Wednesday 31 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 31

I can't quite believe I've stuck to this whole "blogging every day for a month" thing, but here we are on the final day of my Inktober/Blogtober challenge and that's exactly what I've managed to do.  Somehow...

The final word is "slice," which could only mean one thing, in my greedy, greedy brain: PIZZA.

If I were to compile a list of favourite foods (please don't make me, it would be much too hard), pizza would have to be somewhere near the top.  It's a near-perfect food in so many ways.  

For a start, it can be adapted to suit almost any taste: you choose your toppings and you can remove anything you don't like before you even make the order.  Want a pizza with lots of veggies on and no meat?  Go for it.  Want a pizza with extra tomato sauce?  That's fine.  Want a pizza with no cheese at all?  It's perfectly doable.

Secondly, it's an ideal food to share, making it a fabulously social meal.  

It's also quick and easy.  Pizza dough isn't especially hard to whip up, if you fancy having a go at it from scratch, but equally, readymade pizza bases are available if you only want to worry about toppings.  And if you're really stuck for time, fresh or frozen pizzas already made up can be found in any supermarket, to be popped in the oven at home, where they cook in no time at all.

If you're lucky enough to live near a pizza place that delivers, there's even less work to be done - just call or go online and order whatever it is you fancy.  There's something deliciously decadent about eating pizza straight out of the box, too.

It's also one of those meals that's versatile to everyone's eating habits.  If you want to pick it up with your fingers, go for it.  If you'd rather have a knife and fork, that works, too.

From stuffed crusts to thin, crispy bases, the humble pizza can be adapted and changed to suit almost anyone.  It's also often the food that accompanies nights in with friends, a quick and easy treat at dinnertime or the need to mope on the sofa for an evening.  

It's a food that can do basically anything.  And for that reason, it will always hold a special place in my exceptionally greedy heart.

Bedtime Story (31/10/2018)

How could I post a story on this date and NOT have it be about Halloween?!  This is all about the REALLY scary things in life...

To listen to this story as a podcast, click here.

What I'm REALLY Scared Of...

It's Halloween and everyone 
Is dressing up as something scary.
But I'm not scared of monsters
That are big, angry and hairy!
The things that really frighten me
Are worse than any ghost that could appear.
So here's a list of all the things
That I actually fear...

Being called to see the headmaster,
When you know he'll be cross with you.
A really difficult maths test,
When you just don't know what to do.
Missing the final step or two,
When you're walking down the stairs.
Having the same school bag as someone else
And accidentally taking home theirs.

Falling out with my best friend,
Or forgetting my school lunch money.
Telling a joke in front of my class
And nobody finding it funny.
Standing on stage to sing a song
And forgetting all of the words.
Having a root canal at the dentists 
- Because my brother says that hurts!

Forgetting my PE kit
And having to do it in my undies.
Being told to be silent somewhere important
Then doing a massive sneeze.
Jumping off the highest board
At my local swimming pool.
Trying to impress someone
And looking like a fool.

Being chased down the street
By an angry, buzzing wasp.
Being in a go-kart
And not knowing how to stop!
Standing in something wet and gross
When I'm walking with bare feet.
Getting lost in the supermarket,
Because I'm too busy looking at sweets.

All these things scare me,
But I still don't hide away.
I go out there and face my fears
Every single day.
And I'm sure you'll understand,
Now you've read of phobias like these,
Why meeting a monster or a ghost
Would frankly be a breeze!


Tuesday 30 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 30

When I read that today's penultimate Inktober word was "jolt," I thought back to the times in my life when I've had a realisation about myself, someone close to me or the world in general, which has genuinely taken me aback and made me see things in a new way.

There's something quite special about the moment that the penny drops regarding a certain situation or person.  That instant when you realise why you feel the way you do about things can be genuinely life-changing.  Every time you have a major realisation, it causes you to look at yourself and your life through fresh eyes and often, one moment of understanding sets off a chain reaction.  That initial "jolt," when you realise something important about yourself or your life, can alter the path you're on, forever.

My most recent "jolt" was probably also my most important.  It didn't happen in some amazing, lightbulb moment, or anything like that.  It was merely a case of my own mind bombarding me with questions, as always.  But this time, the question came completely out of nowhere and the answer knocked me sideways.

My entire life, I've identified as straight.  My only relationships have been with men.  All my celebrity crushes were on men.  All my real life crushes were on men.  

Whilst I've always been a champion of LGBT+ rights, I never ever saw myself as anything beyond straight.  In fact, if anything, the idea of personally being with a woman always made me feel a bit uncomfortable.  It wasn't what I was into.  I had no desire to be with someone who wasn't a dude.

And then, early last year, my life went through a lot of upheaval.  I had a female acquaintance who knew a lot about the situation I was going through and, despite us not being close friends, or living near to one another or anything like that, she took it upon herself to try to support me for a while.  For a couple of weeks (if that, really), she'd message me via Facebook every other day, to see how I was.  As expected, we ended up chatting about things beyond just my woes and I felt like I got to know her a lot better as a result.  Then, one day, out of the blue, a question popped into my head: 

"What would you say if she asked you out?"

