The Pumice Stone

(*Dearest reader, this post is longer than originally intended so you might want to wait until you have 10 minutes and a cuppa before reading.  The length, I hope, will be worth it.*)

Recently, I complained to my mum about some hard skin on the bottom of my feet and a few days later, she kindly presented me with a pumice stone, which I’m pleased to report, did the job.

Why am I telling you this, you might wonder.

Why on earth is she banging on about her feet, I hear you cry!

Well, because as I was using aforementioned skin remover, I recalled a lesson that I learnt during my two years’ working abroad and it goes a little something like this…

The year was 2012.

I was teaching at an International school in Dubai and the inspectors were in town.  The word ‘Ofsted’ sends a shive down spines of the most nonchalant teachers and as I am anything but nonchalant, it was a stressful time.

I realise now that I have always been an overachiever; during my time as a teacher I excelled and yet, I always thought I needed to do more. Nothing I did, in my eyes, was ever enough.

I was in a relatively new role as the English leader.

As with most class-based promotions in teaching, the pay rise was minuscule but the job role was ginormous. Not only did I now have to teach, assess and plan lessons for 30 7-year-olds, I also had to fit in leading over 40 members of staff towards the best practise for reading and writing skills.

Basically, like most us, I was overworked and underpaid.

So, the ominous Ofsted were lurking around the corridors and generally putting the fear of God into everyone.

And it was only natural that the inspector who specialised in all things literature would want to see a lesson of mine.  I was, after all, the person being paid to model the best way to teach it.

My anxiety was through the roof.

By the time the lady, let’s call her Mrs English, stepped into my classroom, I was a nervous wreck.

I had planned the hour to the absolute T and despite knowing that the best teaching and learning happens in a free flowing environment,  I had found that the only way to stop myself from falling into a hole of panic and despair was to cling onto a structure that was steadfast and sturdy.

How wrong I was.

Needless to say, the lesson died a sudden death – I spent the hour running around like a headless chicken whilst my 30 little darlings looked at me quizzically.  Their eyes said ‘Who the hell is this crazy teacher? and where is the Miss Bailey that we know and love?’

Poor things.

Thankfully, Mrs English eventually left the classroom and I could breathe again.  I was both physically and mentally exhausted and, as was the way in those days, terribly upset with myself. I had spent hours of preparation on that one lesson and it had all gone to pot.  Thankfully, my God-send of a teaching assistant, Sarah, showered me with coffee and pastries for the rest of the day and well, let’s just say, I was glad it was over.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Although I was deeply embarrassed and sure that someone would walk into the classroom with my P45, the next day I got up, I got dressed and showed up for the kids again.

Enter the pumice stone.

Enter Anna.

Anna was a shy, reserved girl in the group of 30 and maybe, because of this, her listening skills were impeccable. The science topic at the time was ‘Rocks and Soils’ and the week before the inspectors had descended, I’d taught a simple yet successful lesson about rock formations.

The kids were looking forward to the next lesson – they would be handling different types of rocks and doing scratchings to test for durability.

And when the lesson came around, only a few days after the disastrous English lesson and coincidentally, on the very last day of the Ofsted inspection, I was exhausted.

That morning, I received an email from my boss to say that the head inspector, who was a science specialist, needed to observe a science lesson and as I was the only one timetabled to teach science that afternoon, would I mind if he dropped in?

Code for: he is going to drop in!

My heart!

My head!

I read somewhere that the brain actually temporarily shuts down when it meets it’s capacity for stress and well, it seems that’s what happened.

But bare with me, (man this is longer than I thought!) because as I said Anna saved the day.

I was told that he would be arriving at the classroom door at 2pm so I gathered the class the carpet at 1:50pm and tried to keep breathing.  I had got them settled (they were fantastically well behaved kids) and was about to launch into my lesson when right on cue a very solemn faced inspector let himself in.

Sarah showed him to the chair we had placed for him at the back of the room.

