Category Archives: Growing and learning

On turning sixty…

What's in the suitcase?Yesterday I turned sixty and decided to run away from home.

In the extended time I’ve been away from writing here, I’ve been thinking and reflecting so much I thought my head would explode. I’ve dismantled some of the empty priorities I set up for my workaholic self, and am beginning to divest myself of other activities which actually mean something but simply won’t fit into a 24-hour day.

I’ve lain awake at night trying to suppress panic attacks at the level of debt my “normal” way of life has caused me to accrue, and wondered where my entirely reasonable salary goes. (YNAB turns out to be an excellent budgeting tool, by the way.)

I’ve sat in my home, in churches, in the countryside, with friends and family, and worked with my lovely colleagues pondering… what’s missing?

One clue: I don’t like the town I live in. I spent last weekend in the beautiful medieval English city of Lincoln, looking at houses to buy. I had been convinced this was the answer: affordable and I could do a weekly commute back to my job, maybe some flexible working. But…

It’s not enough. It’s just moving my way of living to a different place. I want something that goes deeper. And turning sixty really does put things in perspective: by definition there’s not as much time left.

I don’t have the answer yet (sorry!) and perhaps the journey is the answer. One thing I’ve realised is how important money has been in my life and how much the earning of it, the worrying about it and the fear of it have led me to paths which are simply meaningless. That’s another clue I’m exploring.

Perhaps living here where I am but in a radically different way is the life-giving option, perhaps it’s loading up the car with a tent and travelling around. Perhaps it’s being a hermit, perhaps it’s living on a hippie commune. I don’t know. This crone needs to find some way of “running away from home” that works for me.

More very soon. Meanwhile I’m glad to be back in this space, writing, and grateful to those of you who’ve voiced concern at my prolonged absence.

Photo credit: Bookchen

Bitten off more than I can chew

Simple-foodHave you ever felt you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?

I’d like my life to have the serenity and simplicity of this photograph, but at the moment it feels more like a super-sized Big Mac eaten at speed!

Over Easter I took a Peace Break. It was wonderful, and it brought home to me a hard truth: I am not superhuman.

Because, you see, I want to be. I want to be one of those women who go through life effortlessly juggling families, friends, careers, hobbies, housework, volunteer work at the soup kitchen and travel, and still find time to home-study for a doctorate while saving the world on the side and having an intense spiritual life. Yes I know those women don’t really exist, but they appear to, and that’s what bugs me. It makes me feel less.


I took a rough inventory of my current “stuff”. Here are the highlights:

  • My day job (working as recruiter for a wonderful charity supporting adults and children with complex learning disabilities) is about to get really manic for a few months as our services expand and we recruit to fill them. I’ll be travelling around the country with a lot of overnight stays.
  • I’m failing to give enough attention to the Wholesome Food Association (an organisation I run which provides an alternative to organic certification for people who grow and sell food in the UK on a small, local scale).
  • I’m doing everything at the last minute (I’m giving an Enneagram workshop this Saturday and haven’t even begun to prepare it).
  • I’m way behind in a course of study I embarked on at the beginning of the year.
  • I have a corporate tax return to complete by the end of this month.
  • I have a half-written book on my computer.
  • I’ve never fully developed an on-line course here at Pilgrim’s Moon, which I think you’ll really enjoy once it’s finished.
  • I have half-finished craft projects all over my study.
  • I have two business ideas and websites in development which haven’t got anywhere for six months.
  • I have 452 unread emails in my in-box.

I’m yelling at my poor cat, not seeing enough of my friends, frittering time on social media, wasting money because I need to sort out my finances, not exercising, drinking to relax and, going back to where we started, feeling sluggish and greasy because I’m eating too many take-aways. (I haven’t yet sunk to the depths of a Big Mac, but that’s mostly snobbery!)

Blogging Sabbatical

So here’s the thing: I’m taking a blogging sabbatical.

I’m tired. Tired of waking up in the early hours panicking about everything I’m behind with. Tired of living an overstretched life. Tired of not doing things well. Just plain tired. And tired of pretending not to be!

Quality not quantity

I need to make some hard choices, and I don’t want to put out poor quality articles here with regurgitated ideas. So I’m not going to be writing at Pilgrim’s Moon until around the end of July. I hope you’ll stick around and join me again then, and that I’ll be able at that point to deliver some high-quality original writing and ideas. I’ll send out a newsletter when I’m back (so if you’re not on my mailing list, click here to join).

