Seventeen things that absolutely ARE worth your time

Welcome, friends, to winter.

Let me just say here, I don’t care if you think it’s not winter until December 21st, until the first snows, or the Christmas tree goes up. For me, winter starts when the sun slides below the trees at the primary school before 3pm and you hurry home before the night slams down on the village. It doesn’t seem to gradually darken here at this time of year, it’s like a lamp being extinguished. It still shocks me with its suddenness.

I’ve been quiet of late. My dislike of, and worry about, these colder months is well documented and I don’t fear about speaking openly about them, particularly if my experiences might be a help to someone else. I have, however, found myself at something of a loss at what to say that might be useful and not sound trite. To be honest, I’ve been coping. Getting my head down, doing my tasks – volunteering at the school on a Tuesday, leading our Beaver Scout colony on a Wednesday (and all the planning that takes), working three mornings a week. Anything else is a bonus – a bonus I am so glad of that I am enjoying myself to much to want to stop doing it to write about it. I have been doing things that have made me feel so contented I sometimes just want to purr.

The only thing casting a shadow on the past few weeks is the concern that I ought be writing about it – and other things, besides.

As part of my Coping With Winter plan, I have been collecting oddments of beauty, inspiration and words of wisdom and storing them on Pinterest. I could literally lose months to Pinterest, so I have to ration myself. After a while you realise that most of the lifestyle/mindfulness how-to guides are all very much of a muchness, thousands of Instagram-ready, perfect home dwelling lifestyle bloggers all preaching from the same hymn sheet. I find this both infuriating and comforting – they don’t have anything new to say, either!

I stumbled across this post – 17 things that aren’t worth your time and yes, whilst I agreed with it, I thought that now is maybe not the time to look at things so negatively, and instead look at 17 things that absolutely ARE worth your time.

Walks: I’ve not felt great, physically, for a while now. I feel as though I have something working away at me, slowly, sapping my strength. I think it’s winter to blame, but massive stomps are a thing of the past. I still get out for a wee walk every day though. I take my time, listen to the radio on my headphone (Radio 4, bit addicted!), and even if it’s just a stroll to the school gates, I feel so much better for the fresh air. Even when it’s pouring.

IMG_20181124_145928_137

Books: Three amazing novels I’ve read recently – Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Melissa Harrison’s All Among The Barley and Polly Clark’s Larchfield. I’m currently reading Malachy Tallack’s The Valley At The Centre of the World. I haven’t felt so warm, contented and happy curled up with a book since Friday evenings as a child, just back from our tiny local lending library, eagerly clutching a new selection of Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome to devour.

Coffee: Make time for good coffee. We only have a wee cafetiere, nothing fancy at all, but I like to have a coffee I feel I deserve after completing something. After a morning of work, household chores or a long walk, it’s become something of a ritual to steer away from the jar of instant and indulge myself in something a little more special. Favourite mug, check. That wonderful smell of the coffee when you open the packet, check. Water just before boiling, check. Waiting just long enough before pushing down that plunger-thing, check. Sitting on the back step, eyes closed, hands wrapped around a mug that smells divine and tastes even better is one of life’s tiny pleasures that shouldn’t be denied.

Crap TV: Whatever it is, if it takes you away from worry and buggering about on social media for a wee while, indulge yourself. I watch very little TV, I prefer the radio, but in the run up to Christmas I do love a truly dreadful Christmas movie to escape into. It’s a treat. It doesn’t hurt anyone else. Don’t feel guilty.

Early nights: Early to bed is the new staying out late. Really it is.

Spotify playlists: I live for these at the moment. I get freaked out by how spot-on their algorithms are for being able to tell what I’d like, but maybe I am just depressingly predictable. Spotify always give me new things to listen to and fall in love with though, so I never get bored.

Cake: Making, particularly. Also eating. Cakes are calorie-free when the weather is cold.

Hot chocolate: With an extra sugar, lashings of squirty cream and a scrunched up Flake on top. Because to hell with Type II diabetes.

Friends, real-life ones: Reach out beyond social media. Plan a week-night get together for dinner and a chat, if you can. Pub quiz? Bingo? Walk? Whatever floats your boats. We are too reliant on social media these days, but nothing beats a good chinwag catch-up.

Hobbies: Whatever they are. Crochet, cake decorating, cheese-rolling, bog-snorkelling. Does it make you happy? Yes? Then do it more. Even if you’re not very good at it. Four years ago I was utterly hopeless at crochet, I couldn’t even chain, but I decided I was going to teach myself and I wasn’t going to stop until I had learned. Why crochet? Because everyone else in my family are good knitters, but can’t crochet. I’m a trend-bucker like that. Also, my knitting is bloody atrocious.

Sending kind words to someone you think a lot of: For no reason other than that your life is better for having them in it. Send them a text, a Twitter DM, a card. Just say it.

Politeness: It costs nothing. Smiling and remembering your pleases and thank yous sounds like something you’d remind a five year old; but you’d be amazed how many people don’t think it’s important anymore.

Turning off the news: I like being informed. I have children who often ask me difficult questions and, as a parent, I owe them an answer – or at least a discussion on a subject. But there is nothing to be gained from watching 24 hour news or dwelling over headlines. We can do what we can do – we can educate and inform and share advice and resources. Worrying and getting paranoid and upset about what the news decides suits their agenda helps nobody, and only distracts from what we can do.

Buying local and buying from craftspeople: Going out for something to eat? Go to a local restaurant/cafe run by people in your community rather than the big chains. Buy your veg at the greengrocer, your trinkets, cards, jewellery from crafters not production lines in China. Help support a local business or a talented craftsperson. Yes, you will pay £40 or so for one of my crocheted baby blankets, for example, but they will be a quality you can pass down as an heirloom and every stitch will have been made – by hand, not machine, with care and love, because I love my craft.

local

Volunteering: I’m going to write a more detailed post about this soon, so I shall just say that volunteering has brought me so much joy and personal satisfaction, as well as great talking points for my CV, that I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Whatever you like doing, would like to learn, or cause you support, you will be able to volunteer to help. Do it!

Cooking from scratch: I find cooking is brilliant for anxiety. The slow, careful preparation and weighing of ingredients, the combining, the cooking, the watching, the clearing up (I am an ‘as you go’ person rather than an ‘at the end’ person), there is something mindful and meditative about it, and whenever I’m feeling at odds with the world, I take great pleasure in the whole process, from planning and buying to the finished dish. I know I’m really lucky to have the time to do it, I’m not rushing in from work and juggling taking kids to various after-school activities, but if you can find an hour in your week to potter about in the kitchen, you won’t regret it.

IMG_20181002_160739_339

 

Plans: When the nights are long, nothing feels nicer than making plans for the future. Whether that be plans to budget for your summer holiday, plan what you want to do to your house, plan your new career or – my personal favourite – plan what I’m going to grow for food next year, now is the time to get everything down and see how you can convert them into more than just dreams.

I hope you’ve been able to take something from this wee listicle; it’s certainly helped me to get something written after weeks of beating myself up for not being able to do so, and I thank you for reading it. I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be so long next time!

 

 

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!

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.