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January has been a bit of a walking through treacle month so far. But then it is for many people. The post-Christmas slump when the family has departed and the house de-Christmassed, the overly long wait for payday, the winter blahs (even though we’ve turned the corner and the days are getting longer)…all that stuff.

In addition to the usual suspects, January has been a month during which

  • I have been battling the black dog.
  • I have attended the funeral of a man who died far too young (he was 30!).
  • I have grown to despair of the sort of conversations that take place on Twitter. During my years in the field of L&D, Twitter was one of the most important tools in my toolkit. Since I no longer have those conversations to take part in, the balance has changed, and there is just so much vitriol. I have begun the process of extricating myself from that space.
  • Someone I thought I knew has metamorphosed into someone I barely recognise, and it is causing pain to two people I care about.
  • I have been entertaining grave doubts about the future of Karyn’s [re]Kreations.

This combination of factors already had me a bit of a low ebb, so I wasn’t in the greatest of places when the tree surgeon hired by our landlady had an accident and fell through the roof of my workshop. There are so many aspects to this event.

  1. The tree surgeon dude’s wellbeing. When he came to the house to let us know what had happened, the first question Mr Namasi asked him was whether he was okay. He said he was fine. Mr Namasi thought he’d probably feel less fine the next morning. (spoiler: he’s back today, and he is indeed fine – he said he’s had worse falls in the line of his work))
  2. The roof is asbestos. Apparently the risk sets in when it breaks and the fibres are released. Well, it was broken. The broken bits have now been removed. But I don’t know what the associated risks are of fibres on the contents of the workshop (see below).
  3. The structural damage. The hole in the roof is huge. Unfortunately, because it’s asbestos, a specialist replacement is probably on the cards. Because we don’t own the property, this is of course, the landlady’s problem, but she’s a lovely lady and it’s not a nice problem for her to have. And, now that I think about it, I guess there will come a time when there is asbestos-related work going on, on the property. I’m not sure how that will affect us.
  4. The damage to my stock. The part of the workshop that was damaged is where I keep my pending and completed projects. Some pieces of roofing have done damage to the pieces, and lot of dirt and debris has landed all over the place. I have yet to do a proper audit of the true extent of the damage.
  5. The impact on my already wobbly mental health.

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I shared a post about the damage to the workshop, focusing on the potential impact on Karyn’s [re]Kreations. Because that’s what the page is about. I reshared it on my personal Facebook page, and on Instagram.

This was when I discovered that I might not always present myself in the best light. A few people urged me to be grateful that the tree surgeon hadn’t been hurt, and reminded me that that was the most important consideration. I was utterly taken aback. Of course it is. And of course I know it. And of course, if the man had been hurt in any way, I’d have made a completely different sort of post. Of course. Well duh. Obvs. All those things.

But apparently it isn’t ‘well duh’. Apparently people didn’t automatically infer from my post that the structural damage to the roof and the damage to my stock was the worst of it. Apparently it isn’t immediately clear to people – even those who know me personally – that I value people more than things. That sat in my belly like a rock. And it reminded me of something.

Years ago, when I was submitting papers towards my Master’s degree, my course supervisor would repeatedly ask why I hadn’t elaborated on this or that point. I would explain that I had only 3000 words, and didn’t want to waste them stating the obvious. She would reply that ‘the obvious’ wasn’t necessarily obvious to the person reading the paper. I still contend that anyone to whom that particular obvious wasn’t obvious had no business marking Master’s degree level papers on the subject, but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for here.

It does seem, however, that I fell back into the same damned trap of assuming.

I clearly need to rethink how I present myself. I need to find a way to make it clear that I care about people. About the planet. About the environment. About animals. That I’m not just about stuff. Belongings. Possessions. Property. Things.

The problem is that I thought I was already doing that. This is a helluva concept to be tackling in a state of blah-ness. I might have to come back to it when my inner Tigger moves back into the front room and my inner Eeyore has dozed off again.

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Learning. Always learning.

Teeny tiny circular needle

During my previous life as a learning solutions designer, I was an avid proponent of the concept of lifelong and lifewide learning. I have always believed that learning is more about attitude than age. If I had a Pound for every time someone told me they were too old to learn this or that thing, I could have retired to the coast on the proceeds. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.  Nevertheless, I now get to become living proof of my claims.

