Go Grandma!

Report from outside the comfort zone

Biker chick. Me well out of the comfort zone  - riding pillion on the husband's bike a couple of years ago.
Biker chick.
Me, well out of the comfort zone – riding pillion on the husband’s bike a couple of years ago.

In my first post of 2015 I did a bit of a preachy thing about taking the road less travelled and staying out of the comfort zone. So now I think I should give you an update on how good, or not, I am at taking my own advice.

In that earlier post I said that I intended to improve/maintain my fitness level by taking regular exercise, but that I didn’t see it as a New Year’s resolution as such, more as a continuation of something already started that I wanted to become an even more embedded habit.

Having taken early retirement from my teaching job is a bit of a double-edged sword fitness wise. I have more time to exercise, but I don’t get the incidental walking time I had when I walked to and from work and I’m no longer on my feet all day, but spend a lot of time writing at my desk.

image copyright DeVisu via @shutterstock.com
image copyright DeVisu via @shutterstock.com

However, I can report that it’s a case of so far, so good. I’m averaging thirty minutes a day of brisk walking, plus 30 minutes of yoga on five days out of seven, plus my 90 minute, once per week yoga class. I’ve also done a bit of an archaeological dig down through the depths of the bottom of my wardrobe and unearthed my long buried hand weights. So I’m also doing a ten minute stint a couple of times a week with them.

image via shutterstock.com
image copyright iQconcept via shutterstock.com

As far as getting out of the exercise comfort zone goes, yoga is new to me. I did a taster course while I was still teaching and then took it up in earnest last autumn. I really love it and it’s no chore to do daily practice in between the weekly classes. What I really like about it is its non-competitiveness and the fact that the philosophy is very much ‘even a little is fine’. So, as a recovering perfectionist this is especially good for me.

Along with healthy eating––again not a New Year resolution but an already established habit, I’m hoping that all that moving about will, keep the old muscles and bones strong, maintain flexibility and balance and keep the heart beating efficiently.

I’ve not lost weight, but I have lost some inches round my middle in the last year or so. And that’s fine by me. I’m so over the whole dieting thing.

image copyright Vova Shevchuk via shutterstock.com
image copyright Vova Shevchuk via shutterstock.com

I’m no fanatic. Running of any sort–– let alone marathons, eating only cabbage-based meals, and saying no to a bit of chocolate or a glass of the bubbly stuff are not for me.

But being fifty-eight years old I value my health more as time passes. I want to be fit enough to play with my grandchildren and to be around for sometime yet to annoy my husband and kids–– and I reckon whatever age you are it’s a case of use it or lose it when it comes to physical ability.

What I find very encouraging is that recent research seems to suggest that it’s not so much a daily hour in the gym that matters, though it’s still worth doing, but that what matters even more is the small regular amounts of movement that we should all be doing. The most recent advice is to get up from your desk/sofa every hour or so and move about a bit, or to do some in the house stair running in the ad breaks while watching TV, or to do some squats and lunges while waiting for the kettle to boil. There’s also a new trend for standing desks where, as the name implies, desk-based work is carried out standing up at a lectern height table top.

So I’ve decided my kitchen worktop shall henceforth be called my standing desk as I work at preparing meals, working out menus and shopping lists and check over the household accounts.

I haven’t tried the staircase gym. By evening, when I’m doing my TV watching, I feel I’ve done my exercise for the day––and  nor have I done any lunges in the kitchen, although I have done the odd tree pose (yoga) while waiting for the toast to pop­­­­–– as my probably traumatised neighbours could probably confirm.

shutterstock_247671976
image copyright Cherryjuice via shutterstock.com

 

As for really getting out of my comfort zone, this month I finally learned to swim! I overcame a virtually lifelong fear and, following a private lesson with a wonderful instructor at my local pool, I swam a width. What a buzz it gave me! I was in a right state beforehand but determined to go through with it. Taking my feet off the bottom of the pool and then finding myself able to float while doing probably the weirdest breast stroke ever was just awesome.

image copyright Suriya KK via shutterstock.com.
image copyright Suriya KK via shutterstock.com.

And in my writing I’ve been trying new things too. I’ve been working on several competition entries mainly ones set by the Scottish Association of Writers whose annual conference I’ll be attending at the end of March. This has meant trying my hand at a short story for adults, a children’s short story, a review and an opinion-piece article. All are forms of writing that I find more difficult than novel writing, but it’s very good exercise for the creative muscles and having a deadline certainly helps.