It was a ludicrous question.  She was straight.  I was straight.  There was no chance of that happening.  So I attempted to ignore it, because why answer a question you'll never need to actually respond to?!

But the question was still in my head days later and eventually, I realised the reason I was trying not to answer it - even in my own mind - was because the answer scared me.  Because the answer was "of course I'd say yes."

She was funny and kind.  We had a lot of things in common.  She was easy to talk to.  She was objectively attractive.  Why would I say no, based purely on the fact that her gender was "wrong?"

Of course, given that I was going through a whole mountain of crap, early last year, I didn't have much time to dwell on this potential new piece of information about myself.  Besides, I still fancied guys.  I wasn't gay.

But over the course of the year, I started to realise - and more importantly to accept - that I was open to the idea of being with someone of the same gender as myself.  I began to understand that it's the person that I fall for, not their sex.  My crushes have always been based more on personality than looks, so it perhaps shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as it was.  I fall for someone based on things like whether they make me laugh.  Whether they seem kind.  Whether I can open up and really be myself around them.  It shouldn't have been a surprise to reach the conclusion that those things aren't exclusive to males.  Eventually, I realised just how capable I am of falling for someone regardless of gender and whilst it came as a shock, it wasn't something I felt any kind of worry or embarrassment about.  I was probably very lucky, in that sense.

Now, it's just a part of who I am.  I don't like to put a label on myself, but I know that when it comes to who I fall for, gender is essentially irrelevant.  I believe we're all much more sexually fluid than we ever realise.  Some of us might never feel anything for someone of our own gender and some of us might feel something and be too afraid or confused to act on it.  That's okay.  Others might fall for someone of their own gender and decide to take a chance and see where a relationship might lead.  That's okay, too.   

As long as we can learn to love and accept ourselves, that's the most important thing of all.

Monday 29 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 29

I always wanted a twin.  In fact, for a worrying amount of my early childhood, I imagined I did have a twin, they were just... invisible.  It's fine, I've had therapy.

Today's Inktober prompt word is "double" and at first, I thought about writing an entire post about my long-held yearning for a twin.  The trouble is, it wouldn't be that interesting.  "I always wanted a twin" just about sums the whole thing up, after all.

What I find much more fascinating, however, is the concept of finding your twin.  

Not literally.  I'm not about to go off on some kind of Blood Brothers style tale about discovering a sibling you were separated from at birth.  Partly because I'm fairly sure that doesn't happen all that often (if ever) and partly because the end of Blood Brothers makes me cry and I don't fancy writing this whilst softly weeping and attempting to sing Tell Me It's Not True in a bad Scouse accent.

When I talk about finding your "twin," I suppose I mean what some people refer to as your "soulmate."  

For me, a soulmate can be someone you have a romantic or a platonic connection with.  It could even be someone who goes from one to the other.  But the most important thing about it, is that the person you consider your "soulmate," your "twin" or your "double" (however you want to say it), is someone you click with in a way that feels special.  It's as though you met them and instantly knew they were going to be an enormously important part of your life.  And the love you have for them, be it platonic, romantic or any other kind, becomes such a deep part of who you are that you wonder how you ever went about your life without them in it.  Where did all that love come from?  How did you suddenly just know that you'd found the right person to give it to?

It's someone who gets you.  Someone who understands your quirks and maybe even shares some of them.  It's someone who's looking outwards in the same direction as you are.  Someone you can communicate an entire sentence with, using only a look.

It's someone who's quite probably into a lot of the same stuff as you are, but who has equal interest in the things you don't have in common and who wants to listen to you talk about the things you love, regardless of whether they share a love for them, too.  Those things are important to you and therefore, they've become important to them as well.

It's someone you feel you can be yourself with, warts and all.  Someone you can tell things to without fear of judgement.  Someone you feel safe with, because you know they understand you.  It's that person you want to share your good news with.  The person you know you can turn to when things go wrong.

It's someone who laughs with you, before you've even told the joke, or explained what's making you giggle.  It's someone who laughs at you when you're being an idiot, and you don't care, because you know they're right.

It's someone who knows all your faults as well as your strengths and who loves you anyway.  Perhaps they even love you more.  And you feel exactly the same about them.

The best way to sum up a soulmate, twin, or double, for me, is with my favourite Dr Seuss quote:

"We're all a little weird
And life's a little weird.
And when we find someone whose weirdness 
Is compatible with our own,
We join up with them
And fall in mutual weirdness
And call it love."

Sunday 28 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 28

Today's prompt word was "gift," so it's time to talk PRESENTS!

