Friday, 26 October 2012

Celebrating those you love



Four years ago today, my world turned upside down when my mum died. At that time, it seemed that nothing would ever be the same again.

I remember shortly afterwards bumping into an old work colleague - an American gentleman. He usually kept himself to himself at work and didn't tend to get invovled in the usual chitchat and banter that went on around him. But he'd heard my news and stopped and said "Boy that must be hard - mums are hard to lose." 

I had lots and lots of touching messages from friends near and far and yet for some reason this is the message that stayed with me most - mums are hard to lose. He'd hit the nail right on the head. They are hard to lose or certainly in my case, mine was. My greatest fan and well intentioned critic, the teller of bad but immensely enjoyable jokes, a listening ear, a storyteller, a messenger that every cloud holds a silver lining was gone. Until that point, she'd always been there for me. She was a constant in my life. She was the person I ran home to when I didn't like what life offered me. She was the one that made a pot of tea and told me everything would be all right.

I was lost for a long time. I felt like I was searching for something and I just couldn't find it. I gave up reading, something that had always given me immeasureable pleasure. Gatherings of friends became difficult. It all sounded like noise - noise in my head that I wanted to go away. As a friend put it, the sparkle had gone from each experience and the sparkle had gone from me. These were grey, heavy days - days when sleep was the best escape.

But time passed both quickly and slowly and with it came acceptance. Love, friendship, new experiences and shared joy brought colour back into my days once more. Also came the realisation that my mum helped shape who I am today. I know that she would want me to be happy, content, well-travelled, independent, loving and someone who is able to take joy from small pleasures as well as the bigger experiences in life and you know I think I'm doing it.

And so with a glad heart and a smile on my face, we will celebrate your life mum. Today we will take a trip to the lakes, walk in the air, disappear amongst the palette of brillant autumn colours, reminisce about old times, find somewhere to drink tea served from a china pot, tell some bad jokes and laugh and smile and remember.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Resistance

I am currently a participant in a writing challenge being run by a guy called Jeff Goins who lives all the way over in the US of A but of course with the wonderfulness that is the Internet it feels like he is right here besides me every day, motivating, persuading, challenging and cajoling me into new writing territory.  His link is on the blog if you are interested in finding out more.Today is day 5 of the 15 day challenge.

I've managed most of the challenges to date including declaring myself as a writer, getting up earlier and writing in the mornings and commiting to going more public with my writing.  And then the weekend arrived and everyone was invited to take a break for a couple of days. 

Despite eagerly awaiting today's challenge, I had a visit from an old friend first thing this morning. I know this friend pretty well. He always arrives uninvited, he always wants to hang out and he is extremely distracting. He often sits in my writing space, and won't budge even when I ask him politely to move. He has a loud, dominant voice - I'm sure you know the sort. He is not someone I like being around. He loves to tell me his opinions particularly the negative ones. He tells me that he doesn't believe in what I'm doing, he questions who would be interested in what I have to say and he also asks me who on earth I think I am - what nonsense thinking I can be a writer. I call him Kevin, although you may know him better as Resistance. (Apologies to all you Kevins out there). 

This morning he and I had an argument about getting up early to write. He said, why bother? He added, stay in bed, it's warm and cozy and who cares whether you get up early and write. No-one's going to miss you. Sleep a little longer. It will all be ok. I listened to him for a while and his argument was quite tempting and then I heard a smaller yet clear and strong voice saying - don't listen to him. Give him the push he deserves. I want to spend time with you this morning.

It was Simone. I like having Simone visit and wish she'd stay longer. She is good fun and easy to have around. She says what if and what next? In addition, she tells me not to worry about things. She invites me to sit down beside her and write and see what happens. Let's enjoy this she says and we do. She encourages me to push myself a little harder and to get up a little earlier. When she is around there is room for the two of us in my writing space. 

Connie comes to visit too. Connie often likes to visit when Simone is around. I generally have to keep the two of them apart, as they don't always work well together. Connie is here now, giving me a nudge to get this post up on the blog. She looks over my shoulder correcting my punctuation and asking me, could we put that a little differently maybe or perhaps you might like to try it this way.

