anna brones

writer + artist

Coffee Outside, in the Rain

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

“Between every two pine trees,” said environmentalist John Muir, “there is a door leading to a new way of life.” And beneath every pine tree, sheltering from the rain, we hope to find an adventurous creative soul sipping coffee and cherishing the downpour. For that is our challenge to you today: to embrace and celebrate wet winter weather and actively go out and enjoy it.

At this time of year there are many rainy days where we live. Rather than moan about it, we have decided to embrace the season, to make the most of this weather, see the good parts of the rain, and choose joy. 

The rain speaks to us, slowly, joyfully, as Mary Oliver captures so well in her poem Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

“…the tree

which was filled with stars

and the soft rain –

imagine! imagine!

the long and wondrous journeys

still to be ours.”

It is time to brew your coffee, wrap up well, don your waterproofs and boots and step out to take your coffee in the rain. There is no such thing as bad weather, they say, only bad clothing… 

As you sip the hot drink and feel it warm you inside, notice the fizz of raindrops, the way each one bursts into a crown of water when it lands before a little column of water rears up and an even tinier droplet peels off and falls once more. All this perfection a thousand times a second, landing unnoticed in every rain shower on earth in the vanishing circles of rain on puddles. Have you ever observed that the ring patterns from the rain are different in shallow puddles and deep? Pay attention to the rain ring patterns from beneath your sheltered tree trunk which wears its own lovely rings inside itself.

“I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain,” Robin Wall Kimmerer so poetically writes in Braiding Sweetgrass. Out here in the cold and wet, we too can listen. What voices do you hear? Listen to the soft rattling of rain which sounds so relaxing if you yourself are warm and dry, appreciating your dry patch of shelter beneath the trees, or your own oasis of shelter under your umbrella in the rainy madness of the world. 

Today everyone else is hiding from the rain, or enduring it with reluctance and grumbling. Only you are choosing to see its different beauty, opting to be childlike and enjoy the squelch of mud as you jump through the puddles, leaning into the rain and appreciating that there are so many good aspects to it. Take a moment to think of all the creative possibilities that await you when you return to the dry warmth of your home. Mary Oliver again:

“The rain is slow. 

The little birds are alive in it. 

Even the beetles. 

The green leaves lap it up. 

What shall I do, what shall I do?”

We need rainy days if we are to have the rivers and green woodlands we love so much. It is a necessary part of the deal. So too with our art: we need sometimes to push through the seemingly grey, undesirable days of labour, doubt and slow progress before we make our breakthroughs. It serves us well to savour these difficult days for what they are, a necessary part of the process, rather than to hide from them.

Choose, instead, to find pleasure in the tiny beauty of the bouncing raindrops, to appreciate, if nothing else, the merit of something that feels tempting to skip, but which feels great afterwards. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside. Have you enjoyed the Coffee Adventures Outside series? It’s now available as a 2022 calendar.

Written by Anna Brones

November 5, 2021 at 09:00

24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being Digital Advent Calendar: Sign Up for the 2021 Edition

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I am doing my annual digital Advent calendar 24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being again this year, and now is the time to sign up.

This marks my fifth year of creating this calendar, which certainly feels worth celebrating. The format will be the same as usual: a daily email with a written post and artwork, as well as a few prompts, projects, and recipes scattered throughout.

I originally started this whole endeavor with the inspiration of the Advent calendar that I had growing up: a beautiful handwoven one made by by mother, each day made to hold a small slip of paper. My parents would write a new prompt on a slip every day, so that I would read it when I woke up in the morning. It was the source of a lot of magic for me in my younger years (and even now—it gets hung up every year to this day).

The goal with this Advent calendar is always to create a little magic every day during the month of December, so that’s it’s not just a countdown but an everyday celebration. It’s a focus on slowing down, finding balance and contentedness.

It originally began as an antidote to the consumer frenzy that tends to define this season, as a way to challenge people to make space for small moments of magic throughout the month. Writing the calendar last year in the midst of a dark winter defined by a global pandemic, I was reminded of how it was also an antidote for uncertainty, anxiety, loneliness, and weariness. It feels like we need a little bit of all of the above this year too.

I aim for this calendar to be a source of light, a source of joy, a source of thought. It’s a way to settle into the darker days, to get cozy, to slow down.

