Category Archives: Inspiration

Predictable novelty: Why we love fall

I am away on a short vacation – enjoying fall. While I’m travelling, I’m re-posting some content from my previous blog site. Enjoy.

maple-leaf

I love this time of year, when the Earth’s spin and the tilt of the planet carries us into cooler temperatures, shorter days and colourful leaves. And wool socks. And the smoky aroma of logs burning the fireplace. And cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves.

The cooler weather rejuvenates people. The shorter days give us more time to read. Pumpkin Spice Lattes warm chilled hands. (My daughter works at Starbucks, and she spends much of her time these days preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes. People love them.)

Most of us love these things without understanding why, but scientists have theories about our affinity for fall. Catherine Franssen wrote about it on Huff Post Science.

According to Franssen, we like “predictable novelty.” In other words, fall gives us the two things we crave all in one package: change and stability. It brings change that doesn’t make us anxious, because we know it’s coming. We also associate fall with pleasurable things, like pumpkin pie and walks in fallen leaves. Those pleasurable memories trigger neurotransmitters.

“The neuroscience behind that love is the trifecta of pleasurable neurotransmitters fired: dopamine (pleasure), serotonin (contentment) and norepinephrine (alertness). When all three are going at once, you’re in a heightened state of awareness in a really good way.” —Catherine Franssen

Apparently, many of us float through autumn high on dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine—not to mention cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves—as we eagerly anticipate football victories, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties.

Sounds good to me. I think I’ll have a latte . . . 

The new (ab)normal

After natural disasters, the landscapes around us feel decidedly unnatural.

I can only imagine how disorienting it must be for people recovering from catastrophic hurricanes, because I find the damages from our neighbourhood’s much smaller scale natural disaster bewildering enough.

Last fall, a tornado tore a swath through the Ottawa, Canada region. The twister uprooted trees and destroyed forests in the Greenbelt near my home and on paths where I used to walk my dog. For months the National Capital Commission kept portions of the path closed because they were too dangerous, and clean-up operations were underway.

Orange barrier fencing with the words "Temporarily closed for safety reasons."

I walked there for the first time two weeks ago, and I stumbled around lost. Paths that I used to walk on every day and knew as intimately as old friends looked completely different.

At one crossroad, I used to walk straight ahead into dark forest, but instead of dense trees and low light, the path ahead was bright with sky. I stopped and did a double-take. Was I in the right place? Had I somehow lost my way?

I retraced my steps to make sure, and I was not lost. The dense forest that used to lie ahead was just . . . gone.

Stacks of felled trees lay piled beside the trail. Ancient trees had lost limbs, and slender trees bent to the ground.

And then there was the swath.

Everything felt topsy-turvy and all wrong.

But, in the undergrowth, in areas suddenly bright with unfiltered sun, young trees sprouted. Buzzing insects had made a home in the torn-up turf.

Out of the new (ab)normal, life springs anew.

Sunrise, moonset

I awoke early on Sunday morning.

Well, I awake early every morning, but on Sunday morning, I decided that an early walk would be nice. I could see the sun rise.

When I walked out my front door, I turned west first. Above me, still high in the brightening sky, was the almost-full moon. I set out to watch the sun rise, but instead I watched the moon set.

A reminder that every end is a beginning, every beginning an end.

Full moon in the morning sky

Work, rest, play, or all three at once

What did you do for work this summer?

For rest?

For play?

How often did you work, rest and play at the same time?

Those questions were the topics for discussion at my church recently, and we were surprised to discover how often we choose to spend our time doing things that feed us in more ways than one.

Rocky shoreline of Lake Huron
I spent some time this summer on the shores of Lake Huron.

Gardening, for example, is work for sure, but meditative and joy-filled too. We take days to prepare for camping trips and more days cleaning up after, but the time spent resting by the campfire or playing in the lake make it all worth while. A hike up a forest path accelerates our heart rate and strains the muscles, and then we get to enjoy the view and sleep really well at night.

When those questions were asked of me, writing came to mind.

Facing down the blank page is hard work.

Writing is hard work. Whether it’s paid work for my jobs or labouring over the second draft of my novel, I must give of myself mentally, physically and emotionally—sometimes painfully—to get words on the page.

I also play with the words, move them around, change them, and chew on them until they feel just right. I feel that jolt of joy when I know that I’ve captured some elusive idea exactly right.

