A Side Saunter

Dare I say it? Things are looking up! I don’t expect things to stay this way, because life doesn’t work like that, but I am trying to make the most of my ‘up’ times while they are here. I’m hoping that I can remember (I’m trying to DRILL IT RIGHT IN ME) that the next down spot won’t last forever and I’ll bounce back again just like always. The downs are a part of life and shouldn’t be a thing to be feared. Am I not strong enough to handle whatever life throws at me? I am. I’m living proof.

I’m in week two of a new food strategy, and it’s working. I’ve been feeling weird about food for the last couple of years, as it happens. Up until recently, I would eat pretty much anything. Fussy eater was not in my vocabulary as a child, so much so that I was that weirdo that would eat the skin on the custard with my school dinner. I’d go so far as to actually request it, while all the other kids were getting supremely grossed out. No one had to force me to eat brocolli – it didn’t matter what was on the plate, the plate was getting cleared and that was that.

Slimming World used to work for me, because you can eat big portions. As long as was full up, I didn’t really care much what I was eating. In recent times I’ve been trying to make it work again, to repeat my past successes, then getting frustrated when I fail over and over.

The problem is, I eat and I eat, but because I don’t really want or even like the food that I’m eating, I’m never truly satisfied. I’m not hungry exactly, but I’m always left feeling like I have an itch I can’t scratch. Then before I know it, I’m giving in to my cravings and ending up right back where I started.

My new plan is to stay in a very small calorie defecit. I was reluctant to even think about calories, because it brings back feelings of hunger and sadness from my younger days. I used to restrict so much, I literally couldn’t function like that if I tried to do it now. I used to aim for about 1,300 calories per day, which is ridiculously low. The last two weeks I have been aiming for a MINIMUM of 2,000 calories a day, which means I haven’t been feeling deprived and I’ve been staying on track. What’s more, I’ve been eating food that I actually want to eat. That’s the main difference as to why I’m doing well. Food should be enjoyed, and as long as I’m edging towards my goals (rather than sprinting in the opposite direction, as I have been) then that’s fine by me.

I’ve also been saving myself a whole load of time (less food prep) and a whole load of money, both because I’ve been buying less food and I’ve been using the cooker less. For instance, most days I would have cooked Slimming World chips from scratch. I would microwave the potatoes beforehand to soften them up, then cook them in the oven using Frylight, that destroyer of kitchenware. They would usually be in the oven for at least 40 minutes, whereas now I will chuck a couple of hash browns in the air fryer for ten minutes and that’s that. Job done. Another thing about keeping an eye on calories is that it’s free, so that’s another saving. No more diet club membership fees for me.

Less time thinking about and preparing food means more time for knitting and other creative pursuits. Since my last post I finished a third frog, this time for my little brother. He has come up with the BEST NAME EVER for it – he has named it ‘Hopscotch’. I’m sorry, but there’s no beating that.

I’m improving my knitting with every frog – I still find the legs tricky but I did the body and the jumper without making a single mistake. I can now knock up a frog jumper in a couple of hours, such as this one which I made for my sister yesterday afternoon:

A stripey one takes a bit longer than a plain one, but not terribly so.

The thing I LOVE about knitting, is that I can be creative but it doesn’t take anything out of me. I love painting too, but it takes an emotional toll. Sometimes after I paint I’m exhausted, my brain feels totally emptied out, but I don’t get that when I’m making frogs. This is why I’d go so far as to say I’d never be able to be a fulltime artist -I would burn myself out in about five minutes flat. I like that I have managed to figure that out, too, rather than to keep trying to make something fit that just doesn’t. I feel like a (self-imposed) weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I am going to sell some frogs – I’ve started working on a little stash which I’ll put up for sale at the beginning of November. That will leave plenty of time to get them posted out for Christmas. They would make a great present (hint hint!)

I’ve decided once and for all I’m not interested in a side hustle. I am more and more drawn to slow living, so I’ll do what I enjoy and sell what becomes available as a result of that. I have decided to call it a side saunter. It sounds so much more relaxing.

Lately I’ve been enjoying the versatility of digital art. The great thing is that once you’ve paid for the initial tools (in my case an iPad pro, an apple pencil and £10 for a digital painting/drawing app) then you don’t have to spend another penny. You also don’t have to worry about where to store a huge stash of paint or have to clean anything up after. Cleaning brushes is honestly the worst.

Last week I was chipping away at a frog illustration (yes, frogs have now entirely taken over my life) and falling in love with it more and more with every second that went by. Because it came together so well, I thought I’d put it to use to make a long-time dream of mine come true.

Years and years ago now I bought my first product from an artist on Redbubble – this mug, in fact (which was broken long ago, me being as clumsy as I am).

I love that design, but I also thought it would be sooooooo cool if I could do that, too. If I remember rightly I bought this mug around the time Pea came to live with me, which was in 2016. Six years later and I have made that dream a reality. I now have my own Redbubble shop!

It was one of my goals for this year to start selling my own creations, one way or another. Or rather, the thing that is important to me is making them available to sell. The actual sales are secondary – it’s the putting myself out there that was the first and biggest hurdle for me. I suppose I still had my doubts, at least until I saw that I can have an actual CLOCK made with my own design on it. Which is just so super cool.

For a moment I was considering keeping my shop private for the time being and seeing how I feel later, but then I realised that actually, my design is indeed good enough to see the light of day.

