Nostalgia at Christmas and Learning from the Children….

Do you find it hard to let go of Christmas?

It’s that time again when we have the slight lull that follows the festivities of Christmas Day with all the celebrating, eating and family time, before gearing ourselves up for the onslaught of the New Year. It is one of the precious few times of the year when we have several days off in a row (at least in our house), forget which day it is, and where we have time for lay-ins and cooked breakfasts before a leisurely walk or perhaps a trawl through the sales.

I always struggle with this time of year; I don’t like giving up on Christmas. I cling on to the twinkling lights and the decorations for as long as possible. I inwardly cringe when I hear people saying they can’t wait to ‘get back to normal’, or that they have already taken their decorations down the day after Boxing Day. I don’t get it. It’s dark. WE need lights. WE need to keep the fun going as long as possible and enjoy the time of year that allows us to slow down.

Whilst saying all this, I appreciate Christmas isn’t an easy time for some. For those struggling with illness, financial problems, or loss, it can be hard to face all the Christmas festivities. There is something so poignant about this time of year; it’s as if the world around us has altered in readiness for the revered time, and in the midst of the hectic build up there is a certain heightening of emotion which can be hard to cope with at times. For me, this was my first Christmas without my beloved dad; we missed him hugely, and I’m sure we weren’t the only family struggling not to look at an empty chair at this time.

I consider myself to be fairly senior now and I look back down the years with more than a little nostalgia, especially at this time of year. Memories flood back from Christmas’s past and I am plunged into certain wistfulness. The seasons seem to be getting shorter and shorter with the space between them constantly shifting and moving on before we have had chance to enjoy the present. At our local garden centre, Santa had moved in in October and was back in the North Pole before we knew it. (Although the grotto was amazing). All that remains in the Christmas store now are a few sad and bedraggled decorations selling at knock down prices, whilst the summer barbecue equipment is coming back in through the door, along with the garden furniture and the patio heaters. I have never been able to work out who would buy these things in the still dark days of winter, but obviously some people do. Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t cling on to Christmas for too long, but surely we can wait a few more weeks before calling time on everything festive.

I am sure now I will never be the Queen of England. I would put money on it. I’m not even remotely in line to the throne, although I must say, I can do quite a good royal wave, but if I WERE ever to be Queen, or Prime Minister (now there’s a thought) the first thing I would do would be to create a public holiday at the end of January. I have always thought that would be a very good idea. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad clearing up after Christmas if we knew there was another holiday on the horizon. Like a ‘Goodbye to Winter, Spring is on the horizon’ sort of holiday.

I don’t want to see chocolate creme eggs in the shops during the first weeks of January, and although I am a romantic, I’m not yet ready to see Valentine’s cards either.

You have probably deduced that I don’t bother with starting a new diet or a new project on January 1st. I will just try and stick to the healthy diet I have always tried to follow, not always successfully, but then we all fail from time to time. I will try and keep up my daily walks and do the odd bit of meditation, but I won’t be setting any rules that will be broken a few weeks down the line. Yet I think I need to view things a little differently. One thing I have noticed this season whilst watching and listening to my grandchildren is this: children love Christmas and everything about it. They are able to plunge in to all the happy things about this time with more or less total abandon. They are (usually) happy to wear a tea towel on their heads and pose as a shepherd, or as an assistant alien as in our grandson’s case, and wave happily to an adoring audience. They think it is quite normal to listen out for distant bells and gaze expectantly at the sky on Christmas Eve. They are more than happy to get up in the early hours of Christmas Day and jump up and down with excitement. But as Christmas draws to a close they move on to new days and new experiences, running headlong into the New Year and all the new experiences it will bring.

That seems to me to be the best way to go about things.

So as this year draws to a close I wish you all good things – a chance to walk in frosty lanes when all the world is quiet, stillness when you need it, and joy and laughter too. The love of family and the familiarity and warmth that lasting friendships bring. And for all of us, I wish us the gift of peace.

Ps. Perhaps keep the fairy lights going for another week…….

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What If You Were Homeless?

How would we cope without our essential home comforts this Christmas time?

