Our free autumn fun day…

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So, autumn has now fully taken hold, the air feels chillier and the days are getting shorter but the children still have as much energy as ever! The question is, how to keep them amused over the coming months and avoid paying a small fortune on indoor activities every weekend…

One way to have fun with the kids outdoors this season is to have a scavenger hunt in the woods. I did just that with my boys recently and it was brilliant fun, even for the adults. Not only that, it was also a really mindful adventure that we all enjoyed and, best of all, it didn’t cost us a penny! Seeing the hunt through our children’s eyes was magical and definitely a memory we will treasure.

First of all, we made a list together of all the things we wanted to find such as:

  • a green/yellow/red leaf
  • 5 leaves of different shapes
  • an acorn
  • a conker
  • a feather
  • a pine cone
  • a wild flower
  • a winged seed and so on.

Then, armed with beach buckets that we already had in the car, off we went into the woods and not only did we find all the items on our list, we found a whole lot more:

We found “funny-shaped” mushrooms/fungi…

 

..”sleepy” lady birds and peculiar plants that looked like “fireworks”…

“awesome” dens that other people had made…

and we talked about how we would make our own den if we had to spend a night in the woods, the difference between trees that shed their leaves and evergreens and the many, different kinds of animals and birds that were probably living amongst all those trees or underground.

When we got home, the boys went through their buckets to find their favourite “treasures” which they then stuck on a large sheet of paper that we are going to put up as an autumn display.

What we initially thought would be a good way to pass a couple of hours outside with the boys turned out to be a really fun, active, educational, natural and mindful family activity that was totally free and really helped us all to bond. I truly recommend it!

 

(We went to Hockley Woods, Essex for our autumn scavenger hunt).

Can “Supermum” please stand up.

mindful mummy

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Hello…  Supermum? Are you there??

No, I didn’t think so……because you don’t exist do you. You and your cartoony, sickly-sweet brand of mum that looks like Barbie and acts like Mary Poppins (who, incidentally, wasn’t actually a mum herself…hmm). But you get mentioned all the time and mums struggle daily to live up to your example, even though you aren’t real. I don’t believe in you yet I have still somehow managed to build up an image of you in my head!

As far as I’m concerned though, whether you are a hippie ‘must be organic’ sort of a mum who gets inspiration from reading deep and meaningful books and quotes about motherhood or a comedy-loving, wine-drinking one who feels better after looking at funny cartoons and videos of exasperated parents (or a bit of both like me), one thing remains the same the world over……all us mums are in this big parenting boat together, navigating…

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Dear Autumn…

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Dear Autumn,

Our paths are crossing once again and often, at this time of year, I don’t feel quite ready to welcome you with open arms. Instead, I tend to feel a tinge of sadness when you creep in with your darker, chillier mornings and shorter days and I find myself still pining after summer’s warmer temperatures and longer, balmier evenings.

But this year feels different. This year I do feel ready for you.

Maybe it’s because we’ve enjoyed so much good weather over the past few months.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been here 40-odd times before and have finally accepted the cycle of the seasons.

Or maybe it’s because, this year, I actually do want to slow down.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the higher energy levels of the spring and summer but I also need a little downtime to re-evaluate and recharge after those busy months and that, dear Autumn, is where you come in…you are, after all, the start of nature’s resting phase.

Sadly, however, I don’t think the modern world sees things quite the same way…

Nowadays daily life is frantic and we are led to believe that nothing is ever enough; we need to do more, achieve more, buy more and constantly strive. But that’s not what the law of nature says; nature says it’s impossible to keep producing all the time and that we need a period of downtime and reflection before we can regenerate and replenish once again. And that makes total sense…doesn’t it?

At this time of year people cut back their gardens in preparation for the winter. After the extensive growth of the sun-filled spring and summer months, they prepare the land for the colder, darker and less productive seasons. Even the trees themselves have their own spectacular shedding ritual so why don’t we also tend to make parallel cut backs in our own lives at this time of year?

The simple answer is that technology has made it so that we can just override the cycle of nature and carry on continuously at the same – or even faster! – pace, like robots. We are encouraged to live constantly in the “doing” phase of the cycle, synonymous with spring and summer, and to avoid the “being” phase of autumn and winter. Funny really, considering that we are called human “beings” and not human doings

Well, Autumn, this year I plan to make the most of your longer nights by truly relishing warm meals with my family, by playing board games with my children, by enjoying the occasional hot bubble bath and by regularly going to bed early with a good book. And, just like your beautiful trees shedding their leaves, I am going to shed any unnecessary commitments from my calendar, clear out any items I no longer need in my house and focus on what is truly important in my life. This year, I am going to graciously accept your kind offer of downtime.

With love,

MM

Image from http://www.123rf.com

What does “busy” mean to you?

