The First Harvest – Reflections

A rectangular cake nicely browned and studded with blackberries on top.
Blackberry cake

This weekend marks the first harvest festival, Lughnasdh in Gaelic and Celtic traditions, Lammas in Anglo Saxon and Christian traditions. It’s known as Gŵyl Awst here in Wales.

I can’t call myself a Pagan, but I do love marking the ancient seasonal festivals for the sense of natural rhythm and balance they bring to the year. We try and do something for each holiday, even if it’s just making a cake and cooking a nice meal. This year we baked a blackberry cake and ate salads made with seasonal ingredients.

I also use the festivals symbolically to punctuate my year, connect with myself and reflect on where I am. But it’s been such a strange one, I’m really not sure what I’m ‘harvesting’ at this point. My goal at the beginning of the year was to focus on healing. Work was going well and I was happy with my living situation. Even better, the thing that has been emotionally destabilizing for me over the last few years would finally be less present in my life. I was feeling hopeful, even optimistic.

Well, the relatively peaceful year of reflection and healing that I was hoping for hasn’t quite materialised for me, or anyone else. None of us are bringing in the harvest we may have expected as we start to move into the second half of the wheel of the year.

Personally, I feel it’s too soon to start talking about positives in relation to this situation. That would be insensitive when so many people are suffering terribly, with the grief of losing someone to this illness, with the long-term health effects from having had it, or with awful financial difficulties. It would also be a bit foolish. I may have been lucky enough, and privileged enough, not to have been badly affected so far, but that could easily change. My feeling is that it’s going to be very bumpy here in the UK for months, possibly years, to come.

But, at the same time, we are all meaning-making creatures and we have to work with what we’ve got, so I’m going to write about what I’ve learned from the last few months and what I can take from this experience that’s useful, while also wishing very much that it hadn’t happened.

This is what I can say. The crisis has reminded me of what’s important in life: relationships, connections, community. These are the things that matter and have the potential to get us through this horrible time.

It’s also reminded me that there’s no point in putting things off if I don’t have to. I might as well get on and ‘self-actualise’ as much as I can. Perhaps even more importantly, I may as well try and be my authentic self in all aspects of my life. One shift I have noticed in myself and other people is more willingness to share different parts of ourselves, to be more authentic and even vulnerable. Of course there are always people who behave badly, especially online, but I have seen many people being kinder and more compassionate both with each other and to themselves. I think this is good and I hope we can build on it to improve the way that we do things and relate to each other, just as I hope we will continue to introduce pets and small children on video calls. I know I’ve met some fabulous cats and seen some very good drawings over the last few months.

Lockdown has taught me a lot about myself, much of which is useful. It’s also encouraged a growth mindset and pushed me to try new things. I’ve been getting involved in various initiatives at work and trying to support my colleagues as much as I can. I’ve been working on my mental and emotional health and taking a lot of online dance and yoga classes. I plan to keep it up and take more classes in the autumn. I’d like to do a creative writing class and perhaps I’ll start learning Welsh again.

Reading this over, in a strange way, I wonder if I might be working towards my original goal for this year after all … In any case, I hope the rest of the summer will be gentle with you and that you get a break at some point.

Community Comfort – e-cookbook to raise funds

This is such a lovely idea.

100 British cooks from migrant backgrounds come together in this e-cookbook to raise funds for the bereaved healthcare colleagues and families of Black, Asian & Ethnic minority victims of Covid-19. All the recipes and stories are centred around comfort food inspired by the diaspora. OUT NOW ! Curated & created by Riaz Phillips

Community Comfort

I’ve got my copy and it looks amazing with an incredible variety of recipes.

Sunday Post – Hitting a Wall

A statue of a monk holding a lamp. Someone has put a mask on his face and a knitted NHS rainbow in his hands.
Statue in Cardiff Bay wearing a mask and an NHS rainbow

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty tired recently. I seem to have hit a wall over the last couple of weeks. I was so fatigued last week that I couldn’t keep up my exercise, which is unusual for me. It felt like my body was made out of lead. I struggled to focus on anything and I was in a very bad mood. So I took some time off, prioritised rest and sleep, and I’m now feeling much better. It’s a bit of a wake up call though. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and be more proactive about stress management

It’s not too surprising that it’s getting to me now. I’m hearing similar things from friends and colleagues. Over three months of lockdown. Horrible announcements about mass redundancies and threats of a deep recession. The possiblity of ongoing outbreaks and local lockdowns. So much uncertainty. It’s just a lot to deal with on top of trying to get on and do your job and live your life as best you can.

