I am simply absolutely not having another baby

I am a mother of one and proud of it.

There, I said it.

For some reason, some people just can’t seem to accept that we don’t want another child. They are convinced that secretly I am desperate for another one and its all just a matter of time until I come to my senses. Top five responses from people who, when asking the question “So, when are you giving him a little brother or sister?” and receiving the answer “Actually, we’re not.”:

1. “You’ll change your mind I bet”

I will not be changing my mind. I absolutely love being my son’s mum, but I really enjoy the life I have made for myself and our little unit of three as well and don’t have any intention of ruining it for any of us a year shy of turning forty. I have a very, very long list of reasons why I like our family numbering three. Not least that holidays and plane journeys – well everything in fact – is significantly easier to manage, less expensive and far less stressful.

2. “Ah that’s a shame, to leave him all on his own.

There is plenty of research as well as anecdotal evidence to suggest that ‘only’ children thrive in exactly the same way as an ‘older child’ in a family of siblings do. They simply continue to enjoy the attention lavished on most ‘older children’ for the rest of their lives instead of being ousted by younger brothers and sisters just as they reach an age where they might most benefit from it. Parents exert the same pressure and expectations on an older child as an only child. The difference is that parents of only children have more time, attention, energy and money to spend on a single child, so they may have an advantage in terms of their education as well as their social and emotional well being. Only children will not be told they can’t have help with the homework until Mummy’s finished feeding the baby. Or that they can’t go to the bowling alley for a birthday party on Tuesday because their brother has soccer practice. Only children will not bicker and brawl with their siblings either, so that you are tearing your hair out trying to make them like eachother. And they will not feel ‘lonely’ for a brother or sister that they have never had. Their lives, like anyone’s, will be filled with friends and peers to talk to and share things with when family is not enough.

3. “Don’t leave it too late to start trying”

I love this one, completely ignoring my opinion as if it’s so abhorrent you can’t acknowledge it. Also suggesting that I’m old, which may be true but it is a little insulting to me and my ovaries which I’m sure still have a few years left in them yet. Although my OBGYN was one of the people that said this too me, so maybe there is some truth to the rumour that I am getting on a bit.

4. “They grow up so fast though. Don’t you miss having a little baby to cuddle?”

No, I don’t. I’ve thought about it a lot and I really don’t miss it. I missed it the first time around, in a sleep deprived haze of panic, if truth be known. ‘Missing it’….missing what? You could say that about any age, not just the baby bit, and having another one does not make you miss it less as it passes, because if anything you are mourning the loss twice over. To make up for all the things you miss as your child grows up you’d have to keep on breeding forever. Also, like any mother if they are truthful, there are significant chunks of baby and toddlerhood that would absolutely not make it onto my list of ‘things I miss’.

5. “Really? Why not?”

Because it’s OUR CHOICE and there is no law that says you have to have more than one child. ‘Why not’ is a decision that we have made carefully and with some consideration, for many reasons related to health and happiness, and isn’t just some rash or selfish conclusion we came to in a few seconds flat. These are the same people that ask when you are getting married, or when you are going to start trying for a family…thoughtless, embarrassing and nosy, unless you are very good friends and don’t mind hearing about the inner workings of my womb or my time as crazy baby mum.

But the main reason? I will never have to sit through the Teletubbies again.

Teletubbies

Teletubbies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Arise, agents of change: an open letter

To all the seven kinds of crazy women currently populating our school gates:

It’s fair to say, that I have whined in my time. There have been moments so low in my life that I would have gladly traded all my worldly goods for things to be different. But if there is one thing I have learnt over the course of the past few years, it’s that if you don’t like something, don’t quit, make it right. Change things. Be better.

Take your child’s school, for example. Say there has been an unexpected change of leadership halfway through the year and you have doubts about the school’s future and their ability to maintain the quality of education you would prefer your  little darling to receive. Say the school had offered one on one meetings with the new principal to thrash out any worries or issues you may have, but instead of going and asking the important questions you want answered, you sit and listen to the idle fishwife gossip at pick up time. Say you were that person. I would not want to hear what you have to say, because I’ve already heard it all and never listened to such a load of tripe in my life. Examples of ‘why i am not coming back next year’ that I have overheard include:

– the school curriculum is based on the practices of scientology

– “everyone” is leaving

– one of the FS2 teachers has fingernails that are really long

Dear mother with nothing better to do: look around you. Do you see happy children who are confident, sociable and comfortable in their environment? Do you see them learning? Is there anything to suggest that this isn’t a great place for them to go to school? Does the class size of 10-15 children bother you, that maybe they are going to receive too much attention, too much individual time with their teacher, that they might learn more, develop skills that might otherwise go ignored in a larger class? Do the huge, well equipped classrooms put you on edge? Do you think your children will do better in a school that is brand new with absolutely no track record, and might not even open by september? Or one with 3000 children milling around inside it? I’m sure you feel it’s completely justified to spend your days sitting and spouting idle gossip, spreading your poisonous nonsense and putting doubt in the minds of every parent within a 14 mile radius, just to placate yourself, that hauling your third culture kid out of one school and into another after just one year won’t be detrimental to them in the slightest.

