When life throws you limes, make a margarita

When life throws you limes, make a margarita

You’ve heard of the band that kept playing while the Titanic went down, an island girl’s holiday was my version after an iceberg took the arse out of my marriage.

I hadn’t expected to be single again at 50 but recent events had taught me a lot of things can happen you don’t expect. Least of all was I prepared for the particular kind of hell it is to live in quarantine with your ex. The same one who tore my still beating heart from my chest, stomped on it repeatedly all the while still professing to love me – just not in the “same way”. What the actual fu@k right!

The whole year had been a tsunami of devastating revelations that crashed into me one after the other, it had me crawling into the new year on all fours.

My dear friend, Sadie had been experiencing similar devastation so for the new year we booked ourselves a luxury resort, complete with a castle, in Tenerife – the largest Spanish canary island off the coast of West Africa.

Everything but a plague of locusts

We stepped off the plane and couldn’t see a thing, the landscape was desert-like and the sky completely obscured – I guess we should have known then this wasn’t going to be the fabulous new year we were banking on. The year that would take us out of relationship psychological horror film territory and into a fabulous and single-again musical.

Nevertheless, undeterred, we were on our holidays and for one week I didn’t need to deal with the man-child at home fixing to leave me and Sadie didn’t need to fear her ex turning up on the doorstep with a fresh batch of narcissistic manure.  Happy Days!

Grinning from ear-to-ear we rushed into the arrival hall to meet our driver – let’s get this holiday started! Scanning the signs none appeared to have “Josephine” or any other misspelling of it. Excellent! We have time for a quick drink and duty-free cigarette outside.

Returning, still no driver, we called him and were surprised to hear he was surprised we were there. Rushing in and apologising he explained many planes hadn’t made it to Tenerife that day. Sadie and I shrugged at each other, none the wiser and undeterred – we were on our holidays and we planned to milk it for every ounce of fun we could! A few little issues were not going to get in-between us and a good time. Which mainly meant in-between us and the cocktail bar.

Dumb tourists

On arrival the glittering white marble expanse of the foyer and the sleek-looking lounge bar made our grins broaden. Sidling up to reception we lucked out with getting the only grumpy and sarcastic queen on staff – David.

We liked him immediately, his sarcasm, even when aimed at us “dumb tourists” was still highly amusing. He warmed a little when we laughed at ourselves, which set us up for a firm “friendship” with David. Well, it was more we amused ourselves annoying David daily with dumb tourist questions and delighted at just how bitchy he could get, about us, about other guests, about the rest of the staff – his distain was endless. We checked in with David, choosing the prefix “Your Excellency” instead of the boring Miss, Ms or Mrs. I highly recommend it, being greeted by the breakfast maître d with “Good Morning Your Excellencies” got our days off to a really great start.

Margarita Time!

We got to our suite, hurried into cocktail dresses and ordered four margaritas back at the lounge bar. All hands suitably holding a margarita we headed onto the huge balcony to flop into one of the comfy sofas and enjoy the views – except there wasn’t any, view that is – there were plenty of sofas, all otherwise empty. 

“Happy holidays”! we cheers’d. We could just make out the top of the Disney style castle that took centre stage in the middle of the pool area below. The sky, even now at night was still incredibly hazy, our selfies were coming out great though, the haze might have been view-destroying, but it did offer very flattering lighting.

On our second margarita, Antonio the waiter burst through the doors and rushed towards us with a furrowed brow looking incredibly concerned. “Fantastic service here,” Sadie said, “he doesn’t need to panic quite this much though, we’ve still got half a glass left”. Reaching us Antonio made wild flapping motions with his arms, “please, Your Excellencies, the sandstorm is very bad for your health, please come back inside – nobody in Tenerife is outside tonight!”

Sandstorm?! No wonder other planes weren’t able to land!

Later in the week we heard a nearby resort was in total lockdown due to an Italian doctor checking in with a highly contagious virus.

And let the music play on…

Prawns night, will make it all alright

Food is important. More specifically, enjoying food is important. Enjoying with friends or lovers who also enjoy food – pure joy. There was a lot of joy that first night at Fantasia.

Booking a Spanish owned and run resort was no accident, not if you love food. Sadie is a confirmed buffet snob but quickly recalibrated her view after experiencing a 5-star Spanish resorts version. Some cultures just eat better, I’ve always found the Spanish appreciate good food. I love their style of cooking and eating and could not imagine a Spanish tourist tolerating mediocre food at their holiday resort. So, I’d picked the resort with good food, sangria, margaritas and opportunities to practice my Spanish-speaking all in mind.

Everything including a castle

It was of course though the enormous Disney castle dominating the centre of the resort landscape and its skyline that tipped it. Who could resist that cherry on top! Anything utterly ridiculous appeals greatly to me and is never lost on Sadie either. As my wise and fun-loving Grandfather said, “Don’t take life too seriously or you’ll never get out of it alive”. I’ve learnt in my half century that extends to, “Don’t take yourself too seriously either, or you’ll never stay happily alive”.

Got that good food good feeling

The chef station grilling fresh prawns was Sadie’s idea of heaven. She is sometimes hard to please I’m not going to lie, so I was thrilled to see the gleam in her eye and the smile spread across her face at the sight of it. She spent most of the night there, the chef appeared as enamoured of her as she was of the prawns, so the juiciest most beautifully grilled king prawns and langoustine were reserved for her regular visits.

I have similar heart skipping moments where angels sing in my head at the sight of a good cheese board.

It had been a long day, Sadie looked set to fall face down into her prawn plate in a total food coma so we agreed it would be best to have desert and wine on our suite balcony. I made a cheese board and olive selection and neatly wrapped it all up in a huge napkin for secreting out of the restaurant.

Just needed a good bottle of red. Strolling around the huge restaurant on the lookout I spotted some nice red wine in a bucket by a waiter station. Securing one under my jacket I casually walked back to our table to collect Sadie and the cheese napkin picnic.

She’d taken the opportunity to get another load of grilled prawns, so I sat down and hissed I’ve got a bottle of red wine in my jacket. “Give it here”, she instructed, “I’m really good at hiding a whole bottle under my arm”.

Oh hell, you didn’t!

Chatting away, the still quiet of the mostly empty restaurant was suddenly shattered as a red wine bottle smashed on the white marble floor beneath Sadie’s chair. She nonchalantly kept peeling and eating prawns. I looked her directly in the eyes and said, “I commend your positive attitude but I have to tell you there’s really no styling this out. There’s a large red wine puddle directly under your chair and there is literally nobody else sitting in our area of the restaurant”.  Sadie howled with laughter.

There wasn’t anything else for it, we both laughed til we cried. I did of course profusely apologise in heavily accented Spanish to the charming Cuban who came with a mop to clean up after us. We shoved a ton of guilt euro notes at him before leaving, with the cheese in a napkin in my handbag and another bottle of red wine under Sadie’s armpit.

Mum always said the happiest people are happy with the smallest things, like the smell of a sweet flower. Horrible break-ups and sandstorms didn’t stand a chance at making us feel miserable against the almighty power of good food and wine with a good friend.

Don’t stop dancing, we may fall

I see what I’m doing here, I’m focussing on the good times and not telling you about the not-so-good times. This is an old habit which quite frankly is a damn useful survival skill.

 Laughter is the best medicine; I don’t know who said that first but I’m an avid practitioner. Could be a cultural thing, humour and stoicism. Where I come from the usual advice is, “Build a bridge and get over it” or “Toughen up buttercup” followed swiftly by “Here have a drink (or cup of tea, depending on the hour) you’re too pretty to cry”.

Nevertheless, I understand it’s a journey and I am grateful for the empathy and the wisdom that comes from the painful times.

The hard times make the good times sweeter; like when you peel a fresh clementine with great expectation, then recoil at the sourness because it’s not fully ripened. The next ripe one is much sweeter and you savour it far more than if you’d tasted it first.

Better to live in truth than a web of lies

Ultimately, once I found my legs again, got up and dusted myself off I’d learnt – it’s better to go through the pain and live in truth than continue to live in delusion and lies. The journey to that was crawling the gauntlet on coals of fire. Sometimes the pain consumed me so bad I couldn’t see any end but fire cleanses and if you won’t wake-up I guess it takes a good smack in the face.

I also discovered it’s scary how deep in a web of illusion you can be, you’ve literally got no idea you’re living a lie. That was me, living the lie.

Love at first sight, in a faraway place

My ex-husband I used to call “the love of my life” and my “soulmate” and I meant it. We’d had a romantic start, met in a tropical paradise and had the whole love-at-first-sight passionate thing going. I’ve always had a romantic heart and I look back now and see it’s got me into a lot of trouble… and a lot of fun. I don’t regret any of it. Do I regret marrying the ex, yes maybe I do regret that because it has become clear I was the only one truly committed to our marriage.