I’ll still be around on the Pilgrim’s Moon Facebook Page and reading other people’s blogs, and looking forward to catching up with you again soon.

Meanwhile, loving wishes to you all.


Photo credit: Agnes Leung

Scoring a 10

Wishing you all an amazing 2013, and thanks for being part of Pilgrim’s Moon.

I start the year with a sordid confession: I LOVE the TV show Strictly Come Dancing. The latest series has just ended here in the UK (US version is Dancing with the Stars).

In this show, celebrities pair up with professional dancers to compete in a series of ballroom and latin dances.

The dancing

There are two things about Strictly which I adore.

The first is the dancing. It’s fantastic to see the celebrities step (literally) way out of their comfort zones. Of course they get paid for taking part, but they are really brave, both physically and emotionally. To go from being a sports star, actor, TV presenter or whatever to moving and performing in a completely different way is exposing. People confident in their usual sphere turn into vulnerable, wobbling lumps of nervous jelly on the first show.

And then as the show continues, you watch some of the celebrities fall in love with dance. My internet friend Christine Claire Reed wrote about the saving magic of dance in her interview with me here, and you can see this dynamic at work in the show.

Judgementally speaking

The other thing (person) about this show I absolutely love is the “mean” judge, Craig Revel Horwood. Craig is the judge who marks lower than everyone else. He is the judge who makes blistering comments when he feels someone isn’t trying: “dull, dull, dull”. He is the judge who picks up on the smallest detail: “your thumb placement was a disAHster, darling”. He shares my impatience with the “wild card” candidates the BBC often introduces – celebrities no-one expects to be able to dance but who add “entertainment” and ratings value.

Of course a lot of Craig’s behaviour is exaggeration and bitchy grandstanding. His catch-phrases are legendary. But his famously difficult-to-please stance means that when he is complimentary it really means something. He really cares about good dancing. He has really high standards. He gives fantastically constructive and specific criticism. When the other judges give good scores, the candidates are delighted, when Craig gives a good score, the candidates are ecstatic. And when he gives the top score of 10, it’s a complete frenzy of euphoria.

High stakes

Why am I burbling on about this? Because I think it has lessons for us as we begin our journey through 2013:

  • Dance is like life: a combination of steely discipline and emotional abandon
  • The best performances have exceptional and unusual choreography
  • In life we can become complacent with our efforts, and then we don’t deserve a high score

You know what? I don’t want a “happy” new year. I want an amazing new year, an intense new year, a transformational new year. I want to be as judgemental about myself as Craig would be, and I want to earn that elusive score of 10!

How about you?


Photo by Denvilles Duo


Don’t look forward

CandleI have an old friend, Nancy*, with whom I’ve kept in touch over the years, although not so much recently.

Nancy spent the last ten years of her working life in a job she disliked. She  had a calendar upon which she quite literally ticked off each day taking her closer to retirement at 60. Then she would have the freedom to do what she wanted and enjoy life with her husband, children, grandchildren and friends, spending the pension to which she’d contributed more over the years than she could easily afford.

She made elaborate plans for the travels she would take, the hobbies she would start, the causes she would get involved with. Notebooks full of plans. Not just wishes and dreams, concrete plans, with dates.

Just under a year ago, Nancy hit her sixtieth birthday, packed a few things from her desk into a cardboard box and left work for the last time with a spring in her step and a sigh of relief that now she could begin to enjoy the sweetness of her life and plans.

Today, Nancy is in the last days of her life, having been diagnosed with a particularly virulent cancer two months into retirement.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we all need a reminder from time to time to appreciate what we have while it’s here.

I like to make plans (I wrote recently about doing a year-end personal review), but it’s crazy to rely on them as more than a guide to what we want to do. Otherwise we let today slip through our fingers.

Live in the present, informed by the past and with a flexible eye to the future – what better resolution could there be for the coming new year?

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep


See you soon

I won’t be back here at Pilgrim’s Moon until the beginning of 2013, so I wish you a very happy festive season, and thanks to all my readers for all the wonderful comments and support.

 *Name changed

Review you!

It’s wise to understand that the best of our plans can and will get scuppered by the unforeseen. But making plans is still a good idea.

This is an excellent time of year to look both backwards and forwards.

Blogger Chris Guillebeau crystallised some of my ideas around reviews and resolutions with his excellent article How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review.

