Wellbeing notes: Putting the fab into February

01/02/2023 at 9:07 am | Posted in Wellbeing notes | Leave a comment
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February can be a challenge. Winter is hard, and in the Northern Hemisphere we’ve already slogged through two months of it. We’ve had illness, snow, and floods. We’ve had storms, and the odd power cut. As I look out of my study window and into the garden, all I can see are bare trees and endless mud.

So how on earth can we start to feel better in February? Here are some ideas…

Bathe in bliss

February is named after an ancient Roman festival of purification. The original version involved making offerings and sacrifices. In the 21st Century, the month becomes an invitation to practise self-care. For example, you might enjoy a cleansing, candlelit bath, with salts. Adding a few drops of lavender oil fits in with the theme of wellbeing. 

Go on a bud walk

The best thing about the month before spring is seeing signs of new life. A country walk may take you to snowdrops, and green shoots that will soon explode into a yellow froth of daffodils. And if we simply look upwards, we may spot the first soft brushes of blossom against a cool, clear sky.

Be kind in unexpected ways

Random Acts of Kindness Week runs from 12th to 18th February this year. Write a note of appreciation, or phone a friend or relative. Give a compliment or a bunch of flowers to a perfect stranger. Kindness benefits everyone, and it all starts with a good deed.

Fiction notes: Why Muscles Do Not Make a Man

15/01/2023 at 9:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Woman meets potential Mate, one of the things she probably will notice is his muscles (or lack of them). In primal times, it mattered, of course, that a partner would be strong enough to help protect your future children. But does this matter today, in romantic fiction or, indeed, in life?

I have a dog who is stronger than me. Yet he looks to me, and to the other humans in the household, for affection, food and shelter. His physical strength is trumped by his need to be part of the pack. In our human world, the patriarchy became dominant by building on the advantages of muscular strength. But physicality has its limitations. Intelligence, collaboration, adaptability, inventiveness and agility are all useful attributes for a potential mate of any gender.

In fiction, it can be fun to combine different strengths in one delicious package. Think of Superman, the nerdy, bespectacled reporter, with muscles that can save countless others. Or the popular trope of the sexy librarian, in glasses. Glasses are a quick way to suggest intelligence, but maybe there are other descriptors that can work in less expected ways?

The male love interest in my current writing has a healthy, toned body and not, so far, any sign of glasses. But his most attractive quality has nothing at all to do with muscles, although he does use his strength to protect. So what exactly is this man’s mysterious appeal? Well, here’s the thing. He’s kind. And kindness can be the sexiest quality of all. (Though he does have to learn that, sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind.)

So, what characteristics do you like to see in a hero – or a potential mate? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Illustration: Self portrait by Philipp Otto Runge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Wellbeing notes: rhyming affirmations

04/01/2023 at 11:56 am | Posted in Wellbeing | 2 Comments
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Perhaps every thought we have – especially the ones we think often, or fervently – has the potential to come true. Hence the expression, ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. I do believe that humans are hugely creative beings, in ways we scarcely understand. If every thought is a possible manifestation, it makes sense to choose at least some of our thoughts wisely. And the very best way I know of doing that is through rhyming affirmations.

Verses that rhyme have a habit of staying in our minds longer. We may find ourselves remembering them without even trying. They become a mantra that uplifts, in a way that’s reminiscent of comforting childhood rhymes.

I regularly write my own, personal rhyming affirmations, recording them with pen and ink in a journal. They’re not high art – just verses that stick in the mind. Verses that I repeat slowly, and mindfully. Verses that leave me feeling calmer, and happier. If you are at all inclined, I encourage you, today or tomorrow, to come up with a rhyming affirmation for yourself. It can be as simple as two lines that rhyme. Put pen to paper, or finger to phone, and play a little. And remember, no one is judging your creation!

The following rhyming affirmation is one I wrote last year. It’s a bit longer – four verses in total. Yet I have found this one particularly easy to remember, and repeating it slowly never fails to ramp up the levels of joy in my day. It reminds me that anything is possible, and that life – not just in some mythical future, but right now – is filled with a wonderful magic.

