Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Bugs in the Kitchen

It has been some time since I put my name forward for a review product. The upheaval of moving and settling into a whole new life has left precious little time for such things. However, when the opportunity came along to review Bugs in the Kitchen, a new game from Ravensburger featuring a Hexbug Nano, I could not resist.

Until quite recently, we were proud owners of a collection of Hexbug Nanos. I found it endlessly fascinating watching these little robotic toys scurrying around in their authentically bug like manner. Unfortunately, my children had an out of control painting session one afternoon whilst I slept, exhausted and oblivious, on the sofa. My son in law discovered the havoc wreaked with poster paint and chubby brush. To say I was not best pleased when he awoke me with the news would be something of an understatement. The Hexbugs were not the only things that had fallen victim to the colourful destruction and ended up in the dustbin. I have regretted my hasty decision to bin everything splattered and covered with paint but cleaning walls and furniture took priority... and my anger needed venting!

The scene of the above crime is in a house that no longer belongs to us. We have a new home now and bygones could be bygones. It was time to get reacquainted with Hexbug Nanos and what better way than as part of a game for all the family to enjoy.

We played Bugs in the Kitchen during our Halloween fun (there might be a few clues in the photograph!) There was a minimal amount of assembly to do before we were able to play. The pieces all fitted together nicely to create a robust game that did not need to be disassembled to pack away.

The object of the game is to trap the Hexbug Nano that is busy scuttling around the 'kitchen'. Each player has their own trap and wins a token every time the bug lands in it. The first player to win five tokens is the victor. The bugs are guided into the traps through a cutlery maze consisting of moveable components. A dice is thrown to see which cutlery item you are allowed to move. A strategic rotation of a knife, fork or spoon will open pathways in your favour or block routes to an opponents trap. I actually found it quite difficult to visualise the effect of a move and more than once disadvantaged myself and watched helplessly as the bug scuttled off into another player's trap - the Bugs in the Kitchen equivalent of an own goal!

It is a fast paced game with lots of excitement guaranteed by the unpredictable Hexbug. Even with my dubious tactical abilities it was a lot of fun. The kids quickly disregarded the rule that the first player to gain five tokens is the winner. They kept playing until all the available tokens had been awarded, counted up to see who had the most and then started all over again. 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Tandem Triathlon

My little Addy goes to 'Magic Club' one evening a week at her new school. She loves it. She especially loves it because dad takes her to and from school on the back of our tandem bike, weather permitting. As I watched them ride off together this week, I was reminded that I never published the post I had written about the Tandem Triathlon I took part in with my husband during the summer before we moved.  It was a big deal for me so rather than deleting the draft, I have published it here for my benefit more than anything. If you choose to continue reading, be warned, it is a bit of a long one!  Alternatively, here is a little video of Addy practising her magic tricks.

Tandem Triathlon

We had a plan, my husband and I - a plan to find a moment of calm amidst the chaos. A weekend somewhere lovely away from the demands of the family and work - time for us - time to recharge and reconnect.

It didn't happen.

We did, however, have a date in the diary to compete in a Tandem Triathlon. For want of a better plan, that was to become the time for us.

We had not trained properly for this event.

My husband was to do the 1K swim. He is a strong swimmer. This was never going to be a  problem.

He is also a good cyclist but our trips out on the tandem to see what we could do have been few and far between. We hadn't even come close to attempting the 35km demanded by the triathlon and we were slightly concerned by a problem with the gears that may or may not have been sorted by the local bicycle shop.

The run was my responsiblity. My running training had been virtually non existent but I had completed a 5 mile fun run recently which gave me a bit of confidence. I have NEVER run after a bike ride of any length... let alone a 35km one! I was desperately in need of that confidence having suffered a nasty injury to my right leg in an oversized wellies and slippery deck related incident.

The bruise in its yellow phase!

Competitors were encouraged to dress up and decorate their tandems if they desired. We didn't have time to come up with an elaborate plan. I grabbed the artificial flowers that had been used to decorate my car on my wedding day (I could never quite bring myself to bin them) and hastily taped them to the handlebars. Perfect.

The triathlon took place in picturesque Bishops Castle in South Shropshire - picturesque and hilly. I don't know why but I had the impression that the competitors would be mostly long bearded, dressed in the style of Morris Dancers and possibly smelling slightly of incense. I couldn't have been more wrong. Admittedly there were a few couples who had embraced the dress up element of the competition but there were some serious looking lycra clad athletes too.

We signed in, wrestled the bike off the roof of the car and tried to organise everything we needed for the various stages of the event. It was warm and sunny so plenty of water and suntan lotion were among the necessities.

Before long, it was my husband's time in the water. I watched him for a while before going to the transition area to wait with the tandem. It was a very shallow pool. My 6' 4" husband looked quite ridiculous standing in it waiting for the cue to go. His swimming style did not have his usual effortless grace. This may have been attributed to the fact that his arms must have been scraping the bottom of the pool with each stroke!

It was a beautiful day and it was lovely chatting to the other competitors waiting for their partners to emerge from the pool complex ready for the second discipline. The transition was quite relaxed and then, we were off.

I love being on the back of the tandem. I can't see a great deal and have to have total trust in my husband but that isn't difficult at all. The countryside was whizzing past me and I was smiling at marshalls and other tandems coming back the other way. It was glorious. We were picking up a good head of speed going down the hills and  that gave us enough momentum to climb up the hills without too much of a problem.

Then the hill happened.

The hill that went on forever.

The hill that saw our speed drop so slow we were barely moving.

The hill that required every bit of effort we could muster just to stop ourselves from rolling backwards.

But we made it. Somehow, we made it.

The bad news was that we would have to climb that hill again. Not all the way to the top but about three quarters of the way up was the run transition. My leg muscles were screaming. The idea of getting off the bike and running after climbing that hill a second time seemed impossible. On top of that, after the run there would be a further 5km on the tandem to reach the final finish line. I didn't even want to think about it.

So I didn't.

We were on our way again in a landscape that rewarded you with some downhill for the uphill exertions. The sun shone, but not too much. It was wonderful. I was loving it again.

Going up one hill, we were overtaken by a shiny red high performance sports car that made a throaty roar as it accelerated past us. This somehow added to my elation.

Unfortunately, my elation could not last forever. I had been worried about my injured right leg and had maybe been allowing my left leg to take on more of the strain for that reason. My left leg decided it had had enough. My knee started to hurt. My knee continued to hurt. The hurt intensified. I wanted to cry. Our dodgy gears were behaving fine but my knee was a different story.

I thought that if I was able to stretch my leg for a while it might ease the pain. I took my foot out of the toe strap, off the pedal and felt wonderful relief as I straightened my sorry limb. We also felt the disconcerting bumping of the toe strap hitting the road with every revolution of the pedals.  Vaguely reminiscent of my husbands awkward swimming style in the shallow pool, we were losing our rhythm  and at risk of coming off the bike. Lovely as it was to have relief from the pain, my leg had to go back on the pedal.

I was reassured that the pain had disappeared as soon as I had changed position. It was back now, with a vengeance, but I felt more confident that it was just muscle cramping and I could pedal through it. We free wheeled when we could so I had the chance to stretch it out again and it felt great. Mostly, I put up with the pain and prayed that I wasn't doing any actual damage.

When we got to the hill for the second time, my emotions were all over the place. I had the pleasure of knowing that this part of the bike ride was nearly over, the excitement of knowing that my leg was soon going to be free from the crippling constraint, fear that we still had to make it up the hill somehow and the absolute leap of faith that I would somehow still be able to run.

I could only push up the hill with my one good leg. Three legs pedalling failed to do what four legs had only just managed to do the first time. The bike did literally reach the point that the upward forces were less than the downward forces. We stopped. We walked the bike up the hill and I was hugely gratified that I could in fact walk! Maybe I'd be able to run. The gradient of the hill became slightly flatter at the turn off into the forest for the run transition so I bravely suggested getting back on the bike to ride in with dignity.

