Tuesday, 31 March 2015

thinking of Nick

I am slightly obsessed with Neil Gaiman at the moment, and I've managed to convince my book group to read a Neil Gaiman book of short stories - Trigger Warning, published in February this year.

I was reading it last night when I came across this that made me pause:
...those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming... this: the past is not dead. - Neil Gaiman: Trigger Warning, 2015, location 78
I read it and thought that it was profoundly true, and that I like statements that start with 'this:'. I could then think of not one single example.

And then this morning on Timehop I came across a video I'd shared with a friend when talking about Nick, who is in it. It's a little bit from the film Human Traffic, with Nick starring as Herbie, a gormless young man with a spliff. Don't watch it if drugs and swearing aren't OK for you.

Nick was born on the same day as me. We talked this fact over and concluded it must mean we were somehow mystically connected. I can't remember where Nick moved from, but he moved into my home town, and into my old house, which my parents had left when they split up. This was more proof of our mystical connection.

Nick was unusual, and did a variety of classes at school to enable him to focus on the things that he was interested in. I was very jealous about the freedom he was allowed with the timetable.

When we left school Nick got into photography and music, setting up his own record label. He also did some acting, like in Human Traffic. I am afraid I don't know anything about that.

I knew the Nick that turned up feeling shaky on a Sunday morning, and took me up for a walk on the moors to tell me everything he was thinking. It was a beautiful day. The bracken was high and green and we crawled about looking for snakes.

I also knew the Nick who bounced up and down on the train as if it was moving, before it had left the station, and the Nick who took drugs in front of my baby sister. I was not best pleased with that Nick.

I lectured Nick about drugs the last time I saw him. I don't know why, it wasn't like he was going to change who he was just because I had a go, but I wasn't going to change who I was either. 

Seeing him in the video this morning, for a moment I forgot that Nick died ten years ago. I wasn't around at the time. I'd got married, moved to Scotland, and started a family. I didn't find out until long after. We weren't that close, but I am sad anyway. I wish Nick could have had more of a chance to fulfill his potential. I wish the last thing I had said wasn't narky.

Nick with friends
I tried to write a poem today, and it was rubbish. I've put it away, and will rip it apart at a later date. Instead I wrote a blog post.

I feel guilty for talking about Nick who has no right to reply. I feel guilty for not talking about the other friends of mine who have died, and whom I also miss. I feel guilty for not being a better friend, and I feel guilty for using all my experiences to write.

And this: the past is not dead. We are always making, remaking, remembering, and dismembering it. As a writer I take it to pieces and stick it back together again with a different head. The past changes depending on the stories we tell. The past is not dead. But Nick is.

Friday, 27 March 2015

reading these blogs: 2015 edit

Things change fast in the blogosphere. The blogs that are available, and the ones that catch my fancy come and go, so I thought it was about time I updated this post from last year, to tell you about five of my favourite blogs taken from my Bloglovin' feed now.

What are your favourites? 

First up (just because it came up first in my Bloglovin' feed) is the Authonomy Blog from Harper Collins. I love The Quotidian pieces which offer quotes from writers, mainly on writing. They're inspirational, and just long enough to set the mind racing, without having to do someting about it straight away.  This quote from Neil Gaiman was there just the other day:

"All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish any stories."
- Neil Gaiman

Talking of Neil Gaiman, I am obsessed with him at the moment. I am delighted that he and Amanda Palmer are expecting a baby, and wonder what it must feel like to be such an incredible 'it' couple. Neil is articulate, beautiful, has an awesome voice, and the boy can write. His blog is a good read, and you'll find it here.

I'm a recent recruit to Elisa Blaha Cripe's blog, enJoy it. Elise is a crafty type, living in California, where she has a business selling homemade stuff. I find her style fun, approachable, and totally inspiring. She has lots of advice on how to achieve your goals, and she is brimful of ideas. There is plenty of output, so not needing to know all of it is fine. Which is an odd thing to say, but honestly check her out.

