Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

Resilience by Nature

This is a tiny ballet shoe which I bought a few years ago. I have a lot of nostalgia for red ballet shoes because it reminds me of a childhood dream. People often comment about the shoe when they see it in my house, but no one has yet asked me why.

I always loved dancing and from the age of 3, my mother took me to classes. At age 8 I was doing really well. I had two distinctions and if I got a third, it meant a scholarship to London to study at the Royal academy. My dance teacher was fantastic and was so encouraging of me. Then, she moved away. My mother found another teacher, but this one told me, point blank, in the first few lessons that I would never be a professional dancer because my little toes curled outwards.

Looking back now, it was a ridiculous statement, but as a small girl, it was easy to totally shatter my dreams with one comment. The teacher was angry at herself, I would imagine, at not having had the success she dreamed of. My first teacher saw the potential in all and saw her success as measured by our achievements. The second saw us as competition. I bought this little shoe to remind myself to never let anyone tell me that I cannot do something. I had a whole wealth of evidence telling me that she was wrong, but I let her poison my confidence in a instant.

Tortworth arboretum

Today I have been applying for what I felt could be my (2nd) dream job. Then I had a “Ballet shoe” moment. As an adult, I have been trying to devise ways to overcome the shoe. My current mechanism is to go off into nature. It is both humbling and inspiring to stand in amongst giant Oaks which have been on the planet for 200 years. I walked though a rainbow of leaves. I doubt very much whether the maple has a crisis of confidence about dropping it’s leaves for the winter. I somewhat struggle to imagine, a mushroom having an anxiety attack about whether it is time to pop out and spread it’s spores. The squirrels don’t produce an excel spread sheet about how many chestnuts they have collected.

In nature, things just “be”. Seasons change, winds blow, rain falls. Does the nut hatch mourn summer? Maybe. Is it stressful trying to feed and shelter their families, probably. But there must be an acceptance about the inevitability of it all. And I think that we must all try to seek the evidence of our talents and abilities and achievements, without the shadow of doubt eeking into and spoiling it all.

This week I will be inspired by nature to just “Be”.

The subtle art of being skint

Featured

How to live life on the edge of your pants when you don’t have shed loads of money to throw at fancy trips.

Becoming a parent is absolutely humbling. That, and just about the most challenging thing any of us would ever have to contend with. Just imagine someone gave you a precious sports car and told you to drive it through the Namibian dessert at night. Not only that, you don’t get a map, you have never had a single driving lesson and you actually have gone temporarily mad due to 3 years of sleep deprivation and worry about said trip. Your body will feel like it has been battered with a hammer during said torture and you have forgotten what a hot meal is. It’s a winning combination for success. If we approached the work place with such a lack of preparation, it would be insane, but instead you have to study for years, get some experience, have a mentor check on you and a bi-annual review.

My children are constantly re-educating me on how to be a human. Hedonism is something which is slowly drilled out of us as we get older. My quest this year to complete 52 micro adventures has led me into all kinds of new and terrifying experiences. We also stop taking risks and I think as we do so, we progressively stop believing in ourselves. The biggest asset my new year’s resolution has given me is a massive confidence and happiness boost.

I am currently at adventure #41: Go on a cray fish hunt.

Here are some of our best family Micro adventures (with minimal cost)

#1 Go fossil hunting. My kids genuinely thought they had found a fossilised dinosaur poo. They were thrilled.

#2 Make art on a beach with found items. It never ceases to amaze me how children can only concentrate for 10 minutes in a classroom but hours on a beach.

#3 Breakfast picnic. Our favourite is to go to a bakery early (one of our kids wakes at 4am) and sit in the park on a sunny morning in complete solitude apart from us four, the birds and the flowers swaying in the breeze.

#4 Climb a mountain (or big hill). You may have to invent a creative game to entice them up, but the views are humbling to all. Seeing places you recognise gives you a humbling reminder of perspective in life.

#5 Go on a fungus hunt in a forest. My kids get points for each different type and bonus points for especially ugly, colourful or massive ones. It is amazing how attentive they are. They nearly always triple my score.

#6 Tell a shared story around a fire. Anyone can make a fire and we could all make up a tale, but google has replaced creativity and experimentation. Sometimes I long to not know the answer to a question, to ponder and consider. Some of the times my kids have absolutely laughed the hardest is about one of my ridiculous stories.

#7 Make dinner together. We have arrived at a really strange state of cultural climate where it can feel like our offspring are small princes with which we constantly serve. Kids these days don’t seem to do chores, partly because the likes of dishwashers, washing machines etc have made life easier, but I am constantly astounded at how the art of cooking, a basic human need, is one which we leave too late to teach. Kids bloody love cooking!

#8 Collect forest treasures. The world is full of wonder and awe when you are 5. I have rediscovered my inner child by finding pleasure in examining acorns, looking for four leafed clovers and singing Victorian songs long forgotten about nature.

#9 Draw an observational sketch of a found object. There is a great deal to be gained from slowing life down and disconnecting from screens. Children’s vocabulary is suffering in this digital age. The sheer act of using language to do art together is deeply wonderful. They will disclose all kinds of weird and wonderful thoughts about the universe.

#10 Watch clouds. Do you remember that? Being bored as a child and finding the mundane fabulous. Nebulous thoughts are so relaxing. Sharing this moment with your children is an act of bonding.

So let’s try to stop distracting our kids so we can “Get on with stuff” and realise that perhaps it is the stuff, which is distracting us from our kids. Because they are the most precious and important thing we have in our lives. Everything else is just glorified dust.

Tale of a tigress

A short story inspired by being in the wild.

A tigress strode through the jungle and as she did, snakes slithered away. Bees and butterflies buzzed like glitter, spiralling into the sun. With her head bobbing, steam bellowing with rhythmic sway, she pushed her way through long, lush green leaves till she arrived at the water.

Stopping briefly, she bent down and lapped the cool, cold pool below. The tigress looked up as the sky changed slowly, yellow to orange, orange to blue, till tiny, blinking stars gazed back at her. In the distance, a waterfall poured it’s heart into the pool and all while huge blooms exhaled powerful fragrance which brought a tear to her eye.

The feline padded around the pool till she approached the waterfall, it’s song growing deafening as it grew closer. With grace and power she leapt, three times and then disappeared behind the waterfall. In the cave, she paced in a circle, measuring, waiting. At the back of the cave she looked at the fast flowing water as it fell like diamonds and it was as though time stood still.

The tigress leant back on her hind legs, as though in child’s pose, and then suddenly bolted forward bounding faster and faster until she reached the ledge of the cave. She sprung into the curtain of diamonds like breaking glass and fell down, down plunging into the cool deep below.

Noise became silence. And clarity became a blur of bubbles. The bubbles were replaced by flashes of gold and silver as the tiger swam slowly from the drumming noise behind. Great shoals of panicked fish burst like fireworks as she moved through them and gradually faded. Finally her head broke the surface, nose just clearing as she treaded water. She reached the soft sandy edge, which cracked like cake with her weight and she collapsed on the carpet of grass.

The tiger looked at the twinkling stars and heard the waterfall sing and breathed in the perfume of a thousand flowers and she wished that all the world could see such beauty. For life is not lived through a screen, not felt through paper. It is living and breathing and right before your eyes.

Picture credit: Artist unknown.

The Devil and the Angel

Two contrasting micro adventures

Bristol botanical gardens

Adventure #29 was to go to a place which I had thought a million times “I should go there.” And just never got round to it. I have lived in the city for 16 years and never stepped inside the botanical gardens.

It was an absolutely glorious day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the trees were dancing. The spring blooms were beautiful and exotic. I felt such great, deep joy sitting by the lake I wanted to buy an annual ticket. It was a small oasis of tranquility in a city full of chaos.

Dappled sunlight

Aside from learning a lot about pollination and about medicinal purposes of plants in the Chinese herbal garden, I just loved the tiny naked cherub statue I sat next to as I had a cup of tea.

If the lord himself has wanted to send an angel down to England, it felt like a fitting location.

The devils pulpit

Today I went for a ‘soft’ interview. After wrecklessly giving in my notice in April, I needed to start to find some way to earn money. If I could do something in the great outdoors, I would be in heaven.

Afterwards, I took the opportunity to stroll a length of Offer’s Dyke to the Devil’s pulpit. It was said that this magnificent outlook was used for the Devil to preach to the monks below in Tintern Abbey. The Forest of Dean looked spectacular with its great undulating forest slopes and the winding river running through it.

As I sat there quietly contemplating a new career, I just marvelled at the beauty of nature. I have spent the last 20 years studying and teaching design only to realise the greatest architecture is growing all around us.

Wild flower

The art of hedonism

The world has a song and no one hears it

Dave Jones
The beauty of simple things

I managed to squeeze in two micro adventures this weekend. #27 was a family walk round Warmley forest park. I have lived in this city for 16 years and I had no idea of its existence. It is not the most striking of beautiful places, but what amazed me was how much public space there was. We hardly saw anyone. People seem to prefer malls and fast food and being glued to their phones.

I have recently met some incredible women as part of a new group. I was chatting to one husband while out for a drink. We tried to bring him into conversation as he was the only guy, the rest of us having failed to bring our partners and all us women are pretty big personalities. “What do you do?” Is a question social norms tell us to ask. “I am a farmer.” He replied. “He absolutely loves it!” Said his wife. “I love every day.” He said. And he had a wonderful poetic soul and spoke of his connection to nature and meaningful work.

Most of us start our working lives following rules which tell us we should strive to join a “profession”. If we do this we will earn lots of money, buy a nice house, get a flash car and then we will be happy. Career advice at school fails (like so many things in school) to ask us the most important question “what do you enjoy?” If the starting point for decision making is based on money, it will almost certainly end with pain. If the starting point is happiness, the rest will probably follow.

I text a friend about a year ago. “How are you all?” Her reply has been indelibly marked on my grey matter “We are poor, but happy.” For a while I had visited this friend while her partner was working. I would cycle over and have cheese and wine and we would analyse life and motherhood. As I would go to leave, I had to unlock my bike and happen upon a scene of the two adults through the window who showed each other pure love. They looked so happy.

You never stop learning nor growing

Sy

Adventure #28 was an adventure with the little one and I. He had been feeling jealous that the big one was having a Granddad day. So we bunged our bikes in the van and went off to Colliere’s way cycle path. I had been along it when Z was about 2 but not since then. He sung and weaved around in the dappled sunlight. It cost us nothing and he was happy as it encompasses two really great play parks.

A cycle through the mendips

I accidentally took us on a 10 mile trip. By the end we were both really tired. But it cost us nothing apart from the ice cream we chose to buy.

Three books changed my life. One of them is called ‘lost connections’ by Johan Hari. He talks about uncovering the real causes of depression and cause six is “Disconnection from the natural world.” The wonderful thing about this book is that you realise by the end that there is no barrier to you really feeling better. The resources are right in front of you and at your disposal.

It was while on this micro adventure that I devised a new idea for a business. Could I build a new carrier path based on what makes me happy? I knew it would not pay as much as teaching but imagine waking up every day excited! Most of us spend 50 weeks of the year being miserable in order to be happy on a two week holiday. What if we, like the lovely farmer, could flip that idea on its head?

Education rebellion

Why children need to be taken into the wild

Running through Wild garlic flowers and woodlands

Our children are growing up in a digital age which we have no experience of. They are guinea pigs for smart phones and 24/7 media. I am trying hard not to be the bastard parent who won’t let them have any of this stuff but I am failing miserably. My boys are 7 and nearly 9. Because I have worked with teenagers for 16 years, I have some strong opinions about the impact of “screen time.” Firstly, 4 out of 5 training sessions for work last year were on the rising child mental health crisis. I had workshops on mindfulness and dealing with grief and talking about self harm. The government has really pushed the agenda on rising anxiety and depression in childhood. But I feel we are looking at putting a sticking plaster on a problem, rather than asking why the problem is there in the first place.

My family when the boys were 2 and 4

Last week we went camping with my Dad, my cousin and her children. It was pretty full on with 5 kids from age 3 to 13. We were staying on a simple campsite on Hayling Island. My kids love being outdoors, understanding they can go off, climb trees, have fights, play games, make friends and collect dead crabs. (Don’t ask. The small one has some unusual ideas). Their cousins were not sure what to do when you don’t have WiFi, well apart from the 3 year old. He roamed around barely eating he was so excited. Trying to rewild a teenager is much more of a challenge. She seemed to speak a different language which consisted of text speak and American acronyms. FOMO?

I love my cousin to death. We laughed, we cooked, we gazed at the fire. There is nothing like two women watching their kids wade into the sea up to their knees and think “why?” We literally told them there were no spare clothes. And then proceed to watch them get drenched up to their elbows. We stayed up looking in awe at the starry sky. We made up fire side tales. We ended every day with salty hair and rosey cheeks and clothes bathed in wood smoke. We ate a LOT of cheese. Because calories consumed outdoors just don’t count. Kids toasting marshmallows after dark don’t count as bedtime pudding.

Fire. An essential element to a micro adventure.

We have taken our two boys into the wild from the week they were born. By the time little one was three, they could cope with a 5 mile walk thanks to a carefully constructed tale (lie). In your pocket hide 10 foil wrapped chocolate coins and tell them about the forest/ beach/ river goblins. These goblins hide treats for children, but they run away if they hear moaning or whining. Tell them that the goblins don’t really like people, so you have to go far from the car parks. When your kids start to flag, say “ooooohhhh. This looks like goblin territory. See if you can find goblin chocolate.” I recon, I have got my two to run the next 3 miles looking for the foil in tree trunks, under stones etc. …you’re welcome.

But let me come back to rewilding. Yes, it is a word. It is a very necessary word. Eventually, after three days and sunshine, and laughter, and fires the teenager relaxed. She slept better than she had done for a long time. She enjoyed playing croquet more than anyone. Pleasure we all got from scrabble was silly. Our hair was messy and wild. And in the middle of the night we walked barefoot in the dew to the toilets, amazed by how much shadow was cast by moonlight. No torch was necessary.

Brunch on the beach

We made our own rules and we made them as fun as we could make them.