Monday, 30 April 2018

Book Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

I loved this book, it started quickly and to the point.  It is a short work so I suppose build up and time is spared, this does not detract from the quality of writing.

The telling of Esme's backstory unfolds over the course of the book, at the same time drives forward from the point of now.  I found the rambling short bursts of her sister Kitty the most moving, this writing shows the secret locked in world of those suffering Alzheimer's Disease, how a person can forget their current situation, getting stuck on the most simple responses, like 'Do I like yogurt?', but can recall in depth incidents from decades ago.  I attended a dementia talk recently and heard how powerful our emotional memory can be. I'm not sure how much sympathy I held for Kitty in her youth, but looking in at her as an aged old lady in a nursing home she struck a vulnerable figure. 

Esme herself does not give much away but when she does, gosh, it is heartbreaking.  When she is being driven by Iris, she closes her eyes to catch her thoughts.  Iris in consideration thinking that Esme is sleeping turns the car radio off.  Esme muses how this single act of kindness is the first she has received in decades. 

I read Fingersmith (by Sarah Waters), which from memory is set in earlier times to this, but was surprised and further researched how easily women could be sectioned and shipped off for confinement in mental institutions, or asylums (I wonder is the term 'asylum' is still used, I will research that).  On the signature of one medic/GP/family doctor this could be arranged.  How little, actually no, consideration was given to Esme's wants or needs or actual mental health.  

I liked how little was given away in terms of why Esme was the way she was, I liked in her youth, how strong-minded she was.  She did not see anything wrong with being different from Kitty, she was forthright about wanting further education.  She suffered such dreadful tragedy, events that would push any woman to the edge.   I wonder did she have some form of mild learning difficulty, only as she seemed to struggle with communicating.  

I didn't much care for Iris and her love-in with the step-brother, this wasn't developed enough, or maybe I cared too little. 

The ending suited me.  The whole book was for self-interpretation, you yourself the reader filling in blanks, a tidy boxed off ending wouldn't have worked.  Esme's future would have played out comfortably, she would be safe and secure and had a regular visitor in Iris.  Her madness (not that I bought into that) would have passed.  

5 star plus from me.  From this I will read everything else Maggie O'Farrell has ever written. 

xx Emma-Lou 

Boring being busy...

Hello there, 

Such a long time.  What can I say... yarder yarder.... I've been busy.  Everyone is busy.... peril of modern life, trying to fit it all in.  Do we lose out?  Are we missing out on our actual lives by squeezing so much in.  My little lad was playing, pretending to me be, he puffs and blows rushing around and barks "I do not have time for this!" (giving him credit for nailing my scouse accent mind).  Have to say I was heartbroken, I do fit a lot in, but for the sake of the kids, trying I suppose to give them this cherished, wonderful childhood...

They don't do too bad, they get a lot of my time, we eat together every night, we read together at bedtime, we go for walks after tea, the older girl gets impromptu trips to the TC, we watch BGT together with popcorn, I help them with their homework, they talk to me ALL THE TIME... I do give them enough of me!  

Once the pair of them are in bed, I'm fit for nowt, I fall asleep on the sofa.... my hub doesn't complain... he more likely is snoring beside me!

Not giving myself a hard time about being busy, because it's boring... but trying to carve out some time for me... hence this little ten minute blog-dog.

Joining me for my five minutes peace... doesn't quite get it.... 

Wish me luck, xx Emma-Lou 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Worsley Park Marriott Hotel & Country Club - Grill Menu... EL Reviews....

was invited to the Worsley Park Marriott Hotel & Country Club to try out their new Grill menu. I'd been recently to try out their breakfast menu, which was a real treat, easily the best breakfast out I ever had, so was really keen to accept the invite.

I took my little pal from work. I picked her up from Uni, and in a quick trip on the M60, a couple of junctions, we were there. What's funny despite it being so very close to the Worsley M60 roundabout, it doesn't feel that way. It has a very rural feel to it, but is in fact very accessible. So (camera-shy) Aisha and I turned up for Monday dinner out! The grounds are lovely, really calming and green. Lots of (free) parking, making a change from trying to park in town and taking a hit £££.

