Minor triumphs

Every year I say I’ll get Christmas preparations finished by a certain date and every year I fail for one reason or another. But this year I did it! Everything essential was done by the end of last week and, assuming my groceries are delivered as expected tomorrow, I’m free to do as I please until the New Year.

This feels like a good end to a year that started well, but went extremely pear-shaped in the middle. I don’t what to dwell too much on what went wrong or the fact that I didn’t handle it very well at the time. But mainly I think I got my hopes of recovery too high and when they were well and truly dashed by my inability to cope with the prolonged hot weather, I was plunged into anger, grief and depression.

Thankfully with the cooler weather my health and spirits have improved again and, with lessons learnt, I’m on a much more even keel. As it’s the solstice today I thought it would be a good time to review other things that I’ve achieved lately. They include:

    Recruiting a new cleaner who has turned out to be an absolute gem. Her reliability provides bit of structure to plan my life around and it’s lovely having her cheerful, energetic help with the chores I find difficult, draining and tedious.

    Knitting regularly again. Just a little most days will hopefully add up to a new pair of socks by Christmas Day.

    Drastically reducing my intake of medication. More about this in a future post.

    Buying a new easy-to-defrost freezer. A vast improvement on the old one which annoyed me for the whole six years I put up with it!

    Reducing my weight just a little. I’d like to lose a bit more, but the main thing is that I’ve stopped the gradual increase that was making me feel bloated and uncomfortable in my clothes.

    Getting out of the house more. I’ve been to the beach several times and into town to go shopping. Last week I paid my first visit to a new cafe in town which is totally gluten-free and serves absolutely delicious food.

    Writing the occasional blog post and getting (more or less) up to date with my email correspondence and other personal admin.

I’ve got lots of plans and ideas for the future, but for the next fortnight I’m on holiday. I’m going to enjoy seeing friends, eating seasonal treats and pottering about with my arts and crafts.

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An accidental improvement in productivity

knittingFor many months my knitting has been gathering dust in a basket by my bed. At the beginning of autumn I tried to motivate myself to finish the current pair of socks with the thought that if I did just 2 or 3 rounds most days I’d have a new pair of socks for Christmas. I finished sock one and started sock two.

I was pleased with my progress, but it felt a bit too much like work. Every time I lay down for a rest I’d be aware of it as a chore to be done. Not much pleasure or relaxation in that. I did not knit every day.

Then, one evening last week I took sock two downstairs so I could knit while I chatted to a visiting friend and it got left on the kitchen table. Since then I’ve been knitting a row or two in those odd little spaces of time when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil or the popty ping to heat my wheat bags. It no longer feels like a chore – it’s a game to see how much I can knit in two minutes and a distraction from my usual habit of snacking while waiting for domestic appliances to do their thing.

I’m intrigued by the fact that by simply changing the place where I keep my current knitting project, I’ve rekindled my motivation to work on it, made it pleasurable again and found a way of breaking a bad habit. Hopefully my hips will grow smaller as my sock grows bigger!

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Beginnings x 3

It’s the start of a new month, a new week and, as it’s now a year since my last period, I’m declaring it the start of my Cronehood, my age of wisdom. For some reason the thought of being an old woman amuses me greatly. It feels liberating, almost joyous, as if I have achieved a goal. Which, in a way, I have, even though being freed from what was, for me, the painful and debilitating curse of menstruation is not quite as physically pleasant as I anticipated.

Hot flushes are vile, insomnia and other ME/CFS symptoms are exacerbated and it’s been quite a shock to discover than one does literally become a “dried up old stick”. I’ve had to learn new ways to care for my gut, eyes, skin and hair. I don’t mind my hair going grey, but I do mourn the loss of condition and the fact that it no longer grows as luxuriantly as it used to. I have few vanities about my appearance, but I did enjoy my abundance of thick chestnut-coloured hair (once I got past the era of childhood teasing that red-heads tend to experience).

On the other hand, the gradual lessening of hormone-induced mental and emotional turmoil is such a relief. At first it was difficult coping with the more random upheavals that occur as the hormonal tides begin to falter. The predictability of menstrual cycles did at least mean that I could plan around them. I knew when I was likely to feel over-sensitive or depressed, when I would be in pain and weakened by the flood. With menopause everything becomes totally unpredictable – there’s no regular bleeding, but hormonal fluctuations still occur and at times I experience deeply unpleasant and somewhat scary mood swings.

Menopause isn’t called “the change of life” for nothing – I do feel like a different person, while still containing all the selves I have been over the years. I still have much to experience on this journey. I may be technically post-menopausal in medical terms as it is one year since I last menstruated, but much is still in flux… At puberty you feel you have all the time in the world to do anything you want to do. At menopause you know your time and options are limited (even more so if you are in poor health). I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do like new beginnings and the feeling of optimism they bring.

At some point I’d like to do something other than write a blog post to mark my Cronehood, but so far I haven’t come up with any ideas that feel right. Still, I wanted to record the fact that today, right now, I feel content and grounded in my aging process, even though almost nothing in my life is what my past selves hoped for or anticipated. Perhaps later I’ll bake a cake and offer a piece with a libation to the gods, but right now I need a rest.

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Earlier in the month I mentioned my intention to spend as much time as possible out of doors this autumn. Various stresses outside my control have left me feeling very unwell indeed, so adventures away from home haven’t been possible. Instead I’ve been taking regular micro-walks in my garden. Thirty steps to the bottom of the garden and thirty back.

