Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where have they gone?

When I was sick last week I lost 4lb in 24 hours, and it showed - my tummy got quite flat, my neck and cheeks were a bit more sculpted and my fingers looked positively bony.

I've now gained back 3 of those 4lb, as I expected I would, but I can't for the life of me work out where I've put them. My fingers are still bony, my tummy and neck are still slimmed. My cheeks have lost the slight hollow they developed, but I can't imagine the whole 3lb has gone into them. A mystery!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Aaand we're back!

The computer is fixed, I've recovered from the consecutive attacks of a cold and stomach flu, and everything is shiny again.

I hadn't had a proper stomach flu since I was a teenager, and it was a weird experience - I found I'd forgotten what to expect from it. I was revoltingly ill for 12 hours, nauseous for another 12 after that, and spaghetti-legged weak for a further 48 hours before finally pulling myself together on Sunday morning. It wasn't fun. E promptly came down with the same thing and is just recovering, and it seems to be doing the rounds as my supply teaching consultant also has it, and she doesn't even live in the same town!

So everything is pretty much back to normal. I didn't get a chance to blog about my job offer before everything went haywire with the laptop, but about two weeks ago now I was offered a two-term contract at a local primary school, starting in January. It's to take over a year one class, and I'm hopeful that it could lead to an ongoing position or at least secure my teaching experience over here as it's directly with the school rather than through a supply agency. It's an interesting school and a complex, challenging class so it's going to be a tiring role, but I believe a rewarding one as well. Certainly it'll stretch me to the height of my abilities. I'm looking forward to it!

It's been amazingly foggy in Hertfordshire lately. Fog is something entirely outside my experience - we really don't get it in Western Australia, not in this kind of density - so I find it quite marvellous. Here's some shots from Sunday:

I went to a shop on the outskirts of town on Sunday (for the Windows 7 upgrade that eventually fixed my computer problems entirely - it really just needed a wipe & reinstall) and had a strange experience on the way back. The fog had been so thick and obscuring that, although I knew there was a moderate skyscraper on the other side of the intersection, I'd forgotten its existence. The fog started to clear off as I was walking towards the building, and I did an absurd double-take as it appeared through the mists. It then took on an amazing blaze of light as the sun finally reached it. It was quite something!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Computer Trouble

I'm typing this on my phone, due to the lamentable fact that my computer has been in repairs since last Wednesday. It came home briefly on Friday but had an almost immediate relapse so went back on Saturday and we're waiting to hear back on its progress. Until it's back I can't upload daily photos and will only blog in little bits and pieces. Hang in there, I'll be back soon :D

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A bit of frivolity...

T'was the night before bonfire and all through the town,
Every firework was bursting with wonderous sound,
The rockets were set in the garden with care,
In the hopes that bright starburst soon would be there;

The Munchkin was cuddled all snug in his bed,
As visions of Catherine-wheels danced in his head,
And E in her nightgown and I in long sleeves,
Had just settled down for a cool autumn's eve;

When out in the sky there arose such a light,
That we ran to the window all admiring the sight,
There 'gainst the night-sky all cloudy and grey,
Rose such glorious fire as turned night into day;

The sparks, how they glittered! And whistled and sang,
With tumultuous voice from the housetops they sprang,
Now red ones! Now blue ones! Now pink ones and green!
Now gold-swirling spirals, a sight to be seen;

We watched all a-wond'ring as they twinkled and roared,
As they shot fell and scattered we gazed as though awed,
"Such a cost they must bear for this fulsome display!"
We cried, all reliev'd we did not have to pay;

At last they were spent and the skies once more dim,
We returned to our chores, be they ever so grim,
But just as we thought that was all for the night,
There's one more explosion - and with that, "Good night!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Blessed Samhain / Happy Halloween for yesterday, everyone!

I was thinking about myself this time last year, the difficult times and revelations I'd been having, my growing awareness that my self-image and lifestyle had to change, my hopes and my dreams and my fears. It's astonishing to think just how far I've come. I've realised several of my dreams and I am working towards others. I'm so much more confident and comfortable in myself, and so very happy.

Traditionally, this is the time of year when I blog about NaNoWriMo. I have attempted it most years since 2006, although using "attempt" may be stretching the definition. Most years it's involved writing a couple of paragraphs, hating them and giving up. In 2008 I managed more than 8000 words, and in 2010 I got over 14,000. With both, however, I lost the momentum to continue long before the month was over. The 2008 attempt suffered from catastrophic plot failure, while in 2010 I was unable to relax and concentrate with my volatile ex in the house - I only managed what I did because he was away for the first week of November. When he came back, writing stopped and so did my NaNo attempt.

This year I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. This is partly in recognition of my current life circumstances: it wouldn't be fair to anyone in the family, myself included, to hide away writing for a month. But equally, it's because I am reassessing my whole writing process. I'm currently fired up with ideas, the latest iteration of a long-term fantasy project, but I am approaching it carefully. I don't want to write massive swathes of text in a hurry, hate it the first time I re-read it, get discouraged, abandon it and go into a months-long non-writing funk. That's my usual pattern and it's unproductive. Since it doesn't work for me, and has never worked for me, it's time to try something else.

So, I'm taking the somewhat drastic decision that I'll be doing my writing on paper from now on. I know you're all looking at me as if I've gone mad, but there it is. One of my greatest obstacles in actually getting things written is the temptation of the internet, both in terms of social networking and in terms of 'looking things up' for my writing - usually things I don't actually need to know. It's no co-incidence that my writing output dropped dramatically when I first got internet access, and has declined further as my internet connections have got better. I'm going to take my time, write slowly, hand-craft my words away from shiny flashing distracting things. No tempting search engines, no Facebook, no I'll-just-make-avatar-portraits-for-each-character... none of that. Just me, a pen, and words. We'll see how it goes.

