Thursday, 28 February 2013

Gratitude Day 28: The Person I'm Becoming

So, last day of gratitude today. It's been an amazing month, so much has happened. My life feels like it's going in a pretty positive direction.

It wasn't always so - I have had my ups and downs over the years, and I have worked hard to look consciously at what is going on and sort it out. Sometimes this has been pretty fast, with other things it has taken years. This has been a life long project to evolve in the best possible direction, to reach higher levels of clarity, integrity and connectedness. I'm trying to become the best person I can be, which is no mean feat. There have been many parts of myself that are not as functional as I'd like and I'm slowly dismantling the structures that are keeping me bound in misery and building new, more positive, more hopeful ones.

I am becoming a person who is functional, who cares deeply, who is wonderful, who I really like. I am very grateful to all the people and circumstances who helped me along the way, the journey has been extraordinary - I look forward to more adventures and shenanigans ahead.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Gratitude Day 27: Alternative Medicine

I know I have already posted about medicine, but I think that there are larger categories of healing than just Western based medicine. When I was young my mum used to take us to a herbalist pretty regularly so I have always been exposed to quite a broad way of thinking when it comes to health.

When I got quite sick a few years ago, I went to the doctor and they gave me some of the usual tests - I had an MRI scan (which was terrifying and exciting at the same time) and some blood tests, but once they figured out it wasn't anything serious they pretty much gave up on finding out the cause of the pain. They gave me preventative medication that turned me into a zombie. I quickly decided that wasn't for me and went back to ask for more tests. They refused, saying that since I get headaches it could be related to anything. I didn't want to get stuck on pain medication with horrible side effects for the rest of my life so I decided to explore a bit. My friend, Miss M, told me about a herbalist in London and I tried them out - they gave me medication for the pain but they said that they were baffled about the cause - though I did find out I'm in a class of people called 'atypical' which comes from the Latin for 'strange'. Miss M suggested that I try something that works on my energy rather than just my physical body, something like acupuncture. I did. It helped enormously.

I'm not completely healed up but I only go once every three months now and I am getting better slowly. I feel like it has helped me get more in touch with my body as a whole, to see it from a holistic perspective. Rather than just looking at my head when I have a headache I try to get a more sweeping perspective. There are also emotional components related to the body in Chinese medicine, so I have learned a lot about my emotional health as well. I get on really well with my acupuncturist and I always look forward to going because I really feel like it's not just working once, but I am learning how to not get into that situation again, to be aware of what I do with my body and my mind the rest of the time so I can maintain my health. There were times when the pain was so awful I was using pain medication just to take the edge off the pain so that I could function. There were days when I wanted to just drift out to sea and never come back if it meant no more pain. I'm a great deal better now, but I'm not exaggerating when I say the lady is saving my life. I am, and always will be, so grateful for the treatments she has given me and the things that she has taught me.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Gratitude Day 26: Other Bloggers

I got into blogging mainly because I read so many other awesome blogs and I wanted in on some of the action. Some of the most poignant writing I've read has been on peoples blogs... and also some of the funniest. Here is a list of blogs that give me hope, inspiration and fits of the giggles. Thank you to all these lovely people - I hope you'll be charmed.

Accidental Euphoria

The Bloggess

Quite Continental

Filing Jointly.... Finally

Phoebe's Posterous

So About What I Said

Yes and Yes

If I have missed any amazing sites, feel free to suggest more reading material for me.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Gratitude Day 25: Creativity

Yesterday, G and I went into the Paper Apothecary again. Since it was the last day, the creator and her assistant were there and we got chatting. It turns out that they work on various creative projects around the city in conjunction with many other people - some of whom I know. We had a wonderful time exchanging ideas and exhibitions we'd been to, suggesting blogs and artists and poetry nights and burlesque groups. It turns out this little town has quite a lot of inspiring stuff happening.

We also talked about how the Paper Apothecary could be used to help in schools and in other places. I mentioned that I had been to a lecture by someone who helps dementia patients construct life story books as part of their therapy. G said she knew of someone in an old people's home who had constructed a whole 50s street that the patients and families could wander down and use as a talking point to help their memories. The ladies said that they knew of loads of other art projects that were bringing people together and getting people interested in culture. It was really lovely to talk to people who are so creative. It fired up my creativity and I started thinking much more about projects that I'd like to be involved with, things I'd like to embark on.

