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75641_4428874932950_1850401892_nAloha & welcome to the Ola Lokahi blog.  I hope you enJOY my “talk story,” helpful articles, passionate musings, and guest blogs.  Ola Lokahi (and it’s branch, Warriors Living Well) was co-created by Susan Pualani Alden.

This mission of Ola Lokahi is to assist in planetary healing by empowering people to heal, awaken, and discover new pathways of inspiration.  “Ola Lokahi” refers to the the sacred connection that exist among all that surrounds us.  The words may be Hawaiian, but the concept is one that is central to traditional native cultures throughout the world.  Understanding the essence and deep meaning of ola lokahi can be helpful to anyone, anytime – from the doing the most mundane daily tasks to making crucial life decisions.  As we embrace ola lokahi, we naturally flow into a life of greater peace, joy, and harmony.  To read more about Ola Lokahi and why I chose it to represent my work, click here.

In sharing my thoughts with you, I hope to honor the wisdom that has been shared with me from treasured elders/kupuna.  From time to time, I like to share my (limited) knowledge of the exquisite Hawaiian language, because I believe it carries a depth of meaning, wisdom, and vibration that often surpasses the English language.  Please know I do so with sincere love and respect for ‘olelo Hawai’i.  (Kahako/macrons have been omitted only because I’ve not figured out how to do them on Word Press.  Because of this, I recognize there may be confusion for Hawaiian speakers).  I openly invite guidance/constructive critique, and sharing via the comment boxes beneath individual posts.

With never-ending gratitude to my teachers, mentors, friends, and family ~

Susan Pualani Alden

For information on classes, products, and services I provide, please go to the Ola Lokahi website at www.mindbodyaloha.com.

Finding Peace on Hallowed Grounds: Part 2

IMG_8757There are moments in life we never forget.  The past two months have been filled with countless unforgettable moments, now seared into my soul.  (Read “Finding Peace on Hallowed Grounds: Part 1″ for a glimpse of last month).  Last week added to the collage of painful yet profound moments as I returned to the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, NY for the first time in 10 years to honor my 1997 classmate, Army Crew teammate, and sister in arms, LTC Jaimie Leonard.  Jaimie was was killed in action on June 8th, 2013 in Afghanistan.  My husband, also a 1997 USMA graduate, stood ramp side for her dignified transfer as her body left the country.  It was only fitting that I be present to welcome my sister back to her rock-bound, highland home.Dignified Transfer at Dover AFB

Less than 100 women graduated in our class of about a 1000.  Having survived the rigors of West Point together, our sisterhood has a uniquely sacred and powerful bond. Only a fraction of the women in our class still remain on active duty, and Jaimie Leonard was one of them.  The promotion list for our class was recently released, and over the past weeks I’ve heard news and seen pictures of ’97 graduates joyfully dawning their new rank of lieutenant colonel.  Jaimie had not yet pinned on her new rank.  Her time for earthly promotions was cut short before any formal ceremony was held.  Kneeling at Jaimie’s casket, I touched the new silver oak leaf on her right shoulder and told her congratulations, but I know there’s no need for rank in the place she now resides.  LTC Jaimie Leonard’s death is a tremendous loss to her class, her teammates, the Army, and this nation.

1002967_10151506707902462_1907811728_nJaimie, a superb military intelligence officer, was the Brigade S2 for 10th Mountain Division.  Her keen skills and experience were not only an asset to 10th Mountain, but to many units in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  With previous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jaimie was serving her third combat tour.  There has been much discussion over the years regarding women in combat.  Jaimie’s death reminds us that war has no regard for gender or rank, regardless of how we define the rules.  Jaimie was living and working within a Forward Operating Base along side men and women of all branches of service, to include members of the Afghan National Army (ANA).  Transferring the responsibility of Afghanistan’s national security into the hands of it’s own people is a complex and fragile mission.  It requires a unique understanding of the culture, intense resources, and most notably, trust.  Ultimately, an ANA soldier that our American service members were striving to empower, would be the person who killed Jaimie Leonard at close range as she was departing a weekly meeting with other Afghan military leaders.  IMG_8742Others were wounded and two more killed as they departed this meeting.  LTC Todd Clark (10th Mountain Division) and a civilian contractor, Joseph Morabito (also an Army veteran), were both shot and killed as they stood next to Jaimie on that fatal day.  My husband and I also knew Todd.  He had been stationed with us that the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, CA and lived down the street.  Despite our allegiance to West Point, we were invited to several neighborhood Aggie parties which, thanks to Todd’s family and other Texas A&M graduates, gave us a rich appreciation for another great corps of cadets.  Our hearts are broken over this horrific tragedy, and we ache for all the families.

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*The final verse of the USMA Alma Mater.

