Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: A list found in a notebook

Processing the camera gets done regularly because is important to me as I've heard too many sad stories about cameras containing irreplaceable images getting lost. Once the pictures are on the computer they are backed up and safe on the hard drive, in Dropbox and (eventually) on the external hard drive, too. The other motivator is that my mother loves to see pictures of the children!

Gretchen Rubin gave some splendid advice in Happier At Home about dealing with her backlog of photos -- she set herself to work at it for 15 minutes a day using a timer.

Processing my notebooks happens less often, mainly because I'm disorganised and have too many in too many different places. But here is something I found in a notebook.

It is titled '50 things', but I must have got interrupted halfway through.
  1. Indigo/cobalt blue
  2. Coast line
  3. Sailing ships
  4. Washing on the line
  5. Sleeping in the sun
  6. Leafless branches
  7. Running water
  8. Big blousy flowers carelessly arranged
  9. Wafer biscuits
  10. Seeds inside a fruit
  11. Vintage packaging
  12. Art deco swimming pools
  13. Frida Kahlo
  14. Willow pattern
  15. Mountains next to the sea
  16. Log cabins
  17. Embroidered images
  18. Radish flowers
  19. Shells
  20. 1940s bathing costumes
  21. Iron beds
  22. Dresses with big skirts and nipped in waists
  23. Chinese lanterns

Wendy House Wednesday: Caught

Process your notebook, camera or sketchbook. Look through your captures and see if anything inspires you.

The instructions are:

  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Jammed

Look over the spreads and jam in your larder and fridge. Are they in the right place? Are they still edible? Do the jars need a wipe? Update the shopping list. Now it’s toast time.

The instructions are:

  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Dark cupboard

What’s in your cleaning cupboard? Dispose of anything you no longer use. Wipe drippy bottles. Add almost empties to the shopping list. Done.

Our cleaner keeps me on my toes with this -- she leaves the empties in the middle of the kitchen table so I know what to buy in. I usually ask her for recommendations as I get overwhelmed by the supermarket's choice. She recently surprised me with her enthusiasm for old fashioned Cif bathroom cream cleaner.

The instructions are: Don't over-think. Spend no more than 15 minutes. It doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Shredding

Shred any bank statements older than six years. And if you have any other paperwork hanging around, make a plan for processing it.

The instructions are:

  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Virus check

The instructions are:

  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.

Run a virus check on your computer.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Spice


Well that was a mission and a half. Here is my spice and condiment department. It's spread over three shelves and I do use most of the spices at least once a month. I try to wipe each jar every time I use it so the rarely-used jars get a bit fluffy and of course the shelves themselves need cleaning and certain items that don't belong (can you see the postcard and the mac button) need to go to their proper homes. Because Bettany and Alec were only tenuously employed (him with a game on the tablet and her practising her rolling on the floor) I decided to set my timer and tackle just one shelf at a time.

It was a case of move a couple of jars, roll Bettany over on to her back. Wipe a jar, help Alec guide his fire engine through the maze. Wipe another jar, re-roll Bettany. Wipe a jar, ask Alec to turn the siren off. Wipe a jar, re-re-roll Bettany. The bottom shelf jars were spread across the worktop, half of them dusted, half of them not when Bettany started howling because she had wedged herself against the back door and Alec started howling because he, like me, had run out of time on his game.

Nick came to the rescue and finished the job for me while I was telling Alec firmly that he needed a nap.

This is one of those tasks that I don't do often enough -- but now I know a shelf takes just over 15 minutes I'll feel more confident about tackling it.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Spice up your life

The instructions are:
  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.
Quarter of an hour straightening the spice cupboard. Sniff some favourites while you’re in there (and do let us know what you found).

Thursday, 10 October 2013

A Night Elf in Ironforge

This adventure was spent in and around the Dwarven(fish?) city of Ironforge. It had two strands: one was accumulating more information about the party I am following. Honrid and Tikka are now wanted for murdering their parents and there is a hefty reward offered, which I might try to get for myself. Ironforge is their home city so several people knew them -- I feel as if I'm definitely on the right track with my

The second strand found me hijacked by my colleagues in SI6 -- Sylvya was rather irritated by this, particularly because as a Night Elf she doesn't like doing favours for Dwarfs: being told to do something 'because it's your job' is just annoying. And I could feel her blood pressure rising as she once again had to remind a contact that she hadn't been paid recently.

Anyway -- a mysterious 'scroungy-looking' man on the tram told her to speak to a barman at a gnomish inn and say 'MK sent me'. I didn't write down my instructions and Bettany distracted me and then I found I had forgotten them when the time came. Luckily I remembered enough that the barman gave me a note (which I carefully copied into my spy diary).

The instructions told me to access a legendary undercity called Old Ironforge and check what the Dark Iron Dwarfs were up to down there. I was to get more information by handing over two oranges to a party called Huldur Blackbeard, who I would find in The Forlorn Cavern. I was to take my information over the mountains to Mikhal at Menethil Harbour. I spent some time enjoying Ironforge (you, too, can enjoy Ironforge on the WoW Wiki), chatting to people (mostly slightly unfriendly to a Night Elf tourist). I concocted a cover story -- I was the servant of a Night Elf scholar who was inexplicably interested in Dark Iron Dwarfs ('I know... scholars eh?')