Last week I was out and about doing some Christmas shopping. As I walked through the busy Oxford streets, just one of many people with thoughts of the busy time ahead, I noticed several homeless people huddled in doorways, some completely cocooned inside sleeping bags. I wondered if the person inside felt that the harsh outside world would disappear if they shielded themselves from prying eyes and the reality of their situation. I also wondered why these people preferred to sleep during the day but then I realised it probable felt safer – maybe there was less likelihood of being attacked or abused during the day. Like everyone else, I walked on past the homeless people. Sadly it is a common occurrence to see people living on the streets.

But then, later in the day, laden with shopping bags and having been lucky enough to enjoy lunch in a restaurant, I was approached by an elderly man asking for help. He tried to sell me a scruffy scarf saying it wasn’t glamorous but it was all he had to offer in exchange for some money. He said he hadn’t eaten since the day before. He was disheveled and looked desperate. He was polite and softly spoken. I looked into his eyes and saw despair and so I gave him enough money for a sandwich and a hot drink. I like to think he did use the money for that. I hope he did as I know a meal was what he needed the most. Whatever happened, I made the choice to give.

This year we seem to have the highest number of homeless people on our streets than we have seen for many years. Something is terribly wrong. What makes us get used to seeing people desperately needing help and a roof over their heads as part of everyday life?  For those of us with our heads in the sand, it is time to look at the facts – being homeless can happen to any of us  – a bad sequence of events can cause almost anyone to be caught up in a devastating spiral of loss.

Causes of homelessness are : poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, addiction, family and relationship breakdown, and violence or abuse. Low wages and irregular work can cause someone struggling on benefits to slip badly into arrears with rent and have no means to keep themselves solvent. People once able to cope see themselves uses food banks to keep themselves and their families fed.

I have heard it said that homeless people deserve to be on the streets and that they are all drug addicts or alcoholics. I have even known people question why so many homeless people have dogs – surely they can’t be that badly off? But a loving pet can be a lifeline when living without a home and social support. Remember, over 80 per cent of people are ‘between homes’ in most cases the individual had the pet while living in a previous home and wants to continue caring for it. Homelessness can be very isolating and pet companionship is known to help people feel happier and live longer.Maybe too, a homeless person will feel more protected with an animal by his or her side.

Most of the time, drink and drugs is not the cause of homelessness some may turn to drink and drugs as a way of coping with their desperate situations and who can blame them? There are hidden aspects to homelessness; it’s not just people sleeping in a shop window, but families floating from hotel room, to couch or B&B each night.

There are many issues that need to be resolved before we will see real change for the better, and before living on the streets will be a thing of the past. As we all know, our political system is in total disarray – logical thinking seems to have gone out of the window –  but here are ways we can all help to make a difference:

1. See people not labels.

2. Contact an organisation like the Salvation Army if you are worried about someone you see sleeping rough.

3. Make a donation this Christmas to one of The Homelessness Services. You can visit the Salvation Army page.

4. Reach out for support if you are worried for a family member.

http://www.salvationarmy.org.uk

http://www.nhs.uk/service-search.

http://www.england.shelter.org.uk

It is amazing to think that billions of pounds are being spent on a high-speed railway in the UK,  with preparations for this bulldozing their way through the country at a time when poverty is a serious problem…..I could go on…..

I am lucky, very lucky, to have a roof over my head this Christmas and good food on my table. I am blessed with the love and companionship of family. I am enjoying all the preparations for the week ahead. However, as the wind howls outside my door and the rain beats down on the roof, I cannot help but think of the lonely man with the haunted eyes who crossed my path for a moment. He had a life once.

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Why We Should All Walk the Brightest Path…

We should all be able to feel safe this Christmas, in all four corners of the world..

This morning we took an early morning walk. The sun had just come up but there was a chill in the air making us hope we have a cold, crisp Christmas .

