Solvitur ambulando

Lynton to Hunter’s Inn – August 2020 (between lockdowns)

This weekend has been the first of four weekends in our latest national lockdown, also known colloquially as Lockdown 2.0. Since Thursday, all parts of England have returned to a full Covid-19 restrictions, with the re-closure of non-essential retail businesses and with restaurants and cafes offering takeaway menus, rather than eat-in options.

Happily, Saturday was a lovely, melow, autumn day, so the people of Kenilworth were able to be outdoors, enjoying the fresh air, walk with a companion or cycle in the sunhine (all observing the lockdown rules). Just as the nation got outside in spring and summer, so we now need to find ways to maximise the daylight hours and experience a sense of freedom.

Solvitur ambulando

In her delightful book, Afoot and Lighthearted, Bonnie Smith Whitehouse begins with the assertion: Solvitur ambulando, a Latin phrase that means, “It is solved by walking.”

Since I started doing more long distance walking last year, I’ve begun to experience the real benefits of walking – both physical and mental – that putting one foot in front of the other can bring. Even better, walking with a companion is a wonderful way not only to catch up with each other but to reflect on life’s challenges; discuss problems and find solutions. Indeed, it is solved by walking. Whilst out yesterday, we also learned the momentus news of Biden’s success in the US elections.

Yesterday, the dog and I covered 12.6 miles over two walks – a short walk in the morning and another – much longer – trail in the afternoon. It was so good to be outside, to feel the sun on my face and to re-trace familiar steps. The longer of the two walks can be found on AllTrails: Millennium Way: Meer End and Kenilworth Walk. This route takes in the magnificent ruin that is Kenilworth Castle, passes through large swaithes of farmland and allows glimpses of wonderful dwellings.

Get going!

Almost everyone can walk; even just 20 minute sof brisk walking per day is said to bring benefit to both health and overall wellbeing. Captain Sir Tom Moore showed us that you’re never too old to get started or, indeed, to achieve extraordinary things.

Just a year ago, I began a quest to walk all 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. I’ve mentioned it here before, but I can’t believe that 12 months have passed since we first stood in front of the iconic sculpture that heralds in the start of the trail (in the pouring rain!). This summer, I was able to go a little further, having postponed the second stretch twice (first because of Storm Dennis, then Covid). With my friend, Lynne (plus Ollie the cockapoo, we walked 90,000 steps over 3 days, crossing the Somerset/Devon border to enter the second county on the trail.

Nowadays, life has changed a great deal in a number of ways. Perhaps the most signficant is how sedentary I have become. My health app tells me, “So far, you’re waliking and running less than you normally do.” No kidding, Sherlock. Working from home has a number of benefits, not least the reduced stress involved in actually getting up and arriving on time at your desk. Nowadays, here are no excuses for not being on time!

However, friends agree that, no matter what organisation you work for, working from home involves too many online meetings. It feels relentless. So, to catch a little daylight now that the clocks have gone back, I’ve given myself a little diary prompt that sits within a 30-minute slot and simply says, “WALK.” If the prompt is there, it may just be that I can give myself permission to get up from my dining-room desk and get outside.

And, who knows? Those work challenges might even just get solved – or lessened – by putting one foot in front of the other.

 


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Going to uni? Shop from your own home

After a little break from the blog over the summer, I’m back for a new season with some new life adventures to share with you. I hope you have been keeping well and happy, in spite of lockdown restrictions.

Our daughter is about to take the next step on her life journey and embark upon the quasi-independent life of being a university student. She is one of the hundreds of thousands of UK teenagers who belong to the ‘Class of Covid-19’ whose achievements were ultimately based on ‘centre assessed grades,’ rather than on a combination of teacher insights and a controversial algorithm. So, I’m somewhat relieved and delighted that she has been able to secure a place and is now in the run-up to moving into her hall of residence next weekend.

Getting the essentials

It’s been interesting observing my daughter’s group of friends, as they plan what they’re going to take with them to their respective institutions. Inevitably, they want their university room to have homely touches, as well as the necessary essentials. So, last weekend saw the two of us in one of the UK’s top ten shopping destinations, Milton Keynes (famous for its roundabouts!), as we tackled a rather long wishlist.

We visited just 3 shops and that was enough for me: Home Bargains (bargains indeed!); Primark (for its home section); and good old Marks & Spencer. Forget IKEA if you’re thinking of venturing out: the queues to get in were snaking through the car park – a clear ‘no go’ for me.

Kitchen in a box?