Then I made my way to The Forlorn Cavern where I found a humourless Dwarf with a black beard:
Sylvya: Do you like fruit?
Dwarf: Depends what kind.
Sylvya: Oranges?
Dwarf: Go on...
Sylvya: I've got ONE orange for you.
Dwarf: ...
Sylvya: Just kidding, here's another.
Dwarf: That kind of thing is going to get you killed.

Blackbeard said that there was a magically concealled entrance outside Ironforge and sent me to a riding ram ranch. He also said that Tikka and Honrid had been framed by an organisation called the Twilight Cult. I waited until morning to set out -- it looked cold and dark outside. This proved to be a mistake in some ways as a black cloaked assassin tried to kill me in the night. I didn't have the advantage of stealth so I yelled for help before slashing away. I got a good stab in with my two daggers before the innkeeper arrived with his trusty frying pan. The human assassin was in a bad way, but he came round for long enough that I could ask him a few questions. He muttered something about a black dragonfly and said that she would have killed him anyway before expiring.

I found a family in mourning -- their daughter had run off with those two troublesome dwarf lads and got herself killed by the Dark Irons. I asked, as delicately as I could -- with NO JOKES this time and staying under my cover story -- if they could tell me about Dark Irons. I followed the farmer's information up into the hills and came across two DIs guarding some rocks. I waited to see how the gate worked -- I didn't want to get stuck inside. Then I nobbled the two guards, looted the bodies and took their ears as trophies before letting myself in.

I nobbled and looted another DI despite some atrocious roll-to-hits. Then I reached a large cavern where there were three more DIs and a lot of large eggs. I decided that I wasn't being paid enough to fight against three. I listened in, and discovered that they were waiting for a lady to visit the following day.

Sylvya could have taken this information off to Mikhal at Menethil Harbour -- but I decided that my superiors might want to know more about the lady so (stopping briefly to hand over my DI ears to the underwhelmingly grateful farmer and to buy a riding ram from him) I hurried back to Blackbeard and told him all. He also displayed underwhelming gratitude and asked me to stake out the concealed entrance and watch for the lady's arrival. Sylvya definitely felt a bit disgruntled about this and asked to be paid for her trouble. Anyway, she waited and was rewarded -- a cloaked lady arrived and turned her pale red-eyed face towards Sylvya's hiding place in a very sinister manner, almost as if she knew she was being watched...

(I need to decide which voice I'm writing in -- it switches between player and character throughout this piece).

Wendy House Wednesday: I see dead people

I set a timer for 15 minutes and went through the contacts book on my email client. I deleted:

  • several people who have died -- it was good to recall them for a moment particularly one writing mentor who passed on very recently
  • people related to jobs I no longer do -- I suspect in most cases the contact details relate to jobs they no longer do either
  • one person who I hope never to come across _ever_ again
  • people from clubs, classes and societies that I am no longer part of
  • travelling friends that I never kept up with.
I felt strange about clearing out the work-related addresses because it reminded me that I've been out of the world for a while now. Most of my mummy-networking is done by face-to-face or by text message so there aren't many parenting contacts in there. I should find a way of merging my phone and email contacts; and I should back them all up, too.

It also made me think about the easy come, easy go nature of a lot of my friendships. There are people that I got on really well with who I never communicate with any more; and people who I had less in common with but who pop up often on my Facebook or Twitter streams. Nick is a lot better at shepherding his friends in the real world than I am. I need face-to-face contact but I find it exhausting so I tend to avoid organising it unless I'm given a good hard shove. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Stay in touch

The instructions are:

  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.

Spend some time with your address book – update, cull, clean out. Transfer any details you have stashed on scruffy scraps of paper and new home cards. If it’s electronic do a back-up. Who have you not heard from recently? Who would welcome a postcard?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sylvya sets out

On Thursday last week (not the Thursday that's just happened, the one before that) Meredith and I sent my new night elf rogue out on her first adventure. We've decided to make her a level 3 character so that she keeps up with the rest of the Tuesday Knights until I (and my character) can rejoin them.

Meredith took the time to teach me how to drive my rogue -- they are a little bit different to your warriors and magic users. They are lightly armoured; and they don't have cure light wounds. This makes them vulnerable in combat so ideally you want to avoid getting hit in the first place. World of Warcraft rogues have stealth which gives them the advantage of surprise, but it switches off if they do anything. This is particularly relevant in combat -- you can't biff an orc on the nose and then disappear again; you have to stand there and finish the fight. When the fighting is over you have to remember to switch stealth back on otherwise you could charge into a situation without the protection of your sneaky advantage. I wrote STEALTH in large letters on my jotter to make sure I remembered. I was thinking that next time I might use a visual aid to remind me: maybe draping a piece of cloth over my miniature (my miniature is presently a Champagne cork with a face drawn on it, borrowed from Alec's toybox).

Sylvya is a spy and her minder sends her on a mission to track a mysterious band consisting of two humans and two dwarfs (ie, the rest of the Tuesday Knights). I followed up a few leads in Darnassus, which led me to talk to a centaur who was willing to provide information in exchange for me doing some sabotage against the Hoard. I trashed some heavy lumberjacking machinery for him and had the time of my life -- it seems Sylvya has a bit of a hippie streak which I will be exploring further.