Later on Doc came home and read me some poetry he had written. It was a charming evening, to say the least. I haven't really been that productive lately in that area, so it was nice to get some inspiration, it made my heart lighter and stirred my imagination.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Gratitude Day 24: My Job

I have just had a week off work - and they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I work at a University helping students with disabilities and dyslexia. Mostly this consists of sitting in lectures and taking notes for them, helping them in the library or with revision. I get allocated a few students a term and then I sit in on their classes. All of my students have been lovely and I get to go to some really amazing lectures but without the stress of exams and coursework and all that jazz. As Mrs Im remarked, 'You'll be the most over-educated person we know!'.

I like working at a University, the atmosphere is really relaxed. I like the flexible hours. I like the people I work with. I like that I'm out in the field just getting on with it and there is not that much paperwork. I love learning new things. I love connecting with people and learning about their experiences. I love helping someone achieve a qualification, and in some cases, their dreams. I like that I get to hang out in the library and overhear hilarious student conversations. I like that I get access to an incredible amount of talented people. I like that I am exposed to subjects I never would have explored - and that I have found most of them to be interesting at the very least. I like that I get to find out about student societies and have cups of tea for 50p at the Union Bar.

I'm very fortunate, I know that this is not the case for many people, but all in all, I love my job. For that I'm very grateful.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Gratitude Day 23: Entertainment

Yesterday night, I went to my first ever Jive event: my teacher Phil had organised a gig with Leroy and the Rockets and Rhythm River Trio. It was such a nice atmosphere - some people were really dressed up, some not; some people drinking, some not; some people dancing, some not. I had a chance to really get out on the dancefloor and practice my Jive. It was lovely to watch other people dancing, seeing all these different moves and styles. I picked up a few moves and I got a chance to hear some amazing music. Suffice to say a good time was had by all.

Today I went with a friend to see The Life of Pi in 3D. I've read the book, so I was interested to see what the film would be like. It is quite a faithful adaptation and the filming is stunning. I really enjoyed it.

I appreciate being able to see live music, or good films, or theatre. It's fun, inspiring, uplifting and I get exposed to new ideas, new people, and new experiences. I go through patches of going to loads of gigs and patches of keeping quiet (or having no money). Recently I've been a little bit more reticent to go out, but now I find I want to get out and about a bit more.

I really appreciate singers, songwriters, actors, directors, dancers and musicians for keeping me entertained, giving me windows into other worlds, giving me a chance to let my hair down and let go, relax, chill out, get energised, get soulful, get emotional, become startled or laugh until I cry. Thank you!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Gratitude Day 22: My Parents

I saw my mum today. I hadn't seen her in a while, and we only had a cup of coffee really, but it was quite nice. I cheekily asked her if she would pay for my shopping and she did, bless her. What are parents for, eh?

I haven't always gotten along so well with my mum, but as I get older I appreciate her more. I think I see more of her good qualities - she is good with money, she's very practical. My dad is a different story - we get on really well, he has always inspired me to look at things differently, given me interesting spiritual and philosophical books to read, talked to me about science. My step mum is different again - she talks to me more about my feelings, my relationships. As time goes on and my relationship to the world evolves I am grateful for their roles in my life, even if growing up wasn't always easy.

The thing that really shifted my feelings towards my mum was really considering what she did do for me, as opposed to what she didn't. She took care of my sister and I to the best of her ability - she fed us, clothed us, gave us an education, opportunities, and in my case, helped me get counselling when I was suffering from depression as a teenager. You might ask if surely these are the least a parent should be doing but actually I am aware that many people don't get even that much. Those things are no small thing, they are the building blocks of my life.

Sometimes I take that all for granted. Not today!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Gratitude Day 21: Company

I have to admit - today I really struggled to find something to write about. Sometimes finding something novel to be grateful for is challenging. I've had a bizarre few days getting used to the new housemates and settling into a new routine. I bumped into G on the way up to work and had a really nice chat about various things that are going on. Then I ended up in the library joined by Miss H and some of her friends, still unable to get some inspiration, but I did have some lovely conversation and got some other stuff done. Then I went home and spent some time hanging out around the kitchen table. Altogether a surprisingly social day.

