The Survivors’ Guide to Early Autumn, Part Two

Well, I have been absolutely blown away by the responses to my last post, in which I garbled on incoherently about Autumn. It has generated a lot of chat about how we cope with the change of the seasons, and I shall be dedicating a post to your thoughts and experiences in the very near future. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, it means the world to get your thoughts.

I’ve have a morning free whilst I wait for a missing scarecrow (don’t ask…) so I thought I would strike whilst the iron is hot, as they say.

And so, without further ado, I am delighted to present to you, as promised, (insert drumroll noise here) Part the Second (Letters M through Z) of The Early Autumn Survivors’ Guide (Without Mentioning That Scandinavian H Word) in Glorious Listicle Format.

*takes bow, with flourish*

 

M is for Meditation. Well, what did you expect?

M

Meditation still often conjures up images of people in orange robes sitting omming in the lotus position; or can be marketed as something you need to invest time and money on learning from a mentor or there’s no point in it, or you might ‘do it wrong’. Fortunately, meditation is for everyone and is within everyone’s budget, whether you choose to look at some of the YouTube videos available that teach you the essentials and foundation of the practice, or you have the opportunity to attend meditation classes (which are becoming a lot more popular). I use the fantastic ‘Stop, Breathe and Think’ app for my phone (Android), and I know many others who love the Headspace app.

Taking time to meditate takes as long as you’d like to give it, or as long as you have. Sometimes I will have a session that will last thirty or forty minutes, sometimes I meditate for five minutes.

The longer sessions are a treat for my brain, a chance to really shut down my crazy-fast mind buzz and just float in the awareness of my breath. The shorter sessions tend to happen when I really need them, when I need a breather and a chance to refocus and regather so in many respects I think these frequent, shorter sessions are actually the most useful to me.

Meditation, for me, is a wonderful way of gathering my thoughts. I like to imagine my ‘busy’ brain as several big, tangled balls of yarn; and the act of meditation is me taking the chance to slowly and gently untangle all the balls of yarn. I tenderly tease the knots apart, untangle the thought-yarns and then make a decision whether to keep this yarn out for use, or pop it away into my mental stash-bag. The decision is mostly subconscious – I trust myself to make the best choice as to whether having a snooze is my most pressing mental need, or whether I should carry on with whatever tasks have been occupying me. Other people I know have described meditation as a ‘mental massage’, and I love that. You’ll come to find your own metaphors that will describe how it feels to you.

The most important thing to remember about meditation is that no, it doesn’t come naturally, so don’t worry if you feel as though your mind is pinging around your skull at a million miles per hour. Yes, you are encouraged to settle down and concentrate on your breathing and use that as a focus; but it is absolutely perfectly natural and absolutely OK if your mind wanders….just gently bring it back to your focus and keep going and, most importantly, enjoy it.

 

N is for Nature. 

IMG_20170924_155241_075

Recently, several scholarly papers have been published linking interaction with the natural world with a significant improvement in mental health and outcome and, I think for many of us, this is something we have known for some time. Pop ‘Nature and Mental Health’ into Google and you’ll be able to read experts telling us that getting into the great outdoors can have a huge impact on both our mental and physical health. There seems to be evidence that even looking out at a natural view can speed up physical recovery times in hospital patients; and even looking at paintings or photographs of land or seascape can have significant effects on mood.

I am a walker, and I will walk in any weather (though obviously I have my preferred walking weather). I favour wild places, but I have also become slightly obsessed with finding the wildness creeping back into our urban environment, or those tiny pockets of our pastoral past that has hung on whilst land all around it has been developed. For easy, low-level walking, canal tow-paths are a fascinating wander through our industrial past and are an intriguing natural habitat to explore.

I am, however, aware that not everyone is able to get out as much, or for as long, as they would like; so let us not underestimate the importance of bringing nature to us. A coffee on your back step, or just looking out of the window. If you live in a built up area, look up at the sky. If you have a garden, consider planting bulbs for the Spring. Do think about feeding the wild birds throughout the colder months, during the Winter the sight of so many birds thronging around our feeders fills me with joy however hard my day is being. If you don’t have a garden and are unable to find nature easily due to location or personal circumstances, don’t dismiss the power of beautiful photographs and paintings – Pinterest is absolutely fabulous for this. I can sit and gaze at a painting for ages, allowing myself to submerge myself into the image itself as though I am wandering through its landscape, sensing the weather, smelling the scents and absorbing the sounds. Make prints of images that resonate to look at when you need to, or take a few moments to try your hand at sketching them, or sketch your own perfect landscape. If you’re not particularly artistic (not that THAT matters), you could daydream a perfect walk; make it a place you can mentally retreat to when you need it.

 

O is for Open.

Be it. Throw off your preconceptions, look past what other people think and say, and do things FOR YOU (within reason!). Don’t listen to other people’s opinions as law, what’s right for them might not be right for you.

A good example of this is medication – I make no secret of the fact that I take both antidepressants and beta-blockers. I take these in the same way as I wear an insole in my shoes to protect my Achilles tendons, or I take warfarin to keep my blood flowing. Other people choose to go without medication and have different methods of dealing with things, and that is fantastic – but they are no ‘better’ than me.

We are all individuals, we all have our own complex issues and past experiences, and our treatment should be personalised to our needs. Maybe mindfulness and meditation isn’t for you, perhaps you think walking in nature is a waste of time, you might be thinking that we are poisoning ourselves with brain-numbing pharmaceuticals. We are all different, and that needs to be remembered when you are giving your opinion just as much as when you are looking for advice.

 

P is for Planning.

