A Doggy Birthday: 2013 365 Challenge #246

Happy Birthday Kara

Happy Birthday Kara

It’s our lovely Kara’s fifth birthday today. I only remembered at tea time, so unfortunately she hasn’t been spoiled as much as she should have (although she’s had plenty of cheese!). The first of our babies to turn five. It feels strange. She obviously hasn’t been in this house five years, as she was eight weeks old when we picked her up. Still, it’s a time to reflect, as birthdays often are.

Kara and I have a volatile relationship. She’s not the kind of dog that is always loyal and loving: she’s too smart for that. She’s loyal to the person who feeds and walks her. She does like the family to be all together in one room, often rounding me up once the kids are in bed so she can sleep on the sofa in the lounge (as she is now.)

Unfortunately we were as new to dog ownership as we were to parenting, when Kara joined us. And it’s easier to unpick the mistakes you make with a child than it is with a dog. So many of Kara’s most annoying habits are entirely my fault. That doesn’t endear you to someone!

Always part of the family

Always part of the family

For instance she is terrified of thunder. I’ve lost many a night’s sleep to cuddling next to her on the sofa while she whines and quivers. We know why.

The first time she heard thunder and cried, I was putting my baby daughter to bed. I comforted Kara much as I would have comforted the baby if she were upset. I took her upstairs with me, so her crying wouldn’t keep the baby awake, and I made a fuss.

Big Mistake. Big. HUGE.

Now we’re trying to unpick the damage, creating a positive association between thunder and cheese! It seems to be working but it’s a long arduous road.

My daughter playing with Kara

My daughter playing with Kara

The second annoying habit she has is following me around. That’s my fault too.

I was six months pregnant when we got her as a tiny puppy. I didn’t have the energy to rush around making sure she wasn’t chewing things or peeing on the carpet, so I would call her to me every few minutes. She learnt that her job was to always be by my side.

Drives me nuts.

It was also the start of our fighting, as tripping over a puppy you can’t see because of your ginormous bump tends to lead to shouting.

Her third phobia – the car – is also down to us. On a long trip to Dorset for our first family holiday she shared the boot with the pushchair. We think it must have rolled on her at some point because now she has to be lifted in the car, even if the boot is completely empty. She can be as stubborn, awkward, pushy, sulky and jealous as any of the children. She is definitely the first child!

The toy goes here, Kara

The toy goes here, Kara

Poor Kara. I wish we could go back and take a dog owners’ course before we bought her. Mind you, I think she was always going to be a bit neurotic.

When we arrived at the kennel to choose our new puppy, having decided on the labradoodle breed as best for a young family, there were two black puppies left. I chose the other one, because it had a curlier coat and would (hopefully) shed less hair.

As we walked into the office, my husband looked back towards the pen, and Kara was peering over the top, standing on her back legs (as she does so often now), looking pitiful. He melted and she came in with us too.

I guess these guys will do for now

I guess these guys will do for now

Of the two puppies, Kara was the only one interested in us. The other was more interested in trying to escape. So the choice was made and the puppy who didn’t want to be left alone came home with us.

She is a darling. She gives great cuddles, especially when I’m upset. She runs to the kids if they cry. She puts up with them saying “Go away Kara!” and then calling her back the next minute. She lives for chasing sticks and balls, swimming in the river and eating cheese. She can easily jump an eight foot ditch and approaches new dogs on her belly, begging to play. She’ll box with a terrier and chase with a sheepdog.

She makes me get out and walk everyday, and her joyous running teaches me to live in the moment. Her favourite place in the world is wedged between me and hubbie on the sofa. She’s crazy and annoying, boisterous and shouty, messy and greedy, she snores louder than my hubbie and her farts could knock out a grown  man. And we love her.

She fits right in! ________________________________________________________________________________

Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:  ________________________________________________________________________________

Claire walked beside Bethan and tried to concentrate on what her friend was saying. Behind her, Josh chatted with another member of the group, not showing he was in anyway frustrated by the intrusion. Claire wasn’t fooled. She had felt his gaze on her more than once as they meandered back to town at a much more leisurely pace than Josh had set for the climb up to Mount Victoria.

She had to admit to feeling relieved that Josh was unable to finish what he’d been on the verge of telling her. Something about the intensity of his stare, when their eyes clashed, and the way he seemed to keep accidentally touching her skin or finding a reason to rest his hand on her arm, unsettled her.

“… are you coming? Claire?”

Claire looked into Bethan’s dark eyes and flushed as she realised she had no idea what the girl was talking about.

“Earth to Claire! Where were you, my lovely? You looked light years away.”

Claire felt the blush burn hotter and resisted the need to turn towards Josh, convinced that he would be listening to their conversation.

“Sorry, I wasn’t anywhere, just lack of sleep.”

“I thought you said you slept like the dead last night?” Bethan’s lips twitched in a coy smile and Claire wondered what erroneous conclusions she was drawing from Josh’s appearance out of the blue.

“I did, but I think that stupid ferry trip took more out of me than I realised. I’m truly sorry. What were you saying? Am I coming where?”

“On the ferry tomorrow? We’re going to pick up the bus at Picton and go kayaking in the Abel Tasman Park. The weather’s meant to be awesome for the time of year.”