This is a (non-exhaustive) list of things I have recently learnt to do:

  • My son’s girlfriend arranged for someone to come and help me with my band saw, which I wasn’t mastering. One simple adjustment made all the difference. When the weather warms up enough for me to be able to survive some time in the workshop, I’ll be practising that new skill.
  • I decided to have a crack at knitting my first pair of socks, which involved
    Turning my first heel
    • my first attempt at knitting with teeny tiny circular needs,
    • and my first turned heel.
  • I knitted a waistcoat which called for a 3-needle cast off. I had never even heard of that before, but YouTube is your friend. I will be doing it again. It’s the business for shoulder seams, and for closing the toe of a sock.
  • I recently acquired a pyropen and a soldering iron. My attempts are still very amateurish, but it’s enjoyable.

I have various bits and bobs in my craft studio at the moment, which are going to push the boundaries of what I already know how to do. In my workshop, there are some acquisitions which are going to find their way onto the band saw, and possibly under the pyropen.

I have some silver coffee spoons circa 1933, given to my grandmother for her 21st birthday. I would very much like to do something with them, since we don’t use those teeny tiny coffee cups that were favoured by my grandparents’ generation, and therefore have no use for the teeny tiny (there’s a lot of teeny tiny in this post, isn’t there?) spoons that went with them. I have explored a few avenues, but so far, haven’t found one that feels right. That future learning opportunity is on hold for now.

Three needle cast off

At the turn of the year, I invited people to sign up to learn a new craft in 2018, and I have a few ladies coming to me for knitting lessons at this point, with a view to moving on to other things in due course. Most enquiries have come from women of roughly my own vintage, and their progress has been excellent. Because they want to learn.

There are so many studies that indicate that mental activity is good for preventing or slowing the decline of various forms of dementia. Here are some quotes from Dementia Care, a UK based charity (similar information is available from any number of related sites):

Think of it this way: the brain is like a muscle; it needs regular workouts. Keeping your mind active will help you feel more alert and happier. The brain is made up of thousands of nerve cells with connections between them. Mentally stimulating activities strengthen these cells and the connections between them, and may even create new nerve cells.

Now could be the perfect time to take up a new hobby or interest. Perhaps something you’ve been meaning to try for ages – learning to sing, paint or play bowls.

Maybe you can no longer go rock-climbing but that’s no reason to give up on enjoying life. Try something new. It will not only set you new physical and mental challenges but it will also give you the opportunity to develop as a person and could lead to new social circles.

Remember, it’s never too late to try something new.

To pick up on that last line, this the foundation stone of the University of the Third Age, which covers a literal A-Z (art to zoology) of topics.

So I’d like to encourage you: if you’re of my generation (or older), please don’t write yourself off as too old to learn a new skill. In ten years’ time, you’ll wish you’d started now. I offer 1:1 and group crafting sessions, and I know there are many others on offer. What have you got to lose?

I sincerely hope that when I die, I will be in the middle of some new undertaking. And – with all my heart – I wish you the same. I said as much in my 21st birthday speech, and I remain unchanged on that point 34 years later.

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Sticking to the day job… or not

I’ve agonised over whether or not to post this here, because it doesn’t really relate to my day job. But then I decided that that was precisely the point. So here goes…

This morning, I saw a clip in which Ashton Kutcher takes on those who tell him to ‘stick to the day job’ when he speaks up on political issues. I encourage you to watch it, but I feel obliged to issue a trigger warning.

I’m not going to write about the contents of the clip – that’s another conversation. I am going to pick up on this ‘stick to the day job’ thing.

Not long ago, Jack Monroe (of Cooking on a Bootstrap fame) also touched on this subject, having been told to ‘stick to cooking’ by someone on Twitter.

Anthony Rapp has been told to stick to the day job, too, as he has spoken up about being sexually abused by Kevin Spacey as a teenager.

Professor Brian Cox is repeatedly told to ‘stick to science’ when he voices an opinion on Brexit… or pretty much any other topic, to be honest. Here’s just one example.

Of course, all these people have had far worse things said to them, but that’s a different conversation.

‘Stick to the day job’ is not an uncommon riposte. I’ve been on the receiving end myself. In fact, any time the online conversation turns to politics, or climate change, or healthcare, or any non-fluff subject, it’s almost a given that someone will be told to ‘stick to the day job’.

