Sacred Stories

Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Palette of Spring


The world stretches awake

Inhales the first warm breath of the year

Exhales a languorous perfume

Which settles over gently unfurling buds

Nature’s confetti scattered on brightly verdant grass

Drifts in swirls and eddies

A lazy waltz 

To the tune of changing seasons

Endless sky opens up above

The fresh faced sun beaming

Over the brightly hued

Palette of spring

Rediscovering Why

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Earlier this week, I got up at the unholy hour of 5am and drove through bright morning sunshine, driving wind and rain, and even snow, to attend the HLTA North conference in Stockton-on-Tees. I am not a morning person so this was a big ask but it was completely worth it because the conference was fantastic.

Facilitated by Dr Tom Robson of TREdu, the day was aimed at teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants from across the North of England, and was centred around reminding us of “the values that made us come into the world of education and to make sure they are firmly rooted so when the winds of politics blow we remain rooted in what we feel is important”. The focus of the day was very timely for me. I love my job. I care deeply about working with young people, making their educational experiences enjoyable, inspiring, relevant, and valuable. I am passionate about developing and supporting engaging, quality education. But, to be honest, over the last few months I have not enjoyed my job as I normally do. I’ve struggled to remain optimistic. I have become more and more tired. I’ve wrestled with an ever expanding work load. I’ve wondered what I’m doing; why I’m doing it; if it’s still where I want to be; and how I can develop professionally in a direction that is right for me.

This last one has been a particular sticking point: I do not want to become a teacher. I know that that role would not be right for me. Unfortunately, I seem to have found myself in a system which, from my experience so far, often undervalues support staff (albeit inadvertently) and seems to see progressing into a teaching role as the only option for professional development. This has left me feeling a little disheartened. I can think of any number of possible routes for professional development for support staff but they don’t seem to exist outside my head! This creates something of a roadblock on the professional path I had in mind for myself. But I’m working on a way around and that’s a topic for another time.

All of these stresses, strains, and worries had become a dark cloud that I had allowed to eclipse my core motivations for doing what I do, and the HLTA conference was just what was needed to blow that brewing storm away (or at least nudge it to one side) and help me regain some perspective.

Within a few short minutes, Tom Robson reminded me why I had come to into this role with a simple question: what have you done today to make that person feel like they can?

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That is why I do the job I do. I want to help those who are often told that they can’t feel like they can. I want to recognise the achievements of the students I work with, no matter how big or small; to make some effort to change a culture which has a narrow understanding of success, often confusing attainment and achievement.

The day was filled with so many pearls of wisdom, thought provoking questions, and insights into how we can support the learners we work with. I’m hoping to develop some of them into blog posts of their own and explore them further but I need a little more time to ruminate on them first. For now, I leave you with a few of the questions I left with, to think on in your own time:

To learn something new we must step up to the edge of the known. When was the last time I stepped up to the edge? How do I encourage my students to do this?

Who is the most important person in my classroom? (hint: it’s not me!)

“A teacher is one who makes her/himself progressively unnecessary.” – What am I doing to make myself unnecessary to my students?

Am I taking too much responsibility for solving my students’ problems?

Is the language I use with our students specific enough? (e.g. What do I mean when I ask for ‘more effort’? What does this look like? Do I make my meaning clear to my students?)

Do my students think they are good learners?

What does education mean for me?

What labels do I display to my students? What labels do I put on them?

 

Feel free to leave any thoughts/responses in the comments. 🙂

 

In Turmoil

This morning I woke up in a sudden and unexpected turmoil of doubt. I don’t know where it came from or what exactly I’m going to do to tackle it (6am is just no time to be faced with a sudden realisation of all the things you don’t know -at that time, no one is awake enough to deal with that kind of shit). It already feels like a difficult day but this popped up on my timeline: a beautiful bunch of tulips and a hand made card from the young leaders I trained 4 years ago.


 I still carry this card with me every day. It normally lives tucked in the back of my planner but this morning I got it out and I’m looking at it right now. I have, and have had, so many people in my life to lift me up when I am down and I’m trying to hold on to that right now. 

I might come back and share more about what plagues me at another point (although at the moment that feels more than a little self indulgent and potentially whiny) but for now I just had to acknowledge and thank those people who love, support, and encourage me every day. ❤

The Power of Positive


Last week was stressful. Very stressful. And upsetting. My working week did not end well and although I then had a lovely meal out with friends, a fun Saturday in town with my beloved and my siblings-in-law, and a lazy Sunday with lots of reading, this evening I found myself with that dreaded I-can’t-believe-it’s-Monday-tomorrow-I-don’t-want-to-go-to-work-you-can’t-make-me feeling. So I turned to one of my favourite pastimes and decided to journal the blues away. I love my journal. It’s my little portable creative workshop. I write in it; I doodle in it; I keep a reading log in it; I plan in it; I daydream in it; I escape in it. I put time and care and energy into making it a work of art, because that’s what I love to do. I like to make pretty things. It’s calming and satisfying and, well…me.

