Monthly Archives: August 2015

NOISE

I referred briefly to T being busy on Thursday with the NOISE project and yesterday A and I joined in as well. Briefly to explain, the NOISE project is a church-led community project that happens every August, when teams of young people with adult leaders and helpers volunteer to do jobs for the less able members of the community – anything from cutting grass, to lopping trees, digging flowerbeds and painting sheds. T has taken part for the last two years and has thoroughly enjoyed both times. Children/young people have to be over 11 yeas of age in order to take part unaccompanied, so A needed me to do it with her. I wasn’t able to last year so had promised her that this year she could do one day with the idea that, if she enjoyed it, she could do it unaccompanied next year when she will be of age.

We headed off to the Baptist Church around 8.30am for breakfast with our fellow volunteers. T had steady gone ahead to met up with friends – I didn’t want to cramp his style by insisting he come with us! We were warmly welcomed and offered cereal, toast and juice or tea. Very nice.

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable in group settings and don’t often put myself in them. I’m not a great joiner-in and don’t really like talking to complete strangers. Luckily, I knew many of the faces, albeit most of them were in the young people category and so unlikely to want to chat to an oldie like me. So, plate loaded with toast and cup of tea in hand I plonked myself down at the table where A had met up with a girl in the year above her that she goes to guides with. They didn’t seem to mind. Phew! I thought I’d got away with sitting quietly listening to them natter but we were then joined by a couple of girls in their twenties that I didn’t recognise. After asking my name and introducing herself one of them asked the dreaded question “So, do you come to church here?”. Uh oh.

I don’t go to church. We as a family don’t go to church, unless it’s for a wedding, christening, funeral or if I’m feeling festive at Christmas. This doesn’t mean I don’t have an element of “belief”, I just don’t go to church. K was brought up Catholic and attended a faith school. He didn’t enjoy attending church, it was always a family obligation that he had to just put up with. I went to a C of E faith school which has us own chapel and had to attend at least two Sunday’s each month, as well as assemblies during the week. I didn’t hate it, I even went through the process of getting confirmed in my latter years at the school. But I’ve been brought up, mainly with my nan’s influence, to believe that you don’t have to go to church to have faith. Although the church has played an enormous role in my nan’s life from a very young age to now and she still sees the vicar, at the church that she’s been going to since she was a young girl, every couple of weeks when he comes to her flat to give her communion, I’ve been brought up believing in the afterlife and having loved ones that are no longer with us “looking out for us” and that everything will work out for the right reasons: didn’t get the job I wanted? A better one was round the corner; old auntie so-and-so had tipped my boss the wink that I would be good in a different role (old auntie so-and-so was dead by the way). This was never in a creepy WTH kind of way, it all seemed very normal, along with the faith healing room and the pictures of various people that she was “thinking about”. It’s a lovely way to believe in something bigger, another force other than fate and free will.

We got married in church and had the kids christened at the local C of E church. I suspect this was mainly due to a feeling of expectation from K’s family and to some degree mine (nan liked it that we did) and I was even given some reasonably heavy hints that I should convert to Catholicism to marry K like his mum had done to marry K’s dad. Err, no. At all these occasions I’ve almost hoped to find some sort of connection with something but no joy. I don’t mind the singing, and sometimes the sermons can be quite interesting, but I just don’t feel comfortable with it all. Once, we went to a midnight mass and had to shake hands with the person next to us. A stranger! But it was Christmas Eve and I sort of went with it.

Anyway, getting back to yesterday and the dreaded question. No, I don’t attend the baptist church – I don’t attend any church. I mumbled something about my husband being a bit forced into it all as a child and how we hadn’t wanted to inflict anything on our kids, but that I’m not anti-church or anything, gabble, gabble, gabble. Ok, shut up now, she’s looking at you like you’re cuckoo.

After brekkie our team-leader introduced herself – seemed like a nice lady – and it turned out A is also at guides with her daughter and her daughters friend, and they were also on our team, as was the friend from school. Next stop was at the Methodist church for our Kick Start. T had advised me (I don’t want to say “warned” but it probably was) that there would be an element of “churchy stuff” going on and so I was prepared. I was introduced to a couple of people – an older chap who was our site coordinator and another lady who turned out to be his wife. We sat down on chairs around the room with the younger volunteers sitting on the floor. After some admin notices and some announcements we got started with the service. I found myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable and out of place. Everyone, with the exception of T and most of his friends (some youngsters seem to be able to just tune out what’s going on around them without looking rude) seemed to know each other and what was expected of them. I guess this was to be expected as they probably all attend services regularly but I felt like a fish out of water. It almost felt like I had been dropped in another country and my brief was to try and blend in without giving away my true identity. I’ve felt like this once or twice before when I’ve been to Catholic services with K’s family and have known none of the hymns and none of the responses. One such occasion was the christening of one of our nieces and I was godmother. I didn’t know how to reply to the questions. They just assumed I’d know. Oops.

