As we move more and more back to something resembling normal routines, my brain seems to be returning to habits that were normal. Obviously this blog is one of those. I can’t tell you why I stopped, I just did. I didn’t have the desire to write. And for a while there wasn’t much happening that I had not written about.
I am keen to read again too. Reading was a habit that disappeared this year, I know I’m not alone in this. It seems that the sheer volume of information in the early days of the pandemic in UK made focussing on a book far too difficult for many people. I read some excellent books, but definitely nowhere near as many as usual. Now I feel much more likely to pick up a book for a few minutes, rather than scrolling through news and then through social media to see people’s reactions to the news. And then sharing my views on the news with friends and family and virtually and the family in the house. It was a crazy time. Curling up with a book seems a much better option really doesn’t it?
I also consume books in audiobook format. I rarely listen to a book when I am driving or travelling, I find them too hard to focus on. But I listen to them in the house when doing other things. Despite all that time in the house, I just could not bear to have an audio book on. I listened to a few podcasts, but audiobooks seemed beyond me. This week I dipped back in to audiobooks. I have no idea why that now seems appealing when it wasn’t before, but I am looking forward to finishing “In Praise of Walking: The New Science of How We Walk and Why It’s Good for Us”. Although given the subject matter of the book, I am feeling the need to go for some long walks as well.
To be honest I am just glad reading and blogging are back in my life this week, so I’ll just be grateful rather than too bothered as to why they seem possible all of a sudden.
I do like the September feeling of a new academic year. And this year I had expected the academic element would be totally irrelevant for us. One son should have been living in a houseshare and the start of school where he works would have been something observed from a distance. Younger son would have been firmly ensconced in the workplace element of his apprenticeship.
Would, could, should – they are the themes of 2020 aren’t they? Instead of what should have been happening…
Everyone lives at home. And we’re witnessing the return to a school job and it’s the basis of dinner time conversations this week. The apprenticeship led to furlough, combined with a college course taking place over the summer holidays instead of the term. And then very suddenly the furlough ended and it was back to work this week (literally he was informed on Friday!).
The expectation of last September that that was our “last academic year start” have been confounded. Like so many expectations this year. This one is very minor and actually is a huge positive. I had missed all this energy in the morning, the constant stream of people moving around our relatively small house in a short space of time. Turns out it was this feeling of movement and energy – and frankly the need to be out of the way of the movement – was needed to drive me to write.
Today is the day many youngsters head back to school. Good luck everyone, from what I hear over dinner, schools have put so much thought and care into keeping everyone safe, I am sure it’s not going to be an easy morning for many, but I wish you the energy and patience you need to get through it.
It’s been an exceptional year of holidays of all lengths and types. We’ve managed short breaks as a couple, holidays with friends and family; activity holidays and chilled out breaks.
I have no idea why this year has been so holiday-focussed and can’t honestly say that it was intentional. But it has been great fun. We were in Edinburgh this weekend and spent a lot of time discussing how much we love trying out living in a new place. Being a bit further away geographically enables me to take a bird’s eye view of life and to check all is well. Somehow whilst living that life at home, I struggle to examine it.
Everywhere we go there is a conversation about whether we want to move there. It verges on obsessive. I was slightly concerned that it’s a symptom of being unhappy where we live now, which we are definitely not. In reality, it’s a good way to reflect on what we could do better- maybe spend a bit more time lingering over coffee and newspapers in a local coffee shop, or mooching around excellent museums, or walking along rivers (or canals in Birmingham terms) to get a break from city architecture. All of these are tiny tweaks of course. More than that, it’s a great way to discuss everything we would miss too much about where we live – there is a lot.
Admittedly the idea of living in an amazing Georgian flat in a European capital city, spending the days walking for miles with pit stops at lovely independent coffee shops and evenings putting the world to right over excellent cocktails in interesting bars and great food in friendly local restaurants is hugely attractive. Of course, I can’t actually afford that lifestyle for more than a few days. And that’s ok – I am home again now in a house and community I love and back to the job I love, and starting the saving for the next holiday.
The new season is off to a good start and it is full of all the meetings and all the to-do lists and all the chores. I am determined to find balance this month between times filled with tasks and time for not doing very much at all.
The weekend has been a good example of that balance, although I lacked sleep and exercise, which I am paying for this week. The weekend was the lovely Moseley Folk & Arts Festival and despite the weather (ridiculously chilly) it was a very calming and enjoyable weekend. It’s a weekend of switching off and not doing much except being entertained by a whole variety of musicians and catching up with friends we bumped into. We worked out that this is the eighth year in a row that we have been to the festival, so it’s safe to say that it has become our traditional way to end the summer season.
