Make It Different

A tree bauble inherited from my mum – can’t wait to get my home all twinkly and festive!

Hello from a wet and windy West Yorkshire!

It’s exactly 6 weeks to Christmas as I write today and I’m now into festive planning mode – how about you? Have you finished your gift buying and wrapping whilst you work from home, or haven’t you begun to think about this year’s Christmas yet? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, having bought a couple of gifts, or stashed away a bottle or two and got some pigs in blankets in your freezer?! Are you feeling saddened that this year will be very different in a negative sense? Wherever you are on the Christmas prep spectrum, you could spend the next 6 weeks deliberately, and thoughtfully, making this year memorable in positive ways.

Cosy nights are here now – why not curl up in a blanket and do your Christmas planning?!

6 weeks is long enough to begin embedding some new habits and trying something we might not have before, or maybe resurrecting festive ideas from our childhoods or years gone by, with a modern twist. There’s plenty of time for baking – remember all the sourdough and home cooking the nation got excited about back in the spring and summer?! – trying your hand at making cards, or even making gifts for your family. More than ever this year local charities and community organisations are desperate for help in various ways: donations for food banks, clothing/uniform banks, telephone befriending, and also cash donations – so many ways to give a little to your neighbourhood without spending much money, if any.

Instead of physical gifts, especially if we can’t visit in person to deliver, how about virtual gifts of various types? You could adopt an animal, to support a wildlife charity or guide dog association, or buy gifts from places like the RNLI (close to my family’s hearts). Last year, I gave my nephew and his wife the gift of a tree dedication in a small forest near them in Wales, from the Woodland Trust. How about an old-fashioned, hand-written letter? If you have small children at home, suggest they do a drawing or their own little note, too, and send a big envelope, fat with lots of news and chat, to someone you know. Even if they’ve seen what you’re up to via social media, there’s still something exciting about receiving a proper letter in the post. There are some lovely writing papers available from the likes of Paperchase, amongst others.

Homemade gingerbread biscuits are always in demand in our family – dead easy to make

Even the most nervous of cooks could have a go at making edible gifts for those people you can actually visit. There are many sweets and chocolates that are simple and inexpensive to make, you’ll learn a new skill, and the recipient has a handmade gift – what’s not to enjoy?! Have a look on the BBC Good Food website for some inspiration! If you really feel that you can’t make your own gifts, then why not support small, independent businesses and artists, many of whom have struggled this year? With no fairs and festivals, their incomes have dropped massively, but so many are open to online ordering. Movements such as Just A Card are vital beacons for producers of lovely things; you can find them on Instagram for inspiration.

Fill your home with light on long, dark evenings

In six weeks we’ll have reached the shortest day of the year, too, and the days will slowly start to lengthen. We can still make the most of the reduced daylight by getting outside when we can, and then making our homes cosy with twinkling lights and candles as the light dips. Get a stew going in the oven or in your slow cooker, wrap up and put on your wellies or walking boots and brave the weather – once you start walking you’ll soon warm up. There’s something about being outside, even if it’s cold or drizzly, that feeds your soul immensely, especially if you have access to wide open spaces and woodland. I’m very blessed to live in a part of Yorkshire where there’s such an abundance of greenery right on my doorstep, I’ve really no excuse to get out there!


Foggy days outside are strange, but fascinating!

Five minutes from my house and I’m right in the middle of a gorgeous little wood

I hope I’ve given you some inspiration for the coming weeks, and for Christmas ideas. I’d love to hear what you’re going to do – let me know in the comments or share your ideas on my Facebook page – Yorkshire Wellies! Have a good week and enjoy snuggling up on these dark evenings!

Creative

The faintest, hopeful hint of a rainbow to encourage and inspire!

I opened a notebook recently to start looking for something in particular, and it fell open to a page where I’d written a couple of guiding words, partly on the back of a Psychologies’ InstaLive that Juliet did in July. She’d suggested working through some words that appealed to you, sitting with them for a while, and then choosing one that really sang to you. At the time, I’d chosen two because I really couldn’t decide between them, FAITH and CONTINUE, which resonated for many reasons, not just from a creative point of view. I wrote a post about these words in July and, having just re-read it, it’s still true and pertinent now, maybe more so as we’re heading into another lockdown: it’s familiar territory now, and we may feel tempted to slip back into less helpful habits, and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, or it’s because it’s cold and dark. Holding onto some sort of faith (whether for you it’s of the religious or spiritual kind, or faith in your abilities), and trying to continue with any sort of routine, will help to keep our minds positively occupied, even when it’s cold and wet outside, or we can’t do our usual activities.

It was serendipity that I saw these words again, as some parts of life currently feel a bit chaotic. We’ve had joiners in to fit new wardrobes and the upheaval has been dreadful, with LOTS of dejunking and tidying up still to do! I look at all the mess and my heart sinks, but I can choose to have faith and know that as I continue our home will become a real sanctuary, instead of feeling like a sort of prison of clutter – physically and mentally (and give my husband the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’!).

Messy hallway made even messier with new wardrobe components!

I know from experience that living in a state of such disarray is not good for one’s mental health, and not at all conducive to creativity – maybe this contributes to the mental blocks I have around creativity. My mind’s always been filled with fantastical images of things I want to create, but they’re often stymied by the darker, less helpful stuff. Back in July, as I was thinking about these guiding words, I was probably trying too hard to make art, write, and be creative. I think I was making it into another chore to do, trying to force creativity instead of simply sitting with ideas as and when they arrived, and then allowing them to breathe into life. Maybe creativity is about a natural birth, instead of a Frankenstein’s monster of artificiality?

Don’t like this one bit, definitely trying too hard and not in the flow!