Claire’s thoughts tumbled like white water rapids; churning with conflicting desires. She had to find out what Josh wanted before she could make plans, although she wasn’t sure what he might say that would force her to change hers. She needed to get on with her journey, time was slipping away.

Josh’s voice broke in on her confusion. “Why don’t I come over with you? It’s been years since I went hiking in the Abel Tasman Park, it’ll be fun.”

“But surely you don’t have your gear with you? I thought you were here for a conference?” Claire heard the protestations in her voice and wondered what Josh would make of them. Suddenly she didn’t want him coming on her adventure. He wasn’t the carefree Josh she remembered and she found his presence unnerving.

“She’ll be right. You can hike the National Park in trainers, it’ll be bonza.”

She raised an eyebrow at his sudden rendition of Aussie Male and he smirked. Aware of a strong compulsion to push him down the hillside, Claire merely shrugged.

“Sure, why not. Provided there’s room on the bus.”

Bethan gave her a sideways glance and Claire could tell she was trying to figure out her lukewarm reaction to Josh’s suggestion. She wasn’t sure she understood it herself. Maybe the past was better off where it was, rather than letting it intrude on the present. Nothing good ever came from going back: look at Michael.

Like an aviary of noisy parrots, the chatter of the group rose around her as they discussed where to go for dinner and what time the ferry would leave in the morning. Claire let it wash over her and walked the rest of the route in silence.

***

Rainy Day Play Again: 2013 365 Challenge #237

Getting soaked in her best dress

Getting soaked in her best dress

It’s a rainy bank holiday weekend here in the UK. Bank holidays don’t mean much when you’re self/unemployed. The only impact it has on us is that the children won’t go to nursery on Monday and I will get a little bit further behind on my writing. 

I remember looking forward to bank holiday weekends in the days when I did work for a living. Who doesn’t love a free day off, even if it means battling home in crazy traffic on a Friday night?

I love the August bank holiday the best because it’s when the summer fêtes are held.

As a child we went to the same summer fête every year – to a place called Wisborough Green in Sussex – even though it was an hour’s drive in the camper-van (a long way to go to a ‘local’ event!).

Loving the wet slide

Loving the wet slide

My father often went to the village on holiday as a child and it held an almost magical appeal to him to the day he died.

These days we go to our local village fête. We’ve even entered things in the craft competition before (certainly not in the produce section: plants come to our house to die).

My husband won his category for his ‘man knitting’ – one of his many mini obsessions. His knitting was six foot wide and about eight foot long, in a dozen different colours and textures. It had to be displayed on a curtain pole.

This year we had hoped to enter something of the children’s but time keeps slipping away from me. We’ve got 24 hours to figure something out!

I'm a bit wet, Mummy

I’m a bit wet, Mummy

I feel sad for office workers when it rains on a bank holiday weekend – particularly when the preceding weather has been great, as it has been this month. So frustrating to be stuck inside with restless children or, worse still, travelling any distance in the car when it’s raining. We went to see my father-in-law for lunch today and I’ve never seen so many flashing blue lights during a thirty-mile journey.

When we got home I slept on the sofa for two hours with my son, making up for some of the sleep lost through last night’s thunder-storm. Our poor dog came upstairs at 2 a.m. – an unprecedented event which showed just how upset she was – and I went to sleep on the sofa to keep her company and feed her cheese every time the thunder rolled.

After my nap, I managed a few games of Guess Who? and Snakes and Ladders before we all started getting cabin fever. Unfortunately my youngest is still incapable of sitting still for the time it takes to play a board game and my daughter hates to lose. Not a great recipe for harmonious game playing!

My daredevil boy!

My daredevil boy!

Come five o’clock, bedtime seemed too far away, so I decided if you can’t beat the weather you have to join it. I let the kids outside without waterproofs, as it’s still very warm, and they had immense fun getting as soaked as they possibly could. Sometimes you have to go with the flow!

Anyway, sorry for the rambling post. The dog didn’t get walked today (the heavens opened just as the kids came in for tea and I don’t have any wellies, although that’s a story for another day!) and I find blog ideas only come to me when I’m walking.

I hope you like the pictures instead!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire awoke as the coach stopped moving. Rolling countryside had been replaced by sprawling suburbia and she realised, with a sinking heart, that she’d slept through the entire drive from river valley.

I’m never likely to come to this country again and I couldn’t even keep my eyes open for a few hours to admire the scenery. I’m not much of a travel writer.

Blinking away the sleepy fog clouding her sight, Claire tried to take in her surroundings. It had started to rain at some point in their journey and all she could see through the windows were hulking grey shapes distorted by the streams of water running down.

She survived the check-in routine on auto-pilot. When she reached her room, Claire looked at her bed and felt an almost irresistible urge to climb under the covers and close her eyes again. But, even though she planned to spend an extra night in the capital, it was a waste of opportunity and dollars to sleep when she could be out exploring.

It was my choice to travel in winter, she thought, as she pulled out her raincoat and waterproof shoes. The weather’s only going to get worse, the further south I go, so I might as well get used to it.

Her wandering feet took her down towards the water; wild and white-topped in the squally weather. Claire huddled into her anorak and tried to appreciate her location. Up ahead she could see a stone sign on the harbour wall. Intrigued, she headed over to read what it said.