Looking through bubble-wrap

He’s a complicated, difficult man and very prideful. Though not so prideful that he bothered to ever get his life together and stop making me clean up his continuous messes from his continuous bad decision-making. See that was my first mistake, I thought he was a man, he’s not, he’s still a teenager pretending to be a grown-up. That was exhausting, carrying someone who never carries you back.

Self-analysis and criticism are not difficult for women, so I see where I went wrong.  So deeply in love was I that I ignored all the red flags. Skipped merrily right over them insulated in a warm cosy thick blanket of love, I felt safe – I wasn’t. Oh! He was so good at that, it’s hard for me to describe to you. He used to make me feel sooo loved, so adored like his every happiness depended on me. When someone loves you hard like that it wraps you in a bubble. I guess it’s hard to see the truth through bubble-wrap.

The smack in the face

When he told me, he wanted to leave me ten years later he said our marriage “was only a piece of paper”. That came as one of the biggest shocks, I’d believed we both believed in our marriage. This conversation happened after I picked up his phone that he’d dropped after passing out on the sofa. I was just picking it up off the floor to put on the coffee table but there was a still active chat conversation on it. With someone I didn’t know called “Sam”, I didn’t even know if it was a woman or man but whoever it was my husband was professing his love to them in the same way he had to me. Turns out it was a she, but for a moment there I was so confused I wondered if I was married to a man having an affair with another man.

In it, alone

We had our problems, that was for sure. But I’d believed it was a bad patch, marriages can go through whole bad years of those – I was playing the long game and believed we’d get to the happy life together I’d always envisaged. Apparently, we weren’t in on that together though. He’d already given up on me years ago, he’d just forgotten to tell me.

Hospitals and police-stations

I was paying all the bills and he was continuing to behave like a reckless teenager. Finding him passed out after partying or not even home at all by 8am was so commonplace I’d long ago stopped calling the hospital and police station in fits of fear he was hurt somewhere. He continued to promise he’d start to come home at a reasonable hour, or at least let me know where he was, but it never happened, and he went out after work (which he finished late) most nights. When he was home, he was surly, grumpy, bossy and frequently criticised me. His verbal abuse was so bad I learned to completely mute him, then I’d be jolted out of that as he’d yell, “You never listen to me!” I did explain why when he was in better moods and he’d apologise, then the merry-go-round would start up again.

No fool like an old fool

Even as I’m writing this, I’m seeing what a fool I sound like. I was a fool but I’m not the type to be a doormat. I believed in our love and our marriage, I really truly thought we could sort it out and things would get better. Ok, I can see now I was deep in my own web of lies, I guess I just wanted to believe so bad we’d get back to that loving place and build a happy future together.

It’s important to understand my ex is very charismatic, charming and the life-of-the-party. He knows how to say all the right things to a woman and he’s passionate. The thing is you just never know who you’re going to get one day from the next. He has his demons, many of them and I understood that. I guess what I didn’t understand is that I couldn’t fix them for him. I made a lot of excuses for him is the truth. Ultimately, he never did anything to deal with his own demons other than try to drown them in alcohol or take the frustrations of his past out on me.

Yes, I was a fool

The people in the pub and at the parties would believe he’s the best guy, so much fun! We’d moved to a small town from the city. Early on I’d got a message from someone’s husband who believed our spouses were having an affair. Turned out the whole town believed it. I didn’t. My ex told me he’d never cheat, he hated cheaters as he’d found his friend in bed with his girlfriend and knew the pain. He told me he’d never leave me; I’d have to leave him, and it would kill him if I did. He told me he didn’t want my money, he wanted to get on his feet and look after me. Time went and as it turned out none of those things were true. You should believe what people do and not what they say – most people already know that; I wish I’d listened to them. Yes, I was a fool.

Becoming a hermit

When he finally told me he wanted to leave me after I confronted him with his own phone messages, which he initially denied – even with my photographic evidence of them. He said he was leaving me because I didn’t listen to him, I loved our dogs too much and I wouldn’t go out to the pub and parties with him anymore.

I’d never lived in a small town before, finding out everyone’s in your business and believes your husband’s a philanderer was deeply humiliating. I shut myself away after that rather than face it, I had my good few friends close and we would get together to ride horses and have drinks and dinner at home. The lonely nights while my husband never came home weren’t lonely because I had my three dogs with me. Their unconditional love and only desire to be near me was exactly the right medicine for my hurting heart. As I admitted I didn’t listen to him because I never knew when his words would be kind or when they would sting – sting had become more likely the past few years.

Navigating stormy waters

We had good times, hell we had great times – on the holidays I paid for. He’s a lot of fun, great company when he wants to be. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my ex is a bad person – he’s a bad, no – terrible, husband but he’s a good person and a fun friend. But he is also a total liability. He’s got a heart; he doesn’t just give homeless people his money – he brings them home and cooks them warm meals and makes them a bed on the sofa if he’s come across them on a stormy night walking home from the pub.

This is how I navigate my way through dissolving our marriage amicably, I remind myself he’s a good person, just a real bad husband. The woman he was accused of having an affair with he told me was just a friend. They liked to drink together and had mutual friends. When I asked him about it, he stopped hanging out with her for a while and de-friended her on Facebook.

Six months later he asked if they could be friends again on Facebook as she’d asked. I saw no harm in it, I knew her too and I believed my husband. He went on to being “best friends” with her and another male friend and they drank together most nights referring to themselves as the three amigos. Yeah, no shit – that hurt me a lot. Especially when I’d seen posing pouting selfies of her on his phone – apparently it was “some joke they shared”. I guess that joke was on me, the faithful trusting wife at home with the dogs.

The healing of a broken heart

If you think this is anything to do with another man – you’re very wrong!

No, this starts with good friends, soul sisters – and ends with them.

They held my hands while I walked across hot coals to get to the other side of grief. They picked me up when I fell, again and again and they told me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it.

Best of all – they laughed with me – a lot. Laughter heals and I love to laugh – I laugh loud. Apparently, I have one of those laughs which makes everyone else in the room laugh too. That’s probably my greatest gift now I think about it.

My girlfriends – my angels

Not everyone has strong, supportive, soul-connection sisterhood bonds of friendship – I’m truly blessed and grateful every single day that I do.

This kind of gift doesn’t happen by happy fortune or accident though, to have great friends you need to be a great friend.

There are no shortcuts, but we all get our time with the ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ when it’s our turn to be the mess. During those times you’re the one who needs them the most, they don’t need you because you’re screwing everything up, being a royal pain-in-the-arse or going through one of life’s tragedies. We’re all ‘that friend’ sometimes.

When you’re strong enough you carry them – taking it in turns. I learnt long ago if you’re doing all the carrying, all the time though, that’s not friendship – you’re just being used and who needs toxic energy-vampires in their life.

Your true friends will tell you the truth. A good smack in the face with some undressed-up home truths helps us all learn and grow sometimes. If you can put your ego to the side, listen and accept it for the great gift that it is.

Autumn – Letting Go and Forgiving

One of my birthday presents was an Autumn Harvest Queen art workshop via video-call. I attended with my dear friend Kallie and 4 other participants. We’d been sent art materials in the post and been told to get comfy with pillows and blankets for 7pm. Our hostess was a spiritual woman with gentle and joyful energy that emanated through my laptop.

We’d experienced the Equinox and autumn was certainly ushering in with wilder wind and rain. I’d collected leaves, bark and berries as instructed and their smell next to me was uplifting and soothing at the same time. Especially the dried English lavender. I’d not felt right about just ripping leaves from trees and luckily, we’d had instructions to ask permission first which made a big difference. Through my reunion tour travels I’d gathered my natures bounty from friends’ gardens and the magical Avebury standing stones area.

Letting go

I learnt in the workshop that this time of year is about letting go, the autumn equinox is here and so the tides of the earth change. The night and day are of equal length, everything balanced. Darkness starts to take over and our days get shorter. We reap what we’ve sewn and let go of what we no longer want or need.

A time of peace, I’ve been looking forward to that longingly and preparing for it for some time. I’m ready to let go, it’s been a long time coming, too long. This has also been a gift because initially I was in no way prepared to let go; it would have been too big a shock.  Because it’s taken so long to separate from my ex, having been forced to continue to live together during the pandemic, I’m now not only ready but looking forward to it. My ex has been living in the new home I’d organised for myself, to start my new life without him. He wanted to leave me; told me he didn’t want me but followed me to my new home. A variety of calamities including the virus put us in this situation and we’ve been living peaceably under the one roof for months now, but it’s really time for him to go his own way.

 I made a mandala (circle) with my leaves, branches, berries, ribbons and other treasures – it symbolises coming full circle and harmony. It’s meditative and brings calmness, clarity and emotional stability – so a great thing to do in such times! I have my mandala set up in my bedroom now so I can sleep and dream in its beautiful nature energy.