First off, cocktail making lessons, this was interesting, did you know, Tom Cruise actually didn't start the craze back in the 80s!  No, they've been around since 1800s.  There is a difference between shaking and stirring... it seems bartenders need to shake them over their shoulders for taste, they aren't just showing off.  Fizzy fizz no shaking.... explode... gentle stir... I've got all the skills. 

Looking like I know what I'm doing... I had someone in my ear...

Made by my own fair hand #Cosmo

The food was exceptional, really, really very tasty.  The fajitas were to die for and served so very attractively. The others on my table were big meat and steak types, their food looked great and reports were they got exactly what they wanted, I learnt a new term, 'blue', this is not even really cooked steak, quick flash in the pan, this instruction was followed to the letter. 

Service from our waiter was really very nice, in fact all staff were pleasant and not over-bearing, a calm unhurried service.  Show stopper was pudding.... the chocolate pot... you know me, I'm the worst food blogger for photos, but even I took a photo. Despite being full to burst (I don't usually have three courses on a Monday night), I couldn't resist and ate every bite of this desert.  Chocolate spoon #genius.  All other spoons are lesser to me now. 

The decor is lovely, it has a swanky yet comfortable appeal, tables are not squeezed in like so many places in town.  It felt nice to have room.  When I came along with my little girl for breakfast, she planned her wedding there, at 11 it's good she's getting organised. 

Without question give this restaurant a try, the drinks are top notch, service great and food excellent.  Live music to boot... really there is no need to go into town.... Book your table here

xx Emma-Lou 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Not making lists #SISILTDBND

I'm a girl who like lists.   I make a list every night before I go to bed, as I eat my breakfast, as I drive into work, during my working day.  These are often mental lists but I write them down too. Obvs I have a lovely collection of list books from Paperchase. I mostly tick things off, the more practical sort of task: 

  • Check out online shop 
  • Post birthday card
  • Mop throughout downstairs
  • RSVP to such-a-body's kids party
  • PayPal for Y6 collection 

These are sort of important, dull certainly, but to a degree vital to the workings of family life.  It's the other things I put down: 

  • Read for half-hour or 50 pages
  • Don't go on FB
  • Don't eat any biscuits 
  • WhatsApp three friends
  • Make time to read with Willow for 30 minutes 
  • Drink herbal brews instead of coffee

These sort of additions seldom get ticked off.  As they sit un-ticked, often copied to my new/next day list, I feel the pressure of them.  It's silly I myself put myself under this undue pressure.  I feel stressed by these what are supposed to be stress relieving/well-being activities.   My lists are ridiculous,  I do read with the kids, I do message my friends, drinking peppermint tea isn't a chore really.  

So, I've given up on the lists.... well nearly.  Instead, I've started on a silly personal thing, #SISILTDBND.  This, not at all catchy acronym, Stuff I Say I'd Like To Do But Never Do.  I think of one thing that has been nagging at me and I do it.  I quite often don't even write it down, I can remember one thing.  It's a crying shame all those beautiful list books laying to waste.  

So far, at weekends, instead of jumping up and going about my busy life slimming world, music clubs, shopping, kids parties, dropping off, picking up, church... yadda yadda (why has yadda got a squiggly red line... surely it is a word).  One #SISILTDBND is to have a coffee in bed before the kids get up, contemplating.  I've done it about three times #winning.

Others are less exciting, I decided a few weeks ago, that I'm not taking the lift anymore. So far I've kept to it. I park on the 11th floor at work, I'll have buns of steel. 

This week I thought, as it has been nagging me, to re-engage with my blog-dog. So here I am... all good intentions.  I'm not sure as a hashtag #SISILTDBND will crack on, but it's working for me and keeping my list making at bay.... 

What is your #SYSYLTDBND (see I changed the I to You there) 

xx Emma-Lou

To note, remembering I am a PA extraordinaire, I continue to make amazing lists at work. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Billy and Andy’s Music Club – Saturday Sounds

We don’t make a huge fuss about our Willow having a diagnosis of ASD, we don’t really buy into labels, or putting people/children into boxes?  I’m not sure of it as a thing, well it is a thing, but I suppose our lad functions in a way that we can ignore and disregard the label.  Willow is Willow, a monster mostly, but he is the way he is, because he is the way he is, not because of autism or being autistic or having autism spectrum disorder.  First most he is Willow, he has yellow curly hair, thick black glasses, is full of fun, smiles a lot, and has an excitement about him which is physically contagious.   He 100% always lives in our world with us.

