Tag Archive | outdoors

The bright side of a leaky roof

20150729_120816My muscles have been feeling a bit like they’ve had a good session in the gym.

They haven’t – I don’t do gyms, I exercise outside, cycling or walking daily and gardening, if you could call it that. It’s more a case of wrestling back the rampant nettles and brambles that would take us over. And the roses and vine that creep under the tiles when I take my eyes off their growth spurts, causing the tiles to lift and roof to leak.

This is the reason for achy muscles; climbing the ladder, clinging to the roof top and fighting wind lashed polythene sheeting into place until the builders get here. Thanks to former exercise I’m fit enough to tackle it!

I can’t blame the roses for the leak this time. I think it was the birds pecking the insects off the flat topped windows that stick out from the roof, making little holes as they do so. And the pigeon who struts about showing off to any watching females. That and the age of the house of course. Time has gone on and we were happily oblivious to the consequences until a steady drip of rain water onto carpet in the middle of a stormy night raised alarm through our senses.

Nothing gets me more wide awake than dripping where dripping shouldn’t be. Or makes you feel more vulnerable than the sudden knowledge that your impenetrable fortress is not so impenetrable as you thought.

Look on the bright side, I said to myself whilst lying on a plank on the flat roof in the rain spread-eagled against rearing plastic, at least it is repairable and at least I have a roof even if it is temporarily leaking, unlike those poor folks I see in grubby blankets sleeping in doorways and under bridges.

Temporary cover laid, the tricky bit is to squirm back to the ladder top and get my foot on the first rung, always a fall risk moment. But back down on the ground with fatigue wobbly arms and legs I know that a bit of a challenge and drip disturbed sleep is small price to pay for this roof over my head. I know I am privileged to have it. And maybe even lucky to have these little hiccups to keep me from taking it for granted.

This might be a very ‘Pollyanna’ attitude. (Have you watched that film with the children? It’s a great one for promoting discussion on appreciation). But it’s also a reminder that appreciation of all that we have serves us much better than an feeling of lack and envy, which the insidious advertising we’re bombarded with can instil in us.

Pollyanna makes looking on the bright side an art form! Thanks to a leaky roof  and wobbly muscles I’m reminded to practice that artistry a bit more often!

Read; for your children’s sake!

The best thing ever on a summer afternoon is to take a book outside and read. 20150806_134010

Notebooks inevitably go with me and I inevitably end up writing – often inspired by the reading whether it’s a novel, non-fiction, whatever! But to have an afternoon devoted to reading outside in the breeze and sunshine is my favourite summer delight. I can spend hours reading, when I probably wouldn’t if I was still inside.

Funny how we can spend hours watching telly or web surfing, yet seldom devote that amount of time immersed in a good book. Soon as I get outside that changes – I can relax and lose time to it.

And apparently we get a double dose of benefit if we do so. Not only do we get the important benefits of natural light, but reading itself also improves wellbeing and has other benefits on society too, like increased empathy and reduced stress. (See this research from The Reading Agency)

And, as if you needed another excuse, your children need to see you reading.

As parents we’re always keen that our children read. It’s an essential part of their development, education and lifeskills. And the biggest influence on children’s connection to reading is whether and how much we read. If they see you reading regularly, they’ll be drawn to it too, especially when you appear to be getting so much pleasure from it.

It doesn’t matter what format you choose to read in. Just as long as you’re reading.

There are so many little moments in a day we could be reading; on journeys, in a queue, waiting room, on the bus, trips out with picnics, waiting for the dinner to cook, with your lunch. The more you read, the more they’ll want to.

The effect may not be immediate or apparent. But by reading, you’re establishing a valuable attitude to it and that’s what counts. They might want to run about and build dens, that’s fine, but you can read whilst they do so. Then they’ll have that image of you – their most important adult – attaching importance to the activity of reading. That lays the foundations of what they’ll attach importance to in times to come.

So take a regular afternoon reading. Take things to read on your family picnics, outings, journeys and holidays. Or just slope off into the garden on a sunny afternoon and take a moment out just for yourself to have a home holiday with a good book.

See if you don’t feel the benefits too!

(If you haven’t read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ it’s a sweet, funny, family story just right for an outdoors read to move your mind and emotions!)