I made use of a portaloo. I gagged on a warm, gloopy energy gel. I grabbed a water bottle and I was off. I was running. Slowly, but I was running.

I knew the run was though forest trails which is my favourite kind of running. What I didn't know was that it was through forest trails up a mountain. (Maybe it wasn't exactly a mountain but it was a very big hill). My leg didn't feel too bad but my heart was pounding and I was so hot. I drank sips of water, ran when I felt able and walked (briskly) when I needed to. This was going to be a slow 10K but at least with all this uphill I was guaranteed some downhill where I could hopefully make up some time.

My run/brisk walk strategy degenerated into a slow walk/drag strategy. Even the feeding stations with their generous rations of jelly babies, crisps, biscuits and drinks could not energise me. But I was still standing and slowly making forward progress up the incline that just kept inclining!

Looking rough at the halfway point selfie

Eventually, and not a moment too soon,  the gradient flattened out. I had reached the top and saw before me a plateau. A gently undulating meadow plateau. It was what I had been working for and there it was. My slow walk/drag turned into a shuffling jog. I shuffled and I jogged and my heart sang. A short way further and I could see the inevitable downward gradient. All I had to do was let gravity carry me down the hill to the finish. I might even make up a bit of the time I had lost on my ascent. How could I have known that the pain I had felt climbing the hill would be insignificant compared with the pain of coming down?

As soon as the downward gradient became noticeable, my left leg seized up completely. Bearing in mind this happened mid stride and was as shocking as it was painful, I did well not to fall over. With a  series of comedy hops to keep upright, I managed to slow myself to a stop and then tentatively tried to take my weight on my left leg. It was having none of it. I was quite scared for two reasons: firstly, had I done some real damage here that I might never recover from and secondly HOW THE HELL WAS I GOING TO GET DOWN THIS BLOODY MOUNTAIN?

The limit to how many swimmers could fit into the pool at any one time meant that the race was organised with staggered start times over a long period of time. There was never much of a sense of competing with anyone other than yourself and the spread of other competitors throughout the entire course meant there was not a great deal of camaraderie or support available. I was pretty much alone up that mountain. Alone and in trouble. All I could do was man up and face the challenge of getting down. I rested. I massaged the offending limb. I eventually braved walking. It was an awkward walk but it sort of worked.

All the way down the mountain I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to be running but was also grateful that I was at least moving in the right direction. I may have looked like an extra from a zombie apocalypse movie, I may have been grimacing, but I was making progress again. Dragging my bad leg painfully behind me, hop limping... I was making progress.

After a long, torturous time, my spirits lifted when I recognised the terrain that I had run through at the start of the ordeal which meant it was nearly over. My mind was taken off my trials when another struggling runner caught up with me and walked with me for a while. We chatted and commiserated with each other and then the finish line came into view. I encouraged him to go for it and do a good finish. As I watched him muster all his energy to pick up pace I decided to take a chance and do the same. The elation of seeing the finish line combined with the brief respite that the company had given me combined to give me super powers when I needed them most. By 'super powers' I do of course only mean coming back from the Walking Dead to the elevated status of Broken Runner... but I was mrunning. I felt amazing. I felt like that shiny red high performance sports car that had overtaken us on the cycle ride. I let out my own throaty roar and it was over. My husband waiting in the transition area was paying no attention. My triumph was mine alone.

We still had the 5km bike ride to the Final Finish before this triathlon over. There was no way that my leg was going to be fit to pedal. Using the tape we'd attached our 'fancy dress' flowers with (resourceful!), my husband fixed the toe strap so it would not hit the road with every revolution and I 'one-legged' cycled the final stretch.

I would love to say that crossing the final finish line was everything I dreamt it would be but I was in far too much pain. We did not stay for the celebrations which included a BBQ and a Ceilidh (which to my shame I had pronounced Sea-Lid anyway). All I wanted was to have a nice hot bath and to rest in the comfort of my own home... which we did.

This was supposed to be 'time for us', my husband and I... time to recharge and connect. My leg may have let me down badly but honestly, it ticked all the other boxes. Would I do it again? Definitely. But next time, I might just do the swim and let him take on the run!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Fat Balls and Tits

Since moving, I have had very little direct contact with my dad. My mum emails regularly, comments on Facebook statuses and reads this blog. Now I know that my parents share everything and communicating with mum is indirectly communicating with dad, but it can never be the same as direct contact. I will be visiting them shortly which will facilitate the sort of exchange that my dad does best: a hug that might be compared to the embrace of a boa constrictor, a chat about nothing and everything and probably a fiver slipped into my hand. This is how my dad communicates. It does not translate well into the sort of electronic communication that we have to resort to now I live too far away for the weekly visits we used to enjoy. Until I see him again, this post is dedicated to my dad.

When I first arrived at this house and my father in law came to have a look around, he commented that there were no birds in the garden.

It was true. For such a quiet, idyllic, woodland location there was a distinct lack of any sort of life in the garden apart from the massively overgrown hedges, shrubs and trees.

The neighbouring garden was beautifully neat and a bird feeding station was always busy with feathered visitors. Clearly, there were birds around somewhere... just not in my garden.

I bought a bag of bird nuts and a feeder which I hung in a tree near the kitchen window (after I'd pruned it to manageable proportions in scale with the setting and thus began the pile of trimmings that now occupies a sizeable portion of the bottom of the garden).

It did not take long for the first adventurers to discover the new food source. It was a delight to see the garden coming to life. What we were lacking in interest from good planting, we were making up for with an enchanting variety of little birds. I bought a second feeder for fat balls. (Fat balls! Really! Couldn't they have been called Energy Rich Bird Cakes or something. Fat balls just brings out the juvenile, too easily amused side of me!)

I wouldn't want anyone to think that this was becoming an obsession but a third bird feeder was purchased. In my defence, it was a matter of necessity because my father in law brought round a huge bag of bird seed and the feeders I already had were not suitable for seed. The three bird feeders hanging in one small tree were soon rarely free from hungry birds.

Washing up takes much longer now. My attention is continuously drawn away from the dirty dishes and out of the window to see who is feeding. I have a Garden Bird Identifier book on my windowsill and often I will abandon the soapy suds, dry my hands and frantically search the pages trying to name an unfamiliar species. I am becoming quite the expert!

The most abundant variety is the dainty, delicately hued Blue Tit with the more thuggish Great Tit a close second. I had heard of Coal Tits but had never really understood the difference between them and the other Tits until my book helped me make a positive identification. How many times can I say 'tits' before the juvenile rears its mindlessly giggling head again?  I must say it one more time because today a pair of Marsh Tits came to see what was on offer. (Thanks again trusty book!)

A Nuthatch generated a bit of excitement. I'd never seen one before and it seemed very exotic to me. It is a greedy feeder, tugging at the nuts to pull them through the mesh. Chaffinches and Goldfinches wait their turn in the branches and a little Wren has not quite plucked up the courage to feed while I've been watching but hops about on the periphery.

Feeding on the ground below to pick up any dropped scraps are Dunnocks, a Robin and the occasional House Sparrow. Sparrows were always so abundant when I was a child growing up in the seventies. I don't know when or how those squabbling flocks of 'spuggies' disappeared.

As well as the small birds, I have seen Pigeons (which are somehow hard to get excited about - sorry pigeons), Jackdaws, Jays (love them) and for me, the Holy Grail of birdwatching.. a Woodpecker. This was a Green Woodpecker and I quite literally held my breath when it settled on the trunk of my apple tree. I have only seen it once but I can always hope that it will return.

I feel slightly guilty that I may have stolen some of the birds away from my neighbours' bird feeding station but the guilt is quickly buried under the glorious feeling of absolute pleasure it gives me every time I look out of the window.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Bonfire

Yesterday, I lit a bonfire.

I'm not sure what the rules and regulations around here are with regards to garden fires but the voice made by the primitive urge in me to be master of the raw power that is fire was considerably louder than the voice of the upstanding citizen wanting to abide by any rules.

I lit my fire.

