Category Archives: Teens North Grenville

More Upgrades for Lizardly Welcoming

How to we become a more whole person; one who isn’t blown off course by our moods or the comments of others?

It’s not a fast process, but I’m here to tell you it’s entirely possible. There are many paths you can take and I’m certain you’ll find the ways that work best for you. Here is a method that works well for me.

“In solitude I know. In community I am known.”  Parker J. Palmer

Let’s focus a little more on the community part of Parker Palmer’s statement, which is about connecting with others. How do I connect with others, especially if they are different from me or even hostile towards me?

Many years ago I was substituting for a French teacher for a number of days. On the first day a bright, competent, articulate and determined young man asked me if he could work in the hall. I had had enough experience to know that such requests were most often requests to wander the school or wile away the time with friends from other classes. I also knew that once I let one student do this others would want to do the same and that if I “lost control’ of the class on day 1, day 3 would be much worse,  so I said “No”. He was furious, absolutely furious;,and quickly got a number of other students jumping to his defence. He topped it off by writing a letter to his teacher complaining about my actions. Over the subsequent years when I taught this boy I always felt a bit of a sting between us.

Many years later, long after the student had become an adult I found myself on a committee with him. I expected the residue of our introduction to one another to shape our interactions, which I knew would not only impact our work together but it would also be down-right stupid. So I decided to do what works beautifully with creatures of all natures: nervous cows, hostile dogs, anxious babies, ripping-mad teenagers; I focused on what was beautiful about this creature. I thought about how bright he was, how he provided such a youthful and different perspective, how he carried through with everything he said he would. Doing that changed my attitude toward him, but interestingly enough it changed his attitude toward me. Before too long he made the comment to a friend of mine that he thought I could be his friend!

If you want to change the dynamics with a stranger or someone who gets under your skin that’s all you have to do! Just pay close attention to what is great, good or even tolerable about them!

And if you want to share any of your observations about what happens, feel free to leave a comment. Have fun!


Want to know some of the science behind this?

We take in far more information from others than we realize. How they hold themselves, the pitch of their voice, even their smell reveal information we may be totally unaware of on a conscious level, but receive with our spidy senses! When we switch from being critical to being curious or appreciative about others, amongst other things small changes occur in the muscles between the corners of our eyes and the corner of our lips which reveal how socially engaged we are. Our muscles relax and we feel better. Our muscles relax and the other person takes that as acceptance! Isn’t that cool?


BTW – Lizards can’t do this!

Coming up next: “How to say difficult things to others”.

Upgrade Your Lizardly Welcoming



When we feel whole we can’t possibly be racist.


What does it mean to be whole? It’s when we are able to see ourselves, warts and all, greatness and all, clearly and dearly. I was well into adulthood before I could see myself clearly. “Dearly” was even slower in coming, but I can tell you now that seeing myself through both lenses has been the most important task I have ever taken on ( and continue to take on).  I highly recommend starting as soon as you can!

Parker Palmer has a great saying: “In solitude I know. In community I am known.” Every day I make sure I have time alone to figure out some of the truth in the thoughts that tumble around in my head. It’s something I have to do all on my own. But today let’s focus on how we can bring a genuine curiousity to our interactions with others.

The first step is to show up. The second is to expect to be welcomed. The third is to extend welcome to others.

Step one seems obvious. If a photographer shows up she sees things worth photographing. If she stays in her basement, well, it’s a tad tougher! If you show up by putting your phone in your pocket, looking people in the eye, smiling and saying, “Hello”, you are 2/3 there. If doing this isn’t easy for you, or you find yourself slipping (as I have lately), just start over again.

Step two is easy for me so I had to learn the importance of this from someone else. I was involved in a gathering where the larger group broke into smaller groups many times over the course of the day. As soon as the instruction was given to find partners I noticed the woman sitting beside me lowered her head and stared intently at her lap.  Consequently she was always the last one picked. She later lamented that she was always being excluded. Poor thing. If she had only realized, all she had to do was lift her head and meet the gaze of the welcoming people around her.