Or…hang on….could there be another way? Could it be that instead of wrenching your child from the bosom of their school because of some whimsical notion based solely on conjecture that the grass is indeed greener, that you could be an agent for change and make the community you and your child exist in work harder for you, to get what you want, what you believe you deserve? Could it be that communication, and a mutual resolve to make things the best they can be, might just be the better way forward? How about instead of moaning about the things you don’t like to people who have no bearing on the situation, that you address them with some one who could actually help you change them?

Of course this crazy idea of social responsibility might never catch on. You do deserve the moon on a stick after all, and if you can pay the fees why on earth should you have to make any more effort than that? Your responsibility lays purely with destroying the spirit of the people around you who actually like the place. Because if you choose to leave, you’re gonna damn well make sure you have someone to share the new school run with, right?

I believe in choice. What suits me may not suit you. But make an educated decision, not some half baked one based on what the popular mums said over coffee last week. And should you decide to go, do it with dignity and respect for the rest of us. Because I am bored with your tales of woe and your ‘genuine concern’ that the school is going to the dogs. I am tired of feeling like I have to defend my decision, that i should in some way be ashamed of myself for choosing to give my child consistency and a strong sense of community that our school offers in spades. That I am crazy to believe the incredible progress he has made this past six months could not possibly be repeated, and that the teachers will, en masse, decide that small class numbers are really not their thing, and jack in their jobs and their visas to go and live on a beach and teach TEFL. I am making a herculean effort to ignore all of you but I really do think you should shut up and give us all a break.

And lastly – Do try to remember your child is four years old. The likelihood of you being here long enough to care whether a school has IB or not is slim. The likelihood of you screwing them up by moving them across the world five times in a decade is far greater than the school ruining their kindergarden experience and rendering them illiterate. So as long as they are happy, why the hell aren’t you?

The simple joys

One bleak day in the year 2000, at the ripe old age of twenty six or thereabouts, I was single again after a spectacularly bad ending to what had been, on the whole, an utterly miserable relationship. I sat in my mum’s kitchen with a cup of tea and predicted my fate.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to get married, or have a family,” I said “I think that’s it. I’m done.”

My mum sighed and took a sip of her coffee.

“I don’t think you are either,” she said.

She wasn’t being mean. I think we both genuinely believed I wasn’t cut out for that life, whatever ‘that life’ meant to me at the time.

It wasn’t too long after that I met the man who changed all that – and now, a significant number of years later, I can honestly say how grateful I am to him that he was in the right place at the right time. Without him I would not be the person I am now, I would not have experienced the things I have, nor live the life I do. I think there’s only a few people in your life you can honestly say change it completely for the better, and for me he is that person. He puts up with me, encourages me, supports me and loves me through all the good bits and the bad, and you can’t ask for much more than that, can you?

We celebrated seven years of marriage last week, and apart from a lovely dinner which both of us only have vague recollections of due to excessive alcohol consumption, we haven’t had an awful lot of time together to spend reminiscing. In fact, between his work, my work, visitors, and life generally getting in the way, we’ve barely had time to exchange a conversation. We elected not to do gifts this year, to save the pennies until we had the time or inclination to get something really worthwhile. So this morning, as we strolled towards the athletics stadium to watch our little man in his first sports day, I found myself musing over what we might treat ourselves to should we ever get time to go to a mall together…new saucepans, a new lamp for the living room, some new bedlinen….but as we moved around the field from race to race something else occurred to me.  As I sat and snapped a hundred photos and cheered on my boy while he ran and jumped and threw for his team, I felt the pure unadulterated joy and love that comes from being a mum flow through me.

And it may sound a bit sloppy, and it may be well past our day of celebration, but that, I realised, was the best gift I could ever have been given.

If you don’t know me by now

Well here I am, one day into my MA and absolutely NOTHING’S HAPPENED. It’s no-one’s fault, but the first study block opens today and of course, there’s me clearing the decks to start work and it’s only when I sat down I realised that it will open at 9am. UK TIME. Duh. So now I have a very empty looking morning which I’m trying hard to spend productively rather than at the mall, and so far I have managed a coffee with a friend, some form filling and a blog post. I’m ignoring the unpacking sitting in the guest room that I STILL haven’t done and there’s filing all over the floor of the office but I’m taking things slow and with an hour left until pick up I’m sure I’ll squeeze it all in.

The form filling was for the course, so technically I have been working today. It was the usual stuff – why are you doing the course, what do you want to be when you grow up, what are your strengths and weaknesses etc. etc., along with the one that has really caught my eye and is bugging me senseless, a finish the following sentence-type-thing:

‘Most people don’t know that I can….’

Now, several things spring instantly to mind and I’m sure those of you that keep your minds in the gutter along with mine have already filled in the blank with a hundred ‘amusing’ endings (Actually the next question is worse, “Most people don’t know that I have….” which I could potentially go to town on, but perhaps it’s best not). But this is my master’s degree. So I have to be reasonably sensible. Or do I? Should I just be honest? Trouble is honesty weirdly keeps sounding like I’m making it up. And it says something about me I’m not sure I’m ready to share with a bunch of strangers as their first impression. Or anyone else, come to think of it. Which presumably is why ‘most people don’t know’. Of course now I’m blogging about it a whole lot of people will know, which again, means I’m already editing out what I’m not willing to share even as I write, and again defeating the point of the question. After over half an hour of agonising about this incredibly elementary question, I’ve come up with these alternatives:

‘Most people don’t know that I can operate four different types of mechanical saw, remember things longer than the average elephant, and lose weight without trying very hard’. (Show off)

‘Most people don’t know that I can pole dance’ (Shallow, and possibly makes me sound like a dirty hooker)

‘Most people don’t know that I can judge whether or not I will be friends with someone the instant I meet them and will then stick to that opinion even to the detriment of myself (Self depreciating and bitchy)

‘Most people don’t know that I can….OH FFS, I don’t know! It’s too much pressure, to say the right thing. And for those of you that say there is no wrong answer of course there is, don’t kid yourself.

