Sunday, 10 January 2021

Nature's lessons

If I didn't have dogs there's no way I would be out in cold, damp early mornings or the dark chill of a winter's afternoon.

I would be hunkered down in the warmth and probably not even particularly interested in what was going on outside of the window.

But now though you'll find me wrapped in layers, trudging through the mud and putting up with the icicles forming on the end of my nose.

As well as the obvious enjoyment of being out with my pups and revelling in their joy at being alive, I have come to develop a renewed appreciation of all that Mother Nature offers us, whatever the season.

Having previously dismissed winter as providing little in the way of natural interest unless Mr Jack Frost had been out waving his frozen fingers of magic across the landscape or we'd had a dump of fresh snow, I have learned to notice and appreciate the little nuances as we make our slow shift through the seasons.

Take yesterday for example, I spotted this thick covering of lichen on an oak branch. The colours and textures striking brightly against the foggy backdrop. It set me exploring - a mini adventure among the boughs as I hunted for more to be captured by my camera.

There are always a few brown leaves hanging around at this time of year - reluctant to drop to earth and become mush and mulch. I admire their audacity to rebel against everything that the season throws at them, clinging on through wind, rain and frozen temperatures as if they feel the need to retain their owner's identity - to shout out - "look at me - I'm an oak tree!"

Look closer and you'll find all manner of textural treats and shapes on something as simple as a leaf. Tiny holes with which to peek through or small galls. Every leaf seems to have its own story to tell just as each walk proves to be a new adventure. 

Where will you go today?

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Strange things are happening to me

 It's still dark outside, though the first fingers of dawn are tapping at the curtains. I am awake. Again.

The now all too familiar tingle has begun to work its way through my body, a body that is no longer my own. I am possessed. The person I was is disappearing at a rate that scares me. Change fires up my neurons. "Take action" my brain yells. "Stop this thing." But I know I can't. Perhaps it is possible to slow it down, but I don't know how. The alien that is inside me saps my energy to move let alone fight. I am befuddled and frightened. 

I sink beneath the warmth of the duvet to seek comfort in sleep but it does not come to my aid.

Eventually I drag my weary body to the surface and begin my day. I creak. The pain in my joints slowly dissipates but never all the way. It lingers, reminding me it is there. It began in my hips but now my knees, shoulders and elbows have joined in. They throb. Just a few weeks ago I was leaping out of bed to exercise but now this malaise has united with the long-present mood swings, grey hairs and erratic periods.

The name of my foe is Peri-Menopause. This latest attack on my joints has come seemingly out of the blue. It wakes me at night and drags at me throughout the day. Mentally I still feel 30, but sadly my body is feeling every one of my 50 years.

Please tell me it gets better!

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Muddy Paws the Great Dog Detective – the ear-y case of the missing Wednesday treats

A bit of fun - a bedtime story I wrote for my pups!

Muddy stretched his paws and arched his back easing out the knots of the day. It had been a busy one with a lost poodle found safely – silly girl had gotten herself locked in a shed after hiding from a cat. Seriously! He’d taken the trouble to see the cat off personally, it would be a while before it dared show its feline face in Daisy’s garden again – all part of the service and rather fun with it!

He was readying himself for a nap when a sharp bark announced a visitor to his detective establishment.

He cocked his ears in recognition. Why, if it wasn’t his good friend Molly! He was rather fond of this particular Golden Retriever. He had to admit that her locks and looks were rather compelling, but she was also pretty adorable in most ways. He was a bit smitten! He greeted her with a sniff and some serious tail wagging.

“How can I help you my dear Mollster?” he enquired with a cock of his head. “Or is this merely a social call?” Muddy rather hoped it was the latter. A snooze by the fire with Molly by his side would be most agreeable.

“Somebody keeps stealing my pigs’ ears!” announced his friend. “Every time my humans open the cupboard on Wednesdays…. That’s pigs ear day….. They have mysteriously disappeared!”

Muddy was shocked to the tip of his tail. This was most serious. The theft of a dog’s treat was not to be taken lightly – particularly if this was turning out to be a regular horror. He resolved to take the case immediately. “Leave it with me,” he declared. “I will give it my immediate attention.”

