The Gut-Brain Connection

I wish to share something I’ve been learning a lot about lately. I have been experiencing a bad intestinal infection in the past few months. Through this I have learned BIG TIME that nearly everything about our health, for example, how we feel both physically and emotionally, hinges on the state of our microbiome or intestinal organisms. Since I started having intestinal distress, it has become quite clear to me that dysfunction in my gut causes much confusion in my brain.

gut brainMost have no idea that our intestinal organisms, or microbiome, participates in a wide variety of bodily systems, including immunity, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, feelings of hunger or fullness, and how we utilize carbohydrates and fat. All of these processes factor into whether you experience chronic health problems like allergies, asthma, ADHD, cancer, type 2 diabetes, or dementia.

Your microbiome also affects your mood, your libido,  your perceptions of the world and especially your clarity of thought. A dysfunctional microbiome can be at the root of headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and even a negative outlook on life. Neurologists are now finding that no other system in the body is more sensitive to changes in gut bacteria than the central nervous system. The good news? They are now seeing dramatic turnarounds in brain-related conditions with simple dietary modifications or with techniques to reestablish a healthy microbiome.

Scientists are learning that this intimate relationship between the gut and the brain goes both ways, which means that just as your brain can send pain to your gut, your gut can relay its own state of calm or alarm to the brain.

vagus nerveThe vagus nerve, the longest of 12 cranial nerves, is the primary channel between millions of nerve cells in our intestinal nervous system and our central nervous system. The vagus extends from the brain stem to the abdomen, directing many bodily processes that don’t require thought, like heart rate and digestion. Bacteria in your gut directly affect the function of the cells along the vagus nerve, in other words, our gut’s nerve cells and microbes release neurotransmitters that speak to the brain in its own language.

We have so many neurons in our gut that many scientists are now calling this our “second brain.” This brain not only regulates muscle function, immune cells, but also manufactures an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the serotonin, our “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This means your gut’s brain makes more serotonin than the brain in your head.

This is why many neurologists and psychiatrists are now realizing why antidepressants can be less effective in treating depression than proper dietary changes.

To this I can only say Live and Learn! It’s funny how we don’t learn about these interesting bodily connections until we notice them in ourselves! Take care of your gut and it will take care of you.

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I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO/ James Baldwin

In response to our president’s “shit hole” remarks last week, and in respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, who died 50 years ago fighting for liberty and justice for all, I will re-post this piece I wrote last summer after viewing “I am not your negro” for the first time:

My thoughts on racism in the USA

I have been an advocate for world equality my entire life. I was raised to think of myself as a citizen of the world and a protector of the earth. I have extreme aversion to all forms of sexism, racism, ageism, and other means of judging others by their outside appearance. Please spend some time talking to me before you decide what I think about anything.

I am not your negro

But on the topic of racism in my country, I wish all Americans would watch the film: I am NOT your Negro, released this spring, and then we could have a national discussion of where we come from and where we hope to go.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.      James Baldwin

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project called “Remember This House.” The book was to be an honest and deeply personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of this manuscript. This film is a product of filmmaker Raoul Peck’s creative vision of the book James Baldwin never finished.

creativity and James Baldwin

For me, as a European-American raised in Kansas, and one who has followed the civil rights movement for decades, this film was a powerful eye-opener. So many may think they comprehend the black experience in the USA. If you think so, please watch this film. In my opinion, everyone can benefit from seeing this film. This is a powerful critique of racism, the kind that is found everywhere, and unconsciously continues to this day.

Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King knew that they would probably die at the hands of assassins, but this did not deter them from walking the talk everyday. And, as the film points out, not one of them lived to be 40 years old.

How many of you would risk your life for any cause? African-American leaders of every generation have not survived their generation.

And for those of you with the “I can’t get a hold of this film” excuse. I got a copy from a public library that serves a town of 800 residents. Interlibrary loan is alive and well nationally! It is also available through Amazon Prime and PBS on the show ‘Independent Lens.’

Jungle, a fascinating adventure film!

One way to evaluate the power of anything new to you, is to see how long it takes for it to leave your consciousness. I saw the film “Jungle” a few days ago. Now I feel the need to tell you about it.

