As we look past the storm damage and the winter garden, bereft of it’s colours and usually dug up by four giant paws …
We could be sad and ponder all that was lost, and is gone: lament the landscape of change.
Or we could take a moment to celebrate all that has been and the journey through this last year, the people we met on the way, the new friends, the furry feet, the help we prayed for and received miraculously.
The beach hut is a movable feast. It goes where we go, for as long as it needs to be there. We all have a beach hut spot in our hearts. Who knows where ours will go next.
Skye Blue house was named after our beautiful Skye and the Blue of the sea and my daughter’s eyes, of all things sacred and beautiful in nature and in art.
Latterly life might have thrown a few curve balls, with health and weather, goblins and ghouls; but in our time here; we made fairy gardens, and a pond, had chickens that laid blue eggs, had garden parties, grew lettuces and fruit, painted a lot of furniture and made a lot of art.
Life is a series of moments strung together with spiderwebs of time. Every day adding brushstrokes to the painting of our life. The point isn’t to finish the picture, but to keep painting.
Happy New Year wherever you are, and love and blessings from all of us here ❤
This is bonnie. When something isn’t right she stands very still and shuts her eyes . When she is scared she freezes.
Until the storm passes.
Often this becomes our default. Things get pushed aside to deal with later, lists are made and lost, promises made and broken. Mañana Mañana..
A happy medium between awareness and being able to just be in the moment. A recipe this lot have nailed.
There are jobs that simply have to be done like tiny claws that need clipping.
And preparations for events which will not be repeated, no matter the weather or budget
Just when, the Christmas food was safely stored in the bulging freezer, the presents wrapped and stored in the vintage caravan, which doubles as a place to stay in Summer. Just when the the Art studio was packed away for winter and paintings stored in Leah’s old Summerhouse. A storm blew in. Storm Arwen
⁹Thinking we were being burgled I headed out at two in the morning to find the contents of St Abbs and our garden flying mid air. Roof tiles, chairs, guttering, bins, pots and trees, whipping the walls and smashing everywhere. I frantically looked for something to wedge the windows shut and stop any more breaking glass. There wasn’t time to be scared though, it all happened too quickly !
We had already had the beginnings of a blackout, the night before so there was no hot water or electricity, and the storm raged on. The next day and the coming days, what happened was a kind of auto pilot for most. You Just got on with the immediacy of rescue, saving what could be saved and surveying the damage. When you have no choice but to boil water for a wash or lukewarm tea in a pot on the coal fire, there is nothing to butt against. Nobody to waste time arguing the pros and cons with in your head. Nothing to bury your head for. Real life decrees action.
The storm blew half of what we had away. It was the same and worse everywhere here, and I know that insurance companies are not picking up their phones still so the task continues . The caravan was hit hard with windows smashed and contents broken, including many Christmas presents which got wet in the rain or sucked out and broken on the ground. My Art studio roof tarp came off and water damaged the mattress, bedding, floor, artwork and sketchbooks, fabrics, and materials. Fences came down, were wrenched up by rope and wishful thinking; and then; went down again, the fridge and freezer contents were lost including seasonal food ; and any garden furniture and contents are now broken.
But thankfully, nobody was hurt. The damage to Skye blue house was minimal. A drastic cull of possessions wasn’t in the plan, but with little to be done, it was a done deal. The blackout lasted last for next 5 days.
Thankfully, we have a coal fire. A very precious commodity that week! So much so that half a pile of our logs were pinched ! And they just had to ask ! We were so grateful for the ability to boil the water, and cook french toast, to take flasks round to our neighbours, and for it to heat us ( at least in one room). We all stayed in there, guinea pigs, cats and all, and by candle light played cards and monopoly. It was a weirdly calm time, wearing all our clothes in bed, the smell of hot water bottle childhoods and the weight of twenty eiderdowns. My daughter was hilariously entertaining with her stand up comedy routine. I had no idea how funny she was, away from her phone! .
When we dared to look again, when the lights came on, it showed how much had to be done and what would have to be thrown away . Shed by shed the realization was clear. The storm was a gift that kept on giving as more soggy or smashed things were found. The full Christmas food stuffed freezer, the fridge just having been filled, Christmas presents soggy from storage in the caravan. Vintage China and bedding smashed, ripped, and mouldy. Pools of water on paintings.
All the artwork had to be rewrapped and dried off, brought inside and re-catalogued, the emergency boxing up of possessions will need to be redone but, as all the fabric casualties have been rescued and washed, paper and card objects fanned on radiators for weeks and bubble wrap is Bear’s new favourite thing; I think we might get through Christmas before tackling anything else. In an emergency you rescue what you can, without thinking. Grabbing the most vital, the irreplaceable, in a supermarket sweep of mad energy . The first morning post storm, the wind was still howling, and there was no choice but to keep going . Some kind of otherness forced me on. Grabbing armfuls, boxfuls, and bag fulls and piling them into the biggest hut, my studio. Two days later the rain went through the roof in there too. So, they got moved again. There was no choice but to make some serious snap decisions about what to keep. I found I didn’t mind. Our perspectives change in stormy weather.
