Friday, 29 January 2016

impinged: shoulder pain and getting better

"I see people with this everyday." That's what the private physiotherapist said to me when I went to see her just before Christmas.

It did reassure me to know that what I had going on was pretty normal, because by that point the pain I'd been in since I pointed at an aeroplane in September (seriously - who knew that could be dangerous?), had built up to the point where I was beginning to wonder if something was horribly wrong.

This is the aeroplane that caused the problem. As you can see, no other fools are pointing at it.
But then I also wondered, if it's so common, why has it taken so long to get it diagnosed?

Because what happened was this...

Back in September, we watched this display, and I pointed out the aeroplane to one of my children. At that moment my shoulder suddenly hurt like hell, and I was grateful that there were other people there so they could look after my kids while I walked away and swore for a while. I wondered if I'd somehow managed to dislocate my shoulder by pointing at the sky, and swore some more about how stupid that would make me.

My shoulder stopped hurting like hell, and started just hurting a little bit, but every so often it would still hurt like hell.

I found that reaching for things would sometimes be really sore. Some aspects of getting dressed (I'm talking to you tights) were sometimes really sore, and doors could be absolute agony: car doors, cupboard doors, some evil genius had rendered a spell upon all doors and I could only now shut them with my right hand.

I tried to take it easy but keep moving, and I figured it'd get better by itself.

On the morning of my birthday in October, Miss 5 jumped into my outstretched arms and landed wrong, pushing my left arm, and sore shoulder back against the bed, which made me scream, cry, and nigh-on hurl with the pain of it. Enough was enough, my family declared, I needed to go to the doctor.

I went that very day, and saw a locum who got me to wave my arms about and push/pull against him. All very silly, but he looked a bit like Neil Gaiman, so was clearly a genius. He told me to take ibuprofen and do some exercises which he printed off for me.

I did that. Nothing much happened. 

I went back. The next doctor got me to wave my arms about a bit, she sat me up on the couch thingy, and poked around at my shoulder. She got me to push/pull against her, and then she washed her hands incredibly fastidiously, and told me to refer myself to a physiotherapist. I got a little card from reception with the details. I phoned up and self referred.

I kept doing the exercises from the print off, and nothing much happened. Nobody got back to me about the physio. The times when it was just really really sore kept on coming, and it was getting harder to dress, to stay comfy through the night, and doors, those freaking doors.

One morning I tried to open the door to Semi-Chem (other shops are available), and my hand slipped off the handle. It was chuffing agony. I doubled over in the street, sobbing with pain, and people politely walked around me, averting their gaze (for which I am profoundly grateful as I didn't have anything constructive to say). 

I went back to the doctor. This time to one I already knew. She's smart and efficient, and she looks a lot like my rather fabulous cousin Rochelle, so what's not to like?

Dr Rochelle got me to wave my arms, and pushed and pulled against me, and said that yeah, I had a sore shoulder, and there wasn't much she could do. She recommended ibuprofen, and sympathised about my not getting a phsio appointment yet. She told me it was taking months for physio appointments (seriously, 22 weeks was mentioned). I didn't cry at her, but I did think of a friend of mine who always cries in this doctor's office. "What can I do?" I wanted to know.

The doctor handed me a card for a private physiotherapist. I 'phoned her straight away and got an appointment that afternoon.

I sat in the physio's waiting room scared (because pain), angry (because there should be more NHS physios - which goes into the whole NHS funding and running gubbins which is enough to make anyone angry), hopeful, and more scared, because if you're in pain for months on end it's really hard not to believe that something is drastically, horribly wrong.

She was super nice though, and gentle while she pushed/pulled and prodded me and got me to wave my arms about. She explained to me how the shoulder works, which was chuffing marvellous because I am utterly clueless, and told me that I had a shoulder impingement, and then she stood there, and said "I see people with this everyday."

I went home a whole lot less scared, more hopeful, and with a long bit of yellow latex.

I did my exercises. All of them. Every day. Three times a day, as instructed. I am desperate for this chuffing shoulder to get better.

It got worse.

Now I sometimes needed help with dressing. I was waking up most nights in pain, and I was just worn out with it all, so I went back to the doctor. This time it was the one who 'phones people while you're there. I like him.

