Tuesday, 19 April 2016
Those who know me well or have been following this blog will be aware of my love of all things orderly. I like plans, schedules, to-do-lists and wherever possible I colour code. It makes me happy.
However, this often leaves me in a bit of a pickle. As a single mum, I have no one at home with whom to share the domestic chores, not that they were shared in my previous life but that’s a different story. Plus, as I’m now a working mum things are a lot more hectic than they used to be. So, my to-do-list is fairly extensive.
But the thing that begins to cause a problem is that I plan to fit more in a day than is humanly possible. This is not the realm of the single, merely the overoptimistic. I constantly underestimate how long a task will take and overestimate how much time I have. For example, I constantly forget to build in time to eat meals, go to the loo and answer the phone when it rings. How dare people interrupt my plans in such a fashion?!
I certainly never ever choose to schedule time for nice things like sitting down with a cup of coffee, reading a magazine or the essential task of doing nothing (see Lessons From A Health Spa).
As a result, I fail on a daily basis. Sometimes I manage to fail on an hourly basis. It’s exhausting.
Not only is it depressing to have a half ticked list, I then shunt all the outstanding tasks into the next day meaning I start each morning looking at a list of jobs I should really have already done. Cue an even lower mood.
The problem, as I’m sure you can see, then builds and builds. My process each day becomes…
1. Look at the list and feel down at how long it is
2. Feel annoyed at the things I should have done yesterday
3. Feel anxious that if I couldn’t do them yesterday I’m unlikely to be able to fit them in today either
4. Look at a job, such as the ironing, and know I won’t get it finished in the time planned so ditch it and scour the list for something more achievable
5. Start a job with rising angst, which makes me less efficient and even slower than usual
6. Eventually complete the task and realise the list will not get finished
7. Re-allocate excess items, including the ironing, to other days
8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 until noting I’m late for the school run
9. Arrive last at school pick up without a snack for the kids
10. Go home and do more jobs
11. Berate myself for failing to achieve
12. Completely fail to notice how much time all the planning and re-planning has taken.
The above is not a useful format for a successful life – being happy, relaxed and getting stuff done.
So, I’ve found a new way of doing things. I call it the Netflix Notion.
When the kids have gone to bed in the evenings, I’ve recently found myself enjoying the delights of Netflix. I’ve gone from Orange Is The New Black through White Collar and am now relishing the rather unexpected crush I have on Hugh Laurie, playing the lead in House. Wow! Who’d have thought it? I’m told I should also watch him in BBC’s The Night Manager but it’s disappeared from iPlayer so I’ll have to track that down another time.
Anyway, I should warn you that the joy of such a TV drama can sometimes become a bit of an obsession. It’s the danger of having full box set, series “on demand” or Netflix available to you. Binge watching. You watch one episode but then get caught up in the story and decide to watch just one more before going to sleep. But then the cliffhanger is so good you have to see the next one too. And then you don’t get to sleep until 1am! Perhaps that’s just me.
Anyway, I noticed that each episode is 45 minutes long. It goes really quickly but tells an entire independent story as well as developing the overall plotline leaving you gagging for the next installment… and another moment with House! So I decided to bring into play the Netflix Notion.
Last night, I stood in my kitchen and tackled the ironing pile. It had got to crisis point as we no longer had any clean-ironed clothes to wear and action needed to be taken.
But rather than look at it thinking “this is going to take me hours and I’ll never finish it and I hate it and I’d rather sit down and I’ll just do it tomorrow even though I’ll hate the sight of the un-ironed pile of clothes when I get up in the morning…” I changed by internal dialogue.
Instead, I chose to iron for one episode, and one episode only, of House on Netflix. Just 45 minutes. Then I would go to bed.
But after one episode, I couldn’t stop. How could I switch off not knowing whether House was going to… I won’t spoil the plot line for you. Watch it!
So I watched another, then another and I finished the ironing. I told you there was a lot there! I was ridiculously, proudly, ecstatically, happy. Sadly, things weren’t going quite so well for House but, again, you’ll just have to see for yourself why.
Anyway, I went to bed, slept better than I have for days and came down to lots of piles of neatly ironed clothes this morning. I smiled, and then thought to myself “what shall I spend 45 minutes doing this morning?”
