Monday, 19 November 2012

Time and place

This has been an odd summer and not only because of the weather.  I don't do very personal writing on this blog because it is far from anonymous and anyway I am not someone who shares very personal things a lot in ordinary life.  Sometimes I read deeply revelatory blogs which share intimate feelings about the writer's life and their family and friends.  They are always weirdly compelling but they also make me feel pretty uncomfortable.  What if your mother in law finds out you think she is an evil old bat?  What if the doctor's receptionist knows you think she is a little Hitler or your best friend discovers that you have told the world that her late night phone calls drive you nuts?  I think the people you love and live with deserve some privacy and while I might tell you what they had for tea and whether they like fires because I am pretty sure they wouldn't mind my doing so, I wouldn't share anything very intimate.  So suffice it to say that this has been a summer where my responsibilities to other people have been right at the forefront of my mind: husband and children and grandchildren, father and mother, brother and sister and father in law.  Am I in the right place doing the right thing for the right people?  This is in part an unexpected result of having left my all consuming job.  Not so very long ago what I could do for other people was seriously constrained by how many hours and how much energy went into my work.  Now I do have more time both for myself but increasingly to give to others who need it. That seems to have coincided with other people's needs intensifying, mainly through age or ill health.   Where should I be?  What should I do?  What really matters?  And how do you give to others and hold onto yourself?

An unsettled period like this leaks into everything.  What is time for?  As Philip Larkin so memorably said "Days are where we live"  so what I do with my days becomes the life I choose to live.  Every year  my springtime obsession with the garden tails off into a tatty and tired August but this year that tailing off co-incided with this whole period of unsettled anxiety about what I need to do to feel ok about myself and other people that I love.  I  hardly looked at or worked in the garden for three months or more and the less I did the more like an irrelevance it seemed.  How could that be when for the last three or four years I have planned and thought and worked obsessively in this garden?

It is I think to do with both time and place.  Time is the currency of our lives and how we spend it demonstrates who we are and what is important to us.  But place is where that time is spent.  When we moved from the city to rural Wales seven years ago that change of place was intended to produce a different life, of course it was.  I had always known I wanted to live in the country again after an adult life that seemed, almost accidentally, to have taken place in cities.  I knew what some of the differences would be: the impact  of the seasons, the lack of convenience.  I didn't go into it blind.  But in some ways I was astonished at how different it made our lives.  All the pillars of our life remained the same: our relationships with each other and with our families, children and friends did not change;  our professional lives at that stage still occupied our weeks.  We didn't see the people who mattered to us more or less frequently. But the pattern of our daily lives changed utterly.  What we saw and heard when we woke in the morning, the clothes we wore, the daily routine of our lives, the food we ate, all were new.  More land and less house, an easy enough requirement to set out to an estate agent, provided a context to our lives which shaped our days.  Outbuildings, chickens, running the holiday cottage, deciding what to do with the land and making that happen: all of these things provided a life in which the daily rhythms were utterly different to what had gone before.

The place that you live can be almost accidental or as if set in stone.  You go away to university and don't go home again.  You or your partner gets a job in a new place and you up sticks and move.  You think you will stay there for a year or two because you still have some sense of another place as home but twenty years on you are still there, with children in schools and friendships made and somehow the accidental place has become where you live.  At the other extreme, you live where you do because you always have done, because your family live there, because you can't imagine living anywhere else.

Gardening though is one of the few passions, activities, arts or obsessions, whatever it is to you,  that is absolutely necessarily rooted in place, in the very ground you work upon.  If I love to play golf (which I don't!) I need my clubs and to find a golf course.  If I am a musician I can carry my instrument with me and play wherever I am.  If I am a historian or a scientist I need access to books or laboratories, to my peers or the tools of my trade.  As an artist or a writer I may be inspired by place but there are very few who, like the writer Alan Garner, are so rooted in place that they are unable to move.  But the gardener, like the farmer, is tethered to the land.

So when you are at sea, pulled by conflicting claims on your time, unable to know where you should be and what you should be doing, if you are a gardener perhaps you can't garden.

I am feeling my way back again, parcelling up my time to give some to my wider family, trying to give time to myself as well as to others, trying to hold to my sense of home.  Sometimes the only way to answer big questions is through a myriad of tiny answers.  What should I do today?  I should phone my mother.  I should walk up the hill in the sunlight.  I should plant out some tulips.  I should wrap a birthday present for my little grandson.  I should sit in my hut and do some Welsh.  I should live consciously, noticing the small happinesses of every day life.

Time and place: how did you choose your place or did it choose you?  How do you decide how to spend the precious currency of your time?

