What I’ve been in to this Summer…

Summer already feels like it’s waning, we’re about to move into one of my favourite months, September.  Before we get there though, a little bit of love an appreciation for what I’ve been up to:

Bridesmaiding

It was my middle sister’s wedding in June and what an absolutely gorgeous day it was!  It was a traditional English County Wedding at my parents’ house in Kent,  it was a lot of work to get the marquee set up to look as polished and as beautiful as it did, and a fair bit of running around on the day to ensure everything went smoothly, but it was so.much.fun!  Exactly what a wedding should be.  Also my sister is an absolute beauty and looked stunning in her Watters Wtoo gown, plus she dressed us bridesmaids in jumpsuits, which is, you know, totally the coolest thing ever.

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Vocation Coursing

As I mentioned before I went on a Vocations Course through my church throughout most of June and July.  It was my favourite night of the week and I feel so much more at peace about a career change now – I still don’t exactly have all the answers, more complicated by seeing an old friend last weekend who threw a new suggestion/path into the mix which I am investigating thoroughly, but I am happy about it and feel at peace with moving forward.

Days out Visiting

So I have been to Brighton a couple of times to visit friends who live there, it’s always nice to be by the seaside and be still for a bit, even better if you can eat an icecream from Scoop & Crumb whilst your there.  Brighton is fab for general British seasideyness but also for having cooler stuff – lots of live music and a good night out if that’s what you’re looking for.

N.B. The below photo was taken a couple of summers back.

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Madge, Chick and I also went to the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery at Lavestoke Mill  for a fun packed day, with lots to see and learn about gin.  Obviously this ended in a gin based cocktail picked for you from the smells you had identified as liking earlier in an interactive part of the tour.  All very enjoyable!

Below is some old style gin bottles and various gin glasses that were on display:

Smelling all the different flavours and choosing ones before our cocktails were made for us:

Finally, me enjoying my cocktail (very much):

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I would really recomend this as a good day out for a group of friends, we had a lot of fun.

Carl and I have also ventured up to Birmingham to visit friends back a the beginning of the month and I went home for my birthday weekend, which involved a gorgeous barbeque in the garden and toasting marshmellows as the sun went down.

Carl took me to visit Higate Cemetery which is somewhere I have always wanted to go since reading Audrey Niffeneger’s “Her Fearful Symmetry” and Danny Wallace’s “Charlotte Street” (very different books, both very good, both feature Highgate Cemetery). It was in equal parts fascinating and creepy.

Odd Mothering

I have become an Odd Mother (instead of God Mother) to a wonderful little girl which is both humbling and very honouring.  I hope I do a good job.  I plan on introducing her to Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Jo March, Aslan and Harry Potter as soon as possible, so I think that’s a good start and I’m pretty sure her actual parents would agree.

Seeing friends and relaxing

Always an important combination!

Watching

Stranger Things.  So so hooked!  Peaky Blinders, which I loved and we have just started Making a Murderer.  We realise we are late to the party.

Reading

So much.  This month mainly “Lean for Life” by Louise Parker, which I am currently doing, and actually enjoying!

I also particularly enjoyed:

Being Mortal by Atwul Gawande and The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins which definitely lived up to the hype.

Theatre

Funny Girl. Go and see it.  Sheridan Smith gave one of the most powerful and emotional perfomances I have ever seen.

Even though I haven’t had a huge amount of time off I have enjoyed this summer immensely.

Next…

I am not sure why September is my favourite month but I think it might be down to the fact that September always feels like a New Start, a bit like January, I think it’s the back to school, harvest time.  I also love the weather, you get some grogeous long harvest days but the temperature drops a little signalling the start of autumn, my favourite season.

I am already planning away some wonderful Hygge activities for autumn, I am thinking: baking, wedding planning, cosy writing time with a pot of tea, preparing the garden for winter and focusing on all those projects I am yet to complete before the end of the year.  I’m all excited just thinking about it!

I plan on reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking and have already ordered it ready for September.  If you are unfamiliar with the concept of “hygge” it is basically happiness or comfort, anything can by “hygge” cosy nights in with a loved one drinking hot chocolate, for example.  Hygge is a theory born in Denmark, apparently the happiest country in the world.  

Also The Great British Bake Off is back – what could be more Hygge?!  As soon as the six weeks of my Lean for Life shred is over I am planning on baking again!  Can’t wait!

Grateful for friends, and particularly strong female ones. #100DaysofGratefulnessday3

I have always been a girl’s girl, a woman’s woman.  I enjoy the company of my female friends and I have a lot of them.

I never really understood boys.  When I was very young I was too quiet, I am an extrovert on the Myers Briggs enneagram but this does not always mean what people understand an “extrovert” to be.  Certainly when I was younger I was very timid in the presence of boys or children I didn’t know, and I would get quite anxious in social situations involving peers.  In complete contrast I was always totally at home with adults or by myself.  I enjoyed solitary activities like reading and playing imaginary games, quite often on my own or with one or two friends; I didn’t like loud, boisterous group activities.  I have always been decidedly un-competitive so I never enjoyed team sports (I also wasn’t very good at them).

I got on quite well with some of the boys in my class but would never have had boys over for a playdate or been invited to boys’ houses.  This is in complete contrast to both of my sisters who both had more male friends than female friends when they were growing up and are both quite sporty and competitive.

Aged 11 I went to an all girls’ school.  I know a lot of people have a lot of feelings about single sex education, for me it was the right choice.  I would never have had the confidence to put my hand up and speak up and give answers in a classroom full of boys.  Being surrounded by a lot of women and not having any brothers it meant that I just wasn’t the best prepared for male friendships at University.  I developed a couple of real friendships with boys in my last year at university through my then boyfriend, but as that relationship ended four years later those friendships slowly died a death.