We need daily reminders to keep us present, to keep us breathing, to keep us existing, to keep us hoping. We need to remember the things for which we are grateful. We can all benefit from creating a little extra magic, both in our brighter moments and our darker ones. 

$5 will get you access to the entire digital Advent calendar. If you are a Patreon supporter of mine, you will get a subscription to the digital edition of the calendar for free. There is also a print edition of the calendar. I do this in a small print run, so if you want one be sure to snag one before they are sold out (buying one includes a subscription to the digital edition).

The daily email will include artwork, prompts, recipes, etc. all with the intention of inspiring presence, creativity, and gratitude, and you will be able to access the archives during the month too (because I know keeping up with a daily email can be difficult). 

Can you gift the calendar to someone else? Of course! Just be sure to include their email address when you order so that I know who to send it to.

I hope that you consider signing up.

Daily Creativity Prompts: November 2021

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New month, new prompts!

The first time I made a list of monthly prompts was last November. So this marks a year of making them. Not necessarily a year of doing them every day, but I definitely have a lovely collection of all the monthly mugs in my sketchbook.

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

These monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon. Maybe you want to consider joining?

Written by Anna Brones

November 1, 2021 at 13:48

Coffee Outside, at Sunrise

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

“The sadness will dissipate as the sun rises. It is like a mist.”

– For Whom the Bell Tolls

Up here in the northern hemisphere we have passed the equinox and slipped into autumn. The days are becoming cooler and more windy, the leaves are turning golden and beginning to fall. Our nights are now longer than our days. The good news of all this is that it becomes easier every day to wake up a little before dawn, brew some coffee, and head outside to watch the sun rise. That is our latest little challenge for our year of #coffeeadventuresoutside.

Wrap up warm, take your coffee out into the cool grey pre-dawn, and settle down somewhere with a clear view of the sky facing the direction of the sunrise. [If you like to be precise, you can check this site out.] Wrap your hands around the warm mug, inhale the steam, and be still.

We recently enjoyed reading Nightwalk, by Chris Yates, which tells the story of a night spent walking slowly through the countryside. Despite Yates being a devoted drinker of tea, there is still much overlap with his walk and our coffee. He explains how he likes “…to creep like a mouse in the wood and sit still for maybe an hour, focusing with my ears, using the sounds of paw-patter and antler-click to colour in the invisible shapes until I could identify them or they came into shadowy view.”

 

His words are as much about an appreciation of slowing down and noticing as they are about nature or walking. Yates explains that one of the joys for him, “is the way in which everything in my head gradually clears of mundane domestic concerns and personal anxieties … because I know that apart from the animals I will always, unless I meet a deer poacher, be in perfect solitude. I am therefore able to bring all my attention to bear on the present moment… a place of endless immediacy, a place known to every wild animal, a timelessness.”

This solitude is why we have always preferred witnessing a sunrise to a sunset. Sunsets are easy, commonplace, strewn across social media. But sunrises are different. For most of us they are rarer to see than sunsets because they require a little more effort, and therefore you are more likely to have the whole spectacular show for yourself. 

“Be patient where you sit in the dark,” encouraged the poet Rumi: “the dawn is coming.”

As you wait with your coffee for daylight to seep slowly into the world, try to pay attention to how you deal with sitting still and doing ‘nothing’. Are you enjoying it, or does it feel like a waste of time? Are you content waiting, or are you anxious to get on with the day. In his book Four Thousand Weeks about time and how to use it, Oliver Burkeman refers to the “image of time as a conveyor belt that’s constantly passing us by. Each hour or week or year is like a container being carried on the belt, which we must fill as it passes, if we’re to feel that we’re making good use of our time. When there are too many activities to fit comfortably into the containers, we feel unpleasantly busy; when there are too few, we feel bored. If we keep pace with the passing containers, we congratulate ourselves for ‘staying on top of things’ and feel like we’re justifying our existence; if we let too many pass by unfilled, we feel we’ve wasted them.” 

He compares our modern anxious obsession with productivity and efficiency to medieval farmers who had no such notion. “There was no anxious pressure to ‘get everything done’, either, because a farmer’s work is infinite: there will always be another milking and another harvest, forever, so there’s no sense in racing towards some hypothetical moment of completion.”

