Writing back to Happiness

In 2015 I started this blog when I was dealing with treatment for a life threatening form of leukaemia. I kept the blog up for some while – it helped provide me with a focus – and when I was able to go out, I enjoyed taking photos and sharing them.

As life returned to some form of normality – I had survived! (needing checks every six months) – my blog writing slipped. I had a couple of attempts to rekindle it but somehow life got in the way. Yet when I wrote my first book “Life Happens, Live Happy” (available on Amazon – author Kay Underdown), I fully realised how both writing and blogging had helped me through some very challenging times.

When I eventually graduated from University in 2017 with my degree in Social Sciences, having had a whole year out due to my illness, the idea for Life Story Writing was born. Workshops and courses using my own unique approach combining coaching, creativity and sense of belonging.

Following graduation I had to negotiate some difficult, and unexpected, life paths. the outcome is living in the most wonderful area by the sea, one of my dreams that I had long wanted to achieve but never before had the guts to see it through.

There followed a period when I half-heartedly worked towards working for myself as a coach and running workshops but somehow the time wasn’t right. Life was good. I still felt as if I was on holiday whenever I had the time to wander but I lacked something and I just didn’t know what that something was. So I returned to University to start a Masters degree in Methods of Social Research and during this time I had a period of exploration and fine-tuned my direction. It was the Life Story Writing workshops I wanted to focus on. I had an inner conviction that they could really make a difference to people’s wellbeing, and could help increase happiness and sense of belonging.

After a few initial workshops on happiness and empowerment and life story writing, I started running a longer course for a local charity aimed at people aged 50+. That course has led to something very special to me – a small life story writing group. One of the outcomes from this will be my next book – “Writing back to Happiness” Life Story Writing the Waves and Pebbles Way. I started handwriting this book just after Christmas with a lovely new fountain pen, part of a set gifted to me by my group.

It is during these meetings that I have realised how much I really enjoyed blogging, and not really understood why I stopped doing something I loved so much. Anyway, here I am, back again!

I am excited for 2020. It somehow feels that it is a year of the unexpected but that it will be good, providing new adventures with opportunities to explore all that life has to offer and doing it in my own way.

I truly wish anyone reading this the very best for 2020 and the coming new decade. May you give yourself the gift of time to explore what it is you really want to do with your life – whether that’s carrying on doing the things that you love or allowing yourself to explore new avenues based on your own life values and future dreams.

Watch this space as I continue “Writing back to Happiness”. My focus for my Waves and Pebbles blog continues to be random stories about life, creativity and memories – with the addition of nature – which are all reflected in my Life Story Writing workshops and groups.

I live in Broadstairs, on the Isle of Thanet in Kent, England. We are blessed with beautiful bays, sandy beaches and amazing skies. In 2020 I will be running short courses at various venues, usually hotels and cafes where you can relax and enjoy a social occasion and do some life story writing back to happiness along the way. I am also exploring the possibility of offering online groups so if you might be interested in this, please let me know.

I hope you have all enjoyed the festive season and are looking forward to what the New Year 2020 and the next decade will bring. I’d love to hear your life stories and what your hopes and dreams are for the future.

Kay xx

Please feel free to comment here or visit my website http://www.kayunderdown.com. You will also find my page on Facebook @empoweringyoubeyondyourdreams (Kay Underdown, Happiness & Empowerment Coach). Like my blog, this has not been kept up to date and I am looking at developing my social media presence specifically aimed at Life Story Writing. I’d love to hear your own experiences of writing … or perhaps the reasons why you don’t write … I also encourage people to draw their stories if they don’t want to write or to do storyboards, a bit of both!

Embracing 60 – surprise party and the value of blogging

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I had no doubt I wanted to share this photo but I pondered the title.  Yes it was my sixtieth birthday recently.  I’d been very specific about my age when I was in hospital over the past year and they had me down at one stage as 60 – NO! I said, I’m not 60, I’m 59 – a big difference in my eyes, fiftties sounds younger, sixties sounds, well, old.

So here I am, 60 and proud of it.  It’s a fact, it’s a number.  But does it really mean anything?  I opened a card just the other day from a fairly new friend who had never known my age.  She couldn’t help adding a comment to the card that we had chatted, shared things and experiences together, laughed and more and she couldn’t believe I was the age I was and said it proves age is just a number.  I don’t know her age.  Somewhere between 30’s and 40’s.  Does it matter?  What matters is that we clicked, we get on well together, she always makes me smile.  She said I was an inspiration but she inspires me.  We inspire each other, what can be better than that – peer inspiration, the best.

After the difficult year I have had, I felt blessed to reach my 60th and even more so when a surprise birthday celebration was arranged by my close family.  I had an inkling that we were going to do something, I thought a small family meal out together somewhere.  I was urged to be ready in time and was frantically trying to get my Christmas gift of earrings from a friend through my ears that I had not done for nearly a year, didn’t even know if the holes would still be there.  Success and then I made my way out the door to be greeted by a huge white limousine.

It was a wonderful surprise and I sat sipping a taster of Champagne as I floated in the car to our destination.  It seemed unreal.  In my mind I kept thinking I knew where we were going as we took different turnings and changed my guess as we went past.  We ended up arriving at one of my favourite haunts some years back where we spent many happy times, a fairly local hotel where I had partied, had family brunches with Santa and enjoyed the therapeutic benefits of the health spa.  After capturing our family group outside the limo, I ventured inside, not prepared for the surprises that moment by moment dawned on me.  Some of my closest friends who had supported me so much during the past year were already seated in the lounge area, scattered so it took me a few minutes to take it in and tears of emotion and joy escaped my eyes.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.  How they had all managed to keep it from me at a time when we were wishing each other a Happy Christmas and not expecting to see each other until the New Year I do not know.  I never suspected such a surprise.  It brought a warm glow to my heart and I treasured every moment.

I have dwelt on this more than I intended and it is hard to express in words how I felt.  I had not felt able to make plans myself because I had not long had my last treatment of chemotherapy and was still recovering, and somehow it being the last of the cycle made it more difficult though I should have been pleased.  As I write this I have enjoyed a joyous Christmas at home and spent a couple of days away at a family party where most of my family were present and I met once again with the youngest member, just under a year old, my niece’s son.

I would never have imagined years ago that at age 60 (which always seemed so old when I recall my own parents reaching that age) that I would have a teenage daughter and be mid-way through a degree course at University.  I have a wonderful family, dear friends and a range of interests that keep me happy most of the time.  There are challenges ahead but there is so much to be thankful for.  I am returning to study in January and this will bring its own pressures which will again mean that my blogging will no doubt go on hold again, but it is not something that I want to let go of.  It is something that I want to return to again and again as there is something so special about it.  I have tinkered with different aspects of social media.  Each has its place, benefits and downfalls, but to me nothing gets near to what blogging can do.  It opens up a whole new world and the opportunities are endless.  Whenever I come on here I get lost in what I am doing and never feel that I have wasted my time.  There is always something that draws me in to read more and I know that it is always there for me if I need it.

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Forced to Reflect – chemo and pancakes – including recipe for Strawberry Pancakes with Fresh Apricot and Caramel Sauce

Copyright 2015 Kay/wavesandpebbles

Copyright 2015 Kay/wavesandpebbles

Forced to Reflect

In my mind, the words force and reflect do not sit well together. Forced is negative, being made to do something against one’s will, whereas reflection brings to mind a calm place with ample time to look back in a positive way on memories. What brings me to think of these words together? I have had a couple of months off treatment, which has taken me to a wonderful place where I have enjoyed life, had renewed energy, been able to think about the future, my hair has regrown to a point where I actually like my new short style. I began to feel that I was in a false state of wellness as I knew that my next cycle of treatment was imminent. Last week I had the dreaded call, resulting in dates for this week. I have tried to keep positive, not to think back on the difficult and challenging time that I have had since January.

Yesterday, as the clear ultramarine blue liquid dripped into me, I thought ‘what a beautiful colour’. One of the nurses who knew me quite well from my spell in the high dependency unit joked about me turning into a smurf. Her smile reminded me of the kindness and care she had shown me back in that dark place. Another nurse smiled brightly, commenting on how unbelievably well I looked compared to that time when I was lying in bed, hardly able to move, being turned throughout the night and losing the use of my legs through lack of mobility. I got through that time. I can do it again, I may not even go there.

Here I am discussing my treatment, what this blog was not to be about. But this blog is saving me, it is giving me hope. It is enabling me to achieve goals at a time when I felt that time was running out. Each day is precious, I enjoy my life with my wonderful family and friends. I have been blessed with a beautiful warm summer that is delightful. Yesterday when I was going for my treatment, my eldest daughter visited and we went out to my favourite new local cafe for lunch. I once wanted to run a tearoom – it was to be called ‘Pebbles” and would be right beside the sea. One side was to be the cafe with special gifts and books for sale, the other side was to be a place for quiet contemplation, with artwork to view and books available, and the opportunity for either one to one support or small group workshops with a coaching theme. I gain satisfaction from seeing what other’s are able to accomplish. The cafe I mention is run by a young girl seemingly living her dream and very successful with it. Who knows where life will take her, I know nothing of her history. I have never owned a tearoom but I have been able to achieve the essence of my dream by organising special intergenerational tea party events, holding workshops and training in the community and organising an art competition – all while working in my dream job working for a local charity.

I started this post early today and now it is late evening and I am reflecting back. I return to the local cafe. The first time I visited it was with a friend. We chose from the breakfast menu and I had the most scrumptious fluffy American blueberry pancakes piled high, with fresh blueberries floating in warm maple syrup. All thought of taking photos for my blog went out of my head as I dived in, so the photo shown here was an afterthought. This experience led me to look up recipes and try one out with my new mixer that I treated myself to. I was really pleased with the results and we had them with cinnamon sugar. Yummy. So this morning, as my daughter had stayed over, I decided to make them again. The first round was drizzled with tangy fresh lemon juice with cinnamon sugar. For the second round, I thought I’d try something different and I made the most wonderful fresh apricot sauce with strawberries. I was gutted that I forgot to take a photo so will have to make them again specially and take a really good photo. But I wanted to include what I did here anyway. So, a quick recipe.

Strawberry Pancakes with fresh apricot caramel sauce

Use your favourite recipe for American fluffy pancakes – if you have never made them there are many to choose from online. The one I make uses 200 g self-raising flour, 200 ml milk, 2 eggs and 1 tsp honey. The eggs are separated first. Then mix the flour, milk, egg yolks and honey together with a fork until thick and smooth, but not for too long. Whisk the egg whites until thick and firm and then fold into the pancake mixture until all the white has mixed in. Melt butter in a thick frying pan and when it is sizzling spoon dollops of the mixture, spaced out. (At this point I add some chopped strawberries, quickly sprinkling a few pieces over the top of each pancake first and then gently pressing them down with the back of a large spoon before the tops of the pancakes become too set. The pancakes are then flipped over once golden to cook the fruity side until lightly golden.)

To make the apricot caramel sauce (quantities for 2 servings only) and the amazingly flavoursome whole strawberries that top it all, peel and chop 2 fresh apricots and wash and hull 4 fresh strawberries. Place the chopped apricots and whole strawberries in a heavy based pan, I use stainless steel, with 3-4 teaspoons of caster sugar. Do not add any liquid. Heat gently, stirring occasionally. The apricots will start to soften and the sugar melt, becoming a lumpy golden sauce. You will smell a slight caramel scent. Do not allow to boil. Continue to stir just for a few minutes. I stopped when I noticed the caramel smell start to change and placed the base of the saucepan in water for a few seconds to stop the sauce from continuing to cook, so it didn’t become bitter caramel. On tasting, there is a hint of caramel flavour which blends beautifully with the fresh apricots and I served it warm. The whole strawberries will be cooked through but remain firm, and their flavour is really intensified.

So today, my second day of treatment, we enjoyed a home cooked, satisfying and delicious breakfast. What a treat! It reminds me that I must cook more, something I used to do a lot of and have the recipe books to prove it in my garage library. It also gives me something else to photo and blog on here.  So, forced to reflect?  Yes, but to me, reflection ends in a positive and turns the world around.

Unblocking creativity and releasing inspiration – 10 minute writing challenge (2 of 2)

Copyright 2013 Miguel Virkkuhen Carvalho, Flickr, CC-BY, via Wylio

Copyright 2013 Miguel Virkkuhen Carvalho, Flickr, CC-BY, via Wylio

This 10 minute writing exercise was written four days after the last one posted yesterday, back in January of this year when I was in hospital.  It was a very emotional time yet at the same time my emotions were somewhat on hold, still struggling somewhere with my new situation in life, having just been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia – a fast-acting life threatening form of cancer.  Fortunately the final report revealed that I had the type APL (Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia) which has the best prognosis.  

‘Let anything come to light. Light, sun, shade, depths. My favourite colours. Pink and turquoise. Where are they now? The luminescence of my favourite pink is in my hand leading this waltz of writing. Waltz – music is within me yet it has evaded me. The song of life, the thrill of it all. The lilting sound of creativity. Creativity is to be found all around – or is it? I need to search it out, to wallow in it and bring it back to life. Life, it keeps coming up. This new, unexpected venture. How does it feel to be here? But I am not ‘here’. I am soothing my soul to do something special with creativity. There is so much around, but where is it hiding. I am on a journey and that journey is just finding me. I must avoid the logic. That is not what this is for. Storytelling was my aim and that can stay with me. I will write a short story, one that wings in from the sky above. One that I don’t think hard about, it just comes to me. Will it be real? There will be more than one – but fantasy is what breathes through my veins. A new light. Get caught up in the colour that comes to me.  Take inspiration from all that has come to be in this vessel of a room. The cards and gifts. Where am I? I am with heart. I am loving life. All is not lost it is within me. To find the light and the story. To have music in my mind. To love and to laugh. To write music is a gift that I can bring to this time. I am soaring through the sky in Florida. Such a wonderful and special time. The cool air brushing through my hair as I swirl through the clouds like a swan sweeping across the ocean.’

Unblocking creativity and releasing inspiration – 10 minute writing challenge (1 of 2)

Copyright 2009 Trug Bui Viet, Flicks, via Wylio

Copyright 2009 Trug Bui Viet, Flickr, CC-BY-SA, via Wylio

I thought I would share with you this 10 minute writing exercise I carried out after a friend gave me a very special writing book while I was in hospital.  This is the very first bit of writing I did as a result of receiving this book.  (Try it yourself – set a timer for 10 minutes and just write whatever comes into your head.)  This was written in January this year.  I have in the past month started my story … I just need to return again.  This 10 minute extract conveys the kind of autobiographical fiction I would like to write.

‘Heart of my life. This moment. Where am I? I am in a new life. I am boarding a train at Platform Life. I have my ticket to an unknown destination. It is calling me. I have no idea where I am going but I have my inside filled with the fuel of inspiration. I am alone. Yet I do not feel alone. I feel that I have my spirits with me. The special light of those I have loved and lost. Yet there is the call of mystery. This is my story. I recall when I was given a signal to get on the train and know that I was on a special journey. I received texts telling me that I was not alone. It was scary yet somehow exciting. I love trains and I was on a journey to my mystery story, the one I am going to start.

I feel it is a fantasy story. It means I can go on any plane of life. The now, the future, the past, the unknown. The hidden depths within me. I may get lost but the fragments of me will collect themselves and save me from the hardness of life as I know it at this moment. I am on a soft journey to a fantasy world. I am going to soar into a story of such powerfulness that inspires me and connects me with the people who I love now and those I have yet to meet. I feel blessed to have this opportunity. And it is going to re-alight my creativity. Take me to a place that is beyond the bounds of special. A unique, timeless experience that is so touching, so enchanting, that I will create many special characters to join me on this journey. They will be colourful, fantastical, special, heartwarming …’

Creative Blogger Award nomination – and my nominations

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Once again I am thanking Danica Aquino, http://www.thedirtydiaries.wordpress.com for nominating me for the Creative Blogger Award.  I am very pleased to accept this nomination.  When I accepted the nomination for the Liebster Award yesterday I received my highest number of views in a day and I love that people in so many different countries view my blog.

