Ageing and such like

I have come across various quotations recently, including one today which said ‘it’s never too late to become the person you want to become’ and another – an advertisement by the Sanctuary Spa – encouraging women to relax and to ‘let go’ .  As I am just starting a college course, aiming for a change in career and it’s my birthday next week, both got me thinking.

Changing career is both exciting and daunting.   I am old enough to be the mother, if not the grandmother, of some of the other students.  But for some while now I have wanted to do something more creative.  Singing and writing were never going to pay the bills; cooking on the other hand, although at most levels not as well paid as surveying, could do.  I am torn between wanting to do something which is fulfilling for me; having to provide financially for my children; trying to balance work with looking after my children (picking them up from school, not too many hours in after school club, trying not to ask their father to look after them more than I do, etc. etc.).  I don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing – I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone in many ways – but I do know that drifting along as a surveyor is not satisfying, not fulfilling and, ultimately, doesn’t seem to be providing the right opportunities to make of it either a career or a vocation any longer.  I’ve applied for jobs and got nowhere, whereas already opportunities for catering are coming my way.

The other issue I’m debating in my head is whether it’s selfish to find something which is fulfilling, career-wise (which is why being able to provide for my children financially is an important factor).  The Sanctuary advert popped into my consciousness at just the right moment: my Thursday evening run had been cancelled (partly by me – the weather was atrocious) and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and a bit low.  Straight away I was thinking about my ‘to do’ list and how, as I wasn’t going running I then ‘must do… singing practice; learn/practice Italian; sort out my college folder; write all the features I’ve been meaning to write; go out for a run anyway…’ as if the suddenly empty time had to be filled.

The Sanctuary advert pulled me up short.  I roamed around a bit on Facebook, finding an inspiring clip about a man who had started running at 95 and long jump at 97; I lit some candles and had a bath (I normally have a shower as it’s quicker), lying there for ages not even reading but with bubbles about a foot higher than the surface of the water, just day dreaming; I eventually did some singing; and then I roamed around a bit more on Facebook and pinterest before writing this post.

I haven’t done all the things I could have done; but instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself I’ve enjoyed having some contemplative, peaceful time on my own.  I’m happy that I’m following my dream of being more creative, and excited about my change of career and where it might lead me: and I’m glad I’m doing it before I’m too old.

I still have a list of things to do, or that I wish to do, and I don’t want to live to regret not doing anything – but at the same time I know that sometimes it’s OK just to take some time out and do nothing.  As the Italians say, “la dolce far niente”.  And at those points, when you’re happy enough and confident enough to stop – to have a break from the rushing around we all do – you can look into yourself and see who you really are.  And you know what?  I like who I am (phew!).

Advertisements

Comfort Zones

download

I’ve never really been one to stay in my comfort zone for too long: though people’s attitude to me has varied between ‘what the hell are you doing that for – are you an idiot?’ and ‘good for you’.  Funny, isn’t it – how people’s reactions to the things we do can be so diametrically opposed.  Just confirms that you have to do what your own heart/ head/ senses/ conscience tell you to do, not what other people think you should do, as some people will think you are right and some – probably, if it was analyzed, about 50% – will think you are wrong.

I can’t remember the first time I stepped outside my comfort zone and did something someone thought I shouldn’t, but I do remember my father saying something along the lines of daughters doing incomprehensible, rash things like switching to degree courses in subjects such as music.  I also remember a musical friend saying with surprise, about one of my music essays, “you sounded as if you knew what you were talking about – even though I knew you had no idea what a diminished 9th was” (actually, I might have known what a diminished 9th was – I probably looked it up purely for the purposes of the essay).

Later on of course I went for a safe-ish option and became a chartered surveyor.  At that point the unemployment rate for surveyors was very low, although to become chartered as a non-cognate graduate and as a woman (shock, horror – ‘they’ didn’t even approve of women wearing trousers to work when I began my surveying career in 1986!) was more unusual.  Someone from one of the long-established West End firms wrote in response to my job request, that they might have a job going managing their fleet cars – and that they (he) thought that often it was best if people ‘stuck to their own last’.

That sort of comment was, of course, guaranteed to make me stick to becoming a chartered surveyor rather than giving up – as with the guy who I had worked with previously who said what on earth made me think I’d stick to it when I’d stuck to nothing else work-wise up until then… what made me stick to it was that I had something to prove, not only to other people but also to myself.

After about 8 years in surveying I’d had enough however and decided to chuck it all in and go to work as a holiday rep., firstly in France (where I would have liked to have stayed) and then in Norway.  My father said “You’re not to give up a well-paid secure job to become a holiday rep.”.  Did I take any notice?  I had no mortgage, no children… and left a job paying £30,000 pa for one paying about £3,000 pa.  I had a great time and have seen bits of rural France that I shall probably never see again – and I could also speak fluent French when I got back.  My French is no longer fluent, but it gave me a confidence in speaking it which I think probably also helped with, later on, learning Italian.

I fell into a comfort zone after that though – my career progressed; I bought a flat; I earned (compared to my mortgage) a lot of money.  Then I met David, settled down, had children, moved to Cumbria… life was steady.

Or was it?  Don’t you think Life has a way of surprising you?  I am well aware that it really cannot be planned for – some things you wish for do indeed happen, but the effects of them are never quite what you expect and there are all the other things which happen which you didn’t even dream of (or the things you wished for happen, but turn out then to follow a different path from the one you’d expected or hoped for).