In the worst of times a quiet knowing un-freezes you and gives you fight or flight to cope. The last few years have not been easy, but knowing how futile worry is, gives us power over the immediacy of today. Life can challenge us with hurdles, biblical in their trails. One by one testing areas of faith and resilience, emotionally, financially, with relationships, health conditions and work and lifestyle choices. To tell you not to worry isn’t dismissing your anxieties, but perspective can become clearer when things get shaken up.
Smiling is still thankfully free
A massive amount of support and help has come from outside of the village. We have been so lucky to have friends in our Art group, and a resilience team who have gone above and beyond to help patch us back together. Below are a few of the drawings by my group . Head to seasparkle.org for weekly gallery updates 💙🧚♂️
Knowing that while things may come and go, and others might challenge our perceptions, beliefs, things; we can weather the storm, however, whatever and whoever we chose to live as or with.
As I unearthed the boxes of paintings in the shed, hardly daring to see the storm damage, Artwork hastily packed in during lockdown, I realised how much has been created here. How the insular life through circumstances out of our control, has fuelled a chunk of creativity I had never been able to access before. When neighbours were cruel, I worked on art, and wrote blogs in the bath, when pandemics were rife, we made bags and jewellery and Art every day with other people, and turned it into prints and cards, and did Zooms to keep spirits up and WhatsApp classes to connect with friends. When pain was at its height I drew in bed, or in hospital. My daughter said that the pandemic was one of her happiest times, with a bubble of positivity and making, and everyone else staying home like we often do.
Sometimes in life all that we show to the world is our bottom sticking out of our hutch.
When actually the solitude is the space we’ve needed to heal
And get back out again with a whole new set of super powers we never knew we had.
When the Gods force a storm upon us, we have less time to overthink what is collateral damage and just resign stuff to the box marked ‘chuck’. We can also see clearly who and how to treasure. To appreciate who we have and to stand in the now with them, in an authentic life we choose.
The zoo will get fed
This world is changing and will continue to do so. Changing weather patterns show us just how adaptable we still need to be. Despite technology trying to disconnect us with virtual communication and cyber shopping, we still need to know how to cope using core skills, to be part of a community. Adapting and honouring your personal skillset, and knowing how unique you are, no matter your age and mobility, gives you purpose and belonging.
There is always a friend at the beach hut. You can come out now!
From an early age my philosophy has always been to prepare the way ahead, just in case tomorrow sends you a curve ball. Which we all know is exactly what life does in the most spectacular, ridiculous, heart-breaking or just plain annoying ways. Following on from our last post may we present the Art of recycling- what-was-either- being- sold- or-moved and the power of intention to flip the map upside down, and reroute the bus down a more scenic route.
Life gives us lemon groves sometimes.
Deconstructed rooms, zoo on a road trip, painted garden bits flaking under constant scrutiny and rain, upended blue paint tin tipped over mural by designer dog who himself, having timed his burgeoning adolescence with the upheaval of travel; very nearly became one of the must-go pile!!!!..
But where’s the fun in that?
This is Skye Blue House. Nothing gets us down for long. The mural needed a repaint anyway, work was then started on the rest of the path with masonry paint and blue shed paint, very early in the morning, section by section to avoid giant paw prints across the living room carpet. A ton of Scottish cobbles created a beach effect where a patch of grass was previously dug up by Bear under the old trampoline circle. This became a border housing the pot bound plants gasping for breath over Summer months with the addition of some perennials . Leah’s old wardrobe became a bespoke garden tool store, far sturdier than similar ones in the garden centre.
Since the surgery a few months ago to remove a bone in my hand, I am delighted to be able to paint things again without wincing. Arthritis creeps back and in my case it is sneaky and persistent. So making hay while the sun shines is vital, before winter creeps up again making outdoor work too painful. And to re-claim the home we thought we would be leaving, two rooms were given a face-lift to satisfy that New -House itch and to let this house know we do love it it still !
Houses, like us, love to be loved and seep their pride into your (much anticipated and welcome) winter guests .Home ; a perfect blend of comfort, colour, you and spontaneous tea and cake. Disclaimers will include here the many blobs of paint on carpets, hastily cleaned up, ruined glasses I accidentally use for paint water, muddy dog paws on new Indian bedspreads, non compliant teenagers, weather, the bank balance …….
This was an especially driven project for many reasons. Not least a big birthday. Which was date to have things finished by, and free up other head space to focus on bigger Art projects, pursue health options and enjoy the season with at least a few ticks on the list.
Autumn will come with its own surprises so for today there is a calm quiet comfort in home . Which you and I know is in us all along
Thankyou for the Facebook compliments and the requests for outsourcing the old decorating skills… I think other than in advisory capacity over dinner, its back to words and watercolours for a while. One of the reasons to have moved was longer seasons, in a warmer climate which you’ll know yourselves makes a huge difference to the mobility. …
And well; if we can’t have sun all year round, we’ll keep warm with quality friendship and cake xx
How old were you when you found your wings ? When did you first feel in control of your choices? Or grounded enough to let go of your fear? Whose fear was it anyway ?
Did you climb a mountain in a sweltering landscape and peek at your new perspective through the gap in the clouds?
Did you find God one day while eating your toast?
Did you reach Nirvana whilst touching the high notes with your choir or dancing with your tribe around a flaming bonfire?
Or understand fully one sunrise your need for grounding in earth, as you smelled the air and witnessed your hard labour flourish?
