The Value of Friends

137 days since my last post… Must do better.

I’m thinking about the value of good friends and good friendships as I travel home to my family this Sunday morning. I’ve just met my long time BFF for a whirlwind ‘me time’ break. She lives on the opposite side of the country. So, we meet in the middle.

She too is a working mum of two young kids and we know each other, on a level that only someone you have known for 30 years can. 

Her kids are a little older than mine so, I often look to her for validation and re-assurance. To be honest, I was doing that for many years before the kids came along. Mostly I look to her to tell me I’m not crazy, I’m not alone and we’re all in the same boat. Which she often does. And when she doesn’t, and tells me to get a grip, I know I really do need to. Because I totally trust her judgement.

But it’s not just the friends you make in your formative years that can be invaluable.

I think I’m lucky. I have a small number of close friends. Most of whom I don’t see or speak to often, but do get to catch up with once or twice a year. But, when we see each other, we pick up where we left off. And so, “I don’t need new any new besties” (as a friend of mine recently said). 

But in the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of new, really good friends. People who also validate that I’m not crazy, I’m not alone and we’re all in the same boat. And people who, if they told me to get a grip, I’d know I need to stop being a Drama Queen and do so.

My eldest started school this September, it was an up and down half term. She took longer to settle than we had all expected, her included. But she seems to be in a better place now. The process has been stressful, but has been eased considerably by the ladies in my life who I am luck to call my friends. Old and new.

Often times, in life, the hardest part of a problem is admitting it to yourself and to others. But, almost always, sharing the problem lightens the load.

Good friends are to be treasured. Value them. Talk to them. It helps. Always.

And there may be tears, there will very likely be some hugs. But, I guarantee you at some point, there will be laughter again.

  

Back on the wagon… again.

I’ve started meditating again. I’m 4 days into daily practice.

I’m craving yoga. I’m craving fresh air. I’m craving sunshine. I’m craving clean eating. I’m craving creativity. I’m craving balance.

This is not what’s supposed to happen, is it? Meditation is supposed to help us engage in the present. Be comfortable in our ‘now’.

In fairness though – I’ve been craving sunshine for a few weeks now. And my regular mental and emotional ‘stock take’ in January, didn’t really happen this year (Mostly because we moved home just before Christmas and so, I was kept busy decorating, settling and enjoying ‘rooting’ us all down) So, maybe this is just my annual process catching up.

Or maybe, daily practice is already bringing about clarity. Clarity of what I need.

Work has been busy and stressful. I have been eating really badly for, I don’t know how long but, a long time. I haven’t practiced yoga since November. I sit at my desk all day with hardly any breaks. I rarely venture out from my home unless dropping the kids off at day care (I work from home). My life is pretty much the opposite of the things I crave…

But, at least daily meditation is a start. Fresh air is easy to get (tea break in the garden anyone?) and I can eat better with a bit of will power. Yoga practice is also within my own gift.

And so the cycle begins again. Onwards and upwards. One day, this will be a way of life and not a wagon I have to keep climbing back on to. But, I’m not going to beat myself up. I am grateful that each time I fall off, I recognise how to help myself a little sooner than the last time. And I am grateful that I am learning.

Namaste x

 

 

The calm after the storm

February was a crazy month!

A couple of years ago we decided to upsize our home, but with no ready cash and a very stagnant property market we realised it would not be possible. So, we waited patiently, started saving and watched the market until late last year when it started to improve. We figured that the process of looking, buying and moving would take at least 6 months and we wanted to be in a new home by September 2014. So, we put our house up for sale in early February.

In the first week it had a dozen viewings and 3 people offered to buy it. So, we accepted an offer and started to look for ourselves.

Long story short… I sold a house, bought a house, turned 40, had a very glamorous surprise birthday party and even squeezed in city break to Paris all in the space of 12 days.

And now nothing.

I was not prepared for the flurry of activity and the speed with which the first step of the process came and went. And I was even less prepared for the waiting, days on end with nothing happening, in this step.

And so here we are, doing what I do worst… waiting patiently.

Maybe getting back into my daily meditation practice will help.

Out of the blue

Hello! It’s been a while again, hasn’t it? My bad. Lots going on, and I’ve been trying to prioritise correctly.

Thanks to the 3 Day Nanny and a reward chart, my toddlers behaviour has transformed itself in the last few weeks. And, I’m kind of ashamed to say, so has my own. Ashamed because that means admitting, that previously, my behaviour had been poor.

