A Writer’s greatest tonic: SLEEP!

Ha!  I know, you thought I would say that the writer’s greatest tonic is  …. perhaps, some scotch (straight up, of course) or a glass of Pinot Noir!  Well, I jest you not … a good night’s sleep does indeed stimulate the creative juices.  Waking up in the morning and feeling refreshed and alert (until you catch a glimpse of your puffy-eyed reflection in the mirror!) will go a long way to helping you finish that oh-so-wordy chapter 6 (the chapter that keeps on giving ….. me heartburn).  All right, enough of my writing woes.  Here are some interesting tidbits and links on the physical and psychological benefits of sleep — not just for neurotic writers, but for everyone:

Many of us think that we can get by on very little sleep.  When deadlines loom near, we pull a few all-nighters. And this is okay …. once in a while.  The startling news is that far too many of us follow a daily sleep regimen of less than 6 hours per night. This, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School, falls under the category of chronic sleep loss and may contribute to a number of health problems, such as  a compromised immune system, weight gain, and high blood pressure.  The Harvard Women’s Health Watch reports that there are at least 6 good reasons to get enough sleep:

  1. Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  2. Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  3. Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  4. Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  5. Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  6. Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

And, here are some sleep guidelines from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

Sleep Requirements by Age

Newborns (0-2 months old) 12-18 hours
Infants (3-11 months old) 14-15 Hours
Toddlers (1-3 years old)l 12-14 Hours
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years old) 11-13 Hours
School-aged Children (5-10 years old) 10-11 Hours
Teens (11-17 years old) 8-9 Hours
Adults 7-9 Hours

And, for those of you who complain incessantly that your mattress is the reason why you don’t sleep well at night — please do some research and then invest in a new mattress!

Sweet dreams …

Sleep – the most beautiful experience in life – except drink.
W. C. Fields

I couldn’t resist.

Cheers,  h.f.t.g.

Image via kiwimagonline.com.

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heatherfromthegrove: 7 New Year’s Revelations to Embrace the Grace Light

For those of you who have been following, reading and enjoying each of my seven New Year revelations …. Thank You. 

I would like to point out that they are not  New Year Resolutions.  I don’t make New Year Resolutions anymore.  They are my own personal revelations. Epiphanies. Discoveries.  In the past decade, I’ve faced some daunting challenges and heart-wrenching events.  I’d like to think that I’ve handled them with dignity, compassion, grace, and humor.  Always humor.  It helps take the edge off. 

So, the lessons that these “life tests” have taught me are my “revelations.”  As I move forward with my life, I will use them as my guide.  Wisdom has to be earned.  For me, it’s a work in progress.  I hope that they have inspired and even amused you. I hope that they have made you think long and hard. 

Here’s a synopsis:

Revelation No. 1:   SIMPLICITY

Revelation No. 2:   PAUSE AND TAKE NOTE!

Revelation No. 3:   SAY GOODBYE TO REGRETS 

Revelation No. 4:   TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE ……. ALWAYS!

Revelation No. 5:   ALIGN MIND, BODY & SPIRIT

Revelation No. 6:   OPEN THE WINDOWS … AND BREATHE!!!

Revelation No. 7:   FIND YOUR PASSION AND DON’T LET GO!

So, there you have it.  I believe that 2012 will be an interesting year.  One for the history books.  I wish you all a blessed, healthy and happy New Year and may your own personal journey towards Grace Light bring you deep fulfillment and wisdom.

Cheers,

h.f.t.g.

 

Image via blogs.canoe.ca.

New Year’s Revelation No.7 of 7: Find Your Passion and Don’t Let Go

“20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover” ~ Mark Twain

Many of us know what our passion is.  Some call it “Purpose” or “Raison d’Être.”  The seeds are — more often than not — planted in childhood.  As we grow up, “Life” sometimes gets in the way. Correction. We let it get in the way …. it doesn’t get there by itself (remember, we are each authors of our own destiny). And, if we’re wise, we rediscover it.  And when we do, the reunion is joyous. Like renewing old friendships  … or … finally getting to meet (face-to-face) a family member that we’ve never had a chance to connect with.

