April – little victories

A merry May to one and all! Except, hang on, shouldn’t this be the April post? Yes, it should, but for the minor issue that we are in fact a week into May and there has been no sight nor sound of an April blog post. Allow me to backtrack a moment to a couple of weeks ago, when I sat at my laptop ready and raring to write all about April. I was in position, fingers poised over the keyboard, set to download another month in the life of The Fairytale Traveller. With a few pointers in mind, I wrote a sentence. Then I deleted it, wrote another, and deleted that. Several deleted lines later I stopped, frustrated. I just couldn’t seem to translate the thoughts in my mind into eloquent or even coherent text on the page. After persevering a while longer I gave up, realising that, like so many other writers, I had been thwarted by writer’s block.

Now it’s May and here I am still struggling, so instead of labouring any longer over elaborate storytelling techniques, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes in life, all one needs is a list. I would never say life is too short for a good story, but on days where the sun is scorching the earth, forcing you to venture outdoors, paddle in streams, and take shelter under hazy green canopies of woodland; or when the late spring blossom is falling like balmy summer snow from the trees, i.e. a day like today, just sometimes, a short and sweet list is all you need.

So without further a-do, here is April in a nutshell:

  • The first two weeks comprised little other than practising Wing Chun Kung Fu in order for me to pass my first grading (I did – yay!).
  • The following week was spent (perhaps unsurprisingly) resting/recovering from all the practice of the previous weeks. However, a tasty distraction came along in the form of a berry cake I baked for a springtime/family birthday treat.
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N.B. This is a brilliant cake to make at short notice/if you don’t have much time – the sponge is just standard and the fruit looks great whether you take time to create a pattern or simply chuck it all on and pile it up!

  • The final week in April encompassed a few miniature work-related accomplishments which I had been working towards for a while, though I won’t elaborate much as it would make little sense without context.
  • At some point during the month spring finally decided to arrive, bringing with it a tirade of daffodils all around my garden. If you’ve read my post February – and breathe…, you may recall the 40 daffodil bulbs I planted last winter, which had just begun to sprout. Well, they are well and truly here now, although not quite in the uniform, all-facing-the-right-direction way I had hoped for. Instead, well, let’s just say they have character…

 

So there you have it – April! Nothing too revolutionary, but who knows what May will entail, right? It was all about the little victories this month I think, which ultimately is what keeps you (or at least me) going in the long run.

Time to get back to the unseasonal warmth of May now, so have a great month everyone!

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March – opposites attract

At the beginning of the month I spent an evening at a sort of farewell gathering with my friend and her family, before bidding her goodbye as she travelled halfway across the world to a place called Azad Kashmir. She is of Pakistani origin and her family is large, with more cousins and aunts and uncles than one can easily fathom, but their family unit is something special. Sitting around the dinner table laden with colourful dishes, each emitting aromas which simultaneously made my stomach grumble and my eyes water, the feeling of hungry anticipation was unanimous. As her honorary guest I was offered the first portion, which would have been fine had I known what to choose. Being very much of Celtic origin, all I could request was ‘the least spicy, please,’ as I was handed a dish of something unknown. Of course it was delicious, though the side-gallon of water was definitely necessary. My friend took great care that I was only given food my taste buds could handle, for which I was eternally grateful.

As I walked home later that evening, I felt a cosy warmth inside that had nothing to do with the vast amount of spicy food I had consumed. The whole evening had been so positive and friendly, but most of all, in a bizarre parallel-universe sort of way, familiar. A feeling of happy realisation came over me as I suddenly understood that her family was the same as mine, right down to the package of leftovers I carried home for later. I thought about everything, from the amount of people wandering in and out of her house during the evening, to the myriad cousins, uncles, aunts and family friends, to the meal itself with more food than anyone could really eat, to the cultural bond which tied everyone together. Despite the supposed opposite exteriors, the parallels between our families were uncanny.

Living in England, I only really see my immediate family, which isn’t quite the same as being among what seems like hundreds of people milling about and turning up at your house just for the craic. A short hop over the Irish Sea however, and you’ll find a totally different story. The majority of my family are Irish, which, for any Irish readers out there, probably means there’s no need to continue. For everyone else though, I’ll explain. Being the daughter of a parent with nine siblings whose ages span over a couple of decades, I have over fifty cousins, including various recent offspring from the older ones. The latter may not strictly be classed as cousins, but to avoid complex family trees we tend to just label them as such. Needless to say, family gatherings are large. And fun – really fun – but mostly large. There’s always tons of food, heaps of leftovers, and that buzz which only comes from being part of a big family unit. If nothing else, the Irish culture never fails to promote inclusion, friendship, and full stomachs.

