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

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A Life Less Ordinary.

I’ve fallen from the blogging wagon lately. I have failed to juggle children, summer holidays, a husband, and well basically, my life with blogging. Forgive me. Like a lot of people I try to do too much. I’ve always enjoyed an active lifestyle, I love yoga, running, cycling, I’d like to complete a triathlon some day soon, I enjoy cooking and as chief chef I take a keen interest in providing healthy meals for my family, I have a bunch of wonderful and varied friends, I love going to concerts, theatre, the cinema, I study Spanish sporadically, the dog always needs walked and I do like to have the odd conversation with my husband!

The thing is, all of these are at odds with writing. Writing involves spending long periods of time alone, in front of a computer, or reading. It requires stillness. And I actually love this too. My life is a constant juggle of juxtapositions, it is a life less ordinary because YOLO ( new word for the day = you only live once. It’s actually in the dictionary!) So, the dawn of September and the start of school means I have regained some time and I decided I needed professional help so I’ve enlisted in a ‘Blogging and Beyond’ course with E.R.Murray to help me organise my social media life! Hopefully my blogging is about to get a whole lot better.

imageMeantime, I’ve re-entered the worm-hole that is my second novel. Turns out it needs a bit of an overhaul; queue tears, tantrums and the general feeling that I’m climbing up a very long, steep and rocky mountain in bare feet without food or water! This is the endurance test of my life, luckily (or not), I have a severe stubborn streak and I’m determined to finish it, properly. It’s got me thinking that perhaps tenacity, and not talent is the main ingredient when it comes to being a writer? What characteristics define you and help you to achieve your goals?

A Little Silence goes a Long Way.

Last weekend I went on a mini yoga retreat. As part of it we had an introduction to meditation. Maybe it’s an age thing, but increasingly, I am finding a need for some ‘me time’ in my life. A few precious moments away from family demands, a screen, noise and the general 24/7 interference of modern living. A little silence helps me to cope. It can be an opportunity to slow down time and remind myself of my goals.

The end of the school year always causes reflection; I’m in awe at how my boys have grown physically and mentally in the time it has taken me to make a cup of tea – or at least that is what it feels like. Again, I find myself wanting to stop the clock and pause. I join with all the other mums at the school gate to complain that it’s going too fast. We watch helpless on the sidelines as our children race fearlessly through their childhoods. And yet, juxtaposed against this is my own slow sludge towards my goal of getting published. Eight years and two books and still no closer. I am desperate for it to happen. I am frustrated that it is taking so long, and yet, how can that be when everything else around me is happening so fast?

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It’s this state of contradiction that yoga helps with. It helps me to stay in the ‘now’ it helps me to believe that life will take its course and what will be, will be. It keeps me strong and helps to counteract the countless hours of sitting that writing demands. Yoga and meditation are not about loud music, or pumping up the cardio. It demands stillness, focus and concentration of breath. Can life get anymore stripped back than simply taking notice of how you breathe? A writer’ s head carries a world of fictional characters inside it, each one with hopes and dreams, flaws and attributes; these people are alive to us and sometimes I find it hard to cope with the demands of them combined with my actual real-life!

I’ve come to realize that my writing itself is a kind of meditation. It’s what I need to try and make sense of the world around me. I use what I know,  and what I don’t know, to unclutter my mind. I sit, mostly in silence (though I’ve trained myself to write wherever I can), without the interference of phone or Internet and I download onto the screen infront of me. I think it’s the solitary silence that gives writing it’s mystic. In a world were most people sit amongst open plan offices surrounded by people, phones, printers, sitting alone for hours on end without human or online contact can seem… well, wierd. But it’s as simple, and as complicated as that. My fictional characters need space to grow, to live, and for that I need a clear head and preferably silence.

How do you unclutter? How do you stop time and reflect? Maybe blogging is your way of ‘downloading’. When is the last time you sat in silence? Try it. I’d love to know how you get on.