Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


What if it was 36Acts?

clock prague

tick tock goes the clock – this one in Prague

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday came and went this week with an increasingly frustrating nagging going on in my head.  Until then I had been pretty much on target documenting calories, counting steps, ticking off the 40Acts, progressing through my daily podcasts and even getting a few blog posts written.  I confess, that I was probably feeling just a teeny bit smug.

Quite appropriate then, that such pharisaical pride should be called into question as I struggled to get to grips with any of the 40Acts challenges of these days. Resolve faded as I was presented with meal after meal of hearty comfort food, as the cold, rain fell and there was no enticement to step out into the countryside around me, as my fitbit battery died – possibly of shock at the lack of steps it was having to count, and as the internet connection failed to respond despite all the electronic gadgets and paraphernalia I had taken away with me.

I have been reflecting on why it so easy to get demotivated and discouraged after a few days of failure from a task.  After all, there really isn’t anything special about 40 acts of generosity as compared with 36 or 44.  it just conveniently happens to be the number of days in lent (missing out Sundays) and although a number with some symbolic meaning Biblically, scoring 40 out of 40 is a complete misinterpretation of what these challenges are all about.

On Wednesday, we were called upon to look at where our treasure is and perhaps hold it a little lighter.  I suppose my greatest treasure is my home which we have been fortunate enough to be able to call our own, but I haven’t yet felt challenged to give that away!  I’m pretty tight with money really – finding it hard to spend without knowing that there isn’t a better deal around the corner. Then when I do give, I tend to impose conditions – even if not spoken – on how that giving should be received or spent.  So, as I write, I have decided how to tackle Wednesday’s task.  Something precious to me was lent out a while ago and not received back – I am letting go of my resentment, I now consider it no longer my treasure but a gift to that person.  Easy….I feel better already.

Thursday’s task seemed simple enough – to be on time for everything and consider the inconvenience to those who are kept waiting.  I was late twice despite having this at the forefront  of my mind.  Once, just laziness and the other, poor calculation. I am pleased that no inconvenience was caused by either of these occasions but there is clearly more work to be done on this task – my time keeping leaves room for improvement.  Ironically, later that day, as I waited with family through seven hours of a nine hour marathon (it would have been eight if we hadn’t been late!) for an ambulance to arrive for my mother, I spent much of the day experiencing for myself, the ‘tick-tock’ inconvenience of waiting.  Enough time to build up quite a hunger despite all of the solid hearty meals I had eaten over the rest of the week.

And then Friday.  Having spent a chunk of the night and the majority of Friday at the hospital, my engagement with the idea of getting involved with different cultures was definitely lacking….unless you count trying to read the names of hospital staff from badges correctly.

Sometimes the focus just needs to be elsewhere and there is a lesson to be learnt even in that.   It is good to keep a healthy balance between being committed and being flexible in how I use my time.  Ticking boxes is not the primary goal.

Having said that, Fit bit is back in action,  My Fitness Pal is receiving data, I have started the podcast catch up, and will hopefully soon be back on track.  So I had better sign off, otherwise I will be late for my next appointment…



Simply Thank You


Saying thank you is easy, costs nothing, requires no philosophical or emotional angst and quite simply doesn’t happen enough.

As children we were taught to say “please” and “thank you” as a matter of course.  These were the basic standards of politeness to be uttered regardless of the levels of appreciation truly felt.  They were also considered to be the first (and perhaps only)words learned in any new language in preparation for communication on holidays abroad. Whilst I continue to hear parents here in the UK cajoling their young children into saying “thank you” whenever they are offered something, I have also come to realise that the obsession with the word is not universal, and we can often misinterpret our friends from other cultures where saying “thank you” is not the basic or required expression of appreciation.

Well yesterday, the 40acts team suggested that we focus on being thankful.  And so for the majority of the day, I made sure that I took every opportunity possible to say thank you.  Inevitably, this was most appreciated when accompanied by some sign that the word came not on its own, but together with some evidence of an underlying thankfulness.  I was reminded what good and very different habits both saying thank you and being thankful are.

One of the suggestions for the day was to write letters of thanks to people in responsibility or authority. Now I am someone who has had a grand training and upbringing in writing letters of complaint to those in authority, and I don’t generally have difficulty in finding causes for this. This aspect of the task remained undone therefore, what with being away from home and it being a busy day.  In any case, my own children will be the first to tell me that writing “thank you” letters is an outdated form of appreciation and that no-one writes them anymore.

