Happy No-Resolution New Year!

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It’s that time of year again. As 2015 fades out and everyone exclaims, ‘Where has the year gone?’ We begin to look towards the sparkly unspoiled year ahead. It lies before us like fresh undisturbed snow.  As we lie around eating Christmas leftovers and feeling bored countless people will begin to make their New Year Resolutions. We will promise ourselves to ‘do more things’, lose the weight, give up this, give up that, drink less, don’t drink at all, exercise, be kinder, spend less, spend more, spend our time more wisely, blah, blah, blah and so it goes on.

I’m in awe of the women I’ve discovered through the #selfishmother network. Clever, (so, so clever), funny, brilliant women who manage to pack in unfathomable amounts between wiping baby puke off their shoulder and the school run. I think it must be our suffragette heritage that makes us attack each day as though our lives and sanity depend on it. I know many of you will be listing up your resolutions as I write this, well,

I’m here to say NO! I’ll be standing strong and giving a big fat two fingers to New Year Resolutions and here’s three reasons why I think you should too:

  • Because January is hard enough!

Most people fail with their New Year resolutions before the end of January. Why would you do that to yourself? Why would you set yourself up for failure during the hardest month of the year? It’s the dead of winter. The days are short and cold and everyone is recovering from their Christmas hangover. If you’re like me, you’re financially crippled. January is horrible. It takes guts just to face January, just to get through it. Who needs the extra pressure of taking up tiquando? What twisted mind ever thought listing things to ‘fix’ about yourself in January was a good idea? Here’s my proposal; if you want to start something new, why not do it in the Spring, that’s when mother nature makes her new year – make it yours too. Don’t feel pressure to start ‘afresh’ just because the calendar shows different numbers on it.  I bet if people made spring resolutions the success rate would be a lot higher!

  • Because you’ve done more than you think you have.

Scrap your ‘to do list’ for 2016 and write a ‘done it’ list. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by boxes left to tick why not celebrate your ticked boxes. I wrote about this in a previous blog, you can read it here. So, put the kettle on, or pour your wine and write down everything you’ve accomplished in 2015. No matter how small, or how amazeballs. Write it down.  You’ll surprise yourself and you’ll start 2016 on a high buoyed up by everything you’ve already done.

  • Because you are enough.

It’s 2015 and the unfortunate fact is that women still have to work twice as hard as men to get noticed, to get promoted, to even get near the glass ceiling. All too often our careers hit the buffers when our clocks time-bomb us into motherhood. It’s true that the majority of women, working or not, still do the lion’s share of the child-rearing and and the domestic duties. I’d love to do a survey on the gender divide of households when it comes to Christmas; who buys the teacher’s presents, the Santa presents, the nieces and nephews gifts, cooks the Christmas dinner, decorates the tree, moves the elf on the shelf – the list goes on and on. I know there are exceptions, I know there are some men who do their fair share, but let’s be honest they are few and far between. I’d like to state that I’m no man-bashing feminist. Feminist yes, but not because I hate men because I love men. I love my husband, I love my sons, I love my brother, I love the company of men, I love our differences and our contradictions. (I especially love it when one is handy to lift a heavy object.) But unfortunately, we are not yet truly equal in the world.

Girls, women, mothers, friends, I am here to tell you that you do enough, you are enough, you have enough. We produce other humans! And then we look after them, we clothe them, feed them, wash them, we love them. Whether you have given birth or not, you are still a caretaker of the next generation. They will follow your example. They will become what we have allowed them to believe they can become. That alone is enough.  That’s not to say you can’t do more. I’m all for doing more, but I am here to tell you that motherhood alone is also enough.

If you must make resolutions please do it for yourself; a resolution should be for you, and only you. Don’t do it because the magazines say you should, or because your favourite celebrity is doing it, or your next door neighbour is doing it. Do it for yourself, because you want to, because you need to, because you know it will benefit your life in a positive way. Only your reason is good enough. If you fall off the wagon, who cares? Enjoy doing it. If you consume more than your allotted calorie intake for January in one lonely day, make sure you savour every mouthful. Women, in everyone of you I see a hero.  In 2016 make a resolution to be kinder to yourself and start by saying No to New Year’s Resolutions!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and A Happy carefree New Year.

xxx

 

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Reverse The Curse!

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When we meet my main character, fair to say she’s having a bad day. The kind of day millions of women have every month. It might put off some squeamish male readers but f**k it, my market is women’s fiction. My readers are going to be predominantly women, so I’m writing for them. Here it is, I’d love to hear what you think; good and bad.  Would you part with cold, hard cash to read more? I’m hoping ‘The Curse’ turns out to be a blessing for me.

