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Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience

Billy Barr lives in Gothic, Colo., a silver mining town that was abandoned more than 100 years ago.

We’re all social distancing these days, and it’s unclear when exactly that will end. But Billy Barr has been doing this for almost 50 years. He’s the only full-time resident of Gothic, Colo.

“I’m the mayor and chief of police,” he said. “I hold elections every year, but I don’t tell anybody when they are, so it works out really well.”

Barr has tips on social distancing, but he’s the first to say they may well be entirely useless.

“When I first got here, it was a relief for me to be on my own, but that’s not necessarily what a healthy person does — isolate themselves,” he said. “I mean, I’m good at it and I do it because I like it, but what works for me, it works for me. It quite conceivably wouldn’t work for anybody else.”

While Barr has been called a hermit, he doesn’t consider himself one. He occasionally interacts with skiers who pass through, he talks to his sister on the phone, and he works for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory nearby, which gets flooded with scientists in the summer.

But the man has been living alone in a cabin in the mountains for many years, and in the winter months, he can go many days without seeing a soul. So staying home during the COVID-19 outbreak?

So, without further ado, here are five recommendations for the Billy Barr method of social distancing.

1. Keep track of something.

Each day, Barr tracks the weather for a number of groups including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He started measuring snow levels in the 1970s, mostly because he was bored.

“Everything depends on the weather,” said Barr, who has skied through that “sideways” and “swirling” snow to talk on the phone from the laboratory. “It controlled what I did and so I would write it all down.”

He would also write down when he saw an animal.

“With the birds, especially the ones that arrive in the spring, it was exciting,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s sunrise and I can hear robins.’ ”

Turns out, monitoring things that were important to his daily life had real value. As The Atlantic has written and the documentary The Snow Guardian has shown, his records have informed dozens of studies on climate change.

Day’s Edge Productions YouTube

In the era of COVID-19, he suggests tracking what you can — or can’t — find at the grocery store. Or, better yet, participating in some citizen science, like a project called CoCoRaHS that tracks rainfall across the country.

“I would definitely recommend people doing that,” he said. “You get a little rain gauge, put it outside and you’re part of a network where there’s thousands of other people doing the same thing as you, the same time of the day as you’re doing it. It’s very interesting.”

2. Keep a routine.

Barr starts early. He wakes up around 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m., and stays in bed until about 5 a.m.

“Up until a week or two ago, I would listen to the news every morning so that I could start every day either totally depressed or furious. That’s always a good way to start the day,” he said.

“Now with the whole COVID and with politics and stuff,” he said he just can’t anymore. So, he listens to old-time radio instead.

Then it’s time to clear the snow off his solar panels and file weather reports to a bunch of different agencies. The rest of the day involves work and chores interspersed with skiing.

“I kind of follow a set time schedule,” said Barr. “Sometimes I forget what day it is, but I know what time it is.”

Most importantly, he said, is leaving a reward for the end of the day. He’ll read, knit something, watch a movie and then watch a game of cricket.

“It’s pretty much the same day after day. Most of it I enjoy,” he said.

Notably absent from his daily routine: keeping a personal journal. He said he used to, for about a decade or so, but then he went back and read it. “And it was so boring. It’s like, ‘OK enough already. Let me go watch some paint dry.’ ”

3. Celebrate the stuff that matters, rather than the stuff you’re supposed to celebrate.

Barr has mostly ditched holidays and birthdays, but he does celebrate Jan. 17, when sunrise goes back to what it was on the solstice.

“To me, that’s a big deal because I get up so early in the morning that the lighter it gets, earlier, makes my day a lot easier,” he said.

He also celebrates when he gets back from skiing 8 miles each way into the town of Crested Butte for supplies.

“Town can be kind of stressful,” he said. “So I save my favorite movies and I save my favorite meals and I save things to do so when I ski back from town and I’m home, it’s like, ‘Woohoo!’ Big party time.”

4. Embrace the grumpiness.

Sometimes, Barr said, it’s kind of satisfying to be grumpy about something.

“I do get sick and tired of snow, but I like kidding about it. I live in an area where people live for snow, but I’m not that carried away with it, so I like being grumpy about it,” Barr said. “You get older and you start saying ‘OK, I’m not going to necessarily be pleasant when I don’t feel pleasant.’ ”

These days, Barr is feeling especially unpleasant.

“Ironically, I have been in contact with one person in the last nine days. That was eight days ago,” he said.

