I need a phone call, I need a rain coat*...

posted on: Friday, 26 December 2014

Four days of house guests and I am spent. Boxing Day consisted of getting dressed at 3pm having started India Knight's new book 'In your Prime'. It's like talking to a really sensible and upbeat friend who pulls you aside and tells you to get a grip about this whole getting older thing. I admit it: I am scared of ageing. I try every day to banish these feelings of dread as I observe the generations ahead of mine. It's shameful but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel it. A no man's land?!!

The house a mess, I put on 80's music and clean up. Tracy Chapman and Sinead O'Connor. The music makes my heart ache for being 19 and just in love with the one that is now my husband. He played this music in his first tiny flat, on a massive Technics stereo with graphic equalisers (I was impressed) and everywhere there was black ash furniture. Now I sit here typing with wine, he is constructing the Star Wars 'Millennium Falcon' out of Lego with our son. Doesn't time fly? See what I mean about getting older?

It bites.

But it also enriches and enhances and makes everything make sense.

Christmas was...traditional and chilled out and I was very thankful for being given lovely gifts. I tried to scale it back this year and give less, but that had a keen kick-back as I felt I was not generous enough! Funny how that goes. We settled down to watch 'The Family Stone' in the evening, which I have never seen! Subtle. I loved it. My family were not on my page but still, they liked it.

We Skype'd the Dubai-resident family on Christmas Day and saw the other five cousins in shorts and T-shirts. It made me miss them dreadfully and Natasha - can I just say over the internet ether - I miss a cuppa tea with you on a rainy day. It's strange having family displaced at Christmas. For all that they are loving it there, we do find it different to be here alone in England.

But all is not lost - we are off skiing in a few days with a big bunch of friends and lots of teenagers. Very much looking forward to it. I hear there is not much snow but as reading the snow report is futile, I am full of positive thoughts for chill. The break will do us good.

As we hurtle towards the new year I feel possibilities ahead. I have a good feeling about 2015 as frankly, 2014 kinda blew. More on that later.

How was it for you?

* lyrics to what???!! It's obscure but important...

A real life Christmas...

posted on: Sunday, 21 December 2014

As is regularly documented here, it is with a collective sigh of relief that a school term ends and we all get some time off from the routine. The early mornings, the endless car travel, the sport fixtures, the school gate politics, the homework and so on. I relish the idea of school holidays, especially the Christmas one. At my children's previous school, the term would be concluded with a beautiful church service for all of the year groups in a chilly country church near here. And when I had younger kids, the holidays would mean lovely festive rituals and it would all be a sweet (if somewhat frenetic) build up to the main event.

I gotta say: something has changed this year.

As last year we skipped the norm and went to Dubai, I thought we'd be reasserting the old traditions this time, picturing myself with my little gaggle of children and dog, on beach walks followed by hot chocolates, discussing Santa's list. However it hasn't quite worked out that way. There has been a distinct change and my children (nearly 10, and 13-going-on-16) have not really wanted to do that much. For a few days I thought OK fine; they lolled about in their PJ's and I busied myself. My husband was away on business all last week, but then this weekend no improvement. Still PJ's, still gadgets and phones for entertainment, not so much Christmas cheer.

I am not sure what to do about this.

Is this just my family?!! Is this an age thing?! Have I gone wrong somewhere? As usual, my husband returned from his trip, jet-lagged, and I asked him: 'Is this normal? Why are they such slugs?' His response: they are decompressing. They need a break. They're fine.

I am sure they are, but as with most parental phases that blow through, this one feels tinged with nostalgia for those days when they were more engaged in the process. There is excitement for sure, but simple activities like decorating the tree haven't, this year, held their interest. I think back to when I was a teen - how was it for me? I do recall (rather starkly) the realisation that Christmas became a way to accumulate the things I wanted in life. But I do recall close family times with just my brother and my Mum, watching Christmas films.

Is there a teen transition around Christmas that I need to instigate?! We had a number of girls to sleepover the second or third night of the holidays - they flooded the bathroom and giggled a lot. And stayed up too late. I love the house full of teenagers; there is something vital about it. But is it festive in the way it used to be when they were little? Not really!

As ever, this is how it goes with me. By the time I have realised there is a shift, it's shifted.

So my real life Christmas is like the TV ad's but as well...yet another reminder that life marches on and our family is morphing as we go. It's honest and real and I feel a little bit like an observer at times. You have to make your own happy.

Bradley Cooper anyone?

It's a small world after all...

posted on: Tuesday, 16 December 2014

This new year marks my fifth anniversary of blogging! FIVE YEARS!! How strange that a decision which was so impulsive has become such a constant in my life. More constant in fact, than many other things. There are three overriding effects of writing this blog...