Chantelle Elem's blog, Fat Mum Slim is firmly ensconced in my top five. I still love doing the Photo a Day challenge, although I realise I'm never going to be as good as some of my friends (Sheila - your photos are amazing), and that's a shame. 

Fat Mum Slim is also my go-to for blogging, photography, and social media advice. It's an awesome blog, and Chantelle comes across as a pretty awesome woman.

I am completely obsessed with George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire Series, and HBOs Game of Thrones. I love fantasy, and I love history, so the blog History behind Game of Thrones is just fabulous for me. It has well written pieces from lots of good contributors, and it keeps 'em coming, always up to the minute, which is pretty impressive for a history blog. At the moment there's quite a lot about Richard III, as he is being reinterred this week. Richard III is one of my favourite English Kings (I don't think he did it), and he has inspired one of my favourite characters in the book I'm writing (he probably did do it, but I'm hoping he'll get away with it).

So that's five. I hope you found something you liked from this. I'd love to know what your favourite blogs are?

Thursday, 26 March 2015

overcoming a challenge: young marriage failure, onwards and upwards

This week on the gratitutude challenge I'm talking about a challenge I've overcome, and I've got a doozy of a challenge to talk about.

I got married at 18, and divorced at 20. The failure of that marriage was not totally unexpected, but what it felt like was.

My Mum called it a 'starter marriage', we brought it forward because of visa issues, so it might not have happened at all apart from that, but don't let that give you the impression that this marriage was not a valid marriage. We didn't have any kids together, and lots of people say that that's a blessing. I'm not convinced it is. I'm glad I didn't have kids when I was 18, because I didn't want to have kids then, and it would no doubt have been difficult, negotiating shared parenting, but having been married is a big deal with, or without kids.

When I got married at 18 I was in love, and believed I would stay that way. I planned to make a life with my husband. I said to my Mum that if it didn't work out we could always divorce, but I didn't believe that that would happen.

My parents divorced when I was 9. They shared parenting of us, and kept good communication between themselves. It wasn't a nice experience for anyone, but I felt secure. It never occurred to me that one or both of them might have stopped loving the other. It still seems like a strange idea.

When I was 18 I thought that my parents divorce had wised me up to what marriage might really be like. My husband and I had both been unfaithful while we were engaged, and we'd got through it. I thought we could get through anything. I thought that love could last.

Until he said "I don't love you any more."

Then everything went into freefall.

He left his job, and left our home. He moved in with another woman and she got pregnant. A good friend died, and we drank at her funeral. I went on benefits and spent a lot of time drinking, and considering jumping off cliffs. I self-harmed both physically and emotionally. I wanted to prove that I could be alright on his island, that I didn't have to leave unless I chose to. 
Perhaps a daily cliff top walk wasn't such a good idea.

I don't know who I was kidding.

Anyway, I discovered, as I was free falling, that I grabbed on to some good things. One of those was a good man. He gave me a cushion of a secure family, and good friends. He helped me get a job, and bugged me to stop smoking. He drove me to that job so I didn't lose it. Naturally I, being profoundly grateful, fell madly in love with him, and he was very good about that too, letting me down gently. He helped me to get the courage to leave the island and move on with my life. When I left, I left him behind. I worked hard and saved my money until I could afford to go to university, and once there I studied hard and did well.

In my second year at University a new student joined the society I ran. She was from the island, and she told people what had been said about me over there. I felt beaten, my drinking and bad behaviour returned, but my friends took my hand and led me on. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who helped me through those experiences.

I can't say I'm grateful for the experience. Having your heart broken is not pleasant. Given the choice I wouldn't do it again.

However, nobody died. 

I'm glad I'm married to my husband now, and not the first one. I'm glad I waited until I was 30 before I had children. I'm glad I got to learn that all things will pass, and I also got lots of good life experience to put in books.

