A Quiet Christmas

Four white candles with a pink candle in the centre on a black background.
My Advent Wreath

We’re in the middle of it now. Right in the middle of all the Christmas activities.

Take some time to breathe.

I’m going to put some suggestions up on this blog that you may not be able to implement until next year, but I thought I’d put them up anyway. Next year’s Christmas will come around soon enough, and some things you might be able to do this year.

But before I get started on the dos and don’ts of Christmas celebration, I want you to stop and think. Stop and breathe, stop and ponder on what it is that is important to you about Christmas.

Now, I know that if you are a Christian, you’re going to say that the most important thing is that we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. That’s obviously true. But think about how you spend your Christmas. If someone looked at you from the outside, would they say that this is the most important thing to you?

No judgement here at all. I think that for me, I love to celebrate the birth of Jesus by heading in to church for the Christmas Eve midnight service, but celebration of family comes very high up on my list of priorities for Christmas. And you can tell that by the fact that I have a Christmas Eve celebration with my children, a Christmas Day celebration with my parents and a Boxing Day celebration with my in-laws, my children and my parents and anyone else who wants to come along (it’s HUGE). It’s obvious, from the outside, what my priorities are.

Whatever is your priority, how are you making time to focus on that thing? Are there activities that you do that are spending time on things you really don’t prioritise? How could you lower the amount of time spent on those things, and increase the amount of time spent on your priorities?

I think that one of the stressful things about Christmas is the fact that we are all running around trying to meet the priorities of other people and do things that we don’t value. I’m not saying this is the time of year to massively annoy your close family and friends, but with communication, compromise, and a few well-placed boundaries, we could all have a quieter and more enjoyable Christmas.

When I was a young child, Christmas in our family was a huge burden. We had a Christmas Eve church service, a Christmas Day church service, and then lunch with my mother’s side of the family and the evening meal with my father’s side of the family. By the time we rolled ourselves from one huge meal to the next, us kids were ratty and looking for presents (more presents, and yet more presents), and the adults were exhausted. 

So we changed things. One family spent Christmas together and the other side met on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas, if you’re not British or Australian).

As life went on, things changed more as things do. Us children grew up, got married and had children of our own. Now there were even more in-laws to keep in touch with. So now, as I said, we do our small family Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve followed by the midnight service, then lunch with my parents on Christmas Day. Then on Boxing Day we go to Moz’s family for the whole day. And as for my wider family? We do Christmas in late January or early February. The weather is better, there is more chance of having a swim, and everyone is less stressed and more able to relax.

There are other options, of course. Scottie’s family (the morning host at Ultra106.5 FM) does the big Christmas with all the family every second year. One year Christmas is small, one year it’s huge and lasts for a week or so. I think that’s a really good idea.

Tsh Oxenreider suggests that if you celebrate the whole of Advent it takes the pressure off getting Christmas just right. She has written a book called Shadow and Light that you can find at https://www.tshoxenreider.com/advent along with an Advent playlist, a whole lot of art work, and some other tools to help you make the whole season beautiful.

Are there traditions you are doing that don’t suit you? Are there traditions you would like to try? One year I made my own advent wreath and lit the candles each week. I enjoyed it immensely but I haven’t brought that particular tradition into the following years. 

A new tradition we have started in our family is the Secret Santa tradition. This makes gift giving so much easier, especially now we are adults and are so more difficult to buy for! We use the website drawnames.com.au, which even has a gift giving guide if your particular person has been difficult and not filled out a wish list.

If you’re feeling stuck with all the cooking, perhaps it’s time to let others have a go. What’s the worst that could happen? You can stock some packets of chips in the freezer so that no one will starve. Or everyone can eat pretzels to their heart’s content. One year we had a charcuterie board competition, where each family brought their own imaginative cheese platter to the big family celebration, another year, a dessert competition was the go. Getting others to bring a plate like this spreads the work around and makes it fun at the same time.

The main thing is to figure out your priorities and boundaries, and then to communicate clearly. And I have found that if you hold everything loosely (like telling your adult children that they can choose when to come and see you), you end up getting a lovely surprise when you see people making your company a priority in this busy season.