My broken heart was held together this past week by gripping hands with my Long Grey Line family, particularly my USMA ’97 sisters who, on short notice, dropped work and family life to converge from all corners of the country to honor Jaimie.  Standing to sing our Alma Mater* with my sisters at the memorial mass was one of those unforgettable moments in life.  I don’t think any of us were able to choke out a single a word, but we stood proudly, gripping hands and holding each other up in a moment that felt nearly unbearable.  Together we watched as the honor guard carried Jaimie out of a packed church overlooking the banks of the Hudson River on a beautiful day.  As I departed the chapel, I was particularly grateful for my classmates in uniform, LTC Robyn Wood and LTC Laurel Neff who attended.  I find great hope in them, knowing they too are extraordinary leaders, making a big difference in our military in their own unique ways.

viewAs we headed into the historic cemetery, The Patriot Riders reverently lined the way with American flags.  The West Point cemetery is a very special place.  It is reserved for West Point cadets, graduates, and their immediate families (with very few exceptions).  Having military burials dating as far back as 1782, these hallowed grounds are the oldest post cemetery in the nation.  This piece of sacred earth is the final resting place for heroes from every war in American history – from the Revolutionary War to the Global War on Terrorism.  From the ground level, the arrangement of the gravestones is seemingly random, but when viewed from the heavens, one can see they are arranged in a circular fashion as if to punctuate the last four lines of our Alma Mater** and remind us of the never-ending continuity of the Long Grey Line and of life itself.

** “E’er may that line of gray.
   Increase from day to day.
   Live, serve, and die, we pray.
   West Point, for thee!”

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~photo by JoAnna Reynolds, USMA ’97 graduate

My journey back to West Point was filled with moments surreal beyond belief.  I recount some of these moments for those who were unable to attend yet who’s presence was surely felt, as well as for all those who have no real-life perspective on the cost of distant war.  Aside from viewing the lifeless body of my sister who was once so full of life, the most poignant moment for me was standing graveside after the crowd cleared the cemetery and they had lowered her casket into the ground.  Several of my ’97 sisters were still there as well, sadly saying “hello” to other classmates and friends who claimed West Point as their final resting place.  Before they covered her grave, we stood together at the edge of a deep, dark hole with Jaimie’s favorite sunflowers in hand.  I will never forget the smell of that freshly dug earth and the sound of sunflowers abruptly hitting a wooden casket from 6 feet up.  The finality of it all rocks me to my core still today.  I will never again embrace the woman I call sister, classmate, teammate, and one of the finest officers I’ve ever known.  Never again will she stand with us and sing the words of our Alma Mater, though her spirit will surely be stirred each time its sound passes over our lips.  I know with certainty there is not a single woman in the USMA Class of ‘97 who’s thoughts will not turn to LTC Jaimie Leonard whenever they sing that final verse.*

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~ “Gripping Hands” photo by JoAnna Reynolds, USMA ’97 graduate

Other unforgettable moments were engraved in our memories as we gathered at the Army Crew boat house along the majestic banks of the Hudson.  I’ll not recount all the stories here.  The pictures, graciously taken and shared by our sister JoAnna Reynolds, are worth a thousand words.  I’ll simply share how the day ended.  Before our sisterhood parted ways, we each dug up new earth and planted sunflower seeds outside the boat house underneath the West Point crest.  Jaimie’s legacy to women in the Corps of Cadets and the Army is like a priceless seed with endless potential.  I pray that all those who were touched by her insatiable quest for knowledge, unrelenting drive, unfathomable resiliency, and tireless devotion will nurture that seed and use it to better themselves and the world at large.  She would expect nothing less of us.  LTC Jaimie Leonard is now among the “ghostly assemblage,” and as our hearts are “standing attention,” we will continue to “grip hands” and go where she has pointed the way.***8775506796_5649d02098_b

***The Corps! The Corps! The Corps!

The Corps, bareheaded, salute it, with eyes up, thanking our God.
That we of the Corps are treading, where they of the Corps have trod.
They are here in ghostly assemblage. The ranks of the Corps long dead.
And our hearts are standing attention, while we wait for their passing tread.
The Corps of today, we salute you. The Corps of an earlier day;
We follow, close order, behind you, where you have pointed the way;
The long gray line of us stretches, thro’ the years of a century told
And the last one feels to his marrow, the grip of your far off hold.
Grip hands with us now though we see not, grip hands with us strengthen our hearts.
As the long line stiffens and straightens with the thrill that your presence imparts.
Grip hands tho’ it be from the shadows. While we swear, as you did of yore.
Or living, or dying, to honor, the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.