He took his seat, gave me the nod and then just as I was about to launch into my introduction… Anna raised her hand.

Still my beating heart.

Not now please, my mind screamed, your question is not a part of my plan.

I tried for a few seconds to pretend that I hadn’t seen her.

I gave her the teacher look, the one that says, please put your hand down, please ask me later.

But there was no escape – she was wide eyed and eager, and by now waving her hand excitedly.

I let my eyes drift over to Mr Science.

He raised his eyebrows, tilted his head, and silently communicated, ‘Well, aren’t you going to let her speak?’

‘Yes, Anna?’ I beamed, totally unprepared for what she might say.

‘Miss Bailey, you know how you said about rocks and soils and stuff and how we are learning about where they come from and how they are made and how you said that we should look around our house to see if we can spot anything made of rocks and soil?’

(Literally all in one breath.)

And I said, ‘Yes Anna?”

‘Well, I have got something in my bag to show the class, may I get it please?”

Oh god.

No.

The terror was real.

What on earth was she going to show us?

What on earth is going to happen?

This wasn’t on my plan.

(Side note here: Given any other ordinary day, I would have welcomed this question. In fact, I used to pride myself on letting the kids lead their own learning. Here is a shy little girl who has asked to stand up in front of her peers and my teacher brain usually goes ‘Amazing! I’m so proud! Come on up!’ but not that day, not with Mr Science watching.)

And so, well, I had a choice to make.

Go with the idea that the plan must be stuck to, or go with the flow, and let this brave little girl do as she has asked.

I went for the latter.

Anna trotted off to the back of the classroom, rifled through her plastic tray and came to stand at the front of the class. She smile, took a deep breath and from behind her back produced a pumice stone, holding it up for all to see.

She then proceeded to ask, ‘Does anybody know what this is?’

I felt my shoulders relax, my knuckles unclench and my breath, which I had been holding, regain its rhythm.

What followed was an incredibly engaging and highly educational 10 minute Q&A style intro by a 7 year old girl to a group of her peers.

It was pure brilliance; not only did she have a pumice stone to show them, she also had prepared some facts to share and confidently led the class towards the answers!

The atmosphere was filled with learning and as Anna sat down, pleased as punch with the success of the risk she had taken, and I set the class onto the task of scratching and exploring various rocks and worksheets to make notes, Mr Science asked me to step outside the classroom for two seconds, with a smile on his face.

Looking back, I had no clue what was coming; I was still giddy from Anna’s bravery but I knew already that the lesson had gone much better than the English one.

We stepped outside, his face softened and he said, and I will never forget his words, “What you are doing in there is high class teaching, Miss Bailey.  The environment you have created for those students is one of allowing learning and what just happened right there was more than outstanding. Well done, you should be very proud of yourself.”

BLOWN AWAY!

It was Anna really, she did it, she took a risk but on reflection, and because I am being kinder to myself these days, and also because I am honouring a word given to me by a wise friend of mine earlier this week, it was an exchange.  She had something to share and I stepped back from taking control.

And here is what I, and hopefully, dear reader, you to take away from that experience:

Sure, making plans is important but remember this, if you expect the unexpected, you could just get more than you ever imagined!

Keep shining, keep writing,

Love Lindsey xx

Being kind to me

It’s proving to be a hard week for my anxiety this one. Last week, was a manic busy one for which my bank account was grateful but that I am now feeling the effects of.

It’s also the week when my hormones wave hello.  These highly anticipated and yet totally unpredictable visitors are playing havoc with my emotions and have meant that dealing with the normal things that life brings is proving tricky.

Some of these relatively normal things being:

  1. It’s too bloody hot to sleep at night! (I have a newly found respect for all the mamas out there who survive for years on little sleep – Go mamas!)
  2. I tripped over my own feet with Austin pulling on his lead yesterday morning, flying spread eagle through the air and landing on my hands and knees on rock hard concert paving (stop smiling, I’m not ready to find it funny yet.)
  3. I went on my first date after a very long and intentional hiatus and just taking that action has set my ‘What if?’ brain into overdrive.

