Signs of Spring 

Disclosure: I wrote this 3 weeks ago, got side-swiped by life and forgot I hadn’t posted it. Hey, it was the Spring Equinox just two days ago so we’re going to go with it being still relevant!

Everyday adventures are the stuff of life in our family. Though we live in a town at the moment, on any given day if we can swing it around school and work you’ll find us in the wild somewhere. Deepest countryside, wild beaches or enveloping woodland. Those are our playgrounds. Our boys need it like they need food and water.

Some days though, through tiredness or nursing lurgies, we find ourselves stuck in the rut of cosy indoorsiness, pjs still on, slowly driving each other a little mad while not finding quite the oomph to get ourselves out the door. We had a Sunday like this last week. It’s usually me who breaks the spell holding us unhappily inside when my cabin fever reaches critical point.

And so it was that weekend, that I suddenly freaked out, piled us all into a mismatch of warm stuff and clawed my way outside so I could start breathing again.

Having been cosied up all day, the boys were in a rare state of mind where they weren’t all that keen on the planned walk. Almost unheard of, but so it was that day. In fact, we could hardly persuade our youngest out of the car once we got to our starting point. Knowing that coaxing would only make him dig his heels in further, such is his way, I stood back and said ‘OK, I’ll just look around for some signs of Spring while you get ready to come out’. I had counted two – daffodils and crocuses – by the time he’d climbed out. Don’t you just love those moments when it works?

So off we went for our walk, spotting as we went. It was a sunny but cold day and the signs of early Spring were everywhere. My eldest was great at keeping count and spotted every teeny tiny sign, teaching his brother by pointing out the littlest details.

After they’d climbed amongst their favourite fallen tree roots, swung on the big rope swing and discovered a new one, we made our way out of the woods having found over 30 signs of Spring. Amazing! I’d underestimated that one. Some were shoots so tiny we couldn’t identify them and therefore could’ve been counting twice on occasion. No matter. It was the act of noticing more than the number. There was no notebook to hand and honestly I think it was all the better for it. Just slowing down to look closely, fostering an awareness of all that is awakening, soaking up the newness and the promise. Simple on the one hand, but yet another way that grounding ourselves deep in the season’s can give our children a strong sense of belonging in the world.


  
  

Off the top of my head, some of our spottings… daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, primroses, cyclamens, hellebores, periwinkles, apple tree buds, leaf buds of all kinds, catkins, bluebell shoots and many other new shoots, lambs, birdsong, camellia, early azaleas and a distinctly new smell in the air.

I loved that they embraced it as the day’s mission, noticing things that even I hadn’t, involving such focus at times that nobody mentioned tired legs or hungry tummies; in fact, we were all surprised to find ourselves back at the car.

In the past week since then the boys have continued spotting things and they greeted the Spring stories that came out this weekend with glee.

Such a big change from Winter stories to Spring ones. The contrast of white snowy scenes and fresh rolling greenness. A lovely shift. They’ve been dipping into this season’s story basket a lot.

I usually find more lurking around the house on our many bookshelves as the weeks go by, but here’s a round-up of whats in our basket so far.

In the Spring Story Basket:

Ferdie’s Springtime Blossom – by Julia Rawlinson & Tiphanie Beeke – the seasonal stories about this little fox are firm favourites and this one is especially sweet because he confuses blossom with snow. Perfect for the turn of the season.

Brambly Hedge Spring Story – by Jill Barkelm – hours and hours I could gaze at the intricate drawings in these books. This one features a Springtime birthday which fits in nicely with N’s March birthday.

Pelle’s New Suit – by Elsa Beskow – a forever favourite around here. The beauty of the illustrations matched perfectly with a heartwarming story of a boy, his lamb and how the gift of wool passes through many hands and becomes a new suit. So much for little ones to learn from this one.

The Rabbit Who Found Easterby Charlotte Zolotow – I’m not going to lie, this one has the power to make me quite emotional! Gorgeous illustrations and such rich language and far-reaching message. I could read this endlessly. And I do, if asked!

The Golden Egg – by A J Wood – sweet book for little ones with rhyming verses, shiny Easter eggs behind flaps, colour exploration and cute wildlife. Our boys still like a flick through of this even now and it helps that the last line claims ‘Easter eggs of chocolate are the best’.

The Spring Rabbit – by Joyce Dunbar -a lovely seasonal story but also great for children awaiting a sibling. We love a good bunny story around here.

Little Baa – by Kim Lewis – another sweet one just right for this time of year, with the added bonus that it explores the losing and finding of the mummy sheep. We took it out of the library last year and after the fourth renewal it became clear that we might need our own copy!

The Tiny Seed – by Eric Carle – a story for any season perhaps but it finds its way into our seasonal basket in the Spring being the time of planting seeds and watching seedlings grow. We love the journey it’s goes on and it always sparks great conversations with R, our eldest.

When Will It Be Spring? – by Catherine Walters – this one tends to stay in there for the first part of Spring, while Winter is still fresh in our minds. We completely love the last page where the Bears have emerged from hibernation into a beautiful world if Spring.

