Lent: what can I do, not what can I do without

I woke up to blue skies and sunshine on Saturday, the first day of Spring. I have a vase full of freshly cut daffodils from my garden brightening up my kitchen; there are signs of buds and leaves emerging from the bare, woody plants in my garden.


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New life, a promise of warmth, a chance to relax and enjoy the view from the back of my house as the seemingly endless grey skies of recent months finally lift.

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After my few days away over half term I came back wanting to write, yet found that I was too busy with chores and children, mess and disorganisation. When I eventually sat myself down to put words into my computer they poured out of me like a flood. I found time for little else until the need to create abated. Flitting from one extreme to the other in this way creates rush and stress, I need to find balance.

With Lent approaching I have been considering how I can improve. I do not plan to give anything up, to fast, but instead I will try to focus on the meditative side of Christ’s retreat. I am thinking about what I can do in order to become a better wife, mother, friend, person; what can I do rather than what can I do without.

With the advent of Spring comes an increase in family activity and additional demands on my time. If I am to become the person that I wish to be then I need to look after myself better, to be mindful of my own well being. This is not about navel gazing but rather of searching out ways to improve my health and thereby my ability to give.

My hens are starting to lay more eggs after their long, winter rest. This evening, Shrove Tuesday, we will use their bounty and feast on pancakes.

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My husband will take up duty at the stove, heating and tossing the batter, while I try to persuade my children to choose the savoury fillings before moving on to the lemon and sugar, sticky syrup or chocolate banana that they favour. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I will begin yet another quest for self improvement.

As with many new beginnings, my desire is strong. Unfortunately, in recent months, my resolve in these matters has proven to be disappointingly weak. All that I can do is to keep trying; moving forward is the only option, time travel only goes one way.

This Lent I will be trying to establish a daily routine that enables me to restore balance to my life. I have not been making best use of my time and the knock on effect has been heightened stress as I have been unable to maintain standards in certain areas that matter to me. I have also been neglecting my health which has drained my energy levels. I will be looking at this little graphic and reminding myself that each of these areas requires attention, not just the one that appears the most desirable at a given time.

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There are so many things that I wish to do, but if I am to tread gently through this life then I must ensure that I remain mindful of both myself and others. We reflect and absorb what goes on around us, affecting all by how we live.

I feel that I am in a better place now than I was a year ago. I am learning to avoid damaging situations, even when others do not understand why I must act as I do. I am learning to stand up for my right to be me.

This Lent I will try to use the inner strength that I am building on to quietly offer more to those I care about. Small steps, mindfully taken.

‘Tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighbourhoods.’ 

How to embarrass your teenager

I am taking part in Perfection Pending‘s weekly Blog Hop

Perfection Pending

I had two important tasks that needed to be accomplished yesterday. Number one, get passport photographs for each family member. Number two, buy new trainers for elder son. Not too tricky you would think, no great challenges involved. A quick trip into town, two places to visit and home. If only things could be as simple as they sound.

First off we all had to get out of the house together. Cooking up a big breakfast seemed like the easiest way to coax those sleepy teenagers from their beds on what is usually a lazy Sunday morning. Cups of tea were delivered as wake up calls and warnings given that food was being prepared. Somehow, by the time we were fed, dressed and the debris cleared away, midday was approaching. How does that happen?

Getting toddlers out of the house always seemed like a major accomplishment. All those socks, shoes, coats and toilet visits had to be sorted; juice, snacks, changes of clothes and toys packed in the large bag I dreamed of being able to one day leave the house without. It should be easier when they are old enough to get themselves ready, yes?

I have long since dumped the bag, but somehow it still seems to take forever to get more than one child out the door at the same time. I suspect that the distraction of computers and social networks may have something to do with this. That and their ability to tune out the sound of my voice.

Eventually however we piled into the car and drove into town. Concerned about wasting his valuable time, Grumpy in the back was asking how long this was going to take and if it was really necessary. I pointed out that I needed his head and his feet so yes, his presence was necessary. He did not appreciate my comments.

