Happy New Year!

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After a two-week break from blogging, writing, and working generally, I’m returning to my desk today refreshed and with a renewed sense of vigour. I had a proper rest over Christmas, mostly spending time with friends and family. The build-up to Christmas is always a crazily busy time, I never seem to get to the end of the to-do list, and the things that normally sustain me – nutritious food, quality sleep, exercise, and reading, of course – are all compromised as there is always another event to attend, party to host, gift to purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the excitement, the sparkle, the dressing-up and going out, the shopping, etc, but I can only keep it up for so long. For me, this Christmas, all of that stopped at the Winter Solstice on the 22nd, fittingly perhaps. At that point, school ended, and time spent with those closest to me began. It would also have been my late father’s 74th birthday so is always a time when I pause to reflect. Two weeks of rest ensued and I now feel ready to face all the challenges that 2018 will no doubt bring.

My biggest goal this year will be to complete the first full draft of my book. I’ve been working pretty hard on it over the last three or four months and I’m hoping to finish it by the Spring. I’ve also been giving a great deal of thought to this blog and have decided that my passion really lies with children’s literacy, so I will be doing a lot more this year focussing on books for kids. After the posts I put out before Christmas with literary gift ideas for children, I had so many conversations with other parents desperate to support their children’s literacy, and looking for ideas on how to motivate a good reading habit, that I feel there is a real hunger out there for more on this topic.

January is a tough month in my view, long, cold (in northern England), damp and dark, so I’m always wary of making too many ‘resolutions’ (I find Autumn a much more fruitful time for me). It is also the month of my birthday and this year I am having one with a zero so that will be challenge enough! At our family New Year’s Eve celebration we were each asked what we would be letting go of, what we would be bringing more of into our lives. I will be trying to let go of ‘busy-ness’ – it doesn’t suit me, I lose my sense of myself and I get irritated with those around me. Yes, we are all busy at least some of the time, but I will try instead to focus on priorities and to let go of what I don’t need to do. I will try to bring more music into my life, listening, playing, singing and dancing. It is a primal human expression of our self and our creativity and allows us to connect with others on a deeper level. I also have a very narrow range of music I listen to (mostly Radiohead!) so I’ll be attempting to broaden my scope.

I will also, of course, try hard to maintain my reading habit. I had a great year of reading in 2017, thanks to this blog, my book club and to the Reading Challenge I set myself at the start of the year. I’ll be posting later in the week with another Reading Challenge for 2018, so look out for that if you’d like to join me.

Whatever your goals and aspirations for 2018 I wish you well in them. The sun is shining as I write this and life feels good!

What are your reading goals for 2018?

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Reading challenges

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Reading challenges have become popular in recent years: you know, where someone gives you a guide or a format for reading a number of different types of books with a view to expanding your reading horizons. They can be useful for people who feel they are stuck in a bit of a literary rut or good for those who are motivated by a deadline. Those sorts of things usually work for me – I am usually the one in my book club who is up late the night before we meet, racing through the final chapters of that month’s book! I think it’s a personality thing.

What I hear from from people more often though is that they would just like to read more. That they are haunted by their ‘to read’ pile (but, book fiends that we are, we still can’t resist acquiring more). And they would just love to carve out a bit of time in their week to read. When I started this blog, I knew that I would have to make time to read if I was serious about it. And I have. I read for about an hour a day – an hour a day I didn’t have before I started blogging! Which just goes to show that if you want something enough you’ll find a way of doing it. And I believe I am a happier calmer person as a result.

So, if that’s you, and if you don’t necessarily need to widen your reading, but would rather just deepen your reading habit, I would like to share my personal reading challenge with you. I think of it as a yogic or mindful rather than a HIT reading challenge!  Join me if you like, it’s about quality rather than quantity.

You can download the challenge here.

Are you doing a reading challenge of your own that you can recommend?

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Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

Apologies, I’m a little late with the new year message, but if like me you have a family you’ll know why! – two weeks of intense Christmas-ness. And with the kids having only just gone back to school, this may well be the first real breath I have taken for about a month! Ah well, I hope you had a good one and here’s to a happy and successful 2017.

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Many of you will have made New Year’s resolutions this week. January doesn’t really work for me as a resolution-making month; I find I have a greater chance of success in September at the start of the new academic year. I also love Autumn more than I do Winter so I have more mental and physical energy. That said, I am looking out of my window at a cold but beautiful sunny day and I am feeling pretty good about life! So, rather than make new resolutions, I am resolving to consolidate and reaffirm my existing ones like making sure I swim at least once a week. I was doing pretty well but then December happened!

