Warmth

Day 5 of my countdown to Christmas and I am thinking about how lucky I am to be warm. Stormy weather is forecast for today which, with the recent drop in temperature, makes it a day best spent hibernating. I am sitting at my desk, wrapped in a duvet, a warm cup of coffee by my side. I feel cosy and content.

My preparations for Christmas are starting to take shape. I do just about all of my shopping on line these days so have been browsing the internet and placing orders each evening. The interesting looking parcels and boxes are starting to arrive and the items on my ‘to do’ lists are gradually being ticked off.

I realise, of course, how lucky I am. We have never been a family that has gone overboard with gift buying, but I know that there are many people who would struggle to afford the presents that we exchange. We are blessed in so many ways with our health, each other and the comforts we enjoy. I am thankful for all of this.

I pulled a new book from my shelves this morning as I felt I was ready to immerse myself in another world. After reading a good book I require recovery time so do not always have one on the go. An ending, no matter how satisfactory, forces me to set aside the characters whose lives I have become involved with. Sometimes it can be a regretful goodbye as I do not wish to leave their world. A good book is so precious and powerful.

The book I selected this morning has turned out to be an excellent choice for where I currently am in my life. It was recommended to me by a Facebook friend who I have also met in person on a couple of occasions. I believe that I would enjoy getting to know her better should the opportunity arise so her recommendation was of interest.

The book is ‘Human Traces’ by Sebastian Faulks. I have had mixed experiences with this author. I would highly recommend ‘Birdsong’ to anyone, it is a rare and brilliantly written book. I also thought ‘Engleby’ was excellent, so powerful and thought provoking. ‘Charlotte Grey’ disappointed me though as I found it weak compared to his other tales. As Engleby proved, I do not need to like the protagonist, but Charlotte Grey’s behaviour did not strike me as consistent; for a supposedly clever woman she behaved foolishly. ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ was entertaining but lacked depth. It was not a bad book, worth reading, but not as good as some of his others.

I had bought ‘Human Traces’ when it was recommended but knew nothing about the plot until I picked it up today. It turns out to be about two psychiatrists, which is apt and interesting to me, particularly at this time. I am currently in week five of a six week, distance learning psychology course offered by the University of Warwick. Naturally I am interested in the subject matter or I would not have signed up but, even so, the course has exceeded my expectations.

I enjoy being made to think and the videoed lectures, interviews and reading matter certainly generate plenty of new thoughts. They have introduced me to concepts and ideas about how the human mind functions and how we, as humans, cope with and react to life’s variety of situations. I hope that my recent learning will enhance my enjoyment of a book that explores this subject when it was in it’s infancy as far as the medical establishment was concerned. From his previous books I deduce that Sebastian Faulks carefully researches his subject matter before spinning a readable and sometimes demanding tale around it. I have high hopes that I will enjoy this one.

As part of my course I have been doing a lot of thinking about myself and those I know. Not the introspective naval gazing that can be selfishly destructive and judgemental, but a more dispassionate appraisal of behaviour and why we act as we do. A six week, part time course with a little additional reading is only ever going to offer a taster for such a complex subject, but a little learning can be enough to stretch the mind. I may feel better in myself after physical exercise, but I do enjoy exercising my mind rather more.

The strong winds outside are doing their best to blow the last of the leaves from the trees, and into my garden that I so carefully raked and cleared of debris earlier in the week. I will not be venturing out today though, other than to care for my hens. Rather I will curl up with my book and allow myself to be cocooned in the warmth of my home. I will relish this comfort as I immerse myself in a new and hopefully captivating world.

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Teenagers

Living with older kids has a lot of benefits. Sure, for a peaceful life it is necessary to tiptoe around the easily offended feelings of volatile teenagers. A flippant remark taken the wrong way can result in a scathing comeback followed by that all too familiar, foot stomping exit from the room as the Worst Parent Ever is put firmly in their place and left to mull their inadequacies alone. Most of the time though, on a day to day basis, I have found that my life is easier.

For a start, they can travel unaccompanied. After many years of running the household with military precision to ensure that each of my three kids was fed, delivered to wherever they needed to be on time with whatever they needed for that activity, and then picked up and brought home again as required, it is a relief to be able to simply keep track of who needs to be where and when without having to leave the house. Sometimes I will still be asked to do a drop off, or to pick up one child or another, but most outings are organised by the kids themselves, including transport.

