Making sense...

posted on: Thursday, 26 February 2015

Along the way, I've been thinking a lot about what messages we give young girls about what the future holds for them. I have a daughter, but also I have nieces who are embarking on different paths in life. One of my nieces is incredibly talented as an actress and singer and we, as an extended family, are trying to find the right way to advise her. She wants to pursue her dreams on the stage, but as the responsible adults we all know that those opportunities can be hard to achieve; her lofty aspirations. However who are we to dissuade her? Isn't our role - or my role as her Aunt - to give her hope that there can be limitless possibilities? Not to cut her down with negativity? There is this fine balance between being realistic and stamping on a dream. I don't want to stamp. So I shan't...I shall be the crazy Aunt who insists that anything is possible.

I wonder about bringing up a teenage girl. I have written before about the need for brutal honesty with my daughter and how I have had to explain realities of life in a way I never imagined. I didn't expect I would be covering topics i) this early and ii) in as much detail. A side effect of the Internet is that everything I could think of (and some I couldn't) is known to her anyway. The role of the mother is no longer to manage the way in which topics are introduced (they are already there), it is to interpret the topics and to provide meaning. Nothing is off limits.

This can be viewed as a blessing or a curse; there was an exact point in recent years at which I said to myself: man up Lou, have the difficult conversation. Now I am more used to it, I can be found having these conversations with her everywhere; 'the unreality of porn' whilst walking the supermarket aisles, 'glue-sniffing' whilst driving home, 'the role of feminism' whilst walking the dog. Modern parenting is about bravery, from what I can see. There is no shirking away.

Because if I don't do it, the Internet will. And I'm not sure the Internet has love and trust and consistency on its mind.

I have written a separate article for the blogzine 'Selfish Mother' where I ponder motherhood and bringing up girls and boys; it can be read here.

Meanwhile, on smaller matters, here is an irony; the heavy lifting associated with bringing firewood into the house last week, to ally the freezing temperatures (well, not freezing exactly, but not warm) has given me a muscle sprain. It hurts to breathe in, the muscles around my ribs unused to the exertion required to live like frontier woman. I am not frontier woman. I wonder what type of woman I am. I was getting up at 6am to make the fire to provide heat for my family, and this is where I end up. I know I am may be over-dwelling on domestics but honestly it does lead me to conclude: what a delicate flower I am to injure myself tending house. Just as well I was not a scullery maid in Victorian times.

It's Thursday, it's drizzling, my house is a tip. But I did cover the finer points on 'boys: don't be too keen' on the school run this morning. Hurrah for that.

Black is the new black...

posted on: Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Heat has been restored, I could have kissed the plumbing engineer who did it. After six days of no heating, our house felt clammy and bone-chilling. I developed a physical hunch; that natural reaction to the cold in which we scrunch up our shoulders. Today, in a show of decadence I kept the heat going all day long, relishing the walk from room to room with no temperature differential. This winter seems interminable.

My children returned to school, we enter another half term of early mornings. At least there's the prospect of Spring to keep us going. I find in my own mind that the prospect of 'something on the horizon' for me is making the present a whole lot more tolerable. Proving once again that it's all in the mind. How I regard life is how life is. I handed in my applications today for the writing course.

Meanwhile, I am wondering, frankly, if I am too old to wear Nike Air Max as a fashion item?! And also, why everything I buy to wear this winter is black? Am I in mourning (for my 30's)? Black is to my wardrobe what white is to my house. The chance for a clean slate? The simplest, most pared-back version?

I am approaching my 41st birthday next month! After all of the fanfare of turning 40, this one feels more grounded and honestly, being 40 has been a BIG adjustment. This adjustment presents itself subtly, almost imperceptibly, but it's definitely there. A curious thing, this getting older.

So life goes on, I roast a midweek chicken for dinner; we pull the wishbone and my son always wins. Fact. I surreptitiously order wardrobe staples from Boden (confirming my middle-England sensibility). All in black.  I call my friend Natalie, who lives too far away for a soothing kitchen-table cuppa tea but who I spend hours chatting to on the phone, like we are teenagers from the 1980's. I read book after book; this week it's 'Middlesex'; I am 20 pages in. I, on  daily basis, lament the clean/cook/clean process that unfolds even though I know: this is how it works! I make it, they eat it, we (I) clean it. 

I listened to a radio discussion about whether women find playing with their young children boring. I have to put my hands up and say, yes guilty, that was me. I wonder if every mother has a phase which suits them best. For some it's those snuffly baby days, for some it's toddlers, for some they reach their pinnacle in the era of the school mum. For some it's teen. Some hit their stride when they have young adults. Who knows? I am still trying to work out when my phase is. This could be it.