So there I was, plodding along, doing a job, taking redundancy as I hated the job and assumed I would just walk into another one as I always had… and I ended up pregnant, aged 48/49.  The creative side of me, which had been somewhat under wraps since graduating, had started rearing its head as well: I was singing and writing and started doing more of both.  The baby arrived, and provided a huge amount of joy and a fair amount of media interest.

Then my husband left.  After a few months of adjusting to it and having unexpectedly inherited a bit of money, I found I wanted to spread my wings and enjoy my new-found freedom and my 45% child-free time.   About a year later I got a job as a surveyor again, having thought I’d never go back to it, and had the most passionate and intense love affair of my life, with a guy who tapped right into the essence of me – the creative, free me which had been trying to escape the comfort zone for so long.

And now… after the pain (I still miss him); the acceptance (my kids have to come first) and the realisation (I am a creative person, and a people person)… I am about to step out of my comfort zone again.  I have a new job as a part-time chef, and am about to start a catering course in September.  Because of time restraints it is unlikely, come September, that I shall work as a surveyor again – after 30-odd years in the profession.

But, as I said in my college interview, I have 12 to 15 years of working life left.  I want, and intend, them to be enjoyable and (therefore) successful.  On an emotional level it feels as if I’m doing the right thing; on a practical level it also makes sense as there is far more demand for chefs than there is for surveyors and I have experience (e.g. in management and also in promotion) which is transferable.  I may go ‘backwards’ initially (in terms of starting again at the bottom, having to retrain, and not earning much) but it’s in order to go forwards more.  And the opportunities and openings are enormous – I wanted to live and work in France but didn’t manage it – becoming a chef my only restraint to where I work is my children.  There’s also a whole history to how I got to this stage, but it’s not necessarily relevant: suffice to say that when a friend suggested I get a job as a chef I mulled it over and eventually realised that she was talking a lot of sense and picking up on something which had been within me for a while.

She also suggested I start a supper club, so that’s exactly what I’ve done, with the profit going to charity.  If you feel like ‘sharing’ this and encouraging friends who live in or who are visiting Cumbria to come along, it would be great if you could – I would love to get really booked up.  And guess what… my new website also has a blog!

Visit: Brampton Supper Club

(and on Facebook: Facebook page for Brampton Supper Club)

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties

– Erich Fromm

flowers for courage

Almost a Final Farewell

“take the road less travelled and simply open your eyes” – Laurence Shelley

icarus

The end of a year makes most of us consider all sorts of things: what we have achieved in the past year; what we have learnt; how next year will be different; how this year compares with those that have gone before.  As we approach 2017 I am looking in to setting up my own business, continue to try to promote my singing and writing, and am also trying to get extra work.  More importantly I am in a different place emotionally (calmer, happier and more accepting) to where I was this time last year or even a few months ago.  I have become aware that I just can’t do everything: and blogging is one thing which may need to take a back seat.  I don’t feel at the moment as if I can add anything useful or enlightening and I am conscious that I have started repeating myself.  It feels as if this blog has now come to a natural end (unlike in Febuary, when I thought of finishing but actually was only at the beginning of an emotional journey).

I started blogging in April 2010 with UnemployedinCumbria on Blogspot.  It was intended to be a blog about getting a new job in a rural county which has a small, low-density, population and not much of a commercial property market (I’m a Chartered Surveyor by profession) – though I also wanted to change career.  I had more of a career change than I expected as I found to my surprise that I was pregnant with a third child – at age 48.  The blog ended up being about being pregnant in my late 40s, having a baby at age 49, and having no job and therefore a much-reduced household income.  We had also moved into a house which needed a bit of TLC so there are bits about my coming to terms with sorting out the garden as well – the children still remember my poisoning the fish in an attempt to rid the pond of algae…!

Once child no. 3 was lustily here I began to think about doing triathlon again, and started a blog which was meant to be more or less a training diary – Supervet-Sarah.  As this second blog developed I stopped the other, but the aim of once again competing regularly in triathlon and at ‘supervet’ (50+) age still hasn’t been achieved.  However it did track my training for Kielder Marathon at age 51 including various micro-adventurous training runs I did with Kerry, who also did Kielder, and during that time I did Kendal sprint triathlon – though very badly (I was slow on the swim and fell off my bike: First Triathlon in How Long? ). That blog ends rather abruptly in August 2014, shortly before David left.  The final words of the final post are “I’m very proud of my little girl” – something I need reminding of from time to time as she’s also very feisty and wilful so I frequently get cross with her, sometimes quite unfairly.

In early 2015 I started this blog.  There’s a hiatus between David leaving at the end of August 2014 and the start – a time when I adjusted to being ‘young (at heart) free and single’ again and to being without the children every other weekend.  By the end of the year I had come to the conclusion that 2014 was the year of broken things – my marriage, my washing machine and my dishwasher but on a less frivolous note sad ‘broken’ things happened to a lot of people.  They always do but I guess it’s how the year has been for you overall that remains in your memory.