What challenges have you overcome? And what did you learn on the way?

Monday, 23 March 2015

thinking about political issues.

This is my current MP, she's a left wing Labour party
person, and she's really rather good.
I find it difficult to work out exactly what the politicians are on about in the long run up to the forthcoming Westminster election. A lot of it seems to boil down to 'blah blah blah blah blah, the other guys did it.'

Most of the time, if a politician is asked a straightforward question, they seem to tell the interviewer that what the public really wants to know is something different. Something about what the other lot did wrong.

Everything is couched in assumptions, which breed themselves, and which can sometimes come to be accepted by most of the parties. Assumptions like:

  • immigration is a bad thing, and no-one likes it.
  • being a stay at home mum is terrible for the economy and the individual.
I don't agree with these assumptions. But I wouldn't like to keep my disagreeableness just to that.

So, I've worked out what my main concerns are in the run up to the next election, and I've attempted to find out what the parties thoughts are on those matters.  I would like to stress that this is very simplistic. On immigration, for instance, there are lots of tiny shades of difference between the different parties (apart from the Green Party). You can find out more about them if you like.  Let's start there.


I'm sure that immigration looks like a bigger issue in some parts of the country than in others. We are all descended from people who moved to this island at some point. Personally I'd love to go and be an immigrant at some point. If we look at the population statistics, we see that there is always some churn of population. Generally the numbers leaving are about the same as the numbers coming in. Sometimes (like now) a few more come in, and sometimes more leave. The current situation is not statistically significant, so is really more about what certain politicians want us to think about people. It seems very 'them and us' to me, and it worries me. It particularly worries me that almost all political parties seem to have accepted that the British public is worried about immigration, and plan to curtail it in some way or another (most of which are fairly pointless tinkering).

Only the Green party wishes to reduce immigration controls and give asylum seekers greater legal rights.

Check these out for more information:
  • Red Pepper on immigration myths - this is a left wing publication, but the stats are good, and this is a well informed take on it. I certainly trust this more than Mr Farage.
  • The BBC Manifesto watch - outlines key points from the parties manifestos on issues which matter to the public. 

So, apparently Milton Keynes was not named after John Maynard Keynes! However, Keynesian economics was. I'm a fan of Keynesian economics, and agree with Keynes' theory that the boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity. 

However, the political parties are generally in agreement that austerity must go on. Austerity was introduced by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition in 2010, and has since been rolled out to 2018. Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, and the Tories all intend to keep it that way.

The SNP wants to take forward an alternative to austerity, and the Greens plan to end it, as a 'failed experiment'.

This is worth a read:
  • Stimulus vs austerity - article in The Economist which explains the Keynesian viewpoint better than I could, and discusses both sides.

The four nuclear submarines, currently kept not far from Glasgow, are coming to the end of their life. It's a chance to make a big change, if we want to. So what do the political parties aim to do with Trident?

The Tories plan to replace all four.

The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party intend to replace some of the warheads.

UKIP isn't sure yet whether they would keep all four, or have less.

The SNP and the Green party would scrap Trident.


Recent years have seen families queueing up for food from food banks, while the poor are increasingly penalised for daring to be poor. What does the future hold?

The Tories have no plans to increase benefits for working age people, and indeed will lower the benefits cap and force young unemployed people to do unpaid community work.

Labour plans to do some tinkering around the edges, including removing the bedroom tax and improving paternity leave. The Lib Dems and SNP would do similar tinkering. See this article for more information. UKIP would stop immigrants getting benefits (although I'm not clear how, given they mainly don't get benefits, and those they do get they're entitled to as human rights), stop people getting child benefit for more than two children, increase carers allowance, and JSA for those who have made NI contributions, so mixed messages there.

The Green party is aiming for a Citizen's Income (currently set at £72 a week), which would be universal, it would also scrap the welfare cap and the bedroom tax and ban zero hours contracts.


