In typical me fashion, but perhaps more so than ever, I’ve been thinking. About life and about the past. It’s impossible not to when you’re somewhere you never expected to be in life. Divorced, without children, having left a job I spent years preparing to do. I’ve had my head down for quite a while (741 days to be precise) since the day my husband of only 4 months suddenly decided he wasn’t ready for marriage. I didn’t see it coming, though in hindsight I guess I should have and I wasn’t prepared for how the shock and grief would affect every aspect of life. Having not spoken to a fair few people in a long time, I wrote the letter below to reach out to them. What started out as a catch up note became a reflection on my year that felt only right to put here, given this is where I have sporadicly written out the inner workings of my mind at various scattered points in the last 12 months. Writing has somehow helped me find my way back.
By default, in hard times people try to put on a brave face so others think they’re fine when that’s just not the case. When you wear your heart on your sleeve and cannot act to save your life it is easy to just hide. Now I see that was a mistake. One of the most significant but hardest things to do is learning is how to be vulnerable and the power of being honest, with your self and with others.
It has begun to free me in a way I didn’t think was possible two years ago.
This year I’ve been able to connect with and relate to people I’d never otherwise have met or got to know. We’re all human and none of us are perfect. We know that, yet often it takes a big metaphorical smack-round-the-face-with-a-fish to remember that if we just stop striving and be real with each other, that’s where the magic happens. This has been a hard but magical year from which I’ve come out of my cave. If you’re not mentioned it’s not because I don’t think you’re awesome. In fact I want to connect with you.
This coming year I want to see more of people, like actually in the flesh! People still do that right? Friends are such a blessing so foremost I’m remembering this and honouring it, building beautiful friendships and actually being in each other’s lives is wonderful and will make my 2018. You read it here now lets make it happen!
Anyway, I did a wee search about what’s included in a “newsletter” and apparently I shouldn’t discuss religion, politics or fitness routines and shouldn’t brag about my kids too much. Well I did get baptised this year but haven’t won a Nobel peace prize, I’m well into a two year comfort eating regime and don’t have any kids to brag about, so we should be fine. This is just an update on what I’ve been doing lately, my travels and what I’ve learnt along the way. Apologies if it’s boring or turns into a bit of a photo essay but hey, if you know me then you’d have been expecting an essay anyway. If you’ve accidentally found yourself in the wrong place then click the red X at the top of your screen now. Life is busy but we all have choices daily about how to spend our free time. That is our prerogative. I’m using mine to write this. I also spent a lot of this year on this inflatable banana!!
TRAVELS: Last December, when I turned 30, I didn’t really know what to do. I sure wasn’t where I thought I would be at 30. Anyway a good friend mentioned she had a 30 in 30 goal: to have been to 30 countries by the end of the 30th year. I thought, I’m gonna do that, it would give me something to focus on and toasted the idea with plenty of prosecco. In reality it was a squeeze but I did everything I could to make it! To meet that goal, 2017 has been quite a travelsome year. Yes, that’s a word! (IT IS NOW)
Unfortunately my biggest planned trip to Cuba couldn’t happen, but never mind, I still made my goal by including our own fair country. The beauty of not being tied to school holidays anymore is I can go away whenever I want now which is exciting! ( N.B. travelling in hurricane season is not advisable)
First up was Iceland. Wow, was it pricey! We mostly ate at our cabin but on our last night treated ourselves to a Ruby Murray (put that in especially for my American fraaands). £30 for a vegetable curry with about three singular veg in it. Rice not included. They were the first veggies I’d seen all week which is why I’d opted for that and they were gone in seconds. Undoubtedly, for anyone that’s seen me hangry, you can picture my sad, disappointed face after that.
TOP TIP: Never go to Iceland unprepared. Fill your suitcase with food! In another financial escapade, my friend Maya found a lovely £5 hat while we were in a gift shop, so she bought it and it wasn’t until later she realised it was actually £50!! So that’s now going to be passed down as a family heirloom. Despite the painful prices, Iceland was beyond beautiful. Sadly we didn’t see the Aurora Borealis in her full glory as it was too cloudy, but we did see our fair share of amazing waterfalls, which made up for it. The black sand beaches were stunning; we petted Icelandic ponies; sat in our hot tub while it was snowing and made Pat do a snow angel; saw hot springs and rainbows, swam around the Blue Lagoon in the dark and set a record for our shortest stay in a hotel (3 hours, ironically in the most luxurious hotel room any of us had ever set foot in. Thanks red eye flight!).. it was complete with in-room hot tub and colour changing shower, huge kingsize beds and a colossal wall mounted TV. None of which we used as we’d sat up for most of the night willing the Northern Lights to make an appearance before we went home!