As we wound our way round the village and walked back up the hill toward the woods behind Dove Lane, the path beneath our feet sparkled in the winter sun. Looking more closely, I could see there were hundreds of glass chips embedded in the tarmac. I had never noticed this before; maybe it was the direction of the sun or the time of day, but the effect was magical. The path glittered like something out of a fairy tale and I half expected to be transported to a different land – maybe if I had wished hard enough I may have seen one of Santa’s elves peaking out from behind one of the trees! I thought about the beauty that surrounds us whoever we are and whatever our circumstances; rich or poor, we are all entitled to walk along a glittery pathway.

We are all created as equals. Sometimes it is easy to forget that. I certainly do. I think most of us, at some time in our lives, have looked up at someone we see as more famous, wealthy or seemingly more accomplished than ourselves and felt a little overshadowed. It is a habit that is hard to shake off. But we all have our skills, our own uniqueness that no-one can take away. We can all have a chance to shine and take a walk along a special path. There are so many unsung heroes we may pass along the way; those who carry on in the most dire circumstances, and still raise a smile.

This time of year, as I rush around crossing things off my long Christmas ‘to do’ list I often stop in my tracks and remember to be grateful. There are so many people without a roof over their heads, both in our country and in foreign lands. So many innocent children caught up in wars that have absolutely nothing to do with them apart from raging in the lands they happen to be born in. How can this be? The contrast between different lives is sometimes overwhelming.

One day, I hope there will be a world where every child, indeed every human being, has a home where they feel safe and secure at Christmas and all through the year – a place where they can stop and look out through the window at the moon and stars, and feel at peace.

I sat drinking a hot chocolate with a friend today and we talked about life; how things sometime surprise us and turn out differently than expected. How sometimes it’s hard to take the rough with the smooth. How busy life can be at times. But would we really want to walk in anyone else’s shoes, however important they are?

I love this Malagasy proverb –

‘ A canoe does not know who is King, when it turns over, everyone gets wet.’

I hope you can walk the glittery Christmas path today.

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A Crystal Ball for Christmas?

Don’t panic – you WILL be ready for Christmas!

It’s almost December and I had one of those nights last night when I woke up worrying about Christmas shopping, or to put it another way, the lack of it in my house! Of course, when I was up in the morning with the curtains drawn back and the light streaming in, I realised how little I have remembered about past experiences: I wonder why I fall into the same trap every year. I am getting on a bit now and I have seen a lot of Christmases – I should know that everything always gets done in the end! And if it doesn’t, does it really matter?

This year, I am more aware than ever that not everyone has the chance to celebrate Christmas in the way that I and my family do, and I am mindful of the fact that we are bombarded with commercialism at this time of year. The big stores competing to screen the best Christmas advert may cause us to ooh and ahh as we watch their presentations of cosy and homely perfection, but at the same time, we are encouraged to fill our homes with every conceivable gadget and tasty morsel so that we can achieve the perfect Christmas.

However, the perfect Christmas is about being together with family and friends, following the old favourite traditions and perhaps starting new ones. What do you remember when you look at past Christmases? It’s not normally about money spent or having the best of this or that, it’s about the simple things – the old favourite recipes that come out every year, the games after lunch or the corny jokes in the Christmas crackers.

I have written before about the anxious feelings we can experience with the holiday season fast approaching. The fact remains that no matter how hard we try to keep sensible about the festive season, there are extra things to think about this time of year and many of us can feel jittery and stressed. We may find ourselves more reliant than ever on those we love. Sometimes though, we find that those around us have their own problems and anxieties which sometimes present themselves in unexpected ways.

If you had a crystal ball and could see into the future, do you think you would find happiness? Would you put an end to anxious feelings you experience if you knew how life was going to pan out for yourself or others?

I recently came across a story about a ‘Naughty or Nice’ book. The heroine of the story mysteriously received a book through her post box at Christmas, which enabled her to find out more about the people she knew, and the actions they appeared to be taking to achieve what they wanted in life. Just by uttering a name over the book, the girl found that the book magically opened and revealed unusual and sometimes apparently undesirable things about the people she thought she knew. What was interesting was the girl’s reaction and the conclusions she came to after seeing what was revealed in the book. Rather than being helped by what she saw she was often dismayed and perplexed, and felt let down by neighbours and colleagues, and the people she loved. Rampaging around she accused people of various misdemeanours and often made them ashamed or shocked. Things got worse and her life started to unravel.

