January 5, 2012
I have just been watching the time lapse video of Vancouver City (a couple of posts below) and realised that I can now identify most of the locations on it. Vancouver is beautiful. Even in the rain and even with jetlag Vancouver is beautiful. According to the video it can be a lot more beautiful, but I was grateful to be there and to get a feel for the place and for Canada.
I have learnt a lot about Canada. From a retired firefighter (with experience of helping at 911) I learnt about the education and political systems, building regulations, salaries and tax incentives while we flew somewhere in Santa’s airspace. At Vancouver’s stunning airport on arrival I learnt that for all the directives on importing food, seeds, imaginary animals and non-sensible goods of any description, it is actually ridiculously easy to bring in Christmas cake (2kg, iced), Christmas puddings (2, Cognac-laced), chocolate (rather a large amount, Cadburys), secret gifts from other people which I had not personally wrapped (a significant number, hidden) and clothing for wet weather (enough, just).
I did not bring any gifts for the cat my sister was minding. I hope she (the cat) would not mind. She (again, the cat) is known as Gorgeous, except at my sister’s where she is known as Betty, a far more aesthetically appropriate moniker. She is what is called a Cornish Rex. Somebody, at some point in Canada’s history (they have history as well as geography) for reasons not released to the public, imported a Cornish Rex and Got It Through Security. Let me show you a Good picture of Betty:
Now don’t go thinking she’s actually quite nice. She doesn’t have fur. What you are seeing is a thin fleece. She doesn’t have muscle either, which may explain her utter clumsiness. She also smells (sometimes deliberately, I believe), has a need to show her ears at close range, dig her ‘never been clipped’ claws into your best trousers and crawl on faces at night time. The solution to this is to not share a room with her. My poor sister, giving her bedroom for my stay had to endure Betty’s charms each night and for this I am truly grateful.
I am also truly grateful for my lightning tour of Vancouver and Environs. Considering we had 4 days, an evening and a half day, we did pretty well. The best weather was on my arrival, and I saw Rocky Mountains (several) in pink in the setting sun, as I squinted past several people with peepholes on the plane. After that we had rain, but apparently this is normal December behaviour for the weather there.
We visited key parts of the city, popped into some lovely shops, got our nails done, had proper sushi, admired totem poles and went on buses which looked like trams (as well as a sky train which turned out to be an underground, a greyhound which turned out to be a coach and a water taxi which was neither water nor a taxi).
I learnt that Canadians always have time for you, are even more obsessed with Michael Buble than the man himself is and have a passion for adverts featuring solutions to mucus and phlegm. They have pretty leaves printed into the concrete paths, clocks powered by steam and black squirrels who don’t stay still for photos. There are hummingbirds, homeless people and hummers.
My sister works in film (post-production editing things) and so we went to see a film she had worked on called Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows which was thrilling for me (especially as it was the first time I saw my sister’s name on the credits while sitting next to her) but for my sister and her work friend it was a big exercise in finding the editing mistakes and blaming ‘comp’. I felt utterly unqualified to comment, but enjoyed the story and the fun of it all.
On Christmas Eve, badly in need of some snow, we travelled up to Whistler, which is made of slush and nice shops, with a big mountain or two behind which come in handy for skiing and that sort of thing. If you are looking for normal socks you will not find them in Whistler. However, you can get a lovely steak or lobster, before taking a gondola up one mountain and then another across to the other mountain.
There are a huge number of families with young children in Whistler, some with gloves on, many who can ski well. There are also many many trees adorned with little lights. In Canada they do it properly (on the whole). Lots and lots of little lights, no flashing on and off, one colour at a time. Very pretty.
On Christmas Day we skyped home, visited a local church after my sister opened her presents and then she made a roast Turkey crown dinner, which was very tasty. Mum spent the past few months making her a quilt. It tells the story of my sister’s life so far and meant sourcing parts from old clothes, places she’d lived in and even printing some photos. The cat was, quite clearly, not allowed near the quilt.
Boxing Day meant (for reasons I cannot remember) braving the largest shopping mall we could think of and later going to a Canucks Ice Hockey match at the Rogers Arena. We got tickets from one of my sister’s colleagues. The match involves three periods of 20 minutes, and took from 7:00 until about 9:30. There was a bit of Ice Hockey, a lot of entertainment, and many more calories. Thankfully the Canucks (and We Are All Canucks I now realise) beat the Edmonton Oilers something in the region of 5-3. They did this by means of violence, skating skill, twins and breaking a lot of sticks and part of the perspex safety wall. Every time the Canucks scored the crowd went wild for a sensible period of time and rubbed the fact in very loudly with music and humour. Every time the Oilers scored the scoreboard registered the fact politely enough.