Personally, I do believe we’ll get a vaccine eventually, but it could be months (I don’t want to say years), before that’s a reality. In the meantime, I’m going to practice acceptance and create a plan for how my partner and I are going to sustain a life that will be quite restricted for some time to come.

Goals for the rest of the summer are to work on a medition practice, make a lot more time for creativity, and establish an exercise routine that works for me longer-term. There are some online courses I want to do in the autumn, so that should keep me occupied. One thing I will say for the situation is that it has encouraged me to develop more of a ‘growth mindset’. I’ve been trying new things, like dance classes. I did a class on ‘self massage and somatic movement’ the other week which was really good.

Reading

I’ve read five books on my #20BooksOfSummer list, so I know I need to pick up the pace and also write some posts! I’ve written about Blanch on the Lam and Notes of a Native Son. I’ve also read On the Red Hill by Mike Parker which is wonderful and The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF which is a lot of fun. I’m hoping to finish three more books in the next couple of days.

Podcasts

I’ve finally started to listen to more podcasts. This is another positive thing that’s come out of lockdown for me. I’ve been listening to a lot of epsides of Sounds True. A word of caution, some of the guests will be way too ‘new agey’ for some people, but I find a lot on there that’s helpful, especially around living through difficult times. I was going to list them here, but actually I’ll do a separate post about the episodes I’ve found especially useful.

Watching

We adored Staged with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. It’s so wonderful and perfectly captures the bizarreness of lockdown.

We’ve been enjoying What We Do in the Shadows, the TV series. We loved the movie and initially I didn’t think the TV version was going to be as good, but it’s a grower and we really love it now.

We watched the film Vita & Virgina and I hate to say this about a lesbian film, but it really is terrible. Bad script, lazy representions and no idea what it was trying to say about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West, both of whom were awesome and had a very interesting relationship, which the movie does not even get close to doing justice.

Listening

I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Laura Marling. I Speak Because I Can is lovely and the new album sounds just as good. My favourite track at the moment is ‘Blow by Blow’.

Sunday post: Time for a Break

Cardiff Bay basin looking out twards Penarth on a bright sunny morning
Cardiff Bay basin on a clear sunny morning

We’ve had some glorious weather during the last couple of weeks, although it’s cooling down now. Lockdown has been eased very slightly here in Wales. You are now able to meet up with another household, as long as it’s within a five mile radius of your home, outside in the open air, and you maintain social distancing. Personally, I’m going to carry on being extremely careful and wait to see where we are in about three weeks time. By then we should know whether infections are increasing again. It does feel a lot busier outside. I’ve pulled my morning walk back by an half-an-hour because there are so many people out and about by 7.00am.

This week has felt extremely intense with the Black Lives Matter protests across the world. Like many white people, I’ve been wondering how to help. What’s the most useful thing that I can do? For me, right now, I think it’s listen, learn, promote the voices and work of people of colour, lobby those in power and actively support the organisations that know what they’re doing. It does seem like a tipping point has been reached and I hope it will lead to longer-term, sustainable change.

We are both feeling really tired. This is partly the ongoing effect of lockdown stress and partly down to just not having had a break since Christmas. We’ve taken next week off work, so that should help.

Reading

Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo was definitely the best thing I read in May. This story about the coming out of an elderly, gay Caribbean man is full of brilliantly drawn characters. It’s just a joy to read.

I also finished The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths, book seven in the Ruth Galloway series. I think I’m done with this series. It started well, but the books feel increasingly padded and the focus on forensic archeology has given way to very silly relationships between the characters. Time for a new cosy mystery series.

But for now #20BooksOfSummer will be taking up all of my reading time. I’ve started three of the books on my list: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (seemed appropriate), The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson and The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (really enjoying this).

Watching

We watched an excellent documentary about Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things. I didn’t know much about her and it’s an amazing, powerful story.

We finished Schitt’s Creek. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I felt like they were just hitting the narrative beats and kind of fudged the ending. It seemed flat to me. A great series overall though.