I believe

I believe in deeds of kindness

and presents wrapped in love

I believe that people can connect

with intervention from above

~~~

I believe in our creations

and doses of good luck

I believe that fortune flourishes

and blocks can get unstuck

~~~

I believe in my good health

and my body being able

I believe in friends who help,

who can inspire and enable

~~~

I believe in gifts from God

and moments of laughter

I believe, above all, in love

and happy ever after

Introducing Fiction Notes

03/01/2023 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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My day job is writing romance novels. And from now on – fanfare, roll of drums – that’s going to be represented in my blog. This is my plan for 2023, and I hope you’ll stay for the ride…

At the start of every month I will continue to post Wellbeing Notes. From the many years that I ran meditation groups, I know that wellbeing truly matters. It’s important to honour this truth. Those little reminders to care for yourself and appreciate life’s beauties will continue to drop into subscribers’ inboxes.

In the middle of every month, I will post Fiction Notes. Get ready for some thought-provoking themes. There is so much more to romance than fluff and laughter, nice though those things may be. Consider Jane Austen, and her two masterpieces, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. Each of these is a quintessential, romantic read, in which woman meets man. Major obstacles get in the way. And eventually, true love triumphs. Why are those novels so popular, 200 years on, and counting?

Hopefully we’ll find some answers together in the coming months. Fiction Notes are for readers and writers of fiction, especially in the category of romance. Maybe we do live in tough times right now. But through every era, humans – with all our hopes and yearnings and messy emotions – stay essentially the same. So join me next month, and for many months to come, while we explore the most compelling subject of all: true love.

Wellbeing notes: Farewell, lovely meditations

01/12/2022 at 8:19 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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For the past 14 years I’ve hosted weekly meditation groups. They’ve brought me masses of pleasure, as I hope they have for countless attendees. But we’re not built to do the same thing all our lives, and this month the doors will close for the last time on our peaceful meetings. To mark the moment, I thought I’d include some memories here, with thanks to all the fabulous souls who participated…

Meditation is not always quiet. The biggest secret about our sessions were that they were a 50/50 mix of chat and silence. The chat always had a theme – and sometimes that theme required a little noise. So let’s hear it for Trevor on the accordion and Kerstie on the Native American flute, not to mention the noisy swarm of bees that once perched on the wild cherry tree outside. 

Meditators came from far and wide. We shared quiet times with guests from all over the world. Our youngest meditator was a very new baby. Our furriest attendee was a cat. Our most surprised visitor was the courier who tried to deliver to a room full of people sitting with their eyes closed – at least we weren’t chanting!

Those who meditate are creative – maybe the practice of stilling the mind helps ideas to flow. We have shared paintings, pottery, screen-printing, poetry, glasswork, and many other beautiful creations.

Meditation doesn’t have to take place in one room. During the pandemic, we went online. Other years we enjoyed the local countryside, including sacred Avebury, and neighbouring Somerset. The truth, as we discovered, is that peace, calm and kindness can flourish wherever we choose. And along the way, enduring friendships are made.

Wellbeing notes: A time to share

03/11/2022 at 11:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Recently a stranger, a young woman, moved into my spare room. Before she arrived, I was nervous. I’d heard stories about house shares that had gone wrong: lodgers who expected hotel service; who made a terrible mess; who were noisy; who smoked or drank too much.

“It’s wise to set clear boundaries,” said the rep from the refugee department at the local council. So I settled on ‘No smoking’, and ‘No visitors’, and hoped for the best.

Needless to say my new lodger is lovely: quiet, considerate and thankful to be safe. The council rep is just a phone call away if I need guidance. A government payment covers any extra costs that I might incur. Honestly, the risk is minimal, and I’m glad I took a chance in opening my door. 

Imagine, now, that bombs were falling in a town near you – close enough to hear them, close enough to feel unsafe. And now imagine that in some far away country there’s a household where you can stay… how welcome that sanctuary would be. 

There are various ways to sponsor a refugee. In the UK, the easiest method is to register interest at gov.uk. In due course your local council contacts you, to invite you to join their list of available households. They send someone to okay your property, and organise a DBS (criminal record) check. And then, when your room is needed… your new lodger comes to stay.

Wellbeing notes: Power of perseverance

01/10/2022 at 2:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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My latest book – first novel – is written and it’s time to see which literary agents and/or publishers might be interested. Fellow writers confirms that this can be A Hard Slog, involving many letters and accompanying documents. In a way, the process is like applying for a job, which can seem like a thankless task at times. So, for all those who are trying to make something happen, here is my personal checklist that may help you to persevere. 

