Starting Your Day With Intention

My grandma went for a walk nearly every morning until she was 92. She would leave when the sun came up and stroll around the neighbourhood for an hour or so every morning. She’d say hi to passersby and to neighbours working in their gardens. She’d stop to watch the leaves fall or the flowers blow in the breeze. She’d spend a whole hour enjoying the sounds around her, waking up with the world, watching it rub the sleep from it’s eyes. Then she would come home, hang her jacket on the coat rack, make herself a cup of coffee and sit down to read the paper.

I loved this about her. And I respected the fact that, no matter how much she loved me and enjoyed my company, I was not welcome then. That was her time, no questions asked.

When she was finished with her morning routine, she would go about her day in her characteristically sweet and unflappable fashion – working in the garden, making wool, patiently attending to her overly curious granddaughter. That was the case, at least, on the days when she went for walks. On the rare days she couldn’t, we we all felt the difference. She was easily irritated and cranky. Her sweet demeanor remained, but it was tinged with a hint of passive aggression, leading to snarky remarks and mutual frustration.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised the power of these morning routines in her life – the serenity and perspective they provided her – and the emotional consequences she suffered when she couldn’t start her day the way that suited her. I realised it because my own morning routine was completely obliterated by our move last year and it wasn’t until I lost this part of my day that I saw how essential it had been to my emotional well-being.

As my grandmother’s granddaughter, I too find morning walks the best way to start my day. In London, I would walk most mornings in the cemetery behind our house. I loved watching the fog roll in, I loved playing with my dog friends, and I loved watching the seasons change – seeing the old flowers die off and the new ones take their place. It was as nourishing to me as a full English breakfast, if not more so.

Muscat, however, is not a pedestrian friendly city. Sure, we live near a gorgeous park where I could walk in the morning, but to get there I have to cross some busy roads where I will inevitably be honked at by taxis trying to save me from the drudgery of experiencing the world on foot. That’s neither peaceful nor serene. I could go for a morning swim at the nearby beach, but that involves gear and sun cream and extra showers. It’s a lot of work, which offsets the relaxation element of the whole exercise.

Without the option of my ideal morning routine, I found myself growing grumpy and irritable, just like my dear old gram. I felt a profound difference in my ability to handle the day. Everyone annoyed me. Nothing went right. I felt like I was chasing my days instead of navigating my way through them. I rushed around being busy, trying to justify the loss of that time by being hyper “productive.” I lost my perspective and let little things get to me in a big way.

I realised I had to find a way to get that serenity back in my life. I needed to find a way to start my day in a slow, purposeful, nature-filled way because, without it, I was simply not myself.

It took some time develop a non-walking morning routine, but I have finally settled into something that mostly scratches that itch. Every morning now, I get up with the sun and sprinkle food on our windowsill for the wild parrots. Then I write, do some yoga and meditate while I listen to them eat breakfast and bicker over pecking order. I only spend an hour doing these things, but by the end I feel rejuvenated in mind, body and spirit. I begin the day feeling centred and intentional about what I want to do and why. I’m nicer to everyone, myself included.

Building this routine has made all the difference for me. Just like watching autumn leaves fall in the crisp morning breeze was essential to my grandma’s soul, watching parrots eat on my windowsill while I do yoga is essential to mine.

Being an Expat – The Real Deal

There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about being an expat. You see these world travellers, people out there “living their dreams” and it seems like the most romantic, fulfilling life in the world. I’m not here to tell you it sucks. I’m here to tell you it’s just another way of living life.

Expats get a lot of, “Yeah, but you live in London!” or “Yeah, but you live in Oman!” or “Yeah, but you live in Bali!” The key word there being live. We live in those places. We have jobs in those places. We pay rent in those places. We get stuck in traffic jams in those places. It’s life. It’s our actual life. We don’t spend every minute of every day gallivanting about barefoot on the beach or backpacking our way through the countryside. We do those things on the weekend. When we have enough time and money. Like everyone else in the world who has to work for a living.

And another thing. We don’t just plop down and live somewhere. No, no. There are visas. There are papers that need stamping. There are rules that change at the drop of a hat. There are hidden fees and shady deals and who-you-knows. We have to purposefully commit to being the places we are. We have to decide that we want to be somewhere badly enough that we are willing to put up with all the shit that comes as part of the package. Visa runs. Hiring moratoriums. Regulatory chaos.

