Why Does the Ice Cream Van Drive at Night?

Well I said I would give free writing a go. It’s been long time since I have tried this prewriting technique. It was fun although I’m not sure how I feel about the outcome. What I have actually done here is termed focused free writing. It is as liberated as free writing but is based on a specific topic rather than seeing where your thoughts take you.

Last night I really did let the dog out into the garden, hear an ice cream van and decide for to focus on a question that has puzzled me for a very long time.  I must confess though to still not having an answer.

Why does the ice cream van drive around at night?
The air is cold and draughty,
The wind pinches with frost
It blows the promise of snow from the sea.
I open the door and let
The dog out into the garden.

It is cold and icy outside
The spring flowers are quivering
Snow is expected any day now
But the sound of Greensleeves
Comes gliding over the fence.
Why does the ice cream van drive around at night?

It’s dark outside
The lights are on
The children are in bed
There’s no one around to buy ice cream
They’re indoors with hot chocolate instead.

Greensleeves slides around the neighbourhood
Past the garden, round the back
Leaves rustle, a fox barks
Far away an owl hoots.
Why does the ice cream van drive around at night? 

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Waiting for the Sun to Shine

I woke up with all the typical bad day signs. I was lethargic, slow to get out of bed and get going this morning. I took the dog for her morning walk and although it was a beautiful day, the sun was streaming, flowers were blooming and sparrows were jumping about in the hedges I just couldn’t let myself enjoy it. Lassie (our Border Collie) had a great roll around in the spring grass, kicking her legs up in the air, but this time I couldn’t catch her enthusiasm.

It’s been a while since I felt like this. It’s the same sensation as when you are on the verge of catching a cold. You’re limbs are heavy, your movements and thought processes are slow and it feels like your head is full of cotton wool. You will undoubtedly have seen cartoon characters with rain clouds hovering above their heads, following them wherever they go, and that isn’t far from how I feel. Instead of hovering above my head though, the cloud is inside it, forming a barrier around my brain, like heavy grey mud, clinging to my thoughts and dragging them down.

I remember the first time I realised that I really might be suffering from depression. I was writing an essay for one of my university courses and I had been slogging away at it for days. I was making no progress, two days and the word count stayed around the 1,500 mark. I just didn’t seem to be able to add any words despite all the editing and reading I was doing. Then, at about 10 PM one day, it felt as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud. It is the only way I can describe it. It’s like when you are outside on a grey day and suddenly the sun breaks through the clouds and falls on your face. I remembered why I was at university, why I loved that particular course, and why I was writing that particular essay. Within the next few hours I had almost doubled the word count.

Right now with the clay sensation in my head, I am waiting for the sun to break through again. But I am lucky, because for me these dark days are happening less and less frequently, I am still able to type this blog post and when the sun breaks through it stays for a little longer each time.

And So It Begins…

Today, I had a breakthrough. The best thing was that I really wasn’t expecting it and that made me appreciate it more.

I might have been a little overzealous in my post New Year – New Month. At the end of that post I said that my husband and I had transitioned to a vegan diet and were trying to conceive. This is true, but I may have been a little hasty. As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I had talked and talked about it and finally made a decision (about veganism and babies) and then seemed to get caught up and going sideways rather than forwards.

Just before Christmas, which seems a lot longer than just two months ago (it’s hard to believe it was before I had started blogging!) I became a vegetarian. I’m not sure exactly what prompted the change, or why I hadn’t made it earlier! I think it must have been adopting our dog Lassie that triggered the transition which really had been a long time coming. I knew how unpleasant the meat industry is, even on free range farms, and at the end of the day eating meat means death for the animals we eat.  But I had just been accepting this as inevitable and I am not sure why. I guess I simply hadn’t given it any serious thought.

I really have no excuses. Whilst I knew very little of veganism until I met my brother and sister-in-law, I was raised by vegetarian parents. I myself however did not grow up strictly vegetarian. My mother was (and still is) quite anaemic and as I was a child who hated green vegetables, she thought that a monthly intake of red meat was the way to go. I never actually enjoyed eating it, but it became habit and then convenience. As a student cooking mince was simple and the majority of to-go pasta, salad and sandwich options were either chicken or cheese (which I disliked and was quite violently allergic to growing up). But it was just habit as I prefer vegetarian meals, finding them a lot more colourful and flavoursome than the alternatives containing meat and since becoming vegan I haven’t missed them at all. In fact, I found no longer eating meat and dairy products easier than ceasing to consume alcohol when I became a Mormon.

