Category Archives: Reflections

Putting Down Roots

I’ll confess. I’ve been feeling rather rootless for a time now.

Going on 2 years ago, my husband and I experienced the glowing embers of realization that our life in Beaverton needed to change. We’re getting on in age, and a 2-story, 5-bedroom house with a big yard didn’t make sense for the next chapter in our lives. So, we started exploring possibilities throughout the Pacific Northwest. While we didn’t reach any conclusions, we elected to sell our home in a favorable market last summer. We downsized big time and found a lovely townhouse to rent while we sorted things out.

For a time, I thought we could just chill out here until the clouds parted and a blinding ray of light illuminated the path forward. I kept doing bits of research here and there all the while mulling over our life circumstances. Far from receiving a grand gesture from the heavens above, things just seemed to get murkier the longer I sat with the decision process. It got me to thinking: What is it about buying a home that makes me feel so anxious and (dare I say) indecisive?

The obvious: A home represents the largest single investment in our portfolio… and a somewhat illiquid one at that. We don’t make these decisions often, and I want to make sure we make the right one. (My husband stresses about it far less than I do!) But it’s a bit more than that. Buying a home makes a strong statement about our lives. It says: Here’s where we stand. Here’s the community to which we belong. These are our people. Here’s where we’ll set down roots. And at our age – with the prospect of becoming more dependent on others in the coming years – those statements carry added weight.

Also obvious: Having lived in the same place for 15+ years, we have networks of connections that sustain us and would be effortful to rebuild – e.g., friends, social outlets (e.g., master gardening, choral groups, square dancing clubs, theater groups), doctors, dentist, hairdressers, et al. While I’ve built these relationships before and could do it again, medical care turns out to be a sticky wicket. With a nationwide physician shortage, it’s hard to get care as a new patient, and we may or may not wind up with folks we like. We’re pleased with our current care team, and we’re covered so long as we stay with them. Given the breath of our needs, that’s a major decision factor.

A couple of weeks ago, our realtor and dear friend suggested we dip our toes in the waters of three new construction subdivisions that are within a few miles of our old homestead. We had nothing better to do and always enjoy her company. So, off we went for a look-see. Wonder of wonders, we wound up making an offer on a not-quite-perfect-but-close-enough single-story home within a mile-ish of a shopping center, medical center, and fantastic gym. Having signed a gaggle of papers and made selection for interior finishes, we’ll likely move around the time that our lease ends. Whew!

I had a moment while processing this turn of events and very nearly took a walk from the deal. But when I looked at the decision logically and saw how much my husband was looking forward to living there, I settled right down. I knew it was the right choice at the right time. And now that we’ve sorted out the financing side of things, we just need to cool our jets for 3-4 months while they finish building the house.

I’ve already started thinking about the ways in which I can make our home a place for social gatherings. For the first time in our marriage, we’ll reap the benefits of having a great room that will accommodate goodly-sized crowds and a large kitchen island around which food preparation and consumption will go hand-in-hand with lively conversation. And given that I’ll be within a few miles of my choral group’s rehearsal space, I’d like to reinstitute pre-rehearsal dinners for folks who’d like to socialize before we sing. We used to do that pre-COVID when I sang with ISing Choir, and I loved camaraderie forged at meal time while watching The Great British Baking Show.

For now, life has afforded me the opportunity to exercise one of my least favorite “muscles”… patience!

Missing Out at Rush Hour

morning commute

In early 2007, the Washington Post conducted a little experiment in collaboration with virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. They wanted to see how ordinary people would respond to one of the world’s finest classical musicians when encountering his artistry unexpectedly during the morning rush hour. Would exquisite beauty give people pause during the busy-ness of life?

On Friday, January 12th, 2007 at 7:51am, Bell donned street clothes, went to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington DC, took out his Stradivarius, and put some seed money in the open case. He then commenced to deliver a 47-minute concert of six glorious pieces for solo violin.

Three days before appearing at the Metro Station, Bell filled Boston’s Symphony Hall with patrons shelling out $100 each on average to hear him play. Two weeks later, standing room only crowds in North Bethesda, MD were so enraptured by his artistry that they dare not cough for fear of disrupting the experience. But on that Friday, Bell presented himself as just another street musician trying to make a buck.

