Borrowed With Thanks

When she woke, it was gone. Everything else was in its rightful place: watch laid out on the bedside table, its gentle tick having lulled her to sleep hours before; earrings placed carefully side by side, hooks aligned so as not to become entangled with the copper filigree leaves that hung below; bracelet creating an uneven circle of shadow, light glinting off the worn, engraved bar bearing a simple motto of encouragement: inspire. But of her necklace there was no sign.

Searching with increasing puzzlement for the gleam of the fine, rose-gold chain, she tried to recall any ‘safe place’ she may have left it, mentally rolling her eyes at her own uncanny ability to sabotage even the simplest of her daily routines.

She lifted each book from the stack by her bed. She rifled through the pages and lifted the dust-covers. She checked inside the pillow cases; unmade and remade the bed; peered under the bed frame; checked in the bathroom and even looked through the wardrobe. Nothing. Not a link or clasp to be found.

With a great air of frustration and disappointment, she gave up the search and got on with her day, feeling distinctly unfinished without the light touch of the chain round her neck. It was a day filled with quiet busyness. She worked in silence whilst grey clouds scudded past the window and a late summer drizzle darkened the panes with silvered rivulets. As the day wore on, she forgot her missing necklace, distracted by imagines worlds and daydreams. It was only after she had eaten supper and headed up the creaking stairs to bed that she recalled it’s absence.

She fell frowning into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, she woke to a dull, misty light filtering through the small bay window. Stretching, she swung her sleep heavy legs out of bed. As she rose, a tiny, unexpected glint if light caught her eye. There, at the foot of the bed, just visible under the fold of her rumpled duvet, was her necklace.

With warm surprise she tugged the duvet back further. Surely she must still be dreaming! She knew how carefully and thoroughly she had checked the bed. But maybe she had not been thorough enough, for there, as she perched back on the edge of the mattress and peered a little closer, without doubt was her necklace.

As she reached out to pick it up, she paused in a moment of surprised curiosity. The necklace was not, as one might expect, lying in a knotted clump but rather in a perfectly cooked pile. When she picked it up, it uncoiled to reveal not one knot, not one tangled link.

How strange, she thought, before fastening the clasp behind her neck and continuing with the business of preparing to face the world.

Her mind already wandering to the tasks that lay ahead, as she remade the bed she missed the tiny folded note that became lost in the folded sheets, like a fallen bonsai leaf in a snow drift. She missed the words hidden within, written in a tiny perfect hand:

Borrowed with thanks. It saved our lives.

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Come Home To Rest

The Earth smoulders

With the turning of the season

And the clouds drift down

To kiss the burning land.

A veil of tears

Lands softly on flaming leaves

But even heaven’s weeping

Cannot dull the

Rioting palette

Of autumn’s inferno.

And when the most parts,

Making way for the pale light

Of winter’s promise,

And the chill of year’s end

Arrives on the breath of the hills,

The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,

Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.

Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.

Woodsmoke hangs in the air,

The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.

The world exhales

A long sigh of letting go.

As though, after a long day,

She has come home to rest.

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.

Off On The Right Foot


This seems like an apt quote for this week as in a few days time I’ll be joining the epic team at Smith Goodfellow PR for their next charity event – climbing the Welsh three peaks to raise money for The Wellspring Kitchen and Crash, two charities working to tackle homelessness and support those who find themselves without a home in the UK. 

That’s right, I’m going to climb some mountains. 

Mountains…plural. 😐 

For those who don’t already know I’m not an uphill sort of person so this will be a challenge – but totally worth it to raise money and awareness for a good cause and spend time with some fabulous people.

If you’d like to donate to either of these worthy causes you can do so here and here. ☺️ 

This Girl Can (and you can too!)

  
I hate running. A lot.

It’s hard work, it does not come naturally to me and I find it boring. Finding it boring makes it even harder work because there is nothing to distract me from the fact that I’m finding it difficult. However, a few months ago I decided that it would be good fun to run a 5km with my hubby. I suggested this to him and we agreed we would go for the Manchester Colour Run 2016. 

At the time I thought this was a great idea because a) it would mean doing something with my hubby (a definite win), b) it would help me keep fit, and c) how hard could it be to run 5km anyway?

As it turns out, very hard indeed. At least it is when you hate running as much as I do.

I started using the treadmill more at the gym to build up some stamina before running outside (where there are hills and roads and stuff – scary). At first I could barely run 1km without it nearly killing me but slowly I could run further and further. I managed 2km…then 2.5km…then 3km…and then I hit a block. I just couldn’t seem to run further than that. 

Mega frustrating.

