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Nikki Newman: Topping Up The Pot

How Do You Rest And Recharge?

Sometimes it feels like my brain is a void.

In fact, looking out of the window right now at a hazy sky with the sound of birds tweeting in the trees, that’s how my brain feels:  active & awake, it’s daylight, but there’s not a lot going on.  Quite pleasant you might think, tranquil even, but it’s actually pretty alarming. It’s like all the demands of my days have caused some sort of brain siesta – the roads are empty and everyone’s gone for a nap.

Between the school runs; grocery shopping (it isn’t once a week is it? It’s more like four times a week I find); household chores; husband, son, wider-family and friends; dog care; motivational speaking/shouting at homework time; my own various areas of work and study; meal planning and preparation; school newsletter data processing; school play costume/set design, etc I feel like the various parts of my brain employed in these things have just had enough!

When that hazy sky and the tweety birds move in, I struggle to remember how old I am, let alone create some painterly ‘masterpiece’, no matter how small (a ‘minorpiece’?)

I remember my name though so that’s a good sign.  It’s Sheila, I think.

I’ve had rather a lot of the hazy-sky-brain recently and I’ve been forced to acknowledge a dusty old pot on the shelf that I’ve been neglecting.  Not a real pot (we’re talking figuratively here) but if it were real it would be white porcelain with blue Chinese brushwork and small enough to cup in both my hands. It’s my Me Pot, my Soul Pot, whatever suits.  Visualising it helps because then I can get a feel for what I need to do to top it up, what good stuff I need to put back into it, to get the brain and body cogs oiled up again – however long it takes.

Here’s a doodle I did of it.

There are of course heaps of different things that can top us up, revive us, boost us, inspire us, calm us, sooth us, relax us (that one is the most difficult to achieve and has the most regenerative powers).  Some things take a bit of planning, a bit of thought, or even a lot of cash…but what I’m most interested in right now are the things that are easily accessible and can be done spontaneously.

A list of some of my easy top-ups might read like this: make soup, engage with my son, hug the dog, tend to plants, be frivolous, visit somewhere new, visit somewhere I miss going, listen to music from the past with my husband, meet a friend for coffee; buy some fabric; sort out a drawer; clear a corner; search out a bargain; read a poem; walk; watch Jane Austen/ Twilight; apply moisturiser; drink a glass of chilled white wine in the garden late afternoon –  before dinner, after homework duty and before husband gets home;  file and paint nails (mine are short but show an honest day at the easel); buy a new lipstick; take thirty minutes to totally shutdown (no phone, no TV!)

For me, there’s something so good about taking whatever vegetables I have in the fridge, chopping, cooking, seasoning, stirring in stock, maybe some beans or grains, simmering, then finally curling up on the sofa round a big mug or deep bowl and slurping away.  You can add what you want, or keep it simple, maybe spice it up, and the top-up factor here is manifold, not just because of the vitamins.  Soup is soul supplement.  That’s how it seems to me anyway.  The same can be said for home baked cake or bread, or even curry, it all depends on the moment.

Engaging with my son can mean simply lying on his bed and chatting while he plays with his cars, or having a game of cards or like we did the other day while waiting for a much delayed doctor’s appointment, making up silly words. We were eating ‘Smints’ and Oliver said, ‘These are so minty they’re Smintastic!’ and we sat like two school kids waiting to see the principal, giggling in hushed tones making up a whole bunch of Sminty Superlatives. Oh so cheesy.  Oh so affirming for us both.  Ten minutes can bring bonding, reconnection, and the kind of pick-me-up that will never EVER be able to be bottled.

I won’t go into the other items on my non-exhaustive list other than to say something about Total Shutdown.  This is something I’ve started recently.  Once upon a time I was into meditation and would do it twice a day at least.  But as someone who spends a lot of time on her own and a lot of time doing pretty insular things like painting and writing, I just don’t think it was what I needed. It got me down in the end!  As a consequence, things like the idea of sitting in a park on a bench on my own – a conventionally good way of getting some top-up time – often isn’t really what I need as it too can feel isolating rather than peaceful. So I prefer to get little trips out and about, with $10 in my purse to see what delights I might be able to find.

But the one thing I do try to do, a little like meditation but without the depth, is take rests when I need to and do my Total Shutdown (sounds like a game show, I know).  This involves putting TV and laptop off, phone on silent (set the alarm in case you doze off!), going to a quiet space and ideally just lying down (bedroom is best).  It takes practice because the tendency is to reach for something to do but just allowing that total rest is so powerful.  I’m sure you can adapt it to suit location. It’s like being in my hazy-tweety-bird brain but out of choice, and rather than hazy, my brain feels warm and sunny at the end of it. Try it. Even 20 minutes will help.

I saw on one of those reality makeover shows the experts suggested getting a jar or pot and placing in it little slips of card, each with one thing written on it that you really neglect doing for yourself.  Then, once a week, take one out and do it.  I like that idea.  Again, it makes the thoughts real and solid and therefore less easy to ignore and keep on neglecting.

We’ve all got our own ways, so what are yours?  Is it something you’ve considered before or that you tend to neglect?  What would your Me Pot look like?  Try to get a feel for it, try to picture it, it might just help the next time you’re running low.

Please, share away.


Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of 7-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to:




  1. Irene

    March 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Beautiful post Nikki….I can honestly say my pot probably is weathered a little, got knicks and I envision a bunch of weeds growing wildly all over the place…

    Not being one to know how to relax…I usually go from thing~to~thing~to~thing….lately more so then ever. There are always lists: get that done, do this, go here, rush there…

    Sunday…I got up and wanted to go take our littlest to the air show at our military base. He is 3…I get up and start getting ready and we tell him where we want to go. He says, “me stay home it zunday” Boy that hit me (3 year olds have perspective) we run run run all week work, daycare…what is wrong with just staying home?

    So thanks for your thoughts and perspective…the reality show idea is a good one.

  2. Nikki Newman

    March 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Can someone extend the night here in the ME? Thanks so much @Irene. Lists? Oh yeah I know about them and have two on the go each day: my list and home list…and it’s tiring! Air shows are fab but honestly your boy put it best: he/ they just love being at home with mom/dad/ carer at the weekend.

    I can picture your pot, give it a bit of a weed and figure out what you want to take their place 😉 thanks so much for your comment x

  3. Nikki Newman

    March 25, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I must clarify what I meant by my first sentence in my comment above! I am always excited to see my post go up on GEM but then because of the time difference, I’ve got to go to bed and I miss comments etc, I was up rather late last night – enjoying wine with friends which on the one hand puts back into the pot but on the other hand the way I’ve felt today, my pot is a little worn! – and wanted the night to carry on.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Irene and thanks for your lovely comments.

  4. Rachel

    March 25, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Great post Nikki, and so true! My pot has been empty for months now and I’m trying to figure out what it is I used to love doing…it’s hard to remember what I did for fun or for myself before kids/husband/marriage. I took your advice to pare down to the essentials…and I take a daily nap which I find is helping me get through the afternoons and evenings. I clean only one room a day (bathrooms, maybe two) even if that means the rest of the house is trashed. It’s easy to forget ourselves while we are so busy raising/saving/nurturing/encouraging the other people in our home. Thanks so much for your post! Brain food, that’s what it was for me today!

  5. Irene

    March 25, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Hey Nikki just getting back here to this post…lol….have a great weekend. 🙂

  6. Lucy Evans

    March 26, 2011 at 2:40 am

    This week I feel like someone smashed my pot as I lost my florist job which I loved (due to my temp hearing loss,) I found myself just wanting to curl up in bed and not wake up, rather than sorting kids out and then having me time in my green house for half hour and then spending time with my family, as I couldn’t interact/ watch tv with them due to the hearing. But I have glued my pot together again, found a new florist job with a boss with a sole and sense of humour, (lot of hearing/sign language jokes) and excepted the fact thing/ people. life are always going to try and smash/hide your pot but mine has pride and place on the shelf and the happier I am the happier my family is. glad it didn’t last long as have loads of thing growing in my greenhouse lol.

  7. Claire Casely

    March 26, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Love the post Sis. The whole image of having a me pot is a great one to hold onto. My me-top time involves getting up early, making a really good cup of coffee, lighting a joss stick and some candles and just sitting and staring out of the window at the garden, if I have any extra time before the kids want feeding / dressing etc I write a few lines in my journal. I do the same in the evening once kids are in bed and watch less TV these days. I also like to wonder around the town and and browse some of my favourite (non-high-street chain) independent stores and have a chat with some of the owners I’ve befriended sharing stories – its good for the soul, its good to remain mindful when out in the hub-bub of consumer society. Stop and chat with the Big Issue seller, with the old chap that says “hello isn’t it a lovely day?” (you may have been the first person he’s spoken to that day) find out something about his life, his experience of the world. Good for all our souls.

  8. Jo Ratcliffe

    March 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    A wonderful read Nikki, thanks huni. And in reading it I topped up. Indeed I have to confess to topping up all day today. I had a very indulgent day of trundling around charity shops and finding wonderful bargains, buying cakes and enjoying the sunshine. It is something I never ever get time for – being by myself and taking my time – so I loved every minute. I have recently been trying to find at least a few minutes me time in every day; its not always easy but it is so very important. I have to admit though I completely relate to the birds and the haze occupying the space upstairs I used to call a brain. It genuinly distresses me! Especially when I’m mid sentence in a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me that well and I stop because I can’t remember the word I need, or worse – I can’t remember what I was saying or what the conversation is about! Am I mad??? Probably. But hey-ho, my kids and my husband love me and I get through each day in one piece so I suppose thats good enough. Take care all, thank you Nikki xx

  9. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith

    April 2, 2011 at 7:56 am

    What pot? Here is what I used to love to recharge my fire one of many: get up whenever I wanted during my single days when I was still training. Walk to the coffee shop (Cup of Joe in German Village Columbus, OH) buy a flavored coffee and the NY times, walk home and read it with NPR jazz (or whatever fab music they were playing) on! Another fab was taking my blades, running shoes and bike down to the Olentangy River trail (again Columbus, OH) then running, biking, blading to my heart’s content with a stop off at Katzingers Deli (again in German Village, Columbus, OH) grabbing a fab sandwhich, a side and a flavored soda (strawberry kiwi, yum!) Oh the days!

    Thanks for another great post.

  10. SusanDevey

    April 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    A great article Nikki…I’ve just been catching up on your posts and found this one to be particularly inspiring. It;s been full on here for the last couple of months, as you know, so on Saturday – the first day of the Easter hols – I finally took a day to get the garden sorted. I mowed, weeded, tidied, sorted, organised and re-arranged, and finished up by planting beans, melons, squash, peppers and carrots! My pot runneth over and will hopefully keep me going for a while!

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