It doesn’t bother me now, I am perfectly happy to be surrounded by women.  I love my girlfriends and I am so lucky to have a lot of them.

I listened to the Sorta Awesome podcast recently when they were discussing the “ten friends every woman needs” (This podcast is good – listen!).  This was their conclusion:

  1. A friend who has made more mistakes than you;
  2. A friend who knows what’s in your freezer;
  3. A friend with whom no words are necessary;
  4. A friend with better style than you;
  5. A “Yes Man” meaning someone who supports you wholeheartedly and who adores you;
  6. A friend who majored in your history;
  7. A friend who speaks your language (they are into the same things);
  8. A friend who challenges you;
  9. A friend who knows all your passwords;
  10. A friend who is the Queen of the call you out.

What I realised from listening to this is that I might be one or two or none of these at the same time for different friends, and that’s okay.  I also realised that I have friends who fall into each and every category.

I have had discussions recently with various friends about how as you reach thirty you know who your real friends are.  You might have (like I do) an “inner” and an “outer” circle this is a fluid arrangement, some friends you can be particularly close to for a season in your life, then you might drift apart slightly for a while as life takes over and later you’ll drift back into each other’s inner circle again.  Some friends are always in one or the other, and that’s okay too, it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate and love and need those friends in your outer circle.

Here are my friends every woman needs (there might be a bit of overlap with the above list):

  1. A friend whose advice and help you will accept because you trust their good judgment.

I have a particular friend who does this.  I always respect her opinions and I feel better about scary things if I check them through with her.  She is a more grown up version of me, slightly more together financially and slightly ahead of the game in every aspect, always has been.  We lived together when we both had our first proper jobs after university and when I got my handbag stolen she could lend me money from her savings (!) to pay for the lock change, as obviously, I was maxing out my overdraft every month.  Recently, as I was stressing about shopping for my wedding dress (I hate shopping and pretentious places in equal measure) I texted her for info on where she went, because I knew it would be good.  She responded with the info, but more than that, followed up with (because she knows I hate shopping and pretentious places in equal measure) “They served us warm white wine in plastic glasses and the woman who did my alterations had no teeth and a fantastic smoker’s cough”.  I booked my appointment immediately.

  1. A Questioner.

I am interested in people; I ask them a lot of questions, I prefer “interested” to “nosey”. I always thought I would never meet anyone who asked as close to the wire questions as me, and then I met Madge.  I love it.  She is interested in everything and she makes me think about my decisions and my actions.  She makes me examine myself and that is no bad thing.  It’s a great sounding board because she’ll often make you think about something slightly differently.  P.S. Read her blog, she’s incredibly funny and regularly has me snorting into my Tupperware at lunch (work, I only get 15 mins so I eat in front of a screen out of plastic, it’s depressing).

  1. A friend who tells it straight.

I appreciate this quality, the most likely candidates here – my sisters.  They will be (brutally) honest.  It’s refreshing and important.  It’s needed, you know where you stand.  Plus, they can also show you a different way of thinking.

  1. A friend who is able to have what my school girls and I affectionately refer to as “D&Ms” or “Deep and Meaningfuls”.

We used to have a lot of these when we were at school, navigating the perils of the Union Bar, Apple Sours and exactly what black top to wear with our jeans and velvet jackets on a Friday night.  Undoubtedly, some of these conversations were fuelled by alcohol, as they often have been in later life with other friends, but these are conversations which enrich you and make you grow emotionally.  You are vulnerable, you share, you talk, you laugh, you are close.  I have had these with all of my friends at some points and still do.  I have talked about a couple of my friends who helped me through a particularly hard time before.

  1. A friend who is at the same stage as you.

As I mentioned in another blog post it’s important to have friends who empathise with a situation, not just sympathise.  So for example, I love it when my new mummy friends have other new mummy friends that they can talk about baby and kid stuff with.  It’s not that I am not interested in this, or that they can’t talk to me about it – I want them to share (I am learning for the future!) but I recognise that I have no point of reference, so I might not be particularly helpful on every occasion.  Equally, when those friends are busy with things like that you need other friends who can meet you on a whim after work and discuss your broken heart at length.   If you are the only single person in your group, you need other single friends.  Everything in its season.

  1. This is totally overlapping above but – a person whom shares your passions.

I have a few friends I talk to about faith.  One of them I used to work with, we are very similar in a lot of ways.  She’s catholic and I am C of E but we do enjoy a God discussion.  Also, I have friends who are fellow avid blog readers, friends who I can talk books with, friends who you can discuss TV shows with, or sports you like, or anything really.  Friends who like the same stuff as you are important – you need someone to geek out with.  I am very proud of the fact that I have introduced a lot of my friends to Grey’s Anatomy (and anything by Shonda). This means that we can catch up and be suitably outraged/overjoyed at the latest plot twists.

  1. A friend who makes you feel young and mischievous.

This will always fall to one of my oldest friends Chick.  She can make me laugh like no other, and definitely brings out my usually hidden goofball.  I am more relaxed and make a lot more jokes when I am around her.  She makes me less serious and I love her for it.

 

Of course I go to all of my friends for fun, for advice, for emotional support.  They are a group of strong, worldly, educated women.  They work hard, raise families and do interesting things.

These women inspire me, they push me, and they love me.  For that I am extremely grateful, and I love them fiercely.  I hope they know it!

