Learning to let things go…Week 1 of ‘The Retreat’

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It’s 1pm, I’ve just finished work for the day. It’s a new project, a new client, and I’m just finding my feet; but that’s me done for today. I’m sat at my desk, the August afternoon sunshine is bright and deliciously warm through the window. Outside, children are playing, a lawnmower sounds in a nearby garden. Clouds – a combination of fluffy white meringues and darker, more ominous grey forms, both threatening rain – drift past. Washing hangs on the line, blowing gently in the same breeze that rocks the plum tree and causes a few thirsty leaves from the oak across the way to drift gently, silently to earth.

I am calm, I am quietly planning the rest of my day. This in itself has come as something of a daily surprise, as usually at 1pm I am mentally exhausted, unable to keep my eyes open and desperate for a nanna-nap.

It’s so difficult to try and explain how different this past week has been – a week without the lure of either social media or alcohol – and how much I feel as though seven short days have started to change me. I’m not known for being particularly superstitious but I will confess that I am frightened to death that too much early crowing may, indeed, throw the proverbial spanner in the works; so, for the time being, I will share what I have learned so far.

Learning to breathe

As ridiculous as it may sound, I have learned to breathe. You might indeed consider this a quite ludicrous statement and, a couple of weeks ago, I would have been inclined to agree. However, daily meditation, and a daily session of at-home-yoga with the amazing Adriene on YouTube have taught me not just how to breathe properly, but how badly I breathed before. Why? Anxiety. Major causes of anxiety: social media (friends bickering, the dramas, the bitching, the one-upmanship, the upshitting, Brexit, more Brexit, trolls, Brexit, ignorant numpties, Brexit), wine, not enough sleep. Reasons for not enough sleep: social media, wine.

Never, ever underestimate the power of breathing properly. It’s incredible. Also, yoga with Adriene. That’s incredible too. I am learning to love downward dog and plank, honest.

I really like sleep.

I mean, REALLY like sleep. No more the 2am winehound dragging out the last few sips of wine whilst scrawling through the various dramas on social media, I have been tucked up in my bed by 11pm with a book. I have (mostly) slept brilliantly and been up and raring to go early rather than dragging my sorry arse out of bed at the last possible opportunity. I even got up at daft o’clock on a Saturday morning to go on an eighteen mile stroll with a pal, and I wasn’t crying for a sleep come midday. In fact, I had an amazing time and I cannot wait to go again.

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Saturday 9am, Loch Ard. It’s been a while since I saw 9am anywhere on a Saturday

My dreams, I should add here, have been mental. Who needs alcohol when you can control meteor showers using the power of your mind, have blazing arguments with everyone you know, dismantle an escalator, give birth to twins on a Ryanair flight, divorce a man you never married, deal drugs to Prince William and set fire to a china shop? Note: Any amateur psychologists might want to stay quiet about any dream analysis they are thinking of conducting, thanks-all-the-same.

Evenings and weekends are much longer without wine and/or social media

Genius, huh? It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you’re not involving yourself in someone else’s drama, arguing with trolls, verifying someone else’s well-intentioned ‘facts’ or getting upset about politics. It’s even better without wine because you can:

a) watch things on TV and actually remember them, therefore possibly even learning something.

b) not worry about spilling anything on pyjamas / laptop / duvet / floor

c) eat chocolate / gooey desserts without guilt because you’ve saved valuable calories you’d have wasted on wine.

d) Be able to get up early the following morning with a spring in your step and no mascara on your chin ready to have another fantastic (and amazingly long) day doing all the things*

*you may also end up clearing out kitchen cupboards, de-filthing children’s bedrooms, pruning roses and ironing. You have been warned.

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Tea. Is fab.

I’ve not been unhappy in a week

I know, right? Oh, there have undoubtedly been minor frustrations, arguments, headaches, grouchiness (hi there, week-early period!) and the odd wobble of nerves; but nothing at all like I have become used to over the years and considered quite normal. This, of course, is probably a combination of things – giving up social media and alcohol has meant that I’ve been sleeping much better, doing more interesting things, drinking a lot more water, eating more healthily and doing a lot more exercise – including yoga – and I think the cumulative effects of these have led to me massively reducing my stress-load and being able to handle life’s little wobbles a lot more calmly and effectively.

