Monday, 9 December 2013

Success and Failure

Our Winter Fayre was a success. We all shuffled in early to unfurl curtains and blankets across Formica tables, tak ivy to the magnolia walls and display our wares. These photos do none of us justice, but were the best I could manage between customers, on a camera which needed me to rub its batteries on my thighs between shots - real girl power :o).

I was ensconced in the corner with my neighbour who makes strikingly patterned pottery. We normally snatch at conversation as we scuttle past one another, so it was lovely to have a whole day together and we spent a lot of it laughing.

Another neighbour, Damien Hackney of Oakleaf Jewellery, was there too (we are a crafty street).

Nomi sold her amazing artwork and jewellery and the music of Telling the Bees which cheered us all more than the usual Christmas jingles.

Danielle Barlow, who organised the fayre, sold her ever-popular cards, prints and original work.

Rima was there with her traveling Hermitage, selling wonders as ever, with the new and powerful lure (I succumbed) of a Rima Staines calendar.

And there were more, who escaped my dodgy photography when even the power of a maiden's thighs was not enough to recharge the batteries. Iah of Ecofreq sold tempting fabric cuffs and adornments; Sara sold handmade funky bags and books; Sonny of The Healing Hedgerow sold potions and lotions to cure and soothe (and washable sanitary towels which one lady mistook for spectacle cases) and Danielle's entire family plied us all with drinks and stollen. We all agreed we'd do it again next year :o).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Pickle and I have been struggling. I had thought (in a fit of self-ignorance) that waiting for my surgery would teach me patience. Nope. Instead, I am learning how astonishingly deep my impatience goes. I have a consultation with a surgeon in January, but then it could be months before I get a surgery date. Also, a referral for an MRI but no word of that yet.

So, I am stressed and needing a bit of space to collect myself. Pickle, feeling me retreat slightly, clings on tight. Which leaves me feeling I have less space than before. She wants to reduce her nursery afternoons from 3 to 1 (I've booked 2 in case she changes her mind) and move her bed into my room. I've resolved to spend as long as it takes to sing her to sleep and just go to bed earlier and earlier if she spends all night in with me, scrabbling about and asking if it's morning yet. But the beds stay where they are. (For now.) I'm finding ways to be close with Pickle, to play uninterrupted by such inconsequential irritants as laundry and cooking. It's hard - often I'd rather read the paper or have a nap, or just wash up with enough quiet to think. Failing my girl is the thing which will tip me over the edge faster than anything else. I realised I was halfway down the cliff and called for help. She got ill. A very long night of vomiting (in my bed EVERY time!) for her and laundry for me. By the morning we were both ragged. The washing machine, laundry basket and bath were all full. Everything was cancelled. We were in quarantine and could do nothing but be together. It helped and she healed from her first advent chocolate breakfast. I am back at the top again, leaning dangerously, but still grasping tufts of seagrass with my toes. I don't know which way I'll tip, but I'll keep doing what I can to find safe ground for us both in the storms ahead. Last Christmas was tough. I'm hoping this one will be easier, but this second year hasn't been easier in general. January waits to pounce with the anniversary of Thomas dying and February with Valentine's Day and Pickle's birthday, which is a joy and a wounding because he should be there, at least on her special day. And then March and the rebalancing of the light and, I pray, my mind. Let's hope we're all still standing on the other side.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cherry Blossom and Winter Fayre Cheer

I try to skip my eye from rosehip to holly berry to the herbs flowering valiantly against the grey. I try to accept the freshness of the wind and focus on the gaps between the rain. But perhaps I should just confess that I don't want the darkness to come. Some years the winter solstice is a cave I can crawl into; it is safety and solitude and snuggling warm with a cold nose. This year the darkening feels exhausting. Each week I am more tired and I fear it is because I need the sun. Maybe I need the sun's masculine strength, but that thought is a heavy one and doesn't help me. Maybe I am lonely inside all my many protective layers. That thought neither. Which is possibly why, in my work, I am creating sunshine :o).

