Saturday, 28 November 2015

Feeling SAD

Every year around the start of Autumn I start to feel frustrated and rather low for no real reason other than that the dark evenings drawing in earlier each day. Although I haven't been to the doctor to have it diagnosed, I'm pretty sure it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder. My symptoms- lack of energy and enthusiasm, increased tiredness and anxiety- are typical of the disorder which has gained in recognition in recent years. More people are aware it's a 'thing' and more people are seeking help for the condition.

I'm not a fan of the dark and typically feel lethargic and somewhat claustrophobic when darkness sets in on a day. Many people, often referred to as 'night owls', feel more productive at night, yet I just want to curl up and sleep in hope that the light of the following day will return quicker. As an outdoorsy person I feel relaxed when surrounded by nature and the natural landscape. Watching and appreciating the world fills me with enthusiasm and wonder. Darkness just fills me with boredom and misery.

I thought my frustrations and anxiety was largely due to leaving for work in the dark and getting home in the dark, meaning I didn't see my animals in daylight or get to outside to process some vitamin D. However, since being made redundant and setting up SocialRocks, I still feel much the same as previous years.

I've lightly researched the condition several times in previous years I probably have the milder version of the two types of SAD; Subsyndromal-SAD as it is know or S-SAD for short. It doesn't really effect me enough to be concerned of to bother taking up my doctor's time but it's comforting to know I'm not the only sole feeling a bit mad at this time of the year.

My research has even led me to question whether SAD is actually a disorder at all. The condition has been linked to a lack of access to light which increases natural melatonin levels within our bodies. Melatonin is the same hormone that regulates hibernation in animals so it sounds plausible that the symptoms are just a way of our bodies telling us to slow down at this time of year. This would mean this so called 'disorder' is just a natural part of being animals- which we are.

Either way, the darkness makes me miserable. I'm sure most people will agree that getting up in the mornings while it's still pitch black outside is less than inspiring and extremely hard. One godsend that's helping me on these dark morning is a 'SAD light'. I've debated getting one for the last few winters but the hefty price tag of the recommended make, the Lumie Bodyclock and it's disproportionately few negative reviews on Amazon still managed to put me off. However, my boyfriend surprised me with one for my birthday present back in September and it's been a significant element of our nightly routine ever since. Waking up to a room filled with close-to-natural looking light makes mornings more bearable than opening my eyes to pitch black and the shocking sound of my alarm ringing from my bedside table. The light slowly and consistently brightens over 30 minutes, imitating a sunrise. It even does the reverse for bedtime which is great for us as we spend time chatting before drifting off. The gradual dimming light is calming, helping me to relax and drop off.

All the advice I have read suggests spending moor time outside to get access to natural daylight. From next week I will make an effort to go for a stroll at lunchtime to increase the time I spend outside. I'm also going to sign up to a yoga class with my sister to learn how to clear my mind and relax. I do believe that the biological effects are amplified by my mental state so hopefully training my mind will help reduce my anxiety.

Do you suffer similar symptoms at this time of year? Have you been diagnosed with SAD? I'd love to hear from others experiencing similar anxiety problems related to the seasons.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Autumn in the wood

I adore observing the dramatic change in seasons in the wood. Although I dread the dark nights, the colours of autumn are somewhat a fair compromise.

Members of Outdoor Blogger are blogging with the theme of Autumnwatch this month, so I thought I'd share some photos I have taken around the wood this Autumn.

The title photo above is of the Skullery which houses the woodburner and backboiler that heats our tap water and the central heating system. It gets super-hot in the Skullery making it the ideal place to dry washed clothes. It also houses the washing machine meaning we don't have to endure the noise of it running.

The woodland is predominantly silver birch and at their tiny diamond-shaped orange leaves appear to twinkle in the wind at this time of year.

As the leaves start to decompose, the car park turns to a muddy mess making cleaning our cars a pointless task. The car bonnets become clogged with leaves and twigs and the roofs develop a green layer. 

