Filling a page

After such a long pause in writing this blog, the blank page this morning is a challenge.  For months I have intended to restart, or at the very least plan out themes to write on.  For months I have failed.  The blog was a way to practise writing, to journal my thankfully very full life.  To spend a bit of time quietly thinking and writing about those thoughts.

Sitting at a laptop and writing was an antidote to travelling, moving, seeing people, generally being out and about and speaking and listening.   This was my time to get thoughts in order and to exercise discipline on word count and exclamation marks, knowing that I overuse both.

Then life became full of reflection but lacked stimulation.  I thought nothing new, and so had nothing new to say.   I was exhausted and hollowed out by video conferencing, which enables some conversation, but not enough communication to inspire my creativity.  I was fed up of news and analysis and talking about my very small life.  Mostly I was avoiding judgement, trying not to judge other people for their choices and feeling worried that people were judging me for goodness knows what.  

My inability to write a blog became evidence of my lack of ability to think properly.  It emphasised how small life was.  And I was scared of writing something and being judged. 

Slowly but surely I am emerging from that worry and that feeling of having nothing much to say.  At last the page has words on it.  Now to delete a good proportion of them.

What’s helping now: weekday routines

This is slightly tongue in cheek, because obviously I have failed to add blogging into my routine. As a self-confessed (and diagnosed by one therapist) control freak, I do find feeling as if I am in control of something helps me gets through these strange times.

And I am surely not in control of anything much in the world. But strangely enough I am in total control of my days. I am no longer at the mercy of traffic jams, delayed or cancelled trains, others’ activities impacting my evenings or weekends. What an upside to all of this.

Making constant decisions on what to do is tiring though, so having some very static routines helps me hugely. Waking up with coffee and reading, running, breakfast and sitting down to work at pretty much the same time every day. Lunch time at roughly the same time and always at the dining room table instead of my desk. Dinner back at the table. Finishing the day with a bit of journalling and more reading. All of these have stayed pretty much constant over the past 11 months.

There are definite tweaks to be made though. Adding in blogging and some meditative prayer would be good. I would like to have a more consistent post-work exercise routine. I have abandoned all piano playing and miss it. Lent feels like a new season, so maybe working on those tweaks can happen then.

What’s helping now: running

Muddy trainers delight me

In the midst of extreme busy I am definitely hankering after the blog.  It’s been quite the start to the year hasn’t it? And I am missing a morning routine on these dark mornings – which is where this blog first originated.  So here we go, back to tapping away first thing on cold dark winter mornings.

I am relishing various good habits at the moment and am very grateful for them in this strange January. I thought I would write about them over the following days.  To be honest, I needed a theme to write about so that I don’t just open the laptop and stare at it crossly – and this is it.

First up  -running.  I have written about it before and feel a certain thrill that I am still writing about how important running is in my life.  Nearly ten months ago I decided that if I was to be locked in my home all day – ok so maybe not locked in, but it felt like being locked up.  For those who were deemed as having to shield, I am sure it did feel exactly like they had been locked up and I worry about and for those people.  Oops sorry, digressions – but indulge me – I am a bit over-excited at writing again.  Back to ten months ago when I decided that it was highly likely due to my lifestyle of travelling lots to London that I was about to get ill with a respiratory disease.  I know this is not in any way a medically proven thing and that very fit and healthy people have died from coronavirus, but in my head, I have vulnerable lungs anyway and so strengthening them was key for me.  That meant cardio.  Running was and remains the most effective way for me of pushing my lungs and heart to work harder.

It turned out to be so much more than that.  Running happens outside and outside is the place I long to be.  In inclement weather the longing to be warm, dry, not windswept takes over and it is harder to get out. A daily run takes away that mental chatter. This morning I am going to go outside for a run, the mental chat is not if I should, it is “what do I need to wear”.

Running covers lots of ground, well more than I do when walking anyway, so I get to see a bit more of the world on my daily excursions.  I have generally stayed very local, in fact most of the ten months I have run the same route.  Which would dismay most proper runners as it’s not a great training method and it could be boring for many.  I have not been bored, I have delighted in seeing the route change with the seasons, the wildlife is more visible in winter and early spring.  It’s quieter on summer mornings, long after sunrise.  In the dark there is more birdsong than I would have expected.  The trees have flourished after some work by tree surgeons last winter (before my running started).  The dog walkers have changed over the year as older dogs died, and new puppies were bought by families new to dog walking.  There is a huge amount of change happening even in one place.  Gardeners probably get exactly the same thrill of seeing change happen on such a small scale which becomes something huge as the seasons change. 

