End of an era

(This was conveniently in the Express and Echo on the day of my birthday but I forgot to post it here until today, it also reads as a little gloomy but that wasn’t the intention, honest!)

In years gone by when I had more time to update my blog regularly, I used to write a special post for the kids whenever they had a birthday. I’d write about how they had changed over the last year, what I loved about them, what made them tick and what it was about them that was unique and made them, them. Recently I’ve stopped this habit. A combination of just being too busy and also wanting to afford them a little more privacy I guess. But this week, as I approach my 30th birthday, I thought I’d be a little self indulgent and reflect on my last decade.

Ten years is a long time and I am testament to quite how much can change in that period. Ten years ago, in 2007 I was midway through my degree in International Relations and Politics, I played (badly!) in a band, I was a little overweight with no interest in exercise and my biggest concern was getting my assignments in on time. I didn’t know it at the time but I had not a care in the world. I was responsible for no one but myself. I had the freedom to wake up when I liked, go where I liked, eat whatever I liked. I used to stay up late having endless deep conversations about philosophy and politics. I was in the early stages of my relationship with Dan; we went on dates, played board games and had no external constraints on our time or energy. I remember cycling to his house in the middle of the night in a cocktail dress just to say hi (although to this day, I’m still not sure the reason for my strange attire).

Fast forward to present day, in 2017. I am responsible for the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of three small, gorgeous beings. I am trying to juggle that with a dozen hours of freelance work a week as well as sharing the running of the household with Dan and trying to train for a marathon and generally keep fit. I no longer play music (although I miss it) but now love weightlifting, pole dancing and running. I have discovered my passion for writing. My interest in politics has deepened although just like my university lecturers, I have subsided into a often hopelessness at the current state of affairs. My relationship with Dan, whilst strong, is not quite as carefree and fun as it was. Far too often our conversations are dominated by the children, by money, by organisation.

Which leaves me to wonder where I’ll find myself in another ten years. Will I come full circle, re-gaining some independence as the children grow up? Maybe 40 will be my sweet spot! That is not to say that I’m not enjoying life at the moment. Life is full, it is complicated and often hard. But I am trying to consciously embrace all that I loved about life at 20. My love of music, our spontaneous attitude to plans, my passion. I figure if I can align that with the awesomeness of raising my three urchins and love of writing then I’ll have it made! So I’m looking forward to what my thirties will bring (as long as Theresa May isn’t still PM in a week!) and will keep you updated here on my comings and goings as they unfold.

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Itchy Feet

I think I’ve probably written about this before but having revisited the subject recently with friends and family, I thought I’d have a very public ponder about it here as well. During Easter we visited our friends in Brighton for the weekend. What followed was a relaxing few days, spent in the very best of company. We didn’t really do much but we ate delicious food, the kids played, we spent some time in the sunshine and of course, we took part in an Easter egg hunt on the downs (thanks Dan and Matt!) It was bliss.

On the drive home, Dan and I had the same conversation we always do as we return from Brighton. Namely, should we move back there or stay in Devon? The conversation went much the same as it always does. We miss our friends deeply but love so much of what Devon has to offer; an amazing home ed community and lots of friends, family, beaches, the moors, cheaper rent…. We danced the same old dance as we then moved on to re-evaluating whether we are happy in Topsham and whether we should consider moving somewhere else in Devon that has a bit more space and crucially…guaranteed parking!

I suspect we won’t be going anywhere soon but we do seem to have the same conversations over and over. I’m not quite sure what is but I think we are destined to have itchy feet. Since getting married in 2008, we have managed to live in a grand total of 8 different houses/abodes…not bad going really! However, we seem to have shaken the curse a little as this October we’ll have been in our current house for three years.

