Saturday, December 27, 2014

Life Space: free!

Just wanted to let you all know that my book Life Space is COMPLETELY FREE this weekend 27th/28th December so download yourself a copy and spread the word to all your friends!

Here's the link

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Satellites

My work mug
Like any proud dad I have pictures of my family in my office. Not plastered all over the walls, but the background on my desktop (yes I still have one of those) and on my mug (I drink a lot of tea).

The thing is (to quote the cliché)  kids really do grow up so fast and so the photos I have in my office are out of date very quickly. I find myself saying to people, “of course they’re much bigger now”, or “this was when they were much younger”.

Unless you’re in the world of Harry Potter, pictures are static things, framed moments, and life moves on at speed the instant after the snapshot.
"You can make better decisions when you've got an up to date picture."
Pictures are powerful things, and our worlds are full of them. I remember that Google Streetview caused a stir when it launched because of what it caught some people doing. We’ve seen their camera cars a few times, and once we even had a chat to one of their drivers. When we were looking at moving house a few years ago we found Streetview pretty helpful, although even with something as newish as Streetview or satellite photography the images can get dated very quickly. You can't rely that the images you see still represent the present reality.

I was sent a link the other day to this brilliant TED talk by Will Marshall  all about his company sending up dozens of nano satellites into orbit, at a fraction of the cost of more typical and larger satellites. Their ambitious plan is to have a hundred satellites in orbit, taking photos of the entire earth every 24 hours. Even more amazing is that they want to make their information feely available - they talk about the "democratisation" of satellite imagery. They've already launched over 28 of their tiny 4kg units, with more in the pipeline. Check out their website, it's fascinating!

Already there's a burgeoning market in "Landscape Intelligence" or "Earth Observation", where companies are seeking to use satellite imaging in lots of interesting ways. Such as to monitor how crops are growing and when they need watering, or to track illegal logging or monitor the spread of silt in river mouths. This information is helping farmers and landowners make better decisions about the use of their land, helping enforcement agencies better target illegal activity, and helping government agencies make good decisions about the natural environment. You can make better decisions when you've got an up to date picture.
"Is the picture of myself in my mind still representative?"
In our own lives, like the Google Streetview images, it's very easy to make decisions based on what might be an "old" picture of who we are. How we see ourself impacts on the way we treat ourselves, how we treat others and the actions that we take. I've been wondering whether the picture of myself in my mind is still representative. Am I being honest with where I am and who I am right now? It's easy to be in denial about, say, our health and make poor food choices as a result! (I am very guilty of this!). 

Perhaps we prefer to think of the things we're good at, the places in our lives we're happy with and gloss over or ignore those parts of our life that aren't so great. Perhaps there are things in our lives we take for granted, we assume are a static snapshot and therefore don't give them the attention they deserve. A bit like taking a photo of your lawn just after you've cut it, when it's looking great. If you only think of the lawn in the picture then you don't need to take any action - when instead it keeps growing, needs cutting again a few weeks later or watering in the summer. We can kid ourselves that we don't need to take action if our picture is out of date.

"How are you reading your own landscape?"
As a person of faith something that's important to me is my relationship with God. I've found it's easy to dwell on the "perfect lawn" snapshot of my faith, when in reality my relationship with God gets overgrown and messy if I leave it untended. If you're a good farmer you take daily observations of your crops or livestock, and take action accordingly. So how are you reading your own landscape?

How are you reading your landscape?
It's that time of the year when we find ourselves reflecting on the year gone by and turning our minds to the year to come. This week I dug out some notes I made last January about some of the things I wanted to prioritise in 2014 and a few goals I wanted to aim for. As much as it's important to have "big picture" strategic reviews like this, it's also important to have regular check-ups and check-ins on ourselves - Regularly reading our own landscape and being honest about what we see in ourselves. 


One tool some Christians use to do this is called the Examen, which is a way of reflecting at the end of each day on the things that energised us and the things that drained us - a means of being honest with ourselves and God about where we've found ourself.

Perhaps now's a good time to refresh your perspective on where you really are in relation to the things that are important to you. Snapshots are great to remember moments, but our lives change so fast that, like the nano satellites, we need a regular refresher on what we see to make the best decisions.

As I finish I just want to end with perspective. Sometimes we can get so caught up in life's circumstances, the daily battle to make ends meet, that we can lose all sense of perspective. Life can feel overwhelming at times, even suffocating, and it's at these times that a change of perspective can help.
"Perhaps now's a good time to refresh your perspective"
I find that taking a bigger picture and longer term view can help - for instance rather than being disappointed that my recent book isn't an instant number one bestseller I take comfort in the fact that even producing it has been a major milestone for me and that it's a waymarker on my journey and not the final destination. When I pray I often experience a change in perspective as well.. it's funny how different a situation can feel when viewed from a heavenly perspective instead of an earthly one.

So maybe now's the time to send up a few nano satellites in your own life. Things that will help you read your own life's landscape and help you make good decisions for the days, weeks and year ahead. And don't forget to enjoy the view! 



Saturday, December 06, 2014

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor..

I have a confession to make - I'm a bit of a naval history geek.

Sailing out to the high seas..
By this I mean that I've read at least two proper books about it (check out the authoritative N.A.M.Rodger), the entire Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian (on which the film Master and Commander was based), and I once did well on a "famous ships" round at a pub quiz.

I'm  a fan but probably not an expert - although I did pen a jolly banjo-driven sea shanty during my immersion songwriting day earlier this year.

