‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.’
-Henry David Thoreau
I have this quote written on a scrap of paper pinned to a kitchen cupboard. I read it most days as I wait for the kettle to boil for the essential morning coffee. It’s a reminder to live life well, to live it in a way that is meaningful to me personally. It calls me to pause while the water in the kettle bubbles rather than rush around the kitchen trying to make breakfast, packed lunches, load the washing machine and put away dishes, to take a moment, breathe deep and set my intentions for the day.
Over the past month we have had some big changes in our family life. For mine and my husband’s 15th wedding anniversary, we bought an allotment – something we have wanted to do for a number of years but were daunted by the prospect, namely because we aren’t sure if we are naturally ‘green-fingered’ and because with 3 small children to look after we knew we would be hard-pressed to fit in digging/sowing/harvesting time!
Soon after taking on our new plot of land, we were also fortunate enough to increase the number of members in our family from 5 to 6 by way of a 12-week old husky puppy! Again, we have always, always, always wanted a furry friend to share our lives, but just didn’t feel the time was right. We wanted to be able to devote proper time to caring for and training a dog and with such busy lives, it just wouldn’t have been fair. But, following a dog-sitting weekend for my parents, and seeing how great the 3 boys were at playing with my Mum and Dad’s little Jack Russell; taking her for walks, cuddling her and generally being responsible pet-carers, a late-night discussion ensued between my husband and myself, followed soon after by a trip to the wonderful Assisi Animal Sanctuary.
Following review of our application, we were asked if we would consider taking on a husky pup. The staff at Assisi felt he would be a good fit for our family due to our active lifestyle and our frequent trips into the mountains would be exactly the kind of exercise a fully-grown husky would need. A collective smile and nods of agreement among ourselves and a wave of excitement matched only by the Christmas morning frenzy was unleashed.
The time felt right – I had just finished the final module of my 4-year degree, the kids were finishing school for summer meaning we’d have plenty of time for walks, training and, of course, puppy snuggles!
In some ways, taking on an allotment and a puppy at the same time, is indeed a lot of work and no doubt life is going to be busy! I have no doubt about that. However, this relates back to what I was saying above about living meaningfully and setting personal intentions about how to spend my days and therefore my life. It’s so easy to be busy in modern life – we can be distracted at any point, we can immerse ourselves in work, in buying stuff, in being entertained at the press of a button. Yet, sometimes, I just crave simplicity. I want to get away from the noise, the barrage of messages vying for my attention whichever way I turn and just enjoy a slower pace where I can breathe and think clearly, where I can find joy in ordinary everyday scenarios.
So, that’s where our new patch of land and pup come in! Over the past few years we have spent so much time stripping back our lives. Our home has had a Marie Kondo-style overhaul, we’ve delved deep into our own hearts and minds to ascertain our core values on a personal and familial level, and we’ve learned to say no to things that do not align with our values and goals or bring us joy. We’ve laid our lives bare and try so hard to live frugally and gently during our time on this beautiful planet we call home. We’ve cut back on waste, aim to cook from scratch using local produce, we walk, cycle or scoot most of our short journeys whenever possible, and try to give our family experiences that they will keep as treasured memories rather than give them ‘stuff’ they don’t need.
‘LIVE SIMPLE, LIVE HAPPY’
The allotment will allow us to get back to basics even more tangibly, by allowing us to grow our own organic, seasonal produce. We don’t really have a clue how to grow anything, but what’s life without a challenge and continued learning of new things?! We look forward to experimenting and getting our hands muddy together and seeing what we can grow, cook and most importantly, eat! I relish the notion of being tired at the end of the day because we’ve put our energies into something that really matters to us and seeing the dirt under our nails as a sign of an investment in our health and wellbeing. To be totally honest, I’m also really excited about having a little shed to go have a cup of tea in, a place to sit and ponder the meaning of life, a space to stop awhile and switch-off from the constant noise of everyday life and simply enjoy being! Maybe it’s a cliché! But I won’t let that stop me – I have a vision and my heart is set towards the pursuit of it because it makes me want to get out of bed in the mornings, and that counts for something I’m sure.
