30 September 2013

On Work, Happiness and Simple Living

Bulgaria is a fascinating country where simple living manifests itself in all forms you can think of. Let me tell you what happened to me yesterday.

I was having breakfast in a bright, sunlit room early in the morning. The world seemed to be quite awake but was still concentrated on taking the typical for the season slow and careful steps from cool to warm. Through the window I could see a garden, all green but starting to look a little barren -- the tomato plants were uprooted, as well as the eggplant, the peppers and the beans. And yet the garden seemed boosting with life. I could see the cabbage growing and some pumpkins lying on the ground. The sweet smell of ripe grapes was filling the air. Autumn was coming, she wasn't in a hurry, stepping as slowly as the day but I could feel her right around the corner.
A photo of the garden a few months earlier, when the tomatoes were ripening.

The meaning of work
In that dreamy and quiet moment I read an article from which I learned the meaning of work. I've spent my life thinking I knew what work meant. In the past 7 years, as the economic situation in the world started to change I begun revising my attitude to work, but honestly, I wasn't prepared for the revelation that followed.

I read about a famous fashion model in Bulgaria who was being discussed by her neighbors in the village she was originally from. And so the neighbors said: "She doesn't work". I was a little baffled because it was obvious she worked and was pretty well-paid at that. I read on and here it came again: "She doesn't work because she doesn't need to, she has it all". I was all confused but thinking that it was a kind of figurative speech or something I couldn't quite get. And then again, the same phrase "She doesn't work. She doesn't work the land." At last! The moment I read it I knew,
To work, my friends, is not just to work anything; it means to work the land.
And I thought... but of course, this IS the most important work.

I guess it is civilized life that has taken us away from the land and has dislocated the meaning of work and to some extent this is considered growth and development. But I can see that humanity is waking up to the facts that the exact same civilization that lifted us from the village and made us cultured citizens is to blame for most of the modern vices, problems and sicknesses.

As it often happens, information reaches us at the right time. I remember reading another article a couple of weeks ago backed by scientific research, according to which contact with a soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. This type of serotonin acts on several different pathways including mood and learning. Lack of serotonin in the brains is related to increased anxiety and depression. We ingest the bacteria by breathing or through broken skin.

So basically, the contact with the soil makes us happy. Everything we do as gardeners contributes to happiness. If you have experienced life in the village and life in the city you have hardly missed the feeling but you may have attributed it to the fresh air and the open space.

No wonder Bulgarians consider working the land as the most important work of all. I can see it on their faces - these people are happy when they are close to the land.

Work, my friends, work the land, culture the soil and get your hands dirty; you don't need fancy equipment, you don't even need a large garden. Touch the soil, give life to your own food, or just herbs, let your children play outside in the grass and be happy!

For those of you who don't know, we just moved from Norway to Bulgaria for a year. Follow our adventure in simple living here.

28 September 2013

Simple Living Rabbit: Where Parsley Comes From

Just like we often do with modern children, we have to introduce Muffin Rabbit to the great outdoors, a.k.a the garden. So we gently lead him to the parsley bed to show him where his favorite greens come from.

Tune in again next Saturday to read more about the adventures of Muffin, the simple living rabbit.

27 September 2013

Celebrating the Season's Small Pleasures.

papercut, autumn leaves, pile of leaves,

It has happened: it is okay to wear tights and boots again!
Already, mums and gourds are being promoted in all the surrounding farms, and the stores are inundated with offerings of faux pumpkins and gingham bows.
I'm also feeling the urge to stockpile yarn and knit for hours...

That's how I know Fall is here.

Fall is one of my favorite things, and I always worry that it will end too soon, or that I'm not celebrating it extravagantly enough. Isn't that a weird thing to worry about? In any case, my tendency is to mark the season in a more subtle way, to embrace the small changes and shift gears.

I've been trying to resist the allure of the cinnamon-scented craft stores, where harvest and halloween decorations lie in wait, commingled. Instead of buying my seasonal decor, this year I will be making it from the stuff I have laying around... and keeping it very simple otherwise.

papercut, autumn branches, paper tree,

Is your home ready for Fall?
If not, these 5 simple tricks can get you into the spirit of the season!

Let Nature Decide
Keep your eyes open for cool-looking branches and strange organic shapes. Bring home colorful leaves and acorns; repurpose vases and bowls to display Nature's bounty on mantles and tabletops. As the season progresses, a centerpiece made of Fall branches can be stripped of its old leaves and rearranged for a more wintery look. 
I'm definitely looking forward to adding tiny pumpkins to my year 'round decor!