Podcasts

This is a lovely, warm and insightful conversation about life and literature The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed (with Jackie Key)

I also listened to this fascinating and alarming podcast about extinct food, Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction.

Music

The album of the week is Unhalfbricking by Fairport Convention which includes one of my favourite songs of all time, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’

20 Books of Summer 20

A pile of books (that’s my e-reader on the top of to represent the e-books)

It looks like it’s going to be a good summer for a big reading project, so I’ve decided to take part in the #20BooksofSummer reading challenge again this year. Last year I managed to read fourteen books, which I didn’t think was bad going.

This time around, I’ve tried to create a balanced list with some serious works, some fun reading and a good mixture of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I’ll try and do better at actually writing posts about them too.

I’ll be starting on 1 June and stopping on 1 September. I won’t be reading the list in any particular order. I’ll just go with what I fancy. I don’t slog through books I’m not enjoying, so I reserve the right to ditch any that I don’t like, but I’ll replace it with a book of similar length.

The 20 Books of Summer logo

  1. Mike Ashley (ed), The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (2013) – short stories
  2. James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955) – essays
  3. Ann Bannon, Odd Girl Out (1957) – novel
  4. Willa Cather, My Antonia (1918) – novel
  5. Christopher Isherwood, Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) – novel
  6. Jackie Kay, Red Dust Road (2010) – memior
  7. Ursula K Le Guin, Always Coming Home (1985) – novel
  8. Ursula Le Guin and Others, The Eye of the Heron and Other Stories (1980) – short stories
  9. Elizabeth A. Lynn, The Dancers of Arun (Book 2 in the Chronicles of Tornor) (1979) – novel
  10. Jamal May, Hum (2014) – poetry
  11. Paul McAuley, Austral (2017) – novel
  12. Patricia Mckillip, Wonders of the Invisible World (2012) – short stories
  13. Alice Munro, The Progress of Love – short stories
  14. Barbara Neely, Blanche on the Lam – novel
  15. Sharon Olds, Selected Poems – poetry
  16. Mike Parker, On the Red Hill – non-fiction
  17. Rebecca Roanhorse, Storm of Locusts – novel
  18. Sarah Schulman, Maggie Terry – novel
  19. Jane Trais (ed), Now You See Me: Lesbian Life Stories – nonfiction
  20. Bee Wilson, The Way we Eat Now – non-fiction

Sunday Post: Doing quite well, considering …

The sun glowing through thick grey cloud and mist over a calm sea
Misty morning walk

I’m feeling tired and my anxiety has been high over the last couple of weeks. Not surprising. I’m sure many people are experiencing similar things. Last weekend was particularly difficult though. The ninth anniversary of my father’s death hit me hard. I think I cried more on this year’s anniversary than I have on any of the others. My partner also had some painful emotional stuff to deal with. There have been various other stresses and strains, which just feel like too much on top of the pandemic anxiety. I’ve booked a week off work early in June. We can’t go anywhere, but I think it’s important to get a break.

On a happier note, we finally got our home office set up. The desk and chair arrived and the spare room is now comfortable for home working. Achievement unlocked! We have to take turns using it, but at least my partner doesn’t have to suffer through all my video calls anymore. Her job requires quiet and concentration, while mine involves several meetings a day, so it’s amazing that we haven’t had a falling out.

I also finished my blog refresh. This was one of my lockdown projects. It’s taken me a month, but I read every one of the 800-odd posts I had on here. There’s now around 600. And, as you can see I’ve given it a bit of a new look too.

I’m still doing well at the self-care. Yoga at least three times a week, daily walks, and a dance class twice a week, which I’m really enjoying despite it being waaaay out of my comfort zone. Dance is a bit of a sore spot for me since I failed grade one ballet (my fault, wouldn’t practice), so it’s fun to give it a go again.

Reading

I re-read All Systems Red by Martha Wells, the first book in the much loved Murderbot series. I finished The Heavens by Sandra Newman and, have to say, I didn’t like it all that much. Beautiful prose and very clever, but I found it distancing and couldn’t engage with it emotionally. Otherwise my reading has slumped. I’m chipping away at Mr Loverman, The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths and the complete stories of Hercule Poirot.

But I’ve decided to take part in #20BooksOfSummer again this year because I could do with a project, so that should motivate me.