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Is it just me or is everyone “crazy busy” all the time these days? People dashing all over the place, no time to stop and chat, hundreds of errands to run every day…

It certainly feels that way doesn’t it…but have you ever stopped to wonder why? I expect not as you are too busy!

Well, maybe it’s:

…modern life

…too much technology

…longer working hours….?

Hmm, apparently not so. The problem, it seems, is the fact that we refuse to accept our limitations nowadays. Think about it; in days gone by when the farming industry was more prominent, workers were limited in the work they could do by the seasons, the weather, the length of day etc. In modern society, however, with more of us working in office/computer-based jobs, we can contact people anywhere in the world 24/7 and we can receive messages via numerous social mediums at any time of the day so the boundaries have become completely blurred.

Consequently, it seems to me, we are currently experiencing an epidemic of busyness.When we see all the people we deal with daily so busy and overwhelmed, it often makes us feel that we should be busier ourselves, as if constantly being overwhelmed is somehow a measure of our own status and importance.

I actually find this quite ridiculous though and it brings to mind the comments of a previous boss of mine who once questioned what I did during the day as I “never looked really busy”. I asked him if I had forgotten to do something or if I was not getting all my work done but he said no, it was all fine. So basically, because I was not constantly dashing around with files and tripping over myself to highlight my busyness (as so many people in offices seem to do!), he thought I wasn’t busy enough. But what about the leaders of the world, some of the busiest people on the planet, are they all running around like headless chickens? Not that I have noticed. And let’s be honest, it wouldn’t instill us with much confidence in their abilities would it!

To my delight, however, there seems to be a very quiet anti-busy revolution going on behind the scenes. I follow numerous pages on Facebook dedicated to a slower and simpler life, such as Becoming UnBusy, The Life on Purpose Movement and Becoming Minimalist. And I have read recently about Italy’s “Citta Slow” (Slow City) project which is also starting to spread globally. The idea being that each of the cities involved takes specific action to make their communities healthier, greener, happier and slower.

So today, in the midst of all your busyness, take a moment to consider what busy means to you and whether this manic and frantic style of living is what you wish for your children and our future generations! I would guess not so why don’t you join the revolution yourself by making more space and quiet time in your own life.

Let’s stop the glorification of busy!

The only time is now…

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So the summer holidays are nearly here and many of us will probably soon be jetting off to sunnier climes in search of happiness and special memories. We may have already been looking forward to “getting away” for some weeks or months now and very likely find ourselves regularly daydreaming about all the things we will do while we’re gone and the quality time we will spend with loved ones.

But why do we save all these dreams for the holidays only?

This thought came to me when I was recently flicking through a health magazine and I stumbled upon an an article about making more time for yourself. The article* mentioned a book called Gone for Lunch: 52 things to do in your Lunch break and the author, Laura Archer, was quoted as saying that taking a full hour’s daily lunch break equates to an extra 30 days annual leave a year…..

What?!?

I had to read it again but there it was in plain text….one little hour a day, over the course of a year, could turn in to the equivalent of 30 days of holiday.

Wow!

The article gave some suggestions of things you could do in that hour which, in turn, gave me my own ideas. It said “making time for mini adventures rather than waiting for that big holiday means life can be more enjoyable right now!” And like so many brilliant ideas, it seemed actually incredibly simple and again made me wonder why so many of us wait to have one big dose of fun on our holidays when we could actually have much more regular little doses of fun in our everyday lives if we just put our minds to it.

Then I remembered the wise words of a taxi driver I met some years ago on my way to visiting my dad in hospital. I was telling him how we had nearly lost my father after he had fallen ill very unexpectedly and that it had made me more determined to make the most of life. He replied, “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard about people holding out for retirement to “live their dreams” but not making it due to ill health. You can’t wait to live, the only time is now.”

How right he was! And perhaps that little hour a day would be a great start and mean that in a year’s time you are finally speaking that new language you have always dreamed about or you have ticked “running a marathon” off your bucket list. Who knows where those newly acquired skills could lead you….you might discover an exciting and unexpected hobby or maybe even a new career.

So I have ordered the book and, while I wait for it, I will be working on not just looking forward to my holidays but my daily life as well.

My goal is to build a life I don’t need a vacation from.

– Rob Hill –

*Top Santé July 2017 (UK) edition

(main image from http://www.123rf.com)

Why I’m no longer ashamed of the “D” word

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When I read earlier this week that Fearne Cotton has opened up about her struggle with depression I wanted to high-five her. You see, I know first-hand just how much having celebrities talk about this can help when you are dealing with your own battle with depression.

I had already experienced ‘the blues’ myself a little as a university student back in 2000 but it wasn’t until 2009 that I saw the very darkest depths that depression can take you to. Unfulfilled in my job and with a partner (now husband) facing redundancy due to the recession, I felt desperately unhappy and trapped. And while I knew deep down that something had to change, it wasn’t until I was severely depressed that I was forced to face the issue…and even then I didn’t accept it.