The house still looks warm and inviting among the browning vegetation. Soon the long grass will die back to a mushy mess.

We were given this old piano and put it in the area know as 'the party site'. It's been there over three years and is slowly rotting away. The keys still play notes but the moisture makes the keys stick. It's been a fun feature at our woodland parties and many people ask how we got such a heavy piano down that end of the wood. We love hitting a few of the keys in the dark of night, hoping a passer by may hear and be spooked out by the sounds of a piano coming from within a wood. Muwahahahahaaa!

Sweeping the deck of leaves is a frustrating task. As soon as I think I have finished, more fall from above. the surface because deathly slippy from wet leaves and the sweeping does help to reduce the build up of the the slippery gunk.

Autumn seems to pass quicker than other seasons. Maybe not in astronomical terms but the start is often associated with the change in colour of leafs to when all the trees are bear, indicating the onset of winter. That's how it feels in the wood now. All but some of the oaks have shed their leaves and the general colour of the landscape has changed from warm oranges to murky browns and greys. Yesterday and today I awoke to ground frost and the water dishes for the animals needed their frozen surfaces broken. Winter is definitely on its way.

If you blog about the outdoors you may be interested in joining Outdoor Bloggers run by myself and Zoe of Splodz Blogz. Sign up here for monthly blog themes and to meet other like-minded bloggers who love blogging about the outdoors. You can read more about Outdoor Bloggers here. If you have any questions feel free to send me a Tweet.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Completing the Lyke Wake Walk in the North Yorkshire Moors

The title clearly states it- we completed the Lyke Wake Walk; a 40 mile linear crossing of the North Yorkshire Moors. Wahoo!

A few of weekends ago, Zoe of Splodz Blogz, Allysse of Beste Glatisant and I spent two days fantastic days hiking the less popular trail, and it was awesome. 

Bloggers being bloggers, we spent valuable daylight time taking a gazillion photos of our journey and as a result this account is crammed with photos. Not that I want you click of this post but I'll warn you now; if you have limited data on your device while reading this right now, it may be best to bookmark the post for later! 

So here we go...

I collected Allysse from the station in York and drove to the beautiful Sevenfold House B&B at Rosedale Abbey, close to the halfway point of the Lyke Wake Walk. Zoe had arrived shortly before us and had already settled in with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The B&B was stunning; a huge period property bulging with original period features and decor. The proprietor, Linda Sugars provided a warm welcome to her home and showed us to our bedrooms. They were huge, well laid out and very comfortable. From just £36 per person, per night and with a scrumptious full cooked breakfast, fruit and cereals included, I truly recommend it to anyone. 

That evening we went to the White Horse Farm Inn, just a 4 minutes walk from the B&B (which was also fantastic), and indulged in a large, 2-course meal while reassuring each other we needed the calories for the the two days of endurance that lay ahead. With bellies full of food and butterflies of anticipation we headed back to the B&B for a good sleep. 

Jennifer Tulip pub dinner

The faffy part of the challenge was negotiating the transport. Being a linear hike over two days with a a night's stay half way along meant leaving a car at the end point of each day then driving to the start, only to do the reverse after completing the day's hike. I was concerned I'd be too tired to drive after hiking 20 miles but I was actually perfectly fine due to being on a high from our achievement. 

Jenni Tulip The Thrifty magpies nest Zoe Homes Splodz Blogz Lyke Wake Walk

Day one of the Lyke Wake Walk began in glorious sunshine in a car park just outside the quaint tourist village of Osmotherley. On the opposite side of the road a modest standing stone with 'Lyke Wake Walk' carved on its front stood proudly from the ground, marking the start of the trail. After a few photo snaps of the stone we set off with a bounce in our step. My stomach tickled with a mixture of excitement and anticipation, knowing that 22 miles lay between us and the other car. It wasn't the distance or the endurance test that concerned me, it was the time. It was 9 days into October and the nights drew in around 7pm. We had around 9 hours to the car before nightfall. Thousands of people have completed the whole walk in darkness so I reassured myself with this fact. Still, getting stranded on the moors in the darkness would be frightening and dangerous.