Anyhow his bigger sister has attended loads of clubs over the years, ballet, crafts, choir, gym, newspaper, the list is endless.  These have mostly ran after school.  It’s a long day for Willow at school and so far we haven’t signed him up for any after school clubs.    I was looking out for a weekend one for him though, I was tipped off to Saturday Sounds from another mum at School.

In the past I’ve avoided clubs that are aimed and targeted for kids with SEN.  This I think was a part of my own acceptance and learning curve post-diagnosis.  Will has been going weekly for ages, months and months.  Organisers, Billy and Andy are both talented musicians, I think they can pretty much play any instrument.  They strip it back for Saturday Sounds, they in gentle approach let the kids lead the group.  Billy and Andy, I can only guess have real insight and training into kids with communication issues.  Lots of people ignore Willow, or ask him questions through me, that winds me right up (I can jump into tigress looking out for her cub mode in 0-3 seconds).  Or worse still they ask him a question, ‘What School do you go to?', and then give him 2 seconds to answer, if they don’t get an answer, they fire more questions at him ‘Do you like School? What’s the name of your teacher? How old are you?’.    Willow is just answering the very first question, when the person has moved on, or they look to me for his responses!   Billy and Andy know how to communicate with children.  Each child that comes has a different communication level.  Billy and Andy get it, they are not uncomfortable about a little silence in delayed response, they are not awkward when a response might not even come about.   Respect.  They respect the children in the group, they give them time and space to express themselves.   Lots of adults in Willow’s life, (kind well-meaning people mostly), they don’t often convey this respect and willingness to listen to him.

We love Billy and Andy, it’s clear how much Willow himself gets out of the group.  Billy and Andy offer an outlet for kids via music; singing and playing instruments.  Some of the instruments are ingenious, they wired carrots up to the iPad the other day…. no idea… but it produced a daft sound that they could sing along too.

#GoodComms #Cute 

Saturday Sounds, five stars from me, one million from Willow. 

xx  Emma-Lou

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year... Resolutions...

Happy New Year to all!  

Resolutions, well I'm clearly an expert on them, so much so I was called as an official expert on the telly this morning.  Actually, my strap line on BBC Breakfast was 'Emma-Louise Cullen, Blogger'.... well it's been quite a while, but to kowtow to the BBC's image of me.... here I am, Emma-Louise Cullen blogger! 

So resolutions, well usually I have a list, here is my list from 2016 (not exhaustive):  

  • to read a book a week 
  • to gym every other day 
  • to spend 30 minutes a day playing with each of my children 
  • cleanse, tone, moisturise
  • limit Facebook 
  • banish the biscuits 
  • limit coffee to one per day 
  • blow dry/style hair everyday 
  • all the time spending NO MONEY 

Well I kept to errr none of those, I did read more, but alas I didn't get to the grand total of 52!  I wonder looking back at this list; did I at the time feel guilty about not spending so much time with the kids.  This isn't a concern for me at the moment, actually after the Christmas holidays.... my 2017 resolution is to see less of them (just kidding, my children are darlings!).  As if I'd never have a biscuit ever again, I might as well be dead!  

Despite not ticking any of this off, 2016 was a good year for us, we had our share of worries and anxiety, but all in all it was a good year.  I'm grateful and thankful.  I don't like to buy into this 2016 year of doom. Yes, I mourned Prince and Victoria Wood; but I put this into perspective.  The decision to exit the EU, what a kick in the guts, then our new PM, another kick, and then beyond disbelief, Trump!  No words! 