Mood miracle!

I know it's not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

I know it’s not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

It’s amazing how one little moment can become a mood miracle!

Last week was a bit of a wretched one. They can get like that sometimes, can’t they!

I’ve done book events for the new book ‘Who’s Not In School’ and much travelling recently, working in between, and was a bit exhausted with it despite meeting lots of lovely complimentary and sweet people.

So I strode out under the sky early this weekend; for even cloudy is supposed to help the spirits. The tide was seeping over the marshland in that calm and comforting way it does, lifting birds and gently filling creeks. I watched it a while.

Then coming back to the garden I saw that our Buddleia was bedecked with more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in one place. So rather than going in and getting involved back indoors, probably back at laptop, I took a cuppa and sat there and watched them. Not something I’ve ever done – or thought of doing – before.

There were so many I started to count and in just a few minutes counted ten different species. And there were more than one of each species so you can see how many there were in all.  I was totally absorbed.

And then I noticed something else had happened; something honeyed had happened to my spirits.

The doldrums of the week had vanished. Banished by mindful attention to the butterflies and that natural life outside the laptop.

I must remember, must remember, must remember, to take a few mindful moments outside each day and then maybe the week wouldn’t get so far down as wretched. I used it all the time as an antidote to children’s indoor moods. I’ve got to remember that I need it just as much!

And if you’re interested in butterfly watching you and the kids can get involved with the butterfly count this August – another great reason to be outside.

The joy of contrast

Well, I’ve certainly been in the wilds and away from civilisation this week.

Courtesy of Mike Turtle

We’ve just spent some time with friends in a remote part of Wales, climbing hills with spectacular views, walking in boggy fields, observing wildlife in woodlands and scrambling rather precariously up a waterfall!

Totally loved every minute of it! A natural environment fills me with joy.

And delightful to know that there are places without crowds, without traffic jams, where nature takes over and man has to bow to her forces at times rather than it always being the other way round.

I was also without signal – but I soon got used to that and it has advantages!

Just before we had to leave, I was sitting on top of a hill, Wales laid out around me and the Brecon Beacons blue in the distance, and I had a rather mind crunching thought; at exactly that time the following week I’d be in central London, at a meeting with some of you lovely home educators and supporters of my work. I’d be walking on pavements and pressing through crowds and traffic with noise and hubbub filling my ears instead of – well – nothing!

I’ve always maintained that we need contrast in life to keep it sweet – couldn’t get much more of it than that!

How wild are you?

Nothing like taking some time over the weekend to sit among the rose petals and read. Although I don’t think that’s quite what Simon Barnes meant in the book of his I was reading; ‘How To Be Wild’! wild book 002

This is a trip through various wild places with him, mostly on his doorstep in Suffolk, but also in Zambia, as he talks about our connection with the natural world and why we need it. How we need to preserve it. I was drawn to it through that mutual interest and the fact the marshes he walks through are so like the ones I also frequent when I’m getting my regular dose of the wild.

I couldn’t thrive without this connection. I think many people can’t, but maybe they haven’t recognised that fact. We need to keep in touch with wildness to understand that it runs through our own genes however sophisticated and concreted we try and make our lives.

Our health needs it, our psyche needs it. But most don’t get enough of it – some don’t get any contact with wild places and the natural world. Sadly, many kids don’t – some are almost afraid of it.

If our children have no contact then they’ll have little regard, because contact breeds knowledge and understanding. We are spawned from the wild and basically need to preserve it in order to preserve ourselves. Experience is the starting point for understanding.

Simon lists a number of ways to reconnect with the wild. All of which are doable with family. Here are some of them:

  • Walk. Get out from under rooves and walk under the sky. Even in a city this has benefits as there is always something natural to observe.
  • Sit. Anywhere you can breathe in air and even better if it’s a natural open space. Observe.
  • Drink; although I interpret this as picnic with family and kids. Do it outside.
  • Learn. Name what you see, Keep adding to the list of things you can name. With technology you can identify something in an instant, flower, bird, tree, insect, whatever…
  • Read. And research. Especially about the environment, the planet, the species. Explore nature websites and charities.
  • Visit. Find wild places to visit. These don’t always have to be organised nature reserves. A river walk, wood or wasteland that’s less well known may be nearby without you ever having realised.
  • Join. Volunteer. Get involved. There may be branches of wildlife groups near you to be involved with and check out the less well known ones like Buglife or Plantlife as well as the larger ones like The National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Now the summer’s here see how wild you can be. There’s nothing quite like gathering a clan together and getting out there. You’ll make a difference to your life and you’ll make a difference to the environment by extending your contact and thus your understanding, and that of the next generation who’ll one day be it’s guardians.

The view from the roof…

A change of view sometimes brings a change of mind!

A change of view sometimes brings a change of mind!

I was on the garage roof quite a bit last weekend. Charles was inside cooking dinner.We have very different priorities!

Although, he’s not interested in cooking any more than I am, it was just his turn. And I like being on the garage roof because it gets me outside.

It was part of the gardening I was doing. It’s a flat roof and thanks to deposits of leaves and blooms from the beautiful roses tangled there it’s almost an unintentional rooftop garden.

However, what isn’t so beautiful is the rapping on our bedroom window on gale force nights. And not just rapping, sometimes it was clawing and scraping like fingernails down glass. Not very soothing or restful when you’re trying to sleep. I lay planning my revenge; a severe chop.

Thankfully, after the raging wet and storms it was fairly pleasant up there. The sky felt lifted, the fields greening up and, unleashed from the bonds of snow and frosts, flushing with a brighter colour and shimmering in sunshiny moments.

Up there, the surrounding land stretches out from house to horizon and is not a view I see regularly. It instantly changed my perspective.

It’s amazing what a change of perspective can bring to a day, not only with regard to the landscape. The view from higher up than normal makes you feel tall both physically and emotionally. Your spirits seem to climb with height and distance. It must be why people like hill walking or mountaineering; the view from the top making you feel elevated in all respects.

Maybe that’s why my youngest liked climbing trees – I can still picture her face now, high up there staring at the distance.

When I lived in London it was at the top of a house of flats and I could stare over the rooves and treetops into endless sky. It lifted me away from weight of immediate concerns. It made me feel that life was larger than just my own little world.

When life makes you feel so very small on occasions it’s worth taking some time to stop looking at it from ground level and allow a change in perspective. For circumstances don’t necessarily have to change for you to feel better.

I got the climbing roses cut back from the windows. And also spent some moments admiring the view, changing my inner perspective, letting go some of the nagging concerns I could do nothing about. After all, life is not just nagging concerns! So not only did I have a more peaceful night following, I had a more peaceful state of mind.

And I only had to climb the garage roof to achieve it!

Our children; keepers of the World’s garden

I feel terrific – aching but terrific – because I had yesterday outdoors, mostly in the garden. derbyshire.bluebells 032

I’m no gardener, although I suppose I do a pretty good show of dock and nettles! But I have patches of ground round the cottage that require something doing to it, even if just keeping the dock and nettles in proportion with other plants. You know me; ever mindful of balance!

And the best thing is; this gets me outside. When I’m under the sky, especially with fingers in soil or in contact with plants, something calm switches on and I get a super soothing from it.

I so fear for today’s children who never get their faces in the wind or fingers in the soil, they just get drugs to calm them instead. Yet it is so therapeutic – being outside, not the drugs – and I think many of today’s highly charged children would be less so if they had a larger proportion of outdoor time.

Not only would this settle their restless souls but it also gets them better connected with the soil, and the understanding that it is soil upon which the soul and substance of the everything depends rather than the concrete that’s normally beneath our feet.

As much as I have never really taken to gardening – I must have been a complete disappointment to my mum who raved about her glorious plantings and dragged me for hours round plant centres – I do understand its importance. Not necessarily that we do it, but that we all understand that, in a way, we are all gardeners. We are all keepers of the world’s garden.

The world’s garden is what provides us with everything we need to survive. Just like our own little veg patch might provide us with a few leeks and lettuces, the world’s garden – the earth – provides us with the rest. And just like we would never ever consider chucking litter, rubbish, plastic bottles or wrapping down in our own little patch we should also refrain from doing it to the wider garden of the world.

That’s something worth encouraging our children to understand, forever keep in mind and more importantly; practise.