Watching

We finished Good Omens which was an achievement because we’ve been struggling to get through new TV shows recently. Michael Sheen and David Tennant were delightful as Aziraphal and Crowley. We’re enjoying Season Six of Schitt’s Creek but I’m glad it’s the last one because they are clearly running out of ideas.

Listening

The album of the week has been Banga by Patti Smith. I just happened to put it on and it transported me back to happier times of seeing her play in Cardiff in 2012.

Sunday Post: Sadness returns but the birds are singing

Early morning sun peeping through light clouds over a calm sea.

A difficult week, but the early morning birdwatching has been wonderful. I’ve seen flocks of linnets, starlings, goldfinches and greenfinches feeding on dandelion seeds. I’ve witnessed singing duels between whitethroats, sedge and reed warblers, black caps, wrens and ceti’s warblers. I’ve been surrounded by swooping sand martins. I’ve watched grey wagtails and, the highlight of my week, a handsome wheatear bobbing around on the rocks. It has been glorious.

But as the “excitement” of crisis mode finally wears off, grief has resurfaced. This week I found myself experiencing the attacks of sorrow and anger, mood swings and crying jags that have plagued my life since 2017. It’s strange to say it, but for a few weeks there, I amost felt like my old self again. I knew it was just a ghost and would slip away eventually. You can’t go back to being what you were before, although sometimes a past self might visit for a little while.

Despite the return of difficult emotions, I’ve been looking after myself quite well. We are doing online yoga classes several times a week and have found a dance class that we actually enjoy.

Since I’m in a position to do so, I’ve been trying to support local businesses by buying as much food from them as possible, which has meant lovely vege boxes being delivered and lots of good cooking.

A rectangluar roasting tray containing roast cauliflower, greens and chickpeas.

I’ve made curried new potatoes, a sweet potato and parsnip tagine, butter roasted leeks with bulghar wheat and feta and roast cauliflower with chickpeas, spring greens and tahini (pictured).

Reading

Picture of the following books, Poems 1962 - 2012 by Louise Gluck, Selected Poems by Sharon Olds and Hum by Jamaal May.

I’ve mostly been reading poetry because I find it helpful. I treated myself to collections by Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck and Jamaal May. I’ve also been enjoying the ‘Shelter in Poems’ selections being emailed to me every few days by Poets.org

I haven’t finished any books, but I’m currently reading The Heavens by Sandra Newman, which I feel ambivalent about, and Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo, which is excellent. I’m working my through the complete Hercule Poirot stories at bedtime.

Watching

I watched the Netlix documentary A Secret Love, which is about the 70-year relationship between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel. This really is a fascinating must-watch. If I have a criticism, it would be that I’d have liked a bit less centering of the heterosexual family’s feelings and rather more about the couple’s lives together. But it’s very good and I cried buckets at the end.

We also enjoyed the episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table with Buddhist nun, Jeong Kwan, which is just beautiful.

Otherwise it’s just been trashy TV and comfort-watching.

Listening

If you like melodic, politcally aware folk music, along the lines of Joan Baez and Thea Gilmore, I can recommend Eliza Gilkyson’s new album 2020

But my album of the week has been Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul by Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter which was a late birthday present from my sister.

Sunday post: early morning walks & batch cooking

A pink sunrise over a calm sea with the sun shining throug white clouds.

Life

I was very glad to see the Easter break approaching this week. We haven’t had time off since Christmas and the current situation is very tiring. Otherwise, things are okay.

We ordered a veggie box from a local supplier which has helped a lot with cooking decent food. I made a big vegetable curry, a stew and coleslaw. We also baked a malt loaf which came out very well.

I’ve been keeping up my early morning walks and have seen a lot of bird activity: goldfinches, greenfinches, wrens, dunnocks, song thrushes, and some kind of swift-type bird (swallows?).

Reading

I finished reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke. It’s a good, well-written mystery with an interesting premise.

Movies

We enjoyed watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears. It’s been a long wait for this film. My expectations were not high and, overall, I think they did well. The only thing I didn’t like was the way they reset Phryne and Jack’s relationship to appeal to new viewers (seriously, the ONLY people watching this film are existing fans of the show). But all I wanted was plenty of fan service and for the romantic tension to pay off and, on that score, it delivered.

Music

The track of the week is this lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’ from Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. Chills!