All the parties plan to support the NHS with more funding. You'll find more information here.

The Lib Dems are particularly focused on improving mental health support. The Greens on health promotion. Labour, UKIP, and the Greens are all opposed to more privatisation of the NHS. UKIP and the SNP are both keen to reduce the number of NHS managers.

I should  say that Westminster is responsible for running the NHS in England, and only impacts on the Scottish NHS so far as funding is concerned under the current Barnet formula. So I'm not going into much detail on the NHS.

Similarly, I am not going into education at all as Westminster has nothing to do with the Scottish education system (apart from boosting our University numbers).

What issues are on your mind in the run up to the general election? And what parties are you liking the look of?

Friday, 20 March 2015


One of my favourite games to play on the computer is The Sims. I've got Sims 4 installed on my PC, although I think I prefer Sims 3 so far, that might just be a matter of time though.

Personality traits, Sims 2 style.
Picture taken from here for
illustrative purposes.
Anyway, in Sims 3 and 4, you choose your sims character traits (if you create your sims) individually. It was not always thus. In Sims 2 you used a Likert scale (that's a multi-point scale from one extreme to the other,in case I'm speaking gibberish) to make your character more or less outgoing, tidy, nice, etc.

I've always be rather taken with this way of seeing personality traits, although I do like the way that in Sims 3 and 4 you have traits of Good and Evil too.

Why am I rabbiting on about Sims character traits? Because this week for the gratitude challenge I'm talking about my favourite personality trait. My favourite trait is not one that I myself have in buckets. I'm working on it, but it doesn't come naturally. I really admire people to whom it comes naturally (or who manage to give the impression it does).

I'm talking about goodness. Not saccharine sweet obedience, not being morally upstanding, but having the generosity of spirit that makes a person genuinely good.

Good people don't bitch, and they don't whine. They are considerate, and thoughtful, and they quietly point out the good in other people. 

I am lucky enough to have some of these people in my life. It is really lucky, because you know you can trust these people, and that they will help you out when you need it. Of course, it doesn't mean they're wee minions, doing others bidding all the time. They have their own wants and needs, but because of all the good stuff they give out, they get it back in spades.
I am the angel Gabriel, whoosh. Photo by my Dad.

And if you're like me, and goodness doesn't come naturally, well, we can fake it until we make it.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

inspired by Fat Mum Slim

For this week's installment of the gratitude challenge I get to talk about someone who inspires me.

My friend Sheila, of the blog, Life with 4 Bairns introduced me to Fat Mum Slim's Photo a Day Challenge in 2012. I loved taking part in the challenge, because it made me stop just taking the same old pictures of my kids, and thinking about things a bit more, being more creative, and actually capturing the glory of the everyday, not just birthdays and outings. She's even inspired me to buy more kit... not very good kit yet, but it may happen. I wrote about what I get out of Photo a Day here.

Fat Mum Slim is Chantelle Elem, a social media savvy Australian Mum who blogs about blogging, photography, cakes (lots of yummy cakes) and other recipes, and being a Mum. Her website is fresh and clean, and easy to navigate, and I just think she's awesome.

Photo a Day helps you to do a little, often, which has a big impact on how good stuff is. My photos aren't as good as top photographers like the awesome Rob Marrison, but they're better than they used to be. 

I decided that I should be writing a little bit every day too. So Fat Mum Slim inspired me to start my own blog, and also to start writing the fabled book (I'm on the second draft, I promise, it's just taking ages). She's also inspired me to make my blog as good as it can be (for me), and is my go-to for tips and advice.

When I'm stuck on what to do, I sometimes use the photo-a-day prompts to write little haikus. They are rubbish and I won't share them, but they get the creativity flowing.

I've never made one of her recipes though, they look too good, especially the Tim Tam Tart (UK types - you'll need Penguin biscuits for this).