Play dates are a thing of the past. We still get plenty of friends calling round, and sometimes they stay for a meal or to sleepover, but again, it is organised without any need for my intervention. All I need to do is to make sure that we have enough pizza in the freezer and leave the TV room free for their chosen entertainment.

On a day to day basis we can now eat when it suits the adults on most nights as the myriad of late afternoon and early evening activities have been abandoned. If the kids have something organised then they can sort out their own food. Dinner time can be a respectable 7pm or later and caters for whoever happens to be home. Afterwards I can generally sit down to relax knowing that those who are out will make their own way back. I do not even need to be here when they return from school as they carry their own keys, although I do like to sit down with them at this time for a cup of tea and a catch up when I can.

I miss spending time with my kids. They retreat to their bedrooms at every opportunity, but I remember doing the same thing at their age so do not take it personally. It is rare to find an activity that all three will wish to join in with, but this does give me the opportunity to enjoy their company individually. It is easy to leave those who do not wish to take part at home alone; they have all outgrown the need for babysitters.

I still do a lot for my kids, but it is because I choose to do so, not because they are incapable. I am very aware that they need to learn how to take care of themselves as they will be preparing to live away from home all too soon. I choose my battles carefully; a messy bedroom may irritate me, but it is more important that they know how to prepare a meal for themselves.

On Day 3 of my countdown to Christmas I am therefore thinking positively about my children and how much I am enjoying watching them metamorphise from the little people I have nurtured to the grown ups they will become. It can be hard at times to adjust to no longer being at the centre of their lives, but the freedom that this has granted me can be enjoyed.

I do miss the impetuous hugs, the smiles and the little hand in mine when reassurance is required, but I am glad to have moved beyond the nappies, the tantrums and the never ending demands of the very young.

Knowing when to be there for teenagers may be a challenge, but at least for now I am still a part of their lives, even if less significant than I once was.

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Giving thanks

My American friends and acquaintances are today celebrating Thanksgiving. I do not know a great deal about the origins of this national holiday but, from the little that I have read, some of the historical details are a bit suspect. By that I mean, as I understand it, some of the things that happened way back may not be the sort of things that should be celebrated. Nevertheless, it is now a long, holiday weekend with a tradition of spending time with family to give thanks for what each has. I like the idea of that.

I like the idea of stopping what we are doing for a little while and giving thanks. I am thankful for the good health that I and my family enjoy, for our comfortable home and for my husband’s ability and willingness to work hard and thereby provide us with all the essentials and a fair few luxuries as well. I am thankful for the love, care and consideration that I experience each day from those around me. I am also thankful for my friends.

I have given my friends quite a hard time over the past couple of years. As I have backed away from so much social contact, concentrating my efforts on my writing and on line presence, my friends have not been given the time and attention that they deserve. As I have struggled with my own inner demons, I have neglected the many friends who have been there for me. I am thankful that they have put up with how I have treated them, that they have made the effort to stay in touch and meet up on the terms that I can cope with.

I love the way it is possible to have minimal contact with old friends but then, when we do manage to get together, often after many years of not seeing each other in person, our enjoyment and conversation feels so natural, as if we did this all the time. I hope that these friends know how much I treasure them.

Newer friends have been willing to schedule in time for walks with me, even when their lives are so busy, thereby allowing me the one to one social contact that I can manage. If it weren’t for these people then I would be at risk of turning into a hermit. I am thankful that they have put up with my panics and imaginings, reassuring me that it is okay for me to work through this period of my life in whatever way I need.

And then there are the friends who have surprised me with the efforts they have made to help me out. I find it hard to ask for anything, I much prefer to give. These people have stepped in with practical help for specific problems without expecting anything in return. I am immeasurably grateful for their efforts on my behalf. I am thankful that we can be friends.

Although I am aware that many people feel uncomfortable with on line, social media, I have found it of great value in recent times. It has enabled me to, not just keep up some contact with those I know but do not often see; but also to reach out, share and learn from those who I would not otherwise have any contact with. It has enabled me to keep in touch with many I may not know well but would like to know better. I am thankful for these more distant friendships too.

I feel privileged to live amongst so many interesting people with their disparate lifestyles and views. I feel privileged that many count me amongst their friends.

The evening meal that I will prepare for my family later today will consist of our normal, midweek fare. My husband will come home after his long day at work, my children will have homework to deal with. Although on this side of the pond we will not be celebrating anything special, I will still give thanks.