I wonder who will visit tomorrow on day 6 of the challenge. Hopefully Simone, my muse will call into my ear tomorrow morning, and Connie, my editor will swing by later to support me. I'm hoping that Kevin will give it a miss, but you just can't tell with him - he can show up at the most inappropriate moments.

 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Four Little Words

They say that three little words can be the hardest to say.

I've not generally had any trouble with the three little words, sharing these with my husband, the cat, my family and even extending out to close friends, letting them know how I feel about them and how happy I am having them in my life. What's the big deal? Just let others know how you feel, I thought.

However, there is something that I've been keeping under wraps and not sharing. I've even been hiding it from myself. For me, it's not three little words that cause me angst, it's actually four little words. And so here goes, here is where I've decided to say them - yes out loud and as a declaration to the world:

I AM A WRITER

Ok, there you go, I've said it. Want to hear it again:

I AM A WRITER

There I've said it and I can't take it back now.

Just one more time for good measure:

I AM A WRITER.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Homeward Bound

Homeward bound,
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

These lyrics have been playing over and over in my head all morning as today is the day that I am indeed homeward bound after a delightful couple of weeks in America.

There is a great deal of pleasure in travel. It seems that the newness of everything opens the mind, gives you a fresh perspective and creates independence. It also enables you to meet and mix with new people, which in my opinion is always a wonderful opportunity.

But for me there is a such a joy in returning home. Home to my cat, home to my things, home to where there is comfort in the familiar.

And most importantly - home, where my love lies waiting, silently for me.


The Jigsaw Puzzle of my Life

I've spent the last two weeks in Princeton Junction, New Jersey staying with a very good and old friend of mine. Old in terms of the fact we've known each other for over 30 years - thought I should preface that, just in case she reads this post.

It's been a marvellous, yet gentle and easy time. How wonderful it is to fall back into the company of old friends. It seems that no matter how long ago it's been since you've seen them, time has no real meaning and you slot back together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. No explanation is required and there is no need for us to fill in all the gaps. Instead we talk about love and happiness and we reminisce about times gone by and boys that made our hearts beat faster. We work together in the kitchen, preparing supper and singing to old Sister Sledge songs and we laugh. We laugh a lot. And it makes me think that the jigsaw puzzle picture of my life would not be complete without my friend Julie in it.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Sloping Off

Ever done anything that seemed a bit naughty but which made you feel great? I had a day like that on Tuesday. Being self-employed does have some benefits - one of which was sloping off for a day out when everyone else was at work. After years of being in the corporate world and having to book holidays way in advance, there is still a delight in being able to decide at a moment's notice that you will have a day out.

Even better - as my husband is also self-employed, he was able to join me. So a delightful day in Bath was had by the two of us including lunch at Jamie's Italian.

It's good sometimes to be less sensible and to do something impulsive. And it's also good to appreciate these opportunities and be thankful for the life you have chosen which enables such freedom.

What do you have to be thankful for today?





Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Share the Love

It's that time of year once again. That time when it becomes impossible to book a last minute table in a restaurant, that time when if you wanted to send some flowers you should have placed the order weeks ago and that time when the shops are filled with giant heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. And is it just me or is there an awful lot of red around? Yes, in case you haven't noticed it's Valentine's Day - a day that puts fear into the hearts of men and a day which raises unusually high expectations from many women.

But that aside it is a day to share and express love. So let's put all thoughts that it's a giant ruse from the greeting card manufacturers to boost sales to the back of our minds and simply or extravagantly (however you chose to do it) express our love to our loved ones. And if you don't have anyone right now to share your love with, then ring a close friend and tell them how important they are to you or just treat yourself to something wonderful or do something great today to celebrate yourself as a fantastic human being.

