Lessons from Branston

lesson one: An old dog can teach his owner new tricks!


i’ve been watching Branston’s behaviour since we arrived in Wales in December. He’s like a dog who’s arrived in doggy heaven with a free pass to access all areas. From morning until bedtime, when he goes over to Nanny’s woodland home to snuggle up for the night, he’s the happiest dog alive. And he’s taught me a wonderful lesson that’s changing my approach to every day.

each morning seems to start the same way; John collects Branston from his mum’s static caravan and hears about how good/cheeky/funny he’s been, then Branston walks carefully past the car, almost as if to say ‘please don’t notice the car or we might drive away from all this’ then bounds into our kitchen & runs around like a puppy.

Through the day he’ll run up & down our field around 40 times, do a thorough search (sniff) of ‘his’ woodland at least three times, bark at and play with at least of couple of dogs who come through to do the forest walk and eat for Wales too! He is, as you can imagine, sleeping well.


what he’s shown me is that he treats every day as though he might wake up to orrow and have to get in the car and go back to our old home. He squeezes every experience he can into his hours and never misses the chance to try something new or meet a new friend. He’s made it clear to me that I had not been living this way.

sure, I’ve always been a “liver” not simply a survivor. I like to think I’m a risk taker and someone who feels the fear and does it anyway; what I wasn’t doing was enjoying the moment. Allowing myself to be fully present in the day and not spend my time on the ‘I should be doing…’ Moments.

So I say thank you Branston for the lesson. When did you last watch your animal’s behaviour? They’ve got some great tricks to teach us.

Croeso i Myddfai

imageimage can it really be three months since we arrived In Myddfai, in our little piece of Welsh heaven? The time here seems to work on a different schedule at a slower less stressful pace. There are days when it’s suddenly ten o’clock and all I’ve done is feed the birds. It’s wonderful.

it is also hard work; no, no, stop the derisory laughter, it really is! We’ve made the move to a ‘slower pace of life’ only to find that, in truth, it’s an attitude change and not a change of pace that we’ve chosen. Many days since we’ve been here John and I have worked harder than we have in years; I’ve certainly seen a significant improvement in my stamina.

We’re up with the birds at first light, partly because we don’t want to miss a minute and partly because the sound of birdsong makes it impossible to sleep-in. We’ve got so many birds visiting our tables that we’re producing our own, home-made ‘bird cupcakes’ made from suet, seeds and mealworms. This morning we had two woodpeckers at the same time and we think they’re looking for nesting space.

once the birds are fed and the coffee is made, it’s time to light the Rayburn, which I’m very proud to say John has restored to it’s original purpose as a wood-burning stove. I Love cooking on it and we’ve called it “Freeda” as it’s our free source of cooking, hot water and two hot radiators!

Much of John’s day is taken up with establishing our new vegetable garden, dealing with our coppice of Hazel and Birch trees, collecting and chopping wood for the fire and Rayburn and doing the 101 jobs that come with a nineteenth century Welsh longhouse that’s been somwehat unloved for the last 25 years. I should point out at this point that the vegetable plots had been turned into overgrown flowerbeds and lawns so he’s had to create them from scratch during the Welsh winter. The coppice sounds glorious, almost perfect until you see that also has been left to it’s own devices and the result is an over populated acre of scraggly trees that need plenty of tlc.

My time is being divided between my writing projects, the work I do for my daughter, Hannah’s company – AmethystPA, baking, planting seeds for all our vegetables, making things for the house which had not been decorated since the 1970s and working in our garden.  There was so much nicotine on the walls, we had to leave all the windows open for our first month due to the smell. We’ve found problems with the hearing, electrics, roof, gutters, floors and even carpet….

It’s amazing. We love it here. We haven’t been this tired and happy at the same time since becoming parents.

‘what made you pick Myddfai?’ The locals we meet usually ask us. ‘it was the Feeling of the balance of our private space within a real community, the views that took our breathe away round every corner and the people” I reply, “everyone made us feel so welcome”.