1. I get to write often and that has done me untold good. Commenters often say they like my honesty; it doesn't really get sugar-coated round here. I'm a thinker and what I think usually gets recorded. Usually anyway ;-)

2. The pretty pictures. Before I started blogging, I had no idea of the wealth of beautiful photographic imagery and style that existed. When I first started decorating this virtual space I used to spend forever looking for the perfect image, in all sorts of random places. That was before tumblr and Pinterest were established and over those five years, my taste has developed and my appreciation for things of beauty has become enhanced. When I look back on my naive early posts I smile. But there is a rawness when you first start that then settles into a style. I tracking back to early posts of any blog I read; there's a truth in them.

3. The friends and the empathy. I could write reams about this. I honestly never imagined that I would make so many friends, meet so many kindred spirits, get so much from this blogging activity. It's a little-understood area of modern life - especially amongst my age group - to have on line friends. People who you would count as important in your life but whom you may never have met. Or if you have met them, all that has done is strengthen the bond. I admit it's strange and I admit it's not exactly the same as face-to-face friendships, but nevertheless it has mattered very much to me.

I started blogging because of Simone. Around this time of year, heading towards the fresh start that January provides, I stumbled across her blog. That led to so many others and ultimately to the 'me too' sensibility that I have written about before in adult friendship. That kinship that makes you see that there are others out there with the same triumphs and struggles as you. Simone and I are like peas in a pod; we have children the same age, we have uncanny parallels in our lives. We text most weeks, I value her advice and counsel, I still get a little frisson of happiness when she posts a new blog post. That's how it goes with us.

And then there is Amanda - the inspirational do-it-all, be-it-all, no-fashion-question-too-big good friend. If in doubt, I ask Amanda.

Mary, my Bostonian working mother confidante. She writes sense and I listen.

Jacqueline, whose comments I adore and who on more than one occasion has written - '...don't take yourself too seriously Lou!' She's like the big sister I never had. As is Jeanne, whose globe-trotting makes my head spin.

Alison, the quiet force of inspiration, both visual and mental.

Robin, my style-sister in Boston. If I could step over the Atlantic for an elegant, leisurely lunch, I so would. In a heartbeat. And there would be wine...

Tania the Writer. More wisdom than most. When I need a word fix, she is my go-to person. She makes me want to write.

Deborah, yoga-loving, straight-talking, Scandinavian-living.

Natasha, photographer, lawyer, fellow-thinker. Gentle romantic soul.

Sophie; my heart swells for Sophie and her sheer Australian, out-doorsy, healthy, food-enjoying, life-loving enthusiasm. We started blogging at the same time. She married an Englishman. I will always hold her close in my heart. And she follows my daughter on Instagram, like a guardian angel of good sense.

Whatever people feel about blogging, it has brought nothing but good to me. Long may it continue.

...and of course we all look like this...haha ;-)


posted on: Monday, 15 December 2014

I am not normally afflicted with insomnia; I sleep soundly, but last night...no sleep! 1.06am, 2.25am, 4.14am I saw all of these times. This happens every now and then. I just couldn't quiet my mind. It's in these times, obscurely, that I start constructing the book I want to write. Increasingly this mythical book exists in my mind's eye, but I have yet to start writing it. Come on already! People say to me: 'you know what? you should write a book!' like I have never considered this course of action before. I consider it all the time. But characteristically of me I think about the finished product. I have this recurring dream of me opening a box of freshly printed books, pulling one out and it's by me! How amazing would that feel?! I also watched 'The Book Thief' at the weekend...books are all.

The only way down this road is to start writing (along with a gazillion other would-be writers).

Get over yourself Lou!

Meanwhile I took down a blog post I wrote at the weekend, which is unlike me; I normally write and publish and don't look back. But when I read it back the tone was off and I saw that sometimes the way I perceive the world is not the same as everyone else. I wonder if that is the whole point - people don't come to read a blog unless it provides some perspective? But ultimately I don't want to offend anyone.

Today is the first day of the school holidays so I have a houseful of pyjama'ed kids and the painter has arrived. Just when we thought those days were over, they have come to do the snagging list. Snagging is such a curious activity; all those little scuffs and niggles that you have when you hand over a build, pale into insignificance once family life has made its mark. Whilst I love my new white walls, I can see there will be a labour of love to keep them white. After all the procrastination that goes into design choices, I picked trade, pure, brilliant white for the walls. Now when people visit they ask 'which white' I selected, suspecting that I poured over a Farrow and Ball colour card. In fact I went with the most basic paint you can get! Sometimes less is more!