In fact, Muddy had a sneaking suspicion he knew who the culprit was and, picking up a bone to chew over the problem, he retreated to his favourite patch of floor by the fireplace to think things through while Molly headed home.

It was a source of constant surprise to Muddy how much the simple act of gnawing on a bone could help his cognitive process.

After giving his teeth and appetite a whet, Muddy pulled himself up to his not inconsiderable height – he was after all a quarter Great Dane and, putting his best paw forward (that would be front left), he headed out the door on the trail of the thieving culprit.

Following the delectable scent left by the deliciously delightful Molly he headed over to the abode she shared with her humans, canine brother in mischief, Gunner – a somewhat exuberant and rather well-built German Shepherd and a member of the lesser species known as cat.

Gunner greeted Muddy with his usual noise and enthusiasm. Muddy gave him a hard stare that knocked some of that out of him.

“What? Why?” stammered the big beast. Muddy looked deeply into the Shepherd’s brown eyes and slowly said two words. “Pigs ears”. He was testing the waters to see if his suspicions were well-founded. Gunner reacted not with the guilt that Muddy was expecting, instead his face reflecting the same level of consternation as his sister.

“Have you found who stole our pigs’ ears?” Gunner whimpered. Muddy immediately realized his mistake. In his rush to impress Molly, he had forgotten the first rule of detective work – gather all the available facts! He has failed to ask that all important question around if Molly herself had questioned her brother. Clearly, given the look of innocence on his whiskers, he was another victim of the dastardly thief. Muddy was back to the drawing board without so much as a pencil to scribble a theory!

All this consternation he kept to himself though. Instead, he merely sniffed the air to give the indication that he was about important detective business and followed his nose to the treat cupboard where there was alarming scent of cat lurking about. Could he have found the culprit now?

The fiend herself chose that moment to slink through the cat flap. She gave Muddy a look of disdain before beating a hasty retreat to the counter top and hissing at him. Muddy sighed. When would cats learn that they were the inferior species and should be neither seen nor heard? He took a risk and sniffed her, receiving a swipe to his nose in the process. Other than the pervading feline odour which was enough to put any self-respecting dog off his dinner, there was nothing porcine about her. Plus given her size, he did wonder at her capacity to devour one piggies ear, let alone two. Another dead end. This case was turning out to be most troublesome.

At that moment, one of the humans arrived home. As is tradition in the world of woof, much excitement was required to be demonstrated together with a chorus of questions as to why the four-legged members of the household had been abandoned for weeks, months or was it just a few hours? Muddy hid under the table – his presence in the house may have required some explanation which dogs struggle to communicate to their humans, them not yet aware that dogs have careers, let alone ones as detectives. Within a few minutes though the mayhem had eased down a decibel or two and Muddy was able to assess the situation from the shadows. His hound’s nose had detected something rather important that was lurking at the bottom of a shopping bag. Mixed with the scents of tripe, liver and marrowbone was the unmistakable odour of pig! A new supply of ears had arrived. This would be the perfect opportunity to catch the thief in action! He settled down to watch and wait. Fortunately for Muddy it was Wednesday and not Thursday or that could have been a long and hungry stake out!

The female human busied herself in the kitchen. Muddy did not take his eyes off her. A quantity of meat that set Muddy’s saliva glands drooling found a home in the freezer with a tempting pile also left out to reach room temperature. Muddy was glad he was such a trustworthy dog, or he’d be needing to investigate himself for theft! He studiously ignored the gourmet meal defrosting in front of his fangs and refocused his attention on the human. She opened the treat cupboard and in went the bones…

Muddy was vaguely aware of the sound of an engine approaching but failed to realise the significance of the noise until both Molly and Gunner erupted in a further cacophony of barking and bemoaning their abandonment. Poor Muddy’s hit head the underside of the table as he leapt in shock. By the time he had regained his composure and the stars circling his ears had retreated back to the sky, the shopping had all been unpacked and both humans were staring at the picture box in the corner of the room with dogs draped over them in supplicated joy. An ideal time for a thief to strike thought Muddy. He began his stakeout in earnest. The culprit would be caught and held to account – Muddy was determined and when he was in this frame of mind nothing would get in his way!