There was plenty of fuel for my fire given the pile I have amassed from my mission to tame my wild garden with hedge trimmer, loppers, saw and secateurs. A few crumpled up A4 sheets drawn on by the kids, a handful of dry dead wood and one match was all it took to get things roaring in the incinerator.

I fed my fire. I fed my fire with hawthorn, brambles, apple tree and oak to name but a selection of the varied diet available. The fire responded accordingly.

Some of the trimmings fell into the flames as though returning home, giving themselves readily to be undone by the heat. Some hissed and screamed, resisting their undoing. Some burned with pure ferocity while others failed and billowed stinking clouds of smoke and ash. I think that amongst the assorted offerings dropping into the fiery pit there was a metaphor for every emotion I have been experiencing since my husband's words - I've been offered the job in Sussex - turned my life upside down.  Every emotion relived and dealt with.

I have barely made a dent in the pile of garden waste.

The lawn is scorched.

My eyes stung and I smelled of bonfires.

But my soul is cleansed.

Welcome to Night Vale

I've always loved having a long, relaxing soak in the bath: scented bath products, candle, glass of wine maybe and music. For a long time, my music of choice would be the album Come Away with Me by Norah Jones. For me it was perfect bath music. I listened to it so often that if I ever heard a track outside of my bath time, I would experience an echo of the feeling of nakedness and vulnerability that accompanies one's ablutions and was exploited to the extreme by Hitchcock in the shower scene of the classic movie Psycho.

I am now smiling as I remember a short video I made a long time ago for a competition to win a Macbook Pro. The brief was to recreate a scene from a movie using potatoes. (The competition must have been sponsored by a 'potato related' company, I can't quite remember). I attempted, with my limited editing skills and equally limited artistic ability, to recreate the famous shower scene. I did not win the Macbook but I did have a such a good time making "Psycho Potato".

Norah Jones no longer provides the soundtrack to my bath time. Instead, I listen to a podcast entitled Welcome to Night Vale. My daughters introduced me to this little gem. It is in the style of a community radio broadcast set in an unusual town where events such as a portal opening during  a PTA meeting to allow flesh eating dinosaurs to pass through and cause bloody mayhem, are not uncommon. It is entertaining but at the same time, gently challenges your belief in self, society and existence.  Welcome to Night Vale! The real magic of the show is the combination of clever scripting and the beautiful voice of Cecil Baldwin who narrates it... a voice more mellow even than Norah Jones singing Come Away with Me.

I used to listen to the podcast in bed but there were two problems with this: my husband hates it and the soothing tone of Cecil Baldwin sent me to sleep almost instantly. Listening in the bath is perfect. I don't generally tend to fall asleep but I can achieve a wonderful level of relaxation and enrichment (especially when the glass of wine option box is ticked). There is a segment during the show called 'The Weather' which consists of a song or instrumental piece (that usually has nothing do with the weather!) It is just the right length of time for me to wash my hair so I don't miss any of the main show. This makes me happy.

Last night, I couldn't sleep. I put on the podcast hoping that Cecil could work his magic but he couldn't. I don't feel as frazzled as I thought I would this morning but I am weary. We only have this week to get through before our half term break begins. I am very ready for that break.

I feel that we have achieved a milestone having nearly completed the first half of our Michaelmas term. Now, we need some time to process all the changes that we have been dealing with since we first arrived here at the tail end of August. We need a quick life audit to see where we are and where we want to be. I am hoping for some 'two episode long' bath times.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

End of an Era

Yesterday, the sale of my house in Shropshire completed.

On one hand I am really pleased about this. The lawn does not stop growing because we are not there to mow it and who knows what problems we might have suffered if it had remained unoccupied through the cold winter months.

On the other hand it represents the end of an era and I have to let go of a house I loved.

It was not a perfect house. The rolling programme of maintenance and repairs took up a lot of our time and energy. The garage door was the bane of my life and pulling in and out of the drive could be tricky at times. It was not perfect but it was such a good home for us: the home that my husband and I made together, the threshold he carried me over after our wedding, every room echoing with wonderful memories.

We have a new home now. We don't own it but we will be here for the next three years at least so I am happy to invest time and energy to make it the best home it can be for us. It is much smaller than our old house so I was delighted that it managed to accommodate nearly all of the furniture I had collected over the years. Even my very large mirrors fit perfectly into their new settings. I had to get rid of two big comfy leather sofas (they were very old and tired anyway), a dining table and chairs (I had two sets and kept my favourite) and our Eminent Solina F225 (Charis made sure she had a farewell organ session while she still could). A super king sized bed that my husband had made was repurposed as shelving.

Being surrounded by familiar things is comforting and I am taking ownership of the garden by trimming, pruning and generally hacking at anything that looks even remotely overgrown.We may have downsized but I am determined to make that a positive force in our lives.. a way of living a simpler life free of clutter and confusion. It is almost working!

One thing I thought I would really miss from my old home was the greenhouse with its grape vine. It had become a bit of a tradition to harvest the grapes and make grape jelly for our Christmas day breakfast. The new house does not have a greenhouse but it does have a grape vine. Today, I made grape jelly.

I love that I can carry the good things from my old life into the new. I love the challenges that relocating and downsizing have forced us to face. Now that we are settilng into our routines and thinking about the future, I know that I am going to love discovering new traditions and ways of finding fulfilment.

The sale of my old house represents the end of an era but I am more than ready for the start of a new one.

Friday, 9 October 2015

A Minor Mishap

I feel so guilty.

My wonderful husband didn't bat an eyelid when he came home from work yesterday to find 'the little mess' I'd made earlier - the little mess that had actually doubled in size during the course of the afternoon after I had posted about it on my blog.

He set about taking all the hedge clippings, dead wood and other random garden debris through the side gate, up onto the raised deck, down the steps onto the lawn, over the somewhat water logged grass and finally onto an ever growing pile of similar waste waiting to be collected by a man with a trailer (I am hoping a very capacious trailer!)

The first problem was the 'through the side gate' part.

I had helpfully placed the pile onto a large tarpaulin thinking that all he would need to do would be to wrap the tarp around and tie it up to create a draggable bundle. This he did. The bundle was indeed draggable (provided you had sufficient body weight and knew how to use it). Unfortunately, the bundle was not 'pass-through-side-gate-able'. A goodly portion of the tangled mass had to be transferred into an oversize bag and taken separately to the intended destination before the remainder could be re-bundled and dragged once more.

Through the gate, up onto the raised deck and ... oh dear. Disaster struck.

The deck is in desperate need of a good pressure wash and re-oil. In its current state it can be quite slippery... and when you are not wearing the most appropriate footwear and dragging a bundle that is at least as big as you are, you might expect the possibility of a mishap. Although I did not witness the mishap, from his description of it I can report that it was a dramatic, high speed, uncontrolled backward tumble flat onto his back with resultant bang to backside and head.

He did eventually succeed in his mission to clear up my mess. He sustained  no serious damage but had a tender spot on the back of his skull and the knowledge that he was a clumsy fool.

He felt tenderness and embarrassment... and I felt guilt.

My guilt dictated that today I would steer well clear of the garden and my tendency to get carried away with the task at hand.

I baked instead. I hope that the job of 'clearing up' apple cake and cookies will be more agreeable.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

I might have made a little mess

The moment I saw a photograph of the house that was to be our home in Sussex, I wanted to trim the hedges.

It was a neat, well proportioned little semi in a beautiful location but the unkempt, overgrown hedge running along the front boundary made it look totally unloved. I was determined to change that.

Today, the sun was shining in a glorious blue autumn sky and the hedge was calling to me.

Before we moved in, the house was cleaned, redecorated, new carpets were laid and the front hedge was trimmed in a fashion.  It was certainly tidier than it had been but this hedge needed more than tidying. It had been allowed to grow so wide that the front garden was engulfed by it. It was a solid, impenetrable wall of green but I had my trusty hedge trimmer and I was not going to be beaten by it.

I plugged in my Black and Decker and I attacked.

