Tag Archives: balance

New Year’s Blog Resolutions

Jpeg Those of you who are, like me, blessed with lurchers, greyhounds and the like, will be familiar with their ‘zoomies’ habit: that is, their love for running in circles. They may chase each other, like our two are doing here, or they may perform solo just for the sheer love of it. Those of you who are, like me, cursed with an anxious brain, will also be familiar with the way the mind does exactly the same thing about the most ridiculous of things. I have a confession: I have allowed blogging to become a source of stress by getting bogged down in anxious and negative thoughts about how it’s ‘supposed’ to be.

This is ridiculous because I love blogging. Above all else I love the book blogging community. I have no idea, however, how some manage to blog so regularly. I’ve seen some people post a book review or discussion post a day – now that’s commitment. As is clear, I cannot boast that level of commitment to blogging, however much I’d like to.

Having had various plans over the last couple of years, which have mostly gone awry due to my complete inability to meet them, here are my new blogging resolutions (which, incidentally, fit in rather neatly with my general resolution to take a bit better care of myself):

  1. I will avoid the accusatory verb ‘should’ in thinking about how much/often I blog, especially compared to others.
  2. I will stop worrying about writing long and detailed reviews for every book I read and continue to find other ways to support and recommend the books I enjoy and value. Posts like ‘recommendations round-up’ and ‘literary lonely hearts’ features have worked well for this (I think), allowing sufficient description and discussion to give a good enough flavour of a book to show readers whether it might suit them.
  3. I will focus on more unusual posts like the ‘reading teacher’ ones. They have had a great response and I enjoyed writing them.
  4. I will be bolder about pointing publicists who have sent me books to these more unusual posts as they do still promote their titles (and will try not to worry that they want me to just write reviews and not these different posts).


The other lurcher gift – this level of chill – about it all is what I am aiming for: 2015-09-27 17.09.47

I hope you all have a brilliant 2016!

Review: Essence of Arcadia Essential Oil Sets

I’ve been using essential oils for over 20 years, so was very pleased to be recently asked to review this new distributor of oils. Essence of Arcadia sent me a 6-oil and 14-oil set to review, both of which I am happy to recommend to anyone looking to start out with aromatherapy at home, or boost an existing oil collection. Either set would also make a lovely gift, as they are very smartly packaged. Replacement and additional individual oils are readily available from the company’s website or from Amazon.

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Tightly-packed bottles, all beautifully and clearly labelled.

The 6 oil set contains:

Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Tea Tree, Peppermint, Frankincense and a card with a weblink for the company’s VIP club to get recipes and usage information.

The 14 oil set also contains:

Bergamot, Clary Sage, Grapefruit, Rosemary, Lemongrass, Ylang Ylang, Orange and their own Healing Blend, as well as a recipe booklet.

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Smart packaging complements the luxury feel of the products.

Each set is packaged in a high quality heavy duty black cardboard box, which will clearly work well for long term storage. The oils are all clearly labelled and presented in dark brown glass bottles with dropper caps, so they are protected from light and easy to use. I like that each oil has its own different colour label – my teen daughter and I have quickly learned which colours to reach for.

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My trusty wise hermit diffuser, protecting us with the Healing Blend.

The oils are described as ‘therapeutic grade’ and they are clearly high quality. I have used them in a standard tealight-powered diffuser and in a carrier oil, and they could also be used in a warm bath or foot soak, or in toiletry making. Just be careful about quantities, as these are potent little products – don’t be fooled into thinking that as natural items, they’re always safe. Some shouldn’t be used with children or animals, or in early pregnancy, but some usage information is available on the Essence of Arcadia website.

We particularly appreciated the healing blend, which incorporates anti-infection and cold-fighting oils and was a very welcome arrival in November! (It also smells considerably nicer than many other more commercial preparations wafting through the house, thanks to the sensible inclusion of Cinnamon and Ginger.)

Both sets include sufficient variety to treat common conditions and create different moods within the home, including the multi-functional Lavender and Tea Tree and the cornerstone of infection-busting, Eucalyptus. I was also really pleased to see Frankincense in both sets, as it’s so useful as a base note in relaxing blends: it has a regulatory effect on the breathing, which is perhaps why it’s been associated with ritual for centuries. The addition of the brilliant mood-buster Bergamot and other citrus oils in the larger set were also a really welcome sight. In terms of oil selection, I would suggest that Roman Chamomile would have been a good addition, but that may just be a personal preference – I do use it in a lot of my blends.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these sets if you are considering starting out with aromatherapy or gifting someone else with some oils to get them started.

The 6-oil set is £19.99 from the Essence of Arcadia website and £16.99 from Amazon at the time of writing.

The 14-oil set is £39.99 from the Essence of Arcadia website and £29.99 from Amazon at the time of writing.

Please note that I received oil sets for an honest review; this did not affect the opinions expressed here.

Mission Statement for the Hearthfire

I haven’t posted in a while, and that is something that makes me sad. I love having this little corner of the internet (a cosy snug, obviously, with the hearthfire and all) to indulge my bookishness, and neglecting it is one of my biggest regrets of the last couple of years.

