Tag Archives: retreat

Of snowflakes, throats and skiving

On the way to the therapist this afternoon, a snowflake flew up my nose. That was definitely The Wrong Kind of Snow. On the way back, the flakes were bigger and more settle-y, so I decided they were now The Right Kind of Snow. Just as I decided this, a large flake landed in my eye, despite the fact that I was wearing glasses. Perhaps it was The Wrong Kind after all…

Not because of the snow, but because my throat is still sore and I coughed something nasty up at lunchtime, I am dropping out of the Anabaptist Theological Forum tomorrow in Warwickshire. This is a big disappointment as I missed the spring one this year too, and was looking forward to some sharp theological debate. But I do have to save myself for the local retreat I’m going to (non-residential) at the weekend. Also for skiving off the retreat twice, once on Friday night to go to the school Christmas Fair, and once on Saturday afternoon to go to the London Mennonite Centre Christmas party, the last one at that location before they move. Not that one has to be well to skive off, but it probably helps.


On the train on my way back from retreat yesterday (the retreat was, by the way, fabulous – spent a whole day just sitting out in the garden reading), I overheard the following snatches:

‘An aging housewife, that’s what he thinks I am’, followed shortly by ‘There’s no way you could ever get him to say…’ and then I couldn’t get the next bit. Intriguing, I thought, this sounds like a very intimate conversation to be having loudly on a train. But I caught no more. Getting off the train, I spied the speaker, an elegant looking woman of a certain age, accompanied by an equally elegant white haired man. No further clues. If you were the speaker or listener, or can suggest what/who they were talking about, please get in touch!

PS I am still pretty daunted by the huge pile of things to be done, not to mention the book, but a weekend of sheer indulgence in a beautiful place has made me feel generally a bit more able to tackle life. Managed to get various bits of admin done today, including the one which was causing me most anxiety (to do with National Insurance and Carers’ Allowance – I hate sorting financial matters). And it was solved with one simple phone call… I should know better by now, that things are never as big as they seem when they’re looming.

An explanation

I have to make an apology. To those of you who read this blog (if there’s anyone still here) yesterday’s entry must have appeared to have come out of the blue after a couple of fairly chirpy entries about our Big Trip etc. The fact is that this depression has been building up ever since we got back from America, but I was too low to blog about it. Actually yesterday I was even more low but I felt desperate to express it in some way. I have had a few bright spots during the last couple of months but they have been so fleeting, no more than a few days of finding life tolerable or even slightly pleasant. To tell the truth, I feel now as if this particular depression has been going on for years, but then in the midst of depression one’s memory is very distorted and tells one that things have never been anything but bad. If I listened to my feelings just now I would think I have been depressed continually a) for the past twenty years or b) continuously since 1972. Neither of which, I know objectively, is true.

On the other hand, during the brief periods of mental sunshine, I am convinced that I am now cured and that depression will never hit again. Which is equally untrue.

The facts on the ground, to sound like a newscaster, are that I have managed to contact two possible sources of counselling or psychotherapy, and booked myself a retreat this weekend, as well as buying my train tickets online and ringing up to book both my taxi from the station, and my return taxi on Sunday. All of which has to be better than yesterday. I just have to remember that while the retreat will undoubtedly make me feel better, it will not be a magic cure and nor will I return from it with a brilliant idea that will totally transform my life. Or with a poem I can enter into the poetry competition whose deadline has been extended. Although the latter is possible.

I have to tell myself that change comes slowly and that I can do little things every day to improve the immediate circumstances. Such as going down the road, which I did this afternoon, to buy some dental appliance sterilizing tablets. Which the dentist didn’t have but has ordered for me, thus ensuring that I will have to make another trip down the road next week. Of such small things is sanity made.

