Back to School 2016: Mindful Distractions

Back to School 2016: Mindful Distractions

Back to School 2016: Mindful Distractions

The Back to School 2016 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – Mindful Distractions – is now available online & in print.

Mindful Distractions

kids_playing_006_01When we’re children, we celebrate play. We expect play will be a constant in our lives, like celery and peanut butter at snack time, and at various intervals during the day, we’ll be encouraged to pursue activities that bring us simple joy.

If we’re deprived of this pastime, we sulk. We may throw tantrums. At the very least, we’re sullen and uncooperative and no fun to be around.

As we grow older, we’re told that play comes second to work, always. Leisure time is shifted from being a daily occurrence to something we’re promised on the weekends, if only we work diligently enough during the week.  We can earn the privilege of relaxation, however, it’s no longer guaranteed to us as a right. Welcome to adulthood, when you’re expected to spend the bulk of your waking hours at work. Still, while all work and no play may make Johnny a dull boy, it will at least guarantee he gets to eat and sleep under a roof at night, which are no small feats.

I’m a big fan of work, in fact, I’ve mentioned before I find it to be relaxing. Washing dishes, folding laundry, and sweeping the floor has an almost therapeutic effect on me. However, there’s a difference between engaging in the mundane, which can be restorative, and engaging the intellect, which can be draining.

For much of my adult life, I spent the majority of my time pursuing the cerebral: writing, editing, publishing, and producing in general. I felt if only I were fitter and more productive, I’d be happier.

As a result, I filled my every hour with industry and activity. I left no space for laziness to creep into my routine. I also forgot to schedule time for relaxation. Play could still be earned but I came to see it as a waste of time I could otherwise spend involved in more productive ventures. So, I worked more, and longer hours, and after a while, even sleep seemed like an obstacle to increased productivity.

Eventually, of course, like anyone who’s tried to keep up a relentless pace, my wheels finally refused to keep turning. When that happened, and I was forced for various reasons to slow down to the point of halting, I rediscovered the recuperative power of play. I found activities I once considered mindless distractions became pursuits during which I could turn off the noise and hear the still voice I’d ignored for too long. It became important to me again to nurture the child inside, and like a child, to celebrate play.

I still work hard, and I log a lot of hours at my desk and in the classroom, but I also make leisure time an equal priority. I encourage our staff to do the same, which is why this edition I filled in for Retro Whiz Chuck Brutz in the Entertainment Chuckwagon (Congrats to him as he’s celebrating a big move!) and I gave our technology columnist (AKA my husband) time off to go play Pokemon GO. (I’d say I was kidding about this last part, but the proof of his interest is in his full report on page 11 & 12. Next issue, he’ll be back to sharing with you how you can slash your cable TV bill.) As for me, I’ve recently discovered how calming coloring can be, as evidenced by the three coloring books now sitting on my bookshelf.

Whatever mindful distractions bring you joy, I encourage you to make them part of your daily life.

Until next time, Carla E. Anderton

Summer 2016 – Just Keep Swimming!

Pennsylvania Bridges - Summer 2016 - Just Keep Swimming!

Pennsylvania Bridges – Summer 2016 – Just Keep Swimming!

The Summer 2016 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – Just Keep Swimming! – is now available online & in print.

Just Keep Swimming!

fathers_day_035_01Sometimes I’m sad, y’all.

I know that may seem an odd way to begin a piece in a summer edition. After all, summer is practically synonymous with happiness. It’s the season of near endless sunshine, with many a day spent outdoors enjoying food and fellowship with family and friends, the stresses of work and reality distant concerns.

Yet, the fact remains that while the sun beams bright, some days my smile does not.

I’m not alone. According to a 2015 study conducted by the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide suffer from some type of depression, whether it’s situational, seasonal or caused by a wide ranging variety of factors. In many cases, depression is more than just occasionally feeling blue; it is a debilitating, even disabling condition.

I feel grateful my own bouts of depression are mostly short lived and manageable.

Full disclosure, I am not by any means a mental health professional and am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone. I’ve never even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express!

Still, I find for me the magical elixir that alleviates unhappiness is work. In the periods of greatest sadness in my life, I’ve discovered the best method for combating depression is to stay busy, even if that meant I had to seek out or outright invent an activity.

