That kind of woman...

posted on: Friday, 29 January 2016

Some weeks, it goes this way. I walked on the beach one morning with an old friend, arrived home and had the day stretching out ahead like a runway. This is where housewifery bites. I knew there were a million things I could do, I just didn't really want to do any of them. The weather was blustery and raining (I am sure the media over-hype the weather; we live in a constant state of tension about it). I made a chia seed breakfast that I soaked over night a la 'Deliciously Ella' and was feeling rather pious about it.

I spoke with my friend Dawn; two hours on Whats app that required (due to the crap wifi signal in my house) to stand in one place, virtually on one leg, to maintain contact. We talked; it was lovely and made me miss her all the more; she lives in Holland. She knows me and she gets me.

Ditto my other long distance friend Emma, who I also never see but with whom I have torrid text exchanges about the state of our lives. I realise that characters in my writing are inspired by these two women; it all comes from somewhere deep in my psyche.

Then there is my Mum. I have written before about what an amazing person my Mum is. Everyone who meets her says: 'your Mum is so lovely,' and I say in response: 'I love my Mum.' I really do. I have such love for her and such recognition that she is the single most important woman in my life. Rarely do I make a decision without her input; real or imagined.

Boo has been off sick for a few days with a cold, so we've hung out and chatted and she says things that make my heart swell with pride because she is becoming such a grown up thinker.

Then there is my friend Paula, who was also my business partner once, she's a science geek and wears a lab coat to work and is about the cleverest woman I know. She's coming for tea later.

And my other friend Sarah, who runs a multi-million pound company and is just the most decisive person I have ever met. If ever I procrastinate; I turn to her. We share endless emails most weeks which analyse all sorts of matters, important and banal.

There's the sister in laws - nearby and far away, they are the glue and the shared history that hold family together, at times.

Then I have my blog friends; the ones I read day to day and whose lives I think about, even though we may not have met or only meet rarely. Simone and Robin and Mary and Amanda and Sophie.

Without all of these friends I would not be me. I would be a lone boat sailing on a choppy sea. The harbour would be out of sight. The navigation broken. I would only have the stars to guide me and on a cloudy night that gets really hard. I could extend the metaphor but you know what I mean...

(Spot the girl who is splat-bang in the middle of writing a novel - 34,000 words and counting.)

Friendship is something that, it occurs to me, I take for granted. I sometimes feel that because many of my friends don't live on the doorstep, I don't have them in my life enough. But then I stop and think and realise that they're still with me, maybe just not in person. In spirit. Like kindred spirits - Anne of Green Gable style. Bosom pals. Anyway, I am lucky.

So it's Friday, I have made a smoothie that contains beetroot (it's very January) and I am trying not to look at the Internet for shopping purposes (willpower). The wind persists, I am turning to a book for solace. Happy weekend.


posted on: Wednesday, 20 January 2016

I feel like my teeth should be whiter. When I see a recent photograph of myself my first observation is: what happened to the skin around my eyes? I have my roots coloured with alarming frequency. I decide against many a purchase based on the rationale that it's no longer appropriate for me to dress that way. I look at my teenage daughter and think she's beautiful, noting that her body is achingly perfect and I then counsel her when she says that it's not (that's a whole other blog post on the tyranny of appearance in the young). There is a fine line between accepting one's looks and wanting to enhance them. I note when it comes to being 41 that something has crossed over; the work required simply to maintain the status quo that I enjoyed for most of my life is mind-boggling!

photographed by stephanie rauser
I don't mind being 41, of course, and I have no choice, but I wish I were happier with it than I am. What I am realising is that whatever I feel about myself now, I am sure as hell going to feel differently when I am 50 or 60! Forty felt like the brow of the hill and now, I rail against the idea that everything is downhill but at the same time I can see that actually, things aren't going to go back. There was a complete absence of this sort of emotion in my 20's and 30's, it never even occurred to me to be dissatisfied, I was too busy dealing the immediacy of things. And honestly the first year of each child's life seemed to pass in a fog; I literally walked around with fog goggles on. It was about getting through the day and even better if I didn't have baby vomit on my top. Now life is much easier. I see this as I contrast to other women whose children are still young and I ponder whether the feelings I have about how I look are magnified purely because I have the time to magnify them. I suspect it is a convergence of that and the reality: once you're over 40 your skin and body starts to change. Dressing becomes more challenging; mutton dressed as lamb becomes a real and present danger.