Happier with this one, felt more ‘with it’ as the brush strokes swept across the paper

Maybe, too, not allowing myself to be creative because of that other monster, Perfectionism, has contributed to chronic anxiety and depression? A research article by Leon Brenner notes that those with depression experience an improvement in their symptoms when they regularly participate in creative activities, as shown in previous research. All of us can vouch for this anecdotally, too. Maybe more importantly, from my point of view, he claims that the areas of the brain correlated with creativity and depression are linked to each other, and that a lack of creativity may actually trigger depression. It seems that when there is a deficit in one of these areas, then there is a deficit in the other, and vice versa, a sort of balance. No wonder, then, that being creative lifts our mood significantly: if we are creative we feel measurably better, and when we’re better we feel much so more creative! I find this totally fascinating, and could explain a lot about my own experiences, relating to both creativity and mental health – I feel more research coming, with a definite researcher bias!

This week could be a good time for us to begin exploring some creativity, to research for the weeks ahead, as we fast approach a second lockdown in England. With shorter days, less chance of pleasant weather for walking or gardening, and very little to do outside of work or school, maybe we could put firm plans in place to pre-empt any lowering of our moods. Shops shut? You can still order art supplies online like my local shop offers, browse new cooking ideas via sites like BBC Good Food or Delicious magazine, or Jamie Oliver (and get your food shopping delivered, of course!). You could look at Instagram accounts (including mine!) for many creative ideas. Can’t get to the library? There is a myriad of online book clubs, groups, and bookshops you can use, and you can even borrow e-books from your library via the Libby app. There are any number of yoga, pilates, dance, and sport videos online to keep you physically creative, too. If you don’t feel that you are creative, or don’t fancy any of these suggestions, ask any children in the vicinity – they’re often an excellent source of creative inspiration and you’ll be able to surgically remove them from their tech for a while – win/win!!

Planning in some sort of creativity is a good habit to make for yourself, especially now, and especially at this time of year. Habits can take around six weeks to start becoming embedded; the neurons in your brain need at least that length of time to make the ‘grooves’ of their pathways deep enough for your actions and thoughts to become familiar. So I invite you to take advantage of this second lockdown and the weeks afterwards (about 6 weeks in total) to begin to encourage your creativity – by Christmas you could have at least one new skill under your belt! My sister suggested I could watch The Home Edit on Netflix, or follow them on Instagram, which I’m going to try – apparently they’re a giggle but very effective! I’m hoping that this will inspire me to finally get my house turned back into a properly organised and cosy home – this will be my lockdown project this time and it could get me back into tidier housework habits. It’s down in black and white now, so I’m committed to making it happen (hoping that the folks in my accountability groups are reading this…!)!

It might not be this fast, but watch out for a future blog post when I ‘edit’ my home!

I’m not suggesting that you try every new hobby you come across on Pinterest or Instagram (unless that’s what you fancy, of course!), BUT you could plan a little creativity into lockdown and make it yours. A new recipe that you and the children have cracked together; painting an early Christmas card to post abroad; research how to prune that straggly apple tree in your garden; encourage and help your children to research something that fascinates them and then tell the rest of the family or their class.

I’d love to hear how you get on, let me know in the comments here, over on my Instagram (including your pics!), or on my shiny new Facebook page. Stay safe, and take care of yourself – the WHOLE you – see you soon!

Wobbles, WOW Wednesday, and Weekends

More time to cook at the weekend: Mediterranean roast veg and salmon, with buttered Pink Fir potatoes – delicious!

Hello, folks, how’s your week been? Did you all benefit from the extra hour last night?!

It’s been a busy week all round, and only got the time to breathe and write this afternoon/evening (Sunday). I’m in the third week of a new job, still finding my feet and feeling like the new girl, and this week has been hectic. Friday was the busiest by far, with staff off work ill or on leave and hardly any of us to man the ‘phones, which barely let up all afternoon! I was also feeling anxious about what hours I was scheduled to work this coming week as it’s half term here, and hadn’t been able to catch my line manager to organise. By the time I got home, I was really wound up and having a massive wobble, wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and whether I should just pack it in and accept that it’s too stressful for me. However, once I was in my pj’s and had relaxed, I felt a bit more positive about it all. Maybe it is too stressful for me and maybe I won’t last, but I can also have a more positive outlook, accept that I’m only 3 weeks into a new job, I can give it more time, and learn to ask for help! Wobbles don’t have to mean that your limbic brain is allowed free rein to bring you down completely: you can have that wobble and know that it’s probably based in fear or tiredness somewhere, and that it will pass shortly.

One thing I don’t often need help for is cooking, and I’m glad I had more time for it this weekend. I’m very grateful to come from a family where both my parents had a love of good food, were very creative in the kitchen, and taught us how to cook at an early age. They had both travelled, my dad in particular as he was in the Merchant Navy, and we ate truly international cuisine before it was usual here in the UK. I’ve had a spell of not eating well until recently, and it’s definitely affected my health negatively – you really are what you eat! However, I’m pulling myself out of it now, and am getting back to eating well more often (although the littlies are now demanding noodles in cups-style instant meals on the days I work!!). Jana Shirley runs a fab programme aimed at women, which guides and supports you to make permanent, healthy changes to your eating patterns and overall lifestyle, without it feeling like a slog, or like every other programme, well worth a look (link here).

You can’t see them all, but there are 5 veggies in the filling, sweet & regular spuds in the mash, and broccoli to finish – veggie heaven!