Letting go, now that’s a real art. Mastering it really is some Grasshopper Shaolin monk, mind-bending shit. Forgive? When you’ve been betrayed and stepped all over something inside rebels at the very suggestion. Isn’t that making it ok? Making it all ok you treated me badly, it’s totally all ok you lied and betrayed me, over and over… If I even try to think about forgiving you am I saying it’s ok to treat me badly again and you get off scot-free…  It’s a real head-fuck for sure and I’ve seen my friends wrestle with it also.

Forgiving – it’s hard to do

Marisa Peer’s guided forgiveness meditation really helped me get my head round it. She’s so great, Sadie recommended listening to her and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve since recommended her YouTube tutorials and meditations to loads of people and without fail her simple “I am enough” therapy works. Being a friendship circle of Brits, Scots and Antipodeans, we squirm uncomfortablyh with any mantras that would sound a little overindulgent to our ears. “I am enough” is everything. Truth I’ve always thought has a certain ring to it – you recognise it when you hear it and hearing and telling yourself “I am enough”, well, just do it and you’ll see what I mean. Do yourself a favour and keep on doing it as well.

So, it’s thanks to Marisa Peer I learnt forgiving is the key to letting go and freedom. Freedom from the rabbit-holes of “what if”, “if only” and “I want to fucking kill you and your whore too!”

I still don’t know what’s around the corner for me, but I presume it’s awesome and I know I deserve awesome. I just have to learn my lessons from the past, forgive, let go, grow and da-da! Hey presto! I’ll be in better days.

I’ll let you know when I get there – in the meantime none of this bollock’s has stopped me laughing and having a good time – thanks to having a circle of fabulous friends. Grab your friends, even on video-chat and as my country crush Luke Bryan sings “Lettin’ go a little, little by little, sippin’ on a frozen drink… One Margarita, Two Margarita, Three Margarita, Shot! Don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow, leave all your sorrow out here on the floatin’ dock….”  and everything already feels ok – and breathe…

What’s a girl to do this Halloween

I have a dear friend, she’s a witch. Which means powerful woman not the bastardisation of the word to mean bitch. Which quite frankly is another bastardisation because bitches are great, I have two – a Bassett bitch and a Chihuahua cross bitch and they’re pretty powerful witches too. Especially don’t cross the Chihuahua. She’ll have you sussed out at first glance, if you’re worth knowing she’ll love you loyally and never forget you. If you’re not – well, just don’t go near her. Bassett bitch just does whatever the hell she wants and accepts all cuddles and adoration as her natural birth right – fair play, she’s adorable, hilarious and the baby.

Well, I digress – this isn’t what I wanted to tell you about, but one mention of my dogs and I’ll go on for hours, so I’ll stop right now and get back on topic… Halloween.

Now I hadn’t seen Prunella for some years when my marriage hit the iceberg, but then she just appeared back in my life. Offering me support through a free reading over the phone – which was completely accurate. At the time I was in shock and still trying desperately to save my marriage, she told me by the time I came out the other side of this I’d be the one wanting to get rid of him. She was right, about that and everything else. Best of all she told me it would all be ok, those kind of words at times like that you hold onto like a lifejacket in stormy waters.

With social distancing making the Halloween landscape bleak – I decided to save it by planning a visit to see Prunella. She lives in a big old house full of treasures and sweet-smelling smoke. At the back there’s a huge wooden table where we sat, at a distance from each other, and got on with the magic that is old friends catching up.

My sister Karina and I had driven through beautiful Sussex villages to reach her house and taken gifts, home-made blackberry wine, roast beetroot soup (Prunella is vegan), sunflowers I’d grown, and Karina had found a beautiful carved cat for her. Cats are her spirit animal, so cats are always a good gift for Prunella.

Being the incredibly generous personality she is, Prunella had a banquet ready for us and all manner of beautiful objects for us to make wands and create good luck and protection spells with. We were there from lunchtime until midnight – and we never stopped for breath the whole time, talking and laughing. Prunella has been through her own horrific divorce, restraining order type territory – it was so good to see her now happy, relaxed and safe.

She’s a total powerhouse that could fit in a thimble with a beautiful singalong Irish accent. Prunella’s very pretty with sparkly clear, very mischievous eyes that change colour like moonstone.  She’s always rattling in beautiful jewellery and you’ll never see her without her make-up and hair done.

We may have had to stay in this Halloween, but this was one of the best anyway. The energy created by female friends, eating, laughing, talking through every detail of their lives, making crafts together, drinking herbal tea, sharing gifts – it’s powerfully healing. I now have a beautiful crystal wand and some great advice. Plus, some letting go with love rituals to do that is cleansing the ex out of my life – maybe that’s why I’ve been singing and dancing around my house this morning – to the quizzical looks of my dogs. The ex has finally left my house to go visit family, with any luck he’ll stay there. Freedom is in intoxicating grasp and I have nothing better to do this day than carve pumpkins – life is good.

Happy Halloween – it’s going to be a super special one with the blue full moon, can’t wait!

Heck, my life’s a country song

Living close to fields and farms and curving my way through the lower gears of an old landrover, there was just something right about having a country song playing.

It all started with Nashville, the TV series – if you haven’t seen it, you should! Add my addiction to The Batchelor nation series of shows, it all rounded up into making me a country music fan. I’d hear the bands on the TV shows, buy the music and play them while driving. Don’t even get me started on Dolly, she’s an iconic inspiration of Goddessness! There’s a reason “What would Dolly do?” is a slogan, the woman is wiser than an owl. I’ve often asked myself that question and the answer is always pretty much the same – dust yourself off and move on; “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails” (Dolly Parton quote). I better stop now because I could talk about my admiration for Dolly to the cows come home. What I’m meaning to tell you about is one special day with a special friend and some important things we learned.

My country music loving buddy, I call her Lou Ellen (yes, we have cowgirl names for each other), we like to go to the country festivals together over summer. We were trying out a new one in Suffolk on a bright sunny day. It was huge! We’d stayed over in a B&B the night before and got a taxi into the expanse of countryside being used as the festival location. Hiding behind a red vintage pick-up truck, we stashed mini bottles of gin down our bras before going through security. Sunbeams were gleaming across the glossed-up vintage American cars on our long walk to the entry gates. We held hands and squealed in excitement. The music was drifting over the trees and the smell of BBQ and candyfloss filled the air.

Lou Ellen was going through a heart-breaking and not so amicable separation at thirty-five. It was the astrological year when if you weren’t living an authentic life or in an authentic relationship (even if like me, you weren’t aware of it) it was all going to boil to the surface and erupt. Lou Ellen’s eruption had been on an Asian holiday with her husband. At the end of her wits on how to get his attention and affection, she’d blurted out, “Shall we separate then?!” That was the time he did listen and responded, “I think getting a divorce is a good idea.” It was in that moment her heart broke.

But, today – today, we’re in country music fan heaven and we’re here to have a good time! We’d got new outfits especially. Cowboy hats and boots naturally, a floral tea dress for Lou Ellen and a denim skirt and tie-front check shirt for me. Yeeha! Yep, we get totally carried away with this and make no apologies.

The sun was beating down hard and warming our bare arms as we took a full tour of the festival grounds, this took a good couple of hours or so being so big. The first things we saw were shopping huts with unique items like handmade cigar box guitars and a variety of Americana inspired food trucks.  People were milling about eating corn-on-the-cob or queueing for cold beer at the bar. All ages were there, some families had carts for ferrying small children and dogs about. There was a special K9 agility area if any four-legged family members felt like it. Ducking behind a barrel serving as a table, we fished our mini bar out of our bras and poured them into the plastic (recyclable) pint glasses of ice and home-made lemonade we’d bought at a nearby stall. A young spaniels Mum was coaxing him through an agility tunnel, he burst through with a wildly wagging tail and they both whooped liked he’d won the Olympics.  Lou Ellen and I touched glasses and giggled. The happy atmosphere was working its magic.

Further in was a beautiful lake, complete with pedalo swans and a nearby bluegrass stage surrounded by haybales for seats. Walking past the swaying audience and through a forest clearing we found the main stage. It was inside a vast marquee next to the main bar. Outside the marquee hundreds of people sat around picnicking or just drinking and chatting. Fire-pits were dotted everywhere for lighting after sundown. Hearing an excited scream at the far end we weaved our way through picnic blankets to find an axe throwing hut. “I know who’d I’d like to throw one of those at!” Lou Ellen joked.

After working off some stress with an axe we bought some cold beer and found a pretty willow tree to sit under and put the world to rights. We poured our hearts out to each other that day, it was a relief to get it all out and to speak to a friend who really understood the agony of a freshly broken heart.

As the sun was setting, we took to our feet to sway to the music, swinging each other around. I suddenly had a great idea, “Let’s take a swan ride around the lake!” I blurted. “Brilliant idea!” Lou Ellen agreed. We hurried as best we could towards the lake. Reaching where all the swans were parked by the jetty, I burst into tears to see they were all locked together for the night. No more swan rides today. “Hell JoJo Rae! You’ve got far more going on to cry about than a damn swam pedalo!” Lou Ellen chided. Doubling over, I laughed till I cried some more.

