Friday, 31 January 2014

eight o'clock precise

Eight o'clock often appears to be the determinant of my day. I can be in work, at my desk, after a reasonable commute. Usually I will feel good, I will have a healthy lunch and breakfast with me, and I revel in the quieter atmosphere with which to begin my day's work. Alternatively I can be dashing out of the door, leaving a trail of destruction in my wake. Usually feeling poorly put-together, breakfastless, disorganised, and with the prospect of a slow, painful drive, and a day spent playing catch up with myself.

Those days when things go like clockwork, anything seems possible, I feel more positive and am generally more productive. I get home at a reasonable time, cook a proper meal, and feel well-rested and life is better balanced. Yet, I am not a morning person. Getting up with my alarm is entirely unnatural for me, and more often than not I hit snooze a few too many times, and instead the second scenario presents itself. I sit in traffic lamenting my laziness and often, at eight o'clock, I have already written the rest of the day off as a bad job. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy as I get less done, get stuck in the same traffic travelling home, and then collapse on the sofa, ready to eat sleep and repeat. It seems that eight o'clock in the morning generally is a good indication of how things will be come eight o'clock at night.

I often take the all-or-nothing approach. It's either a great day or an awful day, I either succeed wholeheartedly or abjectly fail. It means that good days are great, but they are hard to achieve, when anything less than perfect will not do. Since the end of our holiday, some of my new resolutions fell by the wayside. I forgot my daily photographs, and then when I remembered, the routine of my days seemed too mundane to be worth capturing. The daily walks with Millie dropped off too, the rain and the wind bleak, making it too easy to let someone else do the walk or let her run round the garden by herself.

The first day I forgot to take my photograph I felt so frustrated, like I'd ruined the project, that I couldn't possibly continue now it wouldn't be perfect. As soon as I missed one day's walk the impetus to do the next was lost. Much as it is good to strive for perfection, I realised it would be foolish to throw away a whole year because January hadn't been faultless. Just as sometimes, I can turn my day around with a good song on the radio as I sit inching my way towards work, I don't have to let a small slip up become a whole catastrophe. So in February I will focus on those good habits I developed in January that I want to continue such as the nightly journal writing, and rediscover those which have lapsed a little, yet brought me joy while they lasted.

One of the habits I wanted to begin, and am very glad I did, was to read more, as part of Laura's the year in books. I got two books for Christmas, and read them both this month. The Fault in Our Stars was a quick read, I thought. I enjoyed it but found some of the characters a little extreme. I found the plot fairly predictable, but I wanted to read it through. The dark humour, and the day to day reality of the characters was well written and engaging.

Gone Girl was gripping, and from the start I wanted to slow down and really savour the writing. I eventually read most of it in one long night, as I couldn't wait to see how it developed. There was a sense of suspending disbelief with the plot, yet somehow the characters weren't improbable. There were a few plot holes by the end, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this book took me on, enthralled throughout. I have since found there will be a film later in the year, and I am intrigued to see how it eventually translates to screen.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

the sun must set to rise

(Coldplay - Paradise)

12. Looking back to write this I can hardly believe it is only a week since I took this first picture. Perhaps I can be forgiven for the dull content when I explain that I was residing in a London Travelodge, alone, the night before two days of exams. As comfortable and clean as the room was, it was not the most inspiring of accommodation. I also think my pre-exam nerves prevented me from spending too long pondering what to photograph.

13. With day one down, four of us sitting the exam went for dinner, and managed to talk about things other than the exam, at least for the most part. It was nice to have colleagues staying in the same hotel, and to meet up with in the morning. It was an intense few days, and it was reassuring to share the experience with other people. Otherwise it could have been an incredibly isolated few days.

14. I am a little ashamed of this picture, as you can see that dry January was forsaken in the name of exam celebrations, however I liked the contrast with the water and salad (although there was pizza and pasta out of shot) from the previous picture. We had time before our trains and so it was good to sit together, debrief, and celebrate that, for now at least, the exam we have been preparing for for over four months, has been done. Results will not be for a month, and it meant that, by the time I boarded the train, I could switch off completely. It was the first time I have travelled first class and I had a lovely time watching a film with a celebratory drink. I have decided to extend dry January for an extra week into February though, which I realise doesn't quite count but I still intend to do it!