I can see, now, that I spent several months wallowing in despair. Having 2 toddlers is hard work and can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Instead of taking a deep breath and some positive steps to make things better, I was creating a cycle of sadness and stress. I was making myself and everyone around me, including my babies, downright miserable. No wonder there were daily tantrums. Life was no fun. No fun at all.

My Beloved and I spent a couple of months talking with a relationship specialist. The first few sessions were easy. And afterwards we tried to ensure we made some time for ‘us’. But, I wasn’t feeling any improvement at home. A few weeks ago, though, we had a tough session. We argued. There was genuine anger. But, I think it was a turning point. I think we were starting to get honest.

We continue to meet with our friend, though not so regularly. It turns out we’re not naturally good communicators (which is funny, given the jobs that we do!) and we needed someone to help us just talk to each other.

We’re better now, although still have a way to go. There is still anger some days, there is still frustration. There are still many misunderstandings. But, how we each react to a negative feeling in the other, is beginning to change and we are able to deal with most of these instances quite quickly and move on. (In the past, it would have dragged on for hours, maybe even days).

And I think that is how the ball began to roll…

Feeling more confident in our ability to feel, to express and to deal with emotion without the threat of Armageddon, we were able (I was able) to knock down the walls that were keeping happiness at bay.

And so we started having some fun.

We had my baby girls birthday party with all her little friends. We went on an Outdoors Adventure holiday. We searched for Goldilocks and the 3 bears in the woods. We’ve been swimming. We’ve been on bike rides. We’ve been to the park and fed the ducks. We’ve been to the safari park. We washed the car. The kids have loved it. And we have re-discovered our inner child.

We’re having fun!

And I noticed something.

When the kids are happy, their behaviour is better. Which makes family time less stressful. Which makes us happier. The cycle, is now on an upwards spiral. So, we decided to make the most of it.

We introduced a reward chart 2 weeks ago, some house rules (like Be Kind, Share, Use your manners and Safety 1st). And we’ve tried really hard to stop saying NO! and start following through on the consequences of bad behaviour. But, to be honest, with less ‘nay-saying’ and positive focus on the sticker chart, there’s actually less need for ‘going to your room’. Both kids even managed to give up their dummy’s with only 1 night of major complaints. (Particularly difficult for my 3 year old as we had enabled her to form a very strong dependency on her “dodi”)

So, here we are. Not in the proverbial rose garden. And not with children who behave perfectly 100% of the time. But, a happy family, who love and support each other and are all learning how to deal with the hard stuff, and move on from it, so that we can get back to doing the fun stuff, sooner than later.

We’re out of the blue, and into the sunshine.

Who do you think you are?

I think that I have mentioned before that I have been working on a family tree project. It’s a work in progress, I guess family trees by their nature must always remain so, and it’s fascinating.

I actually started my genealogy introduction by looking at my Beloved’s family tree. I know quite a lot about my family, but he knows hardly anything about his. And so, I set off on a journey to help him discover more about where he came from and how he came to be. After a few months (and several hundreds of £’s) I reached a barrier. I felt I had gone as far as I could online. Delving further back into the archives would require travelling to libraries, churches and the like, hundreds of miles away to look at original documents. Genealogy is not a cheap hobby!

When our little Strawbug was born (after a few months and I started to get some time) I began to record my own, well known, family tree. Or so I thought.

I have gathered stories from Aunts and Uncles, from my parents and from online resources and started to uncover my own family story. I’ve discovered family secrets, illegitimacy, false claims marriage, cohabitation, countless infant deaths (as was the norm in the 1800s and early 1900s) and I’m part way through solving an age old family mystery (… a husband who absconded with the family savings, leaving his wife and 4 kids destitute). All I need now is someone in jail and I think I’ve got the basis for a novel!

There are two things that I love about the genealogy process. Firstly, it makes me feel like Philip Marlowe – I have a slightly addictive nature and solving puzzles and mysteries can keep me hooked (and my purse empty) for hours, days and weeks at a time. But, secondly, and I think more importantly, it is a great equaliser. I am learning about life. I am learning about human nature. I am learning, not just about who I am but who we all are.

Whether we were born in 1874 or 1974, we all laugh, we all cry, we all hurt, we all heal. We all want to be happy. To love and be loved. We are all human beings. We are all the same.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy – Dalai Lama

We’re not keeping up with the Kardashians, but that’s OK

My baby boy is nearly 1 year old. He was born on Father’s Day (UK) in 2012. We will be holding a small, intimate, family celebration this weekend. My sister and my Beloved’s sister are travelling up from London for the ‘event’. My BFF (yogaswerve) will be there. My brothers and my parents will also be joining us (along with significant others and dependant children, obviously).

I love family get togethers. I love family. I’ve written countless times about the importance of family to me.

