Rules to live by - Part 1

Over the years, I've developed a set of what I like to call "rules to live by". These are little insights that resurface over and over again and describe the things I need to do to stay a happy Zoë and maintain a happy and healthy life. They usually become apparent in times of stress and upset. I've probably learnt the most over the last few years as I've come to terms with living with chronic fatigue and am constantly learning how best to manage it.

Whilst they are very personal to me (and I'm certainly not suggesting that this is what everyone must do!), I thought they might be of help or interest to others, so I decided to share them here. There are rather a lot of them, so I'll spread them over a couple of posts. You can read Part 2 here.

Just be me

Accept (and be happy) that what I want to do / like / makes me happy etc. will be different to others. Just follow my path, and don’t waste time thinking that I should like or do something else, because that's what everyone else seems to want to do. Do what nourishes me and makes me happy.

Don’t compare myself to others

Their lives, experience, health etc. is different to mine. And remember that often we only get to see the highlight reel - not their struggles.

Just compare myself to myself.

Create more, consume less

Spend less time looking at what everyone else has done online and more time creating my own things: photos, blogging, sewing, knitting and other crafty stuff. Time box internet time. I don’t have to respond to everything immediately - or at all, in fact. Need to spend time in the real world.

Keep my diary free and leave room for Zoë time

Don’t plan too much and don’t fill my diary. Leave room for “Zoë time” doing things I love and being creative, and time to act spontaneously and do things I fancy in that moment =

don’t worry about saying no!

Nurture relationships (the right kind)

Make time to maintain and develop relationships with lovely people. Arrange things I like doing with people I share common interests with. But don’t overdo it. Don’t be afraid to let those people go who upset me / I find difficult / I don’t relate to. Thing's change, we change, and we need different things and different people in our lives over time. Surround myself with like-minded, positive, respectful people. Be kind, be thoughtful and above all, treat others as I would like to be treated.

Eat well

Eat lots of veggies, unprocessed wholefoods and avoid sugar. Go easy on the alcohol, especially if I’m feeling foggy and achey - it makes my CFS much worse. Make time to cook healthy meals and to prepare stuff: it’s important.

Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep

Do yoga 5 x week - it keeps me grounded and my systems working properly. And walk as often as I can - slowly increase the amount I do. Go to bed in good time - put down the internet!

Go outdoors and enjoy nature

Get out regularly for fresh air and walks. And surround myself as often as I can by greenery, space, quiet and the sea. It nourishes me.

Do you have any rules to live by?


As I wandered down a track last week and my view opened out to reveal the stunning coastline below, I felt completely overwhelmed with gratitude and my heart was singing with joy. I had reached this point by walking from my house, by myself. As someone who struggles with chronic fatigue and doesn't get out that often, this was a big deal. It reminded me of my thankfulness practice and I thought I would share a little of that here.

It was a beautiful day, and I felt the strong urge to get some fresh air. We are still exploring our new part of the world and my husband had managed to get to Cuckmere Haven on his morning run, so I just thought I would see how far I could get.... I walked past lots of fields with spring lambs frolicking around and their mothers eyeing me suspiciously. Birds were singing and lots of folk were out walking their dogs.....

Cuckmere Haven is one of those super special places you don't encounter very often (it was one of the reasons we chose to pack our bags and move out here). As you wander down the track from South Hill Barn, you can see the rolling South Downs on your left and fields full of sheep and lambs. There is just so much S-P-A-C-E. Space to think and breathe. Space for ideas and new possibilities...

As you descend, the view seems to grow bigger and bigger and you can see the beautiful beach and majestic cliffs, and the coastguard cottages, just clinging on to the edge of the cliffs. You literally have a 360 degree view of the most beautiful countryside and coast. I was full of so much joy, just standing there and taking it all in.

I have my beautiful mother to thank for so many things, including a love for the simple things in life and practicing thankfulness. Every day, my mum would record several things she had to be thankful for in a journal - it could be a beautiful bird song, a glimmer of sunshine on a grey day, some kind words from a friend. It wasn't an easy task for her, as she suffered a great deal of pain and sickness in her last years, as she battled with cancer. But she chose to see the positives in life, despite being dealt such a cruel hand. It is amazing how much difference it can make to your life by focussing on the good things, rather than the bad. They say that what you pay attention to grows stronger. Let it be the good stuff.

It's a practice that has stayed with me, over the years. I started out writing down the things I was thankful for in a journal every day, but this fell by the wayside as life got busy and I got tireder. So instead, I just run through it all in my mind when I'm in bed, before I go to sleep. It's a lovely thing to focus on before you drift off. Of course, there are many benefits to writing it all down, not least the chance to review it and remind yourself of all the joy in your life when you are struggling, but I think it is better to do it, than not. So as with most things in life, I think it's important to find a way that works for you.

That beautiful day last week I had so much to be thankful for. I stared at the mesmerising waves for as long as I could stand, and then I sat and watched some more. And then I wandered along slowly, looking for shells, another favourite past time I share with my mum.

Today, I am thankful for

  • The most beautiful bird song and golden light as I did my morning yoga practice
  • Having the time and space to write this post and edit my photos
  • The lessons my chronic fatigue is teaching me. I totally overdid it last week. A faint whiff of energy and I'm off - I got so excited by being able to walk to Cuckmere Haven, that I went twice, as well as several other decent walks and even cycles and started enthusiastically logging it all with a fitbit, comparing myself to my husband. What I should have been doing, is pacing myself, and doing less than I think I can. Today, my body is complaining strongly and forcing me to slow down. The fitbit has been abandoned and I'm grateful to be able to take things slowly, and for the self-awareness that comes with managing a chronic illness. Comparing myself to others is not a good thing!
  • The beautiful golden daffodils bobbing around outside my window as I write this
  • Getting one more of our plumbing leaks fixed!

