Kate's Blog

Follow me if you will as I try to navigate through the ups and downs of my world.

I'm writing this blog to help me make sense of all that has happened - from my diagnosis with non-Hodgkins lymphoma while pregnant with my third child in May 2008
, through to my reflections on chaotic family life as I try to pick up the pieces of my life again.

The kids are so small, and I'm working hard to keep us all safe and to stay in remission.

Stay with me - it won't be all doom and gloom I promise!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Monster in the Room

We went to the sales yesterday. Were we crazy? The city was packed with people jostling for bargains. We bought a television!! For the past seven years we have happily watched a bulky, old fashioned box - in no way could it be described as chic, slim and flat-screened. But we haven't noticed or cared that there has been a revolution in the kind of televisions most people watch. A revolution - that's the right word I think.

But now - after one discussion - we have a huge, flat-screened monster which looms scarily in the corner of our room. I ask again. Were we crazy?

And we bought saucepans. I'm very pleased with them - very, very pleased with them. Do I sound 40? I fear I do.

And don't ask about the sinusitis.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Post-Christmas Blues

It's the day after Boxing Day and I'm feeling a bit Christmassed out. The kids had a lovely time, which is after all the most important thing after all that rushing around, and I spent my days and nights coughing. I think I've averaged four hours' sleep a night for the past couple of weeks.

The sinus thing decided not to let up and as a result I'm feeling a bit fed up on that front. To say the least. What I wanted for Christmas is six months of good health without being constantly reminded through coughs, colds, shingles, sinusitis, tonsilitis and flu of what has happened to me in the past couple of years. I was at the docs on Christmas Eve and she said that the only comfort she could offer was that the rubbishness (is that a word??) of my immune system shows that the chemotherapy and radiotherapy had been as effective as possible - so effective that it wiped all good things out too and I'm constantly ill. Maybe I'll get that Christmas present just a bit late and be fighting fit through January. I hope it'll be a happy new year in that respect.

We're still at my mum's but heading home later - lots or re-packing here and then unpacking at home. And then another Christmas family gathering on Tuesday to catch up with my brother, sister-in-law and nephews who have spent Christmas with the other side of their family. And then New Year's Eve.

But, I did get some lovely presents and ate some lovely food (too much I fear). And our lovely woodburner waits for us at home. And some (relative) peace and quiet.

Monday, 21 December 2009

End of Advent - the Woodburner Arrives

What a lovely squat, black and very hot woodburner is cooking in our kitchen now. The perfumed smell of the wood fills our house. I can't be long writing this because I have to go and re-re-readjust the draught regulator (technical term? I think not) to get the optimum flame on my wood. I think I may spend many hours burning wood and watching the flames. It's all too exciting - a new loft bedroom and a new woodburner. And it's Christmas.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Squabbles, Bugs and Woodburners

So, the school holidays are here. The children are so excited that I think they'll combust before Christmas gets here. And they're fighting all day long, at least they did today. They don't seem to believe that Santa (or Mummy and Daddy), 'knows when you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!'.... However much I remind them.

I think my posting may be a little patchy over the coming holiday time - it's going to be hard to find time to think over the next couple of weeks, or to sit down to write without constant demands. I'm determined to keep going with some writing though, so we'll see.

Anyhow - I'm still feeling not at all well and am getting well and truly fed up with it. And the baby has broncholitis which can be a little scary in the middle of the night - last night she was so short of breath we almost took her to A and E. And I think Ed is revving up for one of his regular ear infections. Well, I suppose there's time for us all to recover before Christmas Eve if we get a move on.

And on a more cheerful note - we're getting our new woodburning stove tomorrow. Just at the right time to snuggle around it as the snow falls outside. Lovely.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Have you ever made a very hot curry with very, very hot chillies and then put your fingers in your eyes?

I was trying to blast away my sinusitis which makes me feel as if someone is squeezing my neck until my eyes feel as if they might pop out. But all I've achieved is that now my eyes are burning as well.

Apart from that I'm fine.

Really. And I couldn't taste the bloody curry anyway. Apparently it was hot, garlicky and gingery. I wouldn't know.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Teaching Again

Yesterday, I did some tuition for my neighbour's daughter who is studying A-Level English. In my previous, pre-illness incarnation, I was an English teacher. I was working in a high school, heavily pregnant with the baby, the others two kids at nursery when I was diagnosed.

Although we're skint, I haven't really been in a rush to go back to work. I want to spend time with Hattie as I missed out on so much at the beginning. And really, I'm pretty sure that although I've taught on and off for the last seventeen years I don't want to resurrect my teaching career. I'm considering re-training in social work when Hattie is three.