I got further information from a personable gnome -- I handed him rather a lot of gold and he handed me a rumpled wanted notice for the gang.

I discovered my quarry had set out for The Eastern Kingdoms. This was turning into a major mission with a huge amount of travelling -- luckily Sylvya has no parents so she's well up for it. I got myself a small side commission from the Chief Druid because I gave him news of his protege Galatea and handed over her stuff (the bits I couldn't sell, anyway).

I like information-gathering missions more than the fighty ones; and I like sneaking missions, too, so a rogue will suit me well. I'm a bit disappointed that I forgot about my pickpocketing skills and I failed to loot the body of the goblin that I killed while doing my sabotaging. I want to play Sylvya as a compulsive thief, so I will add a large note to my jotter next time.

Meanwhile, the Tuesday Knights team were continuing their own adventures...

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Not stepping down, giving up

I don't have many commitments at the moment as I scaled everything back while I was pregnant. We go to toddler group and a class but that's it, really. I did have a think about whether we enjoy those things -- Alec and I both find it tough to get out of the house to them, but once we're there it's mostly fun and games, so I don't think we should drop either of them.

I looked at some of the things I do every day.
  1. I drink a cup of coffee in the morning and this has become a habit that is probably an addiction to caffeine. I'm OK with this, though -- right now with the broken nights it's what I need to get me through the morning. I've had phases in my life before when I've needed a coffee to get me going. I quit before and I'll quit again when the time is right.
  2. I religiously download the free app of the day on my tablet computer. I'm going to try not doing that as it's a time sink testing out the app to see if I want to keep it.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Eleven Things You Didn't Know About Me

Wynn Anne of Wynn Anne's Meanderings challenged me to write eleven facts about myself.
  1. I love stationery and have enough notebooks to last me until about 2017.
  2. I am a nervous traveller and die a thousand deaths before I've even left home.
  3. I'm done with flying -- not because I'm scared. It's just such a banal experience. It should be marvellous and glamorous and magical like it was in the old days, and it's just not. I hate the humiliating security checks; and being crammed into a too-small seat; and the horrible food; and the way the movie gets stopped suddenly before it's finished; and the way duty free pretends to be something more than shopping to alleviate boredom.
  4. My husband and children have died a thousand times apiece in my terrified imagination. When I wake in the night the first thing I do is check that everyone within reach is still breathing.
  5. Writing is better than prescription drugs.
  6. I have a terribly sweet tooth.
  7. I used to enjoy crafts like embroidery and paper cutting but now I don't.
  8. I miss my old single life from time to time -- particularly when other people talk about having hangovers.
  9. I am too impatient to watch videos or listen to audio -- just write it down and let me read it.
  10. Today is my 1010th day of breastfeeding.
  11. I can't always tell left from right.
I also have to nominate three other blogs -- but I don't really read any at the moment because it's early baby days; I skim Godfather Timothy's Heropress for reports from my gaming crew and I dip into Miriam's Daily Adventures

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Step down

The instructions are:
  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.
Identify a regular (or frequent) activity that no longer works for you. What you do with this information is up to you (but feel free to share your story in the comments).

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Friday, 27 September 2013

Mushroom watch: harvest time

I took this photo on Monday:

And this one today, five days later. There are more little nubbules coming down the side of the book, too. It seems amazing that an unwanted historical romance has been turned into edible protein.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: culling Facebook

Well that was an incredibly satisfying exercise. I attacked Facebook. For some reason I am friends with a number of fictional characters. They all went. And anyone whose name was unfamiliar.

I also had time to have a go at my lists. This is an incredibly useful Facebook feature which allows you to share items only with certain people -- I use it to avoid horrifying non-parents with questions about newborn poo colour; and so that I can share local lost dog / teenager posts only with people near home. Here are the instructions in Facebook help for adding and removing people from lists.

Another useful lists feature is the Acquaintances list -- this allows you to see less of certain people's posts in your timeline. So if you've got a friend who is always going on about... eg (trying to think of a fictional example so as not to offend anyone) er... Fireman Sam, you can silence them. Here is some more information.

Wendy House Wednesday: Culling

The instructions are:
  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.
Cull a friends list on a social networking site. Fifteen minutes… GO!

Wendy House Wednesday: a lot of lists.

I was thinking about the order things get done in this house. Sometimes I get it wrong -- unimportant things get done before important things; I spend far too much time on things that are not necessary and that I don't enjoy.

My activities fall into some general categories:

  • Children care (feeding, cuddling, playing, nappies, activities, planning)
  • House care (cooking, tidying, cleaning, shopping, washing)
  • Self care (washing, dressing, exercising, drinking water, resting
  • Husband care (hanging out, chatting, cuddling, oiling the wheels)
  • Writing work and self-development (blogs, courses, reflection, reading)
  • Garden care (weeding, pottering, watering, harvesting)
  • Play (reading, computer games, socialising on and off line, shopping)

This list roughly reflects the order of priority, and the order things get done. Self care comes high up the list because if I'm not well fed and rested and hydrated then I can't do anything else. Husband care comes high up as well as it's a way of making sure we stay connected -- we wrote our own wedding vows and specifically promised, among other things, to "cherish the bond of love between us".

