Half way through that month

I am not a usually a huge fan of the month of February, it feels like a failed promise. Every year people express relief at January having ended and it now being February. I never see the difference, it just feels like a never-ending winter at this point.

Although February has slightly longer days, it’s hardly spring for anyone but the birds who are in full song in the mornings and the local woodpeckers are cheering up the morning walk no end. As is the fact that those slightly longer days means the morning walks are in the light

The foxes who are disturbing my sleep with their yipping and yelling think it is the start of spring too. Actually they are disturbing the poodle’s sleep and he tells them off for being noisy. I appreciate his attempt to defend our sleep.

The ducks are enjoying the wetter winter as it is creating a small pond for them on the newly created flood area where we walk. And the changeable weather means that some mornings they’re swimming and some mornings they’re standing on the pond’s ice. Always amusing, I am sure they are not as bewildered as I think they look.

There are clumps of snowdrops everywhere and the crocuses are popping through. Every morning we stop and chat to various folks about whether winter will ever end and express surprised delight at the milder mornings or the clearer sky when that happens.

And because I really do not like February, I have arranged mini-breaks galore. One involving regrouping with some of my oldest friends and catching up gloriously over good food and drink. Another involved exploring a part of the UK coast I had never visited and spending a Sunday afternoon watching dolphins feed. Another involves visiting family we love and cherish but rarely get to see and the final trip involves a bit of adventure visiting a European city which has been on my to visit list for ever. I think this is a definitely the most travel in one month ever.

A successful reframing of February I think. Great month, love it!

Some days turn out better than expected

Generally I am a glass half full type of person. This week I am struggling with a cold and with a full diary, which is preventing the recovery time I need. So my glass looks nearly empty right now.

This morning started with a grumpy version of myself who had slept badly and was struggling to start the day. The day is ending with me feeling very accomplished. Have I ticked everything off the to-do list? Nope, I just do not have the energy. Have I looked after myself as much as I can and done as much as I can otherwise? Oh yes.

I asked for help, I let folks know I don’t feel well and of course, just as I do for everyone else, people rallied around to help. I got a lift somewhere when I thought I would have to walk or take a long bus journey. I snuck in a nap whilst someone else cooked dinner. The floors got washed in preparation for a meeting this evening in my house.

And then, I also tried to notice the nice things people do, even without me saying I am under the weather. Someone called and chatted through how to publicise an event at church, so I wasn’t left feeling I was trying to work things out on my own. The meeting in my house was productive and friendly and a group of people who did not know each other a month ago is starting to feel like we have a shared interest and were sharing some of our stories with each other.

My long work meeting was productive and amongst people I like and respect. I had meaningful contact with friends on WhatsApp groups and on texts and feel very grateful to have had an insight into their days too. A group at church has rallied around and found a replacement for me in a role I am standing down from, making me feel supported and happy in my decision to leave, by sending me emails and texts assuring me all will be well.

Have I still got a long list of things to do tomorrow? Am I still feeling unwell? Yes. But for now, today was a day well lived. Thank God.

What do I call today?

No, not Friday. Although, it is Friday, I will call today Friday. But it is also a day where I am not working for an employer. In the coming months I will have some more of those, as a contract comes to an end.

A short discussion with friends last night has led me to ponder. “Day off” doesn’t quite cut it. One of the friends in the discussion has a side hustle, she is paid for activity on some days off and sees that activity as work. We are keen (as a group, its one of our discussion topics) to keep work – either formal or side hustles – in a work space and carve proper space between work and rest.

Obviously all days include both – or they jolly well should do anyway. Cliches often have a root in truth and all work and no play making a person dull seems like truth to me. I am focussing very strongly on putting aside the work when my time there is done. It is not easy, I am criticised for not doing enough work, not answering enough emails or calls. As a part-time worker, I think I am an easy target for those who think I should be working in my non-paid hours. To my colleagues, there seem to be a lot of non-paid hours which others cannot imagine are filled with anything as useful as my job.

Being able to describe them to other people seems to be behind my need to title the days. I feel a sense of fear that people think I am wasting my time on my days off. I know that some are surprised I do not spend time cleaning or cooking.

There is also a ritual that seems to be needed, I will not have that Friday feeling soon – my week in my paid job will end on a Thursday. So what do I call a Thursday evening? The start of a new phase of the week for sure, but I oddly feel the need for a title. It may just be me though, the discussion last night included those who felt that days are days and do not need a specific work/non-work delineation, although we were all clear that “day off” becomes a misnomer when the paid work creeps into it, which does indeed happen.

An insignificant thing to be pondering this morning, but lovely to have a day in which I know I have time to ponder the insignificant alongside the significant.

Support on the tough days

Everyone has hard days, either at work, or at home. Yesterday I had one of those hard work days. A year or so ago I would have dealt with that with food – cake, chocolate, wine – and hours of Facebook/Instagram scrolling. And allowing myself to get angry inside.

Yesterday I leaned in to my new support systems.

A specific colleague who is great at having perspective and a less emotional reaction to bad days. She does not get into the mess with me, she offers me a way out.

A specific group of friends who I am virtually journeying through the year with in a particular quest to make life a little bit better together. We cheer each other’s successes. We help each other through the bad days, offering a wider perspective that we are not bad people, we are good people who have bad days. We have a wide range of skills and talents and sometimes we do things wrong, but we have what we need to correct the mistakes.

