Finding my shape

The picture doesn’t illustrate the theme of finding my shape. It is one of the shrubs that was already planted in the garden, coming into full flower and taking me by surprise. So I couldn’t help but illustrate learning to bloom where I am planted.

Over the last few weeks I have been following a discipleship course with my housegroup buddies, (Making Disciples, Cris Rogers). Last week was interesting as we considered our hands, or what talents and gifts we have been given that can be used to serve. In preparation for the session we used a hand outline to write down gifts that we use regularly (on the palms) and then gifts that we don’t use often for whatever reason (on the fingertips). And then during the session we had the opportunity to be encouraged as others suggested gifts that we have. Others often recognise gifts and talents that I might take for granted. For example, I had a similar conversation with my sister last year and she was talking about the gardening, jam making, knitting and other things that I do as great resources when I had just thought they were selfish habits that I did because I like doing them. Thinking of them as gifts I have that can serve God elevates them to another level.

In my new church we are about to start a new Bible study group. Ahead of the course we have had the opportunity to watch a movie, Overcomer. I found myself reflecting on my own running as well as ways that I have messed up and my journey to faith. I have often struggled with defining my identity both in a secular sense and a spiritual sense but this film showed me a great way to practically find my identity in Christ. The main character is encouraged to read Ephesians 1+2, and to write down all the things it says about the new believer. She is able to find an identity of being chosen, forgiven, saved, loved, a child of God. I look forward to working through this new study and finding more of my own identity.

Some years ago I read A purpose driven life (Rick Warren). The most meaningful quote that sticks with me is that I am not an accident. I was known and loved before the world began, and I have a purpose. In that book there is a useful tool that is relevant to the theme today, the S.H.A.P.E. tool. Spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experience. All of these things can help me to find my purpose. And boy, has my shape changed over the years. Especially the experience part!

So that’s where you find me this week folks. Using various tools to reflect on my shape, identity, purpose, and exploring ways that I can serve God.

Ways to take part in community

As regular readers will know, we ‘chose’ the worst possible time to move into a new community. It was just before Christmas, lockdown 3 (or was it 4?) was in place, the weather was not conducive to seeing people, and I had my usual restrictions of fatigue and reduced mobility. So meeting people was difficult. Making connections was difficult.

We hope that this home will see us both out. So we are in this community for the long haul, hopefully. However dark the night may be, morning always comes. So, as the days got longer, the weather improved, spring sprung, and lockdown eases, we are gradually making a way to be a part of community.

Technology helps of course. Before the move I had made contact with the church and have been taking part in services and study groups. And of course, the dreaded social media, which can cause problems, has actually been a great way to make contacts. I can follow the local shop, the pub, the farm shop, the treatment centre, the garden centre. There is even a dedicated community page for the village so I get to see when the motorway is closed or when a tree has blown down and blocked a road, what the bank holiday opening times are, how lockdown easing is affecting the village, who is interested in a book swap and all kinds of other snippets.

The pub, and especially the landlord, have been wonderful. They started a takeaway service in January when they were allowed. As we expect to be here for the rest of our lives we are committed to supporting our local businesses so it was wonderful to start a weekly takeaway habit. They even got in gluten-free batter especially for me so I can have fish and chips. Then, in April, as they were allowed to open the garden, we started to go across for a drink or for food. They have been awesome at welcoming both of us, making adjustments for my mobility, adjustments for my dietary needs, and even making a point of introducing us to other regulars.

Social media even helped me with my journey to zero waste. I joined the local freecycle group. So I can post things for others as I continue to declutter/downsize. But also, we received a glass table which we were able to upcycle. The glass top made a great addition to our well, and the pedestal is now holding a slice of applewood and is a drinks table in the courtyard.

I wrote at Easter about starting to make contact with neighbours. The Spring weather has helped too as people are out in their gardens more.

And then today, I gritted my teeth, took my painkillers, and headed out to do my bit for the community litter picking. I was able to hang the rubbish bag on the back of my mobility scooter and then used the litter picker tool, industrial gloves, and occasionally my stick, to slowly work my way along both sides of our stretch of road. Using the scooter meant I could sit and rest whenever and for however long I needed. The sunshine helped. The equipment helped. Reclining at home on the sofa to recover is helping too. And I have found a small way to take part in my community.

When does acute on chronic just become chronic chronic?

Acute on chronic is the description of symptoms of a long term condition that are made worse by an additional illness or injury. So, for example, an asthmatic with a chest infection after a cold will have acute on chronic wheezing. And in my case, my trip down the steps two weeks ago gave me acute on chronic back pain and mobility issues.