There are three photo booths in the town shopping centre. The first was out of order, the second did not produce passport quality prints, the third was rejecting around 90% of the coins it was offered. Having got this far I was not going to turn back. We fed coin after coin into the irritating machine, even going back to the car to fetch the change we keep there to pay for parking to see if those coins would be more acceptable. Slowly we managed to coax the uncooperative device into submission.

It is possible that we may have got away with the delay and frustration had not my elder son’s worst nightmare then occurred. Standing in the mall, trying desperately to get the blasted booth to just take the damn photographs, two of his friends walked by and recognised him, in a public place with his mother. I could see that he wished the floor could just open up and swallow him whole.

As I collected the last of the prints (which incidentally make us all look like convicts) my son strode off towards the sports shop. Hurrying after him I was stopped in my tracks as he swung around and demanded to know if I needed anything from this shop. I knew from his look what he wanted; I was banished to wait in the car lest I be spotted once more in his presence.

Letting go of our kids as they grow up can be a challenge for any parent. It would seem that shaking off those pesky parental units can be as much of a challenge for certain teens. They need us for the roof over their head and the food that they can never get enough of. What they really want though is for us to acquire invisibility should we ever be required to inhabit the same space as they outside the home.

My son has reached the stage where he believes that he knows a great deal more about what matters than I. There is no doubt that he is quicker at maths, more knowledgeable about the intricacies of science, more in tune with the latest happenings amongst his peers. When he talks to me I can appear foolish because the things that interest him do not always tally with my own areas of expertise.

If I knew that he wished to talk about the development of a new jet powered engine, the orbital capabilities of a certain type of rocket, the possibilities unleashed by over clocking a computer processor, then perhaps I could look into these topics and pick up enough knowledge to at least nod in the right places during our conversations. He has no interest in the matters that engross me; we are both drawn to enquire but about different subjects.

I remember not so long ago I was the font of all his knowledge. If I could not answer the question then we investigated together. It must be hugely disappointing to discover that a parent is not as bright as once thought. I wonder how long it will be before he understands that my abilities lie elsewhere but can be just as interesting and challenging as his.

My son is capable of showing patience when I cannot keep up. He explains and modifies his explanations that I may gain an understanding of the subject that is so fascinating to him. This is, of course, in the privacy of our home.

I suspect it will be quite some time before I do not embarrass him in front of his friends just by being there. Until that time I will do my best to quash the hurt I feel when he rejects me, and remember that we all have a lifetime of learning ahead. He may not know everything as he sometimes appears to think, but then neither do I.

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A year of blogging

Today is my blogging anniversary, a year to the day since I pressed publish on my first post. I am still very much a small time blogger. I have never been Freshly Pressed, never had a post published outside of WordPress. I have built up a following of just over 200 people and am grateful to each and every one of my readers for taking the time to peruse what I write. I am particularly grateful to those who like or comment on my posts, but just knowing that I am being read gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The positive and personal interaction that I have discovered in the blogging community has been a welcome surprise.

This will be the 266th post that I have published on neverimitate. I have also published 13 short stories on my fiction blog Dreams and Demons, which I created just over a month ago and has a mere 20 followers to date. I tend to pick up more readers for my short stories on ReadWave (zeudytigre) and Wattpad (zeudytigre), which makes me think that keeping my fiction separate to my personal blog was the right thing to do.

When I started blogging I put a link to each post on my personal Facebook page. I have since set up a separate page, Zeudytigre, that anyone interested in reading my posts can like and thereby get the links on their timeline. Although I also put links to posts on my Twitter feed (followthehens) I find self promotion tough. I want to be read but feel awkward putting myself out there.

Over the course of the year my blog has been viewed just short of 10,000 times. The most views I have ever had in a day is 222, normally this figure is a lot lower. My husband laughs at my stats. I point out that whilst it would obviously be pleasing if they were higher, they are not why I write.

My readers have come from 73 different countries and have found me via 63 different referrers, mainly search engines and links on other blogs. The most popular tags and categories have been Home and Family, no surprises there.