By contrast 2015 was then a year of freedom, joy and passion.  I relished my new-found freedom and realised who I truly was.  By the middle of the year I was on a high – I got a new job; fell deeply and whole-heartedly in love with a man who had fallen passionately in love with me; and my singing seemed to be flying too: I had more confidence and performed solo more than I had previously, including arranging concerts for my group Eight + 1.  I flew high – but like Icarus I perhaps flew too high – too close to the sun – and like Icarus I crashed.

Unlike Icarus I had plenty of people to catch me before I hit the ground, and to support me, but it led to a challenging time and made 2016 a challenging year.  It has also been a year of farewells – obviously the usual round of celebrities have died, including David Bowie and Alan Rickman – but also people who were briefly part of my everyday life have moved – Chris who worked at Capernaum and left to join the navy; my lovely neighbours Margaret & David, who moved to Cornwall; and – sadly – Capernaum restaurant itself, which was one of my favourite restaurants ever – the children still judge food by ‘the Capernaum scale’ with few restaurants beating it.  It was also farewell to my friend Clare’s husband, Bob.  He had suffered from severe COPD for several years but hung on strongly for so long.  I am incredibly glad that Deborah and I went to sing Songs for Bob at their house in April, accompanied by Martin Johnson; I am sad that I missed the funeral; and I shall always appreciate the fact that he called me ‘Pocket Venus’.  Clare and her family at times have had more faith in me than I have had in myself.

At the same time however there were plenty of hellos and I got to do some travelling in a minor way, which is something I love and hadn’t done for ages.  I was pretty reclusive for the first part of the year, barely even going into the town centre where I live in case I bumped into anyone I knew and most of the time feeling desperate to run away abroad and ‘hide’.  Six months ago (June), just as I was finally coming out of my depression, I wrote “I want to learn Italian; do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write… and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills.  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.”  I have in fact managed, to a greater or lesser extent, to do all those things.

As I look forward to 2017 I hope to travel more (I still have a yen to go abroad to do some voluntary work, but it’s difficult with children and needing to earn money to pay for things for them); to write (I need to finish my long bike ride and write it up); to sing (there are four gigs coming up for Bellissima and we now have our own Facebook page as well); to run and cycle; and to earn enough money, ideally doing things I love (fingers crossed for the job I have applied for, but for keeping doing surveying as well, as I have a great boss and I don’t want to let him down) and to perhaps start my own business.  And, of course, to spend time with my kids – if I can earn enough then I want to be able to take the whole of August off to spend it with them – my dream is to tour Northumbria in a camper van.  But who knows what the new year will hold – I learnt long ago that you can’t plan your life.  Things you want do happen, but rarely in the way you expect.

I learnt a lot of lessons in 2016.  One was about being true to myself, which I already knew I should do but which, I learnt, means that sometimes I need to swim against the pack and follow my instincts and my heart despite what anybody else says (I’ve done so in the past and proved people wrong… and if you don’t try then you never know, do you?).  Another lesson, again which I already knew but which was reiterated, was that there are different outlooks on life and none is right or wrong.  David and I separated; we are happier separated but we still get on.  For us – and for our children – that works, but it’s not the solution for everybody and not everybody can manage to be as amicable as we (mostly) are (we had an argument today – he came round to make peace, we had a chat and he gave me a brief hug.  We no longer love each other but we can at least get on and not use the children as emotional blackmail against each other – which I  hope is best for the children too.  I guess he’s sort of a friend – which is what he was before we got together so there’s a sense of resolution in still being at least on friendly terms).

Finally, I learnt that I can’t do everything.  Emotionally, physically, mentally or even in terms of time.  I have had to accept that Child Tax Credits may need to bolster my income if I want to spend enough time with my children as well as, importantly, allowing the creative side of me some outlet; I also have to accept that there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.  I tried to do it all: to be a mother (teacher, taxi service, cook, housekeeper, gardener…), a writer, a singer, a lover, to keep fit, to work full-time and to commute, and it didn’t work.  2016 as much as anything has been about getting some balance back.  I’ve even said ‘no’ to some things – I didn’t sing with choir this term and I’m not going to be touring with them in May (I can’t afford to but more importantly I don’t want to go abroad without the children).  I have learnt over the past few years though that allowing the creative side of me some outlet is hugely important: it’s a fundamental part of who I am.  It’s not about being self-gratifying however but about how you can make it fit into a life where you have to provide for your children and do the washing up as well.

This blog has been great for getting my head straight and I hope I will look back at my posts and still enjoy reading them.  People have criticised me, mostly when they have felt criticised by me, but writing has always been a type of therapy for me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be so public (though the maximum number of readers I have had for any post has been 210, which really isn’t that many) but if just one person has felt better because of a post I have written – if just one person has thought ‘yes, that’s how I feel too’ – then this blog has not been in vain.

From time to time there may perhaps be another, but for now this, my 99th post in this blog, is a farewell – with best wishes for the New Year to you all.

butterfly-in-hand

Cooking and Cadets

Alex has joined the Army Cadets.  He’s taking it very seriously – yesterday he insisted on having a very short hair cut when it wasn’t that long ago he was objecting to having it cut short at all – and he has been polishing his boots (fingers crossed the new-found discipline being instilled in him will expand into all areas of his life and will last – though he doesn’t yet seem to have applied it to his homework).