I have been holding on to all the positive things about that. I already have in place many of the adjustments needed for pain and mobility issues – pain killing medications, walking stick, mobility scooter, heat packs, understanding husband, years of training and experience, and adjustment to living under lockdown. But my question now is – is this acute pain or is it just my new normal?

Prior to two weeks ago I had reduced my medication to the lowest level I could manage. I dislike taking medicines as much as anyone and I particularly dislike taking them for no real benefit. If I still have pain after taking the maximum dose of painkillers I have to wonder if there is another way of being. So I experimented. I worked out how little I could medicate myself before the pain got unmanageable. And I found that a mixture of tablets, between 2 and 6 capsules a day was sufficient to balance pain relief drugs and other management tools so that I had a reasonable quality of life. Indeed, I would go as far as to say thriving.

However, I find myself now, having a different balancing act to perform. I have some spectacular bruises although some are fading and some are internal, but they are in several places up and down my back. So I am having to take stronger and more regular medication. And that seems to be bringing other issues. One makes me somewhat drowsy, not necessarily a bad thing to start with as I needed to rest more, but can get frustrating after a while. Especially when the old brain injury can still affect my cognitive functions. But yesterday I had a terrible headache too. Having suffered for most of my adult life with migraines (very bizarrely, not since the head injury) I am familiar with the ironic medication overuse headache.

So my question, dear reader, (and I am not sure who exactly I am asking, or indeed if it is even a real question) is, now that it is two weeks since the acute injury, at what point do I decide to just get on with accepting a new normal? When do I move from recovery from a few bruises to getting on with life?

Now, I know that it is only two weeks ago that I was calling out the paramedics. And back in my working days I would probably think 2-4 weeks would be a normal recovery time, maybe more considering that old wedge fractures were confirmed. So I should probably take my own advice, suck it up and take the meds and balance rest and gentle movements. But. And it’s a big BUT, three years ago I was three months post spectacular dismount at a point where I had expected to be back to normal and yet had only just been discharged from fracture clinic. And still 9 months away from realising that this was going to be long term. And it would take me another year after that to even start on the acceptance process. So, if this does prove to be a new normal I am keen to get a head start on adjusting and accepting and not waste time. Looks like I have another opportunity to work on my weakest of weak virtues, patience. Just as well I happen to have an appointment with Sikes already booked for this week 😂

So in an effort to hold on to the positive, although the pain and the headache conspired to delay the blog post this week, they have at least given me something to talk about with my psychologist. More interesting I guess than everything is fine. And the difficulty bending and moving will also give #theloveofmylife the opportunity to do the planting out of the seedlings, so the vegetables can join me in learning to bloom where they are planted.

When disability is a label not a definition

I have said it before, and doubtless will say it again, but I love to read and I love to learn. One of the many, many books I have ‘on the go’ at the moment is My blogging secrets (Amber McNaught). One of the downsides I have mentioned before is that as someone who is trying to reduce consumption, I really can’t imagine advertising anything enough for me to earn a living through this blog. But, I would like to have people reading what I write. So, with that in mind, I have finally created a Facebook page for this blog. Part of setting up that page made me think more about keywords and tags that will help readers to know what to expect. And that got me to thinking about disability.

Existing readers will know that I have some disabilities. In my previous working life I was very familiar with the definition of disability under The Equality Act 2010, “a physical or mental impairment which has a significant impact on activities of daily living, and that has or is expected to last more than 12 months”. The key words being significant (not minor) and long-term. It’s not for me to say, it would be for lawyers to argue, but I would suggest that definition applies to more than one of my conditions. I am also the fortunate beneficiary of a Blue Badge which entitles me to use disabled parking. Much of my rehabilitation in the last year or two has been about accepting the label of DISABLED. That’s not to say that I am accepting disabled as the definition of me or my life. Part of the reasons behind starting this blog were to explore ways of thriving both with and beyond the label.

One frustration that I have had, and which is common to many of my disabled brethren, is that not all disabilities require a wheelchair, and many are not obvious or visible. I know I found using disabled toilets difficult for example. Often they are locked, and as I can find walking difficult it is hard to go find the key and then come back and then return the key after use. If I do manage to access such facilities the toilet and hand washing facilities are often too low for me. Great for transferring from a wheelchair, much harder with a broken back! Likewise, the cognitive fog I can get when I have made the effort to get to a cafe counter sometimes means that it takes me longer to process the information about the menu, my order, how I am going to get from the counter to a seat, and whatever the server is trying to tell me. I can appear to be rude, or stupid, or just grumpy. An invisible disability that can shake my confidence and have a detrimental effect on my independence.