In the past I've had a bit of fun with lists so I'm going to note down all the activities that fall under these categories. I want to examine what really needs to be done; and what I really enjoy (or don't enjoy).

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: releasing books

I was ill on Wednesday and spent the rest of the week trying to catch up. I have just managed to get some books ready for book crossing -- it didn't take much longer than 15 minutes. I remembered that I had some bookplate labels left over from last time -- they were in my filing system under 'B' (for bookplates or possibly bookcrossing).

I decided to go the official route and use and I've added a Tinyurl link back to the original blogpost. I haven't decided where to leave them yet but will take one next time I go out. The weather is fine and dry this weekend so I might brave an outdoor release.

22 September edit: Released book one.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Bookcrossing

The instructions are:
  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.
Read and Release at Bookcrossing one of your unwanted books. I love leaving books around and wondering who will pick them up. I've never had any of my releases reported through the site, though. My aunt has had a lot more success doing it privately through her blog, and before I ever heard of bookcrossing formally I had great fun with my writing friend Sarah dropping books around the park on a sunny afternoon.

Pick a book you no longer want. Put a sticky note on the front explaining that anyone can pick it up and take it home. You could register it with and download an official bookplate, or not as you please. I'm going to put a note with a link to this post in the front cover. Perhaps the finder will drop by and say hi. Put it by the front door and take it with you to release next time you go out.

Update here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: my to-read piles

I have a lot of to-read piles dotted  around. If a book isn't shelved, it's probably waiting to be read by me. My orderly husband must finds this system trying, particularly as some of the books belong to him, but he is very kind and holds his peace.

This pile (left) features The Hunger Games which my little sister strongly recommended, and I am determined to read. There's a book about descriptive writing in the pile -- I didn't get on with it at all. It's going to the charity shop. There's the Bettany Hughes Socrates book which I started while I was pregnant but couldn't manage. It belongs to Nick, so I'm going to re-shelve it, along with the other two books, both of which I've read.

Further along the same shelves (right) we have some Conans -- I have a weakness for pulp fiction and I always have a few of Robert E. Howard's prehistoric adventures on hand for times of stress.

There's Fiona Robyn's excellent A Year Of Questions, which I now own as an e-book, so I'm shelving that. I'll work through it again when things are less roller-coasterish.

Carnevale by MR Lovric -- I started and then begun a course that involved lots of reading. By the time I'd got through this I was pregnant and the heroine had her newborn son taken from her and I couldn't face reading on. I'm shelving it and will return to it once I've finished the baby years because it's excellent, sensual and sensuous and set in a fantastically sexy and exotic historic Venice.

The three Wilbur Smith books -- I devoured River God while travelling round Africa and thought I'd like to read the sequels. Maybe one day, but not now. Charity shop, as they are easy peasy to get hold of.

Nick recommended these (left) because I like large sci fi novels about other worlds but I couldn't get on with them. Not going to feel guilty about it. I'm not.
These, on the left, are some writing books. I keep a stash handy and read one whenever I feel writerly. I'll get through them in due course.

This is a pile up in Nick's room. There are some (borrowed) poetry books which I must to put in the basket by my nursing chair because that is where I read poetry at the moment, and one poetry book which is destined for the charity shop.

Dawkins' The Magic of Reality is for Alec when he's older, but I thought I'd read it too. It explains science in clear terms and I love Dave McKean's illustrations, but it left me with the same slightly dirty feeling I got when I discovered that the Narnia books are an allegory for Christianity. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials made me feel the same way. It needs to go back in Alec's bookshelf.

Memoirs of a Geisha I pulled out to check something and it needs shelving again. There's another paperback Conan which I've read so it's going to the charity shop; and that big black Complete Conan was Nick's gift to me to say thank you for Alec. I'm still working on that.

Rebel Heart is a sequel to Moira Young's Blood Red Road, a post apocalyptic dystopian story with a fascinating strong female voice. I loved it and raved about it. I got halfway through Rebel, got pregnant and just couldn't fancy it any more. Same with Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air -- another excellent world, weird and steampunky, very dark and not quite like anything else I've ever read. I'l shelve both of them and try again later.

This was an instructive exercise. It's very freeing to state, "I will not read this" and take control of what goes into my head. I should do it more often -- before the piles start looking so untidy.

Good night, Galatea.

So, we left Galatea fretting at the chains that bound her to her dull home life and her steady, kind betrothed Tyrion. This gaming session started with Tyrion's disappearance. He'd left  on his work bench a roughed out carving made from an irridescent wood that no-one can identify. Everyone was mystified -- he's shown no inclination towards disappearing or sculpting before.

Galatea goes out to look for him and on the road is surprised to be jumped and enthusiastically kissed. It's Tyrion, but there's a strange light in his eyes and a strange giggling tone to his laugh. When she demands an explanation he prances off into the woods, still giggling.