Minus the spices, and it becomes extremely difficult to differentiate between my family and that of my friend.

I’ve travelled to Ireland almost every year of my life so far, and every time I’m greeted by that same good humour and acceptance. Living in the next door country the majority of the time, I sometimes forget that familial buzz, but spending just one evening with my friend and her family revived that feeling tenfold.

This month has been very much one of restlessness and yearning to get out and explore more, but that evening brought with it another dimension to my perspective of the world. No matter how different the exterior – cultural, physical, environmental, etc. – more often than not, our roots remain the same.

Lemon cake, tea and samosas – a perfect multicultural mix!

 

If you read this Asra, thanks for reminding me of that all too important family spirit, and even more so for the samosas!

February – and breathe…

So that’s a wrap on February. Bring on spring and, failing that, bring on pancakes! Or so my thoughts were at the beginning of this month, which seemed to flash by in a momentary blur of icy hailstones, brute-force winds, and a variety of Siberian and European storms. Beginning with a figurative storm and ending with a literal one, it was one hell of a whirlwind month. If January crawled, February took it upon itself to do a full on sprint to make up for lost time. Now suddenly March is upon us, and I find myself reflecting over the craziness of the past four weeks.

The weather alone essentially turned every walking or driving experience into something which closely resembled one of Hercules’s twelve labours.

Cue picture of me battling the elements as I trekked out for a walk at work:

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I defy any weather to stop me from my walks.

It was survival of the fittest and absolutely no joke.

Kudos to my tiny little car though, which proved quite the trooper through the so-called ‘beast from the east’. Sure, I had to dig her out of my driveway every morning, scrape several inches of snow from the roof, and not forget to evaporate the icicles which merrily decorated the whole lower edge right down to the license plate, but hey, I’ll be damned if she didn’t trundle through the sleet and wind as steadily as if it had been the middle of summer.

First proper winter driving experience – check.

Here’s a few pictures of slightly calmer times, between the snowstorms and bracing winds of the last month:

 

In retrospect, the weather was really a conveniently giant metaphor for the frustrating time I’ve had in other aspects of my life during this month. Everything from work stress to social stress proved a strain, until all I wanted to do was run to the other side of the world and breathe. Let’s just say it was trying, but the most important part there is the ‘was’. I think I’m through it now – walking 10 miles over last weekend helped let off some steam – and things are definitely more chilled now (pun unintended). Or maybe I’m just a bit less grumpy. We all go through fazes, I guess.

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I forgot to take any photographs of the amazing scenery during my 10 miles of walking, so here’s Jet afterwards, showing me how much he can’t even.

However, through all the wind and rain and general ‘Yorkshire tropics’* there was some good news. My daffodils, which I painstakingly planted over several frosty November weekends at the end of last year, have begun to sprout. Everywhere. Literally, they’re popping up all over the garden with no apparent intention of stopping anytime soon. Forty bulbs – that’s how many there were. It was forty for £3 or eighty for £5, and no way was I planting eighty bulbs. “It’s a good deal though,” my work colleagues said when I lugged the initial bag of bulbs into the office after the spontaneous lunchtime purchase. “It is,” I agreed, “If you want nothing but daffodils ever again.” I love daffodils, more so because my favourite colour is yellow, but one can only take so much of a good thing. I struggled to find places for them all around the garden, but finally managed to distribute them in as many corners and plant pots as I could find. Winter gardening is not something I’d recommend – my dog was certainly the most confused at his human’s sudden urge to dig – but it seems to be paying off!

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The long, long planting process.

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The ‘before’ picture, having planted my forty daffodil bulbs. Stand by for ‘after’.

On a totally unrelated and slightly warmer note, I also chose February to do something I have never before shown much interest in: cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I will bake until the cows come home, but cooking has always been a ‘meh’ topic for me. Suffice to say, that faze seems to have dissipated faster than the snow outside, but for all of last month I rather fancied myself Queen of the Kitchen. Here’s a short rundown of what are probably best referred to as ‘experiments’:

American-style blueberry pancakes – light, fluffy, sweet, what more could you want?

 

Apple pie baked apples – tasted good, but definitely didn’t quite look like the picture. More effort than they’re really worth in my opinion. No photos of these (they were eaten too fast), so I’ll insert the link below of the recipe I used.

http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55164/apple-pie-baked-apples-recipe/

Risotto stuffed peppers – lots of bitty preparation but well worth the results. Delicious. Again, no pics, but here’s the recipe link:

https://recipes.sainsburys.co.uk/recipes/main-courses/easy-knorr-risotto-stuffed-peppers

Chocolate cuties (yes, that’s their official name) – healthy(ish) bites of adorableness. Satsuma segments dipped in chocolate and cooled in the fridge – these didn’t last long.

