In flight from a pest-ridden house…

About two weeks ago my Airbnb guests got back to find the contents of my food cupboard in a plastic crate on the front doorstep and several of my jumpers in the freezer. As you do…

The preparations aka Military Campaign for my extended trip overseas to spend all important time with family began about a month ago. I needed to finish up two jobs – one of them a maternity cover contract with high expectations and ambitious KPIs, organise my travel plans and get my house and garden in order ready to rent out – a job in itself.

I was doing pretty well, even if running on adrenalin, and found it a good opportunity to test drive some of the time-management strategies suggested by Brendon Burchard of the Performance Academy (as mentioned in my last post). To share a few of them: he recommends not checking any social media for the first hour of the day and, instead, focussing on what you need to achieve. I found that to be so simple and effective in freeing up and clearing my headspace. Because, as he points out, the minute we tune into the emails and messages we’re taking on other people’s agendas and demands, and we lose our focus. I put my phone on airplane mode before I go to bed and leave it like that until after breakfast. He also advocates dividing the working day into 50-minute blocks broken up by drinking water and stretching. And, importantly, ditching the social media and screens again at the end of the day and finding some time to meditate or do something that gets us into a less thought-driven and more grounded space before bed.

But then I discovered critters in my cupboards. I was getting ready for a meeting with my new boss (I have an exciting new job starting later this year) when I Googled ‘how to get rid of moths’ and up came ‘how to get rid of moths in the pantry’ and ‘how to get rid of moths in clothes’. My initial search was prompted by holes in my jumpers but then I realised, with a sense of panic, that the worm-like creatures lurking in my food cupboard and on the ceiling were pantry moths – well the larvae anyway. I’d never even heard of pantry moths before, let alone seem them. The hour that I had set aside to compose myself for the meeting was spent frantically chucking out dry foods – the larvae get everywhere even under lids of spice jars. Some were even inching their way across foil sachets of Miso soup while others were hanging out in the rice noodles. Yikes! I scrubbed the shelves and left them clear for several days – hence the food that I had not yet inspected being relocated to the doorstep – until I blasted them with barrier spray and then set up tent-like moth traps that I bought in the hardware store. Fingers crossed that they don’t stage a comeback when my guests move in a week after I leave.

A pantry moth larvae

A pantry moth larvae

My sister has been through the whole saga of moths in her clothes and instructed me to wash all my jumpers and then put them in the freezer for a few days before placing them into individual plastic bags. Sounds simple enough but not when you’re working 12-hour days, getting ready to go overseas AND have about 50 items of wool in your wardrobe. At the time of writing, my departure is about 12 hours away and I am just cycling the last woollies through the freezer and into vacuum-packed bags. The trouble with these critters is that they are discerning and choose the highest quality wool and cashmere, leaving aside the more ordinary sweaters made of acrylic and other man-made fibres, damn them. And, from what I read, they can graduate to other areas of the house and tuck into rugs, linens, towels and curtains. Perhaps I will come home to find my house full of holes like a piece of Swiss cheese…

Just some of my many woollen items

Just some of my many woollen items

deep-freezing my jumpers

deep-freezing my jumpers

One of my mother’s favourite expressions is ‘what a pest!’ meaning what a nuisance. Now I know just how much of a nuisance. My house and garden seem to be ultra attractive to pests. Mid-packing I’ve just zipped out and zapped my lemon tree as some kind of leaf mite was chomping its way through the leaves, then I noticed a bulge where a gall wasp had set up home, and THEN I came back inside and there was one of those European cockroaches crawling across my kitchen tiles. As you might know none of this has anything to do with cleanliness. Regular readers know that I’m a bit of stickler when it comes to cleaning. So maybe it’s payback for something I did in a past life – who knows?!

Needless to say I have not talked about bugs and beasts in the detailed house manual I have prepared for my tenants. But maybe I should have; listening to the science program in the car the other day I learnt that having a pet spider in the house is a great way of keeping other creepy crawlies at bay as the spiders eat them for dinner. The program gave spiders a very good rap.In one of my more Buddhist moments a few years ago, I did allow a Huntsman spider to live in the corner of my study window. The only trouble was that, after a few months, lots of tiny black dots appeared in the web and I realised they were babies. Did I really want to share my house with about 30 spiders? Needless to say I had to dispatch the spider and its babies to the next life. There’s a limit to this co-habitation thing; I’m finding the Airbnb guests enough.

But now it’s my turn to take flight and be a guest myself. By the time this goes out, I’ll be on my way to England to spend precious time with family and friends especially my elderly parents. And true to the original meaning of the word holiday(s), as in holy day(s) – a rest from the daily grind – the blog and are going off air and taking a break to rest and recharge away from the keyboard, the emails and all the stuff I do in my day job! That way I’ll be more available for my family and for new adventures. We’ll be back in October. Stay tuned.