He got me to wave my arms about, and pushed and pulled me. He called the physio and confirmed I had ten weeks left on the waiting list. He got me put on the cancelation shortlist too. He told me that he couldn't refer me to a specialist until I'd seen the NHS physio. But he also suggested I go see the doctor at the practice who's trained to do cortisone injections. He told me to take ibuprofen three times a day for two weeks, so it builds up in my body and fulfills its anti-inflammatory function. Apparently it's pretty much like paracetamol if you just take it now and then.

Those two weeks ended earlier this week, and there was still lots of pain, so I went to see Dr Cortisone, who wears Doc Martens so is clearly awesome (he was also the one who talked me down a while ago when I was thinking some incredibly dark thoughts, so he's just marvellous). 

He got me to wave my arms about and pushed and pulled against me, and then said he thought cortisone might help.

He injected my shoulder on Wednesday. I'd heard that cortisone injections hurt, and I won't say that it was fun, but the worst part was the weird feeling of something being inside your body where it shouldn't be. I'm told that it can get sore after the injection, and has had its moments, especially at night, but mostly it's been marvellous. I still can't move my arm very much but it rarely hurts like hell.

Dr Cortisone told me to be careful though, not to do too much too soon, and he also told me he'd get me a physio appointment. I smiled gently, knowing he'd have a long time to wait.

I got the phone call an hour later.

I suspect Dr Cortisone is made of magic.

Not only has the cortisone made my shoulder lots better, but I've got a physio appointment to build on this wonder today! A mere two days after the injection. 

This is by no means cured. The cortisone is an anti-inflammatory that might work for a fortnight, but I feel like it gives me a chance to get things sorted without constantly hurting myself. I also feel like I'm going to get better, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm really glad about that.

Feeling glad, I spoke about what was going on on social media (because when I'm sad I don't talk), and lots of people told me they'd had it too. The physio wasn't lying to make me feel better, this is a common injury, and it's one that I can get better from, and I tell you what... 

When this bleeping shoulder gets better, I am going to keep working to make myself stronger in the hopes of avoiding this sort of nonsense happening again.

Because, as I may have mentioned before. Pain sucks.

Hope you're not in pain at the moment, and if you are, I hope there is a way forward for you. 

Bright blessings.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Trick or Treat: A poetry post

Trick or Treat

When shall we three meet again?
A fancy spa, a pamper day.
When the hurlyburly's done
we'll kick back and have some fun.
Prosecco bubbling in the glass,
facials, nails, hot stone massage.
We'll flee the fog and filthy air;
robes of white we all shall wear.
We three shall put the world to rights,
for foul is fair for day and night.

© Cara L McKee, 26th January 2016


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

expecting more

I've been tripping over myself recently, realising that things I'd just taken for granted are actually problematic.

One thing is of course coming to the realisation (detailed here) that high fantasy doesn't have to be mysogynistic. That has had a huge impact on my thinking, and is making me rewrite a book, and that is good. But it's started the ball rolling, making me think about everything else I see.

There is so much mysogynistic nonsense out there that most of the time it just seems normal. When I hear a podcast with men talking about women as if they're actual human beings, I'm pleasantly surprised. When I binge watch Mad Men I'm thrilled that a rampantly sexist period of time can be portrayed in a way that subtly ridicules the sexism, racism, and homophobia, etc. (and I probably gloss over the fact that Betty could only be fat because she was unhappy).

I get bored of hearing myself argue that something is sexist, and I can't be bothered to explain to my husband why it's sexist that there's only one female character (and no, there doesn't just happen to be one female character, and no, women don't have better things to do). Also I'm forever moaning about older male presenters (on radio mainly) chuckling over what young women do, which might seem harmless, but it's patriarchal belittling in action.

It feels like the last desperate scrabble for mysogyny to keep its grip on our culture at the moment, and although there are lots of steps in the right direction, there are so many things that are wrong.

The other day I'd spent some time shouting at the radio after listening first to Mark Lawson interviewing Frederick Forsyth (on the Guardian's podcast, here), who amongst other things said that he has to research things well so that he could explain them to an old woman without confusing her, and called women who might go on dates with men 'birds'. Meanwhile Mark Lawson just chuckled. No challenging, not even gently. 