The bluegrass stage had an enthusiastic singer who was incorporating some impressive yodelling into his tale-of-woe songs. I hooked Lou Ellen’s arm for a walk around the lake and started singing all the things we’d confessed to each other earlier, ending each verse with a yodel. I sang a verse and yodelled to the sky like nobody was listening and Lou Ellen sang back the next verse ending with her own yodel. By the time we’d walked the whole lake we’d sang and yodelled all the hurt and wrongs away. We slumped to the ground, hugged each other and exclaimed, “Woah! That felt good!”

I highly recommend putting your woes to a country tune and yodelling – it may not be recognised therapy and I’m no doctor, but I can guarantee you from personal experience you’ll feel a whole lot lighter afterwards.

All that singing made us hungry so we headed to the food truck area and there she was, in all her shiny yellow glory – the mac n cheese truck. It was like the last of the sun’s rays were shining just on her, it was almost religious. We ran the last few yards and ordered a couple of ‘Nostagic’s’ – a classic mac n cheese dish in a paper pot. We’re both purists, you don’t need to mess with perfection. Honestly, it was eye-rolling good. When we finished, we went to talk to the chef to ask where they’d be appearing next. He seemed a little confused, we were deadly serious explaining we were big fans. Turned out they’d be at the next country music festival we had tickets to, we were thrilled! Walking back to the marquee we were discussing our good luck when I suddenly realised, “You know Lou Ellen, I think most people ask their favourite bands where they’re appearing next, not the mac n cheese truck”. We stopped, looked at each other in realisation and fell to the ground laughing at ourselves.

Falling out of love

When I’m in, I’m all the way in. Ride or die. There was nothing I wouldn’t do. Now I’m all the way out, I see I didn’t see all of you when I was all the way in. I missed the serious flaws that make it impossible for you to love the way I do. For you to be honest, even with yourself. I saw through in-love eyes the wounded child, I saw your powerful soul, the one you don’t give life to. It’s been a real learning experience to find out not everyone loves the way I do or even understands it the same. Trust and loyalty are apparently just words to some people. To me, they’re hard-wired with love and sacred.

I’m all the way out of love with my ex-husband now and “falling” out of love doesn’t describe the experience for me. I didn’t “fall” out of love. Dragged kicking and screaming is probably more accurate. Now I see it as an awakening rather than a falling. I hid your ugliness from my eyes, from my ears, from my mind – I even fooled my heart but my soul knew. It used to whisper to me, and I held my ears shut. Believing in the one you love, the one you’ve said vows of marriage with, beyond the point of reason – it’s called loyalty. Well, it is to me. I knew he was capable of being beautiful, and was sometimes, but he kept choosing ugliness for himself and you can’t make other people’s choices for them. No matter how entwined your lives, we’re still all ultimately on our own journeys.

Awakening; awakening to the truth about you and our relationship. I wouldn’t have left you, I’m too loyal – I’d have kept fighting for what we could have been if you’d made better choices. Now you broke our marriage, it’s given me the freedom to see a new path, see you and see the truth. Thank you for that.

Unconditional love, it’s not something everyone’s capable of, it would seem, and it certainly isn’t something you want to be giving if it’s not reciprocated. It only works when you’re both ride or die. I know what beauty that is, I had a front-row seat to my grandparent’s incredible love and marriage. I spent every school holiday as a child with them. Be careful the lessons you learnt as a child, make sure they match up with the ones of the person you’re betrothing yourself too. If I’d known that before, I could have saved myself a lot of sacrifice and pain learning it the hard way.

It took time to fall out of love. The process began years earlier, from the mistreatment during our marriage. Like death by a thousand cuts. So, when the death blow came, it whipped the blindfold from my eyes so I could start blinking into the truth.

Freedom, it’s a new coat of many colours. It’s starting to feel really good on my skin. The endless possibilities, all that energy, magic and power I put into loving you, making your life better – I can now put into myself. I’m definitely far more deserving of it. I still believe in love, I love a lot – my family, my friends, Dolly Parton, nature, this beautiful planet and my darling dogs. Am I afraid to have romantic love in my life again? No, not at all. I know other good souls exist everywhere and when two connect it’s magical. For right now though, I know I need time for it to just be me, me and my dogs. Time to get more comfortable with just nurturing myself, in my own space.

When does kindness cross the line?

I’ve been trying to answer this one for myself and I don’t know the answer yet.

After my ex broke our marriage and hit me over the head with one devasting revelation after another. I stayed knocked down for a beat but that’s just not me. Even while I was in the early days of being deeply wounded and confused, I started to take steps to sorting out my own life – the life that would become my new single life.

I talked it out endlessly with my closest friends, I booked myself into a local therapist and went to counselling. Every session I dreaded; I see now she was trying to tell me the truth but I wasn’t quite ready for it. I’d leave every session feeling emotionally bruised. When you’re still in shock and in the process of falling out of love there’s a piece of your heart that still hopes all this is a bad dream and you’ll fix it. I suppose that’s what they call denial. Probably shouldn’t blame my heart, my heart I believe is smarter than that. Fear, it was fear – fear of change, not being able to see past what I thought my future would look like, fear of heartbreak, fear of being alone. That’s what was to blame. Fear will have you making some dumb-arse decisions.

Regardless of the fear, I can feel that and get on and do what I need to do anyway, so I started to make my plans for a single future. Disentangling yourself from a long-term marriage, there’s a lot of vines to cut down.

First, I thought about where I wanted to live. I liked the quirky small town where we lived, he said he hated it but seemed to really enjoy drinking every night at the local pubs with all his many drinking buddies. My closest friends there, the ones who really knew me, they had busy lives. My friends who are like sisters because we’ve known each other since Adam and the apple, they lived very far away. These were the two friends who knew the truth about what was going on in my life. I’m very private, I don’t tell everyone my business, so they were the only two who knew my marriage was imploding and how awful my husband was being. I decided it would be a good idea to move closer to them, a good six hours drive from where I lived then.

It wasn’t easy arranging house viewings from afar, but I did it and would go down for weekends where my friends and I would see twelve houses in a day. I got a short-list of possibilities, went through the pros and cons and eventually got it down to one. The house I’m living in now. I went about selling the marital home, sorting out finances, moving and I started the paperwork for divorce which is now finalised. This seems to all have come as a surprise to my ex, I don’t know why – he’s always known I’m a pragmatic, got my shit-together kinda girl. I’m also resilient and strong, more resilient than I even realised and that’s a treasured piece of new knowledge.

I wanted to manage an amicable separation and divorce if possible, it takes a lot of discipline and emotional strength, but I’ve done it. Ultimately this has made all the tough financial and legal conversations easier – not easy – but easier. My ex decided to move down to the new area I was moving to. He helped with the move and I said it was fine he could stay with me while he went overseas to visit his family and then got sorted with his own place. He found a new job and a new place in February – then the pandemic hit. He lost his job; we were in lockdown and since he’s also made matters worse by giving himself a significant injury playing sport whereby, he now can’t walk without crutches.

All this has added up to me having my ex as a house guest for months. I really want him out. I’ve carried his arse for years, now we’re divorced after he broke our marriage and my heart – how the hell is this still happening! Ok, I get I could in theory throw him out – jobless and incapacitated and probably already gone through his savings because he’s incredibly stupid with money and his family overseas are master manipulators at getting him to send it. I could, but after working so hard to keep this an amicable split for so long it feels like falling at the last hurdle. It’s also not very kind. He may have been a terrible husband but he’s a human being and in his heart not a bad person. He keeps out of my way and we bumble along politely under the one roof.

Inwardly, I’m screaming – get out! I want to get on with my own life now. This chasm shows how different we always were. I’m now in my own place, the kind of place I always liked but he didn’t – i.e. full of character and old. It’s on the coast because I love being near the sea and I have my support network of closest friends nearby. I’m good. He on the other hand is still on my coattails like the child he is. I’d never seen it when I was in love with him, just how childish and immature he is. That’s why I think our split could be good for him, he needs to learn to stand on his own feet and stop getting in his own way – he’s clearly scared to. I was scared too, but I can feel the fear and do it anyway so I’m now in a better place.

So, I’m choosing to be kind – it’s important to be kind, this is a big part of my belief system. Being kind to someone who has been so cruel to you isn’t easy, I’m not going to lie, but it’s not impossible either. But when is being kind to someone else stop being kind to yourself, what’s the timeline, how much longer can this drag on for …. these are my questions and I don’t know any answers yet … not into the new year I’m praying, let me have my life to myself for the new year … keep your fingers crossed for me please.

Penpals, books and volunteers

When the first lockdown hit, I wanted to find useful new hobbies to fill my time. I was still working from home during the week but there was plenty of evening and weekend time to do some good for myself and others.