These answers, as well as not being anywhere near as interesting and challenging as I really feel they should be, do not get over the essence of me to a complete stranger. Or maybe they do? Maybe if I put all of them into one sentence and added ‘..can be more anally retentive than a constipated octopus’ it would sum me up completely.

What would yours be?

No rest for the wicked.

Apologies. Over the past two weeks there has been a slight pause in delivery of any kind of the brain spill I usually call ‘writing my blog’ due to the fact that I’ve barely had time to pee. Which my sister, by the way, informs me is bad for the complexion. Who knew? Anyway, the combined forces of visiting family, no internet, flying halfway across the world and the ensuing jet lag have put a spanner in the works the size of a small cocker spaniel. Never mind the unnecessarily cruel third week of Christmas holidays (who the f*** decided that was a good idea?) which have rendered me completely incapable of escaping upstairs to the inner sanctuary of my office for the past week.

But here I am. At last. Amidst tears of frustration and exhaustion around about Tuesday night, I claimed the weekend as mine and mine alone, to sort out my crap and get my life back on track again. My husband was surprisingly compliant (I think he may have feared for his life or my sanity, or both) although judging by the look on his face earlier today as I breezed past him with my third cup of tea and left him to the mercy of our three year old, I think he may have regretted it.

It’s always the same. Term time lulls me into a false sense of security, that I’m not mainly consumed the rest of the time by the business of running a family and living abroad. But as holidays loom and packing lists emerge, it becomes increasingly obvious that the task ahead is not easy. By ‘task’ I mean what other people refer to as ‘vacation’. I’ve spoken about this before, at the other end of the year, when we were on the road for six weeks or so and visiting several different continents. Of course this time it was only a few weeks. “Piece of cake!” I hear you cry. I would be inclined to agree with you, but of course Christmas brings it’s own special kind of bonkers. Trust me, going on holiday for a fortnight in the sun at a 4-star in Alicante is not quite the same as trying to recreate a home from home in a place that hasn’t been your home for twenty years and counting. It has to be done just right, so that your little one doesn’t question the existence of Santa (“But how will he know we’re not in Dubai?”)  and of course that the relatives and friends all get their pound of flesh (oh how I wish that were true, then I could have eaten even more food) and so that everyone within the ring fence is fed and watered and has lots of things to do to keep them interested but not so many they are overwhelmed. (Decent TV and internet would have helped with that, I dare say)- and that the boy gets his fix of fuss and attention from his adoring fan club before we up and leave them all behind for another six months.

Which of course brings me to The Return Home. Never mind the fact that I got back on the plane more exhausted physically and emotionally than when I had left. The next bit was even more fun. Husband went back to work the morning after we landed and then the true cold turkey began. Not more leftovers, but the bit where the boy and I have only each other for company for an entire week in horrific post-Christmas isolation while everyone else gets on with their lives. Post-travel fall out of the worst kind.

It’s been interesting. After the brief meltdown mid-week, it got better when we both realised that shouting was definitely not the answer. I am not sure who came to that conclusion faster, me or my pre-schooler, but it’s a small victory that we had two days of blissful harmony that included a supermarket trip, a doctor visit and soft play, and there were no tears and no rows and it felt like I was somewhere near being one of those nice mummies after all.

But I have failed, utterly, to get anything done. I think part of the improvement in my relationship with my attention craving, chocolate-withdrawing, overly-stimulated-by-relatives child was due to resignation on my part of getting anything done at all before the end of the week. Once I’d given up all hope things seemed far easier. Maybe that’s what women mean by ‘having it all’ – ‘all’ being by definition a very personal expectation of what you hope to achieve in life. If you hope for very little for yourself, it seems you may be in luck.

But today I have excelled. The PTA agenda for Monday’s meeting is drawn up and ready to go. The Christmas photos are downloaded. Property management issues both here and abroad are now a little more managed than they were. Finances have been straightened. Spreadsheets updated. Improv team is standing by for rehearsals. Reading list books read and notes made. I am not there yet – for example the thank you letters are still unwritten and there is no food in the house except fish fingers – but the fact that I’m sitting writing this is testament to how much better I feel about the state of things than I did. Of course I need to make the most of it given I have a Masters degree starting on Monday, and Improv performances looming.

