Happy Feast-er!

I’m not religious. I’ve said that before. However, I do always give chocolate up for Lent. This isn’t anything related to Christianity (for me) and some of you may call me a hypocrite – but any of us could say that to people who celebrate Easter, yet do not worship God. I do it for personal reasons and an individual challenge. I choose to do it that time of year, rather than any other, mainly because others are giving up things too (and chocolate eggs are a great way to end this period of chocolate dieting 😉 )

I must guiltily admit though, that this year, I finished my ‘Lent’ 3 days early.

For 2 reasons:

1.)  I went to Pizza Express for a colleague’s retirement on Thursday and the dessert options for the £12.95 offer were both chocolate related 😉 Sorry I couldn’t resist!

2.) My friends came for dinner on Good Friday and one made a super chocolately cake – so I couldn’t ignore the great effort. Plus it made it a very GOOD Friday! 😉 I still went 6 weeks without the brown stuff though, so I am happy with my effort. 🙂

So Easter for me, is about treating myself to what I have starved myself of for 6 weeks. Like I also said in my Christmas post, it should be about spending time with friends and family. I am not mocking religion or belittling it anyway and I truly respect and admire those who celebrate it for its actual meaning. But, I am just being me and being honest at how I celebrate a holiday in my own, individual way. It is the free time that I always feel lucky to have and I plan to spend that in the most productive ways possible. (As Easter allows school workers to have a scrummy 2 weeks off!)

My boyfriend and I are going out on a date night tonight. We realised we hadn’t been out just the two of us in a long time. Again, typically untraditionally, we are going for a Thai meal 🙂

So, what this short blog post is saying today is:

Enjoy Easter, how you choose. If you are lucky enough to have the long weekend off work, then spend it with the things you love the most. For me that is friends, family and chocolate 🙂

Easter is for family...... even chocolate bunny families! ;-)

Easter is for family…… even chocolate bunny families! 😉

I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of my thoughts about chocolate and religion in two of my previous posts:

https://samanthagray9.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/a-happy-soul/

https://samanthagray9.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/sweet-like-chocolate/

Have a lovely feast-er! 😀

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We all Need a Sign.

I am lucky enough to be able to hear. I am also blessed to be able to talk (although, I’m not sure my boyfriend would agree!) Because, I have learnt these skills, I have also been able to read and write this today. All forms of communication, that a lot of us take for granted.

I recently started a sign language course, you see. I have always been fascinated by it and have wanted to learn it properly. In my previous job, I knew a little of Makaton sign langauge. This is a simplified version and often used with younger children. The course I am doing now is British Sign Language (BSL). Some bits are the same as what I have learnt in Makaton – some aren’t. The alphabet is the same, though. I had previously learnt this but the course has helped me to ensure that I hold my hands correctly and make sure the other person can see the signed letter easily. I am a firm believer that we should all learn the alphabet, because then anyone could communicate with deaf and hearing impaired individuals a little i.e. by spelling out key words.  Here take a look at it:

The fingers on your left hand make up the vowels. The thumb being ‘A’ and your little finger being ‘U’. The other letters tend to make the shape of the letter, making it quite a sensical system really.

We are taught by a tutor who can’t hear or speak. (Deaf and Dumb – but I am pretty sure that isn’t accepted terminology anymore with the negative connotations!). This makes us learn more quickly really because he has to sign to us mainly so we pick up more signs along the way. Naturally, he will write on the white board too to explain certain things. It was funny on our first session, as we had to all write our names on the board – as it was obviously the only way we could tell him to start with. He quickly picked up on the fact that my sister and I (who is doing the course with me) had the same surname. He pointed at us in turn with questioning facial expressions. I knew the sign for sister in Makaton and was pretty sure it was the same. But you know when you just start a group and you don’t want to be the nerdy geek?! Ha! Well, I was more worried of him thinking I was my sister’s Mum instead and realised that I could live with being the class geek and had to clear it up, so I signed sister and he nodded in understanding! 😀

We’ve had four weeks of sessions now. The part I am finding the most difficult is the numbers. It isn’t just a case of counting on your fingers as I had hoped. It changes at 6, ten and for the teens – because it is done with one hand you see:

This is the only similar one that I could find. We’ve learnt 10 slightly differently. But, yes you do a fist action for ‘6’ and then add on to make ‘7-9’. We were also taught to turn ‘2’ the other way to avoid swearing 😉

Funny story one week. We had to all have a conversation with the tutor in front of everyone else. He asked me if I had a car, what colour it was etc. I signed in reply. I then thought he asked how long I had been driving so I signed  ‘4 years’. Everyone started to laugh and the tutor looked shocked! Turns out, he had asked how long had it taken me to drive to the session that night! Ha! So even in sign language, things can get lost in translation 😉

So yes, it’s all very interesting. We are doing just the beginner’s course and then there is a Level 1 – 6. It is a whole new langauge and it will take years to perfect the grammar (different from the written word as words like ‘are’ don’t exist – generally explaining why deaf people can’t always write in the same way), facial expressions and then the slang and informal talk. I’d like to go all the way with it but we will see how obstacles like time and money get in the way!