Step three is to welcome others. I have worked for many years as a substitute teacher and I often think the most important thing I do each day is to greet and say the name of as many students as I can. When I can’t remember a name, then a smile, a gesture, a genuine comment on what we have in common or twinkle in my eye is enough, I hope, to convey that I am glad to see them and help their nervous system settle.

Ah, there IS a step four: practice, practice, practice – especially when you are meeting people who don’t seem to be at all like you.


Want to know some of the science behind this?

When we connect with others we are activating the ventral branch of the vagal nerve. Found only in mammals, the ventral vagal nerve relates to the positive emotions of joy, satisfaction and love. If we approach another with the expectation that welcome will go both ways we are activating the ventral vagal nerve and setting ourselves up for the likelihood that it will! And when we are doing that we are rising above the poor little snakes and lizards, who for lack of a ventral vagal nerve, have strong racist tendencies!

We All Have Racial Biases


We all have racist biases. Please let me explain two reasons for saying that.

  1. Our brains can only take in so much information so they are constantly filtering things: I don’t need to pay attention to the chipped paint on my bedframe or the 64 other brands of shampoo on the shelves of the drugstore. The chip is most likely not going to impact my life and in the drugstore I already know what I want so my eyes are scanning for the familiar colouring and label of shampoo I seek. Likewise, you probably don’t distrust your family’s dog (even if it is of a fierce breed), or the food your parent prepares for you – both have proven track-records. However, when we encounter something foreign like a coyote or meet someone who looks/sounds/acts differently to us the activity in the fear- centres of our brain increases until time and familiarity cause them to settle down.


  1. How we see the world is also shaped by how our parents, family, fellow citizens and our culture see things. Have you ever met a racist baby? Of course you haven’t! As long as people smile and meet the basic needs of a baby they think people with green ears and two heads are great! But I bet you have also met 4 – 8 year olds who think their hockey team is the best in their division, their dad is bigger, stronger and smarter than any other dad and there is no country better than the one they are growing up in. Children who are between 4 and 8 need to feel that way in order to experience a sense of belonging and the only way they can do that is to, while they are still dependent, borrow the values of their family, teachers, ethnic and religious group and nation.


If I grow up amongst people who were once tortured by people who had green skin, or by people with green skin, who once tortured others, I’m going to have some pre-formed thoughts about people with green skin. If I have neither and meet someone with green skin, wariness will most likely be the initial response. Yet, if we give the interaction time and curiousity there is every possibility that familiarity and comfort and even friendship may develop.


It’s time for all of us (and I mean all of us!) to take the best of the beliefs we formed between ages 4 and 8 about people with green skin and everything else and challenge anything that doesn’t create equality, respect for others, cooperation, harmony, peace, care for the earth and a mature relationship with its creator. It’s time for all of us to bring curiousity to our conversations with those who think differently from us. Some of us are masterful at this. Some of us find it hard.

The next entry in this blog will focus on one way to do it.



Sometimes you just have to cry.

There isn’t a single one amongst us who doesn’t have a reason to cry right now. I won’t go through the list of things because what I have lost will be different from what you have lost and what you have lost will be different from what your grandparents have lost. And when we lose things we care about, and when we are completely up against a wall of futility, it’s so easy to go off in search of a great distraction. However, that won’t take us where we really do want to be. Feeling soft and tender and like ourselves again is so much better than feeling distracted, and the only way to get there is to let some tears flow. The single best way to do that is to cry in the presence of a family member who totally gets us, but if that isn’t possible right now then writing, painting or dancing out the sadness can often bring just the right number of tears to heal us. I know this for certain. Just before supper one night last week I read a simple story about a woman crying in a grocery store and the tears that had been inside me since the middle of March welled up, spilled over and made me feel a whole lot better!

Here’s a poem by Philomene Kocher that says it best:

rain washes the dust

from the bus window

and I can see

more clearly

what tears do


Want to know some of the science behind this?