I haven’t ordered myself a clock yet, I’ll wait till payday, but I did order a couple of cheap bits and bobs just to check the print quality. So far only the postcards have arrived from my order (items are printed on demand and dispatched once they are ready) but they are looking good!

I am most excited for my tote bag to arrive, so naturally it’s the last thing to be dispatched. Still, in the meantime I’m working on more designs and the ideas are flowing again. Thank goodness for that.

I also have a couple of fine art prints of the design, but I need to work out how much to charge for them so that I don’t lose money. Once I have that figured out, they will be up for sale. This part is harder than I imagined, because charging what they are actually worth (or at least what they cost me) makes me feel incredibly guilty for some reason. That’s obviously something I need to work on, because there’s not much point to a side saunter if I end up losing a load of money. On the flipside, if I make just £1 I’ll be happy. Of course I’d rather be a millionaire, but I’m good with starting small!

Hayley x

Gibberish

Just in the nick of time I’m starting to feel better. Not perfect, but better. On Saturday I got out into the garden for a bit of clearing up and it was the first time I’ve done something in the last few weeks without really having to force myself to do it, or without having intrusive ‘what’s the point’ or ‘it won’t be good enough’ thoughts racing through my brain. What a relief to have a bit of peace.

Almost all of Sunday was spent working on my latest project, which is a) the cutest thing ever and b) really good for switching my brain off. Once I get started, that is. There is always the initial battle of starting it in the first place, but never mind that.

So what is this magical thing I have discovered? It is… KNITTING! It’s thanks to my sister that I discovered this in the first place after she sent me the sweetest little video on Instagram. It was of a knitted frog by a superb knitter named India Rose Crawford, and I strongly advise you to look at her photos and videos on Instagram (link) if you want to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I thought it would be such a nice surprise for my sister if I could get hold of one for her.

It didn’t take much investigation before I realised these froggos are in extremely high demand, but it was equally easy to find the person who made the original pattern – Claire Garland, AKA DotPebblesKnits (link). She’s a bonafide genius – how she even begins to come up with her patterns I cannot imagine.

So, despite the fact that I cannot knit, I bought the pattern from Claire’s Etsy shop (link).

When I first opened the PDF of the pattern, to say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. Have you ever seen a knitting pattern? At first glance they look like utter gibberish, and I was quite convinced that if my sister was getting a frog, I would not be the one making it. Thankfully my mum is a talented knitter, so I printed off the instructions and asked her if she thought it would be possible for her to teach me how to do it.

She was confident she could, so I raided her wool stash and got practicing.

Do you know, it actually isn’t as hard as I first thought! First of all you have to decipher what the hell the pattern is telling you to do, but once you speak the language, that part is easy enough. Some of the actual stitches… they’re easy enough too, but with some of them, even watching Youtube videos, I just couldn’t get my head around what was happening there. Mum was on hand to help me though, and with her guidance I learned enough to be able to make the frog. I now know knits, purls, wraps and turns, knit front-to-backs, i-cords and all kinds of other things. And in the right combination, those things make up this…

I mean seriously. I cannot get over the cuteness.

It was not all plain sailing for me, because if you read my last post you know that my brain has not been in tip-top working order lately. The thing about knitting is that it’s very easy to lose your place and go wrong, and I don’t know enough yet to be able to easily rectify my mistakes. That meant starting over when I zoned out and forgot what I was doing, which was… often.

It forced me to practice staying in the moment, and then I’d get into a state of flow which was actually heaven. All that would be going through my mind would be knit, purl, knit, purl, wrap, turn, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit. Or I’d just be counting my stitches, so I’d be perfectly focused on not losing count. One, two, three, four, five… now purl… one, two, three, four, five…

Once I’d done the head and body I was well into it, and other than accidently knitting the first one-and-a-half legs I made inside out (I had to undo them and start again), I was able to figure out the instructions from that point on by myself.

Once I was finished, I could see the bits that weren’t quite right, all the imperfections, and I almost talked myself out of giving it to my sister at all. But I also knew further attempts probably wouldn’t be that much different, so I decided to give it to her anyway, warts and all. I also made a little jumper for him, but I’d already given him to my sister before I realised that in our photo session he’d been completely naked. But that’s not important.

When I handed froggo over yesterday, it got the exact reaction I’d been hoping for – my sister was over the moon. As if I could have waited till December to give it to her! Never in a million years could that have happened.

Once Mr Frog was safely handed over to my sister, we started our day. It’s become something of a tradition to have an art day together either in the summer or the winter – we just sit down together and make art just for the fun of it. How utterly wholesome!

First of all we took Newton for a walk in the park before it got too hot for him, and had a coffee at the visitors centre. I love me a good visitors centre, and what’s more, dogs are allowed in there so neither of us had to wait outside with him. Did you know that such a lot of shops in the UK are dog-friendly? You can even get a Puppucino from Starbucks (which of course does not contain coffee because giving dogs caffeine is a big no-no).

That done we sat down to our painting. I was still feeling in a frog mood, so this is what I made:

Then we had a Newton walk/coffee break before I painted my second thing of the day, a colourful sea scape:

I was so worried that I wouldn’t be in the mood for art during art day, but I needn’t have been. It was so good for the soul, and I had the best day. It was also nice to practice being out and about before going back to work tonight. I am not relishing the thought of being around lots of people, but I can do it.