But, last night I really, really enjoyed talking about Philip Larkin. It was good to feel useful and productive in a wider context rather than just on the domestic front, and good to use my brain in a different way again. It reminded me that teaching literature to A-Level students was always the best part of the job for me - mostly because it makes me read and re-read all the greatest stuff, and because it's the best fun discussing it and encouraging students to love it too. After all, since childhood reading has always been my fiercest passion.

Maybe there's life in this old teacher yet!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Oh - am feeling rubbish. This sinus thing just sets in and stays. I haven't got time for feeling ill - I feel as if I have every moment between now and Christmas mapped out with jobs to do. I need to build in some MORE rest and recuperation between now and Christmas Day or I'll implode. More(??!!) after your weekend away? I hear you ask!

By the way have just found a good website called pinkstinks.co.uk. It kind of reflects some of my thoughts regarding trying to bring up my daughters in a less 'pink' and more empowering way. Check it out if this interests you - it's quite an eye-opener.

Sorry that I'm being so lacklustre today. I'll be back to my sparkling self (ha, ha) when, um, I'm back to my sparkling self I guess.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Un-taping and Moving On

Have writer's block today - or should that be poster's block? Not helped by awful sinusitis which refuses to let up.

We had a lovely weekend by the way- did absolutely nothing which was a very novel experience indeed!

But now have returned to a crazy list of stuff to do. Have spent the morning rushing about picking up floor tiles to build a hearth for our new woodburning stove which is arriving next week (hooray), and emptying the cellar in search of a very elusive box of Christmas decorations. We're getting our tree tonight and the kids are bursting with excitement.

I really remember taping the box up last January while I was still in the middle of radiotherapy treatment, and wondering if I would be around a year later to untape it. It was a very poignant and scary moment which has stayed with me for the year. And here I am!

Christmas, at times, is hard to manage this year too with that fear still very real, but it feels like a real achievement to be here struggling with that box in the cellar. Sometimes I stop in my tracks and just can't believe all that's happened to me. But anyhow, if nothing else, I'm looking forward to the untaping of the box for many years to come!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

We're Going AWOL

We're going away this weekend - without the kids!! I'll just repeat that... without the kids! We're taking ourselves off tomorrow afternoon after dropping the children at my mother's house. It's a lovely hotel we're going to - but I'm just so looking forward to having some peaceful time without constant clamouring demands.

Inevitably tonight I'm feeling hassled. There seems so much to do before Christmas that I feel as if I can't spare the time to be away, and I need to pack for the kids' weekend as well as ours. And our car seems to have developed a sudden, mysterious and tremendously helpful electrical problem which probably means that the battery will be flat tomorrow morning. I can envisage a dawn call to the RAC and then a trip to the garage before we try to set off in the afternoon. Aaargh! But once we're on our way I think I'll be able to chill a bit.

So, I doubt I'll be posting anything here over the weekend. I think I'll leave my lap-top at home and take some books instead. I'm sure you won't miss me and I'll be back home on Monday with a list a mile-long to work through in the pursuit of the perfect Christmas.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Christmas Past

It’s the morning of Christmas Eve. My brother and I go downstairs especially early and stand outside the sitting-room door. The sign reads, ‘No Entry, by Order of the Angel’. It doesn’t occur to us to peep inside. We know we must do as we are told or the Angel won’t come when it gets dark – and then we can’t have Christmas. My sister toddles over – just two – she is old enough to pick up on our bursting excitement.

“It’s the Angel”, I say. “We can’t go in there until tonight. It’ll be dark and there’ll be the Christmas tree with candles and presents underneath.”

Having a mother with Austrian-German ancestry meant that our Christmases were a strange mixture of different traditions. Explaining the Angel at school to friends obsessed with Father Christmas was tricky and full of danger that She (the Angel, not my mother) might be the cause of teasing to be avoided at all costs.

“What do you mean she lights the candles? What candles? You don’t see your Christmas tree until Christmas Eve? When it’s dark?”

Explaining that we opened our presents on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day and that the Angel came back later on to bring our stockings, caused - at best - more pitying consternation . I think my brother and I separately but quickly decided not to even try to describe how we would huddle together behind our sitting-room door and listen to our dad talking to the Angel.

“I heard her knocking on the door!”

We rush to the closed hall door and listen to our dad,

“Hello, come in. How are you? Have you come far?”

As the catch on the sitting-room door rattles we rush through and stand in the hall straining our ears to hear her replies as my dad continues to chat.

“Would you like a drink? No? Well I suppose you need to keep a clear head with all that flying ahead of you tonight. Are you alright with that candle? Can I help you?”

