Saturday, 31 May 2014

Life's too Short... worry about the rainclouds!

We have had an unusually cloudly spring here in Greece. Usually around this time of year it has started to feel like summer. The sky gets bluer, the sun gets hotter and we spend most of daylight hours avoiding being outside, for fear of burning to a crisp. 

Not this year! It has been a cool and delightful spring, with showers and cloud cover galore! It has been wonderful for those lovely long walks on the mountain, and for reading in the garden. Warm enough to enjoy, overcast enough to not get burnt. 

Yet, this silver lining... has a cloud too. We have had a little more rain than usual too. Don't imagine anything anywhere near English rain, just the occasional shower here and there (maybe three per week). 

It has made for very dramatic walks up the mountain for us. But I also know that it has foiled a lot of plans too. You see, we are very spoilt here in Greece. If it rains now, it has usually stopped a few hours later. And so, when the rainclouds gather, we tend to postpone. 

I compare this to how we were when we lived in London. When we would go out training come rain or shine, because we knew that waiting a few hours, or leaving it until tomorrow was unlikely to mean that we would get better weather. And you know what? Well... we never melted. Sometimes it might have been unpleasant (cold December mornings spring to mind) but most of the time it was liberating and life-affirming. 

So here it is: Life is too short to worry about the rainclouds. We are going out anyway (just packing our raincoat too... you never know)! 

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Tuesday TED talk - work/life balance

(And the link if your browser will not show the video is  here)

It had been on my mind for a while. In fact for the last couple of years I was questioning the long term viability of my lifestyle as a teacher. I am not the only one, it seems.  Surveys show primary school teachers (in the UK) working an average of 59.3 hours a week! My own estimates seemed about the same. The premise is this: if you want to be more than just an average teacher, if you truly want to add value to your lessons and facilitate good quality learning at (almost) every lesson, then you need to work at it! 

Again, for a few years I relished it. I love my job, and working with kids, though tough, can be intensely rewarding. I want to be good at it, not because it makes me feel better, but because it can make a difference to someone else's life. Good teachers do matter (to an extent). So I rationalised the long hours, thinking of the long holiday payback. "Yes, I might work 60 hour weeks, but I do get 12 weeks of holiday in the year." That was the thinking. 

Only then, when actually calculating my holiday I realised that for at least 6 of those I was working. Not in the classroom, granted. And the work was much easier than 7 periods of teaching each day. But it was still work. And, here's the crux, it often kept me awake at night. Plus, did I really want to live for only 1/5 of the year? Did I want to always wait for the holiday, in order to see my husband, enjoy long walks, have time to read and write?

I watched this TED talk a while after I had decided to take a sabattical. I watched it after I had asked for it and it had been approved, and after I had started my search for a more viable career. The problem is: I love teaching. I think it is worthwhile, interesting, varied, meaningful. To me that is what a career should be. So where does one find balance?

A quick personal survey and scan of several teacher online-fora indicated that a huge amount of teachers in the UK have found a way to balance work and life. And that way has been working part time. It has been increasingly the trend in schools across the country for teachers to job-share and it sounds like a brilliant idea to me too - all the pleasures of the job, less burn out! 

Yet, we live in Greece. And Greece of the crisis is a very different place to the UK. In a country where youth unemployment rates are above 50% (56 to be exact) and that jobs are hard to come by and when they are there, they are highly competitive and badly paid, I dared to utter the words: "I want a work/life balance!" 

Chaos and attack ensued from various sources, including my family. It was blasphemy: I had such a good job, why would I leave it? Why would I give up part of my salary to have more time? What is work/life balance anyway? 

To be continued... (have to go to work, you see)

Life is Too Short to...

...squeeze out the very last little bit of toothpaste. This occurred to me a couple of nights ago, as I struggled to get the very last bit of toothpast out of a tube. And then put it back, wondering if I could spend another two minutes the next night trying to get another little smidgen out... 

So here it is, in black and white: I hereby vouch to throw away a tube of toothpaste that will not willingly yields its contents. I bought a new toothpaste tube and feel happier for it. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

10 things about being Home Alone!

