Monthly Archives: November 2017

Winter Mode

Nearly two weeks since my last blog post (that sounds dangerously like a confession) so my plan to write about happy things has not really worked out. That’s not to say that I have been unhappy for the last fortnight; I have certainly not been unhappy, but I have probably been too busy to notice the happy things enough to blog about them. Things I do remember being happy include: Book Club night (that’s always a happy time); getting my hair colour done*; I’ve had two days off with all the family off together.

It’s been a busy time and I have been feeling the effects.  T started his mock GCSE exams last Monday and they finish tomorrow. He hasn’t been too stressed, as I’ve said before, he doesn’t really do stressed. I have been a bit tetchy, wondering if I am doing enough as a parent to support him through this time: I have made sure he has food to eat and an ear to talk to if he needs it and have encouraged (I suspect nagged, but I have been trying not to as that’s a sure fire way of ensuring he doesn’t do anything) him to revise at every opportunity. I’ve also made sure he has down time to chill out and relax. His last exam finishes at 10.30am tomorrow and then he can relax a bit. Until the revision starts ramping up again, with no let up until May next year.

I saw a friend last week and she noticed I was a bit quiet and as we parted she told me to be kind to myself. It was such a lovely thing to say that it made me stop and think. I haven’t been very kind to myself of late. I have been eating badly, not exercising at all and I have felt myself going into hibernation. I don’t like going out in the dark. I don’t like the dark evenings. I try and make things cosy, but then I don’t want to DO anything.

Despite her words, I am still not eating brilliantly (I have had a bit more fruit but my stomach always goes into mutiny mode when I get back on the fruit and starts to bother me – not a great incentive to eat well) and I haven’t exercised. But I have booked a last minute spa day with my lovely Mrs F and we go tomorrow. I can’t wait. It’s an excuse to switch off from the world, no phone, handing over the reins of being the “emergency contact” to K for the day and just laying around reading, chatting and eating (relatively healthy) food. There is a downside to this day of indulgence – I need to get my body out of ‘winter mode’. I have to rid my legs of the layer of fuzz that I like to cultivate over winter, I need to paint my toenails and, the biggest horror of all, I have to bear my skin to the world (well, the other layabouts at Champneys) in a swimming costume. This does not feel like being kind to myself but I know that after a day with Mrs F doing nothing (other people like to do exercise classes, use the gym, swim 50 lengths – not us) I will be feeling tip-top and my fuzz free legs and lovely pretty toes will be the icing on the cake.

With 4 weeks to go until Christmas there is a danger of going into Panic Mode. I have to confess that I do have lists on the go. I managed to go List-less in the summer but I don’t think I would be able to manage the festive period without a few lists. I am keeping them simple and few, but they will stop Panic Mode being invoked. I never used to get overly excited by Christmas. It seemed a lot of fuss for one day and a lot of build up to a day that never lived up to expectations. That’s because my expectations were always too high. I dreamed that no-one would argue, no-one would be unwell, everyone would love every single gift they were given, every toy would work and it would be The Best Christmas Ever. In recent years my expectations have been more realistic and I have been able to relax more and enjoy it for what it is. A time of trying to fit everyone in, of trying not to get swept along with it all and end up spending way too much money on stuff that no-one really needs.

I have a couple of traditions: I like to buy a new board game each year for us to play over the festive period and the kids get new PJ’s on Christmas Eve; I buy a piece of gammon that I cook on Christmas Eve – because Mum always did when we were kids; I have certain decorations that I have to put up and I like to buy a new one each year and mark it with the date. I don’t normally like to put the tree and decorations up too early – a fortnight before The Big Day at the earliest. This year I am feeling ready to get into the spirit of it as soon as possible – but worry that I will be over it by the 10th December, so I am holding off. We have a busy couple of weekends coming up so I won’t have much opportunity anyway – it takes time and can’t be rushed. My favourite meme (not sure that is the right word) to do with Christmas decorating reads “I’m sorry my OCD made decorating the tree together a horrible experience”. This sums up tree decorating in our house. Other people can pass me the decorations and suggest places but I have overall control. And I rearrange it several times over the ensuing days and weeks. It’s not nice, it’s not fun for anyone else, but I can’t help it. Maybe this year I will try. Maybe.

