In love, but not in love...

posted on: Monday, 15 September 2014

There is a willow tree that stands in our garden. When we first knew of this house, but did not own it (hell - do we even 'own' it now?! Mortgage payments: ongoing) I admired the willow tree from afar. Last night, my two children were outside climbing said willow tree. I could hear them. At dusk, my daughter climbed the tree, most likely to capture an Instagram shot, and disturbed two pigeons, who then flew in her face. After much hilarity and screaming later, we established she is now developing a bird phobia.

...note wonky brickwork and drain pipe...
Anyway the willow tree has stood forever. We have twice had it pollarded (technical term for removing all branches) which was an tricky phase but both times, the tree regrouped and sprang back and looked majestic, a mere six months afterwards. Life lesson? The first time we did it, my daughter, aged about 6, was so distressed at how sad the tree looked that she went outside and wrote on the bark: 'I still love you even if you are ugly'. True story. and sister a few years back...
That willow tree was one of the reasons I wanted this house. That and the little orchard of apple trees and the wisteria that hugs (holds up?) three sides. The house was once a row of farmer's cottages and had, by the time we bought it, been converted into one cottage and one larger house. We could only afford the house part to start with, but then we saved and borrowed and begged and eventually managed to secure the cottage part too. Did I mention mortgage payments? Yep; there are a lot of those. We rented the cottage end of the house for nine years and had some lovely tenants but it always felt very much shared. We were overlooked and the walls, although they were thick, didn't disguise the fact that we had people living on the other side.

Then last summer, finally, after much discussion and waiting, we said goodbye to the tenants and knocked through to the other side. It became one house. Turns out there is no real known process to follow when you make two houses into one. None of the authorities seemed to know who we should tell. But as you can imagine, we had two of everything. Two staircases, two hot water tanks, two front doors. But the extra space and the privacy was wonderful and we got to planning, with an architect, how we would make it work as one house rather than two.

The building work started in April, it was all rather utility - pipes and wiring. The house is low-lying so we had to have all sorts of engineered stuff put in; clever drains and flood protection. Two days into the build (as we shooped down a ski slope in Meribel thinking how fantastic that we are finally getting something done) the builders called and said that they had found oil in the ground. We had a major oil leak. This, in building terms, is a big deal. Specialists were called, all building stopped. We waited. After massive excavation of a sizable oil plume and chemical treatment that I don't even want to think about (they assured us it was environmentally friendly) we were given the go-ahead, over two months later, to start again. Yey. Things moved on. It was exciting for about two or three weeks, then the enormity of the project started to hit home. The house is so old and so in need of updating that there were many unforeseen costs. Time went on. And on. Not so yey. Even the willow tree drooped.

I fell out of love with the house.

My husband was not best pleased with my reaction (see previous post on his positivity and my negativity in life). son, aged about 4 or 5...
We muddled along; we rowed a lot. The house is still not nearly finished. I would say, with a conservative estimate that the house is one third completed now. Ugh. Those remaining two thirds are gonna be trying.

But I ask myself now: do I love the house? Can I love the house again? Does making ones home 'perfect' actually address all the ills in life? Of course not. I can glimpse the end of this phase now and see that I might gain just a few rooms that are properly wired, plumbed, painted and lovely.  I can also, in the words of our architect 'flush the loo with confidence' which has got to be good, hasn't it?! Our drainage system is a marvel. It also cost a fortune. I am hoping this will reduce the uneasy feeling I walk around with, knowing that we have ploughed so much into this place and wondering if will it ever repay?

But then, I look back on ten years of photos of the children here and I figure, yes, the walls are not straight and everything seems more complicated than it should be and there are walls that are literally's all worth it, isn't it?!

Staying positive...

posted on: Sunday, 14 September 2014

If there is one thing, a feature, that I notice in people, it is whether they are positive or negative. About all things. I used to be fully aware that I had a pessimistic ilk, but it was fine because it seemed synonymous with being an introvert. I used to consider myself to be a thinker, a realist, and with that came some worry and some glass-is-half-empty behaviour, but on the whole, I was balanced and generally OK. Then I really started to look at how others behaved and compared my thought processes. This was particularly evident being married to my husband. It's not enough simply to describe him as an optimist. He is an all-out positive thinker in every sense of the word.

I think back to when we got together, twenty two years ago (crazy amount of time, whaaaaat?!!) I see that he was always a happy guy, easy-going, not too serious. But then as years wore on and life developed more complexities we learned about each other. I think this is interesting; when people decide to get married young, as we were, they feel they already know each other inside out. There is so much possibility and hope in life and so many endless, uninterrupted hours to spend with each other, talking, talking, talking. Nothing much has really happened yet.

And so it was for us, when we started getting careers and buying houses and having babies, life threw different challenges and we reacted accordingly. Just when you think you know everything about your spouse, you see that the way in which they react to life's difficulties is actually the measure of them. As my husband and I married and had kids when we were so young (comparatively speaking) we had to get to know each others patterns along the way, morphing as we went. The fundamental contrast between his optimism and my pessimism; his positivity and my negativity came to the fore every time we faced something new.

I realised that for all my inward-thinking, I was the one suffering through these life challenges and he seemed to be sailing through them. It wasn't because they didn't matter to him or that he didn't have the depth or the intellect to look at them the way I did, it was because he chose to be positive. It came naturally to him. To me, at times positivity was like having to wear a really heavy winter coat in the summer. It was, and still is, so counter-intuitive to the way I think, I have to sweat under it and feel the weight of it.

This is so annoying! Understatement.