I have been doing a lot of cutting back and chopping down in the rear garden over the past weeks. There is much still to be done but I am definitely reclaiming a garden from the jungle. The previous occupant had a dog who was clearly fond of playing with (and hiding) balls. I have found and disposed of over fifty balls - mostly tennis balls, a few cricket balls, the odd golf ball. As my battle against the front hedge continued, I found two more tennis balls and a third more difficult to identify ball to add to my total count.

Dealing with the front hedge was no like ordinary hedge trimming. I felt more like a brave prince hacking through the dense forest shielding his Sleeping Beauty. Incidentally, I have been watching a lot of the wonderful series Once Upon a Time on Netflix. I thoroughly recommend it, if only for the gorgeous Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook.

In the contest between hedge and me, I was without doubt the victor but I like to think that the hedge has benefitted enormously. I've taken a lot of the weight away and it now has light and air to work its magic. I hope to see new (manageable) growth before too long. The front garden looks so much bigger and most importantly, cared for.

The only downside to my morning's activity is that I have created a small mountain of hedge trimmings to dispose of. I have piled them all onto a tarpaulin.

My husband is used to me getting carried away in the garden. This won't be the first time that he has come home from work and the first thing I say to him is, "Darling, I might have made a little mess".

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Same Desk - Different View

I had a wonderful life in Shropshire: great house and garden, friends and family, lovely little village school, everything I needed. However, it did not stop me feeling restless every time someone I knew moved house. There was a part of me that envied them. The process of clearing out the clutter, streamlining your way of living and starting over somewhere different is without doubt cathartic and renewing. I did not exactly need renewal but 'that part' of me craved it.

Then it happened. After half hearted complaining about his dissatisfaction with his career and equally half hearted attempts to remedy this, my husband found the door to a new future that had been eluding him and pretty much kicked it down and walked through in less time, it felt, than it took me to write this sentence.

We had reached a fork in the road and we were taking the direction signposted '?'.

I would be giving up a lot to follow my husband down this unknown path but it is testament to my total trust in him that I never doubted (and of course there was 'that part' of me that was more than a little satisfied)

The new job was at an independent school and the deal was that we would be living in school owned accommodation and our two young children would be educated there. A huge focus of our life would be within the little bubble that is the school. I am the first to admit that this particular bubble is a very inspiring and exciting one but it would take a leap of faith to embrace it and make it work for all of us as a family.

My husband is totally committed to the school, its ethos, the people and the difference he feels he can make there. The children only really needed to put on their school uniforms to feel their sense of belonging and that sense has grown with each passing day as they make friends and achieve milestones in their education and development. I have been made welcome by the community and although I have yet to find a purpose for myself beyond supporting my husband and children (and that is a full time job as any mum knows!) I am happy here. We are making a life... and a good one.

I am sitting at the same desk I always sat at to compose my blog posts. I am surrounded by familiar things but  in new orientations and settings. The shape of my day is not as it was. I gaze out of a window that did not exist in my old office and I see a different view. Have I stayed the same or am I different?

I have shed so many layers: possessions, habits (good and bad), comfortable routines. I do feel lighter. This is a wonderful opportunity to live life the way we want to, to let the new layers settle with mindfulness and knowledge of past experience... to learn from old mistakes.

There was once a time, many years ago, when I thought all that was left for my future was to watch my little chicks fly away and wait patiently for death. How wrong I was.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


The day I moved from my much loved home in Shropshire to start a new life in Sussex, it rained. Not just drizzle, or showers.... torrential rain. Knowing that there was a deadline by which we had to return our rented removal vehicle, we did not have the luxury of waiting for the storm to pass. We battled on. Makeshift covered walkways fashioned from tarpaulins did not stop my new front garden turning into a quagmire and did little to actually shelter anything or anyone. They did serve to emphasise how ferocious the gusts of wind were at times as flapping, billowing sheets of plastic threw collected rainwater in random directions by the bucket load. Miraculously (and by 'miracle' I really mean foresight, care and diligence), my brand new carpets survived completely unscathed and bar a few knocks and bangs and complete exhaustion, so did we.

We have been settling into our new life now for the past month and a half. We have come a long way in that time. Much has happened and the speed at which changes are occurring and days are being ticked off on the calendar show no sign of slowing down.

Yesterday, I drove my daughter and a car load of possessions including a bicycle and a life sized human skeleton to Oxford. Oxford University terms start later than most others so we have only just joined that group of parents who have packed up their children and deposited them in various locations to begin exciting new academic adventures.

We arrived at the college in good time despite having to negotiate the M25 at rush hour. I drank much appreciated coffee as my daughter registered before being shown to the room she will call home (during term time at least!). The room was bare but lovely. I didn't have time to help her settle in and add some home comforts because I needed to get back to Sussex for the school pick up, but I did help transport her possessions up the inevitable flights of stairs ready to be unpacked. And... it rained.
This rain could not compete with the rain I had contended with during my own move but it was not rain that could be easily ignored. In the short walk (or run where we could manage it) from car park to hall of residence, plastic storage crate lids filled with water like little swimming pools. My hair was plastered to my face and dripping wet. I was soaked through.

I had a two hour drive home to dry off, grateful that the car heating system worked well.

So, I have one daughter at University about to embark on the challenge of becoming a medic. Another daughter, having graduated from her University in Warwick is working in London on a graduate training scheme. My other two grown up daughters still live and work in Shropshire and one of them is now engaged to be married. The family dynamic has changed dramatically and it is taking a bit of getting used to.

As I look out of my window today, I can see the leaves beginning to show their autumnal hues and some are floating gently earthwards . I have loved the long summer days and the unexpected late sunshine that has held the promise of winter at bay but autumn has most definitely arrived and it is beautiful. Change is good.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Croissant Chart

I was about to throw away this scrap of well scribbled on A4 paper when I realised that I had never blogged about my little boy Dylan's birthday and felt a compulsion to do so.

Dylan's birthday could have easily passed by relatively unnoticed this year... lost in the chaos that is my life since it was confirmed that we would be moving away from the home I've loved for ten wonderful years to pastures new. His birthday could have passed by relatively unnoticed were it not for the fact that he had been excitedly counting down the days for a whole month prior to the event.

He made a chart - a birthday countdown chart. He religiously crossed the days off and proudly announced how many more sleeps there were until he was five years old. He called it his 'cross off' chart and on more than one occasion I misheard him and wondered what on earth was the Croissant Chart he was searching for.

It would have been impossible not to treat his birthday with the same excitement he had for it.

Dylan's  birthday fell on a Sunday and it just happened to coincide with a date that features in our running diary - a local fun run. The five mile route through beautiful Shropshire countryside can be tackled on foot or by bike and we had plans to take part as a family. My eldest daughter was going to run with me while three of my other daughters took to their wheels with the birthday boy riding 'tag-along' on the back of dad's bike. For my youngest daughter, Addy, this was a big challenge. It is a fairly recent development that she's had the confidence to cycle any sort of distance on roads (albeit quiet country ones) but she was very determined to meet the challenge with the ring of her bell, a favourite teddy in her front basket and a big smile.

I absolutely loved every one of the five miles running (and strategic walking!) with my daughter. It was lovely when the cyclists, who start at the back of the pack behind elite runners and fun runners, overtook us and offered encouragement. I could see that my little family team were all having a good time. I was especially delighted as I approached the finish line (which due to a route change was now a painful uphill slog) to see my triumphant little girl, wearing her finishers medal, running towards me to run the last few metres with me.

Dylan was in a fever pitch of excitement. Both he and Addy jumped on me as I lay on the ground to recover from my exertions. I didn't mind at all! Dylan declared that he was having the Best Birthday in the Universe!

Back home, family and friends celebrated with cake as Dylan ran around the garden in a  knight's costume getting up to no good with a giant water soaker gun - both well appreciated birthday presents.

The only one of my offspring not to have taken part in the birthday fun run was 18year old Charis. She had celebrated her last day at boarding school the previous day and my husband and I were there with her to witness her collecting the academic prizes she had been awarded, to enjoy a picnic lunch and see her taking part in a fencing demonstration. I don't know much about fencing but I think she may have just won a well timed point as I took the following snap!