Strangely though,  whilst sitting and unwinding at the end of the day with a whiskey in one hand and chocolate in the other, laughing with a group of leaders over tales of letters of complaint they had received over the years, there was a moment when I saw through the funny side  to the  pain of continual discouragement through such letters of complaint. There were good reasons to be thankful to my new friends, and in this moment I knew to whom my 40Acts thank you letter should be written.


Bitter Sweet

Fair trade chocolate

Fair trade chocolate

Today, the suggestion that popped up in my inbox was to do something to support the Fair Trade movement.  My default position is to purchase fairly traded tea, coffee and bananas when shopping, and I try to include other products when I can.  Sometimes I start to resent the extra cost to the food bill and wonder if it really does make a difference.  There are plenty of arguments to be found on the web either way.  On the whole though, I am happy to subscribe to the notion that buying goods that are marked up as fairly traded is a positive thing to be doing.  The task was a timely reminder for me as I think my standards were beginning to slip – as evidenced by the fact that the last time I bought a bunch of bananas in Tesco, they were not the Fair Trade ones.  I resent the fact that Tesco sells so few Fair Trade bananas and they are priced up unnecessarily high and carry additional packaging.  Yes I know this falls into the category of middle class angst, but that doesn’t stop me bothering about it.

Thinking about the plight of workers whose lives are changed for the better or for the worse by the purchasing whims of the likes of myself, I am happy to receive the prompt to reconsider how I spend my money with more than a view to whether I am getting the best deal for ME.

Today I purchased 8 Fair Trade chocolate bars and resolved to give them out to “random” people with a message/reminder that we are at the start of Fairtrade fortnight.  This task was duly done at a conference venue to unsuspecting punters queuing for tea and coffee which I am happy to say was declared to be fairly and ethically traded.  I can not claim to have received any thoughtful or enquiring responses – but rather the suspicious looks that one might expect when handing out freebies on a street corner with a view to trapping the recipient into a financial commitment of some kind. Today’s task felt like an empty and contrived gesture.

On a more positive note though, I made a point of finding out a bit more about a business being supported by a friend.  This is an imitative through Trade Right international, that works with communities in Ghana where women harvest shea nuts to produce butter which is then hand crafted into luxury skin products by workers from disadvantaged communities in Scotland.  Through having a decent market price for the shea butter, these women are able to avoid selling their own children into slavery and trafficking!   The charity was able to pay for a co-operative to be set up and provide training to the women in North East Ghana in order that they can create the marketable shea butter from the nuts that they gather.   It is incredible to think that by buying cosmetics from www.carishea.com/ourshop this could actually influence whether a young girl from Ghana stays to grow up as a daughter in her family, or is sold into a lifetime of abuse!

So as well as making sure that I return to my commitment to purchase fair trade bananas regardless of price, I will be making my next purchase of birthday gifts is Carishea.  Any other takers?



By way of Surprise

Photo by Gavin Vincent

Photo by Gavin Vincent

The suggested generosity ambush didn’t quite happen yesterday.  The truth is, that I wasn’t feeling that generous with my time any more!   A Saturday which just a few days previously had been a deliciously blank canvas, was now to include an hour’s drive each way to pick up a new car and I was additionally being challenged with the idea that we really ought to put in a visit to my father-in-law.  As I was wondering how to achieve the ‘Devise a Surprise’ task in an uncontrived and meaningful way, I found myself suggesting that the visit to father-in-law should be a surprise.

And whilst it did feel a bit like cheating, it meant that instead of being resentful about giving up my time, I was able to focus on ensuring that the surprise would be a pleasant one.

It seems incredible to me, that in all the 30 plus years of knowing my parents-in-law, a surprise visit would have been out of the question until recently.  But since losing my mother in law to cancer, the rules have all changed – despite the extent to which my father-in-law is trying to honour his much treasured wife and his longstanding marriage by following the same routines and practices that were (so it turns out to be) the strength and beauty of their existence.

I am so glad we went.  He was having a difficult day and needed to share his grief, and sit and talk.  I was able to do a little ironing – of no consequence to me but representing a hurdle climbed to him.