There was one day during the summer holidays when I’d had a really good night’s sleep, a reasonably long lie in, a good breakfast (and time for it to go down) and decided to go for a mid morning trip to the gym. On this occasion I magically managed to run 5km!! Granted, the last km nearly killed me but I did it and I was so pleased with myself. I thought that would be it then, I’d do it again and again, I’d get faster and it would feel easier.

Nope.

The next time I went I was back to that 3km road block again. And the time after that, and the time after that, and so on for 8 long weeks.

I lost heart pretty quickly; I do not like not being able to do things I feel I should be able to do.

It has been a very long, busy week at work. Every day this week I’ve been in early and left late. So when I got home today, going to the gym was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I moaned about it, pulled faces and posted a *reluctantly heads to the gym* tweet. 

I decided I wasn’t going to push myself too hard (I really was tired) and agreed I would slow my pace a little and just set the treadmill to do a 25 minute run. I would do what I could.

As I was running, I started thinking about all the year 11 students I work with at school. How frustrating it is when they choose not to put in the effort. How maddening it is when they say they just “can’t” do it, when I know that they can, or that they could with just a bit more focus and hard work.

I realised that that mindset really does make all the difference.

[Growth mindset is one of our big ‘things’ at work this year; I’m not going to go into it all now but if you’re not already aware of it you should go and look it up. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept!]

As I was thinking about this and what I could do to motivate these students, to get them to think positively about themselves and their abilities, I somehow, without realising it, ran 2.5km without much effort. (Usually by that point I’m already flagging in a major way.) The treadmill switched automatically to a cool down…but I wasn’t done thinking.

I reset it for another 25 minute run and kept going.

I realised that they way I feel about running is probably how a lot of the kids I work with feel about school; it’s hard work, it’s boring and it doesn’t come naturally. But I know, in spite of these barriers, that these young people can achieve something to be proud of.

I was wracking my brain to think of things I could do to re-engage them with the process of learning. Getting them to understand that making mistakes is part of getting better, and to use those mistakes as tools for improving.

That’s when I hit 5km.

It was a good feeling but, honestly, I was less interested in what I’d achieved and more interested in how I’d done it. By slowing my pace by a tiny amount (0.2km/hr) and keeping my mind busy, I had managed, with relative ease, to do something I had been struggling with for months. Could I find a way to apply this to my students learning? Or rather get them to apply it to their own learning?

I haven’t quite come up with the answer to that one but I’m sure it must be possible. It will certainly be in my thinking when I’m interacting with students from now on.

There was one more thing I learnt during my gym trip tonight. The woman  I was running next to was running faster and had run far further than me. But that didn’t matter. I knew that what I had managed was a big achievement for me. And I need to pass that on to my students. I need to find a way to say: Ignore the person in your form who seems to be getting A* after A* with very little effort ; you don’t know what they put in to get there. Ignore the person next to you who has written 3 paragraphs for your 1; more isn’t necessarily better. Comparing your work to others is unhelpful; compare your effort instead and just focus on putting your very best effort into your work. If you are still struggling, slow it down a bit but don’t stop and don’t give up.

This ended up being much longer and much more convoluted than I intended, but somehow it felt like and important message to share. Because it applies to us all in whatever context we find ourselves. Whether you are training to run 5km, 10km or a marathon; whether you are preparing for your GCSEs, A levels or degree; whether you’re working towards a promotion, trying to keep your house clean, writing a book or raising children (or several of these thing at once), keep going, slow it down if you need to, don’t compare yourself to others and DON’T GIVE UP! Your journey is your own and it’s just as important as the destination.

If this girl can, so can you.

Off On the Right Foot

  
I’m on a bit of a Shel Silverstein trip at the moment, especially since my mum bought me a first edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends (go ahead, be jealous, I don’t mind).

Silverstein’s poems and illustrations are all sorts of special. They’re funny, moving, evocative and often very poignant. I could share his work until the cows come home but I’ll settle for just the one…for today anyway.

I love Put Something In because I just think this is they way we should live! Striving to put something, anything, into the world that wasn’t there before. It doesn’t matter how big or small, how masterful or silly, just bring something to this world of ours. Make your mark, if only temporarily.

Image found here.

Off On the Right Foot

 
I find this poem, by Erin Hanson of The Poetic Underground, incredibly poignant. It especially strikes me as relevant with the UK elections looming just around the corner. I see and hear so much that focuses on the individual; politicians are selling policies on the basis of how it will affect you the individual, rather than us as a community/society. When did we become so inward looking? Where is our desire to live and grow together, to contribute to the bigger picture?

So often we strive to be the highest bough of the tallest tree. We are getting a little top heavy. Where are our roots?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for the sky but why can’t we do it together? We need a stronger base if we are to soar rather than topple.

It’s not about you or me; forget the ‘I’, it’s time we recognised the importance of community.