And we’re in exam season

The final set of GCSEs start today. We are now in the era of final exams, so new to us as parents, but ironically exactly the system we went through ourselves as students up to 1987. The stress is inevitably high in this system, everything rides on a few hours of written exam.

The weekend has been full of stress-relieving techniques, anything any of us could think of was embraced by the offspring. Sleep happened, good food was eaten. Time was spent outside, thankfully the weather was lovely, sunshine definitely helps. There have been lots of hugs. Time was spent being silly and laughing. Music was played and listened to. Baths were had.

Most of all there was acceptance of what this period is – it is difficult and it is stressful, but it is also short term. In five weeks it will all be done and the offspring seems marvellously aware of that.

Whatever the results end up being, I am incredibly proud of the way he has dealt with this weekend of anticipation and taken control of his own wellbeing as far as he can. He has verbalised feelings, asked for help and taken on suggestions. I could learn a lot from him.

Good luck to all taking exams.

Planning out the morning

With apologies to anyone who struggles with real sleeping difficulties, I am not sleeping well. Relatively speaking. I am a sleep obsessive and a bit of a zealot. I firmly believe, and a wealth of current books and articles suggest that I am not wrong, that if I sleep well I am much healthier. Both in mind and body. I have never subscribed to the heroic boasting of how little sleep I have had. I sleep well at night for seven hours and can nap like a pro. The offspring have semi-seriously enquired whether I have sleep on my CV, it certainly seems to be a skill.

Recently my sleep has not been as good, I am trying all sorts. The room is as dark as I can make it. I don’t eat before bed, I make sure I eat healthily in the day, I exercise in the daytime, but not too close to bed. Except yoga – and that helps I think. I don’t drink caffeine after noon. I don’t drink alcohol every day – a glass of wine definitely disrupts sleep.

Despite all this effort I can’t stop waking up in the night, I don’t wake up for long and can generally drop back off. I have no idea what time it is happening, as I have turned off all clocks in the light reduction effort. I suspect that part of the issue is that my days vary a lot, I work in different locations, using different modes of transport and with different teams. I tend to wake up feeling bit anxious trying to work out what I am doing today.

In an attempt to offset this feeling of confusion, I have written down a timetable for this morning and read it in detail last night again before settling down. It certainly helped me drop off much more quickly when I woke up in the night and I woke up keen to get the day started, knowing that the slot between 6 and 6:45 involved coffee and blogging. My sleep may not be perfect, but at least I am getting a blog written. I still woke up though, so maybe that is now a habit which will take a while to wear off.

And I am intending a good catch-up nap at the weekend. I am totally aware that anyone with a proper sleep problem is rolling their eyes at this blog – my heart bleeds for you and the real pain you feel.

Nothing to say

This blog has now existed for about fifteen months and I enjoy it, but nevertheless I am struggling to keep going with the habit of writing. So far this morning I have checked where I need to be for work today, I have texted a friend, I have glanced at work emails and checked personal emails. Just about anything but write this.

I really cannot get to the bottom of the procrastination, as soon as I start writing I get absorbed in it. I get to 250 words on something and enjoy the editing part of the process too. The aim was to challenge myself to write something short and cohesive quickly. It’s a good way to hone skills I use a lot and to find a “voice”. And to practise not using “try” and “just” and “it seems” in every other sentence. Honestly, most of the time is spent deleting those three lazy vocabulary safety blankets.

I have less of a thrill when I post, I wonder whether that is because I am not reacting to comments and thoughts via Facebook as quickly. Or maybe it is all because I do not really have anything more to say. That may very well be true, but I do enjoy writing, so I want to find something to say.

It is now Wednesday as I write this paragraph, the three above were written on Tuesday – so much for staying focussed. I mentioned Facebook and had a “squirrel moment” (love Up!) and went to investigate that instead. Which then lured me into downloading Facebook on my phone. Not quite what was intended with blogging, ah well. Right, posting this now, the title says it all folks. Happy Wednesday, may you find something to say.

The joy of hosting

I do love having people here to stay or for a day. This was a non-hosting weekend, but it gave me some time to think about the differences between a houseful of guests and one without.

I do make more of an effort with the physical environment when visitors come. So, yep, I clean if you visit, not so much if you don’t. This became a bit of a joke when the children were very small and I would ask people over for coffee explaining that nothing else would motivate me to get the vacuum cleaner out.

