Thursday, 15 May 2014

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Is planning all it's cracked up to be?

Planning.  Love it or hate it?

People think I'm good at it.  They tell me I'm efficient and organised.  (Admittedly 'they' are mostly people I've worked with.  Family may be laughing into their sleeves at this while looking meaningfully at the knitting needles stuck down the side of the sofa and the ironing pile teetering alarmingly on the armchair.  And have you seen the state of my greenhouse recently?  No?  Just as well.)

Ahem.  But seriously, I do appear to be able to get things done in a seemingly ordered fashion, and on time, most of the time.

But I don't really plan.

OK, so the easy stuff is planned.  Rough menus for the week's main meals, shopping lists, that kind of thing.  Those things just give a nice easy framework to follow so I can stop thinking at the end of the day and just cook what the list tells me.  It frees up brain space.

But planning for big things: life goals, enormous work projects?  Nope.  I sketch out a rough idea of what might happen, and then mostly just wing it.  Flexibility is everything, because stuff always happens that you didn't foresee and you have to deal with it.  Too much navel-gazing beforehand and you've used up half your working time in thinking and planning.

I know the saying goes 'fail to plan: plan to fail', but analysis is boring and winging it is easier and much more fun.

I can hear people out there disagreeing with everything I've just said.  Love planning?  Go on, tell me why!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Things to do in May

Remember that feeling of whizzing down a hill on your bike?  Go on, try it again. It's magic.

Do you know what cow parsley smells like?  Walk down a country lane this week and you'll recognise it.

Hear the sound of the ice cream van?  Go on, you know you want to.  I won't tell.

Who says you have to wear gloves when you're gardening?  Feel the compost between your fingers and know something real.

Sunshine beckoning you through the window?  Follow its call.  Your brain and lungs will thank you.

May is a whole season in itself, but it's brief.  Don't miss it.

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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Life stops for migraine

I don't like talking or writing about migraine.  Just thinking the word makes me feel as though one is starting.

I hadn't had one for almost ten years, until last night.  Then, of course, it arrived when the husband was away overnight and I had to get the boy up, dressed and out to school while I was almost incapable of doing any of those things myself.  Fortunately he's of an age where you can say to him, "get dressed" and "get breakfast" and he will.  After a fashion, with much mess and distraction and stopping to cast spells or run naked up the stairs.  Or suddenly become a spaceman ninja (no, I don't know either!)  And fortunately, we live in a village community where I have only to ask and another mum willingly adds one more to the number of children she's escorting this morning.

There are positives and negatives when it comes to working at home and being ill.  There is no boss to convince that yes, you really are ill and, no, you really can't "just do this one thing..."  But the flip side of that is that there isn't anyone to take on the workload when you crawl back to bed in a darkened room.  The work will still be waiting when you crawl back out again.  So in many cases the boss (me) can be quite insistent!

Fortunately I learnt from another boss many years ago the rather mercenary-sounding phrase, "you're no use to me when you're ill.  Go home and get better."  (I think he said it more eloquently and definitely more politely - he is a very eloquent and polite man - but that's how I quote it to myself.)  So I didn't feel at all guilty about getting back under the covers this morning and, as a result, managed to do something vaguely useful, though not very taxing, this afternoon.  If I'd struggled on for the morning as well I doubt I'd have got any further.

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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Living and working at home - a friend's perspective

She was employed in the same job for four years.  When I asked her what she did, she said, "nothing, mostly."  She sat at a desk and waited for noon so she could eat her lunch.  She stared out of the window in silence.  She went to the toilet for something to do.  She may be exaggerating, but she claims she could have done the amount of actual work she did during those four years in a week.

Now she's a self-employed, home-based childminder.  She can never sit still; there is always someone needing attention, or food, or collecting from somewhere.  Silence is a foreign concept.  She has to fit in stacks of paperwork in the evenings or while the children nap (if they do).  Going to the toilet by herself is a luxury.

Life has improved immeasurably.

She is using her brain again, and even the degree she worked so hard to earn, planning educational activities, keeping records, arbitrating disputes, negotiating and all the million other things that make up her day.  She is there for her own children.  She can choose the days she works and can decree Thursdays as her day off without having to ask permission - or change that if circumstances change.

Working at home may not be an easy option, but then again, how attractive is the easy option anyway?  Especially if the easy option is boring you to tears.

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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Work-life balance

A Bank Holiday weekend brings a houseful of small boys.  With them they bring...