Of course, retailers know that they can offer handy bundles, such as Wilko’s “Kitchen in a Box”, but here’s what I think about these sorts of offers: you probably don’t need them. Rather, it’s better to remember that you don’t need as much as you think (we never do) and what you genuinely need is probably already available at home.

‘Shop’ from home

So, after some indulgent purchases, it’s now time for our girl to ‘shop from home’. That is, whatever we didn’t buy on our trip is probably available right here in cupboards, drawers and shelves here at home. In spite of my minimalist tendencies, we still have more than enough cutlery, crockery, towels and other items that a student might need. Plus, why buy new when you’re using a shared kitchen and – apart from your own room – are getting your first taste of communal living? Better, I suggest, to take old stuff that you’re not too precious about, so if it goes walkabout or gets broken, it really doesn’t matter. So, with just a few days to go, I’ve invited Miss Gordon to take whatever she likes. This may sound like an extravagant gesture, but it really isn’t.

Remember The Minimalists’ mantra: If you can pick up something for $20 or less – and get hold of it within 20 miles of where you live – don’t stress about it. Of course, this is in the context of decluttering seldom-used items: if you accidentally declutter something you find you later need, it’s not really an issue to let go in the first place when you know that replacing it would ultimately be an inexpensive and easy thing to do.

The same applies to household items for the soon-to-be undergraduate – what if she takes the corkscrew or our favourite kitchen knife? It really doesn’t matter when we’re within walking distance of shops that can readily supply replacements for less than £20 and within 20 minutes on foot.

Lockdown lessons

Lockdown has certainly taught me that we truly need far less than we ever believed. Plus, our local community swung into action by sharing, instead of shopping, for things that neighbours needed. Our little street has a little WhatsApp group now, which we didn’t have before lockdown. If someone needs anything (or has something to offer), this group comes into its own. We’ve also benefited from the kindness of residents on our town’s community Facebook group helping and sharing with each other in a way that we didn’t do before. Long may this continue.

So, if you’ve got a student about to leave home for the first time (or if you are that person), I’d heartily recommend the ‘shop from home’ approach, even before you head for the shopping mall. It’s a more sustainable way to approach your first term at university and it’s kinder to your wallet, too.

 


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What we’re eating in lockdown

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I’ve been on annual leave this week. So, instead of working remotely from my little study, ‘holidaying’ at home has been my experience. Here in the UK, the government’s daily mantra is Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. So, staying at home we are.

On the whole, the nation is respectful of the reasons why we’re being asked to do this and fiercely proud of our NHS and grateful for all our key workers. Just now, the UK has been told we must remain in lockdown for at least 3 more weeks. But I must add that this is no hardship in this particular corner of the world. In the past few days, it feels as though we’ve been watching spring gently unfurl, as ripe clematis buds burst into flower and leaves on the silver birch and sycamore trees begin to reveal themselves a little more with each passing day.

Food is now at the forefront of people’s minds

A recent post on our town’s local Facebook group caught my eye:

Current family weekly budget in lockdown 💵

Petrol – £0
Meals out – £0
Useless purchases – £0
Groceries – £2467.90

It certainly feels like we’re spending more on food, although a check of my April Dual Account Budget Spreadsheet suggests we’re on top of our budget, which is pretty good considering there is no eating outside of the home whatsoever.

Apart from the obvious changes to daily life (we are told that traffic levels are at their lowest since 1955), a regular topic of conversation is food.

How to obtain essential provisions, what we’re eating, where to find key ingredients and top tips for getting an online delivery slot are key features of our neighbourhood WhatsApp group chat.

A new favourite podcast of mine, Table Manners, has also considered how we’re feeding ourselves in lockdown. Check out Episode 10, with the fabulous Emily Maitlis or go back in time to 2018 to the episode with my favourite cookery writer, Nigella Lawson.

Au revoir to online shopping

One big shift we’ve made is the transition from regular online shopping to sourcing food from a variety of new places.

Our local farm shop is providing a fabulous service: place your order online, then wait for them to call you so that you can make payment. Drive up, then they’ll come and place your food straight into the boot of the car. Simple! And rather good. Today, we’ve enjoyed locally-produced salad leaves, milk from a dairy just up the road and a rather splendid chunk of chocolatey rocky road (shopper’s perk).

We even managed to buy a bag of plain flour, a grocery item that has been in short supply, as families have begun baking together during the pandemic.

Yesterday, my daughter and I spent a pleasurable hour in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies from Sally’s Baking Addition.  These have the most wonderful chewy texture, are utterly delicious and worth the extra devotion required to achieve such perfection. Thank you, Sally! (UK friends, we used baking powder instead of ‘baking soda’ and light muscovado sugar for the brown sugar).