The rain made it necessary to peer close at the black letters, but when she read the words, Claire’s face lit in a smile. Taking a picture for her blog, she thought about the words:

It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb –

She bent down to read the inscription at the bottom: Lauris Edmond. The words played on repeat in her mind. New Zealand was certainly the country of the verb. To do, to jump, to ride, to move, to live, to love.

Her thoughts took her on a meandering path that led through uncomfortable recollections and images. People left behind, people still in touch. Another text had arrived from Conor that morning, asking her when she was likely to return to the UK. No mention of the job, although she imagined he was under some pressure to fill the role. She was grateful for his forbearance.

The text from Josh – already memorised – churned round and round as she tried to plan further than the next few days. Visiting him felt like indulging a guilty pleasure or potentially opening Pandora’s box. Again. Claire shivered and bent her head into the wind.

Oh, what a mess. Six months ago I had all the answers. They were answering the wrong questions, but I didn’t know that. Now what? Where the hell do I go from here?

As the rain pattered relentlessly on her hood and crept in through the crevices of her coat, until she felt damp inside and out, Claire trudged through the headquarters of the verb and wondered what her future perfect should be.

***

Waiting and Boredom: 2013 365 Challenge #231

Medi-ted in case of injuries

Medi-ted in case of injuries

I took the children to the Farm today to use up a few parenting hours and to return the favour to my husband for my morning off yesterday.

We turned up to find it was Teddy Bear’s Picnic weekend. For the first time in ages we didn’t have the kids’ bears in the car and no picnic (mouldy bread – bad housewife!) The same thing happened last year.

Luckily, as also happened last year, my rubbish tip of a car revealed two soft toys in its cluttered depths and we were saved the expense of having to buy one.

The lucky teddies got to bungy jump, raft across a pond to the pirates and even zip wire from the top of the Mill House.

Hiking Ted and Zippy bungy jumping

Hiking Ted and Zippy bungy jumping

Despite a distinct lack of communication amongst the staff and plenty of (mostly) patient waiting it was a great day. I’ve noticed that we parents are worse at waiting than the children. I found myself tutting at the slowness of some of the events and I wasn’t the only one. Yet the Farm does the event for free and it’s done by enthusiastic Rangers whose normal duties run to horse grooming and pet feeding, not going up in a cherry picker to drop teddy after teddy on the end of a piece of elastic. (Though they looked like they were having fun!)

I wonder why, as parents, we tut at standing in line even if our children are happy? Do we need constant entertainment more than they do?

There’s a virtue in boredom, especially for children. Mine are at their most creative and cooperative when I refuse to get out of bed in the morning or I ignore them in the bath so I can read my book. I feel guilty, yet they happily invent a game involving a jug, some bubbles and the creation of poo pie (thankfully not real).

When I first met my husband, and for too many years afterwards I’m ashamed to admit, I would berate him for laziness for just sitting. Although he would assure me it was valuable thinking time I would chafe at it, having been brought up to see it as sloth. My father liked to be busy and ensured we all followed suit. If we weren’t vacuuming or sweeping we were idle.

Zipwire ted (look for the little dot in the middle!)

Zipwire ted (look for the little dot in the middle!)

I can only rest if I’m reading. I rarely even walk the dog without writing my post as I am now. Yet I’ve discovered the importance of silence. I’ve learnt that the busy waters of my mind settle when left undisturbed, and deep thoughts rise from the depth.

For too long I worried about entertaining my children, making sure they had the right educational toys, the right activities, the right correcting input from me. Now I’ve learned they do better without all that. They fight less and make up quicker. They invent incredible games that only require a little advice from me (One at a time on the slide! After the third cracked head.)

I’ve been dreading school because Aaron will lose his partner in crime and I’ll be expected to fill the gap. But I’ve decided not to sweat it. He should also learn to sit and be at peace, to entertain himself, to be happy in his own company.

Meeting Baloo the bear

Meeting Baloo the bear

I used to think a first child got all the solitude, and never understood why I – as the second child – was happier in my own company than my sister. But now I think that, in the formative years from three to five, I was alone: my sister was at school for those three years. Whereas, for those formative years, my sister had me. Only a baby but company nonetheless. Someone to fetch and carry for, run around after, laugh with. Much as my daughter has had her brother, the never-ending playmate, and he only gets me. Poor sod.

Thankfully my daughter is pretty good by herself, though not often given the chance by an adoring brother. She will read stories, play with her dolls, make many colourful things out of pipe-cleaners and tissue paper. My son, so far, is not one for his own company.

Hopefully they’ll both learn new life skills when my daughter starts school in a few weeks. And Mummy can carry on reading her book!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire gazed into the gloopy mud, mesmerised as much by the sound as the sight. It looked like a giant vat of simmering soup; grey and reeking of rotten eggs. She’d tried to be impressed by the walk through the geothermal reserve, but it really did stink. All around her, steam rose from patches of muddy water, like a never-ending bog of eternal stench.

The Pohutu Geyser had been impressive. Thirty feet of water shooting into the sky against a backdrop of blue and green, like a fountain on steroids. The effect was rather spoiled by the heaving mass of tourists all around. Even though she was one of them, it was hard not to hate the chattering crowd of picture-snapping visitors that cooed over the sights and exclaimed against the smell.