Today was Remembrance Sunday and the Army Cadets, along with Air Cadets, Air Force Personnel and some others, paraded through Brampton to the church.  Alex was with them, trying to keep his face straight when Edward wanted to run up to him and give him a high five, and was then running alongside the marching parade (earlier he – Edward – had been shouting.  He was a match for the sergeant major!).  It was a pity about the weather when it’s been so gorgeous recently, but perhaps appropriate for Remembrance Sunday – rather as Good Friday should really always be a rainy day.

It’s sad in the photos seeing Capernaum.  It started to close on Sundays about a year or more ago, but now it’s closed permanently every day.  I hadn’t been in ages for a variety of reasons, including lack of money, but the children still ask if they can go in there even though they know it’s closed.  It means however that I have rediscovered my enjoyment of cooking myself – when David left and I had some inheritance I started living a bit of a single, ‘party’, life again for a while, and having a good restaurant at the end of the road was a bonus.  I have always enjoyed cooking though and having helped in the restaurant and then also more recently been to Italy, I’m trying out new things or trying to improve on things I’ve made before.

Today was therefore a bit of a cooking-fest: I was in the right mood to get creative in the kitchen and the weather was the sort to make you want to stay indoors rather than beckoning you out into the hills.  Bella made a victoria sponge, adding almond extract and orange zest, while I had a third attempt at Panna Cotta.  It always seems so heavy when I make it, whereas the one we had in Carluccio’s last weekend was so light… I thought I’d try single cream and sheet gelatine, but although it was better it still wasn’t light enough for my taste.  Bella suggested trying less gelatine and I think she may be right.

I then made Ricciarelli, but this time made them larger than last time and with orange zest rather than lemon zest.  I think I prefer them with lemon zest – they’re slightly sharper – and I very much want to try making them with almond flour rather than ground almonds (the health food shop has some on order for me).  I wasn’t totally sure that they were cooked through to the middle as they were so much bigger than the first batch I made, so I left them in the oven once I’d switched it off, to dry out a bit more.  Later I opened the door and left some bread dough to rise while Edward and I went out to watch Alex in his parade.

I then cooked roast pork for dinner (it’s the second time I’ve bought it from Sainsburys and both times I have been very disappointed with the crackling), with all sorts of side dishes: the kids did their usual thing of eating some bits and being very fussy about others, although it was nice to see Alex produce a clean plate.  But then he hadn’t eaten since breakfast time.  He also appreciated a panna cotta, some cake and a Ricciarelli biscuit.

And soon I shall be off to Lanzarote where I shall no doubt enjoy some Spanish food!

 

 

Meditation and mindfulness: running, singing and writing

My memory of last October is of a dark, turbulent time, my emotions in turmoil.  The nights and mornings always seemed to be dark, the weather rainy.

This year is completely different.  The weather recently has been glorious and even if it’s a bit misty and the car has a slight layer of frost in the morning, by mid-morning the mist has usually burnt off and the sun is warming everything.  If I put a running jacket as well as a long-sleeved top to go out running, invariably I end up too warm.

So whilst I stood shivering at the start line of Kielder 10k on October 1st, I was glad that Kerry had advised me to leave my jacket behind and I found I was just the right temperature while running – although the photos taken before show me looking a bit chilly (plus wild hair – I can’t wait for the top to grow a bit as it looks so weird).  It’s such a beautiful run and every time I’ve run up there (the marathon 4 years ago; the 10k this year and last) the weather has been glorious.  We also knocked 5 mins off our time this year, which was pleasing – and in fact I felt as if I could perhaps have gone a little bit faster.  I’m now keen to do the duathlon and/or the half marathon.  I should also mention the fantastic picnic Kerry and Kevin brought for after the race, which was really welcome and absolutely perfect.  It was a great day.

Mid-week I fancied running through Gelt Woods, which I haven’t done for ages.  I didn’t do the entire loop all the way down to the viaduct, but instead ran up the Black Path (a former Reiver droving route), down through the woods along by the river and then back past the former Roman quarry.  I then turned to go past the farms and up towards Aaron’s Town, now out in rolling open fields where sheep were grazing under cotton-wool clouds in an azure sky.

This weekend just gone I was singing in Catterline, just south of Stonehaven (Aberdeen).  The boys chose to come with me – Edward was keen to see his newest cousin, Baby Mia – I love the photo of ‘Jedi Younglings’ which her Mum, Gulmira, posted on Facebook.  While I rehearsed and later performed Alex and Edward spent the day with their grandparents, cousin and uncle and aunt.  As I drove down the A90 I wanted to stop to take photos of the North Sea from the hill just north of Stonehaven, it looked so lovely – not the slightest bit inviting as it will be icy cold already I have no doubt – but the waves breaking in the harbour and the blue of the sea under the sunshine-filled sky looking lovely.  Sea therapy!

Stonehaven has some great shops and restaurants and I hope I get a chance to explore it a bit more sometime, but Saturday was busy with practicing.  I hope Nigel, who organised the charity-fund-raising soiree, won’t mind my quoting what he said about my singing, as it was a lovely comment: “people don’t know how lucky they are to hear your voice”.  I look forward to seeing some photos, and I met some great people – Morag, who stepped in to accompany; Orit, who wasn’t well but whom I immediately liked and who I hope to sing with sometime; Sheila, who sang fantastically and who I enjoyed chatting to – as well as seeing people I had met before.

