Organised walking equates to purgatory for me.  The very thought of being shepherded along for several miles with a bunch of people I don’t know from Adam brings me out in a cold panicky sweat.  Harsh I know.  In my defence though, I’m not being judgemental without having given it a go; I did once join the Ramblers Association and spent a good few sessions stepping out in the English countryside with other RA members.

One weekend we embarked on a long hike knowing that the weather forecast was dreadful.  Everyone had geared up for it but it wasn’t enough.  When it came the rain was torrential, flooding the roads and lanes.  We were wading ankle deep in it and there was nowhere to shelter from it.  I can only speak for myself – the cold water forced itself into any gap and every seam of clothing, until I was wet through to my skin.  We were too far along the route to go back and a very long way from the end of it.  I had travelled with two friends to join this walk, and once we made it back to the car the only solution was stripping down to my underwear, wringing out the water from my clothes, and journeying home wearing very little, with the car heater blasting hot air at us. As I recall it was a completely miserable experience.  Had this been a walk just for the three of us, we never would have commenced it considering the grim weather threat; we would probably have gone to the cinema instead.  But organised is organised and come hell or high water the plan had to go ahead.

Similarly, I remember a walk across soaking wet bean fields; it had poured with rain all day then faired up later on and the sun was shining.  It was a beautiful summer evening.  The serious walkers among us wore waterproof attire and sturdy boots.  The beans were shoulder high.  There was one middle aged gentleman new to the RA group that night and he turned up in suit trousers, a leather jacket and shiny black lace up shoes.   Most incredibly though, he was wearing white socks.  I could not look the poor chap in the eyes when we all sat down to enjoy a well-deserved drink in a local pub at the end of the walk. He was wet through, his legs blathered in mud and his shiny shoes wrecked.

These organised walks always took place in stunningly beautiful countryside, except for the occasional bean field.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to appreciate much of it.  I quickly learned that the whole point of the Ramblers Association for most participants is the social side of it.  They want to chinwag the whole way along.  And it’s very difficult to switch off when you’re bombarded with someone’s life story and the occasional question; you have to pay attention.  At the expense of the view.  And even when you purposely dawdle and drop to the rear of the group to give yourself a break from the incessant chattering, there’s the brave old soldier who’s volunteered to be the rear guard waiting there to round you up and herd you along.

Out front is no better either.  Up at the head of any train of walkers you’ll always find the wise guy of walking, the one who’s done a million miles, who knows every Ordnance Survey Map route in the county, and in the surrounding counties too.  And he can’t wait to bore you to death with the details.  And every so often, this clever clogs makes everyone stop and wait until the rest of the slow coaches have caught up, all the while delivering his monologue.  There really is no escape.

I have an elderly aunt who is suspicious of any sort of group activity – it reminds her of the 1930’s and Hitler’s brownshirts.  My father was the same; he belonged to the Young Farmers Association as a teenager, but nothing else after that.  I think I must have inherited this odd family trait, because as I’ve grown older I have developed a real aversion to organised groups and clubs.

It’s much better to walk with close friends I think, with people who understand you, and you understand them too.  They know to pipe down when you’re simply drinking in the view.  They get it when you stop to examine freshly sprung oak leaves.  Or tiny wild field pansies.  But even then, it feels as if you’re stretching their patience.  For absolute perfection you have to walk alone.

So now I do.  And it makes complete sense.  I can race up hills just for the fun of it, and amble across sheep meadows trying to get as close as I can to the stinky jittery bundles of wool, before they become alarmed and make a run for it.  I can wander aimlessly through pine forests with my eyes looking upward, savouring the woodland scent; I can crawl through undergrowth and hedges to find out what’s beyond.

May’s walking has been particularly good, but then May is my favourite month of the year, when every living thing is bursting out at the seams.  Mother Nature has laid on a fabulous tumbling profusion of greenery and a stunning riot of colour wherever one looks.  The buzz of insects and multi-noted birdsong are a joyful musical accompaniment, and the pungent aroma emanating from the lush vegetation warmed in the spring sunshine dizzies my senses and makes me glad to be alive.  This is freedom.

How do you feel about organised group activities?

All text and photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere

Ditching the blinkers

Creativity is not exclusive; it’s not something that belongs to others, to those with special talent or skills. On the contrary, a creative life is an option for every single one of us. The sense of well-being derived from spending time in pleasurable creative activity is well documented. It makes us feel as though we are living a worthwhile life.  I’m not referring specifically to the creative making of “stuff” from wood or fabric; or activities like painting or writing or photography. These are obvious creative activities. A recent conversation with a friend, who considers that she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body, is the prompt for my thoughts today.

For sure, there are people who consider they possess little or no creativity. It’s like me saying that I’m not competitive. I’m not, until it comes to having a showdown with myself. Then I definitely am and will always give myself a good run for my money. My competitiveness has nothing at all to do with anyone else however, it’s all mine, and how I use it is up to me. Creativity is the same, in that it is individual and means something different to each one of us.

It’s whatever we make of it too. Creativity is about exploring and discovering fresh ways to do any task or activity, so that it takes us outside of our normal everyday habit and comfort zone, and into new pastures. There are opportunities everywhere for us to express ourselves and have fun with creativity in our everyday existence, even when time and money are tight.

“Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things . . . Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, if your act of doing is not purely economical, then it is creative.”— Osho

We can all enjoy the wonderful sense of relaxation and satisfaction that results from being creative, and experience time and mind space away from the everyday humdrum and pressing necessities, space where you can really be you, the original and best version of yourself, free to express your thoughts and ideas in whatever form they take. Creativity is liberating. We just need to ditch the blinkers we’ve got so used over time to habitually wearing.

Off the top of my head, I suggested that my friend might have a shot at a couple of these –

Dressing creatively – experiment mixing and matching different items of clothing and accessories;
Dancing creatively with your favourite music playing loudly – completely losing yourself in the music and the movement;
Cooking creative meals – source some new ideas for dinner and concoct some amazing dishes, or simple dishes even, just make sure they are different to the usual meals you make;
Shifting the furniture round at home; create yourself a new perspective from which to view your world;
Taking a bath with candles flickering and scented bath water – luxuriate creatively for a while;
Gardening – work with the soil and plants to create an area of natural beauty to enjoy;
Travelling a different route to or from work, noting the details of the fresh environment as you pass through it;
Communicating with colleagues in a fresh, creative way;
Spending break times walking outdoors and eating lunch on the hoof instead of sitting in front of a computer;
Learning a new language – download lessons to your phone, and listen in any spare time you have whilst walking or travelling, and speak the unfamiliar new words in a creative out loud voice, fully emphasising the accent of the foreign language.

Less specifically, and once you’ve stopped giggling Mrs H,  try spending your spare time more creatively than you do currently; be active in your leisure pursuits rather than passive. Turn the TV off. No-one needs pointless drivel piped into their home. Nor do we need to be bombarded day and night with news and current affairs, to worry us half to death. If you want to watch something, go to the theatre or the opera or a sports event. Even better, try watching paint dry after you‘ve creatively applied it to a canvas or an old chest of drawers or the walls of your house, or whatever it is that floats your boat.  I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg with these few suggestions; there are a thousand and one different small ways to get creative in a day.

You can't use up creativity

The act of living creatively in selected areas of your life on a regular small-time basis initially means that you are repeatedly practising how to be creative, allowing your creativity to develop, flourish and grow, and ultimately your mind and body benefit. Individual creativity increases a person’s sense of their own worth and self-esteem, and it contributes hugely to personal happiness.

The concentration required in being creative, no matter what the area of interest, means that your mind is channelled precisely into thinking of the present activity only, and it can remain like this for significant periods of time, because you are doing something you have chosen and enjoy. Understanding the benefits of creativity and consciously making it an integral part of our life, opens doors to a wonderful state of mind, that amazing place we get carried away to, where we forget the time and completely lose track of ourselves, simply by concentrating completely and becoming totally engrossed in what we are doing.

If like me, you are a jiffler with an overactive mind, and find sitting quietly in one position really difficult to maintain for the purpose of what’s popularly known as “meditation”, then you may well discover that total absorption in a creative activity is the next best thing. And because your mind is concentrated on just the one thing, and it’s not wandering all over the place, there is less opportunity for random busy thoughts to rush back and forth across your consciousness. Your mind is quiet; you are calm and mindful. For me, creativity works in magical ways.

Creativity is my personal form of meditation. It is the nearest thing to actual meditation I think I’ll ever achieve in my life, and it’s certainly not its poor relation. The richness of it in my memory carries me through long days of work, until the next time I am able to fully focus on my creativity. For those who successfully introduce creativity into their “everyday” the benefits will be profound. Even the most mundane tasks can be made attractive if you apply the principles of creativity to them.

If we only put into practice one or two creative activities / functions in each 24 hours, we will notice the feel good factor it generates. And once we enjoy a regular taste of how amazing living creatively makes us feel, it becomes a habit we really want to adopt and pay attention to.

Once you’ve decided which element of the day you’d first like to get creative with, focus on it, and do what’s needed to make it happen. Do this one thing creatively and with purpose every day for four weeks. The next week, try the same approach with a further additional element of your life each day, whilst continuing with the first element as before. And so on. By repeatedly and consistently doing this on a regular basis, you will eventually be living more creatively.