There’s certainly something very soothing about the quiet discipline of weighing, sieving, mixing and shaping ingredients into the ultimate comfort food. I must also mention the simple, humble but oh-so-delicous flapjack.

Cook

One source of pre-cooked frozen food is Cook. While the neighbouring butcher and deli store in Leamingon Spa had people queuing round the block (at a socially acceptable distance), we were able to place our order to cook online, then arrive on the specified day to collect our order with no waiting time at all. Plus, Cook‘s meals for two feed three of us happily – and very tasty they are too. Our family’s all-time favourite is Cook‘s meatballs in tomato sauce, but the chicken pie (on the menu tomorrow) may yet beat it into first place.

Making an honest crust

Our local artisan bakery, Crustum, has also solved the problem of how to manage during lockdown. Customers can now pre-order and arrive at a specific time to collect their bread, which is only ever available 3 days per week. I’ve just placed an order for Saturday, so can enjoy a legitimate trip out on my bicycle, whilst satisfying my current craving for some of Crustum’s famous chelsea buns.

My mother, who lives 90 miles away in Yorkshire, has also described how food suppliers local to her have become inventive, offering home deliveries rather than their usual weekly presence at the market.

I wonder how we’ll shop and eat post-pandemic? It was certainly heartening to see a BBC report that, in France, essential stores include those selling bread, cheese, groceries and chocolate. At times such as this, des Chocolatiers are indeed providing an essential service.

Looking inwards

So, we’re certainly keeping an eye on the outside world, whilst our focus has necessarily been more inward-looking, as food is cooked and eaten, cupboards get a sort out and old paintwork is refreshed. It’s been really lovely to get on top of jobs that would otherwise be crammed into busy weekends.

And, in spite of having maintained a minimalist home for 4 years now, there have still been some items we’ve assigned to the ‘goods out’ pile, ready for when some kind of normality returns. Living with less still gives me a thrill.

Get uncluttered

Whilst writing, have you noticed that Joshua and the team at Uncluttered are offering the spring online course for just $59? Use my discount code of FF25 and you’ll also get a further 25% off, so there’s no better time to join if you want to declutter during lockdown. The discount ends on 22 April, so do take a look if you’re curious about what Uncluttered can do for you.

So, stay safe, friends. And let me know what you’re eating in lockdown. I hope it includes something comforting.


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Staying at home

Most of the personal emails I’ve been getting during the current Covid-19 lockdown have fallen into 3 categories:

  1. Helping our customers….(insert company X’s statement of reassurance, safety and ‘necessary measures’)
  2. Coronavirus: (insert latest news here)
  3. The marketing campaigns capitalising on the ‘at home’ situation: “Wondering how to make the most of your space?” (from a very well-known UK high street department store)

I wanted to make my message a little simpler:

Hello…
How are you?
How are you getting on in your corner of the world?
And perhaps you will permit me to share a little of my experience so far?

Kenilworth and Covid-19

Our little Warwickshire town has strengthened further its community spirit by setting up a Facebook group to offer support and information (which store has loo rolls??!) and bring volunteers together. So far, at the time of writing, there are 600+ volunteers who have offered to be ‘street champions’ (guardian angels for their own neighbourhoods), shoppers, or helpers who can fetch, carry, deliver and support others.

One amazing lady asked local pubs and restaurants to let her have leftover ingredients at the point when they had to close their doors to the public. She created multiple dishes, then had them delivered to the elderly. I think we will see similar quiet but stoical acts of kindness, as the weeks progress.

Of course, the town came out onto doorsteps and balconies earlier this week, as the nation joined in a ‘Clap for Carers’.

Remote working

I’ve now been a ‘remote worker’ for a week and a day. Of course, this makes for an interesting experience when, suddenly, your only contact with colleagues is via MS Teams. Using Teams has opened up a whole new communciation channel to manage alongside emails (of which I counted one every 2 minutes yesterday). This arrangement also means that you’re sitting on your bottom 08:30 onwards. That said, remaining on the couch is what we have to do to save lives. If we can’t do that very simple thing, then we genuinely need our heads looking at.

I think we now realise how serious a situation we face , when many of us now know someone who is suspected of having the virus or has heard of someone else with symptoms. And neither royal blood nor high status in society makes you immune.

The downs and ups

My lovely sister is a physiotherapist by profession. Her normal job is to support the rehabilitation of those with neurological issues. It was sobering to learn yesterday that she was heading to the hospital to get patients home (as quickly as possible) and that she was also embarking upon respiratory training.