We're at that time of year when I have usually started my Christmas shopping and this October is no exception.  It's one of my absolute favourite things to do and I mean that quite sincerely.  I adore buying presents for the people I love.  In fact, I love it so much that I keep a list of gift ideas for my family and closest friends on my phone all year long, then check it every time it comes up to a birthday or Christmas.

As much as I love being given presents (and I really do love that!), there is something absolutely magical about buying something you just know someone will be thrilled with.  I get really excited when I think of a gift idea that someone will love and the moment that they open it and I see the smile on their face is always a really special one.

Of course, it's also a slightly nerve-wracking one.  When you've put a lot of thought into a gift, there's always a bit of a tense moment, where you worry whether you've got it wrong.  Will they like it?  What if you've got the wrong size, colour or brand?!

Another thing I wish I could do more is make presents for people.  I currently have an idea about the way I want to present the small selection of gifts I've already bought someone for Christmas and in a moment of madness, I decided I wanted to make something to put them all in.  If I had any talent at sewing, knitting or any such stuff, that would be a great idea.  But I can barely thread a needle, so why I've hit upon such a probably foolish plan, I really don't know.  I just know that some of my favourite gifts over the years have been things someone has made for me.  I guess I want to see if I can do the same?!

But whether I make things or buy things, there are few things I love more than getting special gifts for people I really care about.  Christmas is just around the corner, so it's a hobby I can indulge. 

I can't wait!

Saturday 27 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 27

Sometimes, when I read the Inktober prompt words that are inspiring my daily blogs throughout this month, I think about the people using them as prompts for drawings or painting and wonder how on Earth they come up with anything.  Today's word is "thunder" and perhaps I'm much too literal, but my brain just went: "HOW DO YOU DRAW A SOUND?!"

Eventually, I figured most people will draw a storm.  What makes me think that?  Because I'm going to write about storms.

Some people get freaked out by stormy weather.  I can understand why; it gets dark, the thunder can be very loud and intimidating and the lightning looks incredibly intense and we all know it can be dangerous, too.

I, however, am not one of those people.  I love a storm.

There's something really lovely about being indoors, all warm, cosy and safe, whilst the weather is going crazy outside.  I find the sound of the rain lashing the windows and the wind howling outdoors weirdly soothing.  I'll sometimes sit by the window and watch the lightning as it streaks across the sky.  I find it strangely romantic to be safe and snug inside on a stormy night.

Now, you'll notice I'm talking a lot about being indoors during a storm.  I'll be honest, being outside in one thrills me a lot less.  I don't find it scary, I just find it...  Well, a bit annoying.  Wind and rain are very bad for curly hair and I'm just about paranoid enough to be slightly worried that I'll be that random statistic - a person who gets hit by lightning and dies.  Possibly whilst wearing something embarrassing, knowing my luck.

So, bring on the thunder, I say.  Just make sure I'm indoors.

Friday 26 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 26

I am not bendy.

I wish I was.  I can just about touch my toes, but that's my absolute limit.

Today's Inktober prompt word is "stretch" and it made me think of yoga.

Yoga's one of those things that I'm often told is excellent for easing asthma, and since I have the lungs of a ninety-year-old chainsmoker, it's something I've always wanted to get better at.  Who doesn't want to increase their lung capacity, after all?!  Still, as much as I do try to get on board with the whole downward facing dog and so on, there's not much chance of me becoming some kind of super-lithe yogi any time soon.  If I attempt a plank, I face-plant the floor.

At work, we sometimes do very basic yoga with the children.  That's essentially my level.  The type of yoga where you sort of almost hold the pose and do an animal noise to disguise the creaking of your bones and the groaning you make when you have to stretch.  I can do that.

I still want to get a bit fitter.  I still want to get a bit bendier, if I'm honest, just so I don't make unspeakable noises of frustration when I have to tie my shoelaces...  So, perhaps yoga is something I'll persevere with.  If I do more stretching, it has to yield results, right?!

If anyone has any tips, I'm all ears.

Not literally.  That would look weird.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 25

Today's Inktober prompt word is "prickly" and it immediately reminded me of a story from earlier this year, which I thought I might share with you.

Some readers may know that my family has a dog called Rusty.  He's a black labradoodle and he's an absolute sweetie.  

Every night before bed, Rusty goes out for his final trip into the garden, to do any last minute business.  I like to imagine he has very important meetings with next door's dogs during these trips, possibly discussing the price of dog food, or the quality of that day's walks.

Anyway, for a period earlier this year, Rusty started behaving slightly strangely.  He'd go outside, bark a couple of times (that bit isn't strange, he always barks once or twice when he goes out last thing at night; I like to think he's reminding the neighbourhood that he'll be patrolling the kitchen whilst we're all asleep) and then he'd head to a certain spot in the garden and just... Stare at it.  Often, Mum, Dad or I would call him into the house and he'd just stand there, glued to the spot.

Obviously, last thing at night, the garden's pretty dark and even with the back wall light on, we couldn't work out what it was that was keeping him out there.