Travelling along the coast I spotted the iconic 1930’s building that is the Blind Veterans centre. Returning home, I quickly logged on and volunteered for their befrienders programme online. I’ve some experience in this as I was a volunteer befriender when I lived in East London, for an age charity. Every week I’d have tea and cherry bakewell cake with a true cockney called Doll. She’d regale me with stories of the east end during her childhood, the second world war and later as a widowed mother of one.

One of my favourite stories was about a small plane that whizzed past, pushing a young Doll back into a building when she was walking down the road to buy some milk. She described this small plane like machine with no pilot. Her and other curious locals followed it down to where it’d crashed. One day I looked this up and it turns out it was the first doodlebug bomb dropped in London by the Nazi’s.

Doll also volunteered during the war at the Bryant and May factory building sewing uniforms. She told me they’d write notes with their names and addresses and sew them into the pockets and then get a penpal. Her friend went on to marry her navy sailor-boy penpal.

Unfortunately, the blind veterans said they couldn’t take on any new volunteers during lockdown. At the time I was also doing my best to expand my mind with books and was reading William Whitecloud’s The Magician’s Way, which really made me feel full to the brim with enthusiasm for life and the future. It’s about manifesting what you want and talks about alchemy and magic – two words that always attract me like a magpie to a jewel. It is a jewel of a book too; I highly recommend it.

Late one night, you know – the witching hour when you have all those sudden great ideas – I remembered how I’d enjoyed having penpals when I was a child. There was no internet then and we had the wondrous joy of handwriting letters, adding in gifts of photos and stickers and then waiting weeks for a reply.

I wrote to a girl in Ireland my Nana had got me for a penfriend, she was a distant cousin. I remember her photo, long naturally ringleted golden hair and clear blue eyes. She was funny and seemed much more worldly than me, I was in awe of her. My second penfriend I’d got through by school French teacher, he was a French boy living in Paris. We wrote in English as I was terrible at French. I’d had to tell him at great length one letter how disappointed we were in New Zealand with the French, because of the devastating Rainbow Warrior bombing. It was all anybody was talking about at the time. It still fills me with sadness thinking of it now. If you don’t know; two really bad-at-their-job French secret agents planted bombs on the Greenpeace ship called Rainbow Warrior and sank it. Everywhere these “secret” agents had been they’d been spotted by members of the New Zealand public as suspicious.

Later my French penfriend did military service and sent me a marriage proposal by post, he said his mother was sorting everything out for us and I could come live with them in Paris and plan the wedding with her. This came as a great shock to me as I had no idea we were more than friends. I’d never even had a boyfriend, they were more innocent times. I didn’t marry him if you’re wondering but I do hope he’s doing well in his life – we lost touch many years ago.

I had nostalgic notions of finding interesting foreign penfriends again who enjoyed the romance of snail mail as I do. Upon investigating it’s pretty much all email and online now, undeterred I signed up to an international penpal site, set up a profile and waited. I didn’t wait long, I got a few responses and started lively email exchanges with a Texan, an inter-cambio exchange with a Madrilenian (his English being far superior to my Spanish) and a sincere but funny veteran in a British seaside town. The Texan working on an oilrig was quite flirty but engaging – turned out to be a scammer, as soon as he asked me to help him buy amazon vouchers for his kids, I stopped corresponding. I should have known he wasn’t real when he couldn’t converse on any Texan subject’s I wanted to learn more about.

The British vet I’ve been writing with for many months now, one of his jokes is that he fought a landmine and the landmine won but you should see the landmine. He’s blind, highly functioning and busy writing a book. I’ve been helping him with editing. I suddenly came to the realisation the other day that Mr Whitecloud was right, I got want I’d put out I wanted – to befriend a blind veteran, it just didn’t happen how I’d expected so I hadn’t even noticed.

I’m waiting for my other wishes to come true now; I do believe in magic but it can obviously manifest in unexpected ways so I better stay alert 😉

Staying in – staying sane…

It’s been an interesting year, 2020. An astrologer friend said it’s officially the ‘year of suffering’. I prefer ‘year of transformation’. After being taught by nuns during my school days, the word suffering has terrible connotations of Jesus on the cross. I’d cry in class every Easter, if you also grew up with those stories, you’ll understand why. It’s the same thing ultimately, but words have power, so ones that resonate more positively in your own brain are worth choosing, in my opinion.

I don’t see any point in staring at the mud, never have – ever since I was taught that story in primary school. Was probably the nuns again, though it may have been one of my Grandmothers, all very wise women. Do you know it? The story about two prisoners looking out of their cell – one looked down and saw the mud and the other looked up and saw the stars. I want to see the stars I thought as my five-year-old self, and I do – I see them everywhere. These things are a choice.

When lockdown came, I was fearful, angry, frustrated – even more so that my ex was still living in my house and locked in with me. It takes a lot of willpower to be polite towards an ex-spouse whose behaved terribly. Saying, “would you like a cup of tea”, instead of screaming, “get off my back, I’m so sick of taking care of you!”, takes strength, trust me.

When the first lockdown finished, and he was about to start a new job and go get his own place he injured himself playing sport, so that put paid to that. Watching him limp out of A&E on crutches, I cried silently to myself. For someone so opiniated, bossy and ever ready to tell me my faults – he just can’t seem to look after himself. It’s exhausting. These days he’s polite, after all, we’re not together anymore but he’s still living under my roof on my charity, so be kind of stupid to continue his verbal abuse of our married days. We tend to occupy different rooms and time-zones so I’m in my own company most of the time.

Back to the stars, I decided to use my locked-in time as an opportunity to grow, heal and learn new things. I’ve found all kinds of new things I enjoy and indulged in some of my old favourites as well. My Mum always said the happiest people find pleasure in the smallest things, like smelling a flower. The big difference I’ve been working on is remembering to actively acknowledge how much I like something, in the moment. Like watching back to back episodes of The Batchelor on a rainy evening, fire lit, pyjamas on and covered in sleeping dogs. Add a glass of wine and a little cheese, I’m in heaven.

On the growing and learning front, I’ve been reading and watching YouTube tutorials on botany, yoga and self-improvement. My favourites are Gathering Thyme, Herbal Jedi, Yoga in Bed by Candace, Yoga with Sanela (her voice alone is so relaxing) and meditations with Marisa Peer and Jason Stephenson. Sleeping with healing music I’ve found is amazing to, they’re free on YouTube from posts from Nu Meditation and MoonLight Meditations, plus many others. Trying different exercise classes, loving Lucy Wyndham-Read and Meredith Shirk. Face yoga has been a new skill I’m learning also, KoKo Hayashi is a great teacher.

Yoga really does work! I’ve been calling in body magic and managed to convince one of my friends to do ’30 days of Yoga with Julia Marie’. We’re on day 26 and been messaging each other about our progress. I’m loving it so much because it makes you feel alive, peaceful and happy. The feeling of achievement is a great way to start the day as well, seeing poses and wondering if that’s even possible – then doing them (even for a moment before collapsing) feels fantastic. My flexibility is so improved, and my stress levels are down. I’ve been taking my Mum through yoga breathing exercises on video-chat as well, she’s terrible for shallow breathing when she’s feeling anxious.

Growing plants from seeds, that’s another new hobby, it’s earth magic! I’m still in awe they grow for me, and very grateful. The whole process is fascinating, I enjoy the feel of potting-mix and watching each plants progress, so much so there’s now about fifty pots in my backyard – flowers, herbs, vegetables and a baby willow tree. I also put some fairy lights up, they make me smile when I look out the window at night.

My neighbour gave me an over-the-fence tutorial on how to make blackberry wine. During August I picked loads of blackberries while out walking the dogs – it’s quite meditative as it’s a slow, repetitive task while the sun warms your back.  Now, I’m enjoying drinking my own blackberry wine, it’s delicious if I do say so myself and relaxing. Very relaxing.

Rediscovering rainy day cooking, what a joy! Making soups and roast dinners with the radio on and dancing and singing around the kitchen to the quizzical looks of dogs. I’m a terrible singer and most others don’t like my taste in country music so it’s a great pastime for alone time. Mash n gravy; is there anything more comforting than mash n gravy – that’s not a question, it’s a statement of fact. Well, actually, mash n gravy and a glass of blackberry wine.

Twinkle, twinkle little star.

Let’s hear it for the boys!

You might think because of the suffering my ex caused me I don’t have a very high opinion of men. Not true, I don’t have a high opinion of him, but I’ve had the privilege of having some amazing men in my life.

I was lucky enough to have incredible male role models growing up. From my Dad, who unfortunately died suddenly in a boating accident when I was 21 to both my grandfathers, my brother and my uncles.

My paternal grandfather died young too, my memories if him are of a gentle happy soul who would dance with us around the living room to Bony M. His wife, my nana, was a strong Irish woman and the matriarch of the family. So clever and so wise, she kept it all together and worked right up until her late 60’s. I see myself in her because she taught me well, schooling me from a young age to be independent and think for myself. She was truly selfless when it came to her family.

