I haven’t written here in a long time, mainly because I needed some time and space to live. Last year was a good year, a hard year but good. Without sounding too dramatic, the previous year was a terrible time and I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I’m still here, in one piece after it.
I’ve written before about feeling very out of sorts but I reached a crisis before Christmas where I was severely not well. You can call it many things – burned out, exhausted, depressed, anxious and I probably would say I was all of those things.
So I stopped. For three months.
I did gentle things.
I allowed myself to be looked after.
I let some stuff go.
I admitted that all was not well – that I was not well.
I’m much much better now but I still get twitchy when I worry it will happen again. I know things that help – yoga, exercise, looking after myself, trying to not be too hard on myself when I fall short of my own expectations, lists, routines and making slow sustainable changes. I have always tried to inhale as much life as I can; loving my work too much, trying to do too much and being reluctant to say no to people I love. I know I’m a person of extremes – I’m either doing lots of things or I’m curled up exhausted. Slowly, I am learning to create some boundaries to hold my boundless enthusiasm for life in its place.
And among all of this while I watched and waited for green shoots of recovery, some lovely and unexpected things happened. I have a lovely new job over with this band of folk here. I was interviewed live on Woman’s Hour with Jenni Murray which was terrifying but also an amazing experience. (I talked about craft, being single in my 30s and the joy that being an aunt brings.) I heard Lisa Congdon speak brilliantly about how self-care is a crucial part of sustaining a creative life at Blogtacular. I went to the Scillies and swam in the sea on the Autumn Equinox. I read amazing books and visited Darwin’s House.
And while all this life was going on I felt quite lacking in words here. But it is Spring and I’m feeling inspired and energised by the change in the seasons. The sunlight, the blossom and watching trees come into leaf has filled me this year with a sense of joy and hope. Spring is a time for renewal and as the days have got longer, I feel like I’m waking up after a long winter. I have so enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my skin and as I watched the blue skies as I walked towards London Bridge this evening I felt excited for the coming months. There will be long days, activity, creative play and amongst it all I’m still here – breathing, learning and growing.
At times like this it is hard to remain positive. It has been a horrible few weeks with too many tears shed a long the way. I was moved by the London Gay Men’s chorus singing Bridge over Trouble Water at the Orlando LGBT vigil, dissolved at the picture of Syrian’s in Aleppo paying tribute to Jo Cox and burst into tears when the lovely girl who serves me coffee everyday and practices her English with me told me she thinks it will be ok and it isn’t my fault.
For Orlando and Jo Cox I felt disbelief that these things could happen but also comforted by the flood of love that poured out across social media and into the streets. Today, it just feels like grief. I feel like I want to hold a vigil for the UK, to acknowledge that my heart is too full. It is too sad. I am aghast and heartbroken, completely ashamed and appalled by the decision to leave the EU.
I am furious for the lies told in the campaign, that people didn’t really expect it to happen voted leave anyway. I feel devastated for the areas of the country like Cornwall who rely on EU funding and I pity the poor local governments who will have to find yet more funding to fill the gaps that it will leave.
I have a sense of relief that the horrible divisive debate is over but I am anxious about the scars that it will leave on our society. I am scared for our bees, for our nature reserves, for our farmers, for the fact that experts aren’t listened to and that the country is so divided.
I believe in openness, multiculturalism, collaboration and supporting people in need. I hate the idea that we are a racist, xenophobic country who is making many of my friends feel that the UK doesn’t want them living here anymore.
Unlike last year, I feel also like my hope is getting smaller with the cumulative weight of bad things. I haven’t yet worked out what to do next. It feels like it is harder to see the light. Today I grieve. Tomorrow we need to organise and think of some solutions.
:: It is May and there are lots of good songs about May. This weekend we have been enjoying singing to My Father’s Farm by Megson. (So good for singing with small people).
:: David Attenborough. I have been greatly enjoying all the DA 90th birthday celebrations, particularly the programme about Darwin this weekend. Made me teary at the end when he read the closing paragraph of Origin of the Species.
:: Poppies – there are gorgeous red and orange poppies spring up in unlikely places at the moment which injects bright pops of colour on pavements & roadsides.