For the remainder of our life’s allotted 4000 weeks the sun will rise every day. But no matter how beautiful they are, we cannot cram in any extra dawns. Rushing will not help. Savouring the ones we do have, on the other hand, may well help a great deal. 

In Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning, Gary Eberle defines sacred time as, “what we experience when we step outside the quick flow of life and luxuriate, as it were, in a realm where there is enough of everything, where we are not trying to fill a void in ourselves or the world, where we exist for a moment at both the deepest and the loftiest levels of our existence and participate in the eternal life of all that is. In simpler, or perhaps just slower, times, people seemed to enter this realm more regularly, or perhaps even to live with one foot inside it. Prayer, meditation, religious rituals, and holy days provided gateways into eternity that allowed us to return to the world of daily time refreshed and renewed, with an understanding that beneath the busyness of daily life there was an underpinning of calm, peace, and sufficiency.”

All those things, yes, and coffee too. This is our sacred time. 

The sun will rise, always. It is worth the wait, always. And as the world floods with sunlight, take the memory of the calm, the rising sun, and the steaming cup of coffee into your busy day that awaits.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

October 11, 2021 at 06:00

Daily Creativity Prompts: October 2021

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New month, new prompts!

October is Inktober, so there are a lot of people doing daily drawings this month. Maybe it’s time for you to join in too?

And yes, #2 is definitely a McSweeney’s reference.

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

These monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon. Maybe you want to consider joining?

Written by Anna Brones

October 1, 2021 at 09:07

Coffee Outside, After Sleeping Outside

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

You’re going to appreciate this month’s coffee more than any other from our adventures this year. A night spent under the stars is unlikely to offer the best sleep of the year, but it is refreshing and restorative in other ways that make up for it. If you simply want to sleep, stay inside. But if you are searching for magic and memories then grab your sleeping bag and head for the hills. (Here’s a little equipment list to help you plan) If that feels too audacious then haul your duvet into your garden for the night as you did back when you were a kid. We’ve done that recently and it is a surprisingly exciting, wild experience to sleep in your own garden, on your deck or your balcony.

Something deep and primeval inside us, plus the boring habits and conventions of modern life, combine to make the feeling of lying down to sleep in nature a mixture of excitement, nerves and absurdity. Nerves are natural, yet irrational: you’re tucked away in a quiet corner of the world, nobody knows where you are, you are completely safe. So that leaves the absurdity of going to sleep out here in nature (the chuckles and sense of wonder), the unfamiliarity of the night and the excitement of such a simple experience. 

There is no moon tonight so the stars are particularly bright. You might not have paid much attention to them for many months now. But they put on a spectacular show of shooting stars and satellites as you fall asleep. As you doze and wake and doze some more you notice the constellations revolving across the heavens. A pair of hooting owls weave in and out of your dreams and consciousness. Perhaps they were in the nearby trees for minutes or for hours; it is hard to know. For a night sleeping outdoors is a confused and busy affair. You sleep lightly and remain more aware of the world than you do at home in your bed. Eventually you notice the first hint of dawn, a slight lightening of the eastern horizon. You snooze a little longer. The next time you open your eyes you can make out the black silhouettes of trees and the dark sky is paling into grey. 

It is a misty morning. The seasons are turning now, summer sliding towards autumn, and this is our final ‘coffee outside’ prompt of the summer. As the sky lightens the grass sparkles with dew. The droplets on a spider’s web hangs like rows of pearls. When the sun rises the colour returns to the world. It is going to be a beautiful end of summer / start of autumn day. 

Time now for coffee. You sit up in your sleeping bag, stretch, yawn and look around you. You reach into your backpack and set up your stove. You pour water into your pan and the splashes ring out in the silence of the morning. Then comes the quiet roar of your little camping stove – one of the loveliest sounds imaginable. And then comes a few minutes of patience as you wait for your coffee to brew. A chance to look closely and notice the minute changes in the light as the morning creeps to life. To pay attention to the bird song and the chirp of insects. To see the leaves tremble in the breeze and remember that in a month or two they will be golden, and then gone. To appreciate the slight chill on your nose and the delicious warmth inside your sleeping bag. 