Thus, no NaNoWriMo for me. I can't write at that pace and transcribe fast enough to keep up with the required word count. But I will be writing, and I hope that this time they will be quality words that stand the test of December.

Wish me luck!

(NB: I am adding a new page to the blog today, as I'm starting a one-photo-every-day challenge. The page will showcase the pictures I've taken, updated daily or weekly depending on how busy I am. Look out for it!)

Friday, October 21, 2011


Awen (noun): poetic inspiration. From the Indo-European root *-uel, meaning 'to blow'.

I love the concept of awen. A wind blowing through your soul, bringing inspiration in its wake. I've only recently discovered the term, in reading about modern Druidic tradition amongst many other explorations of pagan paths. It immediately spoke to me, like few other concepts in any tradition have ever done. I know that feeling intimately, and seeking it forms a big part of my own search for a spiritual identity. For me, without spirituality there is no awen, and without awen there is no spirituality. The sense of connectedness and transcendence is something I have sought since I was young.

Music has always been one of my sources of awen. When listening I find it in music of all genres, from classical to new age to Enya to ordinary pop/rock ("Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel and "Steer" by Missy Higgins are perfect examples). I also find moments of it when singing or playing an instrument in a group - those moments of transcendence when the ensemble combines perfectly and the music itself seems to come to life. It's one of the major reasons why I still love Anglican church services - there is a magic in massed voices that defies artificial boundaries between faiths.

The natural world, and its weather and the turning of its seasons, has always been my biggest source of awen, and it is what led me to paganism. Red berries against a blue sky, sunlight across the plains, a crayfish scuttling under a riverbank, the wind in my hair, mist rolling up a valley, thunder on a hot night, the first frost of autumn... when I am out there in the natural world, awen is everywhere.

Of course, the man-made world is not without awen either. Buildings that are old or odd or quirky. Artworks I like for no better reason than that they speak to my soul. (Here is one - I have seen the original in the Tate and was captivated). Crafts that are nifty or cute. An uplifting book scene or a really clever joke. When I open myself to it, awen is everywhere.

My desire to write fiction has been driven by childhood experiences of awen. It was lacking in my real life - we were not a religious family - and my main sources of it, then as now, were music, nature and stories. My formative years were shaped by books and stories told in electronic media that blew into my soul, inspiring me to act them out, extemporise, adapt and retell over and over again out in the half-acre scrap of garden and bushland that was my childhood temple. All of the books I've tried to write and the stories I've tried to tell have contained elements of this raw need to channel, create, inspire and share the sensation of awen.

Age 9, glowing with inspiration
 I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as I try yet again to put words on paper, or on screen as it is these days (and perhaps that's part of the problem). The wind of inspiration blows into me, and I come alive with the thought of the story I have to tell. I envisage it whole in my head, see it, feel it, live it out in little scenes in my mind, but when the words reach the page they seem to lose their sparkle. How do I maintain that sense of wonder, and the fierce spirit of inspiration? How do I keep the fire of awen burning for the weeks, months and years it takes to craft a novel? How do you keep your spirit glowing with purpose when you're burdened with money worries, or the toddler is being irrational, or when the housework never seems to be finished? How do you teach your heart to be open to awen every moment of every day? Not just for novel writing, but for teaching, and cooking, and keeping house, and nurturing my loved ones, and hoping and believing and growing?

What are your sources for awen (or whatever you would choose to call it)? What reminds you that it's good to be alive, or feeds your creative fires? Where do you get your inspiration?

Monday, October 17, 2011

When the grass is jewelled.

It really feels like autumn this morning, at long last. It's been getting a little cooler lately and the leaves have been falling apace, but the last two days there's been a real crispness in the air. Our outdoor thermometer said 1C when we checked it at half past six this morning, and as the sun came up the mist rolled up the valley and has blanketed our town. It's gorgeous out but very crisp!

Some pre-dawn pictures from our back door. Check out the pink contrails!

Two weeks until Hallowe'en and three to Bonfire Night... the fireworks are coming! The munchkin has been asking for fireworks since April so it's high time they arrived. We plan to set a few off ourselves as well as going to public fireworks events on both nights.

It's going to be Christmas before we know it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

This will not be my wedding dress!

Today I finally got around to sitting down, leafing through all my accumulated wedding magazines (many bought before the actual engagement *cough*), and snipping out the few things I found attractive to stick onto the inspirations page in our wedding notebook. While I was perusing I came across this advert that made me snicker when I saw it a few months ago...

"Time for a new agency?" "...yup..."

This is the most hideous wedding dress I have ever, ever seen. I don't even have any words for it. The price was into the four-digits realm, too... who would pay over £1000 to look like a collision between a handbag and a ballerina?

I love the way even the models seem to be wondering WTF is going on with the dress.

Feel free to post your own caption for the picture in the comments!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Into the 130s!

My weight has been fluctuating around the 141lb mark for the past two weeks, so I was delighted to step on the scales this morning and see 139lb on it. This is a new low and very pleasing! It means I've lost 32lb, or 18.7% of my starting body weight, and have a mere 10lb left to lose before my BMI is back in the healthy zone.