 

 

Committed to being kind and other things…

So, a lot has been happening.  There was the whole #Brexit debacle.  I was devastated, I sobbed when I heard the result.  I love being a Londoner, British and European. I am not going to write a whole post on my feelings around the result, because, frankly, others do it better here and here.  I wasn’t surprised.  I am friends on social media with a few people who were voting “Leave” for a variety of reasons, not all of them (praise the Lord) immigration related.  I realised that there was a big division in our country and that some people had researched this and come to the conclusion that to leave the EU would, they thought, be better for farmers, the countryside and themselves.  I also realised that some people had done precisely no research and were blaming the EU for a whole host of problems, including “immigrants taking our jobs”.  Excellent.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs (according to me) of these views.  What I will say, and what I have already said on my own Facebook page is that we are all entitled to our political opinions and we all need to be kind to others, including on the internet.  Calling someone “dumb/thick/lefty idiot” or telling them that they “need to get over it, it’s happened” is oversimplifying the issue and is unfair when we clearly have a very divided country and need to focus on healing some rifts.

I have been horrified that my fears about racism being a large motivator for some people are being confirmed.  The BBC reported this week that there has been a 42% rise in hate crime in the UK compared to the same period last year.  A lot of racists seem to feel emboldened by the Referendum result and this was a particular fear of mine.  This is hugely upsetting and distressing to me.  I cannot comprehend people behaving like this to others, it is alien to me.

I have therefore decided to do my bit by being kind.  I start up conversations with people who are different to me where I can, I smile at immigrants a lot, I have started frequenting my local corner shop and Polski Sklep more in an effort to show these valued members of our communities that they are welcome.  I probably look a bit weird. It feels a bit weird sometimes but, really WHO CARES?! I would encourage everyone to do this.  These are small things, but they are done with love and I hope they make a difference.

Further to my last post I am committed to being careful about what I “like”, share and post on social media.  I always consider if I need to say anything, or if others more knowledgeable than me can do the talking.

In an effort not to become completely depressed about the state of the world and to make myself feel more centred, I have also been doing other things (alongside praying, obvs):

Reading

I bought myself some new books after a self imposed “book buying ban” in November when I realised I had two shelves of unread books and approximately 8 unread kindle books!  Whoops!  Having read a lot since then I decided that I could treat myself, reading helps keep me sane.

May reads on the left, June reads on the right.  Don’t judge me for “Billy and Me”, it was needed after the EU referendum result, and was actually alright!  Best read of May?  It’s a tie between “Everyday Sexism” and “The day I met Jesus”, both profoundly feminist books, what’s not to love?

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Healthy eating and exercise?

Fallen off the wagon a bit here, but I have rediscovered a love for yoga.  I need to get back on board with my BBG workouts again, I’ve lost a bit of motivation after my bridesmaid moment passed!

Thoughts about my future and career 

Always a lot of thoughts.  I attended a wonderful vocations course (the first of its kind) through the church and for the last five weeks Wednesdays have been my favourite night of the week.  I am so glad I did it, I feel so much calmer about the future and my calling.  It was great to discuss things with a group of strangers (bar one person) and learn from their wisdom and experience.  I found it enlightening.  That sounds like a big word but I really did.  I discovered more about myself, the way I learn and approach things and about how to listen to God.  I still don’t really have all of the answers but I definitely have more clarity which is refreshing, particularly in a time when everything else seems so uncertain.

Socialising

I have been seeing lovely friends for good conversation, wine, food and fun, and I am always grateful for their time, especially those who have babies and whose time is precious.

Watching

Re Watching Doctor Who from Series One (the new one with Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor).  That’s right.

Finishing off “The Wire” we’re on the final series and it’s past its best.

Gardening

I love my vegetable patch and my little herb garden. It is so satisfying watching things grow. My lettuces are my particular pride – insane!

I try to be organic and use the companion planting technique to reduce pests – this means planting crops together which assist so nasturtiums in with the runner beans are supposed to prevent aphids. Unfortunately, slug pellets seem to be the only thing working on those particular pests!

Things I am carrying forward into coming weeks:

  1. I’ve purchased a new Bible Study plan “Open your Bible” from “She Reads Truth” whose App I have used before, and I am looking forward to getting started.
  2. More Yoga.
  3. More reading.
  4. Bullet journaling.  I am still not 100% clear on what this is, but I want in!

I hope those of you that are feeling uncertain and a bit unanchored feel less so soon.

LOVE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stubbonly turning my face toward the light

I love Jesus.  As Evangelical and American and annoying as that statement makes me sound, I don’t care.  I get emotional every time I say it. There it is. I believe that God is love and that we are put on this earth in order to love each other through words and thoughts and actions. ‘Til Kingdom come.

This is sometimes very hard. Especially when people do things that aren’t very easy to love.  Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a post which can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGilbertLiz%2Fposts%2F1033035980111850%3A0&width=500” target=”_blank”>

about being kind on the internet and staying away from the comments as they will make you lose your faith in humanity. An extract is below:

“It’s always devastating to witness ignorance and heartlessness, Julia. But you are clearly a sensitive and kind-hearted person, and, as such, I beg you to stop reading the comments section of contemporary newspapers, and I beg you (and everyone) to disengage from participating in, or even reading, Internet arguments. There, you will encounter some of the darkest and most wasteful behavoir in the world. (I mean, wasteful of our stupendous human energy and potential.) Don’t linger where the bottom-feeders lurk, Julia: You can’t change them, and hanging out around them will only put your own compassionate spirit in jeopardy. (As we say in my family: STEP AWAY FROM THE BURNING VEHICLE.) It takes discipline not to tumble into black holes of online aggression and savagery — but such tumbles are voluntary, and thus staying away from the darkness is a discipline you can cultivate. In my own life, I consider it a public service for me for to avoid such shadowy places, because it only darkens my own spirit and then I can’t serve anyone. I would no more hang out around those “chats” than I would attend a public execution. Turn your face stubbornly to the light, and keep it there. Look for love, act from a place of love, work for love, consider yourself a servant to love and a student of love, and you will soon see love everywhere. This is how we begin to serve. Bless you for your kind heart, darling, and please keep your energies safe and bright and strong. We need more people like you, so stay with us.”

