Book Review – Lily and the Octopus

Lily and the Octopus
Steven Rowley

Yes, a novel about a dog always results in the dog dying. That’s the Murphy’s Law of novels about dogs. In this case, Lily the dachshund is dying from the octopus on her head. So named because her owner Ted can’t bring himself to say the word tumour. But Lily is 12, has never been in great health, and the sad fact of life is that we usually outlive our pets.

Ted is having none of this however and part of his brain is convinced that if he just ignores the tumour, all will be well. Except of course, it isn’t and Ted eventually has to confront many things about his life, especially the fact that his dog has replaced most human interaction in his life (on Thursday Ted and Lily talk about cute boys, on Fridays they play Monopoly), and that as a single, freelance writer, still recovering from the end of a serious relationship, he doesn’t get out much.

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Just Say No to Fashion Mags

This started as a book review of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.

And, I admit it – before I write a book review, I usually head over to GoodReads to see what other people thought of it. Not to crib their thoughts but to get a general consensus of things. What I found for Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s book on the beauty industry and the impact it has on women and their self-esteem was pretty much what I thought of the book when I was done.

Discussing cosmetics, selfies, ad campaigns. self- esteem and the marketing of cosmetics to men, Face Value wants to be an informative read on the industry. But it’s a bit all over the place and never really commits to one path or point of view.

Given that Whitefield-Madrano has worked for years at various fashion mags, I guess it was optimistic of me to hope for a call to just stop buying into the manipulation, but that didn’t happen.

So I’m gonna do it myself.

Sorry, writer friends, journalists, and anybody who still works in an ad-driven media industry writing about fashion, cosmetics or lifestyle, but the honest to God best way to stop feeling bad about how we look is to…

STOP BUYING MAGAZINES

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Book Review – This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Ashton Applewhite

Somewhere around the age of 40, I began to refer to myself as “old”. I was working in an industry (food writing) that was beginning to skew younger and younger and I unconsciously began using “old” to differentiate myself. I’ve also used “old” when trying to explain my involvement in the alternative music sub-culture; sometimes it’s just easier to tell a (young) mainstream person that I’m “an old punk” as opposed to trying to explain the growth of the early 80’s post-punk music scene (and all of its different offshoots) into Goth and Industrial music as an identifier for who I am, all while trying to make it clear that I’m not a Green Day fan.

Heck, the tag line for this website is even “Cranky Old Broad About Town”.

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Paris Is Burning, Clara Bow, and Zelda Fitzgerald – Musings, Monday, February 27, 2017

A still from the lost reels of Get Your Man.

Bear with while I try something new.

Nowadays, so many people start blogs and then abandon them because they feel they have nothing to say. Even if we’re blogging about a popular subject such as food, odds are someone’s already said it before. That recipe, that interview, that perfect Instagrammable shot – they’re all already out there, so why bother?

But what about if blogging went back to a form of journaling? You know, like how we all started with LiveJournal some 15 years ago. I know what you’re thinking – because I didn’t really care about reading other people’s journals back then either. But some people do. There are writers, Alan Bennett for instance, who have made a hugely successful career simply by publishing their daily diaries in book form. I’ll confess that I don’t find Bennett especially scintillating, but I get the point of his work and of his desire to publicly document his life.

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Rebel, Rebel, Rebel – Three Books on Fashion’s Rebellious Style Icons

What makes someone a fashion rebel? Is it about bucking trends to find a personal style, dressing in really out-there, head-turning garments, or about doing everything that rock stars do in terms of getting dressed?

While surfing Amazon lately, I came across three titles that purported to be about rebel fashion. Two of them ended up being books intended for kids, and none of them really came close to what I was expecting in terms of rebellious fashion icons or rebellious style in general. (I think Michelle Obama is awesome, and definitely is/was a fashion icon for this generation, but I don’t think her style of mixing high- and low-end garments to be particularly “rebellious”).

In any case, the first two titles would be good books for kids with an interest in fashion who want to learn more about personal style and fashion history. I’m still not sure what to make of the third one.