This time last year we were preparing to spend Christmas in Dubai with family. This year we revert to family norm and will spend Christmas Day at home, snuggled, with just my Mum to stay. Last year was so different it made quite an impression, but this year we are all looking forward to an old-fashioned British time.

Still trying to get organised...it never fails to amaze me what a performance Christmas is these days. I recall days as a child, when Christmas was something magical that happened to you, rather than being something magical that you worked to create. It can be wearying and I look back on previous years at this time and sense the same feelings of being overwhelmed by the logistics and the gift-buying. I'd like to just be.

I've been thinking about loneliness. The last few months have been a time of trying to turn around my mood as I have been spending a lot of time alone. I get glimpses into years and years ahead and see that keeping busy and having friends and family around you is the elixir. I feel like I am having a trial run and I am not sure I am that good at being alone. I heard loneliness defined as having people to do something with, but nobody to do nothing with.

I can't help thinking the way we live is a flawed. We have this rural house, not that far from town but enough to need to drive there. I don't see neighbours often. We live in splendid isolation and I see just how aspirational it was to secure a home like this. A farmhouse bordering fields of crops; frost-tinged today. Beautiful but kinda lonesome. I grapple with this fact and the how the future will play out. Are you a town-dweller? Is that what answers the loneliness question?! I still joke with my friend Natalie that living in a commune is the answer; a kibbutz?! Who knows? But at this time of year I do sometimes wonder if living amongst more people is the better choice.

You can tell I haven't had much sleep... ;-)

Happy Monday.

Do what you do...

posted on: Thursday, 11 December 2014

Round here, life goes on...

We limp towards the last day of term tomorrow; the week peppered with school carol services and slightly forced festive parents outings. My children need a break from the daily grind and so do I. The midwinter commute, in the dark, with so much traffic it makes me want to cry! It must come to an end soon! I long for a sunny climate. With half my husbands' family now living in Dubai, reports of sun-drenched life aren't lost on me as we struggle through the British gloom. However...there are always cosy nights with candles and classic films and Christmas fairy lights. It's not bad.

Early morning walks on the beach, where now a few friends frequent and we walk and talk with the dogs going wild in the freedom of dunes and sea. There is a peninsula of sandy dune that we cover each time, which at high tide, with a cusp of pale sand, is so beautiful it makes my heart ache. It is my most favourite place, even in the cold and rain.

Pub lunches with roaring fires.

Waking up in darkness and having that internal dialogue about whether to go running or not. Shall I? Shan't I? Usually I do.

That keen knowledge that if I did yoga every day I would probably be a whole lot better at every element of my life. Why can't I make it happen? I think because to do it justice I feel I have to mentally commit and so often I feel like I am going to be interrupted by my thoughts...or the postman.

Our long-suffering postman. Now the Christmas shopping season has taken hold in earnest, I do it all on line and get deliveries every day. He must think I am a shopping fiend. He wouldn't be wrong.

Danish style Christmas decorations; ordering from Skandium.

Thinking about the future...almost incapable of getting past anything other than the few weeks ahead. The sameness of my life has, I see, made it difficult to see phases and changes. It feels very static. At times I love this. But at other times it is stifling. I look around me and wonder if everyone feels the same?

Wanting new glasses; lusting after cat's eye ones and then pondering if I can pull it off or if I will look like an old maid.

Feeling like an old maid.

Feeling like I am 17 again.

Failed attempts to meet up with an old, dear friend (one who has no veneer) and the realisation that life gets in the way.

Brooding feminism that gets fired up after listening to Women's Hour. I have stuck to that resolution. More on feminism later...

My husband and I away together to Bath for a night - celebrating 15 years of marriage :-)

The veneer...

posted on: Sunday, 7 December 2014

The subtleties of life are never lost on me; the small ironies, the observations, the life theories. A theory I described to my husband yesterday was why I made friends with other women more readily in my twenties than my forties. Why, when you have a newborn baby and/or very small children, you form lasting friendships with women whom you have never known before, but who you would not hesitate to discuss nipple health and the state of your undercarriage. Oh those heady and long 'post-birth' days still haunt me. Then fast forward to when said newborn is a teenager and I find that making friends with other women has become some sort of mystical quest - and not an easy one at that. I have come to the conclusion that a veneer forms over our lives when we are in our thirties where openness is replaced by a kind of insistent guardedness.

