Seeking Comfort

As a child of the 80s I never thought the millennium would arrive, let alone 2020. But here we are; we’re basically living in the future. No robot butlers, like The Jetsons promised us, but plenty else that’s move on, like dropping the ‘New Year, New You’ cliché of the 00s.

It’s still the middle of winter after all. Who could possibly think that a new after-work, after-dark running routine was a good idea? It makes much more sense to embrace the season and the instinct to hunker down in cosy comfort.

Seeking comfort can feel a little subversive at times. It goes against our culture’s constant growth metrics, with expectations of ambitious goals and constant striving. Sure, getting out of our comfort zone is where a lot of the magic happens, I don’t disagree. But we can’t live outside of it permanently.

There’s a natural ebb and flow to life. As long as the earth reminds us of this with her seasons, I’m happy to fit in. I know that later in the year, with the first hint of spring, I’ll feel inspired by new ideas and fresh resolve. But right now, I’m not denying myself the slice of cake or the snooze on the alarm clock.

Not to say that I’ll be hiding under my duvet for all of January. Being out in the elements brings me all kinds of comfort. There’s comfort in finding a slower pace, cocooned by all the woolly layers, with feet warm and dry inside big boots.

And even amidst the busy days, there’s little things we can do to create a little more comfort. Grabbing a bag of doughnuts, saying ‘no’ to stuff, listening a favourite album. Things you can fit in to a day, despite the other ‘must do’ commitments. This January, my everyday comforts will be kicking in, with thick woolly jumpers and Bonnie Prince Billy’s ‘The Letting Go’ on loop.

When I take the chain ferry on a stormy night, I’m glad to see the kettle in the cabin, thinking of the crew coming in from the rain for a strong sugary brew. I hope that the bus driver on my trip to Newport is wearing woolly socks. And if that slice of cake brings you comfort, I hope you’re not denying it for some as-yet-unlived beach holiday plan.

So maybe this January, rather than setting your big goals for the year to come, you could take a moment to write down the 5 things that bring you comfort in the everyday. The kind of things so small that it’s easy to forget in the midst of striving for something else. Or just stay snuggled under the duvet. That sounds pretty great too.

Hand Lettering

My handwriting is variable at best. Kids are quick to tell me that their teacher would not approve of my scribbles. I think it stems from impatience; writing by hand feels so much slower than typing. Add to that the fact that much of the time I’m not really paying attention to the process itself, with only half an eye on the paper as I write, and it’s often illegible.

But I console myself with the fact that I can do better, when I slow down and really ‘try’. So, I set about to do exactly that.

Handwriting practice needn’t be the preserve of the primary school. A fresh piece of paper is pleasing at any age and there’s something a little magical about creating a ‘real thing’, rather than mere pixels on a screen.

If you’re setting intentions for the year ahead, what better time to commit those thoughts to paper?

Modern calligraphy is looser in its form, with fewer rules and requirements, making it a little less intimidating to have a go yourself.

Easy practise sheets are available to download from various places on the internet and you don’t even need a ‘special pen’. We chose brush pens, simply for the excuse to play with something new.

A few suggestions to get you started:
* Try to keep your hand still and instead move your arm. This helps you maintain one angle of pen to paper and creates more flow in your writing.
* Slow down!
* Draw yourself some guidelines. Horizontal lines are useful, of course, but slanting lines can also help you space and tilt your letters to look uniform.
* Gather a stack of scrap paper, so you can practice lots and make plenty of mistakes along the way.

We chose some favourite (brief!) quotes. You might like to try a favourite word or a promise you’re making to yourself for the year ahead. Pinned on a board or tucked away in your wallet, it serves as an everyday reminder of what’s important to you.

The gift of presence

I hope it doesn’t sound mean-spirited to admit that I sometimes approach the festive season with trepidation. After all, there’s loads of things that I love about the middle of winter; candles and greenery, sharing good food and favourite carols to name a few.

But, with the heightened excitement and expectations, it can all seem just a little bit ‘extra’. Know what I mean?

I wonder what would happen if we let go of some of our busy-ness and replaced it with a little more intention. If we took time to consider what we really value and made space for more of that.

I’d like more time to have good conversations with those I love. Less time worrying about what stuff to get them and more attention to the present moment. I know that many of my casual conversations gather only half of my attention. I’m nodding along, but in my head I’m busy composing a text, a shopping list, a better retort to that thing that happened earlier.