Chocolate, choc-a-bloc living and computerised cleaning

On Saturday afternoon I found myself grating chocolate – a jaw-clenchingly fiddly activity – for a chocolate pâté I was making. Yes, you read that correctly; chocolate pâté. It was an everything-free recipe (as in no gluten, refined sugar or dairy) I had cut out of a magazine over a year ago. Made in a loaf tin from a mixture of organic cacao powder, walnuts (soaked overnight to remove enzyme inhibitors – so the recipe said), maple syrup, tahini, grated chocolate and pure vanilla extract, it was actually very good – especially when garnished with berries – if very rich.

But I don’t recommend grating chocolate as a relaxing activity; it flies everywhere a bit like polystyrene beans and I ended up breaking a much-loved Pyrex dish in my attempts to sweep up the chocolate confetti littering the kitchen bench. I was rushing – hence the jaw clenching bit – as I’d done my beach cardio routine (see my last blog post) in the morning, washed the floors, cleaned Bertie’s ears, done a few loads of laundry and washed up all the pots and pans left over from making coq-au-vin the night before for a meals-on-wheels catch-up with a girlfriend, and now I had a 3.30pm appointment to get to. After that I just had time to bolt round the block with the dog child before heading across town – complete with grid-locked Saturday night traffic (argh!!!) – to meet friends at the cinema.

I studied Far From the Madding Crowd for my O’ levels at school (that dates me…) and know and love the book and the 1967 film with Julie Christie and Alan Bates. The 2015 adaptation is good; Carey Mulligan is excellent as Bathsheba Everdene and who can fail to be swept away by the rolling Dorset countryside? I’m not sure Matthias Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak has quite the same humble earthiness as Alan Bates’ character, but it was a fine film nevertheless and I got to SIT DOWN! Over drinks with my friends after the film, they talked variously of a holiday in Bali, sleeping in and siestas. Green with envy, by 10pm I was beginning to flag, my batteries seriously flat.

The next day I was up and out with Bertie and then across town again for a sumptuous birthday feast prepared in honour of a friend’s birthday. We all took a dish – from Greek rabbit casserole to chicken and fennel meatballs to the most divine lemon cheesecake and my chocolate pâté. A marvellous time was had by all but it was 6pm by the time I got home. Sated but happy, I was also exhausted and in bed by 9.30pm, which was bliss after three nights out and about.

So, come Monday morning, by which time I was once again bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was particularly interested to read a blog post by motivational coach and author Andrew Jobling and to watch a video by Brendon Burchard of the High Peformance Academy. Both had content that really interested me, and after a choc-a-bloc weekend, the timing seemed perfect. Jobling’s blog was all about ‘do or die’ non-negotiable goals – I’m thinking writing a book – and how to stick to them, whatever life throws at you. Birthday feasts apart, committing to writing means keeping a day or afternoon free a week even if it means saying ‘No’ to a lunch or seeing a friend. It’s called commitment – and a healthy measure of self-belief comes in handy too.

But how do we stick to our goals when so many other things compete for our time and attention? Because everyone is busy. Burchard talks about getting into the right mindset and having focus and clarity. He asks if we can envision – really see, feel and sense – ourselves achieving the goal, as in becoming our future selves. Have any other wannabe authors pictured themselves holding a finished book at the launch party? I like his tip about programming in some quick wins to keep the motivation going and about gathering supportive people and mentors around you. And my favourite – given my choc-a-bloc tendency – is Bandwith Belief. This is where you ask yourself if the goal or activity is something that you have enough time or focus to do well.

Burchard – and he has a very compelling style – claims that we can all get 30 minutes to an hour back each day. Really?! But he’s not one of those lifestyle gurus who tell you to get up half an hour earlier each day. On the contrary, he advocates getting up to 50 minutes more sleep. But he does recommend avoiding distractions such as trashy TV or clicking through to banal or non-essential links on social media. The trouble is that I am not doing any of those things anyway – some weeks I don’t even turn the TV on and I go for days without looking at Facebook. But there is something I could do less of – and that’s housework.

And I’m not the only one harassed by housework. My recent Airbnb guest, GP, asked if I did all the cleaning myself, remarking that there was quite a lot of floor to clean (ah, sympathy, how nice!). She lives in a small apartment in Singapore but has one of those robot cleaners. As long as you take up any floor rugs (the robot might try and eat them), she says they are pretty effective. The conversation at the birthday feast also turned to computerised cleaners. In fact my friend Di is thinking of putting her birthday money towards one of these automated floor mops. And why not if it gives you more time to focus on more important things?

robot-148989_1280 (2)

Right now, either human cleaners or robots seem an attractive solution to broadening my Bandwidth! But I’m still intrigued to watch Burchard’s video on how to increase productivity by 30%. He says you can do that by working less and reducing stress. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Stay tuned for my next post. Meanwhile I could do with a robot at work to write grant and funding applications…