Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

 

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In my childhood I lived in a wonderful road where everyone knew each other. Children used to gather after school to hang out, build camps, run races and generally have fun. The older kids looked after the younger ones and so long as we we didn’t leave the street and were back by tea time our parents weren’t the least bit concerned.

It wasn’t just the children I befriended. Across the road from me lived a fascinating lady who had been a missionary overseas. Even as a teenager I would look forward to my visits with her over cups of tea and slightly stale biscuits as she recounted her adventures from around the globe.

Next door the Finnegans always had a plaster for us if we grazed our knees, and Mr O’Leary at number nine let us climb in his trees and build tree houses. No one needed a CRB check to speak to us. We were neighbours, the next best thing to family, a community that did life together, that laughed, cried and grew together.

Nowadays being a neighbour, and part of a community, is much more challenging. People build higher and higher fences and walls around their homes, any adult befriending a child that is not their own is automatically looked on with suspicion, and you’d probably be hesitant to hand out plasters or serve cake in case of allergic reactions and court cases.

But all is not lost. It is still possible to be a good neighbour today and a community of strangers can become a community of friends. Here are some of the things I have seen happening in my street recently:

  1. Christmas cards

    There is no better way to find out who lives in your street than to send them Christmas cards. “To all at number 10, wishing you a very Merry Christmas from Olivia McCabe at number 28” lets them know you are there, thinking of them, and gives them the opportunity to send a card back introducing themselves to you in turn.

  2. Neighbourhood Watch

    If there is a Neighbourhood Watch group in your road then think about joining it, if not then why not start one? You will get updates from your local police about what to watch out for in your area, and you will have the chance to get to know more of your neighbours. This is also a perfect opportunity for neighbours to keep an eye on each other’s houses whilst people are away on holiday.

  3. Parking

    If parking is limited in your area be as courteous as you can be about where you park. Our neighbours let us know when they are going to be away and offer their driveways as extra parking when people need it. People aren’t in the least bit territorial about their patch of tarmac and as a result it all feels very relaxed and friendly.

  4. Bins!

    Also know as garbage or trash cans. In England we have wheelie bins. In my part of Hertfordshire we are big on recycling and have four different colour bins. After a recent Christmas party where over sixty guests descended on our house (including a lot of our neighbours) we were left with a lot of recycling. One couple who had been away over Christmas and New Year and not used their bins offered us extra space. Now how’s that for good neighbours?

  5. The Sick and Bereaved

    One of the things I absolutely loved about my time living in the southern States of America is how communities rally together when people are sick or bereaved. You only have to sneeze and cartons of home-made chicken soup land on your doorstep. If you are bereaved then you don’t need to shop for food for months. A steady stream of people come to your door to offer their condolences and always bring mountains of food with them.

    This is a habit I have brought with me back to England and it is slowly catching on. One neighbour recently had her appendix out and she was inundated with some delicious soups and breads on her return. When my other neighbour’s wife died suddenly the whole street set up a rota to cook for the bereaved husband for a month. He is now the first person to take food round to people who are struggling, usually in the form of his excellent chocolate pie.

  6. The Lonely

    We all know that there is a huge difference between people living in solitude and people who are lonely. Young mums may be surrounded by a big family and still be lonely, where as an elderly woman living on her own may be perfectly content. That being said it’s always good to find out which of your neighbours are living alone and check up on them once in a while.

    The key thing in all of this is relationship building. No two people are the same and you can’t have a one size fits all approach to building community with your neighbours. You just need to get creative in getting to know them as individuals. When you have done that you can invite them to barbecues in your back garden, call on them for a lift to the airport in the dead of night, and be there for them when they lose someone precious to them. After all, aren’t we designed to be part of something bigger than ourselves?

    Are you a good neighbour? What have others done to be a good neighbour to you?

