The science of sunshine

The last few days have been really quite beautiful here in Blighty. The sun has been shining, the birds have been tweeting and the blossom is venturing out into the spring.

Everyone in our household is happier. We’re pretty content to begin with, most of the time, but in recent days it has gone up a level. We have more energy, we have more patience, we are more hopeful and I can only attribute all of these overnight changes to the weather.

It’s not a secret that sunshine improves your mood but the level to which it has done so this year has made me ponder.

It’s also not a secret that we Brits like to talk about the weather but on this occasion it’s a little deeper than that. I’m curious to know why this increase in natural daylight and warmth can have such a tangible effect on us. In the same vein, I’d like to understand why drinking water makes me feel better, why sugar makes me feel worse and why exercise is so difficult to start but so rewarding when done.

I know the basic principles of brain neurons and hormones but I’d like to understand it a little better in order truly to move towards a healthier lifestyle designed to treat my body the way it was created to be taken care of.

The problem is, I’m not quite sure where to start. I read a fantastic book recently, which I’ve blogged about before, called The Brain. It was informative but very accessible and what I learned helped life make a bit more sense. I’m looking for something similar, but that takes it to the next stage, looking at the science of sunshine and exploring what lifestyle choices we can make to give our bodies and minds the opportunity to thrive.

If anyone knows of such a book – could you link it my way…?

In the meantime, I’m going to soak up some Vitamin D, revel in this deeper-rooted calm that has taken up residence inside me and see if I can coax it to stick around.

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Understanding fashion

For a fashion luddite like myself, the title of this blog in itself seems quite far-fetched. However, when you start at a place of zero understanding and not even a basic appreciation, the only way to go is up.

It occurred to me this week – for the first time can you believe – that when designers create clothing, they have a look or treatment in mind. They don’t design in isolation but they have an image and a style that they produce pieces to be a part of; their art is created in context.

When I treat my clothes as individual items, I miss out on so much of what they can offer. I will never achieve the looks or master the style that I see in my mind’s eye if don’t give more consideration to how they work with the rest of an outfit. Yes there is a level of personal creativity to mix and match within my wardrobe, but beyond that, a little forethought is required.

When I complained for the umpteenth time on a shopping trip with my sister this week, that all the tops in shops are really short right now, she pointed out to me that that was because most trousers are high waisted right now – that’s what’s in fashion – and so these tops are the perfect compliment.

I hadn’t even realised that my own style had changed. I thought I was basically wearing the same types and colours of clothes that I wore from the moment I was allowed to choose for myself. Again, my far trendier sister pointed out that my fashion has indeed changed over time and some clothes that I would consider buying now, I would have described as a rug or a shapeless sack just a few years ago. I even bought something with an animal print on it; whether it will fit or suit me or not is beside the point – I bought it!

I’m not claiming to have any understanding of the fashion industry, or much more of an opinion beyond the fact that trends seem to be cyclical and often fleeting, seasons return and what was ‘in’ at a certain point in time will likely come back around in a couple of decades.

But I do now have the beginnings of an appreciation of the possibilities for the clothing I choose to put on my body, the thought, skill and vision behind their creation and the hint of motivation to pull together some outfits that bring me genuine joy. Who knows, I may even be able to achieve that elusive Autumnal style I have been pursuing for so long…

The curse of comparison

Look at your life for a moment. In isolation from every other person’s life, are you happy with yours? If you didn’t know that a colleague had a bigger house, a friend had more children or an acquaintance had a higher paid job, would you be satisfied with your life?

Comparison is ugly. Not only does it make us compare tiny segments of other people’s lives to the entirety of our own lives, it takes our eyes away from what we do have.

If we were truly to compare our lives to others, then we’d have to take their good with their bad. We can’t be jealous of one element of their lives without taking into account everything else that makes up their daily living. They may have something you want but they inevitably will have other things that you’re thankful you don’t have to deal with.

It’s worth remembering that to someone, your grass is greener than theirs. To others looking in, those Instagram photos, job updates or home improvements are exactly what they are aspiring to in that moment. They won’t see the in between, the struggles, disappointments or failures.

It’s the one time in life when blinkers are acceptable. Usually, a life led wisely demands a broader perspective, to consider the needs and circumstances of others and to see the world beyond our narrow existence. But when it comes to comparison, we are free to put those blinkers on, block out the lives of those around us so that all we see is our own. If there are things we still want to change or we’re unhappy with, we can work at figuring out how to move forward, where possible, but only if those areas and dreams are free from ties to a life lived elsewhere.

