Seasonal

Why Do We Celebrate The Summer Solstice?

June 21, 2014
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Photography credit: Charamelody

As we get closer to summer, we all know that the days start to get longer.

Suddenly it’s easier to get up in the morning to go to work, easier to stay out late in the evening without feeling tired and easier to pack weekends full of adventures and party until the sun goes down – absolutely marvellous!

Unfortunately, on the flipside, we also know that these magically long summer days can’t last forever. At some point they have to shorten again in order to prepare for the run-up to autumn and winter. But when exactly is that day, when the hours of sunlight in the day are at their greatest, and its rays peek into our bedrooms earlier than any other point in the year?

Actually folks, that would be today!

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Photography credit: Chris

What is the Summer Solstice?

More often than not it’s a glance at the calendar that reminds us of the Sumer Solstice, but you’d think we’d make an effort to remember really, considering it plays a hugely important role in our lives and we’d be season-less and confused without it.

Taking place on 21st June each year, the Summer Solstice marks the day with the most hours of light and least darkness, and occurs when Earth’s natural tilt points it directly at the sun, giving the illusion that our planet is standing still before turning away again. The word “solstice” actually comes from two Latin words: “sol”, meaning sun and “sistere”, meaning to stand still.

Its counterpart, the Winter Solstice, occurs on 21st December, and just to confuse things even more if you’re living in the Southern Hemisphere, all this is flipped and you’re completely back to front. Bewildered yet? Stick with me.

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Photography credit: Wessex Archaeology

Why does it happen?

Earth is on a tilt. Imagine that our planet is a cherry, and you stick a cocktail stick through the dead centre. Then pretend that you’re resting that spiked cherry in your glass at an angle of approximately 23 degrees. If you were to spin the cherry by twisting the cocktail stick and also spin the glass at the same time, you would almost be perfectly demonstrating how Earth rotates around the sun.

Notice that the angle of your cocktail stick never changes; sometimes the top of it faces the sun, and sometimes it faces away. When the top of the stick faces in, more of the Northern Hemisphere gets coverage per daily orbit. This is our summer. When the top of the stick points away, out of the glass, the Northern Hemisphere gets less coverage during it’s daily rotation, and this is our winter. It’s the opposite for the Southern Hemisphere.

The summer and winter solstices occur when the tilt of the earth is most inclined towards the sun. Just like your imaginary cocktail stick, the hypothetical axis on which the planet is spinning is directly facing (or opposing, during winter) the sun.

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Photography credit: Chris

Who celebrates it?

Many of the Midsummer festivities we see today are inspired in part by traditional pagan celebrations. These folks were hugely devoted to the appreciation and love of Mother Earth, celebrating the turn of the year and the changing of the seasons. In contrast to the Yule solstice, the darkest part of the pagan year, the summer counterpart is known as Lithia.

Some modern day druids and pagans make an annual trip to Stonehenge in Wiltshire to celebrate the summer solstice beneath the ancient stone monument. Pagans and druids hold great reverence for stone circles, and  as the light cracks the sky at the dawn of the Summer Solstice, they perform spoken rituals and give thanks to the sun.

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Photography credit: Lulu Lovering

How do I join in?

Many folks choose to join in and celebrate the sunrise at Stonehenge, but over the years one could argue this event has become almost “festival-like” in size and popularity. If this isn’t for you, don’t worry! There’s still a multitude of ways you can enjoy the longest day of the year.

Be outside. This has to be the most important one, who would want to be cooped up on the longest day of the year? Walk, run, cycle, it doesn’t matter, just get yourself out there!

Take your yoga mat into the garden… they’re called sun salutations for a reason!

Get dancing! My good friend Elizabeth told me that if you dance in the sun on Midsummer’s Day, you’ll go to bed that evening and dream of the man you’re destined to marry.

Get your Shakespeare on and read a Midsummer Night’s Dream. The bard was famous for mentioning the supernatural in his plays, and this famous story pays homage to the fey folk rumoured to wander the lands during the turning points of the year.

Light a bonfire in the evening, wave adieu to the memories of the first half of the year and prepare yourself for the next half. Feel cleansed and refreshed.

