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Flute, mandarin, yoga -- my wonderful life after 40

'IT WAS never going to be Botox or a boyfriend, but I needed a change and I needed to get out of my comfort zone," says Catherine Cleary of her sudden urge to learn to speak Mandarin and to play the flute and run barefoot and learn to grow vegetables. Her mid-life crisis struck over a year ago when she was busy rearing her three young sons and working as a restaurant critic. "I had no time and yet what did I decide to do but to make myself even busier," says Catherine.

If she had a million things to do, she had also just entered her 40s and was worried nothing new would ever happen in her life again.



Allotment

The little things were getting on top of her, too, like the constant washing of socks and the skirting boards which needed dusting. It was then she decided her life needed bigger challenges to make it interesting again.

"The idea for the book came about during a conversation I had with Jo O'Donoghue of Londubh Books following a Bikram hot yoga class," says Catherine who is a former crime correspondent with The Irish Times.

"The idea we discussed fitted in with my fear that nothing new would ever happen in my life again, and life after 40 was all about endings and goodbyes," says the 42-year-old writer. "By the end of the chat I had decided to pick out six challenging activities to try. I was going to do them for 30 days each and write about how I got on.

"I decided to include Bikram yoga which I had recently started and gardening because I had just got myself an allotment," says Catherine who is mum to Shane (9), Peter (6) and Isaac (3).

A Month of Somedays is her new book about how she got on with the six challenges she tried for 30 days each. Rather than waiting to do them 'someday' she took the bull by the horns and got on with them, including learning Mandarin and taking up barefoot running -- she was cheered running barefoot down Leeson Street during the Women's Mini Marathon.

"Yes, it hurt so I didn't run the whole mini marathon in my bare feet," she says.

She undertook the rigours of creating a garden in 30 days on her new allotment. She also fitted her challenges in with her jobs as mum and a freelance journalist and chose them so they were near to her home in The Tenters in Dublin 8.

She learned to play the flute from scratch, doing three to four classes a week. "I did piano lessons as a child so knew a bit about reading music."

She embraced hot yoga classes and found out what all the fuss was about the new trend for baking by deciding to make food and sell it.

You would think Catherine was one of life's doers, and even a little ray of sunshine by the way she so eagerly chased change and new adventures. "Far from it, I'm cynical by nature and that combined with the natural deficit of optimism in this country at this time isn't a great combination," Catherine says. "I would never choose to put myself in a socially awkward situation. I love my comfort zones such as sitting quietly reading a book.

"With this book I had to make myself be optimistic about each new challenge. I had to go against my natural instinct and believe I could achieve whatever I took on, even when my husband Liam wondered if I was mad and if I'd keep up my enthusiasm. I remember my mum teasing me by making circles near her head in those loopy gestures when I was heading off running," she laughs.

Her challenges were, not surprisingly, challenging. But in the pursuit of head space and in the hope of contentment, she persisted.

"I was hiring the flute and explained to the supplier that I was going to learn to play it in 30 days and she went quiet and then laughed and said there were worse things to be trying to learn," she says.

She has since bought a flute. "Liam plays guitar so we play a little music together now. A friend has just announced she's taking up the trumpet as a result of my experience so I'm starting a Sunday orchestra!

"All in all, I'm not that bad at it. I loved the gardening and running and have kept them up too because of how they slow things down for me. I leave the house without my phone so no one can contact me.



TOOLS

"With the baking and learning a language, I went into what educationalists call the 'mastery phase' and got on with it and wasn't comparing myself with others. This in itself was terrific," Catherine says.

Is she a more optimistic person now she has completed her challenges?

"I love the way the boys have seen me take on new challenges. I have these new tools for life too. If the little things are wearing me down, I put on my running shoes and run out the door.

"Or I get the flute out and lock myself away for half an hour and focus solely on making the instrument sound like it should! Or I put on my yoga clothes and do some stretching.

"Finally, I'm going to try out something new every year from now on. I was wrong thinking you can't learn something new after 40. But I was right thinking it was up to me to make myself optimistic when the country is so negative," Catherine says.

A Month of Somedays: How One Woman Made The Most of Now, by Catherine Cleary, published by Londubh Books at €12.99. See www.amonthofsomedays.ie


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