Galatea, her family and Tyrion's are now very concerned. Their only lead is this green wood, which came in on a special shipment ordered by Tyrion. When it is suggested that the wise trees at the Grove of the Ancients might be able to help, Galatea jumps at the chance to go adventuring again save her fiancĂ©. She sets out with a sample of the wood, hiring a riding cat along the way. At the Grove of the Ancients they point her towards the Dryads at Rainfell, telling her to talk to Romulin.

An uneventful journey (apart from picking up a bit of info about her friends Panril, Tomalok, Tikka and Honrid from a helpful innkeeper) brought her to the dryads. Romulin advised her that she had a spell stuck to her (a leftover from her previous adventures). He took it off; and then listened to her account of her fiance's transformation.

The wood is cursed, it seems, and the poison is slowly turning Tyrion into a satyr. He will probably try to make for Satyrnar but he can be saved if Galatea is able to intercept him and administer an antidote before the transformation is complete. It's a tall order -- the road to Satyrnar passes close by a Hoard camp.

That night the Dryads are invaded by fierce fuzzballs -- Galatea joins in the fight and acquits herself well (despite some awful rolls).

The next day, however, the dice turned against her -- she met with two orcs on the road and though she contemplated trying to sneak round them, decided that she'd been spotted and would have to face them directly. It was not a good encounter, and she didn't make it out the other side.

It's gutting when your character dies and Meredith was just as distressed by this turn of events. We briefly discussed bringing Galatea back to life -- we both felt we'd invested in her and grown fond of her; but there seemed to be no authentic way of doing it. This world is dangerous: the weapons are real; the wounds are real. I mourned, shrugged and moved on -- it's the gambling aspect of RPG. The more you invest in a character, the more you get out of the game; and the more you invest the higher the stakes at every combat. High stakes make for exciting gaming -- I get a real adrenalin rush from risking a character I've worked hard at, and real feelings for relief when they survive a tricky encounter.

We rolled up a new character, Sylvya Starshade, another Night Elf with itchy feet, but a rogue this time. She was following Galatea to practise her rogue skills and witnessed her death. She raids Galatea's pack and makes off with her stuff, notably the  +1AC necklace and the Snowdrop Robe. She can't use the robe herself -- too cumbersome -- but she is thinking she might get a reward from Galatea's family if she brings the sad news to them and the robe will act as proof.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Wendy House Wednesday: Not going to read this

Interrogate your to read pile. Anything that doesn’t look interesting any more can go; loans that you only took out of politeness to go back from whence they came. Which books have been gathering dust on your bedside table?

The instructions are:
  • Don't over-think. 
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Mushroom farm: mycelium

This rather inept photo (you can see why I write such a lot, can't you) shows the mycelium, the vegetative part of the oyster mushrooms. Mushrooms that we eat, the caps and stalks that we see above ground, are just the fruiting bodies of a fungus. The mycelium is what takes care of the real business of living, and probably a fungus would think of itself as mycelium with a few mushrooms on top, rather than mushrooms with a lot of mycelium underneath. It's made up of a lot of fluffy white threads but it's hard to differentiate them because -- my mushroom farm is rather squashed by the plastic bag (some of the other shots, the really good ones that got lost because I took them without putting the card back in the camera, had a rather Twin Peaksish look about them). The orange ticket is a sticky note to let our cleaning lady know that the mouldy book in a plastic bag is not rubbish.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Wendy House Wednesday

This is the first in a series of Wednesday household hints and tips. I'm going to try to follow them myself. The instructions are:
  • Don't over-think.
  • Spend no more than 15 minutes.
  • It doesn't have to be perfect.
Clean out your bread bin. Empty it. Give it a wipe and an airing. Re-wrap anything that needs it. Chuck anything that isn’t going to get eaten and dispose of empty wrappers. Check the freezer for bread that should be defrosted and used soon. Note anything you’ve run out of on the shopping list. Now go and feed the ducks.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

In which I become a mushroom farmer

Here is @CourierGo's mushroom farm all laid out, complete with the end-of-life book from Oxfam that will act as the field. It has a broken spine and looks like a historical romance, in which a young woman becomes pregnant after the local laird forces his attentions on her. Meanwhile, his wife is desperate to conceive but can't. @OxfamBooksTW  offered me several options from the recycling heap -- a Roget's Thesaurus and a copy of Middlemarch with a torn cover (both of these were too thick).

I thought it would be a fun activity to do with Alec,  but when I invited him to come and help he ran away shouting about Rastamouse. His loss.

First I soaked the book. It bubbled a lot and I left it in for longer than the recommended 15 minutes because Bettany started rooting and chewing on her fists so I had to bub her, and then she needed a nappy change and then Alec wanted help with the pot and would I find him another episode of Rastamouse.

Next I had to spread the spawn on the pages -- every 40 pages or so. It's mixed in with millet seed. I'm sure there's a good reason for that and before I had children I would have researched it and reported back. These days, I just accept most things in the same way that I accept all the physics stuff that stops us flying off into the sun. I think I'm happier for that.

The last stage is elastic banding the sodden spawn-stuffed book so it stays shut and stuffing it into the bag provided. I don't have a photo of that because Rastamouse finished.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Botanising and ghost-busting with Meredith

Meredith has very kindly agreed to run a spin-off of her World of Warcraft Tuesday Knights campaign for my character the night elf Galatea Dusklight. This means that Galatea will keep up with Panril and the guys in terms of level, skills and character development; and it means that I get a fortnightly dose of gamey goodness.