Or maybe a little of all of these?
Did you then forget your epiphany as soon as you landed back on planet earth with a plop when someone needed you or worse, wiped your seed of new hope away ? Did the technicolour get switched back off ?
Did a voice in your head tell you how unrealistic your positivity was?
When the clear glistening ideas in your mind unfurl, new and shiny and exciting, like a glossy tropical flower You just know that someone will come and cut your petals off. Often someone who in theory should have your back.
This is the vulnerable point where many fledgling dreams die. Trying to push against the system which surrounds anything different, whether at home or work is often too difficult. It is easier to drift back and become engulfed in the ‘way it has always been’
Most people know who they are. What brings them joy and a sense of pure satisfaction. But we are fed so many alternatives to this core knowledge, and are often hungry for a little more validation. Sometimes these vital gaps in our unconscious self worth came from feelings we have when we are little and can’t yet fly.
A Baby seagull made its home on top of our caravan this Summer. Nesting in our rooftop chimney, a fluffy little chick was waited on by a village of seagull parents; decorating its roof with hard to clean graffiti. Baby seagulls are very demanding. Screeching their needs very vocally for not only their parents but all adult birds within a two mile radius. Relentlessly they deliver takeaway delights to their offspring with their gruesome picnics, and swoop low and hard on any unexpecting human passers by.
While we travelled this Summer, she stayed still and grew fat, filling out her fluffy edges with spotty brown feathers. And on our return, she was almost as big as her mum, and still, she cried and cried for food. Once fed, the crying started again with the rapidly less patient mum nudging her baby to move .
These seagull parents were getting fed up now.
Over the next few days, the crying continued. But nobody came. She knew she could fly. They knew she could fly. She realised food was going to be slightly harder to come by. So she cried harder. Her feathers were turning a lighter shade of grey. She walked to the edge and back again, and sat down. Her cries became more plaintive and although beady eyes watched from nearby rooftops, nobody came to deliver dinner. Until. there was nothing more for it. It was time….
After several short trips to nearby treetops and a couple of shed roofs soon all that remained on the caravan roof was the Jackson Pollock masterpiece.
There is a time, when nobody comes. Sometimes we wait a lifetime for that reassurance and feed, and believe we cannot function without it. We have a core belief that we can’t. … (fill in the blank) That a teacher, a parent, a partner, or any person we give permission to have (or had ) power over us, and once that is delivered ; we will then be whole.
All living creatures have a right to love and nourishment but we know this is seldom true for everyone.
If we are fortunate, we are fed the morsels we need to build our strength, courage and resistance, to build healthy bones, lives, relationships and feel loved.
It takes courage to say, thank you for feeding me, but I can take it from here. That I have enough belief in my self to choose whom to take advice from . It takes courage from those who love you to also let you go, make mistakes and come back, bruised but more wise. And when there is no Big seagull watching you must hear your own voice.
You’ll hear other squawks and caws, creating more choices, more distractions. Jostling for attention and swaying your resolutions and ideas with promises. A person who fears change will fear yours. “Stay safely in your comfort zone that matches ours, think these thought because they match the system we created.”
And on a superficial level we get thrown life changing ‘temptations’ “Be the best version of yourself with our new products. Buy a whole new set of clothes, get a better job, a shiny new car, and always a new sofa… THEN you will be the perfect person you always knew you could be! Hurry while stocks last. On sale now. a new improved you. No mess, no clutter, just competition ready human.”
When it still doesn’t feel better, when we are still hungry for something else; that’s the gift of looking deeper into our own needs.
This Summer has given us a new perspective. One which we hadn’t planned, but clearly it was in the plan all along.
As an art teacher I have spent my life collecting resources for others to use, from shells to old objects, books, materials, plants, metal things, glass things, fabric things, beautiful shiny objects and tiny things that fit into the palm of your hand. A classroom was packed with labelled boxes and lovely stuff to draw from.
When I left my teaching post through ill health, my huge supply of resources was lugged from house to house, into storage facilities and a basement, back to the shed and back to another art room. It was whittled down and down but at each stage of the life of the stuff, people were using it and creating beautiful artwork. It has been my nemesis for as long as I can remember. Collecting things for people to use makes so many people happy; it was never a question of not keeping things
People donate art materials to you which is amazing and for classes an Aladin’s cave of colourful ephemera grows. Easily the bags and boxes also grow in quantity, and without adequate permanent storage- one becomes a permanent bag lady. This state relies on meticulous organisation, warm weather for easier mobility, an army of volunteers to help lift from the car and bend to the floor for any stray tissue paper and stray clutter, not to mention the energy needed to create in the first place. The reality of wheeling bags of art materials in a force ten gale while a rainbow of pens skittles off down the road is highly likely.
There is a time for everything
And a place too.
Yesterday, after making a decision to start focusing on a bigger project of my own, my remaining boxes were returned from the community centre where I was teaching . Oh no, boxes of stuff again.!
After spending a Summer literally throwing out everything I own and starting a home renovation now we are remaking our own home with less clutter, I could have wept! But I asked for these things back. Why on earth did I do that? Things just keep coming back, growing in volume.. again! .
