Friday, 24 September 2010

How to feel like a Spring Chicken

I celebrated a semi-significant birthday last week which may account for my lack of motivation to write a blog post for over two weeks - a personal worst. Not that I was actually celebrating for the whole two weeks.  I had hoped to make a weekend of it but decided that a day was in fact sufficient - and some credit stored up for a time when needed would in fact be a better way to play things. As it happened, the birthday coincided with a busy time in my journey back to paid employment. I am still on the proverbial dock as it happens, casting about for any vessel that I might be able to set sail on - but that is a time consuming process nonetheless. I am also settling into my new role as PTA co-chair. My natural proclivity to get stuck in early, leave nothing to the last minute and to do as much as I can before asking for help means that instead of blogging I am spending time drafting newsletters calling on parents to give this and that and volunteer for this and that, and searching the web for the foods enjoyed in Tudor times.

However, I feel that from today I need to step back from the job hunt and the petty pedagoguery and practice what I preach about authenticity and playing to strengths. Unless I can monetise the PTA role somehow, I need to find time for my writing. When I do eventually persaude someone that I am not a huge risk to their organisation and start earning an income I want to have some manuscripts to pay to publish.

While it is very enjoyable to have the amazing outlets of the gym, the communal garden and the school mothers, my inner life has been on hold. Many of the distractions one busies oneself with when one is a person of the world - in the world and part of the world - are afterall in large part, ways of quelling those inner musings. Truth is I do miss my quiet rants in this forum...

So given that twenty-something blue-eyed, rosy cheeked  recruitment consultants are not nearly as warm and supportive as they look, I turn to my dear followers (and hopefully a large number of new patrons) to regale you with my thoughts on ageing. 

While I have the beginnings of a post on "how to live the cliché" turning around in my head and hate to move off the topic - again - I have to admit to succumbing to the predictably trite state of being somewhat perturbed about this particular birthday. Naturally, it was in the weeks leading up to the birthday that I noticed myself turning the corner into a new place of agedness. Since last week I can confirm that these things loom larger in our imaginations than they ought. As with most things, entering the next decade was worse in the anticipation than the reality. Nevertheless, the process of ageing and coming to terms with it is so universal and unifying as to be worth commenting on. 

The fact that one is getting older is an omnipresent one. We never escape it. Even at three we realise there is someone cuter and sweeter and more attention grabbing than us. At seven we learn that we have to remember things for ourselves. From then on we journey ceaselessly towards a place of self- knowledge and self-reliance, until one day we stand alone before the mirror, only too conscious that we hold the lives and happiness of others in our hands. Aware that what we eat for breakfast impacts another, how we speak may have more than a transitory impact on a young life and that with each year we travel inexorably onwards clinging to the last vestiges of innocence, idealism and blue-sky dreams. Or it just me? Sometimes life is like the travel-ator at the airport - we want to stride along, virtually bouncing in our rush to reach the end as quickly as possible. Sometimes we stoically avoid it and walk alongside it - all the others racing each other and arriving sooner as we plod doggedly on, thinking the exercise will do us good. Other times we stand still on it - moving, yet not really going anywhere under our own stream. Then again there are the times when we joyfully chase our families and luggage as the walkway moves in the opposite direction to that in which we are stumbling...

I am reminded of a comment I made to Mr Springgirl when the eldest Off-Spring was a few weeks old. I said that I felt sorry for the little guy. Mr Springgirl asked me why - no doubt fearing I knew some terrible secret he had yet to discover about the little pet - and I said that it was too bad that he only had me and Mr Springgirl to guide him. We laughed, naturally, what else could we do; we were neither the first, nor the last parents to realise what a lottery it might be - and we just got on with it. Now - a dab hand at so many matters of parenting, those weeks all seems a long time ago. Which brings me again to the theme of time passing. 

For most of us, the body goes first.

Mine has been going for a while, admittedly. I am not so vain as to conceal that from myself and others. I am so vain as to fight it valiantly though, especially in matters of fitness and exercise. I can live with the grey hair re-growth at the temples. I cannot miss the gym class. If you knew the gym instructors you would see why...