A hot mug of coffee after a night sleeping outside is a wonderfully restorative thing. Any nerves you had about sleeping outdoors dissolved with the daylight. So the coffee is also celebratory. Look! You’ve woken up outdoors, something that is so rare for most humans these days. The simple warmth of a hot drink feels wonderful as you cup it in your hands and sip it down. (This confession may be heresy to coffee aficionados, but out in the wild we have shuddered with happiness and gratitude for instant coffee, for a tea bag used five times over, even just for a mug of hot water to drink. The simplicity of possessions and experiences when in the great outdoors makes you so much more present and appreciative.)

Now, after your coffee, the day is calling to you. It is time to shove your sleeping bag into your pack and be on your way. There is still time (and always will be) for a sunrise dip in a river or the ocean (or pop inside for a hot shower if you spent the night in your garden). 

Finally it is time to return to a different world—the world of emails, chores, thermostats and electric lights—for after a night under the stars it does not feel much of an exaggeration to describe them as separate worlds. Back to the so-called ‘real world’. A little tired, no doubt. Perhaps somewhat disheveled. But with the reward of an experience and a coffee that you will still remember a year or more from now. If life is about making memories, a night spent outdoors is a simple way to create something a tiny bit special. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

September 10, 2021 at 09:00

Daily Creativity Prompts: September 2021

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While I am not quite ready for fall yet, I made September prompts that will hopefully gently ease us into the season.

Drawing, writing, daily, daily-ish… whatever works for you on these.

Take some time every day to sit down and draw the prompt. Don’t love drawing? Use them as writing prompts instead. Or do something entirely different: blind contour drawings perhaps?

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

These monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon. Maybe you want to consider joining?

Written by Anna Brones

September 1, 2021 at 10:52

Coffee Outside, on a Bike Ride

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets,” wrote Christopher Morley in Parnassus on Wheels. You don’t have to be a novelist or poet to understand the sentiment; the bicycle is the vehicle of dreamers, and as humans, we all dream. 

Whether we learned at 6 or 36, most of us likely remember the feeling of our first time pedaling a bicycle on our own. The freedom, the exhilaration. On a bicycle, we move all thanks to our own power, and while one of the simplest of vehicles, it can have profound effects. There’s creative power in a bike ride too, as movement has been shown to help stimulate our mind and imagination. But there is also the ability to access places in a way that’s different from in a car or on foot. The bicycle falls at the perfect sweet point in between; fast enough to allow us to cover distance, but slow enough that we pick up on all kinds of sensory details along the way. 

We notice the pungent smell of blackberry brambles in the late summer sun, the feeling of a fresh breeze on our face. We can hear the birdsong of an early morning, and spot a hidden pathway we might otherwise have missed if we were separated from the world by the steel and glass of a car. We can stop when we want, perching our bicycle against a tree to go and investigate whatever caught our eye as we pedalled along. 

Whether it’s slow or fast, long or short, a bicycle ride is an injection of energy. You are fueled by the knowledge that it is your force and your force alone that helps to carry the bicycle forward. 

How often do we feel that way? A walk can facilitate a similar sensation, but there is something glorious about the distances we can travel on a bicycle and the swooshing speed of the wind in your hair. After decades of riding, even we often remain amazed at how far we can explore, how much we are capable of. 

But the beauty of the bicycle lies also in the fact that its benefits come in journeys short and long. It is wonderfully versatile. There is as much enjoyment to be found exploring the streets of your neighborhood as pedaling across a continent. In need of a quick injection of good energy? A bike ride just might do the trick. Coasting down a hill, it’s hard not to break a smile. 

If you have traveled by bicycle you may know the power of these small experiences, how a bicycle makes you present for every single moment that makes up a day. There’s no autopilot on a bicycle—you are engaged and aware as long as you are pedaling—and that’s why it encourages us to be in the now. 

This month we are bringing our Coffee Adventures Outside to our bicycles, pairing our love for a coffee break and an excursion on two wheels. A coffee break by bicycle can give even a short bicycle ride the allure of a long bicycle trip; even if it’s just on your normal loop, it makes an everyday ride feel like a small adventure. 

A coffee break on a bike ride: this is the opportunity to find somewhere new to ride to, or make a stop on your regular route that you usually just pedal past. You may visit a local cafe during your ride, or pack a thermos and a mug and find a nice lookout to sit in and enjoy. If you want a full dose of adventure, you could even bring your camp stove and outdoor coffee set up for the freshly brewed experience.

