The Life of a Singleton. . .

. . .

Those three little dots denote my uncertainty about whether I should even write this blog, and how to begin it. It’s going to be hard to not be a bit personal about it, but at the same time, I feel there are many for whom this topic is of more than casual interest.

The reason I’m tackling this topic here and now – and I may yet bring it up again in a post later on – is that I sent a quick impetuous tweet to Diana a few days ago, and was delighted when she replied to it. I thought the matter would stop there, but the Scottish Sun newspaper are vigilant when it comes to entertainment news, and anything to do with Outlander, so they use social media as a source for some of their short articles. Here’s my actual tweet, and don’t miss the # at the end of it.

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So – not that it’s NEWS as such – WE know that Diana likes men, and that she’s based Jamie mostly on her husband. I just figured she must know quite few good un’s, because she has a nice range of great characters in her books series. But apparently it’s news to the readers of the Scottish Sun.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking and I’ve meant to address the issue of singleness for a while in my blog, and this week would seem to be the catalyst. Here goes.

I’m going to speak from a woman’s viewpoint, but welcome any male viewpoints in the comments below. There are many reasons that someone might be single. 1) They simply never found anyone despite being interested and available. 2) They keep finding partners who turn out to be not-keepers, but they still try. Currently they are between relationships. 3) They are separated or divorced and coping with the loss or the freedom that has brought. 4) They are widows. 5) They have chosen to live alone and have actively not sought a partner for religious or other reasons.

I am from category 1.

Now each category has full potential for deep and complex feelings felt by someone in its status. I can only assure you that category 1 is a difficult one to bear, especially between the ages of 30 and 40. It is still a surprise to me that at 61 yrs old, I am single, never married, and have no children. I always believed I would slide easily into family life like so many around me, but here I am, just as I was at 25. For those of us here, there is no Mothers Day, or family birthday parties to organise, or husbands/partners bringing us little tokens of affection, and as for Valentine’s Day!!! It puts you in a place APART when people talk about their children and grandchildren. And yes, we’re the logical choice to look after an aged parent.

Okay, I’ve had some dates over the years, and have some great male friends. Somehow the men I’ve fallen for, have not felt the same way back, and occasionally one might have shown interest in me, but I did not return the same interest and put them off. I’ve been accused of having expectations that are too high, but really, I don’t think it’s too much to hope for someone with whom you just ‘click’, whose sense of humour matches yours, who shares similar faith, and with whom you can talk easily. There was nothing wrong with any of these, but there was no . . . you know. . . spark.

I am very happy to say that my friend in the last shot IS still a good friend, and last year married a wonderful woman who is a great match for him.

Which brings me to Diana’s books. I think I can confidently say that any women from any of the categories above (including married women) find the character of Jamie in Outlander to be a very appealing one. He is honest, passionate, and has the sort of integrity that we all aspire to, an inbuilt code of honour by which he lives. As Diana has said, she has based her character upon many of the attributes she finds in her own husband, and I must say, I’ve met a few happily married women who say exactly the same of their own. That truly is heartening.

Now I’m coming to the crux of my blog post: I really AM a happy single woman despite never having had a long romantic relationship with a man. It is totally possible to live a completely fulfilled joyous life on your own! Yes, of course, I would have loved to share it with someone, but has that ever held me back from embracing life with both hands and running? No. And the key for me is that I am not really alone. My closest friends are male and female, and I see them a lot. I make a point of seeking them out if I am looking for company. And over the years I have learned to really enjoy my own company and the unique gift it is to just do what I’m interested in, without consulting someone else. It makes you strong and capable of making quick and determined decisions. No-one questions how I spend my money, but there are plenty whose advice I could seek.

It is great to have a world of experiences at my fingertips, friends and family nearby, and fantastic books that I love reading, that give me a wee glimpse into relationships and experiences I have never had. It feels pretty well-rounded to me. It feels like life is there to be grabbed and enjoyed, and I am personally very glad that my past is not clogged with debris from broken or failed relationships. Having said that, I also have close friends who are now single, and have risen out of the ashes of some pretty hard situations in their pasts, and are stronger and more aware of what they want than they ever were.

I guess the thing that I come back to, is that none of us are going to get exactly what we want or expect out of our lifetime’s journey. Most of the time we have to cope with curve balls of some form or other. The releasing of those unfulfilled expectations and embracing the person I am, and what I could do with my current situation, skills, and dreams was the key. Find what you can get passionate about, and pursue it. If you happen to find someone to share that with on the way, embrace it. If you don’t, just keep enjoying what you have – BE a good friend, sister, workmate.

