Category Archives: Health

Top sheets to the wind

How have we failed our next generation?

Have we allowed them too many video games?

Do we restrict their freedom too much and not let them just be carefree and out there playing?

Will their inability to read cursive writing or tell time by an analogue clock put their lives in mortal danger someday?

Those are all valid questions. But there’s one place where I know I mis-stepped with my children.

They don’t use top sheets on their beds.

Apparently this is common amongst people of their age. Read one such person’s opinion here: For the love of good sleep, stop using a top sheet.

My children are young adults now so I don’t do their laundry anymore, but when they were younger, this drove me bonkers. On laundry day, I would find the top sheets either removed entirely or balled up at the foot of their bed. And washing a duvet cover is five thousand times more irritating than washing a simple sheet. (I’m not exaggerating there, right?)

I did’t understand why my children did this, and I thought it was a weird familial quirk. I would growl and grit me teeth and ask “Why? Where did I go wrong?

My friend has a theory that it’s because of the climate controlled comfort of our homes. She could have a point.

The farmhouse I lived in as a child had no central heating. My father, bless him, was first up in the morning. He lit the wood furnace and heated the lower floor while the rest of us — weighted down by layers of our grandmother’s quilts — watched our breath condense in the cold of air of our bedrooms upstairs. When he thought the house was warm enough, my father yelled up. My brothers and I would count, “1, 2, 3,” throw off the quilts and run as fast as we could from the frigid upstairs to the warmth below.

I grew up in a generation that needed layers for those winter nights, and the more the better. The top sheet (flannel in winter) was another much needed layer. And it protected the quilts, of which every stitch was sewn by hand.

On the flip side of that, without air conditioning the upper floor of our farmhouse could be suffocating on sweltering humid Ottawa Valley summer nights. The thin top sheet was all we could bear. It gave us the feeling of being covered without causing heat distress.

Even though the thermostat in the house I live in now is set to reduce automatically to a lower temperature at night, our home never reaches the biting cold of my old farmhouse on a winter night. And even though I’m not a fan of air conditioning and use it seldom, the times I do choose to use it are on the kind of sweltering hot days when a single top sheet for sleeping would be the choice.

As a result, for my children and others like them, the top sheet has become superfluous. They kick it off. Tra la la, I’m free.

Bonkers, it drives me.

But wait. To add insult to injury, my Facebook feed these days is filled with advertisements about weighted blankets. Some of these blankets promise that they have been “re-engineered” to guarantee sleep that will solve everything from ADHD to restless legs syndrome to my menopausal symptoms.

The same generation that kicks off their top sheets is now paying extra for the sensation that mounds of my grandmother’s quilts provided.

My grandmother never had to “re-engineer” her quilts.

As a parent, there are many things I would like to go back in time and do over. Some of those things “weightier” than others.

One thing I would rectify for sure would be the top sheet thing.

I would turn our furnace WAY down at night, load up their beds with quilts and not turn the heat back up in the morning until they had a good dose of watching their breath condense..

quilt with embroidered rose squares
Grandma’s quilt – the original weighted blanket.

Community in mud and flood

footprints in a mud puddle

A walk in the mud.

A few weeks ago I began a blog post entitled “Veering toward the mud.” It was a whimsical piece about a mother with two toddler children I passed on my walk home from the bus stop. All three played with joyful abandon in a deep puddle. Her refreshing lack of concern about how dirty and wet the children became with each passing moment struck me as so rare in these times of overprotective, germ-fearing parenting. I imagined her returning home after to wring out wet socks and turn up their rubber boots to let the water run out. I thought about how, as adults, we veer away from puddles but every child veers toward the mud. At what point, I wondered, do we lose that childlike enjoyment of getting wet and dirty?

I didn’t finish the piece because busy life intervened. I thought, “I’ll get back to it. I hope I manage to do that before our spring mud clears up.”

I needn’t have worried, because then came the flood.

All nature’s forces combined to create flood conditions in the Ottawa River valley and surrounding area that haven’t been seen in the living memories of inhabitants. People didn’t need to veer toward mud and water in the Ottawa-Gatineau area; it veered right into their living rooms.

I took the picture below on Saturday at a local park. This area is usually grass and park benches. The bird in the distance that looks like it’s sitting on a log? That bird is perched on the back of a park bench.

This is a picture of the same area on Sunday. The park bench where the bird sat is now submerged.

park submerged in water

How could I write about playing in water when people a few kilometres from me had to wade through waist-deep water to get to their homes, if they could get to them at all?