Then I listened to Thinking Allowed, which I really want to like because it's a Sociology programme on Radio 4, but Laurie Taylor drives me crazy, this time it was his interview with a researcher who had done a study on lunch boxes, predominantly prepared by mothers. He repeatedly belittled the study, laughing at the mothers attempts to fulfill the school rules of lunch boxes, and refusing to acknowledge the important aspects of the admittedly small scale project. This was not the case with other small scale research projects he's spoken to people about.

I've not read anything by Frederick Forsyth, and I'm not going to, and I know that many people think it's just his way, but what if he was talking about the challenge of explaining things to black people? What if he was using derogatory terms about a group of people other than women? 

I'm still subscribed to Thinking Allowed, because I'm interested in the research discussed, but I wish Laurie Taylor would hand it over to someone else.

The thing is of course, that this sort of thing happens all the time. I don't want to get angry, because I'd be permanently angry. There are so many sexist old white men getting platforms, and not being challenged. 

And then Zoe of I Knew I Was Next shared this little beauty on her Instagram account:

Shared with Zoe's kind permission. Thank you!

And I thought, YES!

Sexism might be normal, but it's going to stay like that unless we challenge it. Even those of us who don't want to be biased will fall into the traps of lazy sexism and racism etc if we don't expect more, expect better, challenge the assumptions. Heck, challenge our own.

Foz Meadows of Shattersnipe recently posted about Naomi Novik's book Uprooted, a book which lots of people have been talking about because it's got some great female characters, but Foz pointed out that it also has an abusive narrative going on. We are so used to patriarchal, mysogynistic, worldviews, that even those of us who challenge them can't help but adopt parts of them.

But I'm doing something about my story, and it won't be perfect, but it is a step on the path, and I'm also going to expect more of others.

I'm not going to get angry, but I'm going to name what I see, to point out the lazy sexism: The poo on the path which is dirtying all our feet. Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self, whose way with words is beautifully simply complex talks about the power of naming, and now I'm taking up that mantle.

Frederick Forsyth and Laurie Taylor and all the rest of them are probably not malicious, but they are old white men who's outdated views shape opinion, and we need to challenge all of them, whilst also being aware that we have picked up these habits ourselves.

I'm avoiding immersion in those ideas. I'll not be reading Frederick Forsyth, and I'll be naming the problems I see. Perhaps I should get some stickers printed. I'm also voting with my purse...

Simply Be suggested a while ago that I might aspire to look like a groupie (it was a shame they said that because I really liked the clothes!), and then ignored my protests, not even deigning to respond when I asked them, why not a rock star? That's fine. I'm no longer shopping with them.

I'm not going to get mad, but I'm going to name the prejudice I see and so be part of the effort to denormalise it.

I can hear some eyes rolling, but believe me, it's a work of beauty. Join me in expecting more.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Is it as miserable with you as it is with me? Storm Jonas has arrived in Britain and we've got sideways rain and plenty of it. I'm tempted to just close the curtains on the day, and I really want to eat! Why do I want to eat so much when the weather is yucky?

Anyway, to avoid eating, and for the sheer hooky joy of it, I've been doing lots of crochet lately. My problem is that I have a great big never ending list of things to do, so I can't just sit down and chill out after a long day tapping away at the keyboard, because the list is bugging me. But if I'm crocheting, I'm doing something useful, so all is well.

I'm not a skilled, or fast crocheter, so I thought I'd do a big project to get me into the swing of things. I chose the Attic 24 Ripple Blanket. Lucy, who blogs at Attic 24 is an amazing crocheter, with a house full of wonderful colourful things, and a lovely, warm approachable style, plus she's from Skipton, which is a place I love and miss going to, so I love following her blog, and her various social media accounts. And I really like the ripple blanket which is beautiful, and fairly simple, and gets you into a nice rhythm. Lots of other people like it too, and you can find lots of examples of it on Instagram at #attic24ripple. Eleanor of Stitches and Seeds has just done a post on her baby ripple blanket, in beautiful warm colours, which you'll find here. And Jenny of The Geeky Knitter has just completed a bigger one, in one of Lucy's colour packs, which you'll find here.