New beginnings

We did it! After many years of talking about “one day” owning a smallholding of our own, we’ve moved to our own little piece of glorious Welsh countryside and made our “one day” happen. Just over a week ago, we took the keys to our Welsh longhouse in Myddfai, a couple of miles above Llandovery in West Wales.

It’s been an uphill effort to get here and a journey that’s had its share of twists and dramas; losing a beutiful house two days before exchange of contracts finally led us to find our new home and then in six weeks, we were suddenly moving.

We fell in love with the area and the people before we found the cottage; I think we knew we’d found our new community within an hour of arriving in Llandovery. Everyone is so welcoming and really wants to hear your answer when they enquire after your health. The feeling of being part of a local, caring group of people who look out for and support each other had been missing from our lives. We’ve found it here.

today, I’ve been volunteering at the local Community Hall and shop, where local artisans sell their gorgeous creations – I’ll be penniless in no time!

i’m feeling a bit proud of us today, even a little smug as I turn to John and say “Thank you”. I’m sensing these are new beginnings and I’m as excited as a five year old at Christmas.

In my opinion…



In my opinion, there is too much hate in the world.  Too many young people taught to continue the hatred developed and nurtured by their elders and ancestors. Too many reasons found to continue the hate despite all the obvious ones to end it, to move on.

in my opinion, there are too many people afraid to speak out for fear of offending the sensibilities of another. Fear that prevents progress, prevents stopping wars and deaths, prevents conversation.

in my opinion, people are too keen to point the finger, to say “It’s because of what you did to my people” or “it’s your fault because you hurt us first”. So determined to say “your offence is worse than mine” that they’ve failed to see how abhorrent their own actions have become.

in my opinion, it is only when we can make the bravest decisions that we can make progress. Only when we can be free to say “Your way is not for me, my children, my future” that we can have hope of change.

in my opinion, it is only when we create a world where it is safe for a woman to express her opinion without fear of rape, persecution or death for doing so, that we will ever have hope of a peaceful future.

In my opinion, it is only once we move past religion and into an understanding that everyone is living a great and wonderful gift, the gift of one life,  one chance to love and make a difference to others, that we can hope.

in my opinion, living in a world where I have to say “in my opinion” to prevent offending anyone, where I have to stop and wonder “will someone hate me for this?” is a sad truth, a life less than content.

What’s your opinion?



Choosing “Happy”


Today I’m choosing  “Happy” as my mood.  I’m making the decision to only share positive and uplifting things today; things that make me feel happy and are likely to have the same impact on others.  Today I’m choosing not to share posts with negative headlines or those images of war that move me to tears of frustration, anger and a sense of hopelessness for the world.  Today, I choose to share only the happy things.

Is this possible?  Is this a “real” way to live?  I believe  it is a choice that has a big part to play in our overall contentment levels.  I am not a fan of the “Happy Clappy” approach – the idea that if I think only good and wonderful things then that is all that I will attract into my life.  I also believe that the only Secret to a happy life is the realisation that there is No Secret!  So, why this focus on “Happy” and how does that sit with being real about your emotions?

If I choose to focus on the positive things in my daily world, I start to notice that they far outweigh the negative things; I am lucky to be able to say that.  The truth is, if we’re not living in the war zones we’re reading about, then we are living a happy life.  Sure, we’ve got things around us that can pull us down, make us feel frustrated, hard-done-by and even depressed.  But in honesty, we are the privileged ones, the ones with “First world worries” and when we actually choose to see this, the lives we live do take on a new sense of happiness and joy.

How about it? Ready to join me an focus on Happy today?  I’d love to hear what you notice and appreciate as a result.

