Monday, 9 November 2009

Reflecting Progress

I've been preparing some handout notes for the journaling workshop during our reenergise weekend, and in the process I've been revisiting some of my own journals from the last couple of years.

At the start of 2007 I took a step back from the relentless promotion of my coaching business. It was beginning to exhaust me, and I began to feel my self-confidence flag.

I formed a new intention - to put goal setting and project planning to one side, and to get back in touch with the things that were, and still are, most important to me, and which made me feel most productive and fulfilled.

I was not surprised to discover that the thing that made me feel this way the most was writing. It didn't matter whether it was writing in my journal, or responding to thought provoking emails in online coaching communities, if I'd written a few hundred words in whatever medium I felt like I'd accomplished something. I felt calm, as if I'd brought of my best to a situation.

At this point my intention to open myself up to opportunities to do with the written word formed in my mind. I wouldn't set myself a goal, or write an aggressive plan of action, I would follow my curiosity, wait, observe and respond.

The clarity I had in the opening months of 2007 is marvellously captured in my journal from that time. Since then I've learned about the Law of Attraction, and, while I can't help scoffing a little bit at the sensationalism of The Secret, I feel on reflection that I was tuned in to that law without realising it at that time.

In two years the progress I have made as a writer is phenomenal: I'm now a freelance reporter, a prize-winning short story writer, parish magazine columnist, writers' group facilitator, journaling workshop leader - and there is so much more to come.

All through this transformation in my career from IT project manager to business owner and life coach, to writer, journalist and workshop facilitator I have kept my own journal by my side.

I would have done none of this without my notebook and pen - and reading back over the past couple of years I can't help but think that it's been a miraculous journey.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

S.W.O.T analysis

It's been a time of Switch, Wins, Opportunities and Treats since my last blog post. Fun but busy, and, at times, a little bit stressful.

Since landing a new job in the summer as a freelance journalist for a local magazine, I've had to Switch to a new style of working, new deadlines and new experiences.

Going out to interview people and follow up local news items, or phoning people to get stories, have all provided me with new challenges. I've met some fantastic people locally, and learnt so much more about my adoptive home-town and the folk that live here.

Swindon is much maligned for having the most average (and by implication mediocre) demographic in the country. But I have to say that there is much afoot in this town, and there are surprises around every corner amongst its residents. In my 17 years of being here I certianly have developed a soft spot for the place, and the people I'm now meeting through my work are only deepening the love story for me. Such a Treat.

Further Treats over the past few months have come in the form of visits from friends, including a couple from as far away as Melbourne, Australia.

Since having the kids we've perhaps got out of the habit of throwing parties as we used to - and I for one struggle with the after effects the following day. Nevertheless for hubby's birthday in October we partied hard two nights on the trot with old friends and new. A fab time was had by (nearly) all, as there was one of our number who over-indulged a tad and made herself a little bit ill....

Celebrations have been called for as I've watched my golf handicap plummet by 2 whole points (!) and found myself on the Winners' board a few times since September. This is more than exciting for me as I don't have a natural talent for golf - just a great time having a go at what must be the silliest and most addictive game ever invented. I'm pleased to say my perseverance has started to pay off, and I'm even finding there's something a little bit Zen about the game.....

Opportunities abound at the moment. Just this weekend the first creative writing workshop hosted by the writing group I set up last year has attracted some awesome writing talent in the town. Yesterday 12 of us spent the whole day working with our tutor Jill Sharp to practice character-driven plot-development, and came up with 4 separate novel outlines during the afternoon.

Perhaps most exciting of all is that this week I depart for south west France to join some colleagues and friends-to-be at a Reenergise Retreat. I'm going to be facilitating a journal writing workshop over the weekend, so I've been doing lots of practice, and having loads of insights about the power of Writing for Well-Being.

In preparation I've been reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a book I'd seriously recommend to anyone wanting to slow down, get more out of life and connect with themselves at a deeper level. Re-energise in fact! I'd also recommend investing in a journal too to sustain the journey, but if you want to know more about that I guess you'll have to come along...