    Have a good one,

    Liv x

Seasonally Affected

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A Way Out of the Winter Blues

At the beginning of February during my first year at university I met with my personal advisor and told him I was thinking of dropping out. After chatting for a considerable amount of time I agreed to give it until Easter before deciding for sure. I ended up staying. The following February I went back to the same advisor and once again told him I was thinking about dropping out. I had totally forgotten we had already had this conversation the year before. Thankfully he had not. He reminded me of it and asked me if I thought I might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I had no idea what Seasonal Affective Disorder was. I had never even heard of it.I decided to find out.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a recognised mental health condition and is a form of depression. It mainly affects sufferers during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight and the days are shorter. It can leave you feeling listless, apathetic, tired, hungry, irritable and insecure. As I sat with my professor I realised that it had been a particularly cloudy start to the year and I hadn’t seen full sunlight on over a month! No wonder I wanted to drop out. What my body was craving was hibernation!

Statistics suggest that as many as one in fifteen Brits suffer from S.A.D. each year, and many more have a lesser form of it in terms of the “Winter Blues.” But what can be done about it? Not all of us can afford the time or money to jet off to sunnier climbs, although that is a fantastic solution if you are able. Here is some of my own experience, strength and hope for you fellow suffers out there. I’d love to hear your suggestions too.

  1. S.A.D. Lamps and Light Therapy Boxes

    There has been a lot of debate over the effectiveness of S.A.D. Lamps and Light Therapy Boxes. To date there is no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that they do help with S.A.D. However there are numerous individuals who believe that it has helped improve their condition. Do be careful though. There are numerous cheap, and not so cheap, knock-offs out there that will be of no help at all. If you do try to go down this route make sure you buy a medically certified SAD Light Therapy Box. Check the www.sad.org.uk website for details.

    I tried a natural sunlight alarm clock. It didn’t personally help me but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be a help to you. Have any of you had success with light boxes?

  2. Daylight hours

    Spend as much time as you can during daylight hours outside. If you have an indoor job this can be particularly tricky, but every time you head to the coffee machine nip outside for a minute or two. Consider it the S.A.D. equivalent of taking a cigarette break. Even if it is cloudy and raining it’s worth standing in a porch and looking outside. Sunlight is reduced by clouds but not completely blocked or else it would remain like nighttime. Grab what you can! It all adds up.

  3. Omega-3

    For the last few years I have started taking Omega-3 fish oil tablets. Research suggests that Omega’3s increase the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain which in turn raises our moods. I have definitely found this to be the case. Since taking these tablets my S.A.D. has been almost unnoticeable compared to how bad it used to be.

  4. Vitamin B6 and Magnesium

    I take extra vitamin B6 and magnesium during the winter months (Dec-Feb). These help me maintain healthy sleep cycles and energy levels during the darker nights. I’d definitely recommend this as a seasonal measure against S.A.D., if not all year.

  5. St John’s Wort

    Another natural remedy that has been proven to reduce all kinds of depression. I now take St John’s Wort all year round and have been very pleased with the results.

  6. Support Groups

    No one should suffer from S.A.D. alone, and in this day and age you don’t need to. There are plenty of support groups you can join online to talk about the challenges you face, identify with other sufferers and get support. I’m a member of a great group on Facebook who have been a lifeline to myself and others during our darkest days.

  7. Anti-depressants

    Here in Britain there still exists a huge stigma around taking drugs for mental health. As someone who is half-American and having spent time living abroad I see no different between taking anti-depressants for depression and taking a paracetamol for a headache. If it works and improves your quality of life then why not? Having tried a number over the years I finally found Agomelatine. It has the least side effects of any I have taken to date. Regardless of what you do take, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to find the right one for you and not to change the dose or stop taking it without medical supervision.

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  8. Plant bulbs

    I know you may not feel like doing anything other than hide under your duvet with a large bag of crisps but it does help to make plans. Anything that can remind you that there is life beyond your current situation is helpful. One thing I do is plant bulbs. I have a small green outside my house which overlooks fields and hedgerows. When I’m feeling low I plant a bulb under the trees on the green. When the snowdrops, bluebells, daffodils and tulips come up in the spring I take a photograph of them which I keep on my wall by my bed. When things get bad I remind myself of new life, new beginnings, new growth that is already beginning under the surface even though I can’t see it. This is just one more thing which helps me get through the day.

What other ways do you cope with S.A.D.? I’d love to hear from you.

Liv

The Liv Interviews: Derek Weisman

Fireside Chats With New Writers

the-badlands-sagaLiv: This month’s Liv Interviews is with author Derek Weisman. Hello Derek, welcome. Tell the readers a bit about yourself. How long have you been writing?