If you’re interested in reading more about pagan customs and beliefs, these articles from Witch Vox and The Pagan and the Pen do the subject far more justice than I ever could.

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: June

June 12, 2014

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It feels like only yesterday that I was writing January in Focus, and somehow now we’ve made it to June! The sixth month of the year is one of my favourites: it’s the start of summer, and it always feels so much more full of promise than July and August, even if the weather can still sometimes be a bit up and down.

Evidently I’m not the only one who thinks June is the opportune moment to do everything on the planet though, because I’ve been overwhelmed by the choice of activities and events on offer this month… and all of them seem to be happening at the same time!

Still, I’ve tried my best to pick a handful of things for today’s post that can be enjoyed all month long. Have fun and let me know what you get up to!

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During June, one of the two species of seals that call UK shores home are getting ready to have their babies. Regularly seen basking on rocky spits just a little way out to sea, harbour (or common) seals are surprisingly elegant animals… when they’re in the water at least! Even so, watching them shuffle along on their bellies to get comfortable is nothing short of delightful.

I’ve been on seal spotting boat trips twice in the past, the first time at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, and more recently off the Farne Islands in Northumberland. Both were great experiences, and I couldn’t recommend them enough.

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Do you remember the sunny afternoon I spent on the allotment back in March? I planted a shedload of broad beans, and according to the seasonal veg section of Countryfile magazine, it seems as though June is the time they like to pop their heads up and say hello. I will have to return to John and Helen’s veggie patch and get harvesting…

Broad beans always seem like quite an old-fashioned food, and these chunky fellas often get folks raising their eyebrows and wondering how to cook and eat them. Never fear though, because a quick Google search will put you right and provide all sorts of inspiration for incorporating these high in vitamin A, B1 and B2 super champs into your diet.

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I’ve never spotted one of these bioluminescent bugs before, but perhaps I’ll get lucky soon, as June evenings are apparently the best time to catch a glimpse. The glow worm, or Lampyris Noctiluca if you’d like its posh name, is not a worm at all: it’s actually a beetle. It’s only the wingless female that glows, and as you might have guessed it’s to attract the flying males.

If you’d like to spot a glow worm or two of your own, the good news is that they’re not as hard to find as you might think: often they’ll already have set up camp in your garden without you even noticing! If your house doesn’t have a garden then good places to try are those with an abundance of chalk or limestone in the soil.

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Last year my friend Judi and I spent a weekend camping, hiking and breathing fresh air in the Trossacks, Scotland. One of the things I’ll never forget about the experience was Judi convincing me to wild swim in the still blue waters of Loch Lomond. It sounded like a very spiritual, outdoorsy thing to do, so without much persuasion I jumped straight in.

Even now, the memories of how cold that water really was makes my teeth chatter.

Wild swimming isn’t for everyone, but even if you’re a big wimp like me you can still enjoy the spectacle. Starting this Friday and finishing on Sunday, hundreds of mad brave souls will be leaping into Lake Windermere in the Lake District to take part in the Great North Swim, an event suitable for swimmers of all strengths and experiences.

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I grew up in Wiltshire, not far from the heritage monument of Stonehenge. Every year in the run up to the Summer Solstice I consider welcoming in the longest day of the year in the company of the Druids, but something always stops me. I guess it’s the additional crowd of drunk revellers, treating the whole thing like a free music festival that probably does it.

If you’d like to celebrate the beginning of the second half of the year without all that, don’t feel bad about staying clear of Stonehenge. The Druids will understand. If the idea of stone circles still appeals though, Avebury is a much better option, but it is totally acceptable just to take an early morning walk or even pop your head out of the window at sunrise instead.

Remember, it’s not what you do that counts, it’s how it makes you feel.

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Here’s what I think: clothes cause a lot of problems. I’m sure we’d be much nicer to each other if we were all happier with the way we looked underneath.

Of course, if you’re taking part in the World Naked Bike Ride, (the London leg of which is happening this Saturday), you don’t need my sappy advice. This event will see cyclists of all abilities join in to peacefully protest against car culture and oil dependency, all the while making the most of the opportunity to get an all-over body tan…

But if you’re not feeling brave enough to get your kit off and join in, make it your June mission to appreciate your body instead of berating it. It’s the only one you’ll ever get after all, and it’s totally imperfect and beautiful in its own funny way.

