Journal 25 Feb 2020

As you may know if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, last week was somewhat disrupted by waking up bright and early (well… early) one morning at a very odd angle due to our elderly bed frame breaking. My back did not enjoy this one little bit and I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped. Still enough for a quick journal update though. We are now completely penniless, but we have a superking sized bed with room for Staffingtons who like to snuggle and a fabulous, supportive mattress. It is glorious. If it wasn’t for my determination to be more creative, I might just hibernate until spring.

I mentioned in my last journal entry that I had been doing a fair bit of sketching from nature and missed going on long walks.  Sometimes though, nature comes to you.

I often spend a while reading before I go to sleep at night. A couple of weeks ago, I was engrossed in my book in the early hours. The only light in the room was the small bedside lamp, right next to my face. Suddenly, a large flappy thing appeared between me and the page. Obviously I didn’t do a big girly shriek, drop my book, and go six feet in the air… (*ahem*)… but I was a little surprised, as random flying beasties do not usually appear indoors in early February.

Once I had ruled out vampires, actual bats or very small UFOs, I saw that it was not that big after all. As it flitted about the lamp shade, I realised it was a butterfly. Wait… what?

This is how I came to find out that certain butterflies ‘over-winter’ indoors, but can become confused by central heating or unseasonably warm weather. My 3am Googling revealed that this was a Small Tortoiseshell, one of the most common to be found in houses. This helpful site told me what to do:

“ Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock… [butterflies] regularly overwinter inside houses. They come in during late summer/early autumn when it is still warm outside and our houses appear to provide suitably cool, sheltered dry conditions.

However… such butterflies may be awoken prematurely by high indoor temperatures. This presents a major problem for the butterfly as the outside weather conditions may be very hostile and there is little nectar available in gardens.

The best solution is to rehouse the butterfly into a suitable location. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar, in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down.

Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring”.

So that’s what we did. Two more have appeared since then, which was less of a surprise. I have always planted wildlife-friendly things in our garden. We have an abundance of butterflies and moths over the summer. It wouldn’t be hard for a few of them to find a way into the crumbling Victorian pile that is Poochweasel Towers and find a quiet spot. They are very welcome to doze here.

I took a couple of photos, which provided a great opportunity to practice blending my new ink markers.

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They are somewhat counter-intuitive for someone like me, who has spent most of their life drawing with graphite and water based things, as the trick is to start with darker colours then use the lighter shades to blend but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.

When life gives you lemons, it’s time for a gin and tonic. When life gives you butterflies, draw them! After you’ve done the cardboard box/cool place thing, obviously.

 

Journal 18 Feb 2020

The first couple of weeks of my year of living… artfully(?) have been fantastic!

So far, I’m still doing more reading than writing. I’ve been following some of the advice in a very useful book about overcoming creative block and allowing myself to follow random ideas and interesting articles I come across ‘in the moment’, rather than filing them away for later and never going back to them. I’ve broken ground on my art journal and I have so many plans for new projects.

I now have three (three!!) sketchbooks on the go. I know! Look at me. One is for the journal, which I am going to start using every day, even if it’s just to note what I’ve been reading or thinking about. One is for work, which I will probably use more later in the year as I plan for the future.

The last one is shared with Luce. At the moment it’s mostly random silly sketches of things we come up with that make us laugh, like Lola in space (still getting her tennis ball pinched by Ruby. Oh noes!) or ‘Farty and the Tank’…

… but Luce is a very talented writer and we have often discussed collaborating on something creative. The first year of her PhD is pretty intense, with regular lectures involving a three-hour round trip to Warwick. Next year, fingers crossed, she will be more able to manage her own schedule, so we might just find time to start.

In my last blog entry, I spoke about challenging myself to learn new skills. Every artist or crafter I know has a long list of things they’re going to try “one day” and, more often than not, a cupboard full of unused supplies. One of the things in my Cupboard of Shame was a set of pro marker pens that I’d never tried so I used them to colour a couple of sketches.