Thursday post – Life in Lockdown

We’re still doing pretty well overall. I usually get up early in the morning and go out for my allowed exercise. We set up our ‘workstations’ on the kitchen table and pack all the work stuff away when we’re done for the day. We do an online yoga class, make dinner and I’m falling asleep on the sofa by about 9 o’clock. Despite being at home, work and life feel very busy at the moment and, like a lot of people, I’m more tired than usual (Article: Here is why you might be feeling tired while on lockdown). The sense of monotony and sameness have been an issue, but I’m journalling every day and that helps.

Reading

I re- read The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, an old comfort book. I don’t think it’s a very strong collection really and ‘The Final Problem’ is so silly I can’t even. I think ‘The Naval Treaty’ and ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ are probably the best stories in there.

I’m still reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke. I need to finish that one.

Television

It’s been strictly comfort TV. Lots of Poirot and Death in Paradise. And season six of Brooklyn 99 has arrived on Netflix thank goodness!

We also downloaded The White Princess which is super trashy, but at least has Essie Davis as Elizabeth Woodlville. I kinda love how Philippa Gregory takes gaps in history and inserts the most salacious theories she can come up with.

The Miss Fisher movie is on Alibi on Friday so we’re looking forward to that.

Film

We arranged all of our comfort movies A-Z with the idea of working our way through them (we had some disagreements, A is insisting that Jaws is NOT a comfort movie), starting at the weekend with Back to the Future. I loved this film when I was a kid and it was quite fun to watch it again (Christopher Loyd is a comic genius), but I had forgotten how skeezy and rapey the storyline with Marty’s mum is! How was that considered appropriate for a kid’s movie?!?

Music

Still listening to Buffy Sainte Marie

Tuesday Post

Life

This should have been a Sunday post, but I didn’t have the mental energy at the weekend to compose even a lightweight weekly update.

I hope everyone is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. We are okay. We’ve established a routine pretty quickly and are doing quite well on the self-care front. There’s a lot to get used to: working from home, the restrictions on going out, and supporting an older relative who is in self-isolation. The main things I’m struggling with are fatigue and loss of mental focus. I also need to find a way to create a sense of distinction between the days. It feels like they are all merging into one.

Books

I finished The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz. Like all his books, it’s extremely readable and the mystery was decent enough, but it lost of a lot of points for being misogynist and a bit racist. I really enjoyed Magpie Murders but this one was a real turn off.

Also in crime fiction, I’m reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke, which is book five in her Ellie Hatcher series. I generally find Burke very reliable as a crime writer, although her earlier books have some graphic violence against women. I think she gets better and better.

Television

We’ve been enjoying the documentary series, England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey . Alice Roberts’s Digging for Britain is also fun.

Music

My musical discovery of the week has been the later work of Buffy Sainte-Marie which is just fantastic. Here she is with Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, performing the track ‘You got to run’.

Ideas for Projects at Home while Social Distancing

Some things to get on with, my ideas:

  • Clean up this blog – I’ve been meaning to do this for ages and now have no excuse not to get on with it. There are posts on here from 2005 (!!!) and I want to go through it all, see what I want to keep, clean up images etc.
  • Do more regular blogging – work through that backlog of rough drafts and ideas
  • Do some DIY – I hate DIY (rubbish lesbian) but I’ve got a kitchen trolley to put together and I need to order a desk for the spare room, especially now that I’m working from home
  • Sort out the spare room – see above
  • Work through the TBR list which currently stands at about 80 books
  • Establish that daily yoga practice I’ve been going on about
  • Watch all those movies I’m always saying I don’t have time to watch
  • Do some drawing, another thing I’m always saying I want to get back into
  • Research my hobbies, such as how to identify fossils and different bird songs.

My COVID-19 Feelings Dump

I feel bad about writing this post because, honestly, we are in a much better position than so many other people right now. We both have steady jobs, which we can do from home. We have a pleasant flat to stay in and live in a quiet area where we can go out for some walks without getting close to other people. And we don’t have to try and cope with homeschooling anxious, upset children at the same time as trying to do our jobs. My mother is a worry, at eighty years old, but she’s being sensible and staying inside, and she doesn’t have any underlying health conditions. Overall, we are very, very lucky. I’m aware that it could be so much worse.

But the situation still SUCKS and we have to let ourselves feel our feelings. There’s no point in trying to repress the disappointment, fear, resentment, anger etc. So, I’m going to allow myself one feelings dump, after which I’ll do my best to be as positive and constructive as possible.

