Sun, Sea, And Fear…

Beautiful Newquay!

After several months, maybe more, of various sorts of stress it was wonderful to spend last week in Newquay (Cornwall, UK, for international readers), and get outside in that marvellous coastal fresh air! I’ve wanted (needed?) some sea air for a LONG time, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

There’s something about being near the sea that’s very different from other outdoor environments: even in a coastal town with traffic the air is somehow cleaner, fresher; the light is clearer by the coast, no wonder so many creatives and artists feel drawn to places like Newquay in order to paint/draw/write/make; and being so close to the sea itself is truly awesome, in the proper use of the word. Renoir, Monet, Hokusai, Turner, and so many others depict raging seas, catastrophic storms, or heroic sea battles, whilst Turner and Monet, plus artists such as Beryl Cook, have also immortalised more ‘seaside’ images of our fantastic coastlines.

Many a poem has been written about the sea, from Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner‘, to John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever‘ (one of my favourites!), and Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest‘. As with artists, there’s something that pulls writers and poets again and again towards the coast, that digs deep into the heart of island people who have a love and healthy respect for the beauty and power to be found at the edge where land and water meet.

Almost tropical!

I have the sea in my blood, as do many Brits I suspect: my dad and his father were both Merchant Navy men through and through, spending all their working lives on the sea, and both grew up near the sea; and my other grandad spent time in the Royal Navy during WW2. Some of my best days out/holidays as a child were spent by the sea – although we went many places, the sea definitely had me even then. However, as a poor swimmer and a fearful child in general, the sea has also always held a tiny dread for me: what if I get taken by the current? what happens if the ship sinks? and all the other nightmares we tell ourselves as scared little children, when we can’t swim, or we’re far away from home.

Part of that fear is totally normal and healthy, of course. It makes us cautious of getting too far out of our depth when we’re paddling at the seaside or taking our first sea swim. We wouldn’t last long if we disregarded the lifeguards’ or RNLI advice on how to be safe on the beach or out at sea. But that fear also grows disproportionately, and stops us from enjoying ourselves in this best of environments, can result in us being terrified of exploring even safe areas of the coast, frightened to have a dip in the sea (although in our often-cold seas that’s sensible!), or taking a boat trip.

Last week, during our trip to beautiful Cornwall, I was very brave (for me) and did things I’m usually fearful of doing. We went to Go Ape one day (a tree-top climbing adventure setting) and I clambered about on rickety rope and wood paths between the trees, 20 feet in the air. I was terrified at some points, and came close to panic at going further along the worst stretches, but had to continue so that my 14 year old (who’s also rather nervous of similar activities!) wouldn’t see just how scared I was. It was an important lesson for me. Firstly, that logically I knew I was safe, being tethered by a harness and strong ropes, and secondly that I could manage long enough to show my son that we CAN do hard or scary things, at least for a short while!

Eek…!

Second Big Thing was going out early one morning, alone, to sit and paint in Newquay harbour. I’m getting better at calling myself an artist, but perfectionism still gets the better of me and insists that I’m not really, and that I have to do the work over and over, to practice before doing the ‘real’ piece. I’ve also had a lifelong fear of being alone, so just leaving the guest house and walking to the harbour, even in daylight, was a Big Deal! Well, I sat there in the cool air, drew a few basic lines in pencil, and then PAINTED STRAIGHT AWAY!! I know it’s a normal thing, but sitting there, drawing straight from life, no second chances, trying to capture the changing light and the way the sea was gently rolling in and out, drew me in and I forgot that I’d gone out alone, no one was holding my hand and telling me it was ok.

The view…

…and my version

My third Big Thing last week was actually going INTO the sea to swim around a bit with a lovely friend who moved down to Newquay several years ago. She’s a big advocate of stepping out of your comfort zone, of trying something different, and of sticking two fingers up at fear. On more than one occasion, she said to me, “What would you do if you weren’t scared?” Spot on, my friend! I’ve spent large parts of my life so far being too scared to try: in case it goes wrong; in case no one likes it (or me); what if I don’t like it, and all the rest.