I am delighted to notice that despite my seniority, I am in great company at the gym and my strength and fitness is improving. I am complimented on my push-ups and core strength and I have a sneaky suspicion that if tested in a shipwreck (in calm, non-shark infested, warm waters) I could stay afloat and calm for a good long time before giving up. I also suspect that in a survivor type "mockumentary" scenario my keen sense of direction, sense of humour and stamina would stand me in great stead (finding and enduring all those classes paying off immensely).

All of which is to say that exercise and fitness are the key to feeling fab. And at risk of repeating myself, feeling fab is the key to life. The gym or other substitute must be the font of youth (a decent sense of purpose and some great relationships can't hurt either, granted). But exercising the body (and mind) need involve no one else and can sustain us through all sorts of trouble and stress. 

Now I am not going to rest on my laurels here. In order to ensure I can keep all the bits in good working order I am also joining a bridge club, extending my social circle and trying new things.

One of the new things I considered committing to was always speaking my mind. That lasted about seven minutes. I have to admit that changing habits is never easy. That is another post in itself. So clearly, trying something new is best done when something old does not need to be drastically altered first.

So by new things I mean watching different tv programmes, taking a different route to get places, trying a new brand of chocolate, wearing a different colour, breathing deeply before losing the plot over something trivial, and so on.

Another new thing is eating dinner outdoors and walking and chatting in the windy early Autumn gloaming, searching for foxes with the Off-Spring. 

Another is trusting my instincts. By my age they are well-honed. Stand up comedy and singing solo in public are also on the list.

Anyway, all of these musings will be boring you, so I want to share some I prepared earlier - indeed when I was a couple of years younger. I have extracted below some ideas from my book "Spring to Mind" which set out my vision of the ideal gym - a space where mind and body can be exercised and nurtured.

Investors are welcome to email me directly.

(NB - as this is a long post - feel free to return to the rest tomorrow - that way my visitor stats will look healthier - to me, anyway...)

Spring to Mind Spa

At Spring to Mind Spa we value space and time to reflect and think. We call this “mind space”. We believe that when we harness and maximise the ideas and inspiration that emerge from our mind space we can embark on transformational journeys.
Whatever your motivation, Spring to Mind Spa can help you clarify your thinking, rediscover your equilibrium, nurture your dreams, connect with your true self and get and stay fit and relaxed.
Our unique services incorporate a blend of coaching, training, treatment and support group. Leave your worries at the door and move into a new mind space.
Rejuvenate and refresh.
Spring to life. Spring into action. Find your inner spring.

Spring to Mind Spa is an Urban Retreat, divided into a number of spaces where clients can focus on their particular needs.
Spring Body Space
As well as a state of the art Gym and swimming pool with specially designed lighting that enhances you and where needed, conceals you, rather than exposes you, as well as mirrors and rest areas that motivate you to workout, Mind Spa Spring Body Space offers a range of active classes and group fitness sessions intended to put the fun back into exercise.

For the Uber Fit:
High Kicks and High Jinks – a high energy aerobic workout for the super fit. Bored with stepping up and pulsing it out? Then this is the class for you. Our instructor, Kevin, guarantees no two routines are alike. Not only your body, but also your mind and memory, will be stretched as you pirouette, can-can and cartwheel your way around the studio. (Knee pads optional).
Commando Cruising – ex-marine, Charlie, will get those abs tight and those buns light with this intense adventure based workout. Test your ingenuity, mettle and inner thighs on our bespoke obstacle course.
Pushover – bring out the child in you with rough play and rumpus style work out techniques. Devised by 8 year olds, Pushover will have you roaring with laughter as you elude the tickling probes, escape the water bombs and duck for cover as the pillow fights erupt.