I watched the Vanity Fair Oscar footage on Snapchat (how modern am I?) and thought it's been a long time since I was at a party wearing high heels.

Happy Tuesday.

City and country...

posted on: Friday, 20 February 2015

I sit to type this wearing four layers of wool, a hot water bottle on my lap and about 10 logs on the fire in the next room, trying to get some heat. OUR HEATING IS OFF!!!! So cold; it's been days now so the house is chilled through and through. This is an oil issue - our heat runs off an oil tank, not gas, so I live with a tank refilling extravaganza every winter. We already have a troubled relationship with oil after last year's leak, so frankly, I am at the end of my patience with this old house! Oh to have heat, uncomplicated heat. This is what they don't tell you about rural living.

via here
It's a conspiracy of beautiful real estate images; children frolicking in the garden, expansive views to the countryside, charming, quaint old houses with tumble-down flint walls. We have owned a townhouse and a new build house in the past; houses that functioned even through challenging weather. This house; no. It leeches water up from the sodden earth and it comes out of the walls as rising damp. Up until this winter (now that we have fixed some of the issues), every time it rained the drains overflowed into the garden into soapy puddles. It creaks and strains as the boards in the floor expand. The radiators knock and bang in the night. We look out onto acres of fields, which is lovely, but mud is a constant feature in my life. All the time, all through the winter. I can't set foot out of my door without coming into contact with mud!

No one tells you that rural living can be hard; sometimes lonely and isolated. We have neighbours in the strictest sense, but they on the horizon, across fields. I have a number of friends, who like me, have become disillusioned with the rural idyll. It has flaws. And we only live a mile from civilisation! I see so many people, who with young children, have an idea of moving to the country. We did the same. I can vividly remember viewing our house in May, wisteria blooming, with Boo aged three, running across the lawn. My husband and I imagining years ahead of wholesome, outdoorsy fun. Of course there have been those moments but now that our children are older, I can also clearly see the limitations. There is little sense of community unless you live amongst other people. We have to drive everywhere. All the time. First World problems...

So yesterday, we travelled up to London for a day and night. Partly because hotels have heat, which has become a precious commodity this half-term week. We met friends and spent the day around Fulham, mooching around the shops at Westfield and then dinner on the King's Road. As ever with London, I am struck by the sheer number of people, so many, so busy, a million little lives. And the stylish; looking much less incongruous in an urban setting than they do down here with the country bumpkins. I notice the endless stream of neon-clad runners; day and night. The cool eateries and bars. Walking by the oozing Thames River, flanked by low and high rise. The tourists and their cameras.

I conclude: am I a town or country mouse? It's always a pleasure to get back after the city and to see the familiarity of my home town. I don't think the puppy would like London; he is a field-running dog. And our country house? One day it will all be done (and warm) and one day I will master the complexities of the oil tank gauge. I see that we are lucky in many ways.

Lackadaisical blogger...

posted on: Tuesday, 17 February 2015

It's hot and cold on the blog; I know this. I marvel in awe at the post-rate of some of my peers in this blogging pursuit and am reminded that it's been a long time since I wrote with the sole intention of gaining readers. I write for me and those who want to come along for the ride. There are many lovely readers who persistently drop by and comment and it always makes me smile. When I write I have you in mind, if anyone.

Some of my reluctance to write has been the final acceptance that my writing quarters were not up to scratch. Due to the house build hiatus, my husband and I are sharing an office area in our home where I had a little old kitchen table that served as a desk. The wrong height and god-awful ergonomics but pretty and gnarly and weathered. I eventually ordered a gleaming new trestle desk in white (of course) and I sit at it now, marvelling at how my shoulders aren't hunched as I type. It's a clean slate. It has yet to be snarled up with paper and postcards and the mess that seems to accompany any area where I work.

When my husband is here, in our shared room, I have to endure corporate conference calls, oh-how-I remember-them-well. Some so tense you could hear a pin drop, when I instinctively know not to type or shift in my chair for fear that someone on the line will hear my presence. The pup at my feet; willing him not to bark. In my corporate days, the world could begin and end on a conference call; such was the magnitude. A million decisions being made across the wires (are there still wires?!) linking up countries and time zones and 'virtual teams'. Funny to think.

via here
Of course now my days are spent making laundry decisions (light or dark?) and plotting my book in my head. The realisation that I will write that novel that has been lurking inside me for so long has come as a relief. The existential crisis has abated.