I am quite excited by the start of Advent tomorrow. Not for any religious reason – I just like the countdown. This year I have bought a new advent calendar. We used to have those perpetual ones that have pockets on them to put chocolates in, but my kids are far too grown up for that (apparently). So, I have a lovely new wooden one and I have a new advent candle (another tradition of recent years) and I have bought a big box of chocolates (because although they are too grown up for the advent calendars, of course they still want chocolates) – ones that we all like and coincidentally come with 24 in a box, which I have numbered for each day of Advent (six each!). We will light the candle each evening and whoever’s turn it is can eat their chocolate and move the marker along on the advent calendar. I don’t know if anyone else will find it as lovely as I do but that’s fine by me.

advent

 

* I’ve had my ‘winter colour’ done. I haven’t had it done for a couple of years so it has come as bit of a shock. A has said a few times “will it lighten up as you wash it?” which leads me to think she is not too keen and as my chief stylist I am a little concerned (she did say it’s brings out the colour in my eyes – permanently red!) But, I’ve had some kind comments and even my two bosses noticed and muttered that it looks nice so maybe it’s not too bad.

 

 

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Family history

What a Friday I’ve had! Fridays are generally always brilliant but this one was super special. I have spent the day with my lovely cousin S. She’s really my second cousin – our dads are cousins; her grandma and my grandad were siblings. She lives down in Surrey and before this summer I’d only seen her a handful of times in the last two decades – at her wedding, at funerals and a couple of family gatherings. It’s one of those situations where because we’ve only ever met up via Family Events we’ve never thought of meeting up alone. This summer she got on a train and came up to St Albans and we spent the day together. Her dad is ten years older than my dad but he spent most of his childhood, up to his teens, living in St Albans so they share a history of more than just being cousins and consequently the city means something to both of us.

The visit in the summer was more about us catching up and getting to know each other a bit better – we are related and we send each other Christmas cards and think the world of each other but we needed to spend some time reconnecting. And it was lovely and I felt like we’d seen each other only a week before. She’s funny and kind and caring and lovely. We’ve got lots in common and we laughed a lot – a family trait – her grandad was always laughing and made everyone around him laugh too. He used to tease my dad, even when my dad was well into middle age, that the milkman was his real father!

Today she came up again (I’d offered to head down her way but she insisted that St Albans is far nicer than anywhere near her, so could she please come up again?) and we’ve had a magical family history mystery tour.

We’d both grilled our dads for the lowdown on places of significance and I came up with a plan. I picked her up from the station just before 11am and we headed off. Our first stop (well, drive-by as there was nowhere to stop) was the building that used to be the school where her grandma went as a young girl, in Catherine Street, now the Jubilee Centre. My grandma used to go there in later years for company – a sort of day centre for elderly people. Then we drove on to the school that her dad and my aunt attended, now Garden Fields school but formerly Townsend.

Next stop, and we did stop, was the house in Marshalswick that her Dad lived in as a boy before the family moved to Surrey when he was a teenager. My dad just about remembers them living there but he was only 5 when they moved away so it’s only a very vague memory.

From there we drove to my dads childhood home in Marshall Avenue where he was born. S’s Dad and grandparents lived there with my grandparents and Auntie for a while during WW2 and my dad was born during this time. Her dad remembers the midwife coming to help deliver my dad and thinking that he must be in the big black bag that the midwife had with her! She chucked the bag down on the floor and he was worried that the baby would be hurt. My dad was a tiddler, weighing just over two pounds, which in those days (with no incubators or special care baby units) would have been a big cause for concern, could easily have fit in the bag so he could be forgiven for his mistake!

