Friday, January 13, 2017

A fresh start


My weekend starts on Friday afternoon and this week it starts with fresh bread.  I topped it with butter (as it was a new loaf I wanted the maximum treat value) and tangy pink grapefruit marmalade, which I made last December.  (I made the butter dish too, but not the butter.)

It's also a fresh start for me in baking bread.  I used to bake most of our bread and then for some reason it started to be less successful and M didn't like it much so I gave up.  I was rigorous and although it went against the grain (mine), threw all my old bread flour into the compost and started with new.  Moved over to instant ready-mix yeast, as so many recipes call for it.  Used half white and half granary flour, a tad more yeast than the recipe for white bread called for and included 1 tsp vitamin C powder.  Result!  Oh, sorry, that should really say "Result, one lovely, light, tasty loaf."  Not too sticky, not yeasty in flavour, even and light texture and lovely crunch on the crust.  I'm hoping this will mean a return to making much of my own bread.

And finally ...  a fresh start with the blog.  Writing about what's on my mind, or in my life, even if not at length.

Happy New Year.  I've avoided flu so far so already it's been a much better start to 2017 than it was at this point in 2016.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Photo A Day 2016

 As I've mentioned before, I've been doing the Photo A Day challenge during 2016. I haven't actually put up a photo for a little while and from time to time during the year there were odd gaps. I've been pondering whether to do it again next year. 
 
How much do I mind the missed days or, latterly, weeks? I suppose it does irk me a little when I miss some. But it's a bit like healthy eating. Just because I ate a big slice of cake today doesn't mean it isn't healthy to eat fruit tomorrow. The fruit still counts. So with the photos, the ones I've taken still count and there were still days when I did produce a photo but had to dig deep at the last minute to put one up and on those days I was certainly meeting a challenge.
 
The Facebook group for the challenge is full of people who meet it every day, whose photos are in the 'lovely photo' category every day, who experiment with filters and effects almost every day. Mine, by contrast, sometimes aim for the 'lovely photo' but sometimes are just unadorned snaps of the daily prompt in order to meet the challenge. I think I should be happy with that.  I've also produced the occasional image that I'm really pleased with.
 
So ... I'm going to take on the challenge again in 2017, with the same kind-to-myself attitude that if I don't do a photo every day I haven't failed the challenge.  In 2016 Photo A Day has sometimes made me think about how I take photographs and take time to construct a shot, sometimes made me keep my eyes open better for opportunities to meet the prompts I know are coming up and these are good things, which I hope to build on.  Most of those taking part in the challenge I've done are using their phones and phone apps to manipulate photos.  I, on the other hand, take on my camera and upload to PC, where I have Photoshop.  I think I'll continue with that but perhaps make an effort to use my phone for some photos as up till now my results from the phone camera have mostly been rubbish and it would be good to do something about that.
 
You can see the whole album of 2016 Photo A Day images here.  In the mean time, here's my pick of a favourite photo from each month of the year.  In some months had few photos to choose from so the favourite photo isn't always one I'm particularly pleased with and it seems I didn't meet the challenge at all in July, so there are only 11 photos.


 
 
































Thursday, December 8, 2016

Not everyone's cup of tea

Poetry isn't everyone's cup of tea.  Bereavement isn't either:  I wouldn't recommend it if you can avoid it.

I learned 25 years ago, after the death of my first husband, that it's ok for the bereaved to make jokes about death, loss and the downsides of their departed loved ones where it isn't for anyone else.  I offer the (hopefully) mildly amusing introduction to this blog post in that spirit.

Anyway, one thing that's been going on over the past few months is that my subconscious has been reminding me that it's the time of year when my second husband died.  It's been gradually feeding me the memories of the month or two leading up to his death.  I'm used to this, it happened with my first bereavement (for about twenty years) so I haven't been surprised, but it hasn't been a happy time.  I get on with my life and there are still many good things in it but I was also suffering from various minor physical ailments which increased in severity.  My system does that.  Most physical ailments I suffer from are triggered by something or other psychological.  I did what I always do - had extra acupuncture and other alternative things.  This has, thankfully, put me on the road to physical recovery.  It's also allowed my conscious mind to unlock what's been going on in my unconscious mind. 

Poetry is a valuable tool in condensing what we think or feel into a form which, if it's done successfully, conveys ideas concisely and rapidly.  I think this latest poem of mine does that.  It's been tough.




a different grief


and now unexpectedly
different grief
I didn’t know
I hadn’t done

two years
has been about the ending
bad memories
of your suffering
knowing
I couldn’t have done more
but always wondering

now suddenly
here you are
being Mike-ish
loving me
reminding me
of all the good times

two years
after your funeral
now I am suddenly
reconnected with the real you
able to miss you
at your best
and not the worst
of those final months






Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nothing to report

I like the phrase "nothing to report".  It's not technically an oxymoron but it is a nice contradiction in terms: a report is clearly being made, therefore there is something, even if it is that there is nothing.  I picture a couple of tired cops watching a dark house in a lonely street overnight and checking in with "nothing to report".  What they really mean is that there's no activity of the sort they're watching out for.  But that *is* a report.  I probably watch too much cop tv.

