And so the year ends…

Sunday 29 December 2019

As I pull into Norton Canes, the service station on the M6 Toll Road, it seems as good a place as any to reflect back on 2019 and put together my final post of the year.

It is homeward bound after a lovely Christmas break in Oxford and Cambridge. My old university stomping ground as it happens, but on this occasion, just exciting to be visiting friends and family, as opposed to wandering around the dreaming spires. The closest we come to anything you could deem an ‘Oxbridge activity’ is breaking out of a Cold War themed Escape Room (with 5 minutes to spare.) We are the ‘Squad of Seven’ – move over Cambridge Five!

The Toll Road on the return journey, now that is my guilty pleasure! I loathe queuing. I am really not a patient waiter. In my time I’ve driven huge (and probably time-costly) detours to avoid the grim misery of gridlocked traffic. So paltry charge of £5.60 for the utter luxury of 27 miles of well-lit motorway, wide lanes and a joyous lack of other road users seems a very small price to pay! Eventually, of course, it will be a return to the endless cone-lined crawl of the 50 mph zone on the M6, but a coffee break delays that for another half an hour, so here goes…let’s review 2019. I take a deep breath, I fire up my blog on the laptop, click on ‘January’ and step back in time.

It is not just the end of the year in a couple of days, but also the end of a decade. As I re-read my blog however, re-visiting each month in turn, I realise that one year is more enough for me to look back upon. I try to decide if, as the midnight bells chime on Tuesday, 2019 will it count as a good year or one to regret? But there’s no answer to that…because it’s neither. What it is, is just one full calendar year… 365 unforgettable days of ups and downs. And I like that. There have been moments of great happiness; fun times, cloud-9 times, laugh-until-you-cry times. Equally, I’ve shed a fair few tears and I re-live days of disappointment, even sadness. I’ve met new people and I’ve had to say ‘farewell’ to others. I’ve relished new challenges and I’ve battled with the drudgery of daily routines. I think it’s called life! It strikes me that we don’t actually need significant temporal landmarks such as years and decades to make sense of our lives. In actual fact every day matters. And that is true of any year. The difference for me in 2019 is that so many more days have been captured and will be remembered. Because I have written their stories down and that’s one thing that is not going to stop.

Exactly one year ago, the blog was my New Year’s Resolution. Little did I know how much I was going to love it … just love writing again. It’s not enough to tell you that it’s fun to have a record of the year to re-read and share. It has been a complete joy. I start with a blank screen. I set off. I rarely know where I’m going or what I want to say. The words just dance on the page, then blend and reform into thoughts, sentences and stories. It feels exciting, it feels creative and it has been, without question, astonishingly therapeutic. I recommend it to anyone. Whether it’s building basket ball stands (Slam dunk – my most popular post of the year) or conversations with your friends that transform your outlook on life (Single parenthood necessity) any day or event can make a memorable tale.

Carrying on with my blog, that’s a definite ‘Yes’ for me. I would also add writing to my previous tips of running and reading, for any stretched and stressed parent. All three pastimes are free and flexible. They fit around you and your schedule and are fantastic for health and well being. Hey, reading, running and writing – the veritable 3R’s of sanity, for people of all shapes and sizes.

Glancing up from my reveries, I notice that it’s getting quite dark. I drain the last of my coffee and reluctantly, resign myself to the fact that my therapy time is up for today. If I ever want to get home again, I need to face the M6 ….

In need of a boost…of juice!

Friday 17 May 2019

I am appalled at how rubbish I am on this Friday’s run and it leads me to commit to a week free from alcohol, free from toast and rich in … juices! Now that could be a real challenge!

It’s our first fine Friday for many weeks. We tough, Lancashire lasses have doggedly run through rain, sleet, snow and gales over the grim and grey winter months. Some colleagues have marvelled at our unstoppable madness, and many have chortled at the sight of us returning windswept and wild from our endeavours. So the upturn in the weather has us giddy with excitement. Many routes are proposed. Reservoirs and valleys are spoken of, as are fields and trails but eventually we settle on a beautiful route through the woods. It should be a glorious treat … but it’s also a three-hill-killer and I am quickly slain. I do get through it, mainly because the one rule of Run Club is that ‘we never stop’, but it is a huge struggle. I am at the back, I am red faced, I am dry mouthed, I am hot, I am bothered and I am slowing down with every step! How can this be, I ponder? How can I go running twice a week and now start to go backwards? It makes no sense and I start to puzzle about what is different.

I am under the weather this week, in fact I do have to confess to a ‘Granny Nap’ today, when I was shocked to jolt back into consciousness from confused doze on my desk at work. Could that be it? It was also an off road route. Is that too much for my trusty trainers? And continuing the doubt in my running shoes, I add, to sound like a bona-fide athlete, that I do carry a permanent and painful niggle in my right ankle. So like the proverbial bad workman, do I blame my tools? Umm …one thing that certainly cannot be helping is that break-time toast at work and wine-fuelled evenings, out and in, have developed into definite guilty pleasures of late! A doctor friend recently told me that he aims for 2 alcohol-free evenings a week … and I’d be struggling to meet that threshold at the moment. Here, at least, is somewhere for me to start, healthier diet.