I'm quite a people person, so I really like spending time with people. I like hearing their stories, finding out interesting things, getting some perspective, connecting. When I'm not feeling that good, I tend to spend a lot of time in my room, hiding away. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I'm just not up to dealing with people. I've always liked some time to myself anyway, but sometimes it is more about running away than about being contemplative. All the people around me today reminded me that I'm not alone. For that, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Gratitude Day 20: Cafes

Yesterday I went out for a late night coffee with Doc and met up with G. It was already dark outside, a bit cold, and windy. We sat on the first floor at a table with a view of the Cathedral and talked nonsense and profundity over a pot of chai, some chocolate and some mulled wine. I love cafes in general, I tend to go on my own to read or to people watch or watch the world go by. I also tend to do most of my socialising over a coffee or two as well. It was great to be able to go out after dinner but have more options that just going to a bar - don't get me wrong, some days I like going to the pub, but I really appreciate having the option of a late night cup of tea. Lovely.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Gratitude Day 19: Tea

Tea makes me happy. Well, not really - what I mean is that I associate having a cup of tea with having a nice sit down and a rest. (Sometimes also a biscuit.) This means when I have tea then I start to feel my stress levels go down and even if I'm on the go or running around or doing something stressful having some tea in my hand makes me stop for a few seconds to take pause, which is sometimes very necessary. I love coffee too, but for me that feels more sociable, where as tea feels like one of the building blocks of my life - many a solution to my problems has come while I'm sitting with a cup of tea mulling over things and staring vacantly out the window.

When I lived in Spain for a year, they had fabulous coffee which I drank a lot of, but they're not really into tea as much. I managed to buy myself one of those coffee makers that you put on the hob (or stove top if you're not British) that made amazing coffee and it was wonderous. Except in the mornings, when all I wanted was tea. I tried sincerely to get into the Spanish habits (when in Rome, and all that) but that was one I just couldn't manage. I don't desperately need tea to wake up to, but it just sets my day off in a more relaxed and yet productive fashion. About six weeks into my time away, Immy-is-thinking came over to visit and brought with her my salvation - a kettle filled with tea bags. (What the customs people at the airport thought I have no idea). It made me so happy. And it made my mornings easier.

Hot drinks are really useful in social contexts. In Canada you would go into someones house and sit down and talk for ages. It always used to feel odd but I wasn't sure why. Another Brit pointed out to me that at home people sit you down and then disappear for a bit to make tea which gives you a chance to catch your breathe and have a look around. Not only that but if you're talking to someone and there is a silence, it feels like an awkward pause. But if you're drinking tea there is no awkwardness, just a moment at which to take another sip. Not only that but I adore meeting people for tea, especially if we get a tea pot for two - it just seems more friendly somehow and even, dare I say it, more intimate at times.

Right, I'm off to put the kettle on. Anyone fancy a brew?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Gratitude Day 18: Technolgy

....more specifically communications technology. My family and quite a number of my close friends live in far away, if not in different countries. Skype has been saving me from horrendous phone bills for a while now. Texting is now a whole other means of communication - I have been known to have conversations that last four days over text that have been delightful. I don't have a smart phone, but I would say that I use a computer nearly everyday - some of that time for work, but not an insignificant amount goes on keeping up correspondence through email or facebook (and writing a blog, of course!). These things have become part of everyday life, and it has changed the way that we express ourselves in relationships. Technology has been changing communications for centuries - I'm sure even when the postal service was introduced there were people lamenting it assuming that we would only ever rely on post and never see each other in person again. Actually I love getting post - one of my friends sent me a Valentines day card through the post and it made me so happy. I think that letter writing is it's own art form. I love postcards too - PostSecret is one of my favourite sites - they can be so creative and yet so open.

All these new forms of technology start new forms of communication. And while I don't think that anything can replace person to person contact, I really appreciate all these new developments. They make people who are far away much more accessible and you get to see a slightly different side to a person with every different mode of communication. So maybe they are not taking away anything, just adding different dimensions to our interactions. Either way, I'm pretty happy that I see my godson growing up even though he lives in a different country, or I can talk to my best friend for two hours if I want too for free. It is amazing when you stop and think about it.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Gratitude Day 17: My Housemates

For those of you who don't know, I live in a communal house. The last few months we dwindled down to four people and then suddenly in the last two weeks four new people have moved in. Most of the time I've been the chatty sociable one, but it looks like at least three of the new people are talkative so I'll have company!

The lovely thing about living in a shared house is that when I want a bit of quiet I retire to my room but if I want company then I can just knock on someone's door. On the whole we are all pretty independent, but we do have some communal times - there have definitely been a few sessions playing board games on a rainy day. Miss H and I tend to cook together, or hang out and have a chat. Obviously there are some people I'll get on with more than others, and of course not everything is rosy all the time, but I try to use it as a learning experience about myself and about others - it's a great way to sharpen my social skills, and to appreciate different points of view.

