Friday, 28 February 2014

see you on the other side

(David Gray - The Other Side)

It is time, I am afraid, for sevenhundredwords to come to an end. Over the last few weeks I got the idea of redesigning the blog, and renaming it, and then decided that in fact I would prefer to start completely afresh. I intend to leave these pages here for now, if only to redirect people to the new page, which I am very excited about.

The main reason for this decision has been to rid myself of the enforced word count. I didn't know when I started what the reality of blogging is, and I quite quickly found the need to always write seven hundred words quite limiting. Often I went over by a few words here or there, and that wasn't ever really a problem, I do enjoy editing as I thought. The bigger problem was definitely those days when I had something to write, but it was nowhere near enough to reach my target.

On those days it lost all its enjoyment, either I would not bother writing at all, or stare at half written posts trying to pad them out, when in truth I was happy to stop at what I had written. So many of the blogs I enjoy are about simplicity, and I felt that I was becoming unnecessarily overcomplicated, like quite often my posts got lost part way through.

The other element, is that writing at length, tends towards the introspective, and the blog felt like it delved, a little too regularly, into the deep and meaningful. It is difficult to write something so long and keep it upbeat and lighthearted throughout, it is too tempting to err into overanalysis.

It is fitting that as I draw this blog to a close I can share the news that I passed my exam, as it seemed to be in the background in most of the posts. Not many of our group passed, it has a notoriously low pass rate, so I feel very lucky not to have face it again, although a little disappointed that those of us who went through all of the revision together haven't all had the same positive outcome. Personally though I am very glad to consider that bit of my life done with.

We had a weekend away booked and the results came through on the Saturday morning before we left. It was lovely to go away and celebrate, although The Husband's Godfather, who he was very close to, died unexpectedly the same week, so as has been often the case for us in recent times, the celebrations were bittersweet.

I have to confess that some of the other projects I linked in with, such as the year in books, and project 365 have been forgotten whilst I focussed on the new blog. It was amazing how many attempts it took to find a name that I liked and that was available. I intend to pick them back up, although admittedly I am finding the new camera difficult to get to grips with, if anyone has any hints for beginners feel free to share them, here or on the new site.

I wanted to write the last post today, and start tomorrow with a new blog ready to go. I have set up a new email account and twitter handle too. I will link to the blog here (when the first post has gone live), and I hope if any of you happen upon this post you will head over to my new blog and check it out. I had a lovely old time playing with html code and creating the layout, and considering how happy I was with this site when I made it, I can't believe how much more I love the new one.

I have very much enjoyed my first foray into proper blogging, and all of the lovely blogs, and bloggers, I have come across along the way. I can't wait to get going again, it feels like the first day of a new school, or a lovely new notebook, waiting to fill with my neatest writing! Thanks for keeping me company so far, and hopefully I will hear from you on the other side.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

back on track

February 9th

35. After a very long afternoon at my Grandad's whilst The Husband fixed his computer (the benefits of being married to a technophile) we managed to squeeze in a walk with Millie before it went dark. It was good to get some fresh air after hours huddled round a monitor, and from the looks of this shot as we headed back home we timed it just right.

36. One of the benefits of having a birthday party at home is the leftover cake. After getting back home we curled up on the sofa and I tucked into a tasting platter of cakes with some tea. Ever the traditionalist, the victoria sponge was my favourite!

February 10th

37. This was my birthday, and The Husband and I took the day off work. I decided a few years ago that, whenever possible, I would take my birthday off work, and luckily my job at the moment allows me to do that. I reasoned that as a birthday only comes once a year, even if it isn't a "special" one, it is a good opportunity to celebrate, even just having a leisurely lunch with close family provides a lovely break from the norm.

38. All the way home I tried to capture the beautiful sunset through the car window, but failed miserably every time. This is the best of a bad bunch, with plenty of filtering in an attempt to make it look artistic rather than amateur!

February 11th

39. The house is filled with flowers as I got several bunches for my birthday. Whilst roses are my favourites, I do love daffodils at this time of year. They manage to break through the gloom of winter. They are usually cheap to buy too, so I can get lots of bunches and fill the house with colour.