So, this being gratitudinal and all, I thought I would say thank you to Chantelle, for being a complete, gorgeous, bright and breezy, beautifully graphic-designed, marvel, who has inspired me lots.

Thank you.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

kissing the mirror: body confidence and its impact on health

The other day I wrote a post on things that I like about myself. The first things that came to mind were to do with my physical appearance, and that bugs me, because I don't want that to be the most important thing about me.

I learned young that to comment favourably on something to do with a woman's appearance is a good way to start conversations and make friends. It is the social lubrication that we use as women. That and comparing children. But it can also be weird and awkward.

I am losing weight at the moment, so don't mind people commenting that I'm thinner (although I can't see it myself), but all the time that I have been fat (which is a lot of time), I've had people congratulate me on losing weight, even when I'm blatantly not. I mainly just smile and nod, because they are clearly trying to be nice, but there is a part of me that thinks 'you can't think of anything nice to say about my appearance, so you're pretending you're supportive of me improving it'. 

Of course, some people don't try to be nice. They make it very clear what they think. This happened more when I was young, because of the way some young people police each other. There was a part of me, painfully aware of their thoughts on the matter, which feared that those opinions were more widespread than I knew.

I stopped taking part in PE classes at age 12. Although I was proud of being well behaved at school, I could not bring myself to get changed in front of others, or to run about in front of others. The teachers didn't seem to notice. My report for PE that year read 'Cara tries hard'. I tried hard to not be found. I got away with it, and my worry was allowed to grow.

I know now, logically, that my red face, or wobbling body, only matter to ignorant people who feel they have the right to control me.

They do not.


I still see all the fat shaming pictures on Facebook - the people of Walmart pictures where some poor person hasn't managed to conceal their fat, and so they're held up to public ridicule.

Eating in an awkward position, on a hot day, after playing frisbee.
I am not happy.
I still don't want anyone to see me run. I don't want to swim with friends. I am not keen on being seen eating. I don't like to do anything strenuous, because I am afraid of the comments. Afraid of the judgement. And it doesn't matter how hot it gets. I am never getting my arms out.

Obviously, I know this is not healthy. But the thought of having to smile through all that judginess makes me want to hide in a cupboard. There is always a reason why I can't do it right now.

I have a friend who is a personal trainer. I thought maybe she could help me get started, but she does exercise outside, which is just terrifying, and I do not want to explain to her why. I've got Dance Central for the X Box, but I hardly ever do it, because my family, especially my very-fit husband, laugh at how red I get, and it is just humiliating.

Losing weight is making me feel more content to be active, and I'm hoping to do more gentle exercise when the youngest starts nursery. We'll see.

Meanwhile I was glad to hear Meaghan Ramsey's TED talk the other day, on why thinking you're ugly is bad for you. It turns out I'm not the only eejit limiting life because of concern about what we look like. Check it out.

Meaghan stresses the importance of complementing people for what they do, but I would add to that the importance of accepting complements. People complement what I do lots, and I tend to dismiss it. From now on, I'll try to own it more.

And if I get red faced and wobble. Well, so I do. I want to be here for my future grandchildren, so I'm going to have to find a way to get more active, and start liking myself more.

Maybe I should start with kissing the mirror (see Meaghan's talk).

Has your (lack of) body confidence impacted on what you do? Please share. Maybe we could inspire one another.

making clementine cake: a yummy orange loaf cake recipe

I made this cake the other day, to congratulate my daughter on being moved up a set at school. She'd worked really hard and deserved a treat.

Because the set she's moved into is called the oranges she got an orange themed cake. I used this recipe as my starting point, but modified it. 

I hope you like it.

Clementine cake


140g unsalted butter (softened)
200g self raising flour
1.5tsp baking powder
250g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
100ml milk
2 clementines - finely grate the zest, and put the juice towards the...
3tbsp orange juice
Mini orange segment sugared jelly sweets


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line a loaf tin.