Since we've had so many new arrivals, I'm still waiting to see what house dynamics will emerge. It seems like quite a few of us like cooking which is exciting. Doc is thinking about coming with me to Jive nights. F&A have only just moved in today but when I came downstairs they made me fresh coffee. So far it's all quite delightful! 

I have to say that some of my longest lasting friendships have come out of shared house experiences - I still reminisce about living with Bendy in my final year of Uni or brushing my teeth most nights together with Miss M or having coffee (a lot of coffee!) with Miss Roo or knitting with Cat. I hope that I'll keep in touch with Miss H for a long time as well. I'm really grateful for all the amazing housemates I've had in the past and I hope the trend continues. Thank you, lovely housemates!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Gratitude Day 16: Medicine

I'm feeling a bit under the weather - I've finally succumbed to that bug that's been doing the rounds. I'm dosed up on extra strength cold and flu at the moment and eating throat sweets as if there's no tomorrow. So this is probably a good time to be grateful to all the wonderful scientists, doctors and innovators who developed medications and vaccines.

There has bee recorded evidence of diagnosis and treatment of up to 200 diseases by the Egyptians in 2600 BCE. It wasn't that long ago, in the grand scheme of things, that people were dying of flu - there used to be waves of deadly outbreaks where hundreds and in some cases thousands of people would die. (The flu vaccine was developed in 1945.)  It puts my sniffles and sneezing in perspective, that's for sure.

I not only appreciate the medicines themselves, but also surgical techniques and the discovery of anesthetics (which were refined in about the 1850s) without which many peoples lives would have been much more painful and possibly much shorter. (Though, having surgeons wash their hands in between patients would have saved a lot of pain and infections after surgery, and that came into fashion surprisingly late). Even the discovery of vitamins and minerals and their effects on the body has been fairly recent: in 1912 was the first discovery of a vitamin - the isolation of thiamine (B1) by Casimir Funk. It was only in 1939 that John Crandon did experiments on himself by depriving himself of Vitamin C for a long time and discovered a lot about what that does in the body. Thank goodness for all that research - it is helping me clear up my cold (in a pretty easy, relatively pain free manner, I might add).

All in all, a big thank you to all those people round the world who have worked and are continuing to work on helping make disease and sickness manageable. Well done chaps, I salute you!

It must be noted that quite a lot of the information used here is from 'At Home: a Short History of Private Life' by Bill Bryson - which is a fascinating read.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Gratitude Day 15: Social Change

On the 5th February, the House of Commons voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with an overwhelming majority of 400 to 175. While this isn't the end of the road and victory is by no means certain, this is still a landmark for equal rights in Britain.

On some level we may think this a no-brainer - well, of course, we're all equal, right? I strongly believe that to be true, but I also realise that this way of thinking is comparatively recent. Even just 100 years ago this kind of thinking was unheard of... just have a look at some of the great men of history and you will see that many of them were incredibly racist - Woodrow Wilson, who was behind the founding vision on the League of Nations and the UN was a strong proponent of segregation in his domestic policies. And don't even get me started on the way that Winston Churchill described the Indians and the Japanese.

How did we get to this point? because people, normal everyday people, kept chipping away at society, changing the way we speak, the way we act and the way we think. There are many things that are not deemed to be acceptable anymore that were once common and it's because of people who have found a voice and found support and gotten society to a tipping point. I'm not just talking about the Suffragettes or Silent Spring or other issues that were prominent decades ago. There are still incredible movements out there and with the advent of social media and other technology it is becoming easier and easier to spread new ideas. Look at movements like One Billion Rising and Men Against Violence which are aimed at stopping violence towards women; or various anti-bullying campaigns; or Time to Change and other movements to end mental health discrimination; or EDL - English Disco Lovers and BNP - Bass National Party, who are fighting racism in UK by taking back those letters so they no longer stand for racist organisations. Some of these are humourous, some of serious, some are specific people, some are nation-wide, but they are all launched by people who care, who have decided to make a stand for something that's important, something that they want to see change.