I refuse to accept defeat, though. I gather images of mature women and study them. And I don't mean beautiful women who just let their hair go grey (although I applaud you - go for it; it's just not for me). I like women who look vital and cool (for their age) and they do this through a complex alchemy of attitude, clothes and hair. It becomes a preoccupation for me.

I read about women who have surgery to preserve their youth and it makes me wonder when exactly the urge to do so becomes so overwhelming that one goes ahead. I doubt I will get to that stage. The prospect of medical intervention is utterly and if I am honest, unacceptable to me.

I talk to my friends and we all agree: this getting older business is not for the faint-hearted. I felt sad when Bowie died partly because I saw him as a contemporary of my generation; I grew up listening to his music through the walls of my brother's bedroom. I explained to my son that I was sad and elucidated that it would be the same as when, in the future, Harry Styles dies (heaven forbid) and my son recalls a childhood spent hearing his songs from his sister's bedroom. He said that Harry Styles will never die. I hope he's right.

Bodily things are changing too. I ache more than I did and I have to be careful not to over-exert. I have friends who disregard this to their peril. I walk the tight-rope between maximising what I can do physically and taking it easy. Injuries set me back and I resent them. I conclude again and again that the two things I must keep doing, at all costs, are walking and yoga. There are some women in my yoga class who are much older than me, some of them very much so. I love how supple they are, it's inspiring. I want to be just like them.

I guess what I notice about these musings is that before forty I felt like I had it all to play for, now I feel like I have to pick and choose. This self-awareness may be a bad thing and I am conscious that with navel-gazing comes doubts that I could do without. Conversely, isn't it in these years that self-doubt evaporates and is replaced by a surety and wisdom that only age can bring? I shall wait for that to kick in. ;-)

Restore to factory settings...

So everything appears to be outrageously cyclical. Every time I think I'm in a new phase, there is the hint of an old phase, a been-there-done-it phase, or a phase that I thought was behind me. When people say someone is 'true to form' they are describing me. You see, I get this thing where I let life get a little too busy and a little too overwrought and gradually - it takes about a month or so - I start to feel bad. Not can't-get-out-of-bed bad, but more like not-myself bad. I feel like I need to take some vitamins or eat more vegetables. I vow I will make healthier meals. No processed food. I think I need to go to bed earlier. I think I need to put down my phone. I think I need to spend some time reconnecting. But of course I don't do any of that stuff as it requires effort and tenacity and that starts to feel like more work. So I carry on.

Then, I get the signs. The signs I can choose to ignore or not but they start with one very sore shoulder that is so tight and tense that it hurts even to put my chin on my chest. I don't sleep so well and wake up tired and groggy. I long for bed. My muscles hurt. My posture is off. Then the next thing - and this is my own special weird symptom - my teeth start to hurt! I realise that my jaw is permanently set and I clench my teeth and inadvertently chew my own tongue and honestly I then start to wonder if I am some sort of oddity. See thisthis and this for evidence.

I have long had teeth problems which have masqueraded as other problems, have seen a gazillion specialists, had many opinions, tried many remedies. It all culminated last summer in an emergency wisdom tooth extraction and then: ta-daahhhh no more pain. I was cured! I spent months surprising myself with the notion that after years of pain, I was free of it. It had reached one almighty crescendo of pain (where I literally thought I was going out of my mind and I'm not gonna lie: it wasn't pretty) and then it stopped. Problem solved.

But here we are and a pain is back.

I know, I know, it's probably nothing and I am sure it will ease and honestly, it's been a funny few months etc etc. I must listen to what my body is telling me. But of course I start thinking about it and analysing it and wondering if this is a repeat of before and the next thing I know it is all much worse in my own head.