However, before long, she realised that if she turned the book over, there was another side to each story. People did things for a reason; they were led to perform certain actions because of a series of events. Sometimes what looked bad on the surface wasn’t really bad at all but just part of an ongoing story. Once she saw that everyone had their frailties and their own wishes and desires, indeed, their own story, she forgave, and built both old and new relationships. The book showed that hardly anyone is just ‘naughty’ or just ‘nice’, but perhaps a bit of both at times.

We may feel it would be a good thing to see what lies ahead and why things happen like they do, but I think most of us do not really need a crystal ball or a magic book. If we give ourselves time and give time to other people we can probably work most things out and find the real reasons for why things happen as they do.

So when we are feeling our own lives are complicated or we are bowed by worry or stress, it is good to remember that very few people live perfect lives. Almost certainly, anxiety and fear manifest themselves in our behaviour and can show that we are uncomfortable in our situations; we may feel isolated, but chances are that others will be feeling the same too at times. We are not the only ones who’s behaviour can be misinterpreted, so don’t beat yourself up after a night out; don’t go home and worry about how you come across to people. Chances are they won’t have noticed – they will have been more concerned about they came across to you!

Most people have times when life gets them down, but if you are someone who doesn’t have anxiety, I urge you to be a bit careful with your words and reactions during the holiday season. What may seem silly to you could be a genuine concern for someone else. At the very least, look at both sides of the story.

By the way, I must say I love the John Lewis advert featuring Elton John singing ‘Your Song!’ It’s my most favourite song of all time so I’m not totally against the advertising!

 

Have a good week!

 

 

Seen on a Christmas tree near me.

 

Is ‘Sweating the Small Stuff’ Really a Problem?

‘Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realise they were the big things’.

I was thinking about how we go through our days, months and years; how we cope with life and the pressures we bear at times. We try to be diligent and concern ourselves with the rights and wrongs going on the world; what will happen about Brexit – how will the actions of President Trump impact upon us – what about global warming – the economy – the NHS – slipping standards in behaviour – the gloomy news we listen to everyday? I could keep adding to this never ending list…..

Throughout the day or week, your routine is most likely set and the little things happening during that time are the ones that are making a difference.

Last Sunday, I was invited to a service of  remembrance at the local church. This was held in the early evening – and although it was Remembrance Sunday this was an additional service held for all those who had lost someone close to them in the last year. It was a way of honouring the memory of a loved one recently departed, and a chance to give thanks for their life: ‘A gentle service to remember loved ones no longer with us.’

The service was very moving and conducted by the ministers with love and grace. It gave everyone time. Time to reflect and think about those we loved and lost, in a calm and peaceful environment. Towards the end of the service we were invited up to the altar to add a flower to the cross laid at the front, together with a lighted candle. As we returned to our seats and the lights were dimmed we sat quietly in contemplation for a while, before saying goodbye and going out into the dark night.

The service was beautiful for so many reason. As I had watched everyone walking up to lay a flower for their loved ones, I realised again, that all we really want in this life is to love and be loved. Just as the flowers thrive with the warmth of the sun and the gentle rain, so we thrive when we are loved. We may feel bereft when we lose someone very dear to us, but we can reflect on all the love we shared with that person and be glad. Love is at times, responsible for causing us heartbreak and pain as well as great joy, but without it we are lost. And when we show love and receive love we don‘t really need to worry about the bigger picture – the big wide world; it is the small things in life that matter.

I watch cookery programmes often; with each new series of Masterchef or The Great British Bake-Off I get drawn back into the show and get to ‘know’ the latest contestants and their particular way of doing things. I watch as they sometimes dissolve into tears when a soufflé sinks or a casserole burns  and it is easy to get into a cynical way of thinking and judging, and then I wonder why? It’s good to get passionate about cake! It may not change the world but a good slice of cake can make someone’s day!