“The Corps” was written by Chaplain Bishop H.S. Shipman around 1902, a century after the founding of the United States Military Academy in 1802.  In 2008, Superintendent LTG Hagenbeck ordered gender specific language to be removed. Women were first admitted into USMA in 1976.  Thank you, LTG Hagenbeck for recognizing this need for change after 32 years.  We, the women of the corps, past, present, and future, truly appreciate it.

Rowing all four years of her cadet life, Jaimie Leonard was a beloved member of the Army Crew team.  1011954_10151646804378376_1433522882_nThe women of the USMA Class of ’97 have set up a memorial fund with the West Point Association of Graduates (AOG) to purchase a four-person shell (rowing boat) in Jaimie’s honor.  It will be dedicated at a memorial ceremony and gifted to the Army Crew team for cadet rowers to use for to years to come.  All donations are tax deductable.  When gifting, please ensure you designate your gift as being “in Memory of Jaimie Leonard.” (whether gifted on-line, via phone, or checks).  Checks should be made payable to the West Point Association of Graduates (with “DCA Crew Team/in Memory of Jaimie Leonard” in the memo line).  Gifts can be made online at www.westpointaog.org/givetoWP or by calling 845-446-1658. 

You may mail donations to the following address:

West Point Association of Graduates ~ Attention:  AOG Gift Operations Department ~ 698 Mills Road ~ West Point, NY 10996.

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The sun sets on LTC Jaimie’s Leonard’s grave on the day of her burial, June 20th, 2013.

I wrote this article in honor of LTC Jaimie Leonard with sadness and appreciation for ALL our 1997 classmates who have given their life while fighting the Global War on Terrorism since September 11th, 2001. I offer eternal gratitude, love, and hope for peace to all the families of the fallen.  (Click on link for individual pictures and to leave memorial message/testimonial).

“With Pride We Defend” ~ USMA Class of 1997

Captain Matthew J. August, KIA Jan 27, 2004 ~ Iraq
Captain Philip T. Esposito, KIA Jun 8, 2005 ~ Iraq
Captain Michael J. MacKinnon, Oct 27, 2005 ~ Iraq
Captain Mark C. Paine, Oct 15, 2006 ~ Iraq
Captain Eric T. Paliwoda, Jan 2, 2004 ~ Iraq
Captain Ian P. Weikel, Apr 18, 2006 ~ Iraq
Lieutenant Colonel Jaimie E. Leonard, Jun 8, 2013 ~ Afghanistan

Finding Peace on Hallowed Grounds: Part 1

IMG_8257Recently I returned to Arlington for the first time since the burial of a dear friend in 2004.  There are 624 acres in Arlington National Cemetery where more than 14,000 veterans have been laid to rest, dating all the way back to the Civil War.  The rolling hills, dotted with white marble, are surely a site to behold.  Among presidents, historical heroes, countless memorials, and the famous Tomb of the Unknowns, lies a section that is noticeably different.  Given my short trip, I had no time to visit the others, even the Unknowns, I had far too many “knowns” to visit.

Walking through the majestic gates and past endless rows of graves,  I came to to a place that is all too familiar, the section where the gravestones are a bit whiter and the ground is noticeably more trampled.  It’s the section where one begins to see many vases of flowers, tiny stones, coins, and tokens crowding nearly every grave in every row, particularly after Memorial Day.  IMG_8287There are letters from spouses, children, mothers, fathers, friends, and perhaps even pictures or stickers stuck on the graves.  There are visitors, not just tourists, but friends and families who are clearly connected to the warriors buried within the sacred grounds of Section 60, the place many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are now rest.

Nine years ago my husband and I stood on a lush knoll on the eastern edge of Section 60, alongside a young widow and her two boys, ages 3 and 5 at the time.  As we stood over Dan’s casket in 2004, I remember thinking, “Surely this war will be over soon.”  To my dismay, exactly 8 years and 364 days from Dan Egger’s death, I found myself standing, yet again, in Arlington National Cemetery next to yet another widow and two more small boys, ages 17 months and 3 years old.

On Thursday, May 30th 2013, family, friends, and comrades gathered to honor a son, brother, husband, father, friend, and warrior, SSG Michael Simpson.  I was honored to be on those hallowed grounds once more, as a witness to the life and service of another great Special Forces brother.  Words of appreciation and sympathy can never express the eternal gratitude we have to the Simpson and Eggers families, as well as to all the families who’ve sacrificed and suffered over the past 12 years.