For my ripple blanket I took the kids to the pound shop and we chose a load of colours of cheap as chips acrylic DK yarn. I got to have lots of red and green, plus some neutrals, and then they picked some colours which I tried to talk them out of. Like pink. Yuck. And neon yellow. Anyhoo, they reminded me that it was a family blanket, and so it should have something for everyone. Quite right. 

Lucy gives you a pattern of sorts with semi-random colour combinations, but I thought I'd like to get more random than that, deciding that each ball of yarn would do about six stripes, and I'd assign each a number and roll a D20 dice to pick the next colour. When it came to it though I did cheat a little. There were times when I kept rolling the same number but decided not to repeat the same colour. I like the end result: the way that some patterns and groupings seem to emerge; and I like the way that all the colours go together. It doesn't have the same grace and flow of some other ripple blankets, but it does the job for us. So, here's a wee photo diary of the making of our ripple blanket.

I started the blanket in the summer, and it quickly started to look cheerful and bright.

I did a bit at any opportunity, and so often left it halfway through a row. As the days got cooler, the blanket started covering my knees, which was an added bonus.
The cat was always happy to help.
The kids pressed the blanket into use even before it was finished.
But now it IS finished!
I love the ripple blanket, but even better is the confidence it's given me to take on other crochet projects. At Christmas time I made some hats for family and friends using this simple beanie pattern from Niki of cRAfter Chick. I still mess up sometimes when going between UK and US patterns, but these are pretty straightforward. Here are a couple of the ones I made:

Miss 5 rocking her rainbow beanie.

Me, modelling the one I made for John.
I got so into the gentle hooky pleasure of crocheting that I got a load more hooks for Christmas, and some gorgeous graduated dye wool from Kasia Sabour of Rainbow Cloud, who sells her products on Etsy here. It's red, white, and green, and I've just started the process of making it into some arm warmers (because I would wear arm warmers constantly if I could), which are based on the ones Lucy (Attic 24) made and talked about in this blog post.

Here is how it's looking so far:

You can just about see that the red is getting paler, and I've built some pattern into it. Once I've made the rectangle big enough, I'll bind it up the edge (not sure how yet, haven't decided), leaving a hole for the thumb. The wool starts red and gets gradually white, and then goes gradually green, so the arm warmers won't match in colour, but I kind of love that.
I'm tempted to attempt knitting next, as I fancy knitting some socks, but I'm a little daunted. I'm hoping the wool shop nearby will run some workshops, because I've got a lot to learn about knitting!

I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to Lucy of Attic 24, for sharing so much of her skill and eye for colour, it's so much appreciated, and to Kasia of Rainbow Cloud. I love what you do. Also many thanks to Niki of cRAfter Chick who has lots of little projects, great for beginners.

This is a catch up post from last year's gratitude challenge.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Painting past Peppa: A poetry post

Painting past Peppa

Painting past Peppa Pig
in purple atop pink;
Peppa's eyes peering through
the purple painty stink.

Pack away pink lampshades!
Purple's in. Pink is out.
Perhaps another coat
will cover Peppa's snout?

© Cara L McKee, 21st January 2016

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Arranging holidays with Home Exchange

I'm not very organised when it comes to family holidays. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of a holiday, but I'm an even bigger fan of holidays that someone else organises for me!

I mean, where to go? What to do? How to get there? And my main issue - why choose there when there's everywhere else?

I get swamped with wondering, and I hate those websites that claim to make finding flights easy but then tell you that your best route involves a 24 hour wait for a connecting flight to travel 50 miles.

I wondered if a travel agent might be my way forward. But no! They just gave me more options, and when they found out I had kids went on and on about kids clubs (by the way, I'm not paying good money to take my kids abroad and then leaving them in daycare, I do not get the point of that in the slightest). And then phoned me (I had to give my phone number for them to be able to help me apparently) again and again to see if they could help me with anything. I don't want them to help me with anything... ever.

So when Home Exchange suggested I might want to try arranging a home swap through their website, I jumped at the chance*. I had some places I wanted to go, and I messaged those people, but this was back in Spring of last year, and most people were already booked up. We did do a swap with a lovely family in Dunblane, which was awesome (and you can read about that here), but any other swaps that came up as possibilities just weren't feasible.

