furlough/ˈfəːləʊ/noun – leave of absence
Most of us had never even heard this word just over a year ago. I’ve been really lucky, working as I do in the travel industry, to have been able to keep working all this time whilst many of my colleagues have been furloughed, and of course many people (not just in my industry) have lost their jobs. It’s been a tough year though, and I don’t mind admitting that I did like the idea of having a break when things were really stressful, but it wasn’t feasible at the time.
I first brushed with furlough a few months ago when I was told I would go from 5 to 4 days a week and be ‘flexi-furloughed’ for one day. It took a little while to get used to this bonus day off, but to be honest I quite like a 4 day week. Then came the big one – a month of furlough. My company is doing the right thing, making the most of the support available, and I guess it was inevitable that I would be furloughed eventually. So, here I am, about to start my stint of furlough. A month off work.
It’s strange, now that everything is starting to open up in the UK and many people are going back to work, to suddenly find myself with time on my hands. At first I freaked out and in my panic started making a mental list of all the things I would have to do during this time to make it worthwhile. Pole, stretch, dance, do Couch to 5k again, walk 12,000 steps a day, tidy everything, read all those books that are piling up… the list went on and my brain hurt. Then I stopped. Literally, in the middle of the street as I was pacing about. I stopped and realised I don’t need to be a superhuman. I don’t have to prove anything
But I know how my brain works, and I know what’s best for my mental health. I need some kind of structure, and I need goals, even little ones. So, here’s my furlough plan:
- Relax and enjoy some downtime. Don’t feel guilty if one day I watch a lot of TV, or another day I take a book to the park and sit and read all day. It’s about time I had a bit of a break and time to recharge.
- Work on my pole, fitness and flexibility goals, but listen to my body as I go. It’s not possible or sensible to train hard every day – I need time to recover too.
- Spend time outside – whether it’s walking, running, or sitting, I want to get out of this flat and see something other than these four walls!
- Cook! It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but use this time to cook nice things. I’ve found when I’m busy or stressed I still turn to convenience food (and there is so much yummy vegan convenience food!) but I do actually love to cook, so now’s the time to dust off those recipe books.
- Just be. Every day doesn’t have to be full of achievements or Instagram-worthy moments. Some days it’s perfectly fine to just be. See some friends. Go for a walk by myself. Read. Dance in my kitchen. Whatever makes me happy.
None of this is to say that you won’t be seeing a bit more of me on Instagram and maybe even here in this blog over the coming month. I will be learning new pole things, I am doing a running challenge, and I will hopefully cook something worthy of taking a photo of at some point. But I don’t want to obsess over the numbers and the achievements. When the first lockdown happened last year and lots of people found themselves on furlough, there was a huge amount of pressure on everyone to achieve. Is this the time to write that novel I’ve always dreamt of publishing? Maybe, but probably not if I’m honest. Is this the time to enjoy some (hopefully!) nice weather and have a bit of a break? Yes. And is this the time to simply do what feels good? Definitely.
Let’s see where the month takes me…
Black Friday. A day when we are bombarded with special offers and discounts aimed at making us buy, buy, buy. But I choose not to. I choose to buy nothing.
In fact, I’ve made a drastic decision, and I’m telling you about it to make sure I stick to it.
I’m not going to buy any new clothes for a year.
The exception will be essentials – underwear and socks (should I need them) and shoes if they become irreparable (not just when I fancy a new pair). If I feel the need for a new outfit for an occasion, such as my friend’s wedding, I can buy something second-hand from a charity shop, but this must be justified.
I simply don’t need anything new. I have drawers and cupboards bursting full of clothing – I can’t even fit it all in. No one needs the amount of leggings I own! I’ve got into these really bad habits of picking up items of clothing here and there without thinking at all about the financial cost or the environmental impact, and I need to change my mindset.
Fast fashion is a real problem, and whilst it might be very nice and convenient to pick up a new top from Sainsbury’s along with my groceries, it’s only adding to the problem. And I don’t need it.
The one area where this is going to be particularly difficult for me is dance. Whilst I definitely don’t need any new dance shoes, every time I go to a salsa weekender or special event I like to feel like I have something new to wear. But you know what? I have a lot of nice clothes already, and I don’t need a new outfit every time I dance. If there’s a theme party and I don’t have a suitable costume, I’ll hit the charity shops rather than Amazon.