Well retreated

Have just returned from a fabulous retreat at St Cuthman’s, a beautiful 17th century house with enormous lake and gardens, where they don’t do anything organized but just give you a comfortable room, masses of lovely food and the run of an extremely good library. What they hadn’t laid on for me this weekend, but someone did, was utterly gorgeous weather all day for two days. All I did was sit in the sun in the garden (had to use a sunshade as it was too hot!) and read. Managed to devour two and a half spiritual books and one and a half novels. This could have resulted in spiritual (or literary) indigestion but didn’t, as I actually took them very slowly and kept stopping to think.

As a result of the thinking I also drafted three poems (well, I think one of them is more or less finished) which is more than I have done in the last four years. I think I need beautiful places and good books to write poetry.

I didn’t get actual indigestion either, despite the lavish food. Then on the way back I went straight to the Mennonite Centre where there was a delightful party to welcome the former director and his wife who were passing through on holiday. We sat out in the garden with candles in jars and had a great time chatting to various other old friends who had gathered to see them. We also gave them advance notice that we want to visit them in Elkhart, Indiana next year!

Now I have returned to almost 70 emails and a double booking for lunch. Am back pedalling furiously and trying to stop myself taking on lots of new and interesting commitments which I know I won’t be able to sustain. Even if I am not bipolar, my moods certainly behave rather like it…

Unbeatable offers

More unrefusable offers from Freecycle:
Wanted: Traditional Wood Hat Stand. Presumably for the use of those who wear traditional wood hats.
Offered: Exercise bile. If exercise makes them that bitter I think they are right to give it up.
And finally, Offered: Friends. I have some already, thank you.
To change the subject, last weekend I went on retreat to my favourite retreat house (the one where there is nothing organized, you can just relax). I had plenty of time sitting in the sun in the garden with a good book, but my favourite moment was when what I thought was lemon meringue pie, which is a food abomination (how can you contaminate meringue, the food of the gods, with lemon curd, the food of Satan?), turned out to be Queen of Puddings, which is almost the best pudding ever barring syllabub and Eton Mess. Shallow, moi? But really, the food is one of the very best things about this particular retreat house.
I have returned with my youth renewed like The Eagles (didn’t they have a reunion tour recently?), but no lighter.

Thank you for the music

Have spent the day (rather unexpectedly, as I wasn’t originally planning to go) at a ‘day retreat’ run by a music therapist friend, in which she got us to express various emotions, hopes etc by using simple musical instruments – mostly percussion but of many kinds and even a few you could blow into. It was great fun and very relaxing (though the church it was in was cold), and it was remarkable how a bunch of people who arrived quite wound up and initially made very noisy and aggressive music, gradually calmed down into gentle, happy sounds. And the gluten-free brownies were pretty nice too. A pity there were only six attenders* as it was planned for 15.

*this is the proper word for someone who attends. An ‘attendee’, if it existed, would be someone who was attended. Nah, nah, nah nah nah.

Retreat and advance

This is not to show you how spiritual I am, but I spent the weekend at an Advent retreat. Actually the retreat house is ten minutes’ walk from my house, but I stayed overnight because that’s the only way to get away from plaintive cries of ‘Mum’ at night. Also it happened to coincide with the Mennonite Christmas party, and as the retreat was half way between my house and the Mennonite Centre, I skived off the retreat on Saturday afternoon to go to the party.

Mennonite Christmas parties include nice easy crafts like cutting out snowflakes, sticking cloves in oranges and stringing popcorn (cooked) and cranberries (raw) together to make garlands, as well as lots of carol singing. Advent retreats include long periods of quiet, a few thoughtful reflections and a large quantity of good food (the building is also an international hostel full of students who eat a lot). At this one there was also a concurrent retreat of folk who had been turned down for Methodist ordination training. I actually didn’t know this until the end – well obviously I knew there was another group but I didn’t know what they had in common. Anyway during the communion service yesterday which the two groups shared, I had an extraordinary feeling that the man next to me was called to ministry. When I later discovered he’d just been turned down for training, I had to tell him about it. It was deeply embarrassing as I am not a person who normally has ‘words from the Lord’ all the time. But I hope it encouraged him.


