Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Fearing Change is an obstacle to growth

Anyone else feel like this...more than occasionally?

Fearing change, especially of the IT variety is common, but regarded as something to feel shameful about. 

But it happens to most of us at some point. 
Usually me.
Pretty much always me actually. 

Enjoy this blog about being scared of computers. Feel the sweaty palms and experience the terrible lows of...the new laptop.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Review: Kissing Demons

Kissing Demons Kissing Demons by Jen Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting start to a series involving angels, demons and such beasties as werewolves and vampires. The main female character acts out a pivotal role within the novel, a woman of extreme power who is the lynch pin for the main action. There is a sense that the writer is hugely invested in the plight of humanity and despite the often amoral goings on, there is a thread of conscience which runs throughout. The book was relatively easy to get into with some decent twists and turns from the off and the main character is hard to dislike. I struggled a little with the portrayal of the Aspects because some of their behaviour was a stretch too far for characters essentially lifted straight out of the bible. I felt the portrayal of the setting was fascinating and descriptive enough to keep me reading. Well written and great follow through. You’d have to read the next one in the series once you started.
4 stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, 14 December 2015

Turning Trash into Treasure - the Writer who Paints

As well as writing, my other vice is painting. There's nothing like the feel of a paintbrush in my hand to polarise my thoughts and emotions. One day that brush might make me feel like a champion and another time, the same brush could paint me a failure.

As well as commissioned landscapes of oils on canvas, my hobby is Folk Art and furniture painting. I see a piece of junk and it becomes a treasure in my mind.

So when the builder finished up for the day yesterday and I begged a number of pieces of left-over wood, obviously he looked at me oddly. 

But I have to be honest, my brown eyes lit up.

"What are you gonna do with them?" he asked, his fingers itching to throw them in the back of his truck.

"Make book ends," I said, keeping a straight face.

He didn't believe me. Nobody ever believes me, so I thought I'd photograph and blog my progress during an afternoon of complete painting bliss. So here goes...

The blocks weren't in a great state. Nothing about them screams, 'use me for something creative inside your house,' so when junk using, you have to take what you can get. The other end of this block is buried in my back garden as the support struts for the new deck. Builders, look away now...

No, I didn't want to sand this little blighter by hand. The appalling state of our shed left me no choice and so I spent ages removing the nicks and rough surfaces of my blocks, whilst swearing like a trooper and sending the step register on my Fitbit into orbit.

I picked two different sizes because extreme compulsiveness tells me that two blocks of almost the same size will never be quite equal. This fact will bother me for the rest of my days until I give away my most marvelous creation. Hence two completely different sized blocks, because they can never be compared. 

After sanding, give them a rub with turps to remove the dust and grease. Then give them another light sand, as turps raises the grain.

For this afternoon, I'll just deal with the smaller of the blocks because...because I'm in charge and that's what I've decided.

Rule the books onto the block, front and top side at the intervals you need them.

If I wanted to sell these, I would probably fill the cracks in the wood but I rather like the rustic nature it gives the overall finish, reminding me that it is after all, a piece of wood. 

Start with the base coats, filling in the sections for the different books.

I filled in the two side panels but didn't worry about the base or the back. Nobody will see it. If a visitor picks a book, they'll get a shock, won't they?

Crackle glaze the books which you wish to have a worn appearance. The bottom colour will show through. You don't have to crackle any of them, but it's my favourite medium and I use it every opportunity I get.

While the crackle glaze is drying, start decorating the spines of the other books.

Paint the top of the block to represent pages.

Put the top colours over the crackle glaze.

Start adding more detail to give an overall effect.

Finish the top of the block so that it looks like the spine wraps around the pages. I've done that part black but you could use dark grey or brown if you didn't want it to pop so much.

Notice how the crackle is beginning to work; be careful, it's fragile while it's working.

I wanted one of the sides to look crackled and have an aged appearance. 

Brush a grey wash into the pearl white to give an illusion of wear and tear on the pages and to dull the effect.

Add more detail and shading to the books to give them realism. Decide which side the light will come from and throw shadows and highlights.

I've added more detail on the spines and overlaid brown onto the gold layer in the middle with crackle glaze underneath. That spine now has brown-gold-brown on it and is making an interesting distressed look. 

I blended the book second to right as the crackle glaze went a bit crazy. 

The light's not great for the photo but I'm quite pleased with the overall affect.

It's going to sit here and dry for now while I clear up all the paint brushes and water. As you saw, I don't use professional equipment. My paint tray is an old ice cream tub lid and my water jug a mug which goes in the dishwasher afterwards.

I haven't decided what I'll do to the other block of wood but might paint it one colour and put Folk Art flowers and decorations on it. I'll see how I feel when I pick up my brush.

Hope you enjoyed the little tutorial and that it gives you the confidence to try turning your trash into treasure.

