Seventeen things that absolutely ARE worth your time

Welcome, friends, to winter.

Let me just say here, I don’t care if you think it’s not winter until December 21st, until the first snows, or the Christmas tree goes up. For me, winter starts when the sun slides below the trees at the primary school before 3pm and you hurry home before the night slams down on the village. It doesn’t seem to gradually darken here at this time of year, it’s like a lamp being extinguished. It still shocks me with its suddenness.

I’ve been quiet of late. My dislike of, and worry about, these colder months is well documented and I don’t fear about speaking openly about them, particularly if my experiences might be a help to someone else. I have, however, found myself at something of a loss at what to say that might be useful and not sound trite. To be honest, I’ve been coping. Getting my head down, doing my tasks – volunteering at the school on a Tuesday, leading our Beaver Scout colony on a Wednesday (and all the planning that takes), working three mornings a week. Anything else is a bonus – a bonus I am so glad of that I am enjoying myself to much to want to stop doing it to write about it. I have been doing things that have made me feel so contented I sometimes just want to purr.

The only thing casting a shadow on the past few weeks is the concern that I ought be writing about it – and other things, besides.

As part of my Coping With Winter plan, I have been collecting oddments of beauty, inspiration and words of wisdom and storing them on Pinterest. I could literally lose months to Pinterest, so I have to ration myself. After a while you realise that most of the lifestyle/mindfulness how-to guides are all very much of a muchness, thousands of Instagram-ready, perfect home dwelling lifestyle bloggers all preaching from the same hymn sheet. I find this both infuriating and comforting – they don’t have anything new to say, either!

I stumbled across this post – 17 things that aren’t worth your time and yes, whilst I agreed with it, I thought that now is maybe not the time to look at things so negatively, and instead look at 17 things that absolutely ARE worth your time.

Walks: I’ve not felt great, physically, for a while now. I feel as though I have something working away at me, slowly, sapping my strength. I think it’s winter to blame, but massive stomps are a thing of the past. I still get out for a wee walk every day though. I take my time, listen to the radio on my headphone (Radio 4, bit addicted!), and even if it’s just a stroll to the school gates, I feel so much better for the fresh air. Even when it’s pouring.

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Books: Three amazing novels I’ve read recently – Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Melissa Harrison’s All Among The Barley and Polly Clark’s Larchfield. I’m currently reading Malachy Tallack’s The Valley At The Centre of the World. I haven’t felt so warm, contented and happy curled up with a book since Friday evenings as a child, just back from our tiny local lending library, eagerly clutching a new selection of Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome to devour.

Coffee: Make time for good coffee. We only have a wee cafetiere, nothing fancy at all, but I like to have a coffee I feel I deserve after completing something. After a morning of work, household chores or a long walk, it’s become something of a ritual to steer away from the jar of instant and indulge myself in something a little more special. Favourite mug, check. That wonderful smell of the coffee when you open the packet, check. Water just before boiling, check. Waiting just long enough before pushing down that plunger-thing, check. Sitting on the back step, eyes closed, hands wrapped around a mug that smells divine and tastes even better is one of life’s tiny pleasures that shouldn’t be denied.

Crap TV: Whatever it is, if it takes you away from worry and buggering about on social media for a wee while, indulge yourself. I watch very little TV, I prefer the radio, but in the run up to Christmas I do love a truly dreadful Christmas movie to escape into. It’s a treat. It doesn’t hurt anyone else. Don’t feel guilty.

Early nights: Early to bed is the new staying out late. Really it is.

Spotify playlists: I live for these at the moment. I get freaked out by how spot-on their algorithms are for being able to tell what I’d like, but maybe I am just depressingly predictable. Spotify always give me new things to listen to and fall in love with though, so I never get bored.

Cake: Making, particularly. Also eating. Cakes are calorie-free when the weather is cold.

Hot chocolate: With an extra sugar, lashings of squirty cream and a scrunched up Flake on top. Because to hell with Type II diabetes.