At this time of year, with clocks going back and the nights drawing in, we’re naturally drawn to comfort food, and larger quantities of stodge. However, as we’re getting less daylight, maybe now is the time for loads more veg to up our vitamin and mineral intake, and possibly act as a little buffer against the lowering of our moods that can happen during the darker, colder months. I’m sure you all know wrinkles for adding extra veg to your meals, and I don’t want to come across as bossy, but it’s so easy to do and well worth the extra peeling and chopping! I love seeing a plateful of riotous colour: the bright green of broccoli and kale, the rich, deep purple of red cabbage, sunny orange carrots, and zingy red tomatoes and peppers. Even when you’re at your worst, it feels like eating a rainbow, and you can almost feel the goodness zinging its way through your body!

Bright vegetables ready to roast, could just dive right in!

Our weekend at home has also consisted of furniture moving and dejunking on a large scale, as we’re having joiners in this week to install new fitted wardrobes. I’ve known what date they were coming for a while, but we’re still lastminute-dot-com in emptying the rooms for them to work!

Old wardrobes demolished, 24 years old and still quite sturdy really!
What an amazing brain she has!!
My daughter’s interpretation of some of my art work

As we cleared the first room, my daughter’s creative handiwork was revealed on the walls and old bookcase; in a way it’s a crime to get rid of and paint over it, but I took photos to remind us years down the line. She doesn’t hold back with her creativity, and I’m proud of that ability – need to take a leaf out of her book, I think!

Last, but definitely not least, WOW Wednesday had its second real life meeting this week, and it was so good to see some of the others whom I’ve not seen since March! We even had cake, as Lynda made a delicious date and ginger one to share with us all. WOW Wednesday has really been the making of me: it’s given me the confidence to start doing things I’d given up on due to good old comparisonitis, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. The amazing people who comprise WOW are worth their weight in gold, and have a fabulous range of experience and skills. It was lovely to have a gentleman this week in the shape of Angela’s husband Nigel, who’s a brilliant artist – check out his work on Instagram! It’s great to be part of such a diverse group of lovely people: we learn from one another, we accidentally network, share new resources and ideas, and show off each other’s achievements.

As we head towards the end of October, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are close but likely to be damp squibs compared to last year. We could moan about the loss of communal bonfires and parties, or we could create a special night or two in our own homes, and deliberately make it different, make it stand out for positive reasons. If you’ve never done it, you could have a go at pumpkin carving and stick some tea lights inside, or hollow one out for a food or floral display. Make some chocolate buns, and decorate with orange buttercream and chocolate sticks to represent a bonfire. Maybe you could find a creepy film and watch it with the lights off, curtains drawn, and loads of lighted candles to add to the spooky atmosphere! Whatever you do, enjoy the difference instead of yearning for what’s not happening – take some photos and tag me on Instagram to share, if you like!

Overflow

Have you ever watched a sink or bath overflow? How did you feel watching the surface tension of the water break as the water crept or gushed through the overflow pipe or over the edge and onto the floor? It fascinating to watch, especially if the tap was on slowly, so that the water level creeps up gradually, unnoticeably, until all of a sudden it’s spilling over the edge. It’s insidious, and if you walk away from a slowly filling bath, thinking you have plenty of time before it’s full, the filling takes you unaware until it’s suddenly done, and more so, and the water’s cascading over the edge, leaving you with lots of mopping up.

A tap that’s on full seems to demand closer attention: we know it’s going to fill quicker, so we pay more attention, ready to turn off the tap when the washing up bowl’s full, but sometimes we’re not quick enough and it still overflows. Either way, the container fills to the brim, and once it’s overflowing we often panic, rushing to turn off the water and clear up the mess (like when my son ‘forgot’ about his bath running until we saw water dripping through the kitchen ceiling!). Maybe that spilled water has just dampened something, or perhaps it’s caused serious, irreparable damage that will cost a lot to repair.

My washing up, still unfinished today!

Our minds, bodies, and lives are very much like that bath or washing up bowl, being filled up with the water of people and situations, and just as prone to overflowing, whether it creeps or gushes. The overflow might not be a big deal, just a little spill to clear up, but all too often the metaphorical water-damage can cause serious problems. I think the trick is to pay close attention to those ‘filler-uppers’ and the speed with which our baths get full; and also consider how hot or cold the water. Like Goldilocks in the fairy tale, we each have a water temperature that’s just right. We don’t want to be in a tub of water that’s too full or empty, too hot or cold. As our life baths fill, maybe we could also pay attention to the temperature, so that we can adjust it.

What could this look like for you? Maybe the cold things are the rational, physical – connected with your work, money in the bank, fixing the car, meetings you need to attend. The hot things, the more emotional stuff, might include the pressure you feel under at work, the drama at home created by your teenage child, the stress involved when caring for older, sick relatives as well as your partner and children, maybe your long-standing mental health issues. Each of these physical and internal bath-fillers has a different rate at which they flow, some are a little but constant trickle, others gush alarmingly but for just a minute or two.

Not quite a tap overflowing, but the relentless rain had a similar effect in my poor garden

If your bath of life feels ‘wrong’ for you, could you consider what’s filling it, or the rate of flow? Can you find ways to turn off the tap so that you can get in and actually enjoy the bath instead of just being anxious about the water level? Can someone else help to turn off the tap or reduce the flow? What could this look like practically instead of my metaphors? Maybe the long hours in your job are some of the ‘gushers’, and you could reduce them, or at least pause in the middle of the day for a proper lunch break (imagine this as turning off the tap completely; even if you have to turn it on full blast later, at least there’s been a break long enough for you to draw breath). That slower flow of caring for your poorly mum is still inexorably filling the bath despite the slower speed: can someone watch the bath for you for a while? In real life, this might be asking for or accepting help from others in that caring role so you don’t have to constantly watch the bath (or help your mum).

