45 Ways to Make Your Life Better

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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Every so often it pays to stop and take stock of how your life is going. Some days (or years) aren’t going to be as good as others, and a lot of the time there won’t be anything you can do about it. Sickness happens, jobs are lost, the world is a mess– there will always be things out of your control that affect you in a negative way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your life a little better, no matter what else is going on. Some of these suggestions are small things you can do, some take more effort. Some might not work for you (although you won’t know until you try). Take a look and see what inspires you…

  1. Find a hobby: I read somewhere recently that people don’t have hobbies anymore, which is a shame because hobbies are fun (and sometimes you get a new sweater out of it). Taking time to do something you enjoy, whether it’s knitting, snowboarding, or even raising fancy pigeons, offsets many of life’s stresses, among other benefits.
45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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2. Try something new: There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a rut. Break out of it by trying something you’ve never done before. If you don’t like that, try something else. The point is to experience as much of life as you can.

3. Take a class: Is there something you’ve always wanted to study? A class will challenge you and keep you on track.

4. Read a book: A shocking number of adults don’t read– do yourself a favour and don’t be one of them. (By the way, I’ve written some books you might like, along with this article on the benefits of reading, according to science 🙂 )

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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5. Drink tea: It’s good for you (and relaxing). If you don’t like it, you might be making the same mistake I did when I first started drinking tea and steeping it too long (2 to 4 minutes should be plenty). Or it could be that you hate one kind but love another (I finally realized I really don’t like hibiscus). Some of the many types you can try include: black, green, white, red (aka rooibos), oolong, matcha, kombucha, herbal, barley tea (also known as bori-cha or mugi-cha), flavoured and dessert teas…

6. Get out of the house: Go down the street or halfway around the world, but go.

7. Give back: You can donate time or money to a charity, run errands for your mom, or offer to babysit for a friend– whatever you do, just do something nice for someone else.

8. Keep a journal: Whether you go with an old-fashioned diary, a bullet journal, a gratitude journal, an art journal, or even a blog, journalling will help you sort through your day and your life, and has even been found to have multiple health benefits.

45 Ways to Male Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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9, Pay attention: Also known as being in the moment. Look around, focus on details, notice the world.

10. Be immature: There’s always that person who will tell you that you have to grow up. Ignore them. Be silly, have fun. Finger paint, blow bubbles, laugh at stupid jokes. Wear something age inappropriate. Growing up is overrated.

11. Splurge once in a while: As long as there’s room in the budget, don’t be afraid to treat yourself.

12. Learn to make your favourite food: If you cook only one thing, make it a good one. (And if you have a family member who’s a great cook, take the time to get– and make– their recipes.)

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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13. Feed your backyard birds: Not only is it helping wildlife, but before long they’ll get to know you. Hearing birds chirp excitedly when you go outside is like starring in a real-life Disney movie. Just a couple of things to remember: seeds not bread; once you start, don’t stop feeding in winter (they rely on your help to survive); feed them away from any shrubs or places where cats and other predators can hide (and if you have a cat, keep them inside).

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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14. Grow something: It can be an entire garden or an avocado pit in a jar, but take care of something green.

15. Buy flowers: Speaking of something green, flowers or a plant will brighten up a room and your day.

16. Listen to music: Maybe dance a little too, while you’re at it. Repeat often.

17. Use the right toiletries: Even though soaps, shampoos, lotions, and perfumes are all made from the same basic ingredients, the quality can vary pretty significantly. You’ll look and feel better when you figure out your skin type and hair type and use the right products for them (preferably in a scent that makes you happy).

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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18. Be quiet: I don’t mean talk less (although sometimes that’s good too), but find a way to be quiet within yourself. Meditation is a good way to find your inner quiet, or you can do something as simple as sitting for five minutes with your eyes closed while focusing on your breathing. Meditation can help relax you, ease your pain, and even make you a kinder person.

19. Put down your devices: You’ve probably heard this one a lot. No one’s saying give up your phone or tablet, but do take some time every day to focus on the world around you instead of a screen.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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20. Love your people: By which I mean show your partner, kids, friends, pets, family, favourite teachers– anyone who means anything to you– that you care. Ask them how they’re doing, get them a coffee, give them a cuddle. Everyone’s life could use a little more of that.