The biggest surprise has been how much I have enjoyed this exercise. I have written far more than I expected to and am deriving a great deal of pleasure from the creative process. Although I still tend to write whatever comes into my head on a given day, I have learned that some topics are covered much more succinctly by others. There are some very talented writers out there and I have enjoyed following their trajectory as their skills are recognised and their work published more widely.

From my own little corner of WordPress though, I will continue to write about whatever comes to mind, to join in the Blog Hops and Prompts, and to try to grow as a writer, even if I am still uncomfortable calling myself that.

My main message for today, on my first blogoversary, is thank you for reading.

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“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”
—Ray Bradbury 

Last days

This week’s ‘Remember the Time’ Blog Hop theme is last days.

Remember the Time Blog Hop

There have been many last days in my life, yet none of them stand out in my memory. At the time I was aware that they should be significant and tried to accord them the importance they seemed to deserve. Now though, looking back, I cannot recall the detail of what I did. I was living for the future, looking forward, eager to move on.

On my last day at primary school there were pupils who cried because they were sad to be leaving the teachers who had cared for them, the community they knew. I had the prospect of moving up to secondary school in my sights, I had no regrets about saying goodbye.

On my last day at secondary school there were so many pupils hugging and reminiscing about their days together and how they would miss seeing the friends who had become a valued part of their daily lives. I was looking forward with eager anticipation to escaping the uniform and seemingly pointless restrictions; the freedom of university beckoned.

I do not recall any students that I knew who felt sad on their last day at university. We had jobs organised, new careers to look forward to and were pleased to be putting exams and timetables behind us. I was finally leaving my homeland for the life in England that I had been planning for so long. I was filled with excitement and nervous anticipation as I contemplated the wonderful path my life could now to take.

And then there was the day before my wedding, my last day as a single lady. I had no wish to have a Hen Night, I wanted to get married, my wedding day was party enough.

The last night before I became a mother may have been significant but, as anyone who has been blessed with a straightforward pregnancy and birth can attest, by that time getting the baby out was all that I desired. No prospective mother can understand what lies ahead, the changes that are about to happen. I did not think of the years of sleep I was about to lose but of the joy of holding my baby in my arms.

Each time I left a job I had another to look forward to. I had made a choice and was eager to move on. The detail of each of these last days has faded from my memory as I did not mourn a loss but looked forward to what was to come. This has been how I have lived my life: looking forward, eager to move on, happy that change was happening.

Now, however, I am living through last days and I am not so sure of how I will be when they end.

Motherhood has been the most challenging and rewarding job that I have done. Yes that is cliched, but also true. I love being a mother. God willing I will be a mother for the rest of my days, but my days of mothering are coming to an end.

I have raised my three kids to the best of my ability. I have done what I can to instil knowledge and values in them that will make them kind, caring, competent, responsible, thoughtful, useful citizens. I have encouraged them to ask questions, to look at alternative points of view, to accept difference with grace whilst remaining true to their own, considered beliefs. I have done my best to raise my kids to be individuals, to be themselves in the face of a society that seeks to homogenise all. I have done my best to raise my kids to be independent, resolute and self reliant.

If I have done my job well then they will go out into the world with no need for me.

And we are almost there. We are living through those last days. Now, when I try to mother them, I am considered an interference. They want me to leave them alone to make their own decisions. They have a better understanding than I of the lives they are living day to day and where they wish to go from here. They are capable of considering their options and making good decisions on their own.

When a path is to be chosen it is good to mull over possibilities. We will each choose those we trust and respect to advise us when that is what we require. Others, who take it upon themselves to offer unsolicited advice, are an irritation. Just because we mention a decision that has to be made, it does not mean that we wish to listen to an opinion about what we should do. My children may keep me informed but they do not always want me to get involved. There is a fine line between offering support and interfering.

I am finding these last days hard. Perhaps it is because I cannot yet picture where I will go from here. Of course it will be lovely to be able to spend more time alone with my husband. I have many interests and activities to which I would like to devote more time. These last days differ from those which have gone before though because the path beyond is so wide and unclear.