I had a week at home alone. Well, not quite at home, as three out of four nights I did not get home before 9 in the evening. And not quite alone, as the four doggies kept me good company (when I was around). But D was on a residential trip with forty 11 year olds and... I wasn't (thank goodness)!

The photo he sent me from his trip. Looks idyllic, but that's only because you cannot hear the 40 11 year olds... 

But still, it makes quite a change from having D around all the time. We work together, and live together, and train together and socialise together a lot of the time, so it was strange to not have him around for any of those things.

The week went by fast and I realised there are definitely some things I liked about being home alone... and some that I certainly didn't. So here are 5 things I enjoyed... and 5 things I didn't, this week. Here are the five things I enjoyed about being home alone.

1. I loved not having to cook
I eat much less than D. I am also a morning eater, while he is more of a night eater. I eat lots until about 5pm and then my appetite naturally wanes. Often in the evenings I don't feel like cooking or eating, but because D is around I do both. Not so this week! My dinners centred around light snacks, like home made popcorn (here is a good post if you need to learn how to pop your own), yoghurt and fruit and hard boiled eggs.

2. Which meant there was very little cleaning up
Being on my own (and being largely out of the house all day) I only used about two cups, one glass and a couple of plates. All washed up and dried - I didn't even need to use the dishwasher for the four days I was home alone! Lovely!

3. Sleeping in the dark!
Although we share a bed, we don't always share a bedtime in the week. That means that I usually fall asleep with the light on, and when D comes to bed tend to wake up and fall asleep again. These few days it was nice to be able to sleep through those first few hours of sleep (though I actually really didn't enjoy sleeping alone...)

4. Morning routine
I am not sure why, but being a morning person my morning routine is quick and efficient. I could go from bed to car in 15 minutes if I had to. (I normally don't, as I get up much earlier than I need to.). D on the other hand takes time to wake up and get ready. I'm not even sure what he does, but he takes his time. Well, this week I managed to get to work earlier than usual and have time to enjoy a cup of tea there.

5. More time for learning
I love spending time with D. Whether it is chatting, or cooking or eating our meal together, or having a bath, when he is around at home I want to spend time with him. Which is great, of course. However, this week, without the delight of his company I managed to put some solid time on the two online courses I am currently taking. Usually I feel guilty if I have to choose an online lecture over eating together, but this week my choice was easier. Plus, I covered two weeks worth of work, giving us more time together this week!

And here are the five things I hated about not having him around!

1. Running the house is such hard work
Sorting out the compost, emptying the grey water, watering the garden and looking after four dogs all take time. I really appreciate and realise just how much D does around the house and garden. I struggled to do everything on my own this week and certainly appreciate having him back!

2. Waking up alone
I simply love waking up to D! It is my favourite moment of the whole day and I love opening my eyes to see him there (usually still asleep). I love our morning routine, the tea in bed, the morning conversations - it really is the greatest start to my day. Luckily... he's back!

3. No long walks
The other favourite part of my day with D is our long walks with the dogs. Although they have become rarer, due to the fact that we don't have sole control of our "dog car" at the moment, they are still such a delight. We catch up with each other, we discuss our days and bounce ideas off each other. We enjoy watching the dogs run around, sniffing and weeing on everything (the dogs, not us)! No D, no walks, as I don't feel happy enough taking four dogs out on my own up on the mountain. In fact, cannot wait for our walk tonight!
4. Talking
D and I talk a lot. Ok, maybe I talk more than he does, but I really value his opinions and I usually discuss everything that is bothering me/needs a decision/has happened, from the bullying incident at school, to an upcoming interview or a presentation that I need to make. He is grounded and solid and a great advice giver! I certainly missed that!

5. Sharing
I love sharing my life with D. Sharing the big things and sharing the little things. Looking at the moon rise a couple of nights ago, I felt I could not quite enjoy it without sharing it with him. Life is so much better when shared!

Actually I could keep going... I am so pleased that he is back and I am looking forward to a great weekend, with some sun, some voting (!) and some good food. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The (slightly late) Tuesday TED talk - Consuming Wisely

Linking in with my Mindful Buying  of a few days ago is this TED talk about the post-crisis consumer. I like it for two reasons.

