Tag Archives: celebrating

Reflecting on my gardening year

Summer is drawing to a close – and what a summer!  Predictions of a drought to knock 1976 into a cocked hat became the subject of ridicule as the rain poured and poured and, well, poured… breaking one record and then another.  Sitting in my garden recently, I found myself reflecting on my gardening year.

This is the first year I have sown anything from seed and I have had a good number of successes.  I have grown broad beans, runner beans, French beans – the runner beans from beans harvested from last year’s crop.  I have grown Swiss chard, and three different types of courgettes – green courgettes, yellow courgettes and summer squash.  I have grown butternut squash, potatoes and tomatoes.  I have grown marigolds and nasturtium.  I have grown aubergine and cucumbers, lettuce, fennel – even cauliflowers.  Recently, visiting my local farmer’s garden, I noticed how many of the vegetables I most admired were ones I have in abundance in my own garden.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing.  The tomatoes have suffered terribly in the rain and I have had to pull out and dispose of tomatoes with blight.  Of those that remain, I have only had ripe tomatoes in the last two or three weeks and even then, very few – what a wash-out!  I have discovered that some plants really do need to be in a green house – the aubergines and cucumbers in particular.  I don’t (yet) have a greenhouse, though I have started to ponder what size greenhouse I need and where I might put it in my garden which is spacious by urban standards and nonetheless modest in size.

I really celebrate my learning.  I can grow things from seed and they are naturally inclined to grow.  In this less-than-sunny year my vegetables have grown much better on one side of the garden than the other.  I’ve learnt a few more ways to reduce the number of slugs and snails in my garden.  I’ve learnt – after upwards of 40 years without eating a broad bean – that I can eat broad beans and (in some dishes at least) enjoy them.  And as I learn more about my garden I am also slowly developing a plan for it.  I know where I want to grow vegetables, taking into account the position of the garden and where the sun shines.  I know where I want to have a seating area for breakfast and another shady seating area for lunch at midday.  I have learnt that I experience an unbelievable amount of pleasure – a deep, deep joy – from sowing and tending and planting my own seeds.  I have been reminded of nature’s abundance and the joy of giving away my excess harvest.

After a while I realised that my reflections were like the annual reviews that are carried out in many organisations.  I also realised that my reflection in hindsight were rather different from my reflections at certain moments during the year, when my focus was overwhelmingly on the challenges of my garden – the blight on my tomatoes, the impossibility of staying on top of the weeds and the slugs and snails in what seemed like interminable rain.  For me, this ‘annual review’ of my gardening year, seated with a cup of tea in the midst of the harvest of my labours brought nothing but joy, pure joy.  I was able to embrace my successes and to notice areas where I still have much to learn.  I was able to look ahead and to begin to plan for the year(s) ahead without any sense of being somehow in ‘deficit’.  I was able to differentiate between gaps in my learning and the impact of circumstances beyond my control.

If only the workplace annual review could be a joyous event, too.  I wonder, what would this take in your organisation?

Singing the Grande Messe des Morts at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Photo: The timp line up for tonight's Grande Messe des Morts at St Paul's Cathedral - all 10 of them. It's completely sold out tonight but still a few left for tomorrow (http://bit.ly/PbpWlZ), and it'll be live on Radio 3 tomorrow too.
Yes, I was there, singing Berlioz’ extraordinary piece – the Grande Messe des Morts.  A requiem for the dead on a grand scale.  David Jackson, percussionist extraordinaire with the London Symphony Orchestra, took this photo of the timps section during rehearsal in the afternoon.  One of the players was a dead ringer for comedian Rob Brydon which intrigued me all the way through the rehearsal.  It was a noisy affair – the piece itself alternates between passages of great richness of sound and moments of sparseness.  (With more time I would hone my language in an attempt to convey something of this amazing piece).  And of course, in rehearsal, we shared the space with visitors to the cathedral with their murmurings and occasional applause.
The performance was altogether different.  Even with a full audience the sound space belonged to the performers and – more than the performers – to Berlioz.  The off-stage brass were high in the galleries so that the Tuba Mirum was a moment of high drama with the interplay between orchestra, off-stage brass and the men who were in fine sound.  I shall leave it to the critics to say more.
Singing in St. Paul’s is always a mixed blessing.  The sound reverberates around the space so that the old jokes are always about coming back in a week’s time to hear the performance for the last time.  There were moments when our conductor, Sir Colin Davis, paused so that we could, indeed, hear the sound before it faded away.  This is a new way of experiencing the phrase “right back atcha!”  This added to the heightened experience of an already grand piece.
At the same time, it is this very soundscape that makes it a challenging venue in which to perform.  You cannot rely on listening to know if you are singing in time!  There were moments when I thought fellow performers – singers, orchestra, off-stage brass – were ahead or behind Sir Colin’s beat and still, it’s hard to know what the effect was for the audience.
For me, it was something of a marathon.  Like all marathon runners, singers need the right shoes and the truth is that, for me, no shoes is the optimum way to stand for such a long period and also strictly verboten.  Still I might try it this evening (don’t tell my voice rep).  For yes, I’ll be performing again this evening before getting up at the crack of dawn tomorrow for a coaching session in the morning.  And now, I am on my way to meet one of my clients for another coaching session.
Before I press “publish” I take a moment to savour the rich privileges of a life in which I get to earn my living doing work I love and spend my spare time doing something else that I also love.  Maybe I’ll see you there this evening.

Kitchen celebrations

A thing of beauty is a joy forever
John Keats

Yes, the kitchen is finished!  After three months of a world turned upside down I am now in the process of deciding what goes where, gradually moving things from the dining room into their new homes in the kitchen.  There has been much washing of builders’ dust from mugs, containers etc.

Winter has also returned and my camera is not coping well with today’s gloom so the photos above and below are already a week or two old.  Final touches have been done.  The magnificent sculptural shelves below are peopled with cook books, gardening books and a teapot or two.

I am totally in love with the kitchen.  I notice already how much more pleasure I have even in the simple act of making a cup of tea.  Edward, my nephew, is not the only person who has commented on the “country” feel of the kitchen and Gary’s sister-in-law, who teaches interior design, commented favourably when she popped by recently – this is not so much a kitchen as a room.  It’s a place to live in, for sure.

In this moment of writing – in haste and between coaching calls – I am also aware of the journey that has taken place in my house over the last three months and the enormous challenge of working in the house whilst also having such a major project done.  At times I have been giving 10-minute warnings ahead of coaching calls (and am grateful both to Gary and Wills for their flexibility and to clients for their understanding when occasionally the sound of drilling erupts in the background).

There have been conversations to be had and decisions to be made at times I would otherwise have spent working.  I have loved my close involvement in this project and saying yes to this project has also meant saying no to other things, including my work.

I reflect that one of the challenges in life is that saying yes to one thing always means saying to no to others.  I wonder, what are you saying yes to?

Savouring a ‘thank you’

I’ve had a busy start to the year.  As well as working with a portfolio of coaching and consulting clients I have been on the steep uphill curve of ‘project mobilisation’, conducting a number of assessments for a new client on behalf of my former employer, The Hay Group.  This has meant getting up to speed on a new process and report format with more tiny details than I handle with ease – details which, in any case, have been subject to adjustments along the way.

Last week, I had my final debrief (for now) with one of the people I assessed.  He thanked me for my time and gave unsolicited feedback which he subsequently shared in an e-mail with his line manager and with my colleagues at the Hay Group.  The next day, our project manager sent an e-mail saying thank you to the whole team.

In the midst of so many thank yous I have taken time to reflect on the team of which I am a member.  The central project team have liaised with me to arrange dates, manage the flow of information so that I have everything I need for each assessment and so that our clients get their reports exactly when they need them.  Members of the Hay QA team have provided an essential point of reference as we calibrate our scores across the team and between our own team and our client’s other main provider.  Members of the wider project team have liaised with the client at a high level to clarify what’s needed and provided a flow of information which has also supported the process.  I could go on…

I have also taken time to reflect on my own contribution.  There have been calls ahead of assessments to clarify the context for the assessment and ensure I am well-briefed.  There have been early-morning starts, travelling to meet with clients and conduct interviews and, afterwards the writing of reports and debriefs with assessment candidates and their line managers.  I have employed many skills I have (including interviewing, analysing, writing, coaching) and some I don’t (it’s a miracle I manage to arrive in the right place at the right time – such organisation is a learned rather than a natural skill for me).  I like to think I have done good work and I’ve certainly done it with the intention to add value to each client as well as to support an organisational (promotion) process.

One thing I do notice is this:  that our project manager, rather than say ‘well done’, said ‘thank you’.  Oh!  How sweet this is to my ears!  Perhaps it’s only me and still, I’d much rather hear someone’s appreciation of my work and the difference it has made to them than I would hear someone’s judgement.  To me, the work I do has meaning because it makes a difference to someone or something and this is what I hear in a thank you.

Do you say ‘well done!’ or ‘thank you’ to those you lead?

Kitchen confessions

I know, I know… it’s time I gave an update on the progress of my kitchen.  Is it finished yet?  In fact, Jeannie Morrison, my friend and fellow member of the London Symphony Chorus, was kind enough to e-mail before Christmas and to express her hope that I would be enjoying my brand new kitchen at Christmas.  Sorry, Jeannie,  I’m not there yet.

An old Chinese cupboard before its kitchen transformation

The amount of preparation has been prodigious.  The walls have been stripped.  The chimney breast has also been stripped back to the brick work along with a section alongside it.  And because the bricks were in such a poor state, Wills rebuilt part of the chimney breast.  The old sink has been moved round so that the window at the end of the room can be taken out to make way for a door.  And now the new door is in, Wills has started the process of converting the old doorway to a window.  I could carry on – but you get the idea.

You may spot part of the old cupboard as well as
getting a rough idea of the design of the new kitchen

Gary, who spotted a 19th Century Chinese cupboard (rather worse for wear) and saw its potential, has been working miracles with it in the kitchen, creating a cupboard as planned with the central section of the original piece and another wall-to-ceiling cupboard to house the boiler.  If only he’d consent to having his picture taken I might have caught his boyish delight this morning when we discussed just what a success this is proving to be.  And yes, the picture above also gives you some idea of the state of my kitchen at Christmas.  Fortunately, my nephew Edward, who lives with me, was away and – when I was not with friends and family – it was just me at home.  Oh!  Me and the mouse that is!  Seen once but not since.

New appliances are multiplying in the lounge   

Over time, various appliances have been delivered and some of them are biding their time in the lounge.  The new sink has been with me for a while, and now the dishwasher, a new radiator and (I confess) the first proper kitchen bin I have ever owned, are all ready and waiting.  It feels so grown up!

I’m smiling as I write, recognising that I, too, share a good deal of Gary’s childlike glee.  I’m also smiling because I recognise just how many of my friends see this kind of experience as the ultimate nightmare.  I think of Roger Hamilton’s book Your Life, Your Legacy:  An Entrepreneur Guide to Finding Your Flow which I’ve mentioned before on this blog.  Hamilton highlights different ways in which entrepreneurs generate wealth and I know that my own signature approach to generating wealth is primarily creative.  I am loving the creative process of designing the new kitchen.  Even in our private lives our key strengths and preferences show up.  

Putting a smile on the face of life in 2012

2012.  Some people believe that the world ends this year – based on the prophecies of the Mayans, whose calendars extended as far as 2012.

Maybe it will, though it doesn’t need to end without humour, as some of our colleagues in the marketing industry have been reminding me with the Lynx 2012 ad.  In case you haven’t seen it yet, take a moment to watch it by following this link.

Whether you’re celebrating the beginning of a new year or anticipating the end of the world, I hope life puts a smile on your face in 2012 – or that you put a smile on the face of life.

Saying goodbye to 2011

Today I post my last post of 2011 before enjoying a full ten days’ holiday.  My first posting of 2012 (and my second, and third…) is already written and scheduled for publication.

In the period prior to Christmas I have been sharing tales of my new kitchen and these continue.  The process has been slower than I anticipated (and I knew it would be slow) with the usual knock-on effect of unanticipated delays.  In particular, the new door to the back of the house has not yet arrived which means that the current back door has to be kept in use.  This, in turn, means delaying the conversion of this back door to a window and – until this conversion can take place – building the units along the side wall.

It’s a curious reminder of one of life’s inconvenient truths:  sometimes things just take longer than we anticipate.  When we understand this we can bring compassion and humour and adapt to new realities – though some prefer to find someone to blame than to accept what is true.  It seems to me that it’s a good thing to be reminded of this truth as we enter a time of reflection – moving from the end of one year to the beginning of another.

So, I close by reiterating my best wishes to you for the end of 2011 and for 2012.  And by sharing just a few photos from the kitchen at 14 Albion Way.