Glennon Doyle speaks about doing Hard Things, whatever that looks like for each of us. In a similar way to my friend’s comment, she encourages us to try a little bit more, to face that uncertainty, and to accept that, yes, it may well go wrong. So what? Didn’t kill you, did it?! Most importantly, did/do YOU like it, and do you now have the confidence to try again, to push a little further?

That’s what this week has taught me, or rather opened my eyes to – that the things I’ve always feared aren’t as bad in the doing as in the imagining of them. I know I’ll slide backwards – progress isn’t linear, after all, but I’m choosing to believe that I am moving forward much more than I’m moving in reverse. My week of sun, sea, and a tiny dose of fear has been just what I needed to re-awaken my creativity, and inspire me to write, make, draw, and paint.

To this end, I’ve appropriated part of our garage as my dedicated art/creative space. Hubby’s stuff and cluttered shelves have been sorted/tidied/swept as needed, I have a couple of re-purposed filing cabinets to store a lot of my art materials, and have moved in an old table to work on, and even got brave enough to put fairy lights on hubby’s motorbike to soften mechanical look of the garage! It’s a work in progress, and I’ll post some more, updated photos next time, but starting the work is the Big Thing. I felt a little fearful in taking up space – literally and metaphorically – as I’ve absorbed a decades-old message of women being small and quiet, but that little voice in my heart is speaking a bit louder, boosted by the lovely Juliet and the others at WOW (see Juliet’s site for more info if you fancy joining us!)

New art space taking shape…

…means glamourising the stuff I can’t move!

What is YOUR summer gifting you this year? I wish you the courage to face your little fears like I’m trying to do – and I think succeeding a bit, too! – and the excitement and realisation that it IS worth facing them, because on the other side are wonderful things!!

Let me know via the comments – I’d love to know what you all think!

You can join me over on Instagram, too! Find me at yorkshire_wellies.

Who Are We?

This is me…

…and so is this little tot!

Do you know who you are, what you do (or want to do), where you’ve come from, or where you’re going? You can answer these questions as frivolously or as deeply as you like, but I invite you to have a think before you frame a reply.

I can tell you all sorts about my childhood, jobs I’ve had, my family set-up, and so on, but I find it almost impossible to talk about ME – my wants and dreams, the things I love or dread, what excites me or terrifies me, my thoughts and feelings.  Maybe it’s down to habits formed in early childhood, or perhaps a lifetime of busyness combined with people-pleasing, that old stereotype of daughter/wife/mum putting others before herself all the time.  

A few of the things that make me, me

Whatever the reason, I’ve got my early 50s without really knowing myself, but I feel a real desire to change this, and get to know what makes me ‘tick’.  This might be very uncomfortable at times, and I might not like some of what I find out, but I’ve felt drawn to this work for a few years, and I’m also rather curious.  I suppose it’s research, of a sort, into myself, with the end result being able to tell my story – past/present/future – for and to myself, but also to anyone interested enough in reading it.

Telling and writing stories I can do, but not when it comes to myself, it feels like showing off or putting myself front and centre. I feel torn between feeling invisible, and also not wanting to be noticed – a psychologist would find that very interesting, no doubt!  However, talking to someone else about yourself, in a safe space, and then letting them tell your story feels more comfortable, and other people don’t have your emotional ties to the information.

To this end, I recently had a couple of conversations with Clair Wright, of A Social Nature, who has now launched her new offering of exactly this – telling your story.  Some of it was a little emotional for me, probably will be for most people if you’re basically telling a brief version of your life story.  Clair is very good at taking in everything you say, reflecting back, and asking more questions to get a sense of the answers to the questions I asked at the top of this post – and then turning all your ramblings into a coherent and well-written version of yourself.  A great experience, especially when you’re trying to find out how/where you want to place yourself professionally, and will make an excellent springboard for next week’s post – watch this space! 