My house is not huge, but it’s not tiny. Having people here to stay or even just for the day is an exercise in re-enacting A Squash and A Squeeze by Julia Donaldson, one of our favourite children’s books. Well one of mine. I early on recognised the joy of cramming lots of people into a house and then the realisation when everyone leaves that there is plenty of space really.

Over the years, having the aim of inviting people over has led to certain decisions in arranging the house. A small extension now houses a large dining table. We replaced two chairs with another sofa in the sitting room, as that gave a bit more space for people to squish in. For ages there was no coffee table, because playing room for children was much more important. There is a variety of spare beds stashed throughout the house. The garden was changed to add in sofas and a few extra seats, recognising that our garden is a place for people much more than plants really.

I enjoy the challenge of catering for groups and am rarely happier than when the house is full at breakfast time. All of which makes me think I need to plan in some weekends hosting folks. Off to the diary I head.

Accepting the hours I have

My hours at work have changed recently and I now have one whole day off a week, I don’t work on a Friday. I was working 4 days a week, but worked a bit every day. I now work fewer hours, so have a whole day off. I am struggling. Let me be clear, it is me who is struggling, I am in no way obliged by anyone else to work in my hours off. Being clear and strong about asking for meetings on days that I am paid to work sits uncomfortably with me. I have difficulties switching off on a Friday, knowing that the email inbox is filling up, knowing that colleagues have fed back that I am difficult to get hold of.

I am very clear in my own mind that being effective is getting as much done as possible in the hours I am supposed to work. Despite that clarity, so far this Friday morning I have been diverted by my email inbox, albeit only for a few minutes as I remembered something I wanted to tell someone today rather than Monday. Of course I read and replied to a couple of other emails too.

I am trying very hard not to apologise for not being there today and also aware that the shorter week is making me feel less work-efficient than usual. Definitely needs some more work in my head though to relish and accept today as a day off and just put the work aside for a while, knowing I will be better at it on Monday if I do and that if anyone wants me to do more, they need to consider paying me for some more hours. Nope I feel guilty even typing that. Oh well, work in progress.

Easter reflections part 2

The pathos of Holy Week inevitably leads to the absolute joy of Easter Sunday, at the least within the church services. Taken together the services are a safe way to travel through a whole gamut of emotions and have a really happy ending.

Our Easter was certainly joyous and happy. It was a Saturday of catching up with dear family who we rarely see, cousins were reunited and took up where they left off. News was exchanged and the most delicious giant profiteroles stuffed with ice cream were eaten. Other delicious things were eaten, but the profiteroles were seriously amazing.

Easter Sunday was a joyous church occasion followed by a sumptuous Easter brunch. I am not sure I have ever cooked brunch on Easter Sunday before, but I loved it. Brunch is a great meal to be able to create a sense of abundance and it always feels like a treat.

There was of course chocolate, wine, and coffee – all of which had been fasted from by various members of the family. There was the extended family, more cousins joyfully gathering. The day had an underlying retro Wii Sports competition happening, along with Easter egg hunts, Easter egg decorating, dog walks and frisbee playing in the park. And a lot of sun cream thanks to the amazing weather.

All in all a long and joyous day of family and feasting and being very aware of all the many blessings that surround us.

Easter reflections

This is definitely my favourite holiday in the religious calendar. For a load of reasons. Last week was of course Holy Week. The quieter time of Lent culminates in a week of traditional services all with different moods and significance. Moving through the week is like a gentle and very supported guide to emotions. It is a week of guided introspection, that follows six weeks of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

I enjoy the sense of tradition, it makes me feel very grounded and somehow safe. Many of the services are attended by much the same people, so I have a real feeling of belonging to a wider community and being part of something bigger than me.

The music is unusual, not what we hear in the rest of the year, and yet familiar in it being the music of Holy Week. The services themselves are unusual, but the same every year. It’s a delightful mix of familiarity and difference all in one week.

It is wonderful to be encouraged to be quiet, to turn inwards for a few days. There is a lot of silence in the church services, Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting. I abstained from my phone and laptop for the day. It definitely changed the mood of the day, making it much more deliberate and thoughtful.

After a long winter, it felt good to have a week of reflection and quiet to bring it to a proper end. The weather was very compliant, starting the week with cold and wind and warming up as the week wore on. Lent and winter ended very well indeed.