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What does self-care mean to you? Is it just a new-fangled buzz word for the twenty-first century, or a vital part of our lives? Did our grandmothers practise self-care, and if not, should they have done? Thanks to my sober journey and with inspiration from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club community, I am learning about self-care and the art of putting oneself first.

When I was teaching full-time and bringing up a family of three children, the nearest I got to self-care was pouring a large gin and tonic whilst cooking tea when I’d got in from work. This, however, was the antithesis of self-care and did me more harm than good. One gin and tonic, and we’re not talking pub measures here, would invariably lead to another, then the evening wasted as I fell asleep soon after the kids were in bed. I would treat myself to a lie in on a Sunday, with the Saturday Guardian and breakfast in bed, but Sunday afternoon would see me back on the dining room table doing the planning that is the dread of every teacher. I was lucky that being a special needs teacher meant I didn’t have marking to do on top! All thoughts of self-care had gone out of the window as I rushed around like a blue-arsed fly seeing to the needs of everyone else, but not thinking of little old me and what my needs were.

Freshly made juice - beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate
Freshly made juice – beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate

Fast forward to now, and I try to factor some form of self-care into my life every day. It might be a daily walk, weather permitting, along the lane, or allowing myself to read a book – it’s amazing how, even though I’d doing an MA in Creative Writing and have been told to read, read and read some more, that reading in daylight hours still feels indulgent. Self-care might be a massage booked, or a long soak in a bubble bath. It might be a tasty glass of juice (today’s was a blend of beetroot, lemon, melon and pomegranate juice) or breakfast in bed. It might just be spending ten minutes with the bedroom or bathroom door locked, practising some mindful meditation. For me, self-care means prioritising my uni work, writing every day and making the housework wait. I have a short story I’m working on at the moment, as well as two reflective essays which need to be submitted by 16th January. Today I’m writing this blog ahead of taking the decorations down and cooking dinner. After all, all three lads in our house, husband included are off for the day on their bikes, so why shouldn’t I do what I want to do?

Ninebanks Youth Hostel
Ninebanks Youth Hostel

Today my self-care was to get out of the house and go and see my friends Pauline and Ian who run the Ninebanks Youth Hostel and were having a coffee morning. I find it so easy to stay indoors and not drive out to visit people, and that in itself can cause me to go into a downward spiral. I do need to get out and see friends, as living down a country lane although beautiful, can be isolating. If I hadn’t gone out, I would have missed this beautiful rainbow, and Pauline and Ian’s excellent coffee and homemade biscuits.

Rainbow over Northumberland
Rainbow over Northumberland

Yesterday I made a teapot, at a most enjoyable workshop up at The Sill, with Dianne from Muddy Fingers Pottery. Granted, it cost money, but I’ve been saving all the money I would have spent on booze to give myself treats like this. I’m looking forward to another moment of self-care when my teapot has been glazed and fired, and I can enjoy my first cup of tea from it.

Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery
Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery

What is good for one person, might not be good for another, but I feel it is vital to put ourselves first. I think women in particular can be conditioned to put everyone else before themselves, but this year, I am going to be consciously thinking of how I can take care of myself on a daily basis, however big or small these acts of self-care may be.

Thank you for reading my blog this week. I’d like to say I’m going to write every week, and that is my intention at the momnet, but I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, so they may be more sporadic.

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Here is last week’s blog in case you missed it: Happy New Year 2020

View from the bedroom window on New Year's Day in rural Northumberland
View from the bedroom window on New Year’s Day 2020

It’s eleven o’clock on New Year’s Day, on a frosty but sunny morning here in Northumberland, and I’m up in the garret, happy to be writing. I’ve let my daily writing slip over the last few weeks and although shopping, cooking and wrapping presents for the family at Christmas are pretty good excuses, I need to get back to work. I’m putting a few intentions in place on New Year’s Day, (please note these are mere intentions, not the dreaded resolutions) and getting back to daily writing is one of them.

