Archive for the 'Home and Hearth' Category

Goodbye before I’ve gone

NS June 7th, 2009

I’ve been staring at this screen for half an hour, my fingers poised above the keyboard, but nothing comes. I’ve got a list of things to blog about but lack the willpower to muster up the energy and thought that they would require.

All is quiet. The Noble Husband is out, the children are asleep. I’ve turned off the radio and the tv. The white clock is tick-tick-ticking on the mantle. I should be reading, or working on my book, or cleaning. But all I can think about is Chicago and our arrival there in 11 days. My thoughts are consumed by the planning of our trip, the details and nuances of international travel. What will we take on the flight to keep the kids entertained? Where are our suitcases and will we be able to fit everything? When should I go get the traveler’s cheques? I’m a professional listmaker and consummate organiser who has traveled aplenty. I’ve done this a thousand times but for some reason it feels different, more important this time. My heartstrings are pulling me back to my homeland and at the moment the string feels so tight that I could snap in two from the pressure.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve been back. That’s the longest I’ve ever been gone. There are so many things I’m looking forward to while there, including the usual (spending time with family and friends, going to favourite places, enjoying the weather and eating favourite foods) and the special (introducing my son to my father for the first time; a family reunion at a lakeside cabin; my 30th birthday). But as the trip draws closer and I get more dizzyingly excited about the wonderful time I’m going to have, an impending sense of gloom descends as I consider this unfortunate truth: every day that brings me closer to seeing my family is another day closer to having to say goodbye again. I know that’s a horribly pessimistic way to look at it but enough trips and enough heartache have taught me to prepare myself for the flip side of “going home.”

I imagine the contentment and joy I will feel as I look at my entire family assembled together in one place, interacting in the flesh instead of over telephone lines and via webcams on computer screens, and know that the sorrow I will feel upon leaving it behind again will crush me like the weight of a thousand stones. I will carry those stones of sadness all the way back across the ocean where they will sit in my heart until the next trip is made. I’m afraid that when it comes times to board the plane that I will not have the strength to see my mother’s tears or my father’s jaw clench as he folds me into a hug. I will want to cling to them like I was a child again myself, ask them to protect me and love me and carry me home because I’m too tired to put one foot in front of the other.

My children will wave and look over their shoulders at their grandparents, who they communicate with mainly through wires and gadgets, and not know when they’ll see them again. My heart will break when The Noble Child wakes up the first morning back here in London and asks where her Nana and Boppy are. She will sit with me on the bed while I unpack and be puzzled when I turn my back and begin to shake in silent convulsions.

Later, I will sob into my husband’s chest and pound my fist into a pillow, mourning our return like a loss. I will resent him a little bit, be frustrated by the nature of our citizenry. I will find the food tastes horrible, nothing works as it should and the weather miserable, no matter the temperature. I will say I’m moving back, that I can’t stand this country anymore, and I will talk about making plans to do just that. The stones will get heavier as my sorrow deepens and I struggle with the reality of living on another continent.

And then things will get back to normal. Our tans will fade, the photos will be stored into albums on the computer and we won’t talk about what we did and who we saw all the time anymore. We’ll return to school and work and life (the others a little easier than I will find it) and start figuring out when we can see them again. I will heal my heart from the bruising it endured under the weight of those stones and then I will start casting them off, one by one, to make room for the love and joy that my little family here, my nucleus, instill in me daily. I will choose to forget the goodbye and focus on the hello, the happiness of being together.

Life goes on because it always does, but it’s a life with a piece of me missing.

Weekend warrior

NS June 1st, 2009

The weather in London has been rather glorious for the past few days, explaining my bloglessness as of late. I tried to get the laptop out into the garden for some sneaky posting in between gardening, setting up and sitting at the new patio furniture, grilling various meats and vegetables, drinking beer and playing with the Noble clan, but the glare on the screen was too great, making my eyes and back very sore from all the squinting and hunching. I gave up after five minutes and declared the weekend a mini break from t’internet. But not to fear, dear readers, for we are like the two cowboys in Brokeback Mountain and no matter how much I sometimes despise our love, find it lonely and inconvenient and shameful, deep down I know I can never quit you. So come here and give me a big wet one. Mmwah!

