Resolution 2

Supposedly needed for meditation but I find candles distracting.
Supposedly needed for meditation but I find candles distracting.

My second New Year’s resolution was to meditate. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for years. Yes – years, which says a lot about my determination to change myself, my will-power and my organisational skills.

It started when I watched a programme/documentary about Beatle – George Harrison. Now, George was well into Hinduism and, apparently, could meditate for hours at a time. Imagine that! To be so focused, to have so much self-control to clear your mind and just be.’Right,’ I thought. ‘I’m having a bit of that.’ Except I didn’t. Then, about six months or so ago, a friend of mine was telling me all about the positives of meditation. How it made her feel calm and allowed her to think more clearly. ‘You should try it,’ she said. ‘I will,’ I said. But, of course, I haven’t.

I may not have been meditating but I have been reading. I’m a reading junkie. I’ll read just about anything and one of the things I have been reading is glossy women’s magazines (I love a glossy!). This month’s edition (which is actually February’s edition. Why do magazines do that? It’s like the all live on a different timeline to the rest of us) is, unsurprisingly given the time of year, all about New Year, New You (in a February edition. I missed the January edition. It was probably about Christmas) and one of the articles is about meditating. Now, I don’t believe in destiny or fate, just in coincidences and I guess January (or February in magazine land) is a time when we all are feeling a bit strung-out, bloated and tired after the festive excesses so it makes perfect sense to have an article on meditation. It was not, in any way, the gods’ or heaven’s or any other spiritual beings’ way of telling me to get my finger out and give it a try. Not in any shape or form.

So I have. And, it was difficult to try to not think and just let thoughts wash over you. But it did make me feel a little calmer, a little more relaxed and have a little more energy. And, difficult though it may be, like most things practise makes perfect. So that’s my second New Year’s resolution – to keep on practising and make time for my mental health. I’m not sure if I have three hours to spare in a day though…

 

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Resolution 1

Steamed veggies again.
Steamed veggies again.

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t actually remember the last time I did. They’re too easily broken and I think the reason for this is that people aim too high. They want to make monumental changes that require a ridiculous amount of time and energy to become a person that they think they should be –  some mythical, perfect creature that just doesn’t exist. There’s no wonder people can’t keep this up.

However, this year, I have decided to make a couple of resolutions. Not ones that see me transforming magically into the perfect mother, wife, friend and daughter. That would be one hell of a long list of resolutions to make. Instead I’ve decided to keep things simple by choosing resolutions that don’t require that I put too much effort in and, more importantly, that I’m going to enjoy. Resolution number 1 is to be more adventurous in the kitchen. And by this I mean cook more (shame on you!).

Now, I do cook. We’re not a family that lives on fast food or processed foods. But what we do tend to eat the same meals on the same day of the week ‘Hooray, it’s Wednesday – that means it’s spaghetti!” shout my daughters. And there’s the problem, right there. Two very fussy children whose diet, whilst being quite healthy, is very limited due to the faddy nature of their taste-buds. They never used to be like this. They used to eat anything I gave them until they hit the terrible age of 2, then it all changed.

Previously loved foods (cheese, grapes, tuna pasta bake etc. The list goes on and on) were suddenly rejected at an alarming rate. I tried all the things you’re supposed to do in this situation; cook together, eat with other children, don’t give them anything else until you starve them into submission, but none of it worked. Battles of wills and tears (on both sides) over food is upsetting for everyone concerned so I did the only think I could think of – cook them the foods they liked in the hope that some point in the future they’d get over it. They haven’t yet.

This state of affairs has meant that the four of us has been eating  roast dinners, Spaghetti Bolognese, salads and fish in an alarming circle of regularity for years. But not this year. I’m going to try cooking new and exciting things and if the girls don’t like it tough! I’m going to make a stand in the kitchen and drag them kicking and screaming into a world of unexplored tastes and smells. Well, I’ll probably have some fish fingers on stand-by.

 

January Blues?