Love K T Bowes x

#art #trashtotreasure #painting

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Editing through Kindness - Skirt Yankers who care about exposed bums

I watched a lovely lady wander through a church buffet once and gasped in horror at her terrible faux pas. Having visited the toilet, she’d accidentally tucked her skirt hem into her white knickers and moseyed happily through a large group munching on her scone. It looked awful. It was one of those heart stopping moments where I knew I had to do something as her bottom drifted past my face, but temporary paralysis kept me in my seat as I wondered how to sort it out.

From the blog Travels with an Oka and yes,
you should have let Janet tell her...

How do you mend that kind of public problem without even more awkwardness? Horror was replaced by a thousand questions.

1. I’d never conversed with the lady, so if I yanked it out, would she slap me?
2. What could I say as I fondled the bottom of a stranger?
3. Should I be smiling as I performed the act, or would I look like a pervert?
4. Should I leave it for someone else to deal with?
5. What would I want to happen if it were me?

In a single fluid movement, my friend leapt to life, lurched for the woman, yanked the skirt down, said, “Hey friend, nice legs,” pinched her bottom and sat back next to me.

The lady turned and thanked her with genuine gratitude and my friend continued our conversation. My mouth refused to close and I degenerated into a horrible companion, complete with hero worship and accolade. I made more of a fuss in my seat than she had lurching for a stranger’s bottom. What she did was so natural and it confounded me.

Many years later found me in a different country, working part-time in an all-boys school. Wearing a pretty floral dress, I made my way from the staff toilets to where I’d parked my car that morning, a kilometre away in a side street. To get to it, I needed to walk past the windows of the English department containing over 200 boys aged between fourteen and nineteen. They studied Shakespeare while I escaped for the day. I felt a yank on the bottom of my dress and turned in surprise. “You had your skirt tucked in your...”

The skirt yanker went crimson with embarrassment and flapped her hand wildly at my bare legs. She didn’t know what to say but performed that small kindness for me anyway, a sisterhood in our testosterone laden environment. I thanked her and went on my way, passing the classroom windows without incident. It could have been a very different scene complete with school newspaper headline.

There’s no easy way to point out a screw up but if you care about someone’s dignity, you kinda have to. Yes I write, but I’m also an avid reader. When I see a novel with the same typo repeated to the point of annoyance, or a bad habit in a writer’s otherwise amazing work, I am honour bound as a fellow author to yank that skirt right out of their knickers, even if I don’t have the words to do it without embarrassment.

I’ve said many times how OCD I am about pretty much everything. In the same way I can’t pass something out of place, I also can’t read and ignore blatant oopsies. My secret vice is that I note every error on my Kindle, which shows up as a file marked ‘Clippings’ when I sync with my computer.

The problem is knowing what to do with these ‘edits’ once I have them. Those same questions plague me again.

1. I’d never conversed with them socially, so if I point it out, will they hate me?
2. What can I say as I broach their mistakes?
3. Should I smile sweetly as I defame their product and then never talk to them again?
4. Should I leave it for someone else to deal with?
5. What would I want to happen if it were me?

I will try to communicate with the author because it seems wrong to collect 50+ edits and then delete them when I would love to be sent a file of things wrong and enjoy the opportunity to fix them.

As an author, I’ve permanently got my skirt tucked in my knickers no matter how many times my work is edited. There’s a typo breeding programme which few readers know of and nothing short of annual editing will cull the blighters as they increase inside a perfectly produced manuscript with no encouragement.

As a child I found errors in publications of Enid Blyton. There’s a rather amusing incident in which Noddy goes to bed with his hat on instead of taking it off. That’s just not ok and I noticed it aged 6 concluding that even poor Enid needed a skirt yanker too. I took on the role of self-appointed yanker and composed a letter to Enid which my mother loyally posted from our home on an Air Force base in Gütersloh, West Germany. Many years later Wikipedia reliably informed me that Enid didn’t receive my letter, having died the year before my birth. There were several more skirt yanking moments between myself and Enid and I often wonder what Mother did with my letters. Knowing her, she spent our meagre income on an expensive overseas stamp and posted my offering to Enid’s London publisher without ever receiving a response.

So what to do, what to do? I stop my busyness and find I have twelve A4 pages of edits burning a hole in my ‘helping others’ folder from my latest read.

I’ve had mixed responses through offering my pages of corrections in a Word document, which I spent hours making fit for understanding. One author who I knew by association, accused me of touting for paid editing. She was wrong. There was nothing I could add to the edits I offered for free. She didn’t want them and I deleted them from my file. It was very hard to review her novel after that, knowing she didn’t have a teachable spirit and her work would never improve. Nobody would ever be able to help her, not just me. I read none of her other works and subsequently doubted the 5*reviews she got. She didn’t just have her skirt tucked in her knickers, peculiar grammar and juvenile use of speech meant she had no knickers on at all under there!