Jungle the movie 2017

This is a true story that happened back in 1981, first made into a book in 2005. A young Israeli adventurer named Yossi Ghinsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe) travels to La Paz, Bolivia for a journey into the heart of the Amazon rainforest. He makes a few new friends who are also looking for adventure, and then meets a mysterious Austrian, Karl Ruchprecter, who claims he has great expertise in traveling this jungle and can take them all to see some lost Indian tribe. Yossi believes him, and convinces the others to join him on the trek of a lifetime.

Things go really well for a few days until one traveler injures his feet badly and cannot keep walking. Karl and the injured man decide to try and walk the three days back to La Paz. Yossi and his friend Kevin choose to continue their journey on a makeshift raft. After some great rafting footage, their raft is destroyed in a waterfall, and Yossi is washed away down the river, leaving Kevin far behind. Without a knife or any other kind of survival training, Yossi is forced to improvise shelter and forage to survive.

Daniel Radcliffe in Jungle

Yossi’s three weeks of wandering through the Amazon jungle are the meat of this film. This is the story of amazing survival, but so much more. I like the phrase “discovering the hero within you” to describe the powerful and primal battle Yossi fights inside and outside himself while living on almost nothing, with so many deadly insects, plants and animals. Yossi never gives up hope in spite of so many mistakes, missteps and fascinating hallucinations in this complex psychological thriller. The best part for me was the study of all the ways our mind will fight to protect us from reality, when reality is beyond comprehension. For a few days, Yossi develops a special relationship with a native girl he finds in the forest. Just as quickly as she appears, she vaporizes back into the mist. His dream sequences are also a total hoot!

Meanwhile Kevin is eventually discovered by people from a local town and he begins a campaign to go back into the forest to find Yossi. When flyovers fail, Kevin still believes his friend has somehow survived weeks in the jungle. Kevin bonds with a local boatman and they take off down the river in search of Yossi, finally finding him very nearly deceased, lying on a river bank.

There are so many great lines in this film. I think a few of my favorites came at the beginning when Karl, the Austrian great white hunter who thought he knew everything about jungle life, explains things to these young kids from the ‘civilized’ world. One of their greatest fears was of jaguar, so Karl explains to them: “jaguars love to eat monkey meat, and to them we are just big stupid monkeys.” We never do find out why Karl disappeared into the jungle, never to be heard from again.

Speaking Truth to Power

speak truth power

I feel inspired to speak my own truth after observing so many come forward in the past few months in the #MeToo movement. Hearing so many women’s stories, I feel fortunate to have only experienced a mild case of sexual harassment in my 62 years on this planet. It was a simple case of attempted date rape at age 27. I told him to disappear and never come back. He listened.

But I still find the way I was treated by Regis University Libraries when my boss fired me back in 2004, to be unfair and unwarranted. Believe me, when one female librarian stands up and protests to an all male administration at a Catholic University, from the head of Reference, to the head of the Library and the head of HR, nobody listens.

“Speaking our truth is the most powerful tool we have.”  – Oprah Winfrey

mean bossI was unfairly charged with being rude to one student at the Reference desk, her word against mine. That’s all it took. I had been in my position for almost 6 years with no training, no evaluations and no previous complaints against me. It looked to me like my new boss didn’t like my uppity attitude. This from a man who had lost previous positions for being a terrible head of reference. And sure enough, he lost his position at Regis too, but in the meantime, he had the power to fire me so he did, quickly hiring a friend of his to replace me.

As it turned out, my life improved dramatically after I lost that job, so on some level I need to say, “Thank you!” I got out of a dead end job with a bunch of dead beats, got out of librarianship entirely, moved on to professional writing, a marvelous new marriage and a comfortable and happy retirement.

Whenever I meet people like that boss, who treat others badly and seem truly miserable inside I think:  Being them is punishment enough!

Ask the Expert: Mistakes in Dating after 40

Love imageOn the anniversary of when I first met Mike thirteen years ago, it seems we are celebrating the  “Super Bowl Sunday for Love.” Yes, according to  Match.com, after collecting over 20 years of data, tomorrow will bring a 42 percent increase in new singles to their site, thus maximizing your chances to find love again.

