Archive Monthly Archives: May 2019

Furbaby Feelings Matter Too

So after talking about mental health in our lives and the importance of having your own personal space, I thought it was also important to talk about our pets and how we can help them have a positive mental life. I know it sounds kind of super hippy and new age of me but give me a chance to explain.

Your pets' mental health is often a reflection of your own, and vice versa. It is well known that cats purring has healing powers (the frequency of their vocalization can improve bone density and promote overall healing1). Dogs on the other hand are incredibly smart and capable of being trained to give all sorts of assistance to the disabled, as well as give comfort in time of sorrow or sickness, reduce anxiety, depression, and blood pressure2. Multiple recent studies show that horses are able to sense a person's emotions, moods, and trust3 . So it's not a far leap to say that making sure your fur baby is comfortable and at peace in your home is important for the overall well-being of the family.

In the Home

Just like a humans, having a little special place for our animals is good for their mental health. We have a rescue scaredy cat so it is imperative that we have a safe space for her to hide when friends with dogs come over or we have a get together. I have always created this out of that first room I put them in when we move because it is the first sight and smell they connect with during the moving process in the new home and therefore stays ingrained as "their" room.  The space has their water, food, cat tree, and their carry bags. Most days I often find them lounging in there, as seen below, left, my little Maggie sitting on her perch in the sun. For my mom, this space the mudroom where the dog beds and crates are. Also below is her pup Benji, happily sitting in his crate playing with toys and newspaper.  Often, we find him napping there and taking a rest from playing.


The other thing that makes animals feel safe and secure is a routine. Just the same as it is important for small children. It is widely believed that animals can't tell time and don’t know how long you have been gone. But my cats, and friend's and family's pets, know patterns. They know when it feel like time for dinner, bed, treats, a walk, etc. For example my cats know that on the weekends or a holiday, basically anytime my boyfriend and I are both home sleeping late, that they will get a little bit of milk when we get up and make coffee. So on the weekends they anxiously wait for us to get up sometimes if we sleeping very late they start jumping on us and running to the kitchen. On normal weekdays, they abide by our routine of getting up and out to work and don't really beg for any milk. Similarly when we clip their nails or give them medicine, it is always followed by a treat. So while they don’t enjoy the activity, they often sit still knowing they will get a reward afterwards. And should we hesitate on the reward, oooh they let us know! My sister told me the other day that her older cat comes downstairs and starts meowing at them if they don't come up to bed by a certain time. So it's obvious that while they may not know the time, they definitely know something! Patterns and routine things train or condition them to understand cause and effect, action and reward, but it also gives them a sense of security of the known - Knowing they'll always get dinner around the time the sun goes down, or time you come home from work, etc.. Whatever the pattern, a routine increases their feeling of security and stability.

During transition
Our pets are always intrigued with what we are doing. When you start piling your clothes on the bed to spring clean do your animals come to see what you're doing? When you are packing dont them come in and check out what's going on? Often sitting in or on your belongings and luggage? I would say this is 1) they just want to be in the same room as you, 2) they don't want you to leave, 2) as we discussed above, they can tell if something is going on with you mentally. So when you are moving or transitioning, seeing familiar items put into boxes and leave the house doubles intrigue with concern. And if you have a rescue pet that is prone to abandonment or separation anxiety, this can be very scary for him or her..

What I have learned from moving 5 times with my cats and helping friends with animals move is that you have to make the process as easy and carefree for them as possible. You have to conisder ift from their point of view - they can't ask where the boxes are going, why and more importantly if they are invited too. When you leave on vacation, they often don't get to come, so how should they know this is any different? They can only watch and hope.

The last time we moved was our most successfully planned and executed, because we had a new rescue kitten who does have some anxiety. Here are the things we leared and the tips we received from friends and family. (Note, these tips work if you are moving close by and completing the move in a day or two.)

