Life

Loose Ends

Loose ends are the dangling participles and unrelated pronouns of everyday life. They hang about, waiting for classification. In knitting or quilting, loose ends have to be woven into the knit sock or quilt and then trimmed. Loose ends are the difference between being finished and being completed. “I’ve knit ten pairs of socks, but still have to weave in the ends.” vs. “I’ve completed ten pairs of socks, already to be wrapped!” And we all know the potential disaster of pulling on a loose thread – if we are lucky, only the hem falls; if unlucky we can create an avalanche.

These loose ends fly around us like pesky flies. We return to conversations and think of rebuffs (too late) or great ideas (also, too late). Just after the moment of hitting send, an anecdote you should have included in the e-mail dangles before you; you seal the envelope, and a bit of news you should have shared gets spotted in your peripheral vision; and after pressing the publish button a great insight pops up in front of you. Gather up the loose ends, trim them and let them go.

Recipes get clipped, a magazine article needs closer attention, this small little do-dad may come in handy some day. Will it ever? There are two scenarios to play out in that case a) you forget you have the handy little so-and-so or b) you remember keeping it for just such an occasion, but can’t find it. Piles grow, storage containers get purchased, cupboards get filled and the space under the bed collects more than just dust-bunnies. Suddenly, all these loose ends have joined into a large mass of overwhelming stuff you need to deal with. Weave in only the essential threads, let the rest be trimmed. Be honest, if you haven’t touched it in…you can’t remember when…are you going to ever use it?

Sentimentality is a very dangerous loose end. One keeps tugging on the thread, undoing, unpicking, unraveling. Those threads get gathered up in a ball (they might come in handy) and put away again. Finished, but not completed, and now possibly tangled as well. And close on the heels of sentiment are the regrets. Those words we didn’t say, conversations and actions finished, but not completed. One can pull them out, flip through them, weave in a few ends, but ultimately (if one isn’t careful) the pile becomes too overwhelming, just too many to complete.

I have been sorting this week, inspired by a call for donations on Monday. My husband and I (usually this is a solo endeavour) went through Christmas decorations, rearranged cupboards and drawers. Finished. The truck came and picked up the boxes and bags. Completed.

Simplee

 

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Life

The Calm Before the Storm

On Sunday, while browsing through a local floral/gift shop and admiring the beautifully decorated trees, an overwhelming sense of sadness crept over me. It was a foreshadowing of the nearing storm – akin to the hairs on your arms standing on end prior to an electrical storm.

At midnight, tonight, the calendar page turns. Little cardboard doors will be flipped open for the chocolate hiding inside, beginning tomorrow. Everything will be taken up a notch – louder, brighter, bigger, sweeter and space will become tighter.

December has to be the most difficult month to live simply and to live small in. Commercials tug at heart-strings and (impossible to meet) expectations greet us around every corner. All our usual responsibilities get buried beneath extra seasonal responsibilities; something must give – sleep? sanity? patience?

We suddenly have to rush about completing never-ending lists of things to do, buy, etc. and any beauty that’s present gets lost in all the bustle. There are tunes playing in the background, but they’re rarely heard.

It isn’t too late. Sit down with your family and figure out what you really want to do over the holidays. We sit down in mid-November and each of us makes a wish list of events to attend, traditions to repeat. Some overlap – no negotiation necessary – others we consider carefully. We have school related events which are not holiday related; there are appointments to be kept; and we have tickets already purchased for the symphony’s holiday concert; and there are only so many hours in any given day.

Some of our wishes are based on tradition, but most importantly, they are still enjoyable. {Tip: If a tradition is only a tradition because it has “always been done,” consider eliminating it or changing it. You can always come back to it the following year.} You’ll be surprised at some of the wishes which appear on the lists – a family walk to look at the light displays in the neighbourhood appeared on my son’s list – no cost, no work, no plan needed.

So you can batten down the hatches and brace yourself, or you can keep it simple, keep it small and keep it special. Trust me, it’s not as hard as it seems.

Simplee

Life

By The Numbers, 4

  • 26 days of blog posts…need I say more?!?!
  • 1 gift certificate won…that’s unusual (see Luck of the Draw)
  • 15 raffle tickets in one day
  • 1 PD day
  • 75 plus decorated Christmas trees for charitable raffles between two different venues and causes
  • 30 minutes of one-man circus show
  • 2 tubs gluten-free snowballs
  • 1 new instrument to add to repertoire
  • 7 bazaars/craft shows
  • 1 shawl knit with 1 crocheted flower
  • 15 buds on Christmas cactus, 3 blooms
  • 1 mitten finished
  • 16 ginger cookies baked
  • 12 gingerbread and apple muffins
  • 1 Christmas murder mystery read (an annual tradition)
  • 3 magazines
  • 2 evenings just reading
  • 3 days of stiff neck
  • 1 documentary with film maker taking questions
  • 1 pot of mineral paint

And a running list in my head of things to do in December!