Milly Molly Mandy Spring – by Joyce Lankester Brisley – chapter books are very much the thing for R lately; he loves the rhythm of the nightly instalment. I love that they’ve gathered these sweet nostalgic stories of the simple joys of childhood into seasonal anthologies. The boys just love them.

 
That’s all for now. If I find more I’ll attempt to update the list.  Meanwhile, though I truly don’t need the book-shopping compulsion that will follow your responses, I’m going to ask the all-important question anyway – What’s in your Spring story collection? Which are your children’s favourites?   *covers eyes and tries to forget PayPal login*

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tend – my year of self-care so far


This year, after years and years of pretty much flogging myself and wearing my poor body into the ground – from a heady and unhealthy combination of drive and martyrdom – I made a promise to myself. No more expecting more out than I put in. No more putting everything first before my own needs. No more perceiving self-care as selfish where I’m concerned but wholly necessary and important for everyone else. No ‘too busy’ or ‘no time’. No more ‘later’. No more ‘when the boys need me a little less’. No more of that.

No more exhaustion. No more overachievement at the expense of my wellbeing. No more holding on to a lingering sinus infection for weeks on end because I can’t quite find a moment to work out how to get well. No more avoidance and no more excuses.

I will take care of you, I told myself.

If you’ve been reading along for a while you’ll know my word for the year was a complete reflection of that. Tend. I will tend to all of your needs, dear Self of mine, not just when I’ve tended to everybody else’s first and there’s a teeny bit of time left to look briefly at my own and not just the ones that are shouting the loudest.

It’s not any easy shift to make, particularly as a mother, when somebody always needs something and there always seems to be something on fire. I’ve been making headway – changing habits and breaking cycles – but it’s so easy when life gets busy to fall back into old ways. I thought an update now and then might help me keep track.

I wrote before about how early nights are rocking my world. Seriously so good for me. And yet, I’ve fallen off the sleep wagon a few times and had to scramble back up before it went without me. Then there’s nutrition (mostly good and going well, but tiredness kills it every time), exercise (non-existent still apart from chasing the boys and a tiny bit of yoga), rest (hmm?) and wellness. All tangled up together and all a work in progress.

Then there are the things than run deeper. The things you do to fill up your soul, to top up your vitality, the ways you channel your necessary creativity, how you feel connected to what feeds you, how you stay grounded. The things that seem to make the most difference, yet it’s not always easy to work out how to reach for them.

January was a good month to work on figuring this out. Far from being the usual fairly simple month with not too much going on, as January usually is, my husband was away a lot and I had (still have) far more on my plate than I usually would. The easy option would have been to park the whole ‘tending’ idea, but not wanting to break my promise so soon, it made me focus more. Through the busyiness, I paid attention.

We sometimes expect the answers to be earth-moving. They rarely are. No one thing is going to bring along a bucket full of extra time and energy. No one thing is enough soul-food to sustain us. What I’m finding is, it’s the little things that go a long way.

Simple things filling me up this month are: 

  • Reading books again – yes, actual books! Ones that go deep but make me feel light and set off all kinds of magic in my head. I’ve ploughed through The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (for the second time because last year’s tired brain forgot the lot!), Bach Flower Remedies for Children and now I’m halfway through If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. I tried fiction but I just couldn’t get into anything. Too much I’m curious about and want to learn at the moment and that learning fills me up.
  • Listening to audio books while I’m cooking or doing chores – yep, if I can’t read, somebody else can read to me! Particularly good for when I have jobs left over from the day to do in the evening; washing up or folding laundry are way more interesting with an audio book on the go. At the moment, having loved Sue Monk Kidd’s writing, I’m listening to a book she wrote with her daughter called Travelling with Pomegranates. Also, podcasts – though I only have a few favourites at the moment. I’d love some suggestions.
  • Carving out time to get on top of my coursework – not an obvious one, but when something sits there not being attended to, as this has for months, it’s such an energy drain. After an inner tussle because I hate to miss weekend family time, I’m taking Saturday mornings to bash this out and it’s helped with residual stress levels massively.
  •  Taking steps forward on my journey back to work – oh how good it is to rediscover parts of yourself you’d sort of forgotten. Lots to say about this so I’ll save the detail for another time, when I’ve managed to wrap my words around it. But purpose is good for the soul. Particularly when it feels like work that’s coming from the heart.
  •  Adventuring at every opportunity – the easiest way to fill myself back up. My failsafe. I fall back on this time and again. Give me a wide open space somewhere in nature and the day, along with my energy levels, is transformed. Snowdrop hunts and coastal expeditions have been top of the list.
  •  Saying yes to things that take me out of the house, out of my comfort zone and out of my Self. There were a few things that came along this month that it might have been easier to say no to, but the yes was far more enriching and eye opening. Always grateful for that reminder.
  •  Simplifying as I go – Since we can’t make more time I’m all about questioning how I’m spending it. Simplifying meals, super-nourishing batch-cooking, decluttering, remembering our rhythms, giving the boys some small jobs to do now they’re more able. It’s all helping me claw back a few hours here and there for other things.
  • Gathering with women – the simplest and most nourishing of soul-food. My friend began a women’s circle a year or so ago and I now wonder how I ever lived without it. Deep and true feminine support is so very uplifting and empowering – we need a whole lot more of it in our lives and I now understand that it’s easier to find than we think it is. I’ve a post brewing about this that I’ll share very soon.