The winter persists and when certain songs play on the radio, we are transported back to those balmy Floridian days in the summer when we cruised alligator alley in a gas-guzzling American car and watched the palm trees whizz by. Or enjoyed the sunset over the water at the beach with that distinct feeling to appreciate, appreciate, appreciate in case the memory was too nebulous to hold on to. I remind myself that even my wintry, English, darkened sunsets (over clod-covered fields) would be magical to someone, somewhere. It's only to me that they are ten to the dozen. Doesn't stop me photographing them for Instagram though...

It is half term this week, signalling many logistical challenges to be spread between myself and my husband. He has returned from a 10 day trip to San Francisco (conference; not to be confused with conference call) and is now a husk of his former self! Nothing like continuous buffet food and long haul flying to mess with your circadian rhythms. He has man flu. Ugh. Meanwhile I am treading water really, going through the normal motions of life, but with the kids and their buddies in tow. Such is the contrast between school term time and breaks.

Living in a half-built house is starting to get on my last nerve, as our student-style, temporary plywood kitchen is falling apart. It's ugly. And I hate ugly. I alternate between deciding to white-wash everything, propping up and smoothing down or just leaving it to fall apart. There seems little point as we await the return of the builders some time late Spring. When is Spring coming? It's bittersweet as I know it brings with it the whole circus of renovations again. One day it will all done repeat after me... ;-)

Educating Rita...

posted on: Friday, 13 February 2015

The open day for the writing degree was last weekend; a wood-panelled room, me and three tutors well-versed in academia. I got to talk about writing. It felt like I had come home. I think this might be good for me. Now I have to apply and see if I can get a place...

I've spent a week being busy...with some lovely interludes, like meeting my good friend Amanda at The Pig and devouring gorgeous food and even better chat.

Then, there are the domestics. Ever present.

The not-buying-anything resolution was short-lived. As predicted by my readers.

There were morning walks, with the pup, on the beach and morning runs at the marina. And yoga and circuit training. I was meant to run a 10K race last weekend and I bailed. I keep doing this; entering and not doing. I have to conclude that competitive running is just not for me. Full stop.

I am preparing a portfolio of writing to submit for the degree course; absolutely daunting. But good.

I finished reading 'Elizabeth is Missing' and worried about Dementia a little more than I did before.

Another parent's evening (Boo this time) and the clarity you get from good teachers who tell you like it is. She's a good girl my daughter; she'll do well, I hope. Turns out (in a comment from her philosophy teacher) that she can formulate an ethical argument that rocks. This pleases me. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

I saw 19 deer in the fields by my house today, in a herd. The leader has grown antlers now. I quite like that we rub along, the deer and I. They don't scarper, they know as I approach that I don't mean them harm.

It's half term next week, thank goodness. The school run is killing me slowly.

I long for Spring and a semblance of good weather. The long winter is getting on my last nerve.

I watched four episodes of 'Sex and the City'. For old time's sake.

It's Friday night, happy weekend :-)

Trying to find the in between...

posted on: Friday, 6 February 2015

I bunked off circuit training this morning for no other reason than it was just too damn cold. I did this even after I had put my running kit on. That is (is it not?) the cardinal rule; if the kit is on, you do the work. I actually took off the kit (unused) and went about my day. Sacrilege.

Boo had a duvet day - fighting a cold and sore throat. I found myself relishing the prospect of a day at home with her in a way that I never would have when I was working. I made her Nutribullet smoothies and generally mothered her.  We looked and laughed at the photo-roll on my phone. Teenagers don't always want mothering, but when they do it is a delicious treat. Her braces came off this week and she now has a perfect smile. As in: perfection. So lucky.

It's my nephew's birthday. He's in Dubai burying toy trucks in the sand, but I do miss him.

I ordered a new desk, as frankly, how am I ever going to write a book if I am perched at an old kitchen table? Shocking ergonomics. I read a book by Anne Tyler which appeared on the 'Top 100 books you must read' summary in The Telegraph. I get this academic guilt when there are books that I haven't read. It's become important to me that I am supremely well-read. Anecdotally, I tell my husband (who never reads anything) that being well-read is an important distinction. Now I notice that no one talks about books. Or if they do, it's all about how they relate to the character and not the beauty and skill of the writing. I guess we all like stories.

I have decided not to buy a single item of clothing for the month of February. It's day 6.

I think about when I used to have a job and I would hang my coiled telephone wire from the desk and allow it to unwind, as a weekly habit. I remember having a work phone number and answering it with an assertive 'this is Louise' greeting. I remember not having a mobile phone and leaving work right on time with my (real life) inbox empty. I remember what it was like to get a salary every month.

Now, it's different. I rotate between cooking and cleaning and ironing. I lament the life of a housewife. I see friends and make eclectic lunches out of health foods (and then gorge on teacakes in the afternoons).

I decide that even when I am 70, I will still wear Chelsea boots. Like my Mum does.

