Posts Tagged Nature
We’re bringing in the season this week with lots of gardening, hiking, and spring cleaning. Here are a few scenes from our hike this weekend.
We also plan to do some biking, now that we’ve inducted the newest member into our bicycling clan.
Happy spring to you!
Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do — or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so. – Stanley Crawford
Oh February. I always find this month a little challenging. Short days. Rain. Fog.
Moreover, this February, a host of coughs, sniffles, sneezes, and most recently fevers have descended on us.
Around now it’s tempting to long for May, for the first strawberries and garden-fresh greens. For throwing the windows open in the afternoons and planting the garden and walking barefoot in the grass.
But the other day, when I emerged from our fevered nest, I was greeted by a handful of yellow crocuses dotting our neighbor’s yard. And I felt a wistfulness, not for spring or summer, but for the quiet, reflective days of this season, which is so quickly departing.
These days, we seem to think we can outsmart winter. We can arm ourselves with our electric lights and flu shots and vitamin drinks and continue to go, go, go.
I’m no different. I had all sorts of plans for February. A big project. Outings. Busy, packed days.
But so often winter demands a certain amount of stillness from us.
This month has brought me lots of quiet afternoons tending to sick family members, watching movies, knitting, and reading.
As crummy as it feels to be sick or to see those you love sick, I see wisdom in all of this. Slow down, winter tells us. Be still.
In the Mountain Rose Herbs blog this week, acupuncturist Dylan Stein advises, “Let’s take these last few weeks of winter as an opportunity to rest, to meditate quietly and to prepare our bodies for the bursting energy of spring.”
He recommends ingesting nourishing foods like beans, root vegetables, seaweeds, dark leafy greens, and walnuts, and gentle warming spices like cinnamon and ginger.
Likely, that’s where you’ll find me this week: resting, sipping on spice tea, and reflecting on the wisdom of these seasonal cycles of stillness and vigor.
My favorite spice tea:
1.5 quarts of water
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Combine and boil for 10 to 20 minutes. Strain.
Add honey to taste, if you wish.
What’s your favorite winter food or drink? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
“I’m going to make something every day in 2013,” I announced in December.
When I saw my friends’ responses, I thought perhaps this might be too ambitious an undertaking. However, I’ve really just decided to turn more of my attention to creativity this year.
Why? Well, when I peek back through the years and squint at the more unhappy periods of my life, I detect a common thread: I wasn’t creating much of anything. Maybe I was working overtime at a day job. Maybe I was in a season of editing instead of writing. Maybe I was just uninspired. But a dearth of creativity and a general malaise seem to go together. Which causes which? I’m not sure. But I know that when I’m working on a creative project, I feel more alive.
I know I’m not alone. Matthew Crawford, author of The Case for Working With Your Hands traded his job in a Washington think tank for a career fixing motorcycles, because “knowledge work” made him feel tired and useless. “Seeing a motorcycle about to leave my shop under its own power, several days after arriving in the back of a pickup truck, I don’t feel tired even though I’ve been standing on a concrete floor all day,” Crawford writes. I think we can all relate to that thrill of making or fixing something with our own hands.
In her book Lifting Depression, Dr. Kelly Lambert explains what might cause the burst of happiness creating gives us: “When we knit a sweater, prepare a meal, or simply repair a lamp, we’re actually bathing our brain in ‘feel-good’ chemicals.”
So this year I’m making things.
I’m off to a great start. In the last month, I’ve knitted half of a scarf out of bamboo silk, made kombucha and St. John’s Wort oil for the first time, wrote a handful of poems, brainstormed a new novel, and churned out quite a few drawings. Mostly I’ve had a lot of fun. But I’ve also remembered what makes creativity hard: there’s often a lot of groping around, stumbling, and failing involved.
But I’m going to do it anyway.
Perhaps you’d like to join me in paying more attention to creativity this year? If so, here are five things experts say can help stoke our creative fires:
- Spend time in nature
A University of Kansas study of a team of hikers found that a four-day backpacking trip boosted the participants’ creativity by 50 percent. You might need to leave your electronic devices in your backpack to reap the benefits. Ruth Ann Atchley, the researcher who conducted the study, suggested the results may have been due to turning off the distractions of modern life as much as the natural setting.