40. I spotted these lamps on Ella Masters' post a few weeks ago, where she showed the green version. They were exactly what I was looking for for our newly decorated study (which is still a work in progress, but I will post about when finished!). I suggested the desk lamp and floor lamp as possible present ideas to my mum who generally asks on behalf of the whole family! I was thrilled to receive a lamp from my brothers and then the set was complete when my mum and stepdad bought us another desk lamp and the floor lamp. We are thrilled with how they look, and were very lucky, as they went out of stock the day after my birthday, and it would have been such a shame to have missed out on them.

12th February

41. As I climbed into bed realised I had forgotten my photos! This was the tag from my new birthday pyjamas which was lying on the bedside table. I wasn't altogether sure what pyjamas that are "reminiscent of southern France" should look like but they are very lovely!

42. The Husband bought me a new digital camera for my birthday, having listened to me lament the lack of memory on my phone, and the difficulty of uploading pictures to the blog. This little beauty has a wifi link, and a built in photo editor, and I'm determined to get to grips with it, and use it for future photos. The bluetooth kit he bought me for Christmas is sadly unused as I haven't taken the time to learn how to use it yet, and I have promised not to let this go the same way!

February 13th

43. The moon was high on one side of the street as I left work...

44. ... whilst the sun was setting on the other. It looked like two completely different skies, and was a nice way to finish the two photos a day, as I have officially managed to catch back up! Hurrah!

February 14th

45. For Valentine's Day and The Husband and I cooked ourselves a new recipe for dinner (soy and honey cod with noodles) and had a quiet night in together, with Millie too.

February 15th

46. The red roses The Husband bought me for Valentine's Day. I normally prefer white or pink, but I'm a sucker for classic romance so these were perfect.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

still having fun

February 1st

19. The coffee and hot chocolate after our walk with the dog. I posted this last week for my first photo of February as I contemplated how to join back in with 365.

20. I liked the sight of my shoes on the floor in my Grandad's lounge, as I curled up on the sofa drinking tea. The sense of feeling right at home, and the scruffy trainers discarded on the carpet, took me right back to being the baby of the family.

February 2nd

21. A Sunday afternoon relaxing in front of the fire with Millie.

22. Fish for dinner, which is a rare occurrence in our house. The Husband isn't a fan of fish usually, but for some reason he decided to rustle this up, he said because he felt guilty for giving me his cold. He was obviously proud of his presentation, telling me to take a picture as he brought it to the table.

February 3rd

23. Got to work before eight, so obviously it was going to be a good day, except for feeling rotten. The porridge and huge mug of tea helped wake me up as I cleared through emails and got myself organised before the influx of people on a Monday morning.

24. The book I have picked for this months the year in books. I have had it on the shelf for ages, a present from my older, cooler cousin who likes to educate me on all things cultural.

February 4th

25. Feeling wiped out by the grotty cold but Millie was still full of beans. As I padded round the house in my pyjamas feeling sorry for myself she decided a game of fetch would be the perfect remedy.

26. Struggling for something to photograph (can you tell?!) I had a few goes at taking a picture of this tangerine. In real life I liked the curl of the leaf, but I couldn't manage to capture it. Still find myself struggling with taking pictures I feel proud of.

February 5th

27. The pale pink roses in the hallway proving a pretty distraction from the pile of post accumulating on the table. Easier to smile at the flowers than sort through the paperwork.

28. The tulips were a beautiful colour, a lavender grey that I haven't seen before, but on my cameraphone (my photography is very low tech) they looked washed out. In the end I gave up trying for a close up, but liked this picture, it gave a sense of them, soothing somehow.

February 6th

29. I took this picture to send to The Husband. I rarely buy lunch, but had gone out today, and got this from the shop near work (as well as some food I hasten to add). It reminded me of a trip to London, last year I think, where we stopped at a tiny cafe for a drink, perched on a bench outside in the sun. The Husband appeared with this and a chocolate cupcake covered in pink sprinkles. The woman at the other end of the bench smiled, told me The Husband was a good one. I knew she was right, for lots of reasons.

30. A last minute photo, having nearly forgotten. I quite liked the reflection of the coaster through the water though.

February 7th

31. I seem to have gone down the route of drinks and dogs this week. On a night at a quiz with my closest friend and her family. I realised I hadn't taken any pictures today so this is what was in front of me.