Oh. My. Goodness. They’re fun. Now I have another few sets on the way! It doesn’t count as a shopping spree, because I used a voucher I got for Christmas. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it… *ahem*…

Since I’ve been sketching again, I find I am more likely to notice and appreciate the small stuff. I’m trying to make positive changes when I can even if it’s something that seems unimportant. Clearing out a drawer recently, I found a beautiful old biscuit tin that my Gran gave me when I was little. I used to keep my pencils in it, and now I do again!

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It took all of five minutes to clean it up and sort what I was going to put in it, but it makes me smile every day. Funnily enough, I have been drawing a lot from nature (or photos of nature, taken when I was able to go for long walks!) so it also suits that theme. And I have a butterfly story, but that can wait until next update.

If anyone would like to join me and have a go at art journaling, or writing a journal, or daily sketching, or anything creative at all, I would be absolutely delighted! It’s so easy to ‘burn out’ when you spend a lot of time on your own and art, writing etc. tend to be fairly solitary pursuits. I would love to build a little creative community so that we can offer each other support and encouragement.

For now, I have a Facebook group linked to my Poochweasel page, which anyone is very welcome to join. I’m not a massive fan of Faceache though, so I’m very much open to suggestions. Come and talk to me

 

Don’t Let Me Hear You Say Life’s Taking You Nowhere

Hello and a belated happy new year! Please stick with me, this post is quite long but also really positive, I promise. And there might be a picture of a daft dog at the end. Oh go on then, let’s start with one too. That’s me photo-bombing on the left:

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So here we are in 2020. Even if the world is in turmoil and things seem bleak, the beginning of a new decade seems like a time to take stock and look to the future.

The truth is that the last five years have been a struggle for us here at Poochweasel Towers. That’s not to say there haven’t been good times and we have plenty of reasons to be grateful. We are very happy together, we have wonderful friends and family, excellent doggos, and Luce is finally studying for the PhD she has wanted to do for years. But a ridiculous number of ‘challenging’ things have happened one after another and recovering from them has been difficult.

Also, as you probably know if you follow this blog, I am not doing well health-wise. It seems that every time I sit down to write a post, I start by telling you that I’m struggling and apologising for my lack of new work or availability for commissions. Unfortunately, my situation doesn’t look like it’s about to change any time soon.

I have suffered from chronic arthritis since I was about 12. I have had fusions in my neck and lower back. Last year, after nearly a year of waiting for various scans etc, I had the first of two procedures to fuse my sacroiliac joints. I was told the second surgery should be 8-12 weeks later. Turns out that even if you need two procedures for the same reason, they are treated separately and the NHS clock resets after each one, so it will be another 6 months before I become ‘urgent’ again. And it can take a year or so to fully recover from fusion surgery… None of this is the fault of the hospital or the NHS of course but being ‘lop-sided’ is not doing me any favours. I find it difficult to sleep, I can’t stand for long or walk very far, and I can’t sit at my desk for any length of time.

Unsurprisingly, all this has taken a toll on my mental health too. I have found it increasingly difficult to be creative and being creative is what makes me happy. Mid December, when I found out that my next surgery probably wouldn’t happen before July 2020, was a particularly low point, so I had a little talk with myself. “Ok me”, I said, “You can’t change your circumstances, but you can choose how you react to them, so what are you going to do about it?” My first thought was “that’s it, I’m going to have to retire”. But I don’t want to do that yet and thinking about it made me miserable. I pondered the probable timing of the surgery/recovery and decided I would have to take a year off. Obviously, my first reaction was to panic. Then I thought “would that really be so bad?” Luce and I have always been determined to take the positive from any situation, even if it’s just a lesson we’ve had to learn the hard way. The more I thought about it, the more positives and possibilities I saw. So that’s what I’m going to do, but I’m not going anywhere and there will be no moping or moaning or feeling sorry for myself. I plan to use the time to ‘get my mojo back’ and start art-ing and writing and generally ‘weaselling about the place again.

