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!


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!