I had been barely sleeping or eating for weeks, just surviving on coffee, and eventually all the unhappiness that I had desperately tried to keep buried down inside bubbled up and culminated in me being very unwell…a bit like a rumbling volcano that eventually erupts spectacularly. I could no longer function normally and even the simplest of tasks was impossible. I also felt totally paranoid and deeply afraid of the world and everyone around me. But even when a therapist initially tried to explain what was happening to me and why, I thought she must be in on a big conspiracy against me. I simply refused to believe what was happening to me and the whole thing was very frightening.

As part of my therapy I did CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions and, as I started to see things a bit more clearly, I began to feel extremely ashamed and shaken. How had this happened to me? Why? And everyone around me felt the same, showing their surprise by saying that I always seemed “so together”. But that is exactly the problem. When someone is trying so hard to keep it all together for too long things can (and usually do) start to fall apart.

It took me time to heal, get over and accept what had happened but, strangely, the experience also brought a great deal of good to my life. That probably sounds very odd but I found CBT immensely helpful and I still use the techniques to this day. I also found out about mindfulness through CBT which, again, I find invaluable for managing emotions and keeping perspective. And during my darkest days, I found the Mind website (www.mind.org.uk) a great source of comfort. It was via Mind that I started reading about celebrities like Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax who have also been very open about their battles with depression and reading about their struggles really helped me to normalise what was happening. These were people I admired and looked up to, so if they were going through something similar, maybe I wasn’t such a freak or failure after all.

Fearne Cotton has apparently said that she realised she had to let go of ‘perfect’ and that really resonated with me. I don’t know why we feel the need more and more to take on so much and pretend that we are ok with it. Even motherhood can be like that but I find as soon as you are open about the difficulties, so many other people open up too.

Sometimes I wonder if the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ British style really doesn’t help when it comes to talking about mental health. I admire the fact that many Americans, for example, talk freely and unashamedly about seeing a therapist (unless of course that is only true in the movies?) and that Danes make Hygge (enjoying life’s simple pleasures) a pivotal part of their daily life. We can learn so much from these other cultures and I hope, one day, we British will feel able to talk much more freely about mental health issues and treatments.

There is no question that depression can be a huge, debilitating and alienating struggle but there are so many ways to get help nowadays and, though it is impossible to see while you are in the throes of it, dealing with depression really can help you to make changes for the better. Personally, for example, it has helped me:

  • face and deal with my shortcomings and acknowledge my strengths
  • learn how to explore difficult emotions and work through them
  • become a more understanding partner and mother
  • let go of ‘perfect’ too and embrace life’s imperfections

We really shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about depression and other mental health issues.

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. (Author unknown)

Main image by Mindful Mummy

A Christmas Eve Tale.

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I was drifting to sleep on a cold Christmas Eve,
My mind dancing with thoughts of treats I’d soon receive,
But as I lay dreaming of gifts in the morning,
I awoke abruptly, without any warning…

As I sat up in bed and surveyed all around,
I could hear a strange noise, a faint whistling sound,
As an arctic-cold wind blew right open my door,
Sprinkling tiny ice crystals all over the floor.

So on tiptoes I ventured towards the landing,
Very low to the ground I was barely standing,
And as I crept downstairs I saw something shimmer;
A bright golden light with a breath-taking glimmer.

It was gleaming and glowing to such a degree,
That I squinted my eyes and could only just see.
Yet I still somehow managed to make my way down,
With the freezing cold air rustling round my nightgown.

As I carried on towards the source of the glow,
I could see that the floorboards were dusted with snow;
They were creaking and groaning with each step I took,
I’ll get there, I told myself, by hook or by crook!

And when finally I reached the front of the house,
I inched my way onwards as quiet as a mouse.
Peering right through the doorway and round to the tree,
I couldn’t quite believe what stood right before me..

For just there, in plain sight, a big sack in his hand,
Was none other than Santa and, my, he looked grand!
He was round and plump, a right jolly old fellow,
With a white fluffy beard just like a marshmallow.

I could see he was holding a shiny gold bell,
And upon his black belt shone a buckle as well,
And so I discovered why the house was aglow;
It was due to the gold bell and buckle combo!

“Why hello”, I whispered, as my voice failed to sound,
And he turned to me placing his sack on the ground,
As the smile on his face broke out into laughter,
That echoed round the room and into the rafters!

Then he turned to the wall, with his back towards me,
To pick up the glass I’d left with fine malt whisky.
As he raised it he faced me and mouthed the word cheers,
And the smile reappeared, stretching between his ears.