Derek: Thanks Liv, good to be here. I started writing when I was about fourteen. I had just read The Stand by Stephen King and thought the ending was lame. It made me want to write a book of my own, so I started writing. I have Aspergers which I found particularly difficult to cope with during my teens. I learned to channel this into my writing and now see it as an asset. I always have plenty of things to write about.

Liv: That’s amazing Derek. So did you go straight into writing a novel or did you try other things like poetry and short stories first?

Derek: I wrote one and a half novels when I was fourteen. Looking back at the writing it makes my eyes bleed: bad grammar, bad plot, bad characterisation. It was worse than 50 Shades of Grey! [laughs]

Liv: [laughing] I think we’ve all got those first attempts lying in a drawer somewhere. So where did you come up with your idea for your debut novel, The Badlands Saga?

Derek: I screwed up with a good friend of mine. She had this smile that turned anything to gold. One time she shaved her head and it made her look like a Neo-Nazi. I was devastated beyond belief. “Why would you shave your head?” I thought to myself. Yet her perky attitude and positive outlook made me look past her shaved head, beyond her outward appearance to something deeper. So much so that one day I kissed her on the cheek! She is the inspiration for my leading character in Badlands.

Liv: Sounds like an amazing girl and a strong character for your book. So can you tell us more about it?

Derek: It’s about a princess trying to save her kingdom from a cancerous virus. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the character better as I’ve written it.

Liv: Sounds fascinating. Which publishing route did you go down?

derek-weismanDerek: I self-published on Amazon. It would have a been a difficult process for me to go down finding a traditional publisher. The important thing for me was to show people that anyone can publish a novel. If I can, others can certainly do it.

Liv: That’s fantastic. What an achievement! Do you have anything new in the pipeline?

Derek: I do. I’m working on a story about a wizard who is trying to solve a murder but ends up revealing a conspiracy. It’s about the detoxification of body, mind and soul.

Liv: I can’t wait to read it! You’ll have to come back and visit us when it’s published. That’s about all we’ve got time for today. Derek, thank you for taking the time to visit us.

Derek: Thank you Liv. It’s been a real pleasure.

The Badlands Saga is available on both Kindle and paperback through Amazon today.

Click here to buy now.

 

Building Community

Before becoming a writer, the work I did involved a great deal of moving. I rarely lived in one place for more than three years. Being the new girl all the time has made it particularly challenging to find authentic community. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tidbits to share with all you lonesome doves out there.

       1. It takes time

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Probably not what you wanted to hear. But it’s true. They say it takes up to two years in a new place to really be able to call it home. I wouldn’t go so far as to put a time limit on it, but it definitely takes time. The people you meet when you first arrive may not end up being friends for life. The people who come late to the party may be the ones who are with you until the end. There’s no rush in building authentic community. It needs a lot of careful nurturing.

2. It takes effort

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If you’re lucky like me two houses ago, you will find a friendly and attentive neighbour who will call on you and invite you round for cups of tea, but in this day and age when neighbourliness is harder to find it’s better to go to people rather than wait for them to come to you. Yes, that means leaving the house! But the biggest question is where…

3. Scope out the territory

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Now, when I first come to a new place I scope the territory. I visit every coffee shop I can find, I join the library, I see if there is a community magazine, Facebook group or website. I see what the place has to offer. As I’m a Christian I also visit every church. I make it very clear to people that I’m just visiting so no pressure is put on me. All I’m doing at this point is information gathering (and drinking lots of cups of coffee!!!)

4. Plan of action

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I then look at how much free time I have and when. I decide which of the things on offer I would like to join. I also see if there is anything I would like to do that is no currently happening where I am living. When I first moved to Shenley there was no Knit and Natter group. Then another lady in the village had the bright idea of advertising one and then went by herself to the tea rooms and knitted every week on a Monday morning. After three weeks another lady joined her; a couple of weeks later I came along. Since then the group has grown to almost twenty of us. They are a such a special, loving and caring group. I am so thankful for the first lady who was bold enough to sit by herself knitting all that time. What new community group might you start? It could literally be anything…

5. Build connections

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All these groups don’t need to be mutually exclusive. For example, a lot of the ladies from the Knit and Natter group have now joined the W.I.; some ladies from my church now come to Knit and Natter, and a group of people from a number of different other groups I belong to are about to start a Mah Jong group. I love people and finding out what they are good at and what they are interested in. Introducing them to others with similar interests and watching community grow is thrilling to me. Who do you know that you could connect with others?

