10 Rainy Day Activities

As it tends to do, the weather turned grey and wet over the weekend. Just because the weather makes you feel like staying indoors, it doesn’t mean you have to be bored, or spend a lot of money entertaining yourself. Here are a few ideas:

1. Meditate. Here are some tips on making it a daily habit.

2. Have a paper aeroplane competition: distance, hang-time, stunts.

3. Make a meal that matches a film. Jaws and sushi, Sweeney Todd and Shepherd’s pie, Full Metal Jacket and pho noodles.

4. If you have a garden, set up a water-barrel to capture that lovely rainwater (bit of a pre-rainy day activity!)

5. Go for a walk – hear me out on this one. So long as you’re properly dressed, going for a walk in the rain can be good fun, especially when you get to come home to a nice hot drink, plus normally busy areas like parks will be much quieter.

6. Take pictures – raindrops can provide opportunities for some fantastic macro shots and the diffuse light from a rainy day is great for portraiture. Just be sure to sit your subject next to a window.

7. Play some board games – Not just for kids. I’m a big fan of Trivial Pursuit and Articulate. I’m also a champion Hungry Hippo player. Here’s a great article that suggests alternatives to 6 board games that have a bad rap.

8. Get outside and enjoy the mud! Here are 10 things to do with mud.

9. Exercise. Here’s an 18 minute routine to get you going.

10. Look at these ways to improve your well-being.

19 Ways to Increase Well-being

Well-being is slightly different from happiness. It includes having good feelings, but also links to taking part in meaningful activities, having a sense of individual vitality and creating an inner reserve to enable you to deal with difficult situations when they inevitably arise. Quite a lot has been written about well-being. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

The New Economics Foundation was commissioned by the UK Government to look into ways that well-being can be improved. They came up with 5 ways to do so:

1. Connect
Be it with friends, family or co-workers, the people we interact with on a daily basis are best situated to make us feel good and provide support when we don’t. Improving our connections with such people will impact on us everyday.

2. Be active
You don’t have to start by running a marathon. Any sort of physical activity that suits your level of fitness is enough to help improve your well-being, so long as you get out there and do something you enjoy.

3. Take notice
Make sure you take the time to observe the world around you. It’s too easy to get lost in the screens that surround us everyday. Also take the time to pay attention to the conversations you have with people and what’s going on in your own inner-world of feelings and imaginings.

4. Keep learning
You can start something new, restart a long-forgotten hobby or deepen your existing skills. Try developing skills you’re likely to enjoy using, such as cooking, making things or in a subject you’re already interested in.

5. Give
Do something for someone else. Be a part of your wider community through voluntary work or community projects. Making others feel good about themselves is a great source of happiness and well-being.

Bronnie Ware spent several years working as a nurse caring for people who only had a few weeks of life left. In her blog she talks about common themes that were recurring when her patients were asked about anything regrets they had. Ware complied them into a top 5 list that helps show us what’s really important in life:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This shows how important it is to follow your dreams. Even if they fail then at least you aren’t left wondering about what could have been. If they succeed, then you’ve made at least one of your dreams come true.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
There are plenty of ways to help bring yourself financial stability and thus earlier retirement. If you are given the choice between more money or more time, having more time for yourself might be the wiser choice.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
There are many reasons why we don’t tell people how we really feel. Yet as far as I’m aware, no one out there is a mind-reader, so we need to explicitly tell people what’s going on inside our own heads. It can be a painful experience, but ultimately beneficial in the long run.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
This is one I’m acutely aware of in my own life. I know that some of my fondest memories are of times spent in the company of close friends. But as we each get older and more involved in our own lives, finding the time to meet up and enjoy our friendship can be a bit of struggle. A struggle that is always worth the effort once we’re all together and talking again.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Happiness is a choice. Most people won’t admit that to themselves. There can be quite a bit of societal pressure on us to not have fun, to behave seriously, in a ‘grown-up’ manner. However I believe Randall Hall said it best: “Maturity is knowing when to be immature”.

Back in 1972, during his coronation the king of Bhutan announced that Gross National Happiness was more important than Gross National Product. Since then, the government of Bhutan has been doing all it can to ensure that its people are as happy as they can be. To properly measure their populace’s happiness the Centre for Bhutan Studies came up with nine domains of happiness:

1. Psychological well-being
2. Physical Health
3. Time Use (work-life balance)
4. Community Vitality and Social Connection
5. Education
6. Cultural preservation, access and diversity
7. Environmental sustainability
8. Good governance
9. Material well-being

I find it very interesting to note that material well-being, the thing we seem to spend most of our lives pursuing is only once item on the above list.

