Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Goodbye Granny

It’s been months since my last post. I didn’t mean for it to be so long, but life kinda got ahead of me. My teaching schedule got a bit more hectic April through to June, making life a bit more hectic - but it was more money, so it was all good. :D

In April I booked a three week trip to Ireland and London for June. My mum’s Irish, so we were going to be spending two weeks with my Granny as well as uncles, aunts and cousins. Originally it was just going to be myself, my mum and my brother going, but Granny called at the end of April and said she’d really like to see my sister too, so she offered to pay for her ticket. It was all set, and we were really excited. It’d been 4 years since I’d last been back to see her and she’d had a few health scares over that time (obviously my mum goes back more often, as it‘s her mum!).

In the second week of May, after we’d bought all the tickets and were planning our shopping, packing, etc my mum got a phone call from my aunt to say that my Granny had been very confused, she wasn’t herself and that they’d taken her to hospital. The next day doctors discovered that she had tumours in her liver. She was given morphine to make her comfortable and the doctors said that she wouldn’t survive the night. But she did. And the next night. And the night after that, too. My poor mum was in an awful mess. My brothers and sisters were in the middle of exams and, from what the doctors were saying, she’d never make it over in time anyway. She really couldn’t decide whether to go back or not. In the end she decided that she wouldn’t, and my eldest aunt really reassured her in this by telling her that there really wasn’t any point. Granny wasn’t conscious, she wouldn’t even know that my mum was there if she did go. And moreover, Granny wouldn’t have wanted it. She wouldn’t have wanted my mum to ruin our holiday plans (because it would have) to go and see her when she wasn’t even conscious. So mum didn’t go.

Granny finally passed away, peacefully, in the early hours of Wednesday 24th of May. It still doesn’t seem real - she’s always been there so how can she not be now?

Two and a half weeks later we travelled out to Ireland. I was dreading going into Granny’s house for the first time and not seeing her there, but it wasn’t actually all that bad. My eldest aunt and her husband moved over from Scotland a few years ago to take care of Granny, so the house was rather different from the last time I’d been there, and none of us were immediately struck with the loss.

The day after we arrived was a Sunday and we had a bit of a family get-together. My younger aunt came with her kids, my uncle came with his wife and my other uncle (who lives next door) came up with his wife and kids too.

The most difficult day for me personally was the day when my mum and all her brothers and sisters went to the solicitors for the reading of the will. Left at home, in Granny’s house, were myself, my brother and sister and five of my cousins (aged between 19 and 9). We had a good dinner, washed up and had a good laugh. Granny would have loved it. Although her hearing wasn’t all that good anymore, she loved to sit and watch us - her grandchildren - spending time together. She loved watching us chat, laugh, fight, play, mess around, eat, drink and joke together. She would sit in her armchair in the sun and just watch us for hours. Just thinking about it tears me up, because she would have loved to watch us all that day.

When the parents all returned we had tea, homemade scones and plenty of goodies. Then somebody decided to take down the box of photographs and we all spent much of the evening pouring over them - laughing at some tragic fashions, trying to figure out who some people were, remembering and listening to stories that had been forgotten before. Again, Granny would have loved it. At one point, I went upstairs, into the guest bedroom that I was sharing with my mum and sister, and just sobbed. I missed my Granny and my Granddad. I miss sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast, with Granny serving up soft boiled eggs, homemade Irish soda bread, homemade jam and Irish breakfast tea from tea leaves, while Granddad and I chatted from opposite ends of the table, his blue eyes twinkling. Granddad died 13 years ago and I still miss him, and missing Granny only makes me miss him more.

Over the course of the rest of the holiday, my mum went through all the family photos - thousands of them. She sorted them out by era, and labelled the more obscure ones. Then my brother started to scan them onto the computer. He only got as far as the 70s after about 3 days work!

Here are some of my favourite old photos of Granny and Granddad (I know I’m biased, but weren’t they a beautiful couple?!):

This is their engagement photo.

Granny and Granddad cutting the cake on their wedding day.



Friday, April 22, 2011

When a rut becomes a manhole

For ages I've been saying that I'm stuck in a rut. A few months ago - around December time - that rut became a very deep, dark manhole. Since then I've not really been able to function. It was the beginning of March that I realised that there was something seriously wrong and that this was no ordinary stuck-in-a-rut scenario. Not even for me.