The session involved lots of participation and talking in groups (shudder); some singing (words on a screen – great, but no clue as to the tune); and then – my worse nightmare – physical contact with strangers (hands on the shoulders of the people next to you). I’m sure if you’re used to it it’s perfectly lovely and, of course, the people next to you aren’t strangers that you’ve only just been introduced to, they’re people you’ve known for some time and who you’ve worshipped with on numerous occasions or maybe just once or twice. Please don’t get me wrong, this is entirely my issue and this isn’t meant to be in any way critical of the baptists and the way they do things. I just don’t think I’m cut out for any sort of organised religion.

The session ended with a sermon by one of the volunteers. He was brilliant. He asked what love means, after reading an excerpt (is that the correct terminology? Passage? Quotation?) from the bible that gets read a lot at weddings. It was very thought provoking and I really enjoyed it. He was humorous, very down to earth and rather entertaining. If going to a service involved just listening to him I’d probably go!

Our day properly began for me when we got to the house we would be working at for the day. It belongs to an elderly couple who have health issues (his long term, hers more recent) which stop them from doing the more labour intensive jobs in their beautiful garden. We dug flower beds, cut back bushes, painted their shed, cleared paths and shovelled dirt. It was a real team effort and the girls worked as hard as any of us three adults. We had a nice lunch at the church hall and I sat chatting to a couple of mums I know from school. The afternoon had a couple of awkward moments: more physical contact with a stranger when a couple from the church came to gee us up and tell us how well we were doing. “Can I give you a hug?” the lady asked. I guess I could have said “no” but how rude would that have looked?; and a prayer session with the couple we were helping. I was kind of impressed that the other adult team members were able to come up with these words of prayer off the cuff like that, but I just didn’t feel I should be there. I have to admit to a few goosebumps when the lady of the house (that sounds far posher than I intend) got a bit choked up when she explained how much we were helping them.

Our day ended as the others headed back to the hall for dinner. We had plans to out for dinner en famille (a point T had forgotten until I rang him just as he was tucking in to a plate of spag bol!) so we didn’t return with them.

I got quite a lot out of the day: sore muscles and an aching back; a sense of achievement and pleasure knowing we’d done a good job; pride in my daughter and son for working so hard. I also confirmed that I am a bit cocooned in my personal space and wonder if perhaps I need to let go a little bit? I enjoyed the sermon in the morning and think it will stay with me for a while. But mainly I confirmed that I am not a church person. I have no issue with anyone who gains comfort, joy, pleasure or love from going to church. It just isn’t for me. I have my beliefs and faith in something bigger than me but I think I need to keep them cocooned up with me in my personal space. We’re quite happy there.

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Update: reading this back I feel a little embarrassed that it’s all a bit me, me, me. The spirit of the day and the sermon in the morning was really about doing stuff for other people and not expecting anything back. Oops. As T would say “Epic fail, mum. Epic fail.”

Hero

My dad is fab. Even when I was a teenager I generally thought he was pretty awesome (not the day I slammed my bedroom door and pulled it off its hinges after he’d annoyed me, or when he wound me up when it was the wrong time of the month, or when he asked me to wash up, but generally). Not in a daddy’s girl kind of way and not in a spending loads of quality time together way, just in a pretty cool, always dropping me off at places or picking me up, or both, kind of way. He wasn’t overly protective, but he cared enough to give up his time to make sure I was safe. We weren’t always chatting, but I’ve always felt like he is interested in me and would do pretty much anything for me. 

When I was little I would try and snuggle up to him and although he’s not the most outwardly affectionate person (I guess most men of his generation aren’t) he would always let me. It normally ended up with him pretending to get me into a headlock or a knee death-grip or with me giving him Chinese burns or twisting his arm hair into “plaits” but it was always in good humour and only very occasionally ended in tears (mine. I would always    – in his words – be overtired, the only possible reason for the tears). We’ve always teased each other and had stupid names for each other. He’s the one person who I can absolutely guarantee will make me smile and who I can always rely on to cheer me up. He can be grumpy, he can be unreasonable; he drives my mum mad when he won’t wear his hearing aid; but he’s laid back (until he’s pushed too far) and he’s happy to put himself out for people. 