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If the same wave of domesticity should hit at some point in the future, I’ll be sure to document the results. Realistically though, there’s a very slim chance!

So that’s February all done and dusted. March has already got off to an interesting start with more new endeavours and a few memories made, so I’m excited to see where the month takes me.

Until next time, have a great month and keep warm wherever you are!

*When the weather changes so frequently that we experience sun, rain, snow, wind, and anything else the Pennines can hurl our way within about a ten minute window.

 

January – looking backwards to go forwards.

Happy New Year! She chimes in with the rest of the bloggers, as if not shamefully aware that it’s almost February, and her attempts to blog last year fizzled out a measly 5 months into the year. It was May the last time I wrote a blog post, which means approximately 8 months have passed, but my, what an 8 months it’s been. I am excited to start writing again properly, but before divulging my plans to re-ignite this blog, here’s a variety of happenings from the last 8 months.

Shortly after the last blog I wrote, I took the plunge and had laser eye surgery. That, combined with getting a car within a few short weeks, meant that my adventures last year gave me a sense of freedom like I’d never experienced. All of the pictures below were taken with more excitement than I’d felt in many years – I still marvel at being able to see, really see, 8 months later.

Here’s me about an hour after surgery, less than impressed because it was the hottest day of the year so far, and I was stuck in a dark room for 24 hours. I couldn’t actually see the camera at this point as my eyes were streaming like the Niagara Falls behind the lenses. Between copious amounts of eye-drops I kept having to flick the goggles up to let the water out. But hey, I’m living the HD life now!

Me, after laser surgery.

Me, pouting because I couldn’t go out in the sun after getting my eyes zapped.

After my eyes had recovered (48 hours later – seriously, I was back to work and fresh as a daisy on Monday morning. Amazing what you can do in a weekend!), I decided this would be a summer of exploration (and lots of mazes, apparently), so here’s a selection of my adventures.

Mazes were a big theme last year – I got lost in several, made from corn, woodland, and walls, but the Death Star was definitely the most annoying to navigate.

 

 

As much as I could write pages and pages on my adventures last year, I’m determined to focus on this month and set myself a more realistic writing goal this year. Last year I fell behind due to what was essentially a re-shuffle of my life, where I had to adjust to a totally new pattern which threw me out of writing entirely. This year I am settled; the great shift has calmed and I am ready for new challenges, so here they are:

  • This year I pledge to myself to write a monthly blog, and not pressurise myself to post every week or bi-weekly as I did last year. That just proved stressful, so I’m taking a step back and seeing how this new, more relaxed plan works.
  • I will climb the Yorkshire Three Peaks: Ingleborough (723m), Pen-y-Ghent (694m), and Whernside (736m). These are comparatively small mountains to the big three peaks I climbed in 2016 (Scafell Pike, Snowdon, and Ben Nevis), but living in Yorkshire where they are essentially on my doorstep, it seems almost a crime that I have only climbed one of these three, so I have promised myself to complete these this year.
  • I will finish reading a book. A few years ago this would have been a ridiculous target for me, as I was reading multiple books a month. After graduating and beginning full-time work however, my reading (like my writing) has taken a major dive. Aside from the expected guilt I felt every time I glanced at my ever-growing reading list accumulating dust week after week, I was mostly just sad that I was ‘losing’ the part of myself that has got me where I am today. New books don’t seem to cut it at the moment, so I’ve gone back to basics and am re-reading some books from my childhood which played a giant part in forging my current love of fantasy and steampunk. Those books are The Mortal Engines Quartet (yes, I know they’re developing films of this series, and yes, I’m hoping and praying they don’t destroy them).

Aside from these three main goals, I took a look at my resolutions from last year, written in the post My Resolve, and discovered that I have in fact completed my challenges from 2017. It was a hell of a year – I might as well call it The Great Re-Shuffle – but through it all I managed to hit each target, a great accomplishment for me.

I was brave – I got used to driving again, a huge obstacle for me as I experienced masses of anxiety at the prospect of even getting a car. Now I drive to work every day, and my anxiety has greatly reduced. Funnily enough it was just after my last blog post in May that I got my car/Poppy, so it’s becoming more obvious why my writing took a backseat (pun intended).

explored – I took several mini road trips with my sister to force myself to overcome my driving anxiety, and those turned out to be some of the best days of the whole year. Highlights of those particular drives included driving around my first horse and rider, taking a wrong turn which resulted in stopping for a herd of sheep as they swarmed around the car (no, I didn’t end up in a field, the sheep were just being herded by farmers), and driving through the ‘Yorkshire tropics’, as I like to call them – where every weather occurs within about ten minutes.