Do you know yourself, what inspires or infuriates you, what makes your heart and soul sing, or cower in fear? I would love for you to let me know about yourself – pop down your thoughts in the comments!

Out Of Hibernation

Hello, World, I’ve been submerged beneath a murky, deep blue-grey haze of anxiety, depression, and extreme weariness for a while until recently, only able to function like an automaton: fed everyone, bare bones of housework and grocery shopping, got to work. I was ‘here’ physically, but mentally not anywhere at all, really. Even before the massive changes to our lives these past ten or eleven months, I’ve often hated this time of year and its post-Christmas anti-climax. It’s cold, usually very grey, people don’t socialise much, and I feel in limbo with nothing creative to do or upcoming events. This week, I’m feeling more ‘awake’ and, for the first time in ages, my fingers are itching to write and create. I even offered to make my teenage son a drink this morning, to which he looked at me suspiciously, wondering what I was ‘after’!

Maybe it’s that we’re now past the shortest days, and there’s a bit more light in the world – literally and metaphorically – so we can feel our way back up to the surface, blinking a bit in the light. That light shows up how awful we feel or look, highlights the dust and mess in our homes and lives, but it can also show us the little things and people that we miss when it’s all so dark. I don’t feel quite as alone and adrift as I did; I’ve had some very much appreciated support from a few people to whom I blurted out how bad I was feeling. Human beings can be awesome at times! There suddenly seems to be some creative activity to get involved with, or maybe I haven’t noticed it until now, being so far below the surface. There are little whispers of hope and change in the form of Covid vaccines being rolled out, and the faint promise of life slowly returning to normal – the end may not be in sight yet, but it feels like it’s just over a hill that we haven’t crested yet.

Coming out of hibernation is a curious feeling: you feel like staying snuggled up in bed (whether literally against a cold, dark morning, or metaphorically retreating from the world) but you’re also aware of minute signs of the earth beginning to wake up, and your mind and body begin to wake in sync. Even when your heart and mind have been in dark places, those little clues that the world hasn’t ended start creeping their way into your soul, like persistent weeds slowly working their way through concrete. You become aware of those little parts of you that crave the sunlight, fresh air, and company coming back to the surface and, amazingly, you actually WANT to go outside into nature, to write and create beautiful things, even if it’s just in tiny bursts now and again. You begin to feel glad that you ARE still here, after all, that your world didn’t end, that you’re a semi colon and not a full stop!

First art of 2021, half done

This week, I’ve started painting again, done a bit more “proper” cooking, and even ironed a few bits of laundry!! I also treated myself to Sara Tasker’s “Hashtag Authentic“, which has been on my wish list for ages, and beginning to feel inspired once more – maybe Yorkshire Wellies and I do have a future together! Do visit Sara’s Instagram account for some amazing inspiration, it may encourage you in your own creativity. I’ve also signed up to a new writing course from my (also amazing!) friend, Juliet Thomas, of The Curious Creative Club, she’s such a powerhouse of energy and inspiration, another website and Instagram account I’d highly recommend investigating. Fearne Cotton’s “Speak Your Truth” is the other book I’m currently reading, very easy to read but also powerful, one more recommendation this week.

Full of inspiring photos!

My second ‘book of the week’, excellent read, too!

I’ll keep this first post of 2021 short and sweet, but will be back next week with more to say, and with more creativity to share with you all! What’s your January looked like this year? Have you felt/been more positive, done anything new? Did you run at 2021 or have you eased yourself into it gradually?! Do let me know via the comments, or find me on Instagram at yorkshire_wellies and let’s have a chat!

New year? Better, different?

A suggestion for a more contemplative new year?

Well, here we are at the end of the oddest year most of us have ever known! Sometimes, at the end of a year, we cast a glance behind us, maybe we note the highlights or things we’d rather forget, and then look forward just a little to the coming year and make a few plans.

