1 year in Lincoln: Life, Love and Longing

Hello readers, I’m back after a very long break – last time I wrote the city was frozen over, now it’s swelteringly hot (not that I’m complaining).

I honestly have been craving some time to write but I like to do it when I’m alone, and  – I’m not sure whether to say ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately’ – I really don’t feel as if I have had a lot of alone time this year.

However, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for – I am now facing much more alone time than I thought I would be (but more on that later).

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I’m feeling quite reflective this evening so this blog may help me to articulate my thoughts on what has been a very eventful and “full” year. Perhaps this reflective mood is because we are reaching the end of the academic year, perhaps it is because it is almost 1 year since I made the move from London to Lincoln – either way, these two events are interconnected just as location and work are two significant parts of daily life.

It has definitely been a busy year. I’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I’ve settled into a new school and, as a teacher, I have encountered some of the most challenging behaviours and attitudes that I’ve ever experienced, although I’m not saying it’s unusual in many schools around the country, just not something I’d dealt with to that extent before. In my family life, I am imminently about to become an auntie, which I’m really excited about. My dad is retiring after many dedicated years of military service. In my friendship circle, there are friends who are getting married, there are friends who have their first child; this past year has been full of many happy events, events that fill me with joy to look back on and remember. However, life is not straightforward and as well as happiness, in my family there has also been loss and heartbreak. While some people experience joy, others experience sadness, and that is the way life is. I’ve experienced some highs and lows this year and have been living at a very fast pace, so I’m thinking that it might be time to take stock and slow down for a bit now.

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Joy and Sadness  – credit: Pixarwiki

One of the most significant events of my past year in Lincoln was beginning a long-term relationship. I’ve written on my blog before about dating and being single. Well, when I moved to Lincoln I decided it was a new opportunity to meet people and began online-dating (despite my mixed feelings about this form of dating, it seems like the only way these days). I met a guy, let’s call him A. We had a lovely first date in one of my favourite bars in Lincoln; it’s got a rooftop over-looking the cathedral. We had dinner and cocktails. It was a warm August evening. I felt happy, relaxed, optimistic.

The relationship was a bit of a slow burn. It took us both a few months to fully commit to each other. But once we did, it felt like we were having a lot of fun. I loved how much he made me laugh and how thoughtful he was. Sometimes he would turn up at my house with huge bouquets of flowers for no reason. I had sometimes worried about how a long-term relationship would fit with me being a teacher because I bring so much work home. With A, it was easy and he wouldn’t put any pressure on me. He came over a few evenings a week and he wouldn’t mind if I had work to do, he said that he just enjoyed being with me. A few months ago he met my family and he was so good with them; they all loved him. We were both Harry Potter fans and we had an amazing trip to Harry Potter Studios. We planned more trips together, booked a couple of holidays together for my summer break in August. He told me to clear my diary for the anniversary of our first date and we planned to go back to the rooftop bar where we first met.

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Which is why I was so shocked a couple of weeks ago when he broke up with me. Saying that he didn’t feel the same way as I did, and that he didn’t see a future with me. I asked him why he had made so many plans with me if he didn’t see a future – he said that he had made the plans to try and make himself feel more. He said he had to be honest with me. I guess things were getting too serious for him so he had to break it off now before it became even more serious.

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It feels really weird to write about all of this and pour my heart out, but I also have to be honest about how I feel and this blog gives me the space to do it. I look back on the past year and it feels chaotic, fast, stressful, fun, exciting, and exhausting. However, I can take it as a huge achievement that it’s nearly the end of a very challenging academic year and I’m still in one piece. I know that if I’d had this year early on in my career, I wouldn’t have been strong enough to get through as well as I have done. It has taken everything I’ve learned about anxiety and depression, stress and exhaustion, from my own bad experiences, to set firm boundaries and also to reach out to my family and friends for support when I have needed it. I’m so thankful for all the people who have supported me this year, including A.

However, I’m sad to have reached the end of the academic year and be facing six weeks of holiday without the person I had made plans with. I’m back to being single. Ok, I’ll probably be fine. I’ll go on holiday. I’ll go to my friend’s wedding. But now I feel as if I’ve got to do it as a “confident single person” when all I really want is to share these events with someone I love. (But – they should really love you back, shouldn’t they?)

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So I guess, the end of one year is the beginning of a new one. And from now begins my reintroduction to single life. My new trials and tribulations of online-dating and please, God, some real life dating if possible. It’s goodbye to a very challenging class and hello to a lovely mature one. It’s a chance for me to stop the fast, exhausting pace I’ve been living at and reset. Give myself more space and alone time to write and to relax. Build my confidence again so that I can become even stronger.

If you’ve read all the way to the end – thank you. I really appreciate people’s support for my blog and I hope in some way, it helps the people that read it as it helps me to write it.

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Credit: makingitlovely.com 

 

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Alternatives to Online Dating: Part 2

Following my venture into Speed Dating described in Part 1, here’s another instalment in the series involving… a Cooking Class for singles.

These seem to be trendy at the moment and I’m picturing the slightly cringe Match.com advert for this kind of event, where a nerdy guy is making two prawns talk to each other and finds love from a girl who doesn’t judge him, but joins in… (isn’t he just living the dream…?)

I found the event I attended on Speeddater.co.uk and my main reason for doing it was that I love cooking and I love food, and I thought it would be a great way to meet like-minded people. Included in the event was a glass of Prosecco on arrival, the meal you cook as a group (chicken saltimbocca) and a chocolate brownie dessert cooked by the chefs. I sort of thought that if I didn’t meet anyone, at least I would get to learn a new recipe and eat a (hopefully) delicious meal. At £38 I did think it was a bit pricey (compared to Tinder for example which is free!) but when I thought about what was included: the drink, the meal, the cooking class, and the opportunity to meet other single people, I thought it was worth a try.

The event was hosted at L’atelier des Chefs near Oxford St and it was a really nice venue. I enjoyed the glass of bubbles on arrival and all the staff were really friendly. There was quite a big group of singles (about 20) but I have to admit I was disappointed to find that there were quite a few more women than men. We were split into groups for cooking, and in my group there were 3 women including myself, and 1 man. This frustrated me, as I spent a lot of time interacting with the other women, and although they were all lovely and it was fun, meeting other women is not exactly what I had come for.

The cooking class itself was run by a professional chef who was good-humoured and coped well with quite a rowdy bunch of people in his kitchen, as well as our (collective) ineptitude (e.g. not following his instructions as exactly as he had hoped). It was a good laugh and I enjoyed learning the recipe; it also revealed to me that the way someone approaches cooking can tell you a lot about their general personality. For example the woman next to me seemed very meticulous in that she chopped things very slowly and finely, and was anxious about following the recipe exactly to the letter. Some people are more laid-back and if something doesn’t quite go to plan, they just brush it off. In general, the entire group seemed to really enjoy the cooking class and it was pretty straightforward, with every group member being involved.

We dished up our own meals, following the chef’s instructions, and we had also individually prepared our own chicken breast, which we then ate ourselves. I liked this as I don’t know how comfortable I would have been eating meat prepared by someone else in the group. I know that might sound really paranoid but it just made me a lot more comfortable that I was eating my own food.

We all sat around a table to eat, men on one side, women on the other, and then we could enjoy the fruits of our labour. It was nice to get a chance to meet different people in the group, and after the main meal, the men moved along one or two spaces so that we got to meet more members of the group. However, I still felt bothered by there being more women than men and I feel like I did spend too much time talking to women rather than men, facilitated by where we had been grouped for cooking and sitting down to eat.

After the event, which finished around 9.30, we had to leave the venue but it was suggested that the group could continue their evening at the pubs nearby. I, however, decided to call it a night… I just didn’t really want to spend any more time chatting to 20 people I didn’t know, and I hadn’t met any men who I wanted to spend more time with. Overall it had been fun, but it really is hard spending a long time with people you don’t really know. Although maybe it’s easier for some people, I’m not sure.

So should you try a dating cooking class? If you like cooking and you want to meet other like-minded singles then, yes. I did enjoy it and I would be keen to do it again, were it not for the lack of a 50:50 ratio and also that towards the end, I did feel like I ran out of steam a little interacting with a large group of people. On the plus side, I did eat a delicious meal AND I got to keep my apron!

The search for love continues…

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Alternatives to Online Dating: Part 1

When my sister got married in November, I suddenly felt truly inspired in a way I never had before. Love is real, love is possible, love is something we can all find (and already have no doubt, in one way or another).

I had reached a point where even the thought of an online dating app made me angry. I just found them really boring, full of profiles that all looked the same after a while, and most of all, it felt that people didn’t even want to meet, that they would prefer to interact behind a screen, and then dispose of you when they lost interest (because it’s easier to do that with someone you haven’t actually met). After trying a number of formats over the years (Okcupid, Lovestruck, E-harmony, Happn, Tinder, Once), I joined Bumble and that really was the last straw… a totally zero date success rate, and I felt as if there were a load of unwritten rules that I wasn’t following and basically felt like a failure.

So I decided to delete all of them. Be free. But then I thought… how do I meet someone now? Is it possible to meet anyone the old-fashioned way? (What even is the old-fashioned way?!)

I did a search on singles events in my local area… surely there would be other people who had also lost faith in dating apps… surely I wasn’t the only one?

