The Power of the List

Sometimes everything becomes too much doesn’t it? Your mind races, you don’t know what to do when, it overwhelms you and you can’t achieve anything. It happens less these days, but there are still moments when I’m overcome by the things which I should do. However, I’ve learnt that a list can be a friend; writing things down can really help clear the clutter in your mind.

Just putting things to paper is often all that is needed to slow the swirl of thoughts and enable me to have clarity in my thoughts. A list also serves an other purpose. It enables you to celebrate small successes; to be mindful of the little things that you achieve. Ticking off a task, however small, is an uplifting act; putting a smile on your face as you know you’ve succeeded in something. When you’re feeling down, just being able to tell yourself you can achieve is a huge boost. Even if its the washing up!

As my understanding of the power of lists has developed I’ve realised there’s a knack to a good list. You need to separate out tasks into little bits. So instead of bake bread; have separate items for mix, prove, bake, deliver. Each small step completed fosters confidence in yourself and encourages completion of more tasks. Another trick I’ve developed is the addition of items on the list which I know, however bad I may be feeling, I will complete. So, have breakfast appears often on a daily list; and I’ve even been known to write down something which I’ve already done, in order to ensure a tick straight away. Ticks, as I mentioned before, breed confidence and help to get things done.

As a cook and a gardener, lists are also brilliant. We manage our food budget best when we make a shopping list; using what needs to be used up and buying new ingredients to supplement those in the fridge, cupboard and on the allotment. On the plot, with so much to do, the list of jobs on the blackboard in the shed is what keeps things going and helps to ensure that important, but boring jobs, get done when they are needed.

I can’t extol the virtues of the list without touching on the fact that a list has got a dark side; a way of making you feel worse. It’s all well and good ticking off items on a list when you have done them, but what if you don’t complete them? The feeling of having a list; then ending the day with the same list (nothing checked off), or worse still more things on the list, is not necessarily a positive one. It can make you feel down and a failure, but I’ve found the way to cope with this is to make sure the items which go on the list are very specific and achievable. The big, ‘life-changing’, to-dos go on a master list, and get checked off occasionally. The day to day tasks get a list each day; and yes, I do put the occasional task onto the list I have already completed. It’s all about gaining confidence and getting the ticks on the page!


Time Together and Time Alone

I’ve blogged previously about the fact that one of the things I learnt over the last year or so, is that I need to have some time to myself; a chance to unwind and have time for mindfulness. One thing I’ve come to realise recently though is that I also need time with my family, with my friends, even just chatting to neighbours. Being able to share experiences and thoughts is really important.

Last weekend we had a real family weekend. Not an exciting one particularly, but one where we were able to have time together, and also time alone. We went shopping, we went to the pub, we baked together, we also spent Sunday morning at the allotment. Perhaps the key thing was the fact that the times we spent together were interspersed with time doing our own thing. At the allotment the kids entertained themselves with chatting on the shed roof, climbing apple trees and throwing dried peas around the place. Meanwhile my wife and I could get on with a few of the plethora of tasks that are needed at the moment. That said, the children did help us, they collected nasturtium seeds with us, helped clear some of the weeds; we had fun together.

This pattern of time together, time alone, seems to be the route to success. The periods of time when we’re all doing our own thing, make the times as a family all the better. To paraphrase the Scottish independence No campaign; Better Together, but a bit of time to yourself makes it even better.

A Year Is A Long Time


The  eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that at the start of this month, this blog was a year old. Amazingly, I have been writing down my musings on life, the allotment and our kitchen for a full twelve month period. What’s more people seem to be interested in what I write. It has been a truly humbling experience to read the comments that many of you have left.

I started the blog as a way of documenting aspects of my life as I made a big change in my life. A year ago I was preparing for the beginning of the school term knowing that it was the first time in 15 years that I would not be greeting a new class and getting to grips with 30 new names. Instead I was preparing for the start of my children’s school year and the school run every morning and afternoon. During the period I had had off work sick, the allotment and my kitchen had provided me with some solace and I hoped that sharing some of this with the world may help me in my recovery from depression and anxiety. A year on I am undoubtedly in a better place. I still have low days (weeks occasionally) and can be easily irritated by the most simple of things; but the crippling anxious fear and overwhelming sadness I faced last year has subsided. To some extent this is due in part to the blog and the fact that I made the decision to be open about how I was feeling. Its meant I have accepted how I felt, and many people have commented about similar feelings, as well as offering support.

Having time-out from working, and perhaps most significantly, time-in with the family, has enabled me to re-evaluate what I want from life. I realised that I need to spend time on my own more, I need to socialise more, I need to be creative, I need to cook…..the list goes on. Over the year I’ve had the chance to work out what I want to do, and how it may allow me to have a happier life. So, this September I’m starting another chapter of my life. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be launching into the world of work again. This time, not as a teacher, but as a baker. Baking bread has been  real therapy for me; the slow, physical, process of baking real bread is a really mindful act and I want to share that with others.  I’m going to start baking; initially on my own, but with the idea of establishing a Community Bakery project, where people can come together and bake for the local community.