Interestingly, K is quite like him in lots of ways and I know it’s a cliche to say I’ve married a man just like my father but I actually think I have. 

I’ve inherited some of his less admirable qualities – impatience, not suffering fools gladly, not liking to be made to feel stupid (no one likes that but we really take it seriously), long memories when we are wronged, fidgety, irritable when we’re tired. 

What I hadn’t realised was how much my daughter was going to love my dad. T has always had a good relationship with Dad – first grandchild, we spent quite a bit of time with M&D when he was a baby and I was a fruitcake. Dad calls him Spider (the silly names still going on a generation later) and T loves chatting to him about technology, in particular the iPad that they both love, and school and stuff. But A, well she just adores him. Properly adores him. When she was in reception she was asked to draw pictures and write about someone important to her. Me? No, I’m necessary, not important. K? No, she loves him too but he’s just her dad. Grandad. Grandad was her favourite person and nearly six years later he still is. We were talking the other day and she said “Grandad’s my hero”. She didn’t expand, she didn’t need to. Not to me. 

Today, we popped round to see them while T was busy with the Noise project. She sat on Grandad’s lap – well sprawled over him really – and snuggled up. And then the nose pulling started and the blowing raspberries (her, not him) so he retaliated and tickled. It was like watching a prettier version of my younger self with an older version of my younger dad. And it was beautiful. Grandad and his little Chicken. 

  
 (Picture not recent but a favourite). 

Happiness in a box and in a text, but not on a shoe.

It was a big day today for my lovely Miss T. It was the day of the court hearing to ascertain if Little Miss would be staying with her permanently or…………….or not. The alternative does not bear thinking about and I have refused to contemplate it. It was scheduled for 2pm and I wasn’t expecting any news until later this evening. But a text arrived around 2pm saying that it was all settled and Little Miss is now officially lovely Miss T’s daughter. To say I am happy for them both is a ridiculous understatement. Simply can’t be happier news. Ever. So many fantastic years ahead of watching her grow up to be as amazing as her mum. Bring it on.

A fellow stationary-lover friend of mine recently put me on to a website that makes all sorts of lovely, lovely stationary type things. I am in heaven every time I take a look. Then she told me that they have a club. Yes, a club for stationary-lovers. For around £10 you can order a “Happy Paper Club” box, which is posted out at the end of the month. You can do this every month if you like or just when you feel like it. On a whim (who me?) I ordered one while we were on holiday and have waited very patiently (not really) for it to arrive. And today it came. Excited doesn’t come close.  It’s not just a box of stationary. There are lovely little stickers on the outside of the box and it’s contents are wrapped in tissue paper. It’s a thing of beauty. I had to almost physically restrain myself from ripping the box open and instead opened it carefully with K’s letter opener thing and then reverently unwrapped the contents. Oh how lovely it is. I have some postcards, some gift tags, a letter writing set, an inspiring motto on a card, and a beautiful notebook. Enclosed with the contents is a newsletter from the company owner, and this in itself was quite nice. It all fits in very nicely with my blog and the reason for it’s existence – trying to find happiness in little things. She talks about September being a time for a mental “new year” and reflecting on things that have gone well so far this year, and what can be improved on for the remaining 4 months of the year. Very thought provoking. And I have a lovely new notebook to write ideas down in!

paper club

I have finally managed to catch up briefly with Mrs F, who very kindly invited A round to “help” again today as she was looking after her niece and nephew. The holidays are great (up until week 5 – see yesterday’s blog) but they do rather hinder my social life and my “Jane” days. Roll on the 11th September – sounds like months away – when we can “do our thing”!

On this day of happy things, even my dear daughter treading in dog s**t and not noticing until we were 3 miles down the motorway (what’s that smell?!) cannot make me unhappy. As the motivational card in my happy box says ” the sunniest day has it’s clouds but, one must never forget, the sun is there all the time”. I’m very grateful for all my little rays of sunshine and it’s very good to know they are always there. Mwah!

The summer holidays and why I think they are too long

I always get to this point in the holidays and wish it was all over. It’s not just that the weather is particularly shocking today (it is) or that I’ve had a bad morning (I have). It’s just that there comes a point where I am ready for it to be over with.