Going back a few generations, both sides of my family have a strong naval heritage and family heirlooms include naval telescopes and other curios. My great-grandfather Commander Gregory Stapleton spent his life at sea and ended up in charge of all the lighthouses in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), other relative were Captains trading in the Baltic and one was involved in early naval trials of Quinine in the Bight of Benin in the 1830s.
"..rough seas are a well used metaphor for the general slog that life becomes at times"
Growing up an older relative (complete with parrot) dubbed my siblings and I "wet bobs" as we had collectively caught the water gene - we were all keen rowers and spent lots of time in boats on the River Thames at Walton.

As if to prove the point, one of my brothers has since become a very highly qualified sea kayak instructor, leading trips all round the world. (Check his company out here). One summer I joined him on a kayak expedition around the western isles of Scotland, which was amazing. On days the sea was as calm as a Millpond, but I recall that paddling back to the Isle of Mull from Staffa (famous for its spectacular basalt columns and Fingal's cave) there was a significant swell which made the paddle more "interesting". As a family I think it's fair to say we're still "wet bobs" (my other brother is still an active rower - sadly I now live about as far inland as it's possible to be on our island!).

We don't always face smooth seas
I've not done all that much sailing on the sea, but I did spent a lot of time paddling and rowing on the River Thames between the ages of 8 and 18, witnessing and engaging with the river in all its seasons and conditions.

During the autumn and winter the river was often pretty fast flowing, and it was in these conditions that your boat handling skills were tested. I learnt to read the river, watch the eddies, stick closer to the bank where the flow was slower.

The smooth conditions were great when they occurred (I particularly remember a glorious summer day and a refreshing rain shower flattening the river out whilst I was single-sculling down Desborough Cut), but it was in the faster spate conditions that the real skill was learned.

Sometimes the skill was knowing when it wasn't safe to row or paddle.. on which days we'd often be sent for a long run up the towpath to Hampton Court and back (around 8 miles.. the challenge was to do this in under an hour).

Storms and rough seas are a well used metaphor for the troubles, difficulties and general slog that life becomes at times. Illness, accident, loss, failure - these are all things that can create waves in our lives. The ripple effect can last years. We can be knocked back, our plans and dreams can feel sunk, we may even feel like we have to throw things overboard just to stay afloat.
"It's ok to be blown off course, the main thing is to do something about it"
So how do we navigate these storms with skill? I posted some thoughts on dealing with storms the other week, but more focused on being flooded on land than being lost in a stormy sea. Today's focus is more nautical.

When we're facing rough seas it's important to know where you're headed and try to maintain that direction. Your heading might be something directed by your faith, it could a health goal, a work objective or something else. You may have been knocked off-course, so be honest with where you are right now, then take action to make progress from there. It may not be where you want to be, or once were. You may feel like you've slipped back in behaviour, mindset or action. It's ok to be blown off course, the main thing is to do something about it.

Secondly, it's important to maintain balance. Ships carry ballast low down in their hull to keep them stable in rough seas. Many ships also have a keel which extends down into the water and provides resistance. Our lives are like icebergs, there's always much more below the surface than meets the eye.

What are the things in your life that provide ballast or a deep keel? Ballast could be activities that energise you, perhaps sport or hobbies. Maybe it's spending time with people, or for the more introverted maybe it's making enough time to be on your own! Your keel might be your core beliefs about yourself, your faith, your close friends and family. However you need to provide stability and balance, this is important to weather the rough seas life throws at us.

Admiral Nelson - a skilled sailor!
Finally, take confidence that rough seas eventually smooth out, and you'll be a more skilled sailor as a
result. I don't mean this to sound trite, and you may be facing long term and tough conditions which I in no way mean to belittle. Within my own Christian faith, a hope to hold on to is an eternal place where there are no more tears and no more suffering (interestingly there is a fairly obscure Bible verse which states that there will be no more sea, however my understanding is that this is a figurative reference to death rather than no actual sea, since elsewhere a new earth is also promised).
"Our lives are like icebergs, there's always much more below the surface"
In rough conditions it's wise to consult skilled sailors for advice, as they may have experienced similar conditions in the past. When you're through the other side you may even be in a position to provide advice and support for others - in fact you are uniquely positioned to do this, having been through the same rough seas yourself.

I write more about fear and disappointment in my book Life Space which is available to download on Amazon. Please check it out, there is plenty in there to encourage and inspire you.

Wherever you're sailing to at the moment, whatever conditions you're facing, take courage - stay focused on your destination and stay balanced, smoother seas will come along. If you've been through rough seas before, is there a way you can use your experience to help others?

Safe sailing everyone!

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read A Smooth Sea. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.




My Random Musings

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Be more connected

Hi everyone, just wanted to reach out to readers new and old with various ways to stay in touch with my writing.

Firstly, a huge thank-you for visiting my blog - I hope you come away inspired, encouraged and maybe even mildly amused!

Add caption
Secondly, I love hearing from you, so if you've been touched in some way by anything that I've shared please let me know, you can email me directly at stricklandmusings@gmail.com or leave me a comment on any one of my posts. I promise to reply!

My book Life Space is now available for download on Amazon, so please check it out. It's a great read (if I do say so myself) so grab hold of it today!

Finally, please follow me on Twitter @lukestrickland, like my page on Facebook, and add me to your circles on Google +

You guys are all amazing - thanks for sharing my writing, musing, blogging and dreaming journey with me, and keep dreaming big in your own lives!

Every blessing,

Luke

Friday, November 28, 2014

Silly Season

Silly season..
‘Tis the season to be jolly..’ or it nearly is. It feels like the marketing hype around Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. In our shops Halloween was a big retail event, and no sooner was the glut of orange and black merchandise off the shelves than it was replaced with tinsel, Santa and a lurid glut of Christmas merchandise instead: silly season has begun!

