New Season, New Things

Blue skies and fairies dancing amongst the grass

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

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

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

Warm September sun and a cold beer – lovely!

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

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

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

Creative Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn Colours

Return to Whitby, August bank holiday 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The Flex Collective, Denby Dale, August 2020

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

Richly coloured Victoria plums bursting with flavour!

Back Into Gear

A carpet of wild flowers near the canal towpath

Well, we’re heading towards the end of August now, hubby’s birthday and a bank holiday looming, and the annual getting ready for a new school year ritual, which will be quite different this year. I’ll still have the battles over re-introducing a regular bedtime, cutting down tech time, and trying/buying new uniforms and shoes (an especial nightmare when one child’s sensory issues get worse each year!), so no change there! Having been out of school for 23 weeks up to press, it’s going to take a bit longer than previous years to establish new routines; it’s essentially going to be like school for the first time, but with children who are 13 and nearly 11 it could be interesting come September!

I’ve always loved the sense of new starts that September instils: as a child it was the only time of year I had a lot of new things all at once; it’s that anticipation of a new classroom and teacher at junior school, new timetables and maybe new faces at high school. As a parent, it’s been decades of seeing my own children suddenly more grown up with fresh haircuts, too-big, crisp uniforms, polished shoes (scuffed by the end of day 1!), after a summer of long hair, casual clothes, trainers or no shoes at all. Consequently, September is very often a new start for me, too. It’s been the time when I’ve had a new job, often in education to fit in with my children, or gone back to education myself. Because September is so much about new starts, these last couple of weeks in August are all about anticipation, preparation, and maybe tinged with some sadness as I realise that my littlies are another year older and wondering where the time went.

However, children do get older and go into new school years, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also relish a bit of calm at home sometimes, when they head out for the day. It’s just those first few days, when you feel slightly abandoned and lonely at the same time. I think this September will be as hard for me as it will for my children; I’ve not had them at home with me for such a long spell since they were tiny, so I’m going to have a lot of adjusting to do, too. To help me cope with this, I’m planning some new things and changes for myself, or re-starting would be a more accurate word. I want to write much more, I have so many creative ideas for art pieces swirling around my mind, and I’m finally starting work with a graphics artist to create a proper logo for Yorkshire Wellies – watch this space! I’ll be starting on Christmas designs for cards, thinking about some bigger/more bespoke pieces, and maybe something a little more quirky.

The end of August also feels like a good time to look back a bit, to reflect on what we did over the summer months, ready to tell our friends when we go into those new settings, or as ice breakers when we nervously start that new job or college course. Obviously, this year has been markedly different: no summer holiday away from home, very few outings generally, no family get-togethers, no football (son) or running (me). So what did this spring and summer look like in the end? Well, my children are now a lot calmer overall, despite the angst generated by the X-box and so on, we’ve had some time outside for walks without having to clock-watch, and decorated my daughter’s bedroom, giving her the choices for colours and so on. I’ve read more books in this period than I have in a long time, and I’ve had time to really think about things (rather than rushing a decision or coming to the wrong conclusion because I didn’t mull it over long enough). I know my mental health has also taken a battering, I’ve had spells of being the worst I can remember for some time. Ironically, that’s when you need external help, yet there hasn’t been any due to lockdown! However, I’m still here; I’m a semi colon and not a full stop, so I’m thankful for that. Perhaps this long period without the usual rituals and rushing around has been a mixed blessing – time to relax and reflect can also bring up the less healthy stuff as well as giving you a breather, especially when you don’t have anyone to bounce off, so introspection leads you into a much more negative place without those balances often provided by friends’ perspectives. Yesterday, I went for a walk with a couple of friends; glorious sunshine and nearly 7 kilometres (just over 4 miles), really made my day, along with some great conversation!

All this greenery and space very close to the motorway on my walk yesterday!

As I began writing this morning, it was very wet and blustery, the temperature more like October, very back-endish as we say here, and feeling very much like the new term was fast approaching. I love this sort of weather as much as sunny days, though, makes it feel like a baking day, and we’ve run out of nibbles so baking it will be this afternoon! My pilates teacher, Jana, is doing a week of nourishing food ideas, helping us to work out what our bodes need as we get a little older, closer to the menopause, and needing different kinds of foods and minerals (see her Easy Summer Goddess post here). It’s helping me to re-focus on what’s good for me here and now, not just food, instead of looking inwards, backwards, or forwards too much and concentrating on what might be missing. At the other end of the fertility spectrum, my older daughter has just announced to the world that she’s expecting her second child, which is such fabulous news! It’s good to have something so positive to focus on, when the world’s been a little hard to live in for a while, and we’re all so excited for her, her partner and their son, who’s now got the important job of becoming a big brother!