Friends, real-life ones: Reach out beyond social media. Plan a week-night get together for dinner and a chat, if you can. Pub quiz? Bingo? Walk? Whatever floats your boats. We are too reliant on social media these days, but nothing beats a good chinwag catch-up.

Hobbies: Whatever they are. Crochet, cake decorating, cheese-rolling, bog-snorkelling. Does it make you happy? Yes? Then do it more. Even if you’re not very good at it. Four years ago I was utterly hopeless at crochet, I couldn’t even chain, but I decided I was going to teach myself and I wasn’t going to stop until I had learned. Why crochet? Because everyone else in my family are good knitters, but can’t crochet. I’m a trend-bucker like that. Also, my knitting is bloody atrocious.

Sending kind words to someone you think a lot of: For no reason other than that your life is better for having them in it. Send them a text, a Twitter DM, a card. Just say it.

Politeness: It costs nothing. Smiling and remembering your pleases and thank yous sounds like something you’d remind a five year old; but you’d be amazed how many people don’t think it’s important anymore.

Turning off the news: I like being informed. I have children who often ask me difficult questions and, as a parent, I owe them an answer – or at least a discussion on a subject. But there is nothing to be gained from watching 24 hour news or dwelling over headlines. We can do what we can do – we can educate and inform and share advice and resources. Worrying and getting paranoid and upset about what the news decides suits their agenda helps nobody, and only distracts from what we can do.

Buying local and buying from craftspeople: Going out for something to eat? Go to a local restaurant/cafe run by people in your community rather than the big chains. Buy your veg at the greengrocer, your trinkets, cards, jewellery from crafters not production lines in China. Help support a local business or a talented craftsperson. Yes, you will pay £40 or so for one of my crocheted baby blankets, for example, but they will be a quality you can pass down as an heirloom and every stitch will have been made – by hand, not machine, with care and love, because I love my craft.

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Volunteering: I’m going to write a more detailed post about this soon, so I shall just say that volunteering has brought me so much joy and personal satisfaction, as well as great talking points for my CV, that I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Whatever you like doing, would like to learn, or cause you support, you will be able to volunteer to help. Do it!

Cooking from scratch: I find cooking is brilliant for anxiety. The slow, careful preparation and weighing of ingredients, the combining, the cooking, the watching, the clearing up (I am an ‘as you go’ person rather than an ‘at the end’ person), there is something mindful and meditative about it, and whenever I’m feeling at odds with the world, I take great pleasure in the whole process, from planning and buying to the finished dish. I know I’m really lucky to have the time to do it, I’m not rushing in from work and juggling taking kids to various after-school activities, but if you can find an hour in your week to potter about in the kitchen, you won’t regret it.

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Plans: When the nights are long, nothing feels nicer than making plans for the future. Whether that be plans to budget for your summer holiday, plan what you want to do to your house, plan your new career or – my personal favourite – plan what I’m going to grow for food next year, now is the time to get everything down and see how you can convert them into more than just dreams.

I hope you’ve been able to take something from this wee listicle; it’s certainly helped me to get something written after weeks of beating myself up for not being able to do so, and I thank you for reading it. I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be so long next time!

 

 

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In Celebration of Middle Age #1

 

Every now and again I turn my mind away from politics and current affairs and listening to the Archers and spend some time catching up with what other people are reading / talking about / doing quizzes about on social media or, as I like to call it, The Facebook and The Twitter. I like that because it annoys the young folk.

The current trend appears to be sticking it to the “older woman”, specifically what we should be wearing once we hit that age of no return (which, worryingly, appears to be 30 – THIRTY!) and, of course,  what women over 30 should absolutely, definitely NOT be wearing, the utterly brainless chumps.

Let’s throw in a hefty dollop of patronising woman to woman fashion chat from The Times….(with thanks to the lovely Susie of Useless Beauty for reading the whole article so I didn’t have to). Thank heavens I have them to advise me on fashion faux pas, numerous as they undoubtedly are, as I approach the age of the clueless wizened hag (which appears to be 45. Yes, I know.)

 

timesEyebrows on fleek, ladies.