After a couple of weeks of stress and anxiety, during which most of my energy has been taken up by urgent tasks – cancelling everything, sorting out working from home, supporting colleagues and preparing my mother for self-isolation – reality has only started to hit me this weekend. I’ve been feeling depressed, tearful and resentful. Our routines are massively disrupted and we’ve had to cancel everything we were looking forward to over the next couple of months. Like everyone else, I’m worried about the future.

But for me, personally, the worst thing is feeling that my hopes for a peaceful year are now scuppered. I know this is self-indulgent and not important in the big scheme of things, but I had finally got myself to a place from which I thought I could start healing from the emotional battering I’ve taken over the last few years.

From January this year, though, the ‘thing’ that had been triggering all this emotional distress will be less present in my life. I was really hoping that I might get some mental peace, the chance to rebuild a bit of emotional resilance, perhaps even to start exploring the possiblity of healing. That now doesn’t seem likely.

So, that’s my self-indulgent FEELINGS dump. Now I’ll try and practice acceptance and think about what I can do from this point forward.

Sunday post: Stressed out Sunday

Life

What can I say? Everyone is stressed and scared. I’m trying to be sensible and stay informed, while also taking steps to protect my mental health, because stress isn’t good for the immune system either and panicking helps no one! We’re just taking it one day at a time and trying to focus on what we can control. I’m mainly concerned about my mother, who is eighty, but I’m glad to say she is at least taking it seriously.

One good thing, I finally got to watch a kingfisher for several minutes. I’ve seen them briefly, but this was the first time I’ve got a really good look. Those binnoculars have already paid for themselves.

Reading

I finished My Real Children by Jo Walton. It’s very good and I’m still digesting it. I also finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice for about the millionth time.

Television

We’ve mainly been watching documentaties to take our minds off things. We loved Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents, a thrilling documentary about Elizabethan spy networks. We watched two episodes of The Stuarts, but got a little tired of the way it was directed. Probably will finish it though.

Today we watched Hilary Mantel: Return to Wolf Hall which was excellent. I’m looking forward to reading The Mirror & the Light.

My partner watched this documentary about the surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington, and says it’s good too.

Music

I haven’t listened to anything this week, but my partner recommends ‘Blackbirds & Thrushes’ by traditional folk singer, Niamh Parsons.

Sunday post: Library Cards & Lesbian Movies

Life

Mental health has not been great this week. Waking up at 3 or 4am on two nights with bad dreams, which then caused spirals of negative self-talk and upsetting thoughts during the day. I’ve been doing my best to take care of myself, keeping up my exercise, going to yoga and having almost daily walks on the local wetlands reserve.

My friend Magpie at Midnight had a baby, so that’s pretty amazing.

One good thing I did this week was go and get myself a new library card. After several years of neglect, I’m determined to start using my local library again.

Reading

I’m currently reading My Real Children by Jo Walton (from the library) and really enjoying it.

Television

I’ve started watching Silent Witness from the beginning. It seems like a show I could get into and I like to do things in order. The first season is taking itself extremely seriously but I’m enjoying it.

Film

We went to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire at Chapter Arts Centre this evening and it was excellent.

Music

I haven’t listened to much this week, so here is a song by Townes Van Zandt who would have been 76 on 7 March and is one of my all time favourite country singers.

Sunday Post: End of February

Life

My goal this week was to get through it without letting stress take over my life. I knew it was going to be busy at work, and when this happens, I tend to let self-care drop just when I most need to keep it up.

I delivered online training on Tuesday, went to Mid Wales for an all-day meeting on Wednesday, and gave a presentation to an important meeting on Thursday.

Overall, I managed the stress pretty well. I kept up other activities and didn’t have any anxiety attacks. I even had drinks with colleagues on Friday which was nice.

I went to a really good LGBTQ History Month event at The Senedd on Saturday. The speakers were all excellent and it was nice to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while. I learned about this project, Out in the Museum, which started at the V&A in London and is now being picked up by other museums across the UK. There was also a showing of a powerful short film, Invisible Women, about intersections between women’s and LGBT rights activism in the 1980s.

We were planning to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire but my partner has a cold so we’ll try and see it next weekend.