My life is good because of the people I share it with.

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Motivation

Our house is on a hill at the edge of a rural village. From my bedroom window I look down over fields and woodland towards a river valley and distant railway line. This morning the valley is shrouded in a light mist. There is frost on the ground and the few remaining leaves on the trees are shades of green and gold and brown. The newly risen sun is trying to break through the light cloud. It is a beautiful morning.

For some time now I have been following a blog written by a young mother in America. I love the way she writes about her life challenges and her thoughts. She sounds like the sort of person I would enjoy getting to know outside of the internet. Our lives are very different in so many ways, yet we also have much in common. I think that we could make some good conversation given the chance.

Yesterday she asked the question, What’s Your Motivation for getting up in the morning? It has set off a whole tree load of thoughts in my head. It made me realise that, unlike my younger self, I look forward to getting up each day. I enjoy the early mornings, the silence and the peace of a sleeping house. There is rarely anything in particular about the day that I am looking forward to doing. When I look ahead, beyond the day that I am in, I feel anxious. When I relax where I am now I feel happy and calm.

I have friends who love to travel. Not for them the package holiday in the sun, where comfort is guaranteed and all their needs are catered for; they visit amazing places where they explore what lies beyond the standard tourist trail. As soon as they return from an adventure they plan the next one. They live their lives in eager anticipation.

I have other friends whose lives revolve around parties, concerts, outings to the theatre and to restaurants with family and friends. They enjoy the social whirl, the chance to dress up and get out. They are busy and active with their plans and full diaries, sleeping late to recover and prepare for the next big thing.

I have no wish to do these things. I can understand the attraction and enjoy hearing about their activities, seeing pictures of my friends having fun doing their thing. For me though I want the safety and security of home.

I get up in the morning, draw back the curtains and look down on the magnificent view outside my bedroom window. I feel grateful that I live here, at peace with the world. I spend my days reading, writing, making my home a more comfortable place for my family to enjoy. When I go out it is on foot or on my bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside or to visit the local gym and pool.

My days are full and satisfying. I am motivated to get up in the morning because I anticipate the pleasure I will find in this new day. If I think of what lies beyond then events that concern me come to mind: a need to drive my daughter to an unknown city for a conference, a dinner that I must cook for guests. When I look ahead I worry about all the things that could go wrong.

It is not that I fear the future, but more that I remember similar, specific events that caused me grief and wish to avoid the risk of repetition. I feel safe and secure in my day to day life where I can take pleasure in simple activities. Facing the unknown requires courage that I struggle to find.

Other readers of the blog that I linked to above commented that their motivation for getting up and on with their day was obligation. I wonder if I have grown selfish in setting aside the obligations that used to drive so many of my actions. It was these that caused my problems; removing them from my life was a means of self preservation.

It is that self word that concerns me though. I wonder what sort of a person I have become that I live so much for what is good for me rather than others. If I am to serve my family well then I must preserve my health and my sanity, but there is a wider world to consider.

Life has a habit of moving on and changing us as new experiences offer the opportunity to learn and grow. I am not the same person I was a year ago; I cannot know what I will become.

For now then I will allow myself to enjoy this period of solitude and calm. I will continue to drink in the beauty of my surroundings, remaining mindful that transition is inevitable. I am as much a part of this world as all that is about me; I will seek to act with the care and respect that it deserves.

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Dress and flesh

My family are big fans of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I recently bought a replacement set of the trilogy of five books as our originals were falling apart from overuse. We have the wonderful radio series on CD as well as the TV series and film on DVD. My elder son has just reread the books for the umpteenth time so, last weekend, requested the film for our Saturday night family viewing. It is a few years since we last watched this so it seemed like a good plan.

I remembered that my husband and I had felt a bit let down by the film when we first watched it. Too often I find this to be the case when a book is adapted for the big screen. When a film maker finds a fabulous story why does he then feel the need to change it? Fans of the book are likely to be amongst the film’s audience and are unlikely to appreciate such needless tinkering. It is understandable that not everything in a book can be included in a two or three hour screening so certain aspects of the plot may need to be adjusted to allow a more natural flow. Radical and apparently pointless changes are just irritating though.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film was spoiled for my son by both minor and major changes which he felt took away from the humour which makes the books so good. It is some time since I last read these so I was watching the film more as a standalone piece of entertainment and found it amusing enough. Having Martin Freeman in it helped, but not enough for my son.