We need to be able to enjoy the bath we’re pouring, and life isn’t about watching it all anxiously and clearing up the spills afterwards. We need to be in the bath, surrounded by all the warm water, feeling the bubbles, and maybe also a bit of grit in the bottom, and not thinking about what we can’t control about the bath. Yes, the water will cool down, and we’ll get wrinkled the longer we’re in it, but we can pour out the cold water and add more warm, and who cares about a few wrinkles?! It’s fascinating to watch your fingers and toes get squashy and wrinkled – it shows you’ve been in your bathwater a long time, enjoying it instead of just watching, anxiously, from the outside.

So I invite you to be mindful of the things filling up your bath of life that you can control a little, get into the water, and really be part of it instead of being a spectator. You could literally run a bath for yourself and imagine the amazing parts of your life going into the tub along with that gorgeous bubble bath that you’ve been saving for a special occasion. There’s a sort of ritual in filling the bath, adding essential oils or bubble bath, getting your towel/clean clothes ready, that’s calming and even necessary. Think of the preparation as a form of mindfulness, a slight untangling of the thoughts in your mind: focus on the sound of the water running, the feel of soft towels, or listening to the sounds of the radio or podcast you’ve chosen. Get into the water, perhaps play some music, and actually feel the water and bubbles, think of them as the things you love and enjoy, and try to let anything else wash off as you rinse off the bubbles. Everything can be suspended for now. Listen to the music you’ve chosen. Try to slow down your breathing and feel the water swirling gently around you. Maybe you can smell the fragrance of the bubble bath in the steam.

Once you’ve done, as the water drains out and you rinse the bath, maybe you could imagine some of the stressors going down the plughole with the water, and you can let them go for now. Stand back and take stock of the empty bath and decide how you want to control the metaphorical filling up in the future. Keep in mind the speed at which it can happen, especially if you take your eye off it, and try to build in your own little mechanisms to prevent overflows. Take regular ‘baths’ to immerse yourself in the flow of your life, let yourself get wrinkled as you have a soak, enjoy the bubbles and the silly stuff, top up the cooling water when you need to, and really listen to the music!

Have a good week, and do let me know how you get on if you try this for yourself!

Unfinished Symphony

Still more to do on this little painting…

This week, I’ve realised how many incomplete jobs I have waiting for me, far too many to count!! From not-put-away or not-sorted-for-the-charity-shop clothes, financial tasks, cleaning jobs, DIY things, the list feels endless. On top of all those are the things I want to do, all the creative and artistic stuff, which inevitably end up at the bottom of the pile, never to be seen/done for ages, or done in a rush if I’ve a deadline to meet! Where do I even start?! Do you have weeks like this, or (like me) does life feel like an endless list of unfinished chores? Fear not, even the most disorganised of us (even me!!) can get on top of all this chaos!

Sometimes I look at my home and life, and despair that they will ever be something like organised and tidy, so I sink even deeper into anxiety and depression, can’t tackle anything, and then things get even worse, very vicious circle. I know I’m at the bottom of it at the moment as I look around our downstairs rooms, which are open plan so I can see it all at once – every single surface is covered with clutter! However, even when I feel such despair, I can sometimes still force myself into starting the process of clearing up, even if I don’t believe it will get better. There have been times when I’m actually in tears whilst I’m working, feeling so ill and past it that I’m lucky to not have been shipped off to the ‘funny farm’!

Totally unedited photo of my sofa, full of all the books I’m reading, plus other clutter!!

So where do I start, will I ever get tidy, will I feel better, I hear you ask, whilst tutting at the photo above…? Or are you thinking wow, someone as bad as me…? Trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg, definitely not sharing any further photos until the place is much better!! There IS hope, and things DO get better, even when you have mental ill-health issues, when it’s all been left so long you don’t even know where to start, or simply when you’re part of a busy household and it’s ‘normal’ mess and clutter. I know it’s been said before by better people than I, and it sounds very trite, but you need to think of it as eating the proverbial elephant – a little bit at a time.

Have a quick look at all that mess critically, even it’s hard to do, and decide which is the most important. Have you got clean pots and pans, and a clear space to cook and eat? No? Then that might be a good place to start, even if it’s just enough for one meal. You could do more after that meal and clear all your washing up. Maybe the next morning clear your entire table, even if it takes all of that morning (bites of the elephant, remember?!). Trust me, I’ve been there soooo many times, and I really want to be at the point where my home and life is relatively organised and tidy, and I need to do it for my mental state and so that my poor children have a cosy home where they can find their own belongings!

Even if you’re feeling terribly overwhelmed, and whether you’re doing it alone or with help, you can pace yourself whilst neither giving up nor working yourself into an absolute state; again, trust me when I say I’ve been in both of those places! If that table clearing finished you off tonight, then stop, but be firm, have a word with yourself, and complete it in the morning. Then clear the last bits, clean your table, and finish it off however you’d imagined it: clean tablecloth, jug of greenery or flowers, candles, set for the next meal, or whatever. You could take a photo as a reminder that you CAN do these things, even when you’re not feeling well; it could act as an incentive if you feel that you can’t do anything.

A ‘before’ photo of my table a few months ago, and this was after I’d started – dreadful!!
And after, polished and twinkly lights on!

I feel very exposed putting these photos in here, but I want to show you all that however bad things get, you can get yourself out of the mess, whether it’s literal as in the photos above, or other aspects of your life. They can take a long time to tackle and change, and a lot of effort, and there will be plenty of occasions that you really can’t do anything to help yourself, and you’ll be beating yourself up about every blooming thing you get ‘wrong’…and so on, and so on… Clearing my table above took most of one day, and there were loads of clothes on the chairs as well; I kept breaking off to do other things, and my heart sank every time I came back to table, feeling like it was endless, like the Aegean stables that Hercules could never get clean. However, I did get it tidy and clean, and it stayed that way for some time, before the clutter began to creep back. Now it’s worse than the first photo above, so I am dealing with it this weekend, so that we can sit and enjoy our food without all the clutter staring at us accusingly!! I have so many creative ideas bursting to get out of my head, and onto paper or other media, that I have to create space for myself to do them, so clearing the table is vital for my creative endeavours as well as for us as a family.