Now of course I’m not talking about one of those dreadful office appraisals. I’ve spent part of my career managing performance review processes and can say quite categorically it’s the rare process that gets it right and the even rarer manager who gets it right. Most are more like this excruciating scene from The Office.

In our personal “annual review”, it’s between us and us. It can give us a road map from which we may need to take detours, but at least we’ll know the general direction in which we’re going.

In reviewing our selves, I’m not talking only about what we have done and plan to do. Who we are becoming is just as important (and if you think we’re stuck in our current thoughts and identities, read something about neuroplasticity).

How to do a review

It’s one of the few things I do on paper, not on computer, because it gives more flexibility. But do what works best for you.

First, make two lists for the year just passed: everything you’ve done and all the habits you’ve created that you’re delighted with.


So for example in my case these would include my writing here at Pilgrim’s Moon, getting my lovely new job at wonderful MacIntyre (a UK charity which supports people with learning disabilities) and my new-ish habit of getting my head on the pillow by 11.00 p.m. (mostly!) so I don’t go through life exhausted.


Second, make a list of what hasn’t gone so well this year. (My garden is a wasteland! And many other things!)


From these two lists, you may be able to put together a third list of realisations. In my case it would be that I don’t actually enjoy gardening at this point in my life. I am a theoretical or future gardener, not a current one.


There are mostly likely things in the “Uh-oh” list which you’ll have to find a way to deal with. And they’re probably in that list because you don’t want to deal with them. For example my garden isn’t going to go away unless I have it paved over, which I couldn’t bear. So I reckon I can choose between 1) leaving it as a wasteland, which the birds and small animals enjoy but neither my neighbours nor I do, 2) paying someone or exchanging with someone to do my gardening or 3) knuckling down and doing it myself. If it’s the last item, it needs to be scheduled under Plans (below).


This is the fun list! This is where you put down everything you might wish to do and be the year ahead.

Have you made a Bucket List yet (everything you want to do before you kick the…)? If you haven’t, it’s a great idea. Now unless your Bucket List is very short (and if it is you’re not trying), you won’t be able to do everything on it this year. Pick a few things.

And think of characteristics and habits you want to develop. Become more mindful? Get into the habit of getting up 15 minutes early and spending it in meditation.


Repeat after me: “Your diary is your friend”!

Once you know what you want to do next year and what you have to do, you need to make plans.

For me, this involves one big sheet of paper, twelve smaller sheets of paper, a pack of Post-it notes, some Blu-tack, a large mug of fresh coffee and two large chocolate cookies.

Assuming you know what to do with the coffee and the cookies, I’ll explain the rest of the instructions:

  1. Take the post-it notes and write on them the activities that you want or have to do. One activity per Post-it note.
  2. Add to the note whether this is a one-off (visit Prague) or a regular event or task (attend cooking classes)
  3. Write a month on each of your 12 pieces of paper and Blu-Tack them to a wall in order.
  4. Distribute your Post-its around the months.
  5. Rearrange them as needed, and be realistic – you really will not be able to write your novel, visit Australia and get a new puppy all in the same month, not even if you have a big red “S” on your chest.
  6. If you’re feeling really anal, add smaller Post-its to each month as a reminder of a regular activity, or save that for the next step.

Once you have all the Post-its arranged and are being realistic about what you can do and when, it’s time to transfer your plan to your diary, whether you use paper or electronic, or a wall calendar. I quite like a home-made wall calendar backed up by an electronic diary.

Put in all your recurring items, and for big events like holidays, work backwards and add in tasks such as when to book, when to start packing etc.

By putting everything in a plan like this, you won’t spend December next year thinking “Oh if only I’d remembered to/got around to…”.

Changing habits

Habits don’t change miraculously, and trying to develop too many habits at one time is setting yourself up to fail. Plan for your habits too. Perhaps you’ll decide that in January you’ll start putting things away as soon as you’ve finished with them, without fail (yup, that’s one for me!), and in February (by which time January’s habit will be, well, a habit) you’ll start something else. Put them on your wall calendar.

Some new habits may need to have time allocated to them (a new exercise plan for example), so that needs to go in your diary.

A final thought…

Don’t commit your time so far up the wazoo that there’s nothing spare to sit and dream, or to go with the flow. Remember, this is for you, not for show.


What do you think, are you ready for your review?


Photo credits

The clock that makes my head hurt:  Donald Lee Pardue

Pretty notebook: Lenore Edman

Colourful Post-its: Jorg Beckmann


The key to self-respect

Warmth, intimacy, peace

That’s my mantra for the way I want to live in my home.