15. Then straight away on a wonderful holiday with The Husband and Millie. In the middle of the Cornish countryside, we stayed in a beautiful dog-friendly cottage, with walks on the doorstep, a hot tub with views of the hills, a pamper room, which I made full use of, treating myself to massages aplenty, and also no phone signal or wifi. Although it was a bit disconcerting feeling completely uncontactable, once I was reassured that my mum had the owners' numbers in case of emergency, the peace and seclusion were exactly what was needed. We had a few holidays last year that were disappointing for different reasons, but from the moment we arrived here, I relaxed instantly. So relaxed that I completely forgot to take a picture until bedtime - hence the bedroom light fitting, which was amazing, but I couldn't do it justice.

16. The cottage had a separate fenced off dog exercise area. Being a (part) beagle, we have been told never to let Millie off the lead unless in a secure area, so it was wonderful for her to have such a large expanse of grass to sprint around. It has been great to spend loads of time with her, and did us good in terms of making sure we got out for good long walks every day. The cottage was so lovely it would have been easy to stay indoors, enjoying the peace and the views. Having Millie with us ensured we got out in to the fresh air, where the sense of stillness was even more breathtaking.

17. We visited a local beach, and despite the intermittent drizzle, just as we climbed the rocks for a better view the sun came out and set the scene perfectly. This secluded spot was perfect for a few hours walk, with stunning views, including a rainbow as we walked back through the woods. We even saw the end of it, as it hit the field, but no pot of gold to be found.

18. On our last full day The Husband finally succeeded in lighting the log fire, and the three of us curled up in our cottage, well-fed, well-rested and content. Strange to realise now how recently I did the exam. Feels like a lifetime ago, which is surely a sign of a wonderful trip.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

enjoying the passage of time

(James Taylor - Secret O'Life)

5. On Sunday we took the Christmas Tree to a local Tree Amnesty. I had high expectations, and a fantasy of trees being handed in and redistributed to good homes, or lovingly crafted into useful pine-based products. The reality was somewhat more brutal. We handed our tree over and The Husband and I wished each other a Happy New Year and stood with our arms around each other and the dog at our feet. It would have been a beautiful moment except for the whirring of the wood chipper in the background, and the sight of our tree being reduced to a pile of shavings before our eyes.

6. Whilst everyone else lamented their first day back at work, I was on study leave, the final week of preparation for a major exam I have coming up. Millie and my mum kept me company, and my mum has been testing me all week on various subjects from various books. However, the amount to learn has felt insurmountable for much of this week, and we shall see how it goes on the day. It has been a welcome distraction to take a moment each day to pause and take a picture.

7. A photo taken on my walk through the park with Millie. I really wasn't in the mood for the walk that day, stomping sulkily through the leaves, frustrated when Millie pulled or jumped. As we cut through the trees the bells on the clock rang out and the sight of the church tower in shadow caught my eye. I took a few minutes to take a picture, and stop, take in the surroundings, and enjoy being out with the dog. I stopped rushing home and took a longer route round the park, heading home with a clearer head, and a much better mood.

8. Nothing very exciting today, I took this photo in the morning because The Husband had kindly tidied all of my papers on the kitchen table. When I came down to face the revision, it made such a difference having some semblance of order with which to start the day. Even so, it will make even more of a difference when it is all packed away and we have the kitchen back to normal. I'm looking forward to the exam being done and finally doing all of that New Year reorganising that I've been hankering after.

9. Another photo from a walk with Millie. I am starting to value the time out of the house, and have managed to stick to it every day of the year so far, along with the no alcohol and no chocolate. I would normally be so good at making excuses to get out of it, but I now find, no matter how late, how cold, wet or dark, I don't want to let Millie down, or break the habit. It's amazing how much better everything seems after even a ten minute walk round the block.

10. My other new habit is also becoming an important part of my day. Each evening, last thing before bed, I light a candle on my dressing table and take a few minutes to fill in this journal. As well as making sure I take my make up off, the opportunity to offload onto paper seems to help me organise my thoughts and settle down to sleep a little easier. My making a bit of a ritual of it, I find I'm making sure I make time for it, and looking forward to those few moments as I head up to bed. Between the walking and the journalling, both my body and mind must be benefiting from my new habits!