The little and often approach seems to make a lot of sense when it comes to holidays as well. When Paul’s work is busy, the time and energy he gives to it is off the scale. We both end up depleted and sometimes, unhelpfully, cross with each other. It’s the way of this particular flavour of self-employment and since it won’t change all that much, we’re working on changing our ways. Small, regular, inexpensive short breaks to recharge are supportive of our lifestyle in ways that one big annual family holiday just isn’t. So rounding off a month of crazy, we grabbed the few days he had clear in the diary during half term and headed to Wales.

We couldn’t have chosen better. This time our half term fell on a different week to some of the country, so we arrived at Fforest’s Manorafon site to find we had much of that and the surrounding area all to ourselves. Blissful to us, in our then tired states. We explored beautiful wild bays with dunes, caves and streams, sharing them with just the occasional dog-walker. Went on long rambles, had lazy long pub lunches and nightly soup and stories around the camp fire, under the stars. Adventured-out boys ready for bed, then evening couple-time, sometimes with our books, no wifi and an owl hooting as we drifted off to sleep. Oh my, it was exactly what we needed.

A few of my favourite pics…

 

  

  

  
  
  

Arriving home feeling refreshed and restored to myself, I got taken down instantly by a tummy bug. Yes, I really did. The very day we got home. Such is life sometimes! Almost as a reminder of ‘don’t imagine you’ll ever have this fully sorted’.  Ok, yep, I get it, re-fill the tank but it’ll always empty again.  It’s not a one time event.  More a daily choice. And as I keep on choosing it, so the self-care dance continues…

the Winter story basket

  
As I said on my last post, I’m deep into Winter this time around and, for once, not rushing it along. But I will admit to having begun turning my thoughts slightly towards Spring last week when the temperature warmed up. 

We added snowdrops to our nature table and I cast my eye over the bookshelves, remembering which Springtime books we have that will get switched into the seasonal story basket in a few weeks. So it must be my fault that the temperature has plummeted! Sorry guys. 

We’ve had a seasonal story basket for years now and it’s enjoyed some attention from our boys, but like many things it’s taken a while to root. It was always led by me and, while it was dipped into fairly often, (it slightly pained the Virgo in me that) the season’s books would quickly get mixed back in with the others and forgotten. I wondered if maybe it wasn’t for them. 

This Winter it’s been completely different. Rather than instigating the shift from Christmas books to wintry ones myself, my eldest took up the challenge. Dashing around the house, he snatched up everything snowy, frosty and cold he could find. He remembered lots but happily rediscovered several he’d forgotten, proudly presenting me with a pile when he was done.

He explained the whole process to his little brother. Why we were doing it. How to tell if a story was wintry or not. Pointing out his favourites. Lots of chatter and pouring over them. Such a joy to watch. And it reminded me, as they’ve reminded me so many times, that they take much more from our traditions than I’m able to see. While in the moment they might only seem mildly interested in something we do, their inner experience is all their own and runs deep.

It’s part of the wonder of a seven year old, that I get to see this more clearly. Having absorbed all of his seven years worth of experience, my darling eldest now lives all the things that he loves. His internal clock is finely tuned, as are most children’s, and he’ll ask about things that we’ve done in earlier years, often on the very day they happened. We get reminded of our rhythms by him, always right on time. Things we thought didn’t really stick come up in conversation and he’ll ask wistfully if we can do that thing again this year, ‘because I really loved that, mummy’. All the sown seeds are in there, tucked just under the surface and they’re  vibrating, rooting and sprouting just like the early Spring bulb shoots. So very lovely to watch. 

He transitioned really well last year from his Steiner Kindergarten to the lower school and is loving every day. I’ve truly never known a child so eager to get into his classroom each morning. But as well as the upright, confident, curious Class One child I see before me, I can still see the Kindergarten child who soaked up all the stories, songs and skills and forged a strong connection with the seasons. It’s all very much part of him. His little brother only has to sing the first few words of a song and he beams in recognition, asking ‘are you doing this one at circle time yet? And this one? You will soon! It’s an almost-Spring song!’. I see in him a deep wonder of the world and I hope that always stays with him.

All this to say that the seasonal story basket (possibly all of our family traditions?) is now firmly in the hands of my children. They’re compiling it, tending to it, reading from it, playing out the stories and showing it lots of love. 

It reminds me that these seasonal rhythms do a whole lot more than just make a corner of our home look pretty. They ground the boys and give them a sense of place in the year. A knowing of the present and a trust in what’s to come. I realise as I watch them, that it’s early mindfulness in action. And for two sweet boys growing up in an ever-shifting world this can only be a good thing.

We’ll begin the shift toward Spring stories in a few weeks, no doubt the boys will tell me when it’s time, and I’ll share what’s in our basket then. For now, since I’ve been asked about it before and I know it’s always great to find inspiration in a list (and it’s snowing outside as I type!), here’s a rundown of the Winter stories in our basket and a little about why we love them. 