I’ve also written of my rose-tinted view of my family.

I see my family as a Kardashian style unit. (Albeit, without the Momager and the millions of dollars in the bank). They hang out together. They have fun together. They help each other. They fight all the time, but then they talk about it and make up “like” minutes later. Say what you want about how they make their living, but as a family, I actually think they are quite good role models.

The truth is, that we’re just like any other family. We lead different lives. Some are separated by distance, but whether we live around the corner or 200 miles away, we’re still really bad at picking up a phone on a regular basis to ask how each other is doing. We are really bad at saying ‘I love you’. And we are really bad at talking through and resolving gripes, problems and serious issues. Not very Kardashian at all.

I maintain, though, that in a crisis, we are always there for each other and we stick together like glue.

We’ve had a couple of crisis points as a family, recently, and the observations noted above have all proven themselves to be true. To the point where sticking together has been difficult, given that some of the crisis that we have faced/are facing are ‘internal’ rather than ‘external’. I’m not saying that we’re not sticking together. I’m just saying it’s difficult.

So, I’m a little nervous about the weekend’s upcoming festivities. I doubt there is actually anything to worry about, because we are actually quite good at avoiding conflict and pretending everything is fine (well, I am). I do wish though, that there wasn’t so much of a stigma in my family about sharing your problems with the outside world. But I guess I have to respect the wishes of those whom I love most in the world and go along with it. (You’ll notice that I’m writing this without actually telling you anything).

Maybe the first step is to be able to talk about our problems with each other without fear of consequence. And we are all working on that, I think, in various break-out groups as well as the congregation as a whole.

My Beloved and I are one of those break-out groups. For our own benefit and for the benefit of our children. We want them to live life being open and honest with their emotions and themselves. To be able to communicate how they feel, good or bad. To be able to resolve issues, gripes and problems without fear. Most of all, I want them to know that they are loved, no matter how they feel and they can talk to us or each other about anything.

As for my family and our impending get together this weekend, we are working on getting better. Each of us in our own way. And we are doing that because we love each other. And if we have love, what else matters?

Disconnected

Forgive me readers, for I have lapsed. It has been 1 calendar month since my last blog post.

And in my last blog post I shared with you the challenges I (and my family) were wrestling with, due to my having to travel for work lately. Well, the travelling came to an end a couple of weeks ago, expedited (I think) by a case of the Chickenpox in my 2 year old. So, I’m almost back to my happy equilibrium.

I say almost, because I find myself (as I seem to quite regularly, these days) with the need to process a handful of seemingly unconnected thoughts currently bouncing around in my head, in my heart, in my soul, even.

And so, I take to the keyboard, once more, in pursuit of catharsis.

My first thought, is that I am tired. We all are. My 2 year old has had a tough couple of weeks and has been at home with us (see above), my 10 month old still refuses to sleep through the night, work has been crazy, busy and stressful and of course there was the travelling.

You may or may not be familiar with the effects of sleep deprivation, but it pretty much screws up your ability to function on a daily basis and certainly messes with your ability to think straight. Therefor, your normal world view gets skewed into something more akin to a fairground Hall of Mirrors than a direct reflection of reality. And so, to give clear context for the following 4 thoughts, I felt it was necessary to mention this first.

Secondly, my Beloved and I have lapsed in our efforts to spend quality time together and focus on our relationship (i.e. me and him, as opposed to mummy and daddy to 2 young kids, lots of bills to pay and chores to organise). I am just as guilty as he is. I have not taken the opportunity, during the little time we have alone in the evenings on weekdays, to say “hey, why don’t we turn off the TV, put down our phones and listen to some music or just sit and talk. I want to get to know you even better than I do now”. I have not made time or arrangements for date nights, I have not cast my laptop aside and spontaneously called out to him “let’s do lunch! come on, get your coat on, let’s go!”. I have not done any of these things for some time.

Thirdly, I have neglected to take time for myself. I have neglected to shower daily (gross, I know). I have neglected to do my hair. To put on make up. To paint my nails. To do yoga. To breathe in and to breathe out.

And so, I have left myself feeling empty. And it is needless. Because fulfilment is completely within my own control.

What is it that ‘They’ say? “You cannot control all the things that happens in your life, but you can control how you feel about them”. I think ‘They’ are right.

‘They’ also say, “If you don’t like something, change it”.

I need to reconnect with my Beloved, on all levels. I need to reconnect with myself. So, I’m going to get my finger out. I’m going to utilise my (allegedly) legendary organisation skills and make some immediate changes that will take me closer to my 2013 goal, on a personal level.