I hope that I never stop learning, there is still so much out there to explore. Just as my children have the rest of their lives in front of them so do I, so do we all. I can use that time to grow as a person if I put my mind to it. These last days make me feel sad because I am losing the close bond that has tied my children to me for so long, that has given my life purpose and so much pleasure. I know that I must let them go, that I have no choice.

I have taught my children to fly and they will, ultimately, leave the nest that I have built and tended so carefully for their comfort and safety. When they go though, I too will have the option to spread my wings. It is that which I must remember.

These last days will pass all too quickly, but life goes on. For me, it will only be as good as I choose to make it.

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Read the other posts in this Blog Hop by clinking on the link below. 

Time management

Yesterday my children returned to school and my husband returned to work after the half term break. Despite not doing a great deal of note I enjoyed this holiday. I am in a good place at the moment as regards personal space. I seem to have found a balance that suits me between supporting my family and doing things for myself. I am managing not to allow how I think others expect me to behave to push me in directions that make me feel uncomfortable.

As well as my reading and writing I visited the gym a few times, spent time in the garden with my hens and completed a few of the housework type jobs that demanded my attention loudly enough. I even managed a bit of sewing and baking over the course of the week. I am so not a domestic goddess but there were no disasters. I can reflect on the results of my efforts with some satisfaction.

The holiday ended with the start of NaNoWriMo. It is now Day 5 of this challenge and I am enjoying taking part far more than I expected to. Of course, I enjoy writing or I would not have chosen to sign up. So far though the task has been a real mood lifter. As I watch my word count climb I can feel my spirits rise with it. My family are allowing me the space and time requested and my story is flowing.

Yesterday I also started a distance learning psychology course with the University of Warwick. I spent a very enjoyable few hours completing some interesting and, at times, counter intuitive background reading before taking part in an experiment; my visual reaction times are embarrassingly slow! I then had to complete a short test which seemed to be aimed at ensuring I had understood the concepts discussed; so far so good.

I found the coursework fascinating; there was so much new information to take in and consider. The results of some of the studies discussed made me question a lot of aspects of the way I and many of my friends think. It would appear that we are not nearly as knowledgeable and reasoned as we may like to believe.

By the time I had worked my way through all my usual, mundane chores; cleaning, laundry, dishes, cooking; my day was gone. These personal challenges that I have taken on may be enjoyable and rewarding in themselves, but the issue in completing them seems likely to be finding the time to give them the attention they demand if the standards that I wish to achieve are to be maintained.

I struggle with lengthy goals. I don’t mean things that take years but rather things that take more than a few weeks. When I can see an end to a task I want to reach it as quickly as possible. I find it hard to pace myself and enjoy the journey.

When I was at school I would try to complete homework at the first opportunity after it was set. I found that I couldn’t relax knowing that there was work to be done; I couldn’t enjoy down time with the knowledge that I had tasks that still needed to be completed, even if not immediately.

In my final year at university I took part in a programme that allowed older students to mark first year student’s work. We were given model answers and a dozen or so papers each and would spend a few hours going through each submission, adding helpful comments and awarding marks. Most students completed this task over a week or so. I would try to sit down on the night I picked up the papers and complete the marking in one sitting. I would then return the papers to faculty the next day. I wanted to do the job and do it to a high standard, but I also wanted it done and out of the way. I would worry that something unforeseen may occur that would prevent me meeting the deadline and I would end up letting my tutors down.

These days I have a similar attitude to relaxation. I prefer to prepare meals that need to sit in the oven or bubble in a pot before serving rather than something that requires last minute attention. I worry that, if a meal is needed at a certain time and something goes wrong, then I will have failed; a child may be late to an appointment and it will be my fault. Once the prep has been done and all that is needed is for cooking time to elapse then I can relax. My job is done, I have completed all that can be expected of me.

I am noticing this attitude in the way that I am tackling NaNoWriMo. I catch myself thinking that, even though I am slowly getting ahead of my required, daily word count, that 50,000 word mark still seems so far away. I struggle with pacing myself, wanting to race to the end.