My response to this is twofold:

First, people are multifaceted beings, and just because they do one thing to earn a crust (aka the day job) does not mean that’s all they know about.

  • I have a lifelong friend who is the head of critical care at a very large state hospital. But her FB page is full of knowledgeable shares about ballet – a subject dear to her heart, even though she hasn’t danced in decades.
  • My cousin trained as an accountant and now heads up a large, multinational corporation. What he doesn’t know about wild life and conservation isn’t worth knowing.
  • As Ashton Kutcher explains in the clip, he heads up an initiative that uses software to fight human trafficking. He is also a parent.
  • The first time Jack Monroe blipped my radar was when they (Jack’s preferred pronoun) appeared on television discussing the realities of poverty in the UK…from firsthand experience.
  • Although these days, I work with my hands, I spent 25 years in the field of Learning & Development, much of it as an innovative early adopter. And once upon a very long ago, I was on the national youth committee of a political party.
Second, what is the day job of the people who glibly tell others to stick to the day job? How come they get to be there but Ashton, or Jack or Anthony (or even I) must ‘stick to the day job’? Where is the list of day jobs with a legitimate right to join in the conversation on any given topic? Who drew up the guest list? Who are the bouncers, and are they open to being bribed? To whom do we need to speak to be allowed in to the hallowed conversations about politics, or climate change, or the state of education/health care, or equal rights, or sexual abuse?
I’d love to hear about a situation in which you have been told to stick to your day job. Particularly if the conversation was on a topic about which you are particularly knowledgeable.
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Moving to new ‘premises’

I have migrated my blog posts over to this site. It’s still very much under construction, but the idea is that it will eventually become something of a catch all: a space where my pieces can be purchased directly, as well as a contact point for commission work and enquiries, and the place where the narrative can be found.

With regard to more physical premises, I am exploring some leads for brick and mortar spaces that might be interested in stocking my finished pieces.

I am also looking into markets and fayres. This research is still very much in the early stages. I did take a long shot on a local Christmas market, where I displayed some of my smaller ticket items. That experience taught me unequivocally that any market which includes a bric a brac stall is not a suitable place for handmade pieces. I might post more about that at a later date. For now, if you happen to know of a market where there is likely to be an appetite for the sort of things I produce, please let me know.

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Doing a little stocktaking

This morning, Facebook gave me an ‘On this day…’ snapshot as it always does, of things that I have posted on this date in previous years. Today, it reminded me of a blog post I wrote on 25 November 2016.

The opening paragraph read as follows (you can read the whole post here, if you’re so inclined):

The last couple of days have been very difficult for me. The brief version is that I have lost my beloved workshop space. You know the cliche ‘it never rains, but it pours’? This wouldn’t happen while everything else was hunky dory. Oh no! It has to happen while we’re trying to sell our house, and while Mr Namasi is trying to find work (in a less than ideal job market) before his notice period comes to an end, following the demise of the business he has been working for. And while I am waiting to find out whether ‘the big C’ has taken up residence in my body.

It seemed like an appropriate time to do a little ‘then and now’, without burying myself (or you) in the ‘what went between’ bit.

I have lost my beloved workshop space. We have since moved house, and I now have a workshop space at home. It is much smaller, and not terribly weatherproof, but it’s adorable and I love it to bits!

We’re trying to sell our house. As you can deduce from the previous paragraph, we sold our house. Not without a few glitches along the way, but it happened. And the proceeds from that sale are what keep the wolf from the door. I especially love our current house, the village and the countryside in which it… yes, I think nestles is exactly the right word.

Mr Namasi is trying to find work. Mr Namasi’s search continues. The job market is fierce, and I/we have lost faith in the recruitment industry. At the time of writing, he is in the process of setting up an IT consultancy business… but still open to the idea of a role within an existing company.

I am waiting to find out whether ‘the big C’ has taken up residence in my body. The ‘big C’ had not taken up residence in my body, and a minor – albeit extremely painful – procedure was all that was needed. Poor Mr Namasi was subjected to the sounds of his wife squealing in agony as he waited helplessly in the waiting room.

Karyn’s Kreations has been rebranded as Karyn’s [re]Kreations. A new logo has been designed. A van called Barney has been acquired, and I’m making a real effort to find avenues to take my pieces to market.

