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…
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.
The promised review of last year never transpired, mainly because I went on holiday and did what I should do on every holiday – rest. I am still on leave from work this week and am determined to make the most of it and really rest in an attempt to build up immunity to the lurgies which envelope us at this time of year.
I have, however, spent some lovely time reviewing last year and what has gone well and what I need to work on a bit more this year. I know, it’s a fairly arbitrary time to make resolutions, but I love doing so, so any excuse works for me.
The holiday gave me a chance to reflect on what worked in 2018 – I missed this blog (a good sign I felt), I finished a couple of books to reach my reading target for the year, which had been a big increase on 2017’s target. I am still not a prolific reader, but averaging 3 books a month feels good to me now, as I started with an average of about 0.25 books per month.
I spent a lot of the holiday walking up and down hills, so my increased fitness was really obvious to me, as was my more controlled intake of food, so the Slimming World/running/yoga combo has done me the world of good.
in reviewing my year , I really appreciated my attempts at reflecting on each day. I experimented with a sentence-a-day type of journal, which worked intermittently. But where it did work it was great – a lovely record of things that have happened over the year, brief, but obviously what felt most important every day. People always seem to be important, as does resting. Both thoughts have influenced the choice of 2019’s goals. More on those to come. Depending on whether I ever get back to full speed.
I have been a member of a book group for about 17 years now. I love it, it is a collection of friends I have got to know purely through their reading. Six of us have been the core of the group for many years, we meet once every half term, choosing whatever book takes the collective fancy. We take on friends’ recommendations, book reviews, check out books we found in shops and chat about them until we all decide on one. This way we also discuss books more widely and it leads to other recommendations apart from the ‘book group book’.
The only rule is that no one must have read the book before. Some in the group read a lot and widely so that is sometimes a challenge, but we have read some amazing books over the years. We don’t all finish the books as sometimes life is too busy to waste on a book that you’re not enjoying, I have noticed that the most avid readers are the ones that are most comfortable with abandoning a book. There is discussion to be had in why the book was abandoned, sometimes that has little to do with the book, and more to do with the rest of life, and that gets discussed too. Over such a long time, there has been a lot of life and the group has been a safe space for me on many an occasion.
I like the discipline of a book group, and there have been times that those are the only books I read in a year. But most of all, I love the chance to discuss the book afterwards. There is great pleasure to be had in reading a book and then going back through it and discussing it, it’s like reliving the whole experience and makes it come alive. There is no pressure to have something clever to say, sometimes a lack of comment speaks volumes about the book. It is always good to hear what others think though.
We have had the delightful experience of finding a book that we all loved and which we have made ‘ours’, I am convinced we are the six biggest fans of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.
I had a chat with a colleague earlier this week who was struggling with finding balance to deal with illness and work and family, and well, we know the feeling I would say. I suggested she put resting on her to do list for the weekends. There was a surprised silence as this had never occurred to her. Of course I don’t always put the word ”rest” into the weekend plan, but when I know I have a bit of a hectic time in work or an upcoming event, or whatever it may be that will leave me feeling a bit frazzled, I do plan the downtime too. Sometimes that is literally putting “have a nap” on the list, I am comfortable with being the only person on the planet who adds napping to her to do list, it works for me. I like feeling intentional about resting, it is something I really want to do and feel is important.
The usual one that I add into the list is reading. I am a member of two book groups and also use the library lots, so deadlines and reading seem to go together. I feel wonderfully justified in having “finish Marie Kondo by Saturday” on the to-do list, otherwise I may get charged an overdue fee. Heavens forefend!
This week though I have a self-imposed deadline. I discovered that I have read 10 books so far this year, which is more than I expected, but of course it makes a neater pattern of three per month if I could fit in another couple this week. So that is my focus for the week – two more books. One on audio, a self-help style non-fiction: Shawn Achor’s Big Potential and on the Kindle (it’s been a long while since I used it) a light read, lots of fun and easy to have as an alternative to TV: The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star in the delightfully silly detective series by Vaseem Khan.
It feels like a wonderfully productive way to ensure I sit down for a bit every day, or encouraging me to go to bed a bit earlier to fit in some reading time. I have a fair amount of driving and bus travelling to do this week, so the audio book soothes some of the traffic stress.