And finally, remember that some people don’t have a busy Christmas. For some, this is the most boring and the saddest time of the year. Your best Christmas present may be just to notice and to give your company and time to someone who is alone. Jesus sacrificed his home in glory to come to us as a tiny baby. His throne became a manger. His throne room a stable. Is it too much to ask that in response we give up some of our precious family time to the lonely ones around us?

May your Christmas be blessed whatever you do this year. And may you remember the reason for the season and rejoice in the coming of our Saviour.

A Day Off

Last week I took four days off. It was a retreat, a holiday, a time with no ‘shoulds’. It was wonderful. I went to a little town called Dover, rented a studio apartment with a view over the bay. The weather was misty, wet, cold, sunny, windy, rainy, all the things. It’s spring here, that’s the weather you get.

I wanted this time to be useful and restful. I tried to stay off the socials, I read novels and non-fiction books, I played my bass guitar, and I went for walks and runs. And I also watched TV and played Candy Crush and just sat on the couch and stared at the water. (And for those wondering, Moz came down and joined me for one of the four nights and spent the rest of the time doing fun stuff like four-wheel driving and helping out at church.)

The two non-fiction books I read were:

Space Maker – how to unplug, unwind and think clearly in the digital age, by Daniel Sih

And 

Sacred Rhythms – arranging our lives for spiritual transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

And one thing those books had in common was an encouragement to explore a weekly Sabbath.

You know I love the idea of a day off each week. I know that just having one day a week where I stop trying to control the amount of work I’m doing, stop trying to get on top of my to do list and just trust God that he can keep the world running without my help, that day is essential to my wellbeing.

But reading these books encouraged me to take the whole thing further. Now, I don’t know fully where I stand on this yet but I’m feeling challenged to go even deeper into what ‘a day off’ means.

Both authors encouraged their readers to really think about what ‘work’ is. Because it looks different for each of us. For some, gardening is life-giving; for others it’s a chore. The Sih family don’t cook on a Sabbath, the Haley Bartons cook food that they find special and enjoy eating. 

Ruth Haley Barton works from a home office like I do. She says that at times she has had to close the door and not even go into her office on a Sabbath. Daniel Sih avoids email, the internet, texting, and writing, and talking about global events. 

For Daniel Sih, writing on his to do list is too much like work, so that activity is banned on the Sabbath. Ruth Haley Barton also encourages us to take a break from anything that causes worry and stress, and in that list she includes to-do lists as well as budgets, taxes, wedding planning and major decision making. 

Maybe we could just ban the word ‘covid’ on a Sabbath and see how restful that is?

Both of them agreed that having a break from screens or phones is important, though Daniel says that now that his kids are older, the ban is ‘more nuanced’. I feel like having the ability to contact my family or be contacted by them is really high on my priority list. But I also worry a bit that I am just addicted to the screen and all the apps contained therein. I’m thinking on it.

Ruth Haley Barton suggests that we don’t buy or sell anything on the Sabbath. That we take a break from our constant consumerism. Daniel says that rest might involve ‘eating at a café’, which of course requires buying things.

In terms of what goes on the list of things to do on a Sabbath, both of them are in favour of restful pursuits such as sleeping in, reading a book, riding bikes, getting out as a family to do an activity such as bushwalking or staying in to play a board game. It’s a day for rest, for community, and also for spiritual practice. That might mean going to church, though for me, church is often a work-related place. It might mean just taking a few minutes to read scripture and meditate on it through the day.

The major thing they had in common was the idea that this one day – 24 hours – is set aside for rest. And that we should not take this lightly, but instead prepare ourselves, write lists of what we consider work and what we consider rest and play, make sure we’ve done all we need to do beforehand so that the day is not chipped into by urgent tasks, and definitely do this once a week, one day out of seven, and preferably the same day each week so that we know it’s coming and we can look forward to it.

I am, as I said, still working through this. And I’m encouraged by both authors that this is a very counter-cultural discipline and therefore it’s difficult to do. But I feel encouraged that my Sabbath-taking needs to enter a new phase and I’m looking forward to the days of rest that will be ahead.

Where do you stand when it comes to a day of rest? Do you have Sabbath traditions? Or do you find it just too hard? Let me know by emailing ruth@ruthamos.com.au, or tweeting me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook. I’d also love to hear from you if you have a topic you’d like me to talk about. Just let me know!

