Grey Day Wonders

Amidst all the media talk of ‘blue monday’ we were confronted with a decidedly wet and windy one. With few glimpses of sunshine at the start of our year, we’ve settled for the dry grey days when they arrive. Quiet days that blanket the sky and draw our focus inwards. This is the kind of weather that inspires a hot drink by the fire rather than an ‘out for hours’ adventure.

But with a dog staring intently up at you over the rim of that hot chocolate, there’s little avoiding the great outdoors for long. Even without the grand vistas of a sunny day, there are plenty of delights to be found. On a drab grey day, away from the grand hill tops and cliff edges, the forest comes into it’s own.

We amble through the mud and low hanging cloud, a quiet pace to suit this still and misty afternoon. The bold straight lines of the tree trunks sit stark against the monotone sky as we take one of our favourite paths, its ‘foxglove alley’ nickname giving hint to the fine display promised later in the year.

We crouch down low to savour the beauty of life on a tiny scale. On a fallen log, a velvet draping of delicate moss, poked through by strange black fungus fingers. Ever-present ivy nips at its edges and abandoned acorn cups slowly fill with drips from the canopy above.

The woodland seems to welcome our quiet grey day pace, so different from our usual morning gallop. Today there is no strava keeping time, no hollering or leaping.

We sit on some leaf mould, backs against a pine, looking up at the fine feathered needles, with barely a breath in the branches. As we settle, so do the birds, deciding we’re less of a monstrous noise today than other days. They emerge from the safe haven of the holly bushes to flash their beautiful bright yellows and reds. We prop each other up and sit in silence for just another moment.

This is what grey days are for. Simply sitting and being amongst the calm quiet stillness. This is how I like to spend Mondays, whether blue or grey.

A Year with a Bullet Journal

I can’t recall how I first encountered the bullet journal concept. I do know that I was convinced from the outset and haven’t looked back. Or, I should say, I have looked back – at my ideas, adventures and plans across 2017 –
because they are all in one simple notebook.

The bullet journal is such a simple idea it seems surprising that it has gained trademark status. Yet often the simplest ideas are the best. Whilst there’s a number of elements to the ‘bujo’ system, the key genius for me is creating an index of your notes as you create them. The idea of valuing my notes sufficiently to catalogue them in this way has been a game changer.

Before I picked up my first Leuchterm, back in February 2017, I had a gazillion notebooks on the go at once: one filled with shopping lists, another rarely-used journal, a third with some sketches, a fourth with meeting notes. And so it goes on. Needless to say, once scribbled on the page, these notes were never seen again.

Now I have in my hand a book with a full year. Sure, it’s filled with ‘to do’ lists and diary dates. But it also holds projects, plans, memories and photos (this was the year I realised the internet is probably going to die at some point, so I best not leave all my photos on Instagram). It holds reading lists and quotes that I’ve come across. I’ve been surprised by how often I refer back to them. Now I can quote Emerson and Quinn at you! (But that’s for another post).

Looking to 2018, and filling a shiny new notebook for the year, I can look back through 2017 and see what ideas I didn’t put in to action and set some tangible goals. I’ve certainly found it useful as a planning tool, but the reason I love it (and the reason I’m sticking with it) is for the joy of having this little scrapbook of a year well lived.

If you’re interested in starting your own bullet journal (if only for the excuse to buy more stationery) you can find out more from the originator, Ryder Carroll. Happy scribbling!

The Gift of Reading

There’s a box in my parents’ house that is brought down from the loft every Christmas. Inside is a treasure trove of family memories, books far older than me with dusty paperboard covers and faded colours, pages full of animal tales and winter adventures. There’s the Mole Family Christmas, complete with cassette tape ribbon well-worn from repeated listens. Or Bertie’s Escapade, the tale of an ambitious pig who goes carolling with his farmyard friends. There are some common favourites: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Jolly Christmas Postman, a copy held surprisingly intact with its accompanying fairytale mail (evidence no doubt of our childish respect for the important missives of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs.)

This collection was added to over the years with neat paper packages under the tree, appreciated only after the flashier toys had been opened and all the candy eaten. These unassuming packages are the gifts that have lasted far longer than the train set or the big blue truck, still now a tiny portal in to past festive seasons.

It’s little wonder that books remain my gift of choice. It’s not only their neat shape for wrapping that makes them appealing, but also their variety and beauty. Even if never read, a book will look pretty on a coffee table or propping up a wobbly leg.

Many publishers have risen to the challenge of the e-book by printing ever more beautiful editions, reminding us that the physical object is part of a book’s great appeal; the choice of font, the end paper and paperweight all bound up with a cover design that is your own personal piece of artwork to carry with you whilst you devour the contents (or at least snap a bookstagram.)

With such variety it’s possible to find a book to suit every interest, no matter how obscure. Whatever the topic, you can be sure someone has written a book about it. It’s a pleasure to wander the rows of a well-curated bookshop, encountering unusual histories of mountains or river journeys, instructions for knitted rock stars or biographies of lesser-known physicists.

