Getting outside in winter, unless you absolutely have to, can be tricky. Not only is the weather awful, but the days are so much shorter.
In summer, it doesn’t feel like a challenge to get up a bit earlier and go for a walk, or to go out for a stroll after dinner. And if it’s hot during the day, those are the best times to go out.
The days are starting to draw out a tiny bit now. I’ve noticed that it’s no longer dark at 4 o’clock. But when I wake my boys who go to school up at 7.30, if it’s a grey day, pulling up the blind it makes hardly any difference! It will be February before the time the sun rises and sets really has an impact on the amount of daylight. So going out for a walk at the ends of the day isn’t much of an option, unless you like going out in the dark!
Even if you can get out during the middle of the day, perhaps at lunchtime, or at the weekends, it will probably be light but it’s still cold. It might also be raining, or worse, sleeting.
Moving about in the fresh air is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Muddy walks can be invigorating, and wherever you live, even in January, there are things to see if we take the time to notice them. And when you get home, you’ll feel so much better for having been out!
One thing that can make it easier, besides a warm coat and decent footwear, is having a purpose. If you have a reason to go out, it can be the thing that motivates us to grab our coats and our wellies and leave our cosy homes, even if it’s only for half an hour.
Needing to take a dog out is a reason. Wanting to play Pokemon Go is another! A third idea is to collect things from outside to use in a creative project.
One way to do this is the 30 stem challenge. This is an idea I saw on Instagram. You collect 30 stems, or bits of plants, and pop them in a vase. You could use what you find in your garden, or in hedgerows or jungly verges if you have them round where you live, or you might have an allotment with things you could use. The 30 stems don’t have to be all different. In fact it will look nicer if they are not!
Sometimes we’re inclined to think that setting limits restricts our creativity. But often it has the opposite effect.
Have you ever wandered into a fabric or yarn shop, and felt so completely overwhelmed by the choice that you couldn’t decide and left without buying anything? But when looking at odds and ends and left over bits and pieces, plenty of ideas seem to slow.
It can be the same when faced with a menu with lots of choice, or a supermarket with dozens of different possibilities. Sometimes less choice makes choosing easier.
Painting is another example. It can be tempting to think we need huge sets of paints with lots of colours, when actually a small set of 24 or even 18 colours is usually better. You’ll have to mix the colours yourself, which can take practise, but the colours in the painting will be more cohesive because a limited number of colours will have been used.
With the 30 stem challenge, especially in January, we might think that there is nothing out there. There’s less than at other times of the year, but there are still possibilities lurking in the grey and the mud. It might mean thinking about what would make an interesting arrangement, even if it’s not something you would normally consider putting in a vase. This is why having a look at what’s in your allotment if you have one might sound like a nutty idea, but you never know what might be there that you could use.
I actually have a small confession to make. I need to take my own advice about getting outside! Venturing out into the landscape has included the odd walk, but recently it has mostly been taking Cosmo out round the village to play Pokemon Go, and catching the bus into King’s Lynn. So my 30 stems came from my garden. As you can see, it is not looking its best.
It’s easy to look outside and declare that there is nothing there. But a closer look will reveal that there is actually a lot that is interesting. It’s just harder to spot, especially when we are used to filling vases with flowers.
In January, seed heads, dead plants, weeds, and twigs with buds on all have potential. While I was out in my garden, I was surprised at how much life there was, even in the dead of winter.
My 30 stems include hollyhock seed heads (there were still seeds in them which I have saved to be sown in the spring), twigs with buds from a flowering currant, lavender, both seed heads and leaves, red stems from a dogwood, and ivy.
I had a small problem with my cats wanting to play with the twigs and things while I was putting them in a vase! Nya (the black one) destroyed one of the hollyhocks, so I had to nip out into the garden again to get a replacement!
I encourage you to try it. Flowers are nice, but there’s something special about bits in a vase that reflect what is actually outside. You don’t need to have a huge garden, or one that’s been designed by someone who knows what they’re doing so that it looks lovely all year round. And I’ve said, you can collect twigs from the hedgerows and the woods instead. If you try it, I’d love to see!