Up Mountains with a Rescue Dog

Most people I’ve met with a rescue dog will happily tell of their pup’s many particular quirks. Rolo used to be scared of everything, from big bearded men to plastic bags floating in the wind. Nowadays he can contain his crazy about most things, but he’s still got a couple points for improvement.

He gets very overexcited by other dogs, as well as farm animals of all shapes and sizes; both things that the Great Outdoors doesn’t lack. So, it was with slight trepidation that we set off for a Lake District mountain trip with the good doggo.

Our first hike followed an overnight drive. After watching the early sun strike the tops of the peaks, we climbed up the valley below Yewbarrow in the shade. At this early stage we realised that dog on lead was essential. The Herdwicks on the fell sides seemed so much more confident than the fluffy cloud sheep Rolo is used to seeing on the Island. They stared at him and stirred desire in his collie blood.

From Dore Head we climbed steeply up Red Pike. The notorious British mountain weather was true to form, from bright sunshine to heavy cloud cover in a matter of minutes. The dog seemed unsure of the murk as we rested below the summit, taking his chance to curl up in one of the few patches of snow-free earth. He was happier down at Great Stoat Fell, where the snow had drifted behind a snaking dry stone wall. Our position allowed for good views in all directions, and with no sheep in sight, he was released from the lead to chase some snowballs.

Our second big hike took us from the shore of Buttermere up to another Red Pike, this time above Castle Crags. Near the top, a bit of Grade 1 scrambling was necessary. It was satisfying to see how well the dog attended to our commands. He could probably sense the urgency in our voices as we checked hand holds to avoid slipping off. We followed the natural line along to High Stile and High Crag before descending the steep slopes of Gamlin End to Scarth Gap, the dog again listening well to ensure nobody got dragged down in an enthusiastic tumble.

Coming from the relatively flat environment we have on the Isle of Wight, a trip to the mountains are pretty much a necessity. It was great to see how well Rolo adapted to the demands of proper hill walking. We were surprised how few good doggos we saw up high, but Instagram assures us that others take their furry friends into the high places. Best of all though, we managed a hotel stay without any drama. There’s no doubt this was aided by wearing him out every day up on those high peaks.

Silver Linings and Quiet Minds

January was hectic, right? Totally crazy, way too long and, if we’re honest, pretty darn gloomy. I can totally embrace a bad mood and I believe a good sob is beautifully cathartic. But I do also have an annoying habit of finding the silver lining. I appreciate this is not always appropriate to the moment. Some shit just doesn’t have a silver lining and it’s annoying when people try to paint one over your sadness, instead of simply sit there with you in its shadow.

But, in this case, my January downer did have a silver lining: the realisation that meditation is a total act of self-kindness. Not a virtuous act, but something that simply feels good. I have a busy brain, always planning the next thing and struggling to sit still in the moment. And writing lists can only get you so far. I’m not good at calming my mind or letting my thoughts quietly drift by. I have a tendency to latch on to them and worry at them like branches in the wind. But, with the help of Headspace, I’ve learnt just enough to accept where I’m at and start enjoying the process.

A few weeks in and I find myself looking forward to that part in the day where I sit quietly and distance myself from the usual chatter whirling in my head. I don’t plan to stop this habit anytime soon.

If meditation is a step too far right now, you might start with a zentangle: a simple abstract drawing based around two or three meandering lines. In contrast to a doodle, zentangles encourage ‘relaxed focus’, thinking only about the activity in hand. Draw whatever patterns or shapes spring to mind and simply enjoy the process.

Happy February guys. Here’s to a calmer month ahead.

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.

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.