I’m getting married in October, and I have already been warned to be careful about:

  • My hideous knees
  • My wrinkles
  • My bingo wings
  • My awful hair, including the grey bits
  • My eyebrows (which are not on fleek, you’ll be surprised to learn)
  • My ability / inability to walk in anything other than wellies
  • Crows’ feet
  • Facial hair (not including on fleek eyebrows, naturally)
  • Underarm hair
  • Leg hair
  • Menopause sweat-patches
  • My ears
  • My fingernails
  • The fact I am no longer a size 10 (and, of course, all brides MUST be a 10, it’s the law)

I was considering doing my guests and any unsuspecting passers-by a kindness and just investing in a niqab so as not to cause any recurring nightmares borne of witnessing a – shock! –  clumsy, wrinkled, thick-around-the-middle woman in a wedding dress. Then the terribly grown-up and sensible part of me thought ‘F5$k this sh£t’, I practiced giving the finger and pulling mean faces to the mirror and felt, momentarily, like a mumsy Travis Bickle.

Let’s get this straight. I am a middle-aged woman. I am 44, I am peri-menopausal, my child-bearing days are over. I am unlikely to ever break the glass ceiling in some amazing career. I have crows’ feet and grey hairs, I have a little wrinkle under my bottom lip that wine seeps into. My hormones and anxiety meds have caused weight-gain and I have a mummy apron I can balance a cup of tea on. I don’t visit the hairdresser enough, I occasionally throw some home-dye on my grey hairs when I can be bothered, I have leg hairs that a sasquatch would envy and I bite my finger nails until they bleed when I’m stressed.

I also have far more interesting things going on in my life than staring in the mirror stressing about how I look. I have books, and crafts; I have woods to walk in, and things to photograph, food to cook, children to entertain and adventure with, stories to tell. I’m too busy making myself relaxed and happy inside to be particularly bothered that I shouldn’t be wearing my silver hoop earrings or massive underskirts, or if my dreadfully inappropriate flared jeans would show too much muffin-top were they not covered by a jumper.

(I also have, apparently, quite remarkable ankles and, believe me, my wedding dress will make the most of these; but I will say no more about my dress because I am superstitious like that).

I have friends who are terrified of turning thirty. I suspect a lot of them believe that, once you close the door on your 20s, you are forced to become a relatively frumpy, stay-at-home, one glass of Prosecco on high days and holidays, career or family orientated (never, ever both, that simply wouldn’t do to have one’s cake and eat it). Those of us in our forties know that this is, to not to put too fine a point on it, utter bollocks made up to drive click-throughs to bait sites on the internet, and sell advertising online and in print.

Wear what you want.

Do what you want.

Get the hell off social media and its insidious brainwashing , and go and find your happy.

Expect your happy to change, to evolve, quite naturally. (Jeez, I used to be an all-night hardcore rave-chick with a busy, sociable job back in the dark ages.)

Stop wasting time worrying what other people think of you, what you choose to do, and what you choose to wear. Life’s too short, and it is there to be enjoyed, and whether that is pampering yourself and keeping those eyebrows perfect, or abseiling, or cross-stitch or bird-watching all depends on you and no-one else, sister.*

Do what brings you joy.

 

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*I say ‘sister’ because I have never once come across a patronising, mocking article explaining to men what they should and shouldn’t wear or do once they reach a certain age. I am, however, prepared to be educated.

 

Walking through seasons – my 5×50 challenge

Get this bloody thing open, would ya?

Get this bloody thing open, would ya?

 

And so it is over. My fifty day challenge of daily 5kms and no alcohol drew to a close on a warm and sunny Whangie in the Kilpatrick Hills late yesterday morning; with the not-husband and the Tiny Support Team having provided a delightful picnic and bottle of chilled Prosecco to celebrate my success.

This morning, I have taken the day off work because,well, I am self-employed and so I can do as I damn well please; but also because I fully intended to have a day out chilling (and, I confess, I thought I might have something of a hangover to work through – as it happens, I don’t.) and reminiscing on the past fifty days and how they were truly hellish, a complete nightmare, a test of my strength and how I am so bloody happy they’re over and I can go back to being a lazy, wine-guzzling mardy arse who spends half her life on Facebook and the other half moaning about things I have seen on Facebook. 

