Happy New Year!

Thou shalt light but one candle on the first Sunday of Advent, and the number of candles to be lighted shall be one. Four candles there are, but thou shalt light but one, not two, nor three, but one. And stay away from the rose coloured one.
Wish I’d seen these instructions before I bought the candles 😉

If you’re a churchgoer of the traditional persuasion you may already know that the church year started on Sunday. The first Sunday in Advent is the first day of the church year.

Somehow it’s not having the same effect on me as January 1st does. There’s something about the world having a huge party the night before, and a public holiday, that makes New Years Day feel special.

Having said that, I felt like I wanted to do something for Advent this year. I want to make the lead up to Christmas something different. To prepare myself.

I am not one of those who puts a Christmas tree up in November. If you are one, more power to you. I find I’ve had enough of the tree taking up my living room once it’s been there a couple of weeks, so I wait a little longer to put it up.

I am also not organised enough to make up an Advent calendar of any significance, and I don’t want to eat extra chocolate every day before Christmas. (I was going to say, ‘eat chocolate every day’ but I realised that I’m probably going to do that anyway if the past few weeks are any indication.)

Just an aside, I have really great friends who have done an amazing thing for their kids. They’ve made up an advent calendar, in each little draw there are a few pieces of Lego and a page of instructions. Each day, the girls will pull out the draw and add something to the growing Lego construction. At Christmas time they will have a full Lego toy, and it’s one of those three-in-one things so they’ll be able to pull it apart and make the other two on Christmas day.

I was never going to do something that organised.

But I decided that there was something small that I could do to make the time seem a little more special and that is Advent candles.

Four white candles surrounding a purple candle, on a wooden board. One white candle is lit.
My little Advent wreath

I went to the local everything cheap store (and marvelled at the overwhelming amount of sugar wrapped in plastic junk that is available to all of us). I found (eventually) some candles, and then after a little more searching I found candles that were unscented (so I don’t spend the whole of Advent with a stuffed up nose). And I found a little board. 

I’ve made my own Advent thingy. It’s not really a wreath, it doesn’t have greenery. But it’s Advent-ish.

Each Sunday I will light another candle. One for each of the Sundays, and the purple one for Jesus on Christmas day.

I chose not to worry about the pink one for the ‘Joy’ Sunday, and I think that technically all the white candles should be purple, and the purple one, white. But see the earlier comments about scent. All the purple candles in the store were scented and one candle is more than enough scent for me.

I’m hoping that lighting candles each week gives enough of a slow down moment to make the lead up to Christmas less hectic as I take the time to remember what it’s all about.

Oh and I saw this amazing Advent calendar on Facebook that I thought I’d share with you too. Maybe we can make this month a precious and joyful time and put some good back into the world.

A 25-day calendar with a suggestion of a kindness to do each day. For example, let someone in front of you in line, or buy a friend coffee.

What are your Advent traditions? When does your tree go up? Is anyone else doing a clever Advent calendar of some sort?

Saying no to a worthy thing

Everything is worthy

Some things are really easy to say no to.

For example, I have no desire to run a marathon. And despite how wonderful my running friends say that running is, I just don’t enjoy it. I love a good brisk walk in the evening but that’s about as far as it goes. So I am not in any way tempted to say yes to fun runs, boot camps, even yoga retreats. It is very easy for me to say no to those.

I used to feel very bad about saying no to party plan parties. You know, those sales parties for makeup or lingerie or linen or tupperware or cleaning products or… the list goes on and on. My good friends would ring me or send me a message telling me about this wonderful new product that they were having a party for. Actually, that’s not strictly true. More often they would ring or send a message to tell me that they really didn’t care about the sales, they just needed bums on seats, and they were going to provide yummy food (and in some cases, alcohol) and we could listen to the little sales spiel and then spend the rest of the time enjoying ourselves and just hanging out, and could I please come?

I would be torn. I was glad that the person thought of me. And I really understood the terror of booking a party-plan party and having no-one show up. And I wanted to be their friend and be there for them. And sometimes I even believed in the philosophy of the product that they were selling. But I really didn’t want to go.

In the end, I decided that these parties were not the best use of my time. I didn’t have the money to spend on them and I didn’t and don’t need more stuff. Especially stuff that I had to be talked into buying. And as much as I loved my friends and was flattered by them thinking of me, there was never time to just chat and hang out at these parties. Or at least, never time to get into the deep conversations that I like to have. Only time for small talk which I personally find exhausting.

So I am happy for others to have party-plan parties, but whenever I am asked now, the answer is always no. And it doesn’t hurt me much to say it.

However, some things are much harder to say no to.

This year I found that I had to say no to a part-time job.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do high school English at a pinch.

But it was not the right thing for me to be doing.

Each week as the time came for me to begin tutoring, or as emails relating to the job came into my inbox, or as I would think about the next staff meeting, my gut would knot up, my stress levels would rise.