We got parked up at the Verulamium museum car park and headed off for a coffee at the Inn on the Park. The place was packed with mums and toddlers so not a great choice for a chat but the coffee was hot and we didn’t plan to be there long – we had more places to visit!

Now on foot we headed round St Michael’s to Portland Street where our grandparents lived as children. I’ve never been up there (as far as I know) and S definitely hadn’t so we were quite excited to see the house- until we realised we weren’t quite sure which number it was! A quick call to my mum confirmed we were outside the right house. The houses can’t have changed much since the early 1900’s and our house (as I now think of it!) still had an old boot scraper outside and we gave the handrail a little stroke in the hope it was the original (you never know). We were both amazed at how such a big family had managed to all fit in such a small – two up two down – house. And we complain about not having enough room. Lightweights.

By this time the pub was calling us so we stopped for lunch. As the Verulam Arms (where S’s grandad liked to drink) is now a Forager food pub we opted for a more traditional lunch in The Six Bells, as recommended by my parents. And very nice it was too.

Properly refuelled and after much more chat and laughter we set off again on foot to the Gorhambury Estate where S’s grandad worked as an apprentice gardener when he first come up to St Albans in his late teens. It was during this time that he met my great aunt, S’s grandma, and the rest, as they say, is history.

S and I both feel so strongly that our family history mustn’t be forgotten. Her dad didn’t have siblings and she is an only child. I am lucky to have my brother and our cousin P, and we need to all make sure we keep the family bond going strong. We’ve got shared history passed down from our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and we’ll make our own history going forward. A truly special day, with many more to come.

Our grandparents’ home in Portland Street.

Creature of Habit

Me and spontaneity are not regular companions. I’m very much a routine-loving, plan-ahead kind of person. I’m not inflexible, I can go with the flow from time to time and I am not averse to a last minute outing but I prefer to know about plans in advance, timings, etc. I like to know where I stand. It all goes back to the not liking rushing thing. I don’t like being late and I don’t like having to rush to get there on time. Also, I LIKE organising and being organised. It makes me feel in control.

I plan ahead for meals; I listen to the same radio station every day (my short foray into Smooth was just that – very short) or listen to the same albums and playlists over and over again; I wear the same clothes time and time again; I try and do the washing on the same days each week; I do the shopping on the same day each week; I pick up the kids on the same days every week; I go into the office on set days. It’s all very planned and habitual. And probably a bit boring. Some of it I can’t change – it would be pretty inconvenient to change the school pick ups with my car share friend from day to day; it would not be beneficial for people to run out of clean pants because I didn’t do any washing for 2 weeks – but other things I can work on.

As with List-less I think I need to change things up a bit. Stop following the same rules that I have made for myself and maybe make things a bit more interesting. Change my mindset and see what happens.

When I first started working again I took full advantage of the flexibility of my working day – as in, there are no fixed hours of work, just get the 8 hours done each day or make it up later in the week, whatever – and would sometimes take a few hours out in the afternoon to do something with the kids and then carry on with work later in the evening. For the last couple of years, since the kids have needed me less, I have fallen into a habit of starting around 8.30am/9am and finishing around 5.30pm/6pm. I have to take time out every other day for the school pickup and I do allow myself a short break for lunch now and again and the odd coffee with a friend (much rarer than I make it seem – at most once a month) but I am pretty conscientious really and make sure I do the hours expected. But I’ve fallen into a pattern again and I’m finding myself clock-watching when it gets to late afternoon. Maybe I should think about taking a break at that point and come back to it later in the evening. I could go out for a walk or sit and read a book, or get ahead of the game and prep some stuff for dinner.