Comparison is a curse. Why indulge it when the alternative is thankfulness for the blessings in our lives, which leads to greater contentment and peacefulness? If we weren’t so caught up in contests and races, the answer would be a no brainer.

Trapped in the shadow

My husband possesses what I consider to be a quite remarkable character trait: he doesn’t worry about something until it happens, at which point he sets about dealing with it.

I on the other hand am capable of worrying about the most random, usually highly unlikely but equally highly imaginative scenarios, with great passion and backed up by research which I am quite certain is based on profoundly reliable sources.

He sees today and how today will impact tomorrow. I see a year ahead and wonder how I’m going to get there. Both have their merits but his method allows considerably more room for joy in the present.

If I turn off social media and answer the question my infinitely wise big sister asked me: “If you had nothing and nobody to compare it to, would you be happy with your life today?” The answer would be a resounding ‘yes!’

But this life and our culture forces its timings on us and its ticking hand and encroaching demands fool us into believing that something else is better. It robs us of our patience and tempts us towards things we never needed to know.

So I shall turn off social media for the next little while and instead of looking at other’s lives, I will try to divert that energy into rediscovering the beauty in my own. For it’s only by false comparison that my life looks dull. By returning my attention to my immediate surroundings, I have realised that the only reason my life had lost its shine was because I had trapped it in the shadow of another.

Onwards

It’s amazing the toll that stress can take on your body. It’s also amazing how your body can adapt to previously unheard of regimes (such as fresh lemon and hot water – a bitter but effective detox – in the morning) in order to restore it to its proper balance.

I’ve had almost seven weeks out of an office environment and in the last two I have finally, thankfully, begun to feel like me again and my body is singing thankfulness to me for giving it a much needed rest. A new job, a new routine, new challenges and new opportunities await and I’m so looking forward to it all. My mind is back to a place where it has room to process, my body has energy with little pain and I have established a set of eating and daily habits that will hopefully serve me well.

So… things I’m looking forward to:

  • That Friday feeling. When you haven’t had to work during the week, the weekend blurs into just another day and you lose its value. You need to work hard to be able to understand that kind of relaxation and I’m looking forward to getting back to working hard.
  • Listening to Radio 4 in the morning. Being in touch with the world beyond your own bubble is great for perspective. My commute has become significantly longer with my new job so I’ll be tuning in in the earlier hours and getting my global news fix.
  • Managing a team. I’ve seen some outstanding examples of how NOT to manage people in the last few years and I’m so grateful I have an opportunity to manage a team in a way that inspires them and enables them to excel. I hope and pray I do it well!
  • Incorporating my rest habits into my new work routine. My skin is glowing, my stomach is happy and my energy levels are restored. There are ways I can continue this even with early mornings and I have every intention of doing so! The hot lemon is a great way to start but so is the significantly reduced sugar intake, the decent amount of rest, the flexible time and prioritising my time with God, husband, family and friends without trying to please and look after everybody.

Hubby and I are marching into an exciting new season. Onwards!

Aloha 2016

2015 watercolour

It was a project I started unintentionally in January with the aim of using my watercolour set to capture what that first month of 2015 meant to me. Somehow it continued through 12 months of ups and downs – small catchphrases that summed up 4 week interludes; brief snapshots of an unfolding story.

2015 has been better than 2014 – not that that was difficult. If I’m honest, it was a little bland overall. Nothing huge changed, I achieved quite a few of the things I aimed to achieve but I started out at such a low point that I didn’t really have time to make sense of anything or plan.

It’s been a middling year; a season in which the primary aim was for time to pass and wounds to heal. Sometimes, time just has to take its course without my plans or expectations getting in its way. 2015 carved its own course with little steering or focus from me and on reflection, that has set me up well for 2016.

If nothing else, 2015 has taught me how to relinquish some control over the direction of my life. It has taught me to live each day as it comes – not that I have mastered that quite yet(!) – and it has taught me that time brings with it its own challenges and hidden delights. Like a stream that picks up, carries and deposits the pebbles and debris it encounters, time continues to flow no matter what you try to do to stop or divert it, accommodating whatever life moments it stumbles across.

My aim for this month was to Look Up and Anticipate 2016 and I definitely enjoyed this time. I celebrated with friends and family in lots of ways from parties to carol singing to ice skating. I also read and re-read the Christmas story, which means so much more than the revelry, and I’ve given myself time to ponder the coming year so that the joy of anticipation isn’t lost in fairly lights and Lebkuchen.