Jennifer Tulip Allysse The Thrifty Magpies Nest Lyke Wake walk

The trail followed the Cleveland Way for the first 12 miles or so, meaning our way was clearly marked by wooden signs at each turning. Up until recently, the Lyke Wake Walk wasn't way-marked but now there are small, hand painted black coffin plaques along most of the way. Interestingly, there isn't an official route. As long as you start at the start and end at the end (or the other way around) then you can claim the crossing. We were following the recognised route detailed in the Lyke Wake Walk Book-a small, black book written by Brian Smailes, a walking author. This little black book proved to be invaluable to our expedition. The detail in which it described each step of the way meant our two beloved OS maps made an appearance just twice (yes, the walk covers two OS maps from one side to the other- eek!). The moors are a dynamic environment meaning the route description goes out of date quickly. The book is in its fourth edition and ours was sent with a one sheet insert noting recent changes to the route. I am incredibly impressed by the dedication and creativity of the New Lyke Wake Walk Club who produce the book and collect records and information about the walk. For the full two days, Zoe carried the little black book in one hand for the whole walk, reading directions from it at each turn, often while moving, frequently stumbling while she did so. 

The first section followed the edge of the moors overlooking the flat expanse of Cleveland to the North. The little black book warned us of harsh winds as we climbed the first assent but instead we were welcomed by blue skies, sun and clear views. Noon passed and we decided to stop for lunch before crossing a main road. As we walked out of a wooded area we were met by a man I dint recognise. Zoe's greeted the man enthusiastically indicating she knew him and for a moment I was rather confused. 'This is my husband' Zoe explained to Allysse and I. He had traveled up from Lincolnshire on his motorbike to tie in a motivational greeting and a ride around the moors. It was a pleasant surprise to meet him and we enjoyed our packed lunches before he waved goodbye as we began our march for the afternoon. 

Jenni Tulip The Thrifty Magpies Nest walking eating sandwich
Our path joined a disused railway which marked the end of following the Cleveland Way. The scenery was unchanging and the regular wide path was somewhat mundane but the level surface enabled us to cover ground quicker than before. Distance grew between each of us as we found our own pace and became lost in our own thoughts. Walking provides me with an opportunity for self reflection, The rhythm of my body moving and the allows my mind to zone out and approach my thoughts from a different perspective. We we silent for some time but it wasn't awkward. Without the need to explain or compare, the three of us knew we were in a similar state of deep thought. We passed a man set on the edge of the track tucking into a chocolate bar while taking in the views of the valley below. 

Jenni Tulip trig point The thrifty magpies nest
After what felt like several an eternity we took an unmarked path leading away from the disused railway and across the heather. We hesitated a few times, unsure of where the path was but I lead led the way, following a tunnel through the heather which could have equally been a sheep path. It was a shortcut that had been shut for several years according to the paper insert in the little black book. I'm not quite sure how the path could be 'closed'. It would have still been there and doubt there would have been a police officer posted at the start ready to stop anyone who attempted to cross it. The odd footprint in the soft ground reassured us we were on the right path and our enthusiasm returned knowing the car wasn't too far away. We passed a huge standing stone with markings that were to weathered to read. The little black book refereed to this landmark but sadly nothing is known about the purpose of the stone. 

The car came into view and our pace picked up while twilight set in. When we reached our endpoint for the day I watched on as Zoe and Allysse created funny shapes with their bodies as they stretched their limbs. We had completed our first leg of the journey! 

The drive back to Osmotherley was filled with giddyness combined with exhaustion. Having visited Osmotherley several times before I recommended we find a place to eat there before returning back to the B&B at Rosedale. We found a cosy pub serving good food where we could relax and discuss our accomplishment. 