Apparently we live in an attention economy. Even our language acknowledges what a precious commodity it is. We pay attention, waste time, spend energy, lose focus. A quick walk down the street, watching heads bent over magic rectangles, and there’s no question whose economy we’re investing in. We feel starved for time, yet willingly give what we have of it to the digital world. We while it away on endless scroll mode, unable to sit in the here and now.

In my work as a Speech and Language Therapist I often chat with parents about embracing the awkward silence. It’s incredible what gems crop up when we give people just a little more thinking time, rather than rush in to fill the space. The gift of our full attention; no new device or toy can ever replace that.

Everything about this midwinter season tells us to draw in, slow down, hit ‘pause’ on the everyday hustle and simply be together. Time to gather round and share stories, listen to each other and reflect on the year closing in. What story or song could you share? What do you want to pass on to those you love?

Put down your phone, leave it where it is. Go find someone to talk to. And pay attention.

Stitching harvest

Recalling the annual harvest school assemblies of our youth, it’s easy to take for granted the bounties of our soil. But with recent warning of depleted soils worldwide and UN estimates of only 60 harvests left, it feels very timely to pause and appreciate all that grows at this time of year.

We took this as an opportunity to do a little harvest stitchery. A simple heat transfer design and basic back stitch makes this is a quick and easy craft that lends itself to sitting down with a friend and having a good chat. There’s no pattern to follow or stitches to count. The design is right there on the fabric, so there’s just the usual challenge of threading the floss through the eye of the needle.

Cross Stitch hoop

All you need for this craft is:

  • some lightweight cotton fabric
  • an embroidery hoop
  • embroidery thread
  • tapestry needle
  • We also used some heat transfer designs from Sublime Stitching. Alternatively, you could draw on your own design with a soft pencil or trace a design by laying your fabric over an image on a tablet.

Our usual weekly delivery of fresh veg from Living Larder arrived on our doorstep just in time to catch a few photos. Considering the fragility of our soil and the incredible efforts of local growers to sustain and nurture this valuable resource, choosing local organic produce feels like a good way celebrate the harvest.

Adversity training

On a recent family trip to the Lake District for some fell running, I came across the term ‘Adversity Training’: to seek discomfort and challenge in order to build strength and stamina. It’s an idea easily adopted by the outdoor-loving folks of Keswick. In their Northern climes, if one waited for good weather, every planned adventure would be infinitely postponed.

Regardless of the fancy title, adversity has always been a part of family trips. I’m sure you can recall a few of your own. For me, it dates back to camping in snowy mountains as a little kid, right through to the muddy, storm-bound and semi-lost adventures that my little family of three seek out still.

We had lots of fun during our recent Lakeland trip, but it wasn’t without adversity. We got lost aplenty, tired to the bone and so soggy wet that we practically dissolved into the landscape.

I can even say that the rainiest day of our trip, a run around Thirlmere Reservoir, may well have been my favourite. The rain battering down the peaks of our hats, eating snacks on the go (too cold and wet to bother stopping) whilst people in warm dry cars splashed past us with baffled expressions. I’m not sure what makes this so fun. Perhaps it’s the sense of achievement, prevailing in less-than-ideal conditions. Perhaps it’s the hilarity of an almost ludicrous mission.

Getting lost is always a huge part of the picture for us. On a sunnier day, we went awry on our descent from Place Fell, almost walking off a sheer cliff facing down into Ullswater.

We sat down at the edge, heads bent collectively over a Clif bar and OS map, taking a minute to choose our next steps and remind ourselves of the many hours of daylight still remaining (i.e. don’t panic!)

Of course, we made it back to the car in the end. If we hadn’t gotten lost, we wouldn’t have been able to practise the challenge of staying calm and kind to each other amidst this right-royal-muck-up. We wouldn’t have had that moment of unexpected joy, tramping across the springy landscape amongst clouds of butterflies, discovering a hidden stream and soaking up that wild view. Those kind of moments don’t happen when you stay on the beaten track.

The focus and exhilaration that comes from attempting something a little scary is hard to beat. The teamwork required to haul ourselves up a steep arête, followed by the collective relief of making it to the top without tumbling off, is all part of how we build our bond. Just the three of us in the elements, reliant on ourselves and each other to get us through the landscape, safely and cheerfully.

Feeding Rollo the dog

However you choose to spend your time as a family, few adventures are devoid of adversity. And what better preparation for life? To encounter these things together and learn that it’s not about avoiding the challenges, but rather choosing how we respond to them. There’s few phrases more beautiful than “Let’s figure it out together.”