As I am writing, I can hear a blackbird out in the garden sending his love call to a waiting lady blackbird. I hear her respond.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Letting Go

I've just finished a giant office and household paperwork sort. Isn't it amazing what you can accumulate over the years? Articles, blog posts, things torn out of magazines and newspapers, ancient paperwork relating to houses you no longer live in or to things that you no longer own. I'm sure that you have heard yourself say too many times I'll hang onto that just in case I need it. And it turns out I didn't. I didn't need any of it. It had sat in boxes and filing cases and ring binders awaiting that moment that it would be needed and that moment never came. During this process, it's strange what can happen. I definitely felt lighter. When the paper went off to the confidential shredder or into the recycling bin, I was able to take a big sigh. It was gone. I was no longer hindered by all this unnecessary stuff.

It's easy to do this in many areas of our life. It's easy to keep amassing more of the same. I love to read and buying a book is a real pleasure to me but again just before Christmas, we had a book culling in our house. We took over 100 books to Oxfam, after all are you really ever going to read that thriller again, especially when you already know that it was the long lost cousin who committed the murders. In addition, I like the thought that someone else is going to get the opportunity to read that book that I really loved and hopefully keep passing it on.

And I'm sure that we do the same thing in our emotional lives too. We fill our heads with all this stuff - the what-ifs, the maybes, the shoulds and coulds and as a result we can easily weigh ourselves down with the thought of it all. We forget that we can choose to let go of these thoughts in the same way we can let go of a book or an old piece of paper. I know that over the years I have worried unnecessarily about things I had no real influence over and it got me absolutely nowhere. In fact, solutions often seemed to materialise more readily when I just stopped worrying and let go of the thoughts. I agree that somethings are worth hanging on to, but have a good think about what you're holding onto. Could this be a good time to let it go and to take that big sigh?



Friday, 10 February 2012

Surrender to the Exhale

Surrender is not a word we hear very often and it can have a negative connotation in a world that often feels full of challenges.  You'll often hear people talking along the lines of winning this particular battle or I can fight this or never give up.  It all seems to indicate that you have to push and struggle onwards to get to your desired outcome. 

The word surrender is linked to giving up and in battle is an indication of defeat.  And yet at a recent yoga class during the relaxation session, the yoga instructor asked us to surrender to the exhale.  What a wonderful moment that was to just let go, let the body completely relax and yield.  It was a pure moment of being in the now and being able to escape to a place where everything felt ok - a place where thoughts were able to drift in and out of the mind and for the muscles of the body to let go and sink deeper into the support of the mat and the floor beneath.  In that moment there was a level of clarity and a sense of freedom.

In this world of rushing from one thing to the next and of trying to fight the ongoing battle to get to the end of our to do list, perhaps we should take some time to simply surrender to the exhale and let go - if only for a few moments each day.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The plot thickens

I've been reading a fascinating novel called My Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas.  One of the topics raised in the book is about the fact that the main character is trying to write her novel and is struggling to do so.  She is able to ghost write and writes a series of books under this guise, yet every time she sits to write her novel, she ends up deleting more and more until there is virtually nothing left.  So the author is writing a novel about struggling to write a novel and I am reading a book about struggling to write a novel when I am struggling to write a novel. 

It feels as if I'm looking into one of those massive mirrors and I can see hundreds and hundreds of reflections...

Was that a silent scream I just heard?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I am in my space

I clear the papers from my desk and put them on a shelf behind me.  I can no longer see them and in so doing they don't call out to me and vie for my attention.  I pick up my mobile phone, switch it to silent and put it away in my desk drawer.  If anyone calls I can always call them back. 

I am in my space, doing my thing. I feel calm. 

I switch off email, Facebook and Twitter and suddenly the noise is gone.  It's just me and the keyboard now.  There are no longer any excuses or distractions. 

I am in my space, doing my thing.  I feel calm. 

It is silent, the only noise being me tapping away on the keys and sipping from a big mug of tea.  I glance out of the window.  If I hold my head at a certain angle  - I can't see the disused warehouse building, only the outline of the trees, an occasional bird and today the blue sky.

I am in my space and doing my thing.  I feel calm.

I relax back in my chair and close my eyes for a moment.  I take some deep breaths.  When I open my eyes, I start to type once again.  

I am in my space and doing my thing.  I feel calm.