One of my favourite books is C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. Only one of them is Eros – the others are beautifully described and just as worthy. I highly recommend it. There you are, people: I’ve laid my life open for your scrutiny. It is done in the profound hope that any who feel shortchanged in the romance stakes, find reading this is a tiny balm to their feelings. You may feel alone, but you certainly ARE NOT.

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Shall I put the kettle on?

If you could but know what a comfort those words are! Well, actually, if you are from England – either now or in the recent ancestral past – you probably DO know that comfort. We colonials way out here in New Zealand certainly do. TEA was here long before coffee, and still stakes a sturdy claim on the drinking customs of kiwis.

Here is how I was brought up. This photo covers many of the traditional customs not only true of my family but of many I know:

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That is my beloved Grandmother sitting with her daughter-in-law, my mother. You will notice that she, the eldest woman in the party, is pouring the milk. (Milk first, of course). If you can discern the vessel into which it is going, you will see a bone china cup, resting on a saucer with a small plate beneath. Beside her left hand is her favourite no frills teapot made out of stainless steel and with “the best pouring spout she had ever had.” It must be ‘an occasion’ because it looks like afternoon tea (High Tea) and there is more than a plate of crackers, cheese and tomatoes accompanying the tea. Those look like ginger muffins, fruit slice, and date loaf.

Grandma’s action with the wrist and arm is worth beholding, and was the result of decades of practise and skill. She would lift the teapot slightly as the last portion was poured so that a comforting gurgle of soft splashing occurred. No drop was spilled, and the end result after the tea was poured was a froth of bubbles sitting tranquilly on the surface. Tea was the drink of choice for my growing years, and instant coffee only made its appearance in the late 60’s and 70’s. When I was a child, we were allowed sometimes to have ‘coffee’ which was really cochineal. For a couple more decades we satisfied ourselves with a teaspoon of powdered coffee in boiling water, and as a treat, in a coffee bar, you could get the drip filter coffee.

How times have changed!

I am a true cafe-goer now, with my favourite espresso readily on my tongue. Every corner of New Zealand is covered by cafes all offering something unique along with the espresso experience. My own drinking customs are fairly settled: A cup of hot tea on a weekend morning, with toast. By morning tea, I am ready for an espresso from my coffee maker (Flat White or Latte). I might have another before lunch, but it’s hot tea after that for the rest of the day. During the week, I like to start with a coffee from our espresso maker at work, which grinds the beans, and pushes the milk through like a frother. No self-respecting business of the size of our University would not offer its staff a kitchen without espresso machine.

For all that, tea has not gone out of fashion either. It is commonplace around me and mine, to offer hot tea whenever one has been sharing anything emotional. It is regarded as a cure for many ills, merely the sitting together around a cup of tea. Nothing stirs the ‘safe’ mechanisms faster than hearing someone say, “I’ll just put the kettle on,” or “would you like a cuppa?”

Coffee, on the other hand, is what you suggest when meeting friends for a catch up. Whether they drink it or not, when you say, “Shall we meet for a coffee sometime?” a whole picture opens up of what you really mean. Somewhere where there’s ambience, and buzz. People serving YOU for a change. A touch of something tasty to eat if you feel like it, and most of all, the hiss and roar of the espresso machine on the counter churning out frothy, or milky, or sultry dark beverages as fast as the barrister can make them. This particular experience is hard to copy at home – although I have a machine there. It takes so long to individually make the coffees that the conversation happens in your absence as you make the coffees one by one.

So let’s go back to tea. THAT is something you can do for a group without losing any conversation, and providing for everyone’s taste. I have a stack of lovely aged bone china pieces in my cabinet that occasionally I have brought out for a treat, when a group of friends come around. And they do enjoy picking their favourite cup, and the whole process of pouring the tea and seeing it gurgle into the milk. Teacups

And I also have at least four teapots to choose from, not counting the smaller individual teapots I use just for myself.

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The beauty is that with tea in a pot, you can top up your own teacup, without a break in the conversation. At some point the hostess may have to pour in more boiling water, but a proper morning or afternoon tea can bubble with conversation and clinking of china and no one feels they are missing out. It is a wonderful occasion, and I missed it greatly when I was living in the States. Down in Atlanta, the only tea that seemed common  was the iced variety, for obvious reasons. But still, the whole sense of ceremony was completely lost. When I bought Bell tea and made my own hot tea with it, it was – I’m sorry to say – disappointing. So weak and flavourless. There’s nothing like a good strong Irish or English Breakfast tea in the morning, and an Earl Grey later in the day.