And then there are some who never wavered, never let go of their passion. They made it their Life.  They embraced their passion with every fibre of their being and, when they died, they died knowing that they had lived their Passion. These people are, sadly, few and far between.  The late Lorena Gale, was one of those special ones.

Most of us juggle our day-to-day lives with our Passion.  Half the time is spent at the “day job” (the one that brings home the bacon) and the other half is what we do when we go home …. namely, our Passion.  For example, the wonderful 85 year-old music legend that is Tony Bennett obviously loves what he does for a living.  But, his real passion is art.  He is an artist …. as in, painting.  When he is not singing on tour or in concert, he paints. Check out Benedetto Arts, on his site, and prepare to be amazed.

Many of my family members have a day job and, like Anthony Dominick Benedetto, go home and spend quality time doing what they really love to do.  One cousin of mine (in Malta) has a passion for painting.  He is an exceedingly talented artist. Another cousin (in Canada) is a brilliant – and I mean brilliantphotographer.  In his own words, “It’s what I love to do.” 

It’s as simple as that. Do what you love to do and you will live a happy life. People will be drawn to you.  It’s the law of attraction.  You send out positive energy and you receive it back …. in spades.

I’ve always been a Writer. But, like many, I have always had “day jobs.”  I was a marketing communications professional for about 25 years. The first five years were in junior and mid-management,  the next 5 in senior management, and the following 15 as a consultant.

And then, one day (in the autumn of 2009) I woke up and realized that I had just turned 50.  I decided, then and there, that I would — as Mark Twain suggested — “sail away from  the safe harbor.” 

Fyi …. I can’t swim (well, I can tread water).

So, I decided to follow my passion — full-time. Of course, this meant that I would have to have a lifestyle adjustment. There would be no Louis Vuitton luggage in my immediate future. It meant I would have to forego Macallan 25 for Macallan 12. Scotch, that is. 12 year-old versus the rich-yet-smooth 25 year-old scotch. Oh woe is me.

Ahhhhh, the sacrifices I would have to make!

And, the reward for all this?  Here’s the thing. When we follow our bliss, we shouldn’t focus on quantifying it. The reward is not necessarily monetary (although, that certainly doesn’t hurt!). The reward is happiness, serenity, and knowledge. As we seek to master our craft — whatever that craft may be — we acquire knowledge.  With that knowledge, comes wisdom.

I can truly say — without reservation — that I am the happiest I have ever been.  I live simply. I love deeply. And I write.

May you all find your passion (if you haven’t already done so), and may it bring you great joy — always and forever.

Cheers,

h.f.t.g.

 

Image via womenonthefence.com.

New Year’s Revelation No.6 of 7: Open the Windows and Breathe

I have a confession to make. I do not understand people who have absolutely no appreciation of nature. I cannot even fathom staying in the house — all the time — watching television, surfing the internet for hours on end, or — worse — playing games on the computer while the clock ticks and night becomes day.  What a waste. Of time, that is. And, even more importantly, it can’t be good for you.

But that’s just my opinion.

One of the greatest elements that we seem to take for granted is …. Oxygen.  I’ve always been somewhat claustrophobic, so I appreciate the open air.  I equate it with Freedom.  When I lived in Montréal (my birthplace), I would open up windows in the middle of winter.  Just to breathe in that crisp, cold air.  It made me feel alive.  Taking a late night walk in the crunchy snow, with my nostrils tingling with cold …. is — for me — simply exhilarating.

Now, I live in a tropical climate and I open the windows to hear the rustle of my bamboo and palm trees and  the sound of frogs and parrots. For me, there is nothing — and I mean, nothing — more delightful than smelling the salt air of the ocean and the jasmine … it’s euphoric. As for the sound of the waves and the tide …. for me, that is my idea of Heaven on earth.