I’m a writer because it’s something I need to do. When I have fulfilled that need, expended the energy and played with ideas, gratified rest follows. Even if I know a work is not complete or that I will need to revisit a paragraph or concept, I rest with the same sense of accomplishment that the hiker experiences at the top of the mountain. The rest serves my writing too. When I step away and then return, the time away gives me fresh perspective and I see ways to make the work even better.

What did you do this summer? Did it feel like nothing but work? Did you play? Have you rested?

The garden sanctuary I look at when I am working, playing and resting while writing in my back yard.

A post for a WOW friend: The gift of being chosen

Sand castle
A sand castle on Maryanne’s favourite beach: Anna Maria Island

The first time I saw my friend Maryanne, she and her eighteen-month-old son were building houses out of sand in the shade of a play structure in our neighbourhood park. Seated side by side, they packed sand into plastic containers and constructed houses of all shapes and sizes.

I played with my own eighteen-month-old daughter nearby and eavesdropped on their conversation.

“What kind of house do you want to build next?” she asked.

“A bungalow,” her son said.

WOW. What toddler knows the word bungalow? And who was this Wonder Of Women with him?

Over the twenty-three years of our friendship (both those children are now almost twenty-five), I have said WOW about Maryanne many times. She has other exceptional qualities besides an advanced vocabulary and a knack for creative story building.

She celebrated her 60th birthday on the weekend and the occasion caused me to reflect on her WOW qualities.

  • GENEROSITY – I have been at her house to see her open her door wide to people in need. No matter if an arrival is unannounced or if it means re-evaluating food supplies or sleeping arrangements, she accommodates with grace and dignity. It is a gift rarer than the finest diamonds.
  • SELF-WITNESS – She has the ability to rise above herself, look down and sort life out from a higher perspective. This skill has led her to success in business and helped her to overcome tragic loss.
  • INTUITION – She seems to reach through the veil of the universe. She just knows things. Sometimes I have to do a double-take after hearing her insights.
  • LAUGHTER – She is fun. We laugh together a lot.

Her generosity means that saying “No” does not come naturally, but her self-witness is telling her that sometimes that’s exactly what she needs to start saying. She’s learning to listen to her intuition and to choose what serves her and what does not. Which activities, causes or people should she say no to because they drain her without ever giving back? Which activities, causes or people energize her or bring her laughter?

Maryanne and I during a night of smiles and laughter

Maryanne is ever-evolving and choosing how to spend her time and with whom to spend that time. Like Pokemon’s Pikachu saying “I choose you!”

I will be sixty in a few years too, so I’m also am developing the steely inner resolve that comes with the wisdom of age. I am more discerning about how I spend my days, and with whom. I am drawing firm boundaries around demands on my time. One thing I know: Time spent with Maryanne is time well spent. I choose her!

She inspires me to be a better person. I’m not Maryanne’s best friend, but I aim to be the best friend for her in certain circumstances. I hope I refill her well in some way and bring her laughter.

On her 60th birthday I asked myself, “What gift could I give to such a WOW person?” The only thing I could think of was to let her know this:

I appreciate the gift of being chosen.

Birthday cake with Limited 1959 Edition topper
A “limited edition” cake for a “limited edition” person

Take a bow: All is well

Are you having one of those days?

The kind where it feels like you’ve been exposed to the elements for too long and you’re bending under the pressure?

The kind when it feels like the weight you have to bear is too much?

Take heart.

You are serving your purpose.

The load you are carrying is in place and not even sliding on the slippery slope.

See the sun breaking through and shining on the trees in the background? Brighter days are coming.

All is well.

New and beautiful out of old and broken

Some days I feel ancient.

Some days it feels like so much of my life, so many people and events, lie on the path behind me, how much more can be ahead?

On those days, it’s helpful to stumble upon trees like these growing together on my friend’s property near Lake Huron.

A twig sprouting out of the sawed-off portion of a cedar trunk

A sprout of a completely different kind of tree is growing through the trunk of the sawed-off trunk of an old tree.

I searched from all sides and from high and low angles, and I could not find the root system for the younger twig. It is below ground, an integral part of the roots of the cedar.

The largest trunk on the original cedar was cut off—a loss that must have felt like the end. But no! Something unexpected was hiding there all along, intertwined with the roots, waiting to spring to life.