Oh why oh why?! Isn't it funny? These methods we use to measure our own well being. I can almost see the comments that could be left after a post like this, my dear readers will say: you're being too hard on yourself Lou, stop worrying Lou, try to relax.

So I shall try. It's a Wednesday afternoon and I am going to read a book (not write a book) 'My Brilliant Friend' if you're interested. I am going to curl up and not do anything and not think about what it all means. Agreed?

A week on...

posted on: Tuesday, 19 January 2016

I went to college last week; this event serves to eclipse our little life for a week whilst I try to be academic and mother along with driver of all journeys, packer of all bags, cooker of all food, tidier of all mess. My husband was away for the duration and so I did all of this with a forced smile and tried (again) to reconcile how much 'work' falls on my shoulders, just generally, in any given day.

I struggle with this fact still, even though we are such established parents, the work of childcare/teen-care/home-care is with me, as if we once agreed that I would take the relay baton and since then I have been running, but never able to pass it on to another teammate! I do it willingly - happily - most of the time, but sometimes it gets old and I wonder just how many little actions I have to carry around in my head, all the time, never-ending. I counter-balance this with the prospect of the time in my life when my children will leave home and get a sharp pang of gratefulness. Whilst they fill my life I should be grateful that my life is full.

I do think about the future and how it will be when they leave, when my life is my own again, and have a curious response. Half of me thinks how liberating and the other half is horrified. That's the thing with kids; they are an all or nothing thing.

I sit at my new desk, which lives in my new kitchen, and look at a bowl of sea glass and try to write 1000 words of my book every day. If I do this relentlessly, I will have a manuscript to hand in come May, which is The Deadline. Deadlines are a good and necessary thing (or else this damn book would never get written) but the tyranny of the keyboard is starting to dawn on me. It's not going to write itself. And no matter how much I primp and preen my workspace (photos of palm trees for inspiration) it doesn't detract from needing to just get on with it.

So here I sit. Writing this.

The house meanwhile is bedding in well, it takes family life and keeps up with the race.

It's deep winter now so we go to school in the dark and come home in the dark and all in all it's cold and dour. Not my best time of year.

I have sworn off shopping (like everyone else has sworn off drinking wine for January) and so that makes Google a foe not a friend. I must not Internet shop.

I am catching up with the second series of 'The Affair' which has become my guilty pleasure in the day time now that I have the house to myself. He managed to write his book. I need some of that urgency.

Otherwise it's a series of stuff, which from day to day moulds together to form the whole; a little life.

Negotiable and non negotiable...

posted on: Saturday, 9 January 2016

I collect my son the first day back at school; after the niceties of how was your day we start discussing whether he should do extra homework when we get home. He has exams next month. We are starting to think about what school he will go to next. It's ramping up, I can feel it and recall it, my daughter at his age was cramming for her 11+ exams. Should he follow suit? The peril of being the second child. Matters on the way home descend into an uncharacteristic row; he is a lover not a fighter.

We settled on ten minutes of maths three days a week.

I ponder whether I should have been meaner/less mean. Firmer/less firm. Parenthood does this to me; I am on the merry-go-round and I can't decide whether I want to sit on a traditional horse, a sensible car or a pink elephant. I am inconsistent and they know it. Perils of being a school mum; one day into term is enough to make you feel you should be doing more.

 I console myself and realise I have the negotiable and the non-negotiable.

I cook a full-on meal every night, we sit down, listen to music, it's served from dishes at the table and it's a fully-European-help-yourself approach. I don't dish up on plates and give them portions. They decide; I serve weird stuff, if you don't eat, you go hungry. I read once that girls who have meals with their families every night go on to be women who do well in life. I wonder what the correlation is? Meals eaten alone have less impact. We capture the day in the meals we have. This I don't sway on, no matter how I want to heat up baked beans and be done with it.

I won't go out the house without some form of BB cream/foundation on. I think this comes from years of having changeable skin; untrustworthy skin. There is no way I would set foot out the door without something on my skin. No issue with mascara or lipstick, but skin: no.