In 2016, we organised our finances, we're not rich or that, but we pay less on gas/elec, I rang up Sky giving out and they gave us a cheap deal.  These and other small changes have made a difference, and we feel better about cash flow.  I attended a faith matters course at Church, and made the decision to get confirmed, this relationship with God is to be celebrated.  Our son, Willow continues to make us proud with his lovely ways, his progress at School and home makes our heart swell.  Miss Lizzy, well she is turning into a young lady at an alarming rate.  In Year 6, she's gearing up to high school, and it's apparent what a bright and kind girl she is.  [crowing over]  Mr C and I have had some sneaky days out, we even went on a city break, on a bloody plane, without our children.   My volunteering with my in-care lad is ace too, his feedback of me was "I was the nicest person he'd ever met" (ahhhh he'd never say that to my face).  We're all fit and well, and we can only give thanks for that.   

So, despite being crap at the resolutions, it's as well.  

This year, my resolutions (conclusive): 

  • Sleep more, early nights a plenty 
  • Worry less, not getting caught up in the small stuff 
  • Go to the Savoy Cinema monthly with Mr. C

After chatting to Emma Kennedy, you know my red sofa pal (she's really the expert), I realise I need to put things in place to help with my worry free existence.... I'm to start locking the children in cupboards.... Kidding, I'm thinking about mindfulness and fresh air, and most crucially making time for myself to calm, this might be going the gym, reading, seeing my friends more, spa days....  bugger.... I'm starting on a list for 2017! 

Happy New Year, xx Emma-Lou 
ELC on the Telly 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

I happened upon this by accident wandering through the TC;  Waterstones had a display stand by the door, I picked it up thinking 'Gosh that looks like a miserable read'. Somebody saw me eyeing it up and told me it was a must read, that it was a uplifting read about this chap coming through depression told with honest humour. 

I always take a personal in person recommendation; I haven't got the heart to trample on their enthusiasm.  Every decent book I've ever read I've pushed hard on all my friends!  One of the reasons I started my book club, was so I could lord it over my friends and loved ones with my reading list!  

From the off, reading this book, you completely 100% engage with the depression and panic of Matt Haig.  It weighs heavy on him, it's horrible and (worryingly) it came out of nowhere.  He was young, in a decent relationship, living it up in Ibiza, seemingly having the time of his life.  He doesn't report a troubled childhood, abuse, bullying.  Nothing of note, that you could link to this breakdown of his mental health. The other compelling thing about Matt's story, is his desire and will to get well.  He pushes hard, challenges his comfort zones.  Brilliantly he does get well (phew!).  

I've touched on it here on my blog, not massively, for a blogger, I'm private about some things.  In recent years, I have had problems with anxiety, mostly health anxiety.  It's much more than being a bit worried about my health, I have episodes of real panic where I truly believe I have some dreadful disease and that I might not make it to my holidays/Christmas/the weekend!  This panic is real and it's debilitating, having real inner turmoil 'Who will bath the kids if I'm not around' (Mr C has reassured me in the case of my demise he will shower/bathe the kids, but wouldn't commit to more than once fortnightly!). 

Read this book, if you've ever suffered depression, read this book if you know somebody suffering depression or panic/anxiety disorders.  Read this book simply for info.  Any person who reads this will take something away with them.  I've read this twice through, here are a few things that jumped out for me: 

  • If you are scared when there is nothing to be scared of your brain makes things up (p. 91). This would explain all my aches and pains that I internalise as symptoms of ill health. 
  • For anxiety, there aren't any sure fire cures to help calm or settle you. However, the simple practice of 'slowing down' will stop it in it's tracks (p. 193).  It's hard for your brain to run away with itself if you're sitting calmly breathing in (counting to five, making your tum inflate) and out (counting slowly to five).   This is not easy and it's a real skill but once mastered you can stop an episode in it's track before your brain is flooded into panic mode. 
  • Matt gives a list of hints to live well (p. 238), number 15 fits in well with my own personal Christian outlook.  BE KIND  Guessing he means to yourself as well as others.
  • Matt is a right book worm, his reading list is impressive, he is guilty of slipping in the odd book recommendation, he sold me Margaret Atwood's Wilderness Tips (a collection of short stories) (p, 138). 

This book is not preachy or judging, it's an account of what works for one person.  It helped me understand my own mental health and made me realise that mostly it does get better, there is always a light at the end of a tunnel. 

xx Emma-Lou