But as I say, if people just took a little time to learn the alphabet then it would bridge that gap of communication. I also fully recommend the Beginner’s course. You learn, in addition to the alphabet and numbers, family signs, question signs, colours and the other bits (which we haven’t done yet!). The course is 11 weeks long and only cost £68 and that is including £15 for the exam at the end. Obviously, it will vary depending where you live or where you study at. But it’s worth the money for such a valuable life skill.

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Sorry, who are you?

I have a relative recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I won’t go into too much detail as I have some family members who don’t like family business going on the world-wide web. But, it is a horrible condition and I’d actually written some poems about it a while ago. Remember on Coronation Street a while ago when Eileen’s bloke Paul had a wife with Alzheimer’s? I became quite interested then and wrote a poem from, in this case, the woman’s point of view and then the carer’s/male’s point of view.

Last weekend, when I visited my relative, he didn’t know who I was. 😦 You can prepare yourself for this all you like, but you are never fully prepared for that look they give you. No recognition. No love. Just blankness. He also thought I was another relative dressed up as someone else in order to fool him. I was caught between laughing and crying. It is difficult because you don’t know how much you should try and jog their memory. He was getting frustrated you see, as he knew he should know who I was.

It made me think of my poems again. See what you think:

Sorry, who are you?

(From a wife with dementia to her husband)

‘Sorry, who are you?

I like that picture.

Yes I’d like some orange

 Juice.’

‘Sorry, who are you?

I like you a lot but

why have you given

me orange juice?’

‘Sorry, who are you?

I hate that picture!

Let me tell you a story. It’s

really funny.

‘Sorry, who are you?

I don’t feel like telling a

story, I just want to go home!

Sorry, who are you?

Where is my orange juice?

I’m parched, I want it now!

It’s meant to be a rambling poem in terms of the form, structure and content. A lot of repetition and forgetfulness  – as these are the kind of things you here in the old folks’ home. Here’s the husband’s response:

I remember who you used to be

(A reply, to the woman with dementia, from her husband)

I remember who you used to be,
so happy and content and carefree.
Taking care of others then,
And we always watched the news at ten.

Your long hair flowing, you took such pride,
No imperfections, then, that you had to hide.

Now I take care of you
Since it took over, I have to.
I don’t resent it but it’s not easy,
‘cos I remember how you used to be.

Your eyes showed a knowing smile,
Your clothes sang an elegant style,
Your chatter and laughter filled the room,
From that day we were bride and groom.

Now, you glance the room, as if it’s not home,
But it was you who made it, made it our own.
I still love you as ever before
Even when you forget who we are,

I can get by each day you see,
because I remember how you used to be.

They still need a bit of work but I think they capture the thoughts and feelings overall. At the old folks’ homes I visit, you really do see some funny habits. There is one woman, who used to be a head teacher. She, now, patrols the corridors of the home all day, closing windows, moving things, checking on people, telling them they are smart etc. It is like she has regressed to that job role now. Once a head teacher, always a head teacher. Sad as it is, she seems happy. It was funny when I last went, because she put her head around the corner and gestured me to come to her with a pointed finger – just like a teacher would to a naughty pupil. I was tempted to go, but she soon forgot and walked off!

There is another woman, who is lovely. She sits there all day and it amazes me because she has her hair done nicely, wears her jewellery and smart clothes. One day, she said to me, ‘excuse me, can I say something? Aren’t you pretty?’ That was nice to hear and I thought ‘ooh I like coming here!’ Another day, she started the same, ‘Can I say something?’  I thought to myself, ‘ooh the compliment’s coming again.’ But she said,’ your husband is really handsome.’ Haha, it was his turn that day, ‘my husband.’ I had to check she didn’t mean my dad! But, luckily, she did mean my partner!

I recommend going to an old folks’ home if you can. It is great to go and talk to someone, even if just for half an hour. It brightens up their day. My boyfriend’s mum visits one of her relatives regularly and now takes her puppy border collie. He has a profound effect and made the old people interactive – and one woman spoke to the dog, who hadn’t spoke in years!

So people with dementia can still have a good quality of life, they need understanding and visits and patience. And a relative in disguise occasionally it seems! 😉

Praise Song for Your Mother

Since it is Mother’s Day weekend, we all need to think of our mothers, mums, mother-in-laws and other mother figures – past and present. What they do for us all year, how they help us, how they make us laugh, support us and most of all that they enrich our lives.