And we still haven’t hit Day Nine of return yet, which is traditionally the day when something goes horribly wrong with the boy, or our lives, the house, or all of the above. That, co-incidentally, is also on Monday. I am full of fear about what it may be, the day will be fraught with ‘what ifs’ until it is over. ‘What if’ my son has got a bug from the soft play and can’t go to school? ‘What if’ my car breaks down on the way home from rehearsal and I miss my virtual MA course introduction? ‘What if’ all the white goods in the house suddenly realise they are three years old and break down simultaneously? ‘What if’ travelling has produced a profound but as yet unseen psychological effect on me, my husband, my son? Previous years the curse of Day Nine has included acute depression on my part, as the realisation that there is no going back sinks in. Two years ago my son developed a sleep disorder and my grandad passed away, both on Day Nine. The sleep disorder came in the form of crying every hour, on the hour, all night, for two months whilst I gradually positioned myself closer and closer to the door waiting for him to go back to sleep. Tiring, exhausting and upsetting, but not terrifying. Last year starting on Day Nine was worse. He refused to eat anything for three days after a nightmare that left him screaming and grabbing at his tongue –  resulting in assessment by an occupational therapist for possible autism. That was a fun week, let me tell you.  So the jury’s out until next Tuesday, on whether we have truly survived Christmas intact. I am hopeful this year, that as we have travelled about less and offered a greater number of grandparents up for play than usual, that we will be lucky and Day Nine will pass uneventfully.

In the meantime I have unpacking to finish, a tumble drier to fix and visitors to prepare for. No rest for the wicked? My brother in law is right. I must be the Wicked Witch of the Middle East after all.

The Wicked Witch

I’m here! I’m here! (Photo credit: Dulce Dahlia)

Year end

And so, another year is nearly over. I feel like i have been saying this every day since thanksgiving, but I’m now officially at my traditional end-of-year breaking point. In fact I think I’m already broken. I thought i had more left in me but no: it would appear from my general inability to think straight or summon up the energy to do anything- anything at all – that I’m done for the year, and being away from home is only serving to highlight that fact to me.  In all ways I am kaput. I am the holy trinity of broken – in body, blood and spirit.  And although I would not lay the blame at the door of our trip, I appreciate this now-familiar feeling is cyclical and that the process of reenergising can only begin when the heady combination of christmas and travelling has finished me off entirely.

I can hardy believe it really, that a full twelve months have sped by since i last sat writing a similar entry surrounded by icy winds, warm fires and the american side of the family in Salem, MA.This year finds me sitting in the confines of a little wooden cabin plonked in the middle of a golf course in the deepest depths of Essex. We’ve enjoyed a great Christmas so far; starting with 40th birthday celebrations (not mine, I hasten to add!) where I got to catch up with most of my best and oldest friends in the world, followed by family galore for the past few days. And we still have the arrival of the final ‘nana’ (aka the mother in law) to come, which (and no, I am not being paid to say this) will be a wonderful second half to the festivities. After that, however, it is with a big grin on my face and testament to how much has changed for me this past year, that I think I will be glad to go ‘home’ and get 2013 started.

For starters there’s the weather- I’m surrounded by perpetual dark and cold and much as I’m enjoying the apocalyptic rainfall, it has to be said I’m rather missing the sun. Although to be honest I’m missing my housemaid more. And my shoes. And for the love of turkey, i have to stop consuming carbs and chocolate and alcohol as if they were actually part of my 5 a day, and get some exercise.  I admit, I could have done with a tad more toning at the gym this past month than I strictly bothered with, but i managed to make it this far without breaking out the spanx. Five days in the uk have changed all that. You know those ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures you see in the magazine classifieds for liposuction? Well before, I was the ‘after’. And now, I’m the ‘before’. For the past few days, I have been sporting a look that would have you think i was about six months pregnant, a combination of too many chips and dips and a frightening quantity of built up gas from excessive Brussels sprout consumption. Words I thought I would never say: I need to go back to Dubai so I eat less.
Jet lag and lack of sleep combined with drinking shed loads mean not only am I the generous side of svelte, but I’m also exhausted. Christmas + pubs  + the unpuritanical  approach to alcohol consumption at any time of day or night by my family = broken liver. My body is working overtime to deal with near continuous alcohol processing, and this, combined with sleeping in a bed made for Hobbits and a duvet that may or may not be possessed by the devil, is destroying me. I feel a desperate need to lie in a quiet room made of ryvita crackers and peppermint tea and sleep until 2013.
Finally, my spirit. Transcontinental travel with a three year old at the end of a long year followed by intense concentrations of family could have been stressful, if indeed I had the energy to work up a sweat. Instead I have let most things wash over me, my biggest decisions so far being whether to buy brandy mince pies or normal ones and if I should bother with the strictly come dancing final having missed the rest of the series. This is a sign of true knackeredness, that I have retired from decision making, organising, or being bothered about very much at all, in fact.  I have let my son climb over furniture, watch too much tv and eat rubbish all day in a bid to have a quiet life. I have mentally turned off, tuned in and dropped out. I stare vacantly at the textbooks I should be reading before Jan 14th and keep hoping they will be digested intravenously somehow so I don’t have to go to the bother of picking them up. The last of my brainpower went into writing gift tags and I am frankly struggling to get the end of this post without passing out over the iPad.
What of next year? I  can see its shape forming slowly, rising out if the fog that currently occupies the place in my head where my brain should be. I am excited to be involved in so much but pretty nervous about how I will cope. It’s going to be busy, hard work, and fun, and with less time for reflection as a result. I worry something will have to give and I have toyed several times lately with the idea that maybe this blog has run its course, that the tortured ramblings of my earliest posts have slowly been overtaken by slightly smug ‘my life is awesome’ entries that might produce nausea and vomiting in readers prone to that sort of thing. I fear the idea i started with, of writing about the trials of ‘trailing’, is no longer valid. The self-therapy worked, the angst is gone, so what now? But I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up just yet, or maybe it is not quite done with me. After all, why should trailing just be about being miserable? It doesn’t have to be a car crash to make it interesting. (Right??)
Right now of course, i am a bad judge of everything, and making time management decisions (well any kind of decision really) will be left for another day. I am running on empty and waiting for the chance to refuel. This little period between Christmas and new year seems to me to be the ideal time to hit rock bottom and start figuring out how to climb back up again. And you know what? I am more than happy with that idea. The idea of being broken. Because really, I’m not broken at all. Just the opposite in fact. 2012 has been a special year for me in many ways. I have met fun, extraordinary people who make me laugh out loud. I have learned, finally, to embrace the art of being an expat, a mother, and most of all, myself. I achieved my goal to make the most of being in Dubai, to make the most of my capabilities and talents, to become confident in myself again and to actually enjoy life. The only thing I failed at was learning to play tennis, but you shouldn’t rush these things.I have had the best year of my expat life and I’m convinced 2013 will be even better. I can see with increasing clarity that you get out what you put in, and I am determined this year should be all about doing both in huge quantities. I have missed so much of life by wishing it was different that its time now to embrace the fact that it IS different, and all the better for it.
Wishing you all a happy new year, full of energy, creativity, love and laughter. See you when the fog has cleared.
Ruby slippers.