So much of the kitchen is currently in the dining room…

…or outside in the garden…

…whilst work in the kitchen goes on

Sending seasons greetings

The year is drawing to a close.  I am grateful that my work is quieter than usual in the week leading to Christmas, especially as the work in my kitchen continues.  It’s been a challenge to work effectively against a backdrop of noise and dust.

The work is, though, turning a corner.  Some of the noisiest work – stripping back the fireplace and making a hole for a new back door – is done now.  Wills has been plastering the new ceiling which gives a first glimpse of the kitchen as it will be in future.

In the midst of a busy day I take a moment to think of all the people who – well, people – my life.  I have been busy sending cards and greetings and still, this is not enough to reach everyone who matters to me.  I feel playful, and take the opportunity to write my good wishes on the last of the old paper in the kitchen.  Soon it will be gone, though my good wishes remain.

In words often attributed to Confucius (see this interesting explanation of the origins of the phrase) we do indeed live in interesting times.  Our futures – individual and shared – are uncertain.  The kind of material prosperity we have come to take for granted may or may not be ours – may be some of ours but not all of ours – in the years ahead.  As I write I wish you prosperity of other kinds – prosperity in your own resourcefulness, spiritual prosperity, prosperity of wisdom, prosperity in love, friendship and the richness of emotions experienced fully as well as prosperity of many other kinds.  May you find you have everything you need to enjoy 2012, whatever it may bring you.  

Helping leaders who want to take some of the hard work out of achieving results

It’s still all change at 14 Albion Way.  The back of the house is changing dramatically as the kitchen window is replaced with doors.

This week Wills has been removing brick work so that on Wednesday night I slept with a hole in the back of the house.  It was covered with large sheets of board, which made me realise just how much insulation the bricks provide.

Yesterday (Thursday) morning the window came out leaving the kitchen exposed to the elements.  Leaving the house at 11am to conduct an assessment I dusted myself off – the dust is everywhere! – and walked away not knowing quite how much progress would be made during the day.  I was, though, confident that supper would be very simple!

I started this series of postings with the intention of celebrating so many people who have contributed to my life since I set up my own business in 2002.  Today I am celebrating Jason Stein at Heart of Business in the US.  Jason has been an extraordinary source of support this year as I explore how best to market my work.  I want to make it easy and simple for those people to find me who most value my help.  With Jason’s help I have come to the simple statement to describe my niche:  that I help leaders who want to take some of the hard work out of achieving results.  It’s so simple that I have been hesitating to put it out there.

I wonder, how does it land with you?

Taking a moment to reflect

The kitchen is not photogenic right now.  The kitchen sink has been moved temporarily.  There will be a new sink in the position it now holds – but not yet.  The fridge has also been moved though not yet to the position that will be occupied by the new (larger) fridge.  Gary and Wills are rearranging the plumbing to be ready for the new layout.  They have also been building the frame of the new door that will be at the end of the kitchen.  This is the stage where the old kitchen has largely been dismantled and foundations are being laid for the future building of the new kitchen.

I have been happily working around this, though it does present challenges.  Gary and Wills have been understanding about the need at times to avoid the noisy work so that I can field coaching calls.  At times I, too, need to understand that in my normally peaceful home office I will hear the background noise of a kitchen in progress and field the occasional interruption.  As I write I hear the noise of a drill.  We are getting clever about filling the kettle ahead of turning the water off and I am enjoying the excuse to nip out at lunch for a sandwich (though M&S’ salmon and cucumber is beginning to wane).

I have adapted my pattern of work to some degree and am going gently on myself:  this is not the time for radical new thinking or for projects that demand deep concentration.  Instead, I take a moment to reflect.

I am so blessed in my work.  Yesterday the opportunity to explore with one client her response to the conclusions of an assessment I conducted recently – and this in the supportive frame of helping her to progress her career.  The day before working in partnership with coaching clients, fielding and and working with whatever comes.  Some are looking for practical ways forward with the knotty issues of their lives as leaders. Others are looking for someone to witness and support their inner process.  All are looking to move forward in their lives.  It is still amazing to me that I can be paid to do something I feel deeply privileged to do.

As I sit and reflect – and even in the midst of drilling and background banter – I sink into the experience of needs met.  In this moment I feel a deep sense of gratitude and peace.  It’s always available to me.