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

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