In the Winter basket:

  

Brambly Hedge Winter Storyby Jill Barklem – this series is very much treasured around here. Such sweet stories and wonderfully delicate, detailed illustrations. This, with its ice palace and ‘Snow Ball’ (brilliant!), is very much loved. Such wonderful wording in this one too and I’ve often heard the boys repeating lines of it to themselves, helped by the audio version we sometimes listen to on journeys.

The Tomtenby Astrid Lindgren – there’s something about this mystical little Tomten and his care for the farm animals that makes my boys go quite dreamy! 

The Tomten and the Foxby Astrid Lindgren – equally loved this, with the thrilling addition of a hungry fox, but he gets nowhere with the old Tomten around taking care of things. 

The Story of the Snow Childrenby Sibylle von Olfers – like many books of magical journeys they’re entranced by this, with its snowy land and majestic scenes. I will admit that the Snowman waiters at the snowy feast slightly give me the creeps, but the boys love them so what do I know!

When will it be Spring?by Catherine Walters – a huge favourite for us! Alfie Bear is sure it’s time to stop hibernating and keeps waking his tired Mother Bear to check. This sparked a giggly game with my eldest when I was expecting his brother, where I was Mother Bear and got to lay down a lot. Best game ever for a tired pregnant mama! We adore the illustration on the last page when Spring does finally arrive.

Snow Dayby Ezra Jack Keats – a sweet and lovely story of exploring with our feet in the snow which captures our fascination with it so beautifully.

One Snowy Nightby Nick Butterworth – anything with woodland animals is a hit around here but when they’re piling into Percy the Park Keeper’s bed it’s even better!

One Snowy Night & One Winter’s Dayby M Christina Butler – two from the Little Hedgehog series which always have sweet stories of kindness and friendship with plenty of woodland friends.

Sylvester and the New Yearby Emmeline Pidgen – this tends to stick around after New Year for a while. They love the enchanting illustrations and that the new year is a child we are welcoming.

The Bear’s Winter Houseby John Yeoman – illustrated beautifully by Quentin Blake, this has been read a lot this year. The Bear’s friends are rather cheeky and take advantage of his hospitality, but he does get his sleep in the end. It delights my two.

Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow – snow, skis, Jack Frost, King Winter and Mrs Thaw. So much to love in here and they have always been so thoroughly captivated by her beautiful illustrations. 

  

We also love A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies, (see pic at the top of this post) with its seasonal sections, swoon-worthy artwork from Mark Hearld and beautiful poems, all the year through. It’s earns itself a year-round spot in the basket and we particularly love it at the first turn of the season.

What are your children’s favourites for this time of year?  We love finding new ones to add to our collection!

learning to love Winter

  

One morning this week I woke up to the fact that we’re more than halfway through Winter. And the surprising thing is that for once it isn’t dragging at all. In years past I’ve spent most of January and February enduring Winter. Focusing either on survival or hibernation or a combination of the two. Prematurely counting every tiny sign of Spring and feeling a bit low when the temperature drops and midwinter makes itself known. 

One of the ways we embrace slow living as a family is by hooking ourselves into the rhythm of the seasons. Feeling the shifts and changes and celebrating them in simple ways, by what we eat, how we play and where we go. 

When the boys were smaller and I hadn’t quite got my head around it yet, Winter was a kind of non season for us. A cold, dark time of endless sniffles, of arduous layers of clothing only for them to still be cold and whiney. Of not enough sunlight and not enough happening and a general resulting malaise. With my forced daffodils in the shopping trolley I would will myself through the days until March dawned with change in the air. If March decided it was more in with Winter than Spring as it occasionally does, making us wait that bit longer, I’d almost throw myself on the ground in despair.

In recent years I got to grips with surviving Winter. I got my hygge on and after throwing ourselves out into the fresh air we’d rush back to the fire and hibernate. It was okay. I could handle it. 

This year, mindful of how our boys at 7 and 3 tend to feel about things how they see us feeling about things, I decided survival and hibernation weren’t quite enough. There is so much to love about all the other seasons. Surely I could learn to love this one?

I think maybe… just maybe, I have!
If you need some help, digging deep and finding some affection for it in these final weeks, here’s what has worked wonders for us this Winter.

Staying warm

  
Always a big fan of wool, I’ve embraced it in a big way this year. Layer upon layer, head to toe. All day, everyday. 

My boys differ hugely when it comes to body heat – one is an oven, the other will take any layers you can give him. Working this out took me a while. On long winter adventures, they both wear merino tops and bottoms (under their usual cotton-lined trousers), tees, woolly jumpers and wool socks. For my youngest I might add a woollen tank and a woollen outer layer, before popping them both into waterproofs dungarees and coats (even frosty adventures turn wet and muddy around here by midday). And, of course, woolly hats. They don’t step out of the front door with a hat.

Tips

  • Thin wool layers under chunkier woollen outers tend to trap in warmth, keeping them snug. With all natural breathable fibres the worry of overheating is taken care of. Plus, they’re old enough to tell me they need to take their coat off for a moment after generating some heat, hiking a big hill. 
  •  Don’t neglect the bottom half. There’s far less whining from our two when they have warm legs and feet. 
  • Hand-me-down woollens are my favourite kind. Failing that, buy in the sale for next year and buy big. We expect a few seasons out of all our wool.


