Winter wanderings

Winter WanderingsWinter is a strange season as it bridges the gap between the year’s polar opposites. While spring, summer and autumn all have a unique flavour that is usually predictable from beginning to end, winter embraces many emotions and characters. It is the only season where the mood and mindset change dramatically in the middle. At the beginning, the warmth, hope and joy of Christmas are all-consuming and they wrap up the year, offering time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past 12 months. But the season’s end welcomes in a New Year which, although cold and often marked by post-Christmas blues, is also ripe with possibility. For me, January often ends up as a strange month without any discernable purpose, so if you’re like me, here are some ways to stay in the moment through the whole of this coming winter.

  • Food & Drink: Toffee nut latte with chocolate hazelnut loaf
  • Bake: Snickerdoodles & Pflaumenkuchen
  • Places to visit: Germany
  • Play in the snow (if we get any!)
  • Do some Christmas crafts – most of mine involve Cinnamon sticks!
  • Watch lots of movies: The Holiday, Miracle on 34th Street, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually
  • Experience a Christmas market – Köln Weihnachtsmarkt is just perfect
  • Buy a calendar for the New Year
  • Start on some New Year goals – make plans for the year, book tickets to shows and search out new restaurants
  • Go to a museum – it’s low season in January so much quieter and you can take your time
  • Go to coffee shops and watch the world go by
  • Have a long hot bath with candles and a good book
  • Prepare for spring – get ahead of the game with a pre-spring clearout
  • Make the most of the slower pace of life by sipping wine (or, my preference, G&T) late into the night with friends, dreaming about what the year ahead might bring

Winter may be the odd season out, but it can still bring joy if you live it in the moment!

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September – Conquering faff

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September was the month when the faff of many years finally concluded. A leak which began almost three years ago ended in a beautiful new kitchen. A lease renewal which has taken a year to negotiate and sort was finally completed. A mortgage which has been five years of a high(ish) rate has been switched and fixed to a lower rate. In themselves, they don’t amount to much but together, they start to build in the back of the mind and we’ve become constantly aware that the next stage needed to be progressed on one or more of these projects. Life’s faffs will hopefully now start to cease for us for a little while.

September also saw the arrival of Autumn and the Rugby World Cup. Sadly, we (being England) are already out of the competition but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some extremely high quality rugby to enjoy over the coming weeks! My hubby even got tickets to the quarter final which I’m really chuffed for him about.

Work is at about 160% at the moment and that takes a lot of my stamina. I’m so looking forward to December when my energy should become a little more balanced between work and the rest of life. That said, we did get a really wonderful weekend away at a conference which renewed us both in unexpected ways and gave us a little more focus about where we’re headed. We celebrated my lovely husband’s birthday and we spent a lot of good time with friends. No wonder I’m pretty tired…!

August – Gaining perspective

P1030479 (1)August gave this introvert a wonderful gift – time. We had time away from work, away from the small frustrations that build in everyday life and away from the distractions that cloud our perspective. We had time with family, with friends and with each other. That time reminded me how much I need to escape on a regular basis, it rekindled in me a desire to prioritise and balance flexibility, people and quiet time, it challenged me to focus on rebuilding my patience, it refocused my perspective and it refreshed me to pursue the things that I realised were still important to me.

Perspective is a curious beast. It is so easy to distort and takes conscious effort to regain. It demands distance from a situation in order that it can clear its vision and re-evaluate. Thankfully, that is just what this month allowed me to do. The smaller frustrations that begin to consume daily life seem trivial when set against a broader view and you begin to wonder whether you’ve really forgotten how to let inconsequential matters slide off your back. The stubbornness in my nature is quick to focus on trivial details that I needlessly grant permission to require all of my attention. I reward such matters with a status of importance, which in turn allows anger and impatience to rise within me. Away from the familiarity of routine, it seems absurd that I gave such small things such great value and bizarre that those areas were where I willingly chose to place my energy. Gaining perspective and rebalancing energy is a huge blessing when small things have become such unnecessary burdens.

Needless to say, we had a great time on holiday. We had a few days of glorious sunshine and curled up indoors when the mist closed in. We spent a weekend with good friends and their little one year old and I got to pamper both my friend and myself which was a real treat. We celebrated me turning another year older, saw an impressive airshow and throughout the month I got to spend some one on one time with my Daddy, my sister and some of my best friends, over breakfast, shopping, cinema and bowling.

All in all, August was just what my soul needed and for that I’m really very thankful.