Some of my very best friends now (the category of friends I assign to 'the school years') know an awful lot about me (career trajectory, interior design choices, book club membership) and have sat next to me at dinner parties countless times. However do they really know me in the way that my old friends 'the pre-children university years' know me? Those friends have held back my hair when I was sick from too many daiquiris, met my husband before he was my husband and could tell you what I wrote my dissertation about. (Madness in the Female Gothic, if you're interested). With those friends there is no pretence. It's the real deal. There is no veneer; or if there is it gets rapidly deciphered when we meet or speak and we get back to the first version of ourselves. I also benefitted from 'the work friend'; a discrete handful of kindred spirits who stood by me as I climbed the career ladder.

I feel I've entered new territory now with female friendships. With these women we are coming into the 'young-adult years'. This denotes having teenage children and the veneer is getting pretty thick. We discuss matters like should parents provide alcohol at teenage parties (my view right now: no, but there are many who seem to disagree). Should academic success be defining? Should sport play a role? Why hasn't my daughter or son been picked for the 'A' team?

To be fair this team selection theme ensues in all areas of female friendship once your children are involved. When it's post-birth it's about milk ounces and percentile growth. When it's school years it's about the Nativity play and who is Mary vs. a miscellaneous angel. Now I have a teenager it's to do with tribes. Is your child in or out? Popular or geekish? Make-up or natural? Phone obsessed or still interested in life in the real world? These distinctions seem to get in the way of whether we, as women, can be friends with each other. And my overriding view is that when you have spent twenty adult years accumulating friendships, there is most definitely a point when people start to say 'enough is enough'. Many a time I have heard women say (almost proudly) that their friendship cup runs full.

All in all I find this troubling. I say this in the knowledge that when I was working, I frankly didn't care nor notice these nuances at the school gate or during the baby yoga coffee morning. I skipped past in my heels and outfits, thinking about the fact that I had to do a presentation to 100 people in an hour. Was there time for a latte with a colleague beforehand?

Now it's different. It feels like an extra effort needs to be made to win the friendship of these women who could, if the veneer just came down, become my bosom friend, like Diana Berry in 'Anne of Green Gables'. In life, eventually, doesn't everything come down to a quote from 'Anne of Green Gables'? Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.

And I realise that often with me, female friendship is based on whether I like the look of someone; in much the same way as when, aged 6, I befriended someone called Stephanie because she had red ribbons in her hair. I'm all about the details. This curious yard-stick of mine, when selecting people I want to know better, almost gets in the way. I should not notice the ribbons. I should notice a good heart and kindness and the prospect of interesting conversation. But in friendship don't we notice the sameness; the possibility of a buddy who will be our alter-ego? I know I do. It's the 'me too' mentality of conforming and being accepted. Is this a Louise-ism? Do you feel the veneer too?


posted on: Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Living in a vacuum, my Mum mentions the blue shoes to me, in passing. I bristle; found-out, my shopping habits exposed. I confess my purchase via text to my friend Emma; she knows already, she read it on the blog! Ugh. In the words of 'Anne of Green Gables': 'My life is an open book, I see!'. Curious that this would come as a surprise to me, given that I spill it on the internet on a weekly basis.

Note to self - must develop more self awareness.

Whilst in the hairdressers today, covering the grey and dealing with the fact that my brunette hair has gone 'khaki' (to the layman this means 'green' but to the hairdresser there are shades of khaki making it 'somewhat less green'...) I decided that there's a lot to be said for self awareness.

I have this thing at the moment about art. I have been hanging pictures in the newly renovated space in our house and realise that we have three variations. Firstly the family photo; vital as a testament to our very happy life and beautiful children but it did strike me that we have featured so many family pictures it appears self indulgent. Note that this is different to self awareness ;-) Secondly we have Cornwall-inspired boat pictures. We visited an art gallery in Cornwall once and bought a number of boat/beach oil paintings which I love, but which are, let's say slightly middle-aged in style. Not edgy. Then thirdly there is Jessica Cooper. We love this artist. I have a little friendship with this artist, established when she found her work so often featured in my blog posts. We have many of her paintings and love them all. I would buy more in a heartbeat, partly because I adore them and partly because she is a subtle artistic force that I want to hand down to the next generation in my family.

My Danish grandparents spent all their money on art and my overriding recollection of going to their house in Denmark was that the walls were covered in art. Every piece had meaning and every piece has now been passed down amongst the children and grandchildren. This I love. Of all the things we spend money on, art has got to give the most.

So I have my eye on an up and coming artist. One, so fresh and new (aged twenty-something and it shows; in a good way) that his work is simultaneously unsettling and comforting. This I also love.

Boo was off school today in a rare teenage sick day. I left her at home to watch 'Dirty Dancing', vicariously reliving my youth. Nobody puts baby in the corner. She wants to go back to school tomorrow because there is a hockey match she wants to play in. Bless her.

It's Tuesday. Happy day.

via this flickr