Coping with "muchness and many-ness" in the quest for sleep

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I've been having insomnia problems again.

I had some real success with the online CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) program SHUTi that I've blogged about, and even though I'm (pretty much) still following it, I'm back to almost three or four nights a week not being able to fall asleep until 4:30 or 5 a.m.

I'm going to a sleep clinic next week, so I'll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, though, I've been trying to find ways to quiet my mind and ease those racing thoughts that can keep me up.

And one of the things I'm looking at is "muchness and many-ness," a phrase I read years ago in Richard Foster's book The Freedom of Simplicity. I've thought of it often in the years since.

In my case, the "muchness and many-ness" is not so much activities as it is information and sensory overload.

There are some people who thrive on noise and activity, and indeed do their best work when their headphones are on and they're listening to music or to a podcast. I know of people who have a TV in every room and they're all turned on so that wherever they go, they can hear their program.

But this is not me. Too much noise and distraction is crazy-making for me. Please don't ask me to go to Costco with you. Two or three hours at a mall is exhausting. And cable news with all the arguing talking heads? Get me outta here!

This is more my style -- a quiet beach in northern Michigan which we visited last week.
I grew up in a home where classical music was often playing. But I was unable to even expose my children to that or to any other good music (although they all took piano lessons) because I just couldn't have any more noise in a home where there were three children and we were homeschooling and I was busy thinking about many things.

There's plenty of noise going on in my head without adding any more. Thinking, thinking, thinking about something all the time.

{Over the years, I have asked my husband "what are you thinking about?" And he'll answer "nothing." I used to feel hurt that he wasn't sharing with me, until I realized he was telling the truth! Some people really do have times when they are quiet in their minds. Just chillin'. No wonder he sleeps so well.}

So I've had to deal with the fact that I cannot have too much "muchness or many-ness" in my life. Even though I've always led a quieter life, I need to do so especially now. And there are so many more distractions and so much more noise in our world.

All electronics have to be shut off at least three hours before bed. For me, that means no computer time after 8:30 p.m. No movies or books that could be scary, stimulating, or interesting enough that I will want to think them over at bedtime and that will keep me wired up into the early, and late!, morning hours.

It's a frustrating thing as evening is prime time for reading and blogging and researching things on the internet. I feel impatient with myself that I can't handle these things without literally losing sleep.

So, I can knit. Or read gentle books like old favorites by Miss Read or Grace Livingston Hill or Elizabeth Goudge. Or take a bath. Or write in a journal.

 I had a quiet childhood, with a professor for a father, and, later, when she went to work, a librarian for a mother. Books were big. Other than the classical music and very small amounts of TV time for some favorite shows, it was quiet there for reading and handcrafts like embroidery and knitting.

I need to return to those kinds of evenings.

{As an aside, I tremble for the children of today who are handed screens from toddlerhood. Where is the time for long summer afternoons to read and imagine and go outdoors in the fresh air and play? I feel certain it must change the wiring in their brains and be harmful, and science backs this up.}

 It's so easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest, and download apps and spend time on social media. It's fun. But I'm purposefully trying to scale back on those things, for my sleep as well as my sanity.

{Depending on the source you read, it's estimated that Americans check their phones around 80 times per day. One source says that we touch our phones 2,617 times a day. Seriously?! And Instagram is purported to be the worst social media for mental health, being associated with increased depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. (The study was conducted on younger people, but still . . . ) I have to fight the FOMO myself as I know my friends are posting on IG, and I do feel sometimes I'm missing out.}

It's constant, the apps, the social media, the cable news, the steady stream of info (why do we have to watch TV when we're pumping gas or getting our teeth cleaned or eating in a restaurant?!). 

How can we gain any perspective on our world if we are constant receivers of input all the time? How can we possibly have time to sort through it all and make rational, thoughtful conclusions about what's happening?

How can we ever hear that "still, small voice" of God if it's never quiet?