Bad Girls of Fashion
Jennifer Croll, illustrated by Ada Buchholc

This collections of style icons is geared towards young, middle school readers, and does a decent job of explaining their individual styles and influences on fashion through the ages from Roman times to modern day. The illustrations are truly fabulous but I’d love more of them. The writing style is simple and straightforward and gives a clear explanation of each person featured without talking down to its intended (young) reader. Unfortunately, the layout is weirdly confusing with chapters on the greater influencers being broken up with shorter pages or sections about other (sometimes) related stylish women. This makes for disjointed reading. Croll also steps away, possibly intentionally, from discussing cultural appropriation, such as how Cleopatra has always been portrayed in Hollywood by white women, or how Madonna made Hindi style cool for the pop culture masses. Points for forthrightness about gender issues with the inclusion of George Sand and Kathleen Hanna, and also points for including some fairly subversive and not well known characters like Rose Bertin and Beth Ditto.

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She Ain’t So Sweet: Book Review – Rejected Princesses

Rejected Princesses
Jason Porath

The premise – all the women in history who would never in a million years have a Disney movie made about their (real) life exploits. The gals whose work was ignored, overlooked or stolen, or those ladies who kicked ass, fought tooth and nail and severed some heads. You know, like Boudica or Elizabeth Bathory.

Porath does extensive research on each woman he covers, and he manages to find historical women from all over the globe. Each entry includes a graphic (the project started when he was an animator at DreamWorks), a fun and witty bio of the gal’s exploits, and some entries include notes on the artwork (ie. why Boudica is dressed that way, who are the people in the background, etc).

While Rejected Princess might seem like an inspirational book for girls, readers should be forewarned, these ladies would never get the “princess treatment” (have a blockbuster movie made about their life) for a reason. Many of them are inspiration but maybe kind of boring (Ada Lovelace), and some of them are just straight up evil (Elizabeth Bathory… but wait, Porath reveals that she probably wasn’t as evil as she’s been made out to be.) Porath is good enough to give each entry a maturity rating, so if you are reading this book with your kids, you can choose what level to stop at. He also flags each entry with other details such as abuse, sex, violence, etc.

This is a super fun collection that makes it clear that women in history were not all demure sweetness. They often fought for what was rightfully theirs, outshone their male peers at many endeavours, and could even be violent terrorists.

Porath has a huge but easy to navigate website that is updated regularly, and which includes many of the entries from the book (a heavy tome with over 100 bios), but also many that aren’t; a search function to find your favourite rejected princess, and an extensive shop with everything from shirts to phone cases to calendars. He’s apparently got a backlog of women to write about, but there’s a place to make suggestions, and a fun FAQ page where he explains his decision to include women with violent histories as well as the good girls who are more inspiring.

This is a great book, perfect for not only your favourite badass gal, but for any lady person (okay, really for anybody… guys need to see women kicking ass, too) over the age of 12.

 

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Eat a Bit of Chocolate – Self Care Month Day 14

 

We have a tendency to confuse self care with “Treat Yo’Self!!” and so today’s advice comes with the disclaimer to pay close attention to the “bit” part.

It’s well known that chocolate contains chemicals that make us feel good. Many people, when surveyed, say they’d choose chocolate over sex. And a little something sweet, especially if it makes us feel grateful – for the treat, or for the person who gave it to us, or just the experience of eating it – is certainly a good thing to do for ourselves.

However (sorry…), sugar has been linked to inflammation in the body, plus cavities, weight gain (from the inflammation), and even depression. That’s right, the candy that makes us feel good when we eat it not only makes us crash an hour later but could be contributing to a bigger long-term funk.

So have your chocolate today (or tomorrow when all the V-day chocolate is half off!!), but do it in moderation, savouring each piece and feeling gratitude for the experience.

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Write a Letter – Self Care Month Day 13

 

What’s in your mailbox today? I bet there are probably some bills, and also some flyers for stuff you probably don’t care about. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a magazine, or a package for something you ordered online. But do you know what’s not there? A nice card or letter.