Some call Section 60, the saddest acre in all of America.  It may very well be so.  When I went back for some quiet reflection the day after we buried Mike, I felt the rush of my own emotions washing over me.  As I approached the grave of our old comrade, I saw a woman, clearly a young widow, tearfully speaking to her beloved as she knelt at his grave.  My heart hurt for her as it has for my own friends who intimately know this pain.  IMG_8260Sitting down in front of Dan’s grave, memories of my brother in arms flooded my thoughts.  Time seems to stand still when looking back, yet I know it moves forward.  My mind recalls the Eggers boys at such a tender age when their father was killed, but I as look down, I see the pictures of two grown boys.  I turned around to see the ground that was once an empty field, now almost completely filled with graves.  Originally, I intended to count the number of graves that marked the lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq from Dan’s place of rest to Mike’s freshly dug grave.  However, as I walked the rows, I couldn’t think of numbers…. only of the stories behind each and every name.  For hours I was lost in the stories that seemed to be whispered by the trees, every blade of grass, every token of love left by family or friends.  I stopped by graves of people that I have been connected with through past units or the military community, ones I didn’t know personally, but love and appreciate nonetheless.  About the time I began to wonder how many others I’d crossed paths with unknowingly, a green beret with a 3rd Group flash, resting at the foot of a grave, caught my eye.  As I looked closer, someone had also left a West Point coin, and I realized this young captain, killed in March of 2013, was a USMA grad, a member of my Long Grey Line family.  His death was fresh, of course, and still, sadly beyond him, lie even more graves. IMG_8290

The thing about Section 60 is not that the warriors laid to rest there are so different from the warriors of centuries ago.  Surely hearts broke just as painfully when a child had to be told of their father’s passing in the days of the Civil War.  In my mind, what makes it different, perhaps more difficult to bear, is that the majority of our country has no grasp of how deeply the War on Terrorism has affected so many lives.  Over 6,648 U.S. service members have been killed in the War on Terrorism.*  Though it is not our deadliest war, it has surely been the longest.  When war raged in Vietnam, people protested.  War rages in Afghanistan, and it rarely makes headline news these days.  Just because the vast majority of Americans ignore this distant war, doesn’t mean it returns the favor.  No, war continues to return to us only flag-draped caskets, limbless soldiers, and countless others who bear invisible wounds.  Each and every day we continue to put our sons, daughters, spouses, mothers and fathers in harms way, and consequently, we continue to dig up new ground at Arlington.IMG_8300  Standing at Dan’s grave and looking out towards Mike’s, I saw the horrific result of our failure to end this war sooner.  I’m not blaming any one country, group, person, or political party.  I personally believe we ALL owe it to those who’ve died and to those who continue to fight to take collective responsibility.

10 years ago this was a grassy knoll.  This is the view now - looking from Dan's grave towards Mike's (not even visible from here).

Nine years ago this was a grassy knoll. This is the view now – looking from Dan’s grave towards Mike’s (not even visible from here).

On a note of hope, I was blessed to reunite with Dan Egger’s widow, Rebecca, and their two boys on my trip. What a blessing to spend time with Rebecca and her sons on the very same day I stood with Krista Simpson and her two boys for Michael’s funeral.  These two widows, separated by 9 years of war, share the sacred bond of sacrifice.  I certainly do not know the pain that these remarkable women have suffered, and I hope I never do.  However, in knowing them, my faith is strengthened and my sense of purpose is deepened.  Over the years, I’ve watched how God has given Rebecca the courage, wisdom, and strength to move forward from the place where Krista now stands.  The Eggers boys are certainly living proof of God’s grace in motion.  J.J. and Billy are incredible young men who will forever carry their father in their hearts as they aspire to greatness in their own lives.  I know that Krista and the Simpson boys will also, not only survive, but thrive in spite of their great loss.

My sincere prayer is that all those who have loved ones in Section 60 will find peace and seek joy even in the midst of their darkest nightmare, remembering that they are connected to every brave soul and family honored on those hallowed hills of Arlington.  Likewise, may every American realize that we too are connected, regardless of our personal views or political beliefs, to the thousands of lives lost in the name of Freedom.    Let us also remember that there are military service members who stand in harms way each and every moment as we safely scurry about our day and rest comfortably at night.  If you do nothing more than offer up prayers of protection for our service members and gratitude to the families of the fallen, you’ve contributed in a positive way.    383436_10151409927290919_489922506_n

I wrote this piece on my journey back from Arlington.  Before I had the opportunity to catch my breath from this profound experience, I received tragic news from Afghanistan again.  Next week I will journey back to yet another sacred place where I will lay a sister to rest.  Part 2 of this story will be dedicated to LTC Jaimie Leonard and LTC Todd Clark who were killed in Afghanistan on June 8th 2013.

*This figure comes from The Washington Post and is clearly not as current as it could be given I know of at least 4 casualties not reported here. 