- Embrace boredom
Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire in Great Britain found that boring jobs encourage creativity. It turns out performing dull tasks lets us to detach from our surroundings and daydream. So committing to creativity might mean committing to some mental downtime.
- Focus on the process instead of the results (or just dance)
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free,” the poet Rumi wrote. In an interview, artist Dana Lynne Andersen said that one of the biggest mistakes beginners make when sitting down to paint is focusing on the end product. To get her students focused instead on the process of being creative, she encourages them to dance. That makes sense, since dancing is a creative process with no real end product. It may be worth a try, and as Rumi points out, there’s really no reason not to dance.
- Learn from kids
One afternoon I watched a soccer coach force a group of elementary-aged kids to run laps around the track. They looked like deflated balloons as they trudged along, and it occurred to me that kids should really be coaching us on joyful, exuberant outdoor play. Similarly, young kids are experts in creativity. In a famous 1968 study, George Land found that 98 percent of three- to five-year-olds showed genius levels of creativity on a test developed by NASA. By the time the kids were 15, only 12 percent exhibited divergent thinking. And when the test was given to thousands of 25-year-olds, only two percent showed divergent thinking. So what makes kids such creative geniuses? They ask lots of questions. They marvel at things. They find any excuse to play. It’s a model worth studying.
- Commit to practicing
All humans are creative. But a lot of us don’t commit to creative work, and perhaps the biggest reason is that it forces us to confront our own mediocrity. We likely will never compare to the best artists, musicians, novelists, designers, and even home-brewers of the world. Of course, the one way we’ll get better is practice, and Ira Glass offers some wise words about recognizing your creative work sucks and doing it anyway:
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. … You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Here’s to a creative 2013!
What are you creating? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck
It’s hard to find words after the tragic shooting in Connecticut last Friday. I am grieving with the families and the community there. As we, as a nation, reflect on darkness, this Friday in the Northern Hemisphere, we will observe the winter solstice — the darkest day of the year. We also welcome back the light and try to remember that brighter days will surely follow this season of darkness.
The frenzy of the holidays may seem like the wrong time to add yet another tradition to your to-do list. The key is making seasonal celebrations simple and relaxing. They can be the perfect opportunity to pause, appreciate nature’s cyclical changes, the lessons each season imparts, and to celebrate the natural beauty all around us.
Here are a few easy ideas for saying farewell to fall and hello to winter on Friday:
Watch the sun rise and set. Take a walk, hike, or ski trip and notice all of the things you appreciate about winter. For me, it’s the branches outlined against the sky and the thrushes, sparrows, seagulls, starlings, blue birds, and wrens that make this part of the world their home during the winter.
What better time of the year to curl up and share books? A few of my family’s favorite winter-themed picture books are:
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
- Stella, Queen of the Snow by Mary-Louise Gay
- The Big Snow by Berta Hader
- A Kitten Tale by Eric Rohmann
- Snow by Cynthia Rylant
- Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer
It’s also fun to read aloud from The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson. And if you’re in the mood for adult reads, check out this list of Good Books to Read in the Winter or the Independent’s 50 Best Winter Reads.
Make a seasonal feast, with foods like beets, winter squash, potatoes, onions, kale, cabbage, or parsnips. Prepare your favorite winter dessert or hot beverages. And don’t forget to light candles while you eat, a sure hit for kids and adults alike.
When the sun sets, let your house dance with candlelight. Then after dinner, blow the candles out and sit together quietly in the darkness for a few minutes. Reflect on darkness and on how long and cold winter must have felt before we had electric lights and heat.
Other things you can reflect on together:
- One thing you’ve lost this year and one thing you’ve gained.
- One thing you want to say goodbye to in the new year and one thing you’d like to welcome back into your life.
- Some of your best and worst holiday memories.
Bring an evergreen bough inside and make it into a wishing tree. Secure the bough in a bucket with rocks. Cut leaves out of construction paper. Have each person write down a wish for the coming year on each leaf. Hang the leaves on the tree using a hole punch and yarn or ribbon.
Hoping you have a happy first day of winter.
Do you have your own winter solstice traditions? I’d love to hear about them.