Have a good week, and do let me know (via the comments) what your summer’s been like, and how you’re going to approach the end of it and the beginning of a new start in September!

One Step Forward, Two Back…

Have you ever had a period of time when you wanted/had planned to do various things, felt motivated to crack on with your plans, had the time and the resources, and then…just didn’t? You didn’t do any of those things, and even felt like you were suddenly in retreat without warning, like an army taking a huge step back from going over the trenches? Well, I’ve had one of those weeks and can only explain partly why I felt that way – terrible lack of sleep (muggy nights and too much head chatter), being busier than expected with other things, etc. – so I’m curious to find out why I sabotaged myself.

I feel like I’m at a crossroads for some reason, and that my car hasn’t just stalled but started up again and has reversed somewhat. My perfectionism and imposter syndrome have both reared their ugly heads, as has the old comparisonitis, which isn’t helping. In this frame of mind, I’ve been aimlessly wandering through Pinterest, ostensibly looking for art inspiration, and was curious to see things I hadn’t been searching for popping up – almost like little nudges to make me look at them. (Yes, I know it’ll be an algorithm, bear with me…)

These were comments along the lines of how feeling scared might be a signal that you’re subconsciously about to make a big decision, or suggesting that, out of any possible choices to make, the scariest might be the one that’s going to help you grow the most. Or the Tolkien quote (from the Lord of the Rings) that says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. That last one reminded me of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day”, which ends with this line…

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Maybe the universe has been trying its best to whisper, and it’s now starting to raise its voice as it feels I’m not paying attention? I mentioned last week that my friend, Juliet, had spoken of Oprah Winfrey’s recent podcast, where she describes exactly this. Listening to that podcast was one of the things I wanted to do, a whisper I didn’t pay attention to until yesterday (ironic, isn’t it?!). Best thing I did yesterday, hands down…

I’m going to take the time to listen to my whispers this week, to work out exactly what they’re telling me, before the whispers become the pebbles against the window (although I think that might already be happening!) or the “brick upside the head” that Oprah talks about! I know I shared the photo below last week, from my vision board, but today it feels even more apt – see, I bet these are some of the little whispers right there!

The other steps I’m going to take this week are literal ones – I’ve been very lazy regarding exercise recently so it feels like starting again. Maybe we can make a better habit from now on; aim for a daily walk instead of a half hearted one every now and then. Starting smaller, but more whole-heartedly, to regain our physical and mental health. We live on the edge of the most stunning countryside in the UK (but I am incredibly biased!), and it shames me that we’re not exploring it enough.

View from Castle Hill one frosty morning last November

We’ve several weeks before the children return to school, so plenty of time to create this good habit, and bring hubby along at the weekends. Creating a new family routine will be good for us, and walks together will give us tech-free time together. We could go to a different place each weekend of the year and still not have explored the whole of our county, so we have loads to go at! What are you doing this week? Have your plans materialised or been scuppered? What else could you do instead? Could you just sit in your stalled car, like I’ve done, enjoy the view from your open window, give the engine a break and then re-start it to continue your journey? Let me know in the comments, and get yourselves outside into the glorious weather!

Summer Breeze

Hello again, welcome to August and belated happy Yorkshire Day from my little corner of it! August weather is different from July; it feels fuller, somehow, like it’s breathing more deeply whilst there are still long days filled with light. The days can be warm and close, nights not much different unless there’s a breeze. These days instantly bring to mind Seals’ and Crofts’ song, ‘Summer Breeze‘; even if we don’t grow jasmine in Yorkshire you can close your eyes and almost smell it.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors this week with those summer breezes, which has been wonderful despite the raging hayfever that’s the payoff! A group of us from our WOW Wednesday accountability group met up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the day it re-opened (Wednesday, very apt!), and it was so good to see them in real life, instead of via a computer screen. I even managed to get to my 10,000 daily steps in well before tea time! I’ve really let that daily target slip a lot during lockdown, and felt quite anxious about not meeting it for a while (all the “shoulds” trying to bubble up to the surface!). I let go of that sooner than expected, a sign to me that I’m realising that some of these things that we beat ourselves up about don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

WOW Wednesday on tour!

I spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon in the garden, pruning the apple tree back and other tidying jobs. I know, I know, winter’s the time for pruning fruit trees, but it had become a real liability to itself and that part of the garden, so the deed was done. We filled a large shopping bag with the apples that were worth saving (big enough and not eaten or bruised), so some good has come out of the ruthless cut. There are also some bigger twiggy branches saved for kindling next winter. I feel there’s a parallel here with the way you might choose to cut stuff out of your life that’s not serving you well, in order to make your life healthier for you; the pruning may hurt, and makes things look and feel worse for a time, but you come back stronger, bearing more fruit, and having deeper roots to weather storms, just like my apple tree. Have you noticed anything like this if you’ve made what a drastic change somewhere in your life? Let me know how it felt, and whether it led to permanent changes for you.

Before the chop…
…and after!

I’m currently reading ‘The Source’ by Dr Tara Swart as part of my ongoing revamp of my life; it’s an excellent read that sits half way between a scientific book on how the brain works and a coaching/self improvement book. As a psychologist, I find the neuroscience totally fascinating, and it’s well-blended with examples from her practice, and ways to put this knowledge into action in your own life. She talks about brain plasticity, how your brain is still capable of change at any age, it’s not just the province of babies and children. Dr Swart suggests ways to practise stretching your brain in order to effect positive change amongst its neurons which, in turn, can affect your life as a whole, thus enabling you to change any areas in which you feel you are lacking. I’m aware that I’ve previously mentioned books I’ve read and courses I’m following, and it might come across as all theory and no action. My friend, Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club, once told me it was time to do less reading and more ‘doing’ (think I’ve said that before, too, memory of a goldfish!), and I am ‘doing’ as much as I’m reading, it just takes time and I’m daring greatly in little ways for now. I’d love to hear about any books you’ve read that you found profound, meaningful, or plain helpful in any way; I’m always looking out for my next good read!

I’ve got a few hours a week delivering for a local florist (another way of being outdoors), which means I have to talk to complete strangers when I deliver their flowers, which is a big thing for me. Maybe showing up needn’t be the grand things you see your friends doing; maybe, for now, it’s getting comfortable talking to strangers, going to unfamiliar places, doing things just outside your comfort zone instead of miles outside of it, until you’re ready to up the ante. Michelle Cowan, a fellow WOW Wednesday-er and sales/growth expert, has introduced me to an up-and-coming graphic designer (another ‘stranger’ for me to talk to!) to work with on a logo for Yorkshire Wellies. This enterprise will be more than a blog before long, so I’d like a new identity for it all, and it’s exciting and scary in equal measures!

As part of improving/changing parts of my life, I had blood tests done yesterday for coeliac disease and iron deficiency – prompted by my suspicion of problems tolerating wheat-based foods and other issues. Coeliac disease runs in my family, so it’s worth doing. I’ve felt quite poorly over the last few weeks because of eating so much bread and pasta, it’s such a relief to cut it out again – roll on plenty of ‘real’ food! Summer’s a good time for me to get into the habit of eating well, when I fancy salad, fish, veg, and loads of water. I feel so much better when I eat this way – more alert, less lethargic, and generally better all round. Consequently, I feel more positive mentally, more creative, and much more open to change and new ventures. I’m also taking advice from another WOW member, Sue Salmon, a medical herbalist, on how to improve my gut health, which brings me neatly back to Tara Swart who speaks about gut instinct or that inner voice, as does Juliet in her recent blog post. I’m ready to listen to my inner whispers again, and get out my paints, find a book to write in, or finally get going with my sewing machine again – can’t wait!

What are you going to do with your August? Have you managed to book a little holiday somewhere, are you taking a break from working from home, or maybe you’re going to do a bit of life stocktaking and look ahead just into the autumn? Do let me know!!

Blue Yorkshire skies!

