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messy-paints-pixa

I bet that a lot of people reading this post are making resolutions for the new year, and I suspect that cleaning up messiness both literal and figurative in their life is on many of those lists.

Your parents have been telling you this since you were a kid. Your spouse, roommate, officemate and others may have been suggesting it. I am constantly trying – and failing – to achieve a state of orderliness that I can maintain.

The  chaos of a house or room or closet, garage, basement, or even a desk drawer or desktop just seems wrong. I also think that achieving even a small feat of order – such as an empty inbox – gives us not only satisfaction but the hope that we can accomplish the same order in our larger areas. may even in our personal life.

People are writing books about how to clean and organize, and I wrote here about the combined joy and sadness of throwing things away. But that process (and those readings) can make you very anxious and just remind you of your failures to get rid of the mess.

A good amount of the rhetoric of the recent election was about cleaning up the mess in Washington D.C. and across the country. Donald Trump’s campaign was a mess. But he won.

chaos-phone-lines-pixa

But I have to thank podcast episode 53 of Hidden Brain for turning me on to the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. For the New Year, I appreciate a book that  celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives.

Embrace the messiness and chaos! It is important. Stop resisting.

The author, Tim Harford, is an economist, but he looks at research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, and examples of people who did extraordinary things in messy and chaotic ways.

Some qualities that we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – seem to require a degree of disorder, confusion, and disarray.

This messiness doesn’t have to be visible, like that pile of stuff on and around your desk. Think about how unexpected changes of plans and unplanned events can generate new ideas and opportunities. Yes, these things can also make you anxious and angry, but you need to let that part go.

The book (and the podcast for the not-lazy but more aural learners) can help you stop underestimating the value of disorder. I’m typing this on the couch surrounded by unread magazines and notes for things I want to write and the remains of breakfast – and I feel fine.

messy-rope-pixa

Fight the urge to untangle the rope mess.

dolphin-pixabay image

Dolphin stuck in the desert

Did you know that you have a chronotype? Did you know that there was such a thing as a chronotype? This weekend I’m thinking, like many of you, about the new year. I’m not making any new resolutions because I have plenty of past ones that were never resolved to keep me busy for a lifetime.

But today I am considering that part of my problem might be not knowing the best time to do things. I mean from the best time to have my coffee, to the best time to go for my exercise walk, to the best time to have sex. The answers vary according to your body’s chronotype.

You can find lots of self-help advice out there about WHAT to do and HOW to do it, but not much about WHEN to do it.

The when part has to do with your biology, hormones and the circadian rhythms of your body clock.

In the book, The Power of When by Michael Breus, you can “Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More.”

I’m not sure you can confirm all those times so easily, but it is certainly interesting to take his quick online quiz and see what chronotype you are supposed to be.

Are you a Bear, Lion, Dolphin or Wolf? Once you know, you can do some lifehacking on when to do different activities. I came out as a Dolphin.

Your chronotype is your biological clock. It is when your body naturally wants to do things like sleep, eat, exercise and work. Most of us fight our body’s internal clock because we follow the unnatural clocks and schedules that tell us it’s time for breakfast, time to go to work, time to get to sleep.

Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour timekeeper. It regulates not only sleep but also body temperature, hormone levels, blood flow, and gut bacteria. It also ebbs and flows, so certain tasks done at certain hours will yield better results.

I have a habit of taking my prescription drugs in the morning, but it may be better to do it before I go to sleep.  I don’t take any cholesterol drugs but they work better before bed because that’s when the liver also starts breaking down cholesterol, and the drugs can work in tandem with the body. It seems that blood pressure pills may have more impact at night because some people with hypertension don’t experience a natural dip in blood pressure when they sleep.

Your chronotype can shift as you age. No chronotype is “better” than any other and some things are shared across types. For example, when it comes to romance, for all chronotypes, 11 am to 2 pm is when bonding hormones are at their lowest. Forget that lunch date. Go for the dinner hours.

According to a study Breus cites, most people have sex between 11 pm and 1 am and that is the worst possible time. Late at night, levels of sleep-inducing melatonin rise and testosterone is at its lowest. When you wake up, testosterone levels are at their peak. Breus says, “I’d love for everyone to make a point of having Saturday-morning sex.”  Set a reminder for next weekend.

Some of his advice I have heard before. For a long time I had heard that because we are more insulin-resistant after 3 pm,we don’t efficiently convert sugar to energy, and instead store it as fat. So, you should eat your big meal earlier as often as you can. Of course, that doesn’t fit in well with most working folks.

Of the four chronotypes (Dolphin, Lion, Bear, and Wolf), most people fit into the “Bear” category.

I haven’t tested the chronotypes theories out yet (New Year?) but you can take a start by taking Breus’s quick chronotype quiz to find out which one you are.