“Every day is an opportunity to be creative – the canvas is your mind, the brushes and colours are your thoughts and feelings, the panorama is your story, the complete picture is a work of art called, ‘my life’. Be careful what you put on the canvas of your mind today – it matters.”— Innerspace

Only you will know what “creative” means in your world. And I think we should pay very little attention to someone else’s interpretation of it, as we can soon get side-tracked or be put off by another person’s different ideas or criticism.

“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.”— Charles Brower

The best thing about creativity is that there’s no correct or incorrect way to do it. One can set about a project knowing that no-one is qualified to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong. In fact, the only mistake you can make when it comes to creativity is to think that you don’t have any. Creativity provides us with the wings of freedom and lets us fly. It allows us to transform the mundane into the extraordinary.

Creativity is

Throughout her teenage years my elder daughter considered that she wasn’t at all creative; that she lacked imagination in art or design or writing. As a grown up she’s a horticulturist. In a job she loves, she is one of the top “creatives” in her company across 150 UK sites. Her work features in magazines in her industry. She now considers herself to be successfully creative, and the self-confidence this has given her is immense. The joy it brings her is beyond measure. How has she achieved this? Firstly, she’s engaged in an activity she genuinely enjoys and secondly, the creative element of her job has to be repeated on a daily basis, with space in her role to experiment. Combine those factors and you have a winning formula.

A useful note here – new habits can be made in 30 days. And old habits can be broken in 30 days – by creating new ones. If we regularly and repeatedly implement a thought or an action it does eventually become a habit.

Another friend started walking 3 miles every day after work to get fit. Some days she struggled to fit it in with a busy work schedule, but she stuck at it. She soon noticed an improvement in her fitness levels, but more than that, the evening walk became a habit, and one that she very much enjoyed. Being outdoors in the fresh air and at one with nature, she was able to clear her mind of the day’s “busyness”. Now my friend puts this daily walk before most other activities; she says that if she has to forego her walk for any reason she really misses it.

The way we get good at stuff is by doing it and then doing it again. And again. We all know this. It’s called practice. Enough said. I hope this has given you a couple or three useful pointers Mrs H.

For those of you who are completely in touch with your own creativity already, I have no desire to teach you how to suck eggs. I’ll leave you with these words though to ponder over – “The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” – Alan Alda

Do you think creativity is an attitude, and how does it fit into the framework of your everyday life?

All photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere

The bread bin

So yesterday was another polling day.  I thought I’d done my voting last May. I’ve since seriously regretted my decision, although I’m painfully aware that the possible alternatives were equally unacceptable.  It was a case of “the best of a bad job” at the time; it still is.  And I’m all geared up to make my mark in the appropriate box in June for the upcoming European Referendum.  That’s a VIP “X” marks the spot for me.  Somehow though yesterday’s mini poll did not flag up on my political radar.

On our way to a Thursday curry night, we saw “Polling Station” signs in most of the villages we travelled through.  “How come we’ve not had voting cards?” asks Mr B.  “Is our area not voting this time?”

“Obviously not,” says I, in charge of the wheel.

And then I cast my mind back, whilst nonchalantly cruising up hill and down dale with the warm spring breeze wafting in through the half open window, and Mr B whistling along to the radio.  I have a vague recollection of two cards appearing in our post box several weeks ago that may have been to do with voting.  I make a mental note to check when we get home, knowing full well that polling stations stay open till 10 pm and we can still put our vote in if need be.

Later, I take Mr B a coffee out to the workshop, where he’s twiddling with a machine.

“We do have voting slips for today,” I say, holding out the cards.  “It’s to vote for the local Police Commissioner.”

“Do we know who the candidates are?” he asks.

“No idea!” I reply.  And I realise right then that we’re not going to vote today.

“Where were the cards?”

“In the bread bin.”

The bread bin houses all domestic paperwork to be dealt with; it has never held bread.

Bread bin

Does anyone else have a bread bin for a filing system I wonder?

Kiwi, red onion & toasted pecan salad

17 degrees is what we’ve had today here in the UK spring sunshine – it’s been delightful. That combined with the light nights means we’re back on salads – hurrah. I would agree that my salads are not to everyone’s taste, as I tend to mix up whatever happens to be in the fridge. I’m a big fan of fresh unprocessed food so our fridge is usually heaving with fruit, vegetables and salad. And you’d struggle to find any meat in there; lots of eggs though.

Anyway, as a salad “expert” I’m always on the look out for innovative ideas, and the Fabulous Fare Sisters have consistently scored highly on my personal tasty and healthy food leader board. Here’s the latest from their website for you to enjoy –

Fabulous Fare Sisters

Kiwi, Red Onion & Toasted Pecan Salad

This is a quick and easy salad using fresh Kiwi and toasted pecans. Drizzled on top is a deliciously light Honey & Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette. The perfect salad for Spring!

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