When we were in China, I stopped on a walking trail to observe a Chinese woman patiently working to build up the mud wall along a rice terrace. The scene was such a contrast from the fast-moving, high-energy city of 34 million in Shanghai where we had just been (and where, by the way, everyone is also glued to their iPhones). Her life is hard, and she is poor. But I thought that she may have the better life in some ways than those poor souls rushing through traffic and enclosed in skyscrapers all day long in Shanghai. And I imagine she has time to sit with her family in peace and quiet and that she sleeps very well at night.

{Of course, maybe I'm just being a crank. A teen who was with us on our trip thought Shanghai was the most exciting place in the world!}

All our work these days is mental. That can be more anxiety-inducing than physical labor. Which is a reminder to me that sometimes washing the floor or hanging out laundry or vacuuming the house is more soul-giving and ultimately leads to better sleep than scrolling through Facebook or watching news or researching the latest trends and breakthroughs.

Another thing that causes "muchness" in my life is online shopping. I hardly ever go to a store and love the convenience of comparing items and reading reviews in the comfort of my home. I can literally look at hundreds of dresses (and I have) for a wedding or event. Or spend hours looking for lamps, as I did recently, comparing ones offered on different sites and reading reviews. One site I looked on had over 33,000 floor lamps alone.

{And in my defense, why is it so hard to find a dress that is knee length, covers the upper arms and doesn't reveal cleavage, but is still stylish?!}

The sheer overwhelming number of choices we have is a blessing, but sometimes I think it is a curse. Even deciding on toothpaste can be overwhelming. Whitening? Paste? Gel? Chloride or no? Peppermint? Spearmint? Same goes for yogurt and milk and laundry detergent and . . . 

 I know I'm not the only one dealing with insomnia. Millions of Americans are sleep-deprived or suffer from insomnia, some reports saying one in three. We all need rest.

How do you all cope with insomnia, and with that other problem of "too much?"


Did you know there's a tea farm in Michigan? Me neither. I thought there was only one in the U.S., but when I looked it up, I see there's lots (of farms, that is; there's actually only one tea plantation, the Charleston Tea Plantation).  I found this Hummingbird Nectar Herbal tea in a little store, and was told it was grown in Michigan. Very spendy, as they say, but how could I resist?

It's okay to sit down

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I haven't been feeling well lately, so I decided to sit out on my deck yesterday afternoon and just have a breather.

I never do this.

Don't ask me why I feel guilty just sitting down and doing nothing in the middle of the day. I need to get over this.

Anyway, I was sitting there in a reclining lawn chair having this argument with myself.

"So-and-so is helping her aged parents today. So-and-so is busy teaching piano. So-and-so is working . . . so-and-so is painting her whole house. All by herself. And here you sit, doing nothing." Blah, blah, blah.

I felt the warm sun on my face. The light breeze caught the wind chimes. I watched a blue jay fly up to the top of a tree and wondered about what kind of nest his little family has. I looked at the flowers on my deck, pink and yellow, and stubbornly cheerful in the face of my dark mood.

I have a choice, I thought. 

I can spend this time feeling guilty, and ruin the little pleasure I have here, or I can embrace it as a gift and enjoy the sun, the flowers, the birds.

The feeling of "I'm not enough," or "I'm not doing enough" is so common. Why is it that when you actually do take time to stop and smell the roses you feel like a slacker?

I shared these feelings with my daughter when we were shopping together last week. She found me a coffee mug that made me laugh out loud.

"I'm too pretty to work" (and, yes, that's a stroopwafel on the top of the mug, a traditional Dutch cookie with caramel inside that melts as the steam from the coffee rises).
There's always plenty of work to do, but it really is okay to relax. In the middle of the day even. Remind yourself. You are enough. Bless the Giver of the sun on your face and accept it with gratitude.

Tea in China . . . and at home

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Well, I didn't drink all the tea in China, but I sure made a start.

Our first full day in Beijing we went into a tea shop. I was thrilled my fellow travelers were willing to spend time poking around, looking at all the tea and cups and pots.

It was lovely to smell all the exotic teas. Dried rose bud tea . . .

Lidded tea cups with fitted strainers inside.