It’s difficult to remain in an emotional funk when your mind is engaged. The action you take doesn’t even have to be especially meaningful. It just has to be purposeful. I do some of my best thinking – and, by extension, problem solving – when I’m performing some simple, repetitive task like washing dishes, chopping vegetables or folding laundry.

My husband is probably reading this and wishing I’d spend more time cooking and cleaning my way to bliss, but that’s another issue. As it stands, when he arrives home to an immaculate house and the aroma of a meal simmering on the stove, more often than not he knows I’ve had a rough day.

It’s the act of doing, and not necessarily the intention, that soothes my soul and clears my mind. I retreat inwards until I locate that place of strength I am always amazed to discover.

To borrow the mantra of an animated fish named Dory we first met in 2003, I “just keep swimming.”

I focus on the aspects of life I can control, and just keep moving forward. I know that at the end of the day, what matters is not always whether I’m joyful or discontent. What matters is what I accomplished in that span of time, in spite of my emotions.

“Just keep swimming,” I tell myself in times of distress. The alternative is to drown.

“Just keep swimming.” It may not be the cure all for all of life’s unpleasantness, but the opposite of activity is inertia, a state in which nothing positive can be accomplished.

We’ve crammed this issue full, almost to the point of bursting, with profiles of people and organizations that have kept going, often in the face of adversity. May they inspire you to do the same!

Until next time,  Carla E. Anderton

Pennsylvania Bridges Summer 2016: Mother, May I?

Spring 2016: Mother, May I?

Spring 2016: Mother, May I?

The Spring 2016 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges“Mother, May I?” – is now available online & in print.

Spring 2016 Edition: Mother, May I?

MomMomA favorite playground game when I was of school age was “Mother, May I?”

For those unfamiliar with this children’s game, the basic objective was to instill both appreciation for authority and foster imaginative thinking.

Speaking of my youth, one of my earliest and fondest memories of my first forays into the wild, wonderful world of publishing was an occasion on which I – along with my high school newspaper sponsor and mentor, Pearl Washington – had to make a difficult choice on the fly.

In a nutshell, our funding was in question, and we had to decide whether or not to send an edition of our paper, The RamPages, to the print shop.

On one hand, we’d already announced to the entire school the paper was due out that week.

On the other, we weren’t sure there was enough money in the school’s budget to cover the printing costs.

Torn, Pearl and I made our choice based on advice she’d received from her own mentor, our high school principal.

“Principal Howard always told me ‘it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.’ Perhaps this is a case when that rings especially true,” she said, and the decision was made. We sent the issue to the printer.

Fortunately for us, our worst fears weren’t realized, and the check the school cut to the printer cleared.

Fun fact, this adage of it being better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, did not originate with my high school principal but was first stated by the late Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a U.S. Naval officer and early computer programmer. If you’ve never read her story, look her up. She was a remarkable woman and a pioneer of invention.

“It’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission” is a piece of advice that’s lingered with me, and even now, some 20 plus years after Pearl and I took that gamble and shipped off a paper we weren’t sure we could afford, I still find myself on occasion making impulsive choices when I fear an apology may be in order before everything is said and done.

After all, life is a series of choices, some deliberate and others haphazard, and not every decision we make, no matter how well intentioned, is going to be popular with everyone.

Picture how colorless and dull a world we’d occupy if we all made every choice based on how it might be perceived by others.

Think of the innovation that would no longer occur, the questions that would never be asked, the solutions that might never be found. Imagine the revolution that would never happen if we preceded every decision with the query “Mother, May I?”

Sometimes, in order to follow a new path, we must first bypass the gatekeeper.

This edition features a number of people and groups who have elected to take risks, even when the obstacles seemed to outweigh the advantages. Rather than shirking from making difficult choices, they’ve opted in favor of imagination, and of believing the greater good is paramount. Instead of saying “May I?” they’ve said “I can, I may, and I will!”

Until next time, Carla E. Anderton

Winter 2016: Come Fly With Me!

Winter 2016: Come Fly With Me!

Winter 2016: Come Fly With Me!

The Winter 2016 edition, Come Fly With Me! is now available online and in print.

Come Fly With Me!

singing_bars_131602About a month ago, I had a fairly extensive surgery performed on my right foot, the first of four surgeries I will likely need to repair damage to my hands and feet caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis. For the month following the surgery, I was stuck in bed, with my foot elevated slightly over my heart per my surgeon’s post-op instructions, dependent on the kindness of others.