I put up with more crap, more bureaucracy living abroad than I ever did or ever would at home. In many, many ways it’s far easier to stay home where you know the system, where you are part of it and not an outsider, where your voice might actually have an impact on the rules that govern you.

It’s not an easy life. It’s not a stable life. Friends come and go in waves. You will come and go, having to get your feet under you again every time. Places that were easy to live in, full of opportunity and growth can turn. The industries propping up the country can break down and the whole game can change over night.

Being an expat isn’t a wonderful, magical escape from the frustrations and inequalities of life at home. If anything, there are more of both. Enough more to sometimes make you question why you do it at all.

But then you remember that every day you meet people who make you see the world in a new way. You laugh with them about how you’re completely different. You smile with them about how you are exactly the same. And every once in a while you have enough free time to explore the majestic landscapes that brought you here in the first place.

Those are the things that make it all worth it.

Fluffy Sofas and Domestic Bliss (or not)

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A strange thing happened this morning. I woke up giddily excited about the day. The day. Not anything it contains, not anything that will happen in particular. Just the day itself. The fact that it exists. I haven’t felt that way for a very long time and I am pretty excited about it.

There are a few reasons I think this might have happened (and hopefully will continue happening). I’ve been really focusing lately on the way I think about the events in my life and how I chose what things I do (and don’t do). I have learned a few things since moving here (ok, re-learned the same things again, for the millionth time) that have made me approach my life and my attitude differently. It feels good. It feels fresh. It feels like I am walking through a forest, smelling the pine trees and fresh dirt and feeling happy to be alive. It’s really nice.

I’ve been wanting to share a few of these ideas with you (I’ve missed our chats!), but as I started writing about each one they got long enough to be their own post. So I will just start with the one that is on my mind most today: expectations.

Moving to London

When I moved to London, I was SO freaking excited. I could barely contain myself. But in the last couple of months leading up to the move, I also felt some serious fear and frustration because, although I was DYING to get there, I couldn’t picture what my life would look like at all. I had no idea how to envision it. I knew I would be studying and that’s about it. I had no idea where I would live, who I would live with, what friends I might meet, what my classes would be like, what my university would look like, nothing. Absolutely nothing. And looking back, although that really caused me a huge amount of stress in the lead-up to the move, it was the greatest gift I could have been given.

I walked into London with no expectations at all. Not one. It was amazing. I truly made every day my own. Everyone was a new friend waiting to be met. Every street was a little present waiting to be unwrapped. Every walk was an adventure. I watched every day play out however it chose to and not only appreciated that I was there for it but experienced unbridled joy at the thought that I was lucky enough to be in the middle of it all. It was really one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.

Now, let’s compare that to my most recent change. Continue reading

Slowness

I’ve been running away from writing about what I really want to write about here, which is slowness. Partly, I find that I am not really able to explain what I mean by that when people ask about it. So I’ve been putting it off, and feeling awkward about it, and getting annoyed that I’m not writing about what I want to write about, and, well, I’m over it. I sat down today and thought about what it is I really mean by slowness and here’s the definition I decided I’m going with.

Slowness: the experience of allowing yourself not to be in a rush.

In practicing slowness, we can:

  • do our normal things more slowly, with more purpose and awareness
  • do inherently slow things that are not normal for us and might make us feel a little weird but, hey, we’re experimenting so it’s cool
  • do the slow things we really love to do, but that we don’t do because we think we need to be busy all the time doing big, serious, grown-up type things, or because we feel a little weird or judged when people see us doing it

all while being more open and willing to experience life more richly as a result.

That last one there is my own personal challenge – hence three weeks of not writing a post because I wanted to talk more specifically about slowness, but thought you might all think it’s just a little weird, and that I am just a little weird, and, well, that would be the end of that. You might still think it, but I can’t not write about it any more, so I’m going to just roll with it.

Slow = Excitement!

To get you excited about the idea of slowness, and hopefully deter you from the idea that slow=boring, here’s a sneak preview list of some things I will be writing about in the coming posts: Continue reading

It’s Important

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Remembrance Day is one of my favourite British traditions. My first year here, I went to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and the experience is still one of my most cherished memories in London. I can still feel the cool mist on my face, the silence of Westminster Square and the goosebumps I got from the chime of Big Ben like it was yesterday. I love when poppies start blooming across lapels every autumn because it reminds me of that moment and of what it meant to me.