32. I did like this on the label. Funny what you can see when you look closer.

February 8th

33. We had a party at home for my birthday, which is on Monday. Millie got a birthday bath in the morning. 

34. The efforts of being washed had obviously exhausted her, and this was before the party began! I completely forgot to take any pictures of the party, not even the table of cakes, or the glasses of fizz, or the beautiful flowers and candles everywhere. I was obviously too busy enjoying myself though, which must be a good thing.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

moving through the silence

A slow day resting, trying to give my body a fighting chance, trying not to succumb to the illness that threatens to take hold. There has been tomato soup and white crusty bread for lunch, the epitome of sick-day food. There have been cuddles with the dog, briefly, at least, until she got restless and tried to lick me better. She is not sick after all.

I did not walk her today, my stepdad kindly did, but I took my mum's advice this afternoon and padded out into the garden, fluffy socked, stood on the cool flagstones and took some deep breaths. The fresh air felt soothing to my face, itchy from an afternoon cosseted against the cold, both blankets and the fire on, until the warmth became stifling.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the writealm prompts was familiar phrases. It fell on the second day of my exam and I never got a chance to write, but there has been the premise of a post mulling around my head. Part of it was a vent, an exclamation of frustration, at the phrase that had been oft-used in the preceding weeks, and caused increasing amounts of annoyance. The sing-song reply from supervisors at work, when, having asked about the exam preparation, and I honestly expressed my worry, of "you'll be fine". Meant as reassurance, it became a repetitive refrain, but without the comfort that was intended. It was a shared irritation amongst those of us sitting the papers, a common comment we had all heard. Admittedly the impending exam made us all easily irked, but there seemed too, to be an unthinking dismissal of the fears we were feeling, and I felt the weight of expectation added in to the mix. The pressure to pass increased with every throwaway insistence that there was no other option. Perhaps, though, I can choose to see it another way. Pass or fail, I will be fine, there is no life-changing implication if the results are not what I had hoped. The phrase takes new meaning then, it doesn't dismiss the work that went in to preparing, or the tension of waiting for results, but it takes the fear out of a failure.

Around the same time, as the syllabus looked insurmountable, another phrase started to pop up in my thoughts. At those moments when things seemed to build up, I started to ask "what would help".  It is a favourite of my mum's if I call her, tears brewing, and declare that I don't know what is wrong. Even if I can't identify the problem, can I feel my way to a solution. I don't know what made me start using it in such a practical sense, but it has become my fall-back thought. Better, much, than "what do you need", as I will invariably pick sleep or chocolate. Instead it seems to give me a focus, to pick one single thing to do that would improve my mood. It seems to help me navigate my way through a sticking point, and immediately helps me unpick things that are worrying me, or irritating me, before I have properly perceived them.

So today, when I felt poorly, and soup, blankets, magazines and the puppy had all proved eventually ineffective, the fresh air worked. Followed by writing, including a poem using today's writealm prompt. I enjoyed playing with the words, it helped.


from hand to hand
unfurling creatures on the ceiling
rabbits most often
which merged into dogs
bending the knuckles, angling the wrist
some slight trickery to make noses move
mouths bark

i never started with birds
for some reason
but occasionally would end with thumbs clasped
fingers fluttering wings
flying across the wall
and disappearing into the darkness
to roost

it was the night time equivalent
of spotting shapes in clouds
creating characters in the sky
or instead on the paintwork
making stories for myself
limited only by my imagination
and light

that is the beauty of shadows
though it is easy to see
dark distortions of reality
to find fear in the eerie extensions of limbs
to wonder what lurks unseen
remembering shadow only exists with light
brings peace

Saturday, 1 February 2014

first things first

(Widespread Panic - Shut Up And Drive)

The first of February.

The first time The Husband has brought me breakfast in bed this year. He went to pick up a parcel from the post office and returned with McDonalds. I think as much for him as for me, and not the healthiest start to February, but it was a treat, and a surprise, and marked the start of a happy day, and hopefully a happy month.

The first trip to a new park with Millie. Since our holiday, where we had a secure field to let her off the lead, we have been trying to find somewhere similar that we could take her. There are two local parks both just a few minutes walk from us, and I always favour one over the other. Recently we remembered that the less-preferred park has tennis courts which are enclosed, and rarely used. So the three of us trotted merrily down the road hoping that no-one had got a sudden desire to play early morning tennis in the winter. The tennis courts were deserted, so Millie had a great time running off her lead, chasing a ball, flying face-first into the net at one point, but quickly learning her lesson.

