I will not let the dark days (of winter) bring me down

It’s winter, and that means darkness.

I live in Scotland, and in the summer it’s almost never dark at all. The sun comes up so early (and so calmly) that you hardly even notice – even if you stay up or get up to watch it, there’s just sort of a general lightening of the sky. 

And in the height of summer it stays light until almost midnight (or longer than that the further north you go). One of my favourite memories was a day in May, when a friend and I went to the Isle of Iona and – after a late dinner – watched the sun set after 10pm, and kept watching and watching and watching….and finally gave up close to 1am, when the sky was still streaked with gold and purple and red. (The sun stayed up longer than we did!)

I love that. It’s beautiful and glorious and makes travel a joy. 

But we do pay for it in winter. 

Because after the clocks change at the end of October, the sun is setting earlier and earlier…and rising later and later… until the depths of winter, when there are streaks of pink across the sky and it’s not even 2pm yet. 

It’s just harder, in winter. Everything’s a little bit harder. It’s icy cold, so it’s harder to get out of bed (because you’re warm and cosy). The sun starts going down and I feel like it’s really late and I need to stop working and make dinner…but it’s only 3pm. 

All the other winter-things kick in, too. Everyone gets sick – not because it’s cold, but because we’re all holing up inside in the warmth, making little incubators of germs. (That’s why continuing to walk in the winter is one of the best things I can do to protect my health!) There’s a general dragginess, and everyone feels it. We’re missing out on all that vitamin D. 

There’s beauty in winter, too, of course! And pre-Christmas I do pretty well, because even with the darkness, there’s a lot of sparkle and magic and cheer. 

Gifts arrive almost daily in the actual post (one of my favourite things ever), people send physical cards (not just emails and texts), the Christmas markets sparkle with lights, my morning walk sparkles with the sun rising over frosted everything. We’re all looking forward to a time of rest and good food and singing and carols and pie and fuzzy jammies and crackling fires and joy. 

But after Christmas, after new year’s…

…that’s when it gets really tough. 

You have all the darkness of winter, and none of the sparkle of Christmas. 

Everyone is tired, and recovering from too much food or not enough exercise or a turkey coma or spending a leeeeetle more than you meant to (on yourself or others). 

Last year, January got to me. 

I said goodbye to the family in Arizona, packed up all my gifts and the warmth of family time, and came back to a cold, dark, fairly dreary Scotland in January. 

There were a few other things, too. The kind of issues that happen all year round, like team issues or systems issues or sorting out things for clients or a client with an exceptional situation or people getting sick or whatever….but in January, they feel harder.

And I took it hard. Prior to that I had been trying to eat healthier and walk regularly and work out most days. I was doing decently well at it, but last year I decided to take “a few days off” at Christmas. I would eat whatever I wanted, lots of sugary things, just enjoy the holidays. Then I would get back to healthiness in the new year. 

Only, Christmas sort of trickles into the new year almost seamlessly. 

I kept enjoying good food and plenty of it, and putting off a walk or exercise or working out, and decided I’d start again when I got back to Scotland.

And then I got back, and was tired and jet lagged. (Even more tired because of how much and what kinds of food I was eating, and no exercise.) And Things happened and had to be dealt with. 

And so I dealt with it by eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I didn’t walk very much because I was tired, which made me tireder, which made me sick, which was discouraging and added even more work to my plate, which made me tired, which meant I didn’t want to walk…. 

Vicious cycle. 

And that’s how I ended up standing on the scales on the 1st of April 2018, staring at the biggest number I’d ever seen in my life in relation to my own weight, and wondering how I had gotten there. 

I let the dark days of winter get me down. 

I’ve thought about that a lot this year. Most of you know i changed my ways after that day on the scales. I stopped eating sugar. I started counting calories. I started walking, every single day. I post my “Monday Motivations” on instagram every week, and little by little the weight started to come off, the energy started to increase.

And along with the light and the sun returning and staying longer, my energy returned. Actually more energy came back than I’ve ever had in at least 15 years. I haven’t felt this good since away back when I first moved to Scotland. 

And now it’s winter again. 

And it’s cold and beautiful, and Christmas is coming, and family time and carols and resting and joy….and January is coming, too.

The darkest days of winter are still ahead: but this time, I will come into them ready. 

Because I know, this time, the cost of my choices. 

It’s all about choice. I can “let” January and February be dark and dreary: or I can choose to see beauty, and eat well, and keep walking, and insist on seeing the blessings. They’re always there. 

I want to encourage you, too. Don’t let the dark days of winter get you down: and now, right now, is the time to prepare for that. 

You don’t need to wait until January to make resolutions. 

Actually, I think January is the worst possible time, ever, to make resolutions. You’re tired and draggy and annoyed with yourself and it’s cold and dark. The whole rest of the world is making promises, which many of them have no true intention to keep. They’re signing up for gym memberships and starting diets and committing to creating content and saying they’re going to hire people or fire people or leave their job or start a new business… and it lasts a few weeks and then it’s back to business as usual. 