I’m also having a go at life-writing which is akin to memoir––again it’s for a competition––this time for the Edinburgh Writers Club, of which I’m a long-distance member. I’ve not done this sort of creative non-fiction type work before, but it’s something I enjoy reading and I must say I’m enjoying the process of writing it.

But it’s not all work and no play. The comfort zone still exists, but it’s a layby off the main track. However, it’s one I do pull into regularly. More on that in my next post…

2015- Bring it On!

 

Keeping Away from the Comfort Zone

image via shutterstock.com
image via shutterstock.com

So, first post of the new year is here. But you’re okay, this will be a resolution free zone.

I’ve done the usual looking back, looking forward thing that January’s two-faced namesake, Janus, seems to impose on us. It’s as good a time as any to stop and reflect on the good and the bad in our lives, to be grateful for all the positives and to accept, or at least come to terms with, the negatives.

However, keeping reflection and resolve to a once a year activity, dictated by a number on a calendar doesn’t really work for me. And setting big annual goals for radical changes to your life just seems to be setting yourself up to fail.

That being said, I do believe in making small beneficial changes, and I do believe in setting myself challenges. I do take time to reflect on my life and to plan, just not on a January-only basis.

Small changes have more chance of becoming new habits and can on a cumulative basis become big changes. For example, let’s say you want to get fit, but are starting from a level of (in)activity that a sloth can only aspire to. Deciding to take a brisk walk for half an hour  once or twice a week is more likely to be doable, and to lead to more frequent and intense exercising as you become fitter, than deciding to take up running several miles a day from a sitting start from the first of January.

The challenge in the above example should be to improve fitness levels from where they are now and the changes are small, possible and cumulative.  Nothing hinges on one big event such as running your first marathon and there’s room for degrees of success. It’s not the all-or-nothing that New Year’s resolutions tend to be.

Of course there are always the challenges we don’t choose, ones thrust upon us, ones which floor us. But even in these circumstances it tends to be the small resilience-building steps that get us through and out the other side. More than ever it’s important in dark times not to impose a rigid timetable for recovery or improvement but to value the smallest of steps and the shortest of respites.

image via shutterstock.com
image via shutterstock.com

My one over-riding, self-imposed challenge is the one I set up many years ago following kicking cancer’s ass, and one which I hope will persist for many more, and that is to opt wherever possible to take the road less travelled.

In a literal sense this has seen me travel all over the world, several times on my own, and not always to places on the tourist route. And in more figurative sense, it has seen me give up a secure, promoted-post job and family home to move to a completely different environment i.e. to no job and from city-living to relatively isolated island dweller. It all worked out, me and the husband both got jobs and flourished. And I began to write. Ten years on, no regrets and once again contemplating a move and beginning another new phase.

Taking the road less-travelled in 2014  has seen me once more resign from a teaching post. This time to take early retirement from my thirty-six year career in order to be a full-time writer. I have a children’s book to publish, I have a new adult novel to start and I want to continue to build the blog.

My long term health challenges continue to be to improve/maintain my physical and mental health. I will continue to fight the anxiety demon and to manage the chronic fatigue. To do this, I’ll keep going with the yoga, something I began last year and absolutely love, and with trying to live more mindfully. I will cultivate the art of appreciation, continue to visit art exhibitions, go to plays and concerts, enjoy music and working in my lovely garden. I’ll keep up with the regular walks, and  I’ll go to talks on all sorts. I’ll enjoy the company of family and friends and play with my grandchildren. And I’ll read, read, read.

And as well as all that, in 2015, I have a working holiday, a writers conference (details of both  in later posts),  and our son’s wedding to look forward to.

image via shutterstock
image via shutterstock

But, if forced to make a resolution for 2015 and beyond, it would be to keep heading for the crossroads, to keep choosing the less-walked-on path and to perch only momentarily in the comfort zone. It’s the way to keep growing, creating and LIVING!

And you can hold me to account on that as I’ll be posting on most of the above throughout 2015.

The Mountains and Molehills of May

English: A Clear Skye Day Taken from Raasay wh...
English: A Clear Skye Day Taken from Raasay whilst waiting for the return ferry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May has been a month of contrasts in many aspects.

Not least with the weather. The beginning of the month was so cold that we still had the central heating on – and I had to fetch my winter coat back out of the spare room where I’d thought it would be safe to pack it away for a few months. But then last week it was warmer on our island than it was in Minorca and, although a bit cooler now, it is still very pleasant and no jacket is required when out and about.

And here at Write Enough Manor, life in general has been veering from low to high.