And then the guy got sick.

“I don’t know what he has, but for the last week, I’ve been sitting around wondering If I’m going to get it,” Barr said. (Another week has passed since this interview.)

Which brings us to his final tip…

5. Use movies as a mood adjuster.

“If I’m really stressed I might watch an animated movie, something cute and funny that takes my mind off it. If I’m depressed, I can reverse that,” he said.

“My tastes are reasonably fluff-oriented,” he said. Movies like Pandemic or The Shining? Hard pass. “The Princess Bride is my pretty much favorite movie. I like Hugh Grant stuff, like Love ActuallyNotting Hill.”

He also recommends Bollywood movies like Om Shanti OmBride and Prejudice and English Vinglish.

“They’re colorful. They’re pretty, there’s good music and stuff,” he said. “I have a list of favorites that I’ll only watch under certain circumstances. I save them for that.”

Here are the 357 movies at the top of his list.

About 20 years ago, Barr added a movie room onto his cabin. It has a projector, carpeted walls, and three chairs.

“I have a nice chair for me and I have two other chairs with the idea that I’d invite people up,” he said. “And I never do.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Can’t pay your April rent because of COVID-19?

Governor Bullock has stopped all evictions for nonpayment through April 10. You still have to pay your rent. It is a good idea to contact your landlord to come up with a plan to pay rent. You can find a form letter to ask your landlord to postpone, reduce, or waive rent because of the Coronavirus at MontanaLawHelp.org. You can also call 2-1-1 to see if you can get financial and other assistance.

To learn more, check out our COVID-19 section on MontanaLawHelp.org. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try our smart search bar. Or call the Montana Legal Services Association HelpLine at 1 (800) 666-6899. Support free legal information for all Montanans at mtlsa.org/donate/.

Alex Clark
Community Outreach Assistant
Ph: (406) 543-8343 ext. 220

Informed Citizen – DIY Humanities Week #1

Former librarian Julie Edwards delves into the topic of fake news, how it spreads, and how you can take control.

Explore

Go to the link below to listen and watch this great presentation on protecting your information and knowing what to believe in this time of crisis.

Informed Citizen – DIY Humanities Week #1

Can I file for unemployment if I can’t work due to COVID-19?

Yes. Montana is extending unemployment benefits to individuals who are told to leave work without pay due to COVID-19. Even if your employer tells you that you can return to work when the business reopens, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. To apply, visit https://montanaworks.gov/ or call the Unemployment Insurance Division at (406) 444-2545.

To learn more, read our article “COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits” on MontanaLawHelp.org. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try our smart search bar. Or call the Montana Legal Services Association HelpLine at 1 (800) 666-6899. Support free legal information for all Montanans at mtlsa.org/donate/.

Do you know how to find free tax filing software online?

Look for online tax filing programs that say “IRS Free File program delivered by…” and then the name of the business offering the free tax filing. A new IRS rule says that businesses must use this specific name to help taxpayers more easily find free tax filing options. So, make sure you’re using a tax filing program that says “IRS Free File program.”

To find in-person help with tax filing near you, visit MontanaFreeFile.org. Support free legal information for all Montanans at mtlsa.org/donate/.

Alex Clark
Community Outreach Assistant
Ph: (406) 543-8343 ext. 220

Montana Legal Services Association

1535 Liberty Lane

Suite 110D

Missoula, MT 59808

HelpLine: 1-800-666-6124
Websites:
www.mtlsa.org / www.MontanaLawHelp.org / www.JusticeForMontanans.org

What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications

 

What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications 

Today, I finished training three new counselors—Meredith, Rhiannon and Monica—who worked in admissions at Cornell, Sweet Briar and Harvard respectively.  During lunch, I posed the following questions to them, and I’ll share their responses here.

After you read an application, what is the biggest turn-off?

1. Arrogance

When confidence goes too far and a student is entirely too self-impressed, it’s not a likable quality.

2. Dishonesty. 

Nobody likes to be lied to.  One of the trainees said that she would count up the total number of weekly hours a student listed for activity involvement.   If the total number exceeded the total number of hours that exist in a week, she knew that something was amiss.

3. Trying too hard to be impressive.

Tell the truth and be proud of what you’ve done.  But don’t try to add marketing oomph to your messages.

What qualities always resonated?