Nature is something that we sometimes take for granted. Humor me. Open up all the windows in your house or apartment.  Breathe in some fresh air.  Appreciate the outdoors and welcome it into your home.  You’ll feel lighter, happier and refreshed (okay, those of you living in the colder climates may need to wear a sweater!!) .

Just breathe.  Oxygen is good for you.

Image via andrewsullivanthedailybeast.com.

New Year’s Revelation No.5 of 7: Align Mind, Body and Spirit

“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

As enlightened individuals, we all comprehend – in theory – that in order to maintain a healthy body, a sound mind and a serene-yet-vibrant spirit … we must align these three entities, so that we can truly be whole.  However, in practice, this can be quite a tall order to fill. Our lives are hectic, complicated, often stressful, and – every so often –  tragedy strikes.  The more balanced we are, the more armed we will be to cope with whatever trials and tribulations come our way.  Stress is a predator.  If we’re not careful, it can eat away health, destroy the mind, and deflate the spirit. 

We are each masters of our own mind, body, and spirit.  If we blame other people, circumstances or events for our lack of balance, we are deluding ourselves.  Each person is ultimately responsible for herself/himself (the exception to this is, of course, someone who is completely physically or mentally incapacitated).  So, once we own up to our responsibility, it will then be time to take the next step —  Alignment. 

There are so many “alignment” methods to choose from and we’re not necessarily limited to only one.  Choose whatever combination of activities work with your lifestyle.

Personally, I have decided to incorporate yoga into my daily routine.  I am guilty of letting my mind, body, and spirit  get completely out of whack. I could stand to lose a few (!!) pounds.  I often let stress get the better of me, which results in elevated blood pressure levels.  And I am prone to bouts of melancholia (I am a Writer, so this is sometimes inevitable).  I have never taken yoga before. Nevertheless, I feel that I must make this part of my daily (not weekly) ritual.  I need balance. My life depends on it.  I am starting with video instruction, and then in March, I will go actual to yoga classes. Here, in the eclectic and bohemian village of Coconut Grove, we have a Hare Krishna Temple and I am considering attending classes there. 

Also, I love to dance. By myself. With my husband. On a dance floor with a bunch of total strangers. But, dance I shall.  It lifts the spirit.

So, here are a few (the list is not exhaustive) activities that will help you find discipline, harmony and serenity:

Make 2012 the year that you harmonize your mind, body, and spirit. Make good nutrition a priority. Try to eat organic food, whenever possible. 

Oh, and get some sleep.  If you are sleep-deprived, you will compromise your  overall health and you will have no energy left … to dance. 

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”  ~ Martha Graham

Images via blogs.orlandosentineal.com (top) and absoluteconfidence.com (bottom).

New Year’s Revelation #4 of 7: Take the Scenic Route Always

Ever stop and wonder whether it’s really, really necessary to rush about (almost manically, sometimes) each day – from point A to point B, zig-zagging through traffic to make that green light (which will inevitably turn red, just as you reach it, no matter how fast you drive), or chauffeuring the teenage kids (some of whom feel that they are entitled to parental limo service) to all their activities and social events?  

Do we often impose imaginary deadlines or unreasonable time limitations on ourselves?  Are we biting off more than we can chew? Or, more to the point, are  we over-scheduling ourselves and perhaps need a refresher course on how to manage our time more reasonably?

Most importantly, are we cheating ourselves of the simple, serene moments (so very necessary for the nourishment of mind, soul and body) — like stopping to marvel at someone’s beautiful front garden, slowing down the car to gaze at a breathtaking sunset, stepping out to frolic in the snow (we’re never too old for that!), or taking a nice evening stroll just after dinner. Let the teenagers carpool with one of their friend’s parents or – here’s a novel idea – tell them to take the bus! We did . Back in the day. And, incidentally,  we didn’t have cell phones back then, to call anyone in case of emergency. 

Again, I digress.

