I Have Something To Confess, How About You?

I hate cooking!

I sat down in my steaming hot kitchen, put my head in my hands and cried.

My face was flaming, there was ‘stuff’ on every work surface, recipe books were smeared with flour, the oven was working away, dishes were piled up, dirty pans that won’t go in the dish washer waited,  and I was in despair.

We were giving a ‘dinner party’ for  six guests (I know, not exactly a crowd) and I’d been running round in circles since early morning. I thought I’d been looking forward to it. I’d written my lists, done the shopping, even  laid the table. But the fact remained – I was in tears.

Apparently I’m not alone.  A recent press survey reported that many of us find the whole dinner party thing more stressful than seeing the bank manager or commuting to work!

So what’s the problem?

Here’s my Positive Spin.

  • I don’t like being ‘judged’.

There are so many cookery shows on TV and it looks so easy! They’re run by real chefs, all with years of training and experience,  owning  successful restaurants. Of course their meals are amazing. That’s what their diners expect! Of course I can’t match their expertise. But somehow, when I have friends around for dinner, because I’m not a natural cook, I feel judged.

  • I don’t want to ‘fail’.

I feel embarrassed if my roast potatoes aren’t perfect, my sauce has lumps (surely not!) or the steaks are over/undercooked. I worry that my menu won’t live up to expectations.

  • I feel out of my depth.

At the last dinner party I went to there were three desserts.  I just can’t compete!  What will they say if I only produce one! I don’t know how to make filo pastry by hand, unlike my talented friend. I’ve not mastered the art of home-made ice cream or perfect cheesecake.

And so it goes on.

So! What can I do about it?

  • I need to get ‘real’.

Sharing a meal is a way to get together and enjoy one another’s company. If cooking for a dinner party puts me out of my depth then I need to be very brave and say, ‘ We’d love to see you for dinner. I’m not too confident about cooking so we’d like to take you out instead.’

It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, there are plenty of great pubs in the UK that serve moderately priced meals and even more choices in the US.

  • I can cheat!

There’s an amazing array of food out there, ready cooked. Indian food is especially plentiful and not expensive. I’ve found fantastic savoury pies, casseroles and pasta dishes on sale in some butchers’ shops, along with fruit pies, crumbles and mousse. Sometimes I buy the main course but make the dessert. Or I make a really easy but tasty and interesting starter.

I always tell my friends that I cheated and they don’t turn a hair. At least, not so far as I can tell. It’s their company that’s the most important part of the evening.

  • I must live in the real world.

Everyone has skills. Everyone. Not everyone is an expert cook, home decorator,  dress-maker…. whatever. It’s time  to stop stressing about it and simply confess that I don’t enjoy trying to cook restaurant style food for guests. It’s silly to pretend otherwise.

There! That feels better…

How about you?

Is there anything you need to confess? Go on, you know you want to…

You’ll feel so much better if you do!

Header image by cursedthing, post pic by lisaclarke, on Flickr.

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What Two Ladybirds Taught Me About Friendship

It was the bright red that caught my eye. It looked stunning against the dark green of the mint leaves that grow by my kitchen door. They shouldn’t have been there, not  in November.

Constancy...

I bent down, feeling my eyes widen with a curious smile. I sat down on the step and watched them.  What a privilege it was.

As I watched I knew they were ‘friends’ for that was how they behaved and the sight of them stayed with me all the rest of the day. Now, every time I pick some mint I look for them, but they’ve flown away. I hope they return…

These two tiny insects taught me so much that morning and because I like to notice the ‘small stuff‘ I knew I’d have to write about them. A new blogging friend, Kathy Sprinkle, of ‘Bliss Habits’,  said she was wondering what I could possibly write about ladybirds when I told her my idea, so this post is for her in particular.

Here’s my Positive Spin about…

What two ladybirds taught me about friendship.

1.   They were on one  another’s side.

They were crawling up the mint stem, side by side.

Sometimes we don’t agree with what a friend is doing or saying.  We listen and watch and although their decision may not be ours, we’re still on their side. We defend them and help them get where they want to be.