This is Cherry Blossom, completed in time for The Chagford Winter Artisan Fayre, of which I am proud to be a part. It promises to be a day of warmth, levity and bright company - just exactly what I need.

And there is fun to be found even on a cold morning. Forest School is the highlight of our week. Here Emily regales us with a story of the wind and the sun while we glug hot chocolate and scoff snacks.

Later we made hogitats (hedgehog homes, for those not in the know). Pickle (whose Forest School name is Earthworm) and her lovely friend Rabbit made one together and it did look very inviting.

And we finally met Thomas's cousin, Naomi, and her dad, Bob. Pickle was impressed with Naomi's Hawkins-style communicator, but more so with Naomi's pirate boots. It was good to spend time together, although Chagford's windy lanes and unconventional shops narrowed the choice of venues. Here we are in The New Forge, Pickle clutching the bubbles set Naomi had given her.

I am not entirely in denial about the season. I have bought a fibre optic tree (don't tell Pickle - it's a surprise) and have made some of my work into seasonal cards which will be at our splendid Fayre and are also in my Etsy shop.

So, okay, although I have my Eeyore moments, I am actually quite excited about Christmas. I know it's cool to be aloof and moral about the consumerism and the excess, and for good reason, but I love finding things of happiness and knowing they're stashed away for my girl or for the other wonders who people my lucky life. For balance of sorts, I have been talking about the Philippines tornado. I told Pickle people from all over the world are sending money to help. She looked a bit sad and said, 'But I haven't got any money.' Then, much brighter, 'I can send them chocolate money for a present!' I am coming to believe that the thought really does count.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

An Exhibition and Talk of Marriage

We have reversed roles. Pickle is now well enough to gambol off to nursery and I am increasingly ragged of nostril and lung - not a pretty sight. A friend has brought a jar of mountain sage to brew on the hob for a few days and hopefully enable me to talk again.

But enough of such gloomy talk. Shall we have a happy post for once? Yes, let's.

Here is a whistlestop tour of the fun we've been having of late:

We've spent time with Pickle's special hound-friend, looking at the world through tinted lenses

playing Red Riding Hood


but we all know how that story ends

and that the danger is really from these beautiful ingrates.

We have been finding secret ways,

managing the elements,

 being amazed by autumn abundance

and wondering why the ponies don't want to talk to our horse, even when he talks to them.

Meanwhile, Pickle's beloved Gappy has been very poorly and my mum has has her double mastectomy. Mum's home after only one night in hospital and doing fine - in fact, she's quite typically mostly concerned about myself and Gappy.

And back at the ranch, I am having a little exhibition in The Courtyard throughout November.

Rex of Barleycorn fame arrived just as I was starting to hang my work (in my straightforward hammer-and-nail style), bearing fancy picture hanging wires, which worked fine on the framed pieces, but the originals (on the right wall) were too light, so I did get to do some banging. And the lovely Rima of Hermitage fame came to lend a hand and assure me it was all fine and I could stop and drink my coffee.

The three larger originals are new, so they warrant a solo moment each.

Large Flower Meadow:

Tulip Field:

Meadow Hill:

There's also the perpetual calendars drawn by the late, great Thomas, all my postcards, unframed versions of the framed prints and some new seasonal cards. The Courtyard is a lovely place to be, but if you find yourself far from Devon, you can hop across to my blossoming Etsy shop, where I may or may not be serving cake.

And if all THAT isn't cheering enough, then let me share an especially happy moment with you.

PICKLE: Mama, when can I get married? [This from nothing - we were reading about a dog!]

ME: Well, you can marry when you're sixteen, but you might want to wait longer or not marry at all. You can only marry one person, so you need to choose very carefully.

PICKLE: I know who I'm going to marry when I'm sixteen.

ME: Who's that? [Connor, Noah, Erick, Reuben?]

PICKLE: I'm going to marry you Mama.

Reader, I cried. And I didn't contradict her. This proposal may only be my second favourite because the first had the advantage of chips. And a cuckoo, who still calls in the long hot days.

But those days are gone, so now for another fat mug of mountain sage and honey - this stuff's good :o).

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Praying, But Also Railing

Pickle has been ill - a mercifully rare, but rarely merciful thing. An ear infection which spread to her throat, is all. But her body has blazed and she's been in too much pain to want to swallow, or breathe. Asleep, her breath, through the confines of her swollen throat, has been too shallow to sustain her. She wakes, gasps, chokes, cries - each of which redoubles the pain. I soothe and hold and sing and say, 'I know, I know, I'm with you.' But I'm not. Pain is a solitary place. It takes time before she can be comforted out of the crying/choking/pain cycle, but at last she sleeps and I watch as her breathing diminishes, wishing her to rest in the peace of sleep and controlling the urge to wake her so she has enough oxygen and doesn't just. stop. Which is the subtext while I go through the motions with the Calpol and eucalyptus and extra pillows. Some trigger has been switched and I drop into the old routine as if it weren't old at all. I make notes so I can report accurately what happened when. I have clothes ready - layers for the cold night and the overheated hospital, clothes in which I could do business with an authoritative and exhausted doctor. My phone and charger are within arm's reach. I curse the hurricane outside for making the air ambulance an impossibility - not that they could help before. I spend those moments when I could be asleep praying with a desperate fervour. Praying, but also railing, 'Don't you dare!' I thunder silently, feeling what maybe all mothers feel in these moments; that if need be I could and would take fate and luck and any deity you care to name by the scruff of the neck and MAKE them save my child. It is a convincing conceit at the time - a prop when one is needed - despite so many of us having tried this and come away shaking our heads, hands, hearts. Come away alone.

And then it is morning. It seems I have slept because I am woken by Pickle's frightened gasps - she has no voice at all - and I administer another dose of drug, wincing at the heat of her belly, then begin a regressed version of our morning routine so no independent effort is expected of my tired and worried girl. We each know the other is worried and we each pretend this is not the case. I will not cry until we are in separate beds again and she, catching my anxious eye, gives me a tight grin and says, 'I'm happy.' She has been giving me these smiles all night, through the fire and the pain. She has been looking after her Mama, as we all do, and it cracks a chasm in me.

I phone the doctors the minute they open - understaffed, sick leave, hurricane - eight hours until our appointment. Unless it's an emergency? I look at my girl huddled on the sofa, a glum look of tired suffering on her pale face. Her fever has broken and she has eaten a little breakfast. No, I don't think it's an emergency.

We even use a break in the weather to go shopping - jelly, ice cream, Bob the Builder magazine with plastic chainsaw, chocolate biscuits for Mama, extra credit on my phone. Then hours of waiting, snoozing, DVDs of Bagpuss, Bob, Lars the Polar Bear, all spent curled together on the sofa. She cries if I go into a different room, even for a wee or tea. We must be together today. So I have time to sit and try to order my frightened mind. Generally I fool myself that the madness of grieving has passed, but fool I am. One trigger and I am fighting flashbacks, needing to rationalise over and over why it's not very likely my girl will die in my arms like my husband did. Every time she wakes and has to sit up to breathe, I see him sitting up in the night to quell his racing heart. The harsh rasp of her infected throat is cruelly like his last breaths and always, always, I am doing all that can be done, looking like I am coping admirably. I am tireless in my efforts to save and soothe and yet. And yet I can do nothing. People just die sometimes. That, of course, is life.

