When Nature is Good for the Soul.

When Nature is Good for the Soul.

good for the soul 1

“And into the forrest I go to lose my mind
and find my soul”

On Sunday, I went for a country run, with my 8 year old daughter accompanying me on her bike. A quiet presence.
I love to have her with me as she is such a wonderful and silent companion. There is immense beauty in having someone you love close by – right beside you, without words.
I find it extremely comforting and assuring.
To be at rest with a dearly loved one, feels like a gift.
After my run we decided to cool down in the woods.
Our favourite walk, which loops right back to our barn and meanders through thick and lush woodlands, is called The Bluebell Trail. It is utterly stunning in the spring/summer seasons, with the most gorgeous meadows full of wildflowers, spilling over rocks and winding their way around tree trunks.
Green and verdant tree canopies arch their bulk and frame over rocky paths, creating an almost magical and still environment.

“And it’s in these moments of quiet and slow that I find my own pace again. I am reminded that busy doesn’t mean better.
I am assured that my steps need to be a little slower and less urgent”. 

Baby birds chirp loudly from their high nests, their parents busy at work, flitting to and fro their tree-top homes, with fat grubs and long worms hanging from their beaks.
Petite deer, with sweet little white dots on their backs, quietly and sure-footed peek from behind bushy shrubs. Ever so gentle and timid.

The ground is cool and soft underfoot. And the smell! A mixture of wild garlic shoots, cow parsley, delicate bluebells and sweet primroses.
This space feels like heaven to me. I catch my breath here and the buzzing world all around me is placed temporarily on mute.

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“Just 15-20 minutes two or three times a week, can reap enormous benefits”. 

And it’s in these moments of quiet and slow that I find my own pace again. I am reminded that busy doesn’t mean better.
I am assured that my steps need to be a little slower and less urgent. I remember that I cannot control everything and everyone.
And I become more aware of how small a cog I really am, amongst a much bigger and faster wheel.
It is my responsibility to slow my life, as well as my soul down. Because nobody else will do that for me.
They are too busy focussing on keeping all of their own balls up in the air.

“It feels as though nature is giving me a gift.
Completely free, no-strings attached.
A buffer to the outside world and momentary pause in my frequently tired brain.”

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In that instant – I feel calm wash over me like a soothing, aqua-blue wave, in perfect sync with it’s environment before it crashes onto the sand floor, sending up frothy white spray.
It feels as though nature is giving me a gift. Completely free, no-strings attached. A buffer to the outside world and a momentary pause in my frequently tired brain.

Did you know that a simple walk in nature can benefit your health in a huge way?
You don’t have to organise a gruelling hike or be outside for hours.
Just 15-20 minutes two or three times a week, can reap enormous benefits.
Here are a few health benefits to keep in mind next time you are feeling a bit blah. Hopefully it will encourage you to put your trainers on and hit the road for a boost of nature-goodness:

1. My absolute favourite! It boosts creativity.

By simply stepping outside, walking the dog or to the school gate to collect the children, you can improve your cognitive function and creative thinking skills. Plus the fresh air, I am sure, has a little bit of magic in it, as it makes me instantly breathe deeper, slower and calmer.

2. You can improve your overall health.

Being immersed in nature is crazy good for the immune system, helping to prevent sickness and other illnesses. Our bodies turn from “fight or flight” mode, which we often feel whilst cooped up inside doing chores or working. Being outside allows our system’s to relax.

Taking time in nature is tremendously important during cold & flu season, even though it often feels like a bit of a chore when it is cold outside! However it is SO worth it.
Has anybody ever come inside from a brisk winter walk and not had rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes and a huge smile on their face?

3. Lower cortisol levels.

When you are physically outside, walking on the earth, you can’t but help feel a connection to nature. Experts have named this ‘Grounding’ as it provides relieved tension with muscle soreness or headaches, which can promote a sense of calmness and yes as some studies show – even lessen cortisol levels (which cause stress).

4. Reduced inflammation.

Nature can even help your body to fight inflammation. Our bodies naturally become inflamed following certain aspects of life such as stress, poor diet, not enough sleep, etc. And extreme inflammation can lead to autoimmune disorders or even depression.
Being surrounded by nature instantly quietens the mind, allowing your body’s inflammation to organically settle a bit. Basically, there is no easier and cheaper way to increase your health than by opening your front door.

5. Enhanced sense of wellbeing.

In other words, a better mood!

When I was a child and being a bit grumpy or fighting with my older brother, my parents would often say “go outside and chase the monkeys from your back”.
I never understood why they thought I had monkeys on my back, but in effect they meant, go and run off your irritability and come back a bit happier!
And guess what? It actually worked. Often they would find my brother and I immersed in a pretend game of something outside and all of the previous grievances forgotten.
It’s truly hard to be grumpy when you’re surrounded by flowers, trickling water, or green trees.

Studies have shown that people living closer to or more in touch with nature have lower anxiety levels in general, which makes sense. Less traffic, more trees. Less waiting, more living.
And don’t despair if you live in a big city, as regular mini breaks amongst nature is still extremely beneficial. It just takes a little more organising ahead.

As Mary Davis is quoted as saying –

“A walk in nature, walks the soul back home”

And for me, that feeling of being walked back home towards a peaceful place, is therapy wrapped in green with a side of fresh air.

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Living Slow in the Snow.

Living Slow in the Snow.

We experienced our first full week of snow in Norfolk this week.
After waiting for close to five years for a proper downfall, we were not disappointed.

Overnight, the landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland of gorgeously light and puffy snow, perfect for crunching underneath one’s feet and even more perfect for making snowmen.
We had two enthusiastic attempts at snow-building.
The first was a practice run but the second was magnificent.
Our boys rolled an enormous snowball all the way along a 1km stretch of country lane. Each turn, catching more ice and the end result being taller and wider than my 6ft, 17 year old.
This large orb nows sits in the front of our garden, sporting a head and stick arms, with the obligatory beanie and scarf adorning his head and neck.

Sledding was the next obvious move and never far from the children’s minds.
As parents, we were delighted to finally retrieve from the loft, our brand new sleds – naively purchased at the beginning of our first winter in the UK.
How foolish one can be!
It’s just as well we had no idea how long those little red speed boats were to be stored for.
Every winter we waited with baited breath when the weather fell below zero, hoping that we would experience a bitterly cold snap, generating a decent snowfall.

And here is where there are two schools of thought amongst the snow culture.
Namely children and adults.

The children, they see the delight and excitement in the change of the weather, straining and longing to just get out there in the elements and play. Hoping that there will be a snow day and pass from attending school, which doesn’t affect our four youngest, but does our 17 year old in Year 12.
Children don’t seem to mind the biting cold and the fact that they can’t feel their feet. They want to throw, eat and make snow angels in the ice.

I have much to learn from my children, still. Every day they challenge me to look beyond the responsibilities of being an adult and just enjoy playing.
When did I stop playing?
There are some days I would like to cancel my subscription as an adult and retreat back to being a child.
More fun and less worry is generally the norm – and I want to be more like that.

The second school of thought is, of course, the adults.
We are the ones who think about whether the snow is safe, as we scramble about trying to find enough pairs of thick socks for our kid’s feet not to freeze. We tell them to zip their jackets up all the way and won’t let them outside until they have gloves on to protect their little fingers.
We grumble when the kids come in wet and cold – at the puddles on the floor and the dripping clothes to dry.
We worry whether we will be able to drive to the grocery store and do we have enough milk for those warming hot chocolates the kids ask for?
We make a mental risk assessment as to how dangerous it would be to crawl at 40mph to the local corner store, with every chance it is also closed. And then we will have to make another decision whether the roads are clear to drive to the next large village and buy supplies. Note to self on driving in a snow storm – don’t do it, even for milk! Drink water and wait. We drove to the GP and to the store and ended up stranded in a snow blizzard covered field for two hours. Not the wisest move. I definitely went wrong somewhere on my risk assessment of weather conditions.

Play doesn’t often naturally come into our heads. It seems we revert to decision-making, planning and worry.

It’s likely that the snow and ice will be around for some time and my plan is to do more of the playing and less of the worrying (unless in a snow storm and then we will stay away from vehicles with four wheels).
So what if we have beans on toast for dinner, or eggs and ham another night? If the children wear the same clothes for a few days and recycle their socks on the radiator for another adventure outside – does it really matter?
It doesn’t make me a bad mother.
It makes me a fun mother.
One who smiles and engages fully with the children without my mind drifting to other concerns.

When you are an advocate of slow living, it doesn’t happen overnight.
It doesn’t mean that because you are wanting to live a free and uncomplicated life, that it miraculously occurs.

Like this snow week, I have fallen into the trap of the worrying mum.
The one who keeps adding to her to-do list whilst she is indoors and her children play outside. Granted, I did play for a bit but when my fingers turned blue, I retreated into the warmth with hot tea and a hot water bottle, watching the children through from the comfort of my snuggly chair.

Slow living is a conscious and daily effort of saying no to life pulling you in one direction, and putting your hand back on your heart and declaring what is most important to you.
That is slow living and that is when you will see the rewards of your decisions.

For me, those rewards come in such beautiful ways. Huge hugs from my children saying thank you for being their mummy.
Small twinnie hands holding mine under the covers of my duvet in the dead of night and whispered “I love you’s” over and over.
It’s the cries of “mummy watch me!” and “did you see that!” and most fun of all, “mummy chase me!” – not easy in the snow but a great workout.

These are the beautiful snap-shots of living intentionally slower.
I want more of them in abundance and less of the world pulling me away.
I desire slow every single day and I will fight for it with the power of the lioness that is the driving force within me.

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When Life Needs a Change of Direction

When Life Needs a Change of Direction

How One Small Gesture can Lead to Great Things.

“Sometimes one small gesture, can give you the strength to do enormous things.
A little generosity can unleash great tenderness.
Leading in time to deep, real love.
And a single conversation can change your mind, your life.
The world is no bigger than the people who inhabit it.
And together or alone, we are closer than we know”.
-Vanessa Redgrave-

I watched Episode 4 (Series 7) of ‘Call the Midwife’, on the weekend, and was touched by the truth of the above words. It reminded me of a moment that signalled a major change of direction in the course of my life and our family.

Just over six years ago in Australia, Matthew, my husband and I, were in Target, shopping for our daughter’s birthday, which happened to be the next day.
I remember feeling disappointed in myself that I had left it so late.
I had always been quite organised with the children’s birthday’s, often buying them gifts months before.
However, working three days a week and caring for six children, two of them twins who were still toddlers, was beginning to stretch me in uncomfortable ways.
I often felt overwhelmed with the daily challenges of caring for a large family, whose ages ranged from 18 months to 15 years.

And on this evening, running around the store, 20 minutes before they closed, I again felt that crushing weight of being too busy, fall heavily upon my chest.
And of me, wanting to step off the fast train I had found myself frequently boarding.

I was standing in the book department and happened to glance across at the ‘self-help’ and ‘inspirational quotes’ section. One of the books caught my eye immediately.
On the front cover was a sign-post.
It was the sort that I see all the time living in country Britain – the old-fashioned wooden types, often pointing to a public footpath that meanders across a field or through a wildflower covered woodland.

This signpost had two arrows in different directions.
One was the path of busyness and the other was the path of living intentionally slower.
Underneath the signs were these words –

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls”.
Jeremiah 6:16

Change in Life's Direction
Often people speak of an instant ‘knowing’ about something or someone. In my life, I have had those inner feelings on quite a few occasions.
This was one of those moments.

I knew that I knew, that I knew, our lives were about to change. Had to change.
We were at those crossroads, indeed standing right underneath them, within the harsh bright lights of Target.
And we had a choice to make.
I also knew it was going to be a truly difficult and gut wrenching life choice. Because it meant leaving my extended family.

I looked at Matthew and pointed to the front cover. He said, “I think this means we have to make a choice on where we live and how we live”
And I said, “I want to live in England”.

Change in life's direction
From that point onwards, we had a renewed focus and confirmed path set before us.