2.   They took turns to lead.

It was strange. First one of them was way out in front, then it seemed to wait for the other to catch up, even allowing it to overtake.

Friendship should be like that. We take turns to have the ‘good ideas’ or the ‘fantastic’ plans. We are delighted for our friend when they succeed at something, just as they are for us. When my friend overtakes me in, say, cooking, travelling, keeping fit, losing weight; that’s fine. It’ll be my turn another day.

3.   They eased one another’s path.

They really did! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! One ladybird actually seemed to hold down a leaf to help her friend across a ‘chasm’! She waited while her friend slowly clambered over and then they continued up the stem, one behind the other.

That’s what friendship is all about, isn’t it? Easing one another’s path? Listening when they cry down the phone, helping when they’re not well, enabling them to make a decision, giving advice if they ask for it. 

4.   They withstood the ‘storm’ together.

There was a sudden breeze, disturbing the mint. For those tiny creatures this was a ‘storm.’ The stems swayed about and I expected at least one of them to fly away but she didn’t. She stayed where she was, quite still, beside her friend.

The phone rings in the middle of the night. There’s a crisis. You drive to the hospital with her. Or her car breaks down, or her she’s worried about her teenager who still isn’t home. You stay with her, because she needs you. As she’d stay with you. It’s called constancy.

I won’t forget those ladybirds. Some might say I’m silly with my imaginings but it’s noticing the small stuff that makes my life fascinating and thought provoking. I could easily have missed them. And their message.

Do you notice the ‘small stuff’?

What can you notice today, that’s easy to miss? Do you look for the ‘small stuff’ too?

What positive message does it have, for you, and for me?

Header image by cursedthing, post image by nutmeg66, on Flickr.

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And The Award For Most Boring Person Goes To..

Me, Me, Me!

One of my Face book friends commented after reading this recent  post

‘So many people are wrapped up in themselves, I often wonder what people know about me.  I’m a good listener but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like people to show an  interest in me. People are often all about – Me Me Me !’

I decided to give this some thought and look for the Positive Spin:

Are you listening to me? 

Why do so many people think it’s always about them?

I’m sure you can relate to this….

I’m at a social gathering. I don’t know many people but I start to engage the guy next to me in conversation. He tells me his name, what he does (see this post), and off he goes…. He talks about his amazing job, his amazing family, his amazing holiday and after 15 minutes or so he’s asked absolutely nothing about me. I try to edge away to find someone to have an actual conversation with. 

A conversation!

That’s where more than one person talks and where people listen to one another.

So what’s the issue here?

  • What’s the point of a conversation?

We have conversations because we want to get to know one another. To do that we must share information, ask questions, listen to one another. We must pass the ball around.

  • Conversation is a skill.

It’s not an easy skill to learn. It’s a bit like a game of tennis: the two people take it in turns to ‘serve’. While the other person is ‘serving’ we must focus on them completely. Sit still, don’t fidget, and listen carefully to what they’re saying. Try to pick up some mutual subjects or threads that you can serve back to them later, when it’s your turn. But try not to interrupt.

  • What if it’s never ‘my turn’?

Sometimes the conversation never gets off the ground: it’s a monologue. Not easy. What I try to do is listen for a pause, however small, and perhaps ask a question, or pick up one of the topics they mentioned and add a remark or two. Perhaps change your sitting position or even fidget a bit to alert them that you’re still there! I’ve even resorted to saying, ‘Your holiday toSouth Africa/Barbados/Bournemouth sounds fun. I went to Edinburgh for a trip last month. Let me tell you about the highlights.’ If they still don’t let you ‘have the ball’ you have to make an excuse and find someone else to talk to.

  • It’s natural, even though it’s bad manners and rude.

It’s natural for some people to believe that they are the most important person in the room.

It’s just the way they are used to behaving. They assume that everyone wants to hear what they have to say. They have been allowed to get away with it. They seem oblivious of the problem because no-one has made it clear enough that it’s annoying.

They won’t change their behaviour because we’ve let them carry on ‘carrying on’ and they remain unaware of how selfish and boring they are.

We have to show them that we don’t like it. If they don’t listen to us at all, if they don’t have a conversation with us, we need to move on to someone who does. And there will be lots of people who are interested in listening as well as talking.