Tea, Love, & Connection

IMG_7197Seeing as hot tea is ever-flowing in our house, particularly during the long Washington winter, we recently decided to create a tea bar in our home.  It all started when I found a great shelf with perfect tea storage and placed it over the buffet in our dining room.  I must admit, this “buffet,” otherwise described as a set of dresser drawers, was also a changing table at one time.  Not long ago a friend from Hawaii came to visit and recognized my re-purposed dining room furniture saying “Wasn’t that in your son’s room before?  I think I changed a few diapers on that thing!”  I am a practical person, and having moved 8 times in the past 15 years, I try to only buy furniture that works in most any space.  With my newly hung shelf and a clean and cleared-off “buffet,” I re-purposed this the piece yet again.

The next step involved clearing out an antique pie safe where I have been storing tea products for some time.  As I pulled out tea pots, cups, and tea tins, I realized that I had quite an abundance of tea… far beyond what I had realized.  It was a true testimony to the abundance available when we simply open our eyes to what already exists!  Only by creating a new and open space (the tea bar), was I inspired to explore what had been lying untouched in the shadows of those back shelves.

As I took inventory of my tea and began placing it in it’s new home, I realized I had far more than I personally needed.  I began to envision how and with whom to share my glorious tea abundance!  Tea is a very personal drink.  In many cultures, there are elaborate rituals around tea, like the exquisite tea ceremonies of Japan and China that I’ve been blessed to experience.  Japan 2009 172Samurai warriors were often rewarded tea by their shogun for their courageous acts in battle and also used tea in their meditation practices.  Throughout the world, and in our home as well, there is great reverence for the second most widely consumed beverage in the world.  (Tea is second only to water, believe it or not… though probably not here in the state of Washington, the birthplace of Starbucks).

After separating out some teas I’d later gift to others, I had my new tea bar all set up.  As I stepped back to take a picture of the finished project, I realized a good portion of my adult life was now proudly displayed – in the name of tea.  There on the shelf was a teapot I bought about 17 years ago, on a random outing in New York when I was a cadet at West Point.  A few years after that, I received a teapot and cups for a wedding present.  Fast forward a few more years and in comes a teapot-for-one, just the right size for a new mother who spent a lot of time alone with her baby while her husband was away in Afghanistan.  Along the way, I was gifted with my first handmade cast iron teapot from my mother, a ceramic beauty crafted in Maui by a hanai (adopted) sister, and other treasured gifts.  I’ve bought special teapots for myself as well, two of which marked very pivotal times in my life.

As if the pots didn’t tell enough of the journey, the tea itself added some punctuation to the whole story.  My tea collections include tea from Savannah to Thailand and even some special tea that I grew, harvested, and blended at our home in Hawai’i.  IMG_7200You’ll also notice a special tea towel that was artfully hand-crafted by Kamaile Puaoi, a dear friend, artist, teacher, and phenomenal healer.*  Lastly, you might notice the six shiny tins crowning the shelf – the newest members of my tea ohana.IMG_7192

I am happy to say that over the Christmas holidays, I connected with some kindred spirits, the brilliant co-creators of Teamotions Teas.  Teamotions is an emotional wellness company offering a selection of teas (currently 9 different fusions) that are deliciously blended with adaptogen herbs that help the body cope with stress and foster emotional and physical well-being.  This line of teas was inspired when one of the founders, Rachelle Crawford (a military spouse), was grieving the loss of her twin baby girls.  Her sister (and Teamotions Co-Founder) Crystal Tenpenny said, “I wish there was something I could put in your tea to make you feel better!”  Out of immeasurable turmoil, Teamotions was soon birthed, a beautiful legacy to Aubrey and Ellie and a great reminder that we can “kulia i ka nu ‘u” (strive for the summit) even in the midst of our deepest pain.*

Image 12Each Teamotions blend is all-natural and hand-crafted in small batches with the utmost integrity using organic and fair-trade ingredients.  Teamotions believes that well-being starts on the inside and is ultimately acquired by regular expressions of compassion, serving others, cultivating healthy relationships, being thankful, practicing patience, and treating ourselves and others with kindness and respect.  These principles are indeed the essence of aloha and one of the reasons I’m so passionate about sharing these exquisite teas.

Throughout the year, I will be hosting tea tastings in my home and at other locations as an Independent Wellness Consultant for Teamotions.  Tea tastings are free of charge, FUN, and educational.   Go to the Ola Lokahi Face Book page to find out when the next public tea tasting is happening.  If you are interested in hosting a tasting at your home, your workplace, church, or for a community group,  please contact me (Susan) at olalokahi@gmail.com.  I look forward to sharing with you how these delicious blends can transform a simple cup of tea into a true healing experience!  To learn more about Teamotions or to order online, visit www.mindbodyaloha.com.

Aloha & may your cup runneth over!