In some ways, being labelled as disabled is helpful. I can park closer, I can get assistance, generally, people are willing to help or make allowances. But in an effort to avoid being defined by a disability I am grateful that I get to remind myself that the effects of my disabilities only make up a small proportion of my overall life. I had 15 times more life before disability than I have had since. With all the things I have done and achieved, the character I had, the experiences and friends and family and community from then. And even since my spectacular dismount, my life is so much more than pain, fatigue and mobility issues.

I guess, the way I am thinking at the moment is that a person can have lots of labels and yet still be greater than the parts. No single label needs to define them. I might be labelled as disabled, or female, or middle aged, or white, or any other demographic. I might be labelled unemployed, or a reader, or a gardener, or a dog owner. Or bossy, grumpy, smiling, caring. In fact, I am all of those things and yet so much more. I accept the label but reject the definition. I shall continue to learn to bloom where I am planted and let that be a bigger contribution to what defines me.

Bonus post: when is a set-back not a set-back?

Just two days ago I wrote my regular Monday blog post and reported that I was hiding in the bedroom having a PJ day and keeping out of the way of the heating engineer. I have just seen said engineer and joked with him that despite appearances, I am not deliberately going to extremes to avoid him. Although I am hiding in a different bedroom today, having a PJ day for different reasons.

One of the books I listened to last week was Brain: the story of you (read by the author, David Eagleman). My own traumatic brain injury (TBI) was only part of the reason for choosing the book which was absolutely fascinating. One of the most interesting things was how memories are made and how we can unwittingly embellish them to the point that we can have extremely vivid memories of events that never actually happened. So I will be interested to read this post some time in the future and see how my memories compare to this fresh report of the last day or two.

Yesterday morning was a normal kind of morning. I had a reasonable nights sleep on Monday which was welcome as my sleep patterns in recent weeks have not been particularly good. As we were due to have a heating engineer arriving any minute I wandered out to the kitchen, not properly awake, to have the coffee that #theloveofmylife had made for me, planning to go get dressed before the work started. He was in the small courtyard below the kitchen and as I went to go down the three steps to join him with the coffee I lost my footing, fell, and landed on my back on the steps. The look of horror on his face as he watched me fall, again, was heartbreaking and almost numbed the shocking pain in my spine as I landed. As you can imagine, I was quite winded by this turn of events, not to mention wet, as most of the contents of the hot coffee mug landed on my midriff. On the bright side, there was no damage to the mug itself.

Having previously had an accident that caused both a back and head injury, you would think that I would learn my lesson and wait for paramedics after this kind of accident. I must admit to being somewhat slow to learn. I knew how stressed #theloveofmylife was feeling that day between an important work call and the engineer visit. And the horror of watching me fall again was adding to the stress. So, I slowly, slowly moved myself into a position where I could catch my breath, then slowly got to my feet, and with support wobbled back to bed, trying to reassure both of us that all was well.

The shock and the pain of the fall made me extremely tired and I managed to doze through the important work call until #theloveofmylife was freed up to focus his attention on me for a little while. He brought me pain relief, a drink, a snack.

I think it was around that time that I messaged my housegroup (small group of Christians who regularly meet for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship) to ask for prayer. They were all most supportive both praying and urging me to get checked out. Eventually, I acknowledged the wisdom of this. I had been dreading the practicalities of a trip to A&E during COVID restrictions. But needs must. So we called 111, the non-emergency health line. During their assessment they decided that I needed to be seen by a paramedic.

Whilst we were waiting for the paramedics I tested the barely embryonic nursing skills of #theloveofmylife by getting him to help me to the bathroom. I needed to pee, and I wanted a quick wash and change of pyjamas. Bearing in mind I had significant pain in both my lower back/right hip AND my upper back/shoulders the bending and twisting to remove clothes and redress myself was just too painful. The blank look on embryonic nurses face as he had no idea of how to help would have been amusing if I wasn’t so tired by the whole thing that I barely had the energy to explain step by step how to help.

Once the ambulance arrived and they had done their assessment, they agreed with me that the best thing was to go get an X-ray to make sure there were no new fractures that may be unstable. Going by ambulance meant I was released from the difficulties of sitting in the car and then the agony of waiting in a chair in reception. I convinced the paramedics that I could use my stick to walk out of the bedroom and front door and they brought the stretcher to that point. Less painful for me, and less manual handling risk for them. And then I was able to doze my way through most of the waiting ahead.

Having got to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital A&E, there was a waiting line of ambulances to offload patients. We settled in for a two hour wait for space inside the department. All credit to all of the staff working under such difficulty circumstances for so long. The department was designed for about 36 patients as a maximum and they had over 70 patients at a time with further 5-10 ambulances waiting. All trying their best for each and every patient. Of course, by the time I got into the department I was subject to not only the tail end of the post-bank holiday rush, but also entering ‘out of hours’ for radiology department services.