So please spread the word: I have stock to hand, including great Christmas gift ideas. I also accept commissions and offer 1:1 sessions and group workshops. And I’m raring to go.

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So this is why they’re called turbulent times

Those who know me even a little, know that I am not great at the whole flying thing. This is something of a bummer, since – other than Mr Namasi and our two sons – my entire family lives a plane journey away. Mother, sister, nieces, nephew, sisters in law, aunts, uncles… you get the picture.

I’m actually fine, if the plane moves as if on a sheet of glass. I can even handle it if the plane moves something like a car on a tarred road. But any sign of turbulence, and I can’t even pretend to be holding it together.

I have even managed to embarrass the otherwise imperturbable Mr Namasi during one particularly rough flight from Oregon, when we caught the edge of a storm that had disrupted air travel all over the US. I can’t say I blame him: I was praying in tongues… at the top of my voice. And begging the crew to stop and let me off.

It’s the powerlessness, you see. I mean even the pilot can’t do a damned thing about the conditions. S/he just has to take us through them. Hopefully safely to the other side. We are all totally at the mercy of forces more powerful than anything we can control. If an air pocket decides to open up and suck the plane a few hundred feet earthwards…so be it. Down we go. If an updraught chooses to slam into the underside of the plane and send us upwards… up we go.

I’ve used the words ‘decides’ and ‘chooses’ as if the forces of nature are sentient. As if they have a will. But I think the fact that they don’t makes it worse: they are implacable. They can’t be reasoned with. It’s not personal: they’re not vindictive. They will simply do what they do – what they have always done – without a thought for our convenience, comfort or safety. No matter how much I might beg and plead for them to stop, they are without remorse.

Mr Namasi and I were comparing notes about the place we find ourselves at the moment. And it’s so very much like this. I’ve used the word ‘turbulent’ to describe life and circumstance before. But today it really hit home how very much like flying through turbulence our current situation really is. We are utterly at the mercy of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The closure of John’s company: beyond his control. The loss of my workshop: beyond my control. The impenetrability of the job market for the over 50s: beyond our control. The delays in the sale of our house: beyond our control. The factors that led to the closure of the shop where I have working: beyond my control (and pretty much beyond the control of the friend who owns the shop, too). We have some control over the rate at which our bank balance changes, but no control over the inexorable direction of that change.

Our circumstances are what they are. It’s not personal. It’s not like ‘they’ are or ‘it’ is out to get us. And we’re being buffeted and blown hither and yon.

We’re both desperate for it to stop. We’re bruised, battered and exhausted. And yet it goes on. And we have no idea when – or even if – it’s going to stop.

When you’re flying from A to B, you have some idea of the maximum duration of the discomfort of turbulence. In roughly x hours and y minutes, the plane will land, and you can disembark and – if you feel so inclined – kiss the unspeakably unhygienic ground.

We don’t have that assurance. We don’t know how much longer this is going to go on. And it’s the utter helplessness we find so difficult to deal with.

We have been repeatedly blessed by friends and family with gifts of evenings out, groceries, a couple of days away. I have managed to sell a few of my kreations. We are deeply appreciative of the ongoing trickle of small blessings during this turbulent patch. But we yearn desperately for smoother sky or – better yet – a handy airport. We cling to each other for support and pray… no, wait. Is it still called praying if you’re alternating between pleading and throwing a tantrum? We’re doing whatever that’s called.

Is this flight ever going to even out? Is it ever going to land safely? Is it going to crash?

And of course, now that my thoughts have moved in that direction, I’m imagining a cold caller saying “We have reason to believe you have been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault…”

“Yes, as it happens. My metaphorical plane has crashed into the side of a metaphorical mountain. Do you offer any kind of compensation?”

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Reflections on an austerity budget

Not that long ago, Mr Namasi and I had two good salaries coming in: he had an executive  job in the city, and I had a very respectable career in the Learning & Development field (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is – most people don’t).

But, after a quarter of a century, I had become disenchanted with the L&D field. Luminaries in the field were standing on platforms saying things I had been saying for years without anyone taking the blindest bit of notice. I was having the same conversations with clients I had been having for a decade and more. People constantly used the word ‘innovation’, but seldom meant it. And my mental health wasn’t great.