I was on the bus going into uni, that March day. It was a lovely sunny day, not too hot and not too cold. As I was going in I realised that this was the first time in two months that I had voluntarily left the house. For two months, I hadn't opened the shutters to my bedroom. I hadn't been able to sleep at night and I'd had serious difficulty getting up in the morning. Even when I was awake, I still coudn't be bothered to get up. I only did the absolute bare minimum necessary - teaching, chores for my mum and that's it. I spent the rest of the time in bed on my laptop reading crappy celebrity gossip blogs or asleep. I didn't even feel like watching any films or TV, or reading any books. I stopped my knitting and as for exercising - hah! When having a shower is an effort, forget working out. I also stopped reading blogs. With my life being such a dismal existence, I really didn't want to read about other people successfully getting on with their lives. Occasionally I'd read a post, but rarely could I find anything to say in a comment.

As I sat on that bus, passing some beautiful green fields, I realised that this was not normal. It wasn’t a normal down-in-the-dumps phase, and even if it were, it'd gone on for far too long. What did I do? Nothing. I don't know why, but it really didn't occur to me to go to the doctor, even though I knew that I was depressed. Somehow, by the grace of God, this depression has lifted, and now, a few weeks later, I'm starting to get my life back.

I'm not gonna lie - it's not like I realised I was depressed and suddenly chose to snap out of it, because it’s just not in my control. It's not even like it's decided to go away suddenly, because that’s just not how it works. It's taken a few weeks for it to gradually lift, and then I got some really, really good news not that long ago and it's made a world of a difference to me in terms of motivation. That, combined with my newfound ability to get out of bed and get off my arse and do things, has made me feel much better about myself and my life. Today I was dusting my telly and I realised: I'm happy. That's the first time that I've felt genuinely happy for longer than I can remember.

(And I wasn't happy because I was cleaning. I was happy because I am happy.)

It's amazing to me that today, a day that I had deliberately set aside to do nothing, was one in which I still chose to do stuff. I did a bit of baking, a bit of cleaning, and here I am now, writing this blog post - the first in 4 months.

So why didn’t I write about this before? Why didn’t I go to the doctor? Well, I think that a very big part of my problem is that I hate being negative. I hate other people thinking I'm less than fine. I know it's normal to get down from time to time, I just don't like to show it. It makes me feel like a failure. So I suppose it's no coincidence that the first time I get around to writing a blogpost in all this time is when I'm feeling happy again, and can talk about all the horrible stuff in the past. It's over. I'm happy. So obviously I'm not a failure. I know it's stupid - depression isn't anyone's fault. But when I couldn't even get out of bed in the morning I just felt like such a loser.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things I need to work on

As usual I’m not happy with the way I’m living my life right now. I’m permanently tired because I’m not getting enough sleep - for the past three days I’ve had about 3-4 hours of sleep a night. And I’m not even taking long siestas or anything to compensate for it, so that’s one hell of a sleep deficit I’m building.

Here's a list of the things that I really need to work on:

1. Getting to bed early. I can’t function during the day properly and I ain’t doing what I’m supposed to be doing until the last minute before bed. Feeling permanently tired is so old already.

2. Get my exercise in earlier. It has to be done. And no cheating. These days I’ve been working out in the wee hours - around 12 or even 1 in the morning. See, I said I need to get to bed earlier.

3. Write more. Throughout the day and not just 20 minutes before bed so that I can tick the ruddy habitforge update.

4. Quit playing Mahjong Titans. I’m wasting HOURS everyday on this s**t. Seriously, I spent over 10 hours on it last week. (As per my Rescue Time weekly summary - boy did I not like this week's report. Rescue Time, by the way, is an online time tracking program that logs how long you spend on every program that you use, whilst running in the background. It's actually pretty nifty.)

5. Preparing lessons properly and ahead of time. Also, I need to be stricter about logging hours and pay. I’m not feeling the whole teaching thing right now. A large part of my problem is that I teach several one-to-ones, but I prefer teaching groups (more varied interactions and it’s sooooooooo much easier), so I’m not very enthusiastic. This means that I leave my lesson planning until the last minute the night before. It would be so much better if I just did it ahead of time and had one less thing to stress over.