Friends suggested that we may get on better with the TV series so we have been watching that this weekend. They were right in that my son is more impressed, despite the obvious ageing of the show (it was first broadcast in the early 1980’s). I however am struggling to enjoy it, mainly because of the representation of the character Trillian. I mean, if you are a brilliant mathematician and astrophysicist would you choose to explore space and unknown planets dressed like this?

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The film version does at least choose clothes that are a bit more comfortable and practical

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Now, as a woman, I am always aware that I may just not be ‘getting’ the apparent need of the opposite sex to gaze at exposed, female flesh. The rich and famous regularly appear sporting arm candy along with their sharp suits and orange skin, businesses everywhere use booth babes to grab attention for their product. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that women on TV are usually selected to be pleasing to the eye. These practices irritate me, but not as much as a TV show that is supposed to be watchable for it’s wit yet takes a supposedly intelligent, female character and dresses her just so impractically.

Over the past few months there have been several, well publicised outrages over Miley Cyrus, her twerking and a wrecking ball video. I do not follow celebrity gossip but these incidents were hard to ignore as they spawned so much news coverage with a plethora of ‘open letters’ being written and many column inches being devoted to discussion of young females in the limelight, wicked middle aged marketing men and the impact of our current culture on the apparently malleable minds of young people. I watch a TV show like Hitchhiker’s and think, none of this is new.

Trillian is supposed to be attractive but also incredibly clever. That state of undress is not how an intelligent woman would choose to dress on a daily basis, and certainly not how she would choose to explore an unknown and possibly dangerous planet, even in a comedy show. Arthur Dent’s pyjamas and dressing gown make more sense, the ridiculousness of his attire suiting his goofy character and therefore adding humour.

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Arthur on TV and Arthur from the film

Now, before everyone starts telling me this is meant to be a light hearted and funny show, and if I am going to start arguing about practicality then perhaps I should be talking about sperm whales falling out of the sky, may I just say that I could accept Trillian’s state of undress if it had an amusing explanation as so many of the other improbabilities in the show have. It does not. I suspect it has been put there purely in an attempt to please the male members of the audience. I think it is that which annoys me.

I do not expect those responsible for providing us with entertainment to stop using good looking men and women in their productions. My daughter will watch anything with Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch in it. She claims that this is because they are such fabulous actors but I suspect there may be something a little more superficial in her choices as well. However, the characters these men play do at least dress for the occasion.

Perhaps I merely feel let down by the suggestion that men will be pleased by such a display. I like to think that the men who would appreciate the wit of this show may be more intelligent and be capable of enjoying good acting and clever lines without the need for a semi naked, female body to be thrust upon them on screen. Whatever it is, I find that my enjoyment of this TV show is being spoiled because I am distracted; I wish that someone would just give the girl a t shirt and a pair of trainers.

Next time there is a fuss about the ridiculous outfits that the ladies on cat walk or red carpet events almost wear, or the way a pop star gyrates to camera in her skimpy bikini and net outfit, remember that this has been going on for more than a generation. Perhaps we should just be paying it less attention if we really want the practice to go away. In this instance at least, the more recent take on the character is (in my view) better represented than that from thirty years ago. I see this as an improvement.

Time management

Yesterday my children returned to school and my husband returned to work after the half term break. Despite not doing a great deal of note I enjoyed this holiday. I am in a good place at the moment as regards personal space. I seem to have found a balance that suits me between supporting my family and doing things for myself. I am managing not to allow how I think others expect me to behave to push me in directions that make me feel uncomfortable.

As well as my reading and writing I visited the gym a few times, spent time in the garden with my hens and completed a few of the housework type jobs that demanded my attention loudly enough. I even managed a bit of sewing and baking over the course of the week. I am so not a domestic goddess but there were no disasters. I can reflect on the results of my efforts with some satisfaction.

The holiday ended with the start of NaNoWriMo. It is now Day 5 of this challenge and I am enjoying taking part far more than I expected to. Of course, I enjoy writing or I would not have chosen to sign up. So far though the task has been a real mood lifter. As I watch my word count climb I can feel my spirits rise with it. My family are allowing me the space and time requested and my story is flowing.

Yesterday I also started a distance learning psychology course with the University of Warwick. I spent a very enjoyable few hours completing some interesting and, at times, counter intuitive background reading before taking part in an experiment; my visual reaction times are embarrassingly slow! I then had to complete a short test which seemed to be aimed at ensuring I had understood the concepts discussed; so far so good.