20150105_105129This is, if I’m not mistaken (which I could well be), my 100th blog post! A big milestone for me as I’ve never been known to stick at anything for long. In fact, I’ve not really stuck at this blog as much as I would have liked – hence the year or so with no posts. But that’s all in the past, like 2014. As I’m still recovering from the Christmas and New Year excesses, I’ve decided that tomorrow will be the best day to officially start 2015 with a spring in my step so have dusted off an old post on my take on January – that traditional month of doom, gloom and the blues. Enjoy x

(Taken from my post ‘A polar bear with red eyes…’, written January 2013)

I try not to over indulge over Christmas and New Year, but I still manage to eat and drink more than I usually would. Added to the mix is inactivity. Festive TV specials and dramas, playing with the girls’ new toys (with the girls of course), visiting relatives always leaves me feeling sluggish, inert and brain dead. That’s why, when the girls returned to school this week, I decided to go out for a long, brisk walk to blow the cobwebs from my poor bruised, leaden body.

I’m lucky enough not to have to go too far to reach a bit of a quiet spot, a haven. The weather was surprisingly mild for January and I didn’t have to get decked out in my scarf and hat. As I walked past the skeletal trees and gothic piles, I thought how good it was to breathe the fresh air into my lungs and feel my heart pumping. I liked the feeling so much that I picked up the pace; walking faster and faster until I developed a stitch. In a perverse way even this felt good. The pain reminded me that I needed to take care of my body as much as my spirit.

And my spirit was working overtime. Thoughts and ideas were darting in and out of my head like swifts in the summer. I tried to quieten them down, banish them even, because I just wanted to enjoy being outside. I didn’t want to focus on anything at all. I once read a book by Roald Dahl (I can’t remember which one) that said “Don’t think of a red-eyed polar bear.” Of course, all you can think of then is a red-eyed polar bear. And the more I tried to clear my mind of every little idea, random thought and niggle the more I found myself thinking of them. In the end I just succumb to it all in the hope that eventually they would leave me alone. They did and I was free to enjoy the rest of my walk in peace.

When I reached home I felt content and happy, and that got me thinking to how we always see January as the ‘blues month’. The month where we’re skint, run down, and fed up after the excesses of Christmas and by the winter weather. But actually it’s not like that at all. It’s the month where we take a long, hard look at our lives and mentally set ourselves the goals and challenges to change. And even if we never achieve these aspirations, in January we feel that we can. That it will be different this time, and we will see those projects through to fruition. It feels pretty damn good when we do this, and for a fleeting moment we feel contentment. So I propose we rethink our attitude towards dear old January. It should no longer be known as the ‘January Blues’ but as ‘January Optimisim.’

 

Christmas Joy?

One of several bags of out-grown toys
One of several bags of out-grown toys

Well, against the odds and working like maniacs, we’ve, somehow or other, managed to just about, nearly, finish the decorating. I’m not sure how we fitted in the room clearance, painting, shopping for new furniture, the car boot sale to get rid of outgrown toys and living in a house which looked like it should be the star of Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Hoarders – but we did. And it looks great and the blood, sweat and tears and five hours of sorting out cupboards (yes, really) has all been worth it.

Just in time too as it’s nearly Christmas and we still didn’t have a tree despite the girls’ cries and pleading. This isn’t because I’m anti-Christmas tree but because there was nowhere to put the damn thing. But now the house is back to normal, it was time to remedy this situation. Now, only once in my adult-home-owning life have I had a real Christmas tree. This was the first year I left home when I swore I would not follow my parents’ example and have the real McCoy ever, single year. It would be beautiful. It would be sustainable. It would make my new flat smell delightful. It would make a right bloody mess all over my brand-new carpet. I only ever did it the first year and then followed in my parents’ footsteps and bought an artificial one.

This year, however, I had a real hankering for a real tree. I’m not sure why. I can only think twenty years had dulled the memory of the pine needle mess. So, yesterday, I was excited with the thought of us all going as a family to choose a tree. I was excited but, unfortunately, the rest of my family weren’t.