20160807_213915

When you’re having a truly crap week (and we all get them, you’re absolutely not alone), it can be really helpful to make some plans of something to really look forward to. Easy things that don’t have the potential to be a massive, depressing let-down are usually the best to aim for. A visit to a favourite restaurant, a wander around a museum, a catch-up with a friend, a film night, a night in with a good book. Don’t hold back on your planning, you could even combine them with lists (see last post).

 

Q is for Quiet

When was the last time you were enveloped in true silence? How often do you sit without music, a TV or radio, traffic noise or any other interference, however small? How much does other people’s noise impact on your life, without you even really noticing it on a day to day basis?

I’ll leave that with you. Quiet is worth seeking, even if it’s only for a couple of moments. Cut the chatter.

 

R is for Rest

Take it when you can. Nobody ever got a medal for battling through the day when they didn’t have to. Need a snooze? Listen to your body and have one. No time for a snooze? Try a ten minute ‘Bodyscan’ meditation where you relax your muscles in turn, you’ll feel refreshed afterwards, or just leave what you’re doing for a few moments and get a change of immediate scenery for a quick fix.

 

S is for Self-Care Package

emcarebox

These are one of these wonderfully indulgent things that you’ll enjoy putting together as much as you’ll enjoy using, and everyone should have one. Ideally kept together in a box, it’s a wee treasure-trove of goodies for when you’re feeling as though you need a boost; and what you put in it is up to you – they can be as basic or as lavish as you’d like. Some popular items include: Favourite childhood books, nail polish, pampering skincare treats, sachets of hot chocolate, scented candles, magazines, cosy socks, lip balm, notebook, memory stick of music/photos, crafting kits, herbal tea.

These kits also make lovely gifts for friends who might be having a tough time and who might benefit from a big mental cuddle. The first one I ever received was from a beautiful friend F, who sent me a box of wonderful goodies when I had finished the West Highland Way with a wee card that made me cry. It was such a beautiful surprise and it remains one of the most wonderful things I have ever received.

I am very conscious that this particular tip is very ‘female’ – I’d love to hear what men would like in a self-care kit. Do please comment….

 

T – Is for Taste

20151014_103511 (1)

When the nights draw in and it gets dark so ridiculously early food takes on a new significance in our days, so why not head to the kitchen and try out some new recipes? Rediscover the joys of taste. Some of my favourite memories of wet Winter Saturdays involve baking with my youngest, the kitchen warm and cosy, smelling of cake and spices. What beats a hearty stew or a curry when it’s freezing cold and raining stair-rods? The importance of gathering together for food goes back many, many centuries. Preparing, cooking and eating food together with family and/or friends gives it a ritual, makes it an event, a memory rather than just a chore to be completed. Cook together, chat with your partner or teach your children something new to make. Turn off the TV and eat together, chat together. Give quiet thanks that we’re no longer storing our harvest to last us through until next year, be grateful for this time shared together and our bodies’ sense of taste meaning that meals can be a sensory experience rather than just an essential daily task.

 

U is for Unique

You are. Please stop comparing yourself with others. That is all.

 

V is for Volunteering

Another thing that is really good for mental well-being, and something I’m going to dedicate a whole blog post to at some point in the near future but, in the meantime, read this.

 

W is for Weather

IMG_20171210_132148_170

I live in Scotland so I feel well qualified to comment on this, living as I do with four seasons in one day. The great fellwalker and writer Alfred Wainwright once sagely said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing and, as much as I want to headbutt him when I’m caught in the middle of a torrential downpour in a denim jacket because the sky was clear blue two minutes ago, he has a point.

If you invest in two things this Autumn, make it a decent waterproof coat and a pair of decent boots. I have walking boots, but I spend most of Autumn stomping around in my wellies. Why? Because I don’t have to be precious about my footwear and my wellies mean I don’t have to worry about my feet getting damp so it massively increases my potential areas of exploration.

Don’t let the weather hold you back from getting out in it. Rain can make for wonderful photographs of clouds, of raindrops, of reflections in puddles or sparkling, shimmering cobwebs.

W

For further inspiration on the beauty of walking in ‘bad’ weather, Melissa Harrison’s ‘Rain: Four Walks in English Weather’ will have you donning your Gore-Tex and seeking muddy puddles.

X is for X-Ray your daily life

We spend so long assessing our physical state – our size, our hair, our skin, how we appear to others; we can often forget to check inwards. Take time every day to check in with how you are feeling. Are you tense in your shoulders because you’ve been hunched over with stress, or clamping your jaw because you’re tense? Are you jittery and nervy because of pent-up anxiety? Stretch, do some very simple yoga moves, get out for a walk round the block. Check into your mind and heart, because what’s happening inside shows on the outside.

Y is for Youth

IMG_20160327_121552

Oh, look at those happy, enthusiastic faces, would ya?

Your youth. Another thing I intend to blog about in the near future (get me, huh?) is the importance of not letting go of our youthful exuberance, our enthusiasm and wonder at the world around us; our desire to learn and develop. Becoming jaded and cynical seems to be the scourge of the modern world, when did we decide we were too old to believe in the power of beauty and the magic in the world? The beauty of a view, piece of music, a piece of writing. The magic of an evening out with friend, a delicious home cooked meal or an incredible night’s sleep. When was the last time we laughed at something so hard we thought we might burst?

Z is for Zip

z

Zip it. When you’re on social media and it’s like International Whack A Troll Day, or when – shock horror – someone is wrong on the internet, then just take a big, deep breath and then move on. Don’t stress yourself out arguing however much you want to. It’s taken me months and months to resist rising to the bait but now I just move away and do something else. You’re not giving the trolls the oxygen of attention, which is what they crave; and arguments on the internet seldom change opinion – your passions are better suited to different methods of communication, so don’t waste your energy. Look, instead, for a way to use your energy to force real, positive change.