I'm very grateful to all those people who have made this world more comfortable for me to live in: who have fought for my right to vote, to own property, to be educated, to live where I want, to walk the streets without harassment, to be able to get help for medical or psychological problems, to get equal pay for equal work, to love and marry who I like regardless of their gender or skin colour, to be able to eat (or not eat) what I like,  to dance my way to a world where everyone is equal and everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their life goals as they see fit. All of us have things that we are passionate about, all of us can change the world if we wanted to, even if it is just a bit at a time. To all of you, I'm very grateful.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Gratitude Day 14: Love

I spotted this article which is right in keeping with my theme of the month. Gratitude is for Lovers - new research has shown that peoples relationships begin to falter primarily when people take each other for granted. This article explores how we can use gratitude to look at our relationships. Here is Christine Carter expanding on that:

And from a personal perspective: Have a fantastic Valentines Day everyone. Thanks very much to all of you - online or in real life - who've shown me some love. It has been much appreciated!
All you need is love, la ta da da da....

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Gratitude Day 13: the Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday night, as I was on my way home from teaching I noticed that my car was overheating. I pulled over into the supermarket which was just down the road and wandered in trying to find the car section. I approached a gentleman in uniform and asked him for some oil and some engine coolant. He quickly discovered that I really didn't know what I was doing, so he asked how old my car was and selected the appropriate stuff that he thought would suit, and drew me a little diagram of the cap that I would need to take off and told me to be careful of the steam as I open it. I thanked him and went out into the cold to open my bonnet and sort the car out.  A few minutes later, he came outside to check and see if I was going ok, and to bring me out some paper towels so I didn't get oil everywhere. He checked the levels for me and had a poke around and gave me some advice for the next day. I was very grateful - it was the middle of the night and freezing, and I wouldn't have made it the half an hour drive home without his help.

Likewise when I went to take the car to have her MOT, I had forgotten that I would have to catch a bus back into town. I went to the nearest bank, but they didn't have a cash point and I couldn't use my card at the window. I chatted to the ladies behind the desk and asked how much the bus was and they didn't know, but one of them reached into her purse and handed me £2. It was such a simple thing, but it made my life so much easier that day.

I have so many of those stories where I'm in some kind of difficulty (not always to do with the car) and someone helps me out. Some of those situations have been pretty big, others have just been minor inconveniences, but I'm equally grateful for peoples kindness in any circumstance. It reminds me that most people will rise up to help if you ask, that there is a lot of goodness and kindness in the world - and in these austere times thats no small thing.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Gratitude Day 12: Pancakes

It's pancake day! I really like pancakes - I usually prefer the big spread out ones with sugar and lemon, but I'm equally comfy with those small squat american ones drizzled in maple syrup. Some of the girls from my knitting group and I are going to the bar to eat pancakes today in celebration.

The point of pancake day, or Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) is that it is the day before Lent. Shrove comes from the word shrive which means 'to confess' - it was a custom for Christians to confess and do penance and thus be 'shriven' before Lent started. Fat Tuesday refers to eating lots of rich food before starting the fast for Lent. Different countries have their own customs around this, but pancakes were an ideal way to use up foods like milk, eggs and sugar. It is also traditional in some places to have pancake races through the town.

Many of the tradtions have long since lost their religious meaning for many people, especially in these multi-cultural times. I must say that I don't have much of a Christian heritage short of growing up in a nominally Christian country, but I'm still pretty happy to eat pancakes regardless of the symbolism.

Bon appetit!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Gratitude Day 11: Complimentary Therapy

I do love a good compliment! Sometimes it takes a lot to say something nice to someone, especially if you really care about them. I'm always delighted if someone takes the trouble (when I notice... I'm a bit slow sometimes...) If you want to compliment people more or be complimented more have a peek at some of these:

The Appreciation Engine
Emergency Compliment
Compliment jewellery
Nearly everything on ImprovEverywhere like this, for example:

And there are more and more ways to compliment each other if you get onto social media:
High school kids set a trend
Some Uni students in Canada get mushy

Has this made you want to go out and compliment people yet?!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Gratitude Day 10: Unexpected Surprises

Yesterday I had various adventures trying to get to see Fairy Princess Mummy and the family. It all started when I went to the library to find something new to read. I had no idea that the Paper Apothecary had been set up in the front room to help people remedy their ills. You go to the desk and one of the pharmacists will ask you what is wrong, look it up in the big remedy bible and give you a prescription.

The Paper Apothecary in action.