My maternal grandfather Fred was a real character. I want to say IS a real character. Because I don’t believe he’s gone just because he died – his soul still exists, he still exists. What a strong soul he is too. He went to war young, like a lot did in the second world war. He died there too and came back; it gave him the key to seeing others pass through that gate later in years. I spent all my school holidays at my maternal grandparents, as soon as we would wake, we’d pile into their bed and watch White Island (a volcanic island in the sea) smoke from their large bedroom window. It was totally normal for grandpa to say such-in-such has just died. Then we’d get the call later in the day to confirm it via the usual communication route of the telephone.

He adored my grandmother. Every second of every day – he adored her. This was my normal growing up. He was an escaped prisoner-of-war and got over the border to Austria where my grandmother and her family hid him on their farm. She would steal out every night to his hiding place in the barn to bring him food. She spoke little English and he’d only learnt a little German in the prison of war camp but that didn’t stop them falling in love. The language of love goes far beyond words.

They had incredible stories of that time, which I grew up on. He promised her when he returned home to New Zealand, he would send for her. As it turned out it wasn’t that easy as they were on opposite sides of the war from a political viewpoint. He wasn’t a man to give up, he eventually found a church that agreed to marry them and campaigned the government to let him bring her over. And so it was, she travelled many miles to another country to board a ship that brought her to the other side of the world, at 19 years old. She was always a brave and courageous woman.

After they married, they had their fair share of difficulties thanks to what we now know to be PTSD, but they never wavered in their devotion to each other.

My grandfather Fred was a big personality. He loved practical jokes, and everyone loved him. Grandma worked in a charity shop as a volunteer one day a weel. On that day Fred would be lost, spending the whole time working with us grandchildren to make everything nice for her return and counting down the hours till she was back. My grandmother never spent a day not knowing how adored, loved and needed she was by her husband.

He adored and loved me, his first grandchild, too. I could do no wrong even when I was behaving like a demon child. Later, when I was older, he’d hold show slide shows evenings and lovingly narrate a slides of me throwing terrible toddler tantrums with, “that was day when I didn’t get Josephine her ice-cream fast enough because there was a queue of people”. What! I was being a total brat, that’s the truth -but not in his eyes.

My dad was a morale, intellectual person. A closed book but a good man. My brother is the same genius level of intelligence and a loving father and good provider. All the men in my family share great senses of humour, there was always banter and laughter with them.

So, here’s to all the great men, the good guys – let’s hear it for the boys!

Christmas to Christmas, the difference a year makes

I love Christmas – yes, I’m one of those people. It’s an infection I caught from my adored grandfather. He was adored not just by me but everyone who ever met him, so infectious was his larger than life gregarious spirit. At Christmas time he exploded with good cheer and merriment. As children my brother and I stayed with my grandparents in their house by the sea for our school holidays. The run-up to Christmas day Grandpa would have us very excited with tall tales (the only kind he told) and helping with decorations. Grandma would have us salivating as we peaked at what she was concocting in steaming pots in the kitchen.

Christmas morning Grandpa was the first up (yes even before small children) and burst into our bedroom to wake us excitedly announcing “It’s Christmas!” Now I think about it, he was Santa. Tall, robust with a substantial belly (from homebrew making) and a thick shock of white hair. All he needed was the beard, but he certainly had as much Christmas spirit as Santa himself. How blessed we really were.

Last Christmas I was in a very different place, in every way, to where I am this Christmas. This time last year I was watching my world explode, what I held dear and believed in was shattering to pieces. My marriage and the life I’d built crumbling around my ears. I thought it was the worst thing that could happen, it wasn’t. I thought the anguish I was feeling would drown me, it didn’t.

This Christmas I’m living in a new town and new house, both of which I’ve grown to love. When I first arrived I found the foreignness of it all, and living alone, frightening. Now I look around every day and feel grateful and calmer than I have in years. My life is my own again. I write this hoping to give comfort to anybody in the place I was last Christmas. Will it all get better and be ok, I know you’re asking yourself. Yes, it will… if …. and here’s the key – if you decide it will and start moving towards that goal.

There’s a lot of mess to clear up at the end of a marriage. Messy emotions, messy untangling of finances and responsibilities. Moving home. I started the ball rolling last Christmas by selling the married home, which was a stress in itself with a difficult buyer making unreasonable demands whilst trying to get the purchase of my new home, on the other side of the country, through a chain that kept threatening to break. Every week saw a new challenging twist I had to negotiate. Keeping my head was essential, if I’d lost it, I’d be in a “different” (read, “worse”) place now. The decisions we make today see where we are tomorrow.

Get a lawyer, take proper financial advice and keep your head. However, there are things you simply can’t control. Recognising the difference, I’ve always found challenging. Sadie would say to me, “You can’t control everything.” It’s sage advice. When my world starts falling apart my instinct is to try to do just that, but the real power and freedom and peace can only be found in letting go.

When to hold the reins and get your shit together, when to sigh and just let go, saying; “It is what it is” – that’s the challenge. Navigate it right and you’ll come out of this bumpy, perilous white-water rafting experience into the calmer, peaceful, happier waters you seek. I’m no expert, I’m on a never-ending learning journey myself, but these are the things I’ve found to be true from my experience.

It does get my hackles up sometimes when I’m advised, “let go – you can’t control everything”. True, but some things you need to sort out or you’ll sink – simple. As your ship hits an iceberg, rushing to bucket water over the side won’t get you anywhere but neither will sitting in a yoga pose om’ing on the deck. Get yourself a lifejacket and a raft and paddle around the rocks. Then let go, holding onto any of it won’t bring you peace. Things happen that aren’t fair, my ex treated me unfairly – but I’m a grown-arse woman and nobody put a gun to my head to marry him. That was my decision and I take responsibility for it, and also now forgive myself for it. I’ve got better days to look forward to, including today. Today I can choose to be happy and go do things that make me happy – even just savouring this cup of coffee and writing my heart out in this blog.

Once I’d have thought having Christmas day alone would be heart-breaking, today I’m so looking forward to it. I could go to a friend’s house but I’m choosing to do this alone because all I need to be happy is me, my dogs and good food and wine. I’ll be dressed in my Christmas jumper making Christmas dinner, singing Christmas songs, drinking mulled wine and watching the Queens speech and Elf with the dogs and I’ll be feeling very grateful for all of it.

Blessings to you this Christmas, I wish you a very happy one.

Becoming a bear cub

Is it the winter weather or the post-Christmas dinners? Something about this time of year, particularly this year, makes me feel like curling into a ball like a baby bear cub and just sleeping the days away.

I don’t seem to be the only one either, I’ve been checking in with friends and we’re all at it. Well, those of us, like me, who’re on Christmas leave; we’re sleeping like it’s an Olympic sport and reporting in on our impressive times.

This is the first year in I can’t remember when, I’ve got Christmas leave, besides the statutory days. I usually leave this time of year for my colleagues with children to take leave and be the one staying back to cover. I love to travel so used my leave for that or it seemed a complete waste of days off. Taking leave, to go nowhere, is a foreign concept for me. But, if I’m going to have to stay home, I’m going to embrace it. This time, staying home and staying in is for rest. I’m not starting projects, learning new things or using my time wisely – I’m turning doing sod all into an art form. It seems to be just the right time for it and if we needed any further excuse the government’s plunged us into something called “Tier 4” – don’t ask, it basically means stay home, again.

I spoke to Sadie and Nottie on the phone, both were still in their pyjama’s, as was I at lunchtime on a Monday. I’d recommended a new reiki sleep music that had had me having Alice in Wonderland type dreams. Nottie tried it and reported sleeping in to lunchtime, longer than she has in years. It’s my new favourite sleep music by MusiclyZen. I enjoy opening my curtains to let in the light of the moon sometimes too, it seems to stimulate calmness and just looking at it glow makes me smile.

Are we hankering for peace, respite or is it just the natural pull of what our ancestors would have done this time of year – when people lived in harmony with the natural world and light. Maybe that’s just me making excuses to be lazy. Laziness was sacrilege in my childhood home, so it feels a little rebellious to give into it now, even as an adult. There’s something more to this though, in my soul I know I need this time to replenish. I don’t need a book or a guru to tell me that, I feel it.  

Over Christmas I was visited by ghosts of travels and relationships past in my dreams, some re-visits I relished and some I really didn’t. I’m not one to dwell on the past, I don’t see the point, which is why I guess I’m forced to do it in my sleep sometimes. Not sure what’s happening astrologically to make a full week of it though, felt like car crash sleep therapy. Glad, that’s over!

I’ve found myself all through Christmas feeling retrospective – looking back, picking over memories like old bones, scattering them about like runes to see if I could spot any patterns or signs.

On this rainy Monday I enjoyed doing little more than lighting the fire and poking at smoking logs while watching the rain run down my window. Nothing but grey outside.