Procrastination is a terrible thing, and even this morning, despite being anxious to get up here and write, I tidied the bedroom, sorted out the washing, went down and loaded the dishwasher then thought about making a second cup of coffee. I stopped myself, heading the words of Ron Carlson who writes in his book, ‘Ron Carlson Writes a Story’ that we must stay in the room and keep writing – the coffee can wait until we are done. So, with that in mind, I’m going to treat myself on this New Year’s Day to a morning’s writing, and my second cup of coffee, and the tidying of the garret can wait til I’ve written this blog post.

I do hope you had a good Christmas. We had a relaxed and happy family time over Christmas, with Daisy our granddaughter, being centre of attention, enjoying all her new toys and books. There is nothing finer than sitting a little one on your knee and reading stories together. With her mummy working as a bookseller for Waterstones, and her Nanny a writer, this little one is getting a very bookish beginning in life. She’s particularly loving the books by Kim Lewis, with their tales of rural life on a sheep farm.

Daisy Reading with Nanny
Daisy Reading with Nanny

Did you have a good New Year’s Eve? We have a family tradition to go out to lunch together then leave the youngsters to go off and do their own thing. We were not a full pack yesterday though as my daughter had to work and although both lads came along, my eldest son was recovering from a bout of food poisoning, brought on by some dodgy oysters in a local restaurant, so was not feeling a full shilling. The poor lad managed a few bites of tapas then went home to continue his recovery alone. Not the best of New Years for him.

We went home and lit the sauna, and being a clear starry night, with a beautiful crescent moon and Venus shining bright, it was the perfect night for steaming in the garden. Not your average New Year’s celebrations, but then again, we are not your average couple.

Lighting the round straw bale build  sauna in the garden
Lighting the round straw bale build sauna in the garden

I celebrated New Year with my favourite mocktail (recipe below) and congratulated myself on being 57 days sober. Giving up the booze has been incredible, and although it is a cliché, it really is the gift that keeps on giving. I have woken up on the perfect morning, feeling fresh, full of energy, clear headed and really looking forward to the year ahead. I would really like to give a shout out here to Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club. Over on the Sober Club website, there are so many great resources to support you in your sobriety, and well as an awesome Facebook group which is full of supportive people to motivate and encourage, and who have your back when you need it most.

If you are thinking of doing Dry January – go for it! However, I’d recommend you just keep on going into February, March and beyond. The first month is the tricky bit – the rewards get better the longer you do it for. I for one don’t intend going back to pouring booze down my neck. My friend Kath reports that Gordon is very disappointed, but she is doing her best to keep him company!

Happy New Year everyone!

Feel free to leave a comment or share this amongst your friends. I’d love a follow too over on My Facebook page Sue Reed Writes, Twitter @suereed62 or Instagram accounts.

‘Til next time.

Sue's Virgin Mojito recipe
Sue’s Virgin Mojito

Sue’s Virgin Mojito

Juice of two squeezed limes

10ml sugar syrup

Large dash or orange bitters

Soda Water

Ice

Squeeze juice of two limes into a cocktail glass, then add a good slug of sugar syrup. Add a dash of orange bitters to taste, then top up with soda water and plop a couple of ice cubes in. Decorate with a sprig of rosemary or some redcurrants or cranberries if you can be arsed!

The dictionary definition of ‘retreat’ is ‘to withdraw from action’; ‘to withdraw to seclusion or shelter; and ‘to alter one’s opinion about something’. My week at The Watermill, Posara with Jo Parfitt ticked all of these boxes.

The Courtyard at The Watermill, Posara, Tuscany, Italy
The Courtyard and steps leading to the Vine Terrace at The Watermill, Posara, Tuscany.

Having failed to find a buyer for my business, The Woolly Pedlar, and having worked for several months with potential buyers, drawing up contracts with my solicitor, only to have potential buyers withdraw at the eleventh hour, I arrived in Tuscany exhausted and ready for a break. I admit to having been nervous and hesitant at first, never having joined a group on holiday before, let alone a writing group. My husband and I are seasoned solo, independent travellers. Being met at Pisa airport, by a man with a sign was a new experience, as was being whisked to my destination without having to find a bus or haggle with a taxi driver. (Memories of arriving in Marrakesh and haggling over the fare of a taxi ride with packets of Marlboro. )

The Bronzino bedroom at The Watermill, Posara complete with leopard print settee
The Bronzino bedroom at The Watermill, Posara