I have spoken before about the sympathetic nervous system being activated when we are agitated. When we cry there is a whole host of bodily functions that change as the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and gives us that wonderful relief that comes from a good cry. The emotionally-induced tears we shed are a different chemical composition than the tears that normally keep our eyes moist; they contain hormones that build connection to the person we are crying with, they act as a natural pain reliever and flush the stress hormones from our systems.

Hunkered-down Groundhogs


The last time I wrote about groundhogs it was when they were digging for all they were worth to get away from the madness of the squirrel. Under the circumstances that was a healthy thing for the groundhog to do. However, it is possible for all of us, when day after day is filled with the same old news, same old people, same old boring conversations, to just want to find a good old hole and stay there…forever. It’s the “forever” that’s a problem. Retreating to a nice warm hole is good now and then; it’s when we don’t have an ounce of energy to pull ourselves out of it that it’s a problem.

Fortunately all it takes is a few minutes to give our systems a chance to take in a little comfort that makes it ok enough to poke our little noses out into the afternoon sunshine and smell the breeze wafting over the new shoots of clover.

Option 1 – Ask yourself, “Who in my extended family ‘gets me’ most?” Once you’ve got that person (grandparent, aunt, uncle) in mind give them a call. Yes, a phone call, or better still a video call. That’s so you can have a real, live conversation that will make you feel better than a kazillion texts. Ask them to tell you about a time when they overcame a difficult situation, or just chat.

Option 2 – Here’s an exercise I mentioned for earlier for squirrels. It also works for groundhogs but I’ll explain that in the science section.

Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video

Option 3 – Right there in your little hole do some simple stretching. If you think you can do 5 min. of it here’s a link: Don’t let the word “yoga” throw you off. These are just stretches and “yin yoga” is just a form of stretching that is absolutely perfect to start with. If you feel a little better when you finish, go for a walk to the end of your block and back, but only if you want to.


Want to know some of the science behind this?

We’re going back to the Autonomic Nervous System and the Polyvagal Theory in particular. The vagus nerve is the super nerve of the body. It runs from the brain to the intestines and impacts the heart and lungs along the way. “Poly” stands for many, or in this case, the three bundles of fibres playing three different roles in the vagus nerve. The first bundle (Sympathetic) is ready for fight or flight. The second (Dorsal Vagal) activates the immobility response which may include feelings of overwhelm, helplessness and paralysis. The third (Ventral Vagal) is the most recently evolved system which exists only in humans and mammals. It supports our ability to be socially engaged and comfortable in our own skins. When we are hunkered-down groundhogs we have an over abundance of dorsal vagal activity.

Option 1 – By talking with someone in our family who “gets us” we are stimulating our Ventral Vagal nerve. But here’s the kicker – texting doesn’t soothe the system the way talking with a loved one does. One study that supports this had placed teenagers in stressful situations then had one group text their parents, while the other group called their parents on the phone. Only the ones in the group who called had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood.

Option 2 – The Brainstem Release creates better movement in the neck, which improves the circulation of blood to the brainstem. This in turn improves the function of the ventral branch of the vagus nerve.

Option 3 – Movement, especially if it is rapid, activates the sympathetic branch of the vagus nerve. So going for a run is the best way to get out of a hunkered-down groundhog state, but that is an AWFUL LOT to ask when you have zero energy, so just go easy on yourself and stretch just a little to see if that makes you feel a tad better. Then tomorrow stretch just a little more.

Sprint Through Your Schoolwork, Part 2

Still having trouble starting your school work?

Tip 1 – Starting – If you haven’t started with one block of 25 min. like I had suggested in the last post, don’t be alarmed. STARTING is ALWAYS the hardest. Once you get going it will be so much easier. Ask yourself what’s the maximum length of time you can tolerate…15 min, 5 min? It doesn’t matter, just start and promise yourself you only have to work for the length of time you set on your timer and then give yourself a little treat, like a bit of chocolate, when you pull it off. Then next time, extend it a few more minutes.