The seven days since she’d started the bus tour felt like a month. So many sights and activities crammed into each day, there wasn’t time to process them. She longed to sit still and let it all sink in. Trying to absorb all the new experiences was like trying to memorise the phone book. Lovely as it was to squeeze the whole country’s key attractions into a few weeks, she wondered if maybe less was more.

A trilling noise from her pocket pulled her attention away from the hypnotic mud. She tried to calculate what time it was back in the UK, hoping it might be another text from Conor. Now and then over the last few days she’d found herself texting him the odd snippet from her travels; as if telling one person about them, as opposed to entertaining hundreds through the blog, made it more real.

Claire as you have not responded to my counter offer in the last fortnight I have to assume you are declining it. I must say I am disappointed and I think you’re making a mistake. I require the return of your laptop, phone and car. Julia will deal with the details. Carl.

Claire leant back against the railing and processed the words. Any temptation to accept the counter offer had evaporated with her fight with Kim and the subsequent need to get away and find a new future. Still, hearing that particular door clang shut unnerved her. What if Conor also rescinded on the job offer, while she gallivanted around expensive tourist haunts twelve-thousand miles away? She’d already failed to get funding from Roger. One by one the options evaporated, leaving her stranded.

My car too. My little Skoda. I can’t believe they’re going to take that back. It will probably end in a scrap yard.

In desperation, Claire tapped out a response to Carl, trying to buy herself some time.

Apologies for the lack of communication, I have been forced to take an unforeseen leave of absence. Would appreciate having the option to purchase the car from you at a reasonable cost. Will be in touch when I return to the UK. Claire.

She hit send, wondering if Carl had a single cell of goodness in him, or whether he would now have the car scrapped just to spite her.

At least I swapped phones already and had the sense to make sure the blog is in my name.

It was small comfort. Despite the heat emanating from the steaming pools, Claire pulled her jacket tighter and longed for a Starbucks.

***

Pretty Dog, Waggy Tail: 2013 365 Challenge #217

My beautiful girl

My beautiful girl

We’ve had a crazy weekend. Apologies if the Claire posts have been short: I should have done some writing prep last nursery day, instead of re-doing my website. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Saturday wasn’t meant to be so manic. (Can’t even remember what we did Friday, except we went swimming quite late!) Anyway, for Saturday I wanted something to fill the morning, to stop little man getting too excited about a birthday party at 3pm. So we took our dog, Kara, to our local Farm, for a kids’ dog show. A bit of a laugh, because she’s not trained and is quite scruffy. We didn’t even brush her, though she’d had a bath after rolling in fox poo!

When we arrived at the Farm, there were dogs everywhere. It was like taking Kara to a social. Lovely. We entered her for Prettiest Girl (Prettiest Bitch, but we reworded it for our under-fives!) and Waggiest Tail. Thanks to a marvellous body harness, the kids were able to walk her round, despite her weighing twice what they do. She was amazing! She didn’t jump or pull or try to play too much. Thankfully we’ve taken her to the Farm a couple of times before, so the goats and cows and bunnies didn’t distract her.

I held the lead with my daughter for the Prettiest Girl. And Kara won! I couldn’t believe it. We won a free grooming session with a mobile grooming parlour called Dapper Dogs. (I did wonder if she won because she’s the dog that most looked like she needed a free groom! Hehe). I got the impression that some of the more serious entrants were a bit put out by our victory. But it was a Kids’ Show. There were only a couple of child handlers there, so that many have helped too.

Isn't she pretty? :)

Isn’t she pretty? 🙂

Then we entered Waggiest Tail, and my husband let our son hold the lead by himself. Which of course produced tears from my daughter. So we entered her for Best Young Handler. Kara came second in Waggiest Tail (I’m not sure she had the waggiest, but she was certainly the happiest dog!) I was a bit embarrassed by that point.

Then we went on to Best Young Handler. I stayed in the ring, in case of emergencies, but my four-year-old daughter walked our 28kg Labradoodle round the ring by herself with ease. She had a piece of cheese in her hand and every time Kara got distracted, she waved it in front of her nose. I was the proudest Mummy/Dog Owner in the world! She came second (I thought she should have won!)

Of course then we had to stay for Best in Show (despite needing to leave because of the toddler party). I knew we wouldn’t win, because the judges were two of the people I talk to most when we visit the Farm. They couldn’t give us anything really. Just as well, because I think my daughter was starting to feel invincible and kept saying, “This is just too easy!”

It was a great experience. I felt bad, because our untrained scruffy dog shouldn’t have beaten the other beautifully trained, beautifully groomed pedigrees. That said, it wasn’t our dog that started a scrap in the Prettiest Girl competition, or growled at the other dogs. She was on her best behaviour and even remembering it makes my heart swell with pride. Well worth the exhaustion that had us like zombies yesterday! It just goes to show, you have to be in it to win it! 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire read the email and felt the blood seep from her face. The glimmer of light that she’d been following for four crazy days fizzled out and left her in darkness. She read the words again, hoping to see a different meaning the second time.