Its a bit of a change, but one that excites me, and (if you knew how I felt a year or so ago) being excited about something is a big step.

The Simple Things

Sitting on the roof terrace of our apartment in Ortigia the other week, espresso in hand, sun on my back, and enjoying the kind of noisy peace you get in a town. It occurred to me that one doesn’t need much to be content – happy even. Around me I could hear the bickering of other people’s children, the buzz of the ubiquitous scooter down the narrow streets and the hovering of the local Nonna. But on that terrace I was at peace. All I needed was the time to sit there and let all that was around, wash over me. It strikes me that that is not a bad plan for life in general. Keep it simple.View from apartment roof panaorama

The Italians certainly embrace simplicity with their food. An octopus salad is exactly that; octopus in the form of a salad, with perhaps a little lemon juice olive oil. Famously, pizza should only ever have three topping ingredients; tomato, cheese and one other. If the produce is of the best quality, why complicate it? The core flavours sing all the better.

A simple tomato salad
Tomatoes – a range of colours and sizes are best. Tomatoes always taste better straight off the vine, and certainly when at room temperature. Don’t keep them in the fridge!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & pepper

Slice the tomatoes into fairly thick slices, before tearing a few basil leaves over them. Season and drizzle with a little good extra virgin olive oil. Serve.

I often struggle with living in the moment and keeping things simple, getting caught up in the logistics of the event or the next meal to be planned. Simple meals need less planning, yet somehow bring more joy. Sometimes the simple things are the best.

A Clearer View

I’ve recently got myself a new camera. For those of you interested, it’s an Olympus Pen E-P1, which I got secondhand from a local independent camera shop. Yes, we still have one, and what’s more they offer an amazing service with endless advice and information. From its inception, the photos on the blog have been taken on my iPhone and I’m sure I’ll be continuing to use it. But, I’ve begun to want to improve my photography skills, to play with how images are composed and exposed; and to do this I needed a more advanced camera.

To be honest this post isn’t really about the camera, or the better images I hope to create and share. It’s about the ideas of a clearer view on life. I’ve really begun to look at life with a growing sense if optimism. Whereas before I’d always look at reasons for not doing things, I’m now tending towards “let’s give it a go”. For me this is a seismic shift. I’d always been a positive person, but that had totally gone. Now it’s returning, it’s easier to see things through a clear lens. Not rose tinted like I maybe did in the past, but clear, realistic.

Growing Out of Trouble

Like Monty Don, in his book ‘Growing Out of Trouble’, it seems the “earth keeps me sane“. I’ve come to recognise that I need to be outside some of the time each week to maintain my mental health. It’s been something that I have realised over the last year. Whether it be going for a weekend walk with the family, an afternoon at the allotment, or just an evening stroll to the seafront. If I’m feeling low, one way I can help myself is to get outside.

As a teacher I always thought that I had done well to avoid an office based job, with its connotations of stuffiness and a lack of natural light. After all, my classroom was blessed with large windows down one side, and a beautiful village green beyond them. Yet, I still spent much of my time inside, and evenings at home were usually spent working in front of the computer. In many ways this was not too far away from the office based job I prided my self in avoiding. Now I have time to go to the allotment, I can enjoy the space and fresh air of the plot, and it undoubtedly has had a positive effect on my mood. Growing things just adds to this positivity and feeling of wellbeing; again Monty Don sums it up brilliantly when he says

we all get – and feel – better for being outside and growing things … Looking after something else always results in looking after a part of ourselves“.

He’s right, nurturing plants does fulfil something in people, allowing them to recognise what they need to do to flourish, as well as what the plants need.

Our Daily Bread

Bread is the lifeline of millions of people across the world, with 99% of UK households buying bread it is undoubtedly a integral part of our diet. On a basic level it’s a simple prepared food, and as such the basic ingredients haven’t changed in thousands of years. I love baking and I love the whole process of making a loaf; its a very mindful thing, offering time to think and allowing you to do something physical which has a satisfying end product.
I’ve made bread on and off over the last few years, but recently I’ve been getting more in to it. Although not working at the very early times of commercial bakers, making and kneading the dough before the school run has become a good way for me to start the day. With the positive benefits of bread on my mental wellbeing in mind, I discovered Bread Club. It’s been set up by a community social enterprise run by Community Chef in nearby Lewes. The basic premise is that communities used to have their own bakeries and everyone had a relationship with the baker, the oven, the community bread; and this is something which we should reinvigorate. In addition, the mindful nature of bread making is something we can all benefit from. Bread Club in Lewes is a group of people who produce real bread for subscribers to the club, providing those who subscribe with weekly fresh, lovingly crafted bread.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started a course of bread making training with Bread Club and the Community Chef, with a view to developing a similar project in Hove. Though a stressful experience in many ways (I still find meeting new people a challenge); working with a small group of bread lovers, making bread and enjoying lunch, has been a highlight of my week. So far we’ve focused on the basics of bread and how the different variables can be controlled to get a great loaf, as well as developing an understanding of enriched doughs. We always leave holding bags bulging with warm bread, and I fill the train home with amazing bread aromas. I can’t wait until next week.

I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014