The first hot drinks of the day, coffee for The Husband, hot chocolate for me, as we defrosted from our walk. Ginger nuts were dunked, and we watched a tv programme whilst the dog played at our feet.

The first visit to my Grandad's of 2014. Me, my mum and my Auntie gathered there, and he rustled up a lunch in the way only my Grandad can. From a seemingly empty fridge came forth plates of ham and salmon sandwiches, crisps, crispy bacon butties, an array of biscuits, and the best cups of tea in the world. The easy familiarity of a house I think of as home, curling up on the sofa for cuddles with my family, watching property programmes and guessing house prices, picking our dream homes. A lovely, lazy Saturday lunchtime.

The first signs that I am catching The Husband's cold. That little tickle in the back of the throat, a few too many sneezes in a row. The cold that has sent him to bed early every night this week, that has seen a few colleagues off work for weeks at a time. The cold that I was thinking myself lucky not to have caught. Plenty of medicine for me, and crossing of fingers that it doesn't take hold.

The first supermarket shop of the New Year, having opted for home deliveries these last few weeks. Which brought with it the first fresh flowers of the year too. Roses in pale pink, and tulips a delicate shade of lavender grey. Now trimmed and arranged, cheering up the hallway and bringing life to the living room.

Tonight the first episode of season two of The Mentalist (likely followed by the second, third, fourth episodes). The box set was a gift for finishing my exams, and the first season was the background to our holiday. It is a while since we have had a series to watch, and tonight we have the first Chinese takeaway of the year to enjoy alongside it.

Finally, the first day I have restarted the 365 project. I got seventeen days in and then it faltered, and then failed altogether. I have about eight photos from the last two weeks, but I fear to use those would be akin to emptying out the detritus from the bottom of my handbag and putting that on display. However, I missed doing it, deciding which moment to commemorate. I am in a quandary about how to proceed. The Boy and Me suggested switching to a 52 photo a year challenge, but I enjoyed the daily snapshot and the weekly round up. She then suggested running from now until 1st Feb next year, which I considered. Then I thought I would be frustrated if next New Year I couldn't start at the same time as everyone else. My final option is to take two photos a day, until I have caught up. What do you think? Is that allowed? Pretty please? It is my first time after all...

Friday, 31 January 2014

eight o'clock precise

Eight o'clock often appears to be the determinant of my day. I can be in work, at my desk, after a reasonable commute. Usually I will feel good, I will have a healthy lunch and breakfast with me, and I revel in the quieter atmosphere with which to begin my day's work. Alternatively I can be dashing out of the door, leaving a trail of destruction in my wake. Usually feeling poorly put-together, breakfastless, disorganised, and with the prospect of a slow, painful drive, and a day spent playing catch up with myself.

Those days when things go like clockwork, anything seems possible, I feel more positive and am generally more productive. I get home at a reasonable time, cook a proper meal, and feel well-rested and life is better balanced. Yet, I am not a morning person. Getting up with my alarm is entirely unnatural for me, and more often than not I hit snooze a few too many times, and instead the second scenario presents itself. I sit in traffic lamenting my laziness and often, at eight o'clock, I have already written the rest of the day off as a bad job. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy as I get less done, get stuck in the same traffic travelling home, and then collapse on the sofa, ready to eat sleep and repeat. It seems that eight o'clock in the morning generally is a good indication of how things will be come eight o'clock at night.

I often take the all-or-nothing approach. It's either a great day or an awful day, I either succeed wholeheartedly or abjectly fail. It means that good days are great, but they are hard to achieve, when anything less than perfect will not do. Since the end of our holiday, some of my new resolutions fell by the wayside. I forgot my daily photographs, and then when I remembered, the routine of my days seemed too mundane to be worth capturing. The daily walks with Millie dropped off too, the rain and the wind bleak, making it too easy to let someone else do the walk or let her run round the garden by herself.

