Thursday, 25 September 2008

Ah, Sunflower, weary of time

A tenuous link to the topic for the day, but it makes for a nice photo.

Topic for the day, in case you haven't guessed, is time. How we use it, waste it, get resentful of it and what to do about it. Inspired by several posts recently on my good friend Marie's blog .
For many of us, the problem is not having enough of it. For many years I was a full-time teacher which, with preparation, marking, training out of school hours and so on meant an average of between 50 and 65 hours a week in term-time; to this I somehow added being a local NUT (teachers' union) officer plus local labour party officer and school governor. On Monday nights I had two hours I carved out for myself which I prioritised as me time when I went to a patchwork and quilting class.
The inevitable happened - with a little help from the education authority (schools in Leeds were reorganised) and the government (the whole education system in England and Wales underwent radical changes - to my mind not for the better) and the fact that the school I worked in was part building site. I achieved burnout. To be more specific, I ended up, after a period of trying to work through illness, with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS - what used to be called ME) and had to retire from teaching (and everything else) and was unable to work at all for five years.
However, having CFS (which you never completely get rid of - I still suffer the symptoms at times, though in a very minor way) taught me a lot about managing time and keeping up morale.
There are no quick fixes for this condition - you have to learn to live with it; if you manage it carefully you improve, but there are no guarantees: I was one of the lucky ones. Some things I had to give up - reading for the first two years (I could not maintain concentration for long enough); machine stitching (couldn't sit at the machine for long); couldn't even watch television for long (ended up seeing double when I exhausted the eye muscles so the two sets couldn't work in synch properly).
What I learnt to do was this: to do things but in short stints (sometimes as little as ten minutes) with rests in between. I learnt to see rest as a positive thing and not feel guilty about appearing to be lazy. I learnt that I was more likely to get the bouts of depression associated with CFS if the things I did manage to do included not only things I ought to do but also things I wanted to do. I learnt to compromise. As I improved I learnt that it was possible to do some of the big things I wanted to by resting beforehand, taking it as easily as I could at the time, and being prepared to suffer afterwards (after my first quilt show at this time I was ill for a week and could only get upstairs on all fours). I also learnt to adapt: you can iron sitting down; it's an interesting exercise choosing domestic appliances using weight as your foremost criterion - I managed to buy the worst vacuum cleaner in the world that way!
One of the things I found most useful is an exercise I was taught in a time management class, basically as a prioritisation exercise for busy managers.
(i) You begin by defining your discretionary time - that is the time that isn't timetabled or given to routine things that have to be done every day - i.e. time where you get some choice about what you do.
(ii) Then each day you begin by making two lists, one of ten things you want to do and one of ten things you ought to do. It's not unusual for some things to appear in both lists. Having to find ten things you want to do makes you dig deeper into the possibilities of just how you could use your time if you weren't forever trying to catch up on the "oughts". One suggestion - make the items relatively small - preferably no more than an hour (it can be considerably less!), two at the outside - break down larger things into smaller stages.
(iii) Next stage is to prioritise. Look at your lists and pick out the one thing you most want to do; one thing you ought to do which is most urgent. Start a new list and write these down as items 1 and 2, then bracket them together.
(iv) Leave a space on your list then write down the numbers 3 to 6, one on each line. Choose the next two things you'd most like to do and the two things you most ought to do and write these in: again bracket them together.
(v) Repeat the process for items 7 to 10.
Do not agonise over this process - it should normally take less than ten minutes.
What you now have is a working list for the day. You work your way down the list. The only thing you HAVE to do is complete the first two priority items. If you manage to get to six you are doing well. Few people manage all ten. Any things you haven't done can go onto next day's list - or you may find they're not as important as you thought and they can disappear altogether.
I found this useful when I had little time at my disposal. I find it even more useful now I am retired and have oodles of time. It means I can give my days a structure. It means I am finally getting to grip with actually doing the "oughts" instead of fretting about them, and establishing a reasonable routine for getting them done. I'm also becoming clearer about the things I really want to do and achieving more than I would have expected. And I feel pleased with myself and positively enjoy life. There is no danger of what I feared most about retirement - that I would become a hermit and sink deeper and deeper into my armchair!
The most valuable thing about this system is that it puts things you want and things you ought to do on a par, as having equal value, something that we as women often don't allow ourselves to do. It also means that you can keep your morale high by not spending all your time doing things you ought to do (you do however get through the things you really ought to do though maybe a little more slowly).
But most importantly it makes you redefine your wants and needs. Once things have been on the first list for several days but not made it as priorities you begin to reappraise whether the oughts are really things you need to do after all, or whether the things on your want list are as important to you as you thought. It teaches you that whilst you cannot have it all you can have the things that are really important and that feels good.
And finally a story about letting go of those oughts:
A friend of mine, when we were both teaching, spent the last afternoon of the summer term filling a huge bag with things she had to get done during the summer vacation or the earth would stop spinning on its axis. She left the bag in her office to be collected after the end of term party.
After the end of term party she forgot about it (wine can do this to you). One of the cleaners next morning tidied the bag away into a cupboard. The following summer term my friend cleared out the cupboard and found the bag. She had not missed any of the things in it. None of the things had been done, and nobody missed them, least of all her.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Castleford Weir

Most weeks, circumstances permitting, I visit my quilting friend of many years (we used to teach together) Judith. She lives on the edge of the city, an area I know little of, and from time to time takes me off to see bits of it I'd otherwise probably not get to explore. She's an historian, which means these visits are accompanied by fascinating anecdotes and insights into the past.