We were given a tea demonstration, and able to try a half dozen different kinds of tea, including a jasmine with ginseng, some peurh tea (a type of fermented tea I had discovered in a tea shop in Boulder, Colorado, earlier this year), a fruit tea, and some oolong.

Here, our hostess is holding up a large cake of puerh tea. These teas are similar to fine wines, in that they are dated by age, and the older, the better. Puerh tea is credited with lowering cholesterol, as it contains small amounts of lovastin, a natural statin. 

Puerh is also supposed to help with digestion, weight loss, and even sleep. Although it contains small amounts of caffeine (but less caffeine the older the tea), it doesn't seem to disrupt sleep because it also contains GABA and theanine, shown to reduce stress and aid in the production of melatonin. I'll be drinking this tea for sure. I really like its earthy taste.

We also enjoyed some flowering (or blooming) tea. The bulbs are made by wrapping tea leaves around dried flowers. When you add hot water, the bulb opens, simulating a flower blooming. 

We were told you can get a couple pots out of one bulb, and that Chinese people then leave the opened bulb in the clear glass teapot to display. I bought some of this tea, as well as the jasmine ginseng. I usually think jasmine is too floral, like I'm drinking perfume, but the ginseng seems to cut the too-floral taste.

Several in our group loved this "tea," which was just dried fruits. It produces a very rich, fruity tea that reminded me a little of the Celestial Seasonings zinger teas, only more deeply flavored.

My husband told me to pick out one of these to take home. I picked a yellow one, very traditionally Chinese. I thought the lid was to keep the tea warm, but you tip it to hold the tea leaves away as you drink the tea.

These clay teapots are very popular, and they hold in the heat very well. They also will pick up the flavor of the teas brewed in them over the years, so it is good to dedicate each pot to a different tea.

While we were in Shanghai several of us went to a mall to shop for pearls and silk. We went into a little shop selling tea accoutrements, and were served tea by this sweet girl.

She served us tea in these cute little cups while we looked around and did the obligatory bargaining. Never pay more than half the starting price, I was told. I learned to bargain by gesturing and punching numbers into a hand calculator!

I got a few sets of chopsticks, and then a couple packs of these brightly colored ones.

I had this ice tea out of vending machines several times while we were in China. I was happy to see the English on this bottle, as I would not have been exactly sure if it was even tea.

After Shanghai, we took a bullet train down to Guilin, and stayed at a quaint, homey inn where I ordered chrysanthemum tea. You can see the flowers in the pot.

 In Traditional Chinese medicine, the "chi," or life force, is supposed to be disrupted by ingesting cold food or drinks, but the Chinese sure seem to like ice cream anyway, if the number of Haagen-Dazs shops I saw was any indication. The inn we stayed at offered one or two scoops of ice cream on their menu.

I hurt my chi here.

This is what they consider two scoops of ice cream. Pretty fancy.

I had to dissect how they fixed up this slice of orange. Isn't this clever and beautiful? Peel a slice of orange a little more than halfway down, carefully cut slices into the peel as shown, and then bend the center of the peel back to allow the cut pieces to fan out.

Another evening I got a mug of chrysanthemum tea. Notice all the flower heads floating on top.

I have no idea why one night I got a pot, and why I got a mug here. Language barriers.

I have another post planned on food in China, and one on shopping, if you'll bear with me.


Tea times continue here at home.

A friend brought by this pretty dessert for me in honor of my birthday. I'm drinking tea from my Royal Albert June teacup.

My husband brought me flowers. I had just got home from getting groceries and couldn't help noticing how pretty everything looked together.

On my birthday proper, my daughter took me out for afternoon tea.

I had already started in on these when I realized I hadn't got a picture. The waitress brought me another muffin and scone just so I could get a picture!

Daughter got me a lovely big crystal honey pot and a toast rack. I've always wanted a toast rack, especially after watching all the English period dramas. So elegant. I'm off visiting a friend this week or I'd take a picture of them to share.

I did get a picture of this gift from our youngest who just went to England and Scotland. The Big Ben tin contains English Breakfast tea. The spoon is from Iceland, where he stopped for a layover.

Mr. Beautiful got me an opal necklace.