We started the day an hour earlier on the Sunday; heading down for breakfast at 7am. Taking a car to the end point and returning to the start (the reverse of the day before) would eat up two hours of crucial daylight. Although time consuming, the scenery along the journey was beautiful so it didn't feel too much of a chore. We returned to the parking space where we had finished the walk the evening before and set off across the open moorland. We knew from the little icons on the OS map and the detail in the little black book that that the first few miles of the way were going to be boggy. I didn't fully expect the depth of water we faced. The marsh grass was a sign of moist ground but it disguised the water beneath it well. 

Jenni Tulip North Yorkshire Moors
The ground sunk as the weight of my feet pressed against it and the water rose up like a squashed sponge. Like a game of hopscotch, we leaped about from one foot to the other trying to avoid the water and land on the tufts of vegetation. This method worked for a short distance. The landscape before us became dominated by marshy grass. No heather: A sign of lots of water. The three of us halted and stared in silence into the distance towards the painted white topped standing stones that  marked the path at intervals. All we could see was open moorland. And a lot of bloody marsh grass.  We stood some more, periodically looking at the ground around our feet then returning our gaze to the distance.  'Well, we will just have to take our boots off' I said in an enthusiastic tone. I bent down, untied my laces and pulled of each boot and sock in turn while trying to keep my balance. Zoe and Allysse also removed the boots and we stepped forward into the water, Our faces screwed up and we all yelped followed my 'ohhh ohhhh eeehhh ehhh' sounds- the water was freezing! I really cant comprehend that many people have crossed this section in the dark. 

Miss Jenni Tulip the thrifty magpies nest walking
Jenni Tulip The Thrifty Magpies Nest Zoe Splodz Blogz
Jenni Tulip The Thrifty Magpies Nest Zoe Splodz Blogz
It wasn't long until we reached firmer ground and could march on with our feet back in our boots. The full day was spent on the top of the moor in typical upland heath- a habitat that is dramatically declining in the UK. We rarely made a turn the whole day, instead following a lineal direction. The day felt more of a slog than the first, probably because the scenery didn't really change. I would say some of the paths were only walked by those walking the Lyke Wake Walk given the conditions of them. 

Jennifer Tulip The Thrifty Magpies Nest Lyke Wake Walk

The 'ravine' as noted in the little black book was as steep as promised. It required getting down and on all fours and carefully edging ones bottom down the slope. At the bottom we were treated to an idyllic crossing of a river via stepping stones before ascending the opposite bank.  

We ate our lunch a short way from the Moors Railway and disappointingly we were just out of view of the steam train as it passed. We could see the steam pummeling above upwards but the train was lower in the valley.  

After scaling many more miles of heathland the endpoint came into view- the radio mast at Ravenscar. Our spirits picked up for a last time as we came within two miles of the finish. Allysse serenaded Zoe and I with typical French walking songs and we passed a packet of Jellybabies between us. Moments before reaching the mast we turned round to be taken a back by a beautiful pink and red sunset. It was as is Mother Nature was giving us a 'well done' sign. We reach the trig point by the mast just after 6.30pm. We had done it. We had completed the Lyke Wake Walk. 

This is a short video Zoe recorded along the way giving a better perspective of the views as well as a sign song from Allysse.  

For those two days I spent pretty much every second I was awake with Allysse and Zoe. We experienced the whole walk together and we talked along the way together, yet reading their own accounts of the walk gave me a deeper insight into their feelings and thoughts along the way.

Read their accounts here:
Zoe on Splodz Blogz
Allysse on  Beste Glatisant

Friday, 13 November 2015

How I plan Christmas gifts and budgets

Our telly boxes are filled with Christmas adverts, the supermarkets are blasting Christmas songs and the streets are illuminated by Christmas lights. Whether you adore thinking about Christmas in November or your believe festivities should be kept to December, there's no escaping the fact that Christmas is just 6 Fridays away. 

A typical budget-obsessed penny-pincher would have planned their Christmas budget months ago but me,... well, I'm more like the rest of us who only begin to think about presents when the media tells us to. Although I preach that I'm not susceptible to consumerism, I have to admit that having Christmas thrown in my face whichever way I turn, it's hard to ignore. 