ANNE.

15th September 2011

The blood, when it came, was always a relief. She told herself they took adequate precautions, but in truth, she knew they erred on the side of carelessness too often. Anne had felt wound up for days; the smallest aggravation made her disproportionately angry, or ready to burst into frustrated tears.  Recently, she’d noticed it getting worse. She felt as though she was at the mercy of her emotions and was in danger of becoming a female parody, or even worse; more like her mother. On top of her pre-menstrual tension the death of her beloved Gran three days before meant she was experiencing adult grief for the first time. This wasn’t like anything that had gone before; it had shaken her to her core and she hadn’t known what to do with the unfamiliar feeling. The bleakness perched on her heart, its claws digging sharply into her soul’s centre. If she didn’t know better she might think that is where the blood was coming from. Maybe it was coming from both places? Maybe her body was bleeding for herself and for her grandmother? Anne knew she should paint to try and make sense of her myriad of incommunicable feelings. That’s what they’d been taught at Art College, ‘to paint through their experiences.’  She should. But she knew she probably wouldn’t.

Death had made the left hand side of her chest feel heavier than the right. At times, she felt it hard to breathe. It had made her think about things. Ironically, death had made her think about life. It had made her think about her own life; it was passing too quickly before she could grasp it and wrestle it to the ground and make it the shape that she had always wanted it to be. At thirty-four she was getting on the old-side of young. Anne had learnt there is nothing like death to make you feel as though you need to hurry up in life.

She reached for her bag and located her small cosmetic purse. Nowadays, manufacturers try to dress-up woman’s monthly bloody mess in happy yellow or pink parcels, as a way of getting around the rather ugly, uncomfortable inconvenience of shedding an internal lining every four weeks. Advertisers show women jumping with glee and smiling idiotically as they trampoline through their periods while pouring blue liquid on sanitary pads to show their superior absorbency. Anne had never found anything blue coming from her uterus. On TV and in magazines ‘The Curse’ was transformed into an unrecognisable delight. Yet more bullshit, thought Anne.

Anne’s relief had quickly washed way to leave a hollow feeling. Her body was reminding her that she was empty inside, nothing was growing there, and perhaps nothing ever would. Anne had never had a desire for children so she couldn’t understand why this bothered her – but it did. Lately she’d become aware that she desired more from life, but she didn’t know what. Maybe it was just another strange by-product of death. Death. The cold, hard insurmountable fact of it was staring her in the face. Her grandmothers’ funeral was at 12 noon. Her indomitable and sagacious ‘Gran’ was gone. Anne had not seen her in over two weeks. She should have made the effort to visit more, much more. Anne was learning that was another thing death was good at; it was good at making you regret.

 

For Elf’s Sake!

IMG_3931This is the first time we’ve invited an ‘Elf On A Shelf’ into our home. I say ‘we’ but  TBH it came via my husband and if he hadn’t done the ordering  it would never have been invited in by me. Yeah, yeah ba-humbug. Whatever. But it’s the truth. I thought it was just ANOTHER thing to be added to the endless list of wifely / mother duties that seems to increase tenfold at this time of year. Anyway, like I said, he arrived – invited by the husband, who has of course handed over all responsibility to me!

FullSizeRenderSo, two days ago I threw myself into it with gusto (yesterday morning ‘Efie’ even had a dusting of snow- must have been a cold night in the north Pole.) Anyhow, I have to admit three days in its working a treat and the letter from Santa even seems to have tipped a sceptical 9yr old over into ‘believing’ for one more year and obviously the 4yr old is lapping it up and yes it is lovely blah, blah, blah. But it’s still another thing to do – at night, when I have everything else in the world to do too. But hey, who needs sleep anyway?

Admittedly, Elfie has got me thinking. What if he really could observe everything that went on in here? What kind of things would he see? And I’m talking about adult behaviour, not just the children! What would an ‘elf eye view’ of our family look like? I for one, am cringing just thinking about it. I’m not sure anyone in the house would be deserving of gifts this year- accept for the husband and that’s cause he’s never here!

