Sobriety, pootling and starting the fight for Fin.

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So, we are now eleven days into the hell that is the Cancer Research UK Dryathlon with only twenty one long, sober days to go.

But, is it really the ‘hell’ I thought it would be?

Well…no. In fact, I appear – at my ripe old age – to have turned something of a corner.

I feel brilliant. Seriously. I am sleeping so much better, I am waking refreshed (albeit with hazy memories of some truly bizarre and sometimes rather unsettling dreams) and ready to tackle a hour or so of home-schooling with the Child Made Entirely of Stroppiness And Playstation 2 Addiction (more about this below). The bags under my eyes large enough to bring home the weekly shop are vastly diminished, and I have lost weight. It’s probably water retention, I don’t care. I have discovered that my backside has ACTUALLY CHANGED SHAPE, my wobbly thighs are seeing an improvement in the cellulite (I’m really painting a glamorous picture of myself here, aren’t I?), and I actually did up a pair of size 10 hipster bell-bottom jeans without feeling as though I was about to pass out. It’s all good.

The biggest change, however, seems to be in my overall attitude to life and the little curve-balls it sometimes like to hurl at our heads. I am so much more chilled out about things that, a few weeks ago, would have irritated me to the point of me breaking out in hives, or sent me into paroxyms of indignant rage. Like having my wallet stolen last week, leaving the boys and I stranded in Hamilton until a wonderful friend heard my Facebook plea and came to our rescue; like the latest nonsense from Fin’s nursery; like the fact that I am still receiving eight or nine calls a day asking me about claiming back the PPI I have never, ever, taken out.

I like this new me. She’s rather nice. She’s calm, and collected, and laid-back. She’s stopped getting into pointless arguments on forums. She rather likes peace, and tranquility and reading. (I have just finished Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’, which was staggeringly good. I am now wading through Umberto Eco’s ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ which isn’t quite such an easy read, but oddly compelling, despite me not understanding half of it because it involves psychics and stuff). She likes walking, and being outdoors, and gets far more done in a day than she used to.

OK. I’ll shut up now. But remember you can donate to my Dryathlon sponsorship here.….or else I might keep wittering on about how bloody marvellous I am feeling each day for the next twenty one days.

polytunnel

My new-found energy resulting from the drop in bodily toxins plus some unseasonably mild weather has led to me ditching my old-lady afternoon nap in favour of a bit of old-fashioned pootling at the Community Garden. You know how much I like a good pootle. I thrive on it.

It’s still a little early to be sowing seeds with gay abandon unless you have access to heated cold-frames, particularly as reports suggest that we may be plunged into temperatures of minus 15 celsius by the weekend; and I am saving my seed catalogues for a particularly decadent evening; but there is always work to be done at the garden. Both the outdoor and indoor beds have been thoroughly cleared, weeded and given a dressing of Fish, Blood and Bone. I have left my miniscule sprouts and red cabbage in situ in the outdoor bed for now, by my reckoning they should be ready by 2016. Sadly, all my crop of leeks bolted, and were completely unsalvageable, so have been turned into compost.

I am now on a mission to tidy and clean Polytunnel 1. This is the one we use for sowing and growing on plants for the garden members to buy to plant in their beds, and also for the flowers we use to create hanging baskets and other displays for the village. It’s a busy little place during the season, and one of my favourite places in the World. Having been pretty much dormant for the past three months, it is in dire need of a good clear out; seed and plant trays need washing so we can recycle them for this coming season; and at some point we will need to blast the outside with a water-jet to remove some of the moss and detritus from the overhanging trees that affect the light levels within the polytunnel. I am making good head-way, and very much enjoying just pottering around at the garden. You know, whilst I can. Before we are under five foot of snow.