After a few days of this, we decided to investigate.  One evening, we let Rusty out for his last trip wee before bed, waited for him to stop and stare at the same random patch of garden and I followed him out to finally see what it was that was flummoxing him so much.

It took a while to spot it.  Like I said, the garden gets pretty dark late at night and the area he was starting at had some foliage around it.  But then, I spied something in the grass.  

It was, you've probably guessed by now, a hedgehog.  A rather large hedgehog.

Rusty, despite his obvious fascination, was showing no signs of wanting to get the hedgehog, but he was clearly very unwilling to take his eyes off it.  Where it had come from and why it was coming into the garden every night, we weren't entirely sure, but it and the dog were just sat there, engaged in one long staring match.

I asked my friend Chloe from work whether there was something we should be doing.  Chloe now volunteers for a hedgehog rescue charity, so I consider her to be something of an expert.  She told me that the hedgehog was probably hungry and thirsty and we should consider leaving it a bowl of water and perhaps some of Rusty's biscuits, crushed up.  

However, just as we had the information on what to do, so our nightly visits from Mrs Tiggywinkle, as Mum named her (after the Beatrix Potter character) came to an end.  The last time Mum saw our prickly friend was that evening, at the opposite end of the garden, heading towards the tiny gap in the fence that leads into our neighbour's back garden, instead.

I'd like to think the hedgehog found an abundance of food and drink there and that's why it hasn't returned.  But you can rest assured that in the future, if Rusty takes a strange interest in one, dark area of the garden at night, I'll know what to do and I'm be excited to see if we have any more prickly visitors!

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 24

We're into the final week of my Inktober/Blogtober challenge and I can't quite believe that I haven't missed a day, yet.  It's very like me to start something and then get distracted and just... forget to finish it, after all.

Today's prompt word is "chop" and initially, I thought about writing a blog all about my love of cooking (hence the ADORABLE gif).  That's really the only time I chop things, to be honest.  I don't live in a house with a big, open fireplace that requires freshly chopped wood, for a start.  I did live in a house with a real fireplace when I was a child, but funnily enough, my parents didn't let six-year-old-me use an axe to chop the wood for it.

There's something lovely about a real fireplace.  The crackling sound, the smell it makes, the warmth as you sit on a rug in front of it, holding your hands out...  I think very probably because I lived in a house with a real fireplace for a while as a child, I associate an open fire with being little and carefree.  

But that doesn't have much to do with the word "chop."

I also can't do any kind of martial arts.  My old friend Lizzie had a black belt in...  Something or other...  And she could definitely do a chop.  And a high kick, come to mention it.  I'm a bit of a weakling.  The only black belt I have goes really nicely with a skirt or jeans.

So, I guess preparing food really is the only time I do any chopping.  I don't mind that.  I happen to be quite a big fan of both cooking and eating.

I'm going to end this here, because to be honest, I've given myself a food craving.  

I'm off to find some chops...

Bedtime Story (24/10/2018)

As I write this, I'm suffering from a nasty head cold and a hacking cough.  Tis the season!  So this story is all about being poorly and the frustrations that brings...

If you'd prefer to listen to this week's story, it's also available as a podcast.

"I'm Poorly And It's NOT FAIR!"

Beth tugged the blanket closer around herself and shivered.  She was sitting up in bed, too stuffy-nosed and sore-headed to sleep, but too tired to do much else.  Outside, in the back garden, she could hear her brothers playing.

"This isn't fair," she groaned, when Dad brought her a mug of honey and lemon.  "I want to go and kick the Autumn leaves around in the garden, too."  

But Dad shook his head.  "Your eyes are ever so red and your temperature was still high when we took it, earlier.  Your bed is the best place for you."

Beth grumbled as Dad left the room.  She didn't say thank you for the drink, either.  Her throat hurt and she didn't really want the honey and lemon.  It was a bright, clear day - a Saturday, so all of her friends were off school.  The last thing she wanted to do was lie in bed, feeling poorly.  She folded her arms and stuck out her lower lip, pulling an angry face at the teddy bears who sat at the end of her bed.  

"Hey," her brother Dan smiled, as he came into the room, his cheeks rosy from running around, outside.  "Jacob and I are going to the shop.  Do you want us to bring you anything?"

Beth's angry face got even angrier.  She really liked going to the shop!  They always walked through the park and sometimes Dan - who was the oldest - let Jacob and Beth go on the swings on the way home.  Missing out on a nice walk on such a sunny day, as well as a trip to the park, seemed horribly cruel.

"NO!"  Beth snapped.  She flopped down onto her side, facing away from her brother and tugged the covers over her head.  She didn't emerge again, until she'd heard Dan's footsteps fade away down the stairs.

Her room smelled of medicine and honey.  It was quiet.  There was nothing to do.  Beth stared at the ceiling, wishing her cough and cold would just go away.

Soon, Mum came in to check on her.  "We're having chilli and nachos for dinner," she said.  "But I'm worried about your sore throat, because nachos are very crunchy.  Would you just like a bowl of chilli, or some soup?"