11. I loved the colour of the sky as I sat working in the lounge this afternoon. After being woken by rain battering the windows early this morning, it was a much more serene view as the sun set. The clouds seemed tinged with peaches and pinks, and shades of tangerine were streaked amongst the blue. I took the two magpies sat atop the tree to be an auspicious sign, and hoped their prophecy of joy would hold true when the exam results come.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

millie's monologue

Today was a good day. I was very excited because Mummy was at home all day. She had lots of books and papers out at the kitchen table, I kept trying to have a read of them but I got told to sit down instead. I had a great big beach towel to lie on, because my blanket is in the wash. It's quite comfy, but it is more fun to drag it around the kitchen and chew the edges. I pulled it next to Mummy and lay there chewing away. Then Mummy saw that I'd been chewing her favourite grey blanket that she had across her knees, and she looked a bit sad, but anything that touches the floor is fair game I think.

Later Mummy dropped her favourite Christmas decoration on the kitchen floor, the one her Grandad got her, and she looked sad about that too. Luckily, I didn't try and eat any of the pieces, so it might glue back together. Mummy looked like she was concentrating very hard on her reading so I had a little chat with her to try and take her mind off it. I kept licking her hand and bringing her my toys so she played with me and gave me lots of cuddles. Then Mummy put me out into the garden to play. I ran around with my ball, and my rope toy that has got very soggy in the rain. I had a sniff around the plum tree, and when Mummy came to get me I was having a good chew on the rose bush, perfect for getting right between the teeth.

This afternoon we went on a long walk to the park and back, across the farmer's fields. I decided to walk past all the neighbours' houses swinging off my lead by my mouth. It was great fun but Mummy said no. Even though I went in the garden before we went I decided to go to the toilet while we were out. It would be a shame for Mummy to carry those bags for nothing. I was inspired by my favourite cartoon, and so Mummy got to use two of her bags and some tissues as well. I tried to help wipe it up with my paws but Mummy didn't even say thank you. We saw some geese and ducks but I left them well alone, and there were a few other dogs around but I didn't bark at any today.

Whenever we come back from a walk we stop at Granny's house for a cuddle, but today Granny came home with us. She asked Mummy lots of questions out of all of the books on the table. I tried to help by eating the book, so there would be less questions to ask, but Granny said no so I played with my Bunny instead. Granny got me Bunny as a Christmas present. He did have a bean bag in his tummy that Mummy could heat up, and then I could cuddle it at night. Somehow I got the bean bag out on Christmas Day so that got put away, and Bunny has been getting lots of attention ever since. Two of his arms appear to have gone missing, I think Mummy found them on the floor and put them in the bin. When Daddy came in the other day all of the stuffing had somehow fallen out of his head, so that got put in the bin too. When nobody was looking today his head fell off altogether, he seems very accident prone to me.

I had my dinner and enjoyed it very much, I chased the bowl around the floor for a bit to make sure I'd got all of the bits out. Daddy was home from work late so I decided to wee on the floor while Mummy was making dinner. I thought she would like to have something to do to pass the time, but she didn't look too thrilled. By the time Daddy got home I had had a little nap by the kitchen door, snuggled in to what was left of Bunny. Just time for a bit more chewing before bed.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

too afraid to fly

(Train - Drops of Jupiter)

Fear is a funny thing. It would seem logical, rational, that as we grow older we become less afraid. We are more informed, more experienced, and so it would seem reasonable that the world is less unknown, and therefore less frightening. Yet, sadly, I find that for me the opposite has happened. It appears that the more I learn about the world, the more fearful I become, more convinced that there is catastrophe around every corner.

I don't think of myself as a timid child, I was sensible and thoughtful, rather than rash and excitable, but I generally think I had quite a common sense attitude to life. I found new experiences interesting, and relished opportunities to do something different. I loved trying new foods, I loved talking to strangers, I loved travelling by boat, by plane, by train, I even loved going to the dentist (honestly!).