If you have a suggestion for number 20, please say so in the comments below.

Making my own tools

My personal flow activity these days is wood carving. So far I’ve purchased all my tools, but in a step towards mastering the whole of the craft I recently ordered some unhandled knife blades.

I’ve always admired woodware that has tastefully done kolrosing or chip carving. At the recent Spoonfest, I was unfortunately unable to go along to Janharm ter Brugge‘s engraving class. I have however purchased a chip carving blade and a stab blade from Nic Westermann. I’m aware that engraving, kolrosing and chip carving can all be done with regular wood carving knives I wanted something I would feel comfortable with. I can’t think of a better way to ensure that a knife is comfortable to use than making the handle myself.

Using a piece of hawthorn, I carved out two handles, both styled on the handle my Ben Orford sloyd knife has. I’m quite pleased with the results and surprised at how quick they were to make, busting out each on them in an evening after work. With the handles and blades ready I just had to fit them. Oh his site, Nic recommends drilling into the handle then moving the bit side-to-side to create a space for the blade’s tang to slot in, then epoxying it in place. Since I don’t have a drill I popped over to my folks’ place to borrow theirs.

The drilling was fairly easy once I managed to find a drill bit small enough. Without a proper workbench I had to clamp the handles to the armrest of the bench in their garden. Here I learned my first important lesson: don’t let the clamp sit directly on the knife handle as it’ll dent it. I took my time drilling and ended up with a hole a little wider than needed, but I whittled a few slivers of wood down to wedge the blade into the gap. In the end I used super-glue and my mini-wedges to fix the blades in place.

The final result is one I’m happy with as a first attempt at handling knife blades (something that could become addictive). The biggest flaw in my work is that the blades aren’t set perfectly square into the handle. This might not be an issue as I get used to their position in the handle through frequent use of them, but it’s definitely an aspect I could improve on if/when I put together another knife.

My next tool-making project might be either to handle an axe, or make myself a knife blade. Seeing as I’m pretty well stocked for tools at the moment it may be a while before either task comes to fruition.

Know Your Needs

Don’t Buy Before You Know You Need It

I’ve recently moved into a new apartment. It’s a small one bedroom ground floor flat. It was unfurnished when I moved in, with only a small wardrobe in the bedroom. Before I actually moved in and started to get to stuff to fill the space, I had several grandiose ideas about what to get: coffee table, sofa, bookshelf, desk, a whole lot of stuff.

In the end I’ve bought a bed, a table and four chairs, and some kitchen utensils (although I do make my own).

After a month of living here I find that’s all I really need. I’ve also found that this applies to many more areas than home furnishings. Another example would be travel. The clearest example I’ve seen of this are the stalls that can be found on Khao San, the backpacking street in Bangkok. There are dozens of these places that’ll buy your unwanted stuff to sell on. A great deal of the stuff on sale are items people obvious thought they needed by clearly didn’t. Common items included sleeping bags, mosquito nets and tents.

There are countless items out there that are nice to have, but not necessary. I’ve found myself getting these nice to have items before knowing whether or not I’ll actually use it. Often I’ll use it for a bit, then it’ll fall to the wayside. An example of this would be my heart-rate monitor. I got it while I was big into triathlon during university. Sure, it was fun to know my heart-rate and the calories that I was burning, but I never got so seriously involved in training as to actually start using that data. Now and again I’ll use it for a run, but mainly is just sits on my shelf.

For many of life’s activities you can do them with stuff you’ve already got. You can go for a run wearing pretty much anything, or nothing. While certain activities do require specialist kit, try borrowing what you need so you can get an idea for what is necessary.

If you have any tips on avoiding unnecessary purchases, please share in the comments section.

 

Trees

A 15 meter (50 foot) tree in leaf has a surface area of about 200 hectares, the size of Monaco! It will produce between 15-30kg of oxygen a year. A wooded area of 50 m² reduces temperatures by 3-5 C. Also, leaf movement releases negative ions, which are supposed to have beneficial effects on health and mood.

I really like trees. I didn’t realise how much until I found myself living in Iraq for 6 months. While the countryside there has its own kind of beauty, it was largely treeless, which made it feel barren and lifeless. I know this wasn’t the case as I was able to see gorgeously coloured bee-eaters perching on fences, watch swallows swoop and dive after insects, and wave at shepards herding tending their flocks.