In amongst the detritus of making equipment, there were sketchbooks and memories, boxes of collected resources, things donated and found. Things which will give pleasure again. Working in the art field always comes with a running commentary of ‘funny’ labels. Junk, clutter, crap, stuff or worse. But look back. Look at how that plastic became a dragon sculpture. Look at how that ink was layered in rich textures over all that scrap and made this fantastic collage.
Our things, the ‘stuff’ we collate and have an affinity with, create a thread with others. When someone else decides to throw away, comment about, or sabotage our things without our permission, it makes decisions about what we need, and for some precious objects leaves a physical loss. In all of the Art spaces I have run, we have kept a wide and varied selection of materials for every project one could think of. Even though the hoard was very organised, being forced to cull occasionally is healthy! The eye of a non interested observer however will only ever see this, (below) and make that the excuse for treating stuff-which-doesn’t-slot-into-a-neat-category badly.
Until someone tells them its ART , and then they pay ££££££££
Then, a week later, it happened again. More things were going to be travelling to us. Do you think the universe was trying to tell us something? This was the first time ever that everything I owned would be in one place. After my first reaction of horror, dread and wondering if I could crawl under the covers with a sketchbook and Netflix, this stuff was being given its own second chance, to fit, or not fit, for where we are now. Just like we decided to give this home a chance, despite a few crows pecking at our corn. For the first time, there was nobody telling us it had to go somewhere else.
The value we place on objects is so unique to us, an extension of our selves through our space and our clothes, our belongings and our creativity. If we don’t care about these things, or let others mock, its personal . Allow a child to love a rock collection and a row of conkers. There will be a time when we are gone and none of these things we own matter. But we do, and we live on in the worth we allow others to enjoy in us.
I had been buying things for years and giving them away. Then, weirdly, a delivery of almost the same thing would come from somewhere else, it would come back to me in a different way, for example as a gift or a donation. Without realising it, I had been viewing my things through the eyes of my critics, slightly judgingly and disposing of them often because I could hear the voice..
There were sketchbooks or materials we could use with other classes. And although most of it went into the recycling. I enjoyed the little pocket of time carved out to really appreciate and look at how it got here. And what we need now. And what we don’t. Placing value on each item , purely based on my own voice, I have to admit was a lovely feeling. When we realise why we carry a weight of doubt, and for how long, it is a profound gift to let it go.
Looking through boxes of old teaching resources I was blasted back to that time, those energies and passions. Not just the resources used to teach Art lessons and critical work, but the drive to focus on particular artists, Frida Kahlo, Pierre Bonnard, John Piper, The Pre Raphaelites. The design lessons of masks for a Midsummer Night’s Dream, of world festivals, of Alice in Wonderland and natural form. A whole bank of ideas, images, interests and inspirations. I still love all those artists. Drawn to since childhood, many Artists still resonate, and I find synchronicities and parallels with how I like to work.
In gaining the ability to throw away , we must trust the ability to keep. This pertains to any area of our lives- clothing, activities, foods that make us unwell. Whatever pops into your mind as you read this. What will come again easily is what you need and what is precious. I should have asked myself at five or ten to tell myself now what I would like. Most of it would still be true.
Sometimes a journey can be much more than you imagine. The 3000 miles we drove to find a potential new home ended up with an appreciation of where we are now. Waiting for my seagull family to land with dinner was a red herring.
There was however, a whole aviary of supporters in the nest
Whatever you might be not doing because you are waiting for permission; just do it. People can and do wait a lifetime for a morsel that never comes, a crumb for their inner baby bird. Approval is overrated. Do no harm to others and strive to enlighten your self.
Trying to apply your hearts desire against a soundtrack of criticism, whether ‘kindly’ unprompted advice or hostile, fear addled barbs; is like flying in a tornado.
We gave away all our food, drove 3000 miles, took five animals around the country, packed up our house and unpacked it again, closed off every avenue, and in coming home; found that all the people and paths that were meant to be for us, were still here, quietly giving us the thumbs up. Those who believe in you will do so no matter how you take flight.
Our Summer wasn’t what we expected but it truly was what we needed. We found strength and courage, and a bigger picture. . Despite the madness, I would do ( most of it ) over again. We could have chosen a whole new place but got to unwrap the gift of life here again. Much has been happening at Skye Blue house since we returned, with an almost constant paintbrush in hand. The next post will unveil all the hard work!
Travelling helps root us back home and get perspective on the life and accomplishments we have achieved so far , with or without a team in the pits
So, replace that fear in your chest with a few helpful butterflies…Then Spread your wings and leap off the caravan roof.. You might not get where you thought you were going. … .but there is a big horizon waiting.
Tell your seagull self;
To live a life you’ve never lived; you must do what you’ve never done
Take one step towards the edge and the rest will follow
I don’t know about you but I am in a strange place with my stuff. Haven’t we had to get far more bored with our things recently!?! In our case, the house has been chewed and nibbled to extremes and needs a tv makeover, thanks to the wonder who is Bear.
Having lived in houses large and small, cosy and grand, but always creative, organised and usually pretty clean, no matter how much stuff there actually was; it was always pretty much in its place; so to see mass destruction has been hard! But, in the ebb and flow of life, there is a natural way of stuff.
It comes to us, like a tide, washes up on our shores, people give us things, we own them, take them in, pluck them from the swirling seas, treasure and cherish them or we watch as the shoreline recedes and the stuff goes away again. Back to others, back to charity, turned into something else. It is just stuff.