Beth's mouth hung open in annoyance.  The nachos were the best part of that meal!

"I want the nachos," she insisted.  "And I want to be able to play in the garden and walk to the shop!  It isn't fair, having to just lie around and do nothing!  I'm bored!"

Mum sat on the edge of the bed.  Her face looked tired and for the first time in the few days that Beth had been poorly, she noticed that Mum seemed to be getting a cold, too.

"I know it's boring, being poorly," Mum said.  "And I know that feeling like you're missing out on things can make you cross, too.  But please remember that it's not anyone's fault that you're feeling unwell.  And that you'll be better again, soon."

"But I want to be better now!"  Beth groaned.  As she spoke, she realised how angry she sounded and it made her feel guilty.  She sighed.  "It doesn't feel fair that I'm ill in bed, when everyone else is up and about, having fun."

Mum nodded.  "I know," she agreed.  "But have you ever thought that it's also not fair on everyone else to take your mood out on them, when they're only trying to make sure you're okay?"

Beth's cheeks flushed pink.  She thought about how she'd snapped at Dan and her dad, earlier.  "I just feel like I've been poorly for ages," she said, quietly.  "I'm fed up."

Mum smiled.  "Of course you are," she replied.  "Nobody likes feeling poorly and not being able to join in with things.  But you'll be back to normal in another day or two.  That makes you really lucky!  What's a few days of being poorly, compared to a whole lifetime of being happy and healthy?!"

Suddenly, Beth realised that having to spend a couple of days in bed, getting over her cough and cold, wasn't actually that bad, after all.  "I'll miss out on the nachos for dinner," she decided.  "I want my throat to get better.  And I won't moan anymore, I promise."

Mum laughed.  "You're allowed to moan, when you don't feel well," she told her.  "Just try to remember that it won't last forever and that should make you feel better about things."

Beth managed a smile.  "Are you okay?  You look like you're coming down with my cold..."

"I'll be alright," Mum said.  "Now, do you need me to bring you anything before I start dinner?"

Beth shook her head.  "I think I'll just go to sleep for a while," she replied.  "Thanks, Mum."

And as Beth's head hit the pillow, she realised that being so grouchy had taken up an awful lot of energy.  She thought about her brothers, walking to the shop and instead of feeling cross, she smiled at the idea of joining them next time.

With that happy thought in her head, Beth closed her eyes and drifted off into a lovely dream about all the things she knew she'd be lucky enough to do, once she was better again.


Tuesday 23 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 23

A lot of people have an issue with mess.  I, however, am somewhere weirdly in the middle, between "NEAT FREAK" and "COVER THE PLACE WITH HANDPRINTS."  It really depends on the circumstances.

Today's Inktober prompt word is "muddy" and it made me instantly think back to my childhood.  I was one of those kids who was more than happy to sit on the ground, making mud pies.  I would pick flowers and leaves and stir them into water to make "perfume," then splash it around.  I loved to mix paints together to see what new colours I could make.  Basically, the messier the activity, the better.

As an adult, I still love a bit of "messy play" at work.  Years ago, I worked at a pre-school that used to hold an annual "Messy Day," where the children (and staff) were encouraged to come wearing their oldest, tattiest clothes and we'd flick paint at paper that was hung up outside, we'd throw cooked, coloured pasta and jelly at each other and we'd make gloop and let it dribble through our fingers.  It was all about sensory play and letting go and just being silly, for a change.  It was one of my favourite days of the year.

But, like I said, it depends on the circumstances.  If I know I'm going to get muddy or otherwise messy, I'm totally up for it.  I'll put on some old clothes and  dive straight in.  If I don't know I'm going to end up messy, I'm the first person to reach for wet-wipes, trying to clean myself up.  I like things to be relatively neat and tidy around me and that includes, well... myself.  I'm all for getting myself muddy, or covered in paint or whatever, but I need to be prepared for it.

The thing is, working with children, I see an awful lot of youngsters who just aren't allowed to get messy and that makes me sad.  There is something glorious about putting on a very old, tatty item of clothing and just letting yourself get splashed with paint, or smothered in mud.  If the clothes are old and rubbish anyway and you don't fancy washing them, just chuck them in the bin!  Skin washes up clean and a long, hot bath or shower isn't exactly a hardship.

The reason I loved Messy Day so much was because it was just so liberating.  There was no sense of "we mustn't do X, Y or Z, because it's against the rules," or "I have to stay neat and tidy."  For an hour or so, we ran around in the sunshine (Messy Day was usually in July), throwing gloop at one another and flicking paint to make pictures, without caring how much of it splattered back onto us.  We were free to be as silly as we wanted.  I passionately believe all children should be allowed to do that once in a while.  

So thank you, Inktober, for the prompt word "Muddy."  You've brought back some fabulous memories.  I think next time it rains, I'll have to put on my wellies and go squelching around in the mud for a while. 