2. Put the butter, flour, baking powder, 200g of the caster sugar, eggs, clementine zest and milk into a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

3. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, and level, before baking in the oven for about 40 minutes. 

4. While it's baking, combine the orange juice with the remaining 50g caster sugar in a small pan. Heat it gently, and stir until dissolved.

5. Once the cake is golden brown and cooked through (check it with a wooden skewer), remove from the oven and poke all over with small holes from the skewer.

6. Spoon the sugary juice over the cake, and decorate as you will with the jelly sweets. Leave the cake to cool down a bit in the tin, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. Cut into slices to eat. You might want a cake fork. Or not. I would recommend a cup of tea to go with it.

And that is all there is to it. It's not just easy, it's yummy too.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

in our teenage bedrooms

Did you hear A Girl's Own Story on Radio 4?

It was on ages ago, but it's still available. It was a brilliant programme and I would recommend it. 

It was talking a lot about how teenage girls create their own space in their bedrooms. That these are the places where they create and recreate their identities.

What was your bedroom like?

If I had a VHS player, I would still be able to watch the video my Mum took coming up the spiralling stairs to the attic, the music getting louder as she came. At the top of the stairs, the door is open into the riot of colour and noise that is my bedroom. There is not an inch of wallspace left uncovered. Poems are written on the eaves in nail varnish. Pictures and text torn out of newspapers, magazines, and anything else that crosses my path, adorn the walls. There is a Sonia single, covered in glitter, glued to the wall; collages of the faces of rock types, an interview with Dogs D'Amour

Within this cacophony is me. Skinny and black haired, getting ready to go out. Probably on a Saturday morning, before the Phono. Wearing rags created from the things that I found, and tied on, wrapped around, and elasticated. Tutted at by my mother for wearing see-through clothes (now I tut at her).

I spent a lot of time in that bedroom, with its cheap plastic carpet which was easy to burn.

This is me, in my bedroom, later than teens. The first
time I came back. While I was studying at Uni. All the
pictures had gone, so I painted it all purple and black.
Cheerful wee soul that I am.
It still feels like my space. More my space than my bedroom now, or indeed, any of my house now. All of it shared. Not that I mind that. But that bedroom. It was mine.

I had the biggest room in the house because I'd had to share a room with my Mum, and then her boyfriend too, after my parents divorced. This was my space to make up for it. This was where I had my first passionate kisses. This was where I learnt the words of the Psycho Surgeons songs, and practiced my incredibly detailed makeup.

This was my space.

And I've grown out of it. I don't need it. But I still miss it.

What was your teenage bedroom like?

crushing on celebrities

Britmums asked about people's celebrity crushes the other day. Do you have one? I don't, I have several, and I'm going to share them because the Rioja is open.

I would like to point out a) that these are not in any kind of order, and b) that these people are not on some sort of 'allowed' list. Because actually meeting them would dissolve me into teen-style mortification. And also, they probably wouldn't notice me.

So here goes:

The first person to pop into my head is the Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard, because he's beautiful, he can sing, he's got a voice I could listen to forever, and I thought he was amazing as Richard III. So amazing in fact that I now get a little upset if people talk about Richard III in a negative way.

I haven't disliked Aneurin in anything yet, but I'm working on it. My husband didn't like Hunkydory, because it was a musical. Them's the breaks.

I did love Aneurin playing Richard III in The White Queen, but I also thought he was amazing in the BBC's recent fabulous version of Under Milk Wood, which is now available on DVD.

Aneurin is way too young for me (27), but my other actor crush is too old. I first fancied him in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (long, long ago), but in the Harry Potter films he excelled himself.

I'm not a big fan of Harry Potter (sorry), but send me to Slitherin anyday because I have a massive crush on Severus Snape (Alan Rickman aged 69!). I'm still sure he's just misunderstood. 

Next up is Adam Ant (60). My first celebrity crush, and still in my heart. Adam has been through tough times but he's still perfectly himself. 

