Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Like a (Vegan) Virgin…

… as Madonna almost sang.
 Does being vegan still conjure up a sandal wearing, lentil loving, bearded hippy dippy image? If so - that'll be me in a few days time as for the month of June I'm going to become vegan. I've been mainly vegetarian since I was 16 - a *few* years ago - with the occasional foray into fish (yes I know that doesn't make me an always vegetarian but I have a weakness albeit only occasional when it comes to sea food).  I love cheese, cream and butter although careful about what kind and how often I eat these. Generally I have a healthy diet, with little processed food, but a fondness for cake balances the scales the other way as it were.

So - why am I saying adieu to some of my favourite indulgences?  Mainly for health reasons and out of curiosity.

Over the past few years I've become increasingly interested in health related issues, pretty standard after being diagnosed with cancer I guess, and in particular how nutrition can affect things. Of course there are many arguments raging among medical/ health/ therapy communities and statistics, surveys, research and evidence of specifics thrown around like sprinklings of sunflower seeds. All I can say is I know I feel better if I eat better.  I have cut back on dairy before and was an 'almost vegan' during cancer treatment which I believe (but of course will never know for sure) helped me get through it.
I'm putting my body through quite a bit at the moment having recently been trekking at high altitude, had a hysterectomy and have another operation coming up soon, so I reckon it'll  help get me through all this and keep well by putting good stuff in.

I'm also a bit of a foodie, I do like my grub and cooking up new things, so this is a great chance to discover some more recipes and different things to eat.
I’m approaching it in a positive frame of mind - mostly. There are some things I'm not looking forward to as much such as:

·      feeling like the guest from hell - this weekend is the start of giving someone advance warning that 'erm sorry but I'm only eating vegan now' as I'm going to a garden party. The host has already planned for vegetarians but mostly things I won't be able to eat as a vegan (but it is an educational opportunity as this lovely host looked on a website and found some vegan recipes she wants to make because SHE wants to try!)
·      going hungry - this weekend I'm also going to a county show and a gala, where the norm would be take your pick from the vegetarian selection on offer at food stalls (usually quite a range but again often not vegan) and help yourself in the beer tent (uh oh - some beers aren't vegan). I will have to pack my own sandwiches and stick to the Pimms (it's vegan - yippee!)
·      being surrounded by 'temptation' - much as my son is a committed vegetarian he definitely isn't willing to live without his beloved cheese and cake - so we will still have these in the house (he is however keen to try whatever I make and anything vegan that I buy in...)
·      feeling deprived - I think this is only going to happen if I go to a restaurant or cafe and find there's not a lot on the menu I can have (this will feel like a return to my early days as a veggie when a cheese omelette or salad were often the only options!) There are already a couple of places I love that do great vegetarian dishes but studying the menus when I was last in realised they wouldn't be suitable for a vegan. Finding and going to new places that DO do good vegan fare is the answer I guess.

I'm committing myself just to the month of June to give it a go and I'll decide after that if it's for me or for life... (and since I started this wondering about the image of veganism I've realised the only two people I knowingly know of who are absolute vegans are the very gorgeous Spanish young man who taught me to scuba dive in Greece, and Simon Amstell - also young, hip and very funny)

If you want to follow my foraging in the world of vegan you can join me by liking my Facebook page below

(and yes I had a cheese sandwich for lunch today!)

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Questions, answers and random things

Oooh I have been nominated for the Kreativ Blogger Award - I love nominations, I love awards and I love the fact that very lovely Angela who has been the one inspiring me with her Visual Dares has nominated me! You simply must pop over to her blog here to find out more and meet her.  Being still a bit of a newbie blogger (blewbie?) it's taken me a while to realise I don't just bask in the glory of being nominated but *ahem* have to answer some questions - so finally, here they are!

1. What's your favourite song? Tricky this, I started off with a list of half a dozen then kept adding more! Depends on what day/ mood/ weather/ season it is I think! But, if there has to be one, then at this very moment in time it is Aztec Camera's Oblivious because it brings back good memories and I'm currently learning it on the guitar.

