Most milk chocolate contains up 50% cocoa, while some inexpensive chocolates contain as little as 7% cocoa. Look on the food label for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa for the finest dark chocolate rich in heart healthy flavonoids.

Most dark chocolate bars with 70% or more clearly label it on the front of the package, but if you’re unclear, turn it over. If the first ingredient is milk or sugar, the bar is not going to have 70 percent or more cocoa content.

Buying fair-trade cocoa or chocolate also helps farmers get a better deal for their cocoa and benefits their communities.

ChocolateMarbled Cherry Chocolate Brownies

You will need (for 12)
5oz dark chocolate, chopped
5 oz butter, cubed
½ c light soft brown sugar
¾ c granulated sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ c self-raising flour
8 oz lower fat soft cheese
6 oz fresh cherries, pitted

Directions:

1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line the base and sides of a brownie tin with baking paper.

2 Place the butter, chocolate, light soft brown sugar and ½ cup of the sugar in a large saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the chocolate and butter have melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes.

3 Whisk the eggs into the chocolate mixture, then sift over the flour, stir until thoroughly combined. Pour into the prepared tin and gently level the surface with

4 Beat the soft cheese and remaining granulated sugar in a bowl until smooth. Drop spoonsful of the mixture over the chocolate mixture and drag the tip of a knife through both mixtures to create a swirled effect. Scatter over the cherries.

5 Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until just set. The brownies should still be a little soft and squidgy in the center. Leave in the tin to cool completely before slicing.

When we think of chocolate, usually desserts come to mind. But believe it or not, chocolate makes a great addition to savory dishes, as well!

Here is a savory recipe I have selected for you to try…

ChocolateChili Con Carne y Chocolate

(Tex-Mex): 6 servings

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, chopped
2 pounds minced beef
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cans (14 oz.) tomatoes
2-4 red chilies, chopped
1 red sweet pepper, chopped
4 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
2 bay leaves
2-3 teaspoons salt
1-2 cans (14 oz. / kidney beans, drained
2 oz. Dark bittersweet chocolate
Cheddar cheese for garnishing (optional)

Directions:

1 Cook the minced beef, onion and garlic in olive oil.
2 Stir in tomatoes, chili, sweet pepper, salt and spices and cook for 15-30 minutes.
3 Add more chili, salt or spices as required.
4 Add beans and cook until heated.
5 Add chocolate, mix well when melted.
6 Serve with rice, cheddar cheese and a salad.

Mistakes - When Widow/ers Gamble: Entertainment or Addiction?

MistakescasinoWhen the wife of fast-food chain Jack-In-The-Box founder, Maureen O’Connor, lost her husband in 1994, she was left between $40 and $50 million—certainly enough to keep the widow comfortable for the rest of her life. But in 2000, she began gambling—and gambling some more. Soon, she found herself unable to stop, citing grief over losing her husband as one reason.

Although she won over 200 million dollars gambling, she lost a lot more--$1 billion playing video poker over 10 years in the casinos of San Diego, Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Despite selling a home, hotel, her art collection and jewelry, O’Connor was broke and $13 million in debt. She needed more money—and got it by taking over $2 million from the charitable organization her husband set up. Although she intended to pay it back, the foundation was left bankrupt and O’Connor was left charged with a federal crime.

Formerly a mayor of San Diego and Catholic school teacher, O’Connor had been known throughout her community for her selfless service. Now, she is known throughout her country for having squandered her husband’s fortune--and worse -- theft. According to the New York Daily News, O'Connor cried and said, "Most of you know, I never meant to hurt the city."

Although her story is extreme, gambling addiction is not rare. Grief, loneliness and stress can trigger compulsive gambling. A Canadian study cited that in 2011, “more than half of all women and men living alone report spending money on at least one gambling activity.”

In actuality, anyone who gambles can develop a problem if they do not gamble responsibly. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), “‘Problem Gambling’ includes, but is not limited to, the condition known as ‘Pathological’, or ‘Compulsive’ Gambling, a progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, ‘chasing’ losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.”

According to the NCPG, “Women begin gambling later than men but develop problems more quickly.” In The Arizona Republic article, “New treatment center for compulsive female gamblers in Scottsdale: High number of women seek aid for addiction,” more than half of “compulsive gamblers in state-approved programs are women, and 55 percent of those seeking treatment say that slot machines caused them the most problems.” A recovering female gambler, M.J. of Scottsdale, who wishes to remain anonymous, lost the $200,000 in life insurance money left to her by her late husband. “Her nightly limit of losses quickly went from $200 to $2,500 and then $5,000…She hocked her jewelry and went into debt…”

Another former gambling addict, author Mary Sojourner, introduces herself in her book, She Bets Her Life: “Welcome to my world. I have been, and I will always be, a woman one bet away from being imprisoned by a slot machine…I played slot machines for fourteen years, the last nine years compulsively. By the time I quit, my life and nervous system were in ruins.”

dicecasinoGambling addiction is not caused by casinos, lotteries and other types of gambling. According to NCPG, it is caused by “the individual's inability to control the gambling… The casino or lottery provides the opportunity for the person to gamble. It does not, in and of itself, create the problem any more than a liquor store would create an alcoholic.”

