Positively Speaking

Many words perfectly convey their meanings – awkward for example, or meander. Onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically suggests the source of the sound it describes, like meow for what a cat says or tick tock for the sound of a clock. That’s one of things I love most about English – the variety of words out there to jazz up your language.

In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Vermont did a study on positivity in the English language. They took 10,000 words most frequently used in English and asked volunteers to rate them on 9 point scale from least happy to most happy, amassing 50 independent ratings per word.

The top 5 happiest words according to the study? Laughter, happiness, love, happy and laughed. Not so inspiring in my mind, although I wasn’t a participant in the study. When I think of words that make me smile, I think of, well, smile, sunshine, fascinating, new, friend, travel and books. I guess like most everything in life, what makes you happy is personal, and what makes you smile is what makes you special. 

Stuff-less New Year

By now, you should have digested all the Christmas goodies that were over consumed the past few months, kids may have broken or at least gotten bored with one of their new toys, and all the decorations have been put away for another year. There’s often a feeling of relief when the holidays are over and the thought probably passes through many people’s heads – why do we keep doing it every year?

I’m a big ‘less is more’ fan and my husband and I have a no-gift policy, preferring to travel for gift-giving occasions instead. I ran across a website called Unstuff before the holidays that makes a lot of sense to my edited living nature. The site offers nearly 250 different ‘gift’ ideas, but the ideas are experiential based than physical items. For example, you can give a Farmer Mystery Box which is actually a subscription to a local food producer who will provide a monthly food box. Gift certificates for cooking classes or a massage, an aerial yoga lesson or perhaps a lesson in woodworking would please someone on your gift list more than a sweater or CD.

Giving time or homemade gifts are also good choices, depending on if you have the time or the talent to offer a friend something they need. Practical isn’t always pretty, but sensible gifting is a 2014 goal that will make you, your intended receiver, and the earth a bit more liberated this year. 

2013 Music Picks

I know 2013 is over, but here are my music picks. I think it was worth the wait because one of the best releases didn’t come out until December.

David Bowie – The Next Day

Called the best comeback ever, I think this description is unfair. Some artists have had much longer breaks, and the man was quite prolific in the nineties. He just didn’t do much which made us take notice.  The Next Day is definitely a return to form. Maybe that’s why he referenced his classic album “Heroes” on the cover.  The album shows off Bowie’s range as a songwriter – which has always been his strong suit. His stylistic shape-shifting is often commented on, but it’s not just versatility. He has a knack for inhabiting a certain style – finding its strengths and moving on. Which is maybe why I have often preferred him for his songs over full-albums. Though the album is patchy as the best Bowie albums are, it has enough strong material, some of his best material, to counterbalance those patches. “The Stars are out Tonight”, “I’d rather be High”and “Dancing Out in Space” could all be on albums from his heyday while “Where are we now” is one of the most achingly beautiful pieces he’s written – a rare moment when the mask seems to have dropped – or maybe that’s just him toying with us.

My Bloody Valentine – m b v

This was a genuine comeback. My Bloody Valentine released the universally adored Loveless  in 1991. The album made feedback the main star. Atmosphere and mood were in. It seemed hard to top and after more than two decades, they almost did. m b v doesn’t suffer from mere comparison. It is in my opinion the greatest of comebacks – an album which made us forget twenty years had passed, an album which made drone drench dream pop still sound fresh. The first five tracks are as good if not better than much of the material on their classic sophomore release. But a couple of tracks at the end stretch the band’s sound too far, and after a powerful sprint from the gate, they seem out of  ideas. Yet the solid start makes this an excellent album.

TOY – Join the Dots

While we’re on the subject of sophomore albums and dream pop, I would have to say TOY is one of my favourite finds of the last few years. The band tend to have a more melodic sensibility than other bands who favour feedback. More than that there is real song writing craft beneath the effects. In a genre which can become quite monotonous – literally as in the overuse of drone  – TOY manages a strong emotional connection. These are not just songs to appreciate for their technical art but which will become part of private soundtracks around the world.

Sweet Baboo – Ships / Motorhome Songs

Two releases in one year and both just outstanding. Sweet Baboo – aka Stephen Black – is one of the best songwriters in the UK at the moment. He has all the elements which make a song work – personal touches, humour and an ear for melody. Plus his songs brim with a natural personality. He has a distinctiveness in his voice and delivery which is like no one else and yet doesn’t sound contrived. These two releases show that the song as an artform is far from dead.

New Year’s Legumes

Just to let you know, I’m writing this a little in advance, so I’m not entirely sure how I will have spent New Year’s Eve or how I will be spending New Year’s Day. With any luck, there is some snow, so maybe I’m out on my skis. No, I lie – I am sure of one thing –  I would have complained about the fireworks set off last night.

Something else I’m certain of is that I will be having lentils for lunch. I don’t follow many – or in fact any New Year’s traditions – apart from this. To be honest I don’t mind. I like lentils and some years I can prepare them as dahl, which is what we’re having this year.

I didn’t know about this tradition until moving to the Czech Republic, but it seems the tradition of eating legumes at this time of year is quite widespread. The reason is more symbolism than season. Lentils (and black eyed peas) resemble coins, so the belief is eating the foods should make you wealth. The tradition is popular in Italy and Hungary too. (I suspect another reason is that lentils keep well, so people would have had them to eat in the winter.)

Whatever you’re tucking into today, I hope 2014 is a good year.

Picture Sustainability

If you regularly read my blogs, you’ll already know I’m a fan of art, photography, eco-stuff and animals. The Prix Pictet prize is one I check out every year – it’s an annual photography competition that focuses on sustainability and the environment. They have a different theme every year, and this year it is consumption.

The shortlist was named in November and these photos will go on display at London’s Victoria and AlbertMuseum in May 2014, which is also when the winner will be announced. Checking out the photos on the website, there are some pretty powerful images. The competition was conceived and is supported by Swiss private bank Pictet & Cie who awards the winner not only a cash prize but also the chance to take a photography field trip to a part of the world where Pictet & Cie are supporting a sustainability project.

In the midst of the holiday season, when consumption seems to be at its worse, it’s a good time to reflect on what you need and what you think you need. Giving and sharing is a wonderful part of the holidays, and life in general, but I believe it’s also important to make sure in your giving you aren’t taking too much as well.