My relationship with alcohol definitely needed to change

I’m going to say it here, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s taken far too long for me to come to this (some might say startlingly obvious) conclusion:

You might not consider yourself as having a ‘drink problem’. Like me, you probably don’t need to drink every night, or drink vast quantities, or drink at odd times of the day or to ‘settle your nerves’. You might not (you probably won’t) have the shakes, the black-outs, red face. You won’t be clutching a paper bag in the park or eyeing up the cooking sherry.  Forget the old cliches – the cliched image of the drink-addled jakey sitting in a park is what the drinks industry, and their various hangers-on (advertisers, marketers, PR bods etc) want you to think of as someone with a ‘problem’.

It’s not about what you drink, or how much you drink. It’s about how that drink makes you feel, whether you feel artificially happier, bolder, stronger with it; whether you feel unhappy, angry, guilty or anxious during or after it (not to be confused with a raging hangover). It’s whether it is stealing your joy.

Here’s one for the women (not exclusively, but certainly predominantly). Take a look at social media. How many times do you read ‘HURRAH FOR GIN!’ or ‘IT’S WINE O’CLOCK!’ or ‘PROSECCO TIME!!!!!!’. It’s normal to drink. It’s normal to blame / thank your day by having a drink. Bad day – wine. Good day – wine. Naughty kids? Commiserate with gin. Good kids? Celebrate with gin. How many people do you know post almost constantly about being spangled/shit-faced or joke that they need a drink? How many people seem happy to promote a particular type of alcohol with their personality as though it is the most vital part their personality? Why do we do this? Do we realise what effect we might inadvertently be having on someone who might be desperately looking to cut down or stop drinking as we advertise the glory of being at one with the bottle of joy, as we glamorise it into something luxurious we deserve? Can you imagine if the same glamour, the same coolness, was still applied to having a cigarette? “Ooooh, it’s Berkley Menthol Time!!!!!, time to indulge in increasing my chances of developing cancer, what a crazy kid I am!”

Anyway, that’s an aside. That’s just something to think about when you’re next scrolling through social media. That’s why I have chosen to take a few weeks away from social media. What I actually want to say is this:

If you do actually worry about how much you drink, you’ve got a problem with alcohol. Problems can be fixed.

That’s what I have started to learn this week. I stood at a crossroads with an off-licence in one direction and the hills in the other.

This week, at least, I chose the hills. And, my god, they were glorious.

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Preparing to Retreat – Day 2 – I Create

This morning I worked. It’s a really enjoyable project that is unfortunately coming to an end, but today was pretty hard going, my head wasn’t in the best place for it. It’s because I’m worried about tomorrow and I felt that every time I spoke, you could hear the sigh hovering in my voice.

Alongside giving up social media for thirty days, I am also giving up alcohol. In my head, it’s all part of the same rut and my idea is that I need to shake up my evenings completely in order to push myself out of this hole I’m in. The problem is, I am a creature of habit, and it is going to take me a while to set up a new, healthier, happier routine for myself.

After work, I started making a few plans for rut-busting. I do so love a plan.

I have a few things (treats) coming in the post, like lovely new pyjamas and I spent a fair bit of outlay in ingredients to make my own organic, chemical-free bath and hair products. I will have the great outdoors on my doorstep as my chapel and my playground – my eldest has promised me use of his hammock so I can swing about in the woods. I have a few spots in mind perfect for meditating, I have a stack of books to be read, and some delicious, healthy recipes to cook. I have crochet and embroidery projects to work on, and too many drawers and boxes of arts and crafts materials to think about.

In addition, I felt it would be beneficial to have an emergency self-care kit for those moments where I just need to distract myself for a few moments, maybe an hour, to kill off a craving for a social media / glass of wine / social media AND a glass of wine.

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My kit contains:

Herbal tea bags – not shown.  I have plenty of these in the cupboard, but I am always drawn to them in the supermarket, and I am very interested in making my own from the herbs I have in the garden.