Those three events, a few others plus Hormones is making for a tough week. I am waking up after little sleep feeling like a lead balloon and finding it hard to shift the heaviness.

So, and it’s a relatively new thing for me to do let alone tell anyone about, this week my mission is to be kind to me. The phrase self-care is something I am reading about a lot lately so I am pleased to be putting it into practise as well.

We spend so much energy on pleasing other people, whether that be our friends, family members, employees, clients and this week, I am focussing more on me. I am still working of course as I have bills to pay, but as I am going along, I am looking for small yet mighty things to do to show myself kindness. Here are some of the simple choices that I’ve made so far with self-care in mind:

  1. I messaged a friend who lives far away who I have wanted to catch up with for sooo long and we had a video chat – it was delightful!
  2. I messaged another distant friend and scheduled a video chat for today!
  3. I went to bed at 8 for two nights in a row to read, write in my diary and generally just laze.
  4. I am working on not overanalysing dating and just enjoying the process (reading ‘The five languages of love’ is a good distraction!)
  5. I booked in a therapy session.
  6. I messaged my mum to see if she wanted to go to a fun event with me coming up soon.

BOOM!

On reflection, this week has also been an insightful one too, and one made much better because I have taken control of the positives.

Here is one thing that I know for sure: Small choices make a big difference.

How are you going to be kind to yourself today?

Keep shining,

Love Lindsey xx

 

P.s Here’s a picture of my knees from aforementioned fall – all strong tea and sympathy welcomed  🙂

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Still not talking to Austin for this 😦

The Alchemist: My Magical Companion

In June, my birthday month, I sent out metaphorical cream cakes in the shape of my favourite self-help books to 5 followers.  I also vowed to share my choices with you here and so, here I am sitting down to tell you all about my love/obsession with one of my favourite books of all time, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

But first, and before I delve into my reasons for loving it, I want to let you in on a little secret…and that secret is this: I have just spent a good two minutes hesitating and hovering over the keyboard in resistance to writing ‘self-help’, and it’s made me realise that it’s not a phrase I generally use, and one that even makes me cringe a little!

The impact of not wanting to use the phrase even had me googling ‘alternative words for self-help’ and yet, none of the suggestions (Personal development, Non-fiction, Psychology texts) quite do the same job. I’m not sure what the aversion to this phrase is (it could be the mockery I sometimes hear people make of it) but I’m swaying towards the conclusion that it’s the ‘self’ part that is causing me problems, and to which, part of me has still not adjusted to believing is a positive word.

I think there might be a whole separate blog post on this so watch this space. Anyway, yay to me because despite a small inner battle, I’ve used it! Small victories!

Moving on…

Oh yes, The Alchemist… The mystical, magical, fantastical Alchemist.

Out of all the books that I sent out, this is the only fictional one.  It’s a story I come back to again and again, particularly when I need to breathe comfort, hope and a little bit of magic back into my life. In fact, it’s so special to me, my hard back copy has it’s very own place on a shelf in my home.

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The Alchemist: Pride of place at home.

I can’t recall whether someone recommended it to me or whether I found it myself (if you know me personally, you will know that not knowing this frustrates the hell out of me) but really, it doesn’t really matter, not as much as the effect that the story has had, and continues to have, on me.

They say that things (books, songs, pets, people) arrive in your life just when you need them, and in order to receive them, you must be open to their arrival. Well, during a particularly closed period of my life, around 5 years ago, when I was battling with my mental health, this powerful little story broken through.  At the time, I was going through a silent breakdown and on reflection, there were a whole bunch of coincidences and saviours that entered my life to help me to turn it around. This book is one of them.

It’s a seemingly simple story about a shepherd in Spain. The synopsis reads:

‘The Alchemist charts the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy in the hills of Andalucia who believes that there is more to life than his humble home and flock.  One day he finds the courage to follow his heart into distant lands, spurred on by the knowledge that he is following the right path: his own. The lessons he learns along the way are life-changing.