Ch..ch..ch..changes…

A close-up from my recent vision board. The way these 3 quotes are right next to each other is true serendipity

I’ve been thinking more about change and started writing last night, but it felt and looked wrong somehow so I began again this morning. A year ago, maybe even more recently, I’d have spent hours agonising over re-writing, perfecting the grammar, dragging out of myself what I thought I wanted to say like bent, rusty nails from old floorboards, instead of simply changing or deleting. Yesterday I just read it a few times, thought s*d it, and deleted it so I could start again with a clean page (well, computer screen…). Maybe this is what change looks like sometimes: the willingness to ditch something that’s no longer serving you. Part of me is terrified of change because the familiar is known, even if it’s not the best place for you; uncertainty feels very risky and scary. That old caveman bit of my brain is most definitely in charge a lot of the time, fight/flight/freeze always just below the surface, but you’d be hard pressed to notice if you met me in person.

However, there’s also a tiny bit of my (brain? mind? soul?) that’s so weary of hiding and keeping quiet, of feeling unseen, of squashing down her needs all the time, and it’s trying to make itself heard because it desperately wants change. Not having much success, mind you, but trying nonetheless! I’ve previously likened this to being a Borrower in reverse: wanting to be seen and heard, instead of being quiet and unseen. Is this the start of some kind of personal evolution? A suggestion that change isn’t to be feared, but rather something to be approached with curiosity? My friend, Juliet, touched on change in this week’s Psychologies’ InstaLive on Instagram. She invited us to be curious about our state of mind and being, both during and after the creative task that she set. The task is to think about a guiding word for the rest of 2020, maybe changing from the one you’d chosen at the start of the year. This year has changed tremendously in so many ways from previous years, and from what we expected/planned in January, and those guiding words we may have chosen simply don’t serve us now.

I suppose it’s the ultimate about face: you’d planned, or looked forward to, all sorts based on previous years’ experience, and perhaps chosen your guiding word based on those assumptions, but instead we’ve all had to make totally unexpected changes very quickly. One thing we spoke about at Deborah’s Impact Club this week was about what change we’d made. For some it was simply an accountability exercise, for others it was about actual changes they’d made, or had recognised they wanted to make. I’m consciously planning and incorporating little changes in my life now, to see how I manage before I make the bigger ones, although that tiny part of my brain that’s longing for change keeps pushing for more, sooner. Dare I let it out? Is it wise to do so? Is it just some sort of rebellion against years of no real change, resulting in a mad desire for big change? Well, I’m the last person to know!!

Being creative/artistic/innovative is one way to make changes, maybe the best way, and what I’m turning to after years of denying I was creative. Perhaps change is necessary when you’re engaged in creative pursuits, maybe change and creativity are two sides of the same coin. There’s a sort of curiosity at play when you begin a painting, write a poem, turn wood or stone into new forms, cook, or create music. Very few creative pieces end how they start out; they tend to evolve, almost organically. That’s change at its finest, purest form, I believe. Maybe creativity and change are meant to go hand in hand: the spark of an idea that grows, shapes, takes different paths constantly, until it finds what and where it’s meant to be. Nature doesn’t resist change, it simply alters direction, tries a new path, and mostly survives, even if it’s in a different form. If you’re not sure what I mean, go and find a tree that’s more than a couple of years old, somewhere it’s been exposed to the elements day in and day out. Chances are it will have bent with the wind, adapted its shape to remain firmly rooted whilst also changed. When a tree meets a stone wall or other immoveable object, it grows around it. It doesn’t try to resist or stop growing at all, it simply changes tack.

The apple tree in my garden has bowed down with the weight of the fruit, changed its shape to cope until the fruit has ripened and been picked

What could you change this week? If big changes makes you a bit uneasy or scared, why not make little changes, as I’ve started doing? How about changing the type of book or newspaper you read, try some herbal tea in place of your coffee, cook something very different from your usual fare? Some of my little things are becoming bigger gradually, and I hope that I’ll feel more confident in making the bigger changes soon. Could you tell me about your changes? Message me here or pop over to my Instagram, @yorkshire_wellies. I’d love to see/hear what you might come up with, or how you’ve managed changes in your life!

Shift + Ctrl + Alt

(Daughter’s bedroom undergoing big changes from pale to much stronger colours!)