After all, we should all be free to be messy, from time to time.

Monday 22 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 22

It's kind of ironic that today's Inktober prompt word is "expensive," given that I am someone who just seems to be perpetually poor.  My job pays little more than minimum wage and my life just feels like it has a never-ending number of expenses.

Yes, I know that will sound extremely annoying to people who don't live with their parents (yes, I'm 36 and live at home, I am that broke), but it's not like I don't pay rent.  In fact, on a typical month, between a third and a full half of my wages are immediately paid as rent.  Then another huge chunk goes on paying off my car, before I have to remember to save enough for my phone bill, my chorus membership and petrol for the month.  What I have left to spend on myself is... Not much.

But when you don't earn a great deal, you develop ways of budgeting that allow you to still live the kind of life you want (or at least, you try!).  So, every now and then, when I notice I have a bit more left over for myself than usual, I squirrel some away into an "emergency" bank account.  I try to make sure I have enough in there, that if something goes wrong, like my car breaks down or my MacBook gives up the ghost, I can scrape together the money to repair or replace things.  I also have another bank account, that I try to put money into whenever I can, which I build up over the year to help me pay for everyone's Christmas presents.  Thinking ahead is something you get pretty good at, when your income is not a lot.

Oh, and money saving pots?  I have two.  It's amazing how the cash inside adds up, if you just pop a pound in, now and then, when you can afford to.  And then, should you suddenly need a fiver, you've got it stashed away!

I even have a pot in which I save pennies, along with two, five and ten pence pieces.  It all adds up and it all helps.

The thing is, I do sometimes have expensive tastes.  Like, way beyond my means.  For exampe, if I had a choice about where I'd like to eat out, it would be at Number 6 in Padstow.  Yes, the Michelin starred restaurant owned by a celebrity chef.  I've been there maybe three or four times (once, I was even the one who paid the whole bill!) and I love it.  I would rather save up to eat there and miss out on other things, because I know it'll be worth it when I'm sat, shovelling their Jacob's Ragu alla bolognaise into my face.

I'm also obsessed with clothes, make up and shoes (hi, yes I'm a stereotype).  But I've learned to shop at the cheaper end of the high street and I am a demon for a sale rail.  Today, I'm also wearing what has become one of my favourite items of clothing: a turquoise-y/green skirt I bought from a charity shop for less than four quid.

I would love to live the life I dream of, just being able to jet off on holiday somewhere expensive, or to pop to the shops and spend a hundred quid like it's nothing.  But at least knowing how hard I've saved for the things I own and the places I go, means I really appreciate them.  And when I can treat a friend to drinks, lunch or dinner, or take my parents out for a meal, or buy a really nice gift for someone, I know I'm spending the money I do have wisely.  Because I'm using it to treat those I care about and to create experiences, which in turn become fond memories.

On that note, I'm off out to lunch.  I think I've earned it.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 21

You know that feeling, where it's like someone has just attached a hoover to your head and sucked out every last bit of energy?  That's kind of where I'm at, right now.  Or at least, I'm dangerously close to it.  I feel physically and mentally drained and, seeing as today's Inktober prompt word is "drain," I figured I have an excellent excuse to moan blog about it.  And yes, I know I wrote about feeling drained of energy when Inktober's 7th prompt word was "exhausted," but on that day I was talking about tiredness and how those who don't have children are sometimes told they don't really know what feeling exhausted is actually like (something I vehemently disagree with).  Today, I want to fully explain why I'm so shattered...

For around seven to eight weeks, I've been waiting for a hospital appointment for a sore throat I've had since the start of the year.  Yes, you read that right.  I stopped counting how many times I'd been to the doctors about it after the third or fourth visit.  Back in March/April, I was on some really gross medicine to try to ease it.  It did a bit, but once I came off the medicine, the sore throat returned.  Towards the summer, I had my asthma medication changed, in case that was causing the problem.  We're now heading to the end of October and I still have a sore throat that's bad enough that it sometimes wakes me up in the early hours of the morning, because it hurts too much for me to sleep.

For the last four weeks or more, I've also had a weird virus that's causing me to feel like I have a permanent cold and a nagging cough that I can't entirely shake.  It's fair to say that I feel really run down, physically.  I've still been going to work, doing a job that can be stressful and exhausting, particularly when you're on a 9 or a 10 hour shift.  I've still been keeping up with filming and editing weekly YouTube videos for my channel and I'm currently working on editing a video for the other, still relatively new channel I'm part of (if you haven't checked out Craftastrophe, do so, it's hilarious).  I've forced myself to keep up with this Inktober/Blogtober thing as well as my weekly bedtime stories.  I've managed to find time to practise for chorus rehearsals (albeit badly, lately) and I'll squeeze in time to plan a fun vocal warm up for this week.  

I'm not moaning about any of those things, obviously.  I hugely enjoy filming, editing, writing, singing etc, but add it all together and combine it with a day job, plus this weird virus and permanently sore throat and it's not hard to see why I'm flipping shattered.  Like, all the time.