A group of us gardening, pootling types have set up a Facebook group called Gardening Shenanigans . If you are on Facebook, and fancy a blether about sowing, growing, potting, pootling and generally moaning about the weather, you are very welcome to join us. Just request to join (it’s a ‘Closed Group’ to avoid spammers and general ne’er do wells) and one of the gatekeepers will let you in.

work2

As the children returned to school and nursery, it was time to get Fin back into the routine of working at home. Remember, this is the unruly, unco-operative child who ‘cannot do anything properly’, according to one (and I stress one) of his nursery teachers.

We have started slowly. I am aiming for just half an hour of activities at the kitchen table, anything that engages him for longer is a lovely bonus. The aim is to bring him up to speed with where he ought to be for his age, difficult though it is to find a definitive benchmark for what your average just-gone-four-year-old should be able to achieve without difficulty.

We have surpassed our thirty minute target every day. We have been mostly concentrating on drawing and making patterns, to aid Fin with his pencil control in preparation for starting to write. Just over the course of a week, I have seen improvements in his drawing, with his pictures now actually looking like more than a frustrated scribble. He is writing his own name confidently. I discovered, to my chagrin, that he knows how to type his name, and his brother’s name, and post it to Facebook. He has completed his maths workbook which is aimed at children up to the age of five. He seems happier about going into nursery – his speech at home, and with certain nursery friends, I feel, has also improved dramatically and he is now quite confidently speaking three or four sentences at a time – for the first time, we are hearing about what happened at nursery, about games he has been playing. His stories show a keen sense of humour, a beautiful sense of childish mischief that I do not wish to see stifled.

I await my next meeting with his teacher (the one that feels he cannot do anything properly) with a certain degree of trepidation. She is not happy that I am working with him at home, as she feels that ‘undermines’ what they are doing with him at nursery. It would appear that, to her, learning to write is more important than, first, learning to sit still and concentrate. He is clearly not working to her timescale, and therefore he is a write-off, despite being extremely good at arithmetic, noticing patterns, and anything computer based. (Yes, I hear the screams of ‘autism’ from here – I hear them. She doesn’t. She thinks he is just a ‘bad child’. For the record, I believe he has a degree of Attention Deficit Disorder). It has obviously not dawned on her that he may need to learn to sit quietly and hold his pencil before he can manage the beginnings of cursive writing. I have suggested that she is expecting him to run before he can walk. She fixed me with that supercillious ‘I have a teaching qualification and you don’t’ smile. It would appear that being a child’s parent counts for very little these days. How DARE I profess to know my own child better than she does?

I always want him to know that he is, indeed, smarter than he thinks. I honestly believe he may be smarter than anyone thinks. When it comes to his future, I intend to be braver, and stronger, than I think.

I will be silenced no more.

There will be a more detailed post about Fin next week, I hope, once the Health Visitor has come around for his ‘review’. Next week is a busy week for me, involving the forementioned visit from the HV; my eye-test; my sale of a kidney to pay for the glasses I dare say I need;  my haemotology appointment where I discover whether my bone-marrow is still confounding medical science; and an interview with a lovely St Andrews Undergraduate who is studying the role of community gardens in today’s society.

Honestly, I feel like a grown-up.

Who Am I Really?

You sort of starting feeling like a more serious blogger that proud day when a brilliant, inspiring blogger tags you into a meme. Just when I thought that, with the boys going back to the grindstone of education, my life was going to focus around ironing, folding clothes and procrasinating, the fantastic Breakfast Lady did just that. To me! Yes, ME!

The Breakfast Lady, I know, is going to be a massive inspiration to me this year. She blogs about that meal of the day that, ashamedly, I usually forgo in favour of four cups of strong, black coffee. However, if you thought that breakfast was a bowl of soggy flakes in a bowl and a couple of slices of cold, wangy (to quote St Delia) toast, think again. Since giving up the alcoholic yumminess and empty calories of Co-Op’s finest Vino Collapso for Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon I have found myself absolutely ravenously hungry of a morning, and The Breakfast Lady has some fabulous ideas that make me almost weep with joy. I therefore insist that you read her blog, and throw that battered, six month old box of boring museli away. Mornings will be revolutionised. I can’t promise they’ll be televised.