I then went for a run with my ex-brother-in-law yesterday and managed 5 miles with two hills and didn’t walk at all.  I was dead chuffed – and again the weather was fantastic.  I’m clearly fitter than I thought I was…

As I ran through Gelt Woods the title of this blog came to mind.  Funnily enough RunABC North this edition had an article about running being meditative, and Sheila and I were talking about mindfulness on Saturday.  I said that running and singing are my mindfulness.  With both if you’re not ‘in the moment’ then you’re not doing either to your best – both require full concentration or involvement, but it’s also possible to almost get to ‘another place’ while doing either.  With both I feel my feet on the ground and my heart in the air.

And now, with a new head torch sitting waiting for use in the utility room, I’m excited about getting some night runs in; and looking forward to my next singing performance which is in Carlisle in a few weeks’ time.

Italy

Why is it that the British love Italy, especially Tuscany, so much?  Is it that the Italians appear, on the surface at least, so different to us – so much more openly emotional and less straight-laced?  Whatever the reason, for centuries now the British have been flocking to and falling in love with Italy, and I am not in the slightest bit ashamed to say I am one of them.

I’d been to Italy once before – to Chiavari, on the Ligurian coast, for a triathlon training week.  We had cycled up into the hills, cycled to Portofino and, most notably, arisen early every morning to go swimming (there was at least one day when I didn’t).  I had always wanted to go back again and I also have a long-held ambition of learning Italian (on my bucket list is the desire to do another degree, French and Italian joint honours).  This ambition started at University when I had done Italian at evening classes for a bit and been offered a month’s funded placement in Perugia to learn Italian, that for one reason and another never transpired.  Having been intermittently learning Italian by CD in the car, now seemed the time to do something about it instead of just dreaming about it.  So I went along to Cafe Lingo at Tullie House and was recommended a particular Italian teacher   Patrizia Guasti, a.k.a. Italy Uncovered.

As luck would have it, when I emailed her to ask which classes she taught and what level I might be, she suggested I go to Italy for a week to have lessons out there with her.  Perfect – and the itinerary of trips she proposed looked great too.

So September 12th saw me at Leeds-Bradford airport waiting for a flight to Pisa and feeling a bit nervous.  Part of me wondered what on earth I was doing – leaving the kids for a week; flying off on my own to meet complete strangers; spending money I didn’t really have.  The other part of me was excited.

Arriving in Italy

I was seated next to a Doctor on the aeroplane, who was flying out with his wife to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and her 50th birthday.  We got chatting, discussing the world which was lying below us like a map, and where hardly a cloud obscured the view of the English Channel, Lake Geneva, the Alps… On landing my excitement rose.  There was that Mediterranean feel around us, which I haven’t experienced for several years, but which I love: the heat, the sun, the cicadas, the smell, the colours.

I was staying at Isola, which is on the plain between Pisa and Florence, not far off the ‘Fi-Pi-Li’ auroroute.  One of the first things we did was visit the supermarket at Empoli, a modern and typically bland structure, but somehow Mediterranean supermarkets always manage to be better than those at home.  Do the French and Italians really have better food or do we just think they do?  It certainly always seems to taste better, but then wine often tastes better in its country of origin than at home – how many times have you bought a bottle you liked abroad, only to be really disappointed in it at home?

Lessons began the following morning and the pattern for most of the week was set with a 3-3.5 hour lesson each morning followed by a trip out somewhere for the afternoon and evening.  Having originally thought that I was being a bit extravagant splashing out on this holiday, I rapidly realised that I had got a real bargain.  How many holidays offer you accommodation, 1:1 or 1:2 language lessons, trips out and about and a knowledgeable local ‘tour guide’?  I felt like a privileged guest rather than a holiday maker.

13th-sept-san-miniato-1The nearest medieval town was San Miniato, so that was where we headed on the Tuesday afternoon.  There’s a lift from the car park up to the Old Town, and we then climbed up the steps of a tower to look at the view.  This is where the Slow Food Movement started but also I loved the sculptured head with the coin for transporting you across the Styx in the afterlife, and the plaque mounted on the tower which states that the children believed that the only hope for life was in love (la sola speranza della vita resta l’amore).

Paragliding and Lucca

Wednesday was my birthday and after the morning’s lesson we headed off, with my teacher’s 80-year-old father, to go paragliding in the hills just outside Lucca.  I hadn’t paraglided since I was in New Zealand in 1994 but I remembered loving it, so I hoped I would this time too.  As we climbed higher and higher into the hills I wondered whether this was something I really wanted to do: it looked like a long way down.  As I held on to the parachute prior to take off the wind grabbed it and nearly lifted me, which made me realise how strong it was.  As soon as we took off I loved the whole sensation; when the instructor did some acrobatic spins I felt the g-force but had a broad grin on my face.  It was expensive, but definitely something I want to do more of!

Lucca had a festival on which meant a lot of market stalls selling rubbish (and some selling decent stuff), but we found our way through the crowds to arrive in the main square of the old town.  It was gorgeous.  The old walls still exist, with a wide walkway on top which was being used in the evening sunlight for walking, running or just sauntering, and the main square isn’t actually a square but an oval shape.  It was built on the old Roman amphitheatre and so is, not surprisingly, called La Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.  As it was still warm and sunny we sat in a cafe and watched the world going by.