I found the coursework fascinating; there was so much new information to take in and consider. The results of some of the studies discussed made me question a lot of aspects of the way I and many of my friends think. It would appear that we are not nearly as knowledgeable and reasoned as we may like to believe.

By the time I had worked my way through all my usual, mundane chores; cleaning, laundry, dishes, cooking; my day was gone. These personal challenges that I have taken on may be enjoyable and rewarding in themselves, but the issue in completing them seems likely to be finding the time to give them the attention they demand if the standards that I wish to achieve are to be maintained.

I struggle with lengthy goals. I don’t mean things that take years but rather things that take more than a few weeks. When I can see an end to a task I want to reach it as quickly as possible. I find it hard to pace myself and enjoy the journey.

When I was at school I would try to complete homework at the first opportunity after it was set. I found that I couldn’t relax knowing that there was work to be done; I couldn’t enjoy down time with the knowledge that I had tasks that still needed to be completed, even if not immediately.

In my final year at university I took part in a programme that allowed older students to mark first year student’s work. We were given model answers and a dozen or so papers each and would spend a few hours going through each submission, adding helpful comments and awarding marks. Most students completed this task over a week or so. I would try to sit down on the night I picked up the papers and complete the marking in one sitting. I would then return the papers to faculty the next day. I wanted to do the job and do it to a high standard, but I also wanted it done and out of the way. I would worry that something unforeseen may occur that would prevent me meeting the deadline and I would end up letting my tutors down.

These days I have a similar attitude to relaxation. I prefer to prepare meals that need to sit in the oven or bubble in a pot before serving rather than something that requires last minute attention. I worry that, if a meal is needed at a certain time and something goes wrong, then I will have failed; a child may be late to an appointment and it will be my fault. Once the prep has been done and all that is needed is for cooking time to elapse then I can relax. My job is done, I have completed all that can be expected of me.

I am noticing this attitude in the way that I am tackling NaNoWriMo. I catch myself thinking that, even though I am slowly getting ahead of my required, daily word count, that 50,000 word mark still seems so far away. I struggle with pacing myself, wanting to race to the end.

Sometimes it takes a concious effort not to do this with the books I read. I want to know what happens so rush to finish where I could derive more enjoyment from putting the story down and granting myself thinking time.

When jobs cannot be completed (there is no end to housework) I can procrastinate with the best of them, my ironing pile is testament to that. When a challenge takes too long to yield results (such as losing weight) then I struggle to find the motivation to continue beyond the initial determination. It is those goals that are within sight and attainable with just a bit more effort that I rush to complete.

Time management is an interesting concept. Am I a good time manager because I accomplish tasks quickly? I would consider my time better spent if I could pace myself. Efficiency and effectiveness are all very well but when we do something for pleasure, rushing it seems foolish. Yes I get a buzz out of the final accomplishment, but if it’s purpose is enjoyment why rush?

Perhaps one of my problems is that if I put something down for too long then there is a risk that it will be abandoned. There are books that I have not finished, a cross stitch project that I was deriving satisfaction from but has not been picked up in over a year. If I am to conclude a task then I need to internally schedule time for it and then stick with that. I like organisation and routine; the unexpected, including random surprises, stress me.

Perhaps the most important thing in good time management is learning what suits us as individuals and then working to fit that way of living into our days. I know that I need to have control over what I do and how I do it. I rail against being told what is best for me. When I am granted the freedom to follow a path of my choosing then I can work on improving how I accomplish tasks in a way that enhances my quality of life.

The author George R.R. Martin has stated that there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. For someone who likes her life to be so strictly under my control, planned out and organised, I am a little surprised to discover that my writing style is more like the gardener. I have no idea where my NaNoWriMo story is going to end up. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am so eager to progress, that I may find out.

I created the graphic myself.

Family time

We are half way through the autumn half term break from school. My husband has taken the week off work and wanted to go away for a few days but nothing was sorted so we have spent the time at home. Given the recent weather here in the south of England I am fine with this arrangement.

The forecast storm last weekend came and went with the only casualties we saw being a littering of leaves in our garden and a missing ping pong table cover that later turned up in a side alley. Lying warm and cosy in bed, listening to the rain on the window panes and the wind whistling through the trees, was actually quite comforting. I appreciated once again the luxury of being safe and warm in my own home. Too many these days are not so lucky.

My daughter had made many plans for this holiday week so we ate out as a family on one of the few nights when we were all free. We opted for the informal, relaxed atmosphere of our local Pizza Express and were not disappointed. Sometimes the company and ambience matter more than the food, and I do still enjoy eating pizza, despite my advanced age!

The morning after the storm that never really happened, my husband set out to deliver our daughter to the first of her many appointments: a three day private gathering of her writer friends to critique, encourage and continue with their respective stories in a sociable but intensive environment. With our resident vegetarian away we decided to treat my younger son to a meal at one of his favoured eateries. He enjoys a freshly made, thick and meaty burger with ketchup and chunky chips far more than any fine dining experience. I tried one myself and it was satisfyingly tasty.

Alongside these outings, my boys and I have been working on the finishing touches to my daughter’s Loki costume. We have still to create the helmet though; it is proving particularly tricky to make. Today, both she and my younger son have arranged to attend the opening of Thor: The Dark World with friends. The rest of us will probably wait for the release of the DVD, by which time we will undoubtedly have picked up the majority of the plot from other sources.

All of this activity and it is not yet Halloween. For me, it has been a good holiday thus far. I have managed to find plenty of opportunities to read and write as well as spending time with my little family. There has been no pressure to perform and plenty of treats along the way. Had we left home for a few days it is unlikely that I would have felt so relaxed.

I would also have had to leave a poorly hen. My little flock have now completed their winter worming week and are, once again, wandering free in the wider garden by day. One of my older ladies is looking unhappy though. She is moulting, which doesn’t help, but is also moving with the slow gait of an unhappy hen. With no other outward signs of problems it may just be old age; I am glad that I am here to keep an eye on her.

I can understand why some animals hibernate. When the temperatures drop I find it comforting to wrap up warm and snuggle down indoors. I enjoy the long, dark evenings when the curtains are drawn and the lamps have been lit. I feel content to relax in my armchair, feet up with a good book.

And still we have half the holiday left. There are jobs to complete around the house and garden, but no sense of urgency. I am keen to maintain this contented atmosphere, to allow the days to flow with just the occasional highlight to draw us together.

Family time is so fleeting and precious. ‘This is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it.’    

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Pride

Many years ago I was sent on a training course by my employers, where attendees were asked by the lady running the course to think of one thing that they had done and were proud of. I could think of nothing; not a single thing. I had worked my socks off to achieve many of the things that I had been aiming for: exam results, landing a decent job, buying my first flat. None of these filled me with pride. I could have done better in the exams, I was still in a very junior position at work, I was up to my ears in debt after buying my own home.

Of all the challenges that I had undertaken up to that moment, the one that had been the most important to me at the time, and which I had been most nervous about, was sitting my driving test. Passing that gave me my first taste of freedom, but I couldn’t say that I was proud of it. Most people of my age that I knew had managed to pass their driving test.

When I look at each of my achievements I cannot help but see how they are simply milestones along the way. There have always been people in my life who have done better than me at each stage.

Some of the ladies on the course cited a child as a source of pride. I am certainly immensely proud of my children, but they are individuals; their achievements belong to them. Of course, I can look on and feel happy and proud for them, but I cannot claim credit. I know plenty of people who have done their very best to be good parents, whose children have struggled more than mine. I am simply lucky.

This feeling of luck is one that I consider regularly as there is such a high risk of transience.

When my husband asked me to marry him, we set a date for the wedding a little over eight months away. I felt so incredibly blessed to be marrying the man I loved, and was terrified that something would happen to him before we could get married. Even at the time I knew that this fear was bizarre; I placed such value on this momentous event it seemed too much to hope that it would actually happen. A number of my friends were surprised that I was getting married; they had never imagined it happening to me.

Once my wedding day passed (it was a very happy day) my life continued to be filled with blessings. We found our fabulous home, enjoyed the novelty of married life and, in time, created our family. So much good fortune that I could never quite believe was being granted to me. When I say that I try to live life each day, enjoying the here and now, it is because I still harbour a fear that it cannot continue forever. Some disaster could take it all away, and I value this life I lead so much.

I still do not feel pride in achievements. Somehow I can always see the reasons why it is not just down to me that milestones have been successfully reached. Others put in the same effort, yet are not granted the same blessings. I can see that I have made some good choices along the way, but it is only with hindsight that I can be sure those choices were so right for me.

I have no idea if this way of thinking is unusual; it certainly helps me to appreciate what I have got. My fear of losing those things that I value, that make my life so good, bubbles uncomfortably below the surface but it does not spoil my enjoyment.

Perhaps if I had managed to reach the dizzy heights of achievement that I watched good friends reach when I was younger then I would have felt that I had done well in something. When I entered sport or dance competitions, the best I could manage would be the occasional runner up prize; at school I was given one progress prize but never a cup or commendation. I do not remember ever being first in anything of significance.

My dogged determination to succeed in something, anything, drove me through many challenges. I needed to find the drive and the energy to keep going to avoid the feeling that had been so prevalent growing up, that I had failed in the goals I set myself. As an adult I do not aim for success, but rather to avoid that empty feeling of failure.

Accepting what we are can be such a challenge at times, especially when those around us are critical. I suspect that I would not be where I am today if I had not demanded so much of myself. I cannot feel any pride in that though; the emotions that I experience when I consider my achievements feel too negative. I have the wonderful life that I lead, shared with the people I love and value, because I have been granted the blessing of good luck. I may not deserve what I have, but I thank God for it every day.

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Daily life

A few months ago I wrote a post about my dislike of cooking (Not a domestic goddess). I am revisiting this theme because, in the last couple of weeks, I have come to realise that things are improving. It is not that the food I am preparing each day has suddenly developed into anything attractively delicious, but rather that my family seem to be showing a little bit more acceptance of what is put in front of them. I don’t expect compliments (although I did unexpectedly get one last week!), but I am gratified that there have been fewer complaints.

I think that there may be a number of factors at play here. My daughter spent a month of the summer exploring Madagascar. For a couple of weeks she was required to camp in remote villages, acquire food and prepare it on a small camp stove. To survive she could not be too fussy about what she would eat; as a vegetarian her choices were limited further.

Alongside this experience she has been showing a great deal more maturity in the way she notices how others are reacting and feeling (I wonder if her trip away helped with this). She realises that I am doing my best and is being more considerate. She is also developing her own cooking skills and can produce a meal for herself and her brothers if I wish to go out. There have even been occasions when she has done the washing up.

My elder son has reached the stage where it is hard to feed him enough. Satisfying his constant hunger is a challenge, but it does mean that whatever food is produced will be eaten. His complaints have not vanished, but have decreased markedly. Both children are noticing more often the efforts I put in to feeding them, even if the food produced is not always what they would choose to eat.

With these small improvements in my everyday life I have felt encouraged enough to make a tentative return to baking. This weekend I made bread for the first time in ages and it was pounced upon and consumed with enthusiasm. Requests for more were made and I felt gratified that the exercise had been worthwhile. The next day I spent much of the afternoon in the kitchen preparing a more interesting evening meal than is normal. It seems that, with just a little more appreciation being shown, I can gain some enjoyment from feeding my family after all.

Cooking is unlikely to ever give me pleasure in itself, but providing my family with something that they enjoy consuming is rewarding. Having gained these small successes I am now feeling uplifted enough to be encouraged to make other improvements in our day to day lives. If my family are capable of showing some appreciation of the food that I produce then perhaps they can also appreciate a more comfortable and appealing home. Perhaps it is worth my while redecorating a messy bedroom or getting some of the maintenance tasks that I have been procrastinating about seen to.

We support an organisation that works with families in Uganda. They aim to educate the mothers in improved hygiene, food production and storage, as well as in managing family finances, small business opportunities and rights to land. If the mothers can be kept healthy and productive then the whole family and community benefit. I sometimes think that I could learn a valuable lesson from this.

I am always inclined to put the needs of my husband and children before my own. Their happiness makes me happy so this makes sense to me. What I need to remember is that, on a day to day level, my mood and attitude affect them markedly. If I am feeling down then their home life becomes less pleasurable. They may act at times as if they do not notice that I exist, but the vibes I give out can act as a catalyst to their behaviour. When I am happy and full of energy we are all more likely to have an enjoyable, family time.

This week I will bake them another loaf of bread; I will try out that new recipe I found for bean burgers; I may even bake a cake. As my younger son told me at the weekend, not all of my cooking is a disaster and, even when it is, it doesn’t taste so bad that it isn’t eaten. Praise indeed…

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The Hot Rod

My first car was a Mini. Not a BMW Mini such as half the world seems to want to drive these days (personally I would prefer a new styled VW Beetle, even though I do know it is simply a Golf with a different body). No, my first car was what is now known as a Classic Mini. I loved that car; it gave me my freedom.

Beneath the dirt (I don’t recall ever washing it) and rust (it had a lot of rust) it was a sort of mustard yellow colour. I inherited it from my sister when she upgraded to a Ford Fiesta (I eventually inherited that from her too). I covered my car in stickers that advised those behind me to ‘Back off, I’ve got a sensitive bottom’ or ‘Who says you can’t have everything? Here I am’. The rear and side windows displayed such information on their many stickers as ‘Sex Appeal, please give generously’ and the much derided ‘My other car is a Porsche’.

I was given all of these stickers by friends and attached whatever was offered (which was probably why I was given a few; as a challenge to see if I would dare display them in our conservative neighbourhood). The pièce de résistance, however, was the blue sun strip that ran across the top of the windscreen and proudly declared the car to be ‘Hot Rod’. And it was.

Thanks to some clever tuning work by a friend (and a friend of this friend, who enjoyed rallying) the engine, when it went, went like the clappers. Back in the day the VW Golf was the car to have and my little Mini could outgun one from a standing start (I did this at lights just to annoy the drivers who thought they were so cool). My car had a top speed of 80mph, as measured by a police speed radar on the Outer Ring Road at Knock in Belfast. How I managed to sweet talk my way out of that one I don’t know. A nineteen year old’s seemingly innocent smile and feminine charms can work wonders when needed.

Did I mention the rust? If my front seat passenger lifted the soggy carpet there was a fine view of the road. This was sorted by my friend who rivet gunned a sheet of metal over the offending area. The carpet dried out eventually and the car smelt much better after that.

This was not the only leak the car could boast though. The radiator leaked and the brake pipes leaked (I learnt to pump the brake pedal when I needed to stop). The electrics were also dodgy, particularly when it rained. I wrapped tinfoil over the front grill and sticky tape around the distributor. If the engine cut out in heavy traffic a spray of WD40 would normally get it going again.

In the boot of the car I carried brake fluid, a gallon of water and a tow rope – all a girl could need in the event of breakdown. When the exhaust system fell off I went back to collect it and drove noisily round to my friend’s house to have it reattached. To get the car through it’s MOT I borrowed a set of tyres that had more tread than mine and sent it to a garage with a sympathetic mechanic. I never really knew how much an MOT was supposed to cost.

Driving a car such as this meant that I was never intimidated on the busy, city roads. When a smug, besuited, middle aged driver in a sleek, shiny jaguar tried to push into my lane I just kept going. If he wished to risk a scratch on his bodywork trying to get me to move out of his way then let him; bodywork scratches were the least of my worries. It was a bit embarrassing when, having forced him to give way, the Hot Rod then conked out in the busy stop, start traffic. Luckily I had that gallon of water to top up the radiator and get going again. I gave the drivers behind my best smile but I’m not sure it was appreciated.

I would have continued to drive this amazing machine for longer if a taxi driver hadn’t slammed into the side of my beloved car trying to do an unexpected u turn. He took me to court to try to pin the blame on me but lost. During this time I drove around with a polythene sheet where the passenger side windows had been (visibility was a bit of an issue but I coped) and the door attached to the car with string. Eventually my friend got me a replacement door, nearly the same colour as the rest of the car. With the help of a tractor and chain he pulled the car into shape and managed to get the door to fit pretty well. I had to remember which key opened which door but felt well sorted with this arrangement.

Unfortunately the accident drew the attention of my insurance company who declared my little car a write off. The assessor pointed out the dodgy brakes and treadless tyres but it was the potential damage to the chassis that made him refuse to reinsure. I was devastated.

Recovery was, however, speedy. Not only did I get money from the insurance company (lucky that I was on the winning side of that court case), but another friend found a farmer who was willing to take my broken car and do it up for his daughter. He even paid me for it.

After a few drinks to celebrate I put the accumulated cash aside for my second car. This ended up being another mustard coloured Mini with dodgy brakes, purchased from a couple of guys who did up and sold on such cars. I heard a few years later that the police were prosecuting them for selling unroadworthy vehicles to unsuspecting customers. For the money I had paid, I expected nothing less.

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Thanks to The Waiting for the inspiration for this post. Sorry I missed the relevant Blog Hop.