Once you have your natural materials, get in the DIY spirit! Pinterest has enough ideas and inspiration to get you through a thousand Autumns.

Better by Candlelight
While I don't have a fireplace, I get to enjoy the flicker of fire all the same. Just wrap or "dress up" your votives and candle jars to add a seasonal twist

Let the Crisp Air in!
One of my favorite things about this time of the year is that for a few precious weeks we get to open the windows and let our home be acclimatized by the cool fresh air. We are lulled at night by the sounds of crickets and the rustling of the trees outside, and our energy bills go down.

Tickle Your Senses
I don't think it would truly be Fall without the warm embrace of spices.
I've fallen in love with the simplicity and resourcefulness of simmering stovetop potpourris. They're a natural, healthier alternative to scented candles and store-bought air fresheners. It also allows you to use ingredients that already exist in your pantry, and you get to feel like an alchemist while doing it!

This Fall, I am determined not to rush through the season, but to let my senses indulge in it. To celebrate it with the creative work of my hands and appreciation for the small things: the twinkle of a light in the windowsill, the occasional rain of acorns.

How are you celebrating this Fall? Do you find that this time of the year fosters reflection?

Anabel Bouza insists there's powerful magic in the action of creating something out of a vague vision, a chill of inspiration. She is an illustrator with a passion for nature, paper manipulation, and pointing her camera at things. Her appreciation for simplicity dates back to a former life in Cuba where she refined the ability to see the alternative uses of common objects, and the enchanting side of things. 
You can find her blogging as Weird Amiga, hard at work in her sunny studio, or staring at things as if looking at them for the first time. 
Connect to Anabel via facebook and twitter. 

10 September 2013

How to Cope In Unexpectedly Stressful Situations

Have you been surprised to feel that you are completely stressed out when you are supposed to be having fun? Sometimes we lose ourselves even though we think we are having a great time.

I've been traveling in the past 4 months. Yes, that's quite a vacation, and fabulous at that. Apart from meeting lots of friends and relatives and going to places I haven't been for ages, breathing in the air of distant countries and touching the trees and the sand of my childhood I have been doing a lot of thinking.

Actually I thought so much that I got lost and could barely write a post on the Kanelstrand blog. My mind was swamped with so many brilliant ideas, I felt so inspired by all the new attitudes to life I witnessed and yet I couldn't type a decent post. To be more precise, I couldn't come up with a single sentence.

Illustration: Khalid Albaih

Until I saw that book.

Throughout my life I've always resorted to books in times of stress. You see, I grew up on books and it is understandable to look for their soothing comfort when I feel under pressure. But it's not for floating off to a distant land. What I do is open the book arbitrarily and read. It is a quick and simple fixture to a bad mood, or when I feel lost.

I always find the advice I need for that moment.

What are your first thoughts when you open up your eyes to greet the morning?, Dr. Diana Joy Ostroff was asking me from the pages of her book, The Wisdom of Well-Being: Your Health is in Your Hands.

I didn't really want to answer this question because I had already guiltily admitted to myself that although I was having the time of my life and I was trying to live in the moment and to be grateful I wasn't doing it wholeheartedly. I was letting fear of the unknown future capture my heart and subsequently block my happiness.

I kept on reading, Are you grateful for the opportunity to spend another joyful day contributing your best self to the world? Yes, I am grateful but I don't always have the time to think about that.

Starting your day slowly in quiet thought, gratitude and with love in your heart, not for any one in particular, just for your life, might be a gentler way of being that just springing out of bed... [B]efore you take on the business of the day's tasks, reflect on your "being". Think about how you want to "be" rather than what you need to do. When you come from a place of Being, everything you do is a reflection of who you are.

My being at the moment was miserable despite of the fact that I was spending the happiest summer of my life. What a waste!

But those sentences reminded me that there was a way to find my center and to get myself out of stress.

Happiness is my own responsibility and I have to nurture it consciously. What it takes is a slow start of the day and gratitude.

How do you cope in unexpectedly stressful situations?

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07 September 2013

Simple Living Rabbit: Meeting New Friends

A vacation requires meeting new friends. Actually, becoming friends will take a while but we are patient.

rabbit meets cat

Tune in again next Saturday to read more about the adventures of Muffin, the simple living rabbit.