As if to prove the point that our biggest calendar events have been hijacked by retail sales, the eruption of fighting in supermarkets on Black Friday was all over the news this week, as people fought over HD TVs and other high-end goods. Our first world obsession with “stuff” is a whole other topic! 

"The feeling that life’s accelerating can be disorientating and stressful"
Silly Season isn't about taking ourselves less seriously, although for the record I do think we should be more playful in our approach to life (see my recent post on this here). Instead, the phrase has become an apt description of the acceleration we can feel in many parts of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and the New Year.

In my day job, December is always full of deadlines – so many of our clients want reports and designs completed by Christmas, often for no particular reason than it’s a convenient date! This year the rush and unreasonable deadlines began early!

The definition from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable..
Silly Season can place demands on us in our home lives too, the pressure to buy the perfect gifts for our loved ones, perhaps a heightened tension between our shopping habits and our bank balance.

Maybe during silly season we’re tempted make decisions we wouldn't make at other times of the year? With so much going on, the “fear of missing out” can become a powerful motivator to buy, consume, party and rush.

The feeling that life’s accelerating can be disorientating and stressful, and Christmas can be a time when we feel the loss of loved ones more poignantly or we can be full of regrets for the things that have or haven’t happened over the year. Silly season can put pressure on our families leading to arguments and even break up. I've heard it’s the busiest time of the year for helplines such as the Samaritans.

As much as Silly Season conveys a sense of haste, in journalistic terms Silly Season can refer to a period of slow news – leading to "all sorts of silly stuff" according to my trusty copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (Weirdly, according to the entirely reliable Wikipedia, many countries call Silly Season “Cucumber Time”.. go figure).
"Whether you’re facing feast or famine... it’s important to keep a level head"
Perhaps instead of too much going on you feel like there’s not enough going on in your life – you’re waiting for something to happen. Maybe you've been waiting all year or longer.

In the Christian tradition, the period in the lead up to Christmas is called Advent. It’s a time of anticipation, of positive waiting, celebrating that the Saviour has come and anticipating his return.

If you’re anything like me, waiting for something can be a difficult and impatient thing! Often we can be negative about waiting, bemoaning the fact, when instead Advent reminds us of the value of positive waiting, a pregnant pause.
Advent - anticipatory waiting
Pregnancy is a good example of positive, anticipatory waiting – it’s important to wait until full term to give the baby time to grow. Babies born prematurely can have a difficult start to life if they’re not sufficiently developed when they arrive.

Whether you’re facing feast or famine, whether Silly Season is a time where life is too fast or too slow, it’s important to keep a level head. I’m reminded of lines from Kipling’s famous poem “If”: 



“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs… 
...if you can wait and not be tired by waiting..”

Perhaps it’s time to trade your Silly Season for Advent. To trade activity or impatient waiting for positive anticipation, if you’re able to, in the midst of the business of this time of year. If you're looking for help to do this, try checking out Occupy Advent on Facebook or Twitter, or Pray as you Go for some daily audio reflections.

"Perhaps it’s time to trade your Silly Season for Advent"


Hey there, thanks for reading this post! 
If you liked it why not share it with your friends, or leave me a comment below? 
I've got a Kindle book coming out soon about making space in our lives for our dreams, so please sign up here to hear more about that and I'll keep you up to date. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Stormy Weather

Winter is fast approaching, and with it the usual spate of news headlines about storms and flooding. Parts of the UK have suffered flooding in various forms over the past few winters, whether from burst river banks, tidal storm surges, high groundwater levels, or overland flow - whatever the source, storms are guaranteed to cause headlines again this winter.
"In one sense, there is a predictability about storms.."
Are you in the right place?
I've ended up spending a fair chunk of my working life assessing the severity of storms, and advising clients of all shapes and sizes how best they can future-proof their development to take due account of a changing climate.

In one sense, there is a predictability about storms - we have rainfall records going back to 1766 from which we can assess what "size" storm statistically occurs every say, 10 years or 100 years. Based on this we can make sure that new developments have drainage systems which are sized to accommodate a suitable amount of rainfall, allowing for increased rainfall intensity in future due to the predicted effects of climate change over the lifetime of the development.

We have complex river models and flood maps showing the historic and theoretical floodplain, which help developers and planners avoid locating more vulnerable development in high risk areas. We know from experience that winter is often (but not exclusively) the time when the most severe storms are experienced. In areas protected by flood defences, we know that residual risks remain if the defences should fail, and can therefore plan for emergency procedures to protect property and life from harm.
"..but most of the time storms are unpredictable."
So yes, in one sense storms are predictable and there are things we can do in advance to prepare - like residents of Caribbean islands boarding up their houses in advance of a hurricane.

But as we all know, most of the time storms are unpredictable. We don't know exactly when or where they will occur. In our own lives we can get engulfed in unexpected storms at the drop of a hat - a sudden illness, an accident, issues at work, issues at home.

When a storm hits our lives, we usually can't continue with "business as usual". How can we prepare for these? How can we react? I'd like to offer three suggestions of how we can think ahead, borrowing from the flood risk advice I give in my day-job. I don't mean to belittle anyone's difficult circumstances, or suggest that there is a solve-all solution for the numerous storms of life that we go through - big or small. However, I hope that my thoughts will provide a helpful alternative perspective for us to reflect on.
"Are you in the right place?"
Firstly, are you in the right place? Or should I say, have you ended up dwelling (not literally) in a risky place? Whether intentionally or not, we can find ourselves in situations, commitments, or relationships that are the equivalent of the shifting sands than the foolish man built on.

