Worship of the three day weekend

Mmm I love bank holidays.  I went walking with Mum and the dogs.  This is Sally taking in the beauty of Cumbria.

It was Floss' birthday.  She is a teenager now.

We went to Angle Tarn.  Its such a beautiful place!

It was so nice to spend the day with my Mum.  I adore this woman.

One eye on the horizon

Over the past few weeks I have come to recognise a flaw in my thinking, and I have been attempting to rationalise this so I can tackle and resolve it (yes this what a Psychology degree does to you!).

My current travel plan is based on me leaving the country in 16 months time, potentially forever.  So with regards to relationships, my thinking for quite a while has been along the lines of "Oh I cant do that right now because Im leaving soon".  

Partly because I didnt want to be tempted to stay, partly because I didnt want to get hurt or hurt anyone by leaving, partly because it seemed the right choice to make.

And yet...and yet...the life I am choosing is a life of constant change, a life of perpetual motion.  I will always be "leaving soon".  And while I am genuinely happy to be on my own right now, I definitely would one day like to find a man who I want to spend the rest of my life with.  Someone who shares my desire for travel, not someone who tags along because it is what I want.  Someone who sees every horizon as a challenge.

I know the chances of me finding this man right here in Cumbria are very low.  I know that I am far more likely to find him when I am moving in circles of people who travel, wanderers, nomads, adventurers.  This certainty that my man is not right where I am now is another reason why I havent really considered relationships as an option currently.

But realistically, staying single for however many years it takes to meet Mr Nomad because I will be "leaving soon" is not the clever option.

  1. It means I will miss out on so many amazing, intense (and yes heartbreaking) experiences.  I am choosing to travel because I want to experience more, not less.
  2. It means I will miss out on so much love and friendship.  I love to love people.  I believe that loving for love's sake is one of the best things about being human.  Love is never wrong. 
  3.  If I always have the "I cant" frame of mind, there is every chance that I will walk right on by Mr Nomad without even noticing he is there.
  4. If I spend years and years alone, the chances are that even if I do have the good sense to notice Mr Nomad, I wont be able to make the relationship work.  Like everything else in life, we learn from experience.  And as we get older, the things we arent involved in get more challenging to us.
This whole issue applies to family and friendship too, and the same answers apply.  Just because a relationship can only be transient, doesnt mean it has to be meaningless.  In fact, to survive the loneliness of long-term travel, it is all the more important that the temporary connections we make with family, friends and lovers are filled to overflowing with meaning.

I am only too aware of how challenging I will find it to build relationships in a way which is completely meaningful at the time, but also retain the ability to let go of them without losing myself.  I fall in love hard, fast and totally.  I am the faithful puppy-dog and I find it oh so incredibly difficult to let anything or anyone I love go.  

But now I have identified this shift in how I need to think about things, I can work on it.  If Im honest, it terrifies me.  But I will work on it, I will practice.  I will practice loving my friends, my family and others with so much passion and depth, not holding back because "Im leaving soon".  Not loving in spite of the imminent departure, but because of it.  This life is a series of moments that fly past us, nothing is permanent.  To live in the present means to love in the present.  I hope that this attitude is the best way to frame how I relate to others to maximise my ability to one day form a relationship that will span many many moments.

Yes it will be heartbreaking, yes it will leave me feeling numb over and over and over again, but this is the life I choose.

Camper van porn!

Thanks to a thoughtful tipoff from the man of the moment, I am happily immersed in the campervan porn that is Campervan Crisis.  Its currently on Quest on Wednesdays at 9.00, but its an old series from 2007 and you can also get it on DVD.  Or you can download it for free (sneaky sneaky!) - links are here.  Basically its a documentary series about a guy restoring an old splitscreen T2...beautiful!

Its not really a "How-To" guide...so dont rush out and buy it thinking it will solve all your van-based problems, but its very entertaining (if you are a van obsessive like me) and there is enough techie stuff to keep me interested. Oh yeah and there is some fricking stunning footage of some super-sexy conversions.  

Oh the excitement!

Also upping the font size...as according to the great Gods at Problogger - its the way to go.  Currently it feels ridiculous, kinda like Im typing a letter to a 3 year old.  But hey ho, enjoy the patronisation!

Good choice...bad choice?

I may make good choices...but I am awful at taking photos!
I make a lot of life choices which cause people around me to raise their eyebrows, to make doubtful "hmm" and "ohh" noises and look completely confused by.  Im sure I drive my long suffering mother mad, but I am endlessly grateful she appreciates my crazily independent streak and trusts me sufficiently to allow me to make my own choices regardless of her opinion (or at least knows me well enough to keep quiet!)