48 comments:

  1. I relive this dilemma regularly. I am not ill, but have a painful condition that periodically floors me, and, after each bad bout, have to decide where to put my efforts and energies. First I have to catch up with what needs doing, then, if I'm still OK, I can do something of my choosing. Get back into art work. Gardening. Venturing out. Or should I do the things I really enjoy first?
    Having lots of time to think about such things doesn't help, either. Neither does being a typical Libran, constantly needing to balance one things against another.

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    1. I suppose we all face the question of how we should spend our time but issues like your health and my family throw them into sharp relief. I hope you are doing enough of the things you really enjoy. It is remarkably easy to use up your efforts and energies on the mundane. I'm not saying the mundane can't be enjoyable or doesn't have to be done but it shouldn't rule!

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  2. Gosh - maybe you should be running therapy classes, Elizabeth, because these are just those questions that I know I should be pondering along with many others too, I suspect. When I do ponder about this, which isn't very often, I draw blanks or reach diametrically opposed conclusions. Sometimes work becomes almost a displacement activity, it is easier to work than think, easier to be propelled along in the strong current of a 'to-do' list than to sit with a glass of wine, perhaps admiring the sunset and ignoring the weeds. Capturing memorable moments seems perhaps the best use of time. Will what I am doing now leave some sort of mark, on me, on others, on the house, in the garden, or will the time just evaporate? That's what I try to ask myself. Which of course time will if you are just watching the sunset (or commenting on blogs). Yet I suppose the latter led to meeting you and the other N. Wales bloggers that day, which certainly was memorable. So there you are, or rather, there I am, come round in a complete circle like a coracle in the wind. I suspect we could debate this for a very long time.



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    1. I love your phrase about coming round in a circle like a coracle. That's perfect. I also agree entirely about work becoming a displacement activity, whether it is paid work or "the things that must be done". Easier to tick things off a list than think too. And also, as you say, memorable things can arise from what seems like inconsequential time. I like your idea about leaving a mark, either metaphorical or actual.

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  3. Wow - what a post, and a position I often find myself in because I work from home - that usually translates to, "Oh she can do it". I currently have a book deadline that is fast-approaching and making my stomach churn. I have decided that I have to devote all of my time to it in the next week, which will mean saying "no" to a few things. I am just wondering how that is going to fly!

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    1. It's curious how much time goes into the servicing of others isn't it? I would hate to live in a world where that didn't happen but getting it right is close to impossible. Perhaps we just have to swing from one extreme to another!

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    1. Thank you. It was something which took me a long time to write and even longer to realise I wanted to write.

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  5. more open and eloquent that I, in a sort of similar situation. We semigrated to the country, where they speak a different language (Afrikaans, not Welsh). More garden, yes, but we find it becomes a substantial occupation. And my frail mother is far away. It's complicated, and I'm in limbo.

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    1. I identify very much with the comment about being in limbo. I am trying not to be as I don't think any of the people I care about would wish for that but it takes real effort and self discipline to be here now. If ever I crack it I will let you know!

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  6. Great post. I am always wary of mentioning other people and, on our Parkinson's walks always try to take photos from the back.

    I do, however, mention my husband (Lewy Body Dementia) as that impacts on my whole life. I am surprised at how short of time I am even though he is in care now - I am enjoying being able to get in the garden again - my therapy.

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    1. It is a bit of a balancing act Susan - trying to be honest in what you blog without invading the privacy of others. Glad you are getting into your garden!

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  7. Introspective, provoking, meaningful . . .

    Time and Place . . . and choice. I ponder, reflect, wonder . . . what is it all about.

    I keep ticking along . . . even with the thought, . . .did I CHOOSE this place . . .

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    1. I wonder, did you choose it? I chose this one but perhaps this is the first one in my life I have felt I did choose since I chose to go to London for university. The places in between just seemed to happen without active choice!

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  8. Gardening is a nurturing occupation. When you step outside you notice an unhappy leaf or the tiniest sign of the flower to come. It is its own reward. However, for the times when your nurturing is needed elsewhere, or physical or monetary limitations take over, set an achievable goal. Plant a few tulips in a pot close to your door. Enjoy them to the max. Or foster a garden by volunteering. When I had lost my gardening rhythm, I filled planter boxes to enhance the entrance of a home for children in care.

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    1. Thank you. You are right about setting smaller goals. Sometimes pots are just the right scale to engage with. I am finding that thinking about bulbs is working for me but then I have always loved bulbs!

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  9. Good questions, time and place... how much do we choose, how much do we merely accept? And most importantly, does it make any difference?