These days though, and I don't really know why, I tend to brace myself for the worst in every situation. The prospect of flying, or even travelling on the underground in London, makes me incredibly nervous. Even The Husband has noticed the change as we have grown up together. For my 18th birthday The Husband (then boyfriend) bought us a trip to Dublin, our first proper holiday together. One of the things I was most excited about was the prospect of travelling by plane. I still remember the fact that I had assumed (based on how far an 18 year old's wage from a Saturday job at McDonalds would stretch) we were going by ferry, and how stupidly giddy I was when I found out we would in fact be flying.

Fast forward eight years to our honeymoon and I remember crying in Toronto airport because I was scared of flying home. On that occasion, I might actually be forgiven, as three men were sat in handcuffs with security guards, seemingly waiting to board our flight (although they eventually moved to another gate), whilst a solo female traveller was arguing with the air hostesses trying to check people in because they wouldn't provide her with a spoon.

In reality though, I do worry, quite extremely, about the worst-case scenario in any given situation. On New Year's day, having been walking Millie with The Husband, she was bouncing down the street on the lead, and a man coming in the opposite direction slowed down to smile at us (mostly at the puppy to be fair, she is far cuter than either of us), and as he did, she jumped up at him. Nothing aggressive, no barking, no growling, no teeth out, just shoving her soggy nose up towards him, probably trying to scrounge a cuddle. The man carried on walking in the opposite direction, and suddenly I spent the rest of the walk convinced he was going to report us to the RSPCA for having an out of control dog. Writing that now I can see how silly it sounds, and having told my mum about it that evening, she told me my New Year's Resolution had to be to stop worrying so much.

The truth is, I know she is right. Recently I had to travel several hundred miles by train, including a transfer on the London Underground. To sit and think about it I could have convinced myself of every possible negative outcome, crashes, explosions, ending up in the wrong direction, missing my connecting train. Do you know what, it went perfectly. I hopped straight onto the right tube and even had time to buy myself a yummy lunch for the final leg of the journey. I sat there feeling proud, content, and vowed to have more faith in my own ability, but also less cynicism and fear about the worst possible scenario always coming true. Four years ago, aged 21, I travelled solo to Australia by plane with no panic, no tears (except for the goodbyes at either end), and completely uneventfully. As part of my new habits for 2014 I think it would be best to listen to my mum, wise woman that she is, and resolve to worry less. Next time I fly I'm going to get giddy again.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

it's a habit worth forming

(Thin Lizzy - Dancing in the Moonlight)

From not knowing what to say, to wondering how to fit it all in to seven hundred words. This makes a pleasant change of pace. I am going to resist the urge to write, rewrite, edit and then delete, and instead just roll with it. Firstly, I'm linking in with TheBoyandMe 365 project, just to give it a go. I didn't know I was going to do this until today, so apologies for the pictures. In all honestly I rarely take pictures so I thought it would be a good habit to form, and when I checked my phone I took the fact that I had actually taken a picture every day of the year so far as some kind of sign. A take part in a picture a day type sign - you know the ones.

1. New Years Day breakfast including lovely homemade jam which was a table gift at a recent wedding

2. Fabulous freebies that came with my make up delivery - one of the (many many) reasons I could never be a beauty blogger is  my complete loyalty to Estee Lauder!

3. The start of The Hairy Dieters Spanish Chicken Bake recipe - a definite success and a spare portion in the freezer - even better

4. Caught Millie taking a break from doing the weeding today

I've quite enjoyed doing this, and plan to keep it up. I'm doing well so far with keeping up with the new habits I decided to take up for the New Year, and this links beautifully with the other part of this post today. Laura at circleofpinetrees mentioned writealm in her recent post, and what a wonderful thing it is. I don't realistically think I will write every day, but I had wanted to start writing more regularly this year, and I'm (slightly disproportionately) excited at the prospect of having someone to simply tell me what to write, and help me get over the indecisiveness!