 

And there endeth my first alphabetical listicle and, I confess, I enjoyed it more than I expected I would. Join me next time as I let you into some of my friends’ secrets on coping with seasonal changes, things that make them happy and probably me adding two thousand words of pointless waffle.

Be lovely to each other.

Advertisements

The Survivors’ Guide to Early Autumn, Part One

Early Autumn. The leaves are just turning, the hedgerows are thick with bounty to be harvested, a fine dawn mist settles in the glens and, in houses across the land, people are rolling their eyes at the Christmas adverts, wanting to sell their children on eBay and  wistfully reminiscing about barbecues, warm lager and those few, brief weeks where Britain’s patio furniture wasn’t being carried down the middle of a rain-flooded high street.

It can be a tough time of year for everyone but the most hardened Autumn woodland pixie who loves pumpkin-spiced everything, Hallowe’en, Chris Packham in a sensible padded gilet and candles; so here is Part the First (Letters A through L) of The Early Autumn Survivors’ Guide (Without Mentioning That Scandinavian H Word) in Glorious Listicle Format

 

A – Is for Attitude.

20151014_103121

The attitude you wake up with is very often the attitude that lasts all day; so it stands to reason that the better a mood you can wake up with, the brighter the potential for the rest of the day, right? Just to get the boring old lady stuff over with straight away, yes, this means having a decent night’s sleep and waking up feeling refreshed. Everyone achieves this in a different way, but do please believe me (and all the experts) when I say that nobody finds a good night’s sleep at the bottom of a wine glass*. You might indeed sleep; but you won’t get the sleep you need. Believe me, I have several years personal research on this subject and chucking the evening tipple has improved my sleep and, ergo, my morning mood, more than I ever believed possible. Not having to get up in the night to pee is also a great help….

(*see also gin, vodka, lager, need I continue? Thought not. As you were.)

Set your alarm a little earlier than you need to – just a few minutes – and lay with your eyes closed and do a little early morning mental preparation. Don’t think about your work to-do list. Think about the good things that the day has in store. Don’t have any good things? Plan some. Just small things that you can really look forward to as little treats throughout your day – a real coffee instead of the usual instant; popping into the library to borrow a book; trying out a new recipe; something on TV that might be interesting to watch. We don’t have to try and change the world here, sometimes the promise of twenty minutes to ourselves to read a chapter of a book is all we need to change how we view the next few hours.

 

B – Is for Breathing.

breathe

When I first started meditation – and I hear a lot of people say the same thing – I thought the whole concept of learning to breathe properly really quite ridiculous. For the love of God, I’ve been doing it since I was born, it comes naturally, money-for-old-rope quack self-help gurus and their fancy expensive books, yada yada yada.

Until I started learning to breathe properly.

Breathe properly, steadily, deeply and you can pretty much instantly step back from that dreadful anxiety that can creep up on you when you least expect it. The trick is, I think, to practice breathing regularly enough that you remember to employ it as often as you can; thus allowing yourself to slip into it before a full-on panic attack takes hold. Not only are you then already breathing more deeply and evenly (keeping adrenaline and cortisol at bay) but your mind is already concentrating on the process of breathing. This is actually how the ‘paper bag for hyperventilating’ works – it doesn’t do a thing other than distract the sufferer and encourage them to take deeper breaths because they think the paper bag is helping. True, dat.

 

C – Is for Create

OK, a lot of you reading this are already crafty wee buggers; that’s probably why we’re pals but, like me, you might notice that – when things get a bit gloomy – our creativity is the first thing to go. There are multiple reasons for this, I think – when our brains aren’t behaving it is very easy to do ourselves down, belittle our own abilities and compare ourselves, negatively, with others. Often, we consider creativity as something less important than all the vital, pressing tasks we have building up and so it gets sidelined to be picked up as some kind of luxurious treat when we feel like we deserve it.

I say bollocks to all that (and I speak as someone who taught herself to crochet to get through severe anxiety; and then had the unfortunate issue of crocheting actually triggering anxiety attacks as my brain must have been linking the two things together).

Your creativity – however you choose to express yourself – is part of you. You have part of your brain that absolutely needs to be fed, and without sustenance it will suffer.

We are ALL creative – it’s not just about art, writing, music. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of time and society, many people lose – or at least forget – their creative sides; and creativity and self-expression can often be portrayed as something rather luxurious, something selfish and indulgent. When you are already struggling with your brain telling you that you’re not good enough and that you’re wasting your time; the sense of guilt that you are indulging yourself in a pastime that could be taking your time away from something more pressing and important can be enormous.

You are not being selfish and indulgent. You are feeding that part of you that needs to express itself, however you choose to do that. Self-expression is ancient, it is not some modern evil designed to keep you from answering emails and filling in forms; and man has done it since man came to be.

If creating something, if expressing yourself creatively, brings you happiness and pleasure; then your happiness and pleasure will spread to others. Your immediate circle will benefit from your improved mood; you may at some point wish to join others in a social gathering or club, or even volunteer to teach your skills to others for the good of the community.

Do you have to be good enough? Good enough for what, exactly? Ask yourself that. Does it bring you pleasure? Do you lose yourself? Then that, my friend, is enough. Anything else is an extra Brucy-Bonus.

Don’t think you can do anything at all? Pick something, find some tutorials on YouTube. Have a go. Everyone starts somewhere! The book pictured above, Emma Mitchell‘s ‘Making Winter’ is also full of some gorgeous new crafts to try during these bleaker months.

 

D – Is for Disconnect

Social media is fab, isn’t it?

Except when it isn’t.