After very little sleep that night we visited Granville Island the next morning, which is as middle-class a wharf as you are likely to find in Vancouver and full of interesting looking shops, breweries and eateries. Having eaten our fill of local Bison at something like a bistro we took a zip car to the airport. I did not enjoy the travel home, but I did greatly enjoy meeting my husband at Heathrow and each of the children back at home. They had all had lots of fun together and with grandparents and since then we’ve done some fun things together while I try and get my body back into UK o’clock.
Bye for now Canada. Next time I’m bringing the family!
August 5, 2011
I started writing this on a dark and stormy night. I felt like a cliche. Then my daughter needed thunder explaining. Then the phone rang with difficult news. It was not conducive to writing. The storm abated. The moment was lost.
I am actually contemplating becoming a recluse. It would fit my INFP personality style. My writing may not be helpful for you, but it is therapy for me. And I need it now. I cannot face people. Real people. In talking situations. In going out of the house situations. In answering the phone situations. Even the children. I am doing the minimum and grateful this is my husband’s week off. Something has snapped. I do not want to be broken, but it feels like I am staring into a large, dark blue hole.
Last night I had a dream about heaven. It was closer to earth than I realised. It was a team effort. It was a wonderful mixture of good textures, purposeful creativity, joy and familiarity. I woke up amazed. There are snatches of heaven all around us. That view. That technology. That laughter. That solution. That selflessness. It is at hand. Some of us may never see it. I see it a bit like visiting a National Trust property. Enjoying the wide green spaces and ancient beautiful architecture without having to own the place. It is a moment of ownership which lifts you. Some people don’t get it and some do: ownership is arbitrary anyway.
Teach me to number my days aright.
I am playing Scrabble with my dad on the computer. When you put all your letters down it is called a Bingo and you get an extra 50 points. I fear Bingo is my dad’s secret middle name. With 35 tiles remaining he has scored three bingos and also played YELK on a triple word score and GAZE on a triple letter (the Z, which was used in both directions). Statistically I have more wins than him as I’ve been playing longer online, but I don’t like my chances on this one. I’m not going to throw the towel in. I see the big picture: sometimes you get good letters, sometimes it is a lot harder. At least over many games it averages out.
In life, often it does not. I was thinking about my children. They are really on loan to us. I have them physically until about 18. In Lily’s case, I calculate we already have had 20% of her living-at-home-with-mum-and-dad time. In Joseph’s, just over 7%. Financially however, as well as we hope to prepare them, they may not be fully independent for a little longer. And apparently they will probably live quite a long time. The BBC says people don’t imagine themselves getting older. I think about it all the time. And the Telegraph has a gadget for telling you your percentage chance of reaching the age of 100, based solely on your age and gender. The chances as you reach your late 90s actually improve.
When I feel particularly down the future seems unrelenting and frightening. Life has been unrelenting recently, despite a number of lovely elements, for which I am grateful. When I see the bigger picture I recognise that the pace I’d been going at with parenting, taking on the toddler group, adapting to new situations and a number of other responsibilities will not always remain. There will be different challenges at different ages. But when you are exhausted and need a holiday, there are some points in life where a holiday is just not an option. Pre-school children do need masses of attention. I was grateful last week that my parents-in-law took a lot of the responsibility for them. But the travelling, planning and being unwell at the same time all took their toll. Nearly a week later I am still shuffling off my cold and trying not to shuffle off my coil. I am trying to fight off panic about the future and my identity. I am struggling to breathe most of the time. A heavy cold on a hot day takes your breath away.
Life seems stormy and dark. It will not always. And if I number my days well I can pace myself better. Holidays where I can forget about everything are a distant memory. But I can still revel in snatches of heaven around me. And maybe find the courage in the coming days to get out and face people again. Or at least do a bit more writing.
June 14, 2011
Today my mum turns sixty, and as such is a member of the elusive ‘threescore’ club. If you don’t know what my mum looks like, here is a portrait drawn lovingly by my daughter, who is very much at the cephalopod stage and enjoys drawing snouts. It is not an accurate representation of my mother in that she is not a besnouted cephalopod, but forgive Lily. She lives tangentially and creatively.
Maybe when she is a famous artist this will be worth a lot of money. Or maybe not. On the off-chance, I have given the signed original to mum.