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

Z is for…

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” (Ernest Hemingway)

Z is for Zzzz’s…It is time to catch some sleep, especially with the approaching season. We can’t do it all (despite what the commercials may be telling us) and if we are sleep deprived, chances are pretty good we won’t enjoy anything we’ve managed to do (assuming you haven’t come down with a cold due to a lack of sleep).

Did you know humans are the only mammals who willingly delay sleep? Maybe we need to take a page from our animal friends! A cat sleeps 2/3 of the day, our cat wakes up in order to move to her next sleeping spot. We can tell the time of day by the location of her sleeping spot.

On average, one needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. This number differs with age, but it is a good starting point for comparison. If you don’t get the sleep you need, you become irritable and your ability to cope with stress decreases. It can become a vicious cycle then, as being irritable is likely to cause you some stress! It is more than just our moods which take a beating when we are lacking sleep. Sleep is a necessary component of our health; the body uses this time to heal and repair, and the brain has a chance to catch up on a day’s worth of information. Our immune systems can become weakened with sleep deprivation. Sleep is as important to our overall health as food, hydration and exercise.

There is still much to learn about the brain and its activities during sleep, especially when it comes to dreams. The dreaming brain is believed to be as active as the waking brain. There are two cycles which we slip in and out of throughout the night, REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Generally, there are 3 to 5 REM (dreaming) cycles per night. Scientists, still are theorizing on the roles of the dream cycles.

Some people insist they do not dream, but they do progress through the cycles of REM sleep. A more interesting question is the colour of the dreamer’s visions. About 12% of people dream in black and white, the number was higher prior to the introduction of colour television (a strange, but true fact). A friend of mine, learning English, felt he was getting a good grip on the language when his dreams changed from French to English. But if you are going to question your family members about their dreams, you have to be quick about it, within five minutes of waking, 50% of the dream is forgotten, another five minutes and very little recollection is left.

We spend 1/3 of our lives asleep. We should be falling asleep within 10 to 15 minutes of laying down. If you fall asleep before your head hits the pillow (less than five minutes) you are sleep deprived. If it takes longer, well, you already know about that and I’m not going to give you anything else to think about – chances are you are already thinking too much!?!?

As they say in the newspaper business, it is time to put this series of 26 Days of Home to bed. I will give the final word to Homer, who I think says it best, “There is a time for many words, and there is also time for sleep.”

Sweet dreams.

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

X is for…

I was a very picky eater as a child. Looking back, I was probably a super-taster, either that or very fearful of trying something new. In school, I once wrote I was allergic to carrots. When we had a snack of ants on a log (celery filled with peanut butter and topped with raisins) I would scoop out the peanut butter and raisins and only eat them. The celery would be wrapped in paper towel and hidden in my desk. I’d take the dried out celery home for Dad. He would eat anything, so why would I have to.

X is for xenophobia. Loosely defined, xenophobia is a fear or dislike of anything foreign. Carrots and celery were foreign to my taste. I liked corn, in all of its incarnations, creamed, canned, on the cob, even popped. A Brussel sprout wasn’t even on my radar, artichoke, the same. If these had ever appeared on my plate I would have run out of the room screaming. Salads, forget it, who knew what was hiding in there?!?!

A market shop from the summer…corn included.

As I matured, my tastes developed. It started slowly with shredded lettuce on submarine sandwiches. Next, a Caesar salad, no foreign vegetables hiding amongst the romaine lettuce. And my tastes just kept expanding. I no longer require cheese sauce on my broccoli and cauliflower has become a favourite roasted vegetable. I have yet to try a Brussel sprout, but the recipes appear tempting – I would try one if it appeared on my plate.

There are still some foods I may not like – peaches for example. But I accept that others in the house enjoy a juicy peach, so I bring them home from the market for them. And, if a grilled peach did happen to find its way onto my plate I might be tempted to taste the carmelized fruit.

Most of the food aversions I had as a child probably stemmed from unfamiliarity, or unusual appearance, maybe even the opinions of others prejudiced me; alternately, maybe I just liked corn, it was familiar and safe, and it required little from me.

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

W is for…

In elementary school, I remember being taught about the five w’s as a writing and analysis tool. And they have remained with me.