In the last 5 years, I have made the following choices which, at face value, even to me, look like "bad" choices...
  1. I chose to drop out of university 3 days before I was due to start my course.
  2. I chose to apply for jobs that I am completely unqualified to do without any relevant experience.
  3. I chose to spend a summer working with kids 14h a day...and I dont really like children!
  4. I chose to stay with a boyfriend who cheated on me.
  5. I chose my Master Plan despite the fact it will drain my bank account, waste my hard-earned degree and close a lot of doors in my future working and family lives.
And yet, when I made these choices, I knew they were absolutely the right choice, the best choice, for me.  I'm not one to make choices without considering all my options first, but I also do listen to my initial gut feeling.   And today, I am glad that I trust myself, glad that I trust God's plan for my life, because I maintain that these were "good" choices.
  1. If I had gone to a traditional university at that point in my life, I would not have been forced to analyse my life, my goals and my motivations.  I think it would have taken me years of doing jobs that didnt satisfy before I stepped back for long enough to consider these things and direct myself in the direction of happiness.
  2. Not only did I apply for those jobs...I got one of them!  My job as a Software Tester at Penrillian has financed my future travel plans, if I hadnt aimed so high I would never ever have been able to save this much money.
  3. Camp Sonshine was the best experience of my life!!!
  4. Yes this relationship did eventually fail, but it was an invaluable learning experience.  I have so many great memories and I do not regret any one moment of heartache because of the value of what I gained.
  5. Technically I dont know whether this was the right choice yet (as I havent left yet)...but I have SO much faith that it will be beyond my wildest and most exciting dreams!
So the next time someone tells you that you are making a "bad" choice, stop and take a moment.  If I had listened to the opinions of those around me, to the preachings of my culture, I quite possibly wouldnt have made any of those five choices.  And I would have been a worse person, a more dissatisfied and disconnected person and a far more lost person because of it.

In fact, my greatest is the one major choice I made which was based more on what I percieved to be culturally and morally the "good" choice rather than trusting my own opinion on the best option.  I let someone go who I should have clung to as if my very life depended on it.   That loss will forever scar me.  But wrapped up with trusting my ability to make good choices, is the concept of trusting myself to make the best out of my choices whether they are good or bad.  We all make mistakes, its how we live with them that differentiates us.

This world often pushes us towards conformity instead of what is best for us.  It is you who has to live with the consequences of your choices, trust that the ability to make good choices lies within you.

How to make curtains for your campervan

First of all, here is an updated picture of my van design.  


It has actually changed quite a bit since my original design ideas.  At the moment, the big cupboard is almost complete, it just needs the rail to be put in.  The guy who is helping me has been in a bike accident so progress on the kitchen unit is still at a standstill.  Its ok though...there is plenty of time!

So in the absence of manly assistance in tasks like sawing and fixing and suchlike, I am making curtains.  One of the things I wanted from my curtains was to give the van a bit of insulation, like those silver faced screens you can buy for the front windows of cars and vans etc.   You can buy these screens ready made (very expensive) or you can buy the fancy 7-layer fabric (quite expensive) and make them yourself.

Or you can take the cheap option like me!  I found this idea at the T4 Forum (GREAT source of tips and insider info by the way), where someone recommended that you could buy some radiator insulation and use that as a cheap alternative.  You can pick it up from DIY stores - I got mine from B&Q - I got enough to do the 4 rear windows for less than £10!  Bargain!  This stuff is backed with polystyrene, to be honest Im not sure how long it will last as obviously it isnt meant to be moved around a lot.  Im hoping that if I am gentle with it then it should last a while.

So first of all I made paper templates of the window shapes (the ones that a square shape wasnt suitable for), then cut out the silver insulation to match. 

Next, I selected some super Tanzanian fabric for the inside and cut it to a slightly larger size than the silver insulation.

Next step was to pin the two pieces together, not forgetting to include a hem for any edges of the fabric which needed it.  I folded the hem edge over the outside of the silver plastic, so it has a nice looking edge and the edge of the insulation gets protected at the same time.  I also pinned in velcro around the edges (not too much), I will glue the other halves of the velcro onto the van walls.  Final attachment was some pretty ribbons (yes Im such a girl) to tie the curtain open, I will be rolling them open and closed like blinds as the insulation is too stiff to draw like a normal curtain.

And then clickety click with the sewing machine, snippety snip with the scissors...and job done!  Havent quite got round to the sewing bit yet...but I will post a picture of a finished curtain once Im done!

Update...here are some finished pics! Yay Im really pleased with them!



In 2007 I visited Niagara Falls (from the American side).  It was a grey, damp day and it felt freezing as just a week before I was happily sunning myself in the Florida Keys.  The American town of Niagara next to the Falls is a desolate dead-end town, filled with cheap tacky shops and amusements.  Dwarfed by the bright buzzing city on the Canadian side, American Niagara was out of season, everything was closed and the streets were deserted after 9 pm.  It felt gritty, seedy and slightly unsafe, even the raccoons who dared to venture out felt like good company.