“Did you give the dogs their pig ears?” asked the male human of the female. “No, I just put them away” she replied. “I actually forgot it was Wednesday!” The man moaned a bit then creaked his body into a standing position and shuffled into the kitchen in the direction of the cupboard. Muddy was confident that all would be well. This week at least Molly and Gunner would be chewing happily on the greasy gristle.

However, Muddy could not have been more wrong! The human was rummaging in the cupboard for far too long. He pulled out biscuits and bones and even food for the cat. Muddy couldn’t believe his whiskers. The pigs ears had gone again – and right under his nose! It couldn’t be happening! His reputation would be in tatters. Not only had he failed to apprehend the criminal but had allowed them to strike while he was on duty. He was so flabbergasted that he forgot his stealth mission and broke cover much to the confusion of the humans who had never met a dog detective before, let alone one of Muddy’s standing and size.

Of course, a situation such as this required a great deal of barking and it took a while for the humans to realise that Muddy was friend rather than foe. Thankfully Molly’s wagging tail helped eventually convince them of this fact; that and the fact that Gunner was sucking his bear and not the life out of Muddy. Just to be on the safe side, Muddy also employed his big soft-eyed look and rolled over on his back presenting his ample belly for a tickle. In fact, this tactic was so successful that it resulted in the somewhat surprising solving of the case and, more importantly, something rather delicious for Muddy.

The female human was so taken by Muddy’s behaviour that she offered to fetch him a pig’s ear! Seems that she had discovered something of a glut of them in the house. Unbeknown to anyone else in the family, she had – for reasons which are the sole preserve of the female human species and remain a mystery to both dogs and men alike – CHANGED THE PLACE WHERE THE PIGS EARS WERE KEPT! And worse, she had put them inside an airtight container thus hiding both sight and smell of the Wednesday treats. There was no and never had been a thief!

For some time after there was no sound in the house but the contented chewing of three large ears. Shortly after that, Muddy’s humans appeared at the door having been summoned by calling his office number (worn proudly on his collar). He bade his farewells to his hosts promising to keep an eye out for his pals in the park over the coming days when they could relive the tale and taste of the adventure!

As he settled into the warm and slightly smelly comfort of his bed that night, Muddy reflected on the day and the mysterious behaviour of humans. Frankly he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to put a pig’s ear anywhere other than in a dog’s mouth in the first place but his was not to reason why! He gave a big yawn and a sleepy wag of his tail, rested his head on his tatty stuffed bear – called Sherlock naturally – and fell fast asleep!

The End.


Thursday, 15 October 2020

Say what?

 Three years since I last blogged? Surely not!

Seems I fell through the space and time continuum because I would have said no more than 18 months tops. But then again, this lack of time awareness is rather commonplace these days. I blame turning 50 earlier this year. I'm in denial.

That's another matter that needs addressing. Where did that half century sneak up from? I certainly don't conform to my view of what a middle-aged woman looked like when I stared ahead into the future 30 years ago! 

No frumpy clothes and Woman's Weekly for me - who cares if I look like mutton dressed as lamb (I don't think I do - just to be clear.... but even if I did - if it makes me happy then why not!).

I have taken myself away to perform the proverbial 'finding of oneself'. It is the time of the Corona and with another lockdown looming, I have escaped from the temptations of housework, gym and grocery shopping to lock myself away to write and let a bit of creative flow loose.

It's amazing what a troublesome companion Procrastination can be. She whispers in your ear to check your emails, log on to a game on your phone, scroll through your Instagram feed, put some washing on... anything but actually tackle the elephant in the room - the one sitting on the keyboard getting in the way! I used to be able to just sit down and write but good habits are easily broken and this putting fingers to keyboard for pleasure has become a whole lot harder than it used to be.

Of course, not all distractions from writing are bad. On the contrary, family time, doggie walks and exercising are a tonic in and of themselves.