So, because Mr Namasi was earning a good salary and our sons were grown up, we decided that we could afford for me to embark on this next chapter: making, upcycling, crafting and doing. I was as happy as Larry, but I was making little to no money. It didn’t matter, though.

Then Mr Namasi’s company was closed down.

By 23 December 2016, we had gone from two good salaries to none. And the job market for the over 50s is looking bleak, to say the least.

So we instituted what we call our ‘austerity budget’.

This involved some very obvious things like not eating out, not buying new clothes, cutting out luxuries, reducing our use of the car and so on.

We changed our buying patterns: shopping at cheaper supermarkets, checking out the reduced section, using cheaper brands, reducing our meat consumption, buying cheaper cuts of the meat we do eat, buying frozen instead of fresh, etc.

We changed our eating patterns, too: instead of cooking up a whole pack of bacon (for example) for a single meal, we now spread it over two or three meals. We substitute pulses for meat (lentil Bolognese, anyone?). We tweak recipes to leave out more expensive ingredients. We try to use what herbs/spices we already have.

We made a conscious effort to decrease our wastage. So we deliberately plan meals around what we’ve got in the fridge, so that the half bag of salad or two lonely carrots are eaten before they become irredeemable.

Best. Toothpaste. Ever.

We accept gifts without taking offence – seeing them for the acts of love they are. Our pantry is occasionally bolstered by items donated by friends, and we were recently blessed out of our socks to receive pretty much a year’s supply of our preferred toothpaste (an environmentally friendly, health shop brand not available in supermarkets, and carrying a comparatively hefty price tag).

We arrive empty handed at friends’ home when invited for a meal, and trust that they will forgive us the lack of a bottle of wine/bunch of flowers/box of chocolates for the host/ess.

We give home made gifts for birthdays, weddings, etc. and trust that the recipient will appreciate the thought, love and effort that went into making something instead of buying something.

Home made body lotion

We try to diy as much as possible: mending broken things we would normally just replace, and so on. I even had a go at making my own body lotion, using up dregs from various bottles in my dressing table, together with various oils and so forth I had to hand. The resultant concoction is a little weird, but it will do for now, and it didn’t cost me a penny.

And then there’s always Freecyle/Freegle and their ilk. 

Does this sound miserable to you?

Well, it isn’t. It’s something of a journey of discovery. An adventure. And we’re in it together. We make no bones about the fact that it’s tough, but we find that adopting a positive attitude, and being flexible about unexpected results makes it totally bearable. Even fun.

We recently attended the wedding of our younger son’s best friend. The fresh-faced young couple spoke their vows, committing to the better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health. And we thought about how, in the 29 years we’ve been married, we’ve experienced – and survived – all those things. And right now, worse, poorer and sickness (if you count my ongoing battles with depression) are the order of the day.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ready for the austerity budget phase to be over, the sooner the better. But while it lasts, there’s no point in being miserable about it.

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On being unsuccessful

This a somewhat introspective post – normal service will be resumed.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of those ‘habits of successful people’ type posts and articles. Things that tell you what ‘they’ do that you don’t. Things you need to change in your life, in order to become successful. But when you look at the people being held up as successful – people whose sterling example we’re urged to emulate – most of the time, I reckon they might as well just substitute the word ‘rich’ for ‘successful’.

Are you really successful when you have several failed marriages in your wake? Or when your relationship with your children is dysfunctional? When you make your living off the misfortune of others? If your direct reports at work loathe you or fear you? Is it all about having a guest list that reads like a who’s who, even if you trampled the nobodies underfoot in your journey to the top? Is it really successful to have turned your back on people who had nothing to offer you, in order not to be slowed down by them?

I have absolutely nothing against people being rich – it’s all relative anyway. I have known some wonderful and downright awful people pretty much across the board. I just don’t see that wealth should be held up as the only measure of success. I also don’t see why people who aren’t rich should be regarded as failures.

There are solid marriages founded on little more than love and mutual respect. There are well adjusted children growing up wearing their older siblings’ hand me downs. There are people who are such a pleasure to work with, that their colleagues will go to great lengths to have them on their team for a project. There are people who exude such serenity and tranquillity that just spending time with them feeds your soul.

I won’t be reading any more of those lists of habits/behaviours/whatever. I don’t want to be like the people idolised by the authors of those articles. Most of them (and there are always exceptions) aren’t very nice.