The first day I forgot to take my photograph I felt so frustrated, like I'd ruined the project, that I couldn't possibly continue now it wouldn't be perfect. As soon as I missed one day's walk the impetus to do the next was lost. Much as it is good to strive for perfection, I realised it would be foolish to throw away a whole year because January hadn't been faultless. Just as sometimes, I can turn my day around with a good song on the radio as I sit inching my way towards work, I don't have to let a small slip up become a whole catastrophe. So in February I will focus on those good habits I developed in January that I want to continue such as the nightly journal writing, and rediscover those which have lapsed a little, yet brought me joy while they lasted.

One of the habits I wanted to begin, and am very glad I did, was to read more, as part of Laura's the year in books. I got two books for Christmas, and read them both this month. The Fault in Our Stars was a quick read, I thought. I enjoyed it but found some of the characters a little extreme. I found the plot fairly predictable, but I wanted to read it through. The dark humour, and the day to day reality of the characters was well written and engaging.

Gone Girl was gripping, and from the start I wanted to slow down and really savour the writing. I eventually read most of it in one long night, as I couldn't wait to see how it developed. There was a sense of suspending disbelief with the plot, yet somehow the characters weren't improbable. There were a few plot holes by the end, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this book took me on, enthralled throughout. I have since found there will be a film later in the year, and I am intrigued to see how it eventually translates to screen.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

the sun must set to rise

(Coldplay - Paradise)

12. Looking back to write this I can hardly believe it is only a week since I took this first picture. Perhaps I can be forgiven for the dull content when I explain that I was residing in a London Travelodge, alone, the night before two days of exams. As comfortable and clean as the room was, it was not the most inspiring of accommodation. I also think my pre-exam nerves prevented me from spending too long pondering what to photograph.

13. With day one down, four of us sitting the exam went for dinner, and managed to talk about things other than the exam, at least for the most part. It was nice to have colleagues staying in the same hotel, and to meet up with in the morning. It was an intense few days, and it was reassuring to share the experience with other people. Otherwise it could have been an incredibly isolated few days.

14. I am a little ashamed of this picture, as you can see that dry January was forsaken in the name of exam celebrations, however I liked the contrast with the water and salad (although there was pizza and pasta out of shot) from the previous picture. We had time before our trains and so it was good to sit together, debrief, and celebrate that, for now at least, the exam we have been preparing for for over four months, has been done. Results will not be for a month, and it meant that, by the time I boarded the train, I could switch off completely. It was the first time I have travelled first class and I had a lovely time watching a film with a celebratory drink. I have decided to extend dry January for an extra week into February though, which I realise doesn't quite count but I still intend to do it!

15. Then straight away on a wonderful holiday with The Husband and Millie. In the middle of the Cornish countryside, we stayed in a beautiful dog-friendly cottage, with walks on the doorstep, a hot tub with views of the hills, a pamper room, which I made full use of, treating myself to massages aplenty, and also no phone signal or wifi. Although it was a bit disconcerting feeling completely uncontactable, once I was reassured that my mum had the owners' numbers in case of emergency, the peace and seclusion were exactly what was needed. We had a few holidays last year that were disappointing for different reasons, but from the moment we arrived here, I relaxed instantly. So relaxed that I completely forgot to take a picture until bedtime - hence the bedroom light fitting, which was amazing, but I couldn't do it justice.

16. The cottage had a separate fenced off dog exercise area. Being a (part) beagle, we have been told never to let Millie off the lead unless in a secure area, so it was wonderful for her to have such a large expanse of grass to sprint around. It has been great to spend loads of time with her, and did us good in terms of making sure we got out for good long walks every day. The cottage was so lovely it would have been easy to stay indoors, enjoying the peace and the views. Having Millie with us ensured we got out in to the fresh air, where the sense of stillness was even more breathtaking.

17. We visited a local beach, and despite the intermittent drizzle, just as we climbed the rocks for a better view the sun came out and set the scene perfectly. This secluded spot was perfect for a few hours walk, with stunning views, including a rainbow as we walked back through the woods. We even saw the end of it, as it hit the field, but no pot of gold to be found.

18. On our last full day The Husband finally succeeded in lighting the log fire, and the three of us curled up in our cottage, well-fed, well-rested and content. Strange to realise now how recently I did the exam. Feels like a lifetime ago, which is surely a sign of a wonderful trip.