Even my dogs have taken to sleeping even more than usual. I’ve been letting them climb into my bed at night and we’re all sleeping as a pack. It’s quite an accomplishment to sleep with three dogs as you end up in very odd shapes throughout the night. Their sleeping breathing and snuffles are soothing, and they smell great as I bath them in a shampoo that smells like baby powder.

It’s four in the morning as I write this from bed, being on leave has me keeping some odd hours, my baby, a Bassett hound, has manoeuvred herself so she can have her head on my heart. Something she does to feel comforted as that’s how I raised her. As a tiny puppy sleeping on her own, she’d wake and cry and fret. Bringing her into bed and resting her on my heart would calm her and put her back to sleep. It’s how I learnt to sleep very still on my back for months.

This is also the time of year to indulge in movie and TV guilty pleasures. Except I don’t feel guilty at all, I love old movies and have just made my way through an entire season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I could certainly relate to some of the marital issues Teresa had and how she kept a quiet dignity throughout it. Her brother is great to watch as he’s such a fantastic husband. The complex relationships and how things can go so wrong so quickly over a few words fascinates me. The Jersey girls add in throwing and flipping things for added drama as well. It’s a way of travelling when you can’t and seeing how other people from different cultures live.

Morphing into a bear cub and hibernating – it just seems to feel right, right now. The colder weather helps, the drawing to the end of a challenging year, emotional and mental exhaustion, Christmas indulgence, mulled wine, fancy French cheese and chocolates, the urge to pull the bedcovers over my head at the announcement of another lockdown, that Christmas permission to slob-out and not feel guilty about it. Somethings calling me to hanker down so I’m giving into it and going back to cuddle a dog and drift away on cloudy dreams, hopefully to Barbados or the Pacific Islands and not an ex-boyfriend of Christmas past!

Snow-capped memories of Lapland

While my body can’t travel, my mind re-visits the special places of winters past. Like a sparkling jewel, I’m remembering the most magical place I’ve been – Lapland. North of the arctic circle, Finland’s incredible subarctic wilderness – a place of pure magic! Where the nature Gods conjure phenomena like the Aurora Polaris (polar or northern lights), a midnight sun and magnificent reindeer.

A couple of Christmas’s ago, I booked a Lapland holiday with flights to Kittilä and an apartment hotel facing the ski-slope in the mountain resort of Levi. The trip included some excursions and all the arctic clothing you needed. I was still with my ex at the time, unaware of his duplicity, so had booked for us both and spent all year paying monthly instalments until the day arrived to board the TUI flight. I wish I’d taken one of my dear friends, someone who really loves me, but alas that wasn’t the case, so I’ll ignore he was there as Lapland is too precious a memory for me to allow him to spoil it.

The flight was full of families with small excited children in reindeer antlers, I was just as excited in a sparkly Christmas jumper and woolly elf hat. Never take yourself too seriously if you want to be able to really enjoy life. These trips are booked up pretty much wholly by families for kids to visit Santa. I highly recommend going as an adult, there’s so much more to Lapland and the kids aren’t allowed to sit in the coach front seats – so you can rock up anytime and get the best seat and view for the excursions. I also had a hipflask tucked inside my ski jacket which was brilliant for those trips where we were standing around in the snow for a time – a number of parents gladly accepted my proffered hipflask, I think they may have not been using it to just warm up though. Sometimes the most amazing trips are wasted on the very young, wait until it’s something you can really enjoy and appreciate – like me at 49. I’d definitely go back on my own, it’s a safe place, full of magic and Christmas joy, it’d be ideal for solo travel.

I don’t think I ever stopped smiling the whole time I was there, the air tingles with something special – indescribable. The light, it’s other-worldly. The cold didn’t bother me, I actually had to take back the arctic suit the TUI guide gave me – it was too warm, I over-heated in it. At the time I’d been living on England’s north east coast and when you’re acclimatised to wet cold, dry arctic cold is comfortable in comparison. Or maybe it was just one of the few upsides of menopause. Ski jacket, jeans and snow boots were fine for me. Cold weather clothing I really love, the big woolly socks, fury boots, mittens, the Finnish raw wool and beautifully patterned hats with the ear flaps. The thermal underwear I’m not such a fan of, it’s so much to pull on and off. I was fascinated with the clothes warming cupboard in the apartment – what a brilliant idea! I asked a Finnish friend about them, it’s normal there apparently, a drying space for clothes. They have this super cool invention for dish drying too, a Astiankuivauskaappi. Nordic design – simply brilliant!

I’d chosen the apartment as it had a balcony opposite the mountain, that was supposed to be a good position for seeing the northern lights, or so the brochure said. My northern lights app would alert me when there was activity and I’d sit with my nose to the glass of the balcony door at all hours of the night and early morning – it was much like waiting to see Santa’s reindeer and sleigh fly over – it didn’t happen, but I still believed somewhere behind the inky sky and ski-field lights was a light magic show, if only I could look at the right time to catch it…  as this didn’t happen it gives me a great excuse to go back to Lapland one day to complete this mission.

Another wonder of arctic temperatures, you can eat without gaining weight! (spoiler alert: this may not be factually correct, it’s just something I chose to believe without further investigation). Fabulous carby, cheesy plates of delicious joy like fondue, pizza and the local Lappish cuisine. Their food is connected to their land, I’m not a meat-eater and couldn’t touch reindeer meat though I do appreciate how the reindeer have provided the people of the region with many gifts, including the gift of life. Their berries, with pretty names like cloudberry, have healing qualities – including in their excellent skincare (bought at duty-free, really great stuff called Lumene). Leipajuusto is a soft cheese fried and garnished with berries, my mouth is watering at the memory of it!

I have many special memories of Lapland, the beauty of reindeer, the smell of smoke from the fireplace in a small dark hut while a shaman retold stories, the taste of warm cheese and berries, strong mulled wine, salty liquorice, playing pool in the local bar, freezing going for a wee in snow encased out-houses, handmade crafts, sleigh rides, walking in deep snow, the sound of ski’s cutting a path, friendly people and Christmas spirit all around.

The most special of all memories though was realising the dream of doing night husky mushing, in the middle of snowy nowhere. The dogs were much smaller and less fluffy than the pet husky’s I know. Strong and lean and frisky – like highly attuned race horses just itching to take off. They were the pride and joy and life’s work of their human. I was deeply touched by how much he clearly loved and cared for his pack of dogs. Though I’d have struggled to leave them in the care of a bunch of dumb tourists, I get to feed them and care for them costs a lot so it’s probably a necessary evil for him. He explained at length if we didn’t keep a careful eye on the dogs, as they may stop suddenly to pee, the sled could crash into the rear pair’s back legs, hurt them and leave them unable to ever mush again. He did make it clear, those dogs that had been in this position always had a home and good life regardless. The thought haunted me, so regardless of the impressive wilderness scenery, my eyes were firmly fixed on my dogs to protect them at all times. That didn’t stop me enjoying every single second though, it was exhilarating! The sound of their howls and the sled running over ice, the coldness coming through my gloves, the pitch-black sky and the brightest stars, the electricity of the dogs excitement mixed with my own.

These are memories that last a lifetime.

Thank you Lapland and thank you magnificent husky’s.

New Year, what now?

Significant markings of time require acknowledgement. Or not, as the case may be – it’s a personal choice. I like to be attentive to certain times; birthday’s, full moons, when to plant seeds, the holidays and the start of a new year.

We were so certain, Sadie and I, at the outset of 2020, that it was going to be a better year than 2019 – we just had to wait for March for the shift. It wasn’t what we anticipated; I think is the simplest way of putting that.

2019 was fraught with the pain of drastic unveiling and change. Mostly in the form of relationships ending. It was also the year I turned 50 and I have treasured memories of my birthday party, on holiday in Spain, with 12 close friends. I was touched they had chosen to spend their holiday with me to celebrate my significant birthday.

It wasn’t long before my birthday that I’d discovered the first sign everything was not as it seemed (to me) in my marriage. My ex (then husband) was in the grip of a midlife crisis and alcohol-induced, sleep-deprived mental trauma – much of it coming to the surface from his past. All brought on by himself. He preferred to take it out on me, rather than deal with it healthily or like an adult. His behaviour was extremely erratic and volatile. I was doing my best at the time to get him to go speak to a doctor. He was toing and froing on everything including our marriage but as it was fresh he’d still ended up coming on my birthday trip. Most of the time he went off separately with his best friend who’d come too (and is also a friend of mine). Being a more adult man, he’d realised it was best to keep him away from me and the group or he’d ruin things.

On my actual big birthday party night, at a Western Bar, all of us in cowgirl and boy outfits – his behaviour was more and more crazy until he yelled at me out of nowhere in front of some friends at the beach bar after-party drinks. I knew he was feeling jealous I was surrounded by friends who loved me and I was getting too much attention for his liking. I just walked away, down the beach promenade, making my escape. I knew there was no calming him down in that state (he’d been drinking all day) so caught up with a couple of friends who’d just left moments before, Trixie and Xavier. They were angry I’d been yelled at – on my birthday to boot. Xavier announced, “You look like Dorothy” (I was wearing a red gingham 50’s dress, cowboy hat and boots), “the boys in the old town are going to love you! I’m taking you both out for a night you’ll never forget in the gay quarter.”  Well he did and he was right – it was one of the best nights of our lives – we partied until the sun came up, our jaws hurt from laughing and our feet from dancing. As we swayed, arm in arm, along the promenade back to our hotel, (after a quick pizza slice detour) our hearts were full of happiness and our heads full of Madonna and Kylie songs.