Recently I’ve felt so awful that I doubted if I would ever be OK again, but now I’m starting believe that actually, I will. Just because I felt so bad for that period of time, doesn’t mean I’m doomed to stay that way forever, or to repeat it. I have to believe that better things are coming, and it’s not a given that I (or life) will mess it all up. After all, was yesterday not a wonderful day, even though I didn’t have the greatest of hopes for it? Yes, it was.

It ain’t over yet.

Hayley x

Just Pick One Already

The subject I’m going to write about today is something I’ve been over, and over, and over some more. I have been so indecisive about what to do- even now my mind is trying to go in several different ways. I finally realised- I need to choose a course of action and stick with it. Half arsed is not the way.

I am going all in.

I am talking about my weight. A few years ago, I really thought I had it cracked, but then it all went tits up. I can’t put it down to one single thing, there were a whole load of factors and put in the same situation again, I have no doubt I would once more eat allllll the things. In any case, right now I do not feel good about myself.

When I think about dieting, the first thing I feel is guilt. Guilt because I know how harmful diet culture is, and I don’t want to be part of the problem. Buuuuuut, I also really hate being fat. That is just the tip of the iceberg of all the contradictory thoughts that go around my head.

I’m trying to be as honest as possible, and part of that is admitting that this post is reading like all the other times I said I was going to ‘get back on track’ or on the other hand, like all the times I said I was going to learn to be happy being fat. So why is this time different? The answer is, I don’t know. It just is.

I know how rare it is for someone to lose weight and keep it off. I know ‘diets don’t work’. But I’m tired of selling myself short. If I only ever did anything that was 100% likely to succeed, then I’d never do anything at all. None of us would.

Before I started doubting myself over every little thing, I knew I could do this. I was (albeit briefly) really happy, and although life is never perfect, I’m aiming for that sweet spot again. This post isn’t doing the fire I feel in my belly the slightest bit of justice, but it felt wrong, like an omission, not to write about it.

I am drowning out the negative thoughts telling me the success rates are not on my side, that I’m not strong enough, or that I don’t deserve to have the life I want. Screw that.

I’ve been telling myself the same thing about my art for years and when I shut that evil little voice up, that’s when everything changed. That attitude is creeping into other things now. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make my own clothes but there was always something in the back of my mind telling me I wouldn’t be able to do it.

No more of that, thank you very much. I woke up a few days ago with another little flame inside me telling me to learn how to sew, and that actually, yes I CAN. I am CAPABLE. Why wouldn’t I be? I have a new sewing machine because as much as I love my nan’s vintage Singer that I inherited, it’s a bit too temperamental for regular use. I also get the impression it could kill me at any moment- I mean, look at that belt. That can’t be good, right? You should see the switch on it. I doubt it meets any kind of modern safety standards. Electrocution, anyone?

I’m going to start off doing basic adjustments to my existing clothes as my weight drops, and see where I go from there. Far, I reckon. I have a good feeling.

From now on there are no apologies for me following my heart.

Here we go.

Hayley x

Me and My Brain

Right, I am finally getting somewhere when it comes to understanding and working WITH what I have in the brain department rather than against it. Of all my artistic pursuits it’s clear to me now that painting is the hands-down favourite of them all, so in order to have the best chance of actually, well, painting anything (as opposed to just thinking about painting and not actually doing it) I have now perfected the permanent painting set-up in my room. It is WORKING!

As soon as an obstacle is placed in front of me, procrastination sets in. I would just paint but first I have to do such and such, but such and such is booooooooring so I’ll put it off and then put it off some more. But now, I walk into my room and BAM, everything is ready to go.

I will share that space with you soon, but first (this is not a ‘procrastination’ first but a real one) I need to spend this week doing a different kind of painting. Then I’ll show you this little area that I’m so excited about.

To say I’ve been putting off decorating for about 20 years would not even be exaggerating. Over the last three years or so I’ve been very much intending to give everything a refresh, but every time I booked annual leave in order to do it, it so happened that I found myself quite badly depressed.

On these occasions I’d go so far as to say my week off left everything in a worse state than before.

It doesn’t help that decorating is one of those tasks I find incredibly boring, but in this instance I think I’ve come to the very limit of how long I can put it off. I just have to bite the bullet and GET IT DONE.

It’s actually funny reading back what I’ve written so far because I started this post yesterday. At the exact time I should have started the decorating, as it happens. I did locate everything I need for the task, so that’s something, but the entire day was spent doing anything but decorating.

I intended to get started but somehow I found myself in the garden. I did a bit of weeding and whatnot, then got the carrots sown in the small raised bed. I’m actually really excited about these, but it’ll be at least three months till they’re ready. Hopefully they’ll be worth the wait.

After that, I took Newty out for a walk, something that I had been intending to do no matter what. It’s been too long since I last went to the woods with my bestest mate.

It was the perfect spring day for walking. A bit chilly, until you get started that is, then exactly the right temperature. With added sunny spells. Then the tiniest bit of refreshing drizzle right at the end of the walk.

As much as I’ve been enjoying the sunshine we really could do with some rain. The water butt is nearly empty already.

Ok, I get it. I’m still procrastinating. So I’d best finish up here and get the hell on with it.

After just one more cup of tea.