Not just social media, but rolling news channels, magazines, newspapers (if anyone still actually buys those anymore). Sometimes the world is a horrible place that seems to be full of horrible people and you just sit there helpless and/or angry at the injustices and the abject stupidity in the world; and then you look at social media and it’s full of kittens and trolls and people moaning and drama and……

TURN. IT. OFF.

Turn it all off. Start with an hour. Build from there.

Can you remember the time when we didn’t feel the need to tell the world what we had for breakfast and take some carefully filtered photographs of the neighbours’ wheelie-bins?

I recently took a month long break from social media. I did miss people, of course I did, and the first few days were very hard; but by the end of the month I had absolutely not missed all the negativity that bombards you, and I did so much more with my time. I honestly had not realised how much time I had wasted scrolling through feeds. More to the point, I hadn’t realised how detrimental the slow drip-drip of drama, negativity and hate from some areas had been to my mental health.

 

E – Is for Extra Time

This is Husband Dearest’s idea, and I confess that I loved it. I was also stuck on ‘E’.

Husband Dearest has, of course, got a wife that won’t sit still and tends to go slightly manic when her mood is on the wobble. Husband Dearest would like to stress how important it is to slow down and take extra time to do things.

I’ve just recently started looking into the whole ‘Slow Living’ movement as I stumbled across it on Pinterest and, to be honest, a lot of it is what we already do. Our family are superb potterers (hence the name of this blog) and whilst I am the undisputed queen of household multi-tasking, I do also like to take time doing things – a more mindful approach, if you will.

Cooking a lovely meal from scratch, gardening, preserving food, baking can take on a sense of quiet gentle ritual if you have the time to take things slowly and absolutely dedicate yourself to the task in hand. This has been a rather difficult process for me in many respects, as I am almost hardwired to try and do multiple things at once; but I have learned to take huge amounts of pleasure in these slow, gentle activities that are so absorbing and soothing to someone whose brain seems to gallop at a million miles an hour. I can see why blokes go fishing for hours and hours at a time, really.

 

F – Is for Forgiveness

Didn’t get up today? Drunk half a bottle of gin and texted a random stranger for a fight last night? Too anxious to leave the house? Burst into tears for no apparent reason?

It’s OK. This happens to everyone (OK, maybe not the texting bit, but…). The wheels haven’t fallen off, they just went a bit wobbly. Tomorrow is another day. There is nothing to be gained from giving yourself grief for it; but there is everything to be gained from accepting it as an experience you can learn and grow from. Had this never happened, you would never have gained this insight.

 

G – Is for Gratitude

gratitude

Sound the Cliche Klaxon, it’s gratitude time. Group hug, everyone.

Seriously though, it works. Use a little notebook or, for those of you who can’t drag yourselves off your mobile, you can get several apps that will prompt you to find something to be grateful for. Some of them even let you chat with a community of likeminded grateful types. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and sometimes we do need to be reminded that we have so much more than so many others.

 

H – Is for Help

20180801_181548

“Ask for it” says person actually notoriously terrible at asking for it.

Also, keep your eye out for others who might be struggling and – whilst running up and shouting ‘Do you need help?’ is likely to scare them witless – an offer of a coffee, a chat, a stroll/bike ride or even just stopping for a cheery two minute chat might just be what they need. They might even put you in their gratitude journal.

 

I – Is for Instant Gratification

Sometimes a Starbucks Cappuccino or the shop’s biggest bar of chocolate or that gorgeous dress from Boden or that new Dremel multi-tool is the only thing that will hit the grin-spot. Fucking go for it.

 

J – Is for Jac Doesn’t Know Shit

I really don’t know much apart from my own experiences, and what I have learned through research and talking to friends; and you may well be screaming at this list in frustration and feel like I’m talking to you as though you’re six. GOOD!

It means I’m getting a response from you, so you go and write me a list of twelve things you would do, or how I could have expressed my list better.

And then we’ll collaborate, because writing lists of how to make yourself feel better is a bloody marvellous way of learning what might make you feel happier, and how to achieve it.

That was a trap, that was. Good, eh?

 

K – Is for Kindness

20180828_080849

Kindness to others, but also to yourself. 

If your children are giving you grief, as mine certainly are, remember that they too are possibly going through similar seasonal changes and uncertainties. Schools have gone back and many children are in new settings, with new goals and expectations. Some won’t have the experience or vocabulary to explain and express their thoughts and feelings succinctly and will instead bicker, fight, tantrum, sulk, flounce and deal with hormonal and emotional rollercoasters as best they can. Don’t rise to it, tough as that undoubtedly is.

Being kind, daily, to yourself is something that takes some getting used to when you are more used to putting others first and, like creativity, can at first seem self-indulgent and vain; but it really is vital. Put time aside to do things for you. A chunk of time once a week, five minutes in every hour, twice a day – the choice is yours and yours alone. You know what you need to make you smile, and we all deserve to smile.

Things I do to be kind to myself include:

Walking in the woods

Making lovely cups of tea in my lovely tea-pot and tea-cup for one set

De-cluttering the part of the room where I’m spending most time

Cooking something I’ve never made before

Yoga

Wandering round art galleries and museums

So they don’t have to be expensive or time consuming; just small things that make me smile and add to my gratitude journal.