I have been trying to practice that particular spiritual discipline in recent weeks.  I’ve picked some tough weeks to do it in.

The internet has annoyed me to unprecedented levels recently, so much so that I contemplated deleting my social media accounts.

First it was the tragic incident of the little boy in the gorilla cage when the internet erupted in outrage at the boys’ mother and her “bad parenting” (the father was rarely mentioned, because y’know, Dads just “babysit” they don’t really parent, so all the righteous indignation could be squarely thrown at the mother, a nice bit of media sexism to boot).  I don’t even have kids and I know how tricksy they can be, your back only has to be turned for a nano second and they’re gone.

Then there has been Brexit.  I am going to preface this one by saying that I am firmly of the opinion that everyone has a right to express their political opinion and vote in the way in which they see fit, so long as they have armed themselves with the facts.

I have been so disappointed by the tone of the conversation around this important political debate.  It has been fuelled by fear.  The absolute worst was that AWFUL, 1930s Germany evoking, racist poster unveiled by Nigel Farage.  Using some of the worlds most vulnerable people to deliberately mis-inform and stir up hatred and fear is just plain wrong and cruel.

Then there was the murder of Jo Cox MP.  She sounds like a wonderful woman, a humanitarian, she was an advocate for some of the voiceless in our world, she did some wonderful work on women’s rights, something which is very close to my heart, and now her husband doesn’t have a wife and her children don’t have a mum.

I have thought long and hard about what I have posted, shared and “liked” on the internet recently and have tried to only do so to positive posts that promote love, equality, understanding.  I have tried not to read the comments, I haven’t engaged in debates with people whose political opinions are so different from mine and who won’t be swayed by my engaging in that with them, I didn’t say anything (until now) about the treatment of the mother of the boy in the gorilla enclosure.

I have been trying to stubbornly turn my face to the light.

When Jo Cox was murdered I shared this quote from her husband:

“”Jo believed in a better world and she fought every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.

She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion it is poisonous.

Jo would have no regrets about her life. She lived every day of it to the full.”

The only way to beat hate is through love.

I will continue to do my best to speak out with love, with my actions, the sharing of others’ words who are more erudite and wise than I will ever be, and sometimes with my own words, although I’ll be sure to consider whether in doing so it is necessary and whether I am being kind.  I don’t want to be silent in the face of hatred and discrimination otherwise my silence indicates complicity and we all know how that ends up.

I went to yoga last week and it always helps me to clear my head and commune with God.  I shared this picture afterwards (photo credit: mercimerci.etsy.com):

Namaste

I honour your soul and your light today and always.  Let’s try to keep seeing that in each other, even when it seems so dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grateful for Dad #100daysofgratefulnessday27

 

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“#grateful for a brilliant Dad who is also a feminist and raised his three daughters to also be feminists.  We were always told we could do anything we wanted and were raised to hear every sort of sexist put down so when we heard it from someone who meant it we would know how to “treat it with the disdain it deserves”.  My Dad holds my Mum in the highest esteem and they raised us to be independent, thinking and fierce women and for that I am truly grateful”.

My Dad is a bit of a legend.  Everyone knows Big Tel.  My Dad is from a little known place called Whitechapel in the East End of London.  Whitechapel is famous for Jack the Ripper, The Krays and a wonderfully close knit community of Cockneys who are a “salt of the earth” kind of people.  His upbringing was “old school” and tough.  His family were not wealthy, by any stretch of the imagination, but they made do.  He was the first to go to university and to have a profession.  He is widely travelled and he believes in the good in people.

Tel is a big character, an extrovert, he’s tall and has a voice that carries when he wants it to.  He can seem scary, especially to boyfriends, and he was incredibly strict with us when we were younger.  He is also incredibly generous with his time and he has a heart as big as his personality.

My Dad is a champion of people who are a little bit lost, a little bit down, who lack self-belief.  He is a giver of confidence and I love him for it.  My Dad doesn’t believe in a “God” in the traditional sense of the word and wouldn’t describe himself as a Christian, but he does a better impression of being a Christian than a lot of self-proclaimed Christians I have come across.

My Dad is a talker; you can’t keep secrets from him about how you feel.  A lot of girls can’t talk to their Dad once they get to a certain age.  My Dad may have struggled to relate to us at points but he never let that show.  He has always been present in our lives, he has always taken an interest in us, in our friends and in what we were up to.

My Dad taught us about social justice, that it’s not “how people say it, it’s what they say and do that counts”.  He taught us to be compassionate and caring, to have empathy and kindness for those who are vulnerable and to understand how a disadvantaged background can impact upon a child and then an adult.  He often says that things that seem small insignificant things to you are big kindnesses to others, and you often don’t know the impact that you have.  I always try to bear this in mind and I think it’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt and I try to always be gentle with others, everyone after all is generally doing the best they can.

Despite this, my Dad was keen that we should not to suffer fools and not to be taken for granted.  My Dad taught me to stand on my own two feet and to demand better from those I form relationships with including friends, lovers and employers.

Father’s Day is hard for a lot of people.  A lot of people have complicated relationships with their Dad, or they don’t have one at all; sometimes through choice.  I appreciate that some people find today particularly hard, a painful reminder of what they are missing.