All those fab little growing activities we do as we educate our children like sowing cress in eggshells, or planting giant sunflowers or maybe getting involved in an allotment is just the beginning of educating our children that, not only are they keepers of their own little patch, they are important custodians of the rest of it too. As we all are!

Lift up your eyes!

I know it’s cold when even the salt marsh starts to freeze and turn white!wintermarshlandfeb14 010

Despite being a normally positive kind of person I can sometimes get in the glums and this challenging cold contributes to that.

Add car troubles, bill troubles, and work troubles into the equation and my mindset falls to boot level.

I chomped all this over in a downward plummet, tramping along in the raw fenland wind, cluttered up with clothing and staring at my boots, head down – that typical position of the downhearted, muttering in my head about it all. Not repeatable!

As the wind dropped a little I lifted my gaze and had a quick scan around me looking for something else to be miserable about – as you do when you’re in one of those mindsets.

Forcing watery eyes to the horizon – this sometimes lifts my mind and my mood – something caught my attention. Right on that uninterrupted line of distance; occasional flashes in the wintry sunshine.

Now, you have to imagine a marshland horizon with absolutely nothing on its distance till it becomes sky, the two almost indistinguishable. Yet I was sure I could see little ignitions of whiteness appearing and disappearing on the skyline. Too far away to capture with my camera.

Was I imagining it – I watched through runny vision. Yep – really there.

What were they?

Little bits of litter tossed by the wind?  No; not out at sea and my eyes aren’t that good – I’m not superman!

Gulls? Not possible, too distant, wrong image; they were flashing on and gone.

Then I guessed.

They were only visible in one place – that one deep water place where marshland gives up to North Sea. And what I could see was the reflection of the low winter sunlight catching the tops of waves as the tide began to swell and the wind whipped up the surface.

Like the proverbial white horses, the far away waves rose up and tossed their manes between sea and sky and made a kind of magic show that you could only guess at.

I watched them rear and fall, ignite and sparkle and disappear, over and over. And in those moments troubles were tossed aside and mood uplifted with them.

Sometimes it’s helps not to just mooch along miserably staring at your boots!

wintermarshlandfeb14 008

When you lift your eyes from your boots your heart goes too!

 

Muesli and Molehills!

Whilst I was eating my breakfast I watched the robin doing the same. robin 010

Mine was only muesli, but served up in my favourite bowl.

His was served up in a molehill which I couldn’t help observing looked the same consistency as the stuff I was eating even if a shade darker.

I like to pick my bowl with care. I’m not keen on crusty bits left over from ineffective washing up.

The robin clearly chose his molehill with the same discernment – knowing where the best breakfast was to be had. For suddenly the earth under his toes started to shuffle upwards and spill over as a mole pushed from underneath turning up a fresh living breakfast for the robin.

He gobbled down a grub and waited for the main course in the form of a succulent mini worm. I suddenly imagined a similarity in texture between it and the sultana I was chewing. At least my sultana wasn’t wriggling.

He bobbed about from molehill to molehill as I watched and chewed, absorbed in him, until my bowl was empty yet the robin was getting afters! How is this fair?

However his vibrant buffed up plumage brought a flash of delightful living warmth to what looked like a lifeless January morning.

And as I scrubbed my bowl of crusty bits it made me think of these natural soap operas going on around us every day if we just take a moment to observe and appreciate the world, so full of wonderful things.

Perhaps you can find your own to share with your kids today. And maybe have a discussion about who prefers their breakfast wriggling!

And don’t forget that next weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and an opportunity to really observe your garden birds and get involved with valuable research.

Happy New Year!

After the super glitz and glory of a love filled Christmas I step outside.

Away from the barrage of crowd winter 2013 020and clutter the peace of the natural world descends upon me with an organic balm far more effective than anything bought in a bottle.

Out here all our manic chasings have meant nothing. Instead the birds and animals, plants and land weather the quiet passing of the winter solstice while we do Christmas and await the return of the light and the warmth to regenerate their year.

It might look bleak but the first tinge of green corn has pushed through the silent soil whilst we’ve been indoors celebrating. It’s heart-warming to know that nature always moves gently on.

In the quiet. And the peace.

May your new year bring you light and warmth and peace in heart and mind.

Happy New Year!