Claire

Many thanks for your email indicating that you would like to accept my proposal of writing a column on the hostels of New Zealand. Unfortunately we have had a rethink and now feel this is not the most appropriate time to run the story. Our readers are considering holidays in hot countries and, as it is winter in New Zealand, it is unlikely to appeal to them.

Please do feel free to submit to us any articles that you produce and we will, of course, consider them alongside our other freelance writers.

I’m sorry I cannot be of more assistance in this case. Enjoy your stay in New Zealand, I understand it to be a beautiful country.

Regards

Roger

“Bastard.”

Claire felt the blood rush back to her face in anger, and then in mortification as she realised several people had turned round at her outburst. She ducked her head and fought the tears welling up her throat.

It’s only been a fortnight since I told him I couldn’t do it. How can he have changed his mind in a fortnight? And now what the hell am I going to do.

She thought about the price of her airfare, about the opportunities she’d given up by leaving the country without talking to Carl or Conor. I could be sitting on a beach in the Maldives, instead of stuck in this stupid hostel spending even more cash on food.

That was the big surprise. Claire had thought it would be cheap, travelling in New Zealand. But it was just as expensive as the UK, except now Carl wasn’t paying her bills.

So far she’d only left the supersized hostel to buy tea and milk. There wasn’t much need to go anywhere else, with the lounge and the bar on site.

I’m getting over my jet lag. That’s all.

When she had ventured outside, she’d felt like a child visiting New York for the first time, gazing up at the skyscrapers and blocking her ears against the noise. She knew Auckland was the largest city in New Zealand, but somehow she hadn’t expected it to feel like a city. The hostel was full of posters of things to see and do, like jump off the Sky Tower, or visit the harbour. Just seeing the posters made her want to hide under her duvet.

I need a hut on a beach and some peace and quiet. The sooner I get out of here the better. But how to do that, with no car? She felt immobilised by her lack of transport. I never thought I’d miss my little Skoda.

Her trip to the visitor information had been even more overwhelming: So many young people who knew what they wanted to do, from hitch-hiking or biking round the country to catching a lift with a stranger going in their direction. There was information on getting a job, on jumping off high places and swimming with large animals. Nothing that says, ‘Hey, new scared person, this option’s for you.’

Claire thought about her words. Am I scared? Really. After everything that’s happened this year. She sat up straighter in her seat, and looked again at the people around her. Seems like I have two choices. Make some friends or make a plan.

A thought tugged at Claire’s memory. Something she felt she had been told, or read about. Something important. Closing her eyes, Claire inhaled deeply and tried not to concentrate on the memory. At last it bubbled to the surface. A bar. A Kiwi. A driver. Of course! The Magic Bus.

Claire shut her iPad case and got to her feet. Friends, that was tough. She didn’t have a good record with friends. But now, at least, she had a plan.

***

Why I love Walking the Dog: 2013 365 Challenge #215

Gorgeous summer evening

Gorgeous summer evening

As I wrote this post on my phone I thought I’d list the reasons why I love walking the dog.

1. Me time. Time to write my blog (like now). Time to get to the end of a thought uninterrupted. Life slows down.

When the kids have been chattering all day or we’ve been for a sensory-overload swim (like tonight, with the excitement of my 4yo daughter learning to dive, do underwater rolls and swim on her back all in one session), the fields are a balm to my nerves. All I can hear is the cry of the kites and the whisper of the wind through the ripe oilseed rape. It sounds like the sea.

2. Seasons. It’s too easy to ignore the changing of the seasons, but walking the same field every day I see the trees both bare and decked in green, the fields yellow with wheat or brown with ploughed soil. It reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins, particularly my favourite poem The Windhover. The penultimate line is: “Sheer plod makes plough down sillion | shine”.

The stream, willowbrook

The stream, willowbrook

3. Senses. Walking through the fields awakens the senses: Not just sight, but the touch of wind on my skin, or even the stench of the sewage works we walk past. In the autumn there are blackberries to taste, and always the sounds of the insects, the kites, the river, even the planes, cars, children laughing, the goat head-butting its shed, sheep bleating and an endless chorus of bird calls.

4. Weather. Hot winds, icy winds, snow, rain, hail, thunder, muggy heat, cool evening breeze, hot sunny days buzzing with flies. Twenty minutes of weather to keep me grounded and help me with my writing (many Claire posts feature the day’s weather.)

5. Community. Like going to the park with my kids, I meet fellow dog walkers some evenings. Our dogs play and we chat about the weather (we’re British, what else). As with the parents in the par,k I only know the names of the little ones, but we’re still friends. I wave if I see them in town. For someone who doesn’t have many friends and finds it hard to socialise, my dog gives me a sense of belonging.

6. Nature. I’ve seen rabbits, hares, foxes, deer, muntjacs, water voles, fish, kites, swallows, swooping starlings, ducks, herons, swans. The best of British wildlife can be seen round this one field.

Kara in the river

Kara in the river

7. Vicarious pleasure. Right now Kara is running through the grass, tongue lolling, tail wagging. She’ll jump in the river for sticks or chase (but never catch) wild bunnies. And the whole time she’s grinning.

She runs to feel the wind in her ears and the ground beneath her paws. At home she’s often nervous, anxious, worried. She gets told off for being a dog, for barking at the postman or jumping on the kids. Out here she can be herself (within reason – I do try to prevent her rolling in fox poo, although I failed this evening!). She trots along like a winning entrant at Crufts and it’s her time to shine.