But this year we have a plan! A family member has moved to Barcelona, and we want to visit. 

Many thanks to my sister, Helen, who let me use her picture of Barcelona, because she has been.

So before Christmas I searched for home swaps in Barcelona. It's easy to search, you can get the homes up on a map, with plenty of details about each place, including how many people can fit and whether they have any animals. I got in touch with lots of people in Barcelona...

...and they all got back to me with a no.

They were all very lovely and polite, but they all said no.

We were looking into other options, and I was getting swamped when January arrived. It turns out that January is when lots of people organise their swaps. It makes sense I suppose, this is when holidays are getting pushed on the TV too. The weather is miserable, and people are thinking of holidays. 

We've been offered exchanges in America, Germany (I'd so love to go back to Germany), France, Norway, all sorts of places, but one morning I checked my messages and guess what? 

I'd got a message from a family in Barcelona! I'd not approached them before because they're actually outwith Barcelona, but they're close enough! We managed to not quite bite their hands off in accepting the offer, and we're in the process of arranging it now. Keep your fingers crossed it all goes to plan. I'm hoping I stop singing this song by the time we actually go.

We've also been in touch with people in the UK to arrange house swaps, and I love that people get in touch with you and suggest somewhere you might never have thought of, but that actually is a lovely place with loads to do. We are hoping to take a few people up on their offers for smaller holidays through the year. The kids are particularly keen on a swap in the Midlands because they want to go to Cadbury World because chocolate.

I shouldn't be talking about this yet probably, because nothing is set and I don't want to jinx it, and how many chickens was that? But, I didn't want you to miss out, so I thought I'd mention that it's all happening right now at Home Exchange. You don't have to be a member to check it out, and you can get a free trial period to start off with. Happy swapping!

*full disclosure: Home Exchange gave me a year's free membership so that I'd have something to write to you about dear reader. These perks help me to provide you with stuff to read for free.

Friday, 15 January 2016

five things that inspire me (with apologies for Pip Larkin's language)

Today I'm sharing five things that have inspired me. Quotes, mainly, and also a rather lovely video. There seems to me to be a common theme in them all, but perhaps they speak to you too? What inspires you?

Thursday, 14 January 2016


Having had a bit of a rant about gratitude the other day, today I'm clearly in a better mood, because I'm doing one of the posts I missed out in last year's gratitude challenge.

Today I'm talking about my job.

For the last ten years, my job was being a full time Mum. That was what worked best for our family. This year my youngest child started school and that changed. After 3pm my kids are still my top priority, but while they're at school, I get to focus on other stuff.

That has been overwhelming.

This six hours a day between 9am and 3pm seemed to stretch ahead of me, full of boundless possibilities. 

But then reality struck.

There are never enough hours in the day.

I started doing all the stuff I'd not had time for - more writing, more crafting, more photos... and I didn't manage to finish anything.

But, you know, that's OK. I don't have to do all the things. Having the chance to do more has enabled me to categorise...

Making stuff and taking photos. They're fun things to do, but I don't lie awake thinking about them. I don't spend hours perfecting them. I'm happy for them to be good enough.

The nine most liked pictures on my Instagram account during 2015 provide a pretty good summary of my likes.
FYI the gingerbread people were modelled on the characters in Avatar, the dovecot is at Newark Castle, and the ripple blanket I'm crocheting is from a pattern by Lucy at Attic 24.

Which leaves writing. I now think of writing as my job. I do it every day, I wake up at midnight and write Villanelles (honestly - I woke up at midnight and wrote a Villanelle about David Bowie. It's here). I do lots of thought experiments, polishing up the worlds my stories are set in, and I've got the first drafts of two books.

I didn't say I was a finisher. But I plan to be.

The first book I drafted (working title is The Path of Brother River) had lots of rookie errors in it, and that's OK, because I was a rookie, but I've already started putting them right, and that's turned editing from a dull chore to something exciting.

The second book I drafted (during NaNoWriMo last year - working title is currently The Rarest Rose), will not need as much work, I don't think. We'll see.