Cutting a long story short, I had two thoracic x-rays and then a CT scan. It turns out that I have more injuries to my thoracic spine than I knew about but they were 99% sure there were no new fractures. They all seem to relate to my spectacular dismount of 2017. So in the end I was allowed home to conservatively manage the new injuries with increased regular pain relief, rest and a hotline back to the department should I experience any new red flag symptoms.

It was after midnight by that point and #theloveofmylife had his own adventure getting to the hospital that he had never been to before and getting parked close enough to collect my wheelchair and get me to the car. He had been primed to bring me food and coffee (the supply of gluten-free food in A&E is not great). But, eventually, at about 1am I made it home. We decided that the spare bed for a few days would be the best idea as I need more room to move and get comfortable. And not having the weight of the dog to move every time I turn would be so much easier.

So why did I title this when is a set-back not a setback? Well, I am getting quite practiced at finding silver linings. And there have been so many silver linings in the last couple of days. The opportunity to have my prayer-warrior housegroup colleagues on my side. The chance to talk to and see the work of so many essential workers and express a tiny fraction of the gratitude I have for the work they do. The way the precious skids rallied round to support #theloveofmylife as he waited for news and tried to process all those emotions. The number of good wishes I got from friends and family. Especially my four oldest siblings (sorry for the worries, but thank you all so, so much for being my siblings and for your messages, they mean SO much). I even got some time to read my Big Sister’s latest book Amelie’s Journey (you really should check her out at http://www.johannajackson.co.uk). Then I got the chance to see the purpose and be grateful for the training I have had since my spectacular dismount. I already have in place the adjustments I need to manage these bruises and their affect on my mobility. I already have a supply of pain relief, and a stick. And more love and support around me than I could imagine. And a God who knows my name, has a purpose for me, and is with me whatever valley I walk through. So all in all I would say that the last few days have been eventful but not really a setback. Just a reminder to take notice of all the blessings around me.

Easter: a personal account

At my great age I have lived through many Easter seasons. Some have had more meaning than others. There have been years where it was all about chocolate and earning overtime rates for working on Bank Holidays. There have been years where I have been completely immersed in Holy Week and Easter events at church, and others where I have been struggling too much to even notice that Easter was happening. I remember one Easter as a child where I went on my first ever camping trip that involved hiking 7 miles carrying my kit; pitching a tent in the rain, spending a night getting cold and wet; waking up on Easter Sunday feeling much warmer only to discover it was snowfall that was insulating the tent; and rounding off the weekend with food poisoning. And then there was this year, the second Easter under lockdown with all the newness of being in a new home and community subject to all the restrictions that have become so familiar.

One of the books I have recently read was The Pursuit of God (A.W. Tozer), where I was sad to see his distaste for Lent, Advent and other ‘modern church traditions’. I think his idea was that God could be pursued and found on any day, on Thursday as well as Sunday, or on a cheerful spring day in May as easily as during a fast day during Lent. Whilst I agree that God can be found whenever I seek Him, I have to say that I find the rhythm of the seasons useful. Both the natural seasons and the liturgical. And this Lent has been a blessed time for me.

As the season approached I started to wonder what I should give up as a discipline to help me on my path. In a flash of inspiration I decided on the logic puzzles that take so much of my time when I am resting from more physical activities. They can so often drain my attention and time and disciplining myself to not play them for 40 days during Lent freed me up to reading, prayer, Lent course sessions and other activities.

Regular readers will know that I love to read and this year, having discovered audiobooks, and being generally motivated I am cracking through books at quite a rate. I have read three specific Lent books this year. One of them, Living His Story (Hannah Steele), has been especially inspiring for me. Easter truly is GOOD NEWS. Why would I keep that to myself? When the Creator of the universe, who made humanity for love, relationship and community, loved us so much that he became a human being himself to show us how to be human AND to be reconciled into relationship with God! Relationship isn’t a one-off event, it takes a lifetime. And it grows and develops. How exciting, to be invited in to relationship with God, and to spend my life exploring with Him!

What joy it has been this year, with all the difficulties that I have already mentioned, to just be and enjoy the season. On Good Friday one of my new neighbours/church family, who I have yet to meet in person, dropped an Easter card in to the front door. I tried to go out to catch them and say hello but they were too quick for me with my wobbly, slow waddle. But, it did give me the chance to finally meet my next door neighbour. The spring sunshine had him outside cutting his grass so we were perfectly COVID safe as we chatted at a distance. Nearly four months after moving in I got the joy of saying hello.

On Saturday, #theloveofmylife and I went into a local town to visit a new zero waste store. Again, much joy in exploring our new home community in glorious sunshine and also indulging in our habits of reducing waste.