8. Sunsets. I know that’s also weather, but it deserves a separate category. The sun is currently shining on our house like the fingers of God, and the sky is every colour of blue, indigo, violet. I’ve tried many times to paint it, but Nature is a better artist than me.

Our house is in the middle

Our house is in the middle

9. Exercise. Even though I run after the kids all day, I don’t get enough exercise. Actually, walking at the slow pace I need to to write this blog probably isn’t making much difference, but it gets the legs moving. Since damaging my knee rowing last year it’s all I’m up to.

10. Home. I can see my house for the whole walk. Even on the 45 minute one I can see it most of the time. These are my fields (well, they’re not, thankfully. It’s a hard life being a farmer). I grew up three miles away. I love my house, my village, my family, my landscape. It’s quiet and placid and it suits me perfectly.

I miss the mountains and oceans of former homes, former lives, but this one fits me like a comfortable pair of shoes. And when the late evening sun hits the trees and fields just so, like now, it’s the most beautiful place on Earth.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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“Excuse me, Ma’am, have you used these in the last six months?”

Claire peered at the man behind the desk and tried to make sense of the question.

“Um. Yes? They’re hiking boots. There wouldn’t be much point having them if I didn’t use them. They’re bloody heavy for a start.” The words spilled from her mouth unchecked, and she flushed. Great, now the guy’s going to get arsey. Just let me through, for pity’s sake. She waited for the man to frown, or tell her off. Instead he grinned.

“Sorry, I know: it’s crazy as. I have to ask. They’ll need disinfecting before you can have them back.”

“You’re confiscating my boots because they’re muddy?” Claire frowned. “They’re boots; they’re meant to be dirty.”

The man laughed, not unkindly. “It’s to stop the nasties getting in. They sprayed the plane too, right?”

Claire stared at the man and slowly shook her head. “I must have been asleep.”

“Ah, that’d explain it. Well, no worries, we’ll have these back in a jiffy. You just sit tight and someone will shout when they’re done.”

He gestured to a row of plastic seats and Claire had to bite down a stream of swearwords threatening to spill forth. I’ve been sitting for two days. I want a shower, a cup of tea in a proper mug, and a bed. To myself. She stomped to the seat and perched on the edge, trying not to dwell on the humiliation of waking up nestled against Darren’s shoulder, or the image of the small patch of drool she’d left on his top.

An hour later the same charming Kiwi called her name and handed her a bag containing her germ-free boots, with a smiling, “Cheers!”

Claire couldn’t help smiling back. “At least they’re clean. Thanks.”

“No worries.” The man gave a nod, and turned back to his work.

The smile was still in place as Claire headed out to find the bus meant to take her into Auckland and the central backpackers. She had no sense of what time it was, but the air felt warm and a hazy sun was visible above the airport buildings. Somewhere in her muffled thoughts was the idea that she should stay awake until nearer bedtime, to beat the jet lag.

Bugger that.

*

Claire felt like she’d seen most of Auckland by the time the minibus dropped her outside the central hostel. She’d decided to stay for a couple of nights, largely because there was a bar on site, meaning she could eat and sleep for a day or two without effort. There had been too much time to think, on the flight, with only abridged movies and cardboard food to distract her. She was desperate for the blank bliss of proper horizontal sleep.

I guess I should get in touch with Roger, tell him I seem to have taken him up on his offer. It didn’t seem that important, now she was here. Maybe I can just have a holiday.

Reaching her room, Claire forced her limbs to walk the extra steps to a free bed by the window, grateful there were no bunks to climb. Through the glass she could hear the sound of a jack hammer in the street below, throbbing in time with the headache that had plagued her since Singapore. She hoped the noise wouldn’t keep her awake.

Stopping only to drop the rucksack off her shoulders and chuck her purse on the bed, Claire fell forwards and lost herself to oblivion.

***

Fewer Beans: 2013 365 Challenge #203

The Time You Have (In JellyBeans)

The Time You Have (In JellyBeans)

A while ago someone posted a great video on Facebook to do with how we spend our lives. They took 28,835 jelly beans and showed how many of them we spend on sleeping, eating, watching TV.

The message is that there aren’t many beans left for the important things, and to use your beans wisely. It’s a vivid message and I’m glad I watched it (I rarely watch videos on facebook or blogs because I get too much screen time and prefer the written word for my downtime).

What made the beans message stick, however, was a comment hubbie’s Aunt left on the post, when I shared it. She said that’s why she feels guilty when she doesn’t walk the dog, because dogs have fewer beans. That phrase has wedged firmly in my mind.

Our little Kara as a puppy

Our little Kara as a puppy

Our poor dog spends much of her life trying to figure out what she’s done wrong. Mostly it’s me telling her to lie down and relax even though I’m rushing round the house and she thinks she needs to keep me company (we got her as a puppy when I was heavily pregnant and I called her to me a lot, to make sure she wasn’t chewing anything, so she thinks her job is to follow me round like a ghost.)

Or the kids will send her away before calling her back a dozen times and then complain when she accidentally whacks them with her tail.

