Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Retreating and returning

By fortuitous coincidence, I had five child-free and work-free days at the start of this week.  (By ‘coincidence’, I mean that I booked the week off work for the half-term holiday and then arranged for Big Girl and Small Girl to stay with their dad for half the holiday).  Between work, single-parenting two lovely but demanding children, and the effects of my depression, it’s been quite challenging recently and I felt I needed a break.  So I’ve spent a couple of nights at Woodbrooke, a Quaker study centre in Bourneville, having a bit of a retreat.

I went to Woodbrooke about 18 months ago to go on a course for Quaker parents.  I’d expected it to be worthy and a bit lentilly, but the food was lovely, the grounds were gorgeous and it had a fantastic library with lots of interesting books.  I thought it could be a good place to head to for some space and a rest.  And I was right.

A lot of my time was spent in the Silent Room, a small room with a comfy sofa and a lovely view, reading, thinking, knitting and napping.  I wandered round the labyrinth in the garden, my mind wandering and creating metaphors for my life as I followed the path.  I went to the half-hour Quaker meeting each morning but failed to make the evening one as I was already in bed by 9.30 each evening.  I borrowed ‘Creating a Purposeful Life‘ by Richard Fox from the library and spent some time reflecting on how I’d like my life to look. In the Art Room I did some drawing.  I unpicked some questions I’ve had about God and found some new and interesting things to consider.  I ate delicious food and talked to interesting people.  What I most liked was feeling part of a Quaker community – feeling accepted and not quite a guest, not quite a visitor.  There was an open hospitality – cake at 4 pm, drinks and fruit available all the time, tea bags and little pots of milk near all the bedrooms, and the library open to all stopping there, with no concern that I might take advantage of this by stockpiling coffee or stealing books.  I was slightly tempted as I was about a third of the way through a novel when it was time to leave…

I’ve come home feeling that I have more inner resources (though how long they will last before my children deplete them by arguing with me and each other and threatening to ‘never be my best friend ever again’, I couldn’t say).  Practising silence at Woodbrooke will, I hope, make it easier to dip back into when I need to at home, like a swimmer lifting their head out of the water to breathe.  I’ve had time to think about who I am and what I would like my life to look like, and space for thoughts inside my head to unwind and rearrange themselves.

I’m glad to be home again (although after three days of not cooking for myself or anyone else I’d forgotten how to cook a meal so that everything was ready on time) and so pleased to see my girls again (there’s a thing, when they come back, where I just want to pick them up and hold them and put my face against theirs  and enjoy the sensation of having them physically close to me.  It wears off.  Quite quickly) and wondering: how long can this peace last?

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Happily ever after ever-after

After stopping dating, I felt euphoric all weekend.  I felt as if I was on drugs.  I only realised *how* stressful dating had been once I stopped worrying about it.  “What’s this weird feeling? ‘Relaxed’? Really? I like this!”  And I felt as if a whole world of possibilities had opened up to me once again.  Of course I hadn’t put my life on hold once I started dating, but it took up so much time and brain-space (both of which are already quite limited) and there was a sense in which my future felt less certain and not entirely within my control – there were possibilities out there which weren’t entirely dependent on my choices.  Altogether, I felt stymied.  So I was wildly excited about yesterday, Monday, a whole day and night free of children, and people, and events.  Nothing to do.  Nothing at all.  Nothing.  Nada. Zilch.

I stopped dating because I wanted more time to do the things I love: writing, sewing.  I stopped dating because I wanted to do astonishing things, unencumbered by a relationship.  What I actually did with my glorious empty day was: tidy the living room (well, you might as well when there’s no-one to untidy it for two days); ring a builder; do some laundry; and watch 9 episodes of Doll House, a Joss Whedon sci-fi tv series from 2009. Not something I’ve been desperately wanting to watch.  Not something brilliant.  Just… something.  If I *were* Joan of Arc, what I would have done is updated my Facebook status with ‘Thinking about making Charles King of France, lol’ and gone back to eating crisps.

I also spent the day checking my phone.  Has anyone updated Facebook? Not in the last ten minutes.  Why has no-one texted me? Because you dumped the only person who texted you frequently, on the grounds that you wanted more time on your own.  How are you liking being on your own now, eh?

The truth is that I like being on my own.  But I also like company.  And I measure my worth, my efficacy, my value to the world, by the opinion of others.  If people tell me I’m great, I believe them.  If they tell me I’ve done something well, I feel it must be true.  If people spend time with me, enjoy my company, I feel worthwhile.  But when I’m on my own, when no-one is paying me attention, what makes me significant? What makes me matter? Without God, or any kind of external validating agency, (and at the moment I think I *am* without God) it’s hard not to feel a sense of nihilism.  We’re born, we live, we die.  Hopefully we have a positive effect on people we encounter, the people we love, but then they die.  And what, then, is the point?