The physical differences are fascinating.  I don’t like running in wind – especially not an easterly.  I really do not like running in warm weather at all.  I just cannot breathe properly and my legs feel leaden.  Some days my legs feel too short to propel me properly, some days I can run faster than others and I have no idea why either of those things are so.

Most of all, I know that being outdoors every day, challenging myself to do something I used to absolutely hate and was scared of doing, and which even most mornings now I am reluctant to do, has helped hugely.  I feel more able to cope because of running.  Without a doubt it is keeping my stress levels at a manageable level, it is keeping me emotionally more stable. And it is bizarrely good fun.  I am the sort of person who gets new trainers for Christmas and am now experimenting with running off road – even more fun to be had.

Having written much more than I intended, it’s starting to get light.  Time to get those trainers on.  Have a good day, I hope you get some time outside, running or not. 

Unlocking

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.

The fresh start of September

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.

Still running

As coronavirus became a reality in England way back in March and staying at home became a possibility I started to worry about my fitness levels.  They weren’t bad, but I had the nagging feeling that having a good level of cardiovascular fitness may help me if I were to catch coronavirus.  On Monday 23rd March I decided I ought to definitely go for a run, and go for a run every day until either I caught the virus or someone in the family did and we would all have to isolate.  Thankfully none of us have caught the virus – yet.  

And so I am still running every day.  (Except Sundays, on Sundays we go for a long walk to make a Sunday feel different). I am still nowhere near being an actual proper runner.  I run a short distance, slowly. And that lack of “proper” running has been the key.  I run for about 20 minutes, on days when that feels too hard, I run less.  I stop if I find someone to chat to, so it’s rarely 20 consecutive minutes.  I am sure I could do better and more, but I do not want to.  It’s a low bar and so is achievable, even after one glass of wine too many, a sleepless night, when it’s too cold, or too wet, or as in the run ahead of me today – too warm. 

And so this week saw me reach three months of running every day.  Me.  Not a runner.  The girls who got out of every PE lesson she could. Who did not start running until her 40s.  I run every day and am about to buy more trainers because I am wearing these ones out. This week I am feeling a bit amazed, but proud. 

All the worries

Strange times indeed.  I am acutely aware that the habit of writing these short pieces was helping me through previous odd times, which were nothing compared to this.  Come back Brexit!  Obviously that is a joke – a society divided is no fun either, and actually in ways was more worrying – for me anyway.  I have tried not to consume too much news over the past few years, an hour or so of radio news in the morning and that was pretty much it.  

I decided that I ought to be more in tune with news at the start of this year.  Mainly because I am keen to be a thoughtful part of current leadership elections.  So, one of the squares on my habit tracker was encouraging me to read the news.  

In the last couple of weeks of course, reading the news has becomes as compulsive as it has ever been in my life.  And frankly it is driving me nuts.  Most of the headlines are about what possible measures may be put in place, or what has been put in place in other places, or what someone thinks should be the official advice here.   It is not clear at all, it is frightening and confusing instead of reassuring and clear. 

I know this is unprecedented in my lifetime (gosh I write that and assume it is – I would not have forgotten a pandemic in my childhood would I?), so there are no comparisons.  This is not the same as wartime, natural disasters are awful, but again not the same. Political uncertainty makes us feel unsettled and worried, but the fears are very different. 

I know it must be hard for anyone to decide what to do, hence all the opinions that are flying around.  For now, I am trying to simplify and turn down the volume on the emotional reactions and listen to official guidance and less to everyone else who is now thinks themselves an expert epidemiologist.  And I have crossed out that habit tracker line to read more news.  Less news, more fresh air, more thinking about other people is the order of the day.  Until that guidance changes of course.

Stay healthy, look after each other.

Running in the rain

I went out for a run yesterday morning – for the first time in about three weeks.  Winter illness, a lot of work travel and inclement weather all combined to stall the running habit this winter.  Yesterday I was hit with a bizarre determination to go for a run.  Bizarre in that husband was travelling for work, and I had woken up with his alarm in the middle(ish) of the night.  So, I was lacking sleep and my running partner.  And the weather was atrocious – rain and wind.  Not as bad as it has been, but not gentle weather at all.