In my job, it's important to be upbeat and jazz hands about things.  I work with small children and I spend some of my day singing silly songs, dancing about and chasing toddlers as they zoom around the garden.  There's a lot more to my job than that, but rest assured, it can be pretty physically demanding, as well as mentally tiring when you're not feeling as perky as you're required to be.

Nor can you film a YouTube video in a very downbeat, slow manner, unless it's on purpose.  I like the videos on my YouTube channel to be entertaining and fun, which means if I'm not feeling full of energy, I either have to put off filming until I am, or it's a major case of "faking it."  And when I resort to acting as though I'm feeling full of vim and vigour, that can be pretty mentally exhausting as well.

And so, I find myself at a point at which most of my "perky reserves" have been drained.  My body is crying out for rest.  My mind is begging for a break.

This week is half term week and, as I only work term time, I have a week off.  And yes, I fully intend to have some early nights and long lie-ins, in a desperate attempt to feel less drained than I currently do.  I'm also going to try to see friends and do some fun things alongside the "work" (writing, editing etc) I have to do (I'm going out to visit a friend and cuddle her three new puppies in an hour or so), because I find that always perks me up.

I am determined to shake off this cold thing and be a picture of health by the end of the week, too.

I don't want to be a moaning Minnie, harping on about how knackered I am, all the time.  So, this week is Operation Get Back To Normal.

Here's hoping that by the time I go back to work, I'm rejuvenated and there'll be no faking it required.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober Crossover: Day 20

Today's Inktober prompt word is "breakable" and for reasons I can't fully explain, it immediately made me think about dreams.

Your hopes and dreams can be incredibly fragile things, hard to hold onto in a world that can too often seem scary and cruel.  And yet for many (myself included), without them life is infinitely more difficult.

In Disney's animated version of Cinderella, after being treated horribly by her stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella assures her animal friends that there's one thing her tormenters can never take away from her:

That quote pretty much sums me up.

No matter what has happened in my life, I've held onto my dreams.  They're not necessarily specific - it's not really a case of dreaming of doing a certain job, or visiting a certain place.  It's more of a generic dream - a belief, if you will - that things will be okay in the end.  That I will be okay in the end.  A dream of happiness, of love in whatever form it comes and of feeling at peace with myself and the life I'm living.

It's not always easy to cling to.  As I said, dreams are exceptionally fragile things and there have been points in my life where I've not felt strong enough to believe in a "happy ever after" for myself, in any form.  There have been days, weeks, even months, when life has dealt blow after blow and it's hard to imagine being the happy, confident woman I dream of being.  It's difficult to picture a life that is full of positivity rather than negativity.  But as breakable as that dream is, I keep it, because I know it's possible.  I keep it because I know it's achievable; there are times when I don't just dream it, I live it.

Side note, I still half-wish I had this quote inked on me.

Back when I was a kid, being horrendously bullied on the school bus, that dream of one day being older and wiser, away from all the nastiness and living a happy life was the biggest thing that got me through it.  When I was recovering from an abusive relationship, I clung to the same dream.  Ditto for the hellish depression I went through last year.

Our dreams are breakable and yet they're capable of making us strong enough to weather the worst of storms.  So, hold them close.  Nurture them.  And, if you can, live them.

Friday 19 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober crossover: Day 19

I've come to the realisation that I am not good at coping with extreme weather.  I'm currently very aware that it's going to start getting much colder soon and that along with the change in temperature, I'm liable to end up with a worsening of my asthma.  It's a thought that doesn't exactly thrill me.

Don't get me wrong, I love the snow; it's beautiful and fun and yes, I revert back to the age of around three when it comes, seeing as we don't see all that much of it in this part of the UK.  But the cold, damp air that winter often brings is a nightmare for someone whose lungs aren't exactly firing on all cylinders at the best of times.

Annoyingly, the opposite weather also seems to disagree with me a tad.  Today's Inktober prompt word is "scorched" and it immediately made me think...  SKORCHIO!!

I like the sun.  I like hot weather.  It's just... my body kind of doesn't.

Yes, I'm a quarter Greek-Cypriot,  so I realise that most people would automatically assume that SKORCHIO is the weather of my people and I'm happiest when soaking up some rays, but they forget that the other three quarters of me are "very pale Brit."

I don't tan, for a start.  I either have to slather on so much sun cream that I merely go from "white" to "slightly darker white," or I burn and end up looking like Sebastian The Crab.  Kind people tell me I have "olive skin."  The truth is, it's more olive oil than olive in colour.

