Wednesday 27 October 2010

Feeding the Birds

Many years ago I tried to set up a bird feeding area in the garden. I even wrote an article about it. In fact, that article became my first ever published piece of work. It was called Birds’ Eye View and was in the August 1999 edition of The Lady magazine. It was a proud moment and a new path for me. It marked the beginning of my transition from a teacher who attended creative writing classes to a writer who does a bit of teaching now and then.

You may have noticed that I said, ‘tried to set up a bird feeding area’. I had to abandon the project because my lovely old cat, Rosie, was far too interested in the birds and my darling dog, Josh, used to eat all the seeds that fell to the ground, but now they’ve gone. For the first time in my life I have no pets and with Rod still in hospital this is not the time to even think about it... but it is the perfect time to resume my bird feeding attempts.

I thought it would take weeks for the birds to notice a new food supply but not a bit of it. With nothing more than a new seed holder and half a coconut of fat/seed mixture the birds are back. I hung the feeders up two days ago and already I’ve seen coal tits, blue tits, dunnocks, sparrows and a robin, not to mention two hefty pigeons who are eating all the seeds that are falling to the ground. I’m enjoying their company. In fact, I may even write another bird feeding article.

There were loads of birds there when I started to take the photo. Really there were!

Rod update: Following a bronchoscopy (camera investigation of the lungs), the doctors have identified a specific flu infection. This is what has been causing the fluid on the lungs and heart and the high temperature. They’ve changed his antibiotics and say that he may be able to come home within the next few days. I must rush off to clean the house!

Wednesday 20 October 2010

What if...

What if I’d made different choices when I was younger? Where would I be? What would I be doing now? I don't think I'm alone with such thoughts. Robert Frost wrote about two roads diverging in a wood in The Road Not Taken. He took the one ‘less travelled by’.

I marked the first for another day.
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

But what if he’d taken the first path instead? We’ll never know.

The song Crossroads, sung by Don Mclean, has a different take on this idea.

...there's no need for turning back
`cause all roads lead to where we stand...

The song implies that it doesn’t really matter what choices we make, life ends up pretty much the same anyway. We'll never know if that’s true either and it reminds me of the storyline for Gwyneth Paltrow in the film, Sliding Doors, but of course that’s a film. This is real life.

I often think ‘what if’. What if I’d never joined Val Moore’s creative writing class at Writing School Leicester? I’d still be teaching. I was never happy as a teacher but wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do. Creative writing was the answer but what if I’d never discovered that?

Then there’s the time I posted off a manuscript called Bathtime Rap. I almost didn’t bother. I’d received a few rejections that month and in my notebook I wrote, ‘posted off picture book ms to Franklin Watts today. What a waste of time!’ But it wasn’t a waste of time because it was accepted and became my first children’s picture book. What if I’d never sent it?

There’s a fine line between ‘what if’ and ‘if only’. When I was a teenager I was seriously thinking of moving to Israel when I met the man who became my first husband. I abandoned the plans and I often think ‘what if I’d gone?’ But I’d never, ever think ‘if only’ because then I wouldn’t have my two wonderful children.

There's no harm in the occasional 'what if' thoughts and I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks 'what if'... am I?

Rod update: Thank you so much for all your kind wishes. Rod went back into hospital last Thursday with a high temperature, shortness of breath and chest pains. He has fluid on the lungs and heart. The doctors think this is due to an infection that could have been there for the last month but wasn’t picked up when he was readmitted a few weeks ago. The positive thing is that they’re now doing a whole battery of tests to identify the type of infection and hopefully will be able to eradicate it before they discharge him once more.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Small portions

When it comes to writing I love small portions. My favourite genre is children’s picture books. This is not simply because of the size, of course, but I do enjoy being able to hold the entire story line in my head and reworking it in the middle of the night without the need of pen, pencil or keyboard. The same is true of my blog posts. I always try to keep them below 600 words. They’re more manageable that way. Unfortunately the opposite is true when it comes to cooking. Quantities seem to expand in my saucepan but this is not good.