Switch, Wins, Opportunities and Treats - analyze that!!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A star-studded summer

Today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope, which is a very fitting date as today I find myself reflecting on a truly star-studded summer holiday. It is hard to believe that the kids are going back to school next week - so soon!? - and we've only got a few more days to complete room makeovers, new shoe purchases and to ensure that all the new uniform fits!

Now the star-gazer lillies in the garden have finally gone over, although the jasmine, like fragrant points of starlight adorning the back of the house, is still holding out.

Our summer holiday began with Junior Golf Week at Wrag Barn Golf Club. This was our third year in attendance, hubby's third as Junior Organiser, and it was wonderful to watch the young ones enjoying themselves on the golf course. This is truly an opportunity to see some golf stars of the future in action, and the presentation evening is such a great night out for the cadets and juniors alike, with lots of prizes and certificates for everyone taking part.

In August we packed a picnic and went over to Lydiard Park for some Shakespeare under starry skies. This was a fabulous production of The Comedy of Errors by the troupe from Shakespeare's Globe in London. The kids really enjoyed this night out - and chortled loudly all the way through the slapstick comedy. It was a great introduction to the Bard for children - ours at 11 and 6 could not have been better entertained.

We spent a week under the star-spangled skies of Somerset, where the starlings roost, in the delightful company of my sister-in-law and her family. A rural location, there are no streetlights for miles, so no "light pollution" preventing a perfect view of the Milky Way.

While the kids stayed in Someset, hubby and I hopped over to Dublin for some star-stalking. We stayed for a couple of nights at the Clarence Hotel, part-owned by Bono and the Edge of U2, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and imagined meeting the stars in the Octagon bar over a quiet pint or 3 of Liffey-Water.

Next it was to be star-struck for real as we took the kids to see U2 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The biggest stars of rock n'roll, those Irish boys did not fail to disappoint, and we had a fantstic night, only wishing that it could have gone on for much longer.

But despite all these exciting star-studded activities, one of the most enjoyable had to be lying in the dark on the trampoline with hubby and the kids after an evening barbecue, watching the shy stars pop out of the sky and tracing shapes in the clouds. Witches on broomsticks, killer whales, kangaroos and rabbits holding candles all made an appearance. Sorry Galileo - who needs telescopes?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Old flames

In the age of facebook and friends reunited it is easier than ever to seek out old flames.

One such has recently sought me out. After the initial shock of hearing from him - made doubly weird because minutes before his message landed in my inbox I'd just been googling him to see if he really did become that famous journalist and author he always talked about - we immediately got into some profound banter about the meaning of life, love and everything. It was ever thus between us. And all in French, because he is.

He's in his 40s now, and unmarried. So I guess he's still got his pre-marital imagination intact. It can prove devastating for a married woman to come face-to-face with this after many years of effectively taking on the role of her husband's imagination. It can send wives into frenzies of confusion, which end, at worst, in betrayal and separation, at best in an awakening of Shirley Valentine-esque self-awareness.

So, mon vieux has tracked me down. I was 17 the last time I saw him. When I turned 20 he asked me to send him a photo - then told me he was disappointed by how I'd changed - in three years!! God forbid what he'd think these days, after 2 kids and the legacy of my Dad's premature greying gene kicking in.

Pour couper une longue histoire courte, he was always a serious character, and now, like the chap in Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity", he's hunting out past girlfriends in order to "try to understand".

Maybe this is what's happening in the minds of old flames - they just want to understand something about themselves and life that has so far eluded them. When I got in touch with an old boyfriend a couple of years ago to see if he wanted copies of some old video footage of birthday parties from way back, all I really wanted to know was that he was OK. When I discovered that he's fine, married, settled and very gainfully employed, that was enough. He politely and sensibly declined the videos and after this I was happy to let him be. I certainly didn't want to rekindle anything, and I was in agonies for a while that I might have inadvertently opened old wounds by writing to say Hi. Then I gave myself a good talking to - it's not always about me after all.

