A week of all the volunteering

The last few months have definitely been a work and play focus. The sheer volume of work that happens in January and February takes me by surprise every year. But this year I got through very much by keeping very focussed on work and trying to do a lot of socialising and travelling at weekends in order to make sure I relaxed somewhat.

Now though I am ready to turn back to the various volunteer roles I hold in life. All of which I enjoy and have a different purpose. The CAFOD group at church is preparing for Lent Fast Day this Friday and a Fairtrade wine tasting in May.

The Birmingham Children’s Book Group is part of the Bournville Book Fest this weekend and next and I will be on the Book Swap stall that we run. If you are near Rowheath Pavilion this Saturday or Bluecoat School next Saturday, come and swap children’s books.

My Scout role definitely needs some more attention, although as always with my Scout role, a fair amount has gone on in the background even if its not as visible as it could be. Now though I need to set my sights back on recruiting others who can share their administrative, financial and management skills for the benefit of the hundreds of children who enjoy Scouts every week in Birmingham. How to do that is still puzzling me a bit though.

I have resigned as a children’s liturgist after some years of service. I leave at the end of Lent, but meanwhile am working hard to train and support some new liturgists so that they are ready to take over once I step down.

It is good to be back in the mix, even if all the meetings happening in one week along with a weekend full of volunteering is a bit of a leap back into it all.

A London weekend

Style change alert. I think I am going to spend a week or so using this as a sort of online record of all I do. Let’s see how we go, I am not totally convinced by the idea.

Our weekend feels worthy of reliving in writing . We all, offspring and my Mum, got on a train to London on Saturday morning. It’s amazing how much more fun that journey is with family. And how much more fun fellow passengers are at the weekend. The enormous dog snoozing at one end of the carriage was gorgeous. The crowd of stage school students were just brilliant in their confidence and sense of fun and their enthusiasm for the morning and the application of makeup.

The aim of the weekend was to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the continuation of the stories on stage. There are two parts, it is recommended to see them on consecutive nights or on the same day. We did the latter. They are two brilliant plays, great theatre experience for the family, and we all loved it a lot. It absolutely lived up to our expectations. I have since downloaded Imogen Heap’s mesmerising music in four suites to relive some of the experience.

I had of course bought the “cheap” seats (its all relative!) in the balcony with the steepest rake I have ever experienced – I remember feeling terrified seeing Les Miserables from the cheap seats decades ago. Those in the group with vertigo coped very well, my instinct to not mention that the seats were very high and with limited leg room before we got there seemed to have worked. There have been a few whinges about sore knees since, but they are falling on the deaf ears of the shortest member of the family. There are few advantages of being my height, this is one I relish.

The show was interspersed with consumption of Japanese food. Having spent a weekend away recently without teens, we had to readjust back to the need for a lot of food this time. For a reason that is beyond us, there is no branch of Itsu in Birmingham, so every trip to London has an obligatory visit included. In this case lunch before theatre. Then for some reason the popular choice for dinner was Wagamama. I know, we could definitely have found independents to go and eat in, but we needed convenience and confidence in the food. And both choices were delicious and included vegetables, so I was happy.

The day was utterly exhausting – 5 hours of theatre is a lot. And there are a LOT of stairs in the Palace Theatre. So there were a fair number of coffee breaks too.

Sunday started with a run along the Thames for three of us, it was our first ever run with an offspring and having the South Bank area pretty much to ourselves was a treat that offset the rainy windy weather on the run.

A very long breakfast – in a vain attempt to fill up the teens and to consume enough coffee to wake me up – was followed by a gentle stroll back along the running route and a visit to Tate Modern. The Turbine Hall never fails to impress me and their flat whites are delicious – you get the theme of the day – stroll and coffee. We had the customary family arguments about the merits of modern art, but it was a fast stroll through the galleries. I do struggle with film installations when I am tired – they feel overwhelming. The Magic Realism exhibition was a flashback to student days though, I still find the movement fascinating.

Lunch was back in the hotel bar, which is comfy and was convenient. I discovered that the eldest offspring now seems to know something about football – its amazing the way they change when they leave home!

The afternoon train journey was very quiet with us all hiding in books or snoozing. We arrived back into Birmingham in a flurry of snow, which was bizarre. Mum and eldest headed back off to their respective homes and the rest of us settled into an evening of sofas, pizza and gentle TV. Lovely.

A great weekend indeed. And it’s always good to go back and relive it.

Sunrise over London

Wardrobe refresh

Yesterday I decided to leap out of my comfort zone. A massive huge leap into the world of clothes. I am not a keen shopper, I have always hated buying clothes. As some may remember, last year was a year of buying from charity shops to get me more into the habit of browsing rails with little financial risk.

Friday was a massive leap into “proper” clothes buying. One of my 2019 resolutions was to book a personal shopping session somewhere. It happened yesterday afternoon.

For two whole hours the lovely and enthusiastic Nina from John Lewis in Birmingham soothed and encouraged me through a whole variety of colours, fabrics and fits.

It was utterly exhausting – as moving out of the comfort zone often is – as well as really, really good fun. I have discovered green. And some brilliant trousers. And blouses.

Last night I felt tired and a bit overwhelmed. But this morning it was great fun to go to the wardrobe and pick out a top that fits well and is a bit different to the usual “uniform”

Hurrah for feeling uncomfortable for a little bit.