I see it's been three months since my last co ...  oh, sorry, no, that's not it.  Three months since my last blog post.  Astonishing!  I've occasionally thought I should write something, at least to make it clear that the blog is still live, but haven't known what to write about.  Nothing to report.  Except, of course, I've been leading a full and busy life as usual.

Suddenly in the last few days I have felt like writing.  What's changed?  I think it has to do with creativity.  Whatever you think of my writing, for me it is one of the many things I do that come from the part of me called "artist".  If that part is very busy doing other things then I think writing tends to go to the back of the queue.  I have now more or less finished making work that I need for events before Christmas so writing steps forward.

I have Ideas for other posts.  They may come thick and fast.  Or they may not.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

From setup to ongoing

Debate has begun about the season.  Is it autumn yet or late summer?  We're in one of those phases where nobody, least of all the weather, can make up their mind.  Transition.  I and my garden are in the same sort of place, almost at the end of the setup stage of The Big Garden Project 2016 and moving into ongoing gardening.

To remind you:  this has been the year when I committed to working part-time (whatever that turned out to be) and therefore having time once again for my front garden, beginning with some landscaping.  Here's my post about it at the beginning, in April, and here's a follow-up in May.  I haven't written about it again here and it's time I did.  But first, a repeat of the "before" photo.




Today I'm really enjoying seeing that photo because things are looking so different now.  The landscaper said he was looking forward to seeing the beds in six months' time and I said it would be at least a year before it looked like much, but contrary to my expectations, the many perennials that I've grown from seed this year have mostly flourished and flowered already.  Things are already bushing out much more than I expected and I've had a lupin flower.

This last is no mean feat because of slugs and snails but, this year at least, I've had great success with some organic slug pellets that are harmless to wildlife and pets.  Even the vegetables have survived the molluscs, though pigeons and caterpillars are trying to make up for it.

I've bought about six plants from garden centres over the last few months and about the same number from market stalls and there have been a few plants donated from friends or Freegle members.  And now, suddenly, here's a colourful and tidy garden again.









It's not perfect.  The lawn has had a bit of a chequered history and still isn't the lawn I think I should have.  The landscaping/maintenance team are working on getting it right and most of it is now improving but there's a way to go.  There's still lots of convulvulus (known in our family as 'white convulsions' since it was described that way by someone known to the family, around 1960) and I'm waging a constant battle with handfork and weedkiller, the only way to kill it off where it has its roots entwined with things I want to keep. 

Against that, though, there are so many things flourishing.  Grown from seed and flowering in their first year have been mallow, commelina, gailardia, antirrhinum, gazania, pinks, sweet william, lupins, chrysanthemum, michaelmas daisy and penstemmon. 

If you're a glutton for punishment, many more photos showing the landscaping, gradual planting and general progress of the garden can be seen here.  I'm not sure there'll be many more added now as I don't think there's much more to flower that hasn't already done.  One last setup job will be to plant spring bulbs during the next couple of weeks and then the setup stage of the project will be finished.

I would like to declare The Big Garden Project 2016 a success. I love being able to wander into the garden and admire the bees at work in all the variety of colours.  The traffic noise will always be there but once again the garden is a place I can entertain friends and family.  For me, 2016 seems to have been a good enough summer.







Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Because I am human

Because I am human I make mistakes.  I sometimes do things that are motivated by emotion rather than rationality, or where my motivation isn't clear because it's a product of years of emtional experiences. 

I'm not sure it's important here to explore why or how, but for a long time I've had a tendency to double check my thinking, apply doubt as if I were a person disagreeing, and this often involves putting myself in other people's places and beginning to imagine what their perspectives might be.  In turn, imagining what alternative perspective there might be to mine or to any widely accepted view has become something I do automatically in many different situations.  Various things result from this:  if I make an assertion you can be pretty sure I don't do so lightly and am now not in much doubt that I'm right; if someone behaves in a way that is hurtful to me or disapproved of by others, I'm likely to suggest what might be going on in the other person's head to have made them behave that way.  If I'm human and make mistakes and have 'baggage' that influences my behaviour, I see no reason why others shouldn't be the same.

When I was younger I perceived much of the world as either-or: blackorwhite, rightorwrong, yesorno, likeordislike, and found it difficult to contain two opposing ideas at once.  These days I do have a few absolute beliefs but in general I see things much more in shades of grey: mostly right but that bit was wrong; on the whole no but a bit of me says yes to that part; like that except for disliking one or two aspects of it. 

I think this part of my experience is more common than I used to believe; many of us struggle with holding two conflicting ideas at once at some time or another.  When we struggle, we often lash out or at least react quickly.  We want to resolve the conflict because conflict makes us uncomfortable.