W is for who, what, when, where, why (and how). These few words represent curiosity and inquisitiveness. They pull back the curtain to reveal the truth. We should ask ourselves these same questions when we read a news story, or hear a rumour, or are being “sold” an item. There is very little one can take at face-value these days, so it seems. Anecdote is not evidence, hearsay is not fact. Dig a little deeper and you find an answer you may not have expected.

It is not to say we should all become skeptics, instead we should all become investigators, and ponderers. How many adults do you see getting down on their hands and knees to further investigate ant hills? How many children? We all grow up, and maybe our knees make getting down on the ground more difficult, but we should hold onto the inquisitiveness of childhood. Look at something through the eyes of the child you once were.

Add another “W” to the list – wonder. Wonder and let that wonder create awe. Yes, there is much to question which in turn creates doubt, mistrust and even fear. Take a step back from some of the fear and doubt, give your youthful curiosity room to stretch. Allow the awe to unfold. Doesn’t it feel wonderful?

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

R is for…

Go take a look in the mirror, are your shoulders hugging your ears? What about your jaw, how tense is it right now?

R is for relax. It is one of the easiest things to say, and one of the most difficult to do. Do you have a pet? Observe your pet’s ability to let go of everything and just relax. Shadow seeks out the warm spots from the sun to lie in. She will lay on her back and let her hips just flop. No tension to be found in her at that moment. I bet your pet yawns and stretches a lot too. There’s a lot we can learn from our four-legged companions.

A quick way to relax is to breathe, with intention and attention. Take three sighs and you will notice the difference in your shoulders, your ears will have room to wiggle, your jaw, too, will soften. Taking an in-breath stretches and opens up the chest. The exhale cleans out the stale air and lengthens the distance between the shoulders and ears, right down the back. Wait with a pause before the next breath in. Do you notice anything in the pause? No? Good, that is the point. Try taking three sighs whenever you need to release some tension, maybe before changing activities. Make it a habit! Want to make it even better? Add a yawn between the two sighs, it gives the added benefit of relaxing the jaw and it removes you from the action, the body takes over for itself.

We all need to be reminded to relax, one way of reminding ourselves is to create a habit with an external reminder. When you have a moment –  maybe at a stop light, or while waiting in line, what about whenever you walk through a door – shrug those shoulders up towards your ears on an inhale and then roll them backwards all the way down to where they belong on the exhale.

Have a bit more time? Lay down where you have some space to stretch out. I used to do this stretch as part of the cooldown in my fitness classes. On your back, stretch your arms over your head, then reach and grow from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Hold it for a second or two. Let it go and flop, let the joints release. Do it again, adding a deep inhale as you stretch and grow; and exhale with the release. Repeat a couple of more times. Get up slowly, rolling onto your side first, then pushing your torso into an upright position with your arms, then onto your knees, before standing.

And if this is all too much to remember. Play or cuddle with your pet, go outside for a walk, read a book. Just remember to breathe, and yawn and sigh every once and awhile.

Simplee

26 Days of Home · Life

Q is for…

I had a quaint idea for a quilt in the shape of a quadrilateral. The quality of such a quilt was questionable, so I quashed the idea. Currently, the quartet playing in the background is making me queasy. I will join the queue to quench my thirst after eating my quiche. I do apologize for my querulous tone, and will not object if you decide to quibble, but I am on a quest.

Q is for quiet. I am a listener and I hear a lot. In the middle of the night I will hear a peculiar sound and lay awake until I identify it. The ticky tick sound is the cat walking across the kitchen floor. Someone isn’t breathing normally, is everything okay? If I lay on my arm a certain way, I can even hear my pulse. And the hum of voices in a room filled with people can be disorienting.

Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was the equivalent of shouting from the top of a building. Suddenly it all made sense; not only did I better understand myself, but learned I was not alone. “At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking…”

I do not dislike a chat, but I prefer something meaningful and one-on-one. Conversing in a room where conversation is going across my own, gives me a headache and I shut down, I hear too much, listen too much and crave quiet.

The quietest place on Earth is a room in South Minneapolis which is an anechoic chamber. It is so disorientingly quiet, one has to sit down in order to stay in it for any length of time. The record is 45 minutes. When there is no sound, you become the sound – your heart, your blood, your digestive noises. The pureness of the quiet (the room is 99.9% sound absorbent) can cause hallucinations.

The quiet I seek isn’t as extreme as an anechoic chamber, but it is a necessary respite. Ideas and inspiration come in those quiet moments, often in the shower or on walks; at times when I am alone and not required to listen to anything other than my own thoughts. It is the equivalent of recharging a low battery on a device. My family can sense it and accept there are times when I need to disappear into a book, or my sewing room.

