Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Room of One's Own Day

Today is A Room of One's Own Day. Many of us already have a room of our own, or if married like me, share one with a spouse. And while my husband doesn't much care how I decorate, sharing a room with him isn't quite the same as having one of my own.

But I do.

When my daughter got married and moved out, I took over her room. Well, sort of. I did claim it as mine, but it also became the room to hold other things, waiting for space. So it is mine, since no one else goes in there, but not how I want to decorate it just yet.

We've heard of mancaves and she sheds, but I prefer to call my room my playroom. I like to go in there, despite the limited space, and sit in my rocking chair and read. I burn candles or incense, prop my feet up on a little ottoman, and enjoy the quiet. I can shut the door if I choose to. I have a special little rattan chaise for my cats to lounge on. Even though they will eventually have to come down so I can paint, I have things hanging on the walls. I love being in there.

The idea for today is finding a space you can call your own, and decorating it in such a fashion that makes your heart smile. I know I will eventually be able to set my room up the way I want, and have the patience for it while I dream. I hope you can find such a space for yourself.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Global Belly Laugh Day and National Compliment Day

How much fun you can have today! It's both Global Belly Laugh Day and National Compliment Day - so you know what to do!

Watch comedies. In fact, binge watch, if you can. Find something that makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurts.

Tell jokes. I have an iPhone, but I downloaded Cortana. She tells the best clean jokes I've heard.

Gather friends and families and reminisce. Tell stories from the past that are funny. Make sure no one is offended in the telling, or the belly laughs just won't happen.

According to Laughter is the Best Medicine:

Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter burns calories. OK, so it’s no replacement for going to the gym, but one study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn about 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year.

Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.

Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don't laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.

Be sure to compliment every one you come in contact with today. It's not hard. Just don't be creepy. You will always be able to find something to compliment someone about, and often it really makes their day. It's important the compliments be sincere. Folks can see right through fake.

Have fun today!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

National Handwriting Day

In a day and age where handwriting is almost a lost art, today celebrates it. Writing is so much more than putting pen to paper. It improves hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Psychologists and neurologists suggest there's a link between handwriting and broader educational development. We retain information longer if we write it out. Many young people today can't read or write in cursive. And that is a shame.

In the article What's Lost as Handwriting Fades, a number of studies demonstrate how important handwriting actually is. For example:

A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, tested children who had not yet learned to read and write. They were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex. By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

In another study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

So today, write something by hand. A shopping list, a letter, lecture notes. Buy some beautiful stationery and reconnect with the long lost art of letter writing. Emails and texting are so much quicker, true, but not nearly as satisfying. Try it, you'll see what I mean. Learn calligraphy if you want something different. Try writing in italics. Just do it.

Monday, January 22, 2018

National Polka Dot Day

Today is National Polka Dot Day. While I couldn't find out anything about its origins, I sure found several ideas. And most of them involved Minnie Mouse!

This link has several craft and even recipe ideas to celebrate the day. I suggest you just have a lot of fun with this day. Be silly. Be creative. And by all means, rock the dots!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

National Hugging Day

National Hugging Day is for, you guessed it, hugging! It was started by Kevin Zaborney as a bridge between Christmas and Valentine's Day, a time believed to be when people are feeling particularly low. Believing that people are generally afraid to show feelings, he hoped this day would change that and lift some spirits. In a time of heightened awareness about inappropriate sexual overtures, be sure to ask first before hugging someone!

Hugging is also a form of therapy and healing. According to 10 Reasons Why We Need at Least 8 Hugs a Day, some of the reasons include:

Hugging creates a sense of safety and security
Hugging elevates mood and creates happiness
Hugging can strengthen the immune system
Hugging is relaxing

The above article lists more reasons, all of them excellent.

According to the The Health Benefits of Hugging, hugging can also reduce stress, increase immune system protection, and even lower blood pressure.