Easter Day itself started with church by Zoom. What hope there is, in the empty tomb. Death is defeated. It is not the end of the story. As I was reading one of the readings in the service I noticed a notification flash up. After the service had ended I clicked the message and had the absolute joy of watching a small video my Big Sister had sent me. Oh my, the memory of the warm fuzzy feeling is giving me goosebumps as I write. I have lost count of the blessings I have had this week.

In the afternoon, #theloveofmylife, the dog, and me on my scooter had a wonderful half hour outside. We scooted or walked half a mile or so up the lane enjoying spring, topping up our vitamin D, saying hello to passersby as we went to meet a new member of our new community who had organised a community litter pick event. We went there to collect equipment so that we can do our bit to look after our environment. But the pleasure of being out with the man in the very environment we want to help look after was immeasurable.

And so to today. Bank holiday Monday. We have an engineer doing some work today so I am taking the opportunity to have a bit of a pj day, hiding in the bedroom, resting, writing, reading, praying. Feeling blessed beyond words.

Returning to the mini-series: travels with #theloveofmylife

As it’s the start of the Easter holidays, The Girl is home from Uni. We have roped her in to odd jobs in the garden. And she has spent several hours with her Dad building an arbor seat for me from scratch. How awesome to have such talented people around me! And then yesterday, as lockdown eased slightly, Senior Girl and her man came over to help move it into place. I am setting the feature image as a picture of us trying it out. And you’ll see how it has inspired me to link last weeks post about spring in the garden with recounting the next adventure of travels with #theloveofmylife.

In a previous life, before me, #theloveofmylife was seriously good at sailing. Being of a competitive nature he will willingly tell how he can’t stand leisure sailing. He likes the extremes, either no wind at all and very technical skills or else oh my, we may die kind of conditions. Until we met, I had never sailed. I had been on boats but they were usually ferries, a cruise ship, a canal boat, or else a little pleasure cruiser on the Norfolk Broads. Although now I come to think of it I have also punted in Cambridge. And my only experience of kayaking involved several dunkings in the River Severn thanks to my two panicky teenaged girl shipmates. When I point out that #theloveofmylife spent years whitewater canoeing then took up sailing and came third in the World Championships in his class, you will see what a contrast there was between our experiences of boats.

About five years ago we were wondering what to do for our summer holidays and we decided that we would quite like to do a sailing holiday. He has the relevant yachtmaster certificates which meant he could hire a boat without supervision. And as the skids have all crewed for him at various times there would be sufficient skill around. As the plans developed we settled on a trip to British Virgin Islands and we went with The Girl, and Sarge, his partner and son joined us too. I was excited about going to the Caribbean and about sailing for the first time. This was pre-accident but I was seeing a different specialist for an unrelated issue at the time who told me about Anegada, an unusual island in BVI that was well worth a visit. The lead up to the trip was going well until #theloveofmylife started choosing movies to watch before we went. I was happy enough to watch Titanic, but much less happy with being forced to watch The Perfect Storm just days before I trusted him with my life on a 50ft yacht!

The British Virgin Islands are an archipelago in the Caribbean, a British Overseas Territory. There are four main islands, a further 12 inhabited islands and in total there are around 50 small islands. All but Anegada are volcanic. The flight from the UK goes via Antigua where we changed for a small 20 seater plane for the hop across to Beef Island. The grandboy was only five at the time so he had to get a passport and this was his first time on a plane, let alone sailing, you can imagine the excitement. Once we got to Beef Island we had to get the transport across to Tortola and drive to the marina. We had accommodation there overnight before picking up the boat the next day.

Having done all the paperwork and attended the briefings, checked out of the B&B section and taken possession of the boat we were keen to get cracking. We were free to go where we wanted and were not tied to the flotilla so headed out into the bay to head to our first island. Now, we know #theloveofmylife is an experienced sailor, and I was a complete novice who just about knew what the deck was (I knew that there were port, starboard, bow and stern but couldn’t point them out in a line-up), and we also knew that the Skids with us had some previous experience. However, deciding that the middle of a busy shipping lane was the place to put the sails up within 20 minutes of casting off was probably not Captain’s finest decision. The Girl was a young teenager and hadn’t sailed for three or four years, Sarge hadn’t sailed for over a decade and was a little rusty, and no one had explained to me what head to wind meant or how to do it whilst the men fought the ropes to raise the sails. But, disaster averted, we soon found ourselves under sail in the Caribbean heading to Peter Island to find ourselves a likely looking bay to drop anchor for the night.