In amongst the festival were various Scouts meetings and a meeting of the Birmingham Children’s Book Groups. All were very productive and we have great plans to put on events, support others better etc.
The challenge this week is that I am a bit sleep deprived after the weekend and have eaten less well than I should have and not done as much exercise as I could have – all of which is lowering energy levels. Yet I have another week of meetings and that to do list looms large. Time to stop writing and either go and get some things done, or do some exercise to get the energy flowing again.
This week is my back to school week. There is no literal school involved at all, I no longer work in a school and my own school days ended 30 years ago. Nevertheless, this time of year fills me with the anticipation of a new start, so my thoughts are turning to new challenges.
Which is in itself a challenge as I am trying to not take on more things, but to create space in my week, where there is nothing scheduled. So classes in machine embroidery or ceramics are not appropriate – however tempting they may be.
Instead, I am turning back to all the things that have been abandoned over the summer.
I lifted the lid on the piano last night for the first time this summer and am committing to a lot more practice this term. The laptop has come out this morning, and typing this blog feels like heading back to a good routine after such a prolonged break from it. The end of this week sees various Scout meetings to plan new challenges and I have an autumn of Scout training ahead of me as I really start to get into a new role. I have rejoined a book group I had taken a break from, the next book to read has been ordered from the library.
My new term will not contain anything new, but picking up the things I let drop over a long summer feels exciting anyway – after all I know I love doing all these things. Children’s return to school may involve a new school, teachers or subjects, but ostensibly they are heading back into a familiar routine, so my back to school is not too far from reality. Now, all I need is some new stationery and a new bag…
In weeks like this where work involves a fair amount of travel, I take comfort in dividing my week in half. There are 168 hours in a week, my week starts at 6am on a Monday morning, so the half way point is Thursday at 6pm. The first half of my week has been focussed on work. I have travelled to Plymouth and back and Bristol and back and worked full and productive days. Today I have a good day planned with useful meetings and some discussions with colleagues in the diary.
It’s been very full and very work-focussed though. That said, I have had dinner with a friend, I squeezed in one run, and have done quite a bot of Scouts volunteering, as well as getting some plans in place for family events and the pre-Christmas season. I have also had a good amount of down time watching Netflix (I am obsessed with Gilmore Girls!) and surfing social media. So, it has been far from all work.
It still does not feel quite as balanced as it could be though, so the halving the week is a great comfort. The reality is that I will do absolutely no work at all in the second half of the week, and thinking of my week like that really helps me see the balance. And even in this last half a day of this half of the week (yes my brain does work like this!), I am squeezing in a blog writing session, I have just had a lovely ten minutes thinking through the day and I will manage a run before work. I am also taking some time off to attend a school appointment, so there is family time in the day too.
Just reflecting on how much Scouting and me-time there has been already helps to energise me. here’s to the second half of the week.
You may have gathered that I am in a slump at the moment. I know it is the transition of the seasons from that gorgeous hot summer to the dark of the winter. I know it is the incredible busyness of September and October. I know it is the change in our family circumstance as one of the offspring leaves home. I know all of that. Knowing it makes it much easier and I had a sense of acceptance that this was just the mood of September and October.
I do feel I am coming through it. I have had to rest for medical reasons, so having to focus on sleeping has probably helped a lot. I have tried to spend a bit of time reflecting on what has gone well and a lot has gone very well and I have done a lot despite the energy slump.
One of the things that has helped a lot is social media. I know it is not trendy to see social media as a force for good, but I do. I am vigilant about what I follow and what I click on, generally I avoid news consumption on social media and I make sure I interact with people, so it becomes an important part of my social activity. It’s not my whole social activity, believe me, but it is a good part of it.
Yesterday it came up trumps in many ways. I directly declared I needed motivation to get to a yoga class and it came in spades, delivered with gusto and humour and of course everyone was right, I felt better for going, I also felt better for having some interaction with people and knowing that they were sympathetic of my sofa versus yoga battle. I could have asked some friends via text to nudge me, but that felt intrusive in their days. The friends on Facebook were obviously having some downtime too and were happy to reach out to me in that downtime. That is a lovely feeling.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out the door, I had a great evening and have had the best night’s sleep this week. And, hugely importantly I had to walk home from the class. Walking in the dark for the first time is always a psychological hurdle in the autumn I find. I leapt that hurdle and had a great evening, much of it down to social media. Thank you!