Permission to say no

Did you ever have those times in school when you really didn’t want to do the Physical Education activity for the day? Where you knew that it was going to be awful and that you were going to get a ball smashed into your head, or drown in the pool, or something awful like that. And then, just by luck, you got a sore throat and a sniffy nose, and if you screwed your eyes tightly enough you had a headache and you went to your parents and said, ‘I’m sick, can you write me a note?’ And then they wrote that amazing note of wonder:

Please excuse Ruth from today’s activity, she is not well enough to attend.

And then you got to go to the library instead and read? And the whole day was saved?

Or was that just me?

I know I got sick way too much when I was a kid. I think it was the way my introvert self coped when I was starting to feel peopled-out. 

As an adult I have realised that getting sick is a very bad way of coping. There are better ways.

But there have still been times when I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘I wish someone would get me out of this commitment. I wish that my parents could write me a note saying I didn’t have to come.’

Moz was getting ready to go to work the other day. He put his jacket on and then checked all the pockets to make sure he had all the things – watch, phone, wallet, keys, pen – you know, all the things. As he patted his jacket, it made a crinkly noise. 

‘What’s that?’

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He unfolded it and showed it to me. It was a note that simply said, ‘No.’

A green piece of paper with the word 'No.' written on it.
Moz’s permission slip

Our pastor Pete had given it to him. It was a permission slip. Permission to say, ‘No.’

I love it.

For some commitments we feel like we need to have a Really Good ReasonTM not to do things. That our own reasons are not good enough and that we need some authority to step in and tell us we don’t have to go.

Sometimes, we can feel so overwhelmed that the thought of being hit by a car and having to go to hospital is appealing, because at least then we could sit still for a while.

If this is you, I’d like to write you a permission slip. My permission slip simply says, ‘No.’

You can tell people, ‘no’ and not give a reason.

You can say ‘no’ and not even have a ‘good enough’ reason in your own mind.

Sometimes, ‘no’ is a very reasonable response on its own.

Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone. And the problem I have here is that if you’re thinking, ‘I wish this applied to me, but it clearly doesn’t.’ Then chances are that it does apply to you. And if you’re thinking, ‘Oooo excellent, I’ll take that,’ then maybe you’re the person who needs to stretch yourself just a little bit more.

You’re going to have to be sensible here.

But, seriously, if you’re in the place where sitting in a hospital bed seems more appealing than what you need to do in the next week, I’d suggest that a little bit of saying ‘no’ is in order. 

Give it a go.

Find out that the world will still spin without you.

You have my permission to rest.

If you’ve found this helpful, please feel free to share it with a friend. And if you want to hear me talk more on this subject then my podcast is just the place for you!

If you would like to read more, in My Year of Saying No, I tell the story of my own saying no journey, what I learned about saying no, saying yes, and bringing peace to my life.

Living by Your Values

Do you know what your top values are? Do you know why you make decisions to do, or not do certain things? Do you have any idea what it is you’re really reaching for?

Recently I found out that I really didn’t know what values I lived by.

I had been talking with my psych about some unhelpful ways of thinking (that I am learning not to use) and she said, ‘Yes, that’s unhelpful, but that’s ok. You notice, you tell yourself that you understand why you’re thinking that way, and then you go back to your values and live from them.’ Which is very helpful information. Unless you have no idea what your top values are. 

So I asked her about that, about how to find out your top values. She gave me the following exercise, which I did on my holidays.

The first thing I did was google ‘list of values’. I copied off two lists and ended up with about 150 different words or phrases that described things that we can value. Some of them doubled up, that’s ok.

I printed off the lists and cut up the pieces of paper so that a different word or phrase was on each piece.

The first thing to do was go through the pile of values and divide them into three piles:

  1. Definitely me
  2. Maybe me
  3. Not me at all

After that, I got rid of piles two and three and concentrated on pile one.

It became much harder now.

I needed to take that pile and divide it again into:

  1. Definitely me
  2. Not quite so much me

It was important to me to note that all the statements in this pile are things that I value. Getting rid of one out of the pile didn’t mean that I no longer valued that thing, it just meant that it wasn’t part of the group of absolute top values.

I repeated this step until I was left with a list of five values.

