New year’s re(s)volution

This blog was started on April 1st last year. This was the first image I uploaded. What happened in between was as they say, history.

On the 1st January 2019, I vowed to have 52 new adventures in 2019. I have to tell you dear reader that I have failed. I got to 48. Illness, autism, work, madness and life got in the way. But what an adventure the last 12 months have been!!!! I just don’t think I can put into words the gravity of change and enlightenment (I am not keen on that word but cannot think of another comparable one in English language) that has happened.

In January, I signed up for a course “Level 3 Forest school leader” on a slight whim. I craved change. I loved working with young people, but I wanted to do it in a way that meant I was impacting on mental health in the positive way, rather than negative. I only feel happy outdoors, in natural environments. I felt that this could be an avenue I could explore and it was a tenth of the alternative I was considering, a masters in educational philosophy. I had asked my place of work to allow me time to study for this, and they said no. It retrospect, it was a huge favour.

By Easter, I had given my notice. My 52 adventures had actually changed my mindset entirely. I was looking at life through a new lens. “Shall I write these 30 reports, or shall I take my paddle board out for an hour?” Neither brought financial reward. I choose the latter. “Shall I sit at my desk and produce a worksheet for the next lesson on post it note holders, or shall I eat my lunch in the sculpture garden and bathe in glorious sunshine.” No one would notice if I did either. I chose the latter. And so went the year.

In choosing joy, I reawakened my joie de vivre. I rekindled a connection to my children. And although I felt guilt, because it is inherently English not to feel alive unless you are suffering, I realised that my being grumpy, miserable and angry was actually benefitting no one. So many people have written to me in the last four months telling me how much it has affected their families, that I have started working in forest school. I can think of one letter I have received in 16 years, in which a parent talks of gratitude for my teaching their child. This is in part, due to expectation, but also because I could not really do what I could do, given the limitations of “education” as it is.

New year’s resolutions have a bad wrap and I think bring out a lot of anxiety in adults. The thing is this, they should not be a noose around your neck, and they should not be another yard stick by which you measure failure. They should be a zephyr by which you embrace a new chapter. I have always loved new year’s resolutions, not because I always complete them, but because I love the concept of rebirth.

How to love Christmas

This time of year is stressful, manic, sensory overload and emotionally charged. It usually results in too much being said after too much alcohol. And the high expectations can leave everyone feeling inept and remorseful at not being or having enough. And it is a time of reflection about people who are no longer here or about where we thought we would be now but have failed.

Forest school philosophy is about reconnecting with nature and people and building meaningful relationships. Christmas should also be about those things: Good food, trees, friends, family and laughter. Doing and being together. We all know this but I am sure most of us still get caught up with endless shopping (for stuff that will just go to landfill), spending money (and probably getting into debt) and drinking too much (to cope with the stress of the above). So how could be press the “reset” button?

Play with your children. Don’t give them things to play with. They think they want all the plastic rubbish, but let’s remember that their brains are the most susceptible to media and advertising. One of the things that blows me away when I am working at Forest school, is how quickly the children form bonds with us. I think it is sadly quite rare that kids get an adults undivided attention. We have such lovely chats, while collecting fire wood or cutting oranges, or flipping pancakes or playing ‘catch the flag’.

Choose the gift of spending time with people. We invite families round for Sunday lunch, or an evening meal fairly regularly, but “dinner parties” seem like an antique from the 70s. You will be amazed how happy it makes people feel. Let your kids choose a friend for a sleep over one night. You will be the biggest hero in history. You kid will be a celebrity.

Food bonds us. Cooking a meal from scratch is a rarity these days. Because people are strangled by mortgages, they are then shacked to long working hours. The knock on effect is that most families don’t have the energy to cook an elaborate meal. It’s not really about time. It is having the mental capacity and the emotional energy left to invest. If you bake someone a cake or slow cook a stew, one feels like they have really, really “given” something valuable. Sharing that food together takes away the guilt if you cannot reciprocate that gesture.

On two occasions, I have spent a Christmas eve preparing and cooking with a fellow woman. I can honestly say, it was one of my most treasured things to do, and it sounds crazy, as I am sure this was what people did everyday, historically. We laughed, chatted, listened to reggae and peeled a million spuds, baked a ham, cut crosses into sprouts. We seem to have become caught up in a kind of competition, akin to British bake off, rather than seeing it as a process we all invest in. It can lead to a lot of resentment.

This year, I will try to see Christmas not as some kind of act of endurance but as a time to build new memories. I will try to slow things down. Appreciate the small stuff. Go out and run along a beach rather then queue for an hour to get into a shopping mall. Walk through a forest, rather than clean the house to perfection. If I achieve these things, it will be a first. But as always, it is a work in progress.

What is Forest school?

Just to address a few FAQs, I thought I would start with what Forest school is NOT.

1) It is not a bunch of women all getting naked in the woods together.

2) It is not just about toddlers playing with mud.

3) Some stuff you could do for free anytime, but someone is trying to screw money out of you for spending time in your local park.

I help run three very different forest schools. One is for women (adults) and takes place in 20 acres of arboretum. https://www.thehawthornproject.org/. On a Thursday, I assist with Wild wood adventures, who facilitate an excellent Forest school for the Steiner school kids at Wraxall piece. And on Friday, I have set up “Sensory Forest school”, designed for kids on the autistic spectrum, but open to all. My three days are very different but amazing, awe inspiring and life changing (for me, and for those taking part).

Some weeks I am busy devising interesting craft activities. Other weeks I am developing new recipes which will work on an open fire, and others I am learning new skills so rapidly, I barely have time to take stock. No two days are the same. It is a crazy, wonderful and mind blowing journey in which we are all passengers, and no one is actually steering the ship.

But don’t let me tell you how wonderful I am 😀 Or how brilliant Forest school really is. Let me show you…

“Can I say wow wow wow , I’m totally blown away. I am still trying to get my head around today….it’s really shown me how amazing a teaching setting can be when it is right.”

S Mum of 13 year old.

“I had to leave when I did as I was near to tears as it’s been at least 18months /2 years since I’ve seen this Oliver. I was totally blown away.”

S mum of child who has been out of school for 7 months

“I love being here because it is the only place I feel like people understand me and I feel accepted.”

Z Adult participant
Octopus dissection

Forest school is a holistic development of the participants through connection to nature. All activities are optional. The activities are ‘learner led’ and non competitive. It is about developing skills, taking risks, building self esteem, team building and collaboration. It is mostly set in an inspiring outdoor environment and fosters a sense of wonder and awe about the world. It is about making meaningful human connections. It is about laughing. Sometimes crying. Occasionally singing.

“I love the woods. I just feel calm and peaceful and get respite from my mind.”

G Adult participant.

“This is the only time I go out all week. This is the only time I talk to people. I am happy here. “

B Hawthorn Project

“How many octopuses do you get in the blooming woods!” I was asked last week by my biggest critic. That’s not the point. I tried to explain. There was one boy who had barely slept, for three nights he was so excited about Friday group. He had made his mum read loads of facts about Octopus from the internet. Three boys had spent 40 minutes, delicately taking the two beasts apart, step by step. We talked about food webs, and jet propulsion, and the fact that they have 3 hearts and 6 brains. We talked about organ functions and evolution and camouflage. And all this from three boys who cannot be kept at a desk for 2 minutes, in their school classroom.

With the adult group we make fire, and tea and talk. We talk about politics, and love, and philosophy and parenting. Sometimes, like today, we talk about farts and neighbours and art and tinsel. We arrive one person, and leave a different one. The second person is more at ease with itself. It is more resilient. More connected.

If I asked the participants a singular question of “what is Forest school?” I guess their succinct answer would be…

Forest school is my happy place

Man down!

This week has been an emotional roller coaster and I think it is true to say that the world seems to be having a collective mental breakdown. I don’t know if it is the full moon, combined with Winter solstice or if the ridiculous political pantomime we have going on in the UK is just sending everyone over the edge. My children have cried approx. 500 times this week. Twice, the adults in my Forest school sessions have broke down in floods. I have a number of friends reaching out for help. I too felt utter helplessness last weekend. The world can feel overwhelming.

I think there is a reason, why throughout history, we have a big celebration right in middle of winter. We need it to get though the bleak season. We have evolved to over think everything, but animals can actually point us back in the direction of listening to our instincts. At this time of year, birds fly south. “Bugger this for a game of marbles!” they think. The flightless mammals build a den, get a load of food in and sleep it out till April. The deciduous trees drop everything and going into suspended animation. No more work till spring. Nice idea nature.

Snail and babies hiding under a log till it’s warm.

But most of us cannot do all those things. What we can do is slow down. We can appreciate the last bird song of the season. We can plan to meet friends and reconnect with some good nurturing autumnal food. This week I made smores with my Friday Forest school group. One of the parents said her daughter was looking forward to it all week. Next week I will plan a fire pit feast and a mindful walk in the local park and we can all hug it out around the flames.

When a beautiful lady cried at my adult session, I brought her a hot coffee and let her spill her heart. Then we went out as a group hunting fungus. We found a fairy den and inside were hundreds of coral fungi growing. I told a story about doing my scuba diving training at this time of year in Devon and being amazed by swimming through a kelp forest. Even under the sea, the plants go all the rainbow colours in Autumn. That spurred others to tell stories and we walked and talked and laughed.

And yes, dear friends, that is a picture of me with some cone fungi on my boobs. Because sometimes adventure is the answer to your problems, and sometimes having a laugh is. No one could resist laughing at my rendition of Madonna’s “Like a virgin.”

Last week I was selected as one of the top adventure blogs in the UK. https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_adventure_blogs/ Which is wonderful and fabulous and helps me in my mission to connect people with wild places.

But this week I was reminded that it is our connections to each other and not the places we go that make us happy.

Thunder thighs

A Bikini, my worst fear

This week I was trying to think about ways in which being out in nature is so relaxing. On Wednesdays I work with adult women doing forest school. Pretty much regardless of the weather, you see them transformed for spending a few hours in a beautiful arboretum. Tortworth forest centre is a 20 acre site, just 20 minutes from Bristol city centre.

I have always struggled with living bang in the city centre. And I can distil it down to one reason: reflective surfaces. I don’t think of myself as a vain person, but I can’t seem to stop looking at my reflection in the reflective surfaces, and they are EVERYWHERE. Each parked car, each shop window, every house. Behind the counter at the green grocers is a huge, wall wide mirror. Why? I don’t really need to be checking my hair while buying potatoes. And this constant looking at one’s self really does cause a lot of introspection and self loathing.

At the arboretum, one’s mind wanders through natures awesomeness and beauty. You find delight in the small creatures and can often be struck about how little we still know about the world. Do these ancient herbs hold the cure for cancer? And you find yourself child like and playful.

We all have one part of our body which causes huge amounts of self loathing. For me it is my thighs. I can remember being about 14 years old, sitting in assembly, looking down at my thighs and thinking “Why are they so big? Everyone else’s are not like mine.” I have spent a lifetime selecting clothes on their ability to hide them. I curse having to find a wet suit. When at a swimming pool, I practically sprint out the changing room and into the water. I once heard the former president of Italy, Berlesconi describe Angela Merkle as “An un-fuckable bag of lard.” And that is how I feel in a bikini.

But I was recently somewhere with my husband, and he was telling a story from when we were 17. I challenged him to race me up Westbury white horse, probably the steepest hill in the county. He was saying that I beat him, not by a small amount, but by a long way. My husband is probably the most competitive person I know, so he made me do it a second time, and a second time I thrashed him.

This year I completed a challenge which I have wanted to do forever! I had always wanted to complete a triathlon. My aim was to complete it before I turned 30, but I missed that goal. I then moved the goal post to 40. Last January, I realised that my 39th birthday was approaching, and I still had not got my act together. In may I came 47th in the off road triathlon (with paddle boarding rather than swimming) and it was a massive challenge for me.

So when I am suffering with some crippling self hatred, I will try to remember that these thighs get me up mountains, they can run 8 miles and they take me mountain biking, all of which give me so much pleasure in life. Sometimes I need to appreciate them for all their imperfections, and wobbliness, and asymmetricity. I will never love my cellulite. I will still buy A-line dresses and boot cut jeans. I just need to spend more time in nature, away from the reflective surfaces of introspection, and focus on the positives.

The gift of time

Let me drive you from Bristol to a landscape of incredible waterfalls, ancient forests and wild rivers. We will feast on Lobster and prosecco cooked on hot coals. I will then guide you on a 5 mile walk through the Wild Welsh landscape. Half way we will stop for gin and cake, if you would like. One the return, I will point out the unique and intriguing flora of the woodland valley along with fold tales and medicinal aspects. There will be the option for wild swimming in a lagoon, with the largest fall cascading in the background. We will then journey home.

‘Into the wild’ has a singular aim: to improve participants well being by being in an inspiring outdoor environment, building communities, feeding the body and nurturing the soul. I want to create a movement which reconnects people with nature and the outdoors. I have lived in Bristol for 16 years. During that time I have spent every spare day travelling the local wild places to explore forests, beaches, mountains, waterfalls, rivers and gorges. I love all things outdoors whether it is walking, cycling, swimming, paddle boarding, scuba diving or canoeing. I am a qualified teacher having specialised in wood working for 16 years. I am level 3 Forest school trained and I have outdoor and paediatric first aid. I set up my business because I passionately believe in connecting with nature.

http://www.airbnb.co.uk/bristolwaterfalls

Running away from it all

Some days it is true to say that I wake up and wish I was in Brazil. I was not really prepared for being an adult and all it entails. I have had no training in parenting, I still don’t understand Brexit and I still have not developed the ability to poach an egg, despite having 20 years trying. I am reminded of the blooming maths test I was made to take at University three times, and still failed three times (even when I cheated!). To this day I cannot do calculus and still don’t actually understand the point.

This week for Adventure #46 (52 Micro-adventure in one year) I went trail running in Blaise Castle estate. It is open free access to rivers, gorges, castle, forest and open grass land. I used to do quite a lot of trail running ten years ago, but then I let excuses and martyrdom get the better of be. This week has been hard work and I literally felt like running away and joining the Russian circus (or something). I put on my tatty shoes and squeezed myself like a sausage into some running tights and went running through the Autumn sunshine. It felt glorious. There was not really anyone about but a few dog walkers. I would sprint for a while, then stop to look at the ponds. Then hike up the hill. Ponder the view.

Running (and runners) can be quite competitive. Last week I was asked if I was a runner. I did not want to engage into a conversation about how slow I run a 10k so when he asked the question “Are you a runner?” I replied with “No, I am just mental.” I made a mental note to myself that I really need to work on the question “What do you do?” now that I am no longer a teacher. I was asked this yesterday and faltered. People then tend to fill in the blank with “Unemployed.”

The new me is trying really hard not to apologise for my existence on planet Earth and instead be more assertive. So here goes I am…

An adventure blogger, Forest school leader and outdoor activity coach.

Last week I had my first bookings for my new business: http://www.airbnb.com/bristolwaterfalls

I have to say, it was absolutely thrilling, wonderful and reassuring. Looking forward to the future, rather than running away from it. But if you are feeling in a negative head space, I can thoroughly recommend going out for a trail run. I came back feeling elated.

Dreams become reality

On January the 1st 2019, I set myself a new year’s resolution: To have 52 new adventures in 2019. My husband asked me if I was going to complete my challenge yesterday. Like all resolutions, I had kind of forgotten about it. But not because I had given up. It was because it had snowballed into something entirely bigger. This blog started out being called “52 micro adventures.” And has now become an entire forum for my new career, business and philosophy on education.