We invariably go away mid-way through the holidays. The theory being that the first week or two will be spent having lazy mornings; relishing the alarm clock not going off; getting organised for going away; enjoying just being able to do whatever we like. Yes, I have to fit work in here and there and it takes us a few days to get used to being around each other all the time, but it’s OK because it’s the holidays. Then we go away and make the most of every minute because we’ve waited a long time for it and it won’t last forever. Then we come back and we’re all a bit fed up but it’s OK because there’s still 2 or 3 more weeks left of just being able to do what we like.

Except it doesn’t always work out like that. We live in the UK. The weather is unpredictable. Days previously spent out on bikes with friends or in the woods with grandparents can sometimes involve finding things to do INDOORS. With a mum who has to work. From home. So she seems available to “just look at this” or “do this with me?” but in reality can only break away from things for ten minutes or so. With a mum who really doesn’t mind arty crafty things (she does deep down) if they can be done outside. Not inside where she has managed to get things almost tidy over the weekend so that when she is working she doesn’t have a nagging voice telling her the place is a tip.

It’s at this stage that the children start displaying signs of needing some routine; of needing some focus and some discipline. I don’t mean that they run wild when they are at home, I’m not Bear Grylls, but I’m not into having a set routine when they are off, especially now they are older. I don’t hear the words “I’m bored” hardly at all (if at all) during the first half of the holidays, but the closer it gets to the last two weeks it starts to raise it’s ugly little head. And the nagging starts. And the bickering (there’s always an element of that but this is up another notch). But what I hate the most is that I become “that mum”. The one that gets cross and says sentences involving phrases like “be grateful”, “you don’t know how lucky you are” and “have to work so we can have nice holidays”, all the while thinking how lovely they actually are and how totally not spoilt or ungrateful.

Even when the weather isn’t monsoon-like, the shine always definitely goes out by this point. I had a notification from Facebook this morning with “memories from years gone by”, or some such b*****ks, and there, in black and white, was proof that this isn’t just me having the Miserable Mondays. From 2008 my status read “is wondering how the first 4 weeks flew by with very little trouble yet the last 10 days seem like they are going to be very, very difficult……”. See, even 7 years ago it was the same story. Week 4 over, holidays should be too.

How about just cutting them short by one week? Just one week. Then first 4 weeks can be lovely and the final week can be school uniform hell and getting organised for going back. Then have that spare week at May half term? It’s often lovely weather for May half term so people could make the most of it and still have 5 weeks in the summer. Why do we have to suffer the torture of week 6? Week 5 wouldn’t be so bad any more as it would be THE LAST WEEK, and we can smile through when it’s only ONE MORE WEEK.

I know we could organise our holiday differently. Go away in weeks 4 and 5, but we tried that and it was too long to wait. Too many weeks at the beginning; too long to start saying “X more sleeps”; saving spare cash for the holiday proper rather than on activities to keep them amused early on. Maybe we could split the time away? A week around week 2 another around week 4. But we quite like the 2 weeks off in one go (now that we have discovered the beauty of the 2 venue holiday – it’s not as flash as it sounds. You know we went to Devon, right? Not Florida) and it’s harder to negotiate the time off work when it’s all in dribs and drabs. So, changing the holiday around isn’t the answer either.

Change my job maybe? Work in a school, perhaps? Childmind term-time only? There’s a reason why I was a “stay at home mum” for so long – I didn’t want to be a TA. I volunteered for a while when the kids were smaller and I hated it. Ditto childminding. I love my kids –  I don’t love snot or crying children. Especially when they are not mine. Admin role in a school? Maybe. But then I won’t have the flexibility of being at home when they are ill; I won’t be able to nip out when I need to; I won’t be able to grab a cuppa with a friend. None of which are essential and people manage perfectly well with full-time jobs and don’t whinge about it (some do, but there’s always one), but I like the way my job fits in with us and not the other way around. So, that’s not the answer either.

Be more organised with activities? Tried that. A ended up at a dance session with 20 Year 2’s and younger. Not impressed. T wants to be able to come and go with his mates, with the occasional trip to the swimming pool. I know it will be easier (I hope to God) when A is at senior school and (I hope to God) has lots of lovely new friends to go out with. I will probably be moaning that I am constantly running her around. I hope so.

But, for now, please can we ditch the last week? Just one week? Five little days actually. Not much to ask.

Oh, and October half term too?

Hello again

Hello again to you, Monday. How did you get here so soon? I was happily enjoying Saturday and Sunday but then you came along and somehow it’s all over. Is this the way it’s going to be from now on? 