Perhaps it's worth reflecting on the different parts of your life and, if you're able, re-positioning to somewhere safer. If that's not possible, at least think about possible escape routes if the unthinkable happened, such as losing your job suddenly (like the flood defences failing).

I was reminded this week about the story of King Canute, who's flattering advisors (if I remember the story correctly) had claimed he was powerful enough to turn back the waves of the sea - something he was aware he couldn't do, and rebuked them accordingly. On the Canute Hotel in Southampton is an inscription marking this event "Near this spot in AD1028, Canute reproved his courtiers". Like Canute, we can't command the waves to stop - but maybe we can choose where we locate ourselves to stay as dry as we can!

Do you have people around you?
Secondly, do you have the right materials to hand to provide protection? In real life this could be sand bags (actually an inefficient flood barrier, but that's beside the point), but in the context of the storms of life, do you have people around you who can provide support?

Do you know where to turn to for advice? It's good to be part of a community that cares for you - personally I have been amazingly supported over the years through our local church. Who are the human sand bags in your life you could turn to?

Finally, are there ways you can help others through their storms? It's common for redevelopment projects these days to be required to reduce the amount of peak rainfall runoff they discharge compared to the existing situation. This is called "betterment", and the idea is that flood risk is reduced to others as a result. Are there ways that you can reduce "storm damage" for those around you? Perhaps by being a listening ear, providing a meal, giving some good advice - could you be a "sand bag" for someone in need?
"Stormy weather may be on the horizon, but you don't have to face it alone."
Storms can be severe - like the record snow experienced in parts of America in 2014. In our lives we can suffer traumatic storms which leave us feeling cut-off, displaced, even lost. We can't prevent storms from happening, but we may be able to reposition ourselves to reduce the risk. We can gather human sand bags around us, to provide support - and most importantly we can be that support for others around us.

Stormy weather may be on the horizon, but you don't have to face it alone.

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Stormy Weather. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Toilet Day

Please twin your toilet!
I think we take for granted
The humble WC.
And flush, flush, flush away all day
Whenever we've the need.

Your loo might be a place to read,
Or maybe think or pray!
Perhaps it's nothing of the sort
Just a passing place each day.

But celebrate our loos we should,
And praise this great invention!
Be grateful for our drains and pipes
Which go without a mention.

Our drainage systems beat disease,
They help us all stay healthy.
For many folk they're but a dream,
And only for the wealthy.

So next time you pay a visit
Please take a reverent pause,
And celebrate the humble loo..

..Two billion people round the world
Would be grateful for one too.

We've twinned our loo through toilettwinning.org and I'd encourage you to as well, to help the 2.5 billion people who don't have somewhere safe, clean and hygienic to go to the loo - please would you consider it? 

To read about my recent trip to South Africa with the charity Ten Thousand Homes click here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The me I wish I was..

What's your epitaph?
Have you ever done that exercise where you have to write an epitaph for your own funeral? Perhaps it was in a slightly awkward team-building scenario you found yourself in. The idea is to get you to think about how you'd like to be remembered, and then working backwards to think about whether you need to make any changes to your life to work towards it.

I've done it once or twice, and in principle it's a really healthy thing to do although if I'm honest it probably felt a bit cringeworthy at the time. What do you want to be remembered for?

People often seem to share articles about common regrets people have on their deathbed. A friend shared one this week that I found interesting and which got me thinking. Among the themes that come up in these kinds of articles are:

  • Taking more risks, 
  • Having more baths (about giving yourself time to think), 
  • Not getting stuck on the work treadmill, 
  • Giving more time to your family, and 
  • Expressing your feelings more honestly. 

All things that I'm sure many of us would like to devote more time to. I certainly would.

It's easy to get stuck in a rut..
I don't want to be one of those people who is full of regrets on my deathbed, I'm sure you don't either, but there can be a tension between having a vision of who we aspire to be, and growing into that person! Life has this habit of creating ruts for us to get stuck in. Or we fall prey to that trick that we'll do something tomorrow, or when a slower day comes. Rob Parsons points this out in his excellent book "The 60 Minute Father". We kid ourselves into thinking a slower day is coming - but it's an illusion, it never comes.

One regret people had in the article above was about having the courage to live life true to ourselves, not the life others expect of us. This really does take daily courage - perhaps to leave the office on time, when the dominant culture is to stay late (arguably people work more effectively with a shorter working week anyway, like this company in Argentina found). It can be tough to challenge the status quo and face the "tuts" of your colleagues - although they're probably secretly wishing they were brave enough to leave on time too.
"What do you want to be remembered for?"
Maybe it's about saying no to voluntary commitments, at your sports club, church, scout pack or whatever your Third Place might be. I find it hard to say no sometimes to things people ask of me, especially when it's something I enjoy doing - but it's important to set up appropriate boundaries, to give ourselves space to be true to ourselves rather than being the person other people expect us to be. I don't mean this as an excuse not to contribute to our wider communities, just to make a point that we need to find a good balance at times. It's healthy to say no sometimes, and it can give others an opportunity to fill the space - none of us are indispensable, although we'd love to think we are!

Has your self image become distorted?
It's not just on our deathbeds that we face regrets. There are times when our view of ourselves can become distorted, like the mirrors at a funfair - memories of mistakes we've made or situations we didn't handle well can loom larger than life and warp our sense of who we are. If we're always looking backward, consumed by regrets or events in our past, then it's going to be hard for us to see where we're going. Conversely we can get too carried away with future plans that we miss the "now".