But I do think that we get to a certain point in life and we start looking back and wondering about the choices we've made and what might have been. Of course it doesn't serve to dwell on these too much - better to take hold of the life you have and milk it rather than living in a fantasy world. It's all a question of balance after all.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Balloon races and egg powder

At the village fete a few weeks ago a lady from the local care home was selling tickets for the Grand Balloon Race to raise funds for her establishment. Apparently in the past they have had balloon tickets returned from places as far afield as France and Holland. The person whose ticket is returned from the furthest destination wins a prize.

But it wasn't the prize that had me fishing the pound coin out of my pocket. It was more the possibility of making a tenuous, unlikely connection with someone whose life and experience is literally and figuratively hundreds of miles away from my own.

In the 1950s, whilst opening a packet of Australian powdered egg during the final days of war-time rationing, my Grandad found himself reading a name and address and the Alice-in-Wonderland-esque reqeust to "please write", scribbled on a scrap of paper and, presumably, inserted into the box by a factory worker down-under. This single act of launching a message-in-a-bottle from one side of the world to the other spawned a correspondence between 2 families who shared news and well-wishes for the next 2 decades.

Serendipitous connections make the world go round. They appeal to our sense of oneness with the rest of the human race. They are little miracles.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Dawn Chorus

Fire Jugglers, Faerie Queen, Fiddle, Drum and Song

Chasing Bubbles and Dreamy Poems from the Pod

Maypole ribbons entwined,

And danced again undone.

Trees, grass, lovely Lawn
Coming to life with the Dawn.
Windmills on the horizon,
Townsfolk foregoing their lie-in
For the sake of music and words.
The pen is mightier they say,
Except when the sword yields rainbows for play.
Festival-goers unite
Bringing to Swindon the light
Of creativity, joy and laughter.
Meeting friends and making new,
Guitar, whistle and melodeon too.

Bacon butties, cups of tea,
All this and home by 7.30.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

To My Friends at StillPoint

Hello everyone

Thankyou for your time this morning over the phone - always a tricky medium to work with! It was a privilege to be part of your circle, on the hearth rug, on the book pile, wherever. And thankyou for the lichen!

Our conversation, and the visual I was getting of everyone's journals around the room, prompted me to take the photo above of a few of my journals from over the years. I have always been a sucker for stationery and as a child would spend hours in WH Smith salivating over pens, pencils and notepads. I really did lead a sheltered childhood!! But still the joy I find in opening my journal and putting pen to paper to write is such a yummy thing, such a sensual thing. Yes it is an indulgence - an utterly shameless one.

I wish you all a very happy relationship with your journal - and have fun!


Garden meditation

While my friends in Aberdeen were enjoying nature and a few of life's good things in Templars Park, I was at home giving the kids their tea on the deck, and then spending a very contented hour or so tending to my plants.

Of course it is no secret that nurturing plants in our gardens has tremendous therapuetic and health benefits. Hundreds of thousands of gardeners down the ages have found immense satisfaction and fulfilment in growing and cultivating flowers, shrubs, vegetables and fruits. Intellectually I would sympathise - I get it - working with your hands, getting back to nature, to the soil, watching something develop from nothing with only a few readily available ingredients. How does the bean know to grow into a runner or a string? It is facinating.

Yet only very recently have I formed my own personal experience of working with plants. The area around my front of house deck has become overgrown these past 5 or so years. A number of plants needed to be culled, or ruthlessly pruned back. I was scared to start. I didn't know what to do , how to get "the eye" for what to lop and what to leave. Nor was I sure of the right time to prune. Why can't these plants just take care of themselves? Why do they need me to interfere?

But for a number of months I have been aware of the plants' need to be given a new lease of life. It has become apparent to me through my own feelings of guilt at having neglected them for so long - and through a awakened sense of that very enlightened philosophy about needing to look after your own garden first. How can I help others as a personal development facilitator if I don't look after and learn from my own?

(And already I feel myself slipping away with this thought - the inner critic or the parenting gremlin can have a great time chiding me about looking after my own, particularly my children - how much TV do I let them watch? how much fresh organic non-processed food do I get them to eat? Bla Bla Bla.)