July – Indulging Summer

P1030196aFor the first time in many years, we have had consistently good weather in England. Most days can be relied upon to produce a climate that is suitable for shorts and a T-shirt and it has been wonderful that as a result, we’ve really been able to make the most of this stereotypically warm season. We’ve had many BBQs late into the evening, sipped cider outside a pub on a Sunday afternoon, delighted in salads that satisfy our dwindling summer hunger, sat on a beach in Wales and been slightly sunburnt a couple of times (not the highlight… we do try to be careful!), we have lain on rugs under fleece blankets at an outdoor cinema and we have generally made the most of what the long evenings have offered. Somewhere in amongst all the summer activities we also got to meet our friend’s kitten for the first time – so cute!!

Cider, outdoor cinema, BBQs and sitting outside, particularly in the evening, are great ways of genuinely feeling like time isn’t slipping by. By making the most of these opportunities I feel like, for the first time in a long time, I have really enjoyed this summer season at home. It wasn’t forced and I’m already wondering how I can make sure I do the same next year. Mid-week BBQs, sipping cider, going to an outdoor cinema, trying lots of new salads and generally seeing friends in the long evenings are such a good place to start.

June – Embracing restoration

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It’s quite something when you’re given permission to embrace a season of restoration. When life has thrown you a season of difficulty, acknowledging that it’s ok to get back to ‘normal’ and stop worrying about what might happen next is liberating. March for me was all about recharging the soul. It was a time that was really needed and so refreshing but until these past few weeks, I hadn’t actually stopped holding my breath, waiting, fearing and preparing myself for what might be around the corner.

In June we spent a lot of time doing Church. By which I mean more than just attending Sunday morning services. We took students punting, we had students over for a picnic lunch, I hung out with some of the girls and made bunting for our Church Fun Day, we had the Church Fun Day, we went to our old Church to listen to a great friend speak there for the last time before he leaves and I led the second Ladies Prayer Breakfast at our Church.

This month we’ve stopped using our lack of perfect kitchen (which will be transformed in July!) as an excuse not to have friends over for dinner and as such have opened the doors of our home to hospitality once again. It’s been good to return to what we as a couple feel so called to do. We have been blessed with so much and I have learned this month that practicing hospitality is more than just food, it’s sharing our home, our time, our space, our finances and building relationship. It’s real.

Speaking of which, I also attended a women’s conference this month called ‘Real’. It centred around a theme of courage and there were some superb speakers encouraging us to be women of faith. When we allow others to see ‘the real you’ we open ourselves up to vulnerability but we also open ourselves up for deep and meaningful relationship that we may never otherwise have the chance to experience. The conference was great and I shared it with two women who I admire hugely, which made it even better.

In between all of these events and activities, we celebrated Father’s Day with my family, spent a weekend with my hubby’s family and went to see Minions the movie!! It hasn’t been a month that has been filled to the brim but it has been populated by people (in a manageable level for this introvert) and speckled with meaning and it has finally given me permission to embrace this season of restoration in our lives.

May – Resurrecting Life’s Detail

DSCF2150aPosting just once or twice a month isn’t quite what I had intended for this blog but it will do for now.

As hoped for, May has been a month that has given me space to appreciate time a little more. Evenings and weekends have been less crammed and there have been fewer demands on my time than in recent months.

I find it slightly amusing that my instinct when presented with time is to fill it but I am learning how to fill it with things I enjoy and that have a result that continues past the hour that was filled. When I’ve spent the morning writing, reading, painting, baking or photographing, there is a lingering sense of product and productivity that is uniquely satisfying. Then I’m happy to spend a couple of hours watching a movie or taking a nap because the hours of the day haven’t all been ‘wasted’.

May has reminded me of how crucial the role of detail plays in my life. Without detail, time rushes on and I’m left feeling like I never quite made the most of it. Details that have been resurrected (or established for the first time) in May include:

Freezing limes and lemons ready for iced drinks (hello G&T). They look pretty, they give an added level of occasion and they keep the drink cold, without watering it down. A small extra detail makes it a whole new drink.

Having flowers in the bedrooms. Whenever I have flowers in the flat, they are usually on prominent display in the lounge where any visitor would notice them. Having flowers in other rooms, where only my husband and myself will appreciate them frequently, creates a level of detail that isn’t affirmed by other people. All of our lives are worth giving care and attention to, not just the areas that the outside world sees.

Moisturising and painting my nails. I’m not one for spending an excessive amount of time getting ready but I notice that when I take the time to introduce a more detailed routine, I feel (and look!) better as a result. Emphasise on I feel better. Spending time making sure all the clothes I wear fit me well, spending time moisturising and taking care of my skin rather than just jumping out of the shower, into a non-thought through outfit and ploughing straight onto what’s next, all contribute to a sense of wholeness and wellbeing.