Yoga mat – Sometimes it takes me ages to drag myself to the mat. I often cannot complete a full session, there are many moves that are far too hard for my currently tight and unsupple muscles, but what I can do I greatly enjoy. I love Adriene Mishler’s yoga channel on YouTube, she has an infectious personality that never fails to cheer me up and she explains things so well I tend to be so blissed out I do most of the sessions with my eyes closed. She has also taught me that it is absolutely fine if I can’t get into runner’s lunge, or heel-to-floor in downward dog. I can do what I can do, and that is perfect for me. Next time, what I can do might be different. It’s no failure to not make every move picture perfect, it’s a success that I’ve brought myself to my mat and used this time for myself – and the feeling following a really lovely, deep stretch is absolute bliss!

My tablet – I’m hopeless typing on this because my fingers and hands are too small for the type-pad, so I only use the tablet for the aforementioned YouTube yoga sessions (and some Pilates sessions), my Spotify playlists (I have some gorgeous calming music saved to a playlist) and catching up with BBC Radio 4 (particularly The Archers or a really good drama).

Felt-tip pens and colouring books – I am a sucker for a colouring book, it is so calming and I love playing with colours and different combinations. I find it really helpful for when I’m planning colour schemes for crochet blankets. Colouring allows me to turn my brain off and just concentrate on being neat, creating patterns and having a good think about things. I have solved most of the world’s problems whilst colouring in an intricate mandala.

Logic puzzle book – You can stick your crosswords, I don’t have the patience for those. Wordsearches are boring. Give me a decent mug of coffee and a logic puzzle and I’m a happy girl. They remind me of laying on Cornish beaches with my family, laying listening to the sound of waves and the dull beach chatter of our fellow tourists. Remember those days where we weren’t all gazing at our screens constantly?

Epsom salts and essential oils and the compulsory scented candles – because bathtime is vital time. The bathroom is the only room in the house with a lock, for a start! I have a little stash of ingredients for making all manner of pampering lovelies so I can feel gorgeous on the outside, even if I’m feeling like a social-media deprived wreck on the inside.

Breathe Magazine – I love this magazine. I love the fact they are advert free, and they write interesting and thought-provoking articles on creativity, mindfulness, living simply and improving your mental health and wellbeing. They do this without the slightly cheesy and patronising ‘cheerleader’ approach you get from a lot of the American media who monopolise this genre, who seem to be more about product placement and expensive treatments and retreats far out of the budget of the majority of people.

Books – Books are unbelievably important to me. I don’t read terribly fast, as anyone who follows me on GoodReads can testify, because I believe good books should be savoured.( It also shows how busy I am doing other things that an hour a week to dedicate to reading is a marvellous treat!). I absolutely love nature writing; I have been hooked since reading John Lister-Kaye’s seminal ‘Song of the Rolling Earth’ a few years ago. I’ve been really lucky this year and read some absolutely wonderful books already, and I have vowed to do far more reading this month. I’m even moving outside my comfort zone and reading a book that fits more into the fantasy genre, which I usually bypass – Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Under Heaven’, and I’ll be interested to see if I am someone who might be converted! The Little Book of Buddhism is a perfect tiny read for carrying around and reading on the bus, on the loo, in the bath for when you need a quick hit of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama himself.

Crochet – I’m finishing off something to enter into the village Horticultural Show. I say ‘finishing off’ but I think it is actually finishing me off, I find that I am re-doing the same few rows over and over and not working out my mistake until attempt six; then forgetting what the solution was by the next time the same row repeats again; but it is a piece that I am doing for pure pleasure (and my goodness, the colours are beautiful!) and I shall cherish it, because my next few projects are all commission pieces.

 

So, here we are. Heading for midnight. It’s all very nerve-wracking, but I am also feeling like quite the intrepid explorer. Who would have thought, back in the days of internet chat rooms and forums, that we would be seeking advice on how to shut off from social media? I never thought I would become ‘that type’ of person. Never thought my life would pass me by while I got upset by other people’s dramas and I got angry with trolls I don’t know and would never in a million years invite into my house, but have let into my head. Is the old pre-Facebook/Twitter world still out there? Am I seeking something that cannot be returned to?