Everything there is made of paper - all the selves, the remedies behind, and even the aprons. I went up and asked for something to give me more creativity and joy and the lady wrote me out a prescription. She said "It has been hard work, but it's been such a lovely day seeing the joy it brings everyone! And the prescriptions have been so varied and so much fun - two families were told that they needed to dance about in the lift and they both did it. One of them said that they danced around as they were coming down as well as going up!". Not only were they dispensing some joy, but they also had complimentary tea and cake too. It was utterly charming.

After that unexpected interlude, I popped into the Good Shed to pick up a house gift for the family. There were chocolates and wine and many other things to choose from, and in the end I settled for some Canterbury Cobble cheese and some fresh olive and sun-dried tomato bread. I meandered about the place, bumped into a couple of people I hadn't seen for a while. As I was chatting I heard some music coming from behind me. I turned to the tiny corridor that leads to the loos and saw someone having a good old time playing the piano. It was unexpected, but very lovely. I took a few minutes to stand and listen before I headed for my train.
Some unexpected piano playing.
Once I got to the station I had a bit of time to spare, so I got a cup of tea and read my book. Or I would have if I hadn't knocked it flying and spilled it all over the place. Sigh. I went and got the lady behind the counter to come and clean up for me and I asked for another cup of tea. She duly came and mopped the floor and made me another brew - free of charge! How lovely.

So finally I made it over to see the family. After dinner, some friends of FP Daddy came round so I got to meet a few new people which is always fun. After a few drinks and bit of conversation, FP Daddy and one of the other chaps got a little dance party started in the living room - with the lights dimmed and little laser lights and everything. It was so much fun we ended up dancing to all sorts of stuff - I think the highlight must have been trying to do all the actions to Superman by Black Lace. A great time was had by all. (At the time - we were all a bit worse for wear the next day!).

I love unexpected surprised because it reminds me that the world is much bigger than me, that so many things are possible that I haven't thought of yet, and that there is joy round every corner if only we look for it. Today reminded me not to preempt things too much, just to sit back and enjoy what comes my way - you never know what's going to turn up.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Gratitude Day 9: A Breath of Fresh Air

Today I am going to visit the lovely Fairy Princess Mummy for a family sleepover. I haven't seen her in a while so I'm looking forward to catching up and seeing the sea. Some days you need more sleep, other days you need a breath of fresh air. As much as I like where I'm living, it is really nice to get a change of scene. It allows me to get some distance, have a different experience for a bit, so that when I come back I see things with new eyes. I also find that being around different people or in different places brings out other sides of my personality, and sometimes it's important for me to tap into those parts that get neglected in the normal run of things. It's a simple thing, but even taking myself off to a new place and going exploring for a couple of hours can leave me feeling more sprightly. I really like going away for the weekend though as you get a proper start over - when I come back tomorrow night I will be refreshed and ready to meet my world again with a much wider perspective and with my batteries recharged. Sometimes a change really is as good as a rest.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Gratitude Day 8: My Knitting Group

I've just come back from our usual Friday meet up for the Knitting Group. It used to be run mostly by T but now us girls have taken over. This week we were thinking about charity projects we could do and today we wrote cards to send to sick children. I think we will probably expand on that by taking on some craft projects for charity as well. We ended up having a conversation about how kind people are: Miss T was telling us about her cousin who had given away a tent, some utensils, some clothes and a gas stove to a homeless person near-by, someone else mentioned about the policeman who was caught on camera giving a homeless person some shoes and socks, someone else mentioned about a couple she knew who were at a restaurant with their young child and when they got up to pay they found that an old couple sitting opposite had paid for their meal for them. It was all very heartwarming.

The thing I like about our group is that it's really inclusive, anyone can come along even if they don't knit. We are all so diverse from each other, which makes for some interesting comversations, but generally we are all really supportive of each other as well. People have brought along friends and partners and they have all been accepted. I look forward to Fridays when we drink tea, stitch and have a gossip. People are kind: if one of us has no money the others will pick up the slack that week, and we often buy food to share amongst the table. It has been lovely getting to know them and being inspired by them. For that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Gratitude Day 7: Libraries

I'm pretty tired today, and Thursdays are my heaviest day in terms of work. Before you feel sorry for me, I have to say that the reason I'm tired is because after coming home from jive night and going to bed (as I should have done) I ended up staying up reading trashy fiction. (Just one more chapter and then I'll go to sleep.... honest...). This is not particularly unusual - which is a shame because I always feel a bit lopsided the next day. 