I had to say, I had a little cry when she told me what she was doing.

On the upside, there have been some very funny moments. I contributed to these by wearing a sombrero in many of my virtual meetings this week. Our choir also attempted a ‘rehearsal’ via Zoom, but we had to mute everyone, as it sounded really terrible. We kept our Director ‘un-muted’ and sang along to ourselves, before ‘un-muting’ everyone for a bit of a laugh at the end. It was fun and entertaining (for all the wrong reasons).

We are also recording a video of the choir singing Jason Mraz’s Unlonely. Today, I had a go at listenining to the backing track whilst recording me singing the soprano part. I can only hope that the final combined performance is better than my own feeble efforts!

Worry only about what you can control

Listening to a podcast today, I was reminded that there’s a danger in these unsettled times to ruminate over what could or what might happen, or fear the very worst. Being afraid might lead to us becoming unusually sharp with others, or feeling particularly stressed.

As Brené Brown has said this week, “This pandemic is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves”.

I hope and pray that we use our time at home as positively as we can to help us stay brave and be resilient. It’s springtime here in the UK, so our gardens are starting to wake up following the wettest February on record. We have plenty to eat, somewhere safe and comfortable to be and every way to entertain ourselves indoors or in the garden.

So, do let me know how you are. I hope you’re doing OK. Be brave. Be your best self. Keep washing those hands. Stay at home to remain safe and keep others safe. And if ever there was a time be intentional, that time is now.


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Project 333: ‘How a little wardrobe challenge changed a whole life’

Imagine my surprise and delight when I had the chance to read a newly-arrived copy of Courtney Carver’s new book, Project 333. In case you’ve not yet seen it (the book’s official publication date was 3/3 (of course!), I thought you might appreciate a review. So, here it is!

If you’re familiar with Courtney Carver, then this is the book that followers of bemorewithless.com might have expected her to have written first. In fact, Soulful Simplicity came before which included a section on the project. Still, Project 333 (along with Carver’s popular Tiny Wardrobe Tour) is arguably the most well-known aspect of her work to date. With its humble beginnings back in 2010, Carver set herself a challenge that was to be the catalyst to other – more far-reaching – changes in her life.

Project 333 – the basics

The idea of this minimalist fashion challenge is that you set aside the rest of your wardrobe for a 3-month period during which you dress with the remaining 33 items or less (hence the name). When the 3 months are up, you’ll swap out some of those items and bring back others.

Most items you’ll wear will count towards the 33, including jewellery, shoes, accessories and bags. But workout gear, underwear and pyjamas (for example) don’t count.

Not another ‘how to’ book

Although Carver does talk about the idea of a ‘capsule wardrobe’, Project 333 isn’t merely another ‘how to’ book. Indeed, the approach is not at all prescriptive. Whilst there are lots of useful tips and some interesting case studies, the idea is that, by following the challenge, we remember to connect with ourselves; listen to our hearts; and ask the person who knows us best (ourselves).

Carver also demonstrates how the ‘three thirty-three’ concept can used as a way in to dealing with more signifcant and profound life questions. Nicely crafted into a series of themed chapters, the book describes, ‘…..how a little wardrobe challenge changed a whole life.’ That’s quite an audacious claim but if you know Carver’s work, you’ll know what an impact #project333 has made on her, those around her and the 1000s of people who’ve followed in her footsteps.

Life lessons, big or small

Project 333 works on a number of levels, so take from it from whatever you need. Want to sort out a messy wardrobe? Here are some tips you can use. Or maybe you need to tackle just a small part of your life first, which can then act as the catalyst for more far-reaching changes. You can get this here, too.

What Carver is clear about is this: taking part in the project won’t protect you from whatever the world throws at you, but its benefits have a lovely way of spilling over into ‘real life’.

Clothes are boring

This morning, I listened to Dame Kristen Scott Thomas on Susannah Constantine’s new podcast, My Wardrobe Malfunction. If you listen to this – or any of these conversations – they are far less about the clothes and much more about lives lived well. The outfits, garments and fashion moments, if they feature at all, are far from centre stage.  They are merely the conduit to a more interesting conversation.

I do like clothes (and I’m not averse to a real bargain), but I have stopped yearning for them. This has given me such freedom, saving hours of time and hard-earned money, as I have given up the quest to find the simplest of things: something to wear. This is Carver’s point. A shopping ‘fast’ (a bit like intermittent fasting) does you a world of good. It clears the head and leaves you feeling lighter, calmer and more in control.

Things to consider

Paring down your wardrobe does mean you get to ask yourself some great questions.