A little closer to home ( but taking just as long to get there) I went on a half term road trip to Cornwall with my parents. It was great fun. I haven’t been on holiday with them for years, so it was nice to really spend time with them. We visited loads of places: Port Isaac, Mevagissey, Charlestown, Fowey and more. I took it upon myself to take on a CREAM TEA CHALLENGE, which consisted of, you guessed it, a different cream tea each day. Someone had to do it!! I can now happily reveal that the best Cornish cream tea of the seven that I sampled was: The Eden Project café. Sublime! Perfect ratio of cream to jam. Warm scone. Ideal size. Winning! Naturally I left my 5* TripAdvisor reviews to spread the word 😉
Next, I had an American adventure in Denmark. I flew to Copenhagen to meet my favourite Texan Rebecca, who I met when I was studying abroad in ’07. We stayed in the coolest AirBNB apartment with two of her American friends Blake and Adam and another friend Buddy (not the elf) showed us around the city as he’s been living there for 6 months working as an architect. It was SO MUCH FUN!!! We did loads of cool things but my highlight was PAPER ISLAND, the Old Paper Mill that houses Copenhagen’s street foot scene. We all chose our own preferred cuisine (I had Korean) and we sat outside with a beer/cocktail watching the sunset. Adam & Blake then very impressively made a fire and we chatted til our fingers turned blue.
Next I flew to Belfast to go on an Irish roadtrip to County Galway with my friend Natalie. In my teens I was obsessed with Westlife and ever since seeing the ‘My Love’ music video set at the cliffs of Moher I’ve wanted to go there. So that was a teenage dream realised (the other dream about Westlife’s Shane Filan is yet to come to fruition) Plus we drank Irish beer by the river, listened to amazing live music in Galway and went crazy singing along to Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl every time it came on, which was a lot. That reminds me, (slight deviation) back in Iceland the radio only played the same 7 or 8 songs on repeat. So if you go, make sure you take some CDs with you unless you wish to die from overexposure to Sean Mendes.
Our AirBnB hosts happened to have a kitten, which in our books was a BONUS!
In November, I went to Poland with a school friend. I’ve always wanted to visit Auschwitz, ever since learning about the holocaust years ago. Many people think that’s a bit mad, but it’s such a horrible thing I think everyone should witness it, to honour the people that actually lived through that. It was great to fulfil something Sophie and I talked about doing so long ago and also felt like a liberation to be freeing her from her role of supermum for a couple of days for the first time since having children 9 years ago. We had lots of intellectual discussion while hiding from scary Polish women in toilets! We learnt so much history on the trip, not just about the camps, but also about those who did what they could to help. It’s that which will always stay with me. The smallest acts of kindness can save not just lives but generations. On my return I ordered a great book called The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a holocaust survivor who has forgiven her torturers. I really recommend it!! As do I recommend spending time with your oldest friends. It reminds you who you are and where you’ve come from when you need it most. One to note if in an identity crisis 😉
DOINGS: This year has been crazy busy. I got to live with not one but two amazing housemates who have hugely inspired me and filled my days with much joy! I started creating again and designed a whole new set of greetings cards and some postcards for sale locally and online. I also joined a ladies business network with some super supportive women and that’s given me a huge confidence boost. It’s so nice to see women raising each other up rather than tearing each other apart. We’re all in this thing called life together. I also somehow ended up offering to dog sit for various friends for most of the summer and fell in love with a Chihuahua named Roo. Hilarious attempts at selfies with various doggy friends definitely happened! One day, I’m definitely getting a little dog. I loved the dog walks, they were so calming even in the wind and rain (EXCEPT FOR PIPPA THE PUG WHO REFUSED TO WALK ANYWHERE)
Summer was busy with work but it was also a lot fun! I swam in the sea as much as I could and spent lots of quality time with friends old and new. This year I also started having singing lessons which really helped build my confidence back up. I bloody love singing, and the power of music is AMAZING! It was my weekly fix. Medicine for the soul for sure! In July I performed in a showcase, like actually in front of people, which was both wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. Sadly my lovely teacher has now emigrated to Oz with her lovely Australian husband but my sessions with her are just one of the many things that got me through this year. As did my awesome group of friends from City church who welcomed me with open arms. They have accepted me, encouraged me to be who I am and for that I am beyond thankful for this crazy bunch of humble characters. Plus they’re a barrel of laughs and I love them a lot!