How to Believe in Love Again!I’ll bet you didn’t know that around half of single Americans have an online dating profile up somewhere. But for me, this brings up the biggest mistake most make when it comes to looking for and finding love later in life. If you have not dealt with your baggage from past relationships, if you have simply moved on after past romantic disasters, your luck at love will never change. Yes, you may find another victim to fall in love with. It may even feel wonderful for a year or two, but if deep inside you are filled with shame and doubt about yourself, no one else can decide to fix that but you.

If nothing changes within you from one relationship to another, than the results will be similar… and you know you don’t want that!

And if you are one of the millions who say, “Yeah, but people can’t change,” than I feel sorry for you. Because if you believe that, than it is true. One well-kept secret in our world today is that midlife is the perfect time to change your life. And when I say life, I mean everything about it!

No matter how miserable you may feel about your life up until now, if you are perfectly clear about wanting something completely different and are willing to commit to that goal, your life will change.

And in that process you will find the life you were meant to live, just as I did around age 50. If anyone had said to me, when I was in the worst of midlife slumps back in 2004: “Your life will change and in thirteen years you will be happily married, retired and living in a fantastic solar home in rural southern Colorado!” I probably would have slapped them and said “Get real!”

Believe in love in the sandsBut I have learned how to get past all the exterior nonsense and focus like a laser on what means the most to me in each moment of my life. I saw that I needed to find a way to believe I was worthy of genuine, lifelong love from a wonderful human being, and then I met him. Then I saw that I was worthy of a safe, comfortable, efficient place to live, and Mike and I manifested that dream recently.

My frustration is in how few people believe and achieve their most important life goals because they do not realize this is all within reach. When I discovered how much I could personally change myself and my fate, I wanted to share this knowledge with others, but most ignore me.

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Knowing and speaking our truth is the most powerful tool we all have!

It’s a brand new year and day! These books will help you think about the rest of your life. I would be happy to sell them to you as cheaply as I can, to prepare you for a much better existence. Find the love you have been searching for forever and the life you can love living.

At least get the last few decades of your life right…

 

Passive Solar Heating: The Basics

It has become abundantly clear, from your many comments, that most do not understand what passive solar heating means. Passive solar means there are no solar panels or any electricity involved in the creation and retention of heat within a building. The heat is created only by passive means of collecting energy from the sun and then retention of that heat by the physical structure of the home.

How is this done?

beginning to build on the slab comanche drive

Number 1: The positioning of the structure is essential. Mike made certain that our home was positioned facing directly south, with a whole wall of the correct type of glass doors and windows. In our case that included incredible views of the Spanish Peaks! You need full sun exposure on that side of the house. No trees, buildings, or other obstructions.

Number 2: In a passive solar home, the slab of concrete the home is placed on must be the heat-sink type and FULLY insulated from the earth. If it is not, the heat will come into the home during the day, sink into the foundation, and leak out of the slab, leaving the home cold at night when heat is most needed.

slab and framing of comanche drive

Number 3: Excellent insulation in the walls and ceiling of the home are essential. Holding the heat in once it enters the home is the only way it can remain warm when it is zero degrees outside. The home must be close to air-tight with quality doors and windows. Your floor must also be some sort of dark tile to help absorb more heat during the day.

new windows with Mike and Lee in photo

A view of the south-facing wall during construction

Number 4: Although the sun will be directly overhead in summer, proper overhangs on the south side of the home are essential to keep the sun from coming into the home too early in the fall. Mike also positioned our south-side overhang so that they are the correct size and angle to add solar panels later if needed.

Our home has very few windows on the north side, but a few on the east and west ends to absorb the morning and evening sun. We absorb solar heat most days in the winter, store it in our slab and it returns to keep us warm at night. Sometimes in mid-winter, we need to open a window at the warmest part of the day to cool off a bit!

clouds over Spanish Peaks summer

The view from our new PASSIVE SOLAR home!

So far in southern Colorado we have never fallen below 60 degrees at night no matter how cold it is outside. We supplement our solar heat with small room electric heaters. No furnace or propane needed. Ceiling fans help to distribute the heat.

Last January, when we lost electricity for three days because of a BAD ice storm, we stayed warm. With this system, we are able to average $100/month for all power to our home. A couple other unexpected benefits? Our home stays cool in the summer with its positioning to the sun and so much ceiling insulation, and it is so quiet inside all the time with no furnace turning on and off in winter!

The funniest part was learning that I didn’t need to turn down the thermostat when I left the house… the heat just keeps on coming in!