The irony is she didn’t need to get personal; she could have accepted the edits, said thank you and walked away. I’ve no intention of checking afterwards that my suggestions were implemented. I’ve moved on. I’m jotting down things from the next book I’m reading.

But there have also been lovely responses. A complete stranger who I stalked on Goodreads to find an email address, thanked me profusely. She’d had numerous paid editors check her work and was surprised. Her novel was clean of typos but one important omission blew her mystery-thriller up in her face. When a reader knows something isn’t possible; the author’s in trouble. She thanked me and I believe she changed her conclusion. I haven’t checked but I wish her well.

My trusty Kindle

I’ve had sweet emails from traditionally published and indie authors but sadly deleted as many sets of notes as I’ve sent. It makes me wonder about all these folk who seem happy to walk around with their skirts tucked in their knickers.

Let’s just get this straight. I am not happy with anything less than perfect. I want a skirt-yanker and if that’s you, then so be it. I shall brace myself for impact.

Yes it can hurt. One of my favourite people in the world is a writer who private messaged me on Facebook and said she’d downloaded my book but daren’t review it because of all the things wrong. She took the trouble to point them out and I spent the next 6 months in edits and rewrites. The words ‘had’ and ‘that’ need an immigration visa nowadays to enter my novels and I know how many have licence to exist, should they try to breed while my back is turned. I bought paid editing help and banned curse words such as ‘just’ from coming anywhere near my keyboard during formal writing. Adverbs are used sparingly, like sprinkles on special occasions. A trusted author reads my beta work before publication and once sent 46 A4 pages in teeny font of things wrong. Gratitude means I return the favour with dedication and pernickety-ness which isn’t a word I know.

I printed all 46 pages off and yes they were double sided. I stapled them by section and
implemented them over one very painful weekend. I remain grateful to Demelza Carlton
who cared enough about me and my work to collect and send them. After a few years of
collaboration, we're down to about 2 pages each pre-release.

Why do I care? Because I do not want my knickers or worse, my bum, on show for the world to laugh at.

So I will continue to make scatty notes on my Kindle as I pound away on my treadmill in the morning. They won’t be essays because I’m short sighted and won’t stop the machine, so if an author finds a convoluted description of the error, they can be sure I fell off.

My qualifications are an honours degree in English and almost two decades in education, plus a decade of writing and making common mistakes. I listen to other authors and do online tutorials related to writing and producing clean work. I am committed to not making the same mistakes twice, which helps with new works.

A short dance with the role of professional editor sent me off the deep end with OCD because I needed to catch everything and I mean everything. What many authors don’t do is read the small print in their editing contract. There may be a clause in it which lists how many edits per chapter can be caught as a minimum. I subcontracted for someone who after I pulled an all-nighter and contacted him in tears because the work (already published) needed a complete rewrite, told me this astounding fact. “Just flag ten errors per chapter.”

“But,” I sobbed over Google Hangout, “I can do that in the first paragraph.”

“Yeah, don’t do that,” he said. “Spread it out a bit. And by the way, you’re flagging grammar and typos, not doing rewrites. It’s a 6 hour job. I can’t pay you for the other 28 you’ve done but thanks for all the updates. Maybe for you, I don’t need them hourly, despite what it said in your contract.”

The expression is, ‘horses for courses.’ Different editors catch different error types. You may have employed two professional editors, but they weren’t paid to overhaul your entire manuscript. And each person is different. One has a pet hate of word misuse while another goes after passive voice like a heat seeking missile. Horses for courses. Never forget that.

I go after many things and can’t stop. I won’t walk past those belly-pants on show for the world and I can’t do it professionally because I’m too obsessive and it makes me ill. If I do it as a reader, I convince myself it’s part of my reading process; not my job. Phew. That makes it all right then.

One question remains unanswered. When someone offers you free edits why would you not take them? I can’t offer any clues. When a lovely reader recently pointed out an error in my latest novel I thanked her gratefully and went after that little sucker in my manuscript like a zombie hunter, hoping to find the nest while I was in there.

The satisfaction of knowing my knickers are temporarily not on show is overwhelming. Send them. Send those errors in their ones and twos, warn me gently if they’re in their tens but send them.

Yank that skirt out of my knickers. Don’t leave me showing my bum when you know I’ll be embarrassed. Please I beg you and promise I won’t shout.

#free #editing #OCD #author #knickers

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Being a Christian in the World of Indie Publishing

If you’ve read my work then you already know I don’t do the whole bible-bashing thing. Why would I? It won’t make you like me and it certainly won’t make you change your mind. I’m a Christian but that doesn’t mean I insist you are too. I can love you for who you are, can’t I?

Instead of beating you over the head with my tambourine, isn’t it more important that you see me having pleasant interactions through my brand, avoiding loud public conversations involving character assassination or getting involved in pointless political debate on subjects I know nothing about? I’m not perfect. I express my opinion with added bile but usually on my personal pages with the few trusted friends who will straighten me out, dust me down and send me on my way.