We spent the first day of fall hiking at a nearby arboretum, and then headed home to feast on stuffed squash and pumpkin pie. It was a nearly perfect day – a wonderful way to bring in the season.
The leaves are just beginning to change in our temperate climate, and we’re enjoying other signs of the season, including:
- the surprisingly wonderful smell of apples rotting in the early autumn sunshine.
- the quiet of early-morning outings now that the sun’s rising ever later.
- the long-awaited taste of the first ripe figs from our neighborhood tree.
- the inevitability that bundling up in the mornings means carrying armloads of sweaters home in the afternoons.
- splashes of orange, yellow, and red in the garden.
I hope you’re enjoying these first days of fall (or spring if you live in the Southern Hemisphere).
Tuesday, June 21 is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun will bathe the Arctic Circle in 24 hours of daylight, and ancient monuments around the world will align with the sun. Historically Europeans celebrated the summer solstice by gathering plants and holding bonfires and festivals. Native American plains tribes held sun dances.
The first day of summer is a great time to start new family traditions. Seasonal celebrations are a fun way to connect with nature and they can be as easy or elaborate as you want them to be. Here are a few ideas:
1. Take a trip to the library a few days before your celebration and pick out books about summer. Some of my family’s favorite summer picture-books are: Before the Storm by Jan Yolen, Summertime Waltz by Nina Payne, Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen, Sun Dance Water Dance by Jonathan London, Summer is Summer by Phillis and David Gershator, and Under Alaska’s Midnight Sun by Deb Venasse. For adult reading, check out these lists of 2011 summer must-reads compiled by NPR, Newsweek, and Oprah.
2. Place a bouquet of roses, lilies, or daisies in your family members’ bedrooms while they sleep, so they wake to fresh summer flowers.
3. Find a special place outside to watch the sunrise and sunset. You can find out what time the sun will rise and set where you live here.
4. Eat breakfast outside.
5. Trace each other’s shadows throughout the day to note the sun’s long trip across the sky.
6. Take a camping trip. Light a fire at night to celebrate the warmth of the sun. Sleep outside. Wake with the sun.
7. Go on a nature hike. Bring along guidebooks to help you identify birds, butterflies, mushrooms, or wildflowers.
9. Display summer decorations: seashells, flowers, sand dollars, or whatever symbolizes summer in your family.
10. Gather or plant Saint John’s Wort. Traditionally Europeans harvested the plant’s cheerful yellow flowers on the first day of summer, dried them, and made them into a tea on the first day of winter. The tea supposedly brought the summer sunniness into the dark winter days. If you don’t have any Saint John’s Wort in your garden, consider planting it. It is an incredibly useful herb, and it thrives in poor soil with little attention. Find out more about it here.
11. Visit a U-pick farm to harvest strawberries, snap peas, or whatever is in season where you live. Find a “pick your own” farm near you here.
12. Make a summer feast. Eat exclusively from your garden or the farmer’s market to celebrate the bounties of summer in your area.
13. Host a “locavore” potluck.
14. Turn off all the indoor lights, light candles, and eat dinner outside.
15. Play outside games, watercolor, or decorate the sidewalks with chalk until the sun sets.
16. Read aloud from The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson.
17. Read aloud, watch, or put on your own rendition of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. For kids, check out the book A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids by Lois Burdett or Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids: 3 melodramatic plays for 3 group sizes by Brendan P. Kelso.
Need more inspiration? Check out these resources:
My family has been living car-free since last August. If I were to write a survival guide about our year, I’d include all the practical tips on commuting, safety, weather, etc. … and I’d dedicate an entire chapter to adventure. For me, the real challenge to thriving sans automobile is finding ways to get out of the day-to-day and away from our neighborhood. It’s finding adventure.
When my husband talked about getting rid of our car, I didn’t worry about getting to the store, library, or doctors’ offices. I knew we’d figure all that out. But I had serious reservations about not being able to drive to the forest, mountains, and ocean. I know I’m not alone. I interviewed a car-free family with four kids for an article last year. They’re bicycle advocates and they thought about living car-free for a long time, but they held onto their Toyota Previa minivan for years. Why? They wanted to go canoeing. They wanted to visit the coast and big city. They wanted to go on adventures.
