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.

Advertisements

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…

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

PSX_20151229_150327

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

image

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!

Trusting in…

I’ve entered a season in my life that is completely new to me by one definition alone: I don’t know what’s next. I have always had ambitions, aims, goals and planned paths to help me get to where I wanted to go but I find myself in the slightly baffling position of having achieved what I wanted to by this age. In one sense, that is an incredible blessing but in another sense it leaves me feeling a little lost.

So I ask – what’s next? I have no defined journey to work towards and no comfort from knowing where I’m going because I’m there. I got to my destination. I had never really considered much past this point.

I’m living life without knowing: without knowing where I’m going, what’s next, how I’m going to get there or how I’m going to feel like I’m still achieving and learning new things. I’m not trusting in my own ability to get somewhere nor am I trusting in time to work in my favour, which leaves me trusting in the only one who knows what’s next for me: God.

It’s probably a good place to be because in my ‘not knowing’ I am left with no choice but to place my life in His hands. I have no clue what I’m stepping into so I’m thankful that I have someone walking alongside me. I am hoping that I learn how to live life without knowing in a way that is fulfilling and I am also hoping that as and when a little direction comes my way, I don’t forget how to take each step in faith.

September – Conquering faff

a - 1

September was the month when the faff of many years finally concluded. A leak which began almost three years ago ended in a beautiful new kitchen. A lease renewal which has taken a year to negotiate and sort was finally completed. A mortgage which has been five years of a high(ish) rate has been switched and fixed to a lower rate. In themselves, they don’t amount to much but together, they start to build in the back of the mind and we’ve become constantly aware that the next stage needed to be progressed on one or more of these projects. Life’s faffs will hopefully now start to cease for us for a little while.

September also saw the arrival of Autumn and the Rugby World Cup. Sadly, we (being England) are already out of the competition but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some extremely high quality rugby to enjoy over the coming weeks! My hubby even got tickets to the quarter final which I’m really chuffed for him about.

Work is at about 160% at the moment and that takes a lot of my stamina. I’m so looking forward to December when my energy should become a little more balanced between work and the rest of life. That said, we did get a really wonderful weekend away at a conference which renewed us both in unexpected ways and gave us a little more focus about where we’re headed. We celebrated my lovely husband’s birthday and we spent a lot of good time with friends. No wonder I’m pretty tired…!

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.

July – Indulging Summer

P1030196aFor the first time in many years, we have had consistently good weather in England. Most days can be relied upon to produce a climate that is suitable for shorts and a T-shirt and it has been wonderful that as a result, we’ve really been able to make the most of this stereotypically warm season. We’ve had many BBQs late into the evening, sipped cider outside a pub on a Sunday afternoon, delighted in salads that satisfy our dwindling summer hunger, sat on a beach in Wales and been slightly sunburnt a couple of times (not the highlight… we do try to be careful!), we have lain on rugs under fleece blankets at an outdoor cinema and we have generally made the most of what the long evenings have offered. Somewhere in amongst all the summer activities we also got to meet our friend’s kitten for the first time – so cute!!

Cider, outdoor cinema, BBQs and sitting outside, particularly in the evening, are great ways of genuinely feeling like time isn’t slipping by. By making the most of these opportunities I feel like, for the first time in a long time, I have really enjoyed this summer season at home. It wasn’t forced and I’m already wondering how I can make sure I do the same next year. Mid-week BBQs, sipping cider, going to an outdoor cinema, trying lots of new salads and generally seeing friends in the long evenings are such a good place to start.