My close family and friends all value Christmas as a time for celebrating love and food rather than an opportunity to cash in on luxury commodities. We just buy for our immediate family and very close friends and the wider family follow the same practice. It's always been like this but I can imagine it would be awkward for those who have a tradition for buying something for everyone to change their priorities. 

Because we aren't so big on indulging in gifts, we don't tend to plan very much in advance as you now know from this very post. My sister is proactive and buys gifts throughout the year as she discovers them then hides them until it's time to hand them to the recipient. It's a good method for reducing the stress, spreading the cost and preventing the panic-buying of crap presents. It's not often that I venture into towns or cities to shop so opportunities don't often arise for me to make purchase so far in advance of Christmas. 

The first step I take when working out the Christmas budget is create a spreadsheet on Google Docs, listing all the people we need to buy for. It doesn't really change much from year to year so I reuse the same doc time and again. As a couple, Dave and I work out how much we will spend on gifts. Like I mentioned earlier in the post, we don't have a an indulgent culture so we typically allocate £20-£30 per person however, if a gift comes in cheaper for one person it means we have more money to spend on someone else if we need to. Each time a gift is purchased, we update the sheet with what the gift is and how much it cost. We both then know exactly how much money is left to spend and who we need to buy for. 

Google Doc budget sheet

The beauty of using Google Docs is that the spread sheet document can be shared with others. Because Dave and I purchase gifts as a couple, I share the document to with him so he can add things and edit it himself. It also means we both have complete viability of who we are buying for, how much we are spending and what have bought. This avoids any arguments over money or accidentally forgetting someone on the list. 

This year is very different for me because I'm not working full time. I was made redundant little over a month ago and have set up my own social media consulting business. It means I'm not bringing in much money at the moment, and even though Dave is being amazing at supporting me, I'm very conscious of spending any of our money. Following our proven method means I don't have to feel awkward or worry about spending money as it's already allocated. 

Shopping online

I love internet shopping because I can avoid the stress of the big city, the queues and the temptation to buy things I hadn't budgeted for. I'm one of few girls I know who doesn't enjoy shopping and traipsing around the city. Sitting by the fire on an evening browsing shops on the internet is more my style. As well as avoiding costs associated with visiting the city such as travel, drinks and snacks and parking, online shopping is easy to manage how much I am spending. Arithmetic is my weak point so the number of confusing offers such as 10% off the sale price which is 20% off all items in one part of the shop and buy one get one free on selected items and so on, means I quickly lose track of the price of the items in my shopping basket. The virtual basket on online stores does that all for me. 

Buying for my partner, Dave, is harder. Is it just me or is buying for men soooo much harder than women? Not only do I have to budget for him separately and worry he will spend more on me than I do on him, he's also very hard to buy for. He's not interested in commodities and doesn't get very excited about clothes. But clothes is what I normally end up getting him because he doesn't buy many clothes for himself and I enjoy dressing him in things I have chosen. I normally get inspiration from browsing men's accessories in online shops. The other advantage of buying online is the ease of returning items. Dave is a slim guy and often jumpers that fit his arms are far too long on his torso, giving him the look of a school boy wearing a new jumper at the start of term which he can 'grow into'. I keep feeding Dave but he isn't growing in the outwards direction. Being able to drop unwanted items off at the post office for return means I don't have to worry as I can just send the items back. 

Wrapping presents

The other way I save money is using old newspapers to wrap up presents. Wrapping paper sure looks lovely under the tree but tearing it off and disposing of it put a little downer on Christmas for me. But newspaper can look lovely too. Last year I decorated wrapped presents with pine cones I collected from our wood and attached them to lengths of used ribbon from my sewing box. It took some time but I enjoyed the decorating process and they looked beautiful under the tree. Adding a personal, hand crafted touch is apprenticed by friends and family too. 