As the saying goes, in our competitive world the only person we need to be better than is the person we were yesterday. It's ok to make mistakes, in fact as my mum would say, failure is just another way of learning. Likewise loss, trauma, grief can really affect our view of ourselves, and can take time to heal.
"Let's take courageous action to use our gifts and talents well.."
It's easy to put on masks, to hide who we really are. And it's also easier to wish for a future that never comes, that we always put off taking steps towards. I believe we've all been made for a purpose by a loving God, and that embracing his plans for us is the best thing we can ever do - and the best place to start is with the things that we're passionate about and the things we're good at. We've all been given unique talents and gifts, and the challenge is to use them not bury them! As I wrote earlier this week, it's ok to start small and be a buzzard before we grow into an eagle!

So let's not be people full of deathbed regrets, pining for "the me I wish I was". Let's take more risks, have more baths, get off the treadmill, give more time to the ones we love and express ourselves more openly. I promise that life will be more of an adventure if we do!

Let's take courageous action to use our gifts and talents well, to be our true selves, and to live lives worthy of that epitaph.

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read The Me I Wish I Was. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Embrace your inner buzzard!

The "common" buzzard
When I take a walk across the nearby fields with my kids, our Guide Dog puppy or all together, it's rare for us not to spot a buzzard or two.

We see plenty of crows in gangs, sitting broodily up in the trees, cawing to each other. We see magpies, starlings, the occasional glimpse of a jay. There are lots of small birds (ones I find hard to identify) chirruping and flitting around the hedges, but my favourite birds to see are our local buzzards.
"I think buzzards are under-appreciated"
Sometimes from the kitchen window I can see them circling on air thermals. Other times when we're walking the field margins one will alight from its hidden perch and glide over the fields - it's distinctive white markings flashing beneath it's brown wings - all elegance and menace. Occasionally I'll hear their plaintive "mew", but more often they're silent.

Once when we emerged into a recently planted field from a small wooded copse we saw one proudly standing nearby, perhaps at a kill. My favourite recent encounter was on an early morning Sunday run, finding (perhaps the same bird) standing on some grass only 10ft from the pavement and watching me warily as I ran past.

I think buzzards are under-appreciated. The clue's in the name - the common buzzard - and they don't elicit the same awe and reverence as other more powerful birds of pray, like the golden eagle. Within the last century, in much of the UK, their populations were decimated by gamekeepers who perceived them to be a threat to game birds (they weren't). Happily they've gradually been afforded more protection since the end of the second world war and are now fully protected by law. Their populations are thriving by comparison and their conservation status is no longer a concern.
"..really we all want to be eagles"

Aspire to be eagles..
This is a success story, and one not to take for granted. Buzzards are our most common bird of prey here in the UK, and much as I respect crows and magpies for their intelligence, I'm a sucker for the grace and beauty of raptors. The fact that they live alongside us makes them all the more remarkable in my mind.

The thing is, really we all want to be eagles. Eagles have an almost sacred position in many of our cultures. Hitler's mountaintop fortress was the Eagle's Nest, not the Buzzard's Burrow. When I read the Bible, eagles keep getting mentioned. Film titles include them: "Where Eagles Dare". They even save the day in the Lord of the Rings. Common buzzards don't have the same status, they're nowhere near the same league. Much further down the pecking order.

Yes, larger and rarer birds of prey are majestic and beautiful, all the more so for being found in remote habitats. But I like that buzzards deign to share our more "normal" environments, to live alongside us.

We can enjoy their company and grace in the everyday, rather than relying on nature documentaries to reveal mountaintop eyries. In fact, to some, buzzards are known as the "tourist's eagle", being apparently often mistaken for eagles (although they are much smaller).

I think that buzzards can teach us a lesson about our own lives. I wonder if we write off our
Embrace your inner buzzard
abilities, skills, talents or dreams sometimes because they seem too common, too everyday.
"..better to start soaring as a buzzard than grounding our dreams"
Are we comparing ourselves to Golden Eagles - people with seemingly grander or more developed abilities than our own? Sometimes comparison can cause us to feel sorry for ourselves or even give up. But there is a beauty in embracing the everyday.

Golden Eagles are rare, and whilst we shouldn't limit our aspirations, it's ok if our skills, achievements or daily realities are distinctly buzzard-like, at least to begin with. Maybe, over time we can grow from buzzards into eagles (metaphorically), but better to start soaring as a buzzard than grounding our dreams, clipping our own wings, until we reach the mountaintops.

You've got to start somewhere, so maybe it's time for you to embrace your inner buzzard!




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Friday, November 07, 2014

Dancing Leaves

Leaf drifts
It's the end of autumn (or fall) and the streets and open spaces around our house are filled with fallen leaves. It's been a mild autumn and the trees have stubbornly held on to their leaves longer than usual and then dropped them all in one go. There are leaf drifts everywhere, and the wind has been making the leaves dance across the streets in swirls and whirls - I wrote a short piece of prose inspired by this earlier this week.

On a related note I've been thinking about another type of leaf recently - the leaves of a book. Regular readers may know that I'm planning to release a book on Amazon Kindle this side of Christmas, and whilst this e-book won't have actual paper leaves, it helps me to visualise it by pretending it does.

November is national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo), a fact I only learned a few weeks ago. Whilst I'm not writing a novel this year, and I've finished writing my current (non fiction) book, I'm still following the action through social media. A characteristic of NaNoWriMo is the sense of community and accountability for those participating, a bit like weight-watchers for authors!