I love Adam's attitude, and I love his music. I used to have everything he'd released, until some burglars (in Leeds, ages ago) made off with it. Now I make do with videos on YouTube.

Actually, come to think of it, Adam has had a huge impact on me. Some of my favourite characters have his wild dark hair, and I am also using his name for one of the characters in the book I'm writing. I did once go out with a man purely because he looked a bit like Adam Ant. Nice bloke too. Hope he's doing well.

I hate leaving women off the list, but truth be told the only celebrity-ish crushes I've had on women are on characters. I love the character of Izzy (from the Hernandez brothers Love and Rockets comics) because she's so broken and bitter, and magical, and sometimes strong, plus she's got great style; but most of all at the moment, I love the character of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies).  Here's a clip of her in early awesome mode:

I love this clip because it also stars Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) and Rowan Pope (Olivia's Dad, played by Joe Morton) as the lawyers.

Alicia is strong, tough, fun loving, sensitive, and a fan of wine. She is also likely to be president one day, and that will shut down B613 for good. I would love to be like Alicia, but if I can't have that, I'd love to drink with her, and watch rubbish on TV. I promise, I will not touch Mr Big (with a barge pole).

Do any of my past crushes make me embarrassed? The whole thing makes me embarrassed. That actors can pretend to be other people, and succeed in making me swoon is embarrasing, but my old crushes? They're just flames that flicker low. Like: Carl McCoy, Johnny Depp, Siobhan Fahey, Phil Oakey. It's all good.

What about you? What are (and were) your celebrity crushes?

happy with myself: five things I like about me

This week (week 10) on the gratitude challenge I'm tasked with listing five things I like about me.

I'm going to do it. Honest I am, but I feel really embarrassed. I mean, it's not something we do is it? We might hope someone notices, but we're not going to go up to them and say 'ahem, check out these eyelashes', are we?

So, I'll tell you five things I like about me, and in return I'd like to know some of the things you like about you. You don't even have to do five. You're welcome.

Check out these cheekbones ;-)
1. I've got good cheekbones

It was the first thing I thought of. I had to go back and check the wording, and realised then that it doesn't have to be physical, which is a relief, but I do like my cheekbones. If I am thinner my chin gets a bit witchy, and if I am fatter my chin gets some friends, but my cheekbones are reliably good looking.

Unfortunately, the insides of my cheekbones are a bit rubbish. I get sinusitis far too much, and have twice had weird incredible pain in my cheekbones, which lasted for months (it's gone now, and I'm hoping it never comes back). Still.

2. I'm tall

I'm not massively tall, or even tall for a human, but I'm tall for a lass and that will do me. I have to buy extra long trousers, and have size 8 feet, which are difficult to find shoes for, but I also have an instant air of authority (I do, honest). This allows me to take the lead with nary any opposition most of the time that I want to which is great.

It also means that in crowds I sometimes trip over short people (sorry Wendy), and on the occasion when I became desperately homesick on my second day in a mindnumbingly tedious job, I felt like a complete idiot sobbing my heart out in a small office with my tiny supervisor (I felt better that I never went back there again though).

3. I'm smart

I don't think I'm as smart as I used to be, although I'm sure I could be with a little practice. But I'm smart enough to have got a Masters, and to feel that anything is understandable to some extent. The best thing about this though is passing our smart genes on to our kids who are smart too, and demonstrate this every day. It makes them great to have conversations with, and I'm really proud to see them question what they're told (apart from when the youngest questions being told to PUT HER SHOES ON).

4. I'm good at translating gobbledygook.

My first research associated job was in a midwifery research centre. My main work was on a project about infant feeding, but I did other stuff too. It was really interesting. One of the things I had to do was read medical research papers and summarise them to tell people about them. It was great practice for my job doing research for the Scottish Government, because there are acres of gibberish spoken by politicians and civil servants.