For Dolphin me I’m going to think about whether or not:

  • My most creative time of day is between 10:00am and noon.
  • My 4 key personality traits are: cautiousness, introversion, neuroticism, intelligence
  • and my 4 key behaviors are: avoiding risky situations, striving for perfection, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, fixating on details.
  • I already know that my “Sleep/Alertness Pattern” is that I usually wake up feeling unrefreshed (sleep apnea too) and I get an energy boost late in the evening.
  • I’m supposed to be most productive: in spurts throughout the day.
  • I agree that when it comes to naps, I try to catch up on sleep but can’t quite make it happen.
  • My fellow dolphins are unihemispheric sleepers – one half of the brain shuts down while the other half stays alert. Not a bad thing if you want to prevent drowning and being eaten by predators, but a drag for those of us who are land dwellers in houses. Dolphins lie awake thinking about mistakes they’ve made. Sometimes we don’t know whether or not we actually slept at all.

I like those watery dolphins, but I’m not thrilled about being one. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

 

axe-chop

My first association if I hear “Norwegian wood” is the 1965 Beatles song on Rubber Soul. That album, and particularly “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” made a big impression on me when it was released.

My second association is a novel I read back in 2000: Norwegian Wood  by Haruki Murakami. At the start of that novel, the protagonist hears an orchestral cover of the Beatles’ song and it sends him to a place of loss, nostalgia, and back to the 1960s. I checked back on the book before I wrote here and discovered that the book’s original Japanese title, Noruwei no Mori, is how the Beatles song is translated and that it means more of a Norwegian forest (a wood) rather than wood as in furniture (which is what the song implies).

Mori or forest is the closer association in my third and newest association with Norwegian wood. This is the title of a Scandinavian publishing phenomenon that is not a Stieg Larsson thriller, but a kind of handbook for chopping, stacking and burning wood.

I first heard about this book on a podcast at the start of the year, but I only recently encountered the book on my local library’s shelf. Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way by Lars Mytting is a bestseller in Norway, Sweden and Britain.

It is ostensibly advice on how to heat your home with wood. But the way that it goes into the history and details of the very old traditions for cutting and stacking wood and our more primal passion for open fires, seems to have moved people beyond a how-to or DIY book to viewing it as a kind of book of practical philosophy.

I have skimmed the book and learned about Scandinavian culture and more about the chopping, stacking and drying processes than I probably need. My home did have a wood stove years ago, but we got rid of it when my sons first came into our lives – fears of burns. I have a firepit now and I readily admit to really enjoying making a fire and sitting next to it with a drink and just staring at the flames.

But how does a book about chopping and burning wood become a bestseller? How many of you reading this have a desire to learn how to build a smokeless fire? It seems that the appeal is at least half in the parts that are less about making that fire. For example, he offers advice about choosing a husband based on his wood pile.

“It’s a very common thing among older Norwegian men to create this enormous monument of firewood that outlives them, and also a very nice heritage that they leave behind.” With a bit of woodpile envy in mind, size matters and so does creating a “sculptural stack.” In Scandinavia, local papers run competitions to find the best woodpiles.

Lars Mytting covers all the phases through gathering the wisdom of growers, choppers, stackers and burners. He covers the science of tree culture and of combustion. I suppose there is some “renewable energy” interest in all this, though fires are quite polluting, especially if built poorly.

I think the real bestseller broader appeal is more of a meditation on the human instinct for survival, and a call back to some part of us that has mostly died out. These ideas might rekindle a spark of the neolithic you hiding inside.

Who doesn’t love sitting by a campfire or fireplace? We even get into fake fireplaces and flames and have watched a Yule log burning on video. A Norwegian television program based on the book aired in 2013 and they followed the show with a six-hour video of an open fire in a hut. Along the way, it had a million people tuned in. People were live-tweeting the logs burning and commenting that it was time to get on a new log, or suggesting they add more spruce or birch.

Lars Mytting was born in Fåvang, Norway in 1968. His “definitive wood-cutting bible” is a good fireside read as we enter late fall and winter and fireplace season.

I am more of what Mytting calls an “armchair wood chopper” as I don’t go out in the woods with an axe or keep a stack in the backyard. But, as the author’s neighbor told him, “a wood fire is about so much more than heat.” Luckily, my Paradelle neighborhood never gets down to the -30C mark, but I get great comfort from the firepit even on a cool 70F summer night, and I love the smell of fresh-cut wood.

And I still want to cut logs and build a little cabin one day. It will have to have a little wood stove or fireplace too.

 

The scent of fresh wood
is among the last things you will forget
when the veil falls.
The scent of fresh white wood
in the spring sap time
as though life itself walked by you,
with dew in its hair.
– Hans Børli

Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere https://www.flickr.com/photos/60712129@N06/

Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere via flickr.com

About 10 years ago, I read a book called Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and CommunitiesPlace-based learning is an educational philosophy. It is also known as (or is related to) pedagogy of place, place-based education, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability and environmental education.

The term Place-based Education was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion’s early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and I received a grant from the Dodge back then to do a project with a community and elementary school in New Jersey using this philosophy.

Here’s an excerpt of that book that gives you an overview. It was written by David Sobel, who teaches in the education department at Antioch University New England in New Hampshire.

Back when I was teaching in a middle school and working on that grant, I had used another book  by him, Mapmaking with Children.  It’s definitely related and concerned with having kids get a better “sense of place” for their community.

child's map

I’m a map fan and for me this is more than geography education. You can work with kids and start with mapping close to home in their known world. Then it can “zoom out” to nearby neighborhoods, bordering towns and beyond. I saw this as visual literacy and critical thinking.