When we look around us at all that we own do we see our achievements and fruition of our hoards? A stack of accomplishments through our possessions? What is it that makes us happy about our things? I recently came across a picture of a soulless home for sale, no plants, trees, pictures, cushions, colours. A black hole of life. I felt my painting hand physically twitch. But for someone, it will be the perfect home, or at least the dream of one as a new life, before the ephemera of family life bathe it in a unique personality.
How much choice do we feel happiest with? Spoiler- This isn’t a post about owning one black dress and a futon. I personally LOVE textures, colours, life affirming words in stories, things I can offer tea to people in, plates I can bring out for high tea, special dresses I might yet wear, vintage French coffee pots. The point is that there is a balance in the perfect amount, for the right amount of comfort , before it turns to clutter and chaos.
Spring and early summer are traditional times to let go, clear out, rethink and clean our homes , as all around you there is evidence of new life blossoming, and the warmth to let the light back in .
New light through the window bounce off dust motes hidden until those first summer breezes gently stir their glitter.
We are like this too, slightly bleery eyed and not quite primed for our close up. Add in, months of staying close to home; a home that has seen nobody but us, and it is no wonder there is overwhelm and a slight feeling of panic.
Firstly know this though, that most people are so happy to be let out, they couldn’t give a monkeys about the state of your fridge. And their fridge is more than likely the exact same. Since contact is safer out of doors, you still have time to make the changes, if indeed there needs to be any.
Start with your animals. The very first thing a house has on entry is its smell. Cooking and animal smells start to go unnoticed in our own homes. But to another nose might be a different olfactory experience. Keep inside animals clean and carpets hoovered. Try and get windows open, light incense, candles or boil leftover citrus fruit to make the house smell good. Or use a diffuser with essential oils.
Look at your plants and check they are breathing still! Dead head old leaves and spritz them in the bath with a showerhead to give the dust a rinse off. Although not a big chemical fan, I like a bit of spray bleach for the worst of the grime. But baking soda and vinegar is a cheap and easy alternative to expensive cleaning products. It is amazing on the glass of cooker doors. Just rinse them well.
What can you do well? What do you need help with? What are you good at, and can manage without pain and what can you pay someone else to do in a fraction of the time? Consider help occasionally to free up time and impact on your sore bits.
It is so very hard with clothes, especially now. Re-entering the outside world, you are possibly a different shape and size, especially if you’re a teen And growing like a weed suddenly nothing you own is right. All the things we had before seem old or aren’t as comfortable As someone who loves clothes but struggles to get in them at times, due to poor joints and sensitive inflamed nobbly bits: here is my go to list of how to like your clothes.
Only throw away what you genuinely don’t like or need. If you bought something because it sang showtunes to you in the shop, it was meant for you. Are you still waiting for the perfect moment to wear it? Are you worried what people will say? Unless it will scare small children, put it on. Enjoy it. There are dresses I can’t wear because at the moment they get caught in my sticks. I wish I’d worn them more to Tescos . ( but I am keeping them. Nothing in life is static. Your health changes, I might find surgery that works , or I’ll wear them for parties. Instinct is everything. Touch fabric first in shops. Buy only natural if possible. Most man-made mixes look fine before they are washed and shrivel up the first time they hit a spin cycle.
Your skin breathes better in cotton, linen and wool plus you’ll be dressing like a French woman. Speaking of which, always imagine that you are in your own shop in the morning. Pick out things as if you really like them. You did put them there after all. If you don’t love them any more, give them to charity. It has taken me nearly 50 years to find a pair of jeans I like.. But they are out there. Get ones with a good stretch, that you can put on with literally any other garment without worrying if your bum looks big. If you find the perfect pair, maybe get a back up just in case.
Sorting out your clothes can be a nightmare which leaves many screaming for a lunchtime gin. In this section however, one most really rely on instinct. Do you actually still believe that if you lost 4 stone you’d wear your 80s pencil skirt? Do you really like the feel of synthetic fabric even if it hangs well in the shop? . Do you avoid it in the wardrobe because it’s a mare to wash.? I have a lot of clothes, I’m not going to ever stop liking clothes. Having sticks has scuppered the wearing of swishy skirts and living in a cold climate, many summer layers have been relegated to the attic, but the ones I keep, fit me and can be worn; should the inspiration take me… !! 😎
They resonate or still buzz with a particular pleasure and specific ownership to me. If the ceiling started to cave in under their weight I might think again. But clothes are worth hanging onto if you can genuinely rejig and repurpose their existence in later life. You never know, they might become heirlooms. Or at least fancy dress
Oh dear. I should probably just stop there. Books are my downfall. Fresh, crisp bookstore scented pages nobody can open until I’ve cracked that blissful first ‘New’ moment: the one savoured from the second the book was stealthily shimmied from the bottom of the toppling pile on display.
To the drawn on charity shop kids books, well thumbed and loved, and lovely vintage books of beauty with paper thin pages and gold edged illustrations. All books have their own identity. Books calm us, take us places teach us, absorb us , remind us of other worlds and stories, histories and ideas. Keep whatever order you like, but look after your books.