    I chose my current life and home and place very specifically, on purpose. Now that I've lived here over ten years, planted my gardens, grown into my home, what I wonder is how long I'll be able to keep it up. At my current age, I'm able to keep hanging on by the skin of my teeth, paying the bills by cutting costs a bit here and there, and doing things myself instead of paying someone else. But in my later years, will I be able to hold onto my house? My life?

    It's thoughts like that keep me up in the night.

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    1. Oh Marcheline, those thoughts would keep me awake too. I suspect that your life goes with you but we too are aware that this is probably not our last house, love it though we do - too isolated, too much work and all those things. It does make a difference to choose though in my view. So many people have said to me that I am lucky to live here. I am, of course I am, but we did choose and took the risks and the losses that came with that as well as the sunrises.

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  10. You're worrying, thoughtfully and productively and quite beautifully, at exactly some questions that have been surfacing for me lately as well. We live on a very small island (off a very large island) and the logistics of living here make a big difference in how we interact with people and in how we govern our energies. As well, we have a small apartment in the city, within an hour of most of our family. Our small-island home nurtures us in so many ways, but with ailing/aging parents in the city along with our siblings, our children, and now our wonderful grandchild(soon to be grandchildren). . . .that exerts a big pull as well. Added to that is my looming decision about when to retire and where we should be then . . . and the need to preserve something of myself, just for me, through all that.

    We had no idea, when we were in our 20s, that folks our age had such issues to contend with, did we? Didn't it seem as though we surely would have had it all figured out by now? Ha!
    Thanks for the post -- it's been useful for me. And I hope you find just the right kind of small, enjoyable tasks today, present-wrapping, tulip-planting, whatever. . . but remember that fallow time is productive as well.

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    1. It is odd how having choices, even if they are difficult ones, brings its own problems. I will be fascinated to see what you decide and to know how you decide it, if you choose to share that. And yes, we did think that people in their fifties and sixties had it all sorted and I suppose looking around many of them seem to, but clearly not all!

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  11. Oh Gosh Elizabeth - such questions, and ones I have been struggling with myself the last couple of months ... Although more about time than place I think .... and balance, balance is my perpetual struggle and one that I often seem to loose.

    I also love Fennie's words "coming round in a circle like a coracle" I think it is a title for a piece of work.
    K

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    1. Balance has been a problem for me all my life: between work and children, between being away and being home, between self and others. I suspect that it is only be constantly correcting and recorrecting, like a helmsman on the tiller of a boat, that we have any chance at all of getting it right!

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  12. Lovely, thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Elizabeth, and one that resonates with me at the moment. I, too, have neglected my garden this year as other more pressing priorities have pushed it down the agenda, but it will be there another year.

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    1. I know that you lost your mother earlier this year Marianne. These great upheavals in our lives are like underwater earthquakes and take a long time to settle. Knowing that there is another year is a good place to start.

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  13. I've been feeling that myself lately, what to do with time, having just left employment and feeling like the last ten years I was in prison, not living my life but just existing and now I'm free from work and taking care of those I love.

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    1. It takes a while to feel you know what you want I think Emma but at least you are no longer in the prison! Awful to feel like that about somewhere you spend so much time and great to be doing something else I would imagine.

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  14. Wow. I liked the time as currency thing, I will reflect more on that.
    I moved in the countryside 2 years ago and I will take the same decision a million times. Sometimes though I miss my family which now lives 160km far away. It's not that far but it's not that close either and sometimes I wonder if I had found a place like this closer to them, maybe I should have looked better. Maybe I just wanted to go away.

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    1. Interesting thought that you maybe wanted a bit of distance. I have found that the place thing varies as one's family ages. I have lived at least 200 miles from my parents for all of my adult life and never had any trouble seeing plenty of them and feeling fine about that and close to them even with the distance. Now as they grow older and have some health problems, I even envy you your 160 kilometres!

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  15. When you write like this I feel like we would be very good friends if our places were a bit closer together. Not that you being there and me being here makes that impossible, but you know what I mean. (Don't you??) I get such pleasure from being inside your head like this, and appreciate the way you write. But these things are not really the point, even if they are my first reaction...