Eating more healthily. In the days of yore, being overweight was a good thing. It testified to your wealth and ability to afford the choicest food… and lots of it! Nowadays, being overweight (and I acknowledge this is a huge generalisation) is often akin to having little money, not caring about what you’re putting into your body, or both. Cheap food is often fast food, filled with additives, fat and goodness knows what else. Taking time to cook a good meal and make sure I’m not overindulging in the chocolate I’m so drawn to, makes me feel better. Planning the details of a good meal (and even good treats) gives me energy that I don’t feel when I speed through life.

Social media fast: seeing the world’s natural detail. Isn’t it ironic that what some would consider cutting yourself off from the world and the influences, opinions and events that define it, often results in us connecting with the world on a much more satisfying and meaningful scale. The world is full of detail. Birds singing, dramatic clouds, sunshine, people, life. Switching off from electronic communication not only gives me some time back in and of itself, it also opens my eyes to appreciate the natural detail and beauty that already surrounds me.

Experimenting: a break from routine. Whether it’s going out for a late night walk, trying a new recipe, going to a new restaurant or meeting someone new for coffee, breaking from the norm gives life the opportunity to show me new colours, new details, new flavours and most importantly for me, new memories.

I’m sure there are many more ways in which May was all about resurrecting life’s detail for me but instead of trying to capture it all, I’ll wait until the words come unprompted. I spent this past weekend baking, reading, painting my nails and taking a long bath. I’m starting to feel refreshed, the details I’ve had time to pay attention to are bringing me joy so I’m going to take an afternoon away from online distraction and appreciate some quiet time.

April – Keeping Pace with Time

P1020100aApril was hectic. It was chaotic, fast-moving, capricious – there are any number of words that could describe the speed and unpredictability of this month.

It started calm enough. The Hawaii Wedding Part 2 was lovely and we got to spend the long Easter weekend with my in-laws. Thinking about it as I write, I notice that Easter didn’t even make it into my painting. Many are surprised that, as Christians, we don’t really observe Easter. Instead, we had a Passover meal with my in-laws – it helps me to remember and be thankful more than chocolate eggs.

Then the new role really picked up and all of a sudden my work days grew longer, squeezing my evenings and resulting in very little time to recharge. Communication has become all consuming for me these past few weeks as my role has soared at a slightly unexpected rate.

In the in-between moments we celebrated our anniversary, visiting Rudyard Kipling’s house and Churchill’s house and generally having a very lovely weekend away just the two of us. Our lodger moved out after almost a year and quiet filled our flat once more. I’ll admit, it didn’t take all that long to adjust and I’m grateful to have both the physical and the mental space back again.

And then Nepal happened. A significant part of my job is disaster response so the past few days have been a haze of appeals, updates, information and urgency. I felt so blessed that I could walk into work on Monday and not have to leave behind or ignore the horrors I’d seen over the weekend but instead could do something to help. It puts a lot into perspective. I don’t think it’s right that we should feel guilty that it wasn’t us. I don’t think it’s right that we should put our lives on hold. I think we should absolutely pray, give financially and do everything we can to raise awareness of the disaster that has befallen the people of that nation. But I don’t think we’re called to stop our lives or stop experiencing joy in the good things we are blessed with because if we stop being joyful, what hope do we have to encourage and lift up those who are in despair?

We signed for our kitchen this week. In two months or so, the two year saga of our leaking roof will finally come to an end. I’m already planning what to bake, who to have round for dinner and how I can use our lovely new kitchen to make people feel at home in our home. I’m so excited. I was genuinely jumping.

And then of course we have British Summer Time. The evenings stretch out longer so that I don’t quite realise when time has run away with me until my eyelids droop and my energy dips. Those extra hours of light bring great promise. They beckon a season of extended time with friends when, hopefully, I will be able to sit back and relish that time again, rather than simply keep pace with it.

March – Recharging the Soul

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Boy is this blog post late in coming. It’s a very good thing that my reflection on March was for ‘Recharging the Soul’ because the moment that April landed, that energy has been put to very good use!

March was pretty much all about Hawaii (plus a wonderful weekend in LA). It was a holiday that was so needed for so many reasons and it fulfilled every purpose that we had so hoped it would. We returned ready to face the things that we have hoped and prepared for. Our lifestyle has changed so much in a few short months but I am so thankful that we have transitioned into it so seamlessly. Some of the things I feared haven’t materialised. The fact we now have a much lower income hasn’t really bothered me. All I have noticed is the joy and dreaming that have slowly grown as a result.