Sojourner highlights the differences in the pathological gambling patterns of men and women. “Men usually begin a pathological gambling pattern during their teens, while women are more likely to become compulsive gamblers when they are older. Additionally, men are more likely to engage in action gambling (table play, roulette, sports betting), while women typically play slot machines, video poker, or bingo. Action gamblers play for the rush, the high, and the big money. While bingo can provide social interaction for women, slots and video poker serve mostly as a means to escape into one’s own world. The onset of gambling addition with action play can range from ten to fifteen years. Most slot machine and poker addicts are hooked within a year or two.”

Of all the addictive behaviors such as drinking and drug abuse, gambling has the highest suicide rate. In The New York Times article, “Suicide Rate Higher in 3 Gambling Cities, Study Says,” a professor of sociology at the University of California in San Diego examined the death certificates in the “major gaming cities in the United States --Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Nev., and Reno -- and found that suicide rates were up to four times higher than in comparably sized cities where gambling is not legal.”

When Sojourner began writing about gambling addiction, she received a call from a tearful woman who had no idea her widowed mother had a gambling addiction until it was too late. She told Sojourner what it was like to find her mother dead on the living room couch next to an empty bottle of antidepressants and a folder on the floor. The folder contained 11 credit card bills in alphabetical order—all for a minimum of $5,000. On the front of the folder, the mother had written, “I am so sorry.” She had gambled away all her savings, the investments her husband had left her, and the bank was about to foreclose on her house.

According to the NCPG, casinos and other organizations that provide gambling have a “responsibility to develop policies and programs to address underage and problem gambling issues.” To that end, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, the largest resort casino in North America, states that “We provide financial support of the education, training and research efforts of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gaming. If you think you need help, please call 1-800-34 NO BET.” Their “Responsible Gambling” webpage includes the opportunity to self-exclude oneself from gambling on their premises and the following questions to help individuals determine if they have a gambling problem:

1. Have you been preoccupied with thoughts of gambling while doing other things?
2. Have you been restless or irritable when unable to gamble?
3. Have you hidden your gambling from family members?
4. Has gambling created conflict and unhappiness in your life?
5. Have you tried to stop gambling but have not been able to?
6. Have you gambled to obtain money to pay debts or solve other financial problems?
7. Have you needed someone else to bail you out of a gambling debt?
8. Have you ever borrowed money and not paid it back as a result of your gambling?
9. Have you been unable to pay bills due to gambling losses?
10. Have you ever thought you might have a gambling problem?

The Connecticut Council on Problem Gaming states that for those who don’t have a gambling problem, “the following steps can help keep gambling a fun and entertaining activity:

• Don’t use money needed for daily living expenses.
• Set a dollar limit. Identify a specific amount of money you can afford to lose and stop when that amount of money is gone.
• Set a time limit. Arrange activities away from the gambling, such as meeting friends for dinner.
• Don’t “chase” losses and risk losing more money.
• Set some of the winnings aside for other purposes.
• Remember that winning and losing are both part of gambling. If you are not ready to lose, you are not ready to gamble.
• View gambling as a form of entertainment, where there is a greater likelihood of losing than winning and the losses are the price of the entertainment.”

If you suspect that you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are many free services and support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous (http://www.gamblersanonymous.org). The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) website (http://www.ncpgambling.org) includes a toll-free, 24-hour confidential hotline at 1-800-522-4700 and links to other problem gambling related websites, an online directory of International Certified Gambling Counselors, and a locator for inpatient and residential treatment centers. 

The following is an easy to remember phone number if you are out and find yourself in trouble: 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537).
###
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blakeslee, S. (1997, December 16). Suicide Rate Higher in 3 Gambling Cities, Study Says. The New York Times.
Corbett, P. (2011, May 27). New treatment center for compulsive female gamblers in Scottsdale: High number of women seek aid for addiction. The Arizona Republic.
Foxwoods Responsible Gambling. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2014, from Foxwoods Resort Casino: http://www.foxwoods.com/responsiblegambling.aspx
Marshall, K. (2011). Gambling 2014. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from Component of Statistics Canada Catalogue: Perspectives on Labour and Income: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2011004/article/11551-eng.pdf
National Council on Problem Gambling. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2014, from http://www.ncpgambling.org
Problem Gambling. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2014, from Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling: http://www.ccpg.org/problem-gambling/
Sojourner, M. (2010). She Bets Her Life: A true story of gambling addiction. Berkeley, California: Seal Press.
Walsh, M. (2013, February 14). Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor stole $2.1 million from charity for gambling binge that also cost her $13 million. New York Daily News.
Women Gamblers Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2014, from National Council on Problem Gambling:

http://www.ncpgambling.org/files/WOMEN_GAMBLERS_FACTS.pdf

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