I hope I can succeed in this mission – a year without buying any new clothes. Here’s to a simpler 2020. A year of conscious and minimal purchases.
We all know that most people break their New Year’s resolutions within days of making them, so what’s the point? I used to make New Year’s resolutions every year, and then I would just feel miserable when I made the same ones all over again a year later. I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything at all, but really the resolutions were just to big. It’s like making a to-do list of all the things you ever need to do (ever!), rather than just a list of the things you need to do today, which is much more manageable.
I’m not really one for jargon, but I do like the idea of SMART goals. SMART goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. So, here are my SMART goals for 2018, in no particular order:
- Complete at least one Park Run (✓ DONE!)
- Reach my goal weight of 10 and a half stone
- Complete my Veraflow Dance Fitness Instructor Training Course
- Do a headstand in yoga
I have lots of other small themes and tasks for the year, but these four things listed above are my main goals. And, like all good lists, at the time of writing this post I have already been able to tick one thing off!
Here’s to a year of achieving wonderful things!
Lent starts today. For any of you who don’t know, Lent is a period in the Christian calendar which runs from Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday, or “pancake day”) until Easter Sunday. Lent has always been about penance and self-denial, and many people choose to give things up during this period. It is also supposed to be about prayer and charity.
Well, I’m already doing my bit for charity during this period, by volunteering for an event for Japan on March 11th and, although I won’t exactly be praying, the event is being held in a church.
I’m not a Christian, but I’ve often found that giving stuff up for Lent is a good way of imposing a rule on myself and forcing myself to do something. I can be very strong-willed, but I do need rules, and rules imposed by others are much easier to stick to. I could easily give something up for, say, a month, but when challenged by other people I find it hard to stick to my guns. However, if I can say, “well, I’ve given it up for Lent”, no one can really argue with that.
So, I have decided to give up chocolate from today until Easter Sunday (April 8th). From today, I will not be eating any chocolate in any form. No chocolate bars, no chocolate biscuits or cake, no mocha from Starbucks. No Options hot chocolate, Shape chocolate puddings, or chocolate coated raisins. Not even a Chocolate Button will pass my lips.
If you know me in the real world, please be kind and don’t try to break me!
Despite all the baking programmes I’ve been watching of late, and the picture below, this is not actually a post about cooking. There will, perhaps, be cake related posts on this blog in the future though.
Today I’m thinking about an interesting article I read on the way home in London’s free weekly magazine, Stylist. The article, “Just. One. More. Bite.” was encouraging readers to try investing in willpower instead of making New Year’s resolutions that will be abandoned before the end of January.
Personally, I’ve tried not to make specific resolutions this year. To be honest, they’re always the same anyway:
- Lose weight
- Save money
- Write more
The third, writing more, seems to be in hand. The other two seem to be horribly intertwined and unapproachable, like a drawer full of old necklaces that you’d like to wear but abandoned long ago because the effort of untangling them will just be too much.
But just think, if you did untangle all those old necklaces, you’d have loads more jewellery you could wear. Pretty, shiny jewellery. (Guys, if you’re reading this, think cables. Pretty, shiny cables that you keep in a drawer, even though you have no idea what they’re for.)
But what’s all this got to do with marshmallows? Well, according to the article, in 1972 (Stylist says ’68, but Wiki says ’72) a bloke called Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted a test which is known as the Marshmallow Experiment. The test subjects were children (aged 4-6), and each child was taken into a room in which there was a plate with a single marshmallow on it. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted to, but that if they waited 15 minutes they could have two. The child was then left alone to decide what to do. Some children simply ate the one marshmallow they were given, but some waited patiently (perhaps covering their eyes so they weren’t tempted or, according to Wiki, “stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal“).
The kids who waited got two marshmallows and learnt the lesson of delayed gratification. Follow-up research showed that those who had learnt the lesson went on to have higher academic achievement, and those who didn’t were more likely to have behavioural problems and trouble paying attention in class.
The Stylist article emphasised the importance of willpower; that rather than just denying ourselves the things we want (which will only make us want them more), we should learn to exercise our willpower a bit more, and resist the temptation of instant gratification. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake and eat it too, it just means you ought to wait a while between the buying and eating (if you’re baking, I’m not sure where “licking the bowl” fits in to this test, but I’m pretty sure it’s ok).