Susan Alden

Image 4*Kamaile’s unique, hand-crafted tea towels are available on Etsy.  Click here to see her beautiful tea towels, pillows, and fun signs all with a super special Hawaiian touch! 

Tips for Talking to Children About Violence

Even though we didn’t have a TV on at all today, the news of the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School upset my 10 year old beyond what one might expect.  gty_31_school_shooting_sandy_hook_nt_121215_sshSimply overhearing a brief conversation (that amounted to “Can you believe the horrific tragedy that happened this morning?”) was enough to rock his world.  When the person who was speaking to me walked away, my child had a million questions.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like if he’d actually seen or read a news report!  Thank you to Brene Brown for sharing a great resource list regarding how to help children deal with distressing news.  Even though we strictly monitor media at our house, I know that when my 5 and 10 year old return to their elementary school on Monday, there will be talk on the bus and at school about this deeply upsetting event.  I found the article below from the National Association of School Psychologists very helpful to review.

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.

  1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
  2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.
  3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
    • Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should bebalanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
    • Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
    • Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
  4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
  5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
  6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood. (Personally I think this IS EXTREMELY important!  Parents often take for granted what children pick up from TV and conversations, even when it seems they aren’t really watching or listening)!
  7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.

Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children

  • Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
  • The school building is safe because … (cite specific school procedures).
  • We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
  • There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
  • Don’t dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect our school.
  • Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
  • Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
  • Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun or weapon.
  • Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention, children’s trauma reactions, and crisis response at http://www.nasponline.org. ©2006, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway #402, Bethesda, MD 20814

My heartfelt thoughts, prayers, and love go out to those who’ve lost loved ones in this school shooting, the entire Sandy Hook Elementary community, and to all who’ve suffered due to senseless violence through the years.  At times like this, I believe it is crucial to channel our collective grief and anger into positive and healing efforts – starting right within our own homes.

My Top 5 Essential Oils for Cold & Flu Season

‘Tis the season for colds, flu, and for many, holiday stress.  I personally have an arsenal of essential oils for every occasion and ailment.  Recently I was asked by several families what the must-haves were for this time of year.  I did my best to narrow my favorites down to the top 5 (not in any particular order) from Young Living.*  Disclaimer:  I’ve personally been using essential oils almost daily for over 15 years and have been using them with my children ever since they were infants, so we can handle using the oils undiluted.  In general, some of the methods I describe below are NOT recommended for first time users, people with skin sensitivities, or small children.  Consult your health care provider and/or your own wisdom for what is right for you and your family.

*Young Living Oils are premium, therapeutic essential oils.  I have tried many high-quality companies, but I continue to come back to YL which I’ve used for well over a decade, professionally and with my own family.  I particularly like their blends.  They also have a great, user friendly website and excellent customer service.  Image

Peppermint ~ It’s great for headaches, reducing fever, digestion, breaking up mucus, increasing vitality, and making yummy holiday recipes!   When my kids have a fever and/or headache, this is what I grab first.  I put it right on their upper forehead close to the hairline (away from eyes) and at the occiput (back of the head/at the base of the skull).  It gives a nice cooling sensation which the kids (and adults) really like, and it helps calm fever.  (Fevers are the body’s way of fighting infections.  Fever-reducing medications can actually prolong illness)!  For mucus & stuffy noses, put some drops in your hands and INHALE, then rub it on the chest!  For poor digestion/upset stomach, rub it on the belly or even ingest a few drops.* A great kid tip is to put a few drops in a bit of yogurt or ice cream for a minty treat that is good for the belly and for breaking up yucky mucus.  *Only ingest premium oils that are safe for consumption!  For nausea, rub peppermint on wrists and/or the bellly.  Peppermint WILL irritate the eyes, so be careful, especially with kids who might accidentally rub their eyes.  You can always diffuse into the air if nothing else with a low heat/no heat diffuser (sold by YL and other reputable companies), a wise investment if you are going to incorporate oils into your personal wellness regime.

R.C.™ ~ This is a Young Living blend that is FABULOUS!!!  It is my savior when anyone (from keiki to kupuna) are stuffed up and coughing.  Use it in place of cough syrup and to help break up mucus.  Rub it right on the chest (dilute if you have a skin sensitivity or are a first-timer with this blend).  It has a nice, kind of earthy smell that is very grounding.  Young Living does not list this one as as “dietary.”  However, my family has also used this one internally.  A quick drop on the tongue has proved to calm our middle-of-the-night sniffles and coughs.   My favorite kid trick with this one…. put a little on your finger and gently touch their tongue.  If they use a pacifier or suck their thumb, you can put it right on that too.  At first they might turn up their nose, but soon they’ll be asking for more when they make a connection to being able to breath easy!  As with all of these oils, one  little drop goes a long way.