One of the first things I did on my return to the UK was to sit in a small woodland near my folks place. Not any great forest miles from civilization, just a couple of acres next to a housing estate. Sitting on a stump, in the dark green filtered light that gives broadleaf woodland a subaquatic quality, I listened to the rustliing of countless leaves in the soft breeze.

Recently I visited a woodland close to where I live. It’s a mixed broadleaf forest of mainly hornbeam, birch and sweet chestnut with a few oaks dotted around. It’s a managed woodland, with areas being regularly coppiced. Some people don’t like the idea of cutting down trees, but coppicing not only promotes new undergrowth, but it can extend the life of the coppiced trees, almost indefinitely. Coppicing doesn’t kill the tree, but forces it to send up new shoots. Another advantage is that it gives the woodland a completely different feeling. One very much connected to Britain’s ancient heritage. There aren’t any areas of true wilderness left in the UK, so a woodland being used as it could have been thousands of years ago feels very natural in its own right. The coppiced wood is used to make charcoal, again, a practice that has a long history here in the UK. So seeing piles of wood drying near the charcoal kiln only added to the atmosphere of the wood for me.

Now that spring is starting to creep into the air, I suggest you find a wooded area close to where you live and just sit and listen to the rustling of the leaves.

Are there any particular environments that particularly resonate with you? If there are, feel free to share what it is about them that you like in the comments section below.

 

Surviving the UK’s Upcoming Drought

All across the news is the worrying fact that water levels here in the UK are worryingly low. Hosepipe bans are likely to be put into effect.

The Guardian has an interactive guide to ‘drought-proof’ your home. While some of you may find this informative, a lot of the hints are things I should hope we all know. But why am I plugging a medicore article? Well, the best bit is right at the end. They’ve included links to regional water companies that offer free packs to help you save water. I get my wet stuff from Essex & Suffolk Water and they over their customers a free water saving kit that I had no idea about. Suffice to say I put my name down for one, so it should be turning up in the next couple of weeks.

I think that water is a fantastically over-looked resource. Recently I visited the RSPB reserve at Fowlmere and was enchanted by the crystal clear stream that ran alongside a section of the trail. It was a tiny trickle of a stream, barely a meter wide and perhaps half a meter deep at its greatest depths, but it was fast flowing and clearly supported an abunance of life beyond the fishes I could see darting about in there. Streams such as that are mesmerising and incredibly calming to spend time around.

I whole-heartedly encourage you to find such a waterway and spend a little time listening to it gurgle and splash.

10 More Relaxing Activities

Here’s a few more ways to spend some relaxing time. If you missed the list of 30 relaxing activities you can find it here.

1) Run

Grab your trainers (or not) and hit the pavement. Well, if you can, hit the grass, it’ll be easier on your joints. Make sure you warm up your muscles properly. This can be done by easing yourself into the run slowly. For a basic training schedule, look here.

2) Bike Ride

Find a park, or some quiet country lanes and take a leisurely bike ride. You can cover more ground than walking and half the great feeling of free wheeling down any hills.

3) Visit a Cafe

On your own or with friends, settling down with a hot beverage in a comfy chair is something I really enjoy. Leaf through one of the magazines available, chat or just people watch. A good, cheap way to enjoy time out of the house.

4) Cup of Tea

I love a good steaming cup of black tea. English Breakfast tea with milk and one sugar. Good all day long. There’s plenty of variety out there, so there’s probably one you like.

5) Mixtape/Playlist

If you’re old school, make yourself a mix tape, if not, a playlist. Either way, listening through your music collection and putting them together into a coherent sequence is fun to do and rewarding to listen to once you’re finished. You can make one to help you relax, one to get you pumped for a workout or one to give to someone special.

6) Paint

Or draw. Either way, getting your creative juices flowing is a great way to spend a day. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, just let the colours flow.

7) Whittle

This is an activity that really quietens my mind. Making something with your hands can be a very rewarding experience. Plus using very sharp tools is a great motivator to focus on what you’re doing.

8) Massage

Massages can alleviate stress, relax muscles and increase physical performance. Either give yourself one, get a loved one to give you a rub down, or head off to your local spa for some healing hands.

9) Pet an animal

Petting can reduce blood pressure, give you someone to talk to and owning a pet can encourage you to exercise. However owning a pet can bring it’s own stress, so try pet sitting for a friend if you want to see if the benefits outweigh the costs for you.

10) Call a friend

‘Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world’ William James. Reconnecting with a friend is a great way to brighten you day and remind you that you have someone in your corner rooting for you.

Any more activities? Let me know!

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