As often as I’ve made a careful and considered choice, there’s just as many books that have come to the rescue at the last minute. I suspect I’m not the only one who’s wandered in to Wighterstones on a Christmas Eve to find a good gift for that difficult cousin. There’s plenty of suggestions amongst their tables of cookbooks and calendars. Still beyond, there remains the quiet orderliness of their shelves, belying the December bustle.

One year we gave each other second hand books. It was an extra challenge to hunt through the various charity shelves to find something just right. Some charity bookshops give book plates this time of year that say where the book was bought and where the proceeds will go.

In a season of excess there is something delightful about the slow pace and simple pleasures of a good book. It’s the perfect accompaniment to most every other winter cliche, be it mulled wine by the fireside or vegging out after overeating. So, give a book a home this Christmas. The possibilities are endless.

One Year On

It’s been 365 days since I last wrote here on this blog: a year of adventure and challenge, along with the standard everyday trials (like running out of coffee beans, or gas, or patience.) Here’s a few highlights from my 2017.

Running

I’ve come to running gradually over the years, with no small dose of encouragement from Tom. This year I found a little more independent motivation, surprising myself by heading out for regular runs even when Tom couldn’t join me.

I packed running shoes for my trip to the USA in the spring and ran a variety of short runs from West coast to East coast: along the edge of San Francisco bay, past a snake winding it’s way along the path; up through the dry frosty chill of a Nevada desert morning next to mountain lion tracks and past dilapidated ruins from a pioneer era; up a steep zigzag trail to watch the sunrise spill across the flat midwest plains from the top of a Colorado ridge. I avoided any running in Michigan (because snow) and took a final run along the New York High Line before flying home. I didn’t run across America, I drove. But I sure was glad to have my trainers with me for the odd leg-stretch and hilltop view along the way.

Swimming

I haven’t been in a swimming pool for years, but this year I took a fair few dips outside. We’ve made regular trips out West to Freshwater Bay, my favourite of swimming spots, with a steeply shelving pebbly beach and clear cool water. I had plenty of opportunity to confront my fear of deep lakes when we travelled to the Lake District this summer. I did dip in Lake Buttermere but couldn’t quite bring myself to follow Tom out to its deep dark centre.

It’s also true that running to your swimming destination makes a cold dip all the sweeter, as we discovered beneath a waterfall in Yorkshire, whooping and hollering in merry disregard of the civilised folk above peering down at us from their cafe balcony.

Writing

I love writing for Style of Wight magazine. It’s always a thrill to see my words in print. The editors pull it all together with Tom’s beautiful photos and there’s just enough time lag between deadline date and print date that when we do get our hands on a copy it’s fun to read my own copy. It’s also hugely humbling to have recognition from others about what I write.

This is also the year that I discovered the Bullet Journal phenomenon. As we near the end of this year, it’s a treat to have a single notebook crammed full of a year’s worth of work, ideas, plans and adventures. I even went so far as to print out some photos to stick in the pages. Old school, I know.

Bossing

I’m heading in to my third year of self-employed life as a Speech and Language Therapist. I feel proud to have made it this far. And exhausted. And filled with self-doubt. I’ve been fortunate in building around me a network of awesome people for support and encouragement along the way. So, I’m excited about what’s in store for SaLT by the Sea in the coming year and I’m giving myself license to savour the positive feedback people have given me along the way.

Reading

Always reading. What is life without a book by your side?! I loved Carrot Quinn’s Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, not least because Tom discovered it for me and it proved the perfect book for my hiker’s wanderlust.

Through all of these adventures, challenges and self-doubt Tom has been the running thread, who chivvies me along (sometimes quite literally, up steep hills in stormy weather), who leaves encouraging notes for me on the kitchen table or studies the map to suggest our next running route. We’re a team in everything, so we’ve decided to make this blog a team venture too. Here’s to a little more writing adventures and adventure writing in the next 365 days!

December Came

Christmas is in two weeks. It seems to have arrived quite gently this year. Out of necessity and design we have been merrily getting our craft on. In a flurry of gifting and some magazine assignments amidst redecorating, our house has seen more hammer and nails, yarn and thread than it has in the past ten months.

The oven is working hard, churning out thanksgiving dinner, pies, cookies and ninjabread men. I listen to old crooners and think of Grama doing the same across the ocean, whilst she sends me snaps of her cat by the tree.

We bought our tree yesterday (and a replacement stand as I mysteriously misplaced ours in autumn’s enthusiastic clear-out). The extra branches are now lying in a box, waiting for one of us to muster them in to a wreath. But the fire needs tending and I’m deep in the middle of reading The Once and Future King, so that probably needs some attention before any more of this crafting business continues.

So, for now, here’s some Christmas decorations we made earlier.