The next day, having set out to island hop, the weather looked interesting and as the seas started to chop and the wind to pick up we decided to pull in to dead mans harbour to seek shelter. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that a) the depth gauge had not been calibrated properly and b) there was a large, uncharted, underwater rock in the mouth of harbour. We soon found out. As we manoeuvred into the harbour the seas were swelling about 3metres and it was starting to rain when THUNK we came to a dead stop. #theloveofmylife was brilliant, he very calmly moved us back off the rock, Sarge checked the bilge and found a leak, and before you could say boo we were motoring the 5 miles back to base across the straits. That was a challenge. The swells were going sideways so that the boat tilted alarmingly. At one point I looked across to see him at the wheel to find that I was looking down at him because my side of the boat was at about 45 degrees to his side of the boat.

We radioed ahead to base to let them know what had happened and they were brilliant. They met us and helped get us berthed, then checked there were no injuries before sending us off to lunch whilst the boat inspection was done. During lunch we experienced a proper Caribbean rain storm which was quite a sight, sheets of water falling out of the sky for 20 minutes and then stopping as suddenly as it started. Fortunately we had taken out insurance so when the boat inspection showed it needed to come out of the water for repairs the crew organised a replacement immediately. And they made sure that depth gauge was properly calibrated!

The next day we headed out again and spent the next few days island hopping. We had a BBQ attached to the back rail of the boat which served us some great lunches. Stopping at an unpopulated bay and swimming to and from the shore, or the girl being captain of the rib to taxi us back and forth. I got to moor us up at a buoy at least once, and helped wind sails and various jobs. We motored sometimes and sailed at others.

We also made it to Anegada. It’s the odd one out in BVI being made of coral and limestone rather than volcanic, and it’s flat. It’s highest point is about 8 metres above sea level and you have to get pretty close to even see the island. We were certainly glad the depth gauge worked as we slowly approached over the sandy lane with about a metre of water below us. I have such happy memories of that particular day, I even imagined being there when I had to imagine my happy place during a session with Sikes. We got a taxi to the other side of the island so we could see Horseshoe Reef, one of the largest coral barrier reefs in the world. And I got to snorkel for the first time. That evening we had dinner at the restaurant on the beach by where we had moored the boat and I got to indulge in my dream meal of lobster, much to everyone else’s consternation, the glee of cracking those claws and sucking down that sweet meat. They were happier about me washing it down with pina colada. After dinner there was some excitement as a ray was spotted in the water nearby. And #theloveofmylife and I wandered along the jetty and were sat chatting when a basking shark swam right under my feet. Oh my. It might be five years ago but I am grinning away to myself at the memories.

I am well over my usual word count so no time to tell you about our other boat experiences this time. The cruising and canal boats will have to wait. I am about to go back out into the spring sunshine and sit in my new, boat-shaped seat and dream of lobsters.

Spring in the garden

I am calling a brief halt to my trip down memory lane thinking about travels with #theloveofmylife to consider Spring in the garden. Having moved house in the depths of both winter and another lockdown it has been slightly harder to learn how to bloom where I am planted. But, just as the sun always rises in the morning, so Spring is beginning to spring in the garden. And my paced activities are turning to seedlings, plans, planting and trying to rein in the gung-ho efforts of #theloveofmylife in working some kind of Ground Force transformation.

At our previous home I had the benefit of a greenhouse. Not so here. So my problem solving skills have had a bit of a workout. I have used my outhouse/art room area as a potting shed to start off some vegetables and flowers from seeds (quite a few collected from flowers I grew last year) and then I have distributed the trays around our courtyard and under benches where they are both sheltered from the worst of the weather but also get light to grow. Husband had built three raised vegetable beds for me and this week I have managed to start some seeds out there too.

Our Senior Girl had some old fallen trees that she had offered us for firewood (we are blessed with a very efficient wood burning stove). I had asked for one or two slices with the idea that we might make a table. But when he got home with a trailer full of slices I realised that they would make excellent stepping stones for the new garden path. So, that’s what we have done. I say we, but I mean he. There is no way that my back, mobility or fatigue issues could allow me to lay a stepping stone path. It was enough for me to supervise, and make the supply of hot drinks and snacks to keep the worker happy.

As weather has warmed up there are all kinds of plants springing up in what looked like a blank canvas. It is such a joy to just look around and see what is already there. And also a joy to plan what to grow and plant to add to it. In the last couple of years when I have been wondering what my purpose might be now that I am post-accident I have realised that gardening is something that really feeds my soul. I get to spend time with the Creator whilst enjoying His creation. It lifts my mood no end. And it doesn’t have to be instant – a lot of the joy is to be found in the gradual growth and development.