:: Trip to Manchester where I visited the Whitworth and my favourite veggie/vegan cafe.
:: Trip to Green Dragon eco-farm. Sheep. Kids (as in goats). Bottle-feeding lambs. Go-karts. Piglets.
:: My veg box contains sorrel this week. I love that my box magically appears on a Monday morning.
:: Being nearly at the end of a book and loving it so much I can’t bear to finish it. I have been labouring over it for some weeks but the time has come!
:: I have a new gorgeous little nephew (or nephlet as I like to call him) which is so so lovely.
:: Sunshine – bright gorgeous days make make such a difference. I have been revelling in the sunshine.
:: Sadiq Khan being elected as London Mayor. It made me feel all warm towards London.
:: A lovely long hot bath while it is still light outside in the early evening. It feels much more luxurious somehow than a regular bath.
:: My local neighbourhood today, it is open studios weekend and I have had such a lovely day getting to know the area a bit better.
:: Delicious veggie and tofu stirfrys and peppermint and liquorice tea.
:: Sara Pascoe has written a book, Animal ,which sounds really interesting and I can’t wait to read it. (She is also wearing a lemur tail on the cover which gets extra points in my world).
:: Trees look spectacular this time of year – both with new green leaves and blossom.
:: Birds of Peckham chirping happily away throughout my early morning yoga class.
:: Lovely colleagues. I feel throughly spoilt this week with beautiful flowers and kind words.
:: Orange and almond cake.
:: Planting up the front garden. Eeek!
:: Nobody loves microbeads – hurrah one day we will be free.
:: Having coffee in the sunshine.
:: Gardens can teach you lifeskills.
:: Kind words on my recent blogposts. Thank you!
:: Lemon and spinach orzotto. Delicious.
:: My indoor collection of succulents. I’m worried I’m addicted.
Sometimes ideas appear to you at the right time, finding their way to you when you need them the most. Today, I went to a talk hosted by the School of Life on how to cultivate resilience and bounce back from adversity.
The talk discussed that rather avoiding bad things when they happen or getting thrown off course we need to find ways to accept and learn from it. It isn’t about merely “getting over it” or “moving on” but rather it is about accepting loss and change as part of our everyday lives. I think that this is fundamentally a positive outlook and one that resonates for me, I have always felt that it isn’t what happens to you that is important but how you deal with it and what you learn from it.
However, accepting that adversity is a natural part of life or inevitable is challenging. It means we need to embrace the idea that we can’t control everything. The workshop advised us to consider adopting some thinking from the Stoics (who are frankly a bit too miserable for me) by accepting that adversity in life is inevitable and that we should mentally prepare for its occurrence. By expecting it to happen, apparently we will be less thrown off course when it happens. While I completely understand the logic here, there is a fine line between anticipating change and being fatalistic.
Resilience is affected by the neural pathways in the brain which were created in first five years (although in teenage years they also get re-wired which can fundamental change how people respond to situations). In our early years, we develop core beliefs and mindsets which impacts our coping abilities in later life. Resilience can be learnt in later life but like lots of other behaviour change it requires changing ingrained habits and mindsets. There are lots of exercises and ways to retrain your brain and responses but it requires regular practice to do so.
I was taken with the idea that we need some ‘grit in our lives’. It is the ‘daily grit’ which helps teach us things, helps us adapt and grow as a person. It is the ‘grit’ which helps us create and appreciate beauty. Like oysters, we can create shiny and beautiful things by embracing the difficult aspects that life throws at us.
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I grew up surrounded by plants and green space. It is something that I crave and need to relax. One of the reasons I love South East London is how leafy and green it is. I would love a garden of my own but my flat, alas, has no outside space and allotments are hard to come by these days. So I dream of garden, building my plant knowledge slowly and saving links to Pinterest in anticipation of the day I get my first proper garden.
I have been thinking recently about how to live more in the now and so I have been thinking how to scratch my gardening itch. In my front garden there is a tiny patch of neglected land, so small and insignificant it has scarcely seemed worth it. But working in the Elephant and Castle I have witnessed first hand the lovely planting that Richard Reynolds has created with his careful tending of unloved spaces. London could be transformed if everyone did something nice with their front gardens rather than concreting it over and filling it with cars and bins.