Monthly Round-Up

The May Round-Up

June 8, 2014
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I watched a show about black bears last night and I can’t stop thinking about them. Photograph by Jitze Couperus

The monthly round-up is a collection of internet goodies that have caught my eye over the past four weeks. Videos, blog posts, beautiful photography, tutorials, excellent websites and geeky goodness: you can find them all here on 1st of the month. Perfect for long commutes and lazy Sunday mornings.

Isn’t Tiny Buddha such a brilliant site? I find myself drawn back there time and time again, and it’s no surprise when they post such wonderful articles. Here are 16 things you should let go of in order to live a truly happy life.

From August to November, the moat of the Tower of London will be filled with almost 900,000 ceramic poppies to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.

Make the change right now! You don’t want to be regretting any of these in ten years’ time!

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I’m in love with these illustrations, and the words that go with them. Here are 30 untranslatable words and phrases from other languages, and some of them really are just beautiful.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits gets his fair share of airtime on link round-ups from bloggers across the globe, but I’m going to have to join  in and share a couple of his articles. A Guide for Young People: What to Do with Your Life is actually a great read for anyone of any age, and The Gift is a classic piece of Leo writing: concise, to the point and always thought-provoking.

When I met Sara of Hello The Mushroom last weekend at Nuffang’s first birthdat party, I knew she was exactly the kind of lady I’d like to have in my circle of blogging chums! I loved this article she wrote on travelling by train in the UK.

Kandee Johnson writes a post for anyone who’s ever been told they dress “weird, ugly or awful”. I’ve had my fair share of this over the years!

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Bored Panda offers up forty of the most powerful social issue ads to make you stop and think.

Elizabeth from Delightfully Tacky shared this heart-wrenching story of Mocha, a horse rescued by his original owner after months of negotiation with the people who neglected him. I had tears in my eyes after reading this story, and I can only hope that now Mocha is back in good hands, he’ll be loved until the end of his days.

I’m still to meet fellow Blogcademy attendee Sarah of The Laughing Medusa, but I hope I get the opportunity soon! I’m an avid reader of her gorgeous blog, and especially enjoyed this post crammed with advice for anyone thinking of emigrating to another country.

The “His n’ Hers Apartment”, a infographic that couldn’t be truer if it tried…

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Remember me mentioning my little blue Fiat 500, Joan? I spotted this next link on Nubby Twiglet’s weekly Link Love post yesterday and I couldn’t help but reshare: it looks like Joan’s ancestors are up for sale! I felt a warm fuzzy feeling when I looked at these photos, Joan shares much of her detailing and style with these beautiful cars.

Six things to do in London before breakfast.

Now this is something I genuinely would consider: after you die, having your ashes put inside a biodegradable urn with the seed of a tree inside. What’s left of you nourishes the tree as it starts to grow, transforming your death into the start of a new life.

If you need straight-talking, Nicole’s blog is the one. I love her no-nonsense approach to the big worries we all have. Here are four questions you need to ask yourself right now!

Perhaps it’s because they’re so birdlike in their appearance, with “wings” two metres in diameter, but watching these rays fly out of the water and flap above the surface felt like a pretty magical moment. They look quite chuffed with themselves!

Every Last Drop is easily the most creative website I’ve ever seen! I want to scroll forever!

I’ve noticed an influx of articles about sobriety this month. As a tee-totaller myself, I’m always interested to read about why people have decided to give alcohol the boot. Sober Señorita Kelly gives us seven reasons why she’s better off without booze and Helen Sarah explains how she has survived eight years of sobriety.

Stories about unlikely friendships usually always get a place in my monthly round-ups, and this one about a puppeteer and an old lady who’d lost her voice will bring a smile to your face.

My good friend Ché over at indieBerries lost her rag with plagiarists this month, and it’s not hard to see why. As a blogger, what do you do if your work is being stolen and blatantly passed off as someone else’s? I feel her pain.

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Now, this is how you Photoshop.