So, I don't know when I'll get anything published, but I'm cracking on, and I'm really grateful to my husband for encouraging me to do this, and giving me the time and space to do it in. We need more good stories, and I hope to be a part of that. Hopefully, when I am, you'll buy my books.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Gone. A poetry post

This poem was inspired by the sad death of David Bowie at the turn of the year. He will be missed. It's a villanelle, because I like working on complicated poems.

My favourite song of Bowie's is Letter to Hermione (it's mentioned in the poem). It inspired me to write a graphic novel when I was a teenager. I have no idea where it went, and, given my drawing skills, that is a good thing for everyone.

My favourite villanelle is Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath. This is not a patch on that, but practice makes perfect.

This poem has been selected for inclusion in Forward Poetry's anthology 'Inspirational Idols', coming out this Autumn. You read it first, here.


You were, I thought, a light that would not go.
Outside I look up but cannot see he'en.
There came a time we couldn't help but know.

You hid your scars and went on with the show.
You kept on dancing right up to the end.
You were, I thought, a light that would not go.

We all saw different facets in your glow.
Your music stood beside us like a friend.
There came a time we couldn't help but know.

A letter on Hermione's pillow.
A flaming pile of homework in the end.
You were, I thought, a light that would not go.

With orange hair you fell to earth below.
Remind me of the babe, and come again.
There came a time we couldn't help but know.

It seems we all are reeling from the blow.
No longer in the flesh will you be seen.
You were, I thought, a light that would not go.
There came a time we couldn't help but know.

© Cara L McKee, 13th January 2016

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

creating characters

I've been asked to share a bit of information on what sort of thing I think about when I'm creating a character.

This has developed over the years, and been influenced by the stuff I've come across (and I never kept a note of where I came across it I'm afraid), but here's the details I want for all of my characters. I usually do this before the story, but sometimes someone walks onto the page without any preparation. That usually seems fine at the time, but when I come to a lull, I fill out a character sheet for them, and generally find they're more interesting than I thought (and that can help the story.

These details are of course, just a starting point. I'll jot down other thoughts I have about that character - key things that have happened to before the story, and off-page in the story, what they think about other characters, things like that. It's all good for fleshing them out.

Here are the main points:




Physical characteristics:

What they carry - to remember:

What they carry - for now:

What they want:

What's in the way:

What are they afraid of:

What's their moral code?

External conflicts:

Internal conflicts:

Positive value:

What they'll have to sacrifice:

After that I try to get an idea of what they look like, often using Google searches and Pinterest. Sometimes using actors. I then put together a secret board on Pinterest with all the images for that story collated there. It's good to see how the people work with the other people. I also save a picture to their character profile in my Scrivener file (because I tend to use Scrivener when I'm working on stories).

I'm afraid all my book character examples are currently top secret, but here's some basic details for The Biker in my poem The Edge of Doom, which you can find on Hello Poetry along with some of my other poems. Here.

The Biker, aka Kit Harington in a GQ article you'll find here.
I got this image off Pinterest.
Just to be clear, these are notes about a made up character. NOT KIT HARINGTON.

Name: The Biker

Age: 22

Occupation: One of those famous for being famous people, like TOWIE stars.

Physical characteristics: Gorgeous, a bit short, long hair, beard, muscles. Keeps himself well fit.

What they carry - to remember: wears his Granny's charm bracelet. She looked after him as a kid, he returned the favour in his teens. She died, and now he's sold the house.

What they carry - for now: Stuff for fixing the bike on the road. Spare clothes. 

What they want: To be famous, and rich.

What's in the way: He'll get older, less beautiful, if he's going to make the most of it he has to do it now.

What are they afraid of: Injury, loosing his looks.

What's their moral code? Strike while the iron is hot. You're going to die so you might as well live.

External conflicts: People tend to think he's stupid. Perhaps he is a little, but he doesn't like to be thought such.

Internal conflicts: The Biker is gay, but brought up by a grandmother who didn't hold with homosexuals, and now in a position wherein he must be manly and sexy. He won't entertain the notion, except he does, in the dark.

Positive value: Full of life. Beautiful.

What they'll have to sacrifice: Success or love. True love.

If you're a character creator, what do you use to think about them? And do you fancy giving my Character Sheet a go?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

grateful (danger - ranting)

Over 2015 I was taking part in the Local Adventurer Gratitude Challenge. I did fine to start off with but it got harder toward the end.