..what a day of quiet, with opportunity to pray, think, write, draw and sit in a ten-acre garden, can do for one’s general state of mind and spirit. I went to my Quiet Day yesterday and had loads of space to just be, to sit on a bench under a yew tree watching the gentle rain, hear Mrs Blackbird shirring her wings, watch a robin bouncing round on his invisible space hopper, and the squirrels scalloping the lawn.. I think I must be a nature mystic.

The raft of problems from filing piles to son’s homework, still remain, but I feel refreshed, restored and ready to start tackling life again. One of the tasks on the list is to apologize to therapist for failing to turn up on Friday (and failing to ring to tell her why). I have a feeling I will be saving the apology till next week’s appointment so I can use it as an intro to a declaration that I want to stop therapy. The relationship with this particular therapist just hasn’t worked, and it doesn’t seem to be doing me much good, even after nearly three years. That’s a lot of time and money!

A break-in and a breakaway

Because it happened before I started my blog, I didn’t mention the intruder we had early last week in the middle of the night. Nothing taken as far as we could see, but the cat flap was smashed up and the pieces, bizarrely, buried in our herb bed, and son’s school bags were dumped on the lawn. We heard a noise about midnight, but thought it was just the cat or something falling out of son’s overstocked loft bed. Next morning we found the damage and also learnt that the neighbours whose garden backs onto ours (and whose daughter & friend had climbed the fence to visit us that day) had a full scale burglary with a bicycle and a handbag taken. Obviously the same gang.

Police were very helpful, taking fingerprints and even printing a crime leaflet, asking for witnesses, to be dropped through all the doors in our road* (what a wonderful thing computers are). We lived with an open cat flap for several days, delighting the cat, but also allowing ingress to a very bold fox – I went to the kitchen one night, hearing another noise, and spied fox standing just outside in the dark, staring at me with his eyes reflecting our light. I’m sure he’s been eating Pippin’s food as it’s gone down much faster than usual. However the Grouch has now put the new flap in, much to chagrin of both cat and fox.

He has also discovered that his digital camera is missing – which means that the intruder did get as far as the hall after all. I can’t believe he/they didn’t take my handbag full of money and credit cards, which was in full view. I feel very blessed that they didn’t, as it’s only 18 months since I had my bag snatched in Tesco’s car park, when I was at a very low ebb already. I guess they heard our voices upstairs talking about the noise, and scarpered with only the camera (which, sadly, had been a Christmas present from me to the Grouch).

Anyway, I only heard of its absence when I got back from my very quiet and relaxed weekend retreat at a beautiful seventeenth century house in Sussex that only does individual stays and not groups. In glorious weather I did a lot of reading, mostly sitting in the garden, a lot of eating hearty meals that I didn’t have to cook and didn’t even have to talk at (they have a silent dining room as well as a sociable one), a little walking and a little praying. All very therapeutic, and I even drafted my first poem for ages. The poem had a lot of colours in it, from the garden and the house: the garden apart from green is mostly purple, orange, pink and yellow, and the house a warm red which is even warmer in the sunset.

Books read:
1) The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam who is my utmost favourite contemporary writer (I think this was a children’s book but who cares?) – the retreat house has a very impressive library with an excellent Jane Gardam collection. This one was all about what used to be called Westmorland, and made me want to go there immediately.
2) The Second Journey by Gerald O’Collins, a Catholic writer (it’s a Catholic retreat house), a very wise look at the process of entering the second half of life, and the changes in perspective we can go through at that stage – extremely relevant for me at present, and chimes in with much of what Richard Rohr was saying a couple of Greenbelts ago.
3) The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden, which I had bought in a charity shop some months ago and taken on holiday to Lithuania, where it got stolen on a bus (why? who reads out of fashion English novels in Lithuania?) when I had only read two or three chapters. The retreat house, bless them, had it in the library so I was able to finish it, and what a well written novel it was.

*the leaflets were to be dropped through the doors, not the witnesses…