There is a praise song poem by Grace Nicholls called Praise Song for My Mother which celebrates all the reasons, very personal reasons – why her mother was special to her. ‘Was’ because her  mother has passed but she still lives on in this poem all day everyday. The use of ‘mantling’, ‘fathoming’ and ‘streaming’ shows that the love goes on and on after death. A beautiful poem really:

Praise Song for My Mother

You were
water to me
deep and bold and fathoming

You were
moon’s eyes to me
pull and grained and mantling

You were
sunrise to me
rise and warm and streaming

You were
the fish’s red gill to me
the flame tree’s spread to me
the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell
replenishing replenishing

Go to your wide futures, you said.

Grace Nicholls

I love this poem and it inspired me to write my own version for my mother. I tried it with the past tense – and like Nicholls’s I think it is more powerful like that. But I just can’t tempt fate as I am lucky enough to still have my Mum here with us today  – so for this purpose it is in the present tense. My Mum is still all these things today, as always. See what you think:

Praise Song for My Mother

You are
music to me
clear and soft and singing

You are
perfume to me
fresh and sweet and clinging

You are
tea to me
warm and strong and comforting

You are
the wendy house to me
the joy of scrabble to me
the fish in sauce/baked beans
satisfying satisfying

Always drive carefully, you say.

Samantha Gray

I think I will print a copy of this poem off for my Mum – or even the blog as a whole, since she is a techno-phone and there is no way she will see this 😉 My boyfriend’s Mum (who I suppose can be called ‘mother-in-law’ but I always joke there is nothing ‘in-law’ about it as of yet lol), will read this though, I hope, and know that she is very appreciated by my boyfriend and I 🙂

Appreciate mothers everywhere…they gave us life. So we can not only thank them, but share our lives with them and just generally celebrate life with them this weekend.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL!

Barking Mad!

I have had an interesting day yesterday. I volunteered at a Rescue Dog Weekend event at a store called Just for Pets. My boyfriend’s Mum is the volunteer coordinator for the Border Collie Trust so she naturally ropes me and other family members in at times 😉 It is very interesting and I don’t mind getting stuck in from time to time – even though I must confess that I am not a dog lover as such.

You would be amazed at how many dogs get abandoned/abused/thrown out (literally, in the dog’s case that I am about to mention). So, I urge you dog lovers out there to consider rehoming a rescue dog. They need homes, you want a dog. Everyone wins.

The star of the weekend was a dog called Frankie. Only just over a month ago, little Frankie was thrown from a moving van. The worst abuse possible? Sort of, but up until that moment he had been neglected and pretty much starved. So even though him being thrown from a van was an awful, disgusting, inhumane action – it actually did Frankie a lot of good in the long run. He was with my boyfriend’s Mum for a good few weeks as a temporary foster home. He was taught to eat properly, got his strength, had operations and had numerous chances to socialise with their two dogs  – amongst others. He now has a ‘forever’ home, as people in the dog rescue world call it. So a happy end to a sad tail 😉

Frankie is now a strong and happy puppy in a good home

Frankie is now a strong and happy puppy in a good home

He was at this event this weekend you see, with his new family. He showed the local people how well he had come along and was a perfect example of the brilliant effect decent people can have on rescue dogs. I’ll take this opportunity to share my boyfriend’s Mum’s blog with you: http://tinaholmes.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/franks-happy-little-tail/ You can read more about Frankie and other dog related stories there – and they will be more from the dog lover’s perspective and with lots of canine knowledge 😉

Along, with the dogs this weekend came the humans. I’d forgotten in all honesty how hard it was to stand for a full day and serve the general public (I used to do this on a daily basis when I worked in retail!) I was really tired by the end of the day. The public can be great – they can also be not. For events like this though, we are lucky because most people want to be there and have chosen to come. Therefore, they are friendly and approachable. I remembered though from when I worked in shops, that you get those people who are demanding, unhygienic and a little annoying. Let me just say that I was ever so slightly reminded of that yesterdayday 😉 I’ll say no more….

Even with the unpredictable public,  I recommend volunteering to you all. It can seem a bit of a drag when you have to give up your day, I’ll admit. But I always feel happy when I have done it. I’ve contributed to something, helped to raise money, talked to the lonely woman with her dog, made another volunteer a cup of tea or just been there to make other’s jobs easier. You don’t have to spare a lot of time, the odd day here and there, or even the odd hour. Because we don’t always have to give donations of money to these causes, sometimes we can give something much more precious – our time.

On a final note of this one-off, short, doggy blog…… the other celebrity of the weekend who combines dogs and humans: Lauren/Olly Paws aka Olly Collie:

A dancing Collie to attract dogs and humans!

A dancing Collie to attract dogs and humans!

Yes, Olly the Collie helped to raise the £423 for the Border Collie Trust! Whether Barking mad or not – the furry dressed, dancing human worked! 😉

Woof woof for now. 😉

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