Even those of us with bad mental health have had some good come out of this year. I’ve learned how much I value being able to slow down properly, not just in short bursts at the weekend, and I recognise when I need to say no to things, even if I can’t do it as often as I’d like! I’ve started to get to know myself – no mean feat in your early 50s! – and understand what professional help I need. I’m hopeful that 2021 will bring the resumption of much-needed mental health services for so many. This year I allowed myself to be more creative, with a little less perfectionism and self-criticism – oh, they’re still there, those faithful (faithless?!) companions, but I can nudge them into the background a little more than before.

Random dots, joined up to make a picture of sorts from 64 Million Artists’s challenge January 2020
Refreshing my embroidery skills at a class early in 2020
Late-night doodling when the urge to create took over!

Creativity in any shape has kept me sane this year, no exaggeration. Being creative is correlated with positive mental health, there’s so much evidence for this. There’s also evidence that NOT being creative is directly linked with poorer mental health – suggesting that the actual act of being creative positively affects mental health, that the lack of creative activity is detrimental to our well-being and development. Before you say ‘oh, but I’m not creative, I can’t draw/paint/sing…”, stop, and think for a minute. Human beings are inherently creative, it runs through our DNA, and has always been the driving force for our survival. Somewhere along the line, an ancient relative had the idea of building shelter to protect them from the elements, making tools from sticks and stones in order to increase the types of food they could eat – remember the old phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’? When faced with a problem, humans are usually pretty good at creating a solution. Unless you’re a Bear Grylls type and love going off-piste into the wilderness, you’re unlikely to be making a hut from branches and leaves, or foraging for berries and mushrooms, but you CAN build creativity into your life, consciously and with intent.

2020 has been chock-full of problems and challenges, but the unintended consequences have often been very positive. I bet you know at least one person who’s learned how to cook or bake from scratch, taught themselves a new skill or craft, done some gardening, or re-invented their home surroundings. Being forced away from our usual routines, and being able to explore in a way we haven’t done for decades, has been a game changer for many people I know, and they’re enjoying and keeping those changes. They’ve re-discovered something deeply buried that makes them feel different, something that matters, and they want to hang onto that. One family member started growing a few herbs and salads in her garden, and teaching her children to cook – now her vegetables consume most of the back garden and her children are masters of bread-making and roast dinners – valuable skills for the future and so enjoyable! A friend picked up her pencils and paintbrushes after a long hiatus and is now making some beautiful and amazing art.

My point is that we are all born makers, do-ers, dreamers, thinkers, artists, cooks, seamstresses, wanderers, teachers, writers, growers, architects, engineers, and so much more, whether we give ourselves conscious titles or not. We used to accept our natural abilities to do these things, and follow where our curiosity led us, but society has slowly specialised and categorised them. Our thinking has narrowed too much, and we often deny our inherent creativity; we classify skills and people rigidly, put ‘experts’ on pedestals and tell ourselves we’re not ‘good enough’; we talk ourselves out of (or overthink) activities that could be more relaxed and pleasurable.

This coming new year, as we’re still in uncertain times given both Covid and Brexit situations, we could give ourselves a new year gift of deliberately exploring some new form of creativity, to allow ourselves a little haven away from current anxieties. Who knows where it might lead?! You can find books, craft kits, and more, on offer in the sales – pick out one or two that won’t break the bank. The free Libby app allows you to electronically borrow library books; perhaps you could read something different, a new writer, some poetry – you may be inspired to write your own! If money’s too tight, have a wander of some creative websites. There are a number of creative challenges starting in January that often cost nothing more than your time.

Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club, talks about the power of playing around and experimenting in her current blog, if you fancy a read and some inspiration. She’s created a ‘play’ list of 12 different creative activities for 2021, you could try something similar; you may enjoy something totally new or go for the familiar in picking up a previous craft. 64 Million Artists (don’t be daunted by the title!) has a 3-way challenge for January. You can choose creative challenges by one of three inspiring creatives, or go off-piste to receive random challenges from any of the three. Then there’s Susan Yeates’ 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge, which is a marvellous, free-range way of interpreting and creating art. Sites like Instagram are full of creative images, ideas, and people to inspire you – if you follow an artist, singer, maker, see who THEY follow and discover some new creatives.