On the subject of new habits, which is today's prompt courtesy of writealm, I resolved to walk Millie every day (that I am at home) this year, rather than rely on The Husband and stepdad to share the load. It is so easy to get in from work and look outside to the dark, rainy nights and try and get out of it. Once I get out of the house I always feel better for it, and I promised when persuading The Husband to get a puppy that I would do the daily walks. Although I'm on study leave for an impending exam at the moment, I am doing the walks to coincide with the time I would get in from work, to try and get into the habit of going as soon as I get in at night. I felt extra proud today, as my stepdad took Mille this morning when he went out for a walk, and I still took her out for a second walk this evening rather than break the habit four days in. The poor pup will have her paws walked off soon, but, particularly in the midst of revision I'm starting to look forward to my evening escape and the fresh air.

I've also bought this diary, which so far, is proving much more maintainable (real word?) than any previous journals I have had. I have put a small candle on my dressing table, and each evening I spend fifteen minutes slathering on all my lovely night creams (see picture 2!), writing my diary by candle light and winding down. It's another part of the day I've really been enjoying, and have managed to make time for each night so far.

I'm also doing dry January which actually isn't that much of a test for me as I don't drink all that regularly, however I've also thrown into the mix chocolate free January, and so far I've managed to stick to that despite the excess of leftover Christmas chocolates in the cupboard. Finally, in the spirit of new habits, I have also committed to blogging more regularly this year, and so far, so good. Four days isn't a major milestone, but its a positive start at least!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

let the waters still

I had assumed, when I started this blog, that a little drama would be a useful addition to my writing. It had seemed obvious that it would lend itself to writing that had a bit more readability, and take me out of the realms of the mundane and everyday such as ironing and reading. Apparently, at least in the case of my most recent drama, I was incorrect in my assumptions. I had a car accident in late November, luckily with very minimal injuries to anyone involved, which is all the more remarkable as the car ended up on its roof. All hail the seatbelt, that is for certain.

I didn't want to write about it at the time, and I still don't intend to elaborate any more than that explanation for my absence. It was more the general inertia (perhaps an inappropriate choice of noun in view of the above) that resulted that has stopped me from writing altogether. In all honesty, as years go, 2013 was a challenge. That is the best term I can think of to use. Some of those challenges were a cause for celebration. Between graduations, qualifications, redecorating rooms, making over gardens and any occasion where the new puppy managed to stay dry through the night all felt like hurdles that we overcame and could feel fabulous about as we landed on the other side.

There have also been many celebrations where there was no challenge involved. So many weddings, engagements and new houses for our friends and relatives, so many happy occasions to share with those we are closest to. Our own birthdays and anniversaries, and smaller moments, less grand but still worth celebrating, family meals, gatherings with neighbours, lazy Sunday breakfasts at the kitchen table.

However, this year has also had many challenges that have made it a very difficult twelve months. So many deaths, accidents and catastrophes, both minor and major, it felt like a real uphill battle just to keep getting through the weeks. Nothing really very dramatic, nothing really that every other family hasn't faced at one time or another. It just seemed all a little relentless, and it felt like we were lurching from one crisis to the next.

image reproduced from

Once the accident happened (and our front door inexplicably locked itself and wouldn't reopen in the same week), I had reached my limit. I had actually seen the above cartoon before November and had bookmarked it, wanting to write a post about it at some point, as it had struck a chord with me. However, subsequently, this is how those last weeks of the year felt. I have been hiding, bracing myself, holding my breath, waiting for the next problem, the next issue, sure that there must inevitably be more to come.

Part of my rational brain knows that it is nonsense to think that the simple act of moving from one year to the next will have any bearing on things, yet even that fact that I think of 2013 as a particularly unlucky year tells me that I'm not really thinking objectively about it. I know, that on one hand, this day is not suddenly different from the last, there is no guarantee that 2014 will have any less of the negatives and any more of the positives.

However, I have always been a lover of fresh starts, new beginnings and clean slates. As the hours, and the minutes counted down to midnight last night, we were surrounded by family, and lovely neighbours I consider close friends. It was a happy, celebratory evening, and I felt a growing sense of relief, a feeling of being released from the trials and tribulations of the last twelve months. The Husband, my family, and those wonderful friends and neighbours, have been there every step of the way, facing the challenges by my side and joining with the celebrations too. As we move into a New Year, I finally feel positive about the last. As I look back and count my blessings, they undoubtedly outnumber the negatives, and as January begins things feel hopeful. However silly it seems I honestly feel that a new phase has begun, like I'm breathing again.