It does worry me a bit that my lack of spontaneity may affect the kids social lives. I’ve had in my mind that we need to have A’s friend over for tea, or a sleepover, or probably both, for a few weeks now*. I’ve mentioned before that A gets asked to go to things with them A LOT and we are not good at reciprocating. They are a very spontaneous family and often ask her to things at the last minute, which she loves. I always feel like I’m a bit of a let-down in comparison. The truth is, we’re just not that exciting. We don’t just nip off to fun places or pop out for dinner randomly on a Friday night (or if we do it’s a very rare event). T is often invited to go to friends houses for dinner or to ‘hang out’ for the evening or to stay over. It never occurs to me to see if he wants people to come here. I am more than happy for them to have friends round but I never seem to make the suggestion. It wasn’t something we did as kids – I remember going to tea with friends, but not frequently and, because we lived further away from school and mum didn’t drive, it wasn’t easy to arrange for friends to come to ours. Maybe it’s a habit thing. Maybe, as well as dropping some habits, I need to make some new ones. (When we have the extension built it will be easier for them to have friends round, whereas at the moment they would have to be sat up in their bedrooms  – not great for A as her room is tiny – or K and I  would be forced out of the lounge into the kitchen. A lot is riding on this extension!)

I think part of my resistance to spontaneity is the not being in control part. I am a self-confessed control freak and although I have been trying hard to loosen my grip on certain things (cooking, decision making) it’s a long-ingrained habit to break. I worry what will happen if I’m not in control, if I step away from the helm and wait for someone else to take over. Will they? The candidates are not strong or many and I am not filled with confidence. Conversely, I do get a bit fed up of no-one else suggesting outings or ‘doing something’ and when I say “someone else” I obviously mean K – I can’t really expect the kids to whisk me away somewhere. But, to be fair, when he makes suggestions I quite often put a damper on it (because it wasn’t my idea – I know, I’m evil) so I would suspect he has got fed up of asking. There is a lot of truth behind star signs and I am a true Gemini – very, very fickle.

I’ve never been very good at breaking bad habits: I still pick at my fingers; I still eat too much chocolate; I still find it hard to say no (but I am working on that one) and I still feel guilty about nearly everything. But new habits are even harder to make. They say you have to do something for 60 consecutive days to make a habit. I think I manage 2 days of a healthy diet at most before I cave. I rarely manage to get past week 1 of a new exercise regime. Chocolate anyone? It’s not looking good for this creature to kick off her habits and make new ones. Small changes, perhaps? A new playlist. Wear some of the other clothes that are hanging in my wardrobe wondering why they are never worn (I know they don’t really have thoughts, I’m not mad). A break in the afternoon sometimes. Who knows where this could all lead?

 

*since writing this I have texted A’s friend’s mum and arranged a sleepover for this Saturday – yes, this Saturday – in 2 days time. Get me, being all spontaneous.

Time flies when….

……you’re having fun or so the old saying goes. That would explain why last week dragged by at the speed of, well, a very slow thing.

I’m struggling to find anything enjoyable about my job at the moment. I know it’s the time of year. I know I get like this every winter. I know I will snap out of it. But while I am IN IT I can’t get out of it.

Mondays are OK as they are my busy day catching up on the emails from the miserable buggers who buy from us our customers from over the weekend. I don’t mind Mondays from that point of view – I mean I HATE Mondays in general, in that sinking-feeling-on-a-Sunday-night kind of way – and so Mondays can be let off the hook, for now. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the worst. Less busy, working from home and not in the office, almost wishing for a batch of orders to go missing just so I have something to get my teeth into. I struggle to be motivated. Mainly because my job is very reactive. I have other stuff that I can do when the email accounts are quiet but it’s pretty mundane,  stuff. So, most of the time I am waiting for something to happen. And quite often it doesn’t. Thursdays are my equivalent to other people’s Fridays. I can smell the weekend with my extra lovely day, Friday day off, loveliest day of the week. On Thursdays I can just about keep going, knowing Friday is nearly here.