... a need for endless meals, snacks and drinks
... superhero costumes
... random snatches of song
... enormous amounts of energy
... occasional tantrums and sudden tired, grumpy sulks
... sunny smiles and mischievous twinkles
... grubby knees
... scrapes and grazes
... cute mispronunciations (I hope I am always known as Aunty Wiz)

A day back at work after the Bank Holiday brings...

... measured, adult conversation about serious things
... the ability to focus on one thing at a time
... strange, but very welcome, silence
... the opportunity to sit for hours at a stretch, thinking hard and writing long complex sentences
... a social requirement to control the urge to sing, or dance, or announce to all and sundry, "I need a wee"

Work-life balance in action?

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

A fabulous day

Today did not hold (for me at least) any tropical island sunbathing, spa treatments, or even glasses of wine or new shoes.  But it was a good day, and it's good to notice the fabulous days even when - especially when - they're ordinary.

Today's fabulous ordinary (or should that be ordinary fabulous?) included:

Completing a tedious piece of work I'd been putting off.  Phew.

Writing an article I had the idea for weeks ago, and being pleased with the result.  I love writing.

Holding the boy's hand as we chatted on the way to and from school.  He doesn't do that very often - he's a big boy now.

Deciding against making the complicated dinner I'd planned and whipping up egg and chips instead, giving me more time to read my book.  Bonus.

Special doesn't have to be out of the ordinary.  Today was special because I truly enjoyed everything I did.  Even the tedious bit, because I knew it was going to be over soon!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


Listen to your own words.

Not the words of the past or the words of other people.

Dance to your own tune.

Just listen to the words.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

You must do the thing you think you cannot do

Apparently it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."  Ma'am, I salute you.

Yesterday evening, as I was walking to my dancing adventure, several times I nearly turned around and went home.  I almost had the perfect excuse when I realised I'd got the wrong venue and nearly walked into a Quaker meeting.  (Which would have been interesting in its own way, based on the one I attended once years ago, but not what was on my agenda for yesterday evening.)  Then the first room I found at the correct venue was full of line dancers.  Not what I was expecting, and another potential turn-tail-and-flee moment.

Once I was through the correct door, there was no going back.  And after five minutes, I was glad.  Having only danced at weddings in recent years, it only took me five minutes to rediscover the wild-dancing (if rhythmically-challenged) teenager I once was.  And because 5 Rhythms dance has no steps and no rules, my lack of rhythm didn't matter.  Nobody was watching me anyway; they were too busy following their own beat.

Dancing madly (as, I promise you, I did) may not be for everyone.  My family would have been mortified to see me.  But please, if only once, do the thing that scares the pants off you.  It may just be the most fun you've had in ages.  It was for me.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Dancing outside the comfort zone

Have you ever tried to explain to an 8-year-old that sometimes it's good to do things we don't want to do?  (Like going to school, or tidying up.)  If so, any tips gratefully received!

Confession: I'm trying to explain the same thing to myself today, not jut the 8-year-old.  Anyone who's read this post might have surmised that I recently took (and passed - phew!) my advanced driving test.  It was something I had talked about doing 'one day' but 'one day' never came because, deep down, I didn't want to.  Like a child who doesn't want to go to school.  However, the husband had other plans, and gave it to me as a present - the one present he's given me that I can honestly say I haven't enjoyed one bit!  But I'm still grateful for it.

I'm grateful because I proved to myself that I can succeed at something even when it's hard, and scary, and way outside my comfort zone.

I am telling myself this repeatedly today because I seem to have committed to something else which makes me want to squirm and run away: I am going to a dance group this evening.  I mean, what on earth possessed me?  Why did I think this was a good idea?  (And it did seem like a good idea, weeks ago when I signed up.)  I am the person who, while innocently dancing at a friend's 16th birthday party many years ago, was crushed by a so-called friend murmuring in my ear, "I'm going to buy you a metronome."

But I'll go, and if it's excruciating, I'll leave and not go back.  On the other hand, it might be the most fun I've had in ages.  Watch this space.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

In the zone in the zoo

On a day when many people went back to work, I went to the zoo with the boy.  In his words, "I want to do something memorable on the last day of the holidays, so that I make the most of it."  (Do all 8-year-olds think like that?  I'm not sure I did!)  Going to the zoo was his suggestion, and given the chance of creating a memory for him, I couldn't say no.