Warm wishes


A dirty weekend…

Dinah's blog A dirty weekend post

When your husband asks you if you’re “up for a dirty weekend in the woods” it doesn’t take long to feel young and excited again (and rather bloody daring too). At our age, with my health considerations, the idea of camping-out under the stars in a woodland with no traffic or airplane noise is about as daring as it gets

There’s nothing quite like a dirty weekend; especially as I am usually obsessed with whether my hair and clothes are clean. This weekend we got absolutely filthy making charcoal and it was wonderful. As I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the car mirror, charcoal smeared across my chin and left cheek, I smiled with pleasure at the joy a simple task had brought us.

when I say “simple task” I should say that in truth, my task was the only smple one this weekend: “Bring a book and turn your phone off” had been John’s instructions to me. Meanwhile, he, Guy and Casper would be running the charcoal kiln for the second time. A significant milestone in our steps towards a new life.

The weekend was filled with a sense of peace, even as the smoke billowed from the chimneys in the kiln, I was aware that this feeling had been absent from our lives of late.  There’s been a lot of “noise” in the last few years and I felt it quieten as the hours ticked by.

As we settle down to watch the F1 highlights, having showered for so long the water’s gone cold, we smile at each other. “Did you enjoy the weekend babe?” john asks me. “loved it.” I reply. “Feel better now you’re all lovely and clean? He asks. “actually” I chuckle “I liked being dirty!”




New choices

We’re making new choices; choices for our home and lifestyle, choices about priorities and what matters to us as a couple and as individuals. Choices about our roles as parents, children, lovers and partners; as entrepreneurs and business collaborators, as people.

it’s an emotional experience making change on a large scale, exciting, scary, confusing, surprising, frustrating and exhilarating all at once. And that’s on a good day!

When you make big change, it’s more likely to be succesful if it’s something you’ve built up to.  Going “full steam ahead” and changing several aspects of our lives has actually taken years of planning; years of choices.

choices that lead to major change can be small individual successes on the road; they are our markers that say “I’m taking responsibility for my next step” and that allow us to feel achievement and pride.

what first, regular choice could you take that will be the steps towards your new choices?

Dinah 🙂


If this is equality, you can keep it thanks!

sexism has swung so far the other way and it seems women have missed the chance to set the tone


In my opinion, we blew it ladies!  We had the chance to set the tone and we took the easy path, the approach that said “Well you did it this way so why can’t we!”  I’m talking about the opportunity to show men that we would not simply follow, we would lead; showing them how it should and could be done, by women.  Differently.  Sadly, every time I open a magazine, watch the television or see a poster, I discover we blew it!

I remember seeing the very first “Hello Boys” poster go up in our area when I was in my teens.  It was one of the most successful adverts of it’s time because it got people talking about it.  There was a fairly even (and obvious) division on how people felt about this advert for Wonder Bra (an image of a woman’s cleavage in a bra) and I remember ranting about it with friends, how yet again we felt like women’s bodies were used to sell things in a way that was degrading.

Now, however, I see images everywhere of men, not in bras of course, but in their underpants and in various stages of undress.  Often the women in the adverts are portrayed as watching or even spying on these men, gathering in groups and whispering about them, while winking at the man and, presumably, slipping him their mobile number if they get the chance.

I’m no prude; far from it!  Yet I struggle to enjoy these images.  I find myself feeling so disappointed because we failed to take the opportunity to do it a different way.  How has getting large images of men in degrading positions made us equal?  Have we all really settled for that?

Frankly, if this is equality – you can keep it thanks!


I’d love to hear your thoughts…..

Was it something I didn’t say?

Arguing Middle Aged CoupleWe’ve all heard ourselves, and others, say it: “Was it something I said?” often in total confusion, as we wrack our minds to work out what it was we said that could have resulted in the reaction we see in another.

I wonder though, how often it is what has gone UN-said that really causes most communication breakdowns?

“Sorry” or “Thank you” would often be enough to stop another feeling taken advantage of.

“How was your day?” or “I want to hear about what you’ve been up to.” can be equally effective.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a mentoring client, who was finding it difficult to wind-down from work in the evenings.  To top this off, he told me that when he tried to talk to his wife about his work, he could see the interest in her face drift and he suspected she was planning dinner rather than really listening.

Asking your partner how their day was does require you to care about the answer.  Give them real attention, turn off the mobile and social media can wait for 20 minutes while the two of you talk. And listen.