Well, fortunately, adventures are more accessible than you might think. Our city bus system drops off near one hiking trail that’s sixty miles from town. Local hiking groups routinely carpool to trail heads. In the winter, buses take adventure-seekers to two different ski resorts on weekend days, where you can also cross-country ski or snowshoe. You can often join in on friends’ hikes, excursions, or camping trips. And, of course, you can rent a car for a weekend.
When I’m feeling weary of the same old walks in the same old neighborhoods, I try to think like a tourist. I’ve traveled in the United States and Canada and in several foreign countries, and I rarely rented cars at my destinations. I never let that stop me from finding adventures. I took buses, subways, trains, and shuttles. I explored on foot. I rented a bike.
Bicycle day trips are a nearly perfect form of adventure. They’re not hard to plan, young kids can easily participate, it’s fun to seek out a scenic route, and the journey is inevitably part of the adventure.
On Memorial Day Weekend, I took two bicycle day trips. Both reminded me of how important it is for me to get away from the city and into nature even though both destinations were technically inside the city. One day I took a 14-mile bike ride in the wetlands. It’s an easy ride from my house, and it’s home to 200 kinds of birds and 350 plant species. I’ve seen blue herons, beavers, and a bald eagle there, and I’ve listened to the melody of Pacific Tree Frogs and birdsong. This time of year, the grasslands are speckled with native purple camas lilies.
The next day, my husband, son, and I rode to a beautiful forested city park that we don’t visit often. It’s on the other side of town, but only a four mile ride from our house. This time of year, it’s blooming with thousands of rhododendrons. We hiked around, smelled flowers, ate a picnic, and then stopped for ice cream on the way home.
Both were easy day trips and required little in the way of planning or packing. And both left me feeling restored … and made me hungry for longer bike trips. Next I’m hoping to ride to an arboretum and hiking spot about ten miles from our house. And I have big plans for a bike camping trip and a longer bicycle tour in the future (although both of those will wait until after our new family member arrives later this summer).
Taking a car-free adventure can seem daunting, but like any adventure, the hardest part is committing yourself to it. Once you’re on the journey, you’ll almost certainly be glad you went.
Looking for inspiration? Check out these resources:
- The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest to Live a Radically Local Life by Kurt Hoelting
- Our Big Adventure – Pedal Powered Family
- A Wayward Journey – Family on Bikes
- A Beginner’s Guide to Bike Camping – Rowdy Kittens
- Car-Free Hiking: Take Public Transportation to the Trail Head – Ready Made Magazine
- Plan a Car-Free Vacation
Do you go on car-free adventures? I’d love to hear about it.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” – Jack Kerouac
I have a great life. I get to spend lots of time with my son and watch him learn and grow, and at the same time, I’m building a writing career. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. And yet sometimes, I feel stuck, tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Sometimes I get burnt out … and that’s okay.
I used to imagine that I could always be on top, that I could be one of those people who “burn, burn, burn” as Jack Kerouac wrote. But as the years pass, I’m more accepting of life’s seasons, of natural cycles of dormancy and energy, of the inevitability of falling into ruts.
For me the key is not avoiding burnout (or any other emotion), but learning from it, developing resiliency – bouncing back. That’s why I’ve been accumulating these strategies for inevitable bouts of burnout:
1. Plan a vacation
We can learn something from Europeans when it comes to holiday. They take eight weeks off a year on average and work shorter work weeks than we do, but they keep pace with us when it comes to productivity. This year Switzerland and Sweden ranked first and second in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness rankings, even though both countries require workers to take at least a month of paid leave each year. In fact, the United States is the only developed country that hasn’t realized the value of mandatory paid leave for workers.
In studies vacations have been shown to boost productivity, improve health, brighten the mood, invigorate, and induce feelings of happiness – especially when you are anticipating time off. So next time you’re feeling burnt out, consider arranging a getaway. (Hint: leave your laptop at home.)
2. Power down
Maybe you’ve seen terms like “secular sabbath”, “digital sabbatical”, and “day of unplugging” bandied about the blogosphere. All basically mean the same thing – taking at least a day off each week, not just from work, but from email, Facebook, twitter, YouTube, etc. I’m an information junky, and I love the Internet as much as anyone I know. But I love my day off from it more. I can’t believe it took me so long to tap into the restorative value of powering down.