I was blown away enough when I first put on a pair of size 12 jeans that fit, and I'm finding it hard to comprehend that I could get any smaller. Yet the 12s are getting looser, and yesterday in M&S - while buying a second pair of size 12s so that Ellie and I are no longer sharing hers! - I decided to try out the 10s. I slid into them thinking "they'll never go over my thighs", but they did. I pulled them on thinking "they'll never do up"... but they DID. I'm not quite there yet - they give me a muffin top - but that's where I was with size 12s only a few months ago. I know that by the time I've lost this last 10lb, I'll be fitting into size 10s easily. And I know I'm going to lose that 10lb. That feels amazing.

I had one of those serendipitous moments yesterday. It's time for me to start exercising every few days to burn up the last few pounds and tone my upper arms, tummy and thighs before they have a chance to get floppy. I knew I needed a sports bra as my next essential purchase: my old one was two dress sizes and one cup size larger than I am now (in Aussie sizes, I've gone from 16DD to 14D, and could probably go smaller again, I need to get measured). The old one offers no support whatsoever and my everyday bras aren't cut out for that. I had a £24 Debenhams voucher which was my leaving gift from my co-workers at my last school, so I headed there to see what I could find. In a moment of utter bizarreness, every sports bra in Debenhams was on special ... for £24 exactly!

So I have a nice new sports bra, and it's my first 'serious' sports bra as opposed to a reasonably well-structured and ventilated ordinary bra. What a difference it makes. I went for a jog today, and the support was amazing. Who knew jogging could be so comfortable?!

I only tried a short jog today, as it's been a year since I did regular high-cardio exercise and I'm definitely going to need to work back up to full fitness. I found it tough - my heart rate soared and I got short of breath - but I'll work on that. The good news is that my foot doesn't hurt, thanks to a better running style, flat trainers and the podiatrist's insoles. And I got a thrill when I checked the settings on my heart rate monitor and found that when I last used  it I'd had my weight set to 79kg. Resetting it to 63kg was a good moment.

It's all going very well at the moment, and I'm still amazed by it, particularly now that I'm reintroducing foods that were on the not allowed list for so long. I've brought back yoghurt, porridge, and a selection of fruits so far. And I'm still losing weight. And best of all - I'm allowed to bring back dark chocolate next. Just a little bit here and there, but... chocolate!

And it's easy to be content with only a little bit, when there's only 10lb to go :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Recipe: Oaty Carrot Bars

As Munchkin-D doesn't tolerate wheat or dairy very well, his snack food options can be limited, especially since many producers of allergen-free foods insist on stuffing them with artificial nasties that we don't want him to have either.

A while back we discovered a brand of cereal bar which he enjoys, an organic no-rubbish range that we can get behind too. However, as they retail at around 40p per 30g bar they're eating a hole in our budget (even though he's only allowed one per day!). So I set out to see if I could make something similar.

The ingredients listed on the packet were very simple: wholegrain oats, raisins, sunflower oil, carrot juice concentrate, coconut, apple juice concentrate, cinnamon, orange oil. That's all. We already had most of that in some form or another in the fridge or cupboard (or in the case of the apples, on our own tree). The pack also had the percentages of each food printed, but I paid little attention to that and got stuck into inventing it all myself.

They're now cooked and I've scoffed as much of the leftover scraggly bits as I think my diet will allow, and I can say that for me they're a raging success. The little guy isn't home yet so I guess we'll have to see how that goes!

Ingredients (all cups are metric, though it won't really matter; tablespoon is 15mL):

1½ cups porridge oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup raisins
2 large carrots, peeled
2 medium green apples, cored
1 tablespoon cinnamon or mixed spice (I used the latter)
1½ teaspoons natural orange extract/essence
4 tablespoons sunflower oil


1. Preheat oven to 150°C
2. Grease and line a medium-sized deep baking pan (mine was about 24cm x 28cm with curved long edges)
3. Place porridge oats and desiccated coconut in a large bowl
4. In a food processor or similar, process the raisins until they form a paste; add them to the mixing bowl.
5. Cut carrots into chunks and process until finely grated; add to mixing bowl
6. Cut apples into chunks and process until they form a juicy mush; add to mixing bowl
7. Add spice, orange extract and sunflower oil to mixing bowl
8. Stir all ingredients together thoroughly until entirely blended
9. Spoon into baking tray and pack down firmly with hands to form a smooth flattish surface.
10. Bake at 150°C for half an hour
11. Remove tray temporarily from oven and use a normal table knife to score the mixture through to create bars. I pressed hard enough to feel the tray through the mixture, but I didn't go all the way through at the edges.
12. Return tray to oven and bake at 150°C for another half hour.
13. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
14. Gently re-score the bar lines and begin levering bars apart. I was gentle but not overly cautious, and the mixture seemed to hang together as a bar fairly well. Cut off any bits at the edges that have got too crispy, especially if the bars are for younger children.
15. Layer the bars in between sheets of greaseproof paper in a container that can be sealed. I'm assuming these are best stored in the fridge, so that's where I'll be putting them hehe.


I'll update once the little guy has tried one of these, to let you know how it went! Hopefully he will take to them given that they cost so much less to make. I'm certainly pretty proud of them.

UPDATE: He ate the first one in deep silence, then as soon as his mouth was empty he said "can I have another one?" I'd call that a raging success! :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review #1

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
Edited by Helena Whitbread
ISBN: 978-1-84408-729-8

Being interested both in LGBTI history and the Regency period, I was delighted to find this little gem available in my local library system and couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

Anne Lister was born in 1791 to an old, respectable Halifax (UK) family. She was a remarkable woman for her time - openly lesbian, independent, adventurous - but all the more so because she kept diaries totalling around 4 million words. This unique documentary account was kept partly in what Anne called "crypthand", a cypher alphabet that was translated by one of her heirs in the late 1800s. When the crypthand was decoded, translators John Lister and Arthur Burrell decided to conceal what it contained, partly for fear that John's own sexual orientation would be revealed as a result. They did not however destroy their keys to the cypher, and eventually both the diaries and a key came to be in the possession of the Halifax Town Council library system.