For example, if you could start from scratch with your closet, what would you buy? Or, if you’re stuck in a cycle of ‘consume, donate, consume, donate…’ how much better for your wallet and the environment would it be if you simply stopped? Or, what if I challenged the voice in my head that said, “I could never…..”.

Often, we hear of people trying to fill an emotional vacuum with the temporary high of shopping. But, as Carver writes, “When things are broken but bearable, it feels easier, at first, to stay at ‘bearable’ rather than to address the problems.”

Try lightening your load

Courtney Carver’s quest for more had resulted in stress, depression, debt and strained relationships. It certainly didn’t answer the simplest of questions, “What shall I wear today?” As she writes, “I’d been shopping for years and I still had nothing to wear.”

So, instead of adding more and trying something new, try shopping from your own wardrobe; living a little more intentionally; and lightening your load. Who knows, a little step in this direction could inspire you towards a full-on spring clean or encourage you to get uncluttered once and for all!

Project 333 is published by tarcherperigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House


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Living the Blue Zones way on Blue Monday

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a sucker for a new recipem book. And it’s true that probably the only things I regret letting go of in my decluttering phase are some of my lesser-used cookbooks.

Most recently, we’ve been enjoying the wonderful recipes from The Diabetes Weight Loss Cookbook by Katie Caldesi. These low carb, creative and incredibly tasty dishes offer a lighter take on tradional recipes with an italian twist. I’m also keen to have a look at Amelia Freer’s latest book, Simply Good for You but I am holding myself back because of the book I’m about to describe.

The most significant boost to our New Year’s culinary experimentation has to be the amazing The Blue Zones Kitchen by Dan Buettner.

The Blue Zones concept is amazing; around 15 years ago, Buettner identified the 5 places around the world that have produced the world’s longest-living people. The concept is simple living at its best.

A dip into Blue Zones concept

Here are just 3 interesting aspects of the Blue Zones simple way of life:

Eat a whole food diet

The recipes in The Blue Zones Kitchen are mouth-wateringly good, but simple in their approach. Following the time-honoured recipes of older residents in each location, these dishes are based on just 20 or so basic ingredients and many feature all different types of beans, which – it is recommended – should be eaten every day.

Essentially promoting a plant-based diet, The Blue Zones Kitchen emphasizes whole foods including vegetables, nuts, olive oil (extra-virgin), some grains, lots of greens and fruits with red wine to drink with meals. Out go all kinds of processed foods, plus meat, fish, dairy, eggs and sugar are limited to special occasions or treats.

In our house, we’ve started with a huge pot of home-made Sardinian minestrone soup. That’s going to feel like a hug in a mug when it gets to lunch time today!

Exercise naturally

For exercise, ‘blue-zoners’ enjoy natural movement, especially walking and gardening, to keep them active and healthly throughout their whole lives. What’s refreshing is is that Blue Zones inhabitants simply walk wherever they have to go.

Consider walking up and down the mountains of Sardinia or Ikaria and you’ll realise that will get the heart pumping! That sounds so much more appealing than sitting at a desk all whole day long, then driving to the gym to attempt to offset the lack of activity earlier in the day.

At work, a small number of us who all live relatively near to one another are discussing the idea of setting up a walking group so that we can walk together to/from the office. By doing this, we’d reap the benefits of a simple daily workout whilst also building our social network. I can walk home from work in about 1 hour, 15 minutes, so as the daylight hours extend as we head towards spring, I’m looking forward to doing more of this.

Be sociable without social media

One of the positive aspects of those leading a ‘Blue Zones life’ is what Buettner describes as, “..active engagement with community, friends and family.” Spending quality time with other people increases people’s sense of wellbeing and I’ll be there’s not an iPhone in sight.

Last week, in the news, we learned that UK psychiatrists have said that tech companies must share their data with researchers to help improve understanding of the affects of social media on children. For all of us, having our heads stuck in our phones – even for reading – means that we’re failing to engage with others; make connections; or appreciate what’s going on around us.

This weekend, I intentionally spent less time on my phone and more time in the presence of others. It felt like I’d had several days away from the office, instead of just two. Maybe I should switch it off altogether at the weekends…. that would be an interesting experiment.

Don’t be blue

Today is said to be ‘Blue Monday’, a day that is said to be the most depressing in the year.

So, I say let’s not be blue. Let’s learn a little from the Blue Zones way of life and inject a little simplicity, health and happiness into our lives.


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3 things you need to do this weekend

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How did you spend last weekend? Perhaps you spent time on chores, catching up from the week, or maybe you enjoyed a hectic round of social events?