  • Pack the small things you don’t use often first just as you would any move. These items are not important to you or the animals and may seem like a spring cleaning activity to them.
  • Find a room in the house that the animals are most comfortable with and that can be moved last. If it's not "their space" move some of their favorite items in and set it up for the animals a few days prior to your move so they get used to it - Ours had a litter box, cat tree, toys, a futon and a blanket they both like to cuddle on. We even gave them food in there the day before our move to get them adjusted.
  • Be sure to keep a few of their things out of this room. Ideally if you have a two day move, you can spend the night in the old house and a new room with toys and food set up at the new place for arrival. 
  • On moving day, try to stay as close to your animals' normal routine - food, walks etc. Some friends give their animals help relaxing in the form or homeopathic "Rescue Remedy" or vet prescribed assistance.
  • Close them into "their" room.
  • Get everything loaded for the move.
  • If possible, go to the new home and unload items. Then go back to retrieve the furbabies and the last few things.
  • If that is not possible, load them last. Make sure they have a comfortable hiding spot in the smoothest riding vehicle. Provide them with their toys, water, favorite blanket/bed/crate, etc. I will never forget my cat hiding inside his litter box for the entire 7 hour drive to move from Connecticut to Maryland. To him, that was safe.  My rescue cat hid inside the hole of the cat tree on our short move across two towns (see below).
  • Take them to the new place and set up their new room for them with the few things you brought. Maybe put a couch or blankets that they like in the new room with their food, water, and toys. Close them into this new room to learn the new smells while you set up the rest of the house. If possible have someone hang out with them – a child, friend, spouse – whom they know to reassure them and give them comfort during this confusing time.
  • When things are calmer and the majority of unpacking is done, the house has all the things they recognize unloaded, let them out to explore the new spaces.

If you have the ability to spread the move out, and/or are buying new furnishings this process is a little bit easier. As you can leave more at the old home for familiarity and can introduce the animals to the new home once everything is on its place. Instead of having them locked in one room. But the essential steps are the same.

Do you have any tips or tricks you have used when moving your pets? Do you follow a daily or weekly pattern for your animals? What kind of things do you do? Do you have a special place your animals are drawn to? A place they like best, where they can hide when the thunder rolls or many people come over? I would love to know your comments, thoughts, and ideas! And pictures are welcome on social media! I'll leave you with one of my favorite pictures, four of my mom's dogs, all lounging on the bed like it's theirs... well, it is.





Transforming Outdoor Spaces

As I said in my previous post, I grew up on a small farm in Connecticut. There was always things to do outside, riding the horses, cleaning the stalls, playing in the makeshift tree house, swimming, jumping on the trampoline, playing (and shoveling) snow, ice skating, sledding, raking leaves, and playing basketball on the concrete slab where we simultaneously hung my hoop and a clothesline. I think my favorite outdoor activity was probably mowing the lawn. I would pretend I was an open road race car driver winding around the intricate garden plots Mom had planted in a sort of open square with each side on its own and a bird bath in the middle. And just like a driver, I had to watch my course because mowing over the tiger lilies, tulips, hydrangeas, bleeding hearts, or echinacea flowers was just as dangerous as a crash.

That all being said, it is no surprise that an outdoor space in my home is a must. And the cute little screened in patio attached to my ranch house, has given my a small little retreat space I also wanted when we lived in a town house. Now my perfect outdoor space is the Hanging Garden of Babylon! Ideally there would be a Weeping Willow and a lake (like the Constitutional Gardens in Washington D.C. below) or a Weeping Cherry Tree, but that is a little extravagant for my budget and ability.

I would even settle for this pagoda with hanging wisteria I saw in the National Arbortetum last year. Purple is my favorite color…

But as a renter, it is hard to achieve that look without spending a ton of money that is really an investment in someone else’s home. So taking the key concepts for making a personal space indoors, I created a cool little boho vibe in my patio for under $500 and never really set out to.