Labradoodles are smart dogs (and get easily bored, unfortunately). Ours can count: when there are two adults minding the children she immediately asks for a walk because she knows that’s when it can happen. So then she gets told off for being clever, and for (rightly) reminding us she hasn’t been out. When I’m working at home I have to close my laptop quietly if I get up to make tea because, if I shut it with a snap, she jumps up thinking it is time for her walk. The same goes for coming downstairs in a jumper, or saying “Right!” (all cues she recognises. And for goodness sake never say “Daddy’s home!” unless you want to unleash chaos.)

Lady of the manor!

Lady of the manor!

She gets told off for begging while the kids have their tea, then is fed scraps from the table. She’s allowed to chase rabbits in the fields but not the bunnies at the farm. She’s allowed to dance with Mummy but not to jump up at strangers. And often, when the kids are finally in bed, and she gets her fifteen minutes of quality bean time, the last thing I feel like doing is taking her for a walk.

But, even before my Aunt-in-law’s comment, I made a commitment to walk her every day. I don’t always manage it, and it’s usually the same boring walk (she hates the car). But now I do it willingly. Partly because it means I can tap out my daily blog in my phone, as I’m doing now. And partly because I hear in my head all the time, “She has fewer beans”.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire scrawled her name in the ‘out’ section of the visitor book and turned to face the man who had come to escort her from the building. Conor reached out to shake Claire’s hand and there was a flicker of a wink and the suggestion of a smile. His hand felt warm and smooth in hers and she was surprised to discover his eyes shone like green glass. Sensing her scrutiny, the man laughed, revealing unnaturally white teeth.

“See anything you like?”

Aware of the blush rushing up her neck, Claire dropped her gaze down to her bag on the pretence of searching for her keys, letting her heavy hair fall over her face.

Clearly one for the ladies, she decided. Mr Cheeky was right. Or maybe Mr Smarmy. In no danger of falling for his charm she was, nonetheless, grateful for his support throughout her ordeal.

Jason, or Mr Mean, as she preferred to think of him, had earned his moniker during the hour-long interrogation. Everything from her marketing qualifications (limited), tourism credentials (non-existent), Myers-Briggs profile (forgotten), reason for changing jobs (undisclosed) and recent history (blagged) had been torn apart and challenged.

The remaining individuals had thrown out one question each on cue but Claire surmised that they were there for aggrandizement purposes only. Except Conor, head of marketing and business development and her potential line manager. His questions had been thorough and relevant and sometimes too acute for comfort. It seemed, like now, that he liked to put her on the spot to see how much he could make her blush.

“Thank you for showing me out.” Claire flicked her hair away and shone her coolest smile. No need to give a man like that encouragement.

“It was my pleasure.”

Claire shivered. Even the most innocent statement sounded like a come-on. His words lit an unexpected fire in her belly, and she gritted her teeth. Glaring at him through narrowed eyes, Claire turned and headed for the door.

“Wait!”

Claire looked back, eyebrows raised.

“Don’t you want to know what happens next?”

The eyebrows shot up further. “What happens next? Jason interviews a man, who clearly will be more suited for the role, and I carry on with my life?”

Conor frowned at her words. “Is that what you think? That he gave you a hard time because you’re a woman? And I thought you were smart.”

She turned again and didn’t stop when he called for her to wait a second time. She heard his footsteps as he strode after her and fell in step with her as she walked across the small car park. She stopped before she got to the Skoda, some part of her unwilling to give the man more ammunition.

Facing him, she waited for him to speak.

“He gave you a hard time because you’re by far the best candidate for the role, and if something looks too good to be true it usually is.”

Claire felt a pulse throb in her temples. How long had it been since anyone told her she was good at something? She couldn’t remember.

“If I have my way, he’ll hire you. We need someone like you to bring some life to the company.” He ran a hand through his sandy hair, as if unsure of what to say. “Look, I’m sorry you had a tough time. You have to understand, this is a new organisation. There’s a limited budget and no strategy. But I see huge potential. Jason, Tim, and the others, they’re public sector workers. They came over from the Council to set up this venture. They’re bean counters, regulation enforcers.”

Taking a breath, Conor rubbed at the stubble on his cheek. “I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, except you’re the only person to walk in here and get what we’re trying to achieve. Purbeck is an amazing part of the country, with beaches to rival the Continent. But people came here as children, and stayed in caravans with their gran. They see it as old-fashioned, out-dated. It needs an injection of life, of world experience, to show people what it can be. Look at Swanage. I came here when I was a kid. There was life. Now it’s practically an old-people’s home. We need you.”

Claire looked round the car park, unsure what to think. Conor’s passion surprised her. She had taken him to be a salesman, in for the quick buck.

“I need time to think about it. Besides, I’m not sure you’re right. Jason didn’t strike me as the type to take a chance on someone.”

“He’ll come round, leave it to me.”

He gave her a grin that made him look about twelve, then, with a half-wave, he headed back into the building.

Claire stood for a while, deep in thought. When she was sure he was gone, she paced to the Skoda and hid herself inside.

***

Sticky June: 2013 365 Challenge #173

Summer skies

Summer skies

Trying to write my Claire post today, it was hard to remember what the weather was like back in April.

It’s hot and humid here, with a promise of summer storms. I thought; What I need is a seasons dictionary, like the emotion thesaurus. So today’s post is dedicated to a freewrite on June in all its sticky glory. It is the summer equinox after all.

By the way, I reserve my copyright to the idea of a seasons dictionary, if it doesn’t exist already! Ha ha.

Seasons. June

Sticky with life, the hedgerows spill over with nettles and cow parsley, messy and exuberant. Yellow oil seed rape paints every field in luminous colour. The sky, high and hot, is the hue of murky water after a watercolour is finished. Clouds promise rain. Bees buzz in a range of pitches, their busy sound adding to the heat and exhaustion. Trees heavy with leaves, their glory days of spring colour over.

A sense of waiting. Waiting for the storm, humidity rising. Sticky sweat trickling down into the bra and between the shoulder blades. Children hot and cranky or laughing too loudly as they run through the fountains or play in the water.

Dog pants, running slow and heavy-footed. Pheasants call their two-noted cry in the distance while, nearby, the intermittent song of the sparrow, blackbird and thrush fills the silence. The brash beep beep of a reversing tractor cuts through the peace, a reminder that, somewhere, despite the heat, people are working hard. Flies swim and swoop in the heavy air, irritating the skin and blocking the way.

The ground is hard beneath my boots, waiting for the rain. My steps startle a bird and it flies abruptly from the undergrowth, the wing-beats quick and loud in the air. Sheep sit motionless, even their short shorn locks too hot for comfort.

Trees heavy with leaves

Trees heavy with leaves

Everywhere abundant life, busy and quiet, eager and waiting, living, growing. Winter a distant memory, but an ever present threat. Grow, now, while there’s sunlight, warmth and water. Grow and keep growing.

The pods hang on the oil seed rape plants. Soon the flowers will blacken and die. The plants will die and yield their crop. The corn is still green. Farmers hope for a better harvest. One not drowned by relentless rain. Thinking the words seems to bring the promised downpour. Heavy drops splat into dry soil & sizzle on hot skin. One drop, two.

Footsteps quicken, heading for home and shelter. The dog wants to stay in the river, in the cool. Home now. Your coat is waterproof, mine is not. That smell of rain, wet dust and the scent of flowers as the drops release their fragrance. A breeze comes with the rain, cooling sticky skin. The rain is fresh. Footsteps slow. Let it rain.

Remember the washing on the line and speed up again.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire drove past the sign and smiled. “At last, I’ve left the country! What a shame it’s only the border from England to Wales, rather than, say, France into Spain.”

The small sign with the red dragon was the only way Claire knew she had crossed into Wales. The road wound on ahead of her, just the same as she had been driving on since leaving the hostel. Welsh countryside stretched around her in a myriad of green hues. Her destination was Brecon, the namesake town of the Brecon Beacons that nestled at their foot. Claire had skimmed through the town’s website before leaving Kington, and had decided it would be the perfect place for lunch.

Before long, Claire could see the spire of the Norman Cathedral heralding her approach into town. She checked her phone: There was just time for a wander before her appointment at the Llangorse Activity Centre.

Claire experimented with the unfamiliar Welsh word, putting her tongue to the roof of her mouth in an attempt to repeat the clu of the Ll sound. After three or four attempts she decided to make sure there was no need to ask for directions.

Gazing around her at the pretty shop fronts and historic buildings that made up Brecon, Claire realised she was trying not to dwell on her afternoon activity.

Come on, Claire, don’t be such a baby. You’ve done this a few times now. It keeps the lovely Jules off your back and provides plenty for the blog in the way of high-adrenalin activity.

She shivered and felt an ache in her tummy, a sensation she realised brought with it a memory of Josh.

*

Claire closed her eyes, clenched her jaw, and stepped forwards.

“That’s it, Claire. Well done. Try opening your eyes, the view is amazing.” The deep voice ended in a chuckle, as Claire’s face remained scrunched up.

Wind whistled past her face, brushing tendrils of hair away from her sweaty brow. Prising open one eyelid a fraction, Claire looked ahead. Some way beneath her, approaching fast, was a wooden platform with several people standing on it. Behind it she could see the blur of blue that indicated the presence of the lake, and two more wires zagging off to the right and down the hill.

Blood pumped in her ears, blocking out the whoosh of the wind and the cheers of encouragement from below. Despite her closed lids, perhaps through a change in the air, Claire sensed something looming up ahead. Before she could open her eyes, tree branches surrounded her face and she slid to a halt. Hands reached out to unclip her from the wire, before leading her forwards to clip her onto the next one.

Not again. Claire had done one zip wire before, as part of the Tree Trek. One was a challenge, for someone terrified of heights.

“How many have I got left to do?” Claire could hear the wobble in her voice. Get a grip, girl.

“You’re on your third, so you’ve still got a dozen left. Awesome, right?” Claire felt the enthusiasm emanating from the guide in waves, and resisted the urge to push him off the platform to the ground 20 feet below.

Swallowing the metallic taste in her mouth, Claire nodded feebly and managed one more nod when the guide gave the signal to ask if she was ready to go again.

Yes, go on, get it over with.

Scrunching her eyes shut once more, Claire felt the platform fall away behind her, and let gravity do the rest.

***