I kept feeling that the gratitude posts sounded self congratulatory, who was I grateful to? Maybe the problem was that I wasn't #blessed, I didn't believe I was thanking a god for something.

That idea of gratitude to a god wore away at me, irritating. It didn't create a pearl, instead I realised that I hate the idea that we should be grateful. That we should count our blessings. That we might want to list 100 things that we ought to be thankful for.

And if we're not #blessed by a god, then perhaps we're just lucky, but if so shouldn't we be working to make everyone else lucky instead of smugly waving our lists of blessings?

But whenever I come across mentions of gratitude there seems to be a suggestion that someone or something has blessed us, and who would that be? There's also another side to being grateful. It's the idea, which I've always disliked, that there is some wrathful Abrahamic god whose mercy we should be grovelling in the dirt for. Who we should thank for not giving us cancer today and beg not to do it tomorrow. If there is such a god, then he's a self obsessed wanker and can go jump.

We are all aware that health and happiness are transient and can soon be whisked away, but being grateful for their presence is just weird. I've learned that I feel smug being thankful for my health when people are dying, that I feel it is rude to be thankful for our safety when our country isn't allowing enough people to come to safety.

I don't want to be nebulously grateful. I want to be useful. So this year is not about gratitude, it's about kindness. I'm getting in a kind mindset and doing something kind every day. Big or little doesn't matter, it's all about getting in the kindset. 

Fancy joining in?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

kind: resolutions and debts

I'm thinking of this as a resolution, or, as my daughter, beautifully keeps mispronouncing it, a revolution.

A change in the way I behave. A little thing done every day differently.

I was inspired by a friend who said that every day she made a point to perform an act of random kindness, and I thought how good. How angelic, and warm, and even magical, and what goodness must come to you if you put that kind of goodness out.

And I wondered how she did it. And I wished I was a little bit more like her.

And then a friend died. A different friend.

My friend JC was not old enough to die, although he lived very hard, and received so much love. Why? Because he gave so much. You may have come across him before, even if you've not had the pleasure of meeting him. He wrote a guest post on his angioplasty, which is a fascinating read and you'll find it here. And here is a video that someone kindly shared of him playing guitar and being sociable, which was JC all over.

Anyway, long ago and far from here, I had run out of money and was living in a place where I knew hardly anyone, and not feeling very welcome at all. I was really unhappy, and feeling really lost. JC lived on my road, and one day he saw me in the window and knocked on the door. Did I want to go to the pub?

I did. Of course I did, but I didn't have any money. JC didn't have a lot either, but he said he'd pay. I told him I coulnd't pay him back and he explained that that was not how it worked. Rather, he'd do something good for me, and I would do something good for someone else and all the universal good would eventually come back to him.

That was the start of me making friends. And it was a much bigger deal than a mere trip to the pub might sound.

So when JC seemed to be constantly sick over the last few months, that debt I owed him kept coming to mind. What could I possibly do that would be as big a deal as what he did?

I didn't know. So I made him a hat, and posted it off to him. I don't know if he ever got a chance to wear it. I wore it before I sent it to him, to put a little bit of strength and warmth and thank you into it.

Anyway, I got the news, while visiting with my brother's family for Christmas, that JC had passed away. I hadn't seen the man for years, but I was so sorry to hear that news. A light has gone out. And I kept finding myself crying because I hadn't ever repaid the debt I owed him.

Luckily, I've got a wonderful husband who reminded me that I could still put good things into the world. And so I made a resolution, to do what my friend does, and do one kind thing (or more), every day.

I thought I'd share with you how I got on in my first week.

1st I dragged my son off screens and took him for a walk around town. This wasn't about kindness, but about mental health, and unfortunately he hates going for walks without a purpose, so my first random act of kindness this year was a suggestion I found online to leave pennies around for people to find and get good luck. See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck. We didn't want anyone to spot us so we treated it as a secret mission. Which was great fun. We will definitely do this one again. 10p for lots of entertainment and to bring luck to others. Plus, fresh air, great views, and a bit of exercise. Win!