I know that many educators use it along with community projects involving the environment or service projects. In the project I did for that grant, we had set one of the goals to be having every kid work with at least one parent closely and we did a day of field trips around the town and area with them,

I saw the mapping as way beyond a  social studies class. I had a lot of fun having students make maps of imaginary places and setting from books they were reading.

Place-based education is more aimed at solving community problems. It uses the students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning – the unique local history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. The community can be just the school grounds or the town.

You might zoom out later but at the start it is definitely better o zoom in on the community rather than national or global issues. Think global, act local.

Kids always liked that this was very much hands-on learning, project-based learning, and involved getting out of the classroom.

neighborhood

More recently I saw an article on place-based learning that got me thinking about this again. This idea of community as classroom and learning that engages students in solving real problems in the community is still very valid. Even more important to me is the idea of place.

You can easily imagine a nearby woods or river as a classroom for science. What about using it for writing poetry or for a math lesson? Getting away from just using textbooks and worksheets is probably more of a challenge for teachers than for students.

Sobel has kept the philosophy moving forward and he consults and speaks on child development and place-based education for schools. He has authored seven books on children and nature. Perhaps his best known book is Beyond Ecophobia.

That article mentioned above is by Bernard Bull and he suggests six starting points for using place including thinking beyond the “field trip (something that is often not feasible for teachers to consider these days anyway) and building a community network of groups and people in the community who own or work in places that align with the curriculum.

Place-based learning didn’t take a real grip on education when it first was promoted, but I think it has so many possibilities for dropping the many walls, literal and figurative, that hold back innovation in education.

And this is certainly an approach that parents can take with their kids, even if the schools are not willing to take on the challenge.

 

This article first appeared at ronkowitz.wordpress.com

bird feeding

A lot of you probably have bird feeders around your home. It’s a great way to see birds up close. It is a good supplement for local birds, as long as it is kept filled. But birds will sometimes rely on feeders and then when they aren’t filled or are taken away they may struggle to find natural sources, especially during winter.

A great alternative is to bring birds to your home by growing native plants that offer not only food but shelter and last for several seasons and can also be perennial feeders.

The Audubon Native Plant Database is a great tool to find the best plants for the birds in your area.  I did a search for my area and found more than 70 plants paired with the birds that feed from them.  Growing bird-friendly plants will attract and protect the birds you love while making your space beautiful, easy to care for, and better for the environment.

Another bit of gardening I have written about before is “guerilla gardening.” One of the methods is using “seed bombs” (AKA seed balls, for gentler folks) as a way to plant native plants in bare areas like vacant lots.

They are made using clay as a way to retain moisture as the seeds germinate and provide some protection from wind, sun – and hungry birds who would get at them before they sprout. People use artist’s clay, but clay powder, or unscented clay kitty litter can be mixed with water and is cheaper.

You mix in seed-starting soil or fine compost as a nutrient (dirt from your yard will probably add weed seeds which is not good).

Most important is adding seeds of plants that are native to your area. The database mentioned above helps there.

bamboo_forest_arashiyama_kyoto_oliveheartkimchi

Photo by oliveheartkimchi – originally posted to Flickr as Bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto, CC BY 2.0

 

For your health, you may want to do some “forest bathing.” The term means soaking in the forest atmosphere. It originated nearly 35 years ago in Japan, where it’s known as “shinrin-yoku,” and it’s now catching on in the United States.

As a lover of the beach and ocean, and with 130 miles of Jersey coastline nearby, I have a lifetime of sun and ocean bathing. The way the smell of salt air, feet in the sand and the sound of waves create inner peace, is what is claimed for forest bathing.

Breathe in the pine trees, listen to the birds and water flowing over stones, see the patterns of green or autumn’s palette and how the sunlight changes the scene, feel the textures of trees and plants. Walk barefoot. No nudity or bathing suits required.

Shinrin-yoku practitioners do it for relaxation and rejuvenation. It soothes the mind, but can have real benefits, such as lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.

Back in the 1980s, Japanese researchers theorized that substances called phytoncides (antimicrobial organic compounds given off by plants) produced the health benefits and relaxation.

You don’t need to be a scientist to know the benefits of time spent in a forest, but researchers do believe that humans are “hard-wired” to need nature in their lives.

One study found that the average concentration of cortisol, a stress hormone found in saliva, was 13.4 percent lower in people who were in a forest setting for just 20 minutes compared to people in urban settings.

Li Qing of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, conducted experiments to find out if spending time in nature increases the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system that fights cancer. The study found that NK activity was significantly boosted in two groups that spent time in forests.

You don’t need to take a strenuous hike to practice shinrin-yoku. The practice may not burn lots of calories, so don’t do it as “exercise” alone.

I went for a cool, slightly wet walk today in my local woods. It’s hardly a “forest” but it has birds, wildlife, a small brook and I can go deep enough to not hear the cars and people who surround it. I bathed. I was literally a little wet. I felt better.

 

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