1. Confidence

Confident kids are proud of what they’ve done, but they don’t feel the need to add a dash of marketing to make themselves sound more impressive.

2. Honesty.

A kid who was comfortable enough in her own skin to admit what she didn’t know or wasn’t good at always shined through.   The trainees were clear not to imply that everything is worth sharing.  Just don’t lie about whatever you do mention.

3. Authenticity

Just be yourself.  All three counselors agreed that this was the most important one.

KEVIN MCMULLINKevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise, a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog, wiselikeus.com, and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.

6 Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

Apr 03, 2019

Sad teen girl with suicidal thoughts

Being a teen is tough and as a parent, the day to day mood swings, likes, and dislikes of your teen can be dizzying to keep up with. With all this going on, it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for more serious signs that their child may be having suicidal thoughts and are in need of a lifeline.

Whether a parent has heard it before or not, nothing brings about more fear for a family when their child runs off screaming, “I wish I were dead!” Screams that perhaps began in tears or angst over a family argument, relentless bullying from so-called “friends,” or a progressive tumble into a deep depression.

Parents, and others, might be tempted to look the other way, writing off the behavior as “typical teenage rebellion” or as “a kid who just needs attention.” Needing attention is exactly what this child needs and sometimes they don’t know how to best let you know. The warning signs of suicidal risks and what you can do about them are important to understand as dealing with them early on is key to healing.

What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

The thought of teen suicide is a nightmare for many parents but the reality is that parents need to be thinking about it and paying attention to their teens. According to the Population Reference Bureau, teen suicide is now the second leading cause of deaths in teens, just behind accidents, with 10 out of 100,000 teens dying by suicide each year. This is a scary fact, but parents should know that prevention and intervention are two ways that they can help their teens.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported that in 2017, 17.2% of high schoolers reported considering suicide, a number that has increased 25% since 2009. Teen suicide is a growing problem and there are numerous reasons that a teen might resort to suicide as an extreme solution. The question that remains however, is what can parents do to prevent teen suicide by identifying and addressing patterns that may indicate suicidal thoughts?

The seriousness of teen suicide can’t be overlooked and here are 6 warning signs that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts:

  1. Withdrawal from Usual ActivitiesWhen kids who have been typically interested in their social life and extracurriculars begin withdrawing from friends, activities and family gatherings, it is important to wonder what might be going on for your child. Sometimes withdrawal is a sign of depression which is a leading cause of suicide.
  2. Depressed MoodSymptoms of depression can include, but is not limited to, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and helplessness, notable changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia or excessive sleeping, notable changes in appetite such as overeating or appetite loss, and persistent sadness. It is also not uncommon for those who are depressed or suicidal to ignore hygiene and personal appearance.
  3. Frequent Outbursts of AngerTeenagers typically have mood swings, all of which need to be addressed. Mood swings that may be more concerning are those that seemingly come out of nowhere and without understandable context. Some of these mood swings may come with threats of violence and self-harm, expressing their sense of hopelessness in an aggressive way. Mood fluctuations between extreme anger or manic behavior and irregular or depressed mood may be signs of bipolar disorder or other mental illness.
  4. Current Family Difficulties or Traumatic Life EventsChildren and teens often experience their parents’ marital conflict or divorce as life altering and traumatic. Hopelessness and helplessness often begin within that child when these difficulties go undiscussed. A death of a loved one or even a family move may leave a child feeling lonely and ignored and sometimes their way of coping is to withdraw or to become angry.
  5. School DifficultiesStudents who contemplate suicide sometimes tell a friend or write about it in school essays. Their feelings of hopelessness may come from a variety of school experiences. Academic pressure from parents or from schools may feel insurmountable especially when the message is that the student is not “good enough” unless they have a perfect score.

    Bullying is a pervasive school problem that students often do not disclose because of shame and embarrassment. Adults may minimize the effects of bullying, but students experience the trauma of such harassment on a daily basis. Currently going beyond name calling and shunning, cyber bullying with mobile devices takes the harassment to a viral level. Students are subject to physical and sexual threats, altered Instagram posts, group humiliation and rejection sometimes accompanied with bribes in order for the bullying to stop.

  6. Self-InjurySometimes the cry for help appears in more hidden, but destructive, ways. Self-injury often begins as a way of self-soothing, with some students report that cutting, or self-mutilation, is a way that they still see if they can feel.