My daughters’ (who are clearly teenagers in the making) weren’t even dressed when my husband returned home from work at two o’clock in the afternoon. They both seemed to think that lounging around in their PJs was preferable to getting dressed and going and picking a tree that they had been wanting for the past three weeks and asked if we could just get the one out of the loft instead. To be honest, their complete lack of interest in something I had been looking forward to all week was a blow but I sucked-up the hurt and agreed. Then one of my daughters changed her mind as she decided she couldn’t wait a year to get a real tree. Then she asked what a real tree was. “Err, it’s like the one in the loft but made of…err…tree,” was the best I could come up with.

My other daughter then decided that if her sister was going to pick a tree she would too but made it very plain that this was only under sufferance and that she wouldn’t enjoy it at all. “I bet it’ll smell horrible in the shop,” she declared as I bit my tongue very hard. Then my husband, who I had mistakenly seen as an ally, got out his tape measure and went to measure the boot of the car. He came back in and announced we couldn’t possible buy a tree any bigger than six-foot as it wouldn’t fit into the enormous, gigantic boot of our estate car. At this point, I wanted to shout, “You miserable lot! Sod the real tree and just get the artificial one out of the loft again!!”. But I didn’t because, it may not have been how I imagined it, but I was going to get the tree I wanted. So biting my tongue again so it was practically bleeding, I climbed into the car with the rest of the Grinch family.

I’m pleased to say, that once we arrived at the Garden Centre and saw the trees, my family cheered-up and got well and truly into the Christmas spirit. The girls bounced around with squeals of delight as we chose the tree and my husband even joined in without getting out his tape measure to check the chosen specimen would fit into the car.

And, of course, it didn’t so we had to wait at the Garden Centre whilst he took the tree home and came back for us. We even bought a second tiny, table-top tree for the Dining Room and some Christmas foliage in his absence. He didn’t even pull a face as we showed it to him. The Christmas tree spirit won through in the end.

Guaranteed to cheer up Scrooge himself
Guaranteed to cheer up Scrooge himself

Sweet Krampusnacht

After banging on about my Krampus Cracker story, thought it was time to share it with you all. The inspiration came from the commercialisation of Krampus in Europe and the States with chocolate Krampus being made and Krampus parties being thrown. I tried to imagine how Krampus would feel about this.

 

Krampus sighed as he bit the head off the mini chocolate replica of himself. How has it come to this, he thought. I used to be feared and dreaded. People were terrified of me. Mothers told their children terrible stories about how I would haul them kicking and screaming off to the underworld if they weren’t good.

For years the stories had been repressed, first by the Catholic Church and then by the fascists, as the tales were believed to be too frightening, too horrifying to be heard. Krampus had been forced to hide away in his cave, biding his time until he was heard and remembered again. He knew the time would come. Stories of demons and devils and bogey-men were never forgotten for long. So he had waited patiently until, finally, the moment arrived.

Krampus had shaken with delight when he heard his name being whispered once more. He’d dusted off his chains and bells. He’d polished his horns and sharpened his fangs. He’d even bought a new bunch of birch twigs from a woodsman who lived nearby. Krampus could hardly contain his excitement when the whispers became louder and louder until they had turned to shouts which hurt his ears and set his fangs on edge. But, somehow or other, he’d managed to control himself and keep his emotions in check. That was, until tonight – Krampusnacht.

As the sun slipped away over the horizon, Krampus had rushed out of his cave with a deafening roar, whipping and thrashing his chains and bells around his head with a ferocity not even he knew he possessed. He had stomped into town baring his fangs and brandishing his bundle of birch twigs at all he passed. But no-one had been scared. Nobody had screamed, trembled and tried to run away. Instead they had laughed, pointed and taken photos of him on their phones. One child had even dared to hand him the mini chocolate replica of himself with not just a smile but a hug.

I’ll show them, Krampus muttered, ripping off the replica’s arm and swallowing it whole. They’ll be sorry when they see who I really am, he growled, stuffing the mini chocolate Krampus’ legs into his mouth. Just let them wait. I’ll make sure they’ll never sleep soundly in their beds again, he snarled, ramming the remainder of the sweet-tasting figure between his lips. But first, he said, licking his fingers, I’ll have to have another one of these.

 

 

More Krampus Crackers

Krampus Cracker!
Krampus Cracker!