Hayley x

Time to Digest

Since I last posted I’ve been trying to take my own advice. I haven’t felt like doing much, and there’s that fine line between moping when you should be picking yourself up and taking the time you need to rest. I’m attempting to listen to my intuition a bit more and my intuition told me to STAY IN BED! I have been feeling that something is amiss, something more than the usual depression, so I spoke to my doctor about it who suggested I get a blood test in case I’m ‘short of something’.

My depressed brain was feeling quite hopeless, and I’d forgotten that just being short of a vitamin or two can have a huge impact on your health. My diet has been ATROCIOUS over the last two years, and although I’ve been eating more veggies lately and taking extra vitamins, at this point it’s probably like peeing into the wind. Maybe something as simple as a couple of vitamin shots will get me feeling better. Who knows.

Something of note that has happened since I last wrote is that my dear friend Mar gave me a tarot reading. Now I am the world’s biggest cynic, but I went into the reading with a completely open mind. This was a few weeks ago now I think (time passes in weird ways when you don’t feel great) but I’ve been quietly mulling over and digesting what she told me since then.

A few things have been floating around the edges of my consciousness lately and it wasn’t until the cards started coming out that it brought them to the forefront. It was something of a ‘YES!’ moment for me, and it really helped me to start organising my thoughts. A lot of career-type things were popping up, and I hadn’t realised until that moment exactly how much work and money had been worrying me. Not that either of them are exactly a problem right now, it’s just that life as it is now is not sustainable. Not if I want to hold on to my sanity. I don’t think I have many more years of night work left in me for instance – I SO miss my circadian rhythm! And I’d like to work with creative people and people who share the same values. As an all-or-nothing kind of person, the idea of going from easy peasy forklift driving to, well, anything else, absolutely terrifies me.

However, Mar was there to remind me that I don’t have to COMPLETELY change everything all at once, and to give me a good dose of self-belief. So I have a wee little seed of a plan that I’m nurturing and I’m not convinced it would have germinated without a bit of outside help.

If you would like to try a reading for yourself (which I CANNOT recommend enough) then Mar offers Zoom and email readings that are totally affordable. Check out her Instagram page for all the details: @the_gentle_spiritualist

PS She is also the most lovely and wonderful person ever. You won’t regret it!

I must admit that after my reading, despite still struggling, my heart has felt a little lighter. With that lightness I have been slowly, gently, starting to get back into my gardening. Over the last few weeks I have been through my seed collection and picked out things that are easy to grow and things that I would absolutely love to see in the garden this year. Then once a week, I’ve been sowing just a few at a time.

This approach has worked really well – I have some chillies, sweet peas, rocket, a nasturtium and one really cool dahlia that I’m very excited about, germinate.

This is my current setup, although the seedlings that already emerged have been promoted to the windowsill. I have been trying out coconut coir to start my seeds off, which is a really affordable alternative to compost (and much better for the environment). Apart from the price, my favourite thing about it is that is comes in small blocks which expand massively when you add water. Until now I really hated lugging huge compost bags around, and the quality of the compost is so hit and miss… I shan’t be going back!

Coco Dots are definitely something I’ll be using a lot in the future. They come in a kind of little net, which holds the coir in place but as roots develope they grow through the netting easily. When the time comes you just plant them on as is. I’m naturally a very messy person so the lack of mess these create is a real bonus for me. I got mine here.

In the garden things are starting to come to life. The first thing to emerge was this iris, which I originally planted last year. I’m glad to see it doing so well this year as well. For next year I plan to plant more of these to make more of an impact. Since they’re so early to emerge, I think it will be a joy to see a lot of them at once from the kitchen window while everything else is so grey and miserable.

In my painting life I believe I have turned a corner. Getting a likeness is something that’s INCREDIBLY hard but also something I think it’s only really possible to achieve if you just keep practicing. In order to get to this point, I have drawn and painted many, many horrors. However, I have now completed a self-portrait that I’m actually happy with.

My eyes, nose and mouth are in the right place (more or less) and it is unmistakably me. What’s more, I am sharing the picture here with you! As my mother pointed out, it wasn’t that long ago where anything I painted (even something I was fairly happy with) would never again see the light of day. This is a nice little confidence boost, because there’s always that little voice telling me I’ll never be good enough.

I never thought I’d be good enough to paint what I’ve painted now, so clearly my inner self is full of crap and shouldn’t be listened to. In matters of art, at least.

What I would like to do in the future is offer pet portraits, but I didn’t think I’d be good enough for that, either. I started a portrait of our cat, Chester, last October. Part of the reason I didn’t work on it again was because he passed away and it hurt too much, but another factor was that I really liked how the initial sketch came out and I was scared to touch it again after that.

Well this weekend I bit the bullet and got back to it, and I’m really pleased with how it’s going. Again, I have that likeness, but the most important thing for me is that I now believe that if I lose that special ‘thing’ I’m going for, I am good enough to bring it back. it’s not just a fluke – if I do something cool once, I can clearly do again. It was not just a happy accident never to be repeated!

I am enjoying practicing just for me, but from the middle of the year I am going to open up a few commission spots for pet portraits. It scares me, because what if someone really doesn’t like it? Am I strong enough to deal with the rejection of something I put so much love into? I can either take a leap of faith and find out, or stay where I am now and never know. I think it’s time to put it to the test, don’t you?