Village, town, city

If I had thought Lucca was lovely, I was about to have my mind blown away.  The following day, Thursday, there was no lesson but instead we set out in the morning to travel to Certaldo.  We walked towards the Palazzo Pretorio and as we got nearer could hear singing.  It was only recorded, but added atmosphere to an already atmospheric building, with its contrasting accommodation of a women’s prison with no light, court rooms and then rooms for the wealthy, and then modern artworks alongside all the history.  Boccaccio died in this village, where you can visit his house; pilgrims walking from Canterbury to Rome still pass through.

15th-sept-2-montereggioni-2From Certaldo we progressed to Monteriggioni, stopping outside the town to get a photo of its perfect ancient walls and then having lunch and admiring more views once we were inside.  It’s one of the locations for a video game, Assassin’s Creed, and whilst I couldn’t find anything for Alex in the shop, I bought a green wood bow and arrow set for Edward.  It really was how you might imagine, or draw, a medieval town.

The next stop was in Siena.  We parked in the more modern part of the city and walked through the city walls into the old centre.  Here cars seemed to be limited as cyclists and pedestrians meandered up the middle of the streets, moving to one side when a motor vehicle could be heard.  The streets were old and narrow, the buildings seeming high because of the limited width.  Colourful flags hung from some; and round every corner, as with so much, it seems, of Italy, something beautiful would be seen.

We rounded a corner and there, suddenly, was the gorgeous Duomo, its facade like a wedding cake and its black and white marble stunning in the sun.  To the rear, at the top of the steps which drop down to the Piazza del Campo, a violinist was playing.  I did the tour of the roof space, gaining a bird’s eye view of the highly decorated floor of the Duomo, and we then went up the tower which forms part of the originally proposed extension to the Duomo, which was never completed.  Wandering around Siena was fantastic, with a ‘wow’ factor at every corner.  Small wonder that I took loads of photos, and that we all voted to go back there again for dinner a couple of days later.

Florence in the rain

The following day the two of us who were students were sent off by train from Empoli to Florence, to fend for ourselves and with a list of items we had to find, ideally by asking directions in Italian.  We were so proud of ourselves when we got it right and Italians spoke back to us in Italian!  In one shop I managed to explain what I needed in terms of a t-shirt for my son; we found the lucky pig; and we sheltered from the suddenly torrential rain in a ridiculously expensive cafe.

The day after we headed in a southerly direction again, this time visiting San Gimignano en route to Siena.  More towers to climb, more fantastic views to admire, more ice cream to eat: my appetite has been whetted to learn far more about the history of this area as well as about the regional foods.

Wine tasting

On the final day the lesson started later than normal and we then went out into the hills of chianti country for a wine-tasting.  This wasn’t like wine tastings I have been to at home, where you get a small taster glass of lots of wines; here it was a generous measure of the vineyard’s rose, red and superior red wine and then the vin santo, all accompanied by local food.  The proprietess explained the entire wine-making process to us in detail in Italian, which was great: I didn’t understand it all by any means but understood enough to appreciate how much I had learnt in a week.  And a couple of glasses of wine gave me the confidence to speak more Italian as well!

We then returned to have dinner at the restaurant we had gone to on my first day, before packing for return flights the following morning.  I hadn’t seen the leaning tower of Pisa, been in the Uffizi, or visited the thermal baths to the south of Siena… but I had seen so much and could have spent many more hours sitting sipping espressos and wine in Piazzas and watching the world going by.

It’s a stunning country with beauty around every corner, a musical language and delicious food and drink, as well as a warmer climate than the UK.  Small wonder so many of us fall in love with it and contemplate living there.  I hope one day – before too long – I’ll return.

Balance

 balance

Sometimes it hurts to follow your heart.  Sometimes however it can take you years to hear your heart properly – to trust the essence of who you are – and it takes several traumatic events happening at once to get you back on the right path.  Your heart can be yelling out at you to take a risk and do something you know feels right; but you ignore it because you ‘ought’ to do something else; you ‘ought’ to play safe; you ‘ought’ to be so-called responsible.

Sometimes responsibility is about being apparently irresponsible.  For me it’s the work-life balance and how much creativity I ‘allow’ myself in my working life.

Having been going through a separation leading to divorce, and just as I started a new job with a long commute, I fell in love last year – passionately, deeply in love – and was loved in return.  In many ways it was rather unreal and yet that was its very life-giving, mind body and soul reality: it was a wonderful, magical, romantic time.  The ‘real me’ was already stirring – this awoke it further and pushed it out into the world.

I flew high but I crashed hard.  For the past few months or so I’ve been working back towards balance: balancing the me I know I really am with the practicalities of life.  On an emotional level, getting a balance between self-esteem & self-awareness.  Not getting put down and falling to bits as soon as somebody criticises or attacks me, but being able to admit my own faults as well… seeing that in all relationships, apart from perhaps with your children, ‘it takes two to tango’.

Having the confidence to believe that my singing is good (it wasn’t years ago and it’s taken a long time not to have that little voice in my head saying ‘who do you think you are, standing up here and singing to people?’) and that Deborah and I have different strengths when it comes to singing. I think she is a far better singer and performer than me, but my voice appeals to a different section of the audience and has a totally different quality – but we now should have the confidence that we are good enough to be paid for singing.  Again, the man last year was a huge part of that as he always supported my singing – as did, also, the friend who came back into my musical life having not seen him for 35 years.  A huge Thank You to those two men: and to the man who kissed my hand when I last sang in the restaurant in Brampton; to the man who said it was ‘classy’; to my choir master for letting me sing the solo in Stanford’s Bluebird; and to my friend Clare and her family… etc.