I yearn to live simply and richly. Not owned by my possessions and owning only what I need or what gives me joy.

And you know what? For years I’ve felt like a fraud!

I talk a good talk about simplicity, and in many ways my life is very simple: my house is quite small, I don’t own a television, I don’t have a complicated work schedule, don’t take big expensive holidays and I’m not a fan of retail therapy. But the heart of where I live – my home – has for years been absolute chaos. (The wonderful coach FlyLady refers to this quite literally as Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

It makes me feel vulnerable to write about this, because I’m inviting you into a mess which I haven’t even shown my closest friends, but I’m hoping that if anyone else is in my situation it might be helpful and give you a few ideas.

I’ve always been domestically-challenged. I don’t seem to have inherited the gene which leads to a healthy, tidy home. Until very recently I’ve been unable to eat at my kitchen table, have had one seat on one sofa on which there’s room for me to sit. My clothes have been living mostly on my bedroom floor. And talking of floors, in most areas of my house there hasn’t been much floor visible under the piles of books, papers and art supplies.

It’s disgusting, demeaning and depressing to live like this.


I’ve beaten myself up for years about the contradictions in my life.

I’m very visual, yet if I put a newspaper on the kitchen table for a few moments it pulls a disappearing act: I can no longer see it. And then it gets joined by the day’s letters, an umbrella, gloves and the book I’m reading until in what seems like five minutes flat, I can no longer see the surface of the table. But I don’t even notice I can’t see it.

I’m very organised when I’m working on a project, and yet completely scatty and vague around the house – I literally barely notice what I’m doing with “stuff” because my mind is buzzing with ideas and other preoccupations.


As anyone who lives like this will tell you, it gets to a point where it’s completely overwhelming. A house which has been allowed to fester takes a long time and a lot of work to get straight again. And there’s the fear that (a bit like dieting!) you’ll just go back to your old ways again. When we’re in this situation we often don’t trust ourselves. And it feels totally overwhelming. We literally don’t know where to start and lose faith in ourselves. And the sense of being ashamed is part of the overwhelm.

Baby steps

But I’m finally coming out of it. I’m finally getting to a point where I can have intimacy, warmth and peace in my home and invite friends to share it. It’s taken loads of baby steps, one after the other, and I reckon I’ll be done by Christmas.

There are two things that have made a big difference for me.


I’ve had to accept that I’m not a natural at this and I need help to get and stay organised. This came in the form of a book, Julie Morgenstern’s Organising from the Inside Out, which has been invaluable. One of Julie’s recommendations is that once you sort out a cupboard or other storage space, you label it with what goes in there.

Well I scoffed. I scoffed for months. It was obvious what was supposed to go in that cupboard, wasn’t it? What are we, in kindergarten? But then after the umpteenth time of looking for something in the wrong drawer, I caved in. As I gradually began to clean out my cupboards and shelves, I took my labeller and made discreet little labels to attach just out of sight. Now, I have a small kitchen cupboard labelled laundry liquids/dish-washing/floor washing; I only put those things in it and I can find them easily. It’s a dream. The whole kitchen is now populated with similar labels and I don’t care any more whether an intelligent woman like me “should” need to label her cupboards.


This has been the single most important thing for me.

In all my previous attempts to get organised, I’ve started with the “public” rooms: my kitchen/diner and living room, where guests would actually come and spend time.

Meanwhile, my bedroom and study – “my” rooms – were tips. Literally. They were where I tipped all the unsorted chaos from the rest of the house. There have been times over the past few years when I’ve slept in a bed surrounded by a wall of scruffy boxes taller than I am, with space in the room only to get in and out of bed and walk to the door and back.

And this was the key. I started clearing our my bedroom and making it beautiful. I spent 30 minutes a day and quite quickly it began to be a space that nurtured me.

When I put myself first by putting my private space first, everything began to fall into place.

Sleeping in a comfortable, clean and beautiful bedroom has set my creative ideas racing, it’s given me physical and spiritual space and energy which has made it much easier to tackle the rest of the house, bit by bit.

So if you’re struggling with any kind of block, whether it’s a physical block like my messy house or a creative block, the key is to start with some active self-love. Show yourself some respect and love, get going and build up some momentum. Everything else will flow from that.

What do you need to accept before you can move forward?

Photo by Ralph Aichinger

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