We talked about the surprise of losing a partner.  Of how difficult it is to be left alone and genuinely believe that the whole reason for living has suddenly been taken away. And then strangely enough, for reasons I can’t quite remember, he started talking about the CS Lewis book ‘Surprised by Joy’.  And I am left thinking how to be surprised by joy must be the best kind of surprise possible, and how of all the things I might desire most right now, being surprised by joy is what I would wish for my father in law struggling to live at home alone, and for my own father with so many battles at home alone, and for my mother having to come to terms with being in a nursing home and not at home.

One delightful surprise as we drove home through the open farm land – a barn owl sitting on the lower branch of a tree by the side of the road.



Literally Offended

longholme bridge large


A recent face book post of a friend repeated “Stop being offended by Facebook Posts, by a piece of art, by people displaying affection, by what someone said to you.  Be offended by war, poverty, greed, injustice. Keep it real”   As I read this, I was walking along the disused railway track near my home, being offended by the litter that was spoiling the environment around me.

My initial response was to feel guilty about my indignation which was at that point surpassing any strength of feeling about the world critical issues that I was being pointed at.  And I commented to that effect.

But I DO get offended by litter.  I just can’t understand the disrespect for the landscapes or townscapes that bring me such pleasure from day to day.  I struggle to enjoy the beauty when my eyes are drawn to the discarded dregs of consumerism that flaw the scene before me.  I think that is one of the reasons that I enjoy taking my camera around with me and capturing the scene minus the spoilers.

And therefore, on a day in which national newspaper headlines declared my home town as the murder capital of Great Britain (now there is something to get offended about) the 40Acts #3 challenge to litter pick or clean up an area near your home felt right up my street.  It being my day off work, and with a podcast to listen to and a fit bit to keep happy, a happier combination of tasks for the day I could not envisage.  My biggest problem was going to be to create a time slot as the day’s activities were already focussed on preparing a dinner party for eight that evening.

By early afternoon I set out with gloves and a big black bag, taking a familiar walking route with a view to stopping as soon as I felt offended and doing something to retrieve the situation.  Barely 500m from home, and I had found my clean up spot.  The more I picked up, the closer I zoomed in to the extent of the task and from sweet wrappers to wine bottles, everything went in the bag.

My haul, after an hour and a half of moderate labour, included:

  • a plethora of McDonalds paper cups, straws lids and plastic spoons
  • numerous sweet and biscuit wrappers scattered along the verge within car window range
  • Unidentifiable paper and plastic products in various states of decay
  • Plastic drinks bottles, some containing rather gloopy semi liquid contents
  • Beer and wine bottles and some broken glass
  • Supermarket carrier bags
  • Cigarette butts
  • One condom packet
  • One pen
  • Four sawn through bicycle locks
  • Packaging from recreational drugs

I lugged the black bag home with me pausing to survey the sight of the area I had cleared, and satisfied that at least at 3.40 pm on Friday 21st February 2015, there was not a spec of litter in sight along the short path from under Longholme Bridge to the bottom of Newnham Avenue. What remains lurking under the bushes is another story.

An aspect of the litter picking that I hadn’t anticipated was the opportunity it gave to gain an insight into what is really going on just metres from my front door. I briefly considered the possibility that rather than being the murder capital of the UK, Bedford was more likely to be the bike theft capital of the UK.

Sadly, I feel unable to commit to keeping this area litter free. But I will continue to sign up for the local council run litter picks when ever I can.

Thank you 40Acts for Friday’s challenge.

cleaned up longholme bridge Bedford


Who IS my neighbour?

Day Two of 40Acts:

who is my neighbour

Second day and I already feel overload.  This morning, before leaving the house my head space was invaded by thoughts about what it means to like people as opposed to loving them, how people need real practical support and not just passing good wishes or the promise of a prayer, and a question about who is my neighbour?  And then came the 40Acts challenge which started with a simple question – how well do you know the people next door?

Reasonably well, I thought, thankful that in our Road we have always had pleasant, amenable and friendly neighbours who frequently surpass any of my efforts to engender a kindred spirit through friendly chatter, meals out, book club and the occasional meal in each other’s houses.   I could certainly tell a tale or two about the Christmas parties we organised – for the benefit of the children you understand – and the men’s entertainment that was a compulsory part of the event.  The planning meetings started around August and involved much fun and hilarity over a bottle of wine.