Even with a day off each week, when I start feeling burnt out, I usually realize I’m spending too much time online. My antidote? Discipline. I only let myself check email twice a day. I make myself write down everything I want to Google and do it all at once. I establish an electronic sunset, where the computer and gadgets get turned off everyday at six p.m.
It can be a little scary to disconnect, especially when you work at home. But I like what writer Shannon Hayes has to say about it:
“My computer is turned off every morning, once my work day is complete, usually around 9am. At that point, I tune out the rest of the world and tune into my family, home, and farm. Very often the telephone gets turned off, too. So does the radio. … I didn’t always live this way. It was a choice I eventually made about using my time. Voices talking on the radio generated mental interference when trying to interact with people in the room where I was standing. Worse than that, I observed that email correspondence throughout the day, habitual Googling, and a steady-stream of web-updates were having a negative impact on my soul. Fixating on the computer made me an intolerant mother to my kids, had me doing stupid things like boiling over my soup pots, and—even if I was reading great news on the screen—it left me crabby.”
3. Clean and organize
I know, this one’s not as fun as taking a day off or embarking on a getaway, but I swear it works. It’s not just that a clean office and organized files make working easier. When I’m cleaning and organizing, I inevitably find old notes, article and story ideas, plot outlines, etc. that can kick start creativity. Don’t forget to organize and back up computer files too.
4. Turn off the noise
I love podcasts, and I’m a huge fan of public radio – To the Best of Our Knowledge, RadioLab, and This American Life to name a few. I also love listening to music. But when I’m starting to feel burnt out, I turn it all off. I listen to my thoughts. I listen to my husband and my son. I listen to the sounds of the wind and trees. I try to listen to the sounds behind the sounds, “the ragged edge of silence” as John Francis calls it:
In studies noise stress has been linked to impaired cognitive function, the release of stress hormones, and depression. Studies indicate that chronic low-level noise in an office environment impacts workers negatively even when we’re not aware of it. So if you’re suffering from burn out, take an inventory of the volume around you and consider dialing it down.
5. Attend a conference or take a class
I try to attend one workshop, class, or lecture a month, and I always walk away inspired. Last summer I took a class on writing essays, learned a ton, and met a great group of writers, whom I still meet with. This summer I’m planning to attend a three-day conference. For freelance writers and bloggers, excellent classes and conferences abound, many of them flexible and online. They may seem expensive, but in my experience, they pay off many times over.
6. Interview someone
I’ve never interviewed anyone who didn’t inspire me. I feel fortunate that I get to talk to interesting people for my job, but you don’t have to write articles to interview people. You just have to get to know someone and focus on actively listening instead of talking. Most people are eager to talk about themselves and their projects – even to a journalist. It’s a great way to get inspired and meet interesting people … and if you’re so inclined, you can turn it into a published profile or blog post. If you’re in a field unrelated to writing, you might consider interviewing someone whose career inspires you.
7. Connect with nature
Nature gave us a great burnout cure … it’s called nature. Just looking out a window at trees makes workers feel more satisfied with their jobs, helps surgical patients heal faster, and reduces anxiety in highly-stressed kids. Imagine what a walk in a park, mountains, or woods can do for us.
I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you prevent or bounce back from burnout?
When I was a kid, every May 1, I accompanied a friend’s family in their festivities. We made homemade baskets, filled them with flowers, hung them on neighbors doorknobs, and ran away. Since it wasn’t my family’s tradition, I never understood why or what we were celebrating.
It turns out that May Day was traditionally a pagan holiday practiced throughout Europe in honor of the end of the dormant winter months. Festivities varied from country to country, but dancing around a Maypole with ribbons or streamers has been a common activity in modern times.
May Day is a simple, fun, and earth-friendly way to celebrate the beginning of spring and share some of your blooms, plants, seeds, or handicrafts with your neighbors. Want some inspiration for homemade baskets? Check out these resources:
- 10 May Day Baskets Made of Recycled Materials - Mother Earth News
- Celebrating May Day! – Mother Nature Network
- The Recycling Bin: May Day Baskets - The Goods
- Celebrating May Day With Crafts – About.com
- Happy May Day – Kleas