So, back to the meme. The rules are really simple:

– Post five random facts about yourself.

– Choose five deserving blogs with less than 200 followers to nominate and link into your post.

– Tell your nominees that they have been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog.

– Answer the five questions the tagger (in my case, The Breakfast Lady) has asked.

– Ask five questions of your chosen nominees.

– No tag-backs.

So, here goes:

Five Random Facts About Me

1. I used to have a severe phobia of the dentist and didn’t go for twenty years until things got so bad I ended up in the Dental Out Of Hours at Wishaw General. Three wisdom tooth extractions, three back tooth extractions and five replaced fillings later, I now have an almost masochistic love of visiting the dentist (particularly the hygienist), and I am completely obsessed with interdental brushes.

2. The actor Ben Chaplin once laughed at one of my jokes. It was a bloody good joke.

3. I have this weird thing where, in my head, I confuse the colours pink and yellow. I see something yellow, and I call it pink. And vice versa.

4. I have broken my nose four times. I was drunk three of those times.

5. I have no debts. None at all. Not even money owing on library books.

The Breakfast Lady’s Questions

1. What do you like best about the place you live?

It has to be the Community Garden. I helped to set it up back in 2009, when it was just a boggy unused football field. Now it is home to 62 raised beds, two polytunnels, an orchard, a soft-fruit area, and various wildlife and biodiversity areas. I have always loved gardening, and was always really interested in growing my own food, as my grandparents had; but I have a garden at home the size of a postage stamp. We optimistically put our names down for an allotment in East Kilbride, and had sat on the waiting list for four years when I stumbled across a poster in the butcher’s window in January 2009 asking if people would be interested in a community garden. I eagerly signed up, joined the committee, and the rest is history. The garden opened in May 2010, and it is such a wonderful place of peace and refuge from the stresses of everyday life. I can literally spend hours there, whether it be tending my raised bed, helping out with the planting and maintenance of the crops in the polytunnel, or volunteering with site maintenance with friends. We get a lot of visitors from other garden schemes, environmental groups, schools and social care organisations and are very much seen as a flagship garden in Scotland. We are so, so lucky to have such a valuable resource in the community and I am extremely proud to have been involved with the committee since the very start.

2. If you could change one thing about that place, what would it be?

Despite having the community garden, and the wonderful Scarecrow Festival, I would love to see a greater sense of ‘old-fashioned’ community spirit within the village. The village is set in the commuter belt, and a huge amount of its inhabitants seems to come home of an evening and lock their doors, rather than get involved in the social aspect of the village. We also have the issue of social divide – at the top of the village are the multi-million pound houses where the footballers live, yet we also have the ‘sink estates’ (where I live) that face the all too common issues of unemployment, poor housing, trouble-making and general social stagnation. There is a situation where some of the richer residents do not wish to mix with others, but the opposite is also true. When we set up the community garden, we hoped that it would inspire people from the estates to come along and grow their own food, to save money and improve what they were eating; but there was a disappointingly low uptake. Sadly, many of the residents felt they would ‘not be welcome’ at what they perceived to be another middle-class, rather pretentious, scheme. Mingling, as I do, with both ends of the social spectrum, the ‘them and us’ attitude I do find extremely frustrating at times.

3. What are you hoping for from 2013?

I would really like to see some more pro-active help for Fin’s ‘issues’ which, I suspect, will be diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder. At the moment, I feel that we are just being pushed around from pillar to post, with nobody other than myself prepared to take any responsibility for his development, both educational and emotional. It is an awful lot to take on by myself, but I am prepared to fight tooth and nail to ensure that he is as happy and fulfilled as possible in his learning environment. Anything else, really, is a bonus. This year is all about Fin.

4. What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast?

I am a terrible breakfast skipper, I confess. I used to feel as though I couldn’t stomach food until at least 10am. Now I have temporarily given up the sherbets, I am waking hungry and pouring over The Breakfast Lady’s blog for inspiration. On the rare occassions I do eat breakfast currently, it is usually weekends; and I love nothing more than a soft white breakfast roll with bacon (preferably Ayrshire), black pudding and a tattie scone. With just a smidging of ketchup.