So, how did he do?

Of nearly 1,100 people who passed him by on their way to work, only seven stopped to listen for a minute or more. A mere 27 people opted to give him money. His total haul: $32.17.

Despite my great love for classical music, I would have counted myself among the throngs of humanity in a great big hurry to get on with my commute and the day ahead. I doubt that I would even have stopped to toss a coin in the case. If I’d opened myself to the music at all, I’d likely have considered myself lucky to have pursued a career in business instead of the performing arts. After all, if a guy that good had to make his living in a subway station, what chance would I have had?!

While that story was brought to my attention several weeks ago, I still find myself in a great big hurry to get somewhere. My penchant for getting things done and checking items off my “to do” leaves me with a kind of tunnel vision that prevents me from taking in the small wonders of life.

As a case in point, my husband and I reside in a townhouse for which we have no yard for the dog. His calls of nature launch a negotiation between us as to who’ll suit up and take him out. When it’s my turn, I generally try to get through it as quickly as possible. My “hurry up” attitude generally flies in the face of an excitable Scottie who’s all about enjoying the moment and exploring the sights and smells of the neighborhood.

A snowpocalypse arrived in the Portland Metro Area last weekend, plunging temperatures into the teens and far lower with wind chill. On the blustery walks, I had an understandable desire to get back in the house as quickly as possible. Even my dog got on board with that! But during the final walk Saturday night, I had a transcendent moment. The snow-covered streets and sidewalks reflected the light from the street lamps, making the whole area glow. No one else was out and about; no cars were on the move. The opening lines of Silent Night filled my head: “Silent Night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.” That ordinary moment was peaceful and joyful and breathtaking.

I doubt that single moment will break me of the habit of rushing when life does not demand it of me. But I will make every effort going forward to slow down and take in my surroundings… perhaps even pause to listen to the birds sing and catch a whiff of the clean, fresh air.

A Sense of Community

I was lucky growing up. I lived in the same town and completed my K-12 journey with the same kids who started out with me. I took advantage of a wide array of extra-curricular activities. I walked, bicycled, drove, and even rode horseback from one end of town to the other. I knew it like the back of my hand. Two grandmothers, two uncles, and an aunt were on hand to share in family celebrations. I belonged.

Of course, things changed when I went off to college. My hometown became a place that I visited; my life was on campus. By the time I returned to my old haunts, the once-strong relationships had waned, my parents had moved, and the remaining family members had either passed on or moved out of the area. The workplace with its long hours and substantive travel requirements became my life’s primary anchor.

I made an effort to connect to community when relocating to North Carolina by joining a church, a women’s organization, and (for a time) a community choir. Yet work and a second round of graduate school continued to impinge on my community building efforts. But for a glorious experience with Special Olympics World Sumer Games, I didn’t recapture the experience of belonging that I’d had in my youth.

Our move to the Pacific Northwest 15 years ago provided the opportunity to craft a new relationship with the place I lived. I established a Portland Metro Area consultancy (with minimal travel!), joined the Chamber of Commerce, signed on for Leadership Beaverton, and attended the Beaverton Citizen’s Police Academy. (It was fascinating!) The area’s agrarian sensibilities led to training as a Master Gardener, regular patronage of the Beaverton Farmer’s Market, and subscriptions to Community Supported Agriculture. I also joined ISing Choir and reveled in making choral music and great friendships while supporting local charities. (ISing has raised over $400,000 to date!) Those efforts paid dividends. I’ve loved living in this community.

As we’ve gotten on in years, we’ve felt the tug to relocate in close proximity to our extended family. We’ve looked somewhat seriously at housing options out of state but opted to stay in the Portland area (at least for the moment) once we sold our home. We currently reside in a rented suburban townhome that’s walking distance from a shopping “village” that provides for all of life’s necessities in addition to a library annex, restaurants, medical services, and full-service gym. The “village” even supports a handful of social events to bring the neighborhood together. It’s lovely, and I enjoy the feeling of being in a small town within the context of a large metropolitan area.