21. Watch or read something funny: Let’s face it, real life is feeling a little dystopian right now. Give yourself a break.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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22. Laugh at yourself: Note to self, life is easier when you don’t take everything so seriously. Or as Maude (Harold and Maude) puts it: “Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” (By the way, consider watching Harold and Maude as the bonus 46th thing you can do to make your life better. Also Amélie.)

23. Don’t read the comments: The internet has become a breeding ground for trolls and they congregate in comments sections. Unless you enjoy submersing yourself in anger, negativity, and outright abuse, don’t read the comments (also keep in mind that responding, disliking, or acknowledging these comments in any way marks them as “popular” and makes them more prominent on the page).

24: Stop dieting: Diets don’t work. Willpower is a myth. Food isn’t good or bad. Unless you’ve been prescribed a specific eating regimen by a doctor or dietitian, skip the diet. If you want to be healthier (note: health is not synonymous with weight loss), cut down on convenience foods, sugar, and salt, and exercise regularly. Stop feeling guilty about what you eat.

25. Go to the library: Not just a place to borrow books (although that alone is pretty awesome), libraries are community hubs where you can do everything from enjoying art exhibits, to attending author readings, to borrowing musical instruments, and so much more– for free.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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26. Play outside: Spend some time in the fresh air. It doesn’t matter what you do, just enjoy yourself in nature.

27. Clean the house: Yes, it’s boring, tiring, and sometimes gross. But it feels so much better to be in a clean space. Do you live with other humans? Make sure they do their share.

28. Make little changes: It can be overwhelming when you’re thinking about starting something new or changing something old. Instead of trying to tackle it all at once, try breaking it down into small, easy-to-manage steps. What do you want to do/change right now, and what’s the first tiny step toward getting there?

29. Walk away: Sometimes there are things, people, and situations in your life that make it worse. They add to your stress, make you feel bad about yourself, or drain your energy. Leave them behind, if you can, and don’t look back.

30. Talk to someone: Whether it’s a friend, a therapist, or anyone else you can open up to, find someone you can confide in.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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31. Listen to someone: Let someone open up to you.

32. Take a break from the news: Although it’s good to know what’s going on in the world, watching the news with its 24/7 focus on the negative can be more stressful than informative. It’s okay to ignore it sometimes (same for social media).

33. Vote: Yes, your one vote does make a difference. No, not all politicians are equally bad. People literally fought and died for the chance to have a voice– don’t waste yours (even if you’re not thrilled with the choices, picking one is always better than picking none).

34. Plan a trip: Researchers have found that planning a trip is more satisfying than actually taking one. Even though travel is a worthwhile experience, sometimes it’s better to stay home.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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35. Daydream: I’m not sure why anyone ever thought this was a bad thing. (By the way, science agrees.)

36. Don’t wait: If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do, don’t put it off.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

37. Take care of your feet: They do so much for us and yet most people tend to ignore them. Show your feet some love by putting lotion on them after every shower, not wearing wet shoes or socks, and gently using a pumice on rough spots. It’s also best to avoid wearing high heels except on special occasions; while the appeal of heels is debatable, the damage they cause is not (oh, and make sure to throw something hard at the next person who tells you beauty is pain).

38. Don’t compare yourself to anyone: There’s no one way to be– you’re doing fine, no matter what anyone else is up to.

39. Take chances: Being cautious is important, but being too cautious can result in a life observed rather than lived. Try something, even if you don’t know it’s going to work.

40. Throw some shade (on yourself): Avoid the sun and tanning beds too. Unless you’re a fan of leathery skin and melanoma.

side view photography of a woman wearing fedora
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41. Embrace change: Change happens whether we like it or not– learn to make the most of it.

42. Celebrate: It’s easy to let special occasions and accomplishments go by without fanfare. Don’t let every day feel the same– celebrate whenever you can.

43. Find your tribe: This one isn’t so easy, but it might be the most important. Find the people who get you, who let you be yourself, and who care. If you laugh at the same things, never let go.

44. Be self sufficient: I don’t mean live off the grid and produce everything you need (although if that’s your thing, go for it), but the more you can do for yourself, the better. There’s something extremely satisfying about fixing your own leaking faucet instead of having to pay a plumber (just one example). Bonus: if you’re trying to get away from giving “stuff” for gifts, you can give your skills instead– make or fix something for someone who can’t.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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45. Rest: Everyone I know is always busy and usually exhausted. It’s time to prioritize resting. Get a good night’s sleep (if you can’t sleep, don’t try to do anything other than relax), nap, take time off, put your feet up. If nothing else, your brain will thank you (your stressed out body probably won’t complain, either).