Although the crypthand was translated and studied several times over the past century, a curtain of silence was kept over the contents. They were referred to as uninteresting and dull by most researchers, though one did drop a hint that the crypthand should not be ignored. The editor of the current volume, Helena Whitbread, discovered the contents and was amazed and delighted. She knew she had found something important, and after many years of research finally published this work.

First, some notes on the editing itself. The entries are presented chronologically, with plain writing in plain text and crypthand in italics. From time to time the editor interjects a short introduction to the time period to follow, contextualising the entries and explaining references that were not clear from the text. There are endnotes for further information throughout. I found the format easy to follow.

One minor irritation was that the editor inserted [sic] after some of Anne's idiosyncratic spellings. I felt that anyone knowledgeable enough to have picked this book up in the first place would be well aware that the Regency approach to spelling was somewhat haphazard, and would not need the non-standard spellings highlighted. Whitbread mentions in her introduction that she had used [sic] after the first non-standard usage in each case; I feel that a note in the introduction explaining that spelling was variable in the time period would have sufficed. The use of [sic] was an unnecessary interjection and seemed a little patronising both towards the source material and towards the reader. It certainly did not add anything to the understanding of the text.

An even more minor gripe was that there were two small transcription errors that should have been caught at some point in the editing process. In one sentence the word "humour" appeared when the context clearly indicated that it should be "rumour"; likewise another sentence contained the nonsensical "convement" when it should obviously have been "convenient". It's impossible to know where in the process these errors crept in, but in such an important historical work based so heavily on textuality, an extra degree of rigour in editing would have been appreciated. Still, overall it was clearly presented and well formatted and the end-notes were useful.

The diary entries run from 1816 to 1824, from Anne's mid-20s to mid-30s. I found her immediately likeable and familiar. Despite the prevailing beliefs that homosexuality was wrong, by this age Anne seems to be entirely comfortable with herself. While discreetly concealing her feelings in crypthand, behind this guard she is quite open about her sexuality. If she had suffered any angst about it, it was long over by 1816. She writes freely about her love for women, her need for sex with women (referred to quaintly as a 'kiss' but clear from context that what she was talking about involved orgasms) and her relationships with several women in her social circle. As my own other half put it, "either her gaydar was really good, or there was a lot of that going on!". Anne seems to have had no trouble finding women who were amenable to her advances. She carried on long associations with two friends (the cause of some jealousy and tension between the two) but concluded that neither was her true life partner. Her longing for a wife (she used the word 'wife' herself) and the ability to live independently with a life partner pervades all nine years of the diaries.

There were several entries that astonished me. Anne writes of a lesbian friend who was having trouble sexually in her own relationship, and muses that perhaps she should have suggested that the friend use a phallus on her girlfriend. That she knew of such a thing at all, much less knew its correct name, is a testament to her wide education. She also touched on the possibility of one of her lovers marrying her in disguise (presumably Anne would play the man, being drawn to a more masculine appearance herself). This is known to have happened, just as a small number of actual lesbian marriages are known to have happened in the 19th century, but to see a contemporary woman considering it seriously was a delight. Anne knew who she was and what she wanted, and felt no shame in wanting to have the same rights to love and marriage as a heterosexual woman. Anne and one of her earlier partners took communion together after promising eternal devotion, their own way of sealing the promise, though it later fell apart as the other woman settled into her marriage and learned to be content in her publicly acceptable life.

Anne also relates conversations, particularly with her ageing aunt, which reveal that Anne's sexuality was not entirely a secret. Her somewhat masculine fashion choices were widely remarked upon (Anne relates some anecdotes of crude heckling from common labouring men) but her aunt and several of her friends seem to have understood that Anne favoured women and had no interest in men. Her aunt seems to have come to terms with the fact that Anne contracted a venereal disease as a result of sleeping with her friend Mariana, whose husband had caught it from an extramarital affair. Insofar as Anne's diary relates it, her friends accepted her 'oddity' and appreciated her for herself. Anne's self-confidence allows her to largely ignore her detractors and pursue her own interests vigorously.

I found both the crypthand revelations and the daily minutiae compelling, and spent several evenings reading intensely to finish the book. I was looking forward to meeting Anne's true love, Miss Ann Walker, who eventually moved in with her and lived with her as her wife until Anne's untimely death aged 49. Unfortunately the book did not extend this far. Although Ann is referenced once or twice in the text, it is only as a young neighbour who had not yet caught Anne's attention. Whitbread has also produced a volume of the 1924-1926 journals, which I want to find a copy of soon, and I sincerely hope she continues and gives us access to the rest of Anne Lister's life.

Anne Lister's life was an extraordinary one, but at the same time perhaps less extraordinary than we have been led to believe. Victorian and later squeamishness about lesbian activity has obscured a degree of acceptance that existed before that time. Anne's extensive network of lesbian or bisexual female friends indicates that Anne was extraordinary not for being a lesbian or even for being prepared to stand up for her sexuality, but for the fact that an account of it has survived. It is inspiring to read her words and wonder how many unwritten lives have been lived by lesbians over the years.

Overall, despite my minor problems with the editing style, this was a five-star book and I would happily read more from editor and author alike.

There is also a BBC production... and Christmas is coming... *hint hint*

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


... is your very own corn on the cob, apparently!