I didn’t put the TV on, that really would be obsessive. But I decided to give myself 45-minute segments to achieve whatever I could achieve.
So this morning, I’m writing my blog. Regular readers will probably have noticed this post and the previous one were a little behind my usual schedule. That’s because I couldn’t find time to write it and knew how long it took to create, rewrite, edit, find pictures, add hyperlinks and upload. But today, I’m doing things differently. I’m writing for 45 minutes.
If I can’t write my post in 45 minutes then maybe it really isn’t something that fits into my life right now. And that’s where I’d got to. I felt the same about going running, swimming, to the gym, painting my nails, filling and enjoying a relaxing bath. I spent hours not succeeding at doing the chores and deciding that there was absolutely no way I could fit in any of the nice stuff either.
Again, not a model for a happy successful life.
So here I am, having written for 45 minutes. I CAN get things done in that time when I get on with them and stop stressing or trying to do them perfectly. I didn’t panic about my word count, keep jumping up to do other more urgent tasks and I even ignored the phone ringing, something that doesn’t come naturally to me. But this was my time to do what I’d set out to do and I didn’t have to allow someone outside to intrude on that. First draft done, and as I’m here I might as well do the edit and find the photo too!
Now that I’ve succeeded twice, with the ironing and writing, I know I can do it with anything. So it’s time to give myself permission to do something nice! I’m off to pour myself a cup of coffee and sit down for a bit of “doing nothing” time to let my brain wander. And be happy.
Trust in the Netflix Notion. It’s a rubbish name but my 45 minutes are up so I’m moving on!
Tuesday, 5 April 2016
The Easter holidays are in full swing and I’m doing my best to resist the lure of the chocolate eggs scattered throughout the house. It’s not easy but I’m powering through. Actually, it’s not as tricky as I thought it would be due to my recent spa retreat.
So, the kids were away for a few days with their Dad and I couldn’t face being at home without them, awaiting the arrival of the Easter Bunny. Instead, I decided to treat myself and go to a health spa. If you don’t deserve a relaxing break when your Decree Absolute finally arrives (see A Time For Macaroni Cheese) then when do you?!
I packed up my fitness magazines, meditation manual, gym gear, swimming costume, a couple of books and I was good to go! I was looking forward to a rest for both body and mind. Some relaxation, a modicum of exercise and a healthy serving of nutritious food. Was it wrong to stop for a bacon roll on the way in preparation for my stay?
I was grateful for the carb-sugar boost actually as my relaxing spa break didn’t really start well. Nowhere to park, the robe they gave me was way too small (lacking in subtly, I felt), the consultant for my first appointment didn’t show up, one of the treatments I’d pre-booked didn’t even exist (still not really sure how that happened), the lamps in my room didn’t work and the over-bath shower screen had to be propped open by wedging a face cloth underneath it. But apart from that, it was lovely. I was trying to think calming thoughts.
Determined to make the most of my time away I’d booked some treatments in advance, allowing myself plenty of time for quiet relaxation as well as the pampering itself. They even emailed me my schedule before I arrived! I know this idea may fill some of you with dread but trust me, I am a much more relaxed person when I’m organized.
My focus over the last couple of years has been on survival. Getting through each day intact whilst wading through piles of papers relating to separation, divorce, financial planning, house sale, house purchase, utilities, secondary school options, kids medical appointments etc.
I got bogged down in the detail and forgot to stop. I spent so much time trying to achieve an extensive fully ticked to-do list each day that I was missing out on the bigger picture. I forgot to take care of myself and enjoy life. My weekend away was truly enlightening and I discovered some really interesting things…
1. My Right Side Is Wonky, My Left Will Follow Shortly
In an attempt to ease the ache in my shoulders and neck I made an appointment with an osteopath. The “discomfort” I had been suffering is not merely down to my age, as I feared, but my appalling posture, which in turn had also caused what I had previously suspected to be tennis elbow. Basically, if you’re feeling insecure and curve your head and shoulders in or if you hunch over a laptop or i-device for most of your day you are constantly engaging your upper back, shoulder and neck muscles whilst disengaging your front pectorals. This leads to the former hurting and the latter weakening. I think that’s right. So it’s time to stand tall, lift my head up, put my shoulders back and stick my boobs out apparently. I seem to recall writing similar advice about flirting although in a slightly less overtly sexually aggressive manner (see Don’t Look Down).