Today’s yoga mantra was ‘I create’.

I create a new routine for myself, or several routines if that suits me better.

I create a space for thinking for myself, for forming my own opinions.

I create a home where my children do not see me staring constantly at my phone whilst telling them not to stare at their laptops, under the pretence that my internet use is somehow more valid and useful than theirs.

I create a new today. I won’t worry about creating tomorrow until tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Preparing to Retreat, Day 1 – I Accept

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So, on Wednesday August 1st I am going to be powering-down my social media usage for a month.

To clarify: I will still be using the computer, very occasionally my tablet, for certain things – yoga classes on YouTube, reading The Guardian, listening to the radio, grabbing recipes I have stored on Pinterest; but I will not be participating on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other ‘social media’ platform.

There are a number of reasons for this, but primarily it is because I feel as though I am stuck in a rut and social media is an important part of that. I almost cannot remember a time before social media and gawping at a screen, and I don’t really think it gives as much to my life as I’d like to think it does.

I am, essentially, taking a month to recuperate and take a restorative approach to my life, and there are going to be a number of significant changes I’m hoping to implement to benefit my family and myself.

Last night, very late, I deleted most of the apps from my phone. The games, the apps for the RSPB, The Woodland Trust, eBay, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram , YouTube, Spotify all gone. I have left Messenger, for emergencies; Map My Walk and The Met Office app. Facebook I had deleted months ago and not really missed.

I immediately felt freer. They was something deliciously decadent about pressing that ‘delete’ button. Of course, they are still there for the download should I require them back; but for now I am waving a languid hand at them. I don’t need you, I don’t want you. I shall walk my path unencumbered by the thoughts of others. Those who care for me will still care, whether they see me online or not.

Later on I went through my emails and unsubscribed from marketing emails from everyone but those who inspire me. This leaves mainly updates from Map My Walk and Race At Your Pace, and a handful of websites and literary periodicals such as Slightly Foxed, 404 Ink, Caught By The River and Elementum Journal.

I want to make my interactions with technology more valuable, thoughtful, more relevant, more life changing. Less wasteful.

I want ideas, creative inspiration. I want to be lost in words again, not distracted.

I started Adriene’s yoga camp. Day One was an affirmation that “I accept”.

I accept how I am now, in this moment.

I accept that I am at a crossroads.

I accept that I can move in any direction of my own free will.

I accept that I am happy now, but I accept also that there are things I can change, in time, to bring an even deeper happiness to myself and those I love, respect and admire.

I accept the next month and all its undulations.

Tomorrow, I am working in the morning. During the afternoon I shall be doing more yoga, and I will be creating my special Retreat Tool Box, my kit of things that I find comforting that will help me through when I’m struggling a little; and for whatever reason I can’t get outside to indulge in nature, my greatest joy.

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The lovely Hugh and his lovely shroom recipes…

Hello lovelies, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Here is my picture of Saturday dinner. I don’t often Instagram my dinners, but when I do….

 

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This is the lovely Hugh FW’s Mushroom Tart from his River Cottage Everyday cookbook, which is one of my favourite books in the world.

The puff pastry was on the reduced counter of Tesco for 5p, so I bought it to freeze.

The mushrooms were on offer in Lidl. It would be nice to add wild mushrooms, but I am nowhere near an accomplished or confident enough forager. Besides, it’s not the season.

The parsley is from the garden and, soon, the garlic will be too.

The breadcrumbs are from the scrag ends of loaves it’s too easy to just throw away.

Parmesan is just something we always have in the fridge because, like Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it’s an investment that goes a long way.

We added some Gorgonzola to the adult part because it was in the fridge and we had it to use up .

I served it with a rocket salad. It was absolutely amazing. It would be great for those mushrooms you have languishing in the fridge that have maybe gone a bit sticky and you’re not quite sure what to do with them. USE THEM! They are fine!

If you find supermarket mushrooms rather bland, consider buying some mushroom ketchup , it is, frankly, something your pantry should not be without. Link is for Waitrose, we got ours from Sainsburys’s. Honestly, invest in some. It’s adds amazing depth to so many dishes.

(It’s also nothing like ketchup in consistency, more like a Worcestershire Sauce or gravy browning.)

Unfortunately, we were unable to add said ketchup to the above dish because hubbie dearest had used it all in his various dishes (it works beautifully with meat) but fortunately, it was still amazingly tasty.

Definitely one to try, and one that won’t break the bank; particularly if you can buy your frozen pastry on the reduced/whoops counter or if you are confident enough to make your own ruff-puff, advice on which is included in the above link.

I’m sure it would also be lovely on a pizza base, which can be made easily in a bread machine or with this yeast free easy thin pizza base recipe.

Hope you love it as much as we did!

 

Bon appetit!

 

 

The Hawthorn Path

I don’t make new year resolutions, as those who follow this blog will probably know. I do, however, make affirmations of things I would like to achieve, and one of those is to do more with my writing.

As my great love is nature, it makes sense to concentrate on writing about nature and my emotional responses towards what surrounds me.

As so many of us live in areas that are not unspoilt areas of natural beauty; but in towns and suburban areas, I want to show, over a year, what beauty and life can be found in even a modest little patch of nature; and show how you can love a perfectly ordinary little corner of the place where you live.

I wanted to keep it separate from this blog, which will still run – albeit erratically – to tell you all about my other hare-brained schemes and my family’s general shenanigans; but I thought it would be good to keep the two projects as separate entities.

I would like to introduce you to my new baby – The Hawthorn Path . It will be rather different to Potter & Pootle, but I hope you will come and visit and enjoy what you read, and start to view the nature all around us with new eyes.

With thanks and love xx

 

Flitterings 1 – The Buzzard and The Day That Shouldn’t Have Been

A bright new, icy-chilled, sunlit day. A first day back in school. A chance to catch up on housework and the companionable silence broken only by the gossip of the sparrows on the plum tree, waiting on their breakfast of seed, nut and mealworm.

Then a text. A broken heating system. A closed school. Another day of wandering a frosty world, this time with company. Lunch eaten at home, we grab our coats and boots and walk out into the glistening, shimmering world.

The sun is already dipping low by the time we reach the farm track. Robins bounce alongside us in the hedge; goldfinches ‘tsee’ and flit overhead, tiny bodies dancing from branch to branch in the bare, frost-twinkling hawthorn bushes. Hard, black soil felt keenly through our wellies; every rut and every ridge imprinted into our memories of this magical, extra day off school.

A shuck-shuck-shuck ahead, at first I think startled blackbirds heading from what we call the Winter Tree, a tree that stands forlorn and mostly bare even in the heady depths of summer; but on closer inspection we discover with joy that these are, in fact, fieldfares – the first we have ever knowingly seen. ‘Pretty thrushes’, the eldest calls them as he spies them through the telescope on the field where you would expect them. We are justifiably thrilled.

We are, however, here to find the buzzard. We are learning to know how to seek him out, we are finding the signs to watch for – startled birds, frantic blackbirds, sudden hidings. We have not been unlucky of late, seeing him each time we have wandered this path; usually hovering high over the field, or over the motorway, presumably looking for an easy take-away lunch of squashed animal.

 

Today we walk the path, and he is not there. We scan the skies. We scan the trees. We continue to walk to the new Forestry Commission nature park, past the iced over pond and the casually discarded beer cans and up to where the dog-walkers march with their ball-throwers and retractable leads and…..there is he. He rises, as though in greeting, from the brush in front of us.

His hugeness, his denseness, his importance never fail to impress me. I always forget quite how large he is. He flies, rather lazily off, to a tree that barely looks solid enough to hold him and there he sits, imperiously.

Master of all he surveys.

Magpies attempt to intimidate him by bouncing around him in the same birch, but he treats them with disdain, like monochrome jesters in his court, unworthy of his attention. He scans around, as though merely interested in his surroundings. Resting. Biding his time.

We walk on. We see a fox slinking along a path; and the white bums of deer in the trees. We meet an angry little wren and watch the sun drop lower in the sky; making the frost shine yellow fire like amber and glint like diamond dust under our feet and become burnt into our retinas and into our memories.

The buzzard, and the day that shouldn’t have been.