I think this is what I want to explore now.  Over the past few years, I’ve found resources in myself to survive a crisis.  And now, having done some dating which felt, effectively, like a mini-relationship, I don’t feel so much like I’m post-Ex-Husband.  Perhaps I’m no longer just recovering from my marriage breakdown.  (My sister says she certainly no longer thinks of me as ‘post-Ex-Husband’ and that I should stop whining and get on with it.  Though that *may* be my interpretation of her sentiments).  Stopping dating, I am making choices about me, and my life, and what I want to do with it.  I’ve been reading two books by Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence and How to be aloneOne of her themes in both books is that although our society prizes individualism, both silence and solitude are somehow seen as dangerous: indicators of madness, badness or sadness. And it’s hard to escape the insidious cultural belief that ‘happy ever after’ only ever *truly* arrives with Prince Charming.

Just now I want to spend time on my own, doing the things I love (and I am really hoping that yesterday my brain just wanted a bit of downtime and tomorrow it will be motivated to do more than watch television and eat Nutella out of the jar) and working out what my value is to myself, what makes me feel worthwhile, whether it really matters that there’s some grand point to my existence.  And, conversely, I want to spend more time finding and making community,  building relationships which matter.  Finding euphoria in solitude and silence and society.

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An unexpected gift

Today is my eleventh wedding anniversary. Last year I had a lovely day, but it was a consciously, determinedly and very planned lovely day.

This year I really don’t care. I would never have expected this. I saw Ex-Husband when he came to pick the girls up, and it felt like just another handover. No sadness, nothing. My Dr Who-inspired revelations have made a huge difference to how I feel.

Actually, I am having a lovely day. I’ve concocted a cunning plan to steal borrow my sister’s sewing machine as mine, although much-loved, has some serious tension issues. So I’m going to her house to pick hers up, and apparently there’s some kind of festival in the local park, and sunshine, and cider.

And then the post arrived. The signed Acknowledgement of Serve for my divorce, and an admission of adultery (and I’m sure he’ll say it’s just a technicality, the easiest way to get a divorce, rather than the actual-factual reason we are divorcing). So now I can apply for the Decree Nisi, the official judgement that our reasons for divorcing are legal and valid. And six weeks and a day after that, I can apply for my Decree Absolute, and be divorced.

I expected to feel sad but I can’t stop smiling. Ex-Husband should have been giving me steel this year, but instead I’m getting freedom.

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All the Shakespeariness, all the cake

So I arrived in Stratford in the early afternoon, getting my train with all of 30 seconds to spare.  I like to pretend I was making the best use of my time, but actually I wasted about 5 minutes walking back up my street and checking *again* that my front door was really locked.  Still, the train journey was easy-peasy without two small people to entertain, and I went via Birmingham Moor Street station, a serious contender for ‘Britain’s most unexpectedly pretty station’.

Being on holiday is quite hard work.  It is remarkably difficult to make my brain understand that I don’t *have* to do anything.  I don’t *need* a schedule.  I can just wander around and do what I feel like.  It’s an adjustment, I tell you.  So, here’s what I did…

I had afternoon tea at The Fourteas, a forties-style tea-shop, all light and airiness, with salmon sandwiches which made me want to cry with delight, and lots of cake, and lovely tea.  The staff were all in forties dress (flowers and aprons and their hair tied up in a scarf) and very politely friendly, and there were lots of WW2-style posters and books around.  It was delightful.  So nice, in fact, that I went back the next day.  (And I also fitted in coffee and a cake in Valerie’s Patisserie (because, to my mind, it’s not really a proper holiday if you don’t have cake at least once every 12 hours).

Because I was in Shakespeare-land, the local cinema was playing films of his plays almost constantly.  So I saw Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  This was possibly one of my favourite things about my whole holiday.  It was funny and clever and sad and oh, so stylish and so beautiful.  In black-and-white and set in America, I think possibly in the 40s or 50s but it’s hard to tell given that the language dates back a few hundred years.  (One of the FAQ on the IMDB page is “Is Much Ado About Nothing based on a book?”.  Seriously).