This week it was the turn of Castleford, a town suffering badly from closures of local industries, most notably pit closures, a place I'd thought of as rather sad and downtrodden. Recently there have been moves to improve the town. Amongst the things that have happened is the building of a magnificent new bridge over Castleford Weir on the River Aire near where it meets the Calder: (an historical sidenote on the two rivers - it used to be said that "Castleford ladies are beautiful and fair. They wash in the Calder and rinse in the Aire")

For once I remembered my camera. The picture above is of what used to be a local mill where flour was ground. The river was in spate (heavy rains in previous weeks) which meant that water was plentiful. Here's the mill-race which once powere the mill:

And here's the old bridge, lower down:

The new bridge is an amzing structure built of wood and very different but equally beautiful. This photograph shows only a part of it and does not really do it justice though it does show the way it curves over the river.

The wires on the sides are thick and tensioned which makes it very safe for children -no danger of falling in. While we were there there were numerous local families enjoying the view. All in all a successful piece of modern design which also has allusions to more traditional design.

Whilst I was there I managed to get some inspirational pictures of water. Here I was really pleased to be able to capture something of the patterns the water makes:

and this one is my favourite: I set out to try to capture the subtlety of the colours and the contrast between the smoothness of the water above the weir and the turbulence below, and actually managed both!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Blog Award

Nearbytree sent me this award - very much appreciated and I've been blogging so little lately that I'm not sure I deserve it but will try to improve and live up to it!
At the moment I'm finding it quite difficult to think of enough bloggers that I haven't (or someone else hasn't) tagged or nominated recently. For those of you looking for a list of brilliant blogs there is a favourite blogs list attached to my profile (courtesy of new Blogger thingy). It is not yet complete - there are some to be added to.
Any of you (and any others I read regularly) may consider yourself nominated. To continue the process, what you have to do is:
acknowledge the nomination and print a link to the nominator, plus the blog award logo above;
nominate seven blogs, and add links to them;
leave a message telling people you have nominated them.
And once again, thank you very very much!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Belatedly - Festival of Quilts

Back in the land of the living after returning from the Festival of Quilts nearly four weeks ago.
Apologies for the delay in reporting back: I returned with a cold which became a nasty bout of bronchitis followed by a further bout of general fatigue followed by a period of utter laziness!

I actually treated myself to the whole week in Birmingham, which seemed like a good idea at the time. The first three days I spent in a masterclass with Susan Brandeis about developing creative potential and designing meaningful quilts. If you ever get the chance of a class with Susan, seize it with both hands. It came at absolutely the right time for me and was exactly what I needed since - as my entries for FOQ below will reveal - my work suffers at times from lack of thought: I've tended to go with the flow rather than really thinking about and developing ideas and designs. I'll post later about how this workshop has helped me develop.

One really good thing about the workshop was the group of people I was with: really supportive people producing excellent work - though at times I did feel myself running to catch up! Here we are (minus a couple of people who had to leave early:

By the end of the masterclass I was completely exhausted and, having seen all the amazing quilts (standards have been raised colossally since I last went to a large quilt show), I felt more than a bit apologetic about mine. Still I did promise to put them on my blog and here they

First of all Snakes and Ladders, finished at last. Even though there are things wrong with this I still love it: apart from anything else it's the first quilt I'd started since 2000 when my husband died so it's great to have it finished.

The second is based on pebbles and rockpools, made of silk, satin, silk organza and cotton jersey plus silk fibres, hand embroidery and machine quilting:

It did suffer through having to be finished in a hurry - serve me right for over-estimating what I could do in the time.

The third quilt is the one I was really embarrassed by - if I could have taken it down and stuffed it away and hidden it from view I would have done so. I hadn't intended to attempt anything naturalistic but it kept drifting that way - not only that but it wasn't very well designed to start with (shouldn't have skimped on that bit) so that compositionally it is dreadful. On the plus side some of the detail works really well (two of the three judges commented on the painterly use of fabric, and one liked the light in the trees so there's something to build on there).

Must remember next year to only enter things finished before the entry deadline so that I know I'm only presenting my best work to the public!

The remainder of the week was highly enjoyable. Lots of amazing quilts and exhibitions to see (afraid I don't have pictures as I had camera problems), friends old and new to meet and catch up with and went home with lighter pockets but weighed down with supplies.

Oh, and the cats really did seem to miss me - wouldn't let me out of their sight once for three weeks after coming back from the cattery but insisted on following me everywhere - even Bixy made his way up two flights of stairs to find a curling-up spot in the studio.

More catching up soon!