Literally hopping with silent thrill we listen, listen, listen, trying to quiet our sister who exclaims loudly at intervals, trying to hear the voice of an angel.

“Be quiet! If she hears us she’ll be scared and fly away. Shhh.”

At last we hear my dad saying goodbye.

“Well, it’s been lovely to see you. Take care and fly carefully. Goodbye!”

We hear the sitting-room window open and crowd to the little window in the porch where we can see my father just closing the window.

“I saw her, I saw her!”

We’re thrilled, convinced beyond question we can see her flying off into the Christmas night sky.

My dad tells us that we can come in and we enter. The room is beautiful, breathtaking, and transformed. Touched by the Angel the place glows with the candles on the tree and those dotted around the room. Firelight moves against the hearth. The tree looks beautiful. We see the wooden robin perched on a high branch, the star on the top and all the other familiar decorations which thickly hang with artistic abandon year after year. Underneath the tree are presents spread out – surreptitiously we check that they are spread thickly under the tree. Around the room, bowls of crisps and dried fruit are laid. Coke and lemonade stand alongside wine and whisky. This is enormously exciting to us – through the year we feel horribly deprived of such delectable treats compared to our friends, but not tonight.

“Get what you want and then come and sit down,” mum says, pouring juice for my sister. We fly about deliriously happy, grabbing handfuls of crisps and nuts. Finally we sit, all of us in our traditional Christmas places, and my dad settles on the floor next to the presents ready to choose them one at a time and give them out. He waits until the lucky person has opened, admired and shown off before moving to the next one. So the excitement of present giving is drawn out to the last possible moment.

Later it’s frankfurters with herring and potato salad with fruit salad and cream for pudding. Unfailingly, for forty years I’ve eaten this on Christmas Eve. Unfailingly, the idea is always better than the eating, and unfailingly every year we’ve considered eating something different. But the strength of the tradition passed down from my German/Austrian grandparents to my mother and her brother and sister, and then to us, is too great a bond with the past to break. It’s frankfurters for us, I fear, for many Christmas Eves to come.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Our House

I'm tired today - you want to know why? Because I am so excited about our new loft bedroom that I can't sleep properly in it! Childish? Yes, very. But if you knew the blood,sweat and tears that have occurred over the completion of our loft conversion, you'd be excited too. It's all so glamorous up there at the moment - like a little oasis away from the noise of the rest of the house. And because we live in the city, we were short on views. But not anymore. Now, up in my lovely bedroom I can see over the rooftops to the purple Cheviot Hills beyond, the spidery wind turbines on the hills in County Durham as well as across the mosaic of the city itself.

Our house is coming up to its 100th birthday - and in a way I feel as if we have given it a present. It's a lovely, if tatty, Edwardian house and we've been here for nearly 5 years. Before that a family lived here for a short while and before that the original owners lived and died inside this house. But in all that time the loft has been waiting - the beams straining under the roof, the chimneys standing un-noticed sentinels - for some attention and loving care. And now the chimney seems to sway against the sky as I lie in bed and watch its silhouette, close enough to touch if I lean out of the window.

For the first time in this house we've enough room to move around each other without collisions and without stuff piled into every corner. We sort of plan to move into the country in the next couple of years; out of all my family, I'm the only city dweller. But it occurs to me that maybe we're beginning to turn this house into a home and maybe we're going to find it hard to leave.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

My First Blog Award - Hooray!!

Thanks Jen at Starting Over for my lovely award. It's all been tricky for me as I can't figure out how to put the award icon thingy on the post or create links!! Hmmm. I'm so rubbish at technical stuff. But I will pass on the award to 5 people and hope that they don't mind/are pleased or whatever!! Even though they are all way more popular and way more 'followed' than me.... and even though I enjoy reading all the blogs I follow for loads of different reasons.

a cat of impossible colour - lovely writing about lovely writing...

AbodeOneThree - More fabulous writing about all sorts of things.

A Beautiful Truth - check it out for yourself.

Blackberries to Apples - I've just found this blog through Blogs of Note so she probably doesn't need anymore accolades but I just can't help it.

Tale Peddler - Lots of lovely things to read, look at and think about.

But, as I say - I have a long list of blogs I follow, so if you're at a loose end, check the others out too!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Finding Me

Sometimes I look back on my life, look back to when I was young - 18, 19, 20 - and if I strain hard enough I can just about remember and feel some of the echoes of the person I was then. Some things are definitely an improvement nowadays. I'm more aware of my strength, am more able to be honest about myself - I suppose I know myself better is the short of it.