I think I’m giving myself very healthy goals where it comes to my art – enough to get me out of my comfort zone but not enough to overwhelm me. I am tentatively quite excited!

When the time comes I’ll give more details if you’d like a piece of original Hayley Murphy art of your own. Which is something I never thought I’d ever be writing, yet here we are.

Who knows what else the future has in store.

Hayley x

Gently Does It.

January seems to have lasted a hundred years already. Despite the strong urge to do the opposite, I’m letting myself ease into the year gently. Veeeeery gently. I’ve just finished a three-day weekend and during that time I did virtually nothing. I could Not. Be. Bothered.

Maybe it’s work culture that makes me feel like this, but there’s always that background pressure to do MORE. All the time, more, more, MORE. I lost five pounds this week. But if I tried HARDER, exercised MORE, I could have lost MORE. I started reading a book, but if I read quicker and didn’t take breaks then I could have read 3 books! Imagine that! Think of the books I could read over the course of a year!

It does my head in.

I finished a painting today, which was fun.

But I could have done it quicker. I could have done three paintings and I could sell them, and make more money, and I could be a BOSS BITCH or some shit and have a side hustle and… knowing me, have a lovely nervous breakdown.

I have to consciously make myself stop those kinds of thoughts. The main reason (apart from that it’s super unhealthy for me) is that I don’t want my life to be like that. I want to live a slow, considered life, a life where I take notice of the small things. That’s not the kind of world we live in, is it? I find myself getting swept up in it all, but I’m throwing out the anchor. I am intentionally making the life I want and ignoring what other people are doing. Unless what they are doing is chilling the heck out.

I was doing quite well with this a few years ago. During my walks in the woods I started noticing all the thousands and thousands of details I’d previously missed. Gradually, as I got fitter and started losing weight more successfully, my focus slipped and my primary goal became BURNING MORE CALORIES. Now with every walk I feel guilty that I haven’t had a ‘proper workout’. I feel that I somehow wasted that time.

Which is nonsense, isn’t it. My walks made me so happy yet I somehow made it something to get stressed about. That is soooooo me.

I am intentionally going back to the Hayley that stops to notice all the things. I have learned so much about myself over the last few years, through trial and more error than I’d like to admit. Now I know enough that going forward I can bring with me the things that make me happy whilst leaving the rest behind. The only other thing of note that’s happened during my weekend is to get a little gardening done, just a little. I’m late (or early, depending on which way you look at it) but the bulbs have finally been planted.

This year I have 30 tulips, 30 ranunculus and a few anemones. I’m very excited to see a bit of colour in the garden again. My little garden helper had come to visit but he spent most of the time staring at me from the bushes. Little weirdo.

I’m definitely getting somewhere, but I’m getting there one little step at a time and enjoying the view on the way. Life is precious, and I intend to make the most of it in the most gentle way possible. In fact, gentle is going to be my word of the year.

Thank for reading,

Hayley x

Mixed Feelings

In theory, I love Christmas. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year. As much as I want to enjoy it though, there’s something in me that makes the whole season really hard to handle. I genuinely have no idea why. One minute I’m excited, the next minute I’m struggling to find the willpower to brush my teeth.

In the last few years I’ve become much more self-aware, and knowing that this is a thing that happens to me means that this year I was better at going easy on myself through the roughest patch. I did have the usual grand plans of lots of homemade gifts and surprises for everyone, but when it came down to it I didn’t have the energy. Rather than berate myself for being weak, I ended up spending as much time resting as I needed to. Which turned out to be a lot. As such by the time Christmas Day arrived I felt well enough to enjoy it.

I feel very much that there is ‘something wrong with me’. I seem to have a very limited capacity for doing things, and wonder if this is actually a mental or physical problem. Maybe it’s both? I think there’s very little point in speaking to a doctor about this, especially at the moment, because the NHS is at absolute breaking point. Even in the best of times getting a diagnosis for certain things takes years. Or never, in some cases. I just don’t have the energy to go through that.

My plan for the coming year is to not try to pour from an empty cup. Let’s see how I get on with that.

In order to make time and energy for the things I desperately want to do and are most important to me, I’m going to try to stay as organised as possible (and keep life as simple as I can) so that I don’t feel like I’m endlessly trying to catch up. That’s how I’ve felt for the entirety of this year – like if I could just get everything in order I’ll be fine. But I never make it to that point.

This does bring up enormous feelings of guilt that are almost overwhelming, because there are people who do so much more than me and manage to get through it. This has, however, been the case for most of my adult life and no amount of feeling guilty has changed the fact that I can only do so much. That just happens to be less than some others, so how about I try accepting the situation for what it is? Just a thought.

It’s very hard to shake off the feeling that 2021 has been a complete waste, just a year of treading water, but that’s not true. My love for art most definitely exploded and I found another pastime I really enjoy. It’s one that I can do from bed when I’m feeling my crappiest, which goes a long way to explain the impressive numbers of hours per week I’m dedicating to it.

Years and years ago I downloaded Duolingo, a language-learning app, but never stuck with it. A few months ago I started learning again, and this time I really caught the bug. I mean, I am ADDICTED. I started learning Dutch, primarily because I have a Dutch friend and thought it would be fun to learn more about her native language.