But if we choose to surround ourselves with plants, with pets, with children even, then we have a duty to take care of them. And plants are so grateful for their care. We chop them and lop them and they reward us by springing back to life with renewed vigour, oozing gratitude and life. It's such a wonderful experience. And now I spend time each day strolling around my plants - Russian sage, Dutch Honeysuckle, Choisya, Forsythia, Fuschia, Wisteria, Magnolia, Hydrangea, Fern, Clematis, Lavender - just watching their response, observing how they are once again bursting into life.

So while Stillpoint connected in Templars Park, I connected here, through my plants, into the timeless realm of universal mind, free of personal anxieties, plucking out the easily yielding weeds from the stones and shaking off the pebbles from their roots.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Only Connect

It is one of my favourite quotes - possibly because it is the shortest and most easy to remember - EM Forster's "Only connect" from one of my all time favourite books, Howard's End (which I keep wanting to call Howard's Way - but that is just a throw- back to my TV-obsessed youth!).

"Only connect." What is it? A foreshortened imperative? A statement of the one single thing that is of any importance whatsoever? A plea of the nature "if you only ever do one thing make sure it's this"? All of these things.

Superficially making connections in this day and age is easier than ever. Technology makes it possible to be always available, always reachable. The potential for connection over a phone line or on the internet has never been greater.

But connection doesn't happen without intention. No matter how many times we talk on the phone to each other, no matter how many emails we send, we may stay disconnected if we so intend. Technology enables a veneer of connectivity. So maybe it's no longer enough to "only connect".

Indeed this week I am connecting virtually and energetically with a group of friends and colleagues across the miles - thanks to the wonder of mobile telephony - instead of being with them in person. We're running a bit of a pilot - an energetic connection over a phone line between little old me in Swindon, and a fabulous group of people in Aberdeen, who are getting together to discover the meaning and experience of Stillpoint.

I ought to be with them, yearn to be with them, and be part of the creative process. But on this occasion the universe would hold me here, at home with my children, because hubby is working away. Either one of us or the other is likely to be away from home at any one time. We just can't both be away at the same time.

My intention with the group in Scotland is to connect with them on a deeper level than just a conference call. They are in my thoughts. They are the reason I'm writing my blog today - something I haven't done for too long I know.

This evening between six o'clock and eight they will be in Templars Park in Aberdeen experiencing campfire stories and tasty food in the outdoors. Food always tastes better in the outdoors. A humble picnic of a ham sandwich and an apple taste like a feast once once you've carried it to the top of the hill and found a sheltered spot to sit. So as my friends enjoy their outdoor dinner I shall, weather permitting, serve the kids their tea in the garden!

In this way I hope to do more than just superficially connect. I hope to share the experience - even though I'm a long way away. I imagine the morning greetings, the laughter over coffee and breakfast, the private jokes broken open from their hiding place, to be shared and built upon by all. I think of the morning routines, the mutual requests for bodywork to get centred, to feel like you're coming back together with yourself.

And suddenly as I write I'm shocked by tears. The idea of connecting with others as a way of connecting with myself, of reconnecting myself, is suddenly overwhelming. In this moment I realise that I have been floundering in a disconnected sea for days, not being able to find myself, being unable to read or write, and not having my husband around to help me, to reflect back to me.

Instead I've been busying myself with the flotsam and jetsam of household chores - washing, cooking, ironing - and distracting myself with helping the kids - homework, lifts to activities, things to entertain them. And while all these things make up a life that looks happy, without the connecting thread to hold it all together the picture is rather chaotic and unfulfilling. Energy begins to leak away, and it becomes difficult to replace.

But now, even without yet phoning into the conference, just with placing my intention with a group of people who I know at this moment are preparing, in a spacious and comfortable house in Aberdeen, to work together and create together, I am able to piece myself back together. Synchronising my breath with theirs is easy with the intention to connect, and breathing in sync brings a fresh sense of connectedness within me.

Friday, 20 March 2009


Well so far this year I have managed, thanks to the wily marketing tricks of the good people at TicketMaster and See, plus the fact that I'm a sucker for being on the mailing list of various venues in my local area, to spend nothing short of a small fortune on tickets "to go and see things".

On Thursday last we went to see Brainiac Live at the Colston Hall in Bristol. The four of us went. It was a family outing, on a school night, to the theatre. How civilized!