I can’t help wondering what it is that makes us constantly want to move though. Is it a touch of ‘is the grass greener’ syndrome? A desire to live out exciting dreams that then don’t play out how we imagined (our time on the yacht)? A case of genetics (both my parents and Grandparents moved often)? Or is it simply circumstance? It’s certainly easy to move these days when you rent rather than own, the housing market being what it is, a mortgage is a bit of a far off dream for those of us in a position to pay the mortgage but not the deposit.

I wonder though if we’ll ever get over this desire to keep moving and exploring. In the last few years we’ve discussed moving within Devon, back to Brighton, up North and even looked at the possibility of Canada and New Zealand! With Dan’s job being home-based and the kids being home educated, we are in a unique position of having no real ties to anywhere. The world is truly our oyster! But for now, I think we’ll stay in Topsham – good friends, convenient facilities, lots of fun to be had. Those feet will just have to wait for a bit before we start scratching that itch. But where to next when we do finally move on? We’ll have to wait and see I guess….

Green Therapy

Just before Easter a friend of ours kindly approached me to see if we would like to share their plot at the local allotment. We enthusiastically accepted and consequently, the last few weeks have seen me nipping up whenever we can spare the time to get a bit of digging in. I had forgotten quite how much I love gardening and just how therapeutic it is. This plot has a few fairly overgrown areas that need tackling and even just the simple act of digging and weeding has brought me much joy (and peace) recently. I’ve taken to digging barefoot, mostly because it irritates me less than getting soil in your shoes but I must admit that there is something wonderful about feeling the earth between your toes as you get to grips with the task at hand.

The children have been nothing short of delighted to have a patch of ‘proper’ garden to tend to although their efforts at helping me weed have often been waylaid by the far more attractive option of exploring the site or darting off to play with other children. I will give them their dues though, they are diligent (and sometimes over enthusiastic!) water-ers and I suspect none of the plants will be going thirsty with Elijah around… I’m looking forward to the Easter holidays being over and dedicating a regular chunk of time once or twice a week to the allotment as part of their home education.

When we arrived there was an impressive strawberry patch, an asparagus bed, rhubarb and raspberry canes galore. Since then potatoes, beetroot and sweetcorn have been planted, I have tomato and brussel sprout seedlings at home ready to go up and just today, my spaghetti squash seeds arrived (I’m a bit too excited about the latter…here’s hoping they are bountiful)! It has been a real pleasure to be up there in the recent run of beautiful sunshine and I don’t see our initial enthusiasm wearing off anytime soon, even if the weather does turn.

All three of the kids seem to have inherited my love of gardening and are keen to see the process of growing your own through from the admittedly sometimes boring stages of weeding and preparing beds to the exciting time that is harvest. I sometimes think that if I achieve nothing else significant with their home education, as long as they love being outdoors and can grow food, I’ll be happy. Nothing tastes quite as good as fruit and vegetables you’ve grown yourselves and although I might sound a little kooky, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that in this day and age, it’s probably one of the must useful skills to have. So a huge thank you to Jess for letting us share her plot, we will do our best to help keep everything green and growing!

Back in the Game

After three weeks of no running due to an ankle injury, I’m finally back to pounding the pavements and continuing training for my impending marathon (which, I just spotted, is only 13 weeks away – yikes!) I feel relieved to be able to run again with no pain although a little frustrated with the dip in my stamina and speed from having had the enforced break. Although I stayed active and continued to lift weights during that time, just three weeks of no running has caused a bit of a setback. Still, nothing insurmountable so onwards and upwards is the goal.

It got me thinking though about how, when nothing is going wrong, I (and I’m guessing others) tend to take our bodies for granted. During this time of recovery, I’ve been doing my best to get more sleep, drink more water, consciously spend time outdoors and to choose healthy options to fuel myself. Although I’m always aware of these things in the back of my mind, it’s taken an injury to make me try and be more consistent in my approach to caring for my body. If I don’t let it rest, feed it properly or move enough…how can I expect it to perform at optimum capacity?