A knowledge that eating well and resting well will ultimately help me. So I spent travel time resting not doing. Not diverting my brain, but letting it process. I did indulge in food-based treats – but just a couple of squares of very dark chocolate. I stuck to the healthy eating otherwise during the day. I didn’t reach for the evening coffee and cake combo that my brain started telling me I needed.

And then my domestic support in the guise of my husband – a support system that has been in place for close on three decades! He shepherded me to a cosy corner of a local pub for a G&T. Not the totally healthy solution, but better than downing half a bottle of wine in the kitchen on a school night. Being out of the house contained the debrief of the day. Once we were home I felt happy, supported and reassured and able to refocus in on all that is good.

My sunrise and sunset check in show one little blip in life. At sunrise I was running along the Thames. The day was good as well as bad. I had plenty to write in the gratitude journal, and my overall reflection on yesterday – a very good day with loads of support and lovely people in it. Couldn’t ask for more.

Just be

This weekend has been a delicious treat. It has involved work. I rarely work at weekends any more, but when I do, it is always doing the parts of the job I love the most. Speaking to people about why I do my job, how it fits with my faith and my life view and how much my small actions – combined with the many small actions of my audience, are tangibly changing the world for the better. These are opportunities for me to lift my gaze above the day to day and give me perspective. Sorely needed after last month.

I am away from home, on the south coast in Torquay. Delightfully, “home” agreed to come with me for the weekend. We are all feeling the length of winter and are tired and stressed.

Time away turns out to be just what we need. Without really deciding to, we have made the very most of hiring an AirB&B for the weekend. I have resisted doing my usual thing of insisting that we all get out and see everything. Instead, we are going with the flow. Which is restful. The dog is struggling with arthritis, so the walks have to be short. The nights are long and cold and we have bowed to Mother Nature and stayed indoors, cosy and companionable when it’s dark. The sunshine has been tremendous and we have had plenty of it – but gently. Everyone was sleep deprived this week, so we’re catching up on that too.

I was feeling overwhelmed because I have not had much planning or yoga time this week. Instead it was a week of having meetings which created more tasks to do and took away the time to do them. After finding time yesterday to plan February I am feeling better. Plus I found half an hour to get on a yoga mat. Spending some time breathing properly undoubtably helped.

Right now it is getting later on a Sunday morning. No one is stirring. I am staying with this flow though and me and the dog are enjoying just being, catching up on a load of blogs I usually read, now writing my own (on my phone) and in a minute that yoga mat will come out again.

I was aiming for an early morning walk on the beach today – the need to see everything and do everything is not quite gone! Instead I shall just be with whatever is actually happening now. The beach will still be there later and the cafe will serve elevenses as well as they do breakfast I am sure.

Happy Sunday

Sunrise and sunset moments

It’s feeling like a long dark winter this year, but there is one delicious habit I have developed thanks to a dear friend which is lightening the season.

Since 24 November I have been consciously marking the moments of sunrise and sunset by texting a dear friend and letting her know what I am doing, however mundane or trivial. The friend texts back and sometimes we have a longer conversation and sometimes we don’t, just two short texts every day is the aim.

It has meant that I look forward to sunset and am able to place it in some sort of context. The light may have gone, but generally I am warm, safe, surrounded by colleagues or friends or family who I feel safe with. Generally life is good in that moment. It may be full of irritation or frustration, but it is one moment and taking a snapshot of one moment gives it some perspective.

It has been interesting seeing the difference in time between my sunset and my friend’s (we use the BBC weather app to give us the time). We were in different countries for one week, but mostly we’re about 10 miles from each other, so seeing that our sunset time can vary has been intriguing.

Most of all I get a little glimpse into what she is up to. It’s a tiny window into her family life, which crashes into our sunrises on most days. It’s sharing a moment of the to-do list, the projects, the frustrations which make up our daily lives. We see each other often, but those catch-ups often involve the big things in life like what the children and spouses are doing, our projects and plans.

Our daily texts are marking our friendship together in a precious way, recording a season together, both the changing light in the day and also the way life changes in small ways every day.

It’s making me enjoy sunset. That is a powerful benefit, believe me.


The crafting perspective.

I am not known for my handiwork skills, nor my practical expertise in gardening or decorating. I tell myself constantly that I am not a practical person in the physical sense.

Yet, I can planned pack for a holiday, I can cook for a houseful of people, I can organise brilliant parties and bake amazing cakes. I can see how a room of furniture could be arranged, I can place plants and pictures in the “right” places, I can choose colour schemes for rooms. All of which are practical, physical skills and I am good at them all. I need to change that narrative in my head.

One of my aims this month was to create space in my day for doing something different, something that does not involve typing on a screen or meeting in a room of people making more to do lists. I decided some more time crafting would be good. I have been trying to sew. It is not neat and tidy, but I am only starting out, so why would it be? It is fun. And a bit addictive.

I have managed to meet up with friends three times in the month to do some gentle sewing or knitting together over a cuppa. A friend and I had a fun afternoon wet felting and making some beautifully wonky coasters. It is a social activity as well as a relaxing one.

Looking at my progress I realise why I tell myself I am no good at it – it takes practise, it takes time. Embroidery, knitting, felting are not skills we’re born with, they’re skills we learn. I am as able as anyone else to learn the skills, but they take time.

Finding the space to sew a bit or do anything creative has shone a light on how I spend my time – a lot of what I do is very similar, both in work and in my home life – organising lists, groups of people, planning, emailing, meeting. It has been fun doing something very contrasting, but it has also given me a real insight into how little variation in activity there is in my week.