Timely enough, homework this week is about observation. The tiny details that pass us over everyday, unnoticed. The small things that make us human, that connect us, that help make our stories sing. So here’s what I’ve observed so far this week. In no particular order:

  • The dirtiest dirt is always under my radiators.
  • Every night there are wondrous stars in the sky, but I rarely take the time to look at them.
  • There are countless shades of gold that make up the blonde of my son’s hair.
  • The tiniest hole in a single tooth can cause the biggest pain.
  • How people move in the rain; all bent over and out of shape.
  • My husband answers the phone EXACTLY the same as his father; a short, rapid hello with a heavy ‘h’ that nosedives towards an abrupt ‘o’. A genetic quirk invisibly passed on.
  • The noise of a swallow.
  • If I stand still and tip my head back to look at the passing clouds I can feel the earth move.
  • The sound of a sleepy breath.
  • A thought can be seen.
  • A thought can be felt.
  • The slick shine on a pavement after rain.
  • The different shades of his eyes. Only seen when the light is just right, one iris much paler than the other; a chestnut beside a coffee bean.
  • The dead quiet of a winter morning.
  • The hushed and humble magic of ‘An Elf On A Shelf’.
  • The muck and dirt of winter, the wet of everything. The dog needs a daily bath, he does not get one and so my house is dirty – especially under the radiators!

You don’t have to be a wannabe writer to observe the tiny details. Take 5mins a day to just look at what’s around you. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.

Now, wishing you all a good-night cause I’ve got washing to sort and then an elf to move!

Nx

 

 

Being Brave and Broken Hearts.

Dear Sisterhood,

(I don’t want to be sexist, but I don’t think I have any male followers, apologies if I do, and hey if you’re there, speak up!)

The other day I bought Cheryl Strayed’s new book. ‘Brave Enough’ for a friend and ordered a copy for myself.* It’s a small book that packs a mightyIMG_3851 punch. It’s full of words of wisdom to comfort when you’re feeling down, to kick you up the arse when you need it and best of all to tell you that you’re not alone. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. I can’t recommend highly enough. I’m hoping it brings some solace to a dear, dear, old friend who is having a rough time. She got her heart badly broken a few years ago and in August she lost her Mum, suddenly, and it’s smashed it to smithereens all over again.

The thing is; you can’t see a broken heart the way you can a broken limb. But boys-a-dear does it hurt. Anyone who’s been there (and who hasn’t?) can testify that a broken heart breaks you from the inside out. It usually comes with tears. Oceans of tears that make you feel wrung out.  Many years ago I lay on my kitchen floor sobbing over my first real broken heart.  It’s been broken again since that, this time by my husband, and that hurt more than anything that’s gone before. And no doubt it will happen again. Unfortunately in order to live we have to experience loss. What a tragic exchange? And yet how many of us, I wonder, would forgo the love in order to avoid the heartbreak? None, I bet. Because the memories of the love, the experience of loving and being loved is always better and stronger than any loss. Yes, we might do things differently, but I don’t think any of us would want to delete it. Would we? Because without the darkness we would never recognise the light.

To the rest of the world my friend looks normal: she goes to work, she smiles, she functions, but I know that if I shook her she would rattle with broken bits. And I hate that all I can do is stand on the sidelines and urge her to take it day by day, breath by breath, step by step. Our hearts heal, they may never be the same but they do heal and what’s left behind is an eternal afterglow from all the love. At least, that’s what I like to think.

Nx

*Waterstones have texted that my copy in in store. Be prepared for a liberal dose of Strayed quotes!

My Fling with an Island.

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These may seem like unrelated posts, but bear with me. Two and a half years ago I was suffering with recurring back pain after lugging my two great burly boys around. My osteopath recommended yoga – something I had practised many moons before. Before marriage, before motherhood, before life got in the way. Desperate to strengthen myself and prevent more back pain I duly found a class (which just happened to be on a beach, more of that later). Gradually, over the past few years the mindfulness element of my yoga practise has become as essential to me as the fitness aspect.  On Monday I got an email from the wonderful Kelly at www.myprojectme.com with a link to the Chopra Meditation Center www.chopracentermeditation.com  and a twenty-one day guided meditation to ‘Become What You Believe’ endorsed by Oprah herself.  It’s 20mins. You can listen to it on your phone in the car, before bed, on the bus, when you get up, during lunch – just find twenty-minutes (the music is beautiful if nothing else!) What have you got to lose? Try it. It’s only on day 4, you could catch up. Oprah says when she was younger she believed she could do anything and look where it got her! Guess what my self-belief mantra is? (Clue; it might have something to do with becoming a best-seller author!)

My yoga practice began in earnest while I was living on the wonderful island of Mallorca. A place that is very dear to my heart. Here’s something I wrote about my fling with an island.

“We should, live here, with the boys. Let them go to school, learn the language… it would be an adventure!” It was October 2011. I was sitting nursing our newborn son facing the turquoise blue Mediterranean sea, luxuriating in the warmth and our skin to skin contact, instead of being layered up in clothes the way we would’ve been at home. There was a gentle breeze and the pulse of the sea lapped on the beach below creating a soporific effect.“How could we? How could you?”“I could fly out at weekends. Have some proper, quality time with the boys: IN THE SUN!” A twelve-hour working day meant my husband rarely saw our boys during the week.“It wouldn’t be that different, and we would be IN THE SUN!”