On Saturday, The Noble Husband’s football team was in the FA Cup final and so he’d invited a few guys round to watch it with him. I was supposed to disappear with the children for a few hours to leave them to their male bonding (or something like that) but in the end I managed to beg off dragging them round the shops and various playgrounds and finangled a place on the sofa to watch the match and drink some brewskies with the boys. TNH’s team lost, sadly, but his mates cheered him up by challenging him to a game of poker and then taking all his money (and mine!) and leaving our house looking like a tip. That’s the mark of true friendship for men, apparently. It sounds so much easier and more relaxed than female friendship, don’t you think? We have to listen and nurture and empathize and be diplomatic. They just engage in some lighthearted banter, drink some beer and play cards until the game is over or the last train is ready to depart, whichever comes first.

Sunday. Oh, Sunday was brilliant. It was one of those days that seems to go on forever, but in a good way. I got to sleep in until 9am, which is fan-bloody-tastic, and then came downstairs to coffee and pastries while perusing the news online. Shortly afterward I had my shower and headed out to the garden to play with the children and utlitise the aforementioned new patio furniture. That I can now sit outside in the shade (shade being very important for my pale-as-paper complexion) while I enjoy various beverages makes me immeasurably happy. Insanely, suburbanly happy. Next think you know I’ll be throwing dinner parties and serving prawn cocktails as a starter, with a pineapple-and-cheese-on-toothpicks for canapes. And Chicken Kiev served with boiled-to-death vegetables as the main. And Blackforest Gateau for dessert.

Oh wait, that would be a variety of suburbanity (is that a word?) from the 1970s, not today. But still, not far off. It’s a slipperly slope out here in Dullsville and if I don’t stop grinning inanely at weather-resistant chairs and the free seat cushions that came with them, I may as well get one of those yellow ‘Baby On Board’ stickers for my car, start coordinating my gardening clogs with my baking apron (I have neither) and take to mocking the great unwashed queuing up for their dinner at KFC to make myself feel better. Ah, to be middle class.

Carrying on with the Good Suburbanite theme, I then cleaned out and hoovered the inside of the car before driving it over to the hand carwash being offered by several tanned men with heavy Mediterranean accents. Watching immigrant men with bulging biceps lean over my windscreen to scrub my car on a hot day while I sat inside singing along to the radio and basking in the air conditioning must’ve been enough to strip me of several feminist badges if the internet’s eyes had been upon me. Good thing we were on a break! As I had cut off outside communications, I allowed myself the guilty pleasure of hiring someone to do what I could easily do myself if I wasn’t so damn lazy, and somewhat enjoying the scenery to boot. Oh, the shame!

A little later in the afternoon I got both children to sleep and then nipped off to the cafe for some more coffee and a spot of writing; a much needed reprieve. When I returned it was time for TNC’s dinner and a webcam with my parents. Halfway through our Skype chat and TNH announces that we’ve been invited to come have a quick drink and a run-around by the river with a couple friends, one of whom has a 4-year-old girl. Seeing as TNC utterly adores girls anywhere from one to five years older than her, we knew she’d love it. Plus, one can never be sure when a warm spell will end so we thought “Sod bedtime, it’s down the river we go!” We set off just after 6pm and didn’t arrive home until half eight but it was a magnificent way to end the day – sipping a cool drink on a blanket by the River Thames, llistening to some chilled out music and chatting away while watching two children run and squeal and play. I could’ve lived on that blanket forever. But alas, it was Sunday night and we had to get back to get the nippers into bed and have a late dinner.

Afterwards, we finished watching a WWII-based film we’d started a few days before and then sat up chatting about world conflicts and alliances, military aggression, battle strategy and other things important to a game of Risk. Can I just say how much I love that my husband and I talk about things like this? We love learning from each other and discussing ideas and history when we get a chance or a reason. The occurences may be fewer and farther between now that we have small children to look after, but the pleasure we take in it remains the same.

And today, another beautiful day spent mostly outdoors or out-and-about, hence my late post. If this good weather continues you can expect more late-night musings as I enjoy the sunshine hours with my family. Though I did see that there are glare-reducing screen covers that you can get for your monitor….

Smells like childhood

NS May 8th, 2009

The ability of scent to evoke long-forgotten memories never ceases to amaze me. Walking along, busily going about my day, I am occasionally stopped dead in my tracks by my nose. I sniff the air again to be sure and then a flash of memory (sometimes brief and hazy and at others prolonged and detailed) comes and burns itself to the back of my eyelids. External stimuli are shut out as my mind desperately attempts to grab at the bucking legs of these memories, lassoing and then corralling them for safekeeping.

Likewise, the power of the memories to evoke emotions I thought I’d lost or buried is something otherworldly, a process that I don’t mind if I don’t understand, for its mysteriousness is part of its magic. A scent is like a time machine — a heartwrenching, joyful, vivid time machine that transports us back to places, people and states of mind that we may never visit again or recapture otherwise.