I’ve been reflecting on Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book Together in which he chronicles the deleterious impact of loneliness. He reminds us that human beings are wired for connection; it is our key to survival. We thrive when our orbits regularly include connect with:

  • Intimate partners (i.e., family members and close friends)
  • Relational allies (i.e., our core social group)
  • Collective affiliations (i.e., people with who we share interests and values)

I enjoy a bounty in all three domains. As such, I am understandably reluctant to move out of an area in which I’ve worked hard to forge a sense of place and the social networks that go with it. But, here’s the rub: Things change whether we like it or not. People in close connection move, pass away, or reorient their priorities in response to their changing landscapes. (I just spent the weekend bidding farewell to a close friend who is moving out of state for her dream job.) Organizations that were once cohesive lose key elements of their connective tissue. Changes in physical, cognitive, or emotional capacities influence the activities and relationships that can be pursued.

I’d love to be once-and-done with crafting a sense of community, but that’s not how things work. I’m grateful for the relationships that have stood the test of time and the array of community-based organizations of which I am a part. I’m also grateful for the opportunities to keep in touch with folks who don’t live in close proximity through Zoom, social media, email, and texts. I’ve even availed myself of these technologies to re-establish ties to folks with whom I’d lost touch. But I also realize that community-building never stops. It requires sustained effort, continuous renewal, and perhaps the spirit of adventure to remain vibrant.

I’m up for the challenge. I’m too social not to be. And my health and well-being depend on it.

Take a Self-Compassion Break

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

– Excerpt from The Rainy Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My life has had its share of ups and downs. While I consider myself to be richly blessed, I’ve faced a few challenges in recent years.

I provided oversight of my parents’ care during their final years of life. Dad was plagued with physical infirmity as well as geriatric dementia. Mom developed full blown Alzheimer’s disease. It was difficult to bear witness to their gradual deterioration and taxing to manage their care. Dad sustained relatively good cheer to the end; Mom had a rough go of it. Through it all, my husband and I endeavored to provide loving support and address needs as they arose. We stopped traveling to make sure we were there for them.

Just when that chapter of our lives reached its conclusion, COVID happened. Our plans for a recreational respite went on the shelf. I was disappointed, but we found ways to entertain ourselves within the confines of our home. Yet as the country started opening back up, it was our household’s turn to get in on the healthcare action. Some things have been resolved; others remain vexing. And again, our travel plans have gone up in smoke.

having a hard timeI wish that I could report that I’ve taken life’s set-backs in stride and sustained a cheerful attitude. While I strive for a positive attitude no matter what life throws at me, I’ve managed to throw myself some decent pity parties. I lament the fact that our “golden years” aren’t as golden as I thought they’d be. Then I chastise myself for complaining when I have so many things for which I am truly grateful. But here’s the rub: Life throws curve balls at you, and things can be legitimately unpleasant. What do you do with all the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth? My attempts at stuffing those feelings haven’t worked. They just pop up again!

I shared this dilemma with a friend in my mindfulness meditation cohort. He said: “Why don’t you try self-compassion?” Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?!?

Self-compassion acknowledges that life entails suffering and creates an opening for sympathetic concern. It neither rails against suffering nor diminishes its painful impact. It simply invites lovingkindness in its wake.

Here’s a self-compassion break to help process those troublesome sensibilities:

  • Stop and notice the upset. Name the emotions, explore how they show up in the body, and see what stories might be surfacing around them.
  • Remember that everyone suffers. “Into each life some rain must fall.” We are not alone.
  • Ask: What do I need to be kind to myself in this moment? Time permitting, I could go for a walk, listen to wonderful music, take a luxurious bath, share some quality time with a friend. Or, I could simply repeat one or more of the following phrases in silent meditation: May I be strong. May I face this circumstance with equanimity. May I find love in myself and others… While I’m generally not big on affirmations, I’m surprised at how effective they can be to soothe an aching heart.