At the moment I’m trying to adopt the style of shopping and cooking that would have been more familiar to Mum’s generation than to my own. When I was a kid Mum went to the shops every day. She bought just enough for that evening’s meal and there was rarely anything left over. Of course, Mum didn’t have the luxury of freezers or supermarkets plus she had no microwave to reheat food... and now neither do I. 

While Rod’s resistance is so low following his treatment there are a lot of restrictions on his diet. He’s not allowed anything raw so salads are a big ‘NO’. He’s not allowed soft cheeses, lightly cooked eggs, pâté, but the most debilitating rule of all is no reheating of food. I had never noticed how much reheating I did from chicken that becomes chicken soup to vegetables that turns into a tasty curry. The rest would be thrown into the freezer and packed in little bags with twist top ties. Nothing was wasted. 

Now when I make a soup I have to use half a carrot. Half a carrot! It’d be quicker to munch a quarter of a raw carrot each and be done with it. I only need to add one potato and a mere handful of assorted vegetables. All that chopping and cooking and swooshing up... it hardly seems worth it. Soups in my house have always been grand amorphous affairs, growing ever more voluminous with each extra carrot and leek that I chuck in... and, before my kids log on to comment, yes, my soups are usually a strange orange colour and just a tad gloopy but they’re always very tasty and highly nutritious [at least, that’s what I always used to tell them.]

My problem extends beyond soups. I seem to be incapable of buying and cooking the correct amount of meat for two portions of stew. Stew should be cooked long and slow in a vast pot with herbs from the garden and root vegetables for flavour. Who wants to do all that faffing about for one meal? 

And as for puddings! I’m now mixing 2 oz flour with 1 oz butter and 1 oz sugar to make a crumble which is sprinkled over one cooking apple. No more left over crumbles for lunch next day.

I know this stage of Rod’s recovery won’t last forever and compared to the fact that he’s still neither allowed nor strong enough to go out and about and mix with groups of people, the food issue is a minor irritation, but right at this moment it’s driving me crazy. 

So has anyone got any bright ideas for small portion cooking? All recipes and helpful suggestions gratefully accepted.

Monday 11 October 2010

Positive Thinking

I have often blogged about therapeutic writing and I do believe in the power of positive thought, and yet, as my sister recently pointed out, I have taken on a negative title “Writing in the Rain” and a negative tag-line “It hasn’t stopped raining yet” for my blog. She thinks I need to be more positive. Even my frilly umbrella is trying to get the message across. Last week it broke. I think it’s time I took notice of the two of them (my umbrella and my sister, that is, but not necessarily in that order!)

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year and I don’t want to change its title now. Besides, there will inevitably be rain in my life and I will, no doubt, continue to write in the rain. We all have to write in the rain sometimes, but I hope there will be sunny writing days too. And so I’m going to change my picture from


just to prove that I can and do write in the sun too.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Friends in Need

The last few weeks have been horrible. It will take me a long time to get used to not having Josh in my life. He was such a lovely and lovable dog but I scarcely had time to mourn his loss before Rod’s health deteriorated again. Last Wednesday night he collapsed. I called the emergency ambulance but he was in so much pain they called the paramedics. It took over an hour of ECGs, inserting lines and administering morphine before they took us to Accident and Emergency. By now it was 1 am. I was trembling, frightened and confused but thankfully my friends followed the ambulance. They sat in a drafty, drunk-strewn waiting area until 3 am, then they drove me home and calmed me down.

Over the last few weeks friends have brought in meals, done my shopping and generally been there for me. One friend took all of Josh’s food to the Huncote Kennels (Leicester Animal Aid where we first met Josh as a three month old stray). Another friend took the wormery away. It was a responsibility too far and an unnecessary risk of further infection for Rod.

After lots of tests and high-dose antibiotics and antifungal treatments, Rod was discharged yesterday. He’s able to keep proper food down for the first time in over two months so I’m hoping that life will start to return to normal, although it will never be quite the same as it was. I can never replace Josh. He was truly irreplaceable but with my friends there to support me I hope that very soon life will start to hurt a little less.