It was a big birthday this year. As in a big number. (Hmmm . . . I guess they only do get bigger.)

Happy first day of Summer tomorrow.

Back from China

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Yep, you read that right. I've been in China! Can't believe we actually went. An opportunity came up, and we decided to go for it. What an amazing trip.

I walked the Great Wall. Or at least a tiny part of it.

We started out in Beijing, where we saw the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven. I had arranged a few tours for our group, which was good, as the language barrier is formidable. I got very good at simple requests/sign language!

(We did have a couple scary taxi rides where the driver knew no English, and we knew no Mandarin, and our phone translation app suddenly decided not to work!)

We got to go to a tea demonstration which I'll share later for my tea-loving friends. And you know I brought home lots of tea and a teacup!

After Beijing we went on to Shanghai. I've never seen anything like it. It is huge, with the largest metropolitan population in the world. Well over 34 million people, and skyscrapers that go on for miles.

The Pearl Tower, in Shanghai's financial district. The second tallest building in the world is also here, and my husband got some incredible pictures from the top. (I was shopping for pearls and silk that day!)
Because of my severe allergy to sesame, we took two duffel bags full of food, an allergy translation card (in Mandarin), and my Epipens. I was prepared for not being able to eat on our trip, as I'd read that sesame and sesame oil use is widespread. But, thanks to some wonderful English-speaking tour guides, and accommodating chefs, I was able to eat at almost all the restaurants we went to. 

I did have one experience where I showed my allergy card to a waitress (no translators with us that day), and she ran screaming something into the kitchen. When I tried to question her using sign language/gestures, she burst out laughing. I did decide for that meal it might be safer to avoid the food!

I (kinda) mastered the use of chopsticks.
There were some familiar-looking items.

We took a bullet train down to Guilin (with speeds up to 190 mph), and saw these beautiful terraced rice fields.

And took a river cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo among these beautiful limestone mountains.

Here's an umbrella I got. (I got pretty good at bargaining for goods!) Everyone uses umbrellas in China to protect their skin from the sun. Surgical masks, too, for the pollution, although it wasn't bad while we were there.

We met some wonderful people, and found our trip fascinating. I'm having trouble downloading and editing my pics, but I wanted to get something posted. I hope to share some better pictures and more adventures soon.

Blogging break

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

So thankful to whoever planted these in our woods years ago. They smell lovely.

I'll be taking a two- to three-week blogging break. I feel like I've already been on a bit of a break, and hope to get back into the swing of things in June. Blessings to you all and thank you for your friendship. xo Deborah

My daughter and son-in-law just gifted me
with this beautiful silk dressing gown.

Contentment: a book review

Monday, May 8, 2017

A picture of true contentment.

I've been reading a little book called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It's an old, old book, written by Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1646), a Puritan.

The word "Puritan" conjures up so many negative connotations in the modern mind. It's
unfortunate that the Puritans have been so maligned and misunderstood. Not only are they doctrinally sound and a balm to the soul in these relativistic times, full of depth and insight, but they demonstrate an unexpected compassion and understanding of the human soul. Moreover, their writings are very practical and applicable, even today. 

J.I. Packer says that the Puritans are the theological and devotional Redwoods of the Western world. No surface slush here. And, wow, do their words bring conviction.

 I'm also attracted to the Puritans simply because of the beauty and richness of the old words and descriptive language in their writings. Take just the first sentence from the book:

This text contains a very timely cordial to revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinking times. For the 'hour of temptation' has already come upon all the world to try the inhabitants of the earth. In particular, this is the day of Jacob's trouble in our own bowels.

Isn't that lovely? Don't you just want some of that cordial? And doesn't it seem perfectly relevant almost 400 years later?

Be forewarned; the Puritans can be wordy, too. If you can say something in 50 words, they love to say it in 500. 

 The book is short, though, only 144 pages. But it still takes some time to read through. I was highlighting and underlining and taking notes and then stopping to think about it all. I had to start skimming to finish the book by our book club meeting, which was actually pretty easy to do because of the way it's written.