In January, I signed up for a training course. I remember pressing the “checkout” button and whooping with fear/ delight. No one was around to see me do this. I was sat in my office, hating my job. Said office was a dark, underground room I referred to as “The dungeon.” In March, I started writing this blog, as a dare by my friend Helen who said that my facebook posts were inspiring people. In April, I handed in my notice. In July I completed the practical training to become a Forest School leader. In September, I registered my company ‘Into the wild’. I got my first paid gig at Tortworth Arboretum. I woke up everyday excited! I loved my work with adults. In October I started my own child led Sensory Forest school for kids on the Autistic spectrum. And Airb&b signed up my “Wild escapes: Waterfalls” experience. https://airbnb.com/bristolwaterfalls

I write this blog not to brag, but in the hope that someone reading this will be inspired to start their own adventure, be it in the great outdoors of otherwise. I think that we can easily slip into a rut where we 1) Stop taking risks and 2) Put up with being treated badly. The media has us believing that our jobs are fragile, and that if we don’t follow the “rules” everything will be ripped out from under our feet. It also has us believing that we cannot be happy until we have the right House/ Car/ bust size/ life style. And we seem to be in a mental health epidemic.

I think it took me 39 years to realise what makes me happy. I just love being outdoors exploring forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, meadows. And when you use this space to educate others about nature and allow them to challenge themselves, you watch their self esteem grow and blossom. Ironically, I felt this was the opposite of what I was doing when working as a Design Teacher.

I remember a conversation I had with my other half 10 years ago. He said “You want champagne and rainbows everyday Sy and you just can’t have it!” Today I sit here smug as a Unicorn. It transpires I bloody can. I just had to realise that no one was going to hand that shit to me. I had to go out and find a way to make it happen myself.

Loving nature and nurturing love

Getting away on a “mini break” can be an absolute relationship saver. No one feels truly connected to their partner while discussing taxes, Brexit or the fact that fridge needs cleaning out. But this is also true of our friendships. Every once in a while we need to do something in the wilderness with people who are important to us. To experience something special and unique together.

Last week I started working as an adhoc, outdoor instructor. I felt like a little bit of a fraud, given that even though I have run numerous obstacle races and triathlons, and even though I seem to have amounted a ridiculous amount of activity qualifications (Scuba diving, sailing, Forest school, outdoor first aid) I had not really “coached” anyone else before. I have an exceptionally high pain threshold (Childbirth was my proof) and I don’t really feel the cold. I am an animal when it comes to mud and water, I will do literally anything. During one particular race, we had to go through barbed wire and underwater obstacles. But encouraging others to do these nutty things, is a whole different matter.

The lovely guy in charge put me on a technical and fairly high risk obstacle. In my head I completed a “dynamic” risk assessment: Drowning, concussion, shock, heart attack. The weather was pretty horrid and us instructors were all clad in our best wet weather gear.

At one point, the man who runs the event said “last year I had four squaddies manning this one. They literally stood in the water and shouted at people till they did it.” Well, that’s totally not my style, I thought. Over the walkie talkie I could hear someone requesting an urgent medic on another stage. I tried to stay focused on my task. I could hear that a group of lady medics in matching black tee shirts were going round. Each stage reported their arrival. When they finally got to me, they felt like old friends.

“You can definitely do this!” I said to them. “Over the big, under the small.” They looked at me, slightly broken and said “What?!?!? put out heads right under?”

“You have come this far. You are going to be so proud when you have completed this. I am right here if you need me. “

“I wish I could take a photo, one lady said.”

“I will take a photo” I said, like an idiot, realising that I did not know them to send it their way.

“Find me on facebook.” She said. So I took this brilliant picture.

Bristol Dental Specialists

To the Bristol Dental Specialists: I salute you. Keep taking risks, challenging yourselves and nurturing the sisterhood! You guys were fab!

The rest of my week was spent with my family in the forest of Dean, seeking new places to explore. We walked through cascading golden leaves, stomped through gushing streams and walked up steep old drover lanes. Time spent together in nature is never time wasted. And we even found a hedgehog! Something I have not seen (even as road kill) for 25 years. My hubby and I were convinced the son had found a dead one, but no, there he was just roaming around. It felt like we had found a fairy or a unicorn, the stuff of magic.

And if the great British weather is a bit inclement, well, just make sure you end the day in one of our bloody brilliant pubs. A glass of wine and a log fire will surely cure all ills in the world. Chin, chin.