In her podcast, Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam discusses ways to maximise a short weekend (aimed especially at those who perhaps work on a Saturday or Sunday). She advocates prioritising 3 things that will help make the most of your time off, no matter how long you get:

  • Something social
  • Something spiritual
  • Something physical

For me, last weekend fulfilled all of those ideas.

Something social

Last weekend was somewhat extended for me, as it began with a light meal and a catch-up old friends on the Thursday evening.

My ‘Gin and Books’ group followed on Friday, with a spirited discussion on Joanna Nadin’s The Queen of Bloody Everything. Some of us really loved it; others weren’t so keen. So, maybe it’s a ‘marmite’ book. Either way, the gin was lovely; I sampled Strawberry Gin with an Elderflower Tonic.

The following day, I was was scheduled to do my fortnightly Pets as Therapy visit with Ollie, our (almost) 6 year old cockapoo. This combined both the social with the ‘spiritual’ as my heart sings when I see the enjoyment of the residents in the nursing home I visit visibly perk up when they see us.

It’s rare to have 3 social events in quick succession; I wonder why they all arrive at once?

Something spiritual

If you’ve ever been a singer in a group (or even enjoyed singing in church), you’ll know about those spine-tingling moments when you experience a musical moment of perfection.

Anything that’s good for the soul will give you a tick in the box when it comes to ‘something spiritual’. For me, that was baking a lemon drizzle cake on Saturday morning in honour of our daughter’s return from a few days away. Simple pleasures, such as enjoying a lovely cup of tea in the garden or a quiet soak in the bath, can really be uplifting.

Something physical

Our ‘something physical’ last week was a long walk – straight from our house – down to the Millennium Trail, which follows the path round Kenilworth Castle. This morning’s walk followed part of that route, but it’s raining heavily, which is odd since we experienced baking temperatures on Thursday!

We know that getting out in nature is good for us (more on this here), so we try to do this, even if it’s chucking it down!

I love the idea that these 3 simple suggestions can help us make the most of the time we have off. So, what will you be doing this weekend? I’m certainly going to remember to try to incorporate a bit of each: something social; something spiritual; and something physical.


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Rambling along the English Coastal Path

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Craster, Northumberland

We’ve just returned from a week in the most northerly county of England: Northumberland (so called because it is situated on land north of the River Humber).

Having fallen in love with the South West when our daughter was small, my heart has always called me back to Cornwall. However, when Mr G suggested we explore another stretch of British coastline, I agreed to accept the challenge.

We rented our home for the week through Coquet Cottages, an award-winning luxury holiday cottage company. This turned out to be a brilliant choice; it was delightful, as you’ll have seen from some of my most recent Instagram posts and stories.

Heading North

The first difference to the breaks we’d previously enjoyed was that this was a Friday to Friday holiday. This meant that I finished work on the Thursday evening, ready for our drive ‘up North’ the following morning.

Our route was incredibly simple. Once we were on the M1, we headed straight up to Leeds from where we picked up the A1, stopping to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of the Black Bull pub near to Scotch Corner.

On we travelled, arriving at the cottage in late afternoon, before heading off to explore the beach at Warkworth, our nearest village. It was such a thrill to walk over the dunes and find ourselves on stretch of golden sand that extended as far as the eye could see.

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Beautiful beaches

A castle on every corner

From that first moment, we knew we’d found somewhere rather special. With what seems like a castle on every corner, Northumberland combines stunning, unspoilt coastline with countryside to rival anywhere we’d been before. We couldn’t wait to explore.

During the course of the week, we did a lot of walking, which was a complete delight (even in the light rain we endured when doing a circular walk from Hauxley Nature Reserve, via the water’s edge, and back again). This was life lived at a slower pace, simply and with time to notice and appreciate our surroundings.

Wonderful walks

These were the real highlights:

  • Dunstanburgh Castle from Craster (pick up some fresh Kippers for your tea on the way back in Craster)

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Dunstanburgh Castle

  • Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle (and back) (our longest walk at 11.4 km and just under 19,000 steps.

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Bamburgh Castle

  • A circular walk from the beautiful village of Rothbury, about half an hour from the coast and the home of Cragside, owned by the National Trust. Here, you have a real sense that you’re in Border country; the landscape is more dramatic and the stone properties suggest a hardy existence in winter. Plus, we were treated to our very own private air show, as a pair of fighter jets flew right over our heads, as we crossed the moor. 

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Rothbury

We also visited Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick), home of the famous Alnwick Castle (but not dog friendly, so we couldn’t go inside). Alnwick is best known for two famous Harrys: Harry Hotspur (who features in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One) and Harry Potter (the castle was one of the film locations for the Harry Potter series).