I never thought much about Veteran’s Day in the States, and I certainly never took time to observe it on purpose (a fact that is particularly shaming as my brother is a veteran). It is a day that is normally reserved for military bases and cemeteries, where they stop for a moment of silence and a round of Taps, far away from the public eye. There’s something different about it in the UK though: everyone participates. Continue reading

It's Important

2014-11-12 10.38.19

Remembrance Day is one of my favourite British traditions. My first year here, I went to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and the experience is still one of my most cherished memories in London. I can still feel the cool mist on my face, the silence of Westminster Square and the goosebumps I got from the chime of Big Ben like it was yesterday. I love when poppies start blooming across lapels every autumn because it reminds me of that moment and of what it meant to me.

I never thought much about Veteran’s Day in the States, and I certainly never took time to observe it on purpose (a fact that is particularly shaming as my brother is a veteran). It is a day that is normally reserved for military bases and cemeteries, where they stop for a moment of silence and a round of Taps, far away from the public eye. There’s something different about it in the UK though: everyone participates. Continue reading

Can’t Wait!

Map by Clare Nicholas

Map by Clare Nicholas

A week from tomorrow, I will be flying to Muscat (my home in just a few weeks) for the first time. I have no idea what to expect, and I kind of like it that way. I have read loads, studied maps and made a Pinterest board of places I want to go. I have asked Chris endless questions about what he liked about it before, what he didn’t, what he’s looking forward to, what he’s not, what places I will like…and all of his answers stir up a ridiculous amount of excitement within me. But I won’t really know what it will be like, what it will feel like to me, until I land there and start exploring it for myself.

I’ve done this before, this moving across the world thing. I suspect it might be part of my fundamental me-ness because I can’t imagine doing things any other way. I really love having a whole new life every few years. It’s hard in many ways, but that plunge into the icy water of a fresh new place is an unbeatable feeling. Every part of you is so alive. Your skin tingles with the rush of it all as you experience everything simultaneously: the sights, the sounds, the people, the smells, the rhythm of life that’s so different from where you’ve been.

There’s no better way to remind yourself that things are not the same everywhere than to move somewhere new. Travelling there is one thing, it gives you a glimpse, but living in a place, having time to explore all of it, seeing it change with the seasons, finding your local haunts, your corner shop, your café, your path for morning walks, that is where it is at for me. I love that stuff.

The moment before I step on the plane in January, with me and my life on board, I know I will be a crazy ball of emotion. It is always a mix of every feeling possible when you drop everything and start something totally fresh. But the trip next week is all about adventure, free from the jangly nerves that will come with the real deal. I still have a foot in both camps at the moment, a life in Muscat that’s starting to take root and grow while the one here in London drops its leaves and gets ready for winter.

I’m really looking forward to getting my feet on the ground there, breathing in the sea air, smelling the frankincense, eating the dates, driving along what looks like an incredibly beautiful coast and diving into a fresh new world. I can’t wait!

Postcard of the Week

Today’s postcard couldn’t match my sentiments any more perfectly. The person receiving this will know why I chose the card for her (maybe even a couple of reasons). The metaphor of the dandelion seems apt and beautiful to me, and the way the stem lined up with the border is great too (I didn’t notice until after I took the shot!). I love it when things work out so perfectly. It makes me goose-bumpily happy.

Dandelion Card

Want a postcard? Send me your details here and I will send you one too!

See you next time! 


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Can't Wait!

Map by Clare Nicholas

Map by Clare Nicholas

A week from tomorrow, I will be flying to Muscat (my home in just a few weeks) for the first time. I have no idea what to expect, and I kind of like it that way. I have read loads, studied maps and made a Pinterest board of places I want to go. I have asked Chris endless questions about what he liked about it before, what he didn’t, what he’s looking forward to, what he’s not, what places I will like…and all of his answers stir up a ridiculous amount of excitement within me. But I won’t really know what it will be like, what it will feel like to me, until I land there and start exploring it for myself.

I’ve done this before, this moving across the world thing. I suspect it might be part of my fundamental me-ness because I can’t imagine doing things any other way. I really love having a whole new life every few years. It’s hard in many ways, but that plunge into the icy water of a fresh new place is an unbeatable feeling. Every part of you is so alive. Your skin tingles with the rush of it all as you experience everything simultaneously: the sights, the sounds, the people, the smells, the rhythm of life that’s so different from where you’ve been.