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The rules for this award are:

1. Thank person who nominated you with link to their blog.

2. Display award on blog.

3. Share 5 facts about self.

4. Nominate 10-15 blogs (some rules say 5 some say up to 20)

5. Pass on the rules.

The 5 facts about me are:

1. I love travelling by train, even just fairly short journeys from home.  My longest trip was from Kent in England to Frankfurt in Germany.  I travelled with my son to see the Grand Prix at Hochenheim.  It was only five days but it was absolutely wonderful.

2. I think Street Pianos are great.  It is such a great idea for anyone to be able to sit and play a piano.  I always enjoy visiting St Pancras Station in London where they have a few pianos and some of the people who play them are absolutely amazing and so inspiring.  I learnt the piano at school and achieved Grade IV.  I can still play a little but only with music (and only for me!) but would like to get back to using my keyboard and perhaps have some lessons.

3. I am a mature student studying Social Sciences and am into my second year.   It was a dream come true to be at university studying full-time after so many years of working.  Sadly this is on hold at the moment as I was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in January this year and have spent quite a few weeks in hospital and having treatment.   I am getting used to my ‘new normal’, taking advantage of the time to go through my old journal writing, do this blog, read light fiction and I am trying to start writing a story.

4. I believe in the value of creativity.  Many people can benefit from art, no matter their ability.  I organised a family day at university where parents and their children were able to enjoy different creative workshops during the day and it turned out to be such a special day.  People discovered they were able to achieve much more than they thought they were capable of and they enjoyed spending quality time together as a family.

5. I am an accredited life coach and it is a goal of mine to have my own online business.  I have used my life coaching skills within my career and have witnessed the benefits it can have.  I used self-coaching myself for a few years before I trained and there are some great books out there.  I aim to include some life coaching related posts on this blog in the future.

I am nominating the following blogs for the Creative Blogger award (apologies for not nominating the full number but am new to this and only just nominated blogs yesterday for the Liebster Award.

A Simple Note – bailday.wordpress.com

myfairvagabond.wordpress.com

O at the Edges – robertokaji.com

Ramblings of a College Introvert – conqueringanthropophobia.wordpress.com

Sincerely, James – sincerelyjames1.wordpress.com

jemverse.wordpress.com

motivatinggiraffe.com

Reflecting on a poem written when a special friend was fighting cancer … It now seems so relevant to me

As I continue to sift through my journals, I have discovered my initial writing of this poem a few years ago.

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Copyright 2011 Alice Popcorn, Flickr, CC-BY, via Wylio

Copyright 2011 Alice Popcorn, Flickr, CC-BY, via Wylio

Sometimes when we least expect

life brings us such a clout

It takes away the certainness

and leaves such rays of doubt

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Why is all there is to say

then numbness takes its toll

Leaving not a thread of power

or strength to set a goal

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We may not know the reason

we may not have a clue

Yet here it is before us now

we are one of the few

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Chosen is not how we feel

and not a choice did make

And there’s a hint of loneliness

like lost within a lake

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Then when it all seems hopeless

and dreams will slip away

Our precious jewels come to light

and rise above the hay

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People that we love so much

those that really care

Treasured memories, special thoughts

arise as much they dare

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Our life is such a journey

the ups, the twists, the downs

And we can choose to dance along

and sometimes be like clowns

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The happiness, the sadness

our feelings are the best

And it’s OK to laugh and cry

to worry and to jest

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Life is a timeless moment

that mindfulness can bring

Don’t worry what the future holds

for now is here to sing

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Yet let your dreams stream onwards

with hope for what’s to come

Such wonder in creative play

and life is like the gum

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There’s strength for when you need it

and friends will stick around

The treasure map will come to life

and joy will then be found

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You have the tools to make it

you have the heart and soul

The special person that you are

will find and seek your goal

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Enjoy the days that follow

take from them what you will

Let angels guide you on your path

to bring you up this hill

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Let love and laughter join you

amidst some sadness too

Till once again the sun shines bright

upon your life so true