Sometimes it takes a concious effort not to do this with the books I read. I want to know what happens so rush to finish where I could derive more enjoyment from putting the story down and granting myself thinking time.

When jobs cannot be completed (there is no end to housework) I can procrastinate with the best of them, my ironing pile is testament to that. When a challenge takes too long to yield results (such as losing weight) then I struggle to find the motivation to continue beyond the initial determination. It is those goals that are within sight and attainable with just a bit more effort that I rush to complete.

Time management is an interesting concept. Am I a good time manager because I accomplish tasks quickly? I would consider my time better spent if I could pace myself. Efficiency and effectiveness are all very well but when we do something for pleasure, rushing it seems foolish. Yes I get a buzz out of the final accomplishment, but if it’s purpose is enjoyment why rush?

Perhaps one of my problems is that if I put something down for too long then there is a risk that it will be abandoned. There are books that I have not finished, a cross stitch project that I was deriving satisfaction from but has not been picked up in over a year. If I am to conclude a task then I need to internally schedule time for it and then stick with that. I like organisation and routine; the unexpected, including random surprises, stress me.

Perhaps the most important thing in good time management is learning what suits us as individuals and then working to fit that way of living into our days. I know that I need to have control over what I do and how I do it. I rail against being told what is best for me. When I am granted the freedom to follow a path of my choosing then I can work on improving how I accomplish tasks in a way that enhances my quality of life.

The author George R.R. Martin has stated that there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. For someone who likes her life to be so strictly under my control, planned out and organised, I am a little surprised to discover that my writing style is more like the gardener. I have no idea where my NaNoWriMo story is going to end up. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am so eager to progress, that I may find out.

I created the graphic myself.

Reliving stupid

I go for a lot of long walks on my own. I enjoy being outside, away from people and their associated traffic. The fabulous views of the countryside spreading out before me in this beautiful corner of the world are an added bonus. It is a chance for me to relax, breathe and think my thoughts.

Sometimes these thoughts are replays of times I have spent with other people. I think about the conversation, how I acted, how I said and did things that I now look back on with embarrassment. Why do I remember the times when I made a fool of myself so much more clearly than the times when I fitted seamlessly into a social scene? There must have been good times too, times when my talk was successfully small and unremarkable.

So there I am, walking across a field or along a quiet footpath, remembering something stupid that I said at a gathering years ago. My body language would look very strange to observers. I find myself grimacing, exclaiming, crossing my arms protectively. I wonder how I can handle looking some people in the eye after behaving so idiotically. I wonder if they even remember.

I try to comfort myself, to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. I will be more aware of my behaviour than others, most of whom are unlikely to have given it much thought. If people have a lower opinion of me after our encounter then why should this concern me when I rarely see them? Perhaps my discomfort is one reason that I feel socially awkward. I enjoy watching people, but will look back on most occasions more fondly if I have managed to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself.

I have no idea why I find small talk so troublesome. Once we have greeted and discussed the weather I seem to struggle to keep things bland. I chat about my kids or what I have been doing, see a reaction of surprise or disapproval on another’s face and go into panic mode. The words that fall out of my mouth dig me deeper and deeper into the hole that I am creating. I want to jump in, cover myself up and never reappear.

I am not like this with everyone. There are people out there with whom I can truly relax; old friends or family who know me well and seem to like me as I am. I can talk naturally without fear of seeing them mentally step back from our discussion. If they disagree with what I have said or done then they will articulate their feelings and we move on. My treasured companions can laugh with me, share my tales, show interest in what I am saying. I come away from these all too rare encounters feeling happy and satisfied. I wonder if that is how others feel after most get togethers with friends.

I do not believe that the people I mix with are hugely judgemental; they do not condemn me for thinking differently to them. I guess what makes me uncomfortable is that feeling of being a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I can only be myself, yet so often that makes me feel uncomfortable in a crowd. This discomfort provides a catalyst for my foolish talk as I struggle to blend in.