I’m going to explore some of my own ideas over the next year – some I’ve suggested above, and others haven’t quite taken shape yet – and see where they take me. How about joining me, and see what happens?! I’ll be sharing my 2021 over on my Instagram account, I’d love you to join me and share yours, too!

I’ll just leave you with the thought below, hope it makes you think as well as smile!

The Final Countdown

Hello, and I wonder how many of you now have that 80s song of the same name as an earworm?!

An Advent calendar I made a few years ago, soon to be in use for my youngest children

This week I’ve been thinking about how close we are to the end of the year: less than 5 weeks and we can say goodbye to 2020, with all its topsy-turvy strangeness, and look towards 2021 with a little hope. Yesterday was the First Sunday of Advent for Christians, when candles start being lit to welcome Jesus at Christmas, one extra candle each week until we have four, gently shining as a welcome in our homes and our hearts. It’s no coincidence that mid-winter festivals of light have been with us since ancient times: fires and candles help to keep us hopeful and sane throughout the dark periods of the year. The word ‘advent’ is derived from the Latin ‘adventus’, and translated from the Greek word ‘parousia’, both meaning ‘coming’. The origins of this ‘coming’ are different from the now-traditional 4-week period of anticipation leading up to Christmas, but we could also use this time to think generally about this most unusual year drawing to a close and the new one yet to arrive. Whether you are religious, spiritual, or not, a little reflection and forethought could be useful for us all, without getting mired too far into the past or the future.

Little pinpricks of light on a dark evening

I’m sure many of you are thinking about gifts for the people you love, if not already in the midst of buying. In this year of massive changes, could you think differently? Buy locally, from small, independent makers and artists, to support your local community and economy? Just A Card is a national movement supporting and promoting every kind of small and individual creative venture you could think of – take a look at their Instagram account for some inspiration. Perhaps, instead of buying new objects, you’re more inclined to support charities and similar organisations, who need our support more than ever this year, in the absence of their venues/shops/collecting tins being available. There’s still chance to sponsor animal charities, dedicate a tree, support food banks and local charities, give a little of yourself and your time. Maybe this year is the right time to look outwards a little more, to open our eyes to see who may be a little more in need than ourselves this year.

That said, perhaps the countdown to the end of this year is also a time to think about more than Christmas: maybe the time we’ve had, especially during the spring and early summer, has enabled you to really think about your life, work, and passions like never before. Perhaps a little navel-gazing can be a good thing, to allow us a bit of the right sort of selfishness – to look after our own dreams for a change, maybe to put a couple of things into place in our lives that we’ve often yearned for? That thing you’ve always wanted to do, that you imagined doing once your children were old enough to need a bit less attention, that you thought you were never good enough at, or that you told yourself you never had time to pursue? What if the events of this year were partly the universe giving you a gentle nudge, to encourage you to think deeper about the thing? Could you spend these last few weeks of 2020 really thinking seriously about it, do a little research, look deeper into your heart and mind?

Create your own light until the days lengthen again

I know it can be so hard to look forward into the darkness, especially after such an incredibly uncertain year – we feel like digging in our heels and pulling the covers over our heads sometimes, we want to hibernate and hope to wake up into a better world. So, let’s try to lighten ourselves up a bit now (no pun intended!). After all, by the time we get to the end of these five weeks, the days will have begun to lengthen ever so slightly – by the time Hogmanay’s here we’ll have a few more minutes daylight at either end of the day.

So maybe it’s not really a final countdown to the end of something, but more the start of counting down to a new season, a new beginning, and looking towards a different way for the new year? Many children will start their Advent calendars tomorrow, along with plenty of adults I know, so how about spending a few minutes thinking about an extra countdown, as you enjoy your chocolates, cheese, or mini drinks from your calendar?!

I’d love to hear your thoughts – find me on Instagram or Facebook and we can have a chat.

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