Morning views from the neighborhood

Sunrise filtered through the branches of an Ironwood tree.
Sunrise view from the casita.

It takes a trip out of state to an entirely different environment for me to appreciate the beauty of my desert. I get used to it and lose some appreciation, but a trip away wakes up my senses. As I walked this morning around our neighborhood I was struck by the views of cactus, mountains and shrubbery. I like it out here. I’d like to see more some wildlife, too.

Mountain north of Scottsdale.
The mountain to the north. I think it’s called Black Mountain. I’m working on learning the names.
teddy bear cholla.
Teddy bear cholla with the sun peaking through clouds.
Cloudy sky in the desert.
Clouds. We should have an amazing sunset tonight.
saguaro with arms
A neighbor’s saguaro. We have lots of saguaro but only one has an arm.
A wash in the Sonoran Desert.
One of the things I love best about our neighborhood is all the open natural space.

What are some of the things you like best about where you live?

What’s the antithesis of placebo?

swimming pool in Palm Springs
Palm Springs pool where I thought I needed a fitbit to keep track of my laps. Reality check — I can count higher than the number of laps I can swim.

My fitbit died a sudden death in Sept. 2021. From tracking my every step and swim stroke it went dark. My first instinct was to order another one online and strap it back into my life ASAP. Then an idea hit me. I decided to try an experiment. I’d go one week without it.

I wrote about the first week HERE.

My daughter sent me an article this morning called “Beware That Nocebo Strapped to Your Wrist” by Tim Culpan from Bloomberg.com. It’s premise is this: “Fitness gadgets are supposed to improve your health, but often end up making you feel worse.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Most people are familiar with the concept of a placebo, where merely providing positive information can improve perception of well-being. Yet the opposite also occurs, with negative data making people feel worse about their own health.

That’s a nocebo — Latin for “I shall harm” as opposed to “I shall please” for placebo. And there’s a good chance you have a nocebo strapped to your wrist.

A wave of health-tech gadgets — from fitness trackers to Apple Inc.’s Watch — means hundreds of millions of people are hooked up to real-time feedback devices. They’re designed to measure your steps, encourage you to exercise more, and give daily updates on your mental and physical health. Apple wants you to “close your rings” — the three colorful circles the Watch uses to monitor your progress — and Garmin Ltd. helpfully tells you when your health is “excellent.”

They make for popular gifts and are bound to be stocking-stuffers this year. Various models of the Apple Watch occupied four of the top 10 most popular items in November’s Black Friday sales, according to Business Insider.

But there’s also good reason to think twice about whether you, or a loved one, will truly benefit from 24-7 monitoring, arbitrary goals served up by an algorithm, and regular notifications telling you that you’re stressed, tired, fit, or simply “unproductive.” 

In fact, research on the nocebo effect — first conceptualized in 1961 — has shown that perceptions of pain can increase with shifts in information and detail. Patients with suspected concussions have shown poorer neurocognitive performance when their history of traumatic injury is called to attention. Concentration falters when unpleasant data is provided. Sometimes, even a change in the color of a specific signal associated with health can trigger discomfort.

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-12-15/wrist-size-fitness-gadgets-make-for-great-gifts-but-beware-of-the-nocebo-effect

It’s been a little less than four months since the nocebo left my wrist. I no longer wake up to immediately check my fitbit. I’d check to see if I had a good night’s sleep or not. If it told me I had a bad night’s sleep, it changed my outlook for the entire day. I felt tired, cranky, and I didn’t know how I’d get through the day. Say good-bye to getting into my creative space. I was becoming a slave to the nocebo.

I haven’t replaced it. I don’t need it. I know if I’ve gotten enough steps from years of walking 10,000 steps or more each day. I know if I had a good night’s sleep or not. AND as for swimming laps, I count higher than the number of laps I can swim. It’s not too much to keep track of laps in my head. Maybe even good for the old brain power.

What type of device do use to keep track of your health, steps and sleep? Or do you use one at all? I hear people say the Apple Watch has all sorts of other benefits, but I can’t figure out if I need another device to alert me about calls, texts, and emails with a laptop and cellphone at my side? What are your thoughts? What are the benefits that you like the most?