Monday, September 5, 2011


While I've been on school holidays I've been taking Munchkin-D to or from nursery four days a week (Granny does morning drop-offs or evening pick-ups, I do lunchtimes for both). On the way we talk about what we can see. Munchkin-D is fascinated by anything you can tell him about the world around him. Lately, with the season changing, we've been discussing berries, nuts and the changing leaves. He has been asking about fireworks for months and can reliably tell you that after the leaves change and the apples are ripe we will see a sign saying "fireworks sold here" and then it will be time for the fireworks. He has also informed me that one day he will be a birdy and eat the seeds out of the berries. The things that come out of that mind... he amazes and delights us every day!

Today we found some conkers by the footpath and gathered up three of them. Being an antipodean I never collected conkers as a child, and I've never looked closely at them before. Munchkin-D and I spent some time looking at their marvellous colours and shiny smooth skin. Then we took them home and put them in a bowl with some of our other autumn finds - a dried rose and a beech nut that was closed when we picked it up, but which sprung open overnight.

We have a little apple-tree in our backyard. We haven't tried the apples, but something will have to be done with them soon as they are falling off all over. We didn't take care of them this year, but we're planning to grow veggies next year and will try to manage our apples too. By then I should be able to eat apples fairly regularly without messing up my diet.

Today really feels like autumn - it's windy with passing rain. I can't help feeling a bit thrilled.

I got chatting to our upstairs neighbour last week. He is semi-retired and does a lot of gardening - his little backyard patch is perfect next to our scruffy plot! We talked about plants and our life histories and that sort of thing. He knew Mary, the elderly lady who lived our flat before us, and told me that one of the roses on the fence-line, which I had assumed was his, was actually on our side and had been brought there by Mary from her former house. It's a big, scraggly thing needing a good trim-back, but as we chatted I saw a few late buds on it and decided to leave pruning until after they were done. I was glad I did, as this week three or four stunning, fragrant pink-red roses sprung into bloom.

You can see how big and thorny that bush is - it will get a good trimming after the roses are done!

Growing up in Australia we constantly hear that our wildlife is bigger and scarier than everyone else's. This is mostly true, but back home I have never, ever seen a slug the size of this one...

It was about 8cm long! After taking its picture I ran in to grab my wildlife book and identified it as Arion ater, a Large Red Slug (... appropriately enough). 

I have been coming up with a plan for our garden. There's a very overgrown Hebe that I want to take out, a holly and a fuchsia to move elsewhere and a dead tree to remove, which will open up the garden bed down one side for veggies. I want climbing cherry tomatoes up the fence, and our staples in the rest of it: broccoli, cauliflower, courgette, aubergine and peppers, and a few other things, perhaps peas, spinach, chard, and some herbs. I'm really looking forward to the challenge.

Lastly, this afternoon we were walking back from the shops, all three of us together. Ellie and I were pointing out various berries and plants. I pointed to one and said "this one is hawthorn!". Munchkin-D's interpretation, shouted: "this one is AWFUL!". Ellie and I nearly died laughing. He is a joy!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New look, proposal and more ...

As you can see, I have spent the past two hours giving the blog an overhaul. The old template had gone a bit wonky thanks to blogger updates, and it was time for something new. As well as installing the new template, I've refreshed my links list and added 'About' and 'Contact' pages at the top. I also now have my very own 'favicon' - if you un-favourite and re-favourite the blog you should see a teeny-tiny pink rose on the tab in your browser instead of the orange blogger symbol. I hope to eventually come up with a better favicon using my graphic art skills, but a miniature of my favourite photograph is good enough for now!

I had a request on facebook to blog about "the proposal". To be perfectly honest, it wasn't a big flashy moment, but a very quiet and private one. In true Christine-and-Ellie style it was quite pragmatic and ended with a shared laugh. We both know how special what we have is, and this was a logical step. We're in love, we're getting married... pretty much all there is to it!

We've now got a few things booked, and I have lots of paper samples on order. I've been busy designing our own wedding stationery, which we will either print ourselves (depending on printer prices) or get printed at a local print-shop using paper ordered from a supplier. I'm learning a lot about the paper types available in A5! Laid and wove and silk art and hammer effect... fascinating. Can't wait to see the samples.

School goes back next week, so I might be supplying again as early as Wednesday. I feel unready to go back, as I always do. I've been lucky enough to have a proper holiday this year, with only house reorganisation and cleaning to get done, and getting back into the swing of working is going to be hard. Having an income again will be nice, though!

Autumn is gathering pace here. We went for a ramble the other day, the three of us, to see what we could see. The first fallen leaves are gathering on the ground. Conkers and beechnuts are ripening and coming down. We spotted the berries of holly, yew, elder, bramble and numerous others as yet unidentified. We even ate some blackberries - D's first, and he was rather impressed (especially as I've been drumming the "wild berries are good for birdies not for people" lesson into him on our daily walk to nursery hehe). I had a few too, my first fruit since starting the low-carbohydrate diet in February. They were amazingly sweet (except the couple of not-quite-ripe ones I accidentally chose, which were delightfully tart). We had  a lovely time and D is becoming amazingly confident in his knowledge of plants. Hearing him describe how to treat a nettle sting with dock leaves is too precious!

I've now lost two stone (28lb/12.7kg), bringing my weight down to 143lb (65kg/10.2st). I have 14lb/6kg to go until my weight is back in the healthy BMI range. It's now time to start reintroducing a few of the restricted foods and seeing how my body copes with them. I have found low-carb eating so beneficial that I never want to go back to eating sugar and grains on a regular basis, but I will be glad to have fruit, plain yoghurt, carrots, sweet potato, legumes and dark chocolate back. They'll be reintroduced slowly and carefully with lots of monitoring, and in conjunction with an increase in exercise, specifically cross-fit style body-weight training. Prepare for a lot of moaning about sore muscles! But it will be worth it.