5. Who is your ideal breakfast companion (not including your partner or family)?

I think there is only one answer to this – The Breakfast Lady!

My five nominees

Jade at The Natural Mummy Files. Jade and I have been friends for years, though I have never been fortunate enough to meet her in person. We met through the now sadly defunct RaisingKids.co.uk and Jade was one of those people who always had time to help other mums, and offered great advice. She still does offer fantastic advice on all elements of natural parenting, including breastfeeding, babywearing, baby-led weaning and home-schooling; as well as living a green lifestyle. I don’t know where she finds the hours in the day, frankly, but she’s a real inspiration.

Jessie at The Dull Roar Philosophy – Tasmanian super-mum, brilliantly entertaining blog, and it is heartwarming to know that life down-under can be as equally chaotic as it is here!

Mrs Flibble at Sticking Plasters For The Soul – MrsF is another of those wonderful souls I adore, but who hasn’t had the misfortune of meeting me yet. Home-schooler, Spong collector, prolific crafter and sweariest person on Facebook. She rocks!

Diary of a Half Way To Seventy Year Old – I followed this blog because MrsF made me do it. I don’t really know much about who this girl is, but she is absolutely hilarious. And very, very wise.

Mandy at Chateau Moorhen – One of the most beautiful and sumptuous blogs I have ever read, with some absolutely stunning photography. She doesn’t think anyone reads her blog. She’s wrong.

My Five Questions

1. What, if anything, have you done that you have later regretted?

2. What do you consider to be your worst habit?

3. What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

4. If you could travel back in time and spend a year living in another time, what era would you choose and why?

5. Post up one picture that you feel defines your 2012

Now…I do hope that I have done this right. This blog post looks a little weird without any pictures, so here is a random picture just for the hell of it.

Me doing my community garden pootling thang.

Me doing my community garden pootling thang.

The driest January on record

Welcome, dear readers, to 2013.

I won’t spend this blog entry bah-humbugging and bemoaning how Christmas wasn’t at all the chilled out, relaxed, family time I hoped it would be (as once again my sense of expectation had been hijacked by the advertisers). Suffice to say, I am actually looking forward to the children going back to school and nursery tomorrow and a little routine returning to my life. I’m pretty sure they are both eager to return too – Ellis to see all his friends, and Fin to plot his next stage in the downfall of the Early Years Curriculum for Excellence and the hugely premature retirement of the teaching staff.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I used to, only to see them all broken by January 5th, so now I prefer not to set myself unrealistic goals at the darkest time of the year, and just take time out in the run-up to New Year to think about what aspects of my life I would like to see improvements in. No big, blousy declarations of resolution; just starting the New Year with a small, humble list of things I would like to change or improve throughout the new twelve months. I have spent many years setting unrealistic goals for myself (and, subconsciously, those around me), and I know all too well how insiduously destructive these can be, long-term.

One of the areas of improvement is my general state of health. As you may or may not know, I have a rather screwed up bone marrow, and I have a rare, chronic blood cancer called a Myeloproliferative Neoplasm. They intially thought I had a condition known as Polycythaemia Vera, where my bone marrow produces too many red cells and too many platelets; but recent blood tests have led them to look into reassessing this as my body is not doing what most sufferers’ bodies do without chemotherapy – my red cell count and platelet count has been dropping recently but nobody knows why this would happen without treatment. As this is a relatively newly discovered, and still rather mysterious, form of cancer, I am being used pretty much as a guinea pig for haematological and oncological research; and the next big step is to have a bone marrow biopsy so they can get all clever with their microscopes and see what’s going on.