So, the seed was planted, and a year later I found myself packed and at the airport with a one year old and a six-year-old. We were headed for our three-month Mediterranean adventure. My husband came with us to ‘settle us in’ and then we were on our own, and he would start the commute between Palma and Belfast. Ignorance is bliss; I look back and smile at my naive audacity as I rocket-launched us into a new life. The night before my eldest sons’ first day at school; it began to sink in. I hardly slept. He’d been very happy in his school at home and had made good friends; were we being unfair to take him away from all that? To take him away from his grandparents and wider family circle who adored him? How would he cope with the language? His school day at home finished at 1.45pm, but there it didn’t end until 4pm! Surely he would be exhausted, it would all be too much, he would weep every night for his father and for the familiarity of home, how could I alone be enough for him? What ever made me think I could do this?

The next morning, my anxieties were swept aside when the headmistress cheerily took my boy to his class and he happily waved us goodbye. By the end of that first day I expected tears, I expected a forlorn face, I expected, “I want to go home” but instead we got a smiling, beaming happy face excitedly asking if his new friend could come fishing that night. He dumped his schoolbag and ran past us to play with the other children. The school was small and compact with a playground and a games pitch in the centre of the myriad of buildings that made up its entirety. In time, we would get used to the joyful chaos each morning and afternoon as kids ran in every direction, footballs were kicked and teachers stood chatting outside classrooms. This was Mallorca where the sun shines most days of the year, there is no need to rush inside because of the cold or the rain. Assemblies were held outside, children of whatever age, or class, were allowed to play wherever they wished. There was a relaxed freedom, a shift in atmosphere, it was a breath of fresh air away from the stifling ‘health and safety’ rules and regulations that dominate every aspect of the UK; it was exactly what we had been looking for.

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December sun (yes December!)

We would discover that Mallorca is a fabulous melting pot of nationalities and stories and lives. It was a world away from Northern Ireland. In time, our eldest came home from school speaking Spanish, not just Norn-Irish Spanish like me, but actual beautiful native-sounding Spanish. It was a joy to see both my sun-kissed blonde boys bloom in the Spanish sun. Three months? We weren’t going back after three months; we were staying. So our three-month adventure was extended to another year; we had to let our boys taste a little more of this for as long as we could – didn’t we? When you stand and look at something from a distance and you’ve got the will to do it, you don’t see any of the problems, or if you do, you gloss over them. Living in a foreign country alone with two small children is not easy. You’ve got no back up, you’re IT, 24×7. But we had sun, so much sun, even in winter, we had the beach and William had good friends, I had made good friends, our Spanish was getting better, our two-year old was fluent, we were doing something different, unique, we were living the Mediterranean dream on a beautiful island, juicing oranges for our breakfast every morning; what’s not to love?

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Cooling off with garden sprinklers after school.

The problem was our ‘fling’ with the island was getting serious; it was only ever supposed to be a short-term, no strings attached affair, but it was turning into something more; we were getting attached. We’d swim in the crystal blue Mediterranean sea, we ate healthier, we’d cycle through the island’s breath-taking innards to discover villages that time seemed to have forgotten, we made  friends from around the globe our lives there were full of colour, full of flavour and full of sunshine. Surely we had to do another year. Just one more year and then we would come home; after all one year goes so fast, and if we didn’t do it then we’d miss our window, we’d never get the chance again… so we signed on, reserved school places, made the decision, everyone celebrated. We were staying!

But the Mediterranean dream was only part of the picture, the rest of the time my husband was at home in the cold and rain, working even harder, so that he could take the time off to come over for his next scheduled visit. I struggled to manage a boisterous two-year old and a seven-year old single-handed. It became exhausting, especially for my husband, who was doing all the commuting. I missed him, we missed each other, we were a family of four (five if you count the dog) not three, and no amount of Mediterranean sunshine could make up for that.  Something had to give. So it was with heavy hearts that after eighteen months we called it a day on our adventure and came home for good. It was never intended, but like many affairs, the end was sudden and unexpected; demanded by invisible forces, and leaving broken hearts on both sides.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I do it differently? Probably. Am I glad we did it? Absolutely. We will always have very special memories and special friends* from our time there. I hope we have opened our sons’ horizons to what is possible beyond the shores of Northern Ireland, and allowed them to experience the world as one big playground and given them their first tool; a second language, with which to enjoy it. I hope it has marked their hearts in some invisible, yet permanent way forever. It has mine.

*For my ‘special friends’ Antje, Jacqui and Maria. xxx