I’m not expecting huge things from 2016 other than what the passing of time naturally presents – and I think I’m ok with that. I want to bake more, I want to have more time to myself, I want to read more and I want to move more towards that wonderful Hawaiian lifestyle we were privileged to experience in March. Here’s to hoping that the islands who gave birth to my name will pervade in 2016 with hellos, goodbyes, love and hospitality: Aloha 2016.

December – Enjoying the Season

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December is always dominated by Christmas and this year was the first in many years where my family have all woken up in the same house on Christmas day. It was nice. Sad because the reason we were together was because we didn’t need to split the family between Germany and England any more but it was nice. It was quiet.

As it should be, this month has been about celebrating and spending time with friends and family. From carol singing and parties to ice skating and eating lots of cheese, December has thankfully been fairly uneventful. It also means that I’ve had a bit of time to take stock and figure a few things out ahead of the New Year.

This Christmas time, I am thankful that Jesus came to this earth so that we could have hope: hope in our earthly lives as well as hope for an eternal life on a perfect, restored earth, with no more tears, death or suffering. What complete joy.

November – Rejoicing through tears

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It’s safe to say that November wasn’t what I’d anticipated. It was sad. Losing a grandparent is such a huge loss, of wisdom, of laughter, of childhood. My Oma was the best grandma I could ever have asked for and her funeral was the greatest celebration of faith and love that anyone could hope for when their earthly breath leaves them. We know she is in the presence of the Lord she served her whole life and this in turn means we can rejoice, even through our tears.

The rest of November blurs in comparison. Our family changed this month. We will miss her.

Winter wanderings

Winter WanderingsWinter is a strange season as it bridges the gap between the year’s polar opposites. While spring, summer and autumn all have a unique flavour that is usually predictable from beginning to end, winter embraces many emotions and characters. It is the only season where the mood and mindset change dramatically in the middle. At the beginning, the warmth, hope and joy of Christmas are all-consuming and they wrap up the year, offering time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past 12 months. But the season’s end welcomes in a New Year which, although cold and often marked by post-Christmas blues, is also ripe with possibility. For me, January often ends up as a strange month without any discernable purpose, so if you’re like me, here are some ways to stay in the moment through the whole of this coming winter.

  • Food & Drink: Toffee nut latte with chocolate hazelnut loaf
  • Bake: Snickerdoodles & Pflaumenkuchen
  • Places to visit: Germany
  • Play in the snow (if we get any!)
  • Do some Christmas crafts – most of mine involve Cinnamon sticks!
  • Watch lots of movies: The Holiday, Miracle on 34th Street, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually
  • Experience a Christmas market – Köln Weihnachtsmarkt is just perfect
  • Buy a calendar for the New Year
  • Start on some New Year goals – make plans for the year, book tickets to shows and search out new restaurants
  • Go to a museum – it’s low season in January so much quieter and you can take your time
  • Go to coffee shops and watch the world go by
  • Have a long hot bath with candles and a good book
  • Prepare for spring – get ahead of the game with a pre-spring clearout
  • Make the most of the slower pace of life by sipping wine (or, my preference, G&T) late into the night with friends, dreaming about what the year ahead might bring

Winter may be the odd season out, but it can still bring joy if you live it in the moment!

Autumn jaunts

IMGP0491bMy favourite season of all is fast approaching. For me, Autumn (September to November) is the perfect temperature, the perfect speed of life and the anniversary of me meeting my hubby. For me, Autumn is synonymous with joy. If you’ve lived life in the moment in spring and summer, here are a few ways to make sure the delight of this new season doesn’t pass you by.

  • Food & Drink: Pumpkin spiced lattes & Butternut squash… everything!
  • Bake: Chocolate torte with autumn leaves
  • Places to visit: New England
  • Walks, walks, walks
  • Splash in puddles (who says this has to be confined to spring?)
  • Wake up early and go for a sunrise walk
  • Drink Baileys hot chocolate while watching November 5th fireworks
  • Make S’mores
  • Gather acorns and pine cones ready for Christmas decorations
  • Take a photo surrounded by Autumn leaves – or throw them in the air!

Probably because a school calendar is hardwired in my brain, Autumn for me is still a time for new beginnings, a hopeful fresh start as the temperature too becomes fresher. We’ll see if any new challenges or opportunities arise for this favoured season.