I also appreciate that I am very lucky.  My Dad loves us girls fiercely and is our greatest champion.  He raised three girls so it’s a jolly good job that he is a feminist: he believes that women are equal to men and deserve to be treated as such; he raised us to believe that too.  The older I’ve gotten the rarer I’ve realised that is.  A lot of women are not so lucky to have such a champion in their Dad.

I have also come to realise just how important the role of a father is.  That’s not to say that if someone doesn’t have one they will be messed up or incredibly disadvantaged, I know a few single Mums who manage both roles admirably.  However, if you’ve got a good one, you’ll know about it forever.

If I ever need my Dad he will be there; if I ever need someone to stand my corner for me he’ll be there; if I ever need to discuss that state of the world and put it to rights, he’s my go to.  My Dad is a constant.  A constant support, a constant source of love, a constant source of open honest opinion and encouragement, as is my Mum I might add, but she already had her own post here.

I love him dearly.  He gets me in a way few other people do outside of my own immediate family.  He makes me laugh heartily and I have my Dad to thank for my sense of self-worth, my confidence and my love of Rod Stewart.  None of those are small things.

Happy Father’s Day Big Tel!  Love you.

 

Heartbreak is not a Team player (#100daysofgratefulnessday29)

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“Grateful for this guy.  My Teamie.  I waited long enough and had my heart broken enough times before he came along.  I’m glad I waited and didn’t become a Charlotte Lucas.  He was worth the wait.  And that’s why I am also grateful, strange as it may sound, for all the horrible, horrible heartbreak.  I needed it to learn what and who would be the right guy for me.  Thanks for loving me back, even when I’m a diva”. #100daysofgratefullnessday29

So here’s the background.  Carl and I have known each other since I was eight and he was ten, my Mum was his year six teacher.  We went to different secondary schools from the age of eleven and saw each other occasionally.  There was a period when we got the bus together in sixth form, and I totally fancied him, he doesn’t remember so….yeah…We went to different Universities and almost ten years after leaving school re met at our mutual friends’ wedding.  The rest as they say is history.

I kept Carl at arm’s length for the first six months of our relationship.  I had been single for almost two and half years immediately prior to meeting him having been in a couple of relationships almost back to back from the age of eighteen to almost twenty five. I had been hurt.  Badly.

Unrequited love.  I’ve been a victim of that both whilst in relationships and out.  I saw a future where there wasn’t one and I became consumed by it. I was always the one doing the chasing, the giving, I totally made my life fit around those guys for a time.  I considered the impact that every decision would have on them as part of an “us”.  They didn’t do the same, and really, who can blame them?  I shouldn’t have been doing it.  I should have been more selfish, I was young and romantic and in love and I let it become all consuming.  I think that might be a trait that women have, we are socialised to be considerate, to think of others, to be polite, to be care givers, and sometimes we go too far, and suddenly we wake up one day realising we’re the only one doing all the running, all the caring, all the giving and inevitably we are the one getting treated like crap.

It’s horrid when you realise it, that yet again you got carried away and have been letting yourself be treated badly for quite some time now and that makes you MAD.  You, the independent, educated, woman who knows her own self-worth and her value has been letting herself be walked all over and played for a fool.  Unacceptable.

It’s especially bad if well-meaning friends have helped you get carried away “but he obviously loved/loves you, you just had/have to see you together”.  Yeah, my response eventually became “but not enough”.  I know my own value, I know what I deserve and it’s not to be someone’s back up, or to be the person he’s with until someone else shiny and new catches his eye.

I know all of this, but when it happens, again, it’s devastating.  You feel so betrayed and so crappy.  You have hopes and dreams and plans and structure and then it’s all up in the air and you just DON’T KNOW.

I was often just plain sad and then angry that I was sad.  I constantly repeated to myself my mantra that “you can’t help how you feel, so don’t feel bad about how you feel”.  Whilst true, I often felt overwhelmed.  “I shouldn’t be feeling this”, “it wasn’t meant for you”, “let it go, let it go, let it go…”.

I am lucky to have some great friends and in particular, a couple of very special ladies who would listen to me being sad.  Other friends who have basically been married for years don’t get it, and as much as they may have tried to I felt bad for seeming to bother them again with my broken heart.  My two ladies who listened to me most have been there and they didn’t feel the need to offer solutions, they understood that sometimes when your heart is broken the only thing that helps is constantly repeating yourself.  I’ll always be grateful to them for this particular kindness.

At one of my lowest moments, one where I felt I couldn’t whinge to any more even to those two particular friends because this was getting boring now and I should be over it and #firstworldproblems, I was sobbing on my bedroom floor in my underwear (oh the glamour) and I started to feel panicked, I didn’t know where my life was going: “I don’t have a plan, this wasn’t the plan, what am I going to do? Why do I still feel like this? Will I ever feel any better? I am sick of feeling like this I am so tired, I don’t know anything anymore*”.  I started to hyperventilate.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  I mentally cried out to God “help me, make me feel better!” and: instant calm, instant serenity and a sense of love.

I immediately picked up my bible and opened it, randomly, the passage it fell on was one of many variations repeated throughout the Bible of “do not fear, I am the Lord your God and I will not forsake you”.  I have never felt closer to God in that moment before or since.

Some people will think that is a load of bollocks.  To those people, I will say – whatever.  I may not be able to remember what happened immediately after that (I mean I’m assuming it involved picking myself up off of the floor, eating some chocolate and watching Grey’s Anatomy, but maybe it involved eating granola and going for a run!), I may not be able to remember the exact Bible passage but I know how I felt and I know that God was there, right with me in that moment.