We know all too well that not everyone has coordinating gym kit, a desire for a six pack or a pair of clean trainers. Some of our clients have not been inside a gym for some time.  We respect and cater to that. We welcome all ability, interest and fitness levels. We applaud effort over execution and substance over style. So pull on the old Dunlop Volley sandshoes, slip on an oversized t-shirt and dust off the skipping ropes and elastics that kept you fit in 1982.
We have a special range of classes of a shorter duration to ease you back into it. These are designed for all self respecting newbies, wanna-bes and pudgees.
Unco Yoga  - a gentle blend of sun salutes and toe touching. You’ve never seen a downward dog like this before!
Balance - walk straight, stand tall and look your reflection in the eye, all while balancing a book of your choice on your head.
Bo-i-nngg - set to the upbeat and irresistible melodies of the Stock Aitken and Waterman stable of stars, this class has you bouncing (literally, on our flouro hop balls) around our Sunshine Studio. When the going gets tough on the old thighs, you bounce right over to the super large trampolines and rediscover your youth. (Maximum weight restrictions apply.)
Being a holistic organisation we recognise that some of our clients prefer to stay fit using a range of techniques not typically found under one roof. Accordingly, we offer special experiences in the Spring Body Space.
For our Ice Queen clients there is the Frisson Space with 20 metre high ice wall, mini ice rink and cold room (excellent for taking your mind off your worries and burning fat).
For the Water Nymphs we cater to both active and sedentary preferences in our Luxury Lagoon Space. Consider:
Water Ballet (tutus provided).
Synchronised Swimming (nose clips available from the Pool Boy).
Deep Immersion Pool - an abyssal experience in a 15 metre deep diving pool. The challenge lies in resisting the ebbs and flows of the random currents and riptides. (Life jackets available on request.)
Alpha Aqua Avalanche - an intense and invigorating experience in which industrial strength hoses batter and blast you through three stages – the hit and miss, the power shower and the water slide to freedom.

Naturally, being a spa, we offer traditional treatments such as massage, facials, manicures and body wraps.
Some of our special treatments in the Pamper Space include:
Total Makeover packages  - hair, teeth, attitude, body image and mindset.
Hot Stone Therapy – a visualisation therapy – who would you like to pelt hot stones at?
Lavage and Lose it  - a bespoke cellulite buster.

In the Learning Space we offer workshops and seminars to help you sort out your ideas and priorities. A sample include:
Meditation and Mindfulness  - learn to slow down and live in the moment.
Making time for me - harness your selfish whims and give them purposeful life.
Rediscover your Inner Child - using a combination of toilet humour, play-dough and dressing up, discover a simpler way of seeing things.
Find your Voice - role play, ad libbing and free association.
Now say it and Mean it - develop subtle and persuasive assertiveness techniques (very useful within marriages).
The Visible Woman – learn ways of being more noticeable and increasing your impact.
Aqua Therapy - a range of water based treatments achieving several benefits including cleansing the mind of negativity, washing away the proverbial crap dumped at your door, sifting through the detritus and debris washed up on the shore of one’s life, going with the flow, riding the current and no longer fighting the tide.
Clear Out and Declutter – find out what makes you a hoarder – learn how to let go of stuff yet retain control.

In the Emotion Space we offer suites dedicated to specific needs. For expressing Anger try the Belt it and Bash it Room. For frustration and desperation the Steam and Scream Room is a favourite (it also fights wrinkles, cellulite and fluid retention and surveys show that a 3 minute scream session and a cool glass of water achieves the same results as 20 minutes on the treadmill and a full body massage). The Tears on my Pillow Room is a zen hideaway where you can relax and let it all out, knowing you will leave intact after a mini-facial and restorative head massage.

We also have a Gratitude Room, a Guilt-Free Room, a cyber cafe and juice bar, with complimentary salads, a wine bar specialising in wines from the Antipodes, and a state of the art, sustainable crèche where the little tykes will finger paint, splash and make mess to their hearts content! (Open days for Mums first Wednesday of the month).

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

"Babes" United

Desirous of creating a larger network and gaining followers and clients, I offered a dear friend in Brisbane who established a women in business forum some time ago - "Babes in Business" - a "Blog from Abroad" - a Hello from London, if you will - for her members and subscribers. At the same time I hope to challenge my own creative energy and achieve a greater understanding of how to be and feel more "babelike".

A Brisbane girl originally, I moved to London in 1997. I joined Babes in 2009 while back in Australia for a time during the final stages of, and the months following, my mother's battle with leukaemia. I returned to London in January this year. As is so often the case, after the event, I began to look back fondly on the love and support offered while "home", such that in a flurry of "settling back in" optimism and energy I flirted (dizzily, as it happened) with the idea of establishing the London chapter of Babes in Business. You all know the saying about giving something to a busy woman...