Letter writing has fallen by the wayside. In these days of social media, why would anyone even bother to send cards or letters to their friends or family? Especially when email or social media is so much faster. What a waste of paper, right?

Except that getting a card or letter in the mail makes people feel good. Even if – especially if – it’s not a special occasion like a holiday or birthday, getting a card from someone you love, solely for the purpose of telling you that they love you and are thinking about you, feels absolutely fantastic. And sending letters, to loved ones or to strangers, can also make you feel pretty great.

But you must give in order to receive, so start by writing a letter to someone. If you can’t think of anyone you know who might appreciate this gesture, there are plenty of organizations where you can send letters to strangers, or nominate someone to receive letters. Pretty soon, you’ll become addicted to nice pens and fancy stationery, and you’ll have a full-blown hobby that spreads a whole lot of joy.

Not sure about what to say? Here are some tips on writing a love letter, but they can be applied to a like letter as well.

And oh, look, Valentine’s Day is coming up. So get to it. Not sure you want to send letters to friends and family in case they think you’re silly? There are lots of strangers who might like a letter as well.

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Listen to Music – Self Care Month Day 12

The world would be a much darker place without music. All types of music can inspire and energize us, mark our special moments, and fill our days with cheer.

And while any kind of music that you enjoy can help with the winter blues, there are a number of studies on how classical music can improve symptoms of depression and stress. Studies also link classical music to improved memory.

There is even a genre of music that is intended to improve memory. Known as Electronic Cognition or Electronic Focus music, this is electronic music with beta waves that supposedly help the listener to concentrate. Known as binaural beats, there is much debate on whether this music actually works, but when I tried it I found that I did concentrate better on the work I was doing.

Whatever genre you prefer, if music makes you feel better, then put something on in the background, or choose something that makes you get up and dance around the house.

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Meditate – Self Care Month Day 11

When you’re feeling blue and not especially enthused about life, sitting and doing nothing can either seem ideal or absolutely horrible. There are lots of good excuses to avoid meditating, such as; what if my back starts to hurt, I don’t know how to do it, what type of meditation should I try, should I do it alone or in a group, and what if I fart?

There are many different types of meditation, all slightly different, and depending on what you hope to achieve, one may be better than the others. But for the purposes of feeling better because it’s February and the world is kind of shitty, a more general approach might work best.

The website Gaiam claims that some of the benefits of meditation are:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less perspiration
  • Slower respiratory rate
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • More feelings of well-being
  • Less stress
  • Deeper relaxation

To get started, there are dozens of meditation websites and apps that can help. A lot of people really dig Headspace, but I find the main instructor a bit too chatty. My favourites are a site/app called Stop, Breathe and Think which offers a variety of simple, guided meditations that encourage mindfulness and compassion, as well as Calm, which has a lot of sound files of nature sounds and a timer, if you want to just listen to a stream or some birds. Most of these sites offer some free options with additional paid stuff, or monthly rates that you may or may not be inclined to purchase, depending on how you prefer to meditate. Check the app store for your choice of device, there are plenty of different services, with options for every style of meditation.

If you prefer to meditate in a group, check Google for some courses or groups in your local area.

Most people who do not meditate avoid the activity because they believe that you have to sit for hours every day. But the goal, at first, is not to achieve enlightenment but to simply quiet the mind, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

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15 Minute Tidy – Self Care Month Day 10

Depression can be a huge Catch 22. We feel too terrible to get up and do anything, and because we don’t get up to do anything, we feel even more terrible. This theory applies to the space around us as well. When we can’t find the energy to get out of bed, general tidying can often fall by the wayside. And then our house is cluttered and dirty, with piles of dirty laundry or dishes lying around, and we become even more disheartened.