I summarised research for civil servants, and translated political requirements into useful research. It was great. More recently I've written summaries of legal processes for an engineering firm, and that was fun too. 

I am guilty of using overly flowery language at times, but I can't stand people hiding their meaning behind acronyms and jargon, and I hate the way that workplace culture evolves so that doing just that is a way of demonstrating that you belong, and that you're down with the workplace culture. I love being able to crack the code.

5. I'm an opinionated so-and-so.

I can be ascerbic at times, and have been called an Eeyore, and worse (although I can't stand Winnie the Pooh, so Eeyore is bad enough). I have little rants many times a day. Usually in my head, thankfully. I am also crystal clear sure about my thoughts on many topics, including breastfeeding, high heels, Keynesian economics, immigration, and tracksuits worn outside sporting activity. Most of these opinions are informed by a lot of research (the tracksuit one not so much). When I don't have a strong opinion, I want to know lots about it, so I can form one.

It might not be very 'nice', but it makes me happy.

I wasn't sure, for example, about the Scottish independence referendum, so I did an Edinburgh University online course on it, read all the stuff I could, but got sick to death of all the politicians bad mouthing each other and making stuff up. I was eventually convinced by the attitude of the people I met towards me, as an English person living in Scotland. I have been made to feel less welcome before, but that was on the Isle of Man, and they're a funny lot.

So, there's my five. What do you like about you?

Monday, 2 March 2015

accentuating the positive: week nine of the gratitude challenge

This week (week 9) on the gratitude challenge I've got the title, 'How did you do and feel?' to work with. To be honest I'm not sure what this means, but I'm going to take it at face value.
So, how are you doing?
I am cold and weary, and well and truly fed up of miserable snowy weather which doesn't amount to anything.

I'm achey and I'm coming out in spots, my hair needs a wash and I can't be bothered, plus I suspect there's a cold sore on the way.Do I sound grateful to you? No? Sometimes gratitude seems fatuous. However, I am aware that feeling like this, and the withdrawal which accompanies it, can lead me to spiral downwards, so I've been working on accentuating the positive. Just a little bit at a time. And some of it seems silly. But them's the breaks.

As of the 1st March I've started doing #100happydays again. This is where you take a photo of a happy moment or something you're happy about for 100 days, in a row. You can keep them to yourself, but I'm a fan of sharing. Why don't you join me?: here's what I've got so far...

1st March. Shopping with the big girl. So love shopping with her. She's the first person I've ever enjoyed shopping with, bar my friend Polly when I was 13. Plus she's got great taste in boots (as have all my kids).
2nd March. It has taken me FOREVER, but I have finally finished this cushion, and today my little girl helped me to finish up all the wee details and then gave it the snuggle test. I'm very happy to say that it passed.

I know that focusing on the positives helps me to accentuate them. Taking pictures makes me remember the good things, but I need more than that or I easily slip into a spiral into sadness.

I like what the kids do at school when they're peer assessing their work. They give two stars and a wish, ie, they say two things that they liked, and one thing which they think could have been better, plus they say how it could have been better (for them). It's such a brilliant way to help each other do better, and we've introduced it at tea time to talk about our days.

I used to keep diaries, and am really annoyed that I burnt them (to protect the guilty) a while ago, because I would have loved to write something from them now. However, I no longer have the time or the inclination to write in a journal before bed, so I've switched instead to writing a daily star. Something good that has happened in the day which I'm chuffed about. I write them in Google Keep (which I've switched to because it's more colourful than Evernote), things like:
Really pleased to have lost 1 1/2 stone and got my certificate today.Feel like I'm back on track and finally feel like I'm seeing a difference. 28/2
I saw a heron fly past me today. It was awesome. 25/2
So I guess I know I need to work at it, and I am, and I'm proud of accentuating the positive, but I could still go for more leaves and more sunshine. 

I guess I'll hang on in there.

Hope you're doing well.