Friday, 24 February 2012

Consumer Detox

I don’t like to talk much about what I am or am not ‘doing’ for Lent. It all feels a bit ‘look at me as I pick up my trumpet and have a big ol’ toot!’  However as I have entered Lent and put my plans into action I have realised that it might be a really useful resource for other people as well. So I thought I’d share after all!

This Lent I’m taking part in a Consumer Detox. It’s all based on a book by the same name by Mark Powley and I’ve based my plans on the back pages of the book which contains tips and ideas for detoxing your life in all things money and spending. I heard about it through Tearfund and am now following the daily Lent blog by the author which you can find here if you’re still interested by the end of the post!

The book doesn't provide any easy answers but it does provide a lot of good thoughts. Most of all it invites you onto a journey to see what those thoughts mean for you and your lifestyle. Lent seemed as good a time as any to give it a go so I have embarked on a Consumer Detox which consists of no non-food shopping and each week looking at a couple of chapters in the book and the suggestions the author makes for taking the ideas further. These are things like thankfulness, generosity, rhythms of daily life and so on. So it’s not just about denial but about a re-evaluation of your priorities when it comes to how you use your money. 

 I like the idea of having a break from spending as I find that spending is really is like being on a conveyer belt. As soon as you have what you want you covert the next thing. Just this evening I spied a website selling satchels I have been desiring on the arms of others. There is always something more to want and yet my wardrobe is full. I have more bags than there are days of the week (just!) and by always having the next thing the shine seems to go off what you already have and it just gets sad and dusty in the corner. So a break in spending is the perfect time to rediscover (and be thankful for) what I already have. 

This week in my detox is all about being thankful. I am following the author’s advice and as well as not buying anything I am also not asking for anything in prayer either. I am only praying prayers of thanks. What a revelation THAT is! For one in has made me considerably less grumpy. When something happens rather than jump to the negative and bemoan the situation I have had to stop and say thank you for what has gone right.

I’ve also noticed so many things I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I've been given gifts where I would normally have fished out my wallet. Just yesterday I was given a free hot chocolate and bottle of wine and all I could say was 'Thanks!' and I really was thankful.Today my beloved Husband left me with no breakfast (again – friends will know I moan about this constantly!) no bread, no milk. Nothing. I was just about to get thoroughly annoyed and send him a grumpy text when I realised that whatever I found to eat (and we have plenty!) I would be saying thank you to God for it. My breakfast in front of a Miranda episode of cookies and a banana was suddenly what it really is – a great blessing (and chocolate for breakfast - bonus!).

Because I think we know in our own hearts that we are so hugely ungrateful given how the rest of the world live. And I think the guilt from that stops us from taking a cold hard look at what we do with our money. We are afraid we’ll have to give it all up and live in a commune surviving on home grown mungbeans and sewing clothes from hessian sacks. But perhaps the reality is somewhere different.

 At the start of the ‘detox’ it asks you what ‘a place of greater freedom’ would look like in terms of money and spending. For me it’s about having what I need, being grateful for it and when I do buy it being a positive choice that gives a fair deal to the producer rather than an impulse buy as some kind of therapy. It’s about more freedom in life by decreasing what I need to live on. After all what would I rather have, more unused stuff or more time on my hands to do what I love? No contest. So if this rings any bells or you’d just like to know more then check out Mark's blog for lots of great idea for a detox with a difference this Lent!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Silent Retreat…. gulp!

Regular readers will have probably picked up on the fact that I am somewhat of a chatter box. After all, if I weren’t then you would have nothing to read. You can use your own judgement as to whether that would be a good or bad thing!! When I did my gap year with Tearfund they did a personality quiz on the first day and mine came up as about 99% activist and tiny proportions of every other trait. I like people and bustle and laughter. The countryside freaks me out. I’m not much of a fan of prolonged periods of silence. I grew up under the Heathrow flight path and next to a relief road so I find traffic noise oddly comforting. 

All this considered this week’s adventure was rather out of character. With a lot of interesting challenges coming up over the next few weeks I decided to go for a silent retreat. Yes, you heard me correctly. The house I booked to go to, St Katharine’s Parmoor, is in the middle of the countryside near Henley. After an adventurous journey to the house via lots of winding roads and a slightly bemused taxi driver I arrived to breath-taking scenery, a gorgeous old house and A LOT of silence. 

One of the stained glass windows in the entrance way to the house
The house itself is rumoured to have been owned by the Knights Templar, was an Anglican Convent and is now owned by Sue Ryder Care as a retreat and conference centre. As I entered the house I felt like a cross between Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Catherine Moorland in Northanger Abbey. Every corner of the house had something to look at and wonder about.  I was lead up to my room via a huge entrance way with a sweeping staircase and an enormous stain glass window at the top. My room had huge bay windows looking out onto the majestic Cedar tree that dominates the centre of the grounds. Legend has it that it originated from seed bought over from Lebanon.