My first step will be out into the sunshine, to close my eyes and breathe.

Stillness

I thought it was about time I wrote about something other than babies. I’m not sure it’s possible, but I’ll try.

Last Saturday we had a day out at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It’s a beautiful old building. There’s a large atrium with a glass dome in the ceiling, lots of marble and polished stone. And the exhibition rooms are ornate. Silk and velvet wall coverings, parquet floors and so very quiet, so very still.

I went for a walk along the beach yesterday. I love to walk at the beach; the space, the expanse of the horizon, the sounds of the wind and the sea. Another place where my mind finds solace and stillness.

I think I’ve mentioned previously, on #100factsaboutme, that I like sitting in empty churches. Large rooms, high ceilings, polished stone, lots of art to observe, space and stillness to contemplate, or just be.

I find that all of these places have a similar vibe, for me anyway. I’ve been visiting these places, and finding comfort in them, for many years now, even more so, during my time of depression.

I was born, baptised and raised Roman Catholic. At the age of 17, like many of my peers, I stopped going to church. Out of respect for my Father (whose faith is very strong), I consulted him about my decision and made a promise to him that my cessation of attendance was not out of laziness but out of a genuine confusion about my religious and spiritual beliefs. I could make that promise, because it was true. It still is.

I am interested in all religious, spiritual and faith systems. I genuinely am. And I have taken some time, over the years, to read about some other religions and faith systems, talk to people who subscribe to them and try to understand them more. And I intend to continue to do so, if and when I can find (or make) the time.

The way of life that I am continually drawn back to, is Buddhism. I’m not sure I want to “become” a Buddhist (if that is even an action), but the teachings of the Buddha (in comparison to the teachings of others) are the ones that seem to make the most sense to me. With a few exceptions, for example, karma. Conceptually, I agree that, in this life, what goes around comes around. But, I’m not sure I can believe in actual physical rebirth.

Buddha teaches compassion, respect and kindness, and I think (I hope) that we all get that.

He teaches not to become attached to material things, I get that too. He teaches not to become attached to others, which I am still trying to fully understand. Others can not make you happy or sad, only you can do that. I love my Beloved deeply, it is not his job to provide my happiness and conversely, I can not blame him (or anyone else) for feeling angry or unhappy. I can choose to be happy or angry or sad. But, this is a difficult thing to master!

And then there is the love I have for my kids. It is unconditional. When they are sick or unhappy, I find it difficult not to be affected by that. So, in this way, my attachment to my children is one that I could never break. (I knew I couldn’t get through a post without including them! :-))

A large element of Buddhism, one that everyone recognises as being associated with that way of life, is meditation. Just being. And I think my long time draw towards empty churches, the expanse of the beach and quiet corners of old buildings like Art Galleries, (and my perennial mission to practice yoga) all illustrate that I’ve actually been practicing this teaching, in a fashion, for years.

Another thing that the Buddha teaches us, which I can really relate to, is that one should question everything. Even the Buddha himself and his teachings. Well, I feel like I’ve been doing that since I was born, too!

Maybe I’ve been a Buddhist all along 🙂

And the Liebster Blog Award goes to…

Leibster Blog Award

OK, so this award doesn’t quite work like that. But still, I am tremendously honoured to be nominated.

About a week ago, I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award. I’d seen a few blogs with this award in the past, but hadn’t really taken the time to find out what the award was for. Having been nominated, I decided to do a bit of research. I found a blog post on Sopphey Says, in which the writer thinks she may have found the origins. The post she refers to is in German. My German is not so good, so, out of sheer laziness (another of my personality traits) I’m going to blindly accept the explanation she is offering.

Originally – or as far back as I or Sopphey can tell – the rules were:

1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate 3 to 5 blogs with less than 3,000 followers.
3. Let the nominees know by leaving a comment at their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.

More recently, I’ve seen rules nominating 5 bloggers with less than 200 readers and my own nomination came with a rule to nominate 11 bloggers and pose them 11 questions to answer. As Sopphey points out in her post, it’s kind of like a chain letter. [I hate chain letters and never pass them on – please don’t be offended Anna! read on :-)].

In this case, though, I will make an exception. Because, actually, this award is about being recognised by your peers. Kind of like a “Man of the Match”. And that, to me, is the highest form of recognition one could hope to receive. And I really like the fact that the name of the award translates to “Love Blog” (I’m a Marketeers dream – another trait, I am slowly coming to accept).

The fact that someone actually reads my blog amazes me. The fact that someone likes what I write makes me ecstatic. And the fact that someone likes my blog enough to nominate me for an award, telling others to check it out … well, I’m just on top of the world right now.

