Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Carols Calm

I am not a big music person, but I own a lot of Christmas CDs. Nothing like some Bing and Frank to get the season started off great.

There's yet another benefit of Christmas carols, as has been reported in the last few days - they calm babies. Here's a story from the Casper newspaper, taken from Scripps Howard. I'm copying it over in case they take it down but the link is at the bottom.

Christmas music calms newborns, nurses report
Scripps Howard News Service Thursday, December 14, 2006

The holiday season is in full swing and it is giving nurses who work with newborns something to be thankful for. Their rows of usually fussy infants have been seduced into a collective calm, thanks to the tunes of Christmas.

"They are usually pretty cranky," said Amanda Ring, a women and children's health nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell Medical Center. "But when we put Christmas music on, they stop crying. It's amazing."

Studies have shown that babies are born with the ability to perceive and process basic musical sounds and patterns, often with a preference for those in major keys. It just so happens that most holiday music is written and performed in such keys.

"Because the way that our brains are wired, you don't need to have a fully developed frontal cortex to be affected by music," said Suzanne Hanser, chair of music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Even in adults, soothing music can be used to initiate a state of relaxed awareness in the brain, studies show. The music triggers neural impulses which themselves cause nervous system reactions that produce relaxation in muscle tone, brain wave frequency, and other reflexes.

"It's not surprising that newborns would feel soothed by almost any music," Hanser said.

But Ring said the infants are noticeably more content when holiday music is played compared to the usual classical or soft-rock music that flows from the overhead speakers in the hospital's two nurseries.

"It's a really busy nursery," Ring said. "There can be up to 22 babies in one nursery at a time and it's rarely quiet for more than 10 minutes. But with the Christmas music on, it can stay quiet for more than an hour and a half."

Christmas-music expert William Studwell, professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, said the variety of yuletide tunes also proves interesting to babies.

"Slow music and classical music, such as Yanni, would not shake up the children, but it's boring," Studwell said. "Christmas music has such a different body. Some are secular, some are sacred, some are fast, and some are slow."

Another contributing factor could be the calming effect that Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and other Christmas crooners have on the nurses themselves. Babies can pick up on the serenity of their caretakers, which then makes them happier, too.

Hanser agreed.

"(Christmas music) might have a great impact on the nurses themselves," she said. "As they pick up a child it may remind them of their family and celebration. Having a positive effect on the caregivers themselves, would enhance the whole environment in which the children and staff are behaving."

Hanser said that some kinds of Christmas music -- those songs with rich orchestration and often-loud sounds -- might actually be too stimulating.

"There are very upbeat carols and children's songs and those that get one in a holiday spirit," she said. "And then there are the very religious and sacred hymns that speak to the seriousness of the history behind the holiday."

Hanser said she would be careful about advising people to play Christmas music to newborns because of its volume.

Studwell disagreed. Even the upbeat, fast-paced songs, such as "Come All Ye Faithful," do not overwhelm. They lift.

Most important, he said, is the key in which they are performed. Lullabies are usually in major keys, which tend to be more upbeat and positive, even when they are slow. The same holds true for Christmas music.

The nurseries at New York Presbyterian play both types of Christmas music, with the volume kept low, Ring said.

"It's amazing," she said. "You just walk in and every baby is quiet."

Sundays are for Relaxing and Preparing

I slept in today - somewhat unusual for me - but it's good every once in awhile. I got close to eight hours of sleep last night so that's a lot for me. But I've been going almost non stop for a few weeks so my body probably needed the rest.

This afternoon Greg and I went to see Tuna Christmas at the Fox. It was put on by the local theatre guild and Steve and Denny, the two actors who played all the parts, were quite wonderful in it.

We've managed to sneak in a lot of Christmas activities this year - we caught Miracle on 34th Street on TV one night, we went to see Prairie Nutcracker last week, Polar Express in Imax and then this play today.

We also went out tonight to see some Christmas lights after dinner at Skaets. We went to the "rich" part of town. I guess it's all relative. I'm not a person who seeks new construction so that doesn't appeal to me. I need a house with some history, some soul, and some workmanship. A house you can build in a week is not one I want to live in. OK, of course, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. If my blogs were really searchable like I want them to be I'd reference the bit I wrote some time ago in praise of old houses. But, that's another project.

I've been working on some MHA things inbetween today and also cleaning up from last night and preparing for Tuesday. I need to make my grocery list so I can hopefully only need ONE trip to the store. We'll see how that works out for me. Traditionally, not so well... but maybe this will be the magic time.

Leadership Gathering

It was nice to see folks from my leadership class. We had a good turn out - although there were people I really wished could come who weren't able to. Well, it would have been nice if everyone could have been here but that just isn't reasonable to expect during the holidays.

There was much laughter and that's always a good thing.

It was an ongoing joke that Connie was telling her boyfriend, Larry, to not touch the tree in case it started an avalanche of things falling. Dennis' wife, Sonja, was telling him the same thing. I assured them they could touch the tree, that nothing bad would happen. Eventually Connie couldn't resist, either.

Larry admired some blue bell-shaped ornaments I had on the tree, so I gave him one of them to take home. At one time I had four of them, but I think I've broken a couple. But, I had two so I sent one of them home with him since he liked them. I love to share things like that.

It was nice to see folks again. Leadership is definitely a bonding experience.

Everyone left pretty early - before 11. I rarely go to bed early, but I guess others keep more normal hours. I could have sat around and talked for hours yet. But I was definitely ready to sit. I turned my ankle a little bit in one of my many trips between kitchen and table and it was starting to hurt a little by the end of the night - enough I wanted to sit down. It was just some little funky thing I did and I'm sure it will be fine tomorrow.

One of the things I made tonight was Heavenly Hash Brownies. A number of people asked for the recipe so I said I would just post it here. I've been making these for awhile, but I'm not sure how long.

One of the first times I made them was for the opening of Pat Mitchell's studio. That seems like it was a lifetime ago, even though it wasn't that many years ago. Pat died in 2001 and she didn't have the studio too many years before that.

Life moves fast, very fast. Hard to believe that painting above my fireplace that she did has only been here less than five years. I've been in this house less than 5 years - Tuesday is the five year anniversary of when I closed. I moved in March the following year. That painting was the first thing I put up. In some ways I feel like I've lived here forever. In others it seems it was just the briefest of moments ago when I was making plans to spend the first night here.

One thing is for sure - life moves at a fast pace.

Heavenly Hash Brownies

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup margarine, melted
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups pecans (optional)

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

Combine eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla. Melt margarine and add cocoa. Add that mixture to the flour mixture and beat well. Add nuts. Bake in a 9 by 13 pan at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

When out of the oven, cover with marshmallows and return to oven briefly to melt. Make frosting and pour over warm cake. Let cool before cutting.

1/2 cup margarine, melted
1/3 cup milk
3 T cocoa
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla