Well hello… on this day that has always been a beacon in my calendar… because it’s my birthday. A friend who graduated to the same age as me last week said she was dreading it this time because all it meant was another year on her age with none of the associated fun. And I admit that I’m less bouncy about it than usual but that’s because I haven’t been buoyed by our usual festival weekend. I miss having a body that’s still pulsing with the rhythm of the beat – there’s no doubt about it, dancing makes you feel younger but those days will come again and they’ll feel even sweeter when they do.
When I write my birthday post I usually focus on what’s ahead but this time of course the months to come are unforeseeable. So as we’re living through the formerly unimaginable experience of lockdown I thought I’d look at what that, as well as the last twelve months, have taught me instead. Here are the three things that stand out the most.
Lockdown birthday reflections
As an outgoing introvert I’ve always tried to save my social energy for people who don’t drain me but life is busy and it doesn’t always work out that way. Being in lockdown has been a social experiment lived in almost control conditions and it’s shown me who I miss and who I don’t.
Thankfully I’m happy being quarantined with the four most important people in my life – and yes I do feel lucky in that because there are people I know who, even though they love their people, are quietly climbing the walls. On the whole I don’t miss the bustle of meetings and events… not even parties really… but I do miss the little things I took for granted. Things like Saturday morning cuppas with my buddy and bumping into my sister at the gym and sitting down for coffee with her. On a less frequent level I miss the catch-ups with old friends in London that I arrange around my meetings when I go down. Our conversations are always quite intense because we don’t see each other often and so we tend to go straight to the heart of things.
I don’t miss the shallow influencer events. Occasionally you get a good group of genuine people and they’re fun but on the whole it feels like stepping into a cage full of hummingbirds. It’s all very beautiful but most are only really there to be seen and it can be very vapid. So often one of these invitations has popped up and I’ve told myself I ‘should’ go so I’ve cancelled an evening with a proper friend. If events like that ever come back, I’ll approach them more selectively than ever before.
The people thing that I hope to do more of is meet-ups with you. The reader trip to France, the JL&P event in Leeds and the get together in London are all capstones when I look back at my year and they’ve filled me with hope for the future. Interesting women getting together for conversations filled with wisdom and ironic observations… we all need more of those in our lives. When we’re less socially distanced, I’ll plan more Midlifechic events.
So on the whole I think this time without people is teaching me about the power of human contact, both good and bad and the impact it has upon me. And I suppose it’s giving us all the opportunity to do a bit of people weeding which will make more space for positive relationships to flourish, both old and new.
I’ve learned a particularly important lesson about my body this year: not to use age as an excuse. I’ve always been relatively active, usually going to the gym two or three times a week on top of the usual dog walks. However last year I noticed that my mind was starting to tell me that I couldn’t keep up in some of my gym classes because things were starting to ache or hurt. Every session was dominated by an internal dialogue of “maybe I’m getting too old for this…” “at what point do you start slowing down?…”
I realised that I was at one of those crossroads in life but I didn’t want to give in to slowing down without giving my body one last challenge to see what it could do. The most sensible route was a guided one so as you know, in January I joined a ten-week strength academy course at the gym. The focus was mostly on body building but not in the big muscle sense, it was just about making sure that every part of your body was strong. We only made it to week eight before lockdown but the difference to my confidence in what I can do has been transformational.
I was one of the oldest on the course and approached the trainers with an attitude of “I’m 52 you know” and they responded with a gentle “you’re only 52 you know” which made such a difference from the start. I was on the list for shoulder surgery (which I kept delaying) and I also had early back problems. Working with qualified trainers and a focus on carefully rebuilding danger zones has changed all of that and my body feels and moves as it did fifteen years ago. It isn’t easy keeping it up from home and I know I’m losing muscle now but I’m doing my best and the fact that I’ve been able to take up running with no discomfort or injury proves to me that fundamental strength training makes all the difference to a midlife body.
It’s taught me so much, particularly how strong glutes assist your back and legs and I’m now slightly obsessed with that. I can’t say I enjoy the strength sessions themselves but I do love the sense of achievement they give me and having toned arms was fabulous. So when this is over I’m going be rejoining the academy and continuing to invest in my strength – and I recommend it as a way forward for anybody who can possibly take up strength training when isolation ends. Find a guided class, it’s dangerous to suddenly start lifting serious weights on your own – you need to invest time in learning the correct technique to avoid injury. It isn’t easy getting started when you feel as weak as a kitten but you’ll find that muscle builds quickly and it’s like a dynamo – the more you do it, the more energy you find to keep going further. You can do so much more with a strong body – it’s the difference between being the person who says “I can’t” as they age and the one who says “I can.”
Another thing that lockdown is teaching me is how much I rely on distraction to take me away from the moment. I spend a lot of time living in the future… planning a holiday, an evening out, a weekend away or a trip to London. Quarantine is forcing me to live day by day and sometimes it feels empty and pointless but that’s the thing about life I suppose – if we all embrace a little more mundanity it will take so much less to lift the important moments. I’m finding that in this quieter life all it takes is a simple distraction to make me happy – a good book, a piece of cake, a freshly brewed coffee. The planet hasn’t been helped by the way that we constantly try to reinvent our lives by going further, faster and flashier than we did the year before. Low key would be a good way forward.
Mr MC was having a rare down moment the other day and he said that he felt as if this would be a lost year that’s come at a point in his life when he feels he has no time to waste. He’ll be 50 in October and it’s the first time I’ve sensed that kind of decade-turning angst in him. However I’m trying to see it as a detox year. It’s giving us a chance to withdraw from everything and work out what we truly miss when it’s taken away from us. It’s going to give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset and make crucial changes for phase two of our lives. So I suggested to him that we’re the luckiest of all of the generations living through lockdown, we’re at the peak of midlife and it’s enabling us to take a conscious approach to the next chapter.