I have a plan! After a few moment clattering around my kitchen cupboards, I unearth…the juicer! I place it proudly on the worktop, dust it down and then gingerly plug it in and risk the on- switch. It whirrs back encouragingly and I decide there’s no time like the present. I rummage around in the fridge for a few wizened fruits and vegetables and off we go! With in moment I am triumphantly sipping on a glass of green sludge which tastes…pretty good actually. It’s surely giving my weary body the boost of nutrition and energy it needs! I put aside, for now, the chore of of having to clean the thing, and raise my sludge glass , ‘To a week free from wine and toast but rich in nutritious juices! To a fitter and faster me!‘ …

This mum runs too

1 March 2019
March gets off to a great start with the return of the work Friday Run Club!

I have been running for about 5 years now. It began with me huffing and puffing my way ‘around the block’ which was exactly a mile. Gradually, I’ve built it up, to a Park Run, then a first 10K, and I now manage a couple of 5 or 6 miles runs each week. It is the perfect sport for a single parent because it’s cheap (all you need is a pair of running shoes), and it’s totally flexible (you go running when you have a spare hour.) But what a huge struggle and often a dreaded chore it was at first! I think it was about 3 years ago, that someone recommended running a bit slower and that was a complete revelation! I went from enduring running to loving it overnight! I did slow down and now I run further and, ironically, faster than I ever thought possible. To quote Matt Frazier, author of ‘No-Meat Athlete Cookbook’,
If all you know of running is running fast, then you don’t know running. You know gym class mile-run torture, and almost nobody (not even runners) thrive on that kind of pain. If you’re having trouble running consistently, just slow down.”

Anyway, back to our Friday Run Club. Friday was once a day when I just didn’t want to get up. The teens have a Friday rehearsal which finishes at 7 and I am the ‘pick-up’ parent! By the time I finish work it’s not possible to make the pick up if I go home first. So every Friday, I’d leave for work at 7:30 am, and finally make it back home by 7:30 pm, instantly have to start cooking so that our hungry and grumpy household could eat before 9! There was also dismal, dead time at the end of the working day when I’d try, but utterly fail, to be productive and get ahead with jobs for Monday. Let’s be honest, who wants to work late on a Friday?

At the start of October, a work colleague suggested a Friday run and it has been a ‘Friday transformation’ ! My week now ends with a small group of us running together for an hour, clad in bright clothes (even I’ve dug out a pink running top) and never once mentioning, ‘pace’ or ‘PBs’. Instead for the first 2 miles we talk work, and with every sentence and every step I feel work being put aside and laid to rest until the start of the next week. For the next 2 miles, as the incline we’ve been climbing steadily intensifies in steepness, I actually can’t speak! But I come back to life on the glorious 2 mile descent back to work , and now we discuss weekend plans and life, the good parts and the bad. ‘Never stop!’ is our motto, but if anyone gets tired or feels under the weather we all slow down. It’s running for fitness but, more importantly, for friendship and it is the perfect start to my weekend. Back home, Small Boy’s Friday technology class have been cooking since January and so we have had the added bonus of (cooking class) meals ready on the stroke of 7:30 pm too!

I marvel at the achievements of Jasmine Pace, a mum who became the first female winner of the Ultra Marathon. At Christmas, one of our runners bought us all buffs in support of the ‘Doing it for Laura‘ campaign, that you may have seen on the the BBC news, and I marvel, not only at this inspirational teen, but at her runner mum, too. I marvel at my own mum friends who have run with their children, or around their children, and now complete astonishing running feats. And because of them and because running keeps me fit and sane and because running’s made me appreciate that my amazing workmates are so much more than the jobs they do, I am proud to say ‘This mum runs too…”

Some days are an up-hill …

24 February 2019
A mood of back-to-school gloom hovers over the house today and for me the weather is only making it worse! Whilst everyone else rejoices in the unseasonably warm weather, my single-mum eyes just look out of the window and think ‘Garden!

Assisted by my trusty team of decorators, I was feeling on top of the house and my grown-up homestead duties until the sun came out! The garden, which I’d hoped to cheerfully ignore until mid-April, is suddenly a verdant abundance of weeds and rapidly growing grass and it demands more immediate attention. With a sinking, and all too familiar, feeling of being impossibly overwhelmed, I add ‘weeds’ and ‘lawn’ to my to do list! Coping with the endless demands, of all the adult jobs at home, is a daily battle for any single parent and, for me, the garden has to be the worst. I think about starting a Single-Parent co-operative where we all help each other out. I don’t mind a bit of extra ironing or a few more bathrooms to clean, if someone is going to weed my garden, and deal with drains and pipes in return! However, as that’s not likely to happen soon, I consider heading out in search of weedkiller.

But the thought of gardening is not the worst thing for me today. The sunny weather has reminded me of the ‘pretty nice fella’ I broke up with a few months ago. This is just his kind of day. I picture him dusting down his shorts and heading out for a glorious hilly bike ride. I remember how he used to come clattering triumphantly back from his adventures into my kitchen, a little bit sweaty, but his face alive with energy and smiles.And I know he won’t be clattering into my kitchen anymore, because he clatters into someone else’s now, and that hurts. And what hurts even more, is that the sunny weather marks the arrival of Spring and I realise that it’s not enough that I have made it through Winter, I have to make it through Spring, Summer and all the seasons ahead. I have to make it through year upon year without my ‘pretty nice’ friend, partner and lover by my side. And that is …heartbreaking…

I am overcome by a wave of sadness and I know I need to do something to stop it, because if I let these tears start to fall I don’t think they will ever stop. I decide that weed killer can wait, pull on my trainers and head out for a run instead. One thing to love about running is that it’s a perfect analogy for life. You know that the reward for every up-hill struggle is a downhill where you can recover and repair. There’s sometimes even a fantastic finishing line. And although I know there’s no magical happy ending for me this time, I’ll settle or a bit of recovery and repair right now …