Accepting that I can’t do everything – there just aren’t enough hours in the day – despite the fact that I want to live life to the full.  Life is an enormous playground and I’ve only tried out some of the rides so far, and I’m greedy to try more!  I want to learn Italian (that’s been an ambition for goodness knows how many years – I think it may possibly get fulfilled this year… watch this space); do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write.. and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills (and I have a great boss who again is supportive by being understanding).  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.  But again – it’s getting the balance.

Going through a divorce is making me reconsider my financial and childcare balance – perhaps I have to let child tax credits provide some of my income in order that I have more time with the children.  My ambition last year was to work full time and not need any child tax credits at all, and I wanted to be able to afford to take the children abroad on holiday with me.  I failed miserably but I was trying to do too many things – to be too much to too many people – and hence I crashed, letting down in the process my children, the man I loved (though he then failed to help me up when I was down and when I needed him most), my boss, and also myself.

The last point, about looking after yourself, is important because it reflects so much wisdom that is ‘out there’ – if you don’t look after and love yourself first and foremost, you’re pretty useless to other people.  It’s not about selfishness – it’s about (going back to the beginning) being who you truly and genuinely are, and being happy, in order to give happiness to other people.  And when you’re deeply, profoundly, happy in your own skin then it’s no effort to give to other people (I was good at that at the beginning of my love affair but then got insecure and tried too hard/gave too much; and with my ex-husband I always felt I gave a lot and then got resentful… and didn’t appreciate what he was doing (giving me freedom; being a good father)).

As a child – a good, going-to-church on a Sunday and singing in the choir-child – I was brought up to think that I should think about others first and that if you didn’t you were being selfish.  Years later I was at a church in Brighton where a friend sang in the choir, and the sermon was about ‘love others as you love yourself’.  It was a pivotal point for me as the vicar was saying that if you don’t love yourself you’re useless to anybody else… (though not in quite those words).  It’s not always easy to put into practice when deep down inside you think you ‘ought’ to put others first: but actually I’ve seen what happens when you identify too closely with others and put their needs and feelings before your own.  When you lose yourself, you are completely lost.

In relation to children again a balance has to be found, of course: they need to learn to grow up to consider others but have enough self-esteem to look after their own needs.  And whilst a parent has to look after their children, and to a certain extent put his or her children first, again showing them how to look after themselves and be kind to others as well is a fantastic lesson to teach them (and a difficult one if you struggle with it yourself).

So over the past few months I’ve been trying to scramble back up the mountain of self-esteem and happiness – but now I’m beginning to realise that I was making too much effort even to do that, although I’ve had some success.  It’s about letting go – truly letting go – and that’s when things fall into your life; abundance will return in due course (and it’s perhaps also about seeing that it is indeed abundance and joy – seeing that the glass is half full, not half empty – i.e. perception).

If you have constantly to make too much effort for anything and it’s not happening – if you feel as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall and you’re miserable for years on end (as David was in our marriage) – then you’re on the wrong track.  Having said that, my friend Clare wisely said she had realised that when things felt hard it wasn’t so much about giving up as working out how to keep the things in her life that she wanted (she works full-time;  has a very ill husband; has a lovely boyfriend and other people in her life she cares and worries about, and has got to the stage where it works) – again, balance between putting in the effort to keep what you really want and letting go at the right time.

So this week, after feeling incredibly low again on Monday morning, has been about letting go.  I’ve read some useful things which have helped (thank you to the facebook pages and writings of Lyn Thurman* in particular – and also to Phil Robbins whose fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell made me feel better about myself than I have for ages**) and then I burnt a whole load of paperwork yesterday and deleted some files on my computer.  I think that will do.  Again, balance – making too much of an effort to let go is again too much effort!  I have to just let it happen (and not beat myself up for the times when sadness overcomes me).  I’m hoping that letting go will let me fly again – this time in a stronger and more controlled way than I did last summer.  To soar, as my voice has been described as doing in The Bluebird.

There’s a passage at the beginning of one of the chapters of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (Peter Hoeg) where she says that she just walks into the tunnel, the blackness, that is depression: she lets herself fall.  It’s always stuck with me.  There’s no rule which says that you ‘ought’ not ever feel depressed.  Yes, life is amazing and we’re lucky to be here and to experience its rich, colourful tapestry – but if there are times when you get depressed or low, go with the flow (just don’t wallow).  There are events in life which are sad, and the unhappiness is a sign that you are human and have emotions – but learn from them, let go, and move on. Everything passes; everything changes.  Again, there was a short features in Psychologies magazine once which pointed out that bad times pass – and so do the good ones! – just to come round again (the wheel of fortune).

At least, that’s what I’m trying to do!

 got-balance*  I’ve previously recommended Lyn’s book The Inner Goddess Revolution but will again here in case anyone who might be interested in it has missed it.

** I can highly recommend Phil for professional photographs – if you’re looking for a photographer for any reason whatsoever, contact him via his Facebook page.  He’s based in Carlisle.