I went out for dinner.  Twice.  You might imagine that going out for dinner alone is one of the worst parts of going on holiday by yourself.  Really, I think if I go on holiday with someone else in the future I will make it part of the deal that I don’t have to go out for dinner with them.  And here’s why.  I get to sit, by myself, and read, while eating food which I have chosen, on a whim, have not had to make and will not have to tidy up after.  No-one is talking to me.  No-one is asking me for a drink and a yoghurt, at the same time, and then screaming at me because I haven’t got them both, immediately at the same time, and also berating me for having the temerity to get them a spoon when they wanted to GET IT THEMSELF.  No-one has tipped milk on the floor, twice, which then hides under the highchair and turns into cheese unless you clean every tiny last bit up.  No, I will take eating by myself every day, quite happily.  Hey, I get to eat hot food!

Of course, I went to a few Shakespeare houses while I was there.  It seemed a bit foolish not to, kind of missing the point of visiting Stratford. And actually I really liked them.  As long as you go to a few it’s not too extortionate and they’re very well done.  They have actors telling you things in costume, and some fancy tv screens showing videos which are genuinely interesting.  But my favourite bit of both properties I visited was the gardens.  You know you’re heading into middle-age when you start enjoying gardens.  They were pretty and full of scented roses and proper English country garden flowers.  Also, sadly, full of children on a school trip who were far from middle-aged and therefore thought the best thing to do in a beautiful garden was to run round screaming.  I also went to Shakespeare’s grave, which was rubbish.  It doesn’t even have his name on it.  When I die, at least please put my name on my grave.

Ooh, I also went to Sew Me Something, a fabric shop and sewing workshop place.  I wanted to do a workshop but they were all full.  So I bought myself some lovely fabric to make something with, and a sewing pattern (because I don’t have enough yet, obviously).

On Friday evening I went to see ‘As You Like It‘ at the Royal Shakespeare Company.  You know what? I *didn’t* like it. It was supposed to be the best part of my holiday, but I was tired, and I didn’t find it funny, and I had got a bit lonely, and I was missing Big Girl and Small Girl in a way which was consuming about 20% of my brain activity at all times.  However, I did have some delicious ice-cream in the interval.

So on Saturday morning I got up and went home.  Did you know that the train journey from Stratford to Birmingham Moor Street is the *perfect* length for watching an episode of Dr Who?  Did you know it’s a million times easier to get from New Street station to Moor Street station than back again (to go with my Weeping Angels t-shirt, I want one which says ‘I’ve been in the Bull Ring and found my way out again’)?

I like going on holiday.  But I *love* coming home again.

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A weekend of awesomeness. And mojitos.

I have been wildly excited about this Bank Holiday weekend for – ooh, actually only about a week, because I can’t really think very far ahead.  But, nonetheless, I have been very excited.  A whole weekend with nothing planned, nothing to do, no expectations.  An opportunity to do all those satisfying jobs I never get chance to do, like re-organising my cellar.  And all those things I don’t really want to do but will feel better once they’re done, like hoovering and tidying my bedroom.  And lots and lots of fun things, like sewing and watching Dr Who.  57 hours all to myself!

Except, waking up this morning to the beautiful sunshine (on a bank holiday weekend! I know! It never happens…) and a facebook feed full of people doing fun things with their friends and family, and the sense that there should be a barbecue or trip to the seaside planned somewhere, I felt slightly regretful, and slightly lonely.  This is probably not helped by being ill on Thursday night and spending all day in bed, watching Dr Who and dozing (I slept through most of at least one episode.  There was a giant cyberman in Victorian London, with a woman inside its head, and a man who thought he was the doctor but wasn’t.  Possibly best that I missed most of it).  I quite like my own company, and time to myself, but perhaps there’s a limit to how much time I need.

So I’ve made a plan.  I’ve made an hour-by-hour calendar of my weekend, because the alternative is actually doing useful things, and made a list of all the things I need to do, and I am squeezing in a trip to visit my best friend tomorrow. I’m going to stop overnight, and perhaps make her drink mojitos (I may have to smuggle a bottle of rum into the Quaker meeting I’m planning to go to on the way, which is probably *the* definition of classy), and see my godson and his brothers and have fun fun fun.  Today and Monday I will be running round my house wildly throwing things into the right places, taking down the cot in my bedroom which Small Girl barely slept in because she preferred sharing with me, finishing sewing Big Girl’s dress, sorting out Small Girl’s next-size-up clothes and then hoovering all the bits of carpet which I haven’t seen for about three months.  Productive *and* fun – it’s not a bad life.

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Surprised by pleats

I decided to make a dress. And I think dressmaking may just be my favourite thing ever. It’s an intellectual challenge – trusting the pattern when you can’t quite see how it’s going to work, but also trying to understand it enough to get it right. There’s all the lovely potential, imagining how it’s going to be to wear something which fits perfectly, something which no-one else owns, in a style and pattern you chose, and thinking about how impressed everyone will be when you tell them you made it. There are all the new skills, and the satisfaction of trying to do something just right, of working really hard at something. And, of course, there is cider and Doctor Who to accompany the dressmaking.