I have amassed a pretty comprehensive library on most subjects, and while I still have the space for books I’ll choose books over a virtual library anytime. One whose treasures arent fleeting and not subject to cloud space and weather conditions. Bad weather is the perfect reason for a real book. Feet up, clock ticking, firelight cackling and cats purring. I love a book on just about anything I am doing, or writing about, or subjects that are fascinating, old books. Pristine gorgeous smelling new books that nobody can touch until I’ve opened them, old vintage books with past lives in school trunks and dusty libraries, imagine all the lives that have crossed in the keeping of the book. And who doesn’t love an art gallery shop with it’s glossy books you have to buy and rarely look at again, but proudly display on your coffee table . I am rather partial to a good magazine too. They plop through the door with regularity and I then spend ages not having time to read them ! However, eventually they get added to the daily ritual or cut up and used, recycled for drawing ideas and cuttings. Or the privileged few get to be kept on shelves as resources.
This is the nemesis of almost every adult female I know. Harking back to the eighties where it began with Hollie Hobbie pencil cases and strawberry scented rubbers, the joy of Saturday pocket money spends. And it never goes away, that thrill of new adnin supplies. . That love of a crisp new empty notebook, journals if what has been, or the promise of new projects and ideas, journeys yet to be taken, lists if things to buy, make, do and new stuff to aspire to, all stuck and pasted onto fresh clean pages helping us feel renewed and full of hope.
I love packaging. Its very superficial of me. But its just so much nicer when your stuff looks nice. However, not everything in a sparkly bottle is good for your skin or your wellbeing. Your products should be kind. I seem to be amassing a rather good blue bottle collection, and love that they can be recycled afterwards all around the house!
The tower of guilt.
Like most people I used to pile up books to read, clothes to still get wear from, chores to finish etc We go about our daily business and every once in a whole these silent niggles dig into our peripheral vision. They get louder. Finish me, read me, sew me, clean me, sort me, and before you know it you have a household orchestra of errant errands playing on a loop in your ear like an ear worm at a rave.
You see, if I can see a stack of things I haven’t read, looked at, given time to all , and I see it all at once, it becomes insurmountable, whether it’s sewing, reading, art projects, letters to reply to.. . And then it feels I can’t approach it at all. These are all pleasurable things I do after the work, chores, and essentials have been completed, but often the perfect time for the fun things has gone, because we are too tired and numb by then. Too much overwhelm and anything becomes another job. ( if you have an autistic person under your roof times this by a thousand )
I have learnt, that with pleasurable things we must find ways to make them pleasurable. We must sneak up on ourselves and engage in the art of pleasure, with excitement. Grab a book off a shelf and slip into the garden for half an hour. How much greater is the whole feeling when we can immerse in it. Don’t plan all your meals, wear three different colours every day, start a really mad collection of things to display that everyone else is throwing away. Enjoy the choice. But do these things from a point of calm and organised space first or your head won’t let you immerse in anything fully, one leg will always be in a pile of clutter My books are on shelves with a specific one for new magazines and ones I haven’t read, like a shop. A piece of advice once given to me was to read ten pages of good literature to expand your mind, or to enhance your pleasure every day. My daily choices come from the library of bought books, magazines or books I am studying plucked and read in my bath office every morning . The only place where the rest can wait their turn and I get peace. .
The pleasure of an unexpected choice, a gift to myself , is lovely. And there is always another lined up. I no longer think of them as a list. Because I chose these things in the first place. And all that we choose, we have the power to un-choose or weave into our lives in a way that suits us .
This last year has seen me pack more and more of me away in boxes. Artwork, possessions, childhood memories and photos rifled through in lockdown, clothes for another climate, holidays we can only dream about and projects on hold for now. As the small person grows from a child to a young lady too, so do her choices in stuff. And teaching 12 year olds how to actually maintain the dream room whilst not living in a pile of crisp packets and old socks, we came up with the list…
How to declutter
Keep like with like. Most things are easier to organise if you keep them together. Cables, bed linen for specific rooms, spares of things like batteries and bulbs. Dedicate one place where you know they go. And make sure they go back there !
Be realistic about how many of each thing you can really use. Unless you have fifteen children or run a b and b you night not need 25 duvet sets.
Do one section at a time. For example pick just all the plastic stuff, or all the shoes or papers or music. Whilst starting this with the smallest and working up is often easiest, it’s not the quickest. To get stuck in, eat the frog ( do the hardest thing first). (Usually clothes). Next – bag up charity bags with one category at a time, phone them ahead to book a drop off if you need to. Don’t trust charity vans unless you know them. Twice I have had goods taken by thieves pretending to be a genuine charity. These muppets find out when the real ones are coming and drive around the neighbourhood first.
Only buy what you really really really like, or know someone else will love as a gift. Often bargains are marked down because they didn’t sell. For a reason.
People often offer things as unwanted gifts because they are decluttering. You don’t always have to say yes! Also don’t feel obliged to keep presents you aren’t fond of. Be grateful and find a loving home for it elsewhere, without causing upset to the person.
If you feel someone else is making you do something you’ll never 100% give your self. Own your space and your stuff and how you look after it.
Decluttering is a lovely feeling. But so is re-establishing the bond with what you already have. Going through your possessions one set at a time, looking for small gaps, or throwing away multiples gives your home a chance to breathe and makes space for your next purchase. And it makes peace with the space you’re in right now.