Just photos

Anyone who follows me on Facebook, ignore this… I just wanted to upload (or download) all the fantastic photos from Caldbeck Fell, taken yesterday evening, 6th June 2016, to my blog as well as FB.  I keep looking at them as they make me feel good about myself!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever before felt so happy about a whole set of photographs of me… and this is at age 54, going on 55, when I’m definitely past my best but perhaps happier in my own skin (despite the wrinkles, grey hair etc.)…  I am really, really impressed by what Phil Robbins has achieved and if anybody wants to commission him, either look him up on Facebook or ask me for his contact details… he is an artist!

My broken heart feels a little less broken and my Inner Goddess feels a little stronger!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sorrow, pain and hope

The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

From Lyn Thurman (who wrote The Inner Goddess Revolution), quoting Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

From the Dalai Lama:  “Hard times build determination and inner strength. Through them we can also come to appreciate the uselessness of anger. Instead of getting angry nurture a deep caring and respect for troublemakers because by creating such trying circumstances they provide us with invaluable opportunities to practice tolerance and patience.”

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”
Oscar Wilde

“You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”
Oscar Wilde

“If someone treats you poorly, keep being you.  Don’t ever let someone else’s bitterness change the person you are.”  (Ayurveda website).

“If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come.”
Chinese proverb

 

 

 

Places for contemplation

This blogpost has been some time in gestation.   I’ve been travelling around the north west, and travelling always makes me contemplate life: I’m also currently reading Jostein Gaarder’s novel-come-philosophy book, Sophie’s World, and have just finished Lyn Thurman’s The Inner Goddess Revolution.  All heady stuff (I’m going to read about the Crusades next… one middle-eastern originating monotheistic religion fighting another… don’t they think that maybe they worship the same God, who would be disappointed in the squabbles and blood shed over the detail of how to worship him?).

I want to quote from Thurman’s book as it relates in part to world philosophies and religions, and is relevant both to men and to women, as well as echoing many other things I have read over the past year or more.

“The time we have on this planet is precious and so very short.  We have to live each day in a sense of awe at the gift we’ve been given, and to treat each day with joy [Me: sometimes more easily said than done…].  Imagine how you would feel if each morning you were on a holiday…

You can do that, you know.

A holiday is a ‘holy day’; a day that’s spiritual and sacred… You’re given a brand new holiday with each sunrise… you can choose your path forward.  You can follow your dreams and be outrageously authentic… 

You change, the world around you changes, and you become the change.  The world needs that.”

What is clear to me from all this reading and thinking is that the majority of mankind has always felt that there is a spiritual side to us human beings; but also a consciousness that we are somehow both small and great at once – part of a larger universe and yet each of us capable of greatness, should we choose and should we follow our ‘true’ path and let ourselves shine.  Perhaps for some that’s almost an impossibility: for some day to day survival is the priority, and profound thinking is a luxury. On the other hand thank goodness there are those who do think profoundly, and have done over the centuries, as it seems to me that those who don’t think strategically, altruistically and wisely enough are those who at times have led us into meaningless wars.  There was a fascinating programme about the Crusades which I caught on catch-up TV a couple of months ago, which made me consider how blinkered in their thinking the medieval Crusaders were.

The travelling has also made me think about the ‘spirit of place’, however – the Genius Loci as the polytheistic Romans called it.  Even nowadays there are some places which draw us more than others: some draw many thousands of people (look at Stonehenge over the ages); some are more personal.  I’ve written about my special places in this blog many times, but out in the warm sun – for the first time this year I could just have worn a t-shirt – for a run this morning I thought about it again.

I love living where I do.  I love this wild borderland, further north than the north, and its deep sense of history, even if it has been a troubled history of conflict and death.  I also loved living in the Pyrenees, for similar reasons: I lived in an area which had swapped backwards and forwards between France and Spain, was a great distance from the capital city (and therefore ‘misunderstood’ if not ignored) and also which has the hills and the sea.  And today it made me think about places for contemplation.  They seem, for me at least, to be places with a strong sense of the physical as well as being soulfully uplifting.

The other day I was in Southport on business.  I’m rather nosey about places anyway – I’m not very good at just going somewhere directly and then turning round and heading home again – I like to explore a bit.  There was the long, long pier, just begging me to walk to the end of it, out over the sea.  As I walked the wind got stronger until I stood at the end feeling as if any moment I might be lifted up and blown away.  The sun was out but over the land to the north rain clouds could be seen: in fact as I travelled home that day there was snow on the top of Shap Fell.  From where I was standing I could see North Wales in one direction and Blackpool in the other.  The power of the wind was exhilarating.

A few days later I ran up Talkin Fell.  Again, the power of the wind was incredible but lifted my spirits.  This time I was, of course, high up and the sea was distant – and I stood on the top of the hill and shouted.  Despite the force and strength of the wind, I felt strong: rooted to the ground and yet with my head in the clouds (well, almost).  It’s an intoxicating feeling and in fact it’s always with some reluctance that I leave the top and start my descent.  In Ridge Woods I’m in amongst the trees and it’s they who are rooted to the ground with tops in the sky: funny how strong they seem and yet after a gale or storm there will be those which have fallen.

And then I sing.  An act which is physical (you can’t sing properly without some physical effort) and yet which is also effortless… I find my voice soaring high thrilling but I have to be firmly rooted to the ground to let it do so.

Which makes me think that life is all about balance and contradictions – which is just what I’ve been reading about in Sophie’s World.

What or where are your places for contemplation?