Tip 2 – Standing – Stand at least as often as you sit while you are working on school work. This helps keep your mind alert and gives you a sense of being in charge. If you have a very firm sofa pillow (or a little balance board) you can stand on at the same time, all the better, as balancing keeps the whole brain even more alert. (An ironing board makes a great adjustable desk!)

Tip 3 – Music – If you like to listen to music while you study, consider listening to the type of “60 Beats per Minute” music that appeals to you.

Tip 4 – Mind Maps – If you are memorizing facts or studying for exams consider making mind maps with pieces of paper on the floor. Then walk around the mind map saying out loud the details you are studying.

For example: Start in the centre and state the central topic. Then move to each corner… upper left hand corner, saying the information out loud, repeating it a few times before moving to another corner.

Clock face patterns can also helpful… moving around the clock at first starting at 1.  Then just randomly recall what information was listed or drawn ( or a combination of both) at any number, to test your memory.

If you add in colour on the branches of the mind map you be placing the content in a network of brain files for easier recall.  (From Linda Ness of 3D Brain in Kitchener, Ontario.)


Want to know some of the science behind this?

Tip 1 – It’s simply a law:  Newton’s First Law of Motion, “An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.”

Tip 2 – Our brain and body needs to know at all times where it is located in space, so to achieve this proprioception neurons throughout our brain and spinocerebellar tract are constantly picking up and relaying information. The more stimulated they are, the more stimulated all of their neighbouring neurons are. So, if the proprioception neurons are busier when you are standing than when you are slumped on your bed, your brain will be more capable of being busy too. Additionally, when your body finds its balance point, the vestibular (balance) system is balanced. This better enables the brain to take in sensory input in a more organized way.

Tip 3 – Music at 60 beats per minute corresponds with the heart rate when it is relaxed, thus creating a mind that is alert, yet calm. However, it’s important that you’re listening to a type of music you like. This alters the connectivity between the auditory brain areas and the hippocampus, a region responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation.

Tip 4 – With this method, not only are you using the proprioception and the vestibular system you are using when standing on a hard pillow or balance board, but you are also adding additional sensory input by adding colour and muscle memory.

Coming up this week: How to with your Inner Groundhog. If you’d like these sent to your inbox, click the orange “Follow” blog button)

Sprint through your Schoolwork…

…and have more free time!

I’m guessing you don’t want to spend all your waking hours working on school work, and your teachers don’t want you to either! Here’s a super simple technique that has helped me write 3 books.

Note: What some kids like to do is to invite a friend to do this in their own space at the same time. Then it’s like running a race – you are much more likely to complete it if your friend is running with you.


  1. Find the best spot to work where you won’t be interrupted. (Your bed is not the best spot, but if it’s the only place you have, go for it. I can explain more on that at another time.)
  2. Set up the resources you need:

Laptop__ School Notes __ Text books__ Pen__ Paper__ Phone and favourite studying playlist__ (yes, phone! You didn’t think I was going to say that, did you?)

  1. Do a quick check on what your teachers have assigned and make a short list on a piece of paper.
  2. Quickly number the list in order of importance. (The subject you need to improve the most might be a good place to start.)
  3. Find out exactly what you need to do for the first task and get that ready. (eg. Turn to page x and find the questions you are to do.)
  4. If you are in high school, set a timer for 25 minutes (if you are younger set it for a shorter length of time eg. 15 – 20 min.) and put your phone on the far side of the room. Before you leave it there put it on airplane mode.  (I know it’s painful, but you will thank me in the end because you’ll have way more time for your friends once this is finished.)
  5. Start your playlist*, start the timer and work as quickly and effectively as you can without a single interruption until the timer goes off.
  6. Get up and move for 5 min. (run up and down the stairs a few times, stretch, get something to eat etc.)
  7. Check your work. Do you need to keep working on the first task, or is it time to jump over to another subject?
  8. Without looking at your phone (I know it’s not easy, but challenge yourself) set the timer for another 25 min. and work as fast and effectively as you can for another sprint.
  9. Take another 5 min. break and do #9 and #10 again. This is most likely the last sprint you will need to do because you have most likely achieved more in these three sprints than in 3 hrs of continuous work!
  10. If you are finished your work, go to #13 before closing up for the day. If you aren’t, take a longer break of 20-30 min before the next burst.
  11. SUPER IMPORTANT – Make a list of exactly where you need to start tomorrow, so you won’t have to waste any of your new-found free time!