How to celebrate under lockdown – happy birthday to me
And that’s as far as I’ve got with the deep birthday thinking so let’s move on to how to celebrate under lockdown because we must celebrate whatever we can. We’ve had to rejig our plans for today a bit because the weather’s really let us down. I know it’s sunny in the south but it’s cold and grey here so thank goodness we didn’t bust a gut to get the mooring finished. I’m looking forward to going out for a walk with my friend this afternoon. When we heard we could finally get together (at a distance) last week we decided to save it for today so that it would feel even more special. We’ve decided to stay in tonight and have a movie night. The boys have never seen Withnail and I which I feel rather ashamed about so we’re starting with that and then moving on to Jojo Rabbit. I’ll have a glass of fizz, hopefully somebody will produce some Bendicks Bittermints… and life will be good.
The sun’ll come out tomorrow… (sing along) and so we’ll revert to our original plan of going into Lancaster to pick up takeaway burritos which we’ll eat in the park, watching the sun set over the sea. So I can celebrate the fact that the rain’s done me a favour and I’m getting two days for the price of one.
How to celebrate under lockdown – The Bank Holiday Weekend
It’s hard working out how to celebrate under lockdown isn’t it? After all we’re using the simple treats such as cake and wine and chocolate to lift ordinary life at the moment but we have another Bank Holiday weekend coming up and we need to make it stand out. For us it was going to be a quiet one because we should have been away for the last few weekends in a row. Now though we’re thinking of ways to make a few more memories in lockdown. So we’re having a rum party and if only we hadn’t sent all of our dressing up clothes across to the primary school last year we could have had a pirate theme. Anyway here’s the plan. Last weekend, guided by the eldest who seems to have left university with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cocktails, we bought bottles of light, dark and spiced rum.
We’re going to make a range of cocktails: Dark and Stormy, Painkillers, Daiquiris and Mai Tais and then play a few board games. I did a John Lewis & Partners shop last week and bought these rum cocktail glasses…
and a new cocktail shaker which will be handy because it has recipes on the side in readiness.
‘Would I lie to you?’ is our new game for the weekend.
If it’s sunny, as I hope, we’ll spend the evening on the patio. I’ve bought new cushions for the outdoor furniture which are really good value as they’re reversible. It’s too wet to show you them in situ today but here they are.
And if it rains (again) we’ll spend the evening inside. We were planning to buy a new sofa this year but I doubt it’s going to happen now so in the meantime I’ve updated the cushions to brighten things up. I went for these cotton velvet ones because they’re such good value, they keep selling out but if you wait they’re regularly restocked. They’re lovely quality and available in all kinds of colours (I’m hoping they’ll add some bright red ones to the range for winter)…
… and our anniversary present chair has a cushion of its own to finish things off.
A gift from me to you
I deliberately chose today for the announcement of the Claudia Bradby draw because my birthday feels like the perfect day for sending gifts. Claudia got in touch to say that they found this really difficult and would have loved to give prizes for every single answer – I’m so glad I didn’t have to get involved. In the end her team found it so hard to choose that they added an extra prize so the following readers have each won a £100 for their friends:
Leanne Carpenter for her friend Nicky
“I would like to nominate our school cook Nicky. All through lockdown, bank holidays and Easter holidays our primary school has remained open caring for vulnerable and key workers children. Nicky has worked every day cooking delicious lunches for the children and adults. Ensuring there is is enough food for all. Everyday she has gone the extra mile to cook breakfasts for the children as well as teaching them how to make delicious afternoon treats. She is always happy and has a smile for every child (and adult) even though she must be absolutely exhausted. I would love Nicky to win so we can show her how much we appreciate her constant positivity and hard work.”
Kate J for her neighbour Rachael
“I’d like to nominate my neighbour Rachael, for her kindness. I’ve only known Rachael, in passing, for 12 months before the Covid lockdown. We live in a small cul-de-sac and Rachael is aware that I have to ‘shield’. She has offered to collect prescriptions, share fruit & veg boxes, online food and wine shopping, and surprisingly, even find cotton wool pads (my partner was a bit challenged with that one – you’d think I’d asked him to find kangaroo poo!) Rachael even offered her old railway sleepers for the garden project he’s attempting. And her 3 year old daughter made me an NHS rainbow for my window, just in time for a lovely NHS nurse to bring my (legal) drugs. Rachael has been a source of much fun and humour on our new ‘culture-de-sac’ What’s App group, and to think, before Covid, all we did was wave at each other. Who knew such kindness was just 10 steps away?”
So congratulations both of you – all I need you to do is get in touch with me and Claudia will arrange the rest. Send me an email – nikki[at]midlifechic.co.uk replacing the [at] with @ (sorry for the code but if I put my email address here the spambots will pick it up).
Now I’m being told to log off so that we can start my birthday celebrations. I hope I’ve given you some inspiration for the Bank Holiday weekend and how to celebrate under lockdown. We need to keep on coming up with ways to make these occasions stand apart from the ordinary days otherwise Mr MC will be right and this will feel like a lost year. So do share any ideas you’ve come up with in the comments – for a birthday, an anniversary or just a day that you wanted to feel more special than others. I’ll be back on Friday with a try-on – until then, I raise my birthday glass to you and thank you for your friendship over the last year. It means such a lot.
Disclosure: ‘How to celebrate under lockdown’ is not a sponsored post
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