jackie scully

Snap happy: Cherish those details

I may have insisted you look up in a recent post. But at the beginning of January, just after the old Christmas trees have been left out for collection, I invite you to look down instead.

Why? Because, chances are, your pavements will be lined with little pine needles.

In a month that is anything but festive, it's like Christmas - and all its warmth - is laying down its protective blanket to see us safely into the new year.

I guess you could see this as the bitter end and a mark it really is over. 

But for me, these trees and these symbols of home and of family - scattered as they are beneath us as we venture out to face the world (and in my case the world of work) - are a reminder that the real spirit of Christmas should be carried with you every day and not reserved for a December day that might not always live up to expectations.

(NB: I did take a snap but pine needles on a drain in the dark don't really quite do the idea justice. You'll have to just believe me.) 

Happiness hacks #7: A habit shared is a habit formed

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that all January’s good intentions are usually just forgotten by February (or by the time you’ve finished your Christmas chocolates).

But, as I have discovered by joining my friend’s healthy eating group (a closed forum on Facebook where we get to declare our healthy eating goals and track our progress - as well as share the moments when the cheese gets the better of us), there is a magic formula:

Resolution + accountability = habit for life (not missed opportunity)

Resolutions aren’t what we all should aspire to make.

It’s habits that change lives.

I admire my friend Rachel hugely for all that she has achieved by turning her love of cooking, decluttering and publishing into something that has brought hope into the lives of those around her – including her own.

Changing the habits of a lifetime is so so hard. I asked Rachel why she started her group, called Tiniest Thai Diet Revolution, and she told me about the fact that putting on three stone over the last decade had made her feel out of control, upset and unhealthy. “I struggled to breathe when I bent over to put on shoes,” admits Rachel. “I felt quite hopeless and I didn’t know what to do about it. All I did know is that I didn’t want to go on a diet. Then, I saw an unflattering (well truthful) photo of myself and decided enough was enough. I put myself on the scales and cried… Then I took control.”

I love Rachel’s honesty and her resolve to change not just her Januarys but her life. 

As the name suggests, Rachel loves Thai food. Having lived in Thailand, she saw at first hand how people eating a natural Thai diet were naturally slim and healthy. So, she started looking back over her old recipes (she’s been cooking since the age of 12) and examined her principles of eating and decided to create a new lifestyle that would enable her to lose weight and live well. It’s a lifestyle she stands by and it’s one that has seen her lose 40 pounds in just nine months. 

Making a conscious decision to change is the first step and it’s one Rachel - who has for years surrounded herself with healthy eating advice – knows well: “I’ve been given lots of advice over the years and I’ve loved reading SO many books on food, healthy eating etc,” adds Rachel. “But, I’ve only ever followed any of it when I’ve made a conscious decision to not just lose weight, but to find a new way of eating not a restrictive diet.” 

Making the decision to change is, however, not the only step. And, that’s where the group and the accountability bit come in. It’s one thing to map your own route and it’s quite another to share that route and encourage others to help you stay on track. 

I am now six weeks in to Rachel’s latest eight-week programme and I have to say, accountability makes everything easier. The emails with simple hacks to help you make more mindful food choices are also great too. 

It’s not the first time Rachel has helped me on a food-based adventure. I will never forget her kindness when she shared a recipe called eggs in purgatory (a Nigella Lawson special) that helped me find my appetite again during chemo. 

Most people I know are not really comfortable in their own skin. Rachel is now and I feel grateful to have shared just a little of her journey. I think before I eat now. I eat more of what my body needs now. And, most importantly, I know that it’s ok to have a treat as long as it’s not a daily ritual. 

While I can’t share all her secrets (you’ll have to join the group for that - next one starts in a week), I will share one of her awesome recipes: Sort of som tam

So, make January the month you make a habit not a resolution. And then, find someone with the same aim to help you make that habit last a lifetime! 

Happy New Year and thanks Rachel for bringing sunshine and som tam into my life. 

Snap happy: the road to recovery

This road is one of the most important roads in my life (not that I rank such things, but you know what I mean).

It was on this road that I went on my first run during chemo, determined as I was then to keep the drug weight off and the dream of a 10k race in my sights. It was on this road that my dad (on the same day) returned to running after a long period of rest due to injury. 

This road gave him the chance to think he could again move forward.

And it was to this road that I returned this November to regain my confidence after four months of injury and pick up the pace once more. I jogged/ran 5km without stopping and if that isn't progress toward the marathon wedding, then I don't know what is. 

This road - and my dad running beside me - gave me the confidence to believe I could make that start line. 

It showed me that fear is often our biggest obstacle. 

And overcoming that fear, the best feeling in the world.

PS: this was my view last Friday morning on a run in to work because I decided to face those fears. And facing those fears was better than I could have ever imagined. Beautiful!

Life lesson number five: There is fun in failure

One of the things I loved most about growing up was gymnastics.

This has nothing to do with skill (I frequently came last in competitions and was a bit clumsy). This has nothing to do with fitness (I remember falling from the asymmetric bars at 8 and breaking my arm so badly I needed two operations).

This has nothing to do with the 80s shell suit (red, white, blue and slippery) or the fact that I once appeared in our local newspaper vaulting in a very ungrateful spread eagled position. (Yes, sadly the photo below is me and not the beautiful lady on the beach.)

Screenshot 2016-11-06 13.58.14.png

 

This has everything to do with the fact I could turn up, enjoy the company of friends, get some exercise and never expect too much from myself. People loved it when I entered competitions because they never came last. People cheered when I cleared the vault because I wasn't ever going to make Olympian. To many, I was invisible - and I loved it. Every little bit of success meant so much, because it was so hard won. 