‘FIND JOY IN THE ORDINARY’
Our new puppy…a source of boundless energy, fun and love has already in the short time he has been part of our lives brought about a life-enhancing simplicity. The timing of him bursting into our lives in all his tail-wagging glory has beautifully coincided with the summer holidays and lovely weather. I’ve been getting up at my usual 6.30am to get out for an early morning walk with Kai, a ritual I’m really coming to love, as it allows me to experience the streets before they fill with cars, fumes and noise and get a bit of exercise before the rest of my household awakens. Having been blessed with a breed of dog which requires so much exercise is ideal for us – getting outdoors brings us so much joy and we cannot wait until Kai’s stamina increases to the point where he can join us for hikes in the Mournes.
In the meantime, local parks and forests have become a superb training ground and last weekend, while the 3 boys were off at various friends’ houses and birthday parties, my husband and I introduced him to the gorgeous little beach at Crawfordsburn Country Park. We had SO much fun watching Kai experience the sand, sea, new sounds and smells for the first time! I laughed so much at his eagerness to explore coupled with his need for reassurance from me!
His ears were alert, twitching every which way, listening to the waves, other dogs barking, people chatting and the gentle breeze. He sat awhile taking it all in, like a toddler at a new playgroup, trying to figure out which toy to play with first. Then off he went exploring the new textures of sand, sea and rock. It was fascinating to watch and to simply enjoy being outdoors, on the beach, with this beautiful creature just loving and living life to the max. I felt free and awake, full of vitality and joy. I wasn’t checking my phone, or worrying about what else I ‘should be’ or ‘could be’ doing, I was happily embracing the time to play, enjoying the life-enhancing simplicity of a dog’s company and being amused by his curiosity and gentle caution and also managed to get in some barefoot practice for my upcoming Mourne Challenge.
When Kai was tired from running in the waves and carrying around a clump of seaweed, my husband and I stopped to share a flask of coffee on the rocks. We chatted with a few other dog-walkers who paused to admire our handsome boy, then sat back and watched the waves, something that always inspires inner calm and stillness. The sky turned from bright blue with a few white clouds to a moody shade of grey as heavier clouds made their way around the coast. Thankfully, the rain passed us by and we were able to continue relaxing while Kai rested and cooled-off on the sand. Days like this nourish me in so many ways – my mind learns to slow down, my body is invigorated and there’s something about being immersed in nature that allows me to put life into perspective.
With the 3 boys off school now, the summer stretches out before us…it’s one of my favourite times of the year. Knowing that we have a blank canvas on which to splash new memories, to create our own story, to live our lives fully and enjoy each other during long days spent outdoors excites me. The possibilities for exploration, learning, discovery and fun are all the more alluring this year with the 2 new additions to our lives and I look forward with pleasure to sharing some of the highlights with you from our time at the allotment (which I am sure will also be requests for advice!) and our days out and about with Kai.
Our lives already feel richer – full and busy, yet somehow stripped back and simpler. Digging over an allotment and training an exuberant puppy may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but for us, it means days spent doing things we care about and that we envisage enriching our lives in the immediate and in the long-term. For us, this is all about living simply and living well, and in a world that’s moving so rapidly, where the climate crisis has finally invaded collective consciousness and we read daily about a mental health epidemic, obesity, greed, terror and a multitude of issues that threaten life on earth, we are choosing to tread as gently as we can, to educate ourselves and our children about living with care for the environment, for others and for themselves, because it really does matter and we all have a part to play in ensuring that this one planet we have been bestowed is allowed to heal and once again thrive.
***FEATURED PRODUCTS KINDLY GIFTED BY LIGHTHOUSE CLOTHING (DESIGNED IN BELFAST)***