I need to give myself a marshmallow test. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is my year of being frugal and learning to save up for the things that I want. It’s the first time I’ve ever really tried to save up, and I’m finding it hard already.
Losing weight and saving money may seem like two separate goals, but when I start trying to untangle that twisted mess of chains it becomes quite clear that they have huge impacts on each other. I tend to run in viscous circles: I try to go on a diet, but then I get hungry or something else stresses me out, so I ignore the fact that I have a whole bunch of tasty (not cheap!) fruit and other snacks at home and go on a Sainsbury’s rampage for chocolate and other naughties. I have a night of over-indulgence, spend too much and eat too much, and feel bad about it all in the morning.
If I planned out delicious, nutritious meals with a light sprinkling of yummy but healthy snacks, I could save money and, most likely, lose weight too.
So, how’s my marshmallow test going to work? Right now there is no chocolate in my house (except Options hot chocolate, which really doesn’t count). Next time I go to the supermarket for groceries (not mid-week in a crazy fit of hunger, but for a weekly shop with a sensibly prepared list), I shall buy one, reasonably priced bar of chocolate. The chocolate will sit in my fridge, where I will occasionally stroke it as if it were a tiny, hard, cold animal. Eventually, I will eat it – when I really, really want it.
I won’t cheat by buying extra chocolate along the way. That would bust my diet and budget in one swift punch.
Let’s see if this experiment works…
After having a bit of a splurge on my birthday with a trip to New York (more about that coming up soon!), I made my mum promise not to spend any money on Christmas presents for me. However, she still felt that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a few presents under the tree, so she set herself a challenge: Freebie Christmas!
I received some really great gifts – way more than I expected – and my mum swears she didn’t spend a penny. Even the wrapping paper was free (she had a coupon). None of the presents cost anything – some because of coupons, some buy one get one free, some free samples by post or handed out at train stations. It was really impressive.
I got loads of smellies:
Some are travel-sized samples (always useful) but see that full-size bottle of shower gel on the right there? That was handed out at Waterloo Station!
I got sweets and drinks:
Yes, that is a full-size bag of Waitrose fudge, AND a whole bag of Thornton’s continental chocolates!!
Some gifts were silly, like this Fitness First stress toy:
And some very useful, like this Kikkoman calendar:
One of my mum’s friends was clearing out some old books, so I got a couple of paperbacks:
And finally, perhaps the best and most generous present of all, my mum’s Nero’s cards:
That’s two free coffees!!
2012 is going to be the year that I learn to be a bit more frugal. I’ve decided that I’m going to be more mindful of how I spend my money – but this doesn’t mean I’m not going to have any fun. This Christmas has proved to me that it’s entirely possible to give and receive wonderful things without breaking the bank, and I’m so inspired that I’m going to make it my challenge to have a Freebie Christmas in 2012.
In these times of economic belt-tightening, most of us can’t really afford to splurge. However, it can make you feel quite blue if you spend all your time thinking that you “can’t afford” to do things or “mustn’t” do things. Instead of those negative terms, I’m going to try to just think about the real value of money when I choose to spend it. For example, during 2011 I often spent £4.50 at Starbucks without giving it a second thought (coffee and a cake). If I did that once a week for an entire year I would spend £234. If I don’t go to Starbucks every week, I can save £234.
As well as being mindful of the treats I have, I’m also going to look out for bargains and offers. There are always “buy one get one free” offers on things I use, so I should stock up on those things when I see them.
Finally, for the first time in my life (and yes, I have just turned 30), I’m going to learn to save up for the things I want. I see people around me all the time wanting and getting, but they’re not happy. More often than not, they’re just in debt and surrounded by stuff. I can honestly say that there is nothing I actually need right now, so I’m going to watch my pennies and save up for experiences. I want to travel, I want to study, I want to have fun.
2012 will be the year where I remember that the best things in life are free!
The other day, I was reading an article in the Evening Standard called 30 things to do before you’re 30. The article referred to the now grinning with pride Beyoncé pictured below, and how she had managed to get pregnant just in time – she’s 29.
See how she glows? She’s glowing with relief because, at 29, she must be feeling the pressure. There are just so many things one must do before turning 30 – everybody says so.