Wouldn't it be lovely to be like him? I have seen him weather some pretty treacherous storms; lost jobs, financial woes, family worries, health worries, and he does so with grace and determination, but in a light-hearted manner. He is not weighed down. I, on the other hand, get weighed down.

If there was one thing I could give my children, as life skills, it would be self-confidence and positivity, Those attributes are worth more than any other thing in my opinion. To lack them is to struggle where others, who possess them, don't.

Of course now, I am grown and I can build those attributes if I don't feel I have them. I can get positive and be positive. I can learn to ditch the pessimistic feelings. But can I just say (and this will strike a chord with fellow introverts): my God it's hard to do! Essential and beautiful, yes. But hard to do.

So I try to surround myself with good vibes and see failure as a lesson and face each day with a smile and so on and so forth! I am getting way better at it (this blog has been part of that. My friend Dawn said to me once when I started writing it, that it made me grateful to write about my life. I think she's right). Life is good and I am happy. But quick straw poll: am I the only one who works at this?!!


posted on: Thursday, 11 September 2014

I lead a charmed life and you must take this with the tongue-in-cheek meaning in which it is intended, but, I would like:

A flippy, fluted, silk, Isabel Marant-style skirt (without the price tag) in dove grey. Or black or navy. When sipping coffee with my friend Amanda in a swanky hotel, a girl/woman (in her 20's; that does make her somewhere in between?) walked past . She was wearing a skirt like this twinned with winter wool and it caught my eye. I have been searching ever since. This one comes close. I just can't find it for less than £100. I have this threshold with shopping; I can't spend crazy money on one item. No matter how many cost-per-wear maths justifications I do.

Ditto some age-appropriate leather leggings. Again it seems that astronomic cost is the requirement here. I'm thinking Elle Macpherson in a particularly rock-n-roll school run day. Tricky territory though. Might park that one...

I would like some best friends who are free on those empty Sunday afternoons when you have nothing to do and the kids are driving you nuts and you want to just go somewhere that will simultaneously pacify the off-spring and provide us with entertainment (and wine). I want some at-a-moment's-notice friends who are free for fun. My friends and I; we arrange stuff six months in advance. Spontaneity: zero.

I would like to go to power yoga and feel that I can (in a room of 30 people) actually do the poses without feeling like I am going to i) pass out ii) get such a dramatic leg shake that I fall over and iii) internally combust. I went last night. All three of the above were the case.

I want to have a successful conversation with the school mums I don't know very well, where I don't come away thinking: ugh did I really say that??! I have this habit of just saying what pops into my head. Wretched, usually controversial. Beyond quirky. God knows what they think of me.

I would like to be like Iris Apfel when I am 93 years old. How cool is she? I think glasses are the answer. Stylish old ladies rock.

I want my daughter to recognise the time to step back and put her phone down. This time usually coincides with when her friends get hooked on the drama of whatever the day's event is (he talked to her, she talked to him, she wore what? she has a spot, he said/she said/he said/she said).

I'd like a holiday home in Naples, Florida. Ideally on Eighth Avenue, a block from the beach. Then I'd like to have a leisurely lunch in Tommy Bahamas with berry majitos. Even better if this is with afore-mentioned available friends.

I want my newly renovated house (when it is done) to have that cool, undone-but-done feel that features so heavily on my Pinterest home board.

I would like it if people who read this commented with what they want!!! :-)

Autumnal lure...

posted on: Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The change of season is synonymous with change of clothes. Despite having enjoyed the easy-come-easy-go dressing of summer (what did the world do before Havaianas?) I like the shift and the possibility of layers once more. All of the new season's catalogues land on my doormat and I can't help but just have a little look...I am beyond predictable. I almost breath a sigh of relief when I don't adore EVERYTHING I see! I know I will not then be locked in to a justification battle with myself for weeks. Months sometimes. I do virtually all shopping on line, so new season look-books are important. I fit that demographic. I shop at 11pm.

Meanwhile we are back into the Autumnal school term groove, as if we were never away. This is the season of hockey and rugby so I know I will be ferrying to and from matches and standing on the sideline in support. Again I see that participation in sport is not just the competitor themselves, but the parents who make it happen, at all hours. I am fine with this and like nothing better than to watch them play but still, as I look forward to our weekend commitments, I see that the vast majority are theirs and not ours. This is a curious element of parenthood. Your children get older and you feel exonerated from the demands of chasing a toddler every waking hour.

Where you are released from certain responsibilities, others manifest in their place. Now I see that their schedule effectively overrides ours. I know parents who refuse this and with head-strong determination insist that their lives are not impinged by their children's. I get this. I am just not very good at it. No matter how busy I was, holding down a corporate job, I still tried to make the time to see plays and watch sport and take them to training so they might get selected for the team. And now I have more time.... isn't that the whole point? To give them every opportunity? But still, for us, the combination of full-on schools and geographic distance has meant that I have become the chauffeur. It's not uncommon for me to spend well over two hours a day in the car. Madness. We make our choices, for sure, and it kinda feels like a first world problem.

What else?

I wanted one of these, but instead I ordered one of these.

I returned to yoga after the summer hiatus and now everything aches. As in everything. Fitness has left the building (again).

The house build goes on. And on. There may be an end in sight in that this phase (was meant to take 8 weeks, instead took 5 months and counting) may conclude at the end of the month. I know I could be posting pictures to share the joys, but honestly, it's so ugly I can't bear to denigrate this pretty space with the rubble and dust of a building site. When it's all done; then I will share!

My hair is summer blonde. I might stick with this. Then again I might not.

I say I don't want a Campomaggi handmade Italian handbag. But I know I am lying to myself.

I walked this morning along salt marshes that looked like we were from 'Dawson's Creek'. It's awfully pretty this time of year.

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