Except it was no ordinary theatrical production. It was more a series of demonstrations, loosely justified as "science abuse", of explosions, of how inflammable certain gases are, of how far you can inflate things made out of rubber before they go bang, and of which method of propulsion makes an office chair spin round the fastest.

It was hilarious, although my daughter, like me, spent most of the show with her fingers jammed into her ears. As a balloon-a-phobe who winces even at the sight of a party balloon floating within earshot, I did find this production quite a challenge to sit through.

What I found really interesting was that, although there were plenty whoops and cheers and noisy stamping and clapping during the show, partly on the bidding of the Brainiac team as they demonstrated the science of decibels, when the show came to an end, there was no rapturous applause, no standing ovation. As the actors left the stage the audience clapped a bit, then got up and filed out. No bowing went on, no running on and off stage for more audience appreciation, no opening and closing of curtains and all that business that usually goes on in a more artisitic production. It made me feel a bit sorry for the people on the stage, who'd given it their all, and who deserved a bit more appreciation from the paying public.

I got to thinking - maybe this was to do with the fact that we were not in the company of luvvies, but rather more rational, less emotional scientific types, and that the show wasn't really Art but Science. But one look in the programme revealed that the majority of players had indeed received a theatrical training - in some cases even balletic.

Maybe it is that Science is not as emotionally engaging as Art. Or that the kind of audience this attracted are not your typical theatre-going types, who maybe don't know all the luvvie conventions.

Maybe as an audience we were confused, in the absurdist sense, about the barriers between stage and auditorium being blurred, about the roles of actor and spectator being reversed, as images of members of the audience in various compromising positions flashed up on the big screen at the back of the stage.

Or maybe we were all just sick of choking on dry ice and talcum powder, and, it being a school night, desperate to be the first at the pay-on-foot machine in the car park.

So what's next in my theatrical year? In April I'm taking the kids to see Oliver, in May its the Swindon Literature Festival, of which more later, and in August its U2 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. And I've only just found out about Bocelli coming on tour in the autumn.....

Personally I blame Andrew Lloyd Webber and Graham Norton. How dare they popularise British musical theatre?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Un-skilled for life

I am feeling rather ashamed having been watching the BBC's latest reality TV offering, "Victorian Farm". In it 3 intrepid historians/archaeologists are taking on the challenge of spending a year living/working/farming the Victorian way on a traditional farm in Shropshire.

It's a strange ménage-a-trois - a female expert on Victorian housework busying herself with laundry, poultry-keeping, preserving, embroidering, foraging and preparing food on an authentic Victorian coal-fired range, while 2 other blokes do farm maintenance, ploughing, sowing, harvesting, chaffing, milking, shepherding, raddling and general "animal husbandry".

The reason for my shame is nothing to do with my penchant for reality TV - I'm really quite brazen about that, nor is it the puzzle I have in my mind about the conjugal relations or otherwise of the programmme's participants. Neither of these is making me pink with embarrassment. No, what is making me shrink behind the cushions on my sofa is how damn hard these people have to work – and how alarmingly skillful they have to be just to get by from one day to the next.

Take the laundry for instance. I whinge when I’ve got to put washing in the washing machine and switch it on, leaving it to go merrily through its cycle while I go off and enjoy myself. I then huff and puff when I’ve got to take washing out of the washing machine and either bung it in the drier or peg it out on the line. And as for ironing! I’ll stare at the ironing basket for days before mustering up the energy and inclination to get on with it. The maximum amount of time that the whole washing/drying/ironing cycle needs to take in my house is about 4 hours, whereas that poor woman on the telly took 4 days to get through all hers the Victorian way, before having to start all over again.

Then it showed her plucking the Christmas turkey – which she had personally slaughtered, having hand-reared it from the egg and named it Evie. All I need to do is go down to Asda and pick up an anonymous packet of diced turkey, and all the skills I need to do it are driving my car and reading the words free-range on the wrapper.

Meanwhile, out in the yard the blokes are learning how to build stone walls using traditional Victorian tools and methods, so that they can provide a home for their two Tamworth pigs before winter sets in. They’ve already had to master ploughing a field using a horse-drawn plough, driving a horse and cart using a genuine Shire horse, painting the chest of a horny ram with red “raddle” so they could tell which of their ewes had been “tupped”, and growing and harvesting their own animal feed. And all this after restoring the farmhouse to a livable standard.