(hmmm I do hope these aren't supposed to be simple one word answers - feel I may fail at that!)

2. What's your favourite dessert?
Again - it depends! ( I can be decisive sometimes - honest!). For cold dessert I'd say Eton Mess, for hot dessert rhubarb crumble and custard yummmmm!

3. What ticks you off?
Oh - rudeness, every time. There's just no need. It's... well, rude!

4. What do you do when you're upset?
Depends what kind of upset (oh here I go again!) Going for a walk helps - or sometimes I just chunter to myself!

5. What is your favourite pet?
Has to be 2 again (sorry!) If I choose between my cat and my dog one of them will never forgive me! I really don't care for the goldfish though - that's definitely NOT my favourite.

6. Which do you prefer: black or white?
Black. Everything. Think this may come from my time as a goth - way back in the day. (At last, a simple, single answer!)

7. What is your biggest fear?
That the cat brings a half dead/ half alive mouse in and I have to decide what to do with it (don't like playing God. And I'm very squeamish.)

8. What is your attitude mostly?
Don't wait for the storm to pass - go dance in the rain.

9. What is perfection?
I don't think there is such a thing - and I'm glad, it'd be too boring! (Although the dark chocolate from Choco Museo in Cusco, Peru comes very close...)

10. What is your guilty pleasure?
Taking a hot bubble bath in the middle of the day.

OK - now for 10 random facts...

1. I hate having my feet touched but love going barefoot.

2. I once won a prize for a poem I wrote when I was 9 years old and I can still remember it (it's called Silly Sid...!)

3. When I was nine I also won a prize for my handwriting... which is now illegible (I was obviously having a really good year that year).

4. I have at various times learned to play the guitar, keyboard, clarinet and trumpet.

5. I have 2 tattoos that I like (I chose them) and 3 that I don't like (little dots the hospital tattooed on me when I had radiotherapy.)

6. I've been trekking in Peru and to Machu Picchu.

7. Being at high altitude makes me very ill!

8. I love talking but have managed to sit in silence on a retreat for a whole day.

9. I laugh a lot, often at very silly things.

10. I am 42 and happier with myself and life than ever before.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Angela dared me...

Thanks again to Angela whose visual dare has once again inspired and here is the piece I wrote in response to this weeks photo (another stunning one). Take a look at her fab blog here if you want to see the picture where this little flashy bit came from - actually I don't know where it comes from, I just scribble something, faff about with it a bit and very much enjoy myself in the process. I think this may well become a regular thing...!

From a distance they look like marooned whales, great grey mounds with an elephant skin surface jutting above the sea. They are rocks, jaggedy, slippery, bitterly cold. I know because I sit on these rocks. A melody, crystal clear, quietly strong, floats over the rolling waves, smashing and spraying skyward. It's the song of the sea. I know because it's my song. Some say here there is danger, a demon, a devil. But it's fate, it’s meant to be. I know because it's me.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Sharing for Six Sentence Sunday

I'm uncharacteristically shy when it comes to sharing my writing, which feels a bit foolish and irrational, so in an attempt to get over this I'm now going to share more. Its not so much whether anyone reads it or not but getting it 'out there' or rather up there, on this blog, I feel will be good for me to get over whatever makes me so irrationally reluctant.
So, thanks to Twitter, and I can't credit whoever or wherever I first saw this mentioned because it was one of those 'now you see it now you'd can't find it again' tweets - I'm going to join in 'six sentence Sunday' which means each week I'll share a short bit of something I'm writing on here. 

For a bit of context my main WIP which this weeks comes from is a non-fiction travel memoir type book based on a back packing trip I took with my son this year. It was my first ever backpacking trip at the grand old age of 41 and possibly one of the last holidays I'll go on with just me and my boy - now he's nearly 17 hell be off backpacking with his friends rather than me before too long. 