I work in a University, so I am almost continuously in the library. I've gotten to know all the staff on the Welcome Desk and a fair few of the cafe staff. Not only that, but in my spare time when I'm not at work I go to the library in town located in the Beaney Institute where I borrow books and then hang out in the cafe drinking good coffee for hours on end. (I also know quite a few of the staff there, including the delightful Miss H).One of my favourite things in the world is to curl up in a cafe reading a good book and this would not be possible for me without libraries. We have bookshops, and second hand bookshops, but the rate at which I read it would cost me a fortune if I didn't have a library near by. I am a voracious reader and I'm more than happy to read some books again and again, but some of them you just want to run through once and then pass them on to other people.

The first libraries consisted of archives of early writings, organised from about 2600 BCE. The first lending library in England that was not linked with an institution was set up in 1598 in Grantham, Lincolnshire.With increased literacy came more demand for libraries, so 1877 more than 75 cities had libraries, and by 1900 the figure reached 300. These days, libraries are having to branch out and innovate - one friend of mine who has chronic fatigue used to go online and download library books for her kindle which then erased themselves after three weeks (when they were due back, as it were). For myself I love just going to the library and browsing to see what is there - I've ended up reading the most unexpected things because I spotted them in the shelves. I've always found librarians to be helpful and generally charming. But more than that, I think of libraries as being comfortable and homely, full of exciting things just waiting to be read, to be discovered. And most of all, I love that this is a free service, that is open to anyone who can be bothered to apply for a library card. Not only do I get to read, but everyone else does too, which leads to book clubs, and reading groups, and all sorts of other community bonding. There is nothing more lovely than discovering that someone else loves libraries too.

These valuable services are being increasingly shut down. I think most people won't notice how important they are until they are gone. Until then, I for one will be supporting my local library as much as possible. I hope you are too.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Gratitude Day 6: Education

It is very easy to take education for granted, especially as someone who is exposed to intelligent people through work every day.  Last year the situation with Malala, a teenage activist and blogger fighting for education rights in Pakistan was shot by the Taliban, really highlighted just how amazing it is that I am in a position to take this for granted.  It was only in 1876 that it was recommended that education in Britain be made compulsory to stop child labour which, if you think about it, isn't that long ago in the grand scheme of things.  Particularly if you start think about the gender bias, then it's even more astounding that I have managed not only to stay in school but even to go onto post-graduate studies in a subject of my choice.

Other innovations like edX10 x 10 and Pencils of Promise remind me that there are people out there trying to bring free, good quality education to everyone (not to mention charity gift sites like Good Gifts where you can donate towards various schooling needs on behalf of others) - I think that this is extraordinary.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Gratitude Day 5: Lighter Mornings

Today it feels like the last push of winter, the last cold snap before spring rolls in and we all wallow in the March sunshine. I love winter and it's accoutrements such as knitted clothing, hot chocolate and snuggly duvets, but one thing that I'm not a big fan of is the much shorter days. Spending half the day in darkness is necessary for that time of year, but I'm still really happy that when I get to wake up to light streaming in my windows. It's a simple thing, but it really does affect my days.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Gratitude Day 4: Fresh Food

I love food. If you follow my blog regularly you have probably noticed this already. Not only do I like food, but I really like cooking and working with food, tasting all the flavours and seeing what will work together. One of the things I've really enjoyed about having a Cooking Club once a month is cooking food I've never thought about making before and trying different cuisines.

Yesterday, we made vegetable lasagna which funnily enough is not something that I do very often for myself. It was pretty simple layers of white sauce, lasagna sheets and tomato sauce with red peppers, courgette, grated carrot, onion and garlic. It was incredibly yummy and filling and pretty easy to do. To accompany it, we had garlic bread and avocado - yum!

Vegetable Lasagna

While that was happening, I set to work making 'Plushnuggets' from Completely Revolting Recipes. You start off by smooshing together two bananas with two tsp of olive oil and two tsp of maple syrup in a bowl. Then roll out a sheet of puff pastry and cut out circles (about 7cm across) and then roll them out a bit more, scoop on some of the banana mixture in the middle and then start to seal up the little package. Do this again until and pastry or the banana mix is used up - probably about 12 or 13. Put all the little nuggets in the fridge. Then warm up the oven to 200 C / gas mark 6. 

Stand back! Cooking is happening!

