My Outlook

Satisfying more than a sweet tooth

            It was time to go through the bookshelf and pull titles I was willing to part with. The trouble was I found it easy to talk myself out of getting rid of most of them, convinced it was a book I would read again. Every year mountains of new books are published and although it's exciting to think of what might be coming next, it is also frustrating to think how many great ones I will inevitably miss out on. I have what I describe as a craving for reading.

            In my first year of university I became good friends with a girl from Richmond, Virginia. Since she was attending school in Canada she celebrated Thanksgiving in October with the rest of us and said she quite liked it, in contrast to how she grew up with Thanksgiving and Christmas just four weeks apart. I remember her laughing and remarking that we actually had time in Canada to finish the Thanksgiving leftovers before going out and getting a Christmas tree.

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            My family did something a bit different at Thanksgiving this year—we changed up the menu. It seemed like a good idea in the days leading up to the weekend, but when the day arrived it didn't seem so great. The cornucopia and autumn decorations were up and we gathered the usual people around the table. But when we brought the food out I realized how much my brain was trained to expect turkey and family favorites. The other food was good, but my taste buds had expectations all their own.

            In the next few weeks my kitchen will be the setting for putting together some cherished recipes, including ones I really missed in October. I can already feel the cravings start to build. But there's a craving for something else too, with a calorie count I don't need to factor in. It’s the craving for reading that gets further revved this time of year.

We all know reading is a good thing, right? But a massive 12-year study showed us just how good it really is. It has long been known that strong literacy skills correlate with higher test scores and potential for landing better jobs, but it is also linked to longevity, better sleeping patterns, and reduced stress. Even more, reading helps support healthy brain functioning and when this is done consistently it can have a huge impact. As one researcher suggests, "Word power increases brain power."      

            But even beyond exploring creative settings, delving into important themes or learning new things, I think there's another big benefit that can come from reading books, especially this time of year; a time too many describe as busy, chaotic and stressful.

            Books help us slow down. They make us sit in one spot. We stop other activity to focus on the words on the page and where they will take us. That is a good thing, especially when we don't think we have time for it.

            Our bodies and our brains require good care. Proper food and satisfactory rest play an important role, so to that end might I suggest going a bit counter culture over the coming weeks and just…relax. Take care of your body and brain at the same time. Find a comfortable chair, wrap up in a cozy blanket, prepare a mug of hot chocolate and simply…read a book.

A friend of mine enjoys re-reading "Anne of Green Gables" each Christmas. I have a favorite too, called "The Biggest Day of the Year", a non-fiction account of the Christmas concerts that took place in one-room schools. I crave curling up on the couch beside the Christmas tree and stepping back in time to marvel at the preparation by teachers and students for whom it was such a big event. Do we have time to sit and do that? Just read? Yes, I believe it's even more important this time of year.

            In the coming weeks we can expect powerful cravings to surface. Since those cravings develop in the brain, that is probably the best place to start in our attempt to satisfy them. Begin with food for the mind. Pick up a book…and put aside the busy. It's like superfood for the brain. And it just might make the turkey and toffee balls later on in the season taste that much better. That's my outlook.

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