There’s no better way to remind yourself that things are not the same everywhere than to move somewhere new. Travelling there is one thing, it gives you a glimpse, but living in a place, having time to explore all of it, seeing it change with the seasons, finding your local haunts, your corner shop, your café, your path for morning walks, that is where it is at for me. I love that stuff.

The moment before I step on the plane in January, with me and my life on board, I know I will be a crazy ball of emotion. It is always a mix of every feeling possible when you drop everything and start something totally fresh. But the trip next week is all about adventure, free from the jangly nerves that will come with the real deal. I still have a foot in both camps at the moment, a life in Muscat that’s starting to take root and grow while the one here in London drops its leaves and gets ready for winter.

I’m really looking forward to getting my feet on the ground there, breathing in the sea air, smelling the frankincense, eating the dates, driving along what looks like an incredibly beautiful coast and diving into a fresh new world. I can’t wait!

Postcard of the Week

Today’s postcard couldn’t match my sentiments any more perfectly. The person receiving this will know why I chose the card for her (maybe even a couple of reasons). The metaphor of the dandelion seems apt and beautiful to me, and the way the stem lined up with the border is great too (I didn’t notice until after I took the shot!). I love it when things work out so perfectly. It makes me goose-bumpily happy.

Dandelion Card

Want a postcard? Send me your details here and I will send you one too!

See you next time! 


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Henley-on-Thames

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Last week was a little bit crazy. I was working for my third consecutive year at the Henley Literary Festival in the small town of Henley-on-Thames about an hour west of London. As always, the week absolutely flew by. I’ve learned that when time is measured in 20-45 minute increments, it is almost impossible to slow it down. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. I was monstrously productive in the 20 minutes of chaos we had between every event. But it took me half of the down time I did have to relax and enjoy a small break before I had to ramp up again for the next 20 minutes of madness.

I did manage to sneak in some moments of relaxation though: I wrote several overdue cards to friends, I journaled (a lot), I cuddled with the softest puppy I have ever met, I had a (somewhat) leisurely lunch with my favourite boy, I went for a morning stroll by the river and I sent a postcard to my new friend in Paris. Oh yeah, and I was interviewed by Robert Elms on BBC London. Continue reading

An Autumn Walk

Views of the Ver Valley

On a road trip with my parents once, we stopped in Vegas for a rest. At one point, I turned to look at my dad and he was sniffing around like a hound on the hunt. When I asked what he was onto, he said, “Nothing. I’m just trying to use my sense of smell more.” I laughed at how ridiculous he looked, but I understood exactly what he meant: there’s so much going on in the world (particularly in a place like Vegas) that we tend to tune out more than we take in.

The world is probably too intense for us to be aware of everything around us at every minute, but it is nice to take a moment sometimes to purposefully experience one sensation and see just how much there is going on in that tiny world. I think of that chat with my dad frequently, and often when I am on a walk or just sitting back and watching things happen I’ll pick one sense and check out what it is experiencing at that moment. It’s a fun game to play with other people too. Chris and I have done it a couple of times when we’ve been at places we want to remember, and I can recall those scenes so well because we took some time to really experience the full picture.

This past Sunday we went for a nice walk through the countryside in Redbourn, and I played with this idea along the way. I paid attention to the sun warming my face and shoulders while autumn breezes chilled the parts of me in shadow. The soft clumps of freshly tilled earth rolling away underfoot as we cut through open fields. The sound of water slowly dripping from the edges of a mill-wheel. The smell of horses. The sound of their hooves padding down the grass. The scratchy, coarse hair I felt when I scratched one behind his ear, and the warm, soft skin of his snout when he pushed his mouth into my hand, hoping for food.

With autumn fully under way, the visual sensations alone would have been plenty to keep me occupied. I found myself zooming out to take in the whole scene (bright blue skies filled with perfectly fluffy clouds over dark brown fields dotted with the fresh growth of opportunistic grass) and zooming in to see the smallest details (bright green bugs being betrayed by their normally perfect camouflage as the leaves change colour beneath them).

It was a great day out that ended the way every countryside walk should: in a pub with a decadent roast, a fat pint of cider and a postcard to write. Continue reading