After lunch which, like all my meals, I ate alone at a table for six in the old library (feeling rather forlorn!) I sat myself in one of the arm chairs in my room looking out at the cedar tree. I have to say the concept of 24 hours more of me, myself and I wasn’t desperately appealing just then but to my surprise I found that I actually started to enjoy the peace and quiet. The view of red kites soaring around the trees and the sun going down over rolling hills certainly made it is a pleasant spot to do a little thinking. 

I take time out every day to sit, think and pray so this wasn’t a completely foreign experience but I have never done it for quite this length of time before.  Half way in it was touch and go as to whether I would end up saying this but - I really would recommend it!  Even more so if you’re like me and naturally outgoing and chatty. I could tell you in minute detail of the fixtures and fittings of the library where I ate, or paint you (badly, most likely!!) that view from my bedroom window from memory because I wasn’t distracted from the detail around me by the sound of my own voice or even, after a while, my own thoughts which quieted down with my surroundings. For the first time in ages I was aware of time passing. I’m often so rushed. I enjoy being busy really but this made me realise what I might be missing by dashing from one place to the next all the time.

I didn’t come away with any grand revelation about the course of my life, in fact I felt very comforted that all that thinking and praying left me convinced that the path I’m on is the right one. But I am reminded of the benefit of a little alone time for getting on the right course, or keeping on it.  Life is very noisy indeed and sometimes silence is just what you need to let the important stuff get a look in. Oooh Get Me!!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Rolling around on the floor with strangers

There is nothing like a First Aid course for completely destroying all notions of personal space. I’m not a hug-er. I tend not to touch people if I have the option so having someone  rest their hand on my backside ten minutes after I’ve met them in a botched attempt to put me in the recovery position (likely story, eh…) is NOT my idea of fun. The course, run by The Red Cross, was a different matter however and made all the uncomfortably close contact worthwhile.

I’m always amazed when I do a first aid course how simple, and yet vital, it is. It always leaves me screaming internally, why don’t more people know about this?! Saving someone’s life can be as simple as turning them on their side when unconscious or noticing a few strange symptoms that add up to a Stroke. Last night I dreamt about the Recovery Position and giving CPR. I’m taking that as a good sign that I’m internalizing all the information from the course. I’m also carrying a Face Shield for CPR and a cue card for emergency situations. I’ll hopefully never use it but as it replaced yet another coffee shop loyalty card in my wallet I’m thinking it’s a good trade!

 A lot of people I speak to say that they can’t cope with blood or wouldn’t be good in a crisis and so avoid learning any First Aid. I learnt fairly quickly when working as a Nursing Assistant that when faced with a person bleeding profusely you just react. You don’t have time to panic. You instinct to save kicks in and you do whatever it takes to help them. My theory is that it is much better for that instinct to be educated seeing as you will do what you can in that situation anyway. A little knowledge can go a long way. Anyone who is often in contact with the public should be on one of these courses particularly all you Church leaders out there. The congregation will look to you to respond in a crisis, even a medical one. I think there should be defibrillators (for use when someone’s heart stops) in every Vestry and all Clergy should be trained to use them. 

Even if you’ve never had any training or have some training that is getting rusty then I would massively encourage you to get this app from the Red Cross which gives you instant First Aid answers. It’s brilliant. As their promo tag line reads, ‘There is no greater act of humanity than saving someone’s life’. Can’t argue with that.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Burglary Victim’s Survival Guide

It’s taken some weeks for me to feel in a position to write this post though I have realised for some time that I must. The day after we were broken into (for the second time in twelve hours) I was sat at work, desperately typing into Google ‘coping with burglary’ and trying not to cry all over my keyboard. The whole experience hit me like a ton of bricks. But I realised that how I reacted in those difficult days after it happened would define how I coped with it long term. It was the beginning of overcoming it or the beginning of it overcoming me. 

During my Google search I came across so many devastating stories of people who had moved out of their homes, slept under the window they were broken in through to try and stop it happening again, lives that were ruined by the experience. Perhaps it sounds dramatic but I can completely understand that reaction. Reading those stories, however, convinced me that I must do everything in my power to get back to living my life how I had before. So this is my story about doing just that and I hope it will be useful to any one wading in the Google waters or (God forbid) it should it ever happen to you.

Firstly, being broken in to is devastating. If you feel devastated then you are completely normal. Your safe place, the place you shut the door to get away from the rest of the world, has been taken from you. If you are anything like me you will feel that there is no where you can rest. That is painful and emotional (and very tiring). Getting over it is a process but like any difficult time, it will end. You will feel normal again in your home. It’s now four weeks since we were broken in to and I am sleeping as well as I did before the break in, life does go back to normal. In this interim as you wait out this frankly horrible time there are a few things that might help, things that helped me:

1.       Lean on, and stay with, friends
This one took some convincing for me as I wanted to guard my house like a pit bull but it was the best thing I did in the days after the break in at the suggestion of a friend. My logic is this, you are most likely exhausted and in need of a good night’s sleep to cope with everything that you have to sort out and to get on with the business of feeling better. Your house and possessions are not as important as your sanity. Get the rest you need.

If you know your neighbours then now is the time to call in those favours and ask to stay over. You’ll be close enough to pop home and check on things if you’d like. I remember putting my head down on my pillow and thinking ‘I’m safe’ for the first time in days. I slept like a log.  