Tea forms such a strong connection with me, that I have even done paintings around the idea of it. I’ll leave you with some of them here, while I go and put the kettle on . . . again.

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Carrots and noses

No, this isn’t a post about building a snowman. What would I know about that? (I’ve probably only ever scraped a tiny portion of snow together twice in my life in rough semblance of a round man.) It’s about the allure of having something great to look forward to. What a boost it can give to your days.

I pondered this today, at work, when I was showing my picture of where I had planned to stay in the Outer Hebrides (a charming little white croft house) when I go in May and June this year. A fellow workmate said, “Oh, I could NEVER do that!” She had such a sense of finality and sadness in her tone that I eyeballed her and said, “Why not?” We talked it back and forth, and eventually she had to agree, that with some planning and effort, it might be something conceivable after all.

Whether she does the sort of adventure I love and am looking forward to, is not the point. The point is, she needs to dream a little. sunriseMarch16

When I did a small business course about ten years ago, part of the curriculum was taking stock of exactly what we wanted out of our new businesses. As mine took shape and I started to make money from it, I met similar minded folk who all shared something in common with me: a dream that had been put on paper and aimed for. My ongoing meetings with my business mentor, Barbara, were always encouraging and inspirational. Not just about the business, but about planning out the next one year of my life, with some longer term goals thrown in for good measure. It is hard to put those things down on paper but it is SO good at focussing your attention on the things that matter to you.

Really, it’s something anyone can do: DREAM. Ask yourself what you are truly passionate about, and if the answer is ‘nothing,’ then start a determined search through all of the resources at your disposal to find what it is that ‘pushes your buttons.’

For me, lately, it is a desire to travel and to experience a culture that I feel was the backbone of my family history. And because I love words and pictures, I want to put that experience down in book form so that others might enjoy it. THAT ticks all the boxes for me. So once again I find myself here:

A crisp fresh map of Scotland before me, and my pens and Lonely Planet Guide out. I think the planning and looking forward to something almost equals the actual experience. Scottish watercolour

Who among us has not overheard or sat next to, a person excited about something they are doing, or looking forward to, or making? What a boost of positivity it is! Look at what has happened because Sam Heughan, already working in the field of his skill and passion, also shared his love of the outdoors and fitness with us. One man, using his celebrity to benefit not just a good cause, but so many people who really needed a boost to get up and going health and fitness-wise.

I’m lucky enough to have a good number of positive, keen, talented friends, and when I think of each one I am aware that a quality they share is that they feel excited about something. Be it cooking, or felting, or interior design, or writing romance novels, or costuming – as I listen to them, I feel the sap rising within me to take hold of life again and join them. I’m incredibly influenced by them all. (Please forgive all the metaphors).

Right now, a few of us are planning our overseas trip in May. It is nerve-wracking, exciting, scary, costly, time-consuming, but above all, EXHILARATING. I hope I can capture the excitement as I write about it later, for any who want to share the adventure vicariously. Who knows, it might inspire a few who didn’t think they could do it, to go out and DO IT TOO.

Being You. Whoever that is.

I’ve just been watching Netflix – one of our many options for streaming tv shows – and have finished a series of great documentaries about specific designers at the top of their fields.

The show was called ABSTRACT, and featured Christoph Niemann, an Illustrator, Bjarke Ingels, Architect. . .

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and Paula Scher, Graphic Designer. . . to name just a few.

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Oh my Laird, are these people talented! Just to watch they way they think and create is like subjecting oneself to a maelstrom of emotion. I soak up the ideas and the glorious clear pathway that they each espouse, and then – just like drinking too much whisky – get that hangover at the end. It happens much sooner than a normal hangover, in that it usually starts whilst still feeling amazed and euphoric.

I’ve fancied myself a designer/illustrator for years now, although much of that is in my head rather than realised in actuality. Some part of me is waiting for the realisation of my creative dreams still, as if the future awaits just around the corner if I will merely apply myself. And yet it has been half a lifetime since I leaned confidently against my drawing board expecting the world to open up soon.Jenny at the board

The truth of the matter is; I am doing far less graphically than I ever did, and staring down the barrel of retirement age in a few years (not that THAT will make a jot of difference to me). So the first thought that surges through me upon watching a very talented person at the top of their game, (after that wee spike of envy,) is WHY AM I SO MEDIOCRE?