Here’s another heatherfromthegrove anecdote.  My husband rides a Harley (Fat Boy  — the motorcycle, that is, not my husband!).  I happily ride on the back of the Harley.  We both love it.  Riding, with the wind in our faces, well … the word that comes to mind is Freedom.  When we ride, we feel free.  It is the most exhilarating experience.  Yet, so many times, we’ve had to go places and he would ask me (every single time):  “Do you want to take the scenic route, or go the fast way?”  Often – too often – I answered  “The fast way.”  Why?  I felt some irrational need to hurry.  I was cheating myself.  My husband – a very, very sage man – knew that I was choosing the wrong path.  He would always ask the question twice – the second time, he’d say “Are you sure you don’t want to take the scenic route?” The implication of the second question went right over my head.  I was blinded by my own imaginary timing. 

It should be noted that whenever we took the scenic route, we would ride with grins from ear-to-ear.  Ahhhhhh …. the sights, smells, sounds…. simply delightful!  Then we’d stop for a bite to eat and enjoy each other’s company.  We took our time.  And,  the amazing thing was that we somehow managed to do all the things we had set out to do that day.  Imagine that! 

Fyi … now, we take the scenic route – every time.  Life is too short for compromises.

So, if you ever have to choose between taking the fastest route or the scenic route….. always, ALWAYS take the scenic route. 

You won’t be disappointed.

It appears that animals are often times more spiritually enlightened than we humans.  Below, Bacchus (my “son”) takes a moment to gaze at the scenery (Bear Creek Canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains – Northern California).

New Year’s Revelation No.3 of 7: Say Goodbye to Regrets

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”                 − Sydney J. Harris

I have regrets. There are things I’ve said and done that I can’t undo.  I can say with certainty, however, that they were never words or actions made with mal-intent.  More often than not, they were a result of hasty actions and unsound judgement. 

I can’t change the past, but I have learned some very hard lessons. And although I cannot re-write history, I sure as hell won’t repeat history.

I believe that – at the end of each day – we should be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and look into our own eyes, unflinchingly.  That should be the goal of every man and woman.  If you can look deep into your own eyes, without wincing,  then you’ve lived through a day with complete authenticity – with no regrets.

I also believe that when we err (we are human and therefore subject to flaws, after all), we must learn from our mistakes and move on. Just as we should strive to forgive others, so should we try to forgive ourselves.

Ha! Forgiveness. Why is it always easier to forgive others, but not ourselves?  Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than others? Are we too arrogant? Masochistic?   Too bull-headed?  Perhaps all of the above. But, forgive ourselves…we must.  Time will take care of the rest. 

As for myself, I will forgive … but I will never forget. 

And then there’s that other type of Regret, equally torturous to the soul – but for a completely different reason.  The regret of  “what might have been.”   This type of regret usually kicks us in the gut somewhere in the mid-forties and onwards (typically on milestone birthdays).

“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”                         − Mercedes Lackey

I have very little patience for  the “woe is me” syndrome or people who use “bad luck” or “circumstances” as an excuse for not following their bliss.  Granted, sometimes life throws us some hard knocks. But, it’s how we choose to deal with these obstacles that will either steer us towards or away from our path – whatever that may be.

Choices. They make us or break us. Some are reversible, others are not.  And, sometimes we have to do some serious damage control (the fancy term for this is “crisis management”).

But, we all must remind ourselves this:  we (each of us) own our own lives.  Choose each path thoughtfully.  That way, you minimize the possibility of future regrets. Let me tell you a little story:

When I was young, I loved ballet, opera, theatre, music, and books. Always books.  Many (many) decades later, I still love ballet, opera, theatre, music, and books. Books are the things (inanimate) that I hold most dear. 

However, I never became a prima ballerina (although with my hips, I would have made a great belly dancer!).  My deepest fantasy has always been to dance with Mikhail Baryshnikov  and, alas, it is also my deepest regret that I never shall ….

I never  became another Maria Callas (although, I do irritate the hell out of my husband when I attempt to sing “Nessun Dorma” – full throttle).

I am no Meryl Streep (most definitely, no Angelina Jolie!).