I can't go to sleep after a row. I have been known to wake my sleeping teenage daughter after we've fought so say sorry, when I know I am in the wrong. Similarly I take her phone away every night, pretty much no matter what. I don't deviate on these two.

Each time my husband flies, we have a deal that he will text me when he lands - so  I have a series of texts from him that just say 'landed'. This may be the legacy of having a father who was a pilot. I am sure loads of people who travel do it, ironically when we travel together he comments that there is no one to text 'landed' to.

Can not live with dirty hair. That is all. If on a deserted island I would take shampoo. Lip balm being a close second.

Since having the pup, even if it is raining buckets (which is ordinarily is here) I walk every day. If I don't I feel weird, like I have lost my handbag or misplaced my kids. It puts everything off.

Getting into an unmade bed? Nope.

I hardly ever reply to emails straight away, much to the annoyance of my friends. I hate those apps that show the sender you've read something the second you have seen it. I like to have some thinking time before I respond - as if I got a letter in the post. I'm old fashioned like that.

Is this just me? Maybe this is what a control freak looks like in disguise?!

Compadres in blogging and life in general...

posted on: Wednesday, 6 January 2016

I love all the new year posts right now; everyone in blogland is thinking about what the new year brings. A few of my favourites from here from Sophie, Robin and Amanda. There is a freshness about this time of year that I am liking, even though when the alarm went off at 6.30am this morning I could have sworn I only just closed my eyes to sleep and these short winter days are just no fun whatsoever. I again regret that we live in this shitty climate - there's nothing like ten days in Florida to illustrate what people do with their time when the sun shines and there are palm trees everywhere. Hmmm.

But, what happens this time of year is that I make lots of plans - many of which involve travelling and seeing new things with my little family. We are thinking about going to Amsterdam in February to see my best friend/my children's Godmother Dawn. We are skiing at Easter - the annual trip that my husband insists on and to be fair, after all of these years, my children are now great skiers so I feel like we gave them that gift. Regardless, I tolerate skiing at the best of times and still can not do it proficiently no matter how hard I try! Then I am looking at summer and maybe going back to America but the East Coast this time - I might fulfil my lifelong wish to see Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. We are lucky. The way our life falls together, I notice, is that we all work really bloody hard during the term time and then survive and hold it together as a family by going on trips in the holidays.

We have got used to being us four now when we go away. For many years we travelled with friends, especially where the kids were 'man-matched' with a buddy. But increasingly it got hard to coordinate everyone's needs and now, we have done a few trips just us and honestly it's working really well. The realisation that once children grow up and are teenagers, the days are numbered for family holidays and there will come a time when (heaven forbid) Boo will want to go somewhere with her friends!! Yep, so I am sticking in as many cool travel experiences as I can between now and that time.

More generally though, I get this feeling this year is going to be good. I have thought a lot about the writing that I am doing and whether, by virtue of my studies, I am now 'a writer'. There seems to be something terribly self conscious about this profession that I am not that keen on. It makes me want to rebel, I don't find that I long to be published and unlike many of my fellow writers, I am not obsessing over Amazon genre definitions and wondering whether I am writing a book that others will want to buy. I hope someone wants to read it, when it is done, but for now, it is an exercise in what I can do, what I can create, rather than being a commercial venture. I notice that when there is a commercial angle to what I write (and I have experienced this before on this blog when I did the oils business) my 'voice' completely changes. I don't want that to happen again so I am trying to just stick with what I have to say and not try to sell an idea or a concept. If you are along for the ride, then great...welcome.

Another factor that I continue to grapple with is the on line world. I see my children live in this second world so much and notice that my husband and I increasingly turn to our phones to check email or whatever. Although I know it sets a precedent, I still do it. Although I know that it is an addictive past time to continually refresh the view of Instagram or Facebook I still do it. It really is a curious human behaviour. And I don't think I am alone. In fact I know I am not; so many people write and discuss this modern issue. How much is too much? I have these embedded habits which all seem to revolve around checking status, of getting a fresh view - do I really need to be so up to date??!! The one exception to this is Pinterest, which still, as I am such a visual person, manages to enhance my days. But the rest...not so much.