Time to Read

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison, 17th Century English writer

I joined the ranks of avid readers several years ago. This decision was driven in part by a thirst for knowledge to improve my ability to enjoy my senior years in good physical, cognitive, and mental health. I’ve been bowled over by the wealth of accessible, evidence-based materials to satisfy this thirst! It was also motivated by a quest for engaging entertainment that would prevent overindulgence in streaming video and settle my mind in the hours before bedtime.

The public library system has proven to be a magnificent resource for my reading habit. With on-line access to the Washington County Cooperative Library Services, I can order a book, CD, or movie from any of the participating local libraries and have it delivered to my home library. I can also borrow eBooks and audiobooks using my electronic devices. I can put books on hold and wait for their arrival (and even pause receipt if I’m not quite ready). And the app lets me keep track of books I might like to read.

Having declared my interest in reading, I’ve gotten lots of recommendations from fellow readers on what to read. They introduce me to material I might not have found on my own. And, of course, we get to talk about books once I’ve finished reading them. I’m especially pleased when I find book series that I enjoy as it makes it easy to figure out what to put on hold at the library!

My uptick in reading flies in the face of Gallup research that suggests Americans’ reading habits are on the decline.

average books read per year declining

I’m not surprised. As noted in a prior post, Americans watch a smidge over four hours of television per day and log another six hours on the Internet via computers, notebooks, SmartPhones, and tablets. That’s a lot of screen time! It’s easy to fall into the trap of staring mindlessly at the boob tube when streaming services automatically play successive episodes (or suggest other shows and movies). Internet content proves likewise addictive… by design. But at the end of the day, it’s not all that stimulating. Many of us are checking multiple devices concurrently to avert boredom with regular breaks to prepare snacks. Not so good for physical, cognitive, or mental health!

By contrast, when I settle in with a good book, I’m completely engrossed in the narrative. I picture all the characters in my mind’s eye and see all the scenes where the action is taking place. I can’t wait to read what comes next. I enjoy entering the characters’ inner dialog to see what they’re thinking and discern what drives them. There’s a richness there that you just can’t get on film. And, of course, I just love great writing.

Research affirms several tangible benefits of reading:

  • Fiction readers demonstrate a superior ability to process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations. Neuroscientists theorize that this proficiency relates to the fact that reading fiction and social cognition both recruit the brain’s default network, a neuro structure that supports our ability to simulate hypothetical scenes, spaces, and mental states.1
  • Reading fiction correlates positively social ability; non-fiction readers d not enjoy a similar boost.2
  • Reading promotes vocabulary development.3
  • Reading, yoga, and humor all have salutary effects on stress.4
  • Bibliotherapy has proven effective in managing depression.5
  • People who read books tend to live longer.6
  • Reading is associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline in older adults.7

With all these benefits close at hand, isn’t it time to pick up a good book?



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Creativity, Community, and Joy

Last Saturday night, the Oregon Chorale hosted a fundraiser featuring a diverse collective of tunes from musical theater. The 80-voice group performed 4 numbers, and the balance of the program featured soloes, duets, and small group acts assembled by members of the Chorale. I was privileged to participate in one group act and lead another (Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act). We put on a great show and raised a bunch of money. Yay team!

I’ve written previously about the benefits of choral singing for mental health, community building, adaptability, resilience, and more. But these treasures are not without its costs. One must commit to attending rehearsals, working on parts outside of practice, and being a good team player in the run up to and during performance. (I really have to draw on my reserves of team spirit during lengthy tech rehearsals!) Even though all aspects of music making can be fun and rewarding, it’s still effortful to do them.

Leadership brings additional challenges. One must visualize the end product, organize the material, recruit singers, schedule practice time, and provide inspiration to help singers bring their “A games.” It can be frustrating when attendance proves spotty and/or rehearsal time must be negotiated with other groups. On the other hand, it’s incredibly energizing when group members lend their creativity to the effort and bring that extra spark of enthusiasm that makes the performance really pop.

I very nearly passed on the opportunity to lead the women’s ensemble. I’d been consumed with putting our house up for sale, downsizing (big time!), finding a new place to live, and moving. I felt overwhelmed by life and thought that I just couldn’t add one more responsibility to the mix. But I changed my tune during the inaugural rehearsal. The project had been my brain child, I knew had the wherewithal to pull it off, and, at the end of the day, it brings me joy.