2017-01-04-14-16-54We have also completed a rather intense phase of building work in our house so I’m itching to get things back under control domestically. When thinking about this I was reminded of a book I picked up a couple of years ago called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’ll give you the sub-title which more or less sums up what the book is about:

“Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”

 

 

Gretchen is a mother of two young girls who lives in New York City. She wrote this book after thinking that perhaps she could squeeze more joy out of life by applying herself to a year-long programme of change. She breaks the areas of her life down into eleven different categories and focuses on a different one each month (December is the month for having everything in place and practicing it all in toto – she calls it “Boot Camp Perfect”). For each category she identifies five or six or so different ‘tasks’ that will help her to meet that month’s goal. So, for example, January’s goal is health-related and is to “Boost Energy”. The tasks are not only related to physical health (go to bed earlier, exercise better) but also to mental health (“toss, restore, organize”), linked to clearing the clutter in her home and unblocking energy.

2017-01-04-13-30-54Other examples: June is a month to “Make Time for Friends” and September to “Pursue a Passion”. Her basic premise is that in order to implement change successfully you have to make things habitual. Once these habits are embedded in your lifestyle they are hard to break – for example, I manage to find 5-10 minutes each day to brush and floss my teeth, but found it really hard to find the same amount of time to drink enough water…until I got into the habit of drinking a glass at 10, 12, 2 and 4 o’clock each day. Sounds banal but it works.

 

 

Gretchen has an approach I can relate to – it’s systematic, involves planning and lists, and takes the pressure off the first week of the new year; I know that if I made a new year’s resolution to eat more healthily from January 1st I’d fail before the week was out as I still have half a Christmas cake and a mountain of fancy chocolate gifts in the house! You get a whole month to implement each new ‘set’ of tasks and a whole year to make the overall transformation. It’s all about changing habits, gradually.

The book is not a self-righteous instruction book, as I find so many titles in the self-help and ‘how-to-change’ genres are, it’s written very much as a diary of Gretchen’s own progress in implementing her programme. I embraced the book enthusiastically after I’d read it and it really did help me to embed some practical changes in my life which I would say have improved my happiness and wellbeing. The author also has a website, which you can access here, on the same theme where she writes regularly about happiness and habits and also about her passion for books (another reason why I like her!).

Since this book was published in 2009, she has also written and published Happier at Home which I picked up last summer while on my holiday in New York but haven’t yet read, and Better than Before. (I’m resolving now to read the former!)

I’d definitely recommend The Happiness Project. It’s for people who are serious about making change in their lives and who could benefit from a framework on how to do it.

What changes have you resolved to make this year?

Are there any books that you have found helpful in making change in your life?

In need of a post-holiday magic wand?

Most children will now be back at school. And most parents will be breathing a bit of a sigh of relief! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE having mine off, and enjoy being able to step off the term-time treadmill for a few weeks, but I am always glad to get back to the routine. I have one teenager and two precocious pre-teenagers in my household, and whilst I’m no longer in the zone of clearing up their toys every five minutes or spending all day and every day ‘entertaining’ them as I did when they were little (here’s to you if you still are), a low-level chaos still seems to take over the house when they’re off school. They leave ‘stuff’ everywhere, they change clothes multiple times a day, and once the disorder sets in it is so hard to rein it back.

A few months ago, I bought Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, in a flurry of enthusiasm; after having some work done in the house and finding so much irrelevant and pointless stuff lying around as I prepared for the builders, I felt a sudden motivation to “sort things out once and for all”. The family cowered and hoped I’d get over it quite quickly. I made a good start, organising both my own wardrobe and persuading my husband to do his as well. This is Marie’s Step 1. Step 2 is Books, so I’m psyching myself up for that one! Here’s my review of the book.

I’d love to know what you think, or if you have the same feeling of needing to reorganise once the Autumn comes around.

the-life-changing-magic-imgI didn’t think that the words “life-changing” and “tidying” could belong in the same sentence in anyone’s world, let alone adding the word “magic” as well! Don’t get me wrong, like many people, I enjoy the buzz I get from a clean tidy space, it’s the cleaning and tidying bit I don’t like. Marie Kondo is a different kind of animal, but she is highly likeable because she doesn’t try to hide it. She confesses that when she was a child she loved tidying both her own and other people’s things, and devoured women’s magazines with all their cleaning and tidying tips.

I felt vaguely uncomfortable at times with this book; I was worried that it was a bit of a throw-back, like I might turn into my mother whilst reading it! However, (isn’t there always one of those?) it IS actually more than that. Decluttering experts, psychologists and television producers all know that a chaotic domestic environment often says as much about our minds as it does about our lifestyles. It can also affect our minds and our lifestyle more than we realise. And that is where Marie Kondo is coming from, in her quirky, charming and guileless way.

Continue reading “In need of a post-holiday magic wand?”