I will never play the piano like Montréal jazz pianist Jamie Gelfand (he’s another brilliant talent who, like Lorena Gale,  attended Marianopolis College at the same time as myself).

Now, here’s where it gets interesting (at least for me…. you, on the other hand, may possibly be snoozing at this point…hope not!).  My old faithful friends — my books — have provided me with the inspiration, motivation, and deepest passion …. to write.

And so, I am a Writer.  This is my bliss.  Non, je ne regrette rien. (No, I regret nothing). I have become who I was meant to be and I love it all —the sleepless nights, the swollen feet (lack of circulation from sitting at the computer for ten hours straight), the angst, the critiques, the sheer joy of creating characters and scenarios and on and on…  .

So, please say goodbye to regrets. Follow your bliss. Don’t create imaginary roadblocks for yourself. Just do it. And love every minute of it.

Cheers,

h.f.t.g.

Image by/via Cyrus Mafi.

New Year’s Revelation No. 2 of 7: Pause and Take Note

Time is an elusive mistress. She is fluid and in constant motion. I can’t stop her. You can’t. Nobody can.  Our journeys are intertwined. Often, we find ourselves so caught up with our day-to-day lives that we forget to savour the journey.  There is only one journey. Of the earthly sort, that is.  So please, please pause and take note.

People pass through our lives — sometimes only for a moment, a season or two, and – if we’re lucky – some remain a constant presence throughout our lives.  I am blessed. I have a good number of very special friends who have gone the distance with me.  Through ups and downs, through cycles of silence and silliness.  I was just on a video call with a pair of them today.

Lest there be any doubt or confusion, I hope they know that I  do cherish them. Enough said.

And then there are the people we meet and then never see again.  I received news today that gave me an unexpected jolt.  A person who I knew back in college – only for a season or two – had died, back in June 2009.  She lost her battle with abdominal cancer at the age of 51.  Her name was Lorena Gale.

This news made me pause and take note.

You see, sometimes people may have a major impact on our lives, despite knowing them only fleetingly.  Lorena and I attended the same college in Montréal — Marianopolis College.  That college was a phenomenal academic, social and cultural experience. It was pivotal for me.  It was when I started to have a voice of my own, hear it, and revel in it.  I decided to take Theatre – with a very brilliant, commanding (mercurial, more like) theatre professor (who didn’t suffer fools gladly) named Victor Garaway.  I walked into class, just as the upper class was finishing. That was when I heard a deep, resonating voice.  It was a voice that enunciated words with clarity, precision, and perfect tone. It was a voice that was destined for the Stage.  I looked up and around, expecting to see a statuesque woman in the prime of her life.  I was startled as I looked a few inches down from me (me: 5’4″, she: 4’11½”), only to see a teenager (one year older than myself) with big, expressive eyes, a quirky smile and skin the colour of burnished mahogany.  Her laugh, as she said “hi” to me, came right from the diaphragm.  It was hearty, strong and confident. It was, as I would soon learn, vintage Lorena Gale.

I knew then that she would be an Actor. I also knew that I would likely not, but that this theatre course would bring me out of my shell and into my own.  I was right — on both counts.

Lorena went on to study at the National Theatre School of Canada, as the first black woman ever accepted into the school.  Her illustrious acting career spanned well over 100 movies and shows – film and television. She was a director and a playwright.  A wife and a mother. A woman with a social conscience. And, most of all, she was a Canadian. From Montréal. And damned proud of it (as I am). 

I was always thrilled when I saw her on the big screen or on TV. I’d shout out and say “There’s Lorena!!”  I was happy for her and proud of her.  And I was deeply saddened today, when I heard that she had passed away.

So, tonight I shall pause and take note of everyone and everything around me.

And, Winky, I lift my glass of St. Emillion to you.

Lorena Gale (1958-2009)

(as Elosha in Battlestar Galactica)

Image (top) via  pickthebrain.com.