It’s officially the school summer holidays now in the UK, even though my children have been home with me for eleventy seven weeks already! Considering the ratio of school work done to computer use for gaming is about 0.000001:100, they’ve actually been “on holiday” for all eleventy seven weeks!! The head of my son’s school reassures me that the work portal will remain open all summer at least and not to worry, so I could “shift” my attitude a bit, “ctrl” the amount of gaming, and “alt” (alter) what we do through the summer. I admit to being rather slack during these weeks, not enough housework or encouraging the children to do school work and get outside, but I bet I’m not the only parent. Lots of other things have slid as well – not been to the allotment for a while, spuds hurriedly shoved in the garden, the house is an eyesore inside and out, etc., etc. – but I feel a sea change coming this week. Despite feeling annoyed that I’ve not done the things I’d planned at the start of lockdown, for missing so many opportunities to improve parts of our lives, it’s not too late. Maybe we needed all those weeks of nothingness in order to settle into new ways, to defrag our brains from the previous way of doing things, and find new paths for ourselves.

Football training is back on, there’s talk of matches soon; my daughter’s friends are beginning to play out; I’ve been for a socially distanced meal in a friend’s garden and SD walks. The new (better? different?) way of living takes a bit of getting used to, that’s all, and sometimes your brain protests at that. After all, the notion of change upsets that old limbic bit of your brain, suggesting that it’s bad, you’re not safe, making you anxious and inclined to dig in your heels against the unknown. If we didn’t accept change, nothing would change: adaptability to changing environments and the ability to create change are what’s kept our species going so long. I know people who are changing their ways of working, have pivoted their businesses or started something new, taken the opportunity of the changes all around them to strike out in a different direction. Doing different things does feel ‘wrong’ somehow, but that’s only because you’re having to move onto another path, make a little detour. Maybe you’re working differently with what you already have: shopping from the cupboards and freezer to put together a meal, using up food in creative ways instead of throwing it away, or re-purposing items to use differently.

My friend, Juliet, set us just such a challenge last week in her Psychologies InstaLive. She spoke about using different media to create a piece of art, suggesting alternatives to paper, paint and brushes. How about ‘painting’ on an old tea towel with a fork and some food colour? Or try ‘stitching’ with grasses onto a piece of kitchen roll? You could cut up some old jeans and use various objects around the house to experiment with bleaching the colour? (* PLEASE do this last one outside or in a well-ventilated space, use rubber gloves, and supervise children!) Below is my effort, using part of a cardboard box, plants from my garden, and garden twine and wool to stitch them in place.

The second picture, below, was taken the morning after, and you can see how the greenery is dying, changing state. I felt it was important to show this, to remind me about things changing, that plants die, change state, and move on. It also reminded me of the idea of making ‘art for the bin’, where you simply have a go at something, without much of an idea, recognise that it’s just the process of making, and then chuck it away. It’s hard to preserve this kind of art without resorting to chemicals or whatever, so maybe it’s good to enjoy what you’ve made right now, take a few photos for posterity and then bin it, put it on the compost heap, and use that experience for creating your next ‘thing’.

‘Shift + ctrl +alt’ is all about change. It says ‘shift’ your thinking away from what doesn’t serve you anymore, change to a way that helps you, that moves you in a different direction. ‘Ctrl’ doesn’t always mean literal control of everything in life; maybe it’s being aware of what can reasonably be controlled and what (or who) is actually needing to change. Rather than resisting and trying to control everything rigidly, loosen that control and guide yourself (or others), be open to some flexibility. Finally, ‘alt’ could be read as either ‘alter’ or ‘alternate’. Try and alter how or what you think or do, your brain is plastic and always receptive to growth and change. Follow a different path when you go for a walk, swap your meals around, be more aware of what you think and try to challenge your brain. Alternate is a regular change between one thing and another: alternating between different coloured socks, choosing one supermarket over another. Why not go for a walk on alternate days of the week, if you find it difficult to go every day? It could soon become a good habit, and you could always change it up again! If you are finding eating healthily is hard, why not promise yourself to do so every other day, small changes like this are easier to slip in, without your reptilian brain getting too worked up and alerting you to perceived danger!

So what would you like to shift, control, or alter/alternate this week or soon? I find these things hard, I’m just beginning to learn after a lifetime of doing otherwise, not a life coach by any means! It’s important for me to see all this written down, like a coaching session to myself, a reminder or gentle nudge to do (and keep doing) these things in order to grow and change. I’m curious to know how you feel/think about this, do let me know via the comments!