According to the article, when people are faced with turning thirty, they think they ought to have bought a property, had a baby, co-habited, owned a designer handbag, written a book, dropped their last “e” (what?!), learnt a language and lived abroad. Phew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Given that I only have just over 3 months before the big three-oh hits, I don’t think there’s much chance I’m going to cross everything off the list.
But, you know what, I don’t really care.
I used to have this feeling that turning thirty was the be-all and end-all. I know people who still think this – friends who are getting their knickers in a twist because their birthdays are approaching and they’re not married/up the duff/living in their dream home/all of the above.
I had one goal this year – one “thing to do before I turn thirty”. It’s proving difficult, and I’m not sure if I’m going to have achieved it 100%, but my goal was to be financially independent by thirty. By “financially independent”, I mean that I don’t want to be taking any hand-outs and I don’t want to be relying on credit cards.
I’m living in a really shitty little flat at the moment. It’s worse than some of the places I lived in when I was a student. But, you know what, I can afford it. My salary is low, but I’m budgeting my living expenses to match. For once, I’m not living beyond my means.
My twenties have been about working out what I want from life. I hope my thirties will be about achieving those things. I don’t think I need a list though, do you?
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, “There’s this wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, ‘Dear saint – please, please, please… give me the grace to win the lottery.’ This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, ‘My son – please, please, please… buy a ticket.‘”
My lament has gone on long enough. It’s time I bought a ticket. I don’t really think that trying to win the lottery is the way forward though – the odds aren’t really that great. So instead, my “ticket” will be a metaphor for action.
I haven’t been lamenting because I’m poor (although I’m not exactly rich). No, I’ve been lamenting because come April I will be unemployed for the first time in over ten years (if you count part-time jobs). I won’t have an income, and I will be back at my Mum’s house in a town I don’t really want to live in (nothing personal to anyone living there).
So I need to make a plan of action – I need to buy my ticket. If I don’t have a ticket, I’m never going to win, am I?
Plan of Action
1) Spruce up my CV.
2) Make a list of all the companies I would like to work for and agencies who deal with those kinds of companies.
3) Apply! (Even if no jobs are advertised.)
4) Believe that I can get a new job (this is a belief based on the knowledge that I’ve done everything in my power – not just a vain belief)
Wish me luck! 😉
In my last blog here, I announced that I have just completed the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in less than a month. I know that it is not yet a good book, and that it will take a lot of time and effort to make it something that could possibly one day be published, so why am I feeling so relieved right now? When I know that, actually, there’s still a lot of work to do, why do I feel like I’m over the hill and tobogganing down with the finish line in sight?
I’ll tell you why.
Because, not only have I been dragging that damn toboggan up the hill all throughout November, I’ve also been dragging it about behind me everywhere I’ve been for the last three years or more. It’s a weighty old thing and can be really tiresome to drag around behind me, no matter how beautiful it is or how important I know it could be. I’ve dragged it around behind me all this time, hoping that one day I would have the time and energy to climb up that hill and take a ride, but always making excuses and feeling too scared to do so in case I reached the top of the hill and found I couldn’t let go and slide down. I was scared I might never reach the finish line, but also too scared to try.
Well, let me tell you, dragging my toboggan up that hill was worth it. Not only was the journey towards the finishing line spectacular, even the view as I was dragging it up the hill was worth the effort.
And, now that I’ve gone through the process of dragging the toboggan up the hill and enjoying the ride down, I know that there’s nothing to be scared of, and it’s worth a little blood, sweat and tears. I won’t be afraid to do it again, and again, until I become a world-famous professional tobogganist!
So, if you’re dragging your toboggan about, whatever kind it may be (a novel, a song, a poem, a painting…), don’t let go of it. Just get started on that hill, chase yourself to the top, admire the view, and enjoy the ride towards the finish line…
I want to be the kind of person who wakes up early in the morning to practice tai chi, yoga, or meditation.
I want to travel, explore, take photos and write about it.
I want to have a high-flying career which I adore and am successful at.
I want to wine and dine with friends, family, someone special…
I want to cook, and invite people over for dinner.
I want to study languages. (I want to be fluent in Japanese.)
I want to take workshops and short courses and learn new skills.
I want to write.
I want to sleep.
I want to dream.
…but there’s not enough time in the day.