Posts in Slow Living
The Slow Flower Movement

It began with fruit and veg: in a bid to reduce waste, wonky items started appearing in supermarkets and weren’t just reserved to your local farm shop. Now flowers are following suit and shorter stems, stunted growth and wonky blooms will grace the shelves.

Aesthetic imperfections are no longer deemed unworthy and flowers that were once discarded can now find their way to your home through supermarkets and florists alike. These less-than-perfect ranges not only allow growers and farmers to reduce waste and still profit after a bad harvest, it also makes it possible for us all to afford some pretty blooms to cheer our lives from day to day.

The demand for locally grown arrangements has also grown, as sustainability incentives spread through all areas of consumerism. The ‘slow movement’ inserts itself into so many areas with this ethos in mind, helped along by social media and an influx of interest in buying from small, local businesses.

Common Farm Flowers grow cut and wild flowers from their Somerset farm, packed with English blooms. They also encourage their customers to grow their own flowers, offering workshops and ‘grow-your-own’ kits. Theirs is not only a flower farm, but a haven for wildlife, lovingly tended in their bid to enable everybody in the UK to have British grown flowers on their kitchen table all year round.

The Slow Flower Movement has taken force on a larger scale in the US, with advocate for American-grown flowers Debra Prinzing leading the way. Check out her latest pod casts as she stimulates the conversation for conscious choices within your floral purchases.


Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.

Slow LivingContributor
Bodacious The Shepherd Cat

‘The stillness of the moon belies the wind-singing branches and clouds flashing by.  ‘Tis nearly 3am, but there’s little sleep to be had as the wind dances through trees still heavy with leaf while their branches rattle across rooftops and rain thunders down, lashing at the window.  The first of the autumn storms breaks the season into a rapid departure from summer.’

When Suzanna Crampton returned to the farm in Kilkenny which had been in her family for generations, she set about making her own mark on it whilst cherishing the farming ways of the past.  Determined to work with nature and not against it, she began by introducing a flock of Zwartbles sheep alongside alpacas, horses, ‘egg makers’ and dogs, until a rather special cat strolled into her life one day, 11 years ago.  Who would have thought when Suzanna took up a suggestion to go and look at a cat in an exotic novelty toilet-seat shop that she’d end up lending a paw to write a delightful and heartwarming memoir on its behalf?  However, this is just how it happened and how a fine looking feline in need of a home became Bodacious the Shepherd Cat.

From the very beginning, we hear how Bodacious established himself as the boss of the farm,  and how he has come to be Suzanne’s right hand ‘man’ on the farm.  As Suzanne began telling stories of her shepherding companion on her blog and Twitter account, Bodacious’ following grew.  However, I’m not sure that she ever imagined that Bodacious would end up with his own YouTube channel with over 500k views let alone his own book.  Such is his charm.  He’s even graced the cover of The Lady.

This is a story of seasons and the little moments capturing the highs and lows of farming life in rural Ireland.  The narrator is an avid observer, recounting his experiences and adventures of flocking his herd with a serious injection of humour as he chronicles a year in his life as a shepherd. 

You may think it rather odd to have a cat as narrator of country life but believe me, Bodacious is no ordinary cat.  His prose is lyrical and witty, anecdotal and charming – in fact, he steals the heart from the first page with his sheer pluckiness.  Tales of farming life are interspersed with beautiful descriptions of the landscape within which the farm sits and as one season flows into another, we journey with Bodacious and his Shepherd as they cope with inclement weather, trials and triumphs on the farm, the passage of time on the landscape and the patter of tiny feet at lambing time. 

‘All is quiet, only the rustle of straw as the lambing ewe circles and paws the ground in anticipation of her first lamb.  Both Overmitt and I purr in the comfort of companionable company.  The rest of the flock are all cosy in straw sleeping or methodically quietly chewing their cuds.  Time continues gently to weave its way through these calm moments of reflection.  It helps to strengthen a pattern woven into the fabric that is our life; it enables us to absorb frenetic events that occur throughout one’s lifetime.’

Although Bodacious is well and truly the storyteller of the book, never far behind are little asides about his dog squad friends Pepper, Bear and the Big Fellow as well as cat shepherd apprentice, Ovenmitt.  For those who love a light-hearted countryside yarn, Bodacious The Shepherd Cat makes the perfect read.  It’s the sort of cosy fireside reading that we all need in our lives this time of year.


‘Bodacious The Shepherd Cat’ is published by Harper Collins.  To read more about Bodacious and his antics, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Slow LivingRebecca Fletcher
The Value of Creative Connection
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Living slowly can be difficult when you’re also running a business, making time for family and trying to remember you do actually have friends and they’d like to see your face occasionally. I try to achieve this lifestyle, nonetheless, by seeking connections to what surrounds me in day-to-day life. To what I eat, what I wear, who I speak to. It is these connections that help us feel life isn’t just passing us by in a blur of rushed meals and soon-forgotten meetings.

I’ll admit it is easy to lose sight of these things when I’m lost under a sea a fabric with just over five minutes to turn it into something resembling the garment in my head. This is why I find connecting with others on this journey so grounding. Being part of a community with similar aspirations for a slow and seasonal life is a constant and beautiful reminder of what is real and important.

The world of online interaction can have plenty of downsides but the one resounding benefit it brings is the ease with which we can make these connections. Shared thoughts and ideas are just a click away and introductions can be forged with ease. Relationships begin with those you would never be so lucky to meet in other circumstances. If and when the opportunity arises to meet in person, foundations for a meaningful and valuable connection have already been set.

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I’ve been so fortunate to attend all the Creative Countryside gatherings and community meet-ups, and each time I leave with fresh inspiration and vitality. This is a community excited by slow and seasonal living, passionate about creativity and eager to share ideas and unearth fresh, unique points of view in return.

I’ve discovered the sense of peace to be found in a mindfulness walk, created delicious herb butter from foraged ingredients, felt myself disappear completely into some other realm in a guided meditation, received some empowering business advice, and even enjoyed a little tree-hugging to boot. Each experience is unique, beautiful and infinitely more so thanks to the kind-hearted folk whom I’ve been so blessed to share them with.

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This community is ever growing, not necessarily in size but in value. Every shared thought or moment contributes, and I’m all the more tranquil, creative and contented as a result. Thank you to those who made this happen – thank you to our community.


Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.


The Creative Countryside Community is open for new members until November 15th. More information here.

With Nature in Mind
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As the days are getting colder and the nights are getting longer, we feel the urgency to slow down. It is time to withdraw into our cosy lairs and dream about the future. A future which benefits the seasoned environment, as well as satiates our human needs and desires.

Yet, there are questions begging to be asked: "When was the last time you had a screen-free day to spend hours fantasising how to achieve a sustainable future?" and "When was the last time you spent an entire weekend without a device by your side?" Most of us don't even know what that feels like anymore, though it is likely that we grew up without a constant stream of technology, so remembering is only a silent thought away. With digital devices shut off, the quiet that ensues is relaxing, calming, and downright grounding - especially if you have the time and place for a barefoot walk.

The human species has embraced technology with the tightest grip in such a short amount of time, that our brains and eyes are moving faster than we can comprehend. How can we fully absorb the growing flow of information? In favor of being entertained online, we have left behind the abundant wealth of nature, which is quick on the decline due to our habits of over-consumption. However, it is never too late to let go of that embrace, to slowly pull away and admit that perhaps it was not the 'love at first swipe' that we first imagined.

It is wonderful to know, that the best things in life still happen off the screen, just ask any wild child. 

Just the other day, my husband and daughter were playing out in a neighbouring field, throwing a stainless steel cup attached to a flat cotton wick for oil lamps (a homemade toy). Amidst all the fun of tossing high into the strong wind - to watch it fly - a fox appeared close to the hedgerow going about his/her business. It was a magical moment, just the three of them, no screens in sight, no camera to capture the moment. It was a connection with nature that will last a lifetime.

What does designing a sustainable life have to do with a chance-encounter of meeting a red fox? Everything.

See, when we are stuck behind screens (televisions, tablets or the like), we are mere observers in the game of life. It often appears that we are here to be entertained, rather than to be key players in the main event. We often choose what is easy and uncomplicated, preferring not to get our hands dirty. We've become a society of watchers, rather than doers, though we can change that too - if we want - and that is why sustainability starts at home.

It begins with limiting our addiction to technology, learning, once again, how to shut off the noise that clouds our heads with some important and much useless information. It takes gathering the time and courage to get outside, and hike further afield then we are used to exploring. It takes getting outside of our comfort zone, off of the couch and out of our climate-controlled homes.

If there is one single thing that we need to realise quickly about sustainability, it is that we all make an impact - in the right or wrong direction. Let go of your "need" for plastic, and seek out natural, renewable alternatives instead. Go minimalist and pare down your wardrobe, keeping only the essentials. Then practice your handcrafting skills and knit, crochet and sew the next garments that enter your closet. Do a wonderful job and they may just last a lifetime! Lighten your load and practice buying nothing new for an extended period of time - there are so many ways to reduce your impact on this Earth.

Designing a sustainable life is not a trend, it is an important aspect of our modern life - for if we fail to change, nature will no longer be on our side.

And since we are inspired by nature every day, most of you reading this are too, the prospect of losing bits and pieces of our environment is a thought too great to bear. We'd rather live simply, so that all bears (white, black, tall and small) can roam the forests freely, just as nature intended.

Do your dreams of a sustainable life keep nature in mind?


My Countryside: Callum Saunders

Today Callum Saunders tells us a little about ‘his’ countryside, and what it means to him.

Where in the world is ‘your’ countryside?

Callum: A small pocket of the South Downs in and around Lewes, East Sussex.  It’s where I grew up, and despite a move up north, it’s where I continually gravitate to: it’s ‘home’ for me, and always will be.  I’ve walked these soft chalky paths, man and boy.  There’s something that connects me to this place, and I can’t imagine being without these soft curves of rolling Downland, with skylarks singing overhead.  That said, I have also been in the Peak District for seven years now, and the High Peak is becoming something of a second home to me, in and around where I live in Glossop.

Earliest countryside memory?

Callum: Probably with one of my sisters, up on the Downs!  We have a very old photo of us both standing amongst thousands upon thousands of red poppies and I vividly remember that scene.  These days, there are hardly any poppies upon the Downs where I grew up, but I vividly remember that scene and standing amongst them with my sister.

Why do you love the countryside?

Callum: I think there are a number of reasons.  I genuinely think that it’s in my genes, and that love of nature has been passed down.  I’m the paternal grandson of a Sussex sheep farmer.  For me it’s also an escape from the weekly grind of work and commuting; a life ‘contained’ within trains, trams and offices.  That ability to access the outdoors in the evening and the weekend is important to me – not an escape ‘from’ the job, but an escape back ‘to’ what is real and important in life.

 

You have 24 hours, anywhere: describe your ideal day in the countryside.

Callum: Definitely back home in Sussex.  Probably an early start and a morning walk up to Mount Caburn, between Lewes and Glynde.  The summit is the remains of an iron age hill fort, and it has over 140 burial pits.  It’s a place that feels historic, as well as providing wonderful vistas of the Ouse Valley all around it.  Then onto Barcombe, a village outside of Lewes, and a day boating on the river Ouse, from the marvellous Anchor Inn pub.  After that, probably a walk along the Ouse to Hamsey Church and back, before enjoying a few pints of Harvey’s Sussex Best at the John Harvey Tavern in Lewes.

 

Favourite season and why? 

Callum: It always used to be autumn – I adore the cold, crisp beauty of leaves and trees in decline.  But more recently it has become spring, as I have become more of a gardener.  The long-awaited reawakening of life is welcomed, and I think May is my favourite month: you have lots of plants and flowers coming to life in the garden, along with some warmer weather, and yet you still have the promise of months of light, life and laughter ahead of you.


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Callum is a nature writer, poet and photographer who lives in the Peak District, when not back home in Sussex tramping his beloved South Downs.  His day job as a strategic planner in a marketing agency fuels the passion for the simplicity of life outdoors with his young family at the weekend.  Callum’s work explores the connections between the landscape of the earth, as well as of the soul.

Find him writing at A Seasoned Soul, or on Twitter and Instagram.

Slow LivingEleanor Cheetham
The Slow Everyday

“Slow living is conscious, intentional, mindful, and living deeply.”

(source)

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The slow living philosophy is growing. We are (slowly) coming to the realisation that a fast-paced consumerist society is not the key to happiness or fulfilment. Instead, we crave a less-is-more approach with a focus on quality of life, in whatever form that takes for each individual.

For some, that might mean a huge lifestyle change - opting for a tiny home; changing jobs; keeping chickens - but for others it might just be that extra twenty minutes in the morning, sat in candlelight with a simple breakfast and mug of tea. The varied individual approaches matter very little; of more importance is the idea we should savour every minute instead of count them.

Last month, a break away from the norm forced me to explore my own vision of slow living, and question whether or not I’d been embracing it fully; perhaps unsurprisingly, I returned home with a head full of changes I wanted - needed - to make.

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Family-owned Warborne Farm sits in the south of the New Forest, not too far from the coast. Run on organic principles for the past three decades, it is very much still a working farm, and tractors chug in and out of the yard daily, much to my son’s delight! Dan and I visited with Monty (18 months at the time) and stayed in the Grain Loft, a rustic barn conversion on the first floor. Monty’s favourite part was - by far - the walk on window, through which he could see chickens pecking all day long. Each morning of our visit began with a request to go see the chickens, but 6am was a little early for the birds, and all was still dark below until around 7.

With no real agenda, the days began slowly, wrapped up reading books in bed and padding through to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee and begin making breakfast. Candles were lit at every meal, and instead of rushing to finish and move on to the next activity, we lingered at the table, happy to chat and read a few pages more.

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Staying in the New Forest meant a daily walk was of course on the cards. We ventured into the woods searching for ponies and falling autumn leaves, and stretched our legs on the heath to find cows, cobwebs and drizzling rain.

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Back at the farm, we picked tomatoes, herbs and garlic for dinner that evening. Eggs from the chickens were a staple during our stay, too. We’re no strangers to growing our own - our veg patch feeds our extended family throughout the year, and we’re self-sufficient in many things over the summer months - but in a different location I was reminded how enjoyable these tasks can be. Every action can bring pleasure, if approached with the right mindset.

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Almost a month has passed since we returned from our trip to Warborne, and slowly, I’m making some changes. A single beeswax candle burns in the centre of the table for each meal; a celebration of the meal ahead. We’ve slowed our morning routine to incorporate reading in bed as a family, not rushing to move downstairs too soon. I’ve also stopped pressurising myself to do activities and trips with Monty, choosing instead to embrace the slow everyday; collecting windfall apples, meandering around the top field, pausing to look at berries and leaves, tractor-watching around the village. Sometimes a look at someone else’s everyday is enough to make you re-prioritise your own. Thank you Warborne Farm for being that reminder.

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Collaboration Note:  Thank you to Fanny and George at Warborne Farm for inviting us to stay.  All words, thoughts and images are my own. 

Keep the Campfire Alive
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For the French, summer ends on the 31st August. By September 1st suitcases are back under beds, campgrounds are returned to fields and the bistro tables are stacked in a corner. Autumn isn’t for holidays, or campouts. It’s for chestnuts and open fires, first batch cider and jam.

So, why do the seasons bleed into each other so much on our side of the channel? Is it because we hope, every year, for an Indian Summer, or because we have multiple summers; bursts of blue-sky days throughout the year that we throw ourselves into because we know they won’t last?

Last Christmas I was gifted a Firebox. It sat, oiled and beautifully black, in its canvas bag while I waited for summer.

Now we’re looking to Christmas again but my Firebox is grey, mottled with rusty creaks and misshapen corners. The bar across the middle is bowed from heat and the weight of feasts. We handle it with gloves to protect the smoke-parched skin of our fingers and as the nights get cool we layer silk liners underneath so we can keep cooking throughout the autumn. Dry leaves and a breeze: perfect campfire conditions. So we keep our eyes to the sky, summer’s over but it’s activities don’t have to be.

Courgette Flatbreads

If you’ve got a few courgettes left over from the summer harvest, this simple recipe is a great introduction to campfire cooking.

Ingredients

  • Courgettes (1 large one p/p)

  • Lemon - rind & juice

  • Fresh rosemary

  • Chilli flakes

  • Olive oil

Method

Measure out 125ml of flour (any available, wholemeal/plain mix is particularly good) and season. Stir ½ tsp of yeast into 15ml of warm water. Add to the flour along with a tbsp of olive oil. Add boiling water until it forms a soft dough. Kneed and leave to rest for 20 minutes. Before griddling, divide the dough and flatten into discs.

Chop the courgettes into thin discs and zest the lemon. Heat a little oil in a large, flat pan and add the courgettes to soften. During cooking add the lemon zest, chopped rosemary, chilli flakes and seasoning. Once the courgettes are soft, push them to the edge of the pan and cook the flatbreads one at a time. Turn the flatbreads until they’re charred on both sides.

When everything’s cooked put the flatbreads on plates, top with hummus or cream cheese and spoon on the courgettes. If you like it zesty, you can squeeze over the lemon juice at this point, or toss in a few cherry tomatoes if you have them.

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Sweet Potato Hash

Ingredients

  • Sweet Potatoes, roughly chopped into small pieces

  • Onion, diced

  • Eggs (1pp)

  • Cumin seeds

  • Thyme, rosemary or oregano

Method

Cook the onion and sweet potato until soft and starting to caramelize. Add the herbs and season well. When you’re happy with the potato, break it up with a fork to make a jumbly, lumyp mess. Clear holes in the mixture and crack an egg into each one of these spaces. The pan should be hot enough to cook the eggs quickly, then scoop onto plates with some fire-charred vegetables or an apple and hazelnut salad.

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Chilli Beans

An extra warming bowl, perfect for cold hands!

Ingredients

  • Kidney, black or mixed beans (1 can does 2 people)

  • Small tin of sweet corn

  • Small red onion

  • Red pepper

  • Chopped tomatoes or passata

  • Paprika

  • Chilli

  • Cumin seeds

  • Mixed herbs

  • Stock cube

Method

Heat oil in a large, shallow pan and fry the onion and pepper. Add the rinsed beans and sweet corn and fry for a few minutes. Crumble in half a stock cube per can of beans, stir in a generous mix of the herbs & spices before pouring in the chopped tomatoes or passata. You want to coat the beans, rather than make a sauce, so allow the tomatoes to reduce as they cook. If the mix starts to stick, add more tomatoes or a little water. Season to taste and enjoy a bowlful with avocado, salad or simply on its own.

Slow LivingMelissa Davies
Dwelling in the Suburbs of the Countryside
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People feel a pull towards the countryside for all manner of reasons. Perhaps the countryside is the farm you grew up on, surrounded by rippling hills and a sky that can never make up its mind. Perhaps it’s the city worker in London who leaves the office an hour early on Fridays, catching a train to the New Forest and popping a tent in the overhead luggage rack. For many, and I would go as far to say the majority, a love of the countryside dances between these two extremes; those who live in what was once a village and is now a sprawling estate filled with photocopied houses. If you live in one of these places, you’ll see a secondary school that you avoid driving past when the bell goes and the road is full of buses and saloon cars. The corner shop will only let them in two at a time and the post office will open after you’ve left for work and shuts before you manage to get back. You’ll spot the same elderly man in a neat tie and jacket walking to get his one pint of milk and half dozen eggs twice a week – at exactly the same time – and you’ll always make sure to smile when he catches your eye. The village hall will run a weight loss club on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the morris dancers will begin to filter in, bells jingling, before the closing motivational speech has finished. These are the suburbs on the outskirts of towns and cities. No, they don’t have chocolate box cottages and the postman doesn’t want to stop for a chat, but they are where so many of us live.

I have always been part of this latter camp, and yet the outdoors has nagged at me to pay attention to it for as long as I can remember. Especially now, as an adult, my walking boots are taken out of the airing cupboard if I anticipate a few empty evening hours or spot a spare weekend on the horizon.  Sometimes, it isn’t as easy to immerse yourself in the countryside when it’s practically difficult to get out to. When you live in the grey area between city and country, it’s easy to feel detached from both places. I’m definitely no expert, and there have been weeks that have gone by where the nearest I’ve gotten to the countryside is Matt Baker discussing the migratory habits of fenland birds on Countryfile. That being said, there are some rituals and routines that I do genuinely try and include to re-centre myself with the outdoors, especially in the weeks that see summer transition into autumn.

When there is less of a guarantee that you’ll be able to set up camp beside a river for a long, light filled day, you sometimes have to be a little more creative to maintain a routine that naturally aligns itself with nature’s constant shifting.

A Decent Waterproof

A decent waterproof doesn’t necessarily mean a new waterproof, or an expensive one. A borrowed jacket that keeps off the worst of a blustery, drizzly day means that weather isn’t an excuse for not popping out or taking that weekend hike even when the weather app is full of dark grey clouds. To my shame, I resisted wearing a proper raincoat for years because it was bright and garish (and didn’t look nice in photos – I know – an awful reason!) I’ve since realised that walking in the rain is one of the best things about autumn wandering. Strangely, when hair sticks to your forehead and the smell of petrichor gets kicked up from the earth, it feels so unbelievably calming.

Leave Your Walking Boots in the Car

Of course, if they’re still soggy from your last jaunt, you may want to dry them out first! Finding that the sun breaks beautifully on your drive home from work in late September, and remembering that you’ve got your boots with you, could be the thing that tips your driving wheel into the direction of the moors before you head home to make dinner.

Make an Autumnal Picnic

There are so many recipes that come into play when September and October come around. Butternut squash, pecans, sage, sausages, pastry, pie, apple… Think of what you’d most like to eat for lunch or dinner and find a way to adapt it into picnic food. This could just mean going ahead and making dinner as normal to wrap up in foil and eat out in the open; an impatient dog sat at your feet glancing from person to person in the hopes of catching some crumbs. Butternut squash risotto could become arancini balls that easily travel in a hiking bag!

Take a Camera Out

It’s so easy to look back on a year and see one, clear image that symbolises each season. A snow drift against a dry-stone wall for winter; cherry blossom in bloom for spring; parched grass swaying in the breeze for summer… But there are so many tiny changes taking place every day – even if the warmth tricks you into thinking that summer is lasting longer than usual. You’ll see it in hazelnuts, acorns and eventually conkers that drop onto the path. Toadstools might have appeared overnight on the lawn – in a fairy circle if you’re lucky. Heather bursts into bloom like fireworks, amethyst coloured and undulating across heaths and dunes.

When you have a low week and want to live in a blanket nest, or when life gets busy and boisterous, it’s strange that we often cut out the things that do us the most good. That can look different for so many different people, but if your soul sings in line with a countryside that isn’t immediately on your doorstep, you sometimes have to meet it halfway. That being said, the transition into autumn can see nature coming to you instead: scuttling spiders with voluptuous bellies may crawl under the door to say hello. You never know, it could just be mother nature beckoning you to join her outdoors!

By Abigail Mann

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Slow LivingContributor
Entryway to Beauty

One of the things about having anxiety is that it’s easier to close the door on my heart when things get to be too much.  Being highly sensitive means that it does not take much for me to find things to be too much.  The thing that gives the final push to the door of my heart might not even register in someone else’s mind.  But that is beside the point.  The point is not ever what registers to someone else.  I am not someone else.  My skin is not thick.  My heart is soft and resides on my sleeve.  I listen and feel…a lot.  And one of the things about having anxiety is that it’s easier to close the door on my heart when things get to be too much.  

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One place where I go to feel immense peace, is the woods.  I am drawn to the narrow trails that wind between the ‘pine trees that start half way up’.  Also known as Lodgepole pines. The kind of trail that looks like a tunnel.  Often I reach out and touch one or both of the trees as I pass through.  This morning on my hike, I walked in between two beautiful pine trees whose branches and soft needles caressed my arms as I passed by.  I felt a bit like a car going through a car wash, being brushed clean.  I notice a lot on my hikes, but one thing that never ceases to grab my attention is when a tree tips or leans over in to another tree, forming an entryway.

 Sometimes, I leave the trail with the sole purpose of walking through it.   A tunnel.  An entryway.  Also known as a passage, a portal, an opening.  Opening.  I wonder if the reason I find so much peace in the woods, is because there is a literal meaning to the entryways that I pass through as I hike.  Paying attention to places that I can pass through, places of beauty that register deep in my soul, actually release the grip of anxiety and allow me to open.  The trails and tunnels open me to sights and smells and touches of nature, with each pass through I enter a new space.  A new section of the trail, or a new spot off of the trail.  With each entryway, a new room full of beauty to be noticed.  The woods to me feel like a castle from my childhood imagination, full of rooms, each room full of treasures.  Beautiful treasures that sparkle and shine, treasures that are warm and safe, treasures that are colorful and vibrant.  Each entryway leading to a new place to explore.  New sights, and sounds, and smells await.

 When I am walking the trail, I notice a lot.  Mushrooms, trees, frogs, butterflies, flowers-and that is just one room, then I notice an opening, an entryway.  I walk through.  And then I notice more.  A scent like honey, a cardinal, the sound of  racing squirrel through the undergrowth.  I pass through the opening, and I explore the beauty.  On the trail, none of the entryways have a door and they are always open.  On the trail, open.  Open.  One of the things about having anxiety is that it’s easier to close the door on my heart when things get to be too much.

 Exploring beauty softens me, soothes me, and opens me.  It releases the grip of anxiety that often squeezes my heart shut, making it so much harder to walk through the entryways offering me their treasures.  One place where I go to feel immense peace, is the woods because the trail is full of entryways to beauty, open for me to explore.
 

Slow LivingAnna Bonnema
An Arboreal Escape
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Picture this: a forest barely begun - just 25 years in the making - and a vision to create a festival celebrating the beauty, the power, and the wisdom of trees. Billed as an intoxicating experience where music, art, philosophy and sustainability weave together into an unforgettable, exhilarating weekend, the inaugural Timber Festival was a celebration of not only trees, but also all woodland culture, and the transformative power of forests.

I was invited to find out more by the festival organisers, Wild Rumpus; full disclaimer: my friend and I attended for free, but all opinions in this post are my own.

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Friday began with an incredibly hot pitching of the tent before we immersed ourselves in the trees, with an outdoor performance of The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris: Seek Find Speak. (If you haven't heard of the book, it's a stand against the disappearance of wild words we often use in childhood: dandelion, conker, willow, otter... words that sadly no longer feature in the lexicon of our own children.) Led by a charm of Goldfinch performers, we were guided to Seek the words hidden in the branches, in the undergrowth, in the shady glades; Find the lost word in that location; and Speak it aloud, sometimes reading the spell-poems from the pages of the book, sometimes watching the Goldfinches enact its meaning.

The performers engaged not only the excited children following their enchanting calls, but also the whole troop of adults; for an ex-English teacher, and a committed logophile, it was brilliant.
 

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Other strange but wonderful highlights from the weekend included 'In the Eyes of the Animal', an immersive virtual reality experience that allowed us to see through the eyes of four woodland creatures. It lasted only a few minutes, but felt like I was on another planet. Definitely an eye-opener. 

The performance from Canopy of Stars was also mesmerising, complete with a final storytelling session with plenty of audience participation! 

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The talks on offer were wide-ranging, and we'd highlighted everything we wanted to go and see before we went (highly recommended!). Particularly entertaining were Stuart Maconie's keynote speech and Robert Macfarlane's reflections on how music and landscape are connected. But it was Sarah Spencer's 'Think Like a Tree' workshop that I found most enlightening. You might have read our post last month where Sarah introduces the concept, but following her advice in person, and listening to her wisdom, was truly worthwhile.

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There were many other weird and wonderful things going on over the course of the weekend: The Dream Antelopes (above) and the Museum of the Moon (below) being just two examples. What we loved was being able to dip in and out of these without feeling too pressured that we were going to miss them. In fact, the feel of the whole weekend was slow and relaxed, and it was the calmest, most peaceful festival I've ever attended. 

Sunday closed and we left with willow stars that we'd made that day, nature pendants we'd created the day before, and a sense that the forest, the woods, and trees, really do have the power to transform our moods, our vision for the future, and our lives.

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If you're interested in attending next year, you can sign up to the eNews at www.timberfestival.org.uk to be the first to hear about dates and early bird release tickets.⠀⠀
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Collaboration Note:  Thank you to Wild Rumpus and Timber Festival for inviting us to attend.  Images courtesy of Timber Festival. All words and thoughts are my own. 

A Cabinet of Countryside Curiosities For All
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Curiosity is the cornerstone of any creative mind.

An inquisitive nature that refuses to take things at face value.  A soul that looks deeper into the world around them and spends time reflecting, thinking, processing.  Curiosity is a blessing (and can also be a curse) but is also a trait that garners immense riches when applied to life outdoors.

It is curiosity that forced me outside into my garden on chill winter mornings in November, as I chronicled the tiny changes in the garden at a time of year I used to consider ‘dead’.  It is curiosity that has seen me poring over the tiniest of flowers and plants in the garden, as I become romantically entwined with a specific plant, rather than worrying about the state of the lawn.

But it is also this inquiring soul that has seen me start to amass a rather wonderful collection of curiosities, as I build a nature table made up of objects that are natural, beautiful and full of intrigue.

‘Cabinets of curiosities’ date back to c. 1600, and were collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined in Renaissance Europe.

As we move into more modern times, these became collections of many different forms, from archaeological and religious relics, to works of art, antiquities and of course, objects of natural history.  And for the curious mind, the outdoors offers a rich bounty of different curios to feed the soul and fire the creative within all of us.

Interestingly enough, these were rarely actual cabinets, with the term more loosely referring to an area of a room.  Alas; the curious mind digresses…

In a world where real meaning is often being eroded through apathy, technology (or both), there’s something wonderfully human about collecting different objects from the outdoors.  They require slow, considered saunters to discover them; a natural curiosity applied to a walk or time outdoors, free from the frenetic demands of modern life.

They are tangible, unfiltered and real, and I urge every one of you to start building your own nature table, or natural ‘cabinet of curiosities’ to stimulate the mind and nourish the soul.

On one level, they are aesthetically pleasing.  From the delicate veined patterns of last year’s hydrangea leaves, to the vivid hues of green and yellow lichen, there is a natural nourishment that comes from having a collection of natural ‘objects d’art’ to look at.  They may be ‘everyday’, but every day they also give forth new views, perspectives and thoughts.The delicate strength and sheer variety of materials in a bird’s nest, or the smooth lines of unidentified vertebrae: these objects bridge the curious mind to an uncensored and raw reminder of the real, natural world around us.  To hold these objects is to connect with nature in a way that is getting lost through smartphone sanitisation.

And lastly, they each represent something of true meaning.  I still remember the sheer excitement on my daughter’s face when we found an abandoned ram’s horn when pottering about near a stream.  The empty crab shell, colours jaded now, that represents a time of sheer joy and connection on a beach on Anglesey.  These things are far more than a collection of interesting objects: they are markers of meaning.

We live in a consumer society where we’re constantly told to amass, multiply, and collect.  That human desire to collect is not to be denied.  I just urge you to indulge that motivation in a way that (for me at least) feels infinitely more rewarding, stimulating, and indulging of our natural curiosities.

A nature table is a thing to be embraced.  And even if you live in the heart of a city, there are a thousand different objects just waitingto be found if you’re curious enough to seek them out.

Fancy sharing your collected finds? Use the hashtag #countrysidecuriosities on Instagram and we'll share our favourites!

A Meal Shared is a Meal Enjoyed
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Food provides the human race with a common ground. It's a basic human need that is essential for our survival.  How we source, produce and cook our food is different for us all but it's becoming a global interest in how we can do it better, with less impact and more consideration. 

I've been Vegetarian for 20 years and over the last year, I have been making a switch to becoming a Vegan. This is how I've been doing my bit for the world.  Food is my second most favourite thing  (after adventuring) and I'm always ecstatic to meet people who cook in different ways.  I carry around a mental notebook of these culinary influences and add them to my own pallet.  My favourite type of food includes spoonfuls of ethics, pinches of seasonality, plenty of slow and packed full of flavour and colour!

I had a joyful foodie experience recently during a glamping retreat, where I met Barney from Infamous Catering.  He cooked a 3 course Southern Indian Vegan curry, with freshly foraged goods for a group of ladies, who'd spent the day climbing up waterfalls and exploring dark caves. Our appetites were incredible!

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Barney's pots and pans were giving off some seriously good aromas as he leisurely stirred his concoctions.  Next, the freshly foraged wild garlic was crushed and chopped and added to our appetizers. My mouth is watering now thinking back to his generous portions, as he piled them high on our eager palates.  He looked relaxed and at home in the camp's kitchen, telling us what fueled his passion for cooking and his love for seasonal foods.  I like to think there are more and more people in the world who care about where their food comes from, how it's produced and showcasing this with easy to cook, and lots of love enthused meat-free dishes. 

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There's something incredibly special when there's a moment of silence during meal time as we take time to appreciate what's in front of us. Our visuals took in the rich colours of the mild curry and dahl, our nose inhaled those slowly cooked spices and our taste buds indulged in a feast.  I dipped my fingers into the freshly made chutneys-enjoying their sweet taste combined with the savory popodoms.  We broke out into chatter about the day's events and how delicious our food was.  We proposed a toast with locally brewed beer and apple juice made in the Wye Valley, before tucking into a peanut butter and dark chocolate cake. The last piece saved, for Barney's partner as an apology for using up the last of the peanut butter! 

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When our food comes from an honest and ethical place, I think there's no better taste.  The concept of slow food, like slow living, is a movement which is educating the world for the better.  Knowledge is power as they say.  I am really thankful to those who want to invite the world to try another way. It's not easy breaking away from traditions and cultural habits but for the sake of our future, change is welcomed on my plate. 

Note: this is a sponsored post. I received this delicious meal whilst glamping at Hidden Valley Yurts. All 'mmms' were my own. 

You can find more at:

www.hiddenvalleyyurts.co.uk

www.infamouscateing.co.uk