I did have a much longer post of all the whys and wherefores of why I haven’t been blogging – and why I should have been. It was very boring though, so here we are: I haven’t been blogging, and I should have been. It’s good for my mental health, so I’ll be doing more of it in 2015.

So here’s what you’ll see around here over the next few months:

  • twice weekly posts
  • at least one review a week
  • other bookish posts
  • occasional personal stuff: writing, dogs, opinions

Happy New Year!

Things I learnt in a yurt

As both a teacher and a writer, I am pretty much destined to be ‘always on’ and not switch off and relax. Last week, however, I found the secret to relaxing and recharging in a lovely yurt in Northumberland with my family. I thought I’d share a little piece of my experience here, so here’s what I (re)discovered, in no particular order:

The joy of disconnection

No phone signal, no electricity (although we could charge our phones etc in the central kitchen block) gave us all a much needed digital detox that allowed us to reconnect to each other. The stash of board games and the handily-supplied Dummies Guide to Card Games wouldn’t have had as much use if we’d been able to tweet, facebook and bbm as normal. And that would definitely have been a shame, as even the resident teen agrees.

Fire is not just for warmth

Toasting marshmallows around the fire pit 🙂

Obviously, as curator of the hearthfire here, I was already familiar with fire’s magical and restorative properties, but it never hurts to be reminded.

Balancing comfort and wildness is crucial in this kind of break

and we were lucky to find a place that achieves exactly that. Glorious decor and the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in on holiday beautifully countered the illusion of rugged isolation (we were alone in a field, but 5 mins from the centre of the site and underfloor-heated toilet/shower block), and empowered us to tackle the terrain.

Hareshaw Linn, in nearby Bellingham. A beautiful, if occasionally challenging, walk in the rain.

My camera is not good enough!

I really wanted to capture the beauty of the candlelit yurt at night, the wood-burning stove, the stars in the pitch-black skies, but apparently I’m not equipped for that :(.  My wildlife photography skills are also lacking, unfortunately, so you don’t get to see the toads, bat or many many finches that we did, although this little fella who snuck in out of the rain was quite obliging, bless him.


Real relaxation is invaluable

Of course, I ‘know’ this, but I do find it hard to properly relax and not feel I should be doing something productive – something that I think is common to many. But with no laptop and no goals, no guilt was possible for this week and it was definitely the right thing for me. I’ve returned refreshed and reinvigorated and with my creativity topped right up. Bring it on!

For anyone curious, we stayed in Merle Yurt at Wild Northumbrian Tipis and Yurts and I would absolutely recommend them for family holidays or quiet getaways.

#100HappyDays – challenging my anxious nature

I’m probably the last to the party here, but I’ve recently been noticing the #100happydays tag on Twitter and Facebook. Eventually, I became curious enough to investigate and discovered that it’s a simple record of highlights captured in photographic form over 100 days. The ideas is that it gets you into the habit of noticing the little things that make you happy. 100 days is certainly more than enough to establish a habit so it does seem like a good idea and I’m starting today, having signed up at the challenge website.

I’m not sure I’ve really mentioned it here before as such, but I suffer from anxiety and have had a relatively difficult time over the last two years or so. Anxiety has been an issue for me since school and it’s something that seems to rear its ugly head every so often. I’d always explained it away by reference to my circumstances before – you know, from “It’s my GCSE year, of course I’m stressed” to “Have you seen all this marking?” but recently I’ve had to accept that I’m the common denominator and recognise that I still feel anxious when everything’s fine. So I’m hoping that taking the #100happydays challenge might just be a useful habit to cultivate. (Obviously, I realise I need more than just this to sort me out, but it can’t hurt, right?)

I’m not going to blog my pictures daily – I’ll use more ephemeral social media for that – as I think that would clog the blog up too much. I’m thinking (at the moment – and this could of course change) that I’ll post a weekly update here with a couple of highlights. I think this could be a nice way to vary my blog posts a bit and make it more personal, but we’ll see how it goes. If it’s dull beyond words, I’ll try to notice and stop 🙂

Anyone else doing the #100happydays? How many days in are you?

Knowing When to Let Go

… is definitely half of the battle. I have not been a good blogger (or reader) lately, having just got too bogged down in other things (arguably, other things which are more important).

I think it’s time to accept that:

  • one post a week will have to be good enough for the time being for this little blog
  • I am behind on my Goodreads goal and am not going to make my target (but really, how important is that?)
  • my TBR pile/shelf is frightening, but staring at it paralysed in fear rather than picking a book to read is not the way forward 🙂
  • I have not updated my reading challenges (i.e. the British Books Challenge) in quite some time and, again, this is not a life-and-death thing – I’ll try again next year, perhaps

In my defence, I have been a very busy little bee and have been involved in three book projects over the last six months or so which will be publishing in January and February, all of which have been by turns a lot of fun and terrifying beyond belief. I have also spent far too much time in being anxious about all that I have to do, rather than simply doing it. Oh, for the luxury of a calm mind… But, I have (mostly) got it all done now and am promising myself an actual break over Christmas.