6. Review Your Progress

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In the beginning it’s very easy to join everything on offer just so that you have something to do. It’s always good to have a six month review of your life and commitments so that if you need to take something off your plate that you no longer enjoy in order to make room for something new you can. After a while you can do this annually. When I join something or commit to doing a role I say to people that it is for a year. That way if I don’t renew it the following year I have given them plenty of time to find an alternative.

7. Celebrate!

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I now have an annual party to which I invite people from all my groups. It’s a great way to celebrate a fantastic year and to help people mingle. Weddings bells have even rung as a result of these events!

So here’s to a very Happy New Year to you all. May it be a year of connections, community and celebration!

Take care,

Liv

Not such a bad year after all: Reflections on 2016 and the year to come.

As the new year approaches I’ve been doing what so many of us do at this time of year – reflecting on the year that’s past, contemplating where I am now, and dreaming about the year to come. I know it’s a cliche to make a new year’s resolution list, but some annual reflection never did anyone any harm, and now’s as good a time as any…

2016 has been a tough year to celebrate. Personal and communal grief has meant it’s been hard to escape the shadow cast by the angel of death. People on Facebook and Twitter are even joking about wrapping people up in bubble-wrap until the new year to protect them!

Not only this, elections in both my countries (the US and the UK) have revealed deeply divided nations with so much bitterness and hate. There is enormous uncertainty about the future and many feel like they’re living on a knife edge.

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With all this doom and gloom it’s very easy to become negative. But if I look back on 2016 in search of reasons to celebrate I can say:

  • I’ve spent some precious moments with my adorable nephew and niece who teach me the meaning of unconditional love and joy.
  • I’ve laughed and shared with a fantastic group of crafty ladies who meeting on a Monday morning in our local tea rooms. Their creative energy fuels my own.
  • I’ve met with God in beautiful moments, contemplating the sunsets over the fields, in the midst of worship, and in the song of the birds. It’s at these moments that I have known what it truly means to be alive.
  • I’ve made significant inroads into a number of writing projects. I’ve learned heaps about the writing process, found a terrific community of fellow writers on Twitter and Facebook, and for the first time ever actually believe I can do this.
  • I shared countless meals with friends, family and strangers who have piqued my intellectual interest, prompted my discussion, and fired up my passions.

All in all, I’d say, looking back at these blessings, I’ve had a jolly good year and look forward to the next one.

daily-greatness-journalFor 2017 I’ve decided to try a new route – I’ve decided to join One Word 365. It’s an opportunity for you to pick one word which you want to focus on in the coming year. You then join the tribe for that word through their website and via other social media platforms. I’ve done it before and it’s amazing how the word keeps popping up everywhere. My word for this year is GREATNESS! I’ve also bought the Daily Greatness Journal by Lyndelle Palmer-Clarke to help guide the way. Will you come and join my tribe and see what the new year has in store?

Liv

#RIPGeorge

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For many of us 2016 is a year we will not be sorry to see the back of. I woke up on New Year’s Day 2016 and told my family that I had a feeling it would be an annus horribilis. I wasn’t wrong. Personally I lost my best friend in February who at the age of forty-three left behind four young children. Since performing her funeral I have attended five more.

From the get-go wave after wave of talented people in the public eye have also left us. Most recently George Michael, aged only fifty-three, passed away on Christmas Day of suspected heart failure. As this goes to press, news is breaking that Carrie Fisher, a.k.a. Princess Leia in Star Wars has also died. Is there no end to this madness?

The outpouring of grief at George’s homes, and even at the gates of the school he attended with Andrew Ridgeley all those years ago (see above), brings to mind those mournful days back in 1997 in the aftermath of the devastating accident that took the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

But why does the death of a celebrity that many of us have never met (he drove past me in his open-top Rolls once) hit us so deeply? Where does this insatiable need come from?