Health wise, the low white cell count that’s been making me feel a bit washed out, fell again this month. This was disappointing after it had begun to rally in April. But I must be a patient patient while the count is monitored over six months. My GP is fairly certain that nothing sinister is going on and I have to trust her on that. But I’m afraid since having cancer I’m a pathetic hypochondriac. I do know I’m not imagining the horrible little cystie thing that I have growing on the cornea of my left eye. It’s been developing for a while now and when it became uncomfortable I decided I’d better go bothering the doctor again. And now I await an ophthalmology appointment.

However, the good news is that I’m off the medication I was on for anxiety and I’m flying solo. So far I’m coping well – even at work which is very stressful at times. So the health score this month is – mentally strong, physically – a bit feeble. But I’m fighting back and getting more exercise and eating (even more) healthily. My exercise of choice is walking – daily. I’ve just treated myself to a pair of Shape-Ups, these special fitness trainers that feel a bit like having rockers on the soles of your shoes. I’ll report back on how effective they are. Prepare for a super-fit, lithe and toned grandma…

And in my grandma role – I’m most excited. Our daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and Oli, the cat, are moving to Skye. I’m just ever so slightly excited! How wonderful it will be to have them so close instead of hundreds of miles away. They’ll be lodging with us to begin with so I’ve been busy having a clear out and making space for them and their stuff. As for the granddaughter – she’s five-and-a-half months now and just gets cuter and cuter.

Our son and his lovely lass will also be here in June for a week’s holiday – so it’s going to be just fab to have the whole clan together.

In other nice sociable news – I’ve been to a housewarming party and to a lovely dinner at a friend’s house this month. And last night was the Bill Bailey show at the village hall. It was superb. What a talented chap. He’s a skilled musician as well as a very funny guy. One song with the phrase ‘when they took the porn away in Stornoway’ nearly brought the house down – you would have to understand the Skye/ Lewis rivalry and the religious/moral ambience of the Western Isles to really get why that was so funny. And it was just great that he had taken the trouble to have some very local references in amongst his gags and stories.

The lovely weather has helped us to focus on our ideas for the garden at our new house. It’s a blank canvas – just as it was when handed over by the builders – and we now have a firm plan for developing it. It will be great to have some trees and bird-friendly planting as well as a proper patio area on which to sit and enjoy it all. I miss having the birds visit so much. At our last place our garden was a real sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife. We even had a hen harrier visit one afternoon. Last weekend I succumbed to buying a couple of interim birdfeeders and already we’ve been adopted by an extended family of sparrows. The fat little fledglings are hilarious, sitting on the fence, beaks agape, while their hardworking parents flit from feeder to their offsprings’ ever open mouths.

And I was just hearing today that the sea eagles are back nesting near our old house and that a whale was spotted in ‘our’ loch at the weekend. There has also been a group of dolphins in the Sound of Raasay this week, close to where we live now.

Moving indoors, I’ve been enjoying two very different drama series on television. I felt bereft when ‘The Bridge’ on BBC4 finished a week ago. It was an incredibly good Swedish/Danish crime series – in the mould of Wallender and ‘Borgen’. Even the subtitles didn’t detract from the sheer quality of the storyline and the acting. And I’m quite taken by ‘Starlings’ on Sky1. This is a warm and gentle, family drama and is also beautifully written and well acted.

My most recent reading has included ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’ by Fiona Robyn, a touching, coming-of-age novel that I’ve reviewed on Amazon and will be critting on her in a couple of weeks. Currently I’m reading ‘Sightlines’ by the mistress of the essay, Kathleen Jamie – wonderful writing as always.

Any ounce of spare energy that I have goes on my writing, of course. The second novel is progressing – slow but steady. And I’ve also completed my regular ‘column’ for the bi-monthly writers’ magazine, ‘Words with Jam’.

A wee P.S. to last week’s post on my motorcycle pillion riding, I have now ordered my own pair of biker gloves and biker boots. This is a start to having my own complete kit. Once I’ve saved a bit more cash, I’ll be getting my own ‘bespoke’ helmet. It’s an expensive hobby, but what the heck.

Right, I think I’ve probably banged on for long enough. So I’ll leave you with best wishes to all for June and happy Jubilee weekend to UK readers of the blog. Have a good one!

 

 

Growing Old Mindfully

Old Woman Dozing by Nicolaes Maes (1656), Oil ...
Image via Wikipedia

Whilst teaching today, I was asked by a pupil how long I’d
been a teacher. When I replied that it was now almost thirty-three years, the
collective gasp almost blew me over. “So how old are you?” asked one brave chappie. I don’t know what came over me,
but I asked them to guess. The lowest guess was 50 and the highest was 60. And,
as I’m 55 next birthday, they weren’t bad guesses. And apart from some remarks
such as “you’re older than my granny,” and “I never knew you were that old,” when I told them my age, I
still seemed to have some credibility left with most of them.

