Ways To Beat January Gloom

I’ve always hated January. To me, it’s the Monday morning of all the months. And that first Monday back to work and school in January has always been something I’ve dreaded. I love the festive period and it always seems to arrive just when we need it most. The Autumn has stretched into Winter, Summer seems like it never happened, and the days are short, dark and cold. We are all tired and grumpy and need a break and Christmas arrives just in time to provide just that. This Christmas was just how I wanted it. My eldest came back from University (the first time we have seen her since September!) and I had two weeks off from all my writing clubs. I made sure everything was ticked off my endless to-do-list just before school broke up, and that meant I could totally relax over the two week holiday. It was everything I hoped it would be. Slow, lazy, snuggly and warm. We shared lazy days lounging around, snuggling under blankets or drinking hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire. We had the most beautiful Christmas tree and by Christmas Eve, there was an exciting mountain of gifts piled up under it. It all went smoothly, including the dinner with my mum, and visiting various relatives. But at the back of my mind was always the grumbling dread that January was on its way.

It’s just such a bleak and depressing month. Spring feels a million miles away, Summer a distant dream. There is little to look forward to apart from dark mornings and worsening weather. I always get that intense ‘back-to-school’ feeling towards the end of December. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I am very fortunate to have a writing-related job and I come out of each of my writing clubs smiling, because it really is a joy. But life is pretty hectic and enjoying a break is something I am loathe to say goodbye to. Our normal lives consist of so much driving around in order to get everyone to their job, school or college, and then picked up again, not to mention other activities such as Beavers. Monday to Wednesday is crazy with no time to breathe, but I am lucky enough to have Thursdays and Fridays free. It gives me two days to catch up on all the admin and preparation that goes with my job and maybe fit in some gardening or writing if I am really organised!

This year, I decided to try and pre-empt my usual January depression. I don’t like wishing time away and I hate the feeling that everything is flat and bleak. I decided to rail against it and started thinking of ways I could enter January with a more positive mind-set. It’s not been easy but here is a list of the things I am trying to focus on to get through this Monday of a month!

Image by Moni Mckein from Pixabay
  • Plan my goals for 2022 – I do this every year and it really helps me feel a bit more excited about January. I write a list of ten writing and non-writing related goals and then at the end of the year I read them again and write another post about how the reality panned out. It’s quite exciting to get them written down and gives me a kick up the backside to get going!
  • Sort out my seed tin – Another little thing that just cheers me up once the Christmas tree has come down. I sort out my seed tin, add any new packets, label envelopes and so on. It reminds me that I can start planting a few things now and that always cheers me up!
  • Start planting what I can – so far I have planted garlic, leeks and onions. There is plenty more to do and I will try and get a bit done throughout the month. This always feels like quiet rebellion. Sod you, January, I am making plans for Summer! It gives me hope to plant new things. It makes me smile.
  • Tidy up the vegetable patch – It gets a bit neglected in the winter months, but I made myself go out there the other day and I was surprised that so much is still going. I picked some onions, leeks and spring onions and noticed kale, carrots and cabbages all still thriving! I was quite delighted to realise I had kept the patch going through the winter! I weeded a fair bit and tidied up, but there is plenty more to do and I aim to get out there as much as I can this month.
  • Embrace the beauty of Winter – I don’t hate Winter, I just hate January. So I try to remind myself how lucky I am to experience the change of seasons. I enjoy watching the same landscapes alter throughout the year and right now everything is cold, hard and coated in sparkling frost. The birds are singing though and daffodils are pushing up through the frozen ground. Even the bare trees have a certain stark beauty at this time of year. I just need to remind myself to appreciate it before it all changes and softens for Spring.
  • Embrace the slower rhythm of short, dark days – Everyone loves the summer with its long, hazy days and the added freedom this brings. Winter forces us all inside and its dark when we wake up and dark before dinner time. In the summer, we run around more, we pack more in, we go out more and have trips and activities. There is less of this in the Winter but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to enjoy the slower pace, curl up under a blanket and read more books. I’ve devoured so many over Christmas, it’s been wonderful. Winter is a time for hunkering down, keeping warm and slowing down.
  • Book a holiday – We last had a family holiday in October 2020. It was a holiday postponed from April 2020 when we were in lockdown. We had hoped to book something else for the summer or even for the October of 2021, but prices were sky high! Instead, we filled our summer with free and cheap days out. However, prices for the kind of holidays we can afford (Haven caravan parks around the UK!) have gone down again and as we received some money for Christmas, we decided to book something for the summer holiday. The very last week in August, which feels like an eternity away, but it will soon be here. I booked it just a few days after Christmas and it really cheered me up.
  • Nature watching – me and my youngest are quite into bird watching lately. I’m glad he shares my joy when we spot something unusual or observe the playful habits of native birds. We also look out for deer, foxes, weasels, stoats and herons and are lucky enough to see most each week where we live. It reminds me that life goes on, and January is just a word I really shouldn’t give much power to!
  • Plan for next Christmas – This is something that cheers me up too. I normally start my Christmas shopping in January. I start a new list in my Christmas notepad and write down everyone’s names and start thinking about next year. I’ll pick up odd things or order something if I get a good idea and it keeps me smiling.