Nevertheless, I ran.  I ran slowly, I had to keep stopping to retrieve the wandering dog who is less keen on running than he used to be.  I even stopped for a chat with one of the dog walking friends.  But I ran enough to feel I had had a workout.

And it was hugely fun, I had to divert around puddles, I leapt a few of them.  I got wet. Very wet.  But I had enough layers to stay warm and I certainly felt more awake at the end of the run that at the start of it, which was sort of the point.

I felt hugely grateful for a supply of towels on returning home.  For radiators to dry out the very soggy shoes.  For the delicious warm shower to recover. For the washing machine in which I could pile the soaked clothing.

A good mix of exhilaration and gratitude for home comforts to start the week.

Now, has writing this encouraged me to go out for another run today?

Starting the year

I am late to the slew of new year’s blogs written by many with a love of the new start that the change of the calendar offers us.  There is a large community of people who relish the challenge of setting new year’s resolutions.  And, in my email inbox and social media feeds at least, a whole load of marketing related to getting us started on great new habits right at the beginning of the year.  I am being invited to do yoga, meditate, buy courses, explore new parts of the world, sort out my budget, track my time, take on physical challenges, go sober, make this the year I find my true self, go on retreat, book many holidays.  You get the drift of the things I tend to sign up for.

I am most definitely one of those people who love new year’s resolutions, I relish the opportunity to have a blank page in front of me and to reflect on what adventures I could challenge myself with.  But here’s the thing, I make a ton of resolutions in various guises, but none of them are really ones which I have to start now in January, and even fewer do I have to start on 1st or 2nd January.

There seems to be a big thing this year of taking the opportunity of the “fresh start” as Gretchen Rubin calls this particular opportunity to change habits.  I’m not sure I believe it is a fresh start though, I love the opportunity to have some reflection and planning time, but it is perhaps not the best time to get started on life-changing habit change.  So, I’m not.  I have plans and goals and adventures ahead.  And I am loving the feeling of anticipation that the year is full of possibilities.  I think my January resolution-making is much more akin to a gardener – now is the time of the year to browse the seed catalogues and to plan the plot, and to maybe place an order for the seeds we will need to make the plot flourish.  But it’s not time to get out in the garden just yet.

Repetitive blog theme and Christmas Eve traditions

I need to start this blog blogging about blogging, it is a bit meta, but mostly it’s frustrating.  I want to blog again.  I am missing it a lot, it was a great way to start the day for a good while.  (Not every day, waking up any earlier than 6am just to write a blog is not going to happen.) But I am not really clear why I haven’t been writing if I like it so much?

Today is Christmas Eve and my mind is mainly filled with Christmas preparations and a busy sociable day ahead, but lurking in my thoughts is a review of my year and setting intentions for next year. One of the regrets of this year is letting this blog go and one of the intentions for 2020 is starting to blog regularly again. So, why wait? Let’s get Christmas Eve started with some quiet writing time.

The day holds some very lovely traditions. This morning we gather with some friends who are local but who we rarely see, sadly, we should see them much more.  But when we’re all at home we spend Christmas Eve morning together and have done for years now.  Mince pies and coffee will be consumed and much catching up will be done.

This afternoon is about preparing the Christmas food, well, some of it.  I will spend the afternoon in the kitchen with the offspring yelling at Alexa to play various Christmas songs, and stopping me playing anything choral or by Kate Rusby or Cerys Matthews.  Never fear, I get my music choice too, as they spend a lot of time trying to not be in the kitchen and pressed into sous-chef duty.  Trifles, mince pies, vegetarian main course and a range of starters are on the list.

This evening some of the family are on duty at church (we go to church as a family on Christmas Day), some of the family are visiting others, so people will be in different places for a while.  Then we will all gather together at the end of the evening at the home of some friends to celebrate over a few drinks.

And then there’ll be some kerfuffle with presents and stockings and putting baby Jesus into all the cribs. The latter part will be a doddle this year, because I have reached genius level of intelligence and put all the little Jesus ornaments together in one box and I know where that box is.  A vast improvement on the previous tradition of me scrabbling around on chairs peering at the back of shelves to try and find where I had hidden them in the decorating frenzy.  It took me a few decades to get to genius!

I hope you enjoy Christmas Eve whatever shape it takes for you.