Here comes the rain again

The first rain of the year in Dubai, everyone gets incredibly excited. The second time, they all complain about it bitterly. This time the rain is accompanied by cold (by cold I mean below 20C/68F) and so the winter woolies have been broken out, along with umbrellas and raincoats.

Of course in our house the winter woolies are all stacked in a neat pile waiting to be put in suitcases. This is most likely going to be my last post this side of the big man coming, because in three days we fly to the UK and are staying in a field somewhere between the end of the world and the Dark Ages, with no internet or wireless to be found for a clear three miles in any direction. I’m not sure how we are going to cope with this as a family, what with my husband’s blackberry being nicknamed ‘the other wife’ for a few years now, my iphone permanently welded to my hand and my son assuming control of the ipad to the point he knows how to work it better than we do. However, I’m sure we will find a way to manage. Frequent visits to my mother’s house is probably the key.

Anyway, back to the winter woolies. It’s that time of year, when I open up the cold weather wardrobe and assess what is there and discover that I’m staring at decade-old clothing from top shop that I used to wear to the office, intermingled with a few dodgy 50% off jumpers I’ve purchased in the January sales in Dubai over the years. It makes for a sorry collection of clothing but up until now I have refused to spend the money on buying myself stuff for what amounts to two weeks of wear per twelve months of life. I spend a ridiculous amount of money as it is buying new for my son every year, with the intention of selling it off to recoup some of the costs when we return and finding that of course, this being Dubai, no-one wants second hand clothes unless they are free. So the thought of buying for myself has always seemed even more extravagant when I have been able to get away with what I have for so many years.

But this year, I gazed at the pitiful collection and decided I needed to add to it. Trouble is, I have lost my sense of winter style. I have no idea what’s in fashion, or more to the point what isn’t – because most of the year there is no reason to pay attention. It’s hard to shop wooly jumpers and long sleeved dresses when it’s 80 in the shade. It’s hard to imagine how you will be cold enough to require a coat, or even to try one on when you are sweating buckets. My ‘nod’ to winter is getting my nails painted in a berry colour instead of their usual coral or red. Taking off flip flops to try on a pair of fleecy lined boots for size it’s just very difficult to imagine I will ever have cold enough feet to worry about fitting thick socks in them as well.

wallpapers wallpaper christmas sweater sexy nina

This? (Photo credit: 黎湯姆)

I have forgotten how to be cold. I can’t remember how I should cope with party shoes and pantyhose: if I have open toed shoes should I go bare legged and risk pneumonia, or should I get a new pair of shoes that are closed in so I can cover up? (I got new shoes, obviously). Do I wear a coat in the car or take it off so I don’t boil when the heating kicks in? Do pub and restaurants provide extra pashminas for you to pop on if you get chilly? (I suspect this is a Dubai thing). Is it skinny, straight, boot cut or flare this year? Are there any such things as pyjamas that keep you warm and don’t make you look like your Gran? Why are all jumpers hand wash dry flat when you wear them during the worst time of year to get things dry? Is is acceptable to wear jumpers more than once on this basis, as long as they don’t smell of bacon? When do you wear welly boots? Is it every time there is rain or just when it floods? I’m sure I didn’t own wellies for about a decade until we went to Hong Kong to visit my sister, so therefore, Glastonbury excepted, are wellies a middle aged thing rather than a fashion thing in England, and should I not be wearing them at all? How do you wear gloves and not get your rings caught up in them?

Ugly Sweater 2010

Or this? (Photo credit: Sappymoosetree)

There are other, less fashion oriented questions I now ask myself before we leave. Exactly how much moisturiser do I need to wear in order to stop my face and body drying up like some ancient reptile from the cold/wind/central heating? How environmentally unfriendly is having a bath if you run the shower for half an hour anyway because you don’t want to get out? Why has no-one invented a car that de-ices itself? Why do all pubs with working fireplaces feel cold? Is there any way to get my feet thawed out, ever? Why am I in the cold instead of in the sunshine?