Do you really need a reason to hug? Hug your loved ones close today. And every day!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Honoring the Ancestors at Samhain

Samhain. It's a word that is often mispronounced and is associated with either fear or joy. Fear by those who don't know any better, and joy by those who do. Let me explain.

Samhain, pronounced sow-in in Irish Gaelic or sah-vin in Scots Gaelic, means, loosely, the end of summer. It is also the Irish Gaelic word for November. It is NOT pronounced sam-hane (shame on you, Supernatural!), nor is it the name of the Celtic God of Dead (shame on you evangelicals!) It marks the beginning of winter and is one of four seasonal festivals celebrated by the Celts, often associated with fire for its cleansing and protective qualities. Considered a liminal time when the boundary between the living and dead was thinner, it was not necessarily a time of fear, as some, unfortunately, believe. It was more a time of reconnection.

The ancestors were considered important in the health and wealth of a community. Currying their favor ensured success with crops and livestock. Samhain was of particular importance in this regard. Because the Celts believed those who had crossed over could step across the threshold to visit family, places were set at the table for them. In some areas the food set aside was not to be touched by the living; in other areas the food was given to the poor. Games were played for the enjoyment of the visiting ancestors, and gossip was heard for their pleasure and to catch them up on current events. Thus, the ancestors were both fed and entertained, and kept interested in the affairs of the living. It also served to remind the living to remember and honor the dead.

Hallowe'en, or All Hallows Eve, is normally a time for us modern folks to play. We dress up, and dress up our children, and take delight with all things scary. Normally, I would be doing this myself, because who doesn't enjoy cute kids in adorable costumes asking for candy? Especially the ones so young they just stare at you when you open the door - they are my favorite. But not this year. Last year I lost my father, and my long neglected Samhain practices have fallen to the wayside. This year feels especially important to celebrate properly.

My father had mostly German ancestry. The Germanic equivalent of Samhain is known as Winter Nights. This celebration also honors our dearly departed.

Because the Celts marked the beginning of each new day in darkness, that is, the night preceding, my celebration began at sundown on October 31. I made two dishes: a stew baked in a pumpkin, and stwmp naw rhyw (mash o' nine sorts). Because I am a vegan, the stew is beefless using vegan "beef". Samhain was a time when the Celts gathered in their herds for the winter, and slaughtered the excess to feed their families through the winter. Beef, then, was a common meal for the festival, so I honor that to the best of my ability by using an acceptable substitute. I served it in a pumpkin just because! The stwmp naw rhyw is a traditional dish served in many Celtic communities on this day, but I'm  not certain how ancient or modern it is. I just thought it was cool.

My Samhain meal of stew over mash:

For dessert, I served raw, washed apples. The symbolism behind apples is the Celts believed their dearly departed traveled to a place called Eamhain Abhlach (Paradise of Apples); some may be more familiar with its Welsh counterpart, Avalon. As I mentioned above, games were played for the benefit of the ancestors, and one of those games was bobbing for apples.

The Celts believed that when one died, they traveled to the west. So, another tradition still kept by many in Celtic countries today is the seomra thiar (west room).  It is more typically a shelf on a western wall in the home, where pictures and other mementos of loved ones that have passed are placed.  I have one in my own home, next to my fireplace, coincidentally on a western wall. I love doing jigsaw puzzles, and this year just so happened to pick one up by artist Nene Thomas, entitled Swan Song. The perfection of this didn't occur to me until later, after I got home. A swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture before death or retirement. I felt it very important to finish this puzzle and display it on my seomra thiar by Samhain, and I succeeded. It now takes pride of place behind my collection of photos and belongings of my family that are now gone, as a tribute to them and their accomplishments and impact on my life.

Traditionally, since Samhain is a fire festival, a bonfire would be lit. I was unable to have a bonfire, and normally would have lit a fire in our fire pit, however, it was raining pretty steadily, so didn't have a fire. :(

One way today we can honor our ancestors is through genealogy research. This is another area I have long neglected. I remedied that today by organizing my genealogy material in preparation for an overdue trip to my local genealogy library. I am happy that I was able to get stories from my dad while I had the chance.