Staying well

Two big factors have helped us here this year. The way we heat the house and how we eat.

Heat
– counter-intuitive as it may seem, our heating dial has gone down rather than up this year and we’re all the better for it. Wonderful as a warm house is, central heating all around the clock literally dries us out, leaving us more susceptible to picking up colds and the like. We layer up inside as well as out and light the fire when we want to get cosy.

Eat
– we’ve spent years cleaning up our diet, so this isn’t just one for Winter. But what we’ve focused on at this time of year is lots of warming slow-cooked foods to warm from the inside out, plenty of fresh garlic, ginger and turmeric for their anti-bac and cleansing properties, lots of greens, plenty of plant-based protein, warm drinks when we come in from the cold. And the hardest but most impactful of all – little to no sugar. Hardest thing to let go of but it’s really helped.

Inviting Winter inside

   
   
Inspired by our children’s Steiner School and Kindergarten over time, we’re in the habit of decorating our space whatever the season. Sometimes driven by what they make at school and bring home, or from hunting around for wintry colours and nature treasures; always ever-changing. 

Usual features are a seasonal table on top of our dresser (which is, in fact, the craft cupboard), a shift around on the mantel above the fire, something we’ve crafted together for the kitchen and the seasonal story basket.

Tip: For simplicity, we look at each season as a three month period. Yes we see hints of the Spring-to-come as early as now, but for us it doesn’t really feel like Spring until March. Though, just as the seasonal change doesn’t happen overnight, our decorations inside don’t have to all change instantly either. A good thing. Because I don’t have time to overhaul the whole of the decorations in one day! Instead, the boys help me to gradually change things. One picture comes down and another takes its place because we’ve seen snowdrops opening up. Bare twigs are swapped for twigs with buds somewhere along the way. A birds nest appears by way of a little hand. Nothing arduous, simple subtle changes, reflecting what’s happening outside the door. It’s always lovely to see how much they get from it – the connection of inside and out.

Frosty adventures

   
   

It hasn’t been difficult to find a little more love for this season with its showy frosts and dreamily beautiful skies this year. Maybe I’m just paying more attention, but it does feel like there have been more sparkly pastels and less dreary grey and mud.

Whatever the weather is doing, we’re making a conscious effort to get ourselves out. And not for half-hearted trips. With endless layers of wool on each of us, flasks packed and explorers sticks (literally just big sticks that live in our car!) we’ve been attempting full-on frosty adventures. They’ve loved them and it’s helped massively with the cabin fever I sometimes suffer with. 

Fresh air, wintery sun on our faces, a brisk stomp and frosty iciness to investigate and we’re all happy. Plus, so many reasons for a fire and hot chocolate when we get home. We’ve earned it.

Tip: embracing the no refined sugar thing, I’ve been inventing my own hot chocolate recipes. Try almond milk, raw cacao, a little coconut oil and a little maple syrup or honey. So good. Also, this turmeric latte. Oh my!

Hygge breakfasts

  

 
We all loved the slow dark candle-lit mornings of the solstice so much that I’ve been more and more lighting our table lantern at breakfast. Such a calm way to begin the day. 

The boys are having a love affair with porridge right now – experimenting with every topping under the sun, finally settling on banana and a touch of honey as their favourite. The combination of warm porridge and a lantern-lit table seems to cast a dreamy magic over them. Add in a chapter of an audiobook while I pack the lunches and they’re in heaven.

This morning was another frosty ice-fest and we had to abandon our cars on the main road above the school and trek the children across two glittery fields to get them there. They gleefully declared it the biggest adventure ever. While I felt super-grateful that they were wrapped up in wool with warm porridge in their bellies. You can just imagine how it could’ve gone otherwise!

Hope you’re enjoying Winter in the ways that work for you x

On sleep…

  (Random picture of the sea from last weekend because it’s just so calm and lovely)

This is so far from ground-breaking that I’m not even sure I should be writing about it. I suspect it falls into the category of ‘things everyone else worked out a long time ago, but I somehow didn’t’. But since it’s been quite profoundly life-enhancing for me this past week, I’m going to share it anyway.

Stage whisper: I’ve discovered the secret of happiness and (almost) boundless energy and it’s… sleep!

I told you it wasn’t breaking new ground. But the thing I’m most aware of as I journey into this year of better tending to myself so I can tend to everything else (see previous post about my word of the year) is that none of it is. All the things I need to do for myself and give to myself are really simple. It’s just that in the busy-ness of the days of motherhood they don’t happen. 

Around Christmas, really aware of how much I’d been running on empty for too long, I booked a session with my friend who is a medical herbalist and reflexologist. It would’ve been the first whole hour of pure tending I’d given myself in ages. And do you know what happened? I was that tired when I made the appointment that I wrote it on my calendar wrong. I arrived half an hour late (face palm). I couldn’t begin to tell her what I needed and there was only half an hour left of the appointment. One look at me probably told her and, if that didn’t, feeling my feet during a quick reflexology treatment certainly did. Tired, was the verdict. Really really tired. Adrenals on overdrive. I took home some herbs and strict instructions to rest and SLEEP. She was very clear about the sleep.