Including the B-side, which features a self-portrait of the artist, in stripes (crayon).
I don’t think she’s got her hair right. But she did include hairclips (aka hiccups) for realism. Unlike her brother she does not have a serious obsession with putting food in her hair. Or in ears. Or banging food against her head just to see what happens. I suspect that he will be the comedian when he grows up. Or a chef.
Meanwhile, I got all organised and baked an Actual Mary Berry Cake. I am so proud of it, it makes the blog:
Clever blogees will have noticed the mathematical symbolism of two sugar flowers for each threescore of mum’s life. Well done you.
I began this blog shortly after dad’s 60th. He is now in wonderful shape and great health (apart from his hearing). I said, apart from his hearing. Hear. Ing. Don’t have too much cake dad. I now realise that dad is 4 years and 9 months or so older than mum, and I have been blogging almost as long.
Many many happy returns of the day, mum. Here’s to a wonderful new decade. And, in due course, a buss pass. Turns out you may have to wait a little longer for that. But not as long as those of us who are nowhere near the threescore club.
May 18, 2011
Item one: erratum – see previous post. Apparently my son began walking on Karndean flooring, not plush carpet. Apologies to my mother for not listening properly and for not producing a grandchild who started walking on the carpet bought for the purpose. I do hope Joseph furthers his reluctant new skill by actually walking on the carpet at some point. Any carpet would do. Or anywhere I am in fact. I am going to stop asking him to walk now. According to experts, asking children to do things just doesn’t get results. You have to show them by example. Right. Maybe he hasn’t observed enough of me walking. I will put it on tomorrow’s to do list. Be Seen Walking By Son.
Item two: neighbourhood. This is a word Lily asked me to explain to her today. Are we a neighbourhood? Yes but do we live in one? But are we? Can I have one? That sort of thing. We do indeed have a neighbourhood, and are not above gatecrashing local Royal Wedding Street Parties with accompanying American guests. A right band of commoners, but who was counting? We know pretty much all our neighbours and get on well with them. We do have a new neighbour we haven’t met yet. Just 4 doors away in the same conservation area and about to be prosecuted by the council for damaging two magnificent front garden copper beeches (with preservation orders) to the degree that they must be felled. And they would have got him on wilful and rather awful destruction to an ancient wall too if he had bothered to complete the job. Instead he has ‘made good’ (this is not an accurate way to describe the work) with a reclaim Suffolk brick under instruction from the planning council and already appealed to the secretary of state about the trees and the way he believes the whole street has challenged each of his planning applications. His latest, under the guise of rendering and painting the whole house (a Good Thing) includes further points on inspection for a 2.5 x 2 m gate he would like to construct at the front, once the trees are removed and semi-mature replacements found room. Then he can have the parking he wanted all along. We appealed successfully for parking to remain at the rear of the property when land was severed for a development, so find the loss of the trees particularly galling. And two large trees only a couple of doors to the other side of us have to come down soon as well, as they have been proven to cause subsidence. Our leafy area will look quite bare. All we have now is a National Trust-esque row of lavenders near our door and a fig, trying desperately to hold on to its modesty and hoping it will survive the tree-felling of 2011.
I would really like to get to know our new neighbours and listen to how they are developing a fascinating property with a rich history (left to the gentlewomen of Ipswich, a bomb scare, squatters and a fire since we moved in, for example). But I fear they may judge us and not want to listen. We too contacted the council and it is In the Public Domain. Another neighbour would like to hold a street get-together and barbecue. I am keen to support this. Even if people want to fortress themselves into their castles, it is important that we understand each other and appreciate the reasonings of a conservation area. What are we trying to conserve? Is it right that we furnish our houses with Swedish taste, our gardens with Australian or Mediterranean accoutrements and our driveways with French, Spanish, Italian and German engineering, but deny a chap the chance to celebrate his Asian heritage by imposing large gates? Is it not all a bit double Dutch? If the trees go and the parking at the front does come so be it. I am more concerned that we may have lost the chance of a strong neighbourhood by not really getting to know the new people at 161.
May 16, 2011
My little boy is thirteen months old today. He is still smiling for England (I would enter him in the London Olympics but I’m not certain we’ll get tickets for that event). Today he took three steps. In my absence. On the carpet my mother bought for the purpose. That’ll teach me. Soft thick carpet is officially nicer for learning to walk on.
It turns out he doesn’t do encores. Shame. However, previous experience (with Child One) taught me that walking does happen repeatedly after the first steps, and even gets less exciting the more they do it, so I am sure there will be a chance for me to witness the act myself. Perhaps soon. We’ll see.