So, I’ve been brave and vulnerable enough to share my mess (house and head!) with you, in an attempt to show that you can overcome and finish things, and going public might help to keep me accountable to myself. How about you? Can you share your unfinished work with me? Have you got a story to tell, a triumph, or some hints and tips for the chronically unfinished and untidy?! I’d love to hear your stories – post a comment, message me here or on Instagram, or pop over to my shiny new Facebook page and talk to me.

Have a great weekend, and I hope that I might have inspired you to finish just one of your unfinished symphonies! xx

Perfectly Ordinary

Jewel-bright hydrangeas at Thorp Perrow

You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s still summer, judging by the photograph above of hydrangeas still in full bloom, but if you look closer you might see the subtle signs of the start of decay. We marvel at the riotous colours of this season – deep green, mustard yellow, burnt orange, crimson, rich chestnut brown – and the rich, earthy smells, and we want them to linger; we want to soak up the warm autumn sun and wander endlessly through piles of crisp leaves. But Nature is never paused, and those crisp leaves will turn to soggy mulch after a few good downpours, the temperature will drop, and those rich hues will inevitably fade to leave the countryside a bit greyer. Once this crisp, clear, colourful part of autumn passes, we often feel sad that another year is drawing to an end and we want to hang on to it, we try to ignore the change and decay and focus on more uplifting thoughts, or are impatient for the next season. That’s totally understandable, and normal, but what if we looked at this from another perspective?

We could embrace the inevitable change and decline, accept the impermanence of nature (and indeed life), and be inquisitive about it all. After all, even though the flowers and leaves are dead and gone, their decay has fed the earth ready for next spring and there are still plenty of marvels around during later autumn and winter. The Japanese philosophy of ‘wabi sabi’ centres on an acceptance of the transient and unpredictable nature of life, and adopting the wisdom to live an imperfect life. It’s rooted in ancient Zen Buddhism and the tea ceremony which prizes not perfection, but imperfection, handmade tea bowls that are uneven in shape, with cracked glazes or discolouration. This isn’t about being gloomy, or not enjoying life; it’s not wanting to preserve that perfect autumn day with nothing to mar it. It’s about accepting that autumn and winter happen as regularly as spring and summer, birth and death carry equal weight, and that life has these balances. It’s not just about creating the picture-perfect life, of copying the sort of rustic simplicity we see on Instagram or glossy home magazines. We could invite a little ‘wabi sabi’ into our lives by slowing down a little, embracing the cycle of seasons, and enjoying the pleasure and simplicity of everyday life, without necessarily wanting to change or perfect it. Accept life for what it is NOW, don’t keep looking for some ideal that doesn’t exist, or you might miss the beauty in the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary.

The beauty of the ordinary
A mass of ivy hiding a tree trunk, gloriously messy

I have to admit to spending some time trying to get the ‘perfect’ pictures on our trip to Thorp Perrow this weekend, and arranging my haul of leaves and chestnuts into Insta-worthy photographs, but I did also visually drink in the atmosphere of the place, and breathe in the rich, musty aromas of the change of the season. In the West, we’ve lost the knack of simply accepting life as it is: we don’t often see the beauty in a messy house or garden; we try to clean up and prettify the mud and rust instead of being fascinated by their chemistry. Richard Powell, author of “Wabi Sabi Simple“, says, “accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality, is something not unlike freedom.”

Moss and lichen clothing a weathered statue

That said, I’m not advocating for either ignoring your housework or monastic minimalism, but how about accepting the parts of your life and surroundings that aren’t perfect? Indeed, you could embrace the dents in your old furniture rather than polishing them to smooth perfection. They’re evidence of life in action – maybe you remember when you dropped the plate that made that dent, or the people who were around the table that day? Perhaps you could enjoy the few weeds in your lawn or path, and marvel at their tenacity in pushing through the soil and paving slabs, instead of automatically reaching for the weedkiller. There is something compelling about observing quite ordinary things; spend long enough doing it and you do become fascinated with them. When one of my sons was about 4, he was sitting on the doorstep deeply engrossed in something. I sat beside him to see what had caught his attention, and it was ‘just’ a woodlouse, apparently giving birth to baby woodlice. It was very ordinary but fascinating at the same time, and he sat there, watching, until the whole family had trundled off. On remembering this recently, I researched it and discovered that woodlice eggs hatch inside the mother, in a pouch similar to a kangaroo, where they mature until they’re ready to be ‘born’!

Patterns of decay

All this deep thinking isn’t to suggest that we sit around waiting for the inevitability of death, or live in drab surroundings because we don’t want to tamper with things – that’s far too depressing and we want to enjoy and immerse ourselves in our lives! There’s something joyous about observing natural changes and decline, without letting yourself become negative about those changes. You can live your life in riotous colour, with the loudest of music and friends, at the same time as being appreciative of the fact that you might not be able to do those things with the same vim and vigour at 80 as you did at 40. I simply invite you to notice those things which we often ignore. Who knows, that noticing and acceptance might add much greater meaning to your enjoyment of the louder, brighter, newer, and cleaner?!

This week, I challenge you to open your eyes a little to take in more of the mundane and imperfect, to give it more attention, and marvel in it. Let me know if you try it, and what you discover or experience!