At the start of our rehearsals, I only knew a few of the folks who signed up for the group number. Things came together musically rather quickly. As we started to have fun with the material, we transformed from a random group of singers to a tight little community. Casual acquaintances became friends. And with a successful performance behind us, we have a shared memory that will sustain the bonds we formed. A real blessing!

The show also helped me go from being a “new kid on the block” to someone who feels like a solid member of the group. A similar dynamic took place in my former group. Small group interactions really do build connective tissue that makes the whole organization hang more tightly together. I must have forgotten that lesson when hesitating to leap into the fray.

I know, I know. I just finished writing a piece about my tendency to be the “girl who can’t say no” when taking on organizational responsibilities. But setting and sustaining boundaries must consider what makes me feel creative, alive, joyful, and connected. I need to make sure I have plenty of that amidst all the other things on my “to do” list and start weeding out elective activities that don’t measure up.

Let Go

fall leaves

“Autumn teaches us the beauty of letting go. Growth requires release – it’s what the trees do.” – Ka’ala, native Hawaiian author

A dear friend shared a blog post the other day about distraction. It caught her attention in the wake of a missed appointment due to the competing demands of another engagement. Those of us who read the post could so relate! I haven’t missed appointments, but I’ve developed a pattern of leaving things behind after meetings rather than collecting everything up in my tote bag. Mercifully, my colleagues have had my back, and nothing has been lost. But I can’t help but wonder: What’s up with that?

The author put forth a clear remedy for this form of distraction: Slow down and lighten up your load! Autumn seems like an especially auspicious time to do just that.

The past week has seen a dramatic drop in temperature in my neck of the woods. The trees have taken notice. The green leaves are turning to vibrant Fall colors with the first of them starting to drop to the ground. They’re lowering their demands for energy in anticipation of weathering the colder, darker days of late Fall and Winter.

With nature’s clear reminder of changing times, it’ s odd (and frustrating) that I have such difficulty getting the message. I revel in taking advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves – especially if there is a strong social component to them. And when it comes to volunteering my time for the good of the organizations in which I hold membership, I have leaned toward being “the girl who can’t say no” (as my mother was wont to remind me). I leap into the fray when I see a need and have the skills and experience to do something about it. I then wonder why I’m habitually tired and stretched thin.

It’s time to take a step back and rethink my commitments and priorities. Like the trees, I need to consider my available energy and see how many commitments I can reasonably sustain during this period of my life. That process will inevitably mean that some activities I’d love to hold dear must be let go while I find a healthy equilibrium. I will remind myself that such decisions do not mean that I won’t participate actively in my community. It simply means reining in my involvement to a reasonable level.

The second half of the tree analogy considers the new growth opportunities once the light of day is allowed to shine through. I’ve clearly given short shrift to some educational and personal development opportunities in favor of my external commitments. One wonders what new insights might arise if I step back and allow for that work to percolate and insinuate itself more deeply in my life.

Maybe this old dog might learn new tricks this autumn.

Cybersecurity and the Avalanche of Logins

We received a letter yesterday notifying us of a breach in cybersecurity at a financial institution with which we do business. While our assets are intact, the thieves secured our names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and account numbers. Apparently, this institution was one of many effected by a defect in the security application they use. Oh, joy!

I covered the topic several years ago in a post entitled How to Protect Against Cybercrime. All the advice I offered still holds true. In sum: Use cybersecurity protection on all your electronic devices. Be fastidious with password management and use two-factor authentication on consequential accounts. Manage email with care. Never provide personal information to unknown parties. Check credit reports periodically and/or put a freeze on them. Minimize accounts that store your credit card information. Reconcile individual credit card slips against the monthly bill. Of course, this good advice does come at a cost.

log inWhile preparing for relocation and (finally) getting rid of our landline, I realize what a royal pain it is to have so many login credentials. The sad reality is that businesses like to interact with their consumers via on-line accounts, so it’s easy to rack up a gaggle of them. At last count, our household laid claim to 150+ login credentials. While I instituted nasty long passwords on the ones we rarely use (and can’t delete!), I still included them in a blanket review to make sure all of our accounts contain up-to-date contact information. So, I spent the weekend slogging through the accounts to make the necessary changes. It is a really tedious exercise that still remains only partially complete. Ugh!