I wrote previously, in my post Launch Night, about my experience of being involved in Krampus inspired writing project in Leeds. I had a fantastic night listening to many of the other authors’ take on the Krampus tale and sharing my own too.

 

I’m pleased to say that two other blog sites have and are currently publishing all twelve of the Krampus tales, complete with the fantastic illustrations that go with them. If you have five or ten minutes to spare, put your feet-up, grab a cuppa and a biscuit of two and enjoy. You can find the stories at:

http://www.bigbookend.co.uk  and http://www.thestateofthearts.co.uk (which includes my story).

Another very unexpected and massive bonus was the Liars’ League in London selected two of the stories to be performed at their Christmas evenings. Liars’ League take fiction and have it performed by actors, which makes a fantastic change from writers having to get up and read their own stuff. But I guess it’s easier to do that in London where there are a plethora of actors than in East Yorkshire where there are not so many. I was very excited, proud and pleased as punch to be chosen as one of the two. You can see the reading of my story on their website where there is a YouTube link. Just check out their website at http://www.liarsleague.com and look for Sweet Krampusnacht.

All in all, I truly wonderful experience and I am so glad I submitted despite only ever writing one piece of flash fiction before. I guess that’s all you can do – keep doing what you do and, fingers crossed, someone, somewhere will like it.

 

Further house reclaimation

One of several bags of out-grown toys
One of several bags of out-grown toys

Now that the excitement of the Krampus Crackers launch night has died down, I decided it was time to get back to my latest project – reclaiming my house back from my children. Or, more correctly, claiming it back from the hundreds and hundreds of their toys.

I broached the subject carefully and with much fore-thought with my husband who, luckily, agreed with me. Actually, what I did was stamp my feet and act like a petulant child until, sensibly, he agreed with me. You may think that this might be enough to have me jumping for joy and reaching for the paintbrushes but we’ve been at the discussing redecorating point many, many times before. This is usually as far as it gets due to lack of energy, will-power and interest. However, this time I’m determined not to let the feeling to do something pass me by so I decided to tackle the first and biggest hurdle to reclaiming my house head on. I spoke to my daughters.

Divide and conquer is a tactic used by many strategists and if it’s good enough for them it should surely work on two six-year olds. To be honest, I’ve tried it many times before and it’s rarely been successful. There’s always one child who digs their heals in and turns on the tears, scuppering my plans. I wasn’t holding out much hope of it working this time either due in a large part to the fact that one of my girls seems to have an obessive hoarding condition.

This condition manifests itself in the inability to throw anything away. A selection of items that I have found squirreled away under her bed include; a yogurt pot lid, pairs of old knickers that no longer fit (clean, I’m pleased to say) and an old dirty tissue (which certainly wasn’t clean). Her latest trick to try to hold onto everything she has ever owned is to beg, plead and cry that it is needed for when she has a baby of her own; though what a baby would want with a yogurt pot lid, old knickers and a snotty, used tissue is beyond me. My counter defensive move is to promise to put things in the ‘loft’. If she every looks in the loft she will be in for a big shock. Perhaps, I’ll just have to say that ‘loft’ and ‘bin’ are very similar words.

So you could have blown me down with a feather when said child agreed to my demands of sorting and getting rid of some toys. She even helped me, which was when I was expecting her to change her mind and turn on the tears. But she didn’t. Granted, the pile of things to get rid of was not as large as I would have liked but it was much, much, much larger than I was expecting. Which goes to show, no matter how well you think you know somebody, they can always surprise you. Now, I just have to find a home for all the toys before she changes her mind.

Krampus Crackers UK

If you are in Leeds this Christmas, stop, have a coffee & look out for Krampus Crackers

Tiny Owl Workshop

The ever wonderful, Vicky Pointing has gathered some fabulous elfin helpers and rolled and folded and prettied up hundreds of Krampus Crackers in time for Xmas.

Each cracker contains one Krampus tale and an illustration. The stories were chosen by Vicky and writer and fellow judge, Steve Toase, and they’ll be available at cafes around Leeds.

More soon!

Krampus Cracker elves

Vicky with Krampus Crackers

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