6. Work on my review of 2010. This year was basically an unmitigated disaster in terms of my New Year’s Resolutions and goals, for various reasons. I know that if I don’t want to repeat this next year then I’m going to have to really take a long hard look at what went wrong this year. I also want to do some of the various end-of-year reviews that are out there.

7. Pick goals for next year. I think this one’s fairly obvious.

It’s not much, but it does require willpower, which I’m kinda low on these days.

Anything you need to work on? Or is everyone just gonna wait until the New Year?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I am a warrior.

I recently discovered habitforge, a site that allows you to list habits you want to form and then sends you an email every day to check up on you. But the best bit? You have to do the activity every day for 21 days straight. If you skip one day, you have to start again from zero. It’s very effective. I'm currently working on two habits: working out for 50 minutes and writing every day.

So far it’s been 5 days since I started and I can say, hand-on-heart, that the previous two days especially, I would not have worked out if it were not for the threat of starting all over again. And you know what? It feels great! Every workout I finish I feel so proud of myself - this is a HUGE accomplishment for me. Consistency isn’t my forte, or so I keep telling myself, but I’m really beginning to think that’s a load of BS. I can do anything consistently, provided I have the right motivation, it’s something I truly believe in and it’s something that I really want to do, and not just something that I think I should be doing.

With regards to my workouts, I’m generally doing whatever workout I feel like doing and/or is convenient. Yesterday, that was yoga. I didn’t follow any set workout plan or DVD or anything, I just did a few rounds of sun salutation to warm up and then did whatever poses I felt like doing, for however long I felt like doing them for. The one pose I kept going back to and staying in the longest was this warrior pose (though perhaps not quite as deep as the picture in the link!). I am a warrior. ;)

After my little yoga sesh, I read through some blogs in my reader, and I came across this post from The Simple Dollar. In it, the author (Trent) shares that his wife writes a very simple daily journal: every day she notes down what the best moment of her day was. It seems so simple, yet so darn useful! I really think that if I were to note down the best moment of my day everyday I’d start to see what I really love to do.

So, what was my best moment of yesterday? When I realised I had about 10minutes left of my workout, I spent the rest of that 10 minutes smiling my way through the poses. I was happy with myself, and I felt strong, successful, centred and in control of my life.

What was the best moment of your day?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fasting in Islam

I've mentioned a few times on my blog about fasting, usually with regards to Ramadan. After Melanie's comment, I thought I could elaborate a little bit more about fasting in Islam. Because I don't want to complicate things, I've decided to use Rudyard Kipling's poem 'I Keep Six Honest Serving Men' as a guide to explaining the most important things.

Rudyard Kipling wrote:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

So first up: What is fasting in Islam? Basically it's going without food or drink from dawn to dusk. It also involves staying away from all vices (sex, smoking, etc) during those hours, as well as working harder to please God through every act of worship from kindness to prayer.

Next: Why do Muslims fast? For much the same reason that Jews fast Yom Kippur and some of the reasons that Christians fast - to attain piety through humility, and develop a closer relationship with God. You can't show off when you're fasting, because only God knows if you're not cheating.

Thirdly: When do Muslims fast? It's just Ramadan, right? Wrong! Although Ramadan is the one time when Muslims HAVE to fast, it's not the only time that we are encouraged to do so. The other important religious fasts include six days in the month following Ramadan, the first 10 days of the last month in the Islamic calendar (which is the month in which the Hajj pilgrimage takes place) especially the 9th Day (the Day of Arafat) and other days, too.

Also, there are times when fasting is forbidden in Islam, most notably the two Eid celebrations.

Then there's How Muslims fast. Other than the fact that everyone doesn't eat, drink or have sex between sun-up and sun-down, there are no specific rituals involved. This has led to great cultural diversity across Muslim lands, which sparks a lot of curiousity and comparing of notes. All good fun. A lot of people get up early before dawn to have a breakfast, that can consist of anything from cereal to a full, several course dinner. (I’m not kidding, I’ve personally witnessed people eat 3+ courses for breakfast in Ramadan).

