Checking the foundations

It’s one of those weeks where the diary is full and there are lots of people to meet with and conversations to be had and thinking to be done. The meetings are later in the evening than I love, the work days involve travelling a fair amount.

So today I am checking in on the foundations. I am considering blackout blinds, because the earlier sunrise is waking me slightly earlier than I want. But in the meantime, my new found habit of not drinking caffeine after noon and my Lenten avoidance of alcohol are ensuring I am sleeping well for the hours I am in bed. I am also trying to wind down at the end of the day doing some light journalling and reading before bed to switch off, even when the meetings finish late.

Exercise has been a bit harder to fit in, but I have done some yoga and a run so far this week. Even the days without yoga and running have had good walks in the sunshine. And the sunshine has really really helped.

Food has been great thanks to planning the week’s menu and deciding who is cooking each evening (I have got off very lightly on that this week). That said, I need to stop writing and go and make some lunch to take with me today!

I have had time every day to catch up with family and have grabbed coffee with friends. All the Scout meetings have been interesting and full of lovely, supportive people. And we are not quite half way through the week.

The second half of the week – that is after 6pm on Thursday – has no work (I have Friday off) , no volunteer meetings and lots of fun planned. I will definitely have plenty of time to be quiet, reflective and prayerful and to play the piano and spend some time being creative. The balance of life is not within every hour or every day, but over the weeks and months.

A rocky relationship with social media

Inspired by trying to reduce using screen-based gadgets late in the evening, I have dramatically reduced my time on Facebook and Instagram. I had already abandoned Twitter in face of American, and potentially world politics, being conducted in posts of limited characters. Brexit polarisation seemed clearer on Twitter than in real life. I care about politics, I care deeply about Brexit, but I was struggling with the anger and fear being generated by the twitterati, so I removed it from my day.

Facebook and Instagram are different. On Instagram I follow people with impressive photography skills and a love of life’s adventure who post photos and captions that make me very happy. They wear gorgeous clothes and have beautiful gardens and homes. Oddly it never makes me jealous or induces FOMO, I relish the joy with which other people photograph their life and work and holidays and proudly share them.

Facebook is similar in its more positive (than Twitter) outlook. There is just too much of it. I love the community feel of the groups I am a part of. But there is way more pressure within the design of the platform to read comments and therefore spend more time. Somehow Facebook feels more insidious – just this weekend several people I have met up with have quoted Facebook comments back to me – I find that moving of a Facebook comment into the realms of real conversation a bit odd.

All in all I don’t think social media is a force for evil. The truth of the matter is that I have finite time in my day. I have blogs, books and magazines to read, all of which I am intentionally choosing to spend time with. The danger with Facebook (and Instagram to an extent) is that I get sucked into reading something someone else wants me to read, not necessarily deepening my relationship with anyone, but taking time. There is a balance between making the connections and staying in touch and not losing hours of a week to it. A balance I still have to find.

And ironically I have interrupted the flow of writing this by browsing Facebook and Instagram whilst writing. Frustrated with myself now.

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.

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.


Reviewing the year

At some point on New Year’s Eve every year I try to mentally recap the year, trying to evaluate whether it’s been good or bad. The reality is always that it has been both, with the balance changing year on year.

This year the only difference is that I am going to try and review the year more gently over the next week or so and in writing via this blog, but also privately. Some of the downs have been rather big, but involving loved ones who may not want their business discussed in my blog.

My theme for the year was ‘slower’ as I tried to become a bit more reflective, a bit more considered and intentional about life. Has that happened? No, not entirely. I am still too keen to fill pauses in conversations, to get my opinion heard loudly and quickly. But at the same time I have been better at carving out quiet time for myself, I am much more comfortable with my own company and with silence around me.

The one habit that has really exemplified that comfort with more introspection is this blog. This is my quiet and reflective time first thing in the morning. This is my soothing examination of the contents of my brain – well some of them. It’s not perfect, but it is a habit I have returned to throughout the year and I really enjoy it. Heartfelt thanks to anyone who comments, or hits ‘like’, it does feel nice knowing someone is reading.

More reflections on the year to come.

Ticking it off the list

I have decided on the last two days to write a ton of emails and do some other chores to drive through some other projects, rather than blogging about having a lot to do.  It has helped hugely.  The reality is that the mornings are my best time to get things done quickly and my evenings are full of meetings and other engagements this week.

However the mornings are also blogging time.  I put “blog” onto the to do list AND it’s on a habit tracker this week.  If you add those accountability mechanisms to the fact that I am tired and so lacking some perspective, we have this blog as a solution to the problem.

It’s teeny tiny, but it is a blog, so I can now claim I blogged and my day feels better already.  Have a great productive day everyone!

New month, new pressures

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!

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One of my intentions is to take more photos.  This is yesterday’s sunrise over suburbia.

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The sunrise on a frosty morning reflected in the steamed up bathroom window.