My bedroom was more of a suite than a room, with the most sumptuous leopard print settee, which came in very handy for elevating my ankles, swollen by the flight and heat. A quick unpack of my things, and I went out to explore the grounds and meet my fellow writers.

cooling off in the river at The Watermill, Posara

Being an ancient watermill, we didn’t have to go far to find a babbling brook, and a chance to cool off. Valerie and Maggie here, were getting to know each other whilst cooling their feet in the river. Marie meanwhile had waded across to find a swimming spot. Later that afternoon, Bill took us for a wander around the grounds, and through the amazing bamboo forest. Pockets of shade and tranquillity abounded, and sun loungers and seats offered tempting sunbathing spots. Siestas were clearly going to be amazing!

There were so many beautiful spots around The Watermill to read, write or doze in the sun. The garden was filled with vibrant flowers, and the gardeners worked hard to make sure every spot was bursting with colour. Terracotta window boxes and planters filled every nook and cranny with beauty. The vine terrace provided shade from the hot sun and made the perfect place for our group to gather to chat, write, and listen to each other’s stories.

Drinks each night were also on the vine terrace, a wonderful spot to gather in dappled shade and get to know each other. Karsten and Anastasia served us each night, and all drinks and wine included in the price of the week, which flowed as freely as the river. One evening we were entertained by a lovely young duo, who sat under the rose trellis while we sipped our aperitivi. Had I just died and gone to heaven?

Evening entertainment during aperitivi
Evening entertainment during aperitivi

The week was interspersed with visits to beautiful Tuscan villages, with writing tasks to be completed, and meals out at superb local restaurants. I loved how The Watermill supported local businesses, and it felt great to be out and about in the locality, practising my Italian where I could. The sight of Verrucola took my breath away as we arrived, with its hilltop castle and ancient streets. I was delighted to wander around them and hear Bill tell a little of the history of the town.

After a delicious lunch of homemade pasta with the best fresh tomato sauce I have ever tasted, a superb beef and tomato stew then fresh fruit salad, we sat under the cool of umbrellas by the stream, and wrote our thoughts as they came into our head. Here are mine, they are just a stream of consciousness, unrefined and unedited:

Verrucola I feel I have come home. This country is in my blood. I was not meant to live in the cold, grey north-east of England. Despite my swollen ankles, I love this heat. I tip my head back to greet the warmth of the sun and I feel alive. There is music all around. The colours sing, from the fiery red of the geraniums bringing passion and vibrancy, to the deep rich cobalt blues of the skies bringing depth and calm. Terracotta tiles tumble down the hillside and nestle one behind the other on a mish mash of roofs. The stone is ancient, what stories they could tell of old, if only they could speak. What have these stones witnessed? What knights and ladies of old have trodden these alleyways, ducked on horseback under arches and crossed their bridges? The sound coming from the conversations of a group of Italian men is like music to my ears. I want to bathe in Italy and let its passion and vibrancy fill me. I have arrived. I am home”

Verrucola Tuscany
Verrucola, Tuscany


Day two, and after our class with Jo Parfitt, our tutor, on ‘A Sense Of Place’, we were taken to the little town of Fivizzano, where the market was in full swing. Some of our group made a bee line to the stalls selling linen, and we have a lovely photo of ‘The Linen Ladies of Lunigiana’, which sounds like the title of a novel if ever I heard one!

Leaving the linen ladies to make their purchases, and feeling I needed some time by myself, I headed off to explore the beautifully tranquil streets of Fivizzano. Rounding a corner, I was met with the most wonderful view of rural Tuscany, so green and verdant, with rolling hills, but with the sharp rocky points of the mountains beyond. I have a significant birthday coming up soon, and I made a promise to myself to return to this corner of Tuscany and explore it further.