Peace & Calming® ~ This is another blend my family LOVES!  It is truly amazing… a favorite among many, particularly children.  I’ve used Peace & Calming® (as well as Gentle Baby™) with my kids since they were just weeks old.  It’s very mild and pleasant- aiding in sleep and general calmness.  (I often carry it in my purse.  It comes in handy more times than I can count).  Rub it on the belly, chest, feet, neck…wherever you feel drawn to use it.  I often just place a few drops in my kids hands and let them put it where they feel they need it.  Kids are SUPER intuitive.  They know their bodies more than we give them credit!  Who doesn’t need more Peace & Calm, particularly during the holiday season???

Thieves® ~  This is another must-have blend for the cold & flu season!  It is an excellent preventative and a great go-to during a health crisis.  It smells very spicy (cinnamon, clove, etc.).  Interestingly enough, Thieves® was created based on research about four thieves in France who covered themselves with cloves, rosemary, and other aromatics while robbing plague victims! This proprietary blend has been university tested for its cleansing abilities.  It is a rather strong oil, best used on the soles of the feet to start.  Thieves® may also be taken internally as it a serious anti-microbial, very effective for clearing out a nasty virus or bacterial infection.  You can even clean with this powerful oil by adding it to your spray bottle, laundry, dishwater, etc.  YL makes various Thieves® products specifically for cleaning, but it’s also simple to make your own.  A really effective and spirited way to use Thieves® during the holiday to season is to diffuse it into the air.  This helps keep your home healthy when you are hosting events and keeps germs from spreading when someone in the household is sick.  Again, it is important to use the right kind of diffuser so as not to damage the therapeutic properties of the oil.

Valor® ~ This is another Young Living Blend that I love!  It is an everyday oil for me.  Valor® is an empowering combination that works with both the physical and spiritual aspects of the body.  I find it to be very grounding and to assist with mental clarity as well as boosting feelings of strength and courage.  Valor® has proven effective with energy alignment in the body and is therefore helpful in overall wellness.  I’ve heard health professional refer to it as a “chiropractor in a bottle.”  I know several Warriors Living Well who’ve headed off to combat zones with a bottle of Valor® in their rucksack!  To me, the ingredients make this blend a holiday favorite:  spruce, rosewood, blue tansy, and frankincense in a base of almond oil.  It smells heavenly!  You can get it in a 15 mL bottle or as a roll-on.  I personally like the roll-on.  I use it in lieu of synthetic perfumes and ALWAYS get complimented.  It’s nice when nearby people get a gentle dose of aromatherapy.  I’m always amazed at how it shifts those around me into a more pleasant state of awareness.  (My little secret when I go into social situations that may be challenging or stressful)!

Again as a general rule, it is always best to dilute essential oils when using them for the first time or with small children.  I like to use organic coconut oil as a carrier which easy to find at the grocery or even the drug store.  Any vegetable oil or unscented lotion will work as well.  Another safe way to explore essential oils for the first time is to use them on the feet (diluted or undiluted).  The soles of the feet are an effective way to use any essential oils at anytime as they correspond to every organ in the body as well as the spine.  You can also add these oils to bath water…a GREAT way to introduce them to kids for the first time.

If you are interested in purchasing these or other high-quality essential oils.  I invite you to explore purchasing options via my website:

http://www.mindbodyaloha.com/shoparomatherapy.htm

I wish you all a very merry holiday season and a bright and beautiful new year!

Aloha & Mahalo,

Susan Pualani Alden

Me, Green Beret Envy & My “Magic Carpet”

About ten years ago I found myself in MAJOR transition.  After serving as an active duty Army logistics officer, I traded in my captain’s bars for a Boppy pillow.  At the time, I thought I was more than ready to be a mom.  At 28 years old, I had successfully navigated my way through West Point and the challenges of serving in the male-dominated 3rd Infantry and 82nd Airborne Divisions.  With all my “expertise” in the male arena, I truly thought raising a little boy would be a piece of cake.

I quickly realized it was NOT a piece of cake at all.  Perhaps I was a bit overconfident out the start gate.  Just six weeks after our little man was born, my husband left for 60 days of training.  I suddenly found myself home alone and in a place where my thoughts seemed to keep me awake almost as much as our crying baby. At that point, I can remember stepping back and looking at my life as if it was a split screen on CNN.  On one side there was me with pressed BDU’s and shiny jump boots.  On the other side of the screen was me in sweats with hair that hadn’t seen a brush in two days.  I have to admit, there were some similarities.  The 4:00 am calls to come in to work for a random piss test where replaced by a little boy crying at 4:00 am to have his diaper changed.