But - there is a loss too. I had so much excitement at times about what the future might hold. I was a romantic, longing to travel to distant shores - and I did manage some pretty amazing journeys. I felt that there was something good coming my way, and I had space to contemplate what that might be, space to rest and space to think. I was lonely of course at times, especially through my late twenties and early thirties when I would worry that I wouldn't meet my soulmate and have my children - but the potential was there. And I forged my own path to suit myself.

And now I have so much - my three children and my husband and home. And I'm happy, of course I'm happy, but I wish it wasn't so hard to forget that underneath the weight of domestic duties and mundane parenting stuff - parts of my 20 year old self still exist. It's so easy to lose a sense of yourself I think as you get older and days are filled with other people's noise and demands. You remember your immediate needs but forget those more profound and spiritual ones which your soul needs to feel good and satisfied. Or maybe that's just me.

But I'm newly resolved to try to enjoy the everyday a bit more - not always to wish the moment away or look towards the next task. I think we need to have more fun in our family. Rog and I need to be more conscious that we enjoy each other's company - and that we value what we have. Weeks like the one we've had focus the mind - that's for sure. And I'm promising myself to spend more time encouraging the buried parts of me to struggle to the surface a little more. I need to re-find myself.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


I got the results of the blood test this morning - all good thank god or someone. So the plan is to have a CT scan which is scheduled in January. The consultant was very reassuring that she had no concerns that the cancer had reappeared.

I can't really describe what it was like sitting in the waiting room surrounded by ill people, some weeping, while I waited for 40 minutes past my appointment time to be seen. The memories of what I've been through crowd fast upon the uncertain future I face, while somehow I try to manage the present. Waiting to hear news like that is pretty much as desperate as it gets - I can think of worse situations to find oneself in, but not many.

Anyhow - with a clean-ish bill of health (ignoring the major sinus-y cold to which I've succumbed through stress and lack of sleep over the past week) I can move forward again, resume where I left off and look forward to Christmas. Talking of Christmas, I'd better get going......

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

My Latest Rant!! Distraction if Nothing Else

‘It’s Pirates or Princesses, Mummy’, my four year old daughter informs me importantly as she hands me a letter from the school explaining that the children can dress up for ‘Children in Need Day’.

My six year old son Ed hands me the same letter, ‘I’m going to be a pirate – I need a sword!’

I ask Martha if she wants to be a pirate too. Ed looks at me as if I’m crazy. ‘She’s got to be a princess. It says on the letter.’ I explain that it doesn’t say that on the letter, it says that they can choose what they want to be and that Martha might choose to be a pirate.

‘I want to be a pirate!’ Martha announces and I privately exult until she comes back the day before the big day. ‘None of the other girls are being pirates, I want to be a princess!’

And princess she is, down to the hastily acquired tiara and pinkest dress she can find in her drawer.

Bloody school, bloody Geordies who love their pink, princess girls, bloody crazy country. Why should a school which seems sensible in all other ways, which has just received an ‘outstanding’ in its last Ofsted Inspection and which appears to think deeply about equality of opportunity for all, assume that the most exciting thing a girl can dress up as is a bloody princess.

This pink, glittery, princess thing is so imbued in our culture. My contention – being a Southerner at heart - is that it is especially alive and kicking up here in the North-East. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this disease at the heart of our society is endemic everywhere. I don’t believe that anyone at the school even considered the message they constantly send girls and boys about what their gender might signify both now and in the future. And parents collude from the earliest they can – princess duvets, fairy wallpaper, pink, pink, pink. What the hell is a princess these days? How can you become one? Who would want to become one? Do we want our daughters to lisp prettily as they shake out their pink skirts. Is this what we want to teach our girls about what it means to be female? We may as well encourage our daughters to dress up as supermodels – that’s a noble, attainable and interesting career. Or a celebrity – how about that? Is this the ultimate fantasy of femininity? If you are reading this as a woman, do you recognise this as a useful and workable definition of your life and self?

It’s a scary thing being a mother of daughters these days. I want my daughters to grow up strong: proud of their gender, proud of their femininity and with a powerful self esteem. I want them to be able to believe that they can achieve the same that their brother can. I don’t want them obsessed with their bodies and their pretty faces, beautiful as they are. I want them to work hard and set themselves ambitions which they can strive for and maybe achieve. You think I’m missing the point and it’s all just a bit of fun? Well, that’s up to you. I don’t believe that it’s healthy or funny for my daughters to want to be a bloody princess or for my son to expect them to be, and I’m constantly amazed that sensible, seemingly intelligent women continue to collude with this rubbish.