Hello darkness, my old friend...

posted on: Thursday, 25 September 2014

And so here we are; Thursday evening, getting dark. Husband is at rugby training (yea, I know, surely there comes a point where you really should stop that shenanigans) and I have cooked Swedish meatballs. Autumnal curry sauce as per my Scandinavian Cookbook. Today, despite my internal protestations that I needed no new clothes all year, I in fact went back on my word and bought something (three things). Actually, in addition what I really think is that there is the perfect pair of winter boots out there for me. I make this assertion every year, without fail. The perfect pair - honestly, just out there waiting to be discovered. I am a google ads dream.

Meanwhile, this week has been spent in my normal contemplation. My husband, who is bizarrely full of wisdom when he feels like it, remarked to me that I was looking for the answer to a question that did not need to be asked. An existential point if ever I heard one? I am still reeling around and around trying to come to terms with being a housewife. I take my hat off to the scores of stay-at-home-mums (SAHM's as they are referred to) who have done this for years. When I was dropping my toddler(s) at nursery, circa 2007, and skipping off to work in heels, enjoying a latte at 11am, these SAHMs were doing the REAL work. I now have the curious middle-ground of being at home, but my kids are at school. Some days the hours stretch out and I wonder: what should I do all day??!! I have come to the conclusion that the possibilities are: i) train my body until I am honed to a level of fitness that would enable me to enter an Iron man contest (Iron-woman?), ii) watch TV, iii) get a job, iv) do lunches or v) all of the above?

I am at a loss.

Enlighten me. What is it that one should do when one has time on ones hands?

I have considered planting a herb garden (whimsical), going to the cinema in the day time (luxurious but guilt-ridden), cleaning my house within an inch of its life (dull). Museums and matinees?

I know I have posed this question before. It is a perennial.

Ironically, there is this ENORMOUS house building project happening in my midst and I just know that suddenly there is going to be a requirement for sourcing the perfect tap/door knob/light fitting and I will find myself behind the game. I have come to the conclusion that I work best under time pressure. Until it's urgent, I don't do it.

In amongst these musings, I recall that summer is slipping away now and I get that yearning again to go somewhere exciting and new. I was there a mere two months ago, walking down Floridian beaches looking at millionaires row. Oh how times change! As winter draws in I conclude that this is me all over. Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone?!


posted on: Monday, 22 September 2014

Each new season I tell myself I don't need any new clothes. Then the weather turns and I go into just one shop and I am awash with lust (I can find no other word to describe it: it is lust) for new items. The potential of a new season. It offers a distraction. Autumn is the worst for this. Partly due to our temperate climate and the knowledge that when it turns cold, it will stay that way for at least six months. But also due to the possibility of richer fabrics; woollens and heavy silks and leather boots. I even want a felt hat. Never has a hat featured in my wardrobe, but this season it becomes a new requirement.

I wonder how I have survived so long without a hat?!

The transition from weekend to weekday is never more apparent than in Autumn. We are just becoming accustomed to the new school term, the cooler feel to the air, the suddenly darkening dusk reminding us that it won't be long till it will be pitch black at 4.30pm. Ohhh long winter!! Monday mornings mean drop off and straight to yoga. I do this with a couple of friends and an amazing teacher who is the most gentle soul. Somehow every week, I turn up feeling harried and cross and every week I leave feeling calmer. I think Monday morning yoga should be a medicinal solution for everyone. Imagine how differently the week would start off if everyone had an 8.30am yoga class?

I know how lucky I am. I have mentioned that I do a power yoga class aswell and how hard it it. The Monday yoga is totally different and I quite like the juxtaposition of the two. How interesting that the same basic activity can produce such different feelings in me? I even got a new yoga mat. I invested in a lifetime mat; it gets better with wear. I like the thought that this mat and I are going to take a journey together for many years. The mat cost more than the aforementioned hat; a sign of investment that I have realised that yoga will be part of my life always now. No matter what.

I have a friend who has been through a tough time lately. She started something brave and new in her life; in the way that we are all encouraged to, she followed her dream. After a year of working very hard and envisaging a lifestyle that she thought would make her happy; in fact that opposite has occurred. It's so hard when that happens; after all that sacrifice and investment, things didn't turn out how she thought they would. I try to console her but know that only time will heal her bruised soul. I think about my little venture into the small business world and feel a fresh smart of the same type of bruise; the 'I tried, but it didn't work out' bruise. They say that resilience is all. When I worked for the big corporate we did lots of analysis on what made good leaders. What characteristics were displayed by our most successful executives? The one most revered: resilience. Being able to bounce back.

Am I the bouncing back type? I am more like a slow burn, I mull it all over and reach my conclusions. I do see that overthinking is a big disadvantage.

In all things, not feeling too deeply can save so much heartache and ultimately, are those who have shallow waters the ones who succeed in life?

One to ponder...

Meanwhile, life is a whirl of house, kids, dog, husband, driving and cooking. The mundanity can close in. I try not to let it. I saw some old, old family friends today, who knew me when I was a baby. Some good advice from them. Go outside and do some stuff. Get immersed in something you love. Don't look for gain in it. Don't sit on the computer all day. Travel and see stuff. Don't get cross. Stay calm.

Bounce back.

via here

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.

...brother 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).

...my 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 crumbling...but...it'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?!!

First things first...

posted on: Thursday, 4 September 2014

By this time in the summer, after nearly two months of school holidays, things are in such a state of dishevel that I don't know what on earth to do. Laugh or cry! It's been a good summer; a solid one where things have become more clear.

photography credit below...
I see, looking back, that after a few months of oil leak-ridden building work, I was about ready to cry. I wouldn't have said at the time that living as we were living was getting me down; but clearly and quite obviously now, it was. I am affected by my surroundings and matters were made worse by the absence of my husband over those crucial weeks. We have assessed (again) how his working away a lot causes challenges at home. Now much we can do about that one, other than be aware of the impact. I do wonder what it would like to be married to someone who was at home by 7pm every night. Does that even exist?!

Our house is still a mess; from having days where no one had turned up on site, we now have four trades here as I type. As we have had to take a phased approach, due to the cost, we will end up with one end of the house in pristine and finished and the other untouched. I see that we are only one third of the way through this epic building project; a long way to go. I have started watching building programmes on TV; there seems to be consolation in the fact that all projects have traumas, not just ours. Solidarity in suffering?!

We took two holidays this summer, which came about due to a twist of fate and the fact that we had a lot of air miles to use up. One good side affect of a husband who travels. Florida was a necessary pilgrimage for me, having spent so much time there growing up. It held an almost mythical fascination which I have now been able to look at, up close.

To both my brother and I, Florida represented a safe haven whilst our parents were divorcing. The sheer difference of the place to the rural England where we grew up was what made it so compelling. A hot, tropical environment with American ease. Going back this summer, I saw that so many of my feelings about it were tied up with my childhood and teenage years. Actually when it came to it, I decided not to return to the place where we used to go, as I wanted to remember it as it was, not as it is.

I have to remind myself that to people living there, palm trees and dolphins are part of everyday life. My equivalent of ploughed fields and oak trees. The trick now is to appreciate the good that we have; even if it is not a pistachio-painted, clap-board house in Naples! The children have returned to school today. The house is empty (if I don't count the builders) and I have, for the first time in two months, some peace. Happy Thursday.

As I have been musing about Florida this summer, my friend Sophie and her new husband George have been honeymooning there (amongst other places in the US). See Sophie's blog for these lovely, evocative photos that kinda, really make me wanna go back to the whole of Southern USA. Photographs are by Sophie Learmont.