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Our space hasn’t been very loved. It was full of brambles and rubbish. It doesn’t belong to me but I have decided to cultivate it and show it some love with a few plants anyway.
Today, under blue skies the first plants are in the soil. Hurrah! The sense of achievement is great – this small place will be perfect to practice some gardening. Today, Mum and I planted hollyhocks, lavenders and thyme to see what happens. I kept also some stray pretty flowers from next door. It has poor soil and I wanted plants which could quite happily thrive in dry, stony conditions. I hope that the lavenders and thyme might spread. I also wanted plants which would be bee-friendly and aromatic so when we brush past we catch a whiff of something nice. I think there might be space for some fennel, purple sage and some nasturtiums in the future but we will see.
It felt great – hands in the soil, sun on my face, chatting with my mum as we planted the area. I’m excited to see what grows. Gardening can teach us so much; it is full of hope and love. I’m hoping this little patch flourishes but for now it is full of anticipation and possibility.
1. I can drive but I often choose not to. Learning to drive was a traumatic experience involving 4 driving tests and including taking a wing mirror off a parked car. I am clearly *not* a natural driver.
2. My favourite colour is blue. All shades; turquoise, sea-blue, teal & azure.
3. I don’t have a middle name so I invented ones for myself. Rosebud. I tried at Primary School to get it added to the register, they wouldn’t. Boo
4. I once broke my knee dancing in a nightclub and didn’t realise at the time. It was quite a surprise the next morning.
5. I swear quite a lot in real life. Knobhead is one of my favourites.
6. I’m a huge music fan. I played oboe and piano growing up and went to music camp where some of my best friends were made. I love all sorts of music – classical, indie, folk, world. Listening to live music makes my heart beat faster and want to dance the night away.
7. Charles Darwin is one of my heroes. I have a secret love of Victorian scientists but I think Darwin writes so beautifully.
8. At University, I was involved in running an ethical investment campaign which led to our university being the first to have an ethical policy.
9. I am convinced that organic wine doesn’t give you hangovers…
10. I would like to be an extra in an Agatha Christie. (Preferably a Miss Marple but at this point I’m not fussy.)
11. I still haven’t spent a night in a yurt to my shame. This must be remedied!
12. I have secret dreams to build my own house but considering it took me three years to get a wardrobe we aren’t holding much hope of this happening any time soon.
13. I still haven’t read Middlemarch. It is my book nemesis.
14. When I was growing up, I had a dalmatian and we lived at 101.
15. If i was an animal, I would like to be a lemur so I could swing through the trees.
16. I have a serious stationery addiction.
17. In the fictional heroines debate, I would pick Cathy Earnshaw over Jane Eyre. Every. Single. Time. (while singing Kate Bush)
18. I secretly want to learn to dance – ballet, clog dancing or ballroom are top contenders.
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A little later than usual this week as I am just back from a last-minute trip to Madeira.
:: The ability to travel and just go some place else in the world. I love holidays with a passion. Particularly last-minute ones. Madeira was lovely – I loved the flowers, the mountains, the embroidery, the fruit and ach, the tiles! Fabulous.
:: Reading Signature of All Things – I never want it to end.
:: Humming Minnie Riperton Les Fleurs to myself. It is sunshine in a song.
:: This might be my favourite thing on the internet.
:: These splendid photos of Edwardian women. Super inspiring.
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:: I love the weather today – the bright sunny morning good for walks and rain showers this afternoon to remind you it isn’t quite Spring yet.
:: Lyra was introduced to some alpacas yesterday and she got excited when she heard them humming.
:: There is so much spring loveliness on Instagram at the moment. (Take a look at #embracingtheseasons hashtag)
:: My loft is now insulated with wool! So pleasing and warm.
:: Quentin Blake’s handwriting has been made into a font.
:: It is Easter. Hurrah!
Hope you are having a lovely Sunday and have some good reasons to be cheerful today too.