I think that's all the news for now. I am making it a goal to update once a week from now on!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Engagement :)

I'm sure it's old news to everyone who reads this, but E and I got engaged a few weeks ago. We have a provisional date booked - July 14th 2012 - and the beginnings of a format. The civil partnership ceremony will take place in our Hertfordshire town, in the local registry office's larger ceremony room, followed by a big party at a community centre not far away. We're doing it all on a budget and enjoying finding creative ways to save.

Some things we've already discovered:
- The problem with wedding dresses is that they are intended to make the wearer the centre of attention... a problem when you've got two brides! We are solving that by going with non-traditional dresses, but that's the last I'll be saying about our dresses until after the wedding. They are a surprise!

- Photographers' websites are awful and the worse the website, the more expensive the photographer.

- All of our local florists order their wedding flowers from Interflora and therefore have exactly the same range. We're going to have to go in and talk to them about bespoke arrangements.

- How hard is it to get flat wedding invites these days? I don't want to post ribbon bows and crystals to Australia!

- Our plan for inexpensive catering is making me very happy.

- People are lovely and so far no-one has done a double-take at the Civil Partnership deal (and some suppliers actively advertise their willingness to service them).

The wedding's still more than 10 months away so the planning is in its early stages, but I'll be sure to keep you all updated as my adventures progress. It's not every day one gets to plan a lesbian wedding!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scare Factor

A while back, E and I discovered that we have an odd hobby in common. It essentially consists of looking at photos and accounts of ghost sightings until we frighten ourselves almost to the point of illness, then needing to look at Cute Overload or something until the sick-with-fear feeling goes away.

We know it's silly. We don't even believe in ghosts particularly. Neither is the point :P

This predilection for scary stories led me to spend almost an hour on Friday in a tiny Hertfordshire village library perusing the ghosts of towns throughout the county, which left me primed for what happened on Saturday.

We were up in Birmingham for E's university graduation. We had been up very early, endured a long train trip, sat through a long ceremony, ate a very satisfying repast then trundled all through Birmingham's city centre including seeing the Staffordshire Hoard in the museum (which was awesome, btw). We rounded it off with an attempt to visit the cathedral, which was closed. So, there were were, strolling back through the churchyard towards the station, exhausted from our day and really wanting to be home already. I spotted the grave of a little boy who had died aged two, murmured sadly over it, then moved to the next one... only to have teeny toddler hands appear on either side of the headstone.


I only blithered for a moment or two before I realised that they were the hands of an actual child playing hide and seek...

Note to self: no more scaring for a while!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


A few people have privately pinged me about the fact that my info, both here and elsewhere, now says 'lesbian' instead of 'bisexual'.

A lot of pondering went into that change. I identified as bisexual for eleven years (secretly for the first ten years) so it is a label that I had come to find comfortable. However, the more I thought about it the more inaccurate and inadequate it became. Similarly, although I used to feel ambivalent about the exotic, othering 'lesbian' label, it had become familiar and I was ready to accept it. Identifying as bisexual felt wrong, while the lesbian label felt right.

The kinds of questions I'm being asked about this are: Have you changed from a bisexual to a lesbian? Or were you a lesbian all along? If so, what about that 10-year string of heterosexual relationships?

They're good questions, and I have been trying to answer them myself. It's difficult to consider one's own past objectively, but I have tried to be at least critical of my experience so that I can answer accurately.

It's true that until this year I believed I was attracted to men as well as women. I was convinced of this despite all available evidence, that being that my relationships with men routinely sucked and were devoid of physical and emotional satisfaction. (Yes, I do mean all of them. Sorry, any exes reading this, but them's the breaks. And really, if you're smart enough to read this blog you must have realised just how badly matched we were). I persisted with the pursuit of a safe, respectable heterosexual relationship despite proving to myself time and time again that they just didn't work for me. There were other issues at play in some of my poor partner choices - emotional baggage not related to my sexuality - but normalcy was part of it. I didn't want to rock the boat, so I kept on trying, one disaster after another.

I don't think I was ever truly bisexual. The frequency and potency of my attraction to women has been largely unchanged since my childhood (even when I thought I was just desiring a close friendship) and it has blossomed since I accepted that this is the only way for me. Without the red herring of "needing" a normal heterosexual relationship I can't imagine why I ever wanted one in the first place!

I'm wearing the 'lesbian' label with pride and joy today, where once it used to both frighten and tantalise. And I am very, very happy to own that element of myself. It feels like coming home.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yes, yes, update...

Sorry it's been so long... I've been mired down in marking assessments and writing job applications, so getting a blog post out has seemed nearly impossible.

Today I'm just sitting around exhausted because I've spent the afternoon doing a demo lesson and being interviewed for a teaching position which, I learned an hour later, I didn't get. I'm not too disappointed - it was only my first interview of the job-hunting season, and I had very positive feedback despite not quite squeaking in to the position on offer. But I feel a bit deflated and thus blogging seems more appealing than the big pile of marking in my bag!

So... what's new...

E and I are moving in together in July/August, hence the job search. My current position ends at the close of the summer term, and it makes much better financial sense for me to move to her town rather than for her to move to London. I hate job applications and the whole process is making me quite fretful and cross, especially as I have to deal with the awkwardness of taking days off to go to interviews. I'm spending a lot of time quite exhausted and dreary, and can't wait for the half-term break next week. It will be a real relief to be getting all these things done without actual work getting in the way! I have piles of marking to do and reports to write and IEPs to renew and ARGH.