Procrastinating Again

As you may have seen I posted about my experience of making the gluten-free, refined sugar-free, egg-free banana bread.  When I re-read this post, it made me think about the things which had delayed me from making anything from the babycakes recipe book, despite my friend asking me quite frequently if I had done so.  Actually if I had just decided to make one of the recipes I could have quite easily found out where I could source the ingredients I needed and very very easily converted the measurements and oven temperature.  Instead, it took me over a year. 

Do you find yourself in a similar position trying to do things in your life?  It's very easy to put things off, to procrastinate and to never get around to it.   In fact, I seem to have a couple of years of general procrastination in several areas of my life and as someone in the business of helping others get on with their lives, I'm wondering why it's so hard to take my own advice.

I'm currently trying to write a novel.  I've never done anything like this before in my life and as it is something new and different, as much as I enjoy it when I'm doing it - getting to a position where I am sat down at the keyboard and ready to write seems almost impossible.  I have become a master procrastinator when it comes to this particular matter. 

So I'm after your help.  Do you have techniques that you use to get things done?  If so please feel free to share them here.  It might well mean that I'll get to make the raspberry scones by the end of this month rather than the end of this year and even better I'd love to be able to tell you that my novel is finished and I'm procrastinating about how to get it published - well everyone has their dreams!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Everything-free Banana Bread



A friend of mine bought me a new cookery book for Christmas a couple of years ago.  I should probably add that she lives in America and so the book was from an American bakery based in New York. (www.babycakesnyc.com)  The recipes looked really interesting as they were gluten-free, wheat free, refined sugar free - well virtually everything free in fact.  The recipes looked a much healthily way to enjoy cake, biscuits and scones - all the things I love in fact.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, it has taken me over a year to finally bake something from the book as when I started to read what I needed there were lots of ingredients that I was not familiar with - things like agave nectar, xantum gum, coconut oil etc.  I did, however, hold these ingredients in my head and over time managed to buy them at health food stores, specialist food shops and in fact at the local Sainsburys store. In addition, I also had to convert the oven temperature into celsius and sort out the weight of the ingredients I needed as everything was measured in cups.  Yes, I know it's all quite easy to find out on the Internet now, but it's amazing how the combination of the ingredient search and adjusting to metric measurements had delayed me.  

So last Sunday I made the banana bread.  It all went quite well other than the mixture was quite firm.  It was more dough like than muffin like, making mixing in the bananas at the end quite difficult.  When I took a look at the babycakes website, their mix was far more runny than mine so not sure what I did wrong but hey I persevered and stuck it in the oven to cook.  The result is lovely.  It does have a slightly different texture to the banana breads I have cooked before and it is more dense - much more like a bread than a sponge.  And you certainly know when you have had a slice - it fills you in a way that a slice of cake does not normally do.  It lacks the usual overall sweetness of cake which sometimes I have to say I do find overwhelming so it certainly suits my taste buds.  Overall, I would have to say it is a success and I shall be trying out other recipes from the book too - so watch this space.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Nutcracker - Part 2




If you read my blog yesterday, you'll recall that I shared with you my experience of going to see The Nutcracker ballet on Saturday.  It obviously had an impact on me as I find myself writing about it again today.  While I was thinking about it I remembered that I'd not been to any ballet performances  until last year and now I find myself hooked and looking out for what I can see next.  And the reason I'm sharing this with you, is because it jogged my memory about some coaching I had once where someone told me that life is like one big experiment.  You choose different experiences in your life, different jobs, different relationships and of course different behaviours and ways of being you.  We can choose to experiment in these areas to find out what works for us and what doesn't.

We can get it into our heads that we can't change - that things are set in stone and that how we are is well just how we are.  Yet if we treat life as an experiment, we can always add new things to life and new ways of being.  The experiment is to find out what we like and what works well for us.  Hence I have experimented with adding watching ballet to my life and and I love it.  A friend of mine went to see an opera for the first time last year and found that it didn't float her boat, so she won't be going again.  These are small examples of ways of experimenting but we can also apply these same principles to who we want to be and how we choose to behave. When working with organisational leaders I often ask them to experiment and try out a new behaviour.  It might be that they will experiment with a different way of communicating or that they try a different way of working with their teams.  These leaders often give it a try and if it works well for them or they see a positive impact from the new behaviour - they decide to continue with it. 