When we take the sexism out of news headlines, the results are equal parts hilarious and downright obvious. Should we be questioning why the media is intent on fixating on celebrity women doing things that are… well… normal?

I just can’t help myself, can I? 33 pictures of dogs with completely unique coat markings.

And let’s finish with this: a Chinese student brings art and nature together, using trees as her canvas. These are utterly enchanting. Naturally, the woodpecker is my favourite.

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: May

May 17, 2014
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Photography credit: Fergus Ray Murray

Do you know what? May sure is a busy month. And not just for me, it seems! There are plenty of things to keep you entertained as the weather gets warmer and the British weather (fingers crossed!) finally comes into its own. Longer evenings and brighter mornings make it easier to ditch the usual indoor distractions and start enjoying the world around us again.

So whether you’re dancing round a maypole, planning for the first of the summer festivals or simply enjoying the prevalence of Bank Holiday weekends May has to offer, be sure to have a wonderful time and experience it all without distraction. Happy May time, folks!

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Photography credit: Simon

The Green Man has to be one of my favourite symbols of nature and the changing of the seasons. Sometimes depicted as a leaf-covered face or a figure adorned with leaves from head to toe, the Green Man is ancient enough to have influenced numerous religions throughout history. He is also often the central focus of many a festival during May.

Jack in the Green is the name given to a participant in traditional celebrations who emulates this pagan spirit, dressed completely in green and often adorned with leaves, fruits and flowers. He is the central focus of the age-old May Day parade, of which there are many held throughout the United Kingdom during the fifth month of the year.

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Photography credit: Claire Sutton

Originally this was going to read “sip a glass of elderflower cordial”, but last night I was invited to a dinner at the Skip Garden Kitchen in Kings Cross and lovely chef Catherine served elderflower lemonade and it was love at first taste!

You’ll start seeing the characteristic white spray of flowers popping up throughout the countryside from the start of May, and there’s no surprise that a slew of refreshing elderflower-themed drinks and to my surprise, cakes, have flooded onto our favourite foodie blogs.

Additionally, whilst searching for information on elderflowers, I found a link to a small, family-friendly festival called Elderflower Fields in Sussex. It’s over the Bank Holiday weekend and is only £105 for a four-day ticket! If you’re looking for a last minute getaway, this could be it!

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Photography credit: HJ Hipster

One of my earliest illustrated Bird of the Week posts was about the osprey, a pescetarian bird of prey that is thriving up in Scotland. With a stronghold maintained by the RSPB at Loch Garten, these beautiful hunters have fishing skills that are second to none and stunning white and brown feathers that set them apart from their carnivorous cousins.

These birds incubate their eggs during the month of April, and the chicks hatch in mid-late May. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about Loch Garten tells me that a visit is the most incredible thing, but if you can’t make it all the way up to the Highlands of Scotland, then be sure to check out the Loch Garten webcam… as I type this Mrs Osprey is on her nest right now!

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Photography credit: Kaiton

“If you buy a broom in May, you’ll sweep the head of the family away.” It’s a pretty dark sentiment, but apparently this strange bit of advice is rooted in an age-old belief across many cultures that the broom is a magic item with the ability to affect daily life.

For example, in China is is believed that the broom is inhabited by a spirit, meaning it should not be used for playing games with. In Africa, should a man be struck by a broom he must take it and strike it seven times, otherwise he will become impotent. And an old American tale says that leaning a broom against the end of the bed brings terrible bad luck.

So what do I take from all this? Only that it’s totally acceptable to keep a bit of dust in the house during May, you know, just in case.

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Photography credit: Photophilde

Yes, it’s another old wives’ tale, but isn’t it a lovely one? Washing your face with dew gathered during the month of May was said to totally rid your complexion of spots, blemishes and even freckles (though that part is a bit sad, because freckles are lovely).

Girls would get up before dawn, go to the fields and harvest the dew, either with their hands or by spreading a sheet out over the moist grass, and then wringing it out and collecting it in a jar. This would be topped up every day and placed in the sunlight on a windowsill.

In his 1652 book The Natural History of Ireland, Dr Gerard Boate wrote “The dew, thus thoroughly purified, looketh whitish, and keepeth good for a year or two after”, which makes me think we should all be indulging in a little May Day facial.