There’s one other reason I think it took me a while to embrace being vegetarian and that was the false association I made with the diet and one particular story my mother shared of when she was expecting me. One day during her pregnancy, two of her teeth disintegrated. My mother has always hated milk and therefore doesn’t drink it, however she eats a fair bit of cheese so it was not, as I had assumed, that she had cut herself off from calcium. That being said, it is a useful reminder of what can happen if you adopt a diet (of any kind) and fail to keep an eye on nutrition.

As soon as I had made the decision to become vegetarian, veganism seemed a forgone conclusion. Especially as one of the principle reasons for making the transition was the information which I had recently learnt about the environmental impact of pastoral agriculture. Perhaps it should have been obvious but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the huge amount of greenhouse gasses, land exploitation and food waste that this kind of farming produces (Jenna Bardroff, One Green Planet, 2014).

My immediate thought once I had made my decision was to research, research, research. I knew that in the near future (we are still pre-New Year and blog at this time) my husband and I would be trying to have children and I wanted to ensure that I had made the transition to vegan before that happened, because whilst a vegan diet contains all the nutrition for a very healthy pregnancy, I did expect there to be bumps and pitfalls along the way. I didn’t want to add the strain of growing a person to my body as it adjusted (for the better) to this new diet and I didn’t want any slips to have an impact on that growing person.

I also anticipated that my husband’s commitment to eating meat would pose a huge challenge, especially as he does the majority of the cooking in our household. When we got married this seemed to be a very practical arrangement. At the time of our marriage I worked more and was studying at the same time and he was more passionate about food. I can cook but I don’t get excited about it and it shows in my food. Samuel’s food on the other hand is fantastic. But now I was hoping that he would cut out a lot of his key ingredients when he was cooking at home. I very much consider that what he eats elsewhere is entirely up to him. To try and ease us both into the changes I was suddenly so enthusiastic about, I signed us up to Veganuary.

There was a considerable amount of groaning. Mainly because Samuel really struggles with change. The whole way through he has actually been very enthusiastic, but every time a new ingredient got used up and removed, he would almost panic. This is how anxiety manifests in my husband. It is very different to me. I enjoy change, experimenting and mixing things up, but Samuel can get very concerned even if I suggest changing the orientation of the furniture.

Flash-forward to the end of January. I had just got Samuel on board with plant-based milks (we like coconut and soya, almond is still something we are working on) but was struggling to get him to consider plant-based butter alternatives or cutting out meat long-term. I had joined a couple of vegan pregnancy forums to learn as much as possible about diet and the additional nutritional cares of expectant vegans. One day a number of films such as Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and What The Health were being discussed in these groups. I fancied watching them and my husband and I quite often watch something in the evening to relax so I suggested one of these. I really didn’t expect much.

I was in for a huge surprise. I was watching his face throughout the film and saw him react when it referenced the accumulation and concentration of dioxins throughout a diet that is based on meat and dairy and the negative health effects they can have, especially for unborn children. I found his reaction particularly touching and it was clear that he had suddenly made the connection between food and family. When the documentary had finished, he turned to me and said OK.

I was aware that there was a possibility that it might just have been a shock effect. He was bombarded with facts and images and he reacted the way a lot of people do. After writing The Jungle to try and highlight the plight of workers in the United States meat industry in the early Twentieth Century, Upton Sinclair said: ‘I aimed for the Public’s heart, And… hit it in the stomach’. I was wondering which of these What The Health had hit.

It not only hit, but it stuck. So feeling very optimistic at the start of February I struck out and said we were going vegan. But we are both very anti-waste so it was never going to be an overnight transition. We had a pat of butter, ice cream, egg noodles, egg pasta, gravy cubes and jars of sauce to use up. We gave the meat we had in the freezer to friends and relatives but Samuel did seem to be dragging his heels a bit. I wanted to give away as much as possible and start over. Samuel needed time to transition. I had been committed to becoming vegan for almost two months, he had only just made the decision.

Today though, I went through the cupboards to see what we had left to use up and found a few lasagne sheets and one final jar of sauce. So, finally, our transition is complete and so is one of the circular thoughts that I was getting so concerned about yesterday. There are others, but the process of preparing to be expectant parents has definitely begun.

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 3

Dreaming of the Temple. I have mentioned before the associations these words conjure for me. The temple is a literal place, it represents calm and tranquillity with oneself, surroundings and circumstances. However, I’m not just dreaming of one day going to the temple and being sealed to my husband, that is not were the dream ends. There is a huge emphasis on family in our church, and especially at the temple. We have the belief that families are forever.

When my husband and I are sealed any children we have will also be sealed to us. This is not just children born following the sealing ceremony, but children who were born before, and if a convert’s parents choose to join the church years later they also have the opportunity to be sealed to their children and future grandchildren.