The important thing, however, is that I am – in the most part – perfectly fine in myself. I am on warfarin, following a (related to my condition) Pulmonary Embolism in November 2011; I do tend to get tired a little more easily than others and I am prone to infections due to decreased white blood cell production but, in the scheme of things, I have been pretty damned lucky and – if I’m honest – other than some broken capillaries on my arms, chest and neck (caused by my blood being too thick), you would not think there was a thing wrong with me.

One of the areas I really wanted to look at this year was my actual sense of well-being. There is, I guess, a huge difference between ‘being well’ and ‘feeling well’, and just because I have a blood disorder that is felling older people right, left and centre doesn’t mean to say that I have to follow the same route. I have seen too many people just sit back and say ‘I’m ill, I’m not well enough to do X, Y and Z’, and I never want to be that person. Ever.

I was browsing through Facebook one night before Christmas, well into a bottle of Co-Op Fairtrade ‘I’ve Had A Lousy Day And Need To Chill’ Cinsault, when I stumbled across something that, in my tipsy haze, looked like a rather interesting challenge. I loves a challenge, I do. I’m also a bit of a mini-philanthropist, in my own little way, so when I saw this little challenge was to raise funds for Cancer Research UK, I found myself signing up to the first ever Dryathlon.

dryathlon

So. Yeah. Stay dry for a month starting on January 1st. Easy, right?

Err, no.

Fortunately, some of my lovely Facebook friends also decided to join in the ‘fun’. We registered. We waited with excited anticipation for our lovely posters, beer-mats and wristbands to arrive. We set up a secret Facebook group where we could all moan and rant and admit how we drank more than we ought to. I set my initial sponsorship target at £200.00 and started advertising my New Year Charriddee Good Deed on Facebook and some other forums I frequent.

Clearly, my forum-friends know me better than I know myself and knew that this would be one helluva challenge for me, Little Miss Frequently Spangled, and I had shattered my £200.00 target even before the Dryathlon had started thanks to some fantastically generous donations from people – including two donations from friends in the US.

dryathlonband

The first few days were, I won’t lie, horrible. I had no idea how much I had come to rely on that glass (OK, bottle) of wine at the end of the day, once the children were in bed and I could relax. I looked, forlornly, through my Facebook newsfeed, and my Twitter feed, and discovered that pretty much all of my friends were drinking. And loving it. And talking about it. Lots.

Fortunately, my bunch of Sober Girlies were there, in our little secret Facebook group, to offer a shoulder to cry on. We moaned. We ranted. We said ‘arrrrrrrrrggghhhhhh’ a lot. We worried about how hard it would be. We had a bit of a giggle.

And so the days passed. Oh, so slowly. The weekend drew near. The dreaded weekend. I checked my JustGiving account and saw that my donations, including GiftAid, were nearing £400.00. I was amazed, and humbled, that so many people had the faith in me to do this.

Today is Sunday. Last night, I sat and watched a film with Richard and drank flavoured fizzy water. This morning, the boys woke up at 8am, and I leapt out of bed – rather than pull the duvet up over my ears to block the sound of their bickering and wailing for breakfast. I look in the mirror, and the black bags under my eyes are disappearing fast. I have lost 2lbs in weight. My tummy is a bit flatter, and I seem to be developing something that might be the waist I lost after having Fin four years ago. OK, most of that will be losing water retention, but it is a good start.

I might even start enjoying it.

Huge thanks go to my fellow Dryathletes in our little secret club who have helped to keep me sane over the past few days with their honesty and humour. ENORMOUS thanks to those of you who have so kindly donated to my JustGiving or JustTextGiving page, you have no idea how much it means to me.

If you would like to donate, it is really easy. You can donate via my JustGiving page or by JustTextGiving – all you need to do is text JACQ72 plus your amount (£1, £2, £3, £5 or £10 – please do not add any decimal points or additional zeros) to 70070. The text is free of charge, and the amount is added to your monthly phone bill or comes off your credit if you are PAYG customer. You will also have the option to apply GiftAid, which costs you absolutely nothing. Thank you!

PS: Obviously, there will be no Silent Sunday this week.