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Photography credit: Let Ideas Compete

I was stupidly busy at the start of the month and I’m sad to admit that I somehow managed to miss out on all being part of the various May Day celebrations across the UK. Luckily though, there is a second, lesser-known celebration at the end of the month called Oak Apple Day.

29th May is the anniversary of the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660. The story goes that Charles hid behind an oak tree to avoid Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Worcester, hence the name. Throughout the UK this festivity is sporadically still observed, even though it is no longer marked by a public holiday. Expect sights similar to those spotted on May Day, and don’t forget to wear an oak leaf through your buttonhole!

Monthly Round-Up

The April Round-Up

May 4, 2014
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“I’m not kidding… it was this big!” – Jose Rebollar

The monthly round-up is a collection of internet goodies that have caught my eye over the past four weeks. Videos, blog posts, beautiful photography, tutorials, excellent websites and geeky goodness: you can find them all here on 1st of the month. Perfect for long commutes and lazy Sunday mornings.

Phew! April sure was a busy month! And especially the last week, when I was given an exciting new responsibility at work. I’ve been getting completely stuck in, but it means that a few blog posts have slipped here and there and I’m playing catch-up this weekend, whoops!

Let’s begin with this video. I’m not completely sure how to describe it, to be honest! It’s a pretty random combination – Samuel L. Jackson and 1990’s show Boy Meets World, but if you know the show you’re in for a huge treat. Sam has got to be the coolest chap out there.

Now this is just so classy. When Honey Maid released an advert celebrating gay marriage, the backlash they faced was appalling. So instead of fuelling the homophobes and naysayers, they responded with a message that is both beautiful and heartwarming.

It’s well-known that Mod Cloth just love sending things to bloggers for review. But when I tweeted them and asked if they’d like me to critique this paper birds book of theirs, I didn’t get a response. Sad times…

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A selection of Nora Jane’s beautiful birdie stamps

Part of the reason I bookmark items throughout the month is because I want to remember them! These mini bird stamps from Nora Jane are the best! I must get my order in!

Elizabeth from Delightfully Tacky is back with an article about women and body hair. And boy, does she have something to say about it. This is a really great read from one of my favourites.

Six Things I’ve Learnt in Six Years of Marriage by Rock n’ Roll Bride is so eloquent and insightful. I’m not married or even dating, but I think that mantras like these would help anyone sustain the relationship ideals we’re all chasing.

One of the things my Australian friend Mia loved so much when she visited the UK was the diversity of accents, and I have to say, I agree. I’ve met a lot of Londoners that can’t stand our country’s accent variations, but I just love it. And for anyone that hasn’t got to grips with where to place each of the well-known UK and Irish accents, this video is spot on.

Just what it says on the tin… how to be happy, right now!

Oh dear Lord, it doesn’t get cuter than this. Darcy the hedgehog is the sweetest little thing!

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Yes, cat-shaped marshmallows, direct from Japan.

When I was in Japan, I saw some pretty crazy stuff. They’re just so creative and uninhibited with they imaginations in that country, as if the idea of “cheesy” or “tacky” never really made sense. We’re so uptight and judgemental in the West – we don’t know how to have good old-fashioned childlike fun. Like these cat-shaped marshmallows for your coffee, for instance.

I just love this: dogs annoying cats with their friendship. Cats are hilarious when they look at dogs with that really disdainful expression on their faces: “erm… like, what are you doing?”

I recently discovered The Thrifty Magpie’s Nest and author Jenni, who is obviously a kindred spirit! She wrote a great post about the street art of ATM, a chap who paints images of endangered species in the hope that people will understand the importance of conservation.

How many of these dodgy fashion trends from the nineties and noughties did you fall victim to? I definitely had a trouser skirt and an Avril Lavigne tie or two…

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Beautiful snails by Vyacheslav Mishchenko

Vyacheslav Mishchenko’s Secret Life of Snails makes my heart sing a bit. These photographs are literally awe-inspiring – snails are so underrated!

Building security through insecurities: have you checked out the What I Be project yet?