Except that wouldn’t be true. I have loved every single moment of it. Yes, of course there were days where I could have pulled the duvet over my head and hid away rather than struggling into my trainers at daft o’clock on a Saturday morning. There were times where my teeth chattered and my goose-pimples had goose-pimples whilst I got my creaking hips into a decent stride on a frosty morning. There were a couple of times where I wrung the rainwater out of my leggings and my trainers took three days to dry properly. Towards the end of last month, my body decided to hit me with what was probably the worst cold I’ve had in years and the thought of dragging my aching, wheezing, headachey body around a 5km circuit literally reduced me to tears.

But I did it. And every day, I just felt better and better.

Quite a few people have asked me about the physical benefits of the challenge and, I just want to say here, that I can only talk from my own, personal perspective. I am very aware that I am fortunate enough to be mobile, and active, and pain-free and, although I do have a chronic health condition (Polycythaemia Vera, I’m sure I’ll find an opportunity to tell you about this in due course), I am lucky that my bloods have stayed pretty good with only a couple of temporary hiccups in the past couple of years; so I have had the energy reserves available to be able to confidently approach this sort of challenge – four or five years ago would have been a very different story. But yes, the physical benefits have been many, and these – of course – have also affected my mental well-being too. To start with, I was generally walking more than 5km a day (I didn’t count my usual exercise like the school run, I only monitored using MapMyFitness when I was out, specifically, for the challenge work), I think I was averaging about 7km a day and I was usually going at a fair clip (could talk but not sing, not enough to be out of breath with a stitch and shin-splints; but enough to be warm and sweating slightly) and burning around 3500 calories a week. The increase in exercise had a knock-on effect that I genuinely wanted to eat more healthily too and, whilst I didn’t exactly live on rabbit food, I was particularly careful of my portion sizes and tried to eat more protein and fresh vegetables, and less carbs. It was what my body seemed to be craving. Of course, I was also off the alcomafrol, so that reduced helluva lot of empty, wasted calories.

I don’t know exactly how much weight I have lost because perimenopause means the scales rarely tell the same weight hour by hour; but I have tried to work out some kind of average and it seems to be in the region of 9 pounds or so, possibly a smidge more. I’ve certainly toned up my legs, bum and tummy area – I’ve not got rid of my mummy-apron (I wasn’t really trying to, to be honest – I think only surgery could do that!), but above that I do have the start of some abs and my waist is almost two inches smaller; so that’s not bad without having done any specific targeted exercises like crunches.

 

Just pondering how strange it was to be too hot in a t-shirt in April. It was snowing the following week...

Just pondering how strange it was to be too hot in a t-shirt in April. It was snowing the following week…

I have also been sleeping so much better, I have been genuinely shattered by around 11pm and waking up really refreshed at around 6.30am rather than having to be dragged out of bed by my feet; and because I haven’t been falling into the ‘drink wine and veg in front of the TV/Facebook and accomplish nothing’ trap, I have been using my time more wisely doing crafts, reading, meditating, doing yoga, tending to the raised bed at the community garden and, well, just pottering and pootling, really. My days have felt longer, fuller, with more things tried and accomplished (I even made myself a pincushion and I am quite ludicrously proud of it!) and -yes – happier. And that is where things have been the most noticeable.

Before I started this, I used to wake up regularly having an anxiety attack; usually about work. I’d let it eat away at me during the early morning, during the walk to school, on the walk back. By the time I got back in at 8.45am and it was time to start my hours, I would be jangling, shaking and already knackered. These attacks have all gone.

Before I started this, I seemed to have every damn symptom of perimenopause, from aching bones to headaches, night sweats, hot flushes, palpitations, severe and rapid mood swings and confusion. These, as you would expect, got worse depending on where I was in my cycle, and my PMT and period pains were just awful. I was horrid to be around. These have all but gone, or been massively reduced.