Anna xx

Autumn beauty

Balance

Drinking in the beautiful autumn sunshine

After a shaky start to last week (being rear-ended by another car, insurance ‘phone calls, sorting my car to the garage, trip to A&E to record whiplash etc…), things just had to get better, and so they did. The 13 year old finally re-started school, the weather continued to be glorious, I had happy post from Karen (beautiful earrings that I’d bought) and Andrea (surprise book in the post), and managed to get out for TWO decent walks this weekend!! Oh, and said 13 year old’s football team won their match on Sunday! Now, I’m aware this week may go totally pear-shaped to compensate, but I’m hanging on to these blessings for now, in case I need to remember them to balance out any lesser days.

Beautiful hand made ceramic earrings by Karen Howarth

Maybe balance is what we could be striving for, instead of aiming for heady highs and dreading valley-deep low times, especially when our lives are subject to such uncertainty at the moment. Gentle ups and downs in life may be easier to flow with, and certainly they’re gentler on the mind and body than ecstatic lifts and catastrophic dips in my experience. I cope much better with moderate waves, rather than tsunamis of emotion and experience, definitely much better for my mental health which has been very rocky at times, to say the least! That said, the sort of natural ecstasy you sometimes experience in nature just can’t be beaten: that overwhelming bliss you feel in your special place, be it woodland, a wide open field, up a mountain, or at the coast. I find that if I take the time to drink in that experience, to breathe in (literally and metaphorically) the sights, sounds and smells, rather than rushing the day, then it’s easier for me to ‘come down’ from the experience, and not crash and feel down or saddened that’s it’s at an end. Laura, a mindful yoga teacher and passionate advocate for getting outside as often as possible, started a new class today, incorporating a short walk and some mindful time in one of our many local woodland areas. The rain didn’t detract from the pleasure of consciously walking through the woods, I think it even added an extra element – the pattering of raindrops through the leaves is incredibly soothing on a very deep level. For once, I didn’t take photographs (which I always do outside), but took the opportunity to simply be, to feel and hear my surroundings – highly recommend it, especially if you’re feeling out of sorts or unbalanced in some way.

A riot of brambles framing Castle Hill

As I was looking through previous photographs, and deciding which to publish here, I noticed how many of my shots are balanced in different ways. There might be balance in the amount of sky versus greenery, trees versus fields, coastline versus sea, colour versus shade. There’s often a bit of variation – I seldom plan the ‘perfect’ shot – but there’s something about a shot with even amounts of light and dark, or using the ‘rule of thirds’, that feels and looks ‘right’ to me. Sometimes it’s not obvious why a shot works, I’m unsure quite where the balance is, but you just have a gut feeling that it’s ‘right’.

WW2 anti-aircraft artillery gun posts near Castle Hill

Balance is also part of my yoga classes with Laura, and pilates with Jana: literally balancing on one leg, doing exercises on each side of the body to work muscles equally, and breathing deeply to balance your mind. And we all know about balanced eating, of course, even if we don’t always choose to do it! How about balanced working? That work/life balance that’s been the talk of recent years? Maybe you got yours to the right level for you and your family, and then Covid has blown it all out of the water. Has working from home blurred the lines between work and family too much, have you found yourself working until silly o’clock for your paid job because you had to help your children with online schooling, or become drawn into domestic tasks instead of the paid work you really needed to do? It’s become much harder for some of us to balance all these demands, because we’re at home so much, there are few demarcation lines between what’s paid work, and what’s home and family time. And just as we saw those compartments becoming clearer again our part of Yorkshire has had a tighter lockdown imposed, and now government tells us we need to return to working from home again – talk about becoming unbalanced!

Maybe these occasions are opportunities to breathe deeply and practise standing on one leg (literally if you fancy it!) before we get to that panicked stage where our minds and bodies have gone past the point of balance. There’s a distinct imbalance in our social connections right now, due to the restrictions we’re living under, leading many people to experience prolonged and severe loneliness for the first time in their lives. My friend Wendy, a respected psychotherapist, social worker, and wellness expert, talks about loneliness on her blog, even going so far as to describe it as “one of the least understood consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic.” Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club, very aptly describes these momentous times as a roller coaster in her current blog post, and talks about how to keep connected in different ways, as we can’t currently do things the same way as we were doing six months ago. She encourages us to look for other means of connectivity: Zoom calls, WhatsApp or Messenger chat groups, various social media groups and pages. I feel that this goes some way to address the imbalances we’re currently experiencing due to Covid, the lack of real, face-to-face contact with anyone: from the doctor (telephone appointments only) to my part-time job (internal exams being done differently, therefore no invigilation work), friends’ soirĂ©es cancelled (can’t go to someone’s house at the moment) to WOW meetings via Zoom (closed venue and some members shielding). As many of us are struggling with various aspects of our unbalanced lives, and we’re living with a high degree of uncertainty regarding the future, maybe we could also see this moment as a rebalancing in itself. Perhaps we’d become so used to rushing around every day, to filling every minute to the brim and seldom being still, that this sudden pause is the swing of the pendulum, and instead of feeling panic we could accept some of the space to steady our personal see-saws.

I wonder what weights you could identify and shift from one side of your scales to the other? Could you step outside into your garden for 10 minutes to have a break from your computer screen every hour or so, to balance all that artificial light with some natural daylight? Or maybe tweak some of your work hours so that you can have half an hour with your children when they come home from school? Perhaps you feel like getting up from the kitchen table-cum-desk at lunchtime, and having a kitchen disco to bring some feeling back into your legs?! We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be part of something natural, to balance being inside a modern ‘cave’ with getting outside and letting our inner caveman or woman feel the sun and rain on our skin, to re-set our systems and feel refreshed.

So my first ever challenge to anyone reading is to note where you feel your life may not be balanced for you (ignore that pesky comparisonitis!), and try one or two tiny ways of addressing that deficit. I’d love to know how you get on!