So #theloveofmylife is a bit of an action man and in his adjustment period as he is recently semi-retired he is keen to keep active every single day. And I am working on pacing, holding myself back from over exertion because of the price of fatigue and pain I am required to pay when I do too much. This came somewhat to a head last week. We had planned to spend some time together in the garden on a fine day. There was a section of hedge that we wanted to cut back. He was set to take a chainsaw to the whole section. I was keener to go slowly and to save the bits we might find that we might want to keep and to only take out the bits we definitely didn’t want. There is only so much leylandii that I can enjoy. Or brambles. We spent four or more hours in the garden learning how to work together and communicate properly! After all these years together we still have opportunities to learn 😂. The result was a) an extra section of area in the garden that opens up the space whilst maintaining some interesting shrubbery b) not finishing all of the planting I had hoped and c) me ignoring the warning signs and ending up barely able to get back into the house to rest. It took over an hour of sitting quietly to be able to speak even. And I was effectively wasted for the rest of the day and most of the next day too.

The beauty of Spring in the garden though is that having recovered over the weekend there are plenty more opportunities to spend time out there. Enjoying the space. Pottering about doing more tasks. Resting. Learning to bloom where I am planted.

Musings

Does anyone else look at those questions on social media what’s on your mind? and think where do I start?? So many things going through my mind this week, not least a kind of thought audit I have been thinking of doing as part of various devotional readings.

I’ll start with blogging. I wonder, and I guess you might too, what’s the point of this blog? It certainly helps me to make sense of some things. Hopefully it might help others to think they are not alone. The writing process helps me to reflect with an attitude of gratitude on things that happen to me, lessons that I might or have learned, in fact the whole title of the blog sums it up nicely in that I am learning to bloom where I am planted just through writing. The discipline of sitting down each week to write 1,000 words helps me develop as a person whilst still learning the lesson of pacing that is still so vital.

Then there are things around the pandemic on my mind. I was fortunate enough to have my first vaccination almost three weeks ago. At this point around 30% of the entire country has had the first jab, so there is definitely some light at the end of this very long and unexpected tunnel. But, and there is a big but, we are still subject to strict lockdown restrictions, even if the gradual reopening process is beginning. I feel a general champing at the bit both socially and personally. Can we make plans? Is there anything that we can do to speed it up? Are there rules that we can bend, or ignore completely? It’s almost like an overdue pregnancy where all we can really do is carry on and be patient, however tempting the hot curry and driving fast to bring on labour might seem. But there isn’t much to write about when staying home to save lives is the continuing norm.

Of course, staying home and saving lives is the noble thing to do but the balance can easily go overboard and I find myself unable to sleep at night and struggling to do anything during the day. Does anything really matter if I have to stay home? I have things to do but find myself not doing them or making excuses, mostly that it doesn’t matter. And then feel bad or lazy or incompetent. When really it’s demotivation. A neutral adjective. And common in this season. No fault or blame, just a state of being. Be gentle with yourself Siân.

My reading rate continues. That helps. The idea of doing a thought audit has come from some of the reading I have been doing because of Lent. (And a book on discipleship that I have been using with a church group). The idea links with some of the work I did with Sikes (for new readers, Sikes is my psychologist) where I would notice but not judge thoughts. Like sitting by a river noticing what floats by, no need to jump into the river to drag them back, just notice. In that picture, there might be shopping trolleys and beer cans that I might want to come back to and clear up. But there may also be swans and dragon flies, and a canoe or two that I can wave a cheery hello to without having to get in the boat. So in a thought audit I might note down the various thoughts for an hour, a day, a week. And then later I can look at the notes and decide what is helpful, what is to be dealt with, what needs cleaning up.

Thankfully, the weather is becoming more springlike which means there is stuff for me to do in and for the garden. I have started some seedlings inside. The vegetable patch is hoed and ready to make a start on, a job this week is to start a row of beetroot and a row of carrots. And joy of joys, I have just put the first load of laundry out in the garden on my brand new rotary line 😍

The discipleship book has several tools, one of which is considering your shape. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that I am a head shape. The other two possibilities are heart and hands. I look forward to continuing to enjoy the head shape (reading, thinking, writing, discussion etc) whilst also looking for opportunities to develop the heart and the hands, the caring, loving, sharing, serving. I am loving the new life I have in Jesus, the transformation that He is doing in me, the way He talks in really unexpected ways including the every day, mundane stuff, and books, films and so on that I really wouldn’t expect. And it’s an open invite. I did nothing to deserve it. And there is nothing I could do to deserve it. To quote Psalm 139 (written about 3,000 years ago) “such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (verse 6).

So there we are, a short canter through the things on my mind this week. Friends, I hope it helps, even if it is just to know that YOU are not alone however it might feel at times.