However, writing used to bring such joy - mixed in with a bit of art making and I was a happy lass. Does playing time-wasting games on my phone provide the same pleasure? Not a jot. Is it easier. Well of course. Writing has become the route less-travelled. It is full of tangled weeds that need to be hacked through and I am here armed with machete - albeit a trifle tentatively at the moment.

Let's see what happens!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Was it me? It was wasn't it? Surely it must be...

This happens to me a lot and I know I'm not alone in this ridiculous belief.

Imagine the scene, you're reading a friend's social media post (because frankly that's how most of us communicate with friends these days), or you're actually talking in person. They talk about how they had been let down by someone and, like a flick of the switch in the self-deprecating part of our psyche, your immediate reaction is "Was it me? Oh, no... it was me wasn't it... I've forgotten to do something... It must be me".

And, even after a swift sift through your recent interactions you cannot for the life of you remember committing to anything, it remains like a solid heffalump of woozelness squashing your sense of self-worth and convincing of the shocking nature of your interpersonal skills.

You leave the post convinced you are a terrible person. After all, not only have you omitted from helping a friend in need but you've completely emptied your memory of offering to do so in the first place. Seriously what kind of friend are you?

You pen a quick note in panic, begging for forgiveness and offering to make up all ills whilst your subconscious bangs her head against the desk and calls you a total idiot and tries to suggest that the only person you've let down is actually yourself!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A break in ordinary service

In certain sections of society it's just fine and dandy to drop your 'aitches. If my keyboard had a broken H then my writing might stand up to scrutiny and I might never have gone down a thought process so packed with depth and meaning. However, since it's missing another key then I am forced to exist without 'ove and 'aughter. I can't even write my own name. I have become isa. This author isa what? Now there hangs the question.

I jotted down a substantive set of descriptives in my notebook focusing on my very existence. What am I?

It wasn't the type of reading that at first packed a punch of joy. I appeared doused with doubt, but I guess that's to be expected as I anticipate the next steps in my career. I must never forget though that I am an Artist, a Writer and a Creative. These aspects of me exist deep within my psyche. Yet, I know that I am too a prize procrastinator. I absorb distraction as I miss the meaty tasks of the average workday. I require a new job, a set of instructions but with the chance to be proactive, to expand and venture into the new, to experiment and push, to grab at opportunity and stretch my wings once again.

I have much to offer. Come take it!

With the few exceptions that I used to bring attention to the missing key, I have forced my brain to write without using the missing 'thing', digging into my thesaurus memory banks. It's been instructive and a somewhat fun exercise. I suggest you give it a try sometime! It's quite the task.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ever feel like a fraud?

Image credit: Arvin Febry via

Impostor syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. It’s a limiting belief based on fear, a nasty little trick of the out-dated lizard brain that is actually trying to help but instead is a complete hindrance. It kicks in as a form of protection - being good is scary because it's hard work and with that comes an element of risk. Impostor syndrome flies in to rescue you in the face of danger!

Research suggests that over 70% of the population have experienced this inability to internalise our success at some point in our lives and that list includes a list of the great and the good or, as they think of themselves, ‘a bunch of frauds’ – international best-selling author Neil Gaiman, activist and author Maya Angelou, actresses Meryl Streep, Emma Watson & Jodie Foster, genius Albert Einstein, businesswoman Sheryl Sandberg … the list goes on, and yes I’m in there too (well not the great and the good!) – in fact I thought I invented it!

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”  
Maya Angelou

The typical scenario sees a successful person gaining a promotion, getting their work published or receiving praise and adulation. Being in this position can be a little nerve-wracking as most of us are hard-wired to want to keep it up, we can’t quite believe we made it, we compare ourselves to others and worry about how they perceive us. We expect at any moment to be ‘found out’. Sufferers might then either work harder, earn more praise and set the cycle going again or undervalue themselves.