If you can find the energy to dedicate 15 minutes each day to general tidying, it will likely make you feel better both mentally and physically. Remember, cleaning counts towards physical activity. And decluttering has such great benefits:

  • less frustration because things are easier to find
  • a greater sense of harmony and peace because things are already in their place, and you’re not reminded that you have to clean
  • less guilt and embarrassment because your place is no longer a mess
  • less anxiety at the thought of having to sort through piles of stuff

There are plenty of sites out there to help you get organized and clean your place. Unfuck Your Habitat is a great one, and Flylady, while kind of twee, can really help with organizational skills.

And if 15 minutes seems totally overwhelming, start with 5. Clean off a table top or desk, scrub your kitchen sink, or vacuum one room. Take our the garbage. Fold one pile of laundry. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and the incentive to continue, and that’s good for your mental health.

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Get a Massage – Self Care Month Day 9

If some of the self care suggestions I offer sound decadent or unaffordable, trust me when I tell you that they’re not. Take massage, for instance. We often think of a relaxing massage as part of a larger “spa day”, when in fact, massage on its own can do much not only to aid relaxation and improve mood but to help heal aches, pains and injuries. The benefits are definitely worth the cost.

Therapeutic massage can aid both physical and mental health and can even be directed to deal with specific issues – sports massage is an important part of physiotherapy and recovery from sports-related injuries, but you can also get massage designed to help with bereavement, for pregnancy, and even massage designed specifically for seniors.

If a massage with a professional registered massage therapist is still out of your budget, consider checking out a massage school where students will give treatments at a discount price.

Many massage schools also offer basic massage therapy courses for the lay person – these are fun to attend with a partner so you can learn how to massage each other.

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Get Talking – Self Care Month Day 8

When I went through a depressive period a couple of years ago, one of the things I really wanted to do was talk about it. This was mostly me trying to understand what was happening in my head (the depression and anxiety originally started because of a weird drug reaction), but I quickly realized that there’s only so much listening friends and family are able to do. That’s not to say that the people around me weren’t supportive and loving, but often they just didn’t know what to do to help.

Our society still has lots of stigmas surrounding mental health, which means many people who need someone to talk to never search out professional help, but if your February blues are more than just a bit of weather-related funk (or even if they are), there are different ways to find someone who will listen and guide you to deal with your issues.

Here in Canada, while we have a great healthcare system, therapy for mental health services is not typically covered. People with additional health insurance might have psychotherapy coverage, but for most of us, those funds are limited. And while face to face talk therapy is the best option in many cases, if you need some help and don’t have the time, money, or inclination to go through the traditional systems, online talk therapy can fill the gap and even be a better option for many people.

Sites like TalkSpace, 7 Cups of Tea, Breakthrough, and Better Help are reasonably-priced, and can offer much more frequent interaction than traditional weekly therapy. Using their website or a phone app, patients can sign up, be assessed and interact with an assigned therapist without leaving home. In most cases, the therapist replies once a day, but the patient can write as much as they want, whenever they want, making the response more immediate, and more specific to the issue at hand. Live chats or even video chats can be arranged for an additional fee, and it’s easy to switch therapists if you find you’re not clicking. Most of these sites also offer a free forum area, and there are also sites where you can vent to (unqualified) strangers, but my research indicates that these are less helpful than the paid services.

My own experience with the site TalkSpace was incredibly helpful, and I would definitely use it again if I felt the need.

Whatever kind of therapy you choose, know that it’s a fantastic, positive step in your own self-care.

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Get Some Fresh Air – Self Care Month Day 7

So I know that yesterday I advised keeping warm, and that still stands, but please also consider opening a window. Or all of your windows. At least for a bit each day.

Here’s the thing – indoor air quality can be worse than the outdoors. Stuff like dust, mildew and pet dander can trigger allergies and asthma; furniture and carpets, especially new, will off gas; and all the scented crap people use to cover up the smells and stuffiness of their homes can all contribute not just to rhinitis but possibly to depression as well. And let’s not even get started on cigarette smoke.