Many sites actively push two-factor authentication – i.e., they place a phone call or send a text to your designated number to make sure that it’s really you trying to gain access to the account. It might seem like a no-brainer to add this feature to all your accounts. A few words of caution:

  • One institution uses an authentication application that is separate from its database to perform that security check. When we updated the phone number in the institution’s database, it did not update the number in the authentication application. If we hadn’t logged back into that account for a subsequent update, we would not have discovered that little quirk. We’d have been locked out of the account upon cancelling the landline.
  • A close friend beefed up her cybersecurity protection on one of her social media accounts and then forgot how to use it. Multiple attempts to gain support from the service provider have proven unsuccessful. Apparently, they aren’t interested in helping subscribers who enjoy their service for free. She is effectively locked out of her account and all of the groups that she once managed.

I’m still a fan of complex passwords with or without two-factor authentication. Highly consequential accounts (e.g., financial institutions, social security, medical records) call for changing those passwords periodically.

I will continue to resist adding login credentials to my ridiculously long list of access codes. Where possible, I’ll refrain from sharing my address on the ones I can’t avoid and make a notation in my records that such accounts don’t need to be updated with a move. On inconsequential accounts, I’ll let credentials for another app provide access so I’ll have one less UserID/Password combo to track.

Politics and Healthcare

Several years ago, I wrote a post that shared the high points from Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones of Happiness. He explored six areas in which evidence-based design principals promote happier lives: community, workplace, social network, home, financial well-being, and inner life. Given our impending move from our home of 14+ years, I’ve paid particular attention to community design. His criteria includes:

Trustworthy civil servants (politicians, police); clean environment (water, air, land, noise); minimal urban sprawl; people-friendly streets for walking and cycling; high civic engagement and volunteerism; access to nature; affordable health and dental care; healthy food (farmer’s markets); healthy public policy to curtail smoking, drugs, obesity.

We have enjoyed every one of these benefits in our current city. In fact, community design remains a strong draw for staying right where we are, yet the lure of proximity to family looms large. So, we have been checking out our neighboring state to see how it fares against Buettner’s criteria. Healthcare is a top consideration given the number of specialists with whom we have relationship.

physiciansI looked into healthcare insurance options and checked out several medical practices that accept the insurance that we were likely to secure. When reading bios of the individual physicians, I noticed that a preponderance of them were not accepting new patients. I dug a little deeper to see what was going on there. Here’s what I learned:

  • According to a 2021 report, the state has 30% fewer physicians in general and 32% fewer primary care physicians than the national average. The mean age of practicing physicians was reported to be 52 years.1
  • Given the threat of criminal penalties and loss of licensure for failing to meet legislative guidelines for abortions, a recent survey indicated that 48% of maternal fetal medicine practitioners are considering moving out of state; 73% attribute that consideration to the state’s restrictive abortion laws. 2 As Dr. Lauren Miller was quoted as saying: “If I don’t act fast enough to save your life, prevent you from getting septic, I could be liable for civil cases … malpractice. But if I act too quickly and I’m not 100% certain that the patient is going to die from the complication she’s sustaining, then I could be guilty of a felony.”3
  • Physicians fear that the new legal environment will have a negative impact on maternal mortality. Yet, the state legislature recently dissolved a committee of doctors, social workers, coroners, and emergency personnel whose efforts were designed to eliminate preventable maternal deaths, as well as health problems that result from being pregnant or giving birth.4
  • Chief Medical Officer Frank Johnson worries that physician recruitment will take a hit as a function of laws that “put an undue burden and a risk on their profession and on their practice and on their ethical responsibility.”5
  • The editorial board of a prominent news outlet decried the poor treatment of physicians (including hostile acts by political activists) and warned that the pattern of behavior would come back to bite the citizenry when it needed lifesaving caregivers.6

I am clearly not at an age for which maternal-fetal care will be at issue. Yet I am aggrieved in behalf of the women who are and fear a spillover effect among emergency room personnel.