Somehow, though, the flurry turned from fever paced and ferocious to occasional and seasonal as the months passed. Indeed, after all of the change and upheaval involved in moving to Australia and back within 9 months, contemplating and trying out a life in Ghana on the return leg, as well and changing career and starting my own business, some days it was all I could do to log into the email, buy groceries and make the bed. It became apparent that establishing anything other than my own gym routine and the every other day bath ritual for the kids (Winters in cold climates can have compensating benefits), was going to require more motivation and drive than I could muster. So while the idea of a London arm to Babes is a nice one, for now I am focussed on keeping in touch with the mothership via a "Blog from Abroad".

The truth is that while in Brisbane I did not sufficiently avail myself of the networking, socialising and learning opportunities that Babes affords. At the time I was writing my second book and marketing my coaching services while enjoying dust storms, life among close family and friends and adjusting to life without my dear mother. Now, the dust having settled and "business as usual" more or less resumed, I hope to offer to Babes members some insight into life in London for women in business, juggling career, family and home. So I wanted to share here at Spring to Mind some of my musings for the Babes back home.


But first, I need to clear the air. And so I want to put it out there that for some time I have struggled with the very notion of myself as  a "Babe".

On my gloomier, or perhaps I should say, more honest days, I contemplate a sister organisation - "Non-Babes in Business", or "Wannabe Babes Struggling to Stay in Business" or perhaps even just "Anti-Babes Who Think They Have a Business". The truth is that despite an awful lot of passion and thought, energy and ideas, effort and enthusiasm, creating a successful business is not as easy as the moniker "Babes in Business" might have you believe.

Am I preaching to the converted, or a lone voice crying in the Wilderness? Probably the latter. You see, I often sense that I am cast adrift in a veritable wilderness of babes.

Everywhere I look, in fact, there is evidence that this is so.

First, I am the mother of three sons aged 4, 6 and 8. Ergo - Babes at home.

Second, I am an avid gym-goer. Babes all of over the place at every gym I try. There are young ones who should quit the gym, they are so gorgeous as to almost drive the likes of me away to some more fitting place - military boot camp, say. There are the older ones still sporting their long blonde hair who know the instructors by name (SJP wannabes), yet never crack a smile or a sweat. And there are the very, very fit and svelte old ones who are elegant and relaxed and very Catherine Deneuve-ish.

Third, I do the school run. Babes aplenty there. Now, don't take this the wrong way, but there is a certain type of mother here in Kensington, London that is not quite as common in suburban Brisbane, at least not where my boys went to school last year. If there was ever a situation that would leave one feeling distinctly un-babe-like it would have to be the school run in Kensington. Here, we are blessed to live in densely populated inner city terrain that ensures that many on the school run, high and mighty in their shiny eco-friendly 4x4s (German usually), are obliged to park their cars and and escort their gorgeous moppets into school, there being no drive-by drop off facility. The walk of shame, I call it, as I stroll in with my mismatched gymkit under shapeless trousers, floral bag over my shoulder and empty stroller to chain up to the fence (the kids no longer ride in it but it is a necessity for the groceries, school bags, blazers and other accoutrement that make their way home with us at 3.30pm). But the other mothers, hailing from France, Spain and Italy, petite to the point of gamine, elfin and pre-adolescent while boasting fine bones, skin and clothes, are chic, cool and ever so babe-like - if a continental woman can even be termed a "babe"!

One is naturally drawn to the other Aussies - never scared to wear their trainers to drop-off - the Americans who do jeans so well and the English (a small minority in this part of London), who can be understated in their nun-like uniforms of charcoal business suit or who tend to go all country stylish in mac and wellies. Then again, faced with the bare skin of said Brits (no one know how to get their kit off at the first sign of summer better), one tends to feel terribly Sun-Safe and geriatric cowering in the shade under one's hat (having spent too long in the Brisbane sun as a girl) throughout the heady days of June.

I won't even start on the fact that Elle McPherson drops her son at the school around the corner from mine.