Time to take stock.

A funny old year...

posted on: Sunday, 3 January 2016

This year, of all years, I love a new year. Nothing like a fresh start and although I am determinedly and outrageously addicted to things staying the same (my husband says: 'you don't DO change') I am keen to get going on 2016. That last year was, well, a bit...meh. It's not that I didn't have good bits but overall I will recall 2015 as a year where stuff had to come together. It felt like a lot of tread water-ing and frankly, I am done with that now. I wanna swim. Forwards.

Firstly, it saw another year of pushing headlong into teenage-dom; my daughter is 14 and although my son is only 10, those manifestations of growing up are already starting to assert themselves in him. We took a deep breath. As I have written about before here and here, raising a teenage girl is not for the faint-hearted, there are challenges at every corner. So the year threw in some of those just for good measure. But on the whole, we were good. They are a gift.

We did the house. Correction: we are still doing the house. BUT, 2015 involved the really mucky, grubby business of knocking down about seven walls, ripping out the kitchen, extending it, putting up a new steel structure that would support it all. Without getting into technical speak, we took on a massive project, turning a 16th Century farmhouse into something that was completely updated and worked for our family and our lifestyle. Space, height and light. Despite having lived here for over ten years, the house still brought surprises; things that it revealed boldly whenever we scratched under the surface.

We moved out for four months and I did daily pilgrimages (x 3) home to check progress. I can honestly say that for about three and a half of those four months I felt like we had made an enormous mistake! They ripped apart this house, lifted it on its foundations, shoved and wrecked and generally man-handled it and made it look oh-so-ugly, it was hard to imagine I would ever want to be in it again. But then - suddenly - as the kitchen went in and we started seeing it take shape, the floors and the walls, it gradually became a home again. Overall the project has taken over two years from the point that we made two houses into one. That's a long time to be living in chaos.

My conclusion on this building project:

Way, way harder than I ever imagined; more marital disharmony, more money, more stress, more sleepless nights. The outcome? Way, way better than I imagined; family life enhanced, happiness all round, calm Sunday afternoons spent enjoying the new space and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. And yes, it's white and yes part of it looks like an art installation rather than a farm cottage, but I am good with that. It's all part of the trajectory of the house and of our family. A long-awaited treat.

Professionally for me, the year meant some dabbling in various things. I feel like the moment I got my head around the idea of taking on a new path - that of doing a Masters Degree - something calmed inside me. I was a mess before. I have never before looped around the topic of 'what am I doing with my life?' so relentlessly. I had never felt so lost as I did as a full time housewife with no prospect of anything else. And as I have said before, that is not to do with the worthy work of housewives, it's just that for me it was not so good. I was trapped. No amount of cleaning and organising would fix the everlasting issue of what to occupy my brain with. I didn't want to return to the corporate world that I left and honestly I couldn't; there was so much involved in keeping things running and happy at home. I had missed the whole point. I needed to do something that kept my mind busy.

A very good friend suggested the Masters (repeatedly) and I kept dismissing it, thinking that I had already done a degree, why did I need another? That if I wanted to write a book, I would just sit down and write one (how hard can it be?! ha ha). That I wasn't cut out for academic study anymore. That I needed to earn my own money. That it was indulgent. And on and on. Then I thought: f*ck it, just go see what this is all about...

And then, as of September, I became a student again. A part time one, but one nevertheless.

It rocks.

I am replete.

Books are my friend.

And just like that, the inner monologue quietened. Thank goodness.

And can I just say, the degree is actually really hard. It's challenging and it sucks time and I spend a lot of days thinking I am not good enough. I worry about finishing the book. I worry that it will be no good. I walk around with a fairly predictable case of writer's angst much of the time. BUT, I would note that I am happier now than I have been in a long time.

Happy 2016.

all images via crush cul de sac