It is not good to dwell too much on past misdemeanours. The way I act will be regarded as unimportant to most. If my behaviour, conversation or attitude is disliked then I would hope that those who feel this way towards me would choose not to include me in their future social plans. We can all be so much happier only mixing with those whose company we truly enjoy.

I cannot take back foolish things that I have said or done. In processing the memories I am trying to come to terms with myself and move on. There are still people out there who choose to spend time with me; I need to make more of an effort to allow this to happen. Too much navel gazing will not make me the better person that I wish to become.

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Self improvement

I very much enjoy receiving feedback on my posts and welcome all of  the comments that readers have kindly taken the time to submit. Some of these come from people who do not know me and have found this site by chance. If they are also bloggers then I will try to visit their sites; I now follow several of them and enjoy considering their posts immensely. There is only so much that I can manage to read in a day but I welcome the chance to gain a perspective on their lives and on the thoughts and issues that they discuss.

Other comments come from people who know me outside of the internet. Often these are posted on my Facebook page, where I always include links to the posts that I publish. As these people know me personally, and have often done so for many years, their comments can be more of a challenge to deal with. They are not just basing their reactions on the words that I write but on the person that they know. It takes more courage to share thoughts and feelings with friends than with strangers. If things go badly then I have more to lose.

If I were not happy to receive such feedback then I should not write about personal or controversial topics. That, however, is one of the aspects of blog writing that I enjoy. I like to put down what I am thinking; I find that it helps to clarify in my own mind what are sometimes fairly woolly thoughts. It also helps me to see where I have done my own thinking and where I have simply believed what others have told me. Much of our knowledge is obtained in this way but, when I choose to disseminate an argument, I am taking it as my own. I am well aware that I have valued friends who will strongly disagree with many of my views.

What has been particularly interesting for me has been the general feedback that I have received on the methods that I appear to employ when considering a subject. I have been told that, whilst I claim to encourage reasoned debate, I do not always come across as accepting of others point of view when they disagree with me. I state that I respect the right of others to think differently to me yet display an exasperated manner and speak impatiently of their choices. It would seem that others do not see me in the way that I see myself. When I think about this honestly, I believe that they are right.

I find it easier to clarify my thoughts in writing rather than face to face as I need time to consider what I wish to say. I am not good at debates; my mind is not quick enough and I cannot recall the detail of enough factual knowledge to make it sound as if I know my subject; I do not have a good memory for detail. At school I was better at the subjects which required problems to be worked through rather than a regurgitation of memorized information. I failed miserably at languages as I just could not recall enough words. When faced with a friend who possesses a memory to rival Google I feel bumbling and foolish; I need time to consider new information and to work through my thoughts on this new information as I would a mathematical puzzle.

When I am considering a subject I will try to read around it, but even this can be fraught with difficulty. I cannot help but have preconceptions and it is so easy to read opinion pieces that agree with how I already think. When a writer, well qualified in his subject, creates a cognizant argument with well researched facts, figures and references to back up my point of view it feels so satisfying; it is as if I am being proved right despite others not agreeing with me. Much harder is to read a similar document that is equally well put together but carefully argues that I am wrong in my thinking. This makes uncomfortable reading. I am working hard to make myself seek out these difficult pieces and grant them proper consideration.

In my head I find myself thinking that those who disagree with me cannot be reading and considering the information that has encouraged me to think the way I do, but that is disingenuous and beside the point. This is not about me changing others – I have no right to attempt to do that – it is about improving myself. Effecting change in the way I think is a challenge.

If I wish to become the person that I have claimed to be then it will require effort but I truly do not wish to be closed to new thinking, neither do I wish to be accepting of flawed arguments. Living with ourselves can be difficult enough at times; by promoting myself as this open and reasonable, accepting and respectful individual I have been outed as a hypocrite. Now I need to do something about it.

Please continue to comment on the subjects that I write on. I am going to try to read more of those disagreeable but well argued opinion pieces and to give more consideration to why I have accepted a certain point of view. It will be interesting to see how my own thinking changes, if at all. I doubt that I will be able to debate any more effectively, but I hope that I will grow closer to being the person that I have claimed to be.

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One step at a time