We wanted to be in the countryside, amongst green pastures and beautiful spring flowers.
For our children to grow up in Europe, embracing the diversity of cultures and the opportunities to travel and experience the world.
We wanted to bring our children up within a slower paced environment.
But most of all, we wanted to rid ourselves of all our material gain and live a simple life. One without so many distractions and one outside of the norm of our 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom new build home. In a rapidly growing housing estate, full of the same types of homes and gardens.
We wanted more!
Change in life's direction
I didn’t buy the book but I did buy a diary. In that diary, I documented our journey from that defining moment in Target – the small gesture which led to great things, to actually moving to the UK.

How is it that one small gesture can lead to great things?

This is what we did –

1- We made a solid decision and stuck with it – we kept our focus and began to strive towards the end goal – living in England.
2- We involved the children, daily. Speaking about our plans and allowing them to have their input and listening to their concerns and worries (of which there were quite a few, such as leaving family and friends).
3-We made small steps every day towards the end decision. This meant talking about moving, telling friends, sharing with family, selling our belongings, deciding on those things we deeply treasured, looking for employment.
4- We made the decision to not become despondent when it began to take a lot longer than we initially anticipated. A job was difficult to find from the other side of the world. Skype interviews were uncomfortable and we weren’t always familiar with the different counties of the UK. A lot of research was carried out in order to familiarise ourselves with each region of the UK.
5-We immediately chose to not wear our tinted glasses – as in – the grass always seems greener on the other side. In the case of England, I can safely say that the fields and hedgerows were exponentially more colourful (and green!) than Australia. However, that was only in nature and not in actual living.
6- Once our decision was made, we didn’t leave room for doubt. The diary I kept was a brilliant time-line of events and circumstances. Positive things people said to us about the move, encouraging signs and confirmations along the way. In other words, we kept our eyes and ears open to remain committed to our decision, despite many things not going accordingly to plan.

Change in directionJust over a year later, we arrived in England. Our new home was a sweet cottage, called Red Berries. It was surrounded by fields of produce growing. We had rose bushes and fruit trees in our garden. The children made a den under a big old apple tree and spent their summer days playing in the comforting shade of the branches. My soul started to breathe again. We gradually made friends and established a sense of belonging.

Maybe for you today, friend, you are looking for the signs as well.
Whatever your circumstances and situation, there will be a way forward.
Sometimes it’s a bit blurry and feels unsure doesn’t it? And you worry about making the wrong decision.
The thing is – there is no such thing as the perfect choice, only to keep your eyes open for the cues that are before you.
Look for those signposts – because they will be there.
That single conversation may change your mind, your life.

We chose the arrow that led us to here.
One small gesture, one tiny book cover in our case, can indeed give us strength to do enormous things.

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Grey Sky Days

Grey Sky Days

Grey skies are just clouds passing over.
-Frank Gifford-

Grey sky days cover us like a blanket.
I know the sun is there. I can feel it trying to peek through the murky clouds.
It’s rays are weak but its power can be felt.

The sun will shine again, as the sloshy ground has already begun to reveal the secrets that lay beneath.
In the form of snowdrops.
Each winter, at the first sight of those petite little white buds, bobbing about in the harsh wind and sleeting rain.
I am reminded, yet again, of the promises that this tiny flower represents.

Snowdrops are the first flower of the year to bloom.
A precious sign that winter is indeed transformative.
For me, it symbolises such hope and excitement.
New warmth is just around the corner.
Even if we can’t see it. It is there. For me, in the form of a snowdrop.

We found our first snowdrop patch today
It had been raining and there were great big puddles on the ground.
We raced the icy wind and ran over to the side of the road to marvel at their tiny forms.

Whilst some may never notice, amongst the haste of each day, if a tiny snowdrop fails to make an entrance on any given day.
I would little one, I would look for your delicate form everywhere.
My heart skipping a beat at each new sighting.
Peaking through crude rocky crevices and boldly claiming your place amongst such bleak landscapes.
A delicate dance. A statement of belonging.
Dear snowdrop, you are indeed summer to my winter heart.



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