2. I Am Overweight
This information was not news to me. However, I had been trying my best to be at one with my body, love myself and be happy in my own skin. The trouble is, I’m none of those things. So I can either feel miserable about it every time I catch sight of myself in the mirror or do something about it. As it’s my new policy in life to be happy, I’m going with the latter… no more bacon rolls for me!
3. I Look Better In Gym Clothes Than A Spa Robe
The spa robe gave me a marshmallow like quality that I wasn’t altogether happy with. No definition, no waist, just a blob. On the upside, I looked reasonably ok in my closer fitting gym clothes. It’s all about wearing the right thing for you and your body (see Who’s Up For Some Zhooshing). I vowed to wear my gym gear more often… and exercise in it too!
4. I Can Dance Like Darcey Bussell
Ok that’s a stretch. I mean I took a dance exercise class called DDMix co-created by Darcey Bussell. I loved it. I looked like a grinning beetroot by the end with an endorphin overload that made my mind want more than my body could provide but I WILL dance again!
5. I Want To Run Away… And Come Back Again
Specifically, I want to run 10k then go home with my medal and enjoy a relaxing bath. I’ve done a couple of 5ks and always talked about maybe doing a 10k. So, why not? Surely I can’t be too busy to get fit? If I combine my running with getting outside and having fitness fun with the kids plus exercising the dog I’m ticking three things off my list in one go. How efficient is that? It’s a win-win-win!
6. I Need To Buy A Bicycle
Why haven’t I done it yet? The kids want to cycle in the lovely, safe, flat area where we now live so I let them go out and watch the clock to make sure they’re back in one piece at the appointed time. Err… I could go with them! I tell them I can’t go because I haven’t got a bike. Err… I could buy a bike! The three of us, on our bikes, with a picnic in my rucksack. What’s not to love? Except if it rains. I have my limits.
7. Swimming Is So Much Better Than Drowning
I mean that literally and metaphorically. In literal terms, I love the quiet of swimming. The muffled distant sound of people laughing around me. But, what I hear most is my breathing, exhaling through my nose under the water before bobbing back up for air. I’m in my own world. And that’s where the metaphorical swimming not drowning comes in too. Sometimes, we just need to block out the noise of life to concentrate on our own bodies and wellbeing…
8. Meditation Calms
You don’t need to wear a special robe, sit in an impossibly torturous lotus position or chant words you have no translation for. Ten minutes a couple of times of day, sitting straight-backed on a pillow on the floor, hands on knees or thighs, just breathing. That’s it. Thoughts can come and go, but you always come back to focusing on your breath, in and out. I’d forgotten how calm I felt after a short session and oddly how much taller I feel. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
9. Mindfulness Rocks
Ruby Wax. Mindfulness For The Frazzled. Read it now! Everybody! I’m working my way through the book but I am mightily impressed by this woman so far. I’d previously written her off as a loud mouthed, brash, American pain in the neck but I was so wrong. It’s not just the Masters Degree she gained from Oxford that’s won me over. It’s like she KNOWS ME! She even knows my first waking thought of each day! Anyway, here’s the thing. We spend time and money planning our future - what to cook for dinner, where to celebrate the kids’ birthdays, which holiday destination to pick and so on. Yet all we do when we get to the thing we’ve planned for so hard is worry about what’s happened in the recent past or plan for and panic about what’s coming up next. We don’t savour our food, have fun at the kids’ parties or truly enjoy our holidays. We need to practise living in the moment. I’m not exactly sure how to do it yet as I haven’t got to that chapter but I am definitely going to keep reading.
10. Doing Nothing Is Essential
Downtime is crucial to rest, remember who we are, recall what we value, repair ourselves physically and recharge ourselves mentally. I did a lot of nothing this weekend. We spend so much of our time “doing” but we feel guilty for having a lie in, sitting down before the ironing basket’s empty or enjoying the view from a park bench mid dog walk. Doing nothing has a bad reputation, but I feel so much better for it.