    Although our circumstances are different, we share a difficulty to find a way to be relevant, in a way. That's not really the right way to put it, but virtually everything you said could have come from my thoughts. I want to feel that what I do with my days(the 'currency' metaphor is brilliant!)is worthy of life. It's not, although more and more I realize that I am happiest when useful to others, which really means my family. The place I live in is far from most of them, and is the source of some regret and frustration that I'm not doing what I should/want to be doing. My eldest son recently moved here (it will probably only be temporary) and I've been almost surprised by my delight at being useful to him. But I still have a wish to be doing more that stimulates and enriches me personally - to be more involved with a much wider world, to be more active intellectually, less solitary, less wasteful of my days. I chose my companion, but not this place. The two were a package, for reasons I could do nothing about at the time, and although we now have the option of leaving here, there is a lot of reluctance on his part to do so. Understandably! I'm not unhappy here, but it has left me rudderless, in a way. I think I'd better stop talking...oh dear, ELizabeth, I feel like you've opened Pandora's box - but in a good way!!

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    1. Yes I do know what you mean Deborah and I too feel we could be good friends. Perhaps we should make an effort to make that be more than a virtual connection!

      Odd that every word you write resonates with me as you say my words did with you. Yes to the usefulness to family members and the delight in it, which is particularly pressing now that I can see how much difference that makes to my parents, although like you the delight element is particularly strong when it is a usefulness to our children. I know my husband shares this, in fact generally he is more useful practically than I am! Yes to the wish to be more intellectually active. We did choose this place and in many ways I love it but your description of yourself as rudderless is something that I recognise, certainly from over the summer. I am not sure where I am up to now! It's fascinating to discover others like you and materfamilias wrestling with some of the same problems!

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  16. I'm always full of admiration for those who just soldier on cheerfully , generously giving of their time and spreading the light . The main revelation recently is how I'm not one of them .... slightly chastening , this !
    So I decided to work time for myself into the mix and it has helped , as has not planning too far ahead . Each good day , and there are many of them , is to be treasured .
    I think we're all doing very well !

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    1. I like both of these bits of advice! Will adopt them.

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  17. This of course is a fabulous post and I've been irritated that I couldn't leave a comment for the past couple of days (computer hassle) and now probably everyone else said all there is to say!

    There is a sense you are adrift; missing and questioning what you've given up; trapped by your choices but more than that, a little afraid even. I have know that feeling, or something like it anyway. I have no real answers, just empathy and a hope you'll come through.

    Last night I was talking to someone in the pub who said: I worry about the past; I worry about the future - so I try to live in the moment. And then she added: alcohol, sex and valium are my saviours! Thankfully, she laughed as she said it.

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    1. I think I have been very much adrift and hope I am coming back to a clearer sense of how to make things work. The apprehension which you sense is I suppose to do with the difficulty of dealing with the demands on my time and energy of people living 300 miles apart. We will see how it goes.

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  18. I love reading your blog. We are where we are because we wanted to live in a lovely place and have good schools for the girls. Now they are growing one at uni and one doing GCSES we desire to be in a quieter location in the middle of no where. But i question whether i would realy like it. I crave the quietness and the space as we live in a busy village with traffic bustling through but we know everyone and would i miss the people? I myself give to everyone in various aspects and i enjoy it and have self worth but in another way i would like to get off and not continue like this for the rest of my life.

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    1. That is the dilemma I suppose: quietness and space and people don't easily go together! Hope you find the right answer for you.

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  19. I chose where I am now but haven't been able to completely leave where I was before. So I hover between one and the other, not sure where I want to be; tied to them both by necessity and desire. I'm very lucky to be able to be in both and not have to decide. But the need to is with me every day and makes me feel restless.

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    1. I understand that restlessness very well. I am trying not to feel it and just to be. there are advantages in being tied to two places as well though!

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  20. One of the questions I ask new volunteers as I screen them is 'what do you do to provide balance in your life?' It's a question I need to take away for my own contemplation. As has happened so often over the years, you have written something that mirrors what I am experiencing at the same time, on this side of the world. This house chose us - there was no turning away from it even though we'd no intention of moving. Here now, overwhelmed by the calls on my time, the house is sometimes a refuge and sometimes a source of anxiety - or rather the garden is a source of anxiety. Will that change when I leave my professional life behind? I hope so. In the meantime, that search for balance seems very important.

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    1. I hope you achieve your balance. It was fascinating to talk to you when we met in the summer about your own balancing act. Good luck!

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  21. This is a lovely, thoughtful post, Elizabeth, but like others I read who express these feelings, I often think "Gosh, she sounds so tired!" and wonder how much quiet 'down time' you really let yourself have? I can't imagine there's much time available to you, with so much else to do. This could have been - well, was - me a few years ago. Nowadays, I can say, with relief, that I am 'time rich' and sometimes do very little at all with it; like you, I set myself little goals, but for very different reasons - laziness can creep in very easily! And like Deborah, I need to be useful, hence some voluntary work, but I have to guard against becoming so busy again that my health and wellbeing suffer. Finding balance is a challenge for us all, isn't it!