About the “right way to drink coffee…”

This is a wreath I made several years ago for our Palm Springs home. I found a spot for it on our gate in Arizona. The wreath has nothing to do with this story, but I found it in the garage and we hung it yesterday.

I read about the correct way to drink coffee in the Wall Street Journal and wrote about it HERE. That was a little over two weeks ago and I’ve followed the plan wondering if I could tell the difference or not. I’m surprised to report that it REALLY works for me! Who knew?

I feel better, I’m more alert. I have lost that groggy feeling I’d have when I needed coffee to get out of bed. The trick is that you don’t drink coffee right away, but wait 60 to 90 minutes to allow your body to naturally wake up. Cortisol is the hormone that tells your body to be awake and responsive. Having coffee right away interferes with the natural process.

Instead of my husband bringing me a cup of coffee and placing it on my nightstand — which he has done for the past 36 years — he has converted to bringing me hot water with one quarter of a lemon. The hot lemon water has its own benefits, smells wonderful and is cleansing.

I don’t have my cup of coffee until after I’ve written my morning pages. I’ve adopted my morning routine by following “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Then I do daily Bible readings, get out of bed and get ready to walk. I’m fully awake and ready to go — and sometimes I forget to have coffee altogether when I return.

I was very skeptical about this and surprised how this small change makes me feel better and more productive.

If you’re a coffee-first-thing-in the-morning person, give this a try. I’d like to hear if it had the same positive effect for you, too. Will you be willing to give it a try?

This was the wreath on our Palm Springs gate.

Looking back to DAY ONE of Shelter in Place

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Views from my old neighborhood park.

Yesterday I went to my first NFL football game. Since I’ve learned you cannot bring a purse into a game unless it’s clear plastic, I decided to wear leggings with deep pockets for what I believed were my essentials: my cell phone with the digital ticket, my driver’s license, my vaccination card, a debit card and an N-95 mask.

I was surprised to find out that I didn’t need anything but the digital ticket. I saw only two people wearing masks in our section. Maybe in other areas of the stadium it was different? Walking in from the parking lot, I saw nobody wearing a mask. I ended up using my mask as a napkin, because my husband bought us hot dogs and fries and of course forgot napkins.

It was exciting to watch live football, but it was also overwhelming to be in a crowd. I haven’t been in one since it seems a lifetime — but in reality it was pre COVID. I was exhausted by the time we got home — but also thrilled to have the experience. What a contrast to March 2020 — plus the stark difference between Arizona and California, where I lived in 2020. I decided to look back on what I was feeling when we first found out about COVID and sheltered in place to flatten the curve.

Cardinals vs. Panthers football game.
View from my seat at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Here’s a look back on my post about DAY ONE of the three-week shut-down to flatten the curve:

I was pretty shaken up yesterday, but I’m pleased to report that I’m doing better today. I got my full walk around the park and neighborhood before the rain started. I saw a favorite neighbor and we chatted while standing six feet apart. He said, “We’ll get through this.”

I was assigned a couple magazine stories by an editor and I think that helped me the most. I have a tight deadline and had to get busy. That kept me from turning on the news, watching the DOW, and reading all the headlines on the web rather than writing.

Life is pretty much the same for me as it is most days. I walk and then work from home. It’s nice to know my daughter is in the guest room working from home, too, right down the hall. My son is in the Bay Area and he’s under the same orders to shelter in place but they started before us. He’s calling everyday to let me know he’s okay. I really appreciate that.

We will get through this. We have so many uncertainties ahead of us. That’s what gets me anxious. I try to think through all the possibilities of what COULD happen and it gets me scared. It’s much better to stay busy at home while we are “sheltering in place.”

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This cutie pie came home with my daughter. He and the cat are practicing social distancing.

What are your memories about the first day of shelter in place? How did you prepare, who were you with and did you think it would go on longer than three weeks?