We are all striving to be the best we can be – to make something of ourselves and our lives and there is nothing wrong with that. If we feel bound to make a difference to the world then we should go for it! Where would we be without explorers and pioneers in every field; those who work relentlessly and discover new drugs and new ways of healing? There are so many people struggling tirelessly to help people and to care for those who need it most. They are often the people too, who still find time to stop and enjoy the small things in life.

So when we focus on the small things, the little things that concern us, I don’t think it is a bad thing. Of course, we don’t want to get stressed particularly, about blocked drains (me at the moment) or being cut up on the motorway or any of the daily annoyances that beset us all from time to time. But stopping to study the new shoots on the trees or listen to the birds can only ever do us good.  Throughout the day or week, your routine is most likely set and the little things happening during the time are the ones that are making a difference.

It’s worth noting that the good feeling we get from taking some freshly baked bread from the oven or watching a child jump and play, is far more heartening than studying a politician arguing in a debate on the news, no matter how important the topic!

The good small things for me:  

Waking up and feeling good – making porridge the Cornish way.

Good hair days! A cup of tea in my favourite angel mug. My sister’s dog, Willow Writing a poem I am happy with. Going to the beach. Cooking a chocolate cake. Listening to Clifford T. Ward – listen to ‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’it’s beautiful. Laughing with friends. Messages from my sons. ❤️❤️ Christmas movies. Looking at photos of my mum and dad. Listening to my husband singing along to ‘Sounds of the sixties.’ 🎼 Reading to my grandchildren 📖   Life is made up of moments. Collect them and keep them in your heart.    

The magic of starting to focus on these little, but important things, is that you will gradually change from focusing on what is missing in your life, to what is there. And when we feel grateful for what we have, we gradually add to our happiness levels, bit by bit.

      IMG_0071 What small things make you happy? I would love to hear from you.  

What Makes Us Shine?

We don’t always realise how valuable our contribution is to the world. We don’t realise we are awesome. All of us….

 

I watched a little child praised for something he had done well this week and saw how his face lit up and saw how he walked with a spring in his step for a while, knowing he was valued: he was able to shine. It got me thinking about how we all need a little time to shine as we go about our day – our year and even our life. Because being given time to shine helps build our confidence and the way we view the world. Like a plant that shrivels without sunlight we can shrivel if we aren’t shown appreciation.

It could be said that our ego steps to the fore when we are made to feel good – made to feel special, and there is that very English thing a lot of us have had instilled in us from an early age – the thought that if we are praised or shown appreciation we may end up getting ‘ideas above our station’. We may ask ourselves , ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? We have to remind ourselves now and again that being small or insignificant does not serve the world. There is nothing good about remaining in the shadows so other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to have our time to shine at times, just as children do –  not just some of us but all of us; we grow with the recognition that we are doing well or are on the right track.

Constructive praise is a wonderful thing. We can expect it when we have done well but there is always room for praise even when there has been cause to point out someone’s bad behaviour or mistake – reminding someone we love them and focusing on their positive points can be a good turning point at a difficult time.

We may lack confidence at times – we may literally forget HOW to shine, perhaps we need a little bit of inspiration….

As inspiration to shine unabashedly, there is a wonderful quote by author Marianne Williamson:

    ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most.’

If we release that fear of being in the spotlight we can reach immense heights – we can realise there is nothing really to fear for we are all striving in this world to do the best we can. Also, when we remember that most people are worrying about how the world views them and not you, (it’s just human nature not selfishness) you can feel less self-conscious.

We can help others shine. Compliments are free! When you give someone a compliment, you are more likely to get one in return so it helps all round. When you make someone feel special, it can be enough to carry them through the rest of a difficult day and keep them happy and productive.

Kindness doesn’t actually kill! You can never harm anyone with kindness. Kindness will kill a bad mood or a bad memory. A kind thought or deed will create a good memory for someone. Even if you are having a bad day, being kind to another human being will make both you and them feel better.

Ways to help your self shine

Remember positive moments, and build your self-confidence for future endeavours.

Let yourself shine based on your character and personality – don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Nuture the relationships that are encouraging and supporting.

Look after yourself.