One: I like talks, ideas and philosophies that centre around the idea of  "crisis as opportunity". If you are lucky enough to be able to recover from the crisis, then it can be seen as an opportunity for change. And while, on the whole, I don't like Nitzsche's quote: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" (because in many cases it is not correct) I do think it is apt on this occasion.

Secondly: I like the main idea that we do have power as consumers. We can make stronger, wiser choices that can have a far-reaching effect. Voting with our feet and with our money, we could make a difference. Mind you, John Gerzema does not tell us how we should consume, just that we can be mindful doing it.

Anyway, I have a tough (but very short) week ahead, with D away on a residential trip with 40odd kids and me holding down the fort alone...

Enjoy the talk here:

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Mindful Buying

simple pleasures are usually free

Confusing our needs and our wants is a reality for most of us. Every time we make a choice we confuse our "needs" with our "wants". From the frosted cupcake, to the new pair of shoes, we have lost sight of what we truly need, and what we merely want. 

I have been practising "mindful buying" for the last 5 months. What that means is something very simple: before I make a purchase, any purchase, real or online, I simply ask myself "do I really need this?" 

Since I started, in early January (and no, it wasn't a conscious new year's resolution) I have bought no items of clothing*. (And for those who know me, not even sports kit. I know!)

For some this is fairly normal - no new items of clothing in 5 months is hardly revolutionary. For me too, it has been pretty easy - I was never a big consumer of big into fashion. But when I've mentioned it to people around me, I have been met with incredulous looks and open jaws. "Why would you do that?" is a common question. 

There are several reasons, but here are five of them:

1. Less clutter
I want less stuff in my life. I don't want to be weighed down by tons of things I hardly use. I need less space to store my things and it makes me more mobile (not that we are going anywhere anytime soon). Oh, and it means less washing and less tidying up. This links well with my clearning up and throwing away (read more here).

2. More money
Again, I never spent much money on clothes anyway, I would say an average of 100-150 euros per month. But as we are preparing for living on less money, that is a good amount to be putting away. Spending less will eventually mean I will have to work less, which will mean more time for the things I truly want to do and matter to me! 

3. Better for the environment
We, the human race, consume a lot. Too much, in fact. I know I am not saving the world, but I am consuming a little less (which is probably only enough to off-set my mother's voracious appetite for cheap clothes and accessories, but that's another story).

4.Getting more use from current wardrobe
I have a lot of clothes already. I guess I might need to qualify that: I have more clothes than a lot of people in the world, but also fewer than a lot of the women I know. I have a wardrobe full, as well as 3 drawers. There's enough! In fact I have recently given away three bin bags of clothes and still have more than enough. The good news is, I have gone through everything I own and I can wear the stuff I really like more!  

5. Quicker "getting dressed" decisions
I am not one of those people who "enjoys" the getting dressed process. Who stands in front of the wardrobe and is thrilled to try new combinations out. In fact, I often get obsessed with 4-5 pieces of clothing and will wear them in rotating throughout the season. Same with shoes. Fewer clothes=less choice=quicker to get dressed! Definitely a plus! 

The biggest surprise for me was just how easy it has been. It could be because I don't live anywhere near any shops, and D and I were never into the "shopping as entertainment" habit. But even now when I go into a shop, I hardly ever think: "I have to have this." I might like something, but when I ask myself: "Do I need it?" or "What will I wear it with?" or "Do I have anything similar?" it becomes clear that I don't actually need to buy it. 

So if I am not spending money on clothes, what am I spending on? One is eating out, D and I eat out at least once a week, often twice. It is a treat. It might not be a need, but it is an indulgence and we love it. And the second big expense, apart from basic living expenses (food, heating, petrol, insurance) is... books. Mostly e-books (as you might have read my post on trying to get rid of my books here). I think it is just magic that with 3 or 4 pounds I can buy someone's intellectual property and make it mine! Mine to read and understand. How wonderful! 