I often make that walk, but usually with my mind on a task – emptying the kitchen compost bucket, picking garden produce or finding the cat. On a micro-walk I’m focused on the walking itself and observation of my surroundings. How does my body feel? What is the weather like? What can I see, hear, smell? The senses of taste and touch are used less, but I might eat a berry or trail my hand over the worn wood of the fence.

I gather the things I encounter into my store of memories. Sometimes I pick up an object to bring it indoors or simply to look at it more closely. I might fetch my camera and take a picture. I note the progress of a flower from bud to seedpod. There’s a lot to take in in sixty steps.

This morning’s treasures included:

    A curled white feather by the back door – did it come from a preening seagull’s breast?
    Long-tailed tits whistling and cheeping in the viburnum tree above me as I examined some pieces of semi-composted fabric on the ground.
    A bright red poppy petal glistening on the lawn.
    Many shining orb spider’s webs – each occupant of similar shape, but different in size and colouring.
    The feel of cool breeze on my skin – taking a slow deep breath to relish the freshness.
    The golden gleam and temperate warmth of low-angled sun.

I brought the feather indoors and dropped it into one of my wonky papier-mâché bowls where it will catch my eye from time to time as I go about my chores. Maybe I’ll just sit and look at it sometimes while I drink a cup of tea. Soon it will loose its fresh beauty and will be replaced by some other artifact, but for now it is a thing of great pleasure.

feather in blue bowl

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Under the weather

September hasn’t brought the bright crisp autumnal days I was looking forward to. Instead it’s mostly been warm, muggy, overcast and airless. Except when it’s cold, damp, overcast and airless. There has been the odd spell of bright, fresher weather to tease us, but not enough. Not nearly enough.

During the cool spell at the end of August I started to come to life again, but now I’m back to feeling perpetually knackered and overwhelmed by tasks undone. This weekend I’m allowing myself a massive grump about having to let go of the various plans I’d made in anticipation of cooler weather and better energy.

Next week – who knows? Maybe the weather will freshen up, maybe it won’t. In the meantime I’ll keep on keeping on. Doing what I can and trying not to fret about what I can’t. Enjoying what I can and trying to accept what I have no control over with reasonably good grace.

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A bit at a time

papier-mache bowls

My goal for August was to focus more on creativity and, despite many challenges, I spent enough time on my sketchbook and papier-mâché to feel that I succeeded in getting my creative juices flowing again. They certainly aren’t flowing smoothly or sustainably yet, but a start has been made.

I’m avoiding any specific goals as I find I enjoy myself more without the constraints of a plan. What works best for me is having my materials spread out on the kitchen table so that I can do a bit now and then as I go about my normal daily chores. Collage lends itself to this ad hoc way of working very well. I do a lot of moving stuff around and pondering while waiting for food to cook or the kettle to boil.

My papier-mâché materials take up very little space on the kitchen worktop, so I can paste on a few layers with minimal effort. It’s quite a meditative activity that I enjoy doing standing up after a meal while my food settles in my stomach. I haven’t yet got the knack of making a bowl that doesn’t warp as it dries, but the third is better than the first.

Now that I’ve built up a tiny momentum, I’ll carry on with my sketchbook and bowl-making in September. Not with any specific goals except perhaps to create a collage that can be used as an image for this year’s Christmas cards. I haven’t made my own Christmas cards for a long time and it would be nice to do so again.

Until today my plan for this month had been to get going with my memoir-writing again, but I realised this morning that my goal is actually going to be to spend as much time as possible out of doors. And not just in my garden – I’ve been very housebound lately thanks to the very hot weather and consequent poor health, so I want to make the most of the autumn.

I don’t suppose I shall go very far, but it will be good to see some different sights before it gets too cold to linger outside and each small outing will help build up my stamina. I do have more energy than a year ago, but my muscles and confidence are still very weak.

The process of creating strong papier-mâché bowls from pieces of floppy paper and glue is helping me to accept that rebuilding my strength has to be done the same way – a bit at a time. Now I need to find a way of making it easy to do a bit of exercise when I have the energy for it. I’ve got far too used to a minimal-exertion way of life!

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A dip in the sea

One good thing about the spell of hot weather is that it warmed the sea up enough to make the thought of swimming in it seem appealing. Most of my good ideas never get further than my mind, but last Saturday morning my brother and I went to the beach and into the water. He had a proper swim in deep water, while I wallowed in the shallows.

The breeze that took the edge off the late morning heat made the waves far too lively for me and my weak over-sensitive body felt quite panicked at first by the rapid, unpredictable movement of the water. I had to accept that wading out to swim wasn’t possible. I felt much safer, if a little foolish, sitting down with the water just covering my legs. Leaning back on my elbows I enjoyed letting my lower body rise and fall on the waves until I began to feel cold.

shells 2I wrapped myself up in my bathrobe and sat on the warm pebbles to recover from the excitement. It’s nearly 20 years since I last got more than my feet and ankles wet in the sea! And it’s been a few years since I did even that. Naturally I soon started sifting through the stones to see what I could find, popping a few shells and a pointy stone into my pocket as a souvenir of the day. I rarely go anywhere out of doors without bringing back something that’s caught my eye. A shell or a stone, a leaf, twig or seedpod, pieces of metal or plastic.

shells 1I haven’t done any sketch-bookery this week (yet), but I have had fun inspecting and arranging my little collection of beachcombings. I’ve collected several tooth-shaped stones like the one on the upper right over the years. I call them shark’s teeth, though I always suspected they weren’t really of animal origin.

Thanks to the internet I now know that it’s most likely a trace fossil formed in the burrow of a creature that lived in the chalk sea. A long time ago!

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