And then there’s the pleats. I *love* putting pleats in.

I did not, of course, expect to love pleats. Who would? And why would you? Well, firstly, there’s the pattern pieces. You start with something like this, all jaggedy edges and craziness:

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And if you’re really careful and you copy the markings accurately and fold it properly, you end up with something which makes sense, something with an unexpected straight edge, like this:

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(They’re not actually the same piece. But hey, they’ve both got pleats in).

And then there’s the joy of the sharp folds, the straight lines, everything so clean and neat and perfect. I looked at my pleats and I thought ‘I have done that. My kitchen is full of washing up, my hallway is littered with toilet-roll confetti and my children have spread my books across the whole upstairs of my house. I will never be tidy but I have made perfect pleats’.

And now I have finished, and I have a dress.

 

 

 

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Here’s the reality: I had to adjust the pattern because my boobs and waist are a completely different size to my hips and shoulders and I have a weirdly long back so I had to lower the waist. I loved working this out – it’s a bit like engineering except no-one is likely to die if it goes wrong – but it means the dress designed to fit me perfectly, well, doesn’t. Because I am not a dressmaking genius. And I forgot to clip the seams around the armholes, so it’s a bit odd. And all those pleats, those pleats I love? I think they make me look a bit pregnant. And, as I’m still breastfeeding, a dress is not a practical item of clothing.

But fuck it, I’m planning on making more. Where there’s pleats, there’s happiness.

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Sewing, interrupted

My best friend and I have been planning this weekend for a while.  She turned up yesterday with her sewing machine.  I had limes, mint and rum as well as raspberry vodka, archers, and soda water.  Drinking and sewing and a whole weekend with my very best friend – what more could we want?

A son with a (minor) head injury, apparently.  Fortunately the phone call came after we’d started sewing but before we’d started on the cocktails, so we quickly ate dinner and threw everything back in her car and home she went.

I’m disappointed but we can reschedule.  I spent the rest of the evening sewing while watching The Great British Sewing Bee and then Doctor Who on iPlayer.  I’m making a dress.  It’s a bit of a challenge because my waist and boobs are two sizes bigger than my shoulders and hips.  So I’ve had to adjust the pattern and make a toile.  This is completely different to a toilet.  It’s a practice version, put together quickly, to check the sizing.  Granted, it means you won’t waste your time putting together a piece of clothing which doesn’t actually fit, but it feels like a huge amount of work for nothing.  The temptation is to give up and go and do something which is likely to be finished this decade, rather than stretching off into the future to be passed down to my grandchildren to be finished (I’m not joking.  I started knitting a blanket for my nephew.  He is now 5.  I failed to finish it for Big Girl and had no hope of finishing it for Small Girl.  And if I can’t manage to knit a blanket for my own children, there is no hope of finishing it for anyone else’s).

So I’m not thinking about putting together the dress, or finishing it, or wearing it.  I am thinking about each tiny step, so I can get some sense of achievement.  I am thinking about tracing the pattern.  I’ve just finished cutting the pattern out.  My brain feels as if it has been trampled by a herd of wombats, trying to work out all the implications of moving 3cm of dress from the hem of the skirt to the waistband (short legs, long back – it’s a family curse).  But I’m quite proud of myself.  Well, as proud as I’m willing to be before the dress is finished…

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Baby bunting

Of my list of ‘a random collection of things I quite fancy doing’, the thing I wanted to do more than anything was make bunting.  So I have:

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This is for my best friend, to brighten up her work desk.  She’s very kindly put it up in her kitchen to take a photo for me.  Her kitchen is far tidier than mine.  As, I imagine, is her work desk.

I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out.  Definitely less messy than my other achievement from the list. And prettier too. A success!

 

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All about everything I’m doing this weekend…

I found out, on my way home from my holivisit to Scarborough, that I am not being made redundant.  This is a huge relief.  My job being at risk meant that I was at risk of not paying the mortgage and losing my house.  It put my plans to sort out the future of my house and to get divorced on hold.  The uncertainty was very challenging.  And, a year on from having my marriage, my dreams, my family and my future, cruelly pulled from under me, I discovered that the job I thought was secure was not at all.

So, it’s been a challenging few months.  It’s been incredibly difficult at work. It’s taken up a lot of time at home preparing for assessments and thinking about jobs I could apply for.  It’s been stressful.  So I’m very glad to be out the other side.