But when I thought about saying no, about quitting, I couldn’t justify it. This job was only a very part-time job. I had made a commitment to keep tutoring until the end of the year, and I keep my commitments. I couldn’t think of any good reason to turn the work down, except that I wanted more time for writing, more time to do the thing I knew was my thing. And that keeping on going felt all wrong.

In the end, after much conversation, my boss made it easy for me and arranged things so I could bow out gracefully. I’m very grateful to her. And I’m sure it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t easy – the job was such a worthy cause, the work was worthwhile.

There is no shortage of worthwhile things to do – worthy causes to give time to. But somehow we need to weed them out because we cannot do everything. We just can’t.

I’m going to explore this idea a bit more in the next few blog posts. For now I want to encourage you to listen to your gut. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to a worthy activity that is just not right for you right now. Maybe you’ve looked at your schedule, your activities, and you’ve prioritised like I suggested in the ping-pong ball post and there are very worthy things that don’t fit. If that is the case, you don’t need to do it all.

If you need someone’s permission to drop that worthy thing, I give you permission. It’s ok to say no.

It might be time to have that hard conversation with someone so that your life is simplified and you are more able to do the things on top of your list. My experience is that it is worth it. Hard, yes, but worth it.

How about you? Have you said no to a very worthy thing? Have you had your gut say no when your head said yes? How did it work out for you? I’d love to hear in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

Leftovers night

This is the third post written while I was away on my big break. Enjoy!

Food has been interesting in this little shack. The kitchen consists of a fridge, a set of shelves, a bench with a sink in it and various pieces of electrical hardware. There’s a microwave, a convection oven (the type that sits on the bench), a sandwich press, a kettle, an electric frypan, and an electric hotplate that can be used with saucepans or frying pans. So there’s everything you need but you can only use one appliance at a time. Any more and the fuse will blow. So there’s a few logistical issues. In addition, you can’t use more than one thing at once because there is simply no bench space for any more.

Tonight DH is making toasted sandwiches with a breadboard balanced on the draining board to allow enough bench space for chopping and buttering. The first night we were here he was much more inventive – he popped down to the supermarket and bought chiko rolls, a bag of frozen stir fry vegetables and some noodle salad. (Chiko rolls are a purely Australian food that should taste absolutely disgusting but for some reason are delicious! A bit like dim sims but completely different. DH says they could be a long dim sim dipped in batter.)

Yesterday, after eating fish and chips for lunch, we didn’t need anything heavy for tea so we decided to go with toasted cheese, ham, (and for him, tomato) sandwiches. And tonight, it’s leftover night! So dinner consists of leftover stir fry veg. Leftover noodle salad, and toasted sandwiches. We are living like kings here! We also have leftover banana cake, leftover shortbread, and crisps and chocolate and jellybeans and we’ve decided we need matching his and hers hip flasks so that we can easily bring whiskey for him and gin for me to make our favourite drinks.

While we’re on the subject of how shack-like the shack is, let me introduce you to our bolt-hole for the four days. The first time we saw it, we drove past thinking it was a shed on someone’s property. Then we saw the name written on the side and realised that it was the property. We have stayed in smaller places, but only as rooms in a motel. Actually, now I come to think of it, this place is around as big as the granny flat that we originally lived in 22 years ago when we were first married. And this place has a wood-heater so it is much better!

The rooms are lit by single light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The floors have a variety of coverings, from beautiful polished floorboards in the bedroom, to vinyl held together by duct tape in the lounge room to cork tile patterned vinyl in the kitchen. The view outside is absolutely gorgeous but the windows that you would like to look through are tiny and you can only see the view while sitting down. Standing up you look at the grass. In the tiny lounge room are two dressers, a table and four wooden chairs, and three easy chairs. One of the easy chairs (the vinyl covered one) we have given up on because it is so uncomfortable that we just don’t want to sit on it. It is made for people with shorter legs than ours. I am using the wicker rocking chair and DH, when he feels like reading, squeezes himself into the material covered easy chair with wooden arms. It does not look comfortable but if he lifts his legs off the cross bar by putting them up on a wooden chair then he is moderately ok.

It felt like going back in time when we let ourselves in and saw what we had let ourselves in for. So much so that I was concerned that the toilet could have been outside. But no, there is an indoor bathroom that hides behind the kitchen door. It has a bath, a shower and a loo and it has a washing machine but I’ve been told that it shreds clothes, so no washing this weekend. I wasn’t even thinking of it, washing is not what I go on holidays to do.

The truly wonderful thing is the high quality queen sized bed. The importance of good sleep cannot be overemphasised on holidays and this bed is delightful to sleep in. Everything else can be handled with equanimity if you can sleep at night, I have found. Not that much handling is really required. There is everything that we need here and more besides. It is warm and quiet and, importantly, away from everything else.

It’s a lovely little place and we have made ourselves comfortable. Very comfortable, in fact. There really isn’t much more you need for four days, though I’d find cooking in the kitchen a little more stressful in the long term I reckon. So leftovers tonight is a good way to go and tomorrow we will pack up and clean thoroughly (so as to encourage Ratty to eat RatSack for his dinner) and head home to luxury and to work. We are more than grateful.