Opening up your windows for a few hours each day lets fresh clean air in and lets the old stale air out. Most rooms only need windows to be open around an inch to allow for air circulation, and an hour or so is more than enough time to clear out the stuffiness from most rooms. Obviously, if it’s cold enough outdoors to make your windows freeze shut, wait a day or two, although I’ve been know to run around defrosting windows with a hairdryer just so I could open them to air our my apartment.

This circulation of fresh air will go a long way to making you feel better and making your home more pleasant to be in. If you absolutely can’t open the windows then be sure to get outside for a bit every day and to keep your place as clean as possible so that allergens don’t build up.

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Things Are Heating Up – Self Care Month Day 6

Flaxseed Heating Pad by LalaTextures

February is cold. Here in Toronto, the first two weeks of February are typically the coldest of the year. For many of us with illnesses such as arthritis, or chronic injuries (old sprains, herniated discs), the cold weather also means extra aches and pains. Keeping warm is an important self care activity at this time, as being able to move without pain means we’re more likely to get up and do things, which will make us feel more energized and less depressed and anxious.

Heat is also an important part of the recovery process for injuries such as torn tendons and ligaments, which have poor blood flow, as it draws blood to the areas being warmed and helps promote new tissue growth.

How to add heat? Warm baths or showers always help, but you can’t stay in the bath forever. Exercise, even gentle movement such as tai chi, keeps muscles and nerves warm and loose. But if you’re hurting bad you might not have it in you to get up at all. This is why I believe that every household should have a variety of heating pads.

The easiest ones to use are the microwaveable shaped bags full of flax seed. There are plenty of places to buy these, but they’re cheap and easy to make. I recommend flax seed over other fillers such as rice, as they hold the heat better, and don’t dry out. Add some lavender flowers for some aromatherapy as well, if you like. If you make your own heating pad, make sure that it is cotton, linen or another natural fibre, as synthetic fabrics can catch fire when you’re heating the bag in the microwave. (This actually happened to me.) I now make my bags out of a cheap muslin cotton and then also make a cover for each that can be removed when the bag is in the microwave, or for washing (hot necks = sweaty), or if you want to sprinkle some water on the cover to create a more soothing wet heat.

Obviously you can also turn up the thermostat, but if your furnace creates a dry heat (and most do) consider running a humidifier on low, for at least part of each day. This won’t do much to keep you warm, but it will help with the “February flakes” (that dry itchy skin that most people get over the winter), will keep household static down, and will help fend off winter nosebleeds (yep, it’s a dry air thing) in those that are susceptible.

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Boost Your Signal to Noise Ratio – Self Care Month Day 5

In olde internet times, we would talk about the quality of the information we’d encounter by referring to the good stuff as “signal” and all the other crap as “noise”. So a high signal-to-noise ratio mean that the group or community was enjoyable and useful. If the ratio was low, then that meant it was mostly people cluttering up a space and not contributing anything good. Believe it or not, back in olde times most of us actually cared about adding only good, quality information to the places we congregated.

Today, however, even before current political events, the whole of the internet is full of noise. Oh, you can still find good stuff if you hunt for it, but often it gets drowned out by the crap. And often the crap just makes us all feel… crappy.

Most of our noise tends to show up on social media, where we put up with links and posts by friends who we care about, even if we don’t really care about the topic they’re discussing. So today, to make your life more serene, some filtering tools for social media.

Facebook Purity is a plugin for the desktop that allows users to filter pretty much every single thing that shows up on a Facebook page, from all the stuff in the sidebars to certain types of posts. If you really don’t want to know that your Uncle Bob liked that post about the white supremacist, well you can filter that. Facebook Purity also offers a text-based filter, which means that all you have to do is add “Trump” to that box and any post that mentions the US president by name will not show up in your feed. Some stuff might still get through – it does not work on shared posts or posts where someone refers to him as “that asshole” instead of by your filtering term, but it does a great job of clearing out the majority of stuff you don’t want to see. Sadly this plug-in only works on desktops, and not on mobile devices. For my own sanity, I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone, but I totally get how that can be the hardest thing ever to actually do.