The heady musk of leather, manure, sweat and oats instantly transports me back to the stable on my family’s farm where I spent hours upon hours with my dappled Appaloosa quarterhorse, Applejack, brushing his mane, picking rocks and dirt from his hooves and feeling the soft velvet of his nose as he nuzzled my carrot-proffering palm.

The scent of apples, hay, rain and musty library books brings me instantly back to 10 years old, holed up in my ‘reading nest’ in the barn, where I went, always with book and apple in hand, to be alone, to dream, to think, to cry, to explore and imagine.

Cinnamon and crayons finds me sitting at our kitchen table, munching on freshly-baked toast sprinkled with brown, spicy goodness and a large sheet of drawing paper before me, my mother humming at the sink.

The stale, sterile smell of surgical dressings, iodine and medicine permeating my nostrils and my brain as I struggled to acknowledge that my little sister’s illness would soon make me the youngest.

More happily, the scent of lemon candies and coconut always bring her to mind as she was before cancer so cruelly whisked her away in its own time machine. In my mind, she is forever five, sleeping serenely in her lavender room.

One whiff of Avon lotions and potions sends me straight back to my grandmother’s house, where boxes of makeup and creams sat piled up in the Secret Mamaw-Only Room, waiting to be loaded into her car and delivered. Also, cold glasses of milk and Cheetos. The juxtaposition of the neon orange fingerprints against the pure white liquid in the glass was an artform that only Mamaw appreciated.

Inhaling Old Spice in the crook of my father’s neck as he folded me into Daddy’s Girl bear hugs over the years. Oh, what I would give some days for a hug from my dad.

I can’t inhale the fragrance of honeysuckle now without remembering recess in my first year of elementary (primary) school. The fragrant plants that surrounded the swing sets were there when I forged my first friendships and took increasingly steadier steps towards independence.

Dirt, taffy and hot dogs = the Little League ballpark. Keeping score up in the booth overhead on long, hot summer days; the beginnings of interest in boys; and probably the first place I was allowed to go without adult accompaniment.

Obsession cologne. My first huge crush wore it and I kept a sample card sprayed with the scent between the pages of my poetry journal. Years later, after the card had fallen out, the pages still gave off that distinctive odor as they were fanned and thumbed through. The smell of puppy love.

Even today, I am forging new associations between certain scents and memories. My latest one is a honey and lemon bath milk from L’Occitane that my husband bought me for Mother’s Day last year. I used it for the duration of my last pregnancy, every time I took a bath, which was almost daily towards the end. I used up the last of it recently but couldn’t bring myself to throw away the bottle. I sat there with the water running, eyes closed and a smile on my lips, as I held the empty container to my nose and inhaled deeply. That smell — like a giant cup of sweet-smelling tea — will forever be deposited into my olfactory bank and when I next detect it in the air, I will be eight months pregnant again, running a hand over my protruding belly and dreaming of meeting my darling son.

The to-do list that ate Noble Savage

NS April 28th, 2009

You may have noticed the crickets chirping merrily and the dust that fell off your computer when you opened this post. It’s been a whole five days since I last wrote! Da-DUM-DUM.

I know, you hadn’t even noticed. Five days does not a hiatus make. But I have a bunch of half-finished blog posts and ideas socked away and no time to finish (or start) them. I have a to-do list a mile long and it’s been sadly neglected in weeks of late, i.e. since I became a Twitter addict. Yes, I’m one of those social networking whores. Whatever.

But that’s not the reason for my slacking in the blog post department lately. Seriously, did I mention my to-do list and the extra work I’ve just taken on with my job? They’re knocking me sideways. Well, as sideways as one can be knocked when two children are clinging to one’s body. I’ve got fun things like ‘pay taxes’ and ‘clean filter on washing machine’ and ‘get house valued’ and ‘arrange for baby’s passport’ on my list…need I say more?

Also, this weekend I’m going to a photo exhibit/drinks event on Friday and an out-of-town wedding from Saturday through to Monday, so posting is likely to be light or non-existent until after that. I shall endeavour to get at least one of my half-finished posts up in the next day or two though, before the chaos sets in.

Until then, auf wiedersehen!*

*For my sister, who is going to Germany tomorrow for the first time and is sure to have a fantastic time.

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times

NS April 21st, 2009

In this sucktacular economic climate, nearly everyone is downsizing, saving, cutting back and curtailing the ‘extras’.