So, now the kids and I are all back home together – running, cycling, swimming and eating more healthily too, but still enjoying a sensible amount of chocolate! I feel physically recharged, mentally rebooted and ready to enjoy my life again. Long may this feeling continue!
But I wouldn’t be in this frame of mind if I hadn’t stopped to do nothing for a while. I wouldn’t have discovered points 1 to 9 if it wasn’t for number 10.
If you take just one thing away from reading my ramblings today, let it be this. Find fifteen minutes to do nothing. Sit in a quiet room with no distractions. Stand in the garden looking up to the sky. Walk through the woods without your children or dogs.
Just let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Allow yourself to be relaxed enough for interests to surface rather than chores, solutions rather than problems, curiosity rather than necessity, creativity rather than routine. You’ll be so much more effective for it. And you might just find a bit of you that you thought you’d lost…
Right, now where’s my sports bra?
Sunday, 20 March 2016
It’s been a strange couple of weeks in my world. A funeral, an over 40s MOT style health check, the arrival of my divorce, both kids home sick for a whole week, a school parents’ evening followed by drinks with my ex-husband, another funeral and almost a comedy night but I had to cancel due to the aforementioned sick children. I really could have done with the laugh.
And that’s just the edited highlights. Don’t forget to factor in the usual work, washing, ironing, cooking, shopping etc. Firstly, I’m mentally and physically exhausted. Secondly, I appear to have developed a slightly wonky sense of what’s appropriate in any given setting.
I already fessed up to the potentially inappropriate attire at the first funeral regarding my sexy boots and red nails (see A Time For Macaroni Cheese). Regardless of theses reservations, I wore the same outfit to the second funeral. This time, however, there were no red nails but that was more to do with not having time to paint them rather than any moral decision on my part.
However, it seems my inappropriateness knows no bounds. At funeral number two, I actually flirted with the celebrant! What was I thinking? And he used to be a vicar! After coming to my senses, and also realizing he was in fact married, I clearly backed off. I needed to regroup.
But even my unconscious mind appears to be ethically challenged. A few nights later I had what can only be described as an erotic dream involving one of the teachers at my kids’ school! Obviously, I had absolutely no control over this little fantasy, although I must say it wasn’t altogether unpleasant!
There are obvious moral questions to be raised here. Firstly, is it acceptable to flirt with an official, or anyone else for that matter, at a funeral? And secondly, are teachers off limits, subconsciously or otherwise?
In answer to the former query, I guess a funeral is as good a place as any to get flirting. As long as you’re not flashing those “come to bed” eyes during the service or winking at the bereaved spouse, I think the event itself is fair game. And let’s be honest, when you hit forty you spend more time at funerals than you do weddings, the classic place to meet a future spouse apparently, so you’ve got to include them in your list of possible venues.
Addressing the teacher issue, I would suggest they are indeed off limits. Well, perhaps until your last child’s final term at that school so any damage is mitigated. But that’s just my personal opinion. At the moment. I’m always happy to admit I’m wrong and adjust my stance accordingly…
In either case it’s irrelevant. My flirting skills are such (see Don’t Look Down) that the unsuspecting celebrant still has no idea that I was trying to flirt with him anyway. And, as the incident with the teacher took place in a dream I would suggest there’s even less chance of him being aware of the goings on. Phew!
But all this does raise further questions. When is it time to date again? How long after the end of a relationship or death of a partner is it ok to see other men? What is a respectable period of mourning these days?
Well, here’s the answer. I have absolutely no flipping idea! And neither does anyone else. However, bearing in mind many people are dating whilst still in their current relationship and many others never date again, I can state with confidence that the answer lies somewhere between the two.
The overriding thing to remember is that you’re ready to date when you’re ready to date. It’s nothing to do with how many days, weeks or months have gone past. And it’s nothing to do with anyone else so don’t feel judged.
“Everyone will think I’m dating too soon and that I never loved him…”
When your partner’s gone they’re gone. Is waiting around for the six-month marker really going to make a difference? Will it bring them back to you, if indeed you want them back? Does it mean you loved them any less? No, it doesn’t. And what do those people know anyway? Acceptance of loss often begins earlier than those on the outside realize, with a failing relationship or a diagnosis of an illness. Your grieving may have begun long before the end came, and some time before you shared the information with those beyond your relationship. They’re in no place to judge.