After all that, I really do feel better about facing January. There is lots to look forward to and before I know it, it will soon be February!

How do you feel about January? Is it a month you dread or welcome? What do you do to cheer yourself up when Christmas is over and Summer is so far away? Feel free to comment and share!

Hello Home…

Hello Home…

Here we are in lockdown again with you, dear home. Only allowed to work outside the home if our work is deemed essential. Only allowed to leave the house once a day for local exercise. Not allowed to let anyone else inside our home. These are all sadly familiar rules and in some ways, it feels a little easier this time around. What makes it undoubtedly harder are two, sad, cold facts.

One, the virus has mutated and this new strain spreads faster and easier and is now hitting younger people. The NHS is under incredible strain as the peak threatens to outgrow the last one. Quite simply and horrifically, even more people are going to die.

And two, this time our isolation at home happens in the bleak mid-winter. January – the Monday of all the months.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on January 10, 2021. Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature.

So, here we are home, back within your safe, warm walls. Me and the children huddle within you, with extra socks and warm jumpers and numerous cups of tea to warm our cold hands. Even without the heating on, even without a fire lit, you still withhold the warmth we have built in you.

Each morning, I leave the house to let the animals out. The grass is covered in thick frost. Every blade and every branch, twig and leaf in the garden is sparkling with a layer of icy frost. It’s beautiful. And freezing. I rush about, from one end of the garden to the other, filling the watering can to provide the hens and ducks with fresh water. Stuffing fresh warm hay and straw into their hutches and houses. I let the rabbits out but keep the guinea pigs indoors until the frost has melted later in the day. I watch my breath form in the air around me. I, in turn, am watched by the horses in the field at the end of the garden. I say hello, but I don’t know their names. Jesse pup skips about with me, keeping me company, while you shelter the children, all now home from school until we-don’t-know-when.

When the early morning jobs are done I rush back inside, grateful for your warmth and stability. House, you are our home and I have been grateful to you since the moment we first stepped inside your gate. I remember I worried that we could not afford to rent you, yet we also knew we were getting an incredible deal. Your garden plot was more than I could have dreamed of and my head filled with pictures of shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetable plots and livestock.

Even now, in the depths of a freezing, frightening winter, I am grateful for this little bit of land, with its fir trees and sycamore, with its buddleia and holly hedges, with its bramble and fruit trees. The largest trees were here when we arrived, the rest I have planted myself over the years, to say thank you.

  • Photo by Chantelle Atkins on November 04, 2020. Image may contain: tree, plant and outdoor.

Your front garden used to be a square of gravel surrounded by holly hedging. It’s now a jungle of shrubs and trees and flowers with a path winding through it. We keep the birds fed so we can watch them from the kitchen windows. I love this garden, I love this house, I love this lane and all the land, the fields, the common, the woodlands and rivers that surround it.

And during lockdowns the road falls silent and all we can hear are the clip clop of horses as they pass up and down the lane, the haunting cry of the buzzard as she hovers above, the chattering of crows roosting in the Oaks, and at night, my favourite, the constant calls of tawny owls. I sleep with my window open because of them and so that I can fall asleep to the sound of the green river rushing by.

Home, we are so lucky to have you. During the first lockdown, I could have cried with love and gratitude. Some people had small houses and gardens, some people had no gardens, some people had no homes. We are so, so lucky to call you home.

Those warm, sunny months, we ran, hid, climbed, hopped and played on every inch of the garden. We set up bases and camps with army style tarps and netting, we dragged branches around to make walls, we gathered fir cones for bombs, we lit tiny fires and roasted marshmallows, we made mud pies and had scavenger hunts. The garden was our PE lesson, with running, jumping, skipping and our favourite The Floor Is Lava!

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on July 17, 2020. Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant and outdoor.

We planted new things and watched them grow.

We ate nearly all of our meals outside, surrounded by green. And without people bothering it and abusing it, Mother Nature gained ground all around us.

But the human race and the powers that be seem incapable of learning anything…and so we find ourselves locked in and locked down. And I find myself counting my blessings once again. This lockdown is different. We are inside more than out. We have fires and drink hot chocolate. We eat cheese on toast and scrambled eggs to keep warm. We never venture far without a hot drink in our hands.

Darkness falls early and the tawny owls come out to call to each other. I know that Spring is just around the corner and already I see the smallest signs. A camelia in bud. Daffodils poking through the earth. And we are already planting new seeds so that we can watch them grow.

Home, you keep us safe, you keep us warm, you are steady and true. Every day I place my hand on the wooden gate and smile at you. My family is nurtured inside you – despite the coldness and the fear beyond your windows. Staying home keeps us safe and we fill our time with home-schooling and new lockdown projects.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on March 21, 2020. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, house, grass, outdoor and nature.

We lose track of days and time is strange, a bit like an extended Christmas. Tensions rise within your walls – the teenagers feel trapped and isolated from their friends – they are missing out. We pull away from each other, desperate for space and time alone, and then we pull back again, needing comfort and laughter. The youngest fills you up with laughter and silly noises – the loudest child that ever lived! He bounces around your rooms, thunders up and down your stairs and races from one end of your garden to the other. I hope in years to come they all look back so very fondly on you, Home.