For so many people, dreams like writing a novel are something that get put off and put back, continually shelved by the urgency of daily life. NaNoWriMo helps writers to start, persevere and finish a novel - the target is 50000 words, and some writing communities encourage participants to post daily word count totals, the equivalent of weight-loss weigh ins. 

Helpful advice and motivation is available from established authors through Twitter and other social media channels. Even physical space - places to write - are made available. I was pleased to see that our local libraries service were supporting NaNoWriMo too and encouraging writers to write in the libraries. 

On the train this week I spotted a lady typing furiously away on her laptop, which was emblazoned with numerous NaNoWriMo stickers! I *almost* went up and asked if I could take a photo for this blog post, but she was plugged into earphones, the train was just arriving at my stop, and frankly I thought it might weird her out, so I refrained.

As the eminently quotable Mark Twain said, 'the secret of getting ahead is getting started'. Starting out is crucial, but there's also something important in persevering in our dreams, and learning to complete the process. It's often more important how we finish than how we start.

How we give space to our dreams, deal with disappointment and help them grow is the subject of my book, just to whet your appetite! Please sign up here to get the latest news on my writing.


Even solo tasks like writing a novel are often better done in community - motivation and encouragement from others are like the wind which makes our dreams dance, like the autumn leaves we started with.


Have you shelved your dreams?
Maybe you're not planning to write a novel. But maybe there is a dream you've been putting off, gathering dust on a shelf, or stuck in a proverbial leaf drift. Finding an encouraging community could be the wind you need to get you started, keep going and then finish off! 

Perhaps this week you can seek out people and groups who will help you - and where you can also offer help and encouragement. It's a biblical principle that you reap what you sow, so while you're waiting for your dreams to dance, why not encourage others around you in theirs? Perhaps you could commit to pray for someone for their next step?

I'd love to hear from you - what dreams have you been putting off? Let me know in the comments below and I promise to offer some encouragement!


Monday, November 03, 2014

Dawn Calm


(Since restarting this blog earlier this year, one of the things that has surprised me is the amount of poetry I've written. This weekend I surprised myself even more with some prose instead! Maybe I'll include this in a novel one day - when I get around to writing another 39,768 words or so.. anyway, I hope you enjoy it.)
"The wind picked up that afternoon as the weather front moved in. Blue skies gradually turned grey and the brightness was replaced by a diffuse, cloud-filtered opalescent sunlight. Driving home, drifts of fallen leaves filled pavements and gutters. A spectrum of yellows to browns, now and then the leaves were picked up and asked to dance by the wind, spinning waltzes across the road in front of us, as if to put on a show.

As darkness fell, so the rain began to fall. Gently at first, then more violently, tipitty-tapping on the windows with an urgency to make it's presence known.


Waking in the night from troubled dreams and looking out of our bedroom window, the wind and rain were in full assault on the neighbourhood. Beneath the sodium street lights raindrops were being driven in horizontal streaks over parked cars and through swaying horse chestnuts. I drifted back into my slumber to the whistle of the wind over the house. A much needed lullaby.

Early next morning, I stood on the back door step with the dog and watched as the rain continued to fall, weighty raindrops bouncing off roofs and fences and patios. Then as suddenly as the autumn dawn appeared, the wind dropped and the rain stopped - as if their shift had ended and it was time to clock off. The new day emerged in a dripping stillness. 

Dawn calm after a stormy night."




Friday, October 31, 2014

Time travel

Where would you go if you could travel through time? Would you go backward or forward, and how far? Perhaps you'd be an observer at a famous moment in history, or maybe stop yourself making a specific mistake. Maybe you'd travel to the future to pick up next week's winning lottery numbers or horse racing results?
"Where would you go if you could travel through time?"
If you're a fan of the 1980s Back To The Future films, you'll know that in the second film Marty and Doc travel forward to 2015! I've seen screenshots from the film doing the rounds on social media recently with what they imagined we'd all be wearing: lots of silver, and global hyper-colour type baseball caps. Maybe the futuristic fashion they imagined was a little off the mark, but not everything imagined in the film is unrealistic - recent news shows that hoverboards are closer than we think.
Chasing after a light beam?

Other science fiction futures have come and gone. Arthur C Clarke's future vision in the award winning film 2001 is an obvious one. We may not have had a manned mission to Jupiter yet, as he imagined we would have done by 2001, but many of the details in the various futures he imagined in his writing have come to pass - electronic newspapers for example, and GPS. He was called by some "The Prophet of the Space Age". 

I don't mind confessing that I'm a fan of science fiction. Although I've not read so much in recent years,  I enjoy imagining different futures - whether aeons into the future or closer to home. Actually I also enjoy historical novels and fantasy too, so I'm a bit of a time traveller when it comes to fiction (although don't mention The Time Traveller's Wife - I have never cried so much at the end of a book - gosh). 

One of my top five themes from the Strengths Finder assessment is "Futuristic" - I think this explains my attraction to sci-fi, as it appeals to that futuristic streak in me: "People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future".

What vision or future do you imagine for yourself? 

It can be hard to think and dream ahead when we get so wrapped up with the demands of the "now". With young kids, broken nights' sleep and a demanding day job I've sometimes found the days and weeks begin to blur and those yearly landmarks of holidays, birthdays and seasons seem to come around quicker and quicker. 

How can we carve out time to look ahead and not just dream a future, but take actions to step into it? Can we imagine ourselves into our dreams?