Her evening ended with a lavish Leavers Ball. As much as I would have loved to have seen her swanning around like a princess in the gown and sparkly heels that I had the privilege of buying for her, we left her to it hoping for a glimpse into her world with whatever photographs might appear on social media. 

We collected her in the early hours of the morning when the champagne had all been drunk and promises to stay in touch with friends had been made. Pitifully inadequate hours of sleep later, she was off on a training course for a summer holiday job to fund driving lessons and travel plans.

Although much has happened in the two years that Charis has been away at boarding school, the time has passed frighteningly quickly. As I reflect on the crossed off days of Dylan's Croissant Chart I am reminded of this passage of time. No one knows how many blank days lie ahead for them waiting to be filled and crossed off but we do know with certainty that the number is decreasing steadily and unstoppably. It's often not easy but I always want to try to embrace each new day and fill it with good things as best I can because one day, inevitably sooner than I'd like, the Croissant Chart of my life will be nothing more than a well scribbled on scrap of A4 paper that needs to be thrown away.

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day.

I drove my daughter, Taylor, back to her student house to empty it of the last of her belongings and give it a good clean before handing the keys back. The journey was easy, her things fitted effortlessly into the car and the cleaning satisfied an urge in me that surfaces from time to time to restore pristine cleanliness to where once was clutter and dirt.

The University uses a credit system whereby students have a card that can be topped up with money and spent in food establishments on campus. Taylor had a few pounds left on her card so she bought a lunch for us both that had become something of a tradition for her on Thursdays when lectures had kept her on campus all day. A freshly baked baguette generously filled with brie and salad eaten in the glorious sunshine on the central piazza was a perfect reward for all the scrubbing and vacuuming.

Our final job before heading back home was to collect Taylor's results.

We all knew that a mathematics degree at a prestigious university was never going to be easy and having now experienced it, Taylor would be the first to concur. She found it extremely challenging for all sorts of reasons beyond the simply academic ones, yet she persevered. Her boyfriend did everything he could to support her (including sending her a very prickly cactus that outgrew the box it had been delivered in thus causing a few concerns about how to transport it home!) Big sister Liberty made sure she had colourful post-its and notebooks to help with revision. I did my best to encourage her without putting her under any pressure to live up to my perceived expectations. We all did what we could and so did she... but would it be enough.

Taylor's first and second year results coupled with how well (or otherwise!) the final exams had gone meant that a first class degree was not going to happen. The dream was to scrape a 2.1 but a 2.2 was a more likely outcome. A 2.2 could still open doors, just not as effectively as a 2.1.  Of course, the worry was that after all her trying, all her enormous effort... she wouldn't get a 2.2. I would need all of my consolation techniques ready to deal with that particular outcome.

We walked to the maths building. We were moments away from knowing. I grabbed a coffee and waited outside as she and her friends went in to face the truth. Students were emerging from the building, mobile phones to their ears, sharing their news with anxious parents. There was jubilation. There were tears. I waited.

Taylor is a petite little thing. She was wearing dark clothing. As she emerged from the gloomy interior of the building into the bright sunlight, I saw her smile before I actually saw her. A huge, beaming smile.

A huge beaming smile followed by a thumbs up as she waved her piece of paper at me... the piece of paper with an unfathomable jumble of percentages AND the magic number... the number we had dared to hope for.


We drove home letting the good news sink in and sharing it with friends and family by the magic of text and facebook.

We celebrated with a rather unusual meal created by cooking all the partially defrosted frozen food that had been left in Taylor's uni freezer. Nobody cared how odd the meal was because Liberty arrived with a bottle of bubbly. As I toasted my daughter and sipped my drink, I could rejoice that the stress of 'not knowing' had been replaced with the joy of a fantastic result. I may have it all to go through again with the A level results, but today was most definitely a good day.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Gingerbread Man that wasn't a treat

I wouldn't normally write a post like this but my mum is keen for me to do so..... mum, this is for you.

My parents visit once a week. Usually, they alternate between spending one week with my sister and the next with me. When it isn't my week, they pop in for a coffee before going on to my sister's house. As I am going to be moving away this summer, they have broken the long established routine and have decided to make every week a bit special by taking my sister and I both out for lunch.

This week, we chose a local pub restaurant of the Fayre & Square franchise - The Gingerbread Man, Market Drayton.

We were quite surprised when we arrived to see that the normal 'order at the bar' service had been replaced by a more formal 'wait to be seated' and waitress service. There was also a brand new menu.

We perused the menu and my sister and I both decided on the vegetarian sausage and mash option. Dad stayed true to form and ordered his usual - fish and chips. The waitress was friendly and took our orders.

This is where it started to wrong.

Dad is firmly stuck in ways (not just in his choice of lunch). He likes his food served at a certain time and gets a bit agitated if he is kept waiting longer than necessary. I'm sure he will deny it when mum reads this post out to him but sorry dad, it is true.

We were kept waiting.

Mum made assurances that it was taking as long as it was because they would be cooking it all from fresh. It would be worth waiting for.

It wasn't.

The food arrived about half an hour later. It wasn't much of a big deal for me to wait half an hour but dad is in his eighties. If he sits in one place for too long, things start to seize up and that would spoil his enjoyment. We are all very aware of this and can start to feel on edge if we think he is struggling. If he was struggling, his mind was taken off arthritic joints and worn out knees when he laid eyes on his piece of fish. The dish named The Codfather certainly delivered on the size of the battered fillet. It was enormous and dad tucked into it with wide eyes and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the chip component of the fish and chips was far less satisfactory. The chips were actually cold.

Dad's cold chips were less of a concern than the plates my sister and I were served. I say 'plate' , they were actually large bowls which did not lend themselves well to good presentation which consisted of a dollop of mash with some peas thrown on, drowning in a sea of watery gravy with three mediocre looking veggie sausages plonked on top.

We all know that the first bite is with the eye but I have always been more interested in the second bite.
Sadly, things only got worse.

I am of the firm opinion that if the menu states 'mashed potato' you should be served with potato that is mashed. This may have been a potato once but processing and reconstituting had rendered it quite unrecognisable from the original tuber. Not only that, it had not been reconstituted adequately. I had lumps of almost rubbery goo in my serving that I had to actually spit out for fear of it making me sick. However discreetly I tried to remove the nauseating mass from my mouth,  my weak stomached sister did heave and could barely look at her own food, let alone try to extract something vaguely edible from the mess.

Disappointing for us as it was to be served such rubbish, the worse thing was that my mum felt guilty that our meals were not an acceptable standard and started to apologise to us. Her disappointment and feeling that she had somehow let us down was really heartbreaking. This was probably a good time for the waitress to appear and cheerily ask us if everything was OK with our meals.

I am not a complainer - I always just try to make the best of any situation - but with my mum blaming herself for the disaster I had to say something. The waitress did offer to replace my dad's chips but whether the attitude deeply ingrained from wartime shortages meant that he could not bring himself to waste even cold chips or whether he just wanted the meal to be over as quick as possible so he could get up from he chair to relieve his pains, he refused. There was not much she could do about our dinners other than apologise. I asked for a reduction in the bill and we were offered a deduction to the value of one of our meals.

We really should have refused to pay for the two unsatisfactory meals but maybe the fact that we were brought up by someone so apposed to wasting food that he won't even swap his cold chips or maybe just to try and absolve our mum from her misplaced guilt, we had eaten the sausages (which were as mediocre as they first appeared)

Mum wanted to buy us all dessert to make up for the bad food but I felt disinclined to put any more business their way. We accepted the offer of the deduction and asked for the bill.

Dad (who was paying) was quite satisfied with the outcome but the free meal wasn't as good a deal as it seemed. Their pricing system has 'meal deals' so you can buy two meals for a tenner offering a reduction on the price of individual meals. Our bill was reduced by the cost of one meal which automatically meant we were charged more for the other. The compensation for two inedible dinners and a ruined lunchtime treat turned out to be about  three pounds. Pathetic.