Continue & keep the faith

Well, after waxing lyrical about different sorts of creativity last week, I’ve not done as much as I’d planned then. Note that I’m NOT saying “I should have…”, because that word’s now considered akin to swearing! Instead, I’m viewing it as a slightly delayed start. This is actually working in my favour because I did different things, and have had other ideas, which I may not have done had I continued with my original plans. Maybe that’s the Universe gently nudging me to take a different tack this week!

It’s taken a while for me to really understand (and believe) that accepting and embracing change is essential, especially as our usual way of life has altered quite radically in the last few months. I’ve got used to these changes, but hadn’t truly accepted them. Instead I’ve been impatient for quite a lot of life to return to “normal”, simply because that state was the one I knew and understood, even if I didn’t really like it; it was comfortable. And there lies the rub: comfortable is all very well, but it’s often only useful when you’re choosing a new bed or pair of jeans. Have you thought about what comfortable can do or, more precisely, stop you from doing? What if scientists, artists, writers, makers, and thinkers since the year dot hadn’t stepped out from behind their comfortable? My husband is re-decorating our daughter’s bedroom and she’s chosen a strong colour for the walls. It’s very different from the pale colours we’ve often used, but a welcome change and it will look fab when it’s done, with new soft furnishings and finishing touches. Our daughter isn’t much into conformity and that’s refreshing!

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In Deborah‘s Impact Club last week, Barbara Nixon spoke about and encouraged us to think about what holds us back or gets in our own way. Although the focus was mainly to someone’s business or job, I feel that you could explore these elements from a creative and whole-life point of view, too. She asked us to consider when we last did something that made us a feel a little scared, and how we could do those things more consciously, more often, in order to stop our brains shoving us back into our comfort zones. What if you decided to paint that vision in your mind, and show someone? Or enter that writing competition when your inner critic keeps telling you it’s totally pointless? When the doubts, fear of failing, or lack of focus sneak out from the caveman bit of your brain, it takes effort (often great big buckets of it!) to persevere, to trust in what you’re doing or trying to achieve. I feel totally hypocritical writing this as I bet I have several PhD’s in those very things myself, BUT I believe I’m a work in progress and I’m feeling much more positive this week!

This leads me to a couple of words I’ve chosen for the rest of this year, part of a challenge set by Juliet in last week’s Psychologies InstaLive: FAITH and CONTINUE. Spookily, I’d just chosen these earlier that day, as I’d not done so in January and it seemed a good idea at that exact moment, so I had one of those goose-walking-over-my-grave moments when she mentioned it; it was like I’d done the challenge before she’d set it!

For me, faith means faith in myself first and foremost, believing in the things I want to do and discrediting my imposter syndrome and self-doubt. It means accepting whatever the universe sends my way, that these happenings aren’t random but meant to be. It’s taking a leap into the creative unknown, which is often terrifying for me, and trusting that it will be exciting and fulfilling. Continue says I’m still here, I have ‘stuff’ to do, that the creative journey I’ve finally begun isn’t a finite one. It also means not going back to the drawing board, not leaving my creations unfinished because I’ve given attention to the negative inner critic, but completing what I start. I see Faith and Continue as two sides of a coin; you can observe them separately but they are part of the same, bigger thing.

Faith and Continue fit very snugly into Juliet‘s creative challenge from yesterday’s live video, which is to look at ‘painting’ using backgrounds, mark-making media, and tools that differ from what you might traditionally use. How about using the inside of a cereal packet as your background, used tea bags as paint, and an old make-up sponge for a paintbrush? Or using a stone (tool) to pound some leaves or grass (paint) onto an old tea towel (background)? It’s about looking differently at what’s around you, being curious about your surroundings and how you could use everyday items in an unusual way. Having Faith in the process and trusting that, as you Continue through your comfort zone and out into your creative zone, what you’re making is valid, worthwhile, and unexpectedly beautiful. If you really don’t like what you’ve made, firstly silence that inner critic (perfectionism is a blooming killer!) and use that piece simply as practice for something new. Then try something different, explore what you think didn’t work so well, use that piece in a different way. Maybe you could cut it up and literally re-use the bits in a collage for instance. The piece below is one I made earlier this year, in response to an art challenge. It’s acrylic paint onto watercolour paper, using found objects from around the house to create different effects. There are prints from pegs, bubble wrap, and a doily, amongst other things. I’m still not keen on it, but I’m being brave and showing you anyway as an example of what you could do. This was the first time in years that I’d done anything like this, so it’s a good exercise in accepting that it’s good enough.