Imagine my frustration then when, in the middle of my calming-me-down, make-something-lovely journaling, I managed to somehow create a huge blue splodge, right where I absolutely did NOT want a huge blue splodge.

My initial reaction contained words that shall not be repeated here for fear of them damaging sensitive eyes and turning my happy little corner of the internet into something sour.

When you put time, care, and energy into something, even a tiny mistake can be upsetting, making you angry and forcing that morose little voice in your head to pipe up with: “Well that’s just friggin fabulous what is even the point?!” This was not a little mistake. This was a BIG, blue blob. Much like the Oreo that was offered to me last week by a friend to cheer me up, which, when I reached out to take it, broke in half and fell on the floor, my big blue blob felt a little like a metaphor for life right now.

I could have cried. Or slammed my journal shut and thrown it at something. (Indulge my melodrama for a moment, would you?)

But wait…was I to be defeated by this blue blob? Was a two dimensional splodge of ink to undo my initial determination to shake off the Sunday blues? Would I let this intruder into my happy place get the better of me?

No. No I would not. For I am WOMAN. I am FIERCE. I am ME. And I control my own happiness.

So I took that big blue splodge and I bent it to my will. I turned it into something beautiful. I turned it into a flower. The one you see at the top of this page. Imperfect? Sure. But since when does beauty have to be perfect? That depressing blue blob no longer exists. Instead, there is a perpetually blooming flower. This flower symbolises the coming spring and all good things ahead. This flower symbolises the power of positive. This flower symbolises that, even though I cannot always control the things that happen to or around me, I can control my reactions to those things. 

And that, dear friends, is the story of how my Sunday blues became even bluer, but how I overcame them anyway.

A small thing can have great power. I encourage you to embrace the power of positive.

A List of Lovely Little Things


It’s been some time since I did an appreciation post for the little things in life but now seems like the perfect time. I’m currently holed up in a beautiful little cottage, just outside Oxford, for a weekend with some of my favourite women in the whole wide world. It’s a quite Saturday morning and all but the baby amongst us (and her mum, I suspect!) are sleeping soundly. I am awake and full of contentment, mulling over all the wonderful little things that make life so lovely. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Conversations with like-minded people.
  • Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt.
  • A real log fire.
  • The quiet stillness of the countryside in the morning.
  • Baby smiles.
  • Baby laughter.
  • Baby cuddles…(there’s a lot of baby worship going on here!)
  • Good books.
  • Good food, especially nibbly finger food.
  • Climbing into a bed made with freshly laundered sheets.
  • Waking up after a good night’s sleep (especially when you don’t have to rush to get up).
  • Knowing it’s the weekend.
  • A message from someone you love.
  • Knowing you’ve done a good job.
  • Learning something new.
  • Helping someone out.
  • Knowing there is so much to look forward to.
  • The smell of fresh flowers.
  • Watching flowers open from bud to bloom.
  • Surprises from friends (or strangers).
  • Realising that you take more joy in life that you ever have before, and feel positive that joy will only increase.

And that’s just a few of the little things making my life lovely right now. 

What little things have you noticed recently that have made you smile and appreciate life just that little bit more?

Urban Wanders

Yesterday, hubby and I went for a wander round Manchester. We headed out in a direction we don’t normally walk and just wandered around enjoying the city. It was lovely. The sun wasn’t exactly shining but it wasn’t raining, the air was crisp and cool, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable morning. We discovered some fabulous street art we had never seen before, and found quiet corners of the city we had never visited, all only a few streets away from our usual haunts. It reminded me once again how much I love the city of Manchester: it is vibrant and full of hope in spite of the many issues faced by many of the residents.  Here are a few snaps I took along the way. 


I encourage you to go for a wander around your city or town and rediscover it: head in a direction you wouldn’t normally go and see what you discover. Even if you don’t find anything new, just enjoy the wander and look at the things you’ve passed hundreds of times with new eyes. Love where you’re from. Love where you are.

The Family We Choose

I have known from a very young age that family is important. I have been blessed to have a family that knows this too. My family, both immediate and extended, has always been a close one: we enjoy spending time together, take care of one another, love one another, and treat each other with respect. This has always been important to me and I have always been grateful for the family I have. I know not everyone is so lucky.

The care and closeness between us is always especially apparent at times of grief or trouble. When the chips are down everyone pitches in and we hold each other up. I could write a considerable amount about my wonderful family and the way in which we rally round each other in good times and bad, but I actually want to write about something else. I want to write about the family we choose. I want to write about friends.