“My friends think I’m hanging on for him to come back and that I should have started dating ages ago…”
So they think you’re waiting too long. No one knows how it feels to be inside your head, processing your emotions. They don’t know if you’ve had enough time to get over your loss and adjust to life without your partner. A long time ago, after the end of a serious relationship that I thought I’d come to terms with, I had a fling. Turns out I wasn’t over the first relationship after all and was frequently found crying in my new man’s bathroom in the middle of the night. Not good. Especially as he had two housemates and no lock on the bathroom door but that’s another story! Anyway, what seems like too long for one person can be too soon for another.
Think about giving yourself time to grieve and finding out who you are as a person before moving back into dating. Or don’t. Get out socializing, go on a date and have some fun! It really is up to you and how you deal with things.
It’s not easy making that first move. It’s hard to imagine being in a relationship with someone else; confiding in another man; sitting on the sofa with them; being intimate with anyone other than your husband; letting them meet your kids; referring to a story from your life that they have no knowledge of. It all seems so difficult and not necessarily worth the effort.
But remember, a date doesn’t mean a relationship. It’s just a date. It’s an evening out with drinks, dinner and conversation. That’s all.
When you first went out with your previous partner, did you think that you’d end up married? Probably not. I know I didn’t.
Don’t overanalyze things. Relationships don’t have to last forever, as we’ve found out to our cost. You can flirt or go on a date and if it doesn’t feel right, you just go home afterwards and give yourself a bit more time. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a nice evening.
Saturday, 12 March 2016
I knew it was coming. My solicitor advised me last week that she’d applied for the Decree Absolute and it should come through any day. I got myself prepared. I went to my Storage King unit and extracted my wedding box. I wanted to be ready so that when it arrived I could, if I wanted to, spend some time looking through the wedding paraphernalia representing our coming together, and finally say goodbye to my marriage.
It was still a shock when the email arrived. And with the most unfortunate timing, I read it just as I was walking into school to collect the kids. Mask on. All the way home, with a stop off at my sister’s house, I held onto my façade and told no one. I just wasn’t ready to say it out loud. My marriage was over.
I decided to wait until the kids were in bed, then go through the wedding box, shed my tears, then package it all away to move on with life.
That was the plan. But when do things ever go to plan?
By the time we’d got home, eaten dinner and the kids had gone to bed I remembered I needed to make 24 dairy free, nut free chocolate cupcakes for my son to take to school for his birthday the next day. Except, I had no cocoa powder, and not enough eggs. I ended up with some rather unappetizing looking buns, for want of a better word. I squirted them with Dr Oetker’s chocolate icing (thankfully also dairy free) and shoved them in a tin, hoping I wouldn’t be judged too harshly by a precocious 9 year-old Mary Berry wannabe the next day.
So, to the wedding box.
Crap! I hadn’t wrapped his presents or set up the birthday banners! I raced around like a very silent mad woman trying not to wake the sleeping children upstairs. At last, I was finished.
Ok, time for the wedding box.
Double crap! I had a funeral the next day too and, for reasons I won’t bore you with, I had to pack a bag of suitable clothes to change into at my sister’s house after walking the dog. Having realized I looked 6 months pregnant in my classic funeral dress, I threw all the black items of clothing I owned into a bag and decided to worry about it the next day.
Finally, I had the time to sit down with my wedding box.
Except by that point, it was almost midnight and I was exhausted. I wasn’t feeling remotely sentimental and wouldn’t have done the task justice. I would have been doing it just to tick it off my to-do-list but, as much as that generally pleases me, it didn’t feel right. I went to bed instead. Although not for long…
Birthday presents, pancakes and Star Wars Top Trumps (strangely addictive by the way) began at 5.30am and I was in full on mummy mode! We partied, then I took the kids to school, walked the dog and got into my funeral clothes with 25 minutes to spare.
