Monday 21 December 2009

The bliss of doing nothing

When I lived at home many moons ago, I always wondered what was wrong with my mother. She never sat still and just did nothing. She was always doing something - fixing things, making things, cleaning things or doing things. I thought it was just her. A dire case of ants-in-the-pantsitis.

Fast forward. Today that person with an inability to sit and do nothing is me. There is ALWAYS something else that needs doing. Usually its work. Or household chores. Or children. Or organising things. Or those billions of small jobs that never quite get done. As a result I am perpetually in motion. I think I have forgotton how to relax. To just sit and be and not do.

However, on Friday I stopped working for the year. I was even organised enough to have done the bulk of my paperwork so that I don't have to face it come 1 January. I have done all my Christmas shopping and have wrapped most of it. I am not having the world and their respective dogs coming to Christmas dinner so there is no need to make a big fuss. I'm going to wing it and pop into Sainsbury's on Wednesday morning and play pot luck to see what I can find for Christmas dinner (like Ready, Steady, Cook only with a few more ingredients to choose from).
So that means there is no making cranberry sauce or gravy in advance, or working out spreadsheets of what to cook when.

We do have a drinks party here on Tuesday evening and I will have to do a bit of work for that tomorrow, but not much. So after having bought the necessary bits needed for that on Saturday morning, I was officially done. I had nothing else that really needed doing. Sure I still haven't put the photos of the children into albums (since they were babies) and admittedly I haven't tidied my clothes cupboard. But neither of those things are mission critical.

So I thought I'd just lie in front of the fire and read a book. This felt thoroughly decadent and obviously going from do-er to be-er cannot be achieved in a single step. First I had to make the fire. Before I could do that I had to clean out the fireplace. And then once I had a bag full of ash, I realised that the bins still hadn't been put back since the bin men came and we had several new bags of rubbish that had to go out. Having done that, I realised we were out of firewood, so headed back into the garden to the log pile to collect a basketful of logs and kindling.

Having seen the state of the garden while out there, I couldn't justify lying in front of the fire reading a book when the piles of leaves I'd raked weeks ago were still sitting in forlorn frozen piles waiting to go into the green recycling bin. So I spent the next 40 minutes picking up leaf ice blocks and putting them in the bin. And raking up the left over bits.

A good hour and a half after I'd decided to do nothing, I returned to the sitting room, made a fire, lay down and read my book. I managed to do that for about 20 minutes before the children found me and said they were hungry and I got up to make dinner.

Sunday morning rolled around. A whole glorious day lay ahead with nothing to do (thank God given I'd been up all night with a poorly child). I had a lie in. Sort of. I had a leisurly breakfast. I went for a long snowy walk with the un-poorly child. I read my book in front of the fire. I played chess with the boys and my husband while listening to Christmassy music. I made some scones and we all had high tea. We ventured out to Christmas carols at the church. Enjoyed some mulled wine. Had a hearty dinner of stew with crusty bread. Put the boys to bed. And I reverted to the sofa with a book and a glass of red wine, with the fire still crackling away.

No TV, no blogging, no twitter, no talking, no doing, no thinking. Just quite simply being. It was bliss. It feels like I've been on a holiday. I think the book, wine, fire combo is going to be repeated a lot in the next two weeks.

So on the off chance I can't be bothered to remove myself from the sofa between now and Christmas, here's wishing you a very merry - and more importantly - a very relaxed Christmas and stress-free 2010!

Friday 18 December 2009

Christmas cards - the sequel

It's quite funny returning to blog posts from the previous year. It shows just how little life changes really. Last Christmas I had this small rant about Christmas cards. I was about to write a post about Christmas cards but then remembered that I'd done that already. A year ago. And my rant this year would be virtually identical.