I am lucky with my job really. I can work from home. I can be here when the kids are sick, I can be here when the boiler needs servicing (NOT a euphemism, do you even know me at all?), I am able to keep on top of the washing and have the odd coffee break with a friend. I also have to keep on top of the washing, be here when the boiler is serviced, do all the things that I used to do before I went back into the working world, because no-one else is going to do it. Double edged sword, huh?

I always get to this time of year and start wishing I could do something else. I have no idea what and that, I imagine, is the biggest hurdle of all. I have always envied people who know what they want to do. I’m really glad that both my kids seem to have a strong idea already of what they want to do when they leave school. I have always felt a bit unfocused, falling into jobs that just seem to have been the right thing at the time. I never stayed in one job for more than two years and I’ve never had a speciality. I don’t have any real skills other than being quite methodical, quick to pick things up and not easily panicked. Oh, and I quite like a spreadsheet. Try sticking that in a career algorithm and see what you get.

I think that’s part of the problem now. I’d like to have got to 45 and be doing the job of my dreams. Trouble is I’ve never had that dream. My dreams mainly consist of things I need to do; sometimes in my dreams I have forgotten something important and I am rushing around to get it done. How can you get your dream job if you don’t know what it is? I can’t get through the next 15-20 year ticking off a list of things I definitely know I DON’T want to do in the hope that I will get to the end of the list and – TA-DAH! – discover I want to be a rocket scientist. Hmm, no that won’t work. I think I need a different plan.

In the absence of any inspiration, I will plod on, feeling a bit fed up, until spring when I always feel more positive about EVERYTHING. It’s not long now, is it?

 

 

 

 

Bittersweet

I went to visit my Nan with T & A on Saturday. We haven’t seen her for a few months and I wanted to see her before our Christmas visit as that would have been too long to wait. K didn’t come with us as he was up in Birmingham for a friends 50th birthday (more on that later). There is no getting away from the fact that my Nan has aged. I had a bit of a ‘moment’ late last year when I hadn’t seen her for quite some time and I wrote about it in Growing up is hard In the last few weeks there has been talk about her going into a home where she would have round the clock care. There are many pros to this idea: my mum and my aunt won’t have the huge responsibility of looking after her (cleaning, washing, cooking, sorting out finances – the list goes on); they will be able to visit her and actually spend time with her rather than spending all their time doing chores; we will all have less worry about her being in her flat alone with only a neighbour and her lifeline (a button she can press to connect her to a care service) to hand if she feels unwell; less worry about her falling and being unable to call someone – just less worry generally. The cons are that we will have to sort out all her belongings and reduce them down to a size that she can take with her. She has a LOT of stuff and to her it’s all important and all needs to “go to a good home”. She will have to leave her home of 50+ years and her life will change. At nearly 97 who wants that? Of course she doesn’t want the upheaval and the uncertainty of what life will be like. Ideally, in her head, she wants to see her days out in her flat and remain the master of her ship, a ship she has been in charge of for 50+ years until the last 6 years or so when things started to get harder. She is resistant and then, alternately, resigned to the idea. When I saw her on Saturday she asked me if she looked old. I told her she was beautiful. Because she is. I wish with all my heart that I could wind the clock back for her to a time when she was still be able to do everything for herself, that she didn’t need carers, that she didn’t need my mum and Aunt to do all that they do for her.  I’ve not really been able to stop thinking about her since I saw her and I know my mum and Aunt feel caught between a rock and a hard place – no-one wants to force her to go into a home against her wishes, no-one wants her to be upset or sad BUT the situation is becoming almost impossible. She seemed to be in the ‘resigned’ camp of thought when I saw her (this can change daily, today she is probably adamant that she is going nowhere) and said that it’s all down to the social worker’s report and the decision of the care panel. We will have to see what they say and hope that she accepts it. It’s always lovely to see her but I always leave with a certain sadness.