So we wandered without a plan, and we chatted about not very much, and we laughed at the spider monkeys and admired the fruit bats, and we ate lunch, and went back to the spider monkeys and laughed again.  We're both going to come back as spider monkeys in our next lives, without a doubt.  Can you imagine being able to climb and leap like that?

When we got back in the car I was amazed how much time had passed, without a thought in my head beyond what we were doing there and then.  I was 'in the zone' in the zoo.  I may not have changed the world in that small slice of time, but I do feel ready to return to work after those gentle few hours.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to live like an advanced driver

Scan the horizon.

Think about what might appear around the next bend in the road.

Plan ahead for the effect it might have and how to deal with that.

Quieten down the passenger in the back seat when he gets too noisy and threatens to break your concentration.

Focus on the task at hand (and not trying to put your makeup on or send a text at the same time).

Change route to avoid unexpected roadblocks when they appear.

Expect the unexpected.

Take regular breaks to rest and regroup.

Accept - and drive according to - the conditions of the road as they are, and not as we would like them to be.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The difference a week makes

Just a few days away from the garden can make such a difference at this time of year: broad beans which were only beginning to be visible above the soil a week ago now have several leaves; the potatoes are suddenly up; and the new plants put in as part of our garden revamp in 2012 are now well established and covering more of the bare soil between them.  (If one ignores the glaring spaces where I pulled out the spiky plants which I hated on sight, and have yet to replace.)  That bare soil shows very clearly that despite the wet weather earlier in the year, there has been little or no rain since we went away a week ago - oh, the perils of gardening in Suffolk.

With all this burgeoning life in the veg patch, I would like to say that on returning home I produced a wonderfully healthy, home-grown meal within minutes of our arrival.  But no.  we stopped at the village chippy for fish and chips to bring home.  What's more, one of us lobbied to eat them in front of The Smurfs - and won.  And I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about that, or about the home-grown but not so healthy rhubarb crumble which is the first thing I've cooked from the garden this year.  Yum.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Signs of spring

Spring has well and truly sprung in our garden here in Suffolk, and the evidence is all around.  I'm not talking about the bright yellow daffodils, the peas poking their little heads through the soil, or even the everlasting calls of the woodpigeons. 

No, this morning our garden holds even more tangible proof that spring has arrived: washing on the line; a papier-mache snake (school project - though I ended up finishing it off) lying on the lawn to dry; the remains of my breakfast on the patio table and, most telling of all, a figure in pyjamas wandering around with a watering can and  big grin.

Yes, that would be me.  Spring is when I put on the husband's old shoes with my PJs and find myself up to my elbows in the soil immediately after breakfast.  (Summer is when I dispense with shoes altogether and find myself out there even before breakfast.)

There is rhubarb waiting to be made into crumble, self-sown coriander all over the veg patch waiting to be sprinkled over chilli, and there is dirt under my fingernails.  Spring is here.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

When to stop

Working from home, the lines are always going to be blurry.  5pm (or rather 3pm, the start of the dash to pick up the boy from school) doesn't necessarily mark the end of the working day.  In fact, I suspect that's true of most employed people these days too.  There's always the evening, or the early morning, to squeeze in a bit more work.  There's always a smartphone within reach, and possible urgent email to check and respond to.

This is not news, I know that.  Digital diets and advice on how to unplug abound all over the internet.  I like to tell myself that I'm better at keeping control of it all than most people: I've never had a Facebook account and have never quite got into Twitter.  Oh virtuous me.

So why do I allow myself to bring work away with me on a family visit?  Time was, the laptop stayed at home and I was officially Off Work.  But this time things went a little haywire with a work project and I felt I needed to remain available to the client, to help them meet their self-imposed deadline.  The result?  Daily email checking and thinking about the project - despite the radio silence from them, which is probably because I told them I was going to be away!

I enjoy my work.  But I do think it's important to stop sometimes.  It's what I would freely (and loudly, and frequently) advise friends, family and colleagues to do.

Time to take my own advice and take a week off.  Will you reclaim your evening or your weekend, even if you can't join me for the week?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Expect the unexpected

I never expected to be part of a family that enjoys going running together.  In fact, I never expected to go running at all.  (Too difficult.)

I never expected to be self-employed, let alone set up a limited company.  (Just not on my radar.)

I never expected to write a blog.  (Too technical.)

But I'm not afraid of turning a 'never' into a 'maybe' or even a 'yes' when something seems right.

Embracing the unexpected can be life-changing.