I started to think surely I must be dreaming,
Yet still Santa stood there, his jolly face beaming.
He walked to the chimney, turning round as he winked..
But then he was gone, whoosh, before I’d even blinked.

All that stood in his place were some small sooty piles,
But I could hear him above, up on my roof tiles.
He was calling his reindeer now this job was done.
And saying each of their names, every single one;

“Come Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen.
Come Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
We really must hurry, there’s just so much to do,
There are so many children still waiting for you!”

And then lastly he turned to his number one deer,
And said “Rudolph, it’s time to spread more Christmas cheer!”
Then up the sleigh rose, leaving just a silhouette,
On that cold Christmas Eve I shall never forget!

 

(image from http://www.123rf.com)

Have yourself a mindful little Christmas…

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So today is the 1st of December….wow, where did the year go?

And Christmas is now less than a month away…how did that happen?

Is it just me or does it always seem this way? That when Halloween and bonfire night are over, December 25th still feels a long way off…until that very last firework lights up the sky. Then time starts going at double the pace and suddenly it’s the beginning of December, decorations are popping up everywhere and frazzled mums all over the country are rushing to get through their (even bigger than usual) to-do lists.

I was thinking about this the other day and about how the weeks leading up to the big event seem to be very busy and hectic every year. And then I started thinking about Christmas now and how I remember it as a child. Of course I wasn’t the one who had to arrange everything back then (my only job was to find out where mum had stashed the presents!) but we didn’t have all the gadgets and technology that we have today. For example, we didn’t have online shopping. The fact that we can now have everything delivered to our front door (presents, food, decorations etc.) should make for a calmer Christmas, but I’m not sure it does…

We can also now Skype or whatsapp people who live far away or abroad to wish them a happy Christmas, we can send them e-cards and we can use companies like Amazon to send them gifts, but still I think many of us find the preparations stressful. Why is that?

I’m not sure I know the answer but I do remember a trip with my mum last year to one of the big supermarkets on December 23rd and it was total pandemonium. Trolleys were overflowing, aisles were gridlocked and everyone seemed to be panic buying. I certainly wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit in there, that’s for sure!

What I find really odd about this situation is that shops are open on the 24th and again on the 26th so we are literally dealing with just one day now which actually makes Christmas feel a bit less of an event for me. Yet I can still remember the excitement as a child of knowing that the “festive period” would last a few days and it felt really special. With all the sales that pop up everywhere now on Boxing Day, Christmas cheer very quickly turns to Christmas drear for me. After all the weeks of preparations, life seems to go back to normal so quickly. There we are talking about love and goodwill one day and then fighting each other the very next over the last dinner set in the sale.

Well, I don’t expect any of that is going to change any time soon but I have seen a to-do list with a difference in circulation that made me smile and I will certainly try to incorporate some of the ideas on it in the hope it will make for a more mindful Christmas.

I thought you might like to as well…

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Main image from http://www.123rf.com/ Second image from Pinterest

What happened to the simple life?

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During the summer holiday, I was struck one day by the amount of toys my boys had in the garden. The lawn was hardly visible under all the coloured plastic! My mum had come over and I told her that I didn’t remember our garden ever being so full of stuff when I had played outside as a young child and she agreed. All we could remember her putting out in those days was a small paddling pool, a bat and ball and my beloved disco hopper. Yet I have great memories of those times spent running around with the grass between my toes, getting soaked with the garden hose. I certainly never felt that I was missing out.

If anything, I think that having less toys to play with made my friends and I more imaginative. We used to dream up different settings, with the flowerbeds becoming a flower market (much to my mum’s bemusement when we pulled up all her flowers to sell!) or a magic carpet or part of an Alice in Wonderland scene…. And we had hours of fun spinning around on the clothes line. I also think we noticed nature more because our attention wasn’t focussed simply on which toy to go for next. We could really appreciate the blossom, the rustling leaves, the changing seasons…

My mum certainly didn’t have the problem of trying to find a place to store all the items we have nowadays. And she most definitely didn’t trip over the garden step and fracture her shoulder like I did a few months back whilst trying to carry in a tonne of plastic tut! The biggest irony is that, like me way back when, the boys were actually happiest this summer just playing with the hose and a big tub of water!

Sometimes I worry that life has become so fast and busy now that my boys will never know the joy of the simple childhood I had. But I think it’s still there, buried under the mobile phones, the emails and the hundreds of TV channels….there is always the option of a walk through the park or a simple bike ride down the street….or just playing outside with the garden hose!

Modern Times

 I can’t stop now; I’ve got to run; I really must get going…

I’m caught up in a frantic world that shows no sign of slowing!

I tweet and mail and surf all day to try and keep “up to speed”

And buy my children all the stuff kids now supposedly need!

Yet I recall in days gone by how people stopped to chat…

And kids played many happy hours with just a ball and bat!

Mindful Mummy