2nd I have a thing I already love about trying to do an act of kindness each day. You find yourself always looking for opportunities. You get into a kind mindset, I'm calling it a kindset (#kindset). Today my opportunity came at Ikea (there isn't a lot to do in Scotland on the 2nd January) when I noticed a lady struggling to get her trolley onto a curb. I just picked it up for her, but she was really grateful. Honestly, it was no skin off my nose but I don't think I would have noticed the opportunity to help before, and I love that I noticed today.

I also sent my dad a calendar after realising he didn't have one yet. He's never managed to get up to Largs to visit us, so I sent him one of our hometown, so at least he'll know what it looks like.

3rd I sorted out some of the girls things and gave a bag of clothes to a friend for her daughters. I like to know that things still get used, and hope they like what's in there.

4th I gave away a voucher for someone who can use it.

5th Today was about small things, like letting someone through the traffic, and picking up a neighbours bin. I also found out that my kindness in giving away that voucher begat kindness in the person I gave it to. She donated something else to a raffle because of it. I love that kindness begets kindness.

6th I gave some time to a local organisation to help publicise their events. I keep this organisation's webpage running and their social media accounts, but had never thought of it as kindness until now. It's made me feel better about myself.

7th I gave a jumper to a friend it will suit better.

I'm writing this on the 8th, and this morning my act of kindness was to tidy my kids rooms for them. I wouldn't have thought of this as kindness before either, but it is, and feeling that way about the task made me feel better about doing it.

I love being in the kindset, so far. I intend to keep it up.

What are you resolving to do this year?

Friday, 8 January 2016

listening to this stuff: five radio programmes/podcasts

I've been attempting to catch up on all of my podcasts for changing over 'phones of late, so some of these are rather out of date, but that doesn't stop them being good.

1. Witness on the WI

I've always been interested in the Women's Institute. They've been at the forefront of campaigns around Domestic Violence and AIDS, which were really useful. Some branches still focus on scones and tatting, but other branches do more stuff that I like (campaigning and crochet?). The WI change to include the women who are members, and the WI is always changing. Find your local WI here (Scotland) or here (England/Wales).

2. In Search of the Real Searchers

So apparently The Searchers is an old Western movie (I'm a bt hopeless on this stuff). Western movies tend to make me uncomfortable with their white alpha males. I suspect the true stories are much more interesting. This documentary is fascinating on both the construction of the Hollywood Western and the history of the time, especially the taking of Western women and children by some tribes, and how they would be returned. Which brings me on to...

3. Olive Oatman

Olive Oatman was one of those women who were taken. Twice. First she was taken from her family by Native Americans, and then, years later, she was 'rescued' from her new family. She never saw her children again. This is a really interesting story, which raises lots of questions.

4. Thinking Allowed on Being Single

Thinking Allowed is Radio 4s Sociology programme, and it often has me shouting at the radio, so I don't listen every time. But I'm glad I caught this one; in it was a really interesting study by sociologist Eric Kleinenberg  and comedian Aziz Ansari which found that back in the day, especially in cities (the study was in the US), lots of people married people who came from the same street at them. Many people married those who lived in the same apartment block as them. Of course, you can only marry the people you meet, and back then you met at dances, at church, at school. You met through friends, and through family. The marriage market was fast, and local, and you married someone to leave home, so you married someone who was good enough.

Things have changed. In the 80s and 90s lonely hearts columns became more popular, as did dating agencies, but now the action is online on sites like OK Cupid, and, at the more hookup type end of the picture are apps like Tindr. Now more people than ever before live alone, and people don't always have to find someone to live with to be able to leave home.

Three questions arise here: Firstly, are our lovers coming from further away? I did a quick poll of friends and found that typically our grandparents travelled about 2 miles to get together, our parents about 5 miles, and we travelled around 250. There are of course, people who are outliers, and the survey was by no means representative, but it's food for thought. Secondly, is the future going to be more about single people choosing to link up for specific time periods and particular reasons. And thirdly, does it matter? Personally I hope that my kids don't live alone when they grow up, but that's just me, I tried it once and I hated it.

5. Last up for this post is another Thinking Allowed, the thing that fascinated me in this was the topic of siblings. I'm the oldest of three, so I'm the chosen one, the clever one, and the one who is a pain in the butt. You don't need to thank me siblings.