I fell in love with the work of Gretchen Rubin about a year ago and am a little obsessed with her Four Tendencies, which box people very neatly into a specific Tendencies depending on our response to expectations, both inner expectations – those we place on ourselves and outer expectations – those placed on us by others. There are four tendencies: Obliger, Questioner, Rebel and Upholder. If you would like to join my obsession, do take her quiz.
I am an Upholder, which means I respond well to both inner and outer expectations. I have no problem setting resolutions for myself and keeping to them, equally I will make sure whatever other people ask of me gets done. Each of the Tendencies has a downside though. In the case of an Upholder, it is something that Rubin calls ‘tightening’.
I am feeling that this morning. It is the start of a new month, which means that I will think about what I want to achieve this month. I am sure that by the weekend I will have found the thinking space to do this, but part of the tightening process is that it is no longer good enough to just think about the month ahead, it has to be at another level. I have woken up with the thought that I should have a plan of action for the month, neatly prioritised and ordered on a specific page of my journal. I should have a word of the month, illustrated with a word cloud. It is no longer enough to be living with a bit more intention and reflection, now I need to have everything written in a certain way? Good grief.
Last night I had a delayed train journey home from work and was just too tired to plan my month at work as I had planned, instead I rested. I know, that is totally sensible after a twelve hour day – just read some blogs or a novel. But now I have woken up feeling like a total failure because I have not prioritised my whole month. I have a to-do list for this week and next, all beautifully organised and prioritised, but this darned tightening means I still feel bad. because I don’t have a whole month’s plan. Again – good grief!
Word of the month has been decided though as I write this: loosening!
“I hope you have a quiet weekend planned” in an email from a close colleague late last week evoked a firm declaration that my weekend, and the few days annual leave I have taken, are indeed quiet. They need to be, I am recovering from an injury and a hectic few weeks at work.
Swiftly following the declaration was the plan for the weekend. It involves visiting three siblings and their combined six children, my parents in law, as well as two sets of very close family friends, all in a 250mile round car trip.
I wasn’t lying though, this is resting. I love heading back to where I grew up and catching up with people I love seeing, but whom daily life rarely gives me a window to see. Seeing so many people on one trip is especially brilliant.
We are staying with various delightful hosts who are feeding me and handing me drinks on a regular basis. The walks are frequent, but gentle and in brilliant autumn sunshine on the beach or around castles. I live a long way from the beach and although I live close to a castle it really is not as stunning as those in Pembrokeshire.
The nieces and nephews are energetic and delightful, they’re all adoring of the auntie they rarely see and are mainly entertained by their teenage cousins.
Apart from chatting and catching up with everyone, there is plenty of time for sewing the cross stitch I have had lingering in the background for years, reading a chapter of a book and even a much-needed nap. I have had time to catch up on some blogs I read, listen to podcasts and even smarten up this blog too.
All in all, an energising few days of intentional rest, made possible by being in a different environment surrounded by family. Perfect. Not a perfect way to rest for everyone admittedly, but this extrovert traveller loves it.
One of my goals for this year was to be slower in life, to do things with more intention and more deliberately. A surprising manifestation of this has been in shopping. I am not a lover of shopping, I found it stressful – there is too much choice, too much expectation to be buying things to make life better. That never sat comfortably with me.
Somehow this year, I am enjoying shopping. I have not yet managed to totally overcome the impulse to just buy things mindlessly and then feeling guilty afterwards, but a few things have definitely helped.
A decision to be more ethical in my purchasing, specifically about environmental impact of what I buy has been a transformation in my mindset. The fashion industry is one of the major environmental culprits, guilty of mass-producing clothing in appalling working conditions, using and damaging a wealth of natural resources and all with the intention of forcing a complete change of wardrobe every month or so. It seems that a seasonal wardrobe is no longer enough, we now have transition wardrobes, party wardrobes, holiday wardrobes. I struggled hugely and refused to buy anything for ages and then overbought on impulse. I have found a form of clothes shopping I love – charity shops. Not just any charity shop, but a specific few close to home, which I visit in a specific ritual involving hanging out with a teenage son, him browsing for vinyl and DVDs and us both having a fortifying coffee before we even contemplate shopping. So, a new wardrobe and a shared hobby with a teen. Great result.
It is rather odd to realise that I look forward to clothes shopping, but I do. I changed work hours this year and changed them to make sure I could still go shopping. Ok, the coffee and hanging out with the teen are crucial parts, but still, there is also weekly shopping involved.
And it turns out that I have so much to say about shopping that this is going to be a two-part blog post – which is astounding me. Part two tomorrow.