When I chose my word for the year – Tend – I spent some time thinking about what it meant and what I needed to do differently. I wrote a lovely list and got excited about the thought of building in a regular yoga practice, learning to meditate (like, really this time), eating even cleaner than we already do, getting organised so I could fit in a bit more of what I need. Lots of lovely thoughts. All very valid. At the end, my friend’s voice ringing in my ears, I wrote sleep. And then carried on getting sucked down social media rabbit holes, using my evenings for jobs, making myself overtired and going to bed later than I’d planned. Unsurprisingly I still felt really tired. 

With back to school looming I picked up the list and asked myself what was the one thing on there which, if I tended to it like my life depended on it, would make all the difference. Sleep waved at me. 

You see, my babies were both the most dreadful sleepers. I went through prolonged periods of getting around 4 hours sleep a night and that was broken, not even in one lump. Neither of them slept through the night until they were two. I think my eldest was more like three. I was that person you give a concerned look to because they’re so sleep deprived they can’t even string a sentence together or work out an appropriate emotional response to something. Those babies are now 7 and 3.5 and we’ve been getting whole nights for almost a year and a half, but somehow I’ve not made best use of them. So used to surviving on less sleep, I got into the habit of doing what I wasn’t fitting into the day into the evening. Always intending on an early night but rarely making it happen. 

Screens are a lot to blame. They override our animal brain which knows that when it’s dark we should sleep. I can feel that switch flip. They wake me up and I buzz around being busy all evening, finding it hard to switch off. And then I wonder why, when I do finally get there, I don’t sleep all that well.

So when sleep waved at me from the list I promised I’d give it a chance. I gave myself two new rules. Number one is evenings are for rest not busying (within this I’m trialling candles instead of screens!). And number two, 9.30pm is my new bed time. 

I’m honestly quite astonished at the difference. Who knew that 8 hours sleep a night made you feel this good! I’m waking before my alarm from a deeper more restful sleep, I’m more productive throughout the day, I’m happier, I have more patience with pretty much everything. I can think! It all seems just that little bit easier. Amazing. 

I don’t want to harp on. If you’re currently sleep deprived I’m pretty sure you already hate me by now anyway for getting more sleep than you do. Please know that I feel your pain. Man alive, do I feel your pain. 

Last night my youngest came in with us at 3am. I don’t even know why. I was in such a deep sleep that my husband heard him first and just plonked him between us. For a moment I enjoyed the snuggle and then he set about whacking me across the face at least once an hour until my alarm went off. Today, funnily enough, I don’t feel quite so well rested!

Tending to my need for sleep is clearly a daily habit I (and my children) need to form. Changes like this don’t always embed themselves immediately, especially when you add small flailing arms to the mix. Even though I’m completely sold on restful evenings and early nights based on how I’ve felt this past week, I’m pretty sure I’ll revert to old habits if I don’t really commit to them. 

Here’s what I’m doing to help myself – sharing in case it’s helpful to others:

Bedtime is bedtime – there’s something paradoxically freeing about having an absolute bedtime, even if it is self-imposed. I’m less likely to, on the one hand, drift from thing to thing being ineffective, and on the other hand over do it by expecting myself to climb a mountain in an evening. 9.30 is bedtime. Lights out by 10. It feels really early but so is 6am which is wake up time on weekdays.

Embracing the dark – it’s low lights or candles for an hour before bedtime. It’s amazing how we respond to the natural dark. I’m feeling my animal instinct to wind down in that hour and honouring that means sleep comes easily when I get there. It’s also really peaceful. 

Turning off the screens – we don’t really watch much tv but ordinarily you’d have found me on my phone or laptop for some of the evening, if not much of it. Embracing the dark means trying really hard to put the screens away in the pre-bed hour. It makes such a difference. I never really realise just how bright even a phone screen is and how it stops you switching off. I’m certainly not anti-screens – there’s so much inspiration and community wrapped up with mine – so I’m challenging myself to find other times of the day to do that stuff. Times when I’m less susceptible to falling down rabbit holes on them!

Tending – clearing the latter part of the evening of distractions leaves them free for all the nurturing things I hardly ever have time for. The extra energy I’m waking with makes the days more productive so I’ve really no excuse. Evenings this past week have been about hot baths and reading books, knitting with an audiobook in the background, writing on an actual notepad instead of a screen and other such self-indulgent things. At least they feel self-indulgent given that evenings have been far too much about being productive for too long. 

This all comes with a hefty dose of realism. I’m a mum, after all. I might suddenly have to knock up an urgent costume tomorrow evening for something I haven’t yet heard of. I might say yes to something I should’ve said no to. Any number of things are going to knock the early nights off track. Not much I can do about it, except switch off this screen now and embrace the one I’ll have tonight. And keep trying. 

new year, new word


It’s funny how things unfold. On New Year’s Eve I was full of the lightness of the energy-shift which always happens for me at the turn of the year. My mind was a whirl of thoughts of all the lovely things we could do in 2017 – how we’d wisely and joyously spend our days – and what we’d give to the year; feeling all the promise and adventure ahead. We had a great New Year’s Eve fulfilling our new year traditions. Going for our new year walk, writing our family list, each settling on our word for the year, feasting in our pjs in front of the fire and watching the fireworks. (I’ve written before about our New Year traditions here and here). And then the calendar page turned and we kind of slumped a little. Or I did at least.

It could be that it’s very much still Winter and parts of me are firmly in hibernation. It could be that we’re still in holiday mode with school not starting until next week and Paul working from home for a few more days. It could be that both my children are on a growth spurt and I seemingly haven’t paused from producing food for them for three days. It could be that when it came, I realised that the new year was really quite big and what I wanted to fill it with really quite vast and I felt overwhelmed about where or how to begin. It could be that I dreamed so big that I scared myself off. Or it could be that I’m just really happy with exactly as things are this week and I’m sitting in it, soaking it all up.

It’s all of those.

It’s also the word I’ve chosen. It’s busy at work, sinking into my bones and becoming part of me. Changing the way I’m doing things right from my core, so that I have to hear it and be it and live it. Holding me still while it beds in and decides to stay.

My word for the year is Tend (with what feels like an important capital T). Ooh it’s a big one this year. Quite possibly a game changer.

It took me a while to know my word this time around. I toyed with several others and chewed my husband’s ear off – ‘hmm, it’s this but it’s not that, but with a bit of this… what would be the word for that?’ – while he looked a bit confused. His had just jumped up and clanged him around the side of the head and I was jealous. I love it when they do that. It’s much easier than mining for them in the depths of my self.

Eventually it came. It was ‘nurture’, but more free flowing. It was ‘free’ and ‘grow’ but also earthy and grounded. It was both doing and being. It was inside me and out in the world. It had form, but far from being cultivated it was – and this was essential – a little bit wild. It was definitely Tend.

At the heart of this word of the year is the understanding that I need to take better care of myself. I was a wreck by the end of term last year. When you think that us mothers are instrumental in so much where our family is concerned – it all kind of collapses if we do – we really have to tend to our own needs. I’m frequently terrible at this. I very much know and understand the need to fit my own oxygen mask first and fill my own cup, but in the busyness of the days, with all the burning priorities, it’s the easiest thing to ignore. I don’t shout at myself or ring alarm bells when I don’t get tended to. Other things do.

I dance the dance between getting it really right for myself and then getting it really wrong. It’s an unhelpful cycle of neglectful almost-burnout followed by much needed retreat and recovery. I think this is true for many of us and I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit over it. 2017 is the year of tending to my own needs. It really is. And yes, I mean all of them.

We all know that means finding a way to fit them in alongside everything else. Tending to my family and my relationship is still top of the list as well and while it feels slightly daunting, I have a hunch (a hope) that this all becomes much easier when I’m feeling well tended.

I have a lifelong habit of over stretching myself. My creative mind sparks ideas to pursue, my hands crave projects, my heart wants to help and support, my sense of the bigger picture makes me want to contribute freely. It can lead to a lot on my plate and in truth, I doubt this year will be any different. But I think what makes all the difference is how well resourced we are. When I’m not taking care of myself I’m tired, distracted, disorganised and stressed out and doing anything from that place is hard work. On the other hand, a well-rested, nourished and tended-to me is a whole different story. We cannot pour from an empty cup.

On my plate this year are a (Waldorf Handwork Teacher Training) course to complete, along with it’s accompanying two years worth of finished (not finished!) handwork pieces and (as yet unwritten) vast and comprehensive portfolio. Ahem. Not worried about that at all! There’s also the small (utterly enormous) matter of restarting (reinventing) my business after 5 years of being a SAHM. It’s both unendingly exciting and hugely daunting. More about this soon. Save to say, that as a coach, a creative and a teacher, I love and need to throw a lot of myself into my work and we come back to that cup again – and how full, or perhaps not full, it is.

Tend feels so very good for right now. It’s a warm hug for myself. It’s kind voices only. It’s listening to what I need and making space for that alongside all the other important things because it’s important too. It’s permission. It’s at the heart of everything. It’s both strong and soft. It’s reaching out and rooted. It’s growing and unfurling. It makes me think of a garden. If my life during this year was a garden, it would be far from the formal manicured kind where everything is cultivated, ordered and clipped neatly inside it’s borders. It would be a well-tended slightly wild cottage garden which goes with the flow, where all kinds of things pop up and are appreciated for their beauty; where seeds are dropped by passing birds, take root and grow. A garden that’s tended to with love and hope and a loose kind of vision, which unfolds and blooms in just the way it wants to. If I’m sat here next January and looking back my year feels like this I’ll be super happy. So, first things first, I’m going to go and prepare the soil.

If you’ve chosen a word for the year, I’d love to hear about it. If you like the idea but don’t know where to start I’d recommend Susannah Conway’s lovely free 5-day Find Your Word ecourse. She also has a brilliant Unravel Your Year guide. If you’re feeling the pull of tending to your own needs, I hope this inspires you to join me. If you do and you’re on Instagram, join me in tagging #nurturethemothers . I started using it a while back to encourage myself – and in recognition of that fact that, my goodness, us mums could really do with all the nurturing! Let’s do this.

Winter Solstice at ours

A few nights ago I got together with friends for an early Winter Solstice celebration.  Organised by a wonderful friend, it was all kinds of lovely.  Gathering with women always is anyway, isn’t it. And it was especially lovely because I learned such a lot from them all.

Celebrating the Winter Solstice is, in our family, quite a recent thing. Maybe a handful of years old. And I’m aware that we haven’t quite worked out our approach to it yet. As with many family traditions, it’s taking a while to evolve and embed itself in our rhythms, so I was really glad to hear from others how they’re observing it.

Christmas is such a wonderful time, particularly with two small excited boys around. So much joy surrounds it. I do my best to soak it up fully. And something I’m aware of is that the excitement and the joy, wonderful as they are, can sometimes unbalance us. See the child who anticipates something so much that they unravel when it finally arrives (both of mine). Or the mother (me) who looks forward to Christmas so much and runs around doing all the things and gets sick on 23rd December because she forgot to ground and resource herself. I think that’s why, when I learned about the Winter Solstice a few years ago I felt drawn to bringing something of it’s stillness into our festive time.

Gathering with friends to sit and be and share and feast and light candles was so good and gave me so much inspiration. I took on some of those ideas, added my own and here’s what we’re up to this Winter Solstice at home:

Embracing the dark

One particular friend inspired me here. In her home she’s found a way to ground herself in this time of year and connect with our natural urge to hibernate and it’s simply been by keeping the lights off.

Drawing on her inspiration, all this week (and particularly on the Solstice itself) we’ll spend a bit of extra time with the darkness. We’ll go downstairs as usual, but rather than switching on all the lights as we would usually, we’ll just have the gentle glow of the tree lights and a candle on the breakfast table while we wait for the sun to rise and peek through the open curtains at us.

I found this idea almost mind-blowing in it’s simplicity and it really speaks to me because while we celebrate the return of the light at the Solstice, there’s the other side to it. On the shortest day there is more darkness than light. Sometimes we need to acknowledge the dark and sit in it awhile so we can truly feel the light when it comes.

We’ve started the day like this for the past few days and it’s been so peaceful. The usual morning routine has slowed right down (it helps that school has finished already for us) and I’ve found myself with more headspace during that darker hour. I’ve even taken a few moments to do some yoga. Something I’ve been trying to embed as a routine unsuccessfully for ages. The boys have seemingly not noticed, though they’ve played more calmly and had more patience for the day getting going. A few times I’ve noticed them gazing out of the window waiting for the sun. Simply, I think, because they’ve had the opportunity to notice it.

The same will apply to the evening tomorrow.  Lights off, candles lit.  Really this should be a daily thing anyway.  I’m very aware that having all the lights on and staring at my phone screen stops the animal part of my brain telling me it’s time to sleep.  But you know how it is, always so much to do!  Tomorrow though.  Tomorrow I will turn off the lights.

Celebrating with fire

Solstice traditions all over the world involve fire as a celebration of the return of the light.  I’d love for that to mean a fire in the woods to cook over and hang out with friends.  Bliss. But that might not always fit in with the busyness of the run up to Christmas hey.  And I’ve learnt about not making family traditions so big that you can’t stick with them!  So I’m just going with fire as a broader idea, in whatever form works. It’ll be easy to convince my children.  They love a fire to snuggle beside.

This year we might very well be in the woods with some friends because we somehow have this delicious stretch of a few days without too many demands.  Not sure it’s ever happened quite like this before.  Another year it might simply be a fire lit at home.  Extra candles on the dinner table or the mantle.

Pagans called this time of year Yule and believed the wheel of the year stopped turning for 5 days from the Solstice to the 25th.  During that time the dark was acknowledged, the seed of the light was sown and on the 25th the sun was reborn.  They would burn a yule log as a symbol of the returning light.  I was thinking of making something like this below with the boys to have on our Christmas table.  Our spin on a yule log.  We sure do love to mix our festivals around here!

Going in

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this yourself, but for me the dark days of Winter are the time I do a lot of personal reflection.  At least, if I’m paying attention I do.  It’s easy to be distracted, isn’t it.

I know I’ve written in this space before about my love of the new page of the new year.  After all, I’m a coach by profession.  The fresh whoosh of energy of that time is lovely, but there’s work to be done first and now is the time.  Those acres of notes from all the pages of this year need to be checked in with before we turn to the next one.

So I’ve got a date with an enormous cup of tea and a journal in front of the fire tomorrow evening.  Looking at the light and the dark of the year.  Going inside and creating the space for whatever comes out.  I rarely give myself the gift of this sort of reflective time these days, so it’ll be lovely.

If you really want to go to town, hold your own Phoenix Ceremony: by the light of your fire, note down anything you now want to let go of and release.  Write down as much as you need to.  On one piece or several slips of paper.  When you’re done, feed them to the fire, watch them go up in smoke.  Tell them you release them and let them go.  Powerful alone and particularly beautiful with a few of your dearest friends.

A great resource for unravelling the year is a free ecourse by that exact name, offered by the wonderful Susannah Conway.  You can find and download that on her beautiful site here.

 

A day of calm, dark and fire is sounding just right to me.  Do you celebrate it?  I’d love to know what you and your family do.

Solstice blessings to you, whatever you’re up to x