Lenten reset

We’re a couple of days into Lent already. I enjoy Lent, I appreciate the chance to slow down, spend more time in prayer, spend more time thinking about the world around me and how I can affect change in things that matter to me (almsgiving) and spend less time thinking about me and my needs (fasting). It’s an interesting mix of being more internal: my prayer means more time deliberately alone and quiet or in reflective prayer groups and church services and the external: fasting makes me realise how much I consume; almsgiving brings inequality and social injustice into sharp focus.

I find fasting is the element that is easiest to make happen, it is the part of Lent that most people have heard about. Fasting usually means giving up a type of food or drink, but I have also fasted from plastic use and from social media in the past. The challenge for me is to see it as a reset of my dependence on some sort of consumption, creating an ease and space in me that I can then devote to prayer. Not as a diet! But generally it is fairly easy to put in place.

More challenging is almsgiving. Never mind about giving up the chocolate, what do you do instead of eat chocolate? I need to look around and observe where I can see injustice or inequality and use the chocolate money to do something about it. And – add a bit to the chocolate money and also lend my voice to the cause. Today is International Women’s Day, so looking at an issue focussed on women seems to be in order today. If you can empower women you can change whole communities. The ongoing challenge is that I don’t think almsgiving is supposed to be about a one-off donation, it’s about being much more open to the injustice around you and knowing that you are part of the solution.

The most challenging for me is finding time every day for prayer. A proper chunk of reflection and listening to God – finding the requisite time feels ridiculously challenging. I worry I don’t pray properly. I worry I don’t hear what I should hear or see what I should see.

And that is the beauty of Lent. It is an annual challenge to stop, reset your priorities, move your focus outwards to the world and also to a higher power. It is a time to prioritise my spirit, not tick lists, not outward appearance, but the why of my life.

Change of location

A while back I wrote about finally getting a desk sorted out for myself in the house. That has remained important to me. It’s a space in a family home where I am absolutely in control of the physical surroundings. Yes, that clutter is mine. In fact one of my stresses last week was that I spent a week dumping things on the desk and not prioritising sorting them out. I felt frazzled all week. Possibly not because of the state of my desk (and it has to be admitted my house generally) but that was contributing to the feeling of being a bit out of control.

Clearing it up is relatively easy – most of the clutter is now in the ‘pictures to hang’ pile. I know, I know – that is just moving the piles from one place to another. I am internally chortling as I write this though: the pictures to be hung pile is much more hidden from view. Marie Kondo would despair I am sure.

What has also been preoccupying me is the choice of the desk’s location. At the moment it is in a room with everyone else’s desk, the room where the clutter tends to build. But it is next to the window and beautifully light.

This morning I am celebrating the first blog of spring by writing this at my desk looking out of that window as it is light already. The view is of a very busy road, but that is not too bad. I am feeling connected to the world as I watch people drive by, I can see the blue sky and appreciate that Storm Freya has passed and the trees are still.

I am not convinced it makes the blog any more interesting – sorry about that, but staring out the window at a hedge is much better than surfing the internet whilst waiting for a thought to come. In case you hadn’t realised this is one of those ‘just write something and get back in the habit of blogging’ blogs. Well done if you have read this far.

Holidays without kids

I have had a whole week and a bit off work and it has been splendid. The week started with the first trip abroad with the husband for many years. Prior to last week’s flight, the last flight we took just the two of us was when we de-emigrated (is that a word) and returned to UK on 31 March 1999. The last holiday we took together was a long weekend in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon almost exactly 20 years ago. It was somewhat marred by me being inexplicably exhausted and very very sick. A pregnancy test on our return clarified that we were embarking on a new adventure.

And that chapter of life is coming to an end. And as one chapter ends, we tentatively start a new one of life post dependent children. And what a way to start. We spent three nights away in Barcelona whilst youngest offspring was away on a school trip. Barcelona was the chosen destination due to logistics – the flights went from our local airport and the times fitted with the school trip times. Freedom is not quite ours, but frankly, having some restrictions on travel made the choice of destination easy.

And what a destination! Barcelona lived up to all the hype from friends who had visited previously. The hotel recommendation was great (Hotel Curious is very central, very quiet, basic, but really friendly and includes a great breakfast), transport into and around the city was easy and cheap. The city has a beach and the most beautiful basilica I have ever seen, even if La Sagrada Familia is unfinished. What more could we need?

Mostly the weekend was precious as we rediscovered how to holiday together again. Having just two voices in the decisions instantly reduces time taken. Twenty years later we discovered we are still very happy wandering, stopping for a lot of coffee, and then beer/cava in the evenings. Popping into bars to just have a drink was a treat. Not worrying about the effects of delayed mealtimes on children’s blood sugar levels was a relief. The biggest discovery was that our children really like to know what the aim of a walk or an excursion is. “Just having a look around” has never cut it for them, but I had not really realised how different that is to our holiday needs until last weekend.

A hugely successful first trip away without offspring. We did miss them though and spent a good amount of time pointing out things they would love to see and it was odd not to hear their opinions on the city. And strange not to just have them with us. Family McMillan have had amazing holidays as a foursome and they are always an adventure. I shall miss them indeed. But its good to know there is a different type of holiday awaiting us.

Awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia

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!