When the oven is ready then brush the nuggets with egg yoke and pop them into the oven for 20 mins. When they're done, let them cool down for about 10 mins before eating. This is a really simple recipe to do and doesn't take very long but they are delicious and they look lovely. 

Plushnuggets! Yum!
We had so much fun! And I must say the results were yummy. But - I couldn't have done it without farms and farmers and my lovely little greengrocers and all the people in that chain who go towards providing me with fresh food so that I can cook, create and experiment. If you trace it all back it's extraordinary how many people are involved in providing fresh food. So to all those people who helped get this meal on the table for us - Thank you!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gratitude Day 3: Comforts

Some days are up and some days are down and sometimes it's nice to have someone to talk to and snuggle with. Yesterday, G and I were walking back to her house via the graveyard when we took a detour.'Where are we going?' I asked. 'To find Sylvester' she replied. Sylvester is her nickname for a black car with white paws that hangs out in the Eastern-most part of the graveyard. He is soft and snuggly and purrs like an engine when you pick him up and stroke him. 'Whenever I'm upset I go to the graveyard to think things through and have a cry - and he's always there, he always comes to talk to me'. As we left, he followed us to her door and spent some time with us in the house sitting on both of our laps and having a snuggle. After a couple of hours G walked the cat back to the graveyard so that he didn't get lost.

That feeling of having someone there who is listening, someone who won't judge you or blame you or take sides is very important. Many pets do just that - provide comfort at times when you can't even say how you are feeling, when you're all upside down and turned around. I've had counsellors who have performed this function and I've got many friends that are there when the going gets tough. I am sincerely grateful for all of you. Without you my life would have taken a very different course, and my heart would be hard and cold. So a big thank you to all the people - human or otherwise - that have provided that comfort when it was necessary.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Gratitude Day 2: Sleep

Recently I've been a bit grumpy and a bit achy and it took me a while to realise that this was probably because I hadn't slept well. I have a tendency to work better in the late afternoon or the evening but unfortunately life often makes me wake up early so I spend the day yawning. I'd say I need about 8 - 10 hours to feel well rested - though I can't tell because I often get mild insomnia and it takes me a long time to get to sleep. Today I just let my body do what it wanted and I woke up at a shocking 10.30am... I must have needed the sleep!

There are loads of health benefits to getting a sound nights sleep: better memory, lower stress, improved circulation in the heart are just some of them. It's quite amazing what the body is doing while we're asleep, this is the time when most maintenance happens and when memory is consolidated. It also happens to be one of my favourite activities, not just sleep itself but all the things that go with it: I love pyjamas, sleepy time tea and reading in bed. In fact, one of the reasons I end up going to sleep so late is because I'm avidly reading! (I think I'll leave that for another post). I love being snuggled up under a duvet in the winter, even if it's not time for bed, it certainly makes me more relaxed.

So here's to sleep - thankfully I managed a full nights sleep, I hope for a few more!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Month of Gratitude Day 1: My Body

We're at the tail end of winter where the cold is dragging on, no-one knows the appropriate dress for the weather and loads of us are coming down with various bugs. I decided that this would be a good month for me to find things to feel grateful for. I have had a rough ride the last few months and one of the things that got me through was looking around for the beauty and kindness in life. Now life is getting better but I don't want to forget those things. So, inspired by the Quite Continental Charm School, I decided this month to post one thing a day that I feel grateful for. Feel free to comment, respond, tell me stories, give me suggestions or tell me what makes you appreciate life more.

So: Day 1 - My Body

I went to my 2nd Jive lesson the other day and it was so much fun - I mean what other dance has moves that are called 'the windmill', 'the teapot' and 'shifting wardrobes'?! Going to yoga has also been a revelation in terms of learning about my body and it's capacities, it's strength, it's flexibility. I think most of the time we focus so much on the parts that we don't like - the parts that don't look good, the parts that don't function like they used to - that we forget that everyday we inhabit something pretty miraculous. Some of my friends are in wheelchairs, are deaf or have cognitive problems and when I look at them I see how adaptable our bodies are, how much they will shift around to cope with the most amazing circumstances. When you start to really look at bodies and how much can go wrong, you end up really appreciating just how much for most people on most days everything turns out well. We wake up and we're still breathing, our heart kept pumping through the night. That is extraordinary if you think about it, so today, that's what I'm grateful for: I'm still here, I'm still breathing, I can dance and sing and stretch and watch sunsets and call my friends, my body is still functioning as it should - thank you!