It’s difficult being a Christian and an author because it throws up issues which other writers don’t have. I love sex and could write erotica with a good plot in a heartbeat; but I probably shouldn’t. There’s an illusion that my writing mustn’t traverse biblical boundaries or stray into anything risqué but I write about the real world which is full of exactly those kinds of situations. I’ve been part of Christian communities and believe me, there’s enough sex, violence and attitude in them to make even the most liberal of hedonists hair curl into a permed bob.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” My words and writing should be the last resort, shouldn’t they?

I joined an online Christian writers’ group thinking it would be helpful and to some extent it was. But many of them wanted to produce clean, perfectly sanitised novels with some wonderful meaning which satisfied their need for anonymous outreach. That’s cool. I wouldn’t be interested in reading them because I err on the side of realism, introspection and quirky twist plots. Good on them for their stance but I can’t write something which ends with, “We all got saved and went home for tea.” If I only got my husband into bed through intimation and innuendo, the Premier League Soccer on the TV would win every time. Sometimes in the real world you just have to rip your nightie.

One of my novels, A Trail of Lies, deals with a teenager who self-harms, has underage sex and lives in foster care. Yeah, that was never going to fly in a Christian group, was it? I agonised over that novel but it didn’t matter which way up I turned it, the story needed telling in its raw state.

Only one of my fourteen books is overtly Christian and that’s Demons on Her Shoulder. The cover graphic of the legendary Lincoln Imp who sits in the cathedral beneath him kinda gives it away. But the blurb shouldn’t leave anyone in doubt, introducing a woman who’s a Christian counsellor in an English inner city church. If you’re raising your eyebrows you perhaps don’t realise I’ve had messages from perplexed readers who didn’t know it was Christian and they could be forgiven for thinking it was a kind of Da Vinci Code play off. Maybe. They gave me good reviews though, which is awesome and said nice things - which is unusual for a Christian novel.

My other thirteen novels aren’t Christian but the common denominator is the inclusion of one Christian character. That one lonely flag flyer won’t be perfect because I’m forced to base them on my own faulty experience. They slip up and swear, they mess up and do stupid things and they step over the boundary line and fall in love with atheists and agnostics. 

In A Trail of Lies, I’m actually not very nice about Christians. It’s an unusual stance for a believer, I know and I suppose God might be frowning about now. Callister’s definitely not a believer in anything other than survival and the search for acceptance but she meets a few of the wonderful tambourine banging populace who I’ve had the joy to cross paths and prayers with over the years. Her confusion and sense of being out-of-place is very much my own. It didn’t go down well with the Christian group who PM’d me long essays with biblical quotes and suggestions of penance.

I’ve been back to God and tried to hand the whole writing thing back over, deeming my inner thoughts far too unworthy to spew out on paper and be in any way blessed. You know what? He handed the whole thing back with a wink and a shove. “Get on with it, woman. You’re doing fine.”

Occasionally I have a crisis. In The New Du Rose Matriarch I wrote a whole scene where the lusty Tama Du Rose gets it on with the ex-school typist on poor Hana’s hearth rug. I wrote it and rewrote it and it just wouldn’t sit right. I published the novel and nobody complained about the sanitised peck on the cheek and rumpled rug but it felt like a blank space in an otherwise great novel. So I rewrote that section and released the realism because Hana knew what happened on her rug and so did I.

I’m not feeding the masses; I’m trying to be me. I open my mouth and my brains roll out so why would my writing be any different? Nobody needs to swing from chandeliers shackled to each other’s nose piercings but if I want the reader to believe me when I describe a crime scene, how can I not be truthful about the other stuff?

I’m a firm believer in writing about what I know. It’s why I don’t write science fiction because how many battle stations look like my dining room? I know Christians are faulty and make mistakes because I’m one of them. I fall over, get up and fall right over again. I live in a real marriage which I frequently push to boiling point through my own stupidity and have real children who take me from one end of the emotional scale to the other and somewhere in between. Perhaps it’s the cost of being real, to offend all those lovely people with shiny halos and perfect lives. I didn’t become a believer until I was thirty and maybe that’s where the difference lies. I know how it looks from the outside and it’s not the cozy bubble that insiders might believe. It’s elitist and clicky, cause-hungry and desperate for purposeful projects. I call it as I see it and if the heavenly lightning bolt is asunder, I’m hoping it gives me special powers on its way through...

As one of my children wisely said recently. “Grandma reads it and loves your books. I’d be more worried about her than the pastor’s wife. The pastor's wife won't whack your butt.”

Review: A Dead Red Cadillac

A Dead Red Cadillac A Dead Red Cadillac by R.P. Dahlke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

During a bored moment I noticed an ad for a free boxed set containing the Lalla Bains series and snapped it up. Despite having a to-be-read list as long as my arm I dug in, captivated by the cover and wacky title.