Resuming the trip down memory lane: travels with #theloveofmylife, part 2

As I start to write I am sat outside in the early Spring sunshine. I have a heat pack in the small of my back, partly for warmth on a chilly morning but mostly to ease the constant ache of my damaged back. I have my feet propped up on the well in front of me, I find that sitting up straight with my feet on the ground gets so uncomfortable that I have to move after a minute or two. The pull on those sensitive nerves and tissues just gets too painful. Not easy if you have to sit in a waiting room. But hey, it’s all part of the story that leads me to where I am planted so I am not complaining, just setting a scene for where I am as I start this trip down memory lane, thinking about some of the journeys that I have been blessed to have with #theloveofmylife.

Last week I took a little detour to consider the reading I have done so far this year (still on track for a book a day) but before that I had started a mini series on travels with #theloveofmylife. I ran out of word count by the time I was about a year in, and as my mind trawls back to the weekends away visiting friends and family, my first time sailing, a work trip away that became a great escape from catastrophe, cruising, canal boating, holidays with groups or just the two of us, I realise that this mini series might turn into a spin-off all of its own.

If we go back half a decade, back in the days when I was fit and well, we were settling nicely into married life. We were both working. We had finished some work extending our home at the time turning it into our home rather than just his bachelor pad. We spent a fair amount of time around horses as The Girl had a loan pony. And as we were at Badminton Horse Trials one Saturday we got a call from the breeder to say we could collect our puppy a day earlier than expected so we headed off to Somerset to add to our little household. And then #theloveofmylife came home from work one day telling me about an important trip that had been booked the next month. All good. Until I pointed out that the trip meant that he would be away for our first wedding anniversary! Potential catastrophe alert. Genius that he is he came up with a plan to extend his trip and take me with him.

So, having hurriedly introduced our 12 week old puppy to a fantastic local kennels we set off for John O’Groats. Now, you could get halfway around the world in less time than it took us to get from one end of our little island to the other. We drove an hour up the motorway to get to the airport two hours before our first flight. Then flew to Glasgow. Hung around for the connection to the tiny puddle jumper flight to Wick. Collected the hire car and then drove to John O’Groats. Door to door in eight hours. Seriously, I’ve flown across the Atlantic quicker than that.

We stayed that weekend at The Inn, a beautiful hotel right on the northern tip of Scotland looking at the sea. As it was June the sun only set for a few hours, it wasn’t properly dark before about midnight and it started getting light again at around 230am. It was stunning to lay in bed looking out at the red horizon as the sky and sea met at 1130pm. I can’t remember if it was the day we arrived or later on that we drove along to Dunnett Head, for the obligatory photo of us at the northernmost point of both Scotland and mainland Great Britain. The scenery in this part of Scotland is stunning.

On the Saturday we took a day trip across to The Orkney Islands. Oh my, what a wonderful trip. It was about two minutes walk from the Inn to the ferry quayside and then a short ride across to the islands where we were met by a coach that drove us around the sights. There is so much history, so many stories, such awesome scenery. From the war stories of Scapa Flow (one of the largest natural harbours in the world) and the Italian Chapel, the Neolithic monuments at the ring of Brodgar, the travelling art installation of poppies Weeping Window at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkhall, to the stunning Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae which I had learnt about in primary school some 35 years before. All wrapped up in padded jackets against the bracing Scottish summer. Travelling with #theloveofmylife and one of the loves of his … whiskey.

The next day we enjoyed a local event, a kind of cross between a vintage car rally and a village fair, complete with Scottish dancing and bagpipes and vintage tractors. We got to see the hatching of some kind of sea bird who had chosen the wall of the Inn as its nest too.

On the Monday it was time for work so we decamped from the Inn and moved a couple of miles inland to stay at a castle which was the venue for the work colleagues to stay at for their trip. On the Tuesday I took the opportunity, whilst they were working, to drive for a visit to the Castle of Mey, the former private home of H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. A beautiful and touching insight into the life of someone I already greatly admired. And then I drove out to Tongue, enjoying the solitude and stunning scenery of Sutherland. It’s like another world. Then it was back to meet the workers who had planned a tour of the distillery at Wick (Pulteney) to celebrate finishing work for that trip. Oh boy, did we do well that day, two bottles of whiskey before dinner, then wine, then Prosecco to mark our anniversary. I drew the line at the after dinner port which meant that I was in much, much better condition than anyone else the next morning to face the journey home!!

Having arrived back home, at least in that particular memory, I find that I have reached my self-imposed limit for word count again. So the sailing adventure will have to wait for another episode of this spin-off series. Meanwhile, since I started writing outside this morning, several hours have passed. I have moved inside. I’ve done laundry and changed bedding and tried to pace myself and generally enjoyed the trip down memory lane. And look forward to the world reopening in the months to come so that there are more adventures to go on with #theloveofmylife (and not just so that I can write about them).