If I can get them read, I will be chuffed with 12 books in the first quarter of 2018.
One of the upsides of my new working hours is that the inevitable chores that build up in 21st century life all have to be done in shorter time. And this morning I am thinking this is a good thing. Like lots of these things, chores just expand to fill time. Housework and email triage are two other tasks that seem to have that magic property. Whereas reading seems to stay well within its allotted time. Unless it is reading rubbish on Facebook, that has very magical time properties.
Back to the chores though. I have suspected for a while that they tend to grow in size and importance in my head because they make me feel properly busy. However, the reality of new working hours is that my hours are now controlled by someone else, so fewer are available for the luxury of the chores. Is there a verb there? Choring? Or is that something less salubrious?
This morning I am discovering a new delight in having an hour or so this afternoon when I can indulge in what I call a ‘chore tour’. Top of the delight list on that tour is a visit to the library. When I genuinely cannot get there as often, it feels so much more fun to go. I don’t think I have looked forward to going to the library like this since I was about 10. And I am very pleased to be getting rid of the bags of clothes that have been waiting for the charity shop for a couple of weeks. And that parcel that needs to be posted.
Here’s to an hour or so of dashing around ticking things off a list, can’t wait.
So, having raised the potential of not listening to the news so much, I am still pondering how to fit in more reading. Not loads more, just a bit more than the 10 minutes before I fall asleep. It feels like something important for various reasons.
I like reading and like to think of myself as a reader, but in reality, I do not read very much.
I think some books just need to be read more quickly, they don’t flow well in ten minute a day chunks. A Passage To India would be a good recent example.
I have a list of books read this year and I want it to be long.
One solution is very obvious, but yet something stops me – get rid of social media, I definitely spend too long reading that instead of a book. “Get rid of” is the problem – I have an all or nothing attitude to it, maybe just reducing social media would do the trick really.
There are some technical solutions. Using my Kindle means I have a light book and many books with me at all times and it links to the app on my phone, so I can read on that as well.
Listening to audio books has been a revelation for me. I spent years listening to them in the car, but then realised I can listen to them anywhere since the advent of apps on a phone. At last, I appreciate Dickens, who is delicious read aloud, but I struggle with reading it from the page myself.
Another technique that seems to work for me is to have a few books on the go at a time. Sometimes, I may be enjoying a novel, but just not able to get into it at that time. That happens often when commuting, sometimes I can’t get totally lost in the book, so it needs to be something less enveloping.
Accepting that any reading is good reading feels crucial for me. I keep reverting back to Donna Leon’s Brunetti series this winter – I just need a light detective novel. It’s my reading equivalent of watching TV, I suppose. And it’s still reading.
I heard an interesting podcast today, one of the Optimal Living Daily series. They are interesting and make me think, sometimes they make me hit stop, but mostly they do not. And they are short. That is a good thing.
Anyway, this one was about reducing our access to the news and instead advocates reading books in order to learn about the world. The theory being that the emotional roller coaster of the news (specifically on TV) is designed to make us feel vulnerable and therefore most likely to buy the products advertised around the news. Which makes sense of the number of adverts for holidays in newspapers.
One of my ‘slower’ resolutions was the perennial, but no less urgent for it being repeated, ‘read more’. I think that one of my issues with reading more is that in spending time reading, I cut myself off from the news. I listen to audio books instead of the Today programme, I read a novel instead of the newspaper. But this piece (it was originally a piece by a blogger named Mr Money Mustache ) has reframed that thinking a bit for me.
And it is true, literature offers you a different perspective. Yes, I escape from reality, in that what I am reading about is not happening here and now, but all fiction is based on some sort of reality isn’t it? Fiction puts me into a different pair of shoes and keeps me there for a while as the story lingers in my thoughts. I experience something other than my life.
And how much of the news is reality? How much is actually affecting me. Believe me, I engage with current affairs – I campaign, I vote, I write to my MP, I discuss politics – I think I am a fairly active citizen. But there’s a lot that I cannot change and on balance, not hearing the news more than once a day doesn’t seem to make me less able, instead, the space away from it energises me. And gives me more time to try and make the world a better place, rather than just worrying about how awful it seems to be.