One of my old air cadet friends Mike got married this year and I did a reading at the wedding which was a big honour. I also sang karaoke with my cousin at her 40th birthday party and went to an ATC reunion. These things probably sound like trivial events but knowing where I was even a year ago I honestly wouldn’t have dreamed I could do either of those things and the point is, I couldn’t have done without some great people cheering me on in life! My biggest achievement this year though was getting divorced. I’m definitely not bragging here. Divorces are so shit… and never what I wanted. Having had enough of being miserable, I started writing down my feelings in this blog simply to get it out of my mind. It’s been very important and helpful to do that but it is a slow process and still really tough to move past what happened. So filing those papers was a hard step that I managed to put off for ages. The thing about grief is it can be overwhelming and never really goes away but finds a home in the nooks of your heart and settles down quietly. Still, being a divorcee beats being married to someone with no regard for your heart. With each day that passes I learn more about forgiveness and grace. I can only focus now on that! My family and close friends are heroes for putting up with my divorcee alter ego Ms Misery! Sorry! You can’t help it when pain takes over your personality but I’m making steps in the right direction. Love and support in your worst days shows you what your friendships are made of.
What did I learn this year? To not worry about not being in control of everything in your life. It has a weird way of guiding you where you’re meant to go, even when you don’t want to go there! Whats in store for you may not be what youre expecting but resistance is futile as they say. My new mantra: Doubt yourself less, take more risks. This year I left my job and I think some people thought I was insane! Even I thought I might be mad…but I knew school was draining me of the little energy I had and I felt unsupported and unappreciated so when my contract wasnt renewed I decided rather than put myself through the ordeal of looking for a job in another school, I’d increase my private tutoring. I love working 1:1 and in teaching there is little if any of that. I worried there wouldn’t be enough demand to make it viable but thankfully I’m currently fully booked , getting great feedback and working less hours than I was before for more money. I’m glad I followed my gut rather than go with a SAFE but miserable option. YOUR GUT INSTINCT IS USUALLY ALWAYS RIGHT!
With more free time I’ve had the chance to really think about how I want to live life. I’ve just said a bittersweet good bye to my home by the sea which I adored but will always have a place in my heart. I’m gathering my thoughts and saving while mulling over whether I should try to get a deposit together for a place or go and live in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere. I’m still designing cards and stuff and creating is really my outlet so if you want anything designed give me a shout. I get lost in it for hours. Photography has been purely personal this year while I found my passion for it again and I really, really want to be brave and dive in again next year. I’ve got a pile of great books I’ve been meaning to read but in all honesty all I have really done with my extra free time so far is sleep in and watch way too many YouTube videos. Don’t get me started on Netflix series….
2017 has been a year of big change and mindless distraction from those changes. It has given me experiences to reflect on and move me forwards. If I haven’t mentioned you, I’m sorry, but it’s not because I don’t care. There’s so much more I could talk about but for the sake of not taking all year to read I didn’t want to cram any more in. I didn’t realise until writing this that I’d done so much this year so I recommend doing your own reflection. I feel even more thankful than I was when I started writing it. In 2018 let’s keep pushing forwards to be the best versions of ourselves and to bring out the best in each other. I am determined to find myself again. One step at a time. So if anyone wants to go on an adventure, my passport is ready! At the very least, let’s catch up. Over the phone. Skype. You name it. Social media is great so if we’re not connected definitely send me your username or message me on whatsapp, but real life is where the magic happens.
I would love to hear what youve been doing or learnt in 2017…
Wishing you a BRIGHT, HEALTHY and HOPEFUL 2018, Lauren xxxx