 

L is for Lists

L had to be for ‘lists’, really, didn’t it? Not exactly a surprise, I grant you, but I think the usefulness of lists can be easily forgotten. When we are in an anxious, stressed mood with thoughts flying from pillar to post, writing lists is a quick and easy grounding technique that leaves you with – well, a list. But whilst you’ve been writing you have distracted yourself from anxiety (and may have staved off a panic attack, see ‘breathing’ above) and you have also reduced potential future anxiety by having created a list to refer to. Daily to-do lists (with timings, if you think that will help – it certainly does me) are fantastic anxiety-busters (plus you get that delicious feeling of crossing them out as completed); but lists can be for all sorts of things including longer term plans and daydreams. How about:

  • Things to do with the kids / other half / besties in October
  • Things I fancy cooking
  • Places I’d like to go on holiday
  • Items of clothing I no longer wear and could give to the charity shop
  • Bucket List of Dreams

 

Well, this post was only supposed to take thirty minutes and has actually taken almost three hours. I shall therefore chalk this one down as a fine example of ‘Slow Living’ and leave you with the promise of Part The Second, Letters M through Z to come soon. Ish.

In the meantime, what would you add to this list? Do you have any experiences that you would care to share? Any tips on getting through this peculiar time of the year? Do please feel free to comment, please!

Self Care September

 

I was mooching around on Twitter this morning, as I do, and I came across the hashtag #selfcareseptember . I will confess right now that it’s the first time I had heard of it, but it immediately struck me that a) this is a fabulous idea and b) I have been subconsciously using September as my own self-care month.

OK, I am getting married at the beginning of October; and part of this urge for self-care is, quite frankly, to stop me getting so stressed that I’m an absolute wreck and on three bottles of gin a day by the big event and also, in a rather uncharacteristically girlie way, a chance for me to feel and, hopefully look, the best I can. Although, let’s face it, given my usual look is slept-in-a-hedge chic, just having my hair brushed and no dirt on my face will be a vast improvement.

Just a quick disclaimer: I don’t have any medical training, though I’m very good at putting randoms in the recovery position, and I’m not squeamish about blood. I’m not trying to say that a bit of self-care is going to solve all your problems and ‘cure’ mental illness. It would be a gross and insensitive underestimation of all our intelligence to even imply that this could be the case. What I can attest to, however, is how various things I do at this time of the year personally help me.

For those of you who don’t know me, I suffer from a delightful combination of clinical depression and severe anxiety. I am currently on Citalopram for the depression side and beta-blockers and mindfulness for the anxiety and, touch wood, I have been pretty stable with only fairly minor peaks and troughs for the past few months. So yes, having lived with this for at least the past thirty years, I do get mental illness. I also appreciate that we are all totally different, and what helps some will not necessarily help others. Always remember that mental illness is a spectrum, and all of us are on it somewhere, and wherever we are can be massively traumatic and confusing – do try not to compare your emotions with those around you.

There are times where you might like to try some of these. There are times where you might be too scared to leave the house, or too wired to concentrate, or too sad to get out of bed. Don’t worry, there will be other days to try, if you want to. Don’t add to your troubles by feeling you somehow fail because you can’t always manage self-care. That defeats the purpose.

“Autumn casts a spell
and dying never was so beautiful.” – Amelia Dashwood

September is a strange time of the year for me. It is undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful, with the myriad colours and early frosts and morning mists; but also tinged with sadness. It has always represented, for me, an ending of things. The close of summer, the death of warmth. I’m not sure why I was always so pessimistic about the changing of the seasons, I can only put it down to the fact that I love hot, sunny weather and, as a naturally outdoorsy type I love the long days and the buzz of nature.

Last year I decided to do my best to get a grip on how I dealt with the colder, darker months. I was already unwell, I knew that, and understood that I needed to knuckle down and deal with getting through that without being bogged down with additional seasonal depression; and the best way I could think to be proactive was to find things that I really enjoyed doing and fit them into a self care routine as a way of treating myself whilst my poorly brain rested and recovered.

Here are a few things that work for me:

Walking It Out

They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. They have obviously never spent November in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for a stroll, whatever the weather. Some of my favourite stomps have been on the dreichest of days where I have sloshed through mud, felt icy rain batter my face, and watched the rippled circles from raindrops dance on the Clyde. Coming home and drying off and putting on my cosiest clothes and indulging in a cup of tea in front of the fire is a treat in itself. I also find frosty mornings when it is so cold your jaws ache hard to beat.

My pro-tip here would be to always carry your phone or a camera; and invest in a pair of small binoculars and take every opportunity to stop and investigate your surroundings, and notice things you might never have noticed before. I’m going to write more about this, and the concept of Awe Walks in a later piece, else I ramble on forever.

Cosy Crafts

Autumn and Winter are perfect times to curl up with your favourite crafts and get stuff done in front of the fire with plenty of tea on the go. As you know if you’ve read my blog before, I am an avid crocheter and spend much of the colder months working on longer projects – last year I worked on my Hebridean Islands ripple blanket (you can find Lucy at Attic24’s pattern and tutorial here).

Another really worthwhile thing I was able to do was to stay involved with the local craftbomb club, and we organised a Christmas craftbomb in the village – it wasn’t an awful lot of work, but it kept me in touch with friendly faces and I enjoyed our meet-ups and discussions very much. Craftbomb / yarnbomb groups are popping up all over the country and often meet in local cafes and libraries so it is worth checking out your local community noticeboards.

Emma Mitchell, blogger at the lovely silverpebble blog has a whole book on beating the winter blues coming out next month.

You should probably buy it, like I will be doing the moment I can get my grubby paws on a copy. (Actually seriously cannot wait!).

Kitchen Witchery

 

Once you’ve burned all those calories with a good, bracing walk; why not indulge yourself with cooking something wonderful? I can understand that many people work really long hours and have other responsibilities such as caring for relatives, but if there is any way at all you can lose yourself in a recipe, you won’t regret it. When I am feeling particularly anxious, there is something incredibly soothing and comforting about just pottering in the kitchen, radio on, prepping and planning and taking time to concentrate on every aspect. I will confess I am not a very good baker and can destroy a Victoria sponge with a single glance; but I love making main meals for my family and experimenting with flavours and modifying recipes; and I have a particular love for making jams and chutneys. There is something very zen indeed about leaning over the jam pan, and something deeply satisfying about seeing all those lovely jars of hot preserve cooling on the windowsill.