Now I feel I can move forward.  I can start living the rest of my life.  I can push to get divorced (anyone who tells you it’s too easy to get divorced these days is someone who has never got divorced) and sort out plans to take on the mortgage.  I can start thinking about whether I want to stay in the job I’m in or move to something else, but I can do it at my own pace.  And I can start buying Christmas presents knowing that I will have an income to pay for them!

I’m having a very satisfactory weekend.  Last night I went to see The Levellers play at Manchester Academy – probably my fourth or fifth concert in 16 years – I love the music and I love the sense that there is an alternative to the society we live in now.  They were supported by Citizen Fish, a punk-ska band (we didn’t know how punk and ska could be combined, but once you’ve heard it, it’s obvious) and Bad Cardigan, two boys playing guitar and singing beautifully.

Today I am going to watch the last ever episode of West Wing.  Season seven has been a joy and worth the pain of seasons three to six (actually, I quite liked season six but some of the other seasons have felt like something to get through).  I am going to write a whole post about how much I love West Wing once I’ve finished, but it’s enough to say that I am enjoying seeing good things happen to people I care about.

I’ve also finished a sewing project which I’ve been working on for a while, but I can’t put a picture up because I think it’s going to be a Christmas present.  It’s one of those project which you can allegedly make in a few hours but which takes me months because I’m slow and I leave it too long before actually doing any more sewing.  I need to remind myself that I enjoy making things and get upstairs to my lovely sewing attic.

And I’m spending quite a lot of time today trying to get on top of all the chaos in my house.  I am not tidy by nature and I don’t enjoy doing housework.  And I don’t mind clutter, really.  But the mess and the need to always wash things up in order to use them makes me feel chaotic.  I feel like my life is a disaster and I feel like I’m just the wrong side of coping.  So I’m sorting it today.  I’m doing the washing up and tidying the work surfaces.  Once I can see them I’m going to clean them.  And then I’m going to put away everything which is on the kitchen table.  And then I’m going to go through the boxes of stuff that I took off the work surface a couple of months ago with a view to making the worksurfaces tidy. And then I’m going to go through my food cupboard and throw away everything which is out of date or which I’m never going to eat, and also the potato which has blossomed into some sort of intelligent life form.  I haven’t really looked in this cupboard since before Ex-Husband left (in fact, as throwing away out of date food was one of his obsessions, I have possibly never really looked in this cupboard) so there could be anything in there.

It’s a busy weekend but satisfying.  I hope you’re all having good weekends too – what are you doing?

 

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I like spending time doing things I’m not very good at. Apparently.

I like cooking. But what I really like is looking at pictures in cookery books and imagining cooking them. It seems to be the same with sewing. I like looking at pictures of things I could sew, and imagining how nice it would be to have sewn it, without actually putting the hard work in.  Imagining sewing something lovely is more satisfying than spending lots of time and money on a sewing project and ending up with something less-than-lovely.

I’ve also discovered the joy of buying downloadable patterns.  Find a picture of something you like, enter your Paypal details and in seconds a pattern arrives in your inbox.  Instant gratification at its best! (Followed, of course by the delayed ungratification of making something wonky and badly-fitting).  However, there are a few issues.  Firstly, after downloading the pattern yesterday I discovered my printer had run out of cyan ink. Despite repeated pleadings, it wouldn’t print out a pattern in black-and-white because it had no blue.  Whatever.  So I walked into town, eating into precious sewing time, and visited three different shops before finding somewhere that sells my printer’s cartridges.

So. I got home, had some lunch and then printed out the pattern.  This one is fairly easy because it’s only 4 pages of patterns. Some run to 32 pages or more.  Once all the pieces are cut out, you stick them all together, the different parts being matched up with stars and circles and squares. This is quite fun. Except (and here’s the second problem) I can’t cut straight and I can’t stick straight.  So it was challenging trying to fit the ‘straight’ edge of the pattern piece against the straight edge of the folded material.  In the end I lined the top and bottom of the piece against the edge and hoped for the best.  The instructions which came with it were pretty straightforward (so far) and I’m pleased with it.

But it’s quite addictive. I have found loads of patterns for cute little things to sew for girls.  And bags. Lots of bags. I don’t really use bags, but I like the idea of sewing bags.  There are quite a few sites which offer free patterns, or patterns which can be downloaded for a few dollars.  I linked to a list of free patterns for dresses for girls here, I really like Made By Rae and MADE (apparently the key to having a successful sewing blog/business is having ‘made’ in your title. Fortunately I am about being awesome rather than successful sewing) but I’d quite like to have a go at making some clothes for myself.  So, do you use downloadable patterns? Any recommendations for other sites where I can satisfy my pattern-habit?

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