I heard from a great friend last week, who is celebrating 15 years of working with her business partner.  I asked her what she thought their “secret” was. “Communication” she replied. “Communication, communication, communication.”

“We talk to each other constantly. I’m sure a stranger would thing we’d lost the plot” she laughed, “But it works for us.”

I asked her whether they ever disagreed on things, argued about which clients to work with, or what focus they wanted for a project.  “All the time” she replied “But with respect and a willingness to listen to each other.”

The next time your partner, or a friend or family member seems upset with you, ask yourself if it could be something you haven’t said.

I’m off to say “Happy Birthday” to my father, who’s 84 today – I can only imagine the reaction I’d get if I didn’t remember to say that!


Kicking Pain in the “As” – Anger

Anger is almost always portrayed as a negative emotion; something to be worked on, to be avoided with calming techniques and herbal teas.  And often this is the approach required.

However, I have found when dealing with pain that many people bury their anger, seeing it as something to be ashamed of, to apologise for.  They internalise the anger and turn it on themselves, often expressing a feeling of hatred towards themselves and a sense of worthlessness. When we use anger in a different way, as the fourth step of Kicking Pain in the “As” our anger can become a great asset.

I get angry.  Angry that my constant pain prevents me from doing things I love.  Things like hugging, walking the dog, playing my violin, going shopping in town…..That anger could become so destructive, if I let it.  So, instead, I take that anger and I use it as a positive energy to allow me to do more.

Here’s an example: I have played the violin since the age of four.  I got to be pretty good.   I was going to make it my career.  However, by the age of 16 my right shoulder had dislocated so many times that it had to be bolted in place and my choice of career had to be re-thought.  I headed for a professional kitchen to train as a chef, my second greatest love.  Who knew that hours on my feet would cause my ankles to swell to this size of footballs and my hips to start 12 months of constant dislocation?

This was getting monotonous, but I could still continue these two precious activities as hobbies; making music and food for pleasure could certainly bring joy to my world.

Now, thanks to my latest challenge – CRPS – I can no longer play my fiddle or spend more than 20 minutes preparing food.  Am I angry?  You had better believe it! What am I doing with that Anger?  I’m focussing it on the condition, not on myself.  I have conversations with my CRPS (as I have done with my EDS for most of my life) in which I let it know I’m angry.  I tell it how it makes me feel and that it’s not welcome in my world.  I do this out loud and often wonder what people would think if they could hear me (it makes me giggle)!

I also notice my Anger.  When we are conscious of our emotions we take responsibility for them more easily.  By owning my Anger, saying “look at me, being angry today” I can make a decision about what to do with that.  Too often I hear people say “I said something awful to my partner in anger” as if they can pass off the responsibility – “I was in Anger mode so it’s not my fault.”

When I feel Anger, I consciously ask myself “So, what’s that all about?  Why am I angry?  What am I going to do with this energy?” I give myself a choice to use it positively and nine times out of ten, I’ll take it.

The final and key step for me in using my Anger in a positive way is to be real about it.  It’s okay to be angry about the thing that is causing you pain (be that emotional or physical).  Don’t berate yourself for feeling Anger.  You are not a super-human and behaving as one is often simply a cover, a disguise.  I allow myself to say “I’m Angry!” (and trust me, there are some choice, un-repeatable words to go with that)  I allow myself to acknowledge I have good reason to be miffed!  Acknowledge that Anger and give it some breathing space in a safe place.

The top of a mountain is the place I pretend to be when I’m letting it out (just do check the neighbours are out if you’re doing it at home!) and I let rip for a good 10 minutes at least once a week. It’s cleansing.  It’s healing. So today, take that Anger and address it head-on.  Welcome it to your world and acknowledge its’ existence is your responsibility.  Nurture it and allow it to be what it is and use it, as it uses you, to create energy and choices, ones that allow you to be positive and prepared to keep kicking pain in the “As”.

Here’s to a pain free day Dinah x