Vibrant purples at the coast

New Season, New Things

Blue skies and fairies dancing amongst the grass

We’re half way through September already, how did that happen?! The children are back at school, although it’s very different from this time last year, and the days are shortening a little bit now. It still feels like summer, especially with the warm, sunny weather we’ve had this week, but there’s that faint, exciting hint of autumn not far away: slightly fresher mornings, the smell of vegetation just on the edge between ripeness and decay, the way light and sound travel differently. I’ve dug out my extra fairy lights, checking whether they need new batteries, ready for darker tea times, and the wood burner will be cleaned out and laid this week in preparation for those cooler days when you need something cosy.

Before I’d even heard of hygge, I’ve always loved the idea of snuggling into a cosy blanket, candles lit, with a cuppa (or glass of wine!) and a good book or film, after a long walk outside in the crisp, autumn sunshine. It’s that consciousness with which you enjoy those little bright points, focussing on the gentle rituals of making coffee or tea, going around the room and lighting each candle in turn to brighten the gloom of a winter afternoon, that is at the heart of hygge. I think most Northern countries have such rituals, even if we don’t all have names for them.

How do you feel about the end of the summer, the prospect of an Indian summer before really autumnal weather arrives? Do you relish those warm, sunny days (as I do), still no jacket needed and being able to lie on the grass, soaking up the liquid gold of the sunshine through every pore? We had a walk along the canal late yesterday afternoon, calling for a beer at Zapato‘s pop up bar. Sitting on the warm grass, eyes closed and head up to the sun, was the best way to end a Sunday.

Warm September sun and a cold beer – lovely!

There’s much to love about the coming autumn, but this little pocket of almost-summer is special. The sun’s still strong enough to colour your skin and ripen the apples, and even to develop the cyanotype prints I’ve dabbled with for the first time this week. I’ve not tried this art form before, but I’m hooked! It’s a real antidote to the instant images I made using my ‘phone this weekend. There’s something mindful and magical about this way of creating an image, it’s almost alchemy. You need to be careful about the placement of your objects on the paper, and yet quick enough that the process doesn’t begin before you’re ready, and (unlike a mobile ‘phone photograph that’s instantly available) the waiting and curiosity to see the finished image is a great reminder of how to be patient. I even hid the images and rinsed them without looking until they were done because I wanted the magic and mystery to last that extra minute or two! Well worth the wait, though! The first couple weren’t what I expected, so I changed how I’d done them to produce a third – progress not perfection, as Deborah and Juliet say!

From this…
…to this…
…and, finally, this!

We know that time progresses, and that life itself isn’t perfect – far from it! – but these little pockets in late summer/early autumn are given to us to savour. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of easing us and herself into the next season, rather than a brutal downhill slalom. Why not enjoy a little of it for yourself this week, don’t rush back into work/school/old habits too fast? Let me know in the comments if you decide to try something new for this new season! 🙂

Creative Technology

Hello again, September is gathering speed now: my children will be back at school shortly, after 6 months of being away, and life will look different once more, not sure where we’re headed but it will be an interesting trip and I’m curious to see where we end up!

Just before the tower became really precarious!
Our local version of Monopoly – do you know any of these places?

My daughter’s been a bit obsessed with Monopoly and Jenga this week, which is very timely as I’m trying to reduce screen time for all of us, and playing games like these requires you to think more. My friend, Wendy, has published a very apt blog post on the subject of our interactions with electronic technology (here), inviting us to scrutinise our use of it, and suggesting that we could have a gentle detox from time to time. Goodness knows, we’ve used technology increasingly during the last 6 months (out of necessity mostly), and it may be a good thing to wind it in a little bit where we can to give ourselves a breather.

That said, if it wasn’t for technology I wouldn’t have been able to take part in some online coaching sessions recently, with their related social media groups and individuals. Nicola Rae-Wickham, of A Life More Inspired, and Andrea Callanan work in very different ways to encourage you to explore your life and shape it differently, and they’ve both taken advantage of technology to re-direct their businesses during these times when face-to-face seminars and workshops couldn’t take place. The Impact Club is another amazing (and local!) group, which is very friendly as well as professional, run by Deborah Ogden who helps people to to build their personal brand. Likewise, Psychologies magazine has used this period to launch some similar programmes (see here), with online video resources and social media support/accountability groups. Susan Yeates, of Magent Sky and the 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge, has also launched some online printmaking and art courses which you can access at your leisure. It feels incongruous and counter-intuitive to sit at a computer screen to take part in these courses, particularly creative ones, but I’m justifying it because the video content is always available for you whenever you have the time, so I think it’s a good alternative to attending a live class in an actual venue – remember those?! I find that, as I can go back to videos and other resources when I need to, I don’t feel pressured to remember everything or write it down; I can go away from it all, use the ideas to create something, and go back if I forget the brief. When you’re not feeling anxious about remembering ‘everything’, you enjoy the activity so much more, and really immerse yourself in it. Sometimes I saturate my senses with the resources – videos, groups, Pinterest, etc. – then leave it for a day or two, so that the visual information can percolate into my head and heart. I find that if I then surround myself with art or writing materials, and just sit with the mental afterburn of the images, the ideas seem to come tumbling out, and sometimes I can’t keep up!

Using technology this way means has also enabled me to collaborate with a local graphic design firm, Red Crest Studios, who’ve been great to work with, and I now have a shiny new logo for my brand!! You’ll see it popping up here and there soon, especially on new creative products and ventures. I’m starting work on designs for Christmas cards and other ideas (hint, hint!), and it will be exciting to see my logo as part of the products!

Little teaser of my new logo – all will be revealed soon!