 

Also, did anyone mention rhubarb gin? Quite ridiculously easy to make….

 

 

Over to Facebook

I thought I would ask my friends on Facebook how they liked to prep for the colder months, and what they would include in their personal September Self Care packages:

“Make time for yourself every day. You’re allowed to. It’s not selfish” – EO

“I get my SAD lamp out around about now and read by it most evenings. I also batch cook on the Sunday after pay day and freeze healthy meals for myself and my daughter – great for those nights you come in late and/or knackered after work.” – AG

I let things go – coming up to winter and going into summer are the two times of the year where I get rid of unnecessary things that weigh me down. Declutter of everything really – people, stuff, worries. A wonderful fire purge around Winternights/Halloween/Bonfire night is always welcome. It’s done almost subconsciously I think now. For winter its preparation for all the fabulous Christmas/Jul things. But also…you don’t want dead weight following you into a hard winter and a new year.
I feel similarly about spring into summer – shed the layers of clothes and any unnecessary baggage.” – CMcH

“I make a point of watching the sunrise from the swimming pool/sunset while I walk by the river. I make sure I stop and stare at everything beautiful that catches my eye on my walks – from a dramatic sky to a tree bending beautifully to catch the light.  I write those moments down for my memory jar too – a lot of repetition to others reading them but each one is memorable to me and makes me smile. Listening to music and TED talks too. Classical tunes, folk music etc for quiet relaxation and proper rock songs to lift my mood.” – CM

 

“I walk, a lot. It’s worth it to pay more attention to the changing seasons. Even in the rain, the sounds and scents change. I also have a clear out and rearrange where I can. An organised space definitely brings me a call mind. I try to do seasonal crafts with the kids.. I’m lucky they are going enough to still be interested. If not, we bake.. and have our treats for movie afternoons. Reading is a must too.” – LH

Wise words from some very wise women, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Playlist

img_20161004_071405

I should actually be working today, but I find myself locked out of our online database with nobody currently available to let me back in. I’m at my desk now, anyhow, so I thought I might as well have a bash at blogging rather than face the hell that is the most untidy kitchen in Scotland or risk hurting my back again trying to carry the Vax Behemoth down the stairs (that I have already fallen down once today) in order to vacuum up crumbs that will magically rematerialise within five milliseconds of the boys being home from school.

I saw the idea of posting up favourite playlists on someone else’s blog – apologies, I thought I had bookmarked it for a linky, but I hadn’t and I can’t remember for the life of me where it was. In the absence of anything important or clever to say (the headlines are all far too miserable at the moment, I’ll either depress everyone completely or just start ranting again), I thought I would introduce you to the songs that currently accompany me when I’m pottering and pootling about the place. Those of you who know me in real, actual life will know that I’m usually stomping about the place with my headphones in whenever you see me sans enfants.

Yes, I know that some of these songs are knocking on a bit, but quality never fades, does it?

Welcome to my brain! Well, my sort of Autumn Stompity-Pootling Around Soundtrack.

Note: Edited to add – I’ve had to change a couple of the links because they weren’t working on mobiles; but I must admit I prefer the Fairport Convention swap-out over the original studio version; and ‘Day Is Done’ is even more gorgeous than the version on ‘Five Leaves Left’ even if it’s not a particularly good recording. It sounds as though it’s been recorded from a warped vinyl which, of course, is more than entirely possible.

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

The Staves – Blood I Bled

Bat for Lashes – Daniel

Sneaker Pimps – How Do (yes, it is Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man)

Nick Drake – Day Is Done

The Unthanks – Mount The Air

Fairport Convention – Who Knows Where The Time Goes

Bridget St John – Silver Coin

Belle and Sebastian – The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner

King Creosote – My Favourite Girl

Bon Iver – Holocene

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Girl In Amber

20160831_090422

Every leaf speaks bliss to me…

...fluttering from the autumn tree.

Emily Bronte

This morning, I made the fatal error of looking on social media before getting out of bed. It was pretty much wall-to-wall misery and fear; with posts and retweets about Brexit and the economy, about no mandate for another referendum on Scottish Independence, about last night’s horrific ‘Question Time’, in which the malodorous Conrad Black was given a platform and an audience booed a Polish audience member who admitted she no longer feels comfortable or wanted in the UK; the continued outrage about a handful of young Syrians coming to the UK from the horrors of the Calais ‘Jungle’ and, of course, Donald Trump.

By eleven o’clock I had burst into hormonal tears four times and wanted to give the shed door some seriously good kickings; and I realised I had to do something to improve my state of mind, else I would ruin the final day of my Birthday Week Off.

It being Friday, the not-husband was working from home and able to mind the x-box obsessed beastlets (I did ask them several times if they wanted to come out, but to be fair they have indulged me with daily route-marches around the locale this week, so they deserved a day off).

I headed, as I usually do when I need to calm my jets, down to the woods.

20161021_113931

I have written about these woods before, on many occasions. I find, however, that there just aren’t adequate words to explain exactly what they mean to me, what they symbolise. I come here when I am happy, I come here when I am stressed. I come here when I am grieving and distraught. I enter the woods and I feel its embrace, as though it knows me as well as I know it; and I immediately start to feel myself relax, my shoulders unknot, my walk becomes gentler and more fluid rather than my usual ‘get from A to B’ stomp.

20161021_114600

I must confess, I do usually have my headphones in when I walk and usually listen to Radio 4 – I am one of these people who likes to be learning things as much as possible, and walking and listening to obscure science or philosophy or a drama or Book of the Week or ‘From Our Foreign Correspondent’ works for me, things seem to sink in better when I’m walking. Today, though, I decided against it and decided to listen to the woods instead.

I listened, and watched, drinking everything in. Snapping twigs, a robin’s song, the sound of the angler casting his line, the happy bubbling of the Clyde eddying quickly around a bend. A sudden white flash of a deer disappearing into the trees, scampering squirrels everywhere, the nuthatches in their usual spot. Out of the corner of my eye I was able to catch a movement – an almost invisible treecreeper just edging around the trunk of an oak.

Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower – Albert Camus

The sky was a beautiful October blue, bright and bird-filled and full of the promise of a cold night to come; but the sun was deliciously warm on my face and I suddenly felt as though I was being bathed in gold.

20161021_114712

I stopped still for a while, just listening as I heard individual leaves, their job done, break away from their parents and gently floating and fluttering to the ground, leaves of all colours and shapes carpeting the path so deep in places you had to be careful of where it could have been muddy underneath – but at times like this, you are so wrapped up in the immense beauty of everything you can see, and hear, and smell and feel that your trainers don’t really matter that much. A bit of mud never hurt anyone.

20161021_115911

Every few months or so, I like to pop by and check on wee Tiny. I was shown this little grave about three years ago whilst out geocaching, and I was instantly captivated by it, by the love that her owner clearly had for this ‘prettiest of spaniel kind’. I have no idea if this is where Tiny was laid to rest in 1804 (not visible in this picture, it’s obscured by a leaf) or whether it is just a memorial stone left at a certain spot – one of their favourites to walk, perhaps – and, strangely for Bothwell and Blantyre, which both have a good number of very keen local historians who know so much about the local area ; nothing more is known about Tiny or her owners; but she was obviously an adored pet and I always think of her and her master, or indeed, mistress, walking through these same ancient woods 200 years ago whenever I see someone walking a spaniel there.

20161021_120334

Down past where the Clyde rose a good ten metres, I’d say, from its usual level; as marked on this wall on March 12th 1782; it suddenly dawned on me that I had spoken to everyone I had seen. Dog walkers, couples with children, joggers and cyclists, lone ramblers. Sometimes, dependent on my mood, I almost resent people being in ‘my’ woods, particularly if they are being loud, and I simply smile briefly at them and then stomp on past to be by myself again, to put as much distance as I can between myself and them until the next person comes along the path. Today was different. I pointed out the above marker to an English couple walking the Clyde Walkway for the first time, I made a fuss of some very happy looking (and soaking wet) dogs, I chatted with a mum of two young boys about children’s unending fascination with branches. Everyone said good morning, commented on the beautiful day. The woods were full of friends, full of warmth, and not even I could remain introverted and silent.

20161021_120533

I have walked this path hundreds of times now, and yet I am still surprised when I round the corner and see the grand old lady that is Bothwell Castle in front of me. She’s looking rather worse for wear these days – being made of sandstone and being battered by a series of harsh, freezing winters and some pretty bad storms have taken their toll and she is almost entirely covered in scaffold now. Though I cannot find any photos to prove my point, I am sure she is half gone, I swear that five or ten years ago you could see much more than this from this particularly bank. I must investigate this further. I am, however, very worried that this gorgeous old girl is going to be hit by economic downturn and will end up being deemed too far gone to continue to fund; and that would be a tragedy.

20161021_121713

Down past the castle, down the path where the fairy doors are, you start to notice the scenery across the Clyde, on the Blantyre side, past the site of the old priory, and the concretions in the rock. I don’t know much about the other side, other than where the priory was, and the aforementioned concretions; and we have only walked this far down on the other side once where Fin disturbed a wasp nest and we almost got run down by inquisitive cows; but the trees on the other side seem deliberately planted, as though they are the remains of an exquisite garden, taken over by farmland. Again, I will have to investigate.

The smell of Himalayan Balsam is still overwhelmingly strong here, despite there being barely any flowers left in bloom. I must admit, I cannot stand its sickly sweet aroma; but I can’t help but feel a little torn about a plant considered an invasive species that is so adored by bees – there’s nothing quite like coming down here in August and hearing the drone of hundreds of bees (no pun intended) as they busy themselves around the Himalayan Balsam and, were I a conservationist by employ, I would have something of a moral dilemma if asked to remove it.

20161021_122608

I got the distinct impression I was being watched from across the bank. I stopped, and after ten minutes of fighting with my phone, managed to zoom in (badly) to get this shot. I have no idea what bird this is, I’m not very good at water birds, but I am going to assume it’s some kind of heron.*

*It’s not a heron – to be honest, I didn’t think it was but I certainly didn’t expect it to be a cormorant, but a cormorant it is, according to the lovely Alex. Thank you Alex. Go read his blog, it’s far better than this one.

This is pretty much as far I was going today, I walked up the side of Uddingston Grammar and along the Main Street and was soon back in the land of hustle and bustle and traffic and noise, but, my god, my head was in better place.

Sometimes, I find, going out walking in the woods seems like the last thing you need when you are feeling utterly exhausted with life and just want to hide under the duvet, not go yomping through mud. It is, however, probably the most wonderful thing you can do for yourself, and introducing your children to the woodland and showing them how to treat it as a friend, with respect and love, is one of the most wonderful things you can do for them.

Thank you for reading, dear reader x

 

 

 

Of chairs and cushions and blankets

It seems like an age since I had five minutes to dedicate to sitting down and doing my WordPress thang – those of you who follow me on Instagram where I can be slightly more photographically creative but considerably more lazy word-wise will see that I have, in fact, been pootling and pottering with the best of ’em. I had my very lovely family up from Wales to visit after my birthday this year, which was amazing; and I’ve taken a few days to recharge my batteries (and cleanse my liver!) and get used to having a quiet, empty house for much of the day again.

