Silly Season Shenanigans

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Christmas is here and we’re all winding down, clearing out desks, or at home cleaning the house and doing a few last minute bits and bobs in preparation for the Day Of Good Eating. I have avoided mass panic so far and am trying to keep it that way. I am Zen. It’s just a day after all. The presents are bought and there is food in the fridge. Done.

I have a complex relationship with Christmas. I like the build up to it, the catch up with friends, the small gifts bought and cards written. I love the decorations and the trees and the fact that generally we all take stock and acknowledge each other, we get a break and we get a chance to recharge.

Growing up in South Africa Christmas also meant the big summer holidays so it was a month of festivities rather than a week. And it varied greatly depending on which part of the family we were spending it with. The huge extended Mills Clan in the Cape or our smaller immediate family in Jo’burg with a host of family friends. As a small child, Christmas in the Cape meant throwing ourselves head first into the sea, followed by the lake, followed by tea, followed by more sea and then dinner with endless cousins to hide in dunes, run up mountains, throw off canoes. We had competitions to see whose feet got the toughest walking down the gravel paths to the sea. Who could leave their flip-flops behind first and run across the stones without yelping. Who could swim across the lake the fastest. Christmas was very simple then. We turned up. There were presents/ the food arrived. We ate it and then went for a swim.

As we hurtled into our teen years, the attraction of the canoes in the lake or sea-shell hunting was replaced by late night beach excursions, smuggling illicit booze, talking about music, meeting boys (that had no connection to the family) and plotting ways to get into town. The traditions and rituals of our childhood were no longer exciting, nativity plays and carol singing holding little sway for a B&H smoking, eye-liner touting city girl who just wanted to go dancing late at night, with new people. Preferably who were DJs and had their own cars. Christmas was about avoiding family at all costs.

Christmas has also always been a season of firsts and milestones. The first time I got drunk was on Christmas night when I was 12. I was trying to impress my older second cousin with my sophistication, all dressed up in early 90s mono-chrome and being allowed ‘a small glass of wine’ which I topped up. Frequently. Like a grown up and out of the eye line of my parents. It was the first time I got busted smoking too. Having managed to skive a fag off the very same older cousin, I had forgotten to lock the bathroom door when my grandmother barged in. Thankfully slightly squiffy herself, she promised not to tell if I quit right there and then. I promptly vomited as soon as she closed the door. Turns out Baileys, wine and sheer terror don’t mix.

My first kiss was at Christmas, playing pool in a hotel with friends and a few local kids. My friend refused to speak to me for the rest of the holiday, kissing boys who didn’t really know was bad form (apparently). All these rules that no-one tells you about until you’re already in hot water. I did not learn this lesson and spent most Christmas holidays from then on kissing inappropriate boys. As most teen girls should.

Moving into adulthood, my first Christmas abroad without my family coincided with a long term relationship break up. A very last minute, cold, west and grey Christmas where a friend very kindly bundled me and my visiting sister off to their family outside of London. Followed quickly by a trip up to Scotland where I sobbed at my aunts’s kitchen table for 3 days, fuelled by Malboroughs, tea and an endless supply of biscuits.

The past few years have been fairly incident free. I’ve written cards signed ‘The Conquests’ and survived the insanity of the season by dressing the dog up as a reindeer. The complex relationship continues, I love the get togethers and the family time, but I find the competitive gifting, and garish over consumption leaves me as queasy. The binge and purge cycle of Christmas followed by the almost mandatory January detox seems so self inflicted and pointless. We’re encouraged to (over) eat, (over) drink, and be (very) merry and within 6 days sent the opposite message that the ‘excess holiday weight’ is hideous and needs to be shifted immediately. We’re bombarded with solutions to help us to clear out, detox, lose weight, quit drink, set goals, and start a New Year as a New You. Because the Old You Is Just Not Good Enough. And it’s so entrenched in our psyche we seem to just blindly walk into it. Its exhausting.

That’s not to say I disagree with over indulging, or that I think goal setting is naff. I love a goal. I also love cheese, on everything pretty much all year round. I have made peace with the fact I’ll put on a few pounds between November and December. But I resent the January onslaught from every corporate company on this planet making us all feel inferior for buying into the over indulgence they sold us just a week prior. Its a trap. And I am opting out.

So this New Year I am proposing not making any major changes at all. Looking back on this year, although its been tough in parts, we’ve managed just fine. We moved house. We saved some money. We travelled. I don’t need a brand new me just yet. I think we’re doing just fine, thank you very much. It is a season of firsts after all.