No matter what your approach to your cup or your ride is, use this time to be in the moment. Feel every pedal stroke.

Watch the landscape roll past you.  

Be in your surroundings. 

Let your mind wander. 

Dream. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

August 11, 2021 at 09:00

Daily Creativity Prompts: August 2021

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You know the drill: draw, write, scribble, etc. Do them daily or just drop in here and there.

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

These monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon. Maybe you want to consider joining?

Written by Anna Brones

August 1, 2021 at 13:21

Coffee Outside, by the Ocean

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

These monthly creative coffee musings, matched in time to each new moon, have made us pay more attention to the lunar cycle than ever before. That noticing is a good thing, but we also keep catching ourselves thinking, “is it time to write an essay AGAIN? We’ve only just finished the last one!”

Because despite all of the good intentions hatched during the past fallow year to streamline life, we seem to have already fallen back into our old ways of chasing our tail and juggling too many balls at once. And so down to the sea we must go; to swim and then to sit, coffee in hand, and stare out at the waves for a while. For you should sit by the ocean for 20 minutes whenever you can… unless you are busy, then you should sit for an hour. If you are not close to the ocean then any water will do just fine. You can perch by your river or by a lake. And if you live in the middle of a desert, well lucky you—let your eyes and mind look up to the horizon.

Away from the beach, we enjoy the serendipity of bookshelves. As much as we enjoy a Kindle for its-on-the-go ease, we prefer the way bookshelves look over us while we write, nudging us, reminding us of their lessons through their titles and colourful spines. We often reach to take a book from a shelf and find our eyes drawn to another book. Holding the two books in our hands sparks new connections. Browsing old favourites ferments new ideas.

And so it was today with Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We write these essays collaboratively across thousands of miles of ocean, but both separately rediscovered and loved this book recently. 

Gift from the Sea is a wise book set by the ocean. It is a book about balancing life, work and family; about finding space to think and breathe. It is a simple narrative of inspiration taken from shells on the seashore; reflections familiar to many of us during a holiday [vacation] about the busy-ness of life and the need for space in order to pause and be creative. Last month we offered the challenge of a coffee with a wild swim, but in these summer months, the shores call to us again, this time with more lessons. 

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient,” writes Lindbergh. “To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” We want to find our way back to that slow, calm, expansive, place, the one where patience and curiosity abound. So when we swim, we must be sure to float too, creating a time of quiet within us. Summer is our opportunity to float, whether it’s in the water or not. When we float we are untethered, unrestricted. There are no deadlines, no to-do lists. We all need more time to float, physically and metaphorically.

When we sit by the water we pick up pebbles, turn them in our hands, discard some and keep only the one or two that just feel ‘right’. Lindbergh also yearns to pare things away: “I have learned that certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification of life is one of them.

I mean to lead a simple life, to carry a simple shell I can carry easily – like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that the frame of my life does not foster simplicity.

I remember again, ironically, that today more of us in [the West] than anywhere else in the world have the luxury of choice between simplicity and complication of life. And for the most part, we, who could choose simplicity, choose complication.”

We too often make the mistake of slipping into living a frantic, unreflective life, chasing deadlines for books and artwork and forgetting to celebrate the achievement of completing those creative endeavours. 

“What is the answer?” Lindbergh ask herself. “There is no easy answer, no complete answer, I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities, I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes.”

And so too with us. For the duration of this coffee break by the waves we are experiencing the simplification of life as a beginning. If we appreciate how this feels we can pick up the scent and follow it where it leads into the rest of our lives.

While you drink your coffee, dig in the sand with your toes for a seashell to take home, as Lindbergh did. “It will sit on my desk in Connecticut, to remind me of the ideal of a simplified life. To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say –is it necessary?– when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.

Simplification of outward life is not enough. It is merely the outside. But I am starting with the outside.”

Perhaps these turbulent times –where the tide rushed out and now rushes back in– are, or should be, “a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armour. Was that armour not put on to protect one from the competitive world?”

As we finish our coffee by the water and think again about our hectic lives, slip a shell into your pocket, and prepare to tackle the busy tasks of your day, but doing so with a fresh perspective and priority.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

July 10, 2021 at 08:26