This method is called the Pomodoro Technique and can give you hours of guilt-free free time! For more see:

What’s a pomodoro? A tomato in Italian. The man who created this method had a timer that was shaped like a tomato.

(Coming up in the next few weeks…How to work with your Inner Groundhog and How to Sprint Through, (and do well on), Your School Work! If you’d like these sent to your inbox, click the orange “Follow” blog button)

Rocking – It’s Not Just For Babies

Rocking Soothes Your System

Here’s another super simple way to calm the nervous system: rock your body, from side to side like your parents did when you were little, or forward and back in a rocking chair or swing in your yard. Do this for 10 min per day. If you do it before bed you will fall asleep faster, have deeper sleep and improve your long-term memory at the same time!

Want to know some of the science behind this? Our brains are wired to respond to rocking – that’s why your parents automatically did it for you when you were a baby. Without even knowing it they were stimulating your vestibular system, the organs of your inner ear which coordinate movement with balance.

If you want to know more, or want to see a clip of a young adult in a rocking bed, go to:


Years ago I was walking through a barn when I saw the word “Duck” written on a beam. As I walked to the far end of the barn my mind thought about Muscovy Ducks which at that time were used around livestock as a natural fly control. Then I thought about Mallard Ducks and how unbelievably remarkable the iridescent blues and teals of their feathers are, when BAM, I was on my knees clutching the top of my head in agony. “Duck” in this case was not a noun but a verb. It was meant to tell me to duck my head!

Ah, the well-worn thought patterns of our brains and how they can get us into trouble! I thought of this a couple of days ago when I woke up totally and completely annoyed with everything about the world, and truth-be-told, everything about myself. Those well-worn thought patterns were about to become much more well-worn, and in the process, make me much more miserable, except that I knew they were taking me towards a figurative bash on my head…and I stopped. Here’s how I did it. This is a tried and true method developed by South African, Leslie Temple-Thurston. It’s called “Lists”.

  1. Down the left side the paper I wrote (it’s important to do it on paper) in point form, double-spaced, all that was wrong with the world, all that was wrong with me, how things were never going to change…(you get the idea). If you are doing this be certain to wallow as much as you like. You won’t get stuck there, I promise.
  2. Once I felt I had everything possible written down I went through the list, only this time I wrote the opposite word or phrase on the right hand side. (For some negative words I had two or more opposites.)
  3. Once I finished, I read through the list slowly, being certain to notice how different the words on the right felt.
  4. Then I offered the whole mess up to “The Intelligence” – whatever that force is that makes the Mallards return to this miserable brown landscape, or what made an embryo develop into the unique and marvellous you that you are! Whatever you want to call that force, that’s what I offered it up to, knowing in that moment I had done all I could do to untangle my thoughts and feelings.
  5. Then I said simply, “Thank you.” And I tell you, I felt a whole lot better.
  6. Sometimes at this point I rip up the papers, so as to not hurt the feelings of anyone who might happen to look at what I have written.

Want to know some of the science behind this? In order to understand the brain you have to look at it in a lot of different ways. It’s a little like when you go to the doctor. They will check your weight, take your temperature and blood pressure, then listen to your heart and lungs. These are all different ways of looking at the same thing, which is your body.

Physically – When we are looking at the physical nature of the brain we could be looking at the overall development of the human brain as I talked about earlier (1st, 2nd and 3rd parts), the function of the two sides (hemispheres), the different parts (pituitary, hypothalamus etc.) and/or the tiny little brain cells (neurons). So you can see this part could get quite complex. At this point let’s just stick with a super simple explanation that comes from Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, way back in the 70’s and that’s that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. The more I think something, the more entrenched that becomes. If the thought, “My elbow hurts” routinely leads to “I shouldn’t have done x, y, z” to “I’m an idiot” to “I’m so mad at myself”, well that becomes more entrenched till I drive myself either mad, or out of that groove with an exercise like the one I mentioned.