It is by no means a travel guide, in fact at the moment I'm calling it the Duff Guide to Prague, Budapest and Vienna because I am no travel expert, we got lost, we got on the wrong train, we missed some of the obvious touristy bits but we laughed and had a lot of fun. It's as much a reflection and examination of our relationship, I've been a single mum bringing him up on my own for most of his life, we have a great relationship which is inevitably changing as he gets more grown up and is moving towards adulthood and independence.

So without further ado... here's my first Six Sentence Sunday...

Near the bar a cheer went up as a grinning man grasping four pints made it to the table with only minor spillage. The crowd of follicly challenged, substantial bellied blokes wore football shirts bearing nicknames based on their very own USPs, which mostly seemed to involve sizes and/or bodily functions - like Gassy Gaz and Jimmy the Giant (who was of course 5ft 2").  Nearby sat a complementary half dozen women with various coloured poker straight hair and matching orange skin. Their t-shirts showed more of a team spirit, shrieking in loud pink letters that they were on Donnas Hen Tour: Mayhem in Malaga. They too were in high party spirits, matching the lads' keen appetite for sparkly lager and bacon butties.  We were at Newcastle Airport - it was six oclock in the morning.

(My eagle eyed reader may notice I've actually posted this on Monday rather than Sunday - this is correct and due to the fact that my iPad seems to have fallen put with Blogger and does not want to play with it any more!)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

My first flash!

I struggle at times to call myself a writer as I'm still in awe of 'proper' writers - mystical creatures who craft creative gems, gripping stories and fabulous fantasies - all from scratch. (I did love the comment I saw going round twitter this week that if you write you are not an 'aspiring' writer - if you write then you are a writer. Full stop.)
My comfort zone is non-fiction - which of course is still writing and still a creative task albeit you don't (or shouldn't) really make it all up! I have done a creative writing course, which I enjoyed, have various short stories drafted, have a notebook full of ideas, plots and characters, and of course have the ubiquitous half finished novel tucked away (who doesn't!).

But I don't 'do' fiction regularly, don't feel part of that world, and I've never shared what I have written with anyone - beyond tutors and other students on the course I did. I write articles and reviews which I am more than happy of course to be made public but even my current WIP is a non-fiction travel memoir type. However, yesterday, inspired by National Flash Fiction Day and a prompt on Anonymous Legacy, and encouraged by Sarah I took the plunge - the first time I have tried 'flashing' (see what that's all about here) and the first time of putting a piece of fiction up in public on someone else's blog for anyone to see. And, like most things, it wasn't as scary as I thought, or difficult, in fact it was great fun - and got lots of other ideas flowing too!

So thank you Sarah, Angela and the other lovely people who read and commented - you may just have started something now...

And - in another first - here is my 100 word Flash, dear reader, just for you to see!

Her feet slapped the bridge, water spittling out from under each heavy step. She hunched her shoulders under the umbrella as the rain drummed down. Her face flinched as his words spat through her mind. A gust of wind caught the umbrella, she watched it slip from her grip and dance away in the river – free, flowing. Tearing off her coat, the rain's fingers felt fresh on her skin. She climbed the fence, balanced a moment, then dropped. A figure nearby, hearing the splash, came running. She gargled out a laugh. She didn't need saving. She was waving not drowning.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Now that's magic...

No, this is nothing to do with Paul Daniels, just musings on a few things that have been quite magical for mind, body and soul over the past few days.

The first magical thing has been the marvel that is modern medical science. One week after key hole surgery and I am pretty much back to 'normal' - always wonder what that is, but here it means I can take the dog for a walk, make dinner, hang the washing out and string a sentence together both verbally and in writing. An operation which, I've been repeatedly informed by my mother, used to lay women up for months can now be done in a day and has a remarkably quick recovery time. (Yes I am an optimist and firmly believe there will be no relapses... though the afternoon naps may still be in order!) As someone who lost interest in science about the time we had to dissect a frog at school but now marvels at the wonder of it all, it all seems really quite magical.

On Friday - my first outing post op - I went to see Derren Brown, who doesn't pretend that he is magic, mystical or anything but an incredibly intelligent human being and master manipulator. He is both and he is also amazing. Even when you know that it isn't, I know it really really isn't, he does such incredibly impressive things that it really does seem like it can't be anything other than magic.