I’m pleased I did because although it’s an impossible language and I find it insanely complicated, I also absolutely love it! At the same time I’ve been learning Spanish, because a guy at work is doing the same thing and I thought it would be cool for us to speak Spanish together as we progress.

You might think that learning two languages at the same time would be counter-productive (I had misgivings myself) but in fact I’d say it’s been easier doing them both simultaneously. It’s like once I activated that part of my brain there was no stopping it.

I find it really interesting that I’ve managed to retain so many new words in my memory, especially since I’d say memory is not my strong point at the best of times. At the moment I’d say I can think of a sentence and probably be able to get my meaning across, but right now each sentence would be in a mixture of Spanish and Dutch. That might have a somewhat limited reach! I’ll keep learning though, because I’m thoroughly enjoying it. As of now I’m on a 61-day streak with no sign of letting up.

As it happens I just completed my most productive week of language learning to date, because I was locked in a bitter battle with another learner who wanted my top spot. Every week you are put in a league with 30 other random users. The top five are promoted to a higher league every week, whereas the bottom 5 are demoted. The top league is Diamond, and that’s where I found myself last week. You unlock a special achievement if you get to number one in the Diamond League, and I just couldn’t, couldn’t let it go.

I’m so sorry Alessandra, I know you wanted that gold medal, I just wanted it more! Sadly you can’t message each other through the app, because if you could I would have thanked this person for seriously motivating me this week. I spent over 30 hours learning!

I even practiced on Christmas Day, although I only spent the bare minimum on it in order to keep my lead and keep my streak. The rest of the day was spent with the family at my sister’s new house, which was an honour because a first Christmas in a new home is always special.

What’s even more special is that we even got to spend it together at all (I’m looking at you Covid) and I didn’t dare hope that it would go ahead until we’d done our lateral flow tests on Christmas morning. But happen it did, and I ate the most poshest Christmas dinner I’ve ever had in my life. My sister’s fiance cooked us a veggie meal, and the main was made of lentils which to be honest concerned me greatly. They are not a food I generally choose to eat.

It tasted incredible though. The highlight for me though was the leek. How does someone make a leek taste that delicious? The carrot almost got the top spot, but the leek just edged it for me. Seriously good grub.

I got so many thoughtful presents, I spent the day feeling very special and very loved. The presents I gifted also went down as well as I hoped they would. For me receiving the presents is secondary (no, really!) because I always forget I’m getting presents too. As an adult I think it’s much more special seeing the people you love open the gifts from you.

The most special gift of all of course was seeing Newton. The first glimpse I got of him was from the kitchen door where he was standing on his hind legs trying to get a look at us as we came up the garden path. It’s so lovely when someone is that excited to see you!

At that point my heart melted, because he was wearing the cutest snuggly jimjams I ever saw in my entire life, along with a Christmas hat. It’s lucky that boy likes my cuddles, otherwise there would have been trouble.

Here’s Newton and his mum with their matching headwear. It’s got to be my favourite picture of the day.

I could (should) end this post right now, but I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t mention how utterly crappy I’m feeling. I knew I wanted a picture of me and Newton, for the memories, but I’m finding it really hard to stand the sight of myself.

I did lose a bit of weight (in fact I’m still lighter than the last time I posted) but I don’t feel at all like me. I feel like me but with extra bits, like I’m me but swollen with bee stings and if the swelling would just go down my actual face would come back. It’s not just that. I feel so unhealthy and although it’s not all to do with weight I’m sure a good diet would go a long way to helping things.

So there’s no waiting for January the first, I am jumping on the wagon RIGHT NOW.

For 2022 I intend to get back to posting regularly. It’s definitely easier to post a lot than to sit down to a blank screen after a long break. After a year of feeling like I’m getting nowhere, with the state the world is in I’m lucky (and grateful) to make it through and I intend to make the most of things.

Starting from now.

Hayley x

Something Something Fresh Start Blah Blah Blah

I wasn’t back at Slimming World for long. I started going regularly in 2012 and each session just repeats itself, the same thing over and over and over. The same conversations, the same questions- ‘how do you make your spag bol then Hayley?’

I can’t do it, I’ve reached capacity. I just cannot stand it a moment longer.

I was doing quite well on my own until after all this time avoiding it, I went and caught covid. I’m not going to lie, the worst bit about it was the feeling that it was a moral failing above all else. The young ‘uns from work have been going out at the weekends ever since things reopened without a care in the world or a single symptom. I finally agree to go out ONE TIME and I’m the one that bloody gets it. Typical. Mainly I was just really exhausted for about 8 days, then after that I started feeling normal again. I discovered I had it by taking my routine lateral flow test, then the very next day my sense of taste and smell completely disappeared. It stayed like that for four days, which I was EXTREMELY grateful for, because I know there are instances of it lasting for months, or even permanently. Get vaccinated people! That’s the difference between my mild experience and ending up in hospital on a ventilator.

Was it worth taking the risk? Well, knowing what I know now (ie, I survived and did not kill my family) I’d say… kinda. I had a great time and it was so good to let my hair down after staying in for so long. Drunk me met a bunny and was pretty pleased with the fact.

I’m more relaxed about going out now, but I will be avoiding pubs in future. Besides, I only need one night like that out a year to satisfy my party cravings so I’m good at least until 2022.