Reading

I finished Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection, Falling in Love with Hominids. It’s a really good collection and well worth reading, although the stories were much closer to horror than I expected. Proper post to follow.

Pride and Prejudice is my current bedtime book.

Television

Mainly watching Schitt’s Creek at the moment.

Music

I’ve been listening to Nina Simone this week after twitter reminded me that 21 February was her birthday. So many incredible songs, but I think my favourite – right now anyway – is ‘Sinnerman’. The energy of this performance grabs me every time.

Why grief must be witnessed

Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.

David Kessler, Our Experience of Grief is Unique as a Fingerprint

Sunday post: soup and stonechats

A round white bowl full of a red tomatoey soul with red peppers and chickpeas
Chickpea minnestrone

Life

I’ve been feeling the caffeine withdrawl this week. Despite sleeping well, I’ve been irritable and fatigued, especially in the mornings. I hope my body adjusts to lower levels soon.

But I did some useful stuff. Got my hair cut and went shopping for clothes for work. I had a couple of nice birdwatching walks on the nearby wetlands. I saw goldfinches, dunnocks, stonechats, greenfinches and some weird ducks which I don’t know how to identify.

We’ve been cooking from my beloved copy of Flavour by Ruby Tandoh. We made the tomato couscous, the quinoa with roast cabbage and the chickpea minnestrone.

Television

We finished up The Good Place. I wasn’t very impressed with the show’s ultimate take on the afterlife, but I did think the finale was a powerful episode about grief and loss. I cried through it and have been crying off and on today when I think about it.

Reading

I finished reading Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. A useful book and post to come. I’ve almost finished Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson and The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths.

Music

The album of the week is Dark Chords on a Big Guitar, (2003) an album of cover versions by Joan Baez. Top track, ‘Motherland’ by Natalie Merchant.

Sunday Post: Rainy Birthday thoughts

A round white bowl containing red lentil soup topped with green kale
Lemony lentil soup with crispy kale by Anna Jones

Life

I turned forty-three on Monday. February is not a great time to have a birthday. It’s dark, the weather is usually dreadful and no one has any money after Christmas. We made the best of it, despite wind and heavy rain. We had lunch with my mother and went out for a nice meal in the evening. My sister came over yesterday with my brother-in-law and nephew, which was really nice. She bought me a box of plants.

I usually get the blues around the time of my birthday. This isn’t an aging thing (it’s been happening since I was about twenty), it’s more of a feeling that, despite all my efforts, I’m failing to make a mark on the world. Some years it’s worse than others. I felt a bit depressed as the week went on, but not too bad.

My age does throw up some big things to think about, though: impending perimenopause, greying hair, losing the possibility of having children … It’s not that I ever wanted to have children, it’s just a little weird to feel that door finally swinging closed for good. Perhaps I should address it in some way.

I’ve also been reflecting on my mental health this week and thinking about the steps I need to take to achieve some real healing, as opposed to just developing yet more ‘coping skills’. I’m sure some of these topics will become blog posts over the next year.

This week we’ve mainly been cooking from Anna Jones’s book, a modern way to eat. We made the lemony lentil soup with crispy kale (pictured), the chickpea and preserved lemon stew and the ‘proper chilli’.

TV

We watched a couple of Poirot features, Taken at the Flood and After the Funeral. Both were very enjoyable, but I do miss Hastings, Inspector Jap and Miss Lemon from the earlier series.

Film

We went to see the new adaptation of Emma last night. I didn’t think it was particularly good, although it was entertaining to watch. It went for broad comedy which Emma isn’t, so I don’t think that worked! But it was pretty to look at and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

Reading

I haven’t read anything substantial this week. I’ve been picking at Pride and Prejudice and started the next Ruth Galloway novel. Everything else has been on hold.

Music

The album of the Week is Red Rescue by Jaimee Harris. It’s a really fun country rock album and she has a great voice.

Top track, ‘Damn Right’

Sunday Post: Beginning of February

A gloved hand holding a grey stone in which there are the remains of two ammonite fossils although they are almost worn away
Ghostly ammonites

Life

My last week of being forty-two. I took a day off work and went for a very long walk on a local beach which is covered in fossils. My favourite find was this stone with two ghostly ammonites that have been worn away by the sea.