Next time you are introduced to someone new make sure that you:

  • Listen with real interest
  • Make eye contact, for a few seconds
  • Ask a question
  • Use their name, to help you remember it!
  • Don’t interrupt
  • When it’s your turn, don’t deliver a monologue!
  • Remember how it feels when the other person isn’t interested in you and do as much as you can to show that you’re interested in them. (Even when they’re not Angelina Jolie  or George Clooney…)

How do you deal with the ‘Me,me,me’ types?

What’s your Top Tip for my Facebook commenter?

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This is Me… But Who Are You?

 
 

and who are you?

You’re at a party.

You don’t know many people there. Not yet, anyway. It would be so much easier if everyone had a label pinned to them. No need for all the preliminaries, at least you’d know a bit about them to get the conversation started. You’d like to disappear, run away…

He’s coming over. The balding man in a drab jacket. Very British. Doesn’t look at all interesting. You take a deep breath, try to find your friendly face and say,

‘Hello!  I don’t believe we’ve met! I’m Trish. I live next door.’

He beams. ‘Hello! Good to meet you! I’m Henry. I’ve just moved here.’

(And you know exactly what you’ll say next, don’t you?)

‘Nice to meet you, Henry.  And what do you do?’

He looks down at his freshly polished shoes.

 ‘I’m one of the Queen’s body guards!’

You stare at him for a moment. Surely not. He looks so… ordinary. You grin, embarrassed and then the grin turns to a genuine smile and you say,

‘I’d love to hear more, Henry! Are you allowed to talk about it?’

He fetches you both a drink and you talk animatedly for the next half an hour. He’s such a compelling story-teller you realise he’s quite the most interesting man at the party.

I have just up-dated my ‘This is me’ page. (It’s at the top of this page.) I’m following the A-List Bloggers Boot Camp and this was one of the tasks in our first assignment. It’s hard knowing what to put in and what to leave out when I’m writing about myself. I want to connect with you but I don’t want to be boring about it or you’ll fly away!

The process of up-dating made me think about how it’s so easy to judge one another with very little information. When you meet someone for the first time, what impression do you give? What information do you give them? And what do you leave out?

Communication is what it’s all about. So much confusion and misunderstanding results from poor communication.

Here’s my Positive Spin on How To Communicate.

  • Tell the truth.

How often have you heard someone boasting about their achievements? Exaggerating their successes? Why do they do it? Because they’re scared of not measuring up, not being good enough. They have low self-esteem. Do you find yourself exaggerating sometimes?

  • Watch and learn.

At this time of year you’ll have plenty of opportunities to watch people at social events. Focus on one person who is communicating well. Does he talk more than listen? Look at his body language, how he stands, how much eye contact he makes. Pick one aspect to try out  in your next conversation. I promise it works! I’ve done it…

  •  Listen more than talk.

It’s easy to talk too much when you’re nervous. We all do it. But one of the secrets to good communication is to focus on the other person. Completely. Make them feel as if there’s no-one else in the room. Listen, but don’t chime in with what you’re dying to say. Wait. Ask questions. Ask them to tell you more. And whatever you do, don’t look around to find someone more interesting to talk to. You know how that feels, and it’s not good.

What would you write on your ‘This is me’ page? 

More to the point, what would you leave out?

What do you think is the secret to good communication?

Do tell us, we all need all the help we can get!

 

Header image by cursedthing, post image by Dustin Diaz, on Flickr.

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A Happy Family Christmas? Impossible. Or Is It?

I’m writing this post in response to a request from Christine. She asked this:

‘How do I find a Positive Spin when there are unspoken expectations/disappointments between the generations and amongst siblings?

Imagine the scene.   (This was me, a few years ago) …

It’s nearly the end of September. Leaves are turning, some are even falling. The clocks ‘go back’ soon and the winter darkness will begin. My stomach begins to churn. Butterflies, no, great big moths are revving up their wings as I spot the first Christmas cards in the shops.