Two weeks ago Galatea was dismayed to find herself framed for murder in her own home town. She put on her gumshoes, enlisted the help of her fiancé Tyrion and walked the streets of Darnassus until she caught the murderer. It turned out that the murderer was their childhood friend who had gone mad from jealousy. She abducted poor Tyrion and Galatea had to rush in and save him. I was surprised at how irritated I felt about the whole relationship with Tyrion -- he's apprenticed to Galatea's father and is eager to settle down. Galatea, it seems, now has a taste for adventure and is not happy with the idea of laying aside her druidic path in order to please him.

The next adventure, played out yesterday, had Galatea's mother, a herbalist, sending her out to a distant ruin to collect some rare purple lotus flowers from the ruins at Emet Erith. The adventure started with a few embarrassments: she had to borrow three gold off her mother; and then hired a big cat to ride, tried to mount and ended up facing the creature's tail. Time for some riding lessons. The flower-picking was complicated by banshees in the ruins and a distraught druid named Sirilian who had woken from the Emerald Dream to find his wife a troubled ghost. 'Can you free her by severing the connection between her body and spirit? I can't bring myself to do it.' Galatea, it seems, can't resist a love story so she signed up. She dispatched three banshees and was surprised to find that when slain these dishevelled horrors turn into solemn, grateful High Elves ghosts who bow and then vanish. Fighting banshee was OK; fighting two was a close-run thing that needed a fair bit of luck and lot of Cure Light Wounds.

The quest turned up a goodly haul of loot: a necklace giving +1 to armour class from Sirilion; and a robe that gives +1 to Galatea's healing spells from the Archdruid who was impressed by Galatea's ghostbusting and was grateful to hear news of Sirilion. Also, she managed to flog some surplus purple lotus to a herbalist in Darnassus which much improved her cash flow situation.

I only played a couple of sessions with the other Tuesday Knights and I'd been finding it hard to get a handle on Galatea: she doesn't have any stand-out flaws (like Clodius who with his low, low intelligence would hit first and ask questions much, much later) or any strange gifts like Sister Justinia's singing. Playing Meredith's more character-led games (I'm not a huge fan of combat rounds, although playing them out with Alec's toys helps me to visualise it) has really helped to flesh out my night elf druid. I knew that she was reckless -- when we met her she was hugely in debt after a bet that went wrong. I didn't really appreciate the effect this would have on the people around her -- her... I suppose the Archdruid is technically her boss does not get on well with her, but is now gaining a grudging respect from him. I feel rather sorry for her fiance -- but not so sorry that she will eschew her adventuring ways!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

April's prescription is a poet who is well known and much loved in the USA, but less so in the UK. Sarah lent me a collection of Mary Oliver's work from the UK poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books

I came across the title poem in 2009 when I joined a group doing The Artist's Way that Sarah co-ordinated. It came up because of this quote which has become a bit of a touchstone for me:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves.
The soft animal of Mary Oliver's body loves to lie quietly in wild places and watch wild things. Because she watches and waits patiently she sees marvels, like a fox playing in a cranberry patch, which she polishes up so that less patient and watchful people can appreciate them too.

Wild Geese includes prose as well as poetry -- I love reading about how other writers work, so it was a joy to find occasional pieces like 'The Swan', which gives a behind-the-scenes look at the poem of the same title (the true nature of the bird made me laugh out loud).

I found I couldn't wait to get back to this book. It moved around the house with me at first, but soon settled in the attic where I could read in peace. I think perhaps I need to follow Oliver's example and spend some time sitting still and watching. This is another book that I am feeling sad about returning -- I'll have to buy some Mary Oliver collections of my own.

Wild Geese (Bloodaxe World Poets) is available from Amazon.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

I have a history with this book: I received it some years back as a review copy, started it and failed to get into it -- my thoughts were "This is a prose story chopped up into short lines to fill a novel-sized book. And I don't like werewolves." However, it's not the sort of book I forget -- my memory tends to file away odd combinations of form and genre -- and the fear I felt when I got it as my poetry prescription for March was tempered with a lot of curiosity. I was afraid because I was prejudiced against this book; and because of its length and what with one thing and another I only got my poetry prescription in the last days of the month.

So -- the genre is horror > werewolves; and it has elements of hardboiled detective (I would say that Peabody is too vulnerable to be truly hardboiled, but there is something noirish about his determination to see his case through, despite its baffling, disconcerting nature and its unprepossessing victims). And the form is free verse.

The endeavour as a whole calls to my mind another bonkers combination of form and genre from my past: Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, which I studied at university. Lucretius, for reasons best known to himself (and much discussed on our course), presented to the Roman audience the principles of Epicurean philosophy in 7,400 lines of hexameter.