*confession: I did buy two pairs of shoes. I later returned both of them, as after bringing them home, realised I didn't really need them. Or even wanted them all that much... 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A few things I've learnt

We have now been waiting for 9 months. For those of you who have not been following, that is 9 months post- match. Normal post- match wait is between 6 and 8 weeks, though for some it's faster and for others slower. 

It is now clear that things have not gone well. We are coming to terms with the fact that this story might not have a happy ending. Seeing everyone come back with their kids, after 5-6 weeks of waiting, seeing people matched well into our wait period and now have completed families sucks. SUCKS. 

Yet, I am also learning so much in this period of my life. So lessons useful, some interesting, some annoying... Here is a small list of what I've learnt, while waiting for our court date.

1. People are different
The same people in the same situation can still have a different reaction. In fact, most do. People have different tolerance levels, different reactions: some close down, some remain unreasonably positive, some get angry. Some offer help, some ignore and go on, some stew. Judging these reactions is not for me, we all do what we can to survive through another day. 

The first point bring me to my second lesson:

2. I have an unusually strong reaction to stress
It could be because of my past: of the trauma I haven been through the last four years. It might be because I was made this way. It might be because I think too much. Whatever it is, is is what it is... I am finding ways to cope with my reaction day by day, with the help of those around me. I cannot change my reaction at his point, I can temper it, accept it and try and learn from it.

3. No matter how bad a day is, tomorrow might just be better
No guaranties with this one. But chances are some sleep and some TLC will make it better. Sometimes it won't, but hopefully there will be another day.

4. It' s ok to be angry...

5. ...but it's not ok to be take it out on your nearest and dearest.
Or on your colleagues. Or the children you work with. Or while driving. Or on the dogs. Basically, you need to find a anger-busting activity to engage in. (Confession: I sometimes write angry emails... And never send them...)

So... I might be full of wisdom (not) but I still struggle a lot as I wait. As I reshape my expectations once more. As I wonder if we will ever become parents...  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Tuesday TED talk - The Power of Introverts

I never considered myself introverted. For that matter, I never thought of myself as an extrovert either. I was just me, with all my quirks, flaws and idiosyncracies. And then I watched this TED talk (rated amongst the top 20 most watched TED talks of all time) and the penny dropped. I am an introvert in many many ways, although I do a darn good job at being a pseudo-extrovert too.

Here it is:
After watching the talk I wanted to know more. So I bought her book, Quiet: The power of introverts and started reading. I am only half way through (confession: I only started it yesterday) but I keep on nodding along with her ideas. I recognise myself in every second sentence. Especially when Susan Cairn writes: "you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book". This is me!! Social time exhausts me: it sucks the energy out of me. This is not to say I do not enjoy social time, it's that I can handle it in small doses only. And then I need solitary time to feel normal again. I feel nervous in crowds, I don't like loud music or any other hyper-stimulating activity, I find small talk incredibly challenging, I prefer to write than talk and my ideal weekend would have very few activities in it. 

This is my coming out as an introvert and I am sure many people who know me in real life will wonder about my assessment. I guess I have been very good about learning the skills of a good extrovert - but that does not make me one, any more than speaking fluent French makes you a French person. 

I continue to read and be amazed. For your introverts out there, you need to read this book (if only so that you will feel less guilty declining party invitations). For the extroverts amongst you, it's a grea insight into how the "other half" lives and will give you a better perspective on others. Enjoy the TED talk!  

Saturday, 10 May 2014

"You choose the life you lead"

"You choose the life you lead"

I was in an acquaintance's house the other day and I saw this quote on a picture somewhere. If I'm honest she does have an enviable lifestyle, at least when looked at from the outside. I'm not sure I would change my life with hers, but I would not mind too much if my life offered me the opportunities that it offers her. She does not have to work, can pursue an enviable creative and social life. Funnily, what I envy her more is not her money, but the time that it affords her! 
There is certainly a propensity, especially amongst people who feel they have done well with their lives, to feel it is a direct consequence of their action. In many instances it is a consequence of choice. Partly. But it is also, undoubtedly, good fortune. Good fortune to be born in a time of peace, in a prosperous country. To have been presented with opportunities. To not have had burdens. 