Loved it. It's not gory or horrific but has this feel good factor attached to every line of sleuthing. I ended up reading all 3 of the novels in the boxed set. Lalla Bains blunders through life in a single minded way which will resonate with most busy women, leaving the important things to later and getting herself into deep trouble.

I enjoyed the small town, Heart of Dixie type setting and the close knit community which Dahlke illustrates with tongue in cheek hilarity. My favourite part of the novel though, has to be Lalla's inner dialogue which is snort-worthy. An example of this would be when she finds a lecherous, arrogant cop injured. She wrestles with calling an ambulance or rolling him into the road as a speed bump. Hilarious. Can definitely recommend.

It's good old heart-swelling cozy mystery set in contemporary America, in a town which time has left blissfully alone.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Review: Worlds of the Never

Worlds of the Never Worlds of the Never by CJ Rutherford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really gripping book. I powered through it in a weekend and became very antisocial. This installment closes off many of the open story arcs and resolves much of the plot. There is love, death, penalty and sacrifice, all the best ingredients for a quest. I'm thrilled that it looks as though there might be a fourth book. Can definitely recommend.

View all my reviews

The OCD Shopper's Trip to the Supermarket

I went shopping on Black Friday, only it was supermarket shopping and Black Friday hasn’t quite reached rural New Zealand. I should add that I almost never go shopping. That’s not true actually. I never go shopping; there you made me say it.

My longsuffering husband does the shopping and has done since the third child left home. For a while he did it with the fourth child and then by himself. He rather enjoys all the choosing and I absolutely-without-a-doubt-hate it. I used to do it once upon a time. I dragged four small children around with me on reins and in trolleys and could do it in record time. I also did it when we lived in Market Harborough and had no car and I was required to carry all the shopping a mile to my front door and arrive home with jelly arms and leaking bottles of milk. That was in my former, very distracted life of being all things to all family members and I didn’t notice things quite so much.

There’s something about the aisles and lighting nowadays which makes me leave my brain in the turnstily thing you push your reluctant trolley through before you can even begin the shopping process. On Friday I had a list, a very good list which Husband and I share on Google Docs so we can change and update it without me texting him to say, hey, ‘Don’t forget the red wine.’ Now I can sneak it onto the list and watch in the list updates as he deletes it. I can write, Countdown-belly-hugging-knickers and he can write, what size? 

It’s like a little communication war dance or a mating display. I love it. Husband probably doesn’t but I am fortunate in that he’s imbued with amazing patience.

Husband can update it on his phone because he has an android but my Windows 8 won’t let me. Thanks to an obscure argument between Microsoft and Google, I have to scurry home to my laptop to put WINE back on the list, only to watch him wipe it off using his extremely obliging phone.

I’ve said lots of times that I’m OCD and struggle with the offensive aisles full of products of differing colour and shape facing in all sorts of directions. I spend more time turning things around and putting things back which often means I come out with lots of things that weren’t on the list and only some of the items that were. 

For instance I came home with a lonely butternut squash that was bigger than all the rest and messed up the pattern in the crate. Now it sits alone in my vegetable box and matches nothing else because it’s not a potato or kumara. I’ve shut the lid on it and its fate will be sealed with the roast I’m plotting today...or perhaps tomorrow. It’s sunny today and not all the grass is the same length so I have other things to do.

In an hour and a half, Husband can drive the distance to Hamilton and back (20 minutes each way) and do the shopping. On Friday it took me that long to drive to Huntly (5 minutes each way) and do the shopping. In my defence I put many things straight along the way, reshelved items abandoned in the wrong aisle and had lots of meaningless chats.

In the car park I almost lost my trolley into the side of a flash BMW parked next to me but caught it at the last minute. That got me wondering why supermarkets don’t think about their pedestrian-trolley-pushing-shoppers as they angle the tarmac towards large storm drains at the edge. I also don’t know why they direct us towards a path with pedestrian crossings and then shove massive lamp posts in the centre for us to negotiate.

Needless to say I had an interesting morning during which I did no writing. I re-engineered the supermarket car park in my head in which all parking spaces were single and to be entered face first in lines, enabling shoppers to access the back of their vehicles and drive straight out. Behind each vehicle would be two tiny bumps to park our trolleys against during unloading and stop them wandering off to fill another vehicle with tangled metal and food. I put lots of things right in the store and had different conversations with the same lovely lady eight times as we passed in the aisles. I helped a lady find hair dye for her daughter and then put all the boxes neatly facing forward.

I spent way too much money.

I didn’t get gluten free/dairy free bread and Husband had to go out again later to a different supermarket.

I did buy fake cheese slices which apparently neither my husband nor our 3 house guests like.

I found some hummus with bits of things in which has no dairy or wheat and cannot make me ill which I am rather thrilled with.

When I got home I found the food cupboards offensive and reordered and cleaned the pantry, fridge and chest freezer. Now I shout when anyone moves anything.