For Twitter, I am a huge fan of the app Twitteriffic. This one is mobile only, and not desktop, but it also allows users to “muffle” tweets based on user name, hashtag or text. Muffled tweets show up in your feed with minimal info, typically user plus the topic/user/hashtag you’ve muffled, which allows you to open that post or ignore it.

Don’t forget that muting on Twitter or unfollowing on Facebook are also great ways to take a break from someone without removing them completely, or without them knowing that you just can’t deal with their shit at the moment.

Do not feel obligated to read all the stuff in your social media feeds, especially if it stresses you out. You are absolutely allowed to filter, cull or even take a complete break if you feel the need.

And finally, please consider using good Netiquette – if you are writing or sharing posts on social media about things like Trump, make sure you’re using common keywords (“Donald Trump” instead of “Lord Dampnuts” for instance…) or hashtags to make it easier for others to filter out those posts if they don’t want to see them, while still being able to read the other, non-triggering stuff that you’re posting.

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Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Self Care Month Day 4

Five more minutes! We’ve all heard, or said, this refrain. Some of us multiple times each morning. But a proper sleep is the most basic, and one of the most important, forms of self care.

I mean, I know why people don’t sleep enough, because there is so much to do and not enough time to do it in, but sleep is not only when our bodies rest but when they repair themselves.

So it’s time to figure out how much sleep you need each night, and then re-organize your schedule to ensure that you get it. Cut and cull that other stuff, hire or delegate some of it out if you can, but block off that time for sleep and stick to it.

Then, follow these tricks to make your bedroom a place where sleep comes easily…

  • make sure linens, mattresses, and pillows are comfortable and supportive, replace if they’re not (it’s February, hit a white sale!)
  • ensure that the room is as dark as possible so your brain knows it’s time to sleep and can produce melatonin
  • find the right temperature – for most people this is generally on the cool side so you are more inclined to snuggle under the covers
  • beds are for sleeping and sex only – remove all other stimuli such as TVs from the room
  • turn off back-lit devices at least a half hour before bed, read a book instead
  • go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even weekends
  • a white noise machine can help drown out distracting noises for light sleepers
  • if you share your bed with a partner, consider separate beds or even separate rooms. Crazy? Not at all – you’ll both get a much better night’s sleep without someone tossing, turning or snoring beside you
  • Consider a sunrise lamp so that you’re not waking up in the dark

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Pat a Dog – Self Care Month Day 3

Selfie with Wiggly Corgi

Or a cat, or a bird. I advise against chasing down animals in the wild, but having animals in our lives has huge health benefits, from increasing our circle of friends and acquaintances to lowering stress.

Having a dog will get you up and moving, for both walks and play; will likely make you more organized (they’re sticklers for a schedule); will give you plenty of opportunities for a hearty belly laugh; and are always on hand to offer an ear or a snuggle when you’re feeling down.

If having a pet isn’t practical for you right now, you can visit friends with pets, volunteer at an animal shelter (bunny snugglers wanted!), look at pictures of animals online, or even get a stuffed animal to fill some of the gaps. (Seriously, before we got our current dog, I was going through a depressive period and bought a toy sloth named Cyril. Cyril lived on the back of the sofa, and sat on my lap while I watched TV. He was quite the critic, and would wave his long arms at my husband when he disliked a show and wanted it turned off. He was also an expert at the UK museum-themed quiz show, Quizeum. Claims he never got an answer wrong, beating some of the best historians in the world.)

Whatever way you choose to interact with animals, they can help you feel better in both the short and long term.

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You’ve got to Move It, Move It – Self Care Month Day 2

No, wait, come back. I didn’t mean you have to, you know, jog… or anything. I promise. But if we’re going to be honest about self care, we do have to talk about exercise.

Seeing as we’ve hit February, it’s probably safe to say that there are fewer people at the gyms than there were a month ago. If you’re still going, or never stopped, kudos to you. You probably don’t need self-care advice.