Yes, there are choices. Yes, we are partly responsible for making the right choices, from "adjusting the sails" as and when we need to be happy. Yet, we ought to see too, that having a choice in the first place is a huge privilege. 

Theoretically there is always a choice. Everyone in the world can decide to work fewer hours to have more quality time with their spouse, right? Yet, if you are living in a developing country, where you are living on less than a dollar a day, it is only a theoretical choice: the reality of your life is that if you don't work all the hours given to you, you, your family and dependants will starve. Not much of a choice.

In a time when we, in the developed world, are presented with more and more choice and with a sense of control over our lives, we often fail to see that it is not like that for everyone. That our choices are our own, but the fact that we have them, that is often just a matter of good luck.  

I want to end with a quote from Baz Luhrmann's Everyone is Free (to wear Sunscreen):

"What ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your
choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s." 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Challenge of Limiting Techonology

I have probably whined about it before, but looking at it now, it might be a bit of a blessing. You see, maybe aside from pilots and (officially) bus drivers, I seem to have one of the few jobs, where I do not have my mobile with me during the day.
No reception up here... 
It is usually in my bag, which is often not even in the same room as me, and lately, while waiting for news, I may glance at it a few times a day, usually at breaks, but my phone remains firmly NOT a part of my tool kit at work. 

I recognise, however, my dependency on it a lot of the rest of the time. Outside those eight hours, where a lot of the time I am in fact too engaged (see busy) to look at my phone - I am as dependent as the next person. 

I walk or run with my phone, usually listening to podcasts (my two favourites are Freakonomics and The Reality Check, by the way). I sleep with my phone next to me, as I use a sleep tracking app (and the irony that I am writing this at 4am as I cannot sleep, due to stress, does not escape me). I often sit around in the evenings and browse the internet, usually for about an hour or so, looking at nothing in particular. Just for fun... (remember we have no TV... and my attention span does not seem to do well with the occasional movies that we watch - I blame my phone). 

For D and myself, our technology use has changed a lot since we both got smartphones. We have no intention of getting the latest, fastest ones, but we are both quite heavily dependent on them. 

One of the issues that arise is the 24/7 availability. This post is prompted by the fact that I replied to a work email at 3.30am... I am not sure my colleague will notice, and if she does, I am not sure she will care. For me it made sense, I am up at this hour anyway, I will be way too busy during the day (errr... teaching, which kind of means I need to be on my feet and engaging with children, not replying to the average of 30 emails I get every day...) why not drop her a reply now?

The problem is, do this enough times and people come to expect it of you. Answer your phone every time it rings, and when you don't, people (read: your mother) will come to think that you are under the wheels of a bus. 

Joking aside, I have become more and more aware of the expectations of others towards me regarding technology, as well as mine towards others. I am still one of those people who will most likely not answer their phone when you call. I am not screening... it is simply still on silent - left over from class time. However, when someone else does not answer, I am often worried, or catch myself impatiently wondering what they are doing. The hypocrisy is clear, even to me. 

I had a conversation with a colleague about having phones in classrooms. In my career as a teacher, I have left my phone on in class three times (on purpose). My rule is, if it's not important enough for me to be there, then I don't need to know about it (disclaimer... I have no kids). The occasions mentioned above were while waiting for a phonecall from a doctor, and the last two are related to my father's last days. I was there for most of it, but as his illness tormented him for a long time, I had by then run out of compassionate leave, as well as sympathy...

I like it that way! I like to be connected, but I also like my own terms too. I have started dreaming of "un-connected" weekends. This might be one of the first things we do this summer! 

So if you call and I don't answer... it's not personal. My phone is off, or on silent, or simply out of reach. And that's how I like it. 

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Tuesday TED talk - Weekday Vegetarian

As some of you may know I watch two or three TED talks a week while I sit on my turbo trainer.

This week's talk is one I watched quite a while ago, but I have to admit it's one that has made quite a difference to the way I live my life. 

Something about it resonated with me. In fact, I had been thinking about going veggie for some time before I watched it. The main reason for my turn to vegetarianism, was not so much animal suffering, though that too played a role, or in fact the health benefits, though that too was in the a back of my mind. The biggest reason, by far, was the sustainable nature of a vegetarian over a meat-heavy diet.