I have never been one for having hundreds of friends: a small number of particularly close friends has always suited me better. I have been very fortunate over the years to have made friends with some incredible people, and they have become the family I chose. They have rallied round and held me up through good times and bad. They have celebrated with me in triumph and have consoled me in sorrow.

I have more friends at this point in my life than I have ever had before and I have been truly overwhelmed by their love and support as I come to terms with my family’s latest loss. There have been small gestures in the form of text messages and post it notes simply saying ‘I love you’, ‘Ring if you need anything’, ‘Have some cake’ (left with cake!). There have been specific pages in specific books, bookmarked and left for me, from friends knowing there is nothing they can say to make it better but that I might find comfort from the words of a favourite character or author. 



There have been deliveries of beautiful flowers, late night visits with doughnuts and more flowers, thoughtful gifts to make me smile: the list goes on. The care and attention my friends have given over to lifting me up when I feel down has moved me deeply. I feel so blessed to have this family that I chose as well as the one I was born too.


I’ve run out of words. I don’t quite know how to express what’s happening in my head and my heart. So I’ll finish with this: to all my friends, thank you for being the incredible people that you are and for the love, care, and friendship you have shown me. Whether this has come as messages, hugs, book pages, flowers, gifts, cake, or simply a smile, thank you. It means more than you know.

Xx

Making My Own Happy New Year


Champagne was popped, glasses raised, fireworks burst, and a chorus of ‘Happy New Year’ waved off 2016 and welcomed 2017 with open arms. A lot of people were glad to see the back of 2016: it was a difficult year for many, in many different ways. It certainly had its up and downs… Whilst there was much that was good for me personally last year, 2016 did not end happily. On 28th December, my family was greatly saddened by the sudden death of my beloved Grandad. He was a remarkable man with a character almost as big as his love for motorbikes, Yorkshire pudding, and, of course, his family. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him, not least because he was the sort of man with whom you couldn’t even have a passing conversation in the pub without him leaving some sort of lasting impression. I have spent the last few days reminiscing with family, sharing stories and going through old photographs. It has been bittersweet at times but I am eternally grateful to be part of such a close, loving, and supportive family.

It would be easy, at this time, to sink into sadness and dwell on our loss. But I do not think that is how he would have wanted us to live and it certainly isn’t how I want to live. I would much rather live and love and laugh in happiness, even though it might be coupled with heartache – Grandad so loved to laugh and his terrible jokes would keep us in chuckles constantly.

With that in mind, I have resolved to make this year a happy one, in spite of some of the sad and difficult times ahead.

I say I have ‘resolved’ this but it is not a New Year’s resolution. It is really more of a choice. A statement of intention. You see, I no longer make New Year’s resolutions – they’re too easy to give up on after week one and only become a source of guilt. Instead, last year I chose a word to inspire the kind of intentional living I wanted to focus on for the year. Last year was ‘adventure’; this year is ‘nourish’. I also set some goals and aspirations that I want to work towards – not the kinds of things I’ll feel bad about if I don’t quite manage, but things that I care about achieving and that will enrich my life. I find this a much more positive process and one that really does stick with me for the whole year. (If you struggle with New Year’s resolutions, I really recommend you try it.)

I chose the word nourish because I sometimes find myself getting overwhelmed, rushed by all the ‘should’s and ‘must’s that bombard us every day. It’s tiring and distressing and unhealthy to feel so much demand from these abstract ideas and expectations. I want to dedicate more time this year to nourishing and growing all aspects of my life to be what I want them to be, not what the media or society or anyone else tells me they should be. And more than that, I want to take more time to enjoy my life and all the wonderful people, opportunities, and ‘things’ I am blessed with.

In keeping with my chosen word for the year, my goals are centred around ‘nourishing’ the things I care about. Whilst the things I care about are many and myriad, my goals are few. In fact, just two:

1) To develop a more regular practice for writing, mindfulness, and self-care, in order to help me manage my anxiety and develop the skills and interests I enjoy.

2) To try to find a more balanced routine for managing our home (I’m terrible for letting chores mount up until I get frustrated and feel overwhelmed by it all), and to declutter to more easily enjoy our lovely home.

Whilst there are many other things I will be investing time and energy in this year, such as spending quality time with friends and family, finishing the decorating we want to do in our house, training for my next (and final!) dance exam etc., I’m hoping these two personal goals will be nourishing for me and, as a result, will enable me to nourish the other areas of my life: family, friends, community, and work.

I had no real idea what I wanted to say when I sat down to write this post, only that I needed to put into words some of what has been buzzing round my head. To express in some concrete way my intention to be happy, and find positivity, even when there is sadness in my life.

Whatever you felt about 2016, whatever position you find yourself in as we begin 2017, I wish you the Happiest of New Years.