From that moment I found I started to believe my mantras and slowly I became very contented being single.  I prayed a lot, asking for God’s help and guidance, I spent a lot of time with other single friends and basically said yes to every single opportunity which wasn’t great for the bank balance but kept me very busy and made me laugh a lot and make some awesome memories.  I won’t lie and pretend that I was completely happy all of the time (who is?); I often still felt lonely and disappointed and sad but it became less as I learned to trust God that there was a reason and a plan.

When Carl and I re met I was determined that I wouldn’t “be back at square one” if it all went wrong, I fiercely kept my independence, refused to adjust my schedule that much or spend all my time with him.  I initially saw him once a week and then twice.  I liked spending time with him, but I questioned all the time, I wouldn’t let myself fall head over heels and get carried away.  I was cautiously optimistic, but I didn’t reveal his existence to my wider circle of work colleagues and friends for ages.  In fact, I felt quite bad recently when remembering a colleague asking me who I was going on my holiday with and I said “my boyfriend” and she (understandably) expressed some surprise that I hadn’t told her I had a boyfriend (we sat next to each other).  I responded a bit more harshly than I’d intended that “we’ve been together four months, it’s not a massive deal.  I don’t like to talk about my personal life at work”.  Poor girl.

After about six months I realised that I could trust Carl and that I had to.  In order to have everything I wanted – be in love, part of a team and eventually happily married and raise a family together then I had to risk a little.  It’s the way it is, you both have to be a little bit vulnerable, as terrifying as that is: you hold part of each other’s hearts and as corny as that sounds it’s also true.

Carl and I aren’t really “alike” I’m an extrovert, he’s an introvert, I blow up, he stews, we have different music tastes and tastes in films.  We do have the same work ethic, the same ideas about family and we do both enjoy walking, eating and the cinema (even though we often compromise on film choices).  Generally it makes for a pretty good life.  Our main difference is in theology, I have a faith, Carl does not.  I pray every day that Carl will come to know God, he knows this and doesn’t mind, much like he’s known about my secret Pinterest wedding boards for an age now.  He comes to church with me sometimes and supports me in my choices because it’s important to me.

After almost four years together, buying a house together and living together for two and a half years Carl finally (!) asked me to marry him in April in Cinque Terre when we were watching the sunset on a little hike.  It was perfect for us, no other people there, he said some lovely things about us and he cried, and I cried and he proposed with a massive fake ring and then we amused ourselves by laughing and trying to take selfies with said massive ring.

We have already started building our life together, he’s a great partner in that respect.  I can’t wait to marry him next year, to me marriage is important, it won’t change the way we feel about each other or how we see ourselves but it’s an important sign of our commitment to being a team and sticking at it together, through the good, bad and the ugly.

Like so many things God’s version was better than what I had imagined or thought that I had wanted.  Carl and I are team mates or “Teamies” a bit soppy, but to the point.  We are a unit, we’re on the same side, and we love each other even when we hate each other.

Grateful to get the opportunity to do life and marriage with someone who makes me laugh, mainly at myself, and who is more kind, caring, compassionate and principled than I had ever dared hope my future husband to be.

 

 

*obviously this wasn’t true but the broken heart is nothing if not dramatic.

Committed in April

So this is a bit late, work has been manic since I returned from holiday and I also had my sister’s Hen Do (weekend just gone) to plan… So lets see how I’ve been getting on with my commitment goals in the month of April:

1. To writing/blogging more

Well. I am not great at getting into a routine with this but I think it has been getting better, at least this month of May anyway. I was obviously away in April….so that’s my excuse for then! I’m aiming for a blog post at least every two weeks, hopefully working up to every week. Maybe. Still enjoying it though so this is good.

2. To continuing Bible Study/Prayer

I have done a lot of reading around these subjects but, surprisingly little in the way of doing. Poor. Having just read “Prayer Without Pretending” by Anne Townsend I am putting this into practice this month so hopefully there will be more practice here when I do “committed in May”. Let’s hope so as this should be a priority!

3. To reading more

Yes! Progress here! In April I read four books:

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  •  How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran – this was most enjoyable although quite similar in a lot of places to How to Build A Woman which I preferred as I thought it was funnier.
  • Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle. What a book. So many “aha!” moments, and those moments where you realise that sometimes you are a bit self righteous and cringe at yourself for your utter stupidity. No one is “better” we are all loved. Beautiful words throughout, I cried at various points. No surprises there.
  •  Re read – Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis. As always I appreciate his simple way of explaining complex theology and the fact that he does it in such a “British” way. Some of it (on marriage) is very outdated but otherwise full of wisdom. I turned down so many corners of pages to highlight my favourite parts. A great book if you are new to theology or Christianity as he writes from the perspective of a former atheist.
  • Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert. I was a huge fan of Eat,Pray,Love so came at this with expectations. They were met and this book was very pertinent to me at this season of my life. Plus Liz is funny!

4. To pursue a possible career change

Well, again a lot of thinking and praying not a lot of doing just yet. That’s okay though. I don’t know my “calling” just yet. This post of Sarah Bessey’s here made me feel a lot better about this particular work in progress; it doesn’t have to be a mountain top moment.

5. Healthier eating and more exercising

I was going so well with this – I had hugely cut down on my sugar intake and was doing Kayla Itsines BBG workouts which I had made huge progress with. For me you understand – I’m not talking six pack progress, but I had lost 7lbs and felt more toned, healthy and had more energy! However, I then went to Italy and ate all the food.

I haven’t really had the same commitment to it since getting back. I have had a lot of eating out at weekends and I am writing it off as a bad couple of weeks and starting again on Monday with renewed vigour!