Are you already doing these? Do you have others to add to the list? Please share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Why You Need to Read Books

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I always find it strange that people need to be convinced to read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. For me, books have always been magic, gateways to other worlds, other lives. They’re adventures and dreams, knowledge and potential, all packed into conveniently portable packages. Forget apps–no matter what you want or need at any given moment in life, there’s a book for it. How could anyone not instantly see the value in that?

 

00 books are worlds

 

And yet… According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of American adults have admitted to not reading even part of a book in the last year (and I’m sure the numbers are similar in Canada). Clearly a lot of people don’t realize they’re missing out.

00 lack of books

If magic, knowledge, and adventure aren’t enough to get you interested, maybe I should also mention that:

Yale researchers found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day live longer than those who read magazines or who don’t read at all.

(This reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where someone was reading a book in parts to their elderly relative, always leaving the story on a cliffhanger to keep the person hanging on well beyond a normal lifespan. #goals)

 

Successful people read (and they share some of their favourite books here).

 

People who read short stories are more open-minded and creative, according to a University of Toronto study.

Need a short story to get you started? How about “Tooth & Claw,” available free here, and at other online booksellers…

Tooth & Claw, free short story by Aspasia S. Bissas

And “Blood Magic,” available free here and at other online booksellers!

Blood Magic, free short story by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

You can read more about the benefits of reading books here, or you can just pick up a book and find out for yourself.

00 reading tonight

 

What’s your favourite thing about reading? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Going Solo

introversion and creativity, Aspasía S. Bissas

According to a BBC article, recent research has confirmed that alone time is good for your concentration, health, and creativity. Is anyone else not remotely surprised? Any introvert can tell you that spending time on your own is a necessity, particularly when it comes to creative pursuits.

introversion and creativity, introvert meme Aspasía S. Bissas

As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, I seem to never be able to get any writing done when I do. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours, socializing drains me, leaving no energy to think, let alone create. I’m not advocating for isolation (unless that’s your thing), but the more time I spend being social, the more appealing the hermit lifestyle starts to look.

introversion and creativity, introvert meme Aspasía S. Bissas

I’m always a little skeptical of people in creative fields who are extroverts. The extroverts I know are constantly on the run, always social, always busy. When do they find time to create? How do they focus? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s difficult to picture someone coming home from a party and feeling inspired to do anything other than sleep it off.

introversion and creativity, introvert meme Aspasía S. Bissas

I’m still trying to find a balance between spending time with the people I care about and getting the necessary solitude I need to create. Sometimes I wish texting counted as socializing, or that I could carry on a conversation while mentally working on a chapter or two. How about you–are you an introvert or extrovert? What helps or hinders your creativity? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Originally posted on 19 March 2018

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, You Can Still Cope with Summer

how to beat summer heat
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Toronto is going through its usual series of summer heat waves, where temperatures reach well into the 40s (104F+). It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s miserable. There’s an inescapable burning orb in the sky, buzzing insects in your face, and a pervasive smell of fake coconut (AKA suntan lotion, which is actually one of the pleasanter smells one encounters at this time of year). Summer can be rough, even intolerable, for a lot of people. Being of Greek descent you’d think I’d love the sun and heat. You’d be wrong. Born and raised in Canada, I’m far more tolerant of low temperatures than high ones, but even my ancestors had a word for people like me:

Ancient Greek Word of the Day: κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat (via Tumblr)

So what do you do when you and summer just don’t get along?

  • stay inside as much as possible during the day
  • when you have to go out, hats, parasols, and sunscreen are your friends
  • if it’s hot and you can’t cool down at home, the library is perfect (by the way, Love Lies Bleeding is now available at the Toronto Public Library! If your local library doesn’t carry it, ask them to start 🙂 )
  • movie theatres, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries are all good places to cool off for a few hours
  • look for nighttime entertainment and activities, such as concerts and festivals
  • reading is always a good (and portable) option. You’ll find endless articles about beach reads, but check out this article on alternatives to beach reading for sun haters.

Thank you, not you meme

 

Are you looking for books featuring characters that avoid the sun as much as you do? I’ve got you covered:

Ebook sale on books by Aspasia S. Bissas

Get Love Lies Bleeding for only $1.50 (seriously!) until the end of July–and don’t forget your FREE copy of Blood Magic.