Don’t get me wrong.  I was NOT feeling sorry for myself.  I was completely baffled that I was feeling anything less than overjoyed at being a stay-at-home mom.  In fact, I was downright frustrated that I was remotely depressed about even the whispers of post-partum depression!  Like any good military officer, I had planned this pregancy and birth, down to the last stitch of new bedding and useless wipe warmer. We had strategized our finances and started our son’s college fund before he ever saw the light of day!

What I had not counted on was how I would feel about not being recognized and rewarded for all my efforts or not being high-fived for surviving another sleepless night.  This is not to say my husband, extended family, and friends were not supportive.  They were extremely loving, understanding, and helpful.  What was different was living in the heart of a military community, just outside the gates of Ft. Bragg, NC, and no longer feeling a part of something “bigger.”  I was no longer standing in front of a formation getting an award for excellent service.  No boss was pulling me into his office to say congrats because I made the promotion list.  No one was even calling me to see if I could swing a quick lunch.  Until looking from the outside to the inside of those ranks, I never realized the extent to which I desired to be seen in those ways.  I wrestled over whether or not being seen by just those baby brown eyes was really enough for me.

During this time my husband had also made a big transition from the “regular Army” to Army Special Forces.  He had earned his green beret after an intense selection process and qualification course.  He had also shined in grueling schools such as SERE, and Ranger school.  I threw a big congratulations party for him when it was all complete, but I can’t deny that there was a part of me that was jealous.  Even while frosting the cake, I remember feeling as pea green as his new beret.  I knew that period of time was challenging for him on every level.  On top of everything else, he was missing out on seeing his newborn baby growing.  For all I knew, he was jealous of me for staying home.  No matter what, at the ended of the day, I knew he was very fulfilled by what he was doing, and as for me….well, I wasn’t yet convinced.

It took some time for me to move through these feelings.  Instead of moving through them in mind, body, and spirit, I chose to work through my issues as I had always done – by just DOING MORE.  As a very sleep-deprived mother I enrolled in grad school.  Six months and about $10,000 later, I dropped out.  I went through a period of perfectionism where I was obsessed with the perfect house, perfect garden, perfect parties….till “perfectionism” just steam-rolled me completely.  There was point where I thought getting back to 6.5 minute miles, was a great idea too…. up until I discovered that giving birth to an 8 pound boy naturally sometimes causes issues “down South.”  I once heard someone call hemorrhoids “balloon friends,” but I can tell you, they are NO damn friend of mine!

Somewhere along the way, I got a grip on myself and realized that doing for the sake of being more was just downright stupid.  It really doesn’t work that way.  This is where yoga stepped up and became the Light that invited me to come on in.  Growing up with a yogi-mom, I had done plenty of yoga before, but I had never experienced yoga.  Despite all the psychotic mind chatter going on in my severely sleep-deprived brain, I heard yoga’s whisper.  I found a class at my local health club (which also had child care… yippie), and I soon became a regular.  Least I forget God’s great sense of humor, my first real yoga teacher, a true master yogi, was a male AND a retired Army first sergeant!

It took me a few classes to move from doing yoga (and wondering how I measured up in a class of studs) to experiencing yoga.  When I made that transition from doing to experiencing yoga, the sense of my own BEING-ness washed over me.  What does that feel like?  The best way I can describe it is using the words of Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a 12 century Christian mystic.  When I am connected and aware of my BEING-ness, I feel “like a feather being transported by the breath of God”. How did that happen?  One word….SURRENDER.  I gave up trying to do or be anything more and than what I was in that very moment.

After many years of practicing yoga, I now identify my yoga mat as my magic carpet.    When I step on it, I surrender.  I’m not doing yoga, I am experiencing my body, mind, and spirit in that momenta witness to what IS, not what I wish for or what was long ago.  I just witness ME – in the moment.  Whether I step on the mat for five minutes or an hour and fifteen, I have no self- judgment, no expectation, no agenda.  It’s just my magic carpet and ME.

Now I am mom to two little boys.  My husband and I have survived and thrived after more than 15 years in the great “Green Machine” (a.k.a. the Army).  Now, yoga is more of an old friend than an actual practice.  Like any true friend, it brings me back to myself and makes me more of who I am.  I hope that everyone, particularly in our military community (including those who wear the uniform AND those who don’t), have one of these non-judgemental, no expectation/no agenda kind of “friends”…. whether it’s a yoga mat, a fly rod, a bicycle, Zumba, or a comfy pair or running shoes.  When you move your body, you still your mind – pure and simple.  And when you still your mind, you begin to hear the whispers of who you really are.   

Move your body, and your Spirit will follow!

Aloha nui loa & happy “Aloha Wednesday” from the not-so-sunny Pacific Northwest ~