The good news is I've lost a stone and I'm back in size 14 clothes for the first time since I was about 23. I'm feeling rather good about that! Two stone to go (a stone is 14lb/6.3kg, for those not familiar with this quaint yet satisfying English unit of weight).

I have no inflammation according to the blood tests, so I'm just working on easing the pain at the moment. I need to go back to the doctor for another physio referral and to find out why the muscles in my upper arms have suddenly turned bumpy, but I think I'll now wait until I move to do that. For the time being, it's going alright.

So everything's ticking along, and hopefully I will manage not to drop with exhaustion before the summer holidays hit...

Friday, March 18, 2011


Who remembers those magic eye images that sprang into popularity in the early 90s? I had the original book - still do somewhere. You see what looks like a chaotic, repeating set of colours without meaning, then suddenly, after staring hard or going unfocused or wiggling the page in and out, the thing springs into 3D and suddenly you can see the raised image superimposed on the collage. Magic!

The point of this analogy is largely that I like analogies ;)

But more to the point, sometimes things that occur in our lives are like background colour, meaningless and unconnected until someone points out what's really there, and the real image becomes starkly obvious.

I have struggled with recurring neck/shoulder/upper back pain since I was a child. As a 9-year-old I was tested and prodded over bad headaches which were eventually cured with some physiotherapy on my neck. Not long after this, I suffered my first frozen shoulder, a condition that was to recur regularly (I can't think of a year that went by without at least one - some so bad that my shoulders were at uneven heights for days, this still in primary school!). I can remember from this age also having trouble adopting relaxed postures when sitting. I was stiff, I couldn't just flop without getting sore.

In my late teens I began supermarket checkout work to fund my uni years, and the problems moved from occasional to perpetual. Frozen shoulders, deep pain in my shoulder and neck joints, aches and pains. A hand injury when I was 20 exacerbated this with six months of slings and awkward postures.

Since then it's never got any better. A decade of struggling with pillows, trying out ergonomic chairs and always facing the speaker with my body because turning my head to look would get me painfully stuck that way. Dozens of attempts to sort out conditions that would soothe rather than inflame. I had physio from time to time when it got particularly bad, but with health insurance that only covered part of the fee I was never able to pursue this for very long (and besides, regular readers will know how good at asking for help I'm not). Last year a particularly bad flare-up during more supermarket work led me to spend several hundreds on physiotherapy gap payments, which made some progress with that particular crisis, but did nothing for the overall ongoing issue.

Recently, I had another bad episode, and woke up suddenly to the fact that most people aren't in constant shoulder and neck pain. They actually aren't. And maybe I shouldn't be either. Maybe I could not be.

So, I went to the doctor and got a physio referral. This physio took a proper history, felt my shoulders and neck and back, and was somewhat horrified. The soreness and stiffness is more widespread than even I'd realised, and is in the joints as well as the muscles. From the base of my skull to my waist, from one shoulder joint to the other, the whole thing is sore.

The physio sent me away with exercises, but said that if they didn't work I should come back in a few weeks and he would refer me for blood tests to look for inflammation markers; he believes that given the widespread nature of the soreness this might be something medical rather than mechanical.

This freaked me out somewhat, but I realised that since it's been ongoing for so long it's unlikely to be something that's going to progress to a serious illness. Then again, that too is daunting - if it's a chronic illness of some sort it could be grimly insoluble in its own way. But I swallowed my panic, and went off and dutifully did the two simple exercises prescribed as often as possible each day. And for a couple of weeks all was going well - my shoulders actually seemed to be getting better. Then, 12 days after the appointment, I had two days of severe headaches, and the next day got another frozen neck. Since then I've been back to square one - ongoing pain and stiffness at all times, burning pain in my shoulder, stiffness in my neck. :(

The follow-up appointment is tomorrow, and I'm trying to feel calm and reassured about what I'm going to have to do. I need to be my own advocate tomorrow: to make sure the physio understands that I did do the exercises and that the problem recurred regardless; and that I want to pursue the medical avenue, even if it comes to nothing, so that I can be sure. I will need to be firm, not be bullied, stand up for myself. This isn't easy for me.

However, I think I've reached a point where I'd prefer the emotional trauma of sticking up for myself to the ongoing pain. I can't keep living like this. I can't keep putting up with it. I can't live the life I want to live with a complex and debilitating set of muscle problems. It has got to stop.

So, wish me luck for tomorrow, as I tackle the medical profession head-on and give myself half a chance at a pain-free life.

I couldn't see the chronic pain for what it was until I looked at it from a different angle. I'm determined not to unsee it again.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Faith, equality and deception

Yesterday I had my first ever English parents' night. 28 parent interviews at 5-minute intervals. It was a long night, but mostly positive, and with some insights and breakthroughs that have put me on rather a high.

However, the process got me thinking a lot about what one tells others about oneself. The parents told me (probably unconsciously) many little facts about themselves and their family life during the interviews. I shared the occasional relevant thing about myself as well, but I found myself constantly on guard about what I felt I should not reveal.

I'm "out" at work to the staff - they all know that I have a girlfriend, and so far as most of them know, I'm only into girls. No one has a problem with it, and although I get a little bit of excess curiosity from the older staff members, generally it passes without comment (or with only friendly comments). I have not talked about my faith at work, and I deliberately choose not to wear pentacles/trees of life etc around my neck. Lesbian they can probably deal with, lesbian witch might be too much.

But, I would never have hesitated to wear a cross or a St Christopher...