And I refuse to cut out carbs or cheese.

Happy Holidays all!

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Let Go & Make Space

 

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I started yoga about 6 weeks ago. This is my third attempt at getting into yoga. I really want to like it, I know it will be good for me and god dammit I like all the sexy yoga kit. But I have yet to ‘get’  it. Feeling irritable and bored rather than inspired. I’m not really into the woo woo ‘ohming’ and the third eye banter. I have been in classes where we have had to ‘become the tortoise on which the earth is balanced’ and I had to break out into a coughing fit to hide my scoffing. I am a cynical, sarcastic fitness fanatic and I need a whole heap of endorphins before I can start picturing tortoises. Or terrapins even.

But I think I’ve found The One in Vinyasa Flow Yoga. I love the movement and the breathing and they way I feel… light. Both mentally and physically. And no turtles in sight.

It was in one of my classes over the past few weeks that I heard a phrase which keeps ringing true for me. In the context of the class this was about relaxing into the pose and breathing through it. Let Go and Make Space. Breathe in and exhale, allow the muscles to relax and open, make more space.

But it got me thinking about all the stuff that we hang onto. All the stuff that takes up room. The physical stuff and more importantly the excess emotional baggage. And we complain we don’t have time, ‘no space in the diary’, no breaks in the week, no time to ‘catch our breath’.

Our time is not renewable. It is scarce. So how do we make precious space in the limited time we have? Simple. We let go..

So I get that. But of what? And when? And how much? And once I have let go how do I make sure I don’t grab back on?

I am having to get really honest to answer those questions, as ultimately its about sacrifice. I came across this article via the amazing Bangs and a Bun (if you’re not already following her, do it now) . This sums it up:

If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the six pack, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten’

So if you want the space, you can’t have it all. If you get your head around letting go, you’ll have to get used to FOMO every now and again or risk getting stuck back in. It helps if you avoid the rabbit hole that is social media too.

This is where I am right now. Saying no. Not over-committing (to every race, every invite, every challenge etc…). The people-pleasing, overly needful behaviour of trying to be everywhere seeing everyone, all of the time while trying to over-achieve at work and maintain a beautiful marriage just ends up pissing people off and leaving me resentful.  When I am knackered and frazzled  inevitably I end up letting people or more importantly, myself down. And the GUILT. Yeah well fuck that. Let. It. Go. Embrace the Boundaries

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Embracing Boundaries – street art stylee

 

 

So what sacrifices  am I comfortable with? What costs am I happy to pay?

On a small scale, it turns out I am not happy to sacrifice my sleep on week days (funny that). I have been setting my alarm for 6am every day for MONTHS and then practically throwing my phone across the room EVERY SINGLE DAY.  So for now I am giving up on pre-dawn training and saying goodbye to berating myself for snoozing through the 6am alarm. So this is not the kind of pain I want.But I much prefer evening sessions., and that means I sacrifice a fair few social engagements. Or I combine them and get creative. See where this is going?  I had a joke with a mate who cancelled on me twice that she’s on strike two. Now of course I’m not randomly cutting people out of my life (yet), but you get the sentiment. Playing diary ping pong is exhausting.

On a larger scale, I am re-examining my goals for how I am investing my time in the same way I have looked at managing my money. What needs more investment, what gives the most return on investment  and what needs to be cut back or paid off and then budgeted out?

Definitely upping the fitness, but with more of a focus on enjoyment than obsessing with gadgets. If I can feel like THIS (see below) at least once a month a may have discovered the path the enlightenment. Put that in your Namaste and smoke it.

 

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Photo Credit: Ash Narod http://www.ashnarod.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

The Blind Spot

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Today a woman lost her daughter in the park. It was a sunny Sunday, about 3pm, loads of kids kicking about a football or three, many a dog walker like ourselves and a few cyclists stripped down to their lycra shorts and soaking up the last of the summer sun.

We were throwing a stick for the dog, and drinking coffee, sitting under one of the big oaks that lines the make shift football pitches, watching a guy trying to fly a kite without any wind. This is not a remarkable day. I have done two loads of washing, put off the vacumming and berated myself for not sorting through the bathroom cabinet. A standard day. Nothing special, but a pleasant day. No rain, and it’s warm for late August. We left our jackets at home and I’m kicking myself for wearing jeans, but pleased we’ve made it out the house. The dog needs exercising and who knows how long we’ll have this weather for. Its September tomorrow after all. 