I have been meditating every day of the challenge, using the brilliant free Stop, Breathe and Think app that I’ve been using regularly for over a year now. Before you meditate, you are encouraged to list your top five strongest emotions at that very point – ranging from ‘negative’ emotions such as anger, jealousy and resentment through apathy, indifference and nervousness through to the ‘positive’ emotions such as gladness, joy and contentedness. Boy, have I seen my top five emotions change. Whereas before my mood was generally one of confused, overwhelmed nervousness and insecurity; I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that over the past fifty days I have witnessed a sea change and my moods have changed completely. Reading straight from the app right now, my top emotions of the past month have been: grateful, thankful, appreciative, enthusiastic and encouraged. Three months ago, they were exhausted, nervous, apprehensive, panicked and mixed up.

So, what have I learned?

I have learned that walking is fantastic exercise for both body and mind. I have also learned that alcohol was having far more of a detrimental effect on my health than I thought – the morning panics, I swear, were down to alcohol rather than lack of exercise. To prove my hypothesis, I walked around 7km yesterday, but had a  drink because the challenge was over. Not only did I pay for it with a crushing headache within a couple of hours; but I woke up with a panic attack at 5 this morning. I have been sleeping so much better, and being so much happier and more contented during the day, that alcohol is a simple thing to give up. Not give up completely, but cut back considerably to being an occassional treat rather than a staple to get over a tough day or a cloudy mood.

 

“It is Spring again. The earth is like a child who knows poems by heart.” –  Rainer Maria Rilke

PicMonkey Collage

The most important thing I have learned, however, is to look and to feel. To notice again.

I have learned that, to fill my heart and head with joy, all I need to do is look around me.

The vast amount of my walking was done within five miles of where I live, my home for twelve years and a place I have become used to, even probably slightly jaded by. How many times have I walked through the woods from the David Livingstone bridge, down past Bothwell Castle and down to where the cycle route takes the green bridge that crosses the Clyde and sweeps up the hill to the Blantyre Farm Road? Hundreds of times, in all weathers. Yet these fifty days felt different. Maybe because I was walking without the weight of my own World on my shoulders, maybe because I am more contented and am learning that worry is futile and only steals my own peace. Maybe because my eyes, and my heart, were open to the experience. I had nothing to lose, and nothing to be cynical about.

When we started, back in March, the trees were skeletal, the ground was hard with frost and my face and fingers stung with the cold North wind that made my eyes stream and my lips taste of blood and salt. On other days, the cloud seemed low enough to touch, and my head mostly studied the pavements as I held my hood down over my bowed head against the driving rain. I walked in my hillwalking boots, sometimes my wellies; wearing several layers and occassionally getting drenched through them all.

And then, slowly – oh, so slowly, it felt, I noticed the green starting to push through brown, muddy ground and rotten leaves. New life pushing through last year’s spent life. The heartbeat of the woods got louder and louder, and the air was soon full of birdsong and the gentle, soft unfurling of delicate, velvety leaves; the joyous dance of daffodils and wood anenomes and the scudding clouds and blue sky reflecting in that gently meandering river that, just ten miles downstream, once hosted ships that sailed the World and rang out with the sound of hammers.

Suddenly, I could see a million different greens around me, all perfect, all bright and full of promise. The greening was both an age to wait for, and a sudden flash of gobsmacking brilliance.

Sunshine and showers, blue skies and hailstorms. Snowdrops and daffodils and hidden bluebell dells. Foxes and deer and skylarks’ song and house martins. Dawn choruses and heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets. Country lanes draped in hawthorn and promise; the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of early Spring barbeques; the sound of laughter and the smell of earth.

I saw it, heard it, felt it all.

I held it.

I hold it still, and I always will. Everything is beautiful.

Everything.

 

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Celebrating the end of the challenge and drinking in the beauty at Rowardennan, Loch Lomond, May 15th

 

I have, so far, raised just shy of £700.00 for Parkinson’s UK and would like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to donate to this wonderful cause. My justgiving page will be open for another couple of weeks, so if you would like to make a small donation, you can do so here. Thank you so much xx