I am careful not to out myself to the parents, either as a lesbian or as a pagan. On my class ethnicities list, two sets of parents identified as 'no religion' and one as Hindu, and the remainder are equally divided between Christian and Muslim. About half of the Christian kids are from white English families and I suspect they are not devout (I'm trying to remember a quote from Pratchett and Gaiman's "Good Omens" - when they avoid going to church, CofE is the church to which they steadfastly avoid going). But regardless, they felt it important enough to enter on their childrens' enrolment records. I do know that one family is serious enough that their child is not allowed to be read anything involving witches, ghosts or anything "dark".

I have no idea how many of the class parents hold homophobic views... and just about everyone seems to be wary of, if not actively antipathetic towards, pagans. Legally, they're not allowed to mind that someone of an alternative religion or sexuality is teaching their children. Morally, they're allowed to think what they want as long as they keep it to themselves. But it's very, very murky ground. It only takes one parent making a fuss, and there are so many things that parents can fuss about when it comes to teachers. A parent objecting to my faith or sexuality would never have to mention either in order to make my job a living hell.

So I keep silent, and it feels dishonest. But what price honesty?

And yet, every day in class, when the children aren't around to listen, I talk cheerfully to my headscarfed, Muslim teaching assistant about my lesbian relationship. She knows all about E and has shown not one iota of disapproval or concern. What she thinks privately I have no idea, but she is comfortable with the idea enough to ask how E is and discuss my weekends with her and ask about her son. I was wary the first time I mentioned E to her, not knowing what the reaction might be, but feeling that as I work so closely with her it would be a strain to hold back. I'm glad I did tell her, as it's been a very healthy demonstration of the fact that mere faith does not define most people.

So I hide my true self from the parents of the kids in my class. They could all be like my TA - cool with it regardless of their own beliefs. But it only takes one who isn't.

I would never hesitate to wear a cross. I would never hesitate to mention a male partner.

Equality in the law is nearly there. Equality in the community is patchy. I just want to be my whole self.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Feasts, Friends and a New Year...

Last weekend I took my first step into autocrating SCA events, running a Winter Feast at the marvellously-named Place House Hall in Ware, Hertfordshire. It's a medieval hall, small but picturesque inside, and it makes a lovely venue. My best mate A was my feast cook and mentored me through the autocrating process admirably. We had a couple of food stuff-ups along the way, but between the two of us we put an elegant and extensive repast on the table in a fantastic location. I also introduced my Thamesreach Singers group with great pride - we sang six period pieces very competently, to the general approval of the attending populace. It was a great night, and a successful start to event-running for me. Yay :)

Term has been underway for a little over two weeks now. I'm so glad to have my own class again, and I've had compliments from every quarter about how quiet and settled they are under my guidance. I feel competent and confident, quite unlike a lot of my earlier teaching experiences! My class are lovely, and I can have a giggle with them and still get them to work, which is great. I am really enjoying myself, and never go to work feeling any apprehension. What a lovely change from so many past workplaces.

These past few weeks I've been struck with joy and gratitude for the friendships I have. E, of course, first and foremost, who is best friend and lover and everything in between. I had never, ever imagined that a relationship could feel like this! Every day I relish it a little bit more for its marvellous perfection, and each day I'm a little more convinced that trying to be in relationships with men was a big part of what I was getting wrong all these years. Being with E just works.

As well as E, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by a group of people who know the real me, nothing hidden and nothing to hide. And they love me, and care for me, and look out for me, and appreciate me. And beyond them, a wider group of people who perhaps don't know me as well, but nonetheless care for me greatly and will always be there for me. I had the strange experience before Christmas of walking into a pub where a corner was filled with these people, and seeing every face in the group of about 15 light up as I walked in, just because I was there. How bizarre and heady for someone whose deepest demon is invisibility!  I feel so secure in myself these days, and it shows in the quality of my friendships.

These wonderful relationships stand in stark contrast to the negatives, backhanded positives and subtle undermining I was used to from various family members and a few extinct friendships. Every now and then something of that behaviour will intrude from people from my past, and it's amazing how poisonous it feels when once it was normal. I am finding myself better able to ignore it now ... a few peoples' email addresses have been blocked so that I need only read their communications if I feel like it! And I have learned not to react, and only to respond if absolutely necessary. Poison and misery are not things I choose to engage with these days.

So generally... I'm busy, and happy, and loving my life more with every week that passes. It feels good!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Greetings from Vienna!

I'm currently sitting in the net lounge at a youth hostel in Austria. I won't do a long post now as typing is awkward on a German keyboard (the y and z are interchanged, for a start!) but just wanted to drop in and say hello.

I'm stoked that I've finally managed to make it to continental Europe, to a non-English-speaking country. Luckily for hapless travellers like myself, most people do speak English to a degree, but I've been making an effort to use the German words and phrases I know as often as possible. I now have a burning desire to learn German properly! It's fun pushing my knowledge and understanding of the language (which is minimal) through exposure rather than through books and CDs. I'm definitely going to invest in some better language learning things though and see if I can learn it properly over the next few years.

Vienna is very pretty and has lots of interesting buildings and a great collection of cultural heritage objects. I've been to see the Schönbrunn Palace, which had a lot of imperial artefacts and historic paintings in it, and an unintentionally funny English audio guide hehe. Today we're going on a photography ramble through the city centre, visiting a traditional market, and sticking our heads into multiple souvenir shops. Should be a pleasant, quiet day after yesterday's high-energy festivities!

I hope everyone is having a lovely start to 2011. I have such good feelings about this year. E and I have many plans and dreams, and I intend to see them come through. A year ago I was nervous about the upcoming move to London, unsure of what I wanted in life and full of unsated longing. Today I feel secure, satisfied and strong, with a clear path ahead of me. It's all rather wonderful, really!