Not only is he a social charmer, but he has learnt to escape from a room full of educational toys, open a door, climb a two step stool in the dark and turn on a hot tap in under 20 seconds. Thankfully, the hot tap did not reach scalding point before I found him (or cause us to call in more tax favours with A&E). But now I have to lock the cloakroom door from the outside. And explain to Lily what that is all about.
I think he likes climbing. Not something Lily ever got excited about really. She is a little scared of heights. Joseph however will no doubt charm his way into a Rather Good School and then get sent down for planking or extreme ironing on the roof. He will still succeed however. He has the most delicious smile.
April 15, 2011
My baby boy will be 365 days old in the morning. Then he will no longer be a baby. It took his sister 366 days, but I don’t think these things matter too much. But – as I see it – it is the end of the baby chapter for us and time to reflect on good things gone and good things around the corner.
He is the smiliest baby most of my acquaintances have ever met. He is also remarkably funny on home territory and a natural clown. He already knows how to fight his sister, say ‘car’ and ‘cake’ and loves anything involving a ball or machinery. He could probably walk already if he wasn’t so lazy and giggly. He is alert and active when he wants something and still wakes for feeds at irregular intervals.
With Lily I stopped feeding the day before her first birthday. It has not been so easy to wind down for Joseph, but that is my plan. We still do night feeds (today my health visitor cautioned we may be in for a long haul if he doesn’t sleep through soon; we are going to feed him more in the daytimes). And once I stop feeding, that’s it. Part of me is done, and over so soon.
I remember when I stopped feeding Lily I felt sad at the end of that chapter but her second year was tremendous and I know there is much to be excited about. Mum reminds me I ‘got my brain back’. This is true. It would come in handy sometimes. And there is the ‘getting your body back’ argument too. Or some kind of body. Not sure it’ll be the one I started with in this parenting journey. Joseph can drink cow’s milk now without upsetting health visitors. But is that really why I am stopping? Or trying to? I have a notion I may be attempting to give the children an equal 12 months of breastmilk, when I need to respond to each situation differently.
In India and other parts of Asia mothers would be surprised to hear that Western mums do not breastfeed each child for months or years. A little bit of me, perhaps selfishly, just doesn’t want to stop yet.
Joe is feeding now. His second feed of the evening and by rights his last feed of all. He doesn’t even need it. But I know that when he wakes Matthew will go in and pick him up and he’ll take more milk. I guess I am just not completely ready to close this chapter too suddenly.
January 28, 2011
Is it really 80 cat years since I left the family home and Charlie, our beautiful grey tabby moved in? Today he left us, without a voice and without a fight. He’d been on the way out and he knew it.
So did we. Thankfully we were able to prepare Lily that this day was coming, and a few weeks back we already had the ‘do animals go to Heaven?’ discussion.
When I had to tell her today that Charlie was dead, she was not moved. Even when Joseph repeated dedededed insensitively and pulled himself up where she was sitting and I tried to help her understand he wasn’t going to be at Grandma and Grandad’s again. She thought she might write a letter with Beaky the imaginary dog (who was briefly a cat this afternoon), from Grandad to tell us that Beaky was poorly. I really don’t think she’s fully taken it in. I used bathtime to talk about it again, but even her hairwash didn’t make her cry.
She’s a tough little kitten at times. Bit like old Charlie-boy. I’m sorry to see him go, but at least he is no longer in pain.
November 13, 2010
Maybe it should read Audial Illusion. I don’t think that sounds right though.
I recently watched a fascinating programme I had recorded on Horizon called ‘Is Seeing Believing?’ with some very interesting TV science about the senses and how closely related they are. It can still be viewed on BBC iPlayer here until the end of November. Any programme covering synaesthesia, blind people cycling by clicking like a bat and tricking people into thinking they’ve got an extra arm keeps me happy.
Now back to the story. Joseph has got to the age where he is practising a lot of vowel sounds, and occasional other gutteral noises, such as ëÿ (He speaks in Bold).
A typical conversation with him begins with him randomly suggesting ĘĠđö, to which I might reply, ‘Really? Tell me all about it’ (I speak in Normal).
ǖӘ…ǖӘ thp Öæá [bashes high chair with jam jar lid]
‘I wish I could understand what you’re saying Joseph, but you just sit there and play, while I wash up’ [turns to face sink]
œǖ œǖ egg Hello Mummy
[jumps, then turns to see Lily entering and talking in exactly the same tones as Joseph - proceeds to make cup of tea and give cuddles all round]
Learning point: learn which child has which voice. You never know when it might come in handy.