Until such times as a distraction from table legs is in place, alternative dining sets are pointless in our house
But like those years with our chocolate covered toddlers, we relish the short time our control is lost in favour of daft moments
One must find newness in other riches too. A moment of blissful peace in my garden recently.
So while the sun shines, we will chip away at this lifelong task and plant seeds for our next fairy House.
But know there will always be a vintage tea set ready for your arrival..
With love and deep breaths on your next steps, wherever you are.
Some people believe, that every person or animal that crosses our path does so for a reason. Sometimes it is very brief moment, a look, an interaction, an understanding, or sometimes we stay longer with one another.
Although we can probably agree that the pull of animal company of some kind is often felt, everyone has a definite tolerance level and relationship with certain animals and or species of that animal. ( and yes, occasionally, there is the a heart which not even the fluffiest puppy can crack)
So why do we choose a particular pet? What are we seeing that makes them stand out, hum, reverberate, send out little ‘you need me‘ signals to our brains? I have often wondered why the animals we have are so uniquely ‘ours, who does the connecting?!.’
There seems to be something inherently positive about being in the close proximity of other thriving living things, as we can often see from animal assisted therapies. Their key focus is to improve human psychological wellbeing.
The Medical News today describes the Benefits of animal assisted therapy as;
increasing movement and activity through walks and play
providing companionship and decreasing loneliness
increasing social interactions
improving mood and general well-being
By doing the following
providing comfort and reducing levels of pain
improving movement or motor skills
developing social or behavioral skills
increasing motivation toward activities such as exercise or interacting with others
Having worked in mental health over the last few years, including teaching in care homes; I have seen the joy first hand of how animals can pull a patient back for a few precious moments, in the way music often can, and give such pure, immediate pleasure. I have taken dogs and guinea pigs into classes with me, seen Shetland ponies in dementia wards or birds of prey help to calm adults with long term anxiety issues. .
During the last year, for many people I know, including us, animals have featured in their wellbeing. From caring for pets, as a reason to get outside and shop for food, to get exercise, for children to do the same, an excuse to meet with a friend for a dog walk or run (as essential exercise,) watching wildlife in the garden and enjoying the small but incredible pleasures of hatching eggs in nest boxes, hedgehogs in homes, foxes wandering freely, and seeing on the television animals reclaiming areas once lost to man. We hear some horror stories too, of dog snatchers and fly tippers blackening natural habitats for natures creatures. And we care. Our children’s generation can know every inch of every creature if they choose to from the plethora of information and documentaries available.
Facebook is full of animals. And our houses are. Unlike our actual families though, we get to choose which ones live with us. Our very good friend David lost his beloved Dog Glen last year , and will be the first to admit that the gap left by his best pal broke his heart. But the universe had a plan. Despite doubts that there would ever be another dog as perfect, Glen sent Kiera. A rescue, patiently waiting in the wings at a rescue centre. After a few lockdown hoops to hurdle, David’s perseverance paid off. Kiera recognised him the moment they met. She hung on his every word and gazed at him with pure love. I have never seen a dog that knew its owner so immediately and why they were destined to bring a smile to each others lives.
So why and how do animals trust us?
Many dogs are happy-go-lucky, love everyone and are happy to greet people they meet with a happy wagging tail. But there are also a lot of dogs who appear to like some people, but not others.
Does your dog like everyone he meets, or does he gravitate towards some people and not others? We certainly notice how similar our dog feels about people in comparison to how we do. He can sense fear, ambivalence, or joy, and if presented with an air of calm authority, slips into the role of obedience he feels comfortable in. When people give mixed messages, he doesn’t understand the rules.
Because the rules are clear and body language is calm around all the animals , at the same time, it has helped integrate them into the household together. Bear and Max ( a male cat) could easily have been at each other’s throats, and started out as natural rivals. But sitting with them both at the same time, giving them equal attention, soothing movements and an escape route, slowly got them used to one another. and now they are all pretty good at sharing our attention. I just have to watch that Bear doesn’t lovingly leap on my lap to cuddle the guinea pigs. He still thinks he is a puppy.
I watched as my daughter, already (and this pains me ) she is taller than me.. lolloped down the road with our Bear recently….Far from being an aberration, (which having a large dog one is often made to feel that he is;) he looked, the perfect size for her growing gait. She needed a big dog. I watch them playing together. She needed him. At first their bond was tenuous. She wasn’t sure. He wasn’t the same as what she knew. But now she won’t get up unless he’s had his morning cuddle.
Have you ever met a dog that looks and behaves a lot like their person? The saying “like attracts like” applies to dogs and people, too. Dogs often choose a favourite person who matches their own energy level and personality.
Some dog breeds are more likely to bond with a single person, making it more likely that their favourite person will be their only person. Breeds that tend to bond strongly to one person include:
If you are interested in this subject, and for more information on suitable dog breeds
Looking back on Bear’s early months, is like a film reel, much like bringing up a boisterous child, it flashes up in memory scenes of carpet scrubbing, doggie howling, great escape attempts, ( and victories) pining for company at night and the ever present danger of the gate being left open. At least with a child there was always soft play on rainy days.