Rolling Tuscan hills from Fivizzano
Rolling Tuscan hills from Fivizzano

Returning to the market, I paused by the stall selling meats and cheeses. I was drawn at first to a large bag with ‘Funghi Porcini’ and muttered to myself as I tried to work out the Italian for ‘100g of porcini mushrooms please’. I hestitated, stood back, and listen to the fast paced chatter of the Iocals, I reckon I had it, ” cento grammes funghi porcini, per favore” Bingo! I’d done it!! Not at all easy, and the piecing blue eyes of the very handsome Italian man serving me made my heart flutter. I returned later to the stall, and made further purchases before retiring to a nearby gelateria to write up my experiences with the Italian men at the meat and cheese stall. Rather than write it all out here, and made this already lengthy blog even longer, I’ve written it up in another post. Click here to read “The Salami Boys of Fivizzano”

Fun and games with the salami boys in Fivizzano market

On Wednesday we were given the day off from writing, and the bulk of the group chose to visit Lucca. I love Lucca, and feel it needs to prefix, ‘lovely’ Lucca, but having already visited it with my daughter a couple of years ago, I thought I would plump to go to Cinque Terre on the coast with Maggie and Trevor. Don’t get me wrong, the group was a wonderful mix of some very lovely people, but I was glad of the chance to just go out for the day with two others. I find the whole mass tourist group thing visiting a place slightly embarrassing. Everything at The Watermill is included in the price, all drinks, food and even our train tickets to Cinque Terre. Karsten, one of the staff at the mill came with us to the train station, and made sure we were on the right train. We had been told that Cinque Terre would be busy, but that was somewhat of an understatement. We were squashed on the train like sardines, but fortunately the journey was brief, and we were soon at the stunning beach of Monterosso al Mare. There are, as the name of the place suggests, five small villages along the coast, with Monterosso being the furthest, and final stop by train. the plan was to catch the boat back to Riomaggio, stopping off en route to have lunch at Vernazza.

Cinque Terre by boat
Cinque Terre by boat

Maggie and I were kicking ourselves for not popping a cossie in our bags as the water looked inviting. Skinny dipping was out of the question, but like true Brits we rolled up our shorts and went in for a paddle. All we needed was a knotted hankie for Trevor, who was sitting patiently on the beach while we put the world to rights with our feet cooling in the clear waters of the Mediterranean.

Monteross, Cinque Terre, Italy

The boat is a great option, and up on deck there was a lovely breeze, and the views stunning, with vine covered terraces and tumbling houses painted in bright colours. We had a superb, leisurely wine fuelled lunch in Vernazza, and then caught the boat along to the final village of Riomaggio. It was boiling hot by now, and we sat in the shade of a boat house eating gelato. It was cherry season in Italy, and being a fan of seasonal eating, I wasn’t disappointed with my choice. We headed home by train, having had a wonderful day.

Finding my plot
Finding my plot

Thursday morning’s class, ‘Writing on a Theme’ prepared us for our task of ‘Finding your Plot’ which we were to work on in the cool shade and tranquility of the Carmine Monastery. Having lost the plot several years ago, I was beginning to feel that with the help of my writing, and the wonderful journey I was travelling, previously as ‘The Woolly Pedlar’, and more recently and with the help of therapy and now with the support of Jo and my fellow writers, I was finally beginning to find mine. I had gone on this writers course about memoir writing, with thoughts of writing my own life story. What came to me that day, sitting in the monastery, was that I no longer felt the urge to write my history. I no longer needed to revisit the past and all its pain. That night I had a dream. I was stepping out of a dress and leaving it on the floor. It was time to move on.

I found the plot!

I have come home, inspired by my time in Tuscany to write a book, but not the book I had set out to write. Following discussions with Bill, our host, Jo and the others on the course, I have decided to write a guide to using social media for creative folk, interspersed with stories from my life as The Woolly Pedlar. Jo helped me to find my voice. She said I could ‘write funny’, and this book will be far from a dry ‘how to guide’. It will I suppose, be part memoir, but also a useful guide to using social media from an older woman, not some young tecchie guy. Hopefully this will be something many creatives will be able to relate to. I taught myself, and the hard work I put into my social media, building up relationships with my followers, helped The Woolly Pedlar grow from a cottage industry to a global brand. I would love to share my knowledge, and help others show their work to a waiting global audience, and in turn convert those views into sales.

If you would like more information on this, and be kept up to date about the book and any subsequent courses that might come as a result of it, then feel free to sign up to my newsletter.
I would like to offer thanks to Bill and Lois our hosts, and to Jo our wonderful tutor. I have made some great friends on this course, and the support of my fellow writers as I went through what was at times an emotional journey, was phenomenal. We did of course have many laughs too!