From my own experiences as a writer I know that form can be a matter of expediency rather than choice. I do wonder what chance and circumstance led Toby Barlow to tell his story in verse form. It must put people off picking up the book -- but I can see it helped generate a lot of the buzz, and I'm sure that people who thought they didn't like poetry, or verse novels, have been sucked in by the fast-paced, visceral reading experience. Talking of visceral, I wondered if another reason for Barlow's choice was that verse allows him to take a more direct route into the sensory parts of the reader's brain. Dogs aren't known for their skill at verbal expression -- but they are known for their deeply sensory, physical experience of the world. Of course a skilled prose writer evokes all sorts of feelings in his audience; but readers of verse are more attuned to the sounds and the rhythms of the words they are consuming. And perhaps they are more open to the magical connections sparked off by metaphor and simile.

This is a brutal, bloody book about brutal people doing bloody things to each other. There were scenes that really troubled me, which is why I don't normally consume hardboiled crime or horror unless I think it's going to be worth the flashbacks. This book was, thanks to skilled writing oddly likeable characters (hats off Cutter and Blue, the bridge-playing gangster dog men).

Sharp Teeth is available from Amazon and probably your local indy will get one for you.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Don't Wear it on Your Head, Don't Stick it Down Your Pants by John Siddique

This is the second book I read in February, and it was supplied by Sarah with an instruction that I should share it. It is subtitled "Poems for young people". I did try some on Alec because he loves wordplay and rhymes -- particularly rhymes with a song -- but he wasn't terribly interested in John Siddique's verses. I think perhaps the rhyme structure was not rhythmical enough for his taste, the imagery is not concrete enough and he doesn't yet have enough of a handle on the abstract. (Do I sound like an terribly over-ambitious mama? The book is recommended for three and up. Alec might be only two, but I try very hard to avoid underestimating or patronising him and just occasionally these experiments do work out).

I was thinking back to the poetry I read as a child -- mostly anthologies. Off the top of my head I can't think of many books by a single poet -- A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and the only contemporary collection I had was Gargling with Jelly by the Liverpuddlian poet Brian Patten. This last impressed the young me with its range: from the title you'd think it was a collection of shouty daft poems, but several of the verses are very dark, some are very sad and even the laugh-out-loud poems have a sinister undercurrent.

I went into Don't Wear... assuming that it would be daft. It's not -- not all, anyway -- (even the title poem is (I think, anyway) a warning about managing your public and private identities). There are, of course, poems featuring bums and trumps -- Siddique knows his audience. But there are poems dealing with identity (this theme comes up again and again), with bullying, with complex relationships, with immigration.

When I started reading I felt a bit squirmy -- I was a suspicious child, never quite sure about adults who tried to get down to our level. I suppose I was used to being spoken down to, I think. Some of the poems seemed a bit... simple, a bit odd. 'Apples' in particular sounds as if it had been written by a child -- but as I read on I understood that this is actually the point. Siddique is imitating and raiding children's thought processes and speech rhythms, the way they create poetry by almost by accident. I know how magical this can be: every day Alec reminds me to look again at the knee-high world, and his make-do phrases have worked their way into our household vocabulary (particular favourites are "bubby noses" for nipples and "mucmic" for music.). But as an adult who no longer has a child's unselfconsciousness, to use a childlike voice as your professional voice takes a special kind of fearlessness and as I read I came to value this more and more.

You can order Don't Wear... directly from Salt or you can get it on Amazon by clicking the picture above.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Departure by Chris Emery

I ended up reading two poetry books for February (actually, I read some others as well: it appears that reading poetry is addictive). This was the one I said I was going to read and then my poetry mama Sarah Salway supplied me with a second contrasting book. 

I found it hard going -- "difficult to access" is the official term, I'm told. I talked over my fears with Sarah she said not to worry because sometimes you feel your way into a poem before you understand your way in.

At university I from time to time found myself in a roomful of people all competing to find something clever and intelligent-sounding to say about a poem that I really didn't understand. The Greek lyric poet Pindar is tremendously highly thought of by respectable ancient sources, but his verse is difficult to penetrate. I wept frustrated late night tears over the fragments we studied -- and you can imagine the mixture of relief and exasperation that swept through the seminar the next day when our tutor said (only half joking) that he suspected Pindar was on drugs and that we weren't to try to hard to understand.

This project isn't about being (or sounding) clever. It's not even about trying hard to understand. It's about the experience of reading poetry. I feel very vulnerable admitting here that I struggled to unlock this book (I feel just like the traveller in Walter de la Mare's poem The Listeners). But that was my experience of it.

I've read poetry (and short stories and all kinds of writing for that matter) before that just lies there like a dead fish and this was not my experience with The Departure. Images and tiny fragments of narrative flipped and flashed before my mind's eye -- and just occasionally I felt as if I might almost be swimming with the shoal.

The poems made me feel and put images in my head, but I never understood why I felt that way, or how these quicksilver pictures fitted into the narratives. There is something about the quality of the images ('Snails' silently drowned in "forest tears" and awkward 'Sunday Fathers' "wasting time by the swings") and of the atmospheres conjured up (for me the book as a whole has a feeling of carparks and gritty sodium lights, isn't that odd!) that tells me I should trust Chris Emery and that there are more treasures to be found. In a month or six I could revisit and find that I'm more experienced or wiser or older. Or perhaps layer upon layer of readings will help me to scribble in the details I need to make the poems complete (I once did a drawing class where the teacher told us to keep adding information to our pictures until they were complete: that phrase, to  my mind, was worth the course fee).