The daemon did it

Sometimes the syndrome takes a new angle. Frequently I’ve read back over a piece of work I laboured over months ago and can’t quite believe that it came out of my own fingertips. I believe it’s because of our inner genius, our muse, or whatever you want to call it. I first became aware of this phenomenon while listening to Liz Gilbert’s incredible TED lecture. She explains that the Greeks and Romans believed that creativity wasn’t something that came FROM us, but rather it came TO us in the form of what they called our genius or daemon – an entity that, like a guardian angel, was assigned to us and could be equally blamed for our works of art and our creative madness – a bit like an invisible friend I guess. (Read more on the Genius/Daemon here)

Liz encourages our belief in this genius for our own sanity so we can then steer clear of the route of the tortured artist. After all, it’s far easier to blame your Muse for taking a holiday than to believe you just can’t birth a new idea or feel the desire to pick up a paintbrush again.

Likewise if this other entity had a part in your success, then maybe that’s the reason we suffer from Imposter Syndrome or have no recollection of creating a piece of work. We didn’t. Our genius did it!

Brain dump

Impostor Syndrome is yet another form of interruption and distraction. The brain can be a peculiar organ, it seems to delight in feeding our conscious with a million and one other thoughts than the one we need at that precise moment. Right now I am thinking three steps ahead in this article while also wondering if I’ve got any new emails, checking the time for my next coaching call and itching to check my most recent post on Facebook to see if there’s any new conversation. Err, where was I?

By inviting in all those distracting thoughts we also welcomed their best mate – anxiety. We step outside of flow, lose concentration and fret about items outside of our current remit.

We may be tempted to tone ourselves down, play it safe, miss out on opportunity. I am guilty for playing it safe for years - wrapped up in a cosy comfort blanket of familiarity, ease and repetition. I stopped believing in myself. Eventually the cashmere turned to horsehair though and I came out in a nasty rash. I knew I was capable of more.

Impostor Syndrome is just another distraction sent to try us, but fear not, there are ways to control the beast!

How to get over it
  1. Share it! I had no idea Impostor Syndrome was even a thing until I read about it in a magazine and saw myself in those eye-opening paragraphs! Talk about your experiences with your friends and peers and laugh at how silly we are all being! Convince others of their worth and they will surely help you see through your own  unfounded feelings of inadequacy.
  2. Make a list of your achievements. We give our failures far more memory than we should so sometimes our wins (even the small ones) need a helping hand to make it to the hall of fame.
  3. Keep a folder of emails where colleagues and friends have given you praise for a job well done – I call mine ‘Nice Things’. Read them over and over until you actually believe what they are saying! I think the most powerful are those from work colleagues or strangers on social media who are unlikely to bolster the truth and your ego in the way you mother might! Read through them when struck by fear and doubt. Give yourself a well-deserved warm and fuzzy feeling!
  4. Accept that you played a part! A big part! Whether or not you believe in the idea of a divine force sneaking into your subconscious and crafting your magnum opus, it was still YOU! I give you permission to give yourself a little pat on the back for a job well done. Remind yourself that if you did it once, you can again.
  5. Be present. Lock the door to distraction and imposter syndrome – you might find that a simple visioning meditation will do the trick, or just count backwards from five to zero to switch your focus. 
  6. Watch for the pause. Self-doubt can kick in at any time so get in the habit of noticing the types of situations when it is most likely to occur and be bold and leap in ahead. Make your decisions count.
  7. Embrace and trust in your inner genius – there’s a perfectly formed space right inside of you where she sits and once there you work as a team. There’s magic inside of you – go make it and believe in it and yourself. In all likelihood it won't be easy, but face the pain bravely and work through it.
  8. Look for the positive. Impostor syndrome prevents hubris, keeps us questioning our own ability and takes us on an upward curve of continuous improvement. After all, if we believed in ourselves too completely we might feel too safe, only to discover we were swimming in a sea of sharks without an armoured wetsuit!
 Now, onwards and upwards! Grabbling with the beast of Impostor Syndrome is one of the topics we could discuss together as part of a coaching session. Let me know if I could help.

“The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of 'real' grown-ups who you believe - at some subconscious level - are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying: We've been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.”
Musician, Amanda Palmer
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