So to continue on my theme of using home spaces to boost your mental health I wanted to share some ideas on outdoor spaces. Here are my must haves to transform your outdoor space into your very own retreat.

  • Not just patio furniture, but furnishings – Furnish your outdoor just as you would your home. Pick pieces that capture you and speak to your room’s purpose. Do you want to entertain or relax? I like a bit of both. So I have a table and chairs for outdoor meals and friends to gather around as well as a chaise lounge for myself to sit in the sun, read, listen to music or lounge (that is what is it for, right?). You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for decent pieces. At Home, Target, Wayfarer, or even Big Lots all have good looking items for packaged deal prices. If you want to splurge and get some really sleek looking pieces then go for Pier 1 or Pottery Barn.
  • Comfort every time – My mission in life is to bring you functionality and peace of mind, therefore if you need to decide between style and comfort, choose comfort. (Ideally you can have both). My chaise lounge is green wicker. Its not fancy, its functional. My mom gifted it to me and it blends into the background of trees and plants. But it was the item that first set the tone and direction for my patio.
  • Just add pillows – If you love the Moroccan vibe, then you know what I am saying! Just like indoor throw pillows, by adding beautiful statement pillows, you change the enter feeling of a space. And don’t be afraid to experiment and mix prints and patterns. A combination of patterns work well together when they are paired with a neutral background. Just make sure there is a single color that is creating continuity in the space. When I added my medallion pillow (above) and red lounge pillows from Lowes garden center to my chaise lounge, it right away gave my boring patio a softer feel and me a direction for decorating the rest. Red is my central color and green is my secondary (most because of the greenery throughout and outside the patio emphasizing the few green items within).
  • Make a statement–Among the cement floor and solid sling back chairs, that pillow became my statement piece. I followed the colors patterns to choose a bright green metal drum style table, and decided I wanted hanging plants instead of flowers. I saw a cute solar latern that I thought had a similar mosaic feeling at Plow & Hearth to put on the table. Then all of a sudden the personality of my patio started to come together. So what is your statement piece, do you have one? Next time you go to a store, why not buy that little thing you thought would be so perfect for the space.
  • Bring your personality – Just because it is outdoors doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a little piece of your in your patio, garden, porch area. What do you enjoy? What brings you joy? Similar to the indoor personal space, you want to feel at home, whether relaxed, energized, confident, or reminiscent. If you like hosting, have a little bar area. I crave that relaxation sanctuary feel, maybe something to do with reaching back to my childhood and feeling peaceful in the outdoors. I wanted to incorporate my travels and the sounds that bring me relaxation and peace of mind. So I put up Tibetan prayers flags on one side, which reminds me of being on the cement rooftop patios in India, and windchimes. It has now honestly become an obsession. I started with one. Then I bought a beautiful handmade beach glass one in Jekyll Island, Georgia. And so it began... and now I have 5 windchimes in my patio, each one gives off a different sound. Once is glass, two are seashells (but different types), one aluminum, and one steel. I have yet to find the perfect bamboo one. So whatever brings in that vibe you are looking for, go for it!
  • Lighten up Light and ambiance can change everything. Think of a dim light bedroom, a bright and airy sitting room, a fluorescent office. They all have their own light and feel. So jazz up your outdoor space with lighting. A friend of mine has Edison bulbs all along his fence in his pool area, it has a rustic without being too fancy. Since I was going for the hanging gardens feel, I bought solar light strings on Amazon, put them in mason jars I had and bought at the thrift store, and then hung them along the columns of the patio. There are 8 total solar lights, so now as the sun sets, each jar starts to sparkle and the mosaic glass on the table shines brightly. Its not enough to light up the entire patio, but it definitely adds a great ambiance that I have received many compliments on.
  • Tie it all together – Area rugs are used to tie a room and it's furnishings together, adding physical and emotional warmth. So the same can be said of utilizing an outdoor rug. I'll admit that I thought the idea of an outdoor rug was silly when my boyfriend first suggested it. However after researching the options, ranging from cotton to wicker, I settled on a light weight plastic material that could easily be shaken out and hosed off and complimented my medallion pillow and bohemian style. When I put it down the room transformed into a… room. It no longer felt like an outdoor space, but like an extension of the house. And my cats loved the ability to have a soft place to crouch and experience the sights and sounds of nature. Therefore I highly recommend adding this last item to your space.