Week after week, day after day, hour after hour, I spent staring at the same four walls, dreaming about the outside world. A blizzard came and I watched it snow on Facebook. Brain rot set in, the kind of mental fatigue that comes from not using your mind to do anything more strenuous than watch TV. I saw so many episodes of HGTV’s Property Brothers I now feel better equipped than Jonathan Silver Scott to identify a load bearing wall. After so long indoors I began to feel as if I would never feel the sun again, like I was trapped like a bird in a cage, and I don’t handle captivity well. Ever read Stephen King’s The Shining, about the guy stuck inside all winter with his family who goes a little, well, nutty? Yeah. It was close.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for sympathy. There are far worse ways to spend time than to lay around being waited on hand and foot. There’s something to be said for taking time off to restore the body and replenish the spirit. I appreciate the fact that it was an option for me and that I have a wonderfully supportive, loving husband and caring, loyal friends who made it possible.

What’s more, though I have a long road ahead of me in terms of needed medical interventions, I’m fortunate to have an army of health professionals dedicated to helping me heal. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic illness and there’s no cure at this time, but there are medications that keep me mobile and since my diagnosis about a year and a half ago, my quality of life is continuing to improve. Knowing what’s broken, I know what needs fixing.

In a nutshell, I’m one of the lucky ones, with hopes for a healthier future. Once daunting tasks like taking a brisk walk in the woods seem possible. Long stifled and seeming at times even crushed, my wings are beginning to unfold.

Come fly with me in my newfound freedom. Discover the world around you, starting in the pages of this edition with our comprehensive coverage of area restaurants and other attractions. Expand your cultural horizons by catching one of the many musical and theatrical performances listed in this issue, either with a special someone or during your personal “me” time.

If, like me, you’re grateful for the gifts of life and better health, demonstrate your gratitude by getting involved with a worthy cause. Maybe you’ll find one to champion in this issue, or you know of one we should feature in the future. Get in touch.

Come fly with me! Life is ever evolving. Don’t get stuck on the ground.

Until next time, Carla E. Anderton

Holiday 2015 Edition: To All a Good Night!

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Holiday 2015 Edition – “To All a Good Night!”

The Holiday 2015 Edition: To All A Good Night! is now available online & print.

To All a Good Night!

Life's not fair!“It’s not fair.”

How many times have you heard or uttered this phrase?

Log into social media at practically any time of the day and you’ll find a dozen instances of the harsh reality that life isn’t fair. The last month has been particularly momentous and, too often, those momentous occasions have been marked by tragedy. So much sadness and outright ugliness has invaded my Facebook feed that, some days, I actually find myself at a loss for words to combat it.

“Life just isn’t fair,” I think, and reconcile myself to the fact there’s really not much I can do about the poisoned well except refuse to drink from it.

So, I pause before I share that political meme or repost that obviously biased news article. I think twice before I comment on someone’s status update, always asking myself: Is it worth it? Does it matter? What’s the point in alienating friends, family and members of my community simply because I want to have an opinion?

“Life just isn’t fair,” I repeat, and continue scrolling. It’s just easier that way.

Easier, except for the fact that it’s dead wrong. Wrong, because you can’t make a right with two wrongs. Indifference to the knowledge the playing field isn’t level is part of the problem and I, along with every other person who adapts that attitude, am the reason life will continue to be unfair for so many people.

Realizing this, I’ve begun a conscious journey of trying to discover ways I can help make life a little better for others, both in my community and on a more global level. That journey is reflected in the pages of this edition, and it’s a well-worn path to follow, trod by so many others before me.

One major change I’ve made was a fairly quick fix, not to mention an innocuous way for me to make a statement. I’ve started voting with my dollar, and refusing to support companies and organization whose business practices I find reprehensible. Speaking of dollars, I’m also trying to spend mine locally when possible. Sure, I’m just one person, but I believe I can make a difference, even if it’s just by leading by example.

We talked to so many great people for the edition it’s impossible to name them all here. A quick glance at the table of contents reveals no shortage of people trying to restore a sense of fairness to their communities, people seeking to assure everyone has an equal opportunity to experience the “good night” wished for all by Dicken’s Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.

“To all a good night,” he exclaims, expressing a sentiment we at Pennsylvania Bridges wish to share with our readers this holiday season. Merry Christmas, and happiest of New Year’s to you and yours.

Until next time,

Carla E. Anderton