However, there have been a few small changes this year. For a start, I sent virtually no Christmas cards to long lost friends overseas. I'm sorry friends overseas. This was down to two things. A) apathy and B) apathy. I do wonder though how many of you will notice the lack of card. Whether you'll be sitting around the Christmas table saying: "You know, we didn't get a Christmas card from Melissa this year". Or whether me not writing a card, driving to the post office, getting it weighed, buying the more expensive stamps and popping them in the box makes little impact on your lives anyway.

I've also chopped several people off my Christmas card list this year due to the fact that we truly never see them and probably never will and it's time to stop the pretence. In fact, browsing through my address book is quite a sad past time. So many people we have lost touch with as we've moved around the world and moved into different phases of our respective lives. I think it might be time for a new address book. But part of me feels sad to throw the old one away, on the off chance we might one day need to track down these old friends.

I also stuck to my guns this year and refused point blank to write any cards for my children's friends. This morning my 5 year old son asked if he could write a card for his teacher and head teacher. I gave him two cards. He wrote them himself. And that was it. Our drawing room on the other hand is littered with cards from children (or rather their parents) who I don't know and probably never will. I don't feel an ounce of guilt about it either.

And finally, cards for the neighbours. There are some neighbours I see reasonably often as they potter around in their gardens (they're all roughly 100 years old). But others I never see and who barely know us. Again - the question of: "Is it worth doing?" springs to mind. But there is something good about writing a card to the little old lady who lives on her own, walking over to her house in the snow with the card and a bag of walnuts from our garden and having a little chat about the weather. It makes Christmas feel like Christmas.

I guess technology like twitter and facebook and blogs and email all make the old fashioned things seem a bit antiquated and pointless. But I hope that the real sentiment of Christmas - peace on earth and goodwill towards men - can stay alive with small gestures that bring cheer on an otherwise frosty day.

Saturday 12 December 2009

A girl friend shaped hole in my life

I've blogged about this subject before - so apologies for repeating myself, but I just need to get this off my chest. I might just be one of those people, who will never be satisfied with what they've got, regardless of what they've got. I'll probably always be searching for that thing, that elusive thing that seems to be missing. What is that thing?

Is it more money? A house by the sea? A husband who's home more often? A warmer climate? A full and active social life? A hobby that occupies me? Good old fashioned contentment?

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that what I am missing desperately in my life is girlfriend. A real one. Like that best friend you used to have when you were in primary school.

When Saturdays roll around, we have the normal merry-go-round of football and grocery shopping and chores. But every now and then I do have a day when I don't have to do those things and I could have time to myself to head off to the shops and browse, have a coffee and chat. The problem is, I don't have a friend to do that with.

Now I know that makes me sound like norman no mates.

I do have friends. I have friends who live far away. And I have friends who live across the road. I even have bloggy friends. But on weekends everyone seems to do couple-type things or are pre-booked for months hence. Or who, quite frankly, just don't seem to have the same need for friendship.

I have friends who I know would be up for an afternoon of girly shopping and chewing the fat, but it would all need to be arranged and organised months in advance. I want spontaneity. (Picky, picky I hear you say). But I want to have the type of friend who I can call up and say: 'Fancy running off to Costa Coffee before browsing for nothing in particular?' without having to pre-plan it all. I want to feel confident enough that they won't find that weird, and that in fact, that they'd call me and ask me to do that with them.

Or take last night for example. Friday night at home on my own - again. I could have (and probably should have) worked, but it was Friday for God sake. I would have loved to call up a friend and say: Fancy coming over for a glass of wine and a chat? But besides several old friends who live too far away for a casual Friday night glass of wine, I've got no-one nearby that I yet feel comfortable enough to ask. Or rather, ask again. Because I have asked. I've arranged get togethers. I've suggested things. But no-one ever seems to return the favour. And the friendship never seems to move forward.

I've been living in the UK for almost 6 years now and in our current village for 3.5 years. During that time I've run toddler groups, got on pre-school committees, gone to village events and have made an effort to be friendly with neighbours - all in a bid to get to know people and make friends. Yet STILL there is this wall of polite distance that seems impossible to cross. Perhaps it's because I'm South African. Perhaps we just do friendship differently.