In an era where we are more busy than ever, I dare suggest that a lot of us skimp on the self-care in order to fit more and more into our schedules. Choosing the pre-packaged, unhealthy meal, staying up until gone midnight to fit in just a few more tasks, forgetting to get outside and breath fresh air, even if just for a few minutes. It’s so easy to just keep pushing and pushing our bodies, giving them no consideration or maintenance in order to fit everything in. Until that is, something goes wrong. Then everything grinds to a halt and we have to cut out everything and painstakingly start from scratch in repairing our physical vessels that carry us from A to B. Much easier to maintain something from the get go than try and repair it once it’s on its last legs (metaphorically of course).

So I may be back in the game with my running but I’m trying to carry the lessons I’ve learnt from the last few weeks with me; sleep more, eat well, drink lots of water, go outside. And most importantly, to remember that I don’t have to do everything. It’s ok to say no to things, to go to bed early and try again tomorrow. It is absolutely fantastic that there are so many opportunities available to us these days but (carrying on from last week), we don’t have to take them all. It’s ok to go slow, to rest or concentrate on doing whatever your body needs you to do in order to be revitalised and ready for the next challenge.

What’s my name again?!

As I write this at 7 in the morning, I have a 2 year old monkey climbing on my back, attempting to strangle or cuddle me (I’m not sure which) in between taking breaks to eat his cereal. We’ve been up since 5am and he is impossibly full of beans. My bean counter is looking noticeably less full. A situation that many parents are finding themselves in this morning and for those of you will older or grown up kids, an occurrence that I’m sure you don’t miss! But with this phase of 5am waking looking more and more like a longer term arrangement on my youngest son’s part, I’ve decided to try and embrace them and get on with work and tasks. I often struggle to fit everything in and realised I could utilise these early hours to create more time. At least that was the plan last night. This morning I sat, comatose, on the sofa whilst the electronic babysitter did it’s thing before finally rousing myself at 6.30 to make a cup of tea and find my laptop. It would probably help if I went to bed a little earlier but there’s always tomorrow right?! Sleep deprivation is a funny thing, I’ve written about it before so apologies for any repetition but given that it’s still an ongoing issue, I think there’s probably more to be said.

The biggest affect it has on me is forgetfulness and irritability. Ironically, for someone who loves to talk and write, my forgetfulness manifests in a complete inability to remember the names of the children I’m talking to, to be able to finish sentences and to formulate any sort of coherent thoughts without the aid of caffeine. The irritability needs no explanation but I do feel bad that it often ends up directed at the two children who are actually sleeping. Not only are they sleeping without regularly appearing in my bed but they actually like a good lie in, often not appearing until gone 8 and then often only with some prodding on my part. But I digress.

As the New Year dawned on us earlier this year, I read an article about how ‘clean sleep’ was set to be the trend of 2017. The concept being that there should be more awareness on the importance of a good amount of decent quality sleep. I wonder if the idea was planted by health authorities as a campaign and taken on my health and fitness websites. Or whether people simply love trends and ‘clean eating’ has somewhat run it’s course. Then just a few days ago I saw a video about how lack of sleep impacts your cognitive performance and your wider bodily functions.

I understand that there probably are a lot of folk that need reminding to get a decent amount of sleep (8 hours being the holy grail) but for parents who would LOVE to get that sleep but can’t, it kind of smarts! Still, I guess in the wee hours we can always comfort ourselves with the knowledge that as teenagers we’ll never be able to get them out of bed and if we really want to exact some revenge and a little fun, we can take to waking them at regular intervals to share inane thoughts or declarations of hunger…

The Writing Bug

Recently, my column has focused a lot on issues surrounding parenting. Given that I have three small people at home, it’s hardly surprising but I thought it was time for something a bit different this week. I was starting to bore myself! I pondered writing about Trump but decided I didn’t want to waste any more of my energy on him. He has dominated the headlines with his controversial politics and although I could easily fill 500 words with my disdain for him, at the end of the day I thought I’d rather write about something positive. So I cast my mind afield again and narrowed it down to gardening or writing. Whilst the appearance of our tulips and daffodils has brought much joy, there is little other activity in our garden yet this year (although this has been a good reminder to myself to get on with planning my growing for the season).