Whilst I was infectious I stayed in my room and mostly ate crisps, so as not to have to use the kitchen and risk infecting the family. As you can imagine the weight went back on rather quickly, especially since I barely moved the whole time, exacerbated by the fact I also hurt my ankle and even now it’s still not fully healed. After eating crap for ten days I was excited to eat real food, but that didn’t last long. Not long at all.

Soooooooo, I’m right back where I started, and I’ve just enjoyed a birthday week of delicious eateries. On Sunday my friend took me out for dinner and to see Venom 2 (loved it, by the way) which was a nice way to end the week on a high. But now it’s down to business. This is the last year of my 30’s, and I do not intend to start the next decade feeling like this.

Where I’m now so large I am not enjoying going out for my walks, I just feel insanely self-conscious. Also because of work, during the times of the day I actually have energy for exercise, I don’t feel safe going out. I’d love to walk to work, but a woman was attacked on that route in broad daylight not even that long ago. Yeah, I’ll be giving that a miss.

Instead, I started researching treadmills. If I want to buy one that will take my current weight, then the price jumps IMMENSELY and any kind of portability goes out the window. I found an under-desk treadmill for less than half the price of one that would take me now, so I snapped it up immediately to give me motivation. I was SO CLOSE (6 pounds away) from being able to use it before I caught the ‘rona. So now I am on a mission to get my sh*t together and get using it regularly as soon as I possibly can, especially now the crappy weather is setting in. It’s quiet enough that I can use it at 6 am, straight after work. I plan to be using it by the end of November, fingers crossed, and I shall emerge in the spring like a beautiful butterfly. You heard it here first.

I’m now a Slimming World online member, and I have a good reason to believe that I’m going to be successful this time. SW has taken a lot of stick recently over ‘unlimited’ free foods, which I think is quite undeserved. They do tell you, repeatedly, to eat until you are SATISFIED. There are many things I have an issue with when it comes to any weight loss company, but this isn’t one of them. I think people are determined to misunderstand SW for Tiktok views or to promote their own businesses.

When I first started the Slimming World plan, I concentrated on filling myself up. I didn’t pay a single bit of attention to the stopping part, I just ate what I wanted (within the plan) and I lost consistently week after week. I was eating what some would consider A LOT. When I got nearer my target weight, the losses didn’t slow even though I was eating loads. It just kept coming off! Then I started worrying about portion control and being sensible and it all went out of the window. So, quite frankly, eff portion control. Eff being sensible. I’m going back to that time when I didn’t overthink every GODDAMN MORSEL that went into my mouth and I’m going to hopefully repeat my past successes. And if I don’t? THEN I’ll look at portion control. Honestly though, I don’t think I have to.

I got this experiment underway yesterday. I’ll let you know how the week went on Monday. I have high hopes.

Something that has been going enormously well is my art. There have been ebbs and flows, but every time I feel I’m starting to stagnate a little and I”m not getting anywhere, something just clicks into place.

I AM LOVING IT.

Last week after getting some water-mixable oils for my birthday I painted with oils for the first time in my life, and it was like clouds parted and the angels came down from the heavens… I FOUND MY THING!

Since that moment all I’ve thought about (apart from food) is painting, painting and more painting. This is the first layer of my first ever oil painting. I’ll show you what it looks like again when it’s properly finished.

Already, I am in love.

When I’m more experienced I want to paint a nice big portrait of someone. I’ve been practising painting my sister in acrylic, and although I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere this weekend I finally managed to achieve a decent likeness and get all of the main features in the correct place. The next one will be in oils and will be infinitely better.

By the time I’m 40, apart from looking fabulous, I will also be selling my artwork. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but getting into a routine of painting regularly and being vulnerable enough to share my work… this is something very new for me. New but amazing. Working through a painting when it looks crap is also of massive importance. If I’m ever famous enough, one day someone will do an infrared scan of the layers beneath the painting above and see the monstrosities hidden there. It’s no lie-in the first layer it looks like my poor sister’s left eye is falling off of her face.

Pushing through that discomfort was a game changer. In fact, I recommend everyone go do that right now. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Tulip Fever

Holy flip it’s January. On the one hand it feels like we’ve been living with COVID forever, but on the other it’s seems like it was only yesterday I was discussing this ‘new flu’ with a work colleague and thinking (hoping) it wouldn’t amount to anything. A year later (shit) and we have had our first COVID death in the family, with great aunty Theresa sadly passing away this weekend.

There are still the people who think it isn’t real, and I still want to cause them physical harm. I don’t for two reasons. One, I can’t afford to lose my job. Two, if I put them in hospital it’s just more strain on the NHS. I don’t know how NHS workers do it. For me the Hippocratic oath would go out the window- I personally believe if you don’t wear a mask but aren’t exempt and if you wilfully break the rules just because you’re a selfish arse then you should be banned from receiving medical care for the rest of your miserable life. Can you tell I’m angry? I’m flipping LIVID.

In areas at work where it’s difficult to social distance we have to wear masks. I reported one guy who took his mask off to eat a banana whilst standing right next to another guy also not wearing a mask. I reported him too, and it’s worth mentioning that we aren’t even allowed food in the warehouse because we have a rat problem*. The next thing I hear, the first guy has told all of my colleagues that I reported him because I’m a ‘dirty bitch and got turned on’ by him eating the banana. What a charmer. The next week he was off work when his daughter had a positive COVID test come back. This is the crap I have to deal with in my workplace and despite trying there’s actually not a damn thing I can do about it. No one will back me up because they don’t want to be a snitch. I’m told that ‘snitches get stitches’. Jesus I couldn’t make this crap up.