What are you thankful for today?

The times they are a changin'

Change is most definitely in the air. As we drift into October the leaves are starting to turn and fall, the nights are drawing in and there is a definite chill in the air in the mornings and evenings - I love this time of year!

Soft landing
Autumn pinks

And for me this year, things are changing in a big way. I've just left my job of 9+ years as the Head of the Systems & Information Management team in Research Services at the University of Oxford. It's been a wonderful place to work and I've been privileged to work with many fantastic people that I respect and admire. But I've been battling with chronic fatigue for the last few years and am thoroughly fed up with feeling achey and exhausted all the time and barely able to drag myself through the working week....

So I decided I needed a big change and a chance to rest and recuperate and focus on my health. I'm taking a career break for 6 months or so to give myself the time I need to recover. And a chance to think about what's next. I'd love to do something creative, ideally with my photography....perhaps some freelance work - who knows - the possibilities at this blissful stage are endless :)

If you go down to the woods today….
Every shade of autumn in one tree

I'm planning to spend my time doing lots of lovely creative, crafty things. I want to learn to knit and sew properly, and hopefully crochet too. I am so looking forward to being able to potter about at my own pace, instead of rushing from meeting to meeting....

I have been slowly amassing a little stash of vintage fabrics and I am so looking forward to getting stuck in and making things....I have booked myself into a sewing course for November and will be making a tote bag and a make-up bag as part of the course...and then I hope to get to work on some cushion covers...and maybe an owl if I'm feeling adventurous.

My vintage fabric stash
Destined to be some Blythe scarves and maybe some hats...

I will be able to surround myself with beautiful happy colours in my home. My owl shelf of happiness makes me smile every time I walk into my bedroom. It's had a very special recent addition - the new owl on the far right was custom made for me by the wonderful Modflowers in a pink and aqua colourway, especially to co-ordinate with my owl shelf :)

I'm over the moon with him - isn't he gorgeous? You can read about the making of him on Modflower's lovely blog.

My owl shelf of happiness
My fabulous owl from @modflowers

I'm also really looking forward to doing some more Blythe customisation and photography. I've got lots more faces to matte....These shelves of colour in my craft room just make me smile, even on gloomy days...

My happy shelf #1
Work in progress….
Zahra approves of the new chair

I'm planning to do lots more photography too - I've got lots of ideas for a new line in greeting cards and small prints....I've been hunting out bambis like my avatar over the last few months and will finally have the time to photograph them :)

Vintage teal & yellow: a delicious combo
Finally managed to find a bambi like my avatar :)
Bambis are multiplying!

So, exciting times ahead! But first, I'm off on a special trip to the USA, including a visit to Blythecon New York to celebrate my (gulp) 40th birthday later this month! So my blog will be quiet for a little while. But no doubt I will be posting like a mad woman on Instagram, so you can follow along with me there :) Tara for now! Z xx

In memory of my beautiful Mum

My beautiful Mum passed away in 2007 after a long battle with cancer. I miss her so much. There's so much I want to share with her, and ask her, and enjoy with her. She didn't get to see me get married. Or see my first home, or my blog. We loved so many of the same things and I know she would be so proud of what I've done over the last few years. So I thought I would dedicate this post to her, and happy memories, and share some of her favourite things.

I love this picture of my Mum. It was taken on a trip to Sark in 2001. We had such a wonderful time pottering around the beaches, searching for pretty pebbles, drinking cups of tea and making friends with stray cats. (Apologies that it's a bit grainy as this is a scan of an old print - pre-digital days!)

So what are my Mum's favourite things? So many!

Space, sea and sand


Drinking cups of tea out of pretty china

Vintage noms

Colour and beautiful, happy flowers

Golden sunshine


I could use a bit of this right now

Smooth round pebbles

Project 52 ~ Week 6 ~ Hearts
The perfect pebble

Autumn leaves

Autumn pinks

Soothing greenery

Dancing acers

Softness and beautiful simplicity

Soft landing

Creative things - Mum loved to make, and write....

My owl shelf

Her beloved St. Ouen's beach, whatever the weather - and paddling in the sea :)

The delectable St. Ouen's Bay, Jersey
Sparkly ripples

Springtime - there's something so special about the first flowers bursting through after the winter rest

Mum so loved the changing seasons

Carpet of crocuses
Dreaming of frothy white blossom....

Owls - something I've inherited :)

Up close and personal

I thought I would end by sharing a bit of a poem I wrote for my Mum for her 60th birthday.

You give thanks each day

For your beautiful house by the sea

By the waves, the rhythm

Of nature is all around you

Flowers blossom in your garden

Nurtured by your gentle care

You watch the leaves turning from

Green to gold and red with delight

Whilst the butterflies and bees

Busy away, spreading their amber nectar

Even rabbits and moles and magpies

Play in the grass before you

Now you have turned 60

And the little girl inside is full of glee

And more joyful still

And the voice within grows stronger

More confident and graceful

By the day

You are so full of love and gratitude

And wonder

Just like a child

So beautiful