    Substance use of alcohol and drugs temporarily numbs the pain. Food binging sometimes begins as a way to “swallow” the pain while purging is a way to “express” it. And sometimes the student feels as if they can “disappear” or stay in control through restricted eating or anorexia. A disregard for one’s own life can also appear in careless behavior such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, or maintaining destructive and abusive relationships.

Depression and Suicide

Untreated depression and anxiety in teens can often to lead to suicide because it’s hard for teens to find the help that they so desperately require. Sometimes depression and anxiety can be difficult to identify for both teens and parents; the teenage years are volatile enough and a serious case of depression could easily be written off as a moody teen. Even more, teens might not be able to accurately vocalize that their mental health is suffering, if they can even identify that that is the source of their unhappiness.

Depression and suicide have a lot of the same symptoms and warning signs such as:

    • Emotional changes
    • Low self-esteem
    • Loss of interest in usual or social activities
    • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
    • Social isolation
    • Poor academic performance and increase absences from school

Bullying and Suicide

Bullying and cyber bullying can also play a role in suicidal thoughts and suicide. In fact, the link between the two is so strong that Yale University reported victims of bullying in it’s various forms are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.

Now that so much of our lives are online, kids not only have to worry about bullying at school and social activities but this bullying can continue online, at all times of day, easily broadcast to every person they know. For teens, this means it can feel inescapable and lead to feelings of shame. And according to dosomething.org, only 1 in 10 online bullying victims will report abuse to a parent or trusted adult which is another reason why it’s critical for parents to pay attention to the warning signs.

Social Media and Suicide

Not only is all that time that teens are spending online and on their phones leading to increased cyber bullying, but it’s also leading to teens playing the comparison game and constantly thinking they are not enough. As a teen, everything feels incredibly important and powerful and this really is true for the effects that social media can have on their mental health: cyber bullying, comparison traps, and social isolation can seriously and negatively impact our teens.

Encouraging healthy amounts of screen time, addressing social media FOMO, and reminding your teens that you are available as a resource can help ensure that your teen remains in a healthy headspace.

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Teen Suicide

Knowing tips about how to prevent suicide is the first place parents and others should start if they notice changes in their teen and their behavior. Having this knowledge and the right resources can help you prevent teen suicide.

  • Pay AttentionAs tempting as it is to look the other way, denial will not help your child. Notice the changes in your child’s appearance, mood, and academics. Trust your gut and use a little detective work—talk with their school counselor, network with other parents who might be “in the know,” check their grades and homework, look in their backpacks and room, and use an Internet filter to keep them safe while they’re online.

    Find an opportunity or an open door to talk with them. Try saying something empathetic such as “I’ve noticed you’re not really yourself these days. It seems like something is bothering you. I’d like to talk about it with you if you’d like.” Be prepared for a shrug, an outburst, or getting blown off. At least you’ve said something. Keep saying it with love and without accusation; don’t try and talk them out of their feelings or minimize their experience. As difficult as it may be to understand or comprehend, listen for the message underneath their behavior.

  • Seek HelpIf your child exhibits signs of depression, anxiety or feelings of helplessness, it is important that you seek assistance. Ask your doctor or school for a referral to a good mental health professional to assess the emotional changes. Be open to family therapy and open to what your child is saying about their inability to cope.

    Be courageous in hearing that they may have thought about ending their life. Work together to make small and significant changes in their daily experience to help elevate their mood, keep them safe, and intervene where necessary. Sites like Help Guide are helpful online resources for teens and parents.

  • Create a VillageYou will need support as a parent; spend time with friends who may understand your angst because they have teenagers too. Reach out to school counselors as they may have their pulse on the academic environment and school day. Involve your network who may be connected to your child; perhaps older siblings or family members are connected to them in cyberspace where they may be able to educate you and fill you in regarding your concerns.
  • Talk About ItDon’t be afraid to ask your teen (or anyone else) if they are so hopeless that they feel ending their life is an option. People who receive support from caring friends and family and who have access to mental health services are less likely to act on their suicidal impulses than are those who are socially isolated. Ask your teen what you can do to be helpful.

    Keep your own stressors in check and examine whether or not your expectations are exacerbating your child’s issues and be realistic. One conversation is just a beginning; keep up the conversations as there is no easy fix. It is not helpful to tell your child “why don’t you just find other friends,” or “how about we redecorate your room?” These are not harmful statements, but the conversation cannot end there.