So why now, why today?  Where is this leading me?  Well, it's leading me to write about my tendency to speak out about the possibility of another point of view.  Occasionally this brings admiration from others if I am able to see the good side of someone who has treated me badly, for instance.  On the other hand I've also been told that I'm "too tolerant".  More usually, I'm just unpopular.  Perhaps I don't make myself clear enough, but when I'm offering a possible explanation or perspective on something, it's often taken as a statement of my own point of view.  Today is one of those occasions when I'm being misunderstood in this way and I'm feeling uncomfortable about how what I've said is being taken.

Today my Facebook newsfeed has been full of reports of an incident on a Nice beach where a woman wearing modest clothing, including a headscarf, had been instructed to remove some of her outer clothing by police.  Most of the friends who shared the items or commented on others' sharing expressed horror or outrage or despair at how human beings were being treated.

I began the day by writing a post about why this might be happening as a comment to each 'share' that appeared on my newsfeed but because some of what I wrote was misunderstood by some other people, I gave up.  And then felt unhappy with myself for keeping quiet.

What I wrote was this:

It is wrong ... and yet ..
Terrorist attacks are random. After attacks we hear on the news things like "A man had been seen in the area carrying a rucksack", or "an explosive device strapped to the body failed to go off."
In a place where dozens
of people were killed or horribly injured, I think I'd worry that there was someone in the middle of a crowd I was part of who was wearing enough clothes to hide a device. We're told suicide bombers are often women. In France this summer I was more aware of such possibilities, especially in Paris, where there have been attacks already.

Yes, this kind of suspicion means the terrorists have won, but it's hard to resist. Like thinking when someone is late that they may have had a horrible car accident. They almost certainly haven't, but sometimes people do, so why not this time?
Of course she was innocently living her life as she chooses to, but the man who drove the bus into the crowds looked as if he was doing that before he got into the bus, I'd guess.

I remember when we had not infrequent terrorist attacks in the UK in the seventies. It does make you change your behaviour and become suspicious of innocent people. I'm not sure I'd go to a Nice beach at all at the moment, to be honest.

What happened was, for instance, someone asking if I thought people should not be allowed to wear trousers or overcoats.  And saying that we must not give in to the fear.  Then other comments were made about what should and shouldn't be.  And so on.  As if I was saying what should and shouldn't be.  Well, at least, that's how some of the comments looked from where I'm sitting.

I'm really not doing that.

I rarely do that.

I just don't want to be silent when I feel some understanding - understanding, not endorsement - about why people behave the way they do.  If you've just read the section in italics you may have noticed that I started by saying what happened was wrong.  I went on to own up to feeling fearful in a way that changes my behaviour even when I know it's not the best thing to do.  Because I am human.  I want to speak for the other humans out there who are making mistakes. 

As I understand it there is a fairly recent by-law forbidding this sort of modest clothing from beign worn on beaches, that has been brought in in a number of French towns to please by a population who are frightened by increasing terrorist attacks in their community.  A population made up of people who are human, frightened.  There is a national law a century old brought in by people who were human, who wanted to stop the serious conflicts between state and church by making the country largely secular where officialdom is concerned.  And each policeman is human, given the job of enforcing a law but inside - who knows?

I don't have to like something to understand it.  If I say I understand why you might behave in the way you did, I'm not necessarily agreeing with you but I am offering my understanding of your point of view.  That feels ok, doesn't it?  Especially as I put it into the second person.  You'd like me to understand you.  Well, ok.  In the third person, singular or plural, I'm doing no more than offering the same to others. 

Because I am human.



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Inside Out

How people work has been a subject of fascination for me for decades.  I've been thinking recently  about the inner world of the person and how this relates to what can be seen on the outside.  How difficulties can arise in relationships because what one person thought they said was different from what another person thought they heard.  How assumptions can be made based on what is shown outside rather than knowledge of the rest of what's inside. 

I've written here before about the importance to me of people getting me right and why that might be.  It influences my writing because I'm intent on what I say being completely clear.   Over the last few weeks I've been thinking that my lack of writing might be equally instrumental in what people are thinking about me.

When you arrive at my blog the first thing you see is the last thing I wrote, and its date.  You might think that the mood of that piece, or what occupied me when I wrote it is what's still going on.  It almost certainly isn't, especially if I haven't posted for more than a week or so.

I've been increasingly aware of this over recent weeks, noticing that the previous post to this, the one people have been seeing on arrival at my blog for quite a while, has been about bereavement and the feelings I put into a poem about it, but conscious that this has not been what I've mostly been concerned with since then.

And yet ...  I didn't write anything else.

I usually write only when I've got something I particularly want to say.  Whenever I thought, "I must write a blog post so people don't think I'm still pre-occupied with the bereavement thing," I found I either didn't have time or, mostly, didn't have anything I particularly wanted to write about.

I seem to write posts in batches, so expect to be writing soon with updates to the garden project and updates about my work, as well as other odds and sods.

And I'll be trying to convey my inside - out there!