This talk, alongside the MeatFree Mondays led to a huge paradigm shift in my mind. For years, I had thought, I guess like most of us, that you are either a vegetarian or a meat eater. These new initiatives read this false dichotomy, not all is black and white (and I am definitely a fan of shades of grey, as illustrated in this post). It just had not occurred to me that one could be both...

The idea was liberating. I started by cutting down on meat at home- we never really did eat all that much, maybe twice or three times a week. I then stopped buying meat in our weekly shops. D loves his meat, but as we eat out once or twice a week he reserves his meat eating for when we are out. 

I give myself the option of eating meat, after all, as Graham Hill says in his talk, it's more about cumulative effects: if all of us are vegetarian half of the time, then it' s like half of us are vegetarian all of the time. If I am completely honest with myself, I have been eating like this for about two months and I have had two occasions where I was craving meat. I ate it, no guilt, a lot of pleasure. 

But most of the time, I don't. I am excited by the possibilities of a newly-found veggie cookbook and I have become a lot more adventurous with both my ingredients and my recipes. 

I love the talk for creating the paradigm shift for me. I do feel better about my diet, for all the reasons I mentioned above plus some (check this link out). 
Bonus points: Our food bill seems to be lower too!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

A Day of Rest

I have spoken before about Slow Sundays. I have written about the need to have the quiet space, yet often enough other things happen... Life happens.

It is a gift and I am grateful to have this one day a week. It is usually Sunday, by virtue of the fact that I have no work (rephrase: I don't have to go into work. There's always plenty of work at home...). We are also lucky that shops are not open in Greece on a Sunday - although D tells me they were open today. Either way we live too far from any shops for that to affect us. 

I feel I deeply need the one day a week: the Sabbath, the day of rest. I find that when I miss it I start the week hurried and chasing my own tail.

And so today I had the day of rest. I woke up early enough, before 8, but stayed in bed, reading and sipping tea. D had to go out (he took 25 kids to a running race. One of the reasons why I think my husband is wonderful is that he will willingly do this sort of thing) so I was home alone, with the dogs. 

My first hour was spent sitting in the garden with the dogs. I read some more, soaked up some rays, played with the dogs, smellt the flowers. 

I did do some work, but it was at my own pace and it felt more like unburdening my week, rather than loading up my weekend. It felt good to finish it and I go into Monday knowing this. 

I cooked, I cleaned a little, but mostly I relaxed. It felt good to not have a watch, to not care what time it was. I had a nap too! 

I loved my day of rest. I needed my day of rest. It was another one of my slow days. I keep promising myself to have more of those, but somehow working full time, plus my private lessons gets in the way of this. On other news, I applied and got a year's sabbatical leave!! Which means that hopefully soon I can have more slow days, with or without our kids (but certainly without other people's kids)!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Mountain Healing Time

Gosh, that sounds so airy-fairy. And if you know me... airy-fairy I am most certainly not. But I have been trying to find ways of coping with this sustained wait, with the uncertainty and with the tough decisions possibly coming our way. 

One of the main ways that I have always coped with life's ups and downs, apart from personal connections, has been to simply get out. To get outside, in nature, and walk, run, kayak, row, swim or sometimes simply sit. 

There is a magic to outside, a certain calmness and serenity, a certain quiet that is lacking from other spaces. But most importantly for me, I think, there is a vastness. A vastness that places things in perspective. 

That is one of the reasons why I often choose mountains, over any other outside space. There is an imposing quality to them, but also the realisation that things in life are bigger than ourselves. That we are but a speck, in front of the towering mass above us. 

Strangely though, there is also power that comes when you stand at the bottom of a mountain, looking  up at its vastness. And that is the knowledge that you can scale it. Having done it before, you can do it again. Step by step, one foot in front of the other, the mountain can be climbed. Not to mention that the view from the top can be breathtaking... 

So I have been escaping outside lately. Up on the mountain sometimes, simply in the garden at others. I feel the outside grounds me and heals me and I am able to start another day. 


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