Everyone else though, those of you who are considering self care to be curling up on the couch with some TV shows or video games – and there’s nothing wrong with that, in moderation – should know that it’s still important to get some semblance of exercise. Outdoors is best, because there’s also fresh air and sunshine, but if it’s just too cold, you can still exercise at home. And exercise, despite what they tell you at the gym, is anything that gets you up and moving. Housework like vacuuming, for instance; scrubbing floors, painting. If your self care goals included getting some stuff done around the house or generally keeping a regular housework schedule, you’re already halfway there. And don’t forget the workout you get from shoveling snow.

Given that self care varies for all of us depending on our own abilities, skills and general health, let’s not feel bad (or make others feel bad) just because we’re not training for a marathon. My daily exercise routine includes walking the dog at least twice a day (this is my cardio workout – corgis make up for their short legs by walking extra fast so we do a couple of miles a day at a pretty good clip), and around an hour a day (usually 3 minutes of exercise at half hour intervals) of a combo of stretching/yoga/tai chi specific to certain areas where I have chronic injuries. I also dance, gently, for 3 minute intervals, a few times a day, to keep muscles and nerves loose and warm and to promote healing to my injuries.

I don’t try and do more than I can handle, and I try to be proud of myself for the effort expended instead of down on myself for not doing enough.

At the very least, try getting up every half hour and stretching, dancing or just walking around the house for a few minutes and see if it improves your general sense of well-being.

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Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

Welcome to February. February sucks.

In the northern hemisphere, February is likely to be the coldest month, and the time when we’re most likely to feel down, either because of mental health issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just because the cold weather makes it feel as if there just isn’t that much to do.

This year, because of political issues in the USA, most people I know are also feeling very anxious and tightly strung as we all try to wrap our heads around what asinine idea or edict the US president is going to come up with next. As people’s rights quickly disappear and the population tries to unite and fight this freakish narcissistic oppressor, more than ever, we all need to indulge in some self care.

As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be an official “self care month”. Google pulls up some references to it being in July, and I found a website that says November, but really, if there is ever a specific month when we all need some self care, it’s gotta be February.

So I have a full month of things anybody can do – and they’re mostly small, inexpensive things – to feel better and get through the month. They are February, northern hemisphere-specific things (ideas such as sitting in a garden, or lying in the grass and looking at the sky are not super-practical right now), so YMMV depending on where you live, but I think most things will be relevant in some way.

I hope you enjoy, and that this month of suggestions is useful to you.

Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

I’m starting my self care suggestions with the one that has been the most helpful to me over the years, which is light therapy.

The Mayo Clinic explains light therapy…

Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter.

During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions. Light therapy is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy.

I use two types of light therapy to help me feel better in the winter months; the first is the light therapy box. These come in a variety of styles and strengths, but for all of them, you simply sit in front of the thing for about an hour each day. I keep mine on my desk and turn it on when I start to work. Stronger versions require early morning use as the bright light can mess up circadian rhythms if used too late in the day, but I use my lower intensity lamp around noon each day and have no problem. It really does help me feel brighter and more cheerful, especially in the afternoons when I’m likely to experience a slump.

The second lamp that literally changed my life was a simulated sunrise lamp. This is a lamp with an alarm clock that starts gradually getting brighter until the alarm goes off, filling the room with a warm glow, sort of like a sunrise. More expensive models have a more authentic light (pinkish glow as opposed to yellow) and can include radios just like a standard alarm clock, or even a selection of sounds so you can wake up to birds singing instead of the typical alarm noise.

For anybody who hates getting up in the dark, especially in winter, I cannot recommend this product enough. My mornings went from “garr, I don’t wanna!” to cheerfully looking forward to my day, just as I do in the summer when the sun in shining in the window.

Speaking of the sun, while we’re not currently close enough to the burning sky orb for our bodies to make Vitamin D (and we’re too covered up in the cold for our skin to absorb it anyway), being outside on a sunny winter day can also help if buying these lamps is out of your budget. Just getting up and moving around and being outside in the fresh air can go a long way to making you feel better.

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