With sisters you can do this type of thing without fear of rejection. You might call. They might be busy. But in no way will it feel like you're imposing on them. Unfortunately, my sisters live in New Zealand and Ireland, making an impromptu shopping trip or a quick glass of wine a little tricky.

Am I alone in feeling like this? Does everyone else have so many friends that they can barely find the time to breathe, much less go out for yet another coffee? And how do you get to that point in a friendship where you're comfortable enough to call, be turned down but know that they genuinely appreciated you offering and are very likely to return the favour soon?

I know from comments on my previous post on this subject that I'm not alone. But how can we change it?

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Feed a mouth, not a bin

So first of all, just an update on man-pair-gate. I've found one! He is 25, from Romania, a qualified paediatric nurse, has worked at his mother's kindergarten since he was 15, is more than happy to cook (loves baking apparently) and clean, loves sports and is very excited about being a big brother to my two boys. He is mature, sensible, flexible, accommodating and seems ever so nice. He starts in Feb. How excited am I?? Very.

The ladies in the village are even more excited as they think they're going to get a young stud muffin for some eye candy. He's ok looking but not quite what I think they're imagining. And they're already queuing up for his babysitting and gardening services.

So here goes my first foray into having a complete stranger living in the house with me. Obviously my husband had to do that while I sailed across the ocean with the Mrs Doubtfire nanny, but this is different. I shall no doubt be reporting back frequently on how it's all going.

Now, onto a slightly more serious subject.

Today a letter from the World Children's Fund came in through the letterbox. I get so much of this type of mail that it usually goes straight into the bin. But the picture on the outside of the letter broke my heart. It was of a baby in Sudan that was little more than skin and bones. Part of me was angry that they would send out such provocative direct mail. But part of me thought: hang on, maybe this is the truth of what's happening outside of our cossetted little world and perhaps this is the only way to be heard.

I spent some time looking at their website and started to reach for my cheque book (which is attached to an account that is fairly lacking in funds) but then I thought, hang on, isn't there something bigger I can do. Then the phone rang, and I had to stop the thought process and keep working.

But it came back to me tonight, having fed my children juicy beef burgers in squishy buns with piles of crunchy salad. One of my children refused to eat the burger because 'he doesn't like meat' and the other refused to eat the bun because 'it had seeds on', then refused to eat the burger because it had been cut up in the wrong shape pieces.

It was at this point that the red rage descended and I might have gone a bit OTT on the lesson giving. Because quite regularly I hear myself saying: "There are starving children in Africa you know", but what is 'starving' and where is Africa to these well fed children of mine? So I got the picture out and showed it to them. I pointed out that THAT was a starving child in Africa and THAT is what it meant to have no food and THAT is why they are ungrateful little beasts who could either eat what they're given or go bloody hungry.

They opted to go hungry.

But then it occurred to me. Every day up and down the country there must be parents spending a bomb in Tescos and Sainsburys etc buying food for their children (and themselves) that ends up in the bin. And the idea came to me. Perhaps I could start a 'Feed a mouth, not a bin' campaign. It's still just a nugget of an idea and I haven't worked out the logistics at all, but here's an example:

Instead of cooking as much food as you normally would for your children - if they are big wasters - cook half. That way, you only waste half as much food (good for the environment) and spend half as much money. The money you save (at least some of it) can be donated to a charity that helps feed starving children.

So in tonight's burger example, I bought a four pack of burgers for about £2.50. I froze the whole pack, instead of freezing them individually. So I defrosted all four. And cooked all four. I ate one. My husband is away so there was one spare. The kids had one each, both of which went in the bin. I could have cooked just two. One for me, one to be split between my children on the off chance they'd actually eat some. That would leave me with two burgers for another meal. Which means that I actually would have spent only £1.25 on this meal instead of £2.50. I could donate that £1.25 or just generally cut the cost of my grocery bill. Which would mean I have a bit of extra money each month. And if I could then use some of that extra money to feed a mouth instead of a bin, I could be helping lots of very hungry children.