2.       Clean
Once the police have been and collected all the evidence they need you will be left with the mess to sort out. Give the house a really thorough clean. For me this was really helpful psychologically, it allowed me to begin the process of moving on. I was removing the presence of the intruders and reclaiming the space for myself.

3. Security
 This perhaps goes without saying but do all you can to make your house feel safe and secure again. This might be an alarm (you can get great wireless ones now if you are a renter or window alarms for £15), a security light, some new locks, some net curtains, a safe for your valuables. Whatever you can do will be helpful to your peace of mind.

4.  Signs to remind you of your resolution to get through it
Stubbornness and a refusal to give over your life and wellbeing over to a (insert angry word!) situation gets you a long way, I find. You can’t control what happens to you in life but you can control how you respond. Don’t let it beat you.

To remind yourself of you intent to take your life and home back I found some visible reminders useful. Get yourself a bunch of flowers. I put a big vase of yellow roses in front of one of the broken windows and every time I looked at it it reminded me that this was MY house and of my resolution to myself to get through it. I also wrote a message to myself on the chalk board in our kitchen which was just before you reached the second broken window at the back of the house. This read ‘And we know that God works all things for the good of those that love him’ which is from the book of Romans in the New Testament. This helped me to remember, before I saw the boarded window again, that however rubbish I felt now, I would overcome. Whatever your message to yourself, get it written up there. It really helps.

 5.   Decorate
A couple of weeks later I had a thorough re decoration of our bedroom, I moved around furniture and made the space much lovelier than it was to begin with. This really helped me to feel positive when I walked into the room rather than think always about the break in.

6.  Treat yourself
Meals out, bars of chocolate, a new dress - now is not the time to scrimp and save. Whatever you can do to make this time more positive and more enjoyable for yourself then do it. Give yourself lots of TLC and let other look after you. You’d do the same for them.

 7.   Take your time
Try not to berate yourself if you’re still struggling a few weeks in. It will get better but it’s normal for that to take time. You’re bound the feel nervous and struggle to get back the positive feelings about your house. It WILL come. Tell people if you feel down, let them support you.  There are organisations out there, like Victim Support, set up to help you through. Use them if you want to. There is no shame in that.

Likewise you might experience sudden bouts of anger in the strangest of situations. Speaking to other people who have been broken into, this is not uncommon. A few weeks after the break in I was inexplicably furious for days. I thought it couldn’t be related to what had happened as it was ages ago by then (in my mind!) until someone else who had been broken into gently said ‘I was very angry for a long time after I was broken in to.’ It suddenly clicked into place. With time I started to feel better and I could at least explain my actions to the poor souls that got in my way!!

I wish you well as you pick up the pieces of what has happened. If you hold on to nothing else, then hold onto this IT WILL GET BETTER.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Staying Alive

Yup, five weeks into starting driving lessons and I AM STILL ALIVE. This is the diametric opposite to what I was convinced would happen when I began driving again. The even more amazing fact is that EVERYONE ELSE IS ALSO STILL ALIVE. Impressive, I know. I have been a dedicated student. The Highway Code is my constant companion. I stare at people, somewhat alarmingly for them, as they drive. I am a terrible back seat driver muttering about harsh gear changes and being heavy on the break. I'm desperate to learn, taking every opportunity I can. I still have to spend half an hour talking myself down from the (metaphorical!) ledge before each lesson and have to instruct myself to breath at regular intervals. But I remind myself that I am still doing it even though each lesson feels like walking into a den of really hungry lions who have previously said that their favourite meal is small, brown haired English people.

What I have found interesting are the parallels between learning to drive and how I approach many other things in life. I wonder if this is a more universal phenomena? I do like to think I am slightly more competent in general that behind the wheel. I don't start screaming behind my desk when I can't format an excel sheet or cry over preparing a meal (except when there are onions involved). This is probably because there is no immediate fear of death from excel failure or a bad pasta bake but otherwise there are some real similarities in how I approach driving and other things in life. In the last few weeks I have had some pretty in depth references written about me and the comments made there and in the course of my driving lessons have been alarmingly similar. 'You have every right to be where you are,' my referee said to me over coffee. 'You have as much right to be on the road as any other driver,' my driving instructor said to me at the end of this weeks lesson. Hmm. I'm sensing a pattern!

The other thing that has come up in the course of my driving lessons is that I spend a lot of the time I'm driving worrying about the cyclist I nearly took out on that last bend or the mini roundabout that I had a mini melt down on rather than worrying about what is happening on the road NOW. How true is THAT of how most of us live our lives. Looking in the rear view mirror and thinking 'Crikey, that was a bad move.' As my instructor says 'It's over, get over it. There is a whole new set of problems to worry about that are happening now.' As much as there is not much point worrying about what is coming tomorrow, there's not much point in dwelling on what happened yesterday once you've learned everything you can from it. There comes a point where bashing youself with the idiot stick is getting you nowhere and only holding your attention in the past. Today has enough troubles and opportunities of its own to navigate and they need your full attention.

Blog fodder AND I'm still alive. These lessons are good value, huh?