I know my method isn't original and it's by no means groundbreaking, but I find it helpful hearing how other people really do things rather than read a blog post with a list of bullet pointed instructions that have no sentiment from the writer.   So I've rambled on about how I actually do things in hope that it will help someone else or at least reassure them they aren't the only ones who haven developed a military-style gift budgeting action plan and buying expedition.

Do you plan a Christmas budget independently or with a partner? I'd love to hear how others really manage theirs.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Magnus the magpie in all his glorious plumage

Magnus Magpie on Jenni Tulip's shoulder
Back in July I introduced Magnus the magpie here on The Thrifty Magpies Nest; a chick we hand reared form about two weeks old. He was such an ugly dinosaur-looking beast when he came to us wacky woodland dwellers.

Since that last post he has well and truly grown into a stunning bird. His tail feathers are now full length, and after a a very scratty period of going through his molt into adult plumage, he now has perfectly iridescent wing and tail feathers and a good strong, sharp beak.

Magnus Magpie in molt

This is Magnus looking like a sea zombie form Pirates of the Caribbean. He looked a right mess while molting a couple of months ago. The difference in the shape of his head is dramatic now that he has his full adult plumage.

His main diet is ferret food which is high in protein and has all the vitamins he needs. His favourite food is dried mealworms which is gulps down so quickly one would thing we don't feed him! Magpies are omnivorous meaning they eat meat, fruit and veg. A trait that has lead them to be a successful species in the wild. The average lifespan of wild magpie that has reached maturity is 3 years- shockingly short. However, in captivity they have been know to live as long as 21 years. Such a difference! This will be down to several factors including the struggle to find their own territory not currently occupied by a breeding pair and the long winters and competition for food. Although highly intelligent and adaptable they don't hold much fat meaning they must eat regularly.

Magnus Magpie on Jennifer Tulip's head

Magnus lives in a huge aviary near the house which has plenty of room for him to fly around. There's also an indoor area where he can perch and play out of the poor weather and droughts. The aviary has been up for several years now and is in desperate need of a lick of paint. It's a lovely forest green colour which blends nicely into the surrounding woodland and the paint protects the wood from rotting. It was on our to-do list this summer but we didn't get around to it. It will be one of the first thing we do in the spring when the weather is less damp and cold.

Although Magnus comes out of the aviary to fly around from time to time, we chose to keep him housed, unlike the previous corvids we have had. We live in a farming community who persecute magpies so I fear for his safety. Being so tame would get him into trouble. Our neighbours know we have him but we had reports from people that a magpie we used to have flying free some years ago would visit their property some 3 miles away.

Magnus Magpie after a bath

Magnus loves to play with object you have in your hand. If we have it, it must be good, and he want;s it too. Everything has to be held tightly or it will be swiftly taken in a swoosh and blur of black and white. Paper, brushes, earrings, food, coins, rubbish- everything. If he sees something he doesn't like, he will let you know by giving out a a very long, very load 'chh chh chh chh chaaaa haaaa'. In particular he hates spades and ladders. Inconveniently, these are two items that regularly pass his aviary. He also fights his own reflection. Some corvids have been proven to half self awareness, I'm, not so sure about Magnus though. This is a mid-action him attacking his reflection in the hallway.

Magnus magpie fighting reflection in mirror

Conveniently, he makes a pretty good 'watch-bird' too. If someone comes through the gate he whistles very loudly which we can hear in the house.  He'd be pretty good at scaring intruders off if he was flying free. Having a magpie swoosh at you from nowhere makes most people jump. Even I jump out of my skin when he lands on my head from behind.

He loves to tease Paddy dog and the ferrets- both of which have different reactions to him. Poor Paddy cowers and disappears at the sight of Magnus, usually with Magnus in host pursuit, desperate to land on Paddy and pull his ears and tail. There ferrets, however, want to eat him. Meanwhile Magnus does a little dance backwards and forwards while trying to peak through the mesh at the ferrets.

Follow me on Instagram if you would like to see photos of Magnus the magpie (If I can get him to sit still long enough for a shot!)