You can buy a copy on Amazon (click the picture) but it's more efficient and pleasing to buy it direct from the publisher, Salt.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy

One of my resolutions for 2013 was to read a poetry book a month and this is an account of January's reading. Sarah Salway has generously offered to prescribe a book whenever I need one, and for the first month she bravely lent me one from her own collection: Carol Ann Duffy's book Feminine Gospels.
Flicking back through our emails on the matter I see I asked her for '...something spare and clean but with a dark understorey (or understory), please?'

I made a Pinterest board to help  me get a handle on the visual side of things. I found it especially helpful in my reading of 'Beautiful' which recounts a series of reincarnations as iconic women.

Some of the poems deal with transformations in the Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' sense. Transformation and change is, I've always thought, a vital part of the womanly experience. Men seem to stay the same (they age, of course, and grow fat or thin or sicken and heal just like women) but women are at the mercy of hormonal tides as the month progresses, and our lives seem to have delineated stages like maiden-mother-crones where men have no obvious equivalent. In this collection 'The Woman who Shopped' turns into a shop; and the protagonist in 'The Diet' finds her regime more effective than expected. 'The Map-Woman' loses the thing that makes her extraordinary (and I think perhaps beautiful).

My two favourite poems in the collection were 'The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High'; and 'A Dreaming Week'.

'The Laughter...' is a short story poem showing the effect of infectious laughter on a stuffy grammar school. It is a marvellous tonic for individuals but a disaster for the institution. The poem reminded me rather of St Trinian's -- although I think these girls and teachers were less empowered to start with than Ronald Searle's girls.

'A Dreaming Week' is a week's worth of excuses (I imagined it was turning down dates or perhaps sex) all starting 'Not tonight, I'm dreaming...' It is a wonderful recommendation to make dreaming an active activity, as opposed to a passive while-you-are sleeping passtime. It's the sort of poem that makes me want to tell Sarah I've lost her book.

Next month's collection will be Chris Emery's 'The Departure'.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Small stone

Now he's asleep in his pushchair I have time to be mindful. But all I do is judge harshly the brassy woman across the aisle because she has her black boots up on the seat and because she keeps issuing wet sneezes.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Small stone

The pit-pit-pitter-patter of crumbs landing on the newspaper under the highchair. When he is grown and far away I will suddenly remember it and tears will spring to my eyes.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Small stone.

I put on a green empire-line dress and look in the mirror. A pregnant woman looks back at me. We both smile.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Small stone

Yawning policeman comes round the corner. Radio chatters, nothing of interest, nothing to investigate.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Small stone

The men who carried the coffin soak their trouser cuffs by trooping away respectfully across unbroken snow.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Small stone

Cocky men, strutting in hi-vis waistcoats, come with orange snow shovels on new white wood handles to chase the last of the snow off the pavements.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Small stone

One by one specks of snow fall and cover the garden one by one.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Small stone

Off the path and across the grass. The frozen ground under the snow is solid, certain and reassuring.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Small stone

Picking up pieces of dinosaur. The pleasing clunk of wooden toys and a pleasing clear floor.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Small stone

Got up early. Almost too cold and almost too busy to stand on the doorstep, milk bottle in each hand, staring at the blushing sky.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Small stone.

"Moon!" says Alec-aged-two twisting his hand in mine so he can point behind us. I feel ashamed and guilty because he is the one showing me wonders that I did not notice because I am too worried about getting home for the next meal.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Small stone.

An improve-your-life email reminds me that kissing my husband is a good idea. I don't need an email to tell me that. When he comes in, I am distracted by our toddler and I miss my welcome home kiss.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Small stone

The sky has failed to deliver the promised snow, except for a few cold pinheads as feeble and as widely scattered as city sky stars.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Small stone

I wonder if Alec will remember when he was small enough to eat every weekend meal 'on Daddy knee'. Their contentment is so sharp that it must be etched on to this place in the kitchen. A happy shade, our gift to the future tenants.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Small stone

The stars shine feebly on this hazy night. So very sad and far away.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Small stone

Staring into the middle distance and trying to relax for the picture. I didn't know you could see the Church of King Charles the Martyr's cupola from your garden.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Small stone

"Day light gone," says Alec. It's after four and the light is a bruised mauve, muddy indigo in the dark places, like the shadows under tired eyes.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Small stone

Kale forgive my tearing fingers, my knife and boiling water. The cooked leaves are still bright green and still substantial between my teeth.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Small stone

Little brown birds scatter -- nothing to see but the white feathers under their tails.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Small stone

With my ear pressed to my husband's chest I can hear the flesh machine's percussions and washings.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Small Stone

The wake-up ammonia smell of the nappy bucket is no longer unpleasant -- just normal.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Small Stone

The tiny pick-pick-pick of drizzle on the bag of rubbish in my hand.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Small Stone

Pencil grey slate roof tiles have sucked most of the water out of the wool grey sky.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Small Stone

This is my first post in Satyavani Robin's 2013 Mindful Writing Challenge. She calls them small stones, I would call them beautiful things, but they don't actually have to be beautiful in any way at all.

When I stop, right in the way, to stare at the sky there are white clouds sailing overhead. When I turn back at the end of the street, the sky is clear and clean blue again.