Repurposing things works the creative bones of you and encourages you to look at objects with a different eye. It’s also good for the planet as you’re giving something a new lease of life, and it’s money-saving, too – what’s not to like?! I have some old bedding that I’d like to turn into cushion covers, some new-to-me little side tables and a couple of our bookcases that are crying out for a new paint job, and all the while I have my new vision board in sight. The thing on it I like the best is the quote below, which I feel sums up pretty well what I’ve said this week. Have a bit of a think, and then have a go at something a bit different this week. I’d love to see what you let yourself create!

Trees, Weather, & Creativity

I went for a wander with my hubby and youngest child today for some much-needed fresh air and sunshine (and even the teenager went off to play footie with some friends for an hour!), although we got rather soggy due to some sharp showers near the end. Even managed to persuade the hubby into posing for a bedraggled family selfie!! We felt much better for getting outside and I love it when it’s blustery; it literally blows away the cobwebs and invigorates me.

As a child (and even a teenager), I loved going to the top of Castle Hill (a local landmark in my home town) and being buffeted about by the wind, even during thunderstorms! It’s my favourite place to be: you feel like you’re on the top of the world, no wonder Bronze-age people settled there. I wonder if any of them took the time to look around and just ‘be’? Was there time for them to wonder about the nature of things, to have a few moments of mindfulness? Were there trees around then, do you think, did Bronze age children climb them or friends arrange to meet under them?

Today I managed to take some good photos of my favourite trees as I love the changes that happen in between each time I see a familiar shape. Got some great ideas brewing for how to use them! Why not do something similar yourself? Maybe you could photograph the same tree once a month for a year, or take some paper and crayons out to do some bark rubbings (carefully!). You could bring home a handful of different leaves, and then draw each one in a few different ways, and try to identify the trees they came from. My friend, Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club did her first Insta live for Psychologies magazine this week, and invited those watching to take part in a mini challenge to do something creative inspired by trees and to share the results. People have written poems and all sorts!

Holmfirth Art Week was due to happen this week, but it’s obviously been postponed, and they’re also doing a virtual art challenge (here) for anyone to join if they wish. So, you see, there are always opportunities to challenge yourself and try something creative: go wherever the feeling takes you, whether it’s a photograph, a doodle, baking biscuits or learning crochet from online tutorials. Which leads nicely into talking about the online coaching/self discovery courses/people I’m currently following (Psychologies, A Life More Inspired, DO Impact Club). They’re all different, but similar in the sense that they encourage you to explore ways in which you could change your approach to life, and maybe do things you’ve been putting off, or feared you couldn’t do for some reason, maybe to provide some accountability to help keep you focussed. It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t really, you can dip in and out of these things, and take from them what works for YOU. If these aren’t for you, how about Open Learn or Future Learn, or ask your local adult education colleges? Even in these strange times, online learning is still happening, and it could spark real life interests and creativity in you!

This coming week brings some family creativity in the form of my hubby decorating our daughter’s bedroom, a much-delayed project that’ll soon be finished; said daughter has chosen the colour for the walls and is on with the grand design for the finishing touches. My son is often less willing to do the sort of creative things that he simply thinks of as drawing or painting, but now he’s showing an interest in how we could change his room around; new colours and furniture, which IS exploring his creativity and it’s good for him. Cue yet another Pinterest board with bedroom ideas; some of these boards are getting out of hand! I read something FrankAndFeel said, about paying attention to what you Pin. She was referring to Pinterest, and what she’d noticed about how/where she saves those beautiful images. Instead of saving something to her home decor board, she saved it to ‘One Day’, which sparked her curiosity about the themes we (as Pinterest users) come back to time and again. What do these images mean to us? How do they resonate? There must be something that pulls us – why else would you find you’ve saved the same image half a dozen times over?! She describes these phenomena as “digital maps of our desires”, and suggests that even if we profess to not know what we want, our sub-conscious certainly does! I believe that this concept feeds back directly into our own perceptions of creativity, so maybe we could sit back and think about this, or go for that walk and really look at our favourite trees, take note of what chords are being struck inside us, and choose to make something of that barely submerged creativity? Go on, give it a go, and let me know what you find out…