For us, dreaming of the temple represents our hopes for our family. We have not been married very long and as a result currently have no children. We have been discussing starting to try and conceive and, I’ll be honest, it has thrown up more questions than we thought it would.

Call me naïve, but I really thought that once we had told each other that we both wanted to have children and we felt like we were in a good place to do so, that that would be it. We both knew that this is what we wanted, it’s one of the reasons we got married when we did and we even bought some baby books we saw in the window of a charity shop that we passed on the first day of our honeymoon (as a joke gift to ourselves).

But since that initial decision we have been going round in circles. I created this blog as a thinking space, and that is what it is going to be over the next few days.

Writer’s Block

I was part of a creative writing club at school and every Tuesday lunchtime we would gather around the tables in the library, write for twenty minutes or so and then share what we had written before heading back to lessons. The English teacher who ran the club, along with the lovely librarian, would spend the week devising writing exercises to help us develop our understanding of English Literature. Sometimes these exercises focused in on specific literary devices (such as the Alliteration Writing Exercise I shared recently) or aimed to develop our skills at writing speech, developing characters and using plot devices. Many of these exercises double as resources to combat writer’s block.

One week we were all given a quote and told to use that as our first sentence. It was the first line of John Keats’s poem When I Have Fears That I Shall Cease To Be. As a result of this exercise I wrote my first ever sonnet. I have been reluctant to post it as the rhyme scheme is a little forced and a bit dramatic as a result. As ever, any comments and constructive criticism you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I propose that next time that you have writer’s block, you open a book at a random page and take the first sentence as the start of your new piece. Just make sure that you acknowledge what you have used as your inspiration as I have done here, or that you change the sentence should you ever pursue publication. Plagiarism must be avoided at all costs!

Promise

When I have fears that I shall cease to be
Before I reach the age of twenty-one –
Shame is that time was not increased by three
Years of life together, we achieved – none.
Death has hacked dreams of freedom into dust,
Reduced rivers of Hope to streams of mud,
Yet, Sweetheart, press upon you this I must:
For one more kiss I’d sacrifice all blood –
I would endure the agony again,
Treasure each second of waiting. I’d savour
Broken hearts for this eventual gain.
I only regret that we had not told her;
Having made my choice – I make it anew:
That I shall be, eternally, with you.

The Only Thing We Learn From History, Is That We Do Not Learn From History

The quote from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel reads: ‘We learn from history that we learn nothing from history’. I first encountered this quote during Sixth Form when I had the privileged opportunity to be part of the Lessons From Auschwitz project. The poem I am posting today came out of participating in the project and the reflective questions I asked (and haven’t stopped asking) as a student of history and archaeology.

Historian

Historian,
Do you ever think?
Stop and take the time to wonder
About all those people
You reduce to textbook figures?
Put yourself in their shoes
Worn through by the ‘Trail of Tears’
The ‘Long March’
Until Death passes them on.

What can it be
To take your wife and children
And hide for 2 years in an attic?
A small space in the house of spiders
Is of little comfort even to butterflies.
The ‘Great Leap Forward’
4 million Tibetans dead
But we fail to look at the individual,
The demographic population –
Instead all heaped together
In piles of politics.

Focusing on little time capsule bubbles:
American policy in the Cold War,
Allied actions in the Second World War,
The Western Front.
We fail to look at the bigger picture
The other side of the story –
How the world lives together.
The fear of Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao
Being power-driven and hungry for land
Are not valid reasons for so much destruction.
Stop looking through a clouded lens
At Allies vs Nazis
Green vs grey
West vs East –
See instead the men, women, children.
80, 50, 30, 20, 10, 5 years of age
Blues eyes, green, brown, grey.
They were the same – we are the same
Although we may speak with different tongues.

Look instead through the glasses piled in cabinets
At Auschwitz- Birkenau –
Broken and bent,
Creating one big body of wire.
6 million Jews
Lead to abattoirs like cattle –
Have we learnt history?
Tell me historian,
Have we learnt?

All We Are and All We Have

Actors

All we are
Just actors
On the stage
And the show
Is just beginning…

We are pushed out
Before the glaring lights
Blind, dumb and deafened
By applause for nothing
But expectations.

Eventually
We will learn
To walk and talk
To run and play
To interact
With other actors along the way.
All of us heroes
In our own stories
Extras to everyone else.
Reflected again and again
In the endless chain
Of cracked dressing room mirrors.

Some of us will forget our lines
Others exit early (stage right)
Unexpected entrances are always the best
But there is relief on the final night.

And what how shall we leave them,
The few observers of our play?
Laughing or wiping tears from their eyes?
Shall we relish the drama
Or slip silently away?
Only one thing is certain –
We have a single chance to get it right,
There is no dress rehearsal.
There is no encore.