Gratuitous Sally picture due to lack of Niagara photos!
And yet, my day in Niagara was the most memorable day I spent in America.  The seedy town, the cold weather, the moody grey skies were completely irrelevant because of the sheer power of the Falls.  They were beyond incredible, there are literally no words to describe their raw wildness.  Unfortunately I have no photos from that day to share...as I left my camera in a New York toilet a few days later (Top travel tip...when in a toilet...camera goes in the bag!)  

But despite the lack of photos and words, I remember that day.  My memory is more than the beauty of the Falls though, what I remember most is the feeling of being there.

Something about the natural spectacle, about the beauty and the power, temporarily changed my consciousness, my perspective on the world.  Suddenly, the past and the future and every other aspect of the present faded away so that the throbbing heartbeat of life which bound me into the Falls could be heard.  That's the day I understood why people meditate, why there are highly successful blogs based around being "present", why the Buddhists spend a lifetime seeking enlightenment.  That feeling was energising and uplifting beyond anything else I have ever experienced.  

From the moment I first rounded the corner and made the thundering of the water into a visual reality, I could not stop smiling.  The feeling of completeness, of being an inextricable part of the entire universe just by witnessing that waterfall was totally unexpected and endlessly mesmerising.  I wish I could always be that present in my daily life, wish I could permanently feel that constant embeddedness in a miraculous omnipotent world, wish I could constantly feel like this moment, right here, right now, is enough.

Niagara Falls is 100% worth the trip if you find yourself in America or Canada.  It will show you a world you probably forgot the existence of long long ago.

To see clearly

My grandma with my mum on her 85th birthday
My grandma is 87 and she has just had cataract surgery.  Before the operation she was terrified, and she had never realised how bad her sight had got.

Two days after the surgery, when my mum arrived at the house, my grandma was in tears.  Why?  Because she could see colours properly again.

Cataract surgery is so simple, and yet so lifechanging.  Not just for my grandma, but for people all over the world.  The charity Sightsavers performed over a quarter of a million cataract operations in 2010 alone.  For people in poor countries, cataract surgery doesnt just mean they get to cry with joy because they can see clearly.  It means they can work, care for their families, get an education, have a chance at life.

I am a firm believer in maximising the impact of charitable donations.  This is not to devalue the work of charities like cancer research (my mum wouldnt be here without them!) - but in a world with so much suffering I think the only remotely logical choice is to give in a way which maximises the number of people who will be helped, in the largest possible way, for the smallest amount of investment.  

To me, charities like Sightsavers represent one of these "best options".  Cataract surgery costs so little, and it changes an entire family's life forever.

Yay for my grandma's sight being restored to her!

Its all in the timing

Im in my second to last year of doing a BSc Psychology degree with the Open University.  For anyone who doesnt know about the OU, this is a university which offers a selection of courses which can be done remotely.  I get textbooks in the post, and everything else I need is online.  I decided to do my degree with the OU for a number or reasons, one of the main ones being cost.

If I had gone to "regular" university, I would have spent £3000 for 3 years on tuition fees, plus all my accommodation and food costs on top of that.  At best I would probably have been able to work about 3 shifts a week in a minimum wage job.  I would most likely have walked away at least £15 000 in debt.

So...I chose the OU way.  I chose to work full time in a well-paid job (that I never should have been given, but thats a different story!) so it will take 4.5 years to complete my degree.  I walk out with the same British Psychology Society recognised qualification which would enable me to work in the industry.  I have lived at home for most of my course so my living costs have been negligible.  Im not entirely sure on the exact figures for my tuition fees, but it will probably total around £5000.  I will walk away with around £40 000 in savings.  My choice to do a degree with the OU was the foundation of my ability to consider making my travel dreams a (not too difficult) reality.

Wow.  Way to make a good choice Anna.  Wrong.  It wasnt a good choice.  It was a poorly thought out choice.  Lucky for me, I just happened to make that choice in the right place at the right time.  I learnt today that the OU are putting up their course fees (along with every other university in the country).  This wont affect me but for new students their tuition fees for an undergraduate OU degree will now total £15 000.  

OK so this is still not at the level of "regular" universities - who are putting tuition fees up to something crazy like £8000 a year (thats £24 000 on tuition fees alone, before you even consider living costs!), but it has certainly significantly narrowed the gap.  And honestly, aside from textbooks, someone who marks my essays and a room to take an exam in, the OU doesnt exactly give me much input.  No way is that worth £5000 a year!

So yeah, I found the perfect loophole in the system, in the perfect time, in the perfect place for me.  It was all in the timing.  So much of life seems to be like this, our chances are bound up with the fleeting moments in which they are available.

Life, it would seem, is all in the timing.

These are the days...

These are the days that I will remember all my life.

Summer days with the kiss of sunlight on skin.

Days spent with my Mum on Lake Ullswater kayaking.

Memories of moody blue skies and water that will merge imperceptibly together with time just like the lines between water and sky.

Perfect memories of an imperfect world, of days when simply being alive was more than enough to satisfy, what more can we ever ask of this life?

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