I find January is a rubbish time to start anything. Like going on a diet when the house is still full of Christmas chocolates and there’s a litre of Baileys in your fridge (*ahem*). So, the next couple of weeks will be mostly spent reading, listing and organising. And maybe finishing some of the chocolates, if I can prise them away from Luce….

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Here are some of my plans so far.

Firstly, tiny dogs. I love making tiny dogs. There will always be tiny dogs. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take on commissions until I’m fully recovered because I can’t guarantee if/when I will be able to make them. Even if people are very patient and prepared to wait (which they nearly always are) my work list quickly stacks up and causes me a lot of stress. I don’t mind being under pressure when I’m able to work full-time but when I’m not I imagine people being fed up if I’m doing anything other than making their order and that stops me doing anything creative at all. So, no commissions for a while, but more tiny dogs in general. Also, I have some long-term tiny dog projects that have been on a back burner for years and I would love to start bringing some of those to life. Think really imaginative, detailed models. Maybe some animations. Maybe starting to head towards a small exhibition, or even a book?

Before any of that fun, I must get back into good creative habits and for me, that starts with sketching. I’ve been reading about art journaling and I’m planning to give that a go. I’m also going to be doing #inktober52 which has prompts for an ink sketch every week. I got way behind with last year’s #Inktober, which is a sketch every day, but I’m hoping I can manage this!

Self-care is important but mindfulness and meditation aren’t really my thing. Being creative is what gives me ‘head space’ and provides an antidote to stress and anxiety. Stupidly, like many creative folks, I also put myself under unnecessary pressure to produce something fabulous every time I pick up my clay or put pen to paper. I’m pretty sure that doing more spontaneous quick sketches etc. will help me get over that, as will getting out of my comfort zone and trying some new things. I might even ask for suggestions or challenges!

Which brings me to social media and the amazing people who follow and support what I do. I was surprised and delighted when Poochweasel took off as quickly as it did back at the beginning of the last decade, and I am enormously grateful that so many of you have stayed with me. Every comment or share or RT or post ‘like’ really is appreciated. Keeping things going on social media without a steady stream of new work (or ‘content’. Ugh.) is difficult and time-consuming, so it will be a massive weight off my shoulders to have new things to show you.

I love being self-employed but it can mean being rather isolated. I would very much like to share what I get up to while I’m finding my way back to a regular creative routine. The odd posts I’ve made about personal projects have been popular, so I’m thinking some of you might find it interesting. I also know that a lot of other people are going through similar problems and I would love to build a community where we can chat and support each other.

Having said that, I realise that plenty of people are only here for doggos and that’s fine! I’m going to use my blog for this project, probably as an extension of my art journal. I’m thinking I’ll label these journal entries simply by date and other updates will have the usual fancy music-related titles(!) I’ll post/tweet links and include a brief description of each entry, so you can easily pick and choose.

I’m planning to keep the Poochweasel Facebook page as it is and share any dog-related art as usual. I will use the ‘closed’ (members only) Poochweasel Facebook group for everything else. The only reason the group is closed is so that I don’t spam your feed with other arty/silly stuff that may not interest you, and to encourage people to chat and post their own work without making it public on Facebook. Anyone is welcome to join. Here’s a link: www.facebook.com/groups/poochweasel You can also find also a link on the Poochweasel page, or just do a Facebook search for ‘Poochweasel’.

Twitter and Instagram work differently, and I might be able to separate things enough just by using different hashtags. I’ll play that by ear.

Having ended 2019 feeling properly down in the dumps, I’m excited to see where the next year or so takes me artistically, and that has made me feel a whole lot better already. I really hope I can pass on a bit of fun and positivity along the way.

Thank you so much if you’ve read this far. I’d love to hear what you think!

As promised, here’s a daft dog. If you cheated and skipped straight here, I understand.

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Bonus Music Video:

The title of this post is a lyric from Golden Years by David Bowie, form the album ‘Station to Station’.