I will not be allowed to do the shopping again and that’s ok because I’ve decided that shopping makes me unbearable to live with.

Husband says, ‘Yeah, right.’

#OCD #Supermarkets #amwriting

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Food Allergy Debate - MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!

Should I be sorry for growing increasingly tired of the gluten-dairy-free debate? Well, you know what, I'm not sorry! I'm really tired of it so there, I said it!

Every man and his one legged dog seems to have an opinion on whether or not I should change my diet to suit them and worse, they even have the audacity to debate whether or not me and people like me, are genuine. Who gave them the right to have an opinion on MY diet? I certainly didn't. 

As the mother of a diagnosed Celiac and another child with severe dairy intolerance, I have developed mysterious food allergies over an eight year period and can tell you - it's no fun. A stupid, harmless virus that left no long term ills in anyone else, affected my stomach and left me unable to eat products containing gluten or cow's milk. I have no idea why, the doctors have no idea why but eight years on, I'm gluten and dairy free and manage fine as long as nobody contaminates my food by accident. All biopsies have come back normal, so despite having a Celiac child, I am not. Nor is there any medical evidence for why cows milk makes me instantly sick. Nobody can offer me a medical reason why I have such a strong allergic reactions to certain foods; I just do. And in case you've got this far and decided I'm just nuts, I saw a counsellor in case it was in my head, but it's not. You think I haven't investigated this? Then shame on you. My body doesn't want this stuff and it won't say why.

So, without a medical certificate to wave over my head like a truce flag when I enter the debate, I must apparently sit with the 'fakers', the 'fad tryers' and the 'weirdoes'. Thanks for that.

I watched the online posts from the Irish cafe owner who banned vegans unfold across the internet like a pair of badly elasticated granny-knickers. Oh dear. While I don't appreciate the way he handled himself, I'm inclined to agree with him. I ring ahead before dining out or stick to places I know sell food I can eat without getting sick. It's not fair to assume a chef will ignore the other forty regular customers to nip out to the supermarket to cater for me without prior warning. Why would I derail someone's business like that? I'm not that selfish. I regularly go out with family and enjoy a glass of wine while they eat; I want to be part of the experience so don't exclude me from that too. If I'm invited for dinner, I take something I can eat and make it big enough to share because I don't want to be a bother.

I once starved for a whole weekend at a church camp in Rotorua because the chef - who was warned about my diet a month before I arrived - didn't think I was genuine. He apologised a few hours before we departed for misjudging me, having watched as I lived off soy bread I brought myself for an entire weekend. At the time he said he was sick of catering special meals for gluten free people who poured gravy over their designer meals. Or whipped up individual portions for a dairy free person who then doused it with cheese sauce. At the time, I thought fair enough but now I DON'T!

How dare he? I PAID to be on that camp just like everyone else. Did he run around smacking people around the head because they slurped ketchup all over his shepherd's pie? NO! What gave him the right to starve me because he thought I was faking or might add something else to his meal? Isn't that my right?

Yes, I've stood at gatherings where I've been catered for. Not satisfied with their four tables of food, others do seem attracted by my tiny take away box and gravitate towards it like vultures towards a carcass. I've also watched others 'try' my small portion and leave me none. That's not nice either. If you want different then order it. And I'll stand next to you and eat mine. 

GF/DF Banoffee Pie my daughter made for me
I could eat the whole thing, but I won't.

There must have been a lot of hype because it made the NZ national news recently; that doctors are concerned by adults removing staple items from theirs and their children's diet without medical advice. What the heck? Do parents of overweight children drag their offspring to the doctor just before pumping them full of sugar-laden-energy drinks to ask if it's ok? NO! Do they give them supplements to offset the effects like most parents cutting out gluten or dairy? PROBABLY NOT! So they can obviously hurt their kids but we can't try and sort out inherent problems for ours without criticism. 

So a parent living in a nightmare and scratching around a problem at home is wrong are they? Why? 

Well, for wondering if all the crap sprayed on flour in its storage state might be making Jonny run up and down the walls at bedtime. Or if all the rubbish injected into and fed to cows might be causing his face to look like a fifty year old with shingles. They're trying to get by and solve issues, just like everyone else. They need the effort you put into condemning them to support them and make helpful suggestions. 

I want this debate to just go away. It puts people like me even more under the microscope as if it's not bad enough already. Is it fun clutching my home made salad or distinctly marked cardboard wrapper with GF/DF in neon marker pen, while someone scoffing chicken nuggets breathes all over me, asking, 

"What  happens to you when you eat gluten or dairy?" 

You think that's not bad enough? Imagine his face when I tell him. He won't be hungry for a while. And that's without mentioning the eczema, headaches or feeling poisoned for days. 

I'm over it; I'm really over it.

I don't have to justify myself to you. You get boozed up on Saturdays and eat chocolate until it runs out of your nose and I'll eat rabbit food and say nothing. Do I make you justify why you need that massive four-person lunch or the three vodkas before you go to work? NO!