There’s nowhere to hide. I try to pretend it’s not happening. I do distracting things. I sit outside on rare warm days, my face lifted to the sun and pretend that summer’s still here. I refuse to notice the displays of enormous tins of Quality Street in Sainsbury’s and scurry past the shelves stacked with Christmas Crackers. But the day comes when I have to face it. I have to ‘deal’ with Christmas.

I don’t think I was alone in worrying about how to manage a family Christmas. It can be far from ‘peaceful’. I still have a bit of a problem with it but it gets easier!

Here’s my Positive Spin on

 A Happy Family Christmas?  Impossible. Or Is It?

In a Christmas spin?

1.   It’s fake.

It’s an artificial situation. In most families the generations don’t live together all the time. Each generation gets to live their lives according to their needs and wants and these are very different. But at Christmas everyone is expected to get on with everyone else and even, (whisper this) spend a whole day together. Add the ‘booze’ factor and it’s doomed…

Each generation will have quite different ideas about how to spend Christmas.

Entertainment? TV? Games? Gifts? Real or artificial tree? Turkey or beef ? Meal at home or in a restaurant? And so it goes on…. and on….

Each generation and each branch of the family will have established traditions, and siblings will expect these to continue. It starts about the beginning of November…

  •  ‘But we always have a real tree….’
  • Why do we have to watch what grandma wants?
  • ‘I want to have my friends over!’

I’m sure you get my drift.

So…what can you do?

 

2.   You must make a plan and … stick to it.

Sit down with your OH and decide what you want to do,  what you will and won’t accept from the rest of the family. Then (this isn’t easy, I know!) you must tell the rest of the family what you’ve decided. (Pause while you sigh and say you just can’t…)

Why can’t you?

Because you don’t like confrontations. No-one does! You want everyone to ‘get on’, to fall in with the plans.

Believe me, that isn’t going to happen! Why should it? They have their views on the matter, you have yours and that’s that. So you have to accept that someone is going to get upset. It’s just the way it is.

 

3.   Compromise is the key.

  • The whole family needs to realise that ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. Perhaps it could be agreed that Christmas will be organised their way next year, or that you’ll celebrate separately! 
  • It’s important to make your plans clear ASAP and face up any arguments from the start. You could even have a family discussion about it but perhaps that’s a ‘step too far’!
  • If you have to share the children, due to divorce, put their needs first. Whatever you do, don’t pass them from family to family like a parcel, driving miles to deliver them to the other parent, or grandparent. It’s not fair on anyone. Find out what they want and forget  using them as weapons to blackmail the other parent. And don’t compete for who gives them the ‘best’ present.  I know it happens. Hey! You could even buy a joint gift! OK, sounds impossible but not if you think about the children and put them first…
  • Tell yourself it’s only 1 day out of 365! We used to keep Boxing Day for ourselves but entertain others on Christmas Day, the way we knew they wanted it. My elderly mother loved ‘soaps’ as she was lonely. She always expected to watch them on Christmas Day in our house and I hated it. But… I just had to let it go and look forward  to the next day when we could do our own thing.

To sum up:

  • This whole family Christmas idyll is Fake. It’s not a ‘normal’ situation.
  • Make your plan…. and stick to it. You can be sure that someone will get upset.
  • Compromise is the key.

Remember, this is only my view.

You will have different opinions and that’s how it should be.

I hope you will add your advice and thoughts in the comments for Christine and any other readers who are having butterflies (or moths) about Christmas with the family.

Come on now! Help me out here!

 Do have a look at my new ‘This is me’ page. I felt I wanted to introduce myself so you know who you’re ‘talking to’ here.

Header image by cursedthing, post image by aaronjwebb on Flickr.

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Today I Met an Invisible Man

He was standing by the supermarket entrance.

Most people hurried past, lists in their hands, trolleys leading the way. It was pouring down and soggy umbrellas dripped everywhere, making the trolleys wet. Time to stop for a few minutes to buy a poppy?  For most, no time to even look up.  Just needed to get the shopping, get home and get dry. End of.

I watched from a distance, under the shelter of my umbrella. The rainy day didn’t bother him one bit. He was far stronger than that. A drop of rain was nothing. Not when you’ve been out in freezing temperatures, in the Arctic, protecting the cargo ships taking vital supplies to the Russians on the Eastern Front.