Writing it is then. Obviously I like to write. As well as this column I do a bit of freelance writing doing web content and blogs for clients. But I’m also working on a novel. And I know that everyone is writing a novel but nonetheless I am. A dystopian novel no less, what a cliché! I started it during NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago and have been slowly continuing it ever since, whenever I achieve the rare combination of free time at a point where my mind is still relatively alert. I’ve also got a children’s book in the works with a talented artist friend of mine pegged to do the artwork if I ever finish it.

It’s a funny one the act of writing and I can’t quite work out why I like it so much but I have truly got the writing bug. My parents tell me that as a child I used to write endless melancholy tales usually involving orphans and featuring the death of a much loved horse (a combination of being exposed to Enid Blyton and Black Beauty I think). Hopefully my writing has improved vastly since those early days! There is something so addictive about putting words to paper, about employing every last inch of your brain to creating a story or tale, or to present information or thoughts to your reader in an engaging and interesting way.

What I think I love the most about writing though is just how accessible it is. You don’t need anything special to write, just paper and a pen or a computer to type. I really believe that a lot of people have got interesting things to share and now thanks to the rise of blogging, anyone with an internet connection and something to say can join in the writing revolution. Even if it never goes anywhere, the act of writing itself is deeply therapeutic. I have no delusions about the likelihood of ever getting published but that’s not why I do it. Writing is an escape, a way to explore another world and forget about the banalities of normal life for a little while. And with a certain rather orange man currently in control of that particularly large country across the pond, that in itself bliss!

Training Hard

Just before Christmas I wrote about my first foray into fell running ahead of a trail marathon I’ve optimistically decided to undertake this year. It was a hard, somewhat humbling, lesson in just how different (and how much harder) running on uneven terrain is in comparison to running on tarmac. My Dad, a seasoned fell runner, assures me that I’ll grow to love running off road and although I’m sure that’s true, right now I’m feeling more than a little bit nervous about the challenge ahead.

If it was a road marathon I don’t think I’d be feeling quite this level of nerves although obviously, 26.2 miles on any terrain is still an epic distance to run. But I think it’s the fact that my speed will be so much slower than makes me worried. For long distance on road, my pace is probably about 9.5 minutes/mile meaning that for a marathon I’d be running for around 4 and a half hours. On trail however, I think my pace is more likely to be 12 minute miles meaning that potentially I could be running for around 6 hours (or more). It just seems like a ridiculously long stretch of time to be moving without stopping. I have absolutely no idea how the ultra marathon runners do it.

Upon expressing said concerns to Dad (who I’ll be running with), he reassured me that as long as I do enough training then I’ll be fine. In my heart of hearts, I know he’s right. But there’s so much more to training that just the running itself. As with a lot of things, a holistic, wider approach is needed. I need to eat right, sleep right (did you hear that boys?!) and have a positive mental attitude as well as making sure I get some longer runs and hill training in. So unfortunately for those around me, it might mean that I’ll be living, breathing and sleeping this marathon for the next six months. Apologies to my friends and families if I start to become a bit boring! On the whole I think it’s a good thing though.

Through the training I’ll be able to foster a healthy body and mind and surely that can only have a positive impact in everything else I do. It took me a while though to remember that it is rare to face a challenge and succeed if you adopt a one dimensional approach. This challenge has been a real learning curve but it’s seeping into other areas of my life as I remember to tackle any issues I face (be them big or small) from many angles rather than just head on. As someone who tends to jump in with both feet first and think later, this is definitely a helpful lesson. So I promise to not write about it every week but hope that you’ll forgive me if I do come back to it here in my column a little over the coming months. Have you set yourself any big challenges for 2017? I’d love to hear all about them!

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