You feed your kids what they want and I'll do the same, but mind your own business. You don't start a debate about what my kid's missing out on and I won't stare at the thighs on yours as it sips that sugary drink and chows down on those nuggets! 

Let's talk about something that really matters but basically, leave my diet alone! 

I made these scones yesterday for my husband who isn't GF.
I wore gloves but probably still breathed in flour particles because
today I have a sore throat and headache. That must be what happens
to fakers!

#dairyfree #glutenfree #foodallergy

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Parents - teach your children the art of being alone

I love my own company; many writers do.

I said to someone recently that I felt it was a learned skill and it is, because there were times when I couldn’t stand to be by myself. Those were the times when I dumped myself on my poor mother or sister. There was a difficult period in my life when I would pick my 4 year old up from school and trail my whole tribe around to my sister’s house most days of the week. With four children under 4 it wasn’t a happy time and I’m still amazed my very forthright sister didn’t say anything about my constant visits at the worst time of day for someone with two children of her own. Any mother understands the misery of the 4pm demon. As the clock ticks round it’s the golden hour for grizzling, fights, tantrums and unreasonable behaviour as tired little bodies look for sustenance and relief from busy days packed full of activity. With adult children now leading wonderful lives of their own I’m still left with the 4pm legacy and find myself cringing as it arrives, imbued with a sense of grumpiness which seems to come from nowhere.  

I was a loner at school but not by choice. It was just easier. In a school where most people carried knives by the age of 13 and knew how to use them, it was safer to have nobody around me to mask the threat or join in. At university I had good friends but they came and went with the advent of unsuitable boyfriends and only one remains in my middle age.

Life tries to teach us to be content in our own company but we resist, plugging the gap with anything we can to avoid its lessons. We’re fools. We crave five minutes peace and then waste it, worrying, complaining, seeking busyness or other people and crying we’re bored. Fools

I tried to teach my children to be content with themselves and respect time as something to be valued and not killed, but only their imprint on the world will tell if I succeeded. I encouraged them to seek time alone and when they were lonely, tried to help them embrace it. When isolated as very young children in busy playgrounds, I sent them to catch fairies and hunt unicorns, feeding imaginations which had the power to create company and fill empty voids with better than this world has to offer. I knew they’d need that skill many times over. And they will.

I still remember those empty months after childbirth when my husband went to work and left me alone with my eldest daughter. She couldn’t talk back and tell me what was wrong, her crying filling me with a sense of inadequacy and desperation and I craved company, finding it less painful when someone else was there. I walked miles pushing her pram, finding something cathartic about being outside in the fresh air. But I was still alone.

Emigration put me back there, only this time my husband was at work and my children at school. The 4pm demon brought children off a busy bus nursing different agonies; isolation, friendlessness; loneliness and dissatisfaction. I had to learn to be alone and not waste my life wishing the hours away, knowing one day I might beg for those hours back.

I prayed, painted, studied and wrote. I learned to be alone and found a deep security there inside my faith and myself.

I met a wise lady once who had ten children. While we sat drinking tea and chatting she called to one of her children and patted the seat next to her. The child left her play and ran over, sitting next to her mother, popping her thumb into her mouth and just sitting quietly there. She didn’t demand any more attention than the soft hand on her shoulder and she made no sound. After a few minutes my friend praised her daughter, kissed her cheek and released her to play again. When I asked what she’d done, she said, “I need my children to come when I ask and do it without question because one day it might be important. I want them to sit without entertainment and feel secure in themselves as though it’s normal and my hand on their shoulder reassures them I’m there today. One day my hand won't be there and they'll need to remember that being alone is still ok. Later my daughter will tell me some deep thought she had in those few moments of peace and it may be profound or it might be random; but it will be her thought and not something shouted in her face by friends, siblings, TV or media. When I pat the seat my children know to be quiet and I can take them to church, restaurants and friends’ houses without worrying boredom will make them naughty.”

My friend was interrupted in her explanation by another of her children who sneaked onto her knee and whispered in her ear, “Can it be me next, Mummy?”

I wasn’t sure about her methods and pondered a little while she cuddled her son and fixed his Lego toy. She turned a wise face towards me as he skipped off happily and said something I’ve never forgotten. “I teach my children to be alone and satisfied because my lessons begin in love but the world conducts hers with unkindness, humiliation and fear.”

It strikes me that children today don’t know how to be alone, truly alone without the blare of the TV or the constant thrum of beat music. Computer games and online strangers fill the void and they don’t know what it is to stand in a crowded room with only their own selves for company and feel secure. The 4pm demon has morphed from a creature demanding sustenance and comfort to a raging monster needing constant entertainment. If they’re unlucky, our children will be dragged kicking and screaming into situations which call for self-assurance and a sense of confidence and find their strength in the pit of despair and the palm of misery. Those will be painful times of loneliness, rejection, friendlessness and poverty. Each of those things has the power to drag a vulnerable person down undesirable paths in order to dodge the pain of looking in the mirror and seeing only their own face staring back at them blank eyed and frightened.