I explored further than England as well, taking a spontaneous trip to Dublin to visit my cousins, and flew to Venice with my family for an incredible week living on the floating city.

I was happy – throughout all of the above, and because of some of those things, I had one of the happiest years of my life. It was a massive re-shuffle, but I took it in my stride and am determined to make even bigger and better things happen this year.

Here’s to 2018!

This is my dog, Jet, in the car ready for his next adventure!

Neighbours 

We are with you Manchester
We will stand together
We are the unit of the north
Proud and strong forever

You are the neighbour, the brother
The sister, the mother
The lovers, the fighters, the survivors
And your pain is felt worldwide

But through all the fear
We will always be here
The neighbour to lean on
The one by your side

The shock is still raw
But your unity leaves us in awe
And we stand by you, Manchester
As we go about our lives

Your spirit keeps the north one being
Through all the trauma and sadness seen
We are with you, Manchester
Sharing the tears in your eyes

Manchester and Leeds
We will stand together
Beacons of the north
Proud and strong forever

What’s in a Name?

During my time at university, I took a creative writing module which explored a variety of writing styles and techniques, and encouraged us to think more abstractly about our own style. To put this into practice we were set a task, which required us to pair our names with the five main senses and create a ‘description’ of our name.

Although the task was only to describe our own name, I couldn’t resist doing the same for another. Alexis. It was a name given to a character in a novel I began, a name I have always loved, and also the name with which I was almost christened. Sometimes I think I would have preferred to be called Alex, or Alexandra, or Alexis, as the name feels significantly stronger than Sarah. Is that weird to think? Can names be strong, or are they simply what we make them? I feel Sarah is soft, not weak, but not powerful either. Sarah is safe, comfortable, secure, but Alex shouts adventure, courage, strength! I have always loved the etymology of names, and spend hours choosing names for my characters in stories. But this was something new, unexpected, and fresh to muse over, so here are my descriptions, which make my feelings of these two names abundantly clear.

Sarah

My name is the colour of ripe peaches. It smells like fresh country air and feels soft but solid, like a well-plumped cushion. My name tastes sweet, like melting toffee and sounds like water flowing gently down a stream.

Alexis

If my name was Alexis, it would be deep purple with streaks of yellow; strong like the indigo night flashing with light just before the storm breaks. It would smell like deep forests, where the light rarely penetrates. It would feel solid, with no hint of weakness, despite its rounded corners. It tastes like red grapes, solid but sweet once bitten, with a slight tang at the end. It sounds like a firework, first a whispering hiss followed by a great explosion of uniqueness.

So there you have it – fairly obvious which is the ‘stronger’ name. The fact is though, I like both of them, even though I far more fit the description of my actual name. I envy Alexis, I really do, but I also think some softness is required, particularly with the harsh traumas being inflicted on the world at the moment. So I will be content with Sarah, whilst taking my adventuring one step at a time as always. Sarah is good, Sarah is solid, but there’s another thing to remember too.

The middle name, so often secret, hidden away like a constant embarrassment. I’m not embarrassed of my middle name, rather, I think of it as a secret strength to use when times are tough. Una. That’s my name, Sarah Una, which brings yet another element to the softness of Sarah. Una brings strength, but a more magical, fantastical power, I think. Una brings majesty and brightness; a different type of adventure than Alexis, but adventure none the less. Una lifts Sarah, and Sarah keeps Una grounded, together creating a fusion of fantastic soundness.

So what does make up the fabric of a name? I guess only us as individuals will know, as they do become so closely intertwined with our personality. Regardless of that, it’s interesting to think about. Maybe in a few years Sarah won’t mean sanctuary any more, maybe Una will take the helm and steer her across new realms of strength and weakness and open up a whole world of experience. Maybe, or maybe not. Either way, Sarah Una is solid; Sarah Una is an entity in herself, and Sarah Una is determined to explore, achieve and drive herself to write her own outstanding, sparkling story.

Snippet #2: Blank page

I’m staring at this blank page, thinking, hoping, willing something to appear. What do I write? Where do I begin? I have so many thoughts, so many ideas, and yet they refuse to materialise on the page. I could do so much. I could write a masterpiece! This is how every single author started out, so how did they begin?

After several minutes of scrutinising the resolute blank canvas in front of me, I come to this conclusion; in the battle of paper versus mind, paper wins every time.

After several more minutes I realise this; it is not about a battle. Writing is about closing your eyes and letting the words flow through your fingers onto the paper. If they are ready to be released, they will be. Simple as.

So, a paragraph into nothing, where do I start…?

My words are not quite ready, it seems.

 

 

Here’s a link to the idea behind my ‘snippets’: Snippets