My other trip of the week was yesterday, when a couple of friends and I went up the coast to a little fishing village near us called Craster.  The rain actually stopped for the day and I was desperate to get out after being housebound for a week in the house. We had a wonderful walk along to Dunstanburgh Castle, (the fact that you constantly trip over castles in this part of the world is another source of wonder) enjoyed the tastiest crab soup at the village pub and of course had the compulsory visit to the shop to buy some fresh Craster Kippers to bring home.

 All in all a pretty magical time!

Friday, 11 May 2012

My 60k in 100 days!

I know it's well after the finish of 100k in 100 days which kicked off my year of writing (33 days after the finish to be precise!) but I've only got round to reflecting on it - though to be fair my I think my hiking and hospital exploits are pretty good excuses for being a little late in the day with this!

I was really keen to give it a go and, on breaking it down, my aim was to write 1,000 words a day, a seemingly manageable amount. I'm happy to try on anything that can help me get into the habit of writing on a regular basis. I also liked the fact that rather than just concentrate on one thing my total word count could include different pieces of writing. So... how was it for me? 

First thing is that no, I didn't reach my ambition of 100,000 words in 100 days. But I am pleased with my total word count which was (drum roll here………) 59, 427. The bulk of these - over 51,000 - were part of the draft book I wanted to progress. The rest were made up of articles, reviews, and, very occasionally (when I was feeling daring!), a stab at a creative fiction piece.

I'd say that yes it worked for me and it was a worthwhile exercise. I have 59, 427 words that I may not have otherwise have written, thought about or counted! There's more to it though - this year, after many years of writing for others (and which I still do as the 'day job'), I'm getting back into writing for me. And the 100k challenge has definitely helped put me onto that track.

I've learned a lot as I've gone along - some of which I've known about and perhaps just not acknowledged or done anything about... yet! In going forward I know that I have to be more disciplined, that I should prioritise the writing that I want to do not just the writing that I have to do and that I need to set plans and deadlines and regularly review these, especially when I'm working on several different things. I also now have a great little tool to record how much I am writing to keep track and give myself a pat when it's going well and a rocket when it's not!

What else? Well, there have been a lot of positives I've got from the last few months, including being more confident about saying that I am writing, and what I'm writing about, sharing ideas and progress. My main WIP is nearing a first full draft and I've also spent time working on how I might submit it, done some market research and have an idea for the next one, so making it into a series (but one step at a time!). I am now regularly writing and submitting non-fiction articles, ideas and reviews. And of course I'm now blogging and tweeting more which is helping connect with people and pick up some really good advice and help.

Finally, just a special mention and thank you to Sally Quilford who not only helped kick start my writing year but continues to offer great writing tips and tricks and all sorts of information as well as entertainment on her website, blog and twitter.

Theres only one last thing to say - #amwriting!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A bit of R&R

Although I am the world's most impatient patient, this post-op rest and recovery time is good for some things - it's the rare time I don't have to buy flowers for myself... I've had some gorgeous ones from lovely friends and family! Other good points I'm making the most of include:
  • feeling that it's ok to settle down to listen to the Archers and immediately fall asleep
  • not feeling guilty about spending a whole morning doing nothing apart from reading a book
  • sitting on the sofa wrapped in my huge huggable cashmere blanket without caring that I look like a pensioner
  • not cooking - as I was so fantastically (or fanatically) organised and made and froze loads of meals last week, all I have to do is take something out of the freezer and dinner is practically ready-made!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A week of POTs, plans and peeing

Last week as the days progressed I realised I was suffering from POT (Pre Operation Tension). This manifested itself as increasing irritation and crossness with everything and anything. I raged at the new parking system at the hospital when I went for the pre-op assessment - you now have to put your registration number into the ticket machine, and the only rationale for this I can think of is that it stops you kindly handing your ticket to someone else when you still have time left on it that's been paid for. I tutted at the dirty looking chairs and carpets in the waiting areas - and the fact that there was a whole crowd of other people there... waiting around in a waiting area where I needed to wait - the cheek of it! I was incredulous at the amount of time it took for a cheque to clear at the bank (SEVEN days - it's like living in the Dark Ages I moaned at the poor customer service person). I even shouted at the dog for just doing his doggy duty and barking, as he does every day, when he thinks the postman is an evil intruder intent on breaking in, burgling and bashing everyone over the head.