New Year’s Revelation No. 1 of 7: Simplicity

As 2011 came to a close, I learned a valuable lesson (although – in theory – I knew it all along).  It’s a story about an oyster …. well, actually 36 oysters …. and celebrations-gone-awry …. . You’ll laugh, perhaps shake your head in disbelief, or roll your eyes in a “What-was-she-thinking?!” way. But, there is a moral to every story, and I will guide myself accordingly in 2012. Absolutely.

I like to do things somewhat “over the top.”  Those who know me well are snorting loudly with laughter as I write this (how rude!).  So, this is how my New Year’s Eve went:

AM – Tidied the garden (back front and side), went to the corner store to get sundries, then off to the local grocer to buy 24 mussels, a salmon filet, 24 oysters, chocolate-covered strawberries, and Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame. You may be wondering how many people was she having over for New Year’s Eve?  The answer: just me and The Husband.  My theory has always been to buy more, rather than less (that way, you won’t run out).  The natural question would be:  Why all that seafood?  Well, this was the plan:  make Oysters Rockefeller and Mussels Marinara for NYE and the salmon filet for NY Day.

And then the grocer told me that they didn’t have oysters (fyi … the salmon filet that I bought could feed a family of 6 and will last a few days…but, I digress….). “NO OYSTERS!” … exclaimed heatherfromthegrove (actually, more like a shriek, than an exclamation). The guy at the seafood counter shrugged his shoulders, completely unfazed that he just ruined my fantasy of an aphrodisiac-infused evening. 

PM – So, I went home with the mussels, salmon, strawberries and champagne and then called Whole Foods to verify that they indeed had oysters and that they would keep two dozen aside for me.  The time, at this point, was 2 pm.  I travelled to WF and lo, and behold, the seafood guru had the oysters set aside for me (only later did I realize that he added twelve more to the pack …. at my cost, of course!).  Always looking for the right tableware, I stopped by Z-Gallerie to get a platter for the oysters. I found a beautiful large faux-oyster shell that would be the perfect platter for my Oysters-bloody-Rockefeller!  I arrived home at 5 pm.

Because ambience is Everything, I had to spend the next 3 hours decorating — the house, front/side/back yard. This involved decorations, balloons (don’t ask!), and candles. 

At 8 pm, I commenced with the cooking.  But, first, I opened a bottle of champagne (not the Grande Dame, which was reserved for midnight).  As I sipped, I prepared the Rockefeller filling, thinking the oysters would be a breeze. 

Note:  I had never cooked oysters before.

At this point, you are probably wondering “Where is The Husband?”  Immersed in his work on the computer, completely ignoring me as I proceeded to take the holiday celebration waaaaaaay over the top.

I would like to say, at this juncture, that the ambience was gorgeous …. the house looked beautiful.  But, again, I digress …

I then began to prepare the baking pan, filling it with coarse sea salt and placing the pan in a precarious position in my overcrowded, space-challenged kitchen.  I began washing the oysters and started to “shuck” them … but realized that I did not have an oyster knife (blunt implement) so, I was forced to use a knife.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

As I “shucked” the oysters, I managed to nearly sever an artery in my wrist and stabbed myself in two other parts of my hand ….. and, as Murphy’s Law would have it, the pan filled with the coarse sea salt fell on the floor, spilling salt everywhere.  Everywhere. I had to take a deep breath, get a bandage for my hand and then vacuum the floor, before resuming the”shucking.”  Meanwhile, my black Lab — Bacchus — was stubbornly staying under foot in the kitchen because of the fireworks outside (he is terrified of fireworks) and wouldn’t leave my side.  At 11:38 pm, on New Year’s Eve, the table was set — complete with tasty appetizers (hors d’oeuvres), fine champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, and, yes, the f-ing Oysters Rockefeller.  We toasted the New Year at midnight, enjoyed our feast, and I made a vow: 

In 2012, I will make a supreme effort to keep things simple.

 “A little simplification would be the first step toward rational living, I think”               – Eleanor Roosevelt