Putting yourself out there...

posted on: Tuesday, 3 February 2015

I'm a natural introvert. My friend Sarah disputes this as she associates introverts with the socially inept, shy and trembling in the corner. I am not shy but I am reticent. I am an observer and it's not normal for me to put myself out there. Yet when comfortable, I can be positively chatty and open. Almost extroverted. However, too much social interaction fatigues me and I then long to be alone. It's a curious balance.

Writing this blog has forced me to put myself out there, although it's been very much on my terms. Written anonymously; I rarely share pictures of myself or my family, that part of me that is kept very separate from what I post here. I don't tell people I meet that I blog and can go cold at the prospect of everyone I know in the 'real world' reading this anthology of my thoughts. I fall somewhere between public and private.

A while back I started a small business called L'Apothecary and for a while I completely put myself out there. I learnt an enormous amount from it and though the business itself reverted to a kitchen table exercise for me (I still take bespoke orders), it did illustrate what it can feel like to start something, believe in it passionately and then stop (fail). Did it fail? I made choices about it, which in retrospect where sensible ones. But nevertheless when I read back on blog posts I wrote at the time, I see the germ of something that could have been something and I wonder, did I do the right thing in walking away? I also see many people around me starting new ventures and making them succeed, all the time evolving them from one thing to another. I feel a combination of awe and envy.

I do wonder whether all that time I spent in a corporate environment was the polar opposite of putting myself out there. It was safe and sheltered and though I had massive responsibility in my job, I recognise that I did it under the umbrella of a corporate structure. Not a house of straw but a house of iron. It was a household-name company so ultimately if everything went wrong, there were always lawyers who could sort it all out! The only times I recall really putting myself out there was when I had an ethical objection to something which was being proposed. This happened increasingly towards the end of my time there. In fact in the end it became a symptom of why I had to leave; if you are not playing the same tune, corporate life can become swiftly less comfortable!

I have come full circle as I now seriously consider embarking on going back to University to study writing. I'll be putting myself out there again, as strange as that might feel to me. Strange but good.

The funny thing is (and this is what I have noticed about myself) in recent times, the less I put myself out there, the more life seemed to scare me.

I want it to be the other way around. Life shouldn't scare me! Time to get busy.

The house...

posted on: Sunday, 1 February 2015

We are 'on a break' with our house-build; the builders left in November and probably won't return until April or May. So as it stands one end of our house is done (kinda) and one end is untouched and outside there are the footings of foundations for a new extension. The garden is muddy and there are pallets of bricks stacked in our driveway and a distinctly unfinished feel. They did at least remove the Portaloo which has been sitting in front of my kitchen window (at a merciful distance). It's not pretty and it's not done and I am trying to ignore the mountain that we still have to climb to finish the entire project. Old houses; the gift that keeps on giving.

The overall project has been way bigger than we anticipated but I have learnt so much along the way. I thought we had done renovation before in previous houses, but this has been singly and totally different. More complex, with issues at every turn and many more building trades at once than ever before. There is an (un)healthy tension between the out and out, hemorrhaging cost that seems to accompany building work and getting the result you want. That and the knowledge that we are a family, with a normal semi-rural life that involves muddy boots and rugby kit and dogs and mass sleepovers with teenage girls. After the first phase was completed, our house took all of about a month to become completely 'family'ed' and now I see that all that angst about what door handle to choose (pewter) or what paint finish to go for (white) was unfounded. There are scuffs on the walls and dents in newly carpentered wood and all in all we are not so precious to keep it pristine all the time. I try to reconcile this.

It feels to me that house renovations are like making a really big messy cake. There's flour and sugar all over the kitchen, butter smeared on every surface, more washing up than you care to face but at the end there is this satisfaction of a fluffy, warm sponge cake to jam, ice and decorate. And then...well then you have to eat it don't you?!

Things I have been pleased with:

The white theme! White everywhere. I painted a bathroom floor with white boat paint and I love the result. The whole bathroom is white; it's lovely and easy and feels fresh and nautical.

The rowing oar banisters. Always a conversation starter.

The gallery wall; black framed, black and white photos of stuff we have done. From our Vegas wedding to the kid's surf lessons to family skiing. It just makes me happy to look at.

The large utility room where I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time, fluffing and folding, but happier as I do.

The extra space!

The enormity of what we still have to do does rear up sometimes and I long for it all to be pristine, or at least more habitable. At the moment we have one room that we don't go in at all because the walls are scarred with water damage and the carpet got eaten up by relentless moth infestations. I just shut the door and try not to think about it. I want to get started and renovate, but at the same time I have to admit that having builders here every day did mess with my head. You are never, ever alone! day (I keep telling myself) it will all be done!