My husband is working on something that makes his heart happy. Most of his time is now governed by himself and that works for him. He is motivated, he is excited and this in turn makes me so content. My job has changed and transformed into almost everything I hoped it might.

We hoped these changes would come, we prepared for them and March refreshed us ready to face them. I was very thankful for March and I will soon try to make some sense of the intensity that is April…

February – Preparing to Launch

P1010712aThe fleeting month of February was surprisingly filled with quite a few events and learnings.

On a very small (but exciting for me) level, I de-seeded pomegranates for the first time and realised how much of a delicious addition those ruby seeds are to my lunch, which became healthy and budget conscious this month.

We had a fantastic day with my family and in-laws at the start of the month to celebrate my hubby getting baptised. It was such a wonderful evening, filled with truth, promise and dedication. It made my soul smile.

We also went to a great friend’s wedding and saw her and her new husband celebrate the start of the next stage in their lives together. It was beautiful, joyful and I was so thrilled to share it with them.

February has of course been interwoven with rugby, with the Six Nations tournament filling most of our weekends. Yet somehow in between cheering England to two victories out of three, I also spent a precious Valentine’s Day morning with my Daddy over a long breakfast. I am so thankful that I have two such inspirational men in my life.

The second Tuesday in February is traditionally Shrove Tuesday, better known in the UK as ‘pancake day’ – the day to get rid of all unhealthy produce in the home before Lent begins the following day. We were treated to a spectacular dinner – it was the first time this particular friend has cooked for us and he set himself a high standard! The gorgeous meal was followed by copious (wheat-free!) pancakes. The best filling, in case anyone was wondering, is banana, nutella and vanilla ice cream. Divine.

The final weekend of February was brimming with music. We saw one of my best friends sing in the choir for Bach’s St John’s Passion (which, unbeknown to us in advance, also featured a great friend of ours as the tenor soloist!) and then I played in the second day of a charity Beethoven marathon, playing all of his symphonies over a weekend. We played through the seventh and eighth before performing the ninth to a small audience.

Somehow, between all of this time with friends and family and among such momentous occasions as baptisms and weddings, February has been a time of preparation. It has been a time to be still, to look ahead, to prepare for what we know is coming: My husband is going part-time in March to fulfil another of his passions, writing; my job is likely to change quite heavily in the coming season; we will be doing lots of work to our lovely home to restore it to its full beauty but in the middle of that, we have a refreshing two week holiday on the beautiful islands of Hawaii to look forward to.

February has served us well, giving us times of joy but allowing us time to take stock and prepare our hearts for the launch of a new season of change and discovery. My heart is almost ready for some goals again, to commit to new challenges and new experiences. Perhaps the Hawaiian sunshine will inspire me at the very least to write a little more and record in slightly more depth how our lives are starting to blossom once again. Let the adventure begin!

January – Daring to hope

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So that was January.

January was more of a roller coaster than I was expecting. It began with overwhelming developments in so many different areas of our lives: my job, my husband’s job, developments with our property and plans for a new kitchen. It all came at once. It was almost all positive, but it still came all at once. My Chief Executive was forced to resign, my husband got an interview for a great job and came so close to getting it (I’m so proud of him for getting so far!), a long-suffering compensation claim was finally paid to us and my hubby finally convinced his colleagues to let him go part-time.

We spent a beautifully snowy weekend with one of my dearest friends, celebrating her family and dedicating their first child – a gorgeous little girl. We spent a weekend with my in-laws by the beach and I’m spending this weekend relishing time; time to spend well over an hour on the phone to another of my closest friends whilst drinking coffee and eating cake – it was almost like she was here. Time to sort out plans for how we’re going to lead our life group. Time to write, reflect, read and be creative.

New Year seems a very long time ago. There have been so many highs and lows since then. We dared to hope and we dealt with disappointment. We rejoiced in two years of solicitors and communications with indescribably obnoxious people coming to an end (remind me never to buy a leasehold property again). We were thankful for changes within my job that had to happen and commiserated that those changes didn’t solve everything, even if they were a great start.

These past 31 days have certainly given a kick start to 2015.

I want to continue this year daring to hope. Our freezer may have broken, we may have no working light in the kitchen, we may not have the security in our careers we had anticipated, the coming few months may be unsettling and new. But in time we will have a brand new kitchen, my husband will be able to pursue his passions and skills and we will know more about who we are and where we’re headed. So February will see more plans made, more dreams unpacked, more time simply to be and more steps taken towards wherever it is we’re going.