Obligatory looking back post: Five things I’m glad I did in 2014

1. Converted a muddy mess into a garden that I love

Once upon a time we had an overgrown quagmire at the back of our house. Then some mild weather back in February allowed me to get started on some pruning and one thing led to another. We cut back, pruned, dug out and cleared a huge amount of overgrown stuff from our tiny terrace garden. We dug what Mr TLC called the Mariana trench (amazing how much earth you have to shift to build a small retaining wall) and gradually a garden started to emerge from the mud. It is now at the stage where I can potter about and enjoy it, or even (weather permitting) just relax with a cup of coffee. Lovely.

2. Visited a lot of curious and interesting places

We’ve had some grand days out over the last year. We’ve enjoyed the 12th Night celebrations on Bankside, come face to face with a Concord and a piece of the Berlin Wall, joined a lantern parade, marvelled at Charles Jenck’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation, felt drunk without touching a drink at the wonkiest pub in England, been pony spotting in the New Forest, met an awful lot of M1ldreds, said hello to Puffins, climbed into a boat to get to Threave Castle and generally had a very nice time.

We have some great things lined up for 2015 – bring it on!

3. Worked a little less, lived a little more

It started as a joke. One evening last summer I got home from work late (again), but before I could start mumbling my usual litany of excuses, Mr TLC breezed into the kitchen, then Ginger Cat padded in behind him. “Hello!” said Mr TLC in a cheery sort of way, “I’m Alan and this is our cat Charlie,” he added helpfully. Just in case I had forgotten. He was joking. I was mortified.

So I made a decision: I needed to spend less time at work and more time with Mr TLC. In any case, by that point I was exhausted to the point that I was in danger of losing the plot, so less time at work was essential if I was going to be able to carry on doing the job I still love.

A cunning plan was hatched: it involved a combination of the 50 hour rule and date night.

Since September I have been trying (mostly successfully) to limit my working week to 50 hours. I am, of course, behind with everything as a result. But that is the nature of teaching: the job is never ‘finished’ and frankly I have been behind with everything for the last 22 years. I should note that this is no worse now that I am (mostly) working a maximum of 50 hours per week than it was I was when I was regularly putting in 65+ hour weeks.

The next step will be the 45 hour rule. Watch this space.

We also now have a weekly date night, which is sacrosanct. However much work I have hanging over me, however imminent the deadlines, Mr TLC and I have a mid-week date. It isn’t always on the same night each week, it depends what we want to do. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we just cook a nice meal and watch a video. Mainly we enjoy each other’s company – something which is much more important than ticking tasks off my never-ending to-do list.

Have I achieved a work-life balance? Of course not (is there any such thing?) – but the scales are definitely tipping back in the right direction.

4. Started the slow journey towards improved fitness

This hasn’t been a success (yet), so why is it in this list? After a Christmas of being laid low with the lurgy, I started 2013 feeling unfit, heavier than I have ever been, looking at the state that SuperMum has got herself into, not wanting to end up on the same path and realising urgent action was required. I did brilliantly to start with: shedding a stone by following the deeply unfashionable eat less and do more regime; getting gradually fitter and starting to feel much better. Then as my working hours sneaked up, my progress on the fitness front started to disappear.

A few weeks ago, I came across one of those little revelations that can be so truly life changing if you take them on board: you don’t need goals, you need a routine. (I’d love to credit the person who wrote that, but I can’t remember where I read it – I found it somewhere when browsing through the posts in my feed reader).

So I’ve started getting into a routine. We eat at a set time, I get to bed at a sensible time, I have set time aside for exercise. My routine isn’t really established yet (I reckon it takes me around 90 days of doing something every day before it becomes a habit) and I’m not quite back to where I was, but it’s getting closer. It may be only a start, but starts are good.

5. Got stuck into Operation Own Less Stuff

This has been an on-off project for the last 3 years or so. It started when Mr TLC broke his leg. A man with crutches is wider than a man without them, so spaces that seemed perfectly adequate were suddenly too narrow. Once I had shifted one bookcaseful of books out of the way, I decided I liked the space more than the books. Operation Own Less Stuff was go!

It has been a long process, but it is amazing how much stuff I have been able to get rid of since then. This summer we tackled the kitchen and the real horror: my office. It turns out my office has a floor – who knew? I hadn’t seen it in a while, but it’s nice to have it back. It’s even nicer to have a space that is a pleasure to work in. Now I just need to keep it like that.

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