I’m feeling a bit annoyed, inexplicably so, although probably because R took too long getting the coffee or spoke in an off tone to the dog. In reality, I’m probably annoyed as its Sunday afternoon and the weekend is winding down.  My annoyance is peaked as someone is shouting and cutting across the usual park buzz. It’s not the shout of a kid retrieving a ball, or someone calling their rogue dog. Its a distressed shout. And its repeating one word over and over.

I’m not really paying attention as this stage, so I can’t make out the word, but its reached that volume so that I have noticed. I’m walking up the small embankment to retrieve a better throwing stick for the dog and as I’m walking closer to the main path I catch the tail end of a conversation.

‘…she’s 4 and she’s on a scooter. She just went over the hill and I thought by the time I caught up I’d see her on the other side, but I can’t see her…’

A calm voice, but with enough of a tremor to betray the rising panic. I put two and two together, she was shouting a name.

‘..right, and you’ve looked by the swings and the cafe?’ The conversation continues with an elderly couple who have stopped to offer help. Although I’m not sure they’re elderly, I’m guessing by the tone as I’m not close enough to tell and there’s a few hedges and shrubs between us.

I’m still not really paying my full attention as the dog has now got into a tiff with a Maltese-cross and I’m telling her off. But a few more people have now congregated around this woman and someone says,

‘I think you should call the police’ 

But the sun is shining, and the park is tranquil and its Sunday. There aren’t even that many people around –  not enough to lose someone. And its a big open park. Scenes like this don’t play out now do they? I wander back down to the oak tree where we’ve plotted up and I mention what I have heard to R. He’s just has surprised as I am.

‘Here? Did you just pick all of that up from walking up the hill and back?’

I start to wonder if I day-dreamed it, but then I see the mother, walking very fast, talking on her mobile with another child trailing after her. She must be calling the police. I start to feel a bit queasy. 

I’m almost subconsciously now scanning for a lone child on a scooter. Hoping to see her coming out from around a tree, from behind the playground steps, may she was hiding?  I’m torn between running after the mother and asking if I can help to reminding myself she is calling the police and doesn’t know me from Adam, and that I’ve just earwigged the whole conversation and I’m not holding all the facts. 

We carry on throwing the stick for the dog. Continue with our conversation. Finish our coffee. Walk a bit further around the park. I tell myself the professionals will be on the scene soon, and that she’ll be found queuing up for ice-cream with no knowledge of the drama that unfolded. But I’m scanning the park regardless. 

Sometime later, with the dog suitably exhausted we meander back past the oak, along the main track where I had overheard the conversation. I can’t see the mother, or any sign of the police. The man is still trying to fly his kite. Kids are still kicking about a ball. There’s a healthy queue for the ice-cream van. No sign of anything untoward. We must have missed the reunion. The relief. Probably some tears and then reprimanding the child for wandering off. But lots of hugs, That’s what’s happened. Otherwise we’d see some kind of gathering with men in high vis, and questioning. I tell myself its all worked out. Perhaps that child I saw with the mother while she was on the phone was the original lost child after all.

We make our way home. But it hit me again how the extraordinary things happen on ordinary days. We don’t get the luxury of ominous theme music to alert us to something coming down the road, no heads up, no warning. We do not get the chance to prepare ourselves. We cannot possibly know what will happen on a Sunday afternoon at the end of August. When throwing a stick for the dog.

We know this, of course, on an academic level, but we still think we can prepare for every eventuality, that we have no blind spots. If we save enough money, or take enough care, do all of our research, have all of the control. Or that we have the luxury of waiting for the right time. For the stars to align, for the perfect conditions. And it both scenarios there is no such thing. We are not in control. There are no perfect conditions. Most importantly, we have no guarantee that we have the luxury of time, and that it is a huge luxury.

Maybe it’s that I am hurtling head first into my mid-thirties, or that its already September, which basically means its Christmas, or that I am seeing time pass so much quicker as our friend’s kids grow up (and speak! go to school!). That many of my contemporaries are now experiencing age-related illness with parents, and we were in our teens over 20 years ago. Even though it really only felt like the other day we were scaling the walls to go clubbing past our curfews.

Unsettling, uncomfortable and disquieting yes, but a good reminder to get on with the business of living, and stop putting off all the things that I want to do ‘when I have time’ and just do them. Even if it is just a quiet Sunday Afternoon.