How do you feel about summer? Share your thoughts in the comments…

Cheers,
Aspasía S. Bissas

beating the heat
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Vampire’s Garden: Yarrow

white cluster flowers in bloom
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Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is sixth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Botanical Name: Achillea millefolium

Common Names: Common yarrow, sanguinary, bloodwort, plumajillo (“little feather”). nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf, staunchweed, arrowroot, field hops, woundwort. An old name for Yarrow is herba militaris.

History: Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, yarrow has now spread around the world, growing freely along roadsides and coastal areas and in fields and meadows. It’s been used medicinally since prehistoric times, including by Neanderthals. Ancient Hellenes (Greeks) used it to stop bleeding from wounds (the name Achillea comes from the hero Achilles, who supposedly took yarrow into battle to treat his soldiers). Indigenous tribes throughout North America used the herb medicinally for pain relief, fever reduction, and as a sleep aid, among other things. In the Middle Ages it was used along with other herbs to flavour beer before hops became prevalent (it’s still used in beer-making in Sweden). In the Hebrides it was believed that holding a leaf against the eyes would bestow second sight. In China the dried stalks have been used for centuries in divination.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Healing, protection

Cultivation: Perennial in Zones 2 to 8. Yarrow is ideal for native plant gardens, drought tolerant gardens, and wildlife gardens. Prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but is tolerant of many conditions. Can grow up to 1 metre (approx. 3 feet). Seeds require light, a moist environment, and cool temperatures to germinate, so sow outdoors, barely covered by soil, after the last frost date; or start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date and keep moist but not wet (it might be easier simply to buy plants or propagate by division). Spreads via rhizomes and can become invasive. Plant (or thin seedlings to) 30 to 46 cm (12 to 18″) apart. Once plants are established they need little watering and no fertilizing, although they can be prone to powdery mildew (giving plants adequate space around them for good air circulation will help prevent this). Flowers from May to July, and sometimes into autumn. Divide plants every other year in spring. Yarrow is considered an excellent companion plant, repelling pest insects while attracting beneficial insects, like predatory wasps, lacewings, and hoverflies.

Uses:

Medicinal: Astringent, anti-microbial, and anodyne. Drink tea made from the flowers to stop bleeding, for muscle aches and cramps, to reduce fever, for an upset stomach, or to help you sleep. Cooled tea makes an astringent facial wash (good for oily skin and skin infections/irritations). A salve or balm made from yarrow is useful on wounds, bruises, swelling, and various skin problems.

Fresh leaves can be crushed or bruised and applied directly to wounds. For nosebleeds, pick a few leaves, rub between your hands to bruise slightly, roll into a plug, and insert gently into the bleeding nostril. Leave in place until bleeding stops.

Culinary: Yarrow leaves and flowers have a flavour reminiscent of anise or licorice, and are somewhat bitter. Use fresh or dried as a herbal seasoning for food, or mix with other culinary herbs like tarragon and parsley. Can eat the greens fresh (use like sprouts or baby salad greens). Steam or blanch leaves and enjoy like other cooked greens. Don’t cook yarrow for long or at a high heat, as cooking destroys its delicate flavour and brings out the bitterness (especially when boiled). Yarrow is a nice addition to desserts, in sorbet and ice cream, or sprinkled over fresh fruit. Yarrow is also used to make some liquors and bitters.

Environmental: Can be planted to combat soil erosion.

Caution: Yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Do not let them consume the plant in any form. In humans, yarrow can cause allergic skin reactions and photosensitivity (avoid sun exposure when using yarrow). Avoid if you’re pregnant or breast feeding.

Wildlife: Many insects feed on yarrow, including nearly 50 species of moths. Several species of cavity-nesting birds use yarrow to line their nests (possibly because it inhibits the growth of parasites).

Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Yarrow as a potential ingredient for her theoretical blood substitute: “Bloodwort, Sanguinary–that’s Achillea…” (Love Lies Bleeding, p. 156). Yarrow would also be included in the remedies she sells via her apothecary business.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Further Reading:

Wikipedia

Growing Yarrow

Language of Flowers

Yarrow: 60,000 Years of Awesome

Everyday Yarrow Uses for Natural Healing

HGTV: Yarrow Uses

Cooking with Yarrow

Yarrow, a delicious and nutritious panacea

Medicinal Yarrow First-Aid Salve (how to make)