Time races on, and if we aren’t careful we lose the magic of the best times inside the worst fragments of clutter, the mess, the noise. the lack of sleep, no routine, lack of control of no kind of order ever again. We yearn for a different life, another one we saw somewhere online, where other people’s kids and animals always behave. We forget to remember the choices we made. And why we and they are here.
What if the animal with you is teaching you what you need right now. What if the lessons being taught by daily experiences are showing up to enrich the life we can sometimes take for grated , and create new directions we hadn’t planned. Because we forgot there was more than one path to go down?.
Our old dog skye was the gentlest calmest dog on the planet. She needed no lead, she just stayed by my side. She was so soft that Guinea pigs could sit in her box with her and be left there. She left the chicken use her as a sun block. Her soul was so pure and kind. It reached out to everyone that ever met her and we made friends through her as soon as we moved here. She was easy to take on holiday and we could leave her for hours quite happily, with food and toys. Building a life and painting things, creating art around Skye was a joy. She was like calm air next to you.
So; losing her was devastating. You’ll know yourself if you love your animals how much of a gap they leave. And out of the blue quite unexpectedly came a message on Facebook. My friend has a puppy. ‘She’s very cute,’ I say. ‘There’s one left in the litter’ Emily says back. Crap It wasn’t the plan. We were going to get the same dog again. Exactly the same dog. But it was what was meant to be.
This little black thing was put in my arms and nestled in. My friend helped co-ordinate the surprise for Leah, and it was wonderful. He was so small and fluffy and had big paws and a little round tummy.
And then the reality sunk in. He was also mad And was not calm air. He was a cyclone.
He didn’t stop. At all. And was very smart, working out to escape out of things very quickly, he literally had me cleaning carpets all day whilst crying for attention. He shouted when I wasn’t in the room (lockdown baby) and he needed a lot more love, moulding and effort than Skye ever did. In short this soul was sent to try us.
It was like going back 12 years with a small needy little baby and no support network to swap mum stories with.
However, we persevered. Through a mix of wierd trickery that dogs are expert at, love that can’t be explained , determination to get some sense into him and a bit of structure back. Two out of three isn’t bad. He has taught us to be in the moment He has been a much better guard dog and actually is helpfully instinctive about people. Although he is very gentle, he can still shout.
He has brought challenges which needed to be overcome, and is very good at receiving and giving hugs, which we are all desperate for just now.
Dogs need fresh air regardless of the weather, and we need reasons sometimes to keep getting outside and breathing it, especially if, like me, the cold affects your body. The days are planned better with the sun grabbed like a precious jewel and savoured between days and months at home.
His presence has encouraged a mindful way of living and possessing things. We have had to have less clutter because he eats it. There is less of a concern with the perfection of our space (not that I was ever Mrs Bucket), because two minutes hater Bear will have charged around like a race horse and messed it up. Just like a toddler he has no concept of what is his to use, as I recall various lipsticks Leah smeared on her cheeks and shoes of mine she plonked about in. It’s ok. This will not be this way for ever. Already he isn’t the same as he was two weeks ago. What you get is to be in the moment with a dog. This was his very first moment of a play date.
Writing this morning there is a big dog lump on my knee, having his morning cuddle, being gentle with the other animals, going through to Leah’s room soon for his morning leap on her bed, I realise he was exactly the dog we needed. Bear fits us all.
Time is spent more wisely when you have less of it, when incorporating a new element into the routine, almost like having a new born again. I had to make art when he napped, clean the house when he was out for a walk with Leah , keep things simple both in structure and in terms of what was around us physically. It was a daily battle. But it also provided a pretty great distraction from all that was awful in the world. Or at least somewhere to put all that love we seem to have around here.
Between a child that is naturally messy and a dog that eats everything on earth, it is a daily ritual to scan everything ALL the time and has been since he arrived. . Socks, books, coal, Lego, plastic or wood of any kind. All small objects below waist height were up for grabs. As he grew, so did his range of edible delights and the strain of hiding more things. Or throwing them away. But in doing that, another thing happened. Selections were made about what mattered and what could go, or be safely given as a new toy, or be saved.
Things become less precious when you keep having to throw away cushions that get eaten. And I love cushions. But there are years of your life that are scruffier than others, more dog eared, more selective. He was in affect, the doggie version of Marie Kondo.
And once he started it became a bit easier to keep clearing out and taking stock of what was precious and needed to be hidden for now!
There were months of stressful bits, but it wasn’t the whole story. Leah magically captured the real Bear so far here .
It was never my intention to have lots of animals! Your heart seems to expand the more beasts and children you squish into your life. From the multitude of cats and dogs, to the guinea pigs, fish, and chickens who have lived with us, all of them have been loved , valued and treasured. However long an animal is with you, if we respect its temperament and fears, the rest follows. And hopefully the time we have together teaches us to slow down and see life through our pets eyes..
I have lessened the time spent online recently, pouring energies into the immediacy of home, creating, animals, future ideas and health. But this quote I saw on face-book captures what animals teach us to do by proxy, and returning to life after the pandemic, I hope will teach us the same.
Even if you don’t have an animal yourself, but enjoy the company of other people’s, there is much to learn from how animals learn from us and how it is possible for us all to co-exist peacefully, slowing down and using our instincts wisely. And maybe oiling our hearts in the process.