But today, we have rain. Dubai has provided me with a sort of purgatory, a place of transition to sit and get comfortable with the concept of dark days, bad traffic and a chill in the air before we travel to the real, slightly more hardcore version on Thursday. So as much as everyone else may be moaning, I am embracing it.

Should I not get chance to write again, I’d like to wish everyone reading safe travels if you are travelling, and a very merry Christmas. I’ve increased my readership by a fairly wild amount this year and for that I am very grateful and not a tiny bit flattered, that my ramblings are still providing entertainment (and maybe a bit of education?). I have certainly enjoyed sharing them with you. I hope that 2013 will find you happy to keep reading and wish you all the very best for the new year. Over and out.

Rubyslippers x

Giving thanks

English: A can of pureed pumpkin made by One-Pie.

Try it. Trust me. It’s really nice!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I am mainly celebrating Thanksgiving. On Wednesday at my son’s school, on Thursday at our house, and on Saturday at someone else’s. Given I’m not even American I find this somewhat amusing and I’m a little terrified of what it will do to my waistline mere moments away from the Christmas season, but as it is my favourite time of the year, I am willing to suffer the once, twice, nay thrice agony of turkey dinners and pumpkin pies.

I LOVE Thanksgiving. It is totally the best holiday ever and I am so pleased I married an American so that I get to celebrate it. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with family and friends and breaking bread together. What could be more perfect than spending a day with your loved ones just eating and being together? “It’s just like Christmas!” I hear you cry – and it sort of is – but without any virgins or babies or donkeys or manic gift buying or endless George Michael/Paul McCartney/Aled Jones (delete as appropriate) pumping from every shop and restaurant, or thank you note writing or days and days of sitting about eating yet more crap during that dead bit between the 25th and 31st December that no-one talks about or the sheer pressure to perform that seems to leak into every corner of Christmas.

Thanksgiving…far more chilled. Turkey, trimmings, pie, wine. Of course to say it was a piece of cake would belittle my own preparations which so far have run to something close to a military operation and are about to turn red alert. It is hard work to pull off a three course dinner for ten and still have time to enjoy it, of course it is. But the whole premise of Thanksgiving – to just share a meal and be thankful for the company you share it with – well, there is just something magical about it I love.

Despite being several time zones and a half day’s flight away from the US, every year we celebrate Thanksgiving. We have had many people grace our table over the years – and sometimes it’s been just us and a chicken – but it’s something we make the effort to do even though our family is so distant. Especially because they are so distant. It is a way of reconnecting, of reminding us of home, of making traditions for our little family and sharing them with others. In fact I’m always surprised just how much people from other countries also love to celebrate Thanksgiving. I think it’s the feeling of inclusiveness and of togetherness that it instills, that makes it a pretty feel-good thing to do in the remote expatriate world that we live in. I look forward to one day sharing it again with our families, wrapped up warm and cozy by a fire, but in the meantime I can’t think of a better way to start the seasonal madness than tucking into turkey by torchlight in the back garden, surrounded by the friends new and old that we have made during our time here.

A friend of mine invited us to their Thanksgiving many years ago (before my husband and I owned a table I think). She introduced me to the most lovely tradition which I annually force my guests to participate in (the Brits in particular loathe it but it’s my table, my rules). After a toast from the host, we go around the table and all say something we are thankful for. Schmaltzy, much? Oh yeah. But it reminds us to be thankful, to consider that there is something in each of our lives that is worth stopping to think about and truly value in that moment.

What am I thankful for? Well, it’s hard to say. I don’t normally divulge, or even think about it until it’s my turn around the table. But I guess this year I am thankful for a whole lot. For being content. For finding my place in this world again. For my boys, the big and the little,whom I love so dearly and who give me so much joy. For not feeling lonely or homesick for the first time in a long time. For reigniting my passion for theatre and writing and finding time to do both. For looking forward to the future but not wishing away the here and now. For living what is really the most wonderful life I could ever have dreamed of. And finally, for the 8kg turkey I am attempting to shoehorn into the oven on Thursday.

Happy Turkey Day

x

Nobody’s perfect all of the time

I am a Virgo. It’s important to me that you know that. Virgos, as a rule, take their star sign very seriously – probably more seriously than is acceptable in modern day society – and expect you to take it seriously as well. That they are a Virgo. They couldn’t really give a hoot what you are. Unless you are a Virgo too.

White&black

How Virgoans see the world  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty certain Virgos come across as some of the most irritating people on the planet. We are the picture-straighteners of the world, the perfectionists, the hyper-critical, overly-logical, self-analyzing, right-angled, alphabetising, colour co-ordinating junkies of the human race. Black is black and white is white and there is officially no such thing as grey. ‘Change’ is a dirty word unless it has been planned that way. Achieving perfection is not the stuff of dreams, it is a way of life. ‘Trial’ is fine; ‘Error’ – not so much. And if all that wasn’t enough pressure, of all the Virgoans I have met and befriended over the years, many, if not all, have been actors, photographers, designers, and writers – i.e. creative. Creatively challenged, actually – because all that super-organised, self-critical think-in-straight-lines stuff gets hugely in the way of the fuzzy-wuzzy-dolphin-music-hippy-dippy-shit we like to immerse ourselves in. But somehow, magically, it works, and when a Virgoan manages to finally tap into their unconsciousness to get the creative stuff out before the conscious brain sets to work on recalibrating it to make sense, they tend to produce great (if not completely perfect) results.