    As you know, I chose this life as I have it now, aiming for tranquillity, and look what happened - a whirlwind blew into it. I had barely had time to have that sense of home you talk about, here in my new life, before another person appeared to share it. Now I have moments of feeling unsettled as I ask myself if this is where we want to stay for ever, or if we have other horizons to aim for.

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    1. I think you are right that I am, or have been, very tired. I am less so now! Your story is a perfect example of how things blow in and turn things upside down, happily in your case! It is perhaps a further reason not to spend as much time planning as I tend to do and more time just being!

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  22. Lots to think about and lots of reasons to hold you in our thoughts. As to your question - I landed where I am by chance. My camera has bound me to it but there's a lot missing from life which wouldn't have been missing if chance hadn't been paramount. So I want to live somewhere else - but would grieve for where I am.

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  23. Somehow I missed this! It's a difficult topic for me right now as we are desperately torn between staying where we are - for now the kids are here, my ancient parents moved up here - and relocating, which I think is what we need to do for us, although financially it would likely be a challenge. Much food for thought in this post!

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  24. It is utterly exhausting when you are caring for one who is old or sick, even if you aren't in the same physical space. And we have to allow ourselves to feel that exhaustion, and accept it. We've just been through a year of dealing with Tom's father's Alzheimer's, as you know, and now we find ourselves very tired. We've come to realize that this is the crash, the letdown after holding ourselves on guard for such a long time. You are still in the middle of this with such great stress and strain on your emotions. What's that phrase, 'keep on keeping on' - that pretty much says it all. Thinking of you and hoping you may find some peace in each day. I think living in a beautiful place, as we both do, is a great source of strength. May it help you in these days.
    I've just read through the comments, and wanted to say that Fennie's reminds me of what a working-outside-the-house friend said to me when our kids were younger. She could go off to work and forget all the troubles at home. In some way that sounds like almost an escape, don't you think. I can't really live like that. When something upsets me, I am totally immersed until it is over or I've found a way to cope.
    I liked very much the way Materfamilias spoke of 'fallow' time- just perfect.
    (You did see the spam message above, didn't you?)

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  25. I haven't read through the other comments, but I will come back. I was moved by your honesty; like you I don't really give personal details on my blog, the garden is enough of a personal thing to share with the world. I'll answer only about place. I visited Italy whe I was on a school trip (14 years old) and simply wanted to live ther - I felt more at home than I had ever done in my real home country. Nine years ago we finally moved here - it was a great decision, the right thing, even with difficulties of language, etc. The garden demands my time, especially as I grow a lot of our own vegetanles, so holidays are determind by when I can leave! This comment is too long, sorry - perhpas I should write a post. Christina

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  26. What an eloquent and thought-provoking post. I think the idea of being mindful of each moment, and of getting up each day and asking "what should I, could I, do today" is a good way to approach life when it is complex in its demands and energy is limited. But I find it is only by looking back over a period that I spot where my priorities were, and can think about whether I am happy with the balance or not. As to place, I hurled around, city to city, when I left home to go to University. When I moved to Bristol it was for the job, and I only intended to stay a few years. I nearly left for a very different life after 3, but ended up staying until I couldn't any longer. And when we moved to our last house it was for a couple of years, no more. Life happened, and we were there for 18! I will always be grateful for my time there because it was my first garden, was the place I discovered how passionate I could be about gardening. But it was never home, whereas here has been home since we first looked around the house. House, garden, village, beach, all give me a sense of calm, peace, belonging, home. Strange, but true.

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  27. I am late to this really interesting post Elizabeth but can relate to it as others have. I was where you are but I have recently given up my job and am really happy now doing whatever takes my fancy each day. I am cutting down on everything, social 'commitments' especially and refuse to feel guilty about saying No. Time is my most precious gift... a 'present' in every sense and I enjoy it as much as I can. The weather stops me gardening as I am (usually) only a fair weather gardener but when I do garden I do reap its therapeutic benefits. especially if I am worried about anything. You must be kind to yourself and not live to anyone else's expectations. Don't try and do everything and don't try to do everything perfectly. Follow your bliss, count your blessings. I have no parents to care for or in-laws, no grandparents,only my own offspring. There are so many things that I have missed out on in childhood and would love to have a mother or father to care for now. Be kind to yourself, care for yourself, if you don't there will be nothing left to give to others.

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I really love to know what you think and to have the chance to start a conversation. I always try to respond (although sometimes it might take me a day or two to get to you) either here or by visiting you.