I know it needs work, but I really think it's an idea that has legs. I'm sure that in these economic times, people would like to hang onto any monetary savings to help them pay for other things. Fair enough. But I'm equally sure there are many mothers out there like me who can't bear the thought of starving children who have nothing, while their own children waste, who'd be willing to support it.

So who's with me? Anyone?

Thursday 3 December 2009

Another man in the house?

So this week has been ridiculously, stupidly busy. So busy that I've not had time to update my work blog or sailing blog. Twittering has happened infrequently. The laundry piles are teetering. I've still not managed to fit in my month end invoices. And the house is in a tip.

This wasn't helped by the fact that it was lovely husband's birthday on Tuesday and I promised to take the day off so that we could spend some time browsing Bath together (chateau briand and red wine for lunch anyone?)

Anyway, while we were spending some quality time in Bath, with me not trying to take sneaky peeks at my blackberry, we discussed the subject of an au pair. We've spoken about this in the past. Even tried it briefly. A live out au pair. Lasted two weeks. She looked like road kill at the end of it.

After that I've never seriously considered it as an option. But now the boys are 4 and almost 6. Son1 is at school all week. Son2 goes to pre-school 3 days a week and will be trundling off to school in September. If we got an au pair, it would mean just that little bit of extra help in the morning, when I'm trying to make eggy bread, packed lunches, unpack the dishwasher, put on the washing and check email all at the same time.

And then those days when I have to go meet a client in London, I don't have to say: Right, you've got exactly 30 minutes until I have to get back on that train to get to the school by 2.45 so speak and speak fast. I could loiter over coffee. Possibly even stop in at a fashionable store and buy an outfit.

In the afternoons, the au pair could help keep the boys occupied, giving me a few extra hours to try to do the work of 17 people in a day. And then - and this is the exciting part - every now and then, the au pair could babysit for us without us having to book a sitter eons in advance. So we could go out. Possibly see a movie. Newbury even has a cinema now you know. We might even feel like we have a life again. And I might even get the chance to go to an exercise class or something.

So lots of pros. Of course the con is having a complete stranger - who doesn't speak much english - living in our house. This would severely restrict my ability to pee with the door open, iron in the nude (well obviously I only iron what I'm about to wear) and fart with impunity. All of these are serious considerations.

But having spent the last 3 weeks with the boys coming home from school slumping in front of the TV because none of us ( feels like standing outside in the rain kicking a football, it hit me. Like a bolt from the blue. I don't need an au pair. I need a manny. A boy au pair. Someone who loves sports and building forts and will happily kick a ball for hours without complaint regardless of the weather. I don't need some lovelorn 18 year old blonde, busty x-factor wannabe. I need a bloke who can change the light bulbs when I can't be arsed and my husband isn't around. Who can rake the leaves in the garden for pocket money and who could possibly even become the pool boy. It sounds like heaven.

My husband doesn't think so. He prefers the blonde busty option. I think he thinks that having a man doing the 'boy' things with our sons will in some way make him feel irrelevant, guilty and replaced. Well, welcome to the world of most women who have to hand over their children to nannies, childminders and nurseries. If us mums want to work, then we have to relinquish care of our children to someone else, but that makes us feel crappy. Like we should be doing it ourselves. BUT, if I get a bloke to do the looking after, to me, I'm giving my sons something extra that they won't get from me - a fascination with catching frogs or building dens.

So at this very moment, I have our profile up on an au pair matching site. I've sent 'I like you' messages to a few chaps who look the part. They've not replied. I have had 5 messages from blokes saying 'I like you' who I wouldn't let anywhere near my children. It's not been massively successful, but it's only been one day.

It's very exciting. Like internet dating. Only instead of a dinner, I'll end up living with someone called Mulchak from Slovakia. Could be interesting.

So anyone out in blog world who has had an au pair - particularly any male au pairs - please come and share some wise words with me. Don't terrify me.