I have answered the 11 questions Anna has set me, in a separate post – you can read them here – it would be rude of me not to do so, when she has asked in such magnificent fashion 🙂 But I won’t set any questions for my nominees. And I’m going to change Anna’s rules slightly… well, I’m going to revert to the rules above (as original and I can ascertain).

So, I’d like to thank Anna at pinkjumpers , with all my heart, for nominating me. She’s a far better writer and blogger than I, at half my age! Had someone else nominated me, she would definitely be on the list below. Check out her website – you will not be disappointed, I promise.

And here are 5 more blogs that I would like to nominate for the Liebster Blog Award (in no particular order), and why:

1. Thoughts of a Lunatic – Having suffered from depression myself in the past, mental illness (and challenging the stigma of mental illness) is something that is close to my heart. The honesty with which Erica writes is inspiring. I can relate to almost every post on her blog. She is a brave, she is smart and she is funny.

2. Momamorphosis – I love Jill’s posts. They make me laugh, out loud! I’ve found myself in so many similar situations with my babies and Jill writes without pretension, with humour and with love. She reminds me that when parenting feels insane, that’s actually quite normal, and inspires me to see the humour in the madness.

3. Hot Pink Underwear – Meagan writes about her life. She doesn’t always have the answer, but writing it down puts things in perspective for her. I totally get that. Her writing is from the heart, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s angry, sometimes it’s sad. It’s always true. Or at least it reads that way to me.

4. Yoga + Writing +Life – Ellyn is a yoga instructor. But not the perfectly serene variety that you see in movies. Like everyone else, she sometimes struggles with the ‘path to enlightenment’. But when she finds herself challenged, she takes a deep breath and keeps trying. Her posts comfort me, help me to accept my imperfections and remind me of the path I seek to travel. And when it all gets too much, Ellyn has given me a mantra I use regularly; “I breathe in, I breathe out”. Try it for yourself – it works wonders 🙂

5. I also want to nominate Raising My Rainbow – although technically with more than 4,500 followers, the rules don’t allow it. However, reading stories about the life of C.J. (a gorgeous, gender non conforming child) and his Mom, reminds me that we are all equal in this world. Our colour, religion, gender and sexuality don’t define us. Our compassion, kindness and respect for others does.

So, there you have it. My contribution to spreading the love. My expression of gratitude to those who unknowingly contribute to my life on a daily basis. A salute to my blogging Heroes. Or Heroine’s, I should say, as they are all women. I’m sure that tells us something about me. Maybe that’s a subject for my next post.

*Post publish note – I will not be offended in the slightest, if any of my nominees do not want to pass the award on (see my usual stance on chain letters above) 🙂

 

Book Club

I’ve been inspired to pick up a book and read (an actual book with actual paper pages). Strangely, I’ve been inspired almost exactly at the same time from two different sources. Firstly, there was my Twitter buddy (@billy_mccallum), who’s been reading War and Peace and tweeting a synopsis of the plot lines as he goes. I never thought I could read a book as long as War and Peace, but his ingenuity with 140 characters makes the story seem very accessible. And then a suggestion from my Beloved, to turn off the TV for one night per week, turn on some relaxing music, read and talk. He’d picked up on something I’d mentioned in the passing about wanting to read more. How thoughtful!

So, I’ve started reading. As has my Beloved. Not War and Peace, but a fairly lengthy tale, and one that I have read before. A story that I love. In fact, I would probably say it’s my favourite book of all time (so far – I don’t read that much). The Count of Monte Cristo. The original (though, I’m sure even it is based on another original) tale of love, loss and rebirth. And I’m tweeting my synopsis (though not nearly as amusingly as Billy.)

Bear with me, whilst I digress a little… Another little hobby that I’ve been working on recently, is developing my family tree (more of that in another blog). The information that I am coming across is fascinating. But what really strikes me a general realisation about the world and human nature.

The story in the book, the stories I have discovered in my Family Tree and the stories I have lived in my own life, can all be threaded together by similar themes. Young love, loss, greed, lust, injustice, unrequited love, “illegitimate” children, “living in sin”, birth, death, relationship breakdown, mental illness… the list goes on and on…

But despite ideas held firm by my parents and grandparents, of things being different or better in the “Good Old Days”. They were just the same. Because fundamentally, human nature has not changed much over the last few centuries. And every generation lives through the same trials and tribulations, the same highs and lows. That’s life.

And that’s one of the wonderful facets of books. Some books offer escape, some knowledge. And many offer re-assurance that we are not alone, that someone else has walked this path before us and survived.