Surprising Horizons) and Chris Betcher has been trying trying a different religion every month this year as part of his Beyond Belief project. I've been doing some new things too - so maybe now is a good time to write about them. On my return to the UK last year, I decided that I needed to "keep my cup full" in order to care for my mother with dementia. I therefore started a Facebook album called Finding Joy Every Day. The aim of this was to make sure I was looking after myself - so that I would have enough patience and energy to give to my mother. This is how the project has been looking so far:
- The Art Pass: Before leaving Mumbai, my friends in our book club gifted me a one year Art Pass. This allows me to get into exhibitions and old houses with art in the UK either for free or for a much reduced price. So far I've used this pass to visit Ickworth House, Gainsborough's house, the Stained Glass Museum in Ely Cathedral, Audley End, Melford Hall, Kensington Palace where there was an exhibition of Princess Diana's clothes, Lavenham Guildhall, Framlingham Castle, Oxburgh Hall, Norwich Castle, the Wimpole Estate and various places in Cambridge. I've also attended the Monet and Architecture exhibition, the Frida Kahlo Making Herself Up at the V&A, the Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cezanne, the Pierre Bonnard at the Tate Modern and the Edward Burne-Jones at the Tate Britain. In Bury, where my mother lives, I've used the pass to get into the Marilyn Monroe Timeless photo exhibition. All these places are a day-trip away from where I live. The Art Pass has truly been a gift that keeps giving and I'll be renewing my membership next year. Surrounding myself with beautiful things is definitely one of way of keeping my cup full.
- Gardens: Coming back to the UK has renewed my interest in gardens. I've often stopped off at a garden on the way to and from Mum's just to go out and walk in nature and clear my head. I've walked the grounds at Ickworth House, Chippenham Park, Wicken Fen, Barnsdale, Lakenheath Fen, Fuller's Mill and visited the RSPB sanctuary at Welney for the winter swans feeding. As well as this I started a project in my own garden. My father used to pride himself on having a flower in his garden every day of the year. I decided I'd try to do this too and it has been an interesting journey! Having been away from the UK since 1988, and having moved to a new area of the country with a well established garden, I actually had no idea what was planted or what would grow. I was especially worried about the months between November and February as I did not know what plants would survive the winter. However this project has been a resounding success! I have had a flower in my garden every single day since last August when I moved in. Recently I was talking about this to my aunt, who told me that in fact I'm the 3rd generation of my family to do this. She told me that her father, my grandfather, also made a promise to my grandmother that she would be able to pick a flower from his garden every week. Apparently my grandmother had a photo of one of her daughters who had died young, with a green vase next to it - and every week she would go out to the garden to pick a flower to put in this vase. As well as this I've been growing vegetables! I have a fruit and vegetable patch at the end of my garden and have been exploring what I can grow here: apples, tomatoes, butternut squash, courgettes, kale, cabbages, chard and lettuce last year and I've got some plans for more vegetables this summer as well. It's really great to eat food that you have grown yourself!
- My village: It has been amazing to live in a village and there is more going on than you would think! The weekend I moved in there was a "picnic in the park" with live bands and fireworks, this was followed by a flower festival, a Christmas tree festival and a beer and cider festival in the church. There is a walking group, yoga classes, a women's institute and so much more. I've been determined to join in with as much as I can, even though it has initially been hard for me to go to things by myself.
- Workshops: I was prepared to be challenged by work as it's been the first time in over 35 years where I haven't had a regular salary to look forward to every month. This has been extremely hard as I had no idea how to stretch my money out (bills continue to come in with alarming regularity, yet the money doesn't!). However I have managed to get some workshops and school visits overseas (Taiwan, Poland, The Netherlands, Denmark, Qatar, UAE, Ireland, South Africa and even the UK) and many of these places have also given me the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from the various schools I've worked at. Meeting up with friends in these far-flung places has been a bonus I did not expect going in to this year.
- Family: I have seen much more of various family members than I would have done had I stayed living and working in India. In particular I've seen a lot of my mother and her sister, my brother, my children and several cousins and nieces than in previous years. The support from my family has been invaluable during this tough year.
My new project: This year I decided I would do 60 nice things. This is different from "finding joy every day" because joy was something I was just looking out for, whereas my new project is all about saying "Yes" to trying new things. So far I've said yes to a photography course, learning to play African drums, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, climbing to the top of the Octagon at Ely Cathedral, a gin and chocolate pairing experience, a safari and a visit to the Cradle of Humankind - and all that in less than 6 weeks. Saying "yes" has become an important part of keeping my cup full. It has led to me feeling more confident, patient and friendly, and in this tough year it has kept me feeling positive - and hopefully that feeling spreads to those around me. I'm mindful of the need to keep other people's cups full as well, by saying or doing something kind, even if that's just a nice smile, showing respect to others and giving sincere compliments: in other words focusing on the positives. At this time last year I was scared and full of trepidation about giving up a "safe" job and casting myself off to the winds of fortune. This year I'm starting to see how much of a joy and blessing it has been.