"What vision or future do you imagine for yourself?"
Watching a Brian Cox documentary about the Universe this week it struck me that whilst astrophysics is undoubtedly a complex and intricate science, some of the greatest theories and breakthroughs came from an almost childlike imagination - stories of Einstein imaging chasing after a beam of light for example. 

I wonder if we can overcomplicate the futures we imagine for ourselves and somehow keep them out of reach. Instead would it be better to be more childlike and simple in some of our dreams, to bring them closer to our "now"?

This isn't to say that we shouldn't dream big or imagine fantastic futures, but that without action to propel us in that direction - without a vector - they may remain unreal, like the clothes imagined in 2015 by Back to the Future. 

Maybe we should think of our dreams like hoverboards - a future vision which became a self fulfilling prophecy. A dream which inspired someone to turn into reality. The thing about vectors, in a mathematical sense, is that they have both size and direction - they're moving. 

It's all very well to have a big dream, but without a direction towards it then it's not going to go anywhere. Conversely, in the blur of the daily grind we can have too much movement and not enough vision. When this happens we're in danger of ending up somewhere we don't want to be. Trapped by the busyness of the everyday. As Socrates said "Beware the barrenness of a busy life"

From a perspective of faith, it's important that we catch onto the vision for our life that God has - usually a much broader, fulfilling and more exciting vision than our own. To do this takes time to listen to God but a good starting point is the things we're gifted with and passionate about.

Setting our vector in the direction God sets may require bravery, but it will ultimately lead to a richer and deeper place. It's important to pray round the dreams and gifts God gives you, and I'd highly recommend Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker on this topic.
"Maybe we should think of our dreams like hoverboards.."
What are the hoverboards in your life that you're imagining in the future? And on what vector are you going to travel through time to get there? We may not have time machines (yet), but we can dream, pray and take steps towards our future vision. For some practical thoughts about carving out time to create a future you don't want to escape from, check out these thoughts from Jonathan Milligan.

It may not work out exactly as we expect, but better to stay child-like and enjoy the journey, than travel at warp speed through the blur of the "now" and fill our future with regrets. 


What are you dreaming of in the future?
*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Time Travel. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 


If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.



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My Random Musings

An ode to pumpkin beer..

'Would you like some pigeon muck?' he asked,
Four stone monster gourds!

As I planted pumpkins on our plot.
'It'll help 'em grow' he added,
So I duly took the lot.

Black Country pigeon poo,
Fragrant and matured,
Turned our pumpkins into giants!
Four stone monster gourds!

The recipe for pumpkin beer
Needed just a meagre kilo.
But what a kilo and what a brew!
And all from bags of pigeon poo!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stop working - start playing

Morning jigsaws
My blog buddies and I are writing posts this week on "What children want". Funnily enough, when I
saw the title, the answer I got from my subconscious without hesitation was "to play".

What children want is to play.

There's plenty of evidence out there that playing is brilliant for our children's development. Problem solving, critical thinking, imagination, self expression - these are all skills our children develop through play. There's a great article on Imaginative Play here which is worth a read. And it's not just the fluffy, creative side that's stimulated by play (as hugely important as this is). Beau Lotto's TED talk on science as play is another great example of the importance of playful curiosity.

"What children want is to play."

The importance of play and allowing our kids to be creative and playful in all of their learning is something that we've been increasingly aware of in our family as we considered and then committed to home education over the last year. We want our kids to stay in love with learning, to stay curious and to keep exploring the amazing and diverse world we inhabit. Learning together as a family has been so enriching and fun so far, and long may it continue.

I've wondered to myself this week - when is it that we get all serious about life? Many of us lose that sense of playfulness somewhere along the way to adulthood. Maybe it's the strain of exams, or the pressure of a finding and keeping a job to support our family.. whatever it is, at some point we seem to lose that natural sense of "play" and settle for the daily grind.

This may not be something we choose to do - sometimes life's circumstances force us to grow up too soon. When I spent time in South Africa recently with Ten Thousand Homes, many of the kids the charity spent time with had lost their parents to HIV Aids and had been forced to look after their younger siblings in child-headed households. We gave these kids a "day of royalty" on the TTH base where they could step outside of their responsibilities for a few hours and just play and have fun. It was a moving, tiring and memorable day.

When do we consign our dreams and passions to the trash can and start being all "grown up"? What dreams have you put down as too childish? Are there areas in your life that have got too serious? Maybe life's circumstances knocked the fun and playfulness out of your life.

An area where I got far too serious for far too long was in my songwriting. As a teenager and then at University I tried to write deep, meaningful and world changing songs, but if I'm honest most of the time I'd get halfway through one, beat myself up for it not being perfect and crumple the paper tearfully into the bin (sometimes literally).

"..are there areas in your life that have got too serious?"

After completing my serious Engineering degree I spent six months travelling with my guitar in South Africa, America and Canada, and wrote an epic amount of songs - somehow recovering my sense of playfulness. I had nothing to lose, plenty of time to fill, and to my surprise produced some really good tunes! This playful and productive period culminated in my first album "Songs for the Kitchen" (copies available on request, in fact I reprised my favourite song from the album as recently as last weekend at an event I played at).

Funnily enough, upon returning from my round the world trip and starting "real" work, my songwriting dried up, and in the next decade I only produced about half a dozen songs. I'd gotten far too serious.

One day last year I stumbled across a book in Waterstones called The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook. The book practically jumped off it's shelf and hit me in the face (I think this was a God-moment).  Guess what the book encourages? Yes you guessed it - playfulness in songwriting as a means to break out from self-imposed rules, shackles and general writers' block.