To be honest, I was gob smacked when stumbling upon these articles. I realize what a privilege it has been to have access to high-quality medical care, never once giving much thought to whether or not there were sufficient doctors to accommodate any needs we might have. Since COVID, we’ve had a little more trouble booking appointments, but not at a level that has caused me concern. But rolling into a state with high growth, disproportionately low levels of physicians per capita, and the risk of flight… that gets my attention.

My takeaway from this little exercise falls along the lines of “Look before you leap.” I was excited by the prospect of proximity to the extended family and had found some housing options that ticked all the boxes. I was ready to go! But it’s time to temper that enthusiasm to make sure that all of the factors that lead to a healthy and happy lifestyle shine through in the next chapter of our lives.



Why I Believe in Early Childhood Education

enrichment activityWith the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I see clearly that I hit the jackpot when born into my family of origin. My parents were intelligent, loving, conscientious caregivers whose life decisions were consistently in service of my brother’s and my best interests. We enjoyed stellar public education with engaged parents on the academic and social fronts. We profited from a gaggle of enrichment activities. And my folks did the hard work of molding us into independent, responsible, principled, resourceful, caring human beings.

I never thought much about the manifold blessings of my upbringing until I spent a year working with The Oregon Community Foundation on volunteerism in early childhood, courtesy of an encore fellowship. I did a lot of reading on the subject and was stunned by the extent to which one’s earliest developmental experiences set the course for future success.

In Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky identifies seven essential life skills for which each child ideally achieves mastery during the formative years:

  • Focus and Self-Control, which encompasses paying attention, adapting to priorities flexibly, holding information in one’s mind while working on it, avoiding distractions, and resisting temptation while working toward larger goals.
  • Perspective Taking, which enables the child discern how others think and feel, and understand what they might want and need.
  • Communicating, which entails the development of a broad vocabulary, finding the right words to express thought and feelings, and listening attentively to others.
  • Making Connections, which involves putting things into categories, noting the relationships between them, and recognizing that something can represent or stand for something else
  • Critical Thinking, which relies upon the ability to identify problems, specify desired outcomes, explore alternative solutions and their pros/cons, select and options, evaluate its efficacy, and regroup, as needed.
  • Taking on Challenges, which cultivates a growth mindset in which a child narrates abilities as skills that can be developed.
  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning, which helps the child self-actualize through curiosity, exploration, and disciplined study.

These skills form the foundation for a child’s future across abroad range of metrics – e.g., scholastic achievement, economic independence, health outcomes, social prowess, community engagement, avoidance of juvenile justice, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse.

While the home environment accounts for the lion’s share of a young child’s readiness for learning when they enter kindergarten, early interventions in Pre-K learning environments can help course correct for disadvantaged children. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child highlights the following 5 numbers when articulating the importance of early childhood development:

  • Brain architecture develops rapidly during the first few years of life. The 700 new neural connections formed every second build the foundation upon which later learning, behavior, and health depend.
  • By age 3, children born to college-age parents develop vocabularies 2-3x the size of those born to parents without a high school education. The latter enter school at a substantive disadvantage absent exposure to a language-rich environment.
  • Childhood adversity increases the probability of development delays by age 3. The more risk factors – e.g., poverty, caregiver mental illness, child maltreatment, single parent, substance abuse, low maternal education, crime – the greater the chance of delay.
  • Children who experience 7-8 adverse experiences in childhood triple their risk of heart disease in later life.
  • Every dollar invested in early learning environments for low-income children reaps a $4-$9 benefit to society by reducing special education, welfare, and crime, and increasing tax revenues from program participants.

Those of us who reaped the rewards of secure adult attachments, ample resources and opportunities, effective skill and knowledge development, and social capital (connections) owe a huge debt of gratitude to the caregivers and communities who supported us. We can express our thanksgiving by lending our support to public and private programs that provide affordable housing, economic support, and equitable access to early childhood education. It’s the least we can do.