Nearby Alnmouth (Alun-muth), whose image features on the home page of Coquet Cottages’ website, was another gem. Ollie, our 5 year old cockapoo, was very happy playing catch-ball on the beach there.

Cosy evenings

During the evenings, once I managed to get the logburner going, we settled down to enjoy a glass of wine and a good book. I’ve been reading Raynor Winn’s wonderful memoir, The Salt Path, which charts the journey of Winn and her husband, Moth, as they walk the 630-mile South West Coastal Path. It’s a terrific read (and I’m not going to give the story away – you have to read it!), evoking memories of many of the places we’d visited over the years of holidaying in Devon and Cornwall. Theirs was no afternoon stroll, however; the Winns were wild-camping and completely exposed to the elements, but this book got me thinking about the therapeutic nature of walking.

Walking for health

As humans, we’re meant to walk. It’s kinder to our joints than running but has all the same health benefits (you just have to do it for longer). There’s also something meditative and calming about walking outdoors; the steady, rhythmic aspect of trekking – coupled with clean, fresh air – blows the cobwebs away and allows you to get a different perspective on life.

It seems we’re not alone in thinking that walking is a good idea; it appears we’re right ‘on trend.’ An article in The Guardian suggests that walking is now considered cool.

Walking for good

Not just ‘cool’, walking remains a force for good. Take Becky and Jamie Gunning who’ve just walked 198 miles (coast to coast) in 7 days to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity – and jolly well managed to raise over £20k. You can check out Becky’s Instagram to find out more.

Closer to home, the young people from my daughter’s school recently took part in a gruelling 24 mile walk across the top of the Coventry Way (some did the whole hog at 40 miles), also raising money for a jolly good cause.

So, an idea is forming (with a little nudge from my friend, Rae). It is said that when men experience a mid-life crisis, they buy a fast car. Women go walking. Well, I may not be in crisis, but I have a zero birthday not too far ahead. Maybe I’ll give myself a little walking challenge of my own. I’d certainly like to return to lovely Northumbria; a few more ramblings along the English coastal path would be just lovely.


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Slow-down hacks for a simpler summer

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It’s been a whole month since my last post, so I’ve been desperate to get back to the blog. How are you all?

The reasons for my silence are twofold: Mr G has been jetting around Europe for work (Warsaw twice; Prague once), so life’s a bit different when he’s not around (all you single parents out there, you have my utmost respect).

Plus, I’ve been spending some extra time during the evenings, sitting alongside our 17-year-old in the car, to enable her to practise her driving skills. Having past her theory test, she now has her practical booked for next month, so we’re keeping everything crossed.

Happily, after what has also been a very intense period at work, I’m really looking forward to the summer. It’s a great time to slow down and simplify life a little bit, so here are some hacks for you that I’m going to be putting into practice once school’s out.

Switch your mode of transport

Even when you’re at work over the summer, if your journey permits it, try changing your mode of transport. My workplace is just 5 miles away, so I’ll be dusting off my bicycle and whizzing to the office via the cycle paths. I don’t want to cycle all year round (the route is not fully lit), but when the mornings and evenings are filled with sunlight, it’s lovely being able to arrive at the office feeling oxygen-filled and energised by a bike ride.

I met another Sixth Form parent on Thursday who told me that she’d recently taken part in the school’s 100 mile charity bike ride in France; she suggested I go along next time. I don’t know about that, but I might just manage 10 miles a day!

Eat simply

Did I tell you that I’m loving Madeleine Shaw’s cookbook, Ready Steady Glow (recommended to me by fellow blogger, Glamour in the County). Full of easy-to-make, tasty and nutritious recipes, Shaw’s way of cooking has me getting meals on the table – from start to finish – in less than half an hour. Even better, I’m going to be choosing her simple salads to throw together during the week this summer. That will leave the weekends for some more self-indulgent and time-consuming culinary creations.

Dine outside

Talking of food, we love eating out when the weather is fine. Last year’s heatwave saw us making very good use of our patio set. This year, so far, we’ve had a very wet June but I live in hope that the weather during the school holidays will be kind to us.

Today is going to be the hottest yet and I am – unusually – at home entirely alone. Mr G has taken our teen to a university open day and Ollie-bobs (cockapoo) is at the groomer’s.

Invite others

I’m hoping to follow in the footsteps of inveterate people-gatherer Sarah Harmeyer of www.neighborstable.com whose story I read about in the latest issue of Simplify Magazine.