I find the upcoming holiday season to be especially challenging. Line-ups get longer, the holiday tunes are blaring (how many remakes are really possible?), volume increases as do the number of people and well-meaning salespeople ask the same question, over and over (are you all ready for the holidays?) I wonder if they even listen for your answer before they are off to ask the next person through the door?

Cultivating quietism in these circumstances is challenging. I can’t help but ask, “where has all the quiet gone?” To be honest, I do know some quiet spots for a quick escape…forgive me for not sharing them with you.

Simplee

 

26 Days of Home · Life · Nature

N is for…

My breakfast on the window sill above the sink.

The reason dawned on me the other day as to why I enjoy spending so much time in my kitchen, working at the counter. My work area is mostly window, which looks out to our backyard; we have an unusually long backyard for a city. There are mature trees along the fence line, a garden splitting the yard in two, my favourite tree, a crabapple and at the very back, two more gardens. I doubt I would be so willing (and happy) to spend so much time in this room if there was wall instead of glass, or if there was concrete instead of yard on the other side.

My favourite view when in bloom.

N is for nature. There is a new vitamin in town which costs nothing, is easy to take, there’s no fear of messing up the dosage, and it is 100% natural! Welcome Vitamin N (nature).

Studies have shown that green spaces are good for both mental and physical well-being. Those who live in communities with green spaces tend to be more generous, optimistic, sociable, calm and trusting, irregardless of economic conditions. Surgery recovery is faster and the immune system is stronger when parks are frequented.

The biggest benefit, all of us could use, is the reduction in our levels of stress. A walk in the woods has a calming effect on our bodies (lowering blood pressure and regulating blood sugar) and on our minds improving our cognitive skills. We have long known the benefits of houseplants on our well-being, now we can amplify those benefits by stepping out the door and finding some green space.

Don’t live near a wooded area open for hikes? Weather has you shut indoors? Just can’t get away to stroll in the park? Get a plant, or two. Look at images of woods, green fields, meadows – change the screen saver to show a beautiful landscape. Get a coffee-table book filled with photos of green spaces to flip through. Even better, make your own album filled with photos of parks and green areas which you have visited (double benefit here, first having gone there, and then remembering the visit).

A walk through the pumpkin patch.

There are countless ways to make life more green and get the daily Vitamin N, all you need is your imagination, a pair of shoes and some grass. And if you need even more convincing, listen to the birdsong, if that isn’t enough to convince you of the positive effects of nature, I don’t know what is.

Simplee

 

26 Days of Home · Life

L is for…

The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month we bow our heads, divert our eyes and we remember. What about on the twelfth day, or the thirtieth day? Remembering takes more than the few minutes of silence on one day of the year, we should remember everyday.

L is for Lest We Forget.

Great Uncle Alf who served in both WW1 and WW2

The Great War, the war to end all wars, was neither great, nor the last one. In my own family, my Great Uncle Alf served in both wars and his influence would change the direction of my family heritage. His sister, Great Auntie Aileen, also served in the Women’s (later Queen Mary’s) Army Auxiliary Corps during WW1. Their younger brother, my Granddad, would join the army at the young age of 14, with the sponsorship of his brother, and would have the rank of “boy” until his 18th birthday. Granddad served in India from 1919 to 1924 and then he returned to England as a Reservist until 1931.

On October 24 of 1939 he enlisted again, in the Royal Pioneer Corps. He was at Dunkirk, and was charged with destroying the allied supplies and equipment to prevent it from falling into the hands of the opposing forces. Granddad never spoke of his experiences to his daughters, only his sons, and he told my uncle it broke his heart to destroy the ambulances.

Granddad after a special training course in WW2.

It wasn’t only the absence of my grandfather the women of the family had to cope with. In London, the younger children were evacuated to the “safer” countryside. The youngest child was sent to Wales where she remained for the duration of the war, she was only three and when she returned to her family, they were like strangers. Grandma and my eldest Aunt worked in a factory to support the war effort, painting what they called dope on the wings of planes.

My Aunt met and married an allied serviceman from away. After the end of the war she set sail for faraway shores. There wasn’t much left when my Granddad returned home and work was hard to find. The family missed their sister and circumstances pointed to immigration.

My mother’s family was lucky, all of them survived the war, and all of them immigrated to the same city. None of them were unaffected by the six years of war, however. My mother began talking about it to me when I was a child, trying to distract me from blisters on a long walk. My uncle is only now willing to talk about it with my mother. None of them have forgotten.

For my part, I collect the stories which are told to me, gather up photographs and war records and keep them in a binder. We speak of our history and my son knows what his grandmother’s family endured during WW2. I work in my kitchen, in my city, in my country because of war and I will not forget.

Simplee