Chemically – The cells of our body (including our brain cells) change according to the environment that is provided for them. If there is a predominance of fight-or-flight chemicals including adrenaline over long periods of time, then the receptors on the cells respond one of two ways: they either create more receptor sites on each cell over time (up-regulation) and the body needs a constant fix at the cellular level to keep things in chemical continuity, or the cells become over-stimulated and desensitized (down-regulation) and they no longer work properly. Neither option is good.

Electrically – Our brains are electrical! Some even say help for our brains resides more in what we do with them electrically, than what we do with them chemically. If I had measured the frequency patterns of my brain when I was ruminating there would have been an excess of 15 -18 hertz (low beta) activity. Stuck in that state I had little access to creative problem solving;  that is until I got it all written down. That allowed for more 8 – 14 hz activity which is associated with feelings of peacefulness and safety.


The Flight of Deer

The deer are on the move and I’ve seen more of them in our fields and in our neighbour’s woods than I have all winter. One day last week I noticed a doe watching me from about 400 m (the length of the track at school). Her neck was stretched sky-ward, her body stock-still, her gaze fixated on me (the potential threat), making my way across the thawing field. Then suddenly she turned and bounded away, her tail bobbing like a large white duster suddenly joined by the smaller white duster of her yearling fawn. Boing, boing, boing they bounded to the end of the field where they both stopped to turn and assess the situation. Satisfied I was no longer a threat, they bounded over the cedar-rail fence where I am certain they gave their whole bodies a mighty shake before resuming their grazing in a relaxed, yet alert state.

Wild animals do that. They cycle back and forth between states of activated vigilance and normal, relaxed activity. But imagine how different it would have been if the yearling’s foot had somehow become trapped and I had continued to walk towards it. Can you imagine how frantic it would have become trying to release itself?

The thing is, those of us who are receiving information about the pandemic minute by minute, hour by hour are not unlike a trapped yearling. The information is perceived by our nervous system as a repeated threat and unless we can do something about it we will most likely find ourselves feeling increasingly more helpless and terrified. But the thing is we can do something about it. Firstly, we can expose ourselves to the events around us in manageable doses. My manageable dose is 2. I can handle an influx of news twice a day.  I know this because anything more takes me out of the state of informed/managed/intelligent concern to being like a trapped deer. We can all reduce our stress levels when we turn off the TV, radio, or social media feeds for chunks of time and reconnect only when we feel we are able to handle it (Visuals of disturbing events impact us significantly because so much of the brain is responsible for visual processing). Secondly, we can use some of the exercises I’ve already mentioned or one of these additional ones:

The Calf Pump

The Calf Pump  (from Brain Gym) – Stand and support yourself with hands on a wall or the back of a chair. Place one leg behind yourself and lean forward and bend the knee of the forward leg. The straight leg and the back should be in a straight line.  At first the heel at the back is off the floor and the weight is on the forward leg. Then the weight is shifted to the back leg as the heel is pressed to the floor. Exhale while pressing the heel down and hold for a count of ten, and then release as you breathe in. Repeat this three times on each side.

Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video


Want to know some of the science behind this? Whether someone is coming at us with a club, or we are being bombarded with fear-invoking news, our brains respond the same way with the fight or flight response. The brain produce peptides which turn on the body’s stress response. The body’s stress response signals to the brain to produce more peptides and around and around it goes till we post nasty comments, yell at the nearest person or kick the dog out of the way – all attempts to disrupt the loop and restore balance to our poor fried nervous systems. It’s so much simpler to just not fry the poor thing in the first place by reducing the stresses you are exposed to!

Calf Pump – When a creature (be it a deer or a human) perceives danger the tendons in the feet and lower legs shorten to prepared for running. By pressing down the heel and lengthening the tendon in the calf, you discharge the fear reflex and the muscles can return to their normal tone. You break the feedback loop where the body is telling the brain there is a threat.