I’d been told I was literally shinning with joy that holiday, playing pool games during the day, or swimming in the sea and then enjoying tapas and sangria by evening. There was constant joking, fun silly games and love. Nothing better than spending time with the people you love. I was happy and having enormous fun, even though I’d been very recently stabbed in the heart by my (then) husband. That proved to me, no matter what else is going on – if you choose to enjoy yourself when you can – you can. That knowledge was helpful for 2020.

Back in lockdown now, my friends and I weren’t able to celebrate the usual ways for New Year’s – boat parties on the Thames taking in the fireworks from the water or house parties full of people of all ages, eating, drinking and linking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne come midnight. None of that, we were all home alone – no fireworks on the Thames this year. We did have a champagne toast on a group video chat and shared our wishes for 2021.

It’s a reflective and contemplative new year. I sat in front of the fire new years eve and thought about how I could distil down into one word my wish for 2021, when I had my one word I wrote it down and put the paper in the fire and lit a good-luck candle.

It’s so easy to write off 2020, instead I thought about each month and what I’d done. Doing that, I realised I’d achieved a great deal more than I’d thought. The achievements were small battles won making the final disentanglements from my marriage, finalising the divorce – those I’d expected because I had to hold on in faith that it would ultimately all come out alright. It took longer than I’d anticipated but ultimately, I got those things done, one by one and feel lighter for it. Freedom, freedom from power he once had over me and freedom to just be me has been my prize. Far more than that though, I’ve learnt so much the past year and thanks to taking up yoga I’m stronger too. The instructor (Myra) I’m tuned into at the minute explained that yoga is so much more than just for your body – it sets you up for life so that you can handle the “curve balls” with grace and dignity. Well, it that isn’t a fantastic goal and wish for the future – handling everything with grace and dignity. I can say I handled the end of my marriage with dignity and I’m proud of that.

It’s clear the world is evolving and we’re all feeling the growing pains. Getting lost in “what’s it all about?” and evolving too is an honourable ambition. I suppose also necessary, we’re constantly evolving – best to embrace it. My prayer for the new year I’ve found in a song, it brings it back to the simplest and true, Stay Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw.  I’m just going to add “Thankful” – Stay thankful, humble and kind, that’s my new years wish for myself. P.S. it’s a beautiful song, with wise words for lyrics so do have a listen.

I love women

I’m a girl’s girl, a woman’s woman. I adore women and I’m eternally grateful to the women who raised me and the women who’ve laughed, cried and journeyed this life with me.

Be afraid of a woman who describes herself as a “man’s woman” or “I don’t get along with other women.” Whatever gender you are – run. They’ve just told you about their ugly lens to the world, women are competition, back-stabbers and jealous. Obviously, they’ve just described themselves rather than ‘every other woman.’ Honing their skills at capturing male attention, it never ceases to amaze me how shallow some men are to not see through the veil. I’ve made it clear to male friends over the years, I have no sympathy for you in this scenario – learn.  

Growing up in a country and family where gender bias didn’t exist, I realise now how privileged I was. It shouldn’t be a privilege of course; it should just be normal – as I assumed it was then. This was my experience I’m remembering; it may of course have been different for others growing up in New Zealand. The country does have solid factual evidence for being a pioneer of gender equality though.

I wonder if New Zealand being a relatively young country, populated by pioneers who had to all work together to build a new life, helped erode the gender roles and myths of the old countries. The first nation to give women the vote and the first where the five highest offices of power were held by women. Even before that, many Maori women held powerful and respected positions within their tribes and were part of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. One of my own ancestors travelled with the Treaty to gather Maori chief signatures for the Crown. So, growing up – I not only had great female role models in my family but also the prime minister and stories of our country’s ancestors and my own.

My maternal grandmother was from Austria. She would whisper wisdom to me from a very young age – repeatedly. I didn’t know why then, just accepted everything Grandma said was true, even if I didn’t understand it. Now I know she was preparing me for the adult world. She would say things like, “If a man ever hits you, leave, immediately, no matter how much he begs or cries and says it will never happen again – it will.” Later, when I was a young adult and saw this type of scenario happening with a work colleague, I couldn’t understand how she didn’t just know to leave. Then I remembered, I knew because my Grandmother had made sure this type of knowledge was imprinted on my brain. She had a quiet strength; you knew it was her who held it all together, but she felt no need to talk about it. One of my favourite times was being curled up in her lap while we rocked in her La-Z-Boy chair and she plaited my hair or taught me to crochet or sew.  

Nana, my paternal grandmother was from a proud Irish immigrant family. The church was hugely important to her and so was independence and working. She worked as an accountant well past retirement age and always dressed well and made the best scones. She would whisper to me, “always have your own bank account, that nobody else knows about, that way if you ever need to go anywhere or do anything, you can.” Both my grandmothers had wonderful husbands who respected them, but they’d obviously seen things my young eyes didn’t know of and wanted to ensure I knew how to protect myself, if needs be, when I was older.

My mum, she was a young mum and loved being a mum. Very beautiful and slim, she’d be mistaken for my older sister when collecting me from school. She laughs loud, really loud and hangs onto your arm to shake with laughter. Mum enjoys being happy and laughing, this is a gift to grow up with. My grandfather told me that his Mum, busy always raising over a dozen children on a remote farm, spent her days singing and would often laugh with them.

I’ve had the privilege to help raise a couple of girls, through former relationships. It’s a special time, that 8-12 age range and you can have a fantastic relationship as Dad’s partner. I knew things, secrets, they didn’t tell either of their parents and we’d have so much fun doing girls things and going on girl’s outings. My girlfriends loved their company too, saying; “They’re just like us, but without the drinking and cursing.” We made an attentive, rapt audience for all the dress-up fashion shows (using my clothes, shoes, dress up boxes and make-up), the dance recitals, the new instrument playing, the school-yard gossip and the confidences about the latest boy crush. It’s all so relatable and a great honour to be there to help out a new generation with navigating girl-hood.

Throughout my life, I’ve had strong bonds of female friendship. Friends where we refer to each other as “sister”, rather than “friend” – because we’re that close ‘friend’ just doesn’t cut it. These women are still the most important people, outside of my family, in my life. As women we put a lot of energy and time into our friendships, and we’re rewarded for it. We hold each other up, encourage, advise, rejoice, comfort and hold each other accountable. Best of all though, we laugh – a lot! Have fun, poke fun and can make the best memories with just each other, a kitchen some music and some wine. I love travelling with my friends, we have girls group holidays and sometimes just go away in pairs or threes. Longer-haul I did with Adey, back in the day. We can chat away a 12 hour flight no problem and upon landing say; “Well, that went fast, feels like we just took off!”

We spent fun, crazy times together during our 30’s in London, Adey and I. Living solo in our own flats not far from each other, we were always together in one of our flats or out on the town. We had routines and traditions – we shared a lot. So much so we discovered we had our own language according to mutual friends. At a gig one night, Sinead wondered over to chat to us and upon reaching us said, in her blunt Irish way, “Oh no, it’s an Adey and JoJo conversation, I’ll leave you to it.” We looked confused at each other and then her with body language that said, “What?!” She explained; “You two can only understand each other when you’re in one of your conversations.” We looked at each other and dissolved into fits of laughter at the realisation she was right. We had so much shared experience, and are both natural communicators (we talk a lot, fast), we’d stopped waiting turns to talk and just talked together working through the same sentence and leaving out large chucks of information because ‘we knew what we were talking about.’ Usually reminiscing about some escapade or other.

Being in lockdown, we had a group video-chat the other weekend where I introduced a girlfriend from Scotland (I used to work up there) to Adey. I explained she was my London life “partner in crime.” My Scottish friend said, you have a few of those then, I was your Scottish “partner in crime.” She was right, I hadn’t realised – I like a “partner in crime” which is just a term to describe a “partner in adventure”. Adey will tell you I talked her into (with zero resistance on her part) a number of adventures back in the day. Maybe I’ll write about some of those one day…

This lockdown I asked Adey to do Adriene’s 30-day Breath yoga programme with me – we’re both really enjoying it. Adriene is an excellent yoga teacher and she’s got her dog Benji which appears in the tutorial videos as well.  We’re reporting to each other how we find each day – overwhelmingly calming is the answer but it’s also definitely building strength, physical, mental and emotional.

Treasure the women and girls in your life, spend time developing great relationships – you’ll always be repaid with a richer life for it.


Follow My Blog

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

%d bloggers like this: