Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Eeeeh I've bought a book!

I have done it. I have purchased my first e-book. I realise I'm not being any sort of trail blazer with this announcement - e-books and readers have been around a while now. But up until today I've just not got round to joining this particular reading revolution. I'm not even sure why not, being a fan of books, reading and technology (with a particular penchant for gadgets that begin with 'i').

Perhaps it's because I have a pile (actually more than one) of books that I haven't yet read, I have ones that I look at and determine to re-read because I loved them first time round, I have a never ending list of 'books to read' and regularly add more to my creaking shelves despite promises to myself not to until I have read every single one I already own. Do I really need another way to lead me into temptation?

Then, when I was browsing for other apps I came across the Kindle one - and could not resist. I tend to binge buy, and there is something all too easy about online purchasing, so I limited myself to getting just two (for now) - uncharacteristically restrained of me. I bought Ben Hatch's 'Are We Nearly There Yet?' and Nicola Morgan's 'Write a Great Synopsis' - choices influenced by hearing about both of these on Twitter.

So here I am, iPad in hand reading my first e-book. It is a different experience of course. I love the feel and smell of books, the turn of the pages, but it's no less pleasurable (the choice of books obviously helps!). As with all things online, the accessibility and ease with which you can you can buy e-books, and the prices, make them an attractive option. And to me that's just what they are - another option.

This definitely does not mean the end of books as I know and love them. Like so many other things I now do, I believe this new electronic option will sit comfortably with the more traditional and I can pick and choose which I use according to circumstance, day or mood. I now, for example, tend to read newspapers online during the week, but my weekends aren't complete without a trip to the paper shop for the Guardian and the Observer, I have a growing iTunes collection but still buy and play CDs, I shop online but still regularly visit local shops.

Despite some gloomy previous predictions of damage the internet and all things online could cause, newspapers are still in business, shops are still open, and the world hasn't ended. Changed, yes - but isn't that just what happens? The world changes, progresses, evolves, it will always happen. I think e-books are actually more of an evolution rather than a revolution  - and if it gets more people reading, surely that's got to be a good thing.

Now, I must get back to that e-book!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A touch of frost

Today it's back to fields like mud baths and blowing a hooley on the beach but our past few days of perma-frost at least made things look pretty.  I'm not a huge fan of cold weather but the sprinkling of glittery white made our usual daily walks look clean, crisp and fresh.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Climb every mountain

This time in just three short months I'll be somewhere in Peru wondering what I'm doing spending the next ten days with a bunch of strangers up a very high mountain.

I signed up to a charity trek to Machu Picchu to raise money for Breast Cancer Care last year, when it seemed a long time in the future, when the scariest thing was having to ask people for money and when I didn't know a single other person doing it.

Since then, thanks to kind donations, cake sales, comedy night, clothes swishing, sponsored running and tin rattling, I’ve raised just short of my £3,000 target. I have met, through email and Face Book at least, a dozen of my fellow trekkers, all women, most of who have also signed up solo. Now it's time to start seriously thinking about the trek itself – and I have many mixed feelings flying about!

Nervous? Absolutely! I'm spending 24 hours a day for ten days in some extreme conditions with people I don't know. I will be camping and doing without proper showers or toilets (not my idea of a good time). Although I am on a fitness regime I’ve heard lots of stories about how altitude sickness affects even the fittest of people.  I’ve finally read the information pack properly and realised that I need thermals and a sleeping bag that can withstand minus 15 degrees (I hate being cold!) as well as t-shirts and sun protection.

Excited? Definitely! This is going to be one hell of an experience. Having spoken to others who've done it recently, their tales and unanimous enthusiasm that they'd do it again (despite the lack of toilets and how ill they may have been) reinforces that this really is an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity.

I am also a little bit proud of myself. The reason I'm doing this is to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care. Not a natural fundraiser, though happy to regularly donate to charities, it's the first time I've ever got so involved in this sort of thing. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I know how increasingly vital the work of organisations like BCC is. I know first hand that while the NHS is largely good at doing what it does, there is such a lot of other help, information and support you only get from other places.  The fund raising has been hard but worth it - and maybe I'll give it a go again in the future.

I'm sure I'll also be proud of completing the challenge of the trek. In the almost four years since I was diagnosed I've set up my own business, learned to scuba dive, been on holiday by myself for the first time, rediscovered a love of horse riding, ran my first half marathon, been backpacking for the first time. I don't know if I've been driven to do so much over the past few years because I now have an absolute appreciation of how short life is and there's lots I want to do and try, or because I'm trying to convince myself that I can still do absolutely anything and everything, or maybe it's just some kind of normal mid-life crisis and fortysomething madness! Who knows? But after this next big challenge I may have a bit of a rest. Or not. We'll see…

If you want to find out more about my charity trek see Mission Machu Picchu

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

My new BFs

We had a difficult introduction and tense first few weeks.  I didn't really like them that much. They didn't know me that well. I missed my old buddies who'd seen me through good times and bad times. But finally today we've clicked. My new trainers and I are now firmly best of friends. 

I didn't think I'd get quite as attached to my old ones but they'd seen me through my first year of doing 'proper' regular running including the exhilarating experience of the Great North Run.  It was actually that run that finished them off though I clung onto them for another couple of months, making excuses for them and realising how ridiculously fond I'd become of a pair of now tatty, battered old running shoes. It was when they started to smell even worse than they looked that I finally had to admit it was time to say goodbye. Even then it took a few weeks for them to make the final exit from cupboard to bin.

I'd already bought this new pair and started wearing them in December when most of my running was in the gym on the treadmill. They’ve stayed shiny and clean and, well, not really me. This week, finally over the festivities, I've pulled them on, braced myself and been out running outside again. And, through the mud, the puddles, and those difficult first few runs we've finally bonded.  Maybe it's because they are now a bit more worn in, feel more familiar, and are looking more like they belong to me. I'm glad we're friends at last, we've got some tough times ahead - including this year's Great North Run!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Going with the flow

I started this year off by taking part in Sally's Quilford's challenge to write 100K words in 100 days. It felt a bit daunting but it’s on average 1,000 words a day which makes it sounds more do-able. It's also a challenge not a competition and there's great support both from Sally and others who've also signed up so we can share ups and downs, stops and starts.

One week in and, despite being a bit behind my 1,000 words a day target (thanks to the tax mans deadlines and me being rather disorganised in the accounts department), I'm enjoying it and determined to stick with it. I am much more productive when I think someone else has set targets and deadlines, so it's a great incentive. And I am also already surprising myself (in a good way!).

My big project my main Work In Progress if you like (gosh that sounds like proper writing) that I want to finish is about the trip I took with my son last year. It was the first time Id been backpacking at the grand old age of 41, the first time wed done three countries in one holiday, the first time wed been quite so adventurous. Not as adventurous as many other people's expeditions I know and it is in no way a travel guide. Not unless you want to know where to find the Jeremy Clarkson lookalikey handing out leaflets in Prague. Or get as excited as I did at getting a blanket with your meal at restaurants in Budapest. Or where to find the computer shop in Vienna that puts unwanted parts outside at the end of the day for anyone passing to take for free (much to sons delight).  It is more Duff Guide than Rough Guide. 

But I am really enjoying writing it, recalling where we went, what we did, who we met. We crammed a lot into a short time, had plenty of fun, lots of laughs and one or two hairy moments like taking the wrong train and ending up at the border totally clueless of what border we were actually at.

I find writing it Im also reflecting on the relationship with my son, after 14 years of single parenthood we have a close, wonderfully warm relationship. But inevitably as he grows up and I get older, it changes it's not becoming any less good, just different. It wont be very long until he takes off on holidays with his mates rather than his mum, so it was a pretty special trip for many reasons.

The other point that persuaded me I could do the 100k 100 days challenge is that you dont have to stick to just one project or piece or even type of writing. So as Im also working on non-fiction articles and reviews Im really pleased I can add these to my word count too.

A lot of writing I'm focused on is non-fiction which is what I am most comfortable with and used to. I enjoy writing fiction but have less confidence and experience of it, though do have books full of ideas, stories started, outlines of plots and characters, odd paragraphs pulled together.

Then yesterday, looking at Sallys always interesting daily prompts I surprised myself when, inspired by one of them, I put pen to paper (literally - and another surprise as I always use a computer or my beloved iPad!) and started writing a short story. It flowed quite spontaneously and I was as pleased with myself as I was surprised. Is it any good? I dont know and as Im going for just getting words onto paper at the moment, quantity over quality, Im not even worrying about that. Yet.

Like so many things, once you start on something like this challenge I think its fascinating just to go with it and see where it takes you. For me, Im already going places I hadnt planned at all!