Now is the time to resolve. 

The last Saturday in November is the time to prepare for January. Make up your mind now that you won’t let the darkest days of winter get you down. 

I’ll join you. We’ll both of us choose joy, and health, and the decisions that will help us stay strong.

And the light will come back. It always comes back. 

What’s the thing that you know could get you down in January, or when the darkness is deepest? How can you prepare for it now? 

P.s. my sketch is from a portion of Handel’s Messiah, which I listened to the other day and sketchnoted the whole thing. I love the reminder that Christmas is all about seeing light in the darkness.


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Well. So. Small update.

Was out hiking on mull and slipped on a rock crossing a burn, and broke my ankle. (I remember hearing an audible “crack” as I went down.)

No signal on phone. Managed to climb down a ravine to get to a more open place and hopefully signal. At that point still convinced it “wasn’t that bad”. Tried to walk along the path and realised yes, it was that bad.

Phoned coast guard, who were utter legends. Sent a boat AND a helicopter. Sun was setting and they didn’t want me sitting in the dark. Oh my word it was cold. Helicoptered out to fort William hospital (nicest people ever), then down to airdrie where I got a cast.

Ankle broken in one place. Doctors pleased (as much as you can be!) it’s a clean break & lining up well. I’ll be down for 4-6 weeks.

I’ve repeated myself a lot over the last few days so here’s the short version to all the questions, with appreciation for the care.

Yes, I’m okay. I’m also utterly exhausted & have hit the “damn, this is going to be a long road” phase. Taking it one day, one hour at a time. 

I’m being looked after. Very kind friends and things being delivered. My amazing sister @secondsunrise2 flying in tomorrow from america to be with me for a few weeks. SO grateful.

What do I need? I’m good on the basics. There have been unexpected costs and more coming so if you want to PayPal monies for deliveries or getting my car & belongings back or all the taxis or whatever, feel free. I’m hardly destitute so only do that if you want to send something useful and aren’t sure what. PayPal username karenlreyburn. Amazon wishlist in bio. Random care packages also happily received!

My car & belongings are up on mull. I have people to help and we are working on timing. But if you’re on mull and want to return a car near Glasgow, let me know :)

Shout out to the Coast Guard for being so swift, & that beautiful combination of sympathy and practicality.

Download the @what3words app. Literal lifesaver.

That’s all for now. All the love. Oh - and no, I don’t hold this against mull at all. It’s still my happy place. Things happen & the mull community has been beautiful. Shout out to @treshnish who couldn’t have been kinder. ❤️
Morning walk. I stood and watched the ferry come in and the sun lighten this little edge of the world.
Been going through old photos and letters - the last of the boxes i had stored at my sister’s house in america. 

When I first moved to Scotland, I only planned to live here for a few years and then go back. Then after a few years I wasn’t ready yet…then I got my residency…still not quite ready….then started a business…then Scottish citizenship…bought a house …finally accepted this is my home and I wasn’t moving back. 

And with every visit back to the states I would go through more boxes, more photos and letters and memories. I’d keep some and throw others away; take photos out of frames and give away the frames; and as time went on I was able to distinguish between the ones I definitely wanted and needed to keep, and those which were lovely at the time but didn’t need to be saved anymore.

Over twenty years on and this past trip I went through the very last of the boxes. I joked to my sister that I’ve now officially settled into Scotland 😆 

This photo of me and my Gramps is a fave and definitely a keeper. Most of the photos and letters I’ve kept are those of family - parents, grandparents, sisters, nieces and nephews. And as much as I love taking landscape photos, I noticed that 20 years later it’s the people photos I am more likely to keep. Thankful for the traditions and patterns of seeing family every year or so since moving to Scotland. They’re small things - baking Christmas cookies and going for walks and going for road trips - but it’s the time together and the continuing family jokes and the memories which remain. And a few photos.

My grandfather (and all my grandparents) have now passed on, but I remember with fondness sitting around at their kitchen table, eating fresh vegetables from the garden, playing scrabble, laughing and talking and drinking coffee.

It’s the small things, and the rhythms of family, which last. ❤️ 
#family #memories #grandparents #oldphotos
Made fresh mince pies for the first time ever. Over twenty years in Scotland and I’d never tried to make them from scratch, so I figured…now is the time! I’m doing lots of thanksgiving baking (yes, we stretch it out here so I’m still prepping!) and decided to buy the ingredients. 

Dried fruit…mixed peel…lots of spices…and Venezuelan rum :) I made up the mincemeat last night, and then today put it in the little pastries and even cut out the wee stars to go on top!

I think I can safely say they’re the best mince pies I’ve ever had. Fresh out of the oven sprinkled with icing sugar and with a glass of said rum alongside :) 

Now we are curled up with a Harry Potter marathon, with plenty of mince pies AND a thanksgiving feast still to come. Happiness! 

#mincepies #homebaking #maryberry #maryberryrecipe #happythanksgiving #happychristmas #harrypotter #hpmarathon