I am pleased with how my celebration turned out. It was just what I'd hoped to accomplish. I'd like to think he would have enjoyed my food, even though he liked to tease me about being vegan. Nevertheless, he did always eat any dish I prepared. I miss him every day. I love you, Dad!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Seeing red at the park

Just outside of my neighborhood is this lovely little park. A small playground, scattered picnic tables, and a well maintained walking trail, it's lightly wooded with just enough trees to provide plenty of shade but not so many trees to make someone feel unsafe walking alone. I go there regularly and walk about 3 miles. I'm always delighted to see the variety of people that come there to use the trail - young, old, some walking, some jogging, some pushing baby strollers, the occasional dog walker. There's also plenty of wildlife there; I've seen squirrels, bunnies, a wake of vultures dining on road kill, a rat, a bat, and a copperhead snake. More on the bat below, and everyone gave the snake a wide berth as he lazily slithered across and off the trail into the woods.

Occasionally I see trash on the trail, mostly ignored :(, which I always pick up and toss in one of the randomly spaced trash cans. But that's not why I saw red.

Yesterday as I did my usual walk, I noticed four teenage girls. At one point they jogged past me in pairs. It was on the return when I heard the first pair commenting to hurry, the second pair was catching up. Ah! A competition of sorts! As the other pair approached me, one stopped, obviously tiring out. Her companion attempted to spur her on by asking, "Do you want to get heart disease? C'mon!"

According to statistics listed by the American Heart Association:

- Cardiovascular diseases were the most common cause of death in the world as of 2013, claiming about 17.3 million lives.

- In the U.S., more than 1 in 3 adults (92.1 million adults) have cardiovascular diseases, accounting for 807,775 deaths in 2014.

- About 790,000 people in the US have heart attacks each year. Of those, about 114,000 will die. In the U.S., about 795,000 adults experienced a new or recurrent stroke, accounting for nearly 133,000 deaths in 2014.

- There were more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of them fatal.

February is Go Red for Women Month. The Go Red for Women movement began because:

"In the past, heart disease and heart attack have been predominantly associated with men. Historically, men have been the subjects of the research done to understand heart disease and stroke, which has been the basis for treatment guidelines and programs. This led to an oversimplified, distorted view of heart disease and risk, which has worked to the detriment of women.

Because women have been largely ignored as a specific group, their awareness of their risk of this often-preventable disease has suffered. Only 55 percent of women realize heart disease is their No. 1 killer and less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. The Go Red For Women movement works to make sure women know they are at risk so they can take action to protect their health."

So, to the teenage girl encouraging her friend to keep running to avoid heart disease, I say to you, thank you! Thank you for being aware, thank you for bettering your own health, and thank you for trying to help your friend.

Getting healthy is not just for young people. I once heard a doctor say, "You're never too old, and it's never too late to improve your health." This is excellent advice.

Now, more on that bat.

Last year while out walking in the park with my hubby, another walker warned us there was a bat on the ground. As we came near it, I saw it on its back, making threatening sounds. We kept walking, unsure what to do, because in our area they often caution about the possibility of contracting rabies. It was gone when we walked back by, but I've always hoped no one came along and did something horrible to it.

Once I got home, I googled how to handle a situation like this one, in the event it possibly happens again. I learned that in the probable case of this bat, it was a female with her young. Apparently she can become weighed down with all of them clinging to her and fall out of the roost. She will make defensive sounds and motions to frighten predators away. The best way to handle this if you encounter it is too find a long, strong stick and touch it to her feet. She will grab on and you can lift her to a branch in a tree. Bats cannot take off from ground level, so need to be placed about five feet up. Now, I want to point out that I believe this was a mama bat because of the time of year it occurred. Advice still remains that you should never touch a bat you find on the ground with your bare hands. Assume it is injured. If you can get it to grasp the stick and set it back in the tree, all the better. Be gentle. Be safe.
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