Now, I confess if my life imitated gymnastics I'd probably be less than pleased. But, for a self-confessed perfectionist, not being great - or, more importantly, not needing to be great - was hugely liberating. 

So why not try embracing the things that don't go well? 

Because, when things do go well, you'll appreciate them all the more.

Maybe start with something that doesn't involve a beam, strange hand guards and Lycra though...

Life in a list: The Brighter Life list

There is something quite sobering about lying in a hospital bed before life-saving cancer surgery and wondering if you’ll last the day - let alone the next decade.

In that bed, with just a gown, some paper knickers (if you could call them that) and the tightest stockings you will ever wear for company, I didn’t have an image. It didn’t matter if I had a career or a house or a nice handbag. In that moment, I had just one thing and one thing only: my memories.

Illness really does strip you bare and remind you of all the things that matter. Lying there, I remember thinking about all the times I’d stayed at home to make something for a friend (a cake, a knitted dishcloth, a chutney), when really what I should have been doing was making time for that friend.

So that’s why, when I was discharged from the hospital in my body corset (to help me walk after they used my tummy fat to reconstruct my right breast), I didn’t dig out the knitting needles. I went straight for the notebook. 

And I wrote a list. A long list. 

As far as lists go, the ‘Brighter Life' list – a distillation of all that you want to experience in life – is one of the best lists you will ever write.

This is no bucket list. This isn’t a list about death, but a pledge to live life and make memories as often as you can. 

It’s not a finite list, but a work in progress. It started on my blog smallboobsbigsmiles.com and has evolved in a series of notebooks since then (it amuses me that I like stationery about as much as lists). 

And it’s not an outrageously ambitious list (with Everest scaling and skydiving on the agenda), but one with a good smattering of quick wins and activities within my control as well as hopefully-soon-to-be lifetime achievements. 

The Brighter Life list is one of my ‘make it happen’ lists, a group of lists designed to making achieving things a routine activity. You can either read the original list here or read the edit below (not doing too bad bearing in mind I started it two years ago:

Brighter Life list: the things I’ve achieved

  1. Make my own crumpets 
  2. Travel to the Amalfi Coast
  3. Raise £10,000 for breast cancer charities
  4. Do an overnight walk through London 
  5. Walk around Olympic Park (I missed out in 2012)
  6. Swim at the Aquatics Centre (50m of sheer joy)
  7. Get published 
  8. Stand on a cliff with no hair on my head (niche, I appreciate)
  9. Make my own lip balm (stick to the bought stuff)
  10. Buy a new sofa 
  11. Grow my own Gerberas
  12. Fill our garden with alliums
  13. Make a ferment
  14. Enjoy a carol service in the Capital
  15. Take a trip on the Orient Express
  16. Watch Shakespeare at The Globe
  17. Visit the Royal Albert Hall
  18. Win an award for me
  19. Make mulled wine
  20. Make a cake for Test Match Special (yes, but not quite ticked off thanks to a security guard) 
  21. Visit Kew Gardens
  22. Make sausage rolls
  23. Watch Cats
  24. Carve a pumpkin
  25. Visit the HMS Belfast 
  26. Go up The Shard
  27. Run a marathon
  28. Ride the Emirates line
  29. See Mona Lisa at The Louvre in Paris

Unfinished Brighter Life list business includes (won’t exhaust you with the whole list):

  1. Plan a wedding (ongoing)
  2. Make my own wedding cake
  3. Do the three peaks challenge
  4. Stay in a treehouse
  5. Travel to Lapland
  6. Write a book
  7. Make a piece of clothing from scratch
  8. Eat at The Fat Duck
  9. Stay at Center Parcs 
  10. Make proper lemonade
  11. Watch The Lion King and Book of Mormon
  12. Buy a whole salmon at Christmas and fillet it
  13. Visit the Greenwich Planetarium
  14. Visit Wimbledon and watch a game on Centre Court
  15. Make wine
  16. Conquer the macaroon
  17. Learn to pipe icing properly
  18. Make piccalilli
  19. Complete a trek
  20. Gain >2000 Twitter followers
  21. Climb a mountain
  22. Be quoted in an article/on TV
  23. Deliver a TED talk or equivalent inspirational speech
  24. Go skiing
  25. Learn to dive
  26. Make breast screen part of cervical screening test
  27. Go to New York 
  28. Travel business class on a plane 
  29. Help improve data collection for those with secondary breast cancer
  30. Make almond croissants
  31. Spend New Year’s Eve in a different time zone
  32. Encourage young women to do more volunteering 
  33. Plan and execute a big charity fundraiser
  34. Go abroad for lunch/dinner and back in a day
  35. Develop a signature bake
  36. Make jaffa cakes
  37. Wear a size 4 dress (not to be achieved at same time as 36) and 38) 
  38. Make pork pies 
  39. Watch a concert at the 02
  40. Enter poetry competition
  41. Become fluent in a language
  42. Learn chinese
  43. Make own cookbook
  44. Watch a live athletics event 

What’s interesting about this list (other than reminding me I still have A LOT to do) is that if you craft your own and try to spot themes, you can work out what you really love to do. For me that’s:

  • Health and exercise-related challenges
  • Cooking (mainly baking) and eating good food
  • Travel and adventure
  • Learning and creativity (particularly writing)
  • Charity

This interestingly matches my earlier blog about nurturing a hobby. The only thing missing is the people with which I hope to tick them off.

So, get listing and, if you think you can help me achieve any of the above, please do get in touch. 

Let’s raise a toast to the brighter life. May you find yours.