Happy Holidays

Dear Sam,

 

Mmm, the roast chestnuts  you were telling me about sound very tempting – I will add them to my Christmas shopping list!  Your post started me thinking about all the delicious aromas that we associate with Christmas and it’s also one of the themes of a book I’ve been reading lately, Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles.  As I mentioned on Instagram , I first read about it on Nikki Garnett’s blog, midlifechic and then ordered it from my local library.  It offers an inspiring view of winter as a season to be savoured and enjoyed rather than endured and, to help with this, it suggests filling the house with the scents of the season.

Evergreens, bay and hyacinths

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Evergreens fill the house with the scent of the outdoors at Christmas

As well as the Christmas tree and evergreen garlands, Nigel Slater suggests using bay leaves, bay oil or candles and, my particular favourite, hyacinths.  If you haven’t planned ahead and planted your own to flower at Christmas, they aren’t expensive to buy, ready potted and in bud, and they’ll add colour and scent to the house for several weeks. I think they always seem like a promise of spring, which I can always do with at this dark time of the year.

As this is our last post in 2018, I’d like to wish you and everyone who reads our blog a wonderful Christmas and all the very best for the new year.  I will see you here again on January 18th. Until then,

Much love,

Claire

 

 

What a difference a day makes

Dear Sam,

 

Thank you for telling me about World Smile Day and for sharing your tip about thinking of things you are grateful for while brushing your teeth. I’m off to the dentist this week, so it’s not only made me feel happier but will keep me in their good books, too!

I don’t know if it’s because the weather starts to get wintery in October, but it seems to be a month that’s full of special days to help us motivate ourselves. The next one for your diary fits right in with our aim here of suggesting small steps to making a differenceMake a Difference Day.

Different ways to brighten someone’s day

It started in the US about 20 years ago and the idea is to encourage everyone to do something good for someone because small actions add up to big ones. It falls on the last Saturday of October (this year it’s the 27th). You can volunteer or help with a community project;  near me,  a litter collection is taking place and a Neighbours’ Lunch has been organised to help bring people together and tackle loneliness.  If you’re looking for something simpler to do, you could  improve someone’s day by giving them flowers or baking a cake.

We-can-all-make-a-difference-mug
My Alzheimer’s Society mug says it all!*

Of course, I can’t write a post called What a difference a day makes without thinking about the song of the same name, so here it is sung by Tony Bennett – with a glimpse of Kermit the frog to make it even better – enjoy!

Much love,

Claire

* The mug is available from the Alzheimer’s UK shop

 

 

 

A smile and three ‘thank you’s

Dear Claire

 

It’s the first Friday of October, so Happy World Smile Day! It sounds as though you’ll have had lots to smile about in Italy!

This is World Smile Day in a nutshell:

  • The image of World Smile Day is the smiley face 😊
  • The smiley face was created by Harvey Ball back in 1963, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • He designed it as part of a goodwill campaign during the merger of two insurance companies.
  • But 1999 he was concerned that the use of the smiley face had become too commercialized, so he had the idea to use it as the symbol of a day to celebrate happiness.
  • The goal of World Smile Day is for everyone to do one act of kindness that makes one person smile. And thus the world will become a happier place.

From kindness to gratitude

I was reading about something else recently that is proven to make the world a happier place – over a delicious cappuccino, as it happened – and that is the act of gratitude.

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Happy Cappuccino

This white paper on the Science of Gratitude, published last May by UC Berkeley, cites many research studies, one of them showing that people who wrote down three things that went well over the course of one week, and identified the causes of those good things, reported increased happiness a whole six months after the intervention!

So on this World Smile Day, perhaps it’s worth us not only engaging in an act of kindness but also beginning the practice of deliberate gratitude. And to help make it a habit, how about thinking of three things for which we are grateful each morning, during the very activity that enhances a smile – brushing our teeth!

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Smiley Smurf

Of course the Smurfs may or may not be one of them….

Lots of love,
Sam

Helping a honey bee

Dear Claire,

 

It was so lovely to see you in Oxford, and I do hope it won’t be too long before we meet again. We were certainly blessed with nice weather that weekend. Since our return here it’s been very hot indeed – and much the same for you, I believe!

We’re not the only ones flagging in the heat. The other day a friend of mine shared a post by Sir David Attenborough:

“This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they’re far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don’t have enough energy to return to the hive, which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach.”

The rusty patched bumblebee was listed as an endangered species in the US for the first time last year and according to the UN it’s a global trend, with about 40% of the world’s pollinators under threat of extinction. Yet they are all so critical to us for pollinating the crops that keep us alive! So it strikes me that if each of us helps even one small bee recover, we’ll be making a difference to us all.

jars-2614897_1280.jpgOf course, without bees we wouldn’t have honey. And if for no other reason, that’s worth helping a bee on its way. As Piglet understood well, all good friends need a little honey sometimes.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There, there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

Much love,
Sam

Looking back, moving forward

Dear Sam,

 

Well, what a tonic it was to spend time with good friends! Oxford was looking glorious, with the college gardens and parks at their most colourful, and I loved seeing the profusion of roses everywhere. As well as reminiscing about our student days, it was wonderful to look ahead and make some plans for our blog here at Staircase 9 17, too.  It was lucky that we came across the Turl Street Kitchen when we arrived, as it was the perfect place to start our discussions, with its combination of great food and coffee and its mission to support the local community.

The blog’s Home page has a new look

I’m glad we’ve made a few changes to the format of the blog and, as this year progresses, I’m looking forward to exploring our theme of wellbeing and ways of helping ourselves by helping others. Next month, we’ll start our new Friday Food for Thought series, where we’ll post an inspiring snippet to ponder. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Dr Johnson, once, of course, a student at Pembroke himself,

“Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship.”

Well said!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

Happy new beginnings

Dear Claire,

I hope you had a lovely festive season and that 2018 is off to a good start. We had a very pretty white Christmas here, but it was so cold that some days it literally took your breath away. We still have snow on the ground, with probably more to come. So I am dreaming of spring!

That’s why I’ve posted a picture of daffodils today. They symbolize both happy memories and new beginnings – just as we look back and look ahead at the time of new year. Of course, being the national flower of Wales, they remind me of you, and I’ve been reading a bit about their meaning in other cultures as well.  In China, they represent good fortune; in Japan, mirth and joy; and in France, hope. Apparently in some Arabian countries, the daffodil flower is believed to be a cure for baldness! And is it true that in Wales, there is a legend that whoever finds the first daffodil of the year will be blessed with gold rather than silver in the months to come?

Over here, the daffodil is the symbol of the American Cancer Society – a symbol of hope that a cure might be found. At this time of year people are beginning to work on fundraisers called Daffodil Days, through which you can buy bunches or potted flowers and even chocolate daffodils in support of the Society’s work. People are taking orders from now until early February, and the daffodils are delivered in the middle of March.

I also read about the Great Daffodil Appeal in support of Marie Curie in the UK. This seems like a great volunteer opportunity if anyone has a couple of hours to spare.

I’m looking forward to continuing our letters to each other this coming year, sharing ideas and learning a little along the way.

Happy new beginnings…
and much love
Sam