Christmas may seem far away to most of you, but September has always been my new year or new start, as you know, and I’ve always begun Christmas planning at this time of year. It’s a family thing, as I remember my mum keeping a journal of sorts from year to year, detailing what she bought and made, meal plans, etc., they’re a fascinating bit of social history from my childhood! When my older children were young, we had very little money, so it was even more important to start preparing early: there was time to save those few pounds every week towards gifts and food treats without noticing it too much. Nowadays, technology tends to supplant a lot of this planning for many of us (there are even Christmas planning apps now!), but I find that ‘old school’ technology (aka some lush notebooks and pens!) is the best antidote to rushing and technology for me. It’s a time when I can indulge my stationery habit (not that I ‘need’ new notebooks, but then ‘need’ is a very subjective term…!), find some lovely pens, a pencil and ruler, and have a quiet, mindful spell of planning and writing, choosing my colour key for the year, and thinking about the people for whom I’m planning – remembering their interests, who likes what food, and often designing a unique and intimate card.

An unashamedly unseasonal photo from last year – except for the plaque and peg dolls everything designed and made by me

So, back to technology to round up: where do you sit with it, are you ok with the amount/quality of time it takes up for you, do you make it work for you rather than you being a slave to it, do you feel that you make effective use of it? Have a think, make some adjustments if you feel that’s right for you, no judgement from me (can hardly throw metaphorical stones when I’ve sometimes spent over an hour mindlessly scrolling with no benefit!) – if you have some ideas, let me know in the comments!

Autumn Colours

Return to Whitby, August bank holiday 2020

Hello and welcome, on the first day of September! We’re now two thirds of the way through 2020, with a new school term, autumn, Hallowe’en, and Christmas still to come. It was the last summer bank holiday here in England yesterday, and we had glorious weather after several days of murk. We had a much-needed day out in Whitby – fresh, sea air, wall-to-wall sunshine, cafĂ© lunch, beer, ice cream, doughnuts and a stick of rock (too early for a partridge in a pear tree…!). I’m so grateful that England is saturated with these green and blue lungs within fairly easy reach: getting outside into green spaces or to the coast are my best memories from childhood, and I realise how much more of these experiences I desperately need to help me feel more ‘me’! I feel so much more alive and creative after a day like yesterday, so I want to capitalise on that and make creativity a regular habit again, instead of letting myself ( and I do mean my SELF) become hidden and starved of all that creativity! (I know that sentence was poor English, but you know what I mean!)

Gorgeous amethyst-coloured flowers!
I love the way the beach huts perfectly complement the greys and greens around them
Little spots of daylight peeping through the nibbled mallow leaves

It was a long drive to Whitby yesterday, in miles and particularly time – I think a lot of people had the same idea and were longing for some sea air – and I just wanted to be there, NOW, after so long away from those natural surroundings. It was worth the wait and it felt like all those other visitors were also grateful for the sun and sea air. This anticipation of finally getting somewhere you want/need to be is a good analogy with other aspects of my life. It’s been a long trip to find out where and what I want to be, maybe I’ve followed too many wrong turns, but I think my internal sat nav’s finally got the update it needed and is working properly at last! I now recognise how much I need to be outside in natural spaces with the people I love, in order to function properly, and years of not doing so has caused some real damage, hopefully not irreversible. This week feels like a good time to be picking up the reins of creativity – as I said last week, September is the real ‘new year’ for me, and I’d like to hit the ground running when the children get back to school over the next couple of weeks! I’ve seen so many friends posting on their socials about this very same thing: that September feels like a more natural start/re-boot than January. I believe that this year it’s even more the case, as children and those who work in schools face a very different ‘new year’ from any they’ve ever known.

Bright green potato leaves, lilac potato flowers, and the black and rich yellow of a bee in my garden

Looking out of my front window this afternoon, although it’s mild and the sun keeps popping out, some of the trees and plants I can see are ever so slightly tinged with yellow and brown already, just a faint hint of autumn beginning to kick in. I love these changes in hue, a colourful reminder that nature’s always in flux, is rarely still, and that change is very often a good and necessary part of life. In Juliet’s latest live video for Psychologies Magazine she talks about colour, inspired by her recent visit to Cornwall. She suggests 3 different exercises around the use of colour, each of which could be interesting to do at this time of year. I remember that my lovely little mum loved autumnal changes – she would make displays from dried vegetation and flowers, cooked seasonally, and sometimes from foraged foods, and gently eased us children into autumn and then winter, as each special day/food/event approached. The changing scenery in our house served as a reminder of things always shifting, albeit at a gentle pace. Changing your surroundings is also a way to boost your creativity, to get you thinking about different things, or in a different way, without it being too much of a shock to your system. Last week, I visited The Flex Collective, to have a nosy and spend a bit of time away from my own four walls. Jayne has created a calm space, yet with zingy yellow pops of colour, for anyone wanting a professional environment without the massive costs that large offices can bring. Well, in just the 90 minutes I was there, I had some lovely conversation with Jayne and another friend who was there, and managed to knock out a simple poem – proof positive that getting out of your comfort zone, and being surround by subtly different colours, really can boost your creativity! Why not try it for yourself?! Here’s what I wrote:

The Flex Collective, Denby Dale, August 2020

I wonder if any of you reading this also feel that September and early autumn are the beginnings of your new year? Could these feelings and thoughts hark back to older ways and the gentle urgency of harvest times, and preparing for the slowing down and hibernation of winter? These days it might not be practical or possible to fill every single storage space with food and drink, to fend off lean food times and short dark days, but we can still enjoy the beginning of a new season. We can pay attention to the watering down of the sunlight, the brilliant hues of changing leaves, and immerse ourselves in it all, and see where it leads our creativity. Why not have a wander around your garden one morning with your cuppa, and really look at the colours of the plants you usually take for granted? Do those changes spark any creative ideas? Let me know how you get on and have fun!

Richly coloured Victoria plums bursting with flavour!