Putting it all together, above is my beloved patio retreat.  

Martyn Lawrence, interior designer to the stars says, “don’t be afraid to be eclectic.” So have fun with your space, make it your own, be bold, and make a statement. Most of all get outside and enjoy the outdoors! I'll leave you with a picture of my cat, Mau, enjoying the full glory of our patio in hopes that you too may create such a haven for yourself in your patio, porch or backyard. 

Creating Indoor Sanctuary Spaces

Growing up in Connecticut, I lived on an 8 acre horse farm and we were always encouraged to be outside even if I was just reading my book. Now I live in a cute little ranch style house with a screened-in back patio, (which is what made me over look the age and condition of the rest of the home and the lack of usable backyard space, when we signed our lease 3 years ago). I enjoy going out there with my cats almost every day, but it wasn’t always like this.

I have lived in my fair share of dorm rooms, volunteer shelters when I worked in AmeriCorps, and the unbearable one bedroom 3rd floor condo with my boyfriend when I first moved to Maryland. What made that condo unbearable to me was the idea of not having a private outdoor space to enjoy. I felt like my skin would start itching and my feet start tapping. However, it dawned on me at some point that my need for “being outside” wasn’t really always about being outdoors. To me, the outdoors is a sanctuary, a calming, enjoyable space that feels refreshing to my mind and body. To others it isn’t as much. And since I had just moved in with someone for the first time, what I realized was that I really needed my own personal sanctuary space that would foster that same feeling, but indoors so that it was accessible year round.

Soon after that I created a little nook in the corner of our room. It had an alter that I set up with statues and stones I had brought back from my studies in India, a thangka (aTibetan Buddhist painting on cotton and silk appliqué, depicting dieties, symbols or scenes) and a comfortable place to sit next to the window. It was minimal but effective in giving me a sense of myself. 

That was 9 years ago and since then we have lived in 4 other homes.  After all the moving around in my life I have become pretty creative with making a personal space, even when there is not much room to work with. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I think this is a great time for everyone to consider whether they have a personal space and how they can create one. So, here is what I have learned.

The first step is to decide the type of spot you want to create. As I see it, there are two types:

  • Power Spot – think energizing, uplifting, invigorating - Marie Kondo says that you should embrace the things that make you happy with pride and confidence and use those to create a power spot.

My running medal rack - my biggest source of pride courage

  • Reflection Spot – picture calming, quiet and nurturing - A place to unwind; reading, meditating, yoga, knitting, whatever brings you joy and peace.

A sweet reading spot seen in a house for sale in Maui, Hawaii

Now this isn’t to say that these cannot be combined. I, personally, have taken aspects of both of those categories and tied them into my space. And if crafting or kick boxing is your passion; makes you happy and confident and also helps you unwind, then that may be your combo space.

Once you have decided what type of space you would like to have, its time to design it. While each space is personal to the owner, there is a formula to the creation.