I believe that there exists inside each of us a deep longing to connect, to be part of something much bigger than ourselves, to belong. The more we build gates around our homes, move away from the nucleus of our families, and disconnect from community gatherings such as churches, synagogues and mosques, the more lonely we become. It is out of this deep abyss that we cry when someone like George Michael dies.

Not only this, these charismatic, talented, and creative geniuses become the soundtracks to our lives, whether they take the form of pictures on our walls, music in our ears, or characters on our screens. We identify with them. We feel their pain, share their joys, feed on their creativity; for what they produce becomes food for our souls. Because of them we are excited to be alive.

We don’t expect them to die. Our imaginations cannot take it in. Our brains hurt trying to compute the news. The doors to our past are firmly closed and bolted. I will never again be the ten yer old girl I once was, full of hope, full of expectancy, listening to Mrs Ridgeley tell us that her son Andrew was in a band and they were going to be on Top of the Pops. I will never again get to see her joy, pride, and excitement as she played us each record before it came out.

Then there was the moment I got the whole school to write to Wham! inviting them to our school Christmas party, the morning their letter of reply was pinned to the classroom notice-board, having Andrew and Shirley sitting next to me on my table. It was the stuff of dreams. Gone. Gone. Gone.

I loved those days. Mrs Ridgeley, who passed away in 2009, was the best teacher I ever had. She was a mother, tutor, confidant and friend to me at a very difficult time in my life and beyond. She enthused in me a love of learning. She helped me to look at life in a whole new way. She encouraged me at every turn. When I cry for George Michael I also cry for her, for days long gone, for the woman she helped me to become, and the woman she will never see me be.

As a teenager I worked in the local newsagents. Who hasn’t once dreamed they would one day work in a sweet shop? That summer was fantastic. I walked down Little Bushey Lane with my friend in our short summer dresses, a sway of the hips, a spring in our steps, and way too much hair spray in our hair, as George Michael drove down the road, probably on his way to see Andrew. Seeing us, he ran his hand through his own hair and clipped the curb as he did so. We giggled. It was all so much fun. Those were the days of our lives.

So I raise a glass to George, to Jenny, to Kate, to Malcolm, to Helen, and all the others who have gone before us. And no, it’s not George’s “Last Christmas” because in heaven Christmas comes every day.

See you on the other side.

Liv

No Ordinary World

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Do you believe that life is a three-legged stool comprised of body, mind and spirit? Or do you think the spiritual world is the stuff of imagination and fairytale? Even the biggest sceptics amongst us have probably had an experience where we thought of someone just before they called, or felt nudged to contact a loved one who later turned out to be in need. Regardless of how skeptical we may be there is no doubt that we live in an extraordinary world. Perhaps it’s time to tune in.

Entertaining Angels Unawares

In the summer of 1998 I went to the States to visit my grandmother who was dying of lung cancer. It was a particularly gruelling trip for me and by the time I returned to the UK I was physically, emotionally and spiritually spent. Coming back from the airport the train deposited me in the centre platform of my local station. A large suitcase by my side and a steep flight of stairs in front of me, I stopped to adjust my bags before beginning the ascent.

Out of nowhere a man who could easily have been seven feet tall walked up beside me, picked up my luggage, and strode up the stairs, two at a time. He didn’t ask which way I wanted to go at the top. He went right, to the taxi rank, and not left to the car park. I raced up the stairs behind him, hardly able to keep pace.

When I reached the bottom I look down at the case and up at the man to thank him and he had disappeared. There was nowhere for him to have gone. I said thank you to thin air. I made the excuse that I was tired and probably seeing things. I brushed the incident to the back of my mind and continued through to the front of the station.

Once there, I was greeted by a friend. Without a word he started to load my luggage into his car. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me that he had been shopping in the high street when God told him to come to the station. There he was offering me a lift home. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Talk about feeling carried!

I used to be a skeptic. Now, if someone were to ask me if I believe in angels, I would say I have seen one. No, he didn’t have feathers. That would have looked rather odd in the middle of suburban England. But he was very tall, he seemed to know precisely what I needed, and he disappeared into thin air.

What stories do you have of entertaining angels unawares? What experiences have you had that show this is no ordinary world?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy Who Do I Think I Am? Reflections of an Armchair Genealogist.