Practise mindfulness – the state of being conscious and aware – sounds obvious but do we really notice everything that is going on around us.

Remember that it is often the small things that are more important than the big ones.

Love makes us shine

Do you remember when you first fell in love? That feeling like you were walking on air, when your senses were heightened and the whole world seemed to be aglow? We may not be able to capture that feeling all the time but we would do well to remember the power of love. Whatever sort of love we feel, whether it is the love of a partner or our child, a friend or even self love, when we feel love we thrive and we truly shine.

YOUR LIFE WAS MEANT TO SHINE.

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It’s No Use Going Back to Yesterday…

How do we change the way we view the past….?

It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

I love the above quotation. It is so true and yet we often forget this and cause ourselves to churn over past mistakes or unforgotten slights from others. I wrote this post a year ago but I thought it worth repeating as I often forget to follow my own advice!

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Problems from our past are responsible for a lot of the anxieties we suffer from now. Reminders of unhappy memories from the past can come from all manner of things. Perhaps a familiar perfume floating on the air, or a few bars of half remembered music from long ago is enough to have you catapulted back to a situation you would prefer to forget. At times like this it’s a good idea to stop and remind yourself that those days are in the past and although you may wish you could erase them, you can’t. You cannot change them either. You may not realise it but you can learn from those painful memories, even just by becoming a more understanding and empathetic person to others. Ask yourself if the memories are genuinely as bad as you feel they are. Can you try to look back and view them as an outsider and make an objective judgement? If you know it was something completely traumatic, have you ever talked it through with anyone? Until you release the pain and trauma you felt you may have difficulty moving on. Consider talking to a counsellor if this is the case. If you were badly hurt or abused in some way, remember that none of that was your fault. None. You didn’t deserve to be treated badly; you deserve to be loved. I don’t think many of us can totally stop ourselves from delving into the past in darker moments. We may say to ourselves: ‘If this hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be feeling like this now’ or ‘if I had acted differently/ taken the job/ moved here instead of there’ none of this would have happened and my life would be better.’ But how do you know that for sure? We can always find situations and people to blame for how we feel now. Perhaps there IS someone to blame or someone who treated you unfairly but that doesn’t bring a solution. The solution lies in forgiveness and moving on. You are a different person now and what happened or whatever choices you made in the past are just that. In the past. But you are here now and have a chance to move forward and be who you wish to be. No one can hurt you if you don’t let them but you hurt yourself if you cannot let go of past grievances. Buddha says: ‘Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’. There is hardly a person on earth who doesn’t have some sort of mental scars from the past and maybe that is where a lot of the problems in our world stem from. If we can’t show forgiveness and love our brothers and sisters at home and all around the world then troubles occur and escalate. No one is perfect and our upbringing came from those who were doing the best they could from what they themselves had learned along the way.

Past Mistakes

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.’    

 Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Wouldn’t we all like to have the above attitude!

I think most of us have made mistakes in our past. But however unpleasant these mistakes may seem, it’s a part of life that we need to learn from, accept and eventually get over. As we know deep down, the past is the past and no amount of thinking and worry will change that. If we acknowledge the past is outside of our control, we can more easily let go of these mistakes and stop beating ourselves up over them. Of course, it is completely natural to feel bad now and then. Guilt, anxiety and depression over past events can serve a positive function in our lives as long as we don’t get too attached to these feelings. Think of these feelings as part of a learning process – a prompt for us to make make amends or to try to avoid old pitfalls so we don’t make the same mistakes again. However, we don’t want to wallow in negative emotions. The main thing is not to let them dictate our lives as that is when these emotions become unhelpful.

Here are some tips to help you move forward:

Remember that everyone makes mistakes at times and you are no different.

Most of the time you have tried your best.

Honesty helps – admit it if you’ve made a mistake and learn from it.

Focus on now.

Life is always unfolding and changing – no single event can dictate what you do for the rest of your life.

Your past has shaped you to become who you are now but your future actions will shape who you can be in the future.

 

I try and remember this: If there is something lurking in the darkness, shine a light on it, deal with it and then move on. Then you are safe to turn the light off again.

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