October 25, 2010
It is that time of year, with Lily’s birthday and Christmas both hiding behind good intentions, when a toy cull is in order. I have learned in recent days that the best way to do this is not to present a toy to a nearly-3-year-old and see whether they still like playing with it. They do.
Instead, I am learning to carefully weigh up what ought to stay in the house. It has to satisfy one or more of the following criteria:
1) made by a relative;
2) made by child themselves and worthy of posterity;
3) a ‘classic’ childrens book or toy which will bring hours of entertainment to parents and their contemporaries, whether or not children approve;
4) something Joseph will get some use out of in the coming months;
5) anything whose sudden disappearance cannot easily be explained or absolved.
Accordingly, on the way down to Felixstowe today (with two children and one bear) I was staring at some road kill and had to do a double take. I always stare at road kill and try and identify which species it is. Or at least the colour. It is how I learn what size packages things come in in nature and it is the least I can do for the poor blighter.
Between my house and Felixstowe, someone has thrown a cuddly puppy toy out on the road. I do not know who to be more distressed for.
September 18, 2010
There is Something I believe I know more than the Pope about. And I have been instituted into this Something for very nearly seven years. So it is officially time for an itch. I offer this itch free to tax payers in the UK. Actually, I don’t really offer this on my own, because it has been a joint effort, blessed by God every step of the way.
6 years and 363 days ago we got ‘itched.
I was showing our children our wedding DVD this afternoon and giggling at how daddy had changed in seven years, and explaining that no, Lily wasn’t there, and no, nor was Joseph, and yes, you might be finding this bit boring but daddy can help you go to the toilet this time, I want to see this. With the benefit of an extra 2555 days (as of today) I see now how young and determined we were.
We are still determined, but slightly less young. There are things about the wedding I would change, but I would never change Matthew. He has been my best friend and team-mate for long enough now that I can ask ‘how many leap years have we been married?’ and he knows immediately and we can both laugh about it. He willingly takes our son outdoors time after time to calm him or our daughter to the toilet. Most nights he does her bath, which has resulted in her not knowing how to pronounce the word the same way I do. He does not have any complaints about being told he is going to his mother-in-law’s quilting exhibition, and will happily set about installing new inlet valves in old cisterns. I do not understand inlet valves, but I did find a bit that came off, which I was told made all the difference: often the way with DIY at ours. He reads the ‘destructions’ and buys the tools and parts and I play with things and make it work. Teamwork. He calls us ‘Team R’ and I agree. We are a team.
We talk about a lot. In the absence of opportunity to go out on Monday we may just stay in and chat. One of our longstanding magnetic phrases is ‘always room for words’. Another is ‘grow strong together’. There is nothing we cannot talk about, but we do try and talk about important things before settling down for the night because you cannot plan, resolve or listen properly at stupid o’clock. Communication is like glue in marriage and is the only word I find myself recommending to newlyweds. Likewise, as Christians, praying together and involving God in the big and small things of our life. Grace at each meal and prayer for our children and immediate concerns at bedtime.
Having had our second child and with decisions about both our careers hovering about, life is not straightforward at the moment, but we are both well aware of the journey aspect of marriage. Broken sleep due to young children will not be forever.
And broken machines seem to be part of the territory at this point: my dad warned me about this years back. He said that the reason some people got a seven year itch in their marriage was because the warranties on machines bought at the time as the wedding have run out and the machines start doing that too (possibly all at the same time), on top of busy lives and a couple of young kids. I get this, and therefore the need to prioritise. To celebrate and protect our family life we have had to make sacrifices for what matters. But they are not to be regretted. Even now when work opportunities come my way I have to assess them in the light of family life and prioritise my children and my marriage.
We know far more about each other than we did 7 years ago, and understand each other so much better. We also love each other much more deeply and with great respect and trust. We have travelled countless miles, laughed at any number of silly things and experienced the wonder and shock of becoming parents together. We have enjoyed the trivial and planned the exciting. We have created our own home with its own running jokes and stories. We still haven’t got cards for each other for Monday, or anything containing copper or wool (or copper wool for that matter) but we are comfortable in knowing that we can put a big celebration on hold and enjoy spending time together.
There are always going to be things that itch. We wind each other up daily, mostly without trying. We also make sure there is nothing to be angry about when we go to bed.
It doesn’t matter if there is an itch. Just don’t scratch it.