It was simple, but not easy.

I had three nights away. It took me two and a half days to cut my list down to five. 

When I journaled about those five values I found something interesting. There were two in that five that could be incorporated into the other three. Which brings us to another important point. Words, like Humpty Dumpty says in Alice Through the Looking Glass, can mean whatever you want them to mean. This list of values, it is supposed to clarify things for you. Not to lock you into a box. Not even to broadcast to others (like I’m doing now) so that they can lock you into a box. They are to help you live your life with clarity and purpose.

What the words mean to you, might be very different from what they mean to another person.

My top five values were:

Peace

Family 

Security

Wellness

Excellence

But as I journaled about them I realised that Wellness to me means peace in my body. So that comes under the value of Peace. And I value excellence in my work because it enables me to keep my job. So that comes under Security. (Also, my year theme, the Year of Order, comes under the value of Peace. As I bring order to my life, I get more peace.)

So I ended up, after three days, with three top values:

Peace

Family

Security

These values can be lived out in two ways. They can be selfishly grasped, or they can be lived for yourself and others according to God’s will. They are not morally good or bad in themselves, it all depends on how we live it out.

For example, I can approach the value of Security in two ways. I can save up all my money, work harder and harder, trust in my money, my investments, my work to give me the security I long for. If I do that, the Bible calls me a fool. I could be as ‘secure’ as I could possibly be and the stock market might crash, or even worse, I could die (like the rich fool in Luke 12). What would my security gain me then? Nothing.

But if I place my security in God then I will be ‘like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither’ (Psalm 1). 

Your values are your great strengths and your great weaknesses. It depends how you live them. 

I think this is an excellent exercise to prayerfully undertake. I don’t think you need a week’s retreat to do it, but I suggest you do it over a few days. I did not find this an easy undertaking. But I have found it super helpful.

And if you would like to share your top values with me, I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment, or head to http://ruthamos.com.au and use the Contact Me box, or find me on Facebook or on Twitter @amos_rj.

A (very late) New Year Post

This blog post was written in early January. If you go to http://www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast you can hear the chat I had with Scott on Ultra106.5 about it at the time. I know I’m posting it on here a little late, I guess it is just another of those things that I’m slowly getting into order.

_______________________

It’s that time again. Time for new year’s resolutions. Time for new year plans. Time to think ‘new year, new you’ or some such thing. 

We do it each year, and as John Dickson says, it’s not really a bad thing. Resolutions are built on hope, he says. And hope is better than the alternative. Living hopefully is a good thing.

So I’m not pooh-poohing resolutions. But I am going about things slightly differently this year. 

I’m going with a Year Theme.

I got this idea from the podcast, Cortex, hosted by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. They have been doing themes each year since 2016 (I think). And Grey has done it for a lot longer.

OK, what is a Year Theme?

It’s an idea, a thought, a direction that you want the year to go. It’s a bit like having a word for the year, which is another idea I have seen around the place. But with a theme you are not limited to one word, so you don’t have to do the extreme hyphenation I did in 2019 when it was the year of  give-it-a-go.

It is not a goal, or something that you cross off. So in that way it’s not like a resolution. It’s not ‘lose 5 kg’ or even ‘exercise more’ or anything like that. It’s an overarching idea that you can use to measure your activities against and see whether they fit, whether they are something you should be doing.

Your year theme could be something like, the year of adventure, or the year of diversification, the year of stabilisation, the year of less, the year of fun, or the year of prayer or worship.

What is my theme for this year?

My theme is ‘The Year of Order’.

Last year was quite chaotic for me. Both my children got married, for one thing. And for another, we renovated our house to make a little home for our son Caleb and his new wife. And there were other things as well (of course) that added to the chaos. 

I decided back in November that I wanted 2021 to be much more ordered. Calm. Peaceful. 

I am using this theme to help me decide what to do and how to do the things I do.

OK, we’re two weeks in to the year, so there’s not a big sample yet. But here are some things I have done so far because of the theme I have put in place:

I have taken control of what I do on the church roster. Up until now, Moz and I have just gone with what we were given on the roster, unless we had some big prior engagement that meant we couldn’t serve in some way. This year, we looked at the months in advance and blocked out some Sundays when neither of us are on any jobs, so that we can just sit in church and enjoy each other’s company.

I have sorted out some cupboards and given things to the Salvos. Part of this is due to not having as much storage space now that we’ve renovated. But partly this is due to my year theme and trying each day to do something that adds order.

I have organised my calendar so that I have one day a week to work on my creative projects. A day with no coffee dates and no day-job work. And I’m trying to batch the other things I do each week so that my focus isn’t continually changing.

Daily I am asking myself in my intention questions (more on this later), ‘Have I done my best to create order today?’ And I’m keeping track to see how I’m doing. I hope to keep you updated as the year goes on.

____________________

It’s never too late to put together a year theme. Unlike new year’s resolutions, you can come up with one at any time and apply it to any block of time that you like. It can be a year theme, but a quarterly theme is a really great idea too.

We’re heading into the second quarter of 2021 as I write this, and I’d like to let you know that I’m still following the theme. One of the things Moz and I have done as part of this is to plan out each quarter in advance, booking in times to work on our house, times to go away on adventures, and occasional Sundays when neither of us is on a church roster so that we can actually sit together. And I sorted out my filing cabinet yesterday. So this year’s theme is really working for me.

Do you have a year theme? Or has this post made you think of one? I’d love to hear what yours is. Let me know in the comments, or email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or visit me at https://www.facebook.com/RuthAmosAuthor 

A Little Holiday

 

No deep wisdom today, just a short summary of the holiday that Moz and I took last weekend. It was a great holiday, but it wasn’t quite long enough.

Last Friday night, Moz and I took a trip to Dover. We drove down after he had finished work for the day. We arrived in the dark, found a nice little pizza place to have dinner, and worked out how to let ourselves into the studio room we’d booked online. It was a bit of an adventure, doing it all in the dark.

We went for a walk in the cold clear evening. The stars were brilliant. Just gorgeous. Moz saw a shooting star. I just enjoyed the still ones 🙂

We walked past the sailing club where they were having some sort of celebration. A couple of live bands – one rock band, one more jazzy. We appreciated the sound of the music and the friendly chatting, the sight of the people (including a couple of kids) taking a break outside, silhouetted against the light pouring out.

In the morning we walked again to find some food and hot drinks for breakfast. The only place open was a bakery that made gorgeous sour-dough bread. The locals came in and bought freshly-baked chicken pies for breakfast.

Then we bought a few groceries and continued south to Cockle Creek – the furthest south you can get by car. And then we kept going, a lovely bushwalk along the beaches and through the bush to Fisherman’s Point where there is a red-brick ruin and some odd plants too – fuchsias and lilies that had been planted there a hundred years ago or more.

We had ourselves a picnic lunch by the water accompanied by little wrens, and then drove back to the nearest café (an hour away) for a hot drink and a read of our books, and then on to find some friends in Franklin for a delicious seafood chowder dinner, and a fun game of Dixit.

No computers, no thinking, no decisions except, ‘Do you want to eat now, or later?’ No phone coverage for much of the day. Instead, blue sky, good exercise, great conversation, reading, musing – just being.

It was a wonderful holiday. When we got home we felt a little bit less like elastic that has been pulled too tight for too long, a little more like human beings with a little bit of love to give to others.

It wasn’t long enough, of course. So we’re going away this weekend to do it all again in another little town.

We are learning to take the time we need to refill our wells. Before we get completely dry.

It is worth it.

Maybe after this coming weekend I’ll have enough energy to string three brain cells together and tell you something deep and wise. Or maybe I’ll just write another post about how fabulous it was to get away. I hope you’ll excuse my indulgence this week.

It Works!

Intro

If you’re like me, you see the amount of books and articles about how to change your life for the better and you wonder if the ‘three easy steps’ outlined therein actually work.

I mean, we all know that we are striving for a more peaceful, less busy, more organised lives. We all know that we should cut down on what we’re doing. We all know that we should rest more, simplify, find jobs that work with our personalities, remember to make time for ourselves, watch less TV, pay less attention to social media, read more, exercise more, etc.

But sometimes I wonder, does it actually work?

I mean, I wrote a whole book on saying, ‘no’. I wrote about setting priorities and about not letting the need define your response. I wrote about all sorts of good ways of getting more energy back in your life.

Some days I feel like I really need to go back and read my book again.

Others look at my life and tell me I need to go back and read my book again.

Yes, my life now is full. I have plenty to do. I have exciting projects coming out my ears. And from the outside it may look like I haven’t made any progress at all.

But I have.

And I’ll tell you how I know that.

Last weekend was one of those weekends where everything happens at the same time and you can’t spread the commitments out.

On Friday I had my parents 50th wedding anniversary. And the best way to celebrate that was to have a dinner party at our house. So we did. Eleven of us over for a candle-light dinner in my lounge room.

50th anniversary cake
The beautiful cake Elford’s Cakes made. It’s based on the original cake, of course.

On Saturday there was a book fair. Me, in a room full of people, selling my wares, giving a reading and a talk about my publishing journey, from 9 am until 5 pm.

TIA book fair
The view from my book-selling table

On Saturday evening our church had a women’s ministry evening and I offered a writing workshop as part of that. In my house.

Writers workshop
We had such a great time. The food-to-people ratio was pretty good too. 

Now, last year, any one of those events would have been enough to tire me out. And I admit that having all three of them in a row sent me into a bit of a spin. But this year it was different.

This year I could spend the time leading up to the weekend getting organised and ready. I could put some normal commitments on the back-burner and take them up again after the busy weekend was over. I arranged to have the party catered so that I didn’t have to cook, and I arranged my son and his girlfriend to clean up for me on Saturday so I came home to a clean house. I could think this all through. I had the time to think.

This year I had the time to rest afterwards.

On Sunday I chose not to go to church. I sat in bed and read a book (Katherine Scholes, The Perfect Wife, great, if you like literary fiction) and then in the afternoon Moz and I went for a drive.

This year I was fine. I could cope. I felt tired but I didn’t feel completely empty.

And today I’m ready to get back into it. To write this blog. To do my editing job. To potter around and do the banking and make dinner and do all the things I didn’t get done on the weekend, as well as the things that my work-from-home life entails.

I think that last year, or the year before, a weekend like the one just gone would have wiped me out for a week. I would have got sick. I would have used up every last bit of my resources and I wouldn’t have had time to recover.

But now, now that I’ve changed my life, I’ve made choices that work well with who I am and how I do things, now I can cope with the occasional full-on weekend. And I can cope with the rest of life as well.

I’m not perfect. My life is full. Maybe I’m still saying ‘yes’ too much and need to keep saying ‘no’ more. I know I need to keep an eye on it. I’ll need to keep an eye on it for the rest of my life. But I am improving. And my life is improving as a result.

It does work.

I’m so grateful.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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The many benefits of creativity

Charlene's painting
This is Charlene’s beautiful work in progress. Isn’t it delightful?

My friend Charlene wrote something on Facebook on Friday that really made me think about creativity.

She wrote, ‘I love finding little bits of time to paint. I put my headphones on and listen to a book, while I add some more colour to my painting. I have found it is extremely beneficial to me when I am anxious’. 

I feel exactly the same way about my writing. It is easy to forget and to get hung up on doing other ‘more worthwhile things’ but maybe there is nothing more worthwhile than being creative.

Time is very precious to me right now. I have so many projects that I want to make happen, and I also have editing work that I need to do to get some money in my pocket. I have found that over the last few weeks the admin and the editing and the other little jobs have taken priority most of the time, and writing, my creative side, hasn’t had much of a look in.

But on Thursdays I take two hours to head to the café and write. And that time is set aside, it does not get taken up by anything except the writing of the novel, no matter how stressed I am about anything else. I have committed to others to be there and writing, and they are keeping me accountable. Those two hours are purely writing time.

It is amazing how great I feel after spending that time writing, it grounds me, it slows down my rushing anxiety, it helps me back into my own skin again. It reminds me of what I have made all these changes in my life for. And it reminds me that once this busy time is over (and it should be over by next week) I must set aside more time for writing once again.

The act of creating is so beneficial for us. Therapeutic, even.

I think we remember this when we are doing our own art, creating our own thing, writing our own book, practicing our own musical instrument. But when we see art in a gallery, or read a good book, or attend a concert, do we think about how many ways that art has benefitted society?

Originally, and I hope this is generally true, the creative work has benefitted the creator. We are meant to create and I think in most cases the act of creation has brought joy to the person creating.

Then by being in the world it brings joy and peace, or enthusiasm, or a cathartic experience to us who are viewing or listening or dancing to it.

And finally, by being sold or licensed or borrowed it brings good to our economy.

Creativity is a cornerstone of who we are as human beings. I encourage you to find your own creative outlet and make time for it. You may do it just for yourself, just to bring yourself that peace and joy. You might share what you create with friends and family and bring them joy too. Or you might find that what you create can be shared with an even wider audience. I think that whatever you do, the benefits are totally worth the time invested.

I’d love you to share with me what you do creatively. Tell me in the comments, or write to ruth@ruthamos.com.au and send me a picture or a soundbite or a paragraph. I’d love to see how creative we can get about creativity and have a long list of creative endeavours for next week’s blog.

And if you want to know what I’ve been so busy doing you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast and have a listen to the very first episode of my new podcast A Quiet Life. I’ll be launching on iTunes and Stitcher very soon, God willing, and you will be able to subscribe and hear an episode each week.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support my writing and the creation of my podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and support me for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

A gift to gladden the heart

Gold coast dolphin
This is a dolphin we saw at Sea World on the Gold Coast

There is a joint memory that Moz and I have from our teens of a house that made an incredible impression on us. I’m not sure why we were there, we only went once. I think my parents were visiting the couple who owned it but I’m really not sure why.

But this house.

I mean, I like dolphins and whales, I really do, but this house went way overboard.

The couple had dolphin wedding rings, dolphin salt and pepper shakers, a whale on the table cloth and a dolphin Doona cover. The mirrors were surrounded by dolphins, there was dolphin and whale artwork all over the walls and dolphin and whale sculptures on every surface. There was dolphin-themed stained glass on the windows and the walls were painted blue.

It was overpowering. There was no getting away from whales and dolphins anywhere.

I really like seeing dolphins and whales. I’ve been fortunate to have two whale sightings right here in Hobart over the past twenty years or so. One at Kingston Beach (close to my house, where I walk nearly every day) and one further up the river where a mother whale had taken her calf.

Dolphins, on the other hand, tend to stay away from me. I’ve been on two wilderness cruises where we’ve seen seals and albatross but no dolphins. I’ve cruised down the east coast of Tasmania on a yacht and seen no dolphins at all, though we did see some amazing luminescence in the water. I’ve spent hours on beaches straining my eyes without the sighting of even one fin.

Ok, as I write this I see that I’m the most privileged and spoiled person out there. My life has been filled with fantastic experiences. I’m not complaining at all. And I did see a whole pod of dolphins cavorting in the waves off Bicheno once.

I wonder whether the way I feel about dolphins is due to the rarity of the sightings, and if I’d become bored with them if I saw them more often. I know that after being in the dolphin house I didn’t want to see anything about sea creatures for months.

On the Saturday just past I spent most of the day sitting in front of the fire and reading. I was taking a day off and loving it. In the afternoon I felt like going for a walk and Moz came with me. We walked to the beach and bought a coffee and then I said, ‘What next? Will we walk along the beach?’

Moz suggested we just stand at the rail and stare out at the water for a while.

And while I was staring something caught my eye. Now, last time this had happened it was a seal enjoying the water and waving his flippers in the sunshine.

But this time … this time it was a dolphin.

I’ve been going to Kingston Beach for forty years on and off and this is the first dolphin I’ve ever seen there. And it was beautiful. It came quite close so we could see it clearly and then it swam away.

Kingston beach dolphin
This is me, and you can see the fin out there in the water. I promise it’s there!

Then a very light shower of rain passed over us, and all that meant was that where the dolphin had been there was now a complete rainbow over the water. The scene would have fit perfectly into the dolphin house art work, but this time it was real.

It totally made my day and I’m so glad we took a few minutes to stand and stare.

I guess there’s not much of a point to my little story, except for the encouragement to take the time to enjoy days off and to enjoy nature. That sometimes when you just stand and stare for a while you will receive a gift to gladden your heart.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life on WordPress, or you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au and sign up to my newsletter and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

One thing at a time

shutterstock_754946590

I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?