So when a Virgoan screws up, particularly one who is of a slightly more creative nature (one might suggest the term ‘drama queen’ as appropriate to insert here) it is nigh on impossible for them to adopt an ‘oh well, never mind’ approach. It is, in fact, the end of the world. Which is about where I have been most of this week.

If you read last week’s post you will recall that I started off my dalliance with imperfection whilst cooking for a dinner party. Never before have I cocked up so much food in such a short, important space of time. That was last Friday. It should have been an indication of the greater incompetence that lay ahead.

Last week, shortly after posting my blog, I waited for a delivery to show up. A new, longed-for mattress with an all singing all dancing memory foam topper that would hopefully put an end to broken sleep and bad backs. When it arrived, it took them half an hour to get it upstairs due to a rather tight spot between the ceiling and the stairwell. Not wanting to think the worst, I ignored the fact that I didn’t remember this being so much of an issue with our old bed when we moved in, and instead blamed it on the general incompetence of the delivery team.

Not so. In fact it was MY general incompetence that was at fault, as became blindingly obvious when the mattress arrived in our room and was -oh – a good ten inches bigger than our bed. I had forgotten to measure and had guessed when we ordered. And I had guessed wrong. Oh the shame. So much so I blamed my husband in the ensuing phone call to the mattress company and with lots of eye rolling and pretend-crossness at his incompetence (sorry babe) I convinced them to exchange it for the correct size.

But what was it I was ashamed of? Not getting it wrong, per se, but that I had guessed. GUESSED. No Virgo GUESSES anything. It is simply not in our vocabulary. Something was going very, very wrong.

This morning we were due to be on a plane to Sri Lanka. I know that because my travel spreadsheet (oh yes) says so. But instead I am typing this in my study and we are clearly not on a plane anywhere. In a conversation with our housemaid, who hails from Colombo, I discovered that not only was the country still at the tail end of the monsoon (a fact I had known about but chosen to ignore up until now) but that there were ‘bad mosquitos’ in the capital city. Upon further inquiry it transpired these ‘bad mosquitos’ were called ‘Dengu’. Hmm. That sounds alot like ‘Dengue’ to me. So I did a bit of Googling and what do you know, there is a pandemic on. Who knew? Not wanting to be put off entirely (although by this point I must admit I was going a little cold on the idea) it got me thinking about all the other diseases we might pick up. We knew malaria didn’t affect the thin sliver of coastline we were visiting, but in full confidence that was all I needed to worry about, I managed to entirely forget to check our vaccination records until a week before we were due to travel. It turns out my son hasn’t had a typhoid jab and although the nurse was vaguely confident it would be ok for him to travel five days after the vaccination, she did mention that ‘before four weeks is best, ma’am’. Given typhoid is spread through water and the monsoon is still finishing up, it would only take one dodgy washed vegetable and that would be that.

So we cancelled. And being a Virgo, I take it as a personal failing that 1. I didn’t research the weather patterns and disease issues properly in the first place, 2. I didn’t organise our vaccinations in time and 3. I didn’t worry enough.

I didn’t worry enough. How does that even make sense? That’s how perfect I want to be, that I am worried about not being worried. It is extremely stressful being this self-critical. It takes up huge swathes of time and energy, being cross with oneself for not being ten out of ten ALL THE TIME. (A score of ‘ten’ being most sane people’s ‘eleven’, of course.)

So this week, in summary, the thoughts running round my little twisted mind (at 90 degrees, obviously), go something like this: 1. I can’t cook, 2. I guessed something and that is a BAD THING and 3. I didn’t worry enough. As I result, we ate ice cream, haven’t slept well and aren’t going on holiday. I’ll leave it to you to work out the order of disaster rating.

Things have taken a turn for the better since I realised I had dropped the astrological ball and gave myself a stern talking to. It’s Thanksgiving next week, and in an effort to pull my Virgoan socks right back up I am currently surrounded by shopping lists and schedules for preparation and cooking. I have already been out and purchased a soup tureen, turkey grippers and extra pie dishes in anticipation of producing a meal for ten nothing short of utopian. I have bought a new tablecloth (I measured the table first), done an inventory of glassware, plates, napkins and suchlike to ensure we can cater for a crowd, and assessed the state of the decorations hidden in the under stairs cupboard for the past twelve months. I have candles, name place cards and have already printed menus for the buffet table. The turkey is ordered and my housemaid is on standby to help with peeling vegetables and washing up. I am determined this meal will look perfect, taste perfect, and run like a well oiled machine, so that I can kick back and have a glass of wine by the time the pies (plural – apple, pecan and pumpkin) are served. In fact, I am so demanding of my own organisational excellence that I am considering booking a manicure for the day before, so that I can look immaculate too and really test out just how perfect I can be. I need to get my Zodiac groove back and there is only one way – to get back out there and give it all I’ve got at being great.I am in competition with myself. Tragic, but true.

If it goes wrong, fellow Virgos, I promise I will change my birthday.

I spy

Well, it’s been a busy old week in the Ruby Slippers household. Half term and a hectic array of social events mean that this morning was a welcome return to normality. I celebrated by sitting in Starbucks for a full hour, getting round to doing some of the reading I missed out on this past week in favour of looking after the small boy and trying to find five minutes to converse with the big one.