And then there is breaking the fast. The Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) said that God says that the two happiest times in a Muslim's life are when they break their fast and when they meet their Lord. This is so true. The pure bliss when breaking your fast is unparalleled. But what to break the fast with? Traditionally, it's dates, but it can be anything, from water, milk, soup, dinner, an entree, anything at all. This is then followed by a dinner, called Iftar.

Next up: Where do Muslims fast? Everywhere ... unless they are travelling. If you're on a journey or are away from home for a few days you don't have to fast, as the toll of travel can make you weaker.

Last, but not least: Who has to fast? Everybody at, or over, the age of puberty, male and female, who will not harm their health by doing so. So kids and anyone with a medical reason not to fast, as well as pregnant/breastfeeding women who fear for their and/or their child's wellbeing are exempt. Also, women on their period don't fast.

Now that I’m done with that, I’ll address one of the biggest misconceptions regarding Ramadan: that fasting for a whole month will make you lose weight. It doesn’t. Trust me on this. My mum once fasted Ramadan before she became a Muslim with the hope of losing weight and she lost nothing. Why? Well, because you can still eating anything you like in the evening. And worse yet, a lot of people put on weight in Ramadan because they think that having eaten nothing all day they can eat whatever they want, and however much of it, they like. Sadly, that’s not true.

And it’s quite common for non-Muslims to try it out, for various reasons. I know one person who did it just to see if they could, and another who lived in an area with a large Muslim community and wanted to join in. Also, there are lots of opportunities for people to meet up for an evening meal.

A member of a fire department participates in an Iftar.source

For some truly amazing photos of Muslims during Ramadan/Eid from around the world, check out the Boston Globe's Ramadan 2010 photo gallery.

Friday, November 5, 2010

La Vida Loca

When I posted over a week ago I honestly thought that the crazy of my life was over. I was very wrong. Since that last post I sat The Last Ever Exam of my life (hopefully). My parents left for a trip to Makkah for Hajj (pilgramage), leaving me in charge at home for a full month. I've started teaching English classes again. And the cherry on the cake is that I've only just discovered that the final deadline for my thesis proposal is the 15th of November.

All this has got me wondering if my life is ever gonna be anything less than crazy. Maybe it's just life in general. Maybe it's my procrastination that's resulted in me having to do a ton of stuff last minute (especially with regards to my thesis proposal). Maybe I'm trying to do too much...

Whatever the reason, I can't see it changing any time soon. I'm gonna have to get on with it all. And learn to make time for the things that I love to do, like blogging, exercising, reading, watching TV, etc. Knowing my abilities regarding self-discipline and putting things off, I won't be holding my breathe for any serious breakthrough any time soon.

Does your life get this crazy? And if it does, how often does it get crazy? Cause it feels like my life has been crazy for waaaaaaaaaaayy too long now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Return from AWOL land

This post has been a long time in the writing. I've been meaning to write it, and thereby get back into blogging again, for about a month now, but I just kept putting it off.

Why did I stop blogging in the first place? Simple: life got too much. Or rather uni did and I decided to just quit as many things as possible in my life, culminating in my skipping the last 3 weeks of uni (they STILL didn't kick me out, though) and not doing much instead. I spent the summer teaching English and swimming at some of the local beaches. Pretty nice, all round.

Then Ramadan hit. I always enjoy Ramadan - always. Except this year. This year was tough. I wasn't in the right frame of mind when it started, I didn't ever really get into the right frame of mind and I don't feel like I actually made the most of it. In Islam we believe that fasting Ramadan correctly and performing extra prayers will atone for all past sins. So at the end you (hopefully) get to start again with a fresh slate. While I believe/know that God's mercy is infinite, I really feel like I blew it this year.

After Ramadan I had to go back to uni, and that has been more of the same old stress, culminating yesterday in total depression. It was so bad that I decided to cancel the day and just veg out in front of the TV and/or sleep.

Today, I'm back. :D I've been reading blogs for about a month now, (although, I haven't been commenting) and trying to find my groove. Part of the reason that I haven't blogged in so long is that I basically felt that I sucked at this. Then today I decided just to look up my blog (to see if I could remember the address, *blush*) and reading through a few posts, I really didn't think they were all that bad... so here I am. Ready to keep my arse in gear and write blogposts on a highly irregular, erratic basis.

I'm back.