As to why I’m retelling this classroom anecdote here – well –
I’ve been thinking about age and ageing quite a lot recently. This is partly
due to me reaching my mid-fifties and partly due to watching the, very
different, journeys into old age experienced by three elderly relatives.   I’m
also reading a book called ‘The Warmth of the Heart Prevents the Body from
Rusting’ by Marie de Hennezel. And it’s an immensely reassuring read.

Although living to a ripe old age should be viewed as a
privilege and a joy, it is something many of us appear to fear and dread. We
are scared of loss of independence and of health, both physical and mental.
According to de Hennezel, the years from fifty-five to seventy-five are early
old age and are a time of preparation for very old age. Now you may dispute the
age at which being elderly begins, but de Hennezel’s assertion that ageing is
about attitude is more difficult to disagree with as you read about her
experiences. De Hennezel is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist,
herself in her sixties.

She suggests that age is a state of mind and that one’s
quality of elderly life is utterly dependent upon one’s attitude. She’s not
advocating denial of age, or ignoring it as irrelevant. Nor is she recommending
cosmetic surgery, botox or any other way of trying to deceive the eye. What she
is urging, is maintaining love for, and faith in, life. She advocates humour
and contact with younger people and remaining engaged with the world. While she
does recognise the importance of good nutrition and exercise, she puts the
emphasis on the inner, emotional, intellectual and spiritual life. The case
studies, academic work and personal anecdotes which are incorporated in the
book are deeply thought-provoking, moving and encouraging.

My three elderly relatives bear out much of what de Hennezel
says. One of them rises early, takes daily walks, enjoys the company of all
ages, is completely clued up on world and national politics, and is in touch
with the lives of all family members, young and old. Another decided at eighty
that they were now old, and, almost overnight declined into physical and mental
frailty – for no other apparent reason than a psychological one. The third
elderly family member has progressively cut themselves off from contact with friends
and family, ceased to engage in pleasurable activities and stopped having any
interest in the wider world. They seem to have sunk into an age-related
depression, in spite of relatively good physical health.

Surprisingly, it is the first of the three individuals above
who is the oldest and who is, on paper at least, the most physically frail. And
it is he and de Hennezel who shall be my ageing role models. I plan to embrace
old age. I shall drink cocktails, not tea, at mid afternoon meetings with
friends, I shall make full use of my bus pass to travel the country visiting
loved ones young and old, I shall embrace new technology and wear colourful clothes
and outrageous earrings.

I remember reading the word vivacious for the first time in
an Enid Blyton book, when aged about eight. I asked my mother what it meant and
it’s a word I’ve loved ever since. It is the state to which I will aspire until
I inspire and expire my last breath.

Big Pants Don’t Lessen the Lust for Life

 

Acer platanoides in autumn colors.
Image via Wikipedia
Personification of Autumn (Currier & Ives lith...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s official – according to the BBC, the UK summer is over. Apart from wondering if it had ever actually got started, I must admit that the passing of another summer makes me stop and think. Ever since I turned fifty( a small number of years ago), I seem to have developed a hyper-awareness of time passing.  It’s also  my birthday very soon so the ‘another year older’ factor is to the fore and that also causes me to pause and reflect.

 It can’t be denied that the body  slows down and changes. Things creak, whistle and gurgle. Bits that used to stay in place all by themselves need to be cantilevered into position. Big pants, comfy shoes and cosy cardis are now acceptable wardrobe items. HRT and antacid tablets are the drugs of choice. Skin and hair are drier than a box of shreddies. And on a windy day the jowly bits around the jawline flap alarmingly and could have your eye out.

But that’s just the outer shell. Inside  my head, I’m not a middle-aged, post-menopausal old bag – that’s just what the mirror tells me. Yes, I sometimes feel I’ve seen it all before. But I also feel there’s still so much to learn.  In the last few months I’ve taught myself to twitter, to facebook (is that a verb?) and to blog. And yes, I may get jaded at school with constant new initiatives, targets and forests of paperwork, but the children are still a joy, still fascinating and challenging and rewarding to teach  – and learn from. And there’s still lots of things on my ‘to do before I bu**er off’ list. (And no, the asterisked word in the previous sentence is neither ‘butter’ or ‘buffer’).

So, bring it on. Let the nights draw in. There’s the autumn days with their glorious light and colour to look forward to and the big, starry Hebridean night skies to gaze at and enjoy.

All in all I think autumn is my favourite season – so far…