“Bowie made an appearance on Soul Train singing (actually, lip synching) ‘Golden Years’ and ‘Fame’ on November 4, 1975. Few white performers had appeared on the show, but host Don Cornelius gave him a warm welcome, introducing him as “one of the world’s most popular and important music personalities.”

 

 

 

My Blakean Year

Remember my last blog? I ended by saying “…as delightful as March has been, I am ready for April now, pleaseandthankyou. What could possibly go wrong?” Well, let me tell you…

On the 8th April I had more spinal surgery as planned, the first of two procedures to fuse my sacroiliac joints. Everything went really well and I already feel much better. My right SI joint is recovering well and the surgeon also had the foresight to do the necessary diagnostic/painkilling injections in the left side while I was anaesthetised, to spare me that unpleasantness at another appointment. I was lucky enough that the operation took place first thing in the morning and I managed to escape from hospital after only one night, feeling very pleased with myself. Silly me! This is still 2019.

Our good friends Sandra and Sonya helped out with dog-sitting so that Luce could visit me in hospital and collect me. They had visited Ruby and Lola before and they are now their favourite aunties, obvs. As Ruby demonstrates:

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We are used to the whole back surgery thing now and everything was going brilliantly until a couple of days later when Luce started to feel unwell. By the next day, a Sunday of course, she was having severe abdominal pain and we had to call the emergency doctor. Really? Oh yes. Turns out the universe can indeed be that hilarious and she ended up spending six nights in hospital having a nasty appendix diagnosed and removed. She has now joined those of us who are ‘abridged’ (thanks to her friend Maebh for the lovely turn of phrase!) although things have moved on a lot since I had mine out about thirty years ago. This is now keyhole surgery, so she doesn’t have the classic lower right hand scar, more of a bowling ball arrangement of three small puncture wounds, as if she’s lost an argument with a very small triceratops.

Luckily for us, Sandra and Sonya immediately stepped in; between them they took over dog-wrangling, shopping, cooking etc, drove me to the surgery to get my staples out and to the hospital to visit Luce as soon as I was well enough to travel. I honestly don’t know how we would have coped without them, they have been absolute stars.

We are both recovering well now, but we also remain grateful for professional dog walkers, online grocery shopping and everyone involved in the invention of modern painkillers. On the plus side, it has given us a kick start towards a healthier lifestyle. We’ve been so stressed lately that things have slipped a bit. Luce is going to be taking time out from full-time teaching to do a PHD in family law over the next 3-4 years and we’ve been talking about getting into better habits now that we’re able to plan our time more easily. Neither of recommends this particular method, but we’ve both undergone a fairly radical unintentional ‘detox’, so we might as well make the most of it!

Most of all, I’m planning to use this time to get back to just enjoying being creative again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that, because I’ve been so worried about keeping my business going, but I know I will be having surgery to fix my left SI joint fairly soon so there’s no point rushing things. Better to be patient and come back as strong and healthy as possible.

I daren’t look forward to May. Let’s just wait and see. This is Lola, waiting and seeing. I basically have the same expression.

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Bonus arty farty bit:

As ever, if you recognised the lyrical reference in the title of my blog, come and talk music with me! For those who are interested, My Blakean Year is a song by Patti Smith from the album ‘Trampin’:

“From pattismith.net : “[William Blake’s] life was a testament of faith over strife. he suffered poverty humiliation and misunderstanding yet he continued to do his work and maintained a lifelong belief in his vision. he has served as a good example in facing my own difficulties and feeling a certain satisfaction in doing so”.

I first heard ‘Horses’ as a teenager and Patti Smith opened my eyes to what music could be. These lines from the Introduction to the Songs of Experience from William Blake seem apt:

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees
Whose ears have heard,
The Holy Word,
That walk’d among the ancient trees.
(whole poem here)

Oh Come On!

I know, I know, I haven’t blogged for ages. Again. Where have I been?

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Ok, that’s me on the right but I haven’t  actually been holed up in a top secret bunker waiting for everything to stop being on fire. Although now you mention it, that doesn’t sound like a totally bad idea.