I have also been going to see my osteopath which despite costing me a fortune and still being pretty awkward, has helped, at least with my Runner’s Knee…which will hopefully have a knock on effect on my squat/back pain.

6. Saying “no”

Hmmm. This is probably the toughest one for me. I have got better at this, at putting myself first. It’s still a work in progress though. I am on both the Parish Council and the Deanery Synod for my church, I work full time (long hours) and have commitments with family and friends which I love but it’s hard to juggle them all and still have “me” time. The holiday in April was much needed though and I felt I did less rushing around. I have certainly cut down on mid week meet ups this year limiting them to once a week if that! #proud.

Something else happened in April that meant I was out celebrating a lot…we got engaged in holiday in Cinque Terre! Since then I have basically been drinking all the champagne and eating all the food! And why not?! We are thrilled! Proposal post to come! but that’s definitely very committed 🙂

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Cinque Terre

So the second part of our week in Italy was spent in Cinque Terre.  This has been a “Bucket List” destination of ours for a while now, so it was truly a treat to be going here and I was super excited!  Cinque Terre is a collection of five fishing villages on the north eastern coast of Italy.  They are crazily constructed and the whole area is a Unesco World Heritage site.  They are a very “Pinterest” destination, as the houses are brightly coloured.

It is a train ride of about 4 hours from Rome, so naturally, I read up on the area in my Lonely Planet guide and also read some of C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” which I was reading at the time.

Carl had booked us into a gorgeous little en-suite room in a house in Corniglia which is the middle of the five towns.   We arrived on the Thursday afternoon and just had a mooch around Corniglia, I think Carl was pretty tired after carrying the case up the 377 steps up to the village!

There are trails for hiking which connect the five towns.  There are two routes you can hike; the blue routes, which are generally easier routes following the coastal paths and which you have to have a Cinque Terre card for (the Cinque Terre cards are 7.50 euros for one day not including the train) and the red routes which are more strenuous and are free.  You can buy Cinque Terre cards which last more than one day.

A train connects each of the five towns so you could go to this area and not hike at all, although I think that would be a real shame, as you see so much more when you are walking and it is part of the experience!

When we arrived we were told that the two blue routes connecting Corniglia and Manaroloa and Manarola and Riomaggiore were closed due to land slides.  The only option was to do a red route or get the train.  Carl and I love hiking, so we opted for the red routes on the Friday.  Below is the map and the view of Corneiglia on our first hike to Manarola and the view of Corniglia from our bedroom window.

The day was gorgeous and we hiked through vineyards to get to Manarola.  Each village has a Sanctuary above it and we visited the one above Manarola in the tiny village of Volastra.  Manarola is the oldest town, and after Corniglia was my favourite.  We went back here on the Saturday and did a wine tasting course for 15 euros each at La Cantina dello Zio Bramante where we tasted a red, white and dessert wine paired with small plates of local foods.  This was one of our favourite activities and not least because of the knowledgeable guide and the three ladies who were also present with us.  They were in their late sixties and were friends (two Aussies and one American) they were hilarious and managed to completely take down an annoying American tourist who seemed to be basing his identity on Russell Brand and was talking very loudly about inappropriate “sexploits” and generally being a bit of a knob.  We laughed a lot!

We didn’t find the hiking too difficult, it was steep in places, but it was a good two hour walk to Manarola, where we had a drink and look around stopping for Lobster Tagliatelle at a restaurant called Trattoria da Billy which had gorgeous sea views and was incredibly reasonably priced.

 

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Beautiful Manarola

 

We then went on to Riomaggiore, which was a much steeper trek, almost straight up and down through vineyards and was a bit harder on the legs!

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Colourful Riomaggiore

 

After all that trekking we took the train back to Corniglia and watched the sunset with a glass of wine in a gorgeous wifi free café which we came to love!

On the Saturday the weather was a little overcast but intermittently sunny.  We took the blue route to Vernazza and while easier than the red route, it was full of other hikers and the views weren’t as good.  Vernazza is very pretty though and has recovered remarkably well from devastating floods in 2011.

We then walked on to Monterosso the newest and biggest of the five towns.  Then on a recommendation, we took the train to Levanto and then hiked back along a red route.  This was more difficult, I don’t know if this was because we were tired or it was genuinely a more difficult red route.  The weather when we started was beautiful, but unfortunately when we reached the viewpoint to look over Monterosso and down the coast to see all five of the villages, it was completely obscured by cloud!

We were very tired after this and Sunday was much more leisurely day, it’s when we did the wine tasting and when we repeated part of our first trek in the evening, which was our favourite one overall.

On the Monday we came home and said goodbye to all the amazing Italian food we had eaten! Evidence below:

My tips for trekking in Cinque Terre:

  1. Plan your route and be prepared with water and provisions – Italian signage is not the most accurate and it may take longer than you imagine!
  2. Comfortable walking shoes are a must.
  3. Take your camera, you will be snapping all the time!
  4. Don’t treat it like a race, take your time to enjoy it and stop for gelato, pasta and wine!
  5. Have a map with you when trekking.
  6. Be realistic about the time you have and if you can plan to trek one way and then train it back!

I love the pace of life in Italy, the food, the attitude, how family orientated it is. It really is “La Vita e Bella” and I always leave a little piece of my heart there…until next time Italia!

More snaps are on my Instagram @nackandnace.

When in Rome…

So my gorgeous boy took me to Italy last week, my absolute favourite place to go.  I am firmly convinced that Italy is the best.  It totally has my heart anyway.  Everything is beautiful from the weather, to the architecture, to the people, even the graffiti has a certain charm in Italy.