Once I'd self diagnosed the POTs, instead of taking friends' advice to have a relaxing few days before O-Day on the Friday, I came up with a plan to keep as busy as I could. I wrote myself a huge and unrealistic To Do list, which kept me distracted during the days, and on the two evenings before O-Day I went out and enjoyed great company and two of my other favourite things - good food and good music. Probably not what the doctor would order, as on the morning of the operation I was absolutely shattered, but it definitely improved my mood, reduced POTs and also distracted me from that other medical related danger - information overload.

Of course it is so easy to find out about anything these days thanks to the internet - and of course anyone can put anything on it which makes it both a blessing and a curse. The operation I was having was a hysterectomy and oopherectomy - not really due any current problems but as a preventative measure because oestrogen, something I used to give very little if any thought to, is now the Evil Enemy Within (my terminology not a medical persons). My gynaecologist Mr S (I now collect consultants like kids' trading cards - I also have Ms R the oncologist and Mr O'D the plastic surgeon in my hand) had been slick and salesman-like in his selling of the operation to me. The words 'quick', 'keyhole', 'in and out the same day', had sealed the deal. But as O-Day grew closer I was less confident and felt quite unprepared.

It had been a big decision, not just because I'm not currently 'ill' but also because over the past few months I have felt healthier and fitter than I have done for a long time. So deciding to have a quite major operation which potentially has long term effects and puts me through a very early menopause was not an easy one (despite also knowing of course the potential long term benefits). I knew that I could possibly talk myself out of it and if I started googling about it - again, for of course I have already done 'research' - it would give me more questions than answers and do nothing to dispel my doubts and worries.

So distraction and displacement activity were the order of the days beforehand and did the trick. On O-Day I was in a taxi at 7am boring the driver with tales of Peru. I was heartened at the hospital by being told I was first on The List and by Mr S's indefatigable cheeriness - 'you'll be digging the garden again in a couple of weeks' was his reply to my moan that my garden was still jungle-like due to the rain (one of the things on my To Do list that had never got done). I passed the morning in a blissfully unaware state of unconsciousness and came round to more Mr S positivity 'it went perfectly' - then spent the afternoon trying to convince nurses my bladder was in good enough working order to let me go home.

Being told you can't go home until you pee into a small measuring jug when you don't even want to go is some kind of torture technique. I sat, squatted, walked around, was told to 'jiggle to get everything going' and then I entertained the nurses with - yes - more tales of Peru, specifically about weeing in the open air, up mountains and on Inca tracks in the hope they would become so bored they'd send me home regardless. Whoever invented the term 'piss easy' had absolutely no idea and I was soon the last one left in the day surgery ward. Finally, at 7.30pm, we were all relieved in so many ways when I produced the goods and got a cheer from the nurses who must have been getting as fed up as I was. (Sod's law that once I got home this had literally opened the flood gates and I was up every couple of hours to go to the toilet during the night).

I am delighted to say so far Mr S's optimistic promises are being fulfilled. After a couple of days lolling around I'm now taking the dog for walks, albeit slower and shorter ones than usual, the brain is clearing (after an entertaining weekend talking crap and being able to blame the anaesthetic), and the tiredness is not as bad as it was although I may continue with an afternoon Nanna nap for the next few days. Pain has been pretty non-existent and needed nothing stronger than a couple of paracetamols.

I now have a very different understanding of 'Through the Keyhole' than I used to, and I'm a fan. There is very little scarring and a far quicker recovery period than there would be otherwise. The trick with feeling quite so good so quickly may be just remembering not to do too much too soon...but I'll definitely leave the digging for another couple of weeks.