So, thank you Sally and heres to the next 92,000!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Jam tomorrow

Since number-one-and-only Son has been old enough to buy me presents himself, as opposed to his grandma getting something on his behalf or him coming home with something glittery from school, I dont often get surprises. Mostly because he's terrible at keeping whatever it is a secret, and also because, being a geeky type himself, it's a pretty sure thing it will be something tech related.  But this year was rather different.  He asked me what I might like and said I'd love an apple tree for the garden. I'm no Charlie Dimmock but have been getting into digging, planting and growing (as well as killing off) things over the past couple of years.  As an added incentive for him I reminded him that it would tenuously be in keeping with his tech tendencies as he is a total Apple fan - it could be an iTree.

Bleary eyed after a late night, he woke me On Christmas Day carrying in not one but five fruit trees, complete with wrapping paper around them. I am now the proud owner of two apple, one pear, one plum and one cherry tree. (He did also keep up with tradition and got me some headphones and a charger as well!)

So on the last day of the holidays we had the weather and time to get into the garden and plant the trees. I dug, Son assisted, with lots of tips and moans about the cold.

On the same day I took our decorations down and took out the Christmas tree. It seemed odd, the wrong way round, taking a large. healthy looking. blooming green tree for recycling and planting other ones that currently just really look like dead twigs. But, green fingers crossed, I look forward to watching them grow, bloom and become laden with fruit. I have high hopes for them, I am even planning to learn how to make jam...

Out with the old...
 In with the new...

Monday, 2 January 2012

A look back at 2012

No - that's not the first typo of the year! Instead of a review of 2011 - which as so often had some great bits and some less great bits - and/ or making New Year's Resolutions most of which fall by the wayside if I actually call them that - I liked the idea I read somewhere of writing myself a letter. Yes, talking to myself, it must be my age, but doing it from future me in a year's time, capturing my hopes, dreams and aims for this year...

Dear Sharon
Although you dont make New Years Resolutions as such, at the beginning this year you knew there were three things you'd been saying for ages that you want to do, you enjoy when you get round to doing them, and they have positive effects in all kinds of way.
You wanted to incorporate them into every day life, make them daily habits that you looked forward to and felt deprived if you didn't do. Well you did this, and didn't just keep this up for a day or week or month but for the whole year. These things have become as normal and as frequent as washing your hair and similarly if you don't do it you feel a bit grubby. And they've all had wider benefits than just enjoying them-

  • Writing - now you don't have to force yourself to write, wondering if it's any good full of doubts and distractions, you dive in because you want to, and it is just what you do. That book you've been promising yourself you'd write? Well you have – you now have a full draft. Good on you.  And as you wanted to be, you call yourself a writer - you've had articles published and people PAY you to write things (imagine!) now. It's not just a job although you are earning money from it - you are doing something you are passionate about.
  • Running - yes you did achieve completing the Great North Run under two hours, thanks to starting training early and - most importantly learning from past experiences - keeping it up and having a proper recorded training plan rather than a last minute panic in August. Running is now something you need to do, not just for the fitness or to run in a race but it helps clear your head, give you space and it just feels GOOD!
  • Meditation - like anything you have to put the practice in to get the benefits - and this year you have.  Making this another regular daily habit has helped with all that was promised it would – it helps you be in the present, feel connected, more content, and more able to deal whatever life throws up. Feeling more centred and calm means being more kind and being on the receiving end (karma some would say!) – and basically a nicer, happier person!

You have also had some fantastic experiences - the trip to Machu Picchu you were slightly worried about, sharing a tent with strangers when you have a hatred of camping and being cold - well it really was the experience of a lifetime, you did it and are so glad you did. And have forged some lifelong friendships with some amazing people in the process.

Workwise, you wanted to diversify and you have. Your writing now brings in an income and the training courses you wanted to start delivering 12 months ago have been a success and you now easily fill several each month. That ESOL teaching certificate you were a bit unsure of doing? Well you did it, passed and now also teach English as another strand in your portfolio career! (and of course it'll come in handy when achieve your long term aim of travelling and spending time abroad).

Throughout this year you've had lots of fun times with friends old and new. You know how post BC you were struggling a bit with confidence and identity - well you've got plenty of both back now! You have got a good balance between work and play, time for other people and for yourself, you are passionate about what you do, have fun and wake up looking forward to each day. You are, as they say, in a Good Place!

Most importantly you are healthy and well - so is your son and family. And you're surrounded by life, love and laughter.

Oh one last thing, after a major spring clean your cupboards and house have remained remarkably tidy and organised, a place for everything and everything in its place as Aunty Nan used to say. Yes, even THAT cupboard under the stairs, formerly known as the Black Hole.

Happy New Year!