My sister took all the Christmas presents for family back to Wales with her, there are a couple of handmade goodies in there (I say ‘goodies’, the recipients might not be blown away by them but, as my sister pointed out, they will no doubt be better than the goats and clay ovens I bought for African families in my family’s name one year, gifts they seemed to find both bewildering and hilarious. I swear I’m making her a crinoline lady bog roll holder next year.). This, of course, left me with a noticeable lack of things to do, crochet wise, so I finished off the cushion covers I’d been working on. These are starter projects, I really cannot emphasise that enough. I’m just a beginner, self-taught from YouTube tutorials, mostly.

chair

I needed something desperately to jazz up the rather drab and old-fashioned three-piece suite that we were given as a freebie a few years back. It was from a house-clearance, and we were incredibly grateful to  have been given the nod over this suite as the one we had that the landlord put in for us had been slowly disintegrating for thirty odd years before we even got it. It’s wonderfully comfortable, with seats big enough to curl up in, and a sofa long enough to really stretch out on, but I have always felt it lacked a bit a zing and we’ve never really had the money handy for jazzing it up.

As it happened, my cushions didn’t stay there long. Oh no.

The big yin had a cub camp this weekend over Stonehouse way, and we had to drop him off at the Scout Training Centre on the Saturday morning, so off we pootled. It’s a rather lovely, largely ignored part of South Lanarkshire, just the sort of place I would like to have a wee cottage.

 

Disused viaduct near Larkhall

Disused viaduct near Larkhall

 

IMG_20151101_170028

 

We were on our way home from dropping him off, and decided to have a wee noseyabout in the car, we weren’t really in a hurry to get anywhere and it was drying up to be another glorious day after some rain in the morning; it really was one of those gorgeous, clear late mornings where you could see miles and miles of gently rolling countryside, with the odd glimpse of the (reassuringly familiar) sprawl of Glasgow and the tower blocks of Motherwell when you reached the summits of some of the hills.

We were headed down a narrow country lane when I spied just ahead a hideous mess. Seriously, who are these people who just clear out their garage / shed / attic and, rather than take it to the dump (or, rather Civic Amenity Centre) decide to drive out to a lovely part of the countryside and just dump it at the roadside? Honestly, what goes on in these people’s heads?

I was tutting and muttering under my breath at the sight of the abandoned, broken and dilapidated junk (baby things, mostly – buggies and highchairs and those awful baby walker things you plonk them in and they invariably end up in A&E) AND THEN I SPOTTED IT!

“STOP THE JALOPY!” I shrieked.

(I didn’t, but, you know, poetic licence)

I’d been looking for a wee chair to use downstairs, either in the living room or in the ‘void’ (a room/space between the kitchen and living room where the front door is that I haven’t told you about yet). Something small and neat enough to be easily moved between the two rooms, and upstairs occassionally as required; but a cosy chair suitable for crafting, supervising homework, or, if you are small of stature, daydreaming or curling up and reading comic books (notably, in this house, The Phoenix Comic).

And there it was, forlornly dumped alongside half of Babies ‘r’ Us, unloved and unwanted.

I knew the fly-tipping was recent, as it had been bucketing down that morning and yet the fabrics of the other goods underneath and beside the chair were bone dry, so it must have happened within the last hour. I quickly checked the general integrity of the chair (seat, legs, arms) and checked for signs of woodworm and any damage from maybe months spent in a damp shed; then happily jammed our new baby in the car boot. Then drove off at speed, lest the chap hurtling down the hill behind us thought it was us responsible for the fly-tip.

So….here we are, the great reveal and the umpteenth gifted / skipdived / found dumped in the wild item to grace our living room:

IMG_20151101_120956

 

20151103_170002

 

Isn’t he fabulous? You’ll notice a pile of wool in the background – I thought it would be a great chair to use for crochet as I can put it near the window and make the most of the natural light. Ha! Some hope. Fin has declared it ‘the ultimate gaming chair’ and, as you can see, this is now their favourite spot for Phoenix reading. Oh well….

For those wondering, I did immediately email the council to inform them of the fly-tipping. I am a responsible grown-up like that.

With the cushion covers and the Christmas gifts finished, I was itching to get onto something else and I have had my eye on the gorgeous cosy stripe blanket on the amazingly inspirational Attic 24 website for a fair few weeks now. I am so grateful to my friend Sarah who sent me a link to Lucy’s website when I first started on my crochet journey, it really is a joy to read. Whenever I’m feeling a bit down in the doldrums and in need of some cheer, Lucy and her gorgeous creations and the way she writes about her life never cease to make me smile. I think we all need a little Lucy in our lives!

Attic 24 Cosy Stripe Blanket (pattern and tutorial in link above)

Here it is shortly after starting. I am very aware that I don’t have Lucy’s fantastic eye for colour and, at the moment, I am being very cautious about my choices and should perhaps be throwing caution to the wind a bit more. I was very happy with the colours at this point – I have done a few more rows now and I must admit I am feeling a little uneasy that mine is too clashing now I have worked more primary and secondary colours in. But we shall see – this is only a teensy fraction of what will be a single bed sized blanket / throw so I think it is probably far too early to speculate or, indeed, worry. There’s far too much worry in this world without me adding to it.

Well, well, well, would you look at that? Yet another hour set aside for blogging where I had in my head what I was going to blog about and then ran out of time on the preamble. This post was going to be about hunkering down for the winter and the mental recalibration that involves, but that will have to wait until next time, where I also hope to show you an update of the cosy stripe blanket.

Until next time!