Life in the desert

The nature preserve across the street with 130 miles of trails

Here are a few photos from my morning walks this week. The weather is so much cooler. We went from too hot to walk to 48 degrees in the mornings. Unfortunately, my pool is too cold to use now. I was enjoying it until a week ago. I asked the pool man how to turn on the heater. He looked and couldn’t find a pool heater. Oh well. We didn’t heat our pool in Palm Springs, either, but we lived one mile from the city pool. I need to get in the car and drive 30 minutes to a pool to swim laps here. I’m spoiled and it’s tough to get motivated to drive that far to swim.

yucca flower stalk
This is the stalk of a yucca in a neighbor’s yard. It once had gorgeous flowers
Did you know that yuccas are in the lily family?
yucca plant
I thought this was another yucca. But after some research I think it’s called a sotol.
skeleton of saguaro
This is a skeleton of a saguaro cactus. Indians used them for building structures and tools.
 Silhouette of saguaro
A  silhouette of a saguaro cactus in the morning sun.

I mentioned that I was interviewed for a survey of American Families recently by writer Jennifer Graham. Here are links to two articles where I have a quote. Click on the headlines to read:

What worries families the most in 2021

Only about 1 in 10 Democrats worry about cultural issues, but there’s widespread concern about the costs of having a family By Jennifer Graham@grahamtoday  Oct 12, 2021, 12:01am MDT

Did the pandemic restore our faith in government?

Trust in institutions has been declining for years, but Americans generally give them high marks for their response to COVID-19 By Jennifer Graham@grahamtoday  Oct 12, 2021, 12:01am MDT

What do you think are some of the biggest problems facing families in 2021?

I answered: the cost to raise a family, too much social media and screen times leading to depression and anxiety — and political divides within families.

About those to do lists….

cloudy desert sky
View from my morning walk. We had clouds, then thunder, lightening and rain yesterday.

I make myself a list each day of what I need to get done. It includes my writing tasks, bill paying, laundry — whatever is on my plate. Why do I list things like grocery shopping and laundry? Because it’s satisfying to cross items off the list with my red pen. I feel like I accomplished something when I get through my list with every single thing completed.

But last week and this week one glaring item stares back at me without a single red line through it. I must be avoiding it. Or to be honest, I feel stuck. So, I put it on the next day’s list where it then floats over to the following day.

I’m not exactly procrastinating. It’s more like I don’t know what to do. I decided to try NaNoWriMo this year.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.

https://nanowrimo.org/what-is-nanowrimo

I’ve heard about it for years. I have writer friends who have done it. I never have before. I’m working on NaNo Prep 101 so I can start November off and running and write 50,000 words. On my to do list is NaNo Prep. Each day. But I haven’t gotten through the task at hand.

I’m going to try a new strategy. I’m moving NaNo prep to the top of my list. Where I can’t avoid it. Also, I think if I tackle it earlier in the day, tiredness and a lack of motivation won’t take over. Maybe I’ll get it done when my energy is better. It takes energy to make decisions about what to write about and to develop characters. I have an inkling of what I want, but then I second guess myself and chicken out.

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? If so, how did it go? Have you written a novel? What did you find to be the easiest and hardest parts?

Life goes on… fitbit or not

Sunset in the Sonoran Desert.
Sunset view in our neighborhood the other night.

It’s been over a week without checking my steps and sleep on my fitbit. It went kaput and I wrote about that HERE. How have I survived? Well, the only complaint I have has nothing to do with fitness tracking, but the lack of toilet paper in the grocery store.

In fact, things are better than alright. When I’m on my morning walks or after a night’s sleep, I don’t focus on the device tracking my every move. I know if I slept well or not. I feel I’m more in touch with how I feel physically rather than being dependent on an arbitrary number. I don’t need to know how many steps I take each day. I get plenty. Although my husband still wants to compete. He’ll interrupt my writing to tell me how many steps he has. I look back at him with a blank stare.

Although the fitbit has it’s advantages, I’m not in a rush to get a new one. I feel I’m more in the moment watching the sunset, enjoying my wildlife, swimming, walking. I’m more focused on my surroundings. I also don’t need to know what time it is every few minutes.

I wonder If I’d feel even better if I point down the iphone? Not checking on electronics has its benefits.

We had javelinas at sunset at our front door!

Have you ever taken a break from your devices? How did it go?

How long do you think you’d last without a fitness tracker or a smart phone?