*I once witnessed a rat dragging off a whole banana that was bigger than itself. The rat was NOT SMALL.

The fact remains, reporting people does nothing because there are no consequences apart from they may get bored of being told off. No action is taken beyond them being spoken to. Although managers monitor certain areas at certain times of the day, as soon as the manager looks in another direction the mask comes off. On Saturday one manager asked three people sitting in a 2m space to social distance. One person stood up and moved about 6 inches to one side. The manager didn’t say anything else.

On the plus side the UK vaccination program seems to be actually going well, and now the Christmas and New Year infections are tailing off the death rate should now start falling. As the weather improves things should get even better. It just breaks my heart that things got this bad, because it didn’t have to be this way. What’s done is done though, we just have to keep going.

I did find the period after Christmas really difficult because the last thing to look forward to was over and all I could see in the future was doom and gloom. It was very hard to try and stay in the moment, and that was when I was angriest. Angry and more scared than ever that I’d take COVID home and wipe out half my family.

Still, the hardest part of the season for me wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it would be. I’ve just finished reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and it’s such a wonderful book- it’s just full to the brim of hope. I read it for free using the BorrowBox library app, which I cannot recommend enough. Especially as actual libraries are closed for this lockdown.

The garden was such a help for me in 2020 so I was really worried I wouldn’t cope well without it, but to be honest there weren’t many times where there wasn’t something gardening-related to do to keep me occupied. I have some fun houseplant projects I’ve started, but I can’t say too much about that because I hope to give some things away as gifts later on in the year. I’ve been working on these things since November 6th!

Gradually between October and December I got HUNDREDS of bulbs planted. I just love bulbs, and I have everything crossed the tulips flower in their first year. I already have a little clump of something coming up, which I’m fairly sure is a clutch of snowdrops.

Things are generally a mystery though, because I didn’t label a thing and just scattered all the bulbs around the garden randomly. I also had a hundred or so bulbs donated from my friends mum and since even she doesn’t know what they were (she moved and dug them up from her new garden) I have no hope of identifying them till they flower.

We had a bluebell appear in the front garden a few years ago. Now it’s established I lifted and divided it. Now we have seven bluebells. Everyone knows, seven bluebells are better than one! They’re looking so lovely and healthy. What a joy!

My sowing has already begun for the year, because of course I did what any normal person would do and bought a greenhouse for my bedroom, a grow light and a heat mat. I’ve been told it looks like I’m growing something I shouldn’t, but if the police do break the door down then the only consumables I’ll be able offer is a few radishes and some rocket. In 6-8 weeks time in any case.

I started my chillies early because I did it much too late last year. They had only just started flowering when we got to autumn so there was no chance of getting fruit. This year I should be successful though, and I also had some aubergines sprout up yesterday. The excitement I felt last spring is back already, much sooner than I thought it would be. Tomorrow I’ll be sowing dahlia and echinacea seeds that came free with my Gardeners’ World magazine.

I’ve had a really great couple of weeks, art-wise. I’ve done a few bits and bobs I was really happy with, but following a prompt to draw ‘a toad sitting in a tree wearing a green hat’ was the most fun ever. I’m so proud, because up until now I could draw things I could see but would struggle to create anything truly unique. I could google tree, toad and hat and cobble a picture together, but this one was all me, drawn using my imagination, my iPad and nothing else. Apart from the absolutely inspired prompt, that is.

This is truly an arty turning point for me, and I even have a commission to draw a colleague’s gorgeous doggos. I’ve done a couple of initial sketches in preparation and I think he’s going to be chuffed. I’ll show you when I’m done!

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Something New

If my post has popped up on your feed and you’re wondering who the hell I am, that’s because I’m giving my blog an overhaul, including the title. This year I have been obsessed with all things creative – drawing, painting, digital art (obsession is an understatement), sewing, growing, and making plans for decorating and building. The title Words by Hayley didn’t cut it anymore, so now it’s all about anything and everything.

I went with ‘Big Ginge’, which is my nickname at work. Well, only one person calls me that because there are only about three people out of 200 that I give the time of day to at work now. There are too many selfish people who don’t care about social distancing or wearing masks because they aren’t in an at-risk group. As far as I’m concerned they can do one. I’ve lost friends, sooooo many friends, but I don’t want to associate with anyone who has no regard for anyone but themselves. I shan’t say more on the subject because it TRULY ENRAGES ME and I can’t take much more of it.

Deep breath.

Aaaaanyway…

Somehow, simply by virtue of allowing myself to be crap, I stopped worrying about my art being crap. When that happened, my creativity just exploded. I have never felt so happy with my creative output than I have this year.

As I started to allow the crapness, I also started getting better and now I have this whole new idea of what I’m capable of. I can’t wait to get started on next years plans – one of which is a shed that I’m going to build from scratch. I really am so excited to share the whole process with you!

The only criteria for anything I create from now on is simple – I have to enjoy doing it.

It’s been so long since I last wrote, but instead of having tons to say I find that the longer I leave it the harder it is for the words to come. I will get back to posting regularly, but until then, I’ll leave you with some pictures.

I promise not to leave it so long next time!

Hayley x