The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. (William James)
Life is like badly chopped carrots. Far from perfectly sliced batons of equal length and breadth, badly chopped carrots are ragged, irregular, lumpy and bumpy. So too is life. But badly chopped carrots have a way of absorbing more readily the intensity of flavours, enhancing the colours and the interest of the dishes that surround them. And, life, in all its ups and downs, its sheer wonkiness makes living more intense, more memorable, more beautiful.
I started this blog a couple of years ago out of sheer despair, living the isolation and loneliness of a foreigner in rural Wales. The blog was my way to reach out, to connect with as many or as few of you who cared to read and comment.
Since then, my life has changed, partly because of the blog and those of you who read it, generously comment, and reach back to me. Reaching out works. One thing leads to another.
As I’ve probably mentioned before, I started to meet with Lina Verseckaite for some personal training sessions just before my 70 birthday, because I was too afraid to join any kind of fitness group. That was 2 ½ years ago. Six months ago, still attending weekly sessions, I felt I needed a goal to keep our mutual interest and positive energy intact. Lina is a passionate and accomplished runner and coach and so …on my 72nd birthday, on a dark winter’s night, in rain and some sleet, I took up running. I made it half way around the track. I joined both of Lina’s groups. Couch Potato to 5K at the Aberystwyth Leisure Centre and 10K to Half Marathon at the University Sports Centre. I have met people of all ages from their 20’s to their 60’s (and beyond), administrators, dentists, students, nurses, becoming fit, becoming healthier, becoming friends. All of this happens under the aegis of Lina’s unflagging support, utter commitment, uncommon wisdom.
If you had told me last summer, that in May of this year, I would have run the 5K Race for Life, that I would regularly do the Park Run and that I would be signed up for a 10K race in Cardiff for September…well….my first thought would have been….a few ice cubes short of a tray…
It is hard to describe the tectonic shift that running brings about to soul and psyche, the sheer exhilaration, the sense of empowerment, of actually just surviving a run, being alive.
And then there is painting with Karen Pearce, at: karen-pearce.com, one of Wales foremost contemporary artists. She has gathered together a group of 5 who paint at her studio every two weeks. Under her guidance, her exquisite artistic eye, endless patience, we have developed each in our own way. Just recently, at Karen’s suggestion each of us hung two of our paintings in a small gallery at the Treehouse in Aberystwyth. You will see mine shortly.
Finally, there is Eddy Webb at InSynch: insynch.co.uk. His staff put together my original website, EdgeworkConsultancy, and then this blog. Nothing is too much trouble for Eddy. Just the other day, I walked into the InSynch offices, unscheduled and unannounced with a small but pivotal request. Eddy knew just the people I should talk to. With a smile and few moments out of a day I know is crammed full, Eddy came up with absolutely vital information that will take me to the next steps on my journey.
Hope and generosity. These three people have given me hope through their generosity and helped me change my life.
Perhaps too it’s the lifting of the clouds both metaphorically and in reality in this glorious sunny summer, but all has come clear to me. First, I noticed my thoughts. Just stood back and noticed. And guess what? When I started to count, my negative thoughts outnumbered my positive thoughts outrageously. So I started to catch those negative thoughts, acknowledge them, and put them aside.
Then I learned about a Positivity Jar, at one of Lina’s Life coaching sessions. The power of putting different coloured Post-Its, each containing a positive thought or one of gratitude, watching them pile up in the jar, is extraordinary.
Finally, and just to make it easier for you, what has come to me from it all, through it all are 3 steps to survival and success:
1) Develop a mental attitude -this too shall pass. Catch those negative thoughts. Acknowledge them. Put them aside. Catch your positive thoughts and put them in your Positivity Jar.
2) Keep trying, keep doing, keep reaching. Never give up. I may be the only person on the planet who didn’t know about the 5 second rule developed by Mel Robbins, but just in case you too have missed the boat on this one: Don’t procrastinate. Count backwards-5,4,3,2,1-GO. This incredible technique helps you to outsmart the part of your brain that overthinks, procrastinates.
3) Challenge the notion- ‘It all comes from within’. No it doesn’t. We need people. We need each other. And here is the challenge to those of us who live in rural Wales. Step up to the plate. Notice your neighbours, distant acquaintances, people you run into occasionally or often in the road, on the street. Pay attention to who they are. How they are. Say something nice to them, about them. Be warm, be compassionate, be supportive.
I took Lina to see my paintings on one of our regular power walks through Aberystwyth. The first is called: Winter Near Tregaron and the second is: Summer Joy. Here they are and here is what she said:
‘After winter comes summer. After a bad day comes a good day. Weather goes still after the storm. Whatever is overwhelming you now-there is a change waiting to happen. There’s power in patience. That’s when summer tends to make an appearance.’
Karen Pearce celebrated a birthday this weekend. The party was like no other I have ever attended. People just kept streaming in. All friends of hers or family, all people Karen has touched positively in some way-life at its best, most joyful, peaceful, playful.
She asked me to bring a cake. Here it is. Naturally I have been massively influenced by Ina Garten and of course, I have made many adaptations. It was so delicious I was able to bring my serving dish home empty before the party ended!
Fresh Peach Raspberry Celebration Cake
- 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract.
- 2 cups plain or all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
- ½ cup raspberries
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180C/160Fan/. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan.
Beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar with a hand held electric mixer for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla and almond extract, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup brown sugar and the cinnamon.
Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches and raspberries, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches and raspberries on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.
Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature. Of course, a ball of clotted cream vanilla ice cream to accompany this gorgeous treat never goes amiss.