This beautiful parable not only has the power to uncover long-buried dreams, it also inspires us to reach for them and live the life we have imagined.’

It’s magic. And I mean that in the most sincere way.  The whole book is a metaphor for living the life you want and at times, it was like the author was talking directly to me. You see, when it arrived, I wasn’t living the life I wanted, in fact I was doing the opposite and so this book, along with many others, was part of the catalyst for changing direction and becoming better.

I fell in love after the first read but don’t just take my word for it. According to the www.huffingtonpost.com, ‘The Alchemist has sold 65 million copies and been on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 315 weeks. It’s also been translated into 80 different languages, setting the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by any living author.’

My taste in books isn’t always popular but when it comes to this book, a lot of people agree. It’s a short read, my little hardback copy is just 226 smaller-than-A5 pages, but its impact is huge. I regularly devour it for its wisdom, hidden meanings and simple storytelling.

I am not going to divulge the plot here; what I loved most about the first read was that I didn’t know much about it beforehand and I hope to offer that experience to anyone who feels compelled to read it after reading this.

I can’t end this post without telling you all about the one true bit of magic it brought into my life. You see, when I say it is magic, I am not just using flowery language, I am telling it as it is.

In the summer of 2014, I was invited to walk the Camino De Santiago in Spain and for many reasons, mostly financial, I declined. That was until the person who invited me called me up and asked me one more time and I said I’d think about it.

After ending the call, I sat back on my bed, looked up at the ceiling and silently wished that someone would decide for me. I looked across at my makeshift bookshelf on the window sill and absent-mindedly pulled out my copy of ‘The Alchemist.’ I flicked to the first page, read the first line and put the book down. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Without hesitation, I messaged the person I’d just come off the phone with, ‘What did you say the pilgrimage was called again?’

‘The Camino De Santiago.’

‘I’m coming.’ I wrote back.

What was the first line? That’s for you to find out once you’ve ordered your very own copy but I am telling you, it was magic!

Keep shining xx

Lindsey

P.s That pilgrimage became a game changer and I am currently pulling the many events of that summer together as a blog post (or possibly a series of 10!). It’s an emotional retelling for me but I vow to share it here one day. Until then, watch out for my next book recommendation, love me x

Be nice…especially to yourself!

Today, I’ve learnt a valuable lesson about how I treat myself & want to share it because it feels like an important revelation.

It’s this: I never give myself enough credit for anything I ever do, ever and I am sick of it. Nearly two months ago, I quit smoking & as a result, have put on half a stone (not bad considering I lost a whole stone between January and June), & Yet, I heard myself saying to someone that I am not counting the weeks since I stopped smoking because that would sound like a celebration and actually, I shouldn’t have started smoking in the first place (ouch!).

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How do you comfort yourself?

We all have our own ways of comforting ourselves, with certain methods being notoriously healthier than others.

This week, I am reflecting on what recipes I currently have for coping with life, and in particular, my go-to comforters for when stress rears it’s head.

I use the analogy of a recipe book because 1. I like food, 2. it all lines up nicely with the cooking imagery I use in my Story Chefs writing workshops and 3. it makes the subject more relatable to more people.

So, what do I currently do to comfort myself and what have I done in the past?

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Monday musing

If you’ve got a vision and it’s something that you truly believe in, I implore you to keep building the path that takes you towards that goal.

Ignore any naysayers on the sidelines who, when you inevitably succeed, will want to join in with your celebration – they are only there to test your grit and determination and you will be able to celebrate despite them in the future.

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Thursday thoughts

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I have this poem by Mark Nepo stuck to my wall.

This morning it decided to flutter down onto my desk to remind me of its very important message – follow your dream, follow your heart and all will be well.

More from Mark Nepo here: http://marknepo.com/poems_breaking.php