And then I calm myself with some sturdy advise that goes something like this:

  1. Are you unhappy or unfulfilled in what you are doing now, Jenny? (NO!)
  2. Do you have the unction to spend the hours and days these people live in order to continue ‘living their dream’? (No, again.)
  3. Do you see putting all your effort/passion into graphic art a true expression of what is important to you, Jenny? (Okay, no I don’t.)

Do you see where I’m going with this? If any of you reading my blog (and I’m talking to myself again as well) ever feel inclined to think less of yourself and to put your own expression and contribution down after seeing something as inspiring as this show, then this post is for you. We all know people we look up to and admire – as we should – for the huge contribution they are making to our world. Some are just like that: huge fiery beacons of light that blaze across the sky and make a difference we can all appreciate. But I remind myself that I also know some people who still make a difference although few know them and they themselves have never sought to be noticed. They are just kind, or generous, or caring, or faithful . . . any one of these quieter traits that don’t come with fanfare. And you know what? There’s room for us ALL.

I think I’ll just continue to be a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’ – and treasure the people I already have around me, and enjoy the ones too far out of reach to touch, and give myself a break. I’m going to remind myself to stop measuring myself up against others and feeling I’ve fallen short. (Something I’m sure many of us do.) There’s a clear balance between seeing someone’s inspiring work, and feeling the bubbling up of passion to do something as a result of it, and NOT turning it to a reflection of one’s own inadequacies. Thank God there are some very amazing people who have been so good at what they do, the rest of us are richer for it! (Diana Gabaldon and her glorious books!) But thank God for all the folks who – like me – dabble in the shallower waters and are still so exceptional and unique. You ARE the only one like you, expressing your personality and skills in a very particular way. I don’t believe for a moment that it’s true when someone says, ‘Oh, I’m not good at anything!’ Believing that is a sure fire way to nip your love of life in the bud.

I’m going to finish my rant with a gravestone I saw in Wigtown that amused me greatly at the time. ‘Useful’ is such a small word when describing one’s contribution in life, but I hope that at the very least, it could be my own epitaph too. ‘Jennifer Kay Jeffries, removed in the midst of her usefulness’.

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Ode to Water

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I feel like I’ve been in this substance for a good portion of my days in the last few weeks. And I love it. In fact, I think I’m developing fins. We didn’t get much of a summer over Christmas, but February and March have been just fine. And whenever the sun comes out, any self-respecting Kiwi goes to find water. We are spoilt in Auckland, because it sits on an isthmus. At its narrowest point, it is only a mile between west coast (Manukau harbour) and east coast (Waitemata harbour). So no matter what your swimming ability may be, there’s a beach just for you; from the wild plunging surf and black sand of the west coast beaches like Piha and Muriwai (below):

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To the quieter, family friendly beaches on the east coast:

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And of course, there are the endless lakes that dot our main islands, and are a source of recreation, power supply, fishing and in many cases, drinking water provision. This is Lake Rotoiti.Lake

Anyway, back to water. If you haven’t swum in a while, you’ve forgotten the sheer pleasure of shrugging off your sense of gravity, and just floating. It’s an equaliser. Forget how you look and how much you weigh, as soon as you descend into the loving embrace of the sea/lake, you are almost weightless.

When I lived in Atlanta for nearly four years, I lost touch with my closeness to water – oh, I missed it badly, but I didn’t realise how much until we took a very long drive to the coast and saw the sea again. My kiwi friend and I almost wept for joy seeing it and hearing the gulls and the waves. It is incomprehensible to me that some folks in the States have never seen the sea. For us, it is second nature to find water, and hang out by it. Pihaskip

And although I am talking mainly here, of the sea, I do mean lakes, and waterfalls, and waterways of any shape or size. Now those are things you Americans have in abundance. I’m heading to the UK soon – a place of my forbears – and I know that although they are almost as small as us, in terms of island and sea surround, the weather DOES INDEED make all the difference. I somehow doubt that my British friends feel as captured by the sea and lakes as I am, but I’m very prepared to be proven wrong. In New Zealand, part of a child’s schooling is taken up with swimming lessons, and as a primary teacher, I had to include them in my lesson plan. I think that is some reflection of how much we value the water around us and want to play in it. I’ll leave you with some refreshing pics from recent days:

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