Suffice to say - as I near a significant birthday milestone, heave my sorry aching body (too much exertion at Total Body Conditioning with Chrispin) around town and share pavements with women who make Giselle and Audrey Tatou look ordinary, I am sure of one thing - I am anything but a Babe.

I am well-versed in self-help lingo and notions (being a coach) and so I know that there must be a ploy I can use to rethink this whole babe concept. Perhaps something about skin deep, eyes of beholders and thinking it making it so...

Nevertheless, if no one minds, I suspect there is room in Babes in Business for the likes of me; provided I don's spoil anyone else's fun, right?

Which only leaves the Business...

And that is another story.

Until then I leave you with the question: What is a Babe, anyway?

For more musings in a similar vein see: Are you a domestic goddess?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

A case for Home Schooling

September has always been my favourite month. In Australia it is Spring and as the days grow longer and warmer and the air fills with the sweet and sometimes overwhelming scent of jasmine in bloom the anticipation of a long and sultry summer has not yet robbed one of the expectant joy that comes with breaking out the shorts and sunhats.

In England September holds still longish evenings of fading light, crisp mornings and balmy days. The summer may have been oppressively hot or perhaps as is more often the case, leaden and grey, or even, let's be honest, wet and cold, but a mild and sunny September is almost a guarantee. The sky is blue and cloudless, the air clean and pollen-free, the grass lush and green. The city is full of relaxed, tanned people returning with smiley faces from their long vacations in warmer climes, clad in crisp, white trousers and strappy sandals, sporting fresh haircuts, as if it they were still in Sardinia or Majorca.

September is also the beginning of the new academic year with all the attendant excitement and flurry of activity that it involves. Everyone seems hopeful and optimistic. The sleep-ins and the long days without obligation have worked their magic and the eager feet skip happily back to the school yard, faces glowing and fresh and rested.

And the children don't seem to mind turning up either.

The youngest of the Off-Spring joined his brothers in big-boy real school today. The uniform of tie, cap, long trousers and blazer suited him very well. Like a business man though, after a rough day at the office, he was quick to remove the tie once the school gate was out of sight this afternoon, his cap and blazer flung into my waiting arms. I almost expected him to ask for a beer, so like a mini-man did he look.

When I was a child I recall my elder brother lamenting the long years of education that children face. I did not really understand his regret about the situation. I always loved school and never imagined being anywhere else between the ages of 5 and 17 - or indeed 22. Yet, my middle son proposed that he stay home for the rest of the year, despite a good first day back, on the grounds that I could teach him all he would need to know. I knew better than to answer him at any length...

Nevertheless, as one gears up for the early wake ups, the routine, the homework, the extra-curricular activities and the endless round of party invitations, one does feel a pang for the heady freedom of those long summer days in the garden with nowhere to go and nothing to do but explore, play, read and be free. Yet we would hardly appreciate it if it were always summer.

Our communal garden is seeing the summer out with a talent show this weekend.

In theory a talent show is a wonderful idea. We all beamed with joy and eagerness at the thought.

But as the day looms the prospect is now more akin to a fancy dress party with an exam at the end which one is not prepared for culminating in one of those recurring dreams when one has to go on stage not knowing the act one is about to perform, naked. The issue is not that I am scared of performing - indeed - followers will be well aware by now that I love the spotlight. No, the problem is my parlous lack of talent in all areas capable of lending themselves to public performance.

Which is not to say I cannot hold a tune. And I am a rather dab hand at all things Wilde and Shaw, but the wide age ranges of the audience, the wide parameters of what talent may mean for 3 year olds, together with a self-imposed standard that at all costs I must be funny, leaves me in a veritable quandary.

So while the Off-Spring rehearse the Macarena, turning cartwheels and telling knock-knock jokes interspersed with a tuneful medley of top 40 pop tunes featuring Beyonce, Black Eyed Pees and Justin Bieber, I am racking my brains for an original take on my many talents.

A debate perhaps? Topic - That a communal garden brings out the best in everyone! I could prevail on Mr Springgirl to argue the affirmative.

A brief demo of Master Chef as interpreted in my kitchen when feeding a lacto-vegan, a carnivore, a picky rabbit and a lover of all things spicy and fiery?

A rendition of our favourite hymns? The soundtrack to a "Sound of Music" or the "King and I" performed in my trumpet imitating voice?

A reading from one of my favourite books - starring Winnie the Pooh of course!

An expose of my push-ups, warrior 2 pose and plank?

An impression of someone in the garden?

Hamlet's To Be or Not To Be - reworked of course, for the modern multi-age audience - perhaps a "To Perform or not to Perform" - or an "Ode to Talent"...

The mind boggles at the options.

I will be buying wine, a soft cushion, a warm shawl and a waterproof jacket to prepare for my time in the audience. If one thing is clear, from my subtle questions in the garden this week, it is that everyone has a talent to showcase. From dancing to acting, magic tricks to belching, gymnastics and potty juggling, public speaking and bubble blowing, heckling and feats of tree climbing, tennis serving and tennis net hurdling.

I woke last night with a the kernal of an idea evaporating from my unconscious dream like thoughts. It eludes me still; a glimmer of a spark of inspiration, not quite in my peripheral vision. More like a long forgotten punch line suggesting itself in a moment of deja-vu.

All of which is to say this:

First class honours in law, a history degree, a long career as a debater, a masters degree, a long track record in professional services and a business and a book to my name and I still have less discernible talent than the black cat from Number 2. So the idea of skipping a formal education starts to resonate with me now.

Most of the skills the Off-Spring use and take the most pleasure and pride in are those developed at home or away from the school house - tennis, swimming, dancing, singing, running, arguing, negotiating, manipulating...

Where did all my book-learning really take me?

Hold on - I just had a thought. Would Mr Springgirl play the part of the host of Mastermind and quiz me on my pet topic? Parenting while dealing with crazy women, high-spirited kids, absent (working abroad) husbands and thwarted aspirations to write best-selling novels?

For example - name the four biggest impediments to a good night's sleep?
Feeding babies, watching too much tv, vomiting kids and pregnancy.

Is it boring? Obvious? Unfunny?

Maybe I could do an impression of a famous actress being interviewed for her views of juggling career and family, shedding light on how to choose really weird and unkind babynames, how to eat only superfoods shipped in from the Equator after discovering lovably cute orphans from similar climes to adopt, while grappling with the potency of fame and recognition during those trying months of trying to lose the baby pounds with only three personal trainers and a private chef to help. All the while extolling the virtues of home schooling.

Now I am on to something. Best of all it is good clean family fun and may break up the juggling and magic tricks nicely.

Which leads me to reconsider the whole home schooling question from a new angle.

Depending on the calibre of resident, the quality of interaction and the preparedness to throw oneself into things, together with access to the internet, living on a communal garden can conceivably offer all one needs in terms of education.

Enough of the school fees and schedules. Live on a garden square with lots of children and nice friendly families!

All of the ancient disciplines are on offer in our garden.

Rhetoric, logic, grammar, citizenship, arithmetic, philosophy, gymnastics, wrestling.

Fine arts and sports are a speciality - sand sculpting, harmony and tune holding, gate swinging, gravel kicking, bike and scooter riding, football (if the anti-football lady is not home), basic toileting - of the behind a tree and potty variety, gardening and tennis court marking, ball throwing, cricket, skipping, hopping and following the leader, freezing, catching, hiding and seeking and tree climbing, bug catching and identifying, animal husbandry (at least cat, snail, bird, fox and squirrel), airplane identification and jumping from benches, to name but a few.

And social skills get plenty of attention as well - sharing, negotiating, appropriate use of swear words, manners and diction, getting along with all sorts, mucking in and tidying up after oneself.

Safety is not neglected either. Strangers are still strangers even if they share the space. A stray cigarette lighter is not a toy. Gravel rash hurts. Put down the stick. Get out of the shrubbery unless you want to be covered in insect bites tomorrow.

I do think that the Off-Spring have learnt more in the past 6 weeks in the garden than in the whole previous year at school.

But alas, the real world does exist outside the little commune and no one stays under 10 forever...

Still, it puts the whole holiday camp industry into perspective. And - I think I may have an act for the Show after all!