So I will be here, but only once a week until at least the New Year. If you do want to follow me here at the Hearthfire, I would suggest that you sign up with feedburner or by email (in the right sidebar), or follow me on Twitter to see when I have a new post up.

The Magic of Autumn

Autumn is my favourite season. I’ve only recently become concretely aware of this (duh!), having had a vague memory of writing about Autumn last year. I double checked to find I haven’t blogged about other seasons. Clear favouritism!

More honest than Summer (which promises much and rarely delivers), Autumn has its own particular beauty. I also value and welcome its inwardness, as we hunker down for the darker evenings and refocus. I always feel my creativity pick up after the summer – although I’m also always full of good intentions for the summer holidays… But we’ll ignore that 🙂

I wonder how much of this is linked to the academic year, which has been a factor in so much of my life. Or maybe it’s just that the academic year, based as it is on the agricultural year and its nature-dependency, works with natural rhythms that would exist anyway.
What do you think? Those of you whose working life doesn’t revolve around the school year, do you feel this sense of renewal in the autumn?

Family Friday: top tips for walking with kids

We’ve taken our kids walking for several years now. The youngest was probably three when we started regularly walking as a family (she’ll be eight in a fortnight). We’re not enormous distance hikers – five miles is a long walk to us, and we probably more regularly do around three.

One of these has been helpful but you absolutely can enjoy family walks without one! (She’s only been with us for a year, and is out first family dog.)

So, here are my top things that encourage kids to enjoy the great outdoors:

  1. Checklists of things to spot. This has easily been the most helpful single thing to get the kids involved. We have a book of family walks which helpfully includes checklists tailored to each route, but we also make out own for other walks. It’s important for the list to be a mixture of easily-spottable things (depends on the route and sometimes the time of year, of course, but cows, acorns, swans are good standbys for us), specific features of particular walks (a windmill, a standing stone) and sometimes number-based challenges (how many herons can you see etc). 
  2. Snacks – ideally hidden ready to be produced at a ‘flagging’ moment. As well as the obvious boiled sweets, dried fruit is good. Water is, of course, essential.
  3. Stiles, brooks and livestock (ideally separated from you by a fence!). I could never have predicted the amount that stiles increase the fun of a walk by 🙂 and paddling in or crossing a brook is also a joy. Spotting livestock is popular as well, but some kids are made nervous by walking through a cow or sheep field.
Do you have any to add?

Tuesday Tidings: I’m back!

This is (like) me speeding through the term

So, the college year is over and I can breathe again. And, as promised, I’ve been thinking about my poor little ol’ blog. I’ll be posting more often (Mon – Fri) and will ‘theme’ my days. I’d read that as a blogging tip and thought it might be really restrictive, but then I remembered how much successful the A-Z in April was, and how actually having the ‘limitation’ of the letter each day gave me more to work with, rather than less.

I should have known that really, since it’s a trick I use in teaching pretty regularly: restrictions and limitations are oddly freeing in writing. Duh. So much easier to help others learn than to do it for myself…

So Tuesday will henceforth be news day: Tuesday Tidings. And today’s news is that I’m back and will recommence regular blogging. I’ll be doing more book reviews, but will also be sneaking in other stuff that I’m interested in. Here’s how my blogging week will go:

Magical Monday might be a review of a magical/mythical book; a folklore post, or some other magical topic.

Tuesday Tidings will feature short news pieces, comments on current affairs (I’ll try to keep the education-policy-themed posts to a respectable level 🙂 ), or just what’s coming up on the blog.

Words on Wednesday will centre on language and writing. This will give me an excuse to comment on language topics, to review writing craft books, to link to some of the excellent craft blogs I follow, or just to share an interesting word-based story.

Thrilling Thursday could well include some reviews of thrillers, crime novels and the ‘edgy’ realistic teen stuff, along with anything else ‘thrilling’ that grabs me…

Family Friday will occasionally feature stuff about my family, or comments on family and parenting related stuff.  Oh, and book reviews of kids’ (rather than teen) books, and maybe the odd parenting tome.

See you tomorrow for Words on Wednesday!

Six months on: my blog’s half-birthday

It was six months ago that I blogged for the first time. I am quite pleased with how things are going here at the hearthfire. In six months I have:

  • published 61 posts (this is number 62!)
  • gained followers and made some blogging friends
  • posted on 26 tagged topics
  • completed the April A-Z Challenge
  • participated in the Bookette’s fine British Books Challenge (8 reviews posted so far)
  • reviewed 9 books here, representing my preferred genres of fantasy, kids, YA and crime
  • found loads of other blogs to follow (my google reader has 101 subscribed blogs at this point)
  • learned that I enjoy writing on a range of topics and don’t want a one-topic-blog
  • gained confidence in sharing my views and things I’ve learned
  • increased my writing rate generally
Given that I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted out of blogging when I started, I’m very pleased! It’s definitely helped me to prioritise writing more, and to explore different areas. I’ve posted on topics that I might not have poked my toe into otherwise, and have particularly enjoyed having an outlet for discussing folklore and myth. I enjoy blogging as an end in itself, but it also has clear benefits for my writing more widely.
What are your favourite things about blogging? Does it support other goals that you have, or is it more simply an enjoyable pastime?