Burroughs, like other Puritans I've read, writes in a very orderly and logical fashion. The Puritans were organized thinkers, fond of lists. Burroughs tells us what contentment is, and then follows with a list of points and several subpoints, all fleshed out with lots of detail and examples. And then he tells us what it is not, and then follows with another list. Here's how you get contentment, and then you get it broken down, point by point. 

You could say the Puritans were the original creators of the modern how-to, self-help books.

So if you need to skim, it's not hard at all. Just look for the next number in the list and read the first sentence. But I don't recommend this. There's so much meat here, you'll not want to miss anything. I'm definitely going to be re-reading this book. You could even use it as a devotional.

So what exactly does Burroughs say about contentment?

Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

It is a "rare jewel" because of course this kind of attitude can seem impossible to have, let alone maintain.

But he patiently and logically takes us through how we might obtain this rare jewel. He cautions us that this kind of contentment is an inside job, a deep work in the heart. So many of us can appear calm and content on the outside, but if we are full of anxieties on the inside, we know we are lacking this "sweet, inward, quiet frame of spirit."

He urges us to imitate Paul in saying, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." (Phil. 4:11.)

Much of the book seems geared to helping people who have lost material possessions or are poor in this world, but his advice can be applied to all areas in which we are struggling with discontent. When prayers are not answered. When things aren't going the way we want.

Here are just a few of the gems scattered throughout the book.

Be sure of your call to every business you go about. Though it is the least business, be sure of your call to it; then, whatever you meet with, you may quiet your heart with this: I know I am where God would have me. Nothing in the world will quiet the heart as much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me. 

If I followed this one piece of advice, how much more content might I be? How many times do I run around doing something on my own, without questioning whether or not I'm called to it?

If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.

There is so much wisdom in the first part of this admonition, but the second part particularly struck me in light of the nastiness surrounding the recent election. How much anxiety and fear and discontent have I suffered in the past year just by taking in too much news and social media?

Burroughs tell us that a contented heart is "opposed to distracting, heart-consuming cares." Such a person should "not allow the fear and noise of evil tidings to take such a hold in his soul as to make a division and struggling there."

A well-tempered spirit may enquire after things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares and fears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightly upon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusion into the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christ in his inward temple. (emphasis mine)

While Burroughs reminds us that "vexing and fretting" and "tumultuousness of spirit" are wrong, he assures us that we need not turn into stoic martyrs. There is a place to "unbosom" our hearts to God, and "communicate his (our) sad condition to our Christian friends" so that they may comfort us.

He also stresses that we can make all "lawful seeking for help . . . to be delivered out of our present afflictions." 

But sometimes we have to live in circumstances that we can't change. How do we experience that deep, soul-satisfying contentment then?

Like a wise and experienced guide, Burroughs leads us through, step by step, and shows us how. 

To be content as a result of some external thing is like warming a man's clothes by the fire. But to be content through an inward disposition of the soul is like the warmth that a man's clothes have from the natural heat of the body.

I have only scratched the surface of this little, but very rich book. If you'd like to read it yourself, you can find it on Amazon. Or read it online for free here. Beware, though, that it has been poorly proofread; you will find some typos throughout the book.

Anybody out there admire the Puritans as I do? Found help from their writings? Found other helpful books on this subject?

Bridal shower

Monday, May 1, 2017

I had hoped to do a book review for this post, but didn't get any reading done today. So, instead, here's some pics from the bridal shower my book club hosted this past weekend.

Prizes for the game winners . . .

Taken before we finished setting the tables. A special seat for the bride to be.

Chicken casseroles, salads, muffins . . . 

The groom's sister made this cake, including the edible daisies.

Another sister made these sweet favors for the guests.

I figured out what to do with the fabric I found. I cut it up and added it to an already-made banner from etsy. I tore strips to finish off the ends.

I didn't have anything in the robin's egg blue color in my house, so I added a few touches . . .

I switched out the pink "love" paper for some blue . . .

I even found a little cake stand and a teacup in my cupboard that matched.

This is the third bridal shower we've hosted in a year. We're getting to be quite a team!

We really do read books, too. Speaking of which . . . 
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