There is no joy in that. There is no joy in this mud-ville.

The only solace to be found comes in the goodwill of people. Neighbours who might have only nodded in passing before are now bonding as they work together to fight back the tide. Countless volunteers are spending hours hoisting sandbags for people they don’t even know. The Red Crossas always, first on the scene to give comfort, compassion and the bare necessities for survival—a ledge for people to cling to by their fingernails in their time of crisis.

The only solace comes from community, in mud and flood.

 

The difference between happy and glowing: Giving

This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”

Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.

I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.

After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.

I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?

The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.

The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?

Mud-splattered and glowing in Bolivia

Arlene – Mud-splattered and glowing on a Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia

 

 

All-natural medicine: hard work for a worthy cause

Habitat-for-Humanity-Bolivia

“I am thinking of enriching Medicine with a new word: Arbeitskur.”

—Levin in Anna Karenina

A year ago when I participated in the Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia, I spent days shovelling dirt, carrying buckets of mortar, moving armloads of terra-cotta bricks, and breaking up hard soil with a pick-ax. At the end of every day, instead of feeling body-sore and exhausted, I looked with satisfaction at a home for a family in need growing before my eyes, and I felt fantastic.

It’s what Leo Tolstoy calls Arbeitskur, or work-cure.

Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy, reminded me of this. I took the 806-page tome with me on my recent vacation. (As an aside, 800-page books really aren’t for me. By the end, I’m so tired of all the characters I don’t care at all what happens to them, and if one of them should throw herself in front of a train, I don’t feel sorry in the least.)

One of the characters in the book, Levin, decided to spend the day mowing in  the fields with the peasants. After hours of hard, physical labour, instead of feeling sore or exhausted, he looked with satisfaction at the fruits of his harvest, and he felt fantastic. When he shared to the contentment of the peasants, he contemplated the wonders of work-cure.

I grew up on a farm, so I had experienced the satisfaction that comes from spending a day hoisting hay bales or mucking out pens, but I had forgotten. I knew how it felt to tuck with guilt-free gusto into plates of home-made pie after spending the day burning more calories toward a worthy cause, but I had forgotten.

Our society, as a rule, has moved away from hard, physical labour. Instead, we move our bodies in gyms like hamsters on a wheel. It’s physical exertion without the reward of a sense of creation or accomplishment. The euphoric sense of creation or accomplishment that arises out of work-cure takes runners’ high and increases it exponentially. Ka-boom. 

There’s no feeling like it. If you’re feeling a little blue, I can recommend a Habitat for Humanity build.

Mud-splattered and happy in Bolivia

Mud-splattered and happy in Bolivia

Ripple effects of good deeds

When I do a good deed, I feel great.

I didn’t realize that watching another person do a good deed could make me feel just as good—maybe better.

This week, during a hasty trip to a shopping mall, I walked past a man carrying a woman’s purse. The man, dressed in full military uniform, sought out the mall security guards. He handed the purse to them and said, “Something to keep you busy.” The man had found the purse left behind in the food court and decided to do the right thing.

I empathized with the relief of the woman who would get her purse back, knowing she wouldn’t have to replace all her ID or call the credit card companies and banks.

I celebrated the good character of the members of our armed forces.

I rejoiced that good lives in our society.

I walked away smiling, feeling lighter. A good deed performed by someone else made me feel great.

Our good deeds really do ripple positively out into the world.

Dropping little pebbles

A poem by my friend Dennis Manning:

Dropping Little Pebbles

© 2011 Dennis Manning

Dropping pebbles in the ocean,
causes endless waves of motion.

From the drop of a hand,
effects cross the water’s span.

And the great results yet to be,
may never be seen by you or me.

But we must never stop,
letting little pebbles drop.

___________________

My favourite line in his poem is: “And the great results yet to be, may never be seen by you or me.”

Who are the people in your life who did something meaningful for you? Do they know how powerful an effect they had on you? Are they aware of the ripple effects of the pebble they dropped for you?

Or do you ever do something and wonder to yourself, “What good is this anyway?” If we can’t see the direct benefits of our actions, sometimes we cannot believe that any good comes of it. But Dennis encourages us to keep dropping little pebbles, to keep rippling out positively into the world, even if the results may never be seen.

And the pebbles can be little. No need for big rocky splashes. But we must never stop letting little pebbles drop.