Earlier this year, while my beautiful family were away visiting relatives, I spent an "immersion" day songwriting.
Immersion songwriting

No expectations.
No seriousness.
Just fun - and ideally 20 songs.

I jammed and created and recorded from 7am to 7pm, on the piano, guitar, mandolin and banjo. I just played and played, ending up with 16 quirky and.. dare I say it.. great songs!

More output than the entire last 13 years put together, and whilst some were genuinely bonkers (a banjo based sea shanty, a mandolin-powered ode to our allotment), others were surprising beautiful and inspired - songs to treasure for each of my kids and for my wife.

I was staggered at what could happen when I stopped taking myself so seriously and just let myself play.

So what do you need to stop working so hard at this week? Where do you need to be more playful?

Let your hair down, take off your self imposed shackles.

Stop working.

Start playing.

"I was staggered at what could happen when I stopped taking myself so seriously and just let myself play."
*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Stop Working - Start Playing. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

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My Random Musings

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blown into the day










Seagulls swirling patterns in the grey-cloud dawn.

A silhouetted crow caws welcome from a factory wall,
then spreads wings to invisible air,
lifting off for higher towers. 

Rain and leaves in the blustery sky.
The tail of Hurricane Gonzalo weakly wagging
as night turns to day.

Diesel trains purr their patient routes,
commuters pour over morning news,

And I drip dry on the station platform. 
Blown into another day.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Into the Wild..

In this post I'm asking whether our lives are too tame, are there things in our own worlds that we can "re-wild" or processes we need to stop restricting to help us live a richer and more diverse existence.

The Call of the Wild


The call of the wild..
One of my favourite literary genres is the travel book. Our bookshelves are full of them, and having filled our bookshelves up years ago I now get my fix of travel books from the library instead.

I particularly like adventure-travel books, where people run around the world, row the Atlantic, cycle home from Siberia etc. Suffice to say I am also a big fan of these kinds of documentaries, like the Long Way Round.

As I've been reading Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" this week on the train, it's set me thinking about wanderlust. And as I've travelled from home to work, from the office to other offices for meetings, I've been wondering if I like reading these kinds of books because they take me out of the "tameness" of ordinary existence.

When you're in the midst of the ordinary, there's something exciting about untamed, unrestrained wildness. Jack London was right - I think there really is a "Call of the Wild" - and is our appetite for travel books, nature documentaries and the like a reaction to the restraints we experience in our 21st century urban western lives?

"..in the midst of the ordinary, there's something exciting about untamed, unrestrained wildness.."

Re-wilding

It's hard to find true wilderness these days
There are few "true" wildernesses around these days. Certainly in the UK it's hard to experience remoteness. This was something Robert MacFarlane explored in his excellent book The Wild Places, and from my own reading of it, I recall he came away with a slightly altered perspective on wildness, appreciating more the pockets of wild he could find much closer to home.

More recently George Monbiot has been exploring the whole "rewilding" movement - allowing natural processes to resume in parts of the country that have, for instance, been excessively grazed. I'd really recommend his book Feral which is a well researched and well reasoned book about not just the more "official" rewilding efforts around the world, but also George's own personal efforts to rewild his own life.

One of the many things that struck me from his book was that a signature feature of wildness is diversity - the need that ecosystems have for keystone species and trophic cascades. Rather than me feebly trying to explain what this means why not instead watch this beautiful and hopeful 5 minute film about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the (positive) impact that cascaded down the entire ecosystem as a result.

I'm challenged by the need to think bigger about some of our conservation priorities.

Monoculture vs Diversity

We're blessed that the road we live on is adjacent to farmland. Whilst doing the washing up I can look out of our kitchen window and observe the crops growing in the field, see the tractor diligently ploughing or sowing or spraying. I see murders (collective noun!) of charcoal grey crows picking out grubs from the freshly churned soil after the plough, or just occupying the fields in their brooding, cawing way. The fields raise a single crop per year, expanses of monoculture - tamed and restrained by the hard work of the farmer.
"..a signature feature of wildness is diversity.."
But, I'm pleased to say, in the spaces between the fields are thriving and diverse hedgerows. Rich in blackberries, birds, sloes, nettles, elderberries, even raspberries if you know where to look! A small copse has fought it's way to life between field boundaries, and is abounding in young oaks. These days I often walk the margins of the fields with our Guide Dog puppy, and I appreciate the wild edges right on our doorstep. There is fruit to be found in wild places.

Too much monoculture in our lives?
Developing this metaphor, perhaps there are parts of our own lives that are overly cultivated, unnecessarily tame. Perhaps we need a monoculture in parts of our life, a regular cash crop to pay the bills. But equally, maybe there are parts of our lives which we need to un-tame.. to re-wild.. our dreams and passions, our time, our resources, our energy.

One key point about the rewilding movement in our land and seas is that it’s about processes not outcome. It's not about creating particular ecosystems but allowing ecosystems to develop in the ways they need to. I like this aspect, it's a different slant on the conservation movement. In our lives, perhaps there are spaces in-between our regular structures where we can introduce some diversity, allow things to be a bit messy but potentially richer - less tame.. more wild.

A point I've raised before that life is more about journeys then destinations - process is often more important than outcome.

A step into the wild

Maybe this week it's time to set some processes to work again in your own ecosystem. I don't know what the metaphorical equivalent of releasing wolves is! (If you can think of a good example, let me know in the comments below). Either way, I want to challenge you this week to un-tame, un-restrain and re-wild.. let's take a journey into the wild.

"..I want to challenge you this week to un-tame, un-restrain and re-wild.."

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Into the Wild. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.
The Dad Network
My Random Musings