I think it's a good way to look at life and a way which doesn't pressurise you or get you to make a massive commitment to something.  After all if you experiment and you don't like the result, then you can just revert back and if you experiment and you love the result, then you can just keep at it.  Just like me and the ballet.   

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Nutcracker




On Saturday I had the delight of going to see The Nutcracker at the Liverpool Empire with a very good friend of mine.  I'd never seen any ballet at all until last year so it's been a long time coming in my life and I have to say that I think I've fallen in love with it.  I find myself completely captivated for the couple of hours performance and love the beauty of it.  Saturday's performance was vibrant, very theatrical and lots of fun.  It was a Matthew Bourne production after all.

The costumes were fabulous - particularly the interpretation of Sweetieland and Tchaikovsky's music carried us along through the performance lulling us gently into a trance-like state and then picking us up and onwards through the journey.  It is for me a way to totally escape and to shut off my mind which is usually trying to analyse a hundred things at a hundred miles an hour.  During the performance, my mind was busy watching the dancers portray the story and so it had to keep up with what was happening and being soothed by the music.  It had nowhere else to go and so it settled down and enjoyed itself.  Do you find that you have activities that help your mind slow down a bit?  If so, why not share them here so we can give them a try.

Friday, 27 January 2012

January Blues

Today is day five of week four of January.  Boy does January seem to last a long time each year.  It can be a depressing time of year - a  bit dark, a bit gloomy, pay day seems forever away and Christmas - well let's face it - that's just something from last year now isn't it.

So today I suggest that you do something nice for yourself.  Indulge in something that you enjoy.  I'll leave the choice of what that may be to you - a longer than usual bubble bath, putting time aside for yourself to read your book or a magazine, doing some meditation, chatting with a friend on the telephone or even better meeting up with them in person, having a slice of cake, inviting your partner to join you for an unexpected meal out or cooking something wonderful and enjoying it in the comfort of your home, riding your bicycle, cuddling the cat or even booking a break away or your summer holiday - oh it seems I've listed all the nice things that I'd like to do. 

Go on be kind to yourself today and give yourself a treat - you deserve it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Contentment

I have started attending a new yoga class on a Tuesday night.  It is run by a nice man called Russell and I hope to get there most weeks if possible as one of my aims this year is to have more yoga in my life.  I particularly liked the fact that when we arrived last week, Russell announced that the theme for the evening was contentment.  He reminded us throughout the class of the theme particularly when we were struggling to get into a position or pushing ourselves too hard.  If our hands didn't touch the floor in the forward bend, he reminded us to be content to let our bodies get to where they wanted to this particular evening - to be content with things just as they are right now at this point in time.  It was good to be reminded about contentment, especially in these times of striving for the next thing and the next.  By reminding us of the contentment theme, I personally felt that the class was gentler somehow - I was given permission to just be content with everything as it was at that particular time.  There was no pressure to push my body further than it wanted to go and I was content to let my mind rest and be peaceful during the session. 

It also reminded me how easy it is to forget about times that we are content in our lives.  We rush around and try to fit everything in and often we push ourselves harder and harder.  Advertisers are always trying to sell us the next best thing rather than letting us be content with what we have - I guess that's just the way of the world.  But thank you Russell for raising this theme.  I have been thinking about it this week and considering just how content I am.  In particular one evening last week I sat in front of a fire - the burning embers warming me through.  In one hand was a hot cup of tea to sip and in the other my copy of the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes.  I managed to finish the first part - A study in scarlet and it was fabulous.  Yes I was content and even more so knowing that I could light the fire again another night, make another cup of tea and the rest of the book was still ahead of me.

Have you considered contentment recently?  Rather than focussing on areas of discontent, can you be easy on yourself and find contentment in who you are, where you are and what you are doing right now?  If you are struggling to do so, just give yourself permission to be content.  After all tomorrow is another day.....