  • Choose your color wisely.  Colors matter!  Depending on the use of your space, you will want to utilize different hues. Warm colors (red, orange and yellow) are energizing, positive, and passionate. Cool colors (blue, green and purple) are more peaceful and balanced.  Navy blue was just determined the world's most relaxing color! Green goes a little of both ways, bright green can be energizing, great for creativity and brain power i.e. reading and craft rooms.  Light green is often coupled with pale blue in yoga, massage and therapy rooms.  Purple which is located between blue and red on the color wheel has a great combination of both, leading it to be a romantic and whimsical color.  Your neutrals (black, brown, grey, white) can carry mystery and sophistication, however can also be stark and generic. For personalization I wouldn't recommend sticking only with neutrals., but using them to compliment color. Joanna Gaines, star of HGTV's Fixer Upper, says that "committing to color in a small area is also a lot less risky than having to repaint a whole house", so go bold!
  • Bring the outside in. If you can, place potted plants or flowers in your space. There are numerous mental and physical benefits gained from having greenery in your home. Taking care of plants teaches you compassion and empathy towards others, and also eases anxiety and depression. Research concludes that even the sight of plants can bring these feelings. Furthermore the oxygen released and carbon dioxide removed by plants can keep your home and inhabitants healthy. helping your body to heal faster, sleep better, stay focused, be productive and more.[1]
  • Sit facing a window or perpendicular to it. For many of the same reasons discussed above that bringing plant life into your space is beneficial, so is having an accessible window. You will have the added benefit of being able to open it for your senses to grasp the outdoors – sights, sounds, breeze, warmth, coolness, smells, etc. You can also gaze off and daydream when you need a break. If you are creating an office space or something with an electronic screen, a window is particularly important to follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. A few of the outdoor my also entice you to get up and go for a walk or step outside for a it. And the natural light will illuminate your room for added radiance and energy. (This was very crucial during my condo days).
  • Carve out a space for your hobby. If you enjoy reading, add comfortable and cozy seating with pillows and blankets and whatever else you need to snuggle up with your book and fade away. Enjoy yoga? Make sure the space is large enough for your mat and pose extension. If you like crafting, set up your own craft corner or table that you could store and work on your projects.
  • Surround yourself with things that you love. This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.  If this space is your personal spot, then it should be able you.  Some of the things that come to mind are pictures of family, friends, or places you have visited. If you are a collector, then you should have those.  A friend of mine said she collect snow globes, so I would expect her globes to be displayed in her favorite spot for her to always see.
  • Ensure there is space for company, if desired. While this space is made to be yours, to bring you the feelings of comfort you need, our friends and family are also what and who we love. And we may want them to be able to experience our space. If you have kids, they may want to crawl up into your reading chair with you sometimes, or stretch out next to you when you are doing yoga. Instead of  pushing them away, embrace their need to be close to you and your mutual love for each other as it will make you feel even more powerful and confident.  Our fur family is no different. They often want to be with us for hours out of the day, so giving them a spot in your space. This will ease their minds and yours as well.

The picture above is my personal space. It has a reading nook piled with pillows, my bookshelf with stories, mementos and pictures from my life, as well as some artificial flowers because unfortunately my cats will eat real ones. A window to my front yard is just out of the scene. I can stretch out of the floor in the morning and usually have a furry companion while I do so. My favorite color is purple, so I have that and different complimenting colors to foster creativity, peace and power. Since we rent, I can not paint the walls, so unfortunately they are still white. Having spent 20 years competitively running, one of the recent additions is a place to hang my medals. I only just recently moved those from our television room that we had decorated in a sports theme. I had always had them in my space in previous homes and my space didn’t feel quite complete without them, but now, I truly feel that this room reflects me. It is calming when I need it to be, as well as providing me with confidence and energy from my past accomplishments and future goals.

And now that we finally have an outdoor area, I have made the patio more of my reflection spot, filled with the items that calm and sooth me. But that is for my discussion of outdoor spaces for next time!

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite pictures. My sister created the peaceful spot seen below, left, for herself to read her Reiki and other books after moving in with her fiancé and feeling some of the same things I had experienced. Yet soon after she enjoyed her spot, so did her dog Pacha. Now it is Pacha’s favorite space to sit, just as my cats love to snooze on my reading ottoman, whether I am in the room or not.

Do you have a personal sanctuary space in your home? A power spot, reflection spot or something else? I would love to know what’s in it!