Phew – I’m worn out watching it! But I am also filled with awe at how hard life was for my farming ancestors, and with gratitude that amongst so much hard graft they didn’t neglect the business of procreating and raising kids – otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

It also has me reflecting on our modern “skills for life” educational initiatives, and makes me wonder whether we would be better served learning some more of that self-sufficiency stuff that the Victorians knew so well, instead of literacy, numeracy and how to drive computers and cars.

I shall certainly think twice next time a roll my eyes at having to do the washing, or load the dish washer or pour the raw ingredients into my bread-maker.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Essential Trees

It's been jolly cold this week in the UK. Cold enough to keep the ground frozen and the trees frosted up for days. As hubby said yesterday - it's been a long time since it's looked like an arctic tundra in this country.

How beautiful the trees look. And there's only one thing for it when the trees look so pretty, and that is to scoot off to Westonbirt Arboretum and have a stroll around the winter wonderland of arboreal splendour.

I've loved Westonbirt for many years - ever since my first trip there in Autumn 1997, just before the birth of our first child. I lurched my way up and down the avenues and rides, admiring the fabulous autumn colours, and dreaming of enjoying this environment with my new baby.

So yesterday we headed over there with both babies - except they're not so much babies any more. And they were quite happy stalking hubby and I through the trees and shrubs while we enjoyed a romantic stroll, dampened only by the meltwater which was pouring off the Wellingotnias and the Lawson Cypresses.

There is something about walking amongst trees which cheers me right up. Being at the Arboretum, with the kids playing some version of The Crystal Maze, finding crystals attached to different species of tree, and having mock light-sabre fights with sticks, somehow makes time stand still. All the pressures and worries of the day just float up amongst the canopy above and evaporate into the sky. I become aware that I'm walking around with a silly grin on my face.

I'd love to go back to the trees each month, to get an impression of how the seasons change, and to get a regular soul-uplift. Hubby says it smacks too much of routine. So what? Better to have such a seasonal routine that pleases the spirit, than get into couch-potato habits which are quite deadening.

Get out and look at some trees - and be inspired!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

What happened to December?

I wanted to be really cool and go to the Hub while we were away in Canada so I could update my blog. The Hub is an internet cafe at Whistler Creekside, full of young people wearing the crotches of their tartan or tweed effect ski pants between their knees and those woolly hats with ethnic patterns and plaits.

As you can see I didn't get to update my blog. Instead, feeling shy, I went in there and paid $1.30 canadian to go online and renew my library book at North Swindon library!!

We had a fun time skiing, although there wasn't much snow, the slopes were sheet ice, there weren't many runs open and the temperatures plummetted to -26. Nevertheless the views were stunning, the sky crystal blue and the hot tub was bubbling in the evening.

Christmas was mad. What with the jet-lag, all the cooking and a houseful of guests over the middle weekend I felt like I needed a whole new holiday. So we took one - and went up to my parents' house for New Year. I spent an extremely schizophrenic New Years' Eve between my parents' house and their neighbours' - raucously drinking lager in one place and demurely sipping G&T in the other.

And now it's January, and the kids are back at school, which is about time as they've had a month off already. I love this time of year, when everything gets back to normal and suddenly the house seems twice the size because the Christmas tree's gone.

We've had snow in Swindon this week. It's been looking very pretty early in the morning as we've walked to school with the kids. I was hoping to get my bike out and try and shed some of the extra Christmas poundage, but the roads have been a bit too icey.

Any Resolutions? Only getting up a bit earlier than everyone else so I can do a bit of scribbling in my journal. It's lovely when the house is quiet and I can settle down for quarter of an hour with the first brew of the day. Trouble is, I'm still there at 7pm when I ought to be making up the kids' lunch boxes and kicking everyone out of bed!

Other than this attempt to get in some regular writing each day I'm planning on pretty much carrying on where I left off last year. Oh yes, and I'll be rebranding Treetops too.

Happy New Year everyone.