Harmeyer’s welcoming ethos is an inspiration to us all; keeping it simple, but extending the hand of friendship to all-comers is something I’m going to try to do more of during the holidays.

Get those jobs done

This week saw the start of a series of household jobs we’ve been meaning to get done for some time. Somehow it seems easier to be doing work on the house when the weather is fine.

Plus, we’re doing some jobs that really should be done in the summer months. First up, we’re replacing our home’s 30 year old gutters and drainpipes and repairing a part of the roof. We’ll be glad we did this come the autumn.

Get your sea fix

This year, we’re visiting the Northumbrian coast for the first time. Fellow cockapoo owners have recommended some dog-friendly places to visit (and eat) and we’re staying in a cottage that’s managed by an award-winning lettings agency. It’s my dream to one day visit places such as New England. In the meantime, we’ll take the simpler route of jumping in the car in ‘old England’ and heading north. We should be there in around 4-5 hours and are looking forward to the slower pace of coastal living.

Dress simply

The loveliest thing about summer is being able to slip on a dress, dig your feet into sandals (or trainers if the weather’s a bit inclement – I’m loving the white trainers trend), grabbing a bag then heading out of the door. I don’t know about you, but I also think that summer is a time when you can afford to dress a little more casually; be comfortable; and be a little more sartorially relaxed.

What are your favourite summer hacks? Do let me know by replying in the comments below!


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Digital Minimalism: Staying Mindful in the Digital Age

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This is a guest post from freelance writer, Johanna Cider, who is based in beautiful New Zealand. 

Digital Minimalism: Staying Mindful in the Digital Age

In a world where everybody is glued to digital screens, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to live in the moment. We spend so much time on our devices that we become disconnected from our real-life surroundings. As a result, our state of mind can become fragmented, and we lose focus on things that matter.

So, how do we stay mindful in the digital age? It’s certainly not impossible. All you have to do is make a few simple adjustments to how you live your life. Follow these tips to build a mindful state of mind.

Turn Off Your Digital Devices

Taking a digital detox is the first step in living a mindful life. If you’re constantly attached to your phone, how can you expect to live in the moment? When you’re not working, turn off your computer and put your phone away. Challenge yourself to be in the moment more. Be grateful for the people and the world around you. Listen more to what people have to say instead of letting your mind wander. Invest more time engaging with people face to face, instead of talking on the internet. With no digital distractions, you’ll end up noticing all the little things that really matter.

Connect with Nature

Spending time in nature is healthy for your mind, body and soul. Nature has no distractions. Being in such a calm and peaceful environment helps to encourage a state of mindfulness. In the natural world, there’s nothing to focus on but your senses and your thoughts.

If you want to live a mindful life, you need to prioritise how you spend your time. Instead of spending your free time browsing social media, venture into the outdoors. Go to a quiet beach, take a hike in the woods, or just hang out in your garden. Pay attention to what you can see, touch, smell and hear. Use this quiet time as an opportunity for self-reflection.

Make Exercise a Priority

Exercise is one of the best ways to relax your mind. Intentional physical activity can reduce stress, boost your mood and improve your sleep patterns. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will help inspire mindfulness in your life. Over time, you’ll feel greater awareness of your body and mind. Just make sure to stay consistent with your routine, and to track your process.

Try a New Hobby

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There are many fun activities that promote mindfulness. Creative outlets like painting or journaling can be healing for the soul. These relaxing hobbies can help put your mind at ease.  If you’d prefer to get active, try an outdoor pursuit like fishing.  Fishing offers opportunities for self-reflection and mindfulness. As you wait to catch a fish, there’s nothing to do but stand still in nature. This gives you time to think, reflect and take in all your senses.

Practice Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing trains your body and brain to relax. It’s an important technique to have in your daily life, especially during periods of stress. The practice of mindful breathing isn’t difficult. It’s all about giving full attention to your breath and taking back control.

To start, spend some time each day focusing on your breathing patterns. Ideally, this should be done in a quiet place with no distractions. The moment your mind goes somewhere else, bring it back to the present. Focus on connecting to your breath instead of thinking about anything else.

If you practice mindful breathing on a daily basis, it will soon become a natural part of your life. You’ll learn how to calm yourself down, take control of your emotions and be in the present.

About Johanna:

With a career that requires long hours of research and editing in front of a screen, freelance writer Johanna understands that smelling the roses – literally and figuratively – takes time! Bill Watterson, the creator of one of Jo’s favourite comics, Calvin and Hobbes, wisely said: “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” Find more of her published work on Musings of Johanna.


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