The group of writers, June 2019

They say that blogs should be brief, and my web guy, Terry, says they should only take ten minutes to write. However, there was so much to say this, and so much more I could have said, and many more photos to show you. If you’d like to see more of my photos do hop over to my Instagram (@suereedwrites) or Facebook accounts, and scroll back through the posts where you’ll find more. I’ll leave you with a link to the story I wrote about how I came a cropper wearing this linen dress on Friday’s excursion to Monte dei Bianchi for lunch at a gourmet restaurant. It’s called ‘A Ripping Yarn’.

Thank you for dropping by, and reading this blog post. Do click on the links to the two stories written whilst away in Tuscany if you haven’t already:
The Salami Boys of Fivizzano and A Ripping Yarn

If you’d like to sign up to get blog delivered into your mailbox, you can do so on the home page of the website, or sign up to the newsletter

I’m now going to get on with the task of writing my first book, so without further ado, I’ll say Ciao!



Welcome to my new website and blog. Some of you may already know me, through my work upcycling waste wool knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar. This is a massive time of change for me. I’ve decided, at the ripe old age of fifty-seven to sell my business and apply to go to university to do my MA in Creative Writing.

Sue Reed Writes

Being a writer is on my bucket list, and I secretly promised myself that by the time I was sixty, I would be doing this as my job. So, when I found out that you can get a student loan to do an MA up to the age of sixty, I leapt at the chance. I only have two and a half years left, so I’d better hurry! I had no idea if I was academically competent, or if my writing was good enough.
I was very encouraged by Jacob Polley, the course admission’s leader, who I spoke to at the University Open Day. He told me that they were there to teach me the craft of writing, starting right at the beginning. The module he teaches is called ‘Process’ and does just what it says on the tin. It teaches you the process of becoming a writer. Perfect! After all, I am starting at he very beginning.

The University of Newcastle asked me to submit two short stories of two thousand words each in order to apply, plus a personal statement. I thought I’d better get cracking on building up a portfolio, and so enrolled on the local education authority Creative Writing class. I’ve been going to this since last September, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Our tutor, Clare, gives us a task each week for homework, and then we read it out the following week for everyone to discuss. I have found this very helpful in making me write every week, as well as being able to read out my work, and accept constructive criticism. I soon had two short stories to send off to Newcastle. One was written as a character study of my dear old Nanny Dora, and the other, a more edgy piece, about my times living in Toxteth in the early eighties. I’ll be sending both of these off to magazines to see if I can get them published. I’ll put any links to published material here, and if they don’t get published, I’ll just share them anyway.

I soon rattled off a personal statement, though did find it hard to fit fifty-seven years of experiences onto one side of A4. My degree certificate was found buried in a heap of old papers in the loft. The transcript of my degree was a bit more tricky. The college where I had done my teacher training no longer existed, but it was a University of London degree, so I rang them. A very helpful chap said my degree document was pre-digital (obviously) and so was in a box in paper form, in the basement. Hilarious!

To my utter amazement, the University of Newcastle offered me a place. Taking advice from Ann Coburn, a tutor there (who I met on a course at Seven Stories) I am going to take the two years to do the part time MA. It would be so much better to spread my work over two years, and take my time to enjoy being a student. Fresher’s week here I come!!

In some ways it is sad to be saying goodbye to The Woolly Pedlar, but in others, it is exciting to be starting anew. It has given me a huge sense of pride that I built a business up from scratch, and am looking to sell it as a global brand. I have had a wonderful time pedaling my wool, and have met so many wonderful folk through it. Many of you have wanted to keep following me, and it was your enthusiasm that prompted me to set up this website and blog. I have had some super customers too, from the famous to the not so famous!

Jeremy Corbyn buys his wife, Laura, a woolly wrap from The Woolly Pedlar.
Jeremy Corbyn buys a Woolly Pedlar wrap for his wife, Laura.

Now it is time to clear out my work space and sell my equipment and remaining stock. The website shop is staying open for a couple more weeks and then I will walk away, clear out the woolly garret and turn it into the wordy garret.

Change is scary, but it is also very exciting!

Sue Reed
Sue Reed

Head back to the blog page to read more posts about my progress in the wordy world