The doctor is new and unconfident. She flusters a little at my record of Pickle's temperature, spends a long time feeling and peering and listening to Pickle's body. Pickle is heroic. I can tell she doesn't want to stand, is just too tired, but she stoically stands, lifts clothes, sticks out tongue, bends head, does it all again, then climbs back onto my lap, all hokey-cokey'd out, while the doctor muses aloud about hospital, but probably not necessary, but a very poorly girl. The verdict is a viral infection - just carry on doing what I'm doing and be in touch if I become worried. I gather up my girl and bundle us up against the wind and rain for the journey home - Pickle clinging grimly to the handlebars of her trike and me pushing from behind. It is not a day for pedaling. As I push and cower from the weather, I realise I am reassured by this newby-thorough doctor. She really considered what was best and decided to send us home. I can use that against my fear tonight. A doctor said.

The second night is the same but less so and by the next day we even do a little role play (I am Father Christmas, a baby, a cement mixer in turn) and Pickle can whisper without wincing. She's a little dehydrated, but the doctor said drink, so she does. We spend a lot of time intertwined still, for which I am grateful because as the fear subsides I feel how behind I have fallen with my sleep.

I think we will both sleep better tonight and I'm glad it's half term so we can be slow and easy and together for as long as we want, although my prediction is that tomorrow I'll hear 'Who can we play with today?' and 'Can I have another breakfast?' and then I'll let go of that worry and pretend to myself once again that the plot is firmly within my grasp.

And I am left with this circling my mind:

Thursday, 5 September 2013

BRCA1 Lunar0 Still in Play...

So, I got my BRCA1 result. Positive. The evening skies have run with fire and blood ever since. Clearly I and all my good friends are quite bad at thinking negative, even when we try. But thank you for trying.

There are options, none of them simple or free of trauma or entirely satisfying.

I can walk away, forget about it, get on with the rest of my life.

I can have lots of screening - MMRs and mammograms. Until...

I can dedicate myself to my health in a web of ways outside of Western medicine.

I can have my breasts cut off now and my womb and ovaries taken out when I'm 40, in five years time.

No way can I forget about it. The horror of orphaning Pickle when she's already been through so much is unspeakable. It has run ragged through my nightmares and slashed me awake many nights. So no walking away for me. 

Screening, for me, feels like a rollercoaster which you know is more likely to end badly than not. 'Badly' might not mean death, but in my situation, chemotherapy is just not possible either. Of course my wonderful community would help me - they thrive on a soup and sympathy rota - but I would not be able to care adequately for Pickle for a long time, and how could I get her to believe that I would get better when we couldn't be sure and we thought that about her dad? No. Not my choice.

If I didn't have Pickle; if my death wouldn't mean a small girl lost the last of her nuclear family; I really might immerse myself in my own wellbeing (do please write in with the reason we're not all doing this anyway) in may ways, particularly Traditional Chinese Medicine which has some form here ('some' meaning thousands of years). I might aim for quality of life and spend some of that time praying for maximum quantity too. I feel that would be the most courageous choice, the most life-affirming, self-loving. The biggest YES to the universe which is asking me, Do you want to stay? But, and this is new for me, I am tempering courage with a stoic clarity of mind. Yes, this is the best option for me-in-a-vacuum. No, this is not the best option for me-in-my-life. My wise friend reminded me I needed to listen to a voice other than my Tiger Mama to make sure my decision was right. I did. I found this voice, which says with Falstaff: 'The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.' 

Which leaves me with cutting off my breasts. There are nicer or (not and) more clinical ways of describing a double mastectomy, but I challenge you to find a truer one. It is, however, a much more complicated procedure than I had imagined, with grotesque decisions to be made. The big one is to reconstruct or not to reconstruct. This I don't have an answer to yet, although I am swayed by these beauties.

It was my mum who first called a halt to this gene's secret snaking down our bloodline. After early breast cancer, then an unusual form of ovarian cancer, she was offered a DNA profile and found BRCA1. A flurry of 'relatives letters' went out, bringing fear, but also new choices to many homes in my extended family. She will have a double mastectomy very soon, but first, to help us prepare for the gamble of our breasts for our lives, she and I will celebrate our bodies as they are with some life modelling for a couple of particularly lovely and talented artist friends.

It's been tough. I've been stressed and irritable by day - not a fun person for poor Pickle to live with - and tearful and insomniac by night. But I'm accumulating dribs of acceptance and have much support, not least acupuncture from Tom Hirons of the admirable Source Point Community Acupuncture clinic.

I am left knowing only this for sure: I do not want to die. Not yet. There's Pickle to consider, and my family's been through enough grief with losing Thomas and not knowing how long we'll have our mum with us... but it's not only that. I love this life. Truly. I'm still racked and wrecked by grief sometimes and there are things happening in the world on a scale of horror beyond my comprehension. But this world is such a beautiful place still. I remain deeply grateful for every rising sun and moon and tide and shoot and even early three-year-old. If I go ahead with this surgery, it will not be because I am afraid of cancer, and certainly not of death. It will not be about fear at all. It will be because I have a gene which could be the death of me and the woman who once gave me life has now given me the chance to stay alive a lot longer. I will not be part of any 'fight against cancer'. I don't want to 'beat this gene'. Fighting is never the way to win. (Seriously, twenty first century and we're still having to remind each other of that?) No. Not my way. This surgery is an opportunity to sacrifice in the old way; an active choice to lay on the altar of life something I hold most dear. And what do I receive in return? Isn't it obvious? My heart, closer to the surface of my being, nearer to the world around me and the future ahead of me. My fearsome, warrior heart, out there like never before.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Bright blooms on a dark night

The hills are darkling and my thoughts are meandering, so tonight I will introduce you to my new postcards and let them speak for themselves.

If they take your fancy, they're for sale through my Etsy shop (the column on the right) and at Amy's Flowers, Chagford - my favourite ever florist who always seems to have some little offcut whenever Pickle comes in. Tonight Pickle is sleeping under the sedative influence of a beautiful pink gerbera bloom which needed a home :o).

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Thinking Negative

Pickle's going to be an astronaut and is quite serious about training. So far this has included eating extra green veg and walking further. I would love to find a way to include toilet training, after a bit of a relapse, but she has chosen the one profession where you really are supposed to pee in your pants. Two friends have agreed to join her, so watch this space for progress reports on our all-girl team to the moon. [At the time of publication, there is some possibility of her being a roofer instead. Either way, she's aiming high.]

I thought we'd have a spacious and relaxed summer this year, but we just can't stop having adventures. 

We've been to stay with my sister's large and wonderful family, which is an adventure in itself, and we all went to see Happy's Circus, which was brilliant. They're aimed at schools and I'll be trying to persuade Chagford School to invite them. The kids were all entranced and Pickle couldn't stop herself standing when something extra exciting happened.

With only one night to recover from that, we flew off to Jersey to see my good friend and her daughter. 

Always a fan of the budget holiday, we camped in their garden and had a lovely time.

We played in big rock pools (Pickle still not being a fan of the sea)

went rock climbing

spent a whole day at the Gerald Durrell Wildlife Park (I can't do zoos)

enjoyed the company of Uma the coral snake

went down huge slides

got genuinely lost in a maize maze

and generally had a very lovely time.

We flew home (Pickle opting to leave the plane halfway, but being talked out of it by me), washed some pants and drew breath, then off to my parents' home in sunny Somerset, where we had a ride on a proper 'woo woo' steam train

saw sheepdogs at various stages of training confuse a lot of sheep and ducks, and some amazing birds of prey, including this lannar falcon

and Pickle showed off her Forest School skills.

Meanwhile, I can now steer a car a bit, as long as I don't have to go round a corner while changing gears and have even done 70mph on the A30, then later discovered a bee in the car.

And as if that weren't stressful enough, I've got my BRCA1 gene test result this Monday. If it's positive, I think I'll have a double mastectomy as soon as possible, then my ovaries removed when I'm forty (in five years). So let's think negative :o).

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