We went to see ‘Skyfall’ earlier in the week which wasn’t what I was going to write about but feel it might merit a mention after all. It’s important to note that I am not much of a film buff and therefore anything I have to say on the matter should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Indeed, the only other movie I have been to see in the past three years is ‘The Hunger Games’, which I thought was brilliant, and I watched ‘Bridesmaids’ when my husband was away and I’d run out of recorded episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. It was fairly enjoyable but Modern Family is funnier. In the world of celluloid and screen, TV is my first love and films come a very poor second. And since my brief encounter with nearly being cast in one, I can’t fathom what would inspire someone to reach for the stars in this manufactured, artificial world, when there is so much to be gained from performing live in a theatre in front of an actual audience that claps when you are finished. Ah well, each to their own. Let’s face it, they all earn a lot more than I do which means they must be doing something right.

So, film – not my thing. BUT I make three exceptions to this rule – 1. If I think a book was brilliant and hear on the grapevine that they didn’t trash it when they made the movie (e.g. The Hunger Games), 2. anything with John Cusack in it (I know, weird choice in a world that contains Hugh Jackman, George Clooney and Brad ‘I used to be hot but then I met Ange’ Pitt, but JC is my ‘I totally would’ and I make no apologies for that fact), and 3. Bond films.

I LOVE Bond. It’s a super-dooper version of Spooks (which I also loved, particularly before they killed off Rupert Penry-Jones, who was my Chief TV Totty for several years, replaced by Danny from CSI New York until he grew that silly moustache and currently a Situation Vacant).

I’m not sure why I get so fired up about 007. I have never found a Bond sexy so it’s certainly not about that. Daniel Craig might have the body of adonis but his little sticky out ears irritate me and his ‘back to basics’ Bond is boring and not in an ironic way. Piers Brosnan killed any kind of romantic associations I may have harboured for him the day he sung in ‘Mamma Mia’, and any Bond prior to that is so old now it’s just wrong to think of them in that way. Would be like shagging your Grandad. So no. It’s not the sex symbol thing. And let’s face it – it’s not the storyline. I love the ‘chase’ at the start, which always gets me on the edge of my seat (well, not always – for me, Skyfall did not produce the kind of adrenaline rush I was looking forward to) and I enjoy the gadgets (which again, Skyfall managed to score a big old zero for), but I’m not some kind of geek that knows all the films in sequential order or can list the baddies from each one. I just really enjoy watching them. They let me into my imaginary world for a few hours where I can dream about wearing glamorous dresses, jet setting round the world and killing people who really piss me off.

I have long believed I would have made a brilliant spy. I genuinely believe MI6 really missed a trick when they didn’t recruit me. Not so much now I spill my guts on a blog every week, of course, and possibly all that running around might have irritated me after a while, and it’s not the sort of career you can really have if you have a family – but I do think I would have made a very good assassin at the very least. I’m very organised, anally retentive, and have exceptionally good spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. I don’t like jobs that drag on e.g. filing, but I’m very good with jobs that require (excuse the pun) instant execution. We talked about this at a dinner party once, when the question round the table was of the ‘what do you wish you’d done when you were younger that you didn’t?’. Our guests displayed mild amusement when I said I thought I would have made a great spy and that I’d been wasted as a commercial manager in a graphic design agency, but this quickly turned to mild alarm when my husband agreed that I would have indeed been very good at it, given the right training, and that he didn’t think shooting people would have been a particular problem.

So me + spy films = happy. But I have to say whilst I enjoyed aspects of ‘Skyfall’, I am tiring of the ‘humanising’ of Bond. I don’t agree with the portrayal of him as a vulnerable man whose age is catching up with him. Borrrrring. Bond doesn’t get old, or die. He just gets replaced with a newer, improved version. That’s the point. And I’m not sure there was anything new or improved about this movie. Judy Dench was fantastic though and I thought the new Moneypenny was well cast – full of flirtatious innuendos and sexy enough to get her rocks off with Bond but not so outstandingly attractive that he would fall in love with her to exclusion of all others. And the new Q was a good addition who provided a the humour that was missing a little from the rest of the movie. And I liked the baddie. But the ‘Bond girl’ (if you can call her that) was terrible, the plot was a tad bullet-riddled and the ending was way too soppy for my liking. I feel there must be a balance between Contemporary Bond and Bond a la Fromage. Maybe they will find it in the next one.

So – enough of that – what else have I been up to this week? Well we had another dinner party on Friday where I didn’t talk about shooting people in cold blood, but did manage to cock up the starter and dessert so royally we ended up having ice cream with Crunchie bar bits and chocolate biscuits after dinner. Not a big deal, thankfully, as despite the pedigree of the guests (one descended from TV royalty, another friends with actual royalty) they were only in their late twenties and thought it was great. Either that or they have been brought up to be incredibly polite. As I am not a spy and therefore cannot read people’s minds with my special psychic spy pen, I will never know.

Next week, we jet off in rather less than Bond-esque fashion via Emirates economy class to Sri Lanka. Despite the lack of casinos I’m rather looking forward to some quality family time exploring a new country (should we get further than the hotel pool of course). So it’s time to tackle the hundred and one things to do before we go. I bet Bond never had to paint the ceiling or get his garden furniture sanded and stained. Although I’ve never had a helicopter shoot down my house either. Fair play. Maybe not being a spy has it’s advantages after all.