As I mentioned earlier, K went up to Birmingham for a friends birthday. They were going go-karting and out for a meal and drinks afterwards. He decided to stay overnight as he doesn’t see them that often and wanted to be able to have a couple of drinks. I hate it when he is away, I don’t sleep properly and I miss him. Sad, but true. However, he doesn’t go very often and other than work-related evenings or socialising now and again with our friends he doesn’t get much downtime apart from with me, poor man. When he moved down here and we moved in together he would go up now and again but then we got married, as did many of his friends, and then we had T. It all happened quite quickly and I have to admit that I didn’t make it easy for him to go back up after we had T. I couldn’t cope well on my own and felt that I needed him around all the time. He was great and never complained, but he sort of fell out of the habit of going back up and seeing his friends. When he got home yesterday he was really full of beans and chatty and he’d clearly had a good time. He was knackered but he’d enjoyed himself immensely. He sat and chatted to T about the go-karting (they had been to a local one recently so were comparing notes) and about some funny incidents in a bar. We went out for dinner and he was chatty all night and relaxed and it was lovely It made me realise how much he must have missed seeing them. I have to take some of the blame – I didn’t make it easy for him in years gone by and he knows I don’t like him being away so he tries not to be. I’ve told him he must go more often. No, I won’t sleep but, big deal, I don’t sleep well when he IS here! I love seeing my friends and I can see them whenever I want to. They make me happy, they know me as someone other than a wife or a mum. He must feel the same when he is with his friends – they’ve known each other since secondary school and they have history – they don’t know him as Dad or husband or colleague. To them he is just K and that must be great. I am determined to get him to go up at least once every couple of months as we will all reap the benefits if he comes back as happy as he was yesterday.

 

Christmas, poppies and fireworks – in that order

I’ve had a busy day today but because it’s Friday it’s been a good busy.

I’ve been out to the shops with Mrs F and I’ve added to my stash of Christmas presents for the children’s stockings (and one for K’s). I LOVE buying stocking presents almost more than the other presents. Stocking presents are small and fun and lovely to buy – harder for T, dead easy for A and not too bad for K. I like squirrelling them away (after I’ve written them in my Xmas book – anyone who knows me should not be in any way surprised at this) and imagining peoples faces when they open them. A good mornings work.

This evening I’ve accompanied Mrs Lovely to the kids old school in our village to man the Poppy stall at the annual firework night. Mrs Lovely did it singlehanded last year as no one was able to assist but this year I had the pleasure of joining her. And it was a pleasure. Seeing young children, older children, parents and grandparents donating for poppies, wristbands and other merchandise was brilliant. And as an added bonus I got to spend the two hours with Mrs Lovely. She’s great company and we always laugh a lot. We even had chance to see the firework display. I love fireworks but really only at organised displays – they scare me when done in back gardens! The display was brilliant! For a small village school it’s always a great show and this year was the best yet.

I’m knackered now, sitting with a G&T. A happy day.

“That’s very nearly an armful”

I gave blood last week. I try and go as often as I can and it makes me feel good about myself for a few minutes. I don’t mind the process – I’m not bothered by needles and I’m a “quick bleeder”* so it doesn’t take long and then I’m off back to my day to day life. I don’t really give it much more thought other than the fleeting feeling of doing a good deed. But I received a text yesterday telling me thanks and that my donation had been sent to the Queen Hospital in Romford. I had a similar text last time I donated and I sceptically thought it would be just randomly sent, that they couldn’t possibly track my donation and then tell me about it. It seems I was wrong and I should not be such a doubter. What a great feeling.

* I also have very shy veins so although it can take ages for them to get me started, I don’t take long once it’s underway. Not sure how helpful being a “quick bleeder” or having “shy veins” would be in the event of an injury to myself but let’s focus on the positives.

Title courtesy of the brilliant Tony Hancock in The Blood Donor. If you’ve never seen this classic sketch you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEUvyaNu0uw