I soon found out that there was a regular Speed Dating event about 10 minutes away from where I live. The thought of speed dating made me a bit nervous (remembering a really cringe lock-and-key event I went to a couple of years ago) but I figured there would be no harm in trying it out. January – the time for new year’s resolutions. The time to try a different approach to dating.

On the night it was snowing and I thought about not turning up. But the thought of trying it out was intriguing and the fact it was only a short walk away made it easier to go along. I figured that if it was rubbish I just wouldn’t do it again.

It was a bit awkward on arrival and I shouldn’t really have been surprised about this, but most of the other women there had come with at least one friend for moral support. I hadn’t really thought much about the fact I was going alone until it was actually happening. I tried to strike up conversation at the bar with a guy who had arrived at the same time as me, but he seemed really shy and unfortunately it was like getting blood out of a stone.

Luckily, during the actual event, the conversation flowed much better. There were numbered “stations” at different tables and that was where the women sat. I chose a seat at a sofa and stayed there for the evening while the men rotated round every 4 minutes. It’s surprising how long a 4 minute conversation is and it is definitely enough time to make a judgement about whether the person you’re talking to is someone you’d like to know more about – or not, as the case may be.

In total I chatted to about 13 different people; some I was disappointed when the 4 minutes ended, others relieved… there was also a mix of people, some I fancied but the conversation just didn’t work, others I enjoyed the conversation but didn’t fancy them, and others that I did fancy and wanted to chat to more. One guy seemed panicked by the 4 minute timing and frantically asked me quick-fire questions in a crazed way… one guy kept nudging me coyly throughout the conversation, another guy told me he could decide on the 2nd date if he wanted to marry a girl, then proceeded to ask me to the name the time and place of our next date. There were however some other nice, normal guys who I got on with and could have chatted to longer.

When the speed dating finished, we were invited to stay longer and have a drink, although most people just left. I stayed and talked a bit longer with the other guests, which it was nice to do without the time pressure.

As an alternative to online dating, it definitely has potential. For a start, I met about 13 new people on one night; you instantly find out if you have chemistry, or are able to hold a face-to-face conversation (which might not always be the case if you have only ever talked  on-screen). The downside was that it did get a little boring and that the host company only gave you from 9-5 the next day to upload your score card info (whether you wanted to keep in touch or not, to find out who you matched with) and I didn’t upload my information in time (as I was at work the whole day without much of a break).

However you don’t have to rely on the score card info, you can always be brave and exchange numbers with someone you met on the night and take it from there… 😉

So… my search for true love continues… watch this space!

 

 

 

Jet

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It is just over a month ago that we lost our family pet, Jet, and I have been meaning ever since to write him a tribute… but I needed time enough to do him justice… as he was a very “special” kind of pet 🙂

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Jet was a complex little dog who was many things at many times… he could be cute and adorable, he could be silly and really stupid, he could also be aggressive and there were times when you had to know to leave him alone; but in the end he was our dog – we loved him and he loved us back.

We got him in April 2000 when he was 9 weeks old… and the fun started there. He was a naughty puppy – he got kicked out of puppy training and it didn’t take us long to realise that he was very anti-social as he would always try to bite other dogs, even if they were just minding their own business. He often ran away and I remember him jumping the fence on many occasions… and also remember searching the neighbourhood, knocking on doors asking if anyone had seen him.

Even though Jet could be a pain sometimes, we soon realised that a lot of his aggressive behaviours stemmed from the fact he was actually terrified of unknown things; that he got nervous around other dogs and then tried to bite them. Realising this helped me to understand why he didn’t act the same way as most other dogs.

As he got older, Jet mellowed a lot. When he was young, he was the one taking us for walks, choking himself on the lead in desperation to walk at the front. As time went on, he slowed down and didn’t mind trailing behind at the back any more. He used to have a lot of energy and run round the house in crazy loops when a member of the family came home. In the last year or so of his life, he just about managed to wag his tail for you when you came in.

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There are so many stories about Jet’s craziness that made us laugh over the years… like the time he ran across an iced-over lake to chase a bird and then fell in…

there was the first Christmas with Jet, where dad put a bird decoration on the tree, and Jet tried to eat it…

…when Jet learnt to climb the stairs for the first time, but got stuck when he realised that he didn’t know how to get back down again…

But as well as all the crazy things, Jet was a friend when we needed him most. He used to keep my sister company when she was writing essays; he kept my other sister company when she spent a year living and working at home after graduation, and, as for me, daily walks with him got me through a difficult time in my life and I feel forever grateful for that.

Jet… we loved you and we will never forget you… thanks for all the fun times

 

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Can your heart change colour?

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The Christmas period is  coming to an end, and for me, personally, it has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But, during this time, I have felt so much love from my family and friends. For that I am truly grateful.