Here’s the thing. 2018 was… challenging, so boo to that. This year so far has been way busy and way beyond stressful. For those who want to know why, read on. If you don’t, just skip to the funny story at the end. I won’t mind, and it pretty much sums up the last three months.

In January we were involved in some nonsense which (and I have always wanted to say this) I cannot talk about for legal reasons. Suffice to say neither of us was a defendant and we have not suddenly become Thelma and Louise. Sorry to disappoint.

Later that month, my mum finally had a knee replacement she’d needed for a long time. I arranged to stay with her for a few days when she came out of hospital. That turned into nearly two weeks, as it became apparent she had been discharged without a ‘care package’, so no nurse visits, physio etc. Happily, she is up and about without crutches now and doing really well.

Shortly after that we lost our gorgeous old Etty dog. Hardly a shock, as she was at least sixteen years old, but heartbreaking just the same. She deserves her own blog which I will be writing very soon.

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In happier news, in February, we adopted these two gorgeous loons, Ruby and Lola, who ended up in rescue after their owner died. They also deserve their own blog, also coming soon.

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Regular listeners know I have been struggling with back problems, particularly over the last three years or so when I have also had referred leg pain (a bit like extreme sciatica). Good news is that I finally seem to have a diagnosis that makes sense! I’m booked for more surgery on 8 April, all being well. If that works I will have another op 8-12 weeks later, so things are looking up, but I have a little way to go yet.

All this has meant that I haven’t been able to work full-time for a while now, and hardly at all this year. I am so very grateful to everyone who has stuck around and supported Poochweasel and I’m determined to get things up and running again as soon as possible. Seriously; if you’re bothering to read this, you rock.

So yes, funny story: Here’s a perfect (and dog-related) illustration of how 2019 is going for us: to set the scene, we’ve been trying to get our house on the market for ages. Luce has some free time at the moment, so the plan was to to get as much as possible done before April. We made a start and the house was in… well, let’s call it ‘organised chaos’ as we sorted through clutter, rearranged storage, boxed up charity donations and so on. Last Tuesday afternoon, Luce took the dogs for a walk and Lola found some lovely, stinky mud to roll in.

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I ran her a bath and we popped her in as soon as they got home. We stuck Ruby in and washed her paws for good measure and congratulated ourselves on having such little angels who sat happily to be dried and barely made a paw-print in the bathroom. Then we heard a weird noise from downstairs… Turns out that the waste pipe under the bath had chosen that moment to give up the ghost.

We can laugh about it now and, on the plus side, the insurance company have been brilliant and dealt with everything very promptly. However, you would not believe the damage a dog-bath’s worth of water can do when it crashes through a ceiling! In addition to the other clutter, our downstairs rooms are now full of furniture from the living room and we are camping upstairs. The ceiling needed to come down and once that had been replaced, the entire room needed redecorating. Thankfully, all the work-people have been lovely, friendly, efficient folk who have made friends with Lola and Ruby, which has helped. When the decorating is finished, we need the electrician to sort the new light fitting, someone to assess the state of the wooden furniture and someone from ‘soft furnishings’ to approve cleaning or replacement of sofas, rugs etc. Such fun!

My work room is directly above this. Yesterday was the first day I was able to venture back in:

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Of course, our story is that Lola, affectionately known as ‘Tank’, broke the bath to avoid future cleaning. The irony being that everything in the house is now covered with a thick layer of plaster dust and the dogs are pretty much the only things that don’t need cleaning.

In conclusion, as delightful as March has been, I am ready for April now, pleaseandthankyou. What could possibly go wrong?

Fin.

Bonus music thing: If you recognised the lyric reference in my blog title, come and talk music with me! 😉  If you didn’t, meet the legendary Kathleen Hanna and the Julie Ruin:

 

If you enjoyed, I urge you to go catch up with everything else Kathleen Hanna. Look up her other bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and/or buy Julie Ruin stuff here: Julie Ruin Store