Parents - teach your children to be alone, comfortable in their own skin and able to find peace.

Do it before the gravel road of life cuts their feet and makes them bleed on their journey towards peace and self-assurance.

Do it with a kiss and a hand on their shoulder before the world does it with a knife in their back and a blow to their confidence.   

#parenting #loneliness #raisingkids

Friday, 9 October 2015

A life without running - unimaginable!

I began running when I was 35. It was a shock to my body which enjoyed nothing more than a fast walk since the age of 16, but I didn’t feel I had much choice.

Overweight and with a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, I took my last anti-inflammatory pill and broke out an ancient pair of running shoes borrowed from my sister. At 6am under cover of darkness in the middle of an English winter, I ran.

It was a hideous experience, only lessened by the fact I could lump along in the pitch black morning, dragging a yawning dog for protection. One and half miles of walking, jogging, gasping and heart-pounding-headaches seemed to do more harm than good. I think I leaned on every lamp post on Newcombe Street, Stuart Road and Bath Street in a miserable twenty minute circuit of agony and humiliation. By the time I clawed my way up the steps and pounded on the front door, the dog was awake and ready for a proper walk and I was half dead.

I ran four times a week for three months, dashing home to shower and get ready for work. Six months later and I’d ditched the dog because he pulled me into one too many bushes after stray cats and I was running as far as I could get in an hour. My arthritis had abated and my clothes hung off me like curtains. I’d get out of bed on running days and test my ankles, seeing how painful it was to stand. The more it hurt, the more I ran, releasing happy endorphins into my blood to carry me for the next few days.

I’ve run ever since and I’m sure I’ll meet my Maker running on some quiet country road; in New Zealand now, the dark mornings of England swapped a decade ago. Running provides my sanity, my pain relief and my reason for getting up in the pre-dawn peace. I talk to God; I plan my day and I find my equilibrium. It keeps my weight down and I’m better for it.

Below is a short story I wrote a while ago. Nobody else should get offended because it’s actually about me. It’s something of my journey those first few times at the running club - yeah, I even joined the Harborough Runners and still have the tee shirt they gifted me the last time I attended before we emigrated. I’ve treasured it enough to carry it across the world. It reminds me to keep running - and maybe one day I'll squeeze myself into it. 

First Place

Carmen tried not to look at her feet which padded along beneath her. Her body heaved with each new step and her lungs burned with the effort of processing the oxygen she needed. “You’re nearly there!” she shouted at herself, ignoring the flush of embarrassment creeping up her neck. Her body lied bitterly, insisting she gave up, her muscles protesting at the distance and the pace.

“Car-men, Car-men, Car-men!” The shouts unnerved her, calling her name. Emotion hitched in Carmen’s chest, sent up from the space in her stomach where she buried her feelings. She beat it down, not bothering to analyse it and concentrated on her race. The finish line loomed up ahead, coaxing and inviting and yet still so far away.

The way was open. No other runners blocked the view between Carmen and the coloured bunting fluttering in the breeze. Her vision blurred with tears and she heard the sob escape her heaving lungs.

“One hundred metres! You’re nearly there!” 

The shout broke through Carmen’s fragile concentration, filtering through the cacophony of noises to register in her brain. She risked a look towards the barriers and saw his face beaming out at her. The overwhelming urge surfaced, to stop running towards the finish line and the eager faces of the officials and run to him instead; to wrap herself in his comforting arms, eat a burger, watch TV, roll in their double bed with hot kisses and frantic hands. But the pride in Mike’s face crushed the urge as his blue eyes willed her towards the fluttering decorations and the cheers of those lining the home straight. 

“We’ve worked for this, baby! This is what you wanted; you’re winning!”

Carmen turned her gaze towards the ‘F’ on the flapping sign screaming ‘Finish’ and aimed for it, blocking out everything else around her and re-entering her zone of concentration. She pep talked her reluctant body, coaxing out a sprint as her feet pounded the asphalt, shaking every bone and joint with damaging impact. Her vision blurred with exhaustion and the grey surface beneath her danced, pushing up into her face and dashing away again like a freaky fairground ride. She tried not to notice, fixing on that ‘F’ as though her life depended on it, realising the longer she stared how much it mattered. Everything rode on her finishing this race; her marriage, her self-respect, her punishing regime, her sacrifice, herself.

Carmen plundered the depths of her sanity and fought the demons in her mind. They rode her back and laughed at her as her feet pounded the floor. She shrugged them off as the sign for the finish line gave an audible flap in the growing breeze. She was that close. It clapped her to the end, hanging loose from its ties, sticking around an extra hour just for her. The officials sighed with relief as the fat woman pounded under the awning, finally able to leave.

#running #amwriting #rheumatoidarthritis