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In the last couple of years, for quite some time I had this feeling that some bad events had irrevocably changed me for the worse. I remembered the time when I used to be compassionate and willing to give much of my own time to help and listen to others. At school and university I had always been involved in voluntary work and it made me feel happy to help other people. But in the years after university, I sensed that I had gradually started to lose this compassion and, because of this, I felt that I had even lost a deep part of myself. Some difficult circumstances and my reaction to them seemed to cause a bitterness inside me, a deep unhappiness with myself and people I felt I should have been able to trust, perhaps also a latent anger.

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I realised this had happened, not from consciously articulating it, but just because I had this very strange but strong feeling, even a visualisation, that my heart, which had once felt big, had shrunk and turned black, or turned to a small black stone.

I know that might sound crazy, but that’s the image I had.

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I decided that I needed to try and change my heart back to its original size and colour. I tried to give more kindness by doing simple things, like making time to talk to others even when I thought I didn’t have time, by trying to speak in a nicer tone even when I felt stressed (although I didn’t always succeed at that!), by helping a grieving neighbour, by even letting myself not feel guilty about the fact I can’t help others as much as I used to because now I have a full-time job and I also have to make time to look after myself.

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Later in the year, I think it was just before I moved house in August 2015, I had another visualisation about my heart (perhaps it was a dream or maybe just a mental image). The image was that my torso had a zip in it, which I unzipped, reached inside the darkness for my heart which I then took out in my hands, cupping it like a baby bird. Then I put it back inside. I felt that it was gold and glowing a whiteish light.

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I don’t know why I had these mental images which seemed to really speak to me about what was going on with my feelings. After the second one, I sensed that I had started to heal the bitterness and that I was in control of how my heart looked or felt.

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I don’t know how common this kind of thing is… but if you have ever also had a strong visualisation or a mental image that has really meant something to you, don’t be afraid to share it by commenting below or messaging me. I know that to others the mental images I had might sound weird or crazy, but perhaps they were actually very intuitive and trying to tell me something I needed to know. I am just curious if others have experienced this as well, so let me know if you can.

I hope that in 2016 I can keep being kind and compassionate, because it’s a part of myself that I don’t want to feel I have lost.

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Love Actually Is All Around!

Inspired by the Christmas season of goodwill and peace to all men (and women) and by one of the cheesiest but loveliest Christmas films, I am dedicating this post to all the loved ones, friends, and family, who have made 2014 a special and successful year for me.

love actually movieOn January 1st I wrote about my intention of this year to be a Renewed Commitment to my blog, to myself, to putting the joy back into living. I am happy to say that this approach definitely helped me to take things in the right direction. 2014 has brought some positive changes for me (big and small), such as:

  • completing my first year as a primary school teacher
  • learning new skills (such as cooking and using a sewing machine!)
  • taking a confidence course
  • changing jobs
  • my sister moving in with me
  • taking a trip alone

I am ending the year with a real sense of achievement as I know I have come a long way this year and I also know that the support from friends and family has really helped me. There are some really special people in my life (some of whom may not realise it) who are always there to keep my spirits up, to reassure me, and to give me the strength to keep going, particularly in the face of adversity.

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So, it’s like Natalie says in ‘Love Actually’ – “Because if you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you eh?” – THANK YOU to all those special people in my life. I love you and I am always grateful for your support. I know that with this year behind me, I am approaching 2015 with a stronger spirit and will hopefully achieve even more great things on my personal journey towards positivity and self-confidence.

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It’s the little things…

Today’s post is a collection of things from around the house that make me happy. I moved into my flat in August, and it’s the first place I’ve ever lived completely alone. I enjoy the peace after a long day at work, full of demands and meeting others’ needs. When I get home, it’s nice to have my space. When I moved in I didn’t have any furniture, and I’ve furnished it with a little help from family, IKEA and some furniture from charity shops. The little things from my photos today are the little touches that make my flat mine, the little things that cheer me up when I see them.

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flowers and vase (a gift)
daffodils (another gift) and cards from family
daffodils (another gift) and cards from family
bought in York on a day out with Mum; its message is what this blog is all about!
bought in York on a day out with Mum; its message is what this blog is all about!
teddy from another day out with Mum - from Harrods
teddy from another day out with Mum – from Harrods
my favourite possession - my bed - furnished with two friends!
my favourite possession – my bed – furnished with two friends!
my new coaster ;)
my new coaster 😉
fairy lights (a gift from my sister) and the bookcase Dad helped me to build!
fairy lights (a gift from my sister) and the bookcase Dad helped me to build!

They’re only small things, but a lot of them are gifts from family or memories of days spent with family. They brighten up the place and they remind me of the important people in my life.

What are the little things that make you happy?