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

The wonder and waiting of Advent

Having not grown up in a church-going family, the only reference point for Advent I had was the paper advent calendar I always opened each day as a child. Either chocolate-filled advent calendars weren’t around when I was very little or my mum was wise enough not to introduce them until I was older – either way, I’m glad. Because the memories I have of uncovering those tiny beautiful little pictures behind paper doors as I counted down the days until Christmas are very special. The simple momentary appreciation of something beautiful is so good for our children.

They’re harder to find these days, the paper ones. I remember when my eldest was two that I had to hunt high and low for them, eventually discovering that Phoenix Cards makes sweet ones. We had those for a few years.

Then when he started at a Steiner kindergarten, Advent took on a new meaning for us.

I completely embrace the beauty of us all celebrating Christmas and other festivals in our own way. I know some people find enormous joy in doing their Christmas shopping in August and putting the tree up in November, then taking it all down on Boxing Day. But for us, in our home, it has always felt too soon. We are festive late-bloomers, for sure.

I don’t get the urge for Christmas shopping until Winter arrives. Until the air, when I first open the front door in the morning, smells a certain way. Wintry! Christmas belongs firmly in the Winter for me. If it’s still autumnal outside the window it just doesn’t happen around here.

By the time I’m ready to join the festive party, it’s very much in full swing. I often find the (early) hype of it a bit overwhelming. It must be particularly so for our little ones. At least, it can be for my sensitive souls who, like me, will usually lose their heads after a prolonged period of excitement. And this is where I’ve found our festive late-blooming really works for us.

I absorbed quite a lot, that first year of Kindergarten, of the way they celebrate Advent. It was a bit of a revelation to me at the time. Despite my annual heel-dragging with the decs and shopping, Advent had always seemed like a fast and frenzied race to the big day. Even if you’re not fully taking part, the sense of urgency all around creeps in on some level. The over-advertising, the way it hits you as you walk into the supermarket, the energy of others which can range from busy and efficient to hurried and frenzied. It always impacted quite a bit on my sense of wonder for this lovely time of year.

In Kindergarten Advent is a calm and reverent time. A time of quiet waiting. Preparing our space and our selves for what’s to come. Reminding me somewhat of that quiet waiting time before our babies came.

Kindergarten seasonal tables are dressed in white and blue, with crystal treasures and stars; like gazing at a still night sky with a sense that something special is going to happen. Circle time songs are a beautiful mix of quiet anticipation and wonder. There are extra candles and beautiful things made carefully and gradually over the days, to eventually bring home just before the end of term. It all seems to say ‘there’s no rush, something special is coming and we are waiting’. In a lovely calm and happy way and it really speaks to me.

I’ve loved the knock on effect of this at home. Because of that sense of quiet waiting, the boys don’t expect Christmas to land on December the 1st and it hugely takes the pressure off. Rather than everything having to be done by then, it tends to mark the start of a gentle slide towards the 25th. No rushing, no over-hyping, no going overboard, just moments here and there of preparing for a lovely (and quite simple) family Christmas together.

Here’s how we’re celebrating Advent and keeping things gentle and slow this year:

 

Waldorf Advent String

Our school makes and sells these each year, a string of rainbow coloured parcels (containing treasures and handmade beauties), and they’re an absolute delight for the children. Beginning at the bottom, a tissue-paper parcel is opened each day until Christmas and the treasures inside are placed onto your own seasonal table (or Advent Garden, as some people call them). Each week celebrates a different theme – the mineral kingdom, plant kingdom, animal kingdom and the kingdom of man (a teeny felt nativity scene with a baby in a walnut shell – too cute!).

Advent officially began last Sunday so they’ve already discovered a star, crystals and shells in their parcels. They get so excited about taking it in turns to open it each day.

 

Advent Calendar

With taking it in turns, it helps if there’s something else for the other one to open when it’s not their day to open a parcel and I’ve discovered the completely beautiful Advent calendars from Wynstones Press. Not only are the pictures magical, they also come with a story which you read line by line each day. So lovely. Such a sweet moment when we pause to open the door and read the next part of the story.

Decorating

We wait until the day school finishes for the holidays to pick up our tree from our local growers. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to deck the halls and rock out all the Christmas songs when at school they are in that reverent space of waiting for something special that’s coming. Waiting seems completely natural. And they seem to love it.

This weekend we’ll put up a few stars, bring in a few fir branches, string some fairy lights across the mantel and light some extra candles. And everything else will wait until the holidays have begun. When we do pick up the tree it will stick around until the 12th day of Christmas. Slow up, slow down around here.

As part of the simple Advent decs, this year I’ve wrapped some ivy around a willow ring (that our eldest made at school earlier in the year) and hung it above the kitchen table. Inspired by a lovely gift from an Instagram friend, I’ve folded origami stars which we’ll hang from the wreath, adding one each day like a 3D advent calendar. I’m envisaging a pretty cascade of stars by the time we sit to eat our Christmas feast below it.

It often feels like we go against the tide with the slow, simple, slightly late to the party approach, but it really works for us. It helps me think more consciously about what we’re buying and giving. It reminds me to focus on the wonder and to make time for the things that matter the most. And it helps me to avoid arriving at Christmas on the verge of collapse!

I’d love to know how you make it all work for you x

Lanterns & lights

   
 Wrapped up warm from our heads to our toes, we drove the well-traveled route to school this afternoon as a beautiful pink sun dipped down towards the horizon. Usually there is chatter and questions and requests for story CDs, but on this day each year there is a blissful hush. A quiet anticipation, I think, of the lantern walk to come.

At our children’s school the Kindergarten celebrates Martinmas with a lovely festival hinged around a candle-lit lantern parade. There is warm, spiced apple juice to greet us, a beautiful story told as a puppet play and then the children’s lanterns – which they have made in school with their teachers – are lit and we head off on a little lantern walk, singing songs. 

It’s my favourite kindergarten festival of the year. It’s peace and calm and magic stays with me for days. R always loved it while he was there. For a while I think he thought it was especially for him because it fell on his birthday one year. And this year N got to make his first lantern and take part as a fully fledged kindergarten child, rather than as a sibling. The magic of this was not at all lost on him. 

There are many festivals of light all around the world and many of them fall at this time of year – mid-November to early December, just as the Winter begins to tiptoe in here.  I hadn’t celebrated any of them until a few years ago when this one became part of our annual rhythmn. The beauty of that is I learned about it purely through experience, just as the children do.  

The warm clothes and cold noses. The excitement of being out in the dark when we’d usually be at home. The hushed excited chatter giving way to quiet. The magic of candle-lit lanterns dancing along and lantern songs sung in soft voices. The great responsibility of holding your very own lantern and that precious flickering flame. I saw it all on N’s face as he stood beside me with his warm paw in my hand. 

As we drove home I felt huge gratitude for the reminder that we can all shine our light into the darkness and that it has a bigger impact than we realise. It seemed a fitting way to end this (crazy/horrible/worrying/bonkers) week. 

The story that the children were told was about a little girl who went on a journey searching for a light for her lantern and then, having found it, sharing her light with others.  Such a lovely, lovely metaphor. I’m going to carry it into the next season with me.

   

 

Warmth & wellbeing


Autumn brings so much that I love. That sense of abundant harvest, seemingly everywhere you go. The Autumn treasures gathered by little hands. The daily changes in colour as we drive through the forest to school. But it also catches me out, every single year.

It’s a season of damp and while I may love the sleepy morning mists and the smell of the damp earth, my body apparently does not.

My very dear friend Jodie – a medical herbalist – has reminded me every Autumn for the last decade, when I’ve called her because I feel grotty, ‘your body doesn’t like the damp, darling, we need to warm it back up and dry it out’. And every year that’s what we do.

One of the methods she uses for diagnosing her patients needs is, funny as it sounds, ‘tongue analysis’. Over the years it’s become entirely normal that during consultation she’ll ask ‘can I see your tongue?’. Even over the phone I’ve often described my tongue to her and bizarrely enough it’s become a way that I can check in with my own body.

The week before last I wasn’t feeling great – sluggish, low energy, slower digestion, the odd headache – and the first thing I did was go to the mirror and stick my tongue out. ‘Hmm’, I thought, ‘I definitely need something’. Trouble is, for the life of me I couldn’t drag the knowledge Jodie has imparted to me from the dark corners of my brain. As is the case so very often in the busy days of mothering, I know that I know, but I can’t seem to make myself remember.

So thank goodness for friendships where you can text a description of your tongue (I spared her a revolting picture!) and get this back: ‘spleen imbalance, excess damp, b12 deficiency, GREENS GREENS GREENS, ginger, beetroot, SLEEP, warm foods, nothing cold!! warm soups, stewed fruit with cinnamon’. Love her. If she didn’t have a baby of a few months old I’d be banging down the door of her clinic for supportive herbs and reflexology as well, but actually I’m in the midst of a crazy month and managing it myself is exactly what I need.

It’s the thing I’ve found the most empowering about taking back the ownership of my health. I feel so strongly about it. Two decades ago, in my teens, with very stressful stuff happening around me, I suffered the debilitating symptoms know as IBS. I was then, like many, completely of the mindset that my GP would ‘fix’ me. He didn’t. And, likely, couldn’t. Given his remit and what I’ve since learnt about my body. So I suffered on for many years.

My Dad died suddenly when I was in my mid-twenties and, eventually, feeling worse than ever in all the ways that you can, I ended up at Jodie’s clinic. We knew of each other from school, but I had no idea that it would be her who opened the door that day. And so began my journey to self-healing. From her and others I learnt about herbs and nutrition and balance and imbalance. About symptoms and causes and how to read what my body needed. I listened, I changed, I took care of myself and I took back the power over my wellbeing. I have huge respect for the good work that can be done in allopathic medicine (GP, hospital, etc), but it wasn’t what I needed at that time.

These days I tend to know what has put me off balance and can either remedy it at home or see my herbalist, homeopath or osteopath for some extra support. It isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it is mine and, I tell you, I feel really good on it!

After my I’d had my memory jogged with that super-helpful text the other week I got right to it. Soups, broths and stews simmered on the stove, laced with ginger and warming, drying spices. The slower the cook, the better the ease of nutrient absorption I read somewhere. Everything had handfuls of greens chucked in at the last minute and, to my surprise, even my boys slurped it all up hungrily. I drank herbal tea, hot water with lemon, ginger and turmeric, or just hot water. Dairy and bread don’t do great things for me anyway and they fall into the ‘damp-inducing’ category in lots of nutritional writings so I fully binned those for a while. Breakfast baffled me. It’s always the breakfast that I get stuck on.

Dragging out a few cookbooks I searched for hot, warming, spiced breakfast that didn’t involve too much sugar or natural sweetners. The spleen (as it’s considered from a Traditional Chinese Medicine viewpoint), I gather, needs a little sweet food but not an excess. And as I flipped over a page of ‘Oh She Glows’ there it was. The perfect Autumn damp-irradicating, spleen-balancing breakfast to end all breakfasts  – Baked Pear and Apple Oatmeal with ginger and cinnamon. Oh. My. Stars.

It took just a few minutes to throw into a dish, used up some of the abundance of apples and pears currently filling the kitchen and in half an hour the house was smelling so amazing that we were all rubbing our hands with glee.

You have to try this for breakfast this Autumn. Trust me.

 

Baked Apple and Pear Oatmeal with ginger and cinnamon
(adapted from Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon).

Baked Apple & Pear Oatmeal with ginger and cinnamon

2 heaped cups of rolled oats
1-2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of sea salt
500ml unsweetened almond milk
65ml maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 apples, peeled and chopped
1 pear, peeled and chopped
50g pecans, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Lightly grease a casserole dish (I use coconut oil)

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a large jug combine the wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour the combined wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Spoon into casserole dish. (To save washing up I combine it all in the casserole dish in the first place!).

Tuck the apple and pear into the mixture.

Sprinkle with pecans if using, pressing them down into the mixture and bake for 35-45 minutes, until it’s bubbly around the edges and the fruit is cooked through.

Cool for a few moments before spooning into bowls and devouring. Also, pause to notice how amazing your house smells and congratulate yourself on being a goddess at making breakfast.

 

Important note:  please be aware that I am not a health professional and this blog does not constitute advice in any way – it’s just my personal experience and what works for me at this time of year – always consult a professional for advice on your own wellbeing.