For those interested in my attire, I decided on black trousers with a slight floral imprint, a sheer black long sleeved top and a black over-top with a little fringe at the bottom, a black suit jacket and some rather sexy high-heeled suede boots. My team of dressers would have been proud (see Who’s Up For Some Zhooshing?!).
I debated with myself for quite some time about the suitability of the boots for such an occasion but I decided they worked with the outfit, made me feel happy and were the only footwear I’d packed anyway.
Sitting at my sister’s house while everyone else was getting ready, I realized I wasn’t used to having a 25 minute window with nothing urgent to do. So, I cut and painted my nails whilst listening to the radio. It was bliss. And if you think the sexy boots were disrespectful…my nail varnish was red!
I promise you that the deceased would have been quite happy with the whole thing. And when I say “the whole thing” I don’t just mean the raunchy boots and vampish nails. She had been ready to die for a long, long time. For her, this would have been a release. She was free of her failing body and in a happier place. It was her time.
This got me thinking. It was her time to go and here I was having time for me to paint my nails. There’s a time for everything and, despite the way I generally live, that doesn’t have to be dictated by the predetermined timetable of the day.
Sometimes, the time’s right for one thing and not another. And you don’t know until it happens what that thing is.
Time to be happy, time to grieve
Time to play, time to cry
Time to paint your nails, time to close your eyes and sleep
Time to wear high-heeled boots, time to snuggle in your PJs
Time to nibble a salad, time to devour macaroni cheese
Time to reflect
Time for the wedding box
So that evening, I didn’t rush it. I did what felt right at the time. I put the kids to bed, slipped into my PJs, ate a bowl of macaroni cheese, scoffed 2 chocolate éclairs, and then I was ready.
In the same way that you can’t plan when you’ll be ready to do these things, it seems you can’t prepare yourself for how you’ll feel either. My emotions weren’t what I’d expected.
Of course there were tears. I touched the boxes that had stored our wedding rings. I felt the feathered hearts glued with care to the front of each order of service. I read the index cards from my now ex-husband’s wedding speech and I was touched. He knew me so well and loved me so much then. When did that change?
But equally, I laughed at the comments in our wedding guest book including the competition between our two witnesses over who was best at the job and the wedding haiku written by a particularly lovely friend.
I smiled at myself in the mirror as I put on my wedding tiara. It didn’t really go with the PJs but the wedding dress is now 2 sizes too small with a gravy stain down the front so I wasn’t about to do the full bridal thing. Here’s a tip, choose your wedding breakfast carefully taking into account your clothing for the day!
But the most unexpected feeling was one of warmth. People’s comments about how happy we looked, the poem I wrote as one of our readings called My Best Friend, the laughter on people’s faces in the photos taken on the disposable cameras… what a day!
I remembered how happy I was, not just on that day, but also in my marriage.
I reflected on our time together. The nights out, nights in, holidays, arrival of our children, plans we made, homes we built, achievements, successes, crises we’d come through together, times we’d stood by each other despite feelings of betrayal, difficulties in our marriage we’d overcome, issues we were trying to resolve, then the separation and divorce.
Our marriage was more that just the end bits. With all the negativity and upset of more recent years, it’s so easy to forget the rest. A marriage is something that happens over time. And that reminded me of one of our readings...
So here I am. My hair hasn’t quite been loved off, although the grey roots are in need of some attention. My joints are more stiff than loose due tennis elbow and now a cricked neck. I’m not too shabby, but perhaps a tiny bit overweight. Nothing that a few more running sessions and my new Nutribullet can’t fix.
Overall, I’m not as fit as I was 20 years ago, but I’m real (see A Different Sort Of Singleton). My life, my marriage, my baggage made me real, made me who I am today. And, on the whole, I like me.
This week, as my marriage has finally come to an end, I refuse to regret a single moment of it. This reflection has given me the space to see that there was a time for us to get married, there was a time for us to be happy together and there was a time for it to end. However much I didn’t want that to happen, that’s the way it was.
And now, it’s time for me to move forward, but without bitterness. Time to draw a line under the darkness that’s dominated recently and step back into the light. So, bring on the sexy boots and bright red nails – it’s my time now. Or, I could just pop my PJs back on and nibble some Green & Blacks chocolate. Just for now…