So, I don't have Mediterranean skin.  But my Greek roots have given me one very distinct characteristic, which is my insanely curly hair.  The trouble is, very hot weather and very tight curls are not a good combo.  Not even a little bit.  If I wear a hat (which I have to, because I'm prone to sunstroke), I get the kind of frizz on the top of my head that is usually only seen when someone rubs a balloon on your scalp for a laugh.  If I don't wear a hat, my hair just gives up the ghost entirely and turns into some kind of humidity-addled bush.  Don't even get me started on my teensy little side-fringe, either.  It's barely there at the best of times, but on a hot day, no amount of straightening and hair-spraying will prevent it from curling up into nothingness.

Now, I mentioned that my ludicrous lungs dislike cold, damp air, but here's the fun bit: THEY HATE REALLY HOT AIR, TOO!

Yep, my asthma is all about equal opportunities for wheezing.  I can be perfectly blissed out, sitting on a beach, enjoying the warmth of the sun, when my lungs just go: "NOPE."

Then there are all the other, deeply attractive ways that very hot weather plays havoc with you.  I'm talking about sweating so much that your eye make up ends up somewhere around your chin.  I'm talking about having to put talcum powder on your inner thighs.  Oh yes, in very hot weather, I really am quite the catch.

So, maybe it's for the best that I live in Britain, a country not exactly famed for its blazing hot sun, or its Arctic winters.  Just give me some sunshine, enough warmth to only need a light jacket and enough long dresses to only need to shave my legs every other day and I'm happy.

But you'd better give me some Ventolin as well.  Just in case...

Thursday 18 October 2018

Inktober/Blogtober crossover: Day 18

Seeing as today's Inktober prompt word is "bottle," I figured I'd write about something of an obsession of mine:  I am rarely ever seen without a water bottle.

Now, staying hydrated is important and water is good for you, so it sounds like a great thing that I drink so much, but it's...  Well, I've reached the point where I'm utterly paranoid about ever not drinking enough.

It all stems back to one Summer many moons ago, when I was only 17 years old.  Mum and I used to earn some extra cash, cleaning a holiday house that belonged to a friend.  It was an especially hot day and I'd not drunk much.  Whilst I was helping clean the kitchen, I suddenly got a searing pain in my head and the vision in one eye briefly went completely and came back distorted.  I was horrified, especially as my face then went numb on one side and the numbness slowly began spreading down my body.  I felt sick and dizzy.  I had no option but to lie down, but the pain, distorted vision and nausea didn't go anywhere.

When we got back home, Dad immediately called the non-emergency medical number (whatever the precursor to 111 was) and the person he spoke to was concerned that my symptoms may indicate a stroke or a brain hemorrhage.  He was told to take me to hospital right away.

I was kept in overnight and given several tests.  The doctors told me that before I could go home the next day, I'd have to have a lumbar puncture.  I didn't know what that was, but they assured me that they would phone my mum well in advance of the procedure being done, so that she would have time to come back to the hospital to hold my hand through it.  I was somewhat comforted.

After a sleepless night and even more tests, the following day a doctor and a nurse arrived at my bedside, ready to perform the lumbar puncture.  They hadn't called my mum and suddenly, the words "spinal tap" were being used, which didn't sound remotely pleasant.  The nurse was told to sit and hold my hand, whilst the doctor said "ooh, your vertebrae are far apart enough that we won't need to inject any anaesthetic.  We'll just rub an anaesthetic wipe on your back and that should be fine."


I will save you too much gory detail here, but essentially, a lumbar puncture/spinal tap involves sticking a tube into your back and sucking fluid from around your brain, to check for anything that shouldn't be there.  Given that the levels of fluid in your head are being messed with, it makes you very, very dizzy and there's a lot of pain and nausea involved.  To ease the nausea and dizziness, you're supposed to lie still for several hours after the procedure.

Within around half an hour of my lumbar puncture being done, my parents arrived and were immediately told to take me home, as my bed was needed.  I had only been lying still for forty minutes when I was made to get up and walk to the car.


I didn't even make it home, before I was violently sick.

I was sick for two days, after that.  I had constant pain in my head and terrible dizziness.  I also had a large wound on my back that required antiseptic being regularly rubbed on it (when I was well enough to hobble out of bed to get Mum to help me...).

The eventual diagnosis?  Not a stroke, or a brain hemorrhage.  It was a severe migraine, caused by dehydration.

I'd had migraines as a child - really bad ones that happened usually every 3-4 weeks and would always make me very sick - but nothing as bad as the numbness, dizziness and distorted vision that I experienced that day.  And depressingly, the method of determining what was wrong had made me even more poorly than the migraine itself did.

I made a vow to myself, after that:  I would never, ever allow myself to become dehydrated again.

And so, ever since then, I am almost always found with a water bottle in my hand.  Yes, it's something of an obsession.  But I'm emetophobic and will therefore do anything in my power to prevent ever being that sick again.  Besides, as I said at the start of this piece, it is a good thing to stay hydrated!

People often comment on my habit of carrying a bottle of water everywhere I go, so when I saw today's Inktober prompt word, I felt compelled to finally explain myself.  

Now, all this writing has made me thirsty.  I'd better go and get myself a drink...