And Sleep. I need to have a word with you too. I don’t know why but at weekends I don’t seem able to keep you around much past 7 am but when you meet up with Monday you don’t seem to want to go. Do you get on well with Monday but not with Saturday or Sunday? It would be great if you could sort out your differences with them and stick around a bit longer at the weekend. It doesn’t really help me deal with Monday when I wake up late and fuzzy headed. 

Oh yes, and Weather?! What are you playing at? How is this helping me and Monday work at this “friends” thing? You messed up the family walk to Flamstead yesterday morning and made Saturday the hottest day for weeks when you knew I was going to be at Nan’s all day. I should have thought the least you could do was stick a smile on, today of all days. Not impressed. Not impressed at all.   

Ok Monday, now you’re here I suppose I’d better get up and get on with you. Please be nice. I promise to try. 

Yours, 

Jane 

Relief 

Whan I started making a list of what the children needed to be bought before going back to school I came out in a bit of a cold sweat. I was even more worked up, when I woke up this morning, at the prospect of traipsing around Watford in an attempt to purchase all the things on my list. I’m already £50 down after buying T anew blazer and PE top from the school shop. I’d hoped that the credit card bill from the holiday would have arrived before today to give us a months grace bug no such luck. 

Off we went, list in hand, trying to be positive but with the certainty deep down that it would all go Pete Tong. 

Luckily, we’d stashed away some John Lewis vouchers so that seemed like a good place to start. Skirts and trousers for A – tick. Next stop shoes. £42 for a pair of shoes for a ten year old?! Seriously?! Unfortunately an H fitting kind of restricts where you can get these from. Thank god T’s feet seem to have lengthened and thinned out so he can get his from anywhere. Shoes – tick. 

We were now on a roll and whipped through the next 3 items on the list. Then to Rymans for stationary. Here I nearly had a meltdown. How hard can it be to chose a handwriting pen?! And then K started comparing pads of lined paper to find the best value for money. Time for refreshments. Sadly it doesn’t seem to be the done thing to order a vodka and tonic at eleven thirty in John Lewis cafe. They’re missing a trick frankly. 

All done by 1 o’clock. Can’t even think about how much was spent. Less than I anticipated after the bonus of £12 shoes for T in Primark (he went through three pairs of shoes last school year so we refused to pay more than thirty quid). He may not be able to walk by Christmas but as K’s mum would say “that’ll learn him”. 

Home for lunch and relief to see that my secret source was right and there was a removal van in the close. Relief that the awkwardness of the last two years will hopefully be at an end. Relief that I can have my blinds open; and leave my house without worrying about unpleasant confrontations; walk to school with A completely at ease. You get the picture.

More relief to see the visa bill on the mat. Another month til the spoils of the morning have to be paid for. 

So, the wine has been opened (actually a large bottle of Prosecco that we have been saving for a special occasion), a yummy dinner of our favourite fajitas and I’m ready for a lovely weekend. 

Friday. Relief. And breathe. 

Dens and drinks 

We spent the afternoon at G&G’s today. The “have laptop, will travel” motto still going strong. Grandad was in full wind-up mode today and not long after we arrived he was in full flow. “Why are you wearing your slippers?” he asked me. I was wearing perfectly normal shoes. Hilarious. It went downhill from there. The icing on the cake was hearing A complaining “leave my hair alone” several times; I muttered to mum that T had been annoying her all morning and was obviously carrying it on at their house. She replied that “I think it’s your father”. It was. 

We went out for a walk over at Nomansland which we always enjoy. I loved it over there as a child and it’s still a lovely place to walk. T began dismantling a den and rebuilding it as an A-frame shelter, the way he’d been taught at scouts. It didn’t take long for G&G to be co-opted into helping out. I think they had as much fun as he did. 

A had started making a “book” at grandmas, and when we got home she asked to use the computer to look up “inspirational quotes”. She found some rather nice ones (not too cheesy) and has printed them off and stuck them into her book. My favourite was telling the reader to remember that they are unique: there is no one else like them in the world; to never forget how special they are. She added her own one in, my nans motto “You never win by giving in”. 

A fine example of this is my lovely middle niece on K’s side of the family. She has (like many other 16 year olds) found out her GCSE results and has achieved the needed grades to do the course she wants to do at college. She’s never been as academic as her sisters but pulled out all the stops to make sure she could do the course, which she’s had her heart set on. Superstar. 

This evening I have been out for an impromptu drink with Mrs L. She rather greedily has had two holidays this summer and is due to go off for a third – yes a THIRD! – next week so our windows of opportunity to catch up were limited to say the least. It was a lovely evening. I’m not one for last minute outings but this was just the perfect way to end the day.