We have all had bad experiences with retailers and service providers. How those companies choose to deal with the customer can make a huge difference to whether you do business with them again.

An apology from somebody with more authority than a poorly paid waitress, a complaint taken seriously by the kitchen, a sweetener in the form of free drinks or desserts, a fair reduction in the bill .... any one of those would have satisfied us and we would have returned for future lunches (although possibly always steered clear of the mash).

It was not an expensive meal even if we were charged more than it was worth. We are not interested in making a fuss even if the whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths both figuratively and literally. I think my mum's keenness for me to write this post is her way of putting it all in order and moving on. (I hope I have done that for you mum).

My dad is a very generous tipper. I think I mentioned a couple of times in this post that he is a creature of habit. When I thought for one second that he was considering leaving a tip, I told him very firmly to put his money away.

He did.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Divorcing my Children

My husband is away this week. He is in India visiting a quite remarkable school nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There is part of me that hates him being away. I want him home with me. I want him in my bed at night. I want him bringing me my cup of tea in the morning. And yet there is part of me that doesn't mind at all because it is the passion he has for doing things outisde of what most would consider the norm that makes him the man he is - the man I love.

It is this passion that has shaken our lives up so drastically recently. He is starting a new job and we are moving from the home we have lived in happily for the last ten years. Ten years of stability and suddenly we are starting over in a new place with new opportunities and new challenges.

Without a doubt, the one thing I will miss above all else from this part of my life is having my two eldest daughters around. They both have homes a short walk from mine and I spend a lot of time with them - running, swimming, shopping or having them just drop by for a chat or inviting themselves to dinner! They help me out in all sorts of ways and I love their company. I know that the relationships will adapt and evolve to suit the new situation but I will definitely miss the 'availability' of them.

Despite living independent lives, both daughters still have possessions in the family home. Of my other two grown up daughters, one is about to finish University and one is about to start. They both have a significant amount of their belongings stored here too. As we will be moving to an area of high property value, we will inevitably be downsizing. This has made it necessary for my girls to claim and take responsibility for as much of their own stuff as possible.

We joked that it was like a divorce as we sorted through the DVD and CD collection working out what belonged to who. Divorcing my children actually turned out to be a lot of fun and quite therapeutic. We  amicably divided and also sorted out a mighty pile that my eldest, Liberty, was able to sell with Music Magpie. I was absolutely delighted when she bought me a present out of some of the proceeds to thank me for the sacrifices I made from my part of the collection.

My present was Volume 1 of a wonderfully dark, interconnected collection of short stories in the graphic novel style by writer Neil Gibson. I have never fully embraced the comic book culture but this particular book entitled Twisted Dark is incredible. It explores the worst aspects of human nature in a punchy, hard hitting yet digestible way. Beautifully drawn, clever narrative, edgy... I just love it. I don't imagine it will convert me to a lover of all things 'comic book' but I am definitely wanting more Twisted Dark!

Another sizeable collection that needed to be dealt with was Liberty's Warhammer fantasy miniatures - paints, craft tools, miniature figures, scenery, the entire Lord of the Rings partwork with most of the figures still wrapped in the cellophane. Back in her teens, she had spent many a happy hour painting the figures - and she was good at it.  A steady hand, meticulous attention to detail and the odd tutorial at the nearest Warhammer Games Workshop and she was achieving a very high standard - a standard recognised when she won a ffty pound gift voucher in a painting competition. The money was immediately ploughed back into the hobby which ground to a halt about the time she got her first serious boyfriend! The collection has been in my loft gathering dust for years and it was time to put it back into her hands. The lovely thing is, her interest has been rekindled. She has no desire to play Warhammer or even to keep the figures once they are painted. The joy is in the doing. She has started painting them then putting them on ebay to sell. She is doing well. She's never going to make her millions this way but she has the pleasure of painting, the slight thrill of seeing how high the bids go and most importantly... they are no longer in my loft.

My house decluttering continues as I wait for my husband to return from his adventures in India. I am almost at the point where I want to empty each room as though we were moving out and then (after a clean and freshen) put back ONLY what we want in our new life. That way, there will be no surprises when we move out for real.


Monday, 11 May 2015

A Patchwork Blanket

I have four daughters of child bearing age. Quite rightly, because of where each of them is in their lives, not one of them is bearing any children. I am not completely desperate for grandchildren with my own two little ones to keep me busy, but it would be nice. I often imagined knitting a little something for the new baby as I awaited the moment that my child became a mother.

Recently, I sorted through my collection of wool, needles and pattern books that I have barely looked at for years.

I'd spent some really happy hours learning to knit with my mum as my mentor, trying all sorts of different projects from zombies, to meerkats to all the birds from the twelve days of Christmas. I also practised new techniques and designs on small squares that I intended to put together to make a patchwork blanket. My mum gave me three patchwork blankets that she made in the time it took me to make a handful of squares. My blanket project lost impetus.

Sorting through the knitting cupboard as part of my preparation for moving house this summer, memories of the happy times flooded back. I found the little plastic bag that I had kept all my blanket squares in and wondered what to do with them. I wasn't sure if it was something worth donating to a charity shop and I didn't want to just throw them away because each one was like a page in a special knitting diary. I was overcome with good feelings as I laid them out and quite surprised to find that by chance, I had made exactly enough for a 7x5 rectangle. I ignored my head that was telling me that I had too much to do to mess around with knitted squares and listened to my heart that was urging me to finish the job I'd started all that time ago and sew them together into an blanket (a small blanket but still a blanket).

I found a video on the internet that explained a few different ways of putting the squares together and decided on the one that I thought would work best for me and my limited sewing skills. My husband came home to no dinner that evening but I joined all the pieces... and I loved it. It was surprisingly relaxing. As for the finished item, I am really proud of it. It's a bit higgledy piggledy but the squares seem to blend together to create something different... to become what it was always meant to be. Definitely a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

The cupboard is now sorted. I have donated a lot of what I had but kept a small number of needles and my very favourite pattern books just in case I feel the urge to get creative with wool. And I have a blanket. It is a tiny blanket but a tiny blanket that would be perfect for a new baby. Even if I never knit again, my first born grandchild will have a little something from its granny with love in every stitch.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Market Drayton 10K 2015

Today I ran the Market Drayton 10K road race, voted best in the country for three consecutive years by readers of Runners World magazine.

I didn't come last but I know the person who did and she just happens to be the twin sister of my daughter's boyfriend. This remarkable young lady was born with cerebral palsy but has never let it limit her. Inspired by her mother who recently completed the London Marathon, she took on the challenge of running her first 10K. It took her 1 hour and 44 minutes and she was very definitely last but what an achievement. As she crossed the line with her very proud mum, the rest of her family and extended family were waiting with an emotional display of congratulations. If my own body had not been so dehydrated, I would have been crying like a baby to see her euphoria at finishing and the responses of her loved ones. My tear ducts produced only dry tears as I made sobbing noises and struggled to catch my breath. She was presented ceremonially with a very well deserved medal.

The inclusive nature of the event is maybe part of the reason why this race keeps being voted number one. Or maybe it is the party atmosphere, enhanced greatly by the energetic drummer group that made running along the high street an absolute pleasure with the accompanying pacey beat. Then there is the family friendly nature with the children able to take part in fun runs prior to the main race.

This year my two little ones were signed up to take part in the fun runs. Dylan was in the 3-4 year age category running a distance of 100 metres and Addy was in the 5-7 year category covering 200 metres. They were both vey proud of their medals and goody bags presented at the finish. Both are keen to run again.

On the subject of goody bags, the Market Drayton 10K is well supported by local business sponsors and provides an amazing selection of treats for the finishers including a technical T shirt, medal, mars bar, gingerbread man, pork pie, water, yoghurts and a voucher for beer that I am very much looking forward to redeeming. Perhaps another reason why the race is so popular!

My husband was happy to sacrifice his chance of a new Personal Best to run the course with me.

It was tough but I loved it and his encouragement (which included pushing me up a few hills) was definitely what kept me going. We crossed the finish line together.