  1. Keep on keeping on. Be persistent. Set an achievable weekly goal and do your very best to keep to it. I’ve resolved to have seven queries out at any one time. And with each one I try my best to understand the recipient.
  2. Tread lightly. If the task is feeling burdensome, step away for a while. Do something completely different. Reconnect with your joy. Imagine how wonderful you will feel when you achieve what you have set out to do.
  3. Review from time to time. Does your goal still resonate for you? Are you still happy that you’re on the right path, or do you wish to adjust your goal to something that feels more ‘you’?
  4. Believe in yourself and trust in a positive outcome. Remember that you have a wonderful and unique blend of qualities. No one does ‘you’ better than you. 

And when you finally reach your goal… celebrate and share the news!

Meditate on the landscape of your life

09/09/2022 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Every week for the past five months, my meditation group has been focusing on aspects of landscape. From river to forest, by coast, bridge and swamp, from harbour to canyon via a rainbow-coloured waterfall, we’ve had a lovely time imagining ourselves in nature, slowing down our breath, becoming peaceful. And the landscape theme is set to continue for a few weeks yet, as the list of potential subjects just continues to grow. 

Take this week. Someone suggested volcano. One thing I’ve noticed is that everyone views each aspect of landscape differently. For me, I will likely be thinking of a snowy volcano that I once visited in Iceland. Snaefellsjökull has an incredible, other-worldly atmosphere. But another member of my group, fresh from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, may think about a fiery Vesuvius. 

The way you think of a volcano can reflect your own life journey. I believe that, sooner or later, we all go through stuff. Some of the events we experience can be positively volcanic – changing our personal landscape. If those events are in the past, the volcano we imagine may be slumbering or extinct. If those events are current, the volcano of our imagination may be quite active. An active volcano will destroy like nothing else… but this may lead, in time, to new landscapes full of life and even beauty. 

Wellbeing notes: This is the plant for relaxation

01/06/2022 at 7:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In June, lavender starts blooming, and gardens are fragranced with its sweet, herbal aroma. The word ‘lavender’ comes from the Latin, ‘lavare’, meaning ‘to wash’. I can’t begin to say how much I value this soothing flower. My favourite garden memories of childhood are lavender-scented. And my least favourite memories of adulthood – the many days and nights spent by my son’s bedside in hospitals – are also fragranced with lavender. The scent, which I scattered liberally in the form of essential oil, made those experiences more bearable.

There are many ways to bring lavender into the home, where its calming and antibacterial properties may be much appreciated. Here are a couple of my favourites. 

Fragrant sachets

Place a handful of fresh lavender heads in a pocket-sized, unbleached cotton bag, and hang up in your bathroom where it will dry quietly away. Then, for a fragrant bath, suspend under the running tap. You may like to squeeze the bag once or twice to release more aroma. When the bath is run, use the bag as a loofah over your skin. Discard the lavender after the bath. 

Embroidered little bags of dried lavender are, of course, lovely to place in drawers and storage boxes.

Lavender milk

This soothing bedtime drink encourages a good night’s sleep. You can use any kind of milk – we prefer oat. Pour a cupful of milk into a saucepan. Add a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers, bring to the boil, then remove from heat and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Stir in a teaspoon of honey, strain into cup and drink.

Finally, I do believe that every household needs a small bottle of lavender essential oil. Apply neat on minor burns and insect bites; place drops in a diffuser or just on a tissue to scent a room and bring wellbeing.

Wellbeing notes: a question of perspective

01/05/2022 at 5:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the late spring, some years ago, a new telegraph pole was put up in a nearby field. At first, everyone thought the pole was a blot on the landscape. “Shame that beautiful view’s been spoiled by the pole,” we all said. But one day a practical friend visited. She pointed out that the pole formed only a tiny part of the view. So why were we obsessing about that, when there were acres and acres of countryside to enjoy? 

Ever since, I’ve been careful to keep any blots in perspective – not just in nature, but in my personal life too. When crisis happens – and it does, because that is the way of things – a good exercise is to list the items in our lives that continue to be beautiful, useful and enriching. If we are lucky, we have plumbing, housing, warmth, food and income. And if we are luckier, we have many people whom we like, or maybe love.

Once we remember all these good things, the blot, whatever it may be, is put into perspective. We can possibly go one step further and say that everything – including that benighted telegraph pole – is serving some purpose. And we might begin to accept that the blots, too, have their place.

Metaphorically, a blot is any flaw that we study – that grows larger in our imagination. Yet when we walk away, the blot shrinks – and the landscape is revealed as infinite.

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