For a foodie like me it is also full of delights, gelato, pasta, seafood, pizza…YUM.  There is so much food and all of it is good.  I don’t drink coffee, but I understand that the Italians do it best.  Of course they do.

We started our week in Rome.  I have been to Rome before, I went for New Year in December 2011/January 2012 and I fell in love with Roma and specifically, the Trevi fountain.  Here I am throwing my penny over my shoulder and making a wish.  The legend goes that your penny will secure your return to Rome (true ;-)) and it will also grant you a wish.  It certainly did mine.  I wished, after a few broken hearts and a couple of years of being single and still being a little brokenhearted…to fall in love again and to be happy and contented.  Not the most inspiring of wishes, or the most original, but I reasoned – probably more likely to be granted than world peace, although I did also wish for that too, worth a try.  five months later Carl and I reconnected at mutual friends’ wedding.  The rest as they say, is history.

 

There is so much history to see in Rome.  We walked and walked looking at impossibly old buildings from the Roman Empire.  The coliseum is of course one of the most well preserved and impressive but I also love the Pantheon which I always find awe inspiring given it’s size.  You could spend hours walking around the remains of the Roman Forum.  My top tip for these sights – get a guide, or at least, an audio guide, so you know what you’re looking at!

 

No trip to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Vatican and it’s museums.  There is a treasure trove of things to see.  If I’m honest, the Sistine Chapel is a little underwhelming…It’s so busy that it doesn’t feel like a sacred place and the ceiling is smaller than you would imagine it to be, although obviously, impressive.  There are no photos allowed in the Sistine Chapel, but you can take photos in St. Peter’s Basilica which is also beautiful; although again, a little busy to be able to connect with the big guy.

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Carl and I outside St. Peter’s Basilica
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St. Peter’s Basilica

One of my proudest achievements from our three days in Rome was getting this photo of the famous Vatican staircase.  I made Carl wait a good fifteen minutes before we could descend so I could snap this.  He’s long suffering.

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So my top tips for visiting Rome:

  1. Go to the Trevi fountain late at night or very early morning to avoid the crowds.
  2. Climb St. Peter’s Basilica.  We didn’t do it this this time but last time I went I climbed at dusk and got some lovely shots from the top (see below from 2011/12).222
  3. Wear comfortable walking shoes – most of Rome, especially the ancient sights are close together and it s easiest to walk to them – buses and trams don’t run in the centre of Rome.  There are also a lot of cobbles, so again, comfortable shoes!
  4. Don’t forget to budget for your city tax when you stay – this is a legitimate tax and will need to be added on to your accommodation budget.
  5. As with all cities, be aware of pickpockets and dodgy touts and tour guides who do run a bit of a scam.
  6. Walk to the Isola Tiberina; a tiny island in the middle of the river. I missed it last time and Carl and I discovered it together this time, along with a gorgeous little gelato place.
  7. Walk across Ponte Angelo.  It has great views of the Basilica.
  8. If the main city gets too busy head to Trastevere.  Those of you who are “Eat, Pray, Love.” fans will recognise that neighbourhood name.  It’s gorgeous, bohemian and has plenty of little bars and lovely shops.  It also has a beautiful church in the main square where you can definitely be quiet and connect.
  9. Eat a lot of gelato.
  10. Book your tickets in advance for the main attractions – you won’t avoid the security queues but you do get a time slot and don’t have to queue for tickets.

One of the most magical moments of our trip this time happened by chance.  We walked in to a random church off the Piazza Novana and there was a children’s choir singing the most beautiful hymns.  I teared up listening to them, I love music – it makes me feel; I couldn’t find the words to describe what I felt in that moment, apparently the word is “duende” meaning “the profound awe experienced when viewing a piece of art, watching a performance or listening to music that has deeply moved a person”.  You can’t plan magic.IMG_1054

For more pics follow me on Instagram – @nackandnace

 

Lent and Reflections

Lent is a time for reflecting; for those of you that don’t know Lent is the time that immediately precedes the Easter celebration in the Christian calendar.  It is a period of six weeks when Christians are encouraged to “fast” or “give up” certain things, which could be chocolate, television, social media etc and also to “do” more – give more financially, give more time, be more prayerful.  It is about waiting and preparing for everything to be made new in the risen Christ.  Essentially, it’s about re focusing and then continuing your work as a Christian to make “on heaven as it is on earth” a reality.

The Lent course this year was around communicating: how we as Christians communicate with others about our faith and the example we set etc.  I completed a few exercises; one of which was entitled “What makes it difficult to talk about your faith?” we were encouraged to talk amongst ourselves in a small group and write examples down.  I completed the Lent course by myself and not with the small group as I simply couldn’t commit to it with the starting of my new job.

This was an easy exercise for me, here are my fears when I discuss my faith with others:

  1. That people will make snap judgments about me and what I “must think” or “must be like” as a Christian;
  2. Fear that people will think I am not very intelligent.  What I mean by this is the fear that people will think I do not question or have doubts, that I believe some “story book” as the truth and that I am therefore not very clever.  This could not be further from the truth, I have lots of questions and doubts and constantly read around the subject of theology;
  3. Fear that people will think that I think that I am better than them, or that I think that only Christians can be good people (um, no.) or that I think that I am a really good person and that they are somehow lacking.  None of this could be further from the truth.

So those are my fears, however, actually, when people ask me and I tell them, honestly, they don’t (seem to) think these things so I guess it’s just my fears and anxieties talking.  So many of my friends have messaged me or text me to say nice things about my posts on here, or to ask questions, and everyone has been kind about my faith, so I plan on continuing to be honest on here and not hiding this part of me away, because it’s a pretty big part of who I am.