And if you are interested in attending Russell's yoga sessions, please check out his website here: www.yoga-bija.me.uk/

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Welsh Rarebit and Montgomery

I was fortunate enough at the weekend to take a trip to Montgomery in Powys which if you've never been is a joy in itself.  Some would say that there really is nothing much to see and yet it is a firm favourite for both me and my husband.  One of the reasons we like to go is so that we can have something delicious at the Castle Kitchen.  If you turn up around lunchtime you will find warming soups, fresh quiches and the usual selection of sandwiches - all of which look great.  However, Andy and I both agree that their welsh rarebit takes some beating.  If it's on the menu you can order one or two slices.  Always order two - not because they are small but because once you've eaten one you just want to keep going.  How can I describe it - it's melted cheese heaven.  If you turn up after lunch, make sure you have some room for cake as there is always a wonderful selection.  At the weekend, I chose a slice of victoria sandwich and Andy opted for carrot cake - although there were also cherry and almond and apple and cinammon plus coffee and walnut and of course scones and flapjacks.  Castle Kitchen also let you know that they source their products locally and if it's a bit chilly you'll find a welcoming fire going in the downstairs woodburner.  It's a charming place and well worth a visit.  You can find them on the web here:  www.castlekitchen.org

Once you are full of lovely food, head to Bunners the local hardware store.  I know the local hardware store - why oh why would I be sending you there.  I can't say that I am a big fan of hardware stores but this one you have to see.  It has been trading since 1892 and can sell you anything from a screw or nail to cupcake cases to ride on mowers.  It is set on different floors and their range of stock is amazing.  I imagine their annual stock take must take at least a month.  Again you can check them out here: www.rhbunner.co.uk  Although the shop was not open on Sunday, we were able to read with interest they a cat they had found was currently being looked after by them.  Or in their words, he was currently enjoying their hospitality. 

So if you are looking for a little old world charm and one of the best slices of welsh rarebit that I've ever tasted add Montgomery to your places to visit list.  Enjoy

Friday, 20 January 2012

January Resolutions

And so here we are again - another January in another year. 2012 is with us no matter how we feel about it and how are we all feeling about it?  Optimistic, enthusiastic, expectant, anxious, depressed or unhappy? 

I'm not one for roaring into the whole new year's resolution thing.  I think after Christmas you need time.  January can seem long and dark and is for many animals a time to hibernate, rest up and take it easy and yet us folk decide to go all gung ho and set ourselves new year's resolutions.  We decide that from the 1st January we shall be fitter, thinner, get a new job, train for a new career, start a new relationship or end a relationship.  Perhaps it's the year that we'll run that marathon, take a long road trip, volunteer, learn to play the piano or perhaps we are looking to embark on a journey of being different rather than doing different things.  Maybe it's a year for doing less, a time to find ways of relaxing and being still.  Perhaps we want to make a difference or be a better friend or act with more consideration to others.  Wow what a lot of choices we have.  Is it any wonder that it all seems hard to achieve and often new year's resolutions have fallen by the wayside by mid January or early February.

I'm not saying that having goals and things to aim for in life is wrong.  In fact I am a believer in it.  After all if you're not sure where your focus is, how will you get there?  But I do think that one of the key parts in setting your resolutions or goals or whatever you prefer to call them is to think about what you really want rather than what you should be doing or how you should be behaving.

A friend and I were discussing this matter earlier in January and she was telling me the things that she wanted to do this year.  Just hearing this change in semantics made it more interesting to me. I could do things I wanted to do this year, rather than feeling guilty about making decisions or choices around shoulds and coulds and maybes and if onlys. So instead of I should try and get a magazine article or story published this year, my list becomes: I want to get a magazine article or story published. Instead of if only I could be a stone and a half lighter this year, my goal becomes I want to be a stone and a half lighter this year. Somehow, this all feels more positive and less constrictive.  I feel there is less pressure and I don't have to feel guilty. 

Of course you will make your own decisions around how you set your own goals or resolutions but remember too that the clock chiming at midnight on new year's eve and a glass of celebratory bubbly is not the only time you can resolve to do or be something different.  Each and every morning brings a new beginning and the same choices to make changes are available to you.

Wishing you all the best for 2012 whatever choices you decide to make for yourself.