How Parental Control Software Can Prevent Teen Suicide

Parental control software may not immediately come to mind as a tool parents can use in preventing teen suicide, but it can be incredibly valuable. Parental control software can provide parents with a window into their teen’s online activity and online searches. The visibility that PC software provides can give parents crucial visibility to patterns that might be taking place as well as allowing them to set up alerts and reports for searches that their child is performing online.

Teens contemplating suicide often turn to the Internet when they’re not finding support or answers in other areas of their life. It’s a place of anonymity and there are plenty of sites and people that not only provide information on teen suicide, but encourage it. A teen with less than stellar mental health might begin searching things like “I feel so alone” or “am I depressed” and these searches alone should be enough to tip parents off that there is a bigger problem than your teen just being moody. Those searches might later escalate to ones like “ways to self-harm without a knife,” “how to commit suicide,” and “easiest way to commit suicide” all of which provide a staggering number of search results on Google with upwards of hundreds of millions of hits.

With PC software, parents can block websites that discuss suicide and set up alerts and reports for searches their child performs online. Paying attention to changes and serious warning signs of suicidal thoughts in real life is incredibly important but parents shouldn’t overlook the significance of their teen’s online activity.  Acting as a second set of eyes, PC software can help parents see more and in the case that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts, it can be key in helping you prevent it.

Teens go through a very turbulent and emotional time in their development but hopefully their difficulties do not emerge as suicidal thoughts. Spending time with them doing things they like to do, talking with them about their day and your day, and encouraging them to find some safe social connection is good for all teen… and it’s good for you too.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255 for more resources.

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Dr Charlene Underhill Miller, a psychotherapist in Southern California, working with parents, couples and families. She is a frequent and popular speaker to community groups, a professor, a wife and mother. www.underhillmiller.com

Family Game Night

 

Family Game Night 

We all know that spending time with our families is important, it offers feelings of stability, security, and ultimately love. With all of the demands on our time it is important that families be intentional with their time. Family Game Night is the perfect way to bond with your family, create memories, and have fun. Here are some tips to help Family Game Night be a success at your house.

Time

Ready, set, go! Begin by checking your calendar to find a free hour or so for everyone in your family. Many people become overwhelmed thinking that they must block out an entire evening or that game night must be a weekly occurrence. The frequency and duration of a Family Game Night isn’t the focus, it is simply setting aside time for those most important to you: your family. Also, the best way to keep everyone’s attention is to keep things moving. Some games can be more like a marathon than a sprint. Designating a time for game play, and for each game played, helps to keep the time flowing and everyone focused on the game, parents included.

Games

The first step to a successful game night is choosing games that will hold your family’s interest. If you have a range of ages in your family this can be tricky. To create buy-in let your kiddos pick the games. Thankfully manufactures show the suggested age-ranges on the side of most board games, which should help you steer your kids in the right direction. That might mean each child choose one game and all games are given time limits (15-30 minutes each). The littlest members of your family will most likely have no interest in playing. Let them sit on your lap and engage where they show interest, but have separate activities set out for them so that they are near the fun.

Sportsmanship

One of the best lessons that you can teach your kiddos during a game night is sportsmanship. Remember, children do a much better job emulating our actions than they do our words. Keep these things in mind as you play:

Be Patience– even when your child has dropped the dice on the floor 700 times, show your child that you can wait nicely and help them to get back on track.

Winning Doesn’t Matter– That old adage “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” is important to keep in mind as you play with your family. Remind children that playing fairly, being kind to other players, and having fun is what games are all about. Winning and losing is just a small part of the story.

Be Flexible– Are pieces to a game missing? Improvise. Did you realize 5 minutes into the game that it just isn’t a good fit? Scrap it and try again. Did you kids get hungry? Take a quick snack break. Rigidity is one of the fastest means of making a fun night anything but fun.

Manage Your Expectations– Life in general, and parenting specifically, seems to be smoother when you enter a situation with your expectations low. If you envision a picture-perfect hour of nothing but joy, love, and gratitude… you are sure to be disappointed. Instead plan on a few bumps along the road and count the smiles as worth any bumps.

 

 

Armed with these few hints you are ready to plan and execute a Family Game Night that will be a building block for many family memories.

Tessa Jurewicz is an accomplished writer who is passionate about helping parents find joy in raising a family. She has honed her passion while teaching elementary-aged children for fifteen years and earning a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She practices discovering joy daily in raising three young children of her own.