As a family of four living on one salary in London (always in the top three most expensive cities to live in, no less), we’ve been existing on very limited means since I quit my job in 2006 to look after TNC full time. The Noble Husband makes a decent salary but after paying the mortgage, bills and buying food and necessities, there was very, very little leftover unless he’d done a ton of overtime. We have zero savings, are fully into our overdraft and usually lack the ability to buy new clothes, gadgets and furnishings, or splurge on entertainment.

For us, a day out might be spent going for a walk in the park, window shopping in the retail stores, buying a couple things in the charity shop and sharing a milkshake before heading back home on the train. We aren’t living in poverty by any means but we certainly aren’t rolling in it either. There have been months when we have had to borrow money from TNH’s parents just to be able to eat in the last week before payday. Asking for food money from my inlaws is not an experience I relish, let me tell you. Especially when their son is working all the hours he possibly can and I feel like the tough times are my fault for not earning any money while at home taking care of the children, or for not being enough of a domestic whiz to be able to cook on a shoestring budget or make my own clothes.

Yes, yes, I know everyone spouts off about full-time parenting being the hardest work there is and how unfair it is that it’s completely unpaid. I’m told I should be patting myself on the back for a job well done and just grin and bear it for the sake of the children. But the fact remains that being a stay-at-home-mom ISN’T paid. Full-time care of children isn’t remunerated unless you’re not related to the children, funnily enough. Even then it’s not paid nearly enough for how labor-intensive it is.

I tell myself that learning to live on very little is a character-building, enriching experience and that it’s taught me a lot about consumerism and what we really need to survive and be happy. And it has. But it’s also created a lot of strain in my marriage and impacted my self-worth. It got to the point where I’d rather have gone back to work but couldn’t afford to. Once the childcare costs, travel expenses and other work-related expenses were tallied up, any job I could get outside the home would have us in the hole, not add anything to our coffers. So the only realistic option was for me to work at home. The best of both worlds, being there for my chlidren and bringing in an income. But what in the world would I do? Trying to pitch articles to major magazines hadn’t gone well and I just didn’t have the time to do interviews and all the research for something I might not get paid for.

So it was like a gift from the gods when I saw an ad in Craigslist London for a job that suited me down to the ground. I had all the relevant experience and skills and it was a job that could be done from home, and in the media field. Hallelujah! I was so excited but nervous since I hadn’t applied for a job in a number of years. I felt I had to hide the fact that I’m looking after two children because I didn’t want a potential employer to hold that against me and assume I wouldn’t be able to do the job with two tots at my heels. I mean, it’s a valid concern. I didn’t know how the hell I was going to do it so I can see why an employer would be dubious! But I was determined to make it work, even if it meant going a little bit insane or letting them watch more tv than I’d like.

I got the job in early December and have been doing it ever since. The Noble Baby was only about 10 weeks old when I started but that was a blessing in disguise. Because he was so sleepy and just nursed all the time, I could do my work with him asleep or feeding on my lap and while TNC was either at pre-school or napping. It’s had its challenging days, certainly, but the confidence it has given me and the financial breathing room it has given the entire family has been priceless. It’s not even a lot of money, but it’s enough to allow us those not-essential-but-nice purchases like patio furniture for the garden, a new sling for TNB and new shoes for a wedding we’re going to in May. It means we don’t have to worry that we wont’ have enough grocery money at the end of every month. It means we’ve managed to save up all the spending money we’ll need for our trip to Chicago this summer and I bought myself a new mini laptop to do my writing on. It used to be a room of one’s own that woman needed; now it’s a PC of one’s own.

I was contacted by my client recently and told that he’d reduced the workload for my specific job. My heart sank a little as I imagined my hours (and pay) going down. Could I go back to the land of the broke? My stomach hurt at the thought. But then he told me that he valued my work and instead of reducing my hours, he’d like me to take on more responsibility within the project. So I just got a little promotion and a payrise to boot!

To celebrate, TNH has insisted that I finally buy myself the good camera I’ve been wanting for, oh, ten years now. I tried to think of other things we should be spending the money on but after running through a checklist in my head (bills? paid. vacation? paid for. necessities? all paid for) I realised, with great trepidation and an increasing sense of joy, that it really could be done. I could get my citizenship paid for first, yes, but how boring a first big purchase is that? Besides, I’m not applying until a little later in the year so I have plenty of time to come up with that money. A camera now would mean photos of my beautiful children as they frolic in our garden this summer, photos of TNB crawling and then taking his first steps and photos of TNC as she grows from toddler to pre-schooler.

I feel a slight pang of guilt that while everyone else is worrying about their finances, we’ve never been better off. But I push that thought aside and remind myself that I’ve paid my dues in the Hardships Club.

And so, the camera will be bought. I earned it. And damn if it doesn’t feel great.

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