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.

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



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.

I believe in Santa Claus

“I don’t believe in Santa Claus,” she said in a voice loud enough for every child within 15 feet to hear. “My parents put the presents in the stocking.”

And so I found myself in a parental nightmare scenario: having to explain Santa Claus, or no Santa Claus, to other people’s children.

The girl was in Grade 2 at the time, and she was my daughter’s best friend. It was a minute or two after the final bell rang on the last day of school before Christmas. The children, bursting with excitement, had just charged through the doors to start a two-week break. I don’t remember what prompted my daughter’s friend to make her pronouncement. I just know that when she did, she planted her feet and looked squarely at me, her chin set in challenge, eyes alight, daring me to react.

Every child running past us stopped. They looked at her and then at me to see what I would say. I was in one of those 360º movie pans where the audio dips to a hum while the audience watches to see what the character will do.

I was aware that many of the children around me believed, or wanted to; I was not going to shred their dreams. I also knew that if I didn’t answer truthfully, I would lose all credibility with my daughter’s friend.

Here’s what I said:

I believe in Santa Claus. Santa Claus is the spirit of giving.  If I see someone in need and want to help them out, then I’m the spirit of giving. When you really like someone and want to give them a gift, you’re the spirit of giving. When presents appear in your stocking on Christmas morning, it means that someone loves you enough to be filled with the spirit of giving. That’s Santa Claus.

The spirit of living

Over the years I have read many times the “Santa Claus” argument against a belief in God. Atheists routinely trot that one out. They say that someone’s belief in God is as childish and delusional as a belief in Santa Claus.

I don’t have to believe in a man in a red suit to believe in what is the very best about Christmas—the spirit of giving. I don’t have to believe in a man in the sky to believe in what is the very best about our universe—the spirit of living.

Oh, yes. I believe in Santa Claus. That spirit of giving and living moves and breathes through this holiday season, no matter what faith people have. That is why so many atheists still celebrate Christmas. They feel it, too.

May you find the spirit of giving and living, now and the whole year through.

6 ways to a meaningful Christmas

“Christmas,” he said, “should be like the Olympics—held every four years.”

My hair stylist pointed his scissors at me in the mirror. “I’ve got it all figured out. Change the date to February 29 and have Leap Christmases.”

I laughed when he said it. What would my year be without Christmas? But I have to admit, when I thought about a reprieve from Christmas, a tiny corner of my soul felt relieved.

Christmas, at its mystical best, enriches and inspires. Christmas, at its superficial worst, strains relationships and drains finances.

His idea made me ponder what aspects of Christmas cause stress for me, instead of joy. His idea made me consider what I really need at Christmas, and what I should discard from what I’ve been doing. I realized that all I want for Christmas is one thing: “Silent Night” sung with my family by candlelight at the Christmas Eve service.

That single moment is Christmas to me.

If that’s all I really need, what can I do to make the rest of the holiday season joyous instead of stressful? I came up with:

Six ways to return Christmas to its essence:

1. Reduce the “something/anything” gift list. We cram into shopping malls to buy “something/anything” for the obligation people on our lists. Those are the people to whom we feel we need to give something, but who already have everything anyone could ever need. So we buy things that no one needs—singing Christmas trees, snowman-shaped candles, or Santa Claus coffee mugs. And all those “little things” add up to a lot of wasted money.

I plan to ask myself if the person on my list is someone I really love, and if I want to show my love through a gift. If so, I will find something meaningful. Which brings me to . . .

2. Strive for a green Christmas. Be environmentally friendly. We bring those singing Christmas trees and Santa mugs as hostess gifts, and then they end up as part of the next tacky Christmas gift exchange or on the shelves at neighbourhood services.

I will make as many of my gifts as possible consumable or recyclable. Wine, fudge, or cheese maybe, or a donation to a charity.

3. Think of others. Focusing on ourselves, our lengthy to-do list, and the extra holiday spending just causes stress.

I will look beyond myself to help others at Christmas.

4. Create. Everyone appreciates a gift handcrafted with him/her in mind. (If they don’t, why would we be friends with them again?) Creativity is the secret to happiness.

I will use my skills to create gifts for them and happiness for me.

5. Refuse to be stressed. Christmas is a birthday party. It’s supposed to be fun, so if we feel the opposite of that, we have forgotten to live Christmas as it was intended.

I will monitor my thoughts and emotions and intentionally seek joy and avoid stress. If I find myself doing something I feel I “should” but which I resent, I’ll either stop doing it, or I’ll put on some Christmas music, pour myself a glass of wine and adjust my attitude.

6. Live Christmas mindfully. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I really need for Christmas?” When you discover what that is, savour it, and realize that everything else is expendable.

On Christmas Eve, when they dim the lights, and we light our candles, and the first notes of “Silent Night” carry through the church, I will look around through tear-filled eyes at my family and my Christmas, and I will know that everything else is expendable.