To an extent, it’s very similar in London. We definitely have the commuter, the CitiBiker (we call them Boris bikes) and the Messenger… these illustrations of NYC bikers and witty observations by Kurt McRobert made me giggle.

A father filmed his daughter every single week for fourteen years. This video is breathtaking.

I hope you have a wonderful time in the month of May, folks, I’l be back to regular scheduling this week and hopefully kicking off tomorrow with a special Bird of the Week post featuring my new friends, the mandarin ducks! If you haven’t been keeping up to date with our adventures and lunch dates, be sure to check out my Instagram for gratuitous pictures of these fabulous fellas.

Seasonal

5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Spring

April 18, 2014
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Photography credit: Chris Paul

I scheduled this post in my editorial calendar for way back in March, but I decided to wait until we’d really broken the back of the colder temperatures and rainy days. Now that the worst of those is over, we’ve finally turned the corner into easily my favourite season of the year: spring.

What makes spring so inspirational and special? It’s the time of rebirth, something I spoke about in my Month in Focus post for April. Little lambs are bouncing around in the fields, there are ducklings on the pond and we can walk through carpets of spring flowers. It’s the season of promise and new opportunity, and there’s plenty to be thankful for.

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Photography credit: Don DeBold

Waking up in the morning to birdsong.

For most of our garden birds, spring hails the opportunity for finding a mate and building a nest, and suddenly our feathered friends have to wind it up a gear to make sure they’re not forgotten. The males do their best to win over a ladyfriend with a beautiful song, and often this singing contest starts when the birds at their most active: early in the morning.

I often find people complain about this wonderful sound, which is something I honestly can’t understand. What could be nicer than the sweet fluty notes of a blackbird in the morning? It sure beats the sound of your phone alarm breaking the silence at 6:00am. Leave your window open and be gently stirred by this uplifting sound of nature.

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Photography credit: Ashley Campbell

Nature wipes her slate clean, and you can too.

There’s something miraculous about the way Mother Nature manages to come back from winter. When we’re in the depths of December it’s hard to imagine that she’ll be able to transform the lifeless trees and cold, biting winds into anything remotely resembling spring. But somehow, year upon year, she manages it, and we should feel inspired by that.

Spring is the time of year to look positively at yourself and your life, identify things you want to change and take purposeful steps to making a difference. It’s remarkable how things seem so much easier and more achievable at this time of the year.

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Photography credit: Mervi Eskelinen

It’s time to liberate your summer wardrobe! Embrace the colour!

Lock away your winter boats, charity shop those baggy Christmas jumpers! It’s time to go into the attic and pull out your box of summer clothes. You’ll probably take one look at some of last year’s choices and wince, but you can always donate them too and replace them with newer styles… and never underestimate the power of customisation!

The thing I like best about summer clothes are the colours. In winter, just like nature, we are often drab and uninspired in greys, blacks and browns. When the sun comes out, we throw our conservative colour choices to the wind. Yellow! Green! Pink! Orange! Red!

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Photography credit: Cara Explains It All

Drip, drip, drop little April Shower… not half as bad in spring.

When it rains during the winter, it feels like it will never end. We succumb to the fact that we have to get our coats out of the wardrobe again and tirelessly fight the weather on the way to work. In spring, we don’t let a little rain shower get us down! After all, in a few short hours the rain will pass and we’ll be embracing the sun once more.

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Photography credit: Born 1945

Clear blue, cloudless skies that hint at a perfect summer.

If I had to list one thing that really describes that feeling of knowing spring is here, it would be the way the sky looks. A bright, flat blue that stretches as far as the eye can see, usually cloudless but if we have to allow a few little puffs of white, it doesn’t matter too much. Everything around us is lit so much more beautifully, and don’t even get me started on how much easier it is to get up in the morning when the sun is shining…!

So now that spring is here (in the northern hemisphere at least!) what are you planning? Many of us have been blessed with a long Easter weekend, and the next four days just feel like an endless list of opportunities. I’m hoping to be in Brighton tomorrow, and then I’ll be enjoying Richmond over the Sunday and Monday. As always you can follow my adventures via TwitterInstagram or Facebook, but remember to get outside and enjoy this beautiful season for yourself!