 
The Russians were our allies and desperately needed fuel, tanks, planes and ammunition. Those Russian Convoys were desperately needed. Which is why the Germans did all in their power to bombard them and sink the ships.

No-one could survive in those icy, mountainous seas.  A minute or two in the water and they’d die of cold. No point in looking for survivors. Had to leave them behind and sail on.

No, a drop of rain was no problem for this immaculate veteran, with his medals proudly displayed. I asked him about the medals and he told me he was in the Russian Convoy Club.

‘You’re too young to have heard of it’, he grinned.

I grinned back.

‘Do tell me about it’, I asked.

And that’s how I met an invisible man.

And heard his story, while some people stopped to buy a poppy from him but most walked by. Perhaps they’d already bought one. 

I’m glad I had the privilege of meeting this proud man and hearing about his young self who braved the Arctic ice with his comrades, 3,000 of whom never returned.

As I drank my coffee in the coffee shop, I gazed around at  the other customers. Some of them were elderly. What would their story be? How was it for them in World War Two?

It’s easy to dismiss the old and frail with not even a glance. But they weren’t always old and frail. They were the same as us once, and they all have a worthwhile story to tell, if only we’d take the time to listen. They deserve our respect and our thanks.

Who will you remember, tomorrow, on Armistice Day?

  • I’ll think of my friend who never knew her father. He was killed before she was born. Every year her mother proudly attended a Remembrance service. She never re-married.
  • I’ll think of my own father, who repaired the gliders that carried men to France to parachute silently into occupied  territory. Thankfully, he survived the war.
  • I’ll  think about Afghanistan and the seemingly endless killing. I’ll think about the innocent children in that country who are addicted to drugs because it’s cheaper for their families to buy drugs than to buy food, now that their bread-winner  has been killed.

But this year I shall also think about the invisible man I met on a rainy day outside the supermarket.

Who will you think of.

Header image by cursed thing, post image by US Geological Society, on Flickr

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How I Learnt What’s Important

Let’s go to the Caribbean!

It was 7.00 am.

The phone rang.

We’d been sitting up in bed with a coffee, discussing our holiday plans. So many ideas, all sounding enticing, but which to choose?

We’d love to return to the Caribbean. Been before, twice in fact, and absolutely loved it. After all, what’s not to love? Jewell coloured seas, glorious skies we can normally only imagine here,  friendly people, white sand, rainbow fish…. I think you get my drift.

Or we could go over to Ireland. Again, very friendly people, delicious food, fuschia strewn hedges, ribbons of islands strung out in sparkling seas, confectionary-coloured cottages… emmmm.

Mustn’t forget Italy. Tuscan hills disappearing in a misty sky; traffic filled streets in central Rome, and a few steps away, narrow, quiet cobbled alley ways to explore; the Tower of Pisa: Venetian canals…

Or we could go to France. Only a short distance by Eurostar, to Paris. Can’t even begin to describe why we’d love to go to Paris. Eiffel Tower, flea markets, cafes, wine, Sacre Coeur , wine, Champs Elysee shopping, wine…..

As I was saying,… the phone rang. We looked at one another. It was early. Too early. No-one would be ringing at this time. Unless…

What if… my daughter was ill again?

What if… my son was in trouble?

What if… my brother ….

What if…  What if…

I perched on the edge of the bed to answer the call.   My chest thumped, my cheeks burned, my hand shook. I bit my lip as I slowly put the phone to my ear and listened…

Later, over a welcome and very much needed second cup of coffee, we talked about that phone call. It was a cold call. Nothing worrying at all. But we were so glad they rang. What a lesson we both learned. All our holiday plans melted  away as the fears crept in.

 Holidays are fun, exciting sometimes, but they are only 2/3 weeks out of our lives. The important and precious things in our lives are here.  All the time. If we’re lucky. We mustn’t take them for granted. We must give them the importance they deserve. And give them the love they deserve, too.

What’s important to you in your life?

Income?

Car?

Stuff?

How do you know what’s important?

Has that changed, over the years?

Header image by cursedthing, on Flickr. Post image – my own.

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