Today is the first day of winter. It is also the shortest day of the year, when darkness will close over us shortly after 4:30 this afternoon. The sun rose at 8:24 this morning and it continues to beam down on our frozen world, smiling on us in the bitter cold. It is -27 C with the wind making if feel like -38. But no matter. The sun is shining.
Inside, the house is warm and welcoming. Everything is all set for Christmas Eve, when our friends join us for a quiet evening. Glenn has the fire ready to light. The tree is sending a silvery glow from the corner. There are candles everywhere and all the Christmas ornaments are in place. Christmas and a day with our kids is just four days away.
This is the time of year to reboot our internal computers. The old year ends, a new one begins and I am always filled with hope and optimism that the coming months will be a time of renewal and success. I can’t help being an optimist; it’s bred in the bone. My mother, who had a difficult life, told me before she died that she had always been a happy person. That was a revelation to me — that she was essentially happy despite the hardships and heart aches that beset her life. Looking at it, though, I remember her singing, gathering wild flowers, making things, always with a look of happy concentration on her pretty face. She was not a frowner nor a whiner. She was a gardener, too.
I suppose I inherited her extra measure of happy hormones. No matter how difficult life sometimes becomes, I seem to have a well of positive energy to draw from. I believe that pool is replenished by the time I spend outdoors and with plants. Just looking at pictures of them makes me happy. I wish I could pass this on to all the folks whose lives are filled with pain, both emotional and physical.
Lately, science has been discovering that much of the mechanics for a happy life reside in our digestive system — our guts, as they say. And reside is the operative word, because we are talking about bacteria, most of them good. Apparently, in our digestive tract, there are about 100 trillion bacteria comprising 500 species and collectively weighing about three pounds. This thriving population is the processing system that helps digest food, gets rid of toxins, produces vitamins and regulates hormones in our bodies. The trick is to keep a properly balanced ratio of good bacteria to bad: this should be about 85% good to 15% bad.
Getting rid of processed foods is the first start to a healthy gut balance. Keep a tight rein on sugar which feeds the bad bacteria. More and more evidence points to the efficacy of food containing natural pro-biotics. The list of these foods encompasses far more than just live pro-biotic yoghurts: sauerkraut, homemade pickles, olives, buttermilk, naturally aged cheeses, and miso are just a few. A glass of red wine a day is also on the list, thankfully.
Many diseases such as eczema, arthritis of psoriasis are caused by problems and imbalances with in this colony of bacteria. Multiple sclerosis, lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome are also implicated.
Another factor in good health, both mental and physical, is the amount exposure you have to the earth where good bacteria thrive and can be introduced to your digestive tract just by breathing when you are digging in the garden or by entering through a small cut on your skin. One of these is Mycobacterium vaccae, the so-called “happy” bacteria because it presence in the gut triggers the release of serotonin. No wonder gardeners are generally happy people.
So as the old year wanes and the new one emerges, take stock of your life. Look at the garden photos you took last year or haul out your gardening magazines and lose yourself in garden fantasies. Empty the cupboard of as many processed foods as you can. Eat some natural yogurt or sauerkraut each day and end the day with a glass of red wine. Take a walk in the woods on a balmy winter’s afternoon. Spend time with friends and family. And remember, no matter how difficult life is today, tomorrow will bring change, and it’s often for the better.
Merry Christmas everyone.