Category Archives: Seasons

Twelfth Night

img_20170104_123143

Taking down the decorations

This is the part of Christmas I hate.  The clearing up.

Today is the day for taking the decorations down.  If you leave them up any longer, its supposed to be bad luck.  And since I don’t want any more bad stuff in my life for a good while, I’m diligently stripping the tree, just to be on the safe side.

Once all the cards and baubles are gone, the place looks rather sad and naked.  Empty.  You can see where all the dust and cobwebs have built up.  (I’m leaving the hoovering and dusting till tomorrow, so I don’t use up all my strength in one day.)  It looks especially empty this year because we made such an effort to bring that Christmas magic back into the house.  The first annual holiday without a loved one (in this case, my mother-in-law) is always a tough one, and especially so for my Husband this year, because his mother was such an enthusiast for the season, such an integral part of the family’s celebrations.  We had to make a particular effort to reclaim it not only from grief, but from the difficult memories of the last few Christmases spent in the shadow of her Alzheimers disease.

I think we managed it (mostly).  At least, I’m pretty sure it could have been a lot worse.  And when I came downstairs one evening and found him lying on his back on the sofa, gazing at the twinkling lights on the tree and listening to the soft music of Vaughn Williams, relaxed for the first time in months, I decided we’d found a reasonably happy medium.

Now the Yuletide festical is over, and we have to face the stark reality of a future year, the uncertainties of Brexit and Trump, as well as clearing out and selling the home of a loved one.  However, I don’t feel as desolate as I thought I would.

I always said I was a ‘glass half full’ kind of person.  You know the old adage, the one about looking at a glass with some water in it, and choosing to be optimistic about there still being something left to drink, or being pessimistic about the fact that its half gone.  The joke I heard recently about, ‘well, there’s plenty of space for more vodka’ seems to chime with how I feel today.

The house may feel bald and empty, but now there is space to fill it with new things.  Good things.  Things we can choose together, not the baggage of caring for someone with dementia, of watching her suffering, and of our own powerlessness to help.  There is new opportunity in the space that is left, both by the decorations and the lifting of the burden of caring.  And we get to choose what we fill it with.

Which is quite exciting when you think about it.

(Think of all the writing and painting I’m going to get done!)

So don’t look at your dusty, de-Christmassed home in dismay today.  Look for the gaps in between, the space for possibility.  Don’t mourn the loss of Christmas.  Think to yourself, in your best Mary Poppins tone, ‘well, what shall I do today?’

Happy Creating,

EF

A Bit of a Staycation

We had this plan to go on a proper summer holiday this year.  You know, beach parasols, bikinis, sun tan lotion etc.

And then Life Happened.  Primarily in the form of unexpected expense: me needing new spectacles (£650) and Husband needing a new crown on a tooth (£220).  Ouch!

So having assessed just how depleted our holiday fund became, we figured a staycation might be an idea. The nice thing about a staycation is that you don’t have to worry about luggage allowances.   So this is what I am taking on my staycation this year:

My staycation goodies

My staycation goodies

I’ve given myself permission to read EXACTLY what I want, not what I think I OUGHT to read, or anything along the lines of my usual reading list.  So I went to my favourite second-hand bookshop and picked out a book that just sounded really, really interesting.

‘Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil’ by Ron Rosenbaum.  Its not so much about Hitler, in the biographical sense, as about the way we talk about Hitler, about what we talk about when we talk about him.  It is about our ideas about the nature of evil, something I have been interested in for a long time, and spans everything from first hand witness accounts of his life, through philosophy and history, to theology and cultural studies.  It will be a demanding read, bit I can’t wait to get stuck into it!

‘What are you looking at? 150 years of Modern Art in the blink of an eye’ by Will Gompertz, was lent to me by a friend who knows I love modern art.  I read Norbert Lynton’s seminal book on the subject when I was doing my art ‘A’ level exams as a teenager, and recently I’ve been looking for a book as accessible that would explain and update my knowledge.  My pal suggested this one, and though I don’t particularly like Will Gompertz as a BBC correspondent, I think its mainly because I can’t bear to look at him.  Well, he can’t help looking weird and smug.  I guess he was born like that, so I shouldn’t hold it against him.  And my friend says his book is the business, so I’m looking forward to diving into that one while lounging in the garden with a chilled elderflower pressé too.

A couple of DVDs.  I don’t know why, but around this time of year, my system starts preparing me for autumn, and I get the urge to watch ‘Practical Magic’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.  We had both of these films on video for years, but when we got rid of all our videos some months back, my copies went to the charity shop along with the rest.  The other day, I decided I would treat myself to new copies, and I’m looking forward to spending some of my break snuggled up on the sofa watching these much beloved, familiar movies.

My journal.  I just listened to Susannah Conway talking about journaling on this podcast, and its brilliant.  I’ve been contemplating my journaling practice for a while, and this seems like a good time to expand my skills.

A few nice girlie things too:  Divine Oil by Caudalie, which smells as good as it sounds, and makes my skin feel wonderful, and Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure nail varnish in ‘So Much Fawn’, which is just neutral enough, and just pink enough too.  I usually wear the loudest red on my toenails that I can find, so this is a bit of a departure into the realms of subtle for me, but I like it.

So I’m off on my staycation to chill out, read, write, paint my toenails and hatch a few plans for the coming months.  If you are off on holidays too, I hope you have a wonderful time, where ever you choose to go, or not go!

Happy Creating,

EF

Reflections on a Weekend

The harbour and yacht marina at Warsash, on the Hamble River, Hampshire, near where I grew up.

The harbour and yacht marina at Warsash, on the Hamble River, Hampshire, near where I grew up.

I’m in a time of endings.

I spent the weekend with my mother.  She’s 84 years old, and not very well.   She’s always been so robust, ploughing through life like an entire panzer division, armoured and indestructable.  And now she’s frail and shaky on her feet.  Still going, don’t get me wrong, but undoubtedly fading.  The little child inside of me is frightened and confused, terrified at the prospect that the day is now not far off when Mummy won’t be there anymore.

The weekend was characterised by extreme weather, wild winds and a huge storm blowing in from the Atlantic on Friday night.  I lay in bed, listening to the gale roaring in the pines and the waves crashing on the beach up the road.  A tarpaulin was flapping mournfully on the house next door, which is being renovated.  Out in the Solent, a few miles away and easily seen from the shore, the massive Hoegh Osaka container ship was heeled over precariously on her side while tugs battled to keep her afloat overnight.

My writing life feels just as precariously balanced and embattled as that metal leviathon marooned in the major shipping lane.  The squalls that pulsed through during the weekend in close succession, and even my mother’s ill health, all feel symbolic of my life right now.  My writer’s group seems to be petering out after more than a decade, and the retreat we will go on together at the end of this month seems likely to be the last.

It is a time of endings.

Yet, in the terracotta tubs outside my mother’s front door, green shoots are appearing, the tops of bulbs – hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, even tulips.  Dotted through almost every garden in the street, spectacular orange-pink camelias are in full bloom.  The maritime climate suits them.  They show bright faces of gorgeous colour even in the depths of winter.  Fresh shoots of hope.

Without endings, we cannot have new beginnings.

Just as the dying off of exhausted foliage in autumn and the long winter months of dormancy and recuperation make way for the voluptuous gush of spring, so the phases of our lives must pass away, so that new joys, opprtunities and inspirations can take their place.

Today, I don’t know what I’m doing with my writing.  But I continue to write.  I feel hopeful.  And while I wait for the right story to pop its first green shoots through the earth, I will put what I have into this blog, into my diary, into notebooking, in preparation.  I will hope.  But I will also be ready when that green shoot comes.

Today I will honour the endings I know are coming.  Change is a part of life, and I will sit with the feelings of sadness that sometimes come with it.

But I will also plant up the amaryillis and paperwhite bulbs I bought the other day, and set them on the windowsill to remind me that out of compost, out of the remains of what is no longer living, comes indescribable beauty.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

Inspiration Monday: My Own Little Patch of Earth.

Roses in my own garden.

Roses in my own garden.

One of the things I want to be doing this year, as part of my quest for EASE , is to try and reduce the amount of pain I experience on a daily basis.  And after quite a lot of trial and error, I have discovered that the kind of pain I have at the moment is actually EASEd by movement.

I’m concluding that a main source may actually be the slow atrophy of my muscles over the last 17 years of ME/CFS.  If you are too exhausted to move, your muscles degrade.  Its a major issue for anyone with this illness.  When I had influenza a couple of years ago, my daily yoga practise went by the wayside, and since then, apart from sporadic efforts at walking, I’ve been able to do very little.  I hadn’t realised how much the yoga had been helping back then until I developed back problems, because all my core muscles have wasted so much.  My body can’t hold itself up properly  anymore.  With shooting pains in my legs and hips as well, I’m having to face the fact that if I don’t haul myself off the sofa at least a little bit once a day, I am doomed to a painful existence.*  And that’s not what I want.

But how to find something that motivates me to get off my bum without wrecking the delicate energy balance I’ve had to cultivate in order to function?

The answer came to me this morning:

Just look out of the window, Rebecca.

We have a nice, good-sized, south-facing garden that we have really done very little with since the first year we moved in.  This autumn, it efectively got abandoned as a result of ongoing ill-health and wrinkly-wrangling commitments.

Which is a shame, because I made a lovely garden in the house where we lived before.  It gave me a great deal of joy and healing, and is one of the things that the new owners still treasure.  But when we moved here, I just didn’t connect with the garden in the same way.

Gardening gives me the opportunity to get out in the fresh air, get my fingers in the soil, and soak up all that good prana, even though I don’t like getting mucky, if I’m honest!  It is enormously satisfying when you have finished to be able to sit back, and look at the work you have done.  It is tangible evidence of your efforts.  You can do a little at a time, and stop when you have had enough.  Even a brief walk around outside, picking up a few stray leaves, or doing a bit of dead-heading can make someone in my situation feel so much better.  A little bit of movement in the fresh air gets the blood going and the muscles moving, however gently.

And you get pretty flowers into the bargain.

Its a no-brainer really.

This afternoon, I’ve been out there, raking up leaves.  I didn’t do much.  Just enough to allow me to connect with the muscles in my arms, back and legs.  Just enough to feel the blood in my veins.  Just enough to get my cheeks pink in the nippy air, and the smell of wet earth in my nostrils.    Now I’m inside, I can look out at what I’ve achieved.  The garden is still a tip, overall, but I can see the newly flowering primroses in the bed by the gate.  They were covered with big oak leaves like tanned hands before.  Now they are winking at me, little creamy-yellow faces in the twilight.  Hope that Spring will come.

And yes, my arms are wibbly from the effort, and I feel like I might need a lie down, but I also feel refreshed and loosened up.  I have done something creative, something to nurture myself and the earth on which I live.  That feels nice.

Maybe I’ll get some plant catalogues and start planning what bedding I’ll put in in the spring.  Maybe I’ll work out what I can do with that disastrous centre bed that just isn’t working.  Maybe I’ll work out a humane way to get rid of the moles.  Maybe I’ll get some winter pansies to put in the hanging basket by the front door.  Maybe my peony will flower this year.

With a garden, anything could happen.

Happy Creating,

EF

*I feel like I need to add that this current pain is different from the pain I experience as part of my ME/CFS symptoms.  Its different in character and location.  It can be relieved by movement, which my ME pain cannot.  That is why I conclude that its caused by muscle wastage, and not as a result of the disease itself.  Exercise has been touted as a cure for ME, but its not.  It can only help with the associated muscle loss.  If you are experiencing serious pain yourself, I feel I should encourage you strongly to see a doctor or medical professional before you commence any kind of activity which might exacerbate the problem.  Don’t make yourself worse!

A Last Minute Roundup

Dear All,

Christmas is fast approaching here in Darkest Norfolk, and in traditional style, there are no decorations up yet, and we still have presents yet to buy!  It wouldn’t be the same without that last-minute panic.

I’ve been working so hard to finish my guide-daughter’s Christmas stocking that I have had no time to write, which is making me thoroughly grumpy and frustrated.  Hopefully, I shall get some writing time in after the festivities are over, in that gloomy pause between Christmas and New Year..

In the meantime, I thought you might like to see the finished product:

IMG_20141218_142508This shot gives an idea of the amount of quilting I put into it.

Here is the completed version:

IMG_20141218_163619 IMG_20141218_163610I have to say its the best thing I have managed to finish in years, and I am indecently proud of myself.  I hope Lottie likes it.

And in the spirit of trying to get into the Christmas Spirit (…), I’ve finally managed to get around to transferring my favourite Christmas fanfic, A Christmas Soldier, over to AO3.  You can read it here.

Well, that about wraps it up.  I’d like to thank you for bearing with me over recent months, and I hope that this festive season brings you joy, peace, good health and lots and lots of creative fun!

With love,

Evenlode’s Friend.

Inspiration Monday: The Fun of Childhood or My Quilting Adventure

lotties stockingLately I’ve been rediscovering sewing. In a fit of madness, I offered to make a Christmas stocking for my dear guide daughter, Lottie. I bought some of that lovely fabric, where the stocking is printed on the surface, and all you have to do is cut it out and sew it together. So far, so simple. But then I had the bright idea that it would look lovely quilted. I had some batting and calico at home, so that could be had free. Why not?

I haven’t quilted properly in years. To be really honest, I haven’t done proper quilting since the winter after my dad died in 1982, when my mother and I made a quilt for my bed. We sat through the winter evenings with the quilt over our laps, sewing together. It was one of the most profound and loving ways we found to survive our grief.

pink quilt

Pink Quilt made by my mother and I, Winter 1982-3.

I still have that quilt. We have voyaged through life together, through college, university, adversity and marriage, my quilt and me. Now it sits, pride of place on the futon in my study, ready to wrap around me when I’m reading on a chilly afternoon. It is a bit threadbare now, the cheap cotton we used almost see-through. But it still gets used on our bed on cold nights, and I’ll occasionally patch it up if it develops a hole.

For me, quilting is an emotionally important skill.

Pride of place on the futon in my study, ready for snuggling duty.

Pride of place on the futon in my study, ready for snuggling duty.

It is not really hard, just running stitch. You just have to make sure you get your needle through all three layers on each upstroke and downstroke. Of course, you can make it more complicated than that, but I don’t.

I’m really enjoying my simple running stitch work on this stocking. I’ve finally finished the first side, the one with Father Christmas’s sleigh. There were lots of fiddly bits on that one, and I began to realise the wisdom of a lady I once saw demonstrating Durham quilting at a quilt exhibition. (For more about exquisite Durham quilting, try here.)  She was using a frame to hold the fabric layers taut while she worked. You have to with Durham quilting because it is incredibly detailed. I always fancied doing it, but it was one of those crafts that I got all the books from the library about, but never had the guts to have a go.

When I was a kid, not having the guts would never have occurred to me. If I didn’t have a book or a pencil in my hand, I had a needle. I made all kinds of things, but mainly dolls clothes. As I got older, a branched out into making historical costumes. Tudor and Elizabethan ones particularly. I spent hours researching the historically accurate way of dressing, the different layers required. I dressed my Sindy dolls in bead-encrusted gowns, each bead sewn on with my own hand. I even made ruffs!

I loved doing the tiny stitches. I still do, it turns out. That’s why I’m now addicted to quilting again. I’m so pleased with my little stocking. Its so satisfying to see the work develop. I had forgotten that simple running stitch could be so enjoyable. And I know that Lottie will enjoy her stocking when she gets it, and in years to come, I hope that she will regard it as an heirloom, just as I do the pink quilt I made with my mother when I was a teenager.

What crafts did you used to enjoy when you were a child? Did you love pottery, felt crafts, beading? Did you make things with matchsticks or balsa wood? Did you put together plastic models, or build go-karts?

The run up to Christmas is a great time to remember those simple activities you used to enjoy as a kid, and maybe have another go. Maybe, like me, you can rediscover a new outlet for your creativity. Because, let me tell you, when I’m finished with this stocking, I’m going to try some Durham quilting. Nothing is going to stop me this time!

Happy Creating,

EF

Welcome to 2014!

Writer Friend asked me yesterday what my creative plans for the coming year were. (He means to finish the last draft of his novel to his agent’s satisfaction.  Good luck to him, I say.)

Me?  Well, I just stared at him with my lower jaw on my chest.

Plans?  Creativity?  Ideas?  Hell, even original thought?  I beg your pardon?

Let me explain:  Mother-in-law (henceforward referred to as Mother) lives with Aunt-in-law (henceforward referred to as Aunt).  Mother has dementia.  Aunt is profoundly disabled by arthritis.  Aunt is Mother’s carer.  Just before Christmas, Aunt fell on the stairs and was rushed to hospital with suspected broken neck. Cue care crisis.  Luckily, neck was not broken. Result, however, was several days in hospital for Aunt, meaning Mother had no carer.  Husband and I, and rest of family, rushed the three and a half hour drive to take over care.  Aunt comes out of hospital, still needing 24-hour care.

Its a mess.

The upshot of all this is that we spent Christmas nursing, so effectively Christmas didn’t happen.  For ten days, my brain was occupied thusly: 90% firefighting care/nursing issues, 10% ‘ohmygodhowarewegoingtogetthroughthis???????’

We made it home in time to spend an exhausted New Year’s Eve with dear friends, and to stare blankly at the telly for the Sherlock Series Three Episode One premier last night. (Don’t ask me for an opinion, I haven’t got one yet.  I’ll tell you when I get my brain back.)

I haven’t had an original thought to spare for myself for nearly a fortnight.

So the plans I had for writing a jolly, upbeat, ‘these are my creative plans for 2014’ post for you today are wrecked.  I don’t have any plans because I haven’t had time to think about them.  Of course, I will write one, eventually, when my brain is less bombed, and when I have recovered from the bone-deep exhaustion that only an ME sufferer faced with such an emergency can experience.

Why am I telling you all this?  (Apart from to apologise for not writing something you didn’t even know I was going to write?)

Because this is a real-life demonstration of the philosophy this blog was established to promote.

In a minute, I will put away my laptop and excavate my desk from under the heaps of clutter that accumulated there in the chaos before Christmas.  And then I will open my journal, and pick up my pen, and press the nib to the paper.

And then I will find my way back to myself.

Somewhere, buried under the rubble of the last two weeks, is my soul.  My mind.  My creativity.  And my pen will make a line, a track that will lead me back to my soul, my mind, my creativity.

This is why writing is important.  Whether we write a journal or a story, a play or a poem, that line of ink leads us home to ourselves, over and over again.  And if we follow that inky trail, we will never be lost, no matter how difficult and hopeless things seem.

Happy New Year,

With Best Wishes,

EF