But that was in the past, the children are all grown up and gone – most of the adults too, and I got thinking about our immediate neighbours – all of a younger generation than ourselves.  I asked myself how well do I really know them?  And I realised that I had to think hard to remember their names – I have a real problem with memory recall and the names just wouldn’t come into my head.  It took until lunchtime to remember the names of my next door neighbours!  We have spoken over the fence, looked after each others houses at holiday times, shared dinner together and stopped to chat on many occasion, but I couldn’t get the names.

Getting to grip with today’s challenge was always going to be tricky.  Like many, I leave the house not long after 8.00 am in the morning, and return well after dark.  I rush around trying to prepare a meal before going out again most evenings – tonight being no exception.

So today, for me, it has been about reflection and resolution.  I’d like to be able to speak with confidence to anyone on my Road – starting with their name.  I don’t want to have to pretend I haven’t noticed my neighbour because I can’t recall their name quickly enough to avoid insulting them.  This I do, all too frequently.  I have employed all sorts of measures in the past to get the names to sink in but today I bought hearts to remind me to love my neighbours and I shall write their names on the hearts and repeat in parrot fashion as if learning the times tables, until I no longer have to fish around frantically into the recesses of my brain in the hope of turning out the correct form of address.

Seems like a cop out?  Believe me it isn’t….. today I referred to a friend in Uganda instead of Zambia, and I told another I was going to Yorkshire when I am going to Derbyshire.  We all struggle with different things and that is what I love about 40Acts.  It is not about ticking prescribed things off a list, but about doing what you can with the challenge and making it your own.

Right I’m off to practice the names of my dinner guests tomorrow (hopefully I am only joking!)


On not giving up ….

And so once more Lent is upon us.  It has never been much of a tradition in my church or family to give up something for the forty or so days leading up to Easter. We don’t do new year resolutíons either, but of late, I have been drawn to the idea of a challenge.

Perhaps for me, this is a season in life for self-imposed challenges.  Having completed the one that got me going on this blog, as part of my strategy to get myself out of working in IT and into a new job, I realise that I have subsequently taken on and sustained a range of smaller lifestyle challenges.

In December, I put myself on a health(ier) eating regime alongside the commencement of my new job. I rejoined the gym and committed to myself to lose a stone in weight before Easter.  As the pounds have not exactly been tumbling off, and I do like my food, this has necessitated the attendance at some classes that I would never previously have contemplated – frantic cycling whilst performing press ups on handle bars and other such semi acrobatic moves was today’s such example.  Then, having received a fitness monitoring device at Christmas which decided (with whose permission I remain unsure) that my goal was to walk 10,000 steps a day, that is exactly what I have been doing.  I am walking to work, walking at lunch break and every other opportunity I get.  All for the pleasure of seeing a row of flashing lights to mark my achievement.

In January, husband and I took on the dry month challenge and gritted our teeth at weekends when a glass of wine (or two) would have been the perfect accompaniment to the evening meal.  During this time, I learned that as with decaffeinated coffee, there can be no fooling one-self that a lovely cool bottle of non alcoholic lager is any substitute for the real thing.

During Advent, I set myself the challenge to open a window of thankfulness each day.  I had fun drawing advent windows as a prompt and others joined in with being thankful for different things each day.  It changes the day when you are focussing on the good things and cutting out the complaining.  Then as the new year started, so began my bible in a year undertaking.  Scripture passages each day with an often inspirational message. which as in audio form, happily combines well with the walking.

A friend asked if I was going to do the same as in Advent for lent. I must admit that I do prefer the adding in to the giving up side of challenges.  If I add in exercise, I don’t have to worry so much about giving up calories.  If I add in thankfulness, the negativity is by default squeezed out.  If I add in scripture, I foster a more thoughtful and compassionate attitude to life. So that is why, despite being up to the eyeballs in my own little challenges, I have decided to join 40Acts again this year.  I am not giving anything up, I am taking more on.

Day one challenge involved keeping a journal.  The overall challenge is to be generous.   With my cards on the table, I am up to seeing what can be achieved in 40 days.  Like the (slightly nauseating) Kid president says, the world is changed through action, not inaction.