Yesterday, we went for another long walk, this time beside the river that runs through the city where we live. It was a beautiful day and we saw a lot of birds, including grey wagtails, wrens, tree creepers, coal tits, goosanders and a very elegant heron.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, mostly from Anna Jones’s book, The Modern Cook’s Year. I made the chard, lentil and bay gratin, the golden miso potato salad and pomelo and peanut winter noodles with carrot and coconut dressing. All were very good.

Unfortunately, I did have a cooking-related mishap and dropped boiling water on my foot, so now I have a large blister. My partner says I should be in a health and safety video about what not to do.

TV

We’re on a bit of a costume drama kick at the moment. We watched the Andrew Davies Sense and Sensibility from 2008. I don’t think it’s very good. It rips off the Emma Thompson movie something shocking and both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are horribly miscast, but Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan are excellent as Marianne and Elinor and that makes it watchable.

Then we watched the 1996 adaptation of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Tara Fitzgerald and very young Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens. Overall, I think this is excellent, but it’s so relentlessly serious and grim, it’s not an easy watch. I do think the adaptation lacks a warmth that Bronte brings to the novel.

Reading

I finished Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had issues with a couple of things, but it was a very enjoyable read. Proper post to follow.

The poem of the week is ‘Cellular’ by Lizzie Harris

Life, in even the simplest form, has always
been a matter of finding the energy.

Music

I love ‘Melyn’ (2018) by the Welsh feminist band, Adwaith. It’s gorgeous, atmospheric indie rock and I’m really excited to see what they’re going to do next.

I’ve also been listening to Cassandra Wilson’s album of Billie Holiday covers Coming Forth by Day (2015). It’s a fantastic album and my song of the week is her version of ‘Good Morning Heartache’.

Sunday Post: So, we made it to the end of January

Life

Busy week at work. I had to deliver a workshop and travel to Mid Wales to give a presentation at an event. Everything feels stressful at the moment. Lots of bad news generally and on Friday the UK officially began the process of leaving the EU. The country feels horrendously divided over Brexit and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

On a happier note, I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, so that was good. They had a baby last year and I think they were pleased to have some grown-up time. One of my other friends had a new baby arrive yesterday, which is nice.

I made it to the end of #DryJanuary without any difficulty. Cutting back on caffeine has been far far harder and I’m struggling to get below two cups a day.

I gave the flat a really good clean for Imbolc this weekend. I love the Imbolc clean. It feels very satisfying.

TV

We’ve been enjoying Neil Brand’s documentary series, Sound of Musicals. It’s a fascinating history of the genre and just a beautifully made series. The only downside of watching it is having songs from musicals constantly stuck in our heads.

We’re working our way to the end of The Good Place. I don’t think this season is very good – although its better than the last one – but I do like the characters and want to see how it finishes, so I’m sticking with it.

Books

The book of the week is Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novel Dragonsbane. I downloaded it on my e-reader because I was looking for a fun read and boy has it delivered. Hambly is very reliable and I should read more of her work.

Music

I haven’t listened to much this week. My partner put some Israel Nash on the other night which was good – lovely cosmic Americana – so I’ll pick ‘Rain Plans’ as my song of the week.


Sunday Post: Calming Down (or trying to)

Life

After last week’s anxiety-fest, I spent this week making efforts to calm down. I continued to cut back on caffeine and started a daily guided meditation for managing anxiety. I did have one anxiety spike on Friday, which then rolled over to Saturday morning, but in general, it has been a lot better.

I’ve been feeling irritable and a little depressed, though, which may be due to caffeine withdrawal, or perhaps the ‘anxiety’ has been masking other emotions. Otherwise, it’s been a very quiet week and I didn’t do much.

TV

We were looking for something calming to watch and settled on the 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice dramatized by Fay Weldon. Despite seeming very dated now, I think this has a lot of charm and would be a favourite if only they’d cast a decent Darcy. I don’t know what was going on with David Rentoul’s performance, but it’s quite awful.

Books

I finished Melmoth by Sarah Perry. It’s very clever and beautifully written, but left me rather cold for reasons I’ll try and articulate when I round up this month’s reading. I’ve almost finished A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths and it’s just good fun.

Music

The only album I listened to this week was the Joni Mitchell compilation, Songs of a Prairie Girl. My partner is a big Joni fan and I’m starting to get it. The song of the week is ‘Urge for Going’, which is just beautiful.