My time of 1 hour 12 mins was slower than my last year's result but faster than the first year I did it and only actually 6 minutes slower than the time I would have been aiming for if my training had gone according to plan. I am not at all unhappy with that.

I am also very proud of my two eldest daughters who did fantastically well today. I wonder which of us will be aching the most tomorrow!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

That's Enter'train'ment

I recently had a much needed weekend break in London to coincide with the London Marathon. I travelled down by train with two of my daughters and for our entertainment (or as I preferred to call it  - enter'train'ment) my eldest daughter, Liberty,  had sourced some goal setting life audit activity sheets from pinterest. Daughter Ivy was having none of it, protesting that her life was fine the way it was and settled down with a book. Liberty and I got stuck in.

We had to list five priorities and set three goals to achieve each of them.

My first priority was: to run the Market Drayton 10K without coming last. As I explained in a previous post, coming last is actually a real possibility! I set my goals which included running the three miles home from the school drop off at least once a week.

I have been without a car for some time. My faithful old Galaxy was definitely starting to get a bit cranky and when an unfortunate trip home from Sussex ended up taking 7 hours rather than the usual 3 to 4  because of the traffic, bit cranky was elevated to somewhere between more than a lot cranky and totally had it. My sister kindly stepped in to transport my kids to and from school each day and on one morning a week (for all of two weeks) I had her drop me off at the school in my lycra and trainers so I could run home. I ran a bit. I walked a bit. I made it home both times without resorting to hitching a lift from a friendly road user. It wasn't too bad but it wasn't too good either. It certainly wasn't enough to give me the confidence to run the six miles of the race I'd signed up to do.

It is too late to worry about it (and the other two running goals I set myself and failed to find the time for) now. The race is tomorrow! I am running it with my husband so my revised strategy to achieve my goal of 'not coming last' is to trip my husband up just before the finish line so at least I can beat him!

My second priority was to start blogging again. Woohoo! Chalk up one victory to me!

My next two priorities were to do with the fact that I will be moving soon - starting a new life in new county. I gave some thought to the people I want to spend some time with here before I go and the sorting out of my belongings so that I only take with me the things I really want or need. So priority number three was all about PARTIES!! and if only the weather would cheer up I would get my big gazebo put up in the garden and launch myself into party planning mode. I have plenty of good party ideas that will actually help with the sorting out part of my plan. More to follow on that (when the sun comes out!) Priority four could not just be a general 'sort things out'. I was already doing that anyway. It had to focus more on the areas I'd been avoiding because I knew they would be difficult. I set my goals and the hardest one of all was to sort out my photographs.

I bought my first SLR camera when I was at University. Over the years I have amassed an insane amount of photographs. Often, when I had my films processed, I would order two copies of each print because it was significantly cheaper than paying for reprints. When I had my children, I would photograph them endlessly. So many similar photos. So many bad photos. So many double copies. Just... so many photos. I have never been any good at organising them. Add to that all the school photography.... and you always buy the biggest pack because it is 'better value for money'.... and again... so many photos.

I have the luxury of a lot of cupboard space in my current house. For the last ten years, my jumbled mess of photographs has caused nobody any trouble behind a closed door, added to whenever it was the school photo time of year. But I could not move it as it was to our new home. It had to be tackled.

It took me two days to sort through them systematically, discarding the over exposed, the under exposed, the blurry ones, the doubles.... and putting the rest into roughly chronological order. I faced memory after memory... most good, some bad. It was emotionally draining.

I am really pleased with the result... a coherent collection of photographs that invites you to dip in and enjoy.

The final part of the process was probably the hardest. What to do with all the discarded images? After a lot of thought, I shredded them. I shredded my own children. It felt very wrong. I have to say that the shredder did transform the photos into a tactile, glistening heap of shreddings. Quite lovely.

Onto my final priority. Back in December, I set myself a New Year Challenge to learn twelve pole dancing moves - one a month for twelve months - in order to put together a routine and finally get the best use of the pole that my husband bought for me years ago. I started off quite well learning to do a reasonable Fireman Spin by watching instructional videos on the internet. Then I had a change of heart. To fit in with my life I needed to fast track my progress. I started having lessons.

Ivy has been coming with me and I am so glad that I got her to come along. She is really loving it and doing really well. We have now both achieved a Level 1 pass and I have already got more than 12 moves to use in my routine (as well as an impressive selection of bruises). My priority isn't really about calling myself a 'pole dancer' but using pole dancing to improve my strength, posture and flexibility and most of all have some fun. I am certainly doing that.

Liberty - Enemy of the Hoarder

My daughter Liberty is a first class declutterer. Nothing would give her more pleasure than entering into the home of a chronic hoarder and barking the order Get Rid of It! as she regards with disdain each and every one of your 'treasures'. She has been extremely brutal with my treasures and extremely useful.

I invited her round initially to help me sort out the massive collection of children's books that had belonged to her and her sisters and had been handed down and put away for my little ones. We are a book loving family but when there are too many to choose from, pages are yellowed, spines damaged and covers dated... it ceases to be a pleasure. With the efficiency of a school librarian (which she was, briefly) she worked her way through the mountain of books and sorted them into three piles: keep, charity shop, recycle. I did not question her judgement.

Once the charity shop had taken their share and the paper recycling skip was a little fuller, we were left with a manageable pile of lovely books that fitted neatly onto the bookshelf space available and seven year old Addy immediately dived in and began browsing the titles to find some bedtime reading material. Exactly the result I was looking for.

Actually, I did overrule one of Liberty's decisions. She was adamant that the complete Harry Potter collection was a keeper. She was of the generation that grew up with Hogwarts and hungrily devoured each new school year as it was published. Personally, I loved the first three books but found the later volumes a chore. I am happy for my little ones to watch the films when they are ready and will buy the books for kindle if they show any interest. Books 1-3 take up an acceptable amount of space on the shelf. The rest have now gone. Sorry Liberty.

The little ones 'help' sort out the bookshelves

Sorting the books for me served only to whet Liberty's appetite. My husband clung possessively to his Peter Tosh CD as she scorned his musical taste and emptied our CD racks! She had me close to tears as she made me choose just one bat biscuit cutter out of the five I had collected.

Actually, my biscuit cutter collection was an embarrassment. I had carefully organised them into three large tins, eight plastic takeaway food containers, a plastic basket and a few loose ones. They took up  almost an entire cupboard. Nobody needs that many biscuit cutters. As Liberty sorted through them with the speed of an express train, I found myself saying - that one can go, I can never get the cookie dough out of it in one piece or that one can go, the head always falls off when I take it off the baking tray or what is that one supposed to be anyway? An owl? A rocket? Seriously, why had I held onto so many 'not fit for purpose' cutters anyway! We reduced my Xmas cutters to the ones I use every year and the Hallowe'en collection to the best of the different types, discarding all the cats because the tails never work.

Shortly after the decimation of my biscuit cutter hoard, daughter Taylor and her boyfriend came home from Uni and cooked a three course meal here at my house for my husband, myself and the boyfriend's parents. They planned a Mexican themed dinner with the star of the show being a dessert they had created to look like nachos but with biscuit tortilla chips, chocolate sauce salsa and grated white chocolate cheese. When Taylor asked me if I had a triangle biscuit cutter I immediately said Yes. Then I remembered Liberty's work. Maybe. It didn't take long to look through my new improved streamlined cutter collection to find that  the answer was No - my triangle cutter had not been elite enough to survive the cull. I was ready to cry and question the sanity of ever throwing away anything that you had considered good enough to buy in the first place when Taylor picked up a square cutter that  Liberty had spared and brightly suggested she could use that and cut it on the diagonal. That works! Crisis averted and the nacho inspired dessert was magnificent.

Friday, 8 May 2015

My Solar Eclipse Run and the MD 10K

During my absence from the blogosphere, we were treated to the natural wonder that was the solar eclipse. My husband was heading off for a job interview and the kids were at school so I decided to experience the eclipse out in the countryside whilst doing something that has come to be an important part of my life - running. I called it (unimaginatively) my solar eclipse run.

It was glorious.

I love being out in the Shropshire countryside and this day could not have been better. I was thinking a lot about my husband's interview and what it would mean to us as a family if he was offered the job. As well as taking my mind off the inevitable pain and monotony of running, it also made me appreciate the countryside all the more. The new job would mean moving away from this place I loved so I was going to enjoy every hedgerow, every field, every cow, every bird... as if it were the last time. Enjoying all these things against the slightly surreal purplish quality of the light as the moon moved across the sun suited my mood perfectly.

There was a noticeable drop in the temperature and a blurring of the shadows but it didn't go as dark as I remembered from the last eclipse I'd witnessed and the birds never stopped singing like they had before. It felt slightly anti-climatic but I kept running and the moon kept moving across the sky away from the sun and life went on.

That was probably the last time I had a really good run.

The interview went well for my husband. He has been offered a job. We are moving. I have been thrust into a whole new world of busy as we try to prepare for this next part of our journey - a journey that began over ten years ago with a reunion of old friends from which love blossomed.

Putting the romantic stuff back in box marked Do Not Open Unless You are in the Mood for Romantic Stuff, my point is That was the last time I had a really good run because there has been so much going on and so much to do.

Normally, taking a break from running would not be a problem but I am signed up to run a 10K race in my home town of Market Drayton on Sunday and I'm not sure I could even run for a bus at the moment.

This will be my third time running the Market Drayton 10K which has grown over the years into an event to be proud of - voted by Runners World magazine as Best UK 10K for three consecutive years and best UK race over any distance in 2014. We were even on the BBC local news yesterday.

I think I can safely say that there is no chance of beating my own personal best for the course. My husband has offered to run it with me and despite the fact that I know it is going to be tough to complete it without having put in the training to get my fitness and stamina where it needs to be, I am thoroughly looking forwards to it. I will run it with my husband at a nice steady (slow!) pace and am determined to enjoy every kilometre as it winds its way around familiar streets. It will be part of the ritual of saying goodbye to the town that has been a good home for me.

Having been up to London recently to support the wonderful Marathon runners, I feel almost embarrassed to say that the 10K will be a test of my fortitude. Watching the amazing individuals at around the 25 mile mark was quite an experience. A wide spectrum of human emotion was on display as people were pushed to the limit of their endurance. I will be running less than a quarter of the distance but still, to keep going will take a lot of physical and mental effort. I will have to draw on all the motivation I felt as a marathon spectator to continue putting one foot in front of the other until the finish line.

I will run it with my husband because with him at my side I can do almost anything. (I knew I wouldn't be able to keep the lid on the Romantic Box!)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Start of a New Journey.

I feel as though I should be in the blogger's equivalent of a Catholic confessional.

Forgive me internet for I have not blogged. It has been two months since my last post...

In my defence, my lack of activity on the tiny speck of the cyberspace landscape that I call mine has been driven by the fact that my computer ceased to function. Having spent a rather long time being repaired by some genius whose skills make my head hurt, my computer is back where it belongs - on my desk and fully functioning (albeit with a slightly odd keyboard that may end up being to blame for some interesting typos).

I am back and so much has happened in the last couple of months that I don't know quite where to start. In the tradition of all good stories, I suppose I should start at the beginning.

For some time, my husband has felt dissatisfied with his current employment. A long commute each day bites deeply into the time available to try and achieve the elusive work/life balance. He is always ridiculously busy, sometimes overstretched and too often stupidly tired. On one such day when he decided to have a good moan about it, I was not in the mood to be sympathetic. I told him in no uncertain terms that he had no right to complain about the situation unless he was prepared to actually do something about it. He took my words very much to heart.

My husband is in the sort of job where head hunters periodically contact him with positions that may be of interest. He had responded to a few of these potential opportunities in the past but without the commitment of time (of which he has so little to spare) and energy (ditto!) or any real desire to actually change the wonderful bits of our life that we have built over the last decade,  these opportunities went nowhere.

Suddenly, with my words still bouncing around his head, everything went crazy. There were job applications, interviews and presentations to prepare. There were shirts to iron, suits to dry clean. There were long trips north and south to attend invitations to interview.

It came down to two strong contenders. A job in Yorkshire which I loved the sound of. I saw myself living in the Dales in a sympathetically renovated barn conversion with a big garden for me to keep my chickens and the kids to play. The property website RightMove fed my imagination as I perused suitable homes for sale within our price range. The job my husband favoured would mean moving to Sussex. Putting to one side for a moment that this was a great job, there were two compelling arguments in its favour. Firstly, my husband was born and raised in Brighton and has a strong affinity for the area. Secondly, it would mean we could see a lot more of his dad and be on hand should we be needed at any time. The major flaw in the plan was that our 'housing dollar' would have a really hard time stretching to any sort of accommodation even vaguely comparable to our current home. RightMove was no longer my friend.

My dreams of becoming a Yorkshire lass were put to bed when my husband accepted the Sussex job but before accepting it, a wild card was thrown into the mix. During the process of providing the names of referees for potential employers, my husband got back into contact with a man he had worked with in Switzerland. I have yet to meet this man but my husband describes him as inspirational and someone he would love to work with again. Contact with the inspirational individual generated the wildcard.

I am not a morning person. I can be slow to wake up and not worth talking to until after my first cup of tea. My husband brought me up my morning tea as usual and dropped the question out of the blue How would you feel about moving to India? It was many hours later that I actually responded, by text, to say that anything was possible.

Compared with reducing my belongings to fit into a trunk and packing my family off to another continent, downsizing to relocate in Sussex seemed like an easy option.

While my husband has been organising his exit strategy from his current employment, visiting India and preparing to start work in his new job (did I mention that he is a busy man!), I have been on a mission to sort out and streamline our life. We have accumulated a lot of 'stuff' over the years and comfortably spread out to fill our five bedroomed home. Taking stock of our possessions, breaking emotional ties and working out what we really need against what only serves to weigh us down is challenging. My mind is in a whirl with it all and I am very glad to have my computer back so that I can document the journey we are on. One step at a time. One post at a time. Here we go.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Finding my inner mermaid.

Apart from one week - a week that spanned half term, valentines day and my wedding anniversary - a week during which I was ill with tonsillitis and felt absolutely wretched - apart from that ONE week, the last two months have been amazing.

I would even go so far as to say that the last two months have been life changing.

In the last two months I have transformed myself from effectively a non-swimmer into a reasonably competent breaststroker who is happy and comfortable in the water. I never thought it would be possible. I would guess that I have been swimming more in the last two months than I have in the 50 odd years preceding them. I certainly put in the effort.  I did make a start on my freestyle stroke but I am way off where I want to be with that. My membership to the pool has now expired. Freestyle is a challenge for another day.

So I learned to swim. How is that so amazing and life changing?

On a fitness level it has been fantastic. Without ever sustaining any injury (unless you want to count bruising my ankle when I kicked it against the side of the pool) I have worked all my muscles and improved my stamina.  My boobs seem perkier and my bum is firmer.

I feel differently about my body. It may not be the body of a 20 year old but it is strong and capable. I've stopped looking for the faults and see the wonder of flesh and bone working in harmony. I absolutely love the feeling of stretching out into the longest, most streamlined shape possible to glide through the water.

Learning to breathe efficiently and control it has made me feel calmer both in and out of the water.

Achieving something that I never truly believed possible has strengthened my self belief.

Discovering a love of swimming has opened a wealth of possibilities. Holidaying somewhere with a pool is now massively more appealing. Open water swimming both at home and abroad is an untapped source of potential pleasure. Scuba diving